Tuesday, November 5, 2013

who or what can be a protagonist?

I recently had a writing expert tell me a robot cannot be a protagonist. Earlier this expert said God can't be a protagonist. Only now do I understand what he was getting at, namely, a protagonist must have something to lose. There must be something on the line. There must be the possibility that he/she/it can fail. This is hard to imagine with the Judeo-Christian G-O-D, omniscient and omnipotent. However, I have read stories with God as the protagonist; this God could fail, so I guess technically it was not The Judeo-Christian God. Similarly, the robot in question was sentient, it had intelligence, feelings/emotions, hopes/dreams, and could die. So, I say this robot could also be a protagonist. Can a random non-sentient machine be a protagonist? No. Can a ghost or other supernatural creature be a protagonist? Yes, if he/she/it can act and had something to lose.
What do you think?

For more on my take on protagonists see: P is for Protagonist.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

rounded characters

A writing expert told me recently contradiction within characters leads to well-rounded characters. Wow! This is great advice.
My mind is racing with ideas. I think I have a lot of rewriting to do...

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What is the Great American Novel?

There's been some discussion in mainstream media lately about The Great American Novel. Over at The New York Times Sunday Book Review Jennifer Szalai and Mohsin Hamid ask Where Is the Great American Novel by a Woman?. At The Huffington Post Claire Fallon asks Is 'The Great American Novel' a Useless Concept?.

Szalai says, The scholar Nina Baym has pointed out how “stories of female frustration are not perceived as commenting on, or containing, the essence of our culture.” Stories of male frustration, on the other hand — especially those “melodramas of beset manhood” in which men struggle with the siren call of comfort and domesticity — jibe more neatly with what we expect serious literature to be. Men's self-discovery is hunting for big game; women's self-discovery amounts to tidying up around the house. Szalai's central thesis seems to be that American culture, at least American literary culture, is still hobbled by sexism. Instead of the Great American Novel, maybe we should be talking more about our Great American Fixation, the insistent desire to find the book that tells us who we are. How we define that search — what counts, what doesn’t — has said as much about “the American soul” as any novel that’s supposed to do the same.

Hamid asks the question What else are those mind-blowing late-20th-century works by such American women as, among others, Kingston and Kingsolver, Morrison and Robinson, L’Engle and Le Guin, if not great novels? But he says, "...they aren't the Great American Novel. ...There is no such thing." Hamid concludes "Literature is where we free ourselves." Why even worry about labels like 'The Great American Novel?'

Fallon correctly notes, however, "...the quest will continue, with or without you." She makes a lot of interesting points, including, Our discussion of the Great American novel is actually a fantastic opportunity to challenge our ingrained conception of what an "everyman" in America can look like. Can an everyman be a woman, or black, or a recent immigrant from Mexico? Can an everyman be disabled, gay, or have parents who moved here from Taiwan? It's instinctive to designate such narratives as great or definitive books about being black in America, or about a being a woman seeking self-discovery, or about LGBT communities -- but these narratives are not any less purely American than those of white, straight men seeking their own identities or fortunes across the country.

Hurray, Ms. Fallon. I'm ready and waiting for the everyman story which just happens to be about a female, black, disabled, gay Mexican-Taiwanese-American. Because, really, what is this thing we call The Great American Novel?
It's our story.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Entertainment: the intersection of art and commerce

I've been thinking a lot about fiction as pure art versus fiction that sells. I do think authors need to be aware of these issues. Creating a story for a particular market is very different from creating a story for yourself. If you're writing for yourself, anything goes. You can explore all kinds of themes, topics, structures. You could have a story based purely on setting, or whatever other idea you can come up with. A story you'd like to sell, on the other hand, must be a story--by which I mean there is a protagonist who has some kind of problem/conflict and acts to solve it. A story must be entertaining. Thus, you could say entertainment is the intersection of art and commerce.
I recently read InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. I really enjoyed this novel. In fact, it might be my favorite of Gaiman's work. I'm surprised there isn't more buzz about it. Gaiman claims it originated as an idea for a TV show. Could this be the reason why it isn't more lauded? It's too commercial?
What do you think?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Literary versus Genre

Recently, I've had the opportunity to interact with a creative writing teacher of the literary variety. It has been interesting. Some things I expected. I thought literary fiction likes a lot of description with beautiful metaphors and similes. This is true. I thought literary fiction thinks plot is less important. This is also true.

Some things I did not expect. One thing I've learned is literary fiction really likes ambiguity and subtlety. If the reader can't tell what's going on...that's a good thing. Another surprise was story structure can b e very important. According to a literary creative writing teacher here are the elements of a story:

  • Structure
  • Character(s)
  • Plot
  • Setting

What is the one thing every story must have? Conflict. I agree conflict is very important...but how do you have a story or conflict without a character? I'm still scratching my head about that one.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ocean at the End of the Lane

I read an interesting book recently, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. In Ocean the nameless adult protagonist returns home to Sussex for a funeral, wanders onto his old neighbors' property and recalls a childhood adventure. It's a beautifully-written engrossing, terrifying adventure to be sure.
For a fantasy, there are some delightful references to modern science such as wormholes, alternate dimensions, the Big Bang and the like. Neat! But ultimately for this reader it was a sad story, seeming almost autobiographical, even while describing mythical powerful creatures.

All in all, I'm not sure I got this book. The protagonist seems to be remembering his childhood to gain some secret power/weapon/knowledge but he immediately forgets. Moreover, the reader's told he has remembered and forgotten it before. Apparently the protagonist--and by extension all adults (?)--are doomed to ignorance and powerlessness. Or...?

What do you think this book is about?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

recovering from a writers con

I belong to an awesome writers group Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I strongly recommend writers groups. Only other writers really understand what you're going through. RMFW has an annual conference, which I also strongly recommend. Frankly, it's a lot like the Seton Hill University MFA residencies: tons of workshops, panels, signings and fun and drinking. I taught a workshop Stealing From the Best: A Sample of Different Writing Methods to Find the Best Method for You with Author Rebecca Bates. It seemed well-received.

Our Guest Author of the Year, Rob Thurman, seemed to have a good time. Check out her blog entry: Writers Cons Vs. Fan Cons.
Will I be seeing you there next year? :)
Are there any writers cons you really like?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I read "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor recently. It's a classic and it's available several places on the web, here, for example. In a very brief nutshell: a woman, Mrs. Hopewell, runs a farm in rural Georgia with the help of her 2 tenants. Her one-legged Ph.D. daughter, Joy/Hulga, lives with her as well. A traveling bible salesman comes to the woman's house and ...adventures ensue. I don't want to ruin it for you if you haven't read it.

After reading a story I often step back and consider what was the point of this? Mrs. Hopewell is not happy with her Ph.D. atheist daughter and in the course of the story poor Joy/Hulga has a bad experience/rude awakening as a result of her paradigm. I can only conclude at least part of O'Connor's goal was to show intellectualism and atheism are basically wrong/bad/stupid/insert-your-favorite-nagative-word-here. Can the reader infer a greater meaning? Such as: even 'good country person' and devout Catholic Mrs. Hopewell should examine her preconceptions? Sure. O'Connor may have meant to convey this as well.
Overall, I'm getting a very didactic tone from this story.

Ms. O'Connor didn't really get the recognition she deserved for her writing. I think this is because she was a woman and especially because she wrote about poor southerners.
Or, maybe it was because she was so didactic.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

styles change

I recently reread "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe. You can read it for free here, among other places. Wow! Writing styles have really changed since 1839! Check out the beginning:
DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
If one of my critique partners started a story with a lot of telling setting description, I'd recommend otherwise. I'd say, this is a cliche.

Of course, you can't say that about "Usher" because it was written before all those other stories. When you're one of the first, you can't be a cliche. :)
"Usher" is the quintessential gothic horror story, the story that influenced all others that came after. What exactly is gothic fiction? Some say it's the mode of literature that combines elements of romance and horror. The name gothic supposedly refers to the medieval or pseudo-medieval buildings in which the stories take place. What is horror fiction? This one is harder to pin down. The Horror Writers Association says horror is fiction that elicits fear and/or dread in the reader. Thus, horror can be about or include anything as long as it elicits the desired emotional reaction(s).

Are you a horror reader? A horror writer? What do you like best about it?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Read on!

Huzzah! The awesome August 31, 2013 issue of Electric Spec is live!

As the letter from the editors says,
...of the stories in this issue: you're gonna love 'em. Get this--zombies hungry for artificial babies in "Little Miss Saigon" by Malon Edwards. In C.R. Hodge's "Queen Meabh," a Scottish spirit kick's some archeologist ass. And if you wanna go totally post-apocalypse, step down into the fall out shelter in "For Want of Stars" by Beth Ceto. Speaking of a post-disaster world, what to you do when indescribable death machines kill everyone else but ignore you? Find out in "Amelia Amongst Machines" by David Brookes. Finally, look how complicated your love life can get when it gets too "spirited" in David W. Landrum's "Someone."

Read on, brothers and sisters!

Thank you very much behind-the-scenes folks, including our authors (Yay!), our artist (Yay!), our tech guys, and our associate editors (Yay!). We couldn't have done it without you.

Drop us a line in the comments and let us know what you think of the issue. What's your favorite story?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


A friend from work loaned me an interesting novel this summer: The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood. I really enjoyed this! I think it's because the writing is beaut ifully lyrical, the protagonist is very likeable, and the topics of sanity/insan ity and the power of music are fascinating.Wood uses a great writerly trick: we start out at a crime scene and then go back in time to observe the relationships of the people involved. Thus, the reader has a sense of dread throughout, wondering: Who will die? Who commits the crimes? and most of all, Why? Great tension!
I recommend this book.

As I said above, I did not purchase this novel. Authors do deserve to be paid for their work. But, since I've probably already spent a few hundred dollars on books this year, I don't feel guilty about it. In fact, I highly recommend sharing your favorite books with your friends.
What's your favorite novel lately? Who do you know who might like it?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

your brain on fiction

Annie Murphy Paul wrote a fascinating article "Your Brain on Fiction" published in 2011 in The New York Times. The gist of it is: The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Wow! Isn't that cool?

What does this mean for authors? It means we really need to show, not tell. Words with odor associations activate the smelling portion of our brain. Words with motion associations activate the parts of our brain associated with moving. Words associated with textures or other tactile sensations activate the parts of our brain associated with touch. Let's use all the amazing words and mental associations at our disposal. :)

What's your favorite sensory word? Use it!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

wish fulfillment

I read Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich recently. It has a humorous and intriguing title and, of course, Stephanie Evanovich comes from a famous writing family, so I had high hopes. ;) In a nutshell, this is the story of a thirty-two-year-old widow with weight issues who meets a handsome single personal trainer... It's a romance, so you know what's going to happen. Evanovich does a nice job; this is well-written.
To me, this read like a wish fulfillment fantasy for overweight women. The overweight woman meets the perfect man and he helps her discover the healthy woman inside and they fall in love along the way. I'm reminded of another famous author, Stephenie Meyer. IMHO, Twilight was a wish fulfillment fantasy for teen-aged girls. Basically, you can be an average girl and hot exceptional guys will fight over the opportunity to love you.

In my unscientific survey, I deduced a lot of novels involve wish fulfillment fantasies. And a lot of them sell very, very well.

What do you think? Do you like reading wish fulfillments? Writing wish fulfillments? If so, you're not alone. ;)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hello, Old Friend

I got a big box of books from my folks when they downsized and I've been making my way through it this summer. I was very happy when I started reading Blessings by Anna Quindlen. This was a book I loved when I read it the first time, but somehow forgot the title. I rediscovered an old friend. Huzzah! In a nutshell this is the story of an old woman and a young man who have to deal with a foundling left at their front door, and which, in turn, enables them to deal with the decisions in their pasts that made them who they are.
Somehow this book evokes feelings of peacefulness in me. Here are some highlights from the beginning: The house sat, big and white, low and sprawling, in a valley of overgrown fields, its terrance gardens spilling white hydrangeas, blue bee balm, and bushy patches of catnip and lavender onto a flagstone patio that ran its length. The land surrounding it was flat and rich for a long ways, to the end of the drive, and then the stony mountains rose around as though to protect it, a great God-sized berm spiky with pine trees.

And ...taken altogether it was something almost perfect, the sort of place that, from the road...promised plenty without pretense, ease without arrogance. From the road Blessings looked like a place where people would sit on the terrace at dusk, sip a drink and exult in the night breeze over the mountain, pull a light cardigan around their shoulders, and go to bed content.

Quindlen does an excellent job of evoking feelings in the reader--which is, in fact, our primary responsibility as authors.
Good luck with your own evocations!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

politics in fiction

I read an interesting book recently, Flashback by Dan Simmons. Set in the future, it's essentially a murder mystery with a disgraced ex-detective being forced to solved the murder of a powerful man's son. The title refers to flashback, a drug that most Americans are addicted to, in which you flash back to memories from your past. As you can imagine, this doesn't bode too well for the U.S. economy, etc. In Flashback the U.S. and most of the rest of the world's civilizations have been destroyed.
This future world Simmons created is extreme. Evil Muslims have been waging a holy war on the whole world. Clever sneaky Japanese still have advanced technology but also have a brutal feudal style culture of ritual suicide and worse. (If this sounds racist to you, I agree.)

Furthermore, in this world, Simmons writes the U.S. was totally bankrupted/destroyed by its entitlement programs. Europe was destroyed by its socialist policies. In addition, Simmons states multiple times that anthropogenic climate change is a "hoax". He mentions one lab repeatedly where this nefarious research took place and which is the site of horrific research in the novel. (Never mind the hundreds of other universities and labs that do research in this area which are never mentioned.)
To make a long story short, Tea Partiers would love this book.
Before reading this novel I had no idea what Mr. Simmons' personal political views were...but I have a pretty strong feeling I do now.

Should you include strong political views in your novel? In my opinion: caveat scriptor.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I read an interesting book recently, The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. It tells the story of a disadvantaged mother in 1831 England and what she does to protect her baby in the midst of a cholera epidemic. "Dress lodging" refers to a whore renting a fancy dress so she can attract fancier johns. It's a very dramatic story and well-written. Moreover, it has an interesting point-of-view, with the author often addressing the reader. I don't think it will be too much of a spoiler to reveal some people do die of cholera.
However, the ending is ambiguous. A positive life for the dress lodger is suggested for the audience, but we have no way of knowing if it will come to pass. When a novel or story has an ambiguous ending, it's up to the reader to decide what will happen. Even more than usual the reader plays an integral part in an ambiguous-ending story.

What do you think will happen to the dress lodger? A happy ending? Death via cholera?
Whatever you decide it says a lot about you. :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I've been noticing lately some books and some magazines have a lot of telling in their stories. One short story magazine I'd really like to publish in has a huge amount of telling and narrative in its stories. I'd estimate the showing is about 10%. They often end ambiguously as well.
Literary and "mainstream" fiction also seem to involve a lot of telling. I recently read The Time in Between by Maria Duenas. It was very good, but it involved a lot of telling, summarizing the story, rather than showing us the story. Speaking of summarizing, it is the story of Sira, a young woman in humble circumstances living in Spain at the time of the Spanish civil war and World War II, and who must do some surprising things to survive. The title refers to those who live without history taking note of their lives. Like all good fiction, this novel raises questions like: What is the point of life? How would I act and react in such dire circumstances? etc. This novel covers a lot of historical ground, so telling is totally appropriate.
I guess my point is: take 'show, don't tell' with a grain of salt. Do your market research. Some markets desire telling and some do not.

How about you? Do you like to show? or tell?
Have you read any good books lately?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

get in the groove

One of my writing friends made some very inspiring comments the other day, so I asked her to summarize them for your reading pleasure.

Guest post from Jamie Ferguson:

A while back I finally got back in the groove and started focusing on my writing again. I wanted to finish my book, but I also gave myself the okay to take it slow because I didn't want to get burnt out and stop. I was moving at a glacial pace, but I was moving!

I started to pick up steam last fall. My editor had given me exactly the kind of feedback I needed, I was making progress on editing my book, and I took a writing class from Dean Wesley Smith. But this wasn't enough. I wanted to make real changes in my life. I didn't want to work on my manuscript for a day or two, then do nothing for 3 weeks. I like to compare writing to exercise - when you're in shape, you can't not exercise...but when you're trying to get in shape, you'll use even the most ridiculous excuses to avoid doing anything. I wanted to be in writing shape.

The plan I came up with was to incorporate a variety of writing-related activities into my life on a weekly, preferably daily, basis.

I signed up for two classes: one on book cover design, and one on interior book design. I eventually took another three writing classes. I tried out a few writing podcasts, finally settling on Writing Excuses as my favorite. I started reading writing blogs. I joined a small critique group. I worked on my manuscript whenever I had free time. And I started having writing happy hours with a few other writers. You can discount the latter, but I do not - talking with other writers helps keep you motivated. And combining it with wine doesn't hurt...

My idea was that if I involved myself in many different writing-related activities that I would be more likely to be able to stay focused. So if I took a little time off from my manuscript, but was taking classes, listening to podcasts, and going to a critique group, that I was still focused on writing. Kind of like if you take a few weeks off from running, but you're hiking and lifting weights, you're still used to the idea that exercise is a part of your life.

Incorporating all of this into my life was a challenge in the beginning, but I achieved what I wanted - seven months later I'm still writing diligently on a regular basis. My book was published in April, I'm about to publish a small short story collection, and I'm about 2/3 of the way through my second novel. My plan was a success!

Congratulations and thanks, Jamie!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sookie Rocks!

As every self-respecting speculative fiction fan knows, Charlaine Harris released the final Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Series book this spring, Dead Ever After That makes book number thirteen for those of you who are counting. In honor of the ending of the series I decided to read them all again from beginning to end, and I'm having a ball. Harris is an amazing author. Her plotting keeps the reader entranced. Moreover, she's created a whole cast of characters that are engaging and realistic--and that's with vampires, shifters, werewolves, and fae running around!

Sookie, in particular, is a tour de force character. Harris has done a masterful job showing naive Sookie change and grow into a self-sufficient, wise woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. While Sookie isn't exactly a typical woman, she's not superwoman. She's flawed in the beginning of the series and flawed in the end, although less so. She has a lot of setbacks but always manages to pick herself up again and keep trying. She also wrestles with big picture ideas of good versus evil and what it means to be a good Christian. Kudos, Ms. Harris!

What's that? You don't like Sookie as much as I do? That's totally fine. The bottom line here is Harris has created the type of multidimensional character every author should strive for.
Another important take-away is: read, read, read. Not only is it great fun, but writers learn a lot from other writers.

Who's your favorite fictional character?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Critique groups

The publishing industry has undergone a lot of growing pains in the last few years. One result of this, IMHO, is critique groups are more important than ever for writers. Why? Because writers need another set of eyes on their work, so they can discover what's really on the page--as opposed to what they think is on the page.

I freely admit getting critique is tough. It's difficult to hear that one's writing, one's baby, is not perfect. And sometimes feedback isn't helpful. In general, critique should be about how something is written, not what is written.

Here are some critique group tips from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:

  • Offering Critique:
    • Begin with positive comments.
    • Comments should be specific and about things like viewpoint, structure, characters, word choice, etc.
    • Note any confusion you had as a reader and/or questions that were raised.
    • Be sure you separate the character/narrator from the author. Don't assume the author is the character/narrator.
    • Comment on the work itself, and not the subject matter or related philosophies, etc.
    • End with something positive.
  • Receiving Critique:
    • Just listen and/or take notes. Do not argue, explain or defend.
    • Don't be intimidated or depressed by the feedback. Honest feedback is a valuable tool for improving one's writing.
    • Don't take everyone's critique as gospel. You are the boss of your writing. Don't make changes before careful consideration.
    • If a critique group isn't working for you, by all means, quit and look for another group.
How do you find a group? Local writers groups have critique groups. Many public libraries have writer's critique groups. There are also a lot of online groups. See, for example, the compilation at: "Online Writing Groups, Writing Communities and Critique Groups".

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

writing advice

I've been doing a lot of research into writing advice from writers for a workshop I'm teaching with a friend later in the summer. There is a lot of advice out there! I've blogged about this before, see for example Quotes from Writers. Some of the most obvious--and helpful--pieces of advice include:
  • To be a writer you must write.
  • Finish things.
  • Read, read, read.
In an effort to winnow down the massive amount of info, I decided to focus on some of the most successful writers of recent years and see if they have anything in common. And, IMHO, they do.
  • George R.R. Martin said recently in an interview that his characters are more real to him than some real-world people.
  • Regarding her missing her characters, J.K. Rowling said, "I really miss all of them, but I suppose I'm going to have to say Harry because he is my hero and there is a lot of me in Harry."
    and "What you write becomes who you are…so make sure you love what you write!"
    and "Sometimes I actually hated the book, even while I loved it."
  • Stephenie Meyer said "My focus is the characters--that's the part of the story that is most important to me. I feel the best way to write believable characters is to really believe in them yourself."
    and "try not to focus on the publishing part while you write—tell yourself a story that you really love."
Thus the gist of this advice is: write the story and characters that you, the author, love.
Good luck!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

no guilt

Sometimes, as writers, life gets in the way and doesn't let us achieve our daily, or even our weekly, writing goals and tasks. I'm here to proclaim a 'no guilt' zone! If you don't finish all your tasks--like your blog post, as a totally random example--let it go. (Unless you have a working time machine, in which case, go ahead and fix it.) :)
As a writer, I do struggle a bit with guilt, but I'm trying not to. It's better for me to move on, go on, write the next thing.
Which I should really go do now.

How about you? Do you every not achieve your writing goals? How do you handle it?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Importance of Records

Creative writing is art, but there are some pesky business aspects to it as well. Probably the most important business thing is to keep a record of where you submit your stories and novels. It makes you a more efficient, more likely-to-be-published writer if you submit to probable markets in a timely fashion. Let's look at both parts of this statement, because they're both important.

A probable market is a market that accepts your type of work. This means you must do your background research. For short stories, a great speculative fiction resource is www.ralan.com. (Does anyone have a great general short fiction resource?) For literary agents, a great resource is www.agentquery.com. I've blogged about market before.

A timely fashion is a bit trickier. The industry convention for novels is you may query agents simultaneously for the same work. However, if you get asked for a partial or full manuscript, generally, the agent prefers an exclusive. The industry convention for short stories is NOT to submit the same story simultaneously. This means you can only submit to one market at a time. If you are submitting to a SFWA-approved professional market, for example, I would definitely abide by this rule. If you don't follow industry conventions, you run the risk of offending an editor or agent. That can have a negative impact on your career. Yikes!

Another fly in the ointment is publication. What exactly constitutes publication? If you post part or all of your story on your webpage, is this publication? What about a novel excerpt? What if it's posted on someone else's website or ezine? What if you get compensated? What if you don't? What about rewrites? How much do you have change to make a 'new' story? Regarding this stuff, just be honest and don't try to mislead anyone.
Of course, when the money starts rolling in you have to keep records of it for the tax man. :) I hope you have that problem!

I've tried quite a few things in pursuit of writing records including spreadsheets and databases and, I must admit, none of them work great. Do you have any good tips? If so, please let us know!

The bottom line is: it is important for writers to keep records. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Conference Season

Ah, springtime! Leaves are budding, flowers blooming, birds singing, and writers conference season is starting. If you're a writer, consider rubbing elbows with other writers in person. Conferences have a lot to offer: you can meet and get to know other authors, you can go to craft workshops. Some even have writing contests and pitch opportunities with agents and editors. Before you sign up, think carefully about what you might want to get out of a conference. Do you need inspiration to give your writing a new shot in the arm? Do you want to meet a particular agent or editor? Do you want to connect with other local authors? Do you want to find some new critique partners? How much does the conference cost, including travel expenses? Do your research.

Some conferencs coming up include: Clarksville Writers Conference (June 6-7, 2013), the Carnegie Center’s “Books in Progress” Conference (June 7-8, 2013). Personally, one of my favorites is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual conference (Sept. 20-22, 2013). I go every year. The deadline for their prestigious commercial novel contest "Colorado Gold" is approaching: June 1, 2013.

In general, a great place to find out about writers conferences is Poets & Writers: Writers Conferences, Colonies, and Workshops. Another excellent resource is the Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences & Writing Workshops. Does anyone have a favorite resource to share? Or a favorite conference to recommend?

Maybe I'll see you at a conference this summer!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

one word at a time

I don't know about you, but this time of year starts getting very busy for me. We all have those times when it would just be easier to let our writing slide. Maybe we let one or more deadlines slide. Maybe we skip a critique group meeting or two. Of course, we have good reasons--at least that's what we tell ourselves.
I'm here to tell you: don't do it. Slacking off can be a slippery slope. One missed deadline can lead to two. One missed critique group meeting can lead to two, can lead to three, etc. I have a lot of 'writer' friends who don't write much anymore, because they fell down this slope.

It is precisely when it's inconvenient to write that one needs to write. This is your passion, after all, isn't it?
As long as you put one word at a time down on the screen or paper followed by the next word, and so on, you'll be okay. Keep on going!

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

21st Century Fiction

I read an interesting book lately, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass (Writer's Digest Books, 2012). Maass' premise is fiction is changing in our new century; to be successful novels must be high impact. Maass says, High impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing. High-impact novels utilize what is best about literary and commercial fiction. They embrace a dichotomy. They do everything well and as a result sell astoundingly. The publishing industry has a convenient term for these wonder books: literary/commercial fiction. Wow! That's a tall order!

On the one hand, literary novelists "create art" and "treasure fine writing and seek to capture the world the way it is..." On the other hand, commercial novelists "want to spin stories that delight readers" and "thrill, scare, and stir through a mastery of craft." Maass claims to give techniques to utilize methods of both literary and commercial fiction.
Chapter topics are:

  • 21st Century Fiction
  • The Death of Genre
  • The Inner Journey
  • The Outer Journey
  • Standout Characters
  • The Three Levels of Story
  • Beautifully Written
  • The 21st Century Novelist
  • The Elements of Awe

As I've discussed here before, books are a collaboration between writer and reader, so your take-aways will differ from my take-aways. Some ideas I gleaned include: characters need to have a deep and true emotional landscape and plots need to be unpredictable. The four levels of story are: plot, scene, micro-tension, and art ("the way in which the author unfolds his intentions").

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was Maass' discussion of beautiful writing. He says, "..beautifully written isn't just about imagery." And, "Beautiful writing is more than pretty prose. It creates resonance in readers' minds with parallels, reversals, and symbols. ...It engages the reader's mind with an urgent point, which we might call theme." Interesting. I'll have to ponder all this for a while.

If you're trying to improve your writing, I recommend this book.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

new writing paradigm?

I read an interesting how-to-write book recently (which I'll blog more about later). The author opined that in the twenty-first century authors have to combine all the best elements of genre and literary fiction to be successful. You must create a great story that also has beautiful writing. Essentially, this is a new writing paradigm. Authors have to do it all.

A great story involves a compelling external plot with lots of twists and turns and which is linked inextricably with the protagonist's emotions and internal journey. In essence, a great story enables the reader to achieve a new understanding of what it means to be human.

Beautiful writing doesn't just mean pretty imagery and descriptions and lots of similes and metaphors, it also means all that stuff you studied in English class: symbols, parallels, reversals and all the rest. Thus, beautiful writing engages our intellect on both a conscious and subconscious level.

Wow! This is a lot for authors to live up to.

What do you think? Is it time for a new writing paradigm?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Email

Recently, one of my critique partners got The Email. This is the email from an agent that says, "I love your book! I'd like to represent it, but before we sign a contract, please revise the entire thing and send it back to me." The Email may or may not have suggestions on how to revise.

Long-time writers are chuckling/grimacing/nodding. I think we've all gotten The Email, probably more than once. Of course, my critique partner is over the moon. He thinks he's about to get an agent, who will, no doubt, sell his book very soon. Who knows, maybe all that will happen. I've heard tales of writers who DO get agents and DO sell their books. I really hope it happens for him. Good luck, buddy!

But... The first time I got The Email I was super-duper-excited. I dropped everything and revised, revised, revised, according to the agent's suggestions and sent it off with bated breath. I never heard anything back, despite eventual repeated attempts at contact on my part.
Over the years, this has happened a few times. I've even gotten The Call. This is the same thing but in verbal form. Again, after I sent off my revisions, I never heard back.
Somehow, I always do the revisions. And sometimes these revisions even result in a stronger book. I always seem to have a least a little trickle of excitement that I can't tamp down. Maybe writers are eternal optimists?

So, you will never guess what just happened... I got an email from an agent that says, "I love your book! I'd like to represent it, but before we sign a contract, please revise the entire thing and send it back to me." (!)
Wish me luck!

Good luck to you as well with The Email. :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

writing tips

I recently came across Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips. Check them out here. Whedon is one of the most talented and successful people of our time, so when he gives tips, I listen! His tips include: Finish It, Structure, Have Something to Say, Everybody has a Reason to Live, Cut What You Love, Listen, Track the Audience Mood, Write Like a Movie, Don't Listen, Don't Sell Out. Seriously, check them out.

All this prompted me to wonder what my writing tips would be. So, without further ado, here are my off-the-cuff writing tips:

  1. Keep writing. This is, of course, closely related to 'Finish It' but with good reason. Are you really a writer if you don't finish anything? Are you a writer if you don't write?
  2. Find joy in writing. I hate to say it, but I know many writers at various stages of their careers and money doesn't seem to be plentiful for anyone. Authors need to find their fulfillment elsewhere: in creating new characters/stories/worlds, or maybe in meeting and getting to know other like-minded souls, aka writers.
  3. Get feedback on your writing and listen to it. I don't know anyone who can write a perfect first draft. I know some aspiring writers who think their first drafts are perfect... And I'm not optimistic about their publication success. Note, however, you shouldn't change your work willy-nilly based on what random people say. Only you know in your heart what your story is and what it needs.
  4. Develop your writer's voice. Voice is invaluable. Voice is the combination of subject matter, vocabulary, sentence structure, tone, theme, and all other aspects of writing. Of course everyone has a voice, but you want your voice to be distinctive and unique. Think of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, or Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. You'd know those voices anywhere. How do you develop your voice? You write with your inner editor turned off. Incidently, NaNoWriMo is great for this.
  5. Keep trying to improve. Read writing books. Study novels and stories: what worked, what didn't work? Go to writing conferences. Talk to other writers. Read writing blogs about writing tips. :)

How about you? What are your writing tips?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

follow your intuition

I've been a naughty writer. Last week I didn't write any new words. The previous week I didn't write any new words. I don't think I wrote anything new the previous week either. And maybe even the week before that. Ugh. :(
Sure, I did revisions and submissions and critiques and all manner of other writerly-related tasks, but I didn't WRITE. Suffice it to say I was feeling very grumpy about it, too. I managed to put myself in quite a foul mood.
Why so much procrastination, you ask? Every time I tried to work on a particular WIP it felt like pulling teeth. I couldn't make myself put the words on the screen. I was hating the WIP. I considered abandoning the WIP.

But then I took a step back. Rather than try to force the WIP to go where I thought it should go, where else could it go? I brainstormed. What could happen, rather than what should happen? I thought of some new fresh ideas. I decided to abandon the old stale ideas, and, Huzzah! suddenly, I could write new stuff again. I wrote two chapters this week and have lots of ideas for additional chapters.

Yes, apparently, it is difficult to teach old writers new tricks. I should have listened to my intuition weeks ago. If something doesn't feel right, it's probably not right.
Intuition is there for a reason! Follow it!

How about you? Have you ever tried to ignore your intuition? What happened?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is a Fairy Tale?

I had an interesting discussion lately with some writer friends about what a fairy tale is. We agreed a fairy tale is a sub-set of fantasy, thus all fairy tales are fantasies, but not all fantasies are fairy tales. Let's take a step back ... What is fantasy?

In Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination, Richard Mathews says that fantasy “is a type of fiction that evokes wonder, mystery, or magic--a sense of possibility beyond the ordinary, material, rationally predictable world in which we live. . . . [it] is clearly related to the magical stories of myth, legend, fairy tale, and folklore from all over the world. . . . [It is] a fiction that elicits wonder through elements of the supernatural or impossible. It consciously breaks free from mundane reality” (1-2).
So, we're all on the same page regarding what fantasy is.

What about fairy tales? A.S. Byatt says, "The characters and motifs of fairy tales are simple and archetypal: princesses and goose-girls; youngest sons and gallant princes; ogres, giants, dragons, and trolls; wicked stepmothers and false heroes; fairy godmothers and other magical helpers, often talking horses, or foxes, or birds; glass mountains; and prohibitions and breaking of prohibitions." Apparently, the definition of fairy tale is less straightforward, but I agree with Byatt's comments.

My friends maintained that a fairy tale is merely a fantasy with an internally-inconsistent magic system. I'm not convinced. But, the beauty of being a creative artist type is: you can do what you want and call it what you want!

How about you? What would you say a fairy tale is?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Unconscious Revelations

Once upon a time, a writer got a critique in which her well-written protagonist was praised for being unique. This uniqueness took the form of being narcissistic and racist. The writer in question was surprised that readers perceived the character this way.
Another time, a writer created a protagonist who was brave and smart and deboniar--think a scientist version of James Bond. Basically, he could do anything from run a mass spectrometer to shoot a sniper rifle--and the women swooned over him.
In yet another example, a writer created an evil antagonist who ended up being the protagonist's father. And--wait for it--the next book the author wrote also had an evil father antagonist.

What do all these examples have in common? I believe the authors unconsciously revealed some aspects of their personality or paradigm. The 2nd author thinks he is like a scientist/James Bond. The 3rd author has a bad relationship with her father.

Is unconscious revelation bad? I'd say: no. As authors we have to use all the tools at our disposal, including our unconscious and our subconsious. In fact, in my experience, first novels often involve a lot of unconscious revelation.
I think this is another reason it's great to get feedback on your writing. If the reader thinks the protagonist has qualities the author didn't want him to have ==> change him! That's one of the beauties of being The Author, Great and Powerful. :)

Good luck with your conscious and unconscious revelations!
Hhm... Maybe I should go reread my first novel.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Story layers

I recently read an excellent novella, "Act One" by Nancy Kress. (You can read the beginning in Asimov's Science Fiction). I believe it was a 2009 Nebula Nominee. The beauty of this story is it works on multiple layers.
One layer is the external plot: An aging actress named Jane Snow is researching her role in a controversial film about a recently discovered genetic modification. The real-life procedure is proliferated by a mysterious organization known as The Group whose long-term plans are to reshape humanity. Some see them as benefactors while others see them as biological terrorists. When Jane and her manager, Barry Tenler (the point-of-view character), meet with members of The Group they are the catalyst of a global conspiracy. Can Jane and Barry stop it? Deal with it? Survive it?

One layer is the fascinating issues of genetic engineering. The story raises the important and topical questions of the ethics of genetic modification. Should humans be genetically modified? When would it be all right? To save a life? To avert war? As you can imagine, there's a lot of thought-provoking content here.

One layer, perhaps the most important layer, is the character arc of the protagonist Barry. Barry is the perfect character to tell this story because he has to deal with his own genetic challenges. And, because of this challenge, he attempted genetic modification of his son. Suffice it to say, this didn't go well, and Barry's life totally fell apart. At the end of the story, through the events of the story, Barry learns to accept and deal with his personal demons and the effects his actions have had on the people who love him.
I believe it is this layer that elevates the story from good to outstanding.

As writers, we should always strive to show our characters changing, learning, growing as a result of the story. A nice (and free) example of this is "Heart of a Magpie" by Kathryn Yelinek in the current issue of Electric Spec. In this story the protagonist, Marion, has to deal with a supernatural menace, and she eventually utilizes the help of another supernatural creature to defeat it. What makes this story better than the average story is the internal layer, the character arc, of the protagonist. In the beginning, Marion is reeling from some unfortunate events, and blames some people in her life for them. By the end of the story, because of the story events, she comes to realize these people aren't irredeemable. She deals with her life in a more positive way, and starts on the road to forgiveness.
Now, that's what I'm talking about!

How about you? Have you read any good stories lately?
Do you have any tips for creating story layers?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

short story boom?

Lately, there's been some high-profile debate about a possible boom in short stories. Earlier this month Leslie Kaufman wrote Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories for The New York Times which states the internet is a good thing for short-story writers. She states, Story collections, an often underappreciated literary cousin of novels, are experiencing a resurgence, driven by a proliferation of digital options that offer not only new creative opportunities but exposure and revenue as well. It's an interesting article. You should check it out.

However, last week Laura Miller disagreed in Sorry, the short story boom is bogus for Salon.com. She states, This would be good news — if there were any reason at all to think it was true. and goes on, at length, to discuss "this imaginary renaissance." This is also an interesting article. You should check it out, too.
To be fair, Miller does say, With the exception of certain communities of genre writer and readers — most notable in science fiction — these writers aren’t reaching a wider audience because they aren’t especially trying to.

As an author with a MFA, I'd say authors have always written short stories. It's a great way to hone your craft. Short stories also enable writers to experiment with all aspects of writing/story-telling. Historically, short story markets for mainstream and literary fiction have been limited. Is this still true?
As a student and writer of science fiction, there's a strong tradition of SF authors writing and selling short stories. SF was born in the pulp magazines. The biggest print pro-rate markets still exist and there have been some new pro-rate digital markets. I would say the SF short story market is booming.
As a reader, there are definitely a lot of new opportunities to buy short fiction via all the digital markets.
So, IMHO, readers are reading short fiction and authors are getting paid.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Changing Directions

One of my critique partners is generally very positive. At a recent meeting, she was not as positive as usual. The gist of her message was: this is boring. Wow. If my most positive partner thinks something isn't working, it must not be working. And when I was honest with myself, I knew the book was treading water. Nothing was really happening. Egads!
Writer's tip: if something doesn't seem to be working, even if it's only in the back of your mind, it's probably not working.

So, I went back to the last time something interesting happened and asked myself how can I keep the excitement level up? How can I make the action build? Obviously, my first idea—which I wrote—was boring. So I got out a sheet of paper and wrote: What could happen? What would be exciting? It was like pulling teeth, but I made a big list of possible events, some of them ridiculous, some of them silly, some of them boring. The rule was: nothing was off limits. Use your imagination.
I then picked an idea which was more exciting and wrote a new chapter.

After I finished the new, much better, chapter, I tried it again. What could happen? I picked a new interesting idea and wrote a new chapter. Rinse and repeat. :)
Yes, I did end up throwing out about five chapters, but now, my imagination is sparking. I can't seem to stop thinking of exciting new ideas for what happens next. Huzzah!
The moral of this story is: don't be afraid to change directions in your writing. Of course, everyone's process is different.

What process works for you?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


My critique groups have been undergoing quite a bit of change lately. I don't know if everyone's making changes and resolutions at the beginning of the new year or what. The net result is I have some different critique partners. And they are writing and submitting up a storm. Yeah! I love the enthusiasm new critique partners bring to a group. There's a certain honeymoon period where they seem to think, 'You mean I get write stuff and get a bunch of feedback for free?' Of course, the honeymoon can end when they actually study the critiques they get. 'You mean my work isn't perfect?' If writers can consider critique and keep writing and keep going to group, that bodes well for their writing career.

Critique group exists to give feedback. Critiquers should say briefly what works in a piece, but they should also say what doesn't work. Critiquers should also be very specific. 'This rocks.' or 'This sucks.' do not contain any actionable information. 'This plot twist was unexpected but takes the work in a new and exciting direction.' is specific. 'When the protagonist beat up the little kid, he was very unsympathetic.' is specific. Be specific when critiquing!

I find I often say some of the same things over and over to critique partners. I'm not sure what to make of this. One of my MFA professors called this "bobble-headisms" and said each writer has certain mistakes they tend to make. The example he gave was one writer who's characters kept nodding their heads all the time. Good writers learn what mistakes they make and try to correct them before they submit to critique group or for publication. This particular professor recommended making a hit-list of writing problems and then looking for them after a draft is finished and wiping them out. Bam! Bam!

I started this post thinking about critique partners, but maybe I need to do my own homework. What mistakes do I tend to make? Hhm...
How about you? What mistakes do you tend to make? Do you know? How can you find out?
Good luck!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

writing process is a snowflake

I have a number of critique partners now and I've had scads more if you add up those from the past. And if there's one thing I've learned from all these writers it is: everyone's writing process is a snowflake--unique. (Please don't confuse this with The Snowflake Method of writing.)
I'm a pantster; I do not plot my novels in advance. Does this mean I have to do revisions? Definitely. Would it be more efficient to plot the book out in advance? No. The Muse is a tricky mistress. I tried this once and it sucked all the joy out of writing for me; I never finished that novel.
On the other hand, I have a writer friend who totally plots the book out in advance. She creates a detailed ~50 page outline before she starts the book. More power to her. Thus, obviously, any amount of plotting can work.

I do usually start with a Big Idea for my novels. Alternately, I have a writer friend who couldn't tell you what the Big Ideas are for her novels even after they've been published. Any amount of Big Idea can work.

What works for a lot of writers is to give themselves permission to write a crappy first draft. Then, you can go back and fix whatever you personally need to fix in rewrites. One of my critique partners has trouble with dialogue tags. One of my critique partners has trouble with descriptions. One of my critique partners has trouble with adverbs. IMHO, if you stop and obsess about getting everything perfect right out of the gate, you'll never make it to the finish line, aka "The End."
But, if you need to obsess, go for it. :)

Take advantage of your snowflake. Do whatever works for you! Good luck!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

story paradigms

I read an interesting article about different paradigms in story-telling: "Thought Experiments: The View from the Other Side: Science Fiction and Non-Western/Non-Anglophone Countries" by Aliette De Bodard. You can read it on the web here: http://www.asimovs.com/2010_09/thoughtexperiments.shtml. De Bodard claims A common criticism leveled at science fiction is that it is dominated by the Western world, leaving little space for other countries. As she lays out, this is somewhat true, primarily because of marketing and other commerce issues.
What really caught my eye was the concept that different cultures have different story paradigms.

I've long been a fan of Robert Silverberg's theory of story. You can read about it on the web here: http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0404/ref.shtml. The gist is: there is indeed one story only: the story of a conflict–perhaps with some external force, perhaps entirely within the soul of the protagonist–that leads to a clear resolution and illumination. The story paradigm was handed down through Western culture from the ancient Greek tragic drama.

But apparently this isn't the only story paradigm. Not all Earth cultures descended from the Greeks, after all. As De Bodard outlines, The great novels of the Ming and Qing dynasty (fourteenth century to twentieth century) are not plot or character-centered, and do not have a neat, tidy resolution or a climax. Rather, they aim to present a variety of images, themes, and personalities, ... “infinite overlapping and alternation,” a feeling of endlessness that is not rooted in some underlying meaning of the world.


What do you think? Does this free your creative juices to flow in new and unexpected directions?
And kudos to Asimov's Science Fiction for making such interesting articles available.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ghetto or gangnam?

Here's an interesting question that's been wending it's way around cyberspace lately: 21st Century Science Fiction and Fantasy: Ghetto, or Gangnam Style?: Science fiction and fantasy creators and fans were originally outsiders… misfits who got no respect from the mainstream… who stood on the outside looking in. How much has changed in today’s world… a world in which popular culture oozes SF and fantasy elements?

IMHO, Science Fiction and Fantasy are mainstream now. We live in a SF/F world with our cell phones, aka mini super-computers in the palms of our hands, quantum dot televisions, privatized space travel and all the rest. Almost all the highest worldwide movie grosses have been in the SF/F ouvre, e.g. Avatar, Marvel's The Avengers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, etc. Conferences like Comic Con and their imitators are rampant. Many of the most popular TV shows are in the SF/F genre, such as Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, Revolution, Beauty and the Beast, Arrow, depending on which list you consult.

Even if we just focus on fiction, what do we see?
What were the best-selling books in 2012? Yep, you guessed it, many science fiction and fantasy titles, including The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, Heroes of Olympus: The Mark of Athena, The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones, The kane Chronicales: The Serpent's Shadow, A Dance With Dragons, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords and a lot more. And that doesn't even include the whole Twilight vampire series which was super hot in 2010 and before, and the whole Harry Potter series which was white-hot in 2007 and before.

Here's another indication SF/F has become prevalent: Doris Lessing won the Novel Prize in Literature in 2007, partly for her "space fiction"--as she put it.
So that's my 2 cents, SF/F is as popular as Gangnam Style. :)

What do you think? Ghetto, or Gangnam Style?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No Death Star

I don't know if you all ever participate in We the People: Your Voice in our Government, but there was an interesting petition lately "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016." I can only assume this was a joke? Since it garnered over 25,000 signatures it got an official response from the white house. Check it out on the We the People website, or below:

Official White House Response to Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.
This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For

By Paul Shawcross

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

However, look carefully (here's how) and you'll notice something already floating in the sky -- that's no Moon, it's a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that's helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts -- American, Russian, and Canadian -- living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We've also got two robot science labs -- one wielding a laser -- roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo -- and soon, crew -- to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country's future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget

Excellent response, Mr. Shawcross!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

the journey

The brave MFA students at Seton Hill University are smack in the middle of their winter residency right now. Good luck to them. Maybe the notice is too short, but tonight at 7:00pm is the big public event. This year Kevin Hearne will be talking about "The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of Epic Fantasy & What Other Genres Can Learn From It" and then signing books. If you're in Greenberg PA, get on over to Cecilian Hall in the Seton Hill Main Administration building! It should be fun.

As we settle into a new writing year, I'm trying to make the most of it. What did I learn from 2012? Sadly, at the end of 2012, one of my longtime critique partners quit critique group and quit writing. :( I have to respect his decision;it must be what's right for him. At the opposite extreme, another one of my longtime critique partners has an awesome new novel coming out in February 2013 from Nightshade Books. They both started writing seriously at about the same time, and they're both good writers. But they had very different outcomes. I guess you never know what's going to happen.

So, I'm enjoying my writing journey. I revised and submitted a new short story this week. I noticed that I have about five different stories out to various pro markets. I do think my short stories are better than they used to be.
I've gotten some agent rejections for novels this week, but I did get one partial request. I totally revamped/revised a novel I just started and sent the first three chapters out to one of my critique groups. (Sorry, guys!) I realized another novel I'm working on is at 70,000 words and I better quit meandering around and get to the finish line. I backtracked six chapters and revised; I think it's headed in a much better direction.
I got a lot of my editor work done this week. I got my blog posts done this week. I submitted a bunch of proposals for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) annual conference next summer. And I got ready for my critique group meeting tonight.

Good luck with your journey!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dealing with rejection

Happy New Year! I've been trying to come up with a more upbeat post than 'dealing with rejection', but what can I say? It's been on my mind. Here are some thoughts about rejection:
  • As writers, dealing with rejection is part of our job. Let me say that again: if you aren't submitting your work and getting responses you aren't doing your job. Getting rejected is literally your job. Obviously, the ideal is to write and publish and then repeat--but I don't know any writer whose career goes like that!
  • Learn from rejection. Often rejection is accompanied by constructive criticism. If so, seriously consider it. Notice I'm not saying change your work every time you get a rejection. Sometimes work just isn't right for a particular market.
  • Grouse with your writer friends about rejection; this is a bonding activity. :) If you don't have any writer friends: get some! Making friends with other writers is one of the great joys of being a writer. Many public libraries sponsor writers groups and there are tons of them on the web. See for example, www.writers.com/groups.html.
  • Remind yourself why you write. Everyone has different reasons to write. You need to have reasons beyond getting published. Do you have a story inside that you just can't ignore? Do you enjoy the creative outlet? Do you lose yourself in imaginary worlds? Have you made friends with your fictional characters? Why do you write?
  • Consider the road not taken. Now, more than ever, there are a lot of outlets for creative work. Maybe your muse would be better served via a truly interactive story? Or a prose/music/interpretive dance project? Maybe you should pod-cast your story? Self-publish? What about trying crowd-sourcing? The only limit is your imagination.
  • Keep trying! The most important thing to realize about rejection is it doesn't mean your project is over. Who knows, the next submission may lead to success! I hope so.
  • What do you think is the best way to deal with rejection?