Category Archives: ucla-creatinguniverses

95 days until Blue Magic is out!

Posted on January 6, 2012 by

That’s right, it’s just over three months away! You can expect to hear more as we get closer to April 10th–there will be at least one contest, and I or TOR will almost certainly put up a first chapter, and I have yet to figure out what else.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! In just a couple weeks I’ll have a new story up on Tor.com. It’s called “Among the Silvering Herd” and I hope you all enjoy it very much. Or, if you’d rather get your Whedon fan on, watch the TOR blog for my 2012 Buffy Rewatch series, coming any second now.

AND A SET OF STEAK KNIVES: there are still exactly three slots open in my winter UCLA course, “Creating Universes, Building Worlds,” which begins January 25th. Come spring, I’m scheduled to teach Novel Writing I… and I’ll let you know when registration’s open for that. Finally, I will be teaching Novel Diagnostics at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle on Sunday, January 29th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m..

What have you all got going on?

Creating Universes, Building Worlds

Posted on November 29, 2011 by

This January, I will be teaching Creating Universes, Building Worlds via the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. A full syllabus can be found here. As always, the syllabus is subject to tweaking right up until class starts January 25th… but it won’t change radically. If you want to spend Christmas getting a leg up on the reading and exercises, you can safely do so.

In April, I am scheduled to run Novel Writing One: Writing a Novel the Professional Way. Though there are no guarantees, what generally happens is that one teaches N1 in a given term, then teaches N2 in the next, N3 in the one after that, and so on. This allows students to work through the lion’s share of a book with one instructor, if they wish.

Questions? Let me know!

All the little storytales, everywhere I go…

Posted on July 14, 2011 by

Broken house on 2nd

A drafty snippet from the current story in progress:

It was splinters, driven into the burns. They were lined up like little dominos, bristles that ran along the lines of my hand, life line, heart line, brain line… all the things palm readers find so much meaning in. Tiny little fenceposts of bristling birch, embedded in both hands, and each filament barely aglow with the blue that had come to mean magic.

“Go to jail,” I whispered. “Go directly to jail. Do not pass go.”

And behind me, someone answered, in a deep bass voice: “Ma’am? May I have some clothes, please?”

Between writing words for the Clarion Write-a-thon (up to 16,411 words out of 20,000 as of Thursday!) and teaching “Creating Universes, Building Worlds”–which is focused on short speculative fiction–I have been trying to read a few new short stories.

So far there have been four:

1) “Crazy Me,” James Patrick Kelly – http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/05/crazy-me It’s creepy, it has great build-up, and it ends abruptly. Like many of the people who commented on it at Tor.com, I’m not sure I got the whole point; I may need to reread it. But it has been a fair while since I read anything by Kelly, and I like his style. I enjoyed this a lot.

“The Guy With The Eyes,” Spider Robinson. From BEFORE THEY WERE GIANTS, which is an anthology edited by James Sutcliffe, of first-ever stories by some well-known SF writers. I was surprised that Spider’s first published story was a Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon piece, though I’m not sure why that surprised me.

I want to pick a piece from BEFORE THEY WERE GIANTS to add to the reading list for CUBW… not this time, so much, but in the future. I love the idea of the anthology, and the right newbie story by someone who’s indisputably regarded as Genre Awesome just seems like a terrific thing to include my course reader.

(Anyone read the whole thing yet? Got any faves?)

“Down where the Best Lilies Grow,” Camille Alexa. Jessica Reisman recommended this a few days ago, and it’s a lovely little short-short–moody, self-contained, with memorable images.
(http://10flash.wordpress.com/genres/10flash-fantasy-stories/down-where-the-best-lilies-grow/)

And, yesterday, Michael Swanwick’s “The Dala Horse”, (http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/07/the-dala-horse) which has a “Little Red Riding Hood” feel but is so much more. I currently have Tanith Lee’s “Snow Drop” assigned as a fairy tale variation in CUBW; I might add this in as an optional reading, or swap them. Michael was one of my Clarion West instructors, a last-minute addition to the teaching roster after someone (I can’t remember who) had to bow out. He was, I might add, awesome.

Also on the topic of short fiction, Kris Rusch says that the prospects for writing them are better than ever, thanks to the growth of online magazines and e-books. (http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/22/the-business-rusch-short-stories/) What’s your take?

Two new essays on writing at Tordotcom

Posted on July 13, 2011 by

photo.JPG

Two new articles on TOR in the past week. One is the second in my sporadically-recurring series on writing about crime: it’s about thievery, the lure of the caper, and it’s called Imperfect Crimes.

The other, Tales out of School, is an essay about what it was like to start teaching SF and fantasy writing at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in 2005, at the height of the Harry Potter craze.

Enjoy! And let me know what you like, or don’t, or maybe even disagree with.

Revising and Marketing Short Fiction

Posted on June 22, 2011 by

Once you have critiques in hand from a workshop, how do you take your first-draft story and turn it into a marketable commodity? Which criticisms do you take to heart, and how do you decide which to set aside?

At every stage of the writing process, your instincts must work hand-in-hand with hard-won skills. The good news is that as you write, workshop, and revise stories, these instincts and skills will naturally improve. Practice really does make perfect! The more you read and critique the work of others while simultaneously exposing your own fiction to critique, the better you will become at polishing your work.

A reasonable plan for starting on post-workshop revision might go like this:

  1. Reread all of the critiques. Start by noting any story flaws mentioned by more than one reader–if a specific complaint arises several times, it is most likely a serious problem. Put these critiques at the top of a list of revision priorities, and spend some time thinking–without actually altering your manuscript–about how you might want to change your story to address them.
  2. Look for comments made by one or at most two readers. Figure out which you agree with and add them to your checklist. Again, take a little time once this second list is made to simply think about what you might do to answer these critiques.
  3. Third, look for areas where your readers disagreed. If half of a workshop really likes a story element while the rest hate it passionately, you are stuck making a judgment call. By this stage, however, you’ve already given some thought to the key changes you’re planning to make to your story. Those plans should help you figure out what to do about more controversial story elements.
  4. Look at line edits and minor quibbles. You can add these to the revision list or just keep them in mind.

At the end of this process, you should end up with a list of things you are going to do to the story… one that doesn’t include the criticisms you have decided to set aside.

Set that list out of sight and start revising the story. Don’t look at it again until you feel as though your draft is coming together. Then compare the work you’ve done with the list you’ve made. See which problems you haven’t addressed yet, decide whether they are still valid, and keep at it until you have–in one way or another–dealt with every item.

At this stage you should have a nearly marketable manuscript, and it is very worthwhile to do one or two more passes through the story at this stage specifically to polish your prose. (More on prose here!)

  • Look at all the dialogue and see if it flows well. Make sure characters aren’t borrowing each others’ accents or verbal idiosyncracies, that it is obvious who is speaking in every line, and that the scene’s mini-conflicts are obvious within the dialogue.
  • It’s tedious, but go through and look at all your verbs. Are they pulling their weight, or would a more vivid word choice be better?
  • See how many adverbs you can trim.
  • If the story feels wordy or long in any way, one excellent exercise is to try and cut one word or phrase from every paragraph. Doing this twice in a row can give you a nice lean prose style.
  • Use the Seem, Some, Sigh page in your Writer’s Roadmap to search for any words you may have overused.
  • Go through making note of scene breaks and important transitions. Read through those breaks and see if they can be smoothed.
  • Most importantly, print off and read the whole story aloud, marking any awkward-sounding passages with a pencil. A story should be clear and comprehensible, but if its prose can also sound beautiful to the ear, you have a winner on your hands.

Marketing

With almost all of my classes, the final assignment is to create a marketing plan for your piece–to identify a number markets that might be interested in publishing your fiction… and figuring out which of those markets to try first, second, third, etc.

Before sending out your manuscript, have a look at Vonda McIntyre’s manuscript preparation notes. Follow them scrupulously unless the specific market guidelines are different… in which case, do everything the editors ask.

Questions to ask when seeking markets for your story:

What is your chief goal in marketing the story? Are you chasing your first sale? Do you want a market that will qualify you for membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America? Is the pay rate a higher consideration than the relative prestige of the market? Are you willing to wait on a good market with a slow response time, or is a fast acceptance or rejection important to you?

If you have read this magazine or this editor’s anthologies before: Is your work like the fiction that appears in this market? Does the editor publish writers whose work is similar to yours?

Is the market appropriate? Does the market accept the genre of story you have written? Does it have a minimum or maximum word length? Is it on any “dead market” lists?