Archive for the ‘The Writing Process’ Category

This is one of a series of posts in self-promotion. You can read the first one here.

Let me first say that I have very mixed reactions regarding Fan Fiction.

If you are a writer and you are getting fanfic, that means something pretty good is going on. Not only do you have a reader community that loves the same things we love (which is what we all want as writers, to share the things we love.*), but you have them loving your world to the point that they invest their time and creative efforts into adding to it.

On the other hand, these creative types can potentially dilute the vision you have for your characters that you created. Some of the worst offenders were the Mary Sues who were so perfect and wonderful that everyone loved them no matter what. There seemed to also exist a rabid “slash fiction” version written by ill-brained fans who weren’t content with the characters as they were, but had to turn them into something they were not.** There’s even an open-world group (I won’t link them here and give them more traffic than they need) that thinks they should be able to run rough-shod legally over anyone else’s intellectual property because they’re too lazy to worldbuild on their own.

In some ways, I consider a lot of movies made from books to be fanfic. Essentially the scriptwriter and director botches the story elements, and I ask myself, “If they liked it enough to make a movie out of it, how can they change it so drastically? Why not just write a story of your own by plucking out the elements you like and rearranging them?” Of course that argument would only fall on deaf ears, because of course they “know better.” But I digress…

After all of this griping, how can fanfic possible help a writer?

Well, as I mentioned, it means something good is going on with your stories. Many of us admit to being or starting writing fanfic to hone our skills, just like as budding artists we may draw from other people’s drawings to practice until we develop our own style. N0w, you could go after the fanfic writers and demand they take anything down. You can legally chase them down if they are making money from anything they write based on your stories. You could allow them to keep it up as long as they add a disclaimer that their story is not written by the author and is by no means sanctioned or related to the canon of the stories from which they draw the characters and world.

Or… you could require that they add the disclaimer and add a link to your website, so that you get traffic drawn to your sites and make sales from interested readers who want to know what the real characters and world is like. They may prefer yours, they may not, but you can’t shape readers to like you, you can only try to connect with readers who like what you do.

Now, if you’re reading this EA Games / Clive Barker / Developers of Undying–I have an idea for you that I would love to flesh out as a story for a sequel to that amazing game…You know, so it wouldn’t actually be fan fiction, but work from a “published” author…

 

*If you aren’t writing about things you love then you are writing dreck just to feed your wallet and probably hate what you do so much that you contemplate slitting your wrists at least once a day because in order to keep making money, you have to sell them what they want instead of what you want. And the work suffers for it too–readers can tell when your heart isn’t in it.

**WARNING: Read no further if you want to keep your brain clean. K/S is where the “slash” came from, as in Kirk slash Spock, as in “Kirk and Spock in a homosexual love affair”. The popular Highlander series had the same thing happen to it, where fanfic had the main character – usually the female author vaguely disguised – trying to convince the show’s main characters that they were in fact gay and should be lovers. And that is barely scratching the surface.

 

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This is the second post of my Adventures in Self-Promotion. You can read the first post here.

Self-publishing used to be looked on as laughable for two main reasons. One, the author “obviously” couldn’t get their books published via the normal brick & mortar route, so it really wasn’t good enough to read, was it? Two, self-publishing meant enlisting the services of a vanity press and that meant that the author paid huge fees to have their work turned into hardcopy, with very high minimum print runs, and the author was then tasked with selling the books themselves and turning a profit in the process. With the second point, it usually meant they barely cut a profit, selling to friends and family and the occasional stranger if they took it to a book fair or somesuch.

I’d seen a lot of the latter when I worked for a brief stint dealing with the Local Authors at Borders, and much of the work was not pretty, and barely sold. They got ripped off at the vanity press, too, by the look of the reproduction methods.

Now, however, the face of self-publishing is changing. With biggies like Kindle Publishing and Smashwords, authors can get their work out there for minimal costs (nothing for the actual publishing, so maybe just the computer and internet connection, which most of us have anyway). The only problem with that is now there is so much work out there of full-spectrum levels of quality that even the really good stuff is likely to drown in the vast ocean of available reading material.

So how does one stand out?

Fast forward with self-publishing: I used to turn my nose up at the idea of having anyone but myself publish my work. After all, the work was mine and I should realize the most profit from its success, not the pittance that I would get unless I turned out to be another Patterson or Rowling for the publishing company.

So, brick & mortars were out of the question. However… there’s something to be said for magazines, hardcopy and online.

The big point being they generally have a readership. That means that if someone bothers to read my story, and they like it, they may very well search other places for my work. Now, a lot of teachers of self-promotion–for all products, not just books and stories–talk about promoting before the product/service/book is made available by sending out teasers on mailing lists. How does one get these elusive “lists”? Cold-sending is exactly like those annoying cold calls you get from telemarketers. But if someone in a magazine reads my work and then comes to my website, they could not only buy my backlist but also sign up for my newsletter (which I really don’t have in motion just yet, but that’s one of the problems about working for myself, making the time…).

Taking the above in mind, I’ve done searches for online magazines that have rights I can live with. I’d prefer to write “throw-away” stories that have limited interest for me in their expansion (meaning I don’t plan to write any more in that world, in case there are some exclusives and rights-issues that could get in the way) and consider it the cost of doing business. Some of them have fees to submit (Submittable isn’t a free service for them like it is for those creating an account, even if the magazine charges for the submission) and some are free. Many of these are very low, so it is something to consider if you are utterly broke.

The other consideration and the main one for me is the inclusion of the bio. After all, I want them to read more of my work, and if the magazine makes that easier for them to reach my sites where I am promoting my stories and books by including a bio and a link, all the better. I would choose a magazine that had a small fee and published a bio over one that ignored the bio material but was free otherwise.

And for the pay? That’s just icing on the cake. For those who seek inclusion in the SFWA, some of them qualify. I’m not a fan of the organization because of some of their questionable expenditures with the dues, but that’s me.

NOTE: For the sake of not causing a furor over stories I may have submitted and earning even the hint of a bias toward them while they are judging my submissions, I won’t mention where I’ve entered.

If you’ve never heard of the Navy SEALs, you’re either not from America or very likely call that slab of limestone over your head “Home Sweet Home”. I’m not going to explain who they are here, but what I will say is that the perception of them as door-kickers extraordinaire is pervasive. Their entire lives overseas consist of these missions where they make terrorists and pirates snack on lead, and back in the States they party like a bunch of demons, right?

While that last bit about them partying is at least semi-factual, the truth is that they train hard and they spend a lot of time doing all the not-so-“glamorous” aspects of SEAL/Navy life. Physical Training. Duty. Watches. Briefing. Debriefing. Travel. Paperwork. LOTS of paperwork. The “hardcore” parts of the life, sold in the movies and novels, can be boiled down to a nugget in a big barrel of plain ol’ rock. (But they’re still the sexiest men ever, bar none.)(I’m going to get slammed with complaints that I ratted them out as not having a 24-7 highspeed lifestyle, I bet. I know just enough about Navy life to be dangerous, having served as a sailor myself. I just hope they stopped reading at the compliment above, which is not hollow. They’re very hot.)

What does this have to do with self-promotion, you wonder?

Not that I would ever equivocate the life and challenges of someone who trained and attained such an honor as becoming a Navy SEAL to someone who runs their own business, but think for a moment when you hear someone say “I want to be my own boss.” The thoughts, if not spoken, run along the lines of “I don’t have to work for anyone else and I can take time off and go places I want to visit and do things I want to do.” They see the glamorous side without taking into account any of the droll day-to-day activities necessary to reach that goal of working for oneself. What they really want is to be independently wealthy without all the hard work. (Not that I would ever have a problem with being independently wealthy, of course! Isn’t that the plan?)

I have a friend who runs his own business and has been doing so successfully for a very long time. But–huge “but”–it took him 20+ years to get there, and he works insanely long hours. He takes days off–sort of. Often, when I worked with him, we’d be up in the wee-est hours of the morning and would be out on the road or doing the labor of the job (yes, he got his hands very dirty along with his “wrecking crew”) and wouldn’t see a bed until close to midnight. And I thought boot camp hours were tough!

All that is just to explain that working for oneself, like I would love to do as a writer, is a goal that I am trying to achieve and I spend a lot of my time not just writing but by doing all of the rest of the work a publisher would do if I had gone the brick & mortar route. I get to do my own self-promotion, and for the next couple of blogs I am going to discuss the different methods I’ve been trying to get My Brand out there. Here are a few methods I will discuss:

Magazine Submissions

Business Cards

FanFiction (but probably not in the way you’re thinking)

P.S. I’ve been working on a project that I had been calling Dross, but has now come to be known as Ink & Sigil. Barring any emergencies, the novel, a steampunk fantasy, will be out before the end of the year.

From as early an age as I can recall, languages fascinated me. I grew up in a culturally-diverse corner of town—Italian, Korean, Spanish speakers all lived on the same block, within a few houses of one another, and my own family comes from a background that would make a mutt feel like a purebred. In high school, I took up Spanish and then later took German. In college, I took Russian courses. I had also spent considerable time in places, while serving in the Navy, where Spanish and Italian were the native tongues. Later, in college, Russian. For fun, I studied French, Gaelic, Tolkien’s Elvish and I even own a Klingon Dictionary.

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Then I began creating languages of my own to use in my stories—Omen-Eyes, Ennid the Havoc, the languages for the upcoming Dross* and alien races of the SHARC series of stories. In each of these, the language provides a “flavor” to differentiate the races/species and in just about every case, creates some type of conflict because of the limits of translation.

Here are a few things I learned about language while studying them:

Languages more often than not don’t feature a one-for-one translation. If it works out that way, you’re lucky. Some drop prepositions while others adopt gendered ones. Some (including English) drop implied verbs.

Example: There is a book on the table.

In Russian, their grammar prefers: On the table, there is a book. (Which, translated with the available words, would read: “On table, book.”)

In German, their sentence structure can be even more rigid. Subject-Verb-Everything Else for a statement, Verb-Subject-Everything Else for a question. Some throw their words all over the place, using inflection more than just structure to differentiate between a statement and a question (yes, that would be English. We English-speakers are language contortionists).

You went there.

Simple statement, although why someone would have to tell someone else where they went is beyond the scope of this blog.

You went there?

Connotes the idea of surprise that the subject “you” overstepped some boundary to get to that location, like the timid librarian stepping into a biker bar, where they clearly wouldn’t be wanted.

You went there?

This one is a little more snotty, and less of a question than pure derision. They don’t want an answer, they want to mock. The subject “you” ventured into some place that the one asking the question wouldn’t have set foot simply because it is beneath them.

(There’s a great episode of Jerry Seinfeld that uses this to great effect. Why would Jerry bring anything?)

Some have few words that can say a lot, and others use a lot of words for very little, and some languages encompass both. Russian is my favorite for this. On one hand, they can say “Tim tahm.” and mean “Tim is over there”, while to say “I like pets” they have to wrap their tongues around “Menay neravidtsa domoshnie zhivotniey.” (Bugs Bunny pokes fun at this concept too, in “Wackiki Wabbit”.)

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This may arise from the need to define the concept within the sentence that you are introducing it. We could say “The clear sky” but if the one listening is not familiar with the concept of “clear”, it may have to be expressed as: “It was a sky through which light may pass so objects on the other side or within the volume of the object may be seen without hindrance.” Now imagine that some of the words in the definition had to be defined, as those concepts were unfamiliar. See where the conflict in trying to explain things can arise? (Oppressive regimes might condone destruction or redefinition of terms and concepts to prevent someone from speaking about things that the government doesn’t want discussed. Sadly, a fairly recent phenomenon in our own history is to cripple free speech, open debate and discussion by hurling the invective “racist!” or “bigot!”–the equivalent of the playground “your mom!”– when no intelligent argument can be formed or respectfully conveyed.)

Then there are the concepts. We speakers of English are all familiar with hyperbole, exaggeration, metaphors. Imagine telling someone that your heart leapt for joy when you saw them coming. If they have no experience outside of the literal realm, they may start looking around their feet for a bloody organ bouncing around in the grass.

English uses very little of the mouth. We blow air out through our lips, puff out our cheeks, touch our tongue to the roof of our mouths but we tend to use so little of it. Other languages, like Russian, use all of those and add different “depths” of the mouth and throat to create their sounds. Some, like the fascinating Khoison family of tongues from Africa even feature pops and clicks. We have a couple of equivalents in English—you’ve probably heard it as “tsk-tsk” or when someone “clucks” their tongue.

And finally, some of the translations can be… funny… when brought over into English and vice versa. A “Nova” was a car model that didn’t do well in Spanish-speaking countries because, while it’s an astrological term in English, in Spanish it translates to “no-go.” And some names are pronounced the same way as some Russian terms. I’m not sure “The Queen of Country” would want to be known as “Fish” McEntire, and that jedi-in-training would be far less heroic if he’d been known as “Onion Skywalker.”

*Title subject to change

Two weeks ago I brought up several stories which I call my favorites, and that naturally brought me to the idea of influence. You hear the phrases bandied about often by any creative types–“I consider such-and-such my greatest influence”, as in “As a composer, I find Mozart and John Williams to be my greatest influences” for an example, or directors cite earlier movies that formed their interest in the silver screen.

Certainly, as a writer, I count many, many authors and stories among my influences. All writers generally do–after all, that initial exposure to tales that transport us to other worlds or realities far from our own personal experiences engender the desire in some readers to craft our own. Fredrik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, John Haldeman, Doyle, Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare etc. all count high on my list of literary inspirations.

But… what about other influences, such as music? Take my first example, with music above. I frequently listen to music while writing, matching the mood/tone with whatever I am trying to write. Umbra (and all of its previous iterations) came flying from my fingertips with an ample dose of Alice in Chains, early Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden pounding in my ears. For my darker fantasy stories like “The Falconer and the Wolf“, one of my favorite bands to get me in the right atmosphere is Dead Can Dance. When sketching notes for The Light of Liberty, I turned to Barry Phillips and his version of “The World Turned Upside Down” along with other American Colonial period tunes.

Are there any more? Of course there are. Many people have incorporated their likes and hobbies into their writing. Some cozy mysteries, for example, are based around knitting. My character Ennid the Havoc and his escapades are influenced by my love of MMA (that’s Mixed Martial Arts for those not yet initiated into its primal awesomeness). My interest in genetics features heavily in Clones are People Two. Even if the things we like aren’t at the forfront, we sometimes insert it in small ways. I love goats (Casey, from Umbra), I think rhinos are awesome and I smith silver (both of which will appear in The Opal Necklace, release date TBD) and I’ve an interest in raptors and falconry.

It’s all very simple–EVERYTHING can be an influence on our creativity, and EVERYTHING should be. It’s from these somewhat disparate ideas and influences that some of our richest “juices” flow.

 

 

It’s FINISHED.  The Opal Necklace is finished.

That’s right, my NaNoWriMo torture time is finally over.  What I ended up with was one great big, steaming pile of verbal crap.  (See, Hemingway, you were right!)

Not literally, of course.  Not the ‘steaming part’, anyway.

However, this one is going to go simmer on the back burner in hopes that I can take the excrement and somehow magically convert it into a savory pot of tasty sauce. Or at least an edible one.

By ignoring the manuscript for, say, a month or two, I can come back to it with a fresh eye. I have my technical specialists who look over some of the aspects (thanks Dave and Greg!) but as for the entire thing, I need to step away from it and pretend I am reading it for the first time.

I’ve also been reading Syd Field’s books, in particular the one on Screenwriter Problem Solving.

Anyone who tells you that novels/plays/screenplays are different… well, they’re correct. They ARE different, but only in nuance. They should all convey the story by showing, not telling (c’mon, I know you’ve heard that one a thousand times before), and even the stage play benefits by minimizing the exposition and the talking heads* doing nothing but droning on alone or at one another. I think it was Blake Snyder of Save the Cat! fame who said if you have to have some exposition, at least bury it in the characters doing something exciting (paraphrasing here).

HOWEVER, saying that a novelist cannot benefit from research into how a screenplay is constructed would be the biggest crime of all. After all, screenplays are three-act structures and the same pacing of good films is really the target that I am aiming for. (I don’t particularly like to read rambling, whatever happens, happens kind of fiction, and I don’t like to write it either.)  Everything in the first two acts of the story builds up to the climax, contributing to the resolution and finale. I like to write out all of my scenes on index cards and “marry them” up with the points on Syd Field’s Paradigm. It’s a fantastic way to see where I might be spending too much time in the setup, for example, or rushing my ending in just a couple of pages. Last thing I need is my reader to go looking for missing pages at the end of the book because the conclusion felt so unsatisfyingly short. While I am not suggesting that all books should end up like ready-to-film, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the tension and conflict suggestions I’ve already found in Syd Field’s books.

 

*Someone I once knew happened to rape the whole graphic novel medium by having his characters do little more than talk to each other for the length of the comic, while lounging around.  Mediocre art aside, one particular excruciating page had 16 FACES of back and forth conversation depicting indiscernable facial expression changes, and just their heads. It is called a ‘graphic novel’ for a reason, for heaven’s sake!

Thank goodness that one is not indicative of all graphic novels.  There are quite a few which had no words at all, but the story couldn’t be more brilliantly clearer because the action in the artwork conveyed the entire thrust.  Talk about your “show, don’t tell”!

Yes, it’s true, apparently. Over at Authorgraph, readers can request an inscription and signature for their digital copies, and I am happy to provide the service for my readers.

In the middle of NaNoWriMo, I have chosen to forego some of my word count in favor of a vacation. True, I had planned to take a break way back in the distant past (July 2014. Ancient times, you know) but in choosing not to write as much as I normally do per day during this month, I have been able to let some of the ideas simmer. And like anyone who makes spaghetti sauce (or tomato gravy, if you happen to be from Philly), the more they simmer the thicker and tastier it gets. Unfortunately, instead of the ideas for my NaNoWriMo novel, I found some ideas for the sequel to Umbra worked their way into my brain. Can’t entirely fault it, but it’s just as well, since I had been deciding whether or not to restructure my schedule and do the sequel earlier in 2015. Now I’m actually pretty eager to let the ideas get out and play around on the page. So Shaw and Vera and the others may just be making appearances earlier than expected. Stay tuned.

The Opal Necklace

Anyone whose done any creative writing at all has most assuredly had the old “Show, don’t tell” beat into their skulls by well-meaning instructors.  Nothing wrong with the phrase, and, in fact, it works.  What they usually don’t extrapolate is the “How” part of that showing without simply telling.

I have discovered my method of “How” and it’s very simple.  I ask myself, about everything I describe, how does it make me feel?  (And by me I mean that I filter it first through me, then through the character whose point of view I’m using for the scene.)  Each of us has a plethora of experiences, and quite a few of us like to share these memories, good or bad, with one another.  Look at social media entries on sites like Facebook* -most everyone is more interested in telling us how they feel about something rather than exactly what occurred there: “Having a great time!”  Or the opposite – your car breaks down in a dark neighborhood.  It’s not just the broken streetlamps, or the sound of rats scurrying in the trash littering the alleyways.  These things help to build the tone, but its the reaction to them which holds power, especially in fiction.

Most of our most poignant memories elicit a memory of the FEELING of being in it, rather than a second-by-second replay of events.  The latter would be horrifyingly droll.  The former is what brings others into the moment.  We may not have exactly the same experience, but every human being on this planet shares the same set of emotions, whether they show it or not.  (Or misdirect it.  Some really creepy villains stem from those who absolutely LOVE things the rest of us find abhorrent, but to them it is love.)

This is insanely useful in fiction, as it brings the human element into what is essentially a foreign world (fantasy and science fiction are notorious for high-level play-by-plays of the scenes.)  It allows the reader to sense the world rather than reading what it’s all about.

For example:

The sun crested in the noonday sky, baking everything below.

Consul Norrus felt uncomfortable in his breastplate and leather armor, and cursed.

 

This one rates a “meh” on the description meter.  Barely.

But now I take it to a personal level:

 

Consul Norrus mopped at the sweat on his forehead and squinted at the scorching noonday sun.  His breastplate absorbed the heat, cooking him in the

ridiculous accoutrement his title forced him to wear, and he prayed some small crisis erupted requiring his presence erupted, preferably somewhere with plenty of shade.

 

Now I get a sense of not only of the heat of the day, of Norrus’ discomfort with the armor, but also his feelings about some of the necessities of his position.  This makes him a human –how many of us have been forced to wear something uncomfortable just to satisfy some obligation of our profession or duty?  This brings us closer to him as a person, either as someone we like (which I hope in this case you, dear Reader, will, as Consul Norrus will be showing up as a protagonist in The Opal Necklace) or someone you despise.

Of course, there are plenty of scenes in stories which have character, no point-of-view, right?  Wrong.  An omniscient narrator point-of-view falls very flat without a tone, without a reaction to the course of events they are narrating.  Otherwise, it’s once again just a narration, and probably worthy of setting the book aside.

I want to make my reader sense the scene rather than simply read it.

 

* Or don’t. I won’t necessarily advocate it, because I’m not a fan myself, but it has its uses.

 

 

Since the dawn of my cognizance, I’ve heard the phrase uttered over and over “write what you know”. (To be fair, I’ve read it often enough too.) I’m here to tell you today that if you write, don’t just write what you know. I doubt many people would want to read an chapter-long exposition on how to repair the air-conditioning and pressurization systems of Naval aircraft, with all the nuts and bolts (literally). Instead, I implore you to write what you love. That passion will sneak its way into your work, and the words on the page (electrons on the screen, if you’ve gone digital) exude it in visceral ways the reader unconsciously picks up on. Insert your own fears into your work, and the reader can’t help but feel that anxiety.

Anyone who has read my anthologies and my longer works may be able to pick up on things I’ve inserted because I love them, or am fascinated by them. Animals are a near constant, either as main characters, sidekicks, pets or just there as local flavor. Casey, K’zirra, the wolf, Sharza* and a few others. I am also intensely interested in classical Roman History, the ethics of cloning, eschatology, mixed martial arts and, of course, nearly anything post-apocalyptic. People who love these things may be attracted to my work, if not for the storyline (initially) then for the inclusion of those elements in fiction they love to see and read about. In that same vein, writing my own fears into my work us in some ways very cathartic, as I can help myself by using the process of figuring how the character is going to cope or overcome. (Dear Lord , are they ever so much more courageous than I am! But I’m glad I don’t have half the problems I throw at my poor characters.)

So, don’t worry about being a hack, don’t try to copy someone else’s style, don’t just write “what you know” or you’ll come out as a dreaded expositor. Write what you love and the passion will flow.

* Who is Sharza, you wonder? She’s in The Opal Necklace, a novel which should be complete and released sometime early next year. What is she? Well, you’ll have to wait and read.