Come to My New Blog!

If you followed a link here from a comment I made on somebody's google blog, I would love to have you visit my blog, but this is no longer it. While I may occasionally post things here again once in a long while, virtually all my content will be at from here on out. If you were curious enough to come this far, why not give me one more click?

Friday, July 25, 2008

What the hell do I know?

I keep finding myself giving advice on writing, and I can't help but think that it's more than a little bit ludicrous. I'm not a published writer--talk about the blind leading the blind! And yet, I know so much more than I did a year ago. In Randy Ingermanson's terminology, I think I've gone from being a freshman to being a junior, and I can see how hopelessly clueless I used to be. I'm a little like a new religious convert now, and I just want to share some of what I've learned. Much of what I've learned I'd need a bigger soapbox for, though, and so I just give tidbits here and there. I've also come to realize that you aren't ready, at first, to learn everything. You can't get it all in one shot. Which is too bad.

Not everyone's path is the same, but I find myself looking at people who have done less writing and less research than I have and judging where they are in terms of my own progress, because it's the only ruler I have to go by. I try to give advice that would have been useful to me at that stage, and to withhold advice I would have found discouraging. My truths may not be other people's Truths, but they're all I have to go by.

One of my personal truths is that you're almost certainly not going to become an author if you kind of like to write and you write maybe three or four times a year. Write (virtually) every day gets to seeming like cliché advice, but actually, it doesn't go far enough. You have to become obsessed. The sort of person who would give advice despite having no credentials because you just can't get enough of this crap. Because when you're not writing, you're reading about writing, or thinking about writing, or planning to write, or dreaming about writing. My truth is that until writing consumes you, you're just a dilettante. My truth is that the differences between proficient prose and professional prose are so subtle that you're unlikely to pick up on them unless you're that obsessed. Another one of my personal truths that might be debilitating for other wannabes is that when you're in your teens or your twenties, there's a very good chance that you don't have the life experiences or reading background to make anything you write terribly compelling or original. Obviously there are plenty of younger authors who give the lie to this, but it's true for me. If you're like most of us, though, and not like, say, Christopher Paolini, then how on earth can you be expected to keep any sort of obsession with writing when you probably aren't producing anything salable?

You know, I probably can't do any harm by giving discouraging advice. I heard a lot of this before, and it just rolled off of my back because I wasn't at a stage where I could grasp the truth of it. For every "Write every day," I had a "Yeah, but." Screw that. Let the dishes pile up in the sink, stop watching television or playing video games, get less sleep, stop exercising, feed your family TV dinners, and write every freaking day. But until I started living it, it was just a platitude. Similarly, nuts and bolts advice about linking verbs and exposition and stuff like that was just stuff I heard but didn't absorb. Maybe we don't absorb lessons until we're ready for them. It's all just so much noise until then.

By day, I'm a teacher. Sharing information is in my nature; it's just what I do. So I expect I probably won't stop giving writing advice; hopefully it won't be too long before I have the credentials to back it up. Until then, hey, at least I know I'm faintly ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back from Readercon

My wife and I have been to FX, to several Star Trek/Xena/Star Wars cons, and to one writers' conference, but this was our first Con for readers of SF. What a rush! We met some people whose work we adore, got to hang out with some of our favorite authors, bothered a couple of editors, and met a lot of really cool people who are not "in the business" but simply love science fiction and fantasy, just like we do. Next up is Denvention in a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Finish Line

Aaaaand I'm finally done with my first draft!

My second draft should be finished soon, because I've been working through it only a few chapters behind my first. Then my third and fourth will take a bit more time.

I am ready to be channeling my writing energy in a different direction for a while.

In addition to revising like mad now, I have a short story idea I want to find time to work on.

Great All-Star Game Tonight. As with my novel, though, I'm ready for it to be over. ;)

I leave tomorrow for ReaderCon by way of New York. Yay Spirit Airlines! I'll also be taking in a Yankees game on Monday (IIRC), so I get to say my own goodbye to The Stadium.

You know, the difference in polish between my epilogue and my opening is staggering. God I hope I can bring the beginning up to the level of the end. I learned so much through the writing of this, my second novel. I think this one will be good enough by the time I'm done with it to be publishable, as opposed to my first novel, which shall never see the light of day. Even if it doesn't find a home, though, I've learned enough to make the process worthwhile. I can't wait to begin the next one. Okay, that's a lie. I can wait. But I do have a rough idea and I'm excited to begin the process again.

First, though, I've got to chop Vanishing Act down by 20,000 words or so. At least.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Now I don't feel so bad about being a harsh critter

Paul Cornell on writing:

SFX: What one tip would you give to a new writer, inspired to put pen to paper for the first time?
Paul Cornell:
"I've got one sentence that sums it up: 'it is your job to seek out harsh criticism of your work and change it as a result'. That, frankly, is hideously painful. But boxers don't get good by avoiding being hit. If an editor, or someone else, starts offering you criticism, listen, make notes,

I'm not immune from being wounded by crits or from trying to explain why the critter got it wrong; that's something I need to work on.

But when I crit for someone else I don't hold back, and sometimes I've felt that I've hurt someone who asked for a crit but really just wanted an affirmation. I really believe that I'm doing the best thing for a writer that I know how when I'm a harsh critter. To that end, I really like the boxing analogy.

(And yeah, I try to balance criticism with praise, to soften the blow. I'm not saying I don't. But in the end, praise is most useful as a pep pill to keep a person going. Criticism, though, is what's going to help any of us get better.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Has a Pitch

Many adolescents feel invisible, like nobody sees or notices them. But for fourteen-year-old Chris Westbrook, it’s literally true. Chris has the ability to blend in, to completely escape notice when he wants to. When his drifter father and his “Uncle” Danny, a petty con-man with delusions of grandeur, find out about his ability, they are only too happy to use Chris in their grifts. After Chris is forced to take part in one particularly nasty scam, he decides he must get free of the two men--but not before trying to beat them to one final score.

Vanishing Act, my completed 100,000 word Young Adult Modern Fantasy novel, is the story of Chris’s struggle to escape from an abusive life and find a real family--one rooted in love, not opportunism. It will appeal to readers of all ages who enjoy stories with a speculative fiction element about young people trying to take control of their own lives, such as those who enjoyed Steven Gould’s Jumper and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong.

In fifteen years as a teacher of students ranging from sixth grade to college freshmen, I have worked with nearly two thousand young people and developed a sense for what issues matter most to them, such as control of their lives, their bonds within their families and communities, and their sense of justice. I believe Vanishing Act addresses these themes in a way adolescents will find compelling.

I also has one more chapter, but I've got to run. I'll blog about it later.

Only the epilogue left to go!

EDIT: Fixed the formatting glitches. Dang Blogger's interface can be annoying at times.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ding-Dong the Warlock's Dead

The title of this post has nothing to do with my book . . . folks who know me IRL may get it, and that's all I have to say about that. ;)

One more chapter done! One more, plus epilogue, to go! Craploads of revision to follow! Exclamation points for all!!!!!1!

At some point, I need to post a list of all the things I've been putting off until my draft is done, so I can keep them straight. Most of them will have to take place more or less at the same time, so I'll need a place to remind myself.

Thursday I'm helping to facilitate a discussion (how's that for eduspeak?) about query letters even though I'm unpublished and know only what I read in books and online. I reckon I should have a draft of my own query, so I plan to spend tomorrow working on it. What the hell--I should post it here. Of course, I really really want to finish the damn thing before worrying about a query letter, so I desperately want to knock out the last chapter y todo tonight. That should be doable--the last few chapters have been so short. Not easy, because I wanted to pull off the climax right, but not really long either. I still feel like I have plenty of writing left in me today. Now that I've hit the climax, everything left is pretty much resolution, and I'm hoping that will be a lot easier to compose.

We'll see.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Too many pots on the stove

In the last week I've written chapter 22, begun chapter 23, and then been distracted. For some reason, I haven't felt like blogging. Oh yeah. Distracted.

Strange Horizon's submission window opened this week. I had this thought of subnmitting "War Crimes" just minutes after midnight Utah time, but it took me a couple days more than I expected to get it ready. First I had technical issues--my printer suddenly and inexplicably deciding not to work, until it had slept overnight, and then me losing my stylus--and then I had to work on chopping the story down to get under their maximum word count of 9,000. The printer . . . *sigh* It's a beautiful printer when it works. It's an OKI 3400, but it seems to have odd little connectivity glitches from time to time, that are a major pain to figure out. Even when I finally get it working, as often as not it's a mystery to me what finally did the trick. In this case, spending the night shut off seemed to get the printer going again. Maybe it perceived it as a warning. And then the stylus . . . a tablet PC's pretty useless without one! I spent an hour searching for it before it occurred to me to look in the pocket of the jeans I had taken off earlier.

Cutting "War Crimes" down has been eye-opening. I have put so much work into that story these past six months, and tightened it up quite a bit. I think I was so uncommonly pleased with the story when I first wrote it that I couldn't see the places where it needed to be improved. As I went through it this time, I found lots of places where I could tighten it up, remove redundant verbal diarrhea, and so on. I also found a lot of repetitive phrasing by using CTRL-F to count up how many times I used this or another specific phrase. That was eye-opening. And a bit disheartening: if it takes this much effort to clean up a short story I think is my best work, will I even be capable of tightening up my novel in the same way? I thought it would take an hour or two to get "War Crimes" ready to go out the door, and it took about three days. Hopefully the payoff will be worth it. But I don't know if I can give Vanishing Act anything like that close a reading.

Also, I haven't really gotten started looking for beta readers, but I worry that I'll get a lot of people who want to do me a favor but don't really have time to stick to the reading.

I'm debating taking a break from writing to try to read through as many of the Hugo nominees as I can, since votes are due in a couple of days. I wouldn't vote in a category in which I had not read all the contenders. No matter what, there will be categories I abstain in. On the other hand, I'm so close to the end and just twitching with every day that passes with me not finished. And even once I finish that first/second draft, there's so much I have to do before it's ready for anyone else's eyes.