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Welcome to my blog!

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This blog was my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.  Some of the advice therein may still be of interest to new writers so I have left it here but due to technical difficulties, I no longer post here regularly.  You can look me up on Dreamwidth, although I do not post frequently. 

Feel free to share a link to this site. If you opt to download it or share content, please give due credit to this website and the author: Emmalyn N. Edwards. Thank you--Emmalyn

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Okay, that didn't quite work
The following blogs were all listed as participants in a blog tour this past week for The Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos. Horror-style science fiction isn't my thing, but those who are into zombies and such might be interested in their views of the book.

Book link - http://www.amazon.com/Night-Living-Dead-Christian-Ferociously/dp/1414338805/

Authorís Web site - http://www.mikalatos.com/

Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Theresa Dunlap
Amber French
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Leighton
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Dave Wilson
30 mar 12 @ 1:28 pm

The following blogs were all listed as participants in a blog tour this past week for The Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos. Horror-style science fiction isn't my thing, but those who are into zombies and such might be interested in their views of the book.

Book link - http://www.amazon.com/Night-Living-Dead-Christian-Ferociously/dp/1414338805/

Authorís Web site - http://www.mikalatos.com/

<a href="http://ofbattlesdragonsandswordsofadamant.blogspot.com/"> Gillian Adams</a>
<a href="http://kinynchronicles.blogspot.com/"> Julie Bihn</a>
<a href="http://tessbissell.wordpress.com/"> Red Bissell</a>
<a href="http://www.oerkenleaves.blogspot.com/"> Thomas Clayton Booher</a>
<a href="http:/tulipdrivenlife.blogspot.com/"> Thomas Fletcher Booher</a>
<a href="http://www.AdventuresInFiction.blogspot.com/"> Keanan Brand</a>
<a href="http://rbclibrary.wordpress.com/"> Beckie Burnham</a>
<a href="http://morganlbusse.wordpress.com"> Morgan L. Busse</a>
<a href="http://tweezlereads.blogspot.com/"> Theresa Dunlap</a>
<a href="http://www.amberfrench.blogspot.com/"> Amber French</a>
<a href="http://going-greene.blogspot.com/">Tori Greene</a>
<a href="http://www.thehahnhuntinglodge.com/"> Nikole Hahn</a>
<a href="http://realmofhearts.blogspot.com/"> Ryan Heart</a>
<a href="http://www.brucehennigan.com/"> Bruce Hennigan</a>
<a href="http://thequietpen.wordpress.com/"> Janeen Ippolito</a>
<a href="http://jessebecky.wordpress.com/"> Becky Jesse</a>
<a href="http://www.spoiledfortheordinary.blogspot.com/"> Jason Joyner</a>
<a href="http://carolkeen.blogspot.com/"> Carol Keen</a>
<a href="http://www.slygames.net/"> Leighton</a>
<a href="http://www.shannonmcdermott.com/?page_id=189"> Shannon McDermott</a>
<a href="http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/"> Rebecca LuElla Miller</a>
<a href="http://linalamont.blogspot.com/"> Nissa</a>
<a href="http://www.bookwomanjoan.blogspot.com/"> Joan Nienhuis</a>
<a href="http://www.leastread.blogspot.com/"> John W. Otte</a>
<a href="http://justanotherbookbag.blogspot.com/"> Crista Richey</a>
<a href="http://www.sarahsawyer.com/blog"> Sarah Sawyer</a>
<a href="http://www.chawnaschroeder.blogspot.com/"> Chawna Schroeder</a>
<a href="http://www.rachelstarrthomson.com/inklings/"> Rachel Starr Thomson</a>
<a href="http://christiansf.blogspot.com/"> Steve Trower</a>
<a href="http://frederation.wordpress.com"> Fred Warren</a>
<a href="http://www.shanewerlinger.com/"> Shane Werlinger</a>
<a href="http://www.theravenquill.blogspot.com/"> Nicole White</a>
<a href="http://facesoflions.wordpress.com/"> Dave Wilson</a>
30 mar 12 @ 1:22 pm

over-used words
One rejection so far from the six. At least they were quick so I know I get on with looking for the candidates.

Meanwhile, I've been doing quick reviews of the books I'm sending out queries for. It's always useful to go back with fresh eyes after a break, and going through quickly highlights issues that are easy to miss when going through a long piece with a fine tooth comb, for example, over-used words. Not over0used in general, like cliche's, but over used and used in too many ways in the same piece, which can be subtlely boring and is usually sign of using a vague word where a more specific one would be appropriate. In this case, I knew that I had used the word "shift" in many places for the specific meaning of repetitive working time period and did a search looking mostly to check if I had used the shift-leaders name and description consistently throughout (being a side character, I had in fact provided his name and description only once so I added elements of it in a couple of places as reminders). In he process, I discovered that I had also used the word frequently with the meaning of small movement or change. In some cases, okay, shift is as good a word as any, but in several of the cases, lift or drop would be more specific, so more concrete and descriptive, so better. Sidled is one of those odd words with a more specific context, so maybe sideways motion needs to be left or changed in other ways. A shift in tone of voice can be described in many more specific ways with musical terminology, movement terminology, or alternative emotive words (I haven't finished making all the changes, yet).

In the short run, it probably doesn't change the book enough to help get the book to a publisher and on the shelves, but subtle improvements will help it sell in the long run, make each scene more real, more memorable, and that's enough to be worth the effort of polishing.

Writer's challenge: Search the text of a story for general descriptive words such as shadow, light, dark, bright, and general movement words like move, walk, and step. Can you replace some of them with something else, something more specific to the nature of the action and the mood of the scene?

Writer's challenge2/prompt: List all the words and phrases you can think of that would give the impression/flavor of night without using "night" or "dark". Write a scene using them.
30 mar 12 @ 12:00 pm

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Agent hunting continues
I sent out ix, three via e-mail, three via snail mail, two each for three stories/sets (the symetry was accidental, just the right number with potential and associated instructions. A wider range in what they want than I expected: query letters, resume's (my writer's resume is fairly horrible, since I got used to doing just one paragraph as part of my query letters and don't exactly have a list of fiction publications to point to; does blogging count? If I had a million hits maybe...) synopsis (none of them specified length and I don't know that my longer ones are better, though they are a little more complete, so I mostly sent my shorter ones) and samples, mostly asking for 5 pages to three chapters, with some saying they'd aske for the first 50 if they liked the less well enough. I think I goofed with one. i couldn't find anything I recognized as a list of what to send, just a note to send it via snail mail, so I sent a fair amount, figuring the more they see, the less it will depend on my getting exactly the right tone in the query letter without any idea what tone to aim for. In retrospect, I think the word "query" WAS THE instruction, meaning just the letter, so I've sent too much. I probably won't know if it hindered, since I've yet to get more than a generic reject from more than one query, but who know, maybe I'll discover it helped... i wouldn't count on it though. it's more likely to get shuffled to the bottom of the stack; with many people pushing YA as "in", the stacks are likely to be big.

Well that's enough rambling and I still have many agents (and publishers, if any still take direct queries) to research, many packages to prepare to make my goal of 20 queries.

Writer's Challenge: Look for "and" and "but" in your story and find a way to remove at least half of them.

Writer's prompt: Write a scene or story that takes place at least partly in darkness or shadow.
28 mar 12 @ 8:40 pm

Friday, March 23, 2012

agent hunting continues
After many many tries, I'm starting to get the hang of what to look for when I get information about agents. I'd been told long ago that I should see what they had already helped sell, and I got as far as blurbs on the books (I can't read all the books and make any progress on submitting my own). I read a lot of blurbs before I felt like I was getting anywhere, but a couple of agents had obvious patterns in what they were selling as far as science fiction or fantasy went, and I started to understand what I had been told. Some, still not enlightening, but rading a lot gave me some ideas.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, I was looking for agents that carried combinations into which my books might fit, figuring that might help: historical fiction and fantasy, fantasy and teen-young adult (I'm assuming teen and "middle grade" are about the same, though it seems to include a lot of what I used to think of as young adult), however, I came across one where every fantasy they had was YA-Middle grade but also very contemporary, their historical fiction was all adult. For another agent, their science fiction was all vampire and zombie stuff but it turned out their fantasy had the light flavor and themes that I think I have, so I switched that one from the list of candidate agents for my science fiction to the list for my middle grade fantasy. Some seemed to be interested in all my genres and age groups, but their book list had nothing like anything I write. I haven't eliminated them entirely if I officially qualify--in case they have found other audiences along the way and are looking for books that would fit the need--but they aren't at the top of my list unless their web page specifies that that is the case.

Of course, it could still be misleading, but at least I've begun to get a sense of things to look for as I research the agents, most of them giving a sense of how they define the genre or the part of the genre or age group they are interested in such as:
Complicated family relationships versus focus on individuals and their challenges
Young characters in adult or imaginary worlds vs teen stresses: drugs, peer pressure vs teen sex and relationships
Contemporary vs historical/traditional/different world fantasy
Elves and fairies vs paranormal vs magic and wizards
Space fiction vs horror vs paranormal
Near future vs alternative worlds vs superheroes
Dark vs adventurous vs light/touch of humor vs comic
Near-future speculative fiction, super-heroes

Writer's challenge: go through a bunch of book blurbs and identify two recently published books that your book or story is similar to. Identify two books that are at the far end of the spectrum
Writer's prompt: use a source of light as a key element in a scene or story
23 mar 12 @ 5:28 pm

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing is Like Making a Crazy Quilt
On my other blog (http://enexplorations.blogspot.com/), I wrote a piece about how a Crazy Quilt is like a story being pieced together, and realized that the reverse is also true. When i make a crazy quilt, I take pieces, sew them together, trim them down to get strait edges, sew on more, so that pieces that start large might be scattered through the quilt as many tiny pieces, separate pieces might be brought together to look like a larger one,

That is much like I write a novel, starting with a bunch of ideas, usually drafted as piecemeal scenes that, between them, express an initial vision of the story's world, experiments with some of the characters and their relationships, and starts to prod me toward a story line. By the time I'm done with the novel, the initial scenes might be so chopped and moved and resequenced and used as inspiration for many others such that hardly three words remain in the same combination they had to start, names might be changed, world rules revamped, and phrases from several scenes brought together for a hopefully stallar dialog or perfectly formed setting, capturing the flavor I had in mind if not the settings I started with.

Like a crazy quilt, a compatible fit, completeness, contrast, an even spread that is not so even as to make the results seem almost repetitive: a good story like a good crazy quilt has big pieces, and clusters of small ones, theme but also texture and variety, with no section quite like any other, one corner not predictable based on the opposite corner or even the other three: the ending has to make sense when revealed yet be utterly unpredictable from the start or the middle or even the climax, though hints should be present throughout in fabric patterns or in foreshadowing.

And in the final revision, like the completed quilt, for which the rough edges need to be smoothed and bound, the book needs to be tightened and polished, extraneous bits cut away to perfect the whole.

Writer's challenge: Take a scene, take individual elements such as characters, candlesticks and other setting pieces, dialog fragments, and write a scene that brings out something important about each of them.
19 mar 12 @ 9:04 pm

Steps forward
Book three wasn't as bad as I feared. Several scenes need rework in the beginning, but the middle sections I usually struggle with were pretty well polished. Then a magic battle in the climax that needs some work. I kind of know what all has to happen (which is more than sometimes is the case until lots of rewrites), but sequencing, writing it so that the action seems rapid without making it too choppy... I think i still need to fix the sequencing so that one conflict leads into the next. As it is now, first I have one conflict, and the first one doesn't allow a flow into the next. For climaxes, I figure the scenes themselves should crash into each other, too.
19 mar 12 @ 8:13 pm

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Repetition has Its Place
I talked about removing reptition, but there are places where I leave it in place on purpose, just as there are places where discontinuity is appropriate to show a problem that a POV character is missing. One place where repetitive references play a key role is building suspense. It isn't enough to show a clock in the room and the time at one point in a scene or series of scenss: the reader has to feel the progression of time by showing the time as it progresses.

I do mostly fantasy pre-clocks and prerelated technology in my fantasy, but there are other things that can play the same role: the progressive approach of an army, a storm, or a sound, the coming of sunset if the dark is to be feared, or the coming of dawn that will bring with it an attack. Almost anything can replace the clock or the timer, by tracking the change by stages and repeated references to it. Between, change, long scenes in great detail to convey brief times and fast action, shorter flowery generalizations to convey slower, less intense action, it doesn't matter, so long as the action is appropriate for the amount of time that is passing, the amount of progress that is being made by the oncoming threat.

Writer's challenge: Take a story and list everything in it that could be used as a clock to build a scene. Take one item from the list other than a clock or a bomb and write a scene.
17 mar 12 @ 5:47 pm

Friday, March 16, 2012

Am I Repeating Myself?
Always an important question for story writing as well as blogs. Sometimes, I find I haven't exactly repeated myself, I've put things in different context, varied the application, but even that can come across as repetitive, and it's actually more tempting and less appropriate to do it with side matters, cultural expressions, and mood setters. It's tempting because it adds interest to a scene and because, not being an important element, we forget that we've already used it. And it's hard to catch because we might work on a big scene for awhile and repeatedly over time, adding and subtracting, modifying and adjusting.

I usually catch the repetition better when I am doing a quick review instead of a thorough polish, so these reviews as I prepare letters and synopsis is a good chance for catching them.

I find that there are many things to edit for, and many of them required separate and different approaches to the editing and revision process. For example, while I might catch spelling errors at any time, I catch them best by working my way backwards through the book or at least the section. (No, spell check is not enough, in case anyone is thinking that. Lots of spelling errors look an awful lot like real words to a computer, are real words, just not the right ones, and I've been known to type the wrong form of a word, even though I know what the write form is. All those I catch working backwards more often than forward, and the computer won't catch at all.

On the other hand, to really get a feel for the overall plot and where it might need rework, I have to mostly read without trying to revise as I go beyond making a few notes when I notice a break in the flow, a rough spot, or some element that seems to be missing.

I am always either amused or amazed (depending what I guess or know about their skill levels) when writers seem to sit down and write a book end to end, go through once to edit, and call themselves done. I know there are a couple of people out there who can do that, but mostly not, even if most people don't have to go through a book as many times as I do to feel satisfied with their results. (To give you an idea of how much revision I do, my four book started as a three page "short story"--as I thought of it at the time--but really was just one scene, and a scene not now in any of the books since the two characters it contained have both divided into two or three each. It was really the world I was conceiving in that scene, and to a degree the characters, but not the story. Others have stayed closer to the original core, but not two words in a row remain the same as they began).

Writer's Challenge (possibly a repeat): Look at a story you wrote long ago, either one that you've worked on since, or not. Where has it gone since you wrote it? Has it changed in your mind even if you haven't worked on it? Write a new story with some element of it that you still like.

Writer's prompt: use the last sentence from an old story of your own or the first sentence from today's newspaper as your first sentence.
16 mar 12 @ 8:21 pm

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Still working at it
The problem with preparing proposal packages is that I have to look at my stories and I always find things to polish. The first one, little bits of polishing and shortening to make sure it's under the typical 100,000 words max, the sequels a little more, gaps that I had noted but not yet fixed, excess verbiage describing what should be shown. I tend to tell myself with the sequels that I have to sell the first ones first, so I have a little time to polish the rest later, and forget that I haven't yet until trying to write a synopsis or something prods me to take a closer look, like an idea for a lot twist or a scene element. I have about five scenes to work on in the second book, and probably five scenes by chapter three for book three in that particular set.

Got to get back to letter writing.

Writer's challenge: Take a page in the middle of your work and try to read it like you hadn't seen it before. Can you figure out what's going on with just what is there? How much do you have to read to understand the players, to get a picture of them, to know something about their history? Add 20 words or phrases that make the situation more clear. Delete 20 words that don't help.
14 mar 12 @ 8:12 pm

Monday, March 12, 2012

The query letter
As far as I can tell, there is limited guidance for writing query letters, but what there is limits the options enough to make some aspects of them at least doable, if certainly no guarantee of success. One page essentially means about four paragraphs: the request and why the recipient should care will be different each time; a paragraph or two about the story (the very brief pitch, as it were, or the briefest synopsis in the world and such other information about the book) and a paragraph about the author's experience, which is in some ways the hardest: if you have published in the genre of interest, that's great, but lacking that, what might the agent be interested in about the author otherwise? That I can't guess. Mostly I end up using it to point out that I have more than the one book ready to go, so that if they are looking for series instead of one-offs, that I have a series ready to go and that they don't have to depend entirely on my writing books from scratch to keep having books to sell on my behalf. I assume that's a good thing, though I've never heard that it's particular encouraged, in the way that stand-alone books regularly are, even if they are intended to have sequels to follow up on successes.

Anyway, I've drafted a new basic letter and polished the five-page synopsis for the same. Next is to research exactly what the candidate agent(s) want in a query (always a letter, sometimes a synopsis, length varies), sometimes a sample chapter or three.

Writer's prompt: Use the words blue, charge, grade, passionate, free in a scene
12 mar 12 @ 7:22 pm

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Transition Zones
Traveling, and especially hiking, we came across a lot of natural transition zones" those areas, often quite narrow, between swamp and desert, pine woods and deciduous, sea and land, cliff or tree line and the land below. The latter type made me realize how big a part they could play in stories, because they are considered points of tactical advantage: a hiding place with a view, an attack point not readily seen by a defender, a safehaven for those in need of shade, or water, or cover.

It also made me think of other kinds of transition zones that could be useful to consider in stories: the shift from eccentricity to madness, nervousness to fear, passive resistance to active attack. A small phrase or act can change a character from one to the other, the shift can be a single scene or a series of them. the change from one to the other can be a key element of the plot or merely a mechanism to strengthen a characteristic throughout the piece and give a side character a more ative role.

They aren't always easy to spot: at one park we were told we would see seven different environments but could only identify a few, and the same few plants were visible in most of them: the the plants ended at the shore, sometimes abruptly, sometimes more gradually; plant density varied and so did the soil, and sometimes other plants were mixed in along with. Spotting the opportunity to use a transition zone as a story element may also be difficult, but the potential will be everywhere in well-developed world, and looking for ways to use them to strengthen scenes, develop conflict, and build tension in the story is well worth the effort.

Writer's challenge: identify the transitions your protagonist goes through in story; if they don't go through any, create a weakness or flaw that can be improved by events as the story progresses.
Writer's prompt: a character steps out into the light.
8 mar 12 @ 8:03 pm

Monday, March 5, 2012

Now I remember why it's hard
Writing a query letter to an agent that seems like a reasonable candidate shouldn't be that hard, but there's something about it, the importance of it, that makes it as hard as writing the perfect start to a book. the act of it isn't difficult. I have a couple of models with which to work, some play I've done to make it interesting, like a sales blurb (as some have recommended, though others recommend trying to convey the tone of the book...), a limited amount I can say about my own writing experience (what can one say when one is unpublished? I don't think uncreative nonfiction documents and blogs really count, though I always indicate that I have more than the one book in case they are looking for someone that they can sell multiple books for without having to wait for an unwritten sequel). It's just that trying to concentrate on something that is not fun, that is the work part of getting published (editing isn't exactly to be looked forward to, especially from an editor who is an unknown element, but revision is part of writing and has it's moments) is always a challenge, especially when the next books are already calling to me and I know some of the books awaiting query letters could always use a little more polish even knowing that they will be edited and possibly revised significantly after they are accepted, when they are accepted.

Writer's prompt: Change the sex of a character and put them back in a scene you've already written. Hint: if you don't have to change anything except the he said-she said's, then the scene, dialog, and other characters in the scene need some work, too.
5 mar 12 @ 10:22 pm

Friday, March 2, 2012

frist steps to finding agents
http://www.agentquery.com/ turns out to be a good place to start the agent hunt. It provides quite a lot of information about agents, though not all perfectly up to date based on the sometimes dated list of published books and other tidbits. I did a general query on the genre and just dug in looking for likely candidates. That's of course where it gets hard, but the information does provide some hints. At first, I didn't study the detailed sections, just skimmed for viability and copied several of them into documents so that I can work offline.

As a start, since they were all fantasy, at least, I looked at other genres and notes. For example, some say no children, and I'll double check to see if they list young adult, since most of my fantasy tends to fall into that. If they don't, I might still try to fantasy, but not right away. An agent that can see the possibility of one story in more than one genre increased the chance both that they will be interested and that they will find a way to sell it. The one I'm not entirely certain of is "commercial fiction" but figure it might mean what I've referred to as pop fiction, to differentiate primarily from cerebral literary fiction that might be intended for college literature students as much as any other audience.

Then I look at the books they represent. I know it should be helpful. I'm less certain how, beyond perhaps narrowing what they consider "fantasy" (once or twice it hasn't been the usually that goes with science fiction; more often it's zombies and werewolves and other things I associate with horror or other genres). If they list a genre but don't show any books from it, does that mean they are looking to expand or are particularly selective or just haven't succeeded in that genre? If I see something that could be sort of like what I wrote, is it too similar for them to want it, or does it mean they might like the subgenre? Perhaps if they sell a lot of romance and list fantasy, it means they would like a fantasy-world romance?

Sometimes their commentary will give clues but most often it seems to be an attempt at describing in general what they like, without quite being specific enough to know if my piece will fit or not. Mostly it gives me hints what aspects of my writing might be worth highlighting - character variety, the touches of humor and pathos, the points of view used, etc.

Whether my guesses are right... well, I have to craft the proposal letters before I can find out.

Writer's challenge: even if your story isn't done yet, look up an agent, and consider what about your story might make a good selling point with that agent. What wouldn't they like?
Writer's prompt: a) Write a letter from the point of view of one character to another, not necessarily in the same story or world. b) Trying to set up a blind date.
2 mar 12 @ 10:32 pm

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Be sure to get in touch so I know you're out there! See contacts page or e-mail wyverns(at)earthlink(dot)net.

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