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April 2012



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Apr. 8th, 2012


Shameless Plug

Though it seems a bit . . . incestuous? . . . to be putting a link for a blog post in a blog post, I'm doing it anyway.  Hope this passes the internet censors!

In March, I did a guest post on my friend Tinney's historical research blog about how I use historical research for writing science fiction and fantasy.  Her blog is absolutely fascinating (and often hilariously funny), so you should all go read it.  My blog post is at http://historicalfictionresearch.blogspot.com/2012/03/another-perspective-on-research-guest.html

Apr. 1st, 2012


It's NaPoWriMo Time!

Hmmmm.  I fell off the face of the Earth, so far as LiveJournal is concerned.  Probably because I got a rather horrendous cold just as March began.  In March, the local writers' group to which I belong decided to hold a novel-writing challenge similar to NaNoWriMo, because many of our members couldn't do it in November.  I was going to finish the novel I wrote (and nearly finished) for NaNoWriMo.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed to write the novel that came before that one.  So I started that novel for our challenge, which we called CaNoWriMo.

CaNoWriMo got what I considered a rocky start for me, as I had the above-mentioned cold, and then a different virus piggy-backed itself onto the end, so I was miserable for nearly three weeks.  I slogged through my required word count (I just used the 1667 words per day, even though March has 31 days and November only 30).  I reached the "this novel is crap" feeling somewhere in the first 20,000 words, and the slogging became even slower.

Then two things happened.  I had a conceptual breakthrough, and got over the virus so I wasn't trying to think through glue.

Every night as I went to bed, I took my notebook in and sat up for--well, as long as it took--and brainstormed about the next day's writing.  I wrote down stuff I had forgotten to put in the text as I wrote.  I figured out lists of plot points.  I decided where chapters should end.  I realized that I had been treating NaNoWriMo (and thus CaNoWriMo) as if I had to write by the seat of my pants.  I've always been an outline writer, not a discovery writer, and my work was suffering, spinning its wheels, becoming full of talking heads, because I was thrashing about in the novel trying to figure out what to do next.  Once I started doing that in my notebook before I went to sleep, the writing the next day went much more smoothly, and my productivity went up.  Oh, and one other thing.  I had been acting as if I had no time to research as I wrote.  Again, productivity suffered because I really wanted to do some research!  So I started allowing myself to do research.  Since I really enjoy research, it truly was a reward to me.  Oh, the cool resources I discovered!  Perhaps I'll talk about them in another post.

So, I finished CaNoWriMo with over 60,000 words and a novel about half done.  But I am still enthusiastic to continue with it!  I hope I can keep up the enthusiasm and actually finish during April.  But it will be even more of a challenge because (and now I finally get to what the subject of this post is all about), April is National Poetry Writing Month.  I enjoyed NaPoWriMo so much last year that I knew I had to do it this year, too.

I'm not a true poet--I'll be the first to admit that.  The true poet seems to be driven to write poetry.  I write it because it's fun or interesting, and mostly for the challenge.  So I will be splitting my writing energies in April between a poem a day and finishing the novel.  So far, so good.  I finished a poem already today, and I'm working on the novel (or was, until I suddenly decided to blog).

Wish me luck.

Because in May, I'll be doing Story a Day again.

Feb. 16th, 2012


Life, the Universe, and Everything 30: Feeling Fake

I attended this panel on "Imposter Syndrome" because I have many of the problems discussed here.  It reminds me of an incident several years ago.  At one point in time, the convention committee of a local science fiction/fantasy convention voted to have some people get memberships free perpetually.  Since I've had a fair number of stories published in pro venues, my name was included in this list.  One time I went up to get my badge at early registration (the night before the convention started), and the registration person looked at me like she had no idea who I was (even though we've known each other for years).  "Have you published anything lately?" she asked.  That hurt.  It really did.  And it fueled my feeling of being fake.  Yeah, I won the Gold Award at Writers of the Future.  Yeah, I've had nice things said about one of my stories in Publishers Weekly.  Yeah, I was a finalist for the Utah Speculative Fiction Award.  But that was last year, or last week, or some other time.  Right now, am I worth anything?  As it turned out, I could tell her I'd just had two stories published recently, and she gave me a badge.  But what if I hadn't been able to say that?  The fact that I still remember what she said, and the awful feeling it gave me, so many years later, means I still struggle with this problem.

9 February 2012, Life, the Universe, and Everything 30

Feeling Fake (What to Do about That Pervasive Feeling That Everyone Belongs in the Publishing World Except You)

Chris Weston (C. K. Edwards), Sandra Tayler, Ami Chopine, Stacy Whitman


"Imposter Syndrome"

According to Tracy Hickman, everyone in publishing is making it up as they go.

That feeling of knowing you don't know it all.

It's like when you turn 21.  You now have all the trappings of adulthood, but aren't ready for it.

Separation between internal picture of self, and external picture you want to project.

How can imposter syndrome hold you back?
    You hold back because you don't feel you're as good as others.

Tell yourself that you're doing it because you can.

Fear underlies it all.

Fear keeps us from doing what we can do.
    Fear of making a mistake
        You don't do it, even though if you make a mistake you can try again and make it better.
"Get it wrong and move on."

You may feel you are not qualified, but do it anyway.
    Others praise you for hard work, not for being smart.

Evidence that you are competent will pile up as you continue to plug along and work.

Actually do the things you hear will work!

Put on the clothes of the profession you aspire to, and keep on plugging.

Spectate your own thoughts when you start feeling negatively about yourself or your talent.  What is causing you to feel this way?

Perhaps you have the feeling that talent is tied to money--if you don't get paid for it, it's worthless.

Remind yourself what your goals are, and where you are along that path.  Everyone's path is not the same.

When you hit your goal, that's success.  Don't compare yourself to someone who has very different goals.

Have someone you trust to be your sanity checker.  When you're down, go to them and they'll show you where you are and what you have accomplished.

Ask questions so you don't get things wrong.
Learn how to learn.

Use Twitter to follow editors and discover other good editors.  It's "the water cooler of publishing."
Hashtag chat

Self perception is always skewed--others have a different view of you.  Gather evidence of your competence.


For me, the most valuable points of this panel were spectating your own thoughts, and gathering evidence of competence.  The "spectate your thoughts" thing happened to me at LTU&E.  There was a mass signing, and since all my latest stories are in anthologies, and I didn't think to assure the bookstore had any of those anthologies, I had nothing to sign.  I started ragging on myself that I wasn't worth much as a writer because I had no reason to be at the signing--and then stopped myself.  I could have been there, it was only because the bookstore didn't have the book for me to sign that I was not.  I sold the stories.  I spent the checks!  I bought myself a netbook!  Is that enough positive?  It was for that moment.

Physical reminders like the shelf full of books my stories are in, the "Service to SFWA" trophy, and the PW quote are my evidence of competence.  I just have to remember those things when I'm getting down on myself.

Feb. 13th, 2012


Life, the Universe, and Everything 30: Ebooks--a Good Way to Get Published?

I went to this panel mostly because I have a real interest in learning new tricks about publishing ebooks.  They had some good information, but I heard very little that was new to me.  With my own research and common sense I've done as much as anyone on the panel (and I have a captive cover artist, which is very useful).

9 February 2012, Life, the Universe, and Everything 30

Ebooks--a Good Way to Get Published?
Daniel Coleman, L. L. Muir, Carolyn Nicita, Andrea Pearson

Daniel Coleman--Create or Die Podcast (http://createordiepodcast.blogspot.com/)

Carolyn Nicita--Has been spending time creating fractals and doing art shows.  http://www.carolynnicita.com/

Andrea Pearson--Her book has been up as an ebook since June 2011.  http://www.andreapearsonbooks.com/mainpage.cgi

L. L. Muir--Paranormal romance ebooks.  http://llmuir.weebly.com/

What has worked for you?

Amazon.com's free ebook deals help give exposure to your ebook.  Either KDP or giving it away for free in the Kindle store.

Book bloggers

Check Joe Konrath's blog for ideas and encouragement

Keep doing stuff--anything you can think of--and something will work.  "Like a hammer trying to hit an invisible nail."

Book bombs--remind people to buy on the book's release date, often at a certain time--say, between 1 and 2 p.m.  Then the book's rank will go way up on Amazon.  These are people who would have bought your book anyway, but reminding them to do it all at one time will help even more.  The numbers will drop after that, but your book will have received a kick and received some notice.  If you can get it to the top 10 in some Amazon.com list, that's even more free advertising.

Ebooks are long term.  Get ten or more up and keep going.

What are frustrations about doing ebooks?

Takes writing time--formatting, editing, marketing, promoting.
    Promote by writing more and getting more out.

What would you do differently if you were starting now?

Wait until you can get more pieces out closer together.  The public has a short attention span.

Coordinating with cover artist, copy editor, etc.  Take control of your project.  If one of the elements (say, cover artist) is not working out, get a new one.  Don't let them delay you.

What are you glad you didn't know?

Most ebook authors sell in the hundreds of books.  The best sellers are as few (or even fewer?) as in print books.

Other information.

Cover is the number one things that sells an ebook.  Potential readers browsing listings often won't even look at the title if they don't like the cover.

Different audiences like different kinds of covers.  Assure your book's cover matches your book's content.

You have to be the boss and tell the artist what does and doesn't work for your book.

Re-use art by world-renowned artists (legally, of course).

Change your cover if it's not working!  That's easy with ebooks.

"Brand" your covers
    Name in same spot
    Title very important

Write a blurb that will sell your book, that will compel someone to buy and read it.

If want to publish both ebooks and "traditionally," look very carefully at the contract.  (Nowadays many traditional publishers trying to grab all epublishing rights.)

What to put in blurbs to attract attention?
    Main conflict from story
    Same as would try to sell book to agent or publisher
    Short for ebooks, longer for print books
    Get blurbs from people who've read your books--what they like about the book
    Check out Dean Wesley Smith's pitches and blurbs workshop (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=50)
    Film industry--elevator pitch
    Fix older blurbs that aren't working!

Ebooks for young readers--kids don't have ereaders as much as adults and prefer paper books.

Paperbacks through CreateSpace--but Barnes & Noble won't touch them because they're through Amazon.com

Prices for covers--can get a good professional one for $300 or less.  Can spend thousands of dollars!
    Check deviantART (http://www.deviantart.com/).  Can often make a deal with an artist there to use one of their pictures inexpensively, or get them creative commons.
    Find a group who will critique your cover.

Reviews on Amazon.com do help sell a piece.  People see no or just one or two reviews and shy away.

Free days on KDP Select really do boost sales.

What social networking works?
    Andrea Pearson has a sign-up place on her website and sends emails when her next book is coming out.
    Blog tour
    Take good notes as to what days and time of day your best sales are coming.  Might be good way to figure out when to put your next book up at an optimum time.

HTML 5 (http://www.w3schools.com/html5/default.asp) [I assume she feels this is a good way to format ebooks, but the panel ran out of time before she could elucidate.]

How much does it cost to create an ebook?
    If you can do your own covers and editing and ebook creation, nothing.
    Professional editor costs
    Cover can cost
    Getting someone else to format it costs

Final advice:
  Don't put out crap!  Take time to edit your book.
  Don't rush into publication.  Ebook shelf life is infinity.
  Don't judge yourself.  Let others help make the decision a book is ready.

Thunder Cave

When I was a child, my dad would often read aloud to me at bedtime.  One book I remember him reading, although I remember almost nothing of the content of the book, is called Thunder Cave.  For several years, I've been searching the internet to see if I can find out anything about this book.  I've asked my dad about it, but he doesn't know what happened to the copy we owned.
So today, I tried again.  I'm not sure why I was thinking about the book, but I did a quick internet search and came up with this:  http://www.kitkooh.com/tc/1945.html  It's a rather poorly constructed web page, but I saw the cover image:

Thunder Cave, 1945 edition
and knew this was it.  I remembered that giant's face.  There were a few sample pages of text, and that completed my recognition.  It mentioned "The Giant Wigwah."  Yes!  That was the giant's name!

What I remember of the book was rather non-PC for today's audiences, such as two little black boys who talk with a very thick dialect (think Mark Twain's black characters--the book was originally published in 1932).  There is a 2001 edition which has been rewritten; the website says, "This beautiful, commemorative edition, combines the best of both the original 1932 and revised 1945 editions by Jeremiah Stokes using cultural sensitivity, more solid plot, faster-paced action, and character development by prize-winning author Denise G. Jones."  (Punctuation oddities their own.)

I knew absolutely nothing about this book, but the Kitkooh website says the author and illustrator met while on LDS missions in the southern U.S. states.  The stories were originally told by the author, Jeremiah Stokes, as bedtime stories to his children.  He put them out as a series of pamphlets, and finally compiled them together into a book.

An article about the book published several years ago in the Davis Clipper (Davis County, Utah newspaper) described the editing of the book.  I note that the illustrations were done by Jack (John S.) Sears.  Is that, perhaps, why we owned it?  I know there are Sears surnames in my genealogy. . . .  Or was it, as the newspaper article says, just a "beloved children's classic," and that's why we had it?  I'll ask my dad if he knows.

Anyway, I think I shall have to purchase the new edition.  Too late to read to my children (who are in their twenties now) at bedtime, but perhaps I can just enjoy it for myself.

Feb. 12th, 2012


Life, the Universe, and Everything 30--Writing Action, Larry Correia

I'm going to post my very lengthy notes from the panels and presentations at Life, the Universe, and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy (LTU&E) Symposium 30 here.  There were a great number of excellent presentations this year, and I took copious notes (27 pages on Friday alone), so I figured I'd share the interesting facts, insights, and information I garnered here.

I already know (and in many cases do) much of what will be in these notes, but I'm always open for a new perspective.  Sometimes one little comment will spark something in me, open an entire new outlook on something I've been struggling with.  So I continue to attend panels on which I could probably have been a panelist, in hopes of gaining those nuggets of knowledge, or just something that helps validate me.

I might post these in some kind of order; I might not.  This presentation was the final one I attended on Thursday, so definitely not the first I went to!  (The symposium was Thursday, February 9 through Saturday, February 11.)  Someone asked me for a copy of my notes, so I had already typed them up to pass on.

9 February 2012, Life, the Universe, and Everything 30

Writing Action--Larry Correia
larrycorreia.wordpress.com  writing advice at http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/best-of-mhn/

Action is huge in every genre--even time-travel romance!
First rule--there are no rules
If it sucks, it's lame, and the readers hate it--don't put it in
If it's awesome and the readers love it--write it!
If you don't like it, your readers certainly won't

Pacing of action sequence screws up a lot of writers.
    Takes up much more space than other scenes
    What's the target audience?  What kind of book are you writing?  Make action scene big but not so long it makes reader lose interest.
    Depending on style of book--can describe every move of a fight, and have a twenty page fist fight.  Or shorten it down so it's not so detailed, but moves more quickly.

Don't use checklist description describing everything they do.
    Convey enough to describe the action without describing every action.

Don't make it too short and concise.  "The monster died."
    Need some description!  Clear and concise, but not too wordy.  Depends on your audience.  Gun nuts will love your lengthy gun description.  No one else will.

Learn as much as you can about the topics you're writing about, but you don't need to be an expert!
    You can't have done all the things your characters do.
    Talk to technical experts on the subjects.  Emotions of that method of fighting--they will know.  They can tell you about things you didn't even know you needed to know--and that adds the needed verisimilitude.

If you get it totally wrong (didn't do your research), it will kick your reader who does know that subject out of the story.

Learn about sword fighting if writing an epic fantasy with sword fighting!

In real life, people don't have hit points.  What really happens when you get stabbed, shot, etc.?  Research this (online works).

Go shooting to find out about shooting!  It will make you a more convincing writer.

Don't be afraid to mix things up.  Don't have all your action sequences be the same--all gunfights, or whatever.  Go beyond your comfort zone.

Action is not a separate part of the book.  Action can convey plot.  Expand characters during action sequences.

Good writers make characters learn and grow and change during action sequences.

PoV character determines amount of emotion in the scene.
    Someone who is used to violence will be inured to it--relatively unemotional about it.
    Someone who's not, will be, "I'm gonna die!"

Beware the Buffy Syndrome.  Characters with no training etc. who can suddenly fight vampires.

Killers can be very analytical about killing; they've done it enough that it's just a job.

Writing style can depict mental framework and emotional state of a character--borderline psychotic character is described in long, run-on sentences.

Character's confusion can be mirrored to reader; as character learns what's happening, so does reader.  (Otherwise, confusing the reader is bad.)

Change PoV, decide whose PoV would be most interesting for that scene.  But use breaks when you change PoV.  Let reader know who new PoV character is immediately.

When do you decide that an action scene should come in?
    Do not make entire novel intense.
    Normal, then intense.  If too much time since action has happened, give some.  If lots of explosions, let it calm down for a while.  Break up the monotony.  Spice it up.

Kill bridge crew, not just redshirts.  Help ramp up the tension.  You can kill one of the main characters, and then the reader will know no one is safe.  Do horrible things to one of the most popular characters (you don't need to kill them).  Raise the bar.
    "I'll kill anyone."  When you kill someone who's your favorite character, and your readers really care about them, that ramps up emotion.

Most of the action you've read in other novels is wrong.  Do your research.  Don't be lazy and just do what other novels do.
    Subvert tropes.  Reader thinks s/he knows what's coming, and then you change it.

Training for fighting--you can make this character development time.  Yoda training Luke.  Luke faces his inner demons.  You learn a lot about both teacher and trainee.  Wax on, wax off.

Just because someone sees the ending coming, doesn't mean the ending is bad.

Facebook is a good place to meet people you can pump for information.  Also, who can vet your writing for accuracy.

Moving back and forth between opposing characters can be awesome.
    See one make a plan, the other thinks they know what it is, but it's not--readers love this.

Dec. 21st, 2011


Optimal Swill (or, Don't Trust the Spell Checker)

At one point in my life, I worked as a secretary in a university departmental office.  One of my duties was to proofread and (to some extent) edit papers, exams, etc. that the professors wrote.  I'm fairly good at this, so that was no problem.  However, once a professor sent me a paper he'd been working on, asking me to look it over.  I did so, fixed a few points of grammar and punctuation, then came to a section that read "optimal swill of the soul suet."  I looked at that, tried to deconstruct it, and could not come up with any reason why a professor would want that in a paper he was intending to submit to an upper-tier academic journal.  So when I saw him the next day, I asked him what on earth it meant.  He looked at it, looked puzzled, went back a page, went forward a page, and then said, "I have no idea what I was trying to say there.  It should all be correct; I ran the paper through a spell checker before I sent it to you."

A light went on in my mind.  "Did you accept the first word the spell checker suggested?"

He did have the good grace to look sheepish.  "Yes."

"From now on, let me fix the spelling."

I teased him about optimal swill for the next several years.

The moral of this story is, don't trust your word processor's spell checker unless you absolutely know what word you want.  If it gives you suggestions, check them over carefully.  Don't accept whatever word the program brings up first, blithely thinking that of course the werp knows best!  Because it's just a piece of software.  It can't look at the context of your sentence (even the word processors with the so-called grammar checkers) and tell what word you really want.  You could end up with optimal swill, and the editor to whom you send your paper or story will not be as amused as I was.

I have seen what were probably spell checker errors in published books.  I wish I had written them down; the only one I remember is "librarian" where it should have said "barbarian."  I laughed out loud over that one, you may be sure!

The spell checker can be a great tool; I take notice of the little green squiggles under words in my documents.  But the spell checker does not have the final say on my manuscripts.  I proofread the entire manuscript myself to assure I catch errors like "the" for "they,"  or "one" for "once," where even though I left a letter out of the word, the incorrect word is still a real word.

But, you say, "I'm not a great speller.  I need the spell checker!"  My answer to that is yes, use the spell checker, but assure that it's not the only tool you use to assure your writing is correct.  If you're in a critique group, there is probably at least one member who compulsively fixes every typo (in my group, there are two; I'm one of them).  If not, do you have a friend with better spelling skills who can go over your document?  A second pair of eyes checking the manuscript for accuracy is critical for writing of any sort.

Dec. 19th, 2011


Story (A Game)

My writers' critique group has several favorite "writing exercises."  One is Headlines, which I won't describe here, but may in a later blog post.  Another is something we call, simply, "Story."  This is a game I learned decades ago, at a small SCA revel at someone's house.  "Story" is, I think, our favorite writing exercise, but we don't play it as often as we'd like, as it does take a fair amount of time, and most nights we don't have enough time to play.  So it's usually reserved for parties, or for nights when we have nothing to critique.

The rules for "Story" are fairly simple.  The writers sit in a circle.  Each participant gets a sheet of paper, usually lined notebook paper.  At the top of the page, each person writes the beginning of a story.  They get two full sentences.  Creative (but correct) punctuation (m-dashes, semicolons, etc.) is encouraged.  The first sentence is folded back so no one can read it.  Only the second sentence can be seen by the next person.

When everyone has written their two sentences, the sheets with the top sentence obscured are passed to the next person in the circle.  Everyone reads the sentence they have been given (and remember, they have no idea what the *other* sentence, the first sentence of the story, says), and then continues the story from there.  They get two MORE sentences.  The first (which reacts to the last sentence the person before them wrote), is again folded under so it is obscured.  Only the second sentence shows when the story is, once again, passed to the next person in the circle.

This cycle continues until one of the people notices that their paper has very little space left at the bottom.  Then it is declared that for the next round, everyone has to write the conclusion to the story.  Once everyone has written their final two sentences, bringing the stories to (some kind of) conclusions, BOTH sentences are folded under, and the stories are passed one last time.  Then (we go the opposite direction from the way we passed the stories), each person gets to read the story they ended up with.  We don't allow anyone to look at the story before they unroll it and see it in all its peculiar glory for the first time--and then have to read it out loud.  We have usually laughed ourselves sick by the time the first story reaches its conclusion.

Here is an example from a set of stories my writers' group did about a month ago.  I'll first post it in "coherent" form, with paragraphs in the proper places, so it reads like a story.  Then (so the reader can see how it came to be more easily) I'll deconstruct it.


       In the distant trees, something howled.

       "Was that a wolf?" Deirdre asked her companions.

       Her companions glanced at her quizzically.  "How could a wolf get up there?" they asked Deirdre.

       Deirdre rolled her eyes scathingly and pointed at the gray furry wings.  "Obviously it's a new adaptation to catch sheep on cliffs; we'd better bag this specimen," she said, readying her tranquilizer gun.

       It took three darts--with tranquilizers that each could have dropped an elk--to sedate the slowest of the chupacabra.  She stood looking down at her prize, its crazed red eyes closed now, and held her nose at the incredible stench emanating from it.

       Looking it over, she tried to decide whether the owner would actually want the weasel returned in its present condition.  Possessed dolls were bad enough, and ventriloquist dummies even worse, but she thought that she would gladly take a hundred of them before she ever dealt with another possessed taxidermy animal.  At least the dolls didn't smell of formaldehyde and sudden death.  The smell was more of lacquer and hate, which I could at least identify with.

       I breathed in the smell of hate until it filled me.  Then, I breathed out.

       The stench was unbelievable, and I immediately regretted my haste. The wombat at least had the grace to look sheepish.


This story displays some rather typical oddities of the group mind.  Changing person or tense in mid stream often happens.  Changing gender of the point-of-view character is common too.  If a name or indication of gender is written into the the first sentence but not the second, that information will be lost.  Sometimes it crops up again in uncanny ways, though.  My favorite thing about this story is how the animal changes from a wolf to a chupacabra to a weasel to a wombat.

Now, to deconstruct the story.

 In the distant trees, something howled.
 "Was that a wolf?" Deirdre asked her companions.

These are the first two sentences.  Remember that only the second one will be read by the next participant.

Her companions glanced at her quizzically.
"How could a wolf get up there?" they asked Deirdre.

The writer has chosen to include the information about the wolf in his or her second sentence, so the next person can see it.

Deirdre rolled her eyes scathingly and pointed at the gray furry wings.
"Obviously it's a new adaptation to catch sheep on cliffs; we'd better bag this specimen," she said, readying her tranquilizer gun.

The next writer does not mention wolves, so when the story is passed on, the next writer has no idea there were wolves in the first two sections.  Also, Deirdre's name drops out, although the fact that the point-of-view character is female remains,

It took three darts--with tranquilizers that each could have dropped an elk--to sedate the slowest of the chupacabra.
She stood looking down at her prize, its crazed red eyes closed now, and held her nose at the incredible stench emanating from it.

This writer introduces the chupacabra, which is immediately lost as it's not mentioned in the second sentence.

Looking it over, she tried to decide whether the owner would actually want the weasel returned in its present condition.
Possessed dolls were bad enough, and ventriloquist dummies even worse, but she thought that she would gladly take a hundred of them before she ever dealt with another possessed taxidermy animal.

And then the story takes a bizarre turn which I rather enjoy.  Again, the weasel is lost because it isn't mentioned in the second sentence.

At least the dolls didn't smell of formaldehyde and sudden death.
The smell was more of lacquer and hate, which I could at least identify with.

And now even the taxidermied animals are lost.  A pity. . . .

I breathed in the smell of hate until it filled me.
Then, I breathed out.

I like the idea of the smell of hate.

The stench was unbelievable, and I immediately regretted my haste.
The wombat at least had the grace to look sheepish.

And, unexpectedly, the stench returns!  And a sheepish wombat.  It's difficult to tie up the whole story in two sentences.  This part of the story usually takes the longest to write.  (I always have problems writing endings!)


So, gentle readers, if you are at a holiday party with intelligent friends and find yourself in need of a good way to fill your time, this game might be just the thing!

Dec. 18th, 2011


Title (Yes, I Need One)

I've been writing fiction since I was a child.  I've been in writers' critique groups for over twenty years.  Yet still, after all that time, I all too often pass out a manuscript that has, instead of a title, "Title (Yes, I Need One)."

One would think that a person who has been writing fiction, has completed a fair number of short stories and several novels, would have mastered the craft of coming up with titles for her work.  But the sad truth is that I'm terrible at titles.  As I was standing in the shower (my most productive thinking time, for some reason), I started thinking of what goes into a good title for a story.  I thought of books that had titles I loved.  I thought of titles that had intrigued me.  For years I did data entry for the Nebula Awards of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  That job mostly consisted of typing an author's name and the title of the story or novel the author had written, when someone recommended their work for the Nebula Award, into a database.  Many times, as I entered the data for a story, I was intrigued by the title, and so sought out the story.  That's the kind of title I want for my stories!  Just a few random samples (not necessarily from my time as data entry slave for the Nebs):  "The Forever War."  "The Speed of Dark."  "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth."  "Death and the Librarian."  "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman." "Bears Discover Fire."  "The Einstein Intersection."  "Slow Sculpture." "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making."  "The Spacetime Pool."  "Lifeboat on a Burning Sea."  "The Queen of Air and Darkness."  And my favorite, though I have to look it up every time for the exact wording, "Flora's Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room)."

So, now I look at that list of titles, and say to myself, "What makes them memorable, or interesting, or intriguing?"  Sometimes, it seems, it's a juxtaposition of words that don't seem to go together:  "The Speed of Dark," "The Einstein Intersection."  Perhaps short (or not-so-short) descriptions that promise something interesting to come:  "Bears Discover Fire," "Flora's Dare (etc.)."  Sometimes just weird stuff:  "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth."

True, a title isn't the only thing that draws an audience to a book.  Think of "Twilight."  Not the most original title around, yet the books have an enormous following.  However, the title does have some promise, as twilight is the part of the day when light wanes, night is coming, anything can happen.  A time of changes and movement.

So, my quick analysis is that a title must catch the reader's attention (sort of a no-brainer, but there you are!).  A strong word, like "death" or "burning," often combined with something visually or mentally arresting: "spacetime," "burning sea."

However, I contend that some of these intriguing titles may not actually help the story, if they don't give some idea of what the story is about.  This may be where I over-think my titles.  I try to get something descriptive from the story, and then assure that it is intriguing, strong, catchy.  I usually think of something that's descriptive but not catchy.  And then I give up, because I can't think of anything that fits all those criteria.  This is why I pass a story out for critique without a title.  I hope that one of the other talented writers in my group, who don't have the same emotional attachment to the story and can look at it more objectively, can give me the title I can't discover.

I would love to hear what others do to come up with titles for their stories.  (People who come up with a great title and then write the story to match the title need not comment!  That's a completely different process.)

Dec. 17th, 2011


Cat Text

As if you couldn't tell from my screen name, I like cats.  We have several . . . okay, many . . . cats in our household.  Usually the office, where all the computers live, is off limits to the cats.  But occasionally they come in, to sit and purr on a lap, or generally be adorable.  Several of them have become convinced that they are entitled to be in the office, and sneak in when we aren't aware of it.  After a cat got shut in the office, got bored, and ran roughshod over my computer keyboard a few too many times ("HOW MANY iterations of "Windows Search" did she open on my computer?"), I devised a clever plan.  I came in to find that a cat had somehow opened a Notepad window.  I decided that the cats were probably trying to write, just like all the humans did.  So I saved that Notepad page as "Cat Text."  Every time I leave my computer on, the last thing I do is minimize all my programs and bring up Cat Text.  It's amazing what the cats have written over the last few months.  I know for a fact that they have figured out CTRL V (paste), because there's text I had on the clipboard pasted into it in one place.  So, for the one or two people who actually read this (and why would you, when I never post in it?), here is Cat Text--the collaborative effort by Albus, Willow, Severus (Spawn of Basement Cat), Lynx, and probably Zelda.  I have to say that I have NO idea how they got the date and time information into the text file.

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