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.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Get back on that horse

There's this old cowboy adage (though to be fair it could be much older, perhaps as old as humans have been riding horses for?) that if you fall off of a horse, the best thing to do is immediately get back on.

And it's really not optional. In order to continue moving forward, you must get back on the horse.

With an actual horse, there are really two-fold reasons to get back on. The first, and typically more admitted reason, is that (generally speaking), when a rider comes off a horse, it's because the horse did something to unseat the rider, i.e., bucking, rearing, spooking, taking off, etc.

This doesn't mean the rider didn't do something to cause the horse to have this reaction. I've seen that a million times, especially with inexperienced riders. But for a seasoned rider like myself, it takes quite the surprise to have a horse unseat you. (And it has happened three times for me: the first, when I was pretty inexperienced myself, was also the worst fall, resulting in an ER visit later that night when it became apparent I actually did hurt myself. The second and third were both off of my own horses, and much milder).

So if the horse is reacting to something out of stubbornness, or a refusal to work for the rider, the rider must get back on--immediately-- to show the horse that despite their attempt to rid themselves of their burden, they will work through the issue with the rider on their back, and they will do so safely. Horses are big animals, and safety is always a top priority with a responsible rider. That same rider will make safety the horse's priority, too.

If it's physically possible to get back on the horse once you're dumped, you must. If you give up and put the horse away, the horse learns that by dumping its rider, it can get out of working any time it wants, and bam-- suddenly you have a horse that will do its level best to dump any rider it can.

Now, the second reason to get back on is to conquer fear (both yours and the horse's, if necessary). If YOU get up and walk away and don't come back for a couple hours, or a day, or a week, by the time you do come back, fear will have had time to fester. And you will be afraid for much longer than if you had gotten back on right away and proven to yourself that you can do it. The longer you're away, the greater your fear. Plus, if the horse reacted out of fear to unseat you, the horse needs to re-do it again quickly to conquer their own fear, as well.

So why am I telling you all of this? Congratulations if you've read this far, by the way-- years as a riding lesson instructor and my general passion for educating people about animals have made me rather less than concise when it comes to this sort of thing.

I'm telling you this because I know that every now and then during this game, I can use a little encouragement. So I'm going to (hopefully) try and encourage anyone out there who needs it right now, whether it be to keep writing, or to edit a draft, or to send another query letter. Do it. Think of your brain as the horse. If you don't keep at it, your brain learns, "Oh! Hey! By not thinking about writing, I can DO OTHER THINGS! This is great!"

And if you're afraid of rejection, the same holds true, as with the horse, too-- the longer you're away from it, the bigger your fear of it grows.

So go! Shoo! Get back on that horse!