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A couple of days ago, someone asked me via PM if I could give them some advice on starting a professional writing career (they were interested in writing SFF and romance). I'm probably not the best person to ask given the current state of my professional writing career -- but I went and wrote out a ginormous infodump in a PM, and then I decided to repost it here, because it might be useful to someone else, I guess?

Plus, you guys can tell me if I'm way off base with any of this. Or if anyone has additional suggestions, tell me, and I can edit them in!

Advice for aspiring writers )

So there it is ... maybe someone will find this handy, or maybe you guys have some better suggestions and/or would like to point out places where I'm way off base here?
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The Boston Globe has an interesting take on revising your work: that it's largely a product of 20th-century culture (the Modernists) and technology (typewriters), and we might be seeing another shift as computers make on-the-fly editing possible.

Interview on writing with Elmore Leonard. Of particular interest to me is the part of the interview in which he discusses writing for money:
You’ve said that you’ve approached writing both with a desire to write and to make as much money doing it as you could. Do you think that kind of honest, unpretentious attitude toward writing has helped you be a better, more productive writer?

Oh, definitely. All writers are in it for the money. What other reason is there?

But what about the notion of the starving artist, not selling out?

Samuel Johnson once said that anyone who would not write for money is a fool. You know? From the horse’s mouth, that’s why we’re doing it, but still attempting to do it as well as we can and not sacrificing our voice. I’m not going to write like some guy who’s making a lot more money than I am just because he is.

Frankly, it’s not that important. The story is the important thing and then go for the money.

Are there any perils to writing with money in mind?

I’m not writing with money in mind. I’m making the writing as good as I can.

I like his honesty, and the fact that he pushes back against the interviewer's apparent assumption that writing for money = being a hack. I mean, doctors don't do it just for the money -- at least, the better ones don't -- but they still want to get paid!
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The latest book from my Library Pile is one that I’d thought to be a historical murder mystery from the cover, but once I started to read, I realized it was a mystery-romance. The heroine has a meet-cute with a guy on the ferry that she’s taking to the Greek island where the events of the book take place. On the island, he is giving her a lift in his sporty little car, when he accidentally knocks over an old lady’s fruit stand, knocking oranges all over the road. Immediately, he stops, apologizes, and helps the old lady pick up her fruit.

And this really gave me pause; it made me stop and go, “Wow, I like this guy! This one’s a keeper, lady.”

… then about five pages later, the actual romantic hero shows up, which is clearly signposted because he is a total dick and the heroine hates him. Just to be sure, I turned to the blurb on the back (normally I avoid those, being a spoilerphobe) and discovered that not only is Dick Boy our “hero”, but the guy I’d liked so much is slated to be the murder victim.

Yeah. No. This one goes straight back to the library.

But this made me realize just how thoroughly over the alpha-hero trope I am. Over. Done. I want characters (male and female) who are the sort of person who would stop to help an old lady pick up her oranges. I am hungry for kind characters in literature, the sort of people who are aware that they exist as part of a community; who, when they accidentally hurt someone, notice and apologize for it, even if it’s a stranger, and doubly so if it’s a loved one.

And I think it was very eye-opening for me how startling it was, to encounter a scene in the opening pages of the book in which the character that I had believed to be the hero does something kind and altruistic. That’s rare. And it shouldn’t be. And this isn’t a problem specific to the romance genre. I read so many books in which the characters are misanthropic loners or just general jerks. I can enjoy me some misanthropic loners, but these days, I find that I’m really craving books about characters who aren’t. (Even if they may occasionally mistake themselves for one.)

Crossposted from Wordpress.  
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Sketch Fest is this weekend! And I am, as usual, doing other things and not drawing anything. *facepalm*

Plunge Magazine is a new paying market (token payment) focused on genre fiction, poetry and non-fiction about queer women. The theme for their upcoming issue is “Chase(d)”:

The chase between a criminal and a police officer.
Being chased by memories.
Chasing after a dream or priceless artifact.
Submissions will be accepted starting March 1; guidelines here.

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
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The final post in the Worldbuilding Blogfest – full list of participants here – is an excerpt from the work in progress. This obviously poses a bit of a problem for me because I went and changed everything. I tried writing some snippets from the new version, but I don’t really have a good enough handle on it to write it yet; I’m not sure who the characters are, or how closely it’s going to resemble the previous plot. So here’s an excerpt from the original story, “Angelcutters”, in which Franza, the protagonist, is investigating a murder that she’s really not supposed to be looking into.

Read the rest of this entry )
Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
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As noted in the last post, we’re now on Karamanda 2.0, The Re-Karamanding. *g*

Earlier posts from Karamanda v1.0 (much of which is now invalid):
Day 1: Geography & Climateon WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth
Day 2: History & Politicson WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth
Day 3: Religion & Magicon WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth

And the full list of blogfest participants, for your reading pleasure!

So, at this point, I’ve moved them from the mountains to the middle of a Mediterranean-like sea, and done away with most of my plot. *facepalm* One side effect of doing this is that most of the cultural stuff I’d come up with is no longer valid. A great deal of their material culture has changed tremendously — food and clothing, for example.

Read the rest of this entry )
Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
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Something I keep forgetting to include: The full list of Worldbuilding Blogfest participants is here, so you can check out everyone else’s posts, too! There’s some good stuff.

Anyway, what’s currently happening to Karamanda is an excellent example of my creative process in action! I’ve been discussing it with Schneefink in the Dreamwidth comments (and also here) and, after running into some major worldbuilding dead ends on the structure of their city and why it’s located in the mountains, I became completely taken with the idea of “fixing” my problems (like the climate) by putting it on a Mediterranean island. A lot of the cultural stuff was originally drawn from the Greeks and Romans, after all. So worldbuilding that (and sketching the new, improved, island-dwelling Karamandans) is basically what I did yesterday. It’s now a lot less hard-boiled PI and a lot more … uh … I don’t know what, exactly. Epic fantasy? YA? Something a lot less gritty and dark, certainly — more light, adventuresome, and suited to their newly sundrenched world. (And now my plot no longer works. Fugnuts.)


Yesterday’s initial attempt at designing my island-dwelling Karamandans. (Click for bigger.) I was going for something that was sort of Greece + South Pacific, and accidentally ended up with more of a Native American look instead. (Not that there’s an inherent problem with that, but it’s not what I was aiming for.)

Anyway, all those posts you just read? It kinda … no longer works that way. The basics are still fundamentally the same: two separate groups of winged people, bird-worship religion, no magic, etc.

Here are the older posts, for the sake of completeness and comparison:

Day 1: Geography & Climateon WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth
Day 2: History & Politicson WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth
Day 3: Religion & Magicon WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth

Then yesterday, I wrote this:

Read the rest of this entry )
Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
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Day 1: Geography & Climateon WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth
Day 2: History & Politicson WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth
Day 3: Religion & Magicon WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth

There is some really interesting discussion going on in the Dreamwidth comments to the earlier entries: here and here. I love this kind of worldbuilding brainstorming. And I’ve more-or-less decided to shift them from mountains to islands now — not because I feel like I’m being pressured at all (Schneefink, I definitely don’t want you to think that!) but because this is how my creative process WORKS. See, this is why it’s so hard for me to finish a novel. I am a complete flailbot when it comes to constantly changing my mind and being carried away by a shiny new idea. *g* And one of the reasons why I wanted to worldbuild Karamanda is because I have very little strongly established canon for them yet, and lots of things that could still change, or haven’t been developed at all.

Anyway, moving on to today’s topic!

Karamanda: Religion

Karamanda does not have actual, literal magic, in the fantasy-world sense. (Though it’s possible you could argue for some low-level magic being necessary to enable a being that’s roughly human-sized and human-shaped to fly. My kludge is that their gravity is a bit lighter than ours, but when it comes right down to it, they probably shouldn’t be capable of flying as easily as they can. The world doesn’t have magic in the traditional sense, but I reserve the right to claim magic for their flight if necessary!)

Traditional religion in the city takes two forms: the old religion (of which the Angels are the ceremonial leaders) and a somewhat debased form of it that is centered around the worship of particular kinds of birds — so there’s a pigeon cult, a sparrow cult, etc. There are also small groups of worshippers who follow various alternate religions introduced from outside.

The ceremonial life of the city is centered around a deity that is personified as a peregrine falcon, of which the Angels are its priests. This is the state religion, and all the official holidays and citywide public functions take place under this deity’s patronage. Falcons are sacred birds and may not be harmed. Angels keep them as pets (only Angels are allowed to) and hunt with them.

The different bird cults each have their own traditions and ceremonies. They are tolerated and mostly ignored; most of them include falcon reverence and follow state rituals/ceremonies while adding their own embellishments. Plenty of people are officially part of the falcon religion while privately following the teachings of one bird cult or another.

(If I do put them on islands, seagulls would be a major local bird; I should probably account for that …)

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
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Still no Internet at home … aargh. Obviously this is going to make it slow to reply to comments. Bear with me. :)

Also, for anyone coming in via links from elsewhere, I have anonymous commenting turned off on the WordPress blog because of the spampocalypse. However, all these posts are crossposted to my Livejournal account, where I do have anon commenting turned on! Anyway, on to Day 2.

Day 1: Geography & Climateon WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth
Day 2: History & Politicson WordPress | on Livejournal | on Dreamwidth

Karamanda: Political Overview

The city has an interesting, uneasy push-pull between the elected government who run its day-to-day workings, and the Angels who are the ceremonial and religious leaders.

Continued under cut )

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.

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It’s going to be interesting trying to get these posted daily, because we haven’t had Internet at home since last Monday, and the nearest coffee shop is a 12-mile drive. Still, the Worldbuilding Blogfest starts on Monday, and I have my posts all roughed out. I’m posting this one a bit early, due to the aforementioned connection issues. Technically it’s due to go up Monday, but, uh, it’s Monday in some parts of the world? Ahem.

I thought about which world to develop for this — it’s not like I don’t have enough of ‘em — but I decided to work on Karamanda, because it really does need a lot of developing, so this will be a good opportunity to work on it. Karamanda is the setting of a short story that some of you beta-read for me in an earlier draft, titled “The Angel Killers” at the time. (It’s now called “Angelcutters” and I’ve tried shopping the finished version around, but can’t sell it. I’ve thought about trying Karamanda as an experiment in crowdfunding, since I would like to write more stories in the world, but other projects keep taking priority.)

Anyway, feel free to comment on any of these entries, critique what I’ve posted, or ask more questions. This is mostly brainstorming to figure things out, so input is welcome! Even if I take awhile to respond to things until we get reliable Internet again.

The Karamanda stories are, basically, hard-boiled P.I. stories set in a city in which everyone has wings. Here’s what’s coming up:

Day 1: Geography & Climate
Day 2: History & Politics
Day 3: Religion and/or Magic
Day 4: Food, Drink, Holidays & Culture
Day 5: Worldbuilding Excerpt

You can also see a list of participants and visit their blogs at the Worldbuilding Blogfest site and more details on each day’s topic here.

Karamanda: Geography & Climate (plus a brief Karamanda overview)

Continued under cut )

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.

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I wrote 7000 words on the novel today. Combined with yesterday’s 3800 words … I actually have a draft of the second novel in the urban fantasy series.

It’s not exactly complete. The plot of this one has been a mess, and there are big holes where I simply summarized what was supposed to go there without actually writing it, along with large scenes (and possibly whole chapters) that are going to need to be removed, moved somewhere else, or completely rewritten from scratch.

But I finally have the end, and I think it’s a darn solid end, too. I feel good about it. I got all the characters where I want them, and the character relationships where I want them. And best of all, I’ve finally gotten down the part that I was having the most trouble with: the final battle. It might not be easy getting everything to fall into place from here, but I have an ending I like, and that’s a big thing.

Read the rest of this entry )
Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
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In the last four days, I’ve revised 90,000 words of (unfinished) novel and rewritten chunks of it in the hopes of figuring out how it ends.

Spoiler: I still don’t know how it ends.


In the meantime, an interesting link: The Worldbuilding Blogfest – this looks like immense fun! I think I’m going to sign up. I’m not sure if I want to use it as a platform to explore one of my existing worlds (Kismet, maybe?) or if it would be better to develop something entirely new. But anyway … fun! I thought some of you might enjoy it too.

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.


Jan. 5th, 2013 11:38 pm
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My head is in full-on editing mode, which means that I’m going around with “editing brain” turned on. Right now I feel like I should make myself a sticky note and slap it at the top of my computer screen: Do not overwrite!

One of my betas pointed out (accurately) that I have a tendency to over-explain my characters’ state of mind and actions. This is something I’ve been particularly focused on during my current round of revisions on the urban fantasy novel — not just in that area, but all of my overwriting tendencies. I still maintain that you will pry my adverbs out of my cold dead hands. :D But there are two specific things I’ve recently become aware of in my own writing, that I’ve been trying to fix.

Meandering descriptions of characters’ states of mind is the big one. “Where did he go?” she asked. She could hardly think for her worry; if only she had asked him for more details about his plans when she last saw him!

As opposed to: “Where did he go?” she asked, worried. Or just: “Where did he go?”

Obviously there is often a need for a little of this, but overdone, it turns into a sea of words, getting in the way of the reader actually seeing what’s going on.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that I often use too many descriptors. I like writing description. I think I’m pretty good at it. But there is no need to shovel in every detail of a scene, and in particular, I tend to overuse a similar construction to the following:

The canister was probably plastic or a dull metal. He upended it and dumped a handful of bright blue, glass or plastic beads into his palm.

The reason why I get tripped up on this one is because, often, the viewpoint character doesn’t have any way to know the exact specifics of the scene. So it feels (to me) as if being more specific, giving specifics the character doesn’t know, breaks out of their viewpoint. Stumbling through the dark room, she tripped over a chair or maybe a table. She can’t tell if it’s a chair or a table — it’s dark! But it doesn’t actually matter, unless the ambiguity is important. Far less intrusive to write: Stumbling through the dark room, she tripped over a chair. Just pick something and move on. As long as it doesn’t egregiously break POV, the reader won’t care.

Or: He upended the metal canister and dumped a handful of bright blue glass beads into his palm.

Who cares if the viewpoint character can tell at a glance if they’re glass or plastic? Maybe it’s obvious. Mostly, it just doesn’t matter. It’s extra, needless words to wade through, that don’t add anything to the scene. And it draws the reader’s attention to a completely pointless ambiguity. Unless, of course, the ambiguity is important. And it might be, especially in a sci-fi setting:

The canister was made of plastic or a dull metal; she’d never seen its like before.

I guess you don’t want to go overboard with the de-ambiguifying, obviously, by getting too specific for what the character can actually see or what they know. It’s not always “specific good, nonspecific bad”. It’s mostly the “this or that” construction that can usually be shortened down to “this”. Eight or nine hours later, they left the inn versus Eight hours later, they left the inn. Or Some kind of bird was singing outside the window, maybe a robin, as opposed to Robins were singing outside the window. Wading through a bunch of this kind of thing is making me want to shake my writer-self and go, “Just PICK something already!”

Crossposted to Wordpress, Livejournal and Dreamwidth. Comment wherever you like.
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It’s getting to the point that I’ve written (and finished) enough different things that I’m starting to have an idea of how my creative process seems to work. This is not how I thought my creative process worked. I’m not necessarily sure this is how I want it to work. Nevertheless, this seems to be the way it’s evolved. Basically, everything (original, i.e. non-fanfic) that I’ve finished in the last couple of years, except for the really short stuff, has gone like this:

Read the rest of this entry )

Originally published at Layla's Wordpress blog. You can comment here or there.

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I’m working on edits to my urban fantasy novel this afternoon and thinking about research. I just got back from three and a half weeks in the New York area, partly to visit my sister and partly to research my novel. (And my heart goes out to everyone who’s suffered and is still suffering in Hurricane Sandy; some of the places that flooded are places where I was just standing a week ago. To all of you on the East Coast, I hope that you and yours are safe!)

During my time in Ithaca and environs, I did pick up quite a few details that I’d gotten wrong (hence the revisions!), as well as collecting impressions to (hopefully) convey the sort of local flavor that you can only get from spending a lot of time in a place or talking to people who have.

But eventually I started to hit a point where I was researching things that I suspect 99.9% of locals don’t even know, which made me realize that there’s a certain point beyond which it makes just as much sense, if not more sense, to make things up rather than trying to get them exact in every detail. An example: we drove out to Trumansburg (a small town northwest of Ithaca) to see what grew in the ditches, since I have a scene where the characters scramble through a tangle of blackberry vines in a ditch beside the road near Trumansburg. And then I realized … who actually cares? It’s important to research the sort of details that people would notice if you got wrong (like the kind of doors on a particularly well-known Cornell building; I had gotten it all wrong before actually walking around campus). But then there’s the sort of thing that you can totally make up, provided you have some basic knowledge of the general area. I wouldn’t put blackberry brambles in a ditch if I were writing something set in Alaska, because they don’t grow wild here. That’s exactly the sort of detail that detail-nitpicking locals might notice (I know I would!) and go “Hey, wait a minute.” But blackberries grow wild in New York, and could quite plausibly grow in a roadside ditch, and I’m not convinced that scrutinizing the actual ditches in the actual Trumansburg area to see if any of them have blackberry thickets (and if not, what they do have) is a good use of my time.

And there are even some times when it’s actually better to fake it rather than using a real business or a real neighborhood, especially if you plan to blow it up. *g* Giving yourself permission to make things up also gives you more freedom to, say, give your building exactly as many floors as it needs for your plot, regardless of whether the actual buildings in the area are four stories or five. Aside from perhaps an architecture student, who stands around counting floors on the buildings in their neighborhood? Who’s going to notice if you add or subtract one?

I’ve always disagreed with those who describe fiction as a form of lying, but it is a sort of augmented reality, and as long as you know enough to plausibly fake it, I think you can totally get away with it. If you’ve never even SEEN a farm, then probably you should do a bit of research before writing about one, but I’ve spent enough time on and around farms that I think I can get away with writing plausibly about farm country even if I’m not up on the exact details of what the ditches look like in that particular spot of farm country.

(For the record, in this case, I think the blackberry thicket is plausible based on what I saw on our drive. Most of the area seems to have shallower, less overgrown ditches than I had imagined, but I also saw places that were similar enough to what I’d envisioned that I don’t think it would jump out as wrong to someone who was familiar with the area. And I had fun exploring, so it’s not like it was a waste of time! But even if the scene doesn’t correspond exactly to reality, exploring the ditches to figure out what grew in them was probably a completely pointless level of research, unless it was going to be tremendously important to the plot. Which it isn’t.)

Originally published at Layla's Wordpress blog. You can comment here or there.

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I sent out a bunch of short stories at the end of August, which are now trickling back in with little rejection notices attached. Pfoo.

It’s funny; I alternate between two modes when it comes to writing: “I HAVE THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD”, and “Why am I doing this again, what’s the point, blah …” Because I really DO have the best job in the world! I know that I am incredibly, incredibly lucky right now to be able to stay home and write all the time. I have a supportive spouse with a good job, and we don’t have kids and aren’t carrying a load of debt, and that makes me unbelievably fortunate. But on the flip side, this is my job now, and sometimes I struggle with the feeling that I’m drowning in a sea of rejection notices and that I’m either not actually good enough at it to make money this way, or just not commercial enough to manage to sell anything. Wah wah, etc.

Of course, there’s always self-publishing. Which brings me to the actual, practical reason why I’m making this post! I’m finishing up the final copy-editing on the Freebird book, and I’m trying to figure out what to charge for it. I have a pretty good feeling for the going retail prices for books of typical size and shape, but this isn’t a typical size and shape. It’s going to be 8.5×11″ and 80 pages. I had initially roughed it out to be 144 pages and comic-strip-shaped (basically, 9×6″ or whatever the closest equivalent was that I could get printed). But it turns out that most POD printers either don’t handle landscape-shaped books, or charge a lot more for them. (Because irony loves me, I didn’t investigate CreateSpace until typesetting the whole book — and come to find out, you actually can do economical landscape-shaped books on CreateSpace. Except now that I’ve got the whole thing typeset at 8.5×11, I kinda like it that way …)

Anyway, my question is – what’s a fair price for an 80-page, 8.5×11″ book? I was initially thinking $10, but for selling it wholesale, I’d be scraping the edge of my profit margin. It really would make better economic sense to charge $12. But is $12 too much for a book that’s so thin? It’s got all the same content as the 144-page book (and I think I’d have no problem charging $12 or even $14 for that) but I’m worried that it’ll look overpriced.

Or should I go back to my original plan and reset the book at the smaller-but-thicker size, so that it looks like a better value for the money?

What do you think?

Originally published at Layla's Wordpress blog. You can comment here or there.

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At a time when the rest of the U.S. is probably wondering if summer will ever end, we in Alaska are starting to notice yellow in the trees and a hint of bite to the air. Hence the new autumn-themed header image on my WordPress blog (from last year’s autumn photos — this is an aspen tree in the gravel pit between our house and the highway).

EMG-zine is now in the last half of their final year. They’re not a paying market, but they have good-quality short fiction, art and articles; they’ve published two of my short stories. Themes for the issues still accepting submissions are:

October – Magic
November – Wolves
December – Stars

(I’d like to try to write something for at least one of these! Deadlines are one month before the issue comes out: so the deadline for October is Sept. 1.)

Originally published at Layla's Wordpress blog. You can comment here or there.

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“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is a signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”
– Annie Dillard from The Writing Life

I first encountered this quote (well, a paraphrased version) in the absolutely wonderful Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. I want to print it out and tape it in about five places around my writing area.

Because, yes. This is something I really struggle with. I’ll come up with a clever idea or a neat title or a character name I really love or a wonderful introductory paragraph or an archetype that really speaks to me — and I’ll want to save it for a better project. I’ll think, “Oh, this character is only going to be in one short story; I don’t want to waste that name on him!” Or: “I’ve had this character in my head since I was 12; I have to wait for the perfect story to use her in!” Or: “What a nifty idea; I should save it to use in a better story later.”

I hadn’t realized until reading this quote that other people feel this way too. I sometimes worry about running out of inspiration, but the world is a never-ending well of it; I probably already have more ideas than I could write in a lifetime, more character names than I could use, more titles than I will ever have stories for. The more of these I clear out, the more room there will be for other, newer, fresher ideas and characters and titles. And if I write the very best I can, I suspect I’ll just learn how much better I can write. (At least, that’s how it seems to be working so far.)

Besides, if you save all the good ideas for later, you’ll never write anything good now. And since everything we write is (technically) being written now, that means you’ll never write anything really good. You’ll just daydream about the awesome stories you’ll write someday when you’re good enough.

Originally published at Layla's Wordpress blog. You can comment here or there.

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Poetry Fishbowl today at [ profile] ysabetwordsmith's journal. (Instructions/explanation at the link.) She does these regularly, and I think it's a fabulous idea and keep meaning to link to them, but I am so sucktastically erratic about reading my LJ friendslist that I don't usually notice one is going on 'til it's over. Also, the theme this time is Hart's Farm (scroll down to the description), which is a setting of hers that I really like.

Meanwhile, I have been learning a metric shit ton of stuff about writing lately. It's interesting to have been doing this as long as I have been (technically speaking), and still feel like I am at the bottom of the learning curve. But one of the things I've been learning about lately is finding my own voice. There have always been things I've written that I have connected to very strongly, and things that I haven't, and I think I'm starting to figure out the difference between them.

My natural tendency as a writer, generally speaking, is to focus on "up" beats rather than "down" beats -- I do write dark, unhappy stuff, and I kill characters and so forth, but I would say that my general view of the world and of human nature is pretty optimistic, and this is reflected in my fiction. I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of years, however, writing short stories and trying to sell them to various SF markets, and attempting to match the general style of the markets I'm submitting to, which in most cases means that I'm trying to write dark, dystopic stories with unhappy endings. And I've been realizing lately that no wonder those stories weren't selling -- either I didn't really enjoy writing them, or else I had to fight my natural tendency towards happy(ish) endings in order to end on a "down" beat, and of course that is going to make the finished product feel stilted and formulaic.

It sometimes feels that there is not much of a market out there for the kind of stuff that I tend to write, but that doesn't mean changing what I write; it means finding the markets that fit my type of story (which was what I did - successfully! - with Sword & Sorceress) rather than changing my style to fit the markets. Which is basic Writing Theory 101, but it seems like it never helped to be told that; I had to figure it out for myself via a lot of unsuccessfully laboring on incredibly depressing stories that never went anywhere.

(It probably says a lot that I have never had this problem with fanfic at all, and usually not so much with self-published stuff, either. it's only when I specifically aim to write stuff for publication that I end up in a self-conscious zone where I'm trying to guide my work to a specific stylistic goal, and usually failing. It's not just self-conscious striving for publication - it's also trying out stylistic experiments that don't work, which is what some of Raven's Children is - but the point, I guess, is that I'm finding myself doing it more naturally and less self-consciously as I learn to relax and settle into celebrating my own strengths as a writer rather than trying to fight them.)

I've been trying my hand at some romance lately, which has never entirely been my cup of tea, but one of the reasons why I thought it might be a fun way for me to write something salable is because romance is all about the happy ending. Ironically that is one of the big reasons why it often isn't my cup of tea, because I prefer my happy endings uncertain (snatched from the jaws of defeat!) and dislike knowing from the beginning that things will work out for the characters. On the other hand, I have read romance that I liked, and the process of figuring out the aspects that made me like it, and then attempting to translate that into my own writing, has been really interesting.

Edited to add, because I'm still thinking about this: I remember commenting as far back as 2003/2004 that Kismet, which was my "play place" - a dumping ground for ideas that I considered too bizarre, silly or cliche to burden my "serious" novels with - was getting a great audience response and was so fun to work on that, unlike RC, I never got tired of it and couldn't really see myself getting tired of it. But I don't think I had ever carried it through to the conclusion I've come to now: that what made Kismet fun to read and to write was that it was closer to my natural "voice" than anything else I was writing at the time, and that was a style worth pursuing.

Edited yet again: To add another link! I knew there was something else I wanted to link here. The SF/fantasy webzine Crossed Genres is trying to raise the funds at Kickstarter to pay their authors pro rates. (If you visit the page, there is more info - you'll notice they've already met their first goal, but since that went smoothly, now they're aiming for a second, higher goal that requires significantly more funding.) It would be great to have another pro SF market out there, especially since my general experience with them has been that they're great to work with!


May. 31st, 2012 07:28 pm
layla: grass at sunset (Default)
Okay, I have to gush a bit about my new word processor acquisition. :D My current rapture of delight will make a whole lot more sense if I give a little background here.

I have always owned Macs, and for a decade, I did all my writing in AppleWorks (formerly ClarisWorks). I loved AppleWorks. It was quick-loading, simple and fast; it had few bells and whistles; it didn't take up a lot of space or slow down my machine; and it had a feature that no other program under the sun seems to have -- clean HTML export (i.e. minimal tags: *p* and *b* and *i*, and that's about it), which I used a lot when I was writing long journal posts or formatting fiction to put on the web. Since I always wrote in it, ClarisWorks/AppleWorks was my entire writing environment -- it was desktop and notebook, favorite pen and favorite coffeeshop. It was where I went to write.

And then Apple stopped supporting it. In 2004.

I went ahead and limped along, even though it got crashier with each new release of the Mac OS, to the point where I had to re-install it about once a month. The news that new versions of the Mac OS would no longer support PPC programs at all, though, meant that the writing was on the wall. Any new computer I bought from here on out would no longer be able to run the program. Realizing that I was going to be faced with the horrifying scenario that everything I'd written would become inaccessible to me (since it was all saved in AppleWorks's proprietary format), I started a quest for a new word processor.

For the last couple of years, I've written mostly using a combination of a plain-text editor (BBedit or TextEdit) and OpenOffice, trying to wean myself off AppleWorks completely. I like plain text -- the fact that it's completely portable between all systems is a huge advantage; no losing access to my files 2 or 5 or 10 years from now -- but I'm frustrated by the lack of italics or other formatting. Also, my two main plain-text editors each have a significant drawback: BBedit has no spell check, and TextEdit has no word count feature. For a while I tried to make OpenOffice my main word processor (both my current working novels were written in it), but I hated it -- the program was dreadfully slow, its HTML export was as useless as Word's, and its ability to save as RTF was also buggy as hell (which was a problem because most of the places where I've been submitting fiction ask for RTF submissions), not to mention that some of its behavior was different than any other word processor I've used (like not being able to jump to the end of a block of selected text with the down arrow). I found myself struggling to work around OpenOffice rather than enjoying the process of writing in it.

A couple of days ago I downloaded Bean, and I am in LOVE. I think I have found my new word processor.

It's super-fast. It's clean. It's simple. It looks a lot like AppleWorks -- actually, the menu structure is so similar that Bean is obviously designed at least partly to cater to the needs of sad AppleWorks expatriots. It doesn't have its own proprietary format; instead it uses RTF as a native format, which means total file portability. And best of all -- CLEAN HTML EXPORT. When I discovered that, I was utterly smitten.

I spend hours every day writing, and I want my word processor to vanish into the background. I want to forget that I'm on a computer and just see the words. Every time the cursor lags behind my typing, every time the program does something unexpected, I'm jerked out of my happy writing reverie. So far, Bean has been working beautifully and it does just what I want it to do: it puts the words on the page without becoming a distracting burden itself.

I know better than to think that it will be around forever. Orion thinks I'm being an idiot to rely on RTF (Microsoft! Ack!), but at least it's ubiquitous enough that most programs seem to be able to import it and there will probably be converters around for the foreseeable future. Ten years from now, I may be doing everything in Google Docs or whatever the newest thing is. But for now, I think I have found my AppleWorks replacement.


layla: grass at sunset (Default)

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