Friday, September 30, 2011

Critique Partners

When I first started writing, I wasn't ready to share. It took a long time before I was willing to show my first novel to another person. My first readers were family - my sister, brother and a cousin. They each had different view points. And each time they said something about a character I felt a combination of astonishment and violation.

They were talking about the people in my head! Frightening and exhilarating.

Then I discovered online peer review. I was lucky to stumble on to two excellent sites - Critters for my Scifi and American Zoetrope for my screenwriting. I learned a lot from reading other people's materials. There's a mixed bag of writers out there and you get quite a range of reviews. Some helpful and some just slinging words at you to fulfill their review requirements to get their own stuff posted. I dutifully did my reviews and posted nervously.

There's a mix of dread and glee when you start posting for the first time. What if they hate it? What if they love it? Should I tell them I'm a newbie? Will they be mean?

Then the critiques come in. It's hard to tell, at first, who knows what they're doing and who's making it up as they go. But eventually you get a feel for a good critique. And that teaches you how to be better at yours. At Critters, I shied away from the novel excerpts. It was too much of a commitment. And what if I committed to reading the whole thing and it was a bomb? What if the people committed to read mine were a smidge below me in skill level?

Eventually, the online stuff just wasn't enough for me. I started checking around and found a critique group in the area. I have to say, at this point in my journey, that face to face is the best. We debate, we brainstorm, we gossip. I have a deadline to get work out to them. And best of all, I have a support group of aspiring writers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The power went out while I was in the shower this morning. No problem, the bathroom window let in enough light to find the shampoo and the hot water is gas.

But then I had a Hitchcock moment. What if someone cut the power to the house and was breaking in? There I was all wet and soapy and starting to freak out. Then logic kicked in. First of all, it's daylight. What advantage is there to cutting the power? Secondly, it's still warm enough that all the windows are wide open. If someone really wanted to break in - they'd only have to cut the screen.

To do what? Take my 3 year old computer? Surely not the 10 year old laptop that my sister plays games on. Not much in the way of burglar-bait in this house.

So that leaves my imagination (and shows like Criminal Minds) to get me all nervous again. I suds up and rinse in record time, wrap up in a towel and peek into the hallway. Nothing out of the ordinary. Whew.

Power outages are fairly common in my neighborhood. They rarely last long. This one went for 3 hours.
No electricity meant brushing my teeth in the near dark, expecting the power to return any second. Luckily, I have a gas stove. I cooked up some oatmeal, made a big cup of tea and was forced to have a leisurely breakfast in the sun room.

It's a bluesky Carolina day. The sun is shining after days of drizzle. The maples are touched with red and the dogwoods with burgundy. As I watched, a few leaves sailed away through the branches. I had a moment of great gratitude for my snug little house in its quiet neighborhood tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, for my job that gives me free time to write, for just plain being alive on a beautiful day. Thanks power outage.

Comments fixed!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A plan

An article I read on marketing said to prepare a 12 month plan. Plans are good. I don't have anything to market as yet, but it seemed like a good thing to do. Although 12 months was a bit too much for me. Just 6 months of forecasting works better in my world.

I made a table - the month, due when, task. Very organized.

Sometimes I get totally overwhelmed with what I think I should be doing. In one very hectic job, in addition to putting any and every task on the calendar, I also marked on the calendar when it was time to worry about something. Then it was out of my head and I could concentrate on other things. Hopefully this would keep me on track and progressing without too many wild tangents. Without a plan I find myself spending way too much time researching things I suddenly think I need.

I filled up my table with everything I wanted to do in a month for my writing-work. It was surprising how fast the months filled up. And even more surprising was the goals that popped up. I wrote down that the re-write of the first book should be done in 3 months. Wow. Now I know some people say they can write from scratch in that time, so I should be able to finish my re-write. Right?

Then right there on the page was looking for an agent, writing the synopsis and query... I guess some part of me believes this is all going to happen! Exciting and daunting at the same time. Of course this means I need to buckle down and actually write. But now I have a plan and that's the first step to making it all happen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Child of Fire by Harry Connolly

The fact that he has a quote from Jim Butcher would have sold me on this book. I found it browsing through Goodreads. And a wonderful find it is.

The description made it sound a lot like Jim Butcher's books, so I was curious how Connolly's world would compare. Very different. There are similarities, in the same way that any urban fantasy must have - real-world people unused to magic, practitioners of magic that go dark and a ruling body that says who gets to use magic.

The plot is fast paced and the minor characters have adequate depth. I like the main character, Ray Lilly. He changes, almost against his will over the course of the book. It's a matter of regaining a moral compass. He doesn't necessarily want to be a better person, but he knows he has to. I will definitely read the rest of the series.

So Harry, write faster!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Art as business

I am an artist. My largest body of work is watercolor landscapes. I stopped marketing my art years ago because it was just too hard. This was before the Internet, which meant poring through art magazines and shipping slides off to juries for shows, fairs and galleries. While I was working as a freelance scenic artist, I concentrated on trying to get income from my paintings. I was a little successful. And I learned a lot about art as a business.

It's hard.

Art is subjective. There is no way to predict an audience. A painting that I might be especially proud of can be interpreted in any number of ways. Once I did a bold, loose painting of a sunset over the Kansas plains. It was a bit abstract in that it was just blocks of color. My sister said it made her think of car accidents. I did a pastel of a mother peeking into a room on a sleeping child and many people see it as the moment before a murder. Who'd want to put that on their wall?

Very subjective.

Writing is the same way. There is a ton of Urban Fantasy out there right now. And I'd probably tell you I never read it, but I love the Dresden Files.

Totally subjective.

So now I am back to learning the business of art, in this case writing. I have all the financial stuff down - I come from a family of accountants. Not that it is an issue, since I have no income from art right now. It's the marketing and prep for sales that will be the biggest learning curve. Here I had hoped I was getting into an industry where I could just be creative. Ha.

There's a lot of information out there on how to be successful, but it's a slow slog thru that stuff. A lot of it won't make sense until I get there. I'm more of a hands-on kind of person. Don't give me the details until I can put them to use or they just clutter my brain and confuse me.

I'm building in time for research every day, but some days it just overwhelms me and I end up not writing. Which is a bad thing. Got to go one step at a time. Finish the book, then worry about how to sell it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An experiment

I am eager to try out Smashwords and yet don't have anything ready to publish. Sooo...after reading David Farlands articles about enhanced e-books I decided to try an experiment.

An illustrated flash.

Because, really, who will pay good money for just a flash, and that's all I've got that is ready to go to "print" right now. I'm pretty excited about it. I started the illustrations yesterday. I think there will be 6 or 7 of them. That's one drawing every 100 words. And it has occurred to me that I could also sell the illustrations...

But, it is a totally unknown market for me. I have no idea if it will sell at all. Aside from maybe a few pity-buys by relatives and friends. I told my sister it is like doing a craft fair. Who knows what will sell.

I consider this a dry run for the mystery - White Lies. It's out to family readers right now. Then it will go to the group, to be read as a whole. Then, gulp, it might be ready to go to Smashwords. So this will put me through the process - formatting, bookcover, isbn, the whole 9 yards! Whew.

And at the same time, I am trying to sort through my bible for the Scifi story. It's been awhile since I was in that world. I am so glad that I was ridiculously meticulous in making my star charts and planet notes. Although, I am noticing some sizable gaps that may need to be addressed right away.

Busy, busy, busy! I just wish some of it was earning me a little money.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Publishers as gatekeepers

I read an article today that said publishers were the gatekeepers to what we got to read. That started me thinking. Way back when, when I decided to write my own story because I couldn't find any "good" books, I was hostage to a whole line of gatekeepers. First line was the publisher, second line was the bookstore or library book buyers.

There might have been plenty of books to satisfy my taste, but they weren't accessible at the time. Now with the internet and self-publishing, there's more out there than I can handle.

I have to admit, I still look on the self-pubs a bit dubiously. They haven't been given the imprimatur of a publishing house. All the while, I am researching how to do it myself.

A bit hypocritical, I know. It's a confusing time.

If I have to do as much work with a traditional publisher as with self-pub, and the royalties are drastically different, why go the traditional route? The more I read, the more it seems that publishing as an industry is in dire straits.

Luckily, the question is moot at the moment. I don't have a manuscript ready to go. But soon, and I hope things haven't completely change again by the time I'm ready.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

This is not the type of book I usually read. It's dense and meandering, political and religious. I was certain that I would put it aside, and yet, something made me finish it.

The description is overladen and reminds me of books I've read set in India. Too many people, smells, sounds, wants. It works. The city, Istanbul, has so many layers, it needs a lot of modifiers. It is a character in itself. The texture and flavor of the city leans heavily on any action of the characters.

The narrative wanders into flashbacks so suddenly that I would have scolded him, if he was in my writing group. And yet, for this story of many nationalities, many religions, many languages, it works.

And anchoring all the feverish activity of the city are the repetitious mundane tasks of the day - the men drink tea, the young people look for work, a child plays with his toys. I think that repetition was helpful in giving me something to hold on to under the barrage of numbers and plots and odd foreign words.

None of the foreign words are explained, yet I soon picked up bey as perhaps sir and cadessi is probably street. The names are difficult, but the characters are well enough drawn that I could sort them out.

This reads like it takes place on another planet for me. The country, the city, the people with their traditions, superstitions and religions are so wonderfully exotic. And drawn so vividly.

A wonderful book. Read it and let it take you out of your American self.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Read widely

Nearly every book on writing says you need to read. Of course, I do. But I think I've become a lazy reader. I want worlds I can fall into easily. I want the kind of story that ends satisfactorily. Unfortunately, I think that has narrowed my vision.

Right now I am reading a book that is outside my comfort zone. I was tempted to give it up, but something drew me on. It's dense and rich and I have to concentrate to get through it. But it has given me incredible insight into things my WIP world-building lacks.

I'm about 90% of the way through and I'm still not sure how it'll end. I've grown to care about the all characters, even the unsympathetic ones. But the world! The world building in this is luscious, and it's placed here, in the real world. I expect to finish this tonight and will have a review for tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What was I thinking?

I've stressed myself out with things that don't have to be done!

For Pete's sake. Short story submissions seemed like a real possibility, until I tried to work it into my schedule. I'd already shoved in researching marketing and markets for the mystery. Which ate up some of my writing time, so my final (hopefully) revisions got stalled. And of course there's those other things like grocery shopping, cooking, weeding... I don't know why I do this to myself.

I need to finish the mystery and lay it to rest so I can tackle the tome without distraction. I thought I had already laid it to rest, but the group wanted a better ending. Part of me says to just shelve it and another part of me can't bear to not finish it in the best possible way. But to what point?

Self satisfaction is one point, I guess. I want to feel proud of it, regardless of where it goes. Even into the closet. I also want to know that I have finished a polished and publishable manuscript. That's a giddy feeling. And I feel a bit pompous saying it. But if I think it's ready to be submitted to an agent, or editor, then it should be polished and publishable.

Just finishing a project I have set myself is important, too. I have a lot of manuscripts lying around. They could all be something, if I sat down and worked at it. But they aren't. They are just gathering dust on the shelf.

Maybe that's what drove me into thinking about submissions again. It would be really nice to have a few more sales. A bit more proof that I have the chops. It's going to be months before the tome is edited down into book one and ready to go out the door. And sometimes you just need a little more carrot and a little less stick.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Marketing 2 genres

OK, I get it. Now that I have dipped a toe into researching marketing, I can see why doing more than one genre is a bad idea. If I have a limited amount of time in which to get it done (and still manage to sleep, eat and weed the garden), then creating and sustaining 2 marketing plans - one for each genre - means both will suffer.

Unless I throw the mystery out there, with no marketing and...well, watch it fail, I guess.

So, competitions or anthologies might still be a possibility. But in reality, I know I don't have enough hours in the day to do the running around it seems I'm expected to. Bummer.

I did find some suggestions on what is expected from authors. And it is daunting. But there are a few things I can start on now.

Blog - check!

Forums. The suggestion was to find/create a network of like minded writers, published and unpublished. I had gotten to know a number of people on a couple of peer-review sites awhile back. I decided most of them were too diverse. And I was ready for some face-to-face so I graduated to a local writers' group. Looks like I need to find the next level in forums, now.  

Sign up for Giveaways. It was recommended to start checking them out on other writers' sites to see what sort of thing you might want to do in the future. And when you receive a free book do a review on it. Goodreads seems like an excellent place to start. They have pages and pages of giveaways you can compete for.

 OK. Toe in the water now butt in the chair.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

You want my marketing plan?

Yikes. I thought only nonfiction needed that sort of thing.

I was looking at submission guidelines for some e-publishers and got quite a shock. One said they wanted marketing ideas and another said they wanted my marketing plan. Wow. As if I wasn't intimidated about approaching publishers before . . .

Um . . . tell all my friends and relatives? I have a lot of cousins, really!

So what constitutes a realistic marketing plan? I can handle Facebook, blogging and searching out that sort of thing. But really, what are they looking for? Do they want me to tour on my own dime? Call NPR? This is a whole new arena to research. And that is just more time taken away from writing.

That means I have to squeeze into my day time for pay-the-bills work, writing, research on/for writing, blogging and now research on marketing. And that doesn't include eating, sleeping or weeding the garden. Sheesh.

How are other authors doing it? Does someone have a handbook for this sort of thing? I get David Farland's excellent, if occasionally terrifying, newsletter. He has lots of what should be done. Guess I need to go back and read all those newsletters I stashed away for later. Cause later is almost here.

I just started following Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog. She seems like she knows what she's doing. But, oh no, her blog today just said that no one knows what they're doing (to sell books) because the industry is changing so fast.


OK. I need to make a plan. And I guess the first thing on the list is finish polishing the manuscript. Whew. That's good. I'll just put my head down and write for now. Maybe it will have all changed by the time I'm ready to send it out the door.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Too Dark - Thoughts on evil in fantasy

I just finished reading a book that, in my opinion, had way too much of the bad guys in it. I read some glowing reviews on Goodreads that basically said the madness of the evil god was expressed so well. OK. I get that you want a full understanding of the depth of your villain, but I'm growing weary of these insurmountable societies of depravity. I don't want to read pages of torture, dead babies and dissected pets. Or even worse, the pages of battles where everyone is killed or maimed in excruciating detail. I guess there is a market for it. Just look at the Saw franchise. But it isn't for me.

My complaint with this book in particular was that the bad guys got boring. I wanted to stay with the hero and various sidekicks. It was more interesting to follow them on their journey than to churn through the blood and guts of the bad guys torturing yet another innocent. There was a truncated inner journey of the protagonist that could have been extended. It had great possibilities, but barely advanced a step. Maybe that was some of the disappointment. I think readers expect a stronger inner journey these days. Or maybe it's just me. I wanted to skim the torture/evil bits, but I was afraid I'd miss some important plot point. Toward the end, I did skim those parts.

I'm going to assume that there will be another book because there were too many loose ends left hanging. That left me a bit flat, too. It seemed like a stand alone. It is the author's second book, written in the same world, with only two characters overlapping from the first book.  I read the first book and I think I enjoyed it more.

I will probably read more from this author. I like the protagonist and parts of the world. Hopefully the next one won't have so many icky bits.