Thursday, July 19, 2018

Putting Projects on the Backburner

If you go up to a writer and say, "I've got this idea for a book", if they're being honest, they will probably say something along the lines of "I don't need ideas, I need time."

Ideas are pretty easy.  Manifesting them is the tough part.

I rarely truly abandon projects.  I have a few "terminal cases", projects that I really have no intention to get back to any time in the near future, but are they truly "abandoned"? Or are they in a wood-lined cask, aging and ripening until they're ready? 

Not sure.

At this point, it's more a matter of priorities.  Which projects need to be done now (because, say, they're under contract), and which are for somewhere down the road.
Speaking of Down The Road, THE WAY OF THE SHIELD is out soon, and you have two possible chances to win an ARC before it comes out.  One is to come to ArmadilloCon, where I'll be teaching the writers workshop and appearing on panels.  The first person to come up to me an make a decent attempt at reciting the Tarian Oath will get one ARC:

“With Shield on arm and sword in hand
I will not yield, but hold and stand,
As I draw breath, I’ll allow no harm,
And fight back death, with shield on arm.”

Now, what if you can't come to Austin, I fully understand.  Here's the other way: below I’m going to put eight hints for the titles of eight prospective Maradaine Phase II Novels. And so we’re on the same page, these titles each would represent Book Four and Five of the four respective series, but I’ve mixed up the order so it’s not completely obvious what’s what.

Email your guesses to me before AUGUST 1st, 2018.  The entry that is the most correct (or, barring that, most entertaining in incorrectness) will win an ARC (limited to mailing in US and Canada).  Sound good?  Here goes:
The Q_____ G_____
The A_____ of C_____
The S_____ of the C_____
An U_____ of U_____ M_____
The C_____ of the C_____
A P_____ of P_____
The N_____ K_____ of R_____ S_____
A_____ and D_____

Happy guessing!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

My To-Be-Read List

My to-be-read list is shamefully large.  I have SO MANY books on my shelf that I have every intention of reading.  I really do.  But I haven't done it yet.

This is why I'm completely understanding whenever someone tells me that Thorn or Murder or Holver Alley is on their TBR list but they haven't gotten to it yet.  I get it.  This is how we all operate.  We have to make choices with our time, and for me right now, that involves drafting Shield of the People, going over the final proofs of Way of the Shieldreading and critiquing the pieces for the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop, and also taking care of the rest of my life so I don't collapse in a heap of unhealthiness.

(My knee went out on me last week, which made life challenging.  Back up to snuff now, though.)

That said, I am currently re-reading.  Namely, I'm re-reading The Belgariadas I haven't read it in almost a decade, and diving deep into it on Twitter with the #BelgariadRead hashtag.  Come check it out.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Dishes to Bring to the Party

This week at SFFSeven, we're talking about things to bring to a party.  As it happens, I'm going to one tonight, for Austin SFF Writer Amanda Downum.  So, what am I bringing?  I'm making a cochinita pibil.  It's a slow cooked pork in an achiote marinade.  It's SO good.
Here's how you make the achiote marinade:
achiote paste
8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of white vinegar
1 cup of orange juice
¼ cup of water
all spice (8 to 10 balls)
black pepper to taste
pinch of cumin
Blend all that into a thick marinade.  Marinate pork, cut into one-inch chunks, with that good stuff overnight.  Then slow cook it in a low temperature (the hardcore way is to wrap it in banana leaves), or in a sous vide.    Meanwhile, also make pickled purple onions:
3 purple onions
vinegar
Salt
Pepper
Put a pot of water to boil. Slice the onions into thin slices and blanch in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Move to another container, cover with vinegar, and add salt and water to taste.
This makes for delicious tacos, or served with black beans and rice. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Level Up

This week's question is, how do you level up as a writer?  And that's a really good question.  For me, the big answer is by lifting EVERYONE up.  The rising tide raises all boats.

That means being a mentor for up and coming authors.  That means being a champion for new books when they come out.  That means, when you're climbing over the wall, you reach back and take the hand of the person behind you.

So, I strive to do a few things: I try to treat every hopeful professional writer like the thing they are working on is the thing that will be their first sale.  I try to treat every struggling professional like their next thing is their big breakout.  I try to treat everyone I meet in this business like they are about to be the Next Big Thing. 

To me, that's just common courtesy.

Now, I'm sure I've had moments where I've failed this metric.  There's been plenty of times where I've been in my own head and not realized how my actions could be perceived.  Trust, as the line from Twelfth Night goes, that it's something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose.

That's also why it's important to me to pay things forward.  Things like teaching at workshops, or talking to prospective SFF writers at the Writers League of Texas Conference.  These things matter. 
Because nothing helps you level up better than helping others.  So have at it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Staying Out of those Painted Corners

If you've been paying attention to me and my various babbling on writing, you know I'm a big fan of the outline.  I try to avoid the whole "paint myself in a corner" problem by sorting out the big path of the plot beforehand.  If I know the line of things from A to B to C and so on, I'm less likely to get lost in the weeds in the first place.  Now, that doesn't mean that sometimes things don't work, or I write a bit in one direction and go, "Wait, I need to go back and thread something else in here to be the way out."  

But I know how the whole story hangs together, and that's because I have the outline.  (And the outline of the larger arcs, etc.)  And the outline tends not to have plot cul-de-sacs or corners I paint myself into because it's got a solid structure.

I've talked about the twelve-part outline structure before, and it's the basic scaffolding I use to craft an outline.  Here it is:
  1. Establishment: Show character(s) and initial situation. Here’s where you set up not only who your main character(s) is, but what the rules of the road are.  What is “normal” for your story?  If there is magic, for example, you need to let the reader know here.  Especially in a genre story, you need to make it clear what’s going on.
  2. Incitement: Incident or new information spurs protagonist. This may be interwoven with Establishment, or exist on its own, but the important this is that the something changes to throw us out of the Established “normal” and gets the protagonist acting. 
  3. Challenge: Minor antagonists come into play. You can’t throw the big guns at your protagonist yet.  Either your protagonist isn’t aware of the Big Bad yet, or doesn’t understand the scope of what is happening, or just plain isn’t ready for the big picture yet.
  4. Altercation:  Conflict with minor antagonists.  Give your protagonist a hard-won victory, even if it’s minor or only symbolic.  This lets you show your protagonist as having the competence and drive to deserve being at the center of the story. 
  5. Payback:  Minor antagonists report back to major, allowing a strike back.  That hard-won victory may have felt good, but it isn’t without consequences.  Perhaps it means that your Big Bad just re-evaluated your protagonist, and has elevated the threat level from Nuisance to Problem.
  6. Regrouping: Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way; thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.  Here is where your protagonist has another victory, but not the victory they think they’ve had.  This is where they make a mistake, be it underestimating the antagonist, or just sloppy pride.  That deep character flaw you’ve woven into them is set up to bite them back.
  7. Collapse: Protagonist loses stability and safety of base situation.  Everything falls apart.  Whatever your protagonist thought they could count on crumbles under their feet.   
  8. Retreat: Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist. Deal them that serious blow.  Force their hand.
  9. Recovery: Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe. You need to give them a chance to lick their wounds, figure out where they stand, and if they can accept that.
  10. Investment: Personal reason forces protagonist back into fray with main antagonist—they won’t choose to walk away.  This is where you make your heroes.  At this stage, a lesser protagonist would cut their losses, admit defeat.  Your protagonist can’t do that.  It’s time to see this to the end.
  11. Confrontation: Goes after main antagonist, partly to reclaim investment. Now you’re at the climax. 
  12. Resolution: Defeat of main antagonist, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.
If this is a useful tool for you, by all means, use it.  I developed it because I needed it in my toolbox, and it's been a very helpful thing for me.  If it helps you as well, all the better.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Saving the Mental Energy for the Work

Everyday, my social media feeds are kind of an assault.

Like, the world is a trash fire and there are tweets and links and stories pretty much every hour on the hour (and every minute in between) reminding you that things are horrible and people are garbage.  This is both for the world at large, and in the microcosm of the SFF Community.

(Not everyone, and I do try to make a point of reminding us all of that.)

A lot of times, you pretty much have to make a choice: do you watch the trash fire, or do you do the work?  Which wolf do you feed?

(And that's not even getting into the creative-energy-drain that is other parts of life, family, finances, work, household, etc., etc.)

So how do I keep my head clear so I can work?  Honestly, a lot of willful ignorance.  A lot of deciding NOT to pay attention to the trashfire.  Admittedly, a lot of that comes down to privilege: the worst of the trashfire things are NOT attacks on me or my daily life.  I'm able to ignore it in ways others don't have the luxury to.  And I need to so I can get my work done.

There's enough horrible in the world as it is, people.  Be excellent to each other.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Announcement: Blogging Semi-hiatus

So, some seven years ago I made a decision that made a lot of sense at the time.  I had a website and a blog, but I wasn't doing much of anything with them.  After attending some seminars at DFWCon, I decided I needed to be regular and habitual about blogging, and so I pledged to blog every Monday and Thursday, rain or shine.

And for seven years, I've held to that, even when I've not really had a lot to say.  Partly for the pure discipline of it, and partly to maintain a steady presence on here.  I wanted anyone who came to my website to be able to say, "Hey, this guy is reliable, this guy sticks with what he sets out to do."  I mean, the web is littered with tumbleweed-filled fledgling-author sites where they have a flurry of "I'm totally gonna do this blog thing" posts, and then they drizzle out to nothing. 

But here's the thing: I don't have to prove, to myself or the world at large, that I can reliably work with discipline.  I've got the bonafides: between seven books in three-and-a-half years, two more on the way, and seven years of regular twice-a-week blogs, I've shown that in spades.  Plus regularly posting here is time and energy that takes away from actual writing.  Between what I have on deck and other projects I have planned, I've got enough working that I don't ALSO need to habitually blog for its own sake.  And posting-for-its-own sake was starting to feel like the signal-to-noise ratio was getting low.

So, for the foreseeable future, I won't be posting regularly on Mondays any more.  I will still do Thursdays at SFFSeven and mirror those posts here.  And I'll post when I have something significant to announce, or some topic I really want to talk about, but not to any set schedule. 

If you are looking for things-I-want-to-talk-about-not-to-any-set-schedule, of course, follow my Twitter.  It's fun and I have pictures of food.

Now back to the word mines.  See you all down there.