Writing

We Are not Good People & WDAC

This year at the 2015 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, I’ll not only be offering up my presentation on plotting a novel (which was really well-received last year and which will be 150% more awesome this year because I plan to be sober this time) I’ll also be attending the cocktail reception and signing copies of We Are Not Good People (the plotting of which I discussed last year in a WDAC-related post). It’s my understanding that the conference is sold out, so this isn’t really me drumming up attendance (and yes, I fully expect to be sitting there alone, nursing a drink and weeping when absolutely no one buys my book to get signed).

If you’ve read WANGP, then you know the ending sort of folds back on the story, and the ending has been a divisive aspect of the story for some. It was very deliberate, though; Despite the fact that the whole book was more or less pantsed (that is, made up as I went, as opposed to being planned out) I did have the ending in mind as I wrote. As the story progressed, it became clearer and clearer to me that this was the only way the story could end.

One of the hardest things to come to terms with as a writer isn’t the people who think your works sucks and that you’re a terrible writer–every author will have those folks, and what can you do? No, it’s the people who love your work but hate one thing vehemently. When people tell me they loved We Are Not Good People but hate the ending, it’s difficult, because you feel like you disappointed Your People. These aren’t haters, they’re fans, and so their feelings about your work matter a lot more than the people who think you’re a Pantsless Wonder.

While writing this book, though, it slowly dawned on me that the whole point was really the friendship between the main character, Lem, and his nonsexual life partner Pitr Mags. This was a bromance, really, and Lem has nothing without his friend. As that friendship loomed larger and larger I realized, in the end, that Lem would do anything to save that friend–and thus that friendship. At a certain point, there was really only one way it could end. Sometimes plotting is like that: There’s only one possible ending, whether other people get it or not.

I’ll be talking about WANGP a bit during my Writer’s Digest presentation, and I’ll be ready to sign copies. Or sit there getting soused and muttering obscenities at people, whichever.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Hanzai Japan

Hanzai Japan

Hanzai Japan

One of the great joys of writing, for me, is selling a short story. I can’t explain it: You can’t live on the money you make, you often get very little notice for it, and yet I’m privately incredibly excited whenever I manage to convince someone that some chunk of words is worth paying me for.

My short story “Three Cups of Tea” will be included in the forthcoming Hanzai Japan from Haikasoru, which naturally makes it your priority. “Tea” is a Philip K. Marks story; this is the fourth story I’ve sold starring Mr. Marks, who’s a sort of run-down paranormal detective with huge chunks of his life missing from his memory (but not from some unpublished stories). For some reason when I think of Marks I tend to get some really awesome ideas.

I have some stiff competition in this anthology, though. Here’s the complete TOC:

Genevieve Valentine “(.dis)”

Yusuke Miyauchi “Sky Spider”

Libby Cudmore “Rough Night in Little Toke”

Ray Banks “Outside the Circle”

Yumeaki Hirayama “Monologue of a Universal Transverse Mercator Map”

Brian Evenson “Best Interest”

Jyouji Hayashi “Vampiric Crime Investigative Unit: Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department”

Naomi Hirahara “Jigoku”

Carrie Vaughn “The Girl Who Loved Shonen Knife”

Kaori Fujino “Run!”

S. J. Rozan “Hanami”

Violet LeVoit “The Electric Palace”

Setsuko Shinoda “The Long-Rumored Food Crisis”

Jeff Somers “Three Cups of Tea”

Chet Williamson “Out of Balance”

Hiroshi Sakurazaka “The Saitama Chain Saw Massacre”

Get excited and pre-order this one today! And while you’re at it, buy Haikasoru’s other anthologies: The Future is Japanese and Phantasm Japan.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Process and Plot

Walled_coverAs I mentioned last week, I’ll be returning to the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in August, once again giving a presentation called TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF AND WRITE! THE BENEFITS AND PITFALLS OF PANTSING VS. PLOTTING A NOVEL.As you might guess, the subject of the presentation will be plotting out novels, and the different approaches you can take to the problem. After all, it’s easy to come up with a clever premise. It’s much harder to create a story that doesn’t simply make sense, but keeps your reader guessing in a good way, surprising and challenging them but hanging together in the end.

I’m not a particularly experimental writer. For a while, in my youth, I thought I might be, and I played around with POV and narrative technique a little. Even today I’ll work in some little bits of experimentation from time to time, just to give myself a jolt of energy. For example,when I found myself missing Avery Cates and suddenly filled with ideas about a new set of stories set around that character, I could have just wrote a fucking novel or three and been done with it, as I usually do. Instead, I decided to try something new: I pieced it out.

Avery Cates: The Shattered Gears

Avery Cates: The Shattered Gears

I already had a stray short story on my hard drive starring Avery Cates: The Shattered Gears. It was the germ of my new ideas for the character, so I simply dusted it off, ran it through editing, and published it myself as a digital-only short. Threw it up on the online stores, and then set to work–writing more short stories. What I mean is, I took about three novels’ worth of story and carved it up into short segments, and began working on them individually. When I finished the second one, The Walled City, once again I ran it through the editing machine and published it, then began working on the next segment, which will be titled The Pale and will be out in a few months.

It might seem like a minor change in process, but it’s really kind of a big change, at least for me. I don’t usually outline my novels much before writing, but this time I plotted the whole sequence out first, one long story. Then I divided that story into three, and then I divided each book of the resulting trilogy into 4-6 sections. Instead of writing the whole story, I’m working on quick sections of it, getting it ship-shape, and then publishing it. The danger is, I can’t go back and change anything if I have an inspiration or realize I’ve plotted myself into a corner.

But the fun is, it’s a fast, dirty way of working that’s kind of exciting. If this was how I always wrote it would just be my process. But since it’s different, it’s exciting–and often that’s the key. You just have to shake things up, sometimes, to get the rusty plot gears turning. The big question, of course, is whether or not I’ll be able to finish all these connected stories and put out the complete novel versions. Gosh, that would be embarrassing.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Speaking @ The 2015 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

Me Smart.

Me Smart, circa 2014.

As some of you may recall, I conducted a seminar on plotting a novel at last year’s Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, which was a smashing success. Or at least I was not chased from the building, pantsless and weeping, as so often happens when I am invited to things.

Welp, surprisingly, they invited me back to offer my insta-classic seminar Take Your Pants Off and Write! The Benefits and Pitfalls of Pantsing vs. Plotting a Novel once again.

http://www.writersdigestconference.com/index.php/schedule

What will you learn at this amazing seminar? Many things! I’ve written nearly 20 novels and published 9 of them for money, so I can obviously string fictional events together into a story. If you’re struggling with that aspect of your writing, I’ll be exploring the two main plotting processes writers use (pantsing vs. plotting), the advantages of each, and how they can be combined into something I have dubbed plantsing.

You will also learn how sweaty a grown man can become in public, how often his wife interrupts him so she can “tell the story right,” and how many times he can mention the fact that he’s published nine novels. Also, I’ll be lingering around the rest of the day, lurking on the edges of the events until the cocktail reception, at which time the pants come off and my inner John Belushi comes out.

Pass this on to anyone looking to improve their writing! Or anyone who wants to insult me in person.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

The Power of a Classic Lack of Choice

Visual Representation of Most People's MySpace Pages.

Visual Representation of Most People’s MySpace Pages.

MANY BOTHANS DIED TO BRING US THIS INFORMATION: So, over at US Weekly (don’t ask how I came across this) they did a little piece on Kim Kardashian’s old MySpace account. You can Us Weekly on KK’s MySpace Monstrosity, and view the pink horror of Princess Kimberly and her 856 MySpace friends. This was in 2006, two years before Facebook arrived on the scene, so people can be forgiven for having a MySpace page. However, I think there’s a lesson here for writing and writers — no, seriously, wait, where are you going? Come back!

So, here’s the thing: Forget Kim Kardashian, just look at that hot mess of a page. Then compare it to Facebook. On the one hand, MySpace should have been the more popular. People can customize their pages, changing colors, adding graphics and music. Facebook is like the Dystopian government of social media: You get one shade of blue and one shade of white and fuck you if you don’t want to see promoted shit. And yet, Facebook is dominant and MySpace … well, people are generally confused to discover that MySpace still exists.

The lesson here for writers is: When it comes to worldbuilding, classic and clean is usually better.

See, back in 2006 you might have been forgiven for assuming that the world of social media and online profiles et al would go the way of MySpace: Increasing customization, increasing personalization. People had some hideous, hideous and horrific (but very personal) MySpace pages back in the day. Don’t believe me, just Google “ugly MySpace pages” and see them in their eye-straining glory. But if you were trying to imagine the kids using the intrawebs back in 2006, or trying to envision what the Super Internet of the future in 2015 would look like back in 2006, you might have used MySpace as a jumping off point and imagined a world where everyone had complete and awful control over the aesthetics of their social media.

Instead, of course, Facebook came along. Like a stern older executive at your company, they don’t allow customization, really. Everyone gets exactly one shade of blue, limited control over what they see and who sees what they post, and generally a uniform and bland visual experience. And people love it. Or at least like it better than the nightmarish universe that was MySpace.

The Lesson

So, the lesson: Be careful when imagining where the world will be — and also when cherry-picking the details you use to establish time and place when your story is set in the present. If you published a novel in 2006 that went on and on about someone’s MySpace page, then welcome to that awkward moment when everyone in the universe will have a moment of eyebrow-raising disruption when they come across this nugget in your story.

Now, we all get things wrong, sometimes. And heck — you might use Facebook in a story today, feeling fairly confident that its 7-year reign of terror over us all will go on forever. But like Kubrick’s use of Pan Am in 2001: A Space Odyssey, even the most established and seemingly rock-solid organizations and corporations can fall, leaving your work sadly dated. This would argue for limiting such references as much as possible. After all, your reference to Facebook might lend your scene a verisimilitude today, and make it feel ancient and outdated three years from now. Keep it classic and clean — which means concentrating more on what your characters are doing rather than the corporate channels they’re using.

And, in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t have a MySpace page. I actually thought I was too good for social media until 2010 or so, which might explain why I’m so unpopular.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

New Avery Cates Short Story Coming

Walled_coverSo, Avery Cates is not only my first published book series, it’s also a character close to my heart and one I thoroughly enjoy writing. And while I’m busy with a lot of other projects, sitting down and writing an Avery story always remains in the back of my head, so I’m giving in, slowly.

A few months ago I published The Shattered Gears, a short story that was also the nub of a new Avery adventure. Since then I’ve written The Walled City, which will be released as a short story on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play on June 15th, 2015, again for 99 cents. It’s a direct continuation of the story from The Shattered Gears. It’s available for pre-order now, in fact!

I have a whole story arc laid out, and what I’m going to do, until someone tells me to stop, is write chunks of the story and release them as novella-length pieces. Each piece will be a standalone story as well as a piece of a larger story. When all the chunks are out, I’ll combine them into the complete novel and release it separately.

Why not? This way I’m not trying to write a whole novel while trying to write six other things, but I still get to play in my favorite universe and sell some writing. It’s a win-win, I think.

Feel free to spread the word to any Avery fans out there. Here’s a little video trailer I made for the new story:

Any questions, just shoot me an email!

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Rejection-palooza Part the Fourth

Once again, I’ve taken a walk through my many, many, many rejections letters in search of interesting or humorous things. This time I switched over to my pile of short story rejections.

I write a fair number of short works out of love, and also because I think writing short stories keeps you in practice. By forcing myself to think up a premise and knock out 1,000 – 5,000 words that conclude with a recognizable ending every month, I’m keeping my skills sharp. Or so I tell myself. Whatever, shut up. Anyways, as a result of this practice I have tons of short stories to sell, and so I, er, sell them. I’ve been trying to hawk my short stories for decades, and I have the rejections to prove it.

These days, most of those rejections are emails, because I don’t submit via paper any more. But back in 2006 I was still sending out paper submissions, with HILARIOUS cover letters. Trust me: Hilarious cover letters for the win. I got this response for a short story called “Time’s Thumb”:

NO PANTS for the win.

NO PANTS for the win.

I don’t recall what I wrote in the cover letter about my pants, but it amused the editor enough to invite me to submit again. Did I? I honestly can’t recall right now. Probably not, because I am incompetent.

I do think selling writing is 50% finding someone on the other side that sees things the way you do, who gets your jokes and references. Making an editor laugh is a good way to be memorable to them, and to wedge your story into their brains. Also, it’s one more step towards a world where everyone just accepts that I don’t wear pants. Mission: Accomplished.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

The Lazy Writer’s Problem: Wikipedia

Tell you what ... you do it.

Tell you what … you do it.

The conundrum is classic: They tell you, as a young writer, that you should always “write what you know.” The idea is sound enough: If you stick to things you know something about from personal experience — be it people to base characters on, or outlandish stories that actually happened, or the infinite details of a trade or hobby — then your writing will always ring true. It was shimmer with that special realistic gravity that sucks people in.

There are limitations, of course. Say you’re halfway through your novel and the plot problems would be solved if someone, say, joined the army. Great! Except you’ve never joined the army. In fact, uniforms, exercise, and weapons — the three main ingredients of military service, peppered with humiliation, violence, and busy work — are so not your thing. You wind up facing the horror that Lazy Writers everywhere fear most: Research.

The Bad Old Days

Of course, in the Bad Old Days, research generally meant either hitting the books at a library or actually doing the thing you needed research on. The former, while affordable and possible no matter your circumstances, was often deadly dull. The latter was only possible if you were a Gentry Writer living off the fumes of a trust fund or something — the rest of us, proles all, were forced to work Day Jobs and do our research on the margins.

Ah, but then the Internet! Suddenly, Lazy Writers like me could just look stuff up. Need to know what a street looks like in a small town in France? Try Google Street View. Everything is out there if you dig hard enough, and you don’t have to put on pants and walk out into the sunlight to the library, or book a flight to France just to snap some photos.

The Bad Old Now

However, disaster looms for we Lazy Writers, because, as usual, Trolls are ruining everything. Wikipedia has always been a dubious place to do real research — you would never have used Wikipedia as the basis for anything serious. Novel research, however — why not. After all, 90% of a novel is made up anyway. Wikipedia was filled with misinformation and politically-motivated edits, yes, but for quick, basic stuff you could at least use it as a starting point.

No more; the Trolls have ruined it. A decline in working editors, an ever-expanding and torturous set of rules in an increasingly insulated Wikipedia, and a growing amount of bullshit going uncaught in the online encyclopedia has put the nail in it: If you want to be a Lazy Writer, you’re screwed.

Worse, a recent experiment found that small errors purposefully introduced to Wikipedia lingered for very long periods of time, meaning that your chances of picking up a detail you think makes you sound smart will actually make you sound incredibly stupid. This, of course, is the fear of the Lazy Writer.

So what does it all leave us with? A lot of novels about being sad, mildly-employed alcoholics, because now all of us Lazy Writers have to Write What We Know.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

The Art of Rejection Part Deux

Here we are in the second installment of essays about rejection letters I’ve received, because it’s educational and also because this blog is a hungry time-devouring beast that demands content, content, more and more content! until I lay awake at night wondering how in the world I will attract eyeballs tomorrow, and the next day, and the next until sleep is a distant memory.

Also, going back through these rejection letters has been eye-opening. First of all, I don’t recall being this industrious. I’m typically a lazy, lazy man. Secondly, I don’t recall being this hilarious.

Back in the Day I bought a Writer’s Market and read all the advice within and then promptly ignored it all and wrote these sloppy, funny, shaggy-dog type query letters based on the theory that I didn’t want to work with an agent or editor who didn’t “get” me or my sense of humor. This has proven to be excellent advice from my younger self, which is an unusual condition as my younger self’s advice is typically horseshit along the lines of “Sleep more” or “Dude!” – that’s it, just the word dude.

Anyways, here’s a query letter I sent out to a small publisher in early 1997, which was sent back to me with the handwritten notes on it, requesting the manuscript, and then my follow-up letter delivering the manuscript and the handwritten notes rejecting the book. I thought I’d share these because the query letter is a disaster in many ways, and yet it got a request for a full solely because I amused everyone in the room – in fact, I have another rejection somewhere that tells me flat out they would publish the query letter but not the book.

Yet Another Query letter from a Desperate and Violence-Prone Writer of Fiction

Yet Another Query letter from a Desperate and Violence-Prone Writer of Fiction

reject_97_Page_2

My God You Want to See the Book

The book itself was title Shadow Born (yes, yes, I know – my titles are awful and everyone knows this) and is one I still quite like, actually, although it is definitely juvenilia. It’s set at a college party where something terrible happens, is told from various POVs and employs some minor experimental things (experimental for me, not, you know, literature itself). The bit about my brother’s feedback is true. When he read the MS he complained that the final chapter, which was the MC ranting in a stream-of-consciousness way, should be titled “Lord Kincaid’s Farewell Address” because of its pomposity, so I promptly re-titled the chapter “Lord Kincaid’s Farewell Address” in a fit of pique. BURN.

Anyways, I had a lot of success getting responses from agents and editor by sending humorous, self-deprecating queries. I also had a lot of blank, form, and slightly negative responses to this tactic, so Your Mileage May Vary.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus

Being Charged for Submissions

I have cats to feed, you know.

I have cats to feed, you know.

The other day, writer Nick Mamatas mentioned pulling a story submission from a magazine because the magazine had instituted submissions fees (see the Storify here: https://storify.com/NMamatas/against-submission-fees). As it happens, I’d spent the day before seeking markets to submit stories in my typically semi-incompetent, shaggy dog kind of way, and I’d gotten frustrated after hitting three markets in a row that required submission fees of $2-$4 or thereabouts. It’s not a lot of money, maybe, but I didn’t submit to those magazines, because I agree with Nick: Submission fees are exploitive, and demonstrate that the market in question doesn’t value writers very highly.

It comes down to this: My work has value. The essential belief involved in fiction markets is that people (readers) will pay magazines and publishers money to read the things we write. If a magazine charges readers for the privilege of reading my genius, they should pay me for the right to publish it. If no one pays the magazine, that’s not my fault or my problem. They’re free to stop buying my work if I’m not bringing in eyeballs.

And I am free to not submit to markets that charge a submission fee, so what’s the problem? Well, I know that a few decades ago when I was just getting my legs under me, I might have paid some submission fees, because I was dimwitted and desperate for some professional street cred. And $2, even in those ancient days, was low enough that I could have considered it the cost of doing business. And all that would likely mean today is that I would have spent $500 on submission fees and likely not sold a damn thing, because the stories I was submitting weren’t all that great.

Being inundated with awful slush from idiots like me isn’t a good reason for submission fees, either. As Nick points out somewhere in there, a) reading slush is the price you pay for accepting submissions, b) there are ways to throttle down submissions if you’re being crushed by crappy subs (most easily, reading periods or very tight guidelines) and c) fees won’t stop the awful, it just monetizes it.

Money should flow to the writer, because we created the shit you want to read. It’s that simple. Yes, publishers get a cut for providing infrastructure. Others might get a cut for facilitating or assisting, who knows. But writers shouldn’t pay to play, period. As Nick points out, everyone else associated with getting a magazine out to its readers gets paid – why shouldn’t writers? And if people choose to volunteer for a magazine out of love for words, that’s great, but has nothing to do with submission fees.

Now if someone wants to talk to me about paying me for my submissions, I am open to that conversation. I’ve got a lot of stories, people. A lot of stories.

facebooktwittergoogle_plus
loading