Sunday, March 31, 2019

Retconning and the Reader Contract

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Channeling JK Rowling: Any apologies due your readers for the way you treated a character?"

I'm not sure exactly what the person who suggested this topic had in mind so far as apologies to readers for how she treated characters. Likely this is because I've never been a huge Harry Potter fan.

*gasp*

I know - anathema.

Thing is, I was an adult when HP came out and even my stepkids were old for the books. I did read the first two - mostly to grok the phenom - but as someone who'd read every fantasy and fairy tale book I could lay my hands on, I found the stories pretty derivative. They never quite lit me up. Just a me thing. So I don't really know, outside of things I occasionally hear people mention - something about the red-headed family? - what terrible things Rowling did to her characters.

I *do* however find it very interesting to observe the kinds of retconning Rowling has been engaged in. Retcon stands for "retroactive continuity" - which is to "revise (an aspect of a fictional work) retrospectively, typically by introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events."

For those not in the know, Rowling has made various announcements about characters that very much change interpretations of events in the books. For example, saying that a major character is gay and had a homosexual relationship with another character - when there's no evidence of it in the actual books. Fans aren't bothered by this reveal so much (with some homophobic exceptions, of course), but it's problematic because the author claims "oh, I have these gay characters" without having to deal with really representing them in the story.

Also, for those readers who LOVE the books, these kinds of retcons change the stories in dramatic ways. One of my friends in the publishing industry said to me, "Every time she tweets something new, we're all PLEASE JUST STOP." (Paraphrasing there.)

It's fascinating from an author perspective, too, because one thing that we deal with - especially SFF authors - is worldbuilding. In order to define a fantasy or science fiction world, we establish rules. Sometimes we box ourselves into corners storywise with those rules, which can result in much gnashing of teeth. BUT, we abide by the rules we set up. Anything else is a betrayal of the contract with the reader.

My writer friend Jim Sorensen shared this excellent article from Tor.com with me. It explores what we do when we create fictional universes - and what obligations we have not to continue to fiddle with them.

I suppose my take is that I'd rather create an entirely new world than tweak a previous one. That way I won't owe any of my readers apologies.

At least not for that.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Resources for Discovering Romances by AOC and LGBTQIA Authors


This week at SFF7 we’re having a week to address what’s been on our minds.

The topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Romancelandia has been prominent for me.

I wanted to do a signal boost for some terrific sites where a reader can find all genres of romances written by Authors of Color (AoC), as well as LGBTQIA Authors.

Some of these are sites I’ve been visiting regularly and others were mentioned in the past week on Facebook, Twitter and yes, the RWA PAN email Loop. Melanie Greene has been especially active in sharing good resources there (and elsewhere I'm sure).

My personal primary go-to has been the excellent WOC In Romance site at http://www.wocinromance.com   You can Follow them on twitter at @WOCInRomance

Other resources mentioned often this week:
www.cimrwa.org/our-authors.html     Cultural, Interracial, Multicultural Special Interest Chapter of Romance Writers of America  Twitter: @CIMRWA

And I very much rely on Queer SciFi https://queerscifi.com/  for recommendations, including Following them on twitter at @QueerSciFi

PLEASE do mention in the comments below any other sites or lists or twitter feeds I may have missed!!! This list is a place to start but I'd love to add more...

Friday, March 29, 2019

I Think I Stepped in the Racism.


Jeffe’s post this week gave you the low down on the latest upheaval to hit Romance Writers of America. It’s been on my mind this week, so here’s more. It isn’t likely to be pretty.

In among this difficult and deeply necessary conversation about how marginalized our AOC and LGBTQA authors are, there are people knee-jerk protesting that they aren’t racist! They CAN’T be racist or biased, even though (or maybe especially when) AOC and LGBTQA authors point out racist and biased language and behavior. So let’s do a little clarification. Starting with the hard stuff.

Hi. I’m Marcella and I’m a racist. I don’t want to be a racist, but I was reared in a society STEEPED in racism. Predicated on it. It’s woven through every aspect of US culture to the point that  the US Government just sued Facebook for housing discrimination because FB’s adverts allowed someone to specifically include or exclude certain demographic groups. Basically, you could target your ads to be seen only by people of a specific ethnic background. And no one stood up in that massive tech company to suggest that was maybe a really bad (possibly prosecutable) idea.

I get that when someone says ‘racist’, we all immediately think of the people who mean it. They’re the people who willfully hold specific, hateful views about anyone who doesn’t look like they do. Surely, if we don’t mean to be racist, we aren’t, right? Right? We’re absolved? If only it worked that way. Our culture made it impossible for us to be anything other than racist. Before you lose heart and click away, I actually do have some positives here. Starting with: There’s basis for this stuff in evolutionary biology, which means there’s also something we can do about it.

Humans are wired for tribalism. Us versus them. It was a resources game. It was an issue of who was going to get that last apple off the tree before the blizzard hit. Who ate, survived. Who survived, passed on genes. Grouping up with a tribe of ‘us’ made fighting the tribe of ‘them’ easier and assured greater access to resources. As the human animal evolved, the definition of tribe evolved and broadened a little. We never lost that Us vs Them wiring. It’s still there nestled in the oldest parts of our brains. It’s at the root of racist, biased behaviors. (You can look this stuff up, but be warned. Most of the research is around issues of genocide. It is not light reading which is why I am not linking it in.) BUT. Somewhere in there, we gained a prefrontal cortex and the ability to analyze ourselves, our surroundings and our behaviors. It’s also the part that allows us to identify opportunities for growth and change. It allows us to detach from ego, take a step back and examine our own emotions and actions. That’s incredibly powerful when it’s applied. The trick is to apply it. To think.

When someone says ‘hey, what you said is racist’ your primitive brain is hearing a threat to your survival. That’s primitive brain registering that you had been an ‘us’ and with this call out, you’ve just been made ‘them’. It’s firing off all these DANGERDANGER signals. It takes the modern brain a second longer to process the information, put the brakes on the emotions, and parse through the examination. ‘Really? Was what I said racist? Oh crap, maybe . . .’

So before I go on when I should be finishing and delivering an edit, here’s the summary. The primitive part of your brain is wired to be a racist asshole. Our culture played on that and indoctrinated all of us in racist structures. The newer part of your brain, y'know, the part you're supposed to think with and evaluate your own behavior with, that’s wired to gate the primitive brain. Let it. Quit saying 'I'm not a racist!' The minute you say that you’re operating from that primitive brain. Nice way of saying you're only semi-conscious. Of course you’re a racist. So am I. Welcome to the stinky, awful club. None of us can help ourselves get or do better until we admit and examine our own behavior. This includes listening to people when they speak of the hurt they’re suffering. It’s a simple thing to buy, read, and review books by AOC and LGBTQA authors. Guys, the last book by a woman of color that I read on purpose was in college. That’s crap. I want to do better than that. I want the playing field leveled for authors who have marginalized for too long. And I can start with me.

There are so many experiences in the world. So many voices. We’re authors. We specialize in voice and in creating experiences for our readers. There’s no good reason to shy away from broadening our own experiences as readers. You have the power to decide who and what you want to be – someone mired in the past or someone agitating for fairness by boosting our romance-writing siblings of every color and identity. Choice. Adaptation. Those are the gifts of thinking.  

Thursday, March 28, 2019

A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES is out in the world

All right, folks, A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES is out in the world, and I'm thrilled.  So far the reaction I've been seeing has been amazing, which is good, because I drop a few heartbreaking bombs in this book.  

And we had a great Book Release event.  Check it out!
If you've been following me on Instagram (and you should!), you saw I did a bunch of posts tagged #MaradaineMeals, with food from the books.  And since MULTIPLE people asked, yes, I'll be putting together proper recipes soon.
So go get your hands on A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES:
Goodreads Page forA PARLIAMENT OF BODIES
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and more!

In the meantime, SHIELD OF THE PEOPLE should be next on your radar (October 29th, 2019, preorder now), and I'm about to send THE FENMERE JOB to my editor.  Time to get to work.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Chase your own dang goals, Writer-You

This week I can talk about anything I want to, so buckle up. This could get weird. Also personal. There might be swearing. You have been warned.

First, a confession: for the past, oh who knows how long, I've been in a slump. Not just one of those cute temporary "oh golly, I don't know what scene should go here" blocks but a solid half year of writing literally nothing. Of complete writer-brain paralysis. I'm coming out of it, with the help of a therapist, because as is so often the case with these things, a bunch of root causes grew up, choked the crap out of each other, and formed this constricting tangle.

One of those pesky roots was author goals. Or rather, other people's goals for me as an author.

My own goals starting out were pretty simple:

1. Have my partner read something I wrote and say it's good.

2. Have a stranger, someone I've never met and almost definitely am not related to, read my book and like it. 

3. Have enough success (that is, sales) that I don't have to assume a different pen name and start over, which I've heard authors anti-affectionately refer to as "re-branding." Note that I had no idea back then how to define "enough success."

So, my first book came out, and amazingly, #2 happened. Yay! My second book came out, and whoo-boy!  #1 happened as well. (Thank you, Conejo-my-love.)

My third book... er, so here's where things get sticky. Remember how I didn't have numbers for "enough success"? Remember how it was all vague and hand-wavy and trust-everything-will-turn-outish? That was a mistake. Huge. Because instead of defining my own goals--or my own identity, as a writer--I ended up chasing someone else's goal of sufficient numbers, sufficient success. I wanted to be successful enough that my publisher wanted to keep me on, right? 

But how much is that, numbers wise? How do you achieve it? What steps do you take to make that happen?

Problem was I let my success be defined by someone else's goals, without a clear understanding of what those goals were or what they entailed, and then I appropriated all of the guilt and horror when I failed to meet those goals. 

My identity had become dependent upon someone else's estimation of success.

This is a shit way to live, people. It's a worse way to work. However, I had a lovely eureka moment not to long ago where I was whining to the therapist about my failures and she asked me what specific goals I'd failed to achieved, and I told her and she asked me under what circumstances I'd set those goals and I was like... hold up. I didn't make them. They aren't mine. 

I never wanted to be a bestseller. I mean, it wouldn't have sucked, but I personally wasn't disappointed by a lesser splash on the scene. A writing career is a slow-burn love affair, right, not a hookup on page 1. Plus, I got goals number 1 and 2 right out of the gate, so I was good. 

Then therapist -- who is exceptionally wise, which is absolutely what I pay her for -- suggested I think up new ways of defining what Success as a Writer Means for Me. 

And it's this:

1. Success is that moment when I'm writing and my kid is reading over my shoulder and she laughs out loud at one of my jokes. (<--the BEST)

2. Success is writing "The End" on something, regardless of whether I have any intention of selling it ever.

3. Success is seeing hearts--or the odd "fucktacular!"--in the margins of my manuscripts after my critique partners have read a thing.

4. Success is making myself cry when I write a scene that's particularly difficult. Bonus if it ever makes someone else cry.

There will be other goals as I continue on this path through Writing Land. So far, I've gotten 1, 2, and 3 to happen and hope to replicate them. Number 4 eludes me, but it's something that is entirely within my control as a craftsperson and wordflinger.

And that's the trick, I think, to forming an identity as Yeah, I Really Am a Writer, Legit: making my own goals. Defining them clearly. Developing only goals that I have one hundred percent control over--i.e., not sales or reviews or awards. 

Sticking to it, focusing...

...and letting myself, sometimes, when no one else is looking, win.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

#Fantasy Release Day: A Parliament of Bodies by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Marshall's at it again with the third book in the Maradaine Constabulary series, one branch of his noblebright fantasy series centered in the city of Maradaine. Join Tricky and Jinx in this otherworld police procedural mystery!


A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES
Maradaine Constabulary, Book 3


Mixing high fantasy and mystery, the third book in the Maradaine Constabulary series follows Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling as they track down a dangerous murderer.

The city of Maradaine is vexed by the Gearbox Murders: a series of gruesome deaths orchestrated by a twisted mechanical genius. With no motive and no pattern, Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling--the retired spy and untrained mage--are at a loss to find a meaningful lead in the case. At least, until the killer makes his most audacious exhibit yet: over a dozen victims in a clockwork deathtrap on the floor of the Druth Parliament.

The crime scene is a madhouse, and political forces conspire to grind their investigation to a halt. The King's Marshals claim jurisdiction of the case, corruption in the Constabulary thwarts their efforts, and a special Inquest threatens to end Minox's career completely. Their only ally is Dayne Heldrin, a provisional member of the Tarian Order, elite warriors trained in the art of protection. But Dayne's connection to the Gearbox Murders casts suspicion on his motives, as he might be obsessed with a phantom figure he believes is responsible.

While Satrine and Minox struggle to stop the Gearbox from claiming even more victims, the grinding gears of injustice might keep them from ever solving these murders, and threaten to dismantle their partnership forever.


BUY IT NOW:  AmazonB&N | IndieBound


The Maradaine Constabulary Series:



Monday, March 25, 2019

On My Mind

Deadlines.

The subject of this weeks SFFSeven posts is "What's on my mind" and guess what? That's on my mind right now.

I have several deadlines looming.

I have a novel coming out April First (Boomtown) and another coming out April 30th (Avengers: Infinity). One is the original fiction. One is a licensed project. That's work-for-hire in laymen terms. I get paid to play in someone else's sandbox. I get money, they get everything else, including copyright, virtually any royalties that manifest, etc. For a lot of people, that's a no-no! I BIG no-no! For me, it's a source of income and a chance to write about some of my favorite things. I've written for Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. for Aliens, For Predator and now for the Avengers. Want to know something? I'll do it again if the price is right and the opportunity arises. Just, as always, know what you're signing.

I have, in the last three weeks, signed contracts for three more novels. One is a work for hire, two are original. I have plans for at least two more novels to come out this year, and a short story collection.
That means I have epic deadlines. That also means I need to get my butt in gear.

What a lovely problem to have! 25 years into my career and I have a full plate. That's never going to be a bad thing for me.

Okay, now that I've told you what is on my mind I have to finish a book that's due to be published in October.

Deadlined.
Busy, busy, busy.

Keep smiling,

Jim


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Cover Reveal, the RITA® Awards and Boring the Reader

Cover Reveal!!

So, my novella, THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER, which first appeared (and still appears) in the SEASONS OF SORCERY anthology is a finalist in the RITA® Awards! The amazing Ravven had only just completed the cover - and we'd been planning to release the standalone story in April - but we seized the opportunity to put that shiny silver Finalist medallion on the cover and we'll be releasing the stand alone story any minute now. I'm even doing a print edition for you paper purists. 

Since our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the open "On My Mind," I feel like I should say, also, that I share the concern about the RITA Awards recognizing diverse authors. It's a difficult place to be - wanting to celebrate that this story, which I truly love, received this wonderful recognition - while being aware that the finalists include only four authors of color (AOC) and no Black authors.

There is, without a doubt, bias in judging. Reading is always subjective to begin with. Worse, within RWA and the judging pool, there are judges with conscious and unconscious biases. Racism and homophobia absolutely come into play. From personal experience, I can confirm that THE EDGE OF THE BLADE, my book with a dark-skinned pansexual heroine, received a 4/10 from one RITA judge - the lowest score any of my books has ever received from any judge in this contest. This book is the sequel to THE PAGES OF THE MIND, which finaled for an won a RITA that year. I seriously doubt the judge who gave the book a 4 found that it was badly written compared to the others. Sure, that lowest score got dropped. (Five judges read and rank each book; the highest and lowest scores are dropped.) But if two judges impose that kind of bias, that can severely sabotage a book's overall score. Even the "I just didn't connect with the characters" syndrome can lower a book's score by a critical 1 point.

So, what do we do? A lot of people are working on this. I absolutely support the RWA Board's continued efforts to rectify this problem. The current Board of Directors is a diverse - color, gender, and orientation - and committed group who absolutely want to solve this problem. They have been working on it. Unfortunately, correcting this kind of systemic bias occur on the societal equivalent of geologic time. There are a lot of moving parts and ingrained attitudes that need correcting. I'm hearing a lot of "burn the RITAs to the ground" and even "burn RWA to the ground," and I don't agree with either solution. When you burn things to the ground you get a lot of scorched earth. I fully believe we can make this change - and the fire of all this passionate involvement can be rocket fuel rather than lighter fluid. 

On another note, because I promised a few people, I want to follow up on my post from last week on what I think is bad writing advice: "If you're bored, the reader will be, too." James said the following day that he disagreed, but he also didn't understand my point. He said he hates being bored as a reader. Well, of course! I never said it was okay to bore the reader.

What I said was that it's not valid to conflate the author experience with the reader one. 

The reverse situation proves this point: that what the author finds fascinating is not necessarily what will fascinate the reader. Witness the common mistake where a writer does a bunch of in-depth research - and then can't resist throwing it all into the book. This is such a pervasive phenomenon that "the overly researched historical novel" has been a category in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for an atrocious opening sentence to a hypothetical bad novel

That's part of why I think "If the writer is bored, the reader will be, too" is such bad advice, because it implies that as long as the writer is having fun, so will the reader.

And this is SO NOT TRUE.

Of course no writer wants to bore the reader - and a great deal of craft goes into ensuring this doesn't happen. How can an author know? Experience, refining the craft, listening to valid feedback. (The valid part is really important - you have to learn who to take seriously.) But a writer cannot assume that their subjective writing experience will translate to the reader's experience. 

Learning to communicate our stories so the reader receives something of what we hope to tell is a lifelong effort in refining voice and craft. 



Saturday, March 23, 2019

No One Rule to Govern THem All

DepositPhoto
Some weeks it really works well to be the Saturday blogger at SFF7. Our topic is to discuss one piece of writing advice we disagree with. I’m going to fly at the 100,000’ level and share what bugs me about all writing advice.  (My comrades were much more disciplined and stuck to the letter of the subject line LOL.)

My hackles go up and my blaster comes out when people say THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY TO DO THIS AND MY WAY IS THE ONE. Forgive the all caps but people who want to try to force every other writer into their way of writing books, be it index cards, outlines, pantsing, Scrivener , 2AM writing sessions, NaNoWriMo cabins– whatever the “secret” they feel they alone have identified – make me NUTS.

Not for myself, because I’m too stubborn to write any other way than the way that works for me, and I don’t expect my way to necessarily work for any other person on the face of the Earth. But so often I see this kind of advice given in various author groups, and many newbies feel unnecessary pressure because they haven’t yet given themselves permission to ignore things. “Author So-and-So said you have to do the XYZ plotting method or you’ll fail…”

Sure, it’s not a bad idea to try a new software, or promo tool or method of plotting if you’re so inclined. One should always keep an open mind and be willing to adapt and change if the shiny turns out to work for them. I like hearing about new things, especially if I’ve been tempted to try whatever it may be or had never heard of it until someone took the time to share their experience.
But there’s no one golden way to write good books and achieve success (however you may define it) in the writing world. Especially today, with so many avenues for getting the books into the hands of readers.

Speaking of which, I had a new release this past week! KIERCE, the latest novel in my Badari Warrior scifi romance series is out there now and here’s the blurb:
Elianna McNamee, spaceship engineer, is far from her home in the human Sectors, kidnapped along with all her shipmates to be used for horrifying experiments conducted on a remote planet by alien scientists.

Her captors decide to toss her in a cell with a ferocious predator, expecting him to kill her…but Kierce, the Badari warrior in question, has too much honor to mistreat a human woman. The trouble is, he’s trapped in a form drastically different from his own as a result of twisted genetic meddling and hiding dark secrets to save other Badari lives.

Able to become a man again briefly with Elianna‘s help, he and Elianna bond over their mutual hatred for the enemy but when rescuers finally arrive, the pair are separated by well-meaning Badari authorities.

Kierce struggles to overcome flashbacks from the torture and drugs the alien scientists inflicted on him. He and Elianna despair over whether he’ll ever be able to regain his rightful place as a man and a soldier in the pack, much less be ready to claim a mate.

Elianna accepts a risky but essential assignment far away from where Kierce is being held, working with another man who’s more than professionally interested in her. Her heart belongs to Kierce and she can’t forget their two nights of shared passion but will that be enough to lead them to a happy reunion?
Amazon     Apple Books       Nook     Google    Kobo

And yes, I wrote it using all the curmudgeonly methods that are time tested to work for me!


Friday, March 22, 2019

Laughing Off Writing Advice

NEWS: Finally all the official stuff is in place and I can tell you I have a five book contract with The Wild Rose Press for my SFR series. This is the series that started with Enemy Within and Enemy Games. This contract is for the complete series. So in the near future, I should have fun stuff to share.


Writing Advice to Laugh Off
The worst writing advice ever is as much a peel back of my psychology as it is terrible writing advice, but here it is. "Write to market". Don't get me wrong. There's a time and place for worrying about the market. You need to know stuff like sex scenes do not a romance make. That much market, okay. That's more an issue of knowing your market.

No, when I hear someone say 'writing to market', I hear someone suggesting that we al learn how to read minds and predict what's going to be popular two years from now cause that's how long it will take to write, sub an get a book through the publication process with a traditional house. You might only have to predict six months of future if you go with an indie press or self pub something. There are people who do it, though, I hear you say. I'd argue that those people found or created a niche, recognized what their readers loved about the niche and then those writers stay faithful to reader expectation book after book. In a way, that is writing to market - your market. That's totally learnable.

But writing to The Market as if you're in possession of some kind of literary crystal ball? That is a key that opens the door to crazy. When someone says 'write to market', it kicks me straight out of being immersed in my story and into high insecurity. I spend all my writing time slogging through the 'yer doing it wrong' voices. Have you ever read one of those stories where the heroes have to fight their way through some kind of compulsion? That's what it feels like. There. You have insight into my legion of neuroses. C'mon in. They don't bite. Much.

What would I prefer over 'write to market'? Easy. Write the story that needs to be written. Write what matters to you. Worry about the market once you're in the editing phase. That's when you're in analytical brain and that's when you can entertain all those critical internal voices. That's when it makes sense to look at what's out there in the book world and decide where your darling might fit. Until then, write what's in your head. Someone somewhere needs that.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Gospel of Bad Advice

I was reminded the other day about all the “rules” people like to quote at us, as writers, of how we should (or more often, should not) be writing.  The “should not” is the crucial bit here, because far more often than not, these rules tend to be things not to do.  Which is all well and good, but I’ve noticed that rules that ought to be phrased “try to avoid too much…” or “be aware of…” become gospel from on high: THOU SHALT NOT. And the problem always comes when "here's a suggestion"-- especially when it's specific to a piece being critiqued-- becomes preached like it's universal gospel.

1. Thou shalt not use passive voice.  On the whole, this is sensible advice.  Passive voice tendsto make for weak writing. However, more often than not, I've seen the person giving it not know what passive voice actually is.  Here’s a hint: it is not when the gerund form of the verb is used (as in “the boys were walking down the street”.) Or anything to do with verb tense or helper verbs.  Here’s passive voice in a nutshell: when the object of the action is the subject of the sentence.  Take “the boys were walking down the street”.  What the subject?  The boys.  What’s the action?  Walking.    Who was walking?  The boys.  The subject is doing the action.  Active voice.  Passive voice would be, “The street was walked upon by the boys.”    Subject?  The street.  But the action is done by the boys.  Got it?  Good.

2. Thou shalt not use ‘to be’ in any form.  I’ve heard it said that using forms of ‘to be’ is “weak writing”.  But you know what’s really weak writing?  The kind of convoluted verbal cartwheels I’ve seen people use to avoid a simple “to be” sentence.  Sometimes it pays to be concise.

3. Thou shalt not use ‘said’.  I’m of the school of thought that ‘said’ is an invisible word.  People don’t get caught up in its repetition.  True, if you have a two-person conversation, their dialogue should be distinct enough that you don’t need to indicate the speaker at every line.  But when you do tag, ‘said’ is nice and innocuous.  I’d also rather tack an adverb onto ‘said’ every once in a while instead of having characters chortled, exclaimed, exuded, implied or, god forbid, ejaculated.  I do like, when appropriate, asked, answered, whispered, muttered, murmured and shouted.  But on the whole, said gets the job done.

4. Thou shalt not use adverbs.  Yes, sometimes adverbs can be over done, and using an adverb is used where a stronger verb would do a better job, but adverbs are a useful tool, and they are part of the language for a reason.

Here’s the thing: I’m against any rule that’s spoken of as an absolute, about keeping the tools locked in the box.  The words and tools are there, use them.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You don't have to write every day to be a real writer

I took a creative writing class once, several years after I graduated college and had been slogging it in the workforce and dreaming of writing a novel. My teacher in this class said that the way to write a novel is to write 500 words a day. Don't miss a day. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Do the thing. It worked for him, and clearly, you know, if it worked for one person, it'll work for everybody. Right?

Er, except no.

Still, even after I knew it wouldn't work for me, that 500-words-a-day advice was so baked into the aspiring-writer dogma that I didn't dare question it. I kept going to workshop after workshop and reading craft book after craft book -- even Stephen King's canonical On Writing, ffs -- that insisted the only way you can be a legit writer is to set a daily word count goal and meet it. Every. Day.

Hell, the cult of NaNoWriMo is built on this philosophy.

I started to think that because this advice did not work at all for me, I wasn't a real writer. There was surely something wrong with me. I was the only person who failed at NaNoWriMo annually, who joined and chronically and consistently failed at those daily word-count accountability groups. I wrote two books on deadline believing completely that because I didn't draft them in daily, predictable word chunks, I had done them all wrong.

If you can imagine how fun all this failure and self-loathing were, you can also understand how amazing and liberating it was when I found out the write-every-day advice was utter horsepucky.  Here's how it happened: I took a writing productivity course called Write Better Faster, taught by Becca Syme. The course starts out with students taking a series of personality tests -- Myers-Briggs, DISC, and Gallup Strengthsfinder -- and then Becca helps you tweak your process to best fit the way your brain works.

Y'all people, the Eureka hit me so hard I was literally crying.

My highest strength on the Gallup Strengthsfinder is Intellection*. This means that I do a lot of my best creative work when I'm not actually working. So all that time I spend driving around and thinking about my plots and characters and conflicts and trying out what-ifs and never writing them down? IS work time. IS writing time. Even though no words make it onto the doc, I am still working.

I was a writer. I am a writer.

My process just doesn't look like Stephen King's process or the NaNoWriMo bulk-word-vomit process. Slow and steady does not and will never win my race. I'm a think about the book for three months, get a strong handle on the kind of story I want to tell, which characters will best tell that story, what the jump-off conflict is, and how I plan to resolve it by the end. And at that point, when all of that work is complete and lighting up the inside of my skull, I can sit down and burn through a year's worth of accountability-group words and not even count the suckers.

Counting the words, writing every day, scheduling my creative brain, stalls me fatally. Which is why I hate hate HATE that piece of writing advice.

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* Becca Syme did a whole video about us high-Intellection weirdos. If you think you might be one, I highly recommend taking her classes ultimately, but you can also preview a little of her wisdom here. Full disclosure: I'm in the video and it looks like there's something seriously wrong with my mouth. Not to worry. That was just nerves.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Don't Write What You Know

"Write What You Know" is the tritest advice ever exhorted in conventional creative writing classes. How boring. How restrictive. How cruel. How utterly ridiculous. It's a surefire way to reinforce the cultural status quo. It traps us in an ouroboros of classic and popular fiction built to exclude Other. It limits scope and imagination. It sets up failure at conception.
Gah.
Don't write what you know. Write what interests you. Write that which provokes your curiosity and pushes your boundaries of comfort and knowledge. Get into the minds of people you're not, understand their desires and their conflicts. Expand your empathy by creating circumstances in which you would never find yourself. Explore environments that are the antithesis of yours. Challenge the concepts of normal and acceptable. Grow as a writer and you grow as an individual.

Feed your weird.  

Monday, March 18, 2019

It had to happen...I diagree with Jeffe.

"I don't think so. Name a piece of writing advice you do not agree with and explain why."

Go read Jeffe's post from yesterday. 

My entire counter-argument is this: I hate the boring parts when I'm reading. It will often make me put down a book. 

I kid, Actually, the only part that normally makes me crazy is the redundancies. If I read fifteen pages of a book and al that happens during those pages comes down to," We are far from home, walking through the mountains and I miss home" You cold cut about fourteen pages. Sometimes it's setting the mood and sometimes it's just too damned long.

Here's a piece of writing advice that I USUALLY disagree with. "Consider the feelings of the reader."

Nope. Not a chance. I start worrying about whether or not I'm hurting someone's feelings, especially as a horror writer, and I'm doomed. My first rule has always been write the story that you want to read. I can't write what Dan wants to read. I'm not Dan and would never presume to know his desires, even if he wrote them down on paper for me. I most assuredly can't write a book for Sarah, either. I'm not her. I write for me. To entertain me. To examine the issues that bother me. 

I can only write for me, and hope that what I write entertains others.

So, yesterday I was at the Writers Coffeehouse New England. About every three or four months, me and Christopher Golden try to host a gathering of writers at all levels of achievement in the industry. the entire point of this is to meet our peers, and, if we can, to offer a little advice. We are not alone in this. It's not about the two of us offering a Q and A session. It's about having open discussions about the things that writers are working on getting to understand better. We are not there to preach so much as we are there to facilitate and occasionally learn a few things ourselves. 

This is always done at either a library or a bookstore. This time around it was done at a great place called AN UNLIKELY STORY in Plainville Massachusetts. A delightful store owned by the creator of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series the amazing Jeff Kinney. What a wonderful store and what a spectacular staff. I can't thank them enough for having us.

We were joined by a lot of authors, including Hillary Monahan among others.

Hillary is always at the cutting edge for me. She is wise, she is sharp, she is direct and she is talented. She also brought up something that I, as a guy, almost never consider. That is trigger warnings. 

Okay, let me get this out there right now: I don't normally care about trigger warnings. I write horror, My usual philosophy is, if I make you uncomfortable, I'm doing my job. You may rest assured that the comment is normally meant with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I write about a lot of dark subjects, but as a rule I very seldom get graphic. If I lead you to the scene the right way I don't need to get explicit and I prefer it that way.

However, after giving Hillary a copy of BOOMTOWN to read if she so desires, I also listened to her words. She often puts a foreword in her books, a warning about the sort of stuff that will be encountered in the books, because in this day and age it's far too easy to trigger someone. 

On teh off chance that you;'e not familiar with the term, triggering a person comes down to making them remember something traumatic that has happened in their past. Again, I don't usually consider this.

Here's the thing: BOOMTOWN is a weird western. I set it in a fictitious version of the western expansion and at the end of the American Civil War. Things tended to get very ugly historically speaking, and I did not flinch from them in the book. There are Native Americans being done wrong, women being done wrong, ex-slaves being done wrong. Hell, there are just plain a lot of people being done wrong, because it was a genuinely ugly time in American history, no matter how much we might want to pretty it up. Any crimes committed against those poor, innocent settlers back in the day were very likely earned. Not necessarily by that group of settlers, but certainly by others.  The things that were done to Native American women by Caucasian men during those times were horrific and "justified" in the eye of those very same men because the women they were dealing with were considered savages who were only possibly better than animals. Here's one to consider: if the things done to those women had been done to livestock, the men responsible would have been hanged.

So, that said, I make mention of several sexual acts of savagery. Rape, that is, and worse. I do not take my time to get graphic with these scenarios, but they are mentioned. I felt I'd done enough as I didn't handle them "on screen" as it were. Still....

I gave it a bit of thought abd decided to add a foreword in this one case. As a rule, I don't mention rape, etc when I'm writing, the idea is to write an escape, not to make someone suffer. 

This one time, I'm aking an exception, I make mention of dark deeds, the sort that, unfortunately happene back then and still happens today. If I lose a few sales and manage not to cause someone any trauma in the process, I'm okay with that.

here, for your perusal, my one exception:

Warning Shots

I don’t normally give a warning on my books. I write horror and dark fantasy. I usually assume that is enough of a warning. I mean, seriously, if you come to a horror novel with the notion that you aren’t going to be made uneasy at some point, you’re maybe reading the wrong horror.

There are exceptions to every rule. There are scenes in BOOMTOWN that involve violence against children and sexual assault. In the case of the latter, it is mentioned but none of the scenes are “on screen” as it were. That’s deliberate. I don’t believe that sexual assault should ever be taken lightly and I certainly have no desire to stimulate any fantasies. The point in the story is simply that, sadly, in both the past and the present these sorts of assaults happen. They are not, I believe, truly sexual in nature. They’re a dominance play, a power trip and a way to make someone suffer.  I find them loathsome.

That said, it’s best to remember, even when you write horror, that some horrors hit too close to home. As this is a western, you can expect shoot-em-ups. As this is a book with monsters, you can expect fangs. As this is a novel that, as I feel all books do, investigates the human condition in one form or another, there are human monsters, too. I mostly avoid sex in my novels. I make mention of it, but there’s no reason for gratuity in these cases. Not for me, at least.


That said I want readers to be warned: there is mention of rape in these pages, and mention of children being hurt. I step into taboo areas, because I write about dark things, many of which make me uncomfortable, too. So, no surprises here, not when they might cause genuine pain rather than a chance to tell a tale.