Month: August 2010 Page 1 of 2

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-29

  • Gathering strength. #
  • Amazing talk about storytelling by Chimamanda Adichie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg #
  • Song of the Beast – Carol Berg: The parable of the prodigy–brilliant, destroyed, reborn with purpose rather than talent. With dragons. #
  • Transformation – Carol Berg: Let the betrayals begin. I've come to expect to trust nobody in her books, but in a good way. #
  • Made chimchurri beef sirloin and zucchini cake last night. Today: chimchurri-bedecked bruschetta #
  • I think I'm working on the wrong project today. #
  • Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman: Propose new word, not pathetic, but pathotic, a kind of psychosis of sadness. #

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Big Books…done dirt cheap!

One of the many conveniences I’ve noticed about my e-reader is that it makes the largest of books seem just as weighty as the lightest.

Witness:  Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.  This is a book that I purchased shortly after it came out in hardback and never read.  From time to time, I would look at the book and say, “I should read that; however, I am going to take a bath/going to go out to a restaurant/going to take a trip with limited packing space, and this is too freaking big to handle conveniently in such a situation.”  I checked it out from the library in ePub format.  It now weighs just as much as anything else I read on the ebook.

I’m wondering whether ereaders will change not just the way or the times we read, but the length of what we read.  I’m pretty sure there will be a resurgence in short stories, with feeds that load onto your reader every time you’re within WiFi range.  And I really hope there are more novellas; I like them.

But regarding long works:  I’ve heard stories about books that had to be split into two or three parts, turned into trilogies, because the publisher couldn’t afford to publish them all of a piece.  I wonder whether that practice will continue for ebooks.  It probably will for a while, as people continue to buy a lot of bound books.

On the other hand, I’ve been seeing a lot of bundle deals for series.  Perhaps the series editions of these books that were originally intended to be a single book can be formatted so the book is more continuous for the reader.

How to POV

Please understand that this is a snapshot of what I know now.  If it doesn’t work for you–nevermind!

Who tells the story, controls the story.

Obviously, that means you, the writer.  You get to pick which stories you tell and how you feel about them.  This seems obvious until you start thinking about things like, “Japanese internment during WWII.  Who was right?  Discuss.”  Or how about “The tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.  What if it were called Death of a Giant?”

An excellent clip of Chimamanda Adichie talking about how you almost have to have multiple stories from multiple POVs to get at the truth of a thing is here.

So when you’re contemplating writing the next big Good vs. Evil story, consider that whichever side you pick to be the good side is the good side, but you could easily switch, as long as you do the work necessary to make the bad guys look like good guys.  (A note on that–the main villains in the Lord of the Rings saga aren’t the Bad Guys, as counterintuitive as that may seem.  I mean, how much time do the characters actually spend fighting Sauron?  Face to face?  Versus how much time do they spend fighting each other or people who used to be their friends or who people who used to seem like their friends?  Or themselves?)

The main types of POV used in fiction:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited (I’m going to call this third person tight)
  • Third person omniscient (I’m going to call this third person narrator)

First person.

This is a story told from the POV of “I.”

This is someone talking to you, telling you their* story; it’s the second-least distant POV.  The reader is limited to only what the POV character can sense and think–the whole world is perceived through the mind of the POV character.

So your POV character had better be able to communicate well and interestingly.  They might be a natural storyteller, the kind of person you cannot shut up and can’t help but listen to.  Or the silent type who keeps up a running conversation in their own head (that is, like most writers).

I find this POV particularly easy to write; I tend to see my stories from within the characters’ heads anyway.

It takes a lot of empathy with your character to write from first-person POV.  Conversely, characters with whom you have little empathy are tough to write from first person POV.

You can do multiple first-person POVs in one novel; however, make sure you clarify for the reader who’s speaking.  I’ve read authors who use chapter breaks headed by the name of the character who’s speaking in that chapter, and not breaking POV for each chapter.  Switching characters in third-person POV is easier to be clear about; you just use the POV character’s name in the first sentence of the new section.

With first-person POV, it’s easy to omit and distort the truth, but a little harder to lie–because with a lie, the truth has to come out, and why would the POV character admit something like that?  The story is distorted through the lens of a single character; seeing things through one person’s eyes–unless the character is supposed to be inhumanly objective–is, by its nature, a distortion.

Second person.

This is a story told from the POV of “you.”

People always say it’s hard to sell a second-person POV story.  In fact, I have a second-person POV story out in the mail right now, and I get a lot of rejections that say, “It’s really hard to sell a second-person POV story.”  However, pick-your-path books (including mine!) tend to be told from the second-person POV, and they sell from time to time.

Huh?

Second-person POV is the least distant POV, asking the reader to become the character.  A book takes the reader away from their ordinary lives; you’d think the reader would want to be someone else for a while.  As it turns out, that is generally not the case.  It’s easy to sneak a value judgment into a story with a little bit of distance in it; the reader can pretend that the judgment has nothing to do with them–it applies to someone else.  But write a second-person POV story, and suddenly the reader is like, “But I’m nothing like that!  I am so offended!” even if you’re writing a story that’s obviously about someone else.

Human nature.

The reason pick-your-path type books work, I think, is that the main character is usually an everyman–and the reader can make their own choices, which gives them back a little distance.  Okay, realistically, the reader might not make either of the choices provided, but it’s like a personality quiz:  you pick the one that’s close enough.

Not that I’m going to stop submitting my second-person POV; it’s a horror story.  It’s pretty horrible being in someone else’s head when you can’t control anything.

Strangely, I find that it’s hard to lie in second person.  Distortion, omission–sure.  But out-and-out lying to yourself (“You didn’t kill Sam.  Someone else killed Sam.”) takes a lot of work–which could be the whole reason for a second-person story, I suppose.

Third person tight.

This is a story told from the POV of “him” or “her”–but in such a way that you could take out the character’s name and/or pronoun and replace them with “I” and it would make just as much sense:  “He never thought of himself as a bad man, as such, but the kind of man whose purpose in life was to make the difficult choices.  Being good is all about easy choices.”  Imagine that with “I” instead of “He” and there you go:  third-person tight POV.

I used to get thrown off-track when people called it “third-person limited POV.”  It means the same thing, but for some reason I would blow it off as unimportant.  It’s limited, huh?  So what’s the point?  I don’t want to be limited…

This POV is, I think, the best POV for most commercial fiction.  Readers pick up commercial fiction because they want plot, not because they want to explore a situation from multiple aspects.

(Good literature tries to capture the fact that there’s more than one way to look at a situation, that there might be no “right” and “wrong” perspectives in a situation.  Good commercial fiction tells a good story.  The two are not mutually exclusive, but a matter of priorities.)

Third-person tight POV is both close and distant enough that you can choose how much you want to empathize with the characters.  A lot of commercial fiction readers want to imagine they’re in a different world, like they’re on a particularly interesting vacation.**  Writing as though the reader is in yet not in the character’s head seems to give the reader room to empathize with the character (during the fun parts) or not empathize with the character (during the torture scenes, of whatever stripe).  It’s like going to China on vacation and being able to pretend going through the red tape is happening to someone else, while walking along the Great Wall while making out with the hot tour guide is happening to you.

Third-person tight POV also lets the writer switch POV characters fairly easily–make an easily-recognizable division in your book (a chapter or white space in the text) and start off with the name of the current POV character in the first sentence, and you’re golden.

Lying in third-person tight POV is easier, but the POV character usually thinks about that fact that it’s a lie.  D’oh!

Third person narrator.

This is a story told from the POV of “him” or “her”; however, the person actually telling the story is a narrator.  The narrator can be defined as a character (and, in fact, can take a part in the story) or not (and get forgotten about by the reader).  The narrator of a story, even if invisible, is rarely the author.  This is the most distant POV.

This is the POV most often used in the past, from Jane Austen to JRR Tolkein.  My best guess is that it’s an oral tradition thing.  Back when stories used to be told out loud more often than not, there was someone telling the stories–a narrator, a storyteller.  When people started writing stories down, they wrote down what the narrator said, and the narrator spoke in third-person narrator POV, naturally enough.

Storytellers comment on their stories, as they tell them, often because people tend to not shut up during the telling, and sometimes it’s best to get the answers to their questions out of the way before the questions are asked.  “Once upon a time, there was a girl [what was her name?] nevermind her name, who asked a lot of stupid questions.  [Why did she ask a lot of stupid questions?] She was a foolish girl, just like you.”

Also, storytellers in the oral tradition, as far as I can tell, never told stories for just one person, but for a large group of people that weren’t all of the same kind–all kids, all adults, all horror-story enthusiasts, all romantics, etc.–and were therefore required to entertain them all at the same time.

Take that and shove it up your genre!

That thing where kids’ cartoons have inside jokes for the adults?  It’s probably not new.

When you try to include elements of multiple types of stories or references for multiple types of audiences in a first-person or third-person tight POV, it can come out as gibberish:  “I’m an eight-year-old kid.  I’m a detective.  I’m an eight-year-old kid detective, just like Perry Mason.”  Er, eight year olds know Perry Mason?  (I don’t really even know Perry Mason.)  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  But third-person narrator comes out so smooooooth:  “Sam was an eight-year-old kid who worshiped detectives like Chet Gecko and Max Ernest.  But if he’d been born when he was supposed to, he would have idolized Perry Mason, the way the writers of Chet and Max obviously did.  The kid was a classic.  Shame he was born too late.”

The problem with third-person narrator, for modern audiences, is that it tends to be a lot of blah blah blah.  The commercial fiction reader often just wants to see things from the POV character’s POV and doesn’t want to waste time on all the extra commentary and in-jokes implicit in a third-person narrator’s POV.

But if you can pull off a good narrator, you’re golden.  Some of the best-loved books are told by narrators whom we love, whether told from a straight (that is, invisible) third-person narrator POV (Pride and Prejudice), or from a narrator who is in the action of the book, either in the tale or a frame story (The Princess Bride), or from a first-person narrator who isn’t the main character in the book (Bridge of Birds).  There’s something inherently trustworthy and soothing about a good narrator.

Conversely, it’s really, really easy to lie in third-person narrator POV.  I mean, ridiculously easy.

A note on switching POVs:

Don’t switch POVs without clarifying the switch for the reader.  Your system of clarification is up to you, but use it consistently within the story.

*If “he” can mean both male and female, then “they” can mean both singular and plural.
**Huh. I might have to think about that some more, with regards to description.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-22

  • I find myself judging other people by the quality of their book recommendations…but dammit, they READ. #
  • On the way home from Dave & Margie's, the DMB song "Too Much" came up. Appropriate. #
  • @doycet Huzzah. Good post. #
  • Craving soup to eat with my croutons. I'm thinking a tomato-basil bisque. #
  • You know, if I don't get at least one good block of Internet wanderlust a week, I feel sad. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0409847/ #
  • @doycet Heh! in reply to doycet #
  • Earworm: Moving to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches… millions of peaches, peaches for free! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvcohzJvviQ #
  • @jasummerell Homemade insect repellant? What's that? in reply to jasummerell #
  • @jasummerell It probably smells very good, too. in reply to jasummerell #
  • Ad Hoc at home – Thomas Keller: Recommend for beginner+. Typical home cooking at a superlative level. #
  • @jasummerell I was so wrong! in reply to jasummerell #
  • The Pleasure Is All Mine – Suzanne Pirret: Solo cooking, refined, with the female version of Anthony Bourdain. Saucy. #
  • An Edge in the Ktchen – Chad Ward: Knife skills book inspiring me to get a Japanese waterstone (actually, two). #
  • @jasummerell Off does make me nauseous. Good thing I live in non-bug territory. in reply to jasummerell #
  • @Dabeak RIGHT NOW I am busy. How about I watch it later? Or will the shiny wear off? in reply to Dabeak #
  • The Vengeance Quilt done. "If anyone would use last rites to accuse someone of murder, it was Eileen…" #
  • @doycet But keep in mind, Bukowski lived in a thunderstorm. in reply to doycet #
  • @doycet True that. Ah, Hank. Sometimes the great ones are freakin' idiots. in reply to doycet #
  • @JuliaRAllen I have totally forgotten what we were talking about. Proust? Feehan? So sorry, my Lady. in reply to JuliaRAllen #
  • The Zombie Apocalypse site is up! http://www.doompress.com/ #
  • Only two rejections over the weekend. I'm waiting for the mail truck with just a touch of dread. #
  • The good news is that I have twelve stories out right now; somebody's got to like ONE of them. #
  • I should eat something. [Looks at belly roll.] Maybe not any more Lil' Debbie snacks. And after yoga. #
  • @DaphneUn Thank you 🙂 in reply to DaphneUn #
  • Cirque du Freak – Darren Shan: Tiiiight YA adventure. Not especially deep, but fun and fast. Not if you hate spiders, though. #
  • Help! Is playing WoW/online MMORPGs considered "nerdy" among high school students anymore? #
  • I'm reading a friend's ms. and he's acting like it's on same level as DnD in the 80s. #
  • Trying to save a beloved character from an abandoned short story… #
  • Using Google maps to drive along a street seems a LOT like playing Myst. #
  • @Rarnabybudge There's a link for that. in reply to Rarnabybudge #
  • Re-draft of Paid (time travel story) done: "I decided to start at the present and work my way backward; it’s weird but it saves work." #
  • @JuliaRAllen Oh! In that case, take two madeleine cookies and a six-pack of abs and call me in the morning 🙂 in reply to JuliaRAllen #
  • "My mother-in-law's a travel agent for guilt trips." -Quote from anon contributor to writing exercise at PPW Write Brain w/ Deborah Coonts. #
  • Excellent Write Brain. Left with inspiration to turn a standalone into a series. #
  • Good thing I haven't written the proposal for that yet… #
  • @Three_Star_Dave Ray watches Total Drama X too…yeah, the patina of fiction somehow makes it more acceptable to SNARK. in reply to Three_Star_Dave #
  • Dreaming of a manga-type YA series… #
  • @simmertilldone Thank you 🙂 in reply to simmertilldone #
  • @JuliaRAllen Bows. in reply to JuliaRAllen #
  • Off to the post office. #
  • Zombie campfire songs, from Celina: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/lists/1harkin.html "He's got a whooole femur…IN HIS HANDS!" #
  • Sat down for a few minutes to find something in a box. Now it's noon. #
  • Does anyone else find it hard to get rid of stuff that's a kick in the gut? Really? I wanted to remember THIS? #
  • Scrapbooks: an excuse to keep one of something and get rid of everything else. #
  • <—-Mental today. Flee! #
  • @RuroRemy Very brave 🙂 #
  • Revolution Girl Utena seems closely related to the Dark Tower series (the ending) and Kate Bush's Hounds of Love (theme). #
  • @jasummerell I'll play the cowbell 🙂 in reply to jasummerell #
  • Heard 30-yo woman bitching about how easy kids have it. Ray 2.5 hours of homework and karate…While 30-yo had time to whine on the radio. #
  • Nevermind; that was UNCYCLOPEDIA. Damned funny, though. #
  • Sent proposed characters for murder mystery expansion pack (for Lei'd to Rest at Freeform Games). Pleeeeease can I do these ones? #
  • Wait, it's NOON? #
  • @jasummerell That would be a dangerous wish to vocalize in front of your four year old. in reply to jasummerell #
  • Starting the pork. Ohhh yeah. Four batches of ropa, 1 green chili, 4 BBQ, 1 cubano! #
  • BLT with havarti. #
  • I had a post-wedding-cake sugar apocalypse. #

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How to Get Rejected

…As a short story writer, that is.

I am making a serious effort to get better at short stories; a novel is a novel is a novel, but when I want to get into the fine edge of fiction, I read short stories.  I love them.  Especially horror short stories.  My favorite work of horror is still Stephen King’s Night Shift.  I buy short story collections on a semi-regular basis.  The thrill of reading Greg Egan or Ted Chiang stories for the first time.  Ahhh.  The tragic worlds of Michael Chabon.  Oooooh….

So here I am, writing one short story a week…AND getting a metric assload of rejections.  Psychologically speaking, that is.

There are a lot of things that I’m not feeling to professional about at the moment, but tell you what, I can talk ALL DAY about how to get rejections.

Here are my current stats on the project (begun in earnest on 1 July):

Thirteen stories in the mail.

Eighteen rejections, seven of them personal.

It seems to be snowballing; this month to date, I received seven rejections and sent ten stories out (the seven rejections plus three new ones).  Turns out, more stories = more rejections.  Now that I can announce that I have a book coming out, I include that in all my cover letters; however, this has not appreciably increased my success rate.  Either they like your short story or they don’t, or you’re Stephen King and your crap stories are better than my best ones anyway so who knows whether the name has anything do with it or not?

So here is my (current) set of advice on how to get your short stories rejected.  Perhaps, someday, I can tell you how to get them accepted; I suspect it’ll be doing more of the same until you get good enough at it to talk editors into whatever crazy stuff you can come up with.

1) Write.

Sit down and write.  Take a quick scan through the rest of the post; you notice where it doesn’t say “edit” or “revise”?

Let’s call “editing” the cleanup process–typos and grammar fixed, red shirt in scene one/blue shirt in scene two errors fixed, all words actually mean what you used them to mean, and everything scans well (both out loud and on the sheet of paper).  The kind of thing a copyeditor would do, only without any tact.  Yes, you have to do this; you have to act like a professional if you want to be treated like one.  Try to get to the point where it doesn’t take as long or longer to clean up copy as it does to write it.

Let’s call “revising” the continuing education process of the writer–getting opinions, considering them, making changes to character, setting, plot, etc.  Writers do need continuing education–but if your story doesn’t need it, don’t screw around with it.  It’s a waste of time to fix something that isn’t broken, or THAT WORKS OKAY EVEN IF IT ISN’T PERFECT, SHEESH ALREADY FOUR YEARS ON THREE-THOUSAND-WORD STORY?  WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU???

But I’m not bitter.

There’s nothing wrong with revising, but the focus should be on writing.  You should spend most of your time–not 51% most, but 90% most–on writing new material.  There’s only so much you can fix a bad story while you’re learning to write.  You learn a little bit from revising; you learn a lot more from writing a new story while swearing to get better at whatever sucked in the last story.  Sorry if I told you differently before July, but it’s true.

And once you get better at writing stories, you can go back to your old stuff (if you can stand it) and fix it in no time flat; you’ll be able to see what’s wrong with it and whether it’ll be more worthwhile to fix it or write it from scratch (or write something else).  Juvenalia.  Everyone has some.

2) Format.

Format your story professionally STARTING WITH YOUR FIRST DRAFT.

It’s a hoop through which you, as the trained seal, must jump if you want your fish.  No hoop, no fish.  It’s no more demeaning than wearing shoes rather than bunny slippers to work.  Oh, shooooes, you whine.  Who cares what my shoooooes look like.  Shut up.  You could have written and mailed another story in the time it took you to whine about having to format your story.

This includes your cover letter, if any.

Here’s my favorite:  http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html

But if the market wants the story in a different format, I say give it to them.  A lot of short story markets are working on a shoestring and a prayer, and don’t need to spend billable hours TAKING OUT THE TABS AND DOUBLESPACING YOUR STORY.  Jerk.

And why with the first draft, you ask?  Because the time you spend reformatting your story is time that you could be writing, dumbass.  And when you’re writing a lot, you’re starting a lot of first drafts.  And when you’re sending out a lot, the last thing you want to do is accidentally send out the wrong–unformatted–draft.

A word on file names:  Number your revisions, even if you don’t plan to have any.  TitleofStory_1.doc works nicely.  Then create an archive file in the story folder for any outdated revisions AND FILE THEM.  “If only I’d sent the right draft…the one that wasn’t completely retarded.”  Mistake-proof your process NOW.

3) Send.

I recommend Duotrope’s Digest for finding markets.  Use the submission tracker.

Send the story the day you’re done editing (that is, cleaning up, which you shouldn’t do until after you’ve done any revisions, if any).  Do not send more than one story to a market.  Do not send one story to more than one market.  Do not post your story on your website.

I haven’t decided what my particular rejection threshhold is.  I have one story with, uh, sixteen rejections, I think.  When I do hit my threshhold, I’ll consider publishing as an e-story.  More on that later, I guess.

But keep your story in the mail.

The day after it gets rejected, send it out.  (I find sending it out on the same day is sometimes problematic, as even looking at my e-mail makes me want to throw myself off a cliff.  But no longer than two days, if it’s over the weekend, even if you feel like shit.)

Snail mail:  Buy a BOX of 9 by 12s and a BOX of standard envelopes for SASEs.  Keep stamps on hand at all times.  Staple NOTHING as nobody likes to rip open a finger when opening mail.  Use paper clips, not binder clips to prevent excessive lumps in your envelope and on the editor’s desk.

A note on writing for a market vs. writing whatever the hell you feel like, then sending it to a market:  I highly recommend getting in the habit of writing for yourself while keeping a reader in mind (not a market).  If you know who likes your stuff, you can deduce your markets from them.  “Is this for my sarcastic-but-romantic sibling or my evil cousin the accounting detective?”  Someone who is NOT you.  Sometimes you can’t help yourself; “Ohh, this has Weird Tales all over it.”  What happens when it gets rejected?  Death by paper cut?  Pfft.

4) Track.

I recommend a spreadsheet and the submission tracker on Duotrope’s, and a paper file for the snaily stuff.  SAVE all e-mails.

Rejections = tax deductions.

I am not qualified to give tax advice; however, if you plan on taking deductions for your postage, supplies, home office, etc., don’t paper your bathroom in rejections as it may be somewhat embarrassing to have to invite the IRS auditor into your home.

The more stories you have out, the more complex it becomes to determine who has your story, when you sent it (did they forget about you?!?  It’s happened to me before), and, when you get rejected, who you can send it to next without pissing them off because you 1) already sent them that story or 2) already sent them a different story that they haven’t rejected yet but are pretty much guaranteed to reject now.  “Look, you greedy bastard, wait in line like everyone else!”  “Ooops…”

On that story with sixteen-ish rejections, I wasn’t keeping track, because I was bound and determined to get that story accepted before I wrote or submitted another one.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I’m PRAYING that I don’t send it out to someone who’s already had it, or that it’s been so long ago that they’ve changed slush readers and/or records system.  I’ve changed the name of the story several times, too, so that doesn’t help.  I was being an idiot.

Be smarter than I was.  Shouldn’t be hard.

How to Talk to a Writer

This is not how to talk to me.

These are tips I’ve picked up on how to talk to other writers.  Although I’m sure the same tricks would work on me.

Okay.  Keep in mind that writers are people first, readers second, and writers third.

What?  Writers are readers before they’re writers?  Even Anne Rice is a fangirl: “Favorite wish as a True Blood Fan: To do a silent cameo: me and a long haired velvet clad vampire tete a tete in a booth at Sam Merlotte’s” (from Facebook).

Yeah.  Every writer was inspired to write by first reading; every writer has a few heroes before which they would stutter, stammer, and otherwise lose their minds.

So:  here are the three ways to talk to a writer:

1) Make normal, ordinary, everyday conversation.  Like, “Would you like something to drink?” or “The bathroom is that way.”

I know, this is frustrating; you want to make some kind of connection with this person who is probably (at least somewhat) living your dream life:  writing books for a living, or at least writing books and selling them.  However, have mercy on them.  Writers are generally somewhat shy, at least around people they don’t know.  They have public faces that they can pull out in a split-second that allow them to talk to just about anybody, at any time, but these are their public faces.

There are only so many things that writers will talk about when they have their public faces on.  Mostly writing stuff, like how they got published, found their agent, came up with the idea for their book, etc.

2) Talk about books.  Like, “Have you read Book X yet?  SQUEEEEE!”

Or book recommendations, like, “What were the books that helped you survive high school?”  “Do you have any books that you associate with important moments in your life?”  “Was there a book that changed your life for the better?”  “Have you ever literally thrown a book across the room?  What was it?”

I have participated in many happy hours of conversation with writers, talking about other people’s books.

3) Talk about trivia.

This digs straight into the heart of any writer.

Where do writers get their ideas from?  People ask this, I know, and there are all kinds of answers, from the general to the particular.  But, to take the question at its most general, the answer is, “I collected a bunch of facts and ideas and something in my brain went ding.”

By talking about trivia, you are dumping extra facts–that is, extra story material–straight into the writer’s brain.

This is what writers talk about with each other.

Something to keep in mind:  prefixing any comment to a writer with “You are so awesome” will generally shut off most of the writer’s brain.  I can’t swear to this, but I would generally say that most writers secretly don’t have the best self-confidence in the world.  –If they had, they wouldn’t be writers; they’d do something with a reasonable chance of success, like engineering.  Instead, they (we) need at least intermittent reassurance that we don’t suck.  Ironically, they (we) don’t trust this reassurance (which is why we need more of it).

“You are so awesome” is a button that, if pushed repeatedly, starts a crazy feedback loop of “Thanks!” “Wait…if this person really knew me, they’d know how non-awesome and ordinary I am.”  “I can’t stand being non-awesome!”  “Somebody tell me I’m awesome!”  “I don’t deserve it…”  ZZZT.

Instead, mention a particular thing they’ve written and say you liked that.  Don’t analyze the book or ask highly-involved questions. (Are you there to impress the author with your insight into their book?  Lame.  Are you there to make them uncomfortable by trying to make them remember something they haven’t thought about for two years?  Lame.)  However, if there’s something that’s been bugging you that isn’t unreasonably picky (like, “X was wearing a red shirt in chapter 1, how could X be wearing a blue shirt in chapter 2 you fool?!?”), you can ask that.  Like, “I always wondered whether book Y was supposed to be a metaphor for Z.  It made me rethink my ideas about Z, at any rate.  So did you mean it?”

Be prepared for a “Huh.  Maybe so, but I didn’t do it on purpose” kind of answer, though.  I’ve heard it a number of times.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-15

  • C42 Chance done: "His voice sounded strange in his own ears; he wasn’t sure whether it was his voice or his ears." #
  • Six more chapters… #
  • @mknippling Good luck to you and your wonderful wife 🙂 in reply to mknippling #
  • Wait…one whole Monday went by with no rejections. That's okay, I just got one this morning. #
  • C46 Chance done: "He found himself singing the alphabet song under (obviously) his breath. No, that wasn’t right." #
  • Florida Roadkill – Tim Dorsey: Poorly-disorganized, nonlinear plot that was brilliant when all pieces known. Probably better in next book. #
  • Also, some brilliant murder weapons. #
  • All good citizens show up early to collect their children on the first day of school. #
  • Ray and I are not sure about her new teacher. Seems to state obvious things in a triple-underscore tone. #
  • Last Chance day! For the first draft, anyway. Then on to Ray book #2 and a murder mystery party game. #
  • Done with first draft of A Chance Damnation! "Aloysius squatted down next to Jerome. Damn, that kid was going to be tall, he thought." #
  • @maureenjohnson Rhapsody in Blue makes excellent sandwich music. in reply to maureenjohnson #
  • @DaphneUn Woot! My experience with boy babies usually involves extreme headbutting, as in them and my glasses… in reply to DaphneUn #
  • @DaphneUn But the good news is that KK will not have her clothes stolen, which could be a major deal-breaker. in reply to DaphneUn #
  • Feeling lost and unsure of what to do until it's time to pick Ray up. What? Answer e-mails? Pffft. #
  • Think I'll make a trade-in run at a used bookstore and drop off the rejects at Goodwill or the ARC. The Bug is PACKED with donations. #
  • I find giving things away very satisfying. Not, like, uplifting or noble or anything. A sense of closure with unwanted STUFF. #
  • I had a terrible nightmare about not being able to find an unimportant phone number. #
  • Ayah, another rejection on Alien Blue; she suggested I send her an urban paranormal. Chance Damnation is a RURAL paranormal… #
  • @ianthealy Maybe I'll pitch the post-WWII one with mechs as "historical-urban-fantasy-steampunk" just to confuse the issue. in reply to ianthealy #
  • 2:15. Time for your regularly-scheduled rainstorm. #
  • @jasummerell Small God of Hangovers! in reply to jasummerell #
  • @jasummerell Or was that the Oh God of Hangovers? I forget. in reply to jasummerell #
  • @ianthealy Nancy Drew Dieselpunk, that's what it is. in reply to ianthealy #
  • @jasummerell I recommend you stay away from Greek temples as a method of birth control, then. Or is that parthenonogenesis? in reply to jasummerell #
  • @doycet Um, be careful about the contexts in which you say the word "blow." in reply to doycet #
  • @doycet By the way, I just found myself doing a victory lap around the house. "Doyce liiiiked it, Doyce liiiiked it." in reply to doycet #
  • Ray: "Whipped cat, now that's weird. Like whipped cream, only cat. Meow! Meow!" #
  • Eating pears with hot-cocoa-flavored whipped cream. #
  • The cat is safely alive, on the couch. #
  • Listening to La Bamba on harp at Three Margaritas. Oddly appropriate. #
  • Ray got her orange belt! #
  • @inkgypsy I'm thinking about giving them humanoid mech suits, actually. in reply to inkgypsy #
  • @Rarnabybudge Hm…The character that springs to mind for that might make it seem like settling for what she can get. I'll think about it. in reply to Rarnabybudge #
  • "Vengeance Quilt" done. "Claire, especially, reminded him of himself in seminary; she chased down technicalities like a dog after a rabbit." #
  • This is the first short story I've written for a previously-invented world; it's the same world as "Chance Damnation." #
  • Why is it that all the supermarket blackberries have especially sucked this year? #
  • Author Allegra Gray signing at the Briargate B&N TONIGHT at 7 p.m. Book: Nothing but Deception. #
  • Ray's sick…Lee's sick…I abruptly feel like shit. This does not bode well. #

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Urban Fantasy

I just got another rejection on Alien Blue from an editor; it was the best rejection I’ve ever received, because it was both true and flattering.

The editor said she liked the book–but there was no market for it now.  THEN she said I should think about writing something with series potential in the urban fantasy realm, which I’m going to take as, “If you should just so happen to write such a thing, send it to me and remind me I suggested it in the first place.”  Not quite a request, but a sly whistle.  That’s how I’m taking it, anyway.

As it so happens, I just finished the first draft of A Chance Damnation yesterday.  I have a mystery game to write, a chapter book for Ray to write, a WFH book to write…and then I’m not sure.  Those things might take me through to December; none of them are very long and will be about 70K altogether.  So I’ve been kind of noodling around for the next thing to write and/or polish up (that is, from my stack of NaNoWriMo drafts, all but one of which were written before I had a clue how to plot and thus need major work).

I have a YA urban girly fantasy set in Japan, a rural fantasy set in 1890 South Dakota, and a historical-steampunk-rural-fantasy set in post-WWII Iowa.  Not to mention Chance, which is 1960 South Dakota rural fantasy (no relation).

I’m probably going to send her a proposal for one of the above and try to start a new trend.  I’m thinking the Iowa book; there are mechs, and I never finished that one (although I wrote 58K on it).  The one that got away.

So I was in the shower thinking about it, and I had an ah-hah moment about the nature of urban fantasy.

My Iowa book doesn’t contain any sex with the natives.  Clearly, it won’t work as an urban fantasy unless I change that–or at least create the potential (and attraction) for this to occur.

Here’s the basic template for an urban fantasy, at least as it seems to me:  Person in an ordinary setting meets a person of a mythical species and is EXTREMELY attracted to them.  The relationship causes we-do-it-this-way/No-we-do-it-THIS-way issues, is considered at least somewhat disturbing/kinky by straights, and promises that any progeny will be a pain in the ass to raise, even if they’re raised as either all-human or all-other, not being informed of the mixed heritage.

So, as I see it, urban fantasy is the mythicalization of mixed-race relationships.  Even more than that (and this is what made me laugh in the shower), it’s the mythicalization of Western civilization integrating with other cultures.  You cannot be treating another culture with respect if you can’t imagine them as sex partners.

It isn’t necessarily a sublimation of racism/antiracism; I’ve felt for a long time that racism has very little to do with the color of your skin (other than as a marker of your probably culture and mores).  I have a friend (hi, Julia!) who is writing a book about a liberal human and conservative vampire, for example (that I can’t wait to read; the snippets are painfully funny).

So now I’m trying to rethink the Iowa book in terms of making the other culture something…sexy.

Sexy, sexy, sexy.

They’re asexual gremlins right now, that mate kind of like amoebas, mixing genes here and there, but mostly via the whole squish in half thing.

NOT sexy.

I keep breaking down in giggles trying to think of a way to make those guys sexy.  The current love interests in the book are a paraplegic Val Kilmer (who gets the world’s best mech; two of them, rather) and a sky pirate modeled on my husband.  No gremlins, though.

So, if you have any suggestion on how to make gremlins sexy, let me know; I’ll totally give you credits in the acknowledgement section and name a character after you if you want one.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-08

  • Cribbage and ribs yesterday. A good day. We ended up with extra girl, though. #
  • Lee is becoming an espresso master. The sucky foam-producing capabilities on the machine are limiting his foaminess, though. #
  • And this was the best rib sauce yet. #
  • I get most of my news off Twitter now. Weird. #
  • I'm thinking about getting a WiFi-only Nook. Any thoughts? #
  • I got a Nook yesterday, and read about half of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." #
  • I put it in a ziploc freezer bag and took it with me in the bathtub. #
  • The plot didn't start until page 95–a big no-no that nevertheless worked. #
  • I also read about 1/4 of a free small-press book that had no conflict (all non-dramatized backstory/world explanation) for 50 pages. #
  • Sadly, I very much wanted to like it, given the beginning, but I had to let it go. #
  • Mmmm…lemon thyme bread. #
  • Currently attempting to navigate library ebook system. Sllllow. #
  • Back to work! #
  • Damn it, I wish I'd known this word a week ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limerence #
  • C30 Chance done: “I would like something bad to happen to the priest,” he said. #
  • @JuliaRAllen He's thwarted, for the moment, and he's already humiliated the guy. in reply to JuliaRAllen #
  • Come on, 5K words… #
  • 5K done! C31: “Good bread, good meat, good God, let’s eat!” #
  • Dwight V Swain in the morning. #
  • @kimseverson Lobster Envy would be a good name for a book…or my feelings right now. in reply to kimseverson #
  • Waiting for this, too, to pass. Waiting with my boots on. #
  • And my legs pumping. #
  • Researching labyrinth-retreats in CO for story: http://www.benethillmonastery.org. I might actually go there for an afternoon. #
  • Dwight V. Swain, as usual, kicks my ass in a most informative way. #
  • I think I'm finally to the point where I can write this story today and not have it suck. #
  • Irreverently, I want a "Bride of Christ" t-shirt with a flying-hat nun in a "Bride of Frankenstein" pose. And neck bolts. #
  • @AccidentalKate Great. Now I want peanut butter pie, too. in reply to AccidentalKate #
  • @richardbamberg Yes. Please utilize anti-splitting measures. in reply to richardbamberg #
  • @richardbamberg Spiritual labyrinths, the kind with only one path. in reply to richardbamberg #
  • @richardbamberg You said you had a splitting headache! in reply to richardbamberg #
  • I suck at titles lately. #
  • Ray's orange belt test is today at noon. Tooth seals (clap clap) at 9:50. Feeling like at-home limousine this a.m. #
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larrson: Good stuff. A reminder of how messed up sex is. #
  • @ApexBookCompany You don't happen to know how I could subscribe to mag via Nook, do you? Just got one. in reply to ApexBookCompany #
  • My face is a grease-pit this morning. #
  • Ah, another rejection. [Whimper] #
  • @Three_Star_Dave Thank you. I'm building rejection endurance. Two a week is my tolerance, and that was #3 in reply to Three_Star_Dave #
  • Bees have become a beautiful insect, like a butterfly, since the Great Bee Deaths. Ray: "Oooh, a bee!" I remember fleeing in terror. #
  • I have started to use the appearance of bees as an indication of a minor miracle in my writing. Twice, now. #
  • Damn it, I keep typing "she" for "it." This story is a pain in the ass. #
  • @Three_Star_Dave Indeed. in reply to Three_Star_Dave #
  • Ate lunch at Wholly Crepes at the mall…mmmm. So authentic I could barely follow the chef's French, and it was all words I knew (food). #
  • I had one with Brie, walnuts, honey, lettuce, & vinaigrette…Ray had bananas and Nutella on FIRE. #
  • Heh. If prison and aging trends continue, the Boomers will be the first generation with minimum-security retirement homes. #
  • The Resignation, done: "It laid on the ground under the hydro on its elbows and looked at the window through the scope." #
  • Readthrough tomorrow. As usual, I feel that the story is much better now than when I was stuck in the middle, when it sucked. #
  • Not sure how accurate this is: http://www.angel-guide.com/names-angels.html #
  • Ascotts aren't solely the province of Fred of Scooby Doo: http://www.elitetuxedo.com/gray_ascott_dots.htm #
  • Shoot. This means I have to answer my e-mails now, doesn't it? #
  • Oh frabjous day! Calloo, callay! Prop 8 Struck down – http://bit.ly/ahb1Fc #
  • Awesome valedictorian speech: http://www.sott.net/articles/show/212383-V…aduation-Speech #
  • Hm…I wonder why I haven't had as many sinus infections this year. #
  • I get to annouuuuunce things later today…but first I have to get my work done. #
  • C32 Chance done: "What with one thing and another, he wasn’t sure that he had survived until his head broke water." #
  • @JuliaRAllen You're excited? I'M excited! in reply to JuliaRAllen #
  • @Three_Star_Dave Poor bebe. in reply to Three_Star_Dave #
  • C33 Chance done: Lost, lost, lost, breathe. Lost, lost, lost, breathe. #
  • I didn't get caught up on chapters, but I did almost 5K again today. Heavy stuff. #
  • Now I will do yoga. THEN I will prep announcement…I am disciplined, yes I am. #
  • @jasummerell Why, thank you 🙂 in reply to jasummerell #
  • @Three_Star_Dave Final headcount=2. Arrive Sat and prolly stay over. Is it okay if we're there early? in reply to Three_Star_Dave #
  • @ianthealy Your 7 yo's hijinx promise fun times ahead. in reply to ianthealy #
  • @ianthealy You should be so lucky he waits that long. in reply to ianthealy #
  • @jasummerell Coooool 🙂 in reply to jasummerell #
  • Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain. Rock on. #
  • Hey, I want to start reading Tim Dorsey. Which book do I start with? Sounds like timeline/book order is confusing. Florida Roadkill? #
  • @leahcstewart Dude, small children ARE Sisyphus. "You missed me! Not dead yet! NA NA NA!!!" in reply to leahcstewart #
  • @kknippling As soon as they let me show you the cover art, eh? 🙂 in reply to kknippling #
  • @leahcstewart They're not rugapes; they're Coyotes. in reply to leahcstewart #
  • Ayah, I seem to be about half-and-half with personal vs. form rejections lately. #
  • C34 Chance done: “You’re the expert,” Aloysius said. “Amazing what a fat lot of good that has done me,” Sebastian said. #
  • Chapter 48 should be The End of Chance Damnation, by the way. #
  • I keep wondering when I'm going to hear ANYTHING back about Ray's "Menagerie" book from a publisher. Hopes up? No hopes up? What?!? #
  • @jasummerell Plan ahead for your bulbs? It's a good think I suck at gardening, or I'd be totally obsessed. There's logic for you. in reply to jasummerell #
  • @Three_Star_Dave Hey, do you have ginger beer for a Moscow Mule? If not, I'll pick some up. in reply to Three_Star_Dave #
  • @Three_Star_Dave That'll work. in reply to Three_Star_Dave #
  • C38 Chance done: “Impossible,” the red-stripe demon said. But Aloysius could tell he was lying. “Summon demons? Here?” #
  • I think I'm going to set everything else aside for the next few days and finish Chance. About 17K to go. #
  • @Three_Star_Dave Okay, guy, we're almost out the door. in reply to Three_Star_Dave #

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Announcement: The Mysterious Book!

I got permission from the publisher, League Entertainment, to announce this yesterday. Greedily, I sat on the news for a while, savoring it all my lonesome.

(Actually, I told myself I had to get my work done for the day before I could send it out, then beat my head against the wall for several hours, and decided I had to spend some time with my family after that before they killed me, then decided I was too tired for to be anything but grumpy and disagreeable and read in the bathtub for a few hours instead, which is my version of a recovery tank a la The Empire Strikes Back. How sad is that? I’ve been harassing these guys for months to let me spill the beans.)

But here I am this morning, back in the saddle, as it were, ready to either a) make my announcement or b) babble.*

The book is called Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse (due out October 26, 2010). It’s a pick-your-own-path kind of book, only every choice upon which you embark ends in your death, often in comically gruesome ways. Being a zombie book, death doesn’t always equal the end of the story; you just switch sides. But eventually, you get what everybody gets at the end of the road: death.

Muahahaha!

Perfect for me, eh?

As I write this, my beneficent overlords haven’t put the book up on their site yet (hint), and I can’t release images, so I’ll just have to post an update when it’s up. The book has just made it into rough galleys and is going out to some utterly awesome people for blurbs, but I don’t want to jinx anything (or be inaccurate due to last minute changes which my kind publishers may be too swamped to inform me of), so I’ll just cross my fingers and hope.

I love this book. I wish someone had written this book when I was a kid. I would have been all over it. I used to love reading (and trying to figure out all the alternate endings) to Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid (although I hardly remember them now; the only thing I remember was the one about the pyramids and getting turned into a mummy), but I never cared for the happy endings.

The guys at League (Ken Chapman and Johnny Atomic) have been great to work with (as in, they set me loose on this awesome idea, and then when I turned stuff in, picked apart the stupid and vague parts and made me fix them, which is a mark of greatness in my book), and Ana Bruno did awesome art. I chortled over the whole galley; right now, I feel like my writing is just the excuse for the concept and the art. I like working with people who are more talented than I am–I feel like I’m getting away with something, so just try to stop me.

I am lucky to be working on this project, you know?

*Or c) both, apparently.

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