September 29, 2010

Pay Attention, Stupid

Google Home Page has been increasingly deficient in updating modules with new blog posts. I follow a collection of industry people who post daily and lately, some of their posts haven't been showing up until days later. That was another impetus for me to switch from LJ to Blogger. The Blogger Dashboard is much more effective at telling me when content is available. (I'm told it's the same thing as Reader, but I started with Google Homepage when I had a lot of non-blog modules included as well, but they have fallen away over the years.)

One such industry person is Jessica Faust from BookEnds, LLC, a literary agency I queried for BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE. She posted her form rejection letter on her blog today, and I wanted to compare it to the one I received (identical, in case you were wondering). It struck me that it was only to BM&BBQ and not WCO. Why hadn't I queried her again?

So I went to her agent page and saw the reason. She only reps contemporary fantasy, which Black Magic was. Wanted is pure classic fantasy.

...

Now, if you've done your homework properly, you know I'm wrong. She reps contemporary, fantasy. That reads "contemporary [COMMA] fantasy"

You see, that comma was at the end of the line and I skipped right over it. Right over. Woosh! Here's an agent whose blog I follow daily (where I participate almost as frequently) who I could have queried MONTHS ago, but because I missed one stupid comma, I did not send her anything.

So the rule that says do your homework before querying an agent? Here's a sub-clause: Pay attention, stupid.


Oh yeah! While the above remains a smart lesson, in this case, the decision not to query was intentional. I read an interview with Jessica where she voiced a firm opinion of word counts, which WCO surpasses by 30,000+ words.

September 28, 2010

Hobo Writing

So I live in New Hampshire (Nashua). I work in Massachusetts (Boston). While this may seem extreme to drive from one state to another for someone living in the middle of a huge state (read any state not in New England, Delaware, Maryland, or Hawaii), it's not that far. I drive 20-30 minutes to the train station, take an hour long train ride, then a twenty minute subway ride and I'm just down the street from where I work. Sure, this is longer than any commute I've ever had in my life, but I love the company I work for, and it beats being unemployed.

The best part is the hour-long train ride. When people see me cranking 2000-4000 words five days a week every week, they say, "Wow you write so fast!" I don't think so. I just write two hours a day every day and that's what comes of it. (I also write on weekends, but usually only accomplish 1000 words a day or so.)

I always joke that if I am successful enough that I can write full-time, I would have to continue buying my rail pass and ride the trains all day while I write. Well, I have vacation all this week, and I decided to ride the rails like a hobo--a well dressed, showered, shaved, and equipped hobo.

So here's how it works. Take the train down to North Station, skip down to South Station, and the grab whatever train leaves next. Get off at the last destination my card gets me (not the destination station, which has an impact I discuss later), eat lunch, get back on the train, go back to South Station, and repeat until I get a full day's worth of work. Hobo Writing!

Now, I had another epiphany over the weekend so I have officially stopped work on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST and begun revising THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I forgot how flipping large the first two chapters are. I'll have to go over those again before I send them out and make sure I'm not world building too much too early. (And where the hell did all this passive voice come from?)

Here is what I learned:

  • When going off on adventure, be sure to fully charge your smart phone so you can take advantage of the miracle of modern technology, like GPs mapping and the Googles. Mistake #1
  • When I have consecutive days off, I always stay up late. I feel like I'm not maximizing my vacation time if I'm not staying up late. Don't ask me why this is, but this prevents me from getting an early and effective start. Mistake #2
  • Non-destination locations are commuter waypoints. They are oases of parking lots an factory buildings with little by way of food or even neighborhoods I feel comfortable walking around without a loaded pistol...okay, not even then.
  • Destination locations are much the same unless they are an Amtrak stop or a state capital (...which are Amtrak stops). I should have waited 15 more minutes and gone down to Providence. Mistake #3
  • Much like flying, riding a train all day is dehydrating. I don't know why, exactly, but it is. Certainly walking around Bridgewater State College (which is one big ass building and nothing by way of food) and then sitting for thirty minutes in the humidity didn't help. Mistake #4
  • When trekking to an unknown subway stop--say Kendall Square--three hours after lunch time, be sure to look in both directions before wandering off in search for food. There may have been a bar and grill right to your left. Mistake #5
  • When beholding manna from heaven that is food trucks, do not break down crying when you find the only ones still selling offer only soy burgers and fellafel.
  • Do not presume to understand Boston regardless of the years you've worked there or the frequency in which you've gotten lost in Southie. You have not seen Boston in its entirety until you've been to MIT (yes, pedagogues, it's not technically Boston. All of Eastern Massachusetts is Boston, so stuff it! :p).
  • Do not ask the woman carrying the bucket of ice-like substance and baster whether she's a good scientist or an evil scientist. You may not like her answer.
  • Watch all available seasons of Eureka before going to MIT. It will help prepare you.
  • The crazy lady having a meltdown on the platform to the Red Line should be sad, but given she's standing outside Mass General, it's okay to laugh. Medical treatment is within her grasp...and they can hear her, so they're probably already on the way.
  • When you finally get food and your hands are shaking because you're so hungry, do not gorge yourself on onion rings. The increased fat in your bloodstream will make you lethargic and your writing productivity will plummet. Mistake #6
  • Treat your return train ride home during rush hour like any other rush hour train. Get there in a reasonable amount of time else you won't get to write at all. Mistake #7
  • When driving home in the rain, do not leave adequate stopping distance between you and the car in front of you. That kind of thing is to assholes what shit is to flies.

Total revision work for today was 10,000 words. Not bad, but I think I could have done better if I had left during my normal time of 7am rather than 9. And if I had gone to Providence rather than Bridgewater. If I try again tomorrow, we'll see how far I get.

September 27, 2010

The Hard Part

I got a pass on WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING today. This particular agent has looked at BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE as well and is very good about giving feedback with rejections. What struck me today is that his comment was very similar to a comment Elizabeth Poole gave me when she beta-read the story.

Bastin is a more likable character than Nashau or Podome. This isn't disputed, trust me. Bastin is your classic high charisma, high energy flimflam man you find in many fantasy novels. That was one of the reasons he wasn't the main character. I've seen him before. Or at least, I've seen other characters with that attitude (Bastin keeps himself out of the cliche gutter, I think). And regardless, it wasn't his story I wanted to tell. It was Nashau's. It is a story about unemployment in a fantasy setting. I saw the story I wanted to tell and I told it.

But here is the feedback, this story would be better with Bastin as the main character. A story may be better with Bastin as the main character, but that story wouldn't be this story. And there's the hard part.

Completing a novel is difficult. Revising that novel is challenging. But rewriting the novel? That's flipping hard.

Revising makes a story better. It fixes flaws, improves weak structure to make it stronger. It's an essential element of professional writing. Rewriting is taking the fundamental aspects of a story: it's plot or theme or characters or setting, and telling a whole different tale.

Now, the agent did not say "If you rewrite this with Bastin as the main character, I will represent you" which saved me a lot of hand-wringing. But the implicit statement of "I'll look at this again" was (I think) there.

Since I received that email, I have pondered and pondered and pondered whether or not I could tell WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING with Bastin as the sole main character rather than 1 of 4 (with Nashau being the primary main character of the group with Jara being second). The first half is easy. There's a lot of stuff early on with Nashau and Podome that could be cut. If they're not main characters, those chapters are unnecessary. But that leaves me with stuff later...well, those chapters balance because of the foundation I built with those early chapters. I don't think I can revise my way to a Bastin-centric story. I'm too attached to the story I told and still believe it is better the way it is.

What happens when this happens later? What happens when it's an editor and I'm contractually obligated to deliver and they say something like this? I'm terrified. I've always known it's a possibility, but was able to ignore it because I'm still looking for an agent. It's hard to stifle that gut reaction of, "No, it's better this way" just because that's the way you told it. Really, rewriting is asking for a different story than the one you've told but with the same stuff included. Ugh! That's so hard!

September 26, 2010

QUERY: JEHOVAH'S HITLIST (a draft)

Jehovah knows a secret. On Sundays when they parachute down the charity box, you can see where they open the sky to make the drop. The first one to the box gets the best charity: food rations, medicine, ammunition. Today all he needs is a new pair of shoes. He nabs himself a pair of boots made out of real leather, and he only has to kill one person to get them.

There's a list hidden inside one of the boots. Five names written on the back side of a bible cover. The list is branded with a noose. Those names are the means to deliver a message to the world up above. The Hanged Man says Jehovah is going to deliver a message for him or he'll kill Jehovah, his family, his friends, and his neighbors.

JEHOVAH'S HITLIST (or DOWN BELOW THE UP ABOVE) is a 100-000 word post-apocalyptic commercial fiction. The oceans have risen, nations have fallen, and the rich and powerful live in platforms in the sky. The rest live in ghetto cities below.

This will be my first novel publication. Thank you for your time and consideration.

September 25, 2010

Pre-Ponderance

This isn't a fully formed story idea, but something I wanted to write down for later. Today is my birthday (and if I weren't so tired, I had a completely different post I wanted to make but now I'm just going to go watch "Repo Men" instead). For my birthday, I went up to the White Mountains and went horseback riding. There is a ranch I've been to before (Rocky Ridge Ranch) and a horse I enjoy riding (Buddy).

We were walking along in the hotter-than-expected heat and I thought some people might feel bad for Buddy, having a few hundred pounds of saddle and human on his back. It wasn't like we were going much faster than I would have on foot. We're walking after all. But back in the day, it wouldn't be just me. It'd be all my gear too. Buddy was a Beast of Burden.

And that got me thinking. Where is Burden? Who are these beasts that live there? Are there any other similarly named locations? Could you be a Beast of Obligation? or a Beast of Obsession? Or do all the beasts come from Burden and you get something like trolls in Obsession? And why are these communities so homogeneous? Is there a segregation law that prevents beasts from living somewhere besides Burden?

And what's it like to live in Burden? It doesn't sound all that fun, really. Why doesn't anyone leave? Is it because the housing market is depressed? Or are beasts low wage-earners versus neighboring communities?

And for that matter, is Punishment a penal colony? It makes sense, given its name and all. But why do they only send fat people there? Or are they taking the broader definition of gluttony where the object is non-specific and it's simply the appetite that matters. Do the Greens from Envy take issue with how broadly gluttons are defined? Or do they have a summer home in Envy but winter in Punishment?

September 24, 2010

You Gotta Fight for Your Right...to Read?

I've offered tacit support of SPEAK during the flair-up against the comments made in Springfield last week. I didn't hop on the bandwagon and speak out against it for a couple reasons. First, I'm fat, and doubt I could hop on a bandwagon if I wanted to. Second, I don't think my message would reach anyone that could be swayed by anything I have to say.

Having lived various places in Missouri, the guy that said what he said will never be convinced of anything. Nor will his comments convince anyone that needed convincing. His fanatics already believe the swill he's spreading. My telling you how ridiculous his promotion of rape as sexuality wouldn't surprise you. You're a smart individual and already knew that.

I am going to make a comment tangential to the subject, though, where I think a reasonable discourse may change minds. When book "banning" (and those quotes are deliberate) comes up, it is inevitable that someone says that it's unconstitutional. First I'm going to tell you why it isn't. Second I'm going to tell you why you hurt the cause you're supporting by making that claim.

The book isn't being banned. It's being removed from the school and its curricula. A banned book would not be allowed to be printed or sold or owned. Congress (or even scarier the Executive or even scarier yet the Judiciary) would say, no more BREAK. We're old and dumb and scared of sex and any value BREAK brings to society is not worth our discomfort. It is forbidden! That is an infringement on speech. That's not what's happening here.

The school board is empowered by whatever body elects/appoints it (either the people or the municipality) to administer its schools. It can decide what books are and are not included in its curricula. This does not deprive the author of speech. The book is still printed and sold. Students are still able to purchase the book from bookstores. It just won't be part of their homework assignment.

Does this suck? Absolutely, for BREAK, SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, FAHRENHEIT 451, and so many others. Is it wrong? I believe so. I think those books are relevant and worthwhile. But it's not unconstitutional. You want to make a big impact? Skip the incredibly passive "Speak Out" skin on your twitter icon and instead do the very active vote in your next school board election. Question the candidates about the issue and elect people who understand the value of these books and want to see them in our schools.

...okay, add the skin too, but only after you've made a difference in your local community.

Now, why is saying its unconstitutional a bad thing? It creates a reverse straw man argument. Douchebag McAsshole says rape is sexual and bad for kids (I say rape is bad for kids, but that's beside the point). He says we're going to ban the book. You say, you can't do that, it's unconstitutional! You are incorrect. What you've done is given him the opportunity to disprove your argument rather than defending his own. He doesn't need to explain why he thinks rape is sexual (eww), he just has to show how what he proposes is legal.

Which it is. Not only does he not have to defend himself, he will defeat you in the argument you're making. This is not how to defeat Douchebag McAsshole. And we want to defeat Douchebag McAsshole. We want to defeat him very much.

September 23, 2010

QUERY: THE TRIAD SOCIETY (a draft)

Part of the webinar I posted about earlier is a query critique. I've already queried out BM&BBQ and WCO, so it's time to bite the bullet on TTS. Below is a first draft query letter. Your constructive feedback is greatly appreciated.

An Incredible Opportunity!

Kristin Nelson, founder and queen bee of Nelson Literary Agency has just turned it up to 11. Thursday, September 30th, in conjunction with Writer's Digest, she is hosting a webinar on improving your SF/F queries. It's as if she's been reading my journal! (Um...high Kristin!) Yes yes yes! This is totally for me. I'm always skeptical of classes and seminars. Who are these people and what makes them qualified?

Well, I know exactly what makes Kristin qualified. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Of all the agents who keep an active web presence on the web, none of them have more accurately articulated the direction epublishing is moving or the challenges that creates for authors and their representatives.

If you have $89 or a credit card with $89 left on it, sign up for this. Her input is worth every penny.

The Impotence of Proofreading of Proofreading

For those of you who do not know, my day job is in publishing as well. I commute to Boston (writing the majority of my manuscripts on the train in and out of the city) and toil away in a cube for a major publisher. This is not the first publisher I've worked for. The formula I put forward is: take the decade of your age (I turn 33 this Saturday, so my decade is 3), subtract 1, and that's how many publishers you've worked for. This holds true a ridiculous amount of the time. Publishing is an incredibly incestuous business.

Oh so long ago (going on 8 years now), I began in book production. These are the people who actually manage the typesetting and printing of your book. When you miss your deadline, it isn't your editor that makes up that time. No, it's the project manager that has to maintain your pub date with half as much time. Keep that in mind next time you're missing your deadline. If they have to make the same date, that means they have to cut things out (like proofreading, and let me tell you, that's one of the first things to get cut).

Anyway, I bring this up because I was ruminating on life as a lowly Associate Project Manager. My boss, in an effort to maintain the type of publishing she started in (back when leading meant something more than just a value entered in InDesign/Quark) made me proofread everything that came across my desk. We started with the red pen and then moved on to Track Changes in Word. I'm getting close to "graduating" and getting to act like a modern project manager and not the old-style project editor (a style the company had only just abandoned and which many publishers still use today despite the cost savings of using freelancers). I turn over a Word file. I've put a lot of spit and polish into this thing. I've used the company's style sheets (with the most bizarre rules for commas) and gone over it with a fine-toothed comb. This is a winner.

"Are you sure this is final? You're done with it?"

"Yes," I say with confidence--a confidence I gripped like a vice before it flee from that discerning stare she'd use on me.

She hits F7. I always forgot F7 is the hotkey for Word's spelling and grammar check. Really, I forgot about Word's spelling and grammar checker. I never used the thing because it always caught so many words that were actually words that it felt like a waste of time.

Wouldn't have been a waste that time. The thing didn't even get off the first page when it caught an error. She looked up at me, discerning turning to withering. Was that the end? Oh no, we went through the entire document, one error after another to show me how much I still sucked.

Being a fantasist, you can imagine how difficult spell check is (especially using OpenOffice, which has some pretty basic words missing from its dictionary). Fantastical names, places, monsters. Weapons that haven't been used for a thousand years or never at all on this world. Spell check seems like a headache. But let me tell you, friend, it's a worthwhile headache. It'll save you embarrassment down the line. Let my early publishing shame serve as a lesson for all: F7.

But how, Joe? you might ask. How can you ask us to wade through all those errors-that-are-not-errors? Because, I answer, you will create a dictionary for your wip.

Most word processors use a standard dictionary. Do NOT just add wip-specific words to this default dictionary. These words may be similar to real words that you may misspell later. Or they may be similar to other words you create for other wip and then everything goes to hell. No, sir, you're going to create a new dictionary for each manuscript you write (with a handy exception mentioned below). If you're using Word, a new dictionary is a copy of the default plus any new words you add. You can name this dictionary whatever you want. Hence, if I wrote in word, the dictionary I would currently be using would be "Jehovahs_Hitlist" or something along that line. When you click on a word marked as an error and say to add to the dictionary, it gives you a choice of which dictionary to add it to. When you are done with the wip, you can then change your Word processor back to the default dictionary.

This is one of the places where OpenOffice really shines. Rather than duplicating the default dictionary, you can choose which dictionaries are active at any time. Thus, "Jehovahs_Hitlist" is only the words I add for that manuscript (and I can go into that list and edit/delete terms as I choose). For series works, you can have have a series dictionary rather than a per-wip dictionary OR you can have individuals. Then, when events from those separate works collide later down the road, you can turn on and off the dictionaries relevant to the work you're creating. (OO also maintains the "ignore all" list even after you've shut down the program, so you don't have to do it all again when you restart later like you do for Word.)

What this gets you is that when you F7, you'll find genuine misspelled words, and your document will be all the cleaner for the effort (not to mention a list of all the custom words you created for your wip that you can then add to your stylesheet for the copyeditor to reference). Now, spellcheck isn't the end-all/be-all. Homonyms and Homophones still lurk within your pages along with the errant auto-correct-to-new-error. Always check your work before you send it off to beta readers or agents. You don't want to end up being this guy. When you finally send it off, it'll be much better for your effort.

September 22, 2010

Query Doldrums

I've pretty much known what was wrong with THE TRIAD SOCIETY since I finished the first draft of the manuscript. It's taken all this time to articulate what's wrong with it, but there is a reason I did not launch immediately back into revision. There was something seriously wrong. I knew it. And I needed to be able to say what it was before I started revising.

The setting sucks. You would think this to be a hard thing to have happen given I'm writing TTS in the same setting as WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING. I've already built the setting, how could it suck? Well, for starters, that book isn't published. It's written but there's nothing to say it'll ever see the light of day. So here I am writing another story assuming that WCONH has already been read? Ridiculous. Not that I did that too much because TTS is set on the opposite side of the Crescent Sea. It's a pre-steampunk society. Very different from Andaria in the east.

But that wasn't all. There were scenes from my original concept of the story that never made it into the finished draft but should have. Perhaps not where I thought they'd go, but they need to be in there. The pacing is too fast and too many things happen in convenient successive order and all these things could happen anywhere because I haven't given any consideration to the setting and how it would affect people's decisions.

In summation? It's pale. It's a pale representation of a story that should be flush with depth and description.

I've started noting specific instances that I made a mistake and how to correct them. I'm getting exciting about the story again because I think I can fix it and make it awesome and people will love it and that would be awesome. WHEEEE! When I get excited, I start thinking of what comes next in the process. I thought it would be fun (and helpful) if I wrote a query for THE TRIAD SOCIETY and through it up here for criticism. Certainly it would be good to get a few drafts under my belt before I start the process in earnest. (And yes, I'm aware of the query forums on Nathan Bransford's boards but have had mixed results with the comments posted in response.)

So I began to craft my query. I've already done one (terrible) query for this manuscript, so perhaps I could build off that failure. ...god I hate querying. All that excitement over getting back to this ms has totally evaporated. I hate writing queries. I am so ridiculously bad at it. The male hero rescues the princess? Really? That's the trite you want to send in buster? Well no, that's not really story. Sure sounds like the story. It's more nuanced than that. Nuanced my ass, you just wrote a rescue the princess damsel in distress story. Get out of here hack.

Sigh. Another reason I want an agent who I will work with for a long time? As soon as I get one, I never want to query again. Ever.

So no, no query for TTS today. It's for the best. I would not want to violate rule number 1 (only work on one ms at a time and don't switch until the first draft is complete). Still, I was excited for a little bit.

September 21, 2010

Have Fun Storming the Castle

Current, non-syndicated television runs in 30 or 60 minute time slots. Of those slots, the actual program will run 20-22 minutes or 42-44 minutes respectively. Its this constraint that allows a writer--if he or she so wishes to apply herself--to know the plot, the outcome, and the bad guy (if you're watching one of the myriad procedural dramas currently on television) long before the show reaches the reveal. Often, you can know all of it within the first few minutes.

Why does the timing make a difference? Because of the other rules. You cannot have a reveal with something that hasn't already been introduced in the episode. The doorman can't have killed the young starlet if he hasn't already had some speaking lines. The audience is given the chance to figure it out. And since we write for a living, that means we balance all the other demands of story in our heads, pacing, motivation, the twist, etc.

One would think that being able to figure out a television show so early in the program would defeat the fun. And if a show is done poorly, it absolutely does. But, I am not a book snob. I like television and movies and theatre. I like visual storytelling as much as (more than?) written storytelling. I don't just have a creative writing degree. I have a playwriting degree as well.

The reason this comes to mind at the moment is because I just finished watching the season 3 opener for "Castle." Like so many of its audience, I came to the show for Nathan Fillion being nothing short of a "Firefly" fanatic. The chemistry between all the leads is what brings me back, the witty yet warm voice the show has crafted for itself. The first fifteen seconds of the season opener made me shout GOO! when it cut to black. Of course, I already knew the twist and knowing the twist made me know the whodunnit when introduced. But who cares? When a show can make you shout GOO! it's worth watching, even if you already know what's going to happen.

I keep a list of recommendations on my website that includes TV shows I watch (or did watch when they were on, *sniff* I miss you Firefly *sniff*...okay, I didn't see that until it was on DVD, which is good because I got to watch it in order). I've been debating updating that list to make it more current.

Last season's offering of NCIS was dismal, the worst of the series run, and I don't know if I can bring myself to go back. I'll give it a shot with the season opener, but I'm not holding my breath (forgive me, Gibbs).

Chuck is luring me back with season 4 even though I skipped season 3.

With Numb3rs gone (it never recovered from constantly losing the female lead other than Navi Rawat [helllooooo nurse!]) and most of the other network fare looking lame or contrived (despite the various geek-themed shows which I suspect will come off condescending, though I admit to not having watched any of them).

I have increased my cable viewing now that they're streaming or releasing on DVD. Stargate: Universe has hooked me hard where I was never interested in the previous two series.

Psych continues to please, though I wonder if it peaked in season 3.

Eureka is a pleasant new discovery, but I've burned through the first three seasons and now have to wait. *pout*

I had been watching Leverage, but they used the "jealous triangle" early in season 3 and I hate that plot line.

So, this is a healthy list, more TV than I've watched since I first returned to the small screen (I had given it up for four years but the ad for Numb3rs and the discovery of NCIS season 2 pulled me back in). My wife and I usually watch an episode to destress at the end of the day. Neither of us want television to consume our evenings from activities we find more rewarding.

But for all that, and for knowing the stories usually as soon as they start, these shows have established a voice or present their characters in such a way that I want to keep coming back regardless.

How about you? When you're not reading or writing, what kind of stories do you fill your time with?

(Anyone that mentions reality TV gets slapped. We're talking storycraft here, people!)

(As a note, I've decided to separate reality TV like any show with the name Jersey in it from the post-modern gameshow. I really enjoy the skill that goes into competitions like "So You Think You Can Dance." If the hosts and the judges weren't so obnoxious, I might watch.)

Per Your Request...A LIST!

The ladies over at Coffey. Tea. And Literary have started a meme. I have 25 minutes to kill at work, and thus will fill that time with this meme rather than being productive.

1. If you could have a superpower, what would you have? Why?
I would be a cypher. I would speak every language ever created. I would be able to speak to everyone everywhere, read ancient texts, hack computers, solve every math equation ever, and break every code created. I may not be all flashy like Wolverine with metal bones, but I'd kick so much more ass.

2. Who is your style icon?
Ummm...JC Penny?

3. What is your favorite quote?
I have two quotes tattooed on my arms ("The righteous must be bold as a lion" and "Drop the truth like a hammer") so you would think it would be one of them. It is not. It is an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

    One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. "Which road do I take? she asked." "Where do you want to go?" was his response. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

4. What is the best compliment you've ever received?
Your voice is like liquid sex.

(I may have received others, but come on, how can that one be topped?)

5. What playlist/cd is on your ipod/cd player right now?
My Palm Pre is currently loaded with KoRn, Norah Jones, Metallica, Pomplamoose, Dry Kill Logic, Louis Armstrong, Flight of the Conchords, and The Distillers

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?
If left to my own devices, I stay up late. Then I accomplish absolutely nothing because I'm exhausted all the time. If I get up at 6 in the morning, I can accomplish anything.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?
Cats. Write a story about a dog displaying greater-than-animal intelligence that saves a human, and you know it's fiction because the dog displays greater-than-animal intelligence. Write the same story about a cat an you know it's fiction because the cat saves the human.

I respect that power.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

Well, I'm me. And I write.

I've had two previous blog names ("The Charlie Brown Show" and "Brick City Creations") neither of which were very useful at creating a brand for my writing. So, short and to the point. Bam, here I am and here's what I do.

September 20, 2010

JEHOVAH'S HITLIST (Chapter 1 excerpt)

Since Blogger decided "schedule" meant "post now," MSM part 2 was posted yesterday. Now, this being a journal and not a blog, I could totally go today without posting and that would be okay. But things are about to get busy for me at work. (Granted, it's a new department and from what I can see, their definition of busy isn't the same as my previous department's definition of busy. Time will tell on that one.) Given the pending absence of content as I fill the digital bookshelves with content that isn't mine (alas!), I thought I would do something I used to do much more frequently...AN EXCERPT CHAPTER!

My current WIP is almost a post-apocalpytic sci-fi but given the setting is so self-contained, it's hard to see it as post-apocalpytic or sci-fi. It is, though. Sort of. JEHOVAH'S HITLIST could be a YA novel if not for the guns and violence and drugs and profanity and sex... Like all my excerpts, this is a first draft. Comments and criticisms are still welcome.

September 19, 2010

Maximizing Social Media (Part 2)

Maximizing Social Media (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the previous post I made on maximizing social media. That one ran into problems shortly after it was posted because Facebook made some changes to fan page construction. It has been partially fixed. For a Facebook fan page to export to Twitter, the update has to be posted to the Wall (not just the Notes tab). That functionality was disabled but is now restored in the Notes settings (when you're in settings, look at the top of the Notes Settings selection box and you'll see a second tab option that will bring up a checkbox for you to choose to post your Notes to your wall). Facebook is still having trouble maintaining subscriptions and there's no rhyme or reason as to which pages are affected. When you list a URL for subscription, Facebook should check every few hours to see if new posts have been made. Some pages (like mine) drop the subscription, so I essentially import posts manually. But otherwise the trifecta process works.

One of the reasons I switched from LiveJournal to Blogger was to see if it was a matter of platform. LiveJournal is a dinosaur in terms of social media and perhaps it simply couldn't keep up with Facebook's quickly evolving interface. Now that I've attempted the same trifecta with Blogger and run into the same problem, I know the issue is with Facebook.

That brings us to today's topic, Understanding Social Media.

To properly utilize social media, you need to A) Understand the best uses for said medium and B) Understand the expectations others have for that medium.

This post discusses three media: Blogs/Journals, Facebook, and Twitter. For the purposes of this post, podcasts and video casts are lumped in with blogs/journals. They are outside the Venn diagram of this post and much of the blog conversation can apply to them, so there we go.

BLOGS and JOURNALS

Blogs and journals are similar in that you can use the same platform to deliver either. You can use blogger to deliver a journal. You can use LiveJournal to deliver a blog. It's a matter of content that separates the one from the other.

So, before we begin, we will assume you are not a New York Times bestselling author with a built-in fan base that will come find you regardless of where or how often you post. For the mere mortals in writing, there are some guidelines you need to keep in mind regardless of whether you're blogging or journaling.

Frequency. A blog has a set release schedule: once a week, three times a week, five times a week, seven times a week, etc. Whatever schedule you set, keep to it as best you can. If you're only posting once every six months, there's no reason for people to make the effort to remember your blog (even if you think, "Hey, just throw me in Google Reader and forget about me," that's still space they have to dedicate to you the person that isn't actually capable of posting more than twice a year, so really why are you worth that space?). While a journal may not be on such a rigid schedule, the concept is the same. If you don't give people content to read, they will not spend the time looking for what you have to say. A blog that posts rarely is not a blog at all. It's a zombie walking along and occasionally spouting out blog-like things but really all it wants to do is eat your brains.

Platform. There are a lot of options for blogging and journaling out there. Blogger, LiveJournal, MySpace, Dreamwidth, and a number of other derivatives that come and go. While you should find the one that works best for you, be cognizant of what a platform can offer you. Simply by moving from LiveJournal to Blogger, I've quadrupled my posting views and participation. People don't like clicking through. The more clicks they have to do, the less likely they are to do it. So sometimes it's to your advantage to post where the most people are, even if that means moving platforms every half-decade or so.

So there are the similarities. What are the differences? It's the intent that distinguishes the two. A blog has an expected topic focus and an expected release schedule. You will give advice, comment on the subject matter, or otherwise provide a review of the subject matter that is either newsworthy or instructive. Even the slice of life stuff is instructive. See what I had to go through? You're not alone! You can do it! and/or Don't make the mistakes I did! And you'll do so on said schedule you determined.

I'm cautious to list examples for this one. A lot of the old guard that made literary blogging such a big deal are starting to or have faded (Kristen Nelson, Moonrat, etc). Nathan Bransford is still going strong. He talks about agenting and writing and the business and he does so once a day, five days a week. That is a blog.

If that seems too stressful, consider a journal. A journal is similar but much more laid back. Topics can be as instructive or as flippant as you want, and you can post as frequently or as infrequently as you want. (Remember, it's better to have an empty page and an account you use to view/comment on other people's work than a handful of posts throughout the year. Much like having a self-published credit versus no publishing credit at all.) You want a good example of a journal, check out George R.R. Martin's aptly named "Not a Blog." You're more likely to find George talking about football than you are A DANCE WITH DRAGONS.

Whether you're using a blog or a journal, the delivery is the same. You write a self-contained mini-essay or rambling exposition on whatever you want and put it up for people to read. There is a comments section where they can choose to comment. The initial thought is self-contained. In my opinion, the more dangerous place for a writer isn't the post itself but in the comments section. That's where the back-and-forth exchange occurs. That's where the sycophantic praise happens (don't let it go to your head) and that's where the trolls come. It's easy for genuine disagreement to be drowned out by all the people who say they agree with you. It's easy to take dissent as a flame because of trolls who show up for no other purpose than to be rude to you. Be sure to listen and treat all posts--good and bad--fairly. Be calm and be careful. In the end, this blog/journal is your space and you set the ground rules. You establish the tone, and you decide what is and what is not displayed.

(Incidentally, despite the tone of recent posts, this is a journal and not a blog. When I get busy at work, posts will slow down, and when I see something inspirational like a good play, I'll probably comments on it as well. For me, I have other outlets for that kind of stuff which is why the content here is better defined to a general topic of writing and the challenges of trying to become a published author.)

FACEBOOK

Facebook is what made social media a part of our lives. It's likely most people reading this already have a Facebook account, so I'll keep the description short. It's a networking tool where you make friends and list your status. You may involve yourself with old school/childhood friends, family members, coworkers, or what have you. How strict or how loose your friending policy is your discretion.

If you have a Facebook account and you are using that for writing purposes as well, stop. Facebook puts a limit on how many friends you can have, so as soon as you are successful, you'll have to ask all those writing followers to switch. Best to do it right from the beginning so you don't have to inconvenience anyone. Also, it can get frustrating for a friends list who are personal acquaintances and those there for your writing to put up with status updates for the other half. Go create a fan page for yourself and steer all your work-related content there. It'll save you a headache later, and will provide you an outlet to properly present yourself as a professional.

You've seen a fan page whether you realize it or not. XXx friend likes "xxx show" That show is a fan page. Anyone can make a fan page. It does not require you to make a new account (in fact, it'll be linked to your personal account as you'll be the administrator of that page). A fan page allows you to post status updates like a normal account does. You can also make Notes (longer blog-like posts) or import Notes from a blog/journal. You can post pictures and links and your fan page can have its own list of people of whom it is a fan. It's almost like a second account except you can limit how much other people participate. You can prevent them from commenting or you can make it so their comments are there but don't immediately present themselves. It gives you an administrative control over normal Facebook functionality.

But best of all, it allows you to keep your life separate from your work. Facebook has millions of members and becoming a fan of something is incredibly easy. Every person that likes your page has that "xxx likes xxx" show up in their news feed. That means everyone who is a friend of that person sees your page and so on and so on and so on. It's institutionalized viral marketing.

(If you've heard of or experienced Facebook's privacy debate, keep an eye on Diaspora which I am hopeful will present a great Facebook alternative in 2011.

TWITTER

No one thought Facebook could be stopped when Twitter first came along and boy was that proven wrong. Twitter is the place to be right now. Does it make a difference? There's no measure to be sure, but it generates the most activity of the three. With 140-character comments, you can have conversations, post, and be reposted, created searchable hash tag discussions (such as the inimitable #amwriting). Twitter is growing into a community for various writing genres, such as YA. This is because unlike Facebook and blogging, where the poster maintains a degree of control, Twitter is fully open. It is voyeuristic socialization. As soon as you make a post, there's nothing you can do about it. Anyone can see it. Anyone can respond to it. Anyone can retweet it (unless you block an individual, typically reserved for spam and trolls or protect your posts, which completely defeats the purpose of using Twitter to expand your online visibility).

Here's how twitter works. Anyone with a twitter account can follow anyone else. They then see the comments of everyone they follow (assuming those comments are not directed to another person they do not follow). The more people you follow, the more posts you see, both their original comments and their conversations and responses to one another.

It can be disorienting given how different Twitter is to more controlled environments like blogs. At any given time, someone can respond to what you're saying. On Twitter, you are never having a conversation with another person. You are having a conversation with everyone who is watching you. It's just a matter of whether they choose to respond.


As an aspiring professional writer, it's important to have an online presence (as you will be told often), and social media is an effective way to spread word about yourself without an advertising budget. Others like what you have to say and they pass that along. Their friends see it and pass it on and so on. It's the fundamental tenet of social media, "pass it on." You need to figure out which of these best fits how you want to interact with people and how much involvement you want to put forward.

Be aware of where you're posting and the expectations and opportunities of that platform. It doesn't do you any good to have a blog you don't update or try to maintain privacy on Twitter. These are tools, a hammer, a screwdriver, and a wrench. Each has different functions, but all can help you build a bookshelf for your eventual best sellers.

September 18, 2010

Wash Your Pants

My wife is inspired. This means: I don't have to cook dinner (yay!), it will most likely be delicious (yay!), you get another post (yay!).

Elizabeth Poole and I often discuss our differing writing styles. She's a plotter. I'm a pantser. Once I get a solid grip on the plot and the characters, I can often project what the forthcoming chapters will be (generally not more than 8 ahead, but I once went as far as 14). Even then, I'll often add chapters that I hadn't realized I needed as a matter of pacing or extra details that are necessary to keep the plot/character developments believable. I don't sit down and make an outline.

    Chapter 1, Jehovah gets boots from the charity drop box. Chapter 2, Jehovah talks to Sid in the hallway. Chapter 3, Old Hobbe interrogates Jehovah to make sure he wasn't joy killing. etc.

I have reached a spot in this particular wip (this particular wip being JEHOVAH'S HITLIST) where I need to take my pants off for a bit. Jehovah has finally received his hitlist (hence the name, obviously). He has five people to kill. I have always known he was going to kill five people and I always knew one of them would be a woman up above. Other than that, I knew absolutely nothing about that list. I didn't define that list until chapter five. For the first four chapters of the manuscript, the names were "xxx, xxx, xxx, xxx, and xxx." I'm not making that up.

Side note! I use xxx as a quick-search indicator for something that needs to be referenced, corrected, or added. I use qqq as a marker so I can find that mark (usually the point I stopped writing when an appendix or later chapters that I just had to write make the end of the manuscript not the point of writing).

So I finally have my five names, and I know what they all do and why they are relevant to the progression of the story. This is a good thing. I pantsed my way there. Now it's time for Jehovah to find and kill them and I have to stop.

I could pants this. I could. It's not that difficult. I've pantsed three novels so far as well as the first ten chapters of this novel. The trick is, even when you pants your novel, a plotted outline can come in handy. I'm about to hunt and kill five characters. Without any forethought, I may simply repeat the chase five times (which is boring). Or I may not throw in any speedbumps (which is boring). I need to know where these people are, how Jehovah is going to find out where they are, how that pursuit is going to be different for each person, and I need to know how finding that person leads him to the next on the list.

I could pants it all, but it's harder to create the spiderweb of how these people are interconnected and how Jehovah's progressing assassinations unravels that web by the seat of your pants than it is to stop and draw some lines.

So if you're like me and plotting doesn't do you much good, don't abandon the tool all together. You can usually see a handful of chapters into your book anyway. A mid-manuscript outline can give your first draft some refined quality and save you a headache on your revisions.

(Now, the question is, can I take my own advice. I began brainstorming on Rori Schapp today and came up with a bunch of cool setting stuff on Pennsylvania Avenue, the fallen government of the Nation, the absence of Philadelphia Park, and the creation of the DMZ [dead-man's zone]. When you get exciting ideas like that, it's hard not to just sit down and start cranking them out. But eventually Jehovah is going to kill Rori Schapp and I need to know how he's going to pursue Mary Maryland or I'm just back in the same bucket I'm in now.)

Know Your Footprint

This was originally going to be part of my "Maximizing Social Media (part 2)" post, but that thing is already flipping long and at some point, you just stop reading super-long blog posts. Since it's the weekend (when fewer people read blogs, statistically speaking), I thought I'd post this part here as a preamble to the forthcoming behemoth.

There was a comment made in response to Suzie Townsend's blog post on the Perils of Social Networking. (I do not remember if the comment is in the comments section or was on Twitter.) In her post, Suzie says, "DON'T compliment people's pictures when you don't know them. It ends up sounding either condescending ("I'm usually fun and you look chipper") or creepy...or both. @shallremainnameless: I saw your beautiful agent photo. I hope i get to meet that smile in person one day.

This is good advice, advice that can be hard to follow if you were raised in certain areas of the country (Midwest or South like I was) and compliments are a standard part of conversation. Given the illusion of friendship social media can create, a positive comment on someone's appearance would seem on face value to be a nice gesture. Given that social media often constrains our statements to the point that context is lost, best to err on the side of caution.

That leads me to..."the comment," and I really wish I could link to it. Rushing to agree with the poster (as so often does on blogs...except for mine where people seem to be shaming me a lot), someone commented on how silly it was to compliment someone having only seen their user icon. Ignoring regional cultural differences (and now working in Boston for four years, I can absolutely guarantee you there is a difference between Midwestern manners and East Coast manners) or the fact that professional pictures can make the most average person look stunning, this still seems an incredibly short-sighted comment.

Know your footprint. Catalog all the different social media you participate in and don't stop at ownership. Every blog you've guest-posted on, every blog post of a friend that included pictures where you were involved, every forum that you've added a personal user icon to, every Facebook upload that was viewable by other people, every Twitpic and Yfrog of you being goofy in line at a [movie/bookstore/coffee shop/whatever, every dating service you've mistakenly signed up for because your friends insisted it worked for them (thanks Luke...jerk). All those pictures add up. Not only do they add up, they can then be downloaded and reposted by anyone else on the internet. You may be appearing in blogs you're not even aware of. So...

The most obvious and important lesson, be careful what you put on the internet.

The less obvious but equally important lesson, be slow to judge. When you presume people don't know what you look like outside of your professional picture, it's very possible that they do. Be cognizant of how much of your life you share with people and whether you unintentionally (or intentionally) foster that illusion of friendship with strangers.

September 16, 2010

Another List!

Elizabeth Poole loves Westerns. I love Westerns! TOP FIVE WESTERNS!

1a. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" - Aside from giving me my namesake, this movie has a lot of things going for it. It was the first Western where all the Native Americans were played by Native Americans. They were also portrayed as the threat they were to settlers rather than just people on horses who charge forward and run away. Josey Wales the character is the essence of Clint Eastwood's Western career boiled down to pure awesome. It's long and may drag a little at times, but when you see him glare and then spit, you know it's on!

1b. "Unforgiven" - Much like Rocky/Rocky Balboa, this movie allows Eastwood to add some craft to the whole creation. The case could be made that William Munny is Josey Wales as an older man. There is one scene in particular where Munny talks about how he doesn't know how he kills so well, he's just always been good at it. That's the exact opposite of Josey Wales who can read a gang of four soldiers and know who to kill and in what order. It's more an exploration of how two different men ended up in the same spot. And the end? With Ned? GOO!!!

3. "High Planes Drifter" - WOW! This one is all about atmosphere and hate and revenge and if I ever needed a movie to epitomize the Deadlands role playing game, it's "High Planes Drifter." With such big-name movies like the two above, this one is often left off of the must-see lists of Clint Eastwood movies, but if you haven't seen it, go rent it right now. I can't even tell you without spoiling it and you'll hate me if I do.

4. "The Specialist" - Yes, I said "The Specialist" and not "Rio Bravo" or any of the other myriad John Wayne movies (despite its inclusion of Dean Martin of whom I am a huge fan). John Wayne's characters had a certain style, much like Clint Eastwood's. In "The Specialist," he breaks that style and how! I would never have thought to see John Wayne play that kind of character. I expect Clint Eastwood to play that kind of character, which is probably why I like this one so much. :)

5. "Pale Rider" - Some people claim that the character from this movie and the character from "High Planes Drifter" is the same. I disagree for reasons I can't post because of spoilers. I do think the premise can be similar and that's all right because the premise is so awesome Clint is allowed to tell it twice. Any time you see a story quote Revelation about a man riding a pale horse? Yeah, a poor comparison to this movie. This is where that awesome was born. (It also has the tall guy from Happy Gilmore, and that's always interesting.)

Honorable Mention - Young Guns Emilio Estevez (Estevez), Keifer Southerland, and Lou Diamond Phillips? Nuff said.

September 15, 2010

In which I post a second time about semi- and/or unrelated topics

My wife went to Philadelphia this summer to see a men's regional Barbershop competition. (My wife is a competitive Barbershopper.) While there, she bought me some barbecue chicken seasoning. The odor was pretty strong and I was unsure if I would like it. DEAR LORD THIS STUFF IS GOOD! I only bring that up because I'm on my lunch break right now and I'm eating some barbecue chicken. I thought you all should know how delicious my chicken is and how awesome my wife is. I can't remember the name of the market she bought it at. Some place in the city, perhaps Union Station or the like. It's a vendor cart full of spices and the barbecue chicken is delicious.

My wife who loves me calls me Joe (among other personal endearments). So do most of my friends and everyone I work with. When I write, I go by Joseph L. Selby or a derivative thereof. (I picked jlselby for twitter as a means of saving character space for replies). Most people online call me Joseph because that's how they see my name. Recently, both online and at work, I've noticed an increase of people calling me Selby. Not Mr. Selby, which would be formal but acceptable, but just Selby. Now for colleagues, this may normally be appropriate. For strangers, I can't imagine referring to someone by their last name only and thinking I was doing so politely.

For me personally, whether I know someone or not, I hate being called by my last name. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I don't hate my last name. But I am one of many Selbys. I have a large family and they all have the same last name. (Granted, Joe is a common name, but I am Joe Selby and the only one of my name in my family.) So, please don't call me Selby. Especially if you don't know me. Who the hell thinks that's acceptable?

Recently, someone called me JL and that just tickled me to no end. It was on twitter, so it makes sense that they may not know my name if they only ever see me there. And of course there is the need to conserve character space. I intenionally chose jlselby for this blog URL hoping someone would do it again. It's a name I never imagined being called and I smile with amusement every time I think about it. Not that I would permanently adopt that as a professional name. That would take funny to weird, which I reserve for the second date.

Something I got called the other day that I haven't been called in years is Josey. This was my nickname for a long time. No, not Josie (the female name a la Josie and the Pussycates), but Josey (the male name a la the Outlaw Josey Wales). I was sixteen when I was first given that nickname by one of my managers at Burger King. I had a tendency to get in trouble a lot when I was younger (I know, a big surprise, right?) and the Outlaw Josey Selby took hold and held on until I was 25 or so. I never minded it. I love Clint Eastwood westerns (with the exception of Joe Kidd which is a lame movie) and being named after such a seminal movie was all right by me.

Now it's Joe or Joseph, either are acceptable.

I watched Invictus for the first time last night, a Clint Eastwood-directed movie (see how I tied that all together? natch ;). There were (a lot of) trailers before I actually got to movie itself. Among them was the 35-years/35-movies box set from Warner Brothers. This piqued my interest until I counted just how many Clint Eastwood movies I already own and realized it wouldn't be worth the money. They had clips from the interviews with Clint that are included in the special features. I thought I'd share a few (althought not direct quotes, as close as I can get).

The first one that caught me was a discussion on how he made movies like The Outlaw Josey Wales, which were a turn from the kind of westerns that were made at the time. He said he never thought to make movies that other people liked. He made the kind of movies he wanted to see and it turned out that other people wanted to see them too.

For a fantasist who writes with little/no magic and little/no fantastical creatures, this kind of thing is huge. I write the kind of books I want to read! Maybe other people will want to read them too.

The other one was his first offer. He had been rejected so many times over and over and over again that he jumped at the chance when someone finally made him an offer.

WHAT? Someone rejected Clint Eastwood? They rejected Josey Wales? They rejected William Munny? No one rejects William Munny. They get shot by William Munny then they go talk about how exciting it was with all the other people that just got shot by William Munny. There is no rejection of William Munny!

Clint Eastwood got rejected. A LOT. This is exciting. Thirty-five years from now I can talk about how much I got rejected and someone can make a blog post asking how anyone could reject Bastin the Bold or Otwald d'Kilrachen.

I don't know kid, but they did. Keep your chin up. ;)

Description is Tricky

Hannah Mosk commented recently that her first drafts are very short. They end up being mostly dialogue. She goes in during revision and fleshes the story out to its full potential. I'm getting better at this, but it used to be incredibly hard for me not to do anything but dialogue. That's where the story moves along. That's where the excitement happens, the test of wills between protagonist and antagonist. Oh sure, you can write about Indiana Jones running away from the boulder, but it isn't until he runs into Beloch and the Ubutu that things really heat up.

I receive complements on my description and it always confuses me. I don't think I'm very good at it. In fantasy especially, it is customary to describe everything from the sky to the scent of the air to the dew on the grass. Perhaps I'm tired of over-description and that's why I limit what I describe. Or maybe I'm just not good at it, so I avoid it. I don't go into a lot of detail about what my main character looks like (I think this is a reaction to all the time spent trying to make the "cool hero" when I was a younger writer). I've received complements from people who said they prefer to envision the hero how they want to envision them and the author forcing a description on them lessens the character. I don't agree with that, but...um...thanks? Our appearances say a lot about us, the hardships we've faced, the decisions we've made, the nuances that distinguish us from others. Amorphous beings running around interacting with other amorphous beings isn't appealing to me.

(I will note that unless it improves the situation/description, I intentionally don't describe characters' skin color. If you want the hero to be black or Arab or latino, I have no problem with that. That kind of thing is infrequently relevant to the stories I tell.)

So I try to walk that line of just enough description. I don't talk a lot about the sun or the wind or dawn or whatever. I use similes to put it into a context the reader understands (without breaking the verisimilitude of the setting) and move on. Skewed similes are a great way to show the differences between the story setting and real life. But I don't dwell. Forward action. Is that good? Is that too Michael Bay? Is that a product of a life spent in front of a TV/movie screen as much as in front of a book? *shrug* I don't know. I do know that I was reading ROSEMARY AND RUE by Hugo Award-winning author Seanan McGuire. She crafted an awesome paragraph of description. Awesome in the Eddie Izzard sense of awesome not the hot dogs and socks kind of awesome. It was so awesome that I stopped and admired the craft of the paragraph.

I stopped and admired the paragraph and immediately realized I had left the story. The description was so literary that I left the story as a result of its literariness. It wasn't over-written, that's bad writing. This was good writing, but it was just dropped in the wrong place. The story was on a roll and I came to a screaching stop to admire the majesty of the paragraph's sunset when I should have been worrying about the protagonist and what happened to changelings at sunrise.

It's those moments that make me think that maybe I don't suck at description. Maybe I put as much description in a story as I want to find in stories I read. I still think it's a weak spot of mine. Am I shorting my setting? Or worse, will all my settings seem the same because they don't have enough description to tell them apart? Time and manuscripts will tell. This has been on my mind, though. I'm writing JEHOVAH'S HITLIST (or DOWN BELOW THE UP ABOVE), a walled city beneath a giant platform city in the sky after the oceans have risen and the world has transitioned into the cities above and the ghettos below. Am I describing Down Below enough? It's tricky. None of them have been up on the wall. Almost all of them were born well after the oceans rose and don't know anything except their little city. How do you describe the microchosm of their existence when they themselves don't understand it? There are only so many times I want to know that the city is dirty, full of trash, absent of wood or plastic, etc. At some point, we need to get on with the story.

How about you? Is there a particular feature of storycraft you have difficulty with?

September 14, 2010

Fear and Cold Water

I made a mistake today. I posted a list of agents who actively participate in social media that I would like to work with. There was discussion on the list and whether it was appropriate. Checking my email quickly while I was at work, I found the discussion continued by an agent whose opinion I value. I disagreed with the opinion, was in fact hurt and offended by part of it, but nonetheless I deleted my post. She said that such a post would inhibit my potential to find an agent. It may. I'm okay with it now. In my hurt and in my shock, I deleted it. I questioned everything I had been working toward and the community I was attempting to become a part of.

In a way, her post was a good thing. It was a splash of cold water to wake me up from the dream that is the internet. A digital play has formed that mimics real life: friendships, relationships, knowledge more intimate than strangers have of one another but less than true friends do. It's easy to forget through daily blog postings and 15-minute Twitter updates that you don't know any of these people, and they don't know you. They are not your friends and are not attempting to be so. It is a business. It is all business. We all know this, but it's so easy to forget when people are talking about books you've read or trips to Starbucks or reading on the Subway, things you do. It's even harder on media such as Twitter where you can watch whole conversations unfold if you're following all the participants.

I was not prepared for that illusion to be shattered so coarsely, especially not by someone I respected. I panicked. I deleted the post. And was depressed about it all for the entire day until I just sat down at my computer and typed out a response to the comment that was repeated as a blog post. I do not know if that comment will ever be posted. The absurdity of it all is that my list of six agents (because I included but Kristin and Sara at Nelson Literary Agency) was taken from a total list of 11 agents. Of those that specifically ask for fantasy and actively keep a blog/LJ/Twitter account, there are a whopping 11 people.

If you are an aspiring writer, you should have a list. It's up to you whether you post it, but you should have a list. You should research agents and find those whose vision, goals, and personality are a good compliment to your own.

Frankly, I don't think I'd like to work with an agent upset at not being on my list. If I am not included on a list, I look at those that were and see what they do that I do not that earned them their place on the list. It's an opportunity for improvement. Anyone who takes offense rather than saying thank you is not someone I would work well with.

Post Script: It was also said my original post was condescending. It was not intended to be so, and I apologized to those agents that took offense.

September 9, 2010

Filling in the Middle

I still haven't started revision on THE TRIAD SOCIETY. Things keep cruising along with JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. One of my original reasons for getting TTS squared away was because I wanted to go to World Fantasy Con in Columbus. I've gone over the con website a dozen times. As con websites go, nothing on it has sold me on going there. What did sell me was the presence of Sara Megibow from the Nelson Literary Agency. NLA is at the top of my list of agencies I want to work with and has been for some time. The opportunity to meet Sara in person and perhaps overcome the suckitude that is my queries was appealing.

Of course, I just started a new job and rather than being busy in the summer, it's busy in the winter. I also took a slight pay cut. All this combined to have me withdraw from attending my wife's competition at Harmony, Inc's international barbershop competition in New Brunswick. Now, World Fantasy Con is a month earlier, so a case can be made that I could go to it and not IC&C. Of course, when the one is supporting myself and one the other is supporting my wife, I think it's a little selfish to withdraw from the one only to do the other.

Depending on my workload, I may not be able to do either regardless. So, the time crunch created by having a finished and finalized manuscript of THE TRIAD SOCIETY is gone if I don't go to WFC (and no, I would not pitch anything to Sara it wasn't in a state that I could hand it to her on the spot and feel confident it was an adequate representation of my skills.

This is good because I have not stopped working on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I'm coming to the end of the edges. Writing a novel by the seat of your pants (vs plotting, pantsing vs plotting, I'm a pantser) is like putting together a puzzle. You have a scattered mess of ideas that you need to arrange and put together to form a coherent picture. Like any puzzle you start with the easiest pieces, placing the corners and then the edges. Eventually you have to fill in the middle. That's when you reach that point in the story where you can't skirt around the plot any more. You need to decide on protagonist and antagonist motivations, decisions, and outcomes.

In JH, the main character (aptly named Jehovah) is forced to kill five people or the Hanged Man will kill him and his entire family. Of those five people, I only know the name of one. I know the profession of two others. I need to figure out how these five people are connected (I have a loose understanding, like edge pieces with very distinctive holes that allow you to connect a middle piece) and how Jehovah is going to navigate his interaction with these five people to reach the climax of the story.

This is much harder (like the middle of a puzzle). So, once I get to that grind, maybe I'll switch back to TTS. But you know, right now, it doesn't feel like I will. This is really rolling. I have a good vision of this setting. I'll need to revise to make a lot of the character dialect consistent, but I knew that from the beginning. For a first draft, this is coming along swimmingly.

September 7, 2010

Straight Lines

I'm hanging out at Midas while my windows are fixed so my car can pass inspection. I'm posting from my phone, so please pardon the typos. The Pre has a small keyboard and I have fat thumbs.

I tried to begin revision on THE TRIAD SOCIETY today, but I felt compelled to continue with JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. The story is ripe and needs picking. Regardless, I'm still thinking on TTS, trying to find all my errors. Something I knew I was doing as I went (something I hate), I was writing in a straight line. Adventure stories are often like that. A happens, B happens, C happens, the end. Done poorly, you get a movie like Jurrasic Park 3 where one dangerous situation follows the next but never overlaps or spreads out. The entire movie keeps a predictable tempo. Done well and you get Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It is similarly linear, but who cares! We're having fun.

TTS falls somewhere in the middle. I have been writing adventure stories so far. I actually prefer intrigue, bit that's much easier to write in a series of D&D adventures, I've found, than in a novel. I really need to get back to that kind of writing. It didn't work in TTS and it's not right for JH (which is definitely an adventure story). I'm hoping to bust oit the intrigue in a major way in THE RED SOCK SOCIETY, but that story's a ways off yet.

Sometimes (like JP3), an adventure is too linear. It eliminates the sense of risk. It suggests that the character's decisions have no impact because he's being swept along with the wave of the plot. The way to break this up is to zigzag, to bend the line without completely turning away from your stort. I call them speedbumps, the interference that happens when going from A to B.

Now it's just as easy to overuse speedbumps. If something always goes wrong along the way, the pattern becomes obvious and the reader questions the protagonist's decision-making process. If things keep going wrong, why do you keep doing what you're doing? We only accept that from Malcolm Feynolds.

For example, in the current ms, Otwald goes home, climbs into his window, meets Princess Klara, chats, climbs out, and sees his father. Too straight. It's like a video game where he went to a quest giver. Quest givers are for video games. Keep them out of your novels.

The obvious speedbump is the guards. A princess is unguarded. That's a bad speedbump. What self-respecting guard wouldn't check on the princess? And what princess would send them away because some stranger just climbed into her window. Hello cliche. Nice to see you again. Instead, don't have the window go into her room. Have the entry elsewhere. Maybe split up what he learns when he sees his father, a little here, a little there. You get to reinforce the setting by showing what life is like there (guards, servants, tc) while avoiding the drive-thru quest giving

September 6, 2010

Not Enough Why

A double dipper! I try not to post twice in a day, but I need to get this down before I lose it. Setting is important, especially in fantasy. In fact, one of the first mistakes novice fantasists make is to spend more time talking about their story than the story. Setting is the canvas where we paint our pictures. Don't waste time describing the canvas. HOWEVER, it is still important to world build because that informs the decisions characters make.

Why have I been having so much difficulty with THE TRIAD SOCIETY? Because it was too simple. People are not simple. Heroes are not simple. Villains are not simple. We may not get to see the complex thought processes of the villain, but never doubt that decisions are made for more of a reason than just, "I am evil! Muah ha ha ha!"

In TTS, Otwald (the hero) is living a life out of sync with his home. Reliarach isn't the kingdom of honorable nobles and loyal peasants that it was in its past. It's a pre-steampunk society dealing with technology eliminating swaths of available work. How can people support themselves if machines are doing the work of men?

Here's where I made my mistake and I made it in chapter 1. The Hook and Hammer Society fought for worker's rights. When they were massacred by Otwald's brother in Kester Square, a violent offshoot formed the Red Sock Society. They speak openly of the dissolution of the monarchy and an establishment of a labor-based democracy. But it all stems back to the slaughter at Kester Square.

WHAT?

How short sighted is that. They were all peaceful unionists until their brothers were trampled by mounted horse? No, of course not. The hate for the nobility is ingrained. It's an injustice they see as existing their entire lives, really the entire existence of Reliarach.

How? Where does that division of labor come from? Where does Reliarach come from? It's a colony from a continent to the south. The original settlers sailed across the ocean not knowing what they were going to find. They landed in the modern city of Kilrachen, built the kingdom's first fortress which grew into its first settlement which is now the capital of the kingdom. No ships ever followed across the ocean and none that have attempted the return journey have been seen from again.

So how did this division occur? The first nobles were officers and their families. The first peasants were sailors and theirs. The ships arrived at Reliarach with clearly defined social stratification that has been enforced for the 1000 years since.

The Red Sock Society does not fight because of massacre at Kester Square. That's just the match that sparked the flame. The fuel is that their ancestors were slaves at sea that became slaves at land.

I did not ask the question why enough. And because of that, the decisions characters made were thin. Whether I describe all this back story in the ms is not as important as the fact that the characters know it. It is what drives them. The uprising of the working class, the failure of Torvald d'Bluefire to conduct himself as a noble should, are all signs of the crumbling foundation of Reliarachic society. Otwald is the person standing against that foundation attempting to hold it together with his bare hands.


...lord, this revision is going to be more extensive than I thought. Ugh.

Querying is Scary Shit

I like writing fast. I like producing a lot of stories in a short amount of time. I have a lot of stories crammed into this brain, and I'm starting later than I should have in my life (whole different therapy session about why that is). Regardless, I have somewhere between 10 and 30 years left and a crap load of stories to tell. So I write two novels a year. Two a year will get me 20 to 60 novels by the time I'm done, a respectable number that will have demonstrated my storytelling adequately.

Now, I would not write two novels a year if those novels were poor. This isn't some NaNoWriMo deluge of fecal matter with a title on it. I write complete and revised stories that I think others will enjoy. Plenty of authors have that level of output Jim Butcher, Hannah Mosk, etc.) so I don't feel like I'm cheating my story or the writer from finishing the first draft in three months.

Most agent blogs recognize that people write at different speeds, but sometimes still say if you haven't spent X number of months doing revision/letting it sit/critiquing/whathaveyou, you're not ready. Usually X equals a value higher than I will spend on a draft (or sometimes on the entire damn thing). And while I'm normally happy to ignore their comments as something for those authors that spend a year or more writing their novels, I'm starting to wonder if I was wrong.

BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE is weak on protagonist emotional evolution. The reason he does what he does in the end is more gut reaction or spiteful middle finger than any growth. And while that is perfectly possible, I think it shorts him on being a genuine good guy and not just the main character. WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING has a weak subplot with Podome and Nashau's discovery of the truth. If I had let these novels sit, would I have better realized their flaws and been able to affect a revision to correct them before I queried? (Note, neither of these things had any impact on the success of my querying, but you want to present the best possible manuscript when you start the query process.)

So now we come to THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I finished the draft 11 days ago. With the previous two, I think I took a week off (or less) before starting revision. By the time you get to the end of a 150,000-word manuscript, let me tell you, you want to go back and fix everything that no longer works at the beginning. The story evolves. And once you start doing that, you just roll through the whole thing. An 88,000-word manuscript is considerably smaller. The end is much like the beginning. So why am I taking so much time off?

First, TTS's length bothers me. It puts me in a GREAT position in terms of querying agents and appealing to publishers. Paper is a mitigating factor and word-count restrictions have become tight. There are people who wouldn't even consider WCONH because of its length. So this is a good thing. But if feels like I told an incomplete story. Certainly a number of things I had plotted at the beginning never materialized because the story went a different direction. It was originally going to be an intrigue story that turned into an adventure story. 88k feels too short to me. I write fantasy, dammit. Fantasy is long. At least, the fantasy I've always loved is long.

Did I do this subconsciously? Did I write a short manuscript to better my chances for consideration? And in so doing, did I tell a poorer story? I'll tell you write now, I don't think TTS is as good as WCONH. The latter is one of the best stories I've ever told and with a good copyeditor (*cough*DeannaHoak*cough*) would be even more amazing. TTS is a 1-2-3 adventure with its own damsel in distress (yes, I disdain the trope that much that I'd include it in multiple posts).

So, now it's time to revise, but I'm not. Is it because it's a lesser script? If WANTED didn't hack it and that's amazing fiction, how could this make it? Or worse, what if this did make it? What if a bunch of agents asked to read it and offered representation? It would erode my confidence in my own writing and my belief that there's an agent out there that likes the things I like and will see the value in my work regardless of the word count. Maybe I can get some luck with Joshua Blimes. He reps Brandon Sanderson and that guy's word counts are through the flipping roof. I look like a YA book in comparison.

But what if that's not it? What if I'm delaying revising because I want to delay querying. I posted this as a rhetorical question on Twitter and IoMTolly decided to answer. (IoMTolly is a gag account from a blog I follow, Ideology of Madness, which was okay when I thought it was my friend Andrew--you can be an asshat when you've known me for 15 years, but it's not him, so now I'm annoyed). He says that yes, I'm scared. I am, but that's not why I'm delaying. I'm delaying because the ms isn't good enough. Obviously, revision will make it good enough. A first draft is never good enough. Never. Understand that now. Your first draft is shit. Second drafts are where novels are born. But it's only 88k and if someone tells me what a great fantasy it is, I'll have to smack them because great fantasy is longer than 88k. (That is all bias, THE BLACK COMPANY was short, but I think there were some definite weaknesses in the story that might have been fixed with a higher word count.)

But I'm scared? Yes, at least somewhat. No one in his or her right might looks forward to rejection. And if you're querying properly, there will be lots of rejection (don't get me started on the 3/4 of your queries should yield results for more work, bullshit; that's a tirade for a post of its own). Now what IoMTolly has never experienced is querying multiple novels in a year and getting rejected. I didn't query BMBBQ until late 2009, so if I queried by October, I would actually have three novels worth of rejection in a single year.

Rejection is hard. It's cumulatively hard. The first round felt validating. I'm in the process! I'm working the system. The second was much harder. I had written a much better story but got the same results. Worse, other people were mumbling along and getting offers. This is the first time I've written anything, tee hee. I'm fourteen and I'm ashamed I didn't start at twelve, tee hee. These are people you grow to hate not because you know them or they need hating (well, maybe the fourteen year old), but because you hate being rejected. You hate that your work doesn't grab them and say, wow, I want more! You hate being told, you're not good enough.

And let's get one thing straight, publishing is subjective, and a rejection (especially a form rejection which is what you get most frequently) is not a statement on the quality of your work. But when you've run the list of agents to query and they've all rejected you, that feels like a statement of the quality of your work. It still may not be, but that's how it feels. And going through that repeatedly is hard.

Will I stop? Of course not. That's not even a question worth entertaining. It will happen sooner or later (sooner is preferable to later). But I won't lie. Each time I get to this point in the process, it's harder than it was the time before.

September 5, 2010

Ponderings and Plannings

A side note: I dislike "a novel" being included on a book cover unless the book's title is "a novel." I think it sounds pretentious. In fact, I think it's intentionally pretentious to appeal to that category's audience. I will, at some point, write a story and title it A NOVEL. Fuck your pretension.

So, with the first draft of THE TRIAD SOCIETY complete, I've been pondering the next story in the trilogy, THE RED SOCK SOCIETY. I had a little bit of trouble at the end of TTS because an event I had planned for the main character felt extremely forced. It may get cut out in revision. But if that happens, the event for that same character in TRSS can't happen. One is predicated on the other.

Then I began wondering what story I would tell about him at all. There wasn't a lot there. The character I really wanted to focus on was the unrealized character from TTS, Princess Klara. Until THE TRIAD SOCIETY, I have always included a strong woman in my stories. Never a main character. Not yet (and no, that's not intentional. I write the stories that want to be written. A CIRCLE OF CRIMSON STONE, another ms of mine, has a female main character so just chill on your assumptions).

You see that? Right there? Defensiveness. That makes me nervous. Do I think the story would be better with Klara as the main character because TSS was so short on a worthwhile female? (Sadly, it became a damsel in distress story. My apologies for that.) I don't think so. I think the story will be better this way. But it's a lingering doubt. And doubt can cause problems. It makes you question. It makes you second guess.

...

Crap. That was all leading up to a situation I wanted to write down about something that would happen to Klara in TRSS, but now I've forgotten it. We really need to create a means to record our dreams. I'm losing quality stuff here! I will revise this section if it comes back to me at some point throughout the day.

Poop. :(

September 3, 2010

Struggling with Voice

As I get older and make a more concerted effort to write professionally, I do not write with the abandon that I did when I was young. A younger me wrote phonetically and with dialects whenever I wanted to express an accent. An older me mentions the accent, but only touches a few key words phonetically. It came from a discussion whether such abstract spellings were the best way to communicate the differences in language. Given that so many of my old stories were the quality of an inexperienced writer, I chose to go the opposite direction.

That's not the only reason. I like to include minorities. I lived in St. Louis city (demographically 66% black) and hung out in areas where I could absorb that kind of culture. Not wholly, of course, but enough I felt comfortable replicating it in words. People seem less willing to accept that, and the further I am away from living in St. Louis, trading it for the predominantly white northeast, I begin to question my own recollection of what was St. Louis living and what was from "The Wire." So, if I avoid using phonetic spelling or dialect, I avoid being called a racist or being laughed at (while they think I'm being racist but don't say it--I hate that one too).

I recently added THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN to my nook. Mark Twain is one of my literary heroes and reading the novel reminded me how much I've given up by not writing my characters speech the way they speak. I've become too scared of criticism, justified it by saying I don't want to support wrong thinking with my writing or that a person just revises the text to what they understand anyway so I'm just adding a step. But when I read the way Huck and Jim speak, I get more than the words. I get the person. I get how they think. What matters. How they process things.

THE TRIAD SOCIETY has a variety of accents, none of which I properly explore. I relegate it to urban being "it is" and rural being "tis," what I feel now is a ridiculous copout.

There is a lot of talk about the author's voice on blogs. Characters and characterization are part of that voice, but not the entirety. What I've found is that why I can maintain the novel's voice during description, I lock up when I express character voice. This needs drastic and immediate attention. Time to write with a little more abandon.

(And call me racist all you want. Go to St. Louis Ave. and Grand on May 1 [the May Day Celebration] and you'll think you've walked into a video. I shit you not.)

(If you're interested in a great people watching place for St. Louis culture, try Captain D's on Kingshighway. It's amazing how much happens at that place--or at least happened when I lived in St. Louis. If you want a darker side of the city that doesn't put you in direct gunfire, head down to the river and follow the tracks. There's some grim living down there.)

September 1, 2010

Another Transition

What? What? What?

What is this guy doing on Blogger? He's been on LiveJournal since 2003? What does he think he's doing here?

To be honest, I'm not sure whether I'm staying. The last time I fiddled with Blogger was for work three years ago. Things have certainly changed since then. A lot. Things have changed for LiveJournal over the years as well. There was plenty of drama and mass migrations, but that never concerned me. I had my personal account and then later I had my professional account. I like the functionality that LJ offers and kept with it over the years just for that reason. The catch is, I use it only for professional journaling. I don't do a lot of personal posts. (I also don't have the same drama I did when I was 25. :)

As a professional tool, LJ seems to come up short. There is a larger presence on Blogger, and that's what I need to tap into. So I'm going to experiment with this here blog--though it will continue to be a journal as I have no intention on doing daily posts!--and see whether I should take the plunge and move over here entirely.

Do you have any thoughts on the subject?