Sunday, June 26, 2005

Long day

My mother died early this morning. By this afternoon Russ and I were heading to Omaha to pick up my sister and niece who flew in from Arizona. I hadn't seen my niece in a couple years, but I hadn't seen my sister in seventeen years.

We had a nice reunion and a pleasant ride back, and dropped them at my father's house about 11pm.

It's going to be a hard few days, of course. I'm exhausted already, and I have so much stuff that has to get done.

Beyond that, I haven't much else to talk about tonight. I'm working on the 2YN class stuff, though it won't be much. And I'm preparing to sleep tonight and maybe a good part of tomorrow. Sleep pas always been my way of dealing with stress, and it works well for me.

But like anyone facing this situation, I wish it had never happened, and I'll be glad to have it all past. I suspect it's going to be both a fast week... and a very slow one.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Submitting work

Remembering Atlantis
(Click for larger version)

One of the more difficult things I do each month is prepare two manuscripts for submission. Oh, sometimes I get more than two out, but two is the minimum and I've done this since... 1998, I think. Maybe before that, but I can't remember.

With all the material I have, you'd think it would be easy, right? But it isn't, and that's because I won't just jot something off and drop it in the mail (or email) as the case may be. I may write a lot each month, but I am a firm believer in letting material sit for at least a few weeks (and sometimes longer) before I even look at it to edit. The farther away from the story I can get, both in time and thought, the better the editing will go.

But okay, I do edit quite a bit, too.

So here's the next reason I get slowed up. I seriously consider where I'm submitting material. I try to find good matches, either in print or in epublishing. I don't want to burn out my chances at a publisher with a reputation as 'that person who sends us stuff every month, and it never fits our needs. And I also was taught not to compete with myself in the slush pile. Once a story is rejected, it's not going back to that market, so I try not to waste them.

And that brings me to the last week of June. I have two things in mind to get out, but one is not nearly ready, and I'm not sure I can do it in the last week. The other is a short story, and if I devote a couple days to it, I think I can get it done in time.

But I also have Vision due at the end of the month.

No choice on any of it, really. I suspect that it's time to look back through some older material that has been edited and give some of it a try elsewhere. Sometimes I just don't even consider that I have older material still. Bad zette.

That's what comes of being prolific and so enjoying each new story or novel. I move on, and sometimes forget to look back. I think this week is the time to do so!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Work, work, work....

I've started to feel like these guys (Cairo Spiny Mice, by the way). Go and go and then... thunk.

Been a busy few days! Russ will be back home around midnight tonight. I've actually gotten a lot of things done for a change! The house didn't need as much work as usual, so I've concentrated on the work side of things. Vision is half way there already (yeah, some of you can fall over in a faint now -- it's not the last two days before it's due to go up!), and I did a considerable amount of work on DTF material in the last few days.

I have a list with seventeen things on it for today -- and no, this is not one of them. The first four should go easily. The next four will be more difficult, and the rest of the list is mostly stuff that I didn't do yesterday or the day before because I keep getting to the DTF stuff, and it's time consuming and difficult and takes most of my day.

But it may be better today. I did a good part of the work last night.

That reminds me of something else. I was in the Writing Only chat the other night and someone mentioned that they had just accidentally written an entire section of their novel in first person. I know that problem! It comes from getting too close to your characters. Well, not really too close -- the more you can identify with what your characters are doing and how they are reacting, the better the story. But there is a point where it can interfere with the story -- that point where you stop writing 'Mary had seen enough of the museum and wanted to go sit in the park for a while' and write 'I had seen enough of the museum (etc)' instead.

I've had first draft novels and some times even short stories, that slip in and out of first and third POV at any given time. I've gone back to the edit phase and realized what I'd done. Sometimes it's a bitch to straighten them out. Sometimes it's even more difficult when I can't quite decide which way is better.

But here's the thing: When you're a new writer you often think that first person is the better way to write. It's the more intimate relationship with the MC, and many people find it just easier to write in first person. Third takes a lot more work because the author's view is so much wider.

And that should give you a hint, really. Seriously writing isn't about what's easier. Third is sometimes the far better POV because sometimes a story is stronger for it. First person is a very limited, egotistical POV. You cannot move outside the view of the MC, and that means everything the MC sees and does has to be incredibly important. In first person the author also tends to invest more of himself into the writing, and that can lead to rote stories with the same character in different circumstances.

In third person we start learning that there is more to the world than 'I and me.' In third person you can introduce things that the MC wouldn't know directly about and use that to build tension. You can show other people and other places, and suddenly the novel that was dying down because the MC can't know the other things, and so the reader can't, is suddenly alive with possibilities.

I've read a few books that alternate first person and third person POV chapters. It's a difficult blend, but it can be done quite well. However, if you are one of those people who have never written anything outside of first person or third person, then write some shorter pieces with one or the other before you leap into something as dramatic and difficult as a novel using both.

First person is an excellent POV for many stories. But don't get stuck in a rut and never move out of it. Your stories will be better if you push yourself to do what's interesting, rather than just what comes easy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Other things

Is this fun or what?

I received a copy of the British magazine where my article on short story writing was published. Yay! It's kind of interesting to get something like that in the mail. They did a wonderful job of it! This is a reprint from Vision -- they found the article and sought me out for publishing it.

Oh, and the one thing I forgot to mention the other day was that I am also writing a chapter for "Fantasy Writing: The Business End of Things." I'm going to be doing the chapter on projects. I wonder how they thought of me for such a thing. (Laughs)

Over the years I've talked to many people at FM about how people learn to do things in different ways, and especially how this applies to writers. Sometimes even different genres require new approaches. Last night a group of us were discussing putting stories together. Some people are interested in the where and why of a story while others start out with the who part. Like everything else in writing, if the work is done well the reader isn't going to care how you got there.

Sometimes showing what you do and how you created your story can help others. However, sometimes what's new and exciting to you either is so esoteric that the others can't get it (I tried explaining 'phase outlines for a long time before the article I wrote) or is so common that many of the writers have already tried it and either work that way already or moved on. I've run across both ways at one time or another with all the articles I've written. Some things help and others don't, and you rarely know which you have until you try it.

There are many writers who are anxious to learn new things -- as long as you aren't rude or condescending toward them. Even a new writer can tell when he's being insulted for 'not getting it.' Not all people are able to offer help to others, even if they are good writers. It's a mind set difference. I've known many people who just don't have the patience to work with others and are not good at explaining their writing process no matter how hard they try.

I don't have all the answers. I hope that I never really do, because I love trying new things and new ways to work and seeing if they meld into my own style. I also enjoy talking to other writers about how they work -- as long as they're polite.

In other news....

Russ leaves on a business trip tomorrow afternoon. Because I am still having trouble with my leg, I'm going to find a non-house related project to take my interest for a few days. I think it's going to involved (shudder) trying to scan and catalogue thousands of pictures from my pre-digital days. Come to think of it, I might as well do the digital cataloguing, too. Part of this to help with three unrelated projects -- some web site work I want to do, pictures for worldbuilding with a new novel I'm going to write set in the Rocky Mountains, and some pictures for Russ's job.

I'm not sure I'll actually do it. Or start it. It would mean pulling out huge big plastic crates of pictures, and I might not be up to that. On the other hand... I probably couldn't even get the notebooks full of slides scanned in during that short of time, so I may not have to worry about the rest.

I need either a pre-made catalogue program or to work something up with Access. If I do Access, chances are I wouldn't even have that much done before Russ is back on Sunday. And no, I don't HAVE to have it done that soon, I'm just trying to give myself a goal to get a lot done on the project.

You know, there might be an Access template I can already use, either with the program or online. I'll have to check that out....

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Did I mention..... (All about me!)

Did I mention that the second little chapbook of short stories is out from Yard Dog Press? It came out at ConQuesT, which was a lot of fun for me. Sold quite a few copies there, too. This is Star Bound, and includes three stories: Lucky (previously published at Ideomancer), Three Fragments of a Broken Life (some will remember this from FM), and Finding the Girl in the Robe. These are all sf. The first chapbook from Yard Dog Press was Honor Bound, which had two longer stories -- For the Honor of the Hunt and Playing with Fire. Both of those were also SF.

These books are mostly available at conventions and from their website. Yard Dog Press is probably about the most fun a person can have in publishing. Just spending time with the Yard Dog Press people, and their fearless (boy isn't that true!) leader, Selina Rosen is wonderful. I will have a half a Double Dog (Think the old Ace Double novels, only in trade paperback size) later this year or early next year. That one will be -- I hope -- Farstep Station. I'm still waiting for word on it. Selina (like just about everyone else in the world right now) is behind on things.

I had the edits arrive for my short story in an upcoming issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. The changes were deleting some m-dashes and changing a pronoun to a name for clarity. That was it.

Another of my zoo pictures is going to see print -- this time a picture of a soft-backed nile turtle in a religious magazine. One of my Francois Langur pictures made it into the Kansas City Zoo newsletter.

One of my Vision articles is being printed in a British magazine.

In the writing side of things:

I have about 150 pages left to edit on Glory. I'll be done with it soon. I am starting to work up the notes for the cover letter and synopsis. I think I'll have the entire package out before the end of the month, but it's not entirely certain.

I also have the rest of Ada Nish Pura to finish rewriting. And I will get to it and put it back out again. It's a good book -- just not of the type that Aio now wants to print.

I have Silky 2 to complete in the novels, as well as Serendipity Blues. I had to put SB aside when Ada took so much of my time, but now I feel that I can get back to it. I also have all the notes for the fantasy book that I need to rework into something coherent. I think this might be my NaNo project, but I'm not really certain yet. It might be too complex for something like NaNo.

I have written 12 short stories and two novels this year, with Silky, Ada and Serendipity to finish. I've also written at least six articles.

I'm about to put out the third issue of Vision for this year, and DTF has released the first two books, with many more in line to go out. I'm putting together (ah, more editing!) the first Illuminated Manuscripts collection for DTF as well and I'm getting some nice submissions for the second collection. I hope to do two a year.

My big writing plans for the rest of June is to get a submission package off for Glory and maybe one for Muse as well. I also want to finish Silky 2 and start Silky 3. Both of them will be very short, so I'm not worried about getting them done.

I've had seven sales so far this year, three rejections and a couple pieces still out and waiting. word count for the year so far is a little over 350,000 words.

And I think that's about all the 'zette' news for this half a year!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Another character -- Skye from Mirrors

Part of what I've been blogging about the last few times was inspired by a series of posts in which a newcomer to FM implied that becoming more efficient writers would automatically lead to becoming better writers. When we pointed out that this wasn't always true, he claimed that changing work habits for the better is an idea foreign to writers. I think he wasn't ready for the idea that writers are individuals with very strong ideas about their work -- or that many of the people he was speaking with were published authors. If he had been around other writer's websites, this isn't generally as common as it is at FM. Perhaps he even associated any writers' site with the idea that the people there have not succeeded at their work, rather than being a site of writers helping writers.

I'm not sure how often he's had contact with other writers. Here I am, about nine years into Forward Motion, a year and half into the two year novel course for over 100 people -- and I know what writers at all stages of their careers are like. Or rather 'not like' because there is no norm. I think now he has changed much of that attitude and that probably came from not having such direct contact with so many writers and learning that they really are a very diverse crowd with different needs and different approaches to writing.

Here's the thing: What he has found appears to be working very well for him, at least as far as production of stories is concerned. Some others might even do well to adopt something along this line. It would not, however, work for everyone because all writers are different -- and that is not an excuse to ignore different approaches. It is a statement that says not all writers will benefit from forcing themselves to work in a certain way. We are not all the same writer, and I wouldn't expect him to work well with my methods, either.

That lack of direct knowledge about writers is the way it used to be. There was no Internet and very few areas where a writer could connect with another on a really personal basis. You might have been able to read a few magazines or pick up some how-to books, but talking with writers in a personal one-on-one basis and learning how they actually work was nearly impossible.

So maybe, along with all the other things that places like FM offer, there is the important underlying fact that writers get to learn that there is no one true way. They can learn that 'all writers are different' isn't an excuse, but a truth and what suits me is not going to work anyone else. No one else has the work I do, and more importantly to all writers -- no one else has my imagination. My ability to tell stories, for good or bad, is distinctly my own. How I tell stories is not just the words I use, or the fact that I sit in this chair and type. It is my approach to stories, the themes I bring to them, and even the mood that I'm in when I work.

In the last two years I've had to drastically reinvent the way in which I work, mostly because I don't have the time that I used to. I don't want to lose the amount of productivity I've had because that has worked well for me in both creation of material and editing and sales. But I do have other projects that I need to take care of -- FM, Estand, DTF, Vision, and the 2YN classes. And add to that the digital art stuff that I'm just learning and love, and you have a lot of stuff just on the computer. I also have my photography and there's things around the house that I had to do, no matter how much I would like to ignore them. And web sites for the county and for various writer-friends.

Efficiency for me, as a writer, would be to drop all the projects that I do for free to help other writers -- which would be pretty much everything, when you look at it. I'd have a lot more time to write and edit. I'm not sure I'd be very happy with it, though.

I don't get paid for the work I do at FM, Estand, Vision or 2YN. I will get some pay for the DTF stuff, but it's based on sales of books that DTF puts out, and that means getting my act together and working on that damned marketing plan again... which means less time for writing.

Now, everyone who knows me knows that I love to write. There is nothing I would rather do more, and when I can't get to writing I get annoyed. Sometimes I even leave work that needs to be done for one of the other areas in order to get some writing done. It's a bad way to be. I shouldn't let any of it get away from me.

But you know what? I still spent last night working on Silky 2 rather than editing Vision articles or putting up new pages for Estand. Or doing any of the myriad of things I need to get done for DTF and FM. I did it because it was already 1am on Monday morning and I'd already worked on other things for this weekend. Silky 2 called to me.

And that's how I work. I'm not efficient, but I get a lot done eventually. Today I'll be working on Vision stuff and then back to writing again. I'll come up with ideas as soon as I go to bed and grab my IPAQ to jot them down. I'll work on art because it's fun, even though there is nothing I'll really do with it, except look at some of my characters and see a little more in them than I did before.

But mostly, I'll learn new things that work for me.

And that's how it will always be for writers, whether we have groups hanging out together or we're alone with our computers. There is no one true way, but there sure are a lot of other ways to try until you find what works for you!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Writing, editing, revising and wannabe...


I have always found the way in which writers work to be fascinating. That's probably why I now have Forward Motion. I read blogs by both published and unpublished writers, and I've learned things about writing in many of them.

The most important fact though, is this one: How people work at making their stories publishable will have absolutely no affect on how an outsider views the finished work. A reader (either looking at a magazine or looking at a submission pile) isn't going to care if a writer took one pass to make the story as good as it could be, or if he took a year writing and rewriting it. All that matters is the story that they read, not how it got there.

And here are my own views, learned through years at FM, as an editor of Vision and now as a publisher for DTF.

How any writer works is no concern of anyone else. There is no such thing as wasteful or efficient in writing (or any other art) because creativity cannot -- and should not -- be regulated by to some business practice that makes the office worker type better. In writing the only concern is the end product and how good it is -- and how close it comes to what the writer wanted it to be. How you got there is not going to affect me or any other writer. If 'efficient' is the most important aspect of writing for you, then you will work in that direction. If freedom to be creative and experiment is more so, then you'll work in ways that allow you to try different things without worrying if it is a waste of time.

Some people can learn from others and not make the same mistakes as those other authors did. There is no reason to recreate the wheel if the knowledge of how to make it roll is only a few clicks of a mouse away. As a publisher (part of my every day work), I am not happy seeing people make the same stupid mistakes that they could easily avoid if they just took the time to (1)edit or (2) make at least a cursory study of writing from people who know what they're talking about. There are plenty of published people out there on the Internet who are willing to share everything from basics of formatting to the more esoteric levels of story creation. If a person is willing to listen -- and not to assume that one thing will work for everyone -- then they can learn how different writers work. Sometimes even a small piece of advice can help even if you don't agree with most of what the author says.

Telling new writers that listening to the voice in their head tell the story is all they need to do to write well is not helpful. Learning to write careful prose, to create believable and entertaining conflict, and how to weave this all together with characters and plot is part of the learning process and not a sudden ability. Those voices of characters in a writer's head are not some outside force dictating a story: those voices are the accumulation of writing knowledge, and they vary in their ability to create a really good story based on what the writer has already learned.

So new writers shouldn't just listen to the voices in their heads. Those voices are untrained. A new writer needs to take those 'voices' by the hand and show them the way through plotting a story. Eventually it may come naturally -- I certainly sit down and write many short stories in one sitting by just letting the story flow from head to fingers -- but it is not something I could do even ten years ago.

And in the same vein let's look at the term 'wannabe.' Once again I've seen the 'get over it' statement about people who don't like the term 'wannabe.' But here's my observation on the use of it: I think some people cling to the term because it is an excuse to fail. If you are a wannabe writer than you can just shrug off anything that suggests you might not have all the answers and could learn a few things still.

At FM we have a different view of the term wannabe, though we do not require that everyone at FM use the term in this way (any more than we require anything else from members, other than to be polite and follow the site's few rules). At FM we have found what works for most of us -- and this is how you will often see wannabe used on the boards. Our definition doesn't have to do with fragile egos or anything like that -- it has to do with defining steps you can take as a brand new, never finished anything, writer.

Rejections are not the sign of a wannabe writer. They are the sign of someone who has made the step toward publication that a majority of new writers never make because they never submit material. Wannabe, in the idiom of FM, is someone who tells you all about the story they're going to write someday, and whom continues to tell you about it every time you meet without ever sitting down and do the work. Those are true wannabe writers -- the posers who never write a story.

Writers write. That's one of FM's mottos. It does not make you a published writer -- but you cannot be the second without taking that first true step and write your stories. If you sit down, write a story, edit it to be the best you possibly can, and submit it, then you are not doing anything terribly different from what the published author does. The only difference is that you may not have found your market yet, or you may not have yet refined your talent as much as you can. The wannabe writer (in FM terms) is the one who talks about writing but doesn't do the walk.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

How We Work

Cat Fisher

I don't know a single writer who is so set in her ways that she will never try anything different. This is especially true when an author starts out on a new project that is unlike most of what she may have already written.

A couple years ago I wrote a book called Muse. It is a comedic mystery novel, and this presented problems for my less than logical brain processes. I had to work out the clues, the answers, the steps... not just an outline of events, which I often do, but a new approach to the 'why' questions of the book. The hows, and wheres, and what really happened....

I think I did a good job. The book has only been out once in submission (my bad) and I was told that the writing was excellent but the start too slow. I've been editing that opening again and trying to interject a little more excitement into those few moments when my MC realizes he's stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dead car and a massive storm blowing in around him.

I had never written anything like Muse before. I hope to write more like it again.

But (getting back to the topic at hand) it was not at all like writing, say, Glory. Glory is a near future, post apocalyptic fantasy novel. It's almost the world as we know it. You can recognize our world, but things have changed. The events are straightforward, the enemy clear from the opening. Different approach. Far different work in research.

There is more to writing than sitting down and doing the writing itself. We all know it. Ideas, approach, research, editing, market research, editing some more...

I think this is one of the great things about writing, in fact. There is no 'sameness' to it. What I do today is not the same as what I will do tomorrow.

It's a great life!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Learning to write and edit

Practice. Improvement. Sometimes the combination of the two lead to sudden realizations and changes in how you work. Sometimes they lead to small changes and improvements within a way that has already worked well for you. Large changes in how a person approaches a story is not necessarily a sign of improvement in the story writing itself, though.

I have rarely met anyone who can write a perfect first draft, and those who believed they did were often very sadly mistaken. I'm not saying it can't be done, though. There are a few -- very few -- writers blessed with that clarity of vision. Most, however, know that they're not perfect and accept that editing is a wonderful tool for writers and allows them to come closer to their vision.

Editing can be overdone. It can be used as an excuse not to finish material and to submit it. Or it can be used to make something so 'correct' that it blots out the unique aspects of the story.

I know more writers than I know any other 'type' of people, both on-line and off. My world is filled with writers, including my husband who makes a hell of a lot more money at nonfiction writing than I do writing fiction. I communicate with writers every day.

'All writers are different.' It was suggested, recently, that this is an excuse (apparently not to work efficiently), not a statement of fact. But I know writers and they are as diverse a group as anyone could find, and the ways in which they work prove it. There is a reason why there are not assembly lines for writers.

We are -- like most artists -- individuals who seek and find our creativity in our own way. If we all took the same path it might be a lot easier -- but also, I think, the output would be pretty boring. There would be a sameness to it. Even within a single writer's process there is usually changes between different types of stories. Creativity isn't just a thought process, but also an approach to the subject. Everything that a writer does, from music he listens to (if he does) to where he prefers to write affects the material. How we envision the story and how we write it also unique and adds to the material.

How we work reflects our creative process, and makes it apparent that not all artists create in the same way.

There is no one way. There is no one answer on how to get published.

I have been told that this belief is arrogance. It is the basis on which FM works, however, and has for nearly ten years. 'This has worked for me and it might help you' might as well be our motto, along with 'There is no one way.'

If someone tries to tell you, the writer, that you have to approach your work in a certain way, have to write 'just so' or any other 'my way or not at all' ideas, laugh at them. Really. They have no idea what they're talking about. Chances are they really don't even mean what they're saying, or they have never worked with other authors at all. Try out their method if it seems to make any sense. Trying new ways to work can bring some interesting and enlightening insights into how your mind reacts. It doesn't matter if the person is published or not.

Just remember two things:

Not everyone can work in the same way and if something doesn't work for you, it doesn't matter who presented it -- published author or not.

And don't lie to yourself about what you're doing. Don't suddenly pretend that you are writing near perfect first drafts just because it will be less work for you. If the story is worth writing, than it is worth making certain it's right. That will often include editing. That's all right. Editing is part of the writer's tool kit, and throwing it aside is not a good answer.

When you reach perfection by all means, write one draft and send it off. You might be right.

The rest of us will believe that we're not perfect and try to improve our work instead.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Good Writing Day in an Odd Way

Turtles at Squaw Creek Wildlife Refuge

There are days I love being a writer!

Today did not look like one of them when it started out. Part of that was the rush to get Russ out the door to catch his plane. He should be in Atlanta now. I'm waiting on email, but I suspect I won't get any until tomorrow. He'll be home on Sunday.

After he left about 1pm, I started wandering around the house, picking things up, thinking about the fact that I did my last short story on Tuesday and here it is the first of the month, and I don't have a clue what I want to write.

I worked on some nice Bryce/Daz picture stuff. I cleaned more of the house. I brushed cats and did dishes.

And I finally I thought I ought to pull out the notes for a new book I am thinking about writing. Some nice free form note taking about some ideas....


I get a great set of ideas, and now I have this major wonderful plan for what I want to do with all these odd world building and character notes. It's going to take me quite a bit of world building still, though. Tons of it. And I am looking forward to it, too. But then I always do.

I've decided (just now) that I'm on my own little writer's retreat. I'll read writing books and articles, work on my worldbuilding and character development, and begin working out the plot. It's going to take more than five days (four now) to get this one all worked out, but when I do....

I'm looking up at the writing books and trying to decide which one would be the best to start with. Oh! The Writer's Journey (Vogel). It deals with the entire mythic structure, and that's just exactly what this book covers and what it will need. Excellent. I haven't found a good use for that book until now, even though I have found it fascinating. And it works right into my notes on circles.

So, in a little while I'll take my book and my Pocket PC off to bed and look at some structure notes, character archetypes, and you know... that plot stuff.

I may use my Access database for this book. It'll give me a chance to test it out and see what needs to be fixed on it. I haven't looked at it for a couple years now. If I get the database kinks all worked out I might even offer it at FM.

Ack. I'm suddenly tired. Wavering. I think I'll skip taking everything in with me tonight. Just the PPC for notes. I need some sleep.

Twelve stories. Twelve bits of myth as well? Maybe so.

But right now I think about twelve hours of sleep. I'm not kidding. I'm not usually this tired, but it's been a busy few days.