Thursday, June 30, 2011

revision: minor characters

As I revise my WIP, I'm noticing I've given my walk-on characters short shrift. They don't get any names or physical descriptions. It's not even clear in some scenes how many of them there are. Ugh. I think I'm going to have to put this on my Watch List. ;) This is not good. Readers should always know how many people are in a scene.

However, while in acting "there are no small parts", in writing there are. Authors shouldn't give a whole big description of every walk-on character because it draws the reader's attention to them--like a loaded gun. (Of course, if the character is important later, then, yes, focus on that character.)

How about you? How do you deal with minor characters? Do you have any revision tips?

Back to the salt mines for me...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

revision: a watch list

I got some good advice about revision recently: create a watch list. What is a watch list in this context, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. :) A watch list is where an author examines his/her work and makes a note of their own common mistakes or repeats, writes them down, and then corrects them during the revision process. For example, my characters seem to smile or grin several times a page. Logically I know it's a bad idea to repeat actions on the same page, but when I go back and look: there they are. During revision, then, I need to get rid of most of those. As another example, I have a critique partner who always uses waive instead of wave. (Of course, spell-check doesn't catch this!)

How about you? Do you have anything you need to watch out for?

Do you have any revision tips?

Monday, June 20, 2011

revision: working on bad guys

My next big project (after I get home from school next week) will be revising my novel. Specifically, I have to work on my bad guys. I've been told they're too warm and fuzzy, not realistic, etc. So, obviously, I've got some work to do! I must admit I have trouble writing evil. It seems so melodramatic--maybe that's because I'm not doing it right! :)

Awesome Fantasy author Carol Berg discusses Writing Evil today over at her agent Lucienne Diver's blog. Among other things Carol says Something that bothers me our tendency to toss people ...into binary bins... as we mature, we know life is just not that simple...

Ah ha! Maybe I should quit thinking of them as "bad guys" and instead focus on them as guys who have different and opposing goals to the protagonist. Hhm... I may be on to something here.

How do you revise? Do you pick a particular area and focus on it (like I'm trying to do)?
Does anyone have any tips for writing antagonists?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Residency Schedule

All of us MFA students at Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction course have slightly different schedules while at residency. But, to give readers a flavor of how it works I thought I'd give some hightlights of what a typical student might be up to during the week:
  • orientation and welcome
  • first residency session, discussion of Common Genre Reading, Changes by Jim Butcher
  • Workshop: "Practice Reading Aloud"
  • Workshop: "What to Put In, What to Take Out"
  • MFA Thesis presentations
  • Mixed genre fiction workshop
  • Workshop: "Sense of Wonder and the Sublime"
  • individual meetings with faculty mentors
  • SF/H/F fiction workshop
  • luncheon with e-mail critique groups
  • Workshop: "Maintaining Narrative Tension in Fantasy, SF, and Horror"
  • MFA Thesis presentations
  • student teaching sessions
  • guest speakers Heather Osborn and Lucienne Diver present "Current Publishing Trends in Popular Fiction"
  • guest speakers Heather Osborn and Lucienne Diver run "Query Letter Workshops"
  • Alumni Panel Presentations
  • Workshop: "New Trends in Mystery"
  • Mixed genre fiction workshop
  • Graduation

In the fiction workshops we students submit our work and are critiqued by our peers.
In the MFA Thesis presentations graduating students defend their MFA thesis, which consists of a reading from their thesis novel and answering questions from mentors, faculty, and students.
The other Workshops are basically classes taught by the faculty, for example UF author and SHU professor, Nicole Peeler, will be teaching my "New Trends in Mystery" Workshop.
Generally, we have different guest speakers and they present different topics each semester.
As for Alumni Panel Presentations, I don't know what they are. I guess I'll have to wait and see!

Anyone have any different MFA experiences? Or MA, or BA, for that matter? :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


As blog readers may or may not be aware, SetonHillWriters bloggers are students or grads of the Writing Popular Fiction MFA program at Seton Hill University. This is a so-called low residency program in which we get together for a week, twice a year (June and January), and cram in a lot of MFA stuff. The rest of the year we do things via email, chat rooms, on-line classes, etc. I bring this up because some readers may be interested in how a low-residency MFA program works and I haven't really blogged about it before.

One thing I've noticed is we really don't seem to get any time off from school. :( The official semester ended in May, but since then we've been busy getting ready for residency. What, for example, have I been doing while "off"?

  • (re)read the Common Genre Reading novel Changes by Jim Butcher for our first session of residency. Incidentally, I enjoyed it so much, I've been rereading all the Dresden Files novels in the past couple weeks. Wow, they're good.
  • made a handout, including discussion questions and powerpoint presentation, with two other students for the entire program for the first residency session
  • prepared my lesson plan and handouts for my student teaching session. I will be teaching "How to Write a Query Letter."
  • wrote a new short story and submitted it for our workshop sessions
  • contacted my unofficial mentee (Hi, Kaelyn!) and welcomed her to the program
  • contacted my new critique partners (Hi, Jennifer and Kristina!) and said hi
  • critiqued 7 stories or chapters for workshop sessions (Okay, I'm not done with this yet, but I'm working on it!)
  • wrote a new draft of my thesis novel chapter one for our "Practice Reading Aloud" workshop session
  • and, of course, made or finalized all the travel arrangements

Phew! I'm a little tuckered out and residency hasn't even started yet.

Stay tuned this week for more info about Residency.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

surprise deadlines?

Ugh. I just had a professor give me one week's notice that I have to present a piece of writing. Nothing like a surprise deadline you had no idea was coming! :(

Instead of tackling the problem head-on, clearly, my first impulse is to procrastinate and write a blog post.
I realize I need to bite the frakking bullet and just write something to present. But...

Has anyone else ever gotten a surprise deadline? What do you do? How do you keep from letting panic overtake productivity?

Friday, June 10, 2011


I heard about something new (to me) recently... Would you like to sell your creative work before you create it? If so, crowdfunding might be for you. USA Today has a very interesting article on it: New grads, 'crowdfund' your career, according to which "Crowdfunding" means pooling resources from a network of people for a project.

A leader in the field is, supposedly the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Kickstarter is powered by a unique all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully-funded or no money changes hands. Creative folks basically share their project idea with the kickstarter staff and if it meets their guidelines, they're good to go within a few days. However, there's a twist: a project must include rewards for backers. What are rewards? For a writing project, it might range from a pdf of the completed work, to thanks on the acknowledgements page, to a character named after the backer, to a hard cover copy of the work with original cover art. I'm intrigued...

Has anyone tried this? What do you think?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

lost in the past

The New York Times had an article Tuesday: Tradition Trumps Twitter at Iowa Writers' Workshop. Apparently, things function much as they did in the past over there in Iowa City. One of the recent grads interviewed said he'll hand-write the first drafts of his stories or even use a typewriter. Like most of his classmates, he does not own an e-reader and prefers paper books. He says he was scolded by a tradition-minded instructor when he turned in his first workshop story for writing about a character that used Google. [He]...does not use Twitter. No technology: Check.

Eric Simonoff, co-head of the book department at the WME talent agency says Iowa's administration has long been conflicted toward the publishing industry, trying to give students access without taking their focus away from learning their craft.
"And I think that's right," he said. "It's useful to know that at one point one will have to market oneself, but I don't think the time to do that is when you are in an MFA program."
Ignore the entire concept of selling: Check.

I must admit, though, I enjoyed the sentiment of another grad who says of fiction it's such a slow-burning, heavy-attention medium that really demands someone who is mentally present and not just giving you superficial attention. I really love that aspect of it... I want to convince people that, in this world of beeps and tweets, spending meditative time with an analog paper book is a worthy pursuit. I want to write so well that I can convince others of that."

So, what do you think? Are the Iowa Writer's Workshop folks hopelessly, helplessly lost in the past? Or, is it working for them?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Darkness Too Visible?

One of the latest literary brouhahas was instigated by Meghan Cox Gurdon with her June 4, 2011 Wall Street Journal article: Darkness Too Visible She says: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea? Gurdon goes on at some length criticizing a variety of YA novels: Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures.

Suffice to say, several of the authors quoted or discussed by Gurdon took offense to being characterized as such. For example Jackie Morse Kessler blogged about it in Making the Darkness Visible. She says To suggest that Rage effectively glamorizes self-injury is both insulting and stupid. The entire purpose of the book — indeed, of all of the Riders of the Apocalypse books — is to raise awareness of issues such as self-injury and eating disorders and bullying.

I have mixed feelings about the issue. I agree with authors like Kessler that raising awareness is important. On the other hand, I've read some YA novels that horrified me and I'm a middle-aged adult. Unfortunately, I guess to some extent, the discussion is moot. Kids today have to grow up much sooner than earlier generations. We can't put the genie back in the bottle.

What do you think?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Author's gender?

Nobel laureate VS Naipaul says there's no female author whom he considers his equal. Read about it in The Guardian: VS Naipaul finds no woman writer his literary match – not even Jane Austen. Since writing and reading is subjective, I've no doubt VS Naipaul is the best writer for VS Naipual! I prefer many others, myself. :)

But this whole brouhaha raised an interesting issue... Can readers discern an author's gender from the words on the page? I say: sometimes yes, sometimes no. :)
Take The Naipual test: Can you tell an author's sex? for yourself and see how you do.

Friday, June 3, 2011

trouble at Vicinanza Agency

As many of you know, the Ralph Vicinanza Literary Agency was the premier SF/F agency in the world. Everyone was saddened when Ralph Vicinanza himself died suddenly last September. SFWA reports "Following the passing of Mr. Vicinanza, the two remaining agents in the company have left the agency and the executors of the Vicinanza estate have chosen not to engage in further active agency." They recommend authors consult the SFWA Grievance Committee to deal with various issues this has brought up. If you are affected by this: good luck!

ghostwriting is alive and well

Is anyone besides me mystified at all the celebutantes writing novels these days? Nicole Richie has had two novels published. Hilary Duff released her first novel, Elixir, last year. Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi published a novel in January (despite telling The New York Times last year that she had read only two books in her life), A Shore Thing, which landed on the New York Times best-seller list. And now the Kardashians are writing a novel, and on and on.
Clearly, these women had help. I can only conclude in this day and age ghostwriting is alive and well. Read about it in The New York Times: In Their Own Words? Maybe.

Has anyone gotten in on this ghostwriting gravy-train? Is it a good development? Or just one more signal that the publishing industry is in trouble? What do you think?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Amazon the publisher?

The latest news in the publishing world is has signaled its determination to enter the book publishing business. In recent weeks Amazon has rolled out two new book imprints, announced a roster of best-selling authors whose books will be published under those imprints, and hired a prominent publishing executive, Larry Kirshbaum, to set up an office in New York.

Certainly this is making tradition book publishers anxious. But I can't help thinking it might benefit authors. What do you think?

Bethany Overland discusses it over at E-sales to imprints: Amazon's ambitious publishing plan.