Saturday, May 30, 2009
Mussings on young adults, agents, and other challenges
This will probably be the last post for about a week, ditto on the other pages, but I'll add a blog if I can get access to
a computer and the internet. I appreciate all my steady and not so steady readers and hope that you'll be patient as the
chaos of June passes.
30 may 09 @ 8:39 pm
In all my planning and hoping beyond writing, I imagine conversations with potential agents or publishers. One of the conversations
is about why I write young adult fiction. When I began, I didn't know that I was doing so. I have usually read what appears
on the usual shelves, adult, I assumed, and thought I was writing on a par with those, but
enough people have told me so, I accept that it's so. I'm not sure how it came about, nor quite the definition, these days.
I wrote what I wanted to read and was having difficulty finding in books I hadn't already read. Heinlein, McCaffrey, Tolkein.
I think I've read them all several times each. Many others of course, too, but those are always the first to come to mind.
(Do any of them appear in young adult sections?)
I'm sure there are many new authors out there whose works I enjoy and will enjoy, but I wasn't finding it so I wrote it, thinking
it was adult fiction. It was stuff I was interested in even as an adult. Some of it is sufficiently adult themed, I thought
that might slide it into the adult category, but apparently not in the eyes of the few people Iíve been able to have read
The conversation asks what I enjoyed reading. See above, with a caveat. i like what McCaffrey wrote on her own, not so much
the joint author books. I laud her support to other authors but the abuse and violence that seemed to permeate was too much
to read them repeatedly. I read all the Hornblower books, too. In retrospect, I think readers these days would think of
those as young adult. Good morals, informative, with many technical details about sailing ships, little sex and none of it
explicit. At the time, I was told it was considered college level reading material. Is it a matter of tastes, levels of
innocence, themes? Certainly not the age of characters who can be of all ages and still be more obviously young adult to
me than my characters of mostly college age. And up.
What else would the agent ask? And is it a mythical agent or an imaginary one? What all does mythical imply? The impossible,
the unreal, the distorted view of real events?
Why did you...? You should know that you need to... those are the questions I imagine, and that i have gotten from the occasional
teacher over the years. But if I knew, I wouldn't still be looking for an agent, would I.
Where are the classes in query letters? I have learned much about persuasion, but everywhere else it is about logic and passion
in dialog, or the lucky hit on a word or phrase that reaches into someone's internal data dictionary to convey the needed
meaning. With the publishing world, it's about managing a thousand lucky hits in choices for content, phrasing, format, lucky
guesswork on when to ignore instructions, and a thousand other factors I have as yet had no luck in piercing.
You should present your best, how can you have two versions the best? I've tried two or three, though, because I'm not the
one deciding what's best, and I can't read minds, and there are big questions that can be addressed by small changes as I
get feedback now and again. And on it goes. If I ever get another interview with an agent, I'll see what the real ones ask,
but for now I imagine... and dream.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The agent I hoped to see at the HNS conference in a couple of weeks cancelled but I've decided to plow ahead on my preparations,
such as they are. Mostly, that has entailed reviewing my two "first books" - the first books of each of my completed
trilogies, that is. The book I've been posting scene by scene on the Fantasy Explorations page is a prequil to one of them),
writing synopsis (easy for those of you who work from outlines, harder for those of us who don't, and printing packages.
27 may 09 @ 7:32 pm
The synopses are guess work. I've never gotten a good answer to what they should include but I use the same header information
I would for the book, give a one sentence description of the sort of fantasy it is (one Tolkeinesque epic quest with elves
and dwarves and humans, one magical teens quest), a list of some of the key characters and their role in the story, and a
chapter-by-chapter summary. I suspect the latter isn't the best approach. It certainly doesn't allow much opportunity to
highlight some of the "clever things" I've done, though I try to indicate what I can with a phrase or two at key
points. if anyone has better suggestions, they are very welcome to make them!
The "packages" reflect what Ihave seen a variety of agents and editors request on their web pages: five pages or
fifty pages or the complete manuscipt and an accompanying synopsis. By rights, i suppose a cover letter should accompany
it, but as I hope to be giving these out in person if I can get anyone sufficiently interested, so I figure i can tell them
about myself in person, too. Besides, I'm even worse at cover letters than synopses. Not the sort of thing anyone teaches
that I have found. A few suggestions online, samples that I have tried to follow, but they haven't worked yet and I strongly
suspect that anything I tell a prospective agaent about myself in a formal letter would as likely discourage as encourage
them to take me on. Letters are better when you have a published work or two to list, I'm sure. Suggestions and advice welcome
on that, too!
I should have one more post, scene, and essay or poem, on Friday or Saturday, then comes June and June entails much in and
out of town, so posting on all these pages will be irratic until into July.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
No new Homeworld today. Memorial Day weekend is busy for many people so I thought I would leave the Memorial Day essay, Choice
for the Day, up for the weekend. I got From Beyond the Wall up late, as well as it being a holiday, so I'll leave today's
scene up until at least Wednesday again.
23 may 09 @ 6:24 pm
Now on to tradecraft and experiences.
If there's one sort of scene I have the most trouble with, it's fights and battle scenes. It is so important that they give
a sense of excitement and immediacy if any scene does, or you might as well leave it out. Of course I can't just skip them
because they are hard to write. A fantasy story is hardly a fantasy without something of adventure in its nature. Fights
might be one-on-one, but writing them has many of the same challenges as writing bigger battles.
Here are some "tricks" I've found-- if you've been following the Fantasy Explorations page you can tell me if they
One way is to slow down the writing as the tempo of the action speeds up. I can't tell you why it works but it seems to.
if action is to be quick, a matter of brief minutes, describe every detail so that it takes as many pages as hours and days
of slower action elsewhere.
As point of view permits, describe thoughts, plans, emotional reactions, but the main focus should be on details of the action.
Describe every motion of each character being followed in the action (and not the rest so much. A large battle is as much
setting as action: the action is the movement and effort of the key character(s) in the battle's midst, the enemy and challenges
faced directly by that character. The rest is narrative scenery.)
Short sentences and cursory descriptions. Action is not the place for beautiful prose in the same sense as a slow, passionate
scene, an emotional scene where the physical action may be as small as hand touching a cheek, surrounded by flowery descriptions
of scene and mood, expression of the eyes and face, the lay of a drape on dress. Those can be long sentences. Action is physical
movement, muscles, causes and effects in rapid succession. Descriptions should be sharp and succinct and match the mood of
the moment in their immediacy.
Battles should be as complete as other scenes, but with detail focused on action, the senses and emotions more brief and to
the point, and the conflict all physical. Or mostly.
Action can have pauses, may need pauses if its fast and long and many pages. The reader needs to take a breath no less than
characters. Pause briefly with longer descriptions of a feeling, weariness, inner conflict with little about the physical
motions in that breather, then go on.
A battle scene is not the place to introduce new weapons, clothing, important characters. Maybe skills, but don't take time
to explain the history. Instead, describe what is happening and explain later if not before, but mostly everything should
have been mentioned before, including physical accoutrements and battlefield adversaries.
Again I caveate that with allowing introducing certain characters under certain circumstances, but the nature of those characters
only to the extent that they can be portrayed through appearance and action, the physical reality of strength, skill, battle
prowess or its lack. Conversation, if any, should be short and to the point. More than that will slow the action down.
Challenge exercise: describe a battle in general overview terms, the action of groups, tactics, the course of events. Set
it aside. Write a scene with just the actions and experiences of one person for a few minutes in that battle, limited to
what that person can see, hear, experience. Describe their experiences, every sense, an encounter with individual enemies
among the army. Revise by shortening every sentence to two lines or less. Compare the overview with the individual scene
and consider which seems to have more action and tension. Let me know how it goes.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Revision layer by layer
Revision is like cleaning my room: it can't be done in a single step. There's too much there, too many kinds of crap that
gather over time, with hardly a better place to put it. I do plenty of revsion as I write. When I did it all by hand, if
I wasn't writing a new scene, I was copying one I had drafted before, and revising as I went. The computer makes is both
harder and easier, harder because I can't see as much at once, shuffle papers to change the sequence, jot in the margin to
make notes, easier because I don't have to rewrite the whole to revise.
20 may 09 @ 4:12 pm
These days I play with scenes and characters until a story comes to mind, sequence scenes as they might happen to fit in whole
or part or break them into bits and sequence them again for proper placement of tone, mood, setting, and character development.
In the beginning it's mostly writing, though i revise all the time.
Eventually I get them in a sense of order and type them in to the computer if I havneít already, or at least type in more
scenes, better fitting now.
Then i revise end-to-end (again, several times). I
*polish scenes, flesh out scenes, or add new ones (at least a sentence or two to comvey some idea though I might make a note
and write the scene later on paper)
*fix points of view,
*note characters that need development, add scenes or memories to show some aspect of their character that needs work,
*word smith constantly along the way, note places where I need a better word or phrase even if I can't think of what it should
be at the time, then move on.
Then end-to-end again, slower
* make a spread sheet of characters and descriptive notes to make sure I'm being consistent
* note magic spells and tools and place names
* I usually don't outline the plot but I'll make notes about plot elements that need set up, to make sure the set up is there,
and note set ups to make sure the thread is not left undone, questions unanswered except by purposeful intent
*grammer check in Word Perfect was good for noting repetition and verbosity. I don't know the software now so I'm on my own
with that and at least check paragraph starts.
*spell check and global correct of common typos I repeatedly make, like perhpas and Online for Onaline, but you have to do
a spell check by eyeball, too, for their and there, border and boarder, and other words equally right but wrong.
Then yet again, checking for my bad habits (grammer check was good at pointing them out when I'd correct the same thing a
dozen times... too many 'there are' and 'there were' was a pattern pointed out to me by a reviewer at an SFF con writing workshop.
I also use too many "even", "just", "truly", "slightly" and other useless words.
Then end to end again, looking for concepts I considered important, so important that they are repeated in several places.
This one is easiest aloud and i read to my sister when we travel together. Nothing is so enlightening as reading aloud and
hearing the words repeated more than in your mind. Nothing triggers awareness of long windedness as running out of breath,
or awkwardness with a tripping tongue (alitteration is easy to say compared to a bad phrase--the tongue seems to connect to
the right piece of mind, when the eyes don't).
Then set it aside for weeks or months, work on other stories, and do the same again. Subvocalizing until you can almost feel
your tongue twitching works almost as well as reading aloud and ensures you don't skim over pieces you've read too often to
see. If that doesn't work or you don't have time--subvocalizing takes longer--start at the back and work your way to the
front, at least line by line, and you'll find the tiny typos and punctuation problems neither computer nor eye will catch.
And one last tip: before you sit down to revise, read something you really like, first.
Friday, May 15, 2009
What do you think?
I can hardy resist watching the numbers of visitors to my blog but it usually raises more questions than it answers. it tells
me that I have an audience but mostly not a consistent one and I can only speculate why some weeks I get more than ever, and
other weeks only a few. With this site I can't even tell which pages they are looking at, to know whether some page is particularly
popular (the story scenes and Homeworld essays (and poetry) change as often as I post blogs) or whether some pages are not
viewed at all.
15 may 09 @ 6:22 pm
I thought the Tribute to Mom's would be popular for Mother's day but had few readers at all that weekend, everyone visiting
their own, I suppose. Anyway, feedback through e-mail is welcome and I may post it if you give permission, or not if you
prefer a private note. I'd still like to hear what I'm doing right or wrong and am always willing to give a stab at answering
questions, even if only with speculation.
Of course, I still have more questions than answers on some things. This online community thing is still new. What I've
found so far has been pleasant, but as a recent comic strip indicated, commenting on someone's blog doesn't for a full discourse
make. The fuller discourse seems to be there, after a fashion and after awhile, but it comes in through the totality of bloggers
reading each other's posts and addressing the same topic in their own blogs. It's an ethereal discussion, speakers standing
in a mist uncertain whether anyone is listening, unable to see the expressions that will tell the speaker whether they are
understood receiving agreement or disagreement, or missing what the listener needs to hear.
The blogger is speaking to the world by standing on a canyon rim and listening for an echo. Perhaps another hiker on a cliff
nearby, hidden around the corner, might respond. Hikers and rock climbers and campers all form their own kind of communities,
with unspoken (or spoken) rules and expectations, and so do bloggers, but like those other groups of chance-met strangers,
a conversation might be enlightening, silly, or frighteningly bizarre, one side or many sided, and no one the wiser until
All valuable, but not quite the same as a writers' group of familiar companions whose background, experience, and interests
are known and developed over time, and whose comments and feedback are both regular and understood through face-to-face or
at least virtual meetings of substance. We know who will be critical, who will praise, who will do both, and we will know
how to take their words, their advice. We can discuss intent and why some bit of advice won't work, or whether to take a
wild idea that seems unlikely, having discovered that the weird advice and insight often works.
I welcome comments on my scenes and essays, but such comments are few and far between, and even generic advice isn't always
easy to follow, being hard to apply or seemingly appropriate to circumstances different from our own. (Try publishing a short
story, first, I've been told by writers in other genres, even been told it was necessity, but if so, I'm lost. My short stories
are 5000 words and more long with rare exception, and the only SFF magazines I've found want published writers, else for the
story to fit in a tiny, tightly defined box to match some issue theme and story size and all the rest, besides novel and short
story writing skills not being the same... Are they excuses, or my own reality? Have other published SFF novel writers all
done short stories first? From what I've seen, published short stories more often come after). So, Iím trying to be part
of the community, winding my way through the invisable maze, but I still wish for the closer interaction of a stable writer's
group. Have you found one?
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
HNS conference fast approaching
12 may 09 @ 7:42 pm
One of the "community" building efforts I have only periodically been able to participate in is conferences. HNS
(Historical Novel Society) isn't particular to Fantasy and SF, but it's open to both, especially alternative histories, but
it's open enough, useful enough even for those that merely borrow a bit of historical culture here and there, besides being
a great social atmosphere for grownups.
Unfortunately the HNS conference is only in the US in alternate years. Two years ago it was in friendly Albany, my first
time going. This June, it's in Chicago. Since history is more subject matter than genre, the audience and speakers are
mixed, multi-genre, somewhat heavy on romance, but not unpleasantly so, and with a late evening reading by the romance writers
that is not to be missed. The mix offers lessons of its own, for the readers have mixed interests, too, and tradecraft and
tricks common in one genre may be a great addition to another. Free books are an added allure although an inconsistent one,
heard of before, lacking my first time (just as well, as I was loaded with suvenires and gifts, catching the con on my way
home from vacation), and promised again this year.
Women outnumbered the men, which added a different flavor than I've encounter at SFF cons, but that might have alure to men
and women both. Conversation came a little easier than some con's I've been to, and the agent speed dating is a huge and
rare bonus for those trying to get published, though only one or two will handle fantasy.
If that sounds like something that you'd be interested in, I don't think it's too late to register.
Friday, May 8, 2009
a suggestion often tauted for success is to visualize where you want to get to, the various aspects of success as you personally
define it. Like defining happiness, its harder than it sounds. It can be a downright dangerous assignment for someone in
a creative field like fiction writing. I imagine it is a source of inspiration for the various meta-fictional writings and
products, and nightmares for others.
8 may 09 @ 10:48 pm
I try it now and again, to clarify my goals, to consider my options, to analyze what I really want versus the standard recipis
that define success.
How many people get a house with a big yard and the only thing they do with the yard is mow the grass and complain at its
size. Why did they choose it? Because everybody "knows" that success is defined by a house, a yard, a spouse,
children on the swings, a steady job... The practical reality is that home ownership is a good investment, in the long run
better than renting, but I have found that when it comes to it, many people are content with a condo or town house complex
with a play yard, exercise rooms, and a pool, with no need for a yard at all, and many couples forgo the kids in favor of
So, I visualize signs of success for myself as a writer, an SFF writer in particular, (although occasionally I consider what
it would take to publish the nonfiction stuff). The SFF is different from success for non-genre writers, I suspect, though
maybe they have versions of a con. For an SFF writer, there's the book signing. I can imagine the mobs, the fun, but in
practical terms, signings look to be positively painful and tedious, and frightening to think no one might show. Should I
have family come again and again to look busy? Make appointments for friends to come and chat? I like the long lines and
captain-actor's chatty version on "Galaxy Quest". As little as some writers make, the fee is probably useful for
survival and to please the fans, always wise and sometimes possibly fun.
Teaching a class is a good sign. Nearly every writing class I've gone to has had either a published author or someone in
the business, usually small press publisher-editors. And authors do readings. Those look to be fun, and I've heard rumor
that they often don't require being published, but I can't imagine doing a reading if I don't at least have a book in an editor's
hands, under contract if not in print. Successful readings tease the audience, not satisfy, and sales should soon follow.
Of course, success would mean someone showing up to listen, preferably more than one.
In my overactive imagination, I have visions of myself doing them all, but seldom "straight". I've taught classes--not
writing, but other things for adults--so I imagine I could do a writing class well enough. I can imagine, though, the blank
stares, the shy students afraid to ask questions, the bizarre questions I hardy know how to answer politely, and the aliens
and magic wielders in the audience that could make a class go wrong, or go wild.
Interviews. Can you see an SFF author on Leno? I've seen the results of interviews, but unlike classes, I haven't seen an
interview conducted in real life. TV fiction interviews always have old-style reporters with notepads else media with giant
microphones. Or the talk show, recorded live. could I even think? Would I run screaming off the stage? I can image witty
reparte' but in reality... what disaster, what wild adventure would a newish writer have to face to land in such a place?
A calm one-on-one chat is more my thing than joking with the stars. Everything goes wrong in my dreams until I hope for
an alien landing to interrupt the mess that my wandering, fearful mind brings forth.
It's all something to think about for those who want to go that route, publishing and selling, a living fame, though hopefully
more the calm, delightful reality than the nightmares that can hold us back. Publicity requires skills other than writing,
settings other than the quiet desk or couch and keyboard. Experience in other worlds, other jobs, other courses might help,
but I hope for practice, a script, and a powerful answer to my hasty prayers if I should gain such success.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
a question of happiness
5 may 09 @ 8:02 pm
I've heard of the Happiness Project before but came across it again searching for something else entirely so i thought I would
share. The happiness project blog seems to have a happiness tip each week. Brief but to the point, with good values behind
the notes if not much commentary.
The one I came across was a variation on being true to one's self, more specifically, that doing what makes yourself happy
will help you make others happy. It's but it's one of those things that's easy to say and understand but harder to do than
one would think.
We have grown up surrounded by expectations and assumptions and we tend to adopt many of them as we grow up. It doesn't matter
where we pick them up: from friends, family, television, even random comments from strangers, we absorb them as our own.
That's especially true when all of those sources are in alignment, even if we are rebels at heart, trying to resist being
herded with the rest of the world. They are there and surround us and the assumption is that of course every body wants the
same things, ultimately, material and otherwise. In some circles, that means a spouse, family, good job, and a house with
a lawn. Other times, the happy expectation is good hard work with the family on the farm, though these days being a happy
couple with dual incomes and no kids is also accepted.
The assumption of common sources of happiness might sometimes be true, especially at the base of the pyramid of needs--we
require food, shelter, safety, and having all of those needs leads toward a level of happiness. But above that... Not everyone
will ever learn to truly appreciate classical music. Not everyone will ever understand what folk music is though in some
circles it is considered the really artsy stuff. Recognizing what makes us happy outside the standard expectations (or within
them: the rebel may discover they like classical afterall, even if in their social circles they hardly dare admit it) can
be a formidable challenge, though ultimately one worth facing.
How do we know what really makes us happy? Is it the things that make the time go by quickly. How short the day seems if
I can spend it writing and revising! Perhaps it's the things that make us smile. I don't know if I smile while I write,
I'm just there, doing it, unaware of the externals so long as there is some bit of sound in the distance. Interactions with
family and friends make me smile. For some, interactions with strangers seem to do the same, but I am never comfortable starting
conversations (though once started, I can do my share to keep the conversation going.) Iíve seen cliff climbers doing their
thing on the rocks. They must get some pleasure out of risking their necks, straining their muscles, but most don't smile
until they are done, they are so intent on every muscle movement, every shift of hand, then feet (never both at once, never
two limbs at once, so I've heard). It is, at least, something we want to repeat, either wishing to go back in time and experience
the same exact moment again, or content to repeat some variation, a new variation every time, discovering new elements not
previously noticed. I walk, in new places or the same place in new seasons, new times of the day, or the same every afternoon,
content in the company, the familiar habits.
What makes you feel that way? And what makes your characters feel that way? What would they do again if they could? What
memory would the work to return to, what discovering would they seek for all their lives? We must know that much about our
characters, or we don't know them at all.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Finding Ideas in news
With news of the sort to hit daily conversation, I thought I comment on news as a source of ideas. I don't follow much of
he big news except such national news as hits the local stations, but friends will bring up some, or I'll catch tidbits from
television is some pubic place, like a lobby or store. Anything I catch is fair game for story ideas, even for historical
fantasy, and some take on a life of their own once captured, until the source is unrecognizable and unremembered. Plenty
of SF tales are little more than projections of an event, magnified, twisted, or exaggerated, and cast into the future to
see where it could take us, or similar events set worlds away, with uniquely alien reactions to the events.
1 may 09 @ 7:27 pm
One way the news can fuel ideas is that it tells the author what kinds of things get the attention of the public, their audience,
and which kinds of reactions by officials get approval or disapproval by the public, and whether the author agrees. If you
start to question the public's reaction (I get nervous when people start nodding their heads and happily accepting restrictions
for the sake of an ambiguous "safety" more illusion than truth, but sympathize with public figures who find every
minor private infringement the source of excessive public scrutiny), that might be a great opportunity to set up a scene for
conflict. Have the pubic's view be taken by one character, and your own view is taken by another as befits their established
or desired nature and let them make your argument for you. Then shift to a parallel topic appropriate to the story's theme:
change disease to spell, cure to charm; change vote to plead, economic woe to battle on the escarpment, and see the news
translates into a new story ine but with the same fire in which it was originally written.
Farther removed from the news, take random words heard or read there, swap parts of one headline with parts of another in
a different part of the paper, or chop randomly and see what falls out. A similar effect can be achieved through a different
approach. During a summer writing course I took some years ago, the teacher gave us a the task of writing a 500 word story
(exactly!) that used, at least one, every one of a hefty list of words. Inevitably, I did an SG story. I don't recall the
list exactly, but fifteen or twenty words including things like dog, pool, vacuum, and a few other more or less domestic words.
I've posted the results on the Homeworld page: see tab above.
To try it for yourself, take the following list: leather, heat, hand, couch, red, transform, skirt, light, inevitable, lift,
door, confess, wind, grass, eye. Use them in a story or scene of about 500 words and see what happens.