Thursday, January 28, 2010

First, You Must Entertain...

I attended a small local science fiction convention (COSine) this past weekend. The guest of honor was author L.E. Modesitt, and I was lucky enough to sit in on a couple of panels he was on.

One of the panels was about whether or not there is still a place for the stand-alone novel, or whether all books should be part of a series. The general consensus, as you would expect, was that some ideas truly are one book long, and some require more than one to tell the story properly.

However, in the course of the discussion, Mr. Modesitt said something that to me summed up all there is to say about writing:

"The first thing you have to do as a writer is to entertain. If you don't do that, it doesn't matter. No one is going to be reading the next book."

Wow. It's one of those things that should be dead obvious, but for me, it wasn't, or at least not until he spelled it out for me. As writers, we often get so caught up in the whole business of not having cardboard characters, and showing not telling, and what point of view is appropriate for a given story, that we sometimes forget what we're really here to do. We're here to entertain. It's that simple.

It also explains why sometimes books about boy wizards, religious conspiracy theories, and sparkly vampires get published and sell phenomenally well when many works that are technically better do not: Because the latter failed to entertain and the former succeeded. Period.

And not only do we, as aspiring authors, need to entertain our potential readers, but we also have to entertain agents and publishers and editors along the way, at least enough to compel them to pick our story out of the vast sea of submissions. And on top of all of that, we have to entertain ourselves. Because if we're not having fun writing something, then why are we doing it? Right?

When you look at it that way, it seems like a daunting task. And yet, it helps to put everything else into a proper perspective. Yes, having good grammar and "showing not telling" and all of that are still important, because they allow you to get your story across to your readers more effectively, but first you need to make sure the story is worth telling.

That's it in a nutshell. Thank you, Mr. Modesitt!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

75 books every writer should read

You can find the list HERE.

Now I'm not sure I agree with every choice on the list, but I think it's an interesting list to ponder and definitely somethings to check out on it. I know I have more than a couple books on the list.

Some of my faves:
Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler
Elements of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (if you haven't read this, you really should)
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss (for those of us that are comma-phobic this is essential)
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
The Marshall Plan Workbook: Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish by Evan Marshall
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Committee - and yet...

We’ve talked before on this blog about the importance of promotion even when you aren’t quite published. The reason for this is simple and yet not so: it’s been said that agents and editors are “googleing” people more and more when they consider taking their work. A huge chunk of an author’s job goes into the promotion of their own books. Any publisher worth their salt will assist in this but more and more it’s on the author including the time involved and the cost (I’ve heard more than one published author advise that if you get an advance, use it for promotional costs cause you’ll need it). Only it’s hard when you don’t yet have a product to promote that so what is a pre-published newbie to do? Why get involved of course.

As a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) there are no shortage of opportunities to get involved both with the national organization as well as the local and online chapters. In my local chapter I have been a co-chair for our big conference as well as a volunteer at the conference. I put myself up for election for the board. In my online chapter I’ve just volunteered to be the Publicity Chair. All these opportunities have and will put me face to face with some of the movers and shakers of my genre. When the time comes (and I have to believe that it will) if I need cover quotes or other publicity help, my hope is that the request won’t be met with “who are you again?” but with “oh yeah, Colleen was the (fill in the blank)”.

Cherry Adair, mentor extraordinaire, is fond of saying “Thou Shalt Not Committee” more for taking the time away from writing than anything. But writing is more than just sitting in front of a computer putting words on the pages – it’s advertising yourself, your voice and your ability to sell it when the time comes. And it’s not as easy as it looks – and while my writing time is precious little enough as it is, I also realize that it’s opportunities like answering the call to help published authors promote themselves that are going to be invaluable to my own future as a published author.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Trembling On The Brink

In all of the stories I've written so far, I've reached a point where I feel as though all of the setup, all of the tension-building, and all of the background work is done. From here, it's just one long unstoppable downhill ride on the roller-coaster hill. Granted, there may be a twist or two before we actually hit the bottom, but from here, the story should be a quick, thrill-packed ride.

(Or so I hope. It hasn't always worked out quite that way. When I reached that point in last year's NaNoWriMo story, it turned out that I was still four months and more than 150K words away from where the story said it wanted to end. I'm seriously hoping that doesn't happen again this year.)

I think I'm a hair's-breadth away from that point in my current WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne. There have been three abductions and a second murder, although Celia and her sisters thus far only suspect one of the abductions. I've put in all the clues and hints that are needed (I think) for the revelations that are about to happen. All of the background is finished; all of the little character beats I wanted to establish have been established. I'm well aware that, in fact, the story so far is overwritten, but I'm trying hard to keep things moving in spite of it.

Now comes the tricky bit: Making it dramatic without crossing the line into melodrama, keeping the action rolling without wandering down too many side roads, and remembering that this part of the story is supposed to be fun (at least for the readers, if not for the characters, who aren't going to enjoy it at all). Got to remember to keep the angst at bay. If people want that, they have plenty of television-viewing options available to them.

{puts foot firmly on neck of Inner Editor} And you, troublesome thing, can just sit there and shut up. Yes, I know we can -- and will -- need to edit for pacing later. Key word in that phrase is l-a-t-e-r. As in, some time other than now. Got it?

So how are other people's projects progressing?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Writing retreat

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a writers retreat hosted by a local literary agent. A dozen of us met up at a lovely location on Whidbey Island to spend the day writing. While I had a good time and was able to get some writing accomplished, I feel that it would have been a more productive day if I could have just gone somewhere quiet to write on my own. I was the only one in the group that was writing sci-fi and one of the only in the group working on genre fiction at all.

However, it was good getting a chance to talk with an agent about what I'm working on and getting her input on the themes and threads running through the novel.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Letting The Story Flow

Sometimes, I hate my inner editor.

Right now, she's giving me all kinds of grief, because she's reasonably certain that about 3/4 of the last 40,000 words I've written on my WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne, are totally unnecessary and should just be deleted now. Right now. Before I go any further.

She's probably right about the fact that they need to be deleted, or at least condensed, but the problem is this: Each of the sections she wants me to delete contains at least a small nugget of plot detail that's important. Some of these can be moved to or combined with other scenes, but until I've written the whole story, I won't know for sure which ones can be moved where, and which ones need to remain.

Part of the problem is that I did something totally out-of-character for me and posted a couple of chapters of my first draft to my WorldCon critique group. The feedback was overall very positive, with the biggest criticism being the story's pacing (which I've noted a couple of times is very lackadaisical and needs to be tightened up), so there weren't any surprises there.

The problem is that the sample I posted, while largely unedited (I did go through and correct spelling/grammar errors and take a stab at getting out the excess commas), was actually remarkably clean and tight for a first draft. So now Inner Editor keeps pointing at it and saying, "Don't you think the rest of the story should meet this standard?"

Well, that would be nice, but when I try to do that, it interrupts the flow of the story. Sometimes you just have to dare to suck. Sometimes you have to leave in the three-paragraph scene where nothing much really happens until you're sure you don't need it. Sometimes the dialogue in this Victorian-era story is going to sound way too twenty-first-century, at least on the first pass.

The point is to get the story down on paper (or at least, stored away in computer bits) first. It can be primped, tidied, pared and prettied later. But if I spend all of my brain power trying to do all of that as I go, I'll flail around forever and never get it done.


Dear Inner Editor,

Please shut up. NOW. Your turn comes later. Thank you.



And since I found a good one on Twitter, I'm going to close with an inspirational quote, this one from Nancy Springer. If you're not familiar with her work, you should be; she has a way of writing a male lead that will make you fall heartbreakingly in love with him every time. I want to write like her when I grow up.

My two favorites of hers are Larque on the Wing and Metal Angel. Go find them and read them (you may have to hunt down used copies on You won't be sorry. You should also be following her on Twitter (NancySpringer). Lots of good writing advice.

Anyway, today on Twitter, she writes:
"Don't let the success of others get you down; don't compare. Go where the joy is. Know what your writing means to YOU."

It's so simple, so obvious, yet so hard to do: Go where the joy is.

I'm going to try. How about you?

Monday, January 11, 2010

What I Want

I am loving reading everyone's writing goals for the new year. I think you all have some solid plans and I look forward to reading your progress reports.

My main goal this year? To end the year on track for membership in the Horror Writers Association.

From the site:

Beginning horror writers with a demonstrated intention of establishing a professional writing career. Minimal publication is required, and only works of Horror or Dark Fantasy can be used as qualifying material.

-Sell one short story of at least 500 words, for payment of at least $25.

-Sell one non-fiction article, role-playing supplement, comic book script, computer gaming script, or theatrical play for payment of at least $50.

-Sell one book-length manuscript (40,000 words or more) for payment of at least $200.

-Sell a screenplay or an option on your existing screenplay for payment of at least $200.

-Sell three poems for total payment of at least $15."

I want to- I WILL- sell one short story. To start. That is my goal. I am going to focus on this; I am reading lots of short story collections and essays on horror writing. This is going to be a lot of hard work but I am up for it. It's not easy to get published in the short story market, but I want to have a finished, polished story and by year's end I want to have at least three submissions under my belt.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Down to Business

I’m back to this blog after a few weeks away enjoying holiday festivities (and snow in Minnesota). Like the other gals on this blog I’ve come up with goals that I want to achieve in 2010 and I have some great writing events on the horizion:


- Get a headshot taken and a website up and running. It’s been pounded into my head at just about every meeting/workshop that I’ve attended that even those of us who are “pre-published” need to market ourselves. Agents and editors commonly google the names of those who have submitted to them and if it looks like you’ve taken an active role in marketing yourself they know they can count on you to take a role in marking your work. I’ve asked one person in my RWA chapter who has an amazing headshot on her website for info on who did it and I’ve been checking into other local photographers. Samantha has agreed to help me in wordpress come up with a website. This is going to be a big challenge for me as programming of any kind can be frustrating for me.

- Find an agent – while I do still plan on submitting to Harlequin on my own, I think that finding an agent to represent me and my work will make future submissions easier.

- As previously mentioned I want to submit my historical western novella to Harlequin’s Historical Undone line. Much to my pleasant surprise, a fellow Hearts Through History RWA member is having the first western in that line come out in February!

- Develop other projects including a YA western idea I’ve had. – most especially since that’s the Cherry Adiar Write the Damn Book Challenge book for this year.

- Speaking of the WTDB challenge, this year Cherry is having us all report in weekly, on Sundays, with a goal of pages for the week and reporting how many pages were written and/or revised the week before.


- Saturday, January 16th – Just Write on Whidbey Island, WA – this is an event being put on by a local literary agent, Andrea Hurst. For the entire day you go and just write and get feedback and support (and maybe an offer of representation?) from her. Samantha and I are both attending. More information on Ms. Hurst and this day of writing can be found at:

- Saturday, February 6th – workshop by Mary Buckham to the members of the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. Usually this woman’s workshops run in the hundreds of dollars to attend. She is nationally renowned by writers of all kinds for her workshops (find her and her book, Break Into Fiction (which you should own!) here The workshop she’s giving us is called “From Thought to Plot” – note this workshop is for GSRWA members only.

- There are also several workshops being given online through various RWA chapters – some chapters do require you to be an RWA member to take their courses, others don’t. One that’s recently caught my attention is The Art of Re-Writing: It’s not clear if you need to be an RWA member to attend the course – the registration page asks for an RWA number but lists that field as optional so you probably don’t.

I’m also going to be contacting several local authors that have new releases coming out to see if they’d like to blog here about what they wish they knew starting out. Here’s to a very fulfilling and productive year for all of us in 2010!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Charging The Batteries

It's becoming kind of normal for me around this time of year.

My "writing batteries" start to run down.

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I've written at least a little bit every day (but one) since November 1. I even wrote on Christmas Day. On one of those days, I wrote more than 10,000 words.

But over the last couple of weeks, my output is dropping and my story is dragging. I'm losing focus.

So it must be time to charge the batteries.

I only wish it were as easy as plugging a cord into an outlet in the wall (like I just did with my cell phone, and a good thing this reminded me to do that!). But it's not.

For me, recharging the "write-fu" usually involves:

  • Crawling out of the "writing cave" and interacting with people. When the writing is good and the words are flowing, I want nothing more than to keep writing -- to the exclusion of just about anything else. But too much of that turns me into a hermit, and that's not good, either. So I need to get out and interact with people. Plans are underway for that.
  • Getting new input. Reading new books, watching new movies, going to concerts, listening to new music, brainstorming with writer friends -- these are all good and helpful things to get the current flowing again.
  • Travel. Road trips are usually great creativity triggers for me. I love car travel; if I won PowerBall, the first thing I'd probably do (after buying a new car) would be to just drive around for a couple of months, taking pictures and blogging and making notes and having new experiences. Unfortunately, we don't have any travel planned for the near future, but my Beloved Husband and I usually try to at least make a long weekend out of our anniversary. I'm hoping there will be hot springs involved, too, because another of my recharges is ...
  • Hot water. Standing under the shower usually gets me at least and idea or two, but a couple of hours at a hot spring -- especially if I have someone to bounce ideas off of -- is worth a month of hot showers. Now if only I could figure out a way to waterproof my netbook!
  • Other creative activities. A good day of sewing or crafting can usually catapult me back into power writing mode, too. Or maybe a day with the camera, or some creative cookery, or any of the billions of other things that try to distract me from writing.

What do other people do when their creative batteries run down?

Oh, and does anyone have any good recommendations for books, movies, or new music?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I've been MIA here. No posting, no commenting. I have a lot of both to make up for, so give me some time and I shall do.

There are lots of good books on my nightstand these days, some new and some old favorites. Vampire$ by John Steakley (please, please read this one- so riotous and nothing like the crap movie with James Woods), which is from the latter group, and The Gates by John Connolly, which is a new favorite. I read those over the weekend and now I'm finishing up Robert Parker's I.O.U, one of my favorite Spenser novels, and a short story collection by Richard Matheson and Under the Dome by Stephen King are waiting in the wings.

My writing has stalled, but all of the reading I've been doing has sparked ideas and I have some interesting ones percolating. Just first lines for now, but that's all I really need to start writing, isn't it? Just that first line...

I'm looking forward to being more active here. I hope we all are!

New Year's Resolutions

Like Sheila's previous post, here are my writing goals for the year:

- Write at least 5 days a week
- Get personal website up
- Edit and expand space opera novella to book length
- Complete Write the Damn Book Challenge

And I'll leave you with one of my favorite writing quotes:

"If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." Toni Morrison