Memorial Day, 2018

It’s Memorial Day here in the US, which means it’s supposed to be a day for us to remember and honor those who have fallen in the armed forces.

Both sides of my family have a tradition of serving in the military. My brother’s a Marine. So is my nephew. My uncle-in-law damaged his hearing while manning artillery in World War II. Several of my cousins have been in the Army, the Marines, the Air Force.

Thankfully, they’ve all come home. But that’s not true for every family, or even most families.

To me, the best way to honor those who have fallen is to treat our current veterans’ lives with respect. That means never going to war under false pretenses. It means choosing our allies carefully, so that we don’t need to hesitate about defending them when they are under attack. It means never rushing to war, and keeping our diplomatic corps as strong as our military, so we always have options.

Too often, I feel our leaders — of all political stripes — have failed to do this. It’s as if each one of them secretly wants another World War II, a “just” war they can use to drape themselves in glory. But that’s how we got Vietnam: a (Democratic) President lying to Congress and the American people about a war we didn’t need to fight. The Second Iraq War was more of the same, only under a Republican this time.

I understand foreign policy is not black-and-white. It’s a complicated, shifting thing, where today’s ally could be tomorrow’s foe. But we should never go to war without knowing why. We should never hurry to wage war when we don’t have to.

It’s the least our leaders can do for us, we who have to fight and die, we who have to wait and worry and pray for our brothers and sisters and wives and fathers to come home.

If you’ve lost family in war, my heart goes out to you. May you find some comfort this Memorial Day, and in all the days to come.

Keeping Score: May 21, 2018

Haven’t posted in a bit. We’ve been ramping up the search for a house this month, and between looking and inspecting and filling out paperwork, I haven’t had much room in my head for anything else.

I have kept up my writing, though. Having that deadline hanging over my head, and the punishment that would come with missing it, has pushed me to get things done. I’ve just made my word count every week, even if that meant writing half of them on Saturday in a mad rush to keep from missing the target.

Most of those words have been for the novel, though I’ve not dropped the short story. After getting some harsh (but accurate) feedback from a beta reader, I realized it needed a full rewrite. That’s almost complete, and I think the new version is much stronger. There may even be a novel lurking in there, in the background of that world.

Thankfully, that novel’s not too distracting…yet. What has been distracting is how my ideas for how best to write the novel keep changing, right in the middle of this first draft. I’m now curious to try my hand at writing more from a third-person omniscient point of view, which would be a complete change from the novel’s current POV. I’m also re-thinking character histories and motivations, which would be an abrupt change this far through.

I’m telling myself to write these ideas down, and come back to them later. Get the first draft done, get the story out there, and then use these ideas during the editing process, if they’re needed. Otherwise, I worry that if I keep changing course, I’ll never finish the book.

Writers Coffeehouse, May 2018

Another solid Coffeehouse. Scott Sigler returned for hosting duties, and he ran a tight ship, taking us from topic to topic while still giving everyone a chance to speak up.

Last hour or so of the Coffeehouse was just rapid-fire “what are your current issues?” questions for Scott, which he handled with honesty and poise.

Got some really good advice out of this one. Here are my notes: writer trying to break into book trailers

J Dianne Dotson: BOOK OUT MAY 29th; worldwide distribution via ingram spark; book trailer is up; signing at Mysterious Galaxy in june

art vs business: are we artists or business people?

  • think in terms of ratings: numbers that are too small for big pubs are great for smaller ones
  • don’t chase trends
  • if you do what you like, consistently, you can find your audience

any place you can go where you can meet editors and agents is worth it

check twitter, #mswl, manuscript wish list, agents and editors tweet what they’re looking for

when is it ok to promote? don’t be afraid to ask, but be polite

polite persistence is the cornerstone of becoming a published author with a publishing house

how to follow up with editor or agent you meet in person? wait a week, email them, say how you met and what you talked about, short pitch, then wait a month and email again, repeat till you hear back

editing aids? dianne really likes the hemingway app, can just put your text in there and it’ll catch sentences that are too long, stuff like that, and it’s free; best to do scene by scene, look for trends you didn’t know were there

self pubbing is now the minor leagues; if you sell 5,000 or 10,000 copies, your next query letter is much much stronger

don’t wait; if you’ve written a book and no one wants to pick it up, self-publish it and move on to the next book

for your website, social media: pick your writing name, and grab that domain now, use it everywhere

also: grab every free email account with that handle, so no one else can

scott recommends the book “save the cat”, it’s about screenwriting, but has a few chapters about pitching that applies just as well to books

don’t shut down social media as political statement; just go fallow; online real estate is just as valuable as physical real estate

beta-readers: can be good for picking up basic reader questions (plot holes, likable characters, etc), but beware when they start commenting on your style

suggestion: test out beta readers with one chapter, before sending them the whole book

you all have your own writing style, you just have to get better at it

aln: local writer’s meetup group; totally free, they pick a subject out of a hat, 30 min writing, then critique

scott’s advice: if you’re in a slump, go write some fan fiction, get the brain turning and then come back

one writer recommends: rachel arron: 2k to 10k, she rereads that book whenever she gets into a slump, good advice on structure, etc

aon timeline syncs with scrivener now; can use it as timeline app and push to scrivener

scott color-codes the index cards for scenes in scrivener by pov character, lets him easily see who needs a scene

other writer: pantser, she writes an outline after the fact, uses it to guide her second draft

if you put up trailers on youtube, watch their viewing stats to see where people fall off watching to learn what to do better on the next one

try to keep trailer to 30 seconds, minute at the most

Keeping Score: April 20, 2018

Another blow out week! Wrote 2,519 words (whew!).

Most of them were for the new novel, but, like last week, one of the writing exercises I did turned into a short story I’m going to polish and try to sell. I also did a second draft of the short story from last week, which even though it only counted for half, still added ~400 words to my total.

I didn’t think I could work on multiple pieces at once, but so far it’s not been an issue. If anything, I find I come to the novel work with a more playful attitude, a willingness to experiment, that I didn’t have before. I don’t know if that’s translating into better writing, but I’m enjoying it more, so that’s something 🙂

If I can sustain this pace, and I hope I can, I’ll need to up my weekly goal again. I don’t think I’ll leap all the way up to 2,000 words, though. Going up to 1,750 should be fine.

But let’s see if I can keep up this pace for another week, first.

Keeping Score: April 13, 2018

Blew through my writing goal this week: 2,431 words written.

Not all of them were for the new novel, though. I’ve been working my way through Ursula K LeGuin’s Steering the Craft, which has a set of writing exercises for each chapter. Yesterday’s exercise was supposed to be a 200-word snippet to play with different points of view. I was having so much fun writing it, though, that it’s become an 800-word (very) short story. I’m going to polish it up, and try to sell it. So I decided to count it in this week’s word count.

Novel itself has crept up to 16,000 words. I took some time earlier in the week to do some more outlining, which has helped, and also read Jim Butcher’s great piece on Writing the Middle, which was fantastic. It made me realize I was working toward his “Big Middle” technique, so I’ve decided to embrace it, and write with that in mind.

I also have to give thanks to the writers at the San Diego Writers Coffeehouse. Seeing everyone on Sunday recharged my batteries, and made me feel that I could finish what I’ve started. I’m not alone, and that’s a very, very, very good thing.

Don’t Fall For Republican Nostalgia

Paul Ryan’s only just announced his retirement from Congress, and already people in the media are writing hagiographies to how “different” his brand of Republicanism was from Trump’s.

Don’t fall for it.

These same people wrote the same hagiographies about Bush when Trump won the election. They wrote the same lies about Reagan when Bush was in office. I’m certain they’ve got similar paeons to Nixon, they just can’t get them published.

Let me be clear: the Republican Party has been a party of right-wing nationalists and bullies my entire life.

Reagan’s rise was a dramatic split with the centrist GOP of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. His faction dropped support for the Equal Rights Amendment from the national party’s platform, and embraced the pro-corporate economics (deregulation, tax cuts) that until then sat on the fringes of the party. Once in office, Reagan caused a massive recession, presided over the biggest bank scandal in our history (until W outdid him), and repeatedly lied to Congress about our military engagements. Not to mention his neglect of anything resembling the public health, like the AIDS epidemic, inner city blight, or the rise of crack cocaine. All the while, he bragged about family values and restoring our nation’s confidence.

Sound familiar?

When Bush II was elected, he followed a similar pattern: tax cuts leading to massive deficits and recession, along with misbegotten foreign wars built on lies and sustained via misinformation. And to rally the troops at home? Talk of an “axis of evil”, of the perils of Muslims, and of a restoration of morality to the White House. But nothing about the soaring cost of home ownership, or the stagnant wages of the American worker, or the struggle for single working mothers to find affordable child care.

Trump is just more of the same, but this time with the mask ripped off. Instead of talking of a clash of civilizations, he talks about “shithole countries.” Instead of dancing around a woman’s right to equal pay and equal dignity with talk of “traditional family values,” he brags about the sexual assaults he’s gotten away with. And going beyond talk of tax cuts helping the economy, he flat-out tells us that tax-dodging is “smart.”

So don’t fall for anyone who tries to contrast Trump with some golden era of Republican civility. For the last forty years, that party has been a coalition of radicals hell-bent to undo the progress made during the New Deal. Their policies have bankrupted our government and crippled our ability to respond to the domestic and foreign challenges we face today.

They are not conservatives. They’re radicals. And they’ve been that way for a long time.

Writers Coffeehouse, April 2018

Another great coffeehouse! Jonathan Maberry was back for hosting duties, and kicked off two lively discussions on some recent controversies in the publishing world.

Thanks again to Mysterious Galaxy for giving us the space to meet, and to Jonathan, Henry, and the other organizers!

My Notes:

henry: finds trello is a great visual way to outline a novel, can use columns for chapters, drill in for details, etc

jonathan: no one can know everything, we all need to share so together we can find solutions to our problems

free files with sample query letters, etc are up on jonathan’s website! ready for download

discussion: diversity pushes for anthologies – what’s the right approach?

discussion: can you separate the writer from the writing? ex: lovecraft

sd writers and editors guild: henry giving talk there later this month maberry’s favorite website to find markets for short stories; anthologies, etc

what’s reasonable for a developmental editor to charge?

⁃ depends on hourly or per word

⁃ seen $500 to $5,000

⁃ inexpensive but professional: $0.004 per word, developmental edit

⁃ $2,000 for 90,000-word novel: about the average for developmental and line by line

developmental vs line editor: development is high-level, looking at plot and characters, shape of the story; line editor is going line by line before final print

jim butcher has a great piece online about writing the middle

jonathan: we dismiss nonfiction writing, especially in the magazine market, but we shouldn’t; there’s always knowledge we have that other people don’t posses; even basics can be good articles, because most magazines on a topic are read by nonexperts; what sells currently in magazine context is a conversational style; pro rates: $2-$7 a word; magazines starting to be hungry again

breaking in? don’t have to be a writer to sell it, have to know the subject matter; one of his students sold an article on falling (ex: how to fall from a skateboard) to multiple markets, used it to help him work through college

write first? or pitch? jonathan: never write before you sell

everyone here has something they’re an expert in, that they probably don’t value because it’s old hat to them; “i’m just a secretary” phenomenon

basics are great: how to find a good divorce lawyer (or a web developer, sysadmin, etc)

jonathan: write an outline, pitch to multiple magazines at once (120), if make multiple sales, write different versions of the article for each magazine; get back issues, read online content to learn voice and approach; don’t have to do it that way, but even if going one at a time, be ready with their next market if get rejected

pay on publication? NOPE, always go for pay on acceptance

Keeping Score: April 6, 2018

Scraped by my word goal this week: 1,554 words, most of which were written in just two days (yesterday and today).

Had a hard time getting myself to write each day, and didn’t make it most days. I think it’s because I’m closing out the early chapters of the book, where I had things mapped out pretty well in advance. From here, I can see the ending I want to get to — the various plotlines I want to wrap up, the character arcs I need to complete — but I’m not sure how to get there. Large chunks of my current outline are just scene titles with TBD for description.

I need to spend some time outlining, getting the next steps mapped out. But I also need to keep pushing out my word count every day. I’m not sure how to reconcile that, other than to maybe take one day next week and just spend my writing time outlining, then catch up on the other days of the week.

We’ll see.

Keeping Score: March 30, 2018

Whew. Managed to scrape by my goal this week: 1,511 words.

Definitely not raising my weekly word count for a while.

It’s still helpful, though. Even when I’m taking time off from the day job, I make sure to sit down and get my daily word count out. Don’t want to be playing catch-up on the weekends 🙂

Might shift my reward a bit this week. Instead of getting an album, I’m thinking of picking up a game. Discovered they ported Heroes of Might and Magic III (one of my favorite games from college, and now I’m dating myself) to iOS, and I’d like to check it out.

Till next week: good luck with your own writing! May we see each other on the shelves someday 🙂

WonderCon 2018 Day Two

Spent most of my second day at WonderCon in the Writers Coffeehouse. Caught a few writing panels after.

Notes below!

Writers Coffeehouse

  • hosted by the writer Peter Clines
  • rule one: there’s always exceptions
  • five myths about publishing
    • all traditional publishers are doomed: nope, 2013 was the best year ever for penguin publishing, gave everyone a $5,000 christmas bonus; trad pubs have been around for centuries and aren’t going away
    • trad pubs will not work with new authors: nope, people go straight to big five publishers all the time; there are big pubs that don’t require an agent (for example, tor)
    • trad publishers are going to make you change your book: out of 200 writers he knows (to varying degrees), has only heard of one author forced to change, and that’s because they picked up his book as part of five book set and they didn’t really want it; you’ll always get notes from the editor sure but that’s part of their job and a lot of it is right, and you don’t have to take them
    • trad publishers will take all your money and never give anything: uh, nope, the advance they pay you is yours, even if it doesn’t earn out; and nothing in return? nope, they give you a story editor, a copyeditor, interior layouts, designer, cover designer, publicist (yes, for every book), even have a regional bookseller whose job is to sell books to bookstores; that’s six people you get working on your book that you’d have to hire yourself
    • trad publishers will make you give the advance back if it doesn’t sell: oh so ridiculously untrue; no one has to give it back for the book underselling; they do ask for it back for breach of contract, like the book isn’t done two years past it’s due date, or they signed a contract for four books but only wrote three
  • self-publishing myths
    • self-pub is faster and easier than trad pub: sort of true, in that you can go home tonight and push a book out, but that’s a quick way to produce crap; if you want to produce a good product, you basically have to take on all the jobs of a publisher yourself, which takes time away from your writing
    • self-pub means more money to the writer: self pubbing is sort of like opening your own restaurant vs being a chef in someone else’s restaurant; you can do what you want but you’re on the hook for all the expenses as well, probably have to shell out for someone else to do a lot of the work that you can’t do yourself; get a bigger cut of the pie but it’s a smaller pie from fewer sales
    • there’s a stigma to be self-published: this used to be true, but epublishing has changed everything, agents and editors alike are reading self-pub books looking for new stuff; clines’ agent has talked to him about doing some self-publishing as a viable path for some work
    • trad pub will never touch you if you self-publish: nope, just ask andy weir or hugh hawley, both of whom were self-pubbed before their books got picked up by trad publishers; trad publishers are even starting to view self-publishing as the minor leagues
    • odds of success are better: hard to dispel, because success is so hard to measure; there are people that make good money self-publishing, but there’s so many people that get into it to release garbage; just looking at the money, most writers come out agead with a traditional publisher; to use an analogy, most people strike out with self-publishing but it’s really easy to hit a single or a double, very hard to hit a home run
  • tips for anyone:
    • have the best manuscript you can; don’t take your first draft and try to shop it around
    • learn to spell! don’t just accept what your spellchecker gives you
    • billy wilder: if you have a problem with your third act, you probably have a problem with your first act; clines thinks that’s true of careers as well
    • follow the guidelines: don’t send your horror novel to hallmark; don’t violate the expectations of your genre, like trying to sell a 250,000-word romance novel
    • don’t assume you’re the exception: yeah, they’re always there, but don’t assume that’s going to be you
    • develop empathy: if you can’t see things from other people’s perspective, you’re going to have a short career; need to be able to see how publishers and readers are going to see it; his grandparents recently died, and they never read any of his books
    • top tip: SLOW DOWN: take your time, don’t rush to get somethig out to market, you’ll have better success taking the time you need to send out a better product
  • screenwriters that aren’t represented: going through screenwriting contests is a great way to get noticed
    • nicholl fellowship
    • screenwriting expo
  • fact: when he met her, clines’ girlfriend made a living winning screenwriting contests

Comics Tag Teams: Writing and Drawing Action

  • mark waid
  • mariko tamaki
  • matthew rosenberg
  • dan jurgens
  • kelley jones
  • gail simone
  • what as an artist would you want to tell writers about their scripts?
    • just give me a few sentences and let me go
  • mariko: always tries to have a skype call with the artist so you can establish a relationship of trust; it’s always like a first date, little awkward, but you’ve got to figure out how best to work together
  • gail: prefers writing full script, marvel style ends up taking too long for her; still lets artist suggest changes, but likes to control the action since it’s such a great way to show character
  • comedy takes space, to give it the right timing, put the pauses in
  • gail: asks artist what they like to draw, and what they hate, so she can tailor her writing to that
  • ever changed your script for the art?
    • mariko: yeah, totally, all the time
    • matthew: for the collaboration, yeah, you rewrite once you see the art, always

Full-Time Creative Work on a Part-Time Schedule

  • mario martinez: co-founder of tomato tv
  • topher davila: started out graphic design, then animated pilots, then almost sold show to disney, etc
  • james frye:
  • dr rina balzinger: dean of a college in socal, quitting to take charge of a music school in LA
  • gene trembo: manager of krypton radio, reaches 165 countries, transmedia company starting to look at publishing books, and starting animated webseries called mighty aprodite
  • gene: don’t wait for permission to be creative, life’s too short
  • gene: don’t say “i want to be a writer,” say “i’m a writer” describe yourself as the artist you want to be to other people
  • james: orient your life so it points towards your goals; change where you are, who you hang out with, so you point in that way; except for spiritual and health pursuits
  • case in point: if you want to write for tv, or be in entertainment, you have to move to LA
  • topher: anyone you meet could be an opportunity; don’t close yourself off from tripping into other stuff, he started illustration found he’s good at management and he enjoys it, it’s rare in creative people so he can translate between business and art sides
  • mario: use what you know in your writing; approaches character building analytically because he was a historian for years
  • ron coleman, phd: specialty is regenerative medicine: turning skin cells into stem cells, working with sd zoo to bring back southern white rhino; also writes comic called kevin the drunk jedi
  • ron: always have cards with you that you can pass out to people; give them out to everyone
  • when you get a card, write down on the back where/when met and what you talked about
  • need illustrators? check creative marketplace online, and the comics creatirs conference in long beach in the spring
  • scheduling? always leave time for 2 minor disasters. at least one will happen