Friday, November 19, 2010

When I get Writer's Block, I get on Photoshop

I'm not writing a Steampunk novel.
I'm not really planning on writing a Steampunk novel.

But, if I was going to write a Steampunk novel, it might look a little like this:

In other words, when I get stuck, I get on photoshop and make maps or other stuff. This time, I made a fake cover to a book I have no plans on writing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hint Fiction

Hint Fiction (aka the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction) is now out, and it has so far gotten pretty good press and publicity, including The New Yorker and NPR.  There has been, of course, some degree of negative reviews. This is to be expected.  Most of these challenge the notion that hyper-short fiction-- like Hint Fiction's 25-words-or-less rule-- has any real value at all.  Of course, I disagree with this notion, and not just out of my own self-interest with regard to Hint Fiction.

I think my main contention is the idea that hyper-short fiction is somehow a symptom of the modern twittering-and-texting short-attention-span society.  I agree that has created a platform that allowed hyper-short fiction to thrive, but I disagree that the stories that emerge from it are somehow weaker for it. Most of the Hint Fiction stories in the anthology are fantastic examples of tight, focused writing.  These aren't just a couple strong sentences; they're sucker-punches of prose.  I'm actually quite astounded to be included amongst them.

Check out Hint Fiction on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mapping the Infinite without the Z-Plane

I really enjoy the mapmaking process of worldbuilding.  Especially when I'm feeling blocked in the process of writing, opening up Photoshop and doing some map work is a good way to get the juices flowing.  Or at least spend the time somewhat productively.

Lately I've been building maps for my space opera setting.  My challenge of late has been making a map that is really of 3-dimensional space (as a star map would have to be) on my 2-dimensional display.  As I've mentioned before, ChView is an excellent resource for making a manipulatable 3-D starmap... except for it's not designed for showing political boundaries.  I want to be able to glance at a screen and see how territories are carved up.

One big challenge in turning the 3-D map into a 2-D depiction is, of course, that loss of dimension.  Here's a small sample:

This is a section of space that is, on the X&Y plane, near Earth.  See it up there, listed as "Terra (0)"?  The (0), of course, represents its Z-coordinate.

Now, everything here looks pretty close to Earth (in interstellar terms, that is, this is the nearby neighborhood.)  But there's one bit that's pretty deceptive.  "Eeio" looks, at a glance, to be just almost as close to Earth as Indus or Cygnus 1.  But it's not, of course, as it's 63.45 light years away on the Z-plane.  It's pretty far away... but in our 2-D representation, it's right there.

So I'm still working on figuring out a good way to show that visually, besides the Z-coordinate marker.  We'll see what I work out.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Making the Better Alien

The other day my friend D.D. wrote a post about the challenges of writing The Other, and touched on the aspects of building alien cultures that are a bit too one-dimensional.  And there certainly is a simplicity, when creating aliens, of rendering the whole culture down to a couple bullet points and leaving it at that.  The problem, especially with a long-running project (or one with multiple creators, as a TV show or licensed work might), is what I call the Hasperat Syndrome.  The first time the Bajorans showed up in any form of Star Trek, the main Bajoran character mentioned her father used to make Hasperat.  It was a nice little bit of worldbuilding, showing us something unique to the alien culture.  All well and good.  The problem grew over time, as Bajorans took a prominent role in Star Trek, which you would think would give opportunity for worldbuilding growth.  But whenever the Venn Diagram of "Bajorans" and "food" intersect, only hasperat gets mentioned.  As D.D. says, what do Cardassians drink besides kanar?  And maybe it's because I'm a foodie, but I'd hate to see sci-fi where the entirety of human cuisine was represented by enchiladas and scotch.

Of course, with aliens, beyond the culture there is just the biology.  And I always feel that function is based on form.  Culture rises, in part, based on the physiology.  A three-gendered species, for example, will undoubtably have a completely different cultural make-up than our two-gendered one.

That said, I regularly find myself making a majority of my aliens roughly humanoid in shape.  I recall reading an article a bit ago saying it was unlikely we would find aliens that are physically shaped the way we are, and my response was, "Why not?"

I mean, on a Darwinian survival-through-adaptability model, out basic form is highly functional and adaptable.  Just on a purely physical level-- not taking our intelligence into account-- we are the only species on the planet that can run a mile, swim a mile, climb a tree and throw a rock.  Four diverse activities that each give us advantages in taking control of our environment.

So when I make alien species, and make a conscious point of breaking from a humanoid model, I have to ask myself, "Do I see this form being able to take dominance over its environment?"  And if I'm envisioning them as space-traveling species, the next question is  "Are they physically capable of creating and controlling advanced technology?"  A species may be highly intelligent, but lack the physical capacity to build even basic technology.  Look at dolphins-- I'd say they would qualify as "intelligent" on the same level as aliens, but they still don't have fine motor skills.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Worldbuilding, and the Real World intruding on that

OK, this is how much of a complete dork of a worldbuilder I am.

If you follow astronomy news at all, you'd know that the star Gliese 581 has been in the news today, as they discovered a planet in the "habitable zone" for the star.  This is, by the way, the seventh planet discovered in the Gliese 581 system.

So I go through my Space Opera setting worldbuilding files, noting I don't even HAVE Gliese 581 on it.  How did that happen?  I'm supposed to have an accurate list of all major stars within 100 light years!

What do I do?  I go to wikipedia, look up Gliese 581, get its Right Ascension and Declimation and Distance, plug that into my ChView program, and see where the star pops up.  Right by it: the boringly named BD-07 4003.  Go back to Wikipedia, and lo and behold, that's one of its alternate names.  Back to my own database, what do I have?  Zero planets.

(I should note that the number of planets in any star system, and by "any" I do mean all 4,660 in the 100ly radius of Earth, was determined by a random algorithm taking into account a star's spectrum and mass.  Said algorithm makes in that most M-type stars have zero planets... so I may have to redo that since Gliese 581, as an M3V star, serves a fairly good example of the flaw in said algorithm.)

So, even though this would probably have ZERO impact on the actual stories I write in my Space Opera Setting, I feel a compulsion to Fix It.  I know Gliese 581 actually has seven planets, so I can't have it say zero on my database.  So I went through, fixed it, declared it a protected system of the alien alliance (who would keep grubby human paws of the place), and called that fixed.

And that's how much of a worldbuilding dork I am.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm not sure who's Teddy Roosevelt in this metaphor.

It is said that a school of piranha can skeletonize a cow in minutes.  This bit of trivia is apparently based on something of a deception-- some South American officials had intentionally starved a school of piranha so they would be in an eating frenzy when they threw the cow in, all as a ploy to impress Teddy Roosevelt-- but it is technically true.

Authors querying agents are trying to impress said agents, but given the market out there, they start to feel like those starved piranha.  And I can see how for the agents, they can feel a lot less like Teddy Roosevelt, and more like the cow.

While we, the querying authors, don't really see the level of electronic assault I'm sure most authors get, one easy way to get a sense of it is to look at Nathan Bransford's blog today.  To celebrate his 1000th post, he offered a query + 5 page critique to the 1000th comment on the post.  Nathan is probably one of the bigger agents out there in the agenting-blogosphere, so this offer was widely read and amongst the querying, a highly coveted prize.

How coveted?  Said 1000 posts took less than two hours.  The last 250 posts of that thousand? Six minutes.   And that's probably not even counting the attempts (like myself-- I'm not claiming I'm any different) that tried to post in that window and got hit with some sort of server-crashing error.

What's my point?  I'm not completely sure, other than while it really sucks to be one of a swarm of hungry fish... it's important to remember that it's pretty tough on the cow, too.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food, Cuisine and Worldbuilding

At an ArmadilloCon panel a couple years ago, when asked where he starts with worldbuilding, Steven Brust answered, "Food."  Given Brust's nature on any panel, the moderator at first thought he was making a joke, but he clarified that he was quite serious.  "When you have a character eating a piece of beef, just with that, the process of raising a cow and bringing the meat to market, you've already made a hundred decisions about that society."  Food, what and how people eat, always plays a strong part in my writing.

Along those lines, today I've been working with my mother-in-law to prepare chiles en nogada, which are possibly one of the finest examples of Mexican cuisine in existence.  Part of the process involves blanching and peeling walnuts, which is a time consuming and meticulous process.  I spent the better part of two hours at it.  And that is just one aspect of this dish, which has several more.  It occurred to me, while doing this, that the preparation of this meal is so involved, with so many small parts that were so labor intensive, that it was indicative of the culture it came from.  Namely, a meal like this can only come with many people working long and hard in the kitchen... which typically implies servants.  Without a servant-culture (with, possibly, a strong faith or work-ethic), meals like this wouldn't become part of the cuisine.

I think about these things, that how food is made, the level of preparation, is just as important as what the food itself is, in showing the culture and the worldbuilding.  In Thorn of Dentonhill, my main characters take most of their meals at University, so their meals are prepared by a staff, so there are some elaborate elements, but at the same time, the meals have to be made for crowds.  Holver Alley Crew, the food is mostly communal to a small group, and cooked simply from basic sources-- mussels collected in the river, at one point.  Maradaine Constabulary, with the characters constantly on the move, needed street-food, fast and cheap.

How much does a recipe say about the culture it comes from?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Going over Workshop Notes

I'm going back over the first 5000 words for Maradaine Constabulary-- the piece I used at the ArmadilloCon Workshop-- and making tweaks based on the notes I received.

One thing I'm noticing that's different from earlier years is most of the notes are along the lines of, "This is good", and "This works well" and questions that arise from things in the text.  Questions that are, for the most part, addressed in the next 5000 words.

So that makes me feel pretty good about this piece.  It's coming together pretty well, I think.   Now I just have to finish it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Raves for Muses IV

In addition to the excellent review from Now Playing Austin, you can read the many glowing reports from audience members, including this gem:  

Some of the best playwrights in Austin contributed to this awesome show...
Also this:

Each scene is a unique snapshot of one family, and the audience gets to act as a sort of fly on the wall, but sometimes more. The script holds strong and thought provoking material, and the acting is excellent.  
I have to say (having not seen the production yet), that's pretty impressive that the "script holds strong", especially consider there were eight of us working independent of each other.  Of course, the good folks at Vestige picked pieces that worked well together.  I know I'm honored to once again share stage space with Aimee Gonzalez and Sarah Saltwick, two fellow Austin playwrights that I highly admire.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


This weekend I attended ArmadilloCon, Austin's annual sci-fi/fantasy literary conference.  I'm still something of a conference newbie, since I only ever go to ArmadilloCon (it being the only one I can, at this juncture, financially justify), but from what I hear from other people, it really is one of the better literary-minded conferences out there.  And it really is more about books than any other media of geek entertainment.

The first part of it was the Writers' Workshop, which I have participated in for several years now.  I really have to say, this workshop is a fantastic opportunity for fledgling writers.  If you have the means and the time in the coming years, I highly recommend it.  Not only did I get my piece (the opening chapter to Maradaine Constabulary) read by Stina Leicht (whose "Of Blood and Honey" comes out in March 2011) and Anne Sowards (Senior Editor at Roc and Ace), I got the chance to meet and talk to Ilona Andrews, Rachel Caine, Julie Kenner and many others.

On a side note-- doing said Workshop several years in a row has given me rather definitive insight into how my writing has improved over the past five years.  I've looked back at what I submitted back in 2005 and 2006, and I'm kind of embarrassed.  Not by the writing itself-- though it is poor, don't get me wrong-- but by the amount of ego I remember I was walking in with at the time, in comparison to the quality of the work.  I honestly thought at the time that not only was what I wrote awesome, but I was going to get a pat on the back and be told how awesome I was.  This was definitely not the case, and I'm better now for it.

As for the rest of the convention, it's something of a whirlwind in my head.  A lot of interesting panels, a lot of shaking hands of people I've known for a bit, and other people that I just met.  A lot of information to process, certainly.

And it was such a busy weekend, I didn't even get a chance to see my play, which also just opened this weekend.  I heard it went well, and looking at the write-ups from audience members on NowPlayingAustin, it looks like it was well-received.  Can't wait to catch it next week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Just a few bits of news

I may have mentioned this before, but my short story "My Name Is Avenger Girl" was accepted for the superhero anthology "The Protectors", edited by Paige. E. Roberts.

Also, my short play "Pleasure to Meet You" is being produced as part of The Vestige Group's "Muses IV: Memories of a House".  This is the third year in a row a piece of mine has been featured in their "Muses" series.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More Perils of Worldbuilding

When it comes to worldbuilding, I like to think that most of us fledgling sf/fantasy writers actually sit down and get the work done.  This probably isn't true at all.  Plenty of wanna-be writers don't do the work at all, much like they don't do the research about querying or how to write a novel.  But a fair amount of us do it, and do it in depth.

The question then becomes putting it on the page.  This is the hard balance.  It's very easy to fall into pure info-dump mode, dropping a ton of history and culture information but not actually telling a story.  Not only is this an easy mistake to make, it's an easy mistake to recognize, no matter how you dress it up.  I was doing this a lot in Crown of Druthal's early drafts, even if I was couching it in a historian giving a lecture and other characters being bored by it.  Lampshade hanging doesn't make it not boring.

The other mistake is almost as easy to do, but harder to realize you're doing, I think.  It's knowing your world SO WELL that you forget that you have to actually explain it.  Just like how, if you were writing contemporary fiction you wouldn't explain New York or London or US History, because you assume the audience knows this.  It becomes very easy to be so immersed you don't realize no one else knows what you know.

I've seen works fall into this trap plenty.  I've fallen into this trap plenty as well.  But it's important to realize that Too Little Information is just as damaging as Too Much.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Yet Another Opinion on the Future of Publishing

My mother pointed me towards a Newsweek article essentially promoting self-publishing as the viable model of the future to circumvent "traditional publishing" and get your work straight to the people.  This article was roughly the same one I've seen several times: taking a single success story and trumping it up as a new paradigm.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, pursuing Traditional Publishing is still the preferred option.  It's what I'm doing, and what I'll continue to do for some time.  But will I reach a point where, failing to break through that way, I will decide I need to put on a publisher's hat?  It's entirely possible.  And the tools to do that, and do it smartly, are indeed out there.  But it's also very easy to do it stupidly.

One key way is doing it before you really are ready to do it.  It's one thing to polish and query and polish and query until you've exhausted your options and you say, "This is really the best I can make it, and no one is picking it up... so why not try this?"  It's another to finish a rough draft, run a quick spell check and upload it to Lulu.

However, here's the thing: regardless of the method one uses to try and get one's work out there, cream will still rise, and lead will still sink.  I think the new paradigm will more go in this direction: self-publishing will not replace traditional... but it will become more accepted as a path to traditional publishing.

Just like youtube has not killed the TV or Movie industry, nor has mp3 sharing killed the music industry, the traditional publishing industry will not be killed by self-publishing in the future.  But, just as these new tools allowed people to find an audience they wouldn't have before, and through that, find a new path to success.

Up until now, the Conventional Wisdom is that by self-publishing, you've screwed yourself out of your chance for traditional publishing.  However, there are enough success stories out there to prove that isn't true: if a publisher thinks there's a profit to be made off your work, they'll go for it.  I think in the coming years we will see more and more success stories like that.

But only if the books are any good to begin with.  Cream rises and lead sinks, after all.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Querying etiquette?

So today I attended a writing seminar, or at least part of it... namely the section on "getting your work out to other people", and naturally a part of that was talking about agents.

A question came up about sending to multiple agents, and the response was in no uncertain terms, NO.  We were told that sending to multiple agents was a huge faux pas, not to be done, a mark of unprofessionalism, etc., etc.

Now, this didn't sound right to me, but I held my tongue.

So I put it out here: unless an agent asks for exclusivity, they don't expect it, right?   A query isn't a commitment, it's... just a query.  You can send them out to five or ten or a hundred agents at once (smartly, of course... no "Dear Insert Agent Name Here"), and it's not a big deal.

Or am I wrong?  I'm perfectly willing to admit I could be.  I'd love some insight here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Querying in the summertime?

Is July typically a month in which agents take vacation?

I just send out another round of queries last week, and, oddly, I haven't heard any responses yet.  I mean, many agents take several weeks to respond, of course, that's normal.  But typically, in any batch of ten or so, there are a couple who turn it around in 48 hours, though usually with a rejection.

Not that I'm in a big hurry to get rejections, mind you.

Of the queries I have out there, there are three who are currently closed to new queries; a planned, temporary closure from July to September in all three cases.  I find this fascinating.  Is summer the unusually heavy time for querying?  Or is it that three months of closure is necessary to be able to take a mere two weeks of vacation?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Worldbuilding and organic writing

One of my biggest problems is not the worldbuilding, but then taking that worldbuilding and weaving that into a story organically.  The old draft of Crown of Druthal was filled with worldbuild infodumps.  I thought I could get away with some of it by having a main character who is a historian-- it's at least a passable cheat to have him reading about this stuff.  But it still feels like an infodump.

I think this ties into my big problem with prologues in general.  They tend to be (though not always) a rather unartful dump of worldbuild info, sometimes giving away the whole story in the process.  I recently watched the beginning of the pilot of a (failed) genre show that was astoundingly inartful:  several minutes of prologue, mostly done with voiceover narration, rushing through several plot points, and then saying, "Our story begins seven years later".

For Thorn of DentonhillHolver Alley Crew and Maradaine Constabulary, I've been working on having the worldbuilding feel more natural, organic and integrated.  Finding that right balance of showing Maradaine as a living, breathing, working city that is part of a larger culture, a larger nation, while not having that larger world outside intrude too much.

Because there always is that temptation, with all the worldbuilding I've done, to just throw a little more in.

I'm curious, for those who read sci-fi and fantasy, what marks that line between, "That's an interesting bit of knowledge about the world, making it and the characters seem fuller and richer" and "This is a pointless diversion that distracts from my enjoyment of the book"?


Sunday, May 30, 2010

I honestly think the hardest part of any novel is the part from 20,000 to 40,000 words.

I've often said that novel-writing is like running a marathon.  The latter is something I've never done, of course, but I imagine that running a marathon is a process of pushing through the pain, forcing yourself forward with the knowledge that there IS an end, and while you can't really see it yet, it's real and you can get to it if you just don't stop.

20,000 to 40,000 words is about that.

20,000-30,000 is a swamp, usually.  It's just murk and mess to slog your way through.  And there's stuff in the water that you can't see, and just maybe, maybe, you're a little lost.

For 30,000-40,000, though, it's out of the swamp and it's just a long, hard trek uphill with a steep incline.   Here it's less about confusion or uncertainty-- really once you pass 30K you pretty much are past the point of no return and you will most likely actually finish... and for this it's just work and pushing through the weariness.

Also, I find that once I crack 40K, once I get over that incline, and it's a coast downhill to the conclusion.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Querying what you don't believe in

Found today on Twitter, from @Ginger_Clark with the #pubtip hashtag:

People, don't start your query disparaging science fiction to me. I will have to cut you for it. #pubtip

I find this fascinating.  I mean, I get that some people will write a novel out of cynicism; writing in a genre out of a belief that it's what sells, rather than the genre being a passion that drives the writer.  I don't do that, but I get it, that belief that if you want to sell, you have to write what's selling.  But to not only take that to the point of believing, "What sells is this genre crap, so I wrote genre crap"-- i.e., not really believing in your work, but to actually ADMIT that as a selling point to an agent who states outright that they ENJOY that genre?  Now that's just dumb.  And if you're going to be cynical AND dumb, I can't see you going far in this world.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An empty space

I wish I had a camera with me, as I'm in my local bookstore right now.  Right now, as I walked through the sci-fi/fantasy section, I noticed an empty space on the shelf.  It's a spot on the shelf I always glance at, and today there actually was a gap right there.

The space was between John Marco and Juliet Marillier.

It's the space I intend to be in.

I'm taking this as a sign.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Querying strategy...

There's all sorts of advice out there about querying, but one thing I wonder that I don't see much talking about: when is the best time during the week to send queries?

I have an idea that it might be Tuesday or Wednesday.  The way I see it, agents probably get a ton of queries over the weekend, and thus Monday morning they have a heavily laden inbox.  By Thursday or Friday they've probably built up a backlog of things to do that they have to before the weekend, and thus would have to spend less time on queries.  Tuesday and Wednesday gives one the best opportunity to not be lost in the shuffle.

Of course, it may just be that it's just a constant barrage of queries, and no day is any better than any other.  But it's a theory.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reader question answered, #2

In response to yesterday's post, I was asked the following:

I'm curious - how do you decide which project to focus on at a time? Do you set yourself a plan, like, this week I'm going to work on Crown of Druthal, this week is going to be Thorn of Dentonhill? Or do you write whichever one is buzzing in your head the loudest each day? 

For me, it's pretty much a Little from Column A, and a Little from Column B.  Primarily, I set a plan-- usually based on months rather than weeks-- and that plan usually involves designating something as my Current Main Project, which right now is Maradaine Constabulary.  Then I usually have a Back-up Project, the thing to work on when I get stuck on the Main Project.  This usually take the form of something smaller, like right now it's a short story for an anthology, or something that's more open-ended, like worldbuilding work.

Now, external factors can influence what I make the current main project-- for example, when the opportunity arose for changing Thorn of Dentonhill from third draft to fourth draft (in other words, a requested rewrite to expand its length), I dropped everything to focus on that.  But mostly I make it what feels right in terms of what I want to get done.  I wanted to finish first drafts of Banshee, Maradaine Constabulary and Vanguard, for example, and first focused on Banshee.  But it didn't feel right, and I switched to MC.

And that's where the buzzing in my head comes in.  Sometimes it drags an old idea out of the stewing crockpots in the back of my head and forces that to be finished NOW.  Which is how, for example, the script for the graphic novel Triple Cross pulled itself into a completed first draft when I thought I'd be working on Banshee. 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

State of the Writing

Back in September I listed where I was with each of the six first-in-a-potential series, and I think it's high time to take another look at it.
Here's what I wrote at the time, followed by updates on each project.

  • Crown of Druthal (Book 1 of Crown of Druthal series):Finished third draft, though aspects of it need rewriting. (APRIL UPDATE: Still on Third Draft, I haven't really made any changes on this book.  However, I am now more aware that the whole thing needs serious rewriting.  As of right now, it's a little too light on plot, and too much meandering. Also, I think there's a lot more going on in my head then ends up on the page, as it were.  Part of the problem is the plot is determined by the geography, making the whole thing far too much of a travelogue.  Stuff happens to the characters, instead of them taking action.  At least for a lot of it.  But I have to admit, reworking this one is not my priority right now.)
  • Thorn of Dentonhill (Book 1 of Veranix series): Finished third draft. Currently shopping to agents. (APRIL UPDATE: Now I have a fourth draft, which is currently in an specific agent's hands exclusively.  If that agent passes, then I'll start a blitz of querying with this draft, which has a significantly different word count from the third draft.)    
  • The Fire Gig (Book 1 of Holver Alley Crew series): Rough draft 95% done. Anticipate finishing by next week. (APRIL UPDATE: First draft done, working on second draft.  I've outlined points of expansion and plot-points that need cleaning up, most notably a big POV cheat that needs to be fixed.  I've figured out how to fix that and make the whole conclusion work smoother, I just haven't gotten it written yet.)
  • From Star to Star (Book 1 of USS Banshee series)Awful, unoutlined, half-finished draft tossed. New outline written. (APRIL UPDATE: Started a new draft, which I like a lot better, but aspects still aren't coming together.  Done more worldbuilding in an effort to figure things out, and it's coming clearer.  Plus I'm talking with someone about making this project into a more collaborative effort-- an idea I've always thought about for this "universe".)
  • Between Them and Harm (Book 1 of Vanguard series):Full outline written.  (APRIL UPDATE: I've hashed out a bit more of outline details, but no major change on this one.)
  • The Mage Murders (Book 1 of Maradaine Constabulary series)Full outline written. (APRIL UPDATE: Rough draft about 40-50% done.  I'm generally pleased with how it's going.  Hope to push the momentum and finish the rough draft by the end of May.)
So that's where I am right now. Plus I'm working on a short story for an anthology.  That and Mage Murders are the two things taking the brunt of my focus currently.  Once I get those out of my system (hopefully end of May), then I'll finish the 2nd Draft of Holver Alley Crew.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

Promotion and book trailers

I've been thinking about Book Trailers of late. I'm not sure why, exactly, beyond my usual bad habit of getting ahead of myself. I don't have a book ready for trailing, as it were, so I don't need to have one yet... if I need to have one at all.

I can see what the appeal of doing video trailer is-- it's a commercial for your book! That's exciting! Of course, most of the video trailers I've seen are made with all the dynamic hook and technical skill of your average public access program. They certainly don't entice me to read the book.

I heard one person say of book trailers that the best they can do is not hurt your sales. The more of these things I see, the more I can't help but agree.

I was at a panel once where the panelists were advocating making book trailers as a promotional tool. Now, like I said, I can see its value, if it's done well. But then it was suggested that, in order to make one's trailer, one should search through photo archives of stock images, finding stuff that's out there that's free to use.

I couldn't disagree more about that. I mean, why would you use images that only kind-of, sort-of match what your book is about? Let's say, for example, your book has vampire-like and angel-like creatures. Would ANY vampire or angel pictures be suitable? Probably not. I would argue that any images (or video) that aren't specifically made for your book would look generic and unconnected. You wouldn't copy-and-paste text from some other book because it's kind of like what you want your book to be, would you? (I hope not.)

I mean, if you're going to make a book trailer to promote YOUR book, then make that trailer equally your own, just as original.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The New Plan

About six months ago, I announced I would attempt something crazy. Namely, that I would write three rough drafts of three novels in six months. Those six months ended last Wednesday, and I did not meet that goal. It was an unreasonable goal, after all.

I did meet other goals, like doing another re-write of Thorn of Dentonhill, and finishing a rough draft of the script for Triple Cross.

So, what's next? For one, I want to finish the rough draft of Maradaine Constabulary. My goal for that is May 15th. To that end, I've come up with a new writing plan:

No Sleep Until 1000.

It's very simple. Every day, I write a thousand words. If I write more, great, but every day, it's got to be a thousand. That's for just MCI. Plus I need to work the second draft of Holver Alley Crew. And a short story for an anthology.

Now back to writing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creativity and Fitness

This is a post I've been meaning to make for a while.

Three years ago, as I was about to thirty-four, I was in bad shape. I don't know what my weight was, exactly, but I'd say it was around 215 lbs. Maybe more. Add in a was working a job where I had regular access to donuts, and I was on a bad track. And here's the other thing: my writing was totally shot. I would, on a regular basis, not even have the drive to open the file of what I was "working" on, let alone actually write. For weeks at a time, I would write absolutely nothing.

Shortly after that, I got my act together. Tomorrow I turn thirty-seven, and I can honestly say I'm probably in the best shape of my life. I'm weighing 188, and far more of that is muscle than used to be. I eat far less red meat, far more vegetables and fiber, and very few refined sugars. Junk food is right out. I spent the spring break vacation hiking in Big Bend.

And in these three years, I finished Crown of Druthal, which was the thing I had been working on, in some way or another, for years. I wrote Thorn of Dentonhill and Holver Alley Crew, and outlined out further installments of both series. Maradaine Constabulary is a work in progress. Vanguard and USS Banshee both have strong outlines. I have a piece in an upcoming Norton Anthology. I've been invited to submit to another anthology. Things are moving forward in the business of my writing.

Are these two things connected? I think so. I feel better about myself, as well as having more energy and vitality, which all gets translated into creativity. Plus, once you start to change your life, it's easier to make all the rest of the dominoes fall.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A few things on my plate

I want to get the draft of Maradaine Constabulary done by May 15th.
I have a short story for an anthology I've been invited to contribute to due by June 1st.
I need to finish a short play for one of the children's classes my next week.
I need to finish the second draft of Holver Alley Crew sometime in the near future.
I want to do a final cleaning pass on the rough draft of the Triple Cross scripts and send it to first readers.

And that's the tip of the iceberg.

No wonder I'm tired.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

For a sci-fi writer, there is something excellent-- I'd almost say essential, but that wouldn't be right-- but definitely unforgettable, about going out to McDonald Observatory and getting to really see the full scope of the wonders of the universe. This trip, since it there was only a sliver of a crescent moon, I got to see the vast swath of Milky Way stars for the first time in my life. Plus I saw Saturn (and Titan!), Mars and the Orion Nebula in the telescopes. More fuel for my fertile imagination.

I also, on this trip, figured out the plot progression points on Maradaine Constabulary that weren't quite sitting right. Happy about that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Terminal Cases

My writing life needed a bit more organization-- or at least a sense of going through my notes, updating things and figuring out my focuses. Today on my "All Projects" file (where I list a quick blurb of projects and their current status), I took a handful of things that were under "Miscellaneous" and created a new section: "Terminal Cases"

The Terminal Cases are projects that aren't technically "dead", and thus go into the Graveyard... but it's more likely than not that I won't go back to them and finish them. But I did do some work on them, and there are some good ideas in there that it's worth not totally writing them off... yet.

  • The Lowered Bar: The idea behind this was to follow four mediocre students as they muddled through a mid-grade college, eventually to get degrees but not really getting educations. I never really came up with a full outline, just various scenes. It never really came together into a unified whole.
  • Long Night of the Pieman: This one was based on my experiences pizza delivery, boiled down to a driver's adventure in one night. Here I had a full outline, and wrote a fair amount. But as my days as a driver got further and further behind me, the less relevant the piece felt to me.
  • The Xanadu Job: This one was a sci-fi Ocean's Eleven, quite literally. The team was even eleven people, with roughly the same jobs in the movie, and the underlying plan was similar, with some sci-fi twists.
  • Arthur Wood's Metatextual Life: My concept here was Arthur was a young man, just moved to a new city, starting up a life there. But at the same time, Arthur is the main character of a TV show, with a rabid on-line fandom. So I had ideas for how these different facets affected each other. Like, from Arthur's point of view, he had a friend that he saw all the time, but doesn't see anymore; but from where it's a TV show, the actor playing that friend left and is now on another show. Stuff like that. I had an sketch of how Arthur's life would go over five years (in the form of a five-season episode guide), but there was something structural about the whole concept that eluded me. I never quite sussed it out. So here in Terminal Cases it'll sit.
  • Convergence of Angels on the I-35: This one is well over a decade old in the Terminal Cases pile, really. I had written many chapters longhand, long ago, and then typed it up on the computer. Due to various mishaps and errors in judgment, any electronic version is lost. I still have the longhand, but I have yet to type it up and do anything with it. And I may not, because it is very much a "young man's" book-- I'm no longer 23 years old, spending long nights in diners. But I do love the title.
  • Nightingale: This was my "flawed superheroine" project, about a wife & mother who survives when her family is killed, and gets her vengeance on. I had imagined it as a short TV series, or later as a web series.
  • Dr. Hiro Hirose vs. Professor Badass: This originated from that Internet Meme of Prof. Badass, which you've probably seen. I imagined him as the head of a whole evil team (which you can see the write-up here). Then I came up with matching heroes to oppose him, lead by Dr. Hiro Hirose. (Written up here.) The whole thing started as an exercise in googling interesting hero-like pictures, really. But when I tried to actually write, at least so far, I realized I had characters, but no story. Yet. Maybe it'll percolate back up later on. Heck, a year ago I considered "Triple Cross" to be in the Terminal Cases, but it sprang back up in my brain, and now I have a complete set of rough-draft scripts. So, you never know.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Now available on Amazon...

Hint Fiction Anthology, featuring yours truly, is now available for pre-order on Amazon. The Amazon page doesn't show the cover yet, but I hear that it will in the near future.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More on Interstellar Worldbuilding

I have talked about worldbuilding on an interstellar scale before, but I only spoke there about my influences. I have another, "thing I don't like" about a lot of space opera settings that I'm familiar with. Namely, the tendencies for them to have been built in a somewhat haphazard fashion.

Now in the case of, say, the Star Trek universe, part of that was the nature of writing for television, especially in the 60s (as well as the 80s)-- writers tended to make something up on the fly because it seemed like an interesting idea (or in the old show's case, because it fit the sets and costumes they already had on hand), and they weren't really thinking about building a larger universe. Fair enough. But it does bug me, and I know that I can't write that way. Even if it has nothing to do with the story at hand, I need to know what's over that next hill.

Part of it has to do with geopolitics, which becomes a very complicated thing when you are looking at a 3-D map (or rather, a 2-D representation of 3-D space).

In my Space Opera setting, humans haven't ventured further than 25 light-years from Earth. They've met nine other starfaring species, and are aware of four other species that have yet to advance to spaceflight. But what have I worked out? So far, a 100-ly sphere from Earth, which is home for 60 different alien species, of which 25 of them are spaceborne. Now, admittedly, a lot of those species I don't have more than a paragraph of information... but I know they are there.

Also, my 100-ly radius sphere is a map of-- to the best of my ability to create-- the actual stars within 100 light years. On top of that, I've done my best to craft reasonable and realistic possibilities for the planets found around those stars.

One tool I use, besides an enormous Excel spreadsheet, is a program called ChView, which is a fascinating-- if slightly frustrating-- program. For a piece of free-on-the-internet software, it's really good at visualizing interstellar maps. But it isn't quite everything I'd want it to be. That's all right, the person who wrote the program wasn't doing it for me, and I think it's great. Check it out.
Anyway, will all this work come through in the actual writing? I'm not sure. I do know this-- at my first attempt to write in this setting, I tried having a mysterious artifact from a old, powerful civilization be a plot point. But I didn't know anything about said civilization, where they were, and why the artifact was left behind. I was going on the fly. Didn't work.

Now I know the neighborhood, and that makes writing about exploring it so much more fun.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Twelve Part Outline, Part III

The third part of the twelve part outline, following Establishment and Incitement, is Challenge. I define this section as "minor antagonists are put into play". The protagonists aren't going to face the Big Bad, not yet. They may not even know there IS a big bad. But whatever path the protagonist is on, thanks to the Incitement, leads them to some trouble. More or less, what I've done is introduce the protagonist, and prod him to action, and now we see what problems they have because of that.

Now, this can take a lot of forms. In Thorn of Dentonhill, it's mostly physical-- Veranix pursuing the drug dealers cracking down on them. In Holver Alley Crew, it's more cerebral-- planning the first robbery they are going to do together. For Maradaine Constabulary, it's a bit of both-- Katrine and Minox trying to question people who have no intention of cooperating with the constabulary inspectors.

For some examples you might be more familiar with, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is Indy going to Tibet to get the amulet from Marion. Or in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and Elsa in Venice, searching for the Knight's tomb.

In the grand scheme of things, this is still the small potatoes, though to the protagonists, and even the minor antagonists, it may not seem like it. It can be life or death for them. They just don't know how bad things can get. Yet.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some inspirational pic-links

Sometimes I just like to surf online artwork to inspire ideas. I'm not saying these WILL inspire ideas I'll use... but I definitely like them.

Starships approaching planet.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Infested with Brain Buzzes

My brain is always buzzing with ideas. Else I wouldn’t be a writer, and there wouldn’t be much point to this whole thing, would there?

But sometimes, even when I need to be focusing my creative energy on something specific (in the case of here and now, working on Maradaine Constabulary), the Brain Buzzes go crazy and it’s nigh impossible to work on what I should. Until I spend a little bit of time cultivating the New Idea, it’s not going to leave me alone.

Usually cultivation involves a bit of worldbuilding, character creation or outlining. I do some notes, and that’s usually enough to quiet my brain, set those ideas in the back of my head to ferment into something more cohesive, and get back to work.

This week, though, there’s been a LOT of Brain Buzzing.

  • A new idea I’ll just call The Heroine Project for now. It’s little more than a vague idea.
  • Reworking the history of Banshee-verse to expand the exploration of our solar system. I blame watching Defying Gravity for this one.
  • Finishing the scripts for Triple Cross.

So I’ll be working on those things, hopefully that will quiet the buzzing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wrting Environments

The environment I write in is a crucial factor to how effective any given writing session can be. For one, I do better when in a public place, like a bookstore or cafe. Having a (habitually refilled) coffee or tea also helps a lot.

But there's more to the environmental factors. I need music, preferably by headset, to quit the rest of the world and occupy the parts of my brain that don't help when I'm writing.

Also important is being able to achieve a state of relaxed creativity. It takes a bit of time to get into the groove. One of my biggest problems is I need a good two-three hours to really get good work done. The first hour is usually something of a wash. I'm still working on how to make that first hour as good as the second and third.

But most of all, I need to be able to think. January is a bad time for that, because of seasonal allergies in this town. Cedar fever kills my brain in a sinus fog. Allergy medicine leaves me a functional zombie-- I can do most things, save write. It's very frustrating.

Thus you note the dearth of posts I made in January. Fiction writing was similarly held back. I've made some progress on the second draft of Holver Alley Crew (namely transcribing notes from my paper copy to electronic form), and inched forward with Maradaine Constabulary. That one, I can tell when the rough draft is done, it's going to be a rough draft.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Outlines and the Graveyard

I think it goes without saying that every writer has a graveyard; the place where dead projects are left to molder. The ecologist in me believes the ideas found in those dead projects break down and filter back up, get a chance to be used again.

For me, my graveyard is mostly filled with proof of the necessity of outlining. Several projects that were mostly borne of a single idea, and I immediately went putting pen to paper, figuring it would all come together as I wrote.

That was not what happened, of course.

My thoughts today went back to one of those graveyard projects, from over 15 years ago. Not to the point where I would revive it-- I really don't see that happening-- but just reminiscing. This one really was a Big Idea kind of project.

The Big Idea was this: What if five men, all born on Earth in the 1970s, were destined to be at a specific event on a distant planet in 3184? To all be there at the right time and place, they would have to use extraordinary means. I decided that each journey would have to be different.
One of them would become a test astronaut, doing the distance and time in cryo-sleep. One of them would learn magic, and fling himself directly through time and space to the appointed meeting. One would die and be resurrected when the moment came. Those three had the "short path", as it were.

The other two guys had the "long path". Or, one long and one indirect. One of them (Jake) essentially became immortal through little more than an act of will, deciding to live long enough to still be alive centuries later. The other (Ian) received a map of time/space portals, allowing him to travel all around time and space, making sure various pieces were in place for the event to occur (including sending the map to himself). These two, inevitably, became my more central characters of the five, as they had to deal with the intervening moments that led up to the Big Event, while the other three guys got to skip over them all.

The thing is, all of this is a whole lot of Big Idea, but not a whole lot of actual story. A big part of that comes down to not having any outline. Mostly what got written was a few vignettes where Ian would emerge through a portal, usually somewhere near Jake, and depending on where each of them was on their personal timeline, one of them would Know What Needs To Happen, and the other would be clueless and confused. None of these vignettes really amounted to much of anything, mostly because whichever character was more in the know would inevitably pull the "You Can't Know That Yet" card, in a lame attempt on my part to build mystery. This was in no small part to the fact that I honestly had NO IDEA where I was going with anything. Especially the Big Event. What the hell could it be, and why did it need these five guys there? No clue. I never came up with anything that I didn't immediately decide was either anticlimactic, contradictory or just plain stupid.

So, my point is, in the end, I need that outline. Especially if I set up something leading to a big climax.

Though, at some point, I might want to revisit some of these ideas. At the very least, there is something intriguing that could be done with the out-of-order friendship of an immortal and a time-traveller.