Monday, March 31, 2014

Failed Words?

I keep hearing the saying that every successful writer must write one million failed words before they have their first success. I think that's one of the reasons I'm working on short stories right now. It's easier to tell whether or not an idea is going to pan out within the first few paragraphs of a short story, but sometimes, I get all the way through an outline and two chapters into a book before I realize it's just not something I want to write.

And when writing fiction, it's important to enjoy what I'm writing. There may come a day when I'll be contractually obliged to write a book in a story-line that I'm "over," but that's still years away. Many years away. If it ever happens (and for those of you who may read that as self-doubt, it's not. I'm simply stating that I don't expect to have to write something I don't enjoy).

So what are failed words?

As far as I can tell, they're simply words that make it to the page but never make it beyond the first or second draft. I gave up keeping track years ago, so I have no idea where I am on the trek to a million, but I'm going to try to make my first success happen long before then, anyway.

What about my short stories, then? If they're not part of the trek to a million words, what's the point?

To learn. To smooth out my writing style. I need to become a better writer, and that means learning how to paint pictures with words, but in as short a space as possible. My goal is to learn how to shorten my imagery while livening up my story-telling. To make the emotional impact of each passage more powerful. Make the colors brighter and clearer. To draw the reader in so deep that they forget it's just words on a page.

I don't know how well I've done that in my novels, but if I want to get better at my writing, I need to do something challenging, like trying to get short stories published. There's an art to creating a short story, and I can definitively say that I'm far from mastering it. But master it I will. Or die trying!

My goal is to write and edit and polish four stories by June 10. I don't know why I picked that date, but it's a deadline that I set, and I'm going to push to reach it.

I already wrote one story that's waiting for revision, and I'm working on another one today that I'm probably going to scrap (one more for the pile of failed words, I guess). But I'm 15% of the way to my goal already!

Friday, March 28, 2014

More Shorts

I'm working on a few short stories, now. Not because I give up on novels, but because it's a great way to practice my writing. And I think I need practice.

One of the stories is intended for submission to periodicals, and another is going up on the Beyond the Trope blog. I'm excited for both of those!

Tomorrow, I think it's time to start another story, too. Maybe I'll write about an android girl who needs a firmware update so she can go on a date. And save the world from the loser who wants to take her to dinner.

What else?

Oh, yes. We interviewed Aaron Michael Ritchey for the podcast on Tuesday, and we're going to give away a copy of his book. So keep an eye out for that on Beyond the Trope's twitter feed!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Focussed Distraction

The past few days, I've felt like I need a focussed distraction again. I'm trying to get several projects put together, and I'm having trouble managing my time in a way that makes it possible to get any of them done. I think this is because I'm scatter-brained at the moment.

So my plan is to sit down, make a real schedule of things I need to do in order of most important to least, then get it done. Around that schedule. And to break things up in a way that will keep me from getting overwhelmed, I'm going to find things to do with my wife. Fun stuff around town.

And I'm going to brew. Because that's fun.

What are your focussed distractions? What do you use to keep yourself from getting stressed, and how do you make sure your schedule stays consistent and productive?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gratitude

I'm grateful for my friends. I'm grateful for the opportunities that I have. I'm grateful for my family, even though I rarely see them. And most of all, I'm grateful for my wife.

I've been blessed beyond measure, and when I feel despondent or alone, these people remind me that there's more to life than disappointment.

So thank you everyone who's helped me along over the years. I'm looking forward to a long future of shared burdens, joys, sorrows, and life-changes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Facing My Fear

I realized that over the past few years that many of the choices I've made are based solely on fear. I avoid discussions for fear of being judged. I avoid certain writing choices for the same reason. And, lately, I've been lax in my writing for fear of failure. Which, ironically (to the point of cliche), will eventually lead me to actual failure.

Authentic, genuine discussions are something that I enjoy. Discussions that build up the people engaging in them. Even when there isn't agreement. The problem is, people have very personal opinions, and society seems (from my perspective, which I admit could be skewed) to teach us that when someone disagrees with us, it's a personal attack. We have TV figures from Glenn Beck to Bill Maher getting up on TV and spewing their opinions in a way that overtly suggests that their way of thinking is the ONLY right way to think, and anyone who disagrees with them is OBVIOUSLY a hate-filled MONSTER. And when that inundates us every day, we start to believe that if anyone disagrees with us, they hold the same belief about us.

At least, that's the fear that's driven many of my choices lately.

In my writing, I don't discuss societal issues as a means of driving change. That's not why I write. I write to entertain in an authentic manner. Any character that I decide to create is a choice based on the BEST way to tell the story, not a means to preach some political, moral, or societal issue.

But I live in fear of some of those decisions. The book I'm pitching features a platinum-blonde, female protagonist. I'm not afraid of being accused of writing a female protagonist to sell books because a male protagonist COULD NOT have accomplished the feats described in this story. My fear (in my darkest moments) is that someone will accuse me of racism because she's white.

It's a sci-fi story. Her friend (a hispanic male) isn't the strong leader she needed to be to accomplish what she does. But I hear the critics (even though I'm nowhere near publication on this book) screaming, "Why is she white?"

The answer I have is because that's the image I had when the character popped into my brain. And changing it would have been inauthentic.

Now, I'm writing a book where the female protagonist is the daughter of a black woman and a white man. Both of those characters are extremely successful (because that's possible, and anyone who says it's not is a racist!). For the sake of making the character come alive, I mention this fact in the story. But it takes place 300 years in the future, so I'm not going to focus on it as a social issue. Societally, it's not something that matters as much, especially with the people she's going to be interacting with. It's a simple fact of appearance, and beyond that, she's a person deserving of respect and equality just like EVERY other person in the galaxy.

But, again, fear makes me want to stop. "Why is she half-black?" I hear the critics cry. And as I typed those words I hear the P.C. fanatics scream at me, too. I am afraid. I am afraid of being judged and hated when all I want is to show real people in real situations (however fancifully created in sci-fi and fantasy settings) living life to their fullest. Because I love people. Dividing people up into groups actually bothers me, and not in that hippy-dippy kinda way that makes you want to burn down every hemp field in the world.

What drives me more than fear is Matthew 22:37-40 (from the Bible): "Love God with every fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself." (paraphrased) To me, that means that every person I meet should be treated as equally important as I am. I haven't spoken of my personal beliefs so openly on this blog in years (though way back in the archive you can find tons of it), again from fear. I'm not afraid of being judged for them, but more afraid of being misunderstood. But what I want everyone to know is that, no matter how much I may disagree with one opinion or another, I believe that God created every man, woman, and child, and that He loves them very much. And if I claim to love Him, then I need to show it by loving others.

I know this is a rambling post, and a lot of it is the type of thing that I would shy away from under normal circumstances. I don't know why I'm saying it today. Maybe it's just so that I can be honest. Maybe it's because I'm tired. Tired of bottling things up, putting on a strong face, and pretending that everything is okay.

But also know that, no matter who you are, someone out there loves you. I may not like or approve of what you do (especially if it causes harm to other people), but it's not my place to judge. It's my place to love my neighbor.

And in case that's confusing, Google the story of the Good Samaritan.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Art of Critique

Over the past couple of months, I've really stepped up my study of the English language and the writing process. I already finished one book on writing, and I'm well on my way toward finishing a second for the year.

For those who know me, they know I don't have a lot of time for reading, and (as a necessity), I have to spend a good deal of time focussing on fiction since reading fiction is one of the best ways to understand the art.

Anyway, these books are giving me a new perspective on writing, which means my critiquing methods are changing and becoming more focussed on ways to improve my friends' writing. In many ways, I feel bad for pointing out things that come across as failures in the writing. I don't want to be a know-it-all, and I know that my critique group knows that my suggestions are just suggestions that they can ignore or take under advisement as they see fit.

And that's where the art of critiquing comes in. I'm not an "authority" on proper writing. My word is not gospel. It's simply my perspective based on things that I'm reading and things that I think work for the writing in front of me. And when I make notes, I try to make sure that it comes across as my opinion. I don't attack the writer or say that something sucks, I say something like, "This feels wordy, it slows the narrative (with a 'for me' implied)," and then I make a rough suggestion on a way that might help them brainstorm ideas to reword it. "Maybe say something like , only do it well." And I say that to make sure I'm being helpful, but also because I'm not putting in as much effort as they need to to make the writing polished and enjoyable to read.

The flip side of that is when I sit down to GET critiqued, it's important to remember that they're showing me the exact same courtesy. They're not attacking me or my writing, they're picking it apart to help me make it better.

The only thing we do differently in our group is that, when appropriate, we're allowed to speak up for our work. But not to defend it! When someone says something doesn't work, we're allowed to (when the critiquing member is finished speaking) explain what we were going for with that particular passage. And at our group, we recognize that this is each other's way of trying to brainstorm ways to make sure that scene works AS INTENDED. We're not defending bad writing, we're trying to understand how to FIX bad writing by working WITH the other members of the group. And the biggest reason we jump in in the middle of a critique to ask those questions is because, even with note-taking, waiting until the end opens up way too many opportunities to forget the most important questions.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review: Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

This, the second book in Gail Carriger's FINISHING SCHOOL trilogy, is an amazing read! As with her previous novels, Carriger builds on a well developed world, adding new gadgets that feel real as well as imaginative. The characters add more depth to the story universe, and they dance across the page in a manner that convinces the reader that they are real people.

This is Sophronia's second term at Mademoiselle Geraldine's, and she faces new challenges that stretch the limits of her training, natural instincts, and (more importantly) her ability to engage with her peers and potential "targets."

Carriger weaves the character-arc into the plot so seamlessly that it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. And even though the action and pacing are reminiscent of classic genre novels, the style and voice bring to mind classic literature in a way that only an expert can manage.

If you like spy novels, political intrigue, romance, humor, and/or fast-paced action, this book is for you! So go to your local bookstore and buy the first novel in the trilogy, along with this one, and pre-order book 3 so you have it in hand on November 4, 2014. You won't regret it. And if you do, just donate the books to your library for other readers to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Laid Back

I know I missed my post on Monday, but today I discuss Hamlet over at the Beyond the Trope blog. I'll let you check that out today, and then on Friday I'm back here with a review of Gail Carriger's Curtsies and Conspiracies!

So enjoy my laid back week and have some fun today and tomorrow.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Charity of the Month: Safe Passage

I love kids. It's one of the reasons why I write YA. I think kids should be brought up in a safe environment, taught and guided through life, and protected from evil people.

Safe Passage helps to get kids away from evil people who do horrible, wicked things to children. What these monsters do to destroy a child's innocence is intolerable. And any help that can come to children should be sent out as soon as possible.

So please consider giving to Safe Passage and help them protect children and help restore some innocence in the world.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Adulthood

Sometimes, I look at my life and wonder when I'll grow up. Not in a negative way, but just wondering what it looks like to be an adult.

I don't feel like I'm living under my parents' rule or authority, and I don't feel like I have to live by anyone else's guidelines. But I don't feel much like a "grown up," yet. Which is odd because I've been married for six years, lived on my own for seven years, payed rent on three different places (including two in a state where I didn't grow up), bought my own car, my own home (yes, I have a mortgage payment), and I even pay my own taxes, though I make the incredibly adult decision of paying a professional to do those taxes for me.

But when do I start to feel like my parents must have felt when they made that sudden and magical transition from kids to adults? When do I stop feeling like a fun-loving kid who gets to do things that make him smile and face the world as an adult who must sigh and do his chores, pay his bills, and go to work on time? When does my "free time" become time that is consumed by things that HAVE to be done? Things that didn't get done because I was working? Is it when I have kids? Or do I get to have fun when I'm a parent, too?

It's been a weird couple of years. I'm less than a year from thirty, I live in my own home, and most of my friends are married, divorced, and/or parents. I'm still trying to figure out this "career" thing, and part of me wonders if I should go back to school, though with all the "free time" I bragged about earlier, I don't actually have the time to go back to school. And if I did have the time, I certainly wouldn't have the money.

I wonder, though: is THAT adulthood? Making choices for the future, even if they're not necessarily the ones we want to make? I don't want to go back to school, so that's an easy decision. But what about Beyond the Trope and my constant attempts to get up before work to get writing done? I'm seeking education in places that WILL move my writing forward. And I'm forging friendships with people who I get along with. People I enjoy working with.

It just seems like Adulthood is supposed to make me have less free time to pursue those goals without quitting my job, or something. But I don't have to quit my job. As much as I'd like to write full time, I like what I do for a living. And it pays better than anything else I'm "qualified" for. Even though my qualifications include almost twenty years in the same industry.

Anyway. I don't know where I was going with all of that. I just know that I've been thinking about it a lot, lately. I have found that I like the idea of working somewhere with people I consider my friends. People I can play games with. People who don't hate each other. A community more than just a place of business.