Category Archives: Resources for Writers

Literary blackmail, televised DIY surgery and other lite squicks

Posted on May 20, 2011 by

I wrote a post this week for TOR.COM, about blackmail in fiction, and in Veronica Mars. The post is here; I hope to follow it up with some musings on other varieties of crime. Let me know what you think?

Second: I dunno how many of you have seen this past week’s new episode of a certain medical drama, so I’ll confine my comments on that to “OMG, squick! Ewww!” Either you know what I mean or that evil chuckle you hear is your DVR, waiting for you to boot it up.

Also TV adjacent, I am 3/5 of the way through watching Mildred Pierce on HBO and should probably hold my tongue until I see the conclusion, but I have to say that as viewing experiences go, this one so far has been entirely bizarre. Kate Winslet is fantastic, as usual, and her Lauren Bacall accent is a marvel to hear. And I’m always so happy to see Melissa Leo in anything.

But the story–I haven’t read the original novel–has all this peculiar class and gender stuff.

The message so far seems to be that men are useless parasites, and… um… something about social class and snobbery involving Guy Pearce’s naked bum. Seriously. The class stuff is, at this mid-point in the story, entirely murky. Mildred was a snob, but now she seems to be evolving. Unless she isn’t. It’s incredibly hard to tell.

The story is just intriguing enough to keep me watching, but it’s also very cold. Kate as Mildred seems as though she should be poised to be a source of joy and warmth in an otherwise harsh and chilly world, but she’s as icy as everyone and everything else. I am entirely baffled by it.

Opportunities for new writers

Posted on May 18, 2011 by

A very exciting newsflash: author Saladin Ahmed is offering one on one mentoring for interested writers:

I am pleased to announce that I am currently offering a limited number of one-on-one creative writing mentorships. These mentorships will be individually tailored to the needs of the client, involving a combination of detailed manuscript critique and advice on publication and professionalization. My areas of teaching expertise include poetry and fantasy fiction.

Full details are here.

Second, PEN USA’s Emerging Voices Fellowship is open for applications. This is a terrific program. One of my students, Natashia Deón, was a PEN fellow, and everything I heard about it from her made it sound like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Exquisite Words

Posted on May 16, 2011 by

I haven’t been posting many text fragments lately… becoming more of an e-books person has helped me to fall out of the habit of collecting them. But since I’m working on reading more I want to get back into this habit, and I also want to post some of the lovely bits and pieces I’ve collected but never posted. And one of my favorites–even though it’s very short–is this crisp, elegant, utterly perfect image from Samuel R. Delaney.

The moon, revealed once more, was a polished bone joint jammed on the sky.

–Samuel R. Delaney, THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION

What I admire about this is that it has the economy and precision of poetry–it needs nothing more than what it already has.

Characterization: getting versus wanting

Posted on May 2, 2011 by

There is a catchy phrase that comes up in various types of motivational speaking:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I’ve known this one for awhile, and as far as fortune-cookie delivered Life Lessons go, I agree with the underlying philosophy. But K and I were walking in the West End last weekend, and we came upon a commercial sandwich board with this taped on it:

“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”

Also catchy, and in some ways the exact same message, but I’m fascinated by the difference in nuance that comes with the altered wording. The first has such a freight of passivity: the ‘you’ is getting something–presumably something they no longer want, or maybe never did. My imagination is offering up a steaming bucket of something from a stable-mucking, delivered weekly to your door.

The second, meanwhile is about wanting something new. It’s about running to, rather than running away.

Both get the general idea across quite succinctly–but the latter phrasing is more positive, more of a call to action. In comparison, the first is a bit of a finger wag, a lecture from a judgmental imaginary parent figure. “If you’re just gonna insist on playing your electric guitar in the hot tub, young fella, don’t come crying to me when you do the electric boogaloo.”

It is easy to imagine the one phrase as a draft and the other as revision, the one as good enough wording and the second as a perfected version, as final copy. It’s especially easy because, as writers, we frown on certain types of linguistic passiveness. In reality, they are two different takes on the same idea, gleaned from different sources.

Still. It may be useful to think of them that way, perhaps especially when we talk about making our characters more active. Are they getting what they always got when they’re meant to be pulling a novel forward? Do they want something they never had? Do they want anything at all?

Finally, how do you shift them to chasing their desires, if what they’ve really been doing is just opening up the door every morning to see what life has handed them?

***
On another topic, word metrics on the current wip: Saturday, 450 words. Sunday, 822.

Writing links, three bags full

Posted on April 6, 2011 by

My Spring 2011 Novel III class starts up next Wednesday and it’s about a fifty/fifty mix of students I’ve had in earlier classes and people I’ve never met before. It’ll be interesting to see what that’s like: half the projects will be new to me, and the others will be novels I’ve looked at quite closely.

One of the things I do with these classes is sift useful links from the flow of the Twitternets and other places and post them as guest lectures. Some are so valuable that I post them pretty much every time . . . which means they’ll be reruns for the folks who’ve taken my fall class.

I thought, for the sake of interest, I’d look at the links I considered postworthy last quarter. There’s a lot of them, and some were things I looked up as discussions progressed, so if it feels like the context is lacking, that’s why. There’s some interesting stuff here, and you all know a lot came up in the past quarter that could have gone on the list too, but this is what ended up hitting my classroom. Feel free to propose your faves in comments.


Workshopping
Scott Edelman – fifteen minute video, “How to Respond to a Critique of Your Writing

Craft
Juliette Wade – Character-driven approach to kissing and sex scenes
Jay Lake – Producing Story
Kay Kenyon – The Mush Factor
Jon Sprunk – The Journey from Seedling to Bookshelf
Jane Friedman – You Hate Your Writing? That’s a Good Sign!
Sonya Chung – Writing Across Gender (This essay quotes the sex scene from BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, so maybe don’t read it at work.)
Chuck Wendig – Storytelling and the Art of Sadness
Three from Cat Rambo – Three strategies for snaring the senses, Five things to do in your first three paragraphs, and Why Titles Matter.
Nicola Griffith – Narrative Grammar – An Exercise
Suzannah Windsor Freeman – Seven Tasks to Bridge your First and Second Drafts
Joe McKinney – Rules for Writing about Cops

Revision and editing
Jan Winburn – How to Edit Your Way to a Can’t-Miss Story (be sure to check out the slide show.)
June Casagrande – More Parsing Larsson

Marketing Books / The Publishing Industry:
Query Shark Blog
Anna Kashina – Interview with editor Peter Stampfel
Charlie Stross – How Books are Made
Christina Thompson – How to Write a Book in Ten Easy… Years?
J.E. Fishman – Twelve Common Miscperceptions about Book Publishing
Stina Leicht – On Agents
YA Fantasy Guide – Interview with Agent Sarah Megibow
Colleen Lindsay – Word counts for fiction, all kinds of fiction

The ever-changing state of self and e-pubbing:
John Scalzi – ePubbing Bingo Card
James Maxey – Pouring Cold Water on Kindle-ing
Eli James – The Very Rich Indie Writer
Tonya Plank – Meet Amanda Hocking
Book View Cafe

Turning Research into Narrative
Steve Pinker – Ten minute video on Language as a window into human nature
Yasmine Galenorn – Research Notebook from Hell

Life as a Writer
Finally, two from John Scalzi – “Writers have as much (financial) sense as chimps on crack“, and a tough love link on work habits.