Category: Writing

A Quick Writing Update

A Quick Writing Update

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So I haven’t blogged much lately, but I have been getting some stuff done. Christmas, mostly, but a little bit of writing and related activities as well.

I’ve done most of the pre-writing I want to do for Dreams of Freedom and expect to start writing it somewhere between now and Christmas. The story is taking shape pretty well in my head and I hope that’s a good thing. Previous experience with detailed plotting has had me lose interest pretty quickly once I start writing. I’m usually better off only plotting three or four chapters ahead at most. Trying things a little differently this time, so we’ll see how it works.

I might have mentioned “Klaatu Barada Nikto, Baby!” somewhere, probably on Twitter. It’s a long novelette (or possibly short novella) pulling several ancient SF clichés together with a character who can only speak in slightly mangled SF TV and movie quotes. This is from an idea I had at least five years ago, and even wrote a little bit of at the time. The story has shifted but character never went away and I feel like it’s finally time to tell Klaatu’s story. So far, I’m about 6600 words in and feel like I’m at the midpoint, but we all know how good I am at projecting story length lately.

A couple of years ago, I wrote Warforge: Caledonia, calling it a novel made up of three interlinked novellas. It was fun to write, had concepts and characters I enjoyed, and seemed pretty good at the time. I put it away for a couple of months after the first draft and didn’t like it when I pulled it out again. Fast forward a couple of years, and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought, but needs work. I spent a little bit of time untangling the novellas before reading through critically to make revision notes for each. As part of the process, I added notes at a high level to fill in what I perceived to be the missing bits. The project needs some significant changes and additions, totally 30-50,000 words at a guess. Which <counting on fingers> is going to put all three stories outside novella range and into short novel territory at 40-50k. And when do I plan on doing this? An excellent question. Yes, I’m crazy.

You might have heard me complain on Twitter that I was having trouble with a story I intended to submit to an anthology. Well, I didn’t submit it and not because the story didn’t turn out well (I think it did), but because I beat the high end of the submission guidelines by 2,000 words. Natural Order has gone through two more drafts, and is better for both, but still comes in at just over 6,800 words. Considering my rough estimate for the original story was for 3.5-4k, that’s still on the long side. And I didn’t submit it; not because it wasn’t done on time (it could have been, but I let things go when it became clear I had no possibility of coming in under the max word count), but because I couldn’t justify to myself even asking the editors if they’d still like to see it. “Hey, I know your guidelines say you’d like things around 3-3.5k and will look at things up to 5, but my story is so good you should give it the space you’re planning to devote to two other stories.” Sure, that’ll go over well.

Perhaps it’s a sign of encroaching middle age, but I’m finally committing to keyboard some of the philosophical thoughts I’ve slowly developed over the course of almost forty-two years on this planet. I don’t expect them all to remain static, but there are a lot of small points I seem to feel the need to make more concrete. The Book of Lance so far contains about 2,000 words worth of point form notes. Eventually, it will encompass 40-ish short chapters. I don’t intend it for public consumption, but who knows.

So that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks, aside from work, family, and getting Christmas organized (it’s a slam dunk this year, if I do say so myself).

Be well, everyone.

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Plotting a Novel, Roughly

Plotting a Novel, Roughly

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So I spent an hour and a half yesterday morning roughing out a novel. Well, two thirds of one, anyway. It’s a story that’s been nibbling at the back of my brain now and then for about a year now and I’ve been content to let it nibble for the most part, though I’ve drafted a couple of the early scenes just to keep it under control while I tried to accomplish other things.

That stopped working yesterday. My brain has begun demanding that I find some way to get this story into a more complete form and out of my skull. I thought maybe if I sketched out a few more scenes and a character or two, that might do it for now and I could put my energy back into my Green Man story (which, as previously discussed, I know there is no way it’s going to get short enough to meet the guidelines, but it’s still a good story so I want to finish it) where it belongs.

Yeah, right.

90 minutes later, I had most of the main character’s primary story arc laid out, along with some smaller arcs for the other critically important characters. Throw in a few notes on political and magic systems, and the general state of the world, and I’ve got the frame work for a novel I wasn’t intending to write until 2014. Yes, the Three Year Plan (TM) is sketched out to that level of detail—I know the next six novel-length stories I want to write, or thought I did. Actually, I think I know further out than that, but I’m trying to keep things flexible.

But the voices in my head rise and fall and Alishra’s is pretty loud right now. I’d planned a lot of polishing and editing for the remainder of this year with a couple of short stories tossed into the mix for fun.

And yet.

I may have mentioned I’ve been studying story structure lately. This is still true. The internet is a huge and wondrous place filled with myriad bits of differing advice on what makes a story work and how to write one. Most of those bits of advice tend to note that your mileage may vary and you should find what works for you. I’ve been picking and choosing the pieces that make sense to me. Perhaps this is an opportunity for an experiment in fiction writing.

This does relate. Here’s what I’ve decided:

The Three Year Plan (TM) does not need to be adjusted at this time.

Only two things are directly embedded in it for December:

  1. The selection of stories for the first issue of Small Realities.
  2. Pre-writing for Tashiik Dreams.

These can both still be accomplished. The first is picking 30-ish thousand words of my favourite stories while the second should be doable sometime in December considering how fast I did a bunch of pre-work on a different novel this morning.

Dreams of Freedom gets the creative pole position

But only until the end of the year. Yes, as of right now, that’s only another 33 days (counting today), but that’s 33 days to potentially produce some serious wordage. I’ve had a light writing year for a bunch of reasons, but I can let the story have its run through the keyboard for a month to see what happens. Experiment with some of those bits of advice that work for me.

December 31st, if the rest of Dreams of Freedom is still desperate to pour out of my skull, I can always alter the plan. Some alternate universe version of me may already have.

Be well, everyone.

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Green Man’s Revenge

Green Man’s Revenge

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So I’ve been working on a story for submission to the Urban Green Man anthology and I don’t think I’m going to make it for the November 30th deadline. Well, I’m going to have it finished, but it’s not going to work out. No, this isn’t me doing the editors’ job for them. If I can conform to the guidelines, I’ll send it, but…

The story is a good one, I think, the characters work, I’m hitting all of the points I wanted, and things are really coming together.

Yes, I left starting the story late, but that’s because I actually threw away three complete plots and tossed half a dozen more ideas for various reasons rather than writing the first thing that popped into my head. When the story I really want to write finally crystallized, I should still have had plenty of time.

Yes, I’ve actually missed a couple of days writing due to real world stuff going on lately and playing too much with my new website, but on the days I’ve worked on it, I’m averaging 750 words per day which isn’t a bad pace. If I were done the first draft right now, I’d have time for all of the editing and polishing I’d want to do—I have two days alone in the house before the deadline, but it would be nice to have the ‘fix what’s broken’ draft done by then so I could concentrate on spit and polish.

The problem is that I’m looking down the throat of the 5,000 word maximum allowed under the submission guidelines and I’m seeing the ¾ mark of the story. Things suck for the hero(s) and bad stuff is happening. The POV has what he needs, but hasn’t figured that out yet, and I have to crush his spirit just a little more before the big climax. It’s going to demolish the 6k barrier before I’m done.

Dude, you say, you only need to carve out a thousand words (or so) to squeak by. Yes, that’s true, or it would be if there weren’t notes sprinkled through the story that read something like {put this here} so I could fill in some details on the second draft. And I have layers to layer in so they’re not obvious. And then I have to erase my tracks and make it pretty. And then I have to read it out loud to make sure I haven’t missed anything stupid.

5,000 words? Not bloody likely. “With shorter stories preferred”? Yeah, I’m screwed.

But it’s a good story and I’m going to make it the best one I can, shooting for the deadline. If it’s not under budget, well, that’s okay. It’ll still be a good story.

For now, it’s well after midnight, but maybe I can squeeze a few more words in before the caffeine wears off.

Be well, everyone.

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It’s Always a Good Day to be Published

It’s Always a Good Day to be Published

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Whatever else might happen, it’s an awesome day when a contract shows up in your inbox because someone wants to publish one of your stories.

I’m not a big needer of public recognition (although it’s nice sometimes) and individual rejections don’t bother me all that much (although a big pile of them in a short period of time can be a little frustrating), but when a story comes back as one that someone actually likes enough to pay you for, that’s pretty cool.

“Mission Log, Day 67” will be appearing in the Kazka Press e-anthology At Year’s End: SFF Holiday Stories. My story is a short SF piece that I will not spoil here, but that I think works pretty well (and an editor agrees with me), and will appear in the collection with 20 other speculative fiction holiday pieces, all coming in at 500 words or less. At Year’s End will be released on December 9th, just in time for all of those year-end celebrations.

Now, I just have to convince a balky printer that it’s okay to let me have a hard copy of the contract.

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The Green Struggle

The Green Struggle

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“Carlos woke blindfolded, gagged, wrists and ankles wrapped in duct tape, and with the taste of dryer sheets in his mouth.”

It’s an awesome opening line, isn’t it? At least I think so, and I got a compliment on Twitter plus a DM that said it was attention getting. So yeah, it’s an awesome opening line.

The problem is that it leads into a story that’s going to be very linear and predictable if I write it as I’ve rough plotted it out. It’s supposed to be an idea for a story submission to the upcoming “Urban Green Man” anthology, but I’m not feeling a lot of originality in the story I’ve worked out.

My second attempt at a story for this anthology was going to be near future fantasy and include a robot and a swarm of invasive wasps. Has some promise, but the guidelines specifically say no SF, which doesn’t necessarily leave out the robot, but why take the chances. Never mind that I could see several ways to resolve the immediate problem without resorting to any fantastic elements, much less some version of the Green Man.

Read More Read More

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It’s Gotta Rock

It’s Gotta Rock

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So I’ve been watching a lot of lectures and presentations lately about the art of storytelling and story structure and creativity and, and, and… well, I’ve been watching a lot of lectures and presentations lately. Why? Well, I’m still thinking about rejection letters (see this post) and how, apparently, my stories are consistently well written, but I’m still missing something.

Watching all of this video, I’m frequently running into the Henry Miller quote, “You have to write a million words before you find your voice as a writer.” Because I’m a genre fiction writer, I also keep coming you to the David Gerrold version, “Your first million words are for practice. They don’t count. Remember that.”

A million words. Specifically, your first million, more or less, is what it will take to really learn the craft. Well, obsessed with numbers as I am, I have writing logs that go back to when I first started to get serious about writing, on 15 August 2007. Totalling things up and counting new words only, I broke the million barrier sometime in May of 2011. I say sometime as for a while, I didn’t count blogging as writing, so the number is a bit muddy. Regardless, I’m hovering around a million and a quarter right now, so I’ve apparently put in the work to get good at the craft of writing.

And I’d like to think that’s true. Aside from all of the “well written” rejection notices, I think my prose is pretty solid. I’m ruthless in chopping out unneeded words and careful at choosing the needed ones. I can set the scene and I engage more senses than just eyesight and I’ve gotten rid of ‘that’, dialogue tags, and most instances of the verb ‘to be’. Over the past five years, I think I’ve found my own voice in writing, and that’s a good thing.

But I’ve still got a lot to learn.

Sprinkled through those rejections are the occasional comments like “too linear”, “predictable”, “didn’t quite work for me”. Not all the time, but often enough that they’re worth looking at as a whole. And, looking carefully and critically at the stories they were applied to, and a number of others, sometimes I have to agree.

The conclusion: I’m not where I want to be as a storyteller yet.

Sometimes I am. Sometimes I really nail it and sometimes when I do, I can feel it before I’ve finished the first draft. Sometimes I have to beat the story into shape. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much beating and polishing and editing I do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well written it is. Sometimes the story just isn’t there or isn’t right.

That’s what I need to work on.

Consistency is key. So is hard work. I’m not afraid of the latter so I need to apply that fearlessness to the former.

I had a word count goal in mind for 2013. It was solid, and a good stretch, but not one I haven’t managed before, but I’m going to erase it from the 2013 Goals list and focus on stories rather than words. Each and every story I write, whatever the length, needs to absolutely rock.

That’s the goal.

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The Three Year Plan, Year One

The Three Year Plan, Year One

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So I’ve been scheming and plotting for a while, developing an approach to getting published. While I’ve mostly been leaning towards the indie publishing plan lately, I’m going to somewhat divide my efforts

The Year One Plan looks something like this:

Part 1: Short Fiction

Short story submissions will continue. Since the 1st of October this year, when I really started submitting again after a long drought, I’ve put 38 submissions in inboxes of various magazines and anthologies. I’ve so far had 8 rejections, three of which offered some specific reasoning, and the rest are outstanding. When a rejection comes back, the story gets added to the bottom of the list of things to go out (I haven’t caught up yet, and it’s going to be a while). My new motto: keep them out looking for homes.

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Rejection Letters

Rejection Letters

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So I’ve recently begun to submit my short stories again after a long period where, for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t. Some quick stats:

  • Since October 1st, I’ve put 36 stories in the e-mail to a variety of magazines and anthologies.
  • Eight of them have come back as a rejections already. I’m not alarmed; writers need a thick skin.
  • Three of those rejections were personalized and had the phrase “well written” somewhere in the text.
  • The other five were form letters.

Form letters don’t offend me. A lot of markets have an acceptance rate of far less than 1%. There’s only so much time in everyone’s day.

But I was curious about something, and went back through all of my rejections from the past couple of years. I have received 38 rejections with some variation of the phrase “well written” contained somewhere in them. Hmm.

Wait, half of them also either came right out and said “too long” or hinted at it obliquely.

These two facts together got me thinking.  I slipped into Google-fu mode and tried to figure out some numbers.  Spread across several dozen references, here’s what I found:

  • The recommended range for stories for print markets is 3000-3200 words, with 3500 quoted several times as an absolute maximum. Several sites recommended no more than 2500.
  • The average reader spends 7 minutes reading online, 20 minutes off line.
  • Average reading speed is 200 wpm.

So… 7 minutes = 1400 words and 20 minutes = 4000 words. Freely translated, for a story to be an easy to digest all at once chunk, if published online should probably be 1500 words or less, and if published in print should be no longer than 4000 words.

Now, based on guidelines, online genre fiction readers are a little more focused than average. After reading more than 100 sets of submission guidelines over the last month or so, it seems like most of them cap out at 5000 words. Even the places who will look at stories longer than that usually have a caveat built in somewhere that if it’s over 5k, it needs to be really, really good (i.e. you probably shouldn’t send it).

Again, hmm.

Some more stats:

  • If I include the Graceland stories, I have exactly 59 stories that ought to be out looking for homes. Yup, 59.
  • They range in length from 364 words to 17269, with the average being 4351.
  • 19 of them are over 5000.
  • 33 are over that 3500 “absolute maximum”.

So I have a whole lot of stories that are probably going to be tough to find homes for.

I firmly believe in letting the story be whatever length it needs to be, but it looks like a lot of the time they find their way over the length that publishers seem to want. What’s a short fiction writer to do?

Answer: figure out what the readers want and find a way to give it to them. Short fiction is on the rise. There are more places to send it than ever before and more ways to get it than ever before. People want to read short fiction. But there are also more people writing it than there have been for a long, long time.

Which means it’s time to put the finishing touches on the first draft of the Three Year Plan. Tune in tomorrow and I’ll talk about that in way too much detail.

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Instead of NaNoWriMo…BuWeSiMo

Instead of NaNoWriMo…BuWeSiMo

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So, for the second year in a row, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, and it has nothing to do with starting 4 days behind having been at World Fantasy, or how busy life is, or anything like that. Sometimes there are other fish to be fried.

In the case of the current November, I have exactly two writing things on my agenda. First, my submission for Urban Green Man which, regardless of the outcome, I have pre-ordered a copy, something I almost never do for anything, because it looks awesome. And if my story is awesome enough to be included then I’ll have two until I give one to someone as a gift.

Second, I have the skeleton of an idea that might work for an upcoming Crossed Genres theme, but I’m not going to say for which month, because I really don’t know if the story is going to work out for the theme, although that’s not really up to me to decide. The Crossed Genres editors are perfectly suited to making that decision without me. My job is to get the story done and submit it in the appropriate window.

So instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m doing BuWeSiMo—BUild my WEb SIte MOnth, or something like that. The point is that, by the end of the month, I will have an actual web site. What you’re reading this on is absolutely a web site, but it’s not my web site. It’s a domain pointing at a WordPress.com blog.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but to keep up with the Three-Year Plan (3YP), I need a lot more control and a lot greater ability to add and change things. I really like WordPress, but very soon it’s not going to be sufficient for my needs.

I’ll actually have web hosting and possibly even the initial framework of the website built by the time you read this, but I’m planning the need to fill in all of the holes, make sure it’s got the appropriate bells and whistles, and transfer over the relevant blog posts from Renaisance Ninja. I write relevant because I’m keeping Renaissance Ninja, but with the focus no longer including writing related things and broadening back to what it was intended to be: an eclectic collection of posts on my various interests and quest to experience new things.

For those of you doing Nano, especially the group who’s starting with a 4-day disadvantage due to World Fantasy, I wish you speedy fingers and a story that easily flows through them. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines.

Be well, everyone.

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Things I Brought Home from World Fantasy Convention 2012

Things I Brought Home from World Fantasy Convention 2012

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A list, if you hadn’t guessed.

1. Virtual friendships made real: I met quite a few people I’d only known on twitter up until this weekend. Uniformly an awesome group, I’m happy and better to have met them all.

2. More new friendships than I’m going to try counting. See point number 1, but also people that I met randomly or was introduced to by other people.

3. Tonnes of awesome experiences. In the bar, restaurants, panels, hallways. And all about the people.

4. Two (or maybe three) semi-crystallized ideas of potential novel scope and I don’t know how many short story possibilities, all rubbing up against each other inside my head.

5. Eight (8!) signatures in my contributor’s copy of Rigor Amortis. I am strangely, still inordinately pleased with “And Yet In Death”, my sonnet opening the book, even more so after one of the other authors, the awesome Renée Bennett, confessed to me that she’d nominated it for an Aurora. Stunned does not begin to describe my reaction to that compliment.

6. Signatures in both of my Sarantine Mosaic hardcovers by Guy Gavriel Kay (plus the memories of cornering him at the Tor party and keeping my inner fanboy under enough control that I didn’t gush too much).

7. This pile of (mostly) books:

Which includes two signed by authors whom I got to spend some time with while there, the awesome Tanya Gough and Amanda Sun.
8. 8.77 GB of uncompressed audio (14 hrs 50 min 22 sec = 16 panels).

9. A hippocampus, sketched in 7 minutes on the table of a Korean barbeque restaurant a few blocks from the con by the talented Rebecca Blain. She felt bad for me that I’d promised not to buy any art and resolved to make sure I had something to take home.


10. A hole in the wall of my shyness in unfamiliar group situations. People who know me will be surprised at that statement, and I’m fine once I get through the initial barrier, but going into an unfamiliar environment with a large group of people I don’t know and expect/hope to interact with makes me anxious and a bit withdrawn. I get through it, but it’s not easy. A little assistance there from Tanya, Stefon Mears, and Andy Taylor.

11. Some awesome conversations with Brian and Anita Hades (of Edge Publishing, Brian wearing the mantle of publisher and Anita being, at the very least, in the running for sweetest lady on the planet).

12. The desire to start it all over again.

Happy World Fantasy weekend, everyone.

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