Month: March 2015

Writerly Ramble: Goals vs. Metrics

So a couple of years ago I started tracking my word counts:  how many new words produced daily.  I did pretty well, producing over half a million words two years running.  Over a million words!  Woo!

However…at the same time I started tracking word counts, I experienced a massive reduction in putting out new indie work, and in writing non-ghostwritten novels.

I’m sure there are multiple factors going into this.  At the same time that I started tracking word counts, I started having more luck getting ghostwriting jobs, and in fact picked up a ghostwriting job that has since turned into a kind of patronage.  It still blows my mind.  Not to say that I’m self-supporting as a freelancer yet; sadly, it’s taken me a long time to establish in my own mind that my time is pretty freaking valuable, and I’ve slaved over  a lot of projects that paid peanuts.

Regrets?  Only that I didn’t start charging anything approximating a living wage sooner.  I’ve loved most of the projects that I’ve been on, whether they’ve paid well or not.

However, learning how to charge even remotely appropriately for my time (I’m not there yet, really) and I’m not making enough as a freelancer to be able to invest a lot of time in indie publishing:  short-term bills make it hard to set aside time to invest in myself in a lot of ways, from indie publishing to learning new skills to simply taking time to exercise and remember to eat on a daily basis.

And that metric.  Producing wordcount.  Always more wordcount.

It didn’t hurt my short story writing capability.  I’d sit down, pound out a story in a morning, and go back to editing or what have you in the afternoon.  Write, clean up, and send:  total time, around one hour per thousand words.  Some good ones, some bad ones, mostly incremental gains.  Even if I’d sold every single one of them at professional rates, I wouldn’t have made a living wage at writing them; they were just stress relief.

But novels take more thought.  Not to write, but to edit.  Because I change the rules of a fictional world as I go, getting new ideas and going, “Yeah, I’ll go back and fix that detail later.”

And the more I focused on getting wordcount out, the less I was willing to write or edit novels.  Because it cut into my wordcount.  I basically wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo and abandoned it, promising myself that I’d edit it–but not doing so.  Because wordcount.

Is my goal just to write?

I’m not saying it’s a bad goal.  I have an extra million words under my belt; I wrote a lot of short stories, some of which were published.  Personally, I can’t tell if I’m a better writer or not–but then again, every time I try to establish that I am a better writer, I end up stepping on my feet and writing something completely asinine.  So it’s better that I work toward being a better writer but not really worry about whether I’ve achieved it.

Not a bad goal.  The problem is that those million words didn’t turn into books that I can share with people publicly; most of those words are a) ghostwriting or b) languishing novels.

So I’ve abandoned wordcount.

It started at the beginning of the year, when I was struggling to keep my head above water due to a bunch of freelancing, combined with a period where I had to rewrite a pair of stories so often that I probably wrote over 15K for each  5K short story.  They were above my pay grade, I think–but I like both of them.

Finally this month, I admitted that I was done tracking wordcount.  It’s sad, but it has been holding me back.

The day after I did that, I had a 7K day, and I’ve written, I don’t know, probably something like 40K over the last two weeks between ghosting and personal writing, as well as almost completely rewriting the last episode of Alice so it had the right ending.

It’s been a relief, to be honest.

But now what?

I’ve counted rejections.  I’ve blogged three times a week.  I’ve put up a short story up on Kindle a week.  I’ve counted words.  Those were all helpful metrics…until they got in the way of my goals.

I have maybe ten novels on my hard drive to edit and put out.  A bajillion stories to be edited and posted individually or in collections.

I’ve been working on what kind of metric would help me put more work out into the world, and I haven’t come up with a whole lot of squat, other than setting up a Patreon page, although I have been meaning to do that, and I’ll write about my thoughts on that in a bit.

I do know the metric needs to:

  • Help me get more work past the first-draft stage, through editing, and out into the hands of readers–indie, small press, big traditional.
  • And yet be adaptable enough that I’m not killing the goose of inspiration with weekly (and non-promoted!) releases.

I feel like, in an ideal world, a reasonable goal would be to put out one short story or serial section per month.  But when I think like that – it triggers anxiety.  Not because I can’t get a serial section out per month.  But because I think, “That’s not good enough.  Two a week.  Four.  Four a week.”

And beating myself up over unreasonable goals that I secretly set for myself no matter what my stated goals are is not conducive to actual creativity.  Plus?  When I was doing that, I never did any promotion, just a quick announcement on Facebook and my blog. Also not the secret to a successful writing career.

And I know I am not the kind of person who can just do things, one after the other, on a daily basis, without some kind of measurement going on.  Stuff that isn’t measured slides in my world.

Goal:  Become a successful fiction writer, with success being defined as “able to support myself with my fiction writing.”

Metric: In progress.

 

 

 

Promo Friday: Alice’s Adventures in Underland and Kobo Promo Momo

This Friday, for our fabulous Friday promotion, I have stuff of my own to talk up.

AliceB1E7_Cover_Mini

 

Alice:

The last episode of Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Still Hearts is up.  ERK.  I may have given myself an ulcer over it, although it does now have the ending that really ought to be there instead of the ending I originally chickened out over.

This is a zombie book, after all.

You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and some other places.

Next up, I will be putting together the collected edition (and print book) so I can have them out this year, which is the 150th anniversary of the book’s being published; I will very shortly be looking for beta readers on the collected edition, if you’re at all interested.

Crows-3b

Kobo Promo:

My short story collection, A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters & the Macabre, is discounted at Kobo for 30% off from March 27-30th with the code GET30.  You may, however, pick it up pretty much anywhere you like.

You can also get 30% off many other ebooks from Kobo using the same code.  The page listing the applicable books is here.

 

Thank you!

Writerly Ramble: Spine

I just finished William S. Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, and, strangely, what I took out of it was a better understanding of the idea of spine.

What I usually get when I ask about spine is this slightly annoyed look that I always end up interpreting as shouldn’t you know this already? Well, yes, I’ve heard all kinds of things about spine and how it supports your story.  As it turns out, metaphors don’t actually tell you every damn functional technique you need to know about the words they describe, and that spine is a lot more important in screenwriting than it is in writing novels or even short stories, and that I mostly speak to fiction writers who may or may not have as good an understanding of spine as they think they do.

Spine.

Something about it reminds me of the idea, again from movies, that dialog can be too “on the nose.”  I struggled with it initially.  Why would having characters come out and say what they actually meant be problematic–as long as it was in character voice?

But then I realized that, in fiction, my characters speak outright truth mainly as part of their internal POV voices.

An example of truth as part of POV in fiction:

The field of green wheat shivered as the early glow of the sunrise touched the dew.  The wheat knew what was coming, getting roasted under that sun.  It was what that field lived and died and would eventually be plowed under for, making more wheat to roast under that sun, generation upon generation.

Maisie shaded her eyes, waiting for the edge of the sun to crest the trees that marked the Binders’ farm.  

All kinds of things had to be harvested, if you wanted to make room for new wheat. 

And besides, Marcus Binder had had it coming.

Now, say, you had to write that as a screenplay:

EXT. FARM – PORCH FACING FIELD OF WHEAT

A golden sunrise just about to begin over a field of green wheat, the light shimmering on the dew, an early morning hush.  In the distance, MARCUS BINDER’s farm and the trees surrounding it.  We know what’s waiting for the cops.

MAISIE stands on her porch and stares at the sunrise coming up behind MARCUS’s farm.  She has a mug of coffee: you know she’s in a thinkin’ mood.

MAISIE

I killed you because you tried to hurt my wheat.

[Roll credits.]

That dialog.  Too on the nose.  How about:

EXT. FARM – PORCH, FACING FIELD OF WHEAT

A golden sunrise just about to begin over a field of green wheat, the light shimmering on the dew, an early morning hush.  In the distance, MARCUS BINDER’s farm and the trees surrounding it.  We know what’s waiting for the cops.

MAISIE stands on her porch and stares at the sunrise coming up behind MARCUS’s farm.  She has a mug of coffee: you know she’s in a thinkin’ mood.

MAISIE

When it’s my time, Marcus Binder, I won’t make such a damn fuss about being plowed under…and making room for new wheat.

[Roll credits.]

Okay, you know.  Not brilliant.  But at least not as jarringly off as the line about “I killed you because you tried to hurt my wheat.”

I’m going to put forth a tentative idea about spine.  I haven’t tested it–just brainstorming.

As fiction writers, we often see a certain type of story from beginning writers, who, if we’re being honest with ourselves, include ourselves.  I think it’s one of the reasons we find reading our own works so unnerving:  we think we’re writing this great masterpiece, and really it’s just a rant.

THE HARANGUING STORY ABOUT SOMETHING WE FEEL PASSIONATELY ABOUT always starts out as this magnificent epic (cue the swelling music) and always ends up as something we shove in the drawer.  Or just delete.

Or, even worse, keep harping on about how nobody recognizes our greatness.

The characters are either “true to life” or else so simplistic you can see the hand at the bottom of the sock puppet as they mouth their lines.  Let me tell you the plot:  there is an injustice in the world, which, by the powers of karma, comes back to bite the ass of the perpetrator (the main character, the good guy, is almost incidental–except for the fight scene at the end, which concludes in a triumphant manner).  Victory for everyone deserving, or at least horrible death for everyone not deserving!  The main character might even feel regret for the (deserved) way that the undeserving have met their ends!  Huzzah!

The story, let us say, is entirely too on the nose.

This is not to say that the impulse is necessarily bad (although it often is).  Wanting our chosen ones to triumph over everyone else is a total reader delight.  But most of us have come to realize that when things go too smoothly in real life, what it means is that someone is setting us up to get screwed over.  It’s too good to be true.  We are unable to really get behind events that are too on the nose, too much of a wish fulfillment, because we’ve been conditioned all our lives to be wary of that crap, from pyramid schemes to miracle cures to the people at the front door who swear they aren’t trying to sell us something.

Now, if we set a few obstacles in the way of the main character, and make them a little less black and white, and add a few distractions in the form of other people who aren’t just there to make things easier for the main character, why, then we start to think that maybe we can let down our guards and enjoy what’s going on.

We know how stories are going to end.  Stories that don’t end predictably make most audiences feel robbed.  I hate Old Yeller and Bridge to Terabitha, not because they discuss death, but because they pull the rug out from under your feet, right at the end.  (Best movie about death ever:  E.T.)

So how do you make a story that says what you want to say, but doesn’t come right out and say it?

That’s a whole other topic.

But I’d like to suggest that spine is that secret, on-the-nose story that you really wanted to tell in the first place, hidden under all the stuff you do to keep the reader from sadly setting the book aside and going, “Couldn’t happen.  Not even in a made-up world.”

I just really wanted to tell you that people die and have to leave:  E.T.

I just really wanted to tell you that the good guys not only win, but are so good that they make evil people become good:  Star Wars.

I just really wanted to tell you that the little guy wins sometimes, for a little while:  Firefly.  The Lord of the Rings.  Probably a thousand other stories I could come up with off the top of my head.

I couldn’t tell you how to design or edit for a spine, as opposed to outlining a plot.  Not yet.  But it kind of blows my mind that you can say something so completely and utterly cheesy (and heartwarming) that we couldn’t buy it, if you told us outright what you were trying to say.

Promo Friday: The Horror Reading Project

I am on a horror reading project with two friends of mine and yours, MB Partlow and Shannon Lawrence, and am currently working on the Nightmare Magazine Top 100 Horror Books list.  I am reading (or re-reading) everything that I don’t have on Goodreads.  You can find the entire list of what I’ve read so far (and my reviews) here, on Goodreads.

It turns out that I’ve read far more science fiction and fantasy than I ever did horror, although admittedly the Nightmare list is extremely shy on ghost stories and work before, say, 1960.  The Turn of the Screw, the Hitchcock collections, the entirety of Edgar Allan Poe, the creeptastic critter and ghost stories from Algernon Blackwood, EF Benson, F Marion Crawford – missing, all missing.  Not a single Edward Gorey cover.

But it turns out that’s probably for the best:  I’ve already read those!

So far my impressions have been that:

  1. There was a period where Women Are Either Evil or Stupid was the dominant theme.  Aside from questions of whether books with this theme are trying to subtly undermine that perception, buhhhh.  So dull.  Plus, as a reasonably proficient mystery reader, I just keep going, “What is the ulterior motive here? Is the entirety of this story a coverup for something even worse that the supposedly-innocent or otherwise redeemed main character actually did?  The main character’s the murderer, right?  Because clues.”
  2. It is almost impossible for a horror novel to make you jump out of your seat; conversely, creeping awful dread seems to be even easier.  And that moment when you’ve been reading a story and you realize there was something the writer didn’t bother to spell out in the text unfolds in front of you, and you’re climbing up the seat.
  3. It’s really hard to make gore stand out in fiction, but man can Clive Barker pull it off.

So far, 22 books in, my favorites out of the list are:

  • The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker
  • Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, ed. by Ellen Datlow (I think this may be my favorite collection edited by her, and I really like her stuff)
  • The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, which is even scarier now that I’m a parent

Some happy discoveries:

  • Richard Matheson short stories are an absolute pleasure
  • So are Ramsey Campbell short stories, generally
  • I liked the Poppy Z. Brite novels better than I thought I would–and Love in Vein less

All in all, I’m going to say that if you’re looking to get into horror, you should pick up Darkness first; it covers two decades of the best-of-the-best of horror, with not a single skim-worthy story.

So that’s my recommendation for Friday 🙂

 

 

 

The Old Gadget in the Back of the Writing Drawer

It’s so hard to even think with the news about Terry Pratchett and other things going on.

This morning after journaling (why deep things hit me after I’ve walked away from the paper I don’t know, but they do), I realized that there is this idea in my writing space that shouldn’t be there and needs to be kicked out.

I treat short stories like appetizers or amuse-bouches–experimental, intense things. I treat novels like they should not be that intense or experimental. Which means, right now, I have trouble finishing anything longer than a short story OR that I’m not ghosting, because my brain shuts down. Short stories should be appetizers; novels should be meat and potatoes.  All else is madness.

And yet my favorite writers are Lewis Carroll, Gene Wolfe, Jorge Borges, Carol Berg, Steven Brust, and, yes, Terry Pratchett.

All of them are complex writers who do not write meat and potatoes, or who started out writing not-meat-and-potatoes and gradually learned to disguise the naturally exotic dishes they were whipping up, so that the meat was liberally mixed with blood, ginger, cricket flour, and LSD.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not necessary or desireable for me to write meat and potato novels.  I, in fact, suck at it.  I do not believe that if only I tried a little harder, I would be good at it, or that if I were it would make me happy.

I was built, or made, or called, or what have you, to write weird and wonderful (and horrible!) things, carefully unfolding what we’ve decided was “normal” and revealing its secret heart. I try, in my ordinary life, to be kind and funny and a good listener, but that’s not really all I am, and if I have to only be the person that goes over well at parties, the hell with it, I’m going back to technical writing, which pays better than what most commercial writers make.

Trying to write other people’s books is like taking someone else’s prescription meds.  They may be drugs that have worked for millions, but they do not necessarily work for me.

I’m not saying I’m a great writer. Not that. Wanting to write the weird and wonderful isn’t the same as being good at it. But I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy writing for trying to be commercial.  And that’s both stupid and sad.

And I’m not saying commerical is bad.  I will study the commercial; I will read it; I will steal from it; I will love it.  I will, in fact, congratulate myself if I ever become commercial, much the same say Bob Dylan pats himself on the back for writing some actual blues now and then.  But Bob Dylan, no matter how much he wants to write the blues, is still Bob Dylan, and I’m still me.

And so, this idea that novels should be meat and potatoes, I lay you down on the heap of things that I’m taking to Goodwill later today.   Thank you for showing me a path that wasn’t mine to take.  I will cross it from time to time, I will find other wanderers and talk their ears off, I will continue to be kind and funny and a good listener inasmuch as I can.  But I have other things to do, and so off you go, with all the shirts and books and luggage and kitchen gadgets that I never got around to using and was never in love with anyway.

My only real regret is that I can’t get a receipt for you, for tax purposes.  Or post you on Craigslist.  I’m pretty sure you’re worth something, if I could have only figured out what.

Update:

Delivered a carload of stuff to Goodwill.  Secretly dropped off novilus horribilis while I was there…came home and edited the last Alice chapter for four hours.  Ahhhh, it is so nice to be free.

Promo Friday: February’s Recommended Reading

On a scale of 1-10, here are my eights and nines, the nines being starred.  No tens this month.

Notes:

  • Fantastic Stories does more reprints than originals (I’m trying to skip the reprints so I have more time for originals), but the two originals were both eights this month.
  • Nightmare does half and half on reprints; both their originals pleased me quite a bit this month.
  • Fireside Fiction was an eight, a nine, and two sevens.  High-five.
  • If you are looking for surreal fantasy, Lackington’s is the way to go this month.  They didn’t all hit for me, but man did they commit to their subgenre.
  • This month was a good reading month, with lots of sevens supporting these eights and nines.  Not a lot of “I normally hate this kind of story but…” stories, unlike last month.  Not a lot of straight action stories this month to get the blood pumping, let alone ones that knocked it out of the park.  Hm.

Heirloom Pieces” – Lisa L. Hannett, in Apex Magazine, Issue 69.  SF.  “Catering was potluck. Potluck, for God’s sake.” A nice, twisty story.

The King in the Cathedral” – Rich Larson, in Beyond Ceaseless Skies, Issue 166.  Fantasy.  Personally, I like to think the game they’re playing is really Settlers of Cataan and that’s how the plot of the movie’s going to go.  It should.

Meshed” – also by Rich Larson, in Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 101.  SF.  Shares a lot of subtler elements with the previous stories.  I should look this guy up; I like his stuff.

Weight of the World” – Jose Pablo Iriarte, in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Feb 2015.  SF.  “We weren’t going to Earth to bury my boy. We weren’t.”

She Opened Her Arms” – Amanda C. Davis, in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Feb 2015.  Fantasy.  “Just think how smart he’d be if he were normal.”

*”How the Grail Came to the Fisher King” – Sarah Avery, in Fantasy Scroll Magazine, Issue 5.  Fantasy.  “Sir Percival spurred the borrowed police horse as far as the corner of York Avenue and 67th…” Especially good.

*”To Fall, and Pause, and Fall” – Lisa Nohealani Morton, in Fireside Fiction, Issue 20.  SF Horror.  Wolfian, with the ending of the plot buried in the middle. Suggest reading it twice, if you like stories you have to read twice.

A Silly Love Story” – Nino Cipri, in Fireside Fiction, Issue 20.  Fantasy. “There is something haunting Jeremy’s closet.” 

*”Duplicate” – Crystal Lynn Hilbert, in Flash Fiction Online, Feb 2015. “On the stand, I plead the fifth. A day passes while they argue whether I am able to.
I am a copy, they say. I am not the real woman. She is nearing thirty; I am barely three years old.”  Especially good.  More pure story in [cough] words than I can usually pack into ten thousand.

Unravelling” – Julia August, in Lackington’s, Issue 5.  Surreal fantasy.  ““Follow your dreams,” she said and flicked her spindle so that the crosspieces blurred. It was a Turkish spindle of the sort that comes apart into wooden fragments. I couldn’t see her eyes, which troubled me. ‘Yes. That sounds good.'”

After the Rain” – Polenth Blake, in Lackington’s, Issue 5.  Surreal Fantasy, weird timey wimey things.  “I’m ten or seven when it starts to rain.”

The Garden” – Karen Munroe, in Nightmare Magazine, Issue 29.  Horror. There’s a particular element in the story I just always like, but…yes, I think it’s a good piece regardless.

*”Descent” – Carmen Maria Machado, in Nightmare Magazine, Issue 29.  Horror.  It saves the impact for the last line.  Especially good.

*”The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zaci” – Benjamin Parzybok, in Strange Horizons, 2 Feb 2015.  Horror.  I originally read this and gave it an eight – but it’s the story that’s still stuck in my head at the end of the month, so I bumped it up.

Love Letters to Things Lost and Things Gained” – Sunny Moraine, in Uncanny, Issue 2. SF.  About an artificial arm.

 

 

Honorable mentions:  “Nostalgia” – Bonne Jo Stufflebeam, in InterzoneIssue 256.  Addicted to the past.  It’s an eight, but ach, this issue says it’s from Dec. 2014, so I guess an honorable mention it is.

“Daily Teds” – Ron Collins, in Analog, April 2015.  Although I had issues with the frame story and ending and so can’t give it a proper eight, this is the story that made me laugh out loud.  Hard SF with a sense of humor.

 

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