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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 4/29/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

xdpaul starts a column. It's short. • Join the discussion...

Henry Vogel offers a compelling insight into the new Smurfs movie, but the truth is much more sinister: Smurfs are actually what Neo would have seen, if he'd taken the blue pill. • Join the discussion...

M posts the first Deadline Reminder in six months (yes, that's me... but it would have been a very short list without mentioning this!). • Join the (almost non-existent) discussion...

All this and more, as Henry celebrates Tell a Story Day and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.

Editor Bait (a.k.a. "The Good Friday 120-Word Page Turner")

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge 4 22 2011):

  • "Under the Gunn" by Al
    (120 Words - Under the Gunn.txt ... phx_cameraman)

  • "Late" by Watkinson
    (120 words.docx ... stuart_watkinson)

  • "A Liberating Delivery" by Triton
    (A Liberating Delivery.rtf ... tritons_tales)

  • "Book Opening" by Henry
    (Book opening.txt ... hlvogel)

  • "Charles and the Apocalypse" by Rich M
    (Charles and the Apocalypse.rtf ... rmatrunick)

  • "Dawn" by Triton
    (Dawn.rtf ... tritons_tales)

  • "Down in the Hollow" by Triton
    (Down in the Hollow.rtf ... tritons_tales)

  • "Geek, the Game of Champions" by Arisia
    (Geek, the Game of Champions ... arisia4tfc)

  • "Guardians" by Arisia
    (Guardians ... arisia4tfc)

  • "Man Versus Machine" by Rich M
    (Man Versus Machine.rtf ... rmatrunick)

  • "Myrmidon, first version" by Ben-El *
    (Myrmidon, first version.doc ... sonofolorus)

  • "Myrmidon, second version" by Ben-El *
    (Myrmidon, second version.doc ... sonofolorus)

  • "Soul Cutting" by miko
    (miko_SoulCutting ... bohemianinbabylon)

  • "Novel Opening" by topher
    (novel opening ... topher_fridaychallenge)

  • "Old Secrets" by Triton
    (Old Secrets.rtf ... tritons_tales)

  • "Really Big Islands" by Michael D
    (Really Big Islands-Michael.rtf ... michdonalds35)

  • "Return to Earth" by Ryan J
    (Return to Earth ... pipecleanercreatures)

  • "Scout's Honor opening" by Henry
    (Scout's Honor opening.txt ... hlvogel)

  • "Suckering the Nazis" by Triton
    (Suckering the Nazis.rtf ... tritons_tales)

  • "The Guitar" by Arisia
    (The Guitar ... arisia4tfc)

  • "The Invisible Mark" by Arisia
    (The Invisible Mark ... arisia4tfc)

  • "(The Unseen World, first version" by Ben-El *
    (The Unseen World, first entry.doc ... sonofolorus)

  • "(The Unseen World, second version" by Ben-El *
    (The Unseen World, second entry.doc ... sonofolorus)

  • "The Watchmakers Gift" by Rich M
    (The Watchmakers Gift.rtf ... rmatrunick)

  • "Timeline" by Arisia
    (Timeline ... arisia4tfc)

  • "To Save an Ear" by Triton
    (To Save an Ear.rtf ... tritons_tales)

  • "Wreckage" by Arisia
    (Wreckage ... arisia4tfc)

  • "Zombie Funeral" by xdpaul
    (XDPaul FC Throwdown ... dpauleness)

An enthusiastic "Huzzah" to all who have entered! The judges are now considering your submissions. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 1 May 2011.

* I was disconcerted to note that Ben-El had a couple of "first version/second version" entries, after I specifically prohibited more lengthy setups in 120-word chunks. Reading the content convinced me that, although his entries might take place within the same world, they are stand-alone setups for completely different stories... or could be. Regardless of how you read any entry, please judge each submission as a stand-alone work.

"Ooh, it's fuzzy!"

And now for this week's Friday Challenge.

Oh, wait... we should probably clear something up, before we go any further.

Last week I clearly stated, "This is NOT an "M takes over!" post. I fully expect and intend for the rest of you to take turns swinging the brickbat."

I still expect that.

So why am I the one announcing another challenge, hot on the heels of last week's challenge? Well, for one thing, we don't (yet) have any idea who will win last week's challenge. Ideally, the winner will suggest a new challenge, lift hizzerher tail with pride, and serve a week's duty as High Territory Marker. Ideally.

We also have a few new participants, any of whom might be declared this week's winner, but who might not feel quite comfortable stepping into the territory-marking role on such short notice.

Or "real life" might reasonably intervene for the winner, at some point. We've no shortage of real life these days.

In the interim, and as necessary, I'd like to keep the cognitive wheels spinning. Therefore, I'll be proposing challenges — and arranging for their disposition — whenever we hit a slow point. If anyone objects, please feel free to submit your own challenge, and it will be gracefully put up instead. (Alternately, if you have a brilliant idea for a challenge but still haven't won, that is also reasonable grounds for submitting your idea.)

And now — now that we've clarified our intent — it is time for this week's Friday Challenge.


Little Fuzzies.


Give it fur and an endearing nickname, and you can probably sell any alien you dream up. Sell it in spades, that is... as long as you don't cross over into the fatally cutesy easier-to-mock-than-appreciate realm, and name your critters "Mogwai" or "Ewoks," or something else so drenched in saccarine that the audience eventually decides it would be more fun to barbecue their little furry carcasses than to purchase your lovingly endorsed product placements.

Creating the critters ain't as simple as it sounds. Not only must you find a suitable name, you must be able to convey the essence of your creation in a modicum of text. Back of a box of Cheerios? Dostoyevsky, by comparison. If you want to capture the hearts, minds (and potentially pyloric sphincters) of the world, you must be able to convey a suitable description in less text than I've already used.

I'll give you 150 words.

This time we are playing for two categories of prize: The coveted most-iconic-alien-critter-that-hasn't-been-marketed-yet endorsement, and the mention-that-critter-again-and-I'll-gouge-yer'-eyeballs-out award.

Anyone can enter, except for me. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are not allowed to supply a more lengthy alien sketch in 150-word chunks, and you are not allowed to build on anyone else's setup.

You are explicitly prohibited from using existing critters, regardless of their status in the real world or any existing work of fiction. Your entry must be your own creation. Fur is technically optional.

Everyone is asked to vote, and to say a few words about what they liked, and why. Or to say a few words about what they disliked, as the case may be; by submitting an entry, you implicitly agree to accept criticism, because there will probably be some handed out, and no one is immune. When voting, please rank a work as either "0" (not so good), "1" (not as bad), "2" (could have been better) or "3" (pretty good stuff!). If you give either a "0" or "3" vote, feel free to argue in support of your reasoning.

Don't like the negativity? Feel free to think of the levels as "0" (Not bad for a first attempt), "1" (Right on!), "2" (Holy cow, I wanna buy this now...) or "3" (Sweet mother of God, how did you write something this awesome?!!). The point is to clearly differentiate, and rank according to your own preference.

For the purposes of this challenge I will be serving as High Territory Marker. (I didn't make up the title! Blame Guy Stewart.)

As of now, we are playing by the loosely enforced and slightly modified rules of The Friday Challenge. All entries are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 6 May 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 8 May 2011.

Oh, there is one more thing... but it is the most important! Have fun. Always have fun.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Deadline Reminder

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge — colloquially dubbed the Good Friday 120 Word Page Turner — is 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 29 April 2011... less than twenty-four hours away.

Entries may be added to The Friday Challenge Yahoo Group (see the appropriate directory within the "Files" section), hosted on your personal blog(s) and linked within the comments for the challenge, or copied directly into the comments section as a post.

In previous challenges, we have accommodated late entries. This time, we have no such luxury; if you post an entry much later than 6 AM Eastern time, there is a chance the judges will not be able to properly consider your work. Should you anticipate a need to snowdog, please mentally back the deadline up as much as necessary. If the deadline hits and you are very, very close, please publicly announce your intention to enter.

A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 1 May 2011.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu Goes to the Movies

We're just a week and a half away from the start of the summer movie season, with the first of the hype and hope movies ("Hype it a lot and hope a lot of people pay to see it") hitting the big screen on May 6. This is also the first summer in which 3D movies will be the big thing. Many of the movies listed below will have 3D releases to rival their own 2D releases. What's on the digital (nobody uses film any more) horizon?

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night - April 29. "The most widely read comic book in Italy" comes to America as a movie. Oh, Dear God; not another Barbarella, Asterix, or Judge Dredd, we hope.

Thor - May 6. I never cared much for Thor in his own comic book. Too much fake medieval speech -- "I say thee nay!" instead of a simple "No," for example -- and too many adventures dealing with the realm of the gods rather than us mere mortals. I liked him fine in the Avengers though. The movie looks to be mostly set on earth but the foe is Loki. Will movie audiences turn out for a god as superhero?

Priest - May 13. I hadn't heard about this one but saw it was getting the 3D treatment so looked it up. It's a post apocalypse movie where the earth has been ravaged by the war against vampires. I lost interest at that point, but there are plenty of fans of the blood suckers that it will probably do well.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - May 20. Will and Elizabeth are gone, leaving only Captain Jack Sparrow. He's the one most people want to see anyway. Normally, the fourth movie in an original series is something to be dreaded. All the good ideas have been used up and everyone is just going through the motions. Except this time, the lads at Disney got the rights to Tim Powers' novel On Stranger Tides. I've read the book and its mixture of pirate story and mysticism makes it a good fit for the series. Of course, the script writers could have ruined an otherwise good story.

Kung Fu Panda 2 - May 26. The first one was fun in a fairly predictable way. Can they do it again? The Boy is bound to consider himself too old to see this one, but those with younger kids may find a treat.

X-Men: First Class - June 3. I liked the first two well enough. Didn't care for the third and have never watched the Wolverine movie. The Boy doesn't care about the X-Men at all. I suspect we'll give this one a pass unless we hear amazing things about it.

Green Lantern - June 17. This could be really good -- unless it really sucks. Somehow, I don't think there will be a middle ground on this movie. If you're unsure, just wait a day or two after the release and check with me.

Cars 2 - June 24. I think Cars is the weakest Pixar movie released thus far. That still means it was better than most movies for kids. The Boy has always been big on cars and racing, so he enjoyed the original. He still likes cars and racing but at nearly 15 I doubt he'll have any interest in seeing this movie.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - July 1. The Fourth of July weekend gets kicked off by the third Transformers movie. I found the first movie surprisingly entertaining, especially considering how little interest I had in it. The second Transformers movie was just plain bad. I'm going to go ahead and predict the decline continues with this one.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - July 15. After 10 years and seven previous movies, the Harry Potter franchise finally ends. Having read the book, I already know how it ends. I still haven't seen part 1, a year after its release. I guess we'll watch part 1 on DVD and probably hit the theaters for this one. Audrey will want to see it, so I'll go along. But, personally, I'm rather tired of Harry Potter movies.

Captain America: The First Avenger - July 22. I'm leery of this one. Captain America used to be a favorite of mine. But his old brand of unabashed, gung-ho patriotism seems to be out of vogue these days. I'm afraid I'll find Captain Poor-Misunderstood-Masses-of-the-World instead of the guy I remember from the comics.

Cowboys and Aliens - July 29. With this title, you'd think it was going to be a parody. You'd be wrong. This is being played straight, just as it was in the graphic novel it's based on. I haven't read the graphic novel, but the movie has some seriously big names involved. Plus, the previews have me intrigued.

The Smurfs - July 29. Did I mention Cowboys and Aliens comes out on July 29, too?

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - August 5. I didn't even know this was in the works until I found it in the list of coming movies. The movie will apparently show us how the apes got smart and overran humanity. Sounds like a real "feel good" movie to me!

Conan the Barbarian - August 19. I had heard this was being made but didn't know it was coming out this soon. I haven't seen a trailer or heard anything about the movie. I need to know more before I decide whether to drop bucks on this one or not.

Spy Kids 4: All Around the World - August 19. It's got new kids! It's got new former-spy parents! It's got the old kids, who are too old to be kids any more! But can it recapture the silly fun of the first movie or will it just be more like the third movie? Does it really matter? Once again, I doubt the nearly 15 year old Boy will have any interest in seeing this one.

There you go, the highlights, lowlights, and everything in between for this movie season. What's going to be good? What's going to suck royally? What are you looking forward to seeing?

Let the arguments begin!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Flash Fiction Advisory

Flash Fic Advisory: An Introduction

The National Weather Service has not issued a single advisory on the threat of flash fiction since the Secretary of War established the agency. So I’m a-gonna issue one: flash fiction is lightning for a reader – a spectacular show, but bad landings are fatal. Much like the Good Friday Challenge of ’11, crafting flash is excellent practice in the unforgiving art of instant gratification. Whether it gets an editor to turn the page or a quick pleasure for the reader, good flash is like Iowa climate. It can brew a storm in no time. The author is a rainmaker… or soaked.

Flash Fic Advisory #1: It is better to be Thor than the lightning rod.

xdpaul's recurring, supershort weekly column focuses on insight into the practice of Flash Fiction. An unpublished novelist by pseudotrade, he mostly does flash as a writing exercise, but has had flashes published at Ideomancer, Don Muchow's Would That It Were? and Diagram's first anthology.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 4/22/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Guy Stewart dips into his Pensieve to share a story of being sucked into an unfamiliar genre the fortuitous convergence of events that kick-started his career in adolescent fiction. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke muses on companionship, confesses a fondness for long-haired brunettes, and virtually guarantees he'll never be a Guest of Honor at DemiCon. • Join the discussion...

Kersley Fitzgerald tracks down the object of Henry Vogel's lifelong desire, complete with visual aids. • Join the discussion...

Kersley Fitzgerald also picks a bone with a successfully self-published author and suggests that "self" wasn't quite as effective in the role of editor, while Bruce Bethke responds with a challenge to spot the sloppiness inherent in the system. • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as Americans celebrate a slightly-delayed Render Unto Caesar Day and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.

And now for this week's Friday Challenge.

Wait... what? A genuine, honest-to-goodness Friday Challenge? Announced on a Friday? With the intent to judge?

All right, hold your horses a second. (Alternately, "Cool yer jets." Bat Durston has been known to use the two phrases interchangeably.) Let's all take a deep breath and a step backward, as we remember something important: The Friday Challenge operates under this name for a reason. It's not about any one individual, or a troika of excellent judges, or even the assorted publications any of our names might grace... it's about you, and the interplay we share.

So what is The Friday Challenge? We are a gathering of friends, drawn from a disparity of backgrounds, interests and ability. From time to time we serve as a sounding board for one other, as well as a safe place to vent, a gathering in which to celebrate, and a company of shoulders upon which to cry... but we also share a dirty little secret. Ready? By joining us, you are not making any declaration of creed or ideology aside from the assurance that you either are, or long to be (or even share a deeply ingrained relationship with!) a writer.

There aren't any "You must be this high to ride the rides" signs here. Never written a word? No problem. Using your rejection slips for toilet paper? Glad to have you. Published on a weekly basis in the finest glossies? Come on in. Try not to step on the toilet paper.

And now — now that we've reintroduced the concept, welcomed the newcomers, and turned to face the sunrise — it is time for this week's Friday Challenge.

As a writer it is always important to hook the readers, but readers will generally allow at least a few pages before deciding whether you've adequately set the hook. As a writer hoping to sell anything to a professional market, you must hook an editor. Editors are much bigger fish, and they've seen all the fancy bait.

Let's assume you are submitting to a professional market, and the market requires a hard copy submission in standard manuscript format. That means you'll have, on average, somewhere between 90 and 120 words in which to make a valuable first impression, and convince the editor to turn the page. (Realistically, very few editors are so callous that they would immediately toss a manuscript with a dull first page. It's been known to happen, though.)

This week I am playing editor. Not only do you have to hook me in 120 words or less, your character(s) and/or situation(s) must be believable. Write as much as you want, but for the purposes of this challenge you must cut your entry off after a maximum of 120 words. Make me need to turn the page.

Anyone can enter, except for me. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. You are not allowed to supply a more lengthy setup in 120-word chunks, and you are not allowed to build on anyone else's setup.

Everyone is asked to vote, and to say a few words about what they liked, and why. Or to say a few words about what they disliked, as the case may be; by submitting an entry, you implicitly agree to accept criticism, because there will probably be some handed out, and no one is immune. When voting, please rank a work as either "0" (not so good), "1" (not as bad), "2" (could have been better) or "3" (pretty good stuff!). If you give either a "0" or "3" vote, feel free to argue in support of your reasoning.

For the purposes of this challenge I will be serving as High Territory Marker. (I didn't make up the title! Blame Guy Stewart.)

As of now, we are playing by the loosely enforced and slightly modified rules of The Friday Challenge. All entries are due by 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 29 April 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 1 May 2011.

Oh, there is one more thing... but it is the most important! Have fun. Always have fun.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Critical Thinking

My last two posts have been about this year’s Mountain of Authors conference put on by the Pike’s Peak Library District. Last year, during the author showcase, M.J. Brett caught my interest. (Her full name is Margaret Brettschneider, but she was told her whole name wouldn’t fit on a book cover. I bet she just didn’t want to have to sign it.)

The first book she mentioned was Mutti’s War. It’s the story of her mother-in-law who lived in Prussia during World War II. When the Russians surrounded, she managed to smuggle her three young sons to freedom.

This year I picked up Shadows on an Iron Curtain. It's based on her experiences as a Department of Defense teacher for the kids of military members stationed in Germany. But instead of Ramstein, she was assigned to “the Border”—the long fence that separated the West German people from the land-hungry Russians. Not the famous wall in Berlin. The fragile string of razor wire, where Russian guards mined their side and shot any East German who tried to escape.

It’s obvious from her writing both that she had extensive experience in her subject and a great affection for the people she knew. The single helicopter pilots and engineers relied on the teachers for support, femininity, and…dancing partners. The women admired the men who might not come back from any of the several alerts the Russians pressed them into.

The details really shine through. This isn’t someone who went to Google Maps and turned on Street View. The playground was cobblestone. Furnaces weren’t turned on for most of the year—even if it snowed. Bourbon balls are not malt balls but they will get children drunk. The details in individual personalities ring true, also. How does a pilot act when every mission is top secret? Or when his mission is to recover the bodies of soldiers who have been floating in a river for three days?

She is a fantastic storyteller, also. She really knew where she was going and how to get there. Characters weave in and out expertly. The timeframe reminded me of The Bourne Identity novel, but I liked the characters better. And she eschewed the easy fixes to keep it real.

M.J. Brett was the one who last year said if you’re young, wait for Random House. If you’re old, go ahead and self-publish. This book is killing me, because it is really, really good. But if she’d been able to get a publisher, it would have been great. She couldn’t get attention, so she self-published. I don’t know if she used an editor or had a critique group, but, man! This is what’s wrong with the publishing industry. She really needed someone to come along next to her—someone not so emotionally wrapped up in the subject matter. There are details she obviously felt were precious that fall clunky. Others need more organic transitions. A lot of telling that could have been reworked so easily. And the quote marks get a little crazy. Then there’s the one place where “Carl” suddenly becomes “David.”

This book may be the poster-child for the self-publishing dilemma. What do you do when you have a book that needs to get out there—that deserves to get out there—but no one will help? M.J. knows how to tell a story—and she knows how to sell. The book is in its second printing. We have benefited from her work and her success and her wonderful, flawed book. We have more options, now, for self-publishers. The trail is blazed. We now know about editors.

Please. By all that is holy. If you decide to self-publish. Use a good editor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Henry, it's here! It's here!

Ultimate Geek Fu

Goodbye, Sarah Jane
It is with unexpected sadness that we note the passing yesterday of actress Elisabeth Sladen, better known as "Sarah Jane Smith," perhaps the longest-running character in the Doctor Who universe aside from the Doctor himself. At age 63 it seems much too early for her to have taken her final bow, and of course, her final battle with cancer strikes much too close to home, these days.

After nearly forty years—(good grief, has it really been that long?)—of enjoying Doctor Who, Sarah Jane remains my favorite of the Doctor's many traveling companions. I know other fans who would pick other companions; I even know a couple who named their daughter Tegan. And certainly Louise Jameson's "Leela" had a lot of fans and was probably a prototype for a whole new type of woman's role.

But for me, Sarah Jane was always the very best example of the type. I don't know quite why: forced to verbalize, I'd say it was because she was plucky. Sometimes stubborn. Always inquisitive, sometimes dangerously so, but never a fool. Sometimes in trouble, but never helpless. Quite fetching, in a wholesome sort of way that seems entirely lost in recent decades—or perhaps that's simply further evidence of my obsession with long-haired brunettes.

There's an argument you can start any time two or more geeks are gathered together: "Who was the best Doctor Who?" I think the answer really depends on who was playing the part when you discovered the show. My favorite was always Tom Baker, but I've met plenty of Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison fans, and David Tennant did a marvelous turn in the part in recent years. It even used to be possible to find the occasional Patrick Troughton fan, although age has thinned their ranks, but Sylvester McCoy fans seem as rare as George Lazenby fans, and no one ever acknowledges that Peter Cushing played the Doctor in two otherwise forgettable 1960s movies.

So if you're in the mood to argue, those are today's topics: who was the best Doctor Who, and who were the most unforgettable of the Doctor's companions? Villains would be a good topic, too; Doctor Who always abounded in memorable villains.

But me, I think I'd rather spare a minute today to think kindly thoughts of Ms Sladen, and remember how much I enjoyed watching her work, 35 years ago.

Let the comments begin.

Monday, April 18, 2011

WRITING STUFF FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS: First Sale "Friends Forever, Lisa"

In these articles (about once a month on the third or fourth Monday), I’ll be sharing with you what I’ve learned in the past fifteen years from first trying to get short stories and articles published in the non-adult market to publishing pretty much whenever I submit a short story, article or essay to a non-adult market. I’m going to do this chronologically so that those of you who are beginning your journey can learn what I did as I did. This will also tend to make me more coherent as I cast back to those first days – and I won’t make assumptions about what I did and didn’t know…

Sometimes publication is a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I had traveled with a Christian band from June 1977 through August 1978. Our group had grown quite close, but when we were done, we were ready to move on. A pair of our group got married and the wife, after several years of marriage and having kids, decided to start a children’s magazine. She got support from local churches, advertising and a bit of self-funding and put out a few issues of SONSHINE MAGAZINE in 1983.

I had been writing for a number of years but had little to show for it but a story accepted by a “mimeograph and tagboard, three-color cover” called ANTITHESIS. It was my first acceptance, but I’d gotten nothing since then. When Ruth, the editor of the new magazine, shared with me in a letter (this is 1984, remember? It was a PAPER letter…) what she was doing, she asked if I would be interested in writing a story for it.

“Would I?” I leaped on to my IBM Selectric (I was writing on an electric typewriter at the time!)…and stared at the blank sheet of paper.

I’d long planned on becoming a science fiction writer. Everything I’d written up to this point had been SF. I’d been submitting to ANALOG and other magazines since I was old enough to type and had received nothing but pre-printed rejection slips. I had also been a substitute teacher for three years and knew something about kids, though I had none of my own. I knew ABOUT kids, I just didn’t know them real well. Ruth didn’t want science fiction. But as a science teacher, I knew even less about literature than I did about kids.

So I picked a genre I could navigate in, albeit not with any great knowledge: I wrote a mystery about a girl whose best friend had moved away without writing and telling her. She had to figure it out from an abandoned ocean-side cabin at a resort they shared during the summer. She eventually found a note from the friend, Lisa. Did I plan carefully? Nope. Did I draw a map of the beach? Yup. THAT was something I understood. But the whole planning thing was something I didn’t do well.

I had to go back and RE-write the whole story because it was so full of plot holes, it didn’t make sense; and it certainly wasn’t a mystery! I was working against a deadline and I had to be DONE with the story. I tacked on a religious message (SONSHINE MAGAZINE was a Christian magazine) and sent it to Ruth. She sent it back.

What? WHAT!

She asked for some changes – mostly about integrating the message with the story, I laboriously made them, typed the whole thing up again, sent it – and she bought it! Several months later, the magazine showed up at my house and an artist had rendered a drawing based on my words. I was ecstatic and I found I’d learned my first lessons about writing for children: Write what you know and INTEGRATE your message because EVERY kid story has a “message” that should be INVISIBLE to a child’s critical eye. (They are WAY more critical than adults are!)

What I Learned #1: Be ready to go in a direction you’d never considered.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Friday Challenge - 4/15/2011

Today is April 15, and if you're a US citizen or legal resident, you know what that means: it's National Render Unto Caesar Day!

So as you're scrambling to do what most persons subject to IRS jurisdiction are doing today—rushing madly to get your tax forms completed and filed on-time and heaving multitudinous sighs of relief that because of recent political events, the filing deadline has been extended to Monday—it's time to remind you of one of the greatest joys of the writing life.

If you become a successful writer, you will be required to calculate and file your tax returns quarterly — and as a self-employed person, you will be required to pay both the employee and employer portions of the Social Security tax. (Bet you didn't know that the real cost of Social Security tax is double the number you see on your paycheck stub, did you?)

In Ireland, at least until recently, writers were considered national cultural treasures and exempt from paying personal income tax. (I'm sure they've changed it since. Nothing that good could ever last.) As an American, I truly believe that paycheck withholding is one of the great sneaky evils of our time, and if each and every one of us had to take actual cash out of our own pockets and write and mail a check to the IRS every three months, we'd all pay much closer attention to what those fools in D.C. are doing with our money.

But never mind that now. Today is National Render Unto Caesar Day! It's too late to do anything now about 2010, but what are the tips you'd like to share for how to lessen the taxman's bite in 2011?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Critical Thinking: PPLD Mountain of Authors

PPLD Mountain of Authors

Publishing Panel

Doris Baker
: Filter Press, LLC; middle grade and YA Western historical

Teresa Funke: Teresa Funke & Co and Victory House Press.

Nancy Mills: Children’s’ lit author; Pres of the Colorado Independent Pub Association. Has own publishing house (Pie in the Sky Pub) and publishes her own. Goal in writing is to publish children’s books that entertain both the child and the reading parent.

Q: What was your introduction to publishing?

TF: Wrote a historical novel about WWII. Editors loved it and couldn’t put it down, but refused to buy it since they wouldn’t be able to sell it. Men it was about were dying, and she wanted them to be able to see it in print, so she decided to self-publish POD. Enjoyed self-publishing. Next book—editors told her it wouldn’t sell. Rewrote as short stories and published them in literary magazines. Again, editors loved the compilation, but couldn’t sell it. So she and a friend started their own press. Also put her YA WWII series through her press because she felt the mainstream publishers would want her to take out the most important parts. Now she only publishes her own books, but will publish others later.

Q: What are the myths and cautions about publishing?

DB: Tiger Woods quote: “It’s harder than it looks.” Getting a book ready and published is harder than it looks. And writing a 32-page children’s picture book is like writing poetry—every word counts. And fact-based books must be researched not only by the author but by the editor to make sure it’s accurate.

TF: It’s a long process. People give up too soon when they don’t see it coming together. Sometimes you need to step back to short stories and essays.

NM: Biggest myth: “Oh, I don’t need an editor.”

If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be doing it. You should enjoy it, find it fulfilling, and find that it feels a need in yourself.

Q: Anything to be careful about regarding publishing?

NM: There are a number of companies that will package your book, but be very cautious. How many books will you have to sell make up your expense? POD [Publish in Demand] is very helpful since you don’t need to run 10,000 copies. If you have the desire to write the great American novel, be patient.

TF: Even if you’re working with a reputable POD company, look carefully at their different packages and pick and choose what you need. Editorial services with POD companies aren’t that great. Be careful with agents, too; if they require a reading fee, find another agent.

DB: You don’t want to get stars in your eyes. Don’t take the first person who says, “We can do…” Slow down and see if you’re getting a good deal. Watch out for add-ons like marketing and editing services. Read fine-print—which can go on for 25 screens. Know the terminology on publishing industry; read the blogs; know what to ask. Know if the company will own your book or if it’s simply a printer. If the publisher provides your ISBN, they own your book.

TF: Retain your rights for the book so you can turn around and do something different with the material later on.

NM: Usually self-publishers want to choose the cover, font, paper, so you definitely want to retain your rights for the material.

Q: But there are little or no upfront costs from a traditional publisher.

DB: Until about five-ten years ago, the model was that your book was seen as having a value to a specific publishing company. Once they liked it and agreed to buy it, the author’s job was almost done. In order to make up their investment, the publisher puts up the money for printing, marketing, distribution. This investment is why they have a say in what goes into the book—both content and format.

Now we have about 10-15 different models with a spectrum of author/publisher commitment and investment. Depends on how many rights the author wants to retain and how confident the publisher is that the book will sell.

Q: How much money is a publisher willing to invest in a book?

DB: A traditional publisher needs to sell enough quantity of a book to recoup the investment. A 32-page picture book with a professional children’s book illustrator…Her budget will start at $15,000-$20,000; printing will be in Taiwan or China. A smaller YA book with fewer illustrations would be much less expensive and printed on demand locally. If you want to know specifics about costs, ask a printer.

TF: At first, she thought it was ridiculous that a new author’s first book would get them 8%. Once she got into the publishing, she saw how much investment publishing companies pick up. She spent about $1500 on her first including $200 to a photographer for the cover image and another $100 for cover design. POD, small quantities cost was $7-$8 a book.

Q: What about agents?

NM: You used to not need an agent. The market has changed so much that now you need one for a traditional publisher. They can see if it needs editing or changing and what (if any) publisher will take it. The big five publishers in NY are cutting back on the traditional hard printed books they by. First ever time—e-books outsold hard covers.

E-books are the future. But traditional books will never go away for the same reason TV didn’t put movies out of business. E-books will be more convenient for text books (which needs regular updating) and reduce carbon footprint. But people will continue to love to hold books—be with them. When her first book came in from China, she wanted to spread them all over her bed and roll around in them naked.

But she didn’t.

DB: E formats can make every writer a published writer. If your goal is to be published in print, the best way to leverage your talents is to publish an e-book and get people interested in your topic and your writing. [Wow. Did she just say that?] If you can get the readers, you have leverage with the traditional publisher. E-books free the writer. There are still a lot of processes to get the book e-published: editing, cover, endorsement, marketing. If she was a non-fiction writer, she would take it straight to e-publishing and skip print.

NM: Doesn’t agree completely. Hates to lose the opportunity to meet the audience—both to sell them to the person face to face, and to allow the reader to be able to purchase the book and put it on their shelf as a reference. Don’t do one without the other.

TF: Put two of her books up, but what do you charge for it? And how do you get it out there? And Amanda [Hocking] had 19 books to put out there. Readers will want a library and be less patient for the sequel. If you do it, do it well. Get it properly edited. Even if you price it low, if the writing or the formatting sucks, you’re going to get bad reviews. Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t frustrate your reader.

NM: “Editing is not spell check.”

DB: When you’re publishing, are you putting a book out just to see what will happen, or are you starting a writing career? If you’re looking for a career, it needs to be professional.

Her company is in the process of putting all their back-list out as e-books. They have a built-in audience since the books have print readers. They've started making sure print format will easily transition to e-book. Offering 30% royalty on e-books since expenses were taken care of when they edited the print book.

TF: Kindle pays about 70%; Nook 65%

DB: It’s a lot of fun to do it yourself. Make sure you get samples if you have someone format your book for e-book. It’s not a straight translation. Indentations are tricky. Ask to see their work.

TF: AAR—Association of Author Representatives—if an agent is listed there, they are legitimate.

Q: Should you ever respond to an on-line review, good or bad?

TF: There was recently an author who did that. It’s hard to get a bad review off of Amazon unless you can prove malicious intent. You need 5-star and 1-star reviews. If it’s all 5-stars, people will think they’re all from your relatives. A 1-star review makes the book seem real. Most people don’t pay attention to 2-4-star reviews.

NM: Got told her book had words that were too big—like “fuchsia,” and a woman thought the funniest parts were inappropriate.

DB: Hope for more positive than negative, but consider how you’re spending your time. You need to pour your creativity and energy into your writing, not rebuttals. Peer reviews are more important to your craft. You need to look at the peer reviews, but readers will pay attention to amateur bloggers and Amazon commentors.

Q: How do you define success?

DB: Sometimes she can’t believe she’s still in business. Gets frustrated with printers and editors and the market. Remembers why she’s in the business: keeps her reading, thinking, and in company with the people in the book world. Loves the people in the book world. Derives satisfaction in seeing an author’s work polished and in print.

TF: It is difficult in the publishing industry, and she quits, absolutely, twice a year. The next day she wakes up with a brilliant idea. You do it because you love it, period. Most will not get money or fame, but will get satisfaction and fulfill your passion. The way she does it enables her to do things creatively and take risks. There are so many avenues and opportunities, and you don’t have to give up on a project. It’s an exciting time and frustrating time, and it takes a lot of work, but if you love it, it isn’t work.

NM: Three big ways people move through the world: 1. Work to feed your habit—golf or buy toys or travel. 2. Work because they feel strongly about the cause—reward is huge and money doesn’t matter. 3. Work at what they love and make money. Use any of these. Hers has nothing to do with publishing. At the end of the day, who loves you? She integrates her family into her books—involves them with the creative process, which draws them into her live and work.

TF: Whatever your goal is for your book, it’s valid. Whether it’s for your family, a small press, a block-buster, just do it.

NM: No matter who you pay, no matter who you hire or talk to, this is your book, your story, your theory, your imagination. Likely, your book has merit, so stick to your guns.

DB: Still stuck on the image of rolling around naked in books. But there is a thrill of holding that first published book.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

Y'know, we used to run this tag at the bottom of each UGF post:
ULTIMATE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Better yet, do you have an idea for a UGF challenge you'd like to see? Then send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Ultimate Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.
If you want to keep this feature going, the offer still stands. If you're uncertain about whether you want to dip your toes into the fell waters of writing for public consumption in the blogosphere, UGF is probably the easiest way to throw out a post and discover whether you enjoy doing so.

UGF was never intended to be rocket surgery. (That intention belonged to Splattering Guts for Fun & Profit, in its better moments.) True, we did produce some minor epics, such as this one, but far more of the UGF posts were along these lines. For you see, the entire point of UGF was first and foremost always to stimulate reader participation.

Accordingly, the UGF formula is simple. Cooked down to its essence, it is:

1. Pick a widely known pop-culture topic, preferably one regarding which a lot of people are likely to have opinions. (It is not required to be SF-related. That happenstance merely reflects my personal biases and interests.)

2. Express an opinion about it, and present a few short paragraphs of evidence to support your opinion. Contentious opinions work best, but please make them somewhat more sophisticated than, "Does, like, Twilight totally suck, or what?"

3. End with a rhetorical question, to invite discussion.

4. Let the arguments begin!

There you have it. Questions? Opinions? Best of all, ideas for future UGF topics? Comment, s'il vous plait.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Maj Tom's Re-entry

It is finished.

Ruminations of an Old Goat

There has been a lot of speculation and discussion concerning the future of the Friday Challenge site recently. I'm going to sum up the issues as best I can remember them then discussion where we may go from here.

The biggest issue from the point of view of the ruling Troika is time. It takes a lot of time to provide daily or almost daily content for this site. Each of the three of us have tried to provide at least one column for the FC each week. Many times, one of us has provided two or three or even four columns in a week. We're all writers here, so you already know how long it takes to bang out 800 to 1000 words when you're writing a story. Non-fiction columns tend to take longer to write than fiction. Figure at least a couple of hours writing time for each column, more if it's something complicated such as some of Bruce's Splattering Guts columns or, say, an in-depth review of Avatar. Another consumer of time is keeping up and responding to the comments we receive. Many times this can be done during lulls at work and comments are virtually never as long as actual columns, but this still takes time. We haven't had any Friday Challenge judging, recently, but it's probably the biggest time sink associated with the FC. While you readers can choose to skip entering, reading, and judging on any given week, the ruling Troika must create the challenges, read all of the entries, write useful comments on the entries, and make a final judgement.

Let me be the first to say, this is exactly what I agreed to when I moved from being a Challenger to being a Judge. I have enjoyed everything associated with my roles here. But on a slow week, keeping up with the site takes a lot of time. On a busy week, there are times when it feels as if keeping up with the site is the only thing I do. Add in a very eventful (and not in a good way) last year for some of us in the Troika and you've got something that's supposed to be fun slowly changing into something that's a chore.

There are other issues, such as trying to come up with topics to write about, but time is the really big issue.

Conversely, the universal point of view from you Challengers is a strong desire to keep the site going. That's good, because I feel exactly the same way! Fortunately, your desire includes a willingness to work through some changes and, we hope, start providing content, as well. I have discussed this in very general terms with Bruce but haven't had a chance to discuss it with Kersley. Please remember that this is a proposal. It's subject to change or scrapping all together. It is definitely open to criticism and revision.

In general, what I'm proposing is this:
  1. Anyone who wishes to provide content for the site will be granted Author access to the Friday Challenge. Author access will allow you to create, schedule, and delete your own columns. It will not allow you to edit or delete columns written by others.
  2. I will take on the role of coordinator of the site. I hope Kersley will also stick around and act as a coordinator, too, but that's up to her. Coordinators will grant Author access to those who request it and enforce the few rules we'll have concerning posting to the site.
  3. Anyone who posts to the site will maintain copyright for the their own work. If you write a bunch of columns and, later, decide to gather them into an electronic book and sell it, you don't owe anyone associated with the Friday Challenge royalties. We'd like to get at brief mention as the original publishing source of the material, but that's all.
  4. Failure to abide by the rules of posting will eventually result in having Author permissions revoked and all of your material deleted from the site. Since the rules essentially boil down to asking everyone to keep things at a PG-13 level, it shouldn't be too tough. Requests for changes will normally be given if there are potential problems. Only the most flagrant of rules violations will result in revoking of permissions without warning.
  5. There aren't any restrictions on the topics about which you write, but keep in mind that this is a writing site, first and foremost.
  6. We can still run Friday Challenges. Anyone who has a topic may propose and run a challenge.
  7. We can still have the Friday round-up, including a listing of stories posted to the Friday Challenge Yahoo Group for reading and comments.
There you have it, my proposal for the future of the Friday Challenge. What do you think? It's in your hands, now.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Friday Challenge - 4/8/2011

For the past few weeks I've been asking you folks to discuss the future of The Friday Challenge. The simple truth of the matter is that after more than six years of running this site and its predecessor, I'm exhausted. Particularly in the last eighteen months, I have become far more qualified to lead a support group for grieving parents or the spouses of chemotherapy patients than to run a workshop for people who are actively writing fiction and hoping to get it published.

Offline, a related discussion has been proceeding in parallel, as we've considered options. Cutting The Friday Challenge back to a weekly online newsletter? That would seem to defeat the point of using a blog format, and besides, meh. Like the world needs another newsletter for aspiring writers. Becoming The Friday Challenge Monthly? The name seems almost an oxymoron, and I believe doing this would quickly become just a different way to burn up all the time and energy I already don't have. Putting The Friday Challenge on hiatus for a few months and concentrating on getting Stupefying Stories properly launched? Tempting, tempting... Saying it's been fun and shutting the whole thing down, with a final benediction, "To your scattered websites, go?" Very nearly.

And then in the past week it struck me, with that sort of forceful clarity that always attends an idea that seems painfully obvious in hindsight. What The Friday Challenge really needs is a radical egoectomy.

And the ego that needs to be excised is mine.

To me, what The Friday Challenge has always been about is the weekly writing challenges, with the attendant posting, discussion, and voting on the entries. For months now—ever since last October, as you can see by looking across to the left column—I have been wracked by frustration that I no longer have the time to do this. What I have failed to notice is that in the meantime, you have built a very good community here, with a tremendous amount of sharing and mutual support.

With that truth clear to me, my best course of action suddenly became equally clear. Effective immediately(-ish), I'm stepping down from the day-to-day operation of this site. K&B Booksellers will continue to sponsor The Friday Challenge, as much as sponsorship is required, and I will continue to maintain the site. (And yes, as a few of you have noticed, a few carefully selected Amazon.com ads will begin to appear here, now and then. I had to take the time and trouble to figure out how to set up ad links for the benefit of Vox Day and his bestselling economics book, The Return of The Great Depression, so we may as well benefit from it, too.)

I have a few more columns in the queue, so we'll run them out during the remainder of this month. I'll probably end up backsliding around to doing some sort of weekly column; I enjoy this site too much to turn my back and walk away from it completely. But effective immediately, this business of my writing three or four new posts weekly—and more importantly, of my trying to steer and control this thing—stops, and I'm throwing the gates open and shouting:

Who wants to be a Friday Challenge writer?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Critical Thinking: PPLD Mountain of Authors

PPLD Mountain of Authors

Once again I managed to make it to the one free writers’ conference in town. I think this is my fourth one. Amazing I keep getting word of it just in time and then having the Saturday free.

This week: the Paranormal Fiction Writers’ Panel. Next week the Publishing Panel. Week after that: something different. Jerry B. Jenkins was the keynote speaker, but his presentation didn’t lend itself well to a review. Although he had a pretty amusing story about Stephen King.

Paranormal Fiction Writers’ Panel

The writers were Mario Acevedo (Felix Gomez vampire-detective), Parker Blue (Fantasy, romance, paranormal), and Jeanne Stein (Anna Strong vampire chronicles). The interview is not verbatim unless it's in quotes. I can't type that fast. And please forgive the constant switching between first- and third-person.

Q: What was your journey to your first publication?

MA: From first thought to book sale took 17 years. Tried literary to men’s hard-boiled fiction; six manuscripts didn’t sell. Wrote the most ridiculous thing he could come up with (The Nymphos of Rocky Flats) and that sold.

PB: hard time in life, wanted to write something that could help other people. Loved romance, SF, & fantasy; new genre ('91) called futuristic romance. Two years to write, sold it right away to junior editor who loved it.

JS: Wrote for 5-10 years but didn’t learn how to write until she joined a crit group and learned the craft. Believes anyone can write a book if they believe in themselves, have a story, and never give up. Publishing is luck. She got printed with a small press but wanted to get the attention with NY publisher. She sent a copy of the book as an intro to an agent who had just gone to a lunch and realized he needed a new vampire series.

Q: What books do you like to read, and what are your influences?

PB: Started with romance, futuristic romance, SF. Now urban fantasy. Mystery, romantic comedy.

Has been with same crit group for 20 years which was key to publication.

JS: Rosemary’s Baby—contemporary, so you could identify with it. Human elements of Rosemary's Baby are so real that the fantastical was easy to slide into. Interview With a Vampire—first vamp book that sucked her in. Joss Whedon for character development, story arcs, “I just cannot believe that they cancelled Firefly.”

MA: Didn’t like vampires or vampire movies. Why not just blow them up with dynamite? Hard-boiled mystery stories. People who get into problems so deep it’s one step away from killing somebody. Has since become friends with writers of urban fantasy who write good books. Recently enjoyed Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Q: What are the mythological rules of your fantasy creatures?

PB: Vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters. Started with basic vamp mythos but couldn’t have a creature of the night living in San Diego, so they have adapted to sunlight and aren’t really identifiable. But stuck with the mythos that they absolutely needed human blood to survive. You can make any rule you like, but you have to explain it and stick to it. You’re locked in to whatever you decided early on.

Q: Do your readers challenge your mythology?

PB: At beginning, yes. Readers didn’t like vampires in sunlight. Doesn’t happen anymore.

JS: Half-demon vampire slayer. Did explain rules (silver burns, garlic smells like good cooking). Part-demons try to get along with werewolves. Protagonist is part succubus and tries to channel lust by killing vampires. Vampires become more of what they were when they were living—so if they were noble humans, they’ll be more noble vamps.

MA: Realistic—vampires need jobs. Took some things from history of vampire books and integrated it into story.

Q: Where did you find out about the history of the creatures?

All: Books. Bram Stoker.

Q: How do you define urban fantasy?

JS: Usually a kick-ass heroine—different than a bad-ass heroine. Contemporary with twists. No happily ever after. Usually a love interest, but not permanent—excuse to write sex because people tend to want sex in fantasy. Hard-edges. Mystery thread. Endings aren’t dark, just not perfect.

Q: How do you approach topics differently when writing for adults vs. YA?

PB: Wrote a paranormal romance, sold as a paranormal romance, publisher needed more sex. She didn’t want to add sex. Contract removed. Simplified it and shortened it, lowered age of protagonist, released it as “New Adult”—edgier YA (17-20 yo). New Adult: no explicit sex, can still be smart and snarky, but protagonist isn’t as experienced.

Q: Are men your primary audience?

MA: Other than he has a male protagonist, doesn’t see that much difference. Although women writers write with more depth re: relationships.

Q: What is “bad-ass”?

JS: A bad-ass is somebody that is antagonist toward everything. Kick-ass is a female who can take care of herself and doesn’t need a hero to take care of her, but takes care of those she cares about.

Q: Have you ever had a paranormal experience.

JS: Not really. Just feelings around places or person where the hair sticks up.

PB: Doesn’t know if it was paranormal or odd. Paranormal writers’ conference, rooming with someone she’d only known online. Felt someone kneel on her bed and put their arms around her. Her roommate told her it was one of her Native American guides—“He really likes you.” Then had a dream and asked roommate to tell him to leave her alone. But she did get a book out of it.

MA: Friend moved in 8th grade. Four years later, saw her at a distance and both knew each other at a very long distance. In high school, the Thunderbirds were there in New Mexico. F-4 on static display. Every time he got close to the F-4, cold air surrounded him. Later in air show, two F-4s collided (pilots ejected safely).

Q: How has your military background factored into your novels?

MA: Protagonist was a sergeant in the Army. A lot of military fiction gets into guns and stuff, but most of that is written by people who have never been in military. Writes more immediate—heat and dust and nobility and leadership responsibilities. Carries guilt of troops he lost in Iraq war. Also very cynical and sarcastic.

Q: Advice for writers of paranormal fiction specifically.

JS: Read. Read the genre you want to write. There’s always the next new idea you may have, but know market you’re aiming for.

PB: Don’t just look at what’s current, but start your own trend. Current trend may have passed. Try to concentrate your books on a narrow aspect of paranormal. Not witches, dragons, elves, and everything all at once; the story will get too diffused and difficult to follow. If you keep it tighter, it’ll be easier to keep your rules straight.

Q: How do you research the book so it goes into the right slot at a publisher?

PB: Publishers’ websites, conferences in genre, read. Read what the publisher puts out.

MA: Read in the genre; have faith in your story. It was thought Anne Rice had wrapped up vampires forever. Write what you really want to write. Don’t get pressured into writing what you don’t want to write.

PB: Write what you love, not to the market. She wrote hers because Angel went off the air, and Joss wasn’t writing anymore.

Q: Who has control over what you write—you or the publisher?

PB: She writes the whole thing. May send a synopsis and they may come back and say they want changes. She’ll fight for what she wants, but also trusts her editor’s judgment.

Q: What are the taboo topics in YA?

PB: Varies according to publisher. Some want edgy. Some don’t. Some don’t want on-screen sex, others do.

MA: Some want edgy—pushing the boundaries of what society says is off-limits—drugs alcohol—

PB: Cutting, teen pregnancy, incest…my books are lighter. They have edges, but also humor.

Q: MA and PB have a lot of humor. Do you, JS?

JS: I try, but it’s hard. I can do sarcasm, but WC Fields said, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

PB: If you can’t do it, don’t. It’ll look forced.

Q: Do any of you believe in vampires?

JS: The older I get, the more it appeals to me.

PB: There are people who think they are.

JS: Psychic vampires who suck the energy out of you.

Q: What is “hard-boiled”?

MA: Rough language, intense emotion—

JS: On-screen violence and action. “Cozy,” violence is off-screen, but hard-boiled is all there in front of you.

MA: Watches autopsies. Gruesome research.

Q: How do you develop your story lines?

JS: Know beginning and end. A lot of the middle occurs organically while she’s writing. Not a detailed plotter, but wishes she was because she gets into trouble and gets off-track. Wishes she could be an outliner.

PB: “I’m an engineer.” Outline. Debra Dixon. “Writing Fiction Synopsis”—book she wrote about writing. Skeleton frees her up to write. Sometimes it changes, but the structure is there.

MA: “I’m a recovering engineer.” Mid-way between outlining and a seat of the pants writer. Having a contract changes things because you don’t have time to fart around. Sometimes an outline sucks the life out of a story. But listing main points leaves room for creativity. But more creativity does mean more revisions.

PB: There is no one way that’s right. Experience what works for you.

Q: How often do you publish? How long does it take to write a book?

MA: The first book is usually written, but a year out. Nymphos took 2 ½ years. Second took 18 months. Third took 11 months. Then it’s all over-lapping deadlines of next book and copy-edits and whatnot. Have to stay on top of it.

PB: New book about every 10 months (and works full time as structural engineer), also has a romance short story coming out. About 16 months for a new book. World-creating takes a long time, so subsequent books are quicker. Alternate book and short story.

JS: 1 & 2 done, 3 almost done, but publisher wanted new books every six months. #4 was rough because she really didn’t have the time. Once you’re published and have deadlines, you can’t have the luxury of writer's block. Writes full-time. Treat it like a business—so many words a day, five days a week. Now on a yearly publishing schedule.

Kersley Fitzgerald is quietly freaking out. Yesterday was Maj Tom's last day at work in the Air Force. He is now on terminal leave. Kersley Fitzgerald plans on completely freaking out later.

PS: Happy Birthday

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

...turns semi-serious, for just a moment. This site is supposed to be by, about, and for writers, would-be writers, and those who enjoy the work of writers.

So what have you read lately, that you've really enjoyed?

What are you reading right now? (No, of course not literally, "right now." The answer to that one is easy: this blog post. I mean, what's the book that's on your nightstand, or on the end table next to your favorite chair, or tucked into your purse or briefcase for reading on the bus, or loaded onto your ebook reader?)

What's the name of the book you're looking forward to reading next?

Finally, is there an online site you turn to on a regular basis for fiction?

I'll start things off.

Most recently read: The Dragon Masters, by Jack Vance. A lightweight but fast-paced and fun adventure.

Currently reading: All the Myriad Ways, by Larry Niven. From 1971, proof that even Larry Niven was once a young and geeky writer who didn't really have a handle on what he was doing.

Looking forward to: Gorgon: Paleontology, Obsession, and the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History, by Peter D. Ward.

Online reading: none. I've discovered I can't stand to read fiction online.

Your turn.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

I was supposed to be telling you all how sales of my recently released chidren's ebook were doing by now. It's been several weeks since I announced my plans, after all. Alas, despite years and years working with artists, I failed to consider how long it would take for my five illustrations to be delivered.

In other words, I'm still waiting for the illustration.

Car troubles, computer failure, and several other problems have all contributed to the delays. I've been assured they will be delivered this Thursday, though, so perhaps epublication is nigh.

I'm such an optimist...

While waiting for the illustrations, I'm going to delve into something which came up while discussing my children's story with our resident published children's author, Guy Stewart. At my request, Guy read the story and offered comments. I'll admit I was primarily fishing for a good quote I could use in the listing of the book. Instead, we ended up with an interesting discussion concerning words, culture, and our own preconceptions.

One of Guy's suggestions was to consider using a culture other than European as the background for my story. He correctly noted that there wasn't anything intrinsically European which would require such a background and felt sales might improve if a different culture were used. He also suggested the story might end up used in school curricula with a non-European setting.

I readily admitted I imagined a traditional European setting -- from the castle to the stables to the servants -- when I created the story. In fact, I specifically aimed for such a setting. But I countered that very few of the 1600+ words in the story actively invoked anything European. Here's the list I sent to Guy:
  • Two names: William (the prince) and Mark (a friend)
  • The castle, though I don't think a castle is a specifically European theme, it's certainly most associated with Europe
  • Titles such as king, queen, Royal Tutor, and such
  • Possibly the two names used for horses: Blackie (a pony) and Champion (a warhorse)
  • The dungeon, again something mostly associated with Europe but almost certainly found in other cultures
With some changes, I suggested, there might be no words at all to indicate a specific culture. That claim goes right out the window once the story has been published as a picture book, of course, as the illustrations will have a very European Caucasian look to them.

Guy found my suggestion compelling enough to go through the entire story and look up the cultural source for the words in the story. He found about 30 words in the story with a specifically European source. He found that some cultures have no word for servants nor stables, for instance. What he found most interesting, I think, was how the story illuminated certain cultural biases he brought to the story; ones I don't believe he was even aware of before our discussion turned to the cultural source of the specific words. I can certainly say it was an idea I had not considered before our discussion.

That brings me around to my writing message for today. You need to consider your own cultural biases when writing stories, especially if they're to be set in a culture other than your own. The words you use may have a cultural implication you haven't considered. You may want to find a word other than "castle" for a stone fortress if you don't want your readers picturing a European castle, for instance. If you have royalty, carefully consider the implications of the titles you select. While the actual powers of a king or an emperor or a sultan may be essentially the same, the actual titles imply three very different cultures.

When writing, we talk a lot about selecting the right words. After my discussion with Guy, I'll also think about the cultural implications that come with those words. Selecting a word with the correct cultural implication will almost certainly make the images I wish to convey all the more authentic.

Is this something you should agonize over? I don't think so. But if you find yourself trying to choose between two or more words to convey a scene, try looking up the etymology of the words in question. It might just settle the question for you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I KNEW IT!!!!!

From The New York Times: "Click, Clack, Ding! Sigh..." : The Digital Generation Rediscovers Typewriters.

And Karen has been been giving me such a hard time about it. That's one of the bits of writing that keeps getting preempted by Otogu: I keep meaning to do a thorough photo essay on my collection. I have about 60 manual typewriters in storage right now, ranging from an 1895 Underwood on up through the Olivetti Studio 45 I was using as my main writing machine until I recently switched over to a 1950 Underwood Finger-Flite.

This guy paid $150 for a 1960's SCM Galaxie II? I have about six in storage! I never liked 'em as much as the earlier Smith-Corona Sterlings and Supers, but figured they'd serve as suitable sources of donor parts, if needed.

Now where can I find fools with plenty of money...?

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Friday Challenge - 4/1/2011

I'm running a little late at the moment, so the column planned for today will be posted later this morning. In the meantime, I'd like to redirect your attention to this post, The Friday Challenge - 3/24/2011, as the third topic on the list remains open for discussion.

No, this is not an April's Fool joke.
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