Thursday, March 24, 2016

Communicating in the 21st Century

Creative Commons Anne Worner- Communication
I recently watched a video of Celeste Headlee doing a TED talk on 10 Ways to have a better 
conversation. Celeste's TED Talk
It was sadly eye-opening for me. For a long time I know I've struggled to be a good listener. Actually most of the time I don't struggle; I just don't listen well. I am a chronic interrupter. But, as usual, this is bigger than my poor listening skills. Celeste hits the nail on the head in pointing out that as our children grow up in this new connected environment we all live in, with a cell phone usually within arm's reach, that we've become accustomed to transmitting, but not receiving or interacting. Or if we do receive it is on our time and without the worry of interruption. There is little face-to-face conversation. I touch on this very issue in my story Vitasync where being connected in the future is not just habitual, it's the law. But I think these communication issues are very real.

Be in the moment. Don't be reading email or watching a show or checking your phone for texts, while half-listening to the other person. We all do this in degrees, some worse than others, and some far, far worse (like me.)

Your here to be in a conversation, not bloviate. If you want to do that, and I love this, make a blog. You can even turn off the comments if you really don't want any interaction.

You are going to have ideas pop in your head while the other person is talking. Let them go. It's not about you. You are supposed to be listening. If the idea is big enough it will still be there when it's your turn to talk. It will also help you to NOT INTERRUPT THEM. My wife is one of the few people that calls me on this. It is one of my biggest character flaws.

And this is a big one for me, too. Don't equate your experience with theirs. If they had someone close die, don't try to compare it with the death of someone close to you. It is good to have empathy, but it shouldn't turn back to being about you.

Actually listen, actively. Yes, some of us enjoying hearing our own voice more than that of others. That may not be the case, but you still need to pay attention to what the other person is conveying. Not only the words, but the way they convey it. Read the body language and the expression. You can't do that if you aren't paying attention.


I worry about these things with my children sometimes. Maybe unfairly, they are pretty great after all. Just ask me. But in general we are all doing less active interaction and more by proxy. I have become attached to my cell phone almost as much as my kids are, and Facebook, and Twitter, etc. But there is value in face-to-face interaction, especially with people you care about. It actually shows the other person that you value them, so there is more than simple communication involved, even if it's really not all that simple.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Still Holding Out

     
      I'm about six years into this writing adventure. I have two novels that I feel are completed and ready for sale. I have four other novels in various stages of development. Trying to figure out which one to work on has been challenging. Well, really, the hard part is still making myself sit and write. I usually write when I get that far. I've settled on which one to work on, so that problem is solved for the short term.

      Not selling these books or getting representation from an agent is disheartening, so I try not to think about it and just focus on writing the next story. There is freedom in not being locked into a contract at this point and it gives me hope. In the meantime I keep on writing. Once that first deal is made I think the pressure increases to write at a certain speed. Of course that's all hearsay right now. I am getting quicker with each book and may eventually get to where I can do several in a year, but that's not today. Your take away: keep writing while you're waiting for a response. You will have more to offer when the time comes.

      I'm still holding out for a book deal with a major publishing house. The only way to do that is to get an agent. The big four, don't take unsolicited manuscripts. The big four are:
·         Simon & Schuster (a subsidiary of CBS Corporation)
·         HarperCollins (a subsidiary of NewsCorp)
·         Penguin Random House (a subsidiary of Bertelsmann and Pearson)
·         Hachette Livre

      They each have a bunch of different imprints that specialize in various things, and except for the electronic first imprints they all require an agent.

      I have sent to Angry Robot and Baen, which are maybe one step down the rung in size. Baen is a big name in my genre. Daw and Tor are next. One reason is exclusivity and snailmail versus electronic means. These are all reputable and distinguished publishers and I'd be ecstatic to get any of them. After these are the boutique or small press publishers. A lot of my friends have gone this way with success. Nothing wrong with that, but they get limited exposure in brick and mortar stores. Your take away: get an agent if you want to publish with the big four publishing houses.

      Maybe I'm a fool for not trying the small press path as well, but here is where our paths diverge. I am not in a hurry. I know that success will come. I'm not going to quit. And really that is all it's going to take. There is a real comfort in knowing that down in my gut. I get better with each page I write. My editing improves and my perspective widens. My confidence grows along with all of these things. My actual skill is also sharpening. Your take away: keep writing. It's the best way to improve your writing acumen.

      One of the things I've noticed is the books are never finished. I can keep polishing them and they get better with each pass. I am already shopping the first two and once in a while I pick them up and go through them and make more revisions. I have them both in a place where I like them. I'm actually happy with their shape. There are things in both of them that I'm proud of and they read now the way I intended when I set out. But until they go into print they are living things. When the time comes, if these are picked up by a publishing house and my editor wants to make changes I'm still very open to that. But the point is I like where they are right now. I'm satisfied that they're ready to be seen by a buyer. If these particular books end up being self-published they will go through more scrutiny and I will have to hire a cover artist. I'm prepared for that. But I'm also not ready to settle for that. Your take away: Don't settle. Write what you want the way you want.

      I'm reticent to actually give the advice to simply write what you want the way you want. I don't want to give you the impression that there is no arbiter of quality. Your book may actually be ready to release into the world. But for crying out loud have it professionally edited at a minimum.

      I have a friend and mentor who is extremely successful at self-publishing. She has an established career with traditional publishing as well, but her real success has been on the writer-as-publisher route. I trust her advice and she says to wait until you have three books to publish if you decide to go that direction. The way the algorithms work it will pay huge dividends to wait until you can do a timed release of all three. It will give you a boost to launch your career on the right foot.

      So, with this advice in hand I have a timer running. Two timers really. One is my pending retirement from my day job. I have two pensions, so I am not completely dependent on making money right away as a writer, but I will be writing fulltime at that point. The second timer is finishing my "vampires in space" trilogy. If I don't have an agent by then I will invest in a cover artist and a professional editor. I'm fortunate to have a lot of friends in the industry now so that will be the easy part. Self publishing doesn't have the same stigma that it used to, assuming you prepare properly, with a good cover and a polished product. Maybe I'm simply wasting time when I could be earning a good return right now. I have nothing against self publishing or small press publishing, I just have this dream to be doing the thing the old school way. At least to start. I have the luxury of a good paying job and a pension coming. I have time to wait and keep honing my skills. Your take away: Have a plan and stick to it.

Back at it. Clear Ether!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Writer's Lexicon is Updated

I’m actively compiling this list to benefit writers of varying levels of immersion in the waters of authordom, to help us look less stupid or simply to help you navigate the world of writing a little more confidently. I am taking suggestions to add to this list, it's not complete by any stretch.  I am particularly interested in ‘writer-culture’ words. Or, perhaps you disagree with my definition. I’d like to hear about that as well.

Plot Devices and Literary Words


Alien Space Bats - The term was originally used as a sarcastic attack on poorly written alternate histories due to lack of plausibility to create improbably plot divergences. Also refers to the use of Deus ex Machina in the form of Ancient Aliens.

Backronym - Same as an acronym but the word came first and the meaning behind the letters followed after.

Big Dumb Object (BDO) - The science fiction term refers to any mysterious object (usually of extraterrestrial or unknown origin and immense power) in a story which generates an intense sense of wonder just by being there. For example the Monoliths in 2001 A Space Odyssey, or The Void Ship in Doctor Who.

Brenda Starr dialogue - Long sections of talk with no physical background or description of the characters. Such dialogue, detached from the story’s setting, tends to echo hollowly, as if suspended in mid-air. Named for the American comic-strip in which dialogue balloons were often seen emerging from the Manhattan skyline.

“Burly Detective” Syndrome - This useful term is taken from SF’s cousin-genre, the detective-pulp. The hack writers of the Mike Shayne series showed an odd reluctance to use Shayne’s proper name, preferring such euphemisms as “the burly detective” or “the red-headed sleuth.” This syndrome arises from a wrong-headed conviction that the same word should not be used twice in close succession. This is only true of particularly strong and visible words, such as “vertiginous.” Better to re-use a simple tag or phrase than to contrive cumbersome methods of avoiding it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review of Steel Victory by J. L. Gribble

J. L. Gribble has created a captivating alternate reality in her debut novel, full of magic and vampires and were-creatures. The story centers around a centuries old female vampire named Victory and her adopted family, and the city-state she's cultivated as a safe zone between the British and Romans empires.

Victory has tried to step back in her control of the city politics, but as often happens, subversive elements creep in and try to undermine all she has accomplished. A new Roman Emperor also threatens to destroy the peace that has been established by treaty for decades.

But her family is not one to be trifled with. They all have military training and varying degrees of experience in the arts of war. A mercenary guild helps protect the city as well, with ties that go back to the birth of the city. But their little hamlet is no match for an entire legion from either the Brits or the Romans, so they must rely on savvy politics to keep their status as a free-state.

The characters are all singular, well-developed, and interesting. She uses strong female characters as the main points of view, while not a new thing, it does add flavor to the historical fantasy trope, especially Victory as a matriarch of the city-state and the anchor of the story.

Mrs. Gribble's prose is excellent, a very well-done novel from a first-time author. The story is tight and moves quickly. It drew me right in. I would definitely qualify this novel as a page-turner. She keeps cranking up the tension, and just when you think things couldn't get any worse, she takes up another notch.

The timeframe this story takes place in is hard to pin down. The alternate history of Romans and Greeks still playing a large part on the world scene would imply an older venue, but it's post-apocalyptic, taking place long after a nuclear war that has devastated much of the land. Certain types of technology have been rendered useless by Elven magic but there is a history of gun making that could be taken out of our current science. The history of this world intrigues me and I hope we find out more about it in the other books in this series. She currently has this planned as a trilogy with the next book set to release sometime in 2016.


If you like vampires or urban fantasy this should be in your wheelhouse. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Review of Life and Death by Stephenie Meyer

        Full disclosure, I've read all of the Twilight books, and The Host, and I enjoyed them all to varying degrees. I credit Stephenie Meyer with getting me to write. The thing I enjoy about her style of writing, say what you will, it is easy to read. I wanted to do something similar in my own writing. Everyone seems to have an opinion on her writing, and my friends reactions when I announced I was going to read this were all over the map.

        If you enjoyed Twilight you will likely enjoy Life and Death. Meyer flipped the genders of all the characters, except for the parents of the main character. The story is a re-imagining of the original book, and there are differences . . . some significant and some trivial, but I won't put any spoilers in this piece.

        The bad stuff.

        It is the basic plot scheme of the original, so the flaws with that story come along with this one. If you hated the premise, that hasn't really changed. I didn't though, so this is simply pointing out the obvious. She uses some filters in a few places that serve to distance the reader a little, but barely noticeable during the read through. Some of the plot ideas are weak, like the baseball game or the way that a kid with no apparent skill can endear himself to a small school so quickly. The main character, Beaufort, Beau for short, has no interest in sports or video games or anything other than cleaning the house and cooking. I've raised two boys, known lots of boys, hell I was a boy a long time ago, and I've never met anyone that remotely comes close to this character. He's also clumsier than the Keystone Cops, even more clumsy than Bella. Meyer explains that Beau has been taking care of his mom for most of his life, and I can understand that, and even the "old soul" idea, but she takes it a bit far. That's about it though. I actually like Beau and he's not whiny like Bella was.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Are Electronic Search Tools Ruining Our Memory?

These stories are all over the internet lately. They play right into the the premise of my story Quintessence.

Google and electronic devices are ruining our memory

NBC Story on Digital Amnesia

UK Daily Mail story

Newser 6 signs you're Suffering from Digital Amnesia

What happens when you become completely reliant on these digital aides when they are taken away? You'll have to read it to find out!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Dark Side of Public Discourse and the Internet

This is a very broad topic and some smart person could probably do a doctoral thesis on this subject. The internet is an amazing technological gift and I don't think anyone envisioned the sort of potential it had when in its fledgling state. The ability to connect people from all over the world in real-time has unlocked an unprecedented global community. 

It's facilitated the Arab Spring, which the jury is still out on whether that is going to turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing. We've seen a young woman (Justine Sacco) vilified for making an off-color tweet in a poor attempt at humor that cost her job and ruined her reputation. We've seen young people commit suicide because of cyber-bullying. Harassment and death threats are rampant. And what is turning into a horrible custom--people jumping on the bandwagon of something they have very little knowledge of and creating a mob mentality. All of these things have happened and are happening, and it's sickening. Gamergate, Puppygate, leftwing vs. rightwing politics, I don't even want to get started on the details, but these things impinge on my daily visit to the web. News spreads at a viral pace now and people don't bother to take the time to see if things are true or not, they just take at gospel because everyone else says it's horrible. It must be bad if so many people say it is. It's as if a "journalist" from a gossip magazine is running the internet.

Why is it we want to believe the worst in everyone? The corporate world is not immune either (Examples of Social Media Crisis.)

And here is the worst part. If you speak out against something you are inviting the hordes to your doorstep. In some cases, literally. I'm hesitant to take a stand on any issue now. Who needs that kind of drama in their life? I know I don't, but I do think about stuff, and want to take a stand on things I feel strongly about without being singled out as the target du jour. Free speech should mean we all get to have a say, and be able to do it in a civil manner.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Journey to get an Agent

Used by Permission Hersson Piratoba
Are you or someone you know looking for an agent? Let me share with you what I've learned in the process. I'm aiming at fiction novelists. If you write short stories, or non-fiction or anything other than novel length fiction this isn't really for you.

There are a few things you will need to start the process--a manuscript, a query letter, a synopsis, and a list of agents.

First and foremost you need a finished manuscript. You can prep the other stuff, but before you send the first thing to a potential agent you need to have your MS completed, reviewed by alphas and betas, and edited as well as possible. It should be polished to a fine sheen, because this is the thing that will cement the deal. Even if you write a great query and a great synopsis, if your manuscript is subpar the agent is going to pass. Make all the arguments you want about story trumping writing or vice versa, but it will still come down to making that agent fall in love with your novel. Work hard on getting the first part of your story to really grab attention and showcase your voice, because it is the first thing the agent will read. Well, duh, but really, it needs to shine, because they always want the first pages--anywhere from ten to thirty or maybe the first three chapters. I'm just going to assume you did this part and move on. Don't make me regret it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Love Your Words (but not too much)

Ziegler has a lot of great quotes in his book, The Writing Workshop Notebook, but this one made me laugh and at the same time it rings very true. I spend a lot of time on picking the right words. I spend even more time picking out names of characters and places.

Words have power. They set tone and image and put the reader into the world you are creating. My wife thinks I spend too much time worrying about such things, but the wrong word can be jarring or confusing to the reader, and may draw them out of the story, maybe for only a moment, but great writing is experienced, not just read. When done extraordinarily well, the author becomes invisible and the reader simply goes along for the ride.

Contrary-wise, when the wrong words are chosen, or when there are too many, the reader gets bogged down and can certainly tell there is a conductor at the front of the locomotive who is determined to drive the train off the tracks.

Writers can fall in love with certain passages, and sometimes it can be to the detriment of the story. Less is more may be a cliché, but it's usually true. We've all read stories that were clunky or overly wordy. It's actually one of my pet peeves. I get irritated when the author goes on and on about a particular subject or describes everything in sight in excruciating detail. The consequence is that I skip the passage. If the writer stubbornly continues I may put the book down altogether.

I actually did a blog post about Neal Stephenson's Reamde, Don't Reamde!, if you care to read it, because he is about the most verbose writer of our generation. He doesn't use an editor anymore, at least that is the rumor, and the book could be easily half the length and still tell the same story. I will never read another of his books because he loves his words too much.

Sometimes even when you love them you need to set them free!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saving the Novel Writer, One Cat at a Time

There doesn't appear to be a consensus from my informal survey of Goodreads and blog sites on Save the Cat in most writing circles. Some would say it needs its own "save the cat" moment. Others are devoted to the teachings laid out within. I found it useful in several ways. A point in Blake Snyder's favor is that he provides exercises at the end of each chapter and gives a lot of excellent examples.

Snyder opens strong with his logline concept. The idea of being able to sum up your story in one sentence has its appeal. It will make pitching your book all that much simpler, but it is certainly easier said than done. Blake's construct is framed around having the "Big Idea" from the start. There is value in this, but his focus is on selling the script to a producer, not on helping frame the book.

He even goes so far as to try to convince the reader that the title of the project should reflect the logline. The titles may be self evident but they certainly aren't "killer" as he would put it. They lack imagination.

Having a logline before you start seems like a good idea if you want to write a story using your craft skills. I can see a lot of "pantsers" arguing that this would strip the soul from their story, but it can be a useful starting point to deviate from perhaps. Trying to go back and capture a logline after the first draft is well underway can be a daunting task.