Odds and Ends

The last few months have been a whirlwind in my personal life, making wording a bit more difficult than I’d like. But! Some fun things have been happening.

 

StarShipSofa Podcast of “Jump Cut”

One of my favorite stories has been turned into a podcast by the team at StarShipSofa! “Jump Cut” originally appeared in Unlikely Story’s Journal of Unlikely Cryptography last year. The story is wonderfully narrated by Mike Boris and includes an interview with U of Washington professor Ryan Calo on robot law. Check it out!

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It’s also cool to see some of the scifi elements I included in the story become closer to reality. Recently, Ars Technica profiled a company called Halo Neuroscience that uses electrical impulses to stimulate parts of athletes’ brains to boost performance. Very similar to the performance-enhancing implants central to my story. To see more how Halo’s technology works, check out the video below:

 

 

SF Signal Mindmeld on the best writing advice

I was recently asked “What’s the best writing advice I’ve ever received?” for SF Signal’s Mindmeld feature, a roundtable of SF/F writers. Over the years, different nuggets of writerly wisdom have stayed with me, often as a function of where I am with my craft. Check out the column to see what’s guiding me these days.

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There’s also more fantastic advice from Alex Kourvo, Nghi Vo, David D. Levine, Pear Nuallak, Jon McGoran, Janet Harriett, Adrian Van Young, Yolanda Sfetsos, Robert Kroese, Kallen Dewey Kentner, and of course moi.

 

 

Reprint of “Forge and Fledge” in Spaceports and Spidersilk

Earlier this year, my story “Forge and Fledge” was included in the January 2016 issue of Spaceports and Spidersilk, a speculative fiction magazine for young adults. It was originally published in the now-defunct but not forgotten Crossed Genres Magazine and focuses on a young teen’s yearning for a better life than a hydrocarbon mining rig floating in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan. Support the magazine and all the other talented authors in the issue.

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Recently, Titan’s been in the news thanks to Cassini spacecraft’s most recent flyby, confirming that methane fills one of the largest hydrocarbon lakes on the moon’s surface. Cool stuff!

 

 

Paperback release of The Change anthology

Last but not least, The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth, featuring my story “Against the Wind,” is now available in paperback! So get yourself to the bookseller of your choice, and snap up a copy today for a great collection of post-apocalyptic adventure stories.

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That’s it for me!

The Pros of Professional Development

While the blogosphere is a fantastic resource—rife with informative posts on craft, publishing, and other aspects of the writing life—it can get overwhelming and, at times, repetitive. Not that repetition can’t be helpful in crystallizing some aspects of craft. But too much, and my brain starts saying I’ve heard this before and I tune out.
When that happens, the act of learning, of actively improving, becomes passive. For this writer, that means I start to feel complacent. Not a good place to be.
I had been feeling this way recently—after all it’s been just under a year since I attended Taos Toolbox—so when I saw my local SCBWI chapter was hosting a NY agent for an all-day workshop, I signed up, hoping to be reinvigorated.
I was nervous as I always am when owning my writer persona in an unfamiliar environment with (gasp!) strangers. For the morning session, the agent presented an overview of essential craft elements for children’s books. Then the afternoon was all about the business side of things. It was a very informative session, and unfortunately I signed a waiver that doesn’t let me get any more specific than that.
The workshop would haven been tremendously helpful for me a year or three ago. As it was, I’d say didn’t learn anything “new.” Instead, I learned the relative importance this agent placed on different aspects of craft and business. Much of the content I had been exposed to before, though not as systematically all at once. Hand in hand with the workshop, I paid for an optional critique that didn’t uncover any fatal deficiencies in my writing. So at this point you may be wondering what I actually got out of a wasted Saturday and a c-note.

1. It’s Worth Checking In Sometimes

It is entirely possible to reach a point with your craft where you simply don’t need all the handholding you once did to stay productive. The writing is going well, you’re in the zone, this one’s going to sell, and so on. And that’s all great. But when you’re holed up in your cave, sometimes you can lose sight of what your writing really needs.
By attending a workshop like I did or engaging in some form of professional development to put you and your work out there, you have the opportunity to evaluate your writing through someone else’s eyes. On the business side of things, the publishing world is changing so rapidly every day, you can’t afford to not pay attention to opportunities to help put all the changes into perspective.

2. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Knowing You’re On the Right Track

You remember that critique I got? It let me know my opening for a new project was on the right track. That is invaluable. Looking back at where I was with past projects and knowing they wouldn’t have received this kind of feedback at this stage, shows just how much I’ve improved. Doesn’t mean it’s perfect, doesn’t mean there aren’t things I can do to strengthen my story. But it’s now a question of calibration, not wholesale revision. And that’s a huge difference (and a huge confidence boost).

3. Professional Organizations Provide Superior Opportunities

Now, this assertion is grounded in my personal experience. I’ve tried a lot of different things, including:
Local, grassroots style writing groups like those you find through Meetup.com or your local alt-weekly. You can find some good individuals, but too often the group includes people who don’t know what they’re doing or have a different focus (say self-publishing when you have your eye on the Big 6).
Classes at the local community college or university. Again, you might find some serious individuals, but many of these people are just testing the waters and haven’t screwed up the courage to take the plunge. The teachers at this level can also be suspect in their ability to teach or inspire. Note, I am not talking about MFA programs and the like.
Regionally-focused writing organizations. The ones near you may be different, but the one closest to me serves as a catch-all for writers not represented by other organizations. Mine has a lot of writers writing memoir and literary fiction, and their classes and workshops cater to hobbyists and beginners.
Residential workshops like Taos Toolbox. Expensive, but being surrounded by a dedicated group of peers, and being instructed by individuals who have lived through publishing’s ups and downs is priceless.
Local chapters of national writers groups like RWA or SCBWI. These organizations are far more likely to have classes and workshops for the intermediate and seasoned writer.
I can say with absolute certainty that you get folks who are a lot more serious about learning their craft at organizations and workshops with a targeted focus like genre. Not one of the thirty people in the workshop I attended had stars in their eyes that they’d be the next JK Rowling. Everyone was aware of the years of hard work and the smart choices it takes to succeed in publishing.
Now, I’ve held off joining any of the membership organizations. Partly because it’s another cost in a field with too little money for writers as it is. Partly because I was a little too in love with the idea of the “lone writer” for a long time. And partly because I felt I had to “prove” myself in a genre before I could presume to join an organization dedicated to it. Imposter syndrome, much?
But now? I’m in a place where I’m reasonably confident in my abilities as a writer. I’m also very cognizant of what I don’t know as I contemplate what’s next for me. That’s where the support of a national organization becomes invaluable. I’m still debating which one is best for my career long term, but I can no longer ignore the benefits they can provide.

What about you? Have you had a recent professional development experience? How did it go?

Happy writing!
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Recursive Plotting with Guest L. Blankenship

Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest post from L. Blankenship of Notes from the Jovian Frontier. Not only is she an awesome critique partner, but she also contributes to Unicorn Bell and Science in my Fiction. Enjoy!

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First, a thank-you to Bluestocking, my awesome CP, for letting me guest blog here to promote my Kickstarter project! Details for that at the bottom.

Recursive Plotting:
I’ve been working on a six-part, gritty fantasy romance for some time now. As popular as multi-volume fantasy stories are, they’re not so easy to write. Some of that is because of plotting. A six-book series has all the same plotting problems that a one-shot book does — only with the added size and weight of a lot more words.

There are many ways to break down plots into stages. Here’s the one I use: inciting incident, first plot point, other plot points, climax, resolution. You can further group these into a three-act structure or apply other methods of plotting if you want. For now, I just want to focus on the inciting incident.

The inciting incident is that event which sets off the whole story. It sets things in motion. Some call it the point of no return — because of this incident, something must be done. Something will happen. Because of the inciting incident, the first plot point happens. Because of that first plot point… and so on, building toward the climax.

The first part of my novel has an inciting incident: my protagonist, Kate, is given an early graduation into the duties of a physician and told to attend to a small party heading into the mountains on a mission that nobody seems to want to explain.

 Something must be done: the authority figures in her life have laid this on her, and being a bright young student she wants to live up to their expectations. The rest of the plot hinges on this one event happening, or Kate would have just stayed home and kept studying.

To step back, this is Part I out of six. and while each individual Part contains a plot structure of its own, the series as a whole also contains a plot structure. Writ large, as it were. The series has an inciting incident, first plot point, other plot points, a climax and a resolution.

Part I is, as a whole, the inciting incident for the other five parts. It sets a larger plot structure in motion and because of this, certain things must happen. Certain things must be resolved by these characters. Part II is, as a whole, the first plot point. This larger plot will build its way up to a climax and resolution in Part VI. Though, as I said, each Part will still contain all the plot stages to support what happens within that Part.

In short, plotting is recursive. (This makes my nerdy little heart smile.)

Shameless Plugging:

I’m running a Kickstarter project to fund the professional editing, proofreading, and cover artwork for my gritty fantasy romance, Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet. There will be six parts in total, published over the course of the next few years.

I’m pre-selling e-books, paperbacks, offering promotional bookmarks, and more at various pledge levels (ranging from $1 – $100). Check out the project page for my book trailer, budget, and production schedule.

Kickstarter.com is a fundraising platform for all sorts of creative projects. Artists post a profile of their project and offer rewards in exchange for pledged money. The pledges are not collected unless the artist’s funding goal is reached within a set period of time. If the goal is reached, the artist receives the money, carries out the project and distributes the rewards promised. It’s a fascinating site and easy to lose time in!

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I’ve had the privilege to read the first three parts of Disciple, and can’t wait to see the rest of the series. If you like strong heroines, unique magic systems, and realistic medieval detail, both action and character, these books are for you. 

Be sure to check out the first chapter here

And please consider donating as a little as a dollar to help L. get these books into the world. Thanks, and happy writing!  
 
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Taos Toolbox Postmortem

I came. I survived. My head hurts.

I’m still processing much of my Taos Toolbox experience, but I’m feeling inspired, if overwhelmed, by all the information and feedback that was crammed into fourteen days as well as all the new writer comrades I made.

Every workday, we met in the common room at 10am for a morning lecture by Nancy Kress. That was followed by critiques of people’s work, which usually straddled lunchtime. Then there was an afternoon lecture by Walter Jon Williams. The rest of the day was reserved for critiquing, assignments, and drafting a new story for Week 2.

Critiques followed the Milford model, where the authors must remain silent as the rest of the writers take turns sharing their thoughts on the story. It was an intense process but ultimately very helpful as I start to contemplate revisions for the projects I shared at the workshop.

We also had a frank and informative guest lecture by Daniel Abraham on what it takes to have a successful career in SF/F. Hint: Multiple brands (ie, writing in different genres with associated pennames) to hedge against the quirks of the marketplace.

Weekends, I took every opportunity to hike in the Taos Ski Valley during the day and at night I drank my share of New Mexico made Gruet Blanc de Noirs champagne and discussed the writing life with my fellow participants. After all, this workshop was a celebration of sorts—rewarding how far I’ve come and acknowledging future opportunities, so long as I’m in a position to capitalize on them.

For some participants, this was not their first workshop, but there were others like me who had no preconceived ideas what this experience would be like. Though there was a range of experience levels, everyone was dead serious about perfecting their craft and learning what it takes to be a professional writer. And I’m proud my fellow attendees will be my publishing peers to come!

For more insights into the Taos Toolbox experience, check out fellow Toolboxer Catherine Schaff-Stump’s evolving collection of interviews and links of participant experiences.

Finally here are some tidbits I gleaned from the lectures over the last two weeks, which are hopefully as helpful to you as I found them:

  • Sometimes it’s more important to be interesting than clear when writing SF/F 
  • You can almost always cut “locomotion” writing that gets your characters two and from the real scenes 
  • Exposition works so long as you’ve earned it 
  • If scene(s) don’t build towards the explosion at the end of an act or the book’s finale, cut them 
  • The end of a sentence, paragraph, section, chapter, book is the power position 
  • If you get stuck, ask yourself what else can go wrong 
  • Attach emotions to observations
  •  A writer’s only job is to set reader’s expectations and then meet them 
  • Readers shouldn’t be worrying about what is happening in your story—they should be worried about what happens next.

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Taos Bound

I wrote this on Sunday after arriving in Taos for the writing workshop that will takeover the next two weeks of my life.

To say I’m anxious would be an understatement. I’m not quite shaking in my boots though because as intense as the workshop will be, I know it’s also the next logical step for a writer in my position. I’m no longer a newbie, but far far far from being an expert, and that’s exactly who this workshop is tailored for.

And you’d be surprised at just how much the knowledge that this is the right time for such a step settles the nerves.

After spending the last week and a half reading other participants’ work, I know that they are all in that in-between place I’m in—with different strengths and weaknesses—and most importantly, with things they can teach me. This is a self-selected bunch of serious writers, and I’m proud to count myself among them.

Add on top of that, two SF legends as our teachers, and there’s no excuse for me not to learn something. A lot of somethings…

I know all this. But still…scary.

As I mentioned in Know Your Genre, I fear I’m not as well read as I should be. Then when Week 1 submissions were expected sooner than I anticipated, I sent out a panicked SOS to my CPs and local group. Of course, everyone was very helpful, and I managed to apply their feedback and suggestions in time to send my work off to the workshop participants. But instead of feeling relieved, it just made everything seem more fraught.

Then there’s the fact that I know no matter how positive a workshop experience could or should be, there’s going to be some hard parts too. People will point out things about me and my writing that’s going to be hard to hear, and sometimes, even worse, harder to fix.

But I guess the whole point of something like this is leaving yourself open to new experiences. Giving yourself every opportunity to learn, and when it’s all over, find ways to adapt and change and better yourself and your craft.

So that’s me for the next two weeks. I look forward to catching up with you when I get back.

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