Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing to a Theme

Yesterday, I posted about the short story publication process.

Now, let's talk a little bit about how you write to a theme, for, say, an anthology or a theme-heavy magazine/contest.

It doesn't start with the writing process--it starts with the planning. You need to latch onto something for inspiration. Now, sometimes you can get lucky and snatch onto something straight away, but it's not necessarily the norm. So, find yourself a menial or repetitive task (ask my neighbors. I walk circles around my property almost every day. I do it so much I know my path, riddled with rocks and junk cars as it is, well enough to walk it in the dark.) and have at it. Go over whatever you need to, and give yourself at least half an hour of uninterrupted thinking time. If you have a longish commute to work, that's the perfect bloody time to go about it, too, you lucky you.

Of course, that's no guarantee to you figuring out your idea. Don't sweat it. I once went over half a year sitting around saying that an idea just wasn't worth writing for, and then, in the middle of NaNoWriMo, three days before the deadline for the antho, I got hit with the bug and had to write for it, because I got the idea. Inspiration, you see, isn't just finicky and fickle, it also has a tendency to show up at inopportune moments.

Of course, that's also the best time to grab it, when it sneaks up on you all kinds of ninja-like.

It may be full-fledged, it may be an inkling, but now you need to nurse it. However you do it--brainstorm, list make, draw it out, map, bubble-chart--don't leave yourself with some barely formed idea, even though it is brilliant. This is where you get to flex your writerly muscles, especially when it comes to speculative fiction. Worldbuild.

Whether your idea was for a character, a plot, or a world, worldbuilding is pretty much your first step, or one of your first steps. You don't have to go overboard, just enough to grab an editor's attention.

Now, check it again here, right before you set out to write it. Does it still actually fit the theme? If it does, awesome. If it doesn't, awesome. Write it no matter what, because you can always track down some sort of home for it, it might just take a little more searching.

Now, we go to the same process as any other publication run, with one preliminary step: does it work for your theme? After you've written it and let it breathe, edited it and refined it to it's publishable form, is it still good for your original theme. If so, and you don't think it belongs somewhere else all of a sudden (sometimes it happens, and you just have to play around at Clarkesworld or Writers of the Future instead), throw it at the intended market.

It's the same thing, with a little more emphasis, and a little more constriction, put on your idea sessions. Consider it a workout--it's more weight on the arm-lifty thingy machine thing, and it will make you a better writer.

Theme-crazy,
Voss

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Brief Overview of Publishing Your Story

It was pointed out the other day that, when published authors have learned the business a little bit, they tend to use words that up and coming authors may or may not understand, and I don't think that's fair to them, but it's sort of a hard thing to teach all in one session, so I gave up on that. What I can do is impart a little bit of the publishing knowledge. Now, we're all writers here, correct? So we can all make a first, unpolished, perhaps completely illegible draft, right (I know I can.)? Then we'll start there, with you and your rough draft.

It's a pretty rough draft. Kind of like no one thinks their kid is ugly, and how you love your children even if they do have a bit of a reptilian look and devil horns. It's that kind of blind prettiness and, I'm afraid to say, it must be quashed with vim and/or vigor. The only way to do that is to let it sit. I recommend at least six hours for a short story or piece of flash, at least a week for a novella or novelette, and at least three weeks (preferably a month or more) for a full length novel. Just leave it alone. Don't look at it. Don't think about it. This is the time to call your long-winded Uncle Gabe or make a cheesecake...personally, I'd prefer the cheesecake, especially if you share...

The important thing is not to be doing anything with your story. It has to sit there and fester alone, thinking about how ugly it is, that way it just spills its fears and problems with you as soon as you come back. Because, as it is, that is the only way for it to get better, it has to have that time.

Now is when you get to be Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Surgeon-Man/Lady. Grab your whole set of scalpels and give it a read through, form beginning to end--and fix the living hell out of it. Cut scenes, cut sentences, add passages, change words, inject a new character if you must, just cut away, at the very least, all of the visible tumors on the outside and readjust the physical structure to compensate. You see? It's now much better, much more pretty.

On the outside.

Once you've done that initial edit, you get to the scary-ass part. Beta-reading/beta-editing. You see, the only things that remain are the things that you can't see, the things you're blind to, the vicious, malignant, internal cancers. You need a specialist, and that specialist is a beta-reader/beta-editor. Don't get discouraged--you probably have a lot more of them floating around than you think? Part of a writing group? Ask them. Have other friends who write? Ask them. Maybe the nice Frenchwoman down at the gas station the next town over is an avid writer. What's the harm in asking? You see? You have options. Now, of course, you can't just pick someone, and if it's your first time having this done, it can be intimidating. You need to first weed out anyone that doesn't understand your genre (i.e. generally, you don't let a deer-hunting bodybuilder/mechanic beta your chick-lit, unless you know it'll work). Now your pool of options is more precise. I'm sorry to say, however, that I can no longer guide you. You can be the best of friends with someone, but if their beta style clashes with you, you can't ever use them. Ever, ever, ever, unless you secretly hate them.

So you send it off (obviously remembering to offer to beta for them, as well) and wait. And wait. Again, a good time to do something stupid and menial, like wash the dog. When you finally get it back, you'll find it marked-up, red and blue all over, and looking for a little bit of sympathy. This is the time when you need the most distance, and the most balls-out confidence...

...and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

You now have to be humble enough to admit your mistakes to yourself, and that is unbelievably hard, believe it or not. Sometimes, your beta will point out stuff that you can't believe you missed, it's so obvious. Those are the times when you eat your crow (it goes down much better with chocolate) and fix it.

Then you'll want to kill them for something stupid, but aren't sure if it needs changing. This is where the confidence comes in. I got given two pieces of grammatical advice in one beta. One was sound, the other was stylistic only. I took the sound one and said f*ck off to the stylistic one, because it was idiotic. You have to remember that this is your story, not your beta-reader's, so don't change it if it needs to stay.

Now, you've edited and revised twice. That's the bare minimum I allow anything out of the door with. It's in your best interests to do it three, four, maybe five times, but that's a matter of your discretion. I've broken the rule, and it's worked out with one edit before, so who really knows?

Okay, polished story, but you're flailing in the water trying to find a market. Duotrope's Digest is your best friend. Love it, cherish it, and take it out to dinner. You just run over there, plug in your information, and hit search, and it pops up with markets galore that want to read your work. Let them, especially the high-paying ones. It's conventional wisdom that, in this situation, you would start with your highest paying markets. I normally start with Clarkesworld Magazine, because they have something like a one week maximum turnaround time, and they pay ten cents a word. Other big spenders are Daily Science Fiction (8 cents a word) Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show (6 cents a word) and Writers of The Future (1000 dollars for the top story). Of course, the top market is Tor.com (25 cents a word), bu they have a three year backlog of stories, so I tend to shy away.

If you've then exhausted half of your pro markets (5 cents a word and higher), I normally re-edit and start submitting to all of them (except non-paying...not yet, anyway). There are almost assuredly 100 or more markets for your story, enough that you'll probably find some you won't want to (or aren't allowed to) submit to. That's all right, because you can eventually find a market. It's just a matter of dropping your own standards down a bit more. If it's not getting into IGMS, ASIM, or some other fancy acronym-like magazine, maybe you can try something like a charity anthology, a coffee-table flash book, or some of the Static Movement press books. They don't pay, but exposure is exposure, and those are great ways to get some exposure.

Now, you'll probably get a rejection letter...or two...or five...or twenty...it really doesn't matter (Although don't delete them. There's a magazine that requires you turn in 6 or more rejection slips with your submission to even be considered!). They all hurt. Somebody else, someone you've never met, basically just told you that your baby is ugly and should be thrown into the pits of hell *insert evil laugh*

Okay, not really, but is does feel that way. I'm pretty resilient. I can get multiple rejections without it really affecting me. Of course, one too many and I go ballistic and decide that my writing is completely worthless and vow to live in a tiny house in the backyard and knit sweaters for a hundred and three cats. I'm serious, that's my plan if I'm ever going to stop writing...or maybe if I write and just want to be alone...it kind of sounds peaceful, doesn't it?

The cure? Chocolate and good, loud, angry music...and hugs. Hugs are good.

Of course, sex is probably really good too...never tried that one before.

Honestly, though, you need to deal with it however you deal with it, and quickly, because a stagnant story is no money, no exposure, and just compounds the problem.

In the next few days, I'll be putting up another post on writing for themes (like anthologies and the like). For now?

Toodles,
Voss

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ballet Shoes and Cornflower Silk

I like the direction modern ballet is headed. I got my first taste of it in an adaptation of 'Edward Scissorhands' over at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theater. I have yet to see a ballet that tops that one.

Today, I finally managed to catch 'The Little Mermaid'. no, not the original--a modern re-interpretation of Anderson's story, told with Anderson himself as a main character. It was writen and choreographed in honor of the 200th anniversary of Anderson's birth over in Denmark (as an aside, I'm very rapidly falling in love with Danish art...not important). Another beautiful example of modern ballet--with the most amazing sea-witch performance I could imagine. Sadly, I had to stop watching partway through--the removal of the Little Mermaid's tail was a little too intense for me.

That should go to show you something. No dialogue, very little sound from the dancers at all--and yet the emotions are tear-wrenchingly powerful. It got me thinking about writing. How much do we rely on so little? What if we had to write a story with mute, eyeless characters?

It just got me thinking.

Voss

Monday, December 12, 2011

Inspiration Prescription

Feeling a little lackluster? Inspiration flagging? Are you the laughing stock of your writing group? Are you currently flashing on Lucy's VitaMeataVegaMin commercial (my favorite!)?

Well be just and fear not (I'm jsut full of fan references today, aren't I? RHPS, baby!)

Okay, let's get down to seriousness (as if I'm ever serious...). Some days, we bloody well can't write a line without deleting the entire document because it "lacks inspiration" (or maybe that's just I...). Sure, you can listen to music, read a favorite book, scan through writing prompts--but some days that just will not work and you wonder: "Why can't I be inspired?"

The ways. We are all so used to the way things work, that sometimes it takes a jolt to really jumpstart us--writers included, as much as we try denounce humanity some days.



  1. Movies: Watch a movie, especially if it's just kind of a trip. Whether it's the wacky, wonderful weirdness of "Monkeybone" or the odd, multicultural mix of something like "Fighter" (Danish martial arts Muslim interracial romance, anyone?), watch something wierd. If you're lucky nough to own DVD copies of your movies, you can even watch something more "normal"--jsut throw on the commentary if it has one and listen to another artist talk--believe me, it helps.

  2. Stage: All right, maybe movies aren't working--try the stage. Go find your community theater, or even a recording of a play, and curl up with your inner Shakespeare, Hammerstein, or Sondheim. Whether it's a classic like "The Taming of the Shrew" (my personal favorite from the bard) or something a little more out there like "Tick, Tick, BOOM!" or "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)". Even something super classic--"Carmina Burana", "Pagliacci", "The Barber of Seville". If nothign else, go for Cirque du Soleil--if that doesn't inspire you at least a little, you might want to check your pulse.

  3. Puppetry: Yes, puppetry. Don't walk away from me, I'm serious! Seeing something so vastly different like a good "Punch and Judy" or the mastery and beauty of "Strings" or any of the thousands of little puppetry shows you can trakc down online or in the store can really get you going.

  4. Fan Fiction: Didn't you hear me before? I told you not to run away! Maybe your lack of inspiration comes from a lack of world or character ideas. That's when you can reach into your fan-fiction bag and write something that somebody else already did the groundwork on. Of course you can never sell it, but these are desperate times, and desperate measures are called for (Sweeney Todd, anyone? Anyone?).

  5. Beg, Borrow, and Plead: If it comes down to it, ask your friends. A simple email of "what should I write" can get you a whole slew of ideas pouring in--maybe not all usable, but one little spark is all you need, sometimes.

Okay, so some of them sounded a little flaky--all you're going to lose for trying is some time, right?


Peace, my lovelies


Voss

Friday, December 9, 2011

New Serial Fiction: Thieves' Demise



Greetings. I think this might actually be my third day of consecutive posting.

Weird.

Any who, Thieves' Demise is not quite up and active yet, but I promise it's up by Sunday. For now, you can peruse my sparse information on the characters and ponder this: What is the Thieves' Demise?

I hope to see all of your bright and shining faces Sunday, first thing, over at the new blog!

Surprised to not see any motivational speaking, social commentary, or disjointed trains of thought in this post,
Voss

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Barbaric YAWP

"I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world."
~Walt Whitman

Those fans of "The Dead Poet's Society" among you should be feeling a severe warming trend around the cauckles of your heart.

I find myself, in this season, thinking about that piece of cinematic brilliance, and bemoaning the fact that I do not own it.

Yet.

When I hit the times of my deepest troubles, I play scenes and quotes from that movie in my head, whisper the quotes to myself.

"Sucking the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone."
~John Keating

It takes a lot to give me chills a second time through, but that movie does it.

Every.
Single.
Time.

My favorite is the above quote from Walt Whitman:

"BARBARIC YAWP!"

It holds so much power, so much drama.

Think about it again: "I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world."

What you have to say is important--sound your YAWP whenever you can, wherever you want to, however you must.

Feeling like a motivational speaker,
Voss

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Just in Time for Santa Claus

Horror for Good has an anthology open (until the fifteenth) for new, unpublished horror fiction. Now, I know there's no pay, but all proceeds go to AMFAR to help fund HIV/AIDS research, and you get a copy of the book--plus some awesome karma. Besides, don't you want to butter up Santa Claus right now? He sees you when your sleeping, you know--you should make up for some of those horribly violent dreams you've been having by writing for this antho--yes, I know about those dreams...and so does Santa Claus.

Seriously, though, you'll have my eternal love and gratitude if you write for this anthology. It's a cause very close to my heart, so whip out your collection of Poe, Lovecraft, or King, study up, and thrill me, chill me, and fulfill me, darlings!

Off to frighten the masses,
Voss

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gay in YA? Preposterous



I'm a twenty year-old gay man. I have no qualms about that. If you do, then you have every right to leave and never come back. It's a free country and I'm not holding a gun to your head, so I would away now if that is offensive to you:


This post is about the portrayal of gay characters in Young Adult fiction.


If you've been here for a while, you might remember my post about GLBTQ characters in fantasy and sci-fi (The link to said post is here.). I read through my older blog posts the other day, as I tend to do on occasion, and came across it.


Before I continue with this, I have a personal anecdote to share with you all.


I knew I was interested in boys at the beginning of seventh grade. I won't go into too much detail (I don't really want to have to put an adult content warning on my blog for this one post), but I was interested. I came out in eighth grade.


As bisexual.


The modern culture, advanced as we are, accepting as we are, open as we are, left me feeling as though there was a gap in me because I was gay, a gap so deep and jagged that I convinced myself that I was maybe still interested in women for a while. Finally, thankfully, I figured it out by my sophomore year in high school--gay and fecking proud of it.


When I look back, even with only a few years of perspective on the subject, I can't help but notice something that, as an avid reader, I should have noticed in middle school or high school: in all of the YA books I read (and there were a lot), not one character was anything but straight.


The books I grew up reading preached heteronormality, whether they were meant to or not. I admit I noticed it once, in ninth grade, talking about Harry Potter--I thought it very unlikely (and still do) that none of the hundreds of students in Hogwarts were LGBTQ--but I passed it off back then as nothing.


When I sat down today, I was going to write an appeal to the masses to write, read, and generally support LGBTQ characters in YA fiction. Being an intelligent person (at least I like to think I am), I thought it my duty to check something online first--it was very possible that I simply had not read any YA fiction with LGBTQ characters in it. I did a quick search for "gay characters in YA fiction".


I was appalled. Two sites I found on the first page had a non-negative view of using LGBTQ characters in Young Adult books. The others were either against it, or saying that somebody else was against it. I clicked on a link from Genreville, I site I trust to have high quality and intelligent fare. I continued to be appalled. This is the article I found. I encourage you to read it before continuing.


It enraged me to think that an agent--someone we are supposed to trust as a knowledgeable, cosmopolitan individual--would flat out say that they could publish their book, but only if they changed the gay character.


The article pretty much makes every point I wanted to make when I read it. The most important? LGBTQ youths need (not want, need) to see characters like them in their fiction, the fiction specifically geared to help them through the developmental years.


I can't say if this is the fault of a market unwilling to progress or take risks, the fault of outdated Puritanical values that should have been abandoned when we decided that not all women were evil and damned to Hell, the fault of parents so attached to the heteronormative "ideal" that they would refuse to buy such books, the fault of authors for not writing them out of fear or said heteronormative ideals, or a combination of all of these things.


What can I say, then?


This is a problem in our society that requires attention--and not next year, next month, next week, or even tomorrow. We have centuries of time to make up on this front. It stands to reason we need to start now, if not sooner.


What can we do? We, the writers, can write LGBTQ characters as they are and throw them into the lion's den along with all of our straight characters.


We, the publishers, can do our best to remain open to LGBTQ characters and judge the book on its merit rather than two boys kissing.


We, the readers, have the most power here, believe it or not. Publishers want to keep us happy, to give us what we want to read. Tell them what we want, what you want, what the LGBTQ youths need.


All it takes is one foot in the door--from there, with all of us pushing, we can get this in, get it recognized, and make it, as it always should have been, acceptable.


Right.


Safe.


Voss

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Wintertime Reccomendations

Hello, all! How are we this lovely, lovely Friday?

It's lovely...isn't it?

It's also getting close to winter--and it's getting cold. No one wants to go outside, right? I mean, it's all cold and stuff, and that would just be unpleasant. Much better to stay inside with the heater/fireplace and read. Now, while I should just tell you to read my work (after all, I'm not ashamed of my shameless self-promotional ways), I won't (although, if you want to, I won't tell you not to read my work).

No, today is about those books I turn back to over and over--good, comfortable books that you can read by the fireplace every year or two and be more than okay with. I have ten of them, and I encourage you to read and enjoy these masterworks. No, they aren't all speculative fiction, if you were wondering, and they aren't in any particular order--each of them is individually too amazing to even attempt to order them.



The Watershed Trilogy (A Breach in the Watershed, Darkenheight, War of Three Waters) by Douglas Niles:


For a lot of people, reading the Lord of the Rings Trilogy can be a bit of an undertaking--too much for yours truly, I can tell you that much. The Watershed Trilogy is a nice alternative--and without all of the pointless verbosity. Instead of Frodo from the Shire, you follow the story of Rudgar Appenfell, youngest of the Appenfell brothers, as he finds himself thrown into his fate feet first (I have a shiny, imaginary nickel for anyone that can say that three times fast). Along the way, you are introduced to a fascinating cast of characters: Raine, some bad-ass chick he falls in love with, the smart-lipped Anjell, Rudy's niece, Nicodareus, evil dragon lord of Duloth-Trol, Prince Garamis, evil servant of Nicodareus--and the list goes on. It's a classic epic fantasy feel without the investment of reading a classic epic fantasy--and a nice, strong romantic vein to boot. Besides: when has Douglas Niles ever disappointed?

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem:

Hard sci-fi gives me hives. Too many specifications about the workings of a spaceship makes me vomit...not really, but I don't read hard sci-fi because it seems so dry. The Cyberiad is the antithesis of hard SF writing. It follows the varied 'sallies' of the two illustrious constructors, Trurl and Klapaucius. They are essentially God-like--able to move stars to form an interstellar billboard and replicate the history of the universe just to program a robotic poet--and are two of the most sought-after constructors in the universe. The pseudo-science presented by Lem, at first, looks like nothing but gibberish--but it is brilliant gibberish at a second look. Most importantly, though, is the layering--no matter how many times you read the stories in The Cyberiad, you can find something to latch on and love the next time you read them.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger:

Many of you have probably seen the movie--but have you read the book? It provides an elevated sense of familiarity to the movie the world fell in love with. On top of it all, the characters cemented in our minds by the brilliant performances of the actors and actresses in the film are soon forgotten for the caricatures of brilliance presented in the book. Miranda is more hideous--and hence more lovable--Emily is more lovably pathetic, and Andrea is simply more. The only warning I should provide is that this book is unquestionably chick lit--most football players out there probably won't enjoy it, cold day or otherwise.

His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Phillip Pullman:

Another read you're likely somewhat familiar with--does anyone remember the movie The Golden Compass? I thought so. That's from the first book in this trilogy. It's also a prime example of the difference between British and American children's literature--His Dark Materials is young adult, unequivocally, but it deals with themes darker by far than anything we would consider presenting to the same age group in America. Again, there is a warning--some of the Christian audience may take some very serious offense to this book. All in all, though, the trilogy is more than worth a read--and a reread--and a re reread.

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin:

One of the books I consider closest to my soul (and only share my copy with those people I think are deserving of the glory), This Perfect Day is The Giver (Lois Lowry) all grown up. The name Ira Levin is likely familiar to those people who have read the dystopian classic, The Stepford Wives, which he also authored. This Perfect Day tells us of another dystopic society made of our Earth, all controlled by the super-computer Uni. Fixed death dates, drugged states of complacency, and a cult-like obsession with keeping the society the same. The problem is that the main character, Chip, has a problem with it--and it's only compounded--or perhaps aided--by his grandfather. Another warning--there is a rape scene late in the book.

The da Vinci Code by Dan Brown:

Say what you will about it, but The da Vinci Code carries a special place in my heart. Rejoining Robert Langdon, professor of symbology, even after reading it so many times over is comforting. It also challenges the puzzle-solving nutcase in each of us--what does that particular spattering of symbols in that church mean, and where does it lead us? The movie may have been a flop by comparison, but here, in the pages of the original book, Silas, Sophie, and Sir Teabing come out in full force, twisting and turning the plot in ways we never saw coming--or, at least, I didn't.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling:

I can't help myself--I grew up reading the plight of young Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I cried when Hedwig died. I cried when Petunia showed fear over the return of Voldemort. I cried when Snape died. I threw the book across the room when they sacked Fudge. I cheered when Ron won the final game of the House Cup in Book Five. And I reread them at least once a year, most years more than that. They're quick reads, powerful stories, and they warm the spirit--who among us didn't wish we could have some butterbeer, or a chocolate frog, and didn't gasp when an owl got close to our house, a little bit of us waiting for our Hogwarts letter?

The Pendragon Series by D.J. Machale (the link only takes you to the first five books--the others should be below):

Another of my childhood books, the Pendragon Series is a quintessential retelling of the classic coming of age story--and it has one of the nastiest, foulest, vilest villains I can ever think of creating. Even his name drips evil--Saint Dane. You start looking on Bobby Pendragon, a normal 14 year old kid from Stony Brook, CT. That's where the normality of the book ends. Through the books, his life is essentially sent into ruin by the shape-shifting Saint Dane--everyone and everything he knows is killed, destroyed, eliminated--and all before his eighteenth birthday. I can still remember getting chills down my spine reading these books--even rereading these books, and that's a bit difficult.

The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy (The Looking Glass Wars, Seeing Redd, Archenemy) by Frank Beddor:

It hit right along with the recent resurgence in Lewis Carrol's original books--and it stuck for good reason. Fans of the original books can read these books and see where and how the characters of the classic have been re imagined--from the all powerful caterpillars and the nine-lived assassin known only as The Cat to General Doppleganger and the brilliant tutor, Bibwit Harte--and all through the war over the magic of imagination in Wonderland. If you liked the originals, give these a try--if you didn't, they are still more than worth a good read--besides, they take about two days a piece to get through at a leisurely pace, so it's no great loss of time invested.

Holes by Louis Sachar:

Finally, we reach the book that sort of defined my childhood. It was required reading in fourth grade. It was required reading in fifth grade. It was required reading in sixth grade. It was required reading in eighth grade. It was enjoyable reading from day one picking up the book. It sinks into you on a level so deep you can never extricate it from your being, even with a full body transplant. On top of the vile Warden, the whole cast is compelling, and all woven into the real story--which took place across the world, four generations before the book is set. Not many authors have been able to jump between two time periods so well. The book is a genre of its own--not quite paranormal, not quite contemporary--the only place it fits is mainstream, and I feel it's going to remain required reading for many generations.

There you go--I've given you a reading list for the winter season. Enjoy with a cup of chocolate and call me in the morning,,,no I mean it--a cup of chocolate. 8 ounces--no more, no less.

Happy reading,
Voss

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Post-Nano-Blues Anti-Depressants: Dark Chocolate Biscotti

For those that don't know, I cook. A lot. Mostly baking. I am a patisserie nutjob. I can honestly recall one situation where a cake I made ended a feud between me and this guy, and diabetics will actually eat my brownies (In all honesty, I warn them not to do it, but they can't resist...I don't get it...) they're so good. Sure I saute, stir fry, boil, poach--but baking is where I shine.

Toady is the last day of NaNo--I finished last Wednesday. For those that have done it, you know that post-NaNo blues set in about a week after "THE END". Now, since I can't smuggle prozac out, I've foudnt he next best thing to get you feeling fecking awesome again--Dark chocolate biscotti. The only stipulation to their flawless curative properties is that you hvae to make them--not someone else.

I'm not a big sharer of recipes, but these are just exotic and writerly enough to qualify...and besides, they always go with coffee--what's more writerly than coffee?

2.75 cups AP flour
1.5 cups white sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons meled butter
Enough dark chocolate chips or chunks to make it the way you want it

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit

Mix dry ingredients.

Make well in center of dry ingredients. Add eggs and yolks. Mix

Add melted butter. Mix.

Add chocolate. Mix

Split dough in half. Pat into 14 inch long, 1.5 inch wide "loafs" on greased (or parchmented (or silicone-lined)) cookie sheet, 3 inches apart. Bake until firm (25-30 minutes)

Remove from oven and cool on pan. Transfer to cutting board and cut half-inch slices on the diagonal. Arrange slices on cookie sheet and back for ten minutes. Flip and cook about 10-20 minutes. They should not be hard, but should be starting to dry. Cool completely. Serve with a cup of fresh coffee (if you take sugar and milk/cream, cut back on it--the cookies are very weet.).

This is probably the only recipe you'll get out of me, but it's so worth it.

Happy eating!
Voss

Monday, November 28, 2011

Voss News

Hello, all! Now, I don't have much news (Go figure, right?) most of the time, and this is no different…but I have a touch of news. Yesterday, I got word that the story "Luft Zeppelin 129" (American history buffs among you are probably a bit intrigued, now.) was accepted into the Hall Brothers' newest upcoming anthology "Untold Tales of the Past". Why is that exciting to you?

Well, aside from the fact that I would hope you might be happy to hear another bit of my success (Since I figure you all like my work…otherwise you wouldn't be here…right?), it's a bit of a preview of a world I have fallen in love with…which means there may well be more shorts and books set in that world. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good urban fantasy.

In other news…well, there's not a whole lot that would concern anyone but myself…but I'll share anyway.

My story "The Common Ground" (Written for the "Shanghai Steam" anthology is in beta reading with the lovely and talented Jaleta Clegg, and my Christmas story "Merry Christmas, Oliver" has been submitted for a Christmas anthology through Magic Cat Press over in the United Kingdom.

Now, that should be all…I think.

Happy Holiday of your choosing, if you s=choose to celebrate at all,

Voss

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Crossing Over

Staring at his screen, the writer stopped. Something better than this must be on TV. Wow, a new Restaurant: Impossible. No, wait, tomorrow's Thanksgiving! I won't get shit done tomorrow. Must write.

Five minutes later

Our lovely writer friend gets off of the couch, cursing the idiocy of anyone that would dare call that dive a restaurant…and thinking about Robert Irvine's arms. My God, they're huge! Wait, time to write.

One hour later

Wiping away a final tear for those lost in the Battle of Thabia, the writer closes the file and proceeds to collapse into bed.

**************************************

For those that don't speak writer—I did it. At around 11 PM last night, I wrote THE END on Knightshade. NaNo is off of my checklist for the year.



Now comes pie cooking, potato cooking, cranberry cooking, turkey roasting, eating, bloating…was I making a point?

For those that have joined me on this side…doesn't it smell great over here? I've heard there are some shirtless, oiled men with negative calorie chocolate somewhere.

For those still on that side—I'll see if I can't send one of those guys over for you…of course, you have to eat the chocolate off of their rock hard abs, but I guess we'll have to suffer through. In all seriousness, though, everyone that does NaNo is great and, win or lose, I think we deserve negative-calorie-chocolate-bearing-muscle-men…don't you?

Voss

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Week Four

Everyone--it's official. We've hit hit week four of NaNoWriMo in full stride (or at least half stride). This means that everyone out there is about to finish their novel. The glory of week one--those long-winded, all day writing sessions--has returned and now begs for everyone to join in. this is also the second pilgrimage--when it first begins, people Join NaNo like it's going out of style. Not as many people join anew in week four--but a good number of people do join.

Now, I've been at this point *mumble mumble* times: here are my three tips to keep that motivation up and about:



  1. Don't focus on the end, or how many words you have left. The important thing is to look at what you've already done, and use the awesome sense of accomplishment to keep you motivated to the thirtieth (or the end of your plot arc, whichever comes first.).

  2. Socialize. By this time of the month, you NEED that social element. Your brain will explode (or something akin to that) if you can't get out and be with people that aren't fighting demons and slaying dragons and the like. Well, maybe you shouldn't go quite that far...but the people you socialize with should not be solely on the page.

  3. Get ahead again. Lord knows you're probably going to be heading straight for zero words on the 24th--Thanksgiving, if you spend it with the whole family, is a word killer, and it's the same day as the big dog show--how the hell are we supposed to win against those odds? So, get at least a day or two ahead before that turkey comes out. Of course, if you're lucky enough to be the on cooking the turkey, you've got some time before everyone else gets up. Even in early-rise households, if you put the bird in at 4 AM, you'll have a good solid two hours of useless roasting time before your family whines to existence...I mean, awakes...

Now, get the heck away from this blog! Why are you wasting your precious writing time reading this? Go! Away with you! I'll see you next Thursday!


Voss

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Whole Lot of Nothing






Well, it's officially the middle of week three, and the same thing that always happens is…happening…




I'm lacking the motivation to write. It happens pretty much one day, every time, and then I'm over it. Instead of writing, I'm sitting around talking about Trockenbeerenauslese with an invisible audience, waiting for some rejection/acceptance letters to come rolling in any second now—but I'm not writing.




I know—bad novelist…whatever—I quite need this break, however, as much as I should be writing. Maybe I'll call my friends—they probably miss me…maybe. I could write another song. Make some fudge…maybe truffles, if I feel like going to town.




Or I could ignore my NaNo novel for a day and let it stew there on my hard drive for a bit. I have other writing projects I'm working on, and probably some semblance of a social life I can try to salvage before the month is out…does this sound like Week Two? Don't be surprised—Week-Two-it is normally hits me a little after the middle of the month during NaNo, but I also have a two or three day cushion right now, so I can afford myself the break…right?




For everyone out there in the same spot: you're not alone. The elusive motivation disease is running rampant, I promise, and there's no cure but time—at least one day so you can fall back in love with the whole thing—but no more than two. It's a good rule straight from No Plot? No Problem! If you stop writing that NaNo novel for more than two days, there's no guarantee that you will ever be able to pick it back up, and the whole thing may well float into the endless abyss of lost ideas to mingle with that toaster/flashlight/shotgun you knew was such a good idea…although that one may be better off in the abyss.




For now, join me in the reveling misery of lacking motivation—it's okay. Curl up with an encyclopedia of culinary knowledge and a cup of spiked coffee and let yourself fly to worlds known, but never experienced—or something to that effect. Either way, make this one day count for a lot—the rest of the month is still ahead.




Voss

Monday, November 7, 2011

Research Bunnies

It’s a bit of a departure from speculative fiction, but stay with me—I have a proverbial itch that needs to be metaphorically scratched.

I love research. As much as I may complain about having to do research for a project, if you ask anyone that knows me even a little bit, they’ll tell you just how much I love research. In fact, somewhere in the long-lost annals of this blog, I have a previous post about research. Something to the tune of taking up new hobbies as a form of research. I digress.

The problem is, when most people hear or see the word research, their heart rate skyrockets, memories of restless nights studying meaningless equations about pointless anomalies all to pass a test that may or may not hold any importance in your life five seconds after turning it in—at least, that’s what I’ve heard from other people.

That issue stems from a lack of anything interesting to research in school. Now, I can’t complain too terribly much myself—learning the atomic weight of every element on the periodic table is something I probably would have done on my own eventually, just like I did with quantum mechanics and string theory—but that’s no longer as fun for me.

What we need to do to make our writing research fun, and hence infuse new life and excitement into our work, is research things that interest you, but you’ve never put any real effort into learning about. I can’t say what that will be for you exactly, but try this: think of something you wish you could do, but have next no or no experience and/or skill with/at. Anything could work, not just the traditional jobs for heroes and heroines. There a thirteen-billion-and-four books about cops, cowboys, and knights—I can only think of one with an assistant fashion editor as the main character, and it’s one of my favorite books (The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger). The only really important thing is that your desire and passion come through—that alone will make the character believable.

Why, then, should you research what it is to be an assistant fashion editor, a tornado chaser, or a gunsmith? All you need is passion, right?

Mostly, you research because you love what you’re learning about, but you’re also trying to infuse that knowledge into the collective of your lifelong knowledge, and pick up on those tidbits, those holy nuggets of information you can deglaze with the broth of your novel, to add that intense, otherwise unreachable flavor.

Does a hobby or profession not make your blood dance? That’s perfectly all right—think of a place you desperately want to visit—the best thing about it is you can visit anywhere, at any time in the present or past with your writing.

Again: why does it really matter? Sure it adds flavor and realism to your work, but are those things really that important if the rest of your manuscript is to die for?

Let me give you an example of a scene—one version written as someone that put almost no time into learning about their main character’s job, and one that allowed him/herself to live and breathe the profession:

He kneaded the dough, the soft mass squeezing out between his palms and the cutting board. Behind him, too many pots to handle boiled and bubbled, but he maneuvered through the kitchen with mastery, stirring this pasta and that sauce as he let the dough rest. The chef below him handed him a nearly finished plate, his eyes hopeful. With a flourish of his hand, he sprinkled the final ingredient on top, “Perfect.”

All right, I know that was unbelievably bad, and no one would probably ever write that, but I had to make a point—someone that had no understanding of the culinary world could craft something similar.

The same scene again, but from someone that actually knows about cooking:

He leaned his full weight into the dough, kneading the sticky mass into submission. Push, turn, pull. Push, turn, pull. The mantra repeated in his head. He pressed the dough down and out into the flour, turned it up a quarter turn, and pulled it back over itself. Soon, his hands moved the dough into little more than a blur, the vibrant yeast accosting his nose. Picking it up, he pulled the dough taut, plopping the pale, silken sphere into his pre-oiled bowl. He gave it a quick turn and covered it with a tea towel, placing it next to the full stove—the heat would be enough to make it rise, for sure. A popping, burbling pot of fresh marinara called to him. A simple stir released the acidic smell into the air. He joined the flavor of the sauce with the sweet, wheaty tortellini in his head—the dish was nothing new for him at this point. The gentle footsteps behind him signaled his sous chef, a plate of chicken parmesan held out in front of him. The executive chef dipped the back of his spoon into the sauce, careful not to drip any on the edge of the plate, and tasted it—it was a common mistake. He grabbed a jar of Worcestershire from the counter and carefully added a few drops, watching them bleed across the dish, “Perfect.”

Same scene, but much different—you can see that someone knew something about cooking when writing this scene as opposed to the first. It comes from research—the person that wrote the second scene could probably make you a delicious meal thanks to all that he/she learned—I’m not so sure I would let the first author make me rice.

So, join me—learn. There are a whole lot of ways to learn about these sorts of wonderful things as well: books, movies, documentaries, professionals, natives, teachers—I bet, with a little scratching, you’ll find that your friends and families are veritable wealth-springs of interesting information. One of my uncles knows a scary amount about munitions. Another used to pan gold for a living. My first cousin once removed makes his living sewing costumes for the local drag queens in Portland. My friends range from entomologists and geologists to cake decorators and Broadway stars—use them, and I’m sure they’ll understand. I read somewhere that, if you tell people you’re writing a story, they’ll talk to you. I’m strongly considering talking to a pair of Indian Sikh that run a convenience store near my house, just to hear the tales they could tell me—and I’ve never met either of them.

So, grab a cup of coffee (two, if you’re planning to have an informative chat with someone) and get to it.

Voss

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo Day Two

Yes, it's really here--we've reached the second day of NaNo, the day that more or less fades into the background of memory--but day one is purely awesome, as any real Nanite would know. It starts with the way too late/way too early jitters, and you end up waking at 5 in the morning, realize that NaNo is upon us, and grab your laptop to get a headstart on all of your rivals...I mean, friends...

Then you pull 7,000 words in a day, followed by an immediate colapse onto the nearest soft and/or semi-comfortable thing, person, or animal. Or something similar to that, at least. At any rate, it's a day of pure, awesome inspiration and explosive writing raising up from the depths of hell: personally, I think that the spirits that come up on the thirty-first energize the air and that's what causes it...but you don't need my scientific mumbo-jumbo...

In short--it is NaNoWriMo, and someone (who shall remain nameless (ME) ) is far higher on his word-count than he probably should be.

That's it--I just felt like bragging,
Voss

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Drawn and Quartered

For those of you that don't know, the act of drawing and quartering was one of the most gruesome and painful ways to be killed--and it still is. Your limbs would be tied to four horses and they would then run away from you--and then you died, in quarters.

No, I haven't been drawn and quartered--but it got your attention, didn't it? No, this is about reigning in the over-creative mind. I recently, you see, had a small series of epiphanies about various things that I should--and will--write. The problem is that I don't really have anything more than bare concepts for more than one plot.


So I won't. It seems, to a lot, of beginning writers, a simply uncontrolable flow of creativity and so they never write anything. Tragic--it really is.


Studies show (follow me through on this one--it turns out in the end) that the human mind actually absorbs information and functions more smoothly if allowed to run other issues in the background instead of in the o=forefront. That's why you'll be more likely to have a flash of inspiration soaping yourself in the shower than focusing intently on your plot block for three days.


So, how does this relate to reigning in creativity? Simple--you have to work on your most formed idea, and just let the other ones stew--NaNoWriMo, by the way, is perfect for this, because it forces you to put everything but your current project on that back burner. Going back to the drawn and quartered concept--when you have multiple ideas going on and you're affording attention to each and every one, the only place you're going to end up is dead--creatively speaking, at least. But, if three of the four ideas/horses are left on their own to roam about, you get dragged on for a bit and then you climb up the rope and ride that idea/horse into the proverbial sunset. The other ideas/horses won't just vanish while you do this--you'll come back to find them overfed, compliant, and ready to run again.


So, in short (you'll hate me for this)--you actually have to write.


Take care,

Voss

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Pulse


We've done it! At last! The one week mark is past, and the year's best holiday of all is upon us (okay, maybe it's not better than Chocolate Covered Anything Day, but who can wait until December 16th for that?)! I speak not of All Hallow's Eve, but of the glorious, mad, insane event known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo! Huzzah!

Now that it's so close, there's a strange thing going on all over the world. You can just feel and tap into that glorious energy that's abounding. People on every continent are getting excited, are gearing up for NaNoWriMo. It's so powerful I'm stuck halfway between hooting and hollering with joy and crying for sheer awesomeness.

It happens every year, too. To someone that's never done NaNoWriMo, it doesn't make sense, but it's almost like a pulse inside of every participant. It starts right around the end of September, when we realize that the forums open next month, and we get to be sucked back into the majesty of the event. Early October, the real die-hards pop up full of energy, planning their masterwork.

Then we hit this. The pulse is so strong you can feel the sheer power in your breast, threatening to burst out, and it gets stronger every second. Now, maybe this has something to do with NaNo Eve falling on All Hallow's Eve, and the spirits of the unfulfilled writers are filling us up to do get the same high we get, but by the time we hit the 31st of October, all of us go insane.

I think the big thing, the one thing that truly makes NaNoWriMo so amazing, is that it breaks the stereotype. When we think of authors, they're always suffering, drinking, dropping acid, and have way too many sticks shoved in a not so pleasant place to have sticks shoved into. They go through agonizing spells of writer's block (which doesn't exist) and decide that they need to piddle upon us lowly peons trying to make a name in their world.

NaNo probably makes their skin crawl, if they exist. Anyone can and should write a novel--that's how we operate. That's why people come in the first place--the memories, the pulse, brings them crowding back every year.

So, as the pulse grows stronger and stronger, and novelists break free from their chrysalides, we go. Write-ins are planned, plots are laid down, characters sketched and profiled, intravenous coffee is briefly considered, kick-offs are designed, MLs are worshipped, and large, thick lockboxes are decorated so as to imprison our inner editors in the coming month.

NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo.

NANO!

NaNo NaNo (it would be great if somebody actually got that reference...but I doubt they will...too old school for a lot of you, I'm sure...)

Now, away with you, oh holy pilgrims of the inkwell! Prepare!
Voss

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Home Decorating = Writing Prep

We are visual creatures. 30% of the brain is devoted to processing visual signals. So, it stands to reason that we need a space with visual signals conducive to writing and creativity. In other words...

...it's an excuse for a total room makeover...or two...or three!

There are certain things that seem to work.

1: You want a clean workspace. Clutter does not good books make. It's perfectly fine to be an angsty author (or pretend to be an angsty author) while you're writing--throw balls of paper all over and chuck pencils into the ceiling--but it should be clean when you start every day.

2: Limit the amount of time you have to leave the condcuive space. Yes, this is that excuse you've been looking for to buy a mini-fridge for your office. Definitely keep reference materials and notes as close at hand as is humanly possible. This include baby name books, dictionaries, thesauri, and other research things you got your hands on. It also means, if you can, keep the internet close, keep foods and drink close, and keep your friends and family as far away as humanly possible, if not further. I promise that, without fail, as soon as you get on a roll with your writing, they're all going to need you, do if you can put distance between them and your office, it buys you some time before they can get to you.

3: Cut distractions. Yes, you want the internet close--but only for research! Research, I'm afraid, rarely involves Facebook (not never, but rarely). Unlike most people, I don't reccomend complete isolation from the phone, however--but you should stick to your guns if your friends want to hang out or what have you. Say no unless you really need that break--and then keep your writing with you anyway--inspiration can strike in the oddest of places.

4: Surround yourself with writing. If you have, say, a map, tack it to the wall...and put your ouline beside it...surrounded by your character sketches and weapon schematics...which are across from the giant banner that says "You can fix it!" and kitty corner to the "Hang in there" poster. Anything to keep you immersed in the project.

5: Have a woobie. Or two. Or three. Or four. Have a woobie army, if you must. A woobie is just a general term fro something soft to use for comfort. Personally, I think lazy, fluffy cats make the best woobies, but if a cat isn't available, use a blanket, a dog, a stuffed animal, or a rather fuzzy (and quiet!) man.

6: Make it private. Whatever it takes. I write in my bedroom quite often and, as such, have an official "Do Not Enter" sign on it...gotten through less than honest means by my sister so many years ago. We need that privacy--sometimes the stress gets too much and, should anyone make the mistake of coming into the office, they may not leave with all of their limbs. Forewarn people and keep it cordoned off. If a door isn't available, use a thick blanket and just nail it up there--whatever it takes. Not only will it save the family, but it makes it sort of a developmental cocoon--you go in with nothing but a seed of an idea and leave with a brilliant (if slightly deformed) butterfly.

7: Make it yours. Many writers have children, and they love them, but it behooves you to train them that "When mommy's in her office, the Devil possesses her and she might kill you." You need to be able to do what you want in there. If that means you have to stage a mock battle with the dresser as a stand-in for your opponent, or put up pictures of mostly unclad people to inspire that brilliant erotica (why didn't I think of that before?), you not only should, you must--and you must have the space that allows you to do such thing without judgment or ridicule from anyone but yourself.

Of course, this is just my opinion--it works for me, maybe not erfectly for you--but it can't hurt to try, right?

Voss

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Your Team

Lately, I've been examining a lot of visual story-telling formats. Cinema, television, graphic novles, comics, anime, manga--and I've always had a soft spot for what I call simply "teams".

We all know the teams--they're grouped together for some greater purpose, and each one of them is a unique individual instead of a faceless nothingness.

There's a formula to these teams, I'm noticing, that the most sucessful stories that use the team format use. I could be completely off base on this, but I doubt it. I thought I would share it here, since it interests me and I hope it will interest you.



  1. The Number: The ideal number of people for this team seems to be from 5-8 individuals. Traditionally, 6-7 is the number used. Look at the Power Rangers (it's successful, so deal with it). They rarely have more than 6 members. "The Magnificent Seven", "Seven Samurai", and "The League of Extraoridnary Gentlemen" all use 7 (Except the graphic novel "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", which uses 6.). "Watchmen" uses 5 core members to their team. "Fullmetal Alchemist" has 7 homunculi. Even less obvious examples of the team ("Ouran High School Host Club" comes to mind.) stick generally to that 5-8 rule. That doesn't mean it's hard and fast, but it seems to work for the big names--why not give it a try?

  2. The Skills: Not only are all of the characters unique in their personalities, but they always bring something to the team that the other members don't. Sometimes it's completely idiotic and shallow, as in the Power Rangers (different major weapons), but sometimes it's actually useful, as in the dynamic differences in "Ouran High School Host Club". Their goal (see below) is to please their customers, and each one of them brings something different to the plate. One is strong and manly, one is calculating, one is traditionally handsome, one is just adorable, the twins are mischiveous, and they have one natural rookie. Again, though, this isn't an absolute. Look at "Seven Samurai". Several of them are nothing more than good swords, they have one archer, a strategist, and one guy that's impulsive about the things he does. But, you have to have some variance, either in skill or personality.

  3. The Personalities: You thought I forgot, didn't you? Yes, there are certain personalities that seem to pop up fairly regularly throughout this sort of team dynamic. You often have said impulsive character, who is usually naive, and someone more intelligent to temper that passion with logic. Someone rebellious and someone that adheres to the rules. You often have someone with a completely self-serving set of actions, which may or may not end up benifiting the team as a whole. A loner, a sweetheart, a flirt, a vixen--and all of these can be combined into any number of characters...though I don't reccomend having a flirty, logical, impulsive, strict, rebellious, self-serving, loner-sweetheart-vixen--that just makes you look like a bad writer.

  4. The Goal: This is why your team has been brought (or forced) together. Our Host Club friends are together to serve as escorts for youg ladies. The Seven Samurai are there to fend off the barbarians from the village. The Thundercats and the Power Rangers are both there to protect the world from evil and destruction in whichever form it's decided to take this time around. Whatever this goal is, they all have to be behind it, at least to some extent, at some point in the story.

  5. The Relationships: This is the easiest part--or the hardest. Why do these people get along or not? How do they get along? What about your loner? What's the deal there? I'd worry about leaving someone alone too long in a group--you might not wake up the next morning if they feel excluded. Who wants to go out? Who is going out? Who's married? Who's related? Who does the horizontal mambo? Who used to do the horizontal mambo, but doesn't do it anymore? And on and on and on. Look at "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". Allan Quatermain uses Tom Sawyer as a replacement for his son, and views Mina Harker as more or less in the way. At the same time, Captain Nemo is his equal. Dorian Gray and Mina Harker used to tangle the sheets. Dr. Jekyll has to deal with Mr. Hyde...which is another thing entirely. Sawyer wants to get it on with Mina, and everyone loves our resident Invisible Man--most of the time.

That's all it is. Take it or leave it, but that's the formula I've discovered through research and observation. If nothing else, I hope it was interesting to read.


Voss

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reverse-Lent/Screw Writing! I'm Going to Mime College

NaNoWriMo--have I posted enough about this yet? No, of course I haven't.

For you outsiders, let me give you a quick rundown of how it looks from the inside compared to the outside.

OUTSIDE: Crazy people waste a whole month of their lives writing fifty-thousand words of what they admit is crap (and we do admit it.).

INSIDE: All of us Nanites finally get to come together and chatter amidst the intoxicating clickity-clack of millions of keyboards worldwide--and we might even get a salvageable manuscript out of the whole ordeal.

It's all about perception.

Now, as any Nanite could tell you (I know the official term is "WriMo", but wouldn't you rather be a Nanite than a Writing Month?), NaNoWriMo is sort of a religious event--think of it like reverse-Lent. Every Catholic I've ever met hates Lent, and for good reason--you have to give up something awesome for something like a month. I know people who have given up soda, candy, sugar (that didn't last) sex (surprisingly, that did last), and on and on and on.

NaNoWriMo, on the other hand, is a month where you get something you only get once a year--reverse-Lent. Cherish it for the gift it is.

Now for something completely different.

Writers are solitary, fairly depressing people a scary amount of the time--in fact, according to standard psychology, people with as much self-induced stress and worry as the average American writer are considered mentally ill in one way or another, depending on who you ask. But we know better than that--it's a process that helps us do what needs doing.

Sometimes, though, that writerly depression and nastiness will line up with something else, like low biorhthyms, a death in the family, the two-week long snot fest that's running rampant around town, or one too many rejection letters for the same piece. During those, I have a quick (ish) process to pull yourself back up.

1: Mope. Mope a whole hell of a lot. Allow yourself anywhere from 1-3 days of straight up moping. What you do is up to you, but feel sorry for yourself, binge on chocolate and expensive coffee-esque drinks, take bubble-baths, get drunk--just mope.

2: Work. Start getting back into work-mode. I find that the best way to do that is to read about writing, especially with a good, familiar "How to Write" book. My favorite for that situation is a tie between "No Plot? No Problem!" by Chris Baty (go figure), "The Romance Writer's Handbook" by Rebecca Vinyard, and "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card. Also research for your next project. Whatever research materials you can find, snag them and devour them as quickly as possible.

3: Submit. Take that problem piece that no one will take, and lower your standards. If you've exhasuted half of your pro and semi-pro markets, go for token pay, even if you think that it's worth that $0.25 a word that Tor.com will give you, settle on that five dollar and a free e-copy market--just get it into someone's hands and out of your hair.

4: Smile. That's it. You've taken, at most, a week to stop being a real, professional writer, and now you're ready to get back on that war-cat and ride it into the four setting suns on the plains of Gilagag...or what have you.

Happy happiness,
Voss

Monday, September 26, 2011

The NaNo Goddess Cometh

And as such, I choose to pay her tribute. This will be my first official November NaNo here with this blog and all of you, my lovelies. I know that I won't be able to keep up with my blogging schedule come November time, but I can make some posts.

My hope is that I'll be able to get some of you all to kindly post here, too. That doesn't mean I expect it to happen, but I would be remiss to try. If you prefer not to post for me, you can sit back and watch other posters gallivant about my blog. I'll try and keep you all updated as to just who will be stopping by.

If you're interested in doing a post for me, drop me a line at sted1354 @ gmail dot com.

Peace, love, and chicken grease,
Voss

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Grandest of Schemes

When authors sit down to do their pre-work on a new project, they find themselves doing a lot of jumping and, if they're anything like me, talking, pacing, and scribbling, just to work out the details of this whole new thingy.

I've noticed that a lot of people that don't write, think we have these grand ideas that start off our novels, that the seeds are diamonds encrusted with gold and dipped in melted silver. They, however, are wrong. Ideas start as something supremely shallow and odd, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, something to the tune of: I want a story with an awesome guild of knights who are awesome.

Of course, no one else needs to know that's where we start.

Next comes the writing two-step: research and planning. Before we write word one, we find ourselves lost, not knowing squat about military strategy. So we read Sun Tzu's "Art of War", the equivalent of Cliffnotes on the subject (really, it's not even fifty pages, I don't think).

Then we realize, "Oh dear, why is my emperor trying to do all of this in the first place? It can't be jsut bcause he wants to rule the world--that's just boring." And we psychologically profile him, finding that he believes whatever he believes that makes him do this.

Next we make maps.

We work out the wealth of each and every country.

We find out the military force available to any one group.

We psychoanalyze their leaders.

We look at the natural resources and major exports of every nations.

And.

And.

And.

You get the picture. Why post this? To inspire others to break the rules along with me: NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, and I think, at least for people that have done it before, it's toime to go balls deep into the next project. So, I invite you to join me and begin planning your next work now...besides, it's only a little (a lot) more than the one week planning deadline given in the official rules, right?

Happy novelling,
Voss

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Continuity

We've all heard about keeping story continuity, so I won't be talking about that. Perhaps a better title would have been tightness...I digress.

I was watching The Princess Bride, a triumph of media, and for the first time I started noticing how little wasted space there is in that movie. Now, I'm a hideous lech and haven't read the book, but in the movie they waste nothing. From moment one we're introduced to the running line, "As you wish." It grows from there. I won't cover everything, but at the end, we see the six-fingered man that Inigo was searching for ftom the beginning, and they finally ahve their duel, the turning point of the entire movie for me--it's also one of the best examples of this tightness I've seen.

We know, from the start, a few things about the relationship between Inigo and the Count:
The Count killed Inigo's father.
Inigo inherited his father's sword.
The Count left scars on Inigo's cheeks.
Inigo will say "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." when he meets the six-fingered man.

By the end of this battle, everything has been touched upon:
Inigo killed the Count.
He used his father's sword to do it.
He left matching scars on the Count's cheeks (not to mention giving him all the same wounds he received in the course of the battle.).
That phrase (see above, as I don't feel like retyping it.) drives the Count mad during the battle and empowers Inigo.

And that's a small portion.

It all seems to be so very tiny, a thing here or there, but isn't that what separates good from great? Great from classic? Classic from Don Quixote?

Feeling tight,
Voss

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lines

I'm currently reading a brilliant novel by Cristopher Moore entitled (those of you that know the book should prepare your squee-bladders) "Lamb". Without giving a bunch away, "Lamb" is the story of Levi who is Biff, a man brought back from the dead to write a new gospel for the Bible. Why? He was Jesus' childhood pal, that's why.

This got me thinking about lines. Writing, as with any art form, is about a lot of things, not all of which I care to discuss. It is, however, about pushing boundaries. The problem I see a lot is when people don't understand the difference between pushing a boundary and crossing a line.

If fiction pushes a boundary, it also pushes the reader to think about something in a new way, or more than they did before.

If fiction crosses a line, people will stop reading your book--and they won't think.

I know, I know, we're supposed to enrage our readers. But we're not supposed to enrage them through the very nature of our work. We should enrage them by killing the fairy they've developed a two book relationship with, or having our heroine go on a date with a flmaing asshole--something in the story that works. When you cross a line, everyone can tell.

Imagine if you were sitting down to read, say, Fahrenheit 451, a great book. You get, say, a third of the way into it and, for whatever reason, find a three page long dissertation from a loosely disguised author-insert character about how the Jews should ahve burned.

You crossed a God damn line there--I know because it gave me palpitations just to type it. I want to say it now--I do not agree with what Hitler or the Nazi regime did, nor will I ever. I think it's sick and vile and, if there is a place of eternal torture for wicked souls, may they all be trapped down there. I used it because it's a clear crossing of a line--but some people think it's all right for the art.

It could be, if there was a reason for it. You really are free to write what you like, but I suggest you have a reason for every damn word you use. If you use said evil, vile, nasty rant as foreshadowing, or to show something about your society, it can actually work--but just having it sit there, unadorned and not part of the greater feel of the work, is when you start to cross a line.

In general, jsut please be careful about how far you go. At some point, you'll stumble pushing that boundary and, whether purposeful or not, you'll cross that line--know enough to fix it.

Voss

Once more, I would like to make it blatantly clear that I am not anti-semitic, or pro-death for that matter. It was an example meant to instruct. If you want to throw flack at me for it, I will ignore you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

You guys rock. You didn't take yourself off o this blog after I went away for, like, a week or more. I was on hiatus, and more than a little burnt out, between SpoCon and my grandiose number of writing projects in the recent days. Suffice it to say I was thoroughly and utterly avoiding writing this time yesterday, ready to just give it up and move on to something more fulfilling, like sewing or crocheting.

Obviously, that didn't last, but it's fun to pretend to hate your muse sometimes, as long as it all falls back into place when it needs to.

This isn't about that, though.

This is about letting go.

I'm currently struggling with a nasty issue. I love everything about my first manuscript, "Tartaros". I love the characters, the world, the plot.

I think I have to let it go, and that prospect makes me want to rip my heart out of my chest and eat it. I've poured over a year of work into that manuscript, just to let it fall to dust? I don't want to do that, and I came to a conclusion. Do you want to hear it?

My problem, the reason I want to do all of this, is because I don't love what I'm doing with it now. Allow me to explain--I'm not editing it to make it a better story, I'm editing it to get it published, and that's wrong.

It's very easy to lose sight of why we write, especially when you start trying to make money at it. You lose that free soul and just want to cry when you have to work on things. Writers start writing because they love it, because they have a story to tell--not so they can be rich. This is just a reminder, for those of you out there wanting to give up and resign yourself to flipping burgers mindlessly the rest of your days: get back to why you first started writing. Forget about finding a market, appeasing that publisher, editing for New York--write because you're inspired, appease your soul, and edit for the sake of the better story.

Everything turns out okay, I promise. The universe has a way of turning things out the way they were always meant to be.

So I'm not letting go of "Tartaros". I'm letting go of the worry and pain of editing for something other than the story, letting go of the constant fear in my gut, and letting go of the voice that tells me I have no worth. To all of those things, I have three words to say:

F*ck.
That.
Sh*t.

Hopefully back on path--I need your love and positive thoughts now more than ever,
Voss

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hall Bros. Entertainment

I tried to be all kinds of secret squirrel about this project in the past, but what the hell--no one who watches me on here doesn't know by now, I'm sure.

In the coming...future? In the near future, a mini-series by Voss Foster will be released by Hall Brothers Entertainment for your reading...pleasure? Yes, pleasure.

Just to make absolutely sure that any wandering, stumbling eyes out there that might read this take extra care to read it when it comes around, here's a bit of a teaser/synopsis thingy:

Morgana Lafayette: war veteran, assassin, hooker. Even to her it sounds pretty strange, but she's accepted her lot in life. She sells herself to passersby on the street.

Now, with the arrival of a new--and wealthy--client, she finds herself thrust into her past--and someone has plans for her.

I don't want to say too much more--that's not my place...yet. Keep a look out for it--and for me.

Voss

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Church of the Immaculate Roast

The grower...
The roaster...
The French press...
May the Bean be with you!

In other words? SpoCon had some damn good coffee.

I know I said I would be posting voraciously all throughout SpoCon.

I lied.

Now, however, I can really hook you up--as well as insert some shameless promotions for certain amazing people.

Now, on Saturday there were some decent panels--there were, I promise--but the crowning achievement of the day was the last two set of blogs. Paramore in paranormal romance and adult themes in science fiction and fantasy. The first was a hellaciously awesome line-up to begin with--Courtney Breazile, Moira J. Moore, and one of my new favorite people, Lilith Saintcrow (see my previous blog post). That panel discussed very serious issues--the power differential between a human and the other in paranormal romance, the believability of an obscenely pwerful creature being led around by a mere human, and the important issue of bestiality when it comes to werewolves.

After that, Erik Scott de Bie joined us for adult themes ranging from violence to sexuality and even touching a bit on psychological darkness. That panel stretched on another hour or so after it was supposed to end and definintely got derailed by our moderator--but that made it so very memorable and enjoyable.

Then came Sunday, a day devoted to gaming. However, I still attended the brilliant NaNoWriMo panel (Frances Pauli, Lilith Saintcrow, and a woman I sadly cannot remember the name of...for shame) and an end of day panel on metaphysical crystals.

All in all, I give this particular con a 4.5 out of 5, which I understand is somewhat because of their new switch to a hotel instead of Gonzaga. I still preferred RadCon, however. But not a lot.

Wishing I had more Cold Forge coffee,
Voss

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Con Day One

If you've been paying any attention to me at all, you should know I'm currently at SpoCon 2011.

Well, aside from the hour plus wait for pre-registration, everything was fairly smashing.

First panel I went to was this brilliant thing with Patricia Briggs, Frances Pauli, and my new favorite chocolate-toting alpha-heroine, Lilith Saintcrow on the uses of myth in urban fantasy. While it degraded slightly into a talk of magic dinguses (or is the plural dingi?) and bronze rubbers (she meant a rubber of bronze, apparently), it was still rather enlightening.

The brainstorming panel was, admittedly, the same old smae old.

All in all, though, things are going pretty well. I mean, where else can you see Patti Briggs stake Edward Cullen?

I give this a 4 of five so far--and I have two days left.

Optimistically yours,
Voss

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Con Weekend

This weekend is the weekend of SpoCon 2011.

That means I get to pretened to hob-nob with the big name authors. Exciting for me, and that's what you, the public, really cares about, so it's good for everyone. Maybe I'll actually get someone to look at something I post for once if I quote Patricia Briggs enough. Yes, I'm bitter about having no views on my blog. Sue me.

So, as the weekend progresses, you all will be seeing copious updates about this convention and the things I'm seeing, learning, and being inspired by. That means, in layman's terms, a whole lot of posts. A LOT of posts about SpoCon.

While I'll be almost completely holed up in the LIT Room (301) listening to things about worldbuilding, descriptions, brainstorming, and stealing some tips from the Novel Writing Master Class (Deby Fredericks, Patricia Briggs, John Dalmas, Jane Fancher, Kathy McCracken, and C J Cherryh on one panel), that's not all. I'm here for fun, of course, and inspiration--plus other tools for writing. Character voicing/accents and creating interesting characters for LARPing, metaphysical uses of crystals, screenwriting, and the obligatory dance performance or two--all there for fun and inspiration for writing.

So, what was my point? I can't remember at all. At any rate, though, I'll be there and you'll be hooked to a direct source--all eight of you. Mind, a goodly number of you will be there with me, but I digress.

I don't digress to anything important, but I digress,
Voss

Monday, August 8, 2011

Awkward Situations

I went to my family reunion yesterday. It was incredible, of course--everyone's cousins and their cousins and second cousins...et cetera.

However, my dear, sweet first cousin once removed, Irene, is also a writer. She confronted me with a question that, before you ever get asked, seems so simple.

Irene writes real-world, non speculative fiction. She asked me where I get the ideas.

I, of course, answered as honestly as I could--the world.

Now, in an ideal fantasy world, people would just stop the question there, but Irene is insatiably curious, so she didn't. She pointed out that these things aren't in the world.

Whoa.

That's not something I ever thought I'd have to deal with. I fumbled through with copious, confusing hand-gestures and vague answers, but I didn't know what to say, really. Now, I've posted on where to get ideas in the past, but for some reason, my inability to answer her effectively nagged at me the whole time.

So, rather than carrying on talking about where we get ideas, this is more about the lesser thought of social side of being a writer--the side that, by definition, we are bad at. Writers are nice, solitary people, normally with a streak of insecurity and agoraphobia three miles wide and deeper than the Mississippi River. That's why we choose to write--it lets us remain sort of faceless and not real people. That's why we contact people through letters, blogs, email--it doesn't involve real socializing.

So, when we have to go out with people--people that want and expect us to talk to them in an engaging manner--what are we poor people to do? No, we can't be giving in to the urge to hide under the table and only pop up momentarily to sign the ocassional book. We have to overcome. Now, I don't know about specifically writing oriented events very much, but in general, here are things that help out a lot.

1: A script. I don't mean read off of cards, I mean an internal script. Something that more or less just lays out the major points you need to cover about this, while leaving enough room that it's a little bit different.

2: You have to realize that, in a situation where you're the big writer, the reader is probably more scared than you are. Look at it this way--how absolutely terrified would you be to go up and engage Rowling, Butcher, Lem, or any other author you love in any type of conversation? That's similar to what those crowds feel.

3: People won't know what to expect, beyond how you write. If it helps, play that up. If you let yourself talk closer tot he way you write, not only will it probably be more eloquent, but it's easier to be something you're not. I don't reccomend that, necessarily, but it can help.

4: Finally, know that people that are around authors a lot are going to be fairly well aware of these little problems we tend to have with people. They can be sympathetic and, the more kindness you're receiving from the crowd, the less intimidating it will seem.

I don't know how much this will help, but hey--it couldn't hurt too much. Also, note that I didn't tack a number on the hiding under the table option--DON'T DO THAT!

Peace, love, and chicken grease,
Voss

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Guest Blogger: Frances Pauli





Today I am honored, priveleged, and damn lucky to have the wonderful Frances Pauli here as my guest blogger. Since today isn't about letting me blither and blather on, I'll turn you over to her loving care.


Thank you so much for having me over for a visit.

When Voss first suggested the topic of writing serial fiction, I was tempted to say a great many things. I intended to discuss characters, and how having a big, quirky cast does wonders for keeping the story alive, how you can switch protagonists if necessary when the current one happens to plot themselves into a corner. I planned to cover tangents, which can get us in a great deal of trouble in the novel, but serve as a gold mine of side trips and looping plotlines to fill and extend the serial author’s box of tools.
Both of these things are great points, and true. But then I remembered the grand, holy grail of episodic fiction technique. I remembered where I learned it all in the first place.
Soap Operas.
Stay with me. I know you want to bolt, and yes, they’re awful. But one would have to be incredibly stubborn—or simply stupid—to ignore the fact that here, in the afternoon drama fest, are stories that have kept an audience riveted for decades. Some of the classics have entertained generations of audiences, have spanned twenty, thirty, fifty years or more. Every day.
Do you believe you can write an episode a day for half a century and keep your audience’s attention? If you could, wouldn’t you be damned proud about it? Maybe these wicked, low-brow, fiction nightmares just might have a thing or two to teach us.
So I shuffled back through my memory. You see, I never actively watched Soaps, not even in High School when my friends were hanging on the turbulent relationships of Felicia and Frisco or if they preferred a different channel, Beau and Hope.
I turned up my nose at them all. Okay, there was a short period in my late twenties where I became mildly obsessed with Passions, but it didn’t last. And, I mean, it had witches and stuff. Sue me.
No, it wasn’t through my personal experience that I learned the mystery of the serial drama. It was by proxy. Rewind some more and my childhood play was often acted out to a backdrop of my mother’s soaps. We had Luke and Laura then. We had J.R. Ewing. I mentioned the nighttime version didn’t I?
Oh dear. An entire country joined in camaraderie to figure out Who SHOT JR? I’m not kidding. It was like the moon landing…It was, well, big. I also caught snatches of Dynasty, Falcon Crest etc. Basically, call it what you will, the nighttime serial drama is the shadier version of the afternoon Soap Opera. It has the same bones.
And when Bobby Ewing turned up NOT dead, and a whole season was written off as a dream, America let out a collective groan. Well, we can learn from others’ mistakes as well as their successes.
Hands down, the Soap Opera is the ruler of serial drama. It has what it takes. Like it or not.
I watched a documentary awhile back entitled, Never Ending Stories. It addressed the Soap Opera phenomenon and, I believe, offered superb advice to the aspiring serial author. I can’t reiterate it all here, but if you see it pass on your cable or Netflix or whatnot, spend a little time on it. I assure you, its worth the little wound to your pride. In the meantime, I will pass on a few things I picked up from it…and from a lifetime on the edge of the Soap Opera addiction.

#1 The Ground Rules. Soap Opera fans know the rules. The industry has established tropes that are reliable and comforting to the viewer. There are too many to list, but things like: once you’re dead, you can come back any time you like (surprise!), and if anyone ever disappears, is abducted, or has major surgery, when they come back they are most likely an impostor. You get the idea. Now, you don’t have to adopt the, somewhat ridiculous, tropes of the daytime drama, but you can develop your own. That could be fun as well.
#2 Bigger than Real Life. Everyone in a Soap Opera is either filthy rich or a dangerous criminal. We don’t really want to examine the reasons for that too closely, but suffice it to say that people watch these things like their life depends on it because they want to BE those characters. They want to live that life, face that danger, sleep with that…okay, we understand escapism, but the point is: extreme and exaggerated. Nobody in a Soap is ordinary. Even the housekeeper was once a porn star who killed a man and ran off pregnant with his child and is now hiding from the mob under witness protection so that she can testify against…someone. Simple? I think not. Character as caricature is the rule here.
#3 The Cliffhanger. Have you seen the end of a Soap episode? I know its hard to watch them all the way through, but if you do, you know the shot: one person’s face, horrified, wide-eyed expression, maybe an open jaw and a tiny hint of over-dramatic head shaking. They’ve just walked in on something, and it’s awful. It’s so monumentally awful, or possibly impossibly wonderful, that the camera is required to zoom in close enough to see their pores so that you can examine the emotions ravaging their face. BUT, we’re not going to tell you what they saw until tomorrow. Worse than that, we won’t tell you until almost the end of tomorrow’s episode. You know, cause we have to spend the first part recapping and building tension. Some weeks we’ll wait until Friday to do this, so you can enjoy an entire weekend of concern and speculation. Then, whammo. There it is, and probably, as that settles over you, we’ll do the whole thing again with another, bigger head jiggle to boot.
Okay, I’m poking fun here a little, but you know. A milder version of these steps will work. You can mock at will, but you can’t argue with a track record like that. And so, what began as me seriously pondering the tools of a serial author has landed me here, admitting that everything I ever needed to know, I probably learned from the Ewings.
Oh dear.
The good news is, unless you lived in a home without television—which I’ve heard is possible—you probably learned it all too. So get out there and write that Soap, I mean, Serial. That’s it.


Frances Pauli writes Speculative Fiction with Romantic tendencies. Her Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction series are available through Mundania Press, and she also publishes romance stories with Devine Destinies Her ongoing serial fiction can be found at: http://spaceslugserial.blogspot.com and more information on her works and writing at: http://francespauli.com