Aug 05

Dumb Writing Exercises

At the library a while back I picked up a writing book purely because its cover was interesting.  (Highly scientific methodology for choosing what to read, I know.)  The book had an interview with GRRM that made clear the interviewer wasn’t paying attention to a damned thing the man said, some strange essays including one arguing that genre authors are less likely to have writer’s block than other authors because they aren’t concerned with making something great and meaningful (if anything, I’d say sf/f writers are MORE prone to it, probably because we’re such an over-analytical bunch.  Centipede’s dilemma, you know?), one campaigning for a return to infodumping because the world is what interests people in science fiction and fantasy (yes, you read that right), and lots of writing exercises.  (Oh, and lots of art, most too surreal for my tastes, but some was quite pretty.)

Now, I know some authors actually find things like this useful, but for me things like the following are utterly unhelpful in making me a better writer:

  • Write no more than 500 words about what’s going on in the picture
  • Taste something you never have before and describe it
  • Go to the grocery and note the five strongest smells and describe them without naming them
  • Write a scene from the point of view of a distant observer, then rewrite it purely in dialogue from the point of view of the participants, making sure not to contradict anything from the previous versions

They’re are, in fact, far from helpful.  Instead they force me to think in ways I find completely alien.

I can see how describing a picture could be helpful for the sort of weirdo who thinks infodumps are a good thing.  But I, unlike the apparent target audience of this book, care a hell of a lot more about the characters than the setting.  Yes, I admire good description.  I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating when I say I’d kill to be able to describe places half as vividly as Louis L’Amour, but that probably works better for people who don’t have such poor direction sense that they sometimes get lost in their own house.  It is really hard for me to describe places because my brain flat-out refuses to store things like what’s on the left and and what’s on the right.  Also, some of his best descriptions were of places he’d been.  I’m writing about alien worlds.  Obviously I haven’t seen them.  But!  L’Amour’s descriptions enhance the story, they don’t take you abruptly out of it by just being description, which is what I’ve always known infodumping to mean.

As for the exercises involving taste and smell, yes, I understand they can help things feel more immersive.  But, in real life, do you tend to note more than whether something tastes salty, bitter, sweet, etc., or whether it smells good or bad?  Probably not.  So why do I need to practice describing things in more detail than that?

What does Bilbo’s hobbit hole smell like?  What did the food he served the dwarves taste like?  If Tolkien said, which I don’t believe he did, it’s certainly not what’s stuck with me about that scene.  No, what I recall — even on those occasions when I let it be years between times I read The Hobbit — is what that scene looked like, how the characters acted, and the general feel of it.  Those are the qualities that make fiction immersive, not whether arbitrary sensory details are included or not.

As for the last exercise I mentioned . . . look, I frequently choose the wrong POV for a work, but even I know you shouldn’t just arbitrarily write a scene like it’s being observed from a distance.  There is very rarely a time when that’s the correct narrative choice.  And the second part . . . why?  Is this supposed to be one of those exercises demonstrating the correct way to do something by making you do it the incorrect way first?  I’ve always detested those.  (Possibly that was the intention of this exercise.  There were seven more things involving that scene, but I was too fed up with the book by then to keep reading and discover what they were.)   It strikes me as a waste of time to have to write bad versions first.  The length requirement was 1500 to 3000 words.  That’s, depending on the day and whether I’m writing by hand or on the computer, between one and eight hours worth of work per version.  For that much time and effort, I’d at least like to know what the purported purpose of the exercise is up front, you know?

I’m, in general, in case you somehow hadn’t gathered it from my other rants on this and related subjects, not a big believer in writing exercises.  Despite what my 11th grade English teacher wrote in the margins of my journal in response to a rhetorical question I’d written, you can’t force creativity.  It either happens or it doesn’t.

“But . . . but how do I improve without doing writing exercises carefully crafted to improve certain skills?!” I hear you asking.  Easy.  Read more.  Note how authors you like do whatever it is you suck at.  Maybe even, and I know that this is anathema to some people for some reason I can’t understand, accept that what makes a book great isn’t anything that can be taught.  Writing is an art, not a science . . . and even science should allow room for “this is probably crazy, but what if?”

Posted in Rants | Leave a comment
Jul 03

What I’ve Been Reading And How It Disproves Some Common Self-Pubbing Wisdom

(Damn, am I good at short and pithy titles or what?)

Long story short, I live in a place that is not exactly conducive to either reading or writing. To somewhat mitigate the negative effect this has on my sanity, I’ve been spending a couple of afternoons a week at the library.

Now, was my OCD still completely out of control, I have no doubt what I’d be doing is working my way through my over 1400 book long “to read” list on Goodreads.  Since my OCD is more-or-less managed right now though, instead I’ve been wandering pretty aimlessly through the library and reading whatever grabs my interest at the time.

So, here’s a list of books I’ve either read or at least read a significant portion of in the past few weeks (There’ve been others I’ve tossed aside after a chapter, usually non-fiction that was blatantly stupid or dry enough that the subject matter would have to be something I found very interesting for me to push past it to read the damned thing.)  (Goodreads links included, in case any of my readers may wish to find out more about any of these.):

Luke Skywalker Can’t Read:  And Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

Time Out For Happiness by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr.

End of the Drive by Louis L’Amour

Pioneer Girl:  The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pamela Smith Hill (Editor)

Unholy Business:  A True Tale of Faith, Greed, and Forgery in the Holy Land by Nina Burleigh

Various In Nomine rpg books because the above inspired an idea that is, alas, too easily resolved because of one sort of angel’s special power, so that was a waste of a couple of days.  I’m not linking to those because they’re tangential to this discussion because I already owned them.  If you’re a fan of quirky out-of-print rpgs, here’s a fun free sample adventure with enough of the rules to play it: (I should probably confess that I know the author and owe my ability to use commas properly to her, so I possibly don’t have an unbiased view of this adventure.)

Arlo, Alice, and Anglicans:  The Lives of a New England Church by Laura Lee

Sometimes the Magic Works:  Lessons From a Writing Life by Terry Brooks

And I get the feeling I’m forgetting something.

Now, according to surveys done by various people and organizations over the past several years, since the self-publishing boom started, the main thing that gets people to read books is them being recommended by a friend.

Zero of those books were recommended by a friend.  Three of the authors were ones I’d first read because of my mother . . . Gilbreth, Wilder, and L’Amour . . . but none of the specific books were.  And I long ago quit being one of those readers who automatically reads anything by a favorite author.  Being one of my favorite authors just means I’ll try to read anything by you; it doesn’t mean your book won’t end up back on the shelf after a chapter or two.

Another thing authors, especially the sort who think some degree of spamming their fanbase is acceptable, say is that studies have shown a person needs to hear about a book a certain number of times before they’ll read it.  (I have yet to see one actually link to said studies, so I doubt the veracity of this.)  I’d heard of three of those books before, but forgotten two of them existed until I was looking right at them and then recalled, “Oh, hey, that’s that thing I wanted to read!”  (The one by Gilbreth and the one by Brooks.)

So why did I choose those particular books?

The first one . . . look at the title.  Who could pass it up?  I was literally wandering around that time.

The second one . . . I was trying to remember why I was looking in biographies and saw that, knew that I loved two other books by Gilbreth, so I checked it out.

The L’Amour short story collection . . . okay, this one I was looking for the author.  Because I couldn’t find any good non-fiction on life as a cowboy and figured I could count on a L’Amour short story collection to have something useful and interesting.  (My L’Amour books are presently inaccessible.)  (I’m writing a space western version of the Little House books, basically.  Because it kept bubbling up while I was trying to write other things so I gave in.)

Pioneer Girl I was, as I said, looking for specifically.  I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard of it seven times or whatever the magic number is when I decided I wanted to read it though.  Pretty sure, in fact, that I signed up for the mailing list to find out when it was out the very first time I read that it was going to come out.  (And then missed that email because of an overzealous spam filter, so the first notice I saw about it being out was that the first printing had already sold out!)

Unholy Business . . . the title.  I forget what I was looking for; I might’ve been just wandering then too, but what made me pick up that particular book was the title.  And the cover and blurb.

The next book . . . this area has lots of interesting history so I was looking in the local history section and, well, it was a book that combined local history (some of the research the author did for the book was done at the very library I checked it out of, in fact) and a bit of a bio one of my favorite musicians.  Of course I had to read it!

The last one . . . I had been looking for a specific book but couldn’t find it, so I was wandering around and seeing what else caught my eye. I saw that book, recalled that I’d read a sample and liked it, and decided to read the rest.

So that’s seven books — more than that if you count the rpg books — that I’ve read, or at least read a good portion of, in the past three weeks.  None of them are in the genre I write which is, according to some authors, therefore the genre I should be reading . . . so I can keep up with trends and therefore be sure to write something that will sell.  None of them are books I decided to read after hearing about them several times.  None of them are books that someone I trust recommended to me.

Let’s look at some of my most favorite books, defining favorite as books I’ve read so much I’ve had to replace them or would have if they weren’t e-copies:

Imzadi, possibly the non-YA book I’ve read most — bought it because I was a hard core Trekkie when I was younger.  (These days my tastes have changed and I’m likely to lecture you about the superiority of Babylon 5 if Star Trek comes up.)

Little Town on the Prairie — Okay, Mom recommended the series, I chose this book first for some reason that I’m sure made perfectly good sense when I was . . . eight?  Nine?  Something like that.  I remember an excerpt from By the Shores of Silver Lake was in my fifth grade English book and I’d already read the whole series by then, so I was definitely younger than ten.

These Happy Golden Years — See above.  This and Imzadi are also the closest things to a romance I like.

Anne of Green Gables — I got it from somebody when I was too young to appreciate it, tried to read it again for some reason — possibly because it was there — when I was about ten, read most of the series in one day.  I remember this because I am too pale skinned to sit outside reading all day without there being consequences.  The sunburn was worth the enjoyment, though.

The Hobbit — I saw the Rankin-Bass cartoon and fell head-over-heels in love with Middle Earth.  Over two dozen years later, that love hasn’t decreased one bit.

Name of the Wind — I recount how I discovered this book here.

Discount Armageddon — I believe I’ve told this story before, but am a bit rushed so I won’t look for it right now.  In short:  I followed a link to a blogpost of the author’s where she described a character as the child of Batman and Dazzler.  So I downloaded the sample.  About five pages in, there was a bit of dialogue that could’ve come from one of my rpg sessions.  I decided I had to read the book because the author and I clearly were on the same wavelength.

Little Women — This, honestly, is the first book I ever remember hearing read to me.  I have no idea how young I was.  It was upstairs at my grandparents’ house is all I recall.  But I’m pretty sure the fact that I read my first copy so much that the front cover fell off, then the bit over the spine fell off too, to say nothing of the fact that I know the book so well that I can spot every word that’s different between my abridged and unabridged copies has nothing to do with that.  Reading it in the first place, sure.  Re-reading it again and again and again when I was old enough to actually grok it fully?  Pretty sure that’s got nothing to do with Mom reading it to me before I could read myself.

So, in short, I conclude that those surveys are stupid.  Possibly because most of them seem to focus on those weird people who only read one genre.  I am, as should be clear from my list of favorite books and books that I’ve read recently or am presently reading, not that sort of reader.  Neither are most of the readers I know.


Posted in InCryptid praise, Kingkiller Chronicles praise, Rants | Leave a comment
Jun 12

The Creative Process

Clean cut looking ship’s captain, looking at Jake critically:  How old are you, son?  Standard years, not local.

Jake, fourteen Earth years old, slightly shaggy shoulder length red hair:  Seven, give or take a bit.

First dude, looking a bit disappointed and shaking his head:  I’m sorry, but I can’t take you on.  You’re . . .

Jake:  Why not?!  I’ve been doin’ a man’s work for two or three Standard years already, for fuck’s sake!  I’m young, yeah, but I ain’t a kid.

The man again:  My boss sets the standard for my ship, sorry.  The charter won’t let me.

Jake nods, looking angry, and starts to walk off.  Stopped by gruffer looking captain, craggy features, unkempt long dark hair:  You said you been doing a man’s work for a couple of years already?

Jake:  Yes, sir.

Unkempt captain:  What kinda work?

Jake:  Ranch hand, mostly.  Bit of this and that to make more money from time to time.  I’m decent at speeder repair too.

Unkempt captain:  Ranch hand?  Good.  ~nods and smiles, very slightly~  I need a cattleman for this run.  You in?

Jake, thoughtfully:  Depends on how much it pays, I guess.


Jake, to Harlan, his boss . . . and the father of his girlfriend, a few hours later:  So, I guess this is it.

Harlan:  Looks that way.  Your dad would be proud of you, finally gettin’ off this rock.  Spirits know he always wanted to.

Jake, quietly:  I know.

Harlan:  You told Valerie yet?

Above, you have the rawest bit of my writing process I’ve ever shared.  You see, for me stories very, very rarely start with an idea.  Usually I’ve got some dialogue, maybe a bit of a setting around it, and generally it’s characters I already know from other stuff . . . I’ve been revising Jake’s Last Mission all week, so it’s not surprising he was on my mind.  Also, this . . . or rather the version of this that was going through my head at 8:50 this morning, but more on that later . . . like most of my “ideas”, was there suddenly in that weird period where you’re not quite awake but not quite asleep either.

I wake up with weird little bits of dialogue in my head lots of days.  I never bother with recording in any way most of them because they go no further, regardless of what I try to do with them.  This one though . . . I was trying to enjoy the scenery as we drove back from my wife’s book-signing today and this dialogue kept creeping back into my mind, with little revisions each time.  I couldn’t figure out what to do with it . . . both segments end abruptly and the next thing I know about Jake’s life (from something I worked out ages ago) is that he gets married over a year later, so I’ve got this little bit with nothing to do with it.  Yay.

Usually, I just let these things sit in my brain and percolate or get lost.  But, well, I was reading writing advice books (to make fun of . . . this really is a sickness, I think) and they kept going on about “how authors get ideas” and “here, step-by-step, is how to go from idea to final draft” and . . . it was all so motherfucking completely alien to how I do things! So, I decided to share how things work for me, at least at the beginning.

And a bit of what might, someday, be a story.  What’ll I do with this?  That depends.  This might be all there ever is.  Or I might someday have a lot more of what’s going on around it in my head, and then I’ll pour that out on paper/screen, and then revise the fuck out of it several times before I have something to publish.

As for what inspired this . . . who the fuck knows the direct inspiration?  I know parts of it: months ago I read an article about cattlemen on merchant ship’s and it occurred to me that it might have been a way for Jake to transition from ranch hand to spaceman, I’ve been listening to the Hamilton cast album pretty much non-stop for the last month or so and, well, listen to the first verse here and I’m pretty sure you’ll understand how it puts me in mind of a guy who went from orphaned ranch hand on a world in the galactic boonies to commander of a world several thousand light years away’s entire space fleet.  And, as I said, I’ve been working on the expansion of Jake’s Last Mission, so that doubled the amount Jake was on my mind.

In other news, the revision of No More Lies has hit a point where it’s equally divided between scenes I love so much that I can’t see errors in them even when they’re pointed out to me and scenes that I detest so much that I want to delete them and rewrite them completely.  So it’s sitting until I can approach it more rationally.

Jake’s Last Mission, Expanded which is still lacking a decent title obviously, is finished . . . for meanings of “finished” that ignore editing and revision and figuring out which of “Mugdaran” and “Mugdarran” is the one I meant to use (I’ve added both to spellcheck’s dictionary.  Oops!  And it turns out that previously published works use them an equal number of times.  Shit.)

None of my other stories are progressing at all, which is incredibly annoying.  I keep getting ideas for what to do about the Quinn/Renata story at very inopportune times — I can’t exactly sit down in the middle of the grocery store and write (well, I guess I could, but I’d look a bit crazier than I like to) — that won’t stay in my head long enough for me to get them down on paper for some reason.  Like I said, annoying.

Now, back to trying to convince my cat to push the curtain out of her way and get in the window like a normal cat instead of trying to scale the curtain to get to the window.  (She is very convinced that climbing over things always gets her to where she wants to be.  She tries to climb windows all the time to try to get to things outside.  She is a very strange little cat.)



Posted in Jake's Last Mission, Writing process | Leave a comment
Jun 02

Quotes From No More Lies That Amuse Me

I know some people interpret that “Kill your darlings” bit of author advice to mean you should ruthlessly delete every bit you really love, but I think that’s daft.  So these lines are almost definitely staying.  I also think that sharing these lines with no context can’t possibly hurt any potential future sales.  So, enjoy.:

Telling the woman you’ve only known for a less than a day that you know an author is describing how to lethally stab someone in the kidneys from experience is not a good idea.

Why did I have to go and get involved with a smart woman?

Sure, the kitchen sink and some other stuff folded out of the walls, there was barely room for two people, and the building looked like a good strong storm — which didn’t happen in that area of Kythin, thank the spirits — would take it down, but it was nowhere near bad enough to have communal bathrooms!

The last time a girlfriend had gotten that mad at me, I’d ended up dodging blaster bolts, so I tousled my hair, smiled my most charming smile, and said, “Sorry, babe.”

“Get back to your story before I have to kill your father,” Mom commanded.

“Based on the other tattoos I can see on your arms, I’d guess it says something like ‘sushi bar’.”

On the bright side, I thought, if she doesn’t believe you, at least she’s not going to dump you for lying to her.

It’s not that I’m anti-intellectual or anything, it’s just if I’m gonna have my face buried in a book, it’s going to be one full of fight scenes and death defying feats, not one full of numbers and science-y stuff.

To judge from Lance’s smile, he considered ‘oversexed space rat’ a compliment.

“If you’re really going to kill me, would you just get it over with and spare me the dramatics?”

“You may be a total dumbass, but you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

“Actually, I’m an adult and I’m actin’ like this, ergo, I’m actin’ like an adult.”

“I still owe you an attempted drowning from when we were twelve.”

“Now, you’ve spent your whole life saying I never notice when you do something right, so fucking let me compliment you, son!”

Our friendship was based on our mutual insulting in large part.

“These things are divinely delicious, and she punishes people for misbehaving by not letting them have any!

“I was mad, and I said something really fucking stupid that I didn’t really mean; it just kinda slipped out and now she’s furious with me and I’m one screw-up away from no cookies for the rest of the season . . . I already can’t have any more tonight, because I tried to sneak a whole plate of them away when my parents were already pissed at me for what I’d said to Ana! . . . and my life is utterly, totally miserable.”

Is he even trying to aim?!  I thought, disgusted by the lack of professionalism these Anerix assassins kept showing.

“I’m supposed to be helping Ginny keep Ria and Sarah out of trouble, so I need to go figure out where Ria is.”


Posted in No More Lies | Leave a comment
Mar 08

Finally free on Amazon!

Once A Hero Revised cover

At long last, my first published work, “Once A Hero, Always A Hero”, a short story about two retired badasses turned bar owners who are trying to complete a business deal and end up having to save a whole society, is free in Kindle format!

Click here to get it!

Posted in Once A Hero Always A Hero, Short stories | Leave a comment
Feb 28

In Defense of Non-Ordinary Characters

I’ve talked about this topic before, here, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot the past few weeks as I’ve binge watched several seasons of Doctor Who.  The Doctor is, according to a lot of the sort of people who frequent rpg and writing forums, exactly the kind of character no one enjoys any more . . . hypercompetent, too smart for the average person to identify with, too alien for real people to identify with . . . shit like that.

Yet the show is insanely popular.

This, plus re-reading the InCryptid novels in preparation for the next one coming out later this week — a series which has had more than one book make the NYT Bestseller List, if I recall correctly — have made me realize anew that the people saying what people don’t want in a character, what makes a character a “Mary Sue” by the modern definition (which is ludicrously far from the original definition) are full of shit.  People do want those things. They don’t.  They are a subset of people, a subset that’s got a big enough ego to think they’re speaking for everyone, a subset that also is not nearly as big as it thinks it is.

They also are a subset that I think scares far too many would-be creators out of doing what they really want to do.  Gods know they scared me out of it for years.  Universal Nexus started as a unholy massive crossover fanfic setting and got refined and rebooted a lot to become what it is today.  One of the things I focused on so goddamned much during the final reboot and, until recently, was worrying about when I made little refinements here and there, was making sure that no one was too powerful, too important.

A while back, I had a moment of panic when I realized that despite this, Jake had gone from just one of many decorated starship captains to the commander of the entire Sweytzian Fleet and the descendant of countless generations of warrior priests . . . specifically a family of them with a galaxy-wide reputation for two things:  1)  being excellent swordfighters, and 2)  lacking a sense of self-preservation, with rumors that they were bred or genetically engineered long ago to have these traits, especially the first.  Opinions differ on whether the second makes them better warriors or was an accident.

His eldest daughter . . . the female main character in the story currently called “Quinn’s Story” . . . went from just a mechanic and excellent swordswoman to a genius mechanic who’s revolutionizing maneuver drives, a kickass fighter pilot, and an excellent swordswoman.

Hell, Quinn himself went from someone whose whole character description was “walking Ruvellian stereotype — flamboyant, good with a sword and blaster, gambles a lot; looks a lot like Antonio Banderas” to the second son of a major Ruvellian noble, someone who is closely related to the queen of Ruvellia  — one of the major worlds of the setting, and a former professional gambler who was making quite a good living at it and gaining quite a bit of fame before he decided he wanted to do something more exciting with his life.

The major family in the setting went from “well off” to “each of their 30 kids will inherit at least a million upon the parents’ deaths, aside from that, I don’t actually know how much they’re worth.”  (The thirty kids, I must add before anyone criticizes it, come from various combinations of a total of eleven biological parents, and include some multiple births.)  It suddenly struck me that this made them less identifiable, more whatever-the-fuck-they-aren’t-supposed-to-be.

Then I realized, with some help from Jaye, that it doesn’t fucking matter.  They’re not Mary Sues except by the stupidest definition.  They are, alas, characters many reviewers aren’t going to like, because for some reason far too many of the people who review sf of any kind are the sort who subscribe to the belief that powerful characters are a terrible, horrible thing, that ordinary people . . . people “just like them” . . . are what every author should be writing about.

But they’re characters I, personally, like a lot more than I did when they were more ordinary people.  And I’m my target audience, not some unknown person on the internet who is a self-appointed expert on what everyone wants in their entertainment.

A series about Rose Tyler or Amy Pond where they never met the Doctor would’ve been boring as hell, in my opinion.  Yeah, there are people who say they like “true to life” stories like that.  But even those stories aren’t about ordinary people living ordinary lives most of the time.  They’re about when something interferes with that ordinary life.

Yeah, ordinary lives are what I wanted to show with Intertwined Lives and what I will, eventually, be touching on again in other works.  But not the ordinary lives of ordinary people.  Who the fuck wants to read about that?!  Sure, I’ve got a character who married into the major family who before that was just a humble coffee shop owner.  There’s no way in hell I’d use him as a viewpoint character before he met them.  That story would have chapters about such exciting things as “Going to church on Christmas” and “Hiring a new employee”.  Wheee!  I’d totally want to read that book!  Before he met Viktor, he’d exactly two interesting things happen in his life:  1)  emigrating from Earth, and 2)  his husband dying of a horrible internal fungal infection.  Those might be worth writing about.    But the first isn’t really that interesting without showing more of the surrounding political situation than could easily be done, and the second is too depressing for my tastes, so odds are I won’t ever bother.

I sometimes feel like the pressure to write characters people can identify with comes from people with no imagination.  I’m not, I hasten to add, talking about the people who say that meaning they want more characters that aren’t straight, cis, white men.  Those people have a very good point; they are just wording it differently than I would.  I’m talking about . . . well, a good example is someone from a conversation on a GURPS’ forum once who refused to play characters over a certain point level because he couldn’t identify with people who were that much more powerful than him.  This meant he could never play a game with superheroes, or archmages, or, hell, depending on where he drew the line exactly, possibly even realistic special forces characters.  I can’t wrap my head around this. Okay, some of this is admittedly probably because I sometimes think I was born the wrong species and was meant to be a stereotypical dwarf (not in an otherkin kind of way, just in a “they make so much more sense than modern humans!” way) so I’m, honestly, not really good at being an ordinary person.  Fuck, I’m not an ordinary person!  I’m a bisexual, Odin worshipping, democratic socialist with OCD and anxiety.  can’t identify with ordinary characters!  And I don’t expect to anyway.  I don’t want to read about me; I want to read about other people.

Posted in Rants | 2 Comments
Feb 15

Guess the genre of these stories

So, I recently read some writing advice about the importance of the first page — so roughly 200 to 250 words — in establishing “the writer’s contract with the reader”, i.e. telling the reader what the book is going to be about.

I, as shouldn’t surprise anyone by now, thought this was completely stupid.  I don’t know about you, but personally if I pick up a book in the sci-fi section, or the romance section, or whatever, I’ve already got a pretty good idea what to expect, regardless of what the first page is like.

Anyway, here are the first 200ish words of two of my works-in-progress.  Have fun figuring out the genre . . . sci-fi is a given, so try to figure out the secondary genre . . . action-adventure, romance, mystery, what?

The answer is down at the very bottom of the post.

Excerpt the first:

I took a deep, centering breath before walking into the High Chancellor’s office.  I was scared . . . no, I was fucking terrified . . . but there was no way I was going to let him see that.  Not today, not with the rumors I’d been hearing.  By the time I approached His High Assholeness’ desk, I was the very picture of a calm, collected, highly trained assassin.

“You wanted to see me, High Chancellor?” I asked.  He was expecting me to try something stupid, that was clear from the blaster he had casually laying in front of him.  He knew me too well.  I said a quick, silent prayer for patience and self-control.

“Yes.  I have a mission for you, a very straightforward one:  Arrange for Kenshin Kenodori to meet with an untimely demise.  Immediately.”  He didn’t yell the last word, that wasn’t his style, but it was a near thing.

“Kill Kenshin?” I said incredulously, calling on years of training to keep the worry and fear I was feeling out of my voice.  “What kind of joke is this?”

He smiled evilly.  “Oh, I think you know this is no joke.  You know exactly what he’s been doing, don’t you, taverlot?”

Excerpt the second (this one is from a pretty early draft, hence the bit in parenthesis):

I had just finished sending the last foe near me to the Spirits when I heard a terrible scream from the direction Renata had gone, chasing someone attempting to run from the battle.  I just knew that it was her who had screamed, not the ((enemy)).

I numbly climbed the overturned troop transport and found my dearest friend stumbling, her hand clutching her side, blood flowing freely between her fingers.  The bastard who’d stabbed her was growing smaller in the distance, running faster than any Human ever could have.

Don’t let her die like this! I pleaded with the Spirits as I jumped off and ran to her.  I forced myself to stay calm.  That was surprisingly easy to do.  Years as a Dagger have somewhat inured me to seeing people I care about mortally wounded.  “Let me help,” I said, gently, as I eased her to the ground.

She was growing paler by the piclanid.  I applied pressure to the wound on her side with one hand while keying my comm with the other.  “Ren needs a medevac, now.  Here are our coordinates.”










They’re both romances.  Either I’m a total failure as an author, or that advice is particularly stupid even by the standards of writing advice.


Posted in Rants | Leave a comment
Feb 02

Is This Seriously What Readers Care About?!

I found an blogpost full of blogpost suggestions for authors that are not only supposed to improve your novel (some in ways that seemed to me to be quite a stretch — like the writer of the post came up with the subject line and then had to make the content fit any which way she could), but also supposed to help engage with readers and make them want the book.

Some of them were logical enough . . . sharing excerpts and short stories, for instance, but some . . . do you really want to know about the research I did on stab wounds to the lung to write the Quinn and Renata thing?  Is that really going to help you decide whether or not to buy the book when it’s out?  Is anyone really going to go “Wow, she really knows her shit when it comes to what happens when you’re stabbed in the lung; I’ve got to buy her romance novel where that happens to someone!”?

I’m pretty sure the answer is no.  Please tell me if I’m wrong.  I did do a lot of research on it, so if it really would help sell the book to blog about what I learned, I guess I could.

This, I suspect, is one of those bits of advice that works much better for certain genres than others.  If I was writing something that involved researching, I don’t know, Greek Christmas celebrations or something, maybe it could actually be interesting to share with my readers.  But I write space opera.  Space opera which will — to hopefully avoid more reviews like I keep getting complaining that it’s not hard sci-fi enough — contain the disclaimer at the beginning that “Scientific realism is tied up in the corner wishing it could remember the safe word.”  So I don’t research science-y stuff.  Research tends to be of the “Okay, so what’s the longest they could survive that without medical treatment?” variety.  Or the “I know what the British coronation ceremony is like, but what are others like?”  (The answer to that one could have been an interesting blogpost, I admit . . . if most of the info I found hadn’t been so poorly written that I couldn’t make sense out of it.)

This blogpost, like the last one I ranted about, also said that readers want to read posts about ordinary days-in-the-life of writers.  I seriously doubt that.  I very, very seriously doubt that.  On the off chance you do, here is my day so far today:  I got up around 10, played some games on my iPod while I had tea, had the battery go dead midgame because I’d forgotten to charge it last night, ate leftover pizza for lunch, had a brief rpg session that was in the middle of something so it would make no sense to anyone who wasn’t there for the beginning so I’m not about to try to explain it, opened Pinterest and couldn’t remember why, got annoyed at seeing atrocious grammar in writing advice so often and considered blogging about that, found this blogpost I’ve been ranting about, tried making a blogpost about one thing it said all by itself but that ended up way too short so I’m writing this one instead.  Later, I’ll be making a grocery list and then going to the store.  I assume dinner will be on the agenda for this evening too.  If this makes you want to read any of my books or more interested in me as a person, please explain how.  Oh, somewhere in there I had a brief nosebleed too.  Does that make the day more interesting?  It certainly made it more uncomfortable.

Hmmm . . . I was curious how they’d made a “day-in-the-life” post interesting, so I clicked their example of one of their own.  It wasn’t a day in the life.  It was pictures of and quotes from a book she was reading, along with stuff about how beautiful or whatever they were.  I guess I could do that.  I haven’t been reading much lately, but I could share my favorite Doctor Who quotes from episodes I’ve watched recently, along with screenshots.  Except I think Tumblr is probably a far better medium for that sort of fannish geekery than my professional blog.  This might be one of those things that works a lot better if you’re into more literary/highbrow stuff.

Another suggestion is to take inspiring quotations from your work and make wallpapers and such of them to offer your readers for free.  I, uh, don’t produce much that has much in the way of inspiring quotations.  Humorous quotations, sure.  Inspiring?  I’ll leave that for the people who aren’t writing about a ninja/spy/assassin with a knack for pissing off his girlfriend.  Lots of snarky quotations in No More Lies, but offhand I can think of only one line that might be sort of inspiring, and it’s so generic that I’m sure someone else has said it better.  Pretty sure this is another one that only applies to certain types of stories.

What about my favorite writing tools and programs?  Does anybody really care about that?    I mean, it’s interesting to learn that George R. R. Martin uses an ancient DOS word processor still, but he’s mentioned it in passing, not devoted a whole blogpost to it, you know?  I assume there’s a reason for that.  That reason being that nobody gives a fuck!  (Except the people who are somehow convinced that if he switched to more modern software he’d somehow write faster.  I really am beginning to think Scrivener sends out mind control waves because it’s always it that people are suggesting in conversations like that.)  Will you be more likely to read my books if you know that this is my most favoritest pencil in the whole universe?  Is that really the sort of thing anybody gives a damn about?

Or maybe I could blog about the themes of my novel!  That’d take whole seconds.  If there are any, it’s not intentional.  There.  That’s that whole post!  Is this a lit class or an author’s blog?  Does anyone really come to an author’s blog for a discussion of the themes of a novel?!

Or about what my purpose is in writing a novel!  That one is two whole words!  To entertain.  There.  That’s it!

In further thinking about it, I’m coming to the conclusion that the real problem isn’t the suggestions in that blogpost, so much as it is the author of said post assuming the advice she was giving was universal when it clearly is not.  If you’re writing some literary thingy, full of themes, and meanings, and you’ve got a purpose beyond entertainment, then maybe the kind of reader you want to attract will care about that kind of stuff.  If you’re writing something set in the real world, maybe you can share recipes and other stuff the characters make . . . another of her suggestions.

I’m not though.  I’m writing things full of spaceships that go whoosh, smart ass protagonists, alien/Human crossbreeds (within reason), sword and fist fights, damn near a whole cast that fails some Mary Sue tests spectacularly, and other stuff like that.  I’m writing good old-fashioned pulpy space opera, in other words.  (With modern sociopolitical sensibilities, though, because I’m me.)  This does not lead itself to deep discussion of things like themes, nor to fascinating posts on things I’ve learned, nor to me penning inspirational quotes to share.


And when I think about it, none of the author blogs I follow at all do I follow because of what they tell me about any previous or upcoming books.  Nor because of anything they have to say about the craft of writing.  Hell, one of the authors whose blog I follow recently wrote a post that was specifically writing advice type stuff, and I saw the first line, rolled my eyes, and didn’t read the rest!  This has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not I’ll buy her next book, amazingly.  I follow one author’s blog despite thinking his books are incredibly overrated!  Why do I follow his blog then?  Because he has interesting opinions on things like politics and various things going on in fandom . . . and regularly posts kitten pictures.  (And probably every sci-fi fan reading this knows who I’m talking about now.)

I really don’t think the relationship between blog readership and book readership for any given author is all that high.  Maybe for GRRM, since a lot of people seem to be reading his blog under the weird notion that he’ll announce the next book there first.  But for most of us?  No.  People read blogs for all kinds of reasons.  Some of you reading this may have no interest in my books.  That’s cool.  I hope I’m entertaining you anyway.  I hope you’ll at least give my stuff a try . . . the stories are free, after all.  All you have to lose is time and a tiny bit of hard drive space.  But I’m very rarely writing a blogpost to try to convince you to read my books.

Why, then, am I blogging?  Often, to be bluntly honest, because Jaye’s sick of listening to me rant about something so I’m ranting to a broader audience.  Or because I have an opinion and the written word is how I express myself best and, hey, I might as well share what I wrote with people.  I have no grand scheme.  Blogging isn’t part of some overall marketing strategy of mine.  Hell, I can’t even write a book with an eye on the marketplace; I sure as fuck am not even going to try when writing a blogpost!

Besides, if readers really care about the shit like these articles keep saying they do . . . then I’m screwed anyway.  Because I don’t want to write about this shit any more than I’d be interested in reading it.

Posted in Rants | Leave a comment
Jan 06

An Experiment’s Results and an Announcement

Several months ago, I made all my works free everywhere I could as a special offer.  I left them free in a couple, without advertising this, since then.

I have sold exactly zero copies of anything for money since then.

I have gotten several downloads of each title in the places where they were free.  Please do recall that I didn’t advertise this special offer, aside from mentioning in the blogpost where I announced the sale back in August that I frequently forgot to change the price back to full in one location.

So, from this I have concluded that people do want my stories; they just don’t want to pay for them.  Or can’t.  I’m fine with this.  I know as a self-published author I’m supposed to go on some long-winded rant about people wanting content for free and don’t they understand how much the author slaved over it and . . . I can’t.  I’ve too often waited for books I wanted to be free or at least significantly reduced before I bought them.  Hypocrisy is a sin I try to avoid.

A couple of years ago, I participated in a discussion on another author’s blog where someone proposed that authors publish on a continuum between two reasons:  1) to reach other people, and 2) to make money.  The person who said this is so far on the side of “to make money” that she feels guilty about having spent the past several months writing fanfiction instead of things she can charge for.  I’m about as far as you can get on the other side.  Yeah, money’s nice.  I could certainly use more of it . . . who can’t in the shape the economy’s in right now?  But I’m not writing for it.  I could never make another cent off of my writing and I wouldn’t stop doing it.

In fact, I’ll be perfectly honest here:  I’ve made, as far as I can recall, 45 cents off of my writing this year . . . maybe as much as $2, I can’t recall the exact dates of some sales and don’t care enough to check.  I haven’t even earned enough for a mocha.  Is that doing a damned thing to stop me from writing?

Fuck no.  I’d write the stuff anyway.  I don’t write for money; I don’t write for fame.  I write because I can’t not write.  Suggesting I quit writing is like suggesting I quit breathing.

I’m not, by the way, denigrating anyone who does write . . . or do any art of any kind, for that matter . . .primarily for money.  You guys confuse the hell out of me, but whatever.  You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.  Just don’t try to tell me that by making my stuff free I’m hurting your sales.  Because that’s fucking stupid, and I have no patience for stupidity.

Anyway, people are downloading my stuff when they don’t have to pay for it.  That’s cool.  Yeah, I know the statistic thrown around to show why free downloads don’t count as sales:  Only one out of ever three hundred free downloads is ever actually read.  Here’s the thing: I’ve never seen an explanation for that statistic.  Have I downloaded free stuff I’ve never read?  Yeah, sure.  Who hasn’t seen an interesting ebook that was free and grabbed it and then had life happen and forgotten all about it?  But what’s the key word there?  Interesting.  I’ve read that there are people who just download every free book that exists with no intention to read them, ever.  There might very well be . . . “some people juggle geese,” after all.  But I sincerely doubt that that’s a significant portion of people who download any given book.  (In fact, based on the sales, regardless of price, versus number of reviews of the books by a romance author of my acquaintance, I suspect the one out of three hundred thing is more accurately the number of people who review the book, not read it.)  Even if the downloaders don’t read it, it at least caught their attention long enough for them to download it.  Since, as far as I can tell, most sci-fi readers don’t tend to review books without incentive — unless they really hate them or really love them — that’s the only statistic I can know.

So, as of a couple of hours ago, all of my presently available ebooks are free everywhere I can make them so.

(Did I emphasize that enough?  I can probably make it bigger . . .)

Does this mean that everything I write from here on will be free?  Again, fuck no.  First of all, Talman and Narecen and the related short stories are being written for The Ed Greenwood Group, so their pricing will be out of my control, which I’m fine with since I’m playing in somebody else’s sandbox.  (I can’t give more information on that right now because I can’t tell from the way the website is laid out what’s stuff anyone can see and what only people who are writing/illustrating/etc. for the company can see, and I wouldn’t want to give a link that doesn’t work for everyone.  New website is supposed to be up later this month.)  Second, as I’ve said, I could use more money.  People are more willing to buy novels than short stories.  No More Lies will not be free.  But anything under novel length . . . using the Hugo definition of 40,000 words and up?  Those will be free.

Print versions are also not free.  But since I can easily account for every physical copy I’ve sold, I doubt that really matters.

Now, obnoxiously, I can’t make the ebooks free everywhere.  A self-published author can’t set their work to free on Amazon without it being a Kindle exclusive, and I refuse to do that.  Why?  Because only about 60% of ebook sales are through Kindle.  Cutting myself off from 40% of the market is bloody stupid.  (I, by the way, am in the 40% I’d be cutting myself off from.  I buy from Kindle only when I can’t get a book any other way.  I have more reasons, but mostly it’s an aesthetic thing.  I prefer the font choices and stuff like that in other apps better.)  Anyone can, however, report that something is free elsewhere and maybe, maybe if Amazon gets enough reports they’ll make the book free.  I’ve been waiting over a year for them to change the price of “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” though, so I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen.  I also can’t change things to free on Nook, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to report that it’s free elsewhere.  So, sorry if you’re someone who only purchases books from one of those.  (If you purchase from Amazon because the only format you can use is theirs, has my stuff — except “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” for some reason I can’t recall, but am pretty sure is “because I forgot to upload it” — in .mobi too, and they’re free there.)

Also, please remember that this is just my works I’m making this the policy for.  I have no control over what Stolen Time or any future works by anyone other than me cost.  I can make suggestions, but other people have different philosophies and priorities than me.

Posted in Crown of Eldrete, Jake's Last Mission, Once A Hero Always A Hero | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment
Jan 04

Announcing a new project

Cover of "These Happy Golden Years (Littl...

Cover of These Happy Golden Years (Little House)

In a lot of ways, it’s become increasingly evident to me over the years that my love of books didn’t follow the same trajectory as most of my fellow sf/f authors.  When they recount the first books they fell in love with, almost without exception they’re sf/f novels.  With authors of a certain age, it’s almost guaranteed to be a Heinlein juvie; I wouldn’t be surprised at all if in a few years almost every new sf/f author says it was the Harry Potter books.  With authors around my age, it’s more varied, but it’s still always the same genre they write in.

That’s not the case with me.  The first book series I fell in love with . . . well, the very first was the Berenstain Bears, so let’s go with first novel series instead . . . was the Little House books.  I’m well aware of all the “issues” with them, thank you.  Yes, they’re racist.  Yes, they’re sexist.  Oh, wait, no . . .they accurately represent what people in that place and time thought, you dumbasses!  For the most part.  Some of the Native American dialogue is very cringe-worthy, but, the books were written in the 1930s.  They’re fair for their day.  (And, yes, that is a valid defense of a “problematic” work.)  They commit the terrible, horrible sin of . . . brace for this . . . not having a plot!  

Yes, I’ve read the dumbass things about how the books are about showing how the Ingalls survived.  That’s people trying way, way too motherfucking hard to make the books be something they’re not.  Especially when people say that about Little House in the Big Woods and These Happy Golden Years.  (I’m also aware of the people who see them as being about things like “Good Christian values” and “how wonderful life was when more people thought like libertarians” and shit like that.  These people are also reading way too fucking much into them.)  (I also have a parentheses overuse problem.)

What are they?  Slice-of-life.  A record of life as it was decades before she wrote them . . . not quite historically accurate, as surviving letters between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter show changes were made to make them more exciting/flow better/all that other sort of editorial stuff necessary so that slice-of-life stories don’t become “and then we spent six months doing absolutely nothing interesting” . . . but still, in broad strokes, they tell how things were, as the very first line says, “Once upon a time, sixty years ago . . .”  (140ish years ago now, but they’ve never changed the beginning.)

I frequently think that this series, Little Women, and the Anne series being my childhood favorites has a lot to do with why I don’t write the same kind of stories most of my fellow sf/f authors do.  When they were internalizing the idea that novels were about plot and technology/magic, I was internalizing the idea that novels were about people.

Sometimes those people have cool adventures, but sometimes they’re just living their life.

“What do these people do when they’re not saving the day?” has been something I’ve wanted to show in Universal Nexus fiction for a long time, because of these influences no doubt.  I tried last year with Intertwined Lives, but that experiment was a failure for many reasons, which I won’t enumerate here.  The premise though, showing what goes on in a space opera setting when there aren’t evil empires to overthrow and princes to rescue and all of that, wasn’t a bad one.  Combine this with me recently re-reading the Little House books, and an idea I had about two years ago that I cast aside as unworkable bubbled up in my mind again.

Jake, of Jake’s Last Mission

, has a life that leads itself to a Little House inspired series.  He starts out the son of a widowed ranch hand struggling to keep food on the table and ends up a military officer on a world that, even with ships capable of going over a thousand light years per day, is two weeks away.  I worked it out the other day and the story of his early life even breaks down readily into the same number of books as the Little House series, coincidentally.

So, there’s a new project for me:  Little House in Universal Nexus.  (Obviously this is not the final title.)

I have some issues to work out before I can get started, alas.  I’m not sure I can write from the pov of a young child, and I think it’s been pretty well established by now that I write much better in first person, so that’s an issue.  I might ignore how neatly it could be made to parallel the Little House series and start the series in Jake’s adolescence.  Or I might write the first few books from the pov of his father and switch to Jake when he’s older.  Or I might write a series of books like this about some other character completely.  Who knows at this point?

Posted in Writing process | Tagged , | Leave a comment