Month: March 2011 Page 1 of 3

Out of Town

All, I’m out of town for the week at a workshop.  I thought I would have more time and inclination to blog, but I don’t, so I’ll be back next Monday unless something changes.

Blugh (Or, how NOT to write a short story)

So I tried the thing I talked about the other day, where I tried to make a story out of the first few ideas I came across.

I went over to BoingBoing and ended up with:

Low serotonin levels make mice more bisexual

and

Japan Crisis:  What’s next for nuclear energy in the U.S.?

Which just happened to be the first two articles I hit.

Now, after reading, I determined that, IMO, the serotonin article said more about the nature of rape and depression than it did about whether happy pills could cure being gay (and I was miffed that they didn’t test female mice…as I told Lee, the serotonin-deprived female mice would probably break out of their cages and make a raid on any chocolate in the building).  So I decided to set the story in a prison (where people were stressed and likely to be messed up in the brain chemical department anyway), but a women’s facility (to see what they would do) where the death row inmates had to work at a nearby nuclear reactor.  Kind of a Schrodinger’s Cat death, as it were.

The main character was still trying to get revenge on the woman who had kidnapped her daughter.  She’d got her sent to prison for life on trumped-up charges, but it wasn’t enough.

Okay, sounds like a reasonable setup, right?  (Well, not reasonable, but okay for a story.)

Nevertheless, I got about as far as determining that the Evil Bad Lady was based on Baba Yaga and had managed to get one of the M.C.’s former roommates convinced that she was pregnant when I folded.

I was writing along, and suddenly I became extremely depressed, like, “Why bother living?” depressed.  I started on the You Are a Failure as a Writer mental loop.  I didn’t want to go on living, let alone finish the story.

Something I’m learning about the You Are a Failure as a Writer mental loop is that it’s my “muse” trying to tell me to stop what I’m doing and do something else.  What, I may not know, but not whatever it is I’m doing.

So I put the story down, walked to the library, and felt better.

I’m still noodling around with the idea, and just thinking about the story isn’t depressing or anything; I still think something might come of it.  But apparently I am not meant to be a “take two things and go!!!” writer at this point; I need more time to come to grips with the idea.

 

Success.

Amanda Hocking seems to be trying to get a book deal from a traditional publisher, despite the fact that she’s making boatloads of money selling her books independently.

Barry Eisler turned down a $500K traditional deal to publish independently.

Who’s right?  Who’s an idiot?  Who is completely letting down the publishing community?  Who is going to regret it, because everyone knows they made the illogical choice that’s going to bite them in the ass later?

Dude.  They’re people, not flag wavers in a giant publishing war.  There are some choices you have to make, or you’ll look back and regret them, no matter how many people are telling you to do otherwise.  Sometimes they pay off; sometimes they don’t.  The choice isn’t about that chance of what other people consider to be success; it’s about choosing, and about being yourself.

Writers, of all people, should get that.

What next? (Or, Feeding the Muse is a Bitch)

I’m almost done with Ray’s book, and for some reason this morning when I woke up (after a strange dream about DC being on an island, paying museum admission with heart-shaped silver dollars, and Ray falling asleep as soon as we got there), I knew I had to figure out right away what I was going to write next.

No, I didn’t eat anything weird for supper last night.

One of the lessons I learned early this year is that writing nonfiction only keeps the muse at bay; it doesn’t actually feed it or play with it or anything like that.  If there is no fiction, all is not well.

And writing a short story a week doesn’t do it for me, either; while short stories can sometimes take a long time for me to subconsciously noodle around before I’ll write them down, there has to be writing.  Brainstorming doesn’t feed the muse.  Only writing feeds the muse.

So I’ve been trying to get some fiction writing done every day, unless I’m in “nuts” project mode (another lesson learned:  if the client wants overdrive, charge them for it in writing), in which case I may or may not shower, let alone get any fiction written; I can last about a week in that mode before I go off my rocker.  So far, anyway.

The most satisfying amount of long fiction to write on a daily basis is 5K right now; the plot moves forward in a fairly big chunk.  Less than that, and I feel frustrated at things moving very slllloooooowwwwwly.  The way I’ve been writing lately, I have enough constraints (a very loose outline) to keep me sticking to a plot, yet I’m eager to find out how things actually play out.  It’s almost like reading someone else’s stuff.

So here’s my conundrum:

1) My happy place is 5K a day, or about 3-5 hours of fiction writing.

2) I still don’t have contracts for two of the projects I want to work on and are taking up large areas of my brain, so I’m not going to start them.

3) I need to do more research on the Alice Z. project before I can start on it.

4) I have to wait for Ray to grow up some more before I can write the next book in her series.

5) I have a lot of editing to do, but that doesn’t cut it.

6) Right now, one of my weaker spots is coming up with things that I want to write about, or rather, how to figure out how to put my own particular twist on something.  I have plenty of ideas, but I have to reject a lot of them, because they bore me before I even start.

I have several nonfiction projects that may pop up at any time, but when that happens, I don’t seem to have a problem working around them.  The muse is okay when the project goes on hold for a brief period of time or when I can only write a couple of K, again for a brief period of time.

I’m going to Oregon for a week, and there’s supposed to be “a lot of writing,” but I suspect it’s going to be synopses and things.

So what next?  Write short stories until one of them gets out of control?  I have a lot more insight on what Stephen King goes through…you have to feed the beast, every day.  It doesn’t matter whether the story’s good or bad or whatever.  You have to feed the beast.

So, working through all that, I suspect the next thing is to start picking up crappy ideas and just running with them, to build my ability to make stories out of anything.  There will probably always be some ideas that are better than others, but unless I stretch my range, I’ll be limited as to what kinds of stories I can write.

Ahhhhhhh.  I haven’t answered the question, but I’ve opened up the range of answers.  Kind of scary…like having the waitress show up at a restaurant before you’re really ready to order, and you surreptitiously drop your forefinger onto the menu and order whatever you land on.  If you’re at a good restaurant and have a fairly adventurous palate, it usually works out, but there’s a moment of frisson

Well, I guess I’ll see what happens tomorrow, then.

Writer’s Lessons, Writer’s Nightmares

I had another night full of nightmares about going out of business.

People have tried to give me good advice on the writing business.  I’ve listened, but I’ve made the mistakes anyway.  There are some lessons you can only learn by living through them, I think; those lessons vary from person to person, but these are mine:  to be so ambitious as to count my chickens before they hatch; to take risks that might increase success but might also sink me; to count on things happening when people say they’re going to happen.  To assume.

Nobody is going to guard your business but yourself.

Writer’s lesson, writer’s nightmare.  You think you’ve learned it, but there’s always time to learn it again.

Lamb, or How to Lose Money on an Ebook

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been trying to download more books to my Nook, in preparation of going on a trip.

One of the books that I’ve been meaning to read is Christopher Moore’s Lamb, which has been repeatedly recommended to me.

I decided to buy an ebook copy of the book, which was originally published in 2002.

But wait!  The lowest price I could find, using Inkmesh, was $9.34.  For a book I could have picked up at a used bookstore for $2-3.

I changed my mind:  I no longer wanted to buy the book.  I went to the PPLD website to check out a paper copy of the book; they now have their ebooks listed in their regular catalogue.  Now, checking out ebooks from a library is a pain in the ass, because I haven’t done it that often, and because they haven’t got all the kinks worked out yet.  Nevertheless, fifteen minutes later I have a copy of the ebook on my Nook.

And had I been able to find a used copy – first sale rights only, bubba! – I would have done that before paying full price on that book, too.

Incidentally, Lamb is published by Harper Collins, which wants to limit the number of checkouts on a library ebook to 26 before their license expires and they have to buy a new copy of the book.

So:

1) Company overcharges for ebook, almost a decade after it was originally published.

2) Company makes it difficult for customers to exercise their first sale rights, which is that customers may resell their property when they don’t want it anymore (via DRM, etc.).

3) Company makes it difficult for customers to access the books via the public library system.  (There is no real reason for OverDrive to have that double-download thing, where you have to download the software, the reader, the key, and then the book.  Pay sites don’t make you go through that crap.  I doubt the librarians enjoy having to explain the convoluted software, either.)

4) Company makes it difficult for libraries to afford to continue to provide the book by making them pay for popular books again and again.  It’s not like libraries can just lend out as many copies of the book as they feel like; they have to buy separate licenses for each copy that goes around.

I wanted to pay good money for this book, and now I won’t.

It makes me want to rush out and epublish something so I can donate copies to libraries.  “Here.  Have an open license to lend out as many copies as you want, as long as you want them, no DRM attached.”  Rushing out is probably not the answer…but I can’t imagine that giving libraries more freedom would cause me to sell fewer books.

Anyway, I sent an email to PPLD to try to find out how to do that; if I find out, I’ll pass it along.

Update:

Also, it’s a badge of honor if you have your library card number memorized. Hoo rah!

Update:

PPLD buys their ebooks exclusively through OverDrive.  I am contacting OverDrive for more info.  The policy of PPLD is not to collect self-published works unless “they are reviewed in established publications.”  There are exceptions for books that meet certain criteria for specific collections.  Also, “The criteria for materials selection also apply in the acceptance of gifts and donations of books and other materials,” which I take to mean that even if you give PPLD a self-published book for free, they probably won’t accept it for circulation; however, the book may go to the Friends of PPLD sales.

There is no national library database you can get into; you have to approach each library district on its own.

The librarian also sent an attachment on how to market your book to libraries; I’ll post it if I get permission.

More doppelgangers…

I worked on a story this weekend that had a split character in it.  I read an article a few weeks ago about this kind of character, and I think it’s been on my mind ever since.  There’s probably a technical name for this, but I can’t remember where I saw the article, and I can’t remember what they called the type of character in the article, which makes it awfully hard to look up.

Anyway, split characters are like the two mains in Fight Club.

In the article, they talked about movies where the movies goes along like there are two characters, but what you’re seeing is so tightly inside one character’s point of view, that you don’t realize that two characters are really the same person.  An imaginary friend.  A dead twin.  Then they explained why this kind of thing usually pisses them off.  Well, I get it.  Twist endings are hard to pull off right.

The work for hire book I finished recently was about cancer, and while doing research, I found out some things that were just utterly fascinating, and I really just wanted to write a story where I had a plot that supported me dropping in these facts.  Yes, this was not a story inspired by plot or character, but by trivia.

I ended up using the split character in the story to represent two sides of a character’s personality, despair and hope.  I still don’t have the balance right–hope is a nobody, at this point–but it was interesting to try to write, and in the end, the character never figures it out:  the fact that one half of her personality has been excised is used as a healing technique (and yet this is a horror story).

I end up thinking about this kind of thing a lot when I’m writing some stories (but not at all on most).  How are the characters related on a thematic level?  Is the smartmouthed sidekick really just the personification of the hero’s id?  Is the villain what the hero fears becoming?  That kind of thing.  The more mythic the story, the more I think about this kind of thing, or maybe it’s the other way around.

If you happen to know that article, drop me a line.  And if you’ve written a story like this, let me know how it came out.

How to Fail, Part 8: Submitting, continued. (Getting Paid)

Last time we talked about how to select the genre for your piece.  Now, we’re going to talk about how to select your market.

You may be tempted to send your work to markets you know you can get into.  I don’t recommend this.  I believe you should always send your work to the markets at the top of your genre, if your story fits.  Send your story to either 1) the highest-paying market or 2) your dream market first.

Yes, this means you will probably get rejected a lot more than if you sent your story to markets who pay in contributor copies.  There is nothing wrong with getting published in those markets.

However, there is a lot more that’s right when you get published in a higher-paying market.

For example, if you sell three short science fiction/fantasy/horror stories to “pro” level markets, then you’re eligible for membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SWFA).  SFWA can help you promote your book, resolve contract disputes, and generally gives you a larger voice in the SF/F community.

There are different professional writing groups like SFWA you can join:

There are probably more groups, but I wasn’t having luck finding them.  It seems that general fiction writers, poets, and nonfiction writers don’t have a professional-level guild or group.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.

If you publish in paying markets, you’re also much more likely to be read by people building anthologies, including the “Year’s Best” anthologies.

If you publish in paying markets, you’re much more likely to be read, period.

Also, it goes without saying that paying markets pay money.  Not much, but some.

So here’s how to determine the level of your market (I use the guidelines at Duotrope.com):

  • Professional:  5 cents a word and up.
  • Semi-pro:  1-5 cents a word.
  • Token:  Less than 1 cent a word.
  • Non-Paying:  No money; may include contributor’s copies.

Okay, let’s say you write 1000 words an hour.  If you’re selling stories at the professional level, you’re making $50 an hour, minus the time you spent looking for markets, submitting, etc.

If you’re selling at the semi-pro level, you’re making $10-$50 an hour.

At the token level, you’re making less than $10 an hour.

Hobby writers are okay with making less than $10 an hour or even working for free.  If you’re trying to become a professional writer, one of the things you need to commit to is getting paid.

Harlan Ellison has a famous rant on paying the writer; if you haven’t seen it, you should.  This is the attitude that you have to take, as a professional writer.  I’ve only just started working as a freelance writer, and I see it all the time.  Even clients that I normally think of as trustworthy think nothing about asking me to work for free–writing back cover blurbs, making templates, editing bios, adding whole chapters of material that needs to be heavily researched–that aren’t covered under the original contract.

If your dream is to become a professional writer, then do everything in your power to get paid.

And now, a word on self-publishing short stories, whether you do it for free (on your website, etc.) or as ebooks (Smashwords, etc.).

Self-publishing is a whole new world.  I highly recommend not self-publishing short stories until you’re writing stories that can get published in a paying market.

Don’t take my word for it.  Self-publishing, especially in ebooks, where you can have a completely $0 overhead cost (except your time and normal overhead), is cheap and quick compared to traditional publishing, and it’s so much more open to things that normally don’t fit in a category.

However, most writers have a hard time knowing when they’re writing good stories.  Personally, I think the part of the brain that loves unconditionally, the part of your brain that loves your kids, puppies, kittens, and bacon, takes over when you write a story.  In order to write, at least part of you has to love, unconditionally.

It’s really hard for a writer to be an accurate judge of what’s good writing, because of that love.

However, editors really are trained to sort the wheat from the chaff, and while their opinion is biased to whatever their tastes are, as a whole, they’re pretty good judges of what’s working and what isn’t.

So:

1) If your stories aren’t getting published anywhere, you probably aren’t writing well enough to sell self-published stories.  Probably.  You might be writing something so unpopular that no editor will buy it.  This might be an indication that it’s not popular enough to sell as a self-published work, either.  Then again, it might not.

2) If your stories are getting published, find out when the rights to your story revert back to you.  You can always self-publish it at that point.

Again, this is only my personal opinion on the subject.  Self-publishing is a huge experiment with even fewer guarantees than traditional publishing, and you should research the subject by reading up on material put out by writers who are doing it successfully, like J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and the extremely helpful Dean Wesley Smith, whose blog currently features a series of thinking like a publisher for people wanting to go into self-publishing, including posts about money.

I love the idea of self-publishing ebooks, but I’m not ready to jump in with both feet yet.

 

 

Alice in Noodling.

I got onto a strange twitter thread yesterday called #zombieproverbs, in which we took various cliches and made them applicable to zombies, like “A brain in the hand is worth two in the skull” and whatnot.

I was toodling along with things like, “Two’s company and three’s lunch,” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get tasty.”  Suddenly, I thought of this:  “‘Zombies and more zombies,’ cried Alice.”

After I typed it, my skin went cold, and I almost regretted it.  Have you ever done that?  Had an idea that hit you so hard that it literally shook you, and you were a little afraid of it?  I knew that I would, eventually, have to write a zombie-Alice book at that moment.  It really doesn’t matter that it’s not a terribly good idea–the whole zombie-classic novel crossover has been done, eh?–because I will revolve around that idea until it gets done.

The Alice books revolve around regret, death, and madness–both the crazy kind and the nonsense that was the modern world at the time.  Zombie books also revolve around those themes.  And I’ve always been fascinated by the story surrounding the books–a crazy don of Christchurch who loved little girls so much he photographed them nude, but never touched them, as far as we can tell.  A man who might have been an opium addict (as so many people were).  And the way that the real Alice grew up, went away, and lived her life after being immortalized in a book.

Well, I don’t live and die by the muse, but when I react so strongly to an idea, I know that either I give in to it, or I die a little.  I had the same reaction, incidentally, when I found out about the idea for Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse.  The cold hands, the euphoric dizziness, the twitching, the jumping around and yelling.  I think if League hadn’t given me the book, I would have had to write one anyway, and then I would have had to hide it because I’d signed an NDA, which would have been sad.

There’s already an Alice crossover book called Alice in Zombieland, by Nickolas Cook.  I checked out the sample; it’s definitely not what I would write.  I’m not going to read it until I’m done with my version.  Fortunately, it’s only their version that’s protected by copyright; the idea itself is open to anyone.  You could write an Alice-zombie crossover book, if you liked, as long as you didn’t copy someone else’s crossover book.

And so I’ll write it, eventually.  I’m not sure what to do with it, though.  Try to sell it?  Try to self-publish?  Thinking about self-publishing this makes me groan, because Alice books need illustrations.  And I’m no artist.

If everybody minded their own brains, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.

Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then eat everyone.

‘But I don’t want to go among zombies,’ said Alice. ‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all zombies here.’

“It’s a poor sort of brain that only works when it’s alive,” the Queen remarked.

The baby moaned again, and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it.

“If you’re going to turn into a zombie, my dear,” said Alice, seriously, “I’ll have nothing more to do with you!”

“Have some brains,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but empty skulls. “I don’t see any brains,” she remarked.

“Your throat wants cutting,” said the Hatter.

This was a story told to me by an old slave-zombie kept by my father, to myself and my sisters one July afternoon as we were punting down the river to Godstow.  The zombie was a queer sort of fellow, and although my father kept him chained to the back of the punt, I knew that, should he escape, he would never hurt any of us girls, at least, not until we became older…
Update:
Aw, hell.  I wandered into a discussion that brought up the point that AAIW and other works that are in the public domain may not be totally safe to use…more research will ensue…

False Doppelgangers.

A doppelganger is a “ghostly counterpart of a living person, a double, or an alter ego.”  If a person looks in the mirror, and the face in the mirror does something different than the person making the reflection, or if there’s an evil twin of you running around and doing bad things you couldn’t possibly have done (alibi), then that’s a doppelganger.

I’ve been trying to think of a word to describe something, and the best I’ve come up with so far is “false doppelganger.”  If you know of the actual term for it, let me know.

This shows up mostly in beginners’ writing; more professional writers seem to know how to cover this enough so either it’s not apparent or it works as a plot point.

Let’s say you have a story in which the main character falls in love with someone who does something unacceptable–it’s bad, it’s evil, it’s laughable–and then gets killed off.  The main character then falls in love with someone else, who essentially is the same as the first person, but promises never to do that unacceptable thing.

I’m calling that a false doppelganger.  The second person is a double of the first, but is used only to help the main character avoid dealing with an issue.  The better choice would be for the writer to not kill off the first love interest but to keep the same love interest throughout, and force the main character to deal with the unacceptable action.

Another example.  Let’s say you have a story in which the main character’s social group is doing something unacceptable, and the main character leaves.  During the course of their journeys, they find another society that is doing the same unacceptable thing, only worse.  The main character stops this other society from doing this thing, then return home, either learning to accept what the original society does (because it’s not as bad as that other society) or becoming a leader in the original society, making quiet changes to the original society that will fix everything.

The second society is the false doppelganger; the writer makes the main character deal with issues in this other society rather than the first society, when the better choice would be to make the main character deal with issues in their home society.

Another example.  Let’s say you have a story in which the main character has a more character-driven journey than anything else, and the characters that your main character encounters are related to that inner journey.  The main character meets multiple people who all teach them the same lesson, because the main character never responds to the lessons from the earlier characters:  a character who lacks self-confidence meets characters who reaffirm her abilities, desirability, etc., over and over.   Those characters are false doppelgangers; one person to represent one lesson should suffice.  In addition–while it’s nice having other people help you build up your self-confidence, the main character cannot, finally, become self-confident while relying on the opinions of other people.

I’m tempted to lump in multiple climaxes as false doppelganger endings, but I think that that’s just different enough that I’ll leave it out.  But oh, they’re annoying.  The trick is to time the endings of your subplots so they’re all near the end.  Endings should be near the end, not starting in the middle.  Don’t wind up subplots before their time, or you’ll be tempted to start another subplot with another character, eerily similar…

 

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