Demon Hunting and Tenth Dimensional Physics: December 2011

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.


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 (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 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 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?


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.


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


Friday, December 9, 2011

New Serial Fiction: Thieves' Demise

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


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,

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.


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.


My favorite is the above quote from Walt Whitman:


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,

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,

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.




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,