Author Archives: accordingtohoyt

About accordingtohoyt

I am a novelist with work published in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical "novelized biography". I also write under the names Elise Hyatt and Sarah D'Almeida. http://sarahahoyt.com/

About Those Lost Puppies

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So what happened to Sad Puppies this year?

In a form or another, we’ve been getting this question for months.  I thought I had explained back when I announced I was “leading” it, though I’ll confess by now I expected to have done something more about it.

So, what happened?

Apparently what always happens when I’m supposed to lead: my health goes feral.

At least, thank heavens, this year, it’s not that I know cancer or even the fact I have a small brain tumor (it’s a meningioma, in the membrane that covers the brain, so no, it’s not really affecting me, except for my vision, by pressure, because it’s on top of the vision center.  Fortunately all it does is give me a slight double vision, and I trained for that for much of my undergrad.)  It’s “just” autoimmune.  but I’ve had two long and rather horrible autoimmune bouts, which means things slipped.

On top of which WORK has gone feral.  I need to finish at least five more novels this year (I intended to be at four by now) and that’s for traditional, not counting my indie career.  I’ve also picked up a three-times-a-week columnist gig, and there are other potential jobs in the horizon.  (Man, this ruined career sure is a lot of work.)

If we’d planned to do something different this year, I’d have passed it on to Amanda early.  But since what we’re planning has no defined deadline, as soon as we get it up (eh) in the next couple of months, we’ll be fine.  And we want to make sure we do it right.

So, originally, we’d planned to do nothing, and let Sad Puppies ride into the sunset with Kate’s campaign, which did everything the left claimed to want and yet was still subjected to the same complaints as ever.

But the problem with a decentralized, almost leaderless campaign is that it’s prone to be high jacked, and we realized late last year that if someone didn’t announce then someone who was wholly (really) in the rabid camp was going to take it, and make it sound like the campaigns were always one.

Oh, I know.  With Sad Puppies completely silent, the Puppy Kickers have been enthusiastically blaming us for the Rabid decisions.  Pfui. They’re like a back law firm: Obfuscate, Lie and Project.

But there was no point lending color to this by having a self-proclaimed Sad Puppy leader who’d always been on the periphery, who’s barely competent to carry his own hat in a high wind, and who thinks the whole point is to back the Rabid selections. Yeah.  No.  So I announced.

By the time I announced, I knew we’d be “late” for the Hugos.  Which was fine with me.  VERY fine.

Look, guys, I don’t believe in asking people to do things I won’t do.  Last year I didn’t pay the fee to vote, so I was done after the nomination.  Why?

Because the years before we told people to buy supporting memberships and vote.  We told them that our aesthetics were as valid as the neo-Marxist aesthetics the conventional side of the field sticks to.  Ludic enjoyment of fiction is, arguably, a better way to determine what will survive and be important than the markers of “class” and an excellent education used now.  (Yeah I know.  It’s supposedly all about the downtrodden.  Only it’s not really. It’s about showing off the Neo-Marxist aesthetics taught in the best colleges.  A fad, a passing one, and arguably a stupid one.   I don’t have time to explain the difference of aesthetics here, and hey, I did it last week at another site, so: How Do We Evaluate Art in the Kingdom of the Blind Marxist? And to the idiots who’ll come in and say that’s not Marxist critical theory.  Bah.  Before they climbed up their own ass and slapped the cool-hot (what makes a philosophy hotter than 100 million stinking corpses, after all) Marxist moniker on their involuted crap, they were already evaluating literature according to the Marxist parameters of “making a difference” and “fighting injustice” and “criticizing society.” Which has its roots in the left and in social markers for an excellent education.  It’s like medieval scholars showing off their Catholic Orthodoxy, or well… Or Shakespeare writing a lot of propaganda plays about the Tudors, which even Shakespeare couldn’t turn into anyhting but dross.  Which tells you the long term value of this trend.)

Anyway, we told people if we didn’t participate in the process, we had no reason to protest.  So people did.  We did too.

And the establishment called us names, made unfounded claims of cheating, took our money, threw themselves a really big party and insulted our nominees to boot.

After the Assterisk performance, I planted my feet like a Spanish mule and stuck fast to “I’m not giving you one red cent.  You’ll get no more from me.”

Being there, I couldn’t ask people to throw good money after bad.

Our intention was always to just create a page, in which those who register can post reading recommendations, not just of recent years, but of anything that struck their fancy.  There will be a place where you can say when the book was published and if it’s eligible for an award — and not just a science fiction award — and a link to the award page for people to follow, if so minded.  Yeah, we’ll include the Hugo, but probably with a note saying the award is in the process of self-destructing.

Thing is, I meant to have this up before nominations for the Dragon Award opened.  But on top of the comedy of errors above, our website provider either crashed or was hacked, so while trying to survive auto-immune and meeting more deliveries than UPS, I’ve been trying to get it up and running again.  (My author site is down also.)

So, that’s where we are.  We’ll put it up sometime in the next couple of months, and then Amanda and I will run it, and then Amanda will take over  Or Amanda, Kate and I will continue shepherding it.

When we said this before and pointed out that PARTICULARLY indie books need some place to mention them, we were linked to/lectured by someone one the rabid side, because apparently they already have a site, so we don’t need one of our own.

Tips hat to the right.  Thank you kindly.  But you guys are aware your aesthetics and goals aren’t ours, right?

You just turned Marxist aesthetics on their head, and are judging books by being anti-Marxist and how much they don’t support the neo Marxist idea of justice.  That’s cool and all.  To each his own.  And since, so far, your crazy isn’t being taught in schools, it’s slightly less annoying than the Marxist crazy.

It is still annoying, though, because you’re still judging literary value by whether it fits your (at least as crazy-cakes’ as the Marxists) narrative and your precepts.

Look, the Tudors won, okay?  And yet the Shakespeare plays supporting them, all but Richard III which is good for other reasons, are the worst dogs in his repertoire.

The Sad Puppies stand for literature people ENJOY reading, even if their beliefs are not those of the author.  Also, writing that is not pushing any belief, beyond the natural leaking that happens when an author writes something and puts part of him in the story.

We fully support your right to have the recommendation sites for those who read your catechism and who will enthusiastically love and adore Piers Plowman.  It’s who you are, it’s what you do, and why shouldn’t you have a site for those who think like you?

It’s not however who we are and what we do, nor does it fit our aesthetics.  (Yes, this has all been an aesthetic dispute, even if some sides think it’s politics.)

Your recommendations no more invalidate the need for a site of our own than do the recommendation sites from the left, going into exquisite detail about how “other” the author of some unreadable tome is, and how they have just the right amount of vaginitude and melanin.

So, yeah, there will be a Sad Puppies recommendation site — glowers in the vague direction of servers — soon, and then we’ll refine it and improve it through the years to become a place to find enjoyable reads.  And if people want to use it to find recommendations for awards?  I’ve seen worse hobbies.  One of my ancestors used to put “things” in bottles of alcohol.  Weird plants, snakes, that sort of thing. Voting on awards, at least, does not ruin good alcohol.

And that’s where the Sad Puppies are.  They didn’t run away.  They’re just sleeping in the mud room.  Sooner or later they’ll wake and play.  Until then, you can sit and watch the circus and the monkeys, neither of which belong to us.

Which is a lovely thing, as we all on this site have “ruined” careers to work at, which seem to involve a lot of work and, thank heavens, regular pay checks.

I’ll announce the site here, when it’s up.

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Letting The Words Pour Out

This is a post on how to write fast, if you want to.

Note that I’m not saying you should write fast.  Some of you should, some shouldn’t.  I don’t know how your mind works, I can only speak to mine.

There have been awful writers who took forever and there have been awful writers who wrote very fast.  Just as there have been good writers of both kinds.

I remember years ago someone who was published (once) when I wasn’t published at all, telling me that the problem with science fiction was that people required writers write a book a year.  There are and were many things wrong with the field, but that wasn’t it.  Some of the “literary” writers who take years to write books are still unreadable.

I’ve also watched the process of taking years to write a book.  I’ve done it.  It took me three years to write Through Fire.  Most of the time I didn’t write at all.  There were reasons for that: health and moves and a fatal breakdown of self-confidence.  None of which make a book better.

But there is a state I get to, where I can see and hear and dream a book.  And some writers need a year — or years — to do that.

I sort of lapse into that state when I’m not paying attention, possibly because I lived there until my mid-twenties, so to me it’s more important to get out of my own way and let it pour out.

Might not be for you.  I have taken to referring to writing as “the thing isn’t entirely under my control.”  I don’t think it’s entirely under anyone’s control.  It’s very annoying for people like me who are control freaks, because it seems wrong not to control it.  It’s a joke of fate (or G-d) that someone like me who was taught to value steady work and steady application should work in a profession where sometimes my subconscious locks tight and will not let anything out.  But there “the thing isn’t entirely under my control.”  And each person has to find a way to deal with their own writing thing.  It seems to come from different places for everyone.  Sometimes it comes different places for different books.  And we all approach it our different ways.

However, if you can, write fast there are material advantages to it, particularly now.  I wonder what my used-to-be-friend (I gather she has stopped talking to me because of straw Sarah) who thought traditional publishing and its demand for a once-a-year book was unreasonable would think of indie, where the rewards go to the very fast, to those who can put out a book 4 times a year or more?

No, wait, I know exactly what she thinks of it, because I’ve heard others like her lament on their pages and in their blogs about how people “write too much.”

Well, buttercup, you don’t get to do that.  I won’t tell you that “real writers write real fast” but you don’t get to tell me or other writers who write more than a book a year that we should slow down.  This is not the nursery, and life isn’t fair.

I suspect if you’re a slow writer of overmastering craft and talent you can still live, but you don’t get to tell others they should not.

So–  What if you aren’t and you’re still slow?  What if you’d like to write fast?

I can’t teach you to write fast — no, wait, yes, I know what I said, but listen — because it’s not a skill that can be taught.  It’s a skill that can be learned, though.  Like other things of the sort, things not entirely under one’s control, they require you to access some internal switch I can’t reach, to change some internal setting which I can’t touch.  But you can.

I know this because I’ve gone through years of being very slow.  H*ll, I used to be very, very slow.  If I produced two short stories in a year I thought I was doing well.  And I’ve gone through years of writing a novel every two months.  I have a feeling I could write one a week (I could on wordage alone) if I could just figure out how that switch works.  I haven’t yet.

All I can do is tell you what worked for me, to reprogram that switch.  Note the steps are in no particular order.  The first one is what you REALLY need to do, but sometimes you need to approach it through the others.  I’m not in your head.  This is like other things: learning to draw, learning to sing, or even getting in shape.  Each person must do what he or she can at the pace he or she is permitted by whatever it is internally that controls the writing thing.

  • Believe you can.
    Yes, I do in fact know this is much easier said than done.  Like “Just write it” or “believe in yourself” or “stop worrying,” it is the solution, but it is not always one that just comes.
    However in the end, that’s what you need to do.  Believe you can write fast and write well.  Believe other people can write fast and write well.  It might help to research the stories of writers who wrote very fast and very well.  We get told a lot of lies about how long a book SHOULD take, and we believe them, because we have no reference.  But a book should take as long as it takes.  And if it’s already in your head, it should be possible for it to pour out fast.
  • TRY.
    Try to write fast.  I don’t know what fast is to you.  There is a point I call “my head is empty and there are no more words.”  I wont’ tell you at what point I reach that because you’d kill me, and at any time it’s pointless bragging, because when I get lost in my own head there are many, many days of no words at all.  Let’s say I once finished a novel in three days, a novel that still pays well.  And if I could defeat whatever the fatal lack of self-confidence it is that sets in, I could write a novel every three days.
    So try.  This might involve trying new methods, including some that didn’t work for you at other times.  Or vice versa.  Not being entirely under your own control, the writing thing can change METHODS.
    My second published novel was written entirely by dictation. Two years ago, trying to get back in shape, I thought I’d dictate again.  My walk in the morning was completely solitary.  My recorder looked like a phone.  People seeing me would see nothing wrong, and no one was near enough to hear me.
    I couldn’t. My own voice got in the way.  It sounded odd to be talking aloud of things no one else could see.  I shut myself down completely.
    Try, until you find a way you can write however fast you want to.  How fast?  Well, 500 words a day — about where we are at this point in the blog post — is one large traditional book or two indie books a year.  1000 words a day (half my normal blog posts on my blog, usually dashed in an hour in the morning) is two goatgaggers or four indie books.  Set your goal, aim, try it.
  • DO IT FASTER.
    But I said I wouldn’t tell you how fast to write!
    I’m not.  I’m talking about your mechanical method of getting words down.  Dictation or typing or whatever you do.
    Almost all my silences — long ones, not related to moves or health or whatever — come from a break down in my method of getting words down.  Say a computer that’s glitching and forces me to type slowly or eat words.  Medication that somehow breaks the trained link between fingers and mind.  All of that forces me to slow down, and become conscious of the story.  It’s like hearing myself talk about things that don’t exist.  it stops me.  It forces me to concentrate on the words, rather than the story.  It allows me to DOUBT.
    So, whatever method you use get faster at it: take a typing course, put in ear plugs so you don’t hear yourself dictate.  Find a way to do it faster so the doubts don’t catch up with you.
  • TELL THE EDITOR TO TAKE A HIKE
    No, not your real editor, whether you work for him, or you hire him.  He’s an essential part of your process, particularly if you write fast.
    I mean the internal editor. The one who says “Oh, that word wasn’t good” or “what did you write that chapter for?  You know it’s wrong” or any of those other things.
    There will be a time for it, when you’re reading over the book AFTER your betas do, mind you.  For now, he’s just trying to slow you down, because he’s a little desiccated man in round glasses who can’t create anything and doesn’t want you to either.
    Every writer I know who brags about their internal editor and who jumps on little things in other writers’ first draft is NOT a professional writer.  In fact, most of them never finish anything.
    So, don’t let the editor in.  In my worst times, I’ve been known to surround myself with signs that say “No editors allowed.”
  • TRUST
    Yes, I know, it’s like “Relax.”  But trust.  Trust yourself, trust the process, let the words come out.  Ignore whether they’re good or bad.  Ignore your doubts.  Just let the words pour out.  Accept the thing is not entirely under your own control.
  • GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SUCK
    Look, many of your stories will suck.  They JUST will.  It actually does not matter at all how fast you write them.  Sometimes it’s because you’re not ready to tell that story.  Sometimes it’s because you’re working through some internal process, some learning thing.  Which means, you will suck and not know it.  Other times, you will think you suck, and your story will speak to everyone else who will consider it your best.
    So, stop trying to impose on your stories standards no one else will impose.  GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SUCK.  Accept some of your stories will suck.  Do you have a favorite author?  How many of his or her stories, objectively, suck, even though you might love them because you like the world, the characters and the author?  If we’re honest about 1/3 of everyone’s stories suck.  And they’re not the ones the author thought sucked, either.  So, give yourself permission to suck.  Don’t reject yourself.  You’re the worst judge of your own work.
  • THEY DON’T WANT IT PERFECT, THEY WANT IT WEDNESDAY
    It is a bit of hubris to try to make your story perfect.  Sculptors and weavers in the ancient world left intentional flaws in their work, because they were only human and didn’t want to arouse the envy of the gods.
    Most of us don’t need to leave intentional flaws.  You’re human, there will be flaws.  But sometimes — trust someone who is experienced and has been doing this for 20 years — it is the flaws you perceive when you first write the work, which are the real strength.
    When I started writing I tried to guard myself from the story.  I didn’t want people looking INTO me.  So revelatory passages were considered flaws.  And yet, those are the books people love, and for THOSE reasons.
    So, stop dithering.  Whether you work for a publishing house or your fans, they don’t want it perfect, they want it finished, so they can read it.  FINISH THE STORY AND LET IT GO.  THEN WRITE ANOTHER.
  • PRACTICE MAKES SPEED

    The very act of writing fast will allow you to defeat the fear of writing fast, and thus will allow you to get faster.  If you’re having trouble, remember the clause above, and just write to the finish.  Tell yourself you’ll never send it out (it’s okay, lies to yourself aren’t sins, or we’d all be condemned) and just finish it.  Then another, then another.  Try a race with yourself.  how fast can you go?  Run from the editor.  Write faster.
    Eventually you’ll surprise yourself, and then you’ll believe and the barriers will tumble down.

  • DON’T READ BACK OVER WHAT YOU’VE DONE
    But Sarah, you’ll say, I can’t write a novel in a day.  So I have to read back what I wrote yesterday.
    No, you actually don’t.  Doing so is practically inviting the editor to come and pour doubts into your head and paralyze you.
    If you have a very bad memory leave a note to yourself, something like: I left John and Mary having a heart to heart.  Tomorrow he finds out she stole the thing, and then he has to decide what to do.
    BUT what if your plot — plotted or not — took a turn?  You need to go back back and change things!
    No, you don’t.  Half the time I do that (because I’m an idiot) I find that my subconscious already had the right markers in, it just didn’t bother to tell me.  So, when you’re afraid you’ll forget to change the thing, what do you do?
    Get sticky notes.  Make a note, stick it to your monitor.
    I’ve been known to have three pieces of novel, by the end, all pointing in different directions.  But I have the sticky notes, and I can always fix it in post.
  • YOU CAN ALWAYS FIX IT IN POST.
    The good thing about writing is you don’t pay for what stays on the cutting room floor, and no one has to know.
    For my first three published novels, I wrote three times what I turned in.  I still wrote them in six months each.  Write fast, then worry about cutting.
    And often the pieces you leave behind will blossom into other novels, years later.  A piece of Darkship Thieves became the start for the Shifter series.  No, I’m NOT going to tell you which or how.  (Mwahahahahahah.)
  • LET IT GO
    Once you’re done writing your first draft, do three passes: one for coherency, one for word choice, and one for typos.  Then LET IT GO.
    Sometimes things will feel wrong in a book that aren’t wrong at all.  It’s just a new thing you did, and your subconscious is panicking that it’s WRONG.  It might even be a good thing you did, but the subconscious is a creature of habit.
    So let it go.  Send it to 12 people or more.  You’ll be lucky if 6 answer.  The ratio even for published novelists seems to be 1/3.  It’s unpaid work and life trips people up.
    Let the novel go, stop thinking about it.  If six or more of your readers come back and say soemthing is wrong, then consider changing it.  Keep in mind sometimes what they THINK is wrong isn’t what is wrong.  But try to figure out what bothers them and change it.  But don’t devote a lot of angst to it, because you have another story to write.  You’re already writing the next story, aren’t you?
    Well, you should be.
  • WRITE THE NEXT STORY
    Seriously.  The moment the story is off your hands and to beta, write the next one.  No, don’t wait for the betas, don’t even think of that story.  Write the other one, because that’s better than detachment or time to make you get over your mental attachment to it, and your tendency to see the last story as perfect or fatally flawed, whatever your tendency.
    Write the next one for the week or month while you wait for the result of betas.
    Editing is work best done in the evenings, anyway.  And if your heart is in the day story, you’ll see the night story more clearly, without prejudice.
    So, do that.  Write the next story. No, don’t stop.  Don’t think.  Don’t pass go and give yourself illusions that you’re going to be perfect.  JUST WRITE IT.
    Nine tenths of art is just doing it.  Just do it.  The thing is not entirely under your control.  Let it go, let it be.  Let the story spool out from your head, onto pixels.  Then bless it on its way and write the next.

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And Then I Popped Him One

It’s very hard to write violence, for the same reason it’s very hard to write sex.  No, wait, there is one difference, most people have experienced sex, but most people have never been in a knife or fist fight.

Even those of us who’ve been in fights have a tendency to blur them in our minds.  In my case perhaps more so, as I think I’m a berserker, because one minute I get the cold realization I’m going to fight, the next second — seems like — I’m trying to squish someone with a heavy oak desk, and five of my classmates are holding me back.  Considering at the time that desk probably massed half of my body weight, I’d say there was altered consciousness there.

Be that as it may, even if you’re fully conscious through a fight, it’s hard to remember it.  The thing is that everything happens so fast.  To spectators (and I watched a deadly or at least a severe injury knife fight before) it seems like words are shouted, and suddenly there’s someone bleeding on the ground, someone looking bewildered, and a spectator is whispering “Oh, no.” while someone else calls the ambulance.

Can you do a scene of violence that way?  Of course you can, particularly if the violence is incidental or a total surprise.  Or frankly, if I want a change of tone.  Consider two characters in a fire fight but they’re winning, and it’s become a game, and they’re bantering, and suddenly one is dead.  I used that more or less (except they weren’t really bantering in A Few Good men.  Except I shouldn’t say I used that, because the death was so much of a surprise, it surprised me.)

But there are other types of violence: the climatic battle, or the character changing one, where the weakling discovers he can fight the big bad.

While I was getting ready to write Darkship Revenge, I met Ray Carter, one of my fans.  When I say I met him, it’s a manner of speaking.  We “met” on facebook, where he “turned into a Maine Coon Kitten” and jumped on my lap.  Normally I’d freeze someone out for that, but he was very non-offensive.

So we started talking.  It turned out he was dying of cancer, so we only really had a month to be friends.  But he was always on line, and I was trying to work and move all at the same time, so I’d send him vast chunks of copy with “what do you think.”

A short story I sent him was 3 k words, until he went “you know, that fight is too fast.”  And then he made me focus on every step of it.

Which is when I realized writing violence is like writing sex.  You have to become conscious of all the little physical reactions, all the steps leading up to the punch.

Sure, for an effect of surprise, you can have “He said something about my mom, and then I popped him one.”

But if you’re doing a weakling’s fight with someone much stronger, you have to drag that out.  And then you get “He said that thing about my mother.  I felt my arm tense.  My fist balled.  I looked back at him and said “If I were you, I’d zip my mouth.”  And he said “That’s because your mother was a traitor.”  My fist hurt from clenching so hard.  He said “She sold out New Peace for–”  My fist went forward of its own accord, it caught him on the side of the face.  It wasn’t a strong punch anyway, I hadn’t thought about it.

“Is that the best you can do?” he asked.  He put his arms up in a fighting stance and came towards me.  He was a good ten inches taller than me and his muscles had muscles on them.

I jumped out of reach of his punch, and he sort of leapt towards me.  In a flash, I was back on the playground, and I put out my foot and tripped him.  He went down like a ton of bricks.

I’d had that happen to me often enough that I figured his head must be rattling, and he must be dizzy from the fall.

He gave something like a groan, and his right knee started to rise.  I jumped on it, stomped on the other one, and, while he was screaming but before he could sit up, kicked him on the head, hard.

He looked at me with dazed eyes.  “No,” I said.  “This is the best I can do.”

Sure, you don’t hit a guy when he’s down, but what business did he have fighting a smaller person and a woman at that.”

Those details could be unpacked more, with what it felt like, and the thoughts she has.

Again, like sex.  It’s not “ooh ah, it felt good.”  You have to go exactly to what was kissed, what it felt like, what was caressed and nibbled, etc.

And fighting is not “He punched me, I punched him the end.”  You have to get close in to every blow exchanged, every scraped knuckle.

Of course, as with sex, you only do that when the fight itself is important, and part of character building.

But if you have to do it, you now have the trick of it.  It’s still a process.  I’m still having to learn it, and I’m nowhere where I should be.

Just keep in mind “Slow it down.  Break it into steps.”  Then write.

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Storytelling for All (Or As Many As Possible) Ages – Chris Nuttall

Storytelling for All (Or As Many As Possible) Ages – Chris Nuttall

 The youngest fan I have, at least as far as I know, is fourteen.

The oldest fan, again as far as I know, is in his eighties.

What struck me as interesting, when I started looking back at my emails, was that they shared interests in the same books: Schooled in Magic and The Zero Blessing.

This surprised me, although – in hindsight – it probably shouldn’t.  I wrote both of those series to be YA, with The Zero Blessing originally aimed at younger readers.  On the other hand, I did my best to avoid many of the things I disliked in YA (and younger books) and worked hard to build up a semi-plausible pair of universes.  The characters may be young – Cat is twelve – but they’re not childish.

I was still thinking of this when a fan asked if I’d ever read a book called Bras and Broomsticks.  The title didn’t sound very promising, but the blurb – two sisters, one of whom has inherited her mother’s magic – sounded good.  So I got a copy, read it and … well, I want that hour back.  <Evil Grin>.  There’s nothing particularly bad about it, but the main character is very much an irritating teenage girl with stereotypical concerns (friendships, breast sizes, boyfriends, etc), the plot is depressingly predicable and the moral at the end somewhat trite.  I have no doubt that teenage girls will like the story – it has some good reviews on Amazon – but it wouldn’t have appealed to me when I was a teenage boy.

This started me off thinking about other YA books I’d read as I grew up.  Like most kids in my school, I read Judy Judy Blume and Paula Danziger.  And yet, most of their books have not aged well to me.  The one I loved most, when I was 10, was This Place Has No Atmosphere, a story about a girl who moves to the moon.  This was no Heinlein novel of struggle and survival against the odds.  No, it was a typical ‘teenager moves town, makes new friends, comes to terms with it’ set on the moon.  When I looked back at it, a month or so ago, I found it hard to believe that I had ever loved the book.  The handful of glimpses of future life do not make up for the simple fact that the story itself is just like thousands of other stories along the same lines.

And so I looked back through my old reading lists (and what part of my collection from those days remains intact.)

The books that still spoke to me were written at a number of different levels.  The Worst Witch and its sequels and Hood’s Army are very clearly books for preteens; The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Little House, The Demon Headmaster and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are aimed at older children and young teenagers; Discworld, Heinlein’s juveniles and other books along those lines remain in my collection.  They still speak to me, even though I am no longer part of the targeted audience.  I still smile when I reread Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And why should I not?

(Is it actually a coincidence that most of these books didn’t turn out well when adapted for television or the movies?)

The books that no longer speak to me are legion.  Judy Blume and Paula Danziger are no longer on my list of favourites.  Enid Blyton is now thoroughly absurd; Milly-Molly-Mandy is ridiculously twee.  Nicolas Fisk has not aged well.  There are so many books that I have forgotten, over the years, that have made no impression on me at all.  (And most of them don’t have the excuse of being jammed down my throat at school.)  I vaguely recall reading a teenage romance novel when I was fourteen, but I have forgotten the details.  And don’t even get me started on Twilight …

 Thinking about it, most of the books I still like – and reread, sometimes – have a few things in common.  On one hand, they don’t talk down to their readers.  The Worst Witch is written for children, but it doesn’t treat kids as idiots.  They also have likeable characters: Mildred Hubble, Christopher Chant, Matilda, Dinah Glass and even Harry Potter are likeable and, more importantly, relatable.  (Christopher Chant, Harry Potter and Matilda have moments of delinquent behaviour, but they’re not openly malicious.)  It’s easy to follow their stories and feel for them, even if they live in very different worlds.  One can believe in them.  And, perhaps most importantly of all, the stories aren’t focused on a particular age group.

The books I don’t like break some or all of these rules.

This Place Has No Atmosphere and Bras and Broomsticks, for example, feature teenage girls who are, in many ways, whiny self-obsessed little brats.  The same can be said for most of the other books by the same author (the male characters have the same problem, with predicable results.)  It’s difficult to like such characters, particularly if you happen to be twenty years older than them.  You want to pick them up and shake them for being such annoying little morons.  Other books, such as Twilight are so intensely focused on their target demographic that there’s no appeal to younger readers (who probably find it soppy) and older readers, who are aghast at all the unfortunate implications.

Thinking about it, there’s actually a further issue caused by focusing.  It can and it does turn people off.

There are people who try to ban Judy Blume because she discusses – frankly, particularly for her era – issues such as menstruation and sex.  On one hand, writing about this is a good thing.  Children who are growing into teenagers, then adults, need explanations of what is happening to their bodies, instructions on how to handle it … and, most importantly, reassurance that they are not alone.  On the other hand, these issues are often off-putting if you’re not part of the target audience.  I found Judy Blume’s female-focused books to be uncomfortable, in many ways, and I suspect that many girls think the same of her male-focused books.  Now, I feel that they haven’t aged well (which probably explains why so many parents want to ban them, forgetting what things were like when they were young.)

This has wider implications.  Books tightly focused on a particular demographic will not always appeal to people outside that demographic.  A teenage romance story would not have appealed to me as a teen, still less now.  A story focused on a homosexual character grappling with his sexuality wouldn’t appeal to me either, even though I would have a great deal of sympathy for anyone caught in that position.  I suspect that female readers are put off by exaggerated masculinity – although the success of Fifty Shades of Grey may argue that I’m wrong – just as male readers are put off by exaggerated femininity.  If nothing else, a teenage male who reads Bras and Broomsticks will come away with some pretty silly ideas about teenage girls.

One does not need to discuss adult situations – either in the conventional sense or this – to write a children’s or YA book that appeals to all ages.  But one does have to remember that focusing the book on one demographic tends to limit its appeal to other demographics …

… And that it isn’t the fault of those demographics that they don’t like the book.

 

 

 

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It’s Your Business

Several years ago, when I was green as lettuce and attended the Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith workshops on fiction writing — which made me a little less green, if nothing else by providing a much needed wilting — they kept saying the same puzzling phrase “Treat it like a business.”

And of course, I understood what they meant, and it was sense, but at the same time it wasn’t.  It’s very hard to treat as a business a career you have no control over, and which does not, and unless you’re very lucky cannot (yes, talent comes into it too, and the balance of talent and luck vary according tot he writer, but you still need to be in the right place at the right time, something you in the end have no control over) pay a living wage.  At least not if you’re already in the business and know that they’ve got you slotted mid-list.

Well, ladies, gentlemen and filofaxes, all that has changed, in the seven years, changed completely and turned on its head.

Even if you are, like me, still writing for traditional as well as indie, you have so much more control over your career, it’s not even funny.  The fact that indie authors who actually work at it are out-earning their traditional colleagues; the fact that my indie book out-earned my traditional ones, means I have options.  If for whatever reason working in traditional publishing becomes intolerable, I can escape and make more money.

And right there I can see some of you go “but if you can make more money, why are you still working for Baen?”

Because I treat it like a business.  Baen gets me exposure and distribution that indie can’t — yet — get me.  If and when that changes, I can always reevaluate.

The thing is a business isn’t just money.  Business isn’t having a product and selling it.  That’s what my mom used to call “buying and selling” a genteel hobby for a lady (according to her, don’t ask me.  She tried to convince me what I wanted to do — be a journalist — was no fit profession for a lady, while a little genteel buying and selling was okay.  Of course, I presume ladies had more money than we did, but there you have it.  Mom was aspirational.)  It’s not a business.  It is to some extent what I had before indie became viable.

What is the difference you say? Well, the first and most important difference is that you can’t “build” on a little buying and selling.  It happens, it’s not really fully under your control, it has no long term future.  Sure you can make a lot of money if you’re in the right place at the right time, but that’s only partly controllable because the authority is not in your hands.  Yes, it’s different if you come into the field at a higher level and your publisher doesn’t view you as midlist, because then you always have the power to walk for a better deal.  But if you were in midlist hell in the good ol’ (not) days, all you could do was take what was dished out, good or bad.  Which meant you couldn’t really make plans or work to build your future.

And in the end that’s what this writing business is “a future.”

No one — or at least very few people — makes a living from their first book.  I’m however reliably informed that after the 10th indie book (for whatever reason reissues don’t count) things get VERY interesting.  I’m not there yet.  I have one — count it, one — book published all on my own.  That’s going to change this year, and I hope to have ten by next year at this time.  However, I can plan to get there.  It’s under my control

At the same time I can plan projects to build my career with my publisher, and if they reject those projects I can take them indie.

The freedom is something I couldn’t even have DREAMED back six or seven years ago.

But with freedom comes responsibility.

Because any book you put out there is going to be scrutinized more closely than traditional books.  No, it’s not fair, but fair is a place where you sell livestock. Just like in the oughts people had an image of bloggers as working in their pajamas (I don’t.  I found out long ago if I treat the work day as a job, I work better and more.  so I’m sitting here wearing business-casual.  I am, however, on my sofa. The real post-blogging work day is upstairs in the office.) they have an image of indie authors as working at their kitchen table, and never proof-reading.  Which means if you have the average number of typos in a traditional book, you’ll get reviews talking about how you need editing.  Heck, even if you have no typos, someone from the school of “no sentence fragments, every sentence must be perfectly grammatical” will come along and slap you for no reason.

And then there’s other stuff, particularly if you are a new-ish writer.  Look, I’ve been at this for — heaven help me — almost 20 years from the time I sold my first book (but not that it came out) and let me tell you, even young geniuses can’t see the flaws in their plot or structuring.  More importantly, they don’t see how to “punch up” a book and make it better.  And of course you want your books (each of them) to be as good as possible.  Each book is an opportunity to hook readers who will read everything else you write, but you have to make sure you are as good as you can be.

So, this is where being a business comes in.  You hire people to help you, you manage your costs. Your forecast your revenues.  You set your schedule.

We’ll start with “atmosphere and impression.”  What I mean is that we humans are monkeys of habit.  Monkey see/monkey do.  And studies have shown, and it’s true, that what you wear and your environment affect your performance.  So, take off those skivvy jeans.  Now put something decent on.  I confess I don’t wear great clothes, mostly because I gain a ton of weight whenever an auto-immune attack hits and more if I go on prednisone.  So I don’t HAVE any great clothes that fit me.  I do wear jeans, but mostly black jeans, and a blouse of some sort.  (a step above t-shirt.)  I don’t look out of place when I have to go with Dan to the office.  I found early on that getting up on time and wearing clothes made it easier to get myself in working mode.  It also helps to “walk to work” (I walk about a mile, then go to the office to work)  And it helps to have different computers for different tasks.  Like I have a writing computer and an editing computer, and an art computer.

Okay, now that’s out of the way.  You, the CEO of Yourself corp, are in your office. You looked at your schedule, and you have a book due to be delivered in two weeks, and one making its way through your betas, and one being edited/getting a cover.

So, first thing in the morning, you make some “calls” (these are now mostly actually email.)

To begin with let’s clarify the process books go through.  Few people can write a clean first draft, even with much experience.  So the first thing you do to your book is read over for continuity.  Did you forget a character halfway through?  Did you change someone’s name/haircolor/etc?  More importantly, if your book changed directions halfways through (mine often do) did you go back and fix all the “pointers” in your foreshadowing (the thing that hints to your readers’ subconscious what’s going to happen?  For instance, if your girl was supposed to fall in love with A but she insisted on loving B, did she still notice how A looked, etc in chapter 3, while ignoring any mention of B’s looks?  Do one read for all of that.  Sticky notes are your friend.  (Yes, this is still easier done on paper.)  Then do one read for wording.  Are you really calling a desk “thingy for computer” because that morning you couldn’t remember “desk” to save your life?  Fix that and that sort of problem.  Do a third read for typos.

You are now done with your solitary work on this manuscript.  Send the manuscript to betas now.  Get as many betas as possible because most won’t answer.  No, it’s not your book.  It’s unpaid work, and people have jobs and lives.  I get about 25% response.

When your betas come back evaluate their input.  If three or more agree in a misstep, give it some thought.  It might not be exactly what they think it is — for instance when all my betas complained nothing happened in the first five pages of a short, they were objectively wrong: someone got killed, the body got hidden, etc.  However, I used passive voice throughout — but they’re seeing SOMETHING.

Some betas will also be nit picky on grammar and typos. Consider their input, but don’t change your voice/the tone of your book/your word choice unless you REALLY agree with them.  Some non-writers have the funny idea that fiction should be written in carefully constructed sentences consisting of subject/verb/predicate or object every TIME.  If you do what they want, you’ll achieve a soporific result.

Okay.  Now the free part of your book process is concluded, and you engage in the “paying pros” part.  Indie publishing has sparked whole rafts of associated professionals who do various parts of the journey of your book from head to market.

First up: structural editors.  These are not copy editors.  They’re people who will go through and tell you things like “if you punch up this scene, it will make a big difference”.  Or “Lose this character.  He’s not doing anything, and it slows the action down.”  Or… whatever.

These are probably the highest paid of the associated professionals.  And, let’s face it, most of them are not very good.  If you feel — or have become convinced — you need one, be prepared to shell $500 to a thousand, and take them only on recommendation.  I can recommend only one of those, D Jason Fleming. Editing at  djasonfleming dot com. Also if you’re on facebook, he’s on my flist.  He’s good enough not to do the thing bad structural editors mostly do: tell you to write the whole book and make it something THEY would write.

Next up: Copy editor.  Copy editors run anywhere from $100 for 20k words, and up.  There are people who will do it cheaper, though.  You ask the price and you see if you can live with it.  I can recommend Dave Truesdale (he edits Tangent online, so you can probably get to him via that. Or, again, my flist on facebook)  He charged me $400 for a horrendously in bad shape book (artifacts of conversion from Word Perfect to word everywhere.  Some words obliterated by them)  but less when the book is relatively clean.  Also, our very own Jason Dyck, aka Free Range Oyster, is a good and thorough proof reader/copy editor.  (Freerangeoyster at gmail dot com.)

Then there’s covers.  For covers I can heartily recommend Jack Wylder (again my flist on fb) who does the covers for my refinishing mysteries.

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The caveat is that it’s not his profession of choice, and he takes limited jobs.  I do okay at taking art, modifying it, and slapping a title/author name on it.

My son’s upcoming collection cover:
ALMOSTCURABLE1

It was a picture of a guy fishing.  I did things to it…

My husband’s cover:
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This one is a composite of many elements, plus a filter to do the cool effects.

Amanda’s covers:
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Most of these are from stock art, though several of them are made of various parts of art and run through filters.  I charge $200 and I have exactly ONE person who pays me.  The others we work out things.

Which brings us to another point: you see, it depends on how much money you can expect to make.  I made 20k (plus some) from my one indie book, but the thing is that until I have more of a frame of reference, I can’t be sure this is replicable.  So I try to put books out as cheaply as possible.  I do what I can do (covers) in exchange for copy-editing with Amanda, for instance.  A lot of writers have this sort of round-robin relationship in groups.  It’s more complex than paying, but also cheaper.  Again, it’s a business decision.  You have to decide.  if you’re a crazy-good copyeditor who sucks at art, but your buddy can do art and not copyeditting, it’s a no-brainer.

While talking of covers, I must mention that even if you don’t want to do your own, you’d benefit from taking the WMG cover class.  Most of the professional cover makers out there are either used to making literary-and-little covers, or — often — doing things to gratify their own artistic sense, and not to make a selling cover for you. Even if all you’re doing is giving art direction, it helps if you have a clue what a selling cover looks like.  Yes, the workshop is expensive.  That’s life.  All I can say is it will save you/pay you thousands in the long run.  Same for their typesetting/paperbook making course.

If you decide to make your own covers, there are free stock art sites.  My favorite is pixabay.  I’ve also worked with Morguefile, but there are others, and I’m sure they’ll show up in the comments.  If you can’t find what you want, the stock place I use most is Dreamstime.

When I put out a call for names and contact for associate professionals only two responded.  I don’t work/haven’t worked with either, but I know people who have.  The associated pros are:

Meghan of hyde-n-seek-editing.blogspot.com

(hide.n.seek.editing at gmail dot com)

This is her announcement:

I am an editor with my own business.  I have 20+ years experience editing books from all genres, and fully believe that writing a book is a team effort, one including the author, editor, and cover artist.  I also go above and beyond, believing that you can’t do one kind of edit without the others, and I read the manuscript a total of three times to make sure that I catch everything.  
Anyone who is interested in speaking to me about editing can reach me through my email address (hyde.n.seek.editing@gmail.com) or through Hyde ‘n’ Seek’s Facebook page.  If they mention your name or website, they will receive 25% off their project.
And Matthew Bowman:

My website is in my signature. I am not currently opening submissions, but that will change probably in a month after I do initial intern training. I will offer reduced rates (to be posted) for those who want to help train the interns. 

Of the two, I don’t know Meghan at all, but I know Matthew personally if not professionally, so I can speak for his probity, intelligence and detail-oriented abilities.
HOWEVER, again, it’s your business.  Any of the people I mention here, you should interview/evaluate on your own before you contract with them.  I should add that an editor/cover artist who is very good for me might suck for you due to different work styles, etc.

I have yet to find a publicist I agree with who will work for me.  The ones I’ve interviewed ranged from the goofy (got interested in my Shakespeare books, wanted me to break into academic publishing to push them.  At the time, note those books were out of print, and I wanted to publicize my urban fantasy.  Threw hissy fit when I pointed that out.  Not hired.) to the inscrutable (wanted me to write for Portuguese Publications in America.  Seemed to think that was my natural/only audience) to the scary (wanted to send out tons of spam (automated emails) advertising my books to his “very good list” — which had mostly non-fiction writers as clients.  Um… no.)

I do know a very good publicist, but he says writers are all crazy and make his hair go gray.  So there you have it.

So, your morning might very well be eaten by contacting people to see where your book is at, etc.  I try to limit that to two hours in the morning, since after that you have to write, but this depends on what it’s easier for you to do and when.
The point I’m trying to make is that your business IS a business.  You have to do other things besides writing, and hire people, and manage money as though it were a business.  Otherwise you’re just doing a little “genteel buying and selling” for “pin money” and that’s what you should expect it to remain.
Now go, and look after your business.

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Sitting In The Dark Thinking or Where the Writing Comes From – by John Ringo

Sitting In The Dark Thinking or Where the Writing Comes From – by John Ringo

Here’s the deal with ‘extended absences from Facebook.’

Writing, for me, is mostly about developing the story in my head. People who’ve kept up with my various postings over the years may remember absences of… well, YEARS when I rarely if ever post.

People think I’m writing. Au contraire. It’s generally when I’m posting on a daily basis that I’m writing.

What I’m doing then is mostly sitting in the dark thinking. About what? About… anything. Various ‘ideations’ of various worlds, stories… Some of them become ‘real’ stories. Some of them never come to fruition.

But even the ‘real’ stories… morph, change, writhe, before they gel into ‘The’ story you eventually see in print.

Forget the grand stories, series, that will never see the light of day (some of which are a true loss as such things go.) There are branches, fractals, subplots, characters, that never make it into the final book. As Bob Seger put it, ‘what to leave in, what to leave out.’

Couple of recognizable examples: Thomas Walker was the MAIN character of a series I’ll never write. The two kids who got knocked up were main characters of a story that I’ll never write (because the universe changed before I started writing) in Black Tide.

There is a series I’ll never write that I MISS. I miss the world of the Copper King. Artu Bartos was an incredibly awesome character. The Black Knives, their eventual fates… This is a world I wish I could have written and brought to life the way I first lived it.

Alas, I lost it much as other stories have been lost. Blame a visitor from Pollock.

What has been happening, lately, with my writing is I keep cutting stuff out. I probably have more ‘cut’ from my various works in progress than I have stuff I’m sure I’m going to keep.

That’s because despite never leaving the house I’ve actually spent too much time socializing. I have people who come by regularly and we tend to sit around and talk. Then there’s things like Facebook, emails, keeping up with news, being part of this big human experiment.

That sounds like a good thing. It’s certainly better for my mental health. But it’s not getting the job done. Getting the job done means sitting in the dark, smoking cigars and living in another world. Going down those alleyways to see if they go where the story needs to go or if they’re dead ends. Going up on the ridge, looking around and going ‘nope, wrong place, bad idea, go someplace else…’

That needs to get done in my head. Which means, sadly, spending less time talking to and communicating with actual human beings.

Thus my recent extended absence which really needs to be more extended.

‘Many people want to be authors. They crave the adulation of fans, going to cons, signing books, being able to work in their bathrobe and getting checks in the mail. Few people really want to be writers. Writers are miserable people who spend most of their time alone, have poor relations with their families and live in other worlds because this one doesn’t work for them. But to be an author you have to be a writer first.’ (Paraphrase of Lois Bujold.)

I’ve been spending too much time being an author. I need to get back to being a writer.

The longer I’m gone, the more you’ll enjoy it when I return from far worlds bringing stories of the adventures there.

 

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Dialogue — a Lesson With Fred And Mary — a blast from the past from October 2012

*Sorry.  I have an eye appointment today to find out if I’m still seeing things double (whee) but will be back on next week.  Also this is a post people seem to find useful, so I like repeating it every three years or so — last time was 2015*.

Dialogue — a Lesson With Fred And Mary — a blast from the past from October 2012

Yes, I’ve done this before, but I found while teaching a workshop that I couldn’t find it in the archives, and anyway, I’ll do it again from a different angle and maybe it will stay in people’s heads. It really is n many ways, when it comes to writing, what separates the pros from the amateurs. I mean, it’s not the only thing, but it is often the last to fall into place and while you’re doing this the amateur way it will slow the rhythm of your work and gum up the machinery of your narrative even if everything else is professional. On the other hand, professionally rendered dialogue covers a multitude of sins.

A caveat. You can – and should, if you have any interest – look at it and figure out what I’m doing (since it’s a demonstration lesson) BUT unless you’re one of very few people (I’ve met a couple) who can learn a skill by reading the instructions, you won’t know this and start using it until you practice it. It is something that becomes an habit of mind and/or fingers.

“Dialogue,” Mary said.

“Yes?” Fred asked.

“How does one do it?” Mary said.

She looked up at him, her blue eyes filled with anguish. Around her the room fell deathly silent.

“By doing it, mostly,” Fred said.

“Yes, but the tags,” Mary said. “Don’t you get tired of saying said and said and said and said. I mean I know
they say it’s invisible. But after a while it grates on my nerves.”

“Not really,” Fred said. “It is still preferable to admitted, exclaimed, exhorted or… ejaculated.”

“That’s not what you sa– Oh, you mean as a dialogue tag,” Mary said. “But it gets rather like watching a ping-pong match, doesn’t it?”

“Fine.” Fred smiled. He winked at Mary. “Then do it with action tags. You know, the sort of thing that gives your characters a body and shows that they’re in a physical world. Know what I mean.”

Mary blushed. She tugged her neckline closed and looked away. “Sort of. You mean, they can do things in the middle of the conversation?”

“Sure.” Fred grinned broadly. “Though frankly, if you only have two people talking, you really don’t need to tag the dialogue except to show emotion or other things not conveyed in the dialogue.”

“Not tag… You mean, not say who said it?” Mary asked.

“Yeah, if you only have two people talking, and you tag the initial one, you only have to tag every other one if that.”

“But don’t people lose track eventually?”

“Of course, that is when you have an action tag.”

Mary rose from the table, walked to the window and looked out at the flower garden. “You mean like this?” she asked.

“Like that,” Fred said. “Is a good action tag.” He got up and went to stand beside her, at the window. “Mary, I’ve been meaning to tell you, all these months together, in the writing group, I…”

“Yes, Fred?” She turned to look up at him.

“I love your clean cut sentences; the way you eschew passive verbs. I love your action sequences and how they chain on each other to a peak of emotional surrender. I pine for your sample chapters, and I don’t think I could live without your short stories.” He looked down at her, his eyes filled with mute inquiry.

Mary sighed and smiled, and wiped her own moist eyes. “Yes, Fred,” she said. “I will marry you.”

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