Sep 30

The Internet Ate My Homework

So I had this great post last night. All done. I even went back and fixed some typos. Then I tried to publish.

“Blogger is down for scheduled maintenance…” What? What scheduled maintenance? Why didn’t I know about this? WHERE’S MY GODDAMN POST!!!

Gone. No recovery. I know, I know–compose off-line, then publish, but what the hell, I was on a high-speed connection, next best thing to being there. Yada, yada, yada. I know it’s my own fault, but I’d much rather blame Blogger. Makes me feel better.

I’ll try again later.

Sep 28

Blazing a New Trail

Well, it’s time to do some re-thinking on Washed in the Blood. My last outline dates from this past Spring. The story has grown in substantial ways since then, and my line-per-scene no longer applies. The basic story remains the same, as does the climax and denouement. What has changed is the path connecting here and there.

This is a good time to stop and regroup. John is currently deeply involved in a crisi of faith. Thomas is poking him with sharp sticks and pointed questions to keep the doubt raging. The cops are searching for John and waiting for the autopsy results, which should be interesting. An outside investigator has shown up, one Michael Archer, who has been tracking Thomas for several years. His job is to convince the local cops that John is being framed, and that’s going to be a long row to hoe. Everybody else is pretty much standing around with their thumbs up their asses waiting on me to show them where they’re going from here. That’s why they pay me the big bucks, right? Oh yeah, I’m not getting paid for this. Yet.

I’m really interested in how the forensics are going to play out. I can thank tambo for that. Ghosts and Threads have got me thinking in that direction. Blood will of course, play a major factor. I have to figure out how much is missing and how Michael is going to convince the locals to try to account for it. They, of course, are firmly convinced of John’s guilt and are unwilling to admit any evidence to the contrary. Maggie was very well-liked in the community, John not so much.

I know there is one major complication coming John’s way, in addition to the one he already faces (figuring out a way to get blood without getting deeper into his morass of sin and guilt). This poor SOB is in real trouble. Then there’s the love triangle developing between Deborah, Thomas, and Michael. Poor Michael doesn’t have a chance in Hell, since both of the other two hate his guts. Things can and do change, though. All’s fair and all that crap. Wonder how Thomas feels about getting a freak on with another guy? Hmmmm…….

Sep 26

Damn the Torpedoes!

No more retreating, launghing a new offensive. I know, I know, as if I weren’t offensive enough already. Keep your snide comments to yourselves. 🙂

Wound up having no Internet the entire weekend. Oh well. It’s probably for the best. It’ll just take a few days to catch up.

I took the opportunity to read through everything I have on Washed in the Blood. Damn, it’s good. It has problems, sure, what first draft doesn’t? Especially the first draft of a first novel. If I start listening to that voice again that tells me it’s shit, y’all kick my ass until I wake up, please. Got nearly 5000 new words over the weekend, and over 1000 so far today. The thrill is back, the story progresses.

I also finished another review for GMR (I also have a new review up of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s To Charles Fort, With Love). This one is less than glowing. Horror writers need to wake up and realize that just because it’s horror is no excuse for poor craft. In this case, the characterization is absolutely abominable. It’s basically a bunch of paperdoll morons running around getting eaten. A major author, too. Another bridge burnt, I guess. Oh well. I calls ’em as I sees ’em.

Y’all keep ’em straight up there.

Sep 20

The Autumn Cometh

Posting will be sporadic for the next week. Quarter break! Woo hoo! To celebrate the Autumnal Equinox, among other things, I am going on a self-directed retreat this weekend. Got a motel room about 45 minuites’ drive away. It’s supposed to have fridge, microwave and broadband Internet access. If that comes through, I will hole up Friday afternoon and not come out until Sunday morning. Time to come to grips with that beast of a novel that’s hanging around my house and whip it until it begs for mercy. Or something. At any rate 48 hours of no interruptions to concentrate. My wife will be the only person who knows where I am, and she understands what “emergency” means.

Would you like homework in the meantime? No? Tough! Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to write about how you blog and why. Important points to cover will be:

  • Do you post your first draft or edit?
  • Why?
  • How much time do you spend thinking about and preparing a post before it goes online?
  • Anything else you’d like to add?

Just write a post about it and put a link in the comments, if you dare. I’ll get things started.

I usually post raw first drafts with only a most cursory proofread. Book reviews are the most frequent exception. You may have noticed misspellings, typos, and really stupid writing tricks that would never appear in a polished essay. I do this for several reasons:

  1. I am practicing composing a more polished first draft. Practice makes better.
  2. I like the spontaneity of stream-of-thought essays. I can’t always tell where the post is going to wind up until I get there. Sometimes I discover things that I didn’t know were there.
  3. Spontaneous posts are more personal, as a blog should be. If I wanted this blog to be distant and oh-so-very-polished, I would edit the hell out of everything before it hit the screen.
  4. I might chicken out on controversial topics if I stop to think. That would probably be a good thing, sometimes, but mostly it’s better to go ahead and get it off my mind.
  5. Talking “out loud” this way gives me a chance to think. Oddly enough, I think better when I am talking about something, even if no one else is present. This does, of course, lead to the occasional strange looks and evasive maneuvers on other people’s parts.
  6. Composing on the fly is letting me develop a more conversational tone and voice in my writing. Coming from an academic background, I find that I too often get pedantic and lecture instead of telling a story. Blogging really helps me break through that barrier.

I often decide on a post topic in the morning and think about it all day before actually posting in the evening. This gives me a chance to get my thoughts somewhat organized, though my mental outline almost always goes out the window as soon as I start typing. Thinking it through ahead of time also gives me a chance to figure out what I actually do think. Sometimes I have to change my mind after I have thought about a topic for a couple of hours.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Sep 20

Threads of Malice


Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones
Bantam Book, due out October 25, 2005, 498 pages, $6.99.

Dubric Byerly sees dead people. More specifically, he sees the ghosts of those who have been murdered in Faldorrah. As Castellan, Dubric is responsible for bringing their killers to justice so their spirits can peacefully depart. The sight of murdered people and the headaches they bring are prime motivation for Dubric to solve their murders and quickly. Unfortunately, in a world with barely medieval technology, forensic investigations are difficult at best. Dubric, his squire Dien, and his two pages, Lars and Otlee, are learning the art of forensic investigation as best they can, but sometimes, that is just not enough. When Dubric learns that young boys have been disappearing in the Reach, a remote area of the kingdom, he leakds his team squarely into a mob of ghosts and an evil so profound that Dubric doubts his ability to defeat it.

Threads of Malice is Tamara Siler Jones‘s second published novel and a semi-sequel to her first, Ghosts in the Snow. It is a sequel in that it is set in the same world with many of the same characters, it is only semi- in that it does not continue the story in Ghosts. Threads is a stand-alone story, complete unto itself, though reading Ghosts first will give you some deeper insight into the characters and the world they inhabit.

Those who enjoyed Ghosts as much as I did should be warned that Threads of Malice is a much darker and more dangerous story. While Ghosts often showed a delight in its wickedness and even turned whimsical at times, Threads is a serious look at some deeply-rooted soul-rot. It looks at some subjects that are extremely distasteful and does it unflinchlingly. Readers will encounter pedophilia, torture, murder, and putrid corpses, among other things. Threads of Malice is a book of mud and blood, a book of storms, where the sun seldom shines for long, a book of unending pain and cruel death. Be warned.

Tambo Jones is one of a rare breed of writers who are willing to put their characters in real danger. With most novels, you can erad with the assumption that everything will turn out all right in the end. The hero or heroine will save the day in the nick of time through heroic efforts and purity of heart. At some point in Threads, and it may be a different point for you than for me, you will come to a horrible realization: the danger is real. People are grievously hurt, both physically and psychically, people suffer, people die. People you have to care for suffer. Some of them die. Bring no assumptions to this book.

Among the many themes that weave their way throughout Threads of Malice is the theme of good versus evil. I guess it’s safe to say that most novels explore this theme to some extent, but maybe not as closely as tambo does. In her world, evil is absolute, black, utterly ruthless, uncaring, pure. Good, on the other hand, is murky, flawed, and faltering. Human. Her heroes have feet of clay and are standing in a torrent that is quickly eroding them. Each of the characters carries his or her own burden of fear and guilt. Sometimes the burden becomes too heavy. Heroic acts are hard to come by, and safety does not exist.

With Ghosts in the Snow, tambo Jones staked out her place in dark fantasy, inventing the subgenre of forensic fantasy, and unveiled herself as a rising star in the field. With Threads of Malice, tambo secures her place as a serious writer with a voice that will be heard. The depth and intensity of Threads of Malice make this a must=read. The questions raised, the answers given or not given, are rich food for thinking readers. Though the price of reading this book may be high, the gains are worth it and more.

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Sep 19

Market Research

So you’re looking for a market for your latest magnum opus short story. You’ve looked over Ralan, maybe Spicy Green Iguana, definitely duotrope, what next? RTFG and RTFM.

Read the Friggin’ Guidelines! It never ceases to amaze me how many writers apparently either cannot or will not read. Every editor and agent in the business can tell you. Well over half of what they receive is formatted incorrectly, addressed improperly, sent by e-mail when they don’t accept e-subs, sent outside reading periods, etc., etc., etc. Reading the guidelines is common courtesy and common sense. Why would you waste time and money on a submission when it’s just going straight into the shitcan without even being read? That’s just stupid. Follow instructions and give your story a fighting chance.

Read the Friggin’ Magazine! Why? Two reasons.

First, you need to know if your story fits the market. reading the guidelines helps with this, too. There’s no sense sending a fantasy story to a market that only accepts literary fiction. Also, you can tell a lot about an editor’s tastes and preferences from reading the stories he/she/it has chosen to publish. Again, if your story doesn’t fit, move along. Don’t waste everybody’s time submitting inappropriately. You can also save your reputation a serious black eye by just paying attention.

Second, and this is something I don’t remember ever seeing addressed anywhere else (how’s that for a value-add?), weigh the content against your own personal standards. I see a lot of magazines, especially e-zines, that suffer from terminal illiteracy. I don’t want my name associated with a magazine that is full of typos, bad grammar, incorrect word usage, and just plain shitty writing. I try to go the extra mile to be sure my writing is clean and error-free (as much as possible, nobody’s perfect), and I want to see it presented in a way that does it justice.

Like the saying goes: You can’t soar with eagles if you’re lying with pigs. Or something like that, anyway.

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Sep 17

Cioppino

Holly rants about moderation and common sense. Yeah, I beat my head against brick walls, too, darling. See my previous comments about lost causes and slaying windmills.

Melly spreads the good word about the Writers Blog Alliance. This is an excellent effort towards mutual support and promotion for writers. Check it out. It’s free, for now.

Zette posts a link to LibraryThing.com, where you can catalog your book collection for free. That’s a hell of a thing to do to a librarian, Zette. That’s going to through my article on character development for short stories way behind schedule. So there.

And finally, Heather comments on the threads that tie us all together.

That one hit close to home. Real close. Many times in my life I have wanted nothing so desperately as to just shut down, just curl up and go catatonic for a day, a week, a month, forever, try to shut out the noise and confusion and stress and figure things out and, most of all, just rest. Several times I have even tried, but, every time, those damn threads tighten up, they pull me upright and dangle me in the air, a marionette dancing to the Devil’s tune, until I get my balance, put my feet on the ground and get going again.

“No man is an island,” as John Dunne so poetically said. We are tied to our family, our friends, each other. Sometimes the threads get tangled, sometimes they break, sometimes we think they are going to strangle us or wrap us up so tight we can’t move. Sometimes they are our lifelines. Sometimes those fragile threads are all we have hang on to while we dangle over the abyss. Sometimes they pull us back whether we want them to or not.

There have been times when I have cursed those threads, tried to cut them, to get free, but those who are bound to me are tenacious. They don’t let go, no matter how hard I try. Sometimes I curse them and beg them to just let me die. Most of the time, I feel how blessed I am to have people in this world who care about me. Even I, wart-covered insignificant me, have ties to love and support. There are angels in the world.

Sep 14

Who Do You Want Me To Be?

Demented Michelle quotes Selah March who writes about an agent she met at a conference who “strongly suggested”:

…that an author not put anything in her blog that she wouldn’t put in a
cover letter to an editor, or a brochure advertising her work. No controversy.
No overtly political opinions. Nothing that might turn folks off, whether those
folks be potential editors, agents or readers.

Now this just touches a nerve with me. Touches, hell! It scrapes a cheese grater across my sunburned back.

In my mind, it’s not my job as a writer to be pleasing, gentle, tapioca pudding. It’s my job to be honest about the world and what I see and think and feel. It’s my job to tell the truths I see around me and inside me. Fuzzy, warm, pink-and-white bunny rabbits shot in soft focus may be all well and good for some people, but don’t look for them here. You’ll be more likely to find hassenpfeffer and good-luck charms.

I am who I am. Some people like me, a lot of people don’t. I’m cool with that. The thing is, I have standards (which I have spoken of before on this blog and will again, so there!), one of which is that I’m not going to lie about who or what I am, not even by omission. Any agent or editor seeking to avoid tame my opinions and avoid controversy won’t be my agent or editor. It’s that simple. As I’ve also said before, that’s going to hurt my chances in some circles and make my career harder than some. I’m cool with that, too.

What’s more important to me is that I know that I am true to who I am, that I’m real, that everyone knows what to expect from me, which is that I’m straightforward and opinionated and that I’m learning to be honest with myself and with the rest of the world. If I never break into the Big Time, if I never get that legendary 6-figure advance, that’s OK. Fame and money are secondary issues in my life and in my work. Truth is Number One.

By the way, DM’s story “Catalytic Poltergeist” is up at ScienceFictionFantasyHorror.com. Good story. After you read it, drop her a line and let her know how much you enjoyed it.

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Sep 13

As Ye Sow…

Melly and Paperback Writer wrote yesterday about critiquing, so I shall take up the gauntlet and make it a trifecta. Far be it from me to leave any bandwagon un-leapt-upon. Therefore, I present my list of Ten Things To Put Into A Critique (drum roll, please):

1. First Impression – when you read a manuscript for the first time, read it with eyes and mind open and mouth shut. Read it simply as you would a story you came across in a magazine or a novel you just picked off the shelf while browsing. When you reach the end, consider what and how you feel. How did the story affect you? This would also be a good time to make note of any places that threw you out of the story. First impressions are vital; this is invaluable information for you to provide the vic…um…writer.

2. Theme – Sum up in one sentence or less the theme of the story. This does two things. First, it gets you thinking about the essence of the story, which segues directly into how well the writer communicated it. Second, it gives the writer a checkpoint to make sure you “got” the story. A breakdown on this level indicates a fundamental problem that has to be addressed. Sometimes, though, a story will surprise even its author by being something different from what he expected. No matter what the outcome, this theme statement gets the writer and critiquer onto the same page.

3. Plot – Summarize the plot as succinctly as possible, preferably in a single paragraph. This shows both parties that the important plot points were made, and that the plotline hangs together all the way through. This is the place to note any obvious or potential holes or plot problems. Is the logic consistent with the story’s internal world? Does a character suddenly go idiotic in order to advance the plot? Is there a satisfying resolution to the story? Does the Deus Ex Machina suddenly reach down from Heaven to make everything right in the end?

4. Characters – Briefly explore each of the major characters in the story. What are their motivations? What are their conflicts and driving forces? Virtues and vices? Are they real or cardboard? Why? What rings true about the characters and what does not? Do you care about them? Why or why not?

5. Dialogue – Is it real? Stilted? Any infodumps? Any “as you know, Bob”s? Tom Swifties? What about the dialogue tags? There is nothing wrong with “said”. From the characters’ words and actions and from the context, the reader should “hear” the emphases and tone of the speaker without extraneous adverbs. Does the speaker’s tone and vocabulary reflect his/her/it’s personality, or does everybody sound the same? Does the car mechanic character use words like “extraneous”? If so, he should be shown to be more educated or refined than your average grease-monkey.

6. Structure – Is this a linear chronological narrative, or does it skip around? Do the scenes flow smoothly and logically? Are any flashbacks necessary? Are they intrusive, or do they grow naturally out of the preceding scenes? Do the scenes each advance the story? Is the point of view appropriate? Any head-hopping? Sudden changes in POV character or other difficulties?

7. Grammar and Language – Imagine yourself as the most pedantic and nitpicking English teacher in the history of the language. Point out punctuation problems and provide some authority for why you think they should be different. This is a good place to catch spelling problems as well as homonym confusion (its-it’s, two-to-too, hair-hare, etc.). Too many adjectives and/or adverbs? Root them out. Is sentence structure straightforward or convoluted? Does that add to or subtract from the story? Does the language reflect the story (i.e., smooth, slow words and sentences for relaxed areas, short, choppy sentences and words for action sequences)?

8. What You Liked – Pick out the things about the story that you particularly liked. Explain why they worked and what you liked about them. This is a very important point that should not be overlooked. Writers are notoriously paranoid and unsure of ourselves. We need our strokes. Tell us what we did right, so we can take note of that for future reference.

9. What You Did Not Like – In general terms, what stood out the most in this story as problems? What are the most obvious, most irksome areas? Any suggestions on how to possibly improve them?

10. Overall Impression – Is the story salvageable? Should the writer shitcan it and start over? Tweak it a little bit and submit like crazy? Sum it up, concisely, if possible. This is also a good place to drop in any notes not addressed above, if any.

(TA-DAAA!)

Critiques should always be done in a manner that will benefit the writer and the story.

Suit your language to the particular writer. I like critiquers of my stories to use knives and hammers. Rip it up, shred it, mutilate it and show be the bloody stumps that remain. In my mind, plain speaking and honesty save a lot of time on both ends. The critiquer does not have to put a lot of effort into figuring out how to be diplomatic, and I don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to decode their messages. Just tell me flat out and be done with it, so I can get to work fixing the story.

Other people are more sensitive and require a softer touch. Find out ahead of time to avoid hard feelings.

Above all else, keep in mind that the writer is asking you for your help and advice. Give positive, constructive suggestions wherever possible. Offer your thoughts on how problems might be corrected. The writer, of course, has the final say-so over the story, they have asked for your advice, and you should give it.

Finally, remember that you get out of a critique as much as you put into it. Analyzing someone else’s work teaches you about your own. Pointing out problems helps you see the same problems in your own writing. A good, thorough critique benefits both parties equally. A half-assed effort benefits nobody.

Edited @ 5:06 pm to add a pointer to the critique template by Holly Lisle at Forward Motion that is the foundation for this outline,
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Sep 08

Who’s Zooming Who?

Miss Snark posted yesterday about the work relationship between agents and writers. To sum up, she said:

Let’s be clear here.

Miss Snark works WITH you. She’s a member of your team, but in no way shape
or form does she work FOR you.

A commenter then had the temerity to take her to task for being “pompuous”. Ummm…no.

Your agent is not “your” agent. She is your partner. You don’t pay her. She makes money for you and keeps a fair share of it in return for her work, knowledge, and expertise. Neither writer nor agent works for the other. You work together. The writer creates a product, which the agent then helps bring to market. Saying that your agent works for you is arrogance of the most egregious kind, and that bodes ill for a relationship that depends heavily on the two of you getting along.

A running theme on Miss Snark’s blog is that of communication. Of all the people in the world, you would expect writers to know about communicating. Unfortunately, too many of us appear to be deficient in those skills.

The most important part of your relationship with an agent is a mutual understanding of who, what, when, where, how, and why. Some things the agent will explain to you. Others are up to you to determine. How? Ask. Just like all other humans, agents cannot think of every detail regarding what you want. Neither can they read your mind. If you want to see all rejections on your manuscript as they come in, you had better ask up front. The same goes for any other concerns you may have about the particular way you want your agent to deal with you. This is particularly important for deal-breaker issues that you may have. The things you consider most important may be a source of contention between the two of you later on. You should avoid this.

Up front, by the way, means BEFORE you sign anything. It is normal and expected behavior for you to interview your agent before signing a contract. Your agent also wants to interview you. You can expect to do this over the course of one or more phone calls before the contract hits your inbox or mailbox. You will be working together very closely over the short term and, we all hope, the long term, too. Mutual understanding and respect are vital. If you don’t ask, you cannot assume, and you will have to accept the agent’s way of doing business or start the search again.

Plan, ask, discuss. Your agent will be one of the most important people in your life, and your career as a writer will very likely depend in large part on your relationship with your first agent. Think things through; think about all the details of how you want to be kept informed of your agent’s efforts on your behalf. Write down all your concerns. Then, ask the questions. Again, do this before putting pen to paper.

Contracts are serious documents, and it does not take long for you to develop a reputation as an unreliable contract-breaker. This is, of course, not good. Especially for a first-timer. When you put your name on the line, you are committed for good or ill. It’s up to you to make sure it’s for good.

It’s all about communication, respect, and cooperation. The more of each your relationahip has, the better for all concerned. Life is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it worse.

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