Archive for March, 2009

30
Mar
09

Greg: Writing advice, the good and the not so much

When I was but a very wee writer in Angus Young schoolboy pants, I would attend just about any science fiction convention panel for which the topic could be described as anything close to “Some Writer(s) and/or Editor(s) Talk.” Sometimes I would sign up for a writing class offered through a university extended education program, as long as there was some writer or editor who promised to talk. And I would read interviews with writers and editors, and tune into radio programs featuring writers and editors. For gosshake, I’d even haul myself to the library to read each month’s issue of Writer’s Digest, featuring such helpful articles as “Five Story Hooks To Blow an Agent’s Medulla Oblongata Right Through Her Eye Sockets!!!”

Shorter version of the above: I was hungry for wisdom.

I knew better than to expect a magic word, a shortcut, the literary equivalent of a get-rich stock quote. But I quite reasonably hoped to learn from the experience of others. I once watched our family cat Sheila teach our adopted kitten Socks how to walk the narrow ledge of a high fence. Even cats don’t learn everything by instinct. We animals need examples.

So, I think from time to time I’m going to use this space to post a good piece of wisdom I’ve picked up from others, and a bad one. If I can save someone from having to wear Angus Young pants, I will have done my job here.

The Good: Writing is not a race, and if it were, it’d be a marathon.

What It Means: It’s easy to get demoralized by the success of your peers. While you’re still waiting for a personalized rejection letter and they’re worrying about tax sheltering the advance on their third series, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve fallen behind, that everyone else is getting rich and famous and you’re just getting old. There’s no easy way to not feel this way, because there’s no easy way to avoid feeling natural human emotions, unless there’s something wrong with you, in which case please stand way over there, thank you. But, hey, look, writing is a selfish act, so don’t make it about them. Make it about you. Do you still enjoy the act of creating? Do you still get pleasure from writing a precise, beautiful sentence? Conveying a neat idea? Perfectly capturing a mood or an image? If so, focus on that. Your successful peers won’t drink up all the success beer before you get to the finish line. The world will continue brewing success beer.

The Bad: You’re not a writer until another writer says you’re a writer.

What It Means: It means there are some who’ve written and published and want more than the satisfaction of having achieved a goal. They want privilege, and they want someone to lord that privilege over.

Nothing wrong with wanting respect and recognition from other writers. But writers don’t get to decide who’s a writer. Not even agents and editors get to do that. If anyone at all gets to make that determination, it’s the reader. But I would dispute even that, because I was a writer before I ever published a thing. How did I know I was a writer? Because I habitually moved my fingers in such a fashion that writing occurred. I think it’s really that simple.

30
Mar
09

Diana’s Sunday Quickie: The ones that came before

I wrote my first novel about a dozen years ago or so, a 150,000 word epic fantasy, chock-full of wish-fulfillment MarySueisms, which I was–fortunately—able to recognize before it went too far into the world. But the most wonderful thing about that novel was the fact that I had written a novel. A long one, too, that actually wasn’t that bad of a story either, even if it really wasn’t quite publishable. After that I knew I had it in me to write a novel.

There were others. I wrote about 60,000 words in a month in a novel dare (this was before the days of NaNoWriMo) and I never looked back at it. After that, I concentrated on short fiction for a while, and then even stopped writing completely for about five years.

But I eventually came back around to it and started in on a collaboration–another grand and sweeping epic fantasy that was kicked in the teeth about halfway through by Hurricane Katrina, the subsequent recovery, and the relocation of my collaboration partner. However, I was back in the writing groove, and so I started in on a crime thriller. I made it about halfway through that when I realized I was bored with it, and decided to go with something more fun. I was working in the morgue at the time, and started to wonder what a pathologist would make of wounds caused by a supernatural creature, and how such wounds would be explained away.

And that’s when I started writing Mark of the Demon.

29
Mar
09

tim’s sunday quickie: unpublish(ed/able)

I had a couple of youthful attempts at novels, and four completed books written, before I finished a book that I sold. Here’s the rundown:

1. The Weirdo Zone, which I thought was a novel when I was in fourth grade, upon reflection, is a novelette at best. Oh, well. I was nine, what do you expect? (It had an unfinished sequel, The Time Lords , which is funny, since I never even heard of Doctor Who until years later). Still, it was my first “book,” filling a wide-ruled yellow spiral-bound composition book.

2. The Squad. I wrote probably 50,000 words of this in junior high, and it was, improbably, a war novel. I have no idea what possessed me to do such a thing, but I remember researching (read: looking at encyclopedia articles) about asymmetrical warfare and guerilla fighters (and watching John Wayne WWII movies on TV). It was about a Suicide Squad-esque group of misfits, special forces soldiers with severe mental problems — MPD, psychogenic fugues, schizophrenia, pathological lying, etc. I think I was trying to write a version of the A-Team that consisted entirely of Howling Mad Murdocks.

3. Shannon’s God (1997). The summer after my sophomore year in college I wrote this contemporary fantasy about a college student who starts seeing monsters in her town and falls into a feud between two sorcerers (one of whom has delusions of grandeur and thinks he’s actually God — and he’s the good wizard). Featured an assassin character named Walker who I’m rather fond of, though I pretty much rolled his best characteristics into my character Mr. Zealand, who appears in my Marla Mason books.

4. Raveling (1998). The summer after junior year I wrote this long, multiple-viewpoint novel about the daughters of a crazy god — or, at least, a powerful entity from another universe which may as well be a god. It’s written badly and the plot is a wreck, but I love the characters, and I always think I’ll return to the book sometime and try to salvage it, though it’d take a page-one rewrite, so don’t hold your breath.

5. Infants and Tyrants (1998/99). Written over Christmas break in my senior year, this was a superhero novel, and the villain was a six-month old telekinetic genius (incredible intelligence, but the utter self-centeredness of an infant). His mother, a third-rate superheroine, has to stop him. It’s wacky. The novel took place in the world of my story “Captain Fantasy and the Secret Masters,” but set about fifty years earlier. I decided it’s better as backstory than as a book of its own.

6. The Genius of Deceit (1999). Contemporary fantasy with a basis in Hindu mythology. I wrote it in the fall after my senior year, right after Clarion, mostly to dispel any chance of a post-Clarion writing slump. I think it was reasonably successful, actually. I made a stab at rewriting it as a young adult novel but it didn’t work out so well; too bad, as I still think the plot rocks.

7. Ferocious Dreamers (2000). My first attempt at a novel about Marla Mason. Went completely off the rails about 55,000 words in. Unfinished, never will be finished, but I strip-mined some of the ideas for my book Poison Sleep.

The next year I started writing Rangergirl, which sold, and so far I’ve sold (or still hope to sell) every book I’ve written since. But right up there’s where most of my Million Words of Crap were generated…

29
Mar
09

Margaret’s Sunday Quickie: Abandoned work

There were quite a few novels that I worked on and abandoned before Spiral Hunt sold, but aside from the Old Shame that never saw publication, I’m not sure I can consider any of them a completed work.  They were all useful in their way, and working on them taught me a lot, but none ever reached that polished, finished stage.  Heck, finishing the big clunky space opera taught me that I could finish a full novel and even revise it substantially; I just couldn’t make it readable yet.  A few of the novels that came closest to completion were:

  • Birdland, a short novel involving surrealist art and a different strain of Irish myth, which never quite got its cosmology right
  • Equinox, a novel that was part screwed-up family dynamics and part Other World Intruding On This One
  • The Gate Behind the Eyes, another big space opera with a decent central idea but no real strength in its characters

Given these choices, I’m very glad that Spiral Hunt was the one that clicked for me.  As it is, what’s now interesting me are the short stories I’ve chosen not to revise.  I can produce them, all right, but these days I’m spending less time wrestling with new revisions simply because I don’t have time.  Which means that the stories I do send out are the ones I enjoy more — whether that translates to enjoyment on the reader’s part is just something I have to hope for.

29
Mar
09

Greg’s Sunday Quickie – My Unqualified Success

The first book I wrote was a YA science fiction adventure about kung fu and cryptoxenozoology called Down the River Havoc. It never sold, and I consider it an unqualified success.

Not that it’s a brilliant piece of work. It’s not. The pacing and plot are pretty shaky. And not that I wouldn’t  like to have sold it, because I always hope for an audience and money whenever I write something. But my only real goal for it was completion, to prove to myself that I could make a novel.  So, working on it until I was able to type “The End” means it was an unqualified success.

Like I said, it’s a flawed work, but there are still components of it I like and that I’m proud of, and maybe one day I’ll brush it off and see if another draft or three can turn it into a saleable piece of work. But if not, no worries. Down the River Havoc has already accomplished everything I asked of it.

29
Mar
09

Nora’s Sunday Quickie: The Runup to Publication

After Diana’s very resonant post about the waiting game, I started thinking about waiting on a macro scale — not just the wait after you sell a book, but the wait from the point of becoming a Real Writer, which I tend to define as When You Start Submitting. That brought to mind this old survey from SF author Tobias Buckell about how long the wait is for most writers before they finally sell a book.

According to that survey, I’m in the 11% that wrote three novels first. Continue reading ‘Nora’s Sunday Quickie: The Runup to Publication’

29
Mar
09

Rachel’s Sunday Quickie – monkey business

One of the stories my mother used to tell me was the monkey with the magic banana. See, there’s a hungry monkey in a banana tree, and he knows that somewhere in this tree is a magic banana which, if he eats it, will cure his hunger. So he eats and eats and, on the tenth banana, he suddenly realizes that he’s not hungry any more.

 “Miraculous!” The monkey proclaims, holding the banana peel aloft. “The magic banana has cured my hunger! If only I’d know this was the one, I would have eaten it first and not wasted all those other bananas!”

Ah, parables, putting a finer point on human foibles since the dawn of time.

I wrote one full novel and dozens of half novels before I wrote the one that sold, and I have often grumbled that, if I’d known The Spirit Thief would be the one that made it, I would have written it first and gotten this whole writer gig underway years earlier. But, sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Just as there is no magic banana, there is no magic novel. Unless you are very very good and very very lucky, your first novel will not be the one that makes it. Maybe it’ll be your second, maybe your third, maybe your tenth. Only one thing is certain, whatever novel does make it will only have done so by standing on the shoulders of those that didn’t. Just make sure you’re not too beaten down to recognize the magic banana when it finally does land in your hands.




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