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Archive for August, 2009

Writerly Linkee-poo

So, as someone who is writing the first novel they’ll complete (I think I can, I think I can) this article on This Is Your Job speaks well to me. (grokked form Jay Lake)

The Writer’s Digest (of which I no longer subscribe, sorry guys) with 7 Biggest Myths of Publishing. What she said (especially #7 – It’s okay to put your book on hold).

Terry Bissons 60 Rules for Short SF (and Fantasy) which is a much faster read than it sounds.

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Rejection to Linkages

OSC Intergalactic Medicine show sends word they’re passing on my humorous flash fantasy “Prince Wanted.” The letter is short and sweet, but I’m not sure it’s a form (I’ll have to check older rejections from them). So, sometime this weekend it’s back to duotrope (and now that I think about it, it’s been quite a few weeks since I’ve been there).

So on that vein, some writerly links.

The blog, “Pimp My Novel” has been spilling the beans about sales. Here’s their post for Fantasy and here’s the one for SF. They also do reports on other genres (literary, childrens, etc).

The Rejectionist with book ideas they couldn’t make up, even if they wanted to. Wow. Really, if you think you’re ideas are crap, you need to check out these three.

Seanan McQuire gives us some thoughts on writing. And her discussion of “Recess” is so spot on, I was misty-eyed by the end of it. (Grokked from Catherine Schaff-Stump).

Tobias Buckell extolls the virtues of Story Tracker which somewhat does something I’ve been looking for as well. I think Duotrope will also handle this, but, frankly, I haven’t taken the time to check it out. So, another reason to get that iTouch (they’re building up).

And the Blood Red Pencil continues to dish up some good content (I’m way behind my reading there).

edited to include Kate Elliot talking of Identity and characterization over on Tor.com.

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One thing our visual design instructors instilled in us was the ability to be creative on demand. Design (graphic, information, way-finding, etc) is a business. You don’t have time to wait for the Muse to come in, she has to be on the clock. You might get a new client at 8am and have to present ideas for an identity overhaul by the scheduled lunch at noon. No, really, you’ve gotta do.

Sure, you’re going to get it wrong (that’s another post), but you have to present ideas. That means after the hour long meeting where you learn basically nothing you need to know and a lot about things that don’t matter at all (like the hair gel the AD – art director – just switched to) you spend an hour doing “research” (now that means googling, back then it was sitting in your chair, head in your hands, thinking “OMG, OMG, OMG, OMFG!” over and over), which leaves you two hours to do a hundred thumbnails, twenty sketches, and three or more comps (doing this on computer now means the hundred thumbnails – maybe – and then right to the comps). And don’t forget to include half an hour for paste up on presentation boards (or now, struggling with Powerpoint, merging with the sales materials being developed, and cursing BIll Gates’ name unto the seventh generation).

Think I’m being overly dramatic? Heh. You probably actually won’t get the assignment until 10 as the AD/Sales goes to get their second Starbucks. So, yeah, I gave you twice as much time than you really had. Now can you see why out of 24 or so fellow graduates, there’s less than 5 of us still doing this two decades down the road.

The best job related functions you can learn is 1) be quick, 2) be precise (spelling fluorescent “flourescent” on the presentation to the lighting company won’t keep the business, and your sales person doesn’t know the difference), and 3) get the work out (all this wraps up to being competent, it’s a rare job skill)

So, yeah, you can be creative when “cold.” This is why it’s important to be stocked with ideas and the creative pump primed by all the off-time research. Now, it’s always better to allow the subconscious to masticate on something for awhile. Yes, the end result will be better with that, and if you’re “inspired.” The trick is being able to get “inspired” at the drop of a hat. That’s a trick you learn by doing.

There are various group activities that can help you learn this trick. One is to have everybody in a group write the first line to a story. Then everybody trades and gets 30-45 minutes to spin out the full story. Now, more than likely you won’t get a full story written, but you should be able to get the frame of it out (the voice, the overall thrust, somewhere at about 500-1000 words). Then everybody shares what they got. This exercise works because you’re not invested in the story (it’s not “your” idea – well, it is, but you can fool yourself) and there’s a deadline, plus you need to share. You can see variations on the theme here (give everybody a character, a plot, a setting, etc, and have them write what they get in 30-45 minutes, pull a story from literature and write an extension/version/joke/etc based on it). Select any of the various “writing prompts” (Writer’s Digest, Writing Excuses, there’s several websites that have lists of them) and have at. After doing this several times you’ll get faster and better with it. You’ll also become more comfortable with being creative on the spot. It’s like calisthenics for the Muse.

This post? I have a list of blog entries for this concept (what I learned as a designer translates to writing). I looked back at that list about 20 minutes ago and this post is a result. I can be “cold” and still write/design. That’s what I learned.

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Well, it’s official, my editor has resigned her position to move to a new publisher, three weeks before my debut novel’s publication date: http://quartetpress.com/

Either I’ve been deserted like a bride at the altar, or I’m developing an industry network across multiple publishers in preparation for launching a powerhouse career in the next big genre.

Snort.

Either way, what happens with the next manuscript I submit is going to be interesting and I plan to enjoy the ride.

Have fun, write a lot. I know I’m going to.

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Hitting the market first in digital formats, Null_Pointer debuts this week on the internet. You can now read the first book in this new mystery series about a programmer sleuth named Joshua Jones on the Kindle and in various formats on Smashwords.

NP_FINAL_COVER_MED The paperback version is due some time in September, but you can read it right now for nearly half off the paperback price. Can’t spare the $6.39 price for the digital version? That’s OK too, you can read the entire novel for FREE, yes that’s zero dollars, on Scribd. If you like the book, please tell your friends and blog about it, Twitter about it, and Facebook about it.

What’s that? You say you are a book person and would rather wait for the paperback version? Well, wait no longer. Get a jump on the regular markets and head on over to Lulu.com to purchase the paperback for $12.96. Be the first in your cube row to own the first book in the only new mystery about coders and Geeks.

Are you a programmer? Do you actually know what the title refers to? Do you know someone who loves mysteries but doesn’t have a clue about programming? If so you may already be or know someone who would love this book. Get it today and make the Geek in your life a very happy Geek.

“Null Pointer is an excellent blending of computer technology, programmer knowledge and the traditional mystery.” – Angela Abderhalden, author of Questionable Ethics


“McConnell’s novel is filled with lots of technical details that geeks will love, but he makes nearly all of it clear to technophobes.” – Kathy McIntosh, Well Placed Words

Available right now from Smashwords, Lulu.com and on the Amazon Kindle.

Get yours today!

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As I said, I have a BFA. That means a large whopping percent of my college career was spent in art classes. And while the other disciplines in the school had critiques less often (maybe twice a week), for the graphic design program we were critiqued on our output every single class. If you took a basic full load of courses that meant being critiqued at least two times a day Monday through Friday (sometimes 3 or 4 times a day). We critiqued thought processes, thumbnails, proofs, comps and final art.

One thing you notice about college is that the people you end up with the the junior level of courses is much smaller than those in the freshman level of courses. In computer programming that was because of General Programming II and Calculus II. In graphic design we didn’t have “weeder” courses. Every damn course weeded out those who didn’t have what it took to go on.

You may think I’m being overly-dramatic there, but these critiques were not gentle things. Usually once a week was the “did you really mean to put so much suck into this?” critique. Now student to student we were pretty light. However the teacher always got their say. Most where rat-ass bastards too. Sure, they’d help you in class, give you all the help they could outside class, but when it came to critique time, they would open with both barrels.

Seem cruel? Obviously you’ve never been in a client meeting discussing design work. The only thing better for us would have been to include mind-reading courses.

So after four years of that type of crucible you develop a tough skin. Or you drop out. By the senior year of classes if you haven’t developed the mental calluses to allow scorn and ridicule roll off your back you would probably need to see a psychiatrist to help with the cluelessness problems. In my “freshman” class we had about 300 students. I graduated with 24 in the winter (and I believe there were only 20 that spring). That’s what’s called attrition.

Some people have asked me why rejection doesn’t bother me like it does other writers. This is why. Sure it bothers me, but I get over it quickly and move on. In my critique group sometimes I want to tell the person critiquing me, “You’re holding back, damnit, tell me what you want to say!” Of course you can’t do that in the Milford/Clarion style.

See, there’s two different kinds of critiques. There’s the professional kind which talks about the work (art or writing), it may or may not include suggestions (“I thought you were going here…” or “I think this could be stronger if you…”). Suggestions aren’t necessary (although they do sped the learning process). This is the kind of critique that as a writer you should be seeking out. The kind that points out the flaws in the work, the things editors would toss your manuscript in the bounce file over. Of course, there are always differences of opinion (many of my later critiques with the Hamsters have extra notes on the hard copy that say, “so-and-so is correct pointing this out,” or “so-and-so is completely off base with this comment”). In that case you look at if the majority agrees you messed up the imagery, you’ll want to look at it. If the audience splits, or if only one person points something out, it’s author’s choice (which doesn’t mean ignore it, it means evaluating the critique and seeing if a change would make the story stronger or if it would lose something). And all these critiques, even the ones you think are most cruel, are an attempt to help you and your work be better.

Then there’s the other kind. The poisonous personal attack where the critiquer decides that it’s mostly a character flaw of the author for any problems in the manuscript. Ignore these people. Find a better group of critiquers. A critique about a piece of work is never about the person.

I think I related the story of my worst critique a long time ago (and it’s a post by itself). Nothing, I repeat, nothing an editor can say or do, nothing a fellow writer could say or do, could come close. The #10 has been set. Most others don’t get past #6 in comparison. I am invested in my work, and if you tell me my baby is ugly I’ll be upset. But it doesn’t come close to the inferno that was that critique (short story, it changed my life). Tell me that you don’t want to publish my piece. Eh. I’ve had clients tell me to my face my work sucked and they weren’t going to continue working with me/pay for it. Just giving me a rejection or telling me that this simile doesn’t work for you isn’t even close. This far down the road, there’s only one person that could get close to affecting me that deeply. And it’s not anybody in my critique group or any editor I submit to.

Unfortunately I don’t have much advice on how to get to where I’m at. It involves walking through Hell. Once you do that a little flame doesn’t bother you. And if necessary, you know you can do it again.

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This one is going to piss off a few people. To start off you need to know that I hold a BFA in Graphic Design from the University of Akron Meyer’s School of Art. I have a lot of Art History floating around in my cerebellum, including a bunch that most people have never seen (History of Ephemera, anybody?). I can sling the wonderful magical words of art like a pro, because I am one. What I’m about to say launched a semester-long fight in art school. It took place in the sophomore level classes. That’s when the revelation took place as our instructors told us the dirty truth.

What we do isn’t art and we aren’t artists.

It may quack like a duck, and it may waddle, but it ain’t no duck. It’s a goose. What’s the difference between a duck and a goose? A goose can feed a family of four.

Yes, uproar, consternation, and a general “What you talking about Willis?” attitude pervaded the Graphic Design 200 classes. How dare they (the instructors, all working designers) say we aren’t artists? Well, Sparky, we ain’t. I’m not going to tell you what we actually are because you won’t like it, but we aren’t artists.

Now, the two year degree and the actual profession at the time were referred to us as “commercial artists.” What we created and sent to press (and even now when it’s bits on a disk or email) is called “art.” And we’re the ones people talk about when they say they “need an artist.”

Art isn’t what we do. We create communications. And there is a difference.

Right now there’s a subtext argument going through the ranks of SF/F/H about literature versus popular fiction. The whole Adam Roberts letter about the Hugos is an example. See, there’s those who feel we’re still artists and we’re making art. Art has “merit.” Art has “permanence.” When you’re creating Art it is to be expected that the great unwashed masses won’t get it, because that’s what Art is. Art needs to be appreciated. The struggle to produce Art needs to be recognized. Art works deep into the mind and massages out Truth and Meaning. Add in the mythos surrounding the long-suffering struggling artists and it makes those people struggling feel a little better about it.

And it’s a steaming pile that needs to be hauled out with a shovel.

You buy “Art” at auctions. I’m on the street peddling my wares. I go to the highest bidder (mostly), the one waving the cash in hand. And I’ll create something for them. I’ll create something that’s from them (and that’s what divides us from artists).

See, Art is individual expression. It can even be expanded to be the voice of a generation, but in the end, Art is a singular effort. If I’m creating a piece of “Art” that needs to mimic that it belongs to and comes form my client, it can’t be Art.

So how does this relate to writing? Well, it really comes down to what kind of writer you want to be. There’s the kind of writer that will do the things that College English professors will use as examples of literary form and function and that the National Book Award will recognize as a fine example of what people should be reading. Except the people tend to read all this trite piffle like Dan Brown, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Daniel Steele, Laura K. Hamilton, and all those low brow types. And they read it because the don’t know any better and can’t appreciate what true artistic merits all these other books that sell less than 5000 copies despite the rave reviews in literary magazine have by the truck load. Or do you want to be the writer that people actually read and enjoy, even if they only sell 5000 or so (I know quite a few books like that)? Do you want to be the writer than entertains and is accessible to the masses (which doesn’t mean you can’t do all those literary things, you just handle it in a different manner, one which usually doesn’t involve the “look at me I’m so clever” pee-pee dance)?

I’ll be the later, thanks.

Oh sure, my story will massage parts of you and might impart a little meaning. But with my massage you’ll get a Happy Ending(tm) (and, no, that’s not the literary term you think it is).

Art? I’m not creating Art. I’m making art. I’m drawing in chalk on the sidewalk. I’m putting out posters and pasting them up all over town. It’s my job and I approach it as work. And that’s the difference. It may look and feel like art, but it isn’t.

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