Tag, I’m It: Writer’s Process Blog Tour

write memeIn our last exciting episode, the kittens continued to be incredibly adorable, while Caitlin Sweet tagged me and Kelly in the Writer Process Blog Tour. She’s posted her answers to the questions in that meme here.

What Am I Working On?

I’m currently waiting for other people to get back to me on a few things, so in the meantime I’ve been writing short stories, putting together grant proposals, and looking over old projects. I wrote the first chapter of a mystery novel to see if I liked the voice and the direction I was considering. This week I reread a horror novel I drafted in about 2011, but haven’t yet rewritten. There are a couple anthologies I’d like to submit stories to, but I’m not happy with any of the ideas I’ve had for them.

(Yet, she said hopefully.)

In other words, I’m sort of snuffling around to see what grabs my imagination hardest. This is less fun than it probably sounds.

How Does My Work Differ From Others In Its Genre?

Early in my career a writer friend praised me for, essentially, having a wild imagination. Now, whenever I’m stuck, that’s where I try to push things. I’m not saying my work is more imaginative than anyone else’s–that would be insanely egotistical and untrue–but lately I’ve been getting praise from reviewers about the worldbuilding in Child of a Hidden Sea. I see the two things as being related: the positive reinforcement for some crazy-ass thing I wrote fifteen years ago and the invention of a world with over two hundred island nations, each with its own microclimate, magical resources and system of government.

By that token it could mean that imagining stuff means, for me, going out of my way to make it horrifically over-complicated.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

The only thing I don’t write much of is straight-up literary fiction, so the answer to this is: because I’m greedy! I want my mysteries, my horror SF, my seafaring adventure crime procedurals, my magical toxic spill sexfests, my thinly veiled Vietnam War stories. I write because I feel driven to write, unable to stop.

And I write all sorts of things because that’s part of what makes it fun.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I write drafts longhand, except when I type them directly into the computer or dictate them into a note on my phone. From there they go straight into a properly formatted manuscript document on a simple word processor–no Scrivener for me!–and I rewrite them from beginning to end. Then I rewrite them again. And again. And, OMG, again. And then I get someone to read it and I rewrite it again. And again. And again…

I often do over twenty passes on a single project. Sometimes I reach a point where I’m convinced it’s irrevocably broken, but I’ve invested too much time to quit. (Sometimes it’s irrevocably broken.) Other times, there’s a moment where the clouds part, and I see a fine thing shimmering just beyond my grasp, and I run after it like a fiend. Only, you know, from a seated position, in a coffee shop.

Eventually I find myself desperate to write something else, or making it worse rather than better, or the deadline comes, and so I send it off to market.

Tag tag tag! I tag Jessica Wynne Reisman and Gemma Files.

Writers on Writing

Caitlin Sweet has tagged me and Kelly in the Writer Process Blog Tour, and posted her answers to the questions in that meme here. (She was tagged by Peter Watts, incidentally).

I will provide answers, but being tagged reminded me that 1) I’m trying to channel my inner Gomez Addams by finishing old business before jumping into new;

and 2) I’ve been working up a post about the things we writers post to the Internet about writing.

These essays tend to fall into a number of categories.

Write, Sell, Lather, Rinse, Repeat
– How to write more.
– How to write better.
– How to get your more better writing published.
– What traditional publishing is like.
– What self-publishing is like.
– Whether to go traditional, Indy, or hybrid.
– Stuff happening in publishing and how it benefits or harms writers.
– How to promote your work: how to sell it to people.

Writing lifestyle stuff
– To have a day job or not.
– To write in a cafe or not.
– Just plain finding the time.
– Also in this category is all the material about the emotional journey. That means things like coping with rejection, coping with success or failure, supportive versus unsupportive spouses (children, parents, gerbils, etc.), your first fan letter, good bad and ugly reviews, writers’ block. Anything you have feelings about.

Literary analysis
– My genre is like this, your genre is like that.
– This particular story is categorized as one thing, but is actually another.
– These genres are basically the same but are marketed to different people.
– Actual academic analysis of the work.

Our passions
– Books, shows, games, gadgets and other media that we think is cool. Sometimes we even talk about how well-written the stuff is.

History of writing
– How Leon de Tocqueville got it done and the Marquis de Sade’s editorial relationship with his… never mind.

Politics of writing
– Censorship.
– Sexism, Racism, ablism, and other issues: on the page, in the community, and within fandom.
– Writing that promotes a political agenda in some way.
– Writers who are politically active and whether/how/when/why that’s appropriate.

Health safety and wellness
– Writing desks short and tall.
– Food or exercise issues.
– Writing through illness.
– Technological assists.
– Why we should all have kittens.

What do you mean, the race of cats is cursed on Stormwrack?? We're unimpressed!

The reason I’m thinking about all of the above is that it makes me wonder I am wondering what we don’t talk about. Are there uncomfortable and difficult topics we should be addressing online? Would our readers and/or new writers be interested?

If so, what are those topics?

I’m a Functional Nerd! (for a Day)

imageMiss the sound of my voice? You can hear me on the Functional Nerds podcast today, talking about Penny Dreadful, a Twitter tiff Kelly and I had about whether (film) Tony Stark is a better man than (film) Steve Rogers, and, of course, Child of a Hidden Sea.

There are also new reviews on Eloquent Codex and BookNerd. And Julia, at All Things Urban Fantasy, says:

And it was just this mix of personal ability and magic that made this book irresistible. While exploring a new world is nothing new for contemporary fantasy, Sophie and her brother Bram do so with zest and personal abilities, not through the emergence of heretofore unknown magical legacies. Their very human approach, albeit aided by considerable intellect and prior knowledge in natural sciences, opens up this new world in a very believable fashion.

Midnight Garden Review of Child of a Hidden Sea

imageKim, over at Midnight Garden, has posted a squeeful 4.5 star review of the novel, and says, about Sophie and Garland Parrish:

…I think things are definitely leaning a certain way for future volumes and I am in eager anticipation of that! Parrish is a dreamboat. Handsome, kind, stolid, and giving out smiles but sparingly. You know how I love my stoic captain (yes he is a captain!) types.

She also notes, much to my delight, that it’s an adult book full of superfun things we usually reserve for younger readers: pirates, adventure, magic and “moments of grotesque horror.”

Hmmm. Sophie/Garland doesn’t necessarily make for an excellent romantic mash-up moniker. Sophland? Garphie? Definitely not Garphie.

D.B. Jackson – My Shelves Runneth Over

Guesting today on the site is D.B. Jackson, also known as David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

I come from a family of readers, and so, perhaps not too surprisingly, I also come from a family of writers.  But the thing is, neither my father nor my mother was a writer; on the other hand all four of us kids have written professionally in some capacity, which is pretty remarkable.  The common denominator for all of us was books.  My parents’ house was filled with them; every shelf overflowed with paperbacks and hardcovers, novels and biographies. When I reached a certain age — maybe I was eight — my father set up my own set of bookshelves in my room, fixing brackets to the wall so that I could adjust the shelves as I needed. He had done the same thing for my three older siblings before me.  It was a rite of passage in our house.

My parents instilled in all of us a reverence for the written word. They didn’t spoil us; they limited gifts of candy or toys to our birthdays and Christmas.  But they were always willing to buy us books.  Always.  And the truth is, I’m much the same way with my kids.

I didn’t read a lot of fantasy or science fiction early on, though eventually, with the help of a camp counsellor, I stumbled upon my first novel in the genre that would dominate my adult life.  And I’ll get to that in a moment.  But the first reading influences I remember were pretty standard kid fare.  There were a series of books that I absolutely loved titled _____ Do the Strangest ThingsBirds Do the Strangest Things, Fish Do the Strangest Things, Insects Do the Strangest Things, etc.  They were essentially the written, kid-friendly equivalent of a David Attenborough nature special.  I couldn’t get enough of them.  I read every one of them, and then read them again.  And again.

Though I remain a dedicated nature enthusiast, I don’t write natural history, and so it would be easy to assume that these books had little influence on my writing career.  But I believe they had a much greater impact on me than one might imagine.  They fed a deeply rooted intellectual curiosity and taught me — as my parents hoped they would — that books held answers, not only to all the questions swirling around in my young brain, but also to those questions I hadn’t yet thought to ask.  I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to say that these books, and others like them, started me down the path to academia, which, in turn, steered me toward my writing career.

The other books that I remember gobbling up in my youth were the Hardy Boys mysteries written under the name Franklin W. Dixon.  These were the Grosset and Dunlap re-imaginings of the series published initially in 1959 and popular through the 1960s and 1970s (which is when I was reading them).  They weren’t great literature, they weren’t terribly challenging as kids’ reading went.  But they were enormously fun.  If Birds Do the Strangest Things, satisfied my burgeoning curiosity, these books fed my craving for adventure, danger, thrills — all the things my comfortable suburban childhood lacked.

And so, by the time I went off to sleep away camp for the summer as an eleven year-old, I was primed for a new kind of book that would be both engaging and exciting enough to allow me to move on from the Hardy Boys, which I was already starting to outgrow.  Enter The Hobbit.

I didn’t actually encounter the book that summer.  Instead, I tried out for a dramatized version of Tolkien’s novel.  I had already discovered early in the summer that I had a flair for drama (no one who knows me now will be at all surprised) and when the opportunity came to audition for this newest production, I took full advantage. Yes, I was cast as Bilbo Baggins.  It helped that I was short for my age . . .

I fell in love with the story, and more I was fascinated by the world revealed to me by the script.  Elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons — what was not to love.  It had never occurred to me that there were books like this waiting to be read; I certainly never dreamed that there were similar books written for adults that would allow me to pursue my new-found fascination with magical stories well past my childhood.  But when the summer was over, I found the novel version of The Hobbit and devoured it.  Then I read The Lord of the Rings, and after that Ursula LeGuin’s EarthSea Trilogy.  By then, I was hooked on fantasy, and I have been ever since.

But I think it bears repeating that I’m not an author because of Tolkien.  I wrote my first “book” when I was six; writing stories was always my favorite school activity.  My early experiences with fantasy didn’t set me on the road to a career as a fantasy author; the sheer act of reading had taken care of that long before.  The environment created by my parents and their exuberant love of all things book were the most formative forces in my childhood.

DBJacksonPubPhoto800It would be pretty easy to imagine my own kids rebelling against my love of reading, which my wife shares. “Dad’s an author? Great. Hand me the remote.” But early on they discovered the same thing I did:  Books are treasure boxes; they just beg to be opened. Their favorites have been the Magic Tree House and the Magic School Bus, Harry Potter and most recently the Hunger Games books. To be honest, I don’t care what titles they’re drawn to — as long as they’re reading, I’m happy. Sounds like something my Mom and Dad would have said.

David blogs, is active on Facebook and Goodreads, and Tweets. Give him some love here in comments or go forth and beard him in his lairs.

 

Telewitterings: Decoding The Morse Franchise 

imageI stopped watching Inspector Morse somewhere midway through its run. I liked the characters, particularly Lewis, but the stories fell into very repetitive patterns, and Morse himself didn’t do that much for me. (I’ve posted about this before, and I know that many people really liked Morse. He was just a little too irascible for me.)
Inspector Lewis, on the other hand, turned my crank from the beginning, even though the scripts were wildly variable. Some of the mysteries were so poorly written it was painful; only a few were brilliant. What was interesting about it, though, was the character of Lewis. He was conceived as a sidekick, a foil. Morse is ascerbic, educated, all-seeing; Lewis is a good-natured plodder: bright enough, in his way, but very much the supporting act. It’s interesting to see a sidekick made into a leading man, and it often doesn’t work. They’re not built that way. They’re not cast that way. There’s a reason why John Barrowman is Captain Jack, in Torchwood, while goofy-looking Burn Gorman gets to be Owen.
But Kevin Whatley, the actor who plays Robbie Lewis, is very convincing as a pure soul, an honest and fundamentally sweet guy. The pitch here is he’s grown up, and got experienced–and hey, he was always a good cop. Unlike Morse, who lives on crossword puzzles, operas and intellectual epiphanies in magnificent isolation, Lews has a family life outside the office. We get to peer in on the family, a bit; in no small part, they exist to illuminate what Morse doesn’t have. And, interestingly, one of the things done by the Morse creators to shift poor Robbie from second banana status, to anoint him as the pillar of the new series–is lay waste to that family. Val is dead; the kids are, as Robbie puts it, “grown and flown.”
This works especially well because fans of the original series knew that family. The nigh-obligatory dead wife isn’t quite the hypothetical font of angst you get in other series. We knew her: she was around for years.
Despite the occasional appalling episode, it held my interest. And it didn’t hurt that the guy who played Lewis’s shiny new sidekick, Laurence Fox, was incredibly compelling.
Now, finally and delightfully, we have Endeavour. This is Morse’s backstory: it takes him back to the 1960s, and makes him the junior officer. Again this is a nifty tweak on the original formula, and one that sort of interesting. It is usually the highest ranked character who is solving the mysteries. Here we get Morse as underdog; it’s cool.
I went into Endeavor expecting more of what we got with Lewis: some good episodes, truly silly ones, and a whole lot of interplay between the cops. Plus history, Cold War, and old timey clothing. And to some extent that’s all been true. Shaun Evans, the actor playing Endeavor, is extremely sensitive and believable. The rest of the cast great too, and I love his obvious slash interest, Constable Strange.
The surprise has been this past season was incredibly well-written. “Nocturne,” in particular, started off with a horrific crime scene and though at every turn it seemed as though it couldn’t possibly deliver on the promises it was making, in the end it did just that.
I can’t help thinking there’s a Pop Culture Studies doctoral thesis in the making here. The history of these three shows is just fundamentally interesting. It went from the original Colin Dexter novels into Inspector Morse, which was wildly successful. Now there are these spinoffs, successful variations on the theme created without the original author’s input.
Anyone else been keeping up?
Either way: Tune in Tomorrow for a Guest Post by D.B. Jackson!

A close shave with the mechanics of dudeness

imageIt is often hard for me to guess which of my various social media posts will end up garnering much in the way of response. Friday, I decided to to check a minor detail about beard shaving while I was writing. I status updated a query to the webs: Do you shower first or shave? Does that change in a crisis?

On Twitter, I got some pretty quick, straightforward answers. It was clear that this is a matter of preference and sometimes of technology (whether you use an electric razor affects the before/after equation. I assume that at least half of you know this from experience, but some of it was news to me, so I share anyway.

Over on Facebook, on the other hand, there was some whimsical imagining among my female relatives, fantasies involving a big shower full of shaving dudes. Then people showed up–most of them guys–to debate the fine points. What kind of crisis? They wanted to know. Would you even bother shaving if things were going pear-shaped? Someone even asked if it might be the kind of crisis where you wanted to be especially manly, by which he meant unwashed and a bit smelly and unkempt.

Now there’s something I hadn’t considered at all.

The thread ran to a hundred or so comments, all for a slightly odd and very short project that I am working on while I wait on some notes on the second Hidden Sea book. It was a fun thread, and it drove home a general principle about writing and research: a lot of the tiny details you include in your work might only pass if they go by fast, if readers don’t have a chance to examine them.

Case in point: I probably could’ve dropped the reference to shaving into the piece without another thought, and had a 99% chance nobody would say boo. But when you put the detail under the microscope, questions emerge. Tom, the guy in the scene, is fifteen, not necessarily an age where a man will have to shave every day unless he’s especially hirsute. There’s a girl in the mix, and a small part of Tom’s mind is attuned to the possibility of impressing her. The idea that a girl might like him is a far more appealing thing to contemplate than the family member he’s been visiting in hospital.

If we thought about every tiny detail in our work to this degree, it’s a fair bet that most novels would take ten years to write. But it’s also important, especially if you are at a remove or two from your characters, to occasionally poke into our assumptions about how it all works. These are the small things we can sometimes get wrong. When we do, we can render our work unconvincing to a significant chunk of our readership.

I’m not saying launch a 100-post thread on Facebook every time your characters make a minor decision.

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