Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing the "Other"

         One of the most difficult tasks in writing is creating believable characters outside of your own gender, race or species. Regardless of the type of fiction you write, the “Other” can be a daunting task for anyone, be they a beginner or a seasoned veteran.

Quite a bit of the “Other” I have encountered in reading Science Fiction and Fantasy works are one-dimensional and even stereotypical at times. The alien race of “noble savages” or of “enlightened beings” has been done to death and beyond. These races are projected as being a mono-culture; either everybody is a savage or everybody is an angel. AS an example, you don’t see or hear about any Klingon fishermen do you? Or of them drinking anything but blood wine? Do Cardassians drink anything other than kanar? Do they get drunk and beat their wives on Corusant? There is rarely room for diversity. Granted, there isn’t much time for diversity in short stories, but what’s the excuse for novella’s and novels, movies and TV shows?  One show, Alien Nation, did an excellent job of fleshing out the day to day lives of aliens living on Earth.

Let’s take a look at the roots of the concept of the “Other”. If you go back in time to when we were living in caves and spent most of our lives foraging for food and water, we learned to wary of those outside of our immediate tribe or family. They were either competition for resources or out right hostile and out to hurt us; they were different. As we became more civilized, establishing communities, these ideas of the “Other” being different stayed with us.

When you meet someone for the first time, you automatically classify them by what strikes you as the most different aspects from yourself.

The two primary physical characteristics we use for identifying criteria are race and gender. This allows us to immediately judge whether or not the person could be construed as a threat to us in anyway. That’s the way the human race has evolved socially. Everybody does it, even the most enlightened people will do the initial knee-jerk analysis, just to put the person in a box where the can try to relate to them. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as it does not stop there. Otherwise, interaction between the two individuals has the potential to be inaccurate, even tragic.

How many centuries were Africans enslaved and mistreated, just because they were of a different skin color and did not partake of the predominant European culture of the time? Even today, African-Americans, along with Hispanics, Native Americans and people of various Asian decent are treated with suspicion and hatred by many white people because they think of them as the “Other”. Stereotypical representations in the media over the past six decades only exacerbated this. And a lot of them feel the same way about Caucasians. It cuts both ways.

In writing, staying at the surface will generate characters with little depth or breadth, and lead to a loss of interest or even outrage from your readers. Think about your own immediate family. Everyone has a different personality, likes and dislikes. Now, look at your extended family; cousins, aunts, uncles and so on. Their personalities seem different than yours, don’t they? And the look different from you. They are the “Other”, even though you are related to them. When you write about a different gender, culture or race, do you spend time world building? Or do you just grab bits and pieces out of thin air and hope for the best?

Draw on your own life experiences, especially if you grew up in an area with very diverse cultures. Pay attention to the news; see what is happening across the country and the world. Just because you write about aliens with tentacles and twelve eyes doesn’t mean they don’t have priests, cops, fisherbeings or even schizophrenics in their society.

Do research; Wikipedia is great for finding facts about other cultures. Ask your friends; they all come from different backgrounds and I am sure would be more than willing to answer your questions.

Writing about another race or gender is really writing your own experiences into the story. Whether the characters you write about are a different color, gender or from another dimension, they all have been influenced by a wide variety of circumstances growing up.

Take advantage of it; don’t fall into stereotypes and clich├ęs. Allow your characters to express who they really are. Your stories will be enriched by them.



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Market Timing

In the quest to become a successful writer, there are things you need to know. One of them is how to hit the market when a particular subject is hot.

After many years of Ann Rice dominating the vampire scene (starting with Interview With A Vampire in 1976), and L.K. Hamilton joining the fray with her series Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series in 1993, along comes Twilight in 2005 and a feeding frenzy ensued. Now everywhere you look someone is coming out with a vampire novel. Now, I won’t comment on the quality of these novels because I don’t care for vampire novels in general (Remember the cover of Rolling Stone? UGH!). But I have to believe a lot of them are from authors and publishers trying to cash in on the next big thing.

Sounds like the right time to start writing that vampire novel to get in on the cash, right? Nope. By the time you get your novel to an agent or publisher the trend will probably have passed.

So how do you make it happen? Simple. Diversify your writing. You have a favorite genre’ you love to write in, say Science Fiction. But there are many different sub-genre’s that you can write in. Hard SF, Space Opera, Steampunk, Dystopian, etc… You could write Fantasy, Horror or even (gasp) Literary Fiction!

Try your hand at writing different types of novels and submit them. Now, many of the old guard will cringe at this and say “But wait! Common knowledge says you should only write one type of novel! Publishers and Readers will never accept that!” Common knowledge for millennia was that the Earth was flat. It took a while, but people finally figured out that wasn’t the case.

What sells are good stories with great plots and interesting characters. Disregard the trends and write one of almost everything you are comfortable with. That way you are ready for almost anything. In the end, you might be the one to start the new trend and make the big bucks. But only if you are committed to your art and are willing to work at it. So get out there and write!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Encouraging Young Writers - A Middle School Talk on Writing

I had a great time at a local middle school this morning. I was asked to give a talk about writing to an advanced 7th grade class. They started out a little subdued, but it was a Monday after a Holiday. I started out asking them questions about what type of literature they were interested in and if they had ever written anything before. Some had written stories outside of school work. The majority loved Horror, especially about vampires. I took them through the creative process from the beginning; where they get their ideas from, what to do with their ideas and how to nurture these ideas.  I gave them some examples of where their stories can come from: a dream, a word you hear on the street, etc…


Being relatively new to writing myself (less than five years), I felt it best to keep to the beginning levels. I took them through what they had to do to get started writing a story: The willingness to put it down on paper and let other people see what you wrote. I explained how so many people aren't willing to share because of fear of rejection or of being thought of as too weird. Next, being willing to have several different people critique the story to get feedback, and how to handle it. I explained the need to have a variety of different people read their stories to get a proper range of feedback, and then how to take that feedback and decide what to incorporate into their stories; what would make sense and not lose the essential nature of what they were trying to express.


I also explained how only a minuscule portion of writers’ make any real money on their work, which surprised them.


I continued into how their characters in their first stories may all sound alike and actually have the writer’s personality, and what kind of research it might take for them to find different voices for different characters.


Then I took them through the cycle we go through, of writing, getting critiqued, submitting, getting rejected, editing, getting critiqued, editing, submitting, getting rejected, etc… I also explained why rejection was a good thing and the range of rejection letters and what they meant, from silence up to “We like the idea, but it needs more work. Here’s what we’d like to see.”


There was a question about too many vampire novels out there, and I explained that every publisher is trying to make money on what ever is popular at the moment, so there’s a lot of trash out there. I told them to make a vampire novel salable; they would have to put a unique twist on it. I threw out “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” as an example, "Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters", & "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" as two other examples of unique twists. That got a laugh!


I also offered to have them submit short stories to me for critiquing. I wanted to give them a real-world kind of experience. I also told the teacher that if enough stories came in, I would produce a PDF e-book on CD’s she could give to the students and their parents. Two of the students write music, so they may collaborate on a song to be included.


I know one student in particular paid attention. His comment at the end was that he had no idea the process was so complicated. He thought you just wrote something, submitted it and it either sold or was rejected and that as the end.


They were an enthusiastic bunch by the time the class was over. I look forward to working with them. It was a marvelous opportunity to share my own experiences, and to help others oen new doors. I encourage any writer, editor, publisher, artist or any other creative person to volunteer their time to such an endeavor. It is a truly rewarding experience!



Saturday, March 6, 2010

Audio Self-Edit of Your Manuscript - Updated

I was testing a piece of text to speech software this week and discovered something interesting. I used a story I was working on to test it, and was enjoying it immensely! It was a sweet little story and was flowing along nicely.

Until I heard something that made me cringe: too many descriptive adjectives. Now, I like to write how I think, and my mind tends to be cluttered with descriptive stuff. And I know it shows in my writing, but it looks all right to me since I wrote it. Not matter how many times I edit, I always know I’ll find something. A bad habit is to think: “Well, this is enough. It’s a great story as is.”; I struggle with this all the time.

Hearing your story spoken to you will give a very different perspective. I’m not sure how many people have the luxury of having a person who can read the story to; I suspect not many. But I know it has already changed my editing habits after having it just once.

Just for information purposes, I was testing ClaroRead V5. It was very easy to use. Just start the program, turn it on, and select the text you want to have read out. When you release the mouse, it start speaking. The price is $159, but you can download a 15 day trial. I am going to see if I can find a freeware speech to text program that will do a decent job. I will post if I find one.

*** UPDATE***

I just found this one about an hours ago. It's a little cumbersome because you should really use just a plain text file.

http://www.zabaware.com/

But it works and uses the same voice as ClaroRead.

Has anyone had a similar experience with this? Or there ways to do a better self-edit? Leave a comment please!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Goliath vs. Goliath

As a writer, here’s my take on Amazon vs. Macmillan: Nobody wins. What we are seeing is not really the clash of business models. We are seeing runaway economic evolution in action. And it isn’t pretty, folks.

Think about the concept: Macmillan wants to charge more for their books so Amazon really get’s a bigger cut. Huh? And oh yeah, that comes out of the consumers’ pocket. So it was a no-brainer that Amazon would back down. To me it smacks of Demican and Republicrat policy makers trying to shove their brand of politics down our throats. You can have any color car you want, as long as it is red or blue.

Let’s step back a few paces and see what we can see. Amazon is the ultimate middleman. Whatever you want (within reason, as opposed to the REALLY weird stuff you can get on E-Bay) can be ordered and shipped with a few simple keystrokes. Marvelous, right? Maybe. Let’s fire up the Wayback machine and go back about fifty years. I grew up in a little neighborhood in Brooklyn called Bay Ridge. It was safe to walk around by myself at five or six years old. We lived a block and a half from the main shopping street, 3RD Avenue.

At the corner of 74th Street and 3rd Avenue, there was something called Scheirra’s Green Grocer, a little family owned produce market. On the other end of the block was the local grocery store, Packer’s. What you would consider a Safeway or Grand Union back in the day.

They both did a brisk business, for different reasons. Packer’s, along with Bohack and A&P (two other larger grocery stores) offered convenience and a much wider selection of products than Scheirra’s did. But what they didn’t offer was the personal local touch. We would always swipe a green bean from the produce bins outside the store, sometimes he’d toss an apple or two our way (or maybe AT us).

But let’s look at the concept of customer experience. When you walked into Packer’s it was a lot like walking into a Wal-Mart Super Center. Lights, gleaming shelves and cooler cases; a lot of chatter and neighbor’s taking by the deli and butcher counters.

Now, walk into Scheirra’s. It’s quiet, and not quite as bright. He wasn’t trying to hide anything mind you it was just the style of store. But what hit’s you the most is the aroma of fresh vegetables. I mean, the place smelled GREEN in a really nice kind of way. You always knew when the bananas were ripe; the onions smelled of fresh earth. The green beans were as snappy as twigs. The floor board creaked, the scales groaned when weighing produce. And Mr. Scheirra was always changing out the produce to make sure it was fresh. You couldn’t get a better sell by date meter than his nose. Even for a five year old it was heaven. It was a place for a slower pace of life.

Ever been to a green grocer? They still have them around, but they are mostly ethnic specialty stores with high prices. What we have now are huge Wal-Mart and Target stores, incredibly large grocery chains and even huge specialty stores that you almost have to pay a tax just to get into.

And yet a sincere lack of ambiance in the old fashioned sense of the word; all cold and gleaming. Now, back to the future and books.

Amazon and Macmillan are setting the playing field for the next ten years at least. (I figure by then people will have printers sophisticated enough to print and bind their own books at home. Hell, they have printers that you can buy to build 3-D products like teapots right now, for way less than a thousand dollars.) We are being locked in slowly to a mass-market way of life. If a book or magazine doesn’t sell really well, it disappears. Short fiction is going the way of the dinosaur; is Ellery Queen Magazine being printed anymore? I don’t know; I haven’t seen the shelves lately. My own genre is suffering, because there seems to be no way to stop the onslaught of greed and corruption that is threatening the industry that brought us the printing press, the Gutenberg Bible and a general increase in the ease of knowledge transfer.

My own solution is a partial one. When you buy a piece of literature, you then own the rights to it legally in every format; printed page, audio, 3-D Smellorama. You get the idea. Let’s move away from media ownership and into the area of knowledge ownership. Let’s look at what is really going on behind closed doors in the publishing industry.

Support the people that are trying to make the next ten years of publishing work for us, instead of against us. People like Cory Doctorow, Eric Flint and the late Jim Baen.

To quote one of my favorite philosophers (Greg Lake), “…if we make it we can all sit back and laugh…”

What’s you’re take on this? Throw me some ideas and let’s see what we can come up with!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On the other hand...

REJECTION! Everybody handles it differently, even the Agents. I met a great agent in June who asked me to send my novel in for review. I sent it in and followed up every month with a polite e-mail inquiry as to its' status. After five months, I found out the agent apparently forgot about requesting my submission and never read it! In late November I received a rejection saying that due to market conditions, this particular type of story would be very hard to sell, so they were going to pass on it.

Now, did I miss a window of opportunity? I don't know. But I do know that my manuscript was off the market for five months for no good reason.

Now, contrast this to the next agent I immediately sent to. Within 10 days, I had queried, sent in a proposal and been rejected THAT'S reasonable to me. They didn't want to handle the story, even though they enjoyed the submission. But at least I could move on.

Now, I know Agents and Publishers are swamped, but a five month delay and then admitting you lost the manuscript does no one any good. I will submit other manuscripts to both Agents in the future, hoping that things will balance out.

But while Agents and Publishers are swamped, I hope they are aware how frustrating things like this can be for a writer. Let's all work together and try to survive the coming upheaval in the publishing world!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rejections mark progress... if you listen.

I sent out five stories and poems in October, and have started getting some rejection letters back. Mostly I get the "Thanks, not for us." response, but I noticed something about one of them in particular. It was a personal rejection that had some excellent advice in it: the Editor liked the science and the technological accuracy, but there were just too many short stories and even novels with the same premise.

What did that tell me? It told me I hadn't done much in the way of research as to what the market had been publishing. My story was a standard end of the world story, told from what I had hoped was a different enough perspective. I was so wrong. How many of you have tried to write the quintessential vampire story (and your initials are LKH or AR) and had the same thing happen? Or the perky young wizard battling evil? There is such a thing as market saturation and market timing, and it can kill the writing career of anyone not willing to look a bit further afield in what they want to write.

Almost everything has been done to death, many times over. Take zombie stories for instance. How many zombie short stories are rejected every day because it is the same tired theme over and over again. I recently had the opportunity to critique a zombie story told from a very unique point of view. When I picked myself up off of the floor after laughing myself out of my chair (I hit the ground hard, let me tell you!) I knew this writer had that special talent to take a trope and turn it inside out. I will post more about the story when it is published.

So, take these rejection letters to heart. Read up on your chosen genre. Try to think out of the box. You'll be a better writer for it. I know I will!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Submit or Perish!!!

Are you a writer who is also a pack rat? I am. I went over the list of stories I have been working on and discovered I hadn't submitted anything in a couple of months. That didn't seem right. So I checked a little spreadsheet I have of current work. Sure enough, there were five stories I had finished editing and didn't submit! Why? I asked myself. It turns out I was too busy writing other things and getting them ready for critiquing. So they sat on my PC, gathering electronic dust (and cat hair, but we won't go into that.)

So I fired up the Internet (thanks, Al Gore and Vin Cerf) and logged onto Duotrope. There I found a home for everyone of my stories. Now, I may get five rejections. But if I do, at least that tells me where I stand in my writing skills (See previous post.). But If I don't submit, then nothing changes.

Some writers I know keep working on stories forever. They want it to be perfect before it's published. But I am of the mind that putting too much polish on a story can actually take some of the shine off of it. You need rejection; you need to know what you are doing wrong (or at least not quite right.). Any response I get on a story will teach me something. But not submitting teaches you nothing.

Write, submit, recover and start all over again!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bettering your craft...

This year at Armadillo Con 31, I had the honor of meeting and chatting with James Frenkel, a senior editor with TOR Books. I did the usual polite introduction of myself, business card in hand, and told him that I hope to have a manuscript pass into his hands someday. He inquired about said manuscript and what my writing credentials were. I gave him a brief (10 second) description of the novel currently sitting on an agent's desk and the one short story I had published at the time.

He looked at me and asked if I was still writing short stories. I said of course. He encouraged me to writing short stories. I thanked him for his advice and let other slavering individuals garner his attention.

His comment stuck in my mind. The week after the Con, I went back and reviewed all of the short stories I had written since I started. I read them in the order in which I wrote them. I noticed that there was a remarkable difference in the style and quality of writing between the oldest and the newest stories. THAT made me think. I started my novel at the same time I started my first short story. Like any newbie writer, I was sure that the novel was a good one, albeit targeted to a specific sub-genre (hard science space opera). I thought I might have trouble selling it, but all of the people who read it (twenty or so) really enjoyed it. When I met the agent, there was interest and I was asked to send the usual package. It's been out with the agent for over three months; not a lot of time in the publishing industry.

But after reading my sequence of stories and the progression of my writing skills, I realized that Mr. Frenkel's advice wasn't just good, it was critical. No matter how good my novel was, if I started it today, it would be a much better novel. I had fallen for one of the worst pitfalls any new writer can succumb to: Thinking I was good at writing. Now, don't get me wrong, I like my stories and my characters, but will everybody else?

What helped me most of all was getting involved in critique groups. In an earlier post, I said not to write in a vacuum. Let people who write also read your stories and tell you where things could be better. My two favorite critique groups are Critters.Org and the Slug Tribe. They are open, honest, fair and have a code that explains how to critique and not be nasty about it. One memeber of the Slug Tribe, Patrice Sarath, was teaching a Writer's Workshop at the Armadillo Con. During a critique of a story I submitted, she gave me one piece of valuable advise that FINALLY got through my neutronium skull. My writing was good and my story was interesting, but my POV was all over the place and that ruined it for her.

When I started writing after the Con and Workshop, I focused on nothing but keeping the POV where it should be. (I tend to write like I think, and I am so all over the place!) The difference between these stories and my earlier ones was readily apparent. I was getting even better!!!

But I still have a long way to go. Jim Fenkel's advice is what drives my writing now. Short stories are the pop quizzes of writing; you can get an immediate idea of where your skill set is while preparing to write your thesis.

So, thanks to Jim Frenkel and Patrice Sarath. You have been a great help to me!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Plagiarism...

I run a little online magazine called Infinite Windows. I run it both as a hobby and a learning tool to help me shape my skills at editing. It's done very well for itself and I have received many good stories, poetry and artwork. Imagine my surprise when one of contacts on Twitter informed me that a piece story I had published was stolen from another author.

I quickly followed a link I was given, which led me to the original author's site and several other authors whose work had been plagiarized. Apparently this person who goes under the name of Richard Ridyard has been doing this for a while. For more detailed information on this situation, I will refer you to Aaron Polson, Angel Zapata and Deb Biancotti's Blogs.

Plagiarism does no one any good. For the author whose work is stolen, it generates frustration and anger. For the editors of the publications these stories are submitted to, it causes more work and aggravation. But ultimately, for the plagiarist it causes the most damage. They will be found out, In this day and age, nobody can do this and not get caught. Mr. Ridyard (or whomever his real name is - and he will be discovered, believe me!) has destroyed any hope of becoming a published author in his own right. No body will ever believe anything he ever submits is his own work.

On top of everything else, this individual has committed theft of intellectual property. And if he has been paid for any of this plagiarised work, it is out and out theft. Period.

So for the Richard Ridyards of the world, you will be found out and your reputation will be permanently ruined. Nobody trusts a liar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Will I Read Your Script or Story? ...Maybe

A lot has been said recently about aspiring writers trying to get their stories or scripts read by a professional. Most of the blogs are down right nasty and full of frustration (except for Scalzi... he makes you feel good as he tell you no and explains why in detail.).

On the other hand, I will read your story or script. Why? I'm always looking for good stories to publish in my webzine. I am also looking for great ideas for stories of my own (Caveat Emptor - what can I say?).

So, by all means, send me your best. I'll either give you exposure or steal your ideas!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Armadillo Con 31

What sets the annual Armadillo Con in Austin, Texas apart from most genre conventions? Well, it is a literary convention, targeted toward writers looking to learn and share their experiences. You won’t find very many people in costumes (other than tacky Hawaiian shirts, of course!) and there are no odd-ball beauty contests, like for the Best Rendition of a Storm Trooper in a Leather Bikini. No, it’s all about improving your craft and meeting the professionals.

One of the most important aspects for me, was the annual Writer’s Workshop. Here, a group of novice writers are exposed to seasoned professionals who share their experiences and techniques. I want to publicly acknowledge this year’s coordinators, Stina Leicht and Melissa Tyler. They did a marvelous job of running the workshop and procuring a really top-flight panel of judges, including Jim Frenkel (a Senior Editor with Tor Books), majorly talented authors like Scott Lynch (“The Lies of Lock Lamora”), Patrice Sarath (“Gordath Woods”), Sharon Shinn (“Samaria” and “Twelve Houses” series), and other notables like Matthew Bey (local Austin writer and editor of the print magazine “Space Squid”) and Nancy Hightower, who is not only an author (“Devouring Winter” ), but also teaches college courses about writing. There were many more, so here is a link to the total list of instructors.

After a morning session of discussion, Scott Lynch held a great game where people would be picked out to construct a story based upon statements from a previous contestant. The stories built up nicely, until some editorial comments were thrown in like “add a talking beagle to your plot”. It was hilarious!

After lunch, we all broke up into separate groups to critique stories we had brought to the Workshop. There were five or six novices and two professional writers in each group. Our group had Sharon Shinn and Patrice Sarath. There were some amazing stories in our group! (Mine will be amazing once I get that pesky Point of View thing sorted out!) The critiques themselves were excellent and very beneficial. The workshop alone was worth the cost of the whole Con.

After the Workshop, the convention officially opened. Kim Antell gave a great talk on what to expect at the Con, and Scott Bobo mixed some really mad martini’s.

The panels at the Con were an amazing mix. Everything from City Building and Using Softer Sciences in Genre Fiction, to Why Do They Keep Canceling My Shows? One of the best panels was an explanation of Texas as both a place and an idea; Elizabeth Moon, Joe Landsdale, Howard Waldrop, Scott Cupp, Neil Barrett Jr. and Lou Antonelli took us deep into what we call Texas Weird.

There were also lots of author readings. My favorites were Rob Rodgers reading from his newest endeavor, Fort Dire and James P Hogan, reading from his new novel coming out next year.

Speaking of James P. Hogan, I spent a delightful time talking to him and his wife Sheryl. I have been reading his works since the early seventies, and have them on my list as perennial re-reads. He told some great stories about his life and the publishing industry. We also shared funny stories from our respective careers in the computer industry. His reading was especially enjoyable; his dry wit, humor and delivery dovetailed nicely with the segments he read.

I was also able to spend a little bit of time with Guest of Honor Scott Lynch. He is such an open and engaging individual, with lots of energy. Expect great things from this guy!

One of the great things about this Con is the ability to just sit and chat with authors from near and far. Exchanging ideas, funny stories and getting lots of advice from people who have been through it all adds a special zest to your evening!

I want to thank the Con Committee for a wonderful job. See you next year!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why your stories don't sell.

Most of us are in the same situation. We write a story or a novel and submit it for publication and then we wait. Most of the time, we receive rejection letters. Now we know our story is great, all my friends and relatives loved it! Why does it keep getting rejected? There are many reasons why a story or novel gets rejected; most of them are very simple.

1. Did you make sure you followed the submission guidelines?
Many publishers will not even consider a manuscript if it is not formatted correctly, no matter how good it may be. Slush piles are HUGE! It also tells them that you really didn't pay attention to what they wanted you to send. Follow the rules; they are there for a reason.

2. Did you make sure your story or novel fits with the publisher?
Sending a graphic horror manuscript to a literary publisher is a waste of postage or the internet. Research the places you want to send your manuscript to. Make sure your idea is a good fit, do your homework! Take 15 minutes to read through the publishers website and see what they are looking for.

3. Is your manuscript properly edited?
Have you run spell check? Great, now read it through completely after you do so. Spell check is great, but it doesn't catch everything (like its, it's and its'). And most spell checkers are horrible on grammer. For those of you that write genre fiction, this is especially true. Your perfectly acceptable alien dialouge can be changed back into standard English without your knowledge! This is your baby. Make sure the buttons are buttoned and the zippers are zipped. Cross your I's and dot your T's. Nobody else will, and it makes for a shoddy manuscript if you don't! It also tells a publisher that you are an amature, and that is NOT good if you want to get published.

4. Who has read your manuscript?
Writing in a vacuum is a bad thing. You need to have people deconstruct your stories and tell you where they can be improved. Your friends and family will encourage you and tell you your writing is great! The are biased toward you and down't want to hurt your feelings. You need to find a writing group that offers to critique your work. There are many sites online and probably in your area. They are normally free; you just have to critique other stories to get your own read. Go on a regular basis, your ability to write and give criticism will improve.

5. What you are writing just may not be what they are looking for.
You have that vampire novel you've been working on for 2 years and you can't seem to get it published. It's a great story right? But right now (and for the past several years) vampire stories have been flooding the market. Check out what's being publsihed now. See where there is a lack of stories and see if your style fits that. Be open to what you write. There is a lot of inertia in the publishing industry. Read the trends.

6. Your writing may just not be good enough right now.
When we decide to write, we often just write out what is in  our heads. The first stuff is almost always bad. Get used to it. The first few times we try anything, we stink at it. Don't get discouraged, write more. The more rejections you get, the more you should write. But make sure you follow rule #4. Have your writing critiqued on a regular basis. Practice makes perfect!!!

Follow me on Twitter: @ddtannenbaum

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Zombies come to Austin...

I was honored to be invited to partake in the Zombie Killing Techniques festivities put on by Space Squid, to Celebrate their seventh issue release. Now, Space Squid ain't your daddy's Analog, it's a more refreshingly today-type of magazine. Raed it... you'll enjoy it.

The crew from Space Squid are all top-notch folks (they had good nummys and prizes) and shelled out top-dollar for a quality pig's head for their zombie (I was going to take it hope and smoke it, but the sledge hammer did such a great job of splattering it, I declined!).

And the people from Furgal Media were most excellent. They didn't freak out too much when we started swinging swords, hammers and other object, both sharp and blunt.

Alas, the Ninja sword handed down to me by my father did not prove to be as formidible as I had hoped it would be. Anybody know a good sword repair-person?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Kirinyaga, a remarkable book.

I have just finished reading Mike Resnick's remarkable book, Kirinyaga. It is a series of interlocking stories concerning the establishment of a Utopian colony of African natives from the Kikuyu tribe, told from the point of view of the tribes witch doctor, or mundumugu. They were written specifically as shorts tories, but Resnick has crafted them in such a way that the evolution of the charcaters is seamless. 

Starting from the foundation of the colony, the stories grow more complex and captivating. Koriba, the mundumugu, tries in vain to keep his culture pure from corrupting influences. You watch as his power and wisdom is slowly eroded by the temptations of modern society. In the end, he abandons the colony when he realizes that Utopia is not a destination, but a journey. One he is not willing to abandon.

This style of writing is not often used, and not always to good effect. One of my favorite books that was sucessful in this style was Venus Equilateral, by George O. Smith. This book concerned the doings of a communications relay station at the Venusian LaGrange point. It is a very good example of Golden Age science fiction.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

BBQ and Writing...

I invested in a very essential item for living in Texas: a smoker. The one I got is a water smoker; it has a five foot tower to hang meat over a bowl of water that keeps things moist and catches the fat.There is a firebox on the side that produces heat but mostly smoke. This handy gadget allows me to produce delicious BBQ of all kinds, by burning wood instead of charcol or gas. (Does this make it green?) BBQ in Texas is different from almost everywhere else. The meat is rubbed down with a mixture of dry spices instead of goopy sauces. (You can always add your own afterwards.)

I like mesquite wood best for smoking. I start with a bunch of regular wood logs, like the kind you buy at Home Depot for your fireplace. Once I have a really nice bed of coals, I start putting chunks of mesquite wood on the coals. You have to do this about every fifteen minutes in order to keep the smoker going. I've smoked pork ribs, country ribs, brisket, pork loin, corn on the cob and even managed to make a good smoked salmon. (Great for breakfast with onions in eggs.)

I have some other things in mind a want to try, like smoking a lasagne or stuffed eggplant. My doctor keeps yelling at me about my cholestorol and stuff like that, but I can't help it! Texas Monthly has a great article on the Best Barbecue Joints in Texas. I was drooling after the first page!

How does this relate to writing? When you smoke, be prepared to spend six to eight hours just tending the smoker. This allows you to relax in the backyard and think, read or write. It a very relaxing way to spend the day, not to mention all the food you get to eat when you're done!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On Dialogue...

As I prepare for the Writer's League of Texas' annual Agents and Editors Conference I have been going over the novel I am going to shop there. After doing more critiques and attending a convention recently, it came to me that I write dialouge the same way I speak. For most people that may not be a problem. For me it is. I tend to use lots of objectifiers and modifiers; my use of adverbs and adjectives is not quite peerless but it gets up there. I do a lot of public speaking due to the fact that I teach a lot. (See? That last sentance can be trimmed considerably or even cut without losing any impact!) This means I have to keep the audiences' attention. Sometimes it's easier to throw out the patter so my mouth can catch up to what my mind wants it to say.

In writing, this can be a story-killer. While reviewing a critque I recieved during a contest I eneter last year, there was one very curt piece of advice: Eliminate "just" and "well" from the manuscript. It saved me almost a thousand wordds and made the story a better read. Huh? Well, it just did! Try it yourself. Reread one of your stories and see if dropping those two little words do anything for it.

Also remember, you have the story in your head. There is much that doesn't get on paper; have someone read the story cold and tell you what confused them. I'll bet lots of stuff like character descriptions and scenery descriptions never make it out of your neurons and onto the paper...

I am NOT David Weber (although I could probably play him on TV)...

I had one very interesting moment at the Con. I was at a hospitality suite talking to someone when this guy comes from out of nowhere and starts talking to me like we've spent the day together. Then he asks me "What are you requirements to be a Guest at our local convention?" Now, my Plank Time reflexes kicked in. All movement in the room slowed down and took on a reddish hue; convesations dropped to such a deep rumble, I couldn't understand anything. In this altered state my mind raced; "How does this guy know me? How did he know my first short story will be published in a brand new magazine that will come out in June?" I figured something wasn't quite right, but who was I to spit in Murphy's eye? I dropped back into normal mode; Everyone sped up and lost their reddish hue, and I could understand the conversations again. I look this guy dead in the eye (which was kind of painful, because he was well over six feet tall, while I barely top out at five foot and ten inches) and said "Well, my requirements are... (drumroll please!) JUST ASK ME!" He smiled and glanced down at my name tag. I watched a look of embarrased horror crawl across his face. He took a step back and said "Oh my God! I'm so sorry! You're not..."

I sighed and said, "No, I'm not David Weber, but I guess I do look a bit like him." So much for my picosecond of glory! After having met David Weber I decided there was more than just a passing resemblance. We both are big guys with shaved heads. We both wear glasses and we both sport small goatee's and perenially have a Blue Tooth Headset welded to our ears. The most obvious difference between us is that he is a New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels. with over five million books in print. And I am none of these things (YET!!!!) I guess it's time to update my picture so this will make more sense...

ConDFW 2009 was great!

Had a great weekend in Dallas attending the ConDFW 2009. It was an excellent conference; there were tons of panels on a wide variety of subjects. They ranged from Space Warfare 101 (with David Weber) to Comedy Trends in Science Fiction (with the Four Redheads of the Appocolypse). Of special interest was the panel called "Whodunit?", about adding the mystery element in your writing. Bill Crider and Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files) did a masterful job with lots of advice.

All the panels I attended were informative and lots of fun. Especially the ones that had Selina Rosen, owner of Yarddog Press on them. Yard Dog Press is a small publishing company out of Arkansas that does a great job of publishing talented authors that haven't been noticed by the big houses yet. She always has a funny anecdote or comment, and lots of much-needed advice to spread around. If you ever attend a Con, see if Yard Dog Press is there and say hello.

I really recommend these types of conventions; they are excellent sources of information and encouragement.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Going to ConDFW 2009!

I finished teaching my classes early this month, so I have my weekends free. That let's me go to the ConDFW 2009 in Dallas this weeked. This is a literary Con that focuses on the writing of my chosen genre' (Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror). There wil be lots of panels and great panelists that will give me an opportunity to learn how to be a better writer. I urge anybody that wants to write to attend these kinds of conventions. They focus on how to be a better writer and not so much on dressing up like your favorite character. Don't ge me wrong, there is some of that going on, but these kinds of conventions have lots of learning opportunites in them!