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