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Monday, July 20, 2015

Beyond the Children’s Section: Writing YA (Emerald City Comic-Con 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

Another YA panel? Yes, but just as we've learned with the sex panels, each time a writer or group of writers tackles this subject, the information rendered is unique. Enjoy!

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Beyond the Children’s Section: Writing YA
Aaron Michael Ritchey, Holly Black, Lisa Mantchev, Rachel Hartman, Arwen Elys Dayton
Moderator: John Lovett

What are the characteristics that you’ve found that make for a YA market?
AD: Wrote a book and paid no attention to genre; it happens the four main characters at the centre of the story are teens. It’s a minefield that we go through in life and a very interesting part of life to examine.
RH: YA for her has to do with the themes. The time in your life when you’re stepping out, emerging, coming out and trying to figure out who you are, all the possibilities ahead of you. As opposed to adult lit where you’ve made your mess and must lie in it.
LM: Similar experience: wrote the story she wanted to write. It just happened to be YA. Now she knowingly writes YA as a theme, the coming of age story, foundation issues for a YA novel.
HB: What defines a YA novel is a teen protagonist. Certain themes and characteristics throughout, but there are outliers that don’t have those things. It really does come down to a teenage protagonist.
AR: Wanted to write YA. Yes, it’s a teen protagonist going through teenager things, but also dealing with other things.
HB: YA didn’t used to exist the way it did now. Most people just transitioned to writing adult novels. Remember that you’re competing with adult books. You’re writing the experiences of a teenager. Otherwise, they’ll go read adult books.
AR: It’s the emotional vibrancy.

We’ve talked about the characteristics of this market. Are the characters supposed to be two years older? Are the sentences longer (as per Stackpole)?
RH: It’s not our job to plan that.
LM: It may be a 10-year-old advanced reader or their grandmother who bought it for them. Lots of people read YA. Not just kids or the target audience. Syntax, etc, are editorial decisions.
AD: People are more willing these days to talk about what happened when they were teens. But don’t write down or talk down to a teenager. You don’t dumb it down.
RH: When you were young, you were used to learning new words through context.
HB: Idea of aging up the character: most of the time, readers like reading characters a little bit older than them, to tell whether they like it or not to figure out whether a character is right for them. If you get asked to age up or down a character by the publisher, you don’t have to. And making sentences shorter. YA allows for more complex sentences. MG wants more simple sentences. And when people are talking about YA, they are often thinking about MG. HP and Percy Jackson behave like seventeen year olds in a middle grade.
AD: Problem with Harry Potter – Rowling made no distinction between MG and YA. She had the luxury of working between both.
LM: She deliberately did not choose to focus on teen issues. Partly because the aspects of being teens were not important when dealing with the world-at-stake issues.
AR: What it really comes down to is the sex stuff. You can kill, but the moment you add the sex stuff. There are no rules; what works, works.

Speaking of the Harry Potter series – YA used to be Burroughs and Tarzan. How has the YA market fundamentally changed, and how do you think the Harry Potter series has influenced the YA market, and where is it going?
HB: HP is not YA. Has changed the MG market, adding younger middle grade and older middle grade. Big series that affected things: Gossip Girl, Twilight, the Hunger Games. What we see as YA has shifted. And it’s still in flux. It’s way different than it was a few decades ago. And some YA back then would be considered MG.
LM: Write what you really want to write; don’t chase a trend. The digital revolution has now found new homes for books. As YA authors it’s now limitless possibilities as for what you want to write and how you want to get it out there.
RH: Agrees that HP is MG. But it is directly responsible for YA authors being able to publish600 page books. Twilight, too. Opened doors for longer manuscripts being accepted.
AD: YA used to be less about how old you were than what you were interested in reading. Now kids have very big books. Write what you want to write; it finds the audience.
LM: Also, YA saved the industry. Parents would still buy their kids books even when the economy tanked. YA was the one category that outperformed every age group every year.
AR: One of the reasons why is that you have this emotional vibrancy in teen fiction. You get that in YA books because it is such a vibrant part of our life. And an emotional vibrancy in the fan base. Also, the coming of age story is so great because it’s such a hopeful arc. Madeline L’Engle: If you really want to write complex stories, don’t write for adults, write for younger stories.
HB: Not just page length or series length. Release dates, midnight releases, now have become a thing.
LM: This is how big it’s become.
AD: Entirely new territory.

In the context of writing a YA novel, are there stereotypes of characters and tropes you’d suggest that authors avoid? What would be the least and most successful?
RH: Use any trope you want, but you have to earn it, own it, make it yours. They’re not bad in and of themselves. You use them and think about them and be aware of when you’re doing them. Stereotypes arise from a lack of understanding. Notice how you use these building blocks, try not to fall into the traps   before.
AD: You can’t come up with something wholly original; it’s about the story, lets it grow in its own space as its own story.
LM: Just because something has been done already doesn’t mean you can’t do it better. You get your craft to the point that you know what you can do with a story. Make it worth reading. Uses TV tropes.
HB: Write a book that you the reader would truly love. Then hope other people will love that too. Try not to write nostalgically about childhood/youth. Remember what it was truly like to be there. Write for yourself then and yourself now.
AR: It takes courage and bravery to do that. Being a writer is an act of absolute courage and daring. And what you write can have an impact on a writer. Write the books that will save someone else’s life.

Audience question: What is your research process when writing a marginalized character?
HB: It’s the iceberg. You’ll have to do a lot of research that won’t show up in your work. Make sure that you do this respectfully and well. Have folks of that marginalized group read it for authenticity. You’re creating a character with the weight of representing that. One of the ways to do that well is to hopefully not have that character be the token, only person of that marginalized group.
LM: Have your ducks in a row, use beta readers to get feedback. Some will not be offended, some will be very offended. And you will still screw up. No way to write a perfect character. And you’ll still get feedback about how folks feel you represented that character. And it’s important that you do it well because kids will see themselves in that character.
RH: Whatever their backgrounds are, it’s about extreme empathy, finding the part of that character somewhere inside yourself to be able to write them. And then, when you do receive criticism, find a way to deal with it and empathize again.
AR: And be courageous. It will happen. If you start doing stuff out of the norm, you will get attacked. We have to have diversity. It’s our job as authors to show it.
AD: If there’s someone in your life that you get to know and research it that way, great. Research with love. Once you capture that you have a fairly good chance of the words coming out right, the story heading in the right direction.

When you start outlining a story, do you focus on certain parts specifically?
AR: Goes through the 14 points in Save the Cat. Has to have the beginning hook and the climax, then follows the 14 beats.
HB: All over the place. We talk a lot about plotters and pantsers and it’s very clear but experience is that most people exist on a spectrum. Even plotters don’t stick to their outlines. Everyone has the process that they’ve come to.
LM: Everyone does it differently. No one can turn in a perfect draft. Everything good in a draft happens in revisions. All of us have files of versions of the books that will never see the light of day. Also, keep your ducks in a row for book 1 so that the details for book 3 are consistent and don't contradict book 1.
RH: Process for each book is different in each book.
NG: You never learn how to write a book. You learn how to write *this* book.
AD: A method you learn is likely only applicable to the book you are working on. Updates outline to match what she’s written. If an outline helps, go with it, otherwise throw it out. Whatever gets the book written is the process that works.

When do you share excerpts with others, who do you share with?
AD: Shares it with only a few close first readers, and watches their body language.
RH: Has two beta-reader friends.
LM: Shouts ideas through the shower to husband and daughter. If their reactons are good, that works for her. Also has done collaborations with others and working together, having someone immediately looking over your shoulder that’s as invested has been very interesting, both invigorating and challenging.
HB: Mostly shares with author friends, and formal critique group when done.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fuelling Creativity: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors on Ideas (Emerald City Comic-Con 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

A 3D magnet of an open book with a quill next to it. On the book's pages is written, "Once upon a time ... on a boat." Sculpture magnet created by Laura Parcel, 2015,

Fuelling Creativity: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors on Ideas
Cat Rambo, Django Wexler, Greg Bear, Jason M. Hough, Myke Cole, Ramez Naam
Moderator: David Hulton
Is there a process to coming up with ideas, or do they hit you like a bolt of lightning with total clarity?
RN: Never a fully-completed idea. It evolves with time. It’s never fully formed until the story is written.
DW: Has more ideas to write than he can actually write, adding up faster than he can get rid of! Sometimes it’s super-clear, and sometimes it comes together easily, but sometimes it’s much weirder. (Like his Hidden Library series, came from the idea of a very creepy Dumbledore)
MC: “Writer’s need to live life like they’re hunting it.” You cannot control how inspiration strikes. You cannot control how inspiration strikes. All you can control is the work. Sit down and come up with ideas. Be okay with coming up with bad ideas. Keep doing it until you come up with a good idea. If still can’t, then construct one. Have faith. (Books: Gemini Cell: if Harry Potter went to the Navy Seals instead of Hogwarts). The point: However you come to it, control the one and only thing you can control, which is the work. Do your work. “Do it well. That’s all that you can do.”
GB: Have ten million crackpot ideas and sufficient courage to turn them into a story. When you have a whole raft of crackpot ideas, you can pull them out when you need them. Fantasy ideas often come from the mythic consciousness. SF ideas come from the same, but have to work in a different way. Ideas come from the same thing: You need pure arrogance, to believe in yourself. Surround yourself with people who give yourselves ideas. Get rid of the ones who don’t believe in you. And you must believe in your characters, too.
CR: Agrees, most writers are very arrogant. Problem is not getting ideas, it’s not paying attention to them. If you stop paying attention to them, you’ll stop getting ideas. If you get an idea, write it down. Tells students, “My unconscious mind is much smarter than I am and produces all sorts of things. My job is to pay attention to it.” Pay attention to the weird shit that your mind throws at you. There is gold there.
JH: Agrees, write it down. You don’t want to lose those things, you never know when you’ll use it. Keeps an idea spreadsheet. As for ideas that come randomly that need to be written down and captured – those are the lightning bolts. Others come from brainstorming.

Do you have any advice for writers for how to get started?
RN: Do the work. Don’t wait, don’t overthink, don’t plan, just start. Have 1) Structure and 2) Accountability. Structure: Have a place to do the work. Accountability: Have people that will follow up with you to make sure that you get the work done.
DW: You have to write. Have to give yourself permission to write bad things. Sit down in a chair and do it. A certain amount of planning can be helpful, but overplanning can kill it.
MC: Don’t just talk about writing; write the novel. Don’t build castles in the air. Knows he’s getting into the meat of his story when he’s thinking about his characters, not the world he’s set them in.
GB: Still, must understand the culture of the character you’ve put in the book. That culture will shape that character if the world is your own creation. The chars have to be changed by the world they live in. All our chars are human, but they are not precisely like us.
CR: Don’t worry about that. Just sit down and write the goddamn story. It is so much more fun to talk about writing than it is to write. “Writers just fucking write.”
JH: Exactly.

Nothing is original anymore. How do you make the writing fresh when we live in a world where so much is already out there?
DW: Nothing is original, period. Just don’t worry about that. That’s the best thing they can do. If your characters are different enough, they’ll make for an interesting story.
RN: If you read a lot in the genre you write in, you’ll notice how there’s something you want to see that isn’t there.
DW: Never do something just because there’s a market hole; by the time you finish writing it, that hole may have already been filled.
JH: If there’s something out there already like what you want to write, you may want to tweak yours. However, if you gave the same high concept to five different writers, you’d have five different books.

What’s the difference btw a good idea and a bad idea?
GB: If it sings in your head and won’t let you alone, that’s a good idea. RayB says, “You can’t chase cats; they’ll run away. But if you turn your back on them, they’ll come back to you sometimes.
DW: Sometimes a character doesn’t work in one setting, but works somewhere else.

How do you get the inspiration to go back and edit after your crappy first draft?
MC: You don’t. Difference btw professionalism and aspiration: what makes a pro writer is that the pro writer sits down and does the work even when it sucks. It’s not being unkind to yourself; give yourself a second to wallow, gather your strength, then get to work.
CR: One thing that is very helpful is to build some time away from the book into it. Try to put it away for at least a month or so. Don’t procrastinate; build time into your schedule to let it cool off.
JH: But remember, there’s no rules, only tools. He steps away from the story until it’s been two days since he hasn’t thought about the story.
GB: Go away, and when you think of how to make it better, then you can go back and fix it. Books do not look pretty right away. Learn how to rewrite. Take all the feedback that works for you, and leave the rest.
RN: For every person who’s finished a draft, there’s a thousand people who have never finished a novel. So congratulate yourself on that, too. Likes to get feedback.
DW: Process is very personal. Once you finish your novel, start a new book the next day. Sometimes you odn’t want to spend three years revising a novel, but you can’t make that judgement the next day. Most of all, what matters most is that you need to keep going. But there must be something writing related the next day. Once you stop, it gets harder to restart.

After you’ve finished that first draft and you come back to revision, do you find yourself doing massive story edits, or just grammar/spelling edits?
GB: Yes. All of those things. A lot of adding and cutting and including the sensual elements comes through rewrites.
CR: The other thing about revision: thinks of it as coase grade sandpaper; the bigger revisions first, the smaller revisions come along
DW: Depending, it may help to outline first.

How do you balance an intensive work job with writing?
DW: The secret to writing is that it goes on in your head every day. Find a time to write it down. For him, that’s first thing in the morning. But it doesn’t need to be a lot of time.
MC: Decide what you want to do with your time. But as he began to get serious about writing, he got rid of more things in his life. You must accept that there are no guarantees of success right away. Ask yourself the hard question: What do you want to do? There may be hard choices and things you want to do that you’ll have to wait for.
MC: Let the Elephants Run – the theory that the creativity is in our DNA.

How do you focus on one idea at a time?
DW: Writes things down. Dwells on them for a little while, writes it down to get out of his head, saves for later. It helps that he’s
GB: Sometimes they’re not quite related and they work together when multiple ideas come together. See what happens.
CR: You can work on more than one project at one time.

What do you do when you have multiple ideas and don’t know how to put them together?
GB: Start stories, finish stories, just plain keep writing.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Blitz: Laura Maisano's SCHISM

Hi everyone! I'd like to welcome author Laura Maisano, whose Book Blitz for her novel, SCHISM, starts today!

Schism (Illirin #1)
Release Date: 04/28/15
Muse It Up Publishing

Art therapy hasn’t done squat for Gabe Jones. A thousand sketches of his fiancée can’t bring his memory, or her, back to him. Nothing on Earth can. His past
lies in another dimension, a world just out of sight.

Another student on campus, Lea Huckley, unknowingly shares Gabe’s obsession with the fourth dimension. The monsters from the other side attacked her parents and fled, getting her folks locked up in the loony bin. Proving this other world exists is the only way to free them. Lea and Gabe strike a deal to help each other, and together they manage to open a door to the world of Gabe’s true origin. She’d use him for proof—if she didn’t already care too much.

While Gabe tries to reconcile his feelings for Lea and his rediscovered memories of his fiancée, a much more sinister plot unravels. He uncovers his history just in time to become the unwilling lynchpin in a conspiracy to start a war. His memory holds the secret to the final riddle the would-be conqueror needs to get the upper hand. Gabe must protect the riddle at all costs, even if that means leaving Earth, and Lea, behind forever.


Lea packed light. Other than her phone’s GPS and a flashlight, she kept a small notepad, her lucky pencil, and the thermometer in her cargo pocket. She didn’t need to find data, now she needed proof.
She led the way down the alley where skyscrapers blocked the glowing moon and the lamps from the highway. Yellowed fixtures above each back entrance threw faint cones of light onto the cement, like holes in Swiss cheese.

Lea checked the coordinates on her phone while she walked, and the little red arrow crept closer to the flag icon she placed to mark the interaction point.

Gabe spent his time surveying the area for anything that might be a danger. He kept fidgeting behind her and turning around every few seconds, a twitchy meerkat on patrol.

“We’re only between buildings. It’s not the end of the world.” Lea checked her phone again to make sure they were headed in the right direction.

He glanced over his shoulder. “I still don’t like it. It’s night, people do get mugged, you know.”

“The statistics of that are so low. We’re really not in any danger, considering the population and how many times that sorta thing happens.”

He shifted uneasily behind her. “Whatever, we’re raising the chances by being out here at night.”
Lea rolled her eyes. “I’m not missing this opportunity.”

“I know that. Neither am I.”


They came to a cross section behind two major offices where the loading docks and dumpsters sat for both of them. A stream of water trickled down the concave cement into the large sewer grate. Old garbage left a fume hanging around, and the humidity only made it worse.

Lea double- and triple-checked her coordinates, cross-checking with her notes. “This is it. Within I’d say, a fifteen foot diameter, low to the ground.” She shoved the phone in her cargo pocket. “Perfect.”

“How long?”

“Roughly ten minutes.”

Ten minutes may as well have been six hours. She paced back and forth, her sneakers scuffing the gritty pavement.

Gabe continued to keep a watchful eye out for muggers or vagrants. What a dork.

She snickered quietly. For someone who didn’t know his own experiences, he sure seemed paranoid. She watched him standing straight, darting his eyes to the entrance and even up to the windows above them. Watch out bad guys, Gabe’s on to you. She smiled and turned to see what looked like heat waves rising from the cold cement. Crap. The interaction had already started.

“Gabe…” She waved him over next to the loading dock.

This interaction provided no shining lights or obvious movement. Not much stood out visually, except maybe the air glistening like summer heat waves if she squinted hard enough, but her digital thermometer found the coldest point.

“Here,” she whispered, not wanting anyone or anything on the other side to hear. She stretched her arms forward, and Gabe did likewise.

“On the count of three.” She waited for him to nod. “One…two…three.”

They both reached through the interaction point and grabbed at the thicker air. Nothing. They tried again, pulling, grasping, and making any sort of motion to trigger a rip. Finally, Gabe leaned in and pulled out at just the right angle, because the light tore across like a jagged line. Lea grabbed the edge of it and tugged, opening the tear wider until they both fell through.

About the Author
Laura has an MA in Technical writing and is a Senior Editor at Anaiah Press for their YA/NA Christian Fiction. She’s excited to release her debut YA Urban Fantasy SCHISM April 28, 2015, and during the wait, she’s working on the sequel, UNITY.

Her gamer husband and amazing daughter give support and inspiration every day. Their cats, Talyn and Moya, provide entertainment through living room battles and phantom-dust-mote hunting. Somehow, they all manage to survive living in Texas where it is hotter than any human being should have to endure. Check out her blog at

Author Links:
 photo iconwebsite-32x32_zps1f477f69.png  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png

Friday, June 26, 2015

Finding the Story: Recipes for Writing Fiction (Emerald City Comic-Con 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

A square slice of vanilla cake with lemon frosting and a yellow flower sits on a plate with one bite resting on an adjacent fork. The caption reads: "Oh, this? Piece of cake."

Hey! Want to know what's almost as stressful as moving? One's downstairs neighbours moving. Especially when they decide to stay up to all hours partying because they seem to realize, "Hey, we can't be evicted, so let's make as much noise as we want!"

*sigh* I miss sleep.

But rather than me coping by stress-eating (one thing I am *way* too good at) or writing delicious fictional scenarios in my head about how wonderful the new neighbours will be (that too), let's talk about a different sort of cooking. In his talk given at this year's ECCC, author Michael A. Stackpole breaks down several types of plots with simple recipes he's devised over the years.

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Finding the Story
Michael A. Stackpole

It’s important for him to not suffer writer’s block, so he’s developed techniques to find stories. That allows him to stretch himself as a writer. He needs to be able to judge things and then drop a story in. This is a process panel.

Listen, write it down, retain it more.

He reasons to find a story anywhere (since being blocked is frustrating). Because the worst thing you can do for yourself is agonize over being blocked.

If you find yourself blocked, if the story isn’t working and the words aren’t humming, STOP. Do not continue to push. What it means is that you do not know the characters well enough. You made a decision within 3-5 pages before the story dies that the character does something out of character, which is why the story has died.

Technique: Interview your character.
- Ask your character the same questions asked in a celeb interview in a magazine.
- The more you know about your character will inform the character’s unconscious choices.
- (e.g. Seahawks fans wear their team-themed stuff around the city. You know them by their typical default colors, etc.)
- Having these little details, even if they never make it into the story, inform the story. You learn more about your character.
- Can also apply psychoanalytical books to this (like, 4000 things you should ask your crush).
- Write down the answer the character will give, and the answer they truly think.
- How many secrets do they have in their lives, and how far will they go to keep their secrets secret?
- When you need to write a story, there is some drama or trauma in their lives.

Writers are better than anybody else!
- A lot of stories share a lot of plotlines.
- He doesn’t like the word “formula”. He prefers the word “recipe”. Different people will produce different variants on a recipe.
- This is what drives themes for anthologies, too.

Simple Story Recipes

The Bug Hunt
- The most basic story that gets told
1) Learn that the bug exists. (problem) (eg. A wolf has been stealing sheep)
2) Learn how to kill the bug.  (solve the problem) (eg. How to destroy the wolf – the protagonist learns)
3) Develop the skills and resources to learn to kill the bug. (solve the problem) (how to kill the wolf)
4) Kill the bug. (solve the problem) (or, kill the wolf, etc)
- This same four-step engine is the engine that drives every single problem in every story.
- There isn no problem that won’t work though these four steps.
- When we reach step 4, may fail. So go back to steps 2 and 3, lather rinse repeat until 4) is achievable.
- A novel is a series of these breakdowns.
- Usually linked in parallel, dealing with more problems at the same time.
- Sometimes solving this problem gives you resources and skills to solve more problems later.
- Can break any problem down into these steps.
- You always want to challenge yourself, do the more challenging thing.
- Sometimes it’s possible to have a resolution where the bug doesn’t die, but the protagonist finds other solutions. Or it may set up a problem for later in the series.
- False success; failure to kill the bug but you wouldn’t know it. The bug re-manifests. Or the heroes are tasked with killing the dragon and then the land is overrun by the orcs that the dragon was feeding on. Whether you fail to kill the bug and you know it, or you believe you did and you didn’t, that lack of success leads to more story later.

The Romance Recipe
- You want romance in your story.
- If you have characters capable of being loved, they’re capable of being redeemed.
- Having characters go through that is something we love. We love seeing characters getting together.
- If you can fit romance into your story, do it.
1) Boy meets girl (or boy meets boy, etc). Everything seems fantastic.
2) Circumstances force them apart.
- a) either a misunderstanding or
- b) a hostile third party
separates them. (Circumstances force them apart.)
3) The two lovers overcome difficulties and solve the problem to force them back together again. (Characters go through hell to get back together again. Going through hell: finding bugs, killing bugs, etc.)
- You can play with characters’ availability, obligations, partners, misunderstandings and assumptions
- Just don’t repeat the same situation as readers will see that and get annoyed.
- This will fit into any book anywhere.
- You want your characters to have emotional lives. That makes them more real.

The Murder Mystery
- Suspense, solving crime, always some aspect that can be used.
- Modern Murder Mystery
1) Someone dies.
- In old stories you run into all the characters first, all the suspects. Nowadays you just start with a body.
- Your protagonist needs to be on screen or in the story as much as possible.
- The reader needs to make sense of what’s going on, so start with the body being splattered all over the place, crime techs giving the details, hero
- As a reader’s job it’s to predict they know the ending
- The writer’s job is to throw things off and create a surprise ending
- Whatever problem shows up on the first page of the book has to be solved on the last page.
- Can dress up characters so they look like inconsequential chars and become more important and relevant later.
- Don’t toss out insignificant clues.
2) Suspects are questioned, evidence is examined, someone lies, and we learn a new fact.
- A piece of evidence shows that someone is lying. You break down why they lied. But now they’ve told the truth, someone else has lied.
- Go through the “someone is lying, break them down” process until you
3) Detectives learn facts that expose the lie
- Go through steps 2 and 3 quite a number of times.
4) (optional) Someone else dies.
- New witnesses, new clues, new cycles of steps 2 and 3.
5) After you’ve gone through enough, the protagonist knows who did it.
6) The villain is exposed and captured. (Knowing the bad guy’s identity is not the same as exposing the bad guy.)
- Technically this recipe is a more specific type of bug hunt.

With these three storylines, you can do anything.
- Basic bug hunt: about 4K.
- Beginning novelist: Be over 80K and under 120K.
- More experienced novelists: Can write the longer books.
- Electronically self-pubbed: 50K (avg. length of mysteries and sci-fis of old)
- YA: Character should be 2 years older than target audience.
- Adjust sentence length and word length. The average reader reading for pleasure reads at an 8th grade level. Average sentence length should be about 12 words.
- The human memory handles 12 words very well. Add more, and we lose some.
- The moment you hit a comma, it acts as a new sentence.
- When doing action scenes, the average should drop to 8 words per sentence.
- Use commas and conjunctions to stretch a sentence out.
- Longer sentences make the readers work.
- Use characterization to enhance the story.

Serial Fiction (ongoing story arcs)
- Individual episodes, but an overall story arc.
1. Intro (first thousand words): who the story’s about, what the problem is that will be true for the main line of the story. The problem that will be resolved in the main line of the story.
2. Main. (second thousand words continue dealing with the main line of the story).
3. A
4. Main.
5. B
6. Main
7. Main
8. A
9. Main
10. Wrap it up.
- 70% of this story is dealing with the problem only in this individual story.
- The only parts not dealing with this are A and B.
- A: Soap opera material. Stuff about the life of the protagonist. Can use romance as an idea for example. (In the first A meets someone they might be interested in). In subsequent A, develop it a little more. Key to making the soap opera work.
- If A is a positive subplot, B has to be a negative subplot. Car stolen. Romance problem. Character is in trouble.
- The A and B lines carry on to the next story. The next story, you might have the same things, but in the next story the B fills the A slots. Or we can be dealing with a new problem in the next book.
- Doing a push-pull with the character’s life.
- B is good to be distinct from A but it doesn’t matter.
- Key: Never let the soap opera stuff to be more than 30% of the story. If there’s more main, drop in more A & B.
- Otherwise, once it gets to be more, it forces readers to have to have read all the stories. (And yes, you want that, but you don’t want the story to have to make no sense if you haven’t read the previous stories.)
- A can be negative, and B positive, but you have to have one negative and one positive.
- A and B don’t have to be isolated. They can affect each other, work off another.
- You can have bits of A and B surface in Main, but must keep

Final Thoughts
If you are in a position where you are stuck, throw more characters in, do more things, rather than killing. More characters increase the options. Make it more complicated, not less.
Everything must serve the story.

When do you do the check to make sure the story works?
When working on the next draft, set it down for a bit. Then come back. If you’re yawning, fix it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What’s an Award Worth? (ConCarolinas 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

Hi everyone! Just like last year, I spent the end of May and beginning of June at ConCarolinas, followed by a writing retreat. I had a great time at the con as usual, and then at the retreat I feel like I had a chance to deepen my craft. (That's what happens when you get a group of like-minded folks together for honest, earnest critiquing. And okay, the lake house we rented had a hot tub, so that didn't hurt.) After a spot of beta-reading for my awesome CP, I'm ready to get back to my work.

I'm actually going to keep my promise (to myself) to get on the older notes (relatively) first, because I have a lot of stuff I'd like to share from Emerald City and even (eep) a few from the last SIWC. But this topic felt important.

Please note: I know this is a sensitive subject. Yes, I have my opinions. Let's leave it at that. As with every other occasion, I'm just sharing my notes on the panel. That said, I do think that there were a few positive messages to take away from this, especially moving forward.

* * *

What’s an Award Worth?
Wendy S. Delmater, Gray Rinehart, Edmund R. Schubert, John Hartness, John Scalzi
Moderator: Misty Massey

There are a lot of different awards attached to genre fiction (Hugo, Nebulas, Stoker, etc). What’s an award worth to working writers?
WD: Abyss & Apex (which she edits) got honourable mentions, recommended reading lists, best ofs, etc.
GR: Hugo nomination for novelette.
ES: Also was nominated, and IGMS they tried but they were able to sidestep that, and they’ve won a few awards. Was once nominated for an Edgar. Years’ best anthologies, honourable mentions, etc.
JS: Hugo, Locus, Romantic Times,  Geffin (Israel), Kurzlazfitz (Germany), Scion (Japan), nominated for Nebula, Norton, award in Spain, Audie, and others.
MM: Mad Kestrel was nominated for SC young adult book award.
JH: Recenlty won best horror for 2014, was nominated for 2013, and one story from Big Bad 2 got honorable mention, and was once nominated for Pushcart prize for poetry. And Charlotte writers for poetry.

So what are they worth to you as writing professionals?
JS: Depends on the award, the context, and the time. Winning the Campbell award was significant because it was the one that put him on the map as a writer. It was useful to him because it differentiated him from other new writers out that year. Hugo was useful because with it comes outward prestige (known outside of the genre). Example: helped expediate his contract with Hollywood for a contract. The rest of the awards have been nice to have on the shelf, but in terms of moving the needle have been the Campbell and the Hugo.
GR: The awards being differentiators: awards that an author can point to for even eing a finalist or a semifinalist can becomes a differentiator because he can expect more and get more because the ahtuor has already proben themselves in that field.
WD: Does the same for short fiction. Especially new writers. They help develop new writers, and grow careers. They have people whose careers they helped start. To help, they’ve put them in for awards, and they can use that as a cover letter credit to take it to the next level. Having cover letter credits is a big deal. An award means that people notice you, but it also boosts a writer’s confidence.
ES: Challenges is that the writers grow up to move on to writing novels and are so busy writing novels that you need to bring in a new wave. Like a graduating class.
WS: Award winners get preferential reading.
JS: With the accolade comes a certain expectation. Which can be great for them because their next book gets reviewed. And that expectation doesn’t go away. It continues to be brought up. An expectation reconfiguration. The awards for later books are really awards for previous work done. But to win an award is to have criticism both positive nad negative. Which can have an effect on your
ES: MRK: The leading indicator on whether you’re likely to win a hugo is whether or not you’ve won a hugo.
JS: Neil Gaiman turned down an award for 2006 because he sincerely believed it had stopped being about the work and started being about Neil. Passed it on.
ES: It’s not always about the best players, it’s about the most popular players, being rewarded for work that came before. Not a problem, but a reality.
JS: Yes. Example: Redshirts. Is it his best? The year he was nominated, he had been nominated three times before and had never won. Aside from the quality of the book, there was everything that goes on with the aspect of the award; everyone knew he’d been nominated for before, and it was also a good year to be nominated. It’s not only about where you are in your career, but also about the year and the playing field, and you have to be okay with that. Otherwise you get bitter and defensive.
JH: And no one gave Redshirts an award for best SF novel of all time. It’s a snapshot. A moment of “this is the opinion of this voting block for this year”.
JS: When he won the Locus award, one thing he said was “I wish it had been given to Ian Banks”. Because the award represented the body of his works that year. But again, it’s a matter of what the playing field is in a given year and who people are voting for. When you get nominated, you have to be aware of all the dynamics, and it helps you to have someone whispering in your ear, “Thou art mortal”.
WD: It’s worth different things on different levels. Recognition. It pushes people to the next level.
JH: Example: Hopes that an award will push him from attending pro to guest status at DragonCon.
WD: It gets you out of the slush pile, onto the radar, and hopefully into a better situation, career-wise.
GR: It means that he (in charge of the slush pile at BAEN) won’t be the first to look at the book. (and in 7 yrs, so far only 2 of 6200 submissions have actually made it from the slush pile to the shelves). Some manuscripts have been in consideration for a long time because there may be a chance that they say yes. But then, the first book he did get out of the slush pile has gone on to be Nebula-nominated. Writers of the Future award winners have gone to the top, too.
WD: The numbers are important because having some small award will get you notice. Publishes 25 out of 2000 submissions a year.
GR: Same thing all over the place, even with venture capitalists.

Did you find the award gave you a confidene boost in terms of the work and how you presented yourself?
JH: A confidence boost in his work, and in the way he presents. Doesn’t often mention to other writers that he’s won an award because he doesn’t want to be tacky, but looks at it as a tool when talking to someone outside of the industry, or someone who doesn’t know him, or . When it’s effective. (BK 4 won an Epic award). But it gives him a personal confidence boost that people he didn’t know liked it enough to give him an award.
JS: Confidence not so much, but looks at the awards dispassionately: as tools, as shorthand used strategically to introduce yourself to other folks. With his unusual career, he didn’t have to struggle to get published. Name recognition and awareness in the genre hasn’t really been a problem. He used to be a newspaper columnist, so he came in with a built-in audience. That said, he uses those things strategically. When trying to get attention of people outside of the genre. When Tor was looking at his first book, aware that he came with that audience. When he won the hugo, the main feeling he had was “Yes!” but it was a relief to have won that and to be done with that. He’s already won, so he doesn’t have to think about this anymore. The sense of palpable relief. The awards come with their own dynamics nad pressures and they can loom artificially large in the minds of writers. Hard to explain to some writers on the other side of the fence. It’s great, but then you go home and now there’s the expectation that the next book better be great. He got the deal last week because he has a track record for sales, not because of the award. Terry Pratchett even turned a nomination down in 2005 because it did nothing for him.
WD: Connie Willis  was like an early lifetime achievement award. Not so much about the book. And that’s okay.

ES: Yes, but if you say, “Who gives a shit?”, then why are there wars?
JS: He felt relief when he won the Hugo, because he’d been nominated 3 times before, and went through the pressure, and there’s not necessarily a finite number of times you’ll be nominated, but fashions change, tastes change, and this time that he won it was ripe. Eventually that window closes.
JH: Award winners from the 70s are very different from award winners in the 80s and 90s, and Redshirts might not have even been published in an earlier decade because it was a style that wouldn’t have been published back then.
JS: If he hadn’t won, there’s a chance he might have been upset. It’s a mark of distinction and acceptance in the community. Desire makes us do lots of things, positively and negatively. A lot of the wars come down to desire. “Why aren’t I and the things I love properly appreciated?” And the one thing he agrees with is that there is nothing in any type of science fiction or fantasy that should not be considered for awards, or good writing.
Awards are not what the field is about. They are a signatory, a snapshot of what the field is, but that snapshot is incomplete. There’s so much going on outside of that snapshot that it’s hard for someone not in the window or the snapshot that this isn’t necessarily a criticism of what they love. Some people can handle that, and some feel differently. You cannot tell people that the way they feel is invalid. They are who they are. But remind people that there’s more to life. There’s sales. And fans. People who say “That speaks to me, and you have changed my life by writing that thing.” Focus on those moments, not just on the award, as validation. He can’t say that what any of the Puppies feel is invalid.
WD: And you’ve been reasonable.
JS: No, I’ve been snarky as shit.
JH: But that’s what we refer to as a given circumstance.
JS: That’s why you’ll never hear me say anything bad about the people who are nominated. The question is not whether they can or should be nominated; it’s a question of whether in this particular instance  was the reason they got onto the ballot without controversy. This year, no.
JH: People want to write what they have written. Wants a Stoker so he can get a better deal, and if he gets those things without the statue, okay, fine, but if he gets the statue that’s even better.

About the Sad and Rabid Puppies and the Hugo awards …
WD: She was there on the inside of that. 15 of the 18 nominees were Rabid Puppies.
GR: Was also a Puppies nomination. After much thought, he has arrived at the metaphor that he was offered a ticket on an airplane, said he’d take that ride, and then the plane got hijacked. And the plane landed and took off again, and there’s people on the plane who want it to crash, and people on the ground who want to shoot it down, and he just wants to get off.
JS: Is reading everything. Will rank his reading appropriately. Regardless of the dynamics, there are people on the ballot this year who could and should be on the ballot. People who got on the plane and were surpreised what happened from there. Ultimately, for the same reason he doesn’t go out of his way to criticize other writers’ writing, he’s going to give the writers the same consideration he hopes others would give to his writing.
GR: Other people voting, they’re very wound up over this, and not sure about voting. Lately, he’s told people that if the situation has poisoned it for them, then don’t read his story. Reading should be a pleasure. If there’s some outside force making it displeasurable, then go find something that will give you pleasure.
ES: Decided to get out because they didn’t nominate him for an award because of his work; they were making a political statement. Felt like there was too much going on.
JS: The one thing he thinks about regarding this whole matter is that we do get wrapped up in awards. Yes, it’s the tail that wags the dog, but regardless, it has made us as a community think, what are these awards about, and why do they matter? The one silver lining is that it’s led to a new discussion, appreciation and understanding of what awards are, can be, and should be, and he cannot argue that this was not a discussion that was not necessary for science fiction and fantasy. It wasn’t the way he’d have had it, but at least now it’s happening.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Myths about the Writing Life (ConCarolinas 2014 Writing Panel Notes)

Myths About the Writing Life
Tamsin L. Silver, Misty Massey, Claudette Marco, Jim Bernheimer, A.J. Hartley, Roy Mauritsen, James R. Tuck
Moderator: Faith Hunter

Myths of the writer’s life (read aloud)
1. My solid gold hummer doesn’t spit money
2. Royalty checks are big
3. People always want to write your books
4. No revisions
5. No day job
6. You need a big publisher
7. Once you write in one genre you can only write in that genre
8. All you need is an agent
9. A book deal equals fame
10. You need to write chapters in linear sequence
11. A great-selling novel equals an automatic movie deal
12. Just about getting your first book out, and it’s all gravy after book 1
13. Publicity and marketing people at your publishers ensure your book gets read
14. Book sales are counted in hundreds of thousands

Myth: Publicity and marketing people at your publisher ensure your book gets read.
AJ: People assume that if you’re with a major publisher that marketing budgets are divided equally between authors. The person with the higher advance gets the higher budget. Unless you’re one of a very small percentage within that house, there is virtually no publicity or support.
TS: Her publisher told her promotion was her job, and didn’t help after a year, so she pulled her book.
RM: Went for a smaller press because he wanted more control.
MM: Not only did the PR people not do anything, they weren’t clear on what she should do.
FH: PR is the lowest position in publishing. New authors are often taken care of by inexperienced PR staff. Best to get a PR firm to help you learn. Online ads and referrals are best. If you don’t know how to do your own PR then you lose out.
JB: (mostly self published) Marketing time will eat into your writing time if you’re not careful. Be prepared to part with money to get noticed.
CM: (self published) Successful at conventions. Blog tours didn’t help much. Being at conventions, especially speaking on panels, helped her make connections.
AJ: Twitter blew up when Richard Armitage read his Hamlet book. Made it hard to keep up, have a dayjob, and write.

Myth: You need a big publisher to sell your work.
TS: Self-published, at book 5, and someone who works at Vampire loved her books and asked her to write a new online vampire show, so began work on Skye of the Damned, learned how to produce a show, and as  a result the cross promotion led to more book sales. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. If you don’t know it, you can learn it.
FH: The learning curve never stops.
MM: Releasing a book of short stories on her own featuring Mad Kestrel because there has been a long gap in releasing books 1 and 2.
CM: All the marketing is on you if you are self-published. Used CreateSpace as publishing venue so that she could put more money into editing, cover art, etc.
JB: You don’t even need the brick and mortar stores, either. Self-publishing – Create Space, Lightning Source. Create Space is more print on demand. Lightning Source will send you the bill for returned books put in brick and mortar stores.
RM: Brick and mortar stores are fighting, competing with other books. Prefers to take books to convention regardless of small press or large. Works in graphic design and now designs covers for other writers. Likes having more control with a smaller press.
FH: Brick and mortar stores are going away is what we’re hearing. But?
AJ: There’s a myth going around that b and m stores are going away. It’s hard to make a real living without a big pub and books in physical stores. Doesn’t have the skills or time for publicity and marketing his books, so he wants the big press to promote him. It comes down to what you want to achieve. Grocery money? Being out there, sharing stories? Self pub. Consistently 50K a year or more, very difficult to do that as a self-published author. Traditional publishing is not dying. Some of those who self pub should not be putting their work out. The initial myth that you need a traditional pub to get your book out is not true. The new myth that we can also load up to Amazon and make a fortune is also untrue.
FH: The myth that you can quit your dayjob is also untrue. She just quit her dayjob, decades in. Hit bestseller list, hired a PR firm, and the firm let her down, didn’t get much attention from publisher until they noticed her books stayed on the extended list. Hired her own PR firm.
AJ: The NYT list is calculated based on numbers of copies shipped from warehouses to stores, while the USA Today list is based on number of sales. Also, Booklist and many others have their own lists.
FH: Making the bestseller list did not translate to more PR when she hit the bestseller list the first time, but then eventually did.

Audience Question: What’s more important, print and e-book sales or hardcover?
FH: Mass markets don’t make much per book. Print and e-book sales
JB: Has been self-publishing, and the most he’s ever made in one year is 22K. Nice supplemental money is great, but don’t quit your dayjob.
FH: But until you hit a bestseller list, you’ll be lucky to make even 20K in traditional publishing. The first book selling for a million to a pub is very rare.
JT: There’s no money in publishing. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Don’t do this for the money, do it for yourself.
AJ: Those who make the most money are hybrids, selling out of print backlist via self-publishing, and also selling traditional work.
FH: Publishers aren’t letting go of the print rights like they used to. An agent helps to keep it. If you go for a traditional press, have an agent.
JT: If you don’t have an agent, demand things out of your contract. Have a lawyer look after it. A contract lawyer can help too.

Myth: Once you get that first book published, you’re set.
FH: This is more for the traditionally-published folk, but how hard is it if you haven’t been traditionally published to keep publishing?
CM: It is difficult, and conventions take money, but does get the satisfaction of putting book out there and interest in writing to work. Tried to find an agent, and some were interested, but eventually it didn’t work out. Liked finding her own editor, connecting that with story, finding own cover artist, etc. Not much money, but she has the satisfaction of living out her dream.
FH: Even for traditionally published it can take a lot. Hotel rooms at a con, meals, flights, etc, are not typically comped.
MM: Eight years after Mad Kestrel, finally got invited to a con that comped a hotel room.
RM: Being able to share a story, create something, that’s the satisfying aspect for him.
FH: We all do this because we love to do this.
TS: I can’t not write. As an artist, this is extremely fulfilling. Remembers that she is not writing for anyone but herself.  It’s always better to write for you, not for the people around her
FH: It sucks having to write something just to pay the bills.
AJ: there is a downside to quitting your dayjob. You become a slave to the market. There’s a freedom to knowing that the sales of your next novel don’t determine whether you get to keep your house.
MM: Most people do not have the discipline to treat it as a job in your own home. Most people are writing in their home and when you’re in your home the brain is telling you to do all the things, the chores, the laundry, and Facebook, etc. You have to be super disciplined to not have a day job and write in your home.
Me: Three times I’ve taken a week off just to focus on writing, and three times the week has been filled.
FH: There are no benefits for those who quit their dayjobs.

Myth: You’ll be able to write at conventions.
JT: I’m too busy drinking with friends.
TS: I go out to eat and drink with friends.
JB: Maybe a bit but cons are an opportunity pit.
AJ: Used to bring his laptop. *snort*
RM: Cons are an opportunity to not write, to make connections.
TS: It’s important to talk about writing, so you have so much more energy when you get back to that
FH: The networking that happens at cons happens at the bar. You can do this even as a recovering alcoholic.

Audience Question: How do you write at home without social media?
FH: Rewards herself: she can only check FB after she finishes every page, if she wants.
JT: No internet in his office. Researches things later. “Research” turns into time spent on FB.
CM: Sets goals, takes breaks.
TS: Easy to sit and write.

Audience Question: Advice on finding cover artist if you’ve self-publised a book?
RM: You can find a lot of great artists through Deviant Art.
JT: If you buy a sketch from a cover artist, you can’t use it for a book cover. There’s a big contract involved first.