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How to write fast

No, I haven’t been able to retcon Elfblood so I can go on — life continues being life.  For various reasons, I woke up at nine thirty today,  (only half hour ago.  I’m two hours behind most of you) so I’m going to do a post Laura M. requested.  She asked if there was some way to write faster.  There are some mental tricks.  I’m going to give them below, with the caveat that sometimes nothing will work, though I’ve never before been stopped for a year and a half.  In this case it’s a combination of illnesses/life events (Kris Rusch and Dean Smith call them Life Rolls) and a book that is in itself very difficult.

So, here, more or less in order are the mental tricks to write fast while writing well:

 

1: BELIEVE YOU CAN.

This is the absolutely most important one.  And it is difficult because all of us have heard/internalized things about how slow writers are the best.  How many times have you heard the equivalent of “So and so took ten years to write this book” said in a reverential tone?  Right.

It is possible that once upon a time (no, really) there was some inverse relation between speed and quality.  Not, I think in the writing process itself, but in the revision.

Look, a hundred years ago most writers still wrote by hand, with a few of them writing by typewriter.  (I think.  I know my grandfather’s circle wrote mostly by hand because he told me I’d never be published.  No publisher could read my hand.  One of his cronies, who was a well known name in Portuguese literature dictated to his wife for that reasons.)  Certainly a hundred and fifty years ago, when our literary culture was being formed, writing took place by means of dipping pen and applying to paper.

For those of you who haven’t done that, ever, the process is inherently messy and difficult and sets its own pace, lest you drop a blot that obliterates most of a paragraph (did that often.)

In such circumstances — or even with typewriters, which are a slower and more messy process than people who haven’t used them imagine — it took much longer to write each sentence.

The problem with this is that, in normal narrative flow at normal brain speed, by the time you’re done writing a sentence with either quill, pen or manual typewriter, you forgot what the next one would be.  So you have to bring it up again, then write it.

This both ensures a far choppier prose in the first draft, and training yourself to think in words very slowly.

Then there’s revision, which — trust me, having written stories both these ways — is far more needed in this method.  Changed that character’s name because you realized it’s an unfortunate pun?  You now have to fair-copy most of your manuscript, because each of those pages is now out of place.  Btw, typewriting didn’t help with this.

Also when you were done with the whole thing, you needed a lot more distance from it.  A LOT MORE DISTANCE — like ten years — because you were so sick and tired of re-copying it.

Look, that might look like a simple change in tools, but it’s actually a difference in how to tell a story, period.  Compared to that, any fast typist now can be almost like a neural download, pouring out words as fast as you can think it.  And if you can’t think faster than a quill or a manual typewriter, seek help.

Also, the first two revisions (for names and details like that) can be done on the computer and are much faster.  (I find the kindle fire is better, though.)  For the final revision, though, I advise printing the dang thing out.

So get rid of that “I must write slow to write well.”  Unless you’re writing with a quill pen or — even — a manual typewriter.

2- This seems trivial, but is related to that change in instruments.  If you’re a slow typist, become a fast one.  Your story telling ability flies MUCH faster than 20 words per minute, or even 40.  If you aren’t a touch typist, find a course with your community college and take it.  If you are, there are games on line to increase your speed.  Consider those.  I haven’t clocked myself recently but I type almost as fast as my husband reads.  In my case, I did it the old fashioned way — I couldn’t afford a typing course (newly married) and there were no games or net.  So I got Dan’s old highschool typing manual and followed the exercises scrupulously for three months.  When I was done I touch-typed 60 words per minute.  Practice did the rest.  If you can’t do this for whatever reason (eventually arthritis will stop me) try Dragon.  It’s come on a lot and even understands my accent.

3- DO NOT revise while you write.  In fact, make that something that happens in a separate part of the house, if you can.  Also, when you leave off somewhere make yourself a note about where you are in the story and what comes next.  DO NOT read back on the novel.  Otherwise, if the novels is halfway through or more, you’ll only do that all day.  Just go on.  Takes a while to get used to, but can be done.

4- Remember it can all be changed in post.  Yes, if you follow 3 there will be inconsistencies.  That’s why three passes, to catch it all.  Take a deep breath and just assume you’ll change it in revision.  (The same is true for minor failures to foreshadow, etc.)

5- Shut up and write.  Yes, this means turning off the internet on your writing computer.  Yes, I’m working on taking my own medicine, by setting up the blogging and other social stuff on the treadmill “desk” (board affixed on the handles) downstairs.  I’m way more productive without internet.

There might be more things you can do, but these are the most important ones.  Now go write.

Uncorking the Genie

We’re all familiar with writer’s block, even those of us who aren’t writers. What, you never dreaded a school paper just because you didn’t know what to say? At least with a research paper, or a book report, there’s a kernel of… something there. With fiction it’s both easier and harder. Easier because, as you rightly point out, we’re just making it all up. Harder because fiction, unlike real life, must make a modicum of sense and follow a narrative path (even if said path doubles back on itself a few times. But woe betide the writer who loses his Reader in the deep dark woods far from home. The Reader may close up the book in fright, having lost the path entirely, and worse, they may never choose you, Author, as their guide again).

With all this in mind, is it any wonder we have times where we stare at the blank screen/paper and wonder just where our fickle muse got off to? Surely that mental genie is having more fun than we are, stuck here staring at the incessant blinking cursor. For me, being a professional means I need to have a measurable, predictable output when I sit down to write. But it’s not always possible. Sometimes to pull that cork, I have to build up a head of steam and pop it out by pressure, first. Like yesterday. We drove for about six hours, down into Kentucky and back, and spent about six hours visiting while we were down there. Tiring day, but as my Evil Muse pointed out, the next time I complain about being blocked, he’s going to pick up the car keys and herd me to it for a long drive to nowhere. We talk, in the car, and often enough we talk about writing. Sometimes he’ll give me the idea that crystallizes everything that has been floating nebulously around in my head and boom… it all comes out of solution into a beautiful structure.

For those times that hours in the car are just not practical, other solutions I have found include standing in the shower (there’s something about being places where you CANNOT write, and suddenly you need to write), doing dishes, walking the dog… Others have reported good results from similar activities.

However, for consistent daily results, keep in mind that writing is mental exercise. Just like building muscle and burning fat, you can’t just sit down one day, put in a huge burst of effort, and expect that to do all the work and you don’t have to go to the gym again this year. Small daily exercises will yield far more effective results in the long term. It feels uncomfortable and awkward at first, to make yourself write. You may doubt that what you are writing is worth keeping. I will be honest, in the long run you might not keep that work. But in the beginning, you aren’t allowed to doubt it. Keep writing, and when you come to the end of the tale, then and only then may you go back and see what you have wrought.

I’ve seen far too many people get hung up there, on the rocks and shoals of doubt. With the beginning of a story, they suddenly doubt if it’s right. Or they are uncomfortable with what they are writing. Readers may not know this, but writers are insecure, shallow creatures. This is why we crave and cling onto reviews, even long after our efforts on that particular book have ceased. However, if you the Author never finish that story, you’ll never know whether you got it right, or not.

I rarely give writing advice. When I do, it consists of a few simple things, but they all center around this. Write. Just write. if your muse is being recalcitrant, you can either pop the cork out by thinking about the story until it comes to life in your head and you wind up dictating it all in a rush as it is told to you, or you can force the cork out slowly by writing a little every day. Like exercise, that’s a slower process. But it will pay off in the long run, as you build up the mental muscles until when a sudden need says ‘I need a story/blog post/paper in an hour.. Go!” you’ll be able to do it almost effortlessly. And while a 10K word day will be a physical ache, after, it will also be a thrill like standing on top of a mountain looking down and remembering the day you could barely make it across a parking lot.

 

Calling a Spade

My apologies for my tardiness. The kitchen is a pit. I expect to need fire to cleanse it properly. Maybe napalm, though I’ll have to find a recipe for that. But at least we skinned the bastard. And the cheesecake was pretty good. I think the goat cheese made it a little more dense than I would have liked. And next time I’ll alter the spice levels. I mean, I like spices as much as the next guy, but it should really be in support of the primary flavors, to open them up. Not to take a bite and thing, “wow, spices.” Neither of which will prevent me from sucking down the rest of it. It will be my privilege.

The morning was our big gathering, of sorts. Family is all points west of us, and travel is scheduled for the new year, so Mrs. Dave and I pursued her family’s tradition of a Thanksgiving morning brunch and invited over several of her coworkers. We’ve done this a few times, and each time has been fairly successful. This time was … more stressful than the rest. It took me a comical amount of time to realize that my sous chef (the lovely and redoubtable Mrs. Dave) was occupied with occupying the Pint-sized Tyrant, Wee Dave. And thus slowing the cooking process down. Turns out they’re not just like pets. Who knew?

Regardless, the morning went well, several people were fed, Wee Dave discovered that Newfoundlands have a taste, and Jack tolerated the bizarre, squirmy, bald puppy that was inexplicably higher in the pack order than he was. The upshot was that I was pretty sure I was done cooking for the day (Lizard Brain craved bourbon and video games, at least) before even pulling the Bird out of the brine. Polling Mrs. Dave, I discovered that she felt much the same way. As it was just the two of us once Wee Dave made his exhaustion known and was retired to his lair, I made an executive decision.

I did roast the turkey, the skin was crispy and brown (butter over the skin, butter under the skin, butter in the cavity) and the breast meat moist without being salty. I plattered the sucker, and we went to town right there in the kitchen. His skin came off, then the knives came out. It was one of those moments you envision as a child, assuming adults get to have ALL THE FUN after you go to bed, and when you grow up and have children of your own, you find out that mostly what Mommy and Daddy do after you go to bed is clean up from the havoc of the day. Well, we had one of those moments where being an adult is as awesome as a child thinks. Then there was more cheesecake.

Which brings me to what this post is actually about: specificity of language, as the title should suggest. As there was very little stupidity in evidence on the internet at large (barring much of the atrocious behavior in Ferguson, and atrocious commentary thereon) I’m left without low hanging fruit to pick, and must therefore actually discuss writing. Tragic, I know, but I shall soldier on somehow.

As writers, we attempt to create and convey entire worlds to people we’ve never met. People who aren’t friends and family with decades of experience dealing with our personal quirks of language. Frankly, that we manage it at all is a source of wonder to me. That normal people manage it from day to day enough to survive is astonishing in the extreme.

Many disagreements arise from poor word choice (and also tone of voice and other nonverbal cues, but text makes that harder, and it deserves its own post, so go with it for now) in the day-to-day Brownian interaction of human on human. Poor word choice in a written work ensures that an editor never sees it (that cut is left to the poor, oppressed, slush-reading, unpaid intern. or worse, an agent) or – for those of us reveling in the freedom of indie – that a potential reader is turned off our work, and (horror of horrors) chooses not to make some of their hard-earned money into some of our hard-earned money.

This is a thing to be avoided under any circumstances.

And so, learning to call a spade a spade is important. More important for us, the stealers of worlds, is learning why a shovel is not necessarily a spade. One does not shovel coal with a spade, nor snow. Steam is not involved – generally, unless one is a retro-futurist on a chrono-temporal jaunt – nor diesel.

In any case, once you’ve called a spade (“hey, spade!” “I’m not a spade; I’m a shovel, you toolist.”) acquire the services of a truly good editor, since you’ve certainly certainly replaced the wrong word with a bodily function somewhere. And that’s just messy.

The Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

Okay, I know not everyone who reads here is American, but I live in the country, and I’ve decided that I like the idea of a national holiday dedicated (at least in theory) to giving thanks. To looking at the many things that are good in our lives and being grateful for them.

Of course, with all the accumulation of other bits and pieces it’s necessary to peel back quite a few layers to get to the core of Thanksgiving, which is precisely that. Yes, it’s a glorified harvest festival, and yes, this year said harvest festival for me will be happening under who knows how much snow (I scraped two inches off the car before I left work, and shoveled close to that much off the drive when I got home. I don’t know how much has fallen since).

I still have plenty to be thankful for.

I’m finally emerging from what I think has been several years worth of burnout-induced depression. This means I’m actually doing more than the bare minimum necessary to keep the house together, and other things are starting to reawaken as well. The fact that it’s taken nearly 2 years in a different job says how bad the last one was. Hell, yes, I’m thankful for that.

The community here and over at According to Hoyt is wonderful, and has given me lots of fun and interesting discussions. I’m thankful you all seem to think I’m worth paying attention to. It helps to keep me going through some of the bad times.

The Husband (at risk of exploding sap-ometers across the planet) has always been a rock-solid support for me.

I’m thankful I’ve had twenty good years with Her Royal Fluffiness, and even though it’s going to be hard as hell to say goodbye when the cancer wins, it’s not going to outweigh the joy she’s brought in the time she’s been with me. From the itty-bitty kitten who could sit on the palm of my hand to the elderly lady everyone at the vet clinic adores, she’s had a good life, and her last few months involve being spoiled rotten so she can enjoy them as much as possible.

I’m thankful for the growth of independent publishing that’s breaking the stranglehold trad publishing had in the past. Thankful too that there are people who are willing to speak the non-PC truths and have their reputations shredded. I don’t exactly have a reputation, so it’s not that big a deal for me, but some of the folks who’ve been speaking up can be hurt by the kind of demonization (I am not going to ask why the spell-checker thinks this should be “demonetization”) that seems to go along with questioning the PC and glitter.

What are you thankful for?

The Novel Was THIS BIG — How to write a novel workshop — 6

There are entire books devoted to writing a “big” novel, including books with names like “How to write a blockbuster novel.”

This is not one of those books in post form.

Why is it not?

Because those books, by and large, were designed to write a novel that NYC publishers would recognize as big and promote. This is not something that matters much now. For one because unless you hit a very narrow field of their current obsessions, or unless you happen to be sleping with one of them, it’s unlikely to do you much good.

Those books would go on about how to hit matters of world-shattering concern, besides the normal problems of the characters, etc. If possible, they wanted you to put in… well, some form of activism or an important world figure. So, for instance, in the second book in the Shakespeare biography, my then agent forced me to have Queen Elizabeth I show up. I just told him to take a hike when he suggested she be a voice character. (Queens aren’t interesting, unless the story is about, you know, the signing of edicts and such.)

I always found it very artificial that historical books had to have these “socially relevant talk D*MN REGENCY ROMANCE featuring either a suffragette or a woman who ran an abused women shelter? Because, yeah. It’s not at the point of hitting the wall, yet, if the rest of the book is interesting, but it’s annoying as heck.

And it’s because that’s one way to get the publishers to target it for a lot of distribution. It’s “Serious” and about “big issues.”

If you want to break into that type of market, figure out what the talking heads are making much about and go for it. I wish you luck.

There are two other meanings to a big story. The first one is not synonymous with “long” but it almost for sure ends up meaning “long.” – that is a novel that ends up with lots of subplots. I accidentally did this with Witchfinder, when it exploded into a four-heads (or six?) novel with various settings. It wasn’t meant to be that way, and it made the novel very long.

Two things: this type of big book is better because it allows you to bring in a complexity of views and a more complete understanding of your world (this is particularly good in speculative fiction.) OTOH it is bad, unless you can tightly control the theme and the multiple stories, so they converge/touch at certain points and follow a central problem/disruption. Otherwise what you have is a salad, not a book.

On the other hand, you can have a big book even if you have a SHORT book and/or it is first person or third person following a single character. Here in no particular order are the things that make a book “big” as opposed to small.

 

 

A big book is thoroughly imagined

  • This means that you don’t move your characters through a blank landscape
  • Your secondary characters aren’t chess pieces, and how they are affected means something for the main character, too. And sometimes it can alter the story.
  • Your character doesn’t get so concentrated on the main problem that he’s two dimensional. Yes, in the middle of apocalyptic events, people still need to eat, sleep and (if they’re lucky) bathe.

A big book doesn’t putty over the weak spots.

  • Or at least not all of them.
  • Every book has weak spots, places where you need something to happen that is maybe the fourth most likely thing, or something that’s out of character, or… A big book spends time making it more likely and goes back and foreshadows the d*mn thing, instead of dropping it, elephant-like from the ceiling.
  • A big book makes the most of the tension, instead of veering away from it, because you’re sorry for your character.
  • A big book goes there. Yes, that scary thing, that bloody scene, that part where the character unwinds/is sick/wounded? A big book goes there.

A big book has richness of setting or characters.

– Unless that is the point of the story, make sure not all your characters are one thing, be they space captains or waitresses

– Unless that is the point of your story, make sure not all your settings are the same type. Not all classrooms, not all public parks, not all diners (ah!), not all public transportation. IF your characters had the last big fight in the bedroom, take them out to the ice-cream parlor for the next one.

– Remember that you don’t have to pay for special effects. If you’re writing about magic or space battles, give as rich a description as you can. I’ve found, over time, that people like that (heaven knows why, but they do. Apparently they pay you to imagine that stuff for them, not being able/willing to imagine it themselves.)

 

Now go consider embigenning your novel.

Next week The Perils of multiple POVs or How to Braid a Plot.

Disclaimer: I don’t know if big novels do better with the public.  No one does.  All I can tell you is that they SEEM to.

On worldbuilding, sequels and keeping it all straight

As I was trying to figure out what to write about today, I came across this article. It’s a fairly good short — note the short — description of some of the problems writers fall into when sticking to worldbuilding tropes. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them but, as with anything, if you rely on tropes too much, your run the risk of turning your work into something much too predictable to maintain steam.

But what the article really started me thinking about is how you maintain an overall story arc — and keeping your characters in, well, character — over the course of several books or a lengthy series. It is a problem you see in books, movies, TV shows and even gaming. You want your characters to grow. You want to have them suffer as well as have joy. But, if you want to keep your readers happy and not have them throwing the book — or game or whatever — across the room, you can’t have them acting one way in one installment and then turn them into something completely different in another. Or, if you do, you have to have a pretty darned good reason for doing it.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, your readers expect your character to react in a certain way unless there are new outside factors impacting his decision making. For instance, even though it was very early in the series, we already knew in Honor of the Queen, that Honor Harrington was a competent and extremely talented officer. Because of how she was raised, from the philosophy and example set by her parents, as well as the society she grew up in, she did not understand or “get” a society that believed women were not just as competent and capable as men. So, when she was given the assignment to transport Manticore’s representatives to meet with Protector Benjamin Mayhew on Grayson, we as readers expected her to be her usual, competent and often brilliant self. However, because of some of her own insecurities, it didn’t surprise us when she took her ship away from Grayson, leaving another ship, one with a male commander (iirc) there.

What would have surprised me is if Honor had pushed herself and her abilities at the Protector and the rest of the planet from the very beginning. That wasn’t the Honor we knew. She was still young and still had personal demons she was fighting, demons that often undermined her self-confidence everywhere but in battle. She would see her initial withdrawal as making it easier for Manticore’s reps to do their duty on Grayson. The events that played out helped force her to deal with the fact that she couldn’t let those insecurities impact her decisions as an officer and did, in my opinion, help push her down the road into healing and moving past what had happened so long ago.

Now if, instead of having Honor withdraw from the planet when she saw how her presence was impacting the Grayson media and more hidebound members, Weber had her force the issue and throw the fact she was female and every bit as capable as a man in the faces of the patriarchal society that Grayson was, it would not have been in character and the book would have gone against the wall. There had to be a trigger to push Honor into stepping away from her shyness and from her doubts. She needed something to make her take an in-your-face approach to the Protector. That trigger was an attack on the planet that led to the death of her beloved mentor. Now she had a personal stake and she was, by God, going to do her duty not only to her Queen but to their prospective allies as well.

That was the Honor we had come to know in the previous two books and it is an Honor who has grown and matured over the course of the rest of the series.

Unfortunately, that sort of growth and consistency isn’t always present. Sometimes it happens when an author — for whatever reason — takes a series and warps it from one genre to another. One example of this is what Laurell K. Hamilton did with the Anita Black series. When the series began, it was firmly in the realm of urban fantasy. The story revolved around Anita Blake and her work dealing with rogue vampires. She was basically a bounty hunter with a license to kill vamps that didn’t follow the rules. In other words, it was a modified police procedural/mystery.

After half a dozen or so books in the series, it went to paranormal romance and then to what can only be called erotica. Why? Because the plot no longer centered on Anita’s work but on her sex life. She went from being a human who was also a necromancer to being basically a necromancer and a succubus and a were leader and mistress of a vampire and who knows what else. To me, and to a lot of other readers, Anita had been broken and the books no longer held the “must read” tag they once had. Friends who did stick with the series have said that Hamilton has gone back to something more akin to the early books but I’ve not returned to the series. Hamilton broke trust with me when she made a major change in Anita’s character without adequate explanation or reason other than someone thought it would sell more books.

In gaming, I have seen this at work as well. The latest example is in the Borderlands series. Borderlands and Borderlands 2 are fun games. While the plot is thin in Borderlands, nothing all that new to gaming, it is more apparent in B2. There is a consistency in characters, characterization of classes and in lore between the two games. B2 very clearly built upon the legacy of Borderlands and expanded upon it.

Not long ago, the game developers released what they have called a “pre-sequel” in the series. Appropriately titled “Borderlands – the Pre Sequel”, it falls chronologically between Borderlands and B2. Which it had to since one of the main characters, even if a non-playable character, was killed at the end of B2. My problem is that it takes characters we’ve known from the other two games as basically the good guys and makes them not so good. They set up and then betray Jack. That, in turn, leads to him becoming the evil madman who is the bad guy in B2. So here you have the villain you killed in B2 acting as basically the hero, albeit a slightly unhinged one from the very beginning of the game. The good guys from Borderlands are now basically the bad guys and they are responsible for what happens in B2 — something that you aren’t given any clue of in B2.

But it is the hanging threads from the pre-sequel that bother me, especially when I think about those who might play the games for the first time in chronological order. The pre-sequel takes characters and classes from the first game and use one of them — I’m trying not to give too many spoilers here. Sorry — to warn of problems to come. The only problem is, none of those problems are shown in B2. So, as far as I’m concerned, Gearbox and Gearbox Australia have dropped the ball and they need to get Borderlands 3 out soon.

In this case, they broke the timeline, another problem you can find yourself faced with in writing series. So, keep your notes about your characters and timeline and all the details that can trip you up close at hand. You might not think it important if you vary from the world you’ve built but your readers will. More than that, they will remember and their good will only lasts so long.

Life, e-publishing and the universe in general

It’s an interesting week for me in the Chinese curse sense of interesting, with Barbs hurting her back, but that turned out not to be her back but her pelvis being out of alignment and is recovering much faster than we expected. It’s one of the features with being self-employed… not only do you hate your boss, but you also hate that lazy scumbag employee who keeps taking time off for trivia like real life or dying or something unimportant. Honestly who does this self-peon think he is? And then that hoity-toity La Duchesse the naughty-torty going AWOL did not help. Remind me again why mankind voluntarily enslaved itself to capricious creatures like cats? I won’t talk about my little boat trip today, except to say it was hairy, and I am sore. Man-aleen in the teeth of a storm was… exciting. and not in a good way.

Anyway I thought I’d offer this for discussion this week

For the record I think there a few features Mark Coker does not address – one being that Smashwords Word-to-epub is… adequate. Barely. And Smashwords epub direct upload (if you do a much better job yourself) is just awful. It’s less friendly than CreateSpace, which is not friendly or cuddly. None of these impossible or even that difficult, but it isn’t a comfortable area to venture into for the first time, when you, like know nothing. I’ve managed to stay that way, keeping my innocent purity of mind, thus.

The other issue someone brought up is that there is a conflict with linking your books back to Smashwords. I like my Amazon books, to my Amazon books. That’s something that ought to be easy to address, and worth a lot to authors.

I can only comment on the ‘growth’ in Scribd and Oyster on my own experience – which is yes growth from 0 to one sale is a magnificent 100% increase, and near to worthless.

I think the picture is more complex than it is made out to be here – not that I don’t think he gives some good advice, but I believe the industry is still on shaky ground, changing and adapting. Yes, some of the easy victories are past. Yes, some of the sheer volume is proving hard to sell. Yes, some people will drop out.
Part of the sheer volume problem is quite simply that writers who had a backlog put it all up. That will slow down, firstly because they have to write new books, and secondly because some of it will flop so badly that they will have no inclination to persevere.

The other factor that I don’t think Mark dealt with adequately is target audiences (he did talk about experimenting). Writers – myself included – are often imitative of styles and tropes that they either like or believe will succeed. And readers too come associate certain genres with specific expectations. In SF particularly, but fantasy too, the writing has become hackneyed and very PC. Look no further than the last Hugo winner for a good example of both, to be blunt. Hackneyed isn’t a problem IF that is actually what the audience wants. Most Romance story lines fit that. So what? Readers WANT that. But if your sales are dropping year on year (as sf and to lesser extent fantasy have been) then maybe you’re doing it wrong. And this I suspect is the problem with a lot of the sf/fantasy being produced – they follow the style and trope of recent trad parts of the genre… which people don’t want to read. It gives the genre a bad name. Meanwhile some areas that are badly under-served have been discovered and are doing quite well.

I also think the sad real state of the economy can’t be helping. But that’s another lie – like the sf ‘originality’ (I was told there was a whine by some author on ABC about how all this ‘derivative’ sf was suddenly popular, which meant that the layered ‘meaningful’ books were out of fashion. I laughed a lot.). When people are down, they like encouraging books, and when they’re battling e-books are cheaper (and if someone is battling that much that an e-book is too much, at least there are lots of free and lots of second hand books).

And talking of cheerful, feel good reads – JOY COMETH WITH THE MOURNING should be available as an e-book on Thanksgiving. I am scrounging Amazon reviews when you’ve done – seeing as it is a charitable effort, aimed principally at helping out some older folk, it would be kind to not say too much that is nasty.

Weaseling Out

Yep, this post is a total weasel out.  I find that I REALLY need to work on my for-pay books, and so I’m being bad.

So I’m going to throw out half a dozen ideas for discussion, things I’ve been wondering about myself, and maybe the discussion will generate future posts:

1- How many of you feel the need of an additional, non-verbal creative procedure?  I found my time taking art classes were my most productive writing years, as well.  It’s like switching the creativity to different sets of neurons can nudge me out of the dull spot in my story.  (I think Tedd Roberts, aka, Speaker to Lab Animals would have something to say to that.)  What about you?  (And the reason I’m not taking art classes now?  They doubled in price and I feel guilty.  Starting to think they might be worth it, though.)

2- Since I can’t have the next Witchfinder book out for at least two months, it’s working out to a once a year schedule, which I know is bad for indie.  Should I do novellas in between to keep it going?

3- While on that, do many of you find yourself enjoying short novels/novellas — around 30k words — as much as “real novels”?  Because they’re faster reads, and of course, easy to market on kindle.

4 – Does anyone have any suggestions, short of moving (we’re working on that) to stop the cycle of colds/illness (I presume I’m allergic to something in this house) because I have a cold again, and I’m afraid violent coughing will injure the injured eye?

5- Cats, threat or menace?  My older kid can’t spend an evening away with friends without our having two cats lamenting outside our door till all hours.  It’s been too long since I’ve had dogs.  Do they behave like this too?  And what do I do if the kid — as he intends — moves away for graduate school next year?

6 – What are you doing for thanksgiving and how do you tell family what you’re trying to do for a living?  And what are the reactions?  I remember my years as an unpublished writer and having people tell me (I swear.  Verbatim) “So, if you’re not published, that means you’re not a writer, just a housewife.”  What is the mark of being a “real writer.”  (I’ve since settled on “Spend most of the time working on my craft” but I don’t think my younger self would buy it.)

And now forgive me this weaseling out.  I PROMISE to return to Elf Blood as well as all the rest.  This month has been a Catastrophe of the Week club meet, and this too shall pass.

The Luddites are Winning

I came across an interesting article earlier that sparked my thinking. It seems that the President of the European Commission usually has a chief scientific advisor. The role of this office is to advise on any topic having to do with science and technology. However, bowing to pressure from groups like Greenpeace, the EC has done away with the position entirely. The reasoning behind this? The former advisor spoke in support of data, versus emotion, when it came to genetic modification.

What is our scientific world coming to? Climate change debates rage on, over whether the science of it is settled, and how much should be dictated by sociopolitical expediency. Does climate change? You bet your booties. Do humans influence that change…. Ah, now there’s where the wicket gets sticky. But when it is ‘cool to be green’ and certain lobbies get huge government monies for their research or alternative energy plans (dare I say Solyndra?) then yes, of course humans must be to blame. Sadly, with massive computer programs needed to predict what the climate might do, it’s all about the data that is fed in, and how it is massaged to get the results. As time goes on, it’s clearer and clearer that those results are pretty much what the lobby that paid for them wanted to hear. And the global economic impact is stunning.

And the scientists? They are doing what they have to do survive. Publish or perish. You can’t publish on certain topics unless you have the ‘right’ credentials, I’m told by a classmate who is studying geology. And that brings me to the next thing. The invisible thing. Which actually has to do with why the EC no longer has a scientific advisor. It’s about the children. No, not for the children. Rather, it has to do with the little things, the words, which we never see and think about, but which subtly alter the perceptions of the very young until they don’t ever think to object when they hear them. Science is bad, they learn. Technology is to be feared. Then they grow up and join Greenpeace and PETA and…

I can remember the first time someone told me that water was an endangered resource. I was more than a bit boggled. Water doesn’t just vanish. That would violate the law of conservation of matter, which I already knew about. Now, as an adult I can say, well, maybe water could be broken down into the component atomic elements of hydrogen and oxygen, but I also know a lot more about the energy involved in that decomposition, too. So… water? Just vanishes? No. But this is what children are taught, and they never think to question it, because it’s something they’ve always been told.

Like my college Spanish class, where we are learning all about el medio ambiente, and !el peligro! Our world is in. Most of the students in class don’t even question it. Of course all factories pollute, except the one that is handily labeled la energia de sol, and has no smoke emissions, unlike the other sort of factory. Of course recycling will solve all the ills of the world. Don’t ask questions, just do what you are told.

The Green Revolution not only goes untaught in schools, but genetically modifying plants to use less fertilizer, less pesticides; that is demonized at the same time the use of fertilizer and pesticides is decried. How many people do they want to starve to death to get their way? I remember the horror I felt, just a short time ago, as a professor casually mentioned that perhaps the millions of deaths every year due to easily treatable parasite loads (specifically to worms, like Ascaris) was how the world keeps from being overpopulated. And yet… we don’t need to die of starvation, nor does anyone outside our prosperous little bubble. But the accepted answer is that GMO isn’t safe, and mustn’t be allowed. With technology a better life is possible, has already been improving for well over a century, but I still see people who claim much education espousing that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is so much healthier, body and soul. The myth of the noble savage is perpetuated, and modern science suffers.

What does all this have to do with writing? Well, I think most of us read and write science fiction. I suspect most of us saw the article in Wired recently about dystopia and the rising fear of technology that it fosters. I submit that fear of technology is being fostered in far more places than literature, and that fear in media such as games and television has a far greater impact. In places like textbooks at the elementary level, where flawed and false concepts are presented to children who are not yet capable of critical thinking.

I’ll quote Michael Solana in that Wired article again, because he says it beautifully. “Our fears are demons in our fiction placing our utopia at risk, but we must not run from them. We must stand up and defeat them. Artificial intelligence, longevity therapy, biotechnology, nuclear energy — it is in our power to create a brilliant world, but we must tell ourselves a story where our tools empower us to do it. To every young writer out there obsessed with genre, consider our slowly coalescing counterculture, and wonder what side of this you’re standing on. Luddites have challenged progress at every crux point in human history. The only thing new is now they’re in vogue, and all our icons are iconoclasts. So it follows here that optimism is the new subversion. It’s daring to care. The time is fit for us to dream again.” 

What happens to us, should we stay here on Earth, with no adversity, no new frontier to conquer? We run the risk of our children and children’s children becoming like the students at UCLA, who make up things to have temper tantrums about. Perpetually caught at a child-state of development, with no incentive to grow up and develop calluses, they become “what tort law calls “eggshell plaintiffs”—preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life.”

So for me, I will write fiction that conveys a sense of wonder, of counting one’s blessings to find what can be rejoiced over even in the depths of despair, because to fall into the abyss of depression lies madness, and the diminishing of the human race. For all that every other animal who shows the least sign of intelligence is held up and crowed over, humanity remains the different one. We are not animals. We have hope, and dreams, and can plan and think for the future. If we need water in a place, then we can look at the problem and draw up plans to desalinate the ocean water from the nearby coast. Or to colonize the asteroids.

After all, despite the red rag of a shirt being waved to obscure our vision, we did, after all, discover what is on the comet, and before it, the hydrated minerals on the asteroids. What do organic molecules there mean? Well, we need to keep launching ourselves fearlessly outward if we are ever to discover the answers.

The Joy of Creation

The Joy of Creation

Pam Uphoff

 

I don’t often drink. Don’t do drugs. Whatever for?

I can’t image anything better than the high of creation. When the idea burns bright and the words fly from somewhere beyond conscious thought and somehow appear on the screen without my quite being conscious of the keyboard.

I had one of those days yesterday. Practically unaware of the physical therapy waiting room, my mind centuries and parallel worlds away, fighting to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice . . .

This is why I do NaNoWriMo. It’s one of the ways I make myself write. And the more I write, the more often these transcendental states descend to take over the fingers, or perhaps bypass them. Am I one with the computer? Well . . . Close enough to transfer info from subconscious to screen.

Fortunately, or not, my husband’s session with the physical terrorist my husband has dubbed Killer Miller ended yesterday’s writing session for the long slog home at rush hour. Driving is usually a good time for ideation, for me. Rush hour, however, just doesn’t work. No problem, this story won’t shut up, no need for large chunks of time staring at the blank screen, devoid of ideas.

I had lots of thinking time on the road Tuesday.

Tuesday was a fun day. I drove to San Antonio, well, the piece of the megalopolis named Universal City if you’re going to be picky, to talk to a middle school class about creative writing.

Oh. My. I got an overdose of bright and shining faces, eager to write, boiling over with creative ideas. _They_ knew all about the intoxication of ideas. All they needed was a few nuts and bolts to put it together. I keep thinking of practical matters I ought to have also mentioned. How to format a manuscript. Title page, legal page, table of contents. Chapter headings. Smaller paragraph indentations for the smaller screen. And on and on. The details.

The big picture? They all ready had it. All the nodding heads as I spoke of how fun it is to get the original, first, draft down on paper.

And dinosaurs. They all agreed that dinosaurs are cool, no reason to not have dinosaurs in a story.

Oh. My. The way their eyes lit up when they talked about the worlds they were building.

And they took notes, when I demonstrated how simple it is to publish on Amazon’s KDP platform. Which considering how much stuff I’d forgotten, is scary. Oops! Didn’t bring that clever blurb! Oops, what’s the ISBN? Never mind, I’ll hunt it down and fix it later, along with the typos I didn’t find before.

Astonished looks as they saw two quick pages to fill out, and I pushed the “save and publish” button. Done.

Pep talks. “You just have to dive in and do it. Yes, It’s scary. But do it anyway.” I gave lots of pep talks as I packed up.

Wow. Have I mentioned how fun that was? Everyone ought to go talk to small groups of young writers regularly. You’re paying back, but receiving in return a huge dose of optimism for the future.

And they make it so easy to just push the button, with no time for angst or one last typo hunt.

All writers should pass on their experience. And enjoy the experience of passing it on. For one brief hour, it was almost as good as writing.

 

And the obligatory promo, the newest book, still without the cool blurb or the ISBN number on the Amazon page.
http://www.amazon.com/Earth-Gate-Wine-Gods-Book-ebook/dp/B00PTR6JFY/