Monday, January 31, 2011

a writing routine

Every writer is different. For me, writing new pages can be a challenge. One thing that I'm finding helpful is a writing routine. I try to write at the same time every day, whether I want to or not. I find this writing routine can make me more creative; I'm coming up with lots of new ideas.

The National Councl of Teachers of English has a document NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing which, among other things, states,

Writing is a tool for thinking: When writers actually write, they think of things that they did not have in mind before they began writing. The act of writing generates ideas.

Wow! I think this is true, and I will definitely try to stick to my writing routine.

How about you? Do you have a writing routine? Why or why not?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Writing on Reading: Blackout & All Clear

I just finished reading Connie Willis' 2010 science fiction novel in two parts Blackout, and All Clear. As Willis fans know, she is one of the most award-winning SF authors of all time, having won at least ten Hugo Awards and six Nebula Awards. In Blackout/All Clear she returns to her future Oxford University time-traveling world, also featured in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I've said before it's a brilliant idea to create a world and utilize it more than once.

Last time Betsy Dornbusch blogged about themes; in Blackout/All Clear Willis does address her ubiquitous theme of coming to terms with death/loss/grief.

Blackout/All Clear features more of Willis' unique voice, which I enjoy very much. Willis has a gift for making readers care about her characters; she does this by showing her characters care about others. This book has a strong message which is badly needed in today's culture. Additionally, there are some lovely plot twists/reveals at the end of the novel. Nonetheless, in my opinion, at 1132 (!) pages this novel would have been better if it had been shorter. The multiple time-lines and multiple protagonists with multiple names can also get a bit confusing.

Knowing Ms. Willis, Blackout/All Clear will probably be nominated for several awards. Good luck to her. :) I look forward to her next work.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing Themes

One of my writer friends, Betsy Dornbusch had some interesting things to say about writing themes lately. I repost it here as a guest post:

Balian of Ibelin
We all have personal themes. Often enough we don't think they're original. But think, really think, about how you apply your themes to your stories. Think about the combination of your themes, the things that make your muse sing. Alone, themes are rarely original. But combined with your own sensibility, they suddenly take on a new flavor. And embracing your themes and personal sensibility lends a ton of confidence to your writing. Because how you apply theme(s) to story--that's the original bit. That's all you, something no one can steal or copy.

Make a list of your themes. You can do it in comments or on your own. Don't know them? Or can't quite articulate them? Alexandra Solokoff recommends making a list of films (or books or stories or TV shows, even music, whatever floats you) that appeal to you. Think archetypes, too, even music.

My list would look something like this, in no particular order:
Robin Hood
  • Sons of Anarchy (TV)
  • Rome (TV)
  • THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton
  • Boondock Saints
  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • The Bourne Trilogy
  • Robin Hood, in all its various forms
  • THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST by Stuart Neville
  • JOE PITT series by Charlie Huston
  • Most anything written by Richard Kadrey
  • LOTR films--but really only certain sequences
  • HOUSE TO HOUSE by David Bellavia
  • OFF ARMAGEDDON REEF by David Weber
  • Most punk rock music, particularly Green Day, Cage the Elephant, Sum 41, My Chemical Romance...Okay, there's more. Loads more. Those are off the top of my head. But it's plenty to work with.
Next, we analyze the list. First thing: I like me some MALE PROTAGONISTS, and cute ones at that. I suspect it's because I have two brothers. (My forthcoming book features two brothers and one sister.) Beyond that: VIOLENCE, lots of it. Most of these stories have antagonists who perpetrate a lot of violence. They certainly suffer it. Even punk rock sounds violent. And with violence comes meaningful DEATH.

I like soldiers and WARRIORS dealing out death, and often they're self-appointed, like in Boondock Saints. Occasionally, though, they're stuck in a world they don't really understand, like in OFF ARMAGEDDON REEF and The Bourne Identity. Which leads me to another personal theme: the OUTSIDER. Hell, it's even one of the titles.

Outsiders generally have one or more people they'd die for though, or at least friends. Think Jax in Sons of Anarchy. He'd die for the Sons, even when he disagrees with them. So LOYALTY is one of my themes. Plus, Jax has major father issues, along with Ponyboy, Joe Pitt, and Balian. So PARENTAL ISSUES is another. And several of the stories (Kingdom of Heaven, Saints, LOTR, Kadrey's work, and Robin Hood) have MYSTICAL ELEMENTS AND RELIGION, particularly as an impetus to act. That's a big one for me.
So there you have it: my personal themes. Not very original: Male Protags, Violence, Death, Warriors, Outsiders, Loyalty, Parental issues, Religion, all played with background tracks from American Idiot and Danger Days.

But how I apply it, now there's where I find my originality. That's where it's all me. I've developed characters like rock star assassins, disgruntled mystics, martyr princes, twin demon warriors, Wiccan eco-terrorists, changelings who are determined to wipe out their own kind... I think a lot of those stories are pretty original, and they all stem from my quite unoriginal personal themes.

We have to write to our themes, otherwise we're just not really interested, right? So you may as well know what they are and put them to work for you. So how about you? What are your personal themes and how do they manifest themselves in your work?

Monday, January 24, 2011

fiction versus reality

I had a critique partner once that ...hhm... how shall I broach this? My crit partner wrote several scenes in which the protagonist, well, I'll just come out and say it: used the toilet. I immediately suggested that this might not be the best idea. My partner replied "But it's realistic."

Yes, that would be realistic. But is fiction supposed to be realistic? I contend fiction is better than reality. In real life rarely does anything interesting happen. No portals to alternate worlds open up, no handsome strangers steal your parking spot and then offer to take you out to dinner to make it up to you, no creepy dolls come to life and start chasing you. And, really, would you want them to? (Okay, maybe the handsome stranger thing.)

What's the (mythical?) Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times.

However, it is possible for fiction to be too unrealistic. Recently, I was rereading my WIP (instead of writing new pages, which is what I should have been doing) and I realized my characters never ate or slept. As the world-famous natural philosopher and empiricist H. Simpson would say: "Doh!"

Doh, indeed. I know what I need to do in my next revision. However, right now I'm not revising, I'm going to quit blogging and write some new pages. Right now. Seriously, here I go...

In the meantime, how about you? What do you think of the whole fiction versus reality dichotomy? Any "Doh!" moments?

Friday, January 21, 2011

blog book tours

Fantasy author N.R. Williams has been promoting her new Epic/High Fantasy The Treasures of Carmelidrium. "When a hooded man steps in front of her car, Missie is thrust through a portal into a medieval world where she encounters monsters and mythical creatures. Here, her flute has magical powers to heal and destroy and to empower The Treasures of Carmelidrium. She is romanced by a prince and hunted by the villain. Will she find her way home? Does she want to?"

Additionally, Williams seems to have an impressive grasp of the latest technology. Treasures has been released on kindle and Williams is in the middle of a blog book tour. I think we all know e-books are here to stay. And I've heard virtually (no pun intended) all physical book tours have been replaced by blog book tours.

What steps are involved in a blog book tour?

  1. Create a blog and/or author website. This will be how people can get/keep in touch with you after the tour starts. Include a link or other way to buy your book (when available). Note this step should occur long before your book comes out.
  2. Make virtual/cyber friends. This can be facilitated by visiting other blogs and websites and making helpful/positive comments. Again, start cyber-schmoozing before your book comes out.
  3. Choose/find blog tour hosts. For this step you'll build on the cyber-schmoozing you did earlier.
  4. Prep your blog book tour hosts. Ask if they'd like to interview you the author, interview a character from the book, or if they'd like you to do a guest post. Send the host any relevant info like photos of the author, cover shot, author bio, sales link.
  5. Write blog book tour entries and make sure each blog stop has unique content.
  6. Create excitement on your blog about the tour by announcing the tour and any possible prizes (free copies of your book!), etc. We all love free books.
  7. Post/submit.
  8. Rake in the kudos and sales. :)

Anyone have any blog book tour experiences they'd like to share?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the blank page -- Part Deux

I'm sure you're all waiting with bated breath to hear how my battle with the blank page went.
Heh heh. :)

I did force myself to buckle down and write some new pages. It was tough going though. I was thinking about wimping out and stopping when...
my laptop died. (Apparently the hard drive is toast, but that's a story for another day.)
I'm a pantster so it was still a good session; before that I hadn't known what was going to happen in that chapter, and after that I did.

The next day I also forced myself to face the blank page. I basically had to rewrite from scratch the lost chapter. But it went much better! I was in the zone. I even thought of a new and better idea to start the chapter with. Now I just have to figure out what happens in the next chapter...

It reminded me of what erotica/fantasy/SF author and Spec Fic editor Betsy Dornbusch said the other day about drafting: "But something about drafting, whether it's a synopsis or a story... it's the only action that satisfies my addiction to words. New words.

Oh yeah... We're writers.

How about you? Any writerly tales of woe? Of triumph?
If you're keeping score, writing new pages for a chapter is definitely a triumph. :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Writing Paranormal Fiction

Writing paranormal fiction sounds like a pretty narrow focus, even for a genre fiction writer. For me, however, finding the paranormal hook opened up a wide range of story ideas all knit together with the same supernatural thread. If you have 25 stories and 162 characters all clamoring for attention inside your head, you might discover that finding the thread that ties them all together is a delightful surprise.

I actually stole this idea from something Johnathan Maberry said at a recent lecture for Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction students. He said he links genres together so he can cross genre borders. Mayberry writes primarily thrillers. His thrillers often include a romantic sub-plot. He can then write (and at least half justify) a romance novel with a thriller subplot. Why would he want to do that? Life is long and full of strange twists and turns.

Maybe you write romances with an emphasis of adventure plots. Suddenly, while accidentally watching mixed martial arts and eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, a character pops in your head with a southern accent. You hear him explaining the subtitles of the guillotine choke to his Russian ballet dancer girlfriend (eating grilled chicken--bless her heart). Next thing you know, your imagination is running wild and an entire thriller plot is born. Wouldn't it be nice to let that story live? Wouldn't it be nice to have a hook your agent could use to sell your thriller to a publisher?

Using Maberry's linking technique allowed me to link the following very different stories:

  • Tween fiction (about Salem witches and mystical school nurses)
  • Romance novels (that often include a ghost story)
  • Murder mysteries (solved by a trance medium), and
  • Sci-Fi (about space witches and the evolution of the human genome)

That's a wide selection of different genres--all tied together by a paranormal thread.

What thread ties together YOUR stories ideas. Use the comment tools below to tell us more.

Monday, January 17, 2011

the blank page

Anyone else having trouble staring down the blank page, or the blank screen? I must admit I've avoided any new writing pretty successfully over this holiday season. Don't get me wrong, I've revised and submitted several short stories and started a huge overall of my WIP. new pages.

I aspire to be a professional writer, but apparently I'm already a professional procrastinator. I haven't managed anything brand new. And a big deadline is chapters due to my mentor. I need to start them! I need to start them now.

I've heard many professional writers say "You need to write everyday." and I totally agree with this (okay, maybe not every day, but almost every day). Somehow, I don't do it.

Author Maria Synder said something recently that made a lot of sense. She said writing is like going to the gym. You can't go to the gym once a month and work out and expect good results. You have to work out regularly, you have to flex those muscles. Writing is similar. You must flex your writing muscles regularly to make them strong. Ah ha! Now I get it! Thanks, Maria!

So here I go, I'm going to write some new pages. No more blogging. No more procrastinating.

Right now.

Here I go.

Right this minute.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Bad Sex and Award-Winning Fantasy

You ask, 'What do bad sex and award-winning fantasy have to do with one another?' Nothing. Except we'll talk about both here today. As Jonathan Maberry said last time, we are a community of writers...

Fabulous Urban Fantasy authors Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein are sponsoring a Bad Sex contest over at their blog And, no, you do not have to demonstrate bad sex, they're looking for bad sex in literature--or maybe it's not exactly literature if it contains bad sex. :)

Jeanne says, "Who would you nominate for a bad sex in books award (notice I added 'in books.' Don’t want any disgruntled husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, etc etc coming after us.) Send in an example (we won’t name the book or author) and the winner (chosen by Mario and I) will win a prize...a prize sure to be appropriate to the topic." Knowing Jeanne and Mario, I don't know if we should be excited or scared.
Click it out.

Fabulous Fantasy author Carol Berg has a new book out The Soul Mirror, a novel of the Collegia Magica. The follow-on-to The Spirit Lens, from New American Library/Roc Books.Carol says Scholarly, reclusive Anne de Vernase rejoices that she lacks magical talent. Her father's pursuit of illicit sorcery hasleft her beloved family in ruins. But a plague of hauntings and murder compel Anne to unravel her dead sister's magical puzzle. With none to trust but a friend she cannot see, Anne must investigate matters beyond science -a centuries-old rivalry, the boundaries of death, and the most dangerous sorcerer in Sabria . . .

It has received starred reviews from both Publisher's Weekly: "Berg refreshes and reinvigorates the familiar trappings of epic fantasy, shaping a novel that rings true both linguistically and imaginatively. This is one to savor." And Kirkus: "A compelling and altogether admirable work." For more info, click out her website:

I've read the first book in this series and it is lovely.

So there you have it, bad sex and award-winning fantasy. Who knew they went together so well?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pearls of Wisdom from Jonathan Maberry

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear author Jonathan Maberry speak. Of course, he's famous for a number of works including the Joe Ledger series. When asked what kind of writer he is, he invariably says things like "I'm whatever kind of writer serves the story I want to tell."

Maberry seems to be on the pulse of the publishing world and had a lot of advice for writers. Some highlights include:
  • Be active on the internet and with social media, have a blog, website, Facebook page, and/or Twitter.
  • Be part of the writing community. Help other writers because it's the right thing to do and because you never know when they might help you.
  • Never take a 7-figure advance because it's difficult to earn out and if you don't ... you're a failure. Instead, negotiate other right such as quarterly royalty statements or bonuses for earning out your (smaller) advance, and similar.
  • Don't write to the market, but be very aware of it. For example, right now, hot markets include:
    • Zombies for middle-grade boys.
    • otherkin/were-creatures
    • dystopian fiction
    • scary vampires

  • Write regularly
  • Don't be afraid to turn down a job that's not right for you

I, personally, really appreciate that he takes the time to "walk the walk" and help other writers. Kudos, Mr. Maberry!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Welcome to Seton Hill Writers!

We are writers who are or were associated with Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction MFA program.

If you like to write or read about writing, this blog's for you!

If you are a current or former SetonHiller and would like to join the blog, please contact me.

If you are a current or former SetonHiller and already have a blog and would like us to link to it, please contact me. :)

Coming soon: "Pearls of Wisdom from Jonathan Maberry"