Thursday, April 28, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Reading Your Reviews

I have some writer friends who tell me they never read their reviews.
I honestly have no idea how you can do that.
Collage 2Like, I can keep myself from interacting with the reviewers.  I know that a review is not an invitation for a dialogue.  Even when, for example, a dialogue breaks out from a review.  More than once I've seen a review that pointed out something the reviewer found a negative (which: their opinion, fair enough), and then a reader grabbed onto that negative and extrapolated it to an extreme.  For a sense of the sort of thing I'm talking about (but not an actual example):
Reviewer: I did sometimes feel frustrated because the protagonist made some dumb choices, even though they were choices that were true to the character.
Comment: Ugh! I can't stand books with IDIOT PROTAGONISTS.  WILL NOT READ.
While this is not a real example, it's not an exaggeration of what I've seen.  It feels like watching a game of broken telephone-- someone interprets a thing one way, and then someone else interprets their interpretation even further in that direction, so now you're seeing this ill-formed, uninformed opinion of your work, and you want to try to course correct it...
But really all you can do is twist your hands to try to psychically move the bowling ball away from the gutter.  You sent the book out there already, and opinions are going to form, regardless of what you want.  Regardless of what you intended the takeaway from your book to be, people are going to take their own thing.  They're going to read the same thing and come out with very different feelings.  Thorn and Murder have both been praised for rich, elaborate worldbuilding and criticized for thin, hollow worldbuilding.  Neither reviewer is more "right" than the other (though I could tell you which one I agree with more).  I've seen reviews that make me feel that the reviewer was being sloppy in their reading, or that they inserted some of their own biases-- but that also makes me wonder if I was sloppy in my writing, or started with my own presumptions.
The main thing for me is, I always read them, and I always look to see what I can learn and what I can use in order to improve my craft.  Because what's the point of doing this if we're not striving to get better as we go?

Monday, April 25, 2016

ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop 2016

If your intentions are to be a writing professional of any kind, it's important to get some form of professional guidance.  Self-taught only goes so far.   Natural talent only goes so far.  You need to accept that you have things to learn.
That was a hard lesson I swallowed when I first attended the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop back in 2005.  I went expecting little more than praise for my brilliant first chapter, and instead I got savaged.  Rightfully savaged.  
Now, if your intentions are specifically geared toward writing Genre Fiction, there are some fabulous options out there.  Clarion, Odyssey, Viable Paradise are some of the big ones.  If you can manage the tuition and time commitments involved any of those, I would heartily recommend any and all.  But those are big commitments.  Thousands of dollars, and commitments ranging up to six weeks.  Not everyone can pull those off.  It usually takes a fair amount of privilege to manage to do them.    
Which is why the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop is so important to me and the community. It offers a similar workshop opportunity-- working with real genre writing professionals-- with a small commitment of time and money.  And the value you get for it is immense.  Can you manage a 3-day weekend in Austin? Then you owe it to yourself to look into this workshop.  It's a one-day intensive on Friday, July 29th, followed by the rest of ArmadilloCon that weekend.  
P1010542JohnScalziWritersWorkshop_600This year we've got an excellent line-up of instructors. In addition to myself, we have the executive editor of Saga Press, Joe Monti.  We have two-time Campbell nominee Stina Leicht.  We have Nebula nominee E.J. Fischer.  Phillip K. Dick nominee Marguerite Reed!  Bram Stoker nominee Joe McKinney!  We have Amanda Downum, Tex Thompson, Patrice Sarath, K.G. Jewell, Mark Finn, and more.  
This is a fantastic program, won which I am personally invested in, as I consider it a key stepping stone on my path to publication.  
Here is more information on the Workshop, including the registration links.  Deadline for submission is June 15th!  Hope to see you there.   Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Kickstarting the Brain with Imagery

So, having finished the draft of The Imposters of Aventil, I was ready to jump right in with Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.
My brain, however, wasn't quite having that.  "Whoa, let's ease into this, get back in this mindset.  Breakdown the outline into scenes.  Find some inspiring images."
Which is how my brain works.  I need to fiddle with stuff, play with things that look sort of like the story I see in my head.  Of course, none of these images are REALLY "right".  That's part of the challenge.  It's stuff from movies, shows, drawings that are other stories, not mine.  They might evoke the same mood, the same feeling, but they aren't really my story.  But they help me find my way there.
Now, normally, this is just my process, not something I share.  But, this time, I'll throw some of it out there.  Plus it might leave you gloriously puzzled about what Lady Henterman's Wardrobe is going to be.  (Especially given that you all don't even know much about Holver Alley Crew yet, let alone its sequel.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Keeping to the Timetable

So, this weekend I finished the draft of The Imposters of Aventil.  I'll spend another week and change making polishes to it, and then send it to my editor so she can tear it into tiny pieces and tell me how to make it not suck.  That way I can deliver they not-sucking version in August, so it can go on its winding journey into your hands somewhere in 2017.
Also, I got started on the actual text for Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  It might take me a bit to get back into the groove with the Holver Alley characters, but I'm really looking forward to writing this one.  Part of why I came up with this strategy of writing multiple series in the same setting is to minimize burnout.  Between Alchemy of ChaosImport of Intrigue and The Imposters of Aventil, I've been writing a lot of Veranix, Satrine and Minox, and all the people in their orbit.  Which is great, but I am ready to get back to the Rynax brothers and their crew.  It'll be a nice change of pace.
I've also got several things cooking beyond what I've officially announced or contracted.  I've got a draft for the first book in a fourth Maradaine series, and many notes from my beta readers and my editor, so my key secondary project (primary being writing Lady Henterman and editing Imposters) will be whipping that into sellable shape.  Plus I have that draft of a space opera novel which calls to me on occasion to finish and inflict upon my beta readers.  And a few other things simmering on the backburner.
 This has been a longwinded way to say: things are on track.  As far as my timetable goes, I'm good.  But I'll need to get on things to keep that pace. So back into the word mines I go.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Paying for the Privilege

The question this week at WordWhores: Is it all right to charge a submission fee for a contest?
This is a bit of a strange one for me, in part because I've never been in a book contest of any sort so it isn't something I've really thought about.  It's not quite the same as submitting to be published, so the standard refrain of "money flows TO the writer" doesn't necessarily apply.
Also, I know that in the theatre world, paying a submission fee is standard for playwrights.  Contests or open calls with no fee are actually uncommon.  
That said, it doesn't sit right with me, and I think it comes down to wondering what the contest is for.  Like, if the prize is "publication", then you're paying for the right to be read, and that's bullshit.  And if the prize is the award itself, then the award itself is also kind of bullshit.  I know saying your book is "award winning" can seem like a nice perk*, but when you make that claim, people are going to wonder what award you won, and if it's something that smells like 'an award that you paid for', it'll come of as worse than not saying it at all.
Now, if you're looking at this whole thing as, say, a marketing expense-- you're paying to get the book looked at by a taste-maker of some sort who will talk it up in a widely noted forum-- then that could be considered worth it.  But, again, you really have to look at the "impact factor" of that contest.  Is it something that could bring you some notice, or is it mostly a small thing that would only get you noticed by the people who run the contest?  
Short answer: no.  I don't think it's worth doing, and I don't think it's right to do.  I wouldn't do it.  
*-Especially right now, since I'm in a stage between being named for the short list on an award and waiting to hear the results.  I am thinking about this stuff all the time right now.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Worldbuilding: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Their Story

So, as the heading suggests, I've been listening to Hamilton of late.  Which, as would be natural for me being me-- leads me to think about worldbuilding.
Because just about everything makes me think of worldbuilding.
One thing I usually advocate, in terms of worldbuilding, is you should never make the world to only support one story.  A good world is bristling with stories all around, including and especially in its history.
For example, does the "primary" country in your setting-- i.e., wherever your protagonists are from-- does it have Founding Fathers?  (Or mothers, or co-parents, or what have you.)  Do you have a sense of how it got from people smacking rocks together to the country it is now in your story?  Do you know who the people are who helped shape it that way, and the whats and hows and whys of that shaping?  Who are these people, and also who gets to define the narrative of what they did?
And not just the George Washingtons (i.e., the big central leader of an event), but the Thomas Jeffersons, the John Adamses, the Alexander Hamiltons and the Aaron Burrs of that history?  In the case of Druthal, there are The Grand Ten-- ten people who are considered crucial in shaping and forming the modern Druthal.  And, of course, as with any history, just looking at The Grand Ten is a gross oversimplification of complex and nuanced events. The Grand Ten is something of a patriotic story Druth tell themselves that glosses over the human story underneath, casting united heroes where it was really a bunch of people who ended up doing what they thought was right that ended up serving a common goal.
Now, I'm not saying you should write a whole different novel about the founding or building of your nation.  But maybe, just maybe, make sure that the possibilities are there that you could.  
I might have some outlining to do.
Well, yes, I definitely have outlining and drafting and editing to do.  It's a busy month in a busier year, and I've got to get on it.
See you down in the word mines.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Perils of the Writer: Finding Your Critique Group

I think it's crucial, for any writer, to have other sets of eyes go over what they do before sending it out into the world.  Before anything heads out to my agent or my editor, it goes to my beta readers.
Right now, I essentially have two people that I send to, and they are the right two people for me.  That's the most crucial thing: finding your people.  Because you can get all sorts of people to read your works-in-progress, but the question is are they going to give you what you need to make it better?  
At one point, I had a whole critique group, and I've attended large-session groups.  And those are valuable, but their value largely came from teaching me how to read with a critiquing eye, how to give and take critique.  I didn't find them too helpful in terms of the work I was doing myself.  Don't get me wrong, they were good people with good ideas, and they are still friends, but it was more "critique" than I needed.  It was work to sift through, rather than information that would make my work stronger.
Here's the thing: if you give your work in progress to ten random people (random people with some degree of aspiration toward writing fiction, or at least engage with the creative process), you're going to get ten different opinions.  Filtering through those ten opinions to mine what's useful for you is going to be challenging.  Especially since, say, six or seven of those opinions are more going to reflect what those people think your story ought to be rather than helping it be the story you're trying to write.
A good critique partner understands what you're going for, and gives you what you need to make that happen.
Here's the other thing: after a certain point, you shouldn't be looking for critique on a manuscript.  After a point, you're no longer working it, you're fiddling with it, and continually sending to "fresh eyes" doesn't change that.  You either shop it out, or you trunk it.  Or, if you really feel like it's got potential but isn't working, you put it on the backburner and work something else for a while, let it stew.  The point is, whatever problems it has-- or that you imagine it still has*-- won't be solved by giving it to another batch of people to get another set of opinions.  
In the end, you need only one or two, who understand what you're doing, but also know your bad tics enough to call you out on them.  This process might involve going through some large groups, which is a worthwhile process.
*- Constantly having beta readers go over different drafts of the same work is a key symptom of Imposter Syndrome.

Monday, April 4, 2016


All right, it's time to talk seriously about the next book.  An Import of Intrigue is the second constabulary book, sequel to A Murder of Mages.  
Collage 2
Mixing high fantasy and mystery, this is Marshall Ryan Maresca’s second novel in the Maradaine Constabulary series, companion to DAW’s Maradaine Novels.

The neighborhood of the Little East is a collision of cultures, languages, and traditions, hidden away in the city of Maradaine. A set of streets to be avoided or ignored. When a foreign dignitary is murdered, solving the crime falls to the most unpopular inspectors in the Maradaine Constabulary: exposed fraud Satrine Rainey, and uncircled mage Minox Welling.

With a murder scene deliberately constructed to point blame toward the Little East, Rainey is forced to confront her former life, while Welling’s ignorance of his own power threatens to consume him. And these few city blocks threaten to erupt into citywide war unless the constabulary solves the case.

This was a fun challenge to write, in part because it really let me flex the worldbuilding muscles.  Because these books are set in Maradaine, with city-level stakes, I can't really go out into the wider world.  But the wider world can come to Maradaine, and bring with them a taste of their culture, letting me play out a microcosm of the tensions of foreign relations within a few city blocks.  
Goodreads Page for AN IMPORT OF INTRIGUE
Available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!  Pre-order today!

An Import of Intrigue releases November 1st, 2016.