Friday, May 5, 2017

Plotting Obsession

Plotting. Plotting is what brings us together today.

If you did not read that in the voice of the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride, we can no longer be friends. Sorry. You can redeem yourself by reciting the first two Classic Blunders.

Anyway. Plotting.

Remember me complaining about needing a mentor of my own last week? Well, my friends, that's what craft books are for. If I haven't mentioned the book before, The Fantasy Fiction Formula is my latest foray into learning. This book is by Deborah Chester. It came recommended by a critic group member. I'd picked it up out of curiosity - that and I'm a sucker for trying out new ways of approaching what I do. Yes, I have a process. One that works, mostly. But you know me. I'm always open to better ways of doing things. If there is such a thing as a better way. So I read this book.

And eventually texted my fellow crit group member that I'd finished the damned book and I hated her now. She laughed at me.

I did disagree with some of the points in The Fantasy Fiction Formula (One example: There's an assertion that every scene until the climax must end in failure for your protagonist - I disagree. The protag can absolutely win scenes - but when that happens, the win has to turn out nothing like the protagonist imagined. But eh. Minor detail and some people would say that's an aggregate loss anyway.) I learned far more than I disagreed with, though.

The book is packed with useful tidbits. Until I read the FFF, I didn't know what an A/R unit was. It's Action/Reaction unit. Turns out, I'd been getting mine wrong from time to time. I knew about scene and sequel, but I'd never really paid much attention because every explanation of them I'd ever had went right over my head. Until Deborah Chester. I *think* I understand them now. And I'd like to believe I comprehend how they need to be put together in order to drive a story. She does a fantastic job of laying out plotting. She says you need three BIG scenes - and by big - she means weighty. Emotional. These three scenes are your twist points in your story. End of Act 1 twist, Act II twist and the Climax. Get those and you can then plot out the other scenes and sequels you need to drive your characters through those twist points. Add in whatever subplot scenes and sequels you want/need and presto. You have a solid start on an outline and on a synopsis.

Straight forward, right? It would be, were I plotting one book. But no. No, no, no. Why would I do the sensible thing? I'm attempting to apply this brand new, untried strategy to a five book arc where the first two books are already written and published. So not only do I need the three BIG scenes for each book, I have to consider each book as a scene/sequel set within the overall arc of the series. But no pressure.

I have this sense that if I can get this down and make it work for me, I'll have a better hold of story craft. I'd like to think it's a worthy pursuit that's worth the risk of upending my usual slowpoke process.

Yes. It is rather like a walk in the Fire Swamp. If the fire spurts and lightning sands don't get me, the ROUSes might.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Illegitimi non carborundum

The writing business is rough.  You put stuff out there, and you kind of have to accept that rejection is the baseline.  That's the thing you have to earn yourself out of.  Success is never a given.  You've got to toughen your skin.  None of this is new information, of course.  If you read any sort of writing advice, this is a front-and-center thing.  
And you've got to allow yourself to be critiqued.  You've got to be able to take your licks and then stand up and say, "All right, what's next?"
But when you're looking for critique, look for critique that is useful.  It isn't good critique just because it tears you down.  (Nor is it just because it fluffs you up, either.)  Choose your critique partners with care, because getting tied in with someone who isn't interested in actually critiquing your work-- or worse, thinks they understand what critique is, but doesn't-- can do so much more harm than good.
Here's my little story: I was on one small, private on-line critique group.  The set-up was pretty casual: upload things to a shared folder, and then critiques are either A. sent via group email or B. also uploaded to the shared folder.  No specific timeline, just put it up and people will get to it or not.  Because of this system, I had some things up there that I wasn't actually seeking critique on anymore.  But I hadn't taken them down, mostly because I wanted the other members of the group to be able to look at the whole body of work/larger plan if they were so inclined.  
And then I got this on one manuscript.
I made it no further than page 5 before nearly chewing my left arm off in the frustration of knowing that a writer with a great imagination, a lot of drive, and most likely a wonderful story to tell hasn't bothered, after all these years of effort, to learn the basics of story crafting. To improve your writing, you need to, at the very least, read some well-crafted books and analyze the plotting, sentence structure, foreshadowing, and subtlety of the writers' works. No one is born knowing how to write or craft a story. Those are skills that take some effort to learn. You could be a great writer. If you don't put in some study time, all your efforts and talents are wasted.
Wow.  That's brutal, no?
That's the sort of critique that could send someone running for the hills.  Heck, that's not even a critique, that's a dressing down.
Fortunately, I just laughed at it, and then promptly deleted myself from that group.
Because the manuscript in question was The Thorn of Dentonhill, which at that point had already netted me an agent and was out on submission.  And it was bought by my publisher just a few weeks after I got this.  I mean, what exactly was this person trying to accomplish with this critique?  I'm not sure.  But I feel like they were trying to just grind me down.
And, like I said, this business is tough, and you do not get handed anything and certainly don't deserve anything you don't earn-- you don't just get handed accolades and awards and film options-- but you need to keep pushing on as they try to grind you down.  Success could be right around the corner, and if you let them beat you-- you let a drubbing like that one up there break you-- you won't get there.
Because there are people who've realized that they aren't going to make it in this business, and then they decide they don't want anyone else to either.  They will try to grind you down.
Illegitimi non carborundum
Don't let the bastards grind you down.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

New Book Hype

Two things are heavy on my mind. Okay, honestly, there are a thousand things on my mind, like getting the mulch for the flower beds and when we're having all those ash trees brought down, why did the dog throw up yesterday, will the Actor want to take those summer classes and will the Arteest actually go to college this fall... but writing-wise there are TWO THINGS on my mind.

FIRST is my novel JOVIENNE. It's being released in a matter of days. I'm working on plans for the release party, the book trailer, signings, and giveaways. I'm also prepping on-line promotional material not limited to writing blogs. (If you'd like to have me on your blog, hit me up via messenger or send me a message through the contact submission form on my website )

SECOND, is my CD also titled 
JOVIENNE, being released at the same time.  Containing seven songs that I wrote during and after the writing process in order to set a mood in my mind, the CD offers themes for characters like any good movie score. This is basically a concerto, with a few solo instruments while accompanied by an orchesta. That said, my rock-n-roll heart does shine through in spots.

*Yes, the CD uses my married name, Reinhardt. I figure I can keep my two creative pursuits separate that way, as I plan to score more books in the future, as well as have music available that is not tied to a novel.

I'll post the trailer and buy links soon. 

Also, I'll be attending MARCON in Columbus, Ohio May 12-14th. MARCON stands for Multiple Alternate Realities CONvention and is a good-sized genre / fandom / cosplay con in the middle of my lovely and daily multi-seasonal state. Hope to see you there!!!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Do the Arts Have A Responsibility to Be Contrarian?

I'm plotting the third book in my upcoming UF series and--with seven books planned--each book has to deal with a piece of the Save the World series-plot. When I started writing this series, the real-world was in a different place The USA was doing comparatively well domestically. The popular vision was of an equalist society and was encouraging innovations to fling us out of well-entrenched, decaying ruts. Globally, we'd made a few missteps but we still had the respect of other nations caught in the same struggles we were.

I'd started writing these books when the arts had the luxury of being dark.

A bit of an odd statement, I realize, but one that is on my mind. There is no doubt that the current state of affairs is of unrest. Regression, polarization, subjugation, and application of corporate greed superseding the survival of the community. Every day ignorance is touted as might and as right; it is replacing facts and critical thinking. The USA is lead by a man whom most of the world considers a charlatan and a buffoon, a man who goes to no great lengths to prove his callow nescience on a daily basis. Our leading political parties are so entangled in their Faustian deals that national prosperity doesn't enter the discussion. Sweeping powers of governance are being returned to the States and the States are soon to discover that with more independence comes less Federal support--including funding. The Constitution is without teeth and setting dangerous precedents. In short, we are living in a time of burgeoning crisis, a crisis that will far outlast the politicians and media who enabled it.

In my little microcosm, I wonder if--as an author--I have an obligation to be a contrarian to reality. When I consider the plot of the overarching series, I wonder if, perhaps, the struggle should lead to the idealistic payoff. That the good guys should win. All of them. Frankly, a year ago, they weren't going to. I was gleefully conniving to be the Debbie-downer. The almost-made-it crushing disappointment being the big final twist. The Grand Sacrifice breaking hearts as it reflected the ugly truth that sometimes the good guys lose. But now, as I look around, I wonder if now is really the time to add to the disillusionment? What is the point of escapism if you can't fully escape? Don't I want my readers to feel better--if even for a moment--when they finish the series? Do they really need the reminder that life is a bitch, right now? When times are good, it's sometimes necessary to throw the caution flag into the Universe. But when times are shit, shouldn't it be hope that I contribute?

When the real world is a dystopia, do the arts have a responsibility to be uplifting?

That is what is on my mind this week.

Monday, May 1, 2017


No article from me this week, folks. I'm working teh day job, then I'm finishing a move from one place to another.

Have a great week!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Crying Wolf

The bright day after the big snowstorm. The snow is melting fast and I'm betting it will be all gone by midafternoon.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is an open author riff, an invitation to talk about whatever's on our minds.

I kind of want to complain about bad security advice on the Internet, but that's just me being cranky. It doesn't hurt anyone, as it's overprotective. Still, folks, I could advise you to burn sage to purify your laptop of demons and we could argue the same. It doesn't hurt anyone, but let's try to rein back superstition and separate it from computer science.

Oops, I guess I did go there.

Did I mention I'm deep into writing a book riddled with conflicts around magic, science and superstition?

Okay, since I already started down this road, let's look at this Ten Concerts thing. There's a trajectory here I notice a lot with social media.

Last week, people on Facebook started posting lists of ten concerts - nine they'd been to and one a lie. I saw a friend do it, it looked amusing, I did it too. People had fun guessing which was the lie, and we ended up riffing about great concerts we'd been to. Other people did posts of their own. Lots of people doing it, lots of engagement...

Next inevitable step is people bitching about it.

I don't know why, except that any time a bunch of people get excited about something, there have to be some other people shaking their canes at it and yelling at the concert people to get off their Facebook lawn.

Then came the article about it. This one really took the prize for me, because the New York Times did an article about how the Ten Concerts Meme was a cybersecurity risk. The had an quotes from a guy in the business who called it a "moderate security risk" because some websites ask for the first concert you went to as a security question.

Note that the Ten Concerts list wasn't necessarily about a first concert at all, even if, out there somewhere, this happens to be one of yousecurity questions. (They also dragged in that since those sites often ask for your high school or high school mascot, you should either lie on the site - and hope you remember it - or never reveal to anyone that super-sekrit information. Besides, of course the thousands of people who were associated with your high school.) They also concede that since this isn't a shared "quiz," there's no danger of embedded code.

Then the article goes on to add that any information we post can be used to target marketing, as if none of us have seen the shoes we glanced at on a catalog site later popping up in a sidebar ad. And as if the fact that I saw the Go-Go's - YES, YES I DID! - when I was 18 somehow informs my current buying patterns.

Though I have been contemplating buying some thigh-high lace stockings and big bracelets lately... HMMM.

The thing is, folks, this article is about absolutely nothing at all. You know why they wrote and posted it? BECAUSE A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE ENGAGED. Engagement = clicks = advertising dollars. Why *not* write a fluff piece making vague generalizations about moderate security risks when you can be pretty sure that a chunk of all those people who played the game would click on it?

Hurts no one, right?

Except now people are sharing the article with vague warnings of their own, stirring up fear and concern where really nothing exists. Seems to me there's a story about the dangers of calling out dangers that aren't really real.

The thing about sensationalizing news is that it's main purpose is to get people excited, not to transmit useful information.

Might as well go burn some sage over my laptop and change all of my security questions. Just in case.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Energy You Put Into the World

Our assigned topic this week is mentoring. I like this quote:  “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” — John Crosby

In the old day job I definitely had mentors and owe a great deal to all of them. One thing I ran into, however, is expressed well by Steven Spielberg: “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” Because I was a woman in a spot where there had been few if any women at that time, some of my early mentors had definite ideas of who and what I should look like when I ‘made it’…and their vision didn’t always match mine. This led to a few problems down the road but I’m still grateful for the help I received.

I’m a firm believer in the adage of paying it forward and I worked hard to do that in the old day job, and to continue to do it as an author. I know the areas where I’m strongest and I’m happy to mentor on those things. Many topics I know nothing or very little about, or only have opinions, so if someone asks me for my input or advice on those, I make clear what they’re getting. I also try to pay my own debt forward by highlighting others when I can, usually either in a blog post or in social media, rather than mentoring outright.

I had two major mentors in the writing world – our own Jeffe, who I met at the RWA conference in Anaheim in 2012 when I was a brand new, probably very confused, just-published author. She was so generous in advice and moral support!  Still is! The other was my own daughter, who was published years before I was and patiently showed me the ropes on many things too numerous to mention here. Between the two of them and several other very patient, lovely people, I didn’t have to learn everything the hard way but could benefit from their trail blazing. I found other mistakes to make, believe me!

My favorite way to mentor and pay it forward is to take time to judge unpublished author contests in various Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapters. Contests are always in need of experienced first round judges, especially in the fantasy, futuristic and paranormal categories, and authors who enter for the most part genuinely want the feedback. I enjoy reading the first twenty pages of a WIP, or the first 5000 words or whatever the entries may be, and offering constructive criticism and suggestions. I like finding the things that are done well – a unique plot, a cool turn of phrase, a character who really comes alive on the page – and I feel I’ve been helpful if I can also highlight a few things that may be more problematic – too much backstory, an overuse of certain words, etc. -  or downright “don’t do this unless you want one star reviews, shrug, up to you” items.

I may not be able to advise you on how to get an agent or what to say in a pitch session, since I’m independently published and never had those experiences, but I can offer you my insights on the writing, especially in my genres. People may take the advice or not, or they may adapt parts of it, or do the exact opposite, but at least I’ve done what I can to pass along the help and support I received.

“I believe in luck and fate and I believe in karma, that the energy you put out in the world comes back to meet you.” Chris Pine

(All photos purchased from Deposit Photo stock images.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Returning the Favor: Helping Fellow Writers

It's cherry blossom time in Poulsbo, the Little Norway of Washington state. The left hand shot is of the first blossom that's popped on the weeping cherry tree that Hatshepsut is inspecting (right hand photo). When the blooms finally all open, the tree will be a mass of pink. I'll try for another photo at that point. It's pretty spectacular in bloom. May even have to break out a real camera for that.

You'd think that my cherry blossom obsession had nothing to do with the topic of mentoring or giving back to the writerly orgs to which most of us inevitably belong. You'd think incorrectly because I can make anything about anything. It's a gift. Brace yourself for a crappy analogy:

When it comes to mentoring, I feel like I'm bringing a cell phone camera to an opportunity that calls for a massive DSLR

Yeah. That was it. My analogy. Aren't you glad you stuck around for that? What I'm saying is that while I try to do my darnedest to contribute, I want to be ultra careful about holding myself up as any kind of authority on anything writing. My knowledge and skill set are still equal to a middle of the road cell phone camera. There are loads of writers out there in the world with the amassed ability that's equal to a super hi-res Digital SLR camera. Sure, sure. I've held offices for various organizations. I've judged contests and critiqued entries as kindly and as constructively as possible. I will volunteer during conferences for any and all tasks that will help things go more smoothly. Need bags stuffed? Count me in. Files sorted and organized? Sure. Boxes carted? I'm there.

But frankly, at this point, I am more in need of mentoring than I am in need of mentoring others. I still have so much to learn and so many opportunities to breathe some new life into a career that's been in a bit of a holding pattern. Maybe when I manage that, I'll have a great story to tell other writers about how to do it - or at least the story of how it worked for me.

Sure, I've taught workshops. I've taken far more. Mainly, I think, because while I get a lot out of workshops, I find offering workshops to be too impersonal. My great joy is sitting down in a group of writers and listening to everyone's work. This happened recently. A writer with a great manuscript came to critique. We read her opening chapter. Everyone gave feedback, then I said, "You know, based on this chapter we've read, here's the story you're setting up." She stared at me. "That's not the story at all." "Yeah," I said. "I think you started the book in the wrong place. From what you're describing about the plot, your story starts here." I was trembling in my boots, because WHO WANTS TO HEAR THAT???

Her eyes were wide. She sucked in a breath and then shouted, "Oh my GOD! I knew something was wrong and I had no idea what it was! Thank you!" 

So that's my sweet spot. Getting to offer up an opinion about how a story is off track and offering options for putting it back up on rails. It isn't massive value to massive numbers of writers - but if it helps one single writer get her work to market, I'll be happy. Actually. Scratch that. I already am happy. It's alarmingly satisfying to identify story issues (in someone else's work where I'm not blinded by trees and forest) and to come up with potential resolutions. It's giving someone a leg up in their work. It's also excellent practice for me - solving other people's story issues makes it more likely I'll be able to ID my own. Maybe.

What I really want to know is if you could get any workshop from any writer(s) what would it be about?