Archive for April, 2009



24
Apr
09

A slight variation from the usual routine

So, I was going to write an entry on gender choice in narrative fiction (i.e. why do we write girls or boys?), but then I realized something. You, you person, reading this on the internet, I don’t know who you are. Do you write books? Do you write at all? Are you a fantasy fan looking to find information on an author? Are you someone who knows one of us and gets forced to read this blog by association? (HI MOM)

So, today I’m going to take a crack at the fourth wall and ask you, dear reader, to introduce yourself. What do you want to see on this blog? Would you like to see more about the daily life of writers? The publishing industry from the inside? Agents? Literary theory and how it relates to fantasy? Writing tips? Internet drama? Lolcats? Winning lotto numbers?

Help us post to the subjects you are most interested in! Now’s your chance (well, every post is really your chance, but you get the idea), tell us what you like!

23
Apr
09

QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue

So I’ve been following QueryFail. (Waits for screams of horror to die down.)

QueryFail, if you haven’t heard of it, is the latest internet storm to break over the industry. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. Basically, a group of literary agents got together on Twitter and decided to offer a free service to aspiring authors: explaining how not to get a literary agent. So they tweeted examples from personal experience — poorly-written cover letters, creepy “gifts” accompanying novel samples, authors who flat-out lied and got caught. (Complete archive here, in multiple formats. If you download the .rtf, remember to read it from the bottom up!) Everything was carefully anonymous; no author identifying info was given, and most of the examples were spoken of in general terms, with the exception of cover letter quotes. (Here are some examples, with analysis, from participating agent Elaine Spencer.) Many authors were amused and pleased by this information, and considered it valuable.

Many more authors… well, went ballistic.
Continue reading ‘QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue’

22
Apr
09

Road trip!

Sorry for the late post — I’ve been traveling today (up at 3:30 AM for an early flight, and then straight from the airport to work, and then on from there…).  And, unfortunately, because of this I haven’t had time to compose something in-depth and interesting for today’s post.

So I’m going to make this a cop-out post and ask a question instead: What kind of travel stories do you like?  By that I mean stories (particularly fantasy, since this seems to be a popular mode for quests) that involve traveling all over an imaginary world as a major part of the plot?  The Lord of the Rings is the obvious one that comes to mind, since a good chunk of it is the story of one long journey.  The Farthest Shore is another good example.  I know there are science fiction examples — colony ships, for example — but right now I’m blanking on them (probably because in order to stay awake, I managed to consume a latte as big as my head, and so have a brain marinated in caffeeeeeine).

Looking at settings that parallel our own, there’s American Gods, which could be called a road novel, though I have trouble thinking of it that way.  The Armageddon Rag has similar elements, particularly when the tour begins.  And for some reason, I always think of The Stress of Her Regard as a voyage across Europe — with stops at all the dangerous, haunted places.  It’s much more than that, but the travel is such an integral part of the story that it stays with me.

So.  Fantasy and science fiction that’s centered on travel?  Rambling quests?  Plot coupons scattered to the four corners of the world?

20
Apr
09

More writing advice, good and bad

The best advice for a writer is this: If you’re having trouble, keep writing.

Plot’s not working? Dialog sounds like a machine translation of raccoon language? Keep writing. Editors sending you nothing but form rejections? Agents don’t bother to respond to your queries? Your critique group is full of jerks, including the guy who gets unsettling stains on your manuscripts? Keep writing.

For all that writing is a state of being, a way of looking at the world and a role that can come to define who you are, before anything else it is the activity of forming words and sentences until they become stories and novels. Without writing, there is no writing. So keep writing.

This even applies to personal problems. There were many times when a hideous day (or month, or year) at the job felt a little better when I could look myself in the eye (using a mirror, as opposed to a prehensile eyestalk) and tell myself that at least I made my word quota. There were times when my world felt like a swirling toilet and creating fiction was one of the things that helped me climb out of the pot. Keep writing.

The worst advice for a writer is this: If you’re having trouble, keep writing.

Yes, I know, the worst advice is exactly the same as the best advice. I never said this wasn’t tricky.

Writing makes some people unhappy. Miserable, even. The joy they get from making stories and any resulting success is outweighed by all the rejection, poor sales, and lack of critical or popular appreciation that is too often our lot.

For many writers, it’s the actual work they’re producing that makes them unhappy. With rare exception, good writing is achieved only through bad writing, be it the proverbial million bad words that precede the first good ones, or (as in my case) the bad words that occur in the middle of the good ones. Is the solution to keep writing? Maybe. But if writing is making you and your friends and loved ones unhappy, then, Jesus, why the hell are you doing it?

You can stop. You can stop for good, or you can stop for awhile. No writing will occur while you’re stopped, and you probably won’t get better while you’re stopped (although it’s been known to happen), but you can stop.

It’s every person’s right to aim for happiness, and if writing is getting in the way of your pursuit, it’s perfectly okay to seriously consider stopping. There are plenty of other worthwhile things to do with a life. Find something else that doesn’t make you miserable and pursue that with all your heart.

— Greg

20
Apr
09

Diana’s Sunday Quickie: Fave reference book

I know, I know, this is totally cheating, but my most useful and favorite reference book is my address book. I’m unspeakably lucky in that I know scads of people in law enforcement, the judiciary, forensics, etc. , and since my books are are paranormal crime thrillers and are set in the “real” world I don’t have much research to do as far as worldbuilding goes. But whenever I’m not certain about a procedural or criminal issue I usually scroll through my address book and either call or text someone who knows the answer.

19
Apr
09

Nora’s Sunday Quickie: Favorite References

As an epic fantasy writer, I’m fascinated by the ways societies develop, rise, and fall, and the ways that people react to all these stages. So my favorite references include The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (I think we’re up to IV now), because it literally catalogs the vast array of psychological types and personality variants that make up the people of any society. Also, I like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, despite some misgivings; it’s still good research, and an interesting analysis of how some societies reach technological/resource dominance, or fall apart from stupid decision-making despite this dominance. By the same token, I’m fond of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn — not only is it the first history text I’ve ever enjoyed reading, but it’s an interesting examination of how perspective skews reality; history truly is written (and heavily revised) by the victors.

This kind of stuff is the epitomy of epic fantasy, IMO; Tolkien’s Mordor was based on the German war machine, after all. So how better to develop fantasy ideas than to examine all the ways in which reality can be interpreted and reinterpreted, individually and on the “big picture” scale?

On a more personal level, I’m fascinated by how people resist oppression within restrictive societies. This means I read a lot of books about and autobiographies of revolutionaries, but also weirder stuff. For example, I like Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden — a nonfiction collection of women’s sexual fantasies, written at the height of the Sexual Revolution (1973). Seriously racy, and controversial even today. But it’s also an interesting examination of what repression does to the human psyche — how people naturally yearn for B when they’ve been taught their whole lives to want A and C.

I ref mythology too, and have read Hamilton’s book and the usual. I’m fond of Richard Cavendish’s Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia because it contains gorgeous color panels of artwork depicting the various pantheons and cosmologies of different cultures. But I’ve made a conscious effort to step beyond the usual Greco-Roman and Northern European mythologies that these books tend to concentrate on. It’s hard to find good scholarly material on other mythologies in English; unfortunately, time and experience have shown that Western scholars often “get it wrong” when summarizing and analyzing non-Western stuff, for various reasons. So when I can, I try to find the myths of other cultures as primary sources, though usually in translated form. Most recently I’ve read The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales, collected by Diane Wolkstein. I also seek out storytellers, even when I can’t understand them; one of my favorite travel experiences was listening to an old Italian storyteller in the common room of a quaint old medieval-looking inn, on a recent trip to Sicily. Had no clue what he was saying, but the way he said it was a work of art in itself. More recently I got to hear a storytelling competition by Navajo children “on the rez” in Chinle, AZ — and man, those kids were fierce. Hope some of them grow up to become writers.

(Why is it that I never manage to do these Quickies quickly??)

19
Apr
09

Greg’s Sunday Quickie – My favorite reference book

Being essentially lazy, my favorite reference source is my blog, where I can throw out any random question and have someone much smarter than I provide the answer in the comments. Failing that, there’s always Wikipedia.

But as for books, I relied on the Eddas for NORSE CODE, both the Younger Edda (or Prose Edda) by the 13th Century Icelandic poet, Snorri Sturluson, and the Elder Edda (or Poetic Edda). The Eddas gave me armor against any readers claiming I got the myths wrong, because even these supposedly official versions can’t agree on how things went down back when the gods were tromping about.

Right now I’m writing what I’m calling my “Los Angeles book,” and I find myself often turning to Los Angeles A to Z: An Encycolpedia of the City and County. Scored it in hardcover for $1.50! It’s great for flipping pages and coming up with ideas for settings. You really can’t come across the entry for the Angel Flight funicular and not want to have a scene set there.

19
Apr
09

Margaret’s Sunday Quickie: Reference

Well, Tim already took the book that immediately came to mind for the question of useful nonfiction: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, though I find an older version much more useful.  The newer ones I found were all abridged — and there is nothing, nothing so frustrating as finding that the fascinating cross-reference you were caught by is one of the entries that got chucked.  The entries often serve as a jumping-off point for story ideas for me; I’ll have to go do in-depth research, but it’s good for sparking that first fragment.  I still love that it’s got several entries on famous frauds.

I’m away from home at the moment, so I can’t do what I usually do for questions like this: go and check my shelves for what I’ve forgotten.  But I do remember that the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology — both volumes — was an excellent source not just for old theories of magic, but for how people interact in this world — the paranoia of hidden knowledge, the vying for status as who was the true possessor of the Secret, and so on. 

And then there’s the Internet as a reference tool, but I’m not sure that it counts as nonfiction.

19
Apr
09

tim’s sunday quickie: indispensable

Today we’re talking about our favorite reference/non-fiction books for doing fantasy research. I have lots of books I adore: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (preferably an old and a new edition, since the older ones have the names of lots more obscure nymphs), Hamilton’s and Bullfinch’s respective Mythologys, Davidson’s Dictionary of Angels (which will make the heads of any devoted Southern Baptists you know explode; those people have a hard time comprehending that in most of the early religious texts “Satan” is a job title for angels, not a specific entity, and that moreover it’s a shitty job handed out by God himself). And of course many books have been useful for more specific research.

But if I had to pick one book and get rid of the others, I’d keep An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs. An exhaustively researched book (with an extensive bibliography), it’s the best survey/overview work I’ve read on the supernatural folklore of Western Europe (and a few migratory places like Appalachia and Australia, where fairy lore traveled and changed). I’ve gotten more story ideas from that book than I can count, and I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in the fey.
-Tim

19
Apr
09

Martial & Literary arts

by Diana

My daughter is about to turn five, and this afternoon we had her birthday party at her karate school. While watching her enjoy herself, I had two thoughts that related to writing. (Actually, three thoughts, but the third was, Good grief, every week I tell myself that I’m going to write my Saturday entry ahead of time, and every week I write it Saturday afternoon. But that’s beside the point.)

The first thought was about the similarities between martial arts and writing:

In both you have people working for years to achieve proficiency, working toward an ultimate goal (black belt/novel sale.)  There’s a slow progression of refinement, where you start out awkward and stilted, and then after much practice and effort everything finally smooths out and it begins to look effortless.

In both you have people who’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency become convinced that they’re ready for the big leagues. In my martial arts school we called it green belt syndrome, i.e. when someone had been training for about a year and was ready to pick a fight with anyone. I think the equivalent would be the nanowrimo finisher who KNOWS that their novel is Fabulous and sends it out to agents/editors immediately.

In both you eventually realize that the ultimate goal (black belt/novel) isn’t as ultimate as you thought it was once you reach it.

In both you get to hang around in your pajamas a lot.  Oh, wait…

My second thought was about the similarities between writers and five-year-olds.

I’ll leave that one as an exercise for the reader.