Saturday, March 6, 2010

Still not done!

Have you ever wondered what it's like for a writer who's almost done with a book but still hasn't quite finished it?

It's like this.

Yes, this.

I'm so close that a while back I refused to allow myself to get a haircut or trim any of my facial hair until I sent the book to Publisher Toni. I'm still refusing to do those things, because I will finish Children No More any day now.

Of course, turning myself into the Abominable Hairy Man does have its drawbacks.

For one thing, I'm going crazy and have come to believe I can feel the weight of the hair on my face.

I'm also worried that soon tidal patterns will start appearing my fur. I could live with that for a while, but should I begin to feel that those patterns are telling me to do things, bad things, then we might have trouble. I'm not saying that's happened before, of course, not to me, but I've heard of people who had it happen.

Oh, yeah: it's also like this.

I am truly a great hairy beast.

Back to the book before my hair takes over!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy-making io9 article

Okay, I admit it: I'm easy. Like so many writers, it takes very little to give my fragile writing ego a moment of happiness. So, as you might imagine, I was quite pleased to see the redoubtable Charlie Jane Anders pick my books as great candidates for movies in this very entertaining io9 article.

By the way, if you like SF and you don't read io9, you're making a big mistake. Start with this article, then explore the site; it's chock full of goodies. Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz and the rest of the io9 team are also some of the hardest working writers out there; the sheer amount of copy--good stuff, mind you--that they generate is amazing.

I should also note that I agree with Anders on all the films she's listed and more. I understand the temptation of remakes, but few remakes better the originals. So many good stories are available that it would be great to see those new tales, instead of a crop of remakes, on the big screen.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

If you want detailed critiques on your work

In my post about trusted readers a couple of days, I said I would later address the topic of what to do if you want detailed critiques of your work. The short answer for beginning writers is, alas, most likely to be a frustrating one:

Learn to live without it.

I say that because for most new writers, the people who are willing to give you detailed critiques are not competent to do so, and the people who are competent to do so won't do it.

In the first group are most of your friends, family, and other aspiring writers. I'm not in any way trying to say those people aren't good or smart or competent at their jobs; I'm sure they are all of those things and more. It's just unlikely that they have enough writing knowledge and experience to be able to help you craft your work into a form suitable for sale.

That said, there are always exceptions. Groups of new writers sometimes form and help each other sell their work. It's just rare.

The second group, the folks who could do a great job of shaping your work, are unlikely to do so because most of them are professional writers working in your genre, and those folks don't want to work on your book or story because doing so will distract them from their book or story. (There are many other reasons writers don't want to offer such advice; search the Web and you'll find many entertaining blog entries on the topic. I may even write one someday--but not today.) One of the best story mechanics with whom I've ever workshopped is Jim Kelly, and though this award-winning author is as nice a guy as you're ever likely to meet, I don't think he provides his editing services for free.

I mentioned workshopping. If you attend a workshop at which pro writers are working with beginners, such as the Clarion workshops, then you will get exactly this type of help--but you'll have to pay to be there. (Some workshops do have scholarships available.) You can sometimes find free or nearly free workshops at conventions--I participated in one at Worldcon in Montreal, where a group of beginners paid very little (I think; I just read some manuscripts and showed up and wasn't involved in that end of things) and received detailed comments from multiple professional writers.

So where does this leave beginning writers? Where we've all been: on their own most of the time. You can use your trusted reader to give you an overall sense of how you're doing, but the rest of the job remains your problem. As you sell, you'll meet other pros, and they might then be willing to give your work a look (or not).

Finally, in case you're wondering, yes, I probably could help you with your book or story, and no, I'm not going to do so. You could pay me enough to change my mind, but the fee would be far larger than what selling the work would net, so I wouldn't advise it. I'm not trying to be mean; I'm just swamped.

Speaking of which, I have a book to finish....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Top Five Things I Didn't Enjoy Seeing Today

5. My face in the bathroom mirror, where my Yeti-like untrimmed beard reminded me that I have still not finished Children No More.

4. The roach that ran across my fingers a few minutes later as I was doing the morning email catch-up.

3. The self-centered jerk driving the white stretch limousine who turned right from the far left turn lane and thus blocked three lanes of traffic, including me and all the other people waiting to turn left, so he could make a right turn.

2. The email message in which I learned that a deer had died and was flat on the ground in my yard.

and the number one thing I didn't enjoy seeing today was

1. The email message that informed me that I had just spent $359 for the removal of said deer carcass.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On showing your work to trusted readers

I've participated in a couple of conversations lately about showing works in progress to friends before you show it to an editor. Many writers like to give their work to friends before they send it to an editor. They may want someone who cares about them to give them comments before an editor weighs in, or they may be seeking reassurance, or perhaps they don't feel ready to officially submit a piece. I'm generally not a fan of this approach, but if you are going to do it, the most valuable service the friends can provide is to act as trusted readers.

A trusted reader is not an editor. Editors, at least in theory (and with this clause I mean no offense to the many fine editors working today), have the skill and experience to comment as trusted readers and to act as story mechanics by spotting and fixing what's wrong or weak in your piece.

Trusted readers, at least to me, are people who meet the following qualifications:

* They read a great deal of the type of stuff you write. If they don't, then they aren't at all representative of your likely audience.

* They are willing to ignore your feelings and be completely honest. You gain nothing and lose a great deal when friends soft-peddle their opinions to protect your ego.

* They have nothing to prove and no ego attached to the job. If they want to show how smart they are, then they'll start trying to act as editors.
Assuming you've found one or more such people, here's all that should you ask them to do:
Please read this and tell me what you think of it.
No more, and no less. Your request should be exactly the same one you would make if you had not written the piece, if you were trying to decide whether to read a book or story and your friends were willing to help.

Of course, "what you think" is a mighty big category. In priority order, the trusted readers should ideally answer only these questions:
1) Did you enjoy it? If they didn't, then you know how at least these readers will receive the work.

2) How did it compare to similar published work you've read? Note we're talking published work, not other works-in-progress from other friends. If they shrug and say that it was about the same as what they like to read, that's actually pretty good praise, because it means you're hitting a professional mark.

3) What, if anything, particularly worked for you? This answer matters only in that it will help you learn how others see your work.

4) What, if anything, didn't work well for you? This response might suggest areas you should investigate--or it might not. You have to make that call.
The first two questions are drastically more important than the last two. In fact, if you're trying out a new trusted reader, I suggest you encourage them to answer only the first two.

Note that nowhere did you ask them for line-by-line critiques, commentary on the plot, etc. You want them to experience the piece as readers whose opinions you can trust (hence the "trusted reader" label).

All of the above leaves open two obvious questions: What do you do if you want detailed critiques, and, what do I do with my work? (I mention the latter because I've received this question many times.) I'll answer both of these in later posts.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Scratching my head

WARNING: Adult content ahead. Kids, please stop reading now. (Yeah, I know, but I have to try.)

Two recent email messages have left me scratching my head with that "Huh? Really?" reaction I so often have when I read or see odd things.

The first, which Ticia sent, was a pointer to an article all about vajazzling, which, as the story explains, is "...exactly what it sounds like - bedazzling for your vajayjay." What troubles me about vajazzling is not the practice itself but rather the questions it raises.

For example, what is the proper reaction upon first seeing it? Some obvious candidates include

Wow, your vajayjay is sparkly.
Pretty! May I play with it?
I love your disco ball; are we going dancing?
Did that hurt?
Now I'm going to feel bad showing you my plain old man bush.
I've never seen one of those before.
The possibilities for saying the wrong thing are endless.

The fate of those rhinestones also has to concern everyone involved. Key issues here include
What if they find their way inside?
Can you chip a tooth or cut your tongue on them?
If the vajazzling extends below the curve, might you cut something more sensitive on them?
One cannot help but consider these issues. (Okay, maybe you can help it, but I can't.)

The second message that left me scratching my head came from John, who sent me this link. If all you see are women with guns, look closer. I'll wait.

Yes, it's him: Mr. Creepy Cone has gotten a fresh coat of paint and turned up in a shop serving women with large guns. Again, the questions are what bother me. For example,
is it really a good idea to let MCC near weapons--or people with weapons near MCC?
What is that thing he's holding? I realize it's probably a blackboard for specials, but it could easily be a club.
Is MCC looking at the gun on the woman in the red top, or at her ass?
The world is a very strange place indeed.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Strange mash-up dream

While I was sleeping Friday night, my brain was gnawing away at the topic of rules for writers. At first, it was content to consider the work of James Lee Burke; that part of my slumber yielded yesterday's blog post.

Then, though, my brain decided to mash up two unrelated titles. The result was a book I'd definitely try reading: a James Lee Burke/Mark Twain collaboration, In the Electric Mist with King Arthur's Court. With my apologies to both writers, I have to imagine the opening might go something like this:

"CAMELOT--Camelot," said I to myself. "I don't seem to remember hearing of it before. Name of the asylum, likely."

The sky had gone black at sunset, and the storm had churned inland and drenched the land and littered the winding path of a road with leaves and tree branches from the long canopy of oaks that covered it. The air was cool now, laced with light rain, heavy with the fecund smell of wet humus, night-blooming jasmine, roses, and new bamboo. The buzzing of insects and the twittering of birds masked the lack of people. There was no stir of life, nothing going on. It was as lovely as a dream and as lonesome as Sunday. Hoof-prints marked the road, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side in the grass--wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.
Yeah, I'd give that book a go.

Aren't you glad I got that out of my system?


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