Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging--Interloper Edition

One of Laura's departmental colleagues found a kitten on her porch. Because we've got cats and she's got a dog and three four young children she brought the kitty over here and we took care of her for a couple of days. We also took her picture. So, without further ado, THE INTERLOPER:*

These two are a pretty good look at her coloring, sort of tabby with calico highlights, she's a lovely cat



And friendly


Very friendly


*At least that's how the feline horde felt about her

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Long Live the King!

Why Kirby Is King: Comic Book Creators Remember Jack Kirby, King of Comics, at the Mighty Mighty MOC-BLOG

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Need to Cleanse Now?

If you've read the previous post, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Here's a little something to take your mind off of . . . [shudders mutely].

Playing in my other universe is so much fun.

Also: Alan Dean Foster!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The wyrdsmiths have a tradition of buying a round of drinks for the group when we sell a story or book. Since our venue is a coffee house this is generally a coffee related beverage or occasionally a beer. But there are time when you want neither caffeine nor alcohol. On those occasions I will often get an Orangina, a habit picked up from Bill Henry. It's never seemed the least bit out of the ordinary until I saw the following ad. My view of the beverage is forever changed by what I can only call:

Orangina Phatasmagoria as imagined by Furry Enthusiasts on a Binge.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Structure and Story Post 2

So this is the second post thinking through my next class, though it probably comes sequentially before the last. This one also may be a bit less linear.

One of the most important things to remember in the course of structuring a novel is whose story it is and that they must protag. I know this sounds simple and old hat, but it's easy to lose lock on that at critical moments. And it really does have some major impacts on the way the story goes together in a structural sense.

As usual, all statements should be considered as suggestions to be discarded if they don't work for you, and sufficiently good writing can always trump any rule of writing.

Thing One: Where do you start the book? Wherever possible, you should start it with your protagonist, ideally in a way that draws the reader into their story in a sympathetic way, and they should be protagging. Protagging is absolutely key to establishing sympathy and establishing the idea that this character is a mover of events, not a cork on the water.*

Thing One-A: This is true even for multi-protagonist books which, if you want to be successful, will generally have a primary protagonist and secondary protagonists.** I've actually been struggling with this in my own WIP and have settled on juggling chapter lengths and giving my main focus character about twice as much wordage as my secondary protagonist as one of the means I'm using to keep the primary focus where it needs to be. Which leads to...

Thing Two: Keeping the reader's attention where you want it. Even in single POV book, you need to remember whose story it is and structure the book to keep that story at the center of the narrative. Subplot and secondary plots and resolutions are key elements to crafting a strong well rounded book, but if you don't watch them and keep the structural necessities of the main narrative in mind it is easy to let them steal the focus. Especially if one of the secondary characters is more interesting to write, or you're in one of the bridging sections where the main narrative is forced to slow down.

For example, I love the divine madman and have included a number of them in stories and books. They're generally a joy to write because they get to say really interesting and apparently nonsensical things that you can use to illuminate themes and mysteries or as time bombs that will provide a key to understanding a later scene. It would be very easy for me to give one of my madmen too much screen time or let them steal the protag ball*** for a scene or two in a way that does not serve the narrative. And lets talk about that a bit in...

Thing Three: Every scene in a book should serve the story of the central character in some way. If it does not, why is it there? Now, that doesn't mean the central character has to be in the scene or even mentioned in the scene. You can have thematic scenes, in which case you have to understand how your theme reinforces and relates to the protagonist's story and the central narrative. Or you might have contrast scenes in which subplot, secondary character plot, villain moments, or counter-theme can be used to throw the main narrative into higher contrast. You might have parallel-structure scenes where the narrative of the world or secondary characters shows a mirror of the main narrative. You might well have some really clever scene written for reasons not mentioned here, but if you do you should always know how that scene relates to the primary narrative and serves the story you want to tell.

Thing Four: Endings and the protagonist. Wherever possible, the protagonist should be on screen for the end of the plot arc and have a strong roll in any denouement. It's their story and not only does the reader want to see them be the one to come up with and implement the solution (see also protagging) but the reader expects to have a sense of rest or closure about the story, an understanding of what happens next with the protagonist they've been following and identifying with for ~100,000 words. Again, as always, there are exceptions, most notably the series book where you want to leave your reader with a sense that there is more yet to come while still giving them a satisfying resolution to the portion of the story arc covered in this book. The last important shot of the story should have the protagonist at the center of the frame.

Thoughts? Comments? Vehement disagreement? I'm very much still in the formulating things stage for this class and I'm quite interested in hearing other thoughts on novel structure.

P.S. I'm currently thinking that Arc and Transformation should be one of the segments for this thing and Endings another, but haven't entirely settled on the remaining two pieces. Suggestions would be welcome.


*Common alternative starting points can be with the antagonist or some sort of foreshadowing or scene setting moment with parents, mentors, prophets, etc. All of which can work just fine but really ought to be about the protagonist's struggle. See Thing Three above.

**It's possible to have a successful perfectly balanced book with six protagonists who all get equal time, but it's really hard and I've seen a lot more failures than successes.

****The protag ball...hmm. (This is me thinking in real time as I write this.) I"m kind of liking the idea of looking at a novel as a sort of metaphorical Calvinball type game, with control of the ball as a way of modeling who is in control of the scene at a given time. The protagonist can throw the ball to secondary characters, or have it stolen by the antagonist, or whatever and its part of your job as the author to keep track of the ball and make sure that your protagonist controls the ball most of the time. Then you could do an analysis of the story with the protagonist controlling the ball highlighted in green, the antagonist in red, and various secondary characters each in their own color to give you a quick visual way of telling if your protagonist is protagging enough.****

****And, yes, for anyone in the Twin Cities area who might be thinking about taking the class, this really is how I teach, complete with verbally footnoted digressions--often further delineated by hand gestures. It may sound like madness, but so far the reviews are pretty decent.

It's Monday... I (Tate) am over at Something Wicked, blogging about how I did absolutely nothing of value this weekend. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Yeah, It's Kind of Like That (Steampunk)

To make up for Friday's really gloomy post, here's a picture to give you a grin.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging--Last Minute Edition

Taken less then fifteen minutes ago

You woke me up to take my picture?!?!?!?


You woke me up to take my picture?!?!?!?


You woke me up to take my picture?!?!?!?


You woke me up to take my picture?!?!?!?


ZOMG, you're paying attention to me, will you take my picture?


Does It Have a Pulse? Ellis, Scalzi, the Death of the SF Short Story, and Some Comics

These are the walking dead: as many readers likely know, Warren Ellis recently posted about the zombification of the science fiction short-story print magazines, citing the dismal 2007 circulation numbers published in Gardner Dozois’s annual industry snapshot in The Year’s Best Science Fiction.

Now, critics and pundits have been declaring the imminent demise of print science fiction for years—for decades. In fact, Gardner himself typically begins his summation with a wink and a nod to the reader familiar with such gloom-and-doom prognostications (“the world has not come to an end, the angel has not descended with the seventh seal, . . . and science fiction has subbornly refused to die, although strangely hopeful notices of its imminent demise have been put forth every year for more than a decade now.” I love this: thank you, Gardner). And we all know that the print magazines’ circulation has been contracting steadily for years. So what’s to write about here?

It’s personal, really: the 2007 numbers just flat out ambushed me. For a while now—more years than I realized, judging by the depth of my surprise—I haven’t given much attention to the short-story market, and reading the figures in Ellis’s post shocked me deeply.

Here’s what he reports:

Asimov’s: subscriptions down to 14,084 from 15,117, newsstand sales rose from 3,419 to 3,497. Not the huge overall circulation losses of previous years, but that’s still a thousand bodies going missing.

Analog: subscriptions down to 22,972 from 23,732, newsstand sales sank from 4,597 to 4,427. This is victory condition, in the face of posting seven- and eight-percent losses in the previous couple of years.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: subscriptions down to 12,831 from 14,575, newsstand sales sank from 3,691 to 3,658.
Reading this for the first time, my jaw dropped. Asimov’s has a circulation of only 17,500?

When my jaw clacked shut again, I went to the bookshelf where my almost two decades of The Year’s Best sit and pulled out the volume for 1996.

Way back when in 1996 (it doesn’t seem so long ago to me), Gardner wrote (in language very similar to that of the year before, and the year after):

It was a terrible year in the magazine market, even worse than last year—one of the worst years, in fact, since the collapse of the post-war SF boom wiped out magazines by the dozen in the fifties.
And a little later on:

Analog and Asimov’s Science Fiction both dropped to their lowest circulation figures ever. Analog lost about 9,000 in subscriptions and another 1,900 in newsstand sales, for a 14.8 percent loss in overall circulation. ASF lost over 10,000 in subscription and about another 2,300 in newsstand sales, for a 22.2 percent loss in overall circulation. . . . The M of F & SF lost about 5,300 in subscriptions and about another 600 in newsstand sales, for an 11.6 percent loss in overall circulation.
Jaw dropping again: a decade ago, Asimov’s experienced a 22.2 percent loss in a single year? I called up my desktop calculator and whipped through some numbers. (You most excellent people who are actually possessed of a math brain, please do check my figures if they tingle your spidey-sense. They’re rounded but should be basically accurate.)
  • In 1996 Analog had a circulation of 73,649; by 2007, circulation had dropped to 27,399, a 63 percent decline.
  • In 1996 Asimov’s had a circulation of 55,405; by 2007, circulation had dropped to 17,581, a 68 percent decline.
  • In 1996 F&SF had a circulation of 51,370; by 2007, circulation had dropped to 16,489, a 68 percent decline.
It was the change between 1996 and 2007, obviously, that shocked me so deeply: the so-called Big Three's circulation gutted by two-thirds over the course of a decade. Going forward, if that pattern holds true over time, in another decade the digests will be gone, or will have readerships so small as to be functionally irrelevant as a “professional” market.

As Ellis goes on to say, in what seems to be typically inflammatory fashion:

The magazines’ various teams appear not to consider anything to be wrong. They’ll provide what their remaining audience would seem to want, until they all finally die of old age, and then they’ll turn out the lights. And that’ll be it for the short-fiction sf print magazine as we know it.
Ellis’s flame-on blogging tone never fails to grate on my nerves, but after I’d brooded on his post awhile, I had to wonder whether maybe this is a bit more than your Blogger 101 rhetorical style (the better with which to whip potential commenters into a petulant frenzy). Maybe what we’re hearing here is a little of the real anger that a writer, reader, and lifelong fan of s.f. feels at seeing the wasting away of something that has traditionally been, and should still be, be the vital, beating heart of the science fiction print genre.

Ellis ends his post with what has, in the present moment, become a predictable call to action, the turn to the Web:

It’s time now, I think, to turn attention to the online sf magazines. I personally live in hope that, one day, some of them move from net to print, and create a new generation of paper magazines. But, regardless, it’s time to focus on them — on what they do, how they generate revenue, and what their own future is.
Something we’ve heard before as well. I won’t try to write here about the vicissitudes of monetizing your web-based publication. We’ve seen the genre webzines come and go, fallen soldiers of the digital revolution. So far it’s an iffy proposition. But the day’s coming. If not tomorrow, then the year after the year after tomorrow . . .

So I reshelved my Year’s Best: Thirteenth Annual Collection, shook my head sadly, and went back to work—in the flying-high world of comic books in the summer of 2008 (mark this moment, True Believers), where irrational exuberance in the highest degree surely reigns. And that’s where I would have let the matter lie if not for a post by John Scalzi at

The next morning, scrolling through my RSS reader, I happened on Scalzi’s post about the numbers for his short story “After the Coup,” published online for the debut of in the middle of July.

At his blog Whatever, Scalzi writes:

As of about 6pm this evening, Sunday, August 3, 2008, the “After the Coup” page on Tor.Com has been hit 49,566 times. Factoring out return visits, search engine spiderings and the like, I suspect the story’s been read (or at least visited) by about 40,000 readers.
Putting aside worrying the idea what a “hit” constitutes (for that, see the long, useful thread of comments after Scalzi’s post; and, incidentally, you’d think that would have a more sophisticated analytics package that sorted out visits [“hits”] from absolute unique visitors), the thing that struck me was Scalzi’s comparison of “After the Coup” to the Big Three circulation figures back in Ellis’s post:

Combined, their [Analog, ASF, F&SF] subscriber rolls add up to 49,887, a number which is coincidentally very close to the 49,566 hits “AtC” has gotten so far.
All that, Scalzi points out, in two weeks. Two weeks!

So these two posts—the Ellis, the Scalzi—started clanging against each other in my head. And as I set about trying to do my day’s work, a third set of figures came creeping into the mix: the number of absolute unique visitors (as distinguished from visits, or hits) to my comics blog, which doesn’t approach anything like the incredible show of love for Scalzi’s story but, if the numbers hold true, will have exceeded the annual circulation of F&SF in a matter of months (like I said, irrational exuberance, bigtime). Clang!

With all this clanging between my ears, I started thinking all sorts of wrongheaded and negative thoughts.

For instance, I said to myself: If you were a pro writer who got a fantastic gig like teaching at Clarion, say, how could you in good faith spend a week encouraging aspiring young writers to write science fiction stories? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to apprenticing them to a dying trade? “Son, I’m sending you off for the summer to begin your apprenticeship as . . . a barrelmaker.” (A lamplighter; a watercarrier; an oxherd; a bonepicker . . . )

Of course, every student in a workshop like Clarion is admonished, “Don’t do this for the money; do it for the love,” “Do this only if you absolutely cannot not do it,” all that boilerplate stuff; but at the same time everyone knows, really knows, that serious writers, real writers, write to be professionally published. And "professional" means money. More than that, to most people it means making a living.

(I want to pause here to make sure that the Johnny Storms out there understand that I’m not knocking Clarion. I’m a 1997 grad and will wholeheartedly recommend the Clarion experience to anyone seeking to make an entrée into the business. What I’m doing here is talking about the clanging in my head, mainly having to do with money, which, in fact, is the last thing a writing workshop like Clarion should be about. And yet . . . )

And yet, when the money a potential “pro” is sniffing after is so pitiful, and the readership so attenuated, this thing we do—whether it’s stories or novels—begins to approach hobby status. And if it’s a hobby, then it won’t attract the best and the brightest, because, as Heath Ledger’s Joker so rightly says, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Words to live by.

(And here I go again, rattling the bars in the blogsylum . . . for zero free cents a word . . . all for the love, or another four-letter word, of it . . . )

So. That's that for the s.f. short story. I’ll let the economics of the s.f. novel go. It’s been done. For the curious and un-faint-of-heart, Tobias Buckell did a survey.

As Ellis writes, “Here I am to ruin your day again.” But flame on! hasn't ever been my intent here. I love science fiction and on one level or the other have made it my life for many years.

There was a golden moment I remember (uh-oh, nostalgia alert), a stretch of years from the mid-eighties into the early nineties, when I had sense that science fiction had won over the world. I remember being in a packed movie theater for a standing ovation, punctuated by wild, exuberant cheering, as the credits rolled after Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home (1986)—and this wasn’t the midnight premiere for the few, the faithful; this was a Sunday matinee a month and a half into the film’s run. I remember how later in the decade William Gibson (look, Ma, “the man who invented cyberspace”!) was a household name, his marvelously geek-spectacled face on the cover of mainstream glossies everywhere. I remember people saying things like “The revolution’s over and we won.”

Granted, I’ve strayed here from the hard numbers to the anecdotal, qualitative, and personal. But that the market has changed, and not for the better, is a fact. Your agent or editor or publisher will tell you as much. Looking at my bookshelves, I have to ask myself if a work (to pick one at random) as relentlessly weird, dark, downbeat, uncomfortable, and brilliant as Paul Park’s Starbridge Chronicles would be published by a major publisher today. I have my doubts.

As the lj set would succinctly have me to say: Mood: gloomy.

Someone tell me something to lift my spirits, please.

Tell me who’s carrying the fire.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sci-Fi! Say It Loud, Say It Proud

What is it with grousing about the term Sci-Fi?* This morning Jay Lake links to Andrew Wheeler doing a fabulous snarky take-down of the latest SF Signal Mind Meld which is all about changing one aspect of the science fiction publishing world. I haven't read the whole piece, but in it someone once again wants to get rid of the term Sci-Fi. This is a pet peeve of mine--the stressing out about Sci-Fi, not the term itself.

For some rather large subset of the folks inside the science fiction and fantasy genre world the term is considered pure poison and terribly derogatory. In the rest of the world it's at worst a neutral catchy phrase to talk about the genre and more often a term of admiration, as in "I'm a Sci-Fi fan."

Frankly, I like the term. It's short. It's catchy. It's immediately understandable unlike SF where everyone outside the genre assumes you're talking about San Francisco, or SFF or F&SF where no one outside the genre knows what you're talking about. It has no major constituency for it being derogatory outside the field--I live in academia and when when Lit-Fic folks and anti Sci-Fi academics talk about our field they don't say Sci-Fi, they drawl "Oh, you write...sciiieence fiiction, how...interesting," or "oh, a genre writer." Sci-Fi doesn't clunk like "speculative fiction" or even "spec fic."

Even if I didn't like it, I'd still use it. It's effective communication just like the Big Bang, another term that was originally intentionally dismissive. Even more than that though, by owning the term and even making it a badge of pride it robs it of what little power it might have left to hurt.

In short: Sci-Fi! Say it loud and say it proud:

Sci-Fi. I'm a Sci-Fi fan. Some of what I write is Sci-Fi.** I love Sci-Fi.***


*Usually pronounced with a rhyming "I" sound when I encounter it, as in C-Sci or Comp-Sci.

**The majority of course is fantasy which has even bigger terminology problems.

***And, no I'm not a late joiner of the genre. I've been active at conventions for 26 years--I started when I was 15. I'm also a third generation fan--my mother and grandmother were part of the letter-writing campaign to save the original Star Trek and the letter they got back from the show's creators along with a black and white publicity photo are treasured possessions in my family.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Publishers and Technology

Perhaps Kelly has already had this experience (as we share the same editor), but I was just asked if I could do my copy editing electronically. Electronically!!!

You're probably thinking: so what, Lyda? Doesn't everyone use Word's track changes feature to do that? Well, maybe most modern businesses do, but, in my experience, big New York publishers (at least mine) didn't...until now. Everything had always been about the paper with Penguin. Lots and lots of trees sacrificed their lives in service to the post-production phase of novel making.

It used to baffle my students when I showed them the huge stack of paper that was my novel with all the writing on it from various editors, copy-editors, and me. Many looked at me with wonder... "Don't they just use the electronic copy you send them?" No, I explained. I wasn't sure what that was for, because paper was clearly paramount.

Ah, it is the ending of an era, but I salute the publishing industry's footsteps into the 21st century of technology!

Writing Priorities Vs. Reading Priorities

I want to talk a little bit about priorities in writing and reading here because I don't think they're necessarily the same thing. This was triggered by another writing question I received recently. (Oh, and no, I haven't forgotten about the Loft class stuff I wanted to talk about--I've got a couple more posts on that in draft state, but they need to ferment a bit more).

Here a ranking of story element importance suggested by the questioner:

1. Story/Plot followed closely by
2. Character
3. World
4. Dialogue -- although I'm not sure this can be separated from character.
5. Author's general wit--Good examples: Pratchet, Zelazney
6. General writing prose
7. Description

This was cool for me for two reasons.

1) I always like to see how other people look at story.

2) It gives me a chance to unpack the idea that writer priorities and reader priorities are not necessarily the same thing. In fact writer priorities and writer priorities are not always the same thing, not even in the head of just one writer. Taking these seven elements as my base set, (I could and probably would add others on my own) I actually have three* different ranking priorities** depending on how I look at them: personal reader preference, personal writer enthusiasms, professional writer necessities.

As a reader it goes like this for me:

1. Story/Plot
2. Character
3. World
4. Prose
5. Wit
6. Dialogue
7. Description

As a writer jazzed about writing a story:

1. World
2. Story/Plot
3. Character
4. Wit (in this case, smart, not funny)
5. Prose
6. Dialogue
7. Description

As a professional writer aware of audience needs:

1. Prose
2a. Story/Plot
2b. Character
3. World
4. Description
5. Dialogue
6. Wit (in this case, smart, not funny)

I think the reader set is fairly self-explanatory, that's what I notice and what I enjoy as someone reading for pleasure.

The second set is also pretty obvious. These are things that excite me in terms of composing and writing a work.

The last one looks a little bit different.

It starts with prose. That's because if you don't put the thing together in a readable manner the rest of the stuff just doesn't matter; because no one's ever going to see it. Now, what exactly constitutes a readable manner is open to a lot of debate. For me it means first and foremost clarity. The reader has to be able to understand everything I want them to understand. Second, the mode of the prose has to suit the mood of the story. Perky text message speech is probably not going to go well with a Gothic horror piece unless it's used very very carefully and deliberately. I personally also prefer invisible prose, where the reader is hardly aware that they are reading rather than experiencing the story, but I've seen beautiful, obtrusive, poetic prose work as well.

Second I've put plot/story, though I could make a persuasive case that character should go first which is why I changed the numbering scheme. You really need them both. Stories with one but not the other are going to lose a big portion of readers. You can pull off something that's great for a subset of readers with one being outstanding and the other craptacular, but if you don't have both, you're in serious trouble.

I put world third though it's both my favorite element to write and a really critical component, especially in SFF. Yes there are readers who put setting first in terms of what draws them into a story. And yes, setting can be the difference between a good book and a great one, but it's really not as important to the average reader as the other two. That's because it's more fungible. There are a lot of stories that can be told equally well in New York, Feudal Japan, or Middle Earth. SFF is rife with stories that could only work in the magnificent settings created specifically for them, and it's only behind the other two by a hair, but I do think it has to come in third.

I'm not going to get into 4, 5, and 6 here because I've already run long, but I'd love to hear about your ranking schemes in the comments and whether there's a much divergence between them.

*It's actually four since I have a professional reader's set too, but that's a whole post in itself and begins with coherence which isn't even on this list, so I'm going to leave it out here

**They're also shifting priorities over time and depending what I'm working on

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tag Lines

I've always been fascinated by those tag lines that books get under the title. My first novel Archangel Protocol got: "The future is closer than you think," which I always thought was a bit cliche and strained.

I, or rather Tate, just got the cover copy for her newest book, Dead If I Do (which is about a vampire wedding), and this is the tag: "Something borrowed, something blue, something dead, and witchy too!" I'd love to hear what y'all think of it, but I have to say: I LOVE it.

But it made me wonder... do people read those things? What do you think of those kinds of tag lines? What purpose do you think they serve?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Boot Camp For Writers

I recently received a question asking how one could learn to write at a professional level given limited time but intense focus and dedication. I don't know that it's possible to come up with some sort of prescriptive route for that that's even likely to be 20 percent successful, or someone would already have done it, but it gave me an excuse to think about how I would construct a boot camp for writers and that seemed a worthwhile challenge. As part of the question the interested party wanted to know how I'd learned the craft (inasmuch as I've learned it) and I'll throw that in at the bottom of the boot camp post. This is entirely speculation as it's not really how I got to where I am, but I think it might be useful speculation and I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on the model.

I personally think there's no better way to really learn the craft than to write. Lyda would probably argue with me about exactly what to write since she and I differ on the topic of short stories, but* I think that short stories can really do an enormous amount of work in teaching a writer who is willing to apply themselves--work that would take much longer with novels.

Boot Camp For Writers:

Day 1, brainstorm 10 story ideas. Write a 5 sentence description of each idea.

Day 2, write a 200 word description of 10 of those ideas (or even just 5-depends on how fast you write). Really think about the plot for each. Don't worry about character or setting or making enormous amounts of sense, just focus on creating a solid plotline. What's the situation? What's the problem? How does the protagonist attempt to solve the problem? It's a short story so they can either succeed or fail. How are they transformed in the course of the story? What are the stakes?

Day 3, take the description that most appeals. Write the story. Again, just focus on plot. Do all the other things, but don't worry about them. You're trying to nail down plot here. Take another day to finish the story if you have to, but no more than that.

Day 4, repeat days 1 and 2.

Day 5, repeat day 3.

Day 6, brainstorm 10 ideas (you can steal from the 18 ideas you've already come up with but not written). Write a 200 word description of each idea focusing on character (you can steal from the previous 18 for events but that's not what's important here). What's important is who are these people. Why are they doing what they're doing? How are they transformed? Remember that every single character is the hero of their own story. Really drill down on motivation and personality.

Day 7, write the story that most appeals to you from the character oriented descriptions. Don't worry about anything but making the characters breathe and do things that make internal sense.

Day 8, repeat day 6.

Day 9, repeat day 7.

Day 10, brainstorm ten story ideas (again, you can steal from the leftovers). Write a 200 word description of each story focussing on setting and world. Make it as much a real place as possible. Really think through the consequences of the central magical or technological situations.

Day 11, write the most appealing story of that set. Focus on the world, on getting the details in that make it a habitable logical place. Try to show the reader the sweat on the characters' faces. Make sure you really describe things and take the reader to the world. Do all the other stuff, but don't let it worry you if someone does something inconsistent or some plot twist makes no real sense.

Day 12, brainstorm ten story ideas. Write a five sentence description of each. Take the five that most appeal to you and write a 300 word summary of each one. Make sure that you have a real plot with a problem and cost. Make sure you have real characters with transformations and logical motives. Make sure that the place the story is set is logical and three dimensional.

Day 13, take the second best idea. Write a story.

Day 14, take the best idea. Write a story.

Day 15, go back through and read everything you've written over the previous two weeks.

Days 16-29 do whatever the heck you want, but make sure to think about writing and the stories at least a bit each day. Now would be a good time to work on that novel you've been dreaming about.

Day 30, go back and reread it all again. Send the five stories off to a critical reader or readers.

Days 31-59, wait, do whatever you want, but spend a little time each day thinking about writing and the stories. Go back to the novel.

Day 60, read the critiques.

Days 61-65, revise the short stories. Give each one a day and make the changes that you think will help the story work.

Day 66, send them all out.

Day 67, get to work on the next project. Focus on the novel. Write five short stories in five weeks. Anything. Keep writing. Don't think about the submissions.

End Boot Camp

For comparison, how I learned (in brief): Read a lot of f&sf. Wrote one short story, started submitting it. Wrote three novels in quick succession (all fairly derivative). Ditto on submissions. Started a writers group by buttonholing fellow writers I knew socially. wrote about twenty short stories and ran them through critique. Sold WebMage the short. Started writing the novel. Sold some more shorts. Wrote four more novels. Ran them all through writers groups (there were several in here). Sold WebMage the novel and a sequel. Wrote more novels. Sold more novels. Spent a lot of time thinking about story as the process went along and talking about it with other writers.

*Or not, see comments.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


There was much biking in Winnipeg, which was part of the plan and will be discussed at a bit more length later. There was also an unexpected two mile bike ride in Grand Forks (the city of my birth) and an hour stop due to this:


We needed to find something to do while we waited for all four of our tires to be replaced, so we biked to dinner.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Writer's Resistance

I just finished a class on overcoming "Writer's Resistance" at the local literary center. I don't think I have writer's block. It's more like writer's sluggishness, and I suspect the main cause is working 30+ hours a week.

But I also suspect there are other reasons why I drag my heels when it comes to writing. So the class seemed like a good idea.

I found it very hard to follow through on the teacher's good suggestions, and I'm still trying. She feels that making commitments and keeping them is really important. Tell yourself that you will write at least 15 minutes every day and then do it, come rain or shine. Make the commitment small and manageable, rather than large and scary. You can do extra, if you want to. But always do the 10 or 15 minutes you said you would do.

Doing the writing, which she calls product, is not easy. I'm writing a fair amount right now, but not according to the pattern I have committed to, as part of the class. I seem to be deliberately not following the teacher's suggestion. "Here's a story, but -- hah! -- I did it without following the rules."

Even harder are the other commitments she suggested: time spent at 'process,' work done playfully, with no intention of getting any kind of product; and time spent at 'destruction,' which she suggested might be cleaning, getting rid of clutter, or pulling weeds in the garden.

I don't have a garden, but I certainly have plenty of files that could be gone through, both paper and electronic. Boy, is it hard for me to spend even 10 or 15 minutes clearing that stuff out.

'Process' is a problem for me, because I am not playful.

Her final commitment is 'self-care,' and this is easy right now, because I am going to the Y.

I think she is on to something, so I am trying to keep a list of what I'm doing every day in the way of self-care, process, product and destruction, aka cleaning. None of it is easy, but I am ending with a cleaner home. Though I am still avoiding the files.

Quick Interruption - All About Me

I'm the featured author over at the Ninja Writer's short story club. If you want to read something by me (free! online!) come on over and discuss.

Friday Cat Blogging--With Amazing Kitten Action

Yeth mathter.


I is inwisible


The kitteh is in! (Belle as kitten)


Who thought that bringing this damn thing home was a good idea? (A disgruntled Spot and a friendly Jordon as kitten)


Please, sir, I could make beauty-full music is you would just open the lid.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mother Flubber!

During an email discussion with some fellow writers, I found out something rather startling. Both of the other authors had had their swear words toned down by their editor (at the same publishing house.) Also, the scientific words they'd used to describe certain intimate body parts had also been modified. The publishing house in question is famous for its romances in the industry (and is sometimes mocked for its purple prose during sex scenes).

Anyway, I was shocked. I mean, I've had my editors remove ENTIRE sex scenes (in a romance, no less,) but I've never had anyone change my stronger term to a "forget you!" like when a cable show gets "translated" for network TV.

I have a sort of strange relationship to the rougher words of the English language. I use them liberally in my own life (though less around the new set of little ears in the house), but I have been known to modify their use in my writing.

Even so, it would be a shock to find your editor neutering your expletives.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 hacked?

Whoa. Did really get hacked?

I saw the defacing post from "the Persian Hacker" in my RSS reader on Monday, and there hasn't been a single new post on since.

I'm a little mystified that there isn't more hutesium et clamor about it around the web. (Maybe I'm just not seeing it?)

Any news on this, anyone?

Research -- Distraction and Fun

Several weeks ago, I handed out the first chapter of my new science fiction novel to Wyrdsmiths. It takes place in a future Cairo five months after the Aswan dams (both high and low) are over run by silt deposits and an unseasonable rainfall and they break. It's a fun setting in that while I'd like to be as accurate as possible about Cairo and its environs, I can destroy national monuments and otherwise completely rearrange the landscape.

However, one commenter -- it was Eleanor, I think -- rightly pointed that the story as I'd written it didn't have a lot of the "feel" of Cairo. She couldn't "see" it very well and she suggested I do more research.

I've been researching like crazy and I've learned a lot of cool (and readily science fictionalized) bits of information about Egypt in general and Cairo in particular. The biggest stumbling block for quick research has been that my Internet connection at home is slow -- actually glacial, it's dial-up. And, because Mason is off school for the month of August, I can't spend the entire day at the coffee shop like I'd like to. So, I had to do the old-fashioned method.

I went to the library.

Hey, in case you were wondering? Libraries are AWESOME. I checked out about six books on Egypt, and although my library tends to focus on books appropriate for teenagers doing school projects, that means they're just what I'm looking for -- books with LOTS of pictures.

So now I'm in research heaven. The only bummer is that my writing has slowed to a trickle. I wrote maybe a hundred words last night. So research? I'd say I have a love/hate relationship with it, heavy on the love (though my writing process hates the interruption.) My book and my readers, I hope, will love me for it, though.

Do you ever find yourselves caught up in research? And do you find, like I am, that sometimes magic is afoot? Like, just last night I was wondering how I was going to have a community of hackers living in destroyed Cairo and a book I was reading not only provided me with an awesome answer, but I discovered that there's an entire neighborhood that's basically named "engineers' alley." Magic, I'm tellin' ya.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Life Goal Down... Six Million to Go

I finally wrote the perfect book.

Okay, that's perhaps a SMALL exaggeration, so let me explain. Despite the changes in the publishing industry, I've always been edited. Normally, a couple of months after I turn in a book, I get an editorial letter of some sort requesting revisions. These letters are e-mails, actually, and can be anywhere from twelve to three pages (single spaced). I get two months to revise the book and then it goes to the copy-editing stage, etc., etc., until finally the book hits the shelves.

For every book I've ever written, I've always gotten a revision letter. Even though sometimes the changes are "small," they usually involve changing plot or character or other rather substantive things.

I got an email from my editor yesterday, and I thought, "Okay, here we go. Let's see what needs doing this time." Turns out nothing! Well, okay, I actually forgot to fill in a couple of "fill in later" spots, but we decided we could do that during the copy-editing stage.


I can't really explain why this makes me feel so elated. I mean, it's not really like I've written a *perfect* book. But, I really loved writing DEAD IF I DO and I'm really proud that my "first" pass (really, of course, the result of several drafts) was accepted.

Maybe I'm just excited to get to skip one of the usual steps, because it means less work for this self-indulgent, lazy writer.

Whee! Video games here I come.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blogging Elsewhere

I've written about this subject here a number of times, but if you want to read about why I think it's important to try to write something every day check out my blog at Something Wicked this morning.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

2008 Hugo and Campbell Award Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2008 Hugo Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, announced last night at Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention.

And the winners are . . .

Novel: The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)

Novella: "All Seated on the Ground," by Connie Willis (Asimov's, December 2007; Subterranean Press)

Novelette: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," by Ted Chiang (F&SF, September 2007)

Short Story: "Tideline," by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's, June 2007)

Related Book: Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Stardust, by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman, dir. Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who, "Blink," by Stephen Moffat, dir. Hettie Macdonald (BBC)

Editor, Short Form: Gordon Van Gelder

Editor, Long Form: David G. Hartwell

Professional Artist: Stephan Martiniere

Semiprozine: Locus, ed. Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, and Liza Groen Trombi

Fanzine: File 770, ed. Mike Glyer

Fan Writer: John Scalzi

Fan Artist: Brad Foster

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Mary Robinette Kowal

Friday, August 08, 2008

Off Net

Just a quick status of the Kelly note: I'll be off net from the 9th-16th.

Friday Cat Blogging--A Day In The Life

Leith, nap cats edition


Ashbless, nap cats edition


Isabelle, you woke me up to take a picture?


Jordan, who can nap with that damn chipmunk in the morning glories?


Nutmeg, Dude, does that camera taste as good as it looks?


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Catch of the Day

Quiet Earth ("dedicated to genre film and everything postapocalyptic") has posted this striking steampunk-inflected poster for director Joseph Kahn's effort at adapting Neuromancer to film (listed at IMDb as still in preproduction).

Cool-enough looking to give you hope . . .

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Author Interview–Kat Richardson

Kat Richardson is a friend of mine, a fellow contemporary fantasist, and a fellow SFNovelist. She has a book out today and so we have her here for an interview.

Kat Richardson is the author of the Greywalker parnormal detective series. UNDERGROUND, the third book in the series, will be out August 5--it's her first hardbound book and she's very excited about it. You can learn more about Kat and her books by visiting her website or blogs wordpress or livejournal.

1.b) Why this book? What made you want to write this story?

I had a couple of things I wanted to do: I wanted to write a "monsters in the sewer" adventure and I wanted to expand a little on the character of Quinton, Harper's mysterious tech-geek friend in the Greywalker series. So I combined the two interests into one book and this was the result.

2.b) Which authors inspire you? Has that changed over time?

Oh, it's definitely changed over time. My tastes change, and there are always new writers coming on the scene who surprise and excite me. I love classic writers of excellent English, like Shakespeare, Austen, and Kenneth Graham as well as their contemporary collegues like Patricial McKillip who make language a joy. I also really admire groundbreakers like William Gibson, Richard K. Morgan, and Ken Bruen. I'm a total fangirl of quirky writers like Cherie Priest--and she only lives a few miles away!--Liz Williams, Jasper Fford, and Victor Gischler. I've let a lot of writers drop off my reading list for lack of time, not lack of interest.

3.b) Why genre? Is there something special about science fiction or fantasy that draws you to write in the field?

I like the "what if" that underlies SFF. It's a challenge not only to style, craft, and story but to raw imagination. It's the quintessence of invention and curiousity that drives humans to strive. If it were not for "what if" would Gallileo have invented a telescope to look at the stars? And you see where that led.

4.b) What do you find most interesting about Harper Blaine? her various adversaries? Why these characters?

I lover Harper's toughness. I don't just mean that she carries a gun and talks like Sam Spade; it's her sheer drive to keep going in the face of any and every adversity that makes her intriquing. She had a nice, settled life that she's worked hard to build and when it was suddenly upended, she hated it, but she rolled with it and keeps on going. She's learning more in each subsequent book about her abilities, but also about herself and what really drives her and what ultimately satisfies her. Her adversaries change in each book but in the end there is always the problem of making peace with herself and living with her challenges.

I have to say that my favorite of her adversaries is yet to be fully revealed. I'm working up to it in a future book. Suffice to say, he has a plan and it is Not Good. But writing about it should be tremendous fun.

As to why these guys... Well, they just seemed like the right group to complicate Harper's life.

5.b) You're a writer. What else are you? What are your interests? Hobbies?

I'm a former magazine and technical editor, so I'm kind of an English and History geek, but I'm also fond of sailing, computer games, swing dancing, ferrets, target shooting, and motorcycles. I used to work at a renaissance faire as a dancer and actor. I've read the Sunday funnies for a radio service for the blind. I work on the Northwest regional board of the Mystery Writers of America, and before I got into journalism in college, I majored in vocal music. I'm also a bit of a science geek: I love to read physics books and biology, I used to write technical course material about diamonds for the Gemological Institute of America, I hand-code my own website (which explains the very plain design), and I poke my nose into all kinds of tech-y subjects whenever I have the time.

6.b) Did you have to do any special research for this book? What did you need to know in order to write it that you didn't know before? Do you have some special prepartion you do general to writing?

UNDERGROUND required quite a bit of reading as well as interviewing. I spent a lot of time in my library reading about local Indian tribes and legends, local history, local architecture, and then I tracked down the historian for Seattle's underground tour and picked his brains, too. Research is one of the things I love about writing--I always find some weird detail I hadn't thought of that can be useful. I've found information on crimes, earthquakes, people--even buildings--that have turned out to be fascinating and useful. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 made it into GREYWALKER, POLTERGEIST utilized information and locations from Washington's most notorious mass murder, and the collapse of a building in Pioneer Square in 1897 became an important clue in UNDERGROUND.

7.b) I see a lot of information about the homeless in this book. Is that something that really interests you? Or is it more driven by the needs of the story?

It was more story-driven, but I have to admit that after doing the research, my awareness of the homeless, and the situations that surround them, has gone way up. Some really have given up on getting out of their situation--it can be really bleak and crushing--but most are trying very hard to re-enter the mainstream, to get jobs and homes and stop living on the street. There are some surprising grass-roots organizations out here--like Peace for the Streets, Women in Black, and the Coilition for the Homeless--trying to help these people get off the street and back to living lives that aren't haunted by a constant state of fear and hopelessness and raise the awareness of people like me.

8) So, if you were Harper Blaine and someone introduced you to a zombie, as happens UNDERGROUND, what would you do?

Me? I'd freak right out. I am so much not Harper Blaine. Babbling... yeah... that would be my most likely response.

9) What are you writing now?

I'm working on Greywalker #4 which has just been retitled VANISHED. It's a continuation of the arc that started in GREYWALKER and it will wrap up a lot of questions as well as posing some new ones to answered in Book 5.

I'm also working on an SF Police thriller novel I'd like to finish and sell and I'm noodling with a bunch of other ideas. But that's pretty much the way all writers are--noodling constantly.

10.b) How did you become a writer? Is this what you saw yourself growing up to be? Or did it take you be surprise?

It was a bit of a surprise. I'd always wanted to be a singer or a dancer or maybe an ice skater--very girly. But when I was heading for college, I realized I'd been writing all my life--my first short story was written for a class when I was eight--and I thought that was a huge clue that maybe I should just do that, instead of being a music teacher.

11.b) Do you have a writing routine? Talk process for a moment, how do the words get on the page?

I do and I don't. I start with ideas either under a deadline or something that has just jumped to the front of my brain and won't shut up. Then I try writing it out for a while. Eventually I get stuck and have to fall back and outline. After that I can usually go ahead, although I've been known to write up to four outlines of 35 pages or more each before I can comfortably finish a novel so it's a bit more complicated than "I just write." I write my novels with a Mystery structure where timing and placement of clues is vital, so what I'm really doing when I outline is working out ahead of time a lot of the issues that would normally come up in revision. That doesn't mean I don't revise, but it's not usually too heavy. With shorts or novellas, I tend to just jump in with an idea and thrash around, revise a couple of times, and then finish it up and ship it. I don't have much of a routine per se, I just get up, clear off the housework and paperwork, mess around until I feel like I've wasted enough time for one day, and then write until I can't stand any more, or I've reached a good stopping point. And I write pretty much every weekday and do things like this interview on weekends.

12.b) Office? Closet? Corner of the living room? Do you have a set place to write? A favorite? How does the environment you write in affect your production? Your process?

I don't have much space, living on a sailboat. I just plop myself down on the dinette bench, pop open my laptop and work. I like being at home where I can blast music, look after our geriatric ferrets, or pace around and talk out the dialog aloud, so I'm not really comfortable in coffee shops or libraries. I do occasionally have "playdates" with Richelle Mead and other SFF writers in the area whom we've started calling "Team Seattle" where we sit in her living room and work becuase we're too embarrassed to let the other one see us NOT working.

13.b) Is there anything you especially like to work on in a book? Anything you hate?

I hate writing sex scenes, which is why I never do them. There's one in UNDERGROUND and it was the worst thing I ever had to do. Ugh! I'd rather write an action sequence, or even revise, than do that again! What I love is making the past come alive, letting the setting and the ghosts flow out--that's just too much fun!

14) This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

Right now, only the Greywalker series: GREYWALKER, POLTERGIEST, and now UNDERGROUND, but I have a werewolf Christmas short story coming out in an anthology in October called WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE that was edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner. A Harper Blaine novella will be out in January 2009 in the collection MEAN STREETS and I'm really looking forward to that, since the colletion is just four of us from Penguin's fantasy noir side: Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, and Thomas Sniegoski.

15) Do you see fiction as having a purpose? Generally? How about your own work?

My work is mostly entertainment, but I hope that readers do occassionally see the depth of history in it, and the way in which human beings shape their worlds by what they believe--good or bad--as much as by what they do. That's a bit of a recurring theme in the books, along with the idea that you can control and shape your own life, no matter what gets thrown at you.

In general I think fiction should sneak ideas into our heads--not bludgeon us. It pretends to be entertaining, but it should tickle our minds to thought, if possible.

I'm excited that the UNDERGROUND is out in hardcover and I hope it does the series proud. It's been an interesting book to research and write and I'm looking forward to seeing it "in the wild" at last. It's a Roc book, so it's available from major booksellers all over the US, Canada, and the UK and you can get one online--I'll even sign it if you ask--from one of my favorite independent booksellers: Seattle Mystery Bookshop, or find an independent bookseller near you, or order from Barnes & Nobel.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Author Interview–Gregory Frost

Greg Frost is someone I know from a decade of WisCon participation and more recently SFNovelists. He's also an all around good guy and fine writer. His most recent novel came out just a few days ago, and now he's here to talk about it and writing.

Gregory Frost is the author of, most recently, LORD TOPHET, the sequel to the acclaimed fantasy novel, SHADOWBRIDGE (both from Del Rey Books). Shadowbridge is a world dreamed into being, as its creation story--included in the first volume--makes clear. It's an accretion of our myths, legends, folk and fairy tales but they've all altered in the translation somewhat, and taken on lives of their own. Everything in Shadowbridge thus sounds familiar and alien at the same time.

1) What was your inspiration for writing these books?

The answer is, there's no single inspiration. The idea of this world of bridges was one I kicked around for years. I talked it over with other authors, like Michael Swanwick who threatened to steal it if I didn't do something with it (nothing like that sort of terror to push you into action). One inspiration might be Gormenghast. Another is surely M. John Harrison's Virconium stories. And Hadawy's translation of The 1001 Nights. The Trelawney translation of The Ocean of the Streams of Story by Somadeva. But you won't find any direct reference to these things. Samuel R. Delany has a concept he calls "received language" and to a degree, I think that's what happens with all of us--we absorb, we receive, and bits and pieces accrete, and this thing emerges. It's original, it's us, but it's also all this stuff we've read, seen, heard, thought about. This is one reason why as a writer you absolutely must read beyond your narrow genre or you're going to be boring.

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Walter M. Miller, Mikhail Bulgakov, Homer, T.C. Boyle, Donald Westlake, Jack Williamson, Kelly Link, Shirley Jackson, Ian Fleming, John Irving, Alexandre Dumas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Rafael Sabatini, Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Chandler, Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortazar...I don't know if this is anything like a definitive list, but it comprises the names of writers whose work I treasure and can come back to time and again and be rewarded.

3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

I think, as a kid, it was the 'gosh-wow' factor. Fiction that took me away from where I was, and at the same time sort of wryly commented on where I was. I loved its strangeness, its otherness. Really, I wallowed in reading it. I never thought I would be writing it.

4) How did you come to make Leodora your protagonist?

When Mr. Swanwick threatened to run off with my world, I immediately went out and wrote a story called "How Meersh the Bedeviler Lost His Toes." I created the "Coyote" figure for all of Shadowbridge, and in the frame of that tale created a storyteller named Bardsham (which is a Shakespeare joke of sorts--the faux bard). Bardsham was based on a real shadow-puppeteer I'd met. But when I came to the prospect of a novel, I didn't want to write about him. At some point, I arrived at this vision of a girl, Leodora, standing on top of a bridge support tower, high above the city, and looking at her world. What I said about about things coming together out of all the material you read, things you see...I don't know where she came from, where that moment came from. The view from Arc de Triomphe, or from a railroad bridge I'd climbed as a kid, or looking down from the Palatine Hill in Rome? I have no idea. Maybe it's all those things at once. But it pushed the book in a direction, and the rest unfolded from there.

5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

I've been an avid cyclist for (shudders to admit it) 38 years. This is the first summer, in fact, in all that time, I haven't been on a bike (I had a serious leg injury last fall and I'm still working that off). I studied aikido for ten years, under the tutelage of sf/fantasy author Judith Berman. Used to sing in three garage bands (not at the same time of course). And I tremble to admit it, but I like to read research.

6) What sort of research did you do to write the Shadowbridge books?
What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

Frankly, every book requires a different amount of and sometimes entirely different kinds of research. I got hooked on that element back in the 1980s, researching for TAIN and REMSCELA, which comprise the retelling of the Tain Bo Cuailnge and subsequent events in the life of the Irish hero Cu Chulainn. A lot of sociological research into bronze-age Celts went into those books. Research into Druids, and into mythology. Shadowbridge has been more of the same, but now it's not just one branch of mythology, it's all of them shoved in a blender and pureed. But my first novel, LYREC...I did no research at all. That book came, whole-cloth, out of my head. I heard Jeffrey Ford say the same thing about The Physiognomy, too--to my amazement. He just invented that world and ran with it. Didn't do a lick of research, and those three books are just sodding brilliant.

7) How much of you goes into the characters? How much is Leodora like you?

They're all me, aren't they? Villains, heroes, heroines, lovers and fiends. She isn't "like" me. How could she be? She's herself. I think that writing fictional characters is akin to acting. You adopt the role of the character and try to inhabit it while that person's on stage. Then you try to become the next character, and so on. To a degree you have to know these people before you pick up the pen and write (sorry, I still use a fountain pen so that's my metaphor). You have to know what motivates. You have to know at the very least what they want. Even if they want nothing at all--wanting nothing is a state of being. It tells you something about the character and how she'll react. It sounds horribly pretentious, but it's not. It's ridiculously basic. Creating characters is understanding on some intuitive level what they want right now.

8) What are you writing now?

A supernatural mystery (no, there are no frickin' vampires in it, so stop asking now). Contemporary, and set on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. As far from Shadowbridge as one could get...which is no doubt why I have no career at all. I just can't stay in one place long enough to concoct a series.

9) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

I thought I wanted to be a comic book illustrator. I wrote and drew comics all through junior high and high school. Showed them to nobody, really. But I'm not one of those who says "Oh, yeah, I popped out of the womb knowing I was going to be a writer." Great, man. Love ya. Not me, I had no damned idea at all.

10) Why genre? Is there something special about science fiction or fantasy that draws you to write in the field?

I think it's hard-wired into me. The first book I can remember ever choosing on my own from the library was a retelling of The Odyssey. I grew up on Captain Midnight and Superman and The Twilight Zone and Commander Cody. And comic books. I was utterly fantasy oriented, and story ideas when they come are invariably fantastic or horrific. I don't think in terms of "people paralyzed by angst at recognizing the human condition." Sorry, just not my cup of hemlock.

11) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

That would depend on where I am in the book and whether or not I know what the next part looks like. First drafts are hard, and crappy and fragmented. Revisions just seem to last forever. Different parts of the brain and different processes, and so different lengths of time. But I now write far more often in coffee shops than I would ever have thought possible.

12) This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

Before this was FITCHER'S BRIDES, a reworking of the Bluebeard line of fairy tales. The serial-killing husband. Dark, nasty, and great fun to write. There's a collection of short stories out from Golden Gryphon Press called ATTACK OF THE JAZZ GIANTS & OTHER STORIES--I've been publishing short fiction since 1981. I mentioned already the early novels. There's also a science fiction novel, THE PURE COLD LIGHT, that was a Nebula nominee back in the mid-'90s.

The Shadowbridge books are available pretty much everywhere, but I recommend purchasing them through simply because I support independent booksellers.

If you want to order Shadowbridge, go here.
If you want to order Lord Tophet, go here.
If you're interested in Attack of the Jazz Giants go here.
If you're interested in Fitcher's Brides, go here.

Happy Dance (Elsewhere . . . )

Over in my MOC-verse, we just popped the cork on a big guest announcement that has me bubbling over with happiness.

(Lyda, for one, will understand just how amazingly cool this is.)

Monday Musings... (Elsewhere)

On Mondays I can usually be found blogging over at "Something Wicked..." a blog for a group of paranormal writers. Today, you can read about how I stopped worrying and learned to love the... outline.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Catch of the Day

There is unquestionably a connection for me between the maps I encountered as a young reader—the endpaper maps—and the maps I created for myself, both literally drew myself, of imaginary lands I was trying to bring into existence, and the internal maps I was creating of the world that I lived in, the world that I played in—the neighborhood. . . . Where the mean dogs were, where the mean dads were, where the bad kids hung out. All of that was intimately connected in my mind with what I was reading.

I don't think there's any question that kids aren't sent out to play with the same kind of freedom anymore, at least not where I live. I would say, "Bye, Mom," and I'd be gone all day long. It felt like such a porous boundary, between my physical world, in which I enacted my imaginary games, and the world I was reading about in the books I loved. They fed each other. What happens when you take out one huge part of that—what happens to kids' imaginations?

—Michael Chabon, from an interview in the Los Angeles Times

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging (Belated Edition)

12 pound kitty in a 9 pound box


Gravity, I defies it. I def...zzzz


What's wrong? Laptop, right? I puts my lap on top.


Should've popped for the bluetooth!


Of course my legs aren't stuck! What makes you ask? Go away.


BTW, I actually forgot what day it was, which is why this is late.


Where's the Friday cat blogging?!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Structure and Story Post 1

I'm thinking about teaching at the Loft again, an advanced novelists class on structure and story and I'm going to use the blog to work through some of my ideas on the subject. It would be six classes, so there will probably be six posts starting with today's post on first chapters and book openings. I'm going to try to formulate some general principals on what I think a first chapter needs to accomplish and some ways to look at how to do that. As always, sufficiently good writing will trump any general principal.

So, a first chapter should:

1) Introduce the protagonist in a way that makes the reader want to know more about their story. I think that generally this is best done by making the protagonist a sympathetic and likable character. You need to spend some time with the protagonist under circumstances that allow the reader to get to know their best side so that they will be pulling for the character.

2) Set up the central problem or conflict of the story. I generally try to put a "problem statement"* of some sort into the opening three pages, and if I can't do that I make very sure to get it in by the end of the first chapter. I'm not sure you can apply this to every kind of story, and it can be very difficult, but it's a good exercise both for the writer and reader. You also have to be careful not to make the problem statement so obvious that the reader can then put down the novel because they know what's going to happen.

In the WebMage books the problem statement is usually also a red herring, i.e. Ravirn thinks he has x problem with thing y, but in actuality he has g problem with thing y, or x problem with thing r, or some other variation. In Cybermancy, Ravirn initially thinks the problem is simply "I need to get Shara's soul out of Hades," and that is the opening problem, but the actual problem is closer to "How do I get Shara's soul out of Hades successfully and survive the consequences?" which is a multi-step process that only begins with the initial extraction of Shara's soul.

3) Introduce the setting. This is especially important in science fiction and fantasy where part of what the reader is looking for is a cool speculative world (technology, magic system, magical creature, alien, magical situation, etc.). I'm generally of the school that says the more of this you put up front the better, though there are situations where you might want to keep parts of it secret for a while. I'm absolutely of the opinion that something fantastical has to happen before the chapter ends.

In summation:
1) Protagonist introduction (generally sympathetic).
2) Problem statement.
3) Setting.

Hey, that sounds like a character with a problem in a setting. Isn't that the most basic description of story? Why, yes it is Mr. McCullough; you get a balloon. I know this seems almost too basic but it's remarkably easy to lose track of. In many ways an opening chapter has to play out the arc of the book in miniature. For that matter so does a closing chapter.

It's really very similar that way to the best advice I ever got for writing an essay: Paragraph one, tell the reader what you're going to tell them. Main body of paper, tell the reader what you said you were going to tell them. Final paragraph, tell the reader what you just told them.

As a writer you have to think about chapter and scene, especially first chapters and scenes, as much in terms of what they do for the reader as you do about what the events of the story are. You have to develop a sense of the structure of story in a way that non-critical readers don't.

Thoughts? Comments? Vehement disagreements?

*I've borrowed this term from physics problem solving theory** in which the student's first task is to read the test or homework problem, figure out what they are solving for, and restate it in a clear way so that they can dedicate all of their efforts toward the correct goal.

**Where they got it I don't know.