Monday, July 29, 2013
Nearly done with the July write-a-thon and nearing my goal of 30,000 words. They aren't all new, technically, since we were
allowed to start with notes or any other stage we were at, but lots of new words and lots of polished words, and a couple
of thousand words also chopped as I decided they were not useful even as notes, character roughs and such. I expect to finish
the last 500 words and then some tonight or tomorrow as I write.
29 jul 13 @ 6:24 pm
Writer's prompt: ability, bass, chase, dog, echo
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Camp NaNoWriMo has, as it is intended to, taken up much of my time this month, along with the short story submission I wrote
as a submission for an upcoming anthology, "Long Hidden:Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History". The story
took more research than I would have guessed and some of the real history threatened to overtake the fantasy characters and
the magical element of the story, but at least that is a sign that I found some interesting characters and I think i achieved
an adequate balance in the end. We'll find out if the organizers agree in a couple of months.
21 jul 13 @ 6:38 pm
The NaNoWriMo book is the sequel to the one I was working on in November (and since then), a science fiction with what I hope
are enough elements of cubicle life and bad management for adult science fiction fans to relate to. I don't expect to finish
even a draft this month, but maybe a good start. When I can get a solid outline and the bulk of the scenes at least drafted,
I'll be able to return to Book 1 and polish it more effectively before I submit it to some publishers for consideration.
Camp NaNoWriMo has been an interesting experience. The usual good prod to make some significant progress (and at a better
time of year than November). The idea of cabin mates had, still has some potential but so far only one has really chatted
and at least half have not been participating at all--no writing stats, no chat, nothing. Sign up was a ways back so I'm
not surprised that people had other things come up during the summer. I think a more interactive cabin group would make it
more fun. The main November activity had some large groups defined by state or country of participants, but that is too broad
and too generic for much chatter or getting to know one another and as a result had almost no chatter at all.
Writer's challenge: set a goal and stick to it or set a goal for a character and put everything in the way of their achieving
Writer's prompt: I was just trying to get to St. Ives, when
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Cold Read at HNS
Two editors who decide whether books will be considered for publication were given the read the first two pages of books that
attendees were trying to publish or were working on. They both read the same one and the audience could see it (if you were
close enough to the front - the overhead projector was not great. Then they gave commentary, including when and why they
would stop reading if the book was one for them to consider (stopping meaning they would set it aside with a generic rejection)
and what they liked or didn't thereafter than might persuade them to give it further consideration. (Mine made it to the
end of the two pages and on but with no lack of imperfections, including that I had not provided a sufficiently specific sense
of place and that other aspects of it were "uneven". I would so love an editor I could trust to go through it with
a proper eye and tell me phrase by phrase or paragraph by paragraph what that means. I fear, however, that it requires more
perfect writing than I can come up with.)
9 jul 13 @ 10:09 pm
Some other tid bits they were looking for:
visual anchors for setting, including metaphors and select specifics that readers can relate to [I'm thinking that with historical,
that means keeping to low tech comparisons, thinking nature, people, home, and other basics turned into very concrete metaphors
and descriptive details]
When refering to the POV character's thoughts, there is not need to say "he thought" nor to italicise or have any
other cues. Just write it.
Editors/publishers may prefer extra words to too few - it's comparatively easy to edit out than to figure out what is missing.
If you use present tense (not encouraged), it should be almost invisible.
Occasional fragments are okay.
Extensive details and narrative shouldn't be in the first two pages. They can come later.
They suggested several alternative starting places: usually a point of action, not more than a sentence of narrative, and
if narrative, then very specific to a POV character, not high level, distant, or objective.
Visual was very important to both editors, but they were looking for it in small doses
Eyes: only aliens drop their eyes: humans drop their gaze or line of focus or whatever.
Tip: to test whether you are overusing names (when it could be replaced by pronouns), do a global replace to change them to
something radically different, then read. The overuse will then stand out, whereas names familiar to the writer will seem
to disappear. Replace with pronouns as appropriate, then do the global change back to the proper name.
They had many more tips, but some not new to me so I didn't write them down else they were very specific to the story at hand
and i wasn't sure how they might apply more generally.
Writer's challenge: Look at the first two pages of a book you like, then your own first two pages.
Writer's prompt: leap, try, red, cut, develop, lift, cold, line, flat, drop, white, frame, wing, segment, stack
Friday, July 5, 2013
Religion in fiction
The Religion panel at the HNS conference took a different turn than some such panels I've attended, with some interesting
bits of history and discussion of unique story POVs thrown in.
5 jul 13 @ 10:22 pm
Many medieval Christians believed in natural magic (another panel pointed out that the old source of income an elderly woman
was likely to have was healing, including natural magic and herb lore)
Muslims, offering at the time a few different rights than Europe offered to women at the time, seemed like the liberals of
their times to Crusaders. Women and children could inherit and own stuff, for example, and they had rules for polygamy, whereas
some Crusaders openly had mistresses but no rules governing their position, status, care, inheritance rights, etc. They also
had rules against killing women and children, which was not the case in Europe. Their education, style, and manners sometimes
threw off Crusaders who came to Jerusalem expecting to fight barbarians.
Religion is particularly important for historical fiction because until the 18th century, a religious affiliation was part
of everyone's identity, probably more than a residency, ethnicity, or nationality. The 18th century brought ideas of Enlightenment,
agnostics, and atheists, as well as spirituality in some areas and to varying degrees, which was often not part of historical
religious practices (Greek and Roman religion was more like bargaining with a temperamental CEO who was free to ask for personal
favors from their employees). Intolerance of other religions was not quite universal and varied in extent, but was usually
enough to impact relationships of all types and at all levels.
Slavery in some form and by some name was also generally a reality (serfs were not free and belonged to the land if not exactly
the land lord).
Jutta, an anchorite early on when anchorites were walled into their cell for life, inflicted severe damage to herself, including
wrapping herself with a chain inset with spikes. Being an anchorite was considered a living death, including being given
the last rites, the whole intended as a way to work toward finding a spiritual connection with God and they were often considered
wise, spiritual guides, and mad. Later, an anchorite might leave and come back (for years at a time). Hildegard was more
focused on love instead of of suffering as a way of showing devotion.
Religion can be a motivating factor in fictional characters withouth bogging the story down in the religious believe system,
sermonizing, and the like. For example, effective characters are "human", with failings, struggles, and facing
conflict within their own religion as well as with other religions. Addressing issues from within a religion is usually less
offensive to readers than attacking a religion from the view of another religion and it is much easier to not come across
as being unreasonably biased about a religion the author may be imperfectly familiar with from that perspective.
One way to know if the religious aspects of the story is being overdone is that there is nothing at stake: if nothing is at
stake, if nothing is in question, then it doesn't need to be there for the story. Better to show through risk, challenge,
and conflict. If the religion is part of the conflict, more can be included; if not, if it is just part of the background,
then less detail is called for.
On the other hand, religion can be a great element of conflict because there is almost nothing that gets such severe reactions,
so it can be a cause for extreme reactions by characters, too. Even in small ways, characters can be given more substance
by being uncomfortable with some aspect of their religion, not necessarily resolved by the story--the best questions can't
be answered--but by impacting the character's reactions to the challenges faced.
The 12th century in Europe offered a re-review of religion, the time of the building of the big cathedrals, visionaries guiding
change, renewal, incorporation of local culture and local interpretations, including very local power struggles as new ideas
and new, natural leaders challenged the status quo. Change and new ideas might be interpreted as conscience, visions, dream-visions,
and realizations: e.g. an attitude shift of "doing it for God" instead of "God doing things for you".
These sort of changes in any time or place, character transformation moments, are what make the great story.
Writer's prompt: Take two people and a verb and frame them into a phrase such as "xx likes yy" or ""yy
needs xx", reverse it, and make a story of the two phrases.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Regarding the what it means to be published, even more ambiguous was what it means to be a publisher. The diference between
vanity press and press service seems to be that vanity presses may be more underhanded about their costs, while the press
services are exorbitantly priced, both providing e-books (in some limited formats) and print-on-demand services, but no editing
or advertising services. The press services represented at the small and independent publisher panel considered themselves
an independent publisher but described themselves in terms that, to me, made it clear that they were not discernibly different
from a vanity press, and like a vanity press, could provide some services to someone self-publishing.
2 jul 13 @ 10:37 pm
At a panel at a past conference, the self-publishers considered themselves as more than someone who used a vanity press: they
hired professional editors to polish their work (because real publishers always have editors) and cover art and worked on
finding book stores that would take their newly published books, etc.
While even a major publisher expects authors to actively work in publize, interviewing, blogging, speaking, social networking,
etc., they normally provide distribution, web sites, blog sites, and other basic starting points, at a minimum. The small
presses had focused subject areas that they would consider because they use their knowledge of the associated subject areas
to aide in distribution and sales to select audiences via specialty web sites, book stores, appropriate cover art selection
and other helpful techniques. In contrast, the vanity presses and borderline press services/independent/smallest press publishers
seemed likely to provide no help in these areas.
Traditional and at least the better small publishers also have editors who function as initial filtering for acceptance/rejection
as well as editing work (to varying extent) to make it hte best product possible. They don't expect authors to hire their
own editor (though even those with full time editors encourage authors to get reviews and feedback to polish as much as possible
before submitting their work, of course). The borderline publishers and the vanity presses/print services (despite their
fairly high costs) expected authors to hire their own editor and provided no editorial services at all, nor filtering for
quality, which will not aid in sales to those who are familiar with the quality control or lack thereof of an imprint.
E-books, the e-book market, and print-on-demand publishing have all made the process and the lines and definitions more uncertain,
and both vanity presses and self publishers have their place, especially when traditional publishers are decraasing the number
of titlss/authors they publish even as the number of quality writers and readers grows. If you hope to make money, the general
concensus seems to be to aim for mainstream, but what constitutes mainstream is narrowing and many kinds of books won't fit.
For smaller profit margins but more precisely aimed books, smaller presses may be the way to go, but know that a true small
press doesn't charge the author for their service and is selective.
Vanity press may be a little more acceptable than it used to be as a starting place, and for some purposes may be just what
you need for some purposes, but often doesn't not make large number sales or income. They generally require significant upfront
funding and more than the usual effort on the part of the author to nurse their baby through the publishing process from editors
to covers to layout artists to sales and publicity. Self publishing, with or without a paid service or several services,
means being a publishing business as well as an author and needs to be treated as a full time business, so consider that before
trying that route.
Writer's challenge: spend an hour researching major and small/independant presses: what advantages do they offer YOU? What
Quilter's challenge: do you know the definitions between quilter, long-arm quilter, piecer, designer: which are you? Are you
all of them? How many "quilters" do you know who are?