Monday, May 18, 2015

Starting Afresh

I've been terribly neglectful of Unjust Cause, my WIP on Wattpad. I updated today, finally, after a several month hiatus.

There a lot of reasons I let the work languish. The first and foremost is that I felt like the story had gone off the rails some time ago. It's super easy for that to happen when you're writing like this, out loud, as it were, in front of an audience. Normally, I tend to write everything away from the public eye, so, when I make mistakes or go down a rabbit hole, I can pull myself up and revise before anyone is the wiser (besides my writers' group, of course.) Not being able to do that this time stymied me. I knew it could, and, while I normally don't worry overly much about looking like an idiot in front of a crowd, this tangle fed into my general sense of failure.

Yeah, I know I'm not a failure, but as I said to someone who poked me for an update on Wattpad, Precinct 13 and its universe is a particular trigger for my... well, for lack of a better term, depression around writing. I've been on the verge of being clinically depressed, so I don't mean to use this term lightly. There should be a word for the behavior that mimics depression but isn't quite it... because that's how I sometimes get around my Tate projects. I _want_ to do them, but when I think about finishing Unjust Cause/writing an e-book or e-novella, and even when I work myself up into a bit of excitement around various ideas, when I finally sit down to write... my first impulse is to crawl under the covers and not come out.

It's very unlike me.

Normally, I'm very self-motivated. I would not have gotten as far as I have in writing if I weren't. So, I don't know why I have this block and, as I've said in numerous other posts, I've determined that this is the year I push past all that.

I wish I knew what worked. I started to type that it helps me when people ask after projects, but what's funny is that that kind of thing only works when it's STRANGERS (fans/readers/FB friends/casual acquaintances/con friends) asking. If you're my relative (or gods forbid, my wife) asking, I double-down into a weird, bitter resistance-- a very 'don't tell me what's good for me' kind of attitude.

Well, regardless, the plan is to get over THAT. So, if you're so inclined go read the newest.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Following" the Path to Success

Last night, in the Loft class, we talked about the mechanics of short story submission. Science fiction/fantasy/spec fic is one of the genres where, I think, a person has a fair chance to get their short work published if they're willing to keep going down the list of publications. You CAN run out, especially if your piece is of a very specific genre and a word count that's too long (or too short, etc.) But, I still think we have a lot more short story venues than a lot of other genres. In fact, while I'm sure they exist, I can't think of a single romance short fiction market--erotica, maybe, but romance? Nothing that jumps to mind the way Asimov's, Analog, Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Apex, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, Uncanny Magazine, etc, etc., do for spec fic.

Just looking through the list at ralan.com can be dizzying, because on top of the regularly published magazines, there's also anthologies, etc.

So, I pointed my students to sfwa.org and their page on manuscript formatting.

Our critique session went really very fast because it was a bad week for a lot of people for some reason and we had more than our typical "passes." (When teaching adults who have full-time jobs, families, school, etc., I always allow a pass if life eats your brain.) So, we had an unscheduled Q&A about the business of writing. I bring this up because one of my students asked a question that astounded me. She wanted to know if it was true that you should have at least 2,000 followers on social media before you try to court/land an agent. I had never heard such malarky in my LIFE, but nearly all the other students in my class had HEARD THE EXACT SAME ADVICE.

I had to admit, it could be true. I sold my first book in 1999, before e-books were really a thing and before social media was even really a concept. I said that the advice I heard back then still seemed pretty damned solid to me and that was: concentrate on writing the best book possible, full stop. I told my class that I don't know how a person gets 2,000 followers without spending every waking moment trying far too hard to be clever in 175 characters or less. How would you have time to write if you were spending that much time on-line? 2,000 followers sounded, to me, like a full time job in and of itself.

I also told them to look at the list on "ralan," and ask themselves if their time would be better spent collecting followers on Twitter or writing short stories for one of the three dozen (+!) magazines that will pay good money for good words?

I also suggested that they didn't have to give up on the idea of collecting 2,000 followers, but maybe the way to start doing that in spec fic was by attending conventions, volunteering to be on panels, and writing stories. Do both, I suggested. That way, maybe you'll have a little fun on the way to collecting some mystical number of Twits.

When I ask on FB whether or not other pro writers/agents/editors had heard about this idea, I got one response from an agent who said that, it was a lie to some extent, but of course its easier to sell books to an editor if you can point to a waiting audience. Sure, that makes a kind of sense, but I really have never believed in a 1:1 correlation between follower: buyer. A lot of people follow me on various social media (not anywhere near 2,000 if you're wondering, often not even HALF that, though on FB I have just over a 1,000--I checked), and I have directed them, often, to things of mine they can buy.

They don't. Some do, of course, but probably not even 1% do.

And presumably, I'm a known quality (maybe that's why they DON'T, but I did fairly well for Penguin for a fair number of years.) BUT, my point is, how on EARTH would this translate to someone you've never heard of? Whose cat pictures you've liked on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr? Seriously.

TBF, I have no sense of how popularity works. Some people have clearly figured out how to leverage this social media thing far, far better than I ever have. So, maybe this is the new path to publication/scoring an agent. I really don't know. It seems crazy to me. I still think the key to success ought to be: write a good book.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Stomach Flu and Character Development

Some time yesterday afternoon, the rumbling in my guts finally stopped... just in time for me to get ready to teach my Loft SF/F writing class.

I can't say my lecture was terribly coherent or useful, but we had our first critique and my students are all 100% amazing, no kidding. Not only was everyone intelligent and civil, but they also all hit the same notes as I had. So, I feel very in sync with these folks. And, honestly, I suspect, for them, the class just paid for itself, because there is no bigger boost to your writing skills, IMHO, than getting real, helpful critique from peers and a mentor (and learning how to look at work with a critical eye.)

But, as promised, I'm going to try to reconstruct a more cogent version of my lecture for them here, on my blog. We were discussing characters and how you create them. I've talked about this a bit before: "What's My Motivation? Creating Character Through Narrative Voice.", "Narrative Voice (An Epiphany about Adjectives)" and then I apparently once had a grammar aneurysm over Omniscient Point of View: Grammar GeekFest and More About Bob

As I flailed around in class, I hit a lot of things that I talked about in these blog posts, so go ahead and read through them if you like, since apparently much of what I think is true about writing hasn't much changed over the intervening years.

I did manage to pass on that other tidbit that I probably wrote about at some point, too, which is the idea that EVERYTHING, absolutely EVERYTHING you write should be in service to plot. In terms of character, I specifically mentioned the idea that an author should cultivate a narrative voice that creates atmosphere and mood, something that hooks the readers into the FEEL of the plot (sometimes without their conscious knowledge). Literary writers, what with all their focus on word choice, are trained to do this better than genre writers are, but I think we're certainly capable of it to one degree or another.

...

Oh dear. It seems my brain isn't very coherent this morning, either. Well, I'll keep pondering this until next class and if I have other thoughts on character, I'll post them.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

While Many of You were at a Serious Literary Con...

...I was at home, doing this: "Story Time: Live-Blogging 'Taken By the Gay Unicorn Biker.'"

Bitter Empire has promised me business cards that say: "Reading weird erotica, so you don't have to."

Seriously, a very important conference is happening in town right now, the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) is happening. I will tell you that I looked at their off-site events schedule (here's today's) and I know none of the people doing readings. I don't think they invited the spec fic community, though I might be wrong about that.

So, yeah, I stayed home and read unicorn porn, out loud (rather: on-line) instead.

Also, after yesterday (wherein I got a surprising amount of attention for what I thought was a very 101 Hugo's post), I feel the need to post this:



For the most part, I have to say, I remain lucky. If people are saying vile things about me because I compared the puppies to Nazis (possibly an unwise hyperbole, though the fascist stuff is very much connected to the rabid pups and I linked to my source in the article), I'm not really hearing it to my face. I had one troll come on my FB feed to say "How many lies can you print in one article?" to which I have to confess my first response was going to be "ALL OF THEM" (but I feared I might be taken seriously or out of context), so instead I asked for clarification, got it, and refuted it.

I also pointed out that the blog was not an article, but an opinion piece, which had been clearly labeled as such.

Kittens and unicorn sex. The only antidote, IMHO.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Of Science Fiction and Puppies

Possibly there were more qualified (and snappier) writers to sum up the Hugo shenanigans for the mundanes, but my editor asked and I answered with "Why Are All my Science Fiction Friends Screaming About Sad Puppies?"

If you're a long time fan and have been following along even tangentially, I say nothing new here. Mostly it's a link salad to some of the more awful things known about Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies (the more stridently vocal right wing of the already right-of-center Sad Puppies). My only new insight is that I, too, have never really felt the Hugos were "all that" in terms of pointing out what was the best in my field, but I have long used the nominee list to get a good sense of "what is trending" in science fiction/fantasy.

I will say here (as I do there) that I do think they're worth fighting.

If it were true that the Sad Puppies actually promoted the idea of fun-loving, non-navel-gazing science fiction, I might be one of them. Ironically (perhaps), yesterday I posted my review of The Girl in the Road in which I make some very snarky comments about what I call "NPR science fiction."

I like my science fiction to have a lot of vim and vigor. I'm very much uninterested in novels that are ONLY explorations of inner spaces. My favorite stuff (and the very best, IMHO,) is when you have high action AND deep thinking. Human beings are political creatures. To imagine a book that was apolitical sounds dreadful to me. Also it sounds impossible. I just read a book The Way Inn by Will Wiles which is basically about how plastic and empty hotels are and how literally soul-sucking they can be. Even that book had a thematic/political point: banality is evil. When you find comfort in emptiness, you probably should consider the value in spending a bit more time naval gazing. That's what this book was ultimately kind of about.

But that's not REALLY what this conversation is about. If it were, the puppies wouldn't complain about the Hugo's NEVER going to their sort. Lois McMaster Bujold has a few of these coveted rockets, and I don't see how she's not exactly what they should be excited about: action-oriented, fun, and... oh, right, she talks a lot about GLBT issues and gender and ability. Never mind she's published by Baen (their supposed favorite publisher). Lois doesn't count because her epic space battles have girl/queer cooties on them.

Ah, I could go on, but, ultimately, all this has been said already. Over and over. By smarter people than me.

It's really interesting the culture of backlash, though, of which the Hugo malarky is clearly part of. I mean, we're living in very weird times. On one hand there's so much moving forward. On the other, there's Indiana.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Guest Blogging About Failure

My own personal failure, not the fail culture of SF, that is.  You can read it over at Kurtis Scaletta's blog:  "My Biggest Failure: Letting the B-st-rds Get me Down."

Friday, April 03, 2015

Emotion as Story

Interestingly, this popped up on i09 today by Charlie Jane Anders:  "2 Secrets to Writing a Story that People Can't Tear Themselves Away From."

In which the second secret is:  "Emotions create their own suspense."

Pretty much exactly what I was trying to get at in my lecture on Wednesday night.  Charlie Jane (unsurprisingly) gets to the point far more succinctly than I ever could.  She writes:

What's the worst that can happen if you think of your story as "a succession of great moments strung together"? Well, it could be kind of incoherent. At worst, the story might actually not make sense, or contradict itself. Those are things that might need to be fixed in the rewrites — but they're easier problems to fix than a story that's lifeless except for a few turning points. 
And this is where the second statement, "emotions create their own suspense," comes in. If the characters and their emotions are consistent, then each "great moment" will absolutely feel connected to the next. Because the characters will keep caring about the things they care about. 

Yes.  Thank you.  This.

(Also Charlie Jane also wrote "How to Turn a High Concept into a Story" in case you want to check to see if she continues to be more articulate and accessible than I could ever hope to be.  ;-)