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Archive for the ‘Writing About Writing’ Category

Something has been nagging at me recently, and I think I finally realized what it is. Every time you hear a news story, they seem to go on about someone or something being “innocent.” Innocent civilians fleeing a civil war. Innocent children being shot at school.

It brings to mind a passage from the Tao: “When people say that some things are beautiful, other things become ugly. When people say that some things are good, other things become bad.”

Just so, when news coverage and fictional stories continually refer to a few people as Innocent, what happens to the other people in the story? Do we think of them as Not Innocent? And what exactly does that mean?

Yes, innocence is a complicated concept. It can strictly mean that one did not commit a certain crime, but more generally an Innocent person is simply unaware of harsh facts in life.

It’s easy to recognize an Innocent character in stories. They’ll be the pure, virtuous person who deserves to be cared about and defended. If they do wrong it will be portrayed as a simple mistake and they will receive leniency. And by the way, they will be dressed all in white.

What about characters who are Not Innocent? They are mean and selfish, and don’t care if they hurt other people. They don’t deserve to be cared about and defended. A character who is Not Innocent doesn’t make simple mistakes. They are assumed to act with malice and should be punished harshly. Also, they dress in black.

Do you see how ridiculous these stereotypes are? Yet, they turn up over and over in stories, movies, news reports. How often in the past year have we heard that a black man was killed by police, only to have pundits and politicians rush in, assuring us that the dead victim was Not Innocent.

As storytellers, we might sometimes feel that it’s okay to lean on the concept of Innocent/Not Innocent characters. It might seem like no further effort is required. But anyone who is even a little thoughtful will surely realize that the world is much more complicated than that. If our fiction is to have deeper meaning, our characters have to be more complicated, too.

Just a little something I’m Innocently reflecting upon.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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What’s Happening? The big change at my house is that my older kid has moved out. One of his friends owns a house where my kid will be renting a room. After years of restaurant work that he hated, Kid also found a job he really likes. It’s janitorial, not glamorous, but perfect for a night owl who doesn’t want to deal with people. It’s a big step, and we’re proud of him. Here’s hoping it will last.

What I’m Working On. Being Director of Programming for SpoCon is taking all my creative energy at the moment. I was able to get the schedule posted before school resumed, so mostly now I’m adjusting for the speakers’ requests and also tracking down their photos and bios. With 60% of my community resisting both masks and vaccines, I don’t even know whether to expect that we’ll be able to host our event. Again, here’s hoping!

What’s Next? When I have a moment to think, I need to do a fresh pass on Prisoners of the Wailing Tower before publishing it around Thanksgiving. At least I don’t have to “here’s hoping” this one. As an indy author, I can make these things happen on my own.

Fun and Games. Currently I’m playing Skyrim. My character is a cat person who’s part of the Thieves Guild. In Animal Crossing, I’m trying to catch 100 fish in a row. Thrill a minute, right?

Here’s hoping you all have a fun Labor Day weekend (if you live in the United States).


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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Food is one aspect of a setting that I really enjoy exploring. I always seem to get much more wrapped up in their menu than in what they’re wearing. In the Minstrels of Skaythe novellas, all the people wear mage robes, peasant dresses and trousers and shirts, mostly without further description, but then I go on a whole paragraph about the river grain, smoked fish, oranges, and what have you.

On the other hand, lazy food choices can really throw me out of a story. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that the characters are eating beef stew, when they supposedly live on an island. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to eat fish?

Like many aspects of setting, a writer can do double-duty with food. You can draw on things the reader already knows to fill out a setting. Most people have some knowledge about where foods come from and how they are grown and processed. Name foods allows you to imply things about the climate and manufacturing base of an area. For instance, eating bananas implies a warm, tropical landscape. If prickly pear fruits are on the menu, that clearly evokes a desert environment.

Don’t forget the spices and seasonings! Cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg, for instance, are grown from tropical trees. If characters have food spiced with cinnamon or pepper, they either live in a tropical area, or there are trade routes allowing valuable spices to be transported. With this, the author illuminates aspects of the world’s economy.

Readers also have ideas about food that an author can exploit. For example, someone drinking beer might be viewed as working class, while someone drinking wine might seem to be upper class or more educated. Those are broad stereotypes, but they still can be useful.

People also have emotional attachments to food that writers can exploit. Are the characters celebrating? Let them eat cake! Or, you can put an original spin on it. Back in my fan writing days, I had a character who could cook magical foods. She distilled the concept of memory into a lemon meringue pie that brought a master vampire to tears.

What do you think? Is the way to a reader’s heart through their stomach?


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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Your story’s setting is a crucial element, along with character and plot, to keep readers invested. Think about it. All those movie trailers that start out, “In a world…” They’re talking about the setting.

For me, the setting is one of my favorite things. When I’m planning a new work, the setting is almost the first thing I think about. Yet when I’m browsing advice, it’s all about characters, dialogue and plot. Setting is often the last thing mentioned.

What I love about setting is how it combines both physical and emotional elements. The way you describe the physical attributes can imply things to the reader. Past history of the place is a big one for fantasy. The feelings of the character who is viewing the place will illuminate their personality. Writers also can shape how the reader feels about this place.

For instance, my most recent short story, “Hag,” takes place in a swamp full of ruins. Already the reader might have preconceptions about a swamp environment. For instance, they might think swamps are disgusting with all the frogs and quicksand. They might see the ruins as dangerous. A writer could enhance this by covering it with creepy mist, if that’s what they want for the story.

However, the character viewing the swamp might think of it as a safe place. In my novella, The Ice Witch of Fang Marsh, Meven was looking for a place to hide and reconnect with her family roots. Fang Marsh had all sorts of hiding places, and lots of resources she could exploit. I hope that I surprised readers with her perception of the place.

My favorite thing about the swamp in “Hag” was all the collapsed buildings and sunken courtyards I filled it with. These are relics of a drowned empire, and that history is an important part of the plot. From the moment you “see” this place, you know those ruins are important.

Hmmm, seems like swamps are kind of an “ism” for me. Anyhow, I’d be interested in hearing from any of you about the interesting ways you have used a setting in your own work.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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One of the things I do when I’m between projects is to update my web site and social media with quotes from people who have reviewed my e-books. Writers can never have enough reviews. Even a few stars would be great, but like I said I’m hoping to quote good things from a review or two.

So, if it just so happens that you’ve read one of my e-books and put up a review, I would love to hear from you! Which one was it, where is your review posted? If you have one but didn’t remember the review, now would be a great time for that.

Thanks so much, if you did! Every mention is a big help for us Indy authors.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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As previously mentioned, I’ve resolved to push myself and submit my short stories to more places before giving up on them. You know what that means, right? Rejections are coming in.

Rejections are part of a writer’s life, and I usually try not to dwell on them. When one comes in, I just look for the next market to submit to. My goal is to submit to 5 places. That may not sound like much, but with markets quickly coming and going, it should be attainable.

With one of my stories, that’s going to be harder. It has a juvenile voice, but at 2,300 words, it’s too long for the juvenile magazine markets. So far it’s been at 3 places. I’m casting about for any more markets to try. If anyone has a suggestion, I’d love to hear it.

The other is more clearly for adults, so I have a lot more potential markets there. The first one I tried sent a generic “didn’t work for us” but then added they’d like to see more from me. I’m trying to focus on that, instead of the didn’t-work part.

One thing I’m observing already is that the responses are coming faster. Instead of mailing physical manuscripts back and forth, most publications now take electronic submissions. They are able to get through submissions in a couple of weeks, or even a day or three, where previously you would wait 3 months or longer to hear back.

Would be nice to get some acceptances, though!


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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Actually, these are plans I’m still laying. Coming up in the fall, I’ve had hopes that the pandemic would subside enough that I could make personal appearances again. With new variants and recalcitrant neighbors, I think we all know how that’s going.

Still, I am attempting to lay plans. The first one is around SpoCon, the science fiction convention I help to organize. I’m in charge of programming, which means I gather ideas for panel discussions (and other activities), recruit speakers, and schedule it all. It’s a lot of work, but it keeps me in touch with the other writers and artists in my area. Our dates this year are October 29-31, ending with Hallowe’en. That makes it extra fun!

We on the convention committee are all holding our breath and organizing as best we can. I think we all have a dread that the state will put us back in lockdown before then. Our convention can get up to 500 people, although under the circumstances 200 is more reasonable. So if the Governor halts gatherings of 200+ people, we are done.

The other thing we’ve had to wrestle with is health measures. I’m hearing around the Internet that speakers want to know vaccine cards are being checked. I don’t thing we have enough volunteers to do that, but I brought it up at the most recent meeting. One of our organizers started talking about “yellow stars” and “vaccine Nazis” and the vaccine being questionable. The convention chair, an RN, stated brusquely that the vaccine is valid and safe, and that we will have no more talk of Nazis in regards to public health. I agree with her, but it was pretty sad to hear one of our own lay down the anti-science card.

Anyway, we are going to require masks to attend. If we don’t do that, I’m pretty sure some of our speakers will back out. The same person then wanted to wrangle about what defines a mask. Sigh… It’s close enough to our event that we need to be clear about this. If there are cancellations because of it, we might be better off without them.

The other thing coming up is Fall Folk Fest, which is a weekend of mostly folk music and dance, but other crafts as well. I usually read my short stories there. I’m not part of organizing this one, but I’ve put in to read again and if the event takes place, I’ll be there.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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That short story, “Hag,” was my summer project. I finished it before going back to school, and I feel really good about that. That means I can start looking ahead to the series finale for Minstrels of Skaythe. Step one of that will be to firm up my continuity from the previous five novellas.

What do I mean by continuity? In writing, it’s basically how you keep track of the details of a story. Everything from the broad plot actions to the details of a character’s appearance are part of the continuity. Most writers keep track of stuff like that so that they don’t make embarrassing mistakes. Growing up as a comic fan, I was always aware of continuity because characters would mention things that happened in previous stories, and we got footnotes telling us what title and issue that took place in. (Which, possibly, was also a bid by the publisher to keep up interest in collecting back issues.)

For myself, I usually did stand-alone novels, where most continuity can be addressed in outlining. Knowing Minstrels of Skaythe would be a series, I’ve been keeping track of continuity in a different way. Some of the things I’ve tried to note for each volume are where the story takes place and who the main antagonist is. If there are important minor characters, I note them down. I try to always have a giant creature of some kind, and that gets written down, too.

Mentions of the other minstrels are also important. The minstrels are a group of mages, each of whom has one volume directed to them, but I still want the readers to know the other ones are out there. I accomplish that by having them say things about each other. Finally, the minstrels are followers of a philosopher-mage named Ar-Thea, and they sometimes quote her wisdom. All of those mentions and quotes go into my continuity document.

I have roughly 2 weeks left before returning to work, so before then I plan to go over my continuity document before then. I think I got in a rush with Renegade of Opshar, and didn’t do those entries. Honestly, that should only take me a few days. I can’t let myself get too lazy!


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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I’m glad (and maybe a bit relieved) to say that I finished the fifth draft of “Hag.” There still needs to be one more pass to look for typos and tweak my word choices, but it’s really almost ready. In a few more days, I’ll begin submitting to publications.

Everybody has their own way of deciding where to submit, and in what order. Should you submit first to the high-class markets? To the ones that pay best? Should you take a chance on lesser markets, or look for anthologies? Someone could run seminars on the subject. (And they probably do, honestly.)

My approach to this has changed over the past few years. It used to be that I was really chasing the traditional publishing route. I would spend hours combing through market listings, comparing the word rates and what kind of work they were looking for and how long the stories could be. At the end of it, I would put together a list and when I had a short story to submit I would go down in order, rejection after rejection.

The unfortunate thing is that I don’t write that much short fiction, so my list always seems to be out of date when I actually go to use it. Markets might have theme lists, or limited submissions windows, or they try to do a rights grab just because you submitted to them.

So these days, my submission process is a lot less formal. First, I look to see if the market is even open to submissions. Next, I check their guidelines to see whether my story would be a good fit for their approach. No point submitting to markets that don’t publish fantasy. Finally, I see what their word count is. I’m constantly finding that my work is too long for their needs.

Here’s where I confess that, like a lot of writers, I under-sell myself. Knowing how tough the competition will be, I skip the top markets and try first for the medium and lesser magazines. I also tend to give up after one or two rejections. Those are bad habits. I really should be pushing myself harder if I want to get any recognition.

With “Hag,” especially, the story is a little more substantial than my usual. When I’m ready, I’m going to aim for the top — as long as they are open to submissions, that is. I’m going to keep trying longer than a couple of weeks before I give up.

What do you mean, August is too late for making resolutions??


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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What’s Happening? I’ve been nursing my garden along through the waves of this summer’s heat. Cucumbers and miniature pumpkins have started coming in, but my beans and tomatoes are sadly lacking. I feel that perhaps the smoke has prevented them getting enough light. We also have had roof work done, which looks great but did not pass inspection. The contractor promises to take care of it. Home improvements are always such a saga, aren’t they?

What I’m Working On. I’m about to start work on the fifth draft of Hag. I thought I would be done with it by now, but what did I know about it? However, the plot is firm and that will allow me to begin tightening, setting the imagery up to fit the theme, and so on. I do hope to be done with it by the end of this month, because that’s when I report back to the school.

What’s Next? In addition to SpoCon’s programming, which is coming together well, I have the next Minstrels of Skaythe novella to get ready for publication. Prisoners of the Wailing Tower is already written. Actually, I was working on it this time last year. Then I realized that for purposes of continuity, The Renegade of Opshar had to come out first. There will still be adjustments, but I plan to have it out for Christmas.

Fun and Games. In Animal Crossing, I made a major achievement. Lilies of the Valley have started growing on my island! This is a sign that I have a “perfect” village, and I’m pretty happy about it. For my other game, I took a rest on Conan Exiles. The building is still fun, but I got stuck in a spot where I lost a lot of gear. By Crom! Anyway, I’m doing a replay of Dragon Age II and having fun with it.

I hope you’re all having fun this summer, and getting your projects written, too.


Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my web siteFacebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

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