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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

... will be posted mid-daybefore-too-long-ish, since M was out with editors, writers and assorted enthusiastic others last night. Rest assured, a dose of Worldcon-related geekiness is soon to come!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Breaking News!

 
New Scandal at DoJ as Illegal Guitars End Up In Hands of Mexican Drug Lords

Now this is how you write satire, folks....

How to Write a Novel in Four Simple Steps

by Bruce Bethke


Have you always wanted to write a novel but had trouble getting your story off the ground? Follow these four simple steps and you can't go wrong!

Step 1. Begin.

Just, begin. Anywhere. It doesn't matter where. But start writing. Today. Don't talk to your friends about the novel you intend to write, chase after editors and agents like a love-struck groupie and beg them to tell you what to write, bury yourself in arcane research, or spend years agonizing over the backstory of the world in which the novel is set and the personal prehistories of the characters in your cast. Just, start telling your story. Now.

One of the best bits of advice on beginnings I ever ran across came from screenwriter Richard Curtis, best known for Blackadder, The Vicar of Dibley, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. His advice was aimed at television series writers in particular, but has wider application. Paraphrasing now:
If you feel you must write a pilot script that explains the history of the setting, the personal histories of the characters, and their relationships to each other, by all means, do so. And then lock it in a desk drawer and never look at it again.
Readers are actually quite intelligent. By and large they dislike prologues, forwards, sermons, and history lessons that must be digested before the story proper begins. If there is anything important that they need to know about the world in which the story is set or the personal histories of the characters, they will pick it up from context as the story moves along, or fill in the deficiencies from their own imaginations. If there is anything important that they need to know about the characters' relationships with each other, they'd darn well better be able to see it in the words you put in the characters' mouths and the actions you command them to take.

What readers most want to do at the beginning of a story is to meet an interesting character—not necessarily a likable one, but one whose fate they can care about—who is in an interesting situation or doing some interesting thing.

For all other concerns, please internalize this mantra:

"I can fix that in the rewrite."


Step 2. Continue.

Having begun your story, one of the hardest things to do is to keep it moving. Forward. That way. Having been introduced to an interesting character who is in an interesting situation or doing an interesting thing, the question your readers most strongly want answered is: What happens next?

It is your job to answer that question.

One of the worst possible things you can do is to launch a story with an interesting beginning and then leap immediately into a flashback. As we've all learned from watching Star Wars Episodes I through III, nothing sucks like a prequel, and what else is a flashback but a small, embedded, prequel?

So, don't do it. Keep your story moving forward. Keep things happening. In saying this I do not mean that you should keep the physical action popping; more often than not a character's intellectual, emotional, or moral activity is far more important than his or her physical actions, and even the most overtly physical of characters needs to take a breather, once in a while.

But if you've gone a thousand words without something happening: make something happen.

What if you are unable to think of anything that you can make happen at this point in the story? Then it is perfectly acceptable to write something like,

[insert big chase scene here]

and soothe yourself with these consoling words:

"I can fix that in the rewrite."

Then pick some new starting point, somewhere further down some character's personal time-stream—or introduce an entirely new character, that works, too—and begin afresh.

Another common obstacle to continuing is The Irresistibly Clever Idea, which invariably pops up midway through the story and demands that you rewrite the entire blasted thing up to this point in order to accommodate your new stroke of brilliance. Resist the IRCI, for all you are worth. Giving in to it is a surefire way to make certain that you spend the rest of eternity in Rewrite Hell and never ascend to Step 3.

Personally, the IRCI is one reason why I like to do my first drafts on paper. When an IRCI hits, I write it down, throw it into a shoebox, and don't look at it again until I've reached Step 4. At which time, nine times out of ten, my IRCI doesn't seem all that C after all.


Step 3. End.

When you reach the end of your story, end it. Decisively.

One of the most pernicious pieces of common advice that gets tossed around in writers' circles is, "It's the first five pages that sells the book." That may be true when showing your manuscript to agents and editors, but it causes writers to spend an inordinate amount of time agonizing over the beginnings of their books, when it's the ending of the story that gets readers to buy your next book.

No reader ever says, "Wow, what a great beginning! It's a shame the book meandered around meaninglessly in the middle and totally crapped out at the end, but boy, what a great beginning! I can't wait to see how he begins his next book!"

By the time a reader has reached the end of your book, he or she has invested a lot of time and energy into reading your story. Reward the readers for that loyalty. Give them an ending that leaves them feeling their time was well-spent.

And if the first ending you write doesn't feel as if it's all it should be, remember:

"I can fix that in the rewrite."


Step 4. Rewrite without mercy.

Once you've reached "The End," put your manuscript aside for a few days—or for however long it takes for your creative ardor to cool—and then go at it with an axe. Cut, edit, and rewrite mercilessly. Put everything in your story on the chopping block. Nothing should be considered protected from being cut or rewritten. Jettison anything that does not contribute to moving your story forward, in the general direction of the end.

For example, once you know where your story ends, you should have a much better sense of where it properly begins. That ten-thousand-word preamble that took you three months to write, in which your lead character flounders around the countryside trying to find the beginning of the plot? Cut it!

That comic relief subplot that in the final analysis wasn't really all that funny? Cut it!

That romantic interest who actually turned out to be a load of needy and whiny baggage? Throw her off a cliff, and have your hero find a new love!

That plot development that makes no sense now, because, while it was fully formed in your mind at the time, you skipped committing half the pertinent details to paper? Rewrite it, and expand it as much as is necessary.

And then put your manuscript aside for another cooling-off period, and do it all over again. There, that is how you write a novel, in four simple steps.

I said they were simple. I never claimed they were easy.


Bruce Bethke works, writes, and when time permits, lives, in beautiful, mosquito-infested Minnesota. In some circles he is known for his 1980 short story, "Cyberpunk." In others, he is better known for his Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash. Hereabouts, he is best known as the founder of The Friday Challenge and the publisher of Stupefying Stories, in which capacities he is regarded with usual combination of love, adoration, cynicism, sycophantism and contempt that writers typically express for editors and publishers.

Mr. Bethke can be contacted. But why would you want to?

Monday, August 29, 2011

WRITING STUFF FOR BIG AND LITTLE KIDS 5: EDUCATION ESSAYS FOR LOCAL PAPER – “Education: Easy Target”, “Hosterman Lands on the Moon”, “Parent Support”

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…

Decades of experience as a teacher plus having learned the craft of writing allowed me to stand in for Guest Editorials for a season.

I’ve been reading the “local” newspaper, The Sun Post for 30 or so years. It’s always been a good paper and a sharp contrast between the big city STAR TRIBUNE and PIONEER press. Their take on the murder, mayhem and the collapse of Government As We Know It and/or Want It To Be has always been behind stories on schools, community people, politics for the GOOD of the city and developments and at times even divisions within the community over various issues both serious and frivolous.

I have been the subject of more than one interview. It may be that that interview opened the door for me to submit my writing to this market.

I’ve been a teacher for 31 years. I’ve done stints in public middle school and high school; private schools; charter schools and we have home schooled. I have been the science teacher for special education classrooms, English Language Learner classrooms, standard classrooms, and International Baccalaureate – Middle Years Program/Honors classrooms. I was at one time certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Early Adolescent Generalist. I have a good handle on the education scene, at least from the classroom side.

I thought I might be qualified to comment on the state of education in the nation, the state and on the local scene. The editors felt I was as well and my writing was presented as a Guest Editorial several times.

I didn’t get any cash for the work, except for once when I wrote an article about sending a group of my students on a mock-Lunar voyage. That time I got $30 for the piece.

As the years passed, the newspaper changed and they no longer include guest editorials nor do they do much with letters-to-the-editor except in support of this or that politician. Their editorials are mostly written by staff now. But the experience taught me how to write a story of a different type – using the “inverted pyramid” of journalism fame in which you make your point with its supporting evidence immediately and then allow the reader to go on their merry way without bothering to read any details. You DO however, have to provide the details in an entertaining style, but you still have to be concise and stop as soon as you’ve made your point.

Which is what I’m going to do now.

Image: http://asset3.learnhub.com/lesson/pages/7605/photos/22761-medium.jpg

Sunday, August 28, 2011

And the winner is...

In our Sniff the Gift Fish challenge, the winner is Tyler Tork... by default, since he was the only one who managed to submit an entry by the deadline!

Sean proposed the challenge, and we already have his comments in the current week's thread... so please proceed there for any discussion of Tyler Tork's entry.

Tyler, despite the summer-slump lack of competition, as a multi-challenge winner you have the option of proposing another new challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 2 September 2011, or passing the “Editor Hat” to the challenger of your choice so that you may more quickly participate again.

Saturday, August 27, 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, August 26, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 8/26/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Daniel Eness asks the skunk for a lesson and defines publishers (while asking us to ignore the juxtaposition of publishers and skunks?). • Join the discussion... part 3 (see also part 1 and part 2)

Henry Vogel reviews the films of summer. He wisely skips the bucket-fish, saving ammunition for more deserving targets. • Join the discussion...

Kersley Fitzgerald is still distracted... thank goodness! • Join the discussion...

M returns from Renovation/Worldcon69, short of sleep and a possibly having misplaced few brain cells (but there still isn't a discussion... yet!).

miko belatedly breezes into position as the winner of our Don't Advance the Plot challenge. • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as Kiss and Make Up Day causes couples everywhere to ask "What were we fighting for?" and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.


Sniff the Gift Fish

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge 2011 08 26):

  • “Cowrie” by Tyler Tork

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, 28 August 2011.

* Technically, "one" may be "all," but did we miss anyone? If so, please speak up! Analysis and feedback on all work(s) entered will still be given, as per the usual non-convention schedule.


What's My Line?

And now it is time for this week's Friday Challenge, inflicted by M (due, this week, to the delay in posting results from the previous challenge):

Back in the fifties and sixties, What's My Line? was a popular television game show. A panel of four celebrities would ask a perfect stranger ("perfect" being defined as one none of the celebrity panelists had previously encountered) yes or no questions about her or his occupation... that is, his or her "line."

It was a simple concept, and the stakes were low. As a whole, it was also very entertaining.

Of course, any attempt to translate the setup to a real-life scenario is problematic. Relying on "yes" or "no" answers to make conversational progress tends to frustrate questioners, stifle interviewees, and lead to your conversational partner glancing across the room to exclaim, "Oh, look, it's George R. R. Martin!" Yet for some reason, when we are asked about our "line," many of us tense up, unsure of how to explain what we do.

At Worldcon I was frequently asked about my writing, and it only took fumbling the ball a few times to realize I needed a clearer answer to such interrogation. Here are the words I selected:

"I write science fiction. I also dabble with fantasy, horror and mystery, but when I do, the results tend to have scientific overtones."

That's twenty-three words. I'll give you forty.

So, what's your line? Be memorable, impressive, clear, and don't fumble your response. Remember, the person asking the question just might be your next publisher.


Anyone can enter, except for M. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. Each entry must be less than forty words, 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.

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 M will be serving as Ye Olde High Marker, Voluntarily Walking th' Plank.

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, 2 September 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 4 September 2011.

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Deadline Reminder *AND* the winner is...

Here are the belated results, reminders and such! We should be back on schedule, now.

The deadline for the current Friday Challenge, Sniff the Gift Fish, is 6 AM Eastern time on the morning of Friday, 26 August 2011... less than twenty-four hours away.

Entries may be added to The Friday Challenge Yahoo Group, 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, 28 August 2011.




We set out to not advance the plot. As an exercise in impracticality, we almost failed to advance the challenge! (Again, my sincere apologies for the delay! Next time I go party at a convention, I'll try to arrange coverage in advance.)

If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will be worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

Tyler Tork is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“You didn't get very far with only character and setting, did you, Potter?”), but a little less sarcastic.

Tyler Tork: We had two entries this week, neither of which really did what I asked for. Brother Anders was doing something that doesn't advance the plot (I presume) and he was doing it in a place whose description tells us something about the setting of the story, but he wasn't doing it in a place that he spent a lot of time in or that was in any way his own, so the description of the place doesn't tell us anything about him. Still, the setting was fairly creative and vividly described, and I liked the idea that the god needed a periodic haircut. I wonder what they do with the clippings.

Miko's Martian fellow was in his own place that told us something about his character, but there doesn't seem to be anything about the setting that's different from everyday reality. I'm assuming here that they aren't really from Mars and Venus; I took that as a metaphor.

So neither entrant really followed instructions, and I have nothing to choose between them on that point. 2 points to each for the challenge.


Two Out of Three (a.k.a. "Don't Advance the Plot")

“A Cool Breeze” by miko

Tyler Tork: From the standpoint of technical excellence, I appreciated miko's use of metaphor and simile and the humorous turns of phrase, e.g. the camo not being very effective. His piece read very smoothly; a professional job. 6 points for miko on style.

(challenge score 2, technical 6, total 8)


miko: voted! / Ryan J: 2.5-
Tyler Tork: 8
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 12.5-



“Brother Anders approaches God” by Ryan J

Tyler Tork: Ryan J's piece had a certain grandeur of tone, consistent with the content. However, I felt a certain lack of those detailed touches that make a scene vivid. For instance, Anders' guide had ornate shoes; that's vague. What was special about the shoes? Were they geometrically involved? Embroidered with eyes in gold thread? Made of wood and carved with quotes from scripture? What color is the marble floor? Though I did appreciate that we got more sensory detail than just sight; there's incense (what kind?), the marble is cool, his knees hurt.

I thought there were too many adjectives, though not a lot too many, and maybe it was more that they didn't give the level of detail that could've been done with the same number of words, but words that were more specific. I felt from a technical standpoint, this is a professional job, but it didn't read quite as seamlessly as miko's piece, so I'm giving it only 5 points.

(challenge score 2, technical 5, total 7)


miko: forgot to vote with an actual number! / Ryan J: voted!
Tyler Tork: 7
“Miko's Breezy Error” bonus: 2+
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 11+


Wrap-up...

Unforeseen voting anomalies seem to be easier to anticipate, with every successive challenge. A decisive result? Well, no, not exactly:

2nd Place: 11+ points — “Brother Anders approaches God” by Ryan J

1st Place: 12.5- points — “A Cool Breeze” by miko

Congratulations? All right, since neither entry managed to cross the spontaneously designated thirteen-point threshold, and since these results are being announced on such short notice, I am invoking executive privilege to supply a new challenge (assuming no objections from either of this week's participants... if either of you want to claim the Editor Hat, I will yield).


Afterword...

So what was the lesson of this challenge?

Tyler Tork: I had hoped that we could have some good examples of character development and setting through description of living environment and of everyday actions. When we learn something about a person in an indirect way, it colors our perception of them, sometimes without our being consciously aware of it. Later when they act in ways that are consistent with what we've absorbed about them through these hints, it seems natural. It's a way to give the reader important information somewhat seamlessly and subliminally, making it less obvious that's what you're doing. It's a nice thing to practice.

Fitz of Distraction

Kersley Fitzgerald


Theolofantasy


Fitz of Distraction is a less-than-regular feature that is only written when Fitz is not distracted. No promises on how long that might be! Want more? See the upcoming Stupefying Stories for two exclusive comics! As soon as I figure out what they are!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

Last April I wrote about the movies coming out during the summer. Now is the time to look back at those movies and argue over what worked, what didn't, what was good, and what sucked. I'm going to work off of the same list posted in April but feel free to add movies you saw which aren't on the list when you leave comments.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night - Did anyone see this movie based on Italy's most popular comic book? I didn't.

Thor - The summer movie season got off to a good, if not great, start with Thor. Thor was well played by Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman is always easy on the (male) eyes. Hemsworth should be fine in next year's Avengers movie. I liked this one well enough that I'd go see Thor 2.

Priest - I never was interested in this one. Was anyone else? I saw the DVD in Best Buy over the weekend, so it would seem not.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - I heard conflicting reports on this one. Despite originally planning to watch this one in the theaters, I still haven't seen it. Looks like one I'll catch on DVD.

Kung Fu Panda 2 - I predicted the teenage Boy wouldn't be interested in this sequel. I was right.

X-Men: First Class - Haven't seen an X-Men movie in the the theaters since X-Men 2. This one didn't lure me out. Maybe I'll try it on DVD, which I haven't done with the other X-Men movies I skipped in the theater.

Green Lantern - This one arrived with much fanfare and vanished from the scene without a whimper. It was the superhero movie I had been looking forward to the most this summer and I did rather enjoy it. But, seriously, when are the idiots in Hollywood going to figure out that superheroes need to fight villains who resemble people, not forces of nature? Can you imagine how lame Star Wars would have been if Darth Vader or the Emperor had been a big, dirty cloud? If there is a GL2, at least it appears we'll have a good old fashioned humanoid for the villain.

Cars 2 - Pixar finally had a flop, at least as far as the critics were concerned. Of course, the Boy was even less interested in this one than in Kung Fu Panda 2, so we didn't even consider it.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - As bad as the second movie was, why would I spend money to see this one? Simple, I didn't. I doubt I'll bother with the DVD, either.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - After the confusing mess that was Part 1, I feared the worst for this final installment of the adventures of the Boy Who Lived. Fortunately, things were much more straight-forward, with lots of action and Neville in the role of leader and hero in the defense of Hogworts. Good movie but Lord I'm glad they're over.

Captain America: The First Avenger - The second superhero movie staring a guy named Chris, this time it's Chris Evans; previously seen as the Human Torch in the two lame Fantastic Four movies. This was the movie I was most afraid I would hate. Captain America has been a favorite hero of mine for a long, long time but his message of heart-felt patriotism isn't even in vogue at Marvel these days. What would Hollywood do to screw it up? In a word, nothing. The movie captured what truly makes Captain America such a great hero and ran with it. I liked the fact that they didn't rush the opening, taking time to set Steve Rogers' character before injecting him with the super soldier serum. Even then, they didn't rush Cap into front line action. The build-up was just right, in my opinion, making you pull even harder for Cap when he finally got into action. From start to finish, Captain America is a winner, standing alongside Superman: The Movie and Ironman as one of the best live action superhero movies ever made.

Cowboys and Aliens - Yet another movie based on a comic book, this time without the superheroes. I had looked forward to this one as it seemed unlikely that both Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford would sign on for a complete turkey. Overall, I enjoyed this mash-up of westerns and science fiction. The western part of the story was handled well and the introduction of science fiction elements was less jarring than I expected. Of course, we still ended up with a space-faring race who also happened to be physically superior to humans in all way, so much so that the aliens happily fought without weapons against the gun-wielding humans. Why bother with all that macho alien posturing if you've got access to advanced weapons? In the end, I found the movie -- and perhaps the comic book on which it's based (I haven't read it) -- failed to live up to the potential of the idea. Cowboys and Aliens was entertaining but not particularly memorable.

The Smurfs - Didn't see it. Won't see it. You can't make me see it. So there! (Finally, a movie that makes me glad the Boy is too old to go see kid movies like this one.)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - I was never interested in seeing this one in the theaters, even after it started getting good reviews. Even though I've seen every other Planet of the Apes movie ever made.

Conan the Barbarian - I had planned to see last weekend but the plans fell through. From what I've heard, that's a good thing.

Spy Kids 4: All Around the World - I'm sure the kids were adorable. I'm positive Jessica Alba was cast as the spy mom in the hopes of getting the fathers to bring their kids to see the movie. What I don't know is whether it was any good. The original was fun and clever. The sequel was entertaining. By the time the 3D third movie hit the screen, the franchise had pretty much run out of steam. Maybe the long break between the third and fourth movie allowed them to get back on track but I doubt I'll ever see it.

You know what I saw and what my opinions were of those movies. Now it's your turn.

Let the arguments begin!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Born Ugly: The Ragged Edge Retrospective Part 3 (of 3)

part 1
part 2

So, what's it all about, Skunkie?

There are three ways I could try to encapsulate the Ragged Edge:

1) I could write about how, in wrapping everything up, Ted Dekker called one of his adult children on-stage, sat with her on the couch and had a serious discussion about her desire to pursue the writing game as a career. The unexpected, impromptu, unguarded family talk was surprising, frank, and left me with a sick feeling inside.

Bruce's praise for brilliant amateurs came years too late in my writing process to do any good, but as I watched Ted discuss the professional struggles with his family, and the mixed emotions of horror and awe he experienced, I was torn up. It laid the professional writing life bare in a way I'd never seen it before. But because I don't feel right going any further into that deeply moving but personal episode, I could try...

2) ...telling you about Yoda instead. Kevin Kaiser, Ted Dekker's brand manager, stage manager, brain manager, and stain manager* had some time on stage, and the diminutive sage provided a lot of good advice, frequently channeling Frank Oz. He was good at it, too, and funny. Even funnier was the fact that somehow, Dekker, 2010's million-unit selling pop culture phenom, weird fiction explorer, motion arts junkie, somehow missed that one time they showed The Empire Strikes Back in Colorado. Yeah, he had no clue that Kaiser's advice was coming straight off the streets of Dagobah.**

And Kaiser's advice was good (I'm conflating it here with some of the comments of other individuals - there was a discussion going on during much of it). His breakdown of the publishing industry was extremely clean:

Publishers are three things:

  • A bank - this means that they are in the business of pre-financing the writer in exchange for content. If you have any understanding of how a bank makes money by loaning it out, you get closer to why a publisher is willing to pay you, say, $10,000 (if you are very lucky) up front for a project that won't make any money for at least 18 months (best case scenario). Hint: They are hoping to make considerably more than $10,000 off of the product over time. Please discuss this ad nauseum in the comments. It is an important business thing*** to grasp if you want to be a professional novelist.
  • A printer - they take on the costs of producing the units for sale in print and electronic forms. I'm sure the Charles Foster Kane of weird fiction, our own brb, can attest to the unique challenges of turning trees and pixels into readable products. If I were to sum it up in two words, they would be "costs and headaches." Okay that's three words, which would be both a headache and a cost if I were a printer.
  • A distributor - this is where the chaos happens. Unlike manufacturers who practice sane business policies such as selling their inventory to retail outlets, publishers lease their inventory to retailers, and buy back unsold stock. This is well-known, and has been the way of doing things for fifty years or more. It is a fifty-year old stupid idea, I think, and can't be anything other than an albatross on an industry struggling to be nimble during the Depression 2.0. I'd love for someone to come on and show me the error in my thinking.
On the good side of things, distribution from a well-connected publisher provides reach. Even if you only make $1.20 per book after hitting the advance, good distribution can translate into a higher volume of sales than, say, selling them out of your trunk. An additional bonus from distribution is that the publisher-backed book can provide advertising for your other books, whether those others are traditionally published or self-published.

One thing that Kaiser mentioned that publishers do in theory, rather than in practice (at least very well), is market the books. From an individual point of view, it is important to remember that your debut novel at a major publisher is 1 of 40 novels that will be new to the market, from that publisher, that month. Your precious, flawless baby becomes their produce.

There's a lot of meat there, and I really can't get into those particulars, either, so I'll just...

3) ...Bring up a few random things that are worth looking at:

Bruce Judisch's site. He was an attendee, and has had three or four historical novels published by a small press, and is looking for representation on his sequel to Katia, a tale of the Cold War, dedicated to the "Unbekannt" (the unknown dead who died attempting to cross the Iron Curtain.)

He's done a very professional job of running his work personally, and positioning himself for a run at a larger publisher. Not all of the independent authors out there do this - some because they don't care, some because they don't know. If you care, Judisch is a good example of how to do it.

Arisia reminded me to sign the Book of Mortals. They went into some of the specifics of this really lovely campaign designed to draw in readers to participate in the community that is likely to follow Dekker and Lee's new book series.

Or maybe I should just repeat the lesson of Write-Fu Master and Prose Ninja Tosca Lee: Finish the book.

If it helps to think of your writing self as a Mortal Kombat character, you just need to focus on executing your finishing move - The End-o-nator.

In any case, I came away from The Ragged Edge with more lessons than I can recount here, not the least of which was that even if this writing gig never does work out, I've got a promising future as a Skunk Oil Salesman.



*Water stains. I'm sure it was water stains. I'll have to remember to go into that story sometime. It was...explosive.

**Okay, yeah. Dagobah has no streets. I'm just keeping it real.****

*** "Important business things" happen to be important writing things. You probably knew that. I wasn't talking to you, obviously, who are brilliant and savvy, and one of those writer types who just loves thinking about business models. I was talking to that other guy - the dumb one. Yeah. Definitely not you.

****Ever notice how "keeping it real" always means "ensuring that one portrays oneself in as false a light as possible?"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

And the winner is...

... going to be posted on Monday, this week! At the moment I am in an airport lounge, with spotty reception, on the way back from Worldcon, the Hugo Awards, the parties (oh, the parties!), and a dearth of sufficient sleep.

UPDATE: Did I say Monday? I meant Tuesday. As I said in the comments, brain is still semi-fried.

Saturday, August 20, 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, August 19, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 8/19/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Daniel Eness hits skunks and bathes his car in tomato soup. • Join the discussion... part 1 and part 2 (of 3)

Henry Vogel continutes the exploration of a lifelong quest. • Join the discussion...

Allan Davis sends one of the kiddos to college. • Join the discussion...

Bruce Bethke geeks out over goofy guns. • Join the discussion…

M goes to Renovation/Worldcon69 (but there isn't a discussion... yet!).

Sean wins the Getting Off the Label challenge. • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as Bad Poetry Day perpetuates the college dream, and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.


Two Out of Three (a.k.a. "Don't Advance the Plot")

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge 2011 08 19):

  • “Brother Anders approaches God” by Ryan J

  • “A Cool Breeze” by miko

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, 21 August 2011.


Sniff the Gift Fish

And now it is time for this week's Friday Challenge, courtesy of Sean:

I want to use this challenge to introduce everyone to my favorite author, Patrick McManus. Lately he’s been putting out mystery books about the Sheriff of Blight, Idaho. However, what I love is the humorous short stories that he would write for Outdoor Life. Most of the stories are about his childhood growing up in Idaho or his present occupation as the neighborhood curmudgeon. His stories are full of great characters and hilarious misadventures. What’s really great is that they are always family friendly.

I actually got to meet Mr. McManus one time on a book tour. When I found out he was coming to Arizona I sent him an email saying how excited I was to finally meet him. His reply was short and nice and had several misspelled word. I got the biggest kick out of that for some reason. Maybe it was because Mr. McManus didn’t know how to set the email to always spell check before it goes out. I printed the email off on nice card stock and had him autograph it at the book signing.

He has actually wrote a book called The Deer on the Bicycle to help people learn the art of humorous writing. In that way he is like our illustrious Friday Challenge founder Mr. Bethke.

So the mission this week, if you choose to accept it, is to tell us a humorous story about your childhood in the McManus spirit. The important thing is to make us laugh, and it has to be family friendly. And since Patrick McManus is an avid fisher, you are absolutely allowed to stretch the truth.

If you would like an example of how he writes check out the Google preview of a couple of his books here and here.


Anyone can enter, except for Sean. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. There are no length restrictions, but you are still 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.

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 Sean will be serving as Ye Olde High Marker, Voluntarily Walking th' Plank.

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, 26 August 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 28 August 2011.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Deadline Reminder

Oops... I forgot to post a Deadline Reminder this morning, in between getting checked into a hotel and picking up my registration materials for Worldcon! Nevertheless, we have a looming deadline for out current challenge, Don't Advance the Plot, coming up tomorrow morning. Since I am on the West Coast at the moment, you have until roughly 7am Pacific Time, which gives you a few more hours than normal.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

Today's Ultimate Geek Fu topic is weapons.

No, not cool weapons, as was the subject a few Friday Challenges ago. Today we're talking about dumb weapons. Specifically, what is the most outlandish, stupid, ridiculous, or nonsensical weapon you ever saw a hero or villain wield in a story, movie, or TV show?

For example, did you ever wonder how Star Trek phasers know exactly how much to disintegrate, so that the zapped person disappears in a neat, glowing, blob, without once ever leaving behind either a hole in the floor or a pair of smoking shoes? (Or worse, a pair of smoking feet?)

Did you, like me, nearly burst out laughing when Obi-Wan went to consult Yoda in the Jedi Daycare Center, and walked into a room full of toddlers with light sabers? No wonder they're so good at replacing amputated Jedi body parts with prosthetics! Their world must be full of 10-year-old Jedi academy washouts with eye patches, hobbling around on peg-legs.

At the moment, though, my pick for the single stupidest signature weapon ever put into a movie is the "glave," from Krull. It's the magic dingus ("the starfish of doom," Karen called it) that can do anything. It slices! It dices! It opens cans and bottles with an easy twist! It destroys ultimate evil in a single shot! (Guess Ultimate Evil had a glass jaw, huh?) Best of all, it takes absolutely no training or practice to learn how to operate it!

Anyway, that's my current pick. What's yours?

Let the arguments begin.


ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, Fireball XL5, Space: 1999, Forbidden Planet, Linux distributions, or pretty much any other even slightly remotely SF-flavored subject that you can remember or imagine? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Ultimate Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Born Ugly: The Ragged Edge Retrospective (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part 1

Now my front right fender smells like tomato soup. It was either that or ketchup.

Well, tomato soup and skunk. Apparently the skunk should have had a V-8.

But, I've had some time now to reflect, and sort a few things out, within reason.

So, what were some of the tangibles?

Well, there were a lot.

Eric Wilson* has written eleven books (including a pair of novelizations - I certainly thought of brb's infamous experience in that area) and had an absolutely riveting presentation on the financial and spiritual realities of the working novelist.

Two numbers stuck out - $250,000 and $25,000. The first was the deceptive eye-popper: lifetime earnings for a relatively new author. The second was the jarring reality: annual income for the past decade - no health insurance included. I'm not telling his tale out of school, however: it was a deeply moving and educational tale that he has written briefly about some time ago at his site.

Bob Liparulo** made an extremely strong case for writers to take acting classes and to block out scenes, esp. action scenes. He put this into practice, using volunteers to demonstrate all the details an author will miss if he/she only plays scenes out in the theater of the mind.

He also shared a very early ARC of his next book with the attendees. It opened with an absolute heartpounder of a sentence - one of those rare ones you memorize on first sight.

It may not make it through editing. There's a lesson in that, too.

Steven James had the best curriculum and presentation style for the writing art that I've ever seen. He taught on the structure of producing tension-driven fiction. He basically taught a structure that he wished someone else had taught him before he got into the novel-writing game. What really helped is that he has the pleasant demeanor of a court poisoner.

Precise, warm and thoughtful, you don't realize the mickey's been slipped until it is way too late. I could go into the mind of James for hours, but I might come out the other side as an extremely polite serial killer. Good teacher, that guy, and his lesson's are borne out in his books. I haven't read them all, but the antagonist of The Knight is worth the price of admission (i.e. $11.89 retail + sanity and handling.)

Tosca Lee?*** The lady is like the Chuck Norris of poetic prose. [And that simile makes me the Chuck Norris of terrible similes.] She focused on using strengths to finish long works, instead of constantly trying to improve on weaknesses. She's a big believer in momentum - skip the parts that take you off the page.

Ted Dekker presented most of the time in bare feet. He's collaborating with Lee on a massive series called the Books of Mortals, and she presented in five-inch heels. This confirmed a long-held suspicion: the publishing industry is footwear-blind. I could dedicate an entire post to Dekker's lessons, but for now I'll sum him up this way. Imagine the Joker. Now throw in cannibals. I would guess that he takes caffeine intravenously. As a sedative.

An alpha novelist on stage, he's soft spoken and thoughtful in one-on-one conversation, and he knows how to host one explosive show. I hope he writes a writing book. His thoughts are Favresque: they shouldn't, by all rights, end in touchdowns...and then they do.

Enough about what I learned. You are here for the fistfight.

Imagine the Inklings onstage. In honor of the group's slant towards strange suspense and in the tradition of this lesser age, let's add a technological vowel at the beginning and call them the Eeklings (Lousy, yes. Better than Inklings 2.0). It took places "onstage" but was not staged, certainly not in the sense of a performance. By the middle of the panel discussion in a leather furnished mock-up of Ted's personal writing space, they held a regular meeting, with an audience, yes -- but one sworn to silence. That made a difference.

This begs a question: how can I possibly convey an episode that I can't detail? I guess I just have to tell you to trust my judgment, kind of like the skunk did. For you, I recommend some dodging.

Dekker served as warden to an asylum consisting of the above authors, with a few guests from other parts of the publishing industry sprinkled in (more about them in part 3).

They had settled into to a rollicking discussion about the state of the industry and the meaning of art, when all of a sudden, the discussion went spectacularly off the rails. The writers got into a big fight over a very common, very personal dispute that arises on occasion between artists. If it had been a television show, it would have been called "When Introverts Attack."

But it was really beautiful to see. It was heated, deeply engaging, personal and gave a rare glimpse into the competitive differences of friends in art. It was as if everyone in the room was brought into one of those "crosshairs" moments, silent witnesses to the inner workings of that old bogey known as "creative differences." It was good to see it, and, despite my more sanguine nature, it was really good to see the dispute resolve itself within the community. It occurred on the first day, began to be resolved onstage, and then likely boiled over that night, the echoes of its resolution fading by the next day of presentations. The Eeklings remained, bonded and even more deeply rooted with one another, and, yeah, the rest of us, than before it started.

I could say so much more, but I feel your eyes have grown weary, and I value my fingers and tongue too much to go into much more detail without crossing the invisible Promise Line of Death.

Allow me a brief final thought here that I hope doesn't come across as too heavy or political: the infamous near-fisticuffs, and its passionate but deliberate resolution was testament to a deeper chord of community that was rightly struck last weekend. Lunatic writing artists had gathered for two potboiling days in an abandoned stove factory in Tennessee, and they did not kill each other, nor harbor bitterness over personal differences. There was not one official thing said that identified the event as a gathering of disparate Christians, but brothers and sisters, I'll say this and leave it at that: it was church, in the best, most natural sense I know.

I probably said at least one stupid thing to everyone I met at the conference, including the hosts. Alas, stupid is my milieu. Fortunately, they did not reciprocate. I learned something important from every one of them.

In part 3, I'll finish up with a few insights on the state of the publishing business, from authors, agents and a diminutive Jedi master.

*whose Jerusalem's Undead books were tragically mislaid on the bookshelves when they came out - at least when I stumbled across Field of Blood. Some poor clerk mistook the bloody thorns on the cover for a pitchfork, and put it in with Amish fiction! Yes, this begs the question: what was I doing in the Amish romance aisle in 2008? I was looking for a book...for an elderly friend. Yeah, that's the ticket.

**Although possibly most famous for his Dreamhouse Kings YA series, it is his Comes A Horseman that ruined me for public bathrooms the same way Hitchcock ruined the shower. Not kidding about that one bit. For the last five years or so, since reading it, I am intimately aware of the restroom entry points and blind spots, to the point where, if there are too many of them, I don't even go.

***If you haven't read her horror novel Havah: The Story of Eve, or her touching romance Demon: A Memoir, you are missing the good work of one of the last living wordsmiths. Her stuff is twitter-proof.

World Enough, and Time

One down, five to go!  Hooray, more time to write...?

Eight years ago, I was a single father of two kids under 5.  I was doing the usual money-obsessed, workaholic, absentee dad...thing.

Seven years ago, in the immortal words of Will Smith, “my life got flip turned upside down.”  I went from single dad of two to married dad of five...no, make that six.

I happily accepted all of the rights and responsibilities that went with the position.  For example, did you know that Step-Father’s day is the day before or after Father’s day?  Okay, well, it is in our house, anyway.  Family tradition and all that.

I had to learn to adapt to two kids whose idea of “fun and interesting” involved more than stacking blocks or laughing at cartoons.  They needed to get to school, for example, plus concerts, lessons, soccer practice, and who knows what else.  



I never claimed to be “dad,” of course; I understood I was only playing the role, as best I could, and I did try my best.
I actually managed to find a job that was laid back enough to allow me to juggle my schedule around the kids.  I came in to work fifteen minutes after everyone else did, so I could drop them off.  And I shoved my lunch hour all the way up to three, so I could pick them up after school.  Sometimes it was weird, coming back to work for less than two hours, but it worked for us.
I'm sure I embarrassed them.  I mean, getting dropped off by step-dad--growing out his pony tail--is one thing, but when he started driving that monster white van with eight seat belts that would fit in perfectly at any nursing home, well...

And I invented my own little family tradition, too.  Every morning, when I dropped them off, I would say “So long, kiddo.  Have fun learn lots.”

...well, for a couple of weeks, anyway.  “Do you mind NOT calling me 'kiddo?'  It makes me feel like I’m three.”

No problem.  “So long.  Have fun learn lots.” I did say I had a lot of learning to do.

We relocated from Phoenix to Nebraska.  We switched back to homeschooling, so my brand new family tradition kinda faded away.  Oh, there were still activities to cover, transportation to be provided, lessons and concerts and airport trips and all kinds of excuses for spending writing time moving kids around instead.

Don’t think that’s a complaint.  There’s no way I’d swap “moving kids around” for writing time.  With the world we live in, sometimes that time spent moving from point A to point B is as close as you can get to “quality time.”

We spent last weekend getting the eldest kid safely ensconced in her new apartment.  She’s a state away, two miles from school, with her own car, bike, furniture, dishes, cell phone, and laptop.  No more running her around to appointments, concerts, lessons, or anything else--not that there’s been much of that lately, anyway; she’s been driving herself everywhere for more than a year.

One out the door...and a few less reasons to blow off writing time because some kid needs my attention.  That much more time to write, right...?

...right...?

So...why the hell is there this monstrously huge, totally silent, completely invisible, and horrendously distracting step-daughter-shaped hole in the air, following me all over the house, sneaking up on me, and attacking me when I least expect it...?

So long, kiddo.  Have fun.  Learn lots.

-=ad=-

Allan Davis is a writer/photographer/programmer currently getting drenched in a corner of the state of Nebraska. He's got six kids he loves to brag about and write about, but don't tell them that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Old Goat Finally Goes to GenCon, Part 2

Last week I got started on my report from GenCon. I'll finish it up here.

While the Boy was busy in his second trip through True Dungeon, I took the time to wander through the Exhibit Hall by myself. I was free to stop and talk to anyone I wished or to spend time checking out the wares of the various dealers. I saw much, bought little, and talked to a lot of people, but two conversations stand out.

At a small booth, I found an author hawking a book he edited. The book was titled Cheers Gary, with content selected and edited by Paul Hughes. The "Gary" in the title was Gary Gygax, founder of TSR, founder of GenCon, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and perhaps the one man most responsible for turning role playing games into a major force in gaming. I stopped, curious both about the book and about a hand-written sign concerning something called the Gygax Memorial Fund. The fund is attempting to raise money to build a statue of Gary in Lake Geneva, WI, where he lived. There was another person in the booth, also. A woman who turned out to be Gary's widow, Gail. I told Gail how much of an impact her husband's work had on my life, assured her that I in no way blamed him for the plunge in my GPR after I discovered D&D, and generally had a pleasant conversation with her. I made a contribution and got a copy of the book signed by both the editor and Gail Gygax.

An hour later, I ran across the only person I could find in the Exhibit Hall dealing with comic books. He was a publisher whose titles are based on role playing game properties. The company has only just gotten started but made what I'd say was a good initial choice. Their book is based on a game setting called Deadlands. The setting is a strange mixture of good old fashion westerns, steampunk, and fantasy. The fantasy elements range from shaman magic to spirits to zombies, making the setting's tag line "Adventures in the weird west" very appropriate.

Needless to say, one of my first questions to the publisher was, "Do you need any writers?" He answered yes but quickly qualified that by pointing out how much more difficult it was to judge a writer from his writing submissions than it was to judge an artist from his artwork. I think this was a polite way of trying to let me down easy. I told him I understood, mentioning how I'd run into the same problem back when I worked in the industry, which I hadn't done since the early '90s. The next part was kind of fun to watch. The publisher responded to my statement that I understood his position and was just wrapping up when it dawned on him what else I'd said.

"Wait, you said you worked in the industry?" he asked.

"Yeah, I started off writing a self-published book before the publishing was moved to Comics Interview Publications and David Kraft took over," I said.

"What did you write?" he asked.

"I co-created and wrote the Southern Knights and the X-Thieves," I told him.

"Southern Knights?" he said. "I remember that book!"

Suddenly our conversation took a more serious turn as I told him of my experience both as a gamer and a comic book writer. We had to wind up the conversation because potential customers stopped at the booth, but as I was about to walk away he gave me his card and told me to definitely send him some of my stuff. (I plan on getting a package together for him this week.) Needless to say, that conversation put me into quite a good mood.

My mood wasn't even spoiled when the Boy hobbled out of his True Dungeon adventure having twisted his ankle. Understandably, a convention is not a fun place to be when it hurts every time you take a step. We headed back to the hotel for the day.

On Saturday, we wandered around the convention center, looking for things we hadn't seen yet. That's when we found these monuments to GenCon's origins as a convention for D&D.

An elven ranger:


A particularly nasty monster called a beholder:


And a troll. These trolls are not like the ones from The Hobbit. They were taken almost entirely from the novel Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. Anyone who has read that book will readily recognize the D&D trolls the first time they run across them in an adventure.


The highlight of the afternoon was the costume parade. In Atlanta, Dragon*Con makes a huge deal out of the parade, actually marching everyone out on the road around the main hotel. A lot of people who have no interest in Dragon*Con apparently come downtown for the costume parade. Traffic gets tied up for a couple of hours or more and I suspect many of those in costume just about melt in the heat in Georgia during Labor Day weekend. GenCon kept everything inside, which meant the parade tied up traffic inside the convention. This was the only time the halls at the Indiana Convention Center were so crowded people could barely move. Still it was a good costume parade. Unfortunately, I wasn't in a position to take any photos during the parade.

We took a break for dinner before returning for our final visit to GenCon. We caught a performance by the Great Luke Ski, a geekier version of Weird Al Yankovic. We'd spoken with Luke in the Exhibit Hall, hidden away in a back corner with the other performers. He was fun to talk to and put on an entertaining show. He is apparently a favorite on the Dr. Demento Show, now found online rather than on the radio, and a member of The FuMP, the Funny Music Project. The guy can't really sing particularly well but he can pack a lot of geek references into a three or four minute song.

Sunday morning, despite the fact that the convention would go on until mid-afternoon, we packed up and hit the road. We had done most of what we wanted to do at the convention and all decided getting home that evening would be better than dragging the return trip out over two days.

Looking over this report and the first one, it seems as if we didn't really do all that much at the convention. Yet our days were full and we were very tired by the end of the day. We enjoyed ourselves, which is the most important part. Saturday night, after watching Luke Ski, I asked the Boy whether he had enjoyed last year's Dragon*Con or this year's GenCon better. He thought about it, said he really liked both, then admitted a preference for GenCon. He said the attendees at GenCon felt more like "our kind of people."

Plus, he couldn't play True Dungeon at Dragon*Con.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

And the winner is...

We celebrate summer in the Thunderdome, by veering off the spec-sheet!

If any of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will be worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

Tyler Tork is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“An editor hat isn't supposed to be used for... oh, never mind.”), but a little less sarcastic.


Getting Off the Label

“The Mean Streets of Apache Junction” by Sean

Tyler Tork: Sean's untitled entry struck me as more creative in its perversion of technology. It's quite convincing that replicators would lead to obesity even in people who didn't have a survival-oriented reason for it. Quite often the only reason I avoid eating junk is by not having any in the house. The nanny computer was great, and also a convincing consequence of the technology. It's very plausible that the red-shirts would be more conscious of their survival stats than even keen-eyed viewers. The whole attitude toward Kirk was lots of fun, and the wrong-name noogie incident made me smile.

(style 4, challenge score 6, total 10)


Arisia: 2.46 / miko: forgot to vote with an actual number!
Tyler Tork: 10
“Miko's Un-Fazed Error” bonus: 2+
Total: 14.46+



“Fazed” by miko

Tyler Tork: Miko's entry with the phaser as weapon of horrific retribution was also an interesting idea. It wasn't made clear in the narrative (I'd have preferred it to be), but I can imagine the mob might prefer it because of the nasty side effects. A shotgun would kill someone just as dead, but this might be more of a deterrent to others who hear of it. Of course, a shotgun's effects are also much more horrific than the tidy corpses you see on TV, with a neat hole and a little red on the shirt. So really, this story could've been written with shotguns and TV and motorcycles and garages instead of phasers and CerebroVision and hypercycles and hangars, and been more realistic because I couldn't bring myself to believe that the mob in the 25th century or whatever would be just like the mob of the 1930s except for their toys. It wasn't quite clear whether he really intended to write in the Star Trek milieu or just borrow the weapon, but the phaser was the only thing here that reminds me of Trek -- and of course in Trek it's a cleaner weapon even when not used for violence (e.g. I recall them heating rocks with it to keep warm). So from the standpoint of meeting the challenge, I preferred Sean's story.

Miko's entry was more skillfully written, however. By introducing a second character and having them doing things -- checking their equipment, hiding in the hangar -- the reader gets some information through dialog and action, and the bits of telling don't seem out of place since they're short and in the context of the action. By comparison, Sean's protagonist gives information to the reader by talking to himself and thinking loudly (though the interaction with the computer is nice), and there are a fair number of adverbs, a few 'said' bookisms, and punctuation errors (yes, I do count off for punctuation -- as do editors and agents). I've seen much worse, of course, but Miko's piece was a smoother read (though it had a few apostrophes out of place also).

Overall, tough call. Readability is important, but I did feel that Sean's entry was more in the spirit of the challenge.

(style 6, challenge score 3, total 9)


Arisia: 2.45 / miko: voted!
Tyler Tork: 9
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 13.45


Wrap-up...

Both challengers made a strong showing, but unforeseen voting anomalies (how difficult is 0, 1, 2, 3?!!) resulted in a decisive victory:

2nd Place: 13.45 points — “Fazed” by miko

1st Place: 14.46+ points — “The Mean Streets of Apache Junction” by Sean

Congratulations, Sean! As winner, you are hereby invited to propose next week's challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 19 August 2011.


Afterword...

So what was the lesson of this challenge?

Tyler Tork: Never get involved in a land war in Asia?

Born Ugly: The Ragged Edge Retrospective (Part 1 of 3)

I put half an oil change's worth of miles on the car in the drive (Iowa "to and fro" Tennessee) and won't catch up on sleep til Judgment Day, so if you can't understand this, it is all my fault.

So, I went to the Ragged Edge, the first writer's conference I've ever heard of that openly admitted that it was an asylum. If you have ever been to a professional conference (of any sort) you know that, quite often, you wander through a selection of good (and sometimes not good) sources of information, load up on a lot of good ideas, and then leave energized to implement them. Sometimes the energy stays, but, more often, you lose momentum, have difficulty organizing the disparate bits of good information, and are lucky to implement one or two of the best ideas.

The Ragged Edge was different. I don't feel energized, but I don't feel spent, either.

I feel stabbed.

It's kind of neat.

I suppose it is sort of like when Sonny Liston KO'd Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship back in the 1960s. When asked how terrible it felt, physically, to get punched into unconsciousness, he surprised everyone. He said it was euphoric, one of the best feelings in the world, one that lasted through the ten count, until he realized he'd just sacrificed the title to that fleeting bliss.

It was the first professional conference I've ever been to where I was sworn to secrecy (at least for parts of it, on pain of forced total glossectomy) and also the first one I've seen where the presenters could have, and maybe should have, come to blows with one another. I wonder if this much fun has been had at a writer's conference since H. Beam Piper slipped this mortal coil.

For the moment, I'll try to distill the most important lesson that wedged between my ribs, scoring the bone like a whittler had practiced on it:

There are no ugly babies.

That's it.

Oh, sure, other people's babies may be born squash-faced, scrunched up, pop-eyed or a weird shade of purple-yellow. But that's because you can't see them for what they really are. You can't see them as their parents do: as delicate, intricate, mini-mirrors of the haunting Divine.

I can't speak for you, but for me, I place a very high value on editing, polishing, testing, and competing my work on its way to publication. It isn't "done" until someone else says it is, and pays the cash to prove it. I did not realize just how much this outlook had been limiting me for the last decade or so.

Somewhere, I'd forgotten something:

Writing stories is fun, and the story is finished when I say so.

One of the things I like about the Friday Challenge is that it tests one's mettle. Win or lose, what I write is going to be measured (and measured in a really fun way, to boot.)

But, paradoxically, the best stories and books I've ever written are the ones that were "born ugly." These are ones I have, for one reason or another, looked at, decided they were not "saleable" (usually on the counsel of buyers) and tried to forget about them. It has only been recently (in some cases, with the keen eyes of Friday Challengers) that I've come to see those "rejects" as among my favorite works.

By my last estimate, I've written about 500,000 professional/commercial level words (not all of it fiction, but most.) That puts me near or at the end of a career's beginning. It is a very good time to learn to expect beauty. I only wish I'd learned it sooner.

So - mentally, emotionally, the Ragged Edge was a little like Patterson's defeat by knockout: a little bliss, a lot of sacrifice. More on that later.

+++

Epilogue: I warned you it might be hard to follow. In the next one, I'll clear things up a bit by providing a brief rundown of highlights (including the near-Pay Per View event), and in the third part, give a look at some of the writing business insights on the state of the industry. Until then, I'll leave you with this story and the understanding that it may very well have been some sort of metaphor for the Ragged Edge:

The conference ended at 6 pm last night, not enough time for me to drive all the way back home. I had secured a sleeping pallet somewhere in the wilds of Illinois, so hopped in the car, my head swimming from the events of the past two days.

Basic Pleasure Model wouldn't play. Neither would Wreckage of the Modern City. Weird. Another CD was fine, but I'd played it to death on the way down. So, I hit permanent scan on the radio, discovering that on the rural highways of Kentucky and Southern Illinois, Katy Perry gets soooooo drunk on Friday. Fifteen times, in fact.

[I counted. Not hyperbole: 15 different times throughout the trip the song played, often on the same station. I have now memorized such poetry as "I think I need a ginger ale. That was such an epic fail."

Three times, it was on two stations simultaneously. 15 times at 3 minutes a piece, discounting for partial listens, is no less than 20 minutes of Drunk Perry. I believe that it is the genetic opposite to 7 minutes in heaven.]

The route I had selected was - what is the word? - ah yes. Scenic. It is seven o'clock, and my eyes are already bleary. I questioned a turn, and so stopped a the nearest turn-off. It was the facade of a liquor store that had burnt to the ground. A black, bent crossbeam stuck out of the nuked center aisle, pointing like a skeletal finger to the west. So I followed.

Katy's drunk again, and I'm white-knuckling. The woods twist around the bend, and then twist the other way again, over and over. I'm not sure I'm even on the right highway any more. The roadway opens up, and in the blue dusk, a bat, the size of a goose, its telltale peaked wings flapping like the last, slow spiral of a wind-up mechanism sailed high over head, Dracula's forerunner. I was lost in the dark, a thousand miles from home, and suddenly, I wondered if my car's 232,136th mile would be its last. I stopped for directions, and I'll put it this way: the scorched crossbeam was friendlier.

An hour later, I came upon a sign for Slaughters, Kentucky. Finally, I could orient, gather wits, and thunder like the Wabash Cannonball across the border.

I turned onto a completely unlined black highway that smeared into the ditches and trees on either side. North, the silvery death's head moon became occluded by a world-wide wall of clouds.

I drove into a Transylvanian lightning storm.

But, all's well that ends well: though blinded by the dark, the rain, the cataract on the windshield, the shocking flashes, I did not die. I made it through. The road materialized. The rain stopped. The window cleared. I could see my way ahead.

Then I hit a skunk.




Link

Saturday, August 13, 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, August 12, 2011

The Friday Challenge — 8/12/2011

This week in The Friday Challenge:

Henry Vogel fulfills a lifelong quest, and we embark upon a fundraising plan. • Join the discussion...

Daniel Eness ponders the value of wandering around in a crowded room. • Join the discussion...

Daniel Eness also "crosses over." Can he get anyone to stand by him? • Join the discussion...

Tyler Tork wins the You Should Have Seen challenge, and in doing so effectively takes himself out of the competition for two weeks. (Two in a row... now's your chance, people!) • Join the discussion...

All this and more, as M escapes Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day unscathed, and the inmates discuss the view from their respective places in the asylum.


Getting Off the Label

As of the deadline for our current challenge, we have received the following entries (listed in their order of appearance within Files > Friday Challenge 2011 08 12):

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, 7 August 2011.


Two Out of Three (a.k.a. "Don't Advance the Plot")

And now it is time for this week's Friday Challenge, courtesy of Tyler Tork:

Each scene of a story can contribute in up to three major ways: advance the plot, establish setting, or reveal character. A friend of mine suggested a guideline that to keep the story moving along merrily, each scene should do at least double duty -- accomplish two or more of those three.

Your task for this week's challenge, is to reveal information about character and setting with a short scene -- 750 words or less -- set in the character's home or someplace else they spend a lot of time. Don't advance the plot, but do hit the other two points. If the character is present, he or she should be doing some routine thing -- but in a way that tells us something important about them. Show, don't tell; let the reader draw conclusions about the setting and character based on their observations.

And if you can make it entertaining also, so much the better.


Anyone can enter, except for Tyler Tork. You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must be independent of the others. Your entry must be no longer than 750 words, 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.

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 Tyler Tork will be serving as Ye Olde High Marker, Voluntarily Walking th' Plank.

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, 19 August 2011. A winner will be declared by the evening of Sunday, 21 August 2011.

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