Sunday, December 27, 2009

One last blog for 2009

The shopping is done, the presents wrapped and unwrapped, the holiday goodies eaten and possibly regretted. Time to turn our thoughts to the new year, to ponder what New Year's Resolutions we will make. Whatever mine turn out to be, some of them will be about writing, of course.

What possible resolutions can one make about writing? You might be surprised. How often do you write? How much time do you spend on it per week or per day? How many times do you plan to rewrite a piece of work? How do you decide where to submit it? How many times do you submit it before you stuff it in the bottom desk drawer and move on with a new story?

And a little less directly connected to writing, but still important – How do you get your name out in front of readers? Do you review other's books, have a website, blog, tweet, give readings, or what?

These past couple days, I heard about a writer who wondered what he was doing wrong in the self-promoting arena. The way I understand it, he blogged a couple hours each day, tweeted about the same, updated his website at the drop of a hat… About this time, I was seriously wondering, When does he write?

In my life, I don't really expect to make a living from writing fiction; very few authors can. That means I have another job to pay the bills. That takes 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus travel time. 6-8 hours per day to sleep, with luck. I also have a house to take care of, personal items to complete (lest I offend my co-workers) and a family who likes to interact with me occasionally. I figure most writers have similar commitments for their time. If I were to spend two hours a day blogging, I'd get a LOT less writing done. I suspect I would get so little writing done, I would have no reason to worry about blogging, tweeting or otherwise promoting myself as a writer.

It's all about priorities. And as a writer, I believe the highest priority has got to be to write. If you don't write, how can you call yourself a writer?

Choose your resolutions carefully. See you next year. Trudy

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Disquieting News This Week

A well-known blogger outed himself as a her. She became a 'him' almost by accident; in the midst of trying to make a living as a writer, she used a male pen name, and acceptance of her/his work (and the pay for such) came much easier. So the pen name continued to be used. She was only acknowledging her gender because another writer (also a woman writing as a man) had blown the bugle, so to speak.

This is SO disquieting, on SO many levels.

First, what makes the second writer so superior that she felt she had to 'cast stones' at someone for doing exactly what she was doing?

Second, this completely blows my fervent hope that humans (or at least, those of us who live in supposedly civilized parts of the world) were moving past those prejudices against people based on gender, race, and so on. Apparently not, if women must use a male nom de plume in order to make a decent living as a writer. Bummer.

As I stewed about this turn of events, I wondered if I needed to take a male pen name. Women have been doing it since … forever, practically. Occasionally, a man will take a female pen name, but usually it's the other way around. Writers take a pen name for any number of reasons. There's even instructions in some of my reference books aimed at the beginning writer on how to correctly identify your work and pen name, without confusing the editors.

This particular instance sounded more serious – why would the acceptance and money be any different if the editors/clients had known they were dealing with a woman and not a man? So apparently, she had some way for them to issue checks to her as a man. Now, how did she do that? I've checked with a banker; I can't set up a bank account in a fictitious name. If I sign a check as "Female Name AKA Pen Name", the clients would soon figure out I'm female. (Or maybe not – these days, most banks do not return checks to the initiator like they did in the old days.) About the only thing we could figure out was that the writer needed to set up a business, have the checks made out to that business, and sign the checks as the owner of that business.

Obviously, hiding your gender as a writer is possible, at least for several years. Then what? Pick a new pen name and start again? I just find it so depressing that in this day and age, any of that is necessary. It's the twenty-first century, for crying out loud! Humans have made some wonderful progress in the last two thousand years, even in the last two hundred years. But I like to think 'progress' is not just technology, that it's also a way of thinking. In that respect, we haven't made nearly as much progress as I'd like.

Color me bummed. Trudy

Sunday, December 13, 2009


As has been happening for so many people in these tough economic times, I sometimes feel my world has been crumbling around me. Will I manage to keep my job, will we be able to pay our bills, will we stop sniping at each other long enough to remember we love each other?

I mention this not because I want to veer into my personal life, but because I find myself wondering how all those other people manage to deal with these pressures, when they don't have imaginary universes to retreat to. I have lots of dreamt-up universes, and I visit them regularly. It's my form of 'escaping'.

If I've had a bad day at work, I spend the evening exploring the universe with Kandi, who spent decades trying to figure out why she didn't fit in anywhere before she discovered she was an alien – by finding her parents' abandoned spaceship. Feeling torn about something? Tay slept through centuries and now has to reconcile what she was taught with the universe as it has become. Had a fight with hubby? Visit with Hank and Bob, two young men I've placed in my imaginary version of Belgrade, Nebraska, as they try to figure out how to win the women they've chosen to love.

At times, my husband has turned to me and asked, "Is your main character angry in the scene you're working on?" Why, yes. Yes, she is. How astute he is. He knows that a little bit of me resides in each and every one of my characters, especially the protagonists. It helps me figure out their motives, their fears, their reactions. In some ways, that bond with my imaginary characters is stronger than the bond with my own family.

So many people say that writing is a lonely pursuit. How can it be lonely when I have so many close friends who can understand everything I go through? Maybe they aren't real, but they're mine. Their worlds are the worlds I've made for them. Why wouldn't I want to visit them frequently and often? They make the real world a little easier to take.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Now What Do I Do?

A couple weeks back, one writer's group had a 'mailing party'. Members were given 2 weeks to send out as many submissions as they could. This was my first time joining the party, and I got 6 items sent out. It seemed like a good start.

Some of the partiers have already announced that some of their submissions have sold. Good for them; I'm happy for them.

My own 'luck' has been somewhat less. One item was politely rejected with a form letter. Oh, well, I just picked another market and sent it out again.

A second item was also rejected, but this one garnered a personal letter, complete with the problems that editor saw in my offering, AND an invitation to submit something else! This was more like it! This gave me something to work on, problems to eradicate in my writing, and at the same time, hope for a future with this market. It was ALMOST as good as selling the story! But not quite.

This also wasn't as clear-cut as simply finding a new market and sending my story off again. No, it left me with two things to do. One, I had to rewrite that story before I found a new market and sent it off again. And two, I had to find a story to send back to this market.

And #2 needed to be done first, because it had a deadline, which isn't far off. It didn't take me long to figure out what story to send off to this editor, but when I opened the most recent file, just to give a quick polish – I found it wasn't quite as 'done' as I'd been thinking it was. As long as I was working on it, I might as well tweak the story line a bit, make it fit this market's desires just a bit more. So, with one eye on a fast-approaching deadline, I am (frantically) rewriting, while occasionally looking for a new market for the original story that started this whole thing. Can't complain I have nothing to do!

On another note, did I tell you I've started writing book reviews for It seemed like a natural progression, although I've quickly learned you read a little differently when you are reading as a reviewer than you do as a normal reader. A few weeks ago, I decided to take a break from reading sf and fantasy and picked up a western from the library. It's been a while since I read a western, but I finished it last night, and I'm about to start my next book for I've just been wondering, today, if there was some place that accepts reviews of westerns? I may have to look into that.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Museo, Museo, Where Art Thou?

Some people have told me they are writers, and in the very next breath, they bemoan that the muse hasn't been with them lately, and they haven't been able to write more than a few words. According to them, words don't flow if the muse isn't present.

Other writers – usually those who actually have deadlines – have told me they write whether or not the muse is present. According to them, if a person really wants to be a writer, they have to rely on their own skills and knowledge of the craft, not the presence of some mythical muse.

As always, I'm somewhere in the middle. I love it when 'the muse' is present and the words flow effortlessly, filling up page after page while I completely ignore the clock. It's wonderful. I've spent entire nights with that muse, been surprised when my husband walked in to go to work the next morning. Doesn't happen often, and I know I can't rely on it being there when I have time to write. So I don't.

Writing without the muse's cooperation can be difficult. I've had days when I couldn't get more than a dozen words written. Long stretches of time when all I could do was ponder what the next scene should be, or the next character's action, or even the next word in the half-written sentence on my screen.

That's one reason why I work on more than one project at a time. If I've reached a difficult point in one project, then I'll take a day or two to mull over my options. I don't just stop writing, though. I move on to the next project, which has been 'simmering' in the back of my mind. Hopefully, things with that project have sorted themselves out into something I can write down.

I also try to set my own deadlines. James Gardner once told me he puts his characters in a pickle, and then he turns up the heat. That's kind of what I'm doing to myself, I guess. If I want a story ready for a contest by the end of next month, I can't spend a lot days looking for a fickle muse.

If you're trying to write, and the muse just isn't sitting at your elbow, guiding the way, try something new; start without him.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

For years, as I worked at learning the craft of writing, I've been told "money should come TO the author, not the other way around". The advice was that authors should beware of agents, editors, and 'publishers' who ask for money from the author in order to do those things (editing, printing, marketing, distributing) that a 'regular' publishing house normally does. I always listened carefully to these warnings.

Recently, various blogs and newsletters have stated that the business of publishing is changing. Ebooks, electronic readers, print on demand abilities have started to warp the traditional methods of the industry. The economy, rising costs and so on have been hard on publishers. Still, I never imagined the next step would be what I've been hearing about this past week.

Word has spread that Harlequin – a well-known Publishing House of romance novels – has introduced a new 'imprint', one that – if I understand correctly – requests payment for such things as editing services, printing costs and so on. Of course, Harlequin declares this is a wonderful opportunity for fledgling authors to learn the business and obtain some exposure of their work. You know, back in the day, purveyors of 'snake oil' medicine claimed it was a wonderful product, too.

Response from the authors' groups has been less than enthusiastic. If I remember correctly, the Romance Writers of America informed Harlequin that continuing with this imprint as it was conceived would seriously jeopardize Harlequin's standing as an approved publisher. The Science Fiction Writers of America voiced a similar warning, and the Mystery Writers of America just simply removed Harlequin from its 'approved' list. (I can't swear those details are correct; I was still in a bit of shock. I suggest you do your own research on the subject.)

Bummer. Two of my first three novels are romances, and removing Harlequin from the list of possible markets leaves a mighty big hole.

See ya next week. Maybe a big turkey dinner will make things look better. Trudy

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Whatcha Doin'?

I've been reading my newsletters again. (If I'm not going to read them, why did I subscribe to them?) There seemed to be a thread going through a couple of them recently. They both described truly busy lives, and the wonderment of others at how the author could do all of that and still find time to write. Me, too, I thought. Sometimes, I have an awful time juggling all the demands on my time, so that I only have a few minutes a day to devote to writing.

These authors claimed that was sufficient. According to their method, even as they did all the various things that are their life, their brain was working on whatever writing project they were trying to complete. That way, when they did get a few minutes to write, actually putting words on paper (or into the computer) was much easier.

Well, I do that, as much as I can. If I can't fall asleep right away, it's probably because I'm trying to figure out the next scene, or a character's motivation. I can't tell you how many times supper has gotten just a little over-done because I was having an internal debate over if some story should go in this direction or that direction. A permanent state of distraction seems to be a normal piece of many an author's life.

But for me, it's not enough. Occasionally, I can get a couple hundred words written in the fifteen minutes I've got that day, but most days, I'm lucky to get a couple lines written, if that's all the time I've got. I think of shedding some of my other commitments, but which ones? I took up every one of them for a reason, and that reason is still there. Do I try to think harder about my stories? Let's face it, driving distracted is not a good idea.

I hate procrastinating my writing. I've taken vacations where all I did – other than a daily dip in the pool and occasionally finding something to eat – was write. It never lasts long enough. Eventually, I have to return to regular life, and trying to squeeze as many words out of me in fifteen or twenty minutes as I can. But at least I can squeeze those few minutes out of each day – most days.

Use your time as wisely as you can. But remember that 'day-dreaming' about your stories is a part of the process. So the next time your day-dreams are interrupted by someone asking, "Whatcha doin'?" or "Penny for your thoughts?", feel free to grin and tell them, "Just working on my best-seller." See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Welcome to One of My Universes

Most every sf/f writer has their own universe, at least one. It might be a fantasy realm they've created, a galactic empire they've imagined or an alternative history line they're following. If they write a lot, they probably have more than one universe. I've been writing since I was a kid, so I've got quite a few. Some I've abandoned or 'outgrown', others keep growing as I write more stories in them, and I always seem to be creating more universes.

Today, I thought I'd give you a peek at one of my universes, the world of the Atlans.

The Atlans are a race of women known as witches. Similar to Anne McCaffrey's DragonRiders of Pern series, there is a scientific explanation; they are descended from aliens (which they remember as 'gods'). Their parentage means they have powers no one else on this planet has, and it only passes on to daughters. Sons are sent to live with their fathers by the time they turn five.

I have plans to explore this universe from the time the first Atlans arrived through all sorts of history. I've even started a novel set in 'modern times' on this planet. But most of my stories are set in a time roughly analogous to Earth's pre-history through the dark ages.

And yes, I couldn't resist. This race originally lived on an island, and thrived, but the island eventually erupted. Most of them were killed in the eruption, and the others were scattered in tiny groups. They had to find new places to live, and for many generations, each little pocket of Atlans didn't know if any other pockets of Atlans existed.

I have finished one novel in this universe, Cali, which I'm looking to place with an agent or publishing house (or both). Cali is unique among the Atlans. She has different coloring from their norm. Not only does she not look like an Atlan, she doesn't feel like an Atlan, and for the first 5 years of her life, they wondered if she should be sent to live with her father. But Cali has ALL the Atlan powers, not just one of them. As a young woman, Cali takes on a journey to track down the men who have killed two Atlan children. Ambushed, her injuries mean a number of her powers can't be used, and she must get imaginative with her remaining powers to complete her journey.

So, that's one story in this universe. And this is just the first trial for Cali, who hasn't even completed her training with any of her powers. Cali will go down in history for what she accomplishes. Eventually. Very little of what happens in this story is even worth a footnote in the history books. Still, legends tend to grow the more distant in time they are, right? What Cali does is only what needs to be done at the time.

This tends to be the universe I spend the most time in, at least for now. There's so much 'history' to be explored, so many wonderful characters to study. An entire encyclopedia of history to be written, as it were.

It's kind of daunting, in those terms. Like I said, I have several universes. Not all of them have that many characters to explore, or that much history to invent, but even so … that's a lot of writing. I'd better get back to it. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Do It Your Way, Part II

Referring to Icon again, there was another panel I went to with Jim C Hines. Actually, there were several panels with Mr Hines that I went to, but this particular panel was about effective marketing of your books. The other panelist was Mickey Zucker Reichert. Their careers as authors have been very different, but they seem to more or less agree on this subject. Basically, they said, when it comes to marketing your books, do it your way.

If you like going to conventions and being on panels, go ahead. If you like doing book signings, do it. If you like blogging, being on social networks or twittering, then enjoy it. But doing these things do take time when you might otherwise be writing the next book, so keep that in mind.

Mr Hines explained that he has kept his eyes on his sales figures, looking for a rise in numbers that he could attribute to some type of marketing. But sales of his books, he said, follow the same pattern; they rise to a peak shortly after the book hits the stands, then trail off to a particular number, where they plateau for a long time. Attending conventions, having book signings, blogging (except for one particular episode of blog that proved extremely popular) – none of these produced any noticable rise in sales. The only thing that did make a difference was to have his next book hit the stands. So, to his thinking, these other forms of marketing were okay, but unnecessary.

It solved one dilemma for me. One newsletter I read has been preaching that you need to market yourself in every way imaginable, and today that means twittering. "Great!" I thought, "One more thing to eat up my time." With a full-time job and housework, and two groups I belong to, I have too little time to write, in my estimation.

Blogging is one thing – I can make it as long or as short as I want. But from what I understand, twittering is 160 characters. Typing used to consider 5 characters to be 1 word, so 160 characters is 32 words. Write something in 32 words? Heck, that's hardly enough to put my mind in gear. I've often said I have a tendency to 'run off at the keyboard', after all.

So, read my blog. Become my friend on MySpace. Look for me at midwest sf conventions. And once I have a book published, then yes, I will do book signings. But don't expect to see me twitter any time soon. 160 characters? It would take me too long to pare anything I wrote down to that size to make it worth my time.

And that's basically what I came away from Icon with. That pearl of wisdom and a small print from the Art Show by Sarah Clemens. A quiet little convention, as far as I was concerned, to help me wind down for the cold winter months.

See you next week. Trudy

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Do It Your Way

Just got back from Icon in Iowa City, Iowa. Actually, this year, it was in Cedar Rapids, half an hour from Iowa City. The Author Guest of Honor was James C Hines, who writes very funny stuff, has just had his fifth book hit the stands, and who was a nice guy. I like comedy. I hoped to learn a lot about writing comedy from him. I didn't get to as many panels as I wanted. I didn't learn how to be a comedic genius. But I did learn a few things.

The first panel I went to was 'what aspiring authors should know'. This small group became a discussion. Some of the other up-and-coming writers started bemoaning that they had to work according to the format demands of the market they are aiming for, and if they send it to another market later, they have to go through and change things, like underlines to italics, or the tab at the beginning of each paragraph to five spaces… Mr Hines asked if they were working with Word, because it is possible to use the Find and Replace function to make those changes. I added my 2 cents to that by saying that I work in MY favorite font, MY favorite font size, My favorite color … until I was ready to submit, then I highlight everything, change the format to whatever the editor wants, even save it as an rtf file, if that's the kind they want. In other words, work the way you want, and learn the easy ways to change the formatting so that submitting isn't onerous.

I'd like to go a little further than that, and explain a bit more of how I work. If I do an outline, it's probably in the form of a table, using black 12-pt Arial letters. Column 1 will have the number of the chapter, column 2 will have what I expect to accomplish in that chapter – discovery, where they learn some important clue about the story plot or the characters; or danger, where they have to face something that could end their story (and these tend to get worse as the story progresses). The third column is a thumbnail of what I expect to happen in that chapter. Of course, once I start writing the rough draft, the outline is merely a guideline. Something I thought would only take one chapter winds up taking 3, so what part of the outline will I ignore?

The rough draft is done in 14-pt, probably Arial, and each day's work is a different color. I really like colors. Plus, if I open it up and find the last color was lime green, and only has 3 lines to it, then I know I need to push to get a larger chunk done this time in sky blue. Second (B) draft is 18-pt, Bookman font, in bright red. This is where I add every adjective in the book, where I explain everything in minute detail, so that everything that might possibly need explaining is explained. Draft C is 16-point, Comic font, in true green. I do a universal Replace to highlight pronouns in yellow, 'to be' verbs in pink, 'ing' verbs in cyan … That acts as a reminder to look hard and make sure this word is used properly, is the best word I could chose, and so on. This is also where I start trimming my word count, removing obvious redundancies and such. Draft D is 14-point, blue, and since my computer doesn't have a font that starts with 'D', I just pick one. This is where I try to tighten my prose as hard as I can.

Draft E is my 'final' polish, and comes out in 12-pt, double-spaced (for the first time), black, and Times New Roman, which is acceptable to most editors. If I get some idea that it still needs work, Draft F goes back to 18-point, a different font, and another color. I really like color.

But that's me. Other people don't bother with an outline, can't stand color, whatever. Whatever works for you is the way you should do it. Be yourself.

Which is basically the same idea that was presented in the other panel I wanted to talk about, but I've run out of time. It's going to have to wait until next week. See ya then. Trudy

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lock, Stock and Story

This week, I was reading some of my newsletters – I hate when those things pile up – and I came across announcements for two contests that looked interesting. The deadlines were kind of short notice – one reason why I hate letting my newsletters pile up – so I would have to send something I had already written.

I went to my list of stories, and found that the one I was thinking of sending to the first contest had already been submitted to that contest last year, and the story I had thought of sending to the second contest had also been sent to that contest last year. I started looking at the rest of the list, to see what I might have that was near the proper word count. I had time for a couple quick re-writes to trim out excess words, if needed, but not enough time to start from scratch.

My list seemed short. A dozen stories, was that all I had? That couldn't be right. So I combed through my files, looking for all the stories I had written or was in the midst of writing that had not yet been added to that list. Yes, this list had started as a list of where my stories had been submitted, but I needed to know what I had available and in the works. By going through my files, I re-discovered stories I hadn't worked on in years!

My list is now 53 stories long, and I can remember at least 2 other stories I've worked on but don't have listed yet, so I must not have been very thorough in combing my files. (I'm suffering from a bad head cold, so the brain isn't functioning well … one reason why I've been doing 'organizational' things rather than creatively writing.)

I think this 'inventory' is a good idea. Some of these stories I added to the list were ready for submission, but had been overlooked for some time. Others were little more than an idea or a half-baked rough draft. I found a way to designate which ones are ready to be submitted, but now that I have this list, I can decide on my next project much more easily.

Writers are told that when you think you are done with a story, you should set it aside for a time and then come back to it with 'fresh eyes' for a final polish. I try to give my stories a rest between each draft, but obviously, I sometimes forget them for longer than I intend. With this list, I can keep the inventory 'rotating', and hopefully work more stories to the 'ready to be submitted' stage.

Do you have a list of your inventory? Or do you have a lot of stories that have been set aside and consequently forgotten? I don't need any more competition out there, but still, figure out what you've got, and where you're at with each one. Maybe there's a contest waiting for one of your stories.

Next week is Icon, in Iowa. We'll get home on Sunday, but I don't know if I'll get a blog written that day. So, see you in a week or two. Trudy

Sunday, October 11, 2009

More on Story Length

Last week, I talked about story length. I've continued thinking about that during the week, especially since I've been kind of 'bom-barded' with new information on the subject of short-shorts.

I regularly receive a couple writing newsletters, but I don't necessarily get to read them as soon as they land in my mailbox. As I was trying to catch up this past week, I found several items that pertained to short short stories. There were two that pertained to something a little different than the normal 'flash'.

One announced a contest where a person was supposed to write an 'opening' sentence that hinted at and told an entire story in and by itself. I struggled with that concept, but the examples the author gave were wonderful, and I finally got the idea. It was an intriguing exercise that I might actually try … someday. As I've said, the shorter the format, the less comfortable I am with it. So the idea of writing only one sentence that hints at an entire story, while opening another story is more than a little daunting to me. I'd have to get used to the idea before I could dare to try it.

The other concerned a single sentence, too, but it was more along the lines of a sentence that stood on its own, telling the reader something unexpected about the writer. A memoir sentence, I guess you could say. The winner was thanking the newsletter for announcing the contest, since without that announcement, she would not have submitted her 1k-sentence.

Now, it's personal preference, of course, but I feel a 1000-word sentence is just too long. I have difficulty finding the nerve to try to write really short stories, but I am appalled by the thought of a sentence that contains 1000 words. In regular manuscript format, that one sentence would be four pages long! Faulkner always did drive me crazy. Halfway (or less) through one of his sentences, I have forgotten what he said at the beginning of the sentence, and therefore I am hopelessly lost. So, when it comes to sentences, I usually feel that brevity is better.

To recap, my comfortable style seems to be long stories with short-to-medium-length sentences. It's always a good thing to know your own style. Even then, sometimes a person can surprise him- or herself. For instance…

A couple months ago, I woke up with a micro-story completely written in my head. This was a surprise, because I had not been trying to write micro, or even flash. I jumped up and got it typed into the computer. It's exactly 100 words. I didn't know I had it in me.

So, on the theory that a person's skill grows when they try things outside their 'comfort zone', I will try to write shorter fiction from time to time. Maybe I'll even share some of it with you. It might be the way to go with this 'death by banana' mystery my son's got me trying to write. (That should teach me to ask a teen for ideas!)

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Long vs Short

I used to know what I wanted to do. I wanted to write books. With a hundred thousand words to play with, I had room to explore characters' personalities, time to develop sub-plots, bumps and twists – all those things I found so fascinating in the books I enjoyed. I would write books.

But a lot of the advice I got from people was that I needed to get some short stories published first, to give me some 'credit' in the industry. That would be a challenge. First of all, how short was short? I found the 'official' short story length was between 2,000 and 10,000 words. Gak. Obviously, there would be no room for sub-plots, and personalities would need to be hinted at, rather than explored. Definitely a challenge, to one who was used to 'running off at the keyboard'.

It took some work to get my mind wrapped around telling a story in less than 10K. Once I started to get the hang of it, I found that mine tended to hover right around 5 to 6K words. I discovered how to choose verbs, adjectives and adverbs to reveal my characters' personalities. This helped me write my novels more tightly, too. The sprawling first novel that had finally ended at 150,000 words had already been trimmed down to 120,000 words, but with my newly-learned habit of frugality, I got it down to 90,000 words. So that was a side benefit noone had told me about.

Then somebody told me about flash fiction, where the entire story is 1000 words or less. That was where things were at, they told me. Was I up for the challenge? The prospect was daunting. There could be no wasted words. In fact, it seemed to me, each word would need to do the work of at least three words. This was completely beyond my ability, I thought. I have tried. I've written two pieces of flash, actually, each 500 words. Whether or not they are any good, I can't tell, because it seems like I'm just getting started reading them, and they end. It's not a size I'm comfortable with. Yet. Maybe I could get used to it.

Like most writers, I have a lot of stories in my head, waiting to get written. How do I know how long to make them? I can't say, this will be a 7,000 word story, or this is an 85,000 word novel. I can only determine that there is enough complexity to the plot and sub-plots to make it a novel. If I don't have that, I'd better make it a short story.

I still enjoy writing novels more than shorts. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What are the options?

Every time I think about submitting a story, no matter what the length, I always go through my options in the back of my mind. No, I'm not talking about what magazine or ezine or publisher to send it to; that's something for the front of my mind to decide. No, the options I consider are even more basic than that.

· The one I seldom give much thought to these days, but which exists none-the-less – is to take pleasure in what I've written, and then file it away, for me to take out and reread from time to time. That's where I started, many years ago, before I had any confidence in my writing.

· Another one I have mostly 'out-grown' is to take pleasure in what I've written, and pass it around among my friends and family so that they might also enjoy it. I don't often consider this one as the conclusion for my efforts. If I have enough confidence to pass it around that far, why not shoot for a larger audience yet?

· Send it to the big boys, one of the publishers with a house-hold 'Brand' name. This one's scary, since I've never been published. But still, they tend to pay the best, and my writing skill is pretty comparable to what they publish, so why not? If it's accepted, this will get my work out for the entire world to see. Of course, it will be up to me to try and get the world to notice it. Even the big boys do little to publicize the work of new authors.

· Send it to a smaller market, a small press publisher or not-so-big magazine. Sounds safer. Probably isn't. How many starting authors decide to start here? On the other hand, my writing skill is better than some of the authors they already publish. And it will still be up to me to try and get the world to notice it. It might be a good place to send my stuff if the big boys turn it down. Because if a not-so-big company finds me acceptable this time, maybe the big boys will look on me more favorably next time.

· Use a vanity press. This one is costly and risky. I have to pay to get the book produced, plus a hefty fee to the company for doing it, and I wind up with a basement full of books to sell. I would have to do all my own editing, because that's not part of the package with a vanity press. All my own publicity, and without the ability to get it into the big chain stores. Plus, when it comes to my next book, having gone vanity will NOT impress the big boys.

· Self publish. Sounds really safe. Isn't. Have to do all my own editing, plus proofing, set up and 'type-set', arrange for the cover design, hire a printer, pay for all those copies that wind up in my basement. Then publicize, fulfill orders, and – again – without the ability to get my book into the big chain stores. Do I have the money? Or the time? Not to mention the ability. This one probably ranks slightly above using a vanity press when it comes impressing big boys into accepting my next book.

Every writer has to make his/her own decisions about these options. And then – probably – second-guess themself every time they have a piece of work to send out. Once you decide you ARE going to send it out, then you have to get all the brain involved and decide where. And that involves another set of worries.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ups and Downs of Writing

When you're an author, there are joys as well as trials to the process of writing. These may all be different depending on the author, but this is the way I see them.

Outline – Mostly I use these for novels, but even short stories get a few cursory thoughts about where the story will start, and how it will progress. I used to think a formal outline was something along the lines of a 'necessary evil', but I realize now that they are a guideline, easily abandoned if something better comes along. Or I could meander away from it for a time and return later. So, it's not my favorite part, but it forces me to think things out. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being great fun, outlining is probably a 3.5.

Rough draft – For me, this is almost total 'creating'. Great fun. Give it a 4.9.

Research – Some do this before anything else, but for me, it tends to get done as needed. So maybe during outlining, probably during rough draft, possibly even during later drafts. And I can't really assign it a 'score', because it depends on the subject matter being researched.

More drafts – For each piece of work, the more of these I do, the less fun they are. Creativity gets bogged down by mechanics and rules.

Market research – Trying to find a home for what I've written is truly a necessary evil. Maybe it will get better as I become known and develop relationships with editors and agents, but right now, this is a real downer. 1.9. Maybe lower.

Waiting – This is the worst chore I've found in this process. After I've taken the leap and sent out a piece, time seems to come to a complete halt as I wait to hear something – ANYthing! – from that market. One a scale of 1 to 5, this has got to be a -25.

Every weekend I pause to wonder what's happening to the stories I've sent out. They haven't come home yet. Does that mean I dare to hope? The not knowing is a killer. I'm pretty sure most writers will agree with me on that.

See ya next weekend. Maybe I'll have news to share. Trudy

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Submission Guesses

I was doing some research yesterday on the internet. Everybody talks about how easy that is, but sometimes it isn't. Either the exact information you're looking for isn't where you think it should be, or you get distracted by other interesting information you weren't actually looking for. Both happened to me yesterday.

It can be a good thing, to get distracted. You learn things you didn't know, have your mind set or imagination challenged. Yesterday, I wound up on the SFWA website, and – unable to find the statistics I wanted – I got distracted by some blogs, including one by Elizabeth Moon.

Moon described a common transition many authors go through, starting with the desire to be an author, moving through the dream of being an author until they actually knuckle down and start doing the work necessary to become a published author. It's a transition I'm familiar with; I'm still going through it myself.

I've made a lot of progress over the years, but there are times when uncertainty gets the better of me. Even at that time, I keep writing, re-writing and polishing, but I get stuck at sending out submissions. I'm not even sure it's fear of rejection; I just figure that story didn't fit their needs at that moment and keep going. It's more an uncertainty that I'm not 'shooting myself in the foot'. Is this story a good fit for that market? If this agent or editor says s/he likes fantasy, does that mean dragons and elves or something more like Conan? Or something else entirely?

Submission guidelines help. At least I don't send my fantasy novel to an agent who has no interest in fantasy. But guidelines have no choice but to be rather open. If an agent doesn't like fantasy, s/he don't want everybody sending stories about elves and dragons. However, dragons in space, or a western where the cattle rustlers turn out to be a dragon just might grab their enthusiasm. So, as an author, I have to balance what they say they want/don't want against what I've got to offer. And there's always the chance I've guessed wrong. Since I don't personally know that editor or agent, there's a really good chance I've guess wrong.

So, every once in a while I start floundering, wondering if all my guesses are wrong. I don't know what I could do differently, and so – for a time – I wind up doing nothing, so far as submissions are concerned. But that doesn't get me anywhere, so eventually, I have to push my uncertainties way down inside and send out submissions again. All I can do is give it my best guess.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Saga of my Confusion

A year or so ago, I took Dr James Gunn’s science fiction writing class on the internet. I went into it nervous, and came out of it hemorrhaging confusion.

I am still confused by his teachings.

The first major point of confusion was brought on by his statement that real science fiction involved the ultimate survival of all mankind. I guess I’ve been reading an awful lot of fake science fiction all my life, or else I’m unable to recognize plots that endanger all of mankind, and not just the shipful or planetful of characters immediately involved in the story.

How many plots would potentially involve all of mankind, and especially the survival of mankind? Well, before men colonize other places, that would involve war, alien invasion (a type of war), plague, famine, living space. Have I forgotten anything? After mankind spreads to other planets, other systems, it becomes even harder to threaten all of it. War and possibly plague, if they don’t get the illness isolated fast enough. To my thinking, that’s an awful lot of possible plots that can’t be explored and still be real science fiction.

For instance, I tend to like stories about people who are starting a new colony. You know, the problems they encounter and how they deal with them. Apparently, these are not real science fiction, because if these colonists don’t make it, there’s a whole planet of people back home who could try again, either at this place or someplace else.

So, if what I’ve been reading all these years isn’t science fiction, what genre is it? Space westerns? Space pioneers? Space operas? I suppose we could split them up into multi-genres like that, but where does it end? If people keep insisting on strict guidelines for any particular genre, then it seems like we would soon be coining a new genre for each book, or at least, each series of books.

One of the students in our class wrote one of those colonization stories. The colony had just experienced its first death, under suspicious circumstances. Eventually, the character charged with solving the death arrived at the conclusion that a series of unfortunate accidents resulted in this man’s death. Underneath, he was thinking that mankind had abused the Earth, and had come here and started abusing this place, all in the name of making it more ‘hospitable’, and in the end, nature had found a way to strike back, just as Earth had started to do. Now, to me, that at least implies a risk to all of mankind. Dr Gunn wasn’t sure he agreed that this story was true science fiction. Hence my confusion.

This was originally written several months ago, and is still true today. See you next week.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Is it Happening Now?

When I am critiquing someone else's writing, I periodically come across a story written in the present tense. This is difficult for me, as I have a bias against present-tense stories. And I always admit, right up front, that I have trouble understanding how I can be reading a story that is in the midst of happening. It's kind of like having the point of view character giving me a blow by blow account by phone as he lives through the situations. If the point of view character changes, the person on the other end of that phone line changes, too, which is more grating in present tense than in past tense. How can the author foreshadow anything that might happen, since it hasn't happened yet? I just don't get it. My mind can wrap itself around a number of complicated ideas, but that isn't one of them.

Consider this: "Joe stubs his toe on his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He wonders if it's broken, realizes it's his little pinkie, not the big lug, and doctors won't do anything for a broken pinkie toe, so what does it matter? Little does he know how inconvenient the pain of that toe will be in the days to come."

Okay, that was present tense, so we, as readers, were actually there when Joe stubbed his toe. Why were we in his home in the middle of the night? Why were we headed to the bathroom at the same time that he was, because if we weren't, how is he telling us about the toe as he stubs it? And the last sentence – which would make sense in past tense, and would do a wonderful job of making us wonder what's coming up – makes absolutely no sense. Of course he doesn't know how inconvenient things will be; he hasn't gone through it yet.

What do you think? Does present tense not bother you? It is frequently – and erroneously – used in common conversation, so you might be used to it. How many times have you heard someone say something like, "…And he says, 'what do you mean by that?', so I say, …" That's present tense verbs, even though the person is obviously talking about a conversation they had in the past. It grates on my nerves, but others find it normal, and if I comment on it, they stare at me in complete non-understanding.

Eventually, present tense may be the accepted norm for writing. But I'm not in any hurry to get there.

See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Everybody has a background

Everybody has a background

When you're reading a story or book, have you ever come across a character who suddenly does something out of character? Perhaps they pick up a gun and shoot the weapon from the bad guy's hand, supposedly while panicked over their partner's death, and after refusing for 100 pages to even look at a gun, branding weapons 'barbaric and scary.' Adrenaline can accomplish a lot, but that behavior just doesn't make sense.

Characters – ones that have been carefully crafted, anyway – have a background. Just like real people, they had a childhood, people they loved and respected, various knocks and bruises that life has dealt them. So, there are two possible situations that could explain gun-shy Jill's sudden ability. The first - and far too often, the most likely – is that the writer did not create a real character. Hair color, eye color and a name do not – by themselves – make a character. So this writer tacked a few simple characteristics onto the name, like scorn for guns, and went on from there. When Jill found herself in this awful circumstance, the writer had her pick up the gun and shoot, and explained it all as 'adreneline'. That's lazy writing.

Or … Jill was taught to hunt and shoot by her beloved dad when she was just a little girl. She was good, a natural marksman, and she basked in her proud papa's approval. Then there was a horrible accident, and she accidentally shot her own father, killing him. She vowed to never hold a gun again. But when her partner – a man she secretely loves – is shot and apparently killed, she can't let that be unavenged, so she picks up his gun and shoots. The bad guy is lucky, because she wanted to kill, but her aim is rusty after all these years.

Yes, that could be the explanation, but a good writer won't spring it on the reader. There would have been some omens, some hints. First, that Jill feels more than friendship for her partner, but also that she knows more about guns than she's letting on. If those hints and omens weren't there, then the background might as well not exist. Adding a visit to Jill's mom after the shooting and having that mom explain it all just seems like the writer realizes he goofed, and so he threw together this explanation. More lazy writing.

Characters can be lazy. Writers can't be, not if they want to be good writers. They need to give their characters a previous life, an outlook on life that isn't quite like anybody else's. This is vital for main characters, becomes less important for co-workers, neighbors and others only marginally involved in the story being told. The need for a backstory pretty much peters out when you get to spear-chuckers.

Don't know what a spear-chucker is? Well, that's something to explore another day. See ya next week. Trudy

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Uncertainty of Submitting

I was going to discuss commas again today, but I sent off two queries last night, and I'm filled with worry. Did I follow the instructions well enough? Hard to tell.

Some markets have definite expectations of your submission, and they spell them out in great detail: double-spaced, 1-inch margins, font should be 12-point Times New Roman, scene divider should be…

And other market guidelines are less clear. Like I said, I submitted to two last night, but the guidelines were not the clearest.

The first was for an anthology I had heard about from one of my newsletters. The description in that newsletter was so 'complete', I started to write the story without checking out the original call for submissions. Silly me. I do find, in my notes, comments from the editors that I added later, so I must have checked out the website, right? Strangely, when I went to submit that story last night, the website I had in my notes took me to a sign-in page for a blog. I had to go to Ralan's List, find the listing for the anthology, get the e-address for the editors, and send my submission that way. So, I'm not filled with confidence that I've fulfilled their expectations for submitting a story.

The second was a novelette I've been looking to place for some time. It had made it to the 'finals' for another anthology, but otherwise, it's difficult to find a home for this length of work. I had begun to look at e-book publishers, since they don't always need as many words as hard-copy publishers. Somehow, I found my way to the website of a small hard-copy publisher, who had several anthologies in the works. That looked promising, so I began to look for submission guidelines. All their guidelines were for books. There were no guidelines for submitting to one of the anthologies. So, once again, I took a wild guess what would do the trick, and I sent it in. Lack of confidence overwhelmed me.

Editors keep telling us writers we should 'follow the guidelines.' I want to. I try to. I want to do whatever will help them find my work worthy of their time. I just wish they'd meet me half way and not leave me guessing what their guidelines are. If they have 3 or 4 screen-lengths of information on how to submit a novel, but they also have anthologies they are trying to fill, couldn't they at least include 2 lines on how to query or submit for those anthologies?

Well, I did what I could. All I can do now – for those 2 pieces – is to sit tight and hope I came close enough to what the editors wanted that they will at least consider my work. Time to move on to a new short. Have to keep busy!

See you next week. Trudy

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Importance of Commas

I've been called a Comma Nazi. Usually by my spouse, who tends to feel commas are completely unnecessary. Critiquing each others' work can drive us both crazy. He tries to cross out 90% of the commas from my work, while I tend to insert that same number into his piece.

I don't claim to know – without any doubts – exactly where commas belong. These days, I review the rules listed in Strunk and White's Elements of Style on a fairly regular basis. However, I can't always quote what rule I'm following when I decide to use a comma.

For those who don't feel commas are all that necessary, I have an example for you. Same three words in the exact same order, with only the presence or absence of a comma to change the meaning:
"Let's eat, Gramma."
"Let's eat Gramma."

Is there a difference? Absolutely. The first one sounds like a small child asking for lunch. The second one sounds like a member of the Donner Party planning their next meal. I would expect the stories surrounding them would be just as vastly different.

Stories comprise of paragraphs, sentences, words, all of which shape the characters, the scenes, the plot. A writer can spend a lot of time choosing the correct words and putting them in the correct sequence. In my opinion, that writer should be just as careful choosing and placing their punctuation. Punctuation like commas can change the flavor just as easily as a different choice of word.

See you next week. Trudy

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Turn Left Here

I started this blog on MySpace as an adjunct to my life as a writer. As I flip through past sessions (on MySpace), however, I find far too many of them have been about my life as a person. Everybody has a life as a person, so what makes that worthy of my time to write about it, or your time to read it? Darn little. Most days, I only pay attention because it is, after all, me.

My life as an aspiring author might be marginally more interesting. I know there are other aspiring authors out there who might find it interesting or motivational to hear how I am faring. Competition in the writing field is rough, but most authors (at least, in my genres) are usually willing to help one another, pass on tips, advice and inspiration. I read newsletters and talk to fellow aspiring writers, new writers and more experienced writers. I don't know it all, but I know some. Maybe I know some vital bit that others don't know yet.

And then there's the flip side. Readers. Without readers who like what they've written, authors wouldn't have an audience. But how do readers know they'll like a new author's style, or story line, or anything? They have to give a new author a chance, actually read a little bit of what that author has written. I think that's why so many new authors have taken to putting some of their writing on the web; to give potential readers a chance to try their style, their universes and characters, in hopes of turning potential readers into fans. Blogs, I'm told, can do the same thing, by exposing something of the author's style, beliefs and thinking processes.

So, those were the vague ideas that led me to start a blog in the first place. As I searched each week for 'something' to write a couple hundred words about, I too frequently opted to whine or complain about Life In General. Should have known better, but the problem with The Easy Way is, it's – well – easy.

So, I'm going to take an abrupt left turn here and try to find my way back to the path of Aspiring Author. Don't know what I'm going to write about next week; maybe how to 'show' instead of 'tell', or where to place commas, or some information about one of my characters. It WON'T be the continuing saga of the stress in my life. It exists, just as it does in so many people's lives, and it no doubt influences my writing. But it isn't WHY I write, and I don't want to focus on it anymore.

Come back next week. See where I'm headed. Trudy