Category Archives: FYNBOSSPRESS

Don’t Derive to Market

LawDog has gotten a slim but gut-bustingly funny volume of his police stories off to his editor, and is now oscillating between writing down more tales of Africa, working on an urban fantasy… although, can you call it urban when it’s in small town Texas?

(Picture a satyr before a rural-county Texas judge. “You can’t sentence me! You don’t believe in me! I’m a mythological creature; I can’t exist!” “Boy, I saw weirder things than you in the sixties. Now, you’re up for theft, public intoxication…” )

…anyway, and half a dozen other projects that keep crowding into a writer’s brain. As we were discussing life, the universe, and everything (including him yelling at the “police gear up for a raid” scene on tv, “Why are you loading your weapons? Why are they not already loaded?”) , he paused to ask why certain books in a genre we’ve both read feel so… divorced from reality, and so thin.

Ah, LawDog, says I, the word you’re looking for is “derivative.” The kindliest interpretation is that the true groundbreakers in the field created a field, because the subgenre barely existed, or was still coagulating, when they wrote this weird thing they loved. So they were widely read, and drawing on a lot of different sources, and pulling together many different things. Then came authors who loved the world the first one created, and wanted to put their own spin on it. So they drew on other sources, or re-interpreted the first one’s sources as well as the first author. But then, then came people who loved the second wave of authors, and hadn’t read outside the subgenre… and so their pool of resources and interpretation to draw on is extremely shallow and limited compared to the first or second wave.

This extreme shallowness is often seen in fanfiction, where the inexperienced writer loves their one show, but hasn’t done any digging into the source materials the writers pulled from to create that show and world. If all you know of Meiji period Japan comes from Kenshin, then you’re not going to have a very great pool of knowledge on how and why that world works… and when a writer fills in the gaps with their own world and assumptions as they wander off script, it’s often profoundly wrong (including one fanfic assuming Kenshin was set during Europe’s Dark Ages… because feudal! *facepalm*)

Kris Rusch has a slightly different take; she says the original groundbreaker slipped past the gatekeepers somehow, and when it proved to be a breakout success, the publishers looked around to find similar books that were written on spec by people who just loved the genre. When they started being published, and there was a large demand, then other writers would jump on the bandwagon, briefly read the top books in the genre, and crank out something in a similar style without knowing or loving the genre. This is the sort of “writing to market” that she decries.

With the indies slipping past the gatekeepers, the truth is probably a mix of these, and other reasons. How do you make sure that you’re not falling prey to this?

1: Go Deep. Read the oldest depths from which your genre sprang, not just the last 20 years. Find the good stuff that inspired the books that inspired the books and films that inspired you.

Jeffro Johnson started reading his way through Appendix N – the list of sources Gary Gygax listed as his inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons . Many, many a current fantasy novel treats Dungeons and Dragons as the foundation of their world, upon which you can either build, or try to subvert (with a brief nod to Tolkien, who came before.) The retrospectives are now a category up on the Castalia house blog:
http://www.castaliahouse.com/category/appendix-n/page/11/
or in kindle book: http://amzn.to/2nVJ4Qa

What he found was nothing like the “standard fantasy novel” you get now, and nothing like the stereotype of “pulp scifi” that some quarters burn in effigy without ever having actually read. It’s worth reading some of what he found as a transition – but even more so, it’s worth reading everything on Appendix N itself! ( http://digital-eel.com/blog/ADnD_reading_list.htm )

(And let me sigh here and note that when following this advice and reading Jack Vance’s Tales of a Dying Earth (http://amzn.to/2oPHezs ) I had to keep breaking out the dictionary. I thought I had a fairly good vocabulary, but if this was the stuff “the common man” enjoyed in the 1950’s, my nose has now been painfully rubbed in just how far our education system had fallen by the time I went through.)

2. Go Deeper. Go back to the original legends, myths, histories, trading routes, wars, cultures…

Alma Boykin recently posted a snippet of a fantasy that’s been battening around her brain as the result of reading academic papers and monographs on medieval trade:
https://almatcboykin.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/bad-muse-not-again/#more-4965

When’s the last time you saw something like that, compared to “He paid five copper for the meal, and two silver for a room.”?

3. Go wide. Read about things far outside your field. Orson Scott Card is reputed to have said one of the best ways to get inspiration to is to pick something you don’t care about at all, and then research it in depth.

For example, Peter’s first published book, Take the Star Road (http://amzn.to/2nVBIMl ), was partially inspired by The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. ( http://amzn.to/2pu5Bka )

Here’s another for you: Rory Miller is the author of the highly interesting book Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence (http://amzn.to/2pJKbyX ). Last night, as Peter was reorganizing books from one bookshelf to another as he moves the reference books from Things for Westerns to Things For Fantasy, another book by Miller popped up on the couch. Violence: A Writer’s Guide. ( http://amzn.to/2oi7IGV ) I didn’t even know this thing existed. But it is an excellent breakdown on what motivates people to violence – from the office gossip (manipulation to get their way) to the bullying SJW (aggressive posturing and speech to get their way) to assault, to murder… and what those people think of other’s use of different levels of force. It’ll definitely force you to think through the eyes of a character completely unlike yourself, and in doing so, make them more real and alive.

4. Go and do yourself.

There is no perfect substitute for actually going to a place, or doing a thing. Because in the going and in the doing are a thousand sensory details, rhythms, habits, minutiae, large-scale considerations, environments, and people that you can use to make your writing come alive.

If you’ve never shot a gun, go to a range and take a basic pistol course with an instructor. You’re going to find it’s as close to the movies as… as, well, most people’s courtships are to Adam Sandler’s romantic comedies. Many police departments offer citizens academies or ride-a-long programs, which prove that real life is nothing like TV, either.

Go hike the unpaved trails, and discover that moving from point A to point B through different terrains is a while lot different than driving. Take a flying lesson, a sailing lesson, or go whitewater rafting. Get your fishing license and learn to fish, or find a climbing gym and get coached through a climbing wall. Ride a horse, or take a horsedrawn carriage ride. Learn to fence. Hey, it’s research! And it’s learning, growing, stretching yourself in ways you haven’t done before, or done in years. Do a chef’s tasting menu, try a flight of wine, go on a distillery tour… check your local area’s tourist literature, and play tourist in your own home state. You’ll turn up the most random and fun things to do – and if you ask more questions, you’ll find people who are passionate about something love to talk about it, and can tell you more than you dreamed existed.

Art is the synthesis of all our knowledge and worldview, mixed with “what if?”, “and then what happens?”, and a creative spark. So increase your knowledge, enrich your worldview, and throw a lot of new experiences into the mix. What comes out will be all the better for it!

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Filed under characterization, FYNBOSSPRESS, Uncategorized, WRITING: CRAFT

…You should enjoy this.

I have a day job that’s awesome. I’m not out on an airport ramp, kneeling in a puddle and having 34 degree rain (F, not C) trickling down my spine from the gap at my collar. (No matter where they park the airplane, by the time you have to work on it, it will be in a puddle.) I’m not balancing carefully on a waterlogged, half-rotten interior roof with a mask over my face trying to shield my lungs from the literal sheets of mold peeling off drywall as we hang tarps and lay pallets, because if we can kinda-sorta weatherproof the remnants of a building, we can use it to store the bargeload of filters coming in. (Nor am I back in that ruin and trying to pull case after case of filters while every movement of boxes or tarps sends a shower of volcanic dust everywhere, in everything.) I’m not in the field, up to my ankles in mud and up to my elbows in tobacco sap and bugs stuck on, trying to swing a machete without bruising or, heavens forbid, breaking any sap-stiff fragile leaves. I’m not stuck in interminable meetings where people are distilled down to their productivity, and all the drama, the tears, the emergencies, the hopes, the dreams, the good or bad luck… is given a thirty-second-per-employee reason to decide whether or not to fire them if they fall below an efficiency threshold.

Yeah, my job has drawbacks. No job is perfect. This job would be a living nightmare for many people… but for me, for now, it’s awesome. And you know what? Those other jobs – they, too, were awesome. There were some terrible moments. There were some wonderful people. They were some frustrations that soured entire weeks. What defines a job as awesome is not the job itself: it’s the mindset you use to react to it.

You should enjoy your job. Like breathing, the people who most enjoy their job are usually the people who were recently not blessed with one. (Air is one of the most underappreciated blissful joys of the universe, as anyone who’s had a malfunctioning regulator or asthma can tell you.) But that’s not just because of income and possibly health insurance. It’s because, as writers, you can also look around and see that your job provides you with close regular contact with people who are completely unlike you. What motivates them? How do they come to decisions? What do they want? How do they deal with problems, frustrations, and unexpected good fortune? What are their speech patterns, and what body language do they use?

When you’re creating worlds inside your head, you’ll be populating them with people, doing jobs. The more you understand why people make decisions that you wouldn’t, and reactions unlike yours, the more your worlds and characters will become real. The better you can describe their body language and replicate their dialogue, the more lifelike they’ll seem. And the more aware you are of the intricacies and minutiae, the conventions and processes of your job, the specific terms and phrases… the better you’ll be able to look for and provide those anchoring details to describe another job and make it come to life.

And if you don’t have a job? You probably have other ways you’re in contact with people, other groups you’re in. If you don’t? Study the movies. What details do they use that make another place, time, or people seem real? What just falls flat? Watch the same actor in two different films, back to back – and watch what he changes to convey two different characters.

…and remember to enjoy yourself, and count your blessings.

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Filed under characterization, FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: LIFE

Information vs Infodumps

No two authors are alike, and no author is alike over time. This is excellent, as the audience isn’t a monolithic block either, and wants different things, too. And… then there’s infodumps.

All stories require a certain amount of information to be conveyed, and context for the story. In stage plays, there was once a convention to open the story with two characters, often the maid and butler, gossiping and giving us the backstory. Which led to the “Maid and Butler” dialogue, also called “As you know, Bob.” (Link is to TV tropes.)

There’s also the prologue, wherein the information is presented as “So far in this series…” or “This story is set on a world with the following pronunciations, tribes, history, or deadly dangers not known on earth…” (Very popular in the 80’s)

Times and tastes change, and now the general standard is to work this information into the story instead of presenting it in a chunk of front. Otherwise know as, you can’t get the people to learn about the story unless they care about the characters.

Working in, though, has a range between Heinleining and Infodump. On the one end, Heinlein was famous for working the worldbuilding into small details and conversation. How do you know you’re on a space station in the future? Well, “the door dilated” instead of the door opening. On the other end is putting the information into huge chunks between dialogue or action. This can be done very well, though if you get known for it, you too may end up parodied by your fans, like “How David Weber Orders A Pizza.”

Most authors are usually somewhere inbetween. I personally don’t like infodumps; they make my eyes glaze over. Jim Curtis, over there leaning against the back wall, is laughing his head off because I beta-read for him… and he’s well-used to seeing anything over a line or two marked on the side of his draft as “infodump; skimmed this”, or “got bored here.” Fortunately, he 1.) doesn’t take it personally, and 2.) knows that most readers are not like me!

(And if you want a neat little story about dealing with an alien invasion while you’re trying to set up a contraband still, check out Rimworld: Stranded. He’s getting close to releasing the follow-up novel, so you won’t have to wait long for more great stories in that galaxy!)

When I put out my first story, I almost went with no infodumps at all. (There are a few worked in, because beta readers got confused.) And it shows: there are two running themes in the reviews. Some readers say that they liked how there were no infodumps, and that you got to have the world unfold as you read… and the other readers say that they got confused on a couple points, and would have had a better time if that info had been dumped in up front!

Clearly, this means you want to sneak information in earlier and better than I did. Where do you tend to end up on the imparting information scale? How do you prefer to do impart yours: dialogue, exposition, scene building, prologue, or bits of narrative summary?

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: CRAFT

What do you do when things are going well?

Do you have a plan for extra money coming in above monthly budgeted expenses?

…wait, what?…

Yes, you need a plan for that. You see, freelancers don’t have a steady paycheck. There will likely be months without income. There will definitely be months with less income than your expenses. If they go on for three, four months – the infamous summer slump – or even longer, like when the nation is dealing with election drama and the fall rebound never comes – can you cope?

Part of coping is having a plan for the good times, before they arrive. Note that even in one of our oldest stories, Joseph had to start building granaries for the seven good years before the first harvest came in, so he had enough storage when the land was producing to set aside food for the seven famine years.

What should your plan look like? Well, first, do treat yourself to something nice – otherwise you’re going to feel deprived. So a nice dinner to celebrate Royalty Check Day, or that pair of boots you’ve been wanting. But after that, rebuild your cash cushion and reduce your expenses. What do I mean by that?

Fill your gas tank.

Pay your quarterly taxes.

Pay off your car.

Pay off your credit cards.

Pay off your house.

When a friend quit smoking, she was living on a ramen & rice budget – and every time she found she had enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes, she went to the gas station and put that money into the gas tank instead. Pretty soon, she was no longer permanently worried about running out of gas on the way to and from work, because it was always at a half tank or above. Then she started paying off the overdue bills – and the lack of worry, the knowing she could make it to work, and that she wasn’t going to get the power shut off again, was enough to practically make her into a zen master compared to where she was before. You ever meet someone who was calmer and happier when they were going through withdrawal?

As a freelancer, you need to have the same mindset. If you have extra money, put it somewhere that will cause you less worry in the long run. Paying your quarterly taxes is pretty high on that list, because if you don’t do it when you’re flush with cash, how are you going to manage later? Second, pay your bills. Third, pay off the things that demand money every month – because those are the things that will hurt the most on months when you don’t have enough money coming in. If your car is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about repo; if your house is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about eviction or foreclosure.

(One caveat: if you’re planning to move within 3 years, don’t sink it into the house. Rule of thumb: you’ll lose 1% of the value of the house when you sell, and another 1% of the value of the house when you buy. Because fixing a place to sell, and fixing the little things on the house after you buy one, costs money. Keep that cash in a separate account that you call “New House”, so it’s available to make buying and moving easier.)

Now, obviously this can’t cover every person’s life. If you were forced freelance before you had 6 months cash cushion, “remove worry” may be much more immediate. Have you been limping by on tires so bare that you can’t see any tread left? Is your spouse putting up with near-blinding pain because you can’t afford a root canal? Are any of your bills coming with an “overdue” stamp on them? Set aside enough to cover the quarterly taxes (so you don’t get hit with the freight train labeled IRS) and take care of your most immediate pain and worry. Use the breathing space to get a couple good nights of sleep, and then tackle the world.

And if you want more good advice, Kris Rusch tackled the same subject Thursday: http://kriswrites.com/2017/02/22/business-musings-writer-finances-versus-the-paycheck-world/

And if you want a bit of an escape from reality, where the good guys triumph and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, try Scaling the Rim. It has action, adventure, romance, and plausible science fiction! What’s not to like?

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Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Scaling the Rim

As we come up on Valentines Day, I want to take a moment to acknowledge all the gentlemen and ladies (and dragons, and other) in the audience who see a hint of romance in their scifi or fantasy and immediately ask:

As The Princess Bride proves, it’s possible for a wider audience to really enjoy your scifi and fantasy, even if it has kissing, as long as it’s worked in well. Who doesn’t enjoy fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles?

Good stories aren’t split into stories for boys and stories for girls. If you do it right, the guys will find that maybe it’s not so bad to sit through the kissing parts, and the girls will make it past the screaming eels. Besides, it’s always good to slip in there that you should never trust a traitor, even if he is your prince, and that even kissing can be awesome if it’s done by the Dread Pirate Roberts.

I tried to clear that high bar with this book – Scaling the Rim. It’s set on a colony trapped in a crater while the terraforming on their iceball is failing. While the two factions have temporarily ceased their running civil war and are pretending to cooperate in order to install a weather station that’ll warn them both of killing cold coming down from above, things are never as simple as they seem!

It’s got fighting and skiing, avalanches and intrigue, killing cold and uncovering old secrets, gunfights, true love and sacrifice…

You’ll like it.

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech.

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

Scaling the Rim, by Dorothy Grant

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, PROMOTION, Uncategorized

bumps in the road and on the author

Last week (and part of this week), I got to have a lot of downtime whether I wanted it or not. I slipped on a wet patch on the kitchen floor, and bounced myself off the counter and stove before falling heavily on a shoulder. The bruising is, even by ER nurse standards, “spectacular.” (Thanks Brad, for covering Sunday!)

Given work requires lots of typing and being fairly thoughtful, one arm in a sling and being pretty spacey on painkillers won’t cut it. (Typing this took a lot longer than you think.) So there’s been a lot of time on the couch, and contemplating how this would be perfect downtime for getting X, Y, and Z done, if only they didn’t take physical effort or concentration…

Since I get paid by the hour, this means no paycheck for me for a week, combined with the ER, X-ray, and associated bills. (It’s January; the deductibles are all freshly unmet.) While this sounds like a disaster out of time and season, I’ve known two massage therapists that have had similar medical issues happen, and ended up with no income and medical bills piled on fresh misery. (One started getting carpal tunnel; the other other broke her arm when an ATV rolled over on her.) Writers are freelancers just like masseurs – and if our wrists, arms, or other body parts are injured enough, there won’t be any working.

Bad luck? Well, yeah. Completely unpredictable? Well no, not really. Insurance companies are great believers in getting All The Data, and using it to predict just how often the average person will need the ER, or have a house fire, or get in a car wreck. They then start breaking down humanity into smaller and smaller groups, to calculate the risk to each group… not unlike we break the great mass of English-speakers down into “People who like milscifi” and “People who like clean romance.” Given data, they can say that single men under 25 years old are far, far more likely to have car wrecks than married male homeowners in their 50’s… and be right.

They cannot say that Joe Blow, a 21-year-old single male, at 2:15am January 31, 2017, on his way home from The Wild Time Saloon, will cross the center line and hit a semi carrying a highly classified experiment from one lab to another. That’s science fiction, and our story is probably more concerned with the nature of the experiment, and what happens after it escapes.

But they can predict just how often I’m likely to end up in the ER. (Not often. I didn’t get lost on the way, I just didn’t know where it was. So we drove up to the hospital complex, and from there they had Big Signs For Panicked People.)

Anyway, sitting here, I realized that I have two important pieces of data to share with you. One: before you get to talking about copays and insurance rates and all, at the base, ERs are still about a thousand dollars an hour. Spend 30 minutes in one, expect $500 in bills (x-rays billed separately.)

Second, accidents happen. Cat underfoot happens. So do wet floors, splattering grease, kid toys underfoot in the dark, dull knives slipping, and all the other ordinary disasters. Even if you’re not a full time freelancer, expect that you’re going to get hit by something, and set aside the money for it. Injury is painful and stressful enough without worrying about covering bills because you can’t make it into work, and you just got hit with unbudgeted expenses.

How much to put aside? Well, I know of one place in the US that has a completely transparent billing: the surgery center of Oklahoma. http://surgerycenterok.com/ So take a look there, and contemplate what you bet will go wrong with you next. (And here everyone under 25 goes “I’m immortal and invincible!” and the further away 25 is in your rear view mirror, the more you start checking off procedures on that list as “been there” or “will need eventually.”)

The good news: unlike massage therapists, when you’re down for the count, readers can still find your books and buy them, providing some income. So the more you have out there, the more you’ll have coming in even when your highest ambition is to find some position that doesn’t press on the injury so you can sleep.

Take care of yourselves! Use proper ergonomics, give your eyes a break at regular intervals, stay hydrated, keep moving, and put away some money for a painful day.

..and if you need something to read while you’re stuck on the couch, Tom Rogneby just released Lost Children, which is darned fine sword & sorcery. I liked it; hope you do, too!
https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Children-Minivandians-Tale-Book-ebook/dp/B01MTBV4MF/

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, WRITING: LIFE

How fast is slow?

…And other indie myths.

When talking to indies, one of the first pieces of advice you’ll hear is to have a lot of volume, putting out X stories per year. (I’ve heard anywhere from 4 to 12 on this one.) While this is good advice, it’s neither mandatory nor the only way to succeed, and “You have to write fast to succeed as indie” is fast on its way to becoming a myth masquerading as a bedrock belief in the indie universe.

Let’s break down the reasons why.

First, the indie market (in e-book) is very young. It’s still shaking out of the initial gold rush mentality and into a mature market, and isn’t there yet. (Despite being online, it doesn’t move at internet news cycle speed.) When the bad old days of trad-only were, ah, ten years ago? This is still a brand-new market. Therefore, the people who’ve come in indie-only are, at most, only on their tenth year of this. (Most haven’t been doing it for that long, either.)

Having a lot of books out there not only has more ways for readers to find you, it also lets them binge-read once they do find you – which creates fans, and plenty of royalties. However, ten years (or less) isn’t that long a time for writing a lot of books, so the indie-only authors who naturally write very quickly, and the ones who had a lot of backlog ready to put up, were able to get ahead of the trad authors whose houses didn’t upload ebooks / didn’t have rights back yet, and the newer indies who write more slowly.

However, let me show you two examples of people who don’t have to write quickly, both midlist. First, our own lovely Sarah Hoyt. Sarah has put years of effort into writing a blog, and built an audience there, as well as building fans between her mystery books, her scifi, and her fantasy. She only has one indie book out, while all the rest are trad… and when she didn’t get a book out for two years (three since the last one in that series), she still had fairly good sales, as many of her fans were happy to read anything she’d put out. (Others may be mystery-only or fantasy-only.) However, when she gets the next shifters book out, despite it being three? four? years since the last one, I guarantee you she won’t be starting from scratch on building a fanbase or selling the series.

Second, my darling husband, Peter Grant. Despite his body’s best attempts to sneak out of this marriage by hiding six feet under the soil, I’m not letting him go (and he certainly doesn’t want to go!) However, medical misadventures have seriously slowed his production schedule from the hoped-for four a year to two a year, and then only one. He’s better now (yay!) and writing again (yay!), but despite all the dire warnings of “you must do mass volume to make it as an indie…” we actually didn’t. Now, the sales do drop significantly when it’s been almost two years between books in a series (Feb 2014 to Dec 2015), but you’re not restarting from scratch. If you keep in contact with your fans, they’re excited to get the new book in the series when you help them find out it’s available.

(Caveat: if you define “making it” as “making a living”, well, yeah. Peter did not make enough off releasing one book in a brand new genre to pay the bills for all of 2016, until the December launch of Stoke the Flames Higher. I got a day job last year, and it’s both awesome and helping offset medical bills and mortgage. This is the freelance life: money does not come in steadily, and if the reserve drops too low, it’s time to supplement the income with a job until the reserve is built back up, and you want to leave. Personally, I like this job; I’ll be staying well after the reserve is rebuilt.)

When you think about it, it makes sense: back when trad pub limited us to one book a year per author, there were still plenty of people who became fans of Terry Prachett, Mercedes Lackey, Patricia Briggs and David Weber. They all started publishing well before the ebook revolution, and they still have plenty of fans even at a slow release rate today. (Heck, there are new Heinlein, Anne McCaffery, and Prachett fans being made all the time, even though those authors are no longer with us. All it takes is a body of work and visibility, or word of mouth, same as with the living.)

So if you’re a slow writer, don’t despair. Just keep writing! And if you’re a fast writer, don’t feel you have to kill yourself to keep up a schedule if your life (or health) falls apart. Just keep writing, as you can! It does help to have a place where your fans can gather and converse, so they remember they liked you and so you have an easy way to notify them that your newest book is out when it gets there. It may take a lot longer, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. (Quick math – if the average time for word of mouth to spread noticeably for an author is about three years, how many books do you have that have been out long enough to start to get word of mouth recommendations?)

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, WRITING: PUBLISHING