Thursday, December 29, 2011

Plans for 2012

I did accomplish a lot of things in 2011, but on some level I always feel like I could have done more.  So here are my Unrealistic Goals for 2012:
1.    Get a book deal for Thorn of Dentonhill.  On some level, this is out of my hands.  I would really like to say 2012 is going to be my year for this to happen.  But the industry moves slow, and I need to be patient.  But fingers crossed.
2.    Finalize Holver Alley Crew, make that book deal as well.  Because we should either go big or go home, right?
3.    Final draft of Maradaine Constabulary.  Have Mike approve that and start selling it.  If we can get the hat trick with the book deals, all the better.  But that might be pushing, even in the dreams department.
4.    Finish Rough draft of Way of the Shield.  Because I need to have the new project working as well.  Move or die, just like a shark.  And with that, I’ll finish all four planned Heroes of Maradaine first books.
5.    Finish worldbuild and outline for Banshee and Starcrossed.  Knocking out a first draft wouldn’t suck, either.
6.    Outline/Worldbuild for one or more of the unnamed YA/Heroine/Steampunk projects.  Because I’ve got stuff rattling around in my skull that wants to get out.

In addition, I’ll be attending Boskone (just as an attendee, not as programming) and ArmadilloCon 34, including the Writers’ Workshop.  And there will probably be a few short plays written in that time as well.
So, that should keep me plenty bust for the next twelve months.

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 in Review

This has been a good year for me, in terms of growing as a writer.  Honestly, I think every year since 2007 (which is probably the year I knocked the training wheels off an got serious about I'm Going To Be A Writer) has been an improvement.  But 2011 was a year with a few notable highlights:

First and foremost, there's acquiring Mike as my agent.  This has been such a joy and relief in my life this year.  I really am quite happy to have him in my corner.  Getting an agent has become such a huge (and sometimes insurmountable-seeming) step in the path to publication, I really can't express how glad I am to have moved up to the next step. 

And while I did have an excellent time attending the DFW Writers Con this past year (and would recommend the experience to those seeking agents), I'm glad I don't have to do that again.

This year is also when I decided to be diligent and post here on the blog every Monday and Thursday.  It's a project that's sometimes challenged me (I almost forgot that today was a Monday), but I've been pleased with the results.  It's built the regular readership, and driven traffic to my blog.  So that's been a good thing.

This was also my first year at ArmadilloCon in a panelist/professional capacity, as well as a coordinator and teacher for the Writers' Workshop.  This was a fantastic experience, and I do owe a lot of it to Stina Leicht.  She's been a fantastic source of moral support on this journey.

What else?  This year I have Thorn finished and shopping, Holver Alley Crew redrafted and (hopefully) ready to shop.  This year I also finished the draft of Maradaine Constabulary and will hope to have the revision ready to send to Mike in just a few weeks. I wrote a couple short plays, including Entropy, produced by Austin Scriptworks.

So it's been a pretty good year.  Fingers crossed for 2012 being even better.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's Thursday already?

Since 2011 is almost over, time for an update on State of the Writer.

From my last update:

  • Thorn of Dentonhill (Book 1 of Veranix series): Shopping.  I know it's at a few publishing houses right now. 
  • Holver Alley Crew (Book 1 of Holver Alley Crew series): A new finished, polished draft, based on notes from the agent.  I'll be sending that to him, plus synopses for potential second and third, in the near future.  
  • Maradaine Constabulary (Book 1 of Maradaine Constabulary series): Working hard on the second draft, which includes a significant change in one of the two main character's living/family situation.  I've decided if Minox comes from a long line of Constabulary men, then he needs a sizable amount of family who are either in or somehow adjacent to the city constabulary.  That includes tweaking an existing character to now being his cousin.
  • From Star to Star (Book 1 of Banshee series): As said before, I scrapped my old "USS Banshee" concept to something a bit stranger, and I like it, but I'm still in the plotting/outlining/worldbuilding phase of things.
  • The Way of the Shield (Book 1 of Vanguard series): I still have a full outline, and I've done some more detail work, and some initial writing.  I've hashed out the problems with the main character that were eluding me, so once I finish the aforementioned Maradaine Constabulary rewrites (mid-January, allergies willing), I'll be off to the races there.
Now, what else is there? All the previously mentioned scraps and ideas are still out there (Starstruck, Zodiac 13, Untitled YA Project), plus another high-fantasy big-picture idea that I'm only beginning the worldbuilding on, and the Untitled Steampunk/Spaceopera/Can'tDecide Project.  And, of course, Crown of Druthal is in the trunk.  Don't think it'll ever come out.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Interstellar Worldbuilding: You are who your neighbors make you

My space opera stuff is all still in its building and outlining phase, but every once in a while I do a big push of figuring stuff out.  And when I do, I always get a sense that the scope STILL isn't big enough.  For example, I've roughly defined the area within a 100ly radius of Earth (roughly 4.2 million cubic light years), which includes 4660 stars.  Off those, 1568 stars have planets, 361 of those have life of some sort, and 153 of those have intelligent life.  And of those 153, 71 have achieved interstellar travel by the year 2373. 

(Excel spreadsheets and some extreme dorkiness on my part are responsible for all this information.) 

One thing I asked myself is how one can apply the lessons from Guns, Germs and Steel on an interstellar scale.  It's a challenging thing to speculate, as how can you tell what resources will really make a difference on an interstellar scale?  Do germs really matter at all? 

But one thing that became clear as I mapped stuff out was this: who your interstellar neighbors are matters.  Because the technology difference between "capable of interstellar travel" and "not capable of interstellar travel" are so extreme, it would make Pizarro's defeat of the Incans seem like a balanced fight.  Once interstellar travelers come upon a planetbound species, what they decide to do defines the entire encounter.  If they're genocidal conquerors, then the planetbound species will be eliminated.  If their imperialists, then the planetbound species are now part of the empire, full stop. 

So I decided, for things to make sense to me, Earth's neighbors had to be preservationists.  They had to be of the mindset that when you encounter a lower-tech society, you might do a little clandestine research for the sake of science, but you otherwise leave them the hell alone.  Perhaps even a step further: they had to have just enough militant in them to draw a line and defend a defenseless species from an invading force. 

Using that knowledge helped me define our immediate neighbors, as well as humanity's role on the interstellar scene (which is more or less like a teenager who is smarter than he's wise on his first internship). 

Of course, the same logic applies when two interstellar species clash.  If you have one species with no respect for alien life who will commit acts of genocide without a moment's hesitation, then the species they come in contact with must devote themselves to defense.  They have no other choice. 

But it's more than just wars and genocide, of course.  You want alien species to work together and cooperate, or at least trade.  Because if you don't, how else can you get a cool cantina scene?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

All the Tools in the Box

I was reminded the other day about all the "rules" people like to quote at us, as writers, of how we should (or more often, should not) be writing. 

The "should not" is the crucial bit here, because far more often than not, these rules tend to be things not to do.  Which is all well and good, but I've noticed that rules that ought to be phrased "try to avoid too much..." or "be aware of..." become gospel from on high: THOU SHALT NOT.

Sometimes I love hearing people spout these "rules", because then it means it's relatively safe to discount other things they have to say. 

1. Thou shalt not use passive voice.  On the whole, this is sensible advice.  However, more often than not, the person giving it does not know what passive voice actually is.  Here's a hint: it is not when the gerund form of the verb is used (as in "the boys were walking down the street".) Or anything to do with verb tense or helper verbs.  Here's passive voice in a nutshell: when the object of the action is the subject of the sentence.  Take "the boys were walking down the street".  What the subject?  The boys.  What's the action?  Walking.    Who was walking?  The boys.  The subject is doing the action.  Active voice.  Passive voice would be, "The street was walked upon by the boys."    Subject?  The street.  But the action is done by the boys.  Got it?  Good.

2. Thou shalt not use 'to be' in any form.  I've heard it said that using forms of 'to be' is "weak writing".  But you know what's really weak writing?  The kind of convoluted verbal cartwheels I've seen to avoid a simple "to be" sentence.  Sometimes it pays to be concise.

3. Thou shalt not use 'said'.  I'm of the school of thought that 'said' is an invisible word.  People don't get caught up in its repetition.  True, if you have a two-person conversation, their dialogue should be distinct enough that you don't need to indicate the speaker at every line.  But when you do tag, 'said' is nice and innocuous.  I'd also rather tack an adverb onto 'said' every once in a while instead of having characters chortled, exclaimed, exuded, implied or, god forbid, ejaculated.  I do like, when appropriate, asked, answered, whispered, muttered, murmured and shouted.  But on the whole, said gets the job done.

4. Thou shalt not use adverbs.  Yes, sometimes adverbs can be over done, and using an adverb is used where a stronger verb would do a better job, but adverbs are a useful tool, and they are part of the language for a reason.

Here's the thing: I'm against any rule that's about keeping the tools stuck in the box.  The words and tools are there, used them.

Plus, can you actually name a book you love that REALLY follows these rules?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Worldbuilding: Cultural Perception Filters

My current worldbulding/research read is "Spice: The History of a Temptation" by Jack Turner.  It's a fascinating look at how the search for spices drove European exploration, as most of what we consider "spices" come from India and the Orient.  (This may also be a factor in why most Asian civilizations, while as technologically advanced as Europe, were not as interested in exploration: they already had the spices Europe was seeking out.) 

But something that captured my attention was this bit regarding Vasco de Gama's first voyage to India:

In his report to the king, de Gama painted a somewhat distorted picture.  Even now he was convinced that Hinduism was a heretical form of Christianity. After two months in the country, he seems to have concluded that the unmistakable polytheism of Hinduism was some sort of misconceived Trinity.

This fascinates me.  The idea that de Gama was so focused on Christianity being the only true faith that he couldn't even comprehend a culture having a truly different belief system is rather eye-opening.  I think this is an element I've not quite incorporated into my worldbuilding, at least not entirely.

I mean, I have plenty of examples of one culture seeing something another culture does, and thinking, "Well, that's ridiculous" or "That's heresy!"-- but it's another thing to be so deep in one's own blinders that they literally do not understand what the other culture does.  And that's a great tool to use, be it in fantasy or sf.

A great example is in Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead.  It begins with a group of aliens doing something to a human being that is unspeakably horrific.  It's more than murder, it's purely gruesome.  But we find out later in the book, from their perspective, they were doing a great honor, and makes perfect sense given their biology.  They just didn't get that it works differently for us.  Nor does our way for them.  Card does interesting things with the ideas of "hierarchy of foreignness", definitely worth checking out. 
I've got a busy week, and indeed the rest of the year, ahead of me.  So off into the word mines I go.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Impatience: The Writer's Worst Enemy

I've written before about how e-publishing comes off as too easy, but what it really comes down to is impatience.

We're at the beginning of December, which means that NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month) has just ended.  I don't have any figures or statistics, but I do know that agent querying spikes in the beginning of December, as people who have JUST FINISHED their sprinted masterpiece immediately try to put it to market.  And I would bet a minor appendage that e-pub "indie" books spike right around now as well.

And this is because people are impatient about getting their book "out there".  "Out there" now is more important than getting it right later.  And I know why.  You can't write a book without it being a labor of love, and then you have this thing that you have such deep and abiding love for, and you want to share it.  Right away.  Whether it's ready or not.

I get it.  A few years ago, I would have declared Fifty Year War or Crown of Druthal "ready", and had my impatience not been tempered with a strong desire to succeed via the traditional publishing path, I might well have forged ahead and gone straight to the indie publishing method.  And I would have failed with those, because those books were not ready.  They are now deep in a drawer.

Most of the time, when I read books for critiquing, I can tell they aren't ready, on a fundamental level of pure craft.  And I know of two that have been indie published recently, both times because the author insisted that they "didn't want to wait any longer". 

Added to this is what I call the "cult" of Indie Publishing.  There are success stories in indie/e-publishing, but then you get these proselytizers who insist since someone has succeeded doing it, that EVERYONE should do it and throw away the traditional publishing industry.  I'm just not on board with that.  But these cultists feed the beast of impatience.

But you know what?  Prove me wrong.  If you've got an indie/self-pubbed book that you think is FANTASTIC and will turn me around that this person was right, they didn't need to wait and grind the book through the system, than show me.  Let me know, and I'll give it a read, and talk about it on here. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

POV: The Ignition Timing of the Writing World

I should preface this entry by saying I know very little about auto repair or automotive engineering.  I probably could, say, change my oil or a possibly a spark plug, but beyond that, I'm at a loss.  If something's wrong with the car, I'll open the hood and look inside, by mostly that's to make sure that the engine is still there or there isn't a family of squirrels nesting inside or some other "THIS IS OBVIOUSLY THE PROBLEM" sort of situation. 

I say this so you all can understand, when I'm talking about ignition timing, I don't really know what it is.  Even though I looked it up and everything.  But that's kind of the point: this is technical stuff that is going on under the hood of the car that I just don't get, and neither do most people who drive their cars.   And they don't want to know, really.  They want their cars to work, and they care when it doesn't.  And sometimes they can even tell when something isn't quite right, but they don't know what... and the what is the ignition timing is off.  Possibly in minute ways that a layman like me can't quite put our fingers on, but we know something isn't right with how the engine is running.  But mechanics are probably very aware of it.  (Maybe.  It might be that most mechanics couldn't care less about it either.)

Point-of-view in writing, I think, is kind of like that.  Writers talk about POV a lot.  They worry about it, sweat over it, freak out if someone gets it wrong, etc. etc.  But I bet it's something readers who aren't writers don't notice all that much.

I mean, I'm sure the average reader knows and notices the difference between first-person and third-person POVs.  (Or in rare cases, second-person.)  But do they really notice-- or care all that much-- between third-person limited, multi-third-person-limited, or third-person-omniscient?  Do they notice when those POVs get violated?  And what is a POV violation, anyway?  I've had some critique readers ping me for that just when the POV character has too much insight on someone else's emotional state.  (Is there really any difference in POV from "Jane was angry" and "Jane's face was full of anger", for example?  The latter, of course, would be strange in Jane's POV, but either would work fine in, say, John's POV.)

At the same time, I do think readers notice something is wrong when your POV is done poorly, or breaks established rules.  Take for example, the Harry Potter books.  For the most part, the books are in limited third-person POV, namely Harry's.  There are a few times, notably in the early chapters of many of the books, where the POV is intentionally focused on someone else.  (My personal favorite being the Muggle Prime Minister in Half-Blood Prince.  I think it's a damn shame the movie version didn't have that scene, possibly with Hugh Grant reprising his role from Love, Actually.)    But there is one chapter-- the first Quidditch game in Sorcerer's Stone-- where the POV hopskotches between Harry and Hermione, and I've heard from plenty of readers that they knew something was off there but couldn't quite figure out what.

I'm, personally, a big believer in multi-third-person-limited.  I like having a broad canvas of whose head I can get into-- protagonist, villain, sidekick, underling.  Only in Maradaine Constabulary did I intentionally limit myself, only allowing the POV to be Katrine or Minox.  Though I didn't force that into a structure, always alternating each chapter or such.  I don't think I could have pulled that off.

Speaking of, I'm in the process of editing and re-writing that, so back down to the word mines I go.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Now December is Upon Us

Which means no more Druth History Month.  We hadn't actually reached the end of Druth History-- there's still 215 more years to go.  (Thorn of Dentonhill, Holver Alley Crew and the rest of the Maradaine stories take place in the year 1215.)  However, I've come to realize that I need to do a serious overhaul of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries, especially with the Reunification.

See, in Druth history, 1009 is a Pretty Big Year, like 1066 for England or 1776 for America.  The splintered kingdoms come back together as one nation, Druthal, but in the history as I currently have it written, I gloss over that process somewhat.  And I don't want to gloss it over. 

Part of that comes from the ideas I have for Vanguard, as Dayne (the protagonist) is a Druth History buff.  And an early action sequence takes place at the opening of a new museum by the Royal Historical Society.  (Yes, it will be exciting, even if it takes place in a museum.)  The point is, the finer points of Druth history, especially regarding the Reunification, needs more detail work.  And in some places, just plain rewriting.

In other news, I've finished the Holver Alley Crew rewrite, and once my beta people give it a once-over to make sure I didn't keep writing "through" when I mean "threw" (a sloppy mistake I make far too often-- it's totally a writing-on-autopilot thing), then I'll send it off to the agent.  I'm now working on the re-write of Maradaine Constabulary, which is going well enough for now.  I'd love to have that done before the year is over-- especially since January cedar pollen tends to turn my brain into tapioca.  And then I can devote the beginning of 2012 to finishing the rough draft of Vanguard.