Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Limits of Brand Control

One of the things fledgling and prospective authors hear a lot about is "managing your brand".  In rough practice, it's a good idea.  Your brand is, in essence, your own name, and you want your name to be thought of in the context of "successful writer".  Or something in that ballpark.  You want a Google search of your name to bring up you and the things about you that you want people to know.  You don't want it to bring up a Livejournal rant where you call some famous writer a crazy hack who isn't fit to write shampoo directions. 

But, at the same time, there's only so much one can do to really influence people's opinions of you, and you certainly can't control them.  Sometimes even trying to do one thing can have the exact opposite effect, despite your best intentions.

Many years ago, in my earlier life as a local theatre director and producer, I was putting together a show in which I had hoped to get one particular actress.  That actress, however, was planning on doing another show with a relatively big name, locally, and that show would conflict with mine.  No big deal.  However, at one point in my casting process, some other people approached me saying that Big Name Director's show was already cast, and we should let the actress know that so we could get her. 
Now, I didn't waste a thought entertaining this notion, and told these other people that it was none of our business.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I get an email from Big Name Director, in which he tears into me for spreading rumors about his shows and sticking my nose into his business.  Apparently the idea that I was the one telling other people his show was already cast had reached his ear, and I certainly don't blame him for confronting me given what he believed.  I wrote back explaining my side of things, received a terse non-apology, and that was the end of that. 

But-- and I can't confirm this with certainty, but I have a strong sense-- a certain amount of damage was done to my reputation, through no action of my own.  It's hard to say if it affected me in the local theatre community.  I only ended up doing a few more shows before more or less retiring, mostly because I wasn't that good as a producer/director.  (For most of the shows I did, I will fully say that the elements that did work were due to the good people I had working with me, and those that did not were in all likelihood my own failings.) 

The point is, control of one's brand, one's reputation, can only go so far.  Once it's out there, it's out there, and you don't get to decide what other people think about it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Now for a reader question

In response to last week's opening, Leigh asks:

In the event of having a series published and readers overnight flocking to consume every page, are you okay with them knowing "Marshall The Person" with a film degree and a wife and child and home with Mexican-inspired interior decor in Austin, TX, or do you plan to cultivate (or are you already cultivating) your identity as Marshall The Author? Are they one in the same, or would you, like me, strive to draw a clear delineation between the two? Are there boundaries, or is your life the metaphorical open book?

As you can probably guess form context, Leigh is someone I know personally; she's been in my home.  So she has something of a leg up on knowing "Marshall the Person" over "Marshall the Author".  But the question is a good one.

I've had inklings of experience, having been an actor/director/producer/playwright in Austin theatre, with having a "public face".  And armed with that knowledge, I can say it's challenging to form too hard of a line between me the Author and me the Person.  It's more work than I'm personally interested in doing to delineate it too much.

That doesn't mean that there aren't boundaries, of course, and on my end I define them by how much I'm willing to put out there.  I mean, I'm a pretty easy person to find, via Google or other search engines.  My name is unique; search for me, I'm who you find.  There's just a limit of how much I can hide.  With that in mind, I tend to have a pretty strict "think it over before you post it" rule about anything.  The internet never forgets, and I've been out here using my actual name for a while now. 

Basically, what I'm saying is, like most professionals, I'm putting forth the public face that I've crafted as what I want to present.  But it's not an act, it's not really too different from who I really am. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sesquincententh, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

This marks my 150th blog post here.  It's not much of a milestone, I admit, but it's one that I think a lot of blogs never quite reach.  Several don't quite make it out of the gate with the first ten.  And I probably wouldn't have reached this if I hadn't made the decision about six months ago to post here every Monday and Thursday.  I've stuck to that schedule, and my readership has had a slow, steady gain over those six months, so on the whole I think the plan has worked out. 

One of the panels I was on at ArmadilloCon was "How Much Interaction Should Writers Have with Their Readers?", which was a bit of a strange for me.  I mean, I was asked questions from a writer's perspective, but I've had more experience from the readers.  I'm really not getting much interaction coming towards me at this stage of the game.  But being up there did help me clarify some thoughts.

Namely, how we, as writers, should best utilize social media.  With so much out there it's real easy to fall into the idea that one needs to master it all, use every element to its fullest.  Problem is, doing that can become a full time job, and then you aren't actually writing any more.  You're just juggling social media.

So, here's my best advice.  Pick one thing.  For me it's this blog.  Then use every other thing (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Livejournal, whatever) to direct traffic back to your central thing.  That way you're minimizing the amount of "management" you need to do. 

This is probably nothing you haven't figured out already, because you're all smart people, right?  Of course you are.

That said, how should we celebrate this 150th post?  How about any reader questions will get answered in Monday's post?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Problem with Being a Planner

I don’t ever tried to hide the fact that when it comes to the planner/pantser divide between writers, I fall firmly on the side of planners.  (Except when it comes to writing these blog entries.  With these, frankly, I’m usually winging it.  I’m sure it shows.) 
My problem with Planning, however, is my desire to Plan will kick into overdrive.  I don’t just plan a book.  I plan a series of books.  I plan long term.  I plan the full weave of things where sewing one thread into a story now is going to pay off in some imagined piece years down the line.
Which, given my current status as a writer, is kind of putting the cart before the horse.  I haven’t sold Thorn of Dentonhill yet.  I haven’t finished Holver Alley Crew or Maradaine Constabulary in a “this is ready to send to publishers” way.  (Both I’m in the process of re-writing.)  I haven’t even finished the first draft of Way of the Shield.  Does it matter that I have a six-book plan for each of those series?  Does anyone care?  Is it even a good idea to have such a plan?  Should I stop talking, like, right now?
It creates a problem, of course, because now and then, while writing, I get excited for scenes that are a long way off.  A LONG way.  And I write myself a little note and file it away where it needs to go, and get back to other work.
I wonder if other long-term planners work this way. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An allegorical tale

A sharp knock came at the old sergeant's door.  The was odd.  No one ever knocked.  Sure, sometimes a young buck would barge in, usually to demand the answer to some question or other.  Simple questions, ones that were hardly worth his time.  He'd answer, dutifully, and they'd leave again.  Leave him, alone in the dark room.

Wearily, he answered the door.  It was not one of the young bucks, not at all.  It was him.

The golden boy.  The new favorite.  The warrior-poet.

"What is it?" the sergeant asked.

"How have you been?" the poet asked.  Always the small talk with this one.  Always the words.

"Been?" The sergeant chuckled, mirthlessly.  "Been sitting here.  No challenge worthy of me."

"Not since Essaity?" The poet's eyebrow went up.

"Essaity!" The sergeant's heart raced just at hearing the name.  "Now that was glory! That-- you and I, leading at either flank!"

"Indeed.  You were in fine form that day.  Almost perfect."

"Almost," the sergeant said ruefully.  He had taken one wound that day, just one.  And it was minor, save the damage to his pride.  He had been lauded by all when the day was won, though he knew that injury had been a mistake of pure carelessness.  "Since then, though, you haven't needed my prowess, have you?"

"No, sir," the poet said.  "The battles we've fought since, they haven't been worthy of your skills."

"The few skirmishes I was called out for were pitiful excuses.  Barely worth my time."

"The battles of late have been very different from the kind you specialized in, old friend."

"But I was the best!" the sergeant roared.  "I was the champion!  We were going to blaze through every challenger who came before me!"

"We were," the poet said.  "But it got too easy for you, didn't it.  You heart hadn't been in it.  Even long before Essaity."

The old sergeant sunk to the floor.  "You're right.  I had given up long before you ascended to your exalted position."

"I need you now, though, old friend.  We are launching a new campaign, but there is a beast guarding the road to where we are going."

"A beast?  Of what sort?"

"It is the Jeearie."

"The Jeearie!"  The three-headed beast was legendary.  "I had thought it had passed us by.  We would never face it."

"We thought we'd never take this campaign. But now... we have to face it."

"I... I haven't fought in so long... to face such a creature. I'm not prepared."

"You must, my old friend.  I can handle two of the heads.  I am certain of it.  But the third head..."

"That must be me."  The old sergeant smiled. 

"There is no one else who can face it."

"I will probably fall before it, you know.  And you will be the one crowned with honors."

"This isn't about my honors," the poet said.  "It is about us, facing what approaches.  Like we always did."

"But what lies down the road, past the beast... this campaign is for you."

"It is," the poet admitted.  "But right now, I need you."

"I carried you at Essaity, you know."

"And many battles before that," the poet said warmly. "So, you'll come?"

The old sergeant nodded.  "One last fight.  Yes, I think I have that in me."  He laughed, like he hadn't laughed in years. 

He would face the Jeearie.  And he would beat it, or die trying.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fantasy Sports

I'm not going to be talking about Fantasy Football Leagues, or anything of the sort.  Frankly, I don't know much of anything about those.  Rather, I want to talk about the use of sports in fantasy fiction.

Now, I should preface this by saying, I'm not really a sports fan.  At all.  I went to Penn State and watched a grand total of half a game, and that was only because a sick friend wanted someone to take his season ticket so it wouldn't go to waste.  I've lived with sports fans, my cousins and brother-in-law are big fans, and my agent is a huge hockey fan, so I'm aware of the mindset behind sports fandom.  I don't share it, but I get it. 

And, more importantly, I'm aware of how sports is important to societies as a whole.  This is crucial in fantasy fiction.  Unfortunately, it doesn't get quite the amount of coverage as it should.

Probably the biggest use of sports-- pure, game-for-the-sake-of-the-game sports-- would be Quidditch in Harry Potter.  It's a flawed game, designed with a significant failure in sports logic-- the Seeker can instantly turn a 14 goal blowout into a victory-- but it as a cultural point for the wizarding world, it's great.  Quidditch matches matter to the people playing them, and to the people watching them, even though nothing plot-wise is ever riding on them.  Does it matter if Slytherin wins the Quidditch Cup?  Not in the grand scheme of things, but it matters to Harry and his friends, so it matters enough.  Though, if there is a flaw in the use of Quidditch, it's that it's the ONLY sport in the wizarding world.

I've only used it, so far, in Thorn of Dentonhill and other Maradaine books in a glancing way.  The main game I've mentioned is tetchball, which is sort of a bastard child of rugby and cricket.  I have a few others, but I haven't used them too much.  Yet.

Are there other good examples?  Most I can think of are more gladitorial fights rather than actual sports. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dismantling the Structure

With two next-draft projects on my plate, I thought I'd take a look at what next-drafting entails.  It boils down to three things: editing, re-writing and adding new material.  The first two tend to be relatively easy, and in many cases, it's mostly a matter of tweaking and fine-tuning.  I like to go through that stuff first, fixing the stuff that's easy.  In the case of Holver Alley Crew, a lot of that was just me being a bit sloppy: a few instances of "through" instead of "threw", a few sentences where I dropped a crucial word.  Embarrassing, sloppy stuff.  But that part is easy.

Then I go through again and note the stuff that needs more serious work.  I don't tackle that work, not just yet.  Just make notes.  Then I make a timeline of the book.  This part is crucial in adding new material, as it helps identify points where additional material could be weaved in. 

Next step: remove all the chapter breaks.

This is crucial for me, for the way I write.  See, when I first write the rough draft, I don't write in chapters.  I  don't really think in chapters.  For me, it's all scenes.  Once I'm done, I go through it scene by scene and find the chapter breaks.  If I need to pepper new scenes throughout, it's a lot easier for me not to think about how it affects the size and sequence of chapters. 

It's purely psychological, I know.  But, for me, it feels a lot more natural to take the whole thing apart, and then rebuild something newer and stronger, than it is to try and slip and pry new things into an existing structure.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Gear Shifting

At the Writers' Workshop, Scott Lynch came up with a rather fun writing game, where the students imagined themselves as pulp fiction writers from the Golden Age, and they needed to crank out a few sentences of outline for a story.  Then one of the teachers would play the part of the editor, saying, "That's great, but I think you need to add a monkey and a waffle shack into it."  Or something like that.  And then the students would re-write.

The purpose of this exercise was to practice pushing through and doing the work even when the muse isn't whispering to you.  (Or, in my case, muttering and swearing.)  For me, inspiration is rarely the problem, though I often have those moments where I feel like I'm digging deeply into the word mines and not bringing up enough gold.

That said, I recently received notes on Holver Alley Crew from my agent.  And in his opinion, it is definitely not gold.  Which is understandable.  It could use another push through the sausage grinder, and I'm happy to do it.  This means, however, that I'll be shifting my goal for finishing a draft of Maradaine Constabulary for him until at least the end of November.  Possibly December.  But the real goal is to continue to grow at working better, working faster.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Autumn is Upon Us

Ah, September is here, and the leaves are changing color.  Of course, I'm in Texas, and that has more to do with drought than seasonal changes.  The temperatures here are still in the triple digits.

But still, for all practical purposes The Summer Is Over.  The post-con haze is fading, and one is left with fond memories and a nice bump in Facebook friends and Twitter followers.  And the lingering question, Now What?

Despite my best intentions, I didn't finish the new draft of Maradaine Constabulary.  I did a fair amount of work, but it turned into a slightly bigger project than I anticipated.  My current goal is to get that done by the end of October.  Please, dear readers, fee free to hassle me on the status of that one.  That will make me feel like it's anticipated.  And I can't let my fans down, right?  (It's best to adopt this sort of attitude early, so it's instinctive when it actually matters.)

After that, then I'll sink my teeth into Way of the Shield in earnest.  I think I'm almost on a breakthrough with this one, in terms of figuring out the plot in terms of character. 

I did have some major breakthroughs on Flight of the Banshee (formerly USS Banshee), which has shifted from being Military SF to more Space Opera.  Though some of those ideas might find a better home in Starstruck, which is pretty pure Space Opera with some old-school style Infocom inspiration sprinkled in.  (And, no, it's not written in second person.  I'm not THAT crazy.)