research, Writing

Novel Thoughts

I’ve begun work on another novel, working titled Unspoken. This is a secondary world fantasy novel that has involved a fair share of behind-the-scenes world building, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. It also gave me an opportunity to create two entirely new species, one predator and one prey, which, OMG is just fascinating. Talk about your research rabbit holes! I could research critters’ biology and habits until the cows come home, until the power grid goes down, until…well, you get the point. I kinda likes that sort of thing. ūüėČ

My process for this novel has changed from the previous ones, and those changed from the process I used before that. Basically, I’m moving from “pure pantster” to “whole lotta plotter.” This is not something I’d anticipated doing when I started writing seriously. It’s happened organically, and I’m happy with the changes so far, so… *shrugs.* Live and let live, right? Which also means to be willing to try something new if your old way just isn’t working for you anymore.

Unspoken has gone through three full levels of outlining–or outline editing, as I prefer to think of it. I’m thinking of each like a mini-draft of the novel itself, which let me get over the “just outlining” negativity. The first pass was simply taking the bits and bobs of story and imposing an order on them, then filling in the blanks. This was comparatively easy, as it’s how I started adding structure when I found pantsing wasn’t doing it for me. It’s fun. I saw the shape taking form, and it was thrilling (this was the only step I took for book one of Jess, btw).

The second editing level came next. I let the ideas simmer a week, then went back to the rough outline with a “Yes, But/No, And” checklist. The idea here is that every scene should have a protagonist with a goal, and for every scene I should ask “Did the goal get met?” The answer, of course, should never be “Yes” until the very end. It could be, “Yes, BUT…” and then something worse than the present situation came about. The answer could be “No, AND…” so that something worse came about. But always, things get worse, get more complicated, etc–even when some small victory is achieved, there is a setback.

That process drew my attention to where the story was fuzzy in my mind. Where the protagonist wasn’t fully on my mind, just the “really cool world building” or “here I’ll show how tough the desert is” and that kind of thing. Then came another cooling off period, a plot-breaking with others to see what was/wasn’t working, and my final round of editing: the scene/sequel process.

I found this bit at the old Jim Butcher LJ (scene bit here, and sequel bit here), and he’s carried the links to his new site, so honest, go read them! His “Scene” reiterates the “Yes, But/No, And” process, so for me, “Sequel” held the gold. I’ve always muddied my reactions, dallying too long around the emotions, etc. And even after the second edit of the outline, going through Unspoken scene by scene really let me zero in on the places where I was still dallying too long, or too unsure of what I was saying, or why. It was a frustrating process, but one that showed me–quite clearly and plainly–my own writing weaknesses.

And now I can’t imagine having written off that first draft of the outline! Nor do I want to imagine the process of trial and error to get three full written drafts to structural state this first draft will be–my mind simply boggles at the thought! That said, there are as many ways to write as there are writers who write. Do whatever works for you to get words on the page, and to feel good about them.

As for me and my writing style? I’m still a work in progress. My next novel will probably see yet another change in process. But that means I gotta get back to writing this one. So…*waves and disappears*

research, science, Travel

Vintage-Style Travel Posters…from NASA!

NASA has some absolutely gorgeous space travel posters that you can print (they really have printable file sizes!) to liven up your room with intriguing images. Dream about the glories of Titan’s methane seas, or the eternal night skies of PSO J318.5-22, a rogue planet not tied to any sun. These posters¬†are real beauties, and I’m going to be printing up a couple for my writing space, and dreaming of those who may, one day, actually travel to these wondrous places.

Enjoy!

Personal Life, research, signal boosting

Quick Update

I’ve been hopping here with Dasher’s recovery from a second patella surgery. Not fun; it’s a toss-up as to who will die first; me from worrying over the dog, or the dog when I kill him because he’s trying to do something stupid again. (Aargh! Good thing I think he’s cute!)

So, not much to say here. But I do want to draw your attention to this fundraiser for¬†Earth &¬†Sky.org. If you look over in my links, you’ll see Earth & Sky.org as one of the few that I link to. I get their daily email newsletter filled with fascinating things about our world and our universe. They’re currently hosting a one-month fundraiser. Yes, it’s already fully funded. They got there in one day(!!!), but I’m hoping they¬†receive¬†even more money, to expand and update even more. If you have some spare change, I hope you’ll¬†join me in supporting them. And maybe spread the word to let their fundraiser grow.

Wish me patience. Dasher wants to play!!! (NO. You have to rest. Let the incision¬†heal. Oh, please don’t whine. I’m sorry, pup…) Sigh.

awards, Reading, research, What I'm Reading, Writing

Need A Little Something to Read?

Here’s a write-up from NPR on the Campbell Award and the authors eligible for it, highlighting the 2014 Campbellian Anthology. As the story states, this is a really long work, so you’ll have both plenty to keep you reading, and plenty of reading that you’ll like. You can find the anthology here, free to download and to read.

Why else should you read this, except for the joy of it (since initial voting for the Campbell Award is over)? Well, as K. Tempest Bradford suggests, its a good way to see what editors are publishing from the “young up-and-comers,” and how those stories compare to what you may be writing. Not to copy them, but to try judging your work’s quality, side by side,¬†against a wide variety of “competition.”

And also to see who you may be reading more of in the near future! Good luck and best wishes to all those eligible for the Campbell Award this year. And for the rest of us, happy (and free!) reading.

Reading, research, Writing

On Loving Slush

Winter has returned to reclaim the remaining days ’til the Spring Equinox, and probably to fight it out even after that for control. I won’t miss its passing, slinking away into a sleety end. (notice here that I started with the weather–really, you’ll laugh later!)

But slush! Ah, that I’m really loving.

Since it’s posted on the Staff page, it’s no big secret that I’m a slush reader over at Fantasy Scroll Magazine.¬†(Remember my goals for the year? Finding a new slush reader position=check!) I’m a slush reader, or a first reader as some would call it. As a simple explanation of how that works: all the unsolicited submissions sent in end up in a database, and the slush readers split ’em up and read them. I (but it’s not just me) get to weigh in on whether I think these stories are going to end up in the magazine, or not. Slush reader decisions are NOT final. We may be overruled, in either direction. I offer up my opinion, and any thoughts that guided me to that point, to those above me in the food chain (editor, editor-in-chief, etc…).

It’s an unpaid, volunteer position. It takes time away from my own writing, and editing, and surfing for cool things on the internet. It takes time from my pleasure reading, for sure. Why ever would I want to do this, then?

Um, I like abuse?

No, that’s not it. Not it at all. Really. But the truth may be harder to believe. I do this because it’s a shock to the system, a school-of-hard-knocks method of learning to write, and to edit, my own stories better.

Let’s say you have 100 stories to read. And really, this is not unusual. Submissions come in waves at times, in drips other times, but there’s usually a few days of a backlog, at least. So, 100 stories. Fifty of them open with the weather. Nothing else, nothing to show how it’s unique, or odd, or that I should care. After I’ve read those fifty stories, and I begin to wonder why I should care that it’s a brilliant, sunny day, I start to think, “Hmm, starting out with a weather report is probably not my best bet for getting someone to read the rest of my really neat story, is it?” And so, I’ve learned something valuable, right there.

Another lovely piece of advice you often hear is “Don’t start with backstory.” Well, another 30 stories have just done that, so that I know what K’lthanniops wore as a child and how it felt mocked for its too-short snout, what it wore on the day 3 years ago when its clone-parent perished and how it now wished it hadn’t worn that (and probably that it’s raining on this being now), but I wonder what is going on and when the story is going to actually, you know, begin–and, multiply by thirty, and I suddenly, can see the utter wisdom of this advice, and the problem inherent in not heeding it. So, I cut off and throw away the first 3 pages of my manuscript, so it starts where the story does. See how I’ve improved? Now I’m better than 80% of the submissions!

(This isn’t even counting the manuscripts that just plain don’t follow the rules posted on the submissions page. For example, when we say “no poetry,” we actually mean it. I’ve also opened a couple stories only to find that “erotica” isn’t strong enough to cover what was inside, and wished I could wash my poor eyes out after reading. Please, please read the guidelines!)

At this point, you’re down to 20 stories left. Fifteen of them are about vampires, zombies, or vampire-zombies. They all sound remarkably similar, even though they’re coming from places around the globe. Hmm. And in yesterday’s reading, there was a vampire-zombie story that included a fairy-godmother and a pink roller-derby-playing unicorn, and it just rocked! So, against that near shoe-in, these others…well, really, they don’t stand much of a chance now, do they?

Let me highlight that: Even if they’re not badly written, they’re not unique enough in some way to stand out. Seeing that, in these kinds of numbers, was rather mind-blowing. It’s not enough to write a nice story about a dragon and a princess in peril. Those are rather standard tropes, and have been done (and are still being done) a million times. What stands out, fast, is something different. Different how? Ah, that’s what you, the author, gets to decide. Because really, every time I open a new story, I’m hoping to be wowed. To wish I’d written that story. To write “YES, YES, YES!” on my comments.

But wait, we’ve got 5 stories left. Where are they? These are the “real contenders,” the actual competition for the slots in this issue. All are pretty well written, all have something unique going for them: setting, character, dilemma, or what-have-you. This is where the real chance for the slush-reader’s learning comes in: ¬†what makes the cut, what gets the “almost, but not quite” rejection?

This is where craft and polish gleam on the gems, and their lack makes a noticeable difference. Did typos trip me up? Or did I get confused by the pronouns? Did the ending feel like an emotional closure, or did the author just tell me “and that’s the end?” Was I lost anywhere in the story? Was the dialog realistic, and did the characters feel like real people, or like puppets the author moved about? Was there, actually, a story in there? Chances are, in 3 out of these 5, there were issues with these things. They’ll get the¬†“almost, but not quite” rejection.

Leaving just two. Two stories that have given me no reason to stop reading them, who have pulled me along in their narratives, making me care for the protagonist’s journey in some way, and who have made me reach “The End” and think, “Wow. This needs to be published! This is good stuff!” I hug myself, do the chair happy-dance, and write “Yes!” in their comments, sending these two stories up the channels for serious consideration.

And this is why I read slush: I want to be one of those two out of 100 stories in some other market. I want to analyze all this raw data, draw conclusions, and inform my own writing with what I learn. For me, slushing is worth the time I give up, the time I could be writing, reading–or hey, even sleeping!–because it’s got me focused on what works, what doesn’t and why, up close and personal.

What do I suggest you do? Well, if you’re up for it, try applying for a slush reader position. And whether you do or not, I really suggest you check out Fantasy Scroll Magazine, and well, keep me in slush! I really, really hope to write “Yes!” on more great stories…

research, science

All Excited About Worldbuilding Research

Yep, it’s true. Like so many other writers, I love me some good research. I did some yesterday on technology and such, and came away with some amazing bits of knowledge that I just have to share:

The word “Scientist” wasn’t coined until the 1840s.

Lighting:

  • 1801: first entire building is lit with gas
  • 1802: gas lighting is installed in a factory, letting it operate longer
  • 1807: first successful demo of street lighting, in Pall Mall in London, using coal gas
  • 1885: the incandescent gas mantle is invented. It becomes very popular and gives gas lighting an edge over the feeble illuminations of the electric light systems being introduced

Transportation:

  • 1826: First modern railway system (operated entirely by steam engine) in England
  • 1832: First modern streetcar is pulled by horses
  • 1852: “safety” elevator (with brakes in case of cable breakage) is introduced
  • 1895: First practical subway, in Boston, MA, is 1.5 miles long and uses trolley streetcars

In 1900:

  • Human speech was transmitted on radio waves for the first time
  • The Wright brothers are experimenting with unpiloted glider kites, as they’ve been doing since 1896
  • There are 470,000 miles of railway in the world
  • The first electric arc steelmaking furnace was used
  • Storage batteries were developed
  • An early version of a zeppelin airship is scrapped due to poor in-air controls
  • The first flashlights are created
  • Paper clips were invented

In 1901:

  • A multi-story car park eases parking problems in London.
  • The first ever trans-Atlantic wireless communication takes place–the letter “S” in Morse code! 6 years later, commercial radio telegraph service is established across the Atlantic.

Every time I look back at historic developments, I’m amazed by both how quickly some things developed, and how other things plodded along despite an “early” start. Also, how advanced our forebears really were–I mean, could you conceive of elevators before the US Civil War?

So, all this good stuff is going into the basic world building for my novel. Now that I’ve got an idea of tech development, I get to go destroy it all. More fun! ūüôā¬†Wish me luck!¬†And if you have any great technology dates from the mid-1800’s through 1900, feel free to share them.