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Sense and Sensitivity

Blame Sarah. She suggested I fisk this

As everyone*knows I am a sensitive soul. A virtual princess of sensitivity among the hairy simian kind – yes, I can pee through seven mattresses, that’s how know I’m a sensitive bleedin’ princess, you gormless pile of rancid cormorant fewmets. Look there has to be some measurable test of sensitivity or you’d have every moron and faintin’ blooming vi’let claiming their poor widdle sensitivities offended 24/7. And if you fixed every one of those sensitivities, reducing everything to bland pablum… they’d invent new things. Because being offended is better than being ignored…

No, we need a hard and fast standard of sensitivity! And being able to pee through seven mattress and not get a wink of sleep as a result is the proven test. It has historical President… precedent, and the hallmark of royalty. That’s where the term ‘disdain’ comes from. It should be written ‘dis stain’. Don’t you believe me? My sensitive-ititties are rubbed raw by your disbelief, and can only be soothed by that universal panacea, money. $250. Or I’ll howl and growl and squeal for a boycott…

Ah, money. Amazing how a little (relatively) of this unguent can soothe the most sensitive troubled breast. Sadly, like all forms of danegeld it is addictive to its recipients. You can be sure the Dane (or the monkey) will be back in short order, demanding more, and bringing 30 of his mates along, all wanting their $250.

I’m not going to write about censorship, and the devastating effect that can have on writing, quality and originality. I’m not even going to bring up the fact that in the end, we are all a minority of one. What offends one, may well delight his identical twin brother. I’m going to write about something else about this that probably doesn’t occur to the most well-meaning of sensitivity seekers: just who benefits?

The problem, in a way, comes down to perspective, and is not dissimilar to the issue of migration and the way we tend to see that. The best way I can explain that is to paraphrase a New Zealand Prime Minister, who talking of the flow from his country to the larger Australia was that it was a good thing, because it increased the IQ of both countries. (that flow has been reversed, lately. I leave you to draw your own conclusions). Now why this is apropos is because when we talk of migrants, we inevitably think of the issues of migrants themselves (their welfare, their well-being etc) and of the country receiving them.

It’s a rarity for anyone to comment on the effect of migration on the country of origin. When Bob Mugabe started going off the wall in his desire to cling to power, and his actions effectively destroyed the economic infrastructure of his country, migrants in their millions flooded out. Not all those who left sneaked across the border to South Africa, or were landless peasants. Many were also those who could go, legally, and could do well, elsewhere. I became very good friends with a young pharmacist from Zimbabwe. He was a bright Ndebele man, who spoke flawless English (it was his home language) who didn’t want to leave – but could and could do well. Zimbabwe’s loss was South Africa’s gain. When things recovered, he’d married, settled and did not go back. He sent some money to his family – which helped them, but not Zimbabwe as much as he would have. On the other hand there were plenty of poor, uneducated migrants who undercut local labor, and were a net gain for the rich and a loss for poor of South Africa – and put bluntly because they also sent money back, a gain for Zimbabwe, but a loss for South Africa.

It’s always complicated. And there are several sides and points of view. And inevitably there is a strong economic component.

It’s a similar situation with ‘sensitivity’. We’re talking about authors (and publishers, who transfer the cost and blame to authors – every crash in publishing is author-error) and whatever the currently fashionable group-of-offendee de jour is. What we’re not seeing considered… is the benefit to the minor group, and of course the effect on the readership. And we need the economic effects of this weighed sensibly instead of sensitively.

The first question should always be: who are the customers for this book? Who will pay to read it? Will said sensitivity make a positive… or negative difference? And yes, negative is possible. Your STEAK BARBEQUE BIBLE is insensitive to vegans, vegetarians, Hindus, global warming fanatics, atheists, fundamentalist Christians – and that’s just the title. By the time you’ve finished being sensitive to that lot… your target audience has nothing to read. And the offendees were never going to be customers in any substantial numbers anyway.

Let’s be real: most of the vocal angry perpetually ‘triggered’ and ‘micro-aggressed’ are impossible not to ‘offend’: ergo the bribe, to get them to go away – which means the next ten will arrive the next shakedown, before the words are cold. Secondly: in real demographic terms most of the perpetually offended make up a tiny proportion of the population, and in many cases an even smaller proportion of target readership. My wilderness survival novel is of no likely interest to urban Wiccan vegans. If I mention them in an insensitive way, most of the target audience wouldn’t give a shit. In fact they might like the book more. That’s reality, not PC.

It’s a different kettle of tea of course, if the target are pearl clutchers who never found a fashionable offendee-de-jour they didn’t want to signal their virtue by adoring. Paying danegeld is a requisite for that audience. It still won’t stop them turning on you and casting you out, to the shrieked traditional ululations of ‘Racist, sexist, …ist, …ist”. It’s a question of timing there. If you’re writing for that audience, knowing when fold ‘em is a survival essential.

But once again we come back to both sides of the equation – a migrant is loss to their own country as well as a gain to the other country – or vice versa. Because there is no doubt that for many a small group or minority, a sympathetic (not necessarily sensitive or accurate – but I think you will find ‘sensitive’ always means sympathetic not accurate) portrayal in a novel that has entrée to a wider world… is very good for them, doing far, far more for their image, than their image does for the author. In short… the ‘sensitivity’ readers who want their little group portrayed favorably (it’s seldom about accuracy – they may remove un-favorable inaccuracies but I bet never say a word about the favorable inaccuracies) should be paying the author – not the other way around. If an author does it for free – and most of us do, despite most authors being poor… it is gratitude and help that common sense would commend, not shakedowns. And, in point of fact, that really is the case for even merely moderately popular authors like myself. I’ve never had the slightest difficulty in getting volunteer readers in a field of expertise or in a group where I needed to make sure I got it right. They are delighted to have their interest or group portrayed to a wider audience, and want it done right.

I am grateful to them, and from what I can gather, they are grateful to me.

Everyone who is important ** anyway.

**Importance is a question of relativity, rather like the speed of light.

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Jumping the Shark

Jumping the Shark
Pam Uphoff

“Wait! I know! I’ll write a mirror image story! On this world Ra’d will be a criminal . . . and his sweet little sister will be number one on the shoot-on-sight list! Yes!”

This is how you know you’ve used up all your ideas and need to back off.

Or, that you’ve made the main character of your series so powerful there are no challenges left. I mean, how many times can you save the world and then go off to explore a dinosaur world? Yeah, a couple of each and you find it hard to top it in the next book.

IMO, this is a sign that you need a break from the series. That you need to catch up on your reading, and doodle around with very different things. Maybe even . . . a new genre?

Yep. Another learning experience. It’ll be like vegetables, they’re good for you, and even taste good once you figure out the right spices. It’s the experiments that, umm, get tossed that are the nasty part. I’ve dug quite a rut for myself and I’ve nearly forgotten the basics of crafting an interesting story. So, back to review the notes from Creative Writing 101.

Let’s see . . . The major genres.

I’ve got SF/F covered, but not all subgenlawyers-smallres. Ahem, at least not in publishable form. My Urban Fantasy is pretty . . . amateurish. SF comedy? Got that.
 

 

 

 

 

15-dancer

 

 

Mystery? I read a whole bunch of mysteries, maybe I ought to try one. I’ve had mysteries inside my SF/F, but my amateur sleuth was rather incompetent. I can fix that. I think. It might require outlining for the proper placement of clues. But a bit of imposed order might help all of my work.

 

 

 

 
fancy-free-vibRomance? Umm . . . I have plenty of romance and sex in the SF/F. I suppose I could write something with the focus on the romance.

Western? However much I loved watching all the old westerns on TV, I haven’t actually read very many. Okay, this is a genre I ought to explore. Horses are familiar territory, after all. Just add cows and bandits or something, right? And avoid slipping into Cowboys vs Aliens. Plot. Must have plot. Must have story problem that matters to the MC. Must have the right equipment for the exact period of the book. I think there were a lot of weaponry development over the usual time frame of Westerns. Indian tribes and relations . . . This is going to take some research.

Christian? Probably a bad idea. Not having attended church as a child I’m “tone deaf” to the details and would probably mess up entirely.

demigod-wps2

 

I’ve written YA. Both Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy. Been accused of shoehorning a Girl-and-Horses story into my main SF/F series, so that’s not new ground.

Right. So there’s my plan. Bone up on Mysteries and Westerns. Think up some story problems. Pick a time and place for them to happen.

That’ll keep me out of trouble for awhile.

So, what genres do you write in . . . and which ones would challenge you?

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Unexpected Findings

Research is a challenge for me. Not the actual tracking down of weird and obscure information: I enjoy that, and do pretty well at it. No, for me the challenge is avoiding the rabbit hole of related interesting tidbits. Of which there are an abundance.

One of the fun aspects of the current work in progress is that I’m working two distinct strands. There’s the founding Teutonic Knights who were abducted by aliens in 1272, and their many-times-over descendants who have shown up in Earth orbit in our near-future. The 1272 part brings in action much sooner as well as providing a lot of worldbuilding – mostly from the perspective of a fifty-something knight who is well-educated by the standards of his era, but knows absolutely nothing about advanced technology or science.

Which leads to the research fun: concepts that weren’t around in the late 1200s don’t appear (or at least I hope they don’t) in their modern forms. Instead, my knight uses concepts he knows to describe things. Leading to (among other things) some interesting automated translator issues where the translator software lacks the context for something and goes for the closest equivalent. Like “fornicator” for “replicator” (which has the added advantage of dropping some much-needed light relief into a rather tense situation).

As part of writing this strand, I’m constantly searching for the etymology of words. If it doesn’t have a first known use around 1300 or less in Northern Europe, I don’t use it. There’s a lot that’s ruled out by this – words like technology, humanity, logistics… actually, just go with most of the big overarching conceptual things and you’re pretty much there. For a man who’s spent most of his life as a knight and a leader, not having the word ‘logistics’ forces him to think of the concept as the proper ordering of men and supplies – which is more or less the way it was considered in that era.

Then, me being me, I have to fight the urge to follow the rabbit trail of documented logistics of the 1200s (there isn’t much, and what there is largely relates to supplying castles), the makeup of supply trains (it varied. A lot), and how much a militant Order of Knight-Monks, all of them sworn to celibacy (as were their men-at-arms, generally known as Half-Brothers because they weren’t full members of the Order) would vary from the documented examples.

Then there’s the question of whether it’s feasible my knight would arrive at the same or a similar word by virtue of his education. Since he’s a younger son of nobility who’s grown up in the Order (as many of the Teutonic Knights did), he’s fluent in Latin and Old High German, has picked up a smattering of Old Prussian from the native Prussians over the past 30 years or so, and speaks the local Vulgate and Germanic dialects. So if there’s something equivalent to the modern term that he’s likely to come up with on his own, I’ll do that.

The end result is the Prussians in the modern timeline don’t use the same terminology we do. Their scientific language originated with two of their member species and has no human basis, so the translations given are close equivalents to what we’d use without being the same. Instead of scientists, they have technologists.

And the author winds up off on even more odd research tangents looking for different ways to say things that feel like they belong in the piece and the culture without being obnoxiously different. Not that this is anything unusual.

Trust me on this: you haven’t lived until you’ve found black supremacist theology via trying to find out how a northern European culture in the 1100s or thereabouts would view someone with albinism. I think my eyeballs tried to crawl through my optic nerves to get away from it.

Research is dangerous. Choose your search terms carefully and try not to get distracted.

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I Am The Voice That Cries in The Desert

How many times do I have to say it?  If you’re going to write something, research it.

Sure if it’s historical or science and even if you are an expert on both or either, you’re going to make mistakes.  Partly you’re going to make mistakes because you’re human.  Even say, about Elizabethan England, where I know tons of things, there are things I don’t know, and I’ll come across it and go “Uh, they did WHAT?”

Or take when I was writing the Musketeers mysteries.  This mind you was when the internet was but a toddler, just learning to walk, and not able to say “Dada”.  I found nothing about how laundry was done in the time of the musketeers in Paris.  I needed that for Death of a Musketeer.  So I assumed it was done the same way it was done in the rest of Europe and put that in the book and I’m not going to revise it.

Except… it wasn’t.  Not only it wasn’t, but h*ll it wasn’t.  It was done more like in Portugal in my childhood.  If you gave your laundry out to wash, women would take it to the river and wash heck out of it, including beating it with stones, or sun-bleaching it.

Well, in Paris in the time of the musketeers, it was the same except that there were laundry boats anchored on the Seine, and you had to pay rent to use them.  So professional laundresses rented their facilities from boatmen.

I found this out while reading a travelogue of the time that I didn’t come across till I was on the fourth book.

Anyway…. No matter how much you try to make it right, you’ll get some things wrong.

But seriously — not even trying?

Look, I’m going to be blunt here: whatever you learned in school about a time period is not enough.  Those cute little Writers’ Digest “life in” are not enough, not unless what you’re writing is a short story or a book where only a short bit pertains to the historical period, but for the whole thing?  Too many pitfalls.

Those Writer’s Digest manuals are like one of those cheap booklets that tell you how to ask where the bathroom is, or what the cost of something is.  They’re good for the basics, and even then the grammar will be bad, and a word might not be quite what a native would use. If you’re moving to the other country — and when writing you’re moving to the other country for a while — you need to know more.

Yes, I’ve been reading regencies again.  I do this when I have the flu, because they’re predictable and low effort, being a highly formulaic format.  Thing is, though, all the ones I read had thousands upon thousands of positive reviews.  And yet I rarely found one without an error.

I was okay with minor errors, like having women attend funerals (they didn’t, not in the regency.)  It’s the ones that think the regency was Victorian England, or worse Elizabethan England that get on my nerves.  It’s like people watched a movie, sometime, and that’s the extent of their research.

I’ll even roll my eyes and let it go when they have debutantes wearing bright green satin (seriously, guys, they wore muslin and usually pale colors.) or walking alone with their family’s compliant consent.

What gets me is more stuff where, you know, England is not … the way we expect.  Like, during the regency, Elizabeth will be on the throne.  Or the city of London is divided into two sections, Good Ton and Bad Ton (I SWEAR I’m not making this up) or a girl up from the country and walking alone gets picked up by the queen in her carriage (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) because “you looked sad.” Or….

I’ll be honest with you, maybe this was the ONLY mistake in the whole book, but when I trip on it three pages in, I’m not going to read anymore.

Maybe I’m a minority.  As I said, all these books have hundreds of good reviews (then again, Amazon never was very good at getting rid of all the automated reviews, and there are clubs for this, too) but I will throw them against the wall.

And maybe you think I’m being crotchetty, but I tell you, I am the voice that cries in the desert: get off my lawn.

Before you write something in a time period not our own, in a country not our own, in a discipline you only read about, research.

I do it in three phases, first I get a bunch of general books on the time period (this will often involve one of those Writer’s Digest books.

Then those books, in their biliography will suggest others “for further reading.”  I’ll explore a few of those, then read some biographies set in the time.  AND after I write the book, I try to find a beta reader who is an expert in the field, and I run it by him.

Perhaps I’m fussy, I don’t know.  But I know I wouldn’t go on about the plight of moors in Regency England.

It might not be much, but we must each be proud of what we can.

 

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Truth in advertizing

Now there’s lies, damned lies, and statistics… and as far as most of us are concerned, beyond that, advertizing. Especially if it comes with ‘But wait, there’s more…”

Of course there always IS more. Usually the parts you find out later, when it is too late and you’ve parted with your money for handy-dandy gutter-swizzle, sexbot and cocktail shaker.*

It doesn’t leave you pleased – but they have your money and they weren’t planning to sell to you again. Their customers don’t communicate with each other and anyway, there’s one born every minute…

Of course there are some trivial differences between the writing world and selling junk on TV. The pay-rates for a start.

The other relevant aspect is you shouldn’t be just selling once. The key to success as an author is building a customer base, building a name. Now over on Tor.com they were busy displaying how not to understand this. You see –according to the genius on Tor.com (I hope he runs marketing for the company) – Paul Verhoeven’s STARSHIP TROOPERS was a work of genius satirically parodying that nasty evil Robert A Heinlein that the modern literati of sf love to hate.

(shrug) I don’t care if you agree, or disagree, adore the movie or hate it… the problem is one the writer of the article seems blind to, and yet, when you think about it, is behind almost all the adverse reaction the movie received.

If you’re hungry, looking for somewhere to eat, and are really in the mood for a huge steak and fries… and you see a diner offering a special on a 16 ounce rib-eye with fries, well, your stomach and mind start eating that, and full of anticipation you’re in the door. Oddly they ask you for payment up front, but it’s a good price for steak and fries, so you pay up and sit down.

And the waiter brings you a four ounce piece of tofu, vaguely steak shaped with some mung bean sprouts.

It could be the best tofu in town, it could be a far healthier choice than steak and fries – you came in and paid your money because you WANTED steak and fries.

If the diner-owner had put ‘4oz Tofu and mung bean sprouts’ on the specials board, you would have walked past. No hard feelings. If it had been the only place in town open, you’d have eaten it and been glad to have it. If you were looking for tofu and mung bean sprouts you would have loved the meal.

But when you’d been told it was steak and you could and would have gone elsewhere – I hope they have big waiters. You won’t be back. And you won’t be kind either, when talking about it.

If Paul Verhoeven had called the movie I HATE HEINLEIN, or HUMAN FASCISTS KILL INNOCENT BUGS the same people now calling it ‘brilliant satire’ would still have loved it (possibly less, because they enjoyed watching the Heinlein fans get furious), but it would have engendered almost no disparagement. It would also have lost a huge volume of sales to the suckers who believed the advertised name.

The issue for writers – or at least writers who want a career, is you are heavily dependent on return customers. And to make the situation worse, word of mouth by readers, personal recommendation (or condemnation) of a book are for many of us as near as we come to promotion. Yes, I know, the John Scalzis of traditional publishing get marketed. To be fair he promotes himself a lot. But that’s not a starter for most of us: we rely on having written a book readers could enjoy and tell their friends. Which is why truth in advertising is so vital to us: We want the reader to bond to the book – the trivial amount one earns from a purchaser who hates the book (because it was tofu when he wanted steak) especially the share that comes to an author, is not worth the damage they do.

If you’re relying on a publisher for covers, titles and whatever advertising and promotion you may get, there is fairly little you can do, besides add caveats to your own social media promotions “Love the cover of Space Mercenary from my editor at Bor Books – great cover but it doesn’t really reflect that it’s Arthurian fantasy romance. I originally called Kissing Excalibur. If you’re a fan of Arthurian Romance you’ll love it.” You can at least protect your ‘name’ as much as possible.

It’s whole different ball-game if you’re indy and the key here is honesty. Honesty from cover to content. Don’t package a lecture on cis-hetero-masculine privilege as Arthurian Romance, and vice versa: there are people who want either or both, but they don’t want to buy steak when they wanted tofu. If you’re going to steak flavor your tofu, make it convincing. Your chances that they bought something labeled ‘steak’ when they wanted tofu are not good. Trust me on this one!

On a somewhat different track I see discrimination continues to be alive and well, and still is joyously practiced by some supporters of the party that gave us the KKK. David Gerrold told them how to kick puppies (in case anyone didn’t think of excluding and damaging careers of those that dared not sing along with the party line) and now I see it being well applied, by the usual suspects. Voting for different candidates is, oddly, a celebration of democracy, a right pertaining to it, and only totalitarians wish to suppress and punish that. You can read all about Baycon and their shenanigans here. You might want to consider buying Jon Del Arroz’s book to show them how well that worked.


The picture is a link.

Sooner or later, the sf establishment needs to come to terms with the concept of diversity being more than skin deep, and need to reflect opinion, and the demographics of the potential readership.

Or find out what tit-for-tat means. When the demographics are dead against you, it’s a stupid thing to invite.

*I know. Things could be worse. You could have been one of the first 99 customers and got two.

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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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Breaking through the blockage

Two of my esteemed fellow Mad Genius Club authors have tackled the problem of “writer’s block” over the past two days.  First, Sarah Hoyt discussed “The Curse of the Second Novel“.

Second novel curse is the near ability to complete a novel after either your first sold novel or a novel that either performed or you felt was way above all your other work to date.

The symptoms are as follows: your novel feels dull, lifeless and flat; you second guess yourself constantly, every step along the way; you’d rather be doing anything, from scrubbing toilets to rotating the cat than writing, and as a consequence, you’re remarkably easy to distract. Things that would otherwise be no problem at all become insurmountable challenges. Minor colds flatten you and you can’t concentrate to write. The fact that you haven’t vacuumed in a whole 24 hours distresses you; your cat’s love and affection is a major interruption. As a result, whatever your normal writing period is ten times lengthened.

She offers various suggestions to get over the problem, which she sees as being rooted in insecurity.

Yesterday, Kate Paulk expanded on Sarah’s article in an essay titled “When You’re Lost in the Depths of the Pants“.

Of course, when you’re an extreme pantser like me, you do run the risk of getting lost somewhere deep in the pants, possibly with a bad case of plot kudzu making it impossible to see where you’re going. Some of Sarah’s commenters wondered what to do when they get lost or they run out of spoons and simply can’t make things work the usual way if they’re extreme pantsers who really can’t work from an outline.

. . .

As an extreme pantser, my experience is that something like 50% of the process is trusting your subconscious. Another 50% is having the confidence to let your subconscious steer. Then there’s 50% figuring out how to turn your conscious brain off, and 50% shaping what emerges so it doesn’t read like that weird dream you had where the talking carrot was utterly terrifying but nobody else in the universe can tell.

This morning I’d like to offer my own approach to the problem – which is pretty straightforward.  I take the literary equivalent of a roto-rooter to the blockage, and bore my way through it by brute force.  If one avenue of approach is blocked, I abandon it and take a completely different one, then turn back from that road and bore my way into the problem from another angle.  That’s worked twice for me so far, and looks set fair to work a third time later this year.  Let me explain.

I’m a combination of plotter and pantser when it comes to preparing to write a novel.  I work out the initial plot and structure in my mind, and frequently set it out in point form in a document.  However, this is never set in stone.  Those blasted characters turn out to have minds of their own (often of fiendish deviousness), and can head off in different directions almost before I’ve realized that they’ve left the straight and narrow path I’ve worked out for them.  I then have to go haring after them, screaming “Come back!  You’re my creation, dammit!  Where the hell do you think you’re going?”  Sometimes, they listen.  More often than not, they don’t…  (Sigh)

Sometimes I just plain get bogged down.  I can’t make the plot or the characters go where I want them to be, and all my efforts feel flat, uninspired, and frankly boring.  A couple of weeks of this, and I’ll be climbing the walls in frustration.  I’ve learned, in such situations, to make that frustration into a spur for renewed creativity.  I simply shelve what I’m working on and tackle something completely different.

In early 2014, I was working on the third volume in my military science fiction Maxwell Saga, which was published as “Adapt and Overcome“.  It wasn’t doing anything or going anywhere.  I spent almost six weeks circling the drain, getting more and more grumpy and irritable.  Finally, one morning, I just said “To hell with it!”, and started writing a stream-of-consciousness document – whatever came to mind, no plot, no outline, no nothing.  Thirty days and 150,000 words later (a third of that being excisions, deletions, insertions and additions), I had a 100,000-word military science fiction novel titled “War to the Knife“.

 

 

It went on to become the first volume of a trilogy.  The second volume, “Forge a New Blade“, was published in 2015, and the final volume, “Knife to the Hilt”, will be published later this year, the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

I surprised myself by how successful this exercise was.  I really hadn’t expected that result – it was completely unplanned.  Nevertheless, my readers tell me that “War to the Knife” is one of my best mil-SF novels.  The thing was, by refusing to stay bogged down, fighting a losing battle, I moved the problem onto new ground of my own choosing.  I didn’t let it dominate me;  instead, I dominated it.  I broke new ground, and it paid off handsomely.

I remembered that lesson later in 2014, when I began to battle with another book I was working on. Instead of beating my head against a brick wall, as a deliberate exercise to distract myself from the blockage, I started writing a Western novel – a completely different genre for me (a moribund one, according to conventional wisdom), and one that required a great deal of research to make it historically authentic.  I treated it as an occasional project, one I turned to when I felt over-tired or frustrated from concentrating very hard on the mil-SF novels that until then had been my bread and butter.  I completed a rough, unpolished first draft by mid-2015, then set it aside for future reference if I ever felt that way inclined.

Quite by chance, not intending anything by it, I put up the opening chapter of that Western on my blog early in April 2016, because I was short of blog fodder that day and thought, “Why not?  What have I got to lose?”  To my pleased surprise, reaction to it from my blog readers was very favorable.  In fact, within 24 hours, I received an offer for a contract for three Westerns from a small publishing house.  Needless to say, I wasn’t fool enough to turn that down!  A couple of months of hectic polishing and fine-tuning later, and my first Western, “Brings The Lightning“, was out the door and on its way.

 

 

It’s sold pretty well for a first effort in that genre, and I’m currently writing its sequel.  Look for it later this year.

Finally, another “anti-blocking” effort has led to a similar development.  I’d produced a few fantasy manuscripts during my years of learning the craft of fiction writing, but none of them were much good.  However, the field still interests me, so after the experience of “War to the Knife” and the Western project, I decided to treat it as yet another exercise in distraction when I got blocked on my work in progress.  I ended up producing three or four fantasy stories that I think have the potential to become novels in their own right.  Two of them progressed until I’d written a third to a half of each one.

In December last year, I asked my blog readers to select one of the two for further development.  I put up an excerpt from each novel, and my readers selected the first excerpt as their favorite.  I’ll therefore be finishing that novel as soon as my current Western project is complete, for publication (hopefully) prior to LibertyCon in June.  (I won’t neglect the second fantasy novel, either;  that will be a future project – or I may merge it with the first one and make a multi-volume series out of them.)

Therefore, I offer this suggestion as a way to overcome “writer’s block”.  Don’t get blocked – find a way around the block by tackling something completely different, then come back to the blocked work when your mind’s been creative in other ways.  You may be surprised at how well it pays off!  So far I’ve got two books published out of such “distractions”, and a third on the way.  If this keeps up, I may end up publishing more “distractions” than main projects!

 

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