Friday, May 27, 2011

Robert J. Sawyer Interview

Next week, on May 31, 2011, my interview with award-winning Science Fiction author Robert J. Sawyer comes out in ElectricSpec. He discusses a multitude of fascinating topics, including:
  • his hardest writing task ever
  • how he does research for his novels
  • humanity's best chance for meeting a non-human intelligence
  • his favorite character out of the hundreds he's created over the years
  • how to keep track of and interweave multiple plots/subplots
  • what science fiction should really be called
  • an impending paradigm shift in human society
  • an easy and effective way to ground a story in our here and now
  • what he learned from the world of television
  • how humanity can outlive the sun
  • his next project

Check it out!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing on Reading: The WWW Trilogy

Robert J. Sawyer's WWW trilogy, consisting of WWW:Wake, WWW:Watch, and WWW:Wonder, is his best work to date (and that's saying something). Of course, Sawyer is best known for his novel FlashForward which was the basis for the ABC TV series.

About WWW:Wake, Sawyer says, Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math — and blind. ...When a Japanese researcher develops a new signal-processing implant that might give her sight, she jumps at the chance, flying to Tokyo for the operation. ...Once the implant is activated, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes. While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something — some other — lurking in the background. And it's getting smarter ...

As you can see, the plotting here is very compelling. Sawyer also does an amazing job with characterization. In addition to the lovable protagonist Caitlin, there's a cast of empathetic and unique characters including the A.I. Webmind, Caitlin's autistic father Malcolm Decter, a chimpanzee bonobo hybrid Hobo, and many others.

Besides, excellent plotting and characterization, Sawyer fills the trilogy with fascinating "big ideas", such as the nature of consciousness, a 'flight versus sight' paradigm shift in human culture, the moral arrow through time and many others. To make a long review short: I strongly recommend this trilogy.

I'm also excited to announce I recently interviewed Mr. Sawyer for ElectricSpec and he was fascinating. Stay tuned next week for more information!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Plot Structure

I'm deep in revisions for my WIP (okay, I'm procrastinating and blogging) so I've been thinking a lot of deep thoughts about plot. What the heck is it? What holds it together? In Plot and Structure James Scott Bell addresses some of these same questions. He advocates using the Three-Act Structure. He phrases it in terms of Mythic Structure/The Hero's Journey. The crucial ideas here are a disturbance and two doorways. A novel begins with character in ordinary world, then early in the novel a disturbance occurs. Then the Lead must be thrust into the main conflict (Act II/Middle) in a way that keeps him there through the first doorway. Finally, to move from the middle to the End/Act III―the second doorway of no return―something has to happen that sets up the final confrontation.

Many of you (and I) have seen these ideas before but they're important. Something must happen to thrust the protagonist through the first doorway SO HE CAN'T GO BACK. If the protag can just shrug, say "Nah.", and go back to his ordinary life the author hasn't done his/her job. Similarly, the second doorway must also be a point of no return.

Tricky. Did I do this in my WIP? I better go back and analyze some more.

How about you? Any tips or tricks for creating points of no return? Thanks!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Books on Writing

This semester I read a helpful book, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. He passes along a lot of writing wisdom. Today, I'm going to focus on his simple plot method LOCK.
LOCK consists of
  • a Lead (character/protagonist),
  • an Objective (character has a desire/want that is crucial to their well-being),
  • a Confrontation (opposition from characters and outside forces), and
  • a Knockout (ending must have knockout power).
Bell states there really is only one plot: a Lead with an intense objective, thrust into confrontation, runs through the story until it ends. He also makes the point that all plots are character-driven. While basic, these ideas are true and thus all writers need to be aware of them.

Bell also gives tips about characters (living, vibrating, human beings are still the secret and magic formula of great and enduring writing), settings (set your scene in places that are fresh), dialogue (helps create original characters and move the plot along and characters need unique ways of speaking), and scene selection (use fresh ideas).
Stay tuned this spring/summer for more Bell wisdom.

In the meantime, what books on writing have helped you? How? Why? :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fresh Air

Ah. Spring has arrived and with it a sense of new beginnings and hope. I'm talking literally and metaphorically. I turned in my big assignment (Hurray!) and now I have to write a brand new short story for an upcoming workshop. A brand new (and short!) assignment feels like a breath of fresh air. I'm cleansing my writing palate and it feels great.

How about you? Do you have any tips/tricks for keeping your writing fresh?

Happy spring!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Writing on Reading: Cutting for Stone

When I saw my mom recently she recommended the novel Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. She's in tune with the latest books so I always listen when she says, "It's good."
Cutting for Stone is a literary novel with beautiful lyrical prose, meandering plot, nonlinear chronology, and deep insights into the human condition. According to Verghese, "The story is a riveting saga of twin brothers, Marion and Shiva Stone, born of a tragic union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother's death in childbirth and their father's disappearance, and bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution." With the wealth of details about Addis Ababa and medicine, Cutting almost reads like an autobiography.

I would say the primary draw of the novel is the joy and beauty of medicine it conveys. (The title is a reference to the Hippocratic oath.) Almost all the characters are medical professionals and have devoted their lives to their avocation. Thus, another draw is the amazing compassion exemplified by the characters. The emergency treatment administered 'by ear', i.e. words of comfort, is mentioned several times. Interestingly, while the two brothers would do anything for their patients, they don't seem to have much compassion for themselves. Neither one of them has a life outside of medicine, which seemed to be the case for their biological parents as well.

A possible theme of the novel is "missing": the twins' biological parents are missing, their biological father is missing a finger, the twins' adopted father goes missing, a crucial letter is missing, and the medical center where they live is called Missing. And I'd say their self-love is missing. But that's the beauty of literary fiction: there's more than one possible interpretation. What do you think the theme was?

As a writer, I found some of the author's choices very interesting. For example, Verghese utilizes multiple pov characters, several 3rd-person pov and one multiple-first-person pov--the narrator! Additionally, this novel is almost all narrative, "telling", in the writer's vernacular. Also, since we know the deepest thoughts and feelings of each pov character, there is an omniscient feel to the book. (Are the minds of each of these characters differentiated?)

Have you read it? What did you think?

Monday, May 9, 2011

End of the semester

As blog readers may or may not know, the origins of SetonHillWriters was at Seton Hill University's MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. Thus, many of us associated with the blog go to, or are graduates from, this program. Thus, many of us are staring end-of-the-semester deadlines in the face. :( And we're attempting to glare back at them and even kick them in the butt! Yeah! That's the spirit! We're gonna make mince-meat out of all those deadlines! (Yes, I'm trying to psych myself up.)

Personally, a complete first draft of my thesis, also known as an actual genre novel is due this week. Whew! Talk about pressure. Suffice to say, there's a lot of BICHOK in my immediate future (and past). But, the end of the novel is pretty much in sight so...

Good luck to everyone trying to meet end-of-the-semester deadlines!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Erotica Writer Outed

In the news this week has been the story of Erotica Author Judy Mays. I'm not above jumping on the bandwagon, so check out her side of the story over at Publisher's Weekly: Erotic Romance Writer Outed.
I'm a bit surprised in this day and age folks are so shocked by erotica. Maybe it's because she's a teacher? But it's not like she's giving the erotica to her students, so...? I don't get it.

Message of the day: Follow Your Muse, No Matter What. :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Behind the Scenes at an ezine

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at a 'zine? Well, wonder no more! I posted some inside information over at

Being an editor is an eye-opening experience for an author. You come to realize editors see many stories they'd like to publish but non-artistic sensibilities, like issue balance, intrude on the selection process. You can't have an issue of all vampire stories, for example. Unless it was a themed issue... Hhm... I digress.

The point is, many stories are publishable and don't make the cut.

Being a writer is hard. But, it's worth it, right? :)

Good luck with your writing endeavors!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Another Successful Query Letter

UF authors Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein are hosting a guest blog today by UF author Kevin Hearne: Pimping Druids, the Fae, and Kevin Hearne. Of particular interest is his posted query letter that led to a sale! Check it out. And check out Kevin's new release Hounded.


Phew! Well, we did it folks. We completed the A-Z blogging challenge. It wasn't easy but with help from our friends we survived. :) Thank you, writer friends who helped out!

And thank you, folks that commented or just stopped by. I, personally, look forward to keeping up with all my new friends and newly-discovered blogs. :)

As fellow Seton Hill University students know, we are nearly at the end of the semester. Deadlines are staring (pounding?) us in the face! And as we all know (W is for Write), the most important thing is to write. So, you'll have to forgive me as I go off and


I'll be back later in the week.