Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writers and their Web Pages

Every writer knows they need a web presence. They need a blog, a web page (behind the blog). They need to Tweet and drop by Facebook, maybe do Live-journal. They need to organise blog tours and chase up reviewers.

Honestly, it's enough to make your head spin. Promotional Web Personal Assistant, anyone?

I've noticed some posts recently by reviewers on what they want from author web pages. Here on Dreams and Speculations, they talk about what they want from an author's web page. Most important for a reviewer seems to be a list of previous books and easy navigation is important, which is fair enough.

And here, Rebecca from Dirty Sexy Books talks about the biggest mistakes authors make. She uses the term link-bait to draw people to the site. Basically free stuff and fun stuff. Then she updates it here, with some more mistakes.

Now we are all time strapped authors. We're juggling real lives, work, family and writing. And now we have to become PR Web Gurus. I'm trying, I really am. But just as soon as I learn a new skill, I find I need to learn another new skill. (What? Now I need to Twitter?)

I'm asking you as aspiring writers and readers, what do you like to find on author's webpages? And what cheeses you off on author's web pages?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Iffen ah don' laff...

Well iffen ah don' laff I sure as hail gonna cry, so let's look at some cheerful bits. This u-tube look at the illusions of getting published has all the elements of reality :-)

On the othe positive news my collection THE GOTH SEX KITTEN AND OTHER STORIES is out from NAKED READER which, if means if you decided to buy it for your e-reader -- and you buy directly from NR - I get 60% (less credit card fees... the bank-dog always gets its cut) as opposed to the 15-20% I'd be lucky to see elsewhere. Even off Amazon I am still pleased to say that 50% - nearly a dollar fifty - or 2.3 times what I'd earn from a paperback - will return to me to help to provide for those extra little luxuries like a roof over our heads - something I would love to see less authors worried silly about. And to reinforce my attitude about ebooks needing to be CHEAPER than paper books... it is.

I've nearly finished one of the books I am working on, and I'm sorely missing what I realise is one of my trademark type characters - the amoral individual who acts as a kind of mirror to the 'mores' of modern life. The Rats in RATS, BATS AND VATS are cyber-uplifted, but still remain rats. As that they give me a useful way of poking fun at some of our more sacred holy cows.

He began to adjust his pince-nez again; but, instead, simply took them off and wiped his snout wearily. “It was too late. Without surgery it was always too late. Even with it, too late by hours.”
The group standing around Phylla’s still body were all silent.
Then Nym sighed. “Out, out, brief candle. Well, I suppose I’d better go and fetch some brandy. Or would anyone prefer some wine?”
“You’re going to get drunk?” Siobhan’s voice rose to a squawk of outrage.
Doc nodded. “Of course. The observance of rites for the dead are what set us apart from the animals.”
“But that is to behave like animals, indade!” Eamon sounded genuinely appalled.
“Methinks if we behaved like the animals we came from, we’d eat her,” replied Fal reasonably. “Besides, I thought you’d be in favor of a wake. It is a fine Irish tradition.”
“It is?” This obviously made a strong impression on a bat who felt himself to be, among other things, heir to the mantle of De Valera.
Fal nodded vigorously. “You don’t have to attend, but not to do so is a mark of scanty respect for the dead.”
Even Bronstein was caught half-cocked. “But is not our custom . . .”
“It is ours,” said Pistol with finality. “And our Phylla was first and foremost a rat.”
Virginia sidled up to Chip. “What are they doing to that dead rat?” she whispered, staring in fascinated horror.
“Laying her out. Maybe not the way we humans would understand it, but the way a rat would.” Chip’s tone was very dry. “Phylla would have appreciated it. Sort of a rat joke.”

or in PYRAMID SCHEME/POWER where the Dragons are this foil

In a remote corner of a wildlife reservation, some distance away, a winged dragon sighed gustily and licked his new white little teeth with a long red snaky tongue. They helped his speech as well as his chewing. "I feel as if my life is lacking something."
His sibling, Bitar, licked his chops too. "Something of the flavor of life."
"Could be ketchup?" said Smitar, after serious thought, and then concentrated on trying to reach an annoying itch between his shoulder blades.
"Or it could be hot sauce. Who would have thought that American maidens would be in such short supply that they'd have to be protected game?"
"Over hunted," said Smitar, righteously. "Should have introduced a permit system. Or reservations. Or a minimum size limit."
Bitar shook his vast armored head at the iniquity. "A bag limit." He paused. "It wasn't you, was it?"
"Not unless I'm sleep-eating again," said Smitar. "If it wasn't me, was it you? And can you scratch this spot for me?"
"We need Cruz," said Bitar, obliging. "He can give a decent scratch with an oar. Do you think we're molting again?"
"Could be. It's this foreign food. Very greasy. Fattening." Smitar patted his midriff.
"You haven't been eating these foreigners again?" demanded Bitar accusingly. "You know Medea told us not to. Anyway, you could have shared!"
"Phttt," said Smitar. "He was barely a snack. And Cruz said that anyone from the INS was fair game. I still feel something's missing in my life. I've got this sort of inner itch too."
"Could be indigestion. But I have it as well. And I never even got a bite of the INS official," Bitar sniffed dolefully. "Could use a good scratch with a pole from Cruz."
Smitar wrinkled his scaly forehead in thought. "I think it is that time of life when a young dragon's thoughts turn to love."
"Could be. What time is that?" asked Bitar, tasting the idea.
"This century, I think."
"Hmm. In that case I think we need some male advice on how to draw chicks."
Smitar looked a bit puzzled. "I thought you just grabbed them and dragged?"
"Doesn't that lack finesse?"
"Probably. It could work though."
"We need to ask Cruz," said Bitar, rubbing his back against a rock and shattering it. "It's time he sat us down and gave us a little talk about the birds and the bees."
Smitar tasted a piece of the rock. Chewed it thoughtfully and then asked: "Why?"
"I think it's what you have to talk to girls about," said Bitar knowledgeably. "Cruz will know."
Smitar spat out rock fragments. "And he could give us a good scratch."
As they took off and began searching for thermals, Smitar asked, "So what's this finesse stuff? Some kind of sauce? Or a lubricant to help with the dragging?"
Bitar nodded. "Both. It's got chocolate in it, too."

Of course, in SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS I used Miran (an alien species that changes sex from male to female on reaching a certain age/size) to look at our taboos on sex.

Anyway, I'll spare you a quote of that.
But this something rather typical of my writing. Any other examples of weird writing traits you can think of in authors you enjoy?
Anything good come up lately? (besides dinner?)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Journey to E-Publication

Some of the comments from Friday's open thread started me thinking. Yes, yes, that's dangerous and you can groan all you want. In fact, you probably should since I'm still not completely well. Sarah, quit laughing! I know I'm never "completely" well. At least not like some people...I'm a writer. I'm also an editor. If that isn't enough to drive one around the bend, I don't know what it. But I digress.

This past year it has become increasingly "easy" to self-publish an e-book. Amazon started their DTP program. Barnes & Noble has PubIt. Apple started iBooks. Then there was the old standby of Smashwords. With so many easily accessible routes to publication, the number of self-published and small press published e-books has increased a great deal. There have been a lot of very good e-books come out and some very bad ones. The bad ones often suffer as much from poor editing and formatting as they do from bad writing. This increase in accessibility has also increased the vocal support and derision from the buying public.

If you google how to make an e-book, you'll get thousands of responses. That's the problem. If you follow any one of them, you can and most likely will wind up having issues if you publish your e-book through more than one outlet. (I'm assuming here you haven't gone out and invested the big bucks into commercial programs. There really is no need to.) So, what should you do?

My first piece of advice comes as a writer and not as an editor. If at all possible, find a publisher. It is extremely difficult to do an effective job as writer, editor, proofreader, layout artist, etc., on your own work. And all that has to be done before you can upload your book for e-publication. However, if you decide to go the self-publication route -- and understand that while there isn't quite the stigma about being self-pubbed digitally as there has been in the past, that stigma is still present. One way it manifests itself is in a general unwillingness to pay as much for a self-published title as they would for a title from a publisher, no matter how small.

So, you have your completed manuscript and you have it edited as completely as possible. You've had someone check it for spelling, punctuation and grammar problems. You've decided, for whatever reasons, to self-publish digitally. Now what? Now you decide what outlet or outlets you are going to release your book through.

For quite a while, Smashwords has been the standard for self-publishing. This is probably the easiest venue for uploading your work in that the only format they accept is an MSWord .doc file. However, they are very specific about how that document must be formatted and certain language must be included that makes it clear that Smashwords is the venue you selected to either distribute or publish your book or short story.

Smashwords also has two levels of review you have to go through should you decide to use them to get your e-book into other venues. Among the "stores" they can get you into are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO, iBooks, Sony and Diesel Books. So far, so good, right? Not necessarily. If you decide to go this route -- what they call their premium catalog -- you have to have cover art and, in some cases, ISBNs for your work. Oh, and you are at their mercy as to when your book will be "shipped" to these other venues. There is also a delay in the review process. Assuming they find nothing wrong in the review, it can still take as much as 2 weeks or more to be approved for the premium catalog. And don't get all excited and think I'm talking editorial review. I'm not. This is all formatting and, believe me, just because it passes their check, it doesn't mean there aren't issues with the formatting. Converting from a Word .doc to the standard e-book formats often causes problems such as losing centering, odd word spacing, loss of bold or italics, etc. Finally, there's that pesky language saying the book comes from Smashwords, something that screams in a lot of readers' minds that the book might not be well-written or well-edited as other books might be.

While Smashwords serves its purpose and is the only way some can get into venues such as Sony and iBooks, it does have some potential pitfalls to keep in mind. The first thing to do if you are considering using them to publish your book is to download their how-to guide. If you follow it to the letter, you should have little problem passing their review process.

For publication through Amazon's DTP program or B&N's PubIt, it really is much easier, if a bit more time consuming. DTP allows for you to upload your book in a number of different formats. However, I recommend you upload it as a .mobi file. Why? Because that is one of the native formats for the kindle. You will already know how it looks and that way, if there are any issues when they "convert" it, you should be able to see it right away. PubIt requires you to upload with an .epub file, the format used by the nook. Again, this makes sense because you already have an idea of how your final product will look.

That raises the question of how to get from a word processing file to a .mobi or .epub file. You can save as an .html file or you can use a text editor to build your .html file. I recommend the latter, especially if you use MSWord because of all the coding junk MS builds in. If you want a table of contents, be sure to add it. NOTE: don't add page numbers because they won't be right once the book is converted. There are a number of very good text editors out there for free or for minimal cost. Komposer is free but slow, imo. NoteTab Pro is a commercial program, but one I like a great deal. Does this mean you need to know html coding? Not necessarily, but some basic knowledge is good, especially once you start converting into .mobi or .epub formats and you find problems you need to edit.

Now you have an .html file that looks right in your browser. (Remember, this is not only you novel or short story, but the title page, legal language, ISBN if you are using one, cover art credits -- and yes, you do need to credit the artist unless you are using art they have specifically said does not have to be credited. Also remember, the better the cover, the more likely a potential reader will be to at least download a sample. Art work very well may be the most expensive part of your book.) Your next step is to convert to whatever format you'll be uploading. Our tech guys at Naked Reader Press usually convert to .mobi here. The reason is the simplicity of being able to edit the html file the .mobi file is built upon if there is a formatting issue. Again, you can go out and spend a lot of money on commercial programs, or you can use MobiPocket Creator or a program such as Calibre. My recommendation is to start with MobiPocket Creator because you can edit the html without ever leaving the program. Also, your preview function is using the mobipocket viewer, so your book looks more like it would on an e-reader than it does in the Calibre preview window.

Once you have your .mobi file and you've checked it in the preview window for any errors, you are good to go for uploading to Amazon DTP. You set up your account and then follow their very simple step-by-step process. Once you've uploaded your file, you have the opportunity to review it again. Do so. You never know when you'll find something you missed or when the conversion process might break some of your code. Don't take anything for granted. Expect to wait approximately 72 hours before your title goes live on the Amazon site. One word of warning here, your book description will almost always show up 24 to 48 hours after your book goes live. For some reason, the description goes through a different review process than the book does.

Your .mobi file can now be used to create the .epub file for B&N's PubIt program. Calibre is a good program for this. It's easy to use and quick. It is also updated an a very regular basis. The one caveat I'll give here is that you shouldn't rely on their preview function. Download the free Adobe Digital Editions to see who your file looks in a native viewer. Once you're satisfied with the preview, you simply go to the PubIt site and follow the directions. It's a bit more detailed than the DTP site, but not by much. So far, it appears that it takes a bit longer for your first book to go live on B&N than it does on Amazon, but that later books appear more quickly.

If you want your book to appear in iBooks, you can publish there using iTunes IF you meet some pretty specific technical requirements. First, you have to have an iTunes account. No biggie there. Then you have to have your book in the .epub format. Again, no biggie. But, you also have to be uploading from an intel-based Apple computer. Oops! That can be a problem. The way around this is to use Smashwords or one of the repackagers approved of by Apple.

There are other outlets available. Some require you to have a certain number of titles available for publication. Others require you to make application to them. My thought is that if you can get into Amazon and B&N, you've got most of your potential readers covered, especially if you choose the "no DRM" option. Yes, children, you read that right. You can choose not to engage DRM. So why do the big publishers tell us DRM is a must?

This isn't a quick process. If you try to do it too quickly, you make mistakes. At least I would. More importantly, this is just the beginning of the process. Once you have the book or short story available, you have to get word out about it. You have to find ways to drive traffic to your book and get folks to buy it. And this is something you have to consider before you put the book up for sale. Just as you have to consider if what you've written will set off a firestorm of protest or will look and sound too much like too many other things out there just now and be lost amid all the other titles. If you guys want, we'll talk promotion next week.

Now, any questions? Have I totally confused you? I'm afraid I only glossed over the surface here. So if there are specifics you'd like to know, ask away. If I don't know the answer, someone will.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

E-Books & the Black Friday Blues

For those of you who aren't familiar with certain American traditions, there's a fairly new one that's become part of the Thanksgiving holiday. Black Friday. The day when usually calm, kind and normal people turn into insane, often violent, shoppers with a sense of entitlement that's big enough to try the patience of a saint.

You may ask what Black Friday has to do with e-books. Normally, it would have little, if anything, to do with them. However, a trip to the kindle boards yesterday sent my blood boiling. (Okay, I'll admit, it probably was boiling a little with fever yesterday anyway. Still, the insanity was enough to get to me.). Basically, what happened is that one of Amazon's "lightning deals" -- specials that are for a very limited number of an item at great prices -- was an $89 K2. Unlike a number of other lightning deals, this one had gotten national coverage ahead of time. And, like all those folks who camped out at Best Buy and Target, waiting for the doors to open so they could run for the discounted [insert item here] and who were more than willing to get into fist fights and shouting matches, all those cyber-shoppers were lined up, watching the clock count down to the moment the K2s would be available.

Yep, you guessed it. They sold out within minutes, maybe even seconds. And that's when the howling started. There were claims of bait and switch, threats to never darken Amazon's cyber-doors again unless they found a Kindle for this person or that. Never mind the disclaimer that it was a limited offer was in anything BUT fine print. These people wanted one. They DEMANDED one and screw anyone who didn't agree.

I don't know what it is about certain topics that turns normally sane folks into whiny, demanding toddlers wanting that new toy NOW. But there is a lot of this same mentality when it comes to e-books. You see it when people complain about the prices of an e-book because, gee, it doesn't cost as much because there are no printing or storage prices, nor shipping prices. You see it regarding piracy -- and, as far as I'm concerned, that whining goes on on both sides of the issue. You see it from the publishers who won't or can't see that the market is changing and that they need to change with it in order to survive. The one group you don't see it from, on a whole, is the one group who should be whining -- the writers.

Tomorrow, I'll go into the actual steps required to produce an e-book. But today, let's continue discussing this sense of entitlement that has permeated into the e-book market.

Years ago, the music industry went through a period where they put DRM on everything, worried that the new digital age would mean the death knoll of the business. Yes, it did change the way music was purchased. Most is now purchased online. Gone are most of the music stores we used to go to and browse through the rows of CDs. There were a number of different formats as well, preventing the buyer from listening to their downloads on multiple gadgets. Piracy abounded.

Did it kill the industry? Nope. The industry adapted. A standard format evolved and DRM did as well. Oh, sure, there are still certain companies that load the evil stuff into their music. But, on the whole, if you buy and download a song or album. you can play it on any MP3 player, no matter what the brand.

It is up to the publishing industry to do the same. If I buy an e-book from Amazon, chances are it will be locked with DRM. There will be a limit on the number of authorized devices I can read it on. And, guys, it isn't Amazon putting these limitations on. It's the publishers. Why? Because they are worried about piracy. At least that's what they say.

In yesterday's comments, Rowena noted that she can find her novels on certain pirate sites. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is. There are those folks out there who take exception to DRM and will work to find the code to break it and then offer it to others out in cyberspace as a way to thumb their noses at the publishers. They don't think about how this might affect an author's sales. They aren't even doing it to thumb their noses at the author -- well, if the author is a best seller and has publicly come out against e-books....that's a different story. There will always be someone out there who will post any e-book they can for free download. Same with music and video. They feel like they can do anything they want with it once they've bought it. Gee, there's that sense of entitlement again.

There's another form of piracy - although, to be honest, it really isn't piracy. At least not in my mind - that comes from DRM as well. But a bit of background, a number of publishers AND authors don't look at e-books as "books". They believe that you aren't buying the "book" but a license to read the words. That's why there is DRM. On the other hand, you have the buyers who have paid good money for the e-book and who believe they own it just as they would own a hard copy of the book. They don't see this as merely a license or a "rental". So they look for ways to break the DRM on the book so they can read it on different e-readers and make backup copies.

Why, you may ask, is this important? Say you spend $9.99 for an e-book (which is going rate for a big publisher's e-book from a best seller) this year. Next year, the e-reader you purchased it for dies and you buy a new one. If you purchased that e-book from certain sellers, you may not be able to download it again. Yes, there are download limits at a number of places. Of, you decided to go with a different brand of e-reader. That could mean the digital edition you purchased earlier won't work with your new e-reader because of DRM. Your only solutions are to either buy a new digital copy or find a way around DRM. So, you have those who are good with programming coming up with scripts that let you extract the digital copy, free from DRM. Sense of entitlement? Sure. Justified? In my opinion, yes.

The only group who is being hurt by both sides of this argument are the authors. They do lose some sales because their publishers either won't release their backlist in digital format -- leading folks to scan in their books and then post them online -- or by overpricing their books in digital format. Again, this leads to piracy. Those who pirate the books also hurt the authors because they are taking money from the authors' pockets. However, I would propose one more level here that most folks don't take into consideration. Actually, I have to give Kate credit here. She reminded me that while a number of us might look for a pirated e-book for whatever reason, we do tend to make up for that lost sale later -- either by purchasing that e-book when it finally becomes available through legitimate channels or buy purchasing other e-books (or dead tree books) from that author based on what we've read.

So what's the solution? The only one that will work long term is for the industry to accept the fact that e-books are here to stay. The more DRM that is attached to a book, the more programming folks will work to find and make available the scripts to break it. Either set up e-books as "rentals", where you get to download and read them for a discounted price for a set period of time, or accept the fact that someone who "purchases" an e-book owns it just as much as the purchaser of a hard copy owns that version of the book. Most of all, make e-books available at the same time as the hard copy comes out.

Okay, I just heard the howls going up on that last one, but hear me out. Probably the most famous - or infamous - series of books not released digitally is the Harry Potter series. Think about the number of sales that have been missed because Rowling won't sell the digital rights to her books. Now think about this: digital versions of the last few books were available BEFORE the books came out. That means, imo, someone from the publishing house leaked the files. Why? Because people felt they were entitled to get the book in digital form. Gee, entitlement again.

Okay, this is a long way of saying something very simple -- the only ones entitled to being upset over piracy are the authors. But they need to educate themselves to the realities of the situation and put themselves in the place of their readers. There's a growing number of people who read only digitally. Some because they like the convenience of having hundreds of books with them at all times. Some for ecological reasons -- they aren't killing trees by buying an e-book. Others for medical reasons -- they simply can't hold a book any longer but they can an e-reader. Now, both sides need to talk with one another, learn how their actions impact the other. Somehow, the publishers need to be brought into it as well. I'm just not sure how -- until the publishers are willing to adapt to changing times, things are unlikely to change.

See, this is what happens when something ticks me off when I'm sick. I get all wound up about things. Any way, what are your thoughts? Is e-book piracy really an issue that should be gone after the way the music industry has gone after music pirates? Or is it an anomaly that will go away if DRM is done away with?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Open Thread:

Hi, everyone. I have been in Jury Duty all week (trial finished today), so I don't have a post prepared. Please feel free to post anything you like on an open thread.

All the Best!!

Chris McMahon

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What was that?

I figure most people here who haven't actually watched any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies at least know who Jack Sparrow is. So... did the people who made the movies intend to include the Trickster archetype?

My money's on "no". Possibly even, "Hell, no". Very few creative types think about the archetypes before or during the process: they just write it, then realize what they've done when they re-read. Sometimes not even then - when we're up to our necks in story, we often can't pull far enough back to realize what else we've tapped into.

In the Pirates movies, the writers and cast collectively tapped into a whole lot of mythic archetypes. You have the not-always-friendly wise older man who is also something of a father-figure (Barbossa) - and that's a relationship with more than a few echoes with Loki/Odin or Loki/Thor, especially in the third movie. There's the "crone" who is also a powerful sorceress (thingy/Calypso), the good man who turned to evil when his love was - he thought - spurned (Davy Jones), and of course, the Young Lovers (Elizabeth and Will, both of them so painfully earnest it's a good thing they have Jack Sparrow around to make fun of them).

Not a bad lineup for a series of films that never tried to be anything more than a whole lot of fun.

So, for your Thanksgiving fun today, let's have some "name the movie, character and archetype".

p.s Bonus points to the first person to name the movie quoted in the title!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The A’tist and the Businessman

Periodically people – on facebook, via email, through my site – try to get me to read their manuscripts. Unless they are friends or I know that what they really want is an honest critique, I do not give it. This is difficult, because some of these people are quite, quite, quite persistent and keep coming back with “but I’m sure you’ll love it if you just read it.”

I’m not saying that they’re wrong. For all I know, most of them or a significant portion of them are right and their manuscripts would absolutely knock my socks off, set my world afire or rock my aesthetic perceptions.

I’ve long ago learned not to judge how good someone’s work will be by whether or not they’re published. Being published involves all sorts of other qualities/events than being a very good writer. For example, one of my best friends was writing much better than I was – or probably ever will – when she was completely unpublished and is still doing so now, when she’s only published short stories and I’ve published several novels. Her novels keep getting rejected, though. Another of my best friends writes so much like me that my own husband can’t tell our work apart. She’s published almost nothing compared to me.

So these strangers who absolutely want me to read their novel might be amazing writers, much better than what I can buy off the shelf. I’m still not going to read their work, because it wouldn’t do either of us any good. Note my examples above. These are people I like very much and on whom I depend as though they were family. They are still largely unpublished. Why? Because writers don’t have that kind of power. We can’t do the editor’s job for them. It’s not OUR job. We can at most – if we love something – recommend it to an editor/publisher/agent. I’ve now recommended my two friends a couple of times. They’ve been rejected. Mind you, they got the up close and personal rejection which means my view of their work is correct – they’re very good and publishable. But something about the work, something about the timing, something about the editor’s/agent’s taste keeps them from breaking in.

It might seem to you getting an author’s recommend, or a personal introduction gets you closer to the goal, at least, let me disabuse you of that notion. I have a lot of friends, many more – much, much more – successful than I am. Their attempts to give me a hand up have been about as successful as my attempts to get my friends published. Oh, it happens, once in a blue moon, that an author friend – and almost always these are close friends – will recommend you to his/her editor/agent/publisher and you’ll get a contract. However, just on percentage, it’s easier for you to go through the normal channels of submission. Discovery sounds glamorous, but it’s harder than normal acceptance.

Of course, some more creative souls do stranger things, like post samples of their work on my blog comments, my facebook wall or – and this is very creative indeed – send it to my agent/editor with a note that I recommended it.

The first two are at best annoyances. Look, yeah, I have a few editors/agents who, sporadically, read my postings. They do this because we’re friends outside of “work” and like to joke or tease me about stuff I post. They do not do this to find “the next best thing.” To be blunt, most of them get quite enough submissions to read during their normal work time. In fact, reading submissions is the chore that never ends. They get submissions through the normal channels, they get work from writers they met at cons and social occasions, and they get submissions from people (not always writers) who recommend friends and co-workers. And this is work for them. No matter how much they love reading, no matter how much they tell you, in interviews, that they love “discovering” new work, when they read submissions it’s in a different frame of mind than when blogging or reading blogs/facebook/twitter. TRUST me on this. I’ve edited in the past. When I read with an eye to what might be publishable/needed, it’s not the same as reading say Austen fandom, which I often do read.

I’m not saying they might not look at your work. I’m saying that after catching on it’s a “sneaky submission” slipped into their leisure time, they’re likely to be mad at you and, if I don’t take steps to delete it or dissociate myself from it, at me for ambushing them with work during their fun. Ambushing them in that way is as impolite as ambushing a doctor at a party and asking for a diagnosis. I don’t have numbers, but I’d bet you a lot of money that you stand a better chance of being ambushed by a meteor in a back alley than you have of selling a book this way.

In fact, some writers will block you/defriend you/shut you out for this sort of thing. I won’t, because I can understand where you’re coming from. (More on that later, as well.)

The third method – to send something to my editor or agent and telling them I recommended it when I didn’t – will get you defriended/blocked/shut out if I ever find out it happened, because frankly it could potentially affect my professional relationship. POTENTIALLY – as in, unlikely, but it could happen. The reason it’s unlikely to damage my professional credit is the same reason why this fraudulent action manages to be both dishonest and stupid.

The person who comes up with this brilliant idea doesn’t realize that there have been several people to try it before him/her and that therefore there are procedures in place to circumvent it. For instance, unless I send my agent or editor a letter asking “Would you like to see my friend’s...” and the editor or agent answers with “sure” any over the transom submission saying “Sarah A. Hoyt loves this” will be seen as a fraud. MOST of the time (exceptions made for writers’ group members I HAVE introduced to the editor and even those just in short stories, frankly) such letters from me to editor and answers are followed by MY sending the manuscript I’m recommending to the editor/agent, with a copy to the author, with whom future correspondence will take place.

What all three of these methods will do, in any case, is cause untold damage to YOUR reputation and your chances of publication – if they’re noticed. You should pray they aren’t. This is because the one thing the publishers fear is “the crazy”. “The crazy” might have been a perfectly normal person driven insane by the process of getting published and their fundamental misunderstanding of that process. Or they might be – and very often are – people who think of themselves as artists and tortured souls: people whose work doesn’t depend on excellent craft and practice, but on the bolt of lightening of inspiration or the touch of a god of some description. These people just KNOW they’re good. (A surprising number of them have ‘something’ – usually smothered under layers and layers of twitdom and lack of craft.)

For the Touched By The Gods Artist it’s hard to endure the fact that they have to go through the same selection process as common mugs. This is reinforced – for practically everyone – by

a) the fact our society’s method of educating the young gives everyone, even adults this bizarre idea everything is a class and has an exam/grade. So when your work is good enough and you’re still not getting bought it’s an “injustice”.

b) Stories of strange methods of discovering writers circulated around and highly publicized. I’ve heard these stories the same as everyone else has and I can tell you nine times out of then when you dig into them you find that they just ain’t so. There’s always something that’s not told, like that the new, amazing star happens to be the best friend of the editor’s boyfriend/girlfriend and that’s why their blog post got read. Or they went to school with the agent or the agent’s best friend. Or...

The stories of sudden discovery are just that – stories, which make for d*mn good publicity. But again, you stand a better chance of being snatched up by aliens to be their king.

The Artist doesn’t know this, or if he does, he thinks he deserves that almost-impossible chance. And that means, he tries creative methods. The other things that lie in his path should he not wise up are what will get him blacklisted at the first sign of “artistic temperament” – a lot of these tortured souls will make threats to published writers/agents/editors; they will act unhinged/aggressive at cons; they will at best be nuisances and at worst dangerous.

Worse yet, even if they don’t do any of those things, and manage to get published, they’re unlikely to be able to bear up under the slings and arrows of publishing fortunes. And if you want to know what I mean by that, let me just say I thought I was uniquely unlucky until – while siting with about twenty other writers, some of them bestsellers – we started comparing horror stories. And then I realized I’d practically been treated with kid gloves by lady luck.

As into every life a little rain must fall, into every writing career – even of those who will end up being bestsellers – a little sh*t happens must fall. And the sh*t includes but is not limited to: horrible covers, dropped publicity campaigns, completely failed early books, disaster doom and lack of sales. The people who go on to be bestsellers end up shouldering these issues, and forging ahead – not matter how much more difficult the road has become.

This is why the best and fastest way to get published is to play by the rules. This shows an even temperament, understanding of the field, and taking a realistic attitude towards the BUSINESS of publishing. It means you have a better chance of persevering, working hard and not causing trouble – all excellent qualities in a contractor, which is what the publisher/editor is looking for.

Nowadays, I agree the process of submission is a mess. I’m not going to advise you on that beyond the barest level: find editors/agents who take slush submissions, or find an agent and leave the process to them. Or if you’re absolutely sure you’re not a twit but a real writer, publish your own work, publicize heaven out of it and sell enough to then submit to a real house. All of these methods have been proven to work, as has climbing the ranks from small press to major publisher.

Things that will help your path will be attending cons and both making personal acquaintances in publishing (always showing yourself polite and professional, of course), reading in the field to know what people are looking for/like, and – needless to say – work at perfecting your craft, because the great idea must be married to great execution to work.

And then... keep at it. In my experience, a good publishing career depends on – preparation, persistence and professionalism. Luck helps, but it’s neither indispensable nor all important. And notice that the “p” of potential or the “g” of genius are not mentioned. Most bestsellers or even mega bestsellers didn’t make it on either but on sheer slogging and persistence.

Questions? Protests? Worries? Let me know and I’ll answer as I can.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Ramble on Point of View ...

Point of View (POV or PV) is something a lot of beginning writers don't understand. As a manuscript appraiser and editorial consultant, it is one of the most common newbie writer mistakes - I think, because until you start writing, you don't even realise that there is such a thing as POV.

I used to do Editorial Consultancies for our state writers centre. These were 1.5 hour long sessions, where I read the person's work beforehand and then talked them through writing craft issues, made suggestions as to groups they could join, answered their questions about the industry etc. One person I worked with had 11 POV changes between 3 characters in 4 pages. And some of these POV changes were within a single paragraph. (Warning, extreme Head Hopping). So I spent the hour and a half explaining about:

When to change POV - when you want to reveal something specific.
How to change POV - preferably at a scene or chapter break. But if you do it mid scene, telegraph it by saying Character B felt ... As soon as you use a verb like 'felt' the reader knows you are in that character's POV.
How many POVs to use - Not too many or you dilute the narrative drive. (Of course if you are George RR Martin, it doesn't seem to matter. LOL).

When I wrote the King Rolen's Kin trilogy, I stuck to three POVs because I wanted the narrative to revolve tightly around those three characters. But there are many well known writers who don't follow these guidelines. Nora Roberts (a best seller) head hops all over the place and her readers love her. Either they don't notice, or it doesn't worry them, or the trade off is that they feel connected to the characters and swept along by the narrative.

What triggered this post was a Bernard Cornwall (another best seller) book set in the fourteenth century. I enjoy Cornwall's books. But I could not switch off the internal editor because he was head hopping all over the place. Again, I think his reader's don't mind because he delivers a ripping yarn. The character went from one confrontation to the next at break neck speed. The good guys are good (but not too good) and the bad guys are really bad, even if they believed they were doing the right thing.

That's the thing about POV, it can take you right into the mind of the villain and reveal not only his motivation, but his justification. I like to write what I call Deep POV. Imagine writing in first person, that immediacy and intimacy, but doing it from third person. That's what I try to achieve.

Currently, I'm working on book two of The Outcast Chronicles. I have four POVs. I needed the four character POVs because I needed to interweave four narrative threads. Because each book is around 150,000 words I need to keep track of what has happened in each scene, whose POV the scene is in and what page numbers it covers. So this is what I do, I colour code each POV.

This way I can see at a glance, how much time each character is getting on centre stage. Since I am slightly obssessive and suffer from synaesthesia, I colour code according to personality, because colours have personalities for me. (If the colour I choose for the character isn't quite right, it feels like a badly fitted coat).

By writing a quick line about the scene, I jog my memory. Then, if I get a sudden inspiration to add one sentence that plants a clue for a revelation 400 pages later, I can go to exactly the right scene in the right book and slip the clue in, without trawling through scene after scene trying to find the right spot.

Colour coding POVs also helps because, before I hand in the books, I do a read-through, following each indvidual character's narrative, to make sure that their story arc is satisfying. By colour coding their POV scenes, I can spot them at a glance. Being naturally lazy, this is very satisfying.

These are my little tricks when writing. What are your little quirks?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Food for thought

I love food, and if I like you, I'll feed you. If I love you dearly, I'll probably make your little waistcoat buttons suffer, because if you don't eat I'll assume that terribly hurt look. It's easier to eat until you explode than to suffer that, most people tell me. Even if it something I merely think you should like and really you'd kill for a MickyD burger instead of mysterious tentacly bits snurgling out of vicious red soup or things that have entirely too many legs. Ask Kate. I subjected her to a couple of kilos of spiny lobster which she found... um, yes, well. You thought the evil bits in Impaler were from a tortured mind, not indigestion?

So: naturally food finds its way into my books. Yes, I know, terrible habit. Sticks the pages together. But I love my books so I must feed them. This becomes particularly interesting when you're doing historically accurate as possible writing, which, being me I try to do. And of course much of what we think of stereotypical regional food... wasn't once Italian food... pre tomato?(Heirs books) Greek food - pre lemons? What color were carrots in the sixteenth century? (answer - not orange. White or purple.)

As someone who reads recipe books for fun I pick up a lot of this and add it into my mine of useless information, but of course there is also a fair amount of research. Food - particularly in historical books tells you such a lot about the people and the setting. Besides it gets me stimulated to go and cook something. Seriously, food is second only to sex (and the relationships that weave around that)in the interests of most people. No we will NOT discuss combining them or whether sushi should be served off naked human platters. (Sushi is wonderful. If you take it home and fry it it tastes just like fish.) But there are deep psycological and anthropological reasons why men take potential partners out to dinner.

Anyway, that's just my mileage - that good books have good food descriptions. Of course I love food and love cooking it, so there is bias. (I've always thought men who worried about food and cooking being too feminine, may have reason to worry about being percieved as feminine. I'm hairy-faced enough for you to tell the difference.) And like the other tedious bits (technical descriptions of sf weapons that this practical scientist sees large flaws with in concept, let alone calibre) - one can always skip it. Food writing is of course quite demanding on the visual and other sensory inputs being translated into words...

The waiter appeared from the smoky kitchen after a spell that didn't even try Benito's empty stomach's patience too far. The man seemed bent on proving that, besides being a waiter in a sky-high priced taverna, he had all the skills of a juggler, or could at least do the balancing act at the local fair too. He carried a carafe of wine, a bowl of bread-rings, a platter of chargrilled baby octopus redolent of thyme and garlic with just a hint of bayleaf, a jug of extra sauce, and some olive oil and vinegar. He brought a plate of Melanzane alla finitese next, the crumbed aubergine slices bursting with hot melted cheese. "Eat up. The cook gets upset if you aren't ready for the swordfish the minute it arrives. And do you need more wine?"

(This Rough Magic)

Anyway. Food? Or Micky D?
And does it add to your readng pleasure?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thoughts on Inspiration

Last March I made a trip to Wichita, KS for my cousin's 90th birthday. On the way home, I was struck by the number of trees in the fields lining I-35 through Oklahoma that had been broken by the heavy snows the region suffered that winter. These limbs were scattered and strewn, sometimes almost as if by pattern and other times as if tossed into the wind by a giant hand. Tops of trees were lopped off, looking like an artificial Christmas tree without the tip third. There was a stretch that had my imagination running to thoughts of giants -- or giant alien machines -- walking through the area, smashing the trees like insignificant bugs.

I made the trip to Wichita again Friday, returning home last night. This time it was for my cousin's funeral. She fell at home last week and broke her hip. Of course, being my cousin and an ever practical person, after she fell, she lay there for awhile. Then, knowing she might not be back to the house for awhile, she managed to get to the bathroom where she put on lipstick, brushed her hair and then "did a little pick up" of the house -- all before calling for help.

As I sat in church yesterday morning listening to her priest give one of the most personal eulogies I've heard in a long time, I couldn't help but think about how much Clarice inspired me. I blogged about it some earlier this week at the Naked Truth, but it goes so much further. Clarice was a woman who always seemed to know what your deepest desire was and encouraged you -- either to have the strength to pursue it or the discipline to give it up if it was something you shouldn't be doing. When she realized I wanted to write, and she did so long before I really knew it, I was told about my great-great-grandfather who edited newspapers in Colorado and Kansas. There was my great-uncle Jack who was the youngest linotype operator in the country. And it went on from there. When I finally admitted I was writing, Clarice dug out one of her most prized possessions and gave it to me -- her father's play, typed painstakingly on an old standard typewriter in the 1930's. She never let me give it back, telling me to keep it and pass it on when it would help someone else.

So, coming home down I-35 yesterday, seeing some of those same trees I'd blogged about here back in March, I once more started thinking about those who have been there for us, encouraging us even when we've been afraid to tell people we're -- gasp -- writers. Clarice was always my first cheerleader, always there to listen and encourage. But there have been others over the years. Mrs. Winslow, my seventh grade English teacher who, much to my horror, not only realized I was writing fanfic but read it and encouraged me to keep writing, but to find something better to write about than that "awful Dark Shadows". There was the neighbor up the street who walked in one day to find me on day three of a week-long writing jag and demanded to see what I was doing. Then she demanded to read pages as soon as they came off the printer. All I can say is she was either desperate for something to read or a very good friend or both because the so-called novels she read are forever destined to under my bed...they'd be destined for the bonfire except Sarah has threatened to hurt me if I burn anything else I've written. Sigh.

There are others, of course. Poor Kate who gets to read stuff as it is written, mistakes and all, and who hasn't run screaming into the night. At least, if she has, she hasn't told me. There's Dave who is always there with an ear to listen and an encouraging word. I try not to bother him because, well, in my mind it is more important for him to write and feed my need for his books than to spend time holding my hand when I start doubting myself.

I can't end this post without mentioning Sarah who, with her pointy boots and threats to employ them to certain parts of my anatomy, won't let me quit writing even when I most want to. Not that it happens often or last long. It's Sarah who prods me into submitting and who will always tell me the truth, no matter how much it hurts, about my writing.

Okay, this turned into more of an emo post than I meant. Sorry. I promise to return to my prickly self next week. In the meantime, who has served as inspiration and support for you as you've gone down the path to becoming a writer? Have you had the opportunity to return the favor to someone?

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Due to various circumstances, including the fact that this was week from Hades for almost everyone of us, we -- but mostly I -- failed to line up a guest.

So... I thought I'd make y'all work for it. So to put it.

If you're being good boys and girls and doing your shorts -- I confess I've only done one in about a month, but I have to do one tomorrow anyway, probably at the laundromat (I have mentioned all my appliances have been failing serially, right? If not, well, they have.)or even if you're not, you probably need some ... okay, a kick in the behind.

I've been reading this book called The Writers Idea workshop by Jack Heffron and marking pages I find interesting, such as the following questions from page 13. The purpose of the book is to work with you in deepening your ideas. Right now, it looks like it might helps. So, here are some questions to ponder.

1 -Do you have an idea you've been noodling in your mind for a while? What aspect of the idea keeps it so alive?

2 - Are you holding yourself back from developing an idea into a draft by doubting its worth or your own abilities as a writer?

3 - Are you continuing to work on a project for fear of letting it go? Why are you afraid?

4 - Do you fritter away some of your writing time by thinking about the fate of a current project, such as whether or not it will be published?

5- Do you find yourself talking about ideas before putting anything on paper, only to find you have talked away your interest in, and energy for, the project itself?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Weird Writing

So where is the weirdest/most interesting place you have ever written? In the base camp at Everest? In a submarine? In the Gobi desert? ( I have about twenty notepads stuffed full of ideas for stories. Many were penned in the middle of industrial plants while wearing full PPE -- ear muffs, steel-capped boots, hardhats etc. Probably more than one are technically toxic with smudged 'goo').

When the going gets tough and you are reduced to jotting down quick thoughts on a notepad, balancing the laptop on the bus or hiding in the emergency stairwell at work - what is the craziest thing you have got yourself to write to just get words on the page? Notes on Chinese-menu inspired operas? Soap opera scripts based on the lives of bacteria?

What are the best day-to-day activities that allow you to brainstorm while in autopilot? Doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, ironing, painting, handyman stuff etc

What is your best toy to get yourself in the mood for writing?

The Road Not Taken

I was informed recently by Those Who Know that alternate history is either "dead" or "rubbish" because there are too many factors in the major events - the prime example being that old standby of Germany winning World War 2.

Now, while I agree that the end-point of a war is something that's far too complex to be treated as a single alternative, I utterly disagree that this condemns all alternate history. Most of history is a kind of juggernaut of inevitable where the pressures of the era would produce if not the same result, then one close enough to make no difference. If Hitler had never been born or had remained a minor artist, someone else would have risen to fill the gap.

There are, however, pinch points where history can, with a bit of a push, head down the other leg of Pratchett's Trousers of Time. This is where alternate history is valid and can produce some very interesting results. Usually the pinch points are individual actions: assassinations successful or failed, edge-of-the-knife decisions, and the like. Sometimes they're circumstances: suppose Catherine of Aragon's sole surviving child had been a boy? English history would have been quite different. Or a more recent example: the Midway sea battle. The weather was appalling, and every account I've read suggests that it was pure good luck that American pilots saw the Japanese aircraft carriers before they'd deployed their planes and soon enough to destroy a hefty chunk of the Japanese naval power of the time. That battle is generally regarded as the turning point of the war in the Pacific - suppose it had ended differently?

Obviously I have a less-than-impartial interest in this, since Naked Reader is publishing my first novel, Impaler - which just happens to be alternate history. The companion novella, Born in Blood, is closer to straight historical novel, and available from Amazon and Smashwords as well as the Naked Reader site.

Both of them deal with one of the relatively few people who formed a historical pinch point: Prince Dracula, aka Vlad the Impaler. To start with, it's rather unusual that someone from a tiny buffer state between two much larger empires should be a central figure in an extraordinarily fraught period of history. Then there's the interesting point that despite Vlad's much-reported faults a change in his favor has the potential to significantly improve the outcomes. Specifically, Vlad recognized that no treaties would stop the Ottoman Empire's expansion - and predicted the fall of Hungary if the Ottomans weren't stopped by the one thing they did recognize: overwhelming force. He was, as it happened, correct.

I describe Impaler with the over-simplified "What if Prince Dracula had won?", when the real event that switched the Trousers of Time around is Vlad surviving the assassination attempt in December, 1476. I'm taking the view that his twelve years as effectively a political prisoner of the Hungarian King served to temper him and he emerged somewhat more in control of what was by all accounts a fearsome temper, as well as realizing that he lacked the resources to completely break the boyar class. That along with the realization that the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II (Mehmed the Conquerer) will not allow him to keep his throne drives the story.

The fun part was in the cascade of events: I dug all over the internet for obscure information about the first few months of 1477 - little things as much as big ones. Where I couldn't find any documents, I chose what seemed to me the most likely possibility given what I could find about what followed. If I get to write sequels, the impact of Vlad's survival will get wider, until ultimately his world and ours are very different indeed.

That's my road not taken. What road would you like to investigate, and why?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Here and Now

Sometimes your sins find you out. Imagine my delight – not – when I found my entry into a sort of who-is-who in sf/f and it said something like “often uses the weather for effect and tone.” I knew IMMEDIATELY what they were talking about.

In my first published – I have mentioned that despite the fact I think it’s a fairly decent read, I was still struggling with plotting and making the plotting fit the story, right? – when I became stuck and needed to get myself moving again, I filled in with weather. It rained, it was sunny, it was hot, it... It probably is assigned as a read in meteorological schools the world over.

I feel vaguely guilty about that, because it was eliminated by book two of the series, and now I often go for pages and pages without mentioning a single cloud formation. Unless, of course, it is needed to complicate the characters’ lives – like at the beginning of Gentleman Takes A Chance. (But I guess an entry saying ‘often uses weather to torture characters’ would just make everyone go ‘duh!’)

This is a roundabout way to bring us to our setting, or the place where things take... er... place. I’m highly in favor of setting. It prevents your characters from floating around in ether sometimes – if you remember to give us expressions, say – as giant floating heads, or perhaps (I knew a beginning writer who was notorious for this) just giant floating expression-components (her eyes twinkled. Her mouth twitched. Her nose followed the scent – then realized it was lost and came back to hang out with the mouth and the eyes.) Seriously, if I had to list it from most important to least, my list of why you should spend some time thinking of your setting and making sure it feels “real” to us would go something like this:
1- It gives a sense of reality to the scene. No matter how important the argument or how hot the lovemaking, it rarely takes place in a void. (Unless the characters are aliens.) So give us how people around are looking at them as their voices rise, or perhaps the sound of birds stops overhead. Give us the sheet getting tangled around an ankle. Throw us a crumb so we remember your characters exist.
2 - Worldbuilding. You can bury any number of worldbuilding and even historical clues into setting. “They walked past the tower of Peace, which was built to commemorate the establishment of Peace III after Peace I and Peace II were bombed out of existence.” Or “He leapt from his flying car.” Or “She looked up towards the wizard’s castle” or... “He could smell the unicorn pens. Someone had forgotten to muck them out again.”
3 - Stage business. “Said” might be invisible and it’s certainly preferable to “interrupted”, “objected” or – shudder – “ejaculated” as a dialogue tag, but if you have a page of “he said” “she said” or worse, “he said,” “he said” it can get pretty tedious. Besides, the characters start to feel – to me at least – like they have no bodies and are just talking mouths. Stage business avoids the need to say “he said” like this: “No.” George ran his finger along the shelf and stared at the dust on the fingertip. “No, I don’t believe I found your cigarette case.” It also allows you to build on the character. For instance, perhaps George is an incurable toucher-of-things, not a nitt picky householder and perhaps we can show him touching and fidgeting with everything. (If this is a murder mystery, he probably absent-mindedly picked up that case and set it somewhere.
4- To emphasize moods or bridge an awkward spot. I.e., describing the space ship might just work to give a sense of distance from your last scene before you launch into the new one – because you want to give the idea a month has passed, and that’s hard to believe internally. To make your character seem depressed, you can have him notice peeling paint and dirty floors, for instance, as he goes into a new place.
5- Special effects. Movies pay tons for this. It took me until the year before I was first published to realize people like them, even when all you’re giving them is a description. If your character is in a magical glade, by all means, hit the reader with the eldritch.

A couple of caveats, (they took me long to learn, so I’m going to share them!) Try not to have similar scenes take place in similar places, because it will “feel” repetitive, even if it isn’t. So, don’t have your characters argue in the car twice. Move that second argument to the shopping mall. If you’re writing an historical, try to keep the setting as period as possible and use the opportunity to throw in those cool bits of research you can’t put anywhere else. (i.e., instead of infodumps that make the reader suffer for YOUR art.)
All this said, when I’m stuck for a story, I’ve found starting out in a diner (no, I don’t know why I’m fascinated with diners) usually invites a story to come along...
Do you have a go-to setting? What other ways have you found to use setting? (I’m
sure I missed half a dozen.) What’s your favorite way of making a setting feel real?

*the picture is my son's cartoonified version of me, as "super writer" in front of my favorite diner. Yeah, he DID "superhero" the body a bit.*

Also, for those who haven't checked it out yet, I have a new blog at http://accordingtohoyt.com I even manage to blog almost every day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What we can learn from Genre films and TV shows

I've spent the day marking storyboards assessments at work, left at 7am, did two lectures, marked the rest of the day and got home at 7pm, so my brain is a bit fuzzy, but marking the storyboards made me realise how much we writers can learn from film. Sure it is a different medium but some things remain the same.

For instance, I tell the students that 13th Warrior is a good example of world building and introducing back-story by using a character who does not know the culture and has to have things explained to him.

Then there's what Peter Jackson did when he made the movies of Lord of The Rings. When I read the books to my kids I skipped whole chunks of travelogue and poetry. I read the meat of the story, the exciting adventures. And what Peter Jackson did was embed the back-story in the props (if you watch the special features you'll see how the designed the props to contain the history of each of the cultures).

He tightened up the story and he gave Faramir a story arc. In the book Faramir isn't tempted by the ring at all. In the extended version, he has a good reason to want the ring to win his father's love so he is tempted, which makes his refusal to take it from Sam and Frodo much more noble.And then we have Firefly, which is brilliant for so many reasons. There's great world building, embedded into the narrative. There are character arcs for all the different characters and Joss Whedon deliberately chose to use an ensemble cast because he said he liked to use the characters to bounce of each other. As each episode unfolds bits of back story are told by one character to another, so that the audience are told at the same time. The story is told with a leavening of humour, and it has realistic emotional reactions so the audience can engage with and worry for the characters.

It is set against a big backdrop but the story is intimate. It brings us close to the characters. I'm always telling my students to use Close Ups to show what the character feels and to make the viewer care about the characters. This is what we need to do as writers. We need to make the reader feel connected to the character. We need the readers to have an emotional investment in the characters so that they keep turning the page.

So there you have it. I've been marking storyboards all day, but at the same time I've been refining my sense of story and how to tell a story. So, do you get 'writer' revelations while watching films and TV shows?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dispatches from the front lines

In the latest from the trenches, we had a delicious rat-atouille, with rat-au-vin and small glass of rat-afia. Other than that the shelling continues. Our attempt at going 'over the top' in the face of heavy machine-gun fire on the orders of General Flint, resulted in the capture of a small beachhead section of enemy lines - which we've called 'Karres' after the late great Sergeant Schmitz who led our platoon. It's unfortunately a very small breachhead, and will depend on re-inforcements being fairly speedly sent, for us to hold it. A small group of volunteer sappers from the Nakedreader (A tribe from South-Western America, famous for their courage, I believe) are attempting to construct a tunnel, or at least shore up the bunkers, and help us to catch more rats...

Well, some of my sense of humor has at least returned, although I am getting rather tired of a menu quite so dominated by rat. The trench warfare metaphor is slightly apt as we've just had Remembrance day (Salute). And a sense of humor is fairly essential there and in the writing game. No, I don't mean to suggest that writing is anything like vaguely as tough as trench warfare, but there are minor echoes. The sheer fatigue, the stupid goals set by people a long way off who have no real idea of the terrain, or problems or foes, the fact that new and midlist writers are considered expendable. The inadequate provisions. Oh and the rats and the mud, which we turn into our delectable dinners and shelter. Eric (General Flint) has got a contract for the next Karres book from Baen, and in theory at least I should get paid the advance by wire. On the down side they've decided that they'll probably bring it out in Trade Paperback so really the advance is small, barely going to buy me time, and means for any of the other deals allow me to write full time - they have bigger targets. On the other hand Eric and I talked through the possibility of putting together the 'fish' book (the Wandle pike etc) with Andrew Dennis most of which is already written and Eric has suggest I write 1632 tie in (which should pay better than the Karres book)I'm less than keen on this, but it would pay the bills...

The other projects I've been thinking about are to take various shorter bits, where I have developed a universe and some interesting characters for various short stories / novellas and to build on them as e-books, writing a sequence of stories and linking them together.

For instance I wrote for JBU a 40 year after Rats, Bats and Vats Universe novella called Crawlspace about an amoral rat-detective and his Mao-ist radical feminist adversary/ sidekick bat trapped in a Korozhet seige inside a huge alien artifact. There was always the intention of writing more, but the time and money dried up. A series of detective stories with the seige, treachery, and the final reason for it all, tied together really appeals to me.

I also wrote a short called 'The Witch's Murder' set in the Heirs of Alexandria Universe, with the saintly Brother Mascoli and the earthy Agent of the Signori di Notte - a crippled soldier - having to solve renaissance crime - which appears magical. A mixture of detective/magic is quite a challenge and appeals. I thought a series of these with mixtures of magic, murder and detection could be interesting. (Yes, I have my next murder thought out).

I was also considering more mis-adventures of my tattooed Pictish dwarf (a Private Investigator dealing with the urban paranormal). He's one of my favourite creations and is so delightfully un-PC and an MCP (at 4'8") with a big gun and the sensitivity of a brick outhouse. He's a lot of fun to write.

Hmm. I realise all of these happen to be detective/murder myster type stories. There is quite a list, not all of which are murder-mystery! For instance the full tale of the Goth Sex Kitten (which involves a feral tom-kitten who has been transformed into human form to serve as the apprentice - read 'slave' - to a dirty and irascible and unpleasant old git-of-a-magician). But the part I wanted to talk about is actually... all of these are things I really _want_ to write. That I feel eager to write. I think one of my big mistakes has been to focus heavily on security. On writing things I could sell - which has often meant shaping ideas around what I think publishers want (and in some cases - Karres and the Heirs books - half my work - that I have been asked to write by publishers.) Fitting in with what they want me to write: I've bent these into books that I can love and am proud of... but that is hard work,draining and slow, much harder than merely letting the inner monkey loose to write. Of course it's a good question as to whether I can find enough readers for these, but I am actually really looking forward to giving it a go. I think as e-books I choose to make them length they want to be, and while they'll still need editing and proofs, well, I can stop stressing about being paid timeously or them being bought at all. Of course where the time will come from is another question. They'll for now have to fit around the contracted work. But somehow that feels do-able.

Some of the shorts I've refered to - and a bunch of others are going to be available as anthology from Naked Reader (so if you feel like proving to me that this could be worthwhile, or want to tell me which stories you think want a whole book - buy direct form NR and I get 60% of the cover price.)

But what do you think? How long is a worthwhile read? Should price and length relate? Are there things you'd like to see me write?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

This past week has been anything but peaceful in parts of the publishing world. At least that's how it seemed. It began with the news that Amazon had listed for sale an e-book that supposedly promoted pedophilia and ended with the publication of a contract James Frey and company are offering new and very gullible writers.

First, the Amazon affair. I'll start by saying I'm not giving the name of the book or the author. It's out there if you want to find it. But, as I said earlier in The Naked Truth, I'm not going to give this guy any more publicity than necessary to discuss the issue. The basic facts are that someone published through Amazon's DTP platform a book that supposedly told people how to avoid being caught committing pedophilia. I say supposedly because I haven't read the book and never will. Anyway, the reaction was fast and furious when news hit the Amazon boards and it wasn't limited to there. It hit facebook and then the internet and then national media. Demands were made for Amazon to remove the book posthaste. When Amazon didn't instantly do so, there were calls for boycotts.

What no one thought about when making the demands and going viral with them was the simple fact that it brought attention to a book that wouldn't have received it otherwise. The book went from unknown to the top 100 in paid e-books in a matter of hours. And all because of the very public demands for its removal. The author, if I remember correctly, was also to be interviewed on the Today Show. Talk about a lot of free press.

Then Amazon did take the book down. More press. The author is making the rounds saying he's sure the book will be back up soon. Who knows. Personally, I doubt it. At least if the book says what it's purported to say. Why? Because a book showing someone how to get away with the very heinous offense of pedophilia will be against the Terms of Service every author or publisher has to sign before publishing through the DTP platform.

But what worried me and a number of other people about this incident was the potential for more calls for books to be dropped from sales lists by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other digital outlets. It's a slippery slope once started. And it soon appeared our concerns were valid. Within hours of Amazon removing the book, there were new threads popping up on the kindle boards demanding that other books be removed. People were actively searching the catalog to find books on subjects they thought offensive. PETA has since chimed in, sending Jeff Bezos a letter demanding books about dog fighting, etc., be removed from the catalog.


Anyway, to see more of my thoughts on this subject, check out the following posts:
One last note on this matter -- unfortunately, I can't find the link right now. When I do, I'll post it -- Barnes & Noble has apparently responded in a knee-jerk way to the issue by adding a disclaimer to books published through its PubIt portal. Basically, is says that if a reader finds the material in the book objectionable, they should report it to Barnes & Noble.

Edit: I found the general site. It is in the PubIt Help Board at the Barnes & Noble Community. Here's what the disclaimer supposedly says: "About Self-Published Content
Barnes & Noble receives content from many independent authors and publishers. If you find any content that is inappropriate, please report it to Barnes & Noble."

Witch hunt anyone?

The other major firestorm of the week came from James Frey and his Fiction Factory. That should be more like his sweatshop. I initially read about it here after being pointed to it by Pam Uphoff. My initial reaction, because I wasn't really awake, was that it wasn't that big of a deal. Then, as the coffee kicked in and I started reading the contract terms, my blood boiled. I won't go into it all right now. I detailed my opinion of what Frey is doing here. Suffice it to say that for the price of a short story, Frey et al are convincing writers to do outlines, rough drafts, rewrites -- requiring they incorporate ALL notes and comments -- for a new series of books. Books that may or may not bear that writer's name because, gee, Frey can decide what names to put under "author", including fictional names. For a whopping $250, the author does all the work and MAY get a modicum of credit for it. Oh, yeah, they might, MIGHT, receive 40% of any fees from the sale of the work IN ANY FORM -- but only after all sort of fees (most of which are unlimited) have been deducted. And if that isn't enough to get your blood boiling, Frey retained an irrevocable right to have the author do any and all sequels he sees fit. Notice, there's nothing saying the author can opt out. Basically, the author indentures himself to Frey for as long as Frey wants.

I could go on but I'll stop here. John Scalzi says it so much better in his post about the contract:

Writers: This contract would be appalling and egregious regardless of who was offering it. A story idea good enough for James Frey to sell to Hollywood would be good enough to sell to Hollywood without James Frey. Write your story, get an agent, and sell your work with your own name on it and all your rights to the work intact. It may take more time, but it will be worth it. Have more respect for yourself and your work than quite obviously James Frey will have.

So, any thoughts about this or the Amazon slippery slope?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

If It's Saturday...

then why am I up so early? Oh, I know, I got attacked by a story that wasn't supposed to be part of my NaNoWriMo but has now taken it over. So, I thought this would be the perfect time to get updates from everyone. I'll start us off.

Hi, my name's Amanda and I'm a NaNaWriMoer. It's been half an hour since I last wrote and, sigh, I'm still behind my goal. But I'm closing in. With some discipline, I'll manage my 50k words by the end of the month. Will it be a complete novel? No, but it will be half a novel and I'll be far enough into it to make sure I finish. My current word count on this project is 8,000 words (approx). Total word count -- remember, I started with a different project before this one hijacked it -- is 11,350 words.

So, my fellow NaNaWriMoers, sound off. How are you doing?

Are you having any problems keeping to your schedule? Is there anything about your story that's giving you fits? Or is there something that's really surprised you about where your plot is going? You have to beware of those sneaky plots. They'll run off in directions you never planned on if you aren't careful. ;-p

Any way, the floor is yours. You can discuss all things NaNaWriMo or anything else -- except, of course, politics. I'm off to find more coffee and to pound out another couple of pages before finding breakfast.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flying the Coop

Well, it seems that most people reading this blog cannot wait to get out into the Solar System and further out into Space - as quick as we can.

Being of very much of the same frame of mind, I find it hard to think of reasons why we don't go - but I'll get to that. First I'd like to start with the sunny side of the equation.

Why should we boldly venture forth? Going out into nearby space, say the Moon and Mars, can teach us so much about our own planet, or even the origins of life. Understanding why Mars has a thin atmosphere and is relatively cold, as apposed to why Venus has enough atmospheric pressure to crack stainless steel nuts and has pretty raindrops composed of super-heated sulphuric acid could tell us a lot about how to manage our own world.

Then there is the technology. Without the moonrace we would probably still be using slide rules. The integrated circuit - among dozens of other critical technologies - were spin-offs from that rapid technological advancement. How much of our current economy depends on these new innovations and discoveries?

What about survival of the species? How long before we get the one-in-one-hundred-million year asteroid that wipes the ecological slate back to little scurrying creatures? Do we really want the descendants of the cockroaches to fill all the ecological niches? No fair!

Come on! We have to get off this rock!

Exploration has always had tremendous benefits for society: accessing new resources, opening up new horizons. Even giving persecuted minorities the chance to carve out their own future. At one time modern democracy was a political experiment created in the heady atmosphere of a new frontier. What new cultural experiments might be possible in the vast frontiers of Space?

Don't we owe it to future generations to be the ones who start the glorious second Age of Exploration?

OK. Now for the other side. . .

Can we really justify spending billions of dollars to hurl a few hundred kilograms out of orbit when the world is falling apart? What about the Great Ape? The White Rhino? The Dwindling Rainforests? The rapid heating of the atmosphere? How can we ignore what is happening right here on Earth: the starving millions, the failing ecosystems? How long can we go on before the lights go out right where we live?

Is retrieving a few kilograms of rock from some cranny on Mars at the cost of half a billion dollars really worth the death of one starving child? Do we really need to know the composition of lunar regolith?

Can't people see that this is nothing more than a distraction perpetrated by the political elite to take people's attention from the real issues by dangling shiny new toys? What about providing clean drinking water and education for the other three-quarters of the planet instead?

Don't we owe it to our descendants to get our own house in order before we start building new ones in orbit? Won't reaching for the stars now just perpetuate the same imbalance and inequality somewhere else?

OK. So what do you think? If there is anyone reading who thinks we should not go? Please tell us why. Who thinks the moon landing was a hoax?

PS: Anyone looking for a laugh could also cast an eye over the 10 movie reasons not to go into space. Featuring everything from energy-sucking space vampires to the ever-present threat of the astronaut's wife getting some sort of automaton back from orbit that is under the control of an evil many-tentacled space-entity:)

Why I write what I write

Those of you who've read pretty much anything of mine will know that it's got a dark streak roughly the width of the Pacific Ocean. You'd have also noticed certain themes appearing fairly often: individuality in contrast and opposition to group dynamics, the fate of the misfit, the lure of the darkness and the cost of resisting it, cheery things like that. Even my lighter pieces - including some of the shameless fluff - have that edge under them.

I don't write about these topics because I feel the need to tell people the right way to go/do/be. If I wanted to do that, I'd start a religion and preach. I'm drawn to these topics because - in a rather less extreme fashion - they shape a lot of my personality. Or because I find them an endlessly fascinating source of inspiration. Twilight (the abomination that is sparkly vampires excluded) is the place where the light fades and the darkness begins to rule. Uncertain boundaries like that tend to be where conflicts arise, and where what works in the light starts to get difficult, if not dangerous. That's good story-fodder.

There's a reason I don't write horror - if I did, I'd be the horror writer who sent people screaming into the darkness, leaving them too scared to sleep. That's something other people have told me, and knowing where my mind goes, I believe them.

Fantasy and Science Fiction are sufficiently open that I can let out the darkness in a "safe" way, show it for what it is, and maybe get the bloody nutcases who inhabit my imagination to stop bitching about me taking too long to write their stories. Hell, my mind permanently inhabits somewhere between SF and Fantasy, where just about anything is possible so long as you've set it up properly. Whether what emerges is SF, Fantasy, or in extreme cases Alternate History, just depends on the characters and the stories.

(This, incidentally, is also the reason my friends and co-workers are familiar with the phrase "Kate-weird")

Those of you who write, why do you write the things you choose to write? Those who don't, why do you read the things you choose?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This Author Is Landing, Please Clear The Runways

This will be one of the most scattered posts you’ve read from me. Mostly it is my excuse for not writing a real post. It could easily be titled Why The Dog Ate My Post.

I don’t know if this is normal for other people, but normally (with one exception, where I outlined a novel on the plane, back from WFC and worked feverishly starting the minute I landed) it takes me two/three days after a con to “land” fully – i.e., to return to my routines and proper mind.

This year was different. First, there was Miranda’s vet emergency. And then I seem to have come down with sinus infection from beyond.

Now, is this my excuse for having done nothing this week? No. I’ve worked this week. First, I wrote about 5k words on the novel and second I have finished rewriting what I had of the novel, which needed it before I could go on.

However, I’ve had to PUSH myself to work, and it hasn’t always been my best quality work. And I feel exhausted all the time. I have a basket of ironing waiting to be done, for instance, that I’ve simply NOT felt equal to.

Part of the point of this post is that I don’t give myself permission to just not work but on the other hand, I need to give myself permission to be “lame” for a few days.

Anyway – in my defense it’s not quite eight pm here, and I’m going to bed in a few minutes. This, in me at least, means I’m not well. And yet, because my boss – like Dave Freer I work for myself. I have a terrible boss – is a slave driver, I feel guilty about this and guilty about this disjointed post. I’m still going to bed.

Do you ever feel guilty for allowing your body to just rest? Do you worry you’re not pushing enough? Do you forgive me for this ridiculous post?

PS - In my new – gggggrrrroan – blog at http://accordingtohoyt.com I’m asking for recommendations on romances to read. Sound off if you have the time. If I'm going to bed at ridiculously early hours (and it happens a bit in winter, due to getting sick) I might as well read.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Prejudice is Alive and Well ...

King Rolen's Kin book one has its first one-star review on Amazon from someone who doesn't like gays. There is one gay character - Orrie, who is loyal with a wry sense of humour. He's one of my favourite characters. (If you liked my book, please go to Amazon and write a good review. this bad review is bringing the average down).

Here's the review. The reviewer said he couldn't get past page 50 because there was a gay character.

It never occurred to me that including a gay character in a minor role (no sex, actually no sex for any of the characters, straight or gay - equal lack of opportunity) would cause people to give up on the book. Perhaps I am rather idealistic and naive.

I'm not going to justify having gay character/s. I'm going to move right on ...

E-books Market surges to $1 Billion. According to this report by the end of 2010, customers will have bought $996 million in e-books.

And now e-readers come in colour, too. See article here. All of which makes getting an e-reader really tempting. Especially when the fantasy books I read are huge, and take up so much space in my briefcase. If I know I'm going to finish a book before I get home, I can't fit a second one in my case.

Back to gay characters. I am more likely to get turned off reading a book if the character is not believable, or if they do stupid things that make me want to shake them. Would you be turned off a book because one of the supporting characters is gay? What would turn you off a character?