Thursday, December 30, 2010

Keep Calm and (awkward pause)...okay, just Keep Calm.

Happy Thursday, all! The new year is looming which could mean a whole bucketload of things for me, you and yours. End of year goal reckoning? Naturally. New goals? Probably. Quickly eating the rest of the holiday goodies before the new year's diet starts? Oh, most definitely. 2011 is our year, people! Thinking about starting a draft/finishing a draft/submitting a manuscript/finding an agent/self publishing/spending your hard earned millions from your book deal?

You can DO it! I have complete and utter confidence in you. And we here at the Archives are right alongside you. Let's cheer everyone on and kick the crap out of this year!!

But first things first. CONTEST results!

Thank you all for means so much that you people are stopping by! I wish I had a million books to give away but alas, I'm still waiting for my own bajillion dollar book deal. so! Without further ado, congratulations to:

1. aravenswritingdesk
2. Erin
3. Lisa_Gibson
4. Susan Kaye Quinn

Hooray! Please email me your top three choices of prizes (kmcriddle (at) gmail (dot) com) and I will try to accommodate in the order the RNG picked you! You can review the list and post here: Yay books and whatnot!

Happy New Year to all! What are your writing goals for this year? I hope to get some good feedback from some houses about my manuscript out on submission and, inshallah, get some REALLY good news from one of them. If not, I've got sequels to draft, drafts to revise and shiny new ideas to indulge. What about you?

Good luck, keep calm and here's to another fabulous 365 days of this roller coaster we endearingly call life...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Deciding What and When to Research

You may remember a post I did awhile back on the importance of research (or not, in which case click the link to read it). To sum up, I said the main reason research was important for a novelist is because it helps fill in the gaps in your personal knowledge when you're writing your story. And believe me, there will be gaps. I'm not saying authors aren't brilliantly smart people, but no one knows everything about everything.

How though do you decide what you need to research? And when do you take care of this?

The second question is actually the easiest one to answer. When you research depends on the type of novelist you are: a panster or a plotter. Many plotters I know do all their research before they write a single word. Harry Harrison, author of Tunnel Through the Deeps, once said he spent 5 years doing part-time research before he wrote a single word of that story. Now, that might seem extreme to you but Harrison crafted a vibrant alternate universe extrapolating out all sorts of different aspects of the world of his story. By contrast, many pantsers will either make something up to fill the void until they research it, or type notes to themselves in the text that amount to ((Research 17th C. women's clothing)) or something similar.

What you research is a bit more detailed of an answer. Only a bit more though, because I can similarly sum up my point in one sentence -- research only those items necessary to your story. If your tale is set in France during the 1600s, then you might need to research the clothing, the language, and some of the society (in among a bunch of other things as well). This is also assuming you're not a PhD who's spent 20 years teaching the history of 17th Century France. If you do happen to be a PhD who's spent 20 years studying the topic that will make up the lion's share of background research on your novel, then congratulations! I can't help you.

If, however, you're like me and don't have a degree in Mechanical Engineering when you're writing a character who happens to have detailed knowledge of steam engines and the inner workings of mechanical apparatuses, well then you've put yourself in a bit of a pickle. But only a little bit, because I can almost guarantee your reader isn't going to want a detailed treatise on the inner workings of every mechanical marvel that exists in your novel. So while your character might know a 3/4-inch pickney flange from a 35mm socket head screwdriver, you don't need to write that little piece of information into your story unless it's integral to the plot.

That little emphasized phrase right there is what's important. If the piece of information is integral to the plot, then research the heck out of it. If, however, is a detail that you can cut and no one notices? Well then don't bother. Assume your story is set in the American Southwest during the latter decades of the 1800s. Now, you've gone into detail about setting, clothing, style of weapon being worn, etc ... all details that you need.

However, you happen to neglect mentioning any of the music that the people of your fictional world played in taverns, at parties, and so on -- and the reason you neglect this is because it's not germane to your story. This means that there's no reason for you to research an entire aspect of society in the American Southwest because it's not something you're going to need to know for your story.

That's my main point with your decision about what to research. If you knowing it gives your story a deeper subtext, or it's integral to the motion of your plot, or including the detail deepens some aspect of your story then by all means research to your heart's content. If, however, it's something that doesn't really do anything for your story then feel free to ignore it.

That's just my opinion though. What do you think?

NOTE: My Ten-Word Novel Contest ends tonight at midnight U.S. Eastern Time. Get those entries in, folks!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hope you are all well, and a light post today since I know a lot of you are still gone

Thanks again to everyone for entering my giveaway during the Week of Awesomeness! Don't forget that Matt and Marie still have contests closing this week, on the 29th, too!

Happy-middle-of-the-Holidays, everyone! One down, one to go. I hope you are all well and safe and warm and cozy.

I've discovered that I seem to have an opposite problem from most writers. I hear a lot-- A LOT-- of writers lament about writing first drafts that are too long, and having to cut scenes and chapters that they love in order to squeeze into word count guidelines for their genre. Whereas I, alas, I, can't ever seem to write enough. My first drafts are short, yo. I usually allow for adding 10-20K in re-writes/ editing, but most of my drafts fall way under fiction guidelines at about 60K when I'm done.

Except for the last manuscript I completed, which clocked in at a resounding 43K, which was so depressing I decided instead of editing it and adding 30K words, I would just write a whole other book instead.

That MS is looking up, and appears to be right on track for around 70K to finish the first draft, plus another 10 or so with edits, so maybe I'm making up for the 43K one?

This has been puzzling me for a while. I feel like I'm a relatively thorough writer, but I just don't need that much space to tell my stories, I guess? Or maybe there are just avenues of the story I haven't explored? I'm not sure what the cause is, but I will say that while most of you are struggling to cut things, I'm often struggling to add them. I envy the writer that can draft their genre's average the first time and neither need to add nor cut several thousand words in edits.

Which "problem" do you have? Or are you that perfect word count achiever? Don't be afraid to speak up if you are, I will only envy you. :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ow, my aching, plot-twisting back!

My apologies for not getting this post out earlier! Life took an unexpected twist this morning when, on the way to a fun-filled day of sledding with in-laws and friends, my back decided it was prime time to throw itself out again.

Sigh. Happy freegin' holidays. Ah well.

Nevertheless, spending the day flat in bed is somewhat of a vacation, too! While Grandma and Grandpa chased my kid around, I got to catch up on a bit of reading (finally some LEVIATHAN and BLUE BOY; both amazing so far!) and beat the stars out of a few Angry Birds, too. If not sledding, then perhaps this is the next best thing. Suck it, unexpected twist!!

Speaking of twists (I OWN YOU, SEGUE), in a read-through of one of my recent manuscripts, a sharp eyed crit partner noted that while the story moved along, it was slightly...well...BASIC. Storyline A wrapped up exactly where Storyline B began. Things were written well, but nothing really twisted. The plot was cause and effected to an almost frustrating degree, said he.

So revisions were made in earnest to "layer" the plot. And how does one go about doing that, besides writing the existing plot on ten thousand sticky notes and pasting them around the room a la crazy person? Darcy Pattison has an AMAZING eight part series on plotting, all found HERE. Part five specifically talks about sub-plots and plot layers with transition tips. Click it! Read it! Do it! I can't take your hand and drag you over there myself. Did I not mention my back??

In truth, the revision process on this layering is still going strong, so I don't have much to report on the success of my labors...yet. But rest assured, this back won't heal itself until something else is adequately twisted. Let's hope it's my plot. Not my ankles.

Merry impending Christmas, blessed Yule, Happy Holidays, Peace and Love and Cheer to all!

Side note: Were Calvin real, I have no doubt he'd grow up to be some sort of writer. I think this is just the type of crazy that hangs around in all of our heads.

P.S. Don't forget! There's still a few days left to enter both Matt Delman's awesome contest HERE or my grand book giveaway HERE! Doooo it. You know you want to.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On Platform and Why It's Important

If y'all have been kicking around my corner of the Internet for awhile, you might've heard me waxing lyrical about platform building before. Or maybe not, as in skimming through my back catalog here I'm not finding something about platform specifically.

Anyway, that wondrous thing known as platform is the real topic of this here set of ramblings. Platform, as defined in this case is not the flat area you stand on while waiting for a train, but rather the position from which you market yourself. Ah yes, our old friend marketing -- now I know I've written about that before. And I also know that authors, almost as a rule, tend to dislike marketing. (Well, at least people who write novels do. Nonfiction writers tend to take marketing as a matter of course.)

However! A good platform can be an integral part of any writer's success story, even for those writing fiction. I can hear the question now -- "But I write novels, how does a marketing platform help me if I'm creating a made-up world? Shouldn't the book be able to sell itself?"

Au contraire, mes auteurs. A book cannot sell itself, no matter how brilliant it is, if no one knows that it exists. To drive the point home a little bit stronger, conventional wisdom states that very few people are willing to purchase a book by an author they don't know. Looking back, I think that saying "very few" is probably an overstatement -- try instead that it's much harder to convince a stranger to purchase your book than it is to convince someone who knows you to do so.

That comes back to a combination of things really: word of mouth and platform. We're talking about platform today though, so that's where I'm going with this.

Now, a common misconception is that your "platform" is that you're a writer. WRONG! Your platform is that you're a writer of mysteries, of Steampunk, of historical romances set in the Elizabethan Age, etc. Extrapolate this out and you realize that the topic you're knowledgeable about is not really writing. This is mostly becauss every writer writes about writing (sort of like how most filmmakers will inevitably make a film about making a film).

Am I saying you shouldn't write about your struggles with your latest chapter? Or about plotting and characterization and the like? No, of course not. Everyone has their own style and everyone has something to offer to everyone else. But what I am saying is that the real thing you have to offer is your skill in the research you've done to write your book.

Take Gary Corby for an example (I know I use him a lot for my examples, but there's a reason for that). His platform is that he's a writer of mysteries set in Classical Athens. Well wouldn't you know it, but Gary build his blog "A dead man fell from the sky ..." around that very topic area -- Classical Greece. So we then say that Gary's platform is that knowledge of Classical Greece, and Athens in particular. One would find his material online, realize they like his voice, and say "Oh look his debut novel came out. I like Gary's style, so I'll go purchase The Pericles Commission."

Granted, this is a much truncated example, but you get my point. If Gary hadn't built his platform at his blog, he still might have gotten represented by Janet Reid and then sold his novel to Minotaur, but a lot fewer people would've known about it. And there are a few people (myself included) who might not have bought Gary's book if they didn't know him prior to it being released. Full disclosure: I'm not that big a fan of mysteries, but since I know Gary I know I want to buy his book.

Dear lord that was a rambling bit of randomness, wasn't it? Anyway, final point: Building a platform can establish you as a writer that someone wants to read. Since I started Free the Princess back in July 2009, I've built my platform to the point where I have a network of contacts that spans 4 continents. I might not be able to count on every one of those contacts as a sale for if and when I have a novel coming out, but my chances are significantly increased because of that platform. This also means that there's a network of hundreds of people who know my name and know my work, and may even pass that word along.

Now do you see the benefit of building a platform?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Monday everyone! Oh, and, some contest results or something?

Ah, weather in Southern California... how I love thee. Listening to the rain strum on the roof top, putting buckets in the garage to catch the leak from the hole in the roof we've been trying to find for a year, watching the cats watch the rain fall. The siren song of... sirens from the freeway. It all adds up to be-- well, my morning so far.

So it's Monday, which means I'm usually supposed to write something here at the Archives. Except I can't remember what I was supposed to write today. There was something important, something that a lot of people were waiting for...

*Goes and checks last week's post*

Oh, right, the contest! I bet you all want to know who won, don't you? I know I would, had I been able to enter. Which would have been cheating, you know, it's not fair for the person running the contest to enter, and I wouldn't have wanted to anyway, seeing how I already own copies of all of the awesome books I'm giving--

Get on with it!

Okay, okay. Well, without further ado, I present to you, the winner of my Week of Awesomeness Awesome Giveaway prize pack:

That's right, lucky number 16!!

Oh, wait, you guys probably need a name. Well, after adding in all the extra blogs/ tweets, that's--


Congratulations Autum! E-mail me your address to wickedmoon921 at gmail and I will get your prizes mailed (although probably not until after Christmas as I rather like not losing my temper in post office lines).

Thanks to everyone else who entered, and don't forget to click on the bar up top to see the other two contests still going on here at the Archives!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Week of Awesome Continues...Giveaway Extravaganza!

Happy Holidays, all! The giveaway continues here at the archives with your! In a few weeks, I've got a great interview and giveaway lined up with the amazing Pam Bachorz (CANDOR, DROUGHT) but in the meeeeeeeantime...

2010 was a GREAT year for books! I've got a total of EIGHT ARCs of books that came out this year, some that you may have heard of, some that may be new and wonderful to you. I'm giving away TWO sets of four ARCs each:

First Pack:
TO COME AND GO LIKE MAGIC by Katie Pickard Fawcett

Second Pack:
RUSH by Jonathan Friesen

In addition, I'm throwing in one of favorite books this year (even though it didn't come out this year...although I've read some John Green before, I'm late to the Nerdfighter's party. DFTBA, guys!): PAPER TOWNS by John Green!

And if that's not enough, I'm offering up a personalized drawing, subject of your choice! Could be someone from your manuscript or someone else's. Examples of my work are here: give you an idea of what might possibly suit your fancy.

SO! Four prizes! The first winner I pick gets first choice, second second and so on as you might imagine things like this would go.

How to win? Easy Peasy Mac & Cheesey.

1. Leave a comment on this here post! That's it!
2. If you'd like to tweet or blog about the contest, send me a link (or post in the comments) and I'll add you in the pool again.
3. Do my Christmas shopping for me. It's easy, really.

You have until WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 29th to get your name in! The prizes won't come in time for Christmas, but who doesn't love to start the New Year off with some free books?

Good luck! We always appreciate you coming over to the Archives, we really do. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Ten-Word Novel Contest

Yes, ladies and gents, the Ten-Word Novel Contest has made its appearance again! For those of you who follow me at Free the Princess, y'all have seen this contest before.

So here's the contest description once again:

Many years ago, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a novel in six words. The famous line? "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Since six words seems kind of short to me, I figured I'd add a few on gratis. The challenge to you then, dear readers, is to compose a novel that consists of ten words. It can be quirky, dramatic, funny, introspective, or any other adjective that I can't think of right now.

And the rules:
  • Multiple entries are allowed.
  • All entries must be received by midnight U.S. Eastern Time on Wednesday, December 29, 2010.
  • It must be ten words or less. 
  • Put your entry in the comments section of this post.
As to the prize, well you have some options.

Option #1: A review of the effectiveness of your Internet and Social Media presence by yours truly. I run a whole mess of websites, and am very good at building a recognizable brand. I'll leverage those skills for the winner who chooses this prize pack.

Option #2: Rewriting a short story of yours to include Steampunk elements; sort of an alternate history of your fiction.

Option #3: A detailed developmental edit of the first 100 pages of your manuscript. Among my various jobs is a freelance editing business, where I charge $0.02 a word for developmental edits (line-by-line grammar, characterization, plot comments, setting comments, etc included). This third option is that entire package (which can easily be nearly $1,000 for a full-on developmental edit) for absolutely zero cost.

So them's your prize options. I know option 3 sounds a bit like a sales letter, but there really wasn't any other way I could phrase it. The winner of the contest will get their pick from the three options.

Happy writing!

Monday, December 13, 2010

WOO HOO! The Week of Awesomeness is here!

You guys! I'm so excited!

This week is the Week of Awesomeness here at the Archives, and I'm kicking it off today with a giveaway.

Here's the deal:

Today, Wednesday, and Thursday, each of us here at the Archives are taking turns hosting a contest. Each contest may be different and have different prizes-- so check back for each day's specifics!

For my giveaway today, I have some of my favorite reads of 2010:

Well, okay, so some of them didn't come out in 2010. But I read them this year, so that's what counts!

Just in case you can't see the picture clearly enough, they include:

-SOULLESS by Gail Carriger
-HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick
-THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger

I am also giving away a PERICLES COMMISSION bookmark and this adorable set of magnetic kitten book page clips:

So here's how this works: to enter to win the prize pack, please leave a comment here on this post. It's that simple!

However, since this is a contest to celebrate getting 100 followers and we are currently at 99, you can also earn extra points by doing the following:

-Tweet the contest on Twitter and include me (@LTHost).
-Blog about the contest and leave a link in your comment.

Each of these things will earn you another entry when I use a random number generator to pick the winner!

So how long do you have to do this? That's a great question, thank you for asking it as you read along!

Contest will close on Sunday, December 19, 2010, at midnight Pacific Time (3 A.M. Eastern).

And next Monday, I'll have an interview with Gary Corby, the author of the Pericles Commission, along with the results of the contest!

Note: While it breaks my heart because I know we have some very good friends overseas, due to the shipping weight of this prize pack and my current state of unemployment, I cannot accept international entries on this one. Sorry guys!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finding Your (Time Traveling Hot Angelic) Peeps

Stopping by a tiny used bookstore the other day, I wandered into the romance section, wherein this handy-dandy key was posted:

Personally, I hadn't read enough romance to know that there was a demand for romance that featured time travel, much less Time Travel with Angels (gold circle with a STAR!)...moreover, a demand large enough to warrant its own place on a homemade Dewey Decimal system! So awesome.

So naturally, this made me start thinking about my own writing: sure, I can maybe say a certain manuscript is YA fantasy, but it has some steampunk elements to it (cogs, cogs, cogs!) as well as a bit of historical romanticalness (it is steamy, just not THAT type of steamy). What do I get with that? A blue dot with a green square with a star? A brass colored lipstick imprint on the spine?

How important is it to find your particular "sticker-on-the-spine" niche when writing? Do you read extensively in the genre you write? It's important to know what's been done before, but do you ever fear getting too inundated with the tropes and subconsciously copying entire books? Urp. Maybe that's just me.

NEXT UP: Once your book is on the correct genre's it hurting other people's feelings?

Play nice with the other books, No Country For Old Men.

(Remember to stay tuned next week for the WEEK OF AWESOME GIVEAWAYS! Your mind will asplode.)

Special Contest Stuff

My esteemed colleague Ms. Host already announced our week of contests starting December 13, 2010 on Monday, which you probably already saw anyway but I felt like repeating here.

With that out of the way, I have a bit of a conundrum on my hands. I know the contest I'm going to run -- the Ten Word Novel Contest that I did last year -- but I wonder what I should offer as a prize. You'll recall that this is exactly the same dilemma I had the last time I ran this contest. This appears to be something of a theme with this particular contest.

Anywho, what do you want as a prize for this shindig? Anything fancy?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

ANNOUNCING: The Week of Awesomeness!

Hello Alliterati readers! We here at the Archives are getting all super-excited and bubbly because we noticed that we're up to-- wait for it--


I know, right??!?! We're so excited we can hardly contain ourselves!

Okay, okay. You are probably wondering why 95 is so exciting. The answer is that, well, we love each and every one of you, and we couldn't help but notice that 95 is awful close to 100. So, we're doing what any self-respecting, slightly-round-numbers-obsessed bloggers would do and having a contest to push this blog over 100 followers. Firmly.

So here's the deal:

Next week, that is, the week starting December 13th, 2010, has been declared THE WEEK OF AWESOMENESS. Each Alliteratus (Myself, Matt, and Marie), will give away an awesome! amazing! a-surprising! prize pack on our respective posting days (Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday).

Each contest will have different rules and different prizes, and you can enter one or two or all three or none, though we sincerely hope you WILL enter, because we really, really want people to give free stuff to. Really, really, really. Really, really. Really.

So stay tuned for Monday morning when I kick this thing off with a shebang and prepare for THE AWESOMEST WEEK EVER.

Well, okay, the AWESOMEST WEEK EVER round these parts, at least.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I don't know what I don't know

I came across a "new" writer online recently. By "new" I mean that this person could feasibly have been writing for years, but they didn't know the rules very well.

By rules, I mean: proofread before you put your work out. Don't put material online that you eventually hope to publish through a traditional house. Punctuation makes a story easier to read. Things like that.

I think the internet has turned out a generation of very well-prepared authors who have all done their research and know how to put a sentence together, along with the ins and outs of querying agents, etc., but this particular run-in got me thinking about when I was new and fresh to writing. Sort of.

In December of 2008, I was lamenting to my now-husband (then-boyfriend) about a book that I'd started writing about six years prior on my waaaaaay old dinosaur of a computer. The thing had Windows 98 and I lacked the experience to get it running and get the files off the computer, but I really, really wanted that information. It had been a long time since I'd written anything, but I tried to write my first novel when I was nine. I'd been reading since I can remember. Writing was in my blood.

Anyway, he kindly and patiently took my old hard drive out and extracted the files and there it was-- the first fifty pages of WIND FURY, the first novel I would complete. When I re-read those pages for the first time in six years, I got really excited. This isn't bad, I told myself. In fact I think it's pretty good. (Of course I did).

Then I was trying to pick a class to take for the spring semester at my college and discovered that Novel Writing was a course they offered. Hey, why not take that so I would have motivation to keep going?

So I did. Most of the class was share-and-critique, and the first few people to read their work were the people who had been taking the class for a while already, some of them for years. And I cringed. They critiqued a guy a couple weeks before it was my turn, and I saw a lot of the things they nailed him for in my own work.

I went home and re-wrote the first fifty pages and had them in to the teacher to distribute before my class-wide critique.

Embarrassing? Sure. A little. Important? Absolutely. This was probably the biggest learning curve for me in writing, though I would say my level of learning has stayed roughly the same since then. I did my research, and I started following agents online, and eventually I arrived where I am today: still learning, still finding things to teach myself.

My little run-in with the "new" writer this weekend got me thinking, though, about all the things I used to not know about writing. All the things I still don't know, which scare me more, because as the title says, I don't know what I don't know. But I look at those early mistakes with fondness, and resolve to keep moving forward as a writer. Keep working on what I don't know and learning wherever I can.

Do you have any stories to share about things you used to not know?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Loss, Rejection and Keeping your Head Up, Dangit.

So, the great and thoughtful Natalie Whipple has a two part post on rejection, loss, waiting, "The Year of Suck" and all the other heart draining things that come with this fickle writing business. If you have not read it yet, drop everything and head over HERE and HERE. She is eloquent and lovely in word and deed and her thoughts (and the succeeding outpour of "we feel it too!" in the comments) are worth the time. Go read it.

I'll wait.


As writers, we wait. We wait for inspiration to strike us right, we wait for the baby to go down so we can write, we wait for feedback from friends and crit partners, we wait for agents to give us the Roman emporic thumbs up or thumbs down, we wait on submission with baited breath, we wait, we wait, we wait.

If we don't have the patience to do so, we will learn it quickly or we will perish.

When I first called my mom to tell her the news that an amazing agent had called me just to TALK about my work (two and a half years ago), the message got tangled up by my scatterbrained intercepting aunt. When Mom called back to congratulate me, she said, "Jean tells me that your book got published! Is it at Target yet?"


We wait patiently for the market to turn in our direction, to nod to our clever/romantic/boy-friendly/girl-friendly/action-packed/fairy-tale-retelling/steam-cyber-gas-wood-native-faery-punked manuscript. We wait patiently. We sob quietly into our pillows and not so quietly into our blogs; but it doesn't erase the fact that we still must wait.

In the meantime, we continue to write and hone our craft, read those who do it so much better and those who are still learning like us. What else? What else to do to prepare us for the windfall and blessed call that must come/will come/has surely got to come soon?

No really, I'm asking you. The waiting is getting to me. Like I said, patience of a flea and all that.

What do you do to calm the wandering brain and brave the pain of patience? Read, write, garden, punch things, patch things? As a new/seasoned/repped/published/dabbling/obsessive author, how do you keep going in the downtimes?

Me? I like to use up all the ////s in my post so there aren't any left over for the rest of the blogs that day. Other than that, I'm totally open to suggestions.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Kind of Fiction Do You Like?

I was skimming a blog post this morning about Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, when I was surprised to find it bringing up recent criticisms of Steampunk from Michael Moorcock and Charlie Stross. I've already commented on Stross's concerns, so I won't belabor that point here, but Moorcock's points gave me some pause.

Moorcock wrote an essay in the Steampunk-focused issue of Locus Magazine where he said the following (quoted text via
I said recently, in a review, that steampunk seemed so full of lords and ladies these days that it ought fairly to be called Steam Opera. To be honest I found most of the sub-genre boring almost as soon as it began to appear, just as I find most non-confrontational fiction boring.

I hadn’t anticipated that so many readers would become enthusiasts for the romantic imagery of giant airships and so on and rather miss the point of the story which was, I hope, using science fiction to do what it does best and help us examine ourselves and our world in fresh ways. To see this method becoming again no more than another exercise in nostalgic escapism (my criticism of so much SF of the 1940s on) is a bit depressing and might help explain why I’m always trying to come up with new methods—with forms which will carry my ideas without the burden of nostalgia or escapism, allowing instrospection without being mere dreaming of some lost ‘golden age.’
That Moorcock dislikes fiction intended to entertain without having a deep underlying message doesn't really surprise me all that much. His Bastable stories have a pretty darn clear message underneath them -- paternalism is a bad thing to have in the world, and those stories are how he shows the horrors that can result from it. His personal dislike of "escapist" fiction doesn't really bother me; after all, the man's entitled to his opinion. What more concerns me is that he says there's no worth in stories whose only goal is to be entertaining for the 10 or so hours we spend with them.

I've seen this same criticism come up a lot though, from all corners of the literary sphere. When Lord of the Rings was voted one of the most influential stories of the 20th Century, I recall reading that literary critics the world over actually cringed in pain. According to many people in the literary world, literature that doesn't have a big old message isn't worthwhile.

Well guess what? I don't always want to have a message in the novels I read. Escapism has its value, particularly when you've had a horrid day and just want to ignore the world for a few hours. At that point, I don't want to read a novel that fictionalizes the struggle against communist apartheid in third world Eastern Europe; I just want one where the good guy beats the bad guy and gets the girl at the end.

That's my view at least, and of course you're all entitled to your own. Which of course leads me to wonder: Which fiction do read more of? Escapism or Message?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Call me Mrs. Non-Denominational Benevolent Bound-Paper Gift-Giver

So the holidays are pretty much here, people! It goes without saying that I love this time of year, even though I totally just said it.

I've been noticing a pretty interesting trend the past few years in my gift-giving. As I've started to write more, and therefore read more, and follow authors and other writers online more, I've become sort of a book-selector for various friends of mine. I have at least three friends who come to me when they're looking for new reads.

So when their birthdays roll around, and then the holidays, I've tended in the past to give these particular friends books.

This year, I'm finding myself thinking more and more in terms of books for everyone on my list: that Nora Roberts series for my mom. Introducing my niece to Percy Jackson, maybe-- she might be a little young for it, but I think she would love it. Something super secret for the new hubs because who knows if he'd decide today would be the day to click over and read my post (Hi honey!).

I've come to the realization that, more than just writing them, books are my thing. I will probably be known as the aunt that always gives books. And my friends have already started saying that they don't bother buying as many books around the holidays because they just wait to see what I'll get them. I love sharing stories that have touched me with the people that I love, and I love supporting authors that I know and adore. So come on, December, I'm ready to start sharing!

And rest assured, I will be putting quite a few books on my own Christmas list this year, too.

What do you think about books as gifts? Do you tend to give books for special occasions or not?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bringing your characters to the table (for pie)

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who's celebrating it today! Even if it's not part of your cultural, spiritual or personal repertoire, it's a good day to give thanks anyway: it's a Thursday and all good things happen on Thursdays. (And it never hurts to eat more pie than humanly possible. I should know; I do it every year.)

So, I'm a huge fan of my characters. I like to spend an absurdly long time getting to know them before I have to subject them to all sorts of dastardly things MUA HA HA (we writers are a macabre people.) The more time I spend digging into their psyche and WHY they are who they are, the easier writing them becomes, no?

Getting to know a character goes way beyond hair color, eye color and favorite type of pie (pecan, always pecan). We could all fill in a dossier of information about the hero down to their blood type, I'm sure (which, incidentally, means a lot more than I realized in Japanese culture) but can we detail our characters minute quirks? Their conversational tics? Sometimes we ourselves don't know how WE'LL react to a particular situation until it presents itself. But that's not really a liberty we can leave up to our characters alone--we, as the almighty writers, have to know before they do.

As it is with time spent with a family around the dinner table, there's sometimes no greater way to understand someone than to eat corn next to them for extended periods of time. Therefore, I present a Thanksgiving Day Challenge (challenge challenge)! Take a few characters out of your WIPs and set them around the dinner table. Put the Chinese immortal goddess next to the AV club geek. Put the apologetic dragon next to resentful ex-Nam soldier of fortune. Let the mad scientist carve the turkey. What do they talk about? What do they doodle on their napkins? Who spits in the gravy boat? And who retaliates with a bottle of salad dressing to the face? (but enough about my family) Though the scene will never make it into a book, it'll be priceless for what you might learn about your characters.

Now if you'll excuse me, the pecan pie is ever so insistently calling.

P.S. I took the challenge myself and drew a picture of it. This was, of course, before the cupcake stuffing started flying. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Importance of Keeping Your Story Interesting

So I wrote about Upstate Steampunk at Free the Princess and Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders already today and, out of ideas for the Archives, put the question to Twitter. Nemone7 then suggested that I write about the road trip through a mass percentage of the East Coast that I ended up taking on the way to get to South Carolina. Never one to pass up a challenge, I decided "what the heck?" I also challenged myself to relate this all back to writing, which I promise will be entertaining to see the leap in logic.

For reference, here's some quick numbers:

Distance from my home to Utica, NY (picking up my copilot)?
285 miles
Time spent between Essex County, Mass. and Utica, NY? 4.5 hours

Distance from Utica, N.Y. to Greenville, S.C.? 832 miles
Time spent from Utica., N.Y. to Greenville, S.C.? 13.75 hours

Total time spent on the road? 18 hours and 56 minutes
Total distance traveled? 1,117 miles

I left my home in Eastern Massachusetts at 3:45 am on Friday, November 19. My copilot and I arrived in Greenville, S.C. at 11:00 pm that evening. This was the longest single road trip I have ever been on -- not my copilot though, as he'd driven Utica to Florida before. And that was about 4 to 5 hours longer than our journey. Definitely the longest one-day trip though.

But anyway, the drive from Eastern Massachusetts to Utica, N.Y. goes straight through the mountains of Western Massachusetts and the Capital Region of New York -- which are both very similar in geography. To be entirely honest, Upstate New York and Western Massachusetts blend together almost seamlessly. The only reason you can tell you're in another state is because you have to pay a toll to get off the MassPike and then pick up another ticket for the New York Thruway (side note: New York is the only state in the Northeast that calls it a Thruway. Everyone else says Turnpike).

My copilot and I switched off before we crossed into Pennsylvania, which incidentally was the second-longest state on our route (Virginia was longer by a good 50-ish miles) but it felt like the longest out of all of them. Maryland and West Virginia were both short -- about 10 to 20 minutes apiece -- and we drove more or less straight through until we hit Virginia itself. Then I took back over and the copilot rode shotgun and navigator.

It's fascinating now to realize that most all the scenery I saw was exactly the same. More than 1,000 miles of green fields, a smattering of cows and horses, and long interstate roadways. It's enough to make a guy doze off fairly regularly when he's not driving, which I did actually do a few times. I mean, I'd woken up at 3 am to start this trip, of course I would be tired.

Now that I'm not staring out the passenger window at miles and miles of fields and hills, the realization that much of the East Coast has a homogeneous geography enough to make one bored made me think about what happens if we make our stories look the same. No one wants to read lengthy descriptions of a stick, or of the character's actions at breakfast, or getting ready for bed. Unless it's different from what we the reader are used to.

As writers, we don't want readers to be able to put our book down or even take their attention away for one second. That's how engrossed a reader should be -- if they sit down to read a chapter and then look up at the clock and realize they've been reading for the past 6 hours then I say the writer has done their job. But don't make your story seem flat and the same as everything else for 500 pages (the equivalent of 1,000 miles of driving). Readers won't find the story intriguing if you do things that way. Shake things up, throw in a Dairy Queen or a massive ball of yarn by the road side.

That's the biggest lesson I gave you after spending 19 hours on the Interstates of the East Coast -- keep it interesting and people will stay alert. Make it boring and the same, and folks will doze off in the passenger seat when they're not driving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Commercialization Wonderland

I'm going a little crazy sitting around the house right now. I realized this yesterday when it seemed like a good idea to ask my cats what I should write about today. Given their inability to speak, I attempted to allow them to give me their response by typing on the keyboard.

Okay, so I left my laptop open, and my little girl cat stood on the keys while I had Blogger up. This is her contribution to the Archives today:


Profound, no?

I took a bit of a break from not doing other things this weekend to read one of Douglas Adams' often lesser-known books, which is actually the second and final book in a series, called THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL. If you're an Adams fan and haven't read this one, it and its predecessor, DIRK GENTLY'S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY, are AWESOME (which is not, as it turns out, the title of another Douglas Adams book. It's just capitalized for emphasis). They are Adams at his best-- better, even, I would daresay, than the HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series. (You can find the Dirk Gently books here at

In THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL, Adams goes on a bit of a rant about a fictional author who has essentially sold his soul to sell millions of copies of his books. One of the characters makes a quip that she doesn't understand why she still reads his books, when it's clear that "his editor doesn't anymore."

Hilarity (and ring of truth) aside, this struck a chord with me. The novel I'm querying right now is most easily described as commercial fiction, but the definition of commercial fiction is that, well, it's commercial. It's meant to sell, to appeal to the masses. Now, I'm not saying I'll ever have an internationally-bestselling author's problems, but I would be lying if I didn't say that it crosses my mind what people might want to read when I write.

I try not to let it get to me. But every now and then a twinge of "well this is really popular right now" does cross my mind. I don't want to be a supposed sell-out, but I do want to be relevant.

Writing isn't about any potential money for me. It's more about the afore-mentioned relevancy, if I'm honest: seeing my book on bookstore shelves, and being able to say that I am an author. So my drive to write with mass appeal comes only from upping my odds of that happening. Agents and editors are people too, after all. Commercial appeal starts with them.

I'm struggling with this as I find myself with tons of the also-afore-mentioned free time. A shiny new idea has again reared its head, and I'm writing it just to get it out of my head while I query my other novel and let a third simmer before diving into edits. The shiny new idea has the potential to be very commercial, so we'll see which road I take.

So for today's question, tell me: when you write, do you write for yourself or loved ones, or do you write for what you think might sell?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Detail your settings Disney style...

I love what Matt had to say about getting your characters in character and keeping them in character! There's little more frustrating to a reader than having to stop halfway through a book and say "that doesn't sound like Edward/Harry/Priscilla Queen of the Desert at ALL." Well said, Delman.

Kid and I are on our way to meet the rest of the fam damily for a reunion in Disneyland. Now, whatever your personal feelings towards the Mouse in his great house may be, you have to admit that Disney creates pretty airtight worlds. Movies, parks, you name it: the "magic" often comes from complete immersion in such fantastical settings.

And details? Disney is the absolute master of details. Every ride, every frigging fruit stand in the parks is loaded with inside jokes for the astute, hidden gags and Mickeys, anything to keep you from being "jolted" as it were, from the world. Ever been on a Disney ride that has broken down? It's AWESOME. You wonder why they put so much work into an exit sign or a patch of wall that no one sees...but that's what we world-creators need to do. Create something strong enough to hold a plot, characters and your reader's imagination for hours afterwards. This doesn't necessarily mean listing your world's bus schedules of course...but if your character does take public transportation, this means you should know it for sure. Spare no street sign!

So, writer friends, what do your settings look like? Are they movie props to be filmed from the front and put away the second the plot passes them by? Or are they three dimensional, tangible worlds to walk around and play Quidditch in long after your reader turns off the Kindle?

(that's right. I said Kindle. I went there.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back Into the Swing of Things

One of my many admittedly bad writing habits is the tendency to step away from projects in the middle of working on them. I've done this pretty much consistently through the entire time I've wanted to be a writer -- since about age 9 -- so I know it's something that I'll probably end up always doing unless I have a deadline looming down on me.

One of the things I notice in this practice is that I always have a hard time re-capturing the voice of the story I was working on; I'm seeing this with CALLARION AT NIGHT, which I've started working on again for the first time since about June, so it's a thought that's fresh in my mind. Moriah, that story's heroine, is a very distinct speaker when it comes to the way she talks and the way she thinks. I was well on my way to capturing her self-deprecation and cynical disregard for people in general when I paused working on the story in June, and I'm now finding that it's difficult to get back into her head really well.

I know it's going to take a lot of re-writing and character study to get back into Moriah's head again. She sounds and thinks a certain way that I have in my head (or think I do at any rate) that I need to represent effectively on paper; she's what's charitably called a "tough nut to crack." So it's going to take a lot more thinking like her to get that back on the page.

This all leads me to wonder how many of you have the same problem? Do you find it hard to step back into your character's shoes when you've walked away for a time, or is it like coming home again?

Monday, November 15, 2010

What Moves You?

So there's something I've been wondering. It's pretty obvious that when I read a book, I don't enjoy it the same way someone else might. Of course, it's possible that I can, and will, but there's no accounting for individual taste.

I love finishing a book, or a movie, and experiencing a catharsis afterward. That feeling of openness, and sanity, and a story well-told and well-wrapped, that stays with me for days. My favorite stories are the ones that I just can't stop thinking about. They earn an exalted place in the Top Stories of All Time list that I carry around in my head. You know, like the kinds you find in the sidebar of someone's Facebook page.

Stories that move me in this way tend to be any combination of epic, gritty, original, romantic, and tense. [Insert any other cliche movie review adjectives you can think of here]. I love the romantic tension in YA books, along with the (usually) upbeat plots. I love a good puzzle thriller, and the occasional spy/ suspense novel. I love quirky fantasy, a la Piers Anthony. I love sweeping mythos and world-saving adventures in MG books. And of course, a good mystery is always great fun!

Okay, so my tastes tend to swing far and wide, it's true. This is probably why I write in so many different genres-- because I read in so many different genres. But these are the story elements that move me. I was thinking about this the other day, and thought it would make an interesting survey. So pray, tell me, what kinds of stories make you have an emotional reaction? What stories stay with you for days?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Helloooo! A bookly intro from K. Marie Criddle

He-hello? Is this thing on? ::FEEDBACK:: Gah!

Hi all! I’m K. Marie Criddle, here for your Thursday Alliterati Archives mind-massage. Let me honestly say how happy I am to be here, guys. Some of you know me as a writer, some of you know me as a drawg-er, some of you may know me as that chica who is a little too obsessed with unicorns. And I don’t hesitate to say most may not know me at all. And I don’t know some of you! No worries! We'll get right on that.

But I do know we were all brought here with a similar interest: snacks! I mean…WRITING!

Most of us that find ourselves here have a mild to wild interest in putting pen to paper or even just reading such, regardless of genre or style, right? So I thought I’d introduce myself in a bookish manner. (This is probably the place I could do it with the least amount of derpy looks.) And PLEASE do the same! I wanna meet everyone. How else are we going to get comfortable with one another over drinks and proverbial petit fours in this weird, giant cocktail party known as the internet?

If I could live in any bookly world, it’d be: HARRY friggin’ POTTER (JK Rowling). Wands down. Did you know the French word for wand is baguette? I have since imagined this series in a whole new delicious light.

Have any bookly friend: Falkor from THE NEVERENDING STORY (Michael Ende). I’m a sucker for mutts. And flying! And Jonathan Brandis, too, but that was a completely different story.

Meet any bookly villain: Miss “Two Slice” Hilly from THE HELP (Kathryn Stockett), mostly so I could nod politely, put away my pacifist tendencies for a moment and punch her in the boob.

Avoid any bookly villain at all costs: Lynex the Wyvern King from SON OF THE SUMMER STARS (Meredith Ann Pierce). I do not like worms. I’ll say it again: I DO NOT LIKE HUGE SEVEN HEADED WORMS.

Happily married, but I’d totally would have bookly dated: Giovanni from RAMPANT (Diana Peterfruend). Mmmm…Italians who fight unicorns. But only because he reminds me of my husband!! Ahem…sure.

So that’s me! What about everyone else? Thanks for inviting me to the Archives party. Let’s talk books and pick cashews out of the trail mix together.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is It Better to be a Pantser or a Plotter?

It's an oft-repeated mantra around the Internet that there are two kinds of writers -- Pantsers and Plotters. The definitions of these two styles changes depending on whom you speak to and what time of the day you talk to them, but the standard goes something like this:

Pantsers are the writing equivalent of "shooting from the hip." A Pantsers sits down at the computer and writes the first draft without any sort of planning or forethought on where the story is going to end up. They have a character, or a scene, or a series of scenes and write to those without consideration for how things connect in the greater whole of the story.

Plotters, on the other hand, spend copious amounts of time in the planning stages before they write a single word down. They have piles upon piles of notes on character interviews, scene sketches, outlines, etc to the point where they already have a rough idea of the opening, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement of the entire story before they've even typed/written Chapter One in their novel or the opening words in their short story.

There's also the Pantser/Plotter blend, where the writer will "shoot from the hip" for some sections, but still has a general outline of where they intend the story to go. These people might have pages of notes that they've taken down and don't use, or may have started off with a sketched out idea but not kept to it.

Now we come to the question I posed in the post tile: Is it better to be a Pantser or a Plotter?

For my money, the answer is that the type that's better is the type that works for you. Case in point: Cynthia Reese is an avowed Plotter -- she's said herself that she plans practically everything out before she writes a word on her novels, whereas Tawna Fenske is a Pantser through and through.

Two writers, both published with contracts, and they have two different writing styles. This should go further than anything I have to say to show that your writing process doesn't matter so much as writing a good story does. Whether you fly by the seat of your pants or plan things out in minute detail, the only thing agents, editors, and eventually readers care about is that your story is interesting enough for them to read.

Monday, November 8, 2010

B-Movie Books?

So every now and then I get these crazy thoughts as I'm falling asleep late at night. (Okay, who am I kidding? It's every night). Anyway, these thoughts are totally random and usually fall under the categories of:

-Why am I thinking about this NOW?
-That would make a good idea for a book

Or my personal favorite:

-Now I have to write a blog post about that, thanks brain.

Today's blog post is brought to you by last night's random thoughts. You're welcome.

So yesterday, the shiny new husband and I (don't worry, he's not actually that shiny. Unless he's been working out or just took a shower or is dressing up as a golden statue of Adonis for Halloween or something) were sitting around, doing a whole lot of nothing. We've pretty much exhausted most of our television and movie choices lately, and were feeling a little desperate. So we scoured Netflix for something, anything to watch, and mine eyes alighted on several examples of none other than my favorite category of movie ever: bad shark movies.

Bad shark movies are, for lack of a better descriptor, the Frankenstein's monster lovechild of Jaws and any other (horrifying) factor. My favorite example is DEEP BLUE SEA, with genetically engineered sharks that are wicked smart. And actually JAWS itself, due to its age, is a bad shark movie now.

So we found both SHARKTOPUS and MEGA SHARK vs. GIANT OCTOPUS yesterday, and we watched them both. They did not fail to live down to my expectations. (If you're curious what they're about, click through to their IMDB pages, or look 'em up on Netflix. But don't say I didn't warn you that they're bad. Really bad. Awesomely, deliciously bad).

The thing is, as a former marine educator and a big shark aficionado, I still scream at the television whenever they get something wrong in one of these movies. Yesterday it was things like, "They keep saying it's acting like an octopus but it has the head of a shark! Clearly it would think more like a shark!" and Hubby had to calm me down by saying, "It's a B-movie, honey. B-movie. B-movie."

And the writing in these things is pretty brilliantly bad, as well. A lot of the cheesiness of these movies has to do with the horrible special effects and bad acting, but even a good actor can't hide some of the cliche and stilted lines that get used. Or a bad story premise in general.

All of this got me thinking about the sort of writers that write b-movie screenplays, and sell them to SyFy (come on, we were all thinking it). And then of course I wondered if there is an equivalent in book form. Fiction has come a long way in the last 10-20 years. I would have said romance novels ten years ago, but frankly, that doesn't hold absolutely true for me anymore. Writers like Nora Roberts have actually brought decent story-telling to the genre (you may groan but it's true), a trend that I see continued in the (admittedly few) romances I pick up.

So I guess what I'm asking today is, because I love b-movies so much, are there any good b-books you can think of? Extra points if they're about sharks. I do have my limits, people.

(Feel free to share your favorite b-movie finds, too!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Good News, Everyone!

I'm delighted to announce that we will have a new Thursday contributor starting next week. She's resourceful, hilarious, and all-around awesome. She's a new mom, and a children's/YA writer repped by Nathan Bransford himself. She has also invented a new form of blogging that she affectionately refers to as "drawgs."

Just in case you haven't guessed it yet, our new Thursday contributor is K. Marie Criddle of C'MERE.

Everyone be sure to give her a warm welcome and look for her inaugural post next week!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some Interesting Developments a.k.a. Matt's Crazy Life

Wow, it's been a crazy few months since we went on hiatus huh? L.T. got hitched, Stephanie and Bane have stepped down, and as to the madcap work schedule that Bane mentioned I was keeping?

Ummm ... that kind of hasn't changed.

The work schedule is still madcap with a vengeance, and is probably only going to get more and more crazy as time goes on. If you want some evidence, let me announce a few bits of news that developed within the past few months:

  • Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders has become more prominent, having received its first two unsolicited submissions since launch back in June. As a result of that, I've also added two volunteer staff members to my roster there -- L.T. is now my Submissions Editor, and my college friend Jillian Aldrich is the Chief Correspondent and Calendar Editor. Trying to get more advertisers for that site is also taking up a good chunk of my time.
  • I've started tutoring in various subjects through working with, and find myself driving around the Boston area helping students with studying for the GRE, studying for the SAT, and also assisting with improving their writing ability. 
  • I was named the Steampunk & Clockpunk Director at the Speculative Fiction Database, (@specficdb on Twitter), which aims to be the IMDB of Speculative Fiction. Kimi Alexandre, voice actress and urban fantasy fan, is the big boss over there and she's got some ambitious plans. 
  • Flying Pen Press, the publisher I do marketing work for, is looking to do some very interesting things in regards to Steampunk within the next year; I'll make sure to keep y'all abreast of new developments once I have the go-ahead to make official announcements.
  • And of course there's the maintenance of my primary blog in Free the Princess, and the review blog Gear Bits and Clockwork is picking up steam.
Somehow I have to flow time to write, time to spend with HHTM, and time to actually relax into that massive list of responsibilities that keep coming up. Oh! One more thing -- I'm slowly, with the assistance of The Wandering Legion of the Thomas Tew, planning a Steampunk convention to take place in Boston sometime in the second half of 2011 (I hope).

So yeah ... how are all of you doing?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Looking for something else to do during the week? Boy have we got the opportunity for you!

So first, some bad news:

Ms. Stephanie Thornton and Mr. Bane of Anubis have elected to step down from their regular weekly contributions to the Archives. While we are sad to see them go, Mr. Delman and I are pushing forward and continuing the blog because we think we have something special here to share with you.

And now, the good news:

What this means is that we need two more regular weekly contributors! If you think you might be interested, email us at with why you think you'd be a good fit.

And as usual, if you want to do a guest post on a Friday, let us know!

Thanks for sticking around Alliteratus. Stick with us during this period of turmoil-- we promise there are neat things in store!

Monday, November 1, 2010


(Cross-posted from Quest: Published. I know, I know, I'm such a cheater).

So, while I was gone, several things occurred. One of them was rather large and amazing, one of them was rather large and sucky, the rest ranged from spectacular to average, but all in all, I'd have to say that it was a pretty good 2-3 months. Rather than trying to remember all these events, I've decided instead to answer some lingering questions you're all sure to have:

Q: Did you get married?

A: Why, yes I did! Here we are, looking hot and loving and adorable and all that:

(Photo by the amazing Kate Williams of Chasing Daylight Photography)

My wedding was a dream come true. I couldn't be happier with my new husband, and boy is it nice to have time for other things! (Like blogging, and writing, and breathing. Always nice, that).

Speaking of having more free time:

Q: Are you still working?

A: Um . . . no, actually. Yeah. That's the pretty major thing that's happened that sucks. It's fairly recent, and through no fault of my own, and hopefully we'll be okay. But still. Suckage.

Still, I am optimistic. And trying not to view this "Oh hey! I'll finally have real writing time!" Because making money so we can eat, and our furry babies can eat, is more important than all-the-time-I-could-ever-want-to-write. Right?

Moving on.

Q: Did you find an agent?

A: No, no I did not. For a very simple reason: you have to query agents in order to risk that they might sign you, and I haven't been querying. Rest assured, despite my assertions above, SOME of my new-found free time will be spent querying. Just not, you know, most of it.

Q: Did you get to meet any fabulous authors?

A: I did! While I didn't get any pictures, I did meet Kiersten White and Cindy Pon (both at Kiersten's signing, interestingly enough). Then, last week, I got to play native guide to Gary Corby, who is just as cool and full of fascinating historical info in person as he is online. WH and I had a fabulous time at his signing, where we also met P.L. Gaus, who writes Amish murder mysteries. We then spent Saturday showing Gary around our famous San Diego zoo (during which Gary, Scott and I had a long discussion about the possibility of owning a wallaby, and the ways someone could die by various animals) and topped off the evening by getting the only food I can think of that screams "San Diego"-- fish tacos, from a bar on the beach, by the pier. I hope Gary had as much fun with us as we did with him. Here we are at his signing:

We all look much happier in the picture on his blog. We were having a good time, I swear.

And while I neglected to take any pictures of Gary at the zoo (especially near the World's Largest Rodent [a capybara]), I did take a picture of the souvenir Gary brought me from Australia:

Thanks, Gary. I'm still working up the nerve to try it.

Aaaaaand I got to buy and then therefore read his book! Here I am, reading it:

Look for an author interview with Gary here at the Archives soon!

Q: Did you get any writing done?

A: Well, yes, actually. Not nearly as much as I'd have liked, but I did. I have a 43K "first draft" of my mystery done and, thanks to Gary, am moving ahead full force to start really querying my second novel, V. And this time I mean it. Sorry, where did that come from?

Q: So, uh, did anything else happen while you were gone?

A: Aside from all that I mentioned above, not really. All in all, I'm glad I decided to take the break because I honestly would have been too busy and too stressed out to be a good blogger. But on the same hand, I am SO glad to be back amongst my writer friends and catch up on everyone's lives.

So now here's a question for you:

How have you been?

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Alliteratites, the four of us are going on holiday for a couple of months (technically not together, though that would be fun). We've got weddings to plan (woot LT), unruly school grunts to wrangle (SD), and a crazy-mad work schedule (MD), so we've decided to take a break from the blog to focus on the real world (despite the best efforts of Apple, Facebook, and Twitter). We may post intermittently if time/inspiration permits, and we will return to our regularly scheduled programming on Monday, November 1. As always, thanks for visiting, participating, and insighting (yeah, not a word, but it's parallel, so suck it grammarians ;)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The First Novel I Ever Read ...

To be entirely honest, I think the first novels I ever really read were the Goosbumps and Fear Street stories by R.L. Stine when I was in third grade. My mother being a teacher and all meant that we got started on reading early, and were keenly encouraged to continue in that vein. I read Redwall, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, A Wrinkle in Time, etc ... and then in 7th grade I discovered The Hobbit and, by extension, The Lord of the Rings. To say that I became a lifelong fantasy fan at that point is kind of, well, a moot point.

I talk about these first novels of mine because I've been thinking recently about influences, and how susceptible we as writers are to them. My early writings were all influenced by these authors out of sheer necessity; I'd read so much of their works that it was impossible to not write like them. Heck, the first story I ever wrote was a clear Goosebumps clone.

I like to think I've gotten better about hiding my influences in my writing. I read so much now that everything just blends together into a sort of milieu in my head, coming out again in differently synthesized ways that are colored with my particular outlook on the world.

Deep thoughts for 10:26 p.m. on a Wednesday night, huh?

DISCUSSION: What was the first novel you can remember reading? Do you remember how it affected you?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rule #1 of Inverse Bullying - Attack the Big Guy

If you guys didn't check out the stupendously organized WriteOnCon, I encourage you to do so, the logged conference perfect for those without funds, time, or social skills (me, the latter).

Despite all the goodness to be found there (agent interviews, author commentaries, etc.), there was one thing that really torqued my jaw. One particular agent offered her time to critique queries via an online chat (full disclosure: mine was not in there). She offered some valuable feedback, but for queries she did not favor, she too often resorted to snark in her criticism (and, unfortunately, all too often, the ogling masses tittered along).

From my experiences, besides retribution, failure and superiority (artificially created or not) are the two largest factors that engender cruelty toward others, and this can be readily spurred on by the mob mentality. Humor, too often in our culture, is created via denigration of those without voice.

In the writing community, failure is a common tattered thread and quasi-superiority isn't far behind (ha, look at that poor schlep's query... starting with a rhetorical question... fool... and let's not get started on agents, gatherers of fawning wannabes who will lap up the milk no matter how spoiled it may be), so, as in comics' circles, we too often flay each other because, hell, we're thick-skinned (we've learned to be via all that damn rejection) and given all our experience (whether failure, success, or just exposure), we've earned the right, right?

If you want to be funny, be neutrally so, or self-deprecatingly so, or, if you must, do so at the expense of the giants to whom you are a mite on their callouses (...yes, I'm trying to vindicate my Stephenie Meyer jests here ;), but don't wreck the voiceless because it's too easy.

Snark, condescension, etc. is pyrite. It can be found in droves. Looks shiny, but scratch the surface and there's not much there. Look at the Nathan Bransfords and Mary Koles of the agent world, agents who have large online followings... achieved through generosity of insight and wit, wit that's sometimes wry, but never inhumanely directed.

As with zoos, don't feed the animals.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Time for a bit of fun

It seems like lately, my blogging options have been:

-Complain about how I don't have enough time to work on my books


-Complain about how I complain a lot about how I don't have enough time to work on my books

I've decided to do something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT today and not complain at all. Except, you know, for the complaining I've already done here. Ahem.

Moving on!

Here's where you come in: tell me, in fifty words or less (or more-- if you think I'm actually gonna count, ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!) what you did this weekend.

Oh-- include this phrase: two-bit drifter.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Slash and Burn, Blood and Gore

Okay, I've got more from you from Stephen Markley's Publish This Book. This one's all about editing, something I should be working on for Book #2, but my brain feels like overcooked oatmeal lately, so I'm taking a break.

Here's Markley's take on the process:

For two days, I tear through my work, silent, efficient, and blood-and-gore deadly. With my trusty red pen, I slash and burn prose, annihilate paragraphs, relocate whole sections, rebuild entire vanquished chapters from the ground up, only to machine-gun to death individual words and punctuation.

Editing may be my favorite part of writing. When you write the first draft, you spew, but when editing, you craft. It's the difference between walking up to a pretty girl in a bar and running your game and actually convincing the girl that you're interesting.

Markley sums it up quite nicely. Good luck with the slash and burn!

Thinking in Circles

Another re-purposed blog post from Free the Princess today. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that this was the best idea my over-tired brain could come up with. This post originally appeared on March 16, 2010.

One of the things I've started to do in developing my stories is try to figure out holes in the premise. To do this, I think in circles around various parts of it. This means I'm trying to come up with reasons why the story can't work the way I want it to work.

Sometimes my circular thinking takes me into different avenues of research. Like psychology for one. I've blogged about Alice and Janey before -- my two psych major friends -- who are now helping with the emotional arc of CALLARION AT NIGHT. In particular, Alice has been tremendous with her opinions in terms of story development and how to manage Moriah's emotional life.

My research has ventured into weapons, clothing, technology, even consumer goods of the Victorian/early 20th century. All of this to fill the circular question "Is this possible?"

Sometimes I'll find my theory isn't possible. That's where the thinking in circles comes in handy. If different routes to the same solution don't hold up under this circular thought process, then I take a different route.

What about you folks? Do you try to poke holes in your stories before you write them? Or do you wait and see what happens?

NOTE: Yes, I know I suffer from plot hole disease in my writing. This is a different kind of logic gap.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


So on my way from Portland to San Antonio, the wife and I visited Yellowstone Park. As we were driving from one scenic point to the next, I realized again to myself, "***k, there are a lot of trees." Like billions. All in this grand place, most tall, stretching for the sun.

Now, I'm sure these damn trees don't give two acorns about whether or not passerbys stop and stare at them, but seeing all these trees blurring past the window, all I could think about was  publishing, and the odds of becoming that tree that stands out that everyone wants to visit. On a slightly less depressing note, if you're a geyser, you've got a better chance.

Another re-piphany occurred as my wife dictated that we stop at place 238 to snap more touristy pictures. Pictures that upwards of 10^6 people have already taken (half of which exist on the net). No new stories, right? Yep, another uplifting analogy. But at least there's something to be done about this one (well, technically, we could chop down all our competition, but that would lead to jail time) -- instead of doing the normal stuff, take that rugged (perhaps even dangerous) hike to a place where few dare go... get a slanted picture... could end up a ruin, but at least you've got something more unique (though, to end as a cynic, unique ain't always better).

Anybody know how to be a geyser?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Be still my heart... and brain, and hands

I have a lot of passions.

Like, a LOT.

What can I say? I'm easily entertained? I like lots of stuff?

I can't really explain it. I just know it's there. I have a brain that apparently requires a high amount of stimulus, as I often do 2-3 things at once.

Here is just a basic list of my hobbies, and understand that to make it on the list, I've done them in the last month or so:

-Writing of course, though this one barely qualifies as I haven't written on any of my current projects in a while.
-Reading—lately, I've been into quirky biographies (well, biographies about quirky people), which is a total departure for me. Huh.
-Music—playing piano, and singing (not that ANYONE should ever have to hear me sing). I also have a violin and guitar and am self-taught on all four, but I haven't played the violin and guitar in a long, long time.
-My animals, of course. Especially my horse (training, riding, etc.).
-WEDDING. This is a biggie. I'm doing most everything myself (making my own invites, doing my own flowers, making all the other paper goods, making my own veil, sewing the groom's/men's vests, oh the list goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on). And as a result this has been the majority of my last few months. Not that I'm alone; weddings are always a big project!
-Volunteering—this is a recent re-development, as I've volunteered extensively before, but the opportunities I have now are both new and time-consuming.

This is nowhere near everything. (And notice that "growing my own pumpkins" is not on here—after a seemingly easy start, I got 7-8 on the ground. And now my vines have started dying. So bye-bye pumpkins, as my efforts to save them have not worked. I suspect they have a fungus, which is untreatable).

My point, though, is that my mind is a trap of knowledge and I crave a lot of different inputs depending on the day. I also have a lot of creative outlets, only one of which is writing.

This may make it seem like I have no focus, but it's quite the opposite, in fact. When I pick something up as a "passion," that is what it is, no questions asked. It will stick with me for the rest of my life, even if I forget to do it for a few years here and there. So writing, fear not—I will be back to you very soon!

So yes, I have passion, but I also have a lot of it, and a lot of outlets for it. And yes, overall they might each get less time than if I only had one, but what else would I do in my downtime? (Grin).

I can't be the only one—besides writing, what are some things you love to do and always will?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Publish This Book- Why Writers Are F'd Up

In case you're wondering if you're seeing double, I also posted this at my blog. I like the quote that much.

I just finished reading Stephen Markley's Publish This Book. Let's just say it's like Jon Stewart and the creators of South Park got together to write a book on publishing a book. And did drugs while they were at it.

Here's an excerpt (the first of a few):

And you wonder why writers become so fucked up- why they drink and shoot heroin and abuse their families and walk into rivers with rocks in their clothes. You can really only spend so much time with your own thoughts. You reach a point where you wonder if anything you have written is of any value at all to anyone other than yourself...

It's fairly simple math when you break it down, and this is true for anyone in the "arts": you, the artist, want people to like your shit. Sure, it's cool if a few people don't like your shit. Such is the way of things. But you need at least
a few people to like it. Even Michael Bay has people who like his shit. You need someone other than yourself to give your piece of art a once-over, kick the tires, check under the hood and say, "All right. This has value. This deserves to exist."

Yep. What he said.

On Applying Video Games to Writing

Work's been crazy busy the past few weeks, so I've had to go the way of Bane and pull an old post from my personal blog to fill this spot. My brain's just not in a proper space for this right now -- too tired to be witty and informative. Regular readers of Free the Princess might recognize this from January of this year.

Fantasy video games, like fantasy novels, are fairly substantial sellers in the marketplace. Final Fantasy, StarOcean, and Baldur's Gate are just a few of the bigger titles that immediately come to mind.

An interesting point is that many of the same things fantasy role-playing gamers enjoy are also inherent in fantasy novels -- expansive world-building, stellar characterization, and an engaging storyline are among the characteristics required to make a fantasy video game popular. Unless you're talking about the Final Fantasy series. The spectacularly bad writing/cheesy storylines are part of the appeal for those games. Personally I think it's a case of translation decay -- the games are written in Japanese and then translated to English without (it appears) any sort of rewording of the dialogue.

Games like Dragon Age: Origins, a beautiful dark fantasy from BioWare, are possessed of all the above qualities and become wildly popular as a result. Of course, Dragon Age is also billed as a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate, one of the biggest selling RPGs in recent history.

What can we writers learn from these video games?

One fact stands out. In non-sports games, story trumps everything. People will tolerate mediocre/cliched writing if the story is spit-shined to a high gleam; heck they'll even spend hours of their time if some of the mechanics are wonky (my wife's complaint about the Dragon Age combat system) so long as the story is fascinating enough.

Don't misunderstand me -- a book written in green crayon on 2-ply toilet paper won't sell even if it's the next Twilight -- and you need to have a basic understanding of good grammar, depth of characterization, and how to evoke emotion, but all those concepts are secondary to having an interesting story.

You can fix practically everything in your writing. Except the lack of an interesting story. Focus on developing that first, and you're well on your way to a big seller.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ten Dollar Words

I am still quasi off the grid, in San Antonio now, surrounded by boxes. This is a truncated repost from my blog from back in November, so it might look familiar to some of y'all.

I remember when I first started writing I thought one of the marks of a good writer was the size of his vocabulary. And while I think this still holds some truth, I believe that a mark of a good writer is limiting this vocabulary -- i.e., knowing your audience. In my first novel I wrote some odd years ago, I used the words ambagious, sententious (maybe a 5 dollar word), apotheosis, marmoreal (this is one I actually might still use b/c I like it so much :), estrade... to name a few (all off the top of my head, perhaps sadly)... now, one of these words might be alright every 100 hundred pages (emphasis on might, and dependent on target audience), but you don't want your readers having to struggle to determine what words mean (this isn't the SAT... we're not testing vocab and we want paragraph comprehension to be fairly straightforward, usually -- unless you're in the lit fic realm, which is above my pay grade).

Sure, some of the above words might be sexier to dictionary hounds and entertainment-article writers, but they're obtuse and can easily be replaced by more straightforward words that still might be worth more than a penny (e.g., tortuous, paragon, marble-like -- see, marmoreal's prettier :) -- dais) and won't confound your readers.