Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Generally excellent. Where the first book was broad, with multiple locations and times, the second one goes deep, diving into the political minutiae of a single system. And it works, drawing us further into the world of the Radch.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Be careful of “I knew that she suspected I thought I knew about this lie that she told me three days ago” plots. Unless your narrator is very explicit about their thoughts, you can lose the reader in too many significant looks that aren’t explained.
  • If a cool gimmick from the first book isn’t available (lost because of story), instead of bringing it back (and reaching for a retcon), try to find a different way to achieve the same thing. Here, the data relayed to the narrator by Ship gives us the ability to view scenes we wouldn’t otherwise, preserving the narrative trick of the first book by a different means.
  • For a sequel, you might be tempted to go broader than the first book (especially if the story of the first book was epic in scope already). But you don’t have to. A smaller scope can work just as well to let you show who your characters are, and deepen their relationships.

Crooked by Austin Grossman

Another strong portrayal of a villain from Grossman.

Avoids the trap of completely rehabilitating Nixon. He’s sympathetic without being likable, and interesting to follow without the reader always cheering them on.

Loses steam in the second half. There’s plot lines that go nowhere, scenes that could have been cut without changing anything, and the climax happens completely off-screen, with no buildup or release of tension.

Still, I learned a few things about writing:

  • Delivering most of your plot via dialog — so long as you’re not data dumping — can be a great way to keep the story moving.
  • The best villains think they’re the hero.
  • Restricting your book to one POV can be too confining. Multiple POV can let you explore other aspects of your world, which you might need if your story takes place somewhere very different.

White Horse by Alex Adams

Frustrating and disappointing. Adams’ writing is stuffed with metaphors, giving everything a dreamy quality that makes it hard to take anything seriously.

Didn’t help that I just came off reading Octavia Butler’s Earthseed books, which do a much better job of narrating a woman’s journey through a post-apocalyptic world.

Three things it taught me about writing:

  • If readers already know the narrator survives a scene in a flashback, don’t try to wring tension out of their survival.
  • Readers need to know not only what your characters are doing, but why, if they’re going to care.
  • When writing a character from a different country, do several editing passes to be certain their dialog, analogies, and expressions all match where they’re supposed to be from.

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Four

Non-anglophone authors you should know

  • dr schaff-stump: japan and russia
  • kastersmidt: born in texas, living in brazil
  • dr lyau: specialty is french sci-fi
  • takacs: hungarian, lots of hungarian sf has not been translated yet
  • schwartzmann: reads russian, ukrainian and polish; has done translation work
  • schwartzmann: russian writers: bulgakhov (magical realism, 1920s and 1930s)
  • takacs: strugatsky brothers; stanislaw lem, especially the cyberiad; rana ras;
  • lyau: france produced second-most varied scifi tradition; planet of the apes; their golden age was the thirty years following jules verne’s heyday; maurice renard; french new wave post-1968; robita; de nizorres
  • kastersmidt: hector hermann oesterheld (argentinian, was killed by junta for publishing comic)
  • schaff-stump: has handout with japanese names; since japanese novels are often turned into manga and anime, can often find those in translation even if the book hasn’t been
  • schwartzmann: for chinese scifi, start with three-body problem, first volume had to adhere to communist standards, second was a little looser, third volume he completely jumps out of the box; tor is releasing “invisible planets” collection of chinese short stories translated by ken liu
  • takacs: yerg dragoman (the white king; bone fire); adam bodor (the sinister district)
  • fantastic planet: was based on french novel called “humans by the dozen”
  • lyau: start with the pulp novels to brush up on your french
  • kastersmidt: if you haven’t read borges, do so; camilla fernandes (brazilian); also check out the apex book of world science fiction, runs to four volumes, collects stories from new authors from around the world
  • schaff-stump: hex (from dutch author) was rewritten for us edition, not available in strict translation
  • tiptree award is going out of its way to bring non-english scifi to anglophone attention (check past award winners)
  • takasc: african sf: afro-sf anthology series; african speculative fiction society website will soon go live
  • first emeriati science fiction publishing house is opening its doors
  • omenana: african sf in english (online)
  • german scifi: andres eschbach, the carpet makers (?)
  • ukrainian literature: vita nostra, available in english, by sergey and marina ____, basically the magicians

Promoting Yourself as an Introvert

  • tamara jones: writing since seven yrs old
  • doesn’t leave the house much
  • lives in small town iowa
  • has four novels, first won compton cook award
  • had to suddenly start speaking to a lot of strangers and big crowds
  • hard to relax
  • introverts are like onions, have awesome core, but many many layers of protection on top of it that prevent people from getting to know your core
  • on panels, need to let hair down, but you can hide behind the table for safety
  • editor liked just first 66 pages of first book she bought, had to rewrite everything else, which completely changed her plans for the second book; so: don’t write the next books in a series until you sell and finish the first one
  • some people don’t want to let you talk on a panel, but don’t get aggressive, that doesn’t come off well
  • readings are the worst
  • but: get your ass out of the chair, gives you better diction, more control; move around, even though there’s no where to hide; it’s performance art: talk about self, talk about book, read short pages (two pages), then talk about it, then two more pages, then talk about it (make it different works or passages for variety)
  • find whatever it is that gives you feeling of safety (small sweater, lucky socks, etc) and wear that to the reading to help you feel safe and able to be yourself
  • has had three stalkers already, so no one knows where she lives (deliberately)
  • tries to avoid the parties; but when you’re starting out you have to go because editors and agents will be there; grab a drink, wander around and listen, take a drink if you get nervous
  • what do you do when drained? Find a capsule of solitude somewhere: a quiet corner, maybe even the restroom stall, close your eyes and be alone for 15 min
  • editors love to talk about their work; her typical question is “what’s the best thing about your job?”
  • need one sentence description of each of your books
  • also need one sentence description of yourself “i slaughter people on paper for money”
  • thinks introverts should not moderate, have to insert self and take control, which introverts are not good at
  • don’t overprepare for panels; whatever you prep for will probably be thrown out the window as soon as the panel starts
  • at end of the day, selling self, if you do that people will want to buy your books

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Three

Flash Fiction: Short but not easy

  • betsy dornbusch: writes mostly epic fantasy, used to buy flash
  • anna yeatts: flash fiction online owner/publisher, also writes flash
  • caroline m yoachim: just launched collection with fairwood press
  • flash: definition varies greatly; over 1,500 wordsis definitely not flash; something you could read in five minutes
  • yeatts: want a full complete story in a coffee break; still want a complete story arc, pared down to the essence
  • vonallmen: looking for the pop of “oh, wow” in just a five minute read
  • wowell: couldn’t write GoT in flash
  • yoachim: now i want to write that
  • wowell: customer service call for death ray works really well in flash format; sci-fi comments thread works really well as flash
  • dornbusch: don’t do vignettes about the sun, they don’t get bought
  • yoachim: great focusing on small piece; focused emotion, etc; great for putting hints of the larger world in the story, rest up to reader’s imagination
  • favorite stories?
    • yeatts: grobnak ama
    • running of the robots
    • first story from daily science fiction: story with three substories, and the meta-story, all in 1,000 words
    • strain of sentient corn writing to monsanto
    • if you were a dinosaur, my love
    • six names for the end
  • what skills are important?
    • dornbusch: editing; revision; the shorter the length, the more powerful
    • dornbusch: likes humor in flash, but not the punchline
    • wowell: need to recognize how many plots and subplots you can fit into each story length
    • vonallmen: ability to focus on tone
  • send mothership zeta your cat stories (joke)
  • yoachim: so much needs to happen in the first paragraph: need to tell reader what they’re in for, little about their world, the action, tone, everything
  • dornbusch: try telling story where reader knows the secret, usually it’s better than hiding the secret from the reader
  • wowell: if you like twists, do it at the beginning, not the end; starting with the twist will get me reading
  • yoachim: remember can play with your title, do a lot of setup there
  • current markets?
    • flash fiction online; daily science fiction
    • unsung stories (uk)
    • fantasy and science fiction takes some flash
    • mothership zeta
    • vestal review
  • lots of calls for flash, but don’t give it for free
  • yoachim: targets markets that specialize in flash fiction
  • uncanny magazine does flash
  • fireside fiction does flash and shorts
  • nature runs flash fiction
  • flash one of the few markets where second person won’t overstay its welcome

The Art of Worldbuilding

  • amanda downum: necromancer chronicles
  • luc peterson: runs civic innovation office
  • peter tieryas: fiction where japanese won world war ii?
  • downum: need fresh ideas, sense of wonder, in showing this new world
  • bear: burroughs first to do world-building in science fiction
  • downum: likes to start with character and scene, let world unfold from there; likes characters to pick up and interact with objects in the world, rather than just moving on a sound stage
  • patel: starts with what a society values most, and what they fear most; what do they invest in, what do they build walls and defenses against
  • bear: receives a vision; might take years to stitch visions together into a story
  • what do you need to know? How many doctorates?
    • bear: english major, don’t know anything
    • downum: ditto
    • patel: need to know what touches your characters; need to have lots of prior work done to know what this is before writing
  • downum: has someone ask her questions, to reveal those things she hasn’t thought of, those pieces she hasn’t built out herself; really good if someone that doesn’t read genre, they come at it from a completely different angle
  • tieryas: even things (research) that don’t show up in the book can be valuable
  • bear: history of asia a target-rich environment for mining world-building ideas
  • how do you put limits on the research?
    • downum: hard, but do a little at first to get started; when come across detail to fix later, mark in brackets and keep going; do more research afterward to fill in details, etc
    • patel: timebox your research time so you push yourself back into writing; can be iterative, don’t have to answer all questions at beginning, questions that come up during writing can give you chance to do focused dive into research again
  • patel: shorter work is, less research you’ll have to do, but you may have to do very detailed research into a single focused topic
  • downum: likes first person for short form, but at novel length it’s like being stuck in an elevator for a very long time, so prefers third person multiple perspective
  • patel: look for opportunities for drama and conflict in all worldbuilding; how would your characters tell their history? How would their enemies tell it?

How to Handle Rejection

  • gail carringer
  • wallace: stopped counting at 1,000
  • worst rejections: ones that are really really close to acceptance
  • wallace: never count on money until the check clears
  • carringer: rejection is evidence that you’re trying, that you’re sending stuff out
  • best rejection?
    • carringer: rejection was so nice, went back with later work, has been her agent for ten years
  • carringer: don’t fall in love too much with a particular book, be willing go move on and write more and try something else
  • reader reviews are not for you, they’re for other readers
  • carringer: would tell younger self to try different genres and styles earlier
  • carringer: never ever ever respond to a rejection
  • wallace: btw, anything you post online, anywhere, is a response, and is a bad idea
  • carringer: some agents/editors will be full up with authors in your genre, and so will reject you because they don’t want to take on any more
  • remember that they’re rejecting the product, not you

Notes from WorldCon 2016: Day Two

Enjoying urban fantasy

  • diana rowland: white trash zombie
  • melissa f olson: tor.com novellas
  • what do you like about uf?
    • city as character
    • looking at things just a little differently
    • what if your gross terrible neighbor was a real monster?
    • a way to crack open the puzzle of the weird world we’re in and understand it better
    • it’s a way to be sneaky: can talk about deep things in a fun way, with people that don’t notice
    • perception: history has been edited down from multiple conflicting perspectives; urban fantasy lets you deal with these different perspectives for more immediate events
    • no real bad guy: bad guy is someone pursuing their goals in a fanatical sense, still think they’re the good guys
    • people are always writing urban fantasy from their primary experience; in feudal days it was fears from lord of the manor, today it’s shopping malls and steelworks (instead of fairy rings)
    • changeling stories are ufo kidnapping stories, just told in a different time
    • uf is the intersection of contemporary fiction and fantasy fiction
    • danger: to cover over real experience with a fantasy gloss; example: the magical homeless people of the 80s)
    • can use unreliable narrators to try to avoid the problems with covering over messy experience
  • why first person?
    • immediacy
    • tight perspective
    • noir influence: almost all first person, huge influence on urban fantasy and its style
  • adrian mcinty: leicht’s favorite irish noir writer
  • rowland: j d robb’s books

Finance for writers

  • put 40% away for federal govt, 10% for state, pay quarterly income taxes estimate, will usually get something back at the end of the year
  • most first books don’t make back their $5,000 advance
  • don’t quit your day job, even after signing tge first contract
  • some contracts don’t last past 2 or 3 books
  • not a steady income
  • be careful with your money; lots of authors aren’t good with their money
  • get good agent: writers tend to not read contracts, approach it very emotionally; good agent will catch things and get you the best deal possible
  • okay to lose money on your craft at first, but have a budget and be aware of it
  • spend money on your craft (take classes, do workshops) and your network (attending cons, etc)
  • but: if you’re at cons, write down what you want to accomplish before you go
  • if you self-publish, spend money on quality: an editor and a cover designer; everything else you can half-ass, but not those
  • keep all receipts for your craft in a shoebox, use them (plus your spreadsheet) to fill out your schedule c for your taxes
  • if you don’t make a profit every seven years, the irs considers it a hobby, not a business
  • average income for writers is $5,000
  • don’t quit your day job until you have 2 years’ worth of living expenses saved up
  • rule one: write, finish, send it out
  • one benefit of incorporating is the ability to defer income from one year to the next (should you score the $70,000 advance)
  • 78% success rate for publishing projects on kickstarter if they get 25 backers; difference between people that are prepared and know what they’re doing and those who don’t
  • bud: turns profit every 5 years; how? Doesn’t report all his expenses that year
  • lots of ways to use kickstarter: events, book tours, playgrounds inspired by literature, self-pubbing books, magazines; can get really creative
  • margot: think of marketing as sharing these stories you’re passionate about with others and inviting them in, not “selling yourself”

Idiot’s Guide to Publishing

  • all scifi community on genie network at the time
  • doctorow hadn’t written a novel yet, so got karl involved
  • patrick: liked it because it was very practical
  • rejectomancy: shouldn’t read too much into rejections; form rejection could be from someone that loved it but didn’t have time, personal could be from someone that doesn’t like the story but likes you personally
  • schroeder: never sold any short stories to the magazines, has only ever sold stories to anthologies
  • at the time, discussion over ebooks concerned fact that they never go out of print, so publishers argue that they don’t have to revert the rights to the author
  • would not try to write today, because has no idea how to get into the field now

Nifty Narrative Tricks

  • bear: what character is like matters less than how you handle the character
  • kowal: people want the familiar in the strange; familiar makes you feel smart, the strange is compelling; when have character engaged in activity or emotion that readers find familiar, then when i engage them in something weird they already have a hook
  • kelly: characterize people by what they own. before walking them on stage, go into their room, or their car: what’s there? is it messy? neat? what’s hanging on the walls? bonus: gives you things to use later in the plot
  • walton: writers get some things for free, and some things they have to learn; easy to teach the things you learned, but almost impossible to teach the things you got for free; she got interesting characters for free, so…story is contract with reader, try to get what story is right up front so reader doesn’t feel betrayed
  • bear: beginning writers make mistake of writing passive characters
  • bear: give the character something to love; instantly makes them more engaging
  • gould: best way to intro tech is to show it when it breaks down; very engaging to intro character when frustrated
  • kowal: frustration will show what character wants, what they love, and give you a measure of their competence
  • kowal: figure out what character wants, and smartest way for them to get it, and then you block off that way (and keep blocking off ways)
  • walton: __ starts with character really having to go to the bathroom while giving speech on history; is pure exposition but you don’t care because you sympathize with having to use the restroom
  • walton: farmer in the sky (heinlein) has similar trick, with tons of worldbuilding done in describing a father and son making dinner
  • term: incluing
  • kelly: how can you tell beginning from middle from end? beginning -> middle: character goes through one way door, and can’t get back to the start; middle -> end: character goes through another one-way door, and story has to end one way or another
  • kowal: stakes are something particular to the character; we’re all going to die, so death is not great stakes; “you’re going to lose your right foot” is more personal
  • kowal: focus indicates thought; what you’re looking at is what you’re thinking about; rhythm and breath: same action at different speed gives you different emotion; how long you linger on something shows how important it is to the character
  • walton: pacing very different between genres; same story told at different pacing can change the genre of the book
  • kelly: look at the story; if you see a section of solid text or solid dialog, that’s probably a pacing problem
  • common mistakes?
    • bear: starting with bloodbath, before you care about the characters
    • kelly: end of story is not the climax, you need a moment for the character to come to grips with what the climax means for them
    • gould: leave some things for the reader to figure out from context
    • kowal: starting with way too much backstory; solve by getting deeper into point of view
    • walton: too fuzzy, character not in focus; can fix by switching to first person, forces you to focus on personal experience
  • walton: often rushes endings, has to go back in and fix pacing after draft finished
  • kowal: best trick: dumping exposition into a sex scene
  • kelly: world-building will happen almost without trying; less you can do of it, the better

Evolution of Epic Fantasy

  • tessa grafton: the united states of asgard
  • sarah beth durst: queen of blood
  • epic fantasy: need close in shots, and medium shots, and landscape shots, all mixed in
  • leicht: research into irish time of troubles taught her everything involved in world-building: how economics is tied to politics is tied to religion is tied to class is tied to language
  • kate elliott: crown of stars
  • leicht: viking skeletons found in bogs: no one checked if they were male or female; many of them (warriors) are female
  • elliott: archeologists finding statues mostly female, labeled one male statue as priest-king and all female as just “fertility”, then were mystified as to why they kept finding female statues

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Moving. Robinson conveys both the triumphs and the horrors of interstellar colonization, covering hundreds of years in a single book. Almost cried at the end of the penultimate chapter.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • The experience of agoraphobia (possibly all phobias) is something the written word is much more suited to portray than film, allowing us to think what the sufferer thinks, feel what they feel, better than other media.
  • In a longer work, you can structure chapters as stories of their own, with a cold open, development, slow crisis, resolution, and a reveal
  • When narrating long periods of time, zoom out to establish rhythms or patterns, zoom in on unusual or unique happenings (or things that have an impact on the larger patterns)

The Martian by Andy Weir

Fantastic. It’s Robinson Crusoe in space, executed so well that what should have been boring and cliche is instead full of tension and humor. I sped through this book, consuming the whole thing in two days.

Looking forward to watching the movie. Oddly enough, since I know Matt Damon plays the title role, I heard his voice for all of Mark’s journal entries. Felt like a good fit.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • You can mix regular narrative with journal entries, but it’s best to introduce it gradually, and only once the main storytelling mode has been established.
  • Relative dates will do just fine. Most of the time, they don’t really matter.
  • Humor (in the characters or the narration) makes a bleak or depressing situation much more palatable.

Finally

New novel’s done!

Topped out at 111,733 words yesterday morning.

I feel proud, relieved, and confused all at the same time. Proud for getting it done, relieved that I can move on to the next project, confused that I might actually be done with the first draft. There’s a part of my brain that’s circling the last few chapters, going “are you sure we’re finished?”

But I am, thank goodness.

Next it’ll be on to editing the draft of my previous novel, whipping that into a shape I can send out to agents.

But that’s later. For now, the order of the day (of the week?) is to relax, recharge, and regroup.

Nope

Novel’s at 103,532 words…and it’s still not finished.

Wrote about 10,000 words in the last five days, pushing to uncover the ending. But there’s more story left to tell than I thought. Blew right past 90,000 words, then 100,000, and it’s not done.

My revised outline — yes, I’m still revising it, thank you — points to five more chapters, and then I’ll be finished. That means somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 words to go.

So I’m pushing my deadline to July 1st, and setting a target of 1,000 words per day until it’s done.

One way or another, I will finish this draft.