Today in stupid advice

I can’t even pretend to be polite about this. It’s ridiculous.

Yes, some of the greatest SF/F writers out there love to read SF/F, some don’t.

As a writer you should love to read. If you don’t read you … it’s hard to explain but consider it Furthering Education or whatever the devil that modern phrase for it is when teachers are required to go back to college every few years kinda thing.

But reading should be something you love.

This and it’s myriad copies (seriously, I find it both terrifyingly cult-like as well as exceedingly telling that these are always worded nigh identically) are phrased in a way that clearly implies “so you known what is selling right now and you can write that”.

I call bullshit.

Don’t believe me? Follow editors and they’re all wanting to see something new and different and lament all the agents who’re only accepting the tried and true.

Look at how many clones of Twilight failed to garner its numbers. The Harry Potter knockoffs. Too, look at the insane number of people of all ages who prefer YA because it’s where they can find something different … to say nothing of YA not actually needing a special genre tag for “this isn’t depressing, dark, etc”.

In short the people like Ms Dawson who say this are horribly out of touch.

You want advice on writing? Look to the successful writers: Ed Greenwood, Neil Gaimen, Terry Pratchett, Spider Robinson, J K Rowling, Saladin Ahmed, Jeph Jacques …

What do they all have in common? They didn’t look at their own genre for anything. Not really. Pratchett’s Discworld stuff started out parodying Dragon Riders of Pern which is a fantasy novel, but I’m pretty sure that is not what the Dawsons of the world mean.

In many cases they utterly defy genre. Ben Bova acknowledges that Spider’s stuff is not, strictly speaking (and doubly so back when Ben was editor of a major SF magazine!) SciFi, but where the hell else could Spider’s stuff find a home?! It definitely wasn’t Romance, Horror, Mystery, or Western. It could be called SF/F if you squinted and turned your head upside-down … so, what the hell! True, Spider reads SF/F … because he likes a good Heinlein, not because it has anything to do with his work.

Ed Greenwood is a librarian whose home is packed to the gills with tens of thousands of books, all of which he has read. So, okay, yeah he reads Fantasy … and cooking, and architecture, and biology, and mystery, and horror, and poetry, and … he just likes books. And that diversity of tastes influences his work.

The thing is, do your thing. Whatever that thing may be. Try to sell it yo an agent if you like, but agents are … no one’s sure why … a bit obsessed with finding the next big clone of the current hot trend; like it costs them anything to accept something great and just actually do their flippin’ job! But publishers won’t let their editors accept unagented stuff anymore. But luckily traditional publishing is really just great for an advance which is pretty paltry and for being distributed by Ingram which I probably misspelled and don’t care but is also pretty much the distributor for All Things Book for US audiences (sad but true, Reagan & Bush’s dismantling of antitrust laws was a Bad Thing … not that publishing much got enforcement of them anyway).

Still, as truly awful as they are (and words can’t express how awful they are) it’s as effective or more so to be available on Amazon which is easy enough to do. Though I’ll be damned if I’ll engage in the modern day slavery of Kindle Unlimited (exclusivity to Amazon and I make a piece if an arbitrary sized pie made of pocket change that Amazon sets?! Fuck that.)

But read what you like, read what you like. And remember: Ursula Vernon doesn’t read SF/F. But she writes it and can’t seem to stay off the bestseller lists 🤷‍♀️.

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Well, here we are, it’s December.  If I were to keep to the schedule for Love or Lust and Ready or Not I ought to be done writing Book 3 in a couple of months, and be ready to publish it this summer.

That’s not looking so likely.

It’s not impossible, but to be honest I’m not making a lot of progress in it right now.  The story itself is fine, and it’ll flow and finish pretty easily, I think, but I’m having issues getting any work done on it; Life keeps getting in the way.

What about life?  What could be in the way now that wasn’t for the last two books?  Aspects of my job itself, the fact that I’m now forced to concentrate on finding a new job as I’ve been laid off (I’ve considered an online tip jar type service to see if my fans are interested in putting forward enough money to let writing be my day job, but I’ve not clear idea how, with whom, and maybe I’m being too humble, but I just don’t think that’d work out), various factors relating to the very real chronic depression I have an on again off again issue with …

Excuses?  Some, yes, perhaps, but authors are not machines and some things make writing entirely too difficult to concentrate on.  I’m sure, if I tried, I could get a few hundred to a couple thousand words onto a page every day.  That’s nothing difficult.  If word count were ever my goal, I could do that easily enough in a matter of seconds with a Lorem Ipsum generator and the computer’s clipboard function.  I want content, words worth keeping.  I’ve none in me right now.  I will again, I can promise that.  I still hold to my only promise regarding the release of the books:  I will finish them.  I can’t control disaster, I mean if Ragnarok takes place tomorrow then I can’t keep my promise – but in my own defense, I can’t exactly plan for that so probably shouldn’t be held accountable.

The search for a new job is, so far, seeming to go well.  So hopefully I’ll have that much less stress very soon.  That doesn’t let me off the hook for everything, but it’s a start.  Many of the more promising jobs are for more money, so there’s other stresses gone.  I sincerely believe that Book 3 will be finished this year and, depending when this year I finish it, published this year as well.

I understand there are people who get so upset with the likes of Patrick Rothfuss, George R R Martin, and others for long delays between books.  I could never understand that.  I mean, sure, I’m anxious enough to know what happens next in a series, but if I enjoyed it, it’s worth the wait for the author to make sure that what happens next is something I’ll continue to love.  I found out, recently, though, that there are actually people who won’t read another author until they’ve read everything by the author they’re currently reading, and if there’s an incomplete series, they don’t read anything else while they wait for that series to wrap up.  I hope that was an exaggeration, but it doesn’t seem to be!  That’s an obsessive disorder, like P-OCD, you might want to seek therapy if you’re like that.  Really, I’m terribly sorry that Book 3 will, by all probability, not come out this summer, but no worries:  lots of other great stories out there you can read in the mean time.

Personally?  I do recommend Game of Thrones, and my wife highly recommends Name of the Wind.  Sir Terry Pratchett‘s books are phenomenal.  Dennis McKeirnan is another good one.  A little story called Black Trillium is worthwhile.  For more of the sort of stuff I write uhm … I wouldn’t know, actually, I don’t read much romance, but you might stop by the RWA and see if they’ve any suggestions, or you could check out the various places my books are sold to peruse the “customer also bought” or “related titles” listings.  Please, enjoy someone else’s work while I get things sorted out enough to give you more of mine – it’s not a competition, I would feel rather better if you liked other people’s books too :).

A discussion, I hope.

English: Ellen DeGeneres in 2009.

English: Ellen DeGeneres in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was an article I found on Facebook, shared it too as I recall.  The Best Way to Change Minds:  Come Out, Stay Out, and Speak Out.

Of particular note, for me, is the first paragraph:

Last week my friend, Professor Jenny Boylan of Barnard College, penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times entitled “Trans Community Can Change Minds by Changing Discourse.” I think it’s very important that our scholars are finally being provided with a platform to reach a far wider audience, and Jenny is one of our most articulate spokeswomen. It’s also important to note that — gasp!trans women are Ivy League college professors. I will even go so far as to say that what she said is less important than the fact that she is published in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. That will have a great impact on accomplishing what she stressed as the goal of her piece: changing the nature of the public discourse around trans persons and the experience of being trans.

Now, of course, it’s about the transgender community.  Applicability, a word I learnt from the late Professor J R R Tolkien‘s lovely writings on the subject of storytelling, though means it says so very much more.  Amazing how much storytelling and life can have in common if you take a moment to look around and see it.

I’m rather torn on the subject myself.  This is why I hope this will be a discussion in the comments.  It’d be interesting to see the varied opinions and discourse on the matter.  I’m a private person.  I don’t like, as I’ve said before, giving details about myself.  I’ve no problem standing up for people.  Race, sexuality, gender expression, gender identity … we’re all people.  I stand up for people because first off, it just seems the right thing to do.  None of my business if someone is a woman, man, or other.  Doesn’t matter the slightest to me if they’re Buddhist, Pagan, Jew, Christian, Islamic, or pray before an old Pepsi can from 1973.  I certainly can’t imagine being too upset about anything that two or more consenting people might like to do with/to one another.  Above all else, I’m not going to say that someone doesn’t deserve the same rights as anyone else just because of who it is that they love and find attractive.

My point is; do people in the public eye – authors, actors, politicians, etc. – do we have some obligation to be out?  And out about any of it.  Out about being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, pepsisexual, transgender, transvestite, transatlantic, or transmitted; anything.  Does it matter?

I do feel that we should certainly speak our minds if we’re willing and able.  I’m somewhat able and somewhat willing, so I do.  But that’s not because of our being public.  I think that’s just a very good and human thing to do.  If you want to be objectivist about it and find some self-serving reason for it then how about Martin Niemöller‘s words:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Should it matter if you are gay or trans*?  Should it matter if I am?  Your cousin?  Should it be enough that you don’t feel that anyone should ever be treated as less than human?

So I do, I ask:  am I right or wrong?  Is it enough to speak out, even if I will not come out cis/trans/queer, gay/straight/bi/other? I am out on one point:  I’m an out redhead and an out woman.  I’m also an out writer (exceedingly vague reference to The Notebooks of Lazarus Long).  Does it add some weight to what I say if I am Cis or if I’m trans?  If I’m gay or straight?

The article seems to think so.  At least taken in an extrapolated form.  To be fair, the article itself isn’t talking so much about the Laverne Coxes, the Ellen Pages, the George Takeis of the world.  It’s talking about the guy who bags your groceries, the woman who delivers your mail, etc.  It’s about advocating by simple example.  By not isolating yourself, as a trans person, estranged from anyone who ever knew you as your assigned gender to begin fresh and reborn as your true gender in another town all alone … It points out that, if no one can really identify with an issue, put a real face and person to it they’re not really going to feel much point in supporting the cause.  Little girls like Jazz, women like Laverne Cox; they may seem unreal to people, or isolated curiosities.  George Takei and Ellen DeGeneres; same thing.  They plant the seed, the curiosity, the vocabulary.  They shout the issues from the rooftops, but the ones who prove them right are the gay parents at the PTA conference for their’s daughters’ school; it’s the little boy struggling to be allowed to play for the boys’ team instead of the girls’; it’s your trans brother and your lesbian sister-in-law, your bi cousin.  That point I don’t argue with.  Those who know me I’m out about my sexuality with, my marital status, etc.  What I can’t seem to make up my mind about is this:  does it matter in either direction to the public?

Funny I should say this, given my post about representation, but I guess it comes down to this:  representation in my work exists.  I’d assume that my characters present far more valid role models than myself.  You get to know them, you see their thoughts, dreams, hopes, fears, all of that – you share a bond with them.  Me?  What am I?  A dyslexic typist who happens to occasionally take it into her head to string several English words together in something like a logical and coherent order.  Does this make me the kind of public figure whose personal details matters for representing anything or anyone?  I can paint landscapes populated by cis/trans/queer alike, homo/hetero/bi/pan/a whatever, but I can do that regardless my gender, race, height, weight, bust size, inseam, zodiac sign, sexuality, etc.

Still, perhaps I’m wrong.  I’d love to hear what others think:  does my sexuality, gender-status, marital status, etc. matter?  Never mind me specifically, I mean anyone.  Does J K Rowlings’?  Does Stephen King’s?  George R R Martin’s?  Neil Gaiman‘s?

Is it me or is that a long list of Caucasian, cisgender, heterosexual people?  Look, writing as a profession or even hobby doesn’t actually need representation, does it?!  I mean, the anonymity of the pen/keyboard?  How many authors use pseudonyms!  I mean … people know this right?  I mean were I gay or bi or whatever, that wouldn’t make a difference to whether or not some little girl who falls in love with my books decides to take up the quill and tell her own tales … would it?

Damn, now I can actually see arguments both ways.  Stupid blogpost … bad blogpost, no cookies!

Life would be so much easier if humanity weren’t so caught up on the idea of finding reasons to look down on one another.  I mean, aside from obvious ones like rape, murder, theft … people are starving, and there’re religious groups spending money and energy on fighting the legality of Portia and Ellen’s marriage.  Really?!

Still, these comments are no less moderated than any others.  Your comment won’t show up unless you have a previously approved comment or unless I hit the magical, mystical approval button.  But, you know, discuss away.  Between the comments and my own soul searching, maybe I’ll get around to writing up some kind of bio about myself.  Maybe I won’t.  I’m still leaning to “it doesn’t matter”, besides … could turn out I’m just as status quo as Ms Rowling; at least with the silence there’s a mystique.

Warning for Writers: Beware Tony Giangregorio and Open Casket Press

This is absolutely disgraceful.
Sadly, all too common. People like to prey on authors – it’s so hard to get published (traditionally speaking, of course) and regardless how one gets published just as hard or harder to get noticed and read …

STANT LITORE

I want to pass on a warning to young writers in the horror genre (and perhaps to readers, too). There is an editor and owner of several small presses — Tony Giangregorio — who has a long-standing reputation in the industry for not just editing but rewriting his authors’ fiction and then refusing to return or sell back the rights. He received a lot of bad press in May 2012 when he published an anthology having completely rewritten several stories submitted to it (one of them by noted horror writer Jonathan Maberry), but he is now back, publishing some mangled fiction under his Open Casket Press.

In the most recent offense, novelist Paul Johnson is currently distancing himself from a book published in his name by Open Casket Press, Survival Horror: A Zombie Story — because not only is the book poorly edited, but Giangregorio changed the location of the…

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Because the voices say so

It’s funny, but a lot of people tend to ask writers: where did you get your inspiration? Where do your ideas come from? And various other questions in that vein.

The thing is … for most writers, this is as strange a question as: so what made you write this?

By and large in all of those cases, the answer boils down to “The voices said so.”

Sometimes, yes, we do have some stimulus that gets us to thinking in a particular direction. Now & Forever was born because I read a sweet, happy romance at around the same time I noticed that there was an acute lack of such stories featuring a same sex romantic pair as the main protagonists. Oh, they exist, and in more abundance since that point, but it’s irrelevant. That made me think of writing such a romance. The rest came down to, Lauren and Sally asked me to write their story.

Writers’ inspiration, by and large, is the same as any artist, I should think. Life. We look around at life and ask What If, or Why Not – thus we write various fictions, especially speculative. We look around and we see things we wish to point out – thus is born things like satire. We have a feeling, and we wish to share it – thus is born Romantic fiction (not to be confused with romance fiction, which is a sub-category of this). But in all it’s life, and voices.

The voices are the characters. They’re visions of people, and of places. Sometimes we try to guide the voices, but mostly they guide us. We just have to be quick at taking dictation.

Yes, some authors do construct stories. They build dialogue. They think long and hard about the nature of plot and such. Those people seem, most of the time (in my experience at any rate) to favour literary fiction, a genre whose purpose I’ve yet to fathom. Some do write romances, mysteries, SF, westerns, or horror. Seemingly, though, of a literary nature, or of a completely ephemeral and throw away nature.

All the authors people really seem to dig, the stories that seem to resonate with the most readers, though, those are the ones where things are described as a period of discovery. We learn about our characters, we become friends or enemies with them. We witness the births of cultures, the deaths of races. We see the whole tapestry of events unfold with each stroke of the pen or press of a key. The inspiration particles sleet through our brains, and when we’re feeling particularly receptive to them the words flow like water that has just burst its dam and threatens to flood us to forgetting all but the story – sometimes it happens. These are the authors who might say things like “I want to know what happens next” (Louis L’Amour).

Good or bad. I’m not saying that believing your characters are living, breathing beings somewhere, or anything of that sort, will make you the next Jo Rowling or Neil Gaiman. Talent, the ability to take that inspiration and shape it and forge it into a solid tale, engrossing and engaging, that matters at the end of the day as much or more.

My other point is, for every one person for whom their character is nought but a cog in some literary device – no more real and alive than a transistor (and all too often, in my reading, with as much personality and ability to garner the sympathies of the reader) – there are a dozen or so who talk of their story or their characters as a thing alive that has an either parasitic or symbiotic relationship with the author’s psyche and mind.

I, personally, think this always shows in writing. Even a talented, skilled, brilliant author whose story isn’t a living thing won’t shine as well as the person with only mediocre skill and so-so talent whose story is like unto a living thing. It’s in the language of critics and fans alike. The tales of Oz or the adventures of the young Miss Alice, sailing the high seas with Long John Silver or Captain Nemo, slaying vampires with Van Helsing or slaying orcs with Arylin and Danilo all can be said to come alive. Maybe it’s because the story, in some way IS alive and was so for the author and now is so for the reader. Just as the purely mechanical – all technique and no heart – writing of the literary purist might be no more alive than a machine, no more soul than a desk fan, and thus as it had no life for the writer it has no life for the reader.

I could be wrong. I know how I write, and I know what it looks like when my favourite writers talk about writing. I know what I see on the rare occasions where I venture into internet discussion forums (which, on those rare occasions I do so, do tend to be writer’s forums). I wonder … can corollaries be true? Can a story that was alive and vibrant in the author’s mind find death and mechanical lifelessness once written? Can something born of technique and lifeless prose tell a story alive and vivid to the reader? I wonder if you could tell; would the formerly alive have the feeling of a corpse? Would the lifeless machine that has come to life still show signs of having once been the prose equivocal of a little wooden boy? Ah well, I suppose in the fullness of time anything is possible.

Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules

Gaiman’s 8 Rules

These, by and large, are really common sense,. But really that’s why I absolutely love reading Neil Gaiman. Not his books, though several of his are on my to-read list, the only one I’ve managed to get around to yet is Good Omens (very awesome, by the way), I mean him.

Really it does all boil down to: If you want to write, have a story or, better yet, have characters and see what story they present you and then try to keep up.

Write! You’ll never get your story told if you put it off.

Once writing, keep at it. I add the corollary of get the idea down, if not now, ASAP! You may truly not be able to get it down right as it happens. Maybe you’re making love, or driving, or cooking, or skydiving. Inspiration hits at inconvenient moments, but as soon as you can spare a moment get it down. Don’t wait. If you wait you’ll forget the tiny key that made it brilliant and you’ll be left with something flat and lukewarm instead of the vivid fizz that might have made that scene one of the greatest of all time.

Finish. See it through to the end. Even if you have to backtrack several times, even start from the beginning again and again. See it through. If you believe in the story tell it.

Write your story. Once upon a time a brilliant story would be published by someone. These days the major publishers are a bit hung up about genre and marketing and other things, but the beauty of today is you can put it out yourself or find a smaller publisher who is looking for brilliance, not trends. Jo Rowling, Stephen King, and Terry Pratchett should write those stories, you shouldn’t, and any agent or editor who tries to convince you to twist your story into that of someone else, fire them. Walk away and find another.

I love what he says too about having friends read it and how to take their advice. It’s quite true too. In one story I wrote, one friend simply asked questions about a scene – it was a scifi tale with odd paper, but she didn’t grok it. I looked at the scene and realised I knew what it meant, and some folks who were fans of certain SF, the newest example of which is Firefly did too, but to everyone else I had to explain the scene for them to get it. I rewrote it. More brilliantly than I’d had it. Another friend, though, pointed out specific passages and started suggesting changes. His suggestions hurt the narrative, broke the flow, and glitched the carefully wrought illusion of reality to bring the reader’s mind back to the fact they’re merely taking in words on a page. He was, in short, horribly wrong.

No matter if you read his work I do suggest one make a point to read his thoughts and anecdotes as much as you can. He’s almost always fun, and so often wise and … bloody brilliant. Take these rules for writing. Now extrapolate them. Make them apply to other things in life. See the wisdom yet?

Prolificness transpires

So, I’ve been trying to decide on a series for when Now & Forever is over (it’s to be four books, by the way).

I knew I wanted to do a teen, high school super heroes thing. Hadn’t been able to work it out beyond that, though. Tonight the inspiration fairy paid me a visit and gave me a lovely idea in exchange for just a little more of my sanity (standard market rates, of course, she does have sales goals to meet after all).

I introduce you, therefore, to Færie Patrol, a working title for the series. It might stick around, I’m not sure. It has something of a ring to it, and conveys the fact that this series is anything but serious.

All I know for certain is the cast list, and some quirks to reality, and the gist of what they do.

There’s a page up there under Series for it.

To sum up what you’ll find there is a vampress dhampir stuck forever at a little over fifteen for the past three hundred years, and will be so for the rest of her unlife – not that she much minds. Then there’s the half-nymph who’d rather have a normal life, except for the whole easy access to fairy thing, since that’s where the best parties tend to be. A chivalrous ghost who hasn’t entirely caught up with the sixteenth century (and this is set in the twenty-first century). A mentalist teen male gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide (thank you Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for that turn of phrase). The sex crazed, wine guzzling, swashbuckling sprite. And the Romani witch (or Æthyrial Engineer according to the business cards she got made up recently).

This is meant to be a completely irreverent romp through fighting monsters, finding romance, and remembering to do math homework. Legends and myths will be used, abused, twisted, and played with, but mostly used as is (fairytales are mostly fun enough as they are). Magic will abound. Irreverence to many things, and a three inch tall horny drunken sot with a penchant for the silver screen.

I can’t wait to see what happens, I hope you’ll think so too; though, admittedly, I do rather hope you can wait. I’ve kind of got enough in front of me and haven’t done more than jot down thoughts and character snapshots.