Saturday, August 31, 2013

Writing What You Don't Know.

Lexi Brady
@LexiLoopsy

Rule One of writing is to WRITE EVERY DAY.

But according to several conferences I have attended rule Two is Write What You Know. Well. I disagree completely. Honestly, if I were to only write things I knew I don't think I could write much other than a journal that prattles on for pages about day to day life. Besides if people only wrote what they knew, we wouldn't have the books that helped me discover a love for books, like Peter Rabbit, Harry Potter, LOTR, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Writing what you DON'T know is so much more thrilling. You can create mystical creatures, frightening demons, ethereal worlds with enchanting people to inhabit them. I must insist to write what you don't know. CREATE SOMETHING.  Plot out the un-plottable, or rewrite history that doesn't make sense, but at the same time makes more sense than what you learned in ninth grade.

Write about people unlike any you have ever met, write the story of the person that lives in your dreams, and wades through the haunted backstreets and canals of your mind.

As you write about things you don't know, you plan. Even if just a little, you plot out the problem and the solution, if you are kind enough to give your characters one... ;) You choose who is going to live, who is going to die.

You decide upon the fate of everything, which is a lot of responsibility because it can't just sound okay. It has to feel like the most brilliant decision you have made with your characters, you need to feel it in your bones that making them walk down this corridor or opening the old oak door that leads to the basement is what will ultimately lead them to the fate that awaits them.

Plotting a book out is like playing a perfect game of Tetris. Or maybe some would compare it to walking across a landmine, troublesome and at times terrifying. When you first get the idea for your new novel everything comes to you with such stunning clarity, you can see the faint scars on your hero's face from a fall he had as a child. You can hear the laugh of your witty tension breaker and you can feel the frustration from the little boy who is getting bullied.

You write the beg ginning, grinning like the Cheshire cat the entire time because well, YOU ARE WRITING. It all seems to be coming together and the BAM.  You can't figure out how to connect the begging with the middle. Or you know something creepy and most likely dangerous is going on with that sullen looking old man slinking about in the corner of your mind as your are writing. How does he fit in you wonder?

You have hit a stalemate where you are unsure of how to proceed to connect your story together in the way it was meant too. That is where I found myself a few weeks ago as I found myself stuck writing the same chapter as the week before.

Now here is when the fun comes in, because just like the dangerous and difficult parts ore often the most appealing to read,  as the writing gets harder I find myself becoming more and more connected to my characters. I learn how they deal with situations I know for a fact I couldn't handle and how they think. I feel what they feel as they brave the challenges I have been throwing at them ruthlessly.

And then I went back to the basics! Rule number one, write every day. Even if just a page or two, sometimes all I can manage is character background or some dialouge that will never actually make it into the manuscript.

And then I continued onto my rule number two. Writing what I don't know.  And that freed up my mind to consider possibilities that certainly don't exist in the world we live in.

Getting over this hurtle in my book made me take a moment to breathe and remember that there is no point to writing if you aren't enjoying it, and creating something that is unique to you and your writing style alone.


Until next time geeky ones.

LLAP- Lexi


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Rise of Convention Culture


Recently I had the pleasure of attending Gen Con, the largest gaming convention in the world. Over the past two or three years, convention culture has absolutely boomed in this country—thanks, at least in part, to the massive box-office success of Superman, Batman, and The Avengers, as well as the hat-trick of the Walking Dead, Big Bang Theory, and Game of Thrones bringing traditionally nerdy topics into the living rooms of otherwise non-nerdy people.

Con popularity is skyrocketing. Gen Con, for example, has been breaking turnout records year after year, with more than 49,000 attendees this year. At the same time, big-name stars are holding panels and signing autographs at Comic Con. Even little cons are becoming big: I have a friend who started a tiny, local affair called Kokomo Con, and after only a few years he now draws visitors, vendors, and celebrities from around the country.

Conventions like Gen Con are a great place for writers, too, because it’s a wonderful chance to meet your readers. And when you’re not signing books, there’s a world of other activities.

Every con has a different. Some specialize in games, some in costumes, some in comics, and some in movies. Every con has a little of everything, though, and a big con like Gen Con has a lot of everything. Here are a few of my favorite things from this year

Costumes are always fun to watch! This year, adding “Steampunk” to a concept was popular. Take, for example, the Steampunk Ghostbusters. It’s the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with a mustache and monocle that sets this group over the top.

I would watch this sit com! I can just imagine it.
Spock: Please explain the logic behind tying up this criminal and hanging him from the kitchen chandelier. Why would you do that?
Batman: I’m Batman!
queue laugh track

Balloon Cthulhu: Full of fear and light as air! This thing was 10 feet tall. It’s creator could get under it and walk it around like a gigantic marionette. Ia! Ia! Squeaky inflatable Great Old Ones!
Cardhalla: This was constructed entirely from donated playing cards. For three days, anyone who wants to join in can help build this massive card metropolis. On the fourth day, everyone throws coins to knock it down (with the first tosses being auctioned off). After the mayhem is complete, the cards, coins, and auction proceeds are all donated to charity. Last year, this bit of madness raised more than $2,500 for good causes.
 Here is one of the drawings I made to decorate the booth. It's been years since I've drawn anything and it kind of set me into a doodling craze. I haven't been able to stop sketching things since.

Death ray: Of course, I couldn’t resist testing out a few props. This one was build based on a game I helped design, so I got special “mad scientist” privileges. Grinding the panicking populace under my iron heel was never more fun!

Okay, those were a few of the highlights. Can’t wait until next year!

Be good, and dream crazy dreams,

Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on SechinTower.com and his games on SiegeTowerGames.com

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Creating the Future World: Nothing is Perfect



Hi! P. J. Hoover here, back for more world building in the future, so let’s start with catastrophe. In Solstice, there is no major cataclysm. Yellowstone doesn’t erupt or anything like that. It is just hot. So hot that the temperature rarely dips below one hundred. So hot, winter is not coming. So hot, they have a special name for it: the Global Heating Crisis (but we can call it GHC for short). It’s like Global Warming except amped up a bunch.

Solstice is set here in my town of Austin. I love this town, and Solstice was in part inspired by the over-the-top hot summers we have. A couple years ago we had one where it didn’t dip below one hundred for sixty days or something crazy like that. And forget about rain. Yeah, that’s much like the world of Solstice, except in Solstice it’s all summer all the time.

 They even code the temperatures by color.

The GHC has been pretty rough on the world of Solstice. See, when the temperature gets hot, lots of living things tend to die. And when living things tend to die . . . well, food runs short. And when food runs short, people tend to fight about food. And fresh water has all but dried up. Sure, governments try to make changes for the better. But for the better is not always completely inclusive. Some people will still suffer. If there is a true utopia out there, I’d love to see it.

So first, when food is short, what does that mean? Well, it means that basics like fruits and vegetables are in short supply. Animals die which means meat is also limited. So our barbeque that we want so bad? Well, the price to eat it is pretty steep. Faux meat is all the rage. The government has to step in and try to ration food. It’s not a pretty scene because there are going to be people who don’t have enough food or water. It’s unfortunate, but it’s reality.

In addition to the food and water shortages, dealing with the heat itself is a whole other topic. Like, what can the government do to help people cope? In Solstice, there is a special gel that gets sprayed from misters. It totally helps with heat, but the unfortunate part is that one out of ten people is allergic too it. Because remember, everything cannot be perfect. There is no perfect solution.

In Solstice, peripherally, every country around the world is trying advanced techniques to deal with the heat. And the worst threat is the heat bubbles. They can materialize out of nowhere and descend upon the cities, killing thousands. Austin has come up with a great idea. It’s built a series of eight domes over the city which are retractable. They can be engaged when the heat gets too bad. The only problem? Not everyone lives under a dome. Nothing is perfect.


Who wouldn’t want to live under a dome?


On a final note of our future world building, it’s important to think about the exceptions. For example, most people are not going to drive. They’re going to take public transportation. But there are always going to be those exceptions who manage to circumvent the system. Ditto no open flames. Open flames are huge fire hazards in a dry climate. But there are going to be some places that get exceptions to this. Like the Catholic Church for example. People love to light their candles and pray for their intentions.

So in world building remember these two mantras. Nothing is perfect and there are always exceptions.


*****



P. J. Hoover is the author of the dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children’s, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.’s website or blog.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writer Time

My manuscript is under consideration at two publishers. It is the long awaited sequel to my debut novel.  They've had it for ten weeks.  In writer time that is 3.675 years (a mere pup).  My fellow writers understand the dark side of this business—the interminable waiting—but my non-writer friends don't have a clue.  They think the process works like it does in any other job.  Give someone a project and they do it within a reasonable amount of time.  What is reasonable?  In the real world, reasonable is measured in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months.  In the writer’s world, reasonable is measured in lunar cycles, crop seasons, presidential terms, epochs. If I tell a non-writer that I submitted a manuscript to an editor in the Jurassic Period and it was rejected in the Cretaceous Period, he would stare at me blankly. If I say the same thing to a writer friend, she would give me a been-there-done-that nod and ask, “So?  Who has it now?”

It’s not all bad, though.  This writing affliction has taught me a level of patience that a non-writers will never know.  Like the Cable Guy.  Most people express extreme agitation when the Cable Guy says, “Oh, I’ll get there in about ten days, somewhere between 8am and 6pm.”  For me, I just think about how long it took to hear back about the short story I submitted, and thank the Cable Guy for acting so promptly.  On the other hand, this distorted sense of time causes me problems at work.  When a co-worker gives me a project (yes, I have another job that provides food, shelter and a reason to go to the bank) and asks how soon can you get this project done?  I reflect on how long it took to hear back from the New Yorker about that cartoon caption I submitted, and I ask, “When is Halley’s Comet scheduled to pass by Earth?”  I’ve been written up a few times, but the expressions I get are priceless.

I think this submit-and-wait-for-like-ever is the reason why I write science fiction.  It gives me the most hope-bang for my buck.  By hope, I'm talking cryogenic freezing and time travel.  It would work something like this:  I submit a query letter, step into my trusty CF-5200 cryogenic freezer, set it for five lunar cycles, then thaw out just in time to read the email reply. If the book proposal sparks a request for the complete manuscript--then hooray, that calls for the time machine.  I would step in, set the dial for, oh—three presidential terms (plus one alfalfa season just to be safe)—then jump out and head for the corner bookstore (assuming it still exists) confident that enough time elapsed to cover acceptance, revisions, more revisions, copy edits, more copy edits, galleys, post-production snafus and publication.  If my novel isn’t on the shelf that could mean a) that a president was assassinated, b) I should've gone with soybeans, or c) that my editor left for another job and I wasn’t around to catch the tweet. 

I also know this works both ways.  Editors, overwhelmed with Olympus-sized stacks (or terabytes) of manuscripts, are frustrated with creatively blocked writers that demand unreasonable units of time to finish the final edits, or the sequel, or the stand-alone that sounded so good back when it was proposed, but that was like, six months ago, when it didn't smell like day-old fish and still glowed with the promise of crossover sales, foreign rights, and franchise movie deals.

What is the answer to this writing affliction?  I use the two “P” words:  patience and persistence.  Since we can't stop, and time never does, we may as well send stuff in.  I heard that a human can live three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without hope (writers weren't factored into that data set).  So here's what I do.  I keep writing, keep submitting, and keep hoping that when someone finally creates an app that turns a smart phone into a time machine, I've sold enough books to afford it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I Don't Want to Grow Up...

By Dan Haring

...if growing up means being like you.

The year was 2001. I was 22 and driving tour buses for the summer in Seattle. On an off day some friends and I went to Freeway Park, which is a cool park that happens to sit right above the Downtown freeway. We were running around, enjoying the splendid summer air, when we happened upon a place to play hopscotch. We decided hopscotch was a grand idea and commenced playing. We'd been up to it for a while when a young guy who couldn't have been much older than us walked by and said, "Aren't you a little old to be doing that?" We laughed it off, but from that day on, obviously to today since I'm still thinking about, I've felt sorry for that guy.

Call me crazy, but growing up has some major pitfalls. Sure, I can eat ice cream for dinner if I want to, (as long as the kids don't see me) but there are a whole lot of negatives that come with the territory. Too many to list, in fact.

Last week at work someone put out a huge stack of MG and YA ARCs, free for the taking. A bunch of us wandered over to see what there was to be had. As we were perusing the titles, a guy came walking up and asked his friend what was going on. The guy made some disparaging remark about only checking them out if you liked reading "kid's books."

You know what, Hopscotch Guy and YA Book Guy? There's a reason a lot of growing up sucks, and it's you. What part of growing up says you should stop having fun, stop doing silly things, stop reading about fantastical places and people and things?

Why is it not cool to have childish wonder?

I submit that it IS cool.

If you think you're too much of an adult to play a kid's game or read a book aimed at teenagers, don't do those things.

But don't blame it on growing up. Growing up doesn't have to be staid and stiff and boring.

It shouldn't be.

Blame it on your own lame self, because you're the one who's more concerned with looking cool than having fun.

The rest of us are going to be enjoying both adult and kids books and activities. And eating ice cream for dinner. 



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why is Creating Your Own World So Difficult?

Ever since I started my Junior year of High School on Monday, my creative juices have gone completely flat. Mainly because of the mundane environment that is my learning establishment, but also because of not leaving my bedroom all summer. I honestly haven't touched my computer till this morning and it is a dreadful feeling. Working on a piece that contains its own little world inside, I am having a lot of trouble piecing the world together. Sifting through book after book of faerie folk and mythology, attempting to bring some long forgotten creatures back into the spotlight has been a bit crazy. How did Rowling do it? And Tolkien? C.S. Lewis? Why is a sixteen year old attempting to do so? The world may never know.


Look at that beautiful madness, I long for such beautiful madness! Being one of those "special" children, the ones who can veer off into space during a lecture, many worlds like these have been in and out of my mind. So, why is it so difficult to get everything down on a word document?

That cannot be the most important aspect, just as long as it ends up out of my mind and onto something that will preserve it... I suppose. On another note, Look! Austria! It is like its own Wonderland, but tangible! Maybe that is where the inspiration comes from, beautiful places that actually exist outside the mind.





And Switzerland, What a breathtaking view. I will move there and write my life away eventually. Everyone should have a chance to visit this place, it is life changing. The air feels different, smells different. The people walk with a certain steadiness and leisure that is not often witnessed where I'm from. It was a bit of a culture shock to say the least, being from a place where you measure distance in minutes instead of miles. You could just walk everywhere; a ground breaking idea to me, who has to drive to get anywhere. If you dislike driving as much as I do, then it is quite a phenomenal sight.  





Yes, the landscape seems to be a great deal of what makes these mystical places lovely, but I think that the creatures that they contain make it all the more worth while. Through random research at three in the morning, I came across a Ballybog. These are small faerie like creatures who are constantly covered in mud and have nasty little tempers; so I naturally enjoy the idea of such a being. So far, Welsh lore has been my favorite, being Welsh, they have such strange little people-like things. And there are Boobrie from Scotland, types of water birds that are covered in black feathers that can shapeshift into a horse that runs on top of the sea. Crazy stuff, huh?



I think I'd like such creatures to be apart of my own world, and there are countless others that have grabbed my attention. This world will not be filled of creatures that have never existed, but of creatures from the past that have been driven into hiding and are now considered fabled. It seems more appealing when there are accounts of someone encountering such beings instead of being something that you have never heard of, at least in my opinion. 

Being away from my peers for three months made me realize that I will indeed get made fun of for carrying around these types of "research" books; resulting in me having to read "The Exorcist" or "Red Dragon" in plain sight instead. This can usually keep the vapid and shallow minded quiet, but it also provokes my English teachers to become closer friends with me than their coworkers. Yesterday my teacher announced she would be a bit excited in September because the sequel to The Shining is being released. We are now Facebook friends...

Friday, August 23, 2013

What Authors Do When Their Brains Freeze!

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Okay, I'll admit that this isn't my most fruitful blog post. It serves no purpose, except to warn of the possibility of a Zombie-pocalypse. It's better to be safe than sorry. 

My sister and one of my nephews are big fans of The Walking Dead. In AMC's hit TV show, zombies are called "Walkers." I haven't seen the show, sorry to say, but I have good intentions. Once I heard about their "Dead Yourself" app, I had to try it and downloaded it to my cell phone. (Insert eye roll here.) You can take a photo of someone you want to turn into a horrible monster, or alter a copy of a photo you already have. Did I mention that when an author's brain freezes, sanity and common sense go out the window?

Here is my older brother. I know you're wondering. Why is he wearing that hat? Yeah, you guessed it. It's his birthday. Maybe dead Zombies should forfeit their birthdays in favor of calling them Decomp-Days to commemorate how long they have before their skin peels off like a good old fashioned snake shed. If you have a better name for it, chime in with a comment.




Beliw and on the left is my sister - The Walker Queen. Nice smile and she still has her own teeth. Next to her is my sweet little mother and my niece who used to crave fajitas. Now all she talks about is brain burritos. If you have a good recipe for brains, I'm sure she would appreciate you sharing it in a comment, even though she is perfectly happy with Brain-sashimi. Have soy will travel.




Here is my handsome nephew Miquel. What's that on his hand? yeah, you guessed it. His college graduation ring. He's so proud. In his other hand is his old roommate. We can't talk about that. Therapist's orders.




Finally there is me. My new author photo. I had to update it, especially after...well, you know...my change in hair color. Getting old sucks, but now I don't have to worry about it. Being dead solves a lot of problems, like lactose intolerance, paying taxes, and worrying over every wrinkle. When your skin peels off, wrinkles don't seem so bad.

 

Seeing my transformation now should make the big Zombie-pocalypse easier to handle. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Friends for the Journey



I had lunch last week with SciFi guy and Screenwriter. It had been a long time. Summer havoc.  Travel, weddings, kid stuff, the heat. (I can’t remember life below 100 degrees.) We were all in a weird place. SciFi guy and I are both waiting on word from New York on new projects. Screenwriter was polishing a screenplay as obsessively as a teenager with a tuner.

“You heard anything yet?” he asked us.


As if we wouldn’t have been doing the happy dance on the tabletop if we had good news.

“Strongly considering was the last word,” SciFi guy said. “But what does that mean? Is there a very strongly considering? An almost positive considering?”

“It means nine out of ten,” I said.

“Strongly a nine out of ten?”  He asked.

“Is that a little sarcasm?”

“You know dialogue without subtext is kind of boring,” Screenwriter added.

If anyone was listening to our conversation, it probably made no sense. But to me, it was better than that tall, cool Arnold Palmer at my elbow. Did I mention that it’s been really hot? I was talking to two people who totally got how I was feeling. And suddenly I was overwhelmed with gratitude for community, for people who could at least make me crack a smile when “strongly considering” turns to “maybe not so much.” In the middle of the vast, lonely plains of writing, I can’t tell you how much community with other writers matters.

 And there are levels of community. Writers need critique groups, people with a little humor who are vaguely working at the same skill level and who have the same goals to move their writing forward. We all know that. But what we also need is an inner circle, a very few close friends who understand us. These are the people who understand our themes, (the themes of our writing and of our lives), who aren’t afraid to push us to go deeper.  Where does that inner circle come from?  I want to say… magic. It’s asking what makes people click. 

And I’m going to leave you hanging…in the next three weeks my inner circle might have some news. And I can only say might in this industry.
SciFi guy could hear about the fate of his near future sequel.
Screenwriter will have put the polishing cloth away and sent the screenplay out the door! (I hope he’s reading this.)
And I hope to know the fate of my Seattle SciFi manuscript. I might also have …wait for it...the cover to Beyond the Door my middle grade fantasy that releases in March.
So next post we might have some updates. But I will introduce you to the first character from Beyond the Door, the Greenman.

maureen

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Brain, On Fear: Part II

As you’ll recall, a couple weeks ago I talked about a pretty bad dream of mine and what it might mean, specifically as it related to my work in progress. I said then that two interpretations for that dream came to mind, and while I’m sure there are others, both rang true. One was easy enough to figure out: I’m doing something really tough, and I’m unsure if I’ll succeed. It’s an uneasy alliance, this book and me. (Though, for the record, we seem to be getting along better these days. At least, I’ve not had another house dream to tell me otherwise. Oh, I’m still plenty uncertain, but if I listen too long and hard to that anxiety-rat scuttling around my skull . . . well, that way lies paralysis.)

So let’s talk about the second interpretation today because I think that it has a broader applicability to all us writers. Sooner or later, if we’re in traditional publishing, we’ll face this. And face what, you ask? Why, being orphaned. No, I don’t mean an orphan in the traditional sense of no parents. I’m talking, specifically, about something writers face all the time: having their works orphaned, or their series interrupted. That is, the marketing team goes away, or the line’s discontinued, or a lot of key people—the editor, the publisher—leave the company . . . that kind of thing. Many pro writers have talked about this, and there are quite a few horror stories out there as, for example, in the case of Dr. Yvonne Thorton’s experience with Kaplan Publishing in 2010. Read this article in its entirety; it’s enough to set your teeth. In a nutshell, though, Thorton, who had already written a very well-received memoir, went with Kaplan Publishing for her second book on the strength of a lot of promises by Kaplan about how they’d really push the book, etc., etc. She even turned down offers of more money from other publishers. As Kris Rusch talks about it on her blog, Thorton only understood something was going terribly wrong—i.e., that her book was DOA or published “dead,” with no marketing push, no support, no nothing—when she realized that her book wasn’t available as an e-book preorder. She did the logical thing and wrote to her editor—but the email bounced back. And that was because the editor was gone and the line discontinued. Someone just forget to mention this tiny little fact to Thorton.

Rusch is correct when she says this kind of thing happens to writers all the time. That’s because she’s been in the biz for quite a while, and it’s happened not only to her but other pros. Take the time to read about her experiences, too; if you don’t get a tiny little shiver down your spine, you’re not paying attention.


In fact, that kind of being cut off at the knees happened to me several years ago, with another publisher and a different series. Here I am, all set to write a trilogy. I’ve done two books in the series; I’ve mapped out where the next story has to go. I’m daring to think about more books and a new series. In the interim, I’ve done stories for the series, and a whole other stand-alone when another writer crapped out and the editor needed someone to fill in, pronto. Things are looking great, and I’m excited: my first trilogy, within my reach.

But then—one day—I get this call from the principal editor: the line’s going away; the parent company went defunct; and there just ain’t gonna be a third book.

To say I was bummed is putting it mildly. To say that I was in despair would be much closer. Of course, it wasn’t just me who’d gotten the axe; it was every single author in the line; it was the editor, the copy-editors, the continuity people, the graphics folks . . . a lot of pink slips in various guises, and not a damn thing any of us could do about it.

What does this have to do with me and my dream? 

It’s pretty simple, actually: let’s fast forward a couple years, and here I am, a couple books under my belt and more either in the pipeline or my head. (If I could only figure out how to do a direct cerebral transfer of all those books into a computer...)

Except . . . one of my publishers is going through some big transitions. In essence, the entire team that put together a bunch of books have all gone on to other jobs: first, it was one marketing guy, followed by the rep from the parent company. Not that long after, the publisher’s gone. Then the two marketing and library outreach folks go adios—and, finally, just a couple weeks ago, my editor. My lovely, wonderful editor. My editor.

Now none of this came as a surprise in the Thorton-way of surprises, and in fact, if a writer had to be orphaned, both these people--as well as the editor from that first time years back when an entire line disappeared beneath my feet--have been pros about it. Every single time someone’s left, there’s been a phone call, and a long one at that: nothing perfunctory, and all of it sincere. In the case of my editor, I got two: from the editor and then the publisher, both of them trying to be as reassuring as they could. I know they also went on to call every single author and his/her agent. They kept everybody in the loop, and in the case of the key marketing person, I subsequently got a phone call and then several emails from the person who’s stepping into the job—and that person’s already doing some heavy-lifting for me.

So let me repeat: I am bummed and feel kind of down, but I'm not devastated. If there has to be a shake-up or big change, this is the way a writer ought to find out. These guys have been consummate pros, and at this point in time, I have absolutely no reason to believe that the same commitment and care the company’s given my books won’t continue. I’m not having a Thorton-style experience at this moment. As of right now, my books are as caught up as they’re could possibly be given the circumstances and I am confident the publisher—a very wonderful and warm person—is committed to giving them their best possible shot.

Except . . . I had that dream: about a house in which I didn’t belong and a relationship/marriage I wasn’t comfortable with.

Duh.

It’s not such a stretch to see the house as a publishing “house.” The relationship I had with the original team was very special. I was comfortable with those guys; I liked them as pros and people. (I still like and wish them well; I wouldn’t spend this much psychic energy on them otherwise. Fine, go work for the Antichrist; see what I care.)

But now there is nobody at the house that I really know in the sense of having closely worked with them to birth a book—and I’m understandably anxious. I’m not the only author in the house. What if they bring in an editor who really hates what I do? That person won't have originally acquired me; that person will be handed me and that's a very different animal. So what if how I write just doesn’t appeal or fit with whatever his or her vision is/will be? What if we simply don’t get on? What if she/he doesn’t get my jokes? What if I say something dumb, or we can’t have a good time while we’re at it? Sure, I’m a pro and I’ll get the work done—but shaping a book of the heart (and all my books are that) should be enjoyable; it should be collegial; there ought to be the sense that we’re all doing something really important together, as a team. 

Maybe you think that’s . . . oh, I don’t know . . . so much treacle, or just na├»ve. You’re a cog, Bick; there are dozens of other talented and way more talented writers, and you’re nothing very special. 

On the other hand, part of what Kris Rusch has to say about writers and power, broadly speaking, applies to me: in my dream, I’m stuck and helpless. I think that reflects my angst that there is/was nothing I could do about, say, my editor leaving; it wasn’t up to me. In that sense, the dream is an accurate reflection of my inability to do anything to change what was happening about a person to whom I was very attached and really liked. What happened wasn’t personal . . . and yet it affected and continues to affect me in a very personal way because my work is personal. It can’t be any other way. Every book I manage to publish is the best book I’ve ever written at that point in time, and I would be a fool not to hope that every book gets the best possible shot at reaching an audience.

It’s just the future that bugs me, I guess, and the next new face and the realization that as much as I—like all of us—would like for things to remain comfortable and familiar, change will happen. This is a part of doing business in this business, and it happens to everyone. For some, it all goes down in a terrible way. For others, like me, the change goes forward with as much care and sensitivity as possible.

So, it’s like that old serenity prayer: accepting what I can’t change while having the courage to change the things that I can. For me, right now, that means writing the next best book I’ve ever written—and then the one after that.

I’ll let you know if I find myself in the bad house of my dreams anytime soon.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Soundtrack To My Life... Or Rather My Characters Lives.

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For me music is a huge part of my life, and needless to say my writing. It helps me set a mood and environment for my manuscripts and has the uncanny ability to put me in a cheery mood after a long day.

Recently while working on my Sci-Fi novel my musical tastes have strayed from that of the normal Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald.

Here are a few of the songs that have helped me form the book I am currently working on!


Somebody To Trick by Fossils of Ancient Robots


The electronic beats immediately draw to mind the futuristic setting of the world I am piecing together in my head. The world encased in metal, so many lights that night has been forgotten, humanity being of a slightly different meaning now.







My Friend The Devil by Audra Mae and The Almighty Sound

Did I mention how eclectic my preferences in music are? The throaty voice of Audra Mae symbolizes everything I need to bring to life one of my characters who has a penchant for playing with things she shouldn't and not caring about the consequences that will surely follow.


I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab For Cutie

One of my favorite bands Death Cab For cutie never fails to write slow melodies that relieve any tension from my mind and replacing them with beautiful imagery that takes me to undiscovered worlds and ethereal lands filled with rivers of words, trees of hopes, and the end that is too bittersweet.


Mad World by Gary Jules

I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad that the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had.
The borderline heartbreaking tune managed to attach itself to a part of my soul that appears to be masochistic as I imagine the chaotic depression inside of a child who just can't seem to belong. Which is one of the reasons I love YA so much is because that is what essentially most YA books are about, finding where your own voice and a place to feel special.


Colours by Grouplove

This upbeat song helps find and define the unique voices of all of my characters as they take part in witty and sometimes not so witty banter to ease the tension of the despair of not knowing how everything will turn out just yet.


Well I hope everyone enjoyed these songs I shared today! Maybe one day these songs could be apart of an actual soundtrack to the movie of one of my books. ;)

 Goals lofty I myself find having. -- I am watching Star Wars right now and needed to talk like Yoda at least once today.

Thank you all for putting up with my nonsense! Have a lovely Sunday Funday!

--Lexi

Friday, August 16, 2013

Why Sci-Fi is so often pessimistic


Name 10 sci-fi books or movies and I'll bet at least 7 of them are pessimistic. Post-apocalyptic worlds (e.g.: The Hunger Games), overwhelming threats to humanity (e.g.: War of the Worlds), dystopian societies (e.g.: Divergent), and inventions with unintended consequences (e.g.: Frankenstein) are the stock and trade of the science fiction writer. Why are the stories of our future so negative?

I blame evolution. We evolved to be intelligent creatures with the ability to learn from others and anticipate the future, and that influences how—and why—we tell stories of danger and darkness.

Imagine our caveman ancestors living in a world surrounded by deadly predators. If one of them wandered into a cave and got eaten by a saber-toothed cat, the other members of his hunting party had the ability to tell the story to warn others away. Those who paid attention lived, and those who didn’t ended up as smilodon kibble.

We are the descendants of people who survived in part because they told and listened to stories. Science fiction writers often make their stories frightening because they know we are instinctively inclined to listen to warnings about the bad things that could happen.

Science Fiction Dangers
Sure, most of the dangers portrayed in science fiction aren’t as immediate as saber-toothed cats were to our ancestors, and they’re even less realistic: deadly arena games, genocidal space aliens, and zombie hordes aren’t exactly the leading causes of death in America today. Yet hidden away in these scenarios are warnings and survival strategies for real-world problems.

Science fiction has the power to make us aware (even if in a metaphorical way) of the dangers of damaging our environment, the evils of dehumanizing an enemy, or the dangers of a totalitarian state. And the zombie apocalypse? Well, if you’re prepared for that, you’re ready for the less-awesome but much more likely event of an earthquake or hurricane. (Even the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recognizes the power of zombie stories to encourage people to prepare for any disaster, undead-related or otherwise.)

Trouble is, all this adds up to a pretty pessimistic view of the future. If you read enough of these stories, the glass won’t seem half-full, it will seem cracked, drained, and ground into silicon used to make killer cyborgs. Pessimism makes for great stories, but is there a way to escape the negativity?

Is Optimism possible?
Yes. Probably the most famous example of optimistic science fiction is Star Trek, which presents a society that has solved the problems of racism, poverty, and nationalistic war. Maybe more authors could experiment with portraying a future so bright it’s worth fighting the Klingons to preserve.

Science fiction can be optimistic when it follows the ancient mythological pattern where the hero travels through unknown lands to bring back a boon to the rest of humanity. We can see this idea in a few science fiction books, such as Robert Heinlein’s YA classic “Have Space Suit, Will Travel,” in which Kip Russell battles tentacle-faced aliens and returns to Earth with scientific secrets that will unlock antigravity and faster-than-light travel. This idea of a “science boon” is where I hope to go with sequels to Mad Science Institute. I would love to see other authors pick up the torch here, too, and have a hero who returns with more than just the head of the hive queen.


Is Pessimism Bad?

None of this is to say that we should shun pessimistic science fiction. It’s fun, interesting, and sometimes deeply important to our society and our future. But if you’re a writer or a reader who feels like you’re not seeing any new ideas in the post-apocalyptic or space-war genres, well, maybe that’s because we’ve been walking down the same dark paths for too long.

I'm an optimist by nature, so maybe the pessimism inherent in most sci-fi stands out to me because it contradicts my expectations for the future. I also like to think I'm a realist because I know we don't have any guarantees to continue as a society or a species, and nature is unforgiving. Just ask the dinosaurs.

What do you think? What are your favorite science fiction stories/books/movies, and do you think they're pessimistic?

Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on SechinTower.com and his games on SiegeTowerGames.com

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Creating the Future World: Keep it the Same



Hi, P. J. Hoover here, and for the next few times I post, I'm going to be talking about world building. Maybe the best thing for dreaming up the future is to look back to the past. Plenty of dystopian books these days are set in the future here on Earth, and many times this future is not too far away. Maybe fifty years. Maybe one hundred years. Maybe only thirty years.

Without mentioning specifically how old I am, let’s just say I spent my youth deep in the seventies and eighties. So we’re talking roughly thirty-five years have gone by since my memories really started to sink in. You know what I loved so much about back then? Those Now and Then lists that used to come out in the paper every New Year’s Day. So in the spirit of now and then, here is a brief one from me.



Okay, aside from having some fun and nostalgia, here’s what I’m trying to say. In thirty-five years, plenty of things have changed, and yet the basic needs are unchanged. Things are the same but different.

When I was building the world of Solstice, I tried to keep this in mind. Solstice is set in the future, at least eighteen years though I’m thinking it’s probably more like fifty or sixty. That’s quite a bit of time, but then again, it’s not. So what would be the same? And what would be different?

Maybe the most important thing to consider when writing for young adults is that no matter what the year, teens are going to want to communicate. Teens will be teens. I remember talking on the phone for hours on end with my friends back in the day. Now, texting and email make everything so much easier. And faster. For Solstice, insert the FON. Sure, the FON does a ton more than today’s standard smart phone. You know how with every new version, your phone can interface to so many more things? Well, that keeps happening. The FON is a Functional Operating Node. It has a similar sounding name that some marketing genius sometime in the future came up with. But in essence, it is the future’s smart phone and it is teens’ link to the world.

The next thing? You know that restaurant you always drive by. It’s been around since 1960? Yeah? Well, guess what. In the future, that restaurant or one very much like it will still be there. In Solstice, food shortages put a damper on everything. But we Texans don’t want much to get between us and our barbeque. And so Pok-e-Jo’s BBQ, an Austin favorite, is still around. I enjoyed sending my characters there to eat.

This kind of thinking can be carried over into everything. Religion is probably going to be about the same. Streets are going to be named the same (and their nicknames, like the Drag, will, too). People are still going to want inane entertainment (like TV and YouTube and video games). You can probably still download Ms. Pac-Man in some form or another.

In my experience, this is a key thing to keep in mind for world building: keep it the same . . . but different.


*****



P. J. Hoover is the author of the dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children’s, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.’s website or blog.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Next Next New Thing

There was a time when writing something new was good enough.  That was back when newness moved at the pace of ocean steamers, trains and winded horses.  Ideas had a chance to be nurtured and loved before they were subjected to the competitive realities of an editor’s desk.  Even then they still arrived with the encouraging scent of promise, the untarnished sheen of an idea that had yet to make its mark on the world.  Back when a beaming editor once queried, “Anyone ever hear of a thing called a vampire?”  I proclaim this time of opportunity the Era of the New Thing, and oh, how I wish I was writing back then.

Take a giant leap forward to twenty years ago.  The paced had picked up exponentially.  Ideas were flashing around the world in a digital heartbeat.  Nurturing had one leg and two arms out the window.  If you were fortunate enough to have an original idea with cross-market appeal, you needed to get it out there and fast because odds were someone else had a concept with the same DNA and they were moments from dropping it in the overnight mail, or worse, pressing send.  Editors, agents and Hollywood scouts were abandoning their quest to find something new.  By the time they got their hands on the manuscript, it was already turning old.  They wanted that New Thing just over the horizon, and paid handsomely to get it (or so I’m told).  I proclaim this frenzied time the Era of the Next New Thing.

Which brings us to present day.  We live and imagine in a time when going viral is good.  Or maybe it’s bad.  Who knows, things are moving so fast.  If you’re writing a trilogy (which I am), you better have all three ready to go (which I did not) because the original idea that sold book one will be cloned and re-cloned (by a factor of fifty) before the Kindle ink is dry on your first print run.  Social media in all its iterations keeps everyone at the info trough 24-7.  With game changing heavyweights like Amazon in the self-publishing arena, book-to-market times are collapsing faster than a shaken souffle.  According to a study of publishing data in 2011, forty-three percent of all printed books (including from traditional publishers) were self-published.  When your new idea emerges and draws its first tentative breath, it will already be graying around the temples and contemplating a condo in Boca Raton.  Hence the name of our current time, the Era of the Next Next New Thing.


In this era writers are faced with a vexing challenge.  How do you write the book in your head when it isn't in there yet?  And when it finally arrives, how do you keep it from getting scooped?  By the time I finished the second book of my YA scifi trilogy, I was reading that the YA wave had passed, that post apocalypse was so...post, and that trilogies had moved on down the road.  Someone needs to write an app that will assess the originality of your idea and how long you have until it becomes yesterdays news.  No, scratch that idea.  Odds are someone already wrote that app.  And even if it did exist, I would rather take my chances.  Because the truth is there is something old under every rock, waiting for someone to make it new again.  And if you turn over enough rocks you will find that glittering diamond of newness.  You just have to dust it off and give it your unique voice.  The only catch is this:  you need to do it yesterday.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Keys Ways to Add Layers to Your Writer’s Voice

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



Sorry about the late post today. I’ve had tons going on this week, including out of town relatives to entertain. Don’t feel sorry for me. It’s been plenty of fun, but I wanted to share my thoughts on beautiful writing. I’ve been enjoying Looking for Alaska by John Green and had to write about it. Thanks to Morgan Hubbard, my fellow blogmate here, for reminding me that I’ve always wanted to read this book.

Developing a strong author “voice” to make your work stand out in an editor’s or agent’s slush pile can be a challenge. It’s important to be so entrenched in your character’s head that you hear their voice in yours and can write it down without thinking too much, or editing yourself. I call this “free association.” As a reader, you can also experience a scene through the senses of the POV narrator and give that character an opinion of his/her surroundings to add setting description color as well as insight into the narrator to reflect on him or her. By making each word choice serve more than one purpose (to add color as well as insight into the character) can keep the pace moving without bogging down the narrative.

James Patterson talked about this at a Romance Writers of America conference in Reno in 2004 to a packed house of writers that filled two ballrooms. He said on the edge of his computer monitor, he has words that inspire him to remember the basics. BE THERE were the words he posted to remind him to put the reader into the scene by using their senses to trigger images from the words on the page.

When writing any scene, get the words down, but then go back and layer in other elements to enhance the voice of your narrator and make the reading experience more vivid for the reader. Ask yourself what your character would be seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and how something would feel when they touch it. Adding these elements can bring depth to the scene and draw the reader into the world you are creating, by triggering the “familiar” with them.

Below is an excerpt from John Green’s Looking for Alaska:

(Main character Pudge crushing on the beautiful yet enigmatic Alaska Young after he first meets her at boarding school.)

And now is as good a time as any to say that she was beautiful. In the dark beside me, she smelled of sweat and sunshine and vanilla, and on that thin-mooned night I could see little more than her silhouette except for when she smoked, when the burning cherry of the cigarette washed her face in pale red light. But even in the dark, I could see her eyes—fierce emeralds. She had the kind of eyes that predisposed you to supporting her every endeavor. And not just beautiful, but hot, too, with her breasts straining against her tight tank top, her curved legs swinging back and forth beneath the swing, flip-flops dangling from her electric-blue-painted toes. It was right then, between when I asked about the labyrinth and when she answered me, that I realized the importance of curves, of the thousand places where girls’ bodies ease from one place to another, from arc of the foot to ankle to calf, from calf to hip to waist to breast to neck to ski-slope nose to forehead to shoulder to the concave arch of the back to the butt to the etc. I’d noticed curves before, of course, but I had never quite apprehended their significance.

I loved this prose when I first read it and had to read it again. It captures a glimpse of the beautiful Alaska, as seen through Pudge’s eyes, in a lyrical voice that uses imagery very effectively. The pace doesn’t slow, but the reader gets snippets of pictures in their mind of a woman’s body in a sensual yet innocent way. You can smell the sweat of sunshine and vanilla, see the burning cherry of the cigarette wash across her face, and get glimpses of her flip-flopped electric blue painted toes and curve across her body as his eyes trail them. It's like he's seeing her, studying her, as a work of art. The way he looks at her gives insight into his nature, as well as share what he sees with the reader about Alaska. This paragraph is beautifully done without overdoing it.


Having given these examples, it’s important not to overwrite the setting/scene. In this excerpt, there is a laser focus on Alaska’s body without going into too much literal description. It’s presented in a way that gives the essence of her, to allow the reader to build their own image.  You can picture the student she is with glimpses of her flip flops and tank top, her painted toes, and the way she smokes, without having to endure a complete description of everything he sees. He's capturing her essence in a unique way that gives him a lyrical/literary voice.

Recently I read a book where the metaphors and similes stood out because they were not only unrelated to the other examples on the first few pages, but these comparisons did nothing to enhance the mood or give insight into the character or setting. It made the author appear like a student trying to impress the teacher, with not much thought going into the word choices and how they pertained to the story.

We are Visual Learners
Many people are visual learners, so using the senses (and/or metaphors and analogies) can bring in the visual using something familiar. These ideas can quickly suggest a setting without slowing the pace with too much word description. They give a quick snapshot of the scene in a way to trigger the reader’s mind and delve into their own experiences to make things more vivid. These images can also trigger emotions, such as comfort or fear, at the same time. In this excerpt from John Green, the words trigger memories of attraction and first loves. Adding these elements can not only bring color and distinction to the voice, but they can also layer in elements of emotion and visual triggers to enhance the voice. So let’s talk about metaphors and analogies.


Metaphors
A metaphor is an implied comparison that brings two dissimilar things together and implies that the two things are alike or comparable. Metaphors can be used to describe a complicated concept or setting, to make it more easily understood or relatable. They can enhance the imagery by adding a familiar feeling, such as the lightness of taking flight when you describe being in love, or describing death as a candle that is snuffed out.

Examples:
  • Ideas can mushroom
  • Love has wings
  • A brave man has the heart of a lion

Analogies
Just like a metaphor, an analogy makes a link between two dissimilar things, but implies there is a difference between the two things, while a metaphor treats them as the same.

Examples:
  • A fish is to water, what a bird is to air
  • A CEO is to a company, what a General is to an Army
  • A mother giving birth to a child, is what an author would be to the creation of a novel


I wanted to include other excerpts that use a visual imagery well in terms of metaphors and similes. One of my favorite books is The Book Thief. The New York Times called The Book Thief life changing. They did not exaggerate. I hope you enjoy these:

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
“She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.” The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 
 
“Upon her arrival, you could still see the bite marks of snow on her hands and the frosty blood on her fingers. Everything about her was undernourished. Wire-like shins. Coat hanger arms. She did not produce it easily, but when it came, she had a starving smile.” The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


If you are a reader - what are some of your favorite and memorable lines from books you’ve read that enhanced the mood, setting, or characters? If you are a writer – do you have any tricks to share on adding layers of a unique voice to your work?