Friday, October 31, 2008

Falling in Love Again

Thanks to David Bridger, I can fall asleep tonight in the ethereal arms of this blessed angel.


Of course, I'm jumping up to NaNoWriMo at the break of dawn.

Report on Your Life: FieldReport

November 15 marks this season's submission deadline for FieldReport, a website dedicated to your creative nonfiction memoir pieces. All you have to do is sign up (free), review five other pieces, and then you're able to post your own 2000-word-or-less personal narrative.

Founded with the desire to deepen Internet communities, this website allows readers to review, comment on, or simply read others' true life experiences. To sweeten the experience, a monthly prize of $1000 is awarded to the greatest story in each of the twenty categories, which is determined by a blind review process.

A quarterly prize of $4000 is awarded to the highest ranking field report (excluding previous Silver winners), and a Grand Prize of $250,000 is awarded to the highest ranking silver or bronze winner on January 1st.

A $25,000 teen prize is also awarded to those entrants who are between the ages of 13-17.

The Positives: There is no sign up fee. You can have up to three writing "personas" that allow for anonymity, if you're worried about posting under your given name. You keep the copyright, allowing FieldReport a "limited license on the work."

The Drawbacks: It seems that once posted, your story is there for all time.
Have any of you actually posted your stories on FieldReport? I haven't, so I'm curious about your experiences if you have. Positive? Negative? Ambivalent?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Plot the Novel 2.0

Gearing up for Nanowrimo can be daunting, but if you've been reading the blogs of the many previous years' winners, they all talk about plotting the novel. Heck, you can even find a previous post of mine detailing "three easy steps" toward preparing for the big day.

It has occurred to me, however, that there needs to be a Plot the Novel 2.0, a beyond-the-obvious sort of activity, that kicks the process up to a new level.

Plot the Novel 2.0

1. After you've outlined your basic novel plot, following the sage advice of others (ie Blake Snyder -- and yes, I will continue to plug him simply because he is such a riot, truly making me laugh out loud even after an exhausting weekend, not to mention the fact that his beat sheet totally makes sense), take a serious look at your plot.

1b. Exposition. Check. Inciting Incident. Check. Rising Action. Ch... Wait! Does each burst of conflict up the ante? Increase tension? Push your protagonist to the breaking point and beyond? After you've assured yourself that you've followed the most basic precepts of plot diagramming, then you're ready for the rest.

2. Cut the most likely: Readers are looking for a predictable journey with unpredictable moments. Or maybe I said that backwards. Anyway, unless you're following a specific genre where She must fall in love with He, get out your literary scissors and start hacking away with forethought and precision. Yes, this is easier said than done.

3. Foreshadow the improbable: Readers will follow you anywhere as long as you've provided sufficient foreshadowing. Far from "giving away the plot," these clues are breadcrumbs for the brain. Once we arrive at the improbable end, instead of saying, "No Way. That could not have happened. Impossible," the most likely response is, "Wow. I should've seen that coming. That's Craaaazy!"

4. Consider your theme: No, this is not preaching or nagging or going all moralistic. It is essential to good writing. Ok: even bad writing. So, with that admission, think about it carefully: choose 'the triumph of the human spirit,' or 'never give up,' or 'be careful what you wish for.' Find whatever it is that your plot calls for, whatever it is instinctively saying. Tease it out. It's there, waiting. Once you've discovered it, make sure you've woven it into your scenes. Every major scene should be a refutation or a substantiation of that theme.

5. Plump up your characters: Consider developing your characters into real 3-D people. Unless you truly need a flat, stereotypical character, give them all life. Give both protagonists and antagonists good and bad characteristics. Nothing pops a storyline better than an antagonist with soul.

Those are my thoughts -- what are yours? What are those "finishing touches" you tweak your original novel outlines with? How do you know when you've woven in the perfect number of clues? Or is it even possible to know?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Riding the Glimmertrain

If you're a writer, you've probably heard of Glimmertrain. But, like most writers, you're probably busy and have forgotten about the opportunities available there.

Check out their Writing Guidelines. Because they've worked hard to shorten up their response time, they have implemented a "theme" of the month. They have also decided to accept simultaneous submissions since "it is so darned difficult to get one's work published."
Glimmertrain's Short Story Writing Contest for New Writers will open November 1st, closing at midnight on the last day of the month. There is a $15 reading fee with first place receiving $1200 and 20 copies of the issue with the winning story.

If you submit a story during their "Standard" months, there is no reading fee. Payment is $700 for first publication and onetime anthology rights.
Order a copy today, familiarize yourself with the type of writing they print, and see if you're meant to submit your piece. Depending upon the month, they accept fiction all the way up to 20,000 words.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spreading the Link Love

Following the example of Interminable Writer (who evidently got it from Juiced on Writing), I'm spreading a little Link Love. "What is Link Love?" you ask. Well, it's an organized method of finding like minded people ... mainly writers who write and blog and have a life, too ... and crowing about them. Singing their praises. Bringing curious readers to their deserving pages.

Spreading the Link Love:

Step One: Explore some writerly blogs from the list below that have merit. Expand your horizons.

Step Two: Comment on their pages. Leave your calling card. (Commit to a couple new blogs per day, if you choose.)

Step Three: Copy the links below into your own post. Add your writing buddies to the list.

Step Four: Post. Continue exploring these various writers. Build a bigger network. Learn. Consider. Ruminate. Mull over. Disagree. Enlarge. Engage. Extrapolate. Join. Converse. Be.

Alex Moore All Things Good Anthony Pacheco: Hack Writer Selonus Writing Career Coach Nick Daws’ Writing Blog The Ups, Downs and Sometimes Insane World of Freelance Writing The Writer’s Roadmap Grammar Girl Cute Writing Tumblemoose The Writers Manifesto Blog Murder & Magnolias The Fictorium Writer…Interrupted Pix-N-Pens Juiced on Writing Girls Write Out Novel Journey Write Thinking Confident Writing A Life in Pages Write to Done Foxy Writer Story Hack Writing Journey Advanced Fiction Writing Scribereglyph No Excuses, Just Write Rantings and Ravings of an Insane Writer A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing Acme Authors At Home, Writing The Rejecter A Writer’s Edge Remarkable Communication Men with Pens Freelance Parent The Golden Pencil Ink in my Coffee Inkthinker All the Write Stuff BK Birch’s Writers Blog Chronicling the Novel Freelance Writing Jobs eWrite Life Miss Snark The Renegade Writer Writing White Papers Pub Rants The Well-Fed Writer Writer Beware Blogs! Gotta Write Girl PoeWar Tip Booklets 1WriteWay Enriched by Words To Breathe Underwater Annie on Writing The Interminable Writer Just Another Writing Blog Not Enough Words Paperback Writer Writing Time Writer Dad Pocket Full of Words Tech for Writers Writing with Zette The First Book Buzz Balls and Hype Big Bad Book Blog Diary of a Wordsmith Freelance Writing Tips Inky Girl The Urban Muse Mike’s Writing Workshop Write to Travel Something She Wrote Wordcount Write-From-Home Writing the Cyber Highway Write on Wednesday Writer’s Roundabout The Writer’s Technology Companion Writer Unboxed Backstory Editorial Anonymous Murder She Writes SlushPile.Net WOW - Women on Writing Rejection is My Middle Name Emerging Writers Network Writing Power Writing Hermit Write Anything Always Try a Little Harder Pecked by Ducks Bookends LLC - A Literary Agent writerjenn Daily Writing Tips Freedom from the Mundane The View from Here Out of Thin Air Shari Writes Writing for Your Wealth Into the Quiet Editorial Ass A Writer’s World Interminable Writer

Have a Perfect Day

I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Superior--for Doors--
Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--
Of Visitors--the fairest--
For Occupation--This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--

--Emily Dickinson

When one practices The Art of Possibility, everything is suddenly within reach. Have a perfect day. "I love those who yearn for the impossible" --Goethe

Monday, October 27, 2008

Push the Button: Blog Commenting for Dummies

It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others. --Virginia Woolf

The advent of blogging has upended the private nature of writing. A couple of minutes spent perusing the e-world provides a tonnage of people who reveal slices of life, vignettes of surpassing intrigue, some that actually surprise the writer in me. Of course, there are the "vomit pages" -- the ones where someone, without thought or intention or purpose, vomits out every (in)coherent thought floating within his primordial swamp. But the point is the same: this brave new world has created an audience for every wallflower, prima donna, or aspiring writer out there.

It has also spawned a whole new generation of readers, kind and otherwise, who see the comment button as a personal calling. I've always fancied the comment button as a verification of sorts: by commenting, I am acknowledging this person's point or turn of phrase or delightful tale. Since the writer in me pleads for acknowledgement in my own writing, I should in turn point out the best in others. I also see the comment button as a way to engage in dialogue, to discuss the finer points of writing, to disagree or expand or tweak a thought.

For the most part, as I linger among the posts of fellow-writers, I am touched and impressed by the kinds of comments left for the blogger. Certainly, the commenters of this blog have been full of warmth, compassion, and kindness. The dissenting voices have always added a flavor or depth to the conversation that was previously missing, and it has always been done in good taste. It surprises me then, when -- in reading through the many blogs I comb through each day -- I find that one comment or observation that seems mean-spirited or perplexing. I have to wonder: has this commenter never read Virginia Woolf?

So, as writers, are we evolving a tougher skin as we spend time posting our thoughts for a broader audience? Or do we still "mind beyond reason" and nurse those bruises privately?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Writing Tip in 60 Seconds or Less

Craving that literary fix but feeling crunched for time? Lost in a sea of RSS feeds but looking for a safe harbor? The Pacific Northwest Writers Association has not only delivered up a clever online Author Magazine, but they've also created a segment called "Daily Minute."

Yep, that's right. In just one minute, you get the low-down on writing, publishing, outlining, and general writerly goodness from such well-known authors as Alice Hoffman, Jane Porter, Lee Childs, and others. Author Magazine also podcasts on iTunes, for you podcast junkies.

The e-magazine, itself, covers a ton, as their welcome mat indicates: Welcome to Author, an on-line magazine for writers and readers, featuring interviews with best-selling and first-time authors, reviews, articles, and more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NaNoWriMo Victim

It feels odd -- like a forty year old woman crashing a little kiddy birthday party and insisting on smashing the pinata herself. Or maybe a going-through-my-midlife-crisis-and-buying-a-little-red-sports-car older gentleman, who then decides to start combing his hair over, just in case it helps. I haven't yet sorted all the feelings yet -- and I am truly not attempting to insult the old pros out there who've done this for years -- but I've gone ahead and signed up. Yeppers, you can find me under Alex Moore at the Nanowrimo site.

Ignoring the fact that I'll be absent from my own home for two weeks out of the month -- one spent at a conference in San Antonio and one at my parents -- I've chosen to indulge in the hype and frothy excitement and tittering thrills of the National Novel Writing Month. I have to admit that I feel as giddy and nervous as a youngster on her first date... Wish me well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blogs of Note

I've read some interesting gems from various blogs over the last several days and thought I'd compile a bunch & pass them on.

1. Diane Gallant blogged about quantity vs quality and the book entitled Art & Fear by Bayles & Orland. The experiment discussed was not a controlled, double-blind study -- however, it begs the question: Should you continue working on that one novel you've been working on for the past 10 years or should you finish one, set it aside, and begin working on the next?

2. Gearing up for Nanowrimo, David Bridger has a great entry detailing various resources for outlining your novel. Karen Mahoney left a comment on his blog indicating that Paperback Writer also has a good posting on the subject.

3. Anthony Pacheco advocates for LibraryThing. I'm curious what others think about it, as well.

4. In her last several posts, uppington has detailed the important of creating well-traveled pathways for your writing synapses and how not to fall into discouragement when you don't meet your own self-imposed goals. Good food for thought.

5. Meet Stu of Stu's Place. I enjoyed browsing and especially loved the tanka and haiku.

6. Nil's posted about CreativeCommons and their way of helping authors license their content to others. He even included a sweet video.

7. Mechanical Hampster brings to light a new HarperCollins endeavor entitled authonomy. Interesting concept -- they're "on a mission to flush out the brightest, freshest new writing talent around."

8. And, finally, head over to Selonus' blog & offer up comments on his writing. (Some of you may know him as JPrather.) Sometimes the writing world is a lonely place to be...and it's always good to feel the electronic heat of others slogging the same pathway.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Filling the Bucket

I know we're supposed to have 'a cup that runneth over,' but I've always been a nonconformist. Well, that and overly inclined to bite off more than I can chew. I have a bucket. Because I live where I do, my bucket is usually full to overflowing simply because all I have to do is look outside. Zing! Instantly joyful to the brim.

This weekend, however, I decided to immerse myself completely. Thanks to D. M. McReynolds (you are awesome!), I left for parts unknown, happy that my blog was in good hands. I left all writing implements behind, suited up in hiking boots and long underwear, slipped into waterproof outerwear, and spent two days hiking my little heart out. In the rain. The fog. Brilliant bursts of sunshine. The vastness and the closeness vied for dominance in my brain: Grand vistas stretched for miles, and once on top or on a point or on a bare ridge, all you had to do was turn and look and be amazed. At other times, deep in clumps of tag alder and the crimson leaves of huckleberry plants, you couldn't see beyond the leaf or branch in front of you. The majority of my time was spent in the dense foliage, pushing through wiry branches and tripping over the hidden ones snaking about at ground level. Even this was glorious, with the sweet scent of spruce and elderberry and moss producing a heady mixture of happiness.

Oddly, it was in the midst of a particularly difficult section of trail that I stumbled upon a sequence for unraveling a gnarled bit of plot in Conscripted. The harder I pushed myself on the trail, the clearer this portion of my book appeared. Sometimes, getting away from it all produces the best results. Sometimes, physical exhaustion produces hallucinations. I contend, however, that it is the beauty of nature, the scent of pristine wilderness, the mountains that stretch forever...they unlock a piece of humanity that we've tucked away deep inside, the part we've told ourselves that we've 'evolved' past, the sliver that unites us with the universe at large and its Creator, the best part of who we are.

So, here I am, back in the midst of humanity, getting ready for another Monday on the job... and filled to the brim with equal parts joy and soreness, giddiness and exhaustion. My bucket is full to overflowing, and I can't wait to get home again to start working on my novel. Some days it feels like we're fighting through the tag alder, unable to see anything beyond the branch that just slapped back into our faces -- but it's all worth the struggle once we make it to the top: the chance to look back where we've come from and to look ahead to where we're headed makes every hike worth the welts.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Guest Blogger: D. M. McReynolds & Point of View Shifts

Thank you, Alex, for asking me to guest blog; I appreciate the opportunity. I must say that I've enjoyed reading your posts -- I think your blog is quite good--solid. I like the entries on nature as well as the good resourceful stuff on fiction/fantasy writing and opportunities. When I ran into the entry on point of view (POV), I thought "Aha!" This is an area I've thought a great deal about, and I would like to expand on the points you made. Note, however, that although some things are a matter of taste, there are some rules of thumb that make for successful or unsuccessful point of view shifts. Here are my two cents worth on the topic.

What Makes POV Shifts Successful:

1. It enhances the subjectivity of the story. By that, I mean that the reader has fun seeing the story from different character's perspectives. I read a series where in the third book there was a focus on one of the villainous character's point of view and it completely changed my understanding of the social reality in that world. The villain was actually a hero in many ways for the thing people chastised him for. He was known as the "King Slayer" because, even though he was in the king's guard, he killed the king. So, even people who despised the king had no respect for him because he had dishonored his vow. It's not until the third book that we get inside that character's head and begin to understand that history.

2. It's clear. The worst thing a point of view shift can do is confuse the reader and make his/her wonder whose head he/she is in. This can be called "head hopping" and from my point of view is much different than a POV shift. A "head hopping" writer doesn't clue the reader in well as to when they are making a POV shift and really over does it.

3. Predictability makes for successful POV shifts. Take George R.R. Martin's award winning book A Game of Thrones. Each chapter starts with a title that is the POV character's name. Without checking, I'd say he has an average of five POV characters. It's predictable because after reading for a bit you figure out that the story will continue in each character's head, but you know that you will get back to each character.

4. POV expands the story. This is especially important--literally. I think that if a fantasy is limited to one character's point of view it risks limiting the reader's understanding of the world. The scope of the story is limited to their values, experiences, assumptions, and physical location. This is a major, major problem. In Martin's book we can see the Wall, which is the frozen border manned by sworn brothers who are to protect the civilized people from the wildlings and all sorts of mythic creatures and worse; then you can go to Winterfell (which is a kind of honorable stronghold based on a forest religion). The world just keeps opening up through the different characters' point of views. You travel on to King's Landing, which is a corrupt Port City full of intrigue, revenge, prostitution, gamblers, and rogues. Then there is this whole other part of the world that you could only have access to through a young female character that is sold off to be the wife of a horse Lord. The story is so powerful because this character keeps growing in strength and she is related to the former dragon king. The point is that there is so much going on in this world that it could never be developed with a focus on just one character. That's such a simple thing to say, but if you ever read A Game of Thrones you will know exactly what I mean. And the story just keeps growing and growing with each book.

5. Along with predictability there needs to be a clear switching cue, which should have some limitations. Some people like one point of view per chapter, others like more. I've chosen to limit each of my chapters to no more than two character's point of view. I think that one benefit of having a point of view shift between two characters in one chapter is that it can more fully demonstrate their relationship and get the reader thinking about how different the scene(s) look from the different character's perspective.

So, to recap. Confusing the reader by 'head hopping' is unacceptable. Opening up the world in an epic way that increases the reader's understanding of the world is good, and perhaps needed for a truly epic story. Limitations like one or two point of view characters per chapter could be a good guideline. What I did when I was writing was try to write the next chapter from whoever's point of view would best tell the story, but I also tried to limit the number of point of view characters to the ones I thought were most interesting, powerful, and insightful.

Thank you, again, for the chance to guest blog, Alex! And, to all of her readers, please feel free to visit me at my own website.

D. M. McReynolds

Friday, October 17, 2008

Guest Blogger: D. M. McReynolds

Exciting news: D. M. McReynolds has graciously agreed to guest blog here on the digital world of Alex Moore tomorrow! I couldn't be happier...or more honored.

In Alliance, Book I of the Fate of Port Goldsend series, D. M. McReynolds has fashioned an intriguing blend of high fantasy and contemporary characters, each hellbent to escape the life Fate's handed them. Check out his website or my post on him of several months ago and give him a warm welcome.

Science Fiction Teaser

I want in! After reading the delightful first-scene-teases that Anthony and others posted, I thought, "Cool." After I thought some more, I thought, "Hey, wait. Can I do that? Legally?" Then I realized that I had already done so with that "first paragraph" thing a while back. Oddly, this just doesn't feel as scary. Hmmm...thoughts to ponder. Anyway, this is the first scene exerpt from a science fiction piece. Feel free to comment on whatever strikes you. I'm always up for improvement.

Hunched over his steering wheel, brandy fumes clouding the windshield, Dr. Macau steadily ignored the rain, wiper, and intermittently working defrost. Instead, he clutched at the double yellow line, the lifeline that would lead him home. Even so, he caught the stagger of pedestrian on the shoulder, the heavy rain almost blotting out the motion. He gripped the steering wheel, focusing on slipping through the tunnel of yellow and blurred movement.

The first explosion slammed against the jeep, blowing him back against his seat before his foot jerked down on the brakes. The jeep bucked, tires gripping momentarily, then floated on the water-dense road. Thrown into a slide, Macau wrenched the wheel, brain shutting down beyond the focus of staying on the road. The second explosion propelled the body across his vision and onto the highway, a crumpled wad of limbs and clothing. Macau could only stare, his right foot working the brake in mounting horror. Shuddering to a halt, the jeep sputtered, then died. The wipers kept up their steady rhythm, the headlights staring blindly into the narrow arroyo that skirted the highway.

Flipping out his cell, he punched 911 as he kicked open the door, hurrying into the rain and towards the motionless body. Adult male, age 18-25, athletic build. Crew cut, possibly a Marine from the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station. Unknown explosion, with unknown injuries. Help on the way, he sank down and began to check for vitals. The dark shirt hung in ribbons, and his hands came away sticky with blood. The man was unresponsive. Training took over, steadying his hands and slowing his heart rate. Even through the rain, the heavy stench of burning rubble hung unmistakable, but he filed it for later use and focused on the victim.

Flashing lights heralded the arrival of the ambulance service. Macau turned the man over to the EMTs, then dialed police dispatch. “Macau, here. Victim is being transported to Yuma Regional Medical Center. Have the officer on duty call my cell if he needs me. I’m not waiting in the rain.” He closed the phone, climbed into the jeep, and continued the drive home, for the first time realizing that he had recognized the man. Instant rage boiled through his veins, and for the second time that night, he almost slid off the road.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gentle Reminder: Stay Focused

"People's dreams are made out of what they do all day. The same way a dog that runs after rabbits will dream of rabbits. It's what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around." Barbara Kingsolver

By posting this Kingsolver gem, I'm not indicating that I agree entirely with her premise. But it's another gentle nudge in the direction of, "Nulla dies sine linea." It's more of a reminder to myself to stay focused. And as we head into the flurry of holiday seasons, there are so many distractions eager to snatch our focus...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hone Your Writing Skills

So you've read my blogs on Odyssey, the annual 6-week Fantasy Writing Workshop, AND you've checked out their website and thought, "Oooh, now that's freaking awesome." Well, I'm here to deliver even more delightful news: there's a separate but equally as tasty workshop on the West Coast.

Clarion West, an intensive, six-week workshop for writers interested in science fiction and fantasy careers, just posted their requirements for Summer 2009 on their site Monday!! Here's your overview.

  • Dates: June 21- July 31
  • Application Deadline: March 1 ($30 application fee)
  • Application requires writing samples and essay
  • Scholarships available (full, partials, student of color, and NYC student)
  • Six Stellar Instructors: John Kessel, Elizabeth Bear, Karen Joy Fowler, Nalo Hopkinson, David G. Hartwell, and Rudy Rucker. (Don't forget that Hartwell is Senior Editor for Tor Books!)
  • Total Cost: $3200 (tuition, room, and partial board (breakfast + most weekday meals) for six weeks). Wireless Internet access is free.
  • Did I mention there were scholarships?!

And, for our down-under friends, Clarion South is held in Australia every two years. Applications are now open and the "Boot Camp" will run from January 4 - February 14, 2009.

What are you waiting for? Click on those links; explore those sites; scribble out awe-inspiring application letters! Or, send me a stack of unmarked, non-consecutive serial numbered, non-inflation-impacted dollar bills and finance a scholarship of your own making...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday Mullings

I love autumn:

the crisp crunch of air that swirls up skirts and the skitter of leaves creeping across the drive;
and the scent of smoke and pine, fresh honesty and cinnamon, sprinkled with nutmeg;
the golden glow that imbues the natural world with a wild sort of wisdom and the bulging yellowed moon recalling favorite mistakes.

Most of all, I love living here in the wilderness, the place I call home, the home where I feel complete and whole and unashamed, a child of the flowers, the trees, the sky, and the silky streams tinkling their icy sweetness.

Podcasts for the Sci Fi / Fantasy Writer

We're all looking for something more in this cold, weary, economically-challenged world, and I'm no different. And, like most of the common folks, it's not the fame or the glory or the name in lights that calls to me. Nope. I'm looking for a few good podcasts. That'd make my cookie moist and chuck full of chocolate-y goodness.

More specifically, I'm looking for podcasts on writing: all things character development, world-building, killing off your loved ones, and plot enhancing. So, in the spirit of share and share alike, here are the ones I have to offer:

1. Odyssey Podcasts: Welcome to the Odyssey Podcasts. These podcasts are excerpts from lectures given by guest writers, editors, and agents at the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

2. Writing Excuses: Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.

3. Litopia of Redhammer: I haven't listened to them out yet (site is in "Design Beta" since Friday), but David Bridger of How to Get Your Novel Published writes that these are his "favourite podcasts in all the world, the tasty ten-minute Litopia Daily each weekday and the sumptuous 50-minute-ish Litopia After Dark at 8pm (GMT) on Friday evenings."

[UPDATE: Catch Litopia at the following address Thank you David, for pointing that out.]

So, please, please, please: post the podcasts that you follow religiously or dabble in or think have some merit. There are a literal TON of podcasts out there, and I don't have time to sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your recommendations are desperately needed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Definition of Science Fiction Explored

For the beginning writer, plucking stories out of the overly thick cranium is akin to one of two activities: violently puking up a midge-madge of unidentifiable contents or tediously tweezering out one cactus spine at a time, following a ballet-like splash into said cactus. Regardless of which path you choose, the resulting mess is pretty much the same, and, honestly, you're simply thankful or exultant or pumped that you actually got something down on paper.

After those first painful stories or novels, and after a suitable number of months, years, or decades have polished the rougher edges of your writerly self, you determine to focus not only on content but also on craft.

Easier said than done. So, as a science fiction writer, the focus must first be upon the elements of science fiction. Um. Right. That does seem rather self-evident, yes? So, what are these elements? Well, at first, the answer seems easy enough. A science fiction novel must have a plot revolving around both science and fiction. Thank you. And, to further substantiate that claim, Wikipedia, too, states that Science Fiction "involves speculations based on current or future science or technology."

Well, that wasn't good enough for me, either. I looked elsewhere. Science Fiction magazine, Analog, has the following advice listed under Submission Guidelines: Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without the science and you'll see what I mean. No story! (Emphasis mine.)

In my search for further helpful definitions, I remembered a podcast I had listened to last Spring on the same subject. Odyssey, the Writing Workshop for Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror writers, has nineteen podcasts from their guest lecturers spanning the last eight or so years. One, in particular, discusses the Science Fiction element. Robert J. Sawyer has a thought-provoking lecture on the subject that I hope you'll download and listen to. He mentions both "Flowers for Algernon" and The Wizard of Oz as examples of stories that could not be told without the science fiction element.

So, ultimately, in order to be a true science fiction piece, the writing must include some sort of science or technology, without which the hub of the plot would splinter to pieces. This definition was all well & good until I applied it to my short story, "The Last Marine." It was then I realized that this story might be soft sci-fi or even science fantasy, since the hard science wasn't there. I am now exploring what Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog, meant when he wrote that "the science can be physical, sociological, psychological" and I am well into my second draft of the short story, with a more focused eye on the craft of science fiction.

Note: Colleen Lindsay, a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management, has this to say about the Odyssey workshops: If you've attended the Odyssey workshop, say so...By far the best and most tightly-written queries I've seen this week are those from writers who identify as former...Odyssey students.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pet Peeve: Shifting Points of View

Everyone has a pet peeve that doesn't necessarily match up with industry standard. For example, I despise shifting Point of View. Now, let me clarify: the Edgar Rice Burroughs style of intertwining several kick-butt sub-plots and shifting us back and forth at chapter breaks is pleasurable. I've no gripe at all with that.

Shifting PoV in Fast-Paced Trade Books That Make me Growl:
  • Done within the scene. He thinks, "Oh, my foot's on fire," while she notices his delightfully curly hair, desiring to run her fingers through it like she would rub down little Totsy, the French poodle.
  • Done scene-by-scene within the same chapter. One chapter includes five separate point-of-view shifts that are completely unrelated: He thinks about selling his car; she wonders if she should have an affair; the dog decides tinkling on Ms. Harper's gardenias would add the cherry of the day. Umm. Ok. I'll try it for a little while.
  • Done by multiple characters ad nauseum, only one (or two) of whom is at all important in the Huge Scheme of Things. When there are twenty or so point of view shifts, it makes it difficult to identify with any one person -- and since I as a reader want to identify with and delight in and be willing to die for that one protagonist, I find this hugely annoying.

The Publishing Central website has a great line that resonates with the PoV shift hater that I am: "The beginner in writing makes no study of view-point, and his story is usually a wandering, aimless, shifting affair, quite lost in the hazy changes of view-point and utterly inconsistent." Of course, this doesn't make me right. It just means that I have company on the topic.

That being said, many great authors have used the shifting Point of View masterfully. Evidently Katherine Mansfield did so in "The Daughters of the Late Colonel," though I must admit I couldn't get past the first six pages. And what would Pulp Fiction be without those shifts? Don't forget Faulkner's Light in August, though certainly no one makes the mistake of labeling that a "fast-paced trade book," least of all, me.

All of that aside, I don't like it. But enough about me. How about you? How do you handle it in your own writing? Do you enjoy books that dabble in the Shift or do you throw them across the room?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nobel Prize in Literature: no political football

Fellow writers, rejoice! The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced in Stockholm, Sweden today, awarding Jean-Marie Gustave L Cl├ęzio, a French novelist, children’s author, and essayist with the prestigious prize. According to the New York Times article, the "prize committee in Stockholm called him an 'author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.'" Intriguing. Sounds like they're actively seeking Sci Fi / Fantasy writers, so check out their nomination page. Let's flood them with...Oops. Hmm. How does one get an invitation to nominate?

And believe it or not, Horace Engdahl -- permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy that dangles these golden rings -- hovers at the top of my "I'm thankful for" list. Years ago, when I discovered that Voltaire had written "I may not agree with what you believe in, but I'll die fighting for your right to believe it," I naively believed that this would be a relatively easy mandate to live by. Nothing has been farther from the truth, of course, but when I heard about Engdahl, I rejoiced. He lives so very far away: certainly I won't be called on to die for him. Right?

Somewhere in the midst of his rather generalized and anti-American incoherent ranting the other day, he pulled out this little gem: "The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature." Um. Ok. Well, as columnist Marco Roth writes, "it's unclear who "they" are in all of this." But we'll let that go. We're magnanimous in our own insularity today.

However, it was this snippety tidbit of wisdom that actually delighted me the most: "There is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world ... not the United States" (Associated Press).

Yikes. So, today I have decided to ask Engdahl a series of questions, even though they undoutedly provide blatant evidence of my own naivety and isolationist thinking. I am also inviting him to respond in writing, since I believe all of mankind (note: sexist language) has the right to defend himself against both the "unknown master" or the "lauded elite."

Evidence of my Insular Isolationism:
1. I thought all cultures, big or small, possessed powerful literature?
2. I thought the definition of ego-centric remained the same, regardless of nationality.
3. I thought the definition of ethno-centric remained the same, regardless of GPS location

Ok Horace Engdahl: I am awaiting your kind, compassionate, and possibly condescending reply.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Doing Your Homework: Beyond the Obvious

I treasure epiphanies. They occur so rarely in adult life that one must cup the moment in trembling hand, cherish the feather-light strokes of wings, the fragile dust of magic, even the transitory nature of the creature.

This, however, was more like the smack in the middle of the forehead, roll of the eyes, and jaded, "DUH!" blurted out to all who would listen.

1. Do your homework. Yes, I know this. I'm actually holding the 2008 Guide to Literary Agents by Writer's Digest Books. Flipping to the back, under Literary Agents Specialties Index, I can even browse agents by topic, specifically Fantasy and Science Fiction. There are lots of other agent resources, but, then, you knew that.

2. Double check your sources. Just because someone is listed in the Guide, it's not carved in granite. If a website is provided, jump online and verify that the agent is still with the company listed. And yes, I've lived through this, having just received an email last week that stated, "Mollie X is no longer with Agency Y. Your email is being forwarded to Jenny Z at Boy, did I feel lame.

3. Don't just randomly query, even within your genre. Now some may disagree with me and recommend that you query anyone with a pulse, but I have discovered that some discretion may simply save time. Take me for an example. To my ever-living shame, I actually queried an agent who specifically stated on her website that she was looking for something other than high fantasy. Yes, she was looking for fantasy, just not what I was peddling. It was a bloody waste of both of our times, and I should have known better. (I'm still wondering if I'm a masochist.)

4. Improve your chances. This was the part I failed to figure out until just the other day. I don't know if I was being stupid or lazy, but here's the deal: create a list of the living authors who write in a similar fashion. Do a Google search for their agents. Then query their agents. So I've googled Kristin Britain and she has Anna Ghosh of Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency listed as the contact for "licensing and rights inquiries." I am currently cooking up a query for Ms. Ghosh, though in checking a list of of her recent sells, I see that this is the only fantasy listed. Hmmmm....Decision to be made.

5. Phone a friend. When in doubt, seek out your beta readers, your spouse, or your mom's friends and ask: if you had to put me in a category, who would the other authors be? Use their ideas to track down the most appropriate agent for your work. Who knows? You might find an answer that you wouldn't have targeted on your own.

Any other tips or thoughts or random bits of genius for all of us agent-seekers? It's a simplistic process but oh so painful...and easier to endure when there are friendly fellow bloggers participating in the same trial by fire. What's your story of failure? joy? humiliation? success?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Publisher for Sci Fi Writers: "looking for new, upstart, breakout authors"

Ok. This news is a month old, but it's still exciting for all the budding sci fi writers out there: HarperCollins is launching a new imprint to publish "the next wave of authors...who are on their first books with us at Voyager."

Target audience: 14-16 and 27-40
Head publisher dude: Marc Gascoigne
Imprint Name: Angry Robot
Schedule: two books a month
Start date: July 2009
Tech Tools: website to sell book, digital audio, and e-books
Cool Tweak: on-demand book printing for those books that have "gone beyond conventional shelf time."

And, just so you know, HarperCollins does not accept unsolicited manuscripts (unless you're submitting for Avon Romance), so, yes, you really do need an agent.

Thanks to Gavin from Mechanical Hampster and Lou Anders from bowing to the future for alerting their blogging audience to the news.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Weekend Challenge: Kudos to Uppington

When uppington created a weekend challenge this last Friday, I tucked the thought away into a corner of my brain: good idea, for sure, and yes, I wanted to participate, but actually set a word count goal? After all, it wasn't like I had just blogged on list-making, goal-setting, and focusing on where you want to be, or anything... Ahem. Anyway, I typed up a nifty little comment on her blog and hit Submit. The computer froze or the Internet belched or Fate intervened. Regardless, the comment didn't save, and I was left thinking, "Coincidence?"

I spent Friday night perfecting those articles I talked about earlier. Saturday morning I jumped up to get cracking away on them again and discovered that I had saved none of my changes. For being an old hat at tech stuff, this was startling. mortifying. and, of course, depressing. Coincidence?

There was nothing left to do: I brought out my assorted thoughts and notes on "The Last Marine" and started typing. Oddly, the story stands complete in my head -- has for over a year -- but thus far resists a capture in print. I didn't dare look at the several false starts that litter my notebooks; I simply started in the middle of a scene and let the moment carry. I set no goals beyond "butt in chair, hands on keyboard." Oh, and uppington? I finished the weekend with over 3,000 words and a clear sense of where I'm headed next. Coincidence? I think not.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Five Steps to Effective Blogging Transfers to Articles

Rather out of the blue, I decided to pen a series of articles. I have a specific audience in mind and certain magazines that I want to target. Incidentally, I know little about non-fiction writing. The few things I do know include the following: one normally queries before one writes the article, one typically has sample articles to send in, and one is usually an expert (or has interviewed experts) in the subject to be written about. I'm currently zero for three.

In thinking it over, however, it occurred to me that keeping a blog teaches a variety of skills needed in the non-fiction world. If you're self-disciplined, if you've perused other blogs to see what catches your eye then replicated the patterns on your own, and if you've read articles on effective blogging, well, then, you're already on the right track. (Disclaimer: This is not to insinuate that I know anything about effective blogging.)

Five Steps to Effective Blogging:
  1. Review your own blog: look at the posts that have garnered the most comments.
  2. Do you have a catchy hook, five (or three or ten) easy steps, and a conclusion?
  3. Is your language clear yet lyrical or full of imagery or simply succinct?
  4. Consider the layout: do you use bullets, numbering, and other format buttons effectively?
  5. Do you separate long stretches of prose with spaces or pictures or lists?

Well, then, you're ready to turn your blogging skills into cold, hard cash. Or something like that. Oh, I know. You're a fiction writer. You pen fantasy or sci fi or chick lit or whatever. I understand that. I'm there with you. But peruse a call for submissions sometime. See what tickles your fancy. Most magazines pay by the word or the article. Best of all, it's a way to get your name in print, which is precisely what that last paragraph in a query requires.

The Writer Gazette is a website with a ton of resources for writers. My favorite part is the Call for Submissions page jam-packed full of magazines looking for writers of talent. I've read your blogs. I've read many of the magazines. I have zero doubt in my mind that most -- if not all -- of you on my blogroll have not only the skills but also that delightful mastery of word-smithing integral to successful writing. Just think on it...You might surprise yourself.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nutty & Shelled: List Maker Extraordinaire

I am a list maker. I craft the boldest of lists, the tiniest of lists, the most audacious of lists, the truly mundane. When cleaning house, I'll even make a list of the things I've already finished just so that I can cross them off my life. I make wish lists, goal lists, and "Dream Big" lists. Oddly, whenever I happen to run across an old one, I find that I've actually accomplished quite a few.

Case in Point: Sometime earlier this year I had created a list entitled "Summer Goals." I ran across it yesterday afternoon while cleaning (instead of writing, of course). The odd thing is that when I had created the list, most of these goals seemed out of reach. We certainly didn't have the money or the know-how to do most of them. Like magnetized puzzle pieces, things started fitting into place -- but that's another story for another day. The point is this: lists are powerful.

My List:
  1. Sell 1967 Jeepster Commando Possible buyer interested as of last week
  2. Sell Subaru (?) Decided to keep and replace transmission
  3. Insulate Attic Didn't need to do after all
  4. Install 200 Amp Service
  5. Put in wood stove: in process
  6. Install heat pump: in process
  7. Find shell canopy for pickup Father-in-law gave us old fixer-upper instead.
  8. Sell 300 Weatherby Mag NIB un-fired, NRA edition; I'd won it in a raffle but didn't want it

So, what does this have to do with writing? More than you can imagine. When I look at the aspiring writers who have their ducks in a row, the ones who are pumping out word counts like bodybuilders on creatine, I see that they are also the ones who have specific goals listed on their blogs. Either word count goals or time limit goals or number of queries in the mail this week, they are the ones who are not only focused but producing. Take Ken Kiser or Anthony Pacheco, Gavin of Mechanical Hampster, or any of a myriad of others: peruse their blogs, ogle their gritty determination, and throw your own shoulders back with a new sense of purpose. Sure, there's preparation and hard work and distractions and revisions. But if you don't envision the end result -- the place you want to be at the end of this week, month, year -- the trail is a great deal steeper and rockier and treacherous, replete with detours galore. Set the goal. Keep your eye on the prize. Go forth and conquer.

What does this have to do with my writing? Well, as I was looking back over an email that I had sent a friend yesterday, I noticed that I -- List Maker Extraordinaire -- was failing miserably at my own self-proclaimed talent. Here's an excerpt:

"i'm avoiding writing as usual, but i have begun an editing process with book #2, so that's at least better than normal. lately i've begun having serious vocab shortages: i know the word i want exists, i've used the dang-blasted thing a million times, it's a perfectly beautifully crafted word that's hugely better than "hugely" or "normal" or "thing" or "get" or whatever...but it eludes me. it's not even on the tip of my tongue or the precipice of my's lurking in deep depths, far beyond my scanty influence or gravitational pull. and it's annoying. worrisome. irritating. laughable."

I noticed two things: one, this is not where I want to be as a writer. I have better focus than this. I know better than this. I am better than this. And two, as I began to focus on my vocabulary crisis, I started pulling out more vivid language.

My point? Simple reflection of where you're at and where you want to be can serve as a wake-up call. Even I -- fanatical list maker -- need to remember to review the goals I've made regarding my life as writer. Few things are more powerful than goals carved out in stone, scribbled on a sticky note, or scrawled on the back of a coffee house napkin. I glance up at the sage green sticky above my computer: Nulla dies sine linea. Oops! Excuse me as I scuttle back into my writing cubby.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gearing Up for Nanowrimo in Three Easy Steps

Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month begins November 1

Instead of fretting over word choice, sentence fluency, or air-tight plots, participants of Nanowrimo pound the keyboard in exuberant strokes. The ultimate goal is to produce 50,000 words in one month. Spell checks, grammar checks, and gut checks are all saved for the doldrums of December when you've nothing better to do than explore for belly lint or revise your novel.

Interested in playing along? Well, then, register if you want with the site. Or, if you'd prefer to play it alone, don't. Either way, it's up to you to closet yourself with caffeine and power bars, inspiration and diabolical plots, and get rocking on your first (or next) novel!

So, it's October, and you're thinking you want to be involved this year. What can you do? Well, funny you ask, because that's what this post is really about. Everyone has a different method or angle for getting the most out of this month of craziness. I'm listing but one way.

Things to do before the big day:

1. World-building: Create the world you're writing about. What laws operate within the fantasy, sci-fi, or alternate universe that you've created? Flora? Fauna? Governments? If you're writing about a contemporary setting, get to know the area you're writing about. Chicago? Seattle? A tiny town in eastern Oklahoma? Get a sense of place, immerse yourself in the setting, jot some notes about major landforms or landmarks. If you're writing about a different decade, start listening to the music from that era, search out hairstyles and fashions, understand the major political or civil issues of the day that impacted life at the most basic level.

2. Character-building: Who are you writing about? Get to know your character(s). There are lots of character sheets on the Internet that you can fill in. If you flesh out your protagonist, s/he will have a stronger personality and take you places you never thought you'd go. Don't forget your antagonist. Having a vivid (round in lit terms) personality makes for a stronger story. When the "bad guy" is multi-dimensional, tension crackles. This ultimately thrusts your story forward, giving you a place to go.

3. Plot-building: This can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. Creating a 3-Act story is simple. Act I: Protagonist faces Quest. Act II: Protagonist faces Obstacle. Act III:Protagonist faces Resolution (achieves quest at great cost or fails. Your choice). Here's an easy worksheet to complete if you're looking for specific guidance. I personally like Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet since he's explored Joseph Campbell's Hero and Vogel's Journey (plus major hit movies) and compiled these observations into an easy-to-understand formula.

If you have a basic outline for where you're starting, where you want to go, and what bumps you'll hit along the way, you're prepped for the big month. If you've participated in the world-building month that Eliza sponsored, you're ahead of the game. If you're just starting out, no worries. The ride is worth the pain!

Do you have a different way to prep for this month? Are you planning on participating at all?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Perfect Storm: Emergency Plans in Place

If you've been following the current economic crisis, you know it's been building for years. I'm not interested in playing the ever-so-popular blame game, because the truth is that this mess is completely bi-partisan. If you want a particular person to study, however, check out Henry Cisneros, former Housing Secretary under the Clinton Administration. George Bush chose to continue those policies, however, calling it "Compassionate Conservatism." What is now being called "predatory lending" was once called "affordable housing." We're reaping a bitter harvest for wanting to feel good instead of demanding accountability, responsibility, and self-reliance. What some members of Congress are now calling "a failure of capitalism" and "the woes of de-regulation" was once called "eliminating prejudice in the banking system" and "insuring home ownership for the poor." Regardless of the motivations -- whether it was greed, stupidity, moral superiority, love for all people, or a marked misunderstanding of capitalism -- it resulted in the same mess: this perfect storm we now face. I just feel sorry for the people who are currently stunned by the stock market, housing market, and faltering economy, who are walking around blank-faced, in a state of shock.

If you've been staying informed, searching out alternative forms of news and information, you are already prepared. If you haven't, I'm not about to start crying, "The sky is falling." However, I tend to think one should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Neither a pessimist nor an optimist, I try to be a realist.

If you do nothing else, please make sure you have plenty of water (or ice), gas, and non-perishable food on hand. Cash in small bills is particularly important. These are the items you'll need regardless of what happens. Often times, it's not the crisis that produces the need for these things, but rather the panic in the face of possible crisis.

What you can do: Prepare

The idea is to continue to be as prepared as we can be. We may have to hunker down and weather the storm, but at least this way, when others panic, we can be calm and ready. We can provide stability for our loved ones when it feels like the world is falling apart. Because, in the end, the only things that matter are the people we love.

Just remember: Water, Gas, and Cash. With silver prices falling, you may find it wise to purchase some junk silver in the form of pre-1964 quarters, dimes, and half-dollars.