Friday, August 31, 2007


I got an e-mail from Torquere -- they want my story! I just about died of happy when I read it! :D

I wrote back to say the terms sounded fine and I'd be happy to see a contract. [understatment of the century]

This is so incredibly wonderful I can't even express how delighted I am. I've wanted to be a published writer since I was a teenager and having it finally happen has just blown me away. I called my mom and e-mailed my husband (who's out of town) and a couple of friends.

It's not quite a done deal yet -- I suppose rocks could still fall and kill me or something -- but close enough. And of course I now have all these questions bubbling up....

For example, I know that most writers on the print side of the neighborhood tend to stick with one publisher once they've sold something to them. If that publisher declines a later manuscript then the writer can shop it around, but for the most part writers tend to stay with one publisher unless there's some kind of a problem, or if they write something in a different genre which their current publisher doesn't carry. Is that true of electronic publishers? And does it make a difference that this is just a short story, even though it'll be marketed as a stand-alone? I'm working on stories for a couple of open anthologies with a different publisher -- would this be considered uncool now? Would it make a difference if it were a stand-alone story, like a novel, I'd planned to submit to a different publisher?

I know any formal option requirement will be in the contract, if there are any, so I can wait to see about that, but I'm thinking etiquette here rather than a contractual thing. Does anyone know? Or am I overthinking this...? [wry smile]

At any rate, whee! I'll be over here in the corner bouncing around hugging everyone. :)


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Writers and Research

In BookEnds LLC today, Jessica posted about "The Things Authors Know," talking about interesting things writers come across while researching their fiction.

Have you ever found yourself at a cocktail party quoting some new and interesting fact only to suddenly recall that it came from fiction? I’m always amazed by the things you can learn by books and the odd facts that authors know.

I've learned a lot through the fiction I've read, but one of the most important things I've learned is never to just assume that what's in a story or novel is accurate. [rueful smile]

My addiction to historical romances started young; I was twelve when my mom began sharing hers with me. In high school I read a couple of Scottish Clan books and had a brief obsession with Culloden and the '45. Unfortunately the one book (novel, remember?) I had which dealt with it in any detail said that it was in 1845 rather than 1745. What's even better is that I did a paper on Culloden for my senior Western Civ class and used this (historical romance) book as my main source. (Hey, I was seventeen. [duck])

I actually used a nonfiction book to "check" my facts, per my teacher's direction [cough] and when I saw that the dates in the history book were different I decided that the historian who wrote it had obviously made a mistake. I used "1845" in my paper from beginning to end, and stood in front of the class the day it was due and gave a presentation in front of everyone based on that date.

My teacher had this horribly confused expression on his face and he asked me (rather timidly, in the way of someone who's not quite sure he'd had enough coffee that morning) whether I was sure it was 1845. Being nothing if not self-confident back then, I assured him I was. He obviously didn't check because I got a B on the paper.


I eventually ended up majoring in history (although my focus was neither Scotland nor the eighteenth (or even nineteenth) century) but one of the things I learned long before getting back to college (long story) was to be skeptical about everything. Just because someone's a published writer, even if they have a string of degrees after their name, doesn't mean they're not mistaken or biased or possibly even stupid.

And a fiction writer might bend and twist history (or anything else) deliberately and for good story-related reason. I came to love writers like Judith Tarr, who includes author's notes in her books explaining exactly what she messed with and why, and where the more fantastical ideas came from. I don't at all mind a writer who twists reality (or just uses a less-respected [cough] theory) in order to improve the story, so long as they own up to the twisting.

As for my own example of being mistaken, biased or possibly just stupid, I'm very glad none of my later history professors ever saw that paper on Culloden. :D


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Writing Something Else -- Gambling but No Cowboys

Well, I've actually been writing. Fiction even, which is good. But not any of the stories I'd been working on earlier or even doing prep-work on, which is... not bad, but sort of wierd and sigh-inducing because it'd be nice to be able to work a bit more efficiently, or something like that. I guess that's not how creative work goes, though, or at least it never has for me, so as long as I'm working on something I suppose I should be happy. [wry smile]

So I was working on the djinn story and babbling in my notes file about it and the plot kept growing. On the one hand this is good because the anthology guidelines say "up to twenty thousand words" and even though there's no lower limit, I have a feeling that if I ended up with something only three thousand words long it likely wouldn't be looked upon in quite as positive a light as if it were more in the eighteen thousand word area, you know? But it was bad because the theme is gamblers and gambling (and cowboys but I'm ignoring that part because it also said "throughout time" and I don't get the impression that they'll be insisting on the cowboys if you're not in a setting which had them [crossed fingers] or even the gambling if you have a good cowboy story although that part is irrelevant to my current project) and the way the plot was developing, the gambling had turned into just a bit of a gimmick at the very beginning and then was left behind and forgotten. That didn't sound good, in a theme anthology and all. But I do like where the plot was going and how the setting was developing so I shoved it onto the back burner for later, then went back to my original image of a starting scene and opened a new notes file and started babbling again and now I have a plot idea which actually revolves around gambling throughout and to the end, yay.

I'm back to SF this time, with a setting on a colony world which had lost a lot of its tech as well as some of the more enlightened social structures in the struggle for basic survival during some extended period after the founding. It's fun coming up with a workable mix of high- and low-tech, figuring what might've survived and what might not have and what they would've re-built or re-invented and in what direction, because it's not reasonable to expect that the population "now" will have the same priorities and values and preferences that their ancestors did a dozen generations earlier, so as they redevelop and rework various things, they'll do a lot of them differently just because it suits them to do so.

And of course you have to figure out how things were before you can figure out how they'd have logically changed, which means that once again I'm coming up with a lot more worldbuilding info than is likely to make it into the final story. Although with 20K words to play with this time (my last SF story was only about 3300 words and change) I'll probably get more into it. But still, I expect to have a lot left over because there are things you need to know before you can figure out other things, which you need to know before you can decide about still other things which will actually make it into the story. Assuming you care about things making sense, that is. :)

Of course I could make this a cowboy story if I wanted to, since the tech level in some areas is pretty close and it makes sense that the colonists (who aren't really colonists anymore, but anyway) would be herding animals for food and other resources, assuming they either brought or discovered suitable animals in their new home. But I really don't want this to sound like a Firefly fanfic or something [sigh] so I'm avoiding the whole cowboys-in-space thing as much as I can. Despite the fact that the whole Colony World Loses Tech and Claws Its Way Back theme is older than Firefly and in fact is older than Joss Whedon himself, it's still a pretty visible example of the subgenre right now and I'd just as soon avoid comparisons (or insinuations) whenever possible. So no cowboys. [wry smile]

But I am writing, so setting aside the other story temporarily doesn't feel so bad.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not-Really Writing

For someone who's been doing a lot of writing stuff lately, I haven't gotten much writing done. :/ Anyone else had times when you seem to be always busy but not much concrete product comes of it...?

First, I've got this story I'm working on. It's a fantasy, in a sort-of old Arabic (pre-Islam) setting, so I've been doing research for that. I have a file with notes on the characters and notes on the plot and notes on djinn and magic and How The World Works in this sort of setting (and the husband and I watched a thing on TV last night that talked about old Egyptian magic which I think I'm going to incorporate into this story, or maybe use for another one but I'm going to use it for something 'cause it's cool) but haven't done any actual writing on the story itself yet. Last time I wrote a non-realspace story (that one was SF) I did most of my "planning" in the story itself, sort of, coming up with tech info and history and economics and social structures and such as I wrote. I had to cut most of it out, of course, since it was only a short story and couldn't support that kind of info-dump, and although I saved what I cut, I had to cut over and over and ended up starting the story three or four times. It worked out in the end but it was frustrating at the time so I figured I'd do all the work in a notes file this time rather than doing all my worldbuilding in story form. [wry smile] I'm not seeing that it's all that much less work, but we'll see how it goes. And I still haven't written a word of the actual story, which is for an anthology which closes on 30 September.

Then there's a fiction challenge I signed up for which requires a lot of pre-writing work. It's a remix fest, where you're assigned another fest writer and you choose one of her/his stories to rewrite -- remix -- putting your own spin on it. I've wanted to do one of these for a long time because they look like great fun, both to get to fiddle with someone else's story and to see what someone else will do to one of mine. It's a lot of work, though, and at this point I'm still going through my assigned writer's fiction index, reading through likely stories, pasting links to whatever rings a bell and taking preliminary notes. I have some possibilities but nothing that's really jumped up and waved at me, so I'm going on through the rest of the stories. Other people who've done this before have said that they've ended up starting remixes on several stories before finding one which actually works out past the first thousand words or so, so I'm starting early to give myself time. (Usually I'm a dedicated procrastinator but I have enough functional braincells to realize that might not work here.) The story's due on... 30 September.

Then there's the camping story I was working on earlier. I actually have about 1400 words of this one and it's coming along nicely, but the anthology I have in mind to submit to is open until 30 November so I've back-burnered it while I'm working on the other things. Figures, the one story I was making progress on is the one I have almost 3.5 months to do. [wry smile]

MOME Awards -- this is a sort of peripheral activity but it's still important to me. This is a new award this year and it's gotten a lot of interest and participation within its community. Voting is ongoing through 15 September and there are a lot of stories on the ballot which I haven't read yet, or which I need to at least skim to remind myself of what was which. This is a tighter deadline but at least it's just a matter of reading, which is time-consuming but not something I have to focus on producing like I do with a story. And luckily, as I go down the ballot (which goes from shorter categories to longer ones) I'll run into more and more stories I remember and won't have to reread, which is the only reason I have any hope of getting all the way through. And I do want to because I think this is a great award format and I want to support it. The fact that three of my own stories made the final ballot has nothing at all to do with it. [innocent humming]

At any rate, this is what I actually Have To Do in the next couple of months. Around that is keeping up with reading and such, and paying occasional attention to my husband. I'm just hoping with many sets of virtual fingers crossed that no major kerfuffles or blow-ups occur, because I seriously Do Not have time to get caught up in anything like that. [glares at LJ] But hopefully having it all written out like this will help me stay focused. I should have plenty of time for all this, it's just a matter of organization. Really. :/


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Standards, Please...?

All right, I get that e-publishing isn't trying to be like print publishing, that the folks who make their home on the net don't want to do things the way the folks in New York do them, just because it's the New York way. That's cool, I can deal with that, and in many ways it's actually pretty cool.

But sometimes standards are good, you know?

I've been looking through the submission guidelines of a number of e-publishers and I've yet to find two alike. Different spacing, different margins, required fonts, headers or none -- it's as though each publisher is trying to establish their own identity based on the particular hoops they want their writers to jump through to format their manuscripts, each publisher using a different number, size and color of hoop, with a few set on fire just to make things exciting.

For example, I just came across an online magazine that wants stories single-spaced with neither spaces between paragraphs nor indents at the beginning of paragraphs. :/ Wow, that's going to be useful -- I'll set it as my default right away.

[Ironically, this is one of the Lazy Formatting Problems that makes me bail out of an online story, no exceptions, no excuses. I absolutely loathe trying to squint my way through an unbroken monoblock and I won't read anything formatted that way. Whether I'll ever be able to bring myself to format anything of my own in that style remains to be seen, editor's request notwithstanding. [sigh] I'm hoping this is a unique quirk of one particular editor. And no, that's not how the periodical is formatted -- I took a look through a sample issue and the formatting is perfectly readable, with spacing and indents and such. I want to write to the editor begging to be allowed to help him out by setting up the spacing and indents the way he has it in the magazine.]

But at least with the print publishers there was a single standard. If a story came back from one editor you could slip it into a fresh envelope and send it right off to another, knowing that if the formatting was correct for the first one it was correct for the second. It's certainly true that we don't have to actually print a manuscript out for an electronic submission, but some standardization would be nice. I haven't even gotten back to novels yet but at this point I'm not really looking forward to it.

Maybe the idea is to get writers submitting to one publisher and sticking with it? That makes some sense for a book or single-story publisher, once a writer has found a publishing "home" and has settled into sending that one publisher all of one's books, but for online periodicals it becomes somewhat problematic.

As with many annoyances, this one isn't exactly huge. Reformatting paragraphs and spacing and margins and such can be done globally in a word processing document. But it's one more chance to do something wrong, if one is submitting to a number of markets and has to sit there with the story file open in one window and the writer's guidelines for The Whatever Quarterly open in the other, going back and forth while trying to make sure everything matches. There's no chance to just set up one's formatting, set it as the default, then forget the formatting and concentrate on the stories from then on.

I'm sure I'll get used to it eventually -- everyone else must -- but there's a whining little voice in the back of my head saying I shouldn't have to. [wry smile] It'll shut up one of these days, probably after a few more submissions, but for right now it's really annoyed.


Monday, August 13, 2007


Bernita Harris, who always has something interesting to say, posted here about how it's important to come down out of the watch tower and interact directly with the people you're observing, on the level where they are. She said that the view from above is necessarily restricted and will never give a full and individual view of the people moving about below. I agree with that statement, but disagree that it's an either-or choice. I think the best people watching is done from a variety of perspectives, and that sticking with any single perspective, no matter how egalitarian, is inherently limiting.

Stand up, maybe leaning against a wall or a pillar, and watch people go by at their own level. See their faces and watch where they're looking, how their gaze moves around. What are they saying and to whom? How are they feeling, what are they thinking, what sort of person is that in there? These things show best from face level.

Sit on a bench and watch the people move around you. See how they're dressed, what they're carrying, where their bodies face in relation to where their faces are pointing. What do they carry and how do they hold it? Body language shows best from a bit of a distance and at "body level." What is this person projecting without being quite aware?

Sit on the ground and watch how people interact with the lowest level of their environment. Do they step on that flower in the grass or hop over it or swerve around it? Do they trip over a hole or a rock? Do they stand still or shift their weight from side to side or "fidget" with their feet? Do they interact with (or even notice) toddlers or dogs or a ball rolling by? What kind of shoes are they wearing, if any? Do the barefoot people move around differently than the folks in sandals and sneakers and that woman mincing across the grass in her spike heels? Watch the dime on the sidewalk and see who notices it, who stops to pick it up.

Lean over a balcony and watch the people moving around below. How do they move, where do they go, how do they react to the presence of others around them? Is there a main flow of traffic? What are the people outside that flow doing? How do people cross it or oppose it? When different people are talking to each other, do they face each other directly or at an angle or just sort of stand side-by-side as though they're pretending not to notice each other. How close do they stand -- what sense of personal space does each person have, and how does someone who wants more space react when someone who wants less walks right up into their face? All these things are much easier to observe from above.

A writer needs to observe people from all different perspectives. Restricting one's people watching to only one level, or any other single perspective, will restrict one's ability to recreate people from all around and all different levels. Be aware of the different levels and distances and points of view, yes, and use them all.


Starting Over... and Over

Well, I did what I said I was going to do yesterday -- got over the post-submission fretting and worked on a new story. In fact I started something new, rather than working on a WIP. I was poking around the Dreamspinner Press site, where some people I know have sold recently, and saw that they have some open anthologies accepting submissions. I got an idea for their Mr. Right Now anthology (submissions due by 30 November) about an encounter on the trail while on a hiking/camping trip and dinked around with it a bit and got a few hundred words down.

Which is all great except that while doing something else I got another story idea which would fit their Know When to Hold 'Em anthology. [laugh/headdesk] I'd originally passed that one over because both the title and the cover art imply the old West. I don't know enough about cowboys and such to do a decent job with that sort of story without a lot of research, and the deadline is 30 September. But the description says they'll take "tales of cowboys and gamblers from around the world and throughout time" and I got an idea for a gambling-themed story. It's also a fantasy but that just means it's less likely to be exactly like thirty other stories they get, right?

Anyway, usually I'd jot down the basics of the new idea and keep working on the old one, except that the new one has a deadline a month before the old one. So it looks like the hiking story is going to be shelved for a bit, at least while I poke around with this new idea and see if it pans out.

Dreamspinner has several open anthologies, though -- check out their Current Calls for Submissions page.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

First Submission In...

...almost ten years. Oh, man, I'm nervous! [headdesk]

I just sent a story to Torquere. It's just a short, for their "Sips" line. And if they don't like it I can try it elsewhere, although there aren't all that many publishers for homoerotic science fiction short stories. But still, if it gets bounced then it's one more letter for my rejection slip collection (have to dig up that file folder -- I know it's around the computer room somewhere) and I keep going. In fact, I have other stories I could be working on and I'll do just that, and send them out too, as soon as this insanely nervous energy burns off.

I have done this before, really I have. It's just been a long time, you know? My last submission went out in '99, and shortly after that I went on the depakote that killed my creativity completely and I couldn't write a word for years. Even when I went off the stuff it took a couple more years after that before it fully cleared out of my system and I could write again. I was feeling sort of hesitant, after so many years of being completely unable to write, so I decided to get my feet wet in fanfiction.

That worked out well, actually. I did a lot of writing and readers seem to like my stuff, which is great. I've been doing it a bit longer than I thought I would when I started, but I don't feel like it was time or effort wasted and in fact I have no intention of stopping -- it's fun, it's good practice, and I have an audience willing to pay me in positive comments, which is the most payment I've gotten from any audience so far. [wry smile] But I've felt like I was ready to get back to writing original fiction for submission since around NaNo last year and I've finally done it.

I know the drill -- now that I have something "out" it's time to turn to the next story. Fretting over what's already in the mail is pointless and a waste of time; I know that too.

But I think I'll give myself until tomorrow at least to chew on my fingernails and worry that I missed some awful typo in the manuscript or mis-formatted something or misinterpreted some requirement in the guidelines or... whatever. Just till tomorrow.

Then I'll set it aside and get on with the next story. For now, though, I'm still fretting.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007


I was at a writing retreat in Las Vegas this weekend and had a great time, including doing a lot of writing -- over 6,000 words, including one complete story, yay! -- but I was a bit more out of touch than I'd expected to be. The resort where we stayed (the Grand View, which is a vacation resort (timeshare) rather than a hotel) had no internet in the rooms, none whatsoever, and we had to trek down to the lobby (which was in another building) to get online. Very annoying; I was expecting to be able to stay in touch all weekend but as it is I'm behind on reading everything but my e-mail. The place was great in every other way -- large suites, comfortable, good facilities, etc. -- but I'm still boggling that in this day and age they have no internet in the rooms. Would it have killed them to put repeaters in the outbuildings so the wireless which is available in the main building could be accessed from the guest rooms? [headdesk]

On the other hand, being mostly without internet for four days is probably one of the reasons I did so much writing. [wry smile] Although I'm doing less now because of trying to catch up, so maybe it'll just balance out. We'll see.

At any rate, being around a group of other writers, talking about writing and stories and characters and ideas, techniques and problems and different approaches, was definitely inspiring. I love hanging out online and meeting people I'd have never gotten to know any other way, but being together in realspace has an intensity to it which really can't be replaced, not completely. The people who organized this retreat have done others and will do more in the future; I definitely intend to go if I can.

Oh, and I highly recommend Las Vegas to anyone who might be planning to spend several hours stuck in an airport -- they have free wireless there, and if it slows down periodically, hey, it's free. [wry smile] I spent as much time online yesterday at the airport as I did all weekend, and for a while there were three of us with our laptops at a little table near a plug, since Nancy was smart enough to bring a power strip. Always prepared, that's Nancy. But definitely get stuck at the Vegas airport if you have to be stuck somewhere.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Build-Up and Reveal

Bernita Harris posted about cliches of characterization and specifically the hand-wringing dilemma. It's a great post and I agree with her, but this is the part which particularly struck me:

The character paces about, whispers aloud, sits on something convenient and slumps in despair. Female character sometimes throw something , then fling themselves down and sob.

We are supposed to experience sympathy, tension, until the writer reveals the terribly difficult choices facing the Muttering Mannequins.

We don't.

I think the main problem with this kind of scene is the fact that the writer is trying to manipulate our emotions and failing. Of course, the whole point of writing fiction is to manipulate the reader's emotions but it has to work. A writer who uses this sort of manipulative device is assuming that the readers will be bouncing in their seats in an agony of curiosity to know just what horrible problem is confronting the character.

But if we don't already know and empathize with the character then we're probably not going to have all that much patience for this sort of scene. All right, fine, show me that the character is in agony over something but don't make me wait too long to find out what it is. If this is the opening to the story and I don't know the character then I have no sympathy for him or her and absolutely no investment in whatever problems they might be having. No matter how well written the scene is at the line level, it's going to lose me if it runs on for too long. The fretting and worrying actions and descriptions can be absolutely new and original, guaranteed free from cliches and off-the-shelf phrasing, but if I don't know this character and don't care about him then I'm going to get bored and impatient and eventually go looking for something more interesting to read.

And let's suppose this isn't the first scene in the book. Suppose I do know the character and do care about her and feel some worry about this mystery problem of hers. That still doesn't mean that a long, drawn-out dilemma scene is a good idea because it raises expectations the writer might not be able to fulfill. The longer a scene of vague agonizing is, the more startling and fascinating and gripping the problem had better be when it's finally revealed. A writer who sees the extended agonizing over the mystery problem as a good tension raiser in and of itself might not realize that she's setting herself up to fail when the big reveal evokes only a "Yeah, so?" or an "All that fussing and angsting over that??" response from the reader.

It's like the writer has said, "I have a secret surprise! Want to know what it is? Really? I don't think you want to quite enough yet! I'll stretch this out and tease you a bit more, I'll make you wonder a little longer, I'll pretend I'm about to show you what it is and then go back to teasing for a while, and only when you're in a fever of agony yourself will I reveal it!"

Then they yank back the curtain and go "Tah-DAH!" and we see... a donut. It might be a really yummy donut, maybe even our favorite kind, but even the best donut in the world doesn't justify that long, teasing build-up. No donut ever could. And while the writer is beaming over her own cleverness in having kept her audience in suspense for that long, the audience is eyerolling and wandering away. Because even the best donut only warrants a "Surprise! Here, have a donut!" level of build-up.

The pay-off always has to justify the build-up. Otherwise the readers are going to feel like the promised surprise turned into a practical joke at their expense.