Oct 05

Why my characters swear so damned much

(The title is the first way I thought of titling this post and was too perfect to not use.)

I’d never really thought about how much swearing there is in my books until it was pointed out in a review.  The review said that Lyndsey “likes to swear”.  This struck me as an odd statement.  I don’t think of swearing as something somebody likes or doesn’t like to do; I think of it as something a person chooses or chooses not to do, same as using any word or phrase.

Swearing, to me, isn’t a big deal . . . as is obvious from just about every blogpost I’ve ever written.  I blame my mother and grandfather.  (Huh.  That’s the second time today alone I’ve blamed Grandpa for my opinion of something.  I sometimes think if I ever wrote an autobiography I should call it It’s All Grandpa’s Fault.  And I’m pretty sure if I did he’d be smiling in the afterlife and pointing it out to everyone else around.)  Swearing was something kids were supposed to avoid in my family; adults not so much.

In some books, I agree with the oft-stated wisdom that infrequent swearing increases the impact of what swearing there is.  For instance when Molly Weasley says “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” in the final Harry Potter book, you know just how fucking bad shit has gotten.  You’re reading what is still, by marketing if not really by subject matter by that point, a kid’s book, and someone just said bitch.  It’s not playtime any more; this duel is for real!

But I don’t write that kind of book.  By the second paragraph of Crown of Eldrete, someone’s been casually killed.  In the fifth, someone’s stabbed in the heart.  In the sixth, someone is disemboweled.  All of this is mentioned utterly casually.  I think that makes it pretty damned clear that I’m not writing for kids, here.  Since I’m not writing for kids, I’m not watching my mouth or my characters.

Yes, I know there are people who are offended by swearing.  Like I said yesterday, if something in my books offends you, quit reading.  I don’t mind!

My characters swear, ultimately, because my approach to writing is to be true to the characters and the reality of the setting above all else.

I was going to use Lyndsey as an example here, but since there’s no way to do that without making it look like I’m doing the “complaining about a negative review” thing — which isn’t my intent at all, I’ll talk about Bobby from my upcoming novel No More Lies.  There are times when I wonder if he’s forgotten there are adjectives besides “fucking” and “damned”; that’s how much he swears.  Why?

For the same reason he sometimes uses grammatically atrocious sentences: That’s how he talks.  It’s what’s true to him.  He’s blunt, a bit rude, a bit uncouth, and has spent nearly a decade in the military.  To me, when a character with these traits doesn’t swear, it’s jarring.  For example, I’ve been reading the original Marvel GI Joe comics for the past few months.  Since they were either during the final days of the Comics Code mattering or right after it went away and were for a toy, the harshest word a character ever uses is “heck”.  One character uses “dag” a lot at first.  I giggle every single time.  The guy who uses “dag” grew up in a gang in Detroit and then served at least two tours in ‘Nam and now has spent who-knows-how-long-because-the-timeline’s-a-bit-screwy years fighting terrorists.  So, I giggle.  Because “dag” is so very much not the word a real guy like that would use . . . at least not without his friends giving him hell for refusing to swear.

This is always why some of my characters don’t swear very much.  It’s not that they like or don’t like to swear, which still strikes me as a very bizarre concept.  It’s that those aren’t the words they’d use in those situations.  I don’t like to swear nearly so much as I just find those are the words that best fit what I’m trying to say.  And I have an inordinate fondness for the hard-k sound, so I use “fuck” a lot when other words would, admittedly, work just as well.  (True story:  I sometimes take hard-k’s out of words I make up because so very, very many of them already have at least one in there.  That’s how much I like the sound.  And that’s probably one of the most “I’m really not normal” things I’ve ever typed . . .)

And the “swearing is lazy” argument is just plain stupid.  It’s no lazier than overusing any other word.

As for the “you could make the same point without using such horrible language!” argument, which I’ve, thankfully, never gotten but have seen another author — one who think sometimes swears enough that it at least seems like he’s doing it just to prove how edgy he is — get frequently . . . yes, I could make the same point, but could I make the same point with the same impact?  Probably not.  Let’s look at the second sentence of the current draft of No More Lies:

I was scared . . . no, I was fucking terrified . . . but there was no way I was going to let him see that.

Yeah, I could take “fucking” out of there and . . . well, no.  It doesn’t have the same meaning.  Not quite.  Because “fucking terrified” is more terrified than just “terrified”. (And the italics stays because “fucking terrified” is even more terrified than “fucking terrified”.)  And I don’t think the fact that the word “fucking” is used, oh, I’d say at least twice a chapter, throughout the whole book lessens the impact of that one bit.  Coming back to the topic of my last blogpost, it’s the intent, not the word that matters.  When Bobby, chapters later, describes one of his best friends as “fucking smart” in a sentence where he could just as readily have said “very smart” or “really smart” or, even, “brilliant”(oh, there’s a topic for another rant . . .), it doesn’t suddenly make the use of “fucking terrified” in the second sentence less impactful, amazingly enough.


(To the reviewer who I quoted at the beginning:  You just gave me something to think about; I’m not complaining about your review.  Except for this:  It’s spelled “Lyndsey.”  If you ever happen to see this, if you could edit your review to spell her name right, I’d appreciate it.  Names being misspelled is a pet peeve of mine, sorry.)

Posted in Crown of Eldrete, No More Lies, Rants | Leave a comment
Oct 03

“Aaaaugh! Stop saying the word!”


Today I was reading a review blog that I generally like, but used to like a lot more than I do now.  There are various reasons for this, but the one that prompted this blogpost is that the blogger puts things like this:  “The original text contains the use of the words “mad” and “stupid”.”  Well, no, actually.  That’s what made me start thinking about the blogpost.  What made me actually make it though was when instead of spelling out the word “crazy”, the blogger wrote “c***y”.

I understand the philosophy there.  I know there’s this idea among some social justice activist sorts that no one should ever use a word that’s ever been used to hurt someone.

The problem is, well, look at the video.  “It” is a perfectly innocuous word, but it hurts the Knights Who Formerly Said Ni.  A ridiculous example, yes, but the same applies in reality.

I understand the logic behind avoiding “mad”, “crazy”, “psycho”, etc.  I have OCD and anxiety.  I’ve been called all of those things. Yes, it hurt.  But, the word itself isn’t what hurt me.  The intent was.  Reading something described as a “crazy plan” isn’t going to cause me any sort of trauma . . . and if it was, then I should hope that someone helps me realize that I need professional help because that’s not normal for anyone.  Seriously, if a word is hurting you regardless of context, get help!

Language stops working if we eliminate every word that’s ever been used to hurt.  Intent matters.  Yes, people should try not to use words that only exist to hurt.  I’m not advocating calling people “gooks” and “niggers” here.  But, well . . . I have a character who looked at the five small fighters in his squadron and the one big ship the bad guys had and thought “We can take them.”  What am I supposed to have people call that but a “crazy plan”?  Am I supposed to have the other characters call it a “mentally ill plan”?  Nope, can’t do that either because that’s still stigmatizing the mentally ill!  So, “logic lacking plan”, I guess?  See, eliminate the words “crazy” and “mad” and such, and you’ve just made certain concepts a lot more difficult.  (Also, this character uses the word “crippled” to describe himself and I know that’s going to get me negative reviews.  There are times I want to grab my fellow liberal sf fans and scream “Quit proving the Puppies right!”.  (If that sentence made no sense, don’t worry.  It just means you had better things to do with your spring and summer than follow the controversy over the Hugo awards.))

And this isn’t even getting into the cultural differences in word usage.  I saw a discussion, in that blog’s comments in fact, once that was talking about how calling someone “Oriental” isn’t seen as nearly as insulting in Britain as it is in America.  I saw a discussion there today about how the way one of the dinosaur names is abbreviated in Jurassic World makes it sound like a British racist term, one that doesn’t exist in American English apparently.  (Because Britain’s race issues are not our race issues, what with the countries having different demographics and all.)  So to communicate online, where we potentially have readers from all over the world, I guess we should avoid all words ever used to hurt anyone in any language?  That’ll leave damned few words left.

Oh, “damned”!  That brings me to another, relatedish, point!  I’ve noticed that the people who go on about not using “crazy” and whatnot in any context never seem to be willing to listen when deeply religious people tell them that they are made uncomfortable by reading swear words.  Double standard, much?

Personally, when I’m writing, I’m writing what words are needed for the story.  Sometimes those are going to be “triggery” words.  (In quotation marks for reasons I’ll get into below.)  Viktor isn’t going to stop calling himself crippled because just seeing the word apparently causes some people distress.  I’m sorry if you’re one of those people.  But if you are, I’m cool with you putting my book down and reading something else, you know?  Not everything is for everyone.  Likewise, if the 26 uses of “fuck” in the 72ish pages of The Crown of Eldrete upset you, then don’t read it.  It’s cool.  I know this isn’t the sort of thing an author’s supposed to say, but I’m totally cool with people not reading my books if they don’t want to.

Now, since I brought up triggers, I’ll go ahead and say this here instead of in another blogpost:  I’m not opposed to trigger warnings . . . within reason.  Unfortunately in the society we live in, putting a warning that your book contains graphic depictions of rape or violence or child abuse or anything else depressingly common like that is probably a good thing to do.  Too many people are legitimately triggered — by which I mean, using the term the way it was when I first encountered it years ago, “caused severe mental or emotional distress” — by those for it not to be something an author should at least consider. Yes, then you do get into the “what counts as graphic?” thing, but it would at least help.

But, do note that I said “graphic”.  If your book has mention of someone having been raped in the distant past, then I don’t think you need to put a trigger warning.  Yes, it’s triggering to some people just to be reminded that rape is a thing that exists.  And I hope those people are getting the help they needed.  Also, I think some people really need to realize that not everyone is using the word “triggered” the same way these days; some are using it the way people who rail against the term claim it’s being used:  to mean something made them uncomfortable.  I doubt there are many people who are actually triggered by the word “crazy” being in the text; I can believe there are lots of people who are somewhat uncomfortable with it, especially in certain circumstances.  Which comes back to my original point, somewhat.  Same as you can’t eliminate every word that hurts someone, you can’t possibly warn for everything your book contains that might trigger someone.

Jake’s Last Mission has some non-graphic violence (by any sensible definition), references to old people having a sex life, some swearing, and speciesism.  It doesn’t have trigger warnings, despite the fact that all of those things undoubtedly bother someone.  I’m not writing for all seven billion people on Earth.  I can’t.  Same as it would be impossible to figure out what universally appeal to them, I can’t figure out what would universally upset them.

Posted in Rants | Leave a comment
Oct 02

Fuck you, Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word fucking hates me.

I’ve long suspected this; today, I have proof.

I noticed a couple of places in a short story I was about to submit where, for no apparent reason, there were smart quotes instead of boring ass quotes.  (Well, I think I know the reason for some:  I forgot to turn them off before making some edits.  But that doesn’t explain why several opening quotes were smart when the closing quote in the same sentence wasn’t.)  I tried to fix this.  I checked.  They changed, or at least the one right in front of me did.

So I submitted the story.  To the highest paying market that might accept it.


I’m torn between crying and just laughing and taking this as a sign that I should give up on trying to sell short stories.

(And then about five seconds later I ripped a nail.  Because that’s just the kind of day today is, apparently.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Sep 30

What I’m currently reading . . . sort of

I was just reading a mostly abysmal list of blog topics for writers (seriously, would anyone be interested in knowing what I’d say to Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook if I was alone with him for 5 minutes?  Is this really a topic readers care about?!) and one actually jumped out at me:  What books are you currently reading and why.  The “sort of” comes in because I’m going to list everything I presently have marked as “currently reading” on Goodreads, but that list isn’t accurate because I haven’t even thought of some of these books in months, so clearly I’m not actually reading them.  So I’m using making this list as an aid in deciding what to change from “currently reading” to something else.

Anyway, the list:

  • Star Rangers by Andre Norton:  I picked this up cheap at a used bookstore mostly because someone once compared my writing style to hers and, as I’d never read any of her sci-fi, I wanted to know why.  I think the comparison is because we seem to use a lot of the same tropes.  After reading a bit of it, I discovered I’d long ago downloaded a free ebook of it under a different title.  Oops.  I haven’t touched it in over a year because I put it somewhere to keep Bella from stealing the bookmark and then couldn’t remember where it was until we were packing to move . . . and now I can’t remember which box it’s in, so I still can’t finish it.  Yes, I just said I have the ebook, but since print books and ebooks don’t sync automatically I hate switching between them.  This is a shame because it was pretty good.  Pulpy and dated, yeah, but good nonetheless.
  • Lords of the Sky:  Fighter Pilots and Air Combat, from the Red Baron to the F-16 by Dan Hampton:  Fighter pilots have fascinated me for ages.  This book has been really interesting so far, but I’ve just changed it from “currently reading” to “Want to read” because it’s rather dense and information packed and probably better suited to reading sometime when I can concentrate on just one book at a time.
  • Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery:  Here we hit a book I actually forgot I was reading.  I started reading it when I finished Anne of Green Gables last year and somehow totally forgot about it.  Wow.  I was reading it because I was trying to read the whole Anne series again.  Or at least the good books in it.
  • Heroes of Zara Keep by Guy Gregory:  This is another one I haven’t touched in a while.  In the case of it, I’m just going to mark it “Did not finish” because . . . I wanted to like this book.  Yeah, it was cheesy fantasy — that’s why I was reading it.  It was another “picked up cheap at a used bookstore” thing.  At first it seemed like it was going to be the good kind of cheesy fantasy.  As I’ve gotten further into it though . . . it’s perfectly blah.  I only have 67 pages left and have no interest in finishing it.  At the speed I read, that’d only take like an hour.  And I’m still not interested.  I know how everything except the final fight is going to go because it’s that kind of book.  Blah.
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien:  I managed to forget I was re-reading this too!  What the hell?  I hope I don’t need to explain why I was re-reading it.  I mean, it exists.  Isn’t that reason enough for this one?
  • Not naming it or linking to it because it’s self-published and it’s not bad, it’s just not my thing:  I apparently added this one to my “to read” list at some point last year.  I’m not sure why because it’s not really the sort of book that normally appeals to me, being a sci-fi romance where the romance is the main thing.  But the author contacted me and asked me to review it in exchange for a free copy, so I went ahead and started to read it.  I’ve gotten about halfway in over several months.  I’m going to start it over someday and try to finish it and give it an honest review, but I’m just not in the mood to read predictable romance lately.
  • Enchantress Mine by Bertrice Small:  I picked this up in a used bookstore for some reason and started leafing through it.  It was pretty good, so I bought it.  I liked it until it got to the actual romance part.  I’m having a hard time coming up with the enthusiasm to finish it now.  Wish Bertrice Small just wrote historical fiction because I always like the non-romance parts of her books better than the romance parts.  And her sex scenes . . . I’ve seen her described as writing “the purplest of purple prose” and that’s true where they’re concerned.  So many metaphors and similes; so many bizarre euphemisms!
  • Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett:  I’m rereading all the Discworld Witches’ books because Granny Weatherwax is my hero.  This is another book I lost for a while.  I found it two days ago in the strangest of places:  my laptop bag, in the pocket I use for books.  No clue why I put a book there.  Very strange place for it indeed.
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie:  I read it as a kid and liked it, so I was seeing if I still did as an adult.  So far, I’m liking it better.  It’s enough darker than I remember that I’m wondering if the version I read was, despite the cover not marking it as such, an abridged version.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:  In Dialogue with His Century:  Volume 1 (1907-1948):  Learning Curve by William H. Patterson, Jr.:  It’s a bio of my favorite author.  Obviously I’m going to read it.  It’s also got interesting stuff on the politics of the era.  A bit too much of that, really, since sometimes it’s really hard to tell what the fuck some of it has to do with what was going on in Heinlein’s life.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:  I was just going to read the beginning to prove to myself that the people who were telling me the first 200 words of a story had to do certain things were full of shit.  Next thing I knew, I was a few chapters in.  I’ve stopped reading shortly before Beth dies and am having a hard time convincing myself to read that part, as always.
  • Treacherous Moon by Stephen Goldin:  Read the first book in the series last year and loved it so when I found myself in the mood for space opera recently I started this one.  It’s as good as the first one so far.
  • Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire:  Last night I found myself with no internet connection when I wanted to watch Doctor Who.  So I decided to read a book that had a similar zany plot but believable characters feeling.  After skimming through iBooks, this was the first thing meeting those criteria.  I meant to just read a small bit of it, since, after all, it was just to take the place of a show I couldn’t watch.  I ended up reading a quarter of it.  Oops.  This is the third time I’ve read this book in three years.  I’m pretty sure that qualifies it as one of my favorite books.

You know, I never realize just how eclectic my tastes are until I do a list like that.  I have weird tastes.

So, what are you reading?  And do you care what I’d say to Mark Whatshisface about Facebook if I was alone with him for five minutes?

Posted in InCryptid praise, Reviews | Leave a comment
Sep 23

Why I don’t think highly of creative writing courses

“You can’t learn to write in college.  It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do — and they don’t.  They have prejudices.” — Ray Bradbury

I stumbled upon that quote today, and it made me realize that I had never written about my horrid experience in a creative writing class in college.  I’ve mentioned it, but never really talked about it.

Let me say first that the short story I wrote for that class that’s where 99% of my hatred of it came from was, in quite a few ways, crap.  I, as was terribly normal for me, put it off until the last possible minute.  The first couple of pages had come easily, so I kept thinking “Oh, I’ll just write it in bits and pieces like that and . . .”  Yeah, I, if I recall correctly, finished the night before it was due.  Combine this with my normal issue of having images and beginnings and endings in mind but not middles, and, well, crap.

To be fair, some of the criticisms my classmates and my professor had might’ve been about the middle and it’s unconnectedness with the rest of the story.  I know some of them were about my unique approach to comma use.  (I’m much better than I was, believe it or not!  Thanks to the diligent efforts of Elizabeth McCoy I can punctuate dialogue properly nine times out of ten now, for instance!)  But those criticisms were lost on me at the time, because they were drowned out by some of the — and mind, even if these were said by students, they were backed up by the professor — dumbest criticisms I’ve ever heard about a fantasy short story:

  • It’s unclear which culture is dominant.
  • You mention a dwarven king and the elf is a baker, does that mean the humans and elves are lower-class than the dwarves?  You should’ve explained that better.  (This and the one above it were repeated in a lot of variations.)
  • You don’t clearly establish that it’s a fantasy until partway into the story; you should’ve had her seeing a unicorn on her lawn or something right at the beginning to clue your reader in.  (This one was from the professor.  I described the female protagonist’s husband as having “elven features” in the second paragraph, but this wasn’t good enough, apparently.)
  • You don’t describe what an elf, a dwarf, or a troll looks like.  You can’t expect your reader to know these things.  (I know I mentioned pointed ears for the elf and beards for the dwarf, for what it’s worth.  Oh, and this was pre-Lord of the Rings‘ movies, so this one does possibly make a bit of sense.  Maybe.  There’s enough Christmas movies with elves that I’m having a real hard time seeing a case for someone not having the vaguest idea what they look like.)
  • You mention elves being prejudiced against half-elves, but since you don’t give us a breakdown on who is on top in the society, we can’t understand why.  (They really latched onto the assumption that it was a stratified society with dwarves at the top, then elves, then humans, or maybe then humans, then elves.)
  • You don’t explain how this society came to be.  Why is there a dwarf king?
  • Your dialogue isn’t realistic.  Real people don’t talk this way.  (This was also the professor and was on a bit of dialogue that I’d copied verbatim from something Jaye had said.  This had happened with an earlier writing assignment for the class too.  I’ve since reminded her frequently that she’s apparently not real.  )

And on and on along those lines until I finally, tears in my eyes, just wrote in my notebook something along the lines of “They’re bitching because I didn’t write the whole fucking Silmarrillion in the length of a goddamn short story” and gave up on saying anything, because I couldn’t trust myself to keep my temper any more.  I don’t recall what I’d said up to that point.  The only valid criticism I’d heard was that the (faded to black as soon as they were alone) sex scenes added nothing.  I knew that, but needed the length so they’d stayed in.  (Yes, this was a college course and the students were complaining about sex scenes that served no purpose.  It was Arkansas, what can I say?)  Oh, and that the ending had seemed really rushed.   I now recall that I admitted that I’d done it very last minute and that’s why those two problems existed.  I may have tried to explain that the society wasn’t hiearchical in the way they were thinking, but I might not have bothered.  If I did, they immediately forgot and launched into another round of telling me that I should’ve made clearer who was on top in the society it was about.

And I know you’re all dying to know what in the world the story was about that those could’ve been their issues, especially the serious hang-up on societal stratification.  Here’s the plot:  Elf dude who has a human wife and a half-elven baby, in a society where human/elf relationships are frowned upon (because the author had been reading way too much Dragonlance, if you must know) is invited to cook the gondo bird that’s the main course at some special shindig the king of the dwarves has regularly.  He’s the first elf to get this honor.  En route, they’re attacked (and I demonstrated quite admirably my lack of skill in writing fight scenes.). En route they also have sex a lot because the baby is with its grandparents so they’re taking advantage of that.

Like I said, there were real issues with it.  The fight and the sex are superfluous to the story.  Looking at it now, I see the bones of a story that might be entertaining to write, a straight-forward fantasy travelogue kind of thing, and, oh dear gods, there my brain goes, off on a world-building tangent again . . . Brain, I have two or three fantasy settings with nothing but a dungeon or two in them, maybe use one of those, huh?  I need to make a map now and . . . fuck.  I think I’ll be adding yet another story to the sticky at the top of the blog if this train of thought doesn’t stop soon.  I was reading something the other day about how authors need a “just for themselves” project at all times; maybe I’ll use this for that.

Sorry about that digression.

Back to my point, the story had problems, but they weren’t the problems the professor or the students noticed.  So what I got from that experience, which was the main event of the course, was . . .

A crippling fear that I wasn’t a good writer because clearly if I had been, then they wouldn’t have had all those complaints about how things didn’t make sense.

Yeah. Thank you, professor I’ve forgotten the name of and classmates.  I could be years ahead in my writing career if it weren’t for you.  You see, after that class, I didn’t write fiction for several years.  I still can’t write fantasy without a little voice telling me I need to explain things better, which pisses me the fuck off because I love fantasy.  Universal Nexus is great fun, don’t get me wrong; I’m sure I’ll love playing in the space opera setting of someone else’s I’ve got a contract for a novel in (blogpost some time next month will tell you all you need to know about that, I promise); but since I read The Hobbit when I was eleven years old, fantasy is what I’ve wanted to write.  And for over a decade now, it’s been a source of crippling anxiety to try to.

That story I was talking about above?  The one that came from me summarizing that short story?  I’ll be honest:  I’ll be doing damned good if I get 3000 words in before the voice of self-doubt gets to me.

That pisses me off.  I know their criticisms were ridiculous.  I know that in a . . . five, maybe ten, I don’t know any more; certainly wasn’t more than fifteen . . . page, manuscript format story there’s no way in hell you can show much of the sort of detail they wanted.  But that voice won’t shut the fuck up.  And that pisses me the fuck off.

It also hurt that there were no positive comments at all, that I can remember.  No one in the class had a single good thing to say about my story.  That hurt.  I’d recently quit being a pre-med major because I wanted to be a writer a lot more than I wanted to retake Organic Chemistry II.  And my professor, someone who should’ve been someone who knew what he was talking about, had absolutely nothing positive to say about my story.

If it’d been just that one, maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so badly.  But every assignment I’d turned in for the class, he’d had nothing but criticisms of.  One exercise that stands out in my mind was one where we had to write one paragraph descriptions of what would be in various sorts of people’s rooms.  I had the phrase “books of depressing poetry” in one.  He said I should’ve named the books of depressing poetry.  How the fuck could I do that?!  I don’t read depressing poetry!  I wasn’t yet in the habit of googling (was I even using Google in the fall of 2000?  Fuck, I think I was still using metacrawler.com) things like that to add veracity to my writing.  Hell, I’d only not had dialup AOL that it’d sometimes take two hours to connect to, only for me to get kicked off after half an hour, for a few months.  The internet was a place to go read Highlander and Voltron slash, not a place for research!

I remember another one where we had to tell a story mostly in dialogue.  As anyone who’s read anything by me knows, this is pretty damned easy for me to do.  The hard part is getting me to write the bits that ground the dialogue in something so it’s not two floating heads jabbering at each other.  My professor’s comments were about how often the characters said “Uhm”, which was a deliberate choice on my part because one was really fucking nervous and the other was really fucking clueless.  He said it made them sound too clueless.  The title was something like “The Most Clueless Person Ever.”

And then there were the in-class exercises, where we had to do things like identify what character/person a classmate was thinking about by the classmate answering things like what kind of cigarette the person/character’d be if they were a cigarette and what kind of alcohol they’d be if they were a bottle of alcohol and what kind of color they’d be if they were a color and . . . you get the idea.  I still don’t understand how the fuck this is a useful exercise.  Maybe the way some people’s brains work it is, but to me, it was something utterly pointless and confusing, a total waste of three hours — the length of the class — of my Thursday.  (I have no idea why I can remember the day of the week the class met on but not the professor’s name.  My brain is strange.)  All I learned was that most of my classmates knew the names of lots more brands of cigarettes and kinds of alcohol than me.  This did not, strangely enough, make me a better writer.

Many years later, I was rearranging some books and came across my textbook for that class.  I flipped through it and suddenly a lot made sense.  The section on genre fiction was absolutely insulting.  All genre fiction, it said, is formulaic.  It also talked about how it doesn’t matter how well you write when you write genre fiction because the reader wants it to be that particular formula and that’s all they care about.  In my opinion, a professor who is going to use a book that dismisses everything that can be called genre fiction as formulaic and poorly written has no business teaching a creative writing course.  Well, maybe if he at some point expressly states his prejudices.  If he’d done that, then I would’ve thrown together some barely fictionalized account of college life like the rest of my classmates wrote instead of trying to write something I cared about.

I’ve since learned that this anti-genre fic prejudice is the norm, not the exception, in creative writing courses.  So, every time I see some ad or something telling me that I’ll be a much better writer if I just take this course, I think they’re full of shit.

You know what’ll make you a better writer?  Reading more and paying attention to what your favorite authors do.  Writing more.  I don’t believe in a strict “you must write 1,000,00o words before you write anything worth trying to sell” thing like I’ve known some people who cling to like it’s a fucking law, but I do very strongly believe that the odds are pretty good that the first thing you write, hell, the first ten or so things you write maybe, aren’t professional caliber.  But that’s no excuse to not write them.  You’ll learn something from the experience.  Hmmm . . . maybe that’s a topic for another blogpost, “Things I’ve Learned From Failed Attempts At Stories”.  My next one was going to be a defense of my characters swearing profusely, but maybe that’s better . . .

Anyway, anyone else have any creative writing class horror stories to share?  Or, hell, even pleasant stories about them?

Posted in Rants | 1 Comment
Sep 15

Why I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year

I’ve done it three times and won twice.  I enjoyed it, for the most part, but I honestly feel like I’ve outgrown it.  For me, getting x number of words per month is no longer a challenge, it’s a goal.  And that x isn’t 50,000.  I can do 50,000 a month.  Winning NaNoWriMo twice proves that.  But I can do 30,000 to 40,000 words a month that are good instead of 50,000 that are mostly mediocre, and that’s what I’d rather do now.

I know, I know:  the whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get words down, you can fix the quality later.  And that’s fine, really.  That’s great if that’s what matters to you.  Three years ago, it was what mattered to me.  Two years ago, it’s what mattered to me.  Last year, I did it to try to get in the habit of writing more days than not.  For that, NaNoWriMo is the wrong tool.  Now, I’m in the habit of writing or editing or revising four days a week with another day spent on other parts of being a professional writer . . . trying to figure out what to title a work, writing a pitch that doesn’t suck, etc.  Yes, I know this is in sharp contrast to what I said right after I failed NaNoWriMo last year; I was wrong, it’s that simple.

Well, I was half-wrong.  I don’t need to write every day, I was right about that.  But I do need more structure than writing x number of words a month.  A weekly word count goal is working for me, with me at least trying to devote two hours a day to it five days a week.  So far that’s worked out to four days writing/editing/revising and one day doing other stuff, and that seems like a sane and rational way to keep doing things so I shall.

Now, my goal right now, the main reason I’m not doing NaNoWriMo :  write stuff that I don’t have to do such extensive revisions to.  I can tell the hunks of No More Lies that were written during NaNoWriMo.  The first few chapters, the ones written before NaNoWriMo, needed fleshed out.  They were lacking in detail, but were otherwise pretty solid.   (And the detail thing is excusable because they were written when it was supposed to be a novella.)  But the ones written during NaNoWriMo?  They’re too wordy, and the dialogue is obnoxiously mundane.  I cut an entire scene the other day and it affected pretty much nothing.  The effect the scene had on the story can be accomplished in one sentence elsewhere.  I might move one small hunk of dialogue from it somewhere else too.  But other than that?  That scene gave me 1094 more words, that’s what mattered.

I know there are authors, many of them ones who make quite a bit more than me, who put great stock in reaching daily word count goals regardless of the quality of those words.  That’s fine.  That works for them.  I detest revision.  I do it because it’s a necessary evil.  I’d rather write a clean first draft.  Since a clean first draft seems beyond me, I’d like to be able to do a clean second one.  I can’t do that if too much of the second draft is brand new stuff replacing bad stuff from the first.  I’m a third of the way through revising No More Lies and will have to go back over it all over again before I can reach the point where I’m just copyediting.  I’d like to avoid this in the future.  So, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo any more.

There are other reasons I’m not doing NaNoWriMo any more, ones that are a bit harder to express, but relate, perhaps, a bit more to me saying “I’ve outgrown it”.  While there are professional authors who do it every year, the culture surrounding it feels more amateur.  There are too many people asking questions like “How do you get to know your characters?”,  “Do I have to have an outline?”, and things like that that anybody who’s already got a few stories under their belt knows the only valid answer to is “Well, here’s how I do things, but you have to find what works for you.”  I’m tired of those discussions.  I know they’re important to some people, but I’m personally tired of them.  Especially since it often feels like what people are really wanting is a shortcut to success, i.e. “You fill out this character chart and follow this plot outline, and you’ll easily get your 50,000 words and be a best-seller!”.

I’m also, and I hate saying this because, as I’ve said, it was a good thing for me when I first did it, a bit burned out on the concept of NaNoWriMo because I have read, or started to read anyway, so fucking many self-published books that were clearly a case of someone “winning” NaNoWriMo and then uploading what they’d produced to Smashwords and/or Amazon . . . in most cases they seem to have at least run spellcheck first, which is nice.  Too bad it doesn’t do a damned thing about the fact that most of those stories needed an end to end revision pass or three to not be boring and slow-paced.  (I’m not asking for “thriller pacing”, I’d just like not to have to slog through a description of the character getting dressed and having breakfast every single day if it doesn’t fucking matter, okay?  Once or twice is fine if it illustrates something about the character or setting, beyond that, you’d better have some damned cool stuff going on in that book or I ain’t finishing it.)

I think, and this isn’t just a NaNoWriMo thing actually, it’s an “aspiring writer” (as defined by Chuck Wendig:  writers who do not actually write anything but who sure talk about it a lot) culture thing you encounter on all writing forums, that so much emphasis is put on finishing a novel that far too many people don’t realize that’s only step one.  Or they know it, but they think they’re the exception who can skip all the other steps.  There are people who can go from first draft to print and it’s fine, with only maybe a little copyediting.  Louis L’Amour reached that point, I’ve read.  But he reached it.  He didn’t start there.  He wrote, according to Wikipedia, 100 novels and over 250 short stories over a 50ish year career.  That’s a lot of time to develop a knack for knowing what will and won’t work before you put it on paper.  (Also, he wrote pulp mostly.  It was not as clean as what most publishers want today.  I read an article by his son that said when L’Amour did write for the “slicks”, he did write multiple drafts and revise pretty heavily, which I’d imagine means he did the same for the more literary stuff he wrote later in his career.)

And, my final reason:  There is so much emphasis put on just moving forward, getting those 50,000 words, in NaNoWriMo culture that it feels wrong to go back and make even the smallest change, especially if it would affect your word count.  There are parts of No More Lies that I’ve known have needed fixing since the day I wrote them, in far too many cases I saw how to fix them by a few hours later, but because it would change my word count, I didn’t do it.  I’m tracking, for myself and non-publically, how many words per week I write, edit, or revise, but that’s so on weeks when I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much I can see that I have, even if it did all get thrown out for some reason, so it needn’t be the exact number.  If I discover I can cut a whole paragraph, I can cut it out and not worry about it.  I still wrote those words that week, so they still count.  I don’t need to keep them somewhere where I can paste them into a box at the end of the month so I can get credit for them.  Sometimes I even — and this is not allowed if you do NaNoWriMo properly — delete whole paragraphs right after writing them!  Because sometimes I see that quickly that they aren’t going to work.  Those usually don’t get counted for my word count for the week, because I record that at the end of writing for the day, and since I’m only tracking it for myself, a hundred or so words loss is not a big deal.

Also, the ten thousand words a week thing is not what’s being tracked by the stickied post with the nifty graphs.  That’s how many words are in the currently working file of the story for first drafts, hence why Dangers of the Past went down by 7000 today when I started over, and how far into the previous draft I’ve gotten with my revisions for subsequent drafts.

And if this got rambly or redundant, blame the car alarm that’s been going off off-and-on for the past half hour next door, and my cat for walking around mimicking it . . . or yelling at it, I’m not sure.

Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing process | Leave a comment
Sep 14

Five Star Reviews — Freedom, Spiced and Drunk by M.C.A. Hogarth

I read this story because it was free and I’d read another by the author that I’d liked, if not as much as this one.

The description, via Goodreads:

Kediil wants only to remain neuter and learn the secrets of herbs from its beloved Mardin… but at its second puberty, it turns female, and is forced to decide between accepting its new roles among the family… or something unspeakable. Originally published in Strange Horizons, this story made the Tiptree Award’s Secondary List and was recommended for a Nebula Award.

My review:

Don’t let the shortness of this story fool you, it’s not a light read. In these few pages, the author manages to convey, without once resorting to infodumping, a completely alien culture — one that is alien enough to not be humans with funny foreheads, but not so alien as to be completely unrelatable — and tell a poignant and touching tale.

The language used to tell this story is beautiful and entrancing; I was particularly fond of this phrase; “Each of these incidents added a stone to my spirit.”

My sole complaint is that words were translated in the narrative, but reviews of my own work have made it quite clear to me that I’m in the minority in not liking that.

This is the second story I’ve read by this author. It won’t be the last.

I’ve read a few other short stories by the author since then and have liked them all, but this is still my favorite.

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment
Sep 11

The Next Big Thing Blog Meme

I found this meme that I missed out on when it was actually a thing, so I’m doing it now.

Yes, I’m bored and a bit creatively blocked today, why do you ask?

It’s just a bunch of questions and answers about a current wip or book you already have out.  I’m going to do it for No More Lies since it’s the one closest to done.

I rephrased some of the questions so they didn’t aggravate my internal editor.

What is the title of your book?

No More Lies

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Copy/pasting from where I talked about this a couple of days ago:

I invented Bobby as a kid as what I’d now call an AU version of Storm Shadow, then later decided he wasn’t him; he was his apprentice.  Bobby’s evolved since then, and any resemblance between Universal Nexus and GI Joe:  Real American Hero is coincidence or homage now, but he’s still a ninja who used to be a bad guy.  This story though . . . I woke up with the image of him under a tree and knew what he was thinking and had to write a bit to figure out what was going on.  Turned out it was the day he met the love of his life.

What genre is your book?

That is a ludicrously complicated question.  Is it a romance?  The plot kicks off because of a love story and it is a thing that drives a lot of it.  But I didn’t follow the “proper” plot arc for a romance.  (Neither, I’d like to add, does any romance I’ve ever actually enjoyed.)  So, according to what I’ve read, lots of romance fans would get pissy if I called it a romance.  Is it space opera?  Well, the setting is, but the plot has nothing to do with galaxy-shaking events or anything anywhere near that big.  It certainly doesn’t have the space battles that some idiots say are required.  (Firefly is not space opera, I guess . . . despite being frequently called the best space opera in ages.  Go figure.)  So a lot of space opera fans would be mad if I called it that.  It’s a slice-of-life romance in a space opera setting.

I’m probably going to market it as romance because that’s where the money is, to be bluntly honest.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Uhmmm . . . damn, for the sequel, set twentyish years later, it’s easy to think of who should play Bobby.  Robert Downey, Jr. would be pretty close to perfect.  But he can’t really convincingly play a twenty-five year old.  Chris Pratt, maybe?

For his girlfriend . . . the only requirements are blonde, nice rack . . . because Bobby’s shallow enough at the beginning that that’s a big part of what gets his attention, and able to glare someone to death.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

I have one finally!  It’s a monster of a sentence because whoever came up with this “one sentence synopsis” thing clearly wrote more straight-forward books than I do, but here you go:

A spy who ran away from home years before falls in love with a woman from his home world around the same time the people he’s spying on start suspecting him, so he goes back home and has to deal with a girlfriend he’s lied to, family and friends he upset years before, and people wanting him dead, all while trying to figure out how to live a normal life.

Who is publishing your book?

Don’t know yet.  I’m considering trying to get an agent because this book is good enough that I want it to get more attention than it will if self-published, but at the same time, look at what I wrote under genre.  Do I send it to romance agents or science fiction ones?

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

That depends on how you look at it.  The earliest surviving reference to the story is from early summer 2011, but that was a version that was supposed to be a 3000 word short story.  The version that ended up being completed took exactly a year to write, almost to the day, from July 2013 to July 2014.

What other books within your genre would you compare it to?

~whimpering~  How can I answer that when I don’t know what genre it is?!

Wait!  I just realized that the InCryptid books by Seanan McGuire are considered romances . . . paranormal romances, but still . . . so I’ll compare it to those, especially the first two with Verity as the narrator.  Snarky first person narrator who gets in situations over their head and doesn’t listen to their parents.  I have one of those too.

See, this is where I start feeling all kinds of angst over the unmarketability of this book.  I can’t compare it to anything in the genre, so I can’t do the all important “If you liked x, you’ll like my book” thingy.  My life would be much easier if people would just read descriptions and go “Oh, this sounds cool!” instead of always wanting to read things just like what they’ve already read.  Try new things.  It won’t kill you.

Anyway, pretending I’m a reader instead of the writer of this, I’d say what it reminds me the most of isn’t anything space opera or romance.  It’s the immersiveness and depth of world-building of a good fantasy novel or game setting.  Hmmm . . . along those lines I could maybe see comparisons to Traveller.

Oh!  Firefly or the first season of Babylon 5, a space opera setting, kind of an overarching thing tying everything together, but no single plot arc or similar!  Quirky characters getting into situations and dealing with them.  That works.

And watching Doctor Who while writing this revision has led to some dialogue style similarities, so I guess if you like the Ninth and Tenth Doctor, you’ll like my book?  (I haven’t gotten further than that yet.)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See above under “Where did the idea for the book come from?”

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The narrator is a ninja/spy/assassin/comic book geek/musician who has Wisdom as his dump stat.  Who wouldn’t want to read a story about him?  Aside from people who like deep thematic works and other pretentious shit like that, I mean.  This book has no theme, unless “being in love is awesome” and “actions have consequences” are themes.  It also doesn’t follow one of those plot arc diagram thingies, nor does it fit the Heroes’ Journey.  It’s, ultimately, the tale of one year of the afore-mentioned ninja/spy/assassin/comic book geek/musician who has Wisdom as his dump stat’s life.

Oh, and if I self-publish, here’s the cover.  (I am willing to take criticism from people who work in graphic design and ordinary readers, but not from people who’ve read articles on how covers should look . . . because I’ve read those articles too, and I wouldn’t buy books with covers that looked that amateur.):


No More Lies Cover In Progress 14

Posted in Meme, No More Lies, Writing process | Leave a comment
Sep 11

Why Crown of Eldrete may never get its sequel

First, I apologize to anyone who liked the book and was anticipating the sequel, but I really think it might never happen.  What might — and I have to emphasize might — happen is a rewrite telling the whole story from Lyn meeting Taliza to them kicking the combined Neo-Imperialist and Krishodi forces out of that bit of the galaxy.  But given my current works-in-progress list, you’re looking at, probably, 2019 at the earliest before you’d see that.  If ever.  Sorry.

Now, the short reason why I may never write the sequel:  There shouldn’t have needed to be a sequel.  The book should’ve been longer, but I was an idiot and rushed it out instead of taking the time to make it better and complete.

The longer reason:  Crown of Eldrete was, in many ways, not the book it should’ve been.  It should’ve been a simple, straight-forward action-adventure.  The best bits, in my opinion, are the ones that are.  The time they fight a giant insect.  The time they fight the robot.  The discussion of the way Lyn flies.  The bits, in other words, that show that I have an unabashed love for things like early Drizzt books and honest-to-Gygax dungeon crawls and Voltron and Star Wars  (even the prequels.)   In a lot of ways, this is the same issue I talked about in this blogpost:  http://sblog.universal-nexus.com/in-defense-of-fun/  Actually, no.  It’s the exact same issue.  Again.  Fuck me.  Maybe this time I’ll learn this lesson for good.

Crown of Eldrete didn’t need the bit with Lyn’s dad being disappointed in her.  (Besides, on a meta level he has no fucking right to criticize her actions in the story because he’s certainly done stupider things.  The moment you charge a nine-foot-tall creature with one-foot-claws with nothing but a katana you lose the right to call anyone else reckless!)  I’m not convinced completely it needed the bits with Taliza and she discussing how much they missed their significant others.  Maybe if the book had been novel length, where I have more space to introduce and resolve subplots, but as it is, they end up just kind of pushed in, intruding on the adventure.  (In my opinion, anyway.  And I’m the one who’d have to write the sequel, so . . .)

It also suffered because I wasn’t willing to make drastic changes when I revised it.  That is wholly the fault of some very bad advice I believed at the time, advice that I wouldn’t have believed if I’d taken three seconds to think about it.  Oh well.  Live and learn.

Another problem is probably that (I just discovered this) the first three scenes were written in June 2012, most of the rest in November of that year, about 1700 words in February, and then the last few thousand words in April 2013.  It was written that broken up, and I didn’t give it serious revisions.  Ugh!   To put this in more perspective, the way I’ve got iBooks set up it’s 84 pages right now, not counting the endnotes.  Pages 71 through 84 were written almost a year after 5 through 7 . . . the first ones that aren’t things like the copyright notice.  And then I didn’t revise much.  Do you know how much an author’s style can change in a year?  Especially that early in their career?

Especially when she’s being an idiot and half-trying to write a story that’ll have the approval of the nebulous Them that decrees what is and isn’t good instead of one she’ll enjoy?

Now, just to show how much my style has changed since I started writing this back in 2012.  Or rather, to show how I’ve always written when I wasn’t being an idiot and worrying about stupid shit and was instead just getting out of the way and letting the story be told, here’s the beginning as it was, and as it’d be if I ever rewrote it.  (Really though, don’t get your hopes up for this.  This isn’t like Jake’s Last Mission where I just need to expand things that were already there and add scenes that make things make more sense but where the plot is good as it it, or like “Once A Hero” where I had a good plot and characterization and everything and the flaws were mostly technical (That fixing the technical flaws by switching it to first also smoothed out some of the more awkward bits in the plot was an unexpected side effect.); this is . . . if I expanded this into a novel, I’d probably redo about half the plot.  And I’ve already got plenty of things to work on without fucking about with a story that no one ever wants to pay for.)

The old version:


“You’re a guardian faeshir, aren’t you?” Lyndsey asked, seeing the expert swordsmanship of the rebel woman fighting by her side. And a Kavaliro, or at least someone who learned from one, at that, she thought, but didn’t say in case she was wrong.

“I was the junior guardian faeshir at the local temple until these bastards took it,” she paused as she sent yet another foe to meet the spirits. “Name’s Taliza Kavaliro.”

Lyndsey grinned as she dispatched two more of the Neo-Imperialists. “Lyndsey Katherine Kavaliro-Blue, at your service.” She inclined her head slightly as she said it, the closest she could come in current circumstances to her usual bow with a flourish.

Taliza’s smile broadened. “Cousins, then?”

“Probably of some sort. I’m Kalem’s great-great-granddaughter, ” Lyndsey said, stabbing a foe in the heart.

“And I’m Mina’s … Kalem’s sister,” the young faeshir said as she disemboweled the final Neo-Imperialist. “Messy. I always hate doing that.”

“The way he was coming at you, what choice did you have?” Lyndsey asked, wiping her blade carefully before sheathing it.

“True,” Taliza said sadly as she recited prayers over their fallen foes. Lyndsey stayed respectfully quiet, though she followed a different religious path herself.


The new version:

There was something familiar about the way the woman at my side was wielding her sword.  I kept glancing over at her whenever I wasn’t busy with my own foes, trying to put my finger on it.  It wasn’t Ruvellian fencing or kenjutsu or Aslith fencing, the three styles I’ve seen the most.  As she smoothly sliced across a Neo-Imperialists mid-section, I realized where I’d seen it before.  “Where’d ya learn Kavaliro Faeshir Swordart?” I asked.  I knew a bit of the style myself — Grandpa wasn’t about to let a family legacy die just because none of us had been faeshir in generations, but had never seen anyone outside my immediate family use it.

The tall, slender woman answered with a bit of a smile, “I am a Kavaliro, and a faeshir.”

“Really?” I asked, almost absent-mindedly killing — or at least wounding enough that they were out of the fight, and that was good enough for me right then — two more Neos.

“Yeah.  Taliza Kavaliro.  Junior . . . senior,” her voice broke a bit as she corrected herself, “guardian faeshir at this world’s major temple.”

Bowing my head slightly — I was not about to do my normal, deep, flourishing bow in the middle of a fight, even one as easy as this one was proving to be — I introduced myself.  “Lyndsey Katherine Kavaliro-Blue, Kalem’s great-great-granddaughter.  I think.  Might be another great in there.”

She disemboweled the final Neo-Imperialist swiftly with a grimace, then said, “I’m Mina’s great-great-granddaughter.  His sister.  So I guess we’re cousins of some kind?”

“Sounds that way,” I said, making my way to the chest they’d been trying so hard to keep us away from.

My newfound cousin took an idol out of her pocket and started whispering prayers over the dead.  I stopped what I was doing and stood respectfully silent, though as far as I know my gods don’t give a damn if I pray over the people I’ve just killed or not.

And that was fun enough that this just might find it’s way onto my to-do list.  Might, still, though.  This bit just needed rewritten.  Once I get to the part where the plot falls apart, I’d basically have to start over from scratch.  So maybe I’ll just write something else from Lyn’s POV, because that’s what made it fun.



Posted in Crown of Eldrete, Writing process | 1 Comment
Sep 10

Where do you get your ideas from?

I’ve never actually been asked the question that’s the title of this post, but I know it’s inevitable that I will some day.  Also, I’ve got insomnia and this is probably a better use of my time than watching  Doctor Who or Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse.  Yes, those are presently my favorite (still airing) shows.  I’m weird, what can I say?

Anyway, when I post short stories on here, I usually give a bit of info about what inspired that particular story, if I can recall it.  So I’m going to do the same thing for the works I currently have progress meters for:

No More Lies:   I invented Bobby as a kid as what I’d now call an AU version of Storm Shadow, then later decided he wasn’t him; he was his apprentice.  Bobby’s evolved since then, and any resemblance between Universal Nexus and GI Joe:  Real American Hero is coincidence or homage now, but he’s still a ninja who used to be a bad guy.  This story though . . . I woke up with the image of him under a tree and knew what he was thinking and had to write a bit to figure out what was going on.  Turned out it was the day he met the love of his life.

UNTITLED NOVEL:  First of all, this one isn’t actually untitled; I just really don’t like the present working title and am trying to come up with a better one.  This one is a bit different than the others, since it’s not my setting, but still probably not what most people are looking for when they ask an author where they get their ideas.  Anyway, I was reading the setting description and thought of a character pretty much instantly.  He wanted a better ship.  That implied I needed a guy with a better ship.  After that, it was just a matter of figuring out how to throw them together, and I went with a pretty clichéd idea for that because it isn’t the idea so much as what you do with it that makes a story good.

Dangers of the Past:  As a fun “what if” thing, Jaye and I were discussing how Bobby’s wife and kids would react if something that had been true in an earlier version of the setting were still true:  he had a child he didn’t know about until they were an adult. I started writing it as, basically, fanfic of my own setting.  Then I realized with a couple of tweaks, I could make it work canonically.  I think a random die roll is what gave him the kid in the old version (kids, actually, back then, but I couldn’t make that work.)

Jake’s Last Mission Expanded:  Jake is another character I created the original version of as a kid.  He’s changed too.  A lot.  His last name isn’t Skywalker any more, for starters.  (I was seven or eight, okay?!)  And he somehow transformed from an Army colonel to supreme commander of a space fleet.  I never intended to write him as the protagonist in anything, then one day I suddenly thought of the first few paragraphs of the story.  I got stuck about two pages in for like a year, then suddenly realized if I deleted the last sentence I had a plot.  So I did that and finished the novelette in a week or two.  The expansion was an idea I’d been kicking around for a while, then one day while sarcastically rewriting the first bit to match some of the most common criticisms (to entertain myself and vent after yet another bad review), I realized that while 99% of the criticisms were things I was going to continue to ignore (I am not going to quit using made up words in a motherfucking space opera!), the ones that said it should be longer were right.  The story was too compressed for what I was trying to do in it.

Quinn’s Nephew:  This, which needs a better title since my readers don’t know who Quinn is I just realized, since I’ve taken the story with him as the narrator off my priority list for the time being, started life as a pitch for another setting, but in the process of writing it, I realized I’d in a recent rpg session created a character that was perfect for the plot I had in mind.  I first tried copying him in that other setting, but I finally decided he worked better exactly as he was.

Hmm . . . that’s interesting:  I don’t talk much about the plots when I talk about where I get ideas from.  I talk about the characters and the inciting incident, but not the plot itself.   I think this is because I don’t really think about plot much as I write.  I have a starting point, the main character (who’s usually the narrator because I’m presently finding first person so much easier to work in than third), and usually some idea what the ending will be like, but everything between the first scene and the last scene?  I have no way of telling you where I get those ideas from because generally I’m just typing things as fast as I can so I can find out how the characters get from the start to the end without getting themselves killed.  Sometimes I have very brief notes on the next few scenes, but they’re really brief, not really “ideas”.  They’re mostly things like “Bobby says really stupid thing”, “bad guys attack”, and “epilogue, 20 years later”.  Those are mostly so I don’t forget to include cool and/or important bits that I’ve already thought of, because I can usually only write linearly, but sometimes I think of little snippets from later bits (or have them from prior attempts at stories), and, well, if I didn’t have things like “epilogue” on there, I might forget I’d written one and put it in a separate document.

And I certainly can’t say where I get any themes you might see from, because I don’t put them in there deliberately.

Really, Louis L’Amour said it best . . . oh, this isn’t the quote I was looking for, but it’s even better, I think:

I start with a character and a situation, but I don’t know what’s going to happen until I write it.  Sometimes things happen that surprise me.  — Louis L’Amour

I’m the same.  Hell, I thought No More Lies was going to be a 3000 word short story!  It was supposed to just about Bobby and Karen meeting, but that wasn’t a story on it’s own, so I kept adding to it.  It ended up being a chronicle of his life from the moment he met her until their wedding.  (It’s a romance; that’s not a spoiler.)   For me, a good part of the fun of writing is finding out what’s going to happen next.  Yeah, I’m one of those authors who needs an end to work towards pretty early on, but that’s a focus thing.  If I don’t give myself that, I end up wandering all over the damned place, chasing every new shiny idea.  With an end point, I can go “Yeah, that is cool, and it is happening at the same time as this story, but it should be a stand alone thing, not part of this.”  That doesn’t interfere with my fun, it just stops me from getting frustrated to tears while editing.

I suppose people could also mean “Where did you get ideas like Sweytz’s government, Ruvellian culture, a ninja/spy/assassin who is also a comic book geek, etc.?” and that sort of question I certainly can’t give very good answers to, because, well, let’s look at the ninja/spy/assassin/comic book geek:  ninja, because Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are two of the coolest motherfucking characters ever; spy, because spies are cool; assassin, because . . . fucked if I can remember now; comic book geek because . . . I think I had him say something kind of geeky once accidentally and suddenly decided it’d be cool if he, despite being such a fucking badass, was One of Us.  (And if anybody finds that too unrealistic . . . I was once told that military dudes don’t play rpgs and read comic books because they don’t need the vicarious thrills from them, for instance . . . read the bio of fantasy author Myke Cole:  http://mykecole.com/about.  Now give him the badassness upgrade necessary to be a space opera protagonist.)  Anyway, look at what I said:  “I think”.  I don’t know for sure.  Fuck, maybe I’ll find an old note somewhere that’ll say something like “Bobby hates comic books” and somehow I misremembered it as him loving them (this sort of thing happens to me a lot.  In my defense, some characters were hardly even mentioned in anything for years, so I can get details mixed up.)

Ruvellian culture?  Cormyrean nobles from Forgotten Realms and pirates are influences, but beyond that, I’m making it up as I go.

Sweytz’s government?  Okay, that one I could actually answer, but I really don’t feel like discussing political theory pretty much ever . . . partially because it’s a topic where I have a hard time finding the line between “defending my position” and “browbeating the other guy until he sees things my way.”  I could, if I ever took it into my head to do so, probably reach Heinleinian levels of preaching political views in my fiction, okay?  As I’d rather focus on fun stuff, I don’t do that.  I just ask that readers accept the society works the way it works and then get on with enjoying whatever shit my characters have gotten themselves into this time.

Really, I’ve never understood “Where do you get your ideas from?”  It’s not a question I’d ever think to ask an author.  I can see asking “Where did you get the idea for SPECIFIC THINGY?”, but not ideas in general.  Ideas just kind of happen, you know?  I mean, if I wanted to get deep about it, they probably come from the synthesis of everything that we’ve read, felt, experienced, etc., but I doubt that’s what the asker really wants to hear.

Anyway, where do you get your ideas from?  :)


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