Friday, February 6, 2015

Broaden your horizons

Virginia Hamilton
N.K. Jemsisn
Octavia E. Butler
Samuel R.Delany
Walter Mosely
Nalo Hopkins

If these writer's aren't on your To Read List, pick a couple and enjoy. One of the great things about SciFi is the invitation to explore beyond your boundaries and these writers still have a lot to teach us about the human condition and about ourselves. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Gaming your writer's block away

I don't usually have writer's block, per se, as you see it in fiction,* where it's the crippling type that has the writer seemingly blank on ideas, like he's living in a white blank-paged wasteland of imagination.

It's a popular image that's (ironically) inspired different systems and techniques to beat the block. Over the past couple of years I found a few that might do the trick or they're at least fun enough to make your writing breaks a bit more creative.

The latest is a Kickstarted game by Dejobaan Games.

 Elegy for a Dead World

In this recently released PC game, you are the lone survivor of an expedition to an abandoned planet. You aren't the pilot -- or the archaeologist -- you are the poet. Your character roams the beautiful scenery and writes about what they see. You can either write free from or pick a theme, like You Realize The Whole Planet Is Artificial, that prompts your story. Players can also share, read and rate their stories on the cloud.

Roy's Story cubes

You've got  nine dice with pictures, you've got game rules on how two or more players can make a game of storytelling or play solo and see if the mental exercise can loosen up your brain blockage.

 Once Upon an Time

OUaT is a card game that lets people empty their hand as they tell a story, but other's can interrupt the flow with their tale to tell. The game ends when a player ties in their story with a unique "Happy Every After" card, which also has to be their last discard.

Not only is it an award-winning game that's been around for decades (not that I would personally know ... stop looking at me like that.) But there's also a book that turns the cards into fun writing exercises.

So there you go. More ways to incorporate storytelling into your life and fight writer's block.

Or at least a way to tell your internal editor that you're "brainstorming" for a story  when you've got dice and cards in hand.

*The things that stump me are how to express my ideas ... and the willpower to stick with an idea long enough to get it finished.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Space Opera Tropes: the Precursor race. Here to stay?

It's a literary tradition in science fiction that when Hollywood and video games start regularly using a trope that's been around for ages, then it might be time to move on from that trope.

Thanks to Prometheus and Halo, a lot more of the mainstream public is now familiar with the Precursor race trope. For those who watch what's left of the History Channel, it also known as "God is an Astronaut."  The trope evolved to explain (in a retcon fashion) why so many alien races on the screen -- and in books -- have two arms, two legs, communicate with their mouths, and are basically humanoid except for the addition of fur, scales or other bits of Hollywood makeup.

And it's much less cynical to explain that aliens seeded the universe than to admit to convenient writing and tiny budgets.

But as audiences get more savvy, there's been an uptick in  this trope is a nod to the hard science fiction. It helps explain why we can interact with the aliens  — and that we all advanced our technologies at the same rate. And just to further clarify, when I say the same level of tech I mean that the gulf in technologies and sciences are close enough that one can eventually reverse engineer from the other.

Without a precursor race, pure science says the odds of us meeting a race that both resembles us AND shares the same level of tech is near nil. It's much more likely our neighbors will be vastly different, incomprehensible. Their technology will also be on a completely different level than ours. There will be no contest for the side with the better tech. On the other hand, it's much easier to live in peace with a species that shares no common resources or even knows that you exist. ... Until they accidentally wipe you out or vice versa.

The tropes of Space Opera have popped up to help tell a certain style of story to a certain audience. Over time, those tropes have evolved to keep the genre going.

For example, Old Man's War explained that FTL was actually dimensional jumping and terraforming in Firefly explained one climate planets.

You can do Space Opera without FTL (synchronized cryosleep) as in the Lockstep novel. But then again, Altered Carbon tried to have Space Opera without starships (broadcasting downloaded personalities) and that came off more as cyberpunk.

So at this point, the PC trope might be here to stay just like Starships, FTL and big laser guns.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sound check, check, check. Audiobook time.

I’ve been quiet for a couple good reasons lately. In addition to shooting out a raft of short stories out into the unforgiving world of the slush pile and creeping along with my YA novel, I've been experimenting with audiobook short stories (audioshorts?) by laying down tracks for Small Town Nights.
Here's a sample:

Luckily my buddy Ebony Jones, who has like one of the coolest real life names that I know of, did all the heavy lifting when it came to the directing and sound. I, on the other hand, was just happy to put my old broadcasting skills to use.
But every format has its own quirks, as I found out:
Pick a story that plays to your strengths -- and your limits. If you’re not the sort of person who can make up voices, find a story with only one narrator or a third person omniscient. If you're doing a story with local flavor and your natural accent add ambiance, go for it.  Small Town Nights is an example of that. It was a narrated piece where my Midwestern/Southern accent fits perfectly, once I ham it up.
It’s ten times easier to do straight narration than voices. The real challenge is when you have to come back to the studio the next day and match those same voices again. It’s harder than you think, especially when you the voices in your head are different than the ones come out of your mouth. … Even worse when the voices in your head are telling you to smother peanut butter on your chest. … I’ve had my meds, I promise.
We wasted a good half hour because I was thinking of Sean Connery, when I was really speaking like Deckard Cain. Which is fair, DC is a SC rip-off.
Even if you wrote it, rehearsal is good. Even if the writing is spot on, there’s going to be some hidden tongue twisters in there.
But being your own script-writer is great. Sometimes things that read great on the page suck when read out loud. I’m not saying that the original was bad, but in performing a piece that’s already driven by narrator I found some spots that needed more flavor -- as compared to polish. Soon, future versions of the epub Small Town Nights will have these changes.
Reformat your work. Avoid splitting a paragraph between pages. It will minimize breathing sounds and kept you from absently mindedly turning the page -- and thus reduce the amount of splicing for your sound guys. An aside here, sound guys are going through what’s already happened to Graphic and Web Designers. Since the ease of open source software and the Internet has demystified the technology somewhat, clients new the field have unrealistic expectations and expect rates lower than the industry standard. e.g. They expect a pro to “cut and paste” tracks together for $9 an hour and do it all in under an hour. 
That’s like asking me to draw an owl. You’ll get a stickman owl. Ask an artist to draw an owl:
But we both know how to put pencil to paper. The first clue maybe that the artist is going to use a charcoal pencil while I use an H2.
Home offices/studios have their challenges. Airplanes, motorcycles and thunderstorms can give you retakes or postpone a session, plan according.
The most important part though, is have Fun, as you experiment and create your own audiobook.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Never let anyone tell you that your idea is not cool enough to publish

Frankly, I wish I had thought of this one. Kud-effin-os.  Just proves that if you do something with enough talent and panache, you can get it published. 

And to prove my point, the blog goes into how the cover needed to convey the right amount of menace and not fall into kitsch. If that was my book cover, I'd be hyped.

On the other hand, it doesn't hurt when  you can get GRRM to say it's "Game of Thrones."

Frankly, if anyone else had said that, I'd take that with a salt shaker.  Does anyone think that the statement "Game of Thrones" is now an overused descriptor? For TV, it seems to mean genre TV with cutthroat politics/soap opera. For books, cold  mean almost anything like, "regular fantasy," "grimdark" or even "Our PR maven has no clue."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

10 Things Writers Should Know about the business side of writing.

Chuck Wendig's blog is always good for shaking the proverbial writing tree and seeing what hits the ground. This week's entry by the talented Kameron Hurley reminds us that all publishers, epub or traditional, are seeing the biz differently than you. They see it literally as a business and your book, and you by extension, as a  product and a method of marketing.

If they don't see you that way, they won't be a publisher for long.

With that in mind, I've got some quick rules of thumb for you about publishers and your writing career. There are always exceptions to these, some of which prove the rule.

  1. A Writer's Vision is for marketing copy only: If you talk about your vision -- as in how a publisher doesn't get your "vision" or your genius -- it's a clue that you don't get   that a novel is a collaborative project. A good editor and publisher can be a godsend on cutting the chaff to make your book a leaner, meaner storytelling machine.
  2. Copy Editors edit, Editors advocate :  When you meet an editor at conference or con, you'll meet your story's champion. They will try to do their best for the story, not you, your story. So while that means they might go to bat for the story against the publisher, they'll also go to bat for the story against you if you insist on keeping things that distract from the focus of the story.
  3. Self-Publish? Congrats you're a publisher: Back in my early days, it was hard enough to wrap my head around the idea that proofreading wasn't done by editors -- they've got enough to handle (advocating, profit/loss statements, finding more quality stories). They hire copy editors to handle the proofing. And you should too. If you can't afford one, find a volunteer. Same goes for covers and probably marketing as well.
  4. Volunteers take their sweet time: There's that old adage that you can have two out of three things when working on a project, either fast, cheap or good. If you're getting a volunteer to help  (especially  people you shanghai in with promises of "exposure.") then prepare for them to take their time. They have lives and are doing you a favor.
  5. Consider yourself on a 10 year plan: If you look up any "New" Writer's award, you'll find a good decade of practice and exposure behind them. Some wrote in fanfic, or advertising or in other fields like RPGs or non-fiction. You are in for the long haul buddy.
  6. Writing may always be your part-time gig: There's more and more scuttlebutt that the days of a full-time novel writer maybe coming to a close, or that it's reaching a long nadir of sorts. I say this not to discourage, but to help brace you for the long slog ahead.
  7. Paid writing is paid writing -- if that's what you want: You may find that if you really want that writing lifestyle, you'll have branch out in ways that keep you at the keyboard, but not necessarily doing what you dreamed of. Fiction novel writing is one of the toughest gigs to get and there's more luck involved than most people are willling to admit. Non-fiction, advertising, how-tos, pretty much everything pays better with more frequency than a novel. 
  8. Business 101 is not Ethics 101: And Ethics 101 is that doing something legal is not the same as doing something that's ethical. As Ms. Kameron Hurley can attest, read your contracts and assume that publisher's know you're going to fight that boilerplate contract that tries to have you sell all of your rights in perpetuity for $500. Or that if you're an artists that negotiates doing your own book cover, then get paid for it as a separate item, otherwise you just did work for free.
  9. Don't write for the market, but that is the harder road: You're going to write your next novel for a minimum of two years, maybe more. You have to love what you're doing or you're lose steam. Sometimes what you think is cool isn't a slam dunk for the marketeers, and that's all right, but know you've got an uphill battle (Says the guys who is trying to pitch a Weird Western.)
  10. Live more, read more, write more: Seeing how real people live and interact, seeing how other writers tackle the same stories as you do and seeing yourself improve will help you inch closer to perfecting your craft.
  11. Bonus Round! Read and write out of your comfort zone: Creativity is like a body that needs food and exercise. And just as eating and excising the same every day short changes a body, the same goes for your writing. Try new things and stretching yourself, you may discover unexpected inspiration and new tricks.
Now go fourth, my writing comrades and write!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The road less traveled, or maybe more traveled than not

Good ol' Chuck has another guest blog by Tom Pollack about how to juggle this crazy career we call Part-Time Writer. (Don't call it a hobby and don't call yourself "aspiring" just write, damn it!)

I'm blogging about it, so I must have a few thoughts myself on the subject. Consider them more of an extra table of goodies to Mr. Pollack's buffet of ideas. 

Plan Your Time
Beyond Planning your time, steal time back when you can. Be a complete klepto when it comes to pens/pencils, paper and your downtime. Instead of whipping out your smartphone and making Angry Birds angrier, jot down a few sentences .

This does two things; inch you closer to your weekly word count and trains you to jump into writing mode faster. Not only will have less guilt about a slow day when all those extra sentences got you over the hum, you're more likely to skip that thirty minute Internet "warm up" on if you've learned how to write a romance scene in a frigid, noisy airport.

Stick To Your Plan -- But Don't Let It Turn You Into an Asshole.
I think Tom is close to something here, but missed a bigger truth to writing. The truth that a writer pretty much a paradox who in one moment has to lock themselves in a oubliette, pull a rope to close the top and write in utter solitude and in the next moment is in the middle of humanity, seeing it for all of its wonder (and terror.)

'Cause in order to write characters that make your readers empathize with the human condition, you have to see, hear and taste that particular condition for yourself.  And you can't do that chained to your laptop. 

Enjoy It
You have to, or it will burn you out faster than roman candles duck taped to gas cans. This not only goes for the writing part but also the "go forth among humanity" part as well. 
Perhaps the best way to think of it is this way: Most people have to have their own children before they rediscover the wonder in life through the eyes of their little ones.

But as a writer, you always have to have your inner tyke on tap.