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Posts from the ‘SARAH A. HOYT’ Category

Words And The Lonely Writer IV – COMMUNICATE!

Now we reach the part of our program in which Sarah gets testy.  Yeah, I know, that’s such a rare sight that you’re all going to be awe struck.

No, seriously.  Stop laughing.

One of the weirdest things about writers it’s that we love language, and we study it and pet it, and take it home, and call it George.  What we tend to forget is that Language is really used for ONE thing: communication. Read more

Uncharted!!

(exclamation points mine. Both of ‘em)

Hey, all you crazy, wonderful writerly/readerly types, our own Sarah, and friend of the blog, Kevin J. Anderson, have a new book out, and everybody loves it! Okay, okay, maybe not everybody-everybody, but right now Barnes & Noble has it in a list of the best SF of May! Kindle edition available at Amazon and Baen Ebooks. Audio at the ‘Zon, as well, for those who like getting their fiction aurally. Check it out, commit commerce, and leave a review.

For those who want their very own, beautiful hardcover of Uncharted, Amazon is taking pre-orders for fulfillment on the 8th of May.

Look what I found!

Never say I don’t do nice things for you guys. Look what I found today. Shh, don’t tell Sarah though. She doesn’t know I “borrowed” this. Hehehehe.

No, you aren’t imagining it. This is the cover for the NEW Dyce Dare mystery. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. Dyce is wacky and fun. E is one of those kids you think you want and then you’re really glad he’s not yours because he’s much too smart — for you and for his own good. And let’s not forget about Peegrass the cat. I can’t wait. Read more

Blast from the recent past — Write like the Wind

(Sarah is at TVIW this week and asked me to fill in for her. Well, in light of some of the comments we received in the various threads asking what you’d like us to write about as well as some conversations I’ve had recently with other writers, I thought this post Sarah did back in April might be appropriate. — ASG)

Write Like the Wind

There was a time I wrote a short story in six months.  I took days to write it, weeks to lovingly polish it, MONTHS of agonizing over every word.  Then I sent it out.  And it was rejected.  (All but one, which was accepted eight times, but killed magazines and/or editors. No, I don’t know why.)

Then I attended the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop (the first) and in those two weeks we HAD to — had to — produce five short stories and two novel proposals.  I did.  Also, at this point all of those short stories have sold.

After that I launched into a year of a short story a week (while writing two novels.)  It was a challenge of my writers’ group.

We didn’t succeed.  I think I ONLY wrote forty short stories.

The funny thing was, recently, reading over my past stories (I was transferring things from diskette) that the quality difference, after about a quarter of a story a week, more or less, was marked, visible and obvious.  I was much better after a quarter of forced production.  And from that point on, pretty much all the short stories have sold.

Novels too started being much faster.  Honestly, if I can stabilize my health at some point, a novel a month is neither unfeasible nor unreasonable.  I once wrote two novels (Heart and Soul and Plain Jane) in a month, and finished another one, though I can’t remember which (might have been one of the Musketeer books.)  In fact the main reason I didn’t write a book a month back when I was healthy was that in traditional publishing there was nothing I could do with that many books.  (Ah, for a way to send my old-self a little note.)

One of you emailed me last week and asked me if writing that fast was some trick that could be taught.

Sort of.  I’m not sure it can be taught, but it can be learned.  It’s a frame of mind you put yourself in, a mental block you remove.  And the only way to put it firmly in place is if you PRACTICE it and set yourself deadlines and goals.

However to the extent I can help, there are some principles to keep in mind that might help break the barrier.

1- how long you take to write a story doesn’t make it better or worse.  My highest-selling book was written in two days, and the next-highest-selling in two weeks.  By the standard that counts “how many people pay out good money to read this?” my faster written books are the best.

2- nine times out of ten the things you’re agonizing about on the story aren’t really important.  No, seriously.  Things like passive voice, overuse of to-be and too many adjectives and adverbs are things editors and critics care about, but most readers don’t notice, not if your voice is confident and strong enough.

3- Keeping a strong voice is much easier if you write the story fast.

So, that’s why.  Now HOW to do it.

1- Write as fast as you can.  If you are a slow typist, try voice dictation.  Put your mind in the story and write as fast as humanly possible.

2- Don’t edit.  I can’t say that enough DO NOT EDIT.  Write to the end without editing.  If you typed teh instead of the, it will wait till you’re done.

3- To facilitate do not edit, DO NOT read back to see what you did yesterday.  For best results leave yourself a sticky note about where you are going next.  That way you don’t need to read what you wrote and be tempted into editing.

4- if you’re an outliner, have a complete outline before you start, and then mark on the outline what you’re doing tomorrow.

5- if you’re a partial outliner like me, outline what you’re doing tomorrow at the end of the work day.

6- Did I mention write as fast as you possibly can?  Short story or novel race to the end.

7- Once you’re done fix typos then let it sit for a week.  This is an excellent time to send it to your betas, unless like me your idea changed in the middle and your beginning and end don’t match.

8- Fix continuity issues.

9- Make sure all your foreshadowing points right.

10- Make sure you got all your points in.

11- Do not revise/get caught in rewrites more than three times.  Three times, and let it go.

12 – move on to the next project.

Now I can say all this till I’m blue in the face, but you HAVE to practice it.  You HAVE TO PRACTICE it.  But if you do, I guarantee you’ll get better.

Darkship Revenge

(Sarah is in the middle of writing and other things and I think she forgot to schedule something for today. So I’m goingto echo her post at ATH since, well, it gives us more Thena! — Amanda)

*So this is the book I’m finishing right now.  Or at least this is the first chapter*

Beginning And End

Battle Born

 

I never wanted to be a mother.

Bioengineered madmen had created me, assembled me protein by protein, to be the Eve of a new race, the start of a new humanity.   My name is Athena Hera Sinistra. The woman without a mother, the mother of a race of gods.

Alas I seem destined to disappoint all expectations, including my own.

Being a girl raised without a mother, by a man who cared more for her body than her mind, I’d never realized how easy it was to make a human being.

You’d think it would be an arcane thing, for which you had to work very hard, not an happenstance, the fruit of a thoughtless moment. My past, of promiscuity without consequences, reinforced that there was some switch to flip that made reproduction possible.

I was no good at mothering, no good at nurturing, no good at the simple things of mankind. Love had surprised me, both in feeling it and in its being returned, and my love was as much an alien to the ways of mankind as I was.

I was good at killing, at attacking, and at surviving.

My child was born during a battle. A strange battle started when an unknown ship, of an unknown, lithe design, attacked the Cathouse, the darkship my husband, Kit, and I flew to steal powerpods from Earth orbit for Kit’s native colony of Eden.

We were three days from the powertrees in Earth orbit. We didn’t even see the other ship before it fired on us.

One moment we were under-power, still too far away from possible near-earth traffic for either of us to man our stations, the other moment our alarms were blaring that our ship was damaged.

I abandoned the reader where I’d been searching for information on how to give birth, and Kit had come running out of the exercise room.

And we’d fought.

The Cathouse was ill equipped for battle. It only had weapons at all – energy cannons mounted on the surface – because Earth had started trying to capture our kind when we came to collect powerpods. And someone had finally decided it was better to fight than to just commit suicide in order to avoid interrogation.

But our weapons were small and relatively ineffective. Built to discourage rather than destroy. Built to save on weight and therefore fuel and leave more space for powerpods. But also built not to create such outrage at us that finding us became a top priority.

Before the alarms had stopped sounding, Kit and I were at our battle stations, also known as our powerpod collecting stations and also our landing stations: two rooms on opposite ends of the spherical ship, where all the ship controlling business took place. One was for the navigator and one for the pilot. Kit, whose eyes had been enhanced to be able to pilot in near-perfect dark, which permitted him to pilot without lights in the powertrees, minimizing our chances of getting caught, must have locked into the pilot chair and brought his screen to focus on our attacker just moments ahead of my taking my position. I was clicking the lock on my belt, when I felt his baffled shock. Felt it because, to avoid detection, pilot and Nav from Kit’s world had a form of telepathic communication. It was engineered into them for the purpose, and it had been engineered into me for completely different reasons, which didn’t matter, because it still worked.

To my wordless question, he returned the image he could see on his screens: an almost playful silver ship, triangle-shaped, but with added flips to the wings.

I was already calculating coordinates in my head, to target our shot back, and rattled them off to Kit via mind link. My normal work aboard was to calculate coordinates and maneuvers for Kit to pilot in the tight confines of the powertrees, where any wrong move could bring you in contact with a ripe powerpod and to sudden, explosive death.

But the ability to calculate coordinates on the fly and to communicate them to my husband served us well in this too. He spun the Cathouse to aim our weapons at the attacker, and let fly with a blinding wall of light.

Our opponent… flipped, like a falling leaf twirling in an impossible wind. I guessed the purpose of the maneuver and directed Kit to move us sharply down, which he did, avoiding the blast, which shone harmlessly by as it flew above us.

Before Kit was done plunging, I’d directed him to fire again.

We did and shining light from our weapons played across the other ship which seemed to me to falter for a moment.

I remembered some genius of the twenty first century had written a treatise on how space battles were impossible, because ships could always evade other ships in three dimensions. It hadn’t occurred to said genius that in that case, as in air battles between airplanes, one ship could follow the other.

I’d just thought we should follow the ship and—

A sharp pain cut through my middle. It hurt almost as badly as when I’d got stabbed in the gut in a back-alley fight when I was twelve.

For a moment I lost breath and the ability to focus, and Kit screamed in my mind, Thena?

And we caught it. We caught it full amidships and our sensors started blaring again, and I realized I’d wet myself, and I remembered something I’d read, something—

I must have communicated my distress to Kit, because though I shouted coordinates at him, he didn’t seem to do anything with them.

Alarms continued to blare, loudly, and I tried to tell him he had to keep firing on this strange ship, but he wasn’t having any. I remember telling him that the ship’s armament couldn’t be all that powerful, either, because if it were it could have burned us to nothing by now. At least I think that’s what I told him, but I confess what I’d later find out were a full two hours became a blur.

I remember lying on our bed, and I remember Kit trying to get our medkit examiner gadget to give him meaningful readings on the progress of the birth. It wasn’t very successful. At one point, I remember his yelling at me that he couldn’t understand what had possessed me to come with him on a six month trip without letting him know I was pregnant.

I’d tried to explain, as I had when I’d first told him, three months ago, that I hadn’t thought giving birth could be a difficult or hazardous thing. After all humans had been doing it since there had been humans, and weren’t we bio-improved, and shouldn’t it be easier, after all?

I think he laughed at that. Just as he had laughed at my notion that fertility was somehow volitional. I suspect my so called father had kept me on contraceptives from menarche to his death, since he intended to control my reproduction. It was the only explanation of why I’d never become pregnant in my misguided and turbulent youth, but had within the first year of my marriage.

Other than this exchange things are confused in my recollection, though I don’t understand why, or not fully. We didn’t have any of the drugs women commonly use to eliminate pain in childbirth, and Kit didn’t want to give me any of our other pain killers because he wasn’t sure how they’d affect the baby.

All of this was made worse by the fact that Kit came from a culture where children hadn’t been born by natural means in almost three hundred years. They grew in artificial wombs, and were decanted at term. None of which helped him figure out what to do to help me birth the traditional way. Nor did we have any literature on the subject aboard, except for soppy fiction on the beauty of birth.

The soppy fiction is wrong. Birth is not beautiful. The results might or might not be beautiful, but birth is painful, brutal and a mess.

I remember Kit yelling for me to push, and I remember the alarms blaring. I might or might not have screamed at him to go fire on the ship attacking us before it killed us all. I might or might not have added that he should let me die in peace.

I don’t remember when the gravity cut out, though at that point so many alarms were screaming at us about damaged systems that I don’t think I’d have noticed one more.

I do remember that there were clots of blood floating in air and that Kit – with his feline looking eyes, his calico hair – looked like a blood-smeared nightmare as he yelled something about crowns and how I should push.

Suddenly gravity cut in again. There was… unimaginable pain, and then a sudden and very definite relief.

Kit took off running, to come back seconds later, babbling something about no vital systems being affected, and auxiliary artificial grav having kicked in. He picked our child up, cleaned her, burnt the end of her umbilical cord – who thought up that system? It’s as though humans were born unfinished – examined me through one of the med sensors, muttered something about not needing stitches, then sat on the side of the bed slowly bent to rest his crossed arms on his knees and his face on his crossed arms and looked like he’d like to pass out.

After a while I asked him if he shouldn’t go see to the affected systems, or at least fire on the other ship before it caused any more damage. He frowned at me and said they seemed to have lost interest, or at least were no longer firing on us. “I’ll need to go outside and repair some outside sensors,” he said. “But we’re not in danger any more.”

“That makes no sense,” I said, even as I tried to figure out how to nurse, even though I’d only seen it in sensies before. “Why would they attack us and then leave?”

“I don’t know,” Kit said. “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity. Earth is at war, after all.” He frowned. “Several wars, I expect by now.”

“But that shouldn’t extend to space,” I protested. “There really is no space presence beyond Circum.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But your idea of how things were and how they really were aren’t always the same. Maybe the Good Men had secret bases in space.”

I inclined my head in semi-agreement. We were both covered in blood, I was naked, and the room, between lack of gravity and the dirty aspects of birth, looked like particularly messy barbarians had stormed through.

Fortunately my child figured out the nursing thing, because I had no idea how to do it. I held her and looked down at her thinking how odd this was. How strange that I could become a mother so– Not easily, but quickly.

Kit looked at us, with that odd look of reverence that males reserve for things that scare them a little. “We have a daughter,” he said.

I nodded. I was trying very hard not to think that this small creature was utterly dependent on me and would surely die without me. I’d never had anyone utterly dependent on me. Yes, I’d rescued Kit from some horrible situations, but he’d rescued me too. It wasn’t a one-sided relationship. And he could go on living without me, no matter how little he would like it. But with my daughter…

The word tasted wrong, as something that could not possibly apply to me. She looked small, unfinished and red, with a face the size of a large orange, little curls all over her scalp, and the most determined expression I’d ever seen. Both her fists were clenched, as though she were engaged in a difficult battle.

Kit stood up, stood by my side, looking down. “She has your eyes,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. And since his were the result of a bio-engineering virus introduced in the first trimester of gestation, I added, “We didn’t pay extra for her to have yours. She might make a decent navigator yet.”

He did a laugh that sounded like a hiccup. “I hope—”

“Yes?”

“Nothing. Foolishness,” he said. “I was going to say I hoped the world would be kind to her, but I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“No, we each have to make the world as kind to us as we can.”

“And we’ll have to protect her until she can look out for herself,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. This too tasted strange, but it also tasted right. I didn’t want it to be true, but if I didn’t owe anything to someone I’d created, to whom would I owe anything? She couldn’t look after herself. And I’d brought her here.

He got up. “Right,” he said. “I’m going to see about fixing those sensors. And then I’ll come back and help get you cleaned up.”

It was the last I saw of him aboard the Cathouse.

How To Write A Short Story

There are many reasons to write short stories.  None of them are the reason I learned.  I learned because I’m an idiot. Being an idiot, I read very outdated books that said that to break into novels you must have a track record in short stories.

By the time I broke into publishing, getting a short story published was actually much harder than getting a novel published.  There were fewer slots.

But I’m an idiot, and therefore, despite the fact that I’m a natural novelist and short stories had to be painfully learned, I ended up with over 100 published (though only two before I sold a novel.)

So, supposing you’re also a natural novelist, how do you go about writing short stories? (Short stories sell less on amazon, but otoh think of them as loss leaders.  People might buy (or get free) a short story then invest on your novel.  Every time I keep a short story free all month, my income doubles from the novels, so… Perhaps it’s not cause and effect, but it tracks too well to be coincidence.)

First: Stop thinking of a short story as a shorter version of a novel.  You can’t cram all that stuff in there.  Well, you can, but it won’t be a story.  more like Cliff’s notes to a book unwritten.

Second: Stop thinking of a short story as a chapter in a novel.  While these can sometimes work, mostly they read like… chapters in novels.

The best way to think of a short story is as its own thing.  And what is its own thing?  Well, it’s hard to explain.  It’s almost a completely different art form from a novel.  You could say it deals with “smaller” themes, but stuff like Cold Equations or Midnight Mass (the short story) pack a huge wallop in a tiny space.  Granted some other short stories are lighter feeling or bubbly, but really that can’t be the definition.

So, what is the definition?

To me a short story is a complete and coherent emotional experience.  But wait, isn’t a novel that also?  Sure. But a novel stretches over a longer frame, and can evoke many emotions, before pushing you into the final climax and catharsis.  In fact, even horror novels should have funny bits, etc.

A short story is more one note.  Because you’re working with a shorter space, you have to concentrate on inducing and heightening a single note of an emotional experience — be it fear or joy, romance or horror.

Because of its shortness and in terms of technique, a short story usually revolves around a single incident that forces the emotion or takes you through a single choice and its consequences.

Take cold equations — while there is a reference to the brother and the reason she’s so attached to the brother, it’s all in the past.  We don’t even get her sneaking aboard, we just get her aboard and the decision forced by the cold equations.

In the same way in Midnight Mass (F. Paul Wilson) we don’t get how the vampires took over the US, just this one priest’s struggle to celebrate just one mass in the world of darkness (which in a way has to do with clearing his name, etc.)  The novel he wrote based on the short is a hot mess because it can’t have that focus and too many politically correct shibboleths fell into it.

So even if the story you have to tell is very long, pick the dominant emotion/experience you want to convey to the readers and concentrate on it.  Give only the essential past in flashbacks.  And remember, keep it to the essential, because words count in short stories.

Pick an incident that involves choice and/or action on your character’s part and one whose consequences can at least be foreseen after the choice is made, or whose consequences are pretty immediate.

So, if you picked the moment your character decided to save the world?  Dude, you’re writing a novel.  (Unless saving the world involves putting it in a ziploc baggie, of course.)  If you picked the moment your character chose to save his brother, even though his brother is prophesied to destroy the world?  Ah, there you have something.

Then pick a choice that can play itself out in about six thousand words.  So, if your character has decided to become a general, dude, you’re writing a novel.  If your character picks up the flag when the standard bearer lets it drop, that’s more like it.

Then put that incident under the microscope.  One of the mistakes of first time short story writers is what I call “And then they were done” so the whole story takes place in about a thousand words.  “He had to make this choice, he made it, it played out.  The end.”

Remember that this incident has to be presented as highly significant and evoke emotions in your readers.  Your character should still have a try-fail sequence at least twice, before succeeding.  And the decision needs to be important to him and not overly obvious.  And you should show, not tell.

Okay — I confess I have cabinet-refinishing brain, so I hope the above is helpful.  If it’s not, or you need more, ask questions.

Why Give Indie a Try

I didn’t forget my post day. I forgot what day today is.  This is partly because I’m still feeling like “every day is Sunday” after we finished the heavy part of the house, and partly because today is a wee bit crazy.  We just took a load of hazardous waste (paint, mostly) to the local facility, and we’re now getting ready to go to the eye doctor (which is actually a good thing.  I think we’ll all agree it will be better if I can write without squinting at the screen and confusing os and es.) Also, I have the Hugo voting to do, I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.

So, what can I do that is useful to you on short notice?

Well, recently I had the opportunity to discuss indie versus traditional with someone I hope is becoming a friend.  So i sort of know the questions on your mind, and will try to answer them.  If I don’t cover them, ping me in comments and I’ll try to answer.

Things you wanted to know about indie publishing, but were afraid to ask:

1- Isn’t it a danger to do indie publishing?  Won’t it wreck my career?  I mean, publishers won’t take me seriously after that.

A- No.  No.  And also forget about it.  Not only Larry Correia, but a lot of other people whom I can’t be bothered to look up right now, start out indie, do well, then get picked up by a house.

2- Won’t having published indie first set off alarm bells at a traditional house?

Um… maybe.  But there’s alarm bells and alarm bells.  For ten years I’ve watched this kind of pick-up do better than traditionally submitted books.  From a business point of view, it makes sense: this person has proven that they can publish and sell, so if you give them a little push, who knows where they’ll end up?  But maybe it’s not a bad idea that a publisher also knows you have other options.  As Laurell K. Hamilton once told me “publishers are like men.  If you only have one, they’ll abuse the privilege.”  Now I’m not sure what that means about her relationships, but I know she’s right about publishers (except possibly Baen.)

3- So, what about Baen?  Why can’t I just go with them?

Well, Baen is ONE house.  And they publish rather specific stuff: sf/f and sf/f of a certain bend.  For instance, I thought they wouldn’t do well with Witchfinder because it’s so weird.  They might accept it because I’m their author, but it would be a bit odd with their very distinctive fan base (who read it anyway, but because it’s Goldport they know what to expect.)  And if you’re not already their author and are doing something like mystery or thriller with no supernatural elements (or even if you ARE their author) they’ll not be able to pick it up.

Also, Baen has a long reply time.  Also, Baen might prefer to not pick up a totally untried writer when indie successes would like to publish with them.  Or at least they’d prefer tried properties.  Can you blame them?

4- But there’s no money in indie!

Well, for the last two years, when I have been almost completely sidelined traditionally, I’ve been making better than my average before I went indie.  From Amazon.  I’m not getting rich or anything, but those are the reprints, and they’re still nothing to sneeze at.  (Around 15k a year, or a little more.)  My first indie published novel got me the same I got from traditional in the first three months out.  BUT more than that, my friends with no publishing track record are making about the same or just a little less from their books.

5- But what if my book isn’t good enough?

Good enough according to whom?  Given their rate of flops, the fact a traditional publisher wants to publish it doesn’t mean it’s “good enough” for the public.  At best it means someone else took the responsibility for it if it’s a flop.  But not really, since if it’s a flop it’s ALWAYS the writer’s fault.

By all means make sure that you spelled everything right, and that you didn’t completely forget one of the subplots resolution (which sometimes happens traditional, too.)

But in the end what counts is if the book finds an audience.  And you can’t decide that.  As my husband is finding out, some people out there ARE waiting for a book just like his.

Put the book out and find out.  If you’re really afraid it sucks, (to quote Kris Rusch) use I.M.N. Idiot as a pen name.  But be prepared for Mr. or Ms. Idiot to be a ROARING success.

Go on, do it.

There’s gold in them there hills.