Archive for March, 2009


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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’


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.


Waiting games

I’ve realized that in order to survive as a writer, you have to have one very essential skill. No, I’m not talking about grammar, or the ability to craft beautiful prose, or a keen grasp of plot dynamics.

I’m talking about patience.  Holy crap, but you have to have absolute bucketloads of patience in this biz! First there’s the patience when you start querying agents. Then there’s the agonizing wait after one of them nibbles and asks for a partial. And if they then request the full manuscript, dearest gods above and below, but the seconds drag like eons while you anxiously await the verdict.

But then you achieve that next step! An agent calls and offers to represent you! Hurrah, no more of that agonizing waiting!

Err…  Except that now you get to experience the joy of being “on submission,” and you have to ramp up the patience one more time as you wait to hear back from editors who have your manuscript. Some people are lucky enough to hear good news in just a few weeks, while others languish for months and months… (and some folks, even with an agent sending the book out, never do get a yes, but we’re going to try and stay a bit more positive here!)

Then you get The Call from your agent. Yay! Your book sold!  Now all you have to do is wait for your book to come out, right?


If only it were so simple.  No, then you get to wait for your editor to send you a revision letter, because even though they loved the book enough to offer you money for it, they have puh-lenty of “suggestions” for ways it can be made better.

After revisions there are some smaller waits, such as waiting for the copyedits, and the page proofs, but those are somewhat minor waits, because it’s not like you’re waiting on someone to give their opinion.

And that’s what so hard about so much of the waiting in this game–you’re not just waiting for something to happen. You’re waiting for someone to give their opinion of something you’ve labored for months or perhaps years on. Each one of those “Will they love it?” waits is a time for massive nail-biting/comfort eating/endorphin-producing-activity of your choice.

Right now I’m going through another one of those agonizing “Will they love it?” waits: reviews. Holy crap, but I think this is the hardest one so far! The advance copies were sent out long enough ago that I know the recipients have had several whole days–at least–to read their copy. Days! Several! So why haven’t they written their reviews yet? Why can’t they read–and write–faster??  What’s wrong with these people? *sob*


The next wait will be the wait to see the sales figures. I’m not sure I’m going to last through that one.



It is an amazing time to read fantasy

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an awful nerd who plays World of Warcraft. It is, in fact, the #1 way I interact with people I don’t know. Spending several hours in a voip server with 25 people you don’t know very well can be a harrowing experience, especially if things are going badly and there’s a lot of downtime while we wait for the main tank to get back from his 25th cigarette break. This is time I like to fill by recommending books.

See, I think that the number one reason people don’t read isn’t that they don’t like to. Most people like books just like they like any story medium, they’re just used to thinking of reading as a pleasure activity, and there’s very little out there in the way of book advertising. Book reviews are generally in newspapers and tend to favor literary, “good for you” books. Genre review websites are generally aimed at people who already like reading for pleasure and are looking for something new. However, there’s not much for people who are nerds, but just don’t know there’s fantasy out there besides Dragonlance and LotR. This last category especially applies to WoW players.

So, as someone who plays WoW and thinks books are awesome, I take it upon myself to spread the word. I tell people about awesome books I’ve read, and why they’re awesome. Generally speaking it works out well, and I actually get tells from people asking me for more book recommendations. The other day, however, I encountered something that sent me into furious nerd rage. I was in a raid that had stalled out, (imagine 20 bored people between 18 and 35 sitting at the computers with nothing to do, chatting over on screen text and via headsets), and I was passing the time by talking about Tim’s Marla Mason series (gotta give a shout out to mah peeps!) which I’ve been reading and loving. People were interested, as they usually are, and then this total ass (who’d been an ass all night, but that’s another story) opened his mouth.

“Fantasy is boring,” he said. “It’s all stereotypical dragons and elves.”

Needless to say, I couldn’t let that slide. Someone was wrong on the internet. But, as I laid out all the dozens of amazing, interesting books that did not fit his blanket statement but couldn’t be classified as anything other than fantasy, I realized something I hadn’t really thought about before.

It is an amazing time to read fantasy (or spec fic, or scifi, everything really!). Gone are the days of fantasy novels being the sole purview of the nerd in the corner. Thanks to videogames and other popular media that openly embrace fantastical elements, fantasy is cool again (maybe for the first time?). But even better than mainstream acceptance of the genre are the amazing stories coming out of fantasy authors. I mean, we’ve got Neal Gaiman, Ellen Kushner, Sharon Shinn, Naomi Novik, Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville, Sarah Monette. We’ve got Harry fricken Potter. We’ve got the whole New Weird movement, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, we’ve got subgenres we can’t even categorize. I walk into a bookstore (or, more likely, cruise over to Amazon) and I am literally stunned in place by the amazing variety of fantasy I can read. Sure there’s stuff I don’t care for, but the point is that there is just so much awesome out there, so many amazing, interesting, unique, inventive books, it’s almost impossible not to find something that grabs you.

In the end, I managed to convince the asshole to give Jeff Vandermeer’s Veniss Underground a try, since he said he liked Bioshock. I’ll probably never know if he read it, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that somewhere in the wide world are 20 people who now know there are awesome things happening in the genre. The good word is spread a little further, and that’s good enough for me.

So, in the spirit of the post, what are you reading? Give me more books to be excited about!


The God Tangent

I’m a Battlestar Galactica fan. I like the original recipe version — hey, what’s wrong with cheese? — but I love the reimagined version. So as you might imagine, I and friends have spent the past few days reacting to BSG’s stunning series finale. In particular we’ve been reacting to the explanation of some of the show’s greatest mysteries as the biggest deus ex machina I’ve seen since Medea.

I’m not going to say more about BSG for fear of spoiling things for those who haven’t seen it. But I’ve been noodling something in the wake of those discussions, which is whether there’s a difference between fantasydom and SFdom on the subject of religion.
Continue reading ‘The God Tangent’