Questions To Ask Before Writing A Novel And A Realization

Posted by Shannon Haddock on January 10, 2018 in Rants, Writing process |

These are compiled from various sources and occasionally rephrased some.

And the questions will, of course, be followed by my commentary.  And the answers for one of my current works-in-progress, something that presently has the wonderful working title of Ren/Vik.  I am so good at titles!

1)  What is the protagonist’s biggest regret?  (This is supposed to have something to do with the “heart of the human condition” and make the character more real and identifiable and all that.  I don’t think that the heart of the human condition is failure and regret.  That is one hell of a pessimistic outlook on life!  The answer for Ren?  I honestly don’t think she has one.  First, she’s only 17 so she hasn’t exactly had much time to have regrets, not big ones anyway.  Second, she’s quite a bit the “everything is an adventure” sort.  She tends to look at things as “Well, that sucked, but at least now I’ve learned something not to do again.”)

2) What is the protagonist’s goal?  (This, of course, is supposed to be what the story is about.  This one leads to my realization later on in this post, and is something I’ve ranted about before, so I’ll just get to my answer:  Ren’s goal is to get through Dagger training.  That’s not what the story is about in the slightest though.)

3) What is your biggest hope for the book?  (I’m supposed to think about this before I write?!  I don’t even know, most of the time, if I’ve got a book length idea or a short story or yet another “Great start, now where the everloving fuck is this going?!” thing!  My biggest hope when I start writing is always that I finish the motherfucking thing this time!  I mean, ignoring the pleasant daydreams of winning a Hugo and outselling Rowling.  Those are dreams, not hopes.)

4) How do you want the book to look and feel?  (The site explained that they meant format, size, all that sort of stuff.  This is not before ever writing a word stuff!  Don’t worry about what it’s going to look like printed before you’ve even figured out if you can write it.  Jesus Christ, people!  Talk about putting the cart before the horse.)

5) What’s your budget for the book?  (Again, this is not something to worry about before you even know if you can finish the book!  Don’t worry about what it’s going to cost to edit something and get cover art when all you’ve got is an idea.  I get ideas all the motherfucking time.  Very few of them get to the stage where I need to worry about this sort of stuff.)

6) How will you feel when you finish the book?  (I don’t understand at all why this is something to think about before writing a book.  The site offered no explanation either.  As for Ren/Vik, I’ll feel relieved to finally be fucking done with it, same as I always do when I finish a story.  Then I’ll immediately be seized with ten million ideas for bits I should’ve done differently.)

7) How will you celebrate finishing the book?  (Again, this is not something to think about at the beginning.  For that matter, it’s not something I ever think about.  I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated finishing a story.  Probably because I’m too busy just feeling relieved that I finally did it.)

8) What’s the theme?  (Okay, I admit that my feelings about this one are not wholly rational.  Many years ago when I spent all that time on that rpg forum that I’ve mentioned before, there was a dude — the author who accused me of being illiterate, in fact — who was really big on the idea that all campaigns had themes.  And as he was a very respected rpg author, there’s a segment of the hobby that latched on to this idea.  Add to this too many literature classes during the misguided time I was an English major and . . . long story short, if I never see a discussion of theme in anything again, it’ll be too soon.  That said, in both gaming and writing, I’m a very firm believer in emergent themes.  Trying to force a theme results in things that beat you over the head with it too often, in my experience.  So I don’t believe in asking yourself this before you write.  That said, now that I’m something like 85k words into Ren/Vik . . . I’m still not sure what themes there are, actually.  Something about family, most likely.)

9) What is the one sentence summary?  (I don’t think I will ever figure out the importance of this one!  I mean, I know that the idea is so you can easily answer people who ask about what you’re writing, but one sentence?!  I can’t think of a single book I love that I can summarize in one sentence.  I did manage to summarize No More Lies in one sentence once, but it was possibly a run-on and was certainly longer than most people mean when they say this.  I know some people see this as a weakness in the story, see it as meaning it lacks focus.  I see it as a strength.  It means I wrote something more complex than a lot of the shit out there these days.  For Ren/Vik, an honest one sentence summary would be something like “Sarcastic people banter non-stop.”  And that’s not me being self-depreciating.  I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written.  I’m not sure what this says about me.)

10) Is this story “on brand” for you?  (There are valid reasons to use a pseudonym — an author I love uses one for her books for adults since she’s primarily a kid’s author and doesn’t want parents assuming that anything by her is kid-safe — but this really isn’t a thing to think about before you put a word on paper.  In fact one of that author’s books she thought was a kid’s book at first until people pointed out that despite having a kid as the protagonist, it was dealing with stuff that wasn’t kid stuff.  So, Ren/Vik . . . let’s see, lots of sarcastic people bantering with each other non-stop.  Pretty sure that is my brand.  Also pretty sure that’s my life.  Did you know there are actually couples who are only sarcastic with each other when they’re mad?!  Go figure.)

11) Why are you the best person to write this book?  (This one — and lots like it that I’m not including here — say they’re equally valid for fiction and non-fiction, but they really aren’t.  I’m the best person to write Ren/Vik because I invented both of them.  And co-created the setting.  I mean, who the hell else could write about two people who live in my brain?!)

12) Why do you need to write about your protagonist?  (I’m pretty sure “because she wouldn’t shut the fuck up while I was trying to write something else” isn’t the sort of answer they were looking for here, but it’s the only sort I could ever give.)

And then there was a page that said it was questions to ask before writing a novel, but looked to me more like questions to ask yourself while revising (if you’re the sort of person who uses questions to guide your revision process.  I’m the “rewrite the bits that aren’t good until the whole thing is as good as it’s going to get” sort.).  Things like “Is there anything you could do to raise the stakes?” and “Is the reader going to sympathize with your protagonist?”.  I guess maybe these sorts of questions are helpful to the detailed outline sort of writer, but that’s so far from my mindset that I got nothing out of the questions except confusion.

Now, for my realization:

All the stuff about the protagonist’s goal and how that is what guides the book and stuff like that made me realize something, something I’ve sort of noticed before, but not to this extent:

All of the sci-fi and fantasy I’ve read and watched hasn’t had nearly the impact on my writing that the Little House books, the Anne series, and Little Women did.

I feel weird saying that.  Most of sff fandom dismisses those books as out-of-date patriarchal crap.  And, to be fair, there are bits of each that make me roll my eyes as an adult.  Many fans of those books (do note that I said “books”; I’m not talking about the TV series and movie fans) love them for reasons that annoy the shit out of me, because they’re about “a more innocent time”, because they “show women in their proper roles”, and other seriously cringeworthy stuff like that.

But I love them for two very big reasons, probably the reasons that there are still people out there discovering and loving them today, decades after they were first published:

1)  The characters felt like real people.  Anne especially.  A kid whose imagination runs away with her all the time?  At thirty-seven, I identify with her only very slightly less than I did at ten.

2)  They showed you how people lived.  Sure, Little Women really is about the March girls overcoming their personality flaws and becoming better people, but who reads the book for that?  But none of the I-lost-count-ages-ago times I’ve read it have been for that.  I’ve read it to go to Civil War era Concord for a while.  I read the Anne books to go to late Victorian Prince Edward Island for a while.

And All-of-a-Kind Family should be on that list too, I realize now.  I think I even read it before the rest of those.  (Not before Mom had read me Little Women though.  I don’t remember not knowing who Jo March was, that’s how little I was then.)

I was reading something the other day about how the books we read growing up shape what authors write, and I’ve come to realize just how very, very true it is.  I didn’t read The Hobbit until I was eleven.  I’d read the whole Little House series by then.  I read the whole Anne series by then. (Most of it in one day.  Outdoors.  I remember the sunburn well.)  I’d read at least the first half of Little Women myself by then.  (The part originally published as Good Wives didn’t keep my interest well for until I was older.  I still don’t like it as much.  Though I love Professor Bhaer.)

I’ve seen many authors around the same age as me talking about Dragonlance as one of their early influences.  I didn’t read the Chronicles until high school.  That favorite of female authors around my age, Mercedes Lackey?  I didn’t hear of her until I was in my early twenties.  And I think my opinion that she’s highly overrated is probably because I didn’t discover her books during that magical period when they’re just what some people need.  (My wife has the same opinion on why the Dragonlance stuff doesn’t speak to her the same way it did me.)

My influences at the age where apparently writer brains start forming opinions on what makes a good story were slice-of-life stories from a different era, before the idea that stories had to have conflict and such to really be stories had taken hold.  The aesthetics of my setting, the technology, all of that stuff — that came from Star Trek and Star Wars.  But the stories?  The bits I think are worth writing about?  That came from a bunch of kids’ books showing me how different people lived.  This means that, even when I’m writing a story that is plot-driven (I’ve got one in the works right now!), I’m not thinking about it in terms of arcs and tension and all that sort of stuff.  I’m looking at the characters and writing about what they’re doing.  That’s all I’m ever doing.

I think really the best way to summarize my writing is that I’m always writing slice-of-life . . . it’s just sometimes that particular slice-of-life is more exciting.  And sometimes it’s 85,000 words of people being smartasses to each other.


Time For Another Edition of “Things I Said While Revising”

Posted by Shannon Haddock on December 11, 2017 in Uncategorized |

This time there are two cats with me!

But still no other humans.

‘”If’ . . . ‘since’ . . . ‘so long as’!”

“‘Bloody’ is what I’m hearing there.”

“That is a horrible sentence.”

“That wasn’t so bad.”

“Ah!  Don’t do that!”  (This was at myself after, while trying to italicize something, I accidentally deleted everything and typed an “i”.  Thank the gods for Undo!)  (No, I don’t know how I managed that.  I’m talented.)




“‘To a lot of people’.”

“‘The bigger part though’.”

“‘Is that’.”









The Patreon Bullshit

Posted by Shannon Haddock on December 10, 2017 in Rants |

(And probably other stuff because it will be a miracle if I ever make a blogpost that doesn’t wander all over the place.)

So, for those who don’t know Patreon is a site that basically lets you pay people various amounts of money on a recurring basis in return for various rewards . . . or sometimes just for the knowledge that you’re helping a creator you like keep the lights on while they make more stuff.

Long story short, they recently decided to charge an additional 2.9% plus 35 cents on each payment someone made to creators they’re supporting.  That was bad enough because many people pledge $1 to lots of different creators, meaning that, for example, what had once been one $10 charge that gave $1 to ten people would now be ten different $1.38 charges.

This was supposed to be for the good of the creators, because now instead of 80 to 88 cents per dollar people gave them they’d get 95 cents per dollar.

Yeah, you’d pay 38 cents more for each $1 pledge and the creator gets between 7 and 15 cents more and the credit card processors get the rest, and this is somehow supposed to be a change to benefit the creator.

Anyway, that was bad enough.  To stay within my budget I was going to have to end my support for one creator and spent most of an afternoon trying to decide which one.

Then I saw this:  https://twitter.com/juliedillon/status/939210129261473792

If the link should happen to not work, it’s a quote from Patreon’s growth manager saying — in marketing speak — they don’t want to have lots of creators who only make a little money.  The linked blogpost talks more about this sort of thing and the general gist of it is that they don’t mind losing creators who aren’t making much because having only the ones making lots of money will make them look more attractive to other artists who are already making lots of money.

In other words, “Screw the little guys” is pretty damned close to official company policy.

Now, you see, I’d been planning on launching a Patreon this year.  People don’t want my stories when they’re 99 cents but do when they’re free, and all Universal Nexus stories are under a Creative Commons license anyway, so I really can’t bring myself to charge for the stuff I write anymore.  But, as much as I hate it, we do live in a society where money is a useful and needed thing.  So I was basically going to say “Hey, give me a dollar a month, and I’ll let you read stuff before it’s published.”  You’d be paying for early access.  Or just because you liked the idea of me having a little bit more spending money.  (And there would’ve been niftier benefits for giving me more per month than that.)

But, I don’t write marketable stuff.  Unless there’s an untapped market out there for character-focused, slice-of-life stories in a space opera setting, I’m never going to make a lot of money at this.

And Patreon said they don’t want people like me.

So — while I’ll still find some way to get money to the creators I was supporting — I’m not using Patreon at all any more.  If they don’t want me as a creator because I’d make them look bad, then I don’t want to give them 5 cents from every dollar I gave a creator on there.

I’ve seen people criticizing withdrawing your support for creators, saying that doing so is “putting your politics ahead of people being able to make a living”.  No. Because this isn’t an empty political statement.  This is refusing to support a company that has said it doesn’t want my business.  They don’t want my business, they don’t get my business in any fashion.  That’s not politics, that’s principles.

Besides, it’s not like I’ve gone “Well, I guess I have more spending money now since I’m not using Patreon any more.”  It’s changed what method I use to get money to creators, but I’ll do everything I can to get money to them.  Because I still care about them.  Even if Patreon doesn’t.

As for my plans to make a Patreon for myself this year . . . I don’t know what I’m going to do now.  There aren’t any alternative sites (yet, apparently there’s one that’s in invite-only beta right now) that have all the things that made Patreon a better idea than just putting up a PayPal or Ko-fi or whatever link.  The closest alternative doesn’t let you give your supporters any rewards, and that doesn’t appeal to me.  I feel like — even if you are just paying me because you like me and don’t give a damn about my stories — I should be able to give you something as a thank you, even if it’s just a picture of my cats or something.  The suggestion I’ve seen to get around that by setting up an email list of your supporters and emailing them the rewards sounds like the sort of thing I’d utterly fuck up.  So, that’s on hold for now.

(Though if anyone does feel like sending me money, just tell me and I will find a way for you to get it to me.)


Disrespecting Fans By Not Publishing Crap . . . And Other Stuff

Posted by Shannon Haddock on November 16, 2017 in NaNoWriMo, No More Lies, Rants, Writing process |

It looks like entitled whiny “fans” have stopped saying (for the most part) that authors “owe” them books on a certain timeframe.

Alas, this does not mean that they’ve stopped being entitled whiny “fans”.  Far from it.  Instead their new tactic seems to be to whine that the author is “disrespecting their fans” . . . even when the author has said the book is delayed because he had to cut a large piece out and put it back together.  In other words, even when the book in its present form is a piece of shit!

So as far as I can tell, this alleged fans think it’s perfectly respectful for an author to release a book that sucks on the date it was first supposed to come out, but horribly disrespectful to wait and release when it doesn’t suck.

That’s some damn special logic they’re using there.  Like it has less acquaintance with Earth logic than some of the things my five-month-old kitten* does.  I mean, I’m pretty fucking sure I’m not unique in preferring to spend money on books that don’t suck regardless of how many years I have to wait for them!  How the hell is it disrespectful to only want to give your fans a good book?!

You know, I don’t think I’ve seen this in any other field.  I can’t think of a single time I’ve seen a music album delayed and the fans went “They should just release it as it is now; it’s disrespectful to us to make us wait any longer!”  Or a movie.

What makes books different?  Why do people see authors as just content creation machines, churning out books like a factory churning out socks?

I have a theory on that, one I’ve brought up before.  My theory is that since anyone who’s bitching about a book being late can write — i.e. make marks on a page that represent words, they assume that writing fiction is simply a matter of sitting down and writing word after word after word for eight hours a day, five days a week, until the story is done.  Which is, to be fair, how some authors write first drafts.  (I do two hours a day, five days a week, of which only about ninety minutes is spent writing.  I get more done this way then writing for longer periods, as I don’t burn out nearly as badly or as quickly.)

I was just watching a video where an author is explaining, in response to a fan question about why the book is taking so long, his revision process, and still there are lots and lots of comments about how he needs to just write for eight hours a day, five days a week “because it’s his job”!

I’m not sure how much clearer anyone can make it that there is so much more to making a good story than just getting the words out.  Hell, I write pretty fast.  In that ninety minutes of actually writing a day I mentioned earlier, I average around 3000 words.  (Many professional authors — some rather famous ones even — consider 2000 words enough for the day.)  Three thousand words a day times five days a week means I can write fifteen thousand words a week.  When revising, unless I happen to be working on one of those places where the first draft was golden, I average about eight hundred words of progress in the same amount of time.

And I usually need to do three or more revision passes.

So, let’s look at something the length of one of the books by the author that’s “fans” inspired this post: 399,000 words.  I could write something that long in about 133 days, but each revision pass would take about 499 days!  So, let’s assume four revision passes.  That’s 1996 days.  Plus the 133 it took me to write it in the first place.  So that’s 2129 days to finish the book.  That’s — remember, this is working five days a week — about eight years!

And that’s assuming I never take an extra day off.  Or hit a really crappy section revising.  Or lose a chapter to a hard drive crash.  In other words, that’s assuming an absolutely ideal set of circumstances which would never happen.

So, obviously, the solution is to do as these people say the author should be doing and write (and presumably edit) eight hours a day, five days a week.  Then I’d only need two years, right?

Well, no, actually.  In all likelihood what would happen if I tried to work on any one thing for that long every fucking week, I’d never get through with it.  Because, in my experience — and it seems this is true for at least some other authors as well — the longer I spend on it at once, the more likely I am to run out of mental energy and end up doing things that are just plain stupid.  Which means I then need to fix those.  Which means more hours.

I think a big part of the problem right now is that the mystique of being an author is no longer existent with so many so very publicly sharing with their fans their process.**  Specifically the number of authors who stress that if you want to be a professional author you have to treat writing like a job, when job in too many people’s minds means “thing you do eight hours a day, five days a week for money” instead of “thing you take seriously and don’t treat like a hobby if you ever hope to make money at it,” which I assume is how most authors mean it.  So these “fans” assume that any author who isn’t turning out books at a steady pace is clearly not taking things seriously at all.

I’m not really sure what can be done about this.  I regularly see authors who work slower explaining why their books come out at a less steady pace, but yet this attitude, and the misconceptions that feed it, persist.

And, now for an update on my own slow book:

No More Lies hasn’t been touched in months.  One of the problems is that I realized that I cut too much of the bits that were just characterization and setting flavor out in the last revision, so it’s a lot drier than I want it to be.  So I’ve got to put those back in.  And fix the last of the timeline problems.  So . . . it’s probably going to need another revision pass after this one, as much as I hate the idea.

If I work on absolutely nothing else (which won’t happen), I could have it ready to publish in about a year.  My current best estimate is that it will be out in 2020.  That’s six years after I finished the first draft, and five years after the first release date I proposed.

But it will be a much, much better book for the wait.

But I guess this means I’m disrespecting the one or two of you who were eagerly anticipating it.  I’m sorry I’m not charging you money for a shitty book, I guess.

Oh, right!  I was going to work into this rant an example of why revision can take so long!  Pretend there’s an intelligent sounding segue here:

I started writing No More Lies as a short story in 2011.  I switched it from third to first person and started over.  Then I started it over as a novel.  (Well, it was supposed to be a novella, but it didn’t get the memo.)  Throughout all of those attempts, and the first revision pass, the first paragraph barely changed.  I’d switched the pronouns when I switched it from third to first person, and I’d rephrased things slightly because I was getting a headache trying to figure out how to punctuate a sentence, but other than that, I hadn’t touched it.

Then I reread it after ignoring the story completely for months.

It wasn’t right.  There was no other way to put it.  That first paragraph that I’d loved so much, that I’d read over and over for six years, wasn’t right.  It didn’t sound like the narrator.  It sounded like would say it, not like Bobby would.  So I had to rewrite it.

This is how an author can expect to have a book ready to publish in one year and then end up revising it for nearly ten.  Something can seem perfect the first several times you read it, and then one day you realize it’s all fucking wrong.  Oh, maybe it’s technically perfect, but there’s a lot more to writing than technical skill.  Hell, many of the changes I’ve been making this year in No More Lies have been to make the narration less perfect because it fits the character better.  Even in third person, the narrator has a voice of their own and needs to be consistent, and that can be hard to manage.  (I remember a fantasy novel I once read that was mostly written in a very prosaic and down-to-earth style, then, wham, a beautifully poetic passage in the narration.  It pushed me out of the story because it was so jarringly different.  Someone should’ve caught that before it was published.  It was technically perfect — I’ve reread that passage a few times just because it’s so beautiful and well-written — but it didn’t fit at all with what was around it.)

Pretend there’s another clever segue here:

So, I’m doing Nanowrimo again, this time aiming for ten thousand more words than it takes to “win”.  Why?  Because fifty thousand has gotten too easy and I like a challenge.  Or because I’ve taken leave of my senses.  Jury’s out.

Halfway into the month, and I’m at 280 words over halfway to my goal.  Because I’m me and as allergic to working on one thing at a time as I am to having marketable story ideas, this word count is spread out over four stories.  One of these stories was inspired by a dream I had the morning before I started writing it, another is a reworking of something I wrote eleven years ago, one is something I started last Nanowrimo, and one is something I started last winter some time.

The one inspired by a dream I’ve written around five thousand words of and suspect it will be the first book of a series.  Which is just fucking wonderful when you revise as slowly as me.  I’m going to have to deal with some of the sort of “fans” I’ve been ranting about if it gets popular at all.  Yippee!

The reworking of the old thing is about ten times it’s previous length at almost nine thousand words.  I used to have a tendency for my stories to sound more like summaries than stories, you see.  I’m stuck because I got to a point I’d been picturing for years and suddenly realized it wouldn’t work with the way Sweytzian society has developed as I’ve worked out more about the setting.  Fuck.

The one I started last Nanowrimo is over thirty thousand words long, and I’ve just gotten to the second month of a story that takes place over two years!  I’m a little worried I’m going to end up with something Game of Thrones’ length here.  But I’m having a lot of fun with it because the narrator is possibly more sarcastic than me.  (Okay, more like she says in the narration the sort of stuff I think but don’t say because I’m a coward, and she’s a Kavaliro so is possibly genetically missing the whole “fear response” thing.)

And the last one I’m twenty-nine thousand words into and need to read back over and make notes so I can make sure I get all the subplots I’ve introduced tied up — or at least left open in a dramatically interesting and potentially sequel hook-y way.  I think it’s almost done, though.

And then there’s the three stories I’ve been meaning to work on this month but haven’t gotten to yet . . .

Oh, and the secret project I alluded to a few times last year — not the one I couldn’t discuss, that one was cancelled by the publisher because of internal problems they were having, the one I was just saying I wasn’t ready to talk about — has been delayed because I’ve spent so much time this year writing instead of revising.  I, at this moment, expect it to happen next spring or summer.


* His name is Smokey, and he and technical problems are the main reasons this is my first post in a long time.  It’s hard to blog when you’re trying to get a kitten to stop biting your laptop.  And when said laptop decides the OS is corrupt after the power goes out in the middle of an update.
** I’m pretty sure that sentence could be phrased better, but I’ve already been working on this for over an hour due to kitten distractions — his toy went under a door twice — and my computer locking up, so it’s the best I can manage.  This kind of supports my point about mental energy, come to think of it.


I’ve Done It!

Posted by Shannon Haddock on June 9, 2017 in Crown of Eldrete, Writing process |

The Crown of Eldrete is, so far as I can tell, now removed from all ebook markets.  The print edition still exists because it’s more tricky than just clicking a button or two to remove a print edition from Amazon/Createspace, but since as far as I can tell Mom is the only person who ever bought any print copies, I don’t give a damn.  If you really want to order a copy of a book that is no longer canon . . . thanks for the money, I guess?

It’s weird.  I remember how excited I was to finish writing this book and how excited I was to publish it, but I don’t regret unpublishing it at all.  This isn’t — though I had to convince a little, obnoxious voice in my head of this — because it only ever got one positive review and that was from someone who seemed to have not read it closely . . . the review implied it was straight up fantasy instead of me repurposing fantasy tropes in a space opera setting.  It’s mostly because the last two times I’ve tried to reread the book, I’ve not been able to finish it.

I admit, it’s not uncommon for me to read things I wrote in the past — even things I loved and thought were near-perfect at the time — and dislike them.  But this went far beyond dislike.  I couldn’t finish reading something I fucking wrote!

Hell, I couldn’t finish something that was around 20,000 words!  That, regardless of who wrote it, is astounding.  I read roughly 700 words a minute on average.  I’ll put up with a lot of annoying shit for half an hour’s worth of reading.  And I couldn’t finish this book.

Now, part of that is that my perception of how some things in the bigger picture of Universal Nexus should work has changed since I wrote it.  But if that were the only problem, eh, I’d just let it be and if called on it by fans someday make reference to “alternate legs of the Trousers of Time” or something equally geeky.  So clearly there was more than that.

I’ve written a whole rambly post or two (Do I ever write any other kind?) about why I released it in such a relatively unedited state and what I would do if I were to rewrite it, so I won’t go over that again.  Besides, ultimately, the problem with it . . . the reason it’s no longer for sale . . . the reason I couldn’t finish reading it the last two times I tried . . . is very simply this:  It wasn’t a book I wrote for me.

Now, I know there is a school of thought among authors and wannabe authors that goes, roughly, that you shouldn’t write for yourself if you ever want to make money at all, that you should write what the market wants.  And I’m not going to argue with that.  If your goal is to make money.

My goal isn’t.

Now, a lot of people seem to see the alternative to writing for money as writing to illuminate deep shit about the human condition.  In case my phrasing didn’t clue you in, I don’t go for that much either.  If you get something deep out of my work, cool.  I mean, I’ve gotten deep truths about life out of fucking books about a certain scimitar wielding, lavender eyed, drow.  I think a person finds universal messages where their ready to see them for the most part.  But, if you get anything deep out of my work, it’s not because I deliberately put it there, that’s for damned sure.

All I want, is to write something like the stuff I like to read.  Maybe that’s selfish and short-sighted.  Fucked if I care.  Ray Bradbury said “You write to please yourself.  You write for the joy of writing.”  Last I checked, he wasn’t some obscure author nobody ever read.  Pretty sure I can find a Louis L’Amour quote saying pretty much the same thing, and he sure as hell isn’t obscure.

The Crown of Eldrete though . . . I started writing it because I had a cool idea.  This is not a bad thing; it’s the only reason I ever start writing anything.  Somewhere along the way, though, I started adding stuff because I felt like they were elements a story was supposed to have.  It’s more plot-driven than anything else I’ve ever written (yet it got reviews that said it had no plot, go figure), and it has bits that . . . I wanted to have character depth and growth and all of that stuff that you’re supposed to have, and I shoved it in where it didn’t really fit.

Yes, my concept for Lyndsey has for a long time been that she has a constant conflict between being an adrenaline junky and wanting to live long enough to see her kids grow up . . . but that’s not something I should’ve resolved in a couple of scenes.  Because, well, constant.  This was supposed to be the first book of a series.  She should’ve been struggling with this throughout.  And — since Universal Nexus is a setting, not just one series of books — maybe it shouldn’t have been resolved at all yet.  (In the rpg version of the setting, which is the same as the written one in broad strokes but varies in details, this problem was eventually resolved by her quitting the Daggers, after some deep soul searching and painful conversations with people she trusts to give her good advice, and becoming a martial arts instructor and competitor.  I think that’s a much more interesting character arc than what happened in Crown, personally.  I’ve got a rough draft of part of that story written.  Maybe I’ll finish it someday.)

Likewise, with regards to the plot . . . I don’t really understand how you do plots.  I’ve tried finding things to help with this.  This, actually, is how my “collecting bad writing advice” hobby started, in fact . . . there are so fucking many things that assume the only two types of plots are the motherfucking Heroes’ Journey and formulaic romance novel.  I can’t find anything that would help someone write the kind of story I enjoy, I’ve discovered.

Earlier today, while trying to write a description of the story formerly known as Jake Becomes Mithoska for a secret project, I finally realized just, exactly, what kind of story it is I’m writing.

I’m writing, when I just write the way that comes to me naturally and don’t give a damn about what anyone else is going to think of my style or any of that crap, a fictionalized memoir.  The first few lines, as they’re presently written, of the chronologically first Jake story establish that it’s a story he’s telling his grandkids and great-grandkids.  The earliest versions of Universal Nexus stories, the ones I wrote years and years ago back when bits of it were still using names from the properties it all started as crossover fanfic of, frequently used the idea that these were stories being told to other people.  I abandoned that at some point for reasons that I’m sure made perfectly good sense at the time.

But I’m going to un-abandon that.  I write in first person for a variety of reasons, some of which are, admittedly, to cover flaws in the technical side of my writing, but mostly it’s because when I’m writing I’m not thinking “what should happen next to advance the action/increase tension/whatever else it is I’m supposed to be worrying about”, I’m thinking “and then what happened?”  And, to me, that kind of approach lends itself to a meandering first person story.  (Not as meandering as my blogposts, I feel the need to stress . . . at least not after editing.)

I guess the simplest way to put it is, I’m not interested in telling you how Lyndsey and her distant cousin Taliza and a handful or rebels and Daggers got the titular crown back, honestly.  If I were to ever rewrite the story — this is still just as big an “if” as the first time I mentioned it, ages ago — it would be Lyndsey telling the tale of what happened to her during the Dagger mission where she met her distant cousin and they got this crown back and found her great-great-grandfather’s sword.  Because Lyndsey is Lyndsey, there would be fight scenes, there would be the bits with Vik bitching at her . . . though those would be completely rewritten so she called him out on his hypocrisy, but there would also be completely new bits that are recounting a fun game of kista with her friends during a bit of downtime, bits that show who she is — not in a “This scene increases the readers’ understanding of the character” kind of way, but in a “This feels like an amusing/fascinating/whatevering is appropriate story told by someone” way.

Lyndsey’s not a writer.  She’s just someone who loves talking about her adventures.  So that’s what a story about her should feel like.  It should have all the bits she’d tell people about, not just the bits that are relevant to the plot arc and character arc and all that other stuff.  Because that’s how I prefer to write:  I’m just kicking back and letting the people in my head tell a story to me.

And then I’m cleaning it up a bit so it makes sense to other people too.

(And that sounds a little bit crazy, but, eh, I don’t give a fuck.  I’m probably not completely sane — I mean aside from the anxiety and OCD, even.  I’m not sure anyone who is a good writer . . . by which I mean good storyteller, not necessarily someone who’s good at the whole technical side of writing thing . . . is.  Like I’ve said before, no sane person would go “I’m going to dedicate my life to a career that is pretty much guaranteed to mean perpetual poverty!”.)

(And, yeah, I wandered all over the place in this post.  I had coffee with lunch.  It wasn’t decaf.  Blame it if there’s any bit that really seems to come out of nowhere.)



What I’ve Read Since The Last Time I Did A Post Like This

Posted by Shannon Haddock on June 5, 2017 in Uncategorized |

For a few years I was making grand plans to get stuff I’d wanted to read for ages and not gotten around to read.  The end result of these plans was that I pretty much wasn’t reading anything, because I’d be trying to read those books when I didn’t really feel like it, and I wouldn’t let myself start reading something else until I’d finished those or given up on them because I’d decided they were too horrible to finish.

I abandoned this in favor of a system of reading whatever the fuck I felt like a year or so ago.  Then I started making nearly weekly trips to the local library last summer.  So, I’ve found lots of books in the past year that aren’t things I’d ever known existed.  And been reminded of things I’ve wanted to read for ages but forgotten even existed.

And then we moved last month and there were built-in shelves in the bedroom and I ended up unpacking some books I hadn’t seen in over a decade.

This list is just the books I’ve read since last June (links are to Goodreads):

And the books I’m currently reading:

(Yes, I’m only reading five books at once right now!  I’m amazed too!)

Now, like I said, that’s just the books.  That’s not counting having read an entire webcomic (Digger, by the amazingly talented Ursula Vernon) in one day recently.  Or my on-going project to read every single Marvel issue of GI Joe . . . which was going very fast until I hit the point where they started coming out with dumb shit like the Eco-Warriors, and even Larry Hama can’t do much with ideas like that.  Or the day I spent reading blogposts about medieval book bindings.  Or the day I spent learning about inaccuracies in the historical costumes in movies.  Or the days I’ve spent reading articles about politics.  Or all the book samples I’ve read.  Or . . . do you get the idea now why I consider it fucking stupid that some people only look at lists of books read for a year to calculate how much people are reading?

Now, why did I make this post?  Because I saw someone the other day — and this is something I’ve seen frequently before from authors and, perhaps especially, from wannabe authors — talking about how they don’t have time to read for fun any more because they’ve got all this reading to do for research for their next planned work and to keep up with their genre.

I can’t wrap my head around that mentality.  First of all, if you don’t enjoy what you’re researching, then why the fuck are you writing a story that involves whatever it is you’re researching?!  If you aren’t interested in something, then don’t write a story where it’s a major thing.  This is simple logic, people!

Second, why do you have to keep up with your genre?  Yes, I’ve been reading more sci-fi than I usually do the past year, but, well, look at the publication dates of those books.  I’m not reading anything new.  I’m reading stuff that interests me.

Why did I read what I’ve read?  Let’s see:

  • Caught my eye in the library:  2
  • Recommended by my wife:  2
  • Liked other stuff by the author:  14
  • Re-reading a book I knew I liked:  2
  • Fucked if I can remember:  1
  • Saw the movie and wanted to read the book:  2
  • Saw some quotes from it and wanted to read the whole thing:  2
  • Wanted to finish the series because I liked the plot even if the style left a bit to be desired:  2
  • Trying to figure out why other people love it so much:  2

Unpacking “Liked other stuff by the author” to see how I discovered those authors in the first place:

  • Sydney Taylor – I don’t remember if Mom suggested I read All-of-a-Kind Family or just left it laying around after one time when she read it and I read it.  At any rate, it’s Mom’s fault I discovered her.
  • J. K. Rowling – Saw the first Harry Potter movie, decided to check out the books.
  • Mike Resnick – This one is actually a kind of amusing story.  I’d gotten him mixed up with someone else and started reading one of his short stories as a “prove to myself that I’m not the worst writer in the industry” thing.  (Look, it’s a weird way to deal with anxiety inflicted inferiority issues, but it works, okay?)  Instead, I ended up loving the story and wanting more like it.
  • Louis L’Amour – My mother and grandfather read him a lot, so I grew up with his books around.  I never finished one until a few years ago, though, for whatever reason.
  • P. G. Wodehouse – Several of my favorite authors cited him as one of their favorites, so I had to try him out.
  • Seanan McGuire – Someone linked to a blogpost where she described a character as the child of Batman and Dazzler.
  • Dana Stabenow – Again, I don’t know if Mom recommended her or just left one of her Kate Shugak books laying around and I picked it up.

Oh, and I’ve got Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes reserved at the library right now.  Why?  Because this is possibly the longest I’ve gone in years without reading fantasy and I’m missing it, and this book’s negative reviews say that it’s “too D&D like” and “not dark enough”, which makes it sound perfect for my tastes.

So, in short, I’m not reading anything because I think I should be or because it’s directly helpful for something I’m writing.

That is not, however, to say that these books won’t have an influence on what I’m writing.  I’m mimicking, somewhat, the structure of All-of-a-Kind Family for the first Jake book (now tentatively titled Jareth’s Son) because I think it’s a good way to introduce a young reader to a different culture.  Some of the books listed about have shown me what not to do in various ways . . . one never let the characters catch a break, another was great until the last chapter which left me so depressed that I’m not sure I’m going to read the sequel, one had a romantic twist at the end that I saw coming about a quarter of the way into the book, etc.  And some have had a direct influence . . . I got character ideas that have blossomed into at least the starts of stories from two of the Mike Resnick books, for instance.

And I’m going to end this post here because I just realized I’ve been up six hours and only had a handful of chips to eat, which explains why I’m having trouble thinking clearly.  Sorry if this got too hard to follow.


Well, at least I have a backup . . . sort of

Posted by Shannon Haddock on May 18, 2017 in Uncategorized |

In late March, Time Machine quit working properly.  It was an easy thing to fix, something I’ve fixed at least twice before . . . basically my computer couldn’t write to the Time Machine drive and it would’ve taken about five to fifteen minutes to fix.

But, you see, it would’ve involved rebooting, and I discovered it while I was in the middle of something.  Then I kept forgetting about it until I was in the middle of something, until it’d been so long since it’d made a backup that I didn’t feel like fixing it and letting it because it slows the computer down some while it runs.  And the cat likes to unplug the external drive Time Machine is on so I needed to do it sometime when I could sit here and keep her away from the motherfucking cord.

And then we moved and I had more important things to do than get this sorted out.  And then in the course of a week my iPod Touch got stuck in a rebooting loop and I broke the screen on my phone, so I decided it was probably best if I didn’t try to fix anything more technologically advanced than a pencil for a while.  (This was, possibly, a good decision.  I apparently had so angered the gods of technology that a fucking ball point pen, with plenty of ink and a good tip, suddenly wouldn’t write when I tried to use it!)

And then my hard drive corrupted.  This, honestly, shouldn’t have surprised me.  I’d been losing hard drive space mysteriously for some time, my Spotlight index was needing rebuilt every other time I rebooted, and a few days before I’d gotten a notification that an app was corrupted, and then had that app work perfectly without doing anything.  So something was clearly very wrong.

So, one day my computer is acting . . . well, like a six-year-old computer with a nearly full hard drive that’s been on for over a week.  Nothing unusual, really, just very slow.  So slow it’s basically locking up about once an hour, but not quite.  Then, right as I’m thinking “I should probably reboot and do that kind of reboot that clears the caches,” it does lock up.

Upon rebooting, it starts installing an update.  Okay, it’d been pestering me about there being one to install for awhile, but I hadn’t gotten around to it.  No big deal.

It gets partway through and turns off.


I try again and again and again.  Same thing.  I try the cache and other stuffs fixing reboot thingy.  No luck.  I google for likely problems and solutions.  It’s suggested that I boot to Recovery Mode and try to verify the disk.

I do so.  It can’t be fully verified.  I try Repair Disk.  It can’t be fully repaired.  A message appears on my screen informing me that the hard drive needs reformatted.

Fuck me.  This was on May 10th.  It turned out that the last Time Machine backup was on March 23rd!

I have — because I always expected something like this to happen, and because she likes to read stuff I’ve written — been in the habit of sending my wife what I’ve written every day for a long while.  So while I’ve lost everything else for the past month and a half, I at least have everything I’ve written.

I just have to go through emails and copy it back into documents I can work with.


And please don’t suggest I use any sort of cloud storage instead.  My last experiment with that did result in some stuff getting irretrievably lost.  No clue why.  The file looks like it’s there, but trying to open it just gets an error message.  I can’t afford that happening to stuff I’m writing.  And there’s no way in hell I could backup my whole computer to the cloud . . . I’d like to, just to have an offsite backup, but we’ve got satellite internet, so that’s definitely not happening any time soon.


Amusing Comments To Myself In First Drafts

Posted by Shannon Haddock on April 14, 2017 in Writing process |

If something is going seriously wrong in a rough draft, my process is to type a comment to myself in all caps and then try that bit again.  Usually the comment is just “NO” or “NOT QUITE RIGHT” or something equally boring. Or “FUCKING HELL” with varying numbers of exclamation marks.  Sometimes though, they get amusing.  Here are some of my favorites:



(After my next attempt at that paragraph)  AND NOW LET’S TRY NOT BEING BORING

(I love the rhyming here.  I swear it wasn’t deliberate.)  FUCKING HELL, SHOW DON’T TELL?  DO THESE WORDS RING A FUCKING BELL?





(Half a line later)  OH, I GOT IT NOW!

(Half a paragraph later)  NO, I DON’T GOT IT.

(One line later.  A line that was just me ranting at myself, for that matter.)  OKAY, NOW I’M STARTING THE STORY FOR REAL.


(Two and a half words later)  NO, THAT IS A VERY BAD PLACE TO START.

AND THAT PARAGRAPH SAYS “I READ BABYSITTERS’ CLUB BOOKS AT AN IMPRESSIONABLE AGE.”  UGH.  FIRST DRAFT, LETTING IT STAND.  (Jaye, you haven’t seen the one that prompted this or the ones that started with “WHAT THE HELL AM I EVEN TRYING TO DO HERE?”  I ended up with, at most, a few useable paragraphs.)

(I just love that I typed this at myself in bolded, italicized capitals.)  QUIT BEING DUMB.




I Have Learned To Write

Posted by Shannon Haddock on March 24, 2017 in Rants, Writing process |


So, after years and years of perusing writing blogs and forums, I have finally learned how to write.

First, I must keep an inspiration board filled with images that I think might, someday, inspire me to write something or to create a character or whatever.  I also need to have a special notebook that I carry with me at all times to write sudden ideas in — with a special pen designated for this purpose.

Second, I must read nothing but “how to write” books . . . except when I’m reading whatever the best-sellers in my genre are to know what’s currently popular.

Then, when I finally get an actual idea . . . or decide to do Nanowrimo because someone I know is, whichever . . . I must make a special inspiration board just for pictures relevant to this story.  Then I have to get another special notebook just to put my worldbuilding stuff in . . . or I can use Scrivener.  To worldbuild, I need to answer questions found on worksheets about worldbuilding so I don’t forget anything.  This is how all the real authors do it.  The sites promoting these worksheets say so!

After I’m done worldbuilding, I’ve got to get another special notebook . . . or I can use notecards, or, again, Scrivener . . . and answer all sorts of questions about every single character that might appear in the story, no matter how minor.  It is vitally important that I know things like what clique the character was in in high school.  Even if they’re fifty.  And on a world that didn’t have high schools.

Next, as far as I understand things, is when I should’ve started a writing blog, where I cover such pressing, little talked about topics like “how I create characters” and “my favorite writing books”.  This is very important to establish early on so I can build my brand which will help me land a publishing deal.

Then it’s time for more worksheets, these about the plot.  For some reason I’m supposed to use ones designed for writing movies.  I think this is so I’m more likely to get a movie deal after my book is published because my book will be so easy to convert to a movie script.  Or I’m supposed to use confusing ones that use the word scene in a way completely differently than any other English speaking person . . . though I’m really not sure how anyone uses those without taking the expensive classes telling you what all the specialized terminology means.

Once I’ve gotten my plot all worked out, it’s time to turn it into an outline!  It is absolutely crucial that I have a detailed outline.  No serious author ever writes anything without one.

Then I finally get to write!

Writing, despite what some people say, isn’t as simple as putting your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keyboard and writing one word after the other until you can’t do any more that day.  No.  Before I start each writing session — which needs to be at the same time every day so this becomes a habit — I must light my special writing candle, put on my special fingerless gloves so my hands will stay warm, get my special writing snack, and make sure I have my reward close to hand for reaching my goal for the day.  It’s also utterly essential that I write the same number of words every single day . . . even if someone close to me died that day or I have pneumonia or appendicitis.  If I miss one day, I’m likely to never, ever write again!


And I’ve run out of momentum, or I’d continue this through revising and submitting. I really don’t get people making writing this goddamned complicated!  But, then again, I’m the person who realized she wasn’t a Wiccan because the whole doing rituals thing just seemed like way too much goddamn work.

My method, for those just tuning in:

Suddenly have random snippet of scene in head, sometimes — but by no means always — prompted by something I’ve heard or read.

Try to ignore it because I always have way too many works-in-progress already.

Keep getting revised versions of it in my head while I’m trying to do other things.

When I feel like there’s a page of stuff knocking about up there, type it.  I’ve learned that if I can get a page, odds are I’ll get at least 2000 words before I need to stop and really think, but if I’ve got less than a page, then that’s likely all I’ll ever have.

Characters and worldbuilding are done on the fly, interrupting my writing to do research if necessary.  It’s usually not . . . or at least not serious research, more like five minutes of googling sort of stuff.  I’ve got years and years of reading everything I can get my hands on to draw from.  I’m the only person (as far as I know) to ever beat my grandfather at Trivial Pursuit.  This pretty much means I’m one of the best in the world in knowing random shit.  (Okay, so I only won because my final question was about The Hobbit, and Grandpa couldn’t roll the right number to land in the middle, but still . . .)

Also I GMed for years for a pair of players who had such a knack for wrecking my carefully crafted plans that my house rules for two different systems include a standardized reward for outwitting me and/or the module.  I had to learn to make shit up on the spur of the moment.  This is case where practice makes perfect, for sure, because I used to have to retcon lots of stuff for the sake of keeping the feeling of a setting intact, but that’s not nearly as often the case any more.

I have issues with the “you must write every single day!” advice that is the closest thing to holy writ modern writing culture has.  That’s probably a whole post on its own, honestly.  One I may have already made, come to think of it.  Does anyone recall whether I ever did a post on how fucking ableist that advice is?  (And, yes, I really did see someone say that even if someone close to you died, you still have to write that day!  And on the day of the funeral.)

Anyway, because I’ve discovered it’s the best for both my writing and my mental health, I only write three or four days a week, usually.  Or try to.  Lately I’m only hitting one or two . . . always the same ones I totally ignore social media and the news.  I think there might be a connection there . . .

I do seem to have started writing at about the same time on the days I do write, but that’s not a planned thing.  It’s also the time I play Pokémon on days I do that, so I think it’s more that it’s just a few hours that are great for doing stuff that I’m going to lose track of time while doing.

I don’t do a set number of words per day, nor amount of hours, but, again, a norm has developed.  Usually I write for two hours and get about 3500 words.  I quit when my brain and/or fingers are starting to rebel too much.

As for what I read . . . here’s the last ten books I read (according to Goodreads.  I think there’s a book or two missing.):

  • Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire — a paranormal romance/urban fantasy
  • The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse — an Edwardian comedy of manners
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin — the best “soft” science fiction novel I’ve ever read
  • The three Miss Peregrine’s Children books by Ransom Riggs — YA fantasy
  • Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin — a writing advice/exercise book
  • The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer — a memoir
  • Reilly’s Luck by Louis L’Amour — a Western
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott — one of the best books ever written, uhm, I mean, a Victorian girl’s novel/YA classic.


Oh, hey!  There’s a writing book on there!  It’s one of two I’ve read in the past year, both because they were interesting, not because I was trying to improve my craft or whatever . . . though I will be doing some of the exercises in that one at some point for that purpose because they look like they might actually be useful for fixing some of my weaknesses.

Out of that list, the books that have the most influence on stuff I’m currently working on are the Wodehouse and the L’Amour, despite both being pretty goddamned far from my genre.

I don’t know what I’m “supposed” to be doing in a space opera right now.  All I know is that I can’t get into much space opera these days, so I’m not interested in doing whatever it is they’re doing.  I’m doing my thing; they can keep doing theirs.

Anyway, this got rambly.  I don’t know why I mention that since my posts almost always do.  It’s 3am, so maybe I should go to bed.


Character Interview: Jake

Posted by Shannon Haddock on March 22, 2017 in Jake Becomes Mithoska |

On that list of blogposts — and recommended all over the damned place for all kinds of reasons — is character interviews.  So, because I’m enough over this cold from hell to manage snarky quips, but not enough to manage actual fiction or blog writing, I’m going to interview Jake.

Please do tell me if this manages to make you interested in the book.  I can sort of see how that might work, but I really, really don’t get how these thingies are supposed to be helpful before I write.

Questions stolen from here.

This is Jake circa Jake Becomes Mithoska, because it’s what was on my mind.

What is your age?

Forty-one, almost forty-two.

Do you have any siblings?


Are your parents alive?  Are they married?  Are they divorced?

Nope.  Momma died when I was little more than a baby; Daddy died when I was about ten.

If you were sent to a deserted island, what three things would you take?

Why have I been sent to a deserted island?  A deserted island on what planet?  This is really weird question.  Is this one of those psychological things that’s supposed to give you some sort of insight into how my mind works?  Well, guess I’ll answer it anyway:  my wife, my youngest kid cuz she ain’t old enough to be on her own yet, and my ship . . . which means I won’t be stuck on that island for long.

Do you have a hidden talent?

My wife will hit me if I answer that the way I want to.

Do you have a habit you wish you could break?


What features do you like the most about yourself?

My hair gets lot of attention from ladies, so I guess it.

What features do you dislike the most about yourself?

Does my temper count as a feature?  It’s gotten me in a shitton of trouble in my life.

Do you have a hobby?

If you were to ask my wife, she’d say annoying her.

Come to think of it, if you asked my closest friend, she’d say annoying her too.  Huh.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

If I felt guilty about it, I wouldn’t be doing it.

What kind of music do you like?

I’m not that picky.  Not technophonic.  ((Technophonic is what happens if you combine the worst of techno, disco, and electronica.))

What is your biggest pet peeve?

People wasting my fucking time.

And incompetence.

What is your favorite food?

Pretty much anything my wife cooks.

Do you have a passion and, if so, what?

You really want me to get hit by my wife, don’t you?

Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?

Never really thought about it.  Extrovert, I guess.

What is your idea of a perfect day?

I’m serious:  my wife is gonna hit me if I answer some of these questions in public.

Who is your favorite author?

Don’t really have one.

What would be the first thing on your bucket list?

I don’t understand the concept.  You never know when you’re gonna die, so it makes more sense to me to make the most of each moment instead of having some goddamned list you’re trying to complete.

If I asked you to write an entry in your journal, what would it be about?

Nothing, because I wouldn’t do it.  I got too much going on to write a damned journal entry.

Tell me something no one else knows about you.

If no one else knows it, then what the fuck makes you think I’m gonna tell you?


Well, that was sort of fun.  Anyone really, really looking forward to reading the book now?  I certainly didn’t get any new insights into the character.

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