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Archive for November, 2008

As the only Girl posting and the only Romance writer I thought I’d talk a bit about genres and writer beliefs about those other genres. You know what I’m talking about. Those perceived assumptions that certain genres are formulaic. This genre is better than that genre because at least it isn’t predictable or trite. Most people who feel this way haven’t read much of that inferior genre. And the ‘at least’ comes from feeling the better genre isn’t as good as literary fiction. But that’s a whole other issue we can psychoanalyze some other day.

Romances by definition are stories that focus on a romantic relationship that ends with a HEA, Happily Ever After. You know when reading a Romance, no matter the sub-genre, that the main characters will fall in love or reunite or reaffirm their love. Some people believe that makes it a formula. MC1+MC2=Love. But the plot of a romance should never be to fall in love. That’s something that happens while the plot proceeds. The character’s goal is not to find love. But back to the formula, just because you expect a HEA does not mean there is a formula.

In reading a mystery we expect the good guy to triumph and the villain to be caught/thwarted. If we read a Sci-fi we expect world building, extra techno details and triumph at the end. Fantasy, the hero’s journey.  These are not formulas, they are genre definitions. They are traits that entice us to read them. If I want to be scared spit-less I read Horror.

Some say that Romance novels are unrealistic. I always want them to be more precise when they say this. Is it the sex they find unbelievable? They’re are some books out there that give great tips on*…but I digress. How realistic is it that every six months a murder would happen in a small town and each murder be solved by the same amateur detective? How realistic is it that fey, or ghost, or Amazons, or time travel be possible? And don’t get all Steven Hawking on me. It’s Fiction. FICTION. It’s entertainment and escape and thought provoking and emotional and sometimes too real. That’s the whole point.

So you want a HEA? A positive outlook after some major plot swings and drama? Read romance. You want to explore a new world or learn about a mystical race? Read Fantasy or Sci-fi. You want to be scared spit-less? Read the New York Times Economics section.

*I read this out loud to my husband. His respnse? “We didn’t need tip sheets.” Nope, sure didn’t. Some people just click. Or just finally find their rythym. Practice makes better. LOL

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People Watching

Now that we’re beyond Black Friday and the madness of mall surfing, we can get back to somewhat of a sane being. I hope you all took the opportunity to expand your knowledge store of people.

As a writer you should notice details of the people you see. We all use people we know (to a greater or lesser extent) to create characters in our stories (also to a greater or lesser extent). Seeing glimpses into other people through their actions, clothes, overheard conversations are all grist for the mill.

You should store up these clip-its for use later. Can you use how finely dressed that person is? Quite possibly. And that person wearing the mix of grunge and goth, are they a potential character? Maybe. If so you’ll need other details, how they walk, look at other people, hold themselves still, react to their friends or family, all those things. Is that person looking at the crowds passing them like a butcher looks at cattle in the chute? Is that one holding their stomach because their hungry, just passed gas, had recent surgery, or are they just holding their too short t-shirt down? How do kids treat their parents (a walking wallet? okay, too cliche), and how do parents respond to their kids (how many times do they say, “Momma” before she pays attention to them)?

While overhearing conversations in restaurants or bars is a classic technique for learning real dialog, the disjointed conversations without action or motion can be flat as often as they are telling. Most people talk about boring things. No. Really. Starting observing just what you discuss with others. I’m willing to bet that ninety percent of all talk is utterly trivial. However, that stolen overheard 10% can include gems.

I once overheard four barely out of their teens girls talking over lunch about how they were shocked that one of them hadn’t forced their high-school boyfriend to give her a ring. Oh yes, that conversation will find it’s way into a story some day. As will their mid-drift shirts, fur coats, flip-flops, perfectly styled hair and airbrushed complexions.

This time of year the amateurs are at the malls. People who hide in dark recesses of their lives the rest of the year come out at these time to do their yearly mating dance of holiday shopping. Sales tend to show the true quality of people (hint to guys, never get between a group of women and dresses that just went on sale, some of them have very sharp elbows and they know how to use them) and the tension is very high. People break in the oddest ways.

Me? I’ve suffered through enough of those having worked in an office tower that was above a high-end mall in downtown Cleveland for four years. Until it’s legal for me to carry my machete, I avoid the Christmas Tide of Shoppers as best I can. Amazon, take me away.

Most anthropologist know that observing a culture while in the middle of that culture tends to distort the results. You are the pebble in the stream. Just keep this in mind as you’re people watching, there is a fine line between the lingering gaze of an admirer and the piercing stare of a serial killer.

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Tip of the Day which is neither tip like nor daily.

Okay, I’m going to make this a reoccurring thing. Little helpful tidbits. Feel free to add your own Tip of the Day. But keep it short. This one is actually tippy.

I’m not a visual person. When describing characters I need a picture to look at or all my characters end up, brown haired, brown eyed, normal. So once a year I buy a People Magazine. The Sexist Man Alive issue. Plenty of faces to cut out and add to my character files. This year as an added bonus, four of the pictures are scratch and sniff. I’m not kidding. They asked the guys what smell made them feel sexy and the magazine provided the smell for their readers.

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Where does the time go? It’s nearly the end of the year and what do we have to show for it. Shorter of breathe and one day closer to death. It seems strange that we’re already at the holidays, and I don’t have much fiction writing this year to show for it.

Tempest fugit (“Watch your phrase-ology!”). Very few of those who travel down the writer’s path do the writing thing full time. Of those that do, fiction (specifically genre fiction) usually isn’t what’s paying the bills. That means for the vast majority of us we’re stealing time away from other places to sit our butts in the chair and klack out some words on the keyboard (or scribble on paper if you’re so inclined). And beyond that are the countless multitudes who will tell you, once you become famous, how they could have been a writer if only they could have found the time.

Smile at them as you sign the book. Do not grab them by the shirt collars and shout in their faces, “Nobody finds time! We all give up our lives to do this. Carpe diem, friend, before your pushing up the daisies.”

Seriously, unless your life is immensely dull you’re never going to “find time.” If you’re having trouble getting the time, you could do worse than keeping a time log diary for a few weeks (or at least one week). Faithfully write down every half hour (or so) just what you’re doing (or did, in my case). Once you have that all together you can begin to tally up the time you spend doing things that aren’t helping.

Most people can find time by cutting out TV. Personally, I watch about 10 hours a week. That includes the news as I’m eating dinner and catching up with my wife and maybe the Daily Show repeat or a half hour sitcom. The majority of time is on weekends when I might catch a movie on TCM. That comes to an average 1.4 hours a day. Some of that is also spent multi-tasking (again, catching up and some time spent blogging while in front of the TV).

Next up is video games. Games helped me to nearly drop out of college, so I know this is an Achilles Heel for me. I also used to play a lot more, but I’ve gotten it under control. Time up for this barely registers on a per week level (maybe a quarter hour a week, but that would be generous). I don’t own a game box, and I only have a few basic games on my typing machine (mac laptop).

And finally, cutting out internet surfing. Here’s where I fall down. The number is embarrassing large at 15-18 hours a week (this doesn’t include time at the day job and time stolen from the night job). That’s 2.6 hours a day. Now, to be fair to me, I type while I surf. At home I have dial-up with a fourth-tier provider, which means it’s slow, slow, slow. So I’ll key in about fifty or so words, then check a website/blog/amazon shopping, make a navigation selection and go back to typing. Typing here includes reports for the night job, blogging, email, or writing. This is where I should cut, and I know that. It’s my weakness. However I also use it as a reward for writing.

If I’m lucky I get about 5 hours a week of uninterrupted writing time. Those hours are stolen from time spent with my wife, making money as a freelance designer (my third job, behind the day thing and the night thing), sleep (which I get too little anyway), entertainment, and everything else. I wish I could steal more. As it is my brain is still filled with thoughts about the night thing, which is blocking creative flow. So even when I’m not “working” on them, those other things are seeping up time and brain space.

Pretty much everything else is work or home related for my time. When I spend time at parties, gatherings, go to movies, etc, it’s a rare day indeed. The largest chunk of that time would be writing conventions. And now you know when you go to those why people are just looking to relax a little.

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Fictional Biography

I’ve been having a non-fiction envy moment. Some writers can move from fiction to non-fiction with equal ease, but I have a real problem with it. I think its because I’m not really an expert on anything in particular so I don’t feel qualified in writing a book about something that interests me. I haven’t had an ultra interesting career or life filled with tragedy or broken any records along my way. So what could I have to write about that would be interesting in a non-fictional book? Well, nothing.

I have always liked aviation. Over the years I have collected a considerable library of aviation pioneers, fighter pilots and military men. But even though I love the subject and can talk about it with some knowledge and conviction, I still don’t feel like I have the authority to write about it. But man would it be fun to write a biography of a favorite pilot.

Turns out the one thing I do know an awful lot about is my own imagination. I’ve lived with it and the universe where most of my SF takes place, my entire adult life. You could say that I was an expert in my Galaxy Collision universe. So why not write about someone in that universe? Someone who was modeled after a real life pilot. Why not write a biography of a famous pilot in my fictional universe. Now that I can do with conviction. I won’t have to research it much, because it will all be made up. Sure I will have to stick to the already established canon that I have created in short stories and novels, but that’s okay, it really just ads to the world building verisimilitude.

A writer usually creates elaborate background stories on characters that they develop and so this will be no different, just a lot more detailed. The trick is to make the moc-bio so interesting that people will read it like they read a normal fiction book and come away just as satisfied. For that I think it needs to be written in first person and the story arch must show the person’s entire life as if he were the hero in his own story. This appears to be the formula for all popular biographies of famous people.

At this time the idea has a new project created for it and a rough outline of chapter titles that tell the story of a starfighter test pilot who helped test and then fly some of the first fighters used in what will become a millennial conflict. The person the moc-bio will be about? Red Allen. You can read a short story about one of his adventures on my Scribd page.

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Joining a professional writers group has been the best thing I’ve done for my writing career to date. I’ve learned more about writing fiction participating in critiques than I have any other way. And I’ve learned the most from watching others critique others. (For more on critiquing and maybe a place to get started, The Online Writing Workshop and Critters)

I know that there’s this “thing” out there where writers are supposed to be fragile egos. Well, I went through art school, that builds up a thick skin. Calluses from the friction of critique ever single day. However, the critique is about the work, not about the person. And getting criticism from people you know, people you can ask for follow up, and from people who know how to tell a story is about the best thing you can do as a young writer.

But I’m going to touch on one subject in regards to critique workshops or groups. What do you do with conflicting critiques? This past weekend the writers group I belong to went over my latest story A History of Lightning and there were many points that the critiquers agreed on (end doesn’t have enough tension, I should forecast some things earlier, I wasn’t being true to my POV character at the end), but there were plenty where they split on advice. When everybody (or at least a clear majority) agrees that you should fix something, you really should fix it.

In case of tie, decision goes to the author. However, that doesn’t mean you should just go with your original. It means you need to think it over if you should change it or not.

My title, about as many people liked it as didn’t like it. I personally suck at short story titles and was hoping for some direction here. I’ll wait to see the handwritten notes before I decide this one. I think it’s evocative, but not really resonate with the story (it was a good working title, though).

An equal number of people felt having all the characters having on syllable names and that the two main characters are known as Ben and Jed just served to confuse the reader. Just as many felt it was perfectly fine. I think I’ll refrain from naming the bartender (he doesn’t need one here), and I’ll rename some of the other characters, but I’ll keep Ben and Jed (short for Benjamin and Jeddediah).

They split on my language usage, some calling it too “purple prosy.” One person had a distinct disfavor for my use of gerunds (although I think it was the participles and prepositional phrases). Here I’m included to keep the language poetic (that’s my style), but I’ll try and eliminate some of the gerunds (which I should anyway) any participles that dangle. General note here, gerunds often denote simultaneous action when it rarely is simultaneous.

I guess I also didn’t catch all the similes and all the typos. Some tortured sentence structure continues to cause mischief (and the worst one, that I rewrote every time I went through the story) I may just cut the idea out.

So, there you have it. Just because the tie goes to you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something about it. The good thing for me is most people said they enjoyed the story. One person complained about the Frankenstein reference, but more people liked it, and I think it’s critical to the story, so I’m pumping that up.

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High Seas Ahead

With a recession looming, you might think it was a poor time to be making a living selling books; that it was unfortunate timing to be trying to break into the market as a new author. Perhaps. But I don’t believe so.

In troubled times, people look for cheaper ways to entertain themselves. They may decide to stop going to the theatre or to forgo the latest movie and wait for it to show up on RedBox. But a new book costs considerably less than a single trip to the movies these days.

We are heading into the holiday season and books make a much cheaper gift than a new iPod or a new flat panel TV. So I believe that established authors will do pretty well in a down economy. We may even see a resurgence of reading in the coming months.

But there will always be a segment of the population who will refuse to spend money on new books. Call them poor or call them cheap, they will still need to be entertained, even if they are not forking over hard earned dollars for it. I predict that free fiction will flourish in a down economy. Podcast novels on iTunes, free download novels from web sites and word of mouth about new authors; will only help the careers of those who are reaching out to find an audience.

If you are in a position to take advantage of this thirst for new fiction, you could come out of the recession with a whole new fan base that in more prosperous times will reward you with steady book sales. Much of a new author’s fortunes lay in how well he or she can build an audience for their work. The key to success is in creating a following for your work. If you keep producing high quality fiction your fans will stick with you, even in hard times.

I’m particularly well positioned to see if this strategy works. My first novel is available on Amazon in both print and on the Kindle. But I’m also giving the novel away for free on my website, in as many consumer friendly ways as I can muster. I even have plans to make an audio version freely available on iTunes. All of this is an effort to get the novel out there and in front of as many eye balls as I can. I’m not in any particular hurry either. If the novel gains a small following, I’ll reward the fans with more free fiction and another novel next year. If not, well, at least I’m writing and hopefully getting better at it.

I hope to use the coming down economy to my advantage. Stick around and see if I sink or swim in the high seas ahead.

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