Who cares?

I’ve reverted to generic non-biography bios.

This is because I realised something:  I can’t be representation.  I could be a perfect fiction.  Even if I had a picture of my face instead of that faerie, how’re you to know that’s my face?  Okay, see me at a convention?  Does romance fiction have conventions?!  See me at the market?  What’re the odds?  Too, what’re the odds you’d recognise me?

Authors, once they’re in the hands of a reader, are not people.  We’re a collection of letters following the word ‘by’, commonly referred to collectively as a by-line.

I have books I love I couldn’t tell you who wrote them.  If I can, I can’t tell you if that person is black, white, male, female, gay, straight, human, or other.  I also don’t care.  I have books I love, I can’t usually remember the titles of.  Because it doesn’t matter.

True, if I were to borrow the book from a library the author’s name, the series title, and/or the book title would be a big thing to remember for the finding of the book again or for the going to the bookstore to purchase myself a copy.  Once I’ve memorised its location and appearance in the library, I need never remember another detail about the book.  Once I own a copy, I only ever have to remember where I put the damned thing or what the cover image looks like in my iBooks library.

I strongly believe my life growing up would have been affected in important and positive ways by better representation of those demographics to which I belong.  Some far more so than others.  But that’s the job of the characters in the stories, in the movies, in the TV shows.  The only people who matter as people themselves are the faces of the advocacy.  Jazz Jennings matters because she isn’t a character, she’s a person who puts a name and a face to trans-youth rights.  Ms Cox is a couple of things, so who she is matters in myriad ways.

Do I care that the person playing the trans-woman in The Dutch Girl wasn’t trans?  Nope.  Would I care if I learnt the director refused to consider/audition trans-women? Probably.  Would I care if I learnt that trans-actresses auditioned, had better auditions, but didn’t get the role?  Absolutely.

The character matters, not the person playing it.  The actor is not the character and vice versa.  The actor may put some of themselves into the role; conversely they may take away part of the character when the final scene is finished, but they’re not the same person.  Exceptions exist.  An all male cast of A League of Their Own isn’t automatically horrible, but it’s automatically highly suspect and had better damned well come with a damned good explanation.  If the explanation is that every female actor who showed up stunk, genuinely sucked, and the only way the movie was going to exist was to take these male talented folks and put them in a whole lot of makeup … weird, very very very weird, but okay, whatever.

The average reader doesn’t follow the authors they like.  I’m not even an average reader and yet I follow authors I’ve never read a single book or short story by and never intend to; I don’t follow almost every author I do read … the majority the few I do I could count on the fingers of my left elbow how many blogposts/twits/FB posts by them I’ve ever once seen.

I’m going to keep the blog because it’s a good outlet for my thoughts and feelings.  It’s got links to my work, on the off chance someone finds it before they find me in iBooks/Amazon/etc.  But I don’t expect people to read my books as a result of reading my blog, nor do I expect people to read my blog because of my books.  And so far not only are those assumptions correct, but they hold true to the norm for other authors and their social media presences.

I’m on Tumblr, Twitter, and here.  The former two are almost entirely auto-posts of this blog, but if you like subscribing to things from those rather than separately subscribing through my blog I understand and it’s why they exist.  I do sometimes put other things I find interesting, or things I want to say on those that I don’t put here.  That’s because they’re a better media for saying something quick and offhand than an actual blogpost is; and they’re better equipped for sharing things I find interesting from other people’s shared content.

I’m not going to make any secret of anything about myself, I’m just not going to have bio sections that advertise anything about me because I do not want people to read my work based on my sexuality, gender, etc.  I want you to see the cover, notice the book, read the blurb, check out the sample, then (I pray) purchase it.

Writing advice

Yeah, I’m back on this.  But it’s important.

So, when I tell people I’ve published a book I get some very odd questions, but one that comes up often is “so how did that happen?”

How does one answer that?  I usually go with “I went through most of a pack of paper and several ink cartridges.”

Thing is, that is how it happens.  I know a lot of writers, but I don’t know many authors.  The difference?  The former have ideas, and they write … a lot … but they never finish anything, or never put it out there when they’re done.

Some don’t want to publish, they write for their own pleasure.  This is well and good.  Just as there are plenty of people, some of them brilliantly talented, who paint or draw just for the pleasure of it and others who sell their work so the same should be with any art or craft; writing is no exception.

For the rest, just get to work.

Now, some myths:

You must write every day, no exceptions and no excuses!

Bullshit.  This is so very much not true.  This seems to be more prominent among Americans.  For those in other countries, America is a barbarism where paid sick leave (or even unpaid!) isn’t always available and rather than rise up in revolution against it we developed “the American work ethic” and it’s as perverse as it sounds.

No, art suffers if you do it when you’re not up to it.  Now, you must be self aware enough to know the difference between “I’m just not feeling it today” and “I really don’t want to write this scene”.  The former is fine.  There is no point spending an hour staring at the paper writing nothing, or in writing for an hour a few thousand words that you’ll throw away tomorrow.  The latter … get it over with and move on.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block; it’s all in your mind!

Mmmm … yes and no.  There can be a number of things that are preventing you from moving forward in your story.  Maybe it turns out you need to backtrack and rewrite something, but until you discover that you’re stuck and you can’t move on.  Maybe your dog died and you just can’t concentrate.  Maybe you’re a chronic depressive and you’re having a low day, week, month, year … and you can’t seem to write anything or write anything you want to keep.

Writer’s block is no superstitious concept.  It’s a simple lack of inspiration.  It can have a billion and one causes and reasons, and it can have two billion and five solutions.

Find your solutions, but don’t let anyone tell you that all you have to do is plant your arse in the chair and write (unless, you know, that actually works for you).

You should write like … / Never use …

Just … no.  No, definitely not.  Proof?  Look at the criticisms of any wildly popular work.  I mean the stuff that lasts, like Harry PotterThe HobbitAlice in Wonderland, and so many many more.  They break rules, some break every modern rule.  Bill Shakespeare broke the rules, his contemporaries did not; who do we remember?  Ms Rowling was writing in a “dead genre”, among other “writing faux pas”; who is the best selling author of all time (no Bible comments, please)?

Don’t take thou shalt and thou shalt not from any author, even the most successful ones.  First off, Stephen King said to avoid adverbs, not to never use them; he uses them.  Thing is, it makes a kind of sense for the pacing and tone of his books, but that’d be horrid advice for Lawrence Block to follow.

I mean “thou shalt write thine own damned book” and “thou shalt finish what thou starts” and “once it’s bloody finished, bloody publish it” and so forth, those are fine.  “Thou shalt find thine own voice/style”, etc. this is good.  Absolutes suck, but “absolutes” are good reminders that we’re creating art.  We’re not building and designing nuclear reactors here, there is no precise science to follow; this is art, it’s all about imperfections, experimentation, creativity, and doing whatever.  Well, unless you’re trying to put out a cheap dime pulp in a hurry that’s deliberately formulaic and such … but that’s a complete other kettle of popcorn.

You must do X, Y, Z before you can write your novel / [blah blah blah] pay your dues …

I don’t know where to begin with this one.  It’s just not true on many levels.

  1. Some people just don’t write short fiction
  2. The “examples” usually given weren’t people following a deliberate career path, they were coincidences (and if you’ll notice it’s generally the same list of specific, mostly, old scifi authors.) and leaves out the numerous examples of people who are just as famous or more-so who didn’t go this route.
  3. There’s not really a short fiction market anymore.  Well, self-published, but not a “professional” short market.
  4. That “gotta write a million words” or whatever it was, wasn’t meant to be literal gospel truth and it certainly wasn’t thinking just write a million words of pure drivel.  You must always be aiming for quality and somewhere in there will be mistakes and pitfalls from which we learn and grow.  Read all of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s work from earliest to final (moment of sadness) and you’ll see it.  Heinlein, Asimov, Dickens … you see it if you look at someone with a long enough career.  Some start to lose their touch and so the opposite can become true as well.

In simple, and as always, to be blunt:  go ye forth and write, finish what you write (unless it really is garbage, but get at least a second if not twenty-fifth opinion on that subject before genuinely trashing it), find a means to get it to the world.  That’s the only sure-fire formula for success.  Everything else is superstition.

Back on track soon

Now & Forever‘s third book should be back in front of me to get back to work on by the end of April.  I’m still wanting to try to write a Færie Patrol short story for Queers Destroy Fantasy otherwise it’d be by the end of this week.

Things are looking up.  Including the possibility of living in a less hellish state before the end of summer.  If that happens my writing may pick up since I won’t have to drive for 30-45min to get to somewhere conducive to thought.

In any case I’m going to rough guess Book 3 for a Christmas 2015 release at the earliest, with an Easter 2016 release more likely, and June 2016 as an outside figure.

We’ll see what happens.

No horror

Well, I was, and in a manner of speaking still am, working on a vampire horror for Queers Destroy Horror but I ended up working on something else that’s proving far more fun and interesting, so I won’t have the horror finished before the submission deadline.

It’s not abandoned, I’ll finish it sooner or later and then I’ll decide what to do with it, but it won’t be going to QDH.

I still fully intend to get a Færie Patrol short worked out for Queers Destroy Fantasy, so there’s still that to look forward to.

Queers Destroy Horror/Fantasy!

So there’s nothing with my name on it for Queers Destroy Science Fiction.  C’est la vie.  I didn’t submit anything with my name on it, so that’s to be expected.

I’m actually trying to get a couple things together for Horror and Fantasy, though.  I’m writing some kind of thing involving some college students on spring break meeting vampires; I’ve a feeling that’ll be gory if I don’t get stuck and not manage to finish it on time.  The one for Fantasy is going to be a Færie Patrol short adventure.

If they get rejected I don’t know what I’ll do wit them.  Almost certainly post them somewhere here on the site, or maybe I’ll publish them as free stories on my retail channels.  Or both.  Similar for if I don’t finish them before the submissions deadlines, assuming I finish them at all.

Still next month or so should be pretty interesting.

There are no shortcuts

Sorry for the long time with nothing but social commentary, but I’ve just not had a lot of new things to talk about.

Well, not today.

My wife, who has infinitely more patience for internet discussion forums than I (mathematicians, please feel free to correct me, but infinity is how many more times than less than nothing is something, right?), was noticing how a lot of aspiring authors, especially of an age equal to or less than our own (she was born 1980 & I 1981) seem to think there’s a secret formula to a) turn whatever idea they have into a novel & b) for it to sell.

Well, I’m here to tell you absolutely free that yes such a formula does exist!! [Try to imagine that sounds a bit like the twin sister of that bearded guy on all the infomercials]

A) Sit your arse down (you may stand if desired, but it’s liable to get uncomfortable and awkward), put letters together until they form words, put words and punctuation together until they form sentences, put the sentences together until they make paragraphs, those you’ll group into chapters, and finally you gather you chapters into a novel (advanced authors can group novels into series).

B) Put it out there, and don’t give up.

That’s all you can do.

Yes, if you want to write something as, largely, ephemeral as a Harlequin Romance there’re formulae to follow and it will turn you out a cookie-cutter story quickly and you can usually get Harlequin Press to buy it. Not knocking it, for one thing some really phenomenal authors have written that kind of thing, and some if the greatest Western & SciFi stories were that. But those authors took the formula in hand and, pardon the expression, made it their little bitch; it followed them, rather than the other way around. It set the parameters of the story, but they still has a story to tell.

There’s no special trick that will guarantee you’ll finish the thing, except not giving up.

Outlines? No, I couldn’t even outline my finished work if my life depended upon it, let alone something I haven’t written yet; I don’t really have the faintest clue how. You can try it, if you like, some authors dig it and others hate it, and still others (such as myself) are mystified and intimidated by it.

Character questionnaires? They’re fun, the better of them can possibly be a handy reference tool, but remember that you probably couldn’t fill one out completely for yourself and six friends and, even if you can, you probably won’t have an accurate picture of any of you … so they shouldn’t be your alpha and omega of characterisation.

It doesn’t matter if you sit down with Pantera at decibel levels that would shame Grand Funk and a Big Gulp full of Jamesons, lock yourself in a sound proof room with incense, try to use a laptop while sitting zazen, or spend the day on the London underground with a BIC writing on Kleenex. It’s just got to work for you. You probably shouldn’t ritualise it over much or you’ll find yourself so caught up in ritual that you lose track of ideas; really, that spark of inspiration isn’t going to wait while you to fire up the Yanni CD, brew that special herbal tea, paint your toenails, take a bath, and chain the family and neighbours in your basement (yes, I’m sort of making fun of a few people from a thread on NaNoWriMo).

There’s no secret to making it a great story, either. Doesn’t matter if you wrote it in one draft or fifty (though excess drafts can lead to a too sterile narrative, but excess is a relative quantity), it doesn’t matter if you go over it with a fine toothed thesaurus or strip out every scrap of descriptive language, axe murder every adverb or add fifteen to every sentence. None of those tricks you find touted are a magic solution. Some help in certain genres, some work for certain types of writing (non-fiction, scripts, etc.) because, contrary to a new popular attitude, writing is not the same across all things. What is necessary to ensure accurate and logical textbooks is useless to a novel, what helps keep a short story streamlined can ruin a script, and so on. All that can make a story great is a mix of perception from the reader, talent of the writer (yes, there’s such a thing as talent, and all the piano lessons & practice in the world will no more turn you into Bach than all the writing exercises in history will make you Rudyard Kipling), and some stories are more liable to resonate with people than others (according to someone, Pat Rothfuss I think, that’s going to ultimately be the human heart in conflict with itself).

As for selling it? Well, you’ll never sell what never leaves your hands (literally and metaphorically). Whether you self-publish or traditionally do so, you have to try.

There’re things that help.

First off, yes, having written the current popular formula … assuming you haven’t finished in a saturated market that is beginning to reach critical mass and be transitioning to something else. If you like the style of story, fine. But I suggest you not write it just because it’s what’s selling right now … not unless you’re an experienced writer who can knock out a clean manuscript to shop to an agent or to post to iBooks in only a month or three, because you’re unlikely to finish while it’s still In.

Secondly, don’t get discouraged. Remember, it took a long time for the Beatles and J K Rowling to get a contract. They both could wallpaper a room with rejections. If you’re self-publishing … remember that, by and large, people don’t read. Even NYTimes Bestsellers might only have got a thousand sales, and they probably had the help of ads that cost a couple thousand dollars each.

Thirdly, don’t give up. Taking down a story that isn’t selling isn’t going to sell it any better. If it ain’t costing you to offer it, don’t remove it. If you’re traditionally published … try talking to your agent to see if they can help you get some better publicity or something.

Finally, edit. Self-published especially, since you’re not going to sell very well if you’ve a book out that looks like it was written by a schizophrenic toddler with Tourette syndrome, but even if you plan to submit it to an agent/publisher it’s not going to impress them to look at a garbled parody of English (or French, Portuguese, or whatever you wrote it in); they’re buying your writing, not your glorious idea … besides, even if they love the idea, they’ve got to be able to find it inside all that text, and they can’t do that if it’s unintelligible.

One trick that does really help, though: read. Doesn’t have to be the genre you’re writing in (might even help not to be, but that depends on you), but read. The kind of writing does matter, it does no good to read novels to learn to be a poet, but beyond that just read for the simple pleasure of it. Don’t pull the story apart like some literature class assignment looking for themes and plots and cheeseburgers and … buggered if I know, I was never lying when I said I paid all but no attention whatsoever in my literature classes … just read. By doing so you’ll, the same way a child learns to speak by listening to people around her talking, you’ll start to get an idea how to tell a story.

Really, if the only thing you’ve ever read is a book about how to write (or books) it’ll show. There’ll be something unnatural about it to those who can’t spot the signs, and the rest of us can probably damned near say which writing manuals you used.

Stephen King, American author best known for h...

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

― Stephen King

Writing, like life, can’t be hurried and still maintain quality. Kraft Easy Mac might only take a minute in the microwave, but is it really anywhere near as good as the stuff your nana made from scratch with three kinds of real artisan cheeses and homemade pasta? Probably not, unless nana was real shite in the kitchen. And, unlike the Easy Mac which, news flash younger readers, used to take something like five minutes, there’s nothing much that can speed up writing except, maybe, spending time you could otherwise be writing doing exercises in Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. So, if you never want to be better than mid-list (if that high) forget about shortcuts, forget about tricks, forget about anything except what it takes to keep your story moving, your fingers on pen/keyboard, your characters from wandering off to play strip poker, and so that you can remember that Bridgette has curling green hair now because of that spell that backfired in the third chapter.

And seriously, folks, who besides Dean Wesley Smith actually ever wants to be known for churning out literary Easy Mac?! (don’t ask).

Homecoming by Seanan McGuire

English: Author and musician Seanan Mcguire at...

English: Author and musician Seanan Mcguire at Dezenovecon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A very awesome short story by the lovely and talented Ms McGuire.

The locker room is always tense before a game. Alisa is trying to get her uniform to stay in place, counting more on safety pins and prayer than she probably should, and Birdie–true to her name–keeps whistling, which is probably going to get her slapped if she doesn’t stop soon. Cram twenty girls from opposing squads into one small space and tensions are going to flare.

continued here: Homecoming.

Can anyone write a novel?

We’re approaching another WriMo event.  They’ve got this ‘anyone can write a novel’ attitude and philosophy.

But is it true?

Hard to say, for one thing, how do you define a novel?  For my purposes I like Wikipedia’s answer of the moment:

novel is a long prosenarrative that describes fictional characters and events in the form of a sequential story, usually. The genre has historical roots in the fields of medieval and early modernromance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter, an Italian word used to describe short stories, supplied the present generic English term in the 18th century.

Further definition of the genre is historically difficult. The construction of the narrative, the plot, the relation to reality, the characterization, and the use of language are usually discussed to show a novel’s artistic merits. Most of these requirements were introduced to literary prose in the 16th and 17th centuries, in order to give fiction a justification outside the field of factual history.

Now, I’m going to say no … and yes.  This isn’t GATTACA, anyone can fly a plane, but not anyone can fly with the Blue Angels.  I’m not talking about eyesight and other requirements, I mean some people simply lack the reflexes, the neurological circuitry to do that without killing themselves or others.  In some cases, timing is something you’re born with, not something you learn.  I think everything in life is this way.  Some people have talents that guide them one way or another.

In this vein, no, not anyone can write a novel.  Not everyone possesses the talent to tell a story well, to build endearing and enduring characters, to entrance and enthrall the reader.  Am I such a person?  I hope so, but who knows?  I suppose in the end only time can say.

Anyone can be taught written language.  Even severe dyslexics can learn the ideographic writing of China or Japan, and the corresponding languages, and tell a story in them.  You can then learn about structure, characterisation, plotting, and all manner of other things I can’t name because I neither think about them or even know about them (I never paid attention in Lit class … well, twice.  Once we were reading works by Edgar Allan Poe, and the other was Romeo & Juliet).  They would have a technically perfect novel when they were done.  They would have a long work of fiction, but is it a novel?

That depends.  Let’s leave the world of fiction and writing for a moment and go to another bit of art:  Music.  Did you know that study after study says that people don’t like computer generated music?  I don’t mean MP3s, I mean programming a computer to reproduce a piece of music.  Why not?  It’s Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Jimmy Hendrix, but without the flaws!  It’s perfect, each note exactly the right length, each chord exactly the right pitch and key; the frequencies guaranteed or your money back.  That’s the problem though.  It’s soulless.  That perfection, that exact timing, that exact frequency, it’s … wrong.  Music has life, has spirit, and the people playing it adjust accordingly.  It might say an eighth note on the paper, but it really needs to be a 31/256th note, but that would be silly to write down.  It might say C♯, or B♭ but really it needs to be something just … not exactly that.  Then the music is perfect.  And that’s something that can’t be taught to a computer, nor to a human being who lacks that talent, lacks that ear and sense for when to make a ‘mistake’.

Is what the computer makes music?  If it is, then yes … anyone can write a novel, make music, paint a portrait, write a sonnet, and so on.  If not, then no — they can put words on paper, paint on canvas, make sound out of an instrument, and put 14 lines in a rhyming pattern on the page.

The most endearing, the most well loved stories are ones that don’t follow ‘The Rules of Writing’ as a lit major might refer to them.  Have you ever noticed how the things that lit majors and their ilk go on and on about in rapt adoration are the things no one else reads, no one has heard about unless they had to endure it for a literature class, and/or are things that, have you read them, are known to cause you to wake up years later in a cold sweat going on about giant dung beetles?  At the time, Mark Twain’s stuff was not well liked, Robert Service wasn’t considered a Real Poet, and J. R. R. Tolkien told silly children’s stories (when he wasn’t reinventing the study of Beowulf, of course).  These people broke The Rules!  They didn’t do things Right!  Good God, for one thing, they wrote stuff that was popular!  Accessible!  And, horror of horrors, entertaining!  Cardinal sins, one would think from the way some go on about them so.  But perhaps novels, short stories, poems, paintings, and many other things need that little bit of instinct, that little voice and connection that says ‘no, that’s not exactly right, I’m going to do it this way instead’.  Maybe a technically good novel … isn’t.

So yes, I think anyone can write a novel.  Anyone can learn to put words on a page, get enough of them together to have plot, characters, a beginning, a middle, and an end.  No, I don’t think just anyone can write a good novel.  Not everyone has the knack for telling a good yarn, and keeping the audience’s attention; to breathe life and soul into the words.

A good novel is one you read and you think, This wasn’t bad, not my cuppa, but I can totally see why people who’re into this kinda thing would like it.  For me that’s Seanan McGuire‘s October Day series, too dark for my tastes, but well written and a good novel nonetheless, just not one I’m in a hurry to read.

But what do I know?  I said, I found more interesting things to do in my literature classes, both high school and college, than paying attention.  I can’t even name the rules of writing.  I couldn’t really give a definition of theme, nor could I find the theme of most things I read with both hands, a GPS, and a pack of bloodhounds.  I just love to read, love to explore the worlds of imagination; to sail the high seas with Long John Silver, to explore the Yukon and Alaska with Mr London, investigate the stars with Heinlein, fight heroic battles with John Carter upon the vast plains of Mars, and face dragons with a little burglar named Bilbo Baggins.  Maybe I don’t know a good novel from a bad one, but I know what I like.

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?