Monday, February 25, 2013

All Writers Welcome Here

I saw some really troubling things said about writing on Twitter recently(wow, what a shock)and while I won't address each situation, I will say there was such a tone of elitist entitlement in the conversations (besides contradictions just to disagree with someone else) that I had to go over everything several times just to try and figure out what might be real and what might be nothing more that an attempt to rule the roost.

Who should want help with their writing? Who deserves the help? I have seen many writers start in fanfiction and move on to their own work, as well as some who stay in fanfiction and are perfectly happy there. I have seen many writers who say they only write for themselves and would never show their work to anyone else, but who still want to write well. Some of those went on to be published eventually. (We don't post fanfiction on Forward Motion but many of the members still write some. FM is just focused on publication.)

Learning to write well, for whatever reason, is never a bad idea. It might lead to better sells for published authors. It might lead to satisfaction in your work and better writing in other aspects of life. It might just be fun.

There's a lot to be said in having fun and learning things simply for the joy of learning them. I read more nonfiction than I read of fiction most years, and not simply for research. Learning to write better is not something only for professionals. Even if you are writing for yourself, shouldn't you want to write the material well?

Emily Dickinson didn't write for publication. She wrote for herself and only a handful of her wonderful poem were published during her lifetime. J.K. Rowling originally created her wonderfully inventive and fun stories simply to entertain her daughter. Should you cut them out of the list of serious writers because they originally didn't intend to publish?

Were people who wrote before the printing press, and maybe were not even published until after they died, not serious just because they kept journals and diaries for themselves? Would someone who wrote cute stories for her children not be a serious writer because she had no intention of sharing beyond that group? And of course, she should never worry about writing well, right?

Because if you are writing to please only yourself, you are never going to write well -- at least that seems to be an idea floating around. No one ever improved simply because they wanted to do their best for their own reasons.

Make certain the story pleases you before you present it to others? Apparently that's a bad idea, too, according to some people. You should only concern yourself with the reader. However, you don't know the reader, do you? You can't imagine what that person likes, unless (here is the trick people) you write for people who like the same sort of things you do. In this case, you had better make certain that story does entertain you first, right? Oh sure, you can try to write for markets that you don't enjoy reading, and you might even get away with it once or twice -- but it shows in the writing when you are not enjoying what you write.

So what about passion? What about emotion? Writing some nonfiction requires you keep an even hand and not bring your own bias to the work.

However, that's not true of fiction writing. Writing fiction without emotion makes dull work. If you cannot bring your own passion to your characters, you can't expect them to be more than . . . well words on a page.

I am still learning to write well. I will be seeking out answers all the rest of my life because I am never going to assume I know everything and I have found the one true way. I will work with all kinds of authors and hope to both learn from some and teach others, helping anyone who wants to do better. 
Have fun.  Enjoy what you are doing.  Your readers will love you for it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Flash Friday # 31 -- By the Sea

By the Sea

Each morning I swim to the edge of the sea and watch the ruins. I don't know why the compulsion brings me here, so far from my own people. It is a curse, I'm sure. Some have started to shun me, saying I am reverting, and will have no place among them. I don't believe I'll change. I love the sea and the endless shoals. I love my world and my freedom. But I still come here to watch. I don't know what I expect to see in the world so long deserted and crumbling into dust. Perhaps I only want to understand.

As I glide up along the surf, I often dare myself to walk out on the land, where my ancestors once walked. I cannot make myself leave the edge of the sea though. My skin dries and feels tight as I stay in the bright sunlight while the waves receded with the tide. I often grow lethargic in the heat -- but still I stay and watch.

I was there to watch when they came back. I was there to greet them, and warn them.

The ship had been to the stars and back, this huge and fire-breathing, dragon filling the world with thunder. Walls tumbled before it landed out on a strip of land where metal towers had long since rusted away. I watched, transfixed by something out of our myths. I had never believed in the star ships. The fish darted away, heading back out to sea, frightened by the sudden roar.

But not me.

I swam closer.

By the time I arrived they were out of their ship. I could hear the voices, the words fast and quick. We rarely use language in the sea. My head ached listening and I could only make out a few of the words. They were agitated and afraid; this was not the world they had thought to come back to.

Homo sapien Erectus had once ruled the land. I watched fossils come to life and ancient history unfolding in the light of day.

And I am Homo Sapien Aquatus of the people who returned to the sea, and survived, while those on the land did not. We lost much in our trade for life. Written language is confined to a few text carved in stone or inlaid with pearl. We speak with our hands, movement and touch and more subtly with our eyes. As I watched the ancient ones walk towards the sea, I saw there was no subtlety in them. They moved like animals across the shore; anger in their walk and fear in their voices. And that, I remembered now, had always been their worst sins. Combined, it had made them crazed and had almost destroyed their world.

Ah, but these people didn’t' know what had happened. These people only saw that everything gone. They would, I imagined, blame others. We share that much in common, for my people are apt to blame any catastrophe on some outside force. We are perfect, of course.

As they were.

I had thought to go to these people, to try and tell the tale of what had happened and give them answers to their loss. I wanted to show there were humans still here....

But the more I watched, the more certain I became that we were not brothers. I would never live on land and leave in the ship and they would never come to my city in the sea and swim with the dolphins in the wide ocean.

I could have walked from the ocean and greeted them. I retreated instead.

Perhaps I am a fool, but I remember too much of history, passed down from one teacher to another. My people are not perfect and I make no such claims for them -- but we never poisoned our own world, nor warred with each other for so long and so hard that all fell and no one could win.

I wished them to go away. I wished them to leave the earth to those of us who have come to love the world.

I swam away, and didn't look back.

But no matter. They never left. Others have come as well, ship after ship from some far place. I think they have a larger craft in the stars above us, and I fear to know how many more might yet arrive.

They build. They carry stone from one place to another, and they build walls, within which they erect their buildings. This, I know, is a sign of defense, and I fear to find out with whom they might think they are at war.

Were there others coming? Or were they just land-humans, and afraid in a world that was not quite right? I didn't come often to watch in those first few months. I would sometimes venture close to see how they were doing, and if their enemy had arrived. I suspect the land dwellers don't know we exist. I found this comforting. They were fierce and they fought even among themselves, voices rising in anger to fill the sky and send the birds fleeing to far trees.

However, the years went by, and their city grew -- and by the old god whom they still prayed to, the place was lovely this place of stone and bricks, glass and flowers. My people still fear them, and only a few of the young ones dare come close to see the marvel. But I come and watch -- and one day I will be brave enough to stand upon the shore and go to them. I have decided perhaps we are brothers after all.

And what have we to fear? After all, they would not let history repeat itself, would they?

The End
969 words
Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Talking about critique groups

(Also posted on LibraryThing)

Here is one big, important part that authors have to remember about posting material for crique:  If you are still pursuing a traditional publication path, do no put your stories up on open sites.  This is considered using the first publication rights by many mainstream magazine and book publishers. 

If the stories are not open to just anyone who happens along -- in other words, you have to register and sign in, then you are (usually) fine.  The work has not been presented to the general public.  This is true also of posting on blogs, etc.  Any time you put your work up where the general public can read it, you run the risk of later facing the first publication rights problem.  For people following an Indie Author path, this isn't a problem.  Indie authors don't have to run their work past groups of people looking for reasons they shouldn't publish it. 

On the site I own (Forward Motion for Writers ) we have a second level of sign in for the private critique groups.  This means you not only have to be a member for Forward Motion, but you also have to ask for a secondary access to the private groups. 

How helpful are they?  It entirely depends on the people involved and what you are looking for.  Sometimes it helps to specifically say "I want to know if X works" so that the critiquer is on the lookout for that problem.  People getting critiques need to be aware that just because someone gives you a crit of the work that doesn't mean they really know what they're doing.  Always beware of the single critique who tells you to make drastic changes.  In those cases, be sure you get a second and third opinion, and even then weigh the changes against what it is you want from the story. 

When writers give critiques of other writers, they run the risk of drifting into 'I would have told the story this way' reviews without even fully realizing what they are doing.  These can be the most difficult ones because they are reworking your story to match what they want. 

You are generally pretty safe with grammar and spelling corrections, though this brings up yet another problem.  Never post a first draft to be critiqued.  Always go through and make all the corrections you can find first.  Let it sit for a few days (at the very least) before you look the story over.  I know you're anxious to share the wonderfulness of your writing, but posting uncorrected first drafts makes you look like an idiot when people find simple things you could have corrected yourself.  You are also running a risk of turning away potential later critiquers and even possible fans.   Remember that people are going to talk about your work, for good or bad, to others.  Do your best to present a good manuscript, even when you are asking for help.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Flash Friday # 30: The Ride Home

The Ride Home

    The horse plodded through red dust, a dozen sheep bleating in protest as I herded them down the hillside to the lowland grass. I never knew -- no one did -- what drove crazy sheep to climb the steep hills upward to where the air was too thin.
But up I had gone, me and the horse, to find the crazy animals. Sheep at least tended to stand together and I found them all in a hollow where the air had settled a little thicker. Their coats were almost glowing red with dust and it was going to be a ten day or more before I got them cleaned, or else sell the wool at a loss. No one around here wanted more red clothing.

The sheep were happy to be going home, though, so we made good time down the steep path, Ryder sure-footed despite the loose rock. We'd had to go this way more than once. I was going to have to rebuild the sheep wall and hope we didn't get another quake any time soon.

Before long my gauge gave a satisfying beep and I took off my airmask and eased Ryder's harness mask back down again. He gave a snort of appreciation. The sheep had stopped bleating and rushed forward having spotted spots of green not far away. I pushed them away from the newer grass just getting a foothold on the higher level of ground. They protested but Ryder knew the work as well as I did, and down we went, the sheep starting to pick up speed again as they scented home. I could see the blue glint of Aonia Lake glittering ahead while across the horizon darkness fell and stars began to gleam.

Something moved at the corner of my eye and I turned in the saddle, pulling back on the reins. And there I saw something very rare: Another rider stood on a hilltop clear across the chasm between us. I'd only seen another rider once before in my life. I stopped and stared and I thought he must have also, from the way they'd paused there. I pulled my laser pistol and shot a short blue burst up into the darkening sky: The salute as old as the settlements. Hello stranger. I see you.

A moment later the rider returned the symbolic greeting before horse and rider disappeared back over the ridge.

I rode down into the Aonia back lands with the increasingly grassy knolls and watched as Phobos chased the stars overhead. The beacon light of the Valentine holding finally swept through the sky, a welcome sight in the dark, empty world.

I'd had a long, hard day, but for all of it, there was no place like home.

The End
458 words
Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here:

The First: Merry Go Round Blog Tour #19


I wrote a story when I was about five or six about a young witch and her cat. I drew pictures and wove ribbon to tie it all together in a book, though for some reason I did the binding on the wrong side though I couldn't figure out what was wrong. (Dyslexic much?) My mother kept the book until she died and my father threw it away. I wish I still had that one.

I probably wrote other things now and then. I always had a love affair with the written word. However, I began writing seriously when I was 12. I wrote a lot of what would later be called fanfiction at first and then created some stories with a friend. (And she still writes, too. Here's a link to her just released vampire novel, Touched:

However, I consider my first real, all-my-own novel to be Sooma, a science fiction tale I began when I was 13. The novel spanned three more novels (yes, I see the pattern formed early, didn't it?) as I told the stories of later generations. Obviously that was the Mitchner influence there!

Sooma was the story of a backward planet, a pair of immortal women who happened to crash there and left behind a couple daughters who grew to be . . . Well, trouble is a good term. And then there were their children and an empire that ruled the stars, gods and priests and . . . It was, if nothing else, ambitious.

I have lost the original hand-written stories except for part of the last one (shown in the picture), but I had typed them up and have those later versions still (though at the moment Sooma 2 is missing). I even go back and look at them once in a while and marvel that I really did have a reasonably coherent plot in there and a lot of interesting characters. My prose, even in the later (1980's) versions are awful, of course. I'm still glad I have the stories, though. They are a point along the path to being the writer I am today. They are the gateway to the worlds and stories I later created. If I had not taken that first journey, from start to finish, I would not have taken the later ones. Knowing I could write entire stories and go back to enjoy them later was addictive. The stories didn't live and die in my head now. I could keep them forever. I could even share them with others.

This was the beginning of a very long journey that is still incredibly fun. I sometimes even think I would like to pull the Sooma stories apart, rewrite them and finish off the series. I've managed not to get that crazy yet.

Sooma taught me something important. The stories showed me that I have the ability to create whole universes in my mind and translate them to the written word. It showed me the fun of writing original material not tied to anyone else's ideas. I started there and I haven't stopped. I haven't run out of ideas for new stories and I am still as much in love with writing as I was when I first started Sooma.

If you want to get to read about nearly twenty other writers, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Be sure to read tomorrow's post by Sharon Kemmerer

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Whom should you listen to?

Hello you poor, misguided and uneducated writing masses. I'm Big Book Author, and I'm here to tell you exactly what you need to do to become . . . well not me, because no one will ever be as good at this as I am. But I am going to impart some of my wide, wonderful knowledge to you, though none of you are deserving of my time. I'm just that kind of person. What do you mean you've never heard of me? You obviously just aren't smart enough to read the right books.
Does that sound kind of familiar?
We have all seen them: The self-proclaimed 'I know everything' people on the Internet. They appear in blogs, FaceBook, Twitter and elsewhere. I've been watching a few for some time as they lecture at every chance while claiming to be an expert on whatever subject happens to come up. As an example, lately a lot of the discussions have been on 'author presence' in the Internet world.
One such person has one of the ugliest, hardest to read sites I've ever seen. The pages are crowded with ads, the bit of text supposed to draw your attention is all but lost and the writing is mundane at best. Others have been better, but most of the 'expert' sites are dull, or have such obvious mistakes on them that you want to write and ask why they did something so stupid. (All caps in your headers? Come on. . . .)
So why would anyone listen to these claims of being an expert?
Because the person makes the claims persistently, along with brushing aside the words of anyone who doesn't agree with the knowledge presented. A list of credentials often follows (are any of them real?) and if that doesn't work, there's always insulting the person who dared to disagree.
But you know what? In the age of the Internet, you need never take anyone at their word; not their word and not mine. We can all claim any sort of knowledge and include wild claims of success, but in the end, you have to be a judge of what is presented as evidence.
You also have to decide what works for you. This means you can find things that work for you in the most unlikely places. Be open to finding stuff on your own, not just accepting whatever little tidbit someone who might not have all the answers is willing to pass on to you.
If a person claims extraordinary knowledge of something like author branding, check the site. Does the site look like the person knows anything? If the author does appear knowledgeable, then see what you might find useful and adapt it. Many people will also give you links to other sites and books where they learned. Check several sites. Look over everything and find what works and what doesn't work for you.
(I, by the way, am not good at author branding, though I'm learning, which is why I suddenly found so many of these incredibly bad sites by people claiming to be experts.)
This is also true about things like 'rules of writing' and 'how to write' discussions. You will hear dozens of people tell you what you MUST do to write. I'm going to give you the only rule you really need to remember in writing:
There is no single right way.
The only thing you can truly do wrong is to write a dull story or a story that is unreadable. This means claiming lack of good grammar and punctuation as artistic style doesn't cut it. That's just lazy. However, perfect grammar and punctuation will not make a good story, either. Sometimes an interesting story can overcome some bad grammar problems, but perfect grammar cannot overcome a bad story.
For the rest? Write the story you want to tell. No other story is worth writing. If you are not passionate about what you are writing, how can you expect any reader to care about the story? Become involved in your own work. Live it, not just write it.
And you know, in this case, yeah . . . you should listen to me.
Go write and have fun.  That's the best advice I can give you.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Flash Friday # 29: The Good Fight

The Good Fight

     Dela paused at the edge of a circle of transfuse light spreading downward from an old-fashioned street lamp a few feet from the door of the church. Beneath the light, Angelo sat on a wooden chair turned around so he could lean casually against the back, his hands folded on the upper edge, his wings draped casually across his back and sides. Lines of fog spread close by, thicker in the shadows behind him.
She gave a sigh and started forward. Angelo's head lifted and he gave her a wane smile. "This is a trap, you know."

"I knew that when he looked so relaxed. You never relax."

"They told me to look calm," he replied with a little shrug. Feathers fell from his wings and she grimaced. She could see bruises now on his chest and face. "So I decided to cooperate for once."

She laughed pulling one gun from her holster and holding it ready. She could see the faint hint of red eyes in the fog: One set, two sets, three . . . Dela stopped counting at six and took a moment to look over the thin strands of magic holding her partner in place. She needed to decide the best way to break those bonds, get Angelo free and both of them survive.

Surviving seemed to be getting harder of late. The fact they'd caught Angelo at all showed something had changed. She wasn't certain what yet, but maybe they'd talk about it later.

The creatures with the glowing red eyes were starting to move. She knew the sounds; mutant rats out of the darkest hell. They'd fought them before. The battle was never easy, but they were still the lesser of the enemies. The darker, stronger ones, still stayed clear when they stood together.

The first rat leapt as she laid a hand on Angelo's shoulder. She held her fire until she had a clean head shot. She dared not waste any of the bullets.

A surge of magic swept from her to him as she brushed her fingers against his skin. "Get free," she whispered.

Transferring magic was painful and drained energy of all sorts, and the ones directing the rats would not expect Dela to make herself weaker. Her hand almost trembled, but she waited and got the next rat within a foot of her leg.

Another leapt at Angelo and she spun, trying to get the aim, but he threw himself out of the chair at the last moment, kicked the rat in the head, and she shot the creature as it went down.


She tossed him her second gun and he caught the weapon, turned and fired. No games tonight. They took down nine of the rats and he missed killing the last one, though Angelo did wound the back leg.

She was already clearing out the bodies of the rats away with swift strikes of magic, though her arm trembled. The darkness had retreated -- what had watched was gone again. Cowards. They rarely came out for the real fight. She could hear sirens not far away. They didn't have much time.

"Fly? She asked, hoping he still could.

He nodded, rubbing at his shoulder. "Your magic helped. Thank you. We better hurry or we'll lose that last one."

They took to the air, up and up into the night sky; above the fog, above the dirty human city and up to where the stars shone like jewels. Up here they could feel the winds of home and if they turned away from their endless battles, they could have flown home. They could have left this world, abandoned the humans who had seemed to abandon them ages ago. She had tired of the endless battles and saving humanity from things they never saw in the light of day. They could . . .

But they swept back down into the world of humans again.

Maybe tomorrow they'd go home.

The rat led them straight to an old abandoned building. There they found a lair of the rats, hidden in the depths with the feel of darker magic all around the dozens of creatures. The arrival of the two set the mass in movement and there was no way they could take them all down.

So they raced back to the roof, the rats snapping at their heels and obviously expecting them to take to the sky as soon as they reached the opening.

Instead, Angelo spun and flung lighting straight down the stairwell, so bright and powerful that the flash lit up all the windows in the four-story building.

"My. Bad mood tonight?" Dela asked moving back from the sudden heat.

The building caught fire. Giant rats tried to leap from broken windows, but Dela's magic swept them back in and sealed everything closed.

Before long they could hear sirens again. The magical fire had destroyed the enemy, though and the natural fire had followed, too quickly to stop. Smoke already curled up into the sky around them.

"Time to go," Angelo said, stepping towards the edge of the building.

"Things are getting worse," Dela whispered. She hated to say such a thing aloud, but as the building burnt beneath them, she had a vision of more darkness coming, spreading through the city where they had been set as guardians. "What are we doing to do, Angelo?"

Her wings fluttered and her head bowed, the weight of the future on her.

"We're going to fight the good fight, protect humanity . . . Go have breakfast?"

He made her smile again as they swept out into the sky and then back down to ground. Morning drew near, the sounds of birds filling even this urban world. Both she and Angelo folded their wings away, hid their identity behind a veil of magic, and went to have breakfast.

They'd rest and wait for the night to come again . . . and fight the next battle.

She had to make herself believe, still, that they would win.

The End
997 words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: