Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Collaboration in the Age of the Internet

I have no idea if any of you follow me on Twitter or not, but if you do you might have seen the hashtag #sprr floating around in my Twitter stream for the past two weeks or so. And of course by now you're probably wondering what the devil the dang thing actually means.

The short version is that, after a discussion early last week, myself, Ren Cummins (@rencummins), Theresa Meyers (@theresa_meyers), Anabel Portilo (@nemone7), and Angyl (@syferlocke) decided to write a round robin story. A Steampunk round robin story, that eventually turned into a Steampunk Romance involving Air Pirates, an evil Empire, and a ridiculously vibrant world of arid landscapes, high mountains, derring-do, floating cities, and super mega powered airships. The "Air Pirate" is a woman, incidentally, with a dashing male Air Fleet captain sent by the Queen-Empress to catch her.

In deciding to write this story, we were presented with a unique problem. Theresa and Ren are located in Washington state, I live in Massachusetts, Angyl calls Kansas his home, and Anabel lives in Ireland. How to conquer this time and distance differential so all five of us can work on the story? We could've spent time emailing a Word doc back and forth, but there's a distinct difficulty with that method. This difficulty being that we'd need to figure out a hard-and-fast order for who writes when and the word count limit that each person would have before passing it along to the next person. An additional problem is that there'd be a certain amount of lag while the next person read what had come before and then figured out what they wanted to write.

However! I'd recently begun a project -- tentatively called "Purity Distilled" -- where I shared the file I was working on with Theresa, Anabel, and Ren via Google's Docs application. If you don't know anything about Google Docs,, it's a fantastic web-based program that mimics Open Office or Microsoft's program suite with a word processor, a presentation program, a spreadsheet program, etc. The Google Docs format allows you to create a document and instantly share it with anyone you select so each person can either Edit or only View the document in question. I'm a HUGE fan of Google Docs, and do a large amount of writing in their service particularly in regards to my freelance articles or anything that I want to access from multiple computers.

The end result of all this is that we're currently writing the round robin story in a Google Docs word processing file, which allows real-time collaboration on the same document across all the time zones we're in. The added benefit is that there's a Chat column active when multiple people are viewing the same document. So Anabel, Angyl, Ren, Theresa, and I can both write and discuss what we're writing all at the same time. The only real challenge now is figuring out a time when we can all sign in to the doc to work on the story. But when that happens, hooboy is the discussion and the writing fast and furious. It feels like we're all sitting around a table chatting while we work on this awesomely vibrant tale that we've all come up with.

Ain't collaboration in the age of the Internet fun?

Monday, March 28, 2011

When do you know to shelve a project?

My brain is friiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiied today, my friends. So I thought we'd do a little discussion instead of me just jabbering at you for a change. (To be fair, all of my posts are supposed to be discussions. I just like talking about myself. You'd think I'd blog more, wouldn't you?)

I'm a wimp. Five months of unemployment and SUDDENLY going to school two days a week and working the other five makes me TIRED! Ha! Like I wasn't:

a.) Working full time
b.) Planning my wedding (and making most of the stuff for it), and
c.) Going to school two nights a week

a mere six months ago. What happened to me?

Oh. I know. The couch, Twitter, and two certain cats happened to me. Ah well.

Anyway. I'm going to be very frank today and talk about something taboo: rejection. There's this project I've been working on. A "novel", some people call it. I've been querying this "novel" thing for-- well, not that long. In fact, I've really not given it a full chance, I know. But I'm tired of querying (frankly), and I've pretty much queried all the agents I would really want to work with. Something just doesn't appeal to me about querying hundreds of agents hoping one of them sticks just for the sake of having an agent when there are certain ones I know I want to work with.

There has been a lot of rejection on this novel. There is still some hope. But the feedback I've gotten so far doesn't give me much hope... for that hope. See, I wrote something that I think is good, but I know there are some aspects of it that don't fit the mold for the genre it's in. And I wrote it that way on purpose.

Usually, I'm all over fixing something I agree is wrong with my manuscript. But it would mean a whole re-working of the story, and I'm honestly not even sure where to go from where I am to fix the problems it has and still keep the story I set out to write.

Now, I'm sure some of you are going: "L.T.! If it's wrong, wipe it and fix it! They know what they're talking about!" And I totally agree. Which is why I'm thinking that if my final hope doesn't pan out, I'm going to shelve this project, even though I love it very much, and just keep moving forward with the other projects I've got in the works. That's actually the other aspect of my decision-- though I won't be able to keep the pace for now, I am a very prolific writer. I'm okay moving on to the next thing because I know there will be one. There always is.

So, after much jabbering after claiming not to jabber, that leads to me to the discussion part of today's post:

When do you decide to give up on a project?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cute kids, failed spy missions and questions for YOU.

Once again, I'm traveling on my posting day. I can't say to where because my destination is a secret to one person only. Although I'm pretty sure that person doesn't read this blog, I best not take any chances. The internet is written in ink! And not the cool disappearing kind! So let's pretend I'm on another secret spy mission and leave it at that.

I often see those "have any questions for me?" posts on other blogs and I've always been afraid to do one of those because 1) what if no one asks questions? That'd be a waste of a post (oh, like the internet's written in EXPENSIVE ink.) And 2) What if someone asks where I'm going on my secret spy mission? My integrity as a open, honest writer and a spy will be compromised. I just can't have that happen, not after my last twitter update fiasco: "Moscow smells funny this time of year...then again, it could just be because I'm hiding in the sewer system below the Kremlin."

Yeah, you just don't bounce back from that sort of security breach.

Anywherewasigoingwiththisways, I'd rather turn the tables on you, awesome reader, and I hope you'll indulge me in some questions of my own. Answer one or all or none...or just link to a really cute picture of a kid. Nathan Bransford got the ball rolling with this, but have you seen Adam Heine's contender? My money's on Adam.

So, without further ado ('cause, really, I could ado all day):

- Where'd you get your idea for your latest WIP?
- Have any FABULOUS books you've read lately?
- If you could have brunch with any living writer, who would it be? Would you be afraid to order onions in your omelet?
- Any particular writing moment as of late that you've been incredibly proud of? (Heightened word count, finished draft, plot breakthrough, etc.) How did you reward yourself?
- How are you handling the approaching beauty of spring and the urge to play outside all day versus sitting inside and writing?
- Once you start playing Angry Birds, how do you stop? No really. HELP ME.

And now, I'll end with a cute kid of my own:

No, baby, NO! We do not EAT the unicorns! We cuddle and love and play with them! Noooooo!!

Om nom nom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Editing Makes You a Better Writer

It's a common axiom that teaching someone a topic helps deepen your own knowledge in said topic. For example, I regularly tutor people in how best to use Microsoft Excel for their jobs. As a result of this, my own mastery of the program has increased tenfold. The reason for that increase in mastery is because I'm forced to explain how to do things to someone else after I've learned how to do it myself. This double-use amplifies the original knowledge simply by virtue of using the topic a whole heck of a lot.

Editing a story that someone else wrote has the same effect. When you take the time to really look at someone's words and read through them for content, coherence of plot and story structure, or even for grammar/stylistic gaffes, you find that you're more aware of those errors in your own writing.

I've been editing full-time for about 5 years now, and for about 5 or 6 years between high school and college as well, and one of the key things that I've realized is that I can write much cleaner copy now than I ever could before. Editing has also allowed me exposure to a wider variety of writing styles, which has thus allowed me to cherry-pick as it were from the way certain people phrase certain things.

I've also become more aware of issues in my own writing since I've become a full-time editor. Specifically as it relates to news articles and press releases, but also with turns of phrase in my fiction as well. I don't edit fiction with the same regularity as I do (or did) news pieces and press releases, but the lessons can be similar. Inconsistency of tone, irregularity of sentence structure, grammar mistakes, and so on -- these can be learned by editing pretty much anything.

One of the most curious things I've noticed is that by becoming an editor, I'm more attentive to the way things are written no matter what I read. In novels, I can notice areas for improvement much more quickly than I ever could before. In news articles, I find myself re-casting sentences with an alacrity I previously never had. In press releases, I've become highly attuned to the stylistic differences between PR firms and can now format and write a press release surprisingly fast.

The end result of all this? Being an editor has made a significantly better writer than I ever could have been without that experience.

How has editing someone else's work improved your own?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Purchasing of Watches, and Other Assorted Bits of Fluff

First of all, thank you so much, everyone, for your kind words on last week's post. This job truly is a dream come true, and I'm so glad my journey resounded with all of you. I still can't believe it's real! I might believe it once I start my training this week, but who knows? The mind is a varied and fickle beast. For all I know, it was just a really awesome dream. One I still haven't woken up from.

At said new job, cell phones in public are strictly forboden (is that really a word? Does anyone know?) That's a little sad because I just got the World's Most Awesome Cell Phone last week (it was a REALLY awesome week for me), but it's a completely understandable (and agreeable) policy. However, even educator/ animal caretakers need to know what time it is, so I have done something I haven't done for a very, very long time: I bought a watch.

Not just any watch, though-- a Timex Expedition. (How bad-ass is that name? Aside from sounding like an SUV, which it kind of looks like, I just like it. Very fitting of the whole zoo-keeper theme). I'd show you a picture, but my patience has run out after ten minutes of google searching. There are apparently about two-hundred-thousand different models of this watch line.

Anyway-- moving on. The watch is pretty, and it took several minutes of careful deliberation for me to select among its varied and numerous brethren. It was down to a choice between two. One had a simple rotating dial alarm, and the other had a much more complicated one. An alarm would come in handy (having a reminder to finish up your work before the gates open is sometimes mandatory), and since cell phones are not allowed, I thought a watch with that feature would be nice. However, not having worn a watch in YEARS, I decided the simpler one would be better and bought it.

After I got it home, I spent another ten minutes rotating the little wand dealy to get it set to the right time, day, and date. Then I tried to use the rotating alarm (okay, okay, "chronograph"), and ... it wouldn't turn. To be fair, I only tested the complicated one in the store. The other one looked like it worked, so why shouldn't it?

The chronograph is a FAKE. Ugh. I feel so cheated. All that deliberation, and now I have to panic about whether or not the other, more complicated watch will still be there by the time I can get over to the store and exchange it.

So that is my overdramatic and tiringly boring watch sage. You're welcome!

Okay, no, but really, I have a point. Ever go into a bookstore and pick up a particular book because it has a kick-ass cover and great blurbs and awesome back copy? Yeah, me too. Ever get that book home and read it and be.... disappointed? Feel cheated?

Yeah. Me too. Recently, there was a book that I was VERY excited about. I asked for, and received it, for Christmas. And I read it right away. It was a long, somewhat slow book. But I held out. Because surely with all the tension building, the ending would be AWESOME, right?

Wrong. I was shattered. Well, as shattered as I'm likely to get over a book. But still. I couldn't go to sleep for hours after that because I was so mad at the author. They went through all this buildup, and then didn't even bother to finish it. The story ended about where it felt like it should have begun, which, if it was the first in a series, I really would have had no problem with. But this was a standalone, and therefore very, very disappointing.

Unlike the watch, I can't take it back for something better. And I don't really have any advice for aspiring writers to avoid this, or pleas for the author in question, because, hey, you have to write the story you're writing, and what's done is done. But when I think about it now, even three months later, it still makes me mad. And chances are that I unfortunately won't be picking up anything else by that author in the future, which makes me sad, but it's not worth my time investment to read their work, you know?

What disappoints you in a book?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Writing! Friday! Don't punch our car!

Hi guys! So I've switched my posting to Friday. I held back my internet OCD for as long as I could, but eventually the need to space out three posts over five days was just too overwhelming. It's Friday, Friday, whoa! (I cannot get this song out of my head. Or this song, for that matter. SHUDDER.)

Ahem. I digress.

At the best of writing times, I feel like I'm furiously transcribing a scene as it plays out in my head word for word. At the worst of writing times, I'm staring back at a cast of recalcitrant characters who are on strike. No joke, I once ended a chapter with, "Then Gray stared at the author and snapped, 'Well now what, genius?'"

Thank goodness for revisions.

A friend shared this video with me a while ago and, while being jaw aching cute, it kinda illustrated my own way of writing: painstakingly prodding the tiniest of details (which may or may not make sense) out of reluctant characters and choruses that may or may not know exactly what's going on (or what you'd LIKE to go on) in a scene. But I suppose that's the job of the film maker...I mean the writer: To make sense of all the jumble of plots, the post it notes on the computer, the scraps of dialogue written on the back of your hand during a soccer game.

Now, it's Friday. Let's go have some fun fun fun. Partying, partying, yeah.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Writing Styles

One of the more entertaining (read: crazy-making) part of my life is that I'm exposed to several different writing styles each and every day. Now, I don't mean the writing of different people in terms of "style" (yes I'm exposed to a variety of those as well) but I'm more interested in the basic stylistic guidelines that exist within a set aspect of the writing world.

Writing Style the First: Press Releases

As some, or maybe all of you know, I work for a press-release distribution company. Without going into too much detail about my job there -- which a) isn't germane to this topic and b) would probably bore you anyway -- my day is generally spent reading through anywhere from 10 to 15 press releases composed by various clients that have contracted with my company to distribute their news.

If you've ever written/read a press release then you know something about how the vast majority are composed. They usually start with a sentence that goes something like this: "ABC Company (NYSE:ABC) announced today that .... (fill in the blank here)." Whether it's a statement of their quarterly earnings, saying they hired a new person, or announcing a new contract, product, service, etc, I can almost guarantee you that every single press release I see starts with some variation on that sentence. Then the rest of it deals with expanding on that first sentence, and the release will then end with a Boiler Plate describing the company and (mostly) a legal statement under one of the Securities acts that says the news in the release is only true as of the date of the release.

The order changes depending on the company, but most releases will have that same organization. Seeing all these has made me very, very familiar with the way to compose and edit a press release for maximum "oomph" if you will.

Writing Style the Second: Blog Posts

The writing style of blog posts is very conversational -- sort of like I'm telling you this over a beer at the local bar or sitting in a very informal class. Personally I like to think I'd be one of those professors who actually takes their students outside on a nice day. Then again, the reality is more along the lines of me being the one that students say "don't take his class, he doesn't give out high grades easily." I always liked the second kind of professor more than the first (what can I say? I likes me a challenge).

The long and short of it is that people who read blog posts almost expect them to be very informal. Because having that conversation, even if one-sided, with the writer is what makes blogs like the Archives awesome.

Writing Style the Third: Feature Articles

My primary part-time job is as a Hyperlocal Reporter for six websites that are owned by Hello Metro. By the way, the phrase "Hyperlocal" means I focus my attention on happenings within and immediately around those cities. I'm not writing stories about Baghdad, or Kabul, or the earthquake in Japan; rather what I am doing is writing travel articles about places like the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut or the Adirondack Museum outside Albany, NY.

This style of writing is looser than a straight news article, and somewhat conversational similar to a blog post. However the difference here is that I divorce myself from the text by not writing in the first person. This isn't the same method with all feature articles, mind you, as some prefer the writer to have a presence inside the text of the piece. But the ones I write for Hello Metro don't read as "experiential" feature pieces -- that's my term for the ones where the writer is experiencing what he or she is writing about. These are informational feature articles that are meant to be used as introductions to the location they're profiling.

Writing Style the Fourth: Fiction

In among all of this other writing I'm exposed to, I also spend time crafting fictional worlds for the reader to enjoy playing around in. Y'all have probably seen my Dark Days in Bright City story posted over at Free the Princess, and I know for a fact that I've thrown excerpts of CALLARION AT NIGHT up at that blog before. My latest piece, by the way, is called PURITY DISTILLED, a Steampunk horror/adventure set around the holidays (Winter Festival in the world of the story). I'm hoping to make it into a novella in time for the open call for holiday- or winter-themed Steampunk pieces from Carina Press by their June 15 deadline.

This style is more conversational than the Feature Articles, less structured than the Press Releases, and also less conversational than the Blog Posts. The reasons are as follows: 1) Novelists write the way people talk, 2) A good story is a good story no matter the organization (except for a few things), and 3) Many novels/short stories are written in 3rd person POV, which would amount to me typing "Matthew thinks this" in a blog post.

Now here comes the interesting part: I'm exposed to each of these writing styles every week. Besides scrambling my brains up like a great big ... thing that scrambles other things ... being exposed to all of these styles helps me become a better writer because it enhances the flexibility of verbiage that I now possess. I can write a press release one minute, compose a blog post the next, bang out a feature piece later in the day, and then also write and/or edit fiction. So it's a net benefit.

... I think.

How many writing styles are you exposed to in your daily life?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Contest Rules

Hey folks! We here at the Archives like having contests. And when we have contests, we REALLY have contests. A few folks have been abusing contest entries in the past, so while we really don't want to, we are going to have to implement some standard contest rules that apply to all contests past and future held here at the Archives, unless otherwise noted. These rules are in addition to any specific rules stated in each contest's individual post.

1.) Our contests are informal, and not legally binding.

2.) One entry per person, unless otherwise stated. The Archives reserves the right to investigate contest entrants' online personalities to determine if they are real humans or shell accounts for the purposes of multiple entries. The standards we use to determine this are on a case-by-case basis and may be arbitrary. In less fancy words, if we think you're a fake, we have the right to discount your entry.

3.) Entrants are responsible for taking the initiative to claim their prizes. Entrants must check back and get in touch with the Archives person hosting their contest if they win; the Archives will NOT pursue contact with the entrants! Be sure to check back! If we do not hear from you in 30 days (standard), we will draw another winner or consider the contest prize forfeit.

4.) We will do our best to ensure contests are right, fair, and awarded promptly. However, sometimes life gets in the way and we ask for your patience if that happens.

5.) We reserve the right to change the rules at any time if someone is being a poopy head. Sorry.

Okay. Ugh. Now that that's over with, happy contesting, everyone!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Non-Writing-Related Achievement Unlocked!

I'd like to share a little story with you today, Alliterati. A strange little story about a girl named-- uh, me. No, not Me, just, you know, me.


8 years ago I was looking for a job. Any job.

8 years ago, I applied for a job, educating people about animals.

8 years ago, I got the job. I loved the job. I did the job well. But I had my eye set higher, wanting to take care of animals, not just talk about them.

7 years ago, I applied for a job taking care of animals. Really cool animals.

7 years ago, I got the job.

7 years ago, I was still pretty immature. Yeah, it was a job I wanted, but I was pretty young, and was having trouble with my serious boyfriend at the time. I didn't take it seriously. I didn't understand what it meant.

6 years ago, I lost the job. Not by choice.

4 years ago, I got fed up with animals and went into real estate instead. Just as the economy tanked.

4 years ago, I found a pretty solid and amazing job at a great company with great co-workers. But slowly, I started to realize that real estate wasn't what I wanted to do forever.

1 year ago, I went to the zoo with my family and then-future-husband and realized just how much I missed being in that environment. Professional. Zoological. Working with animals. Making a difference. Having a cause.

1 year ago, I applied for a job I was perfect for, working with animals and educating people about them.

1 year ago, I got a generic rejection email (oh how familiar those are to writers!) without even being called for an interview.

1 year ago, I rallied around that rejection and maybe even went a little crazy. I applied for three different volunteer positions, two working with animals/ the public and one working with kids.

9 months ago, I started volunteering. A lot. At all three places. In between planning my wedding and still working full-time and taking two college classes. I also applied to every single job that came up that I remotely qualified for at the place that I was dying to work.

1.5 months ago, I got a call back for the first time. An interview. A position that wasn't ideal (no hands-on with animals) but that I could do. A foot-in-the-door position.

38 days ago, I interviewed for that job.

33 days ago, I got a generic rejection email telling me I didn't get it. I already knew. I blew the interview.

2 weeks ago, I applied for yet another position. And another. And four more. One of which was working with animals, and educating, but I wrote it off. Fat chance they'd call someone like me, bearing the red "F" on my employment record, for a hands-on job.

5 days ago they called. For the position that's both educational and working with animals. Can you come in for an interview on Saturday? Sure can. Had to cut a book launch party short, but it was closer to the interview location than I was already, so it worked out.

42 hours ago, I walked into the interview room to see that three of the four interviewers were the same people who had interviewed me the last time. At least they seemed happy to see me.

41 hours ago, I must have done something right. After asking me if I had any questions at the end, and answering the few that I had, the main interviewer turned to me and said, "Well, we're going to go ahead and offer you a position now."

41 hours ago I nearly started crying in front of my new co-workers and supervisors. They walked me out of the interview, pointing me toward HR, where I was to start filling out my new-hire paperwork. The lady who had offered me the job told me, "We didn't mean to surprise you, but we have a code we use when we want to hang on to someone."

26 hours from now, I go back and do some more paperwork.

33 hours after that, I have my orientation. Next week, I'll start my new job. Working with animals. And educating people about them.

I'm shocked. Still. After thinking I messed up beyond all repair so many years ago, I managed to make a pretty big move in the right direction. And I am beyond excited to do this job!

There are some negatives: it's a REALLY long drive. And it's seasonal, and part-time. But all of that is okay with me, because even if I don't get to keep this job, it makes it so much easier for me to get my foot into other doors later.

Something else came up this weekend, too, that would help ease the pain of working part time if it pans out. But I won't discuss that one now, because it's not a sure thing yet. And I'm still pretty focused on the new job thing. I keep thinking they're just messing with me, that they'll call at any moment and say, "Haha! Just kidding!" and I will hang up the phone and know that I knew it all along.

But I have decided that if they think I am worthy, then I must be worthy. I will be worthy. I am worthy.

I am worthy.

I am scared.

I am excited.

I can do this.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sequel, mequel, double-bubble-beequel.

If you're someone who spends a ridiculous amount of time following pop culture (me, oh most embarrassingly me), you'll know that this summer, Hollywood will thrust upon us approximately one billion sequels and prequels. Yessir, we've the distinct pleasure of anticipating masterpieces like "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", "Furious Five" and "Big Momma: Like Father, Like BARF---I'm sorry, I couldn't even finish that one.

Even a lot of the books I'm reading lately have been book one in a trilogy. But if the intention of a sequel is not explicitly stated on the cover, it drives me batty. I have a huge problem with getting to the last page and screaming "AND THEN WHAT????" Especially in libraries. Sorry, patrons.

I'm really not an anti-sequel person, though. For books and movies I truly enjoy, I'll gladly fork over a little extra cash to spend some more time in a great story. Sometimes the story is just "too big" (like, say, the Star Wars trilogy) to fit into one volume. Sometimes the world is so incredibly enticing (say, the Wheel of Time series) that it just begs for another long look.

The general word in the publishing world is that you shouldn't start writing a sequel until the first book has been picked up for publication. However, this seems to be a rule like: "Don't go swimming right after eating." (Om nom nom SPLASH) But what if your story's too big for one volume? Your world too pretty to abandon after 400 pages?

As someone JUST diving into her first ever sequel, I'm lacking on wise words for those wanting to do the same. So, I open it up to the peanut gallery (maybe a cashew gallery...those are better than peanuts.) Have you written a sequel? In the midst of one? Did the idea come after the first volume or was it always planned? Any advice for the sequel-noobs who have no idea what they're doing (me, oh most embarrassingly me)?

You know, I think I might have enjoyed "The Lost World" more if it had hamsters.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Genre Definitions Can Be Limiting

gen·re –noun 1. a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like.

One of the very first things we get asked as writers is "what genre is your story?" And I can probably guarantee that everyone reading this blog has, at least once, stared at the asker like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. In my case it's been a few times, but that's beside the point -- this being that writers are expected to be able to clearly define what genre their story falls under at any given time.Which is all well and good, except genre can more readily be translated to mean "what section of the bookstore will I find your story in?"

I take issue with the genre question in a lot of instances, particularly when there's so many things that can go on in a really well done book. Take the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling as an example. On its surface, the stories appear that they're going to be limited to Young Adult Fantasy due to the age of the character and the specific story elements within the first book. These being that Harry is sent to a school where he learns how to become a Wizard. However, the Harry Potter stories transcended the elements that would have otherwise limited it to that particular subset of the bookstore.

Now, I can imagine what you're going to say -- "But having a clearly defined genre is good for writers and for readers. It means that writers know what to write and readers know what they're going to read."

I'm not so sure that readers know what they're going to read when they pick up their next book. Sure, they might assume they do because they're shopping in the Mystery section or the Fantasy section or the Romance section, but that doesn't mean they're not going to find a story in those areas that doesn't pull them somewhere else.

Let's look at Soulless by Gail Carriger as another example. Within that story, we see strong appeal for the reader of Paranormal Romance right off the bat. However, there's also a strong appeal for the reader of Steampunk because of the way that Carriger created her world. If memory serves, I ended up finding this book not in the Romance section of the bookstore but in the Science Fiction one. And I find myself wondering if two booksellers would shelve Carriger's novel in two different places -- would one put in Romance and another in Science Fiction? What about shelving it in Mystery? It does have some strong mystery elements within the plot. Where would you shelve it?

My (rather rambling) point is that genre definitions can hinder us as writers and us as readers. If we decide we're writing an Epic Fantasy, for example, then we have to follow specific guidelines that people expect from an Epic Fantasy -- wizards, quests, heroes, love interests, etc. If we decide we're writing a Romance, well then there's the requirement that it must end in a Happily Ever After for the primary couple of the story.*

And those are just a few of the limitations I can think of that the concept of genre imposes on us as writers. What other restraints do you see?

*Granted, I don't know a whole heck of a lot about the Romance genre's expectations. That's just the one that popped into my head first.

NOTE: I don't advocate for getting rid of genres. I think they can simplify expectations and the creation of stories by a whole heck of a lot. They're still limiting though.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Top Ten Reasons I Royally Suck At Social Media-- And The Lessons You Should Learn From Me

Okay, so-- to start this post out, I am going to apologize. Herein lie some of my deepest, darkest secrets (at least about social media). So please be gentle! I'm hoping that by sharing some of my biggest (known) foibles, I can enlighten someone else. And not only that, but maybe hold myself accountable for them all.

Here we go!

10.) I have a social phobia. It's minor, and I'm working on it (ALWAYS working on it), but I have a hard time reaching out to people. I tend to wait until they come to me.

Why this sucks: Social media is all about reaching out to other people. I read lots of blog posts, but I rarely comment on them because I can never think of anything clever to say. And when I do comment, I feel like I mostly just have empty things to say.

What you should learn from me: Well, uh, be more clever? Leave insightful, relevant comments when you can. The people who comment the most on my blogs are the ones whose blogs I read religiously-- whether I comment back or not. And by all means, reach out to other people. Leave your comfort zone and talk to new bloggers-- we were all new bloggers once! Let the others you read know that you care about them, too!

9.) I don't embrace all forms of social media. I have a hard time thinking I will EVER be able to Facebook with any degree of seriousness.

Why this sucks: Well, for starters, I had to pick freaking Facebook to hate-- only the largest social network on the planet. But I just don't connect to it on an emotional level. There is nothing there but emptiness for me.

What you should learn from me: Facebook can be a very useful tool, and I do know some people who embrace it wholeheartedly. But to me, it's still sort of difficult to use, and I don't agree with their privacy practices. Still, if you are looking for a guaranteed place to connect with other people, Facebook is probably the best place to start. There is, as of yet, no other place where you will find nearly everyone on the planet. (Though Twitter is coming up fast!) But the overall lesson here is to embrace as much social media as you feel comfortable with. If something doesn't appeal to you, don't do it just because you think you have to. It will show, and you will suffer. A lot.

8.) I am, most of the time, a very awkward person. Rumor has it I can be funny. On occasion, I even make people laugh. But for some reason, either my sense of humor or my in-person confidence do NOT translate electronically. When I try to be funny online, I nearly always end up with things like "Haha! Look at that cat jump, I bet it's full of springs" or some such nonsense. And see there? That last sentence? I was trying to be funny with my unfunny example, and I bet you didn't even laugh! Not even a little inward smile!

Why this sucks: I LOVE BEING FUNNY OMG. I want to BE that person. I want to be clever and witty and have people go, HAHA THIS GIRL IS HILARIOUS LET'S ALL BE HER ARMY AND TAKE OVER THE WORL--- Uh, sorry. Wrong blog post.

What you should learn from me: Dude, you're all safe, don't worry. Everyone else I know on the internet? Yeah. Totally funny. HILARIOUS even. Sigh...

7.) I like my cats too much. There's a saying about too much of a good thing. Well, just about everyone likes cats, right? I ask you internet, is there such a thing as cute cat pictures in moderation?

Why this sucks: Because I really do love my cats and think they are absolutely hilarious and want to share them with everyone. To be fair, this applies to all my animals, but my horse doesn't usually stick her butt in my face when I'm lying down on the couch trying to write blog posts or Twittering. Usually. However, whenever I share something about my cats, I feel like I come across more "HAHA LOOK AT ME I HAVE SIXTY CATS THAT I DRESS UP IN LITTLE OUTFITS AND PLAY TEATIME WITH" than, you know, entertaining. (See Reason #8).

What you should learn from me: Maybe don't talk about your cats all the time. Or do, like, a lot, so I won't look so crazy. Thanks for helping me out here. You understand, don't you?

No-- but really. There are some aspects of your personal life that don't need to monopolize your blog or Twitter or Facebook or whatever. Keep things mixed up and light, and people will keep coming back.

6.) I don't know when to stop. Sometimes on Twitter or in blog comments, I will get into a conversation with someone. Eventually, this conversation needs to come to an end, right? But much like a real-life interaction, I find myself unable to pull away if the other person is still talking to me.

Why this sucks: This can be totally fine if the other person is not afraid to end conversations. But if I find someone else who doesn't like to end them either, we always somehow wind up in a conversation taking place entirely through non-committal noises and emoticons. "Ha! :)" "I know! :)" And so on and so forth.

What you should learn from me: Don't be afraid to end a conversation that's not going anywhere. If you don't respond to my non-committal noises and emoticons, I'm cool with that. It makes me feel less like a weirdo. (See Reason #8).

5.) When I fangirl, I don't go halfway. There are some people I interact with on some social media sites who I am totally cool with and perfectly comfortable talking to. And then there's Nathan Fillion. To be fair, I'm not actually interacting with Nathan Fillion. Interaction implies he would talk back to me. No, aside from my dreams, Nathan remains unattainable. But that doesn't mean I don't try to completely embarrass myself every chance I get.

Why this sucks: If there's someone you really admire from afar, it can be really intimidating to talk to them. Really, really intimidating. And if you eff it up, chances are they will forever see you as "that creepy stalker who totally threatened to come steal my underwear." Ahem.

What you should learn from me: DON'T ASK FOR FAMOUS PEOPLE'S UNDERWEAR. Okay, okay, that never happened. Ahem. No, but seriously-- don't be afraid to talk to people you admire. You admire them for a reason. They might have something to teach you if you just speak up. But if you know you're awkward online, maybe don't try to be funny. Restraining orders really aren't as hilarious as you think. (See Reason #8).

4.) I get busy and social media is always the first to go. This is not an uncommon reason. But it still sucks.

Why this sucks: I love being busy. I thrive when I'm busy. But that usually means that when I'm busy, I'm not blogging, or Twittering, and my readership suffers. At least, I like to think it does. You guys cry when I'm not around, right?

Right?? Guys??!?!?

What you should learn from me: Busy is good and fine and dandy. But if you make a commitment to social media, you should do everything in your power to keep it.

3.) I sometimes feel like I need to wait until I have something to talk about to post online. I always get novel ideas by the dozen, it seems. I have more books to write than I have lifetimes. But blog posts? Yeah. Empty well.

Why this sucks: It makes me feel boring. Like I'm rehashing the same old jazz everyone else blogged about three years ago when it was, you know, interesting. Or I go the other way and blog only about personal stuff because that's all that's going on at the time. I also wind up feeling like I'm waiting around all the time for something interesting enough to blog about to come to me.

What you should learn from me: Give yourself a theme. And here's a life-changing thought: be a writer, but DON'T MAKE YOUR THEME WRITING. I know, right? We're even breaking that rule here at the Archives! The most successful bloggers I know (measured by my own very arbitrary Success-O'-Meter, fueled by admiration and the applause of fairies), don't blog about writing. Sure, they mention their writing. But it's not why people read their blogs. It's a perk. They bring something else to the table entirely.

Bring that something else.

2.) I occasionally come across as a b!$(#. I never, never, EVER intend to hurt anyone's feelings. And I never say mean things to people (unless they cut me off on the freeway. Then you're fair game, (*^&*^* (*&(&((*&^%&^%). But sometimes, something I say comes across as TOTAL SNARK.

Why this sucks: Well, like I said, I'm not a mean person. And I generally like everyone I interact with on a regular basis. Sometimes though, it's like my mouth just WANTS to eat my foot. Like it's just going along, and then suddenly drives by a fast foot place and then all it can think about is having foot for dinner.

What you should learn from me: This is a hard one. It requires a large degree of objectivity and obsessive self-analysis. If you mess up and say something weird or snarky sounding that you don't mean, fess up and apologize. Best case scenario: the other person will say "oh I totally didn't take it that way!" and you'll start to learn when it's something to worry about and when it's not. Worst case scenario: you have already apologized if they do take it the wrong way.

And the biggest reason I royally suck at social media:

1.) I don't post regularly. This actually ties in a lot with Reason #4. Most of the time, I don't post regularly because I don't have something interesting to say. I feel like when I have something interesting to say, I'll blog more often. But if I don't have anything to say now, what makes me think I'll have anything to say-- ever?

Why this sucks: The thing is, I have plenty of interesting things to say. But they all involve a lot of work. Guess what? Work is often required for something to be good.

What you should learn from me: Don't be lazy. Put the effort into social media, and social media will put the . . . um . . . you know, there's not really anything I can say there that won't sound creepy and near-innuendo. But I think you get my point. No free lunch, gotta work before you can retire, etc., etc., and so on. Another helpful tool? Regular features. Give your readers something to expect and come back for-- but make it interesting.

There you have it, folks! The Top Ten Reasons I Royally Suck At Social Media. I hope you learned something. From the looks of my Twitter feed, I sure haven't. Gulp.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Attack of the Shiny New Ideas

Now, I might be in the minority here when I say that I don't really get the "shiny new idea" syndrome. You know, that aching, soul-tearing feeling that THIS (the aforementioned SNI) is what I must spend my entire time on, that this SNI must overtake my entire life, that this SNI overrides any and all desires for every other need to edit, draft, or indulge in otherwise necessary writing.

I'm jealous of those that DO get SNI syndrome, though. You see, for the last two years I've been editing, scrapping, rewriting, hating, sobbing over, ignoring and then editing a total of TWO (no more) manuscripts. I know, right? Sure, I had the offhanded chance to write other things here and there, but nothing I was ragingly excited about.

But, as of last week, those two time sucking manuscripts are either dead or done (for now) and I am freeeeeee to write whatever I want. (For the most part.)

Come heeeere. Shiny New Idea! Come here! ::whistle whistle:: Here boy!

I've certainly got other things to work on, of course. Sequels. Previously started ideas. Heck, I've got two complete drafts I could start revising again. But nothing that screams: WRITE ME! DROP EVERYTHING AND WRITE ME!!! STOP EATING, NO SLEEP, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? JUST WRITE!

Then again, SNIs could be a lot like significant others: the right one doesn't come along just because you whine about not having one. I was single long enough to understand even THAT. (But not much else: what means you this "dressing up for the opposite sex?")

How's your Shiny New Idea treating you lately? How'd it come to you? Is it all encompassing or does it treat you nice by letting you eat and sleep?

Nathan Fillion understands Shiny. Maybe he'll give me an SNI.

Ooh. Dang, NF. You make me aim to misbehave sometimes.

UPDATE! I know it's down in the comments, but you MUST check out Kristan Hoffman's hilarious post on Shiny-New-Idea-itis! Maybe reading about how to deal with the problem will help me GET the problem. Go here: Thanks, Kristan!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why Twitter is Awesome for Writers

This isn't going to be the standard argument for Twitter's usefulness to writers. Seeing as everyone's been told backwards and forwards until their heads spin that Twitter is good for networking and building your brand, that argument is very old hat by now. And in fact, I'm reasonably sure that y'all are sick of hearing about it.

No, there's a different reason that Twitter is amazing for writers, and here's why: at 9:52 am Eastern time on Monday, Februrary 28, Theresa Meyers wondered on Twitter if Steampunk science could develop a machine that detected whether a woman was a virgin or not. This sparked a discussion of how you'd make the machine actually function properly, which involved @nemone7 and @SyferLocke among others.

Aaaand things snowballed from there, until you come to yesterday when I spent a good portion of my workday sketching out a short story called "The Trials of the Virgin." To be fair, Theresa will probably say I was the one who sparked my own idea because I made a comment about virgin sacrifices working to get someone published and she just played off that, but I'm still blaming her for sparking my idea (my blog, my rules).

The idea was sparked in conversation on Monday -- it's now Thursday and I already have a basic outline and plot development document (sort of) put together along with slightly over 1,000 words written on the story itself. Then I found out about Carina Press's call for holiday or winter-themed Steampunk submissions, and now I'm planning to maybe turn this short story into a novella and send it along to them. Or maybe keep it at short story level and send it to David Lee Summer's Tales of the Talisman magazine during the reading period in July. It all depends on where I am when Carina Press's deadline of June 15 rolls around.

What's my point here? Well, Theresa lives in Seattle; Nemone7 lives in Dublin; @SyferLocke lives in Wichita, Kansas; and I myself make my home in Eastern Massachusetts. Because of Twitter, and the connections it engenders among people, the four of us were able to talk back and forth about an idea that one person mentioned. And yesterday, Theresa, Nemone7, and I spent at least an hour collaborating on the Google Documents outline I'd made for "The Trials of the Virgin."

Even ten years ago, this sort of long-distance cross communication wasn't possible outside of knowing each other's email addresses or belonging to an internet chat room. Go back 20 years, or 30 years, and this electronic collaboration does not exist. In the age of Twitter, you can have four creative people separated by time zones and distance collaborating on the same idea.

How is that not awesome?