Monday Five

Five things this Monday morning!

1. I know I’m supposed to give my body a day off to rest and repair itself. The trouble is, I’ve grown to need my daily running fix, and I get cranky if I don’t have it. Yesterday was my rest day. I woke up angry this morning, bounced through my morning run, and hit the climbing wall. That anger is great fuel, but I don’t like it. I have a healthy fear of the destructive power of my own rage. Thankfully, now that I’ve sweated and hauled myself around like a piece of baggage (seriously, I threw myself at the wall today, it was epic) I am reasonably serene. Now I just need to settle down and steady myself for the task at hand.

2. I had this urge to get a CD playing thunderstorm sounds. So I’ve been playing this since Sunday. What the Muse wants, the Muse gets, and I’m apparently needing to hear thunder and rain. At least the Muse isn’t requiring Eddie Rabbit. You know, I used to have Alvin and the Chipmunks doing I Love A Rainy Night on vinyl. I’m old-skool, yo.

3. I knew, when I walked away from my email this weekend, that I would rue it come Monday morning. *glances at inboxes, weeps* I suppose it’s better than coming back to dead silence…but still.

4. Today’s Girl Genius made me about pee myself laughing. This webcomic saved my life about eight months ago, and it continues to throw in a chuckle or two every week. Nicely done, Agatha and crew!

5. I really need to write some fight scenes. Or, more precisely, I need to go out to the heavy bag and work it a little to get some fight scenes clear in my head. I’m in the mood for writing some old-fashioned fisticuffs. In a bar. Or something. Hey, it’s better than actual fisticuffs in a bar, right?

That’s it, the Monday five. Welcome to my brain this afternoon. It’s a weird place to be.

Over and out…

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

If You Want To Get Published…

So today we open up the Deadline Dames mailbag, since I’m seriously scraping barrel-bottom on blog post ideas and it’s Friday. I know my brain will serve up other stuff about writing soon, I’ve just been in revision. Which eats a lot of braincycles, believe me.

So, I’ve stolen a question from the mailbag. Other Dames might have different answers, but I figured I’d give my twopence. Said question is from Reader Sara H., and is very interesting:

So, I’d like to write, maybe not as a career, but as a creative outlet, potentially getting to the point where I might try to have something published. I love the research portion of getting ready to write and I have ideas, but getting them onto paper and getting them onto paper in a grammatically correct way is becoming a problem. I have a, History degree, so I can write a fantastic essay about the Nazi art movement or how Martin Luther was the first multi-media rock star, but writing a scene of dialogue or switching POVs makes me want to break out in a cold sweat. I’ve thought about signing up for a creative writing class. Is this a waste of money? Should I maybe just go out and buy a style guide or am I beyond all hope?

Hi, Sara.

Well, you’ve taken the first step, which is realizing that academic or history-essay writing isn’t the same as fiction or genre fiction writing. I like to compare it to sports–different sports use different muscles, and writing in different styles or to different purposes uses different mental “muscles.” You wouldn’t believe how many people who want to write a novel that has a chance of selling don’t grasp that simple, essential fact.

First of all, are you absolutely sure you want to write to publish? Maybe research is all you want to do. If you’re absolutely certain you want to go ahead, think about why. Make a list, verbalize what you want to a trusted person, that sort of thing. A few moments spent discovering your own motivations and what you hope to get out of striving toward publication can be extraordinarily helpful, not least because it can tell you if this is something you really want to do. It’s a lot of hard work.

If you’re sure you want to get something published, and want to develop your novel-writing muscles, then here are some things you can do, and some things you should probably take into account. Ready?

* Treat this goal as a priority. Yeah, I say this a lot. No matter how talented or special you are, the chances of you tossing off a manuscript that will get snapped up first thing are pretty damn small. If you expect just to weekend-warrior it, your chances of getting to the finish line on any novel, not least a publishable novel, are not very high either. Get out your timers, make your lists, do whatever you have to do to prioritize two chunks of your time. One chunk is for researching the novel-writing and publication process. (There’s tons of advice, both at the Deadline Dames and on my own blog, not to mention many others, that can help you here.) The other chunk is for sitting your ass in a chair, putting your fingers on a keyboard, and taking a whack at it. Which brings us to:

* Recognize that there is a learning curve, and your first attempts will suck pretty hard. Just like you didn’t write a 1500-word one-subject essay perfectly the first time, you will not write a reasonable novel weighing in at industry standard (75-120K words, complex plot, characterization, etc., etc.) the first time. You probably will not even get close. Sorry about that. This sort of thing takes practice. For the first two novels, you’re not looking to win or to place. You’re just looking to finish.

* Don’t get bogged down. Do not cough up one novel-sized chunk of text and think you’re done. If you want to get published, endlessly flogging your first attempt at the novel form is not a good way to maximize your chances. It’s like van Gogh stopping after the first painting he ever attempted and declaring that he wouldn’t set brush to canvas again until someone recognized his geeeeenyus and paid him for it. Not only would that not have worked no matter HOW talented dear Vincent was, it also would have deprived the world of his later works.

* Study the form you are attempting. You already read novels, I’m guessing, and since you’re asking the Dames I’m betting you’re reading what you’d like to write–UF, paranormal suspense/romance, etc. If you’re not reading what you’d like to write…start. Set aside time for doing this. Give yourself a couple months to read with no other purpose than enjoyment and familiarity. Then get out a legal pad and a pen while you read, and start writing things down. Write down what works for you in the novels you’re reading, write down what doesn’t, write down what you would have done differently, make a note of typos or continuity errors you find. (You’re not doing this to “catch someone out”–try to avoid the little self-righteous thrill you may receive when you spot a typo or error.) This is to force you to think critically about the form and structure of what you’ll be attempting.

A slight caution here: once you’ve exercised those critical muscles, it might be difficult to go back to reading plainly for pleasure. Sorry about that. This is, incidentally, why I read so much nonfiction–because when I read fiction, I tend to reach for my pen and pad and start making notes as if I’m an editor. *headdesk* A book really has to work to pull me along so I don’t start checking under the hood, so to speak.

* Publishing is hurry up and wait. So’s writing, sometimes. When I finish a manuscript, I have time built into my schedule to set the damn thing aside. I don’t look at it–sometimes for a couple weeks, sometimes for a month or two. This is so when I go back, it’s relatively fresh for me. I have a better chance of reading it critically, of spotting small errors, and of seeing continuity/character problems.

Also, getting an agent or getting a manuscript accepted for publication is so not the end of the road. There are revisions, copyedits, proof pages, cover copy and other decisions, the wait for a release date, then the waiting for “numbers” that may or may not mean the publisher will want another book…in short, writing the manuscript is only the very first step of a long and arduous process. This process will take ten to twenty times more time than you ever dreamed possible. It will wear your nerves down to nubs. You’ve been warned.

Now let’s move along to some nitty-gritty.

* Dialogue is how people talk, but it’s also moving the plot along. Dialogue has to serve three purposes. It has to reveal character. It must also move the plot forward. Not only that, it must not sound clumsy/unreal. This is a tall order! So, to sharpen your ear for dialogue, go to public places (the mall, a casino, etc.), settle down with a coffee and your trusty notebook, and eavesdrop. Listen to how people speak. Listen to what they don’t say. Get your favorite movies and “watch” them–blindfolded. Listen to the dialogue and think about how it reveals character, see if you can tell what the people onscreen are doing by what they’re saying. Read your own dialogue out loud and think, really think about if it advances the plot and sounds like something a Real Person would say.

Real People talk with “um”s and “uh”s and “yeah”s and all sorts of other placeholders. People in books or movies can’t do that without a VERY good reason. Ideally a piece of dialogue gives you a mental snapshot of how a character’s thinking or feeling AND gives you information/impetus to move the story along. Sounds difficult, right? That’s because it is. Listen and practice, and your dialogue will get better.

* POV must be a conscious choice–you must know WHY you’ve chosen a particular POV. When I write in 1st, I have a small keyhole through which I–and the reader–must view the world I’ve created. That tight focus allows for immersion into a character, an immersion that theoretically makes it easier for the reader to identify with/feel for the main character.

The problem with 1st is that I must show other characters doing things and responding in a way that the reader will recognize but that the narrator may not. When I write in 3rd, I have much greater leeway and a broader “scope”, but I have to work twice as hard to show what my hero/ine is really thinking or feeling–and three times as hard to get the reader to identify with and care for said hero/ine. Each is a tradeoff, and you won’t know which is right for a story until you’ve practiced with both and understand the limitations and advantages of both. This is, incidentally, a big reason why anyone’s first finished manuscript pretty much sucks. This takes time and practice to figure out.

Opinion time: I have read ONE book in my life where the author pulled off multiple 1st-person POVs and made them work. (This was Peter Beagle’s The Innkeeper’s Song, if you’re interested.) If you have to cheat by throwing in another character’s POV two-thirds of the way through the book because there’s information your main character/reader can’t get in any other way? Unless you’re extraordinarily skilled AND talented, I’m going to call that a cheat and you’re going to lose me. It’s jarring, and I dislike it intensely. This is why I say POV must be a conscious choice–you’ve got to know why you’re doing it, and play to the strengths that particular POV gives you while figuring out a way around its limitations.

* A class might be a good idea. Or it might not. We all know how I feel about workshops, classes, and agendas. The only two creative-writing classes I was ever in were run by petty tyros who got off on destroying their students emotionally. On the other hand, I’ve run a couple writing classes myself, and they seem to have gone OK. (You’d have to ask the Scupperlout if I was a petty tyro, though.)

If you really want to take a class or a workshop, go into it prepared to learn–but not necessarily to learn about writing. Classes and workshops are more often about someone’s emotional agenda than about information-sharing; that can be great material. There are exceptions, but my personal advice is that the time is better spent writing and the money is better spent on postage or research on the market.

I could go on–especially about style guides and reference books–but this post is already a monster. Sara, you asked a very complex and interesting question, probably far more complex than you really knew. I hope this helps. You’re the only person who can decide if the goal of writing to publication is for you, and you’re the only person who can write yourself there. A lot of it is hard thankless work, but you do get a few chuckles along the way.

Good luck!

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

An Excellent Vacation, and More

Great news! Death’s Excellent Vacation has just released!

With an all-new Sookie Stackhouse story and twelve other original tales, editors Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner bring together a stellar collection of tour guides who offer vacations that are frightening, funny, and touching for the fanged, the furry, the demonic, and the grotesque. Learn why it really can be an endless summer-for immortals.

My story, The Heart Is Always Right, focuses on an EvilMart checker…and a gargoyle who wants to go to Bermuda. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I’m thrilled to be in such a great anthology. It’s available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Indiebound, Powell’s, Book Depository, and Amazon.

That’s the big news for today–and, of course, Jealousy is still out. I’m just now getting a swell of emails about it. The next book, Defiance, is tentatively scheduled for next spring. So it’s not that long of a wait, I promise.

A couple crunchy links today: the Bookshop Blog on why the book hasn’t had its demise just yet. And Michael Bhaskar on the real cost of digital publishing:

The main argument for why royalties should be higher in digital seems to be that, given we don’t have a physical book, the costs to the publisher must be so much lower. This is very easy to answer. The per unit cost of printing a book is, in most cases, not where the majority of a publishers’ costs are directed. They are directed at overheads, at editorial and editorial management, at sales, marketing and publicity. Regardless of whether you have a print book or not, these costs are absolutely consistent. So really the only difference we can talk about is the marginal print cost difference, only a fraction of a book’s total cost.

Moreover there is then a whole new set of costs associated with digital. First, you need people, such as myself, to manage, develop and grow this new area and put in place the foundations for strong publishing companies that will last the next 50 years. Second, there is the cost of conversion of an ebook, which although small still has an impact if sales volumes are low, as they are for many ebooks. Third, there is then a host of distribution systems, business system upgrades and additions and new digital production software requiring investment. People might argue that this is a one-off cost, and once amortised should then be factored out. Yet this fails to understand the nature of most software agreements, which work as SaaS (software as a service) arrangements, whereby the software is leased on a usage fee basis. So in fact as time goes by and we use these new systems more, we will have to pay more, in absolute terms. Even basic technology can subsume surprisingly large chunks of income – DRM (Digital Rights Management) for example can eat as much as 7-9% of a book’s RRP, although this would usually not be felt by the publisher. (Bookbrunch)

I wish I could pound this into the head of everyone who says “But authors are greeeeeeedy because ebooks are cheeeeeap!” A quality ebook is not cheap to produce, kids.

Following up on yesterday’s “when students plagiarize”, today we have an article on when teachers cheat.

This morning was full of unpleasant business, but the sun has come out and all is well now. There are nice things about my life now, and the unpleasantnesses are getting further and further apart. It’s a good thing.

i hope your day is similarly perking up, dear Reader. Now it’s time for me to take a bunch of werwulfen through Central Park on a dare…

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Same As It Ever Was

Morning. I had a helluva weekend, how ’bout you? For me it’s straight to work on revisions for the next Dru book, and a whole clutch of things I kind of let slide while the release madness was jumping up and down under my skin like red-hot ants.

Yeah, great image, right?

A couple of great links: LA Banks on writing the paranormal. I about died laughing because I’ve done what she describes before. And Michelle Sagara on the fact that not everyone has to love one’s books. John E. Dunn on who owns a book and Trip Gabriel on how student plagiarism could be rooted in “changing ideas of authorship.” (Both of those two last courtesy Victoria Strauss.)

I don’t quite agree with that last one. I’m more likely to ascribe it to a new form of the same old laziness–almost everyone wants something for nothing, and given a way to cheat, significant proportions of people will. I don’t think “ideas of authorship” have changed. I think people are just as they have always been, except it’s easier to plagiarize and easier to be caught doing so because of the way the Internet works.

Anyway, I have an event to announce! On August 19 at 7pm, I will be at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s, to read from and sign copies of Jealousy! (More information here.) You can even preorder signed copies.

I may–MAY, mind you–even be wearing heels.

Yes, the excitement. I don’t know how we stand it either. *grin*

The only thing I have left to say is a huge thank-you to everyone who has deluged me with congratulations and wonderful responses to Jealousy‘s release. I am overwhelmed by the support and cautiously optimistic, since plenty of you seem to have read it and like it. Thank you! You are, after all, who I write for.

Back to the word mines, my dears. Have a good Monday.

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