Month: March 2011 Page 2 of 3


Because I could easily spend the day stressed out today–I have an extraordinary amount of work to do, I’m not getting paid on time, and I don’t have time to take care of the other stuff that’s bothering me–I’m just going to put up my “Zen of the day” quote and hope for the best.  Yes, it’s one of those days in which a random quote off a calendar has got to be better than the grim yammer yammer going around in my head.

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.  I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.” –Ranier Maria Rilke

Well, there you go.  All this doubt and second-guessing I’m feeling is just me holding back from that.

So here’s to today, that it be less grim-minded, less determined (but no less dedicated), less nerve-wracked, but just as questioning.

Honorable Mention and Booksigning

I think I’ve told everyone already, but I wanted to memorialize this on my blog, too, so I can come back to it on bad days.

My short story at Three-Lobed Burning Eye, “The End of the World,” was an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume 3.

I went completely nutso for a couple of hours.  Lee’s reaction was, “Congratulations!  I love you, bebe.  Don’t drive.”

I’m having a booksigning of the Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse book at the Briargate (Chapel Hills) Borders in Colorado Springs on March 19th, from 1-4 p.m.  Angel Smits will be signing her romance, A Message for Julia, too.

Beginnings and Endings (PPW Presentation)

I’ve had people ask for a summary of the presentation.  We had a video camera and mikes up; if everything goes well, there should be a recording available via Pikes Peak Writers.

The presenters were Angel Smits and Karen Fox.  I wished Karen had used more examples in her part of the presentation (endings), especially from her own stories; otherwise, it was a very useful presentation for me.  Angel has me, a non-romance-genre reader, talked into reading A Message for Julia.  Angel and I are having a booksigning at the Chapel Hills/Briargate Borders on March 19th from 1-4, so a signed copy is in my future, I’m sure…

Beginnings and endings, obviously, are important.  Beginnings sell your book; endings sell your next book (whether you’re writing a series or not).  They both recommended writers read some version of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and Hooked by Les Edgerton.*

The basic plot of every story is “Stability plus inciting incident is instability; instability plus struggle to resolve it becomes a new stability.”

There are four main goals for your opening scene:

1) To introduce a story-worthy problem.

2) To hook the reader.  The hook elicits an emotional response from the reader.

3) To establish the rules of the story.

4) To forecast your ending.

The opening scene should be the only scene in which your character doesn’t enter the scene with a goal to accomplish; it’s the only time your character can be purely reactionary (otherwise, the character will be weak).

There are 10 components within most scenes:

1) Inciting incident.  An event that puts the story into motion.  Not an exciting incident – blowing up a car – but an inciting incident – proposing to your girlfriend the moment before the car blows up.  A riot is an exciting incident; the people that whip up the riot are the inciting incident.

2) A story-worthy problem.  Each story has just one; this is the thing that motivates the main character throughout the story.  There is only one per story; otherwise, the story cannot be tied together at the end.  (Everything else is a subplot or a plot for a different character.)  This is the internal conflict that must be resolved; the external conflicts may not look like they relate to this, but they really do.  (The example I thought of here was Batman:  justice vs. revenge due to his parents’ death.)  The SWP is not necessarily known by the main character, especially at the beginning of the story.  If you can visualize it, it’s probably not a SWP, but a surface (seeable) problem.  The SWP probably deal with something inside you that allows you to connect with your character and will make the story ring true.

3) An initial surface problem.  The story has many surface problems; the reason the character has to deal with these, rather than walk away, is due to the SWP.  The main character can’t not act.

4) The setup.  The setup is a snapshot of where the main character is, physically – only tell what you must.

5) Backstory.  Some backstory is necessary, but don’t do large, slowing sections of it.  No “I remember when…” sections.  Give flashes of what you have to know about the characters for their actions to make sense only.  If your characters have any other way to find out this stuff, don’t use backstory.  Don’t make a prologue out of backstory.

6) A stellar opening sentence.  The first sentence should reflect your character’s trouble or send them into trouble.

7) Voice/Language use.  Emotion is what makes readers identify with your characters; you may want to research the kinds of emotions that should be in your scenes as much as you research the setting.

8 ) Characters introduced.  Your main character must elicit two of these three:  sympathy, empathy, and/or reader identification.  When your readers see that other characters like the main character, they will tend to like the main character, too.

9) Setting.

10) Foreshadowing/Forecasting.  The best stories hint at the ending; seeds of it are planted.  A grace note may be used; some kind of thing related to your main character that is repeated at the end of the book.

The first four should be in every scene; the rest are important but don’t have to show up in every scene.

When you’re writing your initial scene, you should know these things:

1) What emotion are you striving for?

2) What does the reader absolutely have to know for the first scene to make sense?  What can you tell them later?

3) What pace are you striving for?  That is, how long will your book be?  How long do you have to tell your first scene?

4) What are you story rules?  They have to be consistent throughout the book and include the tone you use to tell the story.

Hooks:  plunge the protagonist immediately into trouble, but are not necessarily a big conflict (you don’t have to start with a fight scene).

Endings come from all the promises you’ve made to your readers; you have to keep them all.  There are always multiple possibilities for the ending, but the ending has to solve everything, or it won’t be satisfying.

An ending addresses the Joseph Campbell black moment and resurrection.

The power of the climax has to be in the emotions.

All subplots should be resolved before the end, preferably in the order or least important to most important.  Resolve external plots first.

When you know what the real ending is, you can increase the tension of the ending by ruling out other possible solutions to the problem, using or increasing opposition, and forcing your hero into a corner.

An ending shouldn’t be a simple confrontation, but a decision between “bad” and “worse.”  The choice, once made, is irrevocable and cannot be fixed.  The true challenges involve moral/ethical dilemmas; there must be a price to pay.

The climax of a book is the main character’s final exam:  all clues/pieces needed for the main character to resolve the problem have to be in place.

The ending should reflect the tone of the rest of the book; a “loud” book should have a “loud” ending, and a “quiet” book should have a “quiet” (but intense) ending.

The resolution, after the climax, should be short; the last line should tie back into the first line of the book and possibly introduce a surprise of some kind that still ties into the rest of the book; you should give your readers what they want, but not in the way they expect.

Types of endings:

1) Hollywood ending.  All is well.

2) Ironic ending.  The main character wins, but at a loss.  (Literary, mysteries.)

3) Tragic ending.  The hero loses, but the conflict is resolved.

4) Surprise ending.  There’s a twist ending that changes the spirit of the whole story (thrillers, SF/F, mysteries).

5) Open ending.  The storytelling is implied to keep going on; it’s up to the readers to com up with how things go from there.  (This isn’t popular in the US so much as the rest of the world.)  Most US stories have a closed circular form, in which the main character returns to the starting point of the story, but the world/character has changed.

The last sentence should capture the theme of the story, the emotion of the story, give a symbol of fulfillment previously established in the story, use humor to show that all tension is gone, or look to the future and show that all is well.

Epilogues should generally not be used, unless they involve events that cannot be implied by the regular ending, for example, if different characters or a different setting/time is used.  The epilogue should validate that the main lessons learned by the character have stuck.

A climax must be learned or earned by the main character; you cannot compromise by having the calvary ride in, no lessons learned.

Don’t have too many endings.  Get in, and get out.

If the ending could possibly have happened the same way if your character had been a different person, it’s the wrong ending.

The main character must have changed; falling in love (or dying) is not enough.  The change must remain in place after the end of the book.

With series and sequels, each book must stand alone as a story. Either the characters remain essentially the same (as in a sitcom) or they change from book to book and have new SWPs each book.  Sequels flow out of the first book; it’s very hard to sell books that don’t stand alone.


*If you’re looking for a copy at the PPLD, I got in line for mine first.

Story: The Last Diary of Dr. Frankenstein

An extremely short story inspired by one of Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges:  write a story about “irregular creatures.”  For some reason, trying to come up with an idea for this stuck in my craw…I tried out all kinds of things over the course of this week.  Yesterday, waiting for my daughter to get out of school, I wrote this.  I have to admit it’s very strongly influenced by reading Drood by Dan Simmons at the moment.  Great stuff.  His, that is.

I don’t feel like this is quite done yet, but I’m not sure what to do with it.  I almost want to make a Burtonesque novel out of it.  The hands–yes, the Theodore Sturgeon story.

This should be so easy, like clockwork. Surely I have the process down by now. First, the idea comes to me, and then I find the flesh in which to clothe it. I stitch it all together and, finally, wait for a storm. I made my first man that way, my first woman, my first mouse. Yet I am no longer content to make simple monsters, that is, creatures whose very being, life reanimate and combined, is their sole miracle. All the ideas I have attempted to embrace into flesh these last few months have been pallid and weak at best, without stamina and vigor.

And so I am left now bemused. If I were a writer, I might glibly announce that I had the cramp and be done with it. Or I would treat myself to laudanum and absinthe and scribble down any damned dream that chose to present itself and call it art! Yet, to my shame, I have tried such remedies over the last few days, and I have found them uninspiring.

It is nothing to be a scribbler; to feel a heart, lying in the palm of one’s hand, begin to beat anew is true poetry, no matter what Sam says. He’s a lunatic who will be dead in six months if I’m any judge of such characteristics, and I am. That girl had it closer; I wish I could have shown her the hand-birds before they died.

And so, a vow, which I shall hereby record.

When next I step forth from this room, the next three creatures that I see, I shall turn into some wonderful creature, one which would, but for the confines of traditional mentality, astound and amaze all who see it, inspire them to wonder and fear. Perhaps, God willing, it will inspire them to create creatures of their own. This is my fondest desire, that others should see, if not the living embodiments of my inspiration, at least the evidence they leave behind, and be thus inspired to work their own enchantments.

God save me from seeing a mirror.

Get out of the car!

I try to say something that makes Ray laugh every time I drop her off at school.  I don’t plan these things, I just babble.

Today, she said, “Well, mother?”

I tried to push her out of the car, but no luck.

So I said, “Well, actually, I don’t feel like going anywhere today, so let’s just sit here.”  And then I leaned back in the seat.

Rachael opened the door.  “I’m leaving!”

I pretended to sob.  “You don’t love me anymore.”

Then she said, while staring at the mountains (it gave her a faraway look in her eyes), “I still love you, mother.  But I have to learn.”  Then she slammed the door and skipped up the hill to school.

I laughed so hard I almost cried.

Book Review: Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits

Okay, this isn’t really a book review.  This is really personal, self-serving blather.  The actual book review is this:

Cate Gardner’s collection of short stories makes me incredibly jealous, so jealous, in fact, that I had to put the book down and walk away several times.  It’s as though a modern-day woman had picked up where Lewis Carroll left off, and was writing for the grown women that Carroll’s little girls would have eventually become.  Which is to say, she writes nonsense, the very best kind.


And that’s what I’m putting up on Goodreads.

However, I was noodling around while I was reading this book, in between fits of jealousy.  Well, not literal fits, but at points I had to stop reading and clean house for a while, which is the DeAnna equivalent of a cat bathing itself when annoyed.

I was struck that the stories were like mysteries of nonsense–that is, they’re nonsense (non-linear sense?), but I could pick out the ideas behind the story, if I stopped and thought about them.

Mysteries are like that, too: you want to make them difficult but not impossible to solve, and people who read a lot of mysteries tend to be able to solve them better than people who don’t.  (I don’t know enough people who solve actual mysteries to be able to tell how they are with solving book-mysteries.)  I tend to enjoy mysteries that I can’t solve; I find mysteries in which I can solve the puzzle too much before the ending a letdown.  I’m paying mystery writers to be more clever than I am, after all.

Cate’s stories are like that, but not in a “whodunnit” sense.  In more of a “WTF is going on here” sense.

For example, in one of the shorter stories, “Burying Sam,” she writes a story about a young woman who has become something like a zombie.  Men come with a glass coffin and take the woman away.  The last line of the story is, “Not exactly Snow White is she?”

Okay, a retelling of the Snow White story.  Easy; she handed that one to us.  Snow White doesn’t die, she falls into a deep sleep.  What else doesn’t die?  Zombies.

However, there’s a worm that crawls out of the girl’s face, and the narrator also says, several times, that the young woman is not her daughter, not Samantha, and the narrator is selling her zombified body to a facility where scientists will study “the reactions of the dead with various inhumane methods.”

If this is a retelling of the Snow White story, who is the narrator?

The evil stepmother–except she’s not really a step-mother, she’s a mother who has turned herself into something one step away from being a mother.  One step back from being a mother.  I wonder if the mother didn’t poison her own daughter for gain in this story, but there’s nothing to support it, one way or the other.

I think I got at least parts of the mysteries in the stories throughout the book.  Sure, maybe the writer doesn’t do these kinds of things on purpose and I’m reading too much into it.  But I’m having fun.

Fantasy is Psychology.

I have theories.  Some people, they don’t have theories; they just write.  But I have theories.

To me, fantasy is psychology.

When you decide what a story is about (the theme, if you will), you gather information by reading the story, getting a synopsis of the story, or listening to someone else’s analysis of the story.  You don’t just look at the facts, you look at the patterns.

For example and among other things, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about growing up.

It’s not as simple as that.  But then again, it is.  Is is about growing up.  It’s also about other things.  But Buffy wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying if it were about the monster of the week, all the time, with no further meaning to it.

If we didn’t need meaning in our stories, then watching people get kicked in the crotch would suffice for our daily entertainment.

Meaning = psychology, because meaning comes out of our souls, and for all that psychology can seem cold and soulless, it’s the study of souls.  Can a soul be studied?  Yes; if it can be measured, it can be studied.  Measuring, despite all panic to the contrary, doesn’t suck out your soul any more than taking a picture of it does, which is to say – perhaps it does, psychologically speaking.

So, fantasy.

Fantasy comes out of myths and legends.

Myths and legends are what we had, before we had psychology (although studying the soul hasn’t stopped our craving to create more of them; see Buffy).

With a pantheon of gods, what you have is a collection of personality types that you can use to explain people’s behavior and determine what type of people – what values – are most desireable. Zeus is a cheating son of a bitch, but that’s okay; he’s in charge and keeps things running (no Ragnarok for that guy). Ameratsu is vain and hysterical, but without her, nobody eats. Woden is has no ethics whatsoever other than doing whatever it takes to eke things out a little longer, despite being doomed.

Batman keeps everyone safe by doing things “for their own good” and plotting against everyone. Willow never believes in herself and therefore craves, always, a bigger skill set. Vizzini is the smartest man in the world, but cannot anticipate another person’s acknowledgement that he really is the smartest man in the world, and using it against him.

And so on.

Our heroes, our villains – they are how we tell each other what’s acceptable and what’s not.

So, fantasy.

When you’re dealing with fantasy, you’re dealing with myth and legend.  Sometimes you’re dealing directly with gods, but you’re almost always dealing with people who  are larger than life.

You’re also dealing with “normal” people who go from the realm of the mundane into the realm of the immortal, either because of literal immortality, or because of deeds that will never be forgotten, in that world.  That is, heroes and villains.

So, when you’re writing anything with magic in it, take a look at the gods inside of what you’re doing.  Or, as Jung would have it, look at your archetypes.

Being a myth or a legend means you’re just a little bit off in the head, a little bit tilted off the normal axis; otherwise, nobody would remember you.  Crazy.  There are no perfectly sane heroes.  There are a few everymen who try to be larger than life only when they’re out in public, but they have a few cogs loose, too.  They have to run as fast as they can to stay in one place (that is, to stay “normal”).

The hero has flaws, not just weaknesses (the only one who doesn’t is Superman, except in the hands of some writers who use him as a symbol of unthinking obedience).

A hero’s nemesis isn’t the opposite of the hero, but a mirror image – most things about a good villain are the same as the hero.  There are only a few differences.  Otherwise, it’s not a nemesis.  Lex Luthor, although not an alien, is strong, smart, attractive, admired by most people, and has a great deal of power (if he were weak, stupid, ugly, hated, and powerless, why bother?).  However, he thinks he knows better.  He makes his own decisions about how the world should work; he knows that if he were in charge, the world would be a better place.  A lot of Superman’s villains are entities who think they know better.  Superman tends to put what other people want first.

And Joker just wants people to be happy.  Really.  Batman has this rule about not killing people, but otherwise, they both deeply, truly believe that the ends justify the means.

When you see a Scooby gang, you’re looking at a collection of traits that are valuable.  The smart one.  The brave one.   The strong one.  The fool or scoundrel who makes everything hold together.  Every Scooby gang has a touch of pantheon.

So please, please – don’t write fantasies with villains who have no good traits, no heroes with bad ones, no friends that never fight, no brothers who never come to blows, no lovers who never sneak around behind each other’s backs and say, “I didn’t cheat on you; I was tricked!”  It’s not just that you’re not writing rounded, interesting characters.  You’re writing boring gods.

Neither fantasy nor psychology forgives that.


I haven’t been working on a lot of new writing lately, and it’s just killing me, or at least giving me sinus infections.

I had a number of things that were all supposed to happen in January/February that haven’t.  They’ve been delayed, I’ve delayed them (in one case, due to a bad idea that I just couldn’t let go of but have since ditched), or they’ve just…lingered, so I can neither finish them nor get them off my plate.

I was trying to be smart and not overbook myself.   “Ah, these things, they are supposed to happen in January, maybe February, so I will not start a new big writing project until March.”  I was thinking, “Hey, it’s a TWO MONTH WINDOW.  Surely, I’m giving myself enough leeway.”

Things being what they are, I can’t complain, except in one case where I have no idea what the holdup is, and in that case, I won’t complain, because I don’t have enough information.  I have always had this horrible suspicion that when people aren’t talking to me, it’s because I’ve put my foot in my mouth (again) and have pissed them off, but that’s just a self-centered paranoia.  So I will find out what the real reason is and stop being so vain as to think the world revolves around me.  For a little while.

So here I am, in March, when I promised myself I could start on something long, specifically the third book in Ray’s series. It really doesn’t matter that it’s not the smartest thing I could be writing, career-wise, because it’s for Ray and it’s meant to progress along with her as she grows up, so if I want to really catch the things that concern her now, now’s the time to write it.  Regardless of how it’ll sell.  It’s a kind of literary photo album for me, if nothing else.  “These are the kinds of problems that Ray had, at this age.  These are the kinds of things she had to deal with.”

I’m starting it on Monday.  This one is about loyalty and the complications that ensue therefrom.  I’m not sure whether the plot I laid out on Friday and Saturday  is going to make Ray a happy reader, but it’s what feel right, if not necessarily logical.  I’m planning it to be about 35-40K, so it shouldn’t take long to write.  I’m hoping I can get it written, edited, and sent through Lulu so I can give her a pretty print copy by Easter.

This, of course, means that everything’s going to hit on Monday, and I won’t have time to come up to breathe.


Good news yesterday…

I found out that I’m mentioned in the March/April 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest.

I mean, it’s not a huge deal – they have an article on ghostwriting in there, and the company I wrote Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse for, League Entertainment, is in there, and CYD:ZA is mentioned, with myself and Dante Savelli as authors.

But ahhhhhhhh, it’s sweet.

How to Fail, Part 7: Submitting, continued.

We broke off last time at getting your ducks in a row…before you even start writing.

I know, I know, you probably won’t take my advice right away. “Surely,” you’ll say, “It’s not necessary to do all THAT before I write a story. I need to be creative! Right! Now!”

But that’s exactly why you should set all this stuff up before you write–so when the muse hits, you don’t have to think about it. Professional writers are professional, dude. They aren’t slapdash. They don’t lose work. They don’t send out the wrong version. They especially don’t send out the version with six font styles and an inline image of David Hasslehoff in it for inspiration.  They know that creativity is in the words you put on the paper, not in the font.

A brief note on the muse: Some days, the muse will stike. Some days, the muse will be on strike. Professional writers write; they do not wait for the muse. Listen to your muse–it’s you. But it’s better to get a million adverbs, flat characters, and overdone plots on paper than it is to sit around and wait for perfection. You have that million words to get through, and Bad Words Count. As long as you don’t keep writing the same ones.

Okay, so you’re ready to write; you’ve built a new folder for the story, copied your templates over, and renamed them.  Open your story, write it, and save it.  Make a new copy of the story, name it .2 instead of .1, and move .1 to your archive folder.

Ah, so much more easily said than done, but how to actually write the story is a topic for another day.

Polish your story, have someone who doesn’t love you unconditionally read it (for preference), check that the headers and wordcount on the story are correct, and update your cover letter.

Then look for a place to try to sell your story.

I, personally, use Duotrope’s Digest, which is a free website that lists 3275 (ish) markets for all types of fiction and poetry.  It isn’t complete (and doesn’t work for nonfiction pieces), but you can add entries to it if you find unlisted markets.  It has a database that you can use (if you register, again, for free) to track 1) where your stories are now, 2) whether you should query to find out if they’re ever going to review your story, 3) how many rejections you’ve had and from where.*

You need to track all three of those things.  If you don’t use a website like Duotrope, you’re going to have to track them by hand.  If you don’t, you’re going to be sending stories to multiple markets (a no-no for most markets), forgetting where you sent your story last and sending it to the same market again (embarrassing), and not knowing whether you should bug an editor to see if your story’s lost or what.  Professional writers don’t do that.

If you do use Duotrope, you’re going to have to back up that information and save it with your fiction backups in all locations on a regular basis, once weekly or thereabouts.  You can back up Duotrope to Excel/CSV format (at the bottom of the Submissions Tracker page).  Open the file in Excel or another spreadsheet program so it doesn’t look like a bunch of gibberish, and save it to your files.

At any rate, you’re going to have to figure out where to send your work.

In order to do this, you have to decide who your audience is.  In this section, we’re covering short stories, so we’ll start with that audience:  people who want to be entertained.  Different people have different ideas of what’s entertaining, so don’t panic if you secretly suspect that your story isn’t entertaining.  However, you’re going to have to narrow your audience down.

“My story is entertaining for all types of people, everywhere” is not a useful statement.  As we’ve discussed, not every reader likes to read everything.  Therefore, your story will not be liked by all types of people, and saying they should won’t help you at all.

Generally, the first decision you have to make is genre.  A genre, according to Merriam Webster, is ” a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.”  In the fiction world, genre is a marketing tool.  Before you sneer at the word “marketing,” please remember that marketing means “an aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.”  I’m assuming you want to move your story from your brain to an audience, yes?  Then don’t sneer at marketing.  Also, take into consideration that I treat “literary fiction” as a genre.  It’s a category that people use to sort and sell content.  It’s a genre.

Think about how you choose what stories to read.  Generally, the answer’s going to be, “I like X story, and I found out that it was similar to X.”  Selecting a genre is the broadest way to tell people that your story is “similar to X.”

If you have a story that uses techniques from multiple genres, and you’re not sure what genre to put it in, consider who you want to read the story.  Do you want mystery readers or SF/F readers?  Which group will probably buy more copies or recommend it to friends?  Again, “both mystery readers and SF/F readers should like this story” doesn’t cut it.  Your story will be liked more by one group than the other; it’s your job, as a writer, to read a lot of both genres and talk to a lot of fans from both genres and find out which group that is.

You must pick a genre, that is, you must decide how you want to sell your work.

You are not locked into that genre–if the story doesn’t sell in that genre, take it as a sign that you don’t know your genres as well as you’d like, and try to sell it in your second-choice genre.

You are allowed to make mistakes when it comes to genre; genres change all the time, and it’s impossible to say, “Follow these rules if you want to sell in a certain genre, guaranteed!”  Even if a publisher or a set of publishers try to define a genre in a certain way, if the readers want to read something, the genre changes to suit them, or stuff doesn’t sell.  So worry about genre–but worry about genre the same way you worry about the weather, something important that may or may not be what the experts predict.  Sure, the experts have expertise, and you should listen to the weather report.  But you may want to bring an umbrella even if they predict a sunny day, and you may want to write different types of things, rather than writing just urban fantasies, even if they’re predicting that’s what’ll sell.

Okay, you’ve picked your genre.  Next time…narrowing down your markets.

*Other recommended websites:

  • (Spec Fic and Humor markets)
  • Writer’s Market (any market listed in a Writer’s Market book, like non-fiction, magazines, novels, agents, etc. Pay site).
  • Publisher’s Marketplace (fiction agents and editors–invaluable for finding out who is actually selling books in your genre and who hasn’t sold a book in over a year. Pay site).
  • If you know more, leave the sites in the comments for me!

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén