Thursday, November 27, 2014

Always More To Be Thankful For

So, today's post will be brief, because, you know, it's today, and I've got a lot to do in the kitchen.
On the theme of who or what to be thankful for, I've already said a lot over the past year, in no small part to this year being a HUGE one in terms of "being thankful".  I've talked at length about some key people who I'm thankful for, and in the acknowledgements page of Thorn I list a bunch more. 
But there is someone I don't list, but who did something I was quite thankful for-- who personified what I think a writers community should be about.  Her name was Brenna Smith.
I was at the DFW Writers Conference, back in 2011 before I had secured my agent.  That conference is one where fledgling professional writers have the opportunity to pitch to agents.  If you are in the query/pitch stage of things, and you can manage going to one of these, I can highly recommend it, because you are surrounded by your peers.  Just about everyone there is in the same place.
Well, as I was in that place, I had been querying Thorn and Holver Alley Crew (what would become A Murder of Mages was still a rough draft at that point), and I had a pitch meeting scheduled for Sunday morning.  I had spent Saturday going to panels, practicing my pitch, and beating down my nerves.
And then a little after 5pm, I got the email.  A rejection on one of my queries for Holver Alley Crew.  By the very agent I was scheduled to pitch to the next morning.
Needless to say, I was a wreck. 
So, I'm sitting there, brooding, and this woman--- Brenna--  is with a group of people, and she spots me and calls me over to join them.  She immediately zeroes in on something being wrong and pulls it out of me. 
Once I tell her, she asks, "What do you write?"
"All right, hold on."
The various agents attending the conference are all at a dinner with the organizers, and the big mixer was scheduled to start in a little bit.  She slips off and then comes back in a few minutes. 
"Come with me." 
She brings me into the ballroom near the door where the agents are going to enter in from the dinner.  When they start to come in, she goes up to one and starts chatting her up.  She gently leads this agent in my direction, and then goes, "Oh, hey, have you met Marshall?  He writes fantasy books.  Oh, I have to check on something, I'll be right back."
And thus, there I was, in a casual, impromptu pitch with a completely new agent.  And it was casual and organic feeling-- we talked about Buffy and D&D and worldbuilding before she said, "So, tell me about your book."
That, friends, was exactly what I needed in order to not end up in a meltdown.  Now, of course, that pitch didn't end up with representation... but having the shot did a lot to bring me back to a balanced place.
And it was all thanks to Brenna Smith.
Every writers community needs a Brenna, I think.  So while we're all being thankful, we should also think about how to be the person that others are thankful for.  Because that person can make a huge difference, and that's how we pay it forward.

Monday, November 24, 2014

On the Horizon

So, here we are, 10 weeks away from the release of The Thorn of Dentonhill.  And how are all the things going for the writer at this stage of the game?
Really well.  I'm thrilled.  And nervous, but mostly thrilled.
Thorn is, for all intents on my end of things, done.  Edits, copyedits, proofs, etc., DONE.  Except for anything I'll be doing for it on the promotion side, but in terms of making it a book?  DONE.
A Murder of Mages comes out on July 7th, 2015.  Here's its Goodreads page.  This one still has copy edits and proofs to do, plus I've got to finalize one of the street maps.  I've seen a preliminary cover and it's pretty cool, so I can't wait to see the final cover.
Elements of Aventil is the sequel to Thorn.  I've submitted a polished draft to the editor, so hopefully news on that will come in the near future.  The Little East is the sequel to A Murder of Mages, and I'm hammering my way through that as my current "main project".
What else is on my plate?  Currently, I'm also doing a read-through-and-final-polish of Way of the Shield to send it back to the agent.  That one was challenging to write, but I'm actually quite pleased by how much I like it when I'm reading through it now.
After that, I'll get back on the horse of finishing the rough draft of Banshee, my Space Opera Epic.  I had done quite a bit on it, but put it to the side once the Thorn/Murder deal came though.  Hopefully I'll have a finished version of that to my agent within a few months as well.
There are a handful of other things cooking in the back burners, but none of them are quite ready to talk about yet.
But, if all goes to plan, soon Thorn and Mages will be rousing successes, and from there you'll see many, many books set in Maradaine.
All right, off to the word mines.  See you down there.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Perils of the Writer: The Writing Game and the "Big Money"

On one of my OryCon panels-- "What I Wish I Had Known Then"-- one of the other panelists made the distinction between a writer "getting paid" and "getting paid money".  Which confused me, because what would you be getting paid in, if not money?  His answer was "exposure".  And it's true, there are several publications of lesser repute who will offer this "payment" of "exposure". 
But that's not payment, any more than handing someone an issue of Saveur is making them dinner. 
Now, if you're at a stage in your writing where, to you, there's value in your work getting seen without monetary compensation, hey, that's your business.  But don't call it "payment". 
But beyond getting actually paid-- which is a lovely thing-- there is the next level of "money" which is the Big Prize. 
King/Rowley/Grisham Money.
I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that's going to come, at least not quickly or easily, if at all.  I'm not doing this with stars in my eyes.  Well, maybe a little bit. 
The truth is, there are several ways to make the "big money" that are far more lucrative-- at least in terms of yielding said big money-- than writing fantasy and sci-fi books.  If I were only concerned about making money, I'd do one of those things.  But doing this-- writing these books-- that's what drives me. 
So if the big money comes-- a film or TV deal based on Thorn and what follows, for example-- I'd like to think I'd mostly keep doing what I'm doing: writing the next book.
And travel more, of course.  Those aren't mutually exclusive, after all. But in the meantime, I'll be digging away in the word mines.  See you down there.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Perils of the Writer: Composing the Symphony vs. Plot Jazz

In any long term creative endeavor, there is a limit to how much you can really plan out ahead of time.  Of course, you can always make detailed outlines, but the reaches a point of diminishing returns– where what you’re writing is more rough-draft than outline.*
And I’m a big planner, both in terms of individual novels and long-term series plans.  I’m a get-out-the-map-and-figure-out-where-I’m-going guy.  I’ve got outlines for novels I’m still going to write: specifically Books Three for both The Thorn of Dentonhill and A Murder of Mages, as well as Books Two and Three for Holver Alley Crew and Way of the Shield, books themselves that are still waiting in the wings for their time to shine.  And past that, well… let’s just say that as far as I’m concerned, none of those series are intended to end with Book Three.
But outlining is going to have its limits.  For me, a typical outline of a 100k-ish novel is somewhere between 1000 and 1500 words.  That hits the key plot points, but clearly lacks details of character interaction and transitions.  I find that there’s plenty of “Here is Point A” and “There is Point B”, but I still have plenty of chess pieces to move around to have things in place for Point B.
And that’s where the Plot Jazz comes in.
“Plot Jazz” is a term coined by some fans of Deep Space Nine and Farscape to talk about how those shows– shows which never really had a “plan” more than a few episodes ahead– had a great tendency to build off of things set up by throwaway lines or the possibilities a random idea offered up.  An excellent example is in Farscape, where John having hallucinations of Scorpius in “Crackers Don’t Matter”– an episode where everyone is going crazy for spacy-sci-fi-reasons–  triggered the idea that “Hey, maybe Scorpius put a chip in John’s head!”.  That concept ended up being a key factor that shaped the rest of the season, and the series as a whole beyond it.
Plot Jazz, where you play it where it takes you, and hope it sounds good.
Now, what Plot Jazz means to a dyed-in-the-wool outliner like me is that secondary and tertiary characters often become more than they were in the outline.  Not taking over the story, but having more consequence that the outline would have indicated.  And that’s usually because in writing the outline, I don’t necessarily know what I’ll need those characters to do in the specific.  The “what” is in the outline, but not the “why” and “how”, and there is a fair amount of discovery in working that stuff out.
There’s a fair amount of that in Thorn of Dentonhill, where while I was writing I’d realize something like, “Colin needs a friend he can talk to in this scene” or “I need a Constabulary officer to show up here”, and then the character that comes out of that expands into a life of its own.  That’s where, for example, Colin’s crew of Jutie, Hetzer and Tooser or Lt. Benvin came from in Thorn, and those roles ended up being more than could have been predicted in the outline.  Jutie and Lt. Benvin both get mention in the outline for Thorn II, but the details of the how and why with what they do ended up giving them both a crucial role in that book, including realizing I needed to give Lt. Benvin a whole group of constabulary officers under him.
So while I love my outlines and will never, ever let them go… that doesn’t mean I can’t embrace the Plot Jazz when I need it.

*- I do know of one writer who does write very detailed outlines for his novels, that the outline is around 40K for a 100K novel. He said the main difference between his outline and the novel is dialogue.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Culinary Obsessions

53327_10100389539032530_2285202_oSo, last week I talked about how drawing maps and doing worldbuilding is my non-writing artistic outlet.  But, to a large degree, that's still about writing.
Of course, it's all about writing, even this one.
 Because my other artistic outlet is cooking.  I love to cook, and I'm strangely obsessive about doing things from scratch.  And to some degree, that comes from writing and worldbuilding.  I like to think about where food comes from, what it means to the people, and how disparate flavors can help define a culture.
52919_10100389538982630_7188290_oAnd today I have a special project!  Today I'll be taking blackberries and a whole variety of nuts, seeds, spices and dried chiles and making a glorious molĂ© de zarzamoras.  And, of course, beyond that, I intend to get some writing in.  But as you can imagine, this is a project that's going to take up a good chunk of my day.
But once it's done, oh, it'll be something quite special. 
And then I'll go down into the word mines.  See you in there.
One more thing: as I've updated my website, I've created an Appearances page listing where I'll be in 2015.  There's only a few listed for now, but that will probably increase as the year goes on.

Monday, November 10, 2014

OryCon and Separating the Work from the Person

So, I had a wonderful time at OryCon, which was my first Con outside of my usual "circle of influence", as it were.  I mean, when I went to FenCon, it was my first time at that Con, but I knew plenty of people there.  At OryCon, not so much, but that didn't matter.  I enjoyed myself on all my panels.  If you saw me there, I hope you found me charming and eloquent, or at least moderately competent.  I do have a tendency to keep talking to the point of blathering on. 
Fortunately, I was not aware of any harassment or bullying at OryCon.  Of course, my lack of awareness is hardly proof of it not happening, or not even being reported. 
Bullying, on an online level, has been an issue of late, of course, as evidenced and compiled in this post by Laura J. Mixon.  This is the sort of contentious thing I tend not to dip my toes into, in no small part to it not having affected me.  Yet. 
So here's the thing, at least from my point of view*: negative reviews, especially and including ones pointing out problematic aspects with regard to gender, race, sexuality, etc., are a necessary and valuable thing.  I know that personally I've made mistakes along those lines, and done my best to learn from those mistakes, and will in all likelihood continue to make more mistakes that I will hopefully learn from again.  Hopefully, my awareness will improve.
But part of that means I need to be called on it. I honor and value that, and will strive to listen do my best not to be all, "but you see..." or otherwise act defensively.  I'm certain that Thorn of Dentonhill has problems along those lines which I'll need to do better on in future books.  Let me make it perfectly clear that I welcome having that dialogue so that I can learn and improve.
HOWEVER, there is definitely a line between a harsh, even angry review of a work, and angry, hate-filled vitriol aimed at the artist themselves, and while some reviewers seem to think that line is fuzzy and easy to cross, it's really quite clear.  Attacking and bullying the person, even someone whose work is systemically problematic, is not acceptable.  I don't care who you are, what "side" of things you are on, whether you've faced actual or perceived marginalization for who you are or what your beliefs are: No.  Do not do this.  Shred the work all to hell, but treat the person behind it with something resembling decency. 
It really is just that easy.
*- Which is, of course, Full Privilege Bingo of White, Straight, Presumed-Christian, College-Educated, Right-handed Male, so: apply as large a grain of salt as you feel in necessary.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Creative Outlets That Aren't Writing

One can't just pound out words for eight hours a day, five days a week.  Well, maybe some people can, but I sure can't.  So what else do I do to chum the creative waters?
Full World Map Historical Work MapFor me, and I know this is going to be a real shocker-- it's worldbuilding work, especially maps.
Now, I'm sure a lot of writers just build the world for the stories, or craft a world around a story idea.  Which is probably the smarter thing to do.  I mean, if you're doing all that worldbuilding work, it should be for a purpose, right?
  And for each of these, maybe there will be a purpose somewhere down the line.  But when I'm-- I don't want to say stuck or blocked, because I don't think that's accurate, but let's say conceptual brewing, and my brain needs to mull on where things are going or how to do a certain bit, then doing some map-drawing or other worldbuilding activity (like figuring out biomes and then connecting rise of agriculture to said biomes, and thus determining where those Fertile Centers of Origin are going to be that civilization arises in) or micromanaging a pair of linked villages for what sort of setting might be there.  Or the rise of multiple interstellar empires. 
Space-Opera-Sample-MapThis is probably the sort of thing that other sf/fantasy writers dread.   And I get that.  But for me, it's a lot of fun.  And dorky.  I will fully admit to compiling spreadsheets filled with just raw data of animal domestication or tech development of number of planets for hundreds of stars or regions or whatever else.  That gets the processing and analytical part of my brain in gear, and lets the writing brain churn and simmer, and then, hey... a thousand words show up. 
Plus, maps are fun.  I can't draw very well, but I can do maps.
That's all for now.  I'll be at OryCon this weekend, and if you're in the area, I hope to see you there.


An admin note: I'm in the process of consolidating and updating my website, so everything, including this blog will be in the same place.  I'll post in both places for a while, but eventually the Blogger version will go away, and everything will be over there. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tightening the Screws and Off to OryCon

So, we're now at T-minus three months for the release of Thorn of Dentonhill.  Which is fantastic and exciting, but it also means things are heating up.  I'm finishing my final check on the galley proofs, and then I'll be turning my focus onto A Murder of Mages, which comes out later in the year.  I got to see some preliminary cover art for that, and I'm quite pleased.

Which is all to say, right now is a crunch time, with a lot of things to do this week.  Especially since this week I'm heading up to Portland for OryconI'm excited, this is my first time going to the Pacific Northwest.  So if you're going to that, I'll see you there.  My schedule for the con is below-- a good batch of panels, if you ask me.

And, in the meantime, I'll be off in the word mines.  See you down there.

Sat Nov 8 10:00:am
Sat Nov 8 11:00:am
What I Wish I Would Have Known: Pitfalls for New Writers

All the things writers should know going in, from craft to scams, and what our panelists wish they'd known.
Erica L. Satifka, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Dean Wells, (*)John Hedtke, Mike Moscoe

Sat Nov 8 12:00:pm
Sat Nov 8 1:00:pm
Defining Magical Systems

Magical systems are not to be trifled with as far as a reader's concerned. Discuss how to give your characters powers--but not too much power--and how to keep internal consistency.
Devon Monk, Kier Salmon, Judith R. Conly, Alma Alexander, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Sat Nov 8 2:00:pm
Sat Nov 8 3:00:pm
F&SF From Book to Movie

Recent adaptations and what's on the horizon.
(*)Rob Wynne, Scott Alan Woodard, Anthony Pryor, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Sat Nov 8 3:00:pm
Sat Nov 8 4:00:pm
Decline and Fall

At what point does society stop being civilized?
Clayton Callahan, Judith R. Conly, (*)Manny Frishberg, Kristin Landon, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Sun Nov 9 11:00:am
Sun Nov 9 12:00:pm
Effective Readings

You may be a good writer, but reading aloud is a separate skill. Learn to make your words on the page sound great.
(*)Frog Jones, Keffy R. M. Kehrli, Todd McCaffrey, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Sun Nov 9 12:00:pm
Sun Nov 9 1:00:pm
Creating New Ecosystems

Ecosystems have rules, even in fantasy. Come discuss ways to create worlds that are coherent, deep and logical.
Marshall Ryan Maresca, (*)Petrea Mitchell, Jennifer Linnaea, Karen Azinger