Questionable Writing Advice

nathan fillion nope
Me too, Nathan.  Me too.

In a recent issue of one of the few writing magazines I subscribe to, they provide a multi-page article (in garish school-bus yellow, I should add) of “what agents hate.”  I only briefly skimmed it, having had the sense that this was going to be little more than a list of personal irritations that may or may not be helpful to the writers reading it.  I found it more annoying and self-important than helpful to be honest, but that’s just me.

One that did kind of rub me the wrong way was one in which said, and I quote:  If you don’t know how to write a compelling pitch for yourself, you probably should not pursue being a writer.

I mean, I get the context:  this agent has a personal issue with writers who fail at trying to sell themselves.

On the other hand, I personally know a hell of a lot of writers and artists out there who can write phenomenal prose or brilliant dialogue or draw beautiful sequences…yet doing something so compact and microscopic as a one-page advertisement for yourself is a fucking nightmare.  Trying to distill a hundred-thousand-word story that you’ve worked on for lord knows how many months into twenty sentences is a hell of a lot harder than it looks.  It’s two completely different types of creative thinking, and it’s hard as hell to switch easily from one to the other.   Some writers/artists just aren’t as good at the elevator pitch as they are at telling the story.  [Speaking from experience, I should add.]

If anything, I’m thinking they should have maybe rephrased that to be a little less, I don’t know…snobbish?  Soul-crushing?  I’m not sure what word to use here, other than they’re an agent I will most likely not submit to, just on attitude alone.  You’re an agent, you’re supposed to help the writer, not chase them away with Fame platitudes about ‘only the best survive’ and turn them away before they even start.  Yeah, I know, it’s a small field with a crapton of wannabes.  I’m still not a fan of that kind of thinking.

Anyway.  There were also your usual bingo-card points of advice:  kill the adverbs, kill the non-‘said’ dialogue tags, don’t self-edit, farm it out to your writing group, submit only your best work, follow submission directions on the website, don’t hassle the agent/publisher, etc.  Be gracious.  Be patient.  A lot of it does make sense, of course.  YMMV, as they say.

And as I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, some of these are reasons why I’m a self-published author.  I want to be able to successfully edit my own work.  I want to go against the grain.  I’ve gotten better with the pitch.  I don’t think I’m at pro-level yet, but I’ll get there eventually.  I like working on my terms instead of shoehorning myself into everyone else’s.

 

So.  Anyone else come across some questionable writing advice lately?

 

Thank you, autosave

doctor who what
My initial reaction on Wednesday night.

So the other night while digging underneath the desk to lay down an ant trap (damn little buggers come out of nowhere when it’s overly warm out, even up here on the third floor), when I accidentally hit the switch to the power strip, turning everything off — my PC, my desk lamp, my work router, and a few other things.

Suffice it to say, I had not hit ‘save’ on that night’s work on Meet the Lidwells.

SO!  One small heart attack later, I rebooted everything, and I’m glad to say that MS Word did in fact hit a save point about ten minutes beforehand, and temporarily saved my work.  All in all I lost maybe only twenty words or so. I was able to pick right back up and finish (and SAVE) my words for the night.  [Mind you, ever since I lost those couple hundred words for unknown reasons a few months back, I’ve been logging into Dropbox just to make sure everything saved.]

Please let this little PSA be a gentle reminder, my writer friends, to FREQUENTLY SAVE YOUR WORK.

Your sanity will thank you.

Secret Future Project Outtake: Ghosts

A little something I wrote on Friday that may or may not have something to do with the Secret Future Project, aka the College Story.  Enjoy!

[Note: the College Story is not a horror novel, nor is it only about the hedraac (my vampire-like characters that are also in the Secret Next Project universe, though the stories are not related).  This is most likely going to be a New Adult coming-of-age story, which happens to feature many human and non-human characters.]

*

When I cross the quad, there’s always a sense of stillness there, even if other students are mingling about. They could be shouting political slogans, or grunting and shuffling about playing touch football, or practicing their scales and harmonies, or simply scuffling along on their own, but all that tends to get drowned out by the stillness in the air. Even on a windy or rainy day.

I haven’t quite figured out why I feel that, and sometimes I even avoid crossing the quad some days, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Perhaps it’s the ghosts of the campus, forever traipsing along the four corners of the flat grass, forever hovering in front of the brick buldings with blank books and styli long emptied of ink in their arms.

I can sense those ghosts. Not many of us can. Mostly the hedraac, but there are others. The faculty tend to ignore the ghosts. They’ve gotten used to them by now. You know who the new professors are, because like me, they get skittish when they cross this area. They’re not scared, just wary. Like me, they’ll eventually learn to cross the quad without a single worry.

I met one of the ghosts during one of my shifts at the radio station. I’d just entered Davis Hall and headed down to the basement, and I was just about to pull the heavy door into the station, when I stopped short. Hovering in front of me, maybe less than six inches off the ground, a young ghost of a student waited for me. He didn’t look threatening. Maybe a little overtired with heavy eyes and stress lines on his forehead, but other than that he looked like any other student here on campus. A weathered jacket, an overfull book bag slung over his shoulder, worn jeans, and very worn sneakers. He and I locked eyes for a moment. He smiled in response, and slid out of the way.

“Pardon,” I said, well aware that others could have just seen me talk to myself. But I don’t mind that… a lot of students do that here.

My shift started in another twenty minutes, and I always got there early to slide through the music library to pick out the evening’s play list. Another hedraac was finishing up his own show, and was currently running down his own play list. He caught my eye through the studio window and waved. I wondered if he could see the station ghost as well.

This was my third semester at the radio station, and I was slowly making my way up towards the position of music director, something I’d been wanting since I’d discovered college radio when I was a teenager. Some deejays are there for the extracurricular activity or because they have nothing better to do, but me, I plan to stay in the radio field as long as I can. I’m one of those music fans who obsesses over records and bands, knows far too much about them. I’m also one who loves the night shift. It’s not that I’m a night hedraac… I just like the ambience and the fact that I’m alone for the most part.

My shift started as normal and I set the mood by throwing on some of my latest favorites, a wide range of styles that I know most of my fans like to hear. Now and again I’ll get a few calls from them, asking for obscurities or well-known classics, and I do what I can to provide. I may be a music geek, but I’m not a snob about it. I’ve been known to play a few major label tracks now and again.

It’s entering the second hour of my shift when I start hearing the voice.

It’s soft at first, a quiet humming that I mistake for an open feed that I forgot to tune down, and after a few flustered moments of checking and double checking the faders, I realize it’s not going out on the air at all. It’s in the speakers, alright, but it’s not anything I’m playing.

It’s the ghost, and he wants to talk to me.

“I hear you,” I say into the air. “I can’t make out what you’re saying, but I can hear you.”

I feel a tap on my hand, which makes me twitch. He’s trying to guide me to open one of the faders to a test channel. I shiver, but at the same time I’m intrigued.

I turn up the fader in the test channel. “You’re plugged in,” I say, and wait for a response.

Looking for: Stories with a college setting

amherst college
Source: amherst.edu

Not only do I have a Secret Next Project that I’ll be working on once Meet the Lidwells is finished and released, but I have *another* story — set in the same universe as the SNP, but not related — that I’ve deemed Secret Future Project.

This SFP will be set in a Pioneer Valley-like setting.  [For those unfamiliar with the PV, that’s a corridor in midwestern Massachusetts known for containing five colleges (UMass, Amherst, Smith, Holyoke and Hampshire) and thus having quite a sleepy collegiate town feel to it.  I grew up thirty miles to the northeast of it, and it’s one of my favorite places in the world.  For those familiar with the PV, I can hear y’all from here yelling at me to stop talking about it so damn much.  Heh.]

ANYWAY.  I’ve been wanting to write a story set in this kind of place for decades, and I think I’ve found the one thing to write.

The only downside is that I think I’m a little behind the times in terms of my knowledge of stories set on college campuses.  When I think of college stories, unfortunately my mind either goes to John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, F Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, or JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.  I’ve read a lot of stories that are more recent, and numerous webcomics as well (a few like Agents of the Realm, Check Please!, and Questionable Content come to mind).  Movies?  Well, aside from the boomer stories like The Big Chill and The Return of the Secaucus 7, and Gen-X stories like St Elmo’s Fire and all those drunken-frat-bro movies, I’m still searching for more ideas.

SO!  I’m curious:  what are your favorite stories that revolve about college life?  It can be any style, format, or genre.  I’m definitely open to all kinds of stories, including LGBT/PoC-centric stories; I’m looking to come up with some unique characters, so everyone’s invited.  I’d like to get more of a recent feel of what college is all about nowadays, and I think I need to do more than just listen to the college radio stations that I already listen to.

Thanks ahead of time for your help! 🙂

 

 

 

Current Status: Almost There

sw almost there
TFW you’re writing Act III of your novel.

As I may have mentioned earlier, I’ve just started Act III of Meet the Lidwells.  This of course means that it’s that point of the story where I start bringing all the plot threads together, winding up the tale I’ve been telling, and wrapping everything up at the end.

Having either written novels piecemeal over the course of a long spread of time (thanks to homework, social life, or other priorities), or working on the same project for years on end (the trilogy), it feels quite strange to be completing a novel in roughly a half a year.  I’m not used to this speed.  There’s also the fact that this is a relatively short novel for me — I’m currently at 55k, and I’m expecting the finished project to be around 70k.

Still, there’s something to be said about reaching the home stretch. I felt this when I picked up The Balance of Light again in 2009-10 to finish it off.  It’s exciting to be wrapping up a story, my writer brain going at a hundred miles an hour as it tries to weave everything together into a coherent ending for me to write, and balancing that with the knowledge that I need to make that ending smooth and well-paced.  No rushing to the last page here, kids.  Even if I know exactly how to finish it, I have to make sure I don’t make a chaotic mad dash to get there.

My original deadline was going to be mid-September (I had a general deadline, not a specific one), and it looks like it might be more like late October, given that I still need to revise it, clean it up, and get it ready for uploading.  I’m fine with that; my ultimate goal here was to write something fast and light — a complete opposite to the trilogy, to be honest — to see if I could do it, and to see if it was something I could be proud of.

So far, so good.  I’m almost there.

On Writing: ‘Crunch’

naruto paperwork

Hoo boy.

This article about ‘worshiping crunch’ popped up on Twitter on Wednesday and it’s making the rounds of many of the webcomic and freelance artists I follow.  The reaction to the article is overwhelmingly, this is not only horseshit, it’s unhealthy.

The tl;dr to save you from the flashy prose of the article:  Some creative people thrive on working eighty hours a day plus overtime, working on things due in four minutes, eating microwave ramen and Cheetos and drinking up all those 5-hour boost drinks in one go.  Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but it’s not that far from the truth.  The article is an excerpt from the writer’s upcoming book about the cut-throat video game industry.

[EDIT: The writer has since come out stating that his excerpt has very much been taken out of context; he himself disdains the ‘crunch’ idea, which was lost in translation from the book to the online magazine.]

It really did get me thinking about my own work life, nonetheless.

I get it; some people thrive on the high-speed, high-maintenance atmosphere of certain industries, where most of your waking life (and probably most of your sleeping part of it as well) is spent ‘crunching’, getting a week or a month’s worth of regular-speed work into a short amount of time.

The last time I did the ‘crunch’ thing was at Yankee Candle, over ten years ago.  Five years’ worth of working ‘mandatory overtime’ hours in the shipping department during fourth quarter.  Q4 is of course holiday sales season, so our candle output shot up exponentially during that season.  In 2002 it also included a few outside vendors who would buy in bulk.  [Our team won the MVP award that year for Bravery In the Face of Insurmountable Odds and Success Despite Incredibly Unrealistic Sales Goals.]

Mind you, my hours were already pretty early: 6am to 2pm, five days a week.  When it came to Q4, however, that ended up changing to 4am to 3pm, six days a week, Monday through Saturday.  I didn’t complain, because a) I was getting pretty good pay, and the OT pay gave me a good padding in the bank for my bills, b) I got along with pretty much everyone in my department, so it wasn’t a completely hellish atmosphere, and c) I could still dedicate the early evening hours to my writing the trilogy.

Yes, even after ten hour days on the floor, I still went ahead and hit my 1000-word goal almost every night.

The downsides were plentiful as well.  I was getting up at 2am and driving thirty miles through midwestern Massachusetts before any of the snow plows or sanding trucks were even out of the DPW barns.  I had a half-pack a day smoking habit.  I drank a huge cup of coffee (extra cream and sugar) in the morning and multiple giant bottles of Mountain Dew at work (and usually a can or two during my writing sessions), and ate a lot of really unhealthy convenience store food and snacks.  I was lifting 30-40 pound boxes and lugging heavy pallets all day long.

Suffice it to say, every damn year I’d miss about a week’s worth of work close to Christmas, because I’d either get something like the flu brought on by exhaustion, or I’d tweak my sciatic nerve, or both.  I always felt like shit at the end of the year.

By the end of 2004, I’d pretty much had enough.  I was seeing A and driving down to New Jersey on a regular basis.  I bailed in the spring of 2005 and moved down with her a week later.

*

Anyway, about this ‘crunch’ thing.

I just can’t see myself dedicating that much of my life and health for an industry.  Especially when I’m already fiercely dedicated to my writing career.  Every job I’ve held since then, I’ve told managers that I’m fine with the forty hour workweek with the occasional OT if it’s absolutely necessary.  But I have endeavors outside of work.  I’m quite protective of my writing time, not to mention I do my best to come up for air and be social with friends and family.  Thankfully, all my employers have accepted that without question.

Hell, I don’t even try to crunch a ridiculous amount of writing work into a single day.  Sure, I give myself a busy creative schedule on purpose, but it’s a schedule I can handle and can adjust if and when necessary.  It’s a daily schedule I enjoy and look forward to.  I give myself reasonable writing deadlines.  I might complain that I spend too much time futzing around on Twitter, but really…in the long run, it’s not as if I’m trying to write ten thousand words a day consistently.  My count is more like five to seven hundred lately, and that’s just on the Lidwells project.  Add these blogs and the 750 and it’s more like two thousand or so.  And at the end of the day I’m happy with that, and not absolutely knackered afterwards.

I just can’t see myself risking health and sanity for it.  Life is too short for that.

Meet the Lidwells: Cover Outtake

Meet the Lidwells Cover B

Keep in mind, yes — this is definitely an outtake.  Not that bad for a first try, though.  I know I’ve got some more work to do on it.  The main focus this time out was for me to figure out the placement of the six main characters and make it look like an album cover.  [In the story, this is actually what the cover of their debut record looks like.]  I have a slightly adjusted version of the six silhouettes so they’re spaced out a lot better and can provide the title as well.  I think I’m going to redo it by putting the image and main title enclosed in a square box to further push that image, and have the bottom segment in black, with the text in white.  I’m still playing around with the fonts as well.

[Keep in mind, I still have the last third of the book to write, but I’ve had this cover idea in my head almost from the beginning.  I’m still hoping to have this one out by late fall, depending on when it get finished and revised.]

What do you think? 🙂

Thoughts On the Long Game

book page turn

There’s one part of publishing no one likes to talk about: when the book sales dry up.  Let’s be honest: a lot of us writers go to bookstores and we see all the perennials on the shelves that we can always trust to be there: the books by Gabaldon, King, Tolkien, and Martin (not to mention the 9,485,682nd book by Patterson, Robb or Grisham…how the hell do they keep cranking those out every couple of weeks, anyway?).  We’d like to think we could get in on some of that as well.

The grim, sad truth is that it rarely happens.  We’ll show up on a few shelves for a few months and then disappear.  And we’ll fall so far short of our dream numbers.  Even grimmer that the title stops getting printed due to lack of demand.  Not to mention suffering the indignity of having fans wondering where they can find Book 1 in your trilogy and having to tell them to look in a used bookstore, because your publisher isn’t making it available.

It almost makes one wonder just how antiquated and out of date the publishing business might be, how many of these rules and guidelines no longer work in this day and age.

But that’s another blog post for another day.  Me, I want to talk a little about how I look at this conundrum as a self-published author.  [Mind you, I’m not dissing the publishing business as a whole; I know many authors who do just fine with it, frustrations and all.]

See, I have three books out that I’ve self-released as POD trade paperback (through CreateSpace) and ebook (through Smashwords), and at present they’re just sort of…sitting there, not doing much.  I did sell a few as they were released, of course.  Not that many, more than I’d expected.  And they’re still up there, available and ready for whoever wants to buy them.  I don’t plan on pulling them from availability any time soon.  I might revisit the books and do some cosmetic editing sometime down the road, but they’ll always be out there for anyone to read.

The Balance of Light has been out for what, a good couple of months now?  The e-book was released in February, and the trade a month or so later.  I think it’s fair to say I got as much as I could get out of the three for the time being.  It would be kind of silly to keep flogging these books to virtually the same audience over and over again.

So what do I do with them, then?  One of the things I’ve thought about, in particular is how to let potential readers know that they’re still out there.  I mean, aside from the occasional tweet or blog post or shameless plug?  That’s the rub.  No one’s really been able to figure out how to do that for self-published books.  I’ll put out some of my self-made flyers when I’m at conventions.  There are some websites and platforms I could advertise on if I so desired.  But is it the right time to do that at the moment?

At this point, I’ve been thinking less about the Short Game — flogging the books while they’re still fresh — and more about the Long Game.  And by Long Game, I mean coming up with ways to push the trilogy on new readers in the future.  Plugging the trilogy as an Added Value when I release my next book.  Continuing to join in on the various sales that come up on Smashwords and elsewhere.  Using them as props when I’m on convention panels.

Meanwhile, this also gives me more time and brainspace to focus on writing my current projects and planning future ones.  [Current status: writing one, prepping another, and two, possibly three on the back burner.]

Do I feel let down a bit that the trilogy didn’t do as amazingly as I’d hoped?  Well, sure.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit, and that I feel that I’ve failed myself for not following up on publicity as much as I should have.  But what’s past is past.  I also know that the themes of the trilogy are rather dense and they’re not for everyone.  I’ve made my peace with all of that.

My thoughts on this are:  always look forward. Always find the positive.  Always find a way to make all of this work for me.  And above all, learn from my own mistakes and missteps.  The trilogy isn’t dead, far from it.  It’s just in stasis.  I can certainly bring it back to life if I so choose.

I’ve said it before…I’m in this writing gig for the long term.  It’s more than just writing a large body of work, though.  It’s about knowing what to do with it all over time.

 

Coming back to the grind and other notes

your name comet taki
One of many spectacular shots from your name.

It’s Sunday mid-morning as I write this and both A. and I have been up for a few hours now.  I think we’ve both somewhat adjusted to Pacific Time again, having spent the last few days in a jet lag haze.  We’re both going over our work inboxes to clean them up at the moment, and I’m streaming some new music releases over the last few days.  [Best find so far: Moscow-based Life on Venus with their album Encounters, which I would describe as Slowdive if they had MBV’s volume.  So yeah, right in my wheelhouse there.]

Our two-week vacation in London was quite enjoyable if a little exhausting — thanks to my phone’s pedometer app, I figured out we walked just a little over eighty miles.  Lots of places seen, friends seen, cats petted, and lagers or tea ordered.  And somehow within all of that, I was also able to work a little on some of the index card notes for Secret Next Project!

And if you’re wondering why I chose the above gif from the anime your name., it’s because I watched it on the plane twice (once each way).  It’s become one of my favorite movies on many levels.  This makes three times I’ve watched it — so far — and I’m sure it’ll be one that will get even more views in the future.  And yes, I’ve already decided I’ll be writing a blog post about it here soon enough, as I find it an excellent example of detailed, layered storytelling and how to successfully unfold each subplot and hint of characterization so it all fits together perfectly.

Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things as soon as possible.  I’m still feeling exhausted, but only physically, so I think I should be able to get back on the horse with little issue.  I’m particularly excited that I’m about to start the last act of Meet the Lidwells (and working on the cover!), which means I can start up the revision quite soon!  I’m also hoping to get started on further work with Secret Next Project as well.

As for non-writing creative stuff, I finally got the drawing models that I ordered online a short time ago (half off, so basically two-for-one!) that are made by Bandai.  They’re small but they’re detailed and pretty versatile, so I think I’ll be able to use these for future drawings.  Check ’em out:

Taki Mitsuha
I’ve named them Taki and Mitsuha, of course.

They come with some nifty accessories like different gesturing hands, katanas and handguns (because why the hell not), cell phones and tablets, and so on.  The directions are entirely in Japanese of course, but they’re super easy to use anyway.  I’m sure I’ll get more work out of these than out of Wilhelmina, the simple articulated model I got from Ikea for like six dollars. 🙂

So yes…we’re back from vacation, autumn is nearly among us, and I’m eager to get back to Doing All the Creative Things.  Hell, I may even record a few more Drunken Owl demos if time permits!

Now, if I can just shake the remnants of this jet lag…