Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Around this time of year, many people set writing resolutions and goals for themselves. If you have any you, please share them in the comments.

My goals for the year include getting two novels edited and at least one of them out to agents, submitting one novella and one novelette (different markets), reoutlining my 2007 NaNo so I can work at editing it, and writing a new novel for NaNo in 2009. There's probably some short story work going to happen, but my focus for the year is on the longer works.

What about you?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gathering of Giveaways

Everybody likes gifts and free stuff, right? So in the spirit of the holidays, I bring you my list of places I look for book giveaways and other neat stuff.

First: sites that give reviews, interviews, and other news, as well as book giveaways.
Fantasy Book Critic

Patrick's Fantasy Hot List

The Book Swede


Second: author blogs that also do giveaways sometimes.
Paperback Writer (You should be reading this anyway!)

Alison Kent: Blah Blog (Currently running 12 days of Christmas giveaway--hurry! She chooses winners on December 29th.)

Third: Just book giveaways.
Great American Book Giveaway Enter every week!

Access Romance contests (The rest of the site has other stuff, too--blogs, newsletters, reviews. But this page is *just* contests.)

Fourth: Just giveaways.
Giveaway of the Day (Generally Windows software)

If I've missed any of your favorites, be sure to let me know in the comments.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On being a hack

Just a short post today because I was listening to a podcast and heard something that raised my hackles. Or would have, if that weren't a cliche.

The comment in question was that including eye color in fiction makes one a hack.

One of the first things I learned about Scarlett O'Hara in middle school is that she has green eyes. Am I going to call Margaret Mitchell a hack? Not on your life (another cliché! kill it!).

As with anything, eye color can be over-used. If you find that it's the first thing you turn to when you're writing a character description, maybe you need to think about your technique a little more. But some people do notice eye color, and some people do have noticeable eye color. And that should be reflected in your writing.

I don't think a single thing can make you a hack, not even using -ly adverbs. Elmore Leonard had a character in one of his books where every single dialogue tag had an adverb attached. Perhaps he was being ironic; perhaps it was a joke; perhaps he wanted to see whether anyone would notice. Two things to note: it was ONE character, and it worked.

Making guidelines for yourself is fine. Knowing when to break guidelines others have created is better. However, don't make a guideline for an arbitrary reason and expect everyone else to follow it. They're not hacks just because they don't follow a rule you just made up.

In the comments, list any signs you can think of that point to being a hack. Or tell me what rules you think are applied too broadly and need to be checked.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elusive allusions

No podcast review today, but I'll post one later this week. Today, I want to talk about using allusions in writing.

I like using allusions -- indirect references to other stories -- to add resonance to my writing. When the reader understands the allusion, depth is added: all the emotional complications from the original story are brought to mind and linked with the current story.

However, that "when" is actually an "if" because the reader may not get what seems to the writer to be the most obvious of references.

Case in point: I was listening to Christmas carols the other day, and "The most wonderful time of the year" came up. A line in there has always bugged me. "There will be scary ghost stories." Why? Ghost stories are for Halloween. I didn't know anyone who sat around telling ghost stories for Christmas. This weekend, however, it finally hit me--Scrooge, with his ghostly visitors in [i]A Christmas Carol.[/i]

In retrospect, that seems obvious, but it took me years to draw the connection. (And it's possible that I'm wrong, that in fact, the song writer was talking about people sitting around talking about ghostly hitchhikers and the like. That's the other side of allusions -- people reading things into your work that you never intended to be there. My friend Margaret refers to this as the "reader 50%.")

Another example: When I was working for a couple of years between college and graduate school, I made an off-the-cuff remark about Daniel in the lion's den. The person I was talking to had never heard of Daniel, never read the Bible, and wouldn't get anything but the broadest references to anything contained therein. "Wrestling with an angel" wouldn't mean any more than the obvious to her, and if she heard a friendship described as being like that of David and Jonathan, she wouldn't know who was being discussed.

Does that mean we shouldn't use allusions?

No. If we have more layers in our mind as we write, some of that may spill onto the page, adding complexity. And even if all of our readers don't get the allusions, those who do will find the story deeper.

What it does mean is that if we rely on an allusion for understanding of the story or explication of plot, we are limiting our audience, which is fine as long as you understand that going in. Of course, this is true of any tool we use as writers -- we need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of the tool and the way we're using it.

How have you used allusions in your writing? Or are there other tools that you have found work great when they work but can't be guaranteed to reach all your readers? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Best podcasts for writers, part 3: Spoken Alexandria Project

The Spoken Alexandria Project, in their own words, "is creating a free Creative Commons library of spoken word recordings, consisting of classics in the public domain and modern works (with permission). AAC, Ogg Vorbis, and MP3 audiobooks available for free download and redistribution."

That means you can listen to everything from Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis to Bulfinch's Mythology to a booklet from the National Institute of Mental Health on Men and Depression. If you want to read more widely but you don't have time (or you don't want to spend a lot of money on audiobooks for your commute), the Spoken Alexandria Project is a good step in that direction.

My favorite work on this podcast (and one I've re-listened to again just this past week) is the six-part series by Tobias Buckell, "Getting Past Joe Blow Neopro." This is his effort to describe what it takes, as a genre writer, to move beyond those few semipro acceptances and become a true professional author. I especially recommend part 6, on planning your career, including the use of visions and milestones. Go check it out. (And hey, if you haven't read at least one of his books yet, do!)

In fact, even if you don't subscribe to this podcast and listen faithfully to everything they produce (and to be honest, although I *am* subscribed, I don't necessarily listen faithfully), you should at the very least download Tobias Buckell's contribution and listen to it. That alone is enough to make this one of the best podcasts for writers. (Though contributions from Kafka, Twain, and Franklin don't hurt.)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

characters and motivation

I got a rejection e-mail the other day from Scott Andrews at Beneath Ceaseless Skies for "Falling Knight." A couple of phrases stood out in his comments: "couldn't figure out enough . . . to know why he wanted to" and "made his motives seem hidden to me." I went back to the previous e-mail I'd received from Mr. Andrews (for "Blood Brother"), and found similar ideas: "never got a sense for what Augan's burning goal was" and "wasn't sure what stakes were hanging over his head." Granted, you can draw a straight line between any two points, but his concerns with these stories were consistent enough that before I sent off another one to him (I'd like to send "Maskèd Panama."), I figured it was worth the time to look at characterization and whether motivation came through clearly.

I also spent a lot of time with Bonnie in chat, discussing layers, character depth, and motivation. Then I dug into my shelves of writing books, and I'm rereading all the significant material I found there, beginning with Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens--specifically, chapters 2 and 3 ("Characterization: The Inner Life" and "Applied Characterization"). Lots of material to think about there.

I'll admit, though, that part of me was recalcitrant. I was thinking such things as, "Doesn't the fact that he does plot against his leader evidence that he is motivated to do so? Shouldn't we draw conclusions about his motivations from his actions?"

Then last night, waiting for the baby to fall asleep (around 1 a.m., finally), the husband and I were watching Parents on (Hulu link, IMDB link) And all became clear to me. If you want to watch this movie, be warned, there are spoilers below.

The plot revolves around a family of cannibals--the parents knowingly, the kid just suspecting the truth. But he starts the movie with this utter revulsion to the meat he's being served, with no apparent reason, and he's having nightmares, and he's afraid of his parents . . . and all of that makes sense *after* he discovers it's humans they're eating. But before that? Not so much.

I couldn't see any reason for him not to want to eat what he'd been eating his entire life.

I told the husband that it was amusing that what bugged me about the movie was that I couldn't understand why the kid wouldn't want to be a cannibal. The movie needed a precipitating incident--even if it wasn't clearly shown to the audience so the audience might think the kid was imagining things, with the truth only slowly dawning. Otherwise, the kid's actions make no sense in context.

Which is when I realized that action alone is not sufficient to show motivation.

So now I need to practice actually showing the character motivation. It's not easy. I mean, I could tell the readers, "Oh, Michael is plotting in 'Falling Knight' because he blames his boss for his brother's death." I know that's his rationale. I thought I'd put it in the story. Mr. Andrews didn't think it that clear, however, so it won't hurt me to go back and take another look at it before I send it to another market.

As for the next story I'd like to send him? Yes, it needs another edit pass. Motivation could be sharpened, but there's also a horribly unresolved character arc and a flagrant violation of Sanderson's First Law. But those are things I know how to fix, now that I've seen they are there.

By the way, if you haven't submitted anything yet to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I highly recommend that you do. He's looking for secondary world fantasy up to 10k, and he gives excellent feedback with his rejections. And read them, too. Excellent stuff!

(cross-posted to my LJ)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Best podcasts for writers, part 2: The Kissy Bits

A terrific podcast if you're writing romance -- or even just have a romance subplot is The Kissy Bits. Sadly, the podcast stopped being updated in 2007. In fact, the last entry is Thursday, February 1, 2007, claiming that the podcast would be back after Chinese New Year. It didn't happen. Although Kiki maintains a WordPress blog, Kiki Fu, she doesn't mention the podcast (at least not in an entry tagged "Kissy Bits") after that date, either. She's obviously quite busy, and her novel Enter the Parrot will be released in June, according to her most recent entry on Kiki Fu.

All of that simply means that this is a podcast it's possible to listen to in its entirety, beginning to end, to learn more about how to write romance. Kiki discusses how to characterize a hero and a heroine, how to write the first kiss, coming up with titles, and all the more prosaic writing topics such as emotional honesty, whether and how to include real people in your writing, making writing resolutions, and dealing with feedback.

She's witty -- her podcast on types of chick lit is very funny, for example -- and she really understands how to communicate emotions.

Listen to the podcasts from #1 to #17. It won't take that long -- a couple of hours a day for a week. Check out her show notes and the links. Then, if you like make a note to pick up her book come June. Or look for her adult romance novels. But definitely listen to the podcast.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Philcon weekend

I know this is early, but today's post is in lieu of a Thursday post for the week.

Had a good time at the con Saturday. Traffic on I-76 was bad, as usual, so it took longer to get there than Google Maps predicted. I went to the galactic empires talk, which was interesting particularly in its discussion of varying forms of empires and viable interstellar commerce. Other talks I went to included nanomaterials (some food for thought there), science fiction and romance (I came out covered with girl cooties--it didn't help that the moderator kept saying "sci-fi"), how to know when to stop revising (one panelist suggested passes for structure, content, style, and grammar; Lawrence Schoen disagreed), and poked my head into both the funny fantasy discussion (I'm not doing parody, know I'm not, so the discussion wasn't much help) and the LJ meet-up (didn't see any names I recognized).

I also went to Tim Powers' talk. He had a lot of interesting things to say, such as that he doesn't want to be pertinent or topical; he wants to entertain. He also had an amusing anecdote about the Christian neighbors whose Bible he set on fire with a magnifying glass while he was trying to read it.

One cool thing I discovered: Reno is doing a Worldcon bid for 2011. I paid for pre-support and would love it if others would support their bid as well. (

After some deep thought (and encouragement from husband), I went back Sunday.

Started off with Xtreme neurology. They discussed some interesting advances, and I'll have to look up some of the papers. I guess there are some possible advantages to a graduate degree in molecular and cell biology.

I went to two market-related panels: "Meet the editors" and "Editing anthologies." Neil Clarke says that they need more science fiction. Hildy Silverman says Space and Time could use some shorter stories--something to keep in mind if you plan to sub there before next Sunday. Marvin Kaye says that the Sherlock Holmes Magazine can use any kind of crime or puzzle story, especially if it's reader-solvable. Darrell Schweitzer and Gardner Dozois both say if you are putting together a single-author collection, please do the markets that have published you the courtesy of acknowledging them. Also, lousy market for reprint anthologies--no one's buying. Dozois also said he couldn't understand authors or agents who thought that having a story in a year's best anthology diluted the market for the author's collection.

Marvin Kaye also has strong tense preferences. Specifically, he railed against past perfect, which he referred to as the compound past. He said that the magazines are simple past (so probably not a big fan of present tense, either), and the sight of "had" just tells him that the author started the story in the wrong place. I would guess that if a single instance of past perfect were used to show that this is the moment of change that starts the story for the protagonist, it would be acceptable, but I don't know. ("Linda had written to me a dozen times about my father's increasing lack of lucidity before I bowed to the inevitable and made arrangements to go home.") Keep it in mind if submitting to him. And maybe as a general rule, too, about being sure you've started in the right place.

I caught up with Darrell Schweitzer in the dealer room and asked if he ever did anthologies with some stories solicited and some open sub. He said he's still new at the anthologies but would someday like to do an anthology that's all open submissions. He also said that the best way to get solicited to be in an anthology is to get known. For good markets, he suggested Weird Tales, Talenones, Interzone, Paradox, and Space and Time. He told me he'd never heard of Hadley Rille Books, which bummed me out a bit until I remembered Justin's story from a Hadley Rille anthology got tapped for a year's best anthology. It's not an invisible market.

The "Science fiction,religion, and reason" panel was very interesting. Lots of stuff about Jesuits. Tim Powers talked about chimps and sign language--they can lie. Does that mean they sin and should be baptized? Angels and ascended humans came in for some discussion as well, with one panelist commenting that perfection precludes conflict. I have some story seeds and at least one bunny that have to get larger for me to use.

Last panel I went to was on details and series fiction. Very charming and entertaining panelists. Prologues and appendices were discussed, as were things that have to be repeated in every book. Catherine Asaro, for example, has a spaceship drive and a double star planetary system that need to be explained every time, or she will get e-mails of complaint. No one was a big fan of series where the characters don't change.

Let me know if you have questions about specific pamels. I'm definitely looking foward to next year! (Boskone seems bigger, though.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pros and NaNos

Professional writers fall into a number of camps regarding NaNoWriMo.

The ones that irritate me (Yes, let's get them out of the way first!) are the ones who sneer and say, "Well, 50,000 isn't really a novel, so these people are just fooling themselves." Why, yes, let's just tell Bruce Coville and Jane Yolen that their books don't count as real because they're too short, shall we? Or the many other fine authors of chapter books and middle-grade books.

"Oh, well, I meant novels for adults!" Right. Like the Silhouette Desire imprint (target word count: 50,000-55,000) or Harlequin Blaze (target word count: 55,000-60,000)? Or the many fine novels of yesteryear in their reprint variety, still available because modern readers actually do enjoy short reads sometimes?

But even when these writers qualify their words by saying something like, "In modern science fiction novels, you need a novel of about 100,000 words if you want to be published," they're overlooking the obvious: There is no rule that says a Wrimo has to stop exactly at 50,000 words. Nor will Chris Baty's flying guilt monkeys come steal a Wrimo's keyboard if said writer durst continue writing the same story once December 1 rolls around.

In 2005, Michael Stackpole, in his Secrets podcast (review coming after I've listened to more of them, I promise), talked about NaNoWriMo, and he did make a comment about how 50,000 words wasn't enough for the genres he writes in, but how for someone learning to plot and write, it could be a good exercise. Then he goes on to give specifics on how to plot for that length (including a rule of thumb that I'd never heard -- you need 30,000 words to give a character a complete arc; not sure yet whether I agree with him), seemingly without considering the possibility that his listeners who were interested in NaNoWriMo might either write more than 50,000 words during November or that they might keep going once December rolled around, continuing to write until they had a first draft of a publishable length.

Then there are the pros who basically don't care. They feel it has nothing to do with them, wish those who want to participate the best of luck, and go on about their professional lives as they normally would. This is a classy response.

There are pros who participate every year because it gives them a month they can schedule just to write, all thoughts of editing and other deadlines shoved aside for the nonce -- wild, frenetic writing, thousands upon thousands of words, one or more complete first drafts thrown into the computer in a passionate rush, to be edited to brilliance the following year. Lazette Gifford is one such participant.

Then there is the final category, the one I want to be in -- the pro who is a pro because of NaNoWriMo. These are the people who pour their hearts into their first drafts, edit, polish, submit -- and get published. This year's Wrimo Radio podcast (week one) featured an interview with Lani Diane Rich, whose first NaNovel was also her first published book. She now has eight books in print, three of which began their life for NaNoWriMo.

No, not every novel written during November will achieve this dream. But then, neither will every novel written during the rest of the year, even those written by pro writers who decide to do something outside their comfort zone on spec. Writing takes hard work and editing and more editing and lots more hard work, and the goal of publication isn't always achieved. But people like this give me, and others like me, hope that if we keep working at it -- during November or throughout the year -- we might get there too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Best podcasts for writers, part 1: Writing Excuses

Welcome to my first podcast review. Once a week, I'll give you the scoop on what I think are some of the best podcasts out there. Some of them will be writing podcasts; others will include fiction (short and long) as well as nonfiction.

First up, I bring you the writing podcast Writing Excuses. This is a group podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. Brian Sanderson is the author of the Mistborn trilogy (of which I have the first one sitting on my hard drive because of's giveaway earlier this year) -- among other works -- and is also the author tapped to write the concluding book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Howard Tayler makes a full time living from his Webcomic Schlock Mercenary, which I urge everybody to check out. Dan Wells writes horror novels and sold a trilogy to Tor earlier this year. The first book will be titled I Am Not a Serial Killer.

I subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. I haven't listened to this week's episode yet, and there is one earlier episode I haven't listened to because they say it contains spoilers for The Dark Knight (episode 34, "What the Dark Knight Did Right"). The DVD is supposed to come out next month, though, and I'll listen to that episode then.

They discuss a wide range of topics, from plot twists to hating your writing, to submitting to editors, to writing groups. They record podcasts at cons, and have often had guests on the show. I particularly enjoyed the episodes with Phil and Kaja Folio, Lou Anders, and Steve Jackson. One of the strengths of this podcast is that they don't discuss just one medium for story-telling.

The liner notes on the Website are well worth checking out. They include links not only to sites discussed in a particular episode (such as but also to Sanderson's First Law (on magic systems), as well as a download of Dan's Bunny Book.

If you're looking for a wide range of writing-related topics, covered with good humor, check out this podcast. You can also get their entire first season on CD for $10. It won't take too long to get a feel for the podcast because it's only "Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart." Except that they are.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm back . . .

I know that I haven't posted here for just over three years, but I'm going to try again, mostly to test whether or not I can reliably update more than one blog at a time. I'd like to believe I am getting closer to a publishable novel, perhaps under a pseudonym, and when I reach that point, I'd like to know that I can devote time to an author blog to interact with readers without having to share with them such things as how my cat is doing or the like.

Thus, this post is my notice of intent.

The current plan is to post twice a week, most likely on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and look at that -- today's a Thursday!) on writing-related topics. I'll include such things as reviews of podcasts, process posts, and where I currently am on projects. I may still post such items on my other blog, but it casts a wider net, so they will be merely one type of post found there.

Starting this up right before the holiday season may be the best test as to whether I can do this on a regular basis; if I can do this now, with everything else I have going on, I should be able to do it under any circumstances.

Here's to renewed ventures!