Friday, September 28, 2012

Technology Updates

I’m getting a little tired of major technology updates that either I cannot use because my equipment is out-of-date as a result of the update's release or updates that change the world but don’t quite work as advertised.

For both of these situations I have one piece of advice to the technology companies everywhere: slow down. Do we really need all the stuff being thrown at us? Is the quality of my life greatly improved by any of the new features offered by any technology company in the US today? I’m thinking, no, not really. And the effort to keep up in terms of time is enormous. Frankly, my time is at a premium. I need to spend it writing, revising, or promoting a story.

And when I’m not writing, I have a house, two dogs, a wife, a car, and several other personal projects/hobbies to tend to. Who has time to learn about new features or change a workflow that they know well?

In fact, even through I’ve spent a lifetime learning and keeping up with personal and computer technology – it was one of my hobbies – I’m about to bail on it because I’ve got other things to do. Even now, the operating system on my computer is two versions out-of-date because the unit needs more memory and I’m not about to crack the case to change that. I’ll probably buy a new computer next year if I have the money. If not, I’ll solider on as well as I can.

And I’m probably in a minority here but I’d like to see one major update a year instead of several. One. That’s then I have a whole year to get used to it before the world changes all over again. I doubt that will happen. But I can dream.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rough Draft

It was pointed out to me that many blog posts of mine have grammatical errors.

Okay, sorry about that. I know I complain about self-published work being of poor quality for just this reason so it may appear to be double standard but lets keep in mind one important fact.

These posts are essentially rough drafts -- stream of consciousness if you will -- because I barely have time to compose them never mind proofing and polishing. And yes, there will be sentence fragments. That's part of good creative writing. If that offends or bothers you, that's unfortunate. That said, I have gone back to clean up the last several months of posts and I will be taking steps to improve the quality of new posts.

But errors will skip by. I hope you will forgive and understand.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Few Writing Lessons

The whole experience of getting my novel accepted by a publisher has left me thinking about it and what I would do differently if I could.  Here are a few of my items that have bubbled up to me:

Lesson 1:  If I had to do this over again, I would not do it.  Writing a novel of a professional quality is hard work.  Much harder than I thought and not for anyone who is easily frustrated.  Writing of this type requires that you write and revise until the words you've removed all the wordiness and convey your meaning.  As the same time, there needs to be a cadence to the words and flow through the story.  The plot has to make has and the characters need to be real -- or nearly so.  Talk about dancing on the head of pin.

Of course now that I've started my series I'm going to complete it but I expect some amount of pain as I cobble together six or seven more books.

Lesson 2:  Listen you the feedback you receive.  Very often it is right and tells you what your next step is.
I received all kinds of feedback on the various drafts of my novel and all of it was right and help me figure out what I had to do to fix the story so it could be published.  Now that said, sometimes a comment isn't exactly right but has a kernel of truth to it.  For example, one comment I've gotten is the characters are flat; I disagree.  I am just taking my time revealing each of the main characters.  I've seen this done by well-established writers and I am doing the same thing.  Okay, I'm not Robert Jordan by I can use one or two of his techniques.

Lesson 3:  Check your ego at the door when receiving feedback.  The comments are not about you, they are about the work.  And anything that prevents a story from being its best needs to be attended to.  I learned that lesson back in college bur you'd be surprise how often I have to stop and force myself to pay attention to it.

Lesson 4:  Trust your instincts, they are often correct.  And when they are not, the feedback you receive will let you know what sort of adjustment you need to make.  I don't know how many times I've received feedback that justified some original idea of mine, which I ignored in the current draft.  When that happens, I stop and listen to myself.  The story is almost always better for it.

That's enough for now.  If other lessons become clear to me as my book makes its way through the publishing process, I'll be sure to post again on this topic.

Keep writing, everyone.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Looking Ahead

The second set of revisions went back to the publisher this week, much delayed because of the flu-turned-sinus infection that I'm fighting. So now I wait to hear back from them about the next step, which I don't even know what that is. It might be the book trailer or the cover or both.

In the meantime I should turn some attention back to Book 2 and the short stories I've been writing. I was planning to collect and self-publish these so I'd have more than just my novel to show when Book 1 launches next year.  But I've lost interest in that. Plus several of my stories are tied up in contests that I entered. I have to wait until January to do anything with them.

I'm continuing to write other stories but the time it takes for a story to marinate -- which is Richard-speak for put a story away for awhile so I can look at it with fresh eyes -- means that anything I do now probably won't be ready in time for the book launch.

But I'm finding that I have little interest in Book 2 at the moment. The reason for that may be that the middle of the novel isn't as good as the start. Or I may just need a break from all the writing I've been doing. This year I put final touches on Book 1 and then reviewed it twice, I've wrote half a dozen short stories and at least as many poems, and revised about half of Book 2. That's a lot of work.

At the same time, I can see holes in my process. I still need reviewers to provide feedback. I may have found a way to do that, but it is too soon to tell and I don't know the quality of the review. Additionally, I can only use this new workflow for short stories.  My novels, if they are to be published by my publisher, will have to go to them to review.

I am also trying to get involved more in forums and to make my presence known. I've no interest in that at all and I'm going very slowly. But I am told this will help when my book launches. We'll see.

And so I wait and write and do what I can while I feel spent and a little bored. It's the being bored part that bothers me. I've worked very hard to get to this point; I shouldn't be bored.

Maybe I'll shift gears and go clean out the junk out of the back room. That might clean out the cobwebs from my mind too.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Picking a Genre

So you have this idea for a genre or you've written a story and are ready to sell it.  Now what?

Well, you need to know what genre the story belongs in.  Why? Because knowing which genre a story belongs to can help you sell it because publishers (and readers) use these classifications to make some assumptions about the story. For example, in a science fiction story I can expect to see alien races or plausible future speculated. Depending on the type of science fiction, the writer may adhere to science facts as much as possible with only a slight deviation, such as faster-than-light spaceships, or they may use many of the accepted conventions in the genre to create a story that is both interesting and enjoyable.

Orson Scott Card makes are great point in his book on writing speculative fiction that genres are more for bookseller and publisher and less for you.  Nevertheless, you should have a rough idea which genre best describes your story if only so you can identify your audience (always a good starting point when writing anything). And knowing the genre helps me to know what conventions I can alter. For example, if the audience is expecting aliens maybe I write a first contact story.  Or if they expect faster-than-light spaceships, maybe I restrict the technology to star gates only.

I'd love to give you a list of genres but alas they are subjective and I have not found one that is inclusive enough to satisfy me. Suffice to say that fantasy, horror, science fiction, romance, historical fiction, and mystery are the main categories, although I'm sure others would amend and modify this list.

But here's the good news, unless you are trying to write serious literature that will stand the test of time like Joyce or Faulkner or Hemingway, your story will probably fall into one of the genres I listed. And generally speaking, you will not have to explicitly pick a genre. Your story will do that for you.

But here's the bad news, sub-genres make the whole process of determining a genre a little like order coffee at Starbucks.  In my case, for example, is my fantasy novel, an epic or traditional or swords and sorcery or something else?  It is clearly not contemporary or urban fantasy, but it could be light fantasy depending on how you define these terms.

Personally, I think of my novel as an epic fantasy because it will span eight books and the result changes the world in which the characters live. In that sense it is no different that many of the epic fantasy novels I've read. Frankly, so long as you know the main class your story belongs in you should be okay. Don't worry about the sub-genres unless you are submitting a short story to a magazine.  And then look for the magazine to define their terms.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Unexpected Consequences

In college, I was an English major with a concentration in writing.  By concentration, the college meant that I took more elective English course in writing than in anything else.  I did that so I could spend much of my time writing.

My hope was to get a good portion of a novel written, which I did by that work has never seen the light of day and probably won't.  It is very silly.

After graduation, I focused on the only type of writing that I could be paid for: technical and instructional writing. Getting a job in the field took some doing but I succeeded (having a Masters degree helped) and some years later I decided to try my hand at creative fiction again.

That experiment didn't work so well.  It was too hard to keep the rules for technical and creative writing separate.  So I abandoned the project.

A few more years went by and slowly I acquired the skills to do both.  So by day I could be the mild-mannered writer of help and instructions and by night the masked avenging novelist.

Now let's skip ahead to early in 2012 when my publisher awarded me a publishing contract. That had been my goal for years and one in which I thought was unattainable.  But with that hurdle crossed, sometimes else happened.  I discovered I really wanted to write creative fiction full time.

That really took me by surprise.  I thought I had this dual life thing well defined.  Guess not.  Problem is I can't give up the job that pays for my house, gives me medical insurance, and allows me to live at my current lifestyle, not unless I'm prepared to make some drastic changes and probably suffer through a divorce too because my wife will not be happy if I were to go that way.

In short, I've painted myself into a very small corner, one without much wiggle room.  My only hope is my forthcoming novel sells well -- and by that I means sales in the thousands of books per month.

I'm not expecting that.

So what will I do?  Make some changes in both my creative writing schedule and my regular work schedule so I can cope and keep everything in balance.  It wouldn't be easy, but then nothing about this whole process has been, why should this be any different?

Monday, September 10, 2012


One skill a writer needs to learn is how to be objective.  Objectivity is important so you can describe the world and make seem real or true.  This is true even when you story is from a distorted point of view because if I don't believe the events a plausible I lose interest and read something else.

Exercises for being objective are straightforward.  For example, find a spot where you can observe something and describe it. If you take public transportation, you can practice this on the bus or subway. Observe the people around you; describe them in a few words.

Or go further, give them fictional backgrounds based on what you see and observe about them. This one is a little more interesting and requires a little deductive reasoning along with observation.

So the man in the corner of the subway train who is always reading his Kindle seems to lead an ordered life.  His ID badge to a local hospital shows his shows is quite busy and his 15 minutes on the train reading is probably the only peaceful he has.

This man follows a deeply set routine, probably because his job is very fluid or because his job requires he follows a strict set of procedures, possibly both.

He dresses well and since his hair is going gray, I assume he has done his job for many years and his acquired some wealth as a result.

He sits in the corner away from everyone else so he is not disturbed while reading.

I have no idea if he is married or divorced but he is a very orderly man.

That's a quick sketch of one person from the subway train is sometimes ride in the morning. It gives you an idea of the man and is enough to round out if I want use him in a story.  I still need to describe his mannerism, his appearance, and so on.  I need to give him a name and set him somewhere plausible so that as a character in a story, he is believable.

That's no small task because such an orderly man probably doesn't lead a very interesting life, at least from the perspective of telling a story.  There's probably no action or drama in his life, which means no story. Oh I can probably think of something to change that but I have to be careful because too much drama and I change who this character is.  Not enough and I bore the reader.

So observe, describe, and be objective about world and everything around you.  And above all, keep writing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Being a Nail

Some of you are no doubt familiar with this line from an old folk song, "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail."  And that would be my preference too.  But just now, I seem to be the nail. It has been one thing after another for months and I've lost track of when it started but I've had nothing but bad luck and have been a victim of circumstance for a long time now.

Some highlights include:

  • Unexpected repairs to the house as a result of a bad winter
  • My dog gets lyme disease and dies
  • My other dog gets a cancerous tumor and must have surgery
  • My wife and I both get sick, requiring antibiotics

And the only bright spot in all this has been my novel being accepted by my publisher.  But given my streak of luck maybe that was bad luck too.  Maybe the book will not sell.

I keeping hoping that I'm about to turn a corner but that hasn't happened yet and I'm not sure that it will.

Life is hard and people suffer -- much worse that I have -- and the only reason for the suffering seems to be to remind everyone that we need to be compassionate toward each other.

That's hard to do when misfortunate and bad luck are only a few steps behind you. Compassion, like so many other things, requires having money more often than not.  And I, for one, don't have nickel to spare because all this bad luck has cost me thousands of dollars to deal with.

But I'm going to dust myself off and keep going and hope -- pray -- that life is done treating me like a nail.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Seem To Be Repeating Myself

Over the last few weeks -- while recovering from the ailment that keep me in bed for over a week -- I had time to review my blog posts to date.  And it seems clear to me that I've been repeating myself, at least on a few topics like revising stories and getting started.  Prior to finding an editor, the subject of publishing was a frequent matter of discussion too.

I suppose this is to be expected since the blog is not a well thought out comprehensive book on writing.  It is far more a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing.  Which is not to say I don't give thought to my blog posts.  I do.  But I don't remember them all and so I'm bound to repeat myself a few times.

But now that I am aware of what I've been doing I have avoid this pitfall in the future.  Besides, I have this feeling that the blog will be changing soon, focusing less on writing and revision and more on my experiences in the world of publishing.

For example, I'm expecting work on the book cover to start soon.  I want to share what I learn from that experience because I don't think any new writer entering the world of publishing has provided insight or observations about the process.  Maybe there's nothing to say.  And maybe there is but people are so busy they don't feeling it is important enough to share.

I am not going to try to decide what is important for the reader and what is not.  Since my audience is mixed and diverse, I think my best plan is to share new information and let you figure out what is meaningful and what is not.

But until that process starts, the blog will remain as it is.  I will try not to repeat myself but that's really hard since I've been blogging for over two years now and the list of unexplored topics is really short -- somewhere between 0 and 1.

Nevertheless I will do what I can and hope for the best.  In the meantime, I have the final edit on Aure, the Topaz to complete and I need to finish getting over this disease that stole my voice and still hasn't given it all back yet.