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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Future of the Printed Word (ConCarolinas Writing Panel Notes)

Hi everyone, this was a busy week so I didn't get a chance to type up my notes like I was hoping. But here's the next panel I attended at ConCarolinas: The Future of the Printed Word.

As I've said before, this is just what I hastily scribbled down, so any errors here are likely mine and I apologize in advance. Feel free to ask if something I've noted here makes absolutely no sense at all.

* * *

The Future of the Printed Word

Authors: Nathan P. Butler, Stuart Jaffe, Faith Hunter, David B. Coe, Nicole Kurtz
Moderator: Rob Shelsky

Question: What do you think the future of the printed word will be?

- A complete conversion to e-books is not going to happen anytime soon.
- There are court cases preventing that (e.g. a braille challenge)
- Not all students have access to the necessary technology
- However, pleasure reading is more likely to shift more toward e-books.

- Paperbacks might disappear completely.
- Hardcover might come back.
- All of this is still several years off
- The Kindle is made by folks who intuitively know books

- Paperbacks won’t disappear completely.
- Coffee-table books and picture books will be hard bound.
- E-book readers aren’t always useful
- Uses for e-books

- Mass Market will survive, but it will be more print-on-demand
- There will be a change between how bookstores buy from publishers – will see companies that don’t return books (big names) – publishers not accepting or bookstores not returning? (I forget the exact context)
- Paperbacks are expensive because 40% are stripped of their covers and sent back.
- The midlist will switch to e-books.
- The book publishers have the bargaining power.

- No one, not even publishers, knows what is going to happen.
- The e-publishing industry will be good for short fiction.
- Can sell a short story for 99 cents; will be a viable market.

- Short fiction publisher
- Thinks short stories are easiest to read on an e-reader
- But they still need EDITING and COVER ART.
- Word of mouth will be important: people get burned.
- Offer free samples!

Self-Publishing Discussion:
- The editorial processes are one of the weaknesses of self-publishing.
- Self-published work is missing the developmental editor.
- David: No author can effectively edit themselves.
- Nathan: “Self-publishing is the Star Wars prequels. You need to have someone to say no.”
- Stuart: Build your name, and people will associate your work with either crap or quality. Self-publishing is *work*.

On Editors:
- Be prepared to meet the editor halfway!
- We *need* proper editing.
- David: “You learn from your editor not only how to make your first book better. You learn how to write.”

Final Thoughts:
- David: “We’re looking at a chessboard mid-game.” (i.e. we don’t quite know how it’s going to turn out yet, but everyone is thinking strategy.
- E-books are instant gratification.
- E- book readers can be either digital immigrants or digital natives – some have learned technology, some have grown up with it.
- E-books allow midlist writers to keep selling.
- Writers need to be businesspeople.
- Publishers are likely going to start banding together with services to fight piracy (illegal downloads).
- When the dust settles, a typical writer’s career will look very different from what it does now.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Puzzler

It seems like, this past year, my writing group can't go more than four weeks without a conversation weighing the merits of plotting versus pantsing. Mostly it becomes an entrenched discussion, where each side spouts the merits and their reasons for their chosen alignment. Recently I've decided to stick with "it's a spectrum; all pantsed novels will contain parts that were plotted, and all plotted novels have parts that were pantsed". And as far as analogies go, that's the best as I can do.

Me, I identify as more of a plotter, but the term wasn't quite satisfactory, even though when forced to choose, that's the side I'd fight for. On previous occasions when I've tried to describe my particular outlining process, I've explained it as "a sort of messy cross-stitch", because of how my thoughts jump around. That didn't quite feel right either, but the fact is, my thoughts aren't entirely linear.

Then on Friday, I read a post by author David B. Coe (one of the Magical Words gang) at, about how he completes novels. This is how he describes it:
"... a book sometimes feels like a puzzle.  I start with the outline, or, to work within the metaphor, with the border pieces.  I set aside the internal pieces until later, and just get that broad exterior in place.  Once that’s done, once I have some sense of what the puzzle is going to look like, I start to fill in the middle."
He goes into more detail after that, and I highly recommend you read what he has to say in its entirety, but that's the main gist of it.

I read the post. Then I read it again. As it sank in, the shades of gray that the plotter/pantser spectrum represented fell away, and the mental image of a gorgeous magical garden sprang to mind. That, I realized, is exactly how I craft a story. I have an idea of what the final image will look like, and I've filled in the edges and corners and parts of the middle, but the rest of it comes to me in bits and pieces, and often I have to go back and figure out exactly where a piece fits.

Even Coe admits that the metaphor is imperfect, but for me, it's the best way to describe it so far. I'm not a plotter. I'm not a pantser. I'm a puzzler.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Avoiding The Plotholes (ConCarolinas Writing Panel Notes)

So, time to put all of the events of the past several days behind me. Time to get to a different topic.

Just over two weeks ago, I did something that when I said I would do it, more than a year ago, it seemed like it might just wind up being a pipe dream. There's this website, you see, that's a group blog of published fantasy authors who write about the craft from the perspective of the genre. I started following Magical Words early last year, and when June came around I discovered that they all gathered at ConCarolinas, a science fiction and fantasy convention. And I said, "Next year, I'm going."

And even though Charlotte, North Carolina is thousands of miles away from Vancouver, I did.

What followed was an awesome weekend, where despite many obstacles that nearly threatened to prevent my trip (including passport issues, but that's a tale for another time), I had a great time and lots of fun, got to meet (almost) all of the authors face to face, connected with members of my beta group (born from the website) and partied it up with people that before that weekend, had only been people I knew from the Internet.

One of the best things, though, was all of the writing panels I attended, so I thought that over the next several posts I'd share the typed-up version of my frantically scribbled notes. Hopefully, they make *some* sense. Here's the first set: Avoiding the Plotholes. Enjoy!

* * *

Avoidng the Plotholes

Authors present: Glenda C. Finkelstein, Rachel A. Aaron, Jana Oliver, Emilie P. Bush
Edmund Schubert (Moderator)

Definition of Plotholes:
- Unresovled subplots
- Inconsistent details
- Chronological inconsistencies
- Plotholes can occur within an individual book and across series

Suggestions from the Authors:

- Start with the idea of: "Where does the character need to be at the end?" Everything, every sentence, builds toward that.
- Keep a style sheet: a list of names, physical descriptions, official spelling of name, words you've made up, styles you follow

- Keep a plot grid: lay out chapter, scene, time of day, and details of scene.

- Having a plan (plotting) makes problems manageable
- Start by telling plot to self, talking through the plot, know what you're going to write before you write it
- Simply putting stories in order helps
- Be willing to let go of scenes if they just don't work

- Know where the story is going
- Stay focused, don't get distracted by rabbit trails that go nowhere

Working With Editors
- Give and take: Sometimes you need to rework ideas, what the editors want to see, without spoiling the plot arc.
- Remember to keep up the pace
- Remember that editors don't always catch everything
- Be able to say no and push back when the story truly calls for it (but ask yourself: is it worth fighting for?)

- Can be cheerleaders ("keep it coming")
- Can be plothole catchers ("I don't buy this crap")
- Can catch parts that are lacking ("this needs more emotion, more description, etc" - people who tell you what you need
- Can spot timeline and continuity problems (Does everything make sense chronologically?)
- Remember: friends don't necessarily know how to fix your story, even if they're interested
- Your friends aren't necessarily your best beta readers unless they can be brutally honest

Self-Critiquing and Rewriting
- If self-critiquing, try to separate your writer-mind from your reader-mind.
- Ed: Try reading it out loud.
- Be willing to go through the work several times to keep details straight.
- Jana: uses TextAloud. (Laura's note: this is a great program, by the way, and it's very inexpensive - about $30 US. We use it at work and recommend it to clients. Yes it's a computerized voice and no, it won't pronounce everything perfectly despite the pronunciation editor *mutters* but it's worth it.)

Series Issues
- Changes agreed to in the first book can come back to bite you in the ass in later books
- Take time to note details: what happens, world building, spellings of names
- Know your characters, how they'll react, what can and cannot happen in your world (certain things can only happen in certain ways)
- The first book needs to stand alone (so you can prove to the editor and publisher that it'll sell)
- Lay out your world: have an idea of where the series is going.
- Keep a story bible!

- Read for continuity
- Take a microscopic look at the characters themselves, if they are behaving accordingly
- Read for sentence structure: is it flowing?
- Read for pacing

Finish the damn thing first!*
- Don't get stuck on details
- Leave notes to self; don't stop for little details
- Work on upping your daily word count
- Maintain your enthusiasm and excitement about your story when writing it.
- You should have excitement, knowledge, and time every time you sit down to write.

Rachel's System:
- Keep a spreadsheet of how many words per hour, per day
- Note problems and address them at the end
- Write the bare bones of the scene before actually writing it.

* This section was untitled, but that was the gist of it.
** Emphasis mine. Yah, RLY.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beautiful Aftermath

Just so I can get the bad stuff out of the way first:

I said in the previous post that I don't want to get into the politics of things, but I will say this: it's been determined some people went downtown with the intention of starting a riot, regardless of the results of the game. Some of the original rioters caught on film sported the same black bandannas as the protesters from the Olympics, and are connected with an anarchist group.

That's what got it started, anyway. The rest of the rioters were mostly a lot of young males (late teens, early twenties; our age of majority here in BC is 19). They were severely intoxicated; although they're responsible for what they did regardless of their level of inebriation, they were ripe to be pushed over the line from drunken kids to brainless minions.

Okay, I am done with the negativity. The world is focusing on the bad stuff. (But as my husband, who studied journalism in college, likes to say: "If it bleeds, it leads.") I'm not going to link to some of the things I've read because I don't like to propagate negativity, though I will say I'm frustrated how many are jumping to these dark conclusions and assuming that this was all about hockey.

What needs more attention is all of the amazing good things that came out of this.
  • Finally, slightly off topic, but have you seen this kiss? So sweet and romantic (and undeniably hot), especially when you read the story behind it.
So in the end, while I'm grateful I wasn't anywhere near the violence, I do love my city, and I'm proud to hail from Greater Vancouver, even if I just live in one of the surrounding suburbs. ♥

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No, Not An Auspicious Start

As I write this there are riots in the streets.

The newscasters are calling the scene post-apocalyptic. Police cars smoulder with vandals' flames, and tear gas envelops the entire downtown core. Windows have been smashed. The Queen Elizabeth theatre was showing Wicked and families are trapped in the foyer, afraid to leave the building.

The city is burning.

And all over a lost hockey game?

There are times in my life when I felt left out because I didn't live in Vancouver proper. I grew up on the North Shore, an underpriveleged kid in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood. When I married I migrated to Roastawasp, another city in Greater Vancouver (not its real name, but my grandmother used to get a kick out of calling it Burn-A-Bee, so I may as well honor her memory). It was always a pain, an annoying but necessary pain, to have to transit in from elsewhere, but it seemed inevitable.

But now? Now I'm kinda glad I'm not out in that mess.

Speculation is that it's probably not the hockey game that started it. That it was an excuse for people to riot; that there are anarchists involved and that all the "real" fans went home safely. I don't know, because I'm not well-versed in politics and frankly, I want to stay out of it.

But this is not an auspicious start to my blog.

And yes, I'm aware how self-centred that sounds. But in my defense, I wasn't expecting this turn of events. I am a Canucks fan, married to a Canucks fan. There was quite a bit of tension leading up to the game and I was having a hard time trying to compose my first entry. I have so much I want to say, because I recently came out of an amazing experience with fellow writers, I have lots to share, and as of yesterday I'd decided to switch from Livejournal to Blogspot.

This is not the time.

And so, like many other Canucks fans and Greater Vancouverites, I apologize to the world for this mess. We are not all like that. If you check the Twitterverse, you'll see many more apologies like this.

When I started to compose this post, it was right after the game ended and I thought I had something clever to say about how the game inspired a story idea for me. This? I'm sure something fictional will come of it, but it's sure not what I intended.