Saturday, December 10, 2016

What Year of "Writing School" Are You In?

By
Scott D. Parker

I was listening to the always entertaining and informative Creative Writing Career Podcast this week and the guest was Michael Anderle. Michael is a unique case study in the independent author world. A little over a year ago, he published his first book. Within 90 days, he was making $10,000 with his SF series, the Kurtherian Gambit. Yeah, really. He founded the group “20BooksTo50K” as a place where he and other indie authors compare strategies and build each other up in this highly competitive environment. He’s been a guest on many a podcast including The Author Biz, so if you’re interested, head on over to either of these sites.

This week’s episode was a follow-up to an earlier episode. The hosts wanted to see how Michael was doing with sales and other interests in book writing and marketing. All of this is prelude to a comment Michael put out there as basically a throwaway line. When asked about his success in this, his first year of publishing professionally, Michael commented that he was merely in his freshman year.

That concept immediately struck a chord with me. I have been listening to podcasts, readings blogs, and buying books on how to publish, how to market, and how to get ahead in this new environment. I’ve often referred to it as school. But when Michael used the freshman reference, I started envisioning this “schooling” like a college degree program. As such, I’m nearing the end of my sophomore year. My anniversary month is February since I published my first book, Wading Into War, on 18 February 2015.

The more I thought of it, the more my education started to take shape. My freshman year was publishing two novels and three short stories. Largely, it was figuring out how to do those things, the nuts and bolts of formatting, how to get covers, learning to use the Adobe illustrating software, and just getting things up and running.

My sophomore year was, oddly, less productive on the publication front—two novels, only one short story—but the intricacies of doing those tasks proved easier. Late in my sophomore year—I just finished this week—I took two writing workshops with Dean Wesley Smith. The results of the Speed and Depth workshops really opened my eyes on my own writing and what I have to do moving forward.

Now, I’m about to start my junior year in this writing business. I have a few goals that I’ll let y’all in on come 2017, but the idea of a 4-year “degree” program in writing has stuck with me. That framework has solidified a certain way of thinking for me. Like a regular university program, the junior year is when the upper-level courses really kick in. You start to focus solely on your major, with all those pesky required courses out of the way. It gives all college student a renewed focus, just as Michael’s comment did for me.

It also has me looking to my “graduation” in 2019. What might my senior thesis be? Will I graduate cum laude? And, like every college senior, will I have a job after graduation? All good questions, and more will certainly follow. But for now, I’m realizing I’m about in the middle of my education, well, my formal education. One never truly stops learning in a profession like writing. One merely absorbs new data and incorporates it into existing processes.

Do you envision your writing career in this manner? If not, how do you see your ongoing education?

P.S., I wrote and posted this on my iPhone because the Internet is down, so if this post ends up looking wonky, my apologies.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Adventures with Dirge Magazine

I don't post a lot about my work at Dirge here, because it's only sometimes crime, and it's never fiction, but I'm going to be a part of something really cool this weekend as a result and I'd like to invite everyone to join me.

If you have followed my non-fiction at all, you might know I wrote a column (once upon a time) where I satirized existing Cosmo/Glamour/Maxim 'sex tips' and that I am often critical of how sex and sexuality are used against women in criminal cases (whether they be the victim or the perpetrator, and regardless of whether the case involved sex at all). I did a brief stint as the sex category editor at Dirge before moving up to Senior Editor. It's all been fun, even when the research has been infuriating, and I'm really excited that this small amount of work has led to an opportunity to join the amazing Dr. Susan Block on her podcast/web-show to talk about consent and "Sex Positivity in the Trumpocalypse."

If you don't know who Dr. Susan Block is, hold onto your butts because she's a pretty amazing woman. She's a sex therapist specializing in kink and BDSM, she runs a twenty-four hour hotline for people and their sex questions, she's an activist who wants to help protect the amazing Bonobo ape, and also writes about what we can learn from their matriarchal and sex filled communities. She's consulted for the Los Angeles public defender's office in their sex crimes department. She's written extensively on sex and love, travelled the world, helped veterans, and the list goes on.

If I'm going to break out of my shell and talk openly about sex and sex positivity - this is the woman to do it with!

I don't have a ton to say about it just yet, as the show is recorded tomorrow night. It's all been prep so far - if you want to watch us, you've got to have a subscription (link NSFW) to Dr. Block's site, but you can listen here for free.
Wish me luck!


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Swell writing tips and tricks from Amy J Murphy

By Steve Weddle

Found a new site I'm digging for writing tips. Want me to share? OK

It's Amy J. Murphy's site.

Don’t Blow Your Blurb

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When should you be aggressive about passive voice?

Recently, I was helping beta read a work in progress for a friend. The subject of passive voice came up. I admit I’m hard pressed to understand why it’s considered a no-no. Like “-ly” adverbs, it also seems to get a bad rap. Where’d this animosity to the tense come from? >More>

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Sucksville: Four Ways to Combat Editing Frumpiness

Because of the proximity to the work, you can miss errors great and small. So, give yourself a break from the work. >More>

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2016 Dragon Award Finalist - Best Military Science Fiction Novel
Allies and Enemies: Fallen is the first book in this space opera series.

Purpose-bred soldier of the vast and far-reaching Regime, Commander Sela Tyron is as subtle as a hammer. To hammers, any problem can look like a nail, but the solutions aren't always that easy. When Sela encounters a son she is forbidden to know, falls in love with a man who is clearly off-limits, and is abandoned with her team on a planet full of insurrectionists, things get complicated...

Fans of galactic space opera and Firefly will delight in this "Indiana Jonesesque experience through space" and the introduction of a new kick-ass heroine in Sela Tyron. 

2016 Nominee - 1st Annual Dragon Awards (Dragon Con) "Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel"

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Another Hamilton post

I like the musical 1776, but it's not as exciting as it needs to be. They tried, but Broadway has always had to pull punches because it panders to the out of town crowd, which it assumes won't like certain jokes. Hamilton began off-Broadway and is a little unfettered in that regard, though it's no Avenue Q (just because it's got puppets don't mean you wanna take your kids! My favorite character is an evil landlady named Ms. Thistletwat.)

Hamilton is not boring. And tickets have opened in other cities, so you don't have to worry about ridiculous ticket prices. I saw it a week ago and I'm posting about it to annoy Dave White (whose latest Jackson Donne novel, Blind to Sin, is available for pre-order). I didn't pay above face value for tickets. If you follow them on Facebook, they announce when tickets are released, and if you're fast you can get them. Or you can wait at the door and get Standing Room Only tickets. Two people were standing right behind our last row orchestra seats, and I think they paid thirty bucks. 

I love historical fiction, or fiction inspired by historical discoveries. My latest story, which will appear in an as-yet unnamed anthology next year, was inspired by the Herxheim archaeological dig and the kurgan burial mounds (which also gave its name to my favorite villain, the Kurgan in Highlander). At Herxheim, the skulls have all been cracked open. Probably for the brains inside. It made me think for a long time, about the unpleasant realities of stone age life, and a story came from it.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has written extensively about how he wrote Hamilton, and Dave wrote about how well the story's put together. To me, Miranda's genius was in finding what was so interesting about the character. He's the most famous Founder on our currency who didn't die of old age. The duel that ended his life is well known (perhaps thanks to a milk commercial) but most of us have no idea what it was fought over, or that his son also died in a duel. I read a little about Hamilton's life when I read the excellent history of the Revolutionary War, Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer. It's not in the musical; his ability as a tactician is mentioned, but Ham led a brigade of cannon, and had a knack for creeping up on hills to catch the redcoats in cannonade, hitting their flank as they marched in row formation. And he was nineteen years old, like another war hero, Audie Murphy. 

Statue in front of his Harlem digs


Hamilton was imperfect but principled, an abolitionist like John Jay, Samuel Adams, and (later in life) Ben Franklin, but they could not get the slave states to join the union without leaving emancipation a question to be answered after the war. He had a hot temper and a sharp tongue and led a very interesting life, which you can learn in Chernow's biography, which Miranda used as a source. But it's what he chose as important that makes the story so compelling. We don't linger on his bank work, little of his politics, except for a few rap battles with Jefferson and Madison over state debt. Miranda saw him as a man who "wrote like he was running out of time," and found the human element to every milestone in his life. His orphanhood driving him to succeed and making him buck authority, his weaknesses and principles both making him easily manipulated by his enemies. 

If you can't see the show I'd recommend listening to the soundtrack, or even the new "mixtape" (which has a few cut songs which slowed down the story, even if they were important, like how he kept fighting to abolish slavery). Even if you don't like hip-hop or Broadway tunes, the songs are catchy and Miranda knows how to pen a great turn of phrase. So many of the songs have returned to me as earworms over the past week. Like 1776 did, he brings the Revolution to life, but with more passion, and a true love for its characters. I hope it inspires a lot of historical fiction set in the era.

What dueling gets you.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Maybe Your Baby Done Made Some Other Plans


Scott's Note: Angel Colon guest blogs this week.  Not that he needs any introduction, but Angel has written that most entertaining of novellas, The Fury of Blackie Jaguar, and now he has new novella out, No Happy Endings.  It's a heist novel about the robbery of a New York City sperm bank.  I figure robbing a sperm bank for supposedly choice semen would be a tough enough job, but it turns out the job gets even more complicated when a huge hurricane, super storm Sandy, hits the city.  

Intrigued? Laughing a little? I am.

Here's Angel.


Guest Post by Angel Colon

I quote a Stevie Wonder song for a handful of reasons, primarily and for the purposes of this little think piece because of that horrific, helpless, empty feeling that is letting go of a work in progress as it becomes a final draft and moves on to being its ultimate form: THE PRODUCT.

Don’t get it twisted, for all the merits of art, its final form is ultimately a product. Whether its bought, witnessed, participated in—the ultimate goal of art is to be distributed and consumed. In a bizarre way, those who create are scions of anti-capitalistic sentiment that births the very bricks capitalism used as a foundation.

Horribly pretentious, no?

But that’s a deep bar discussion for another time. For this bit of time I’m stealing from you, let’s talk about what it feels like to be a hair’s width away from your product being consumed, judged, and ultimately “digested”.



I’ve been through this mess a few dozen times by now (short stories, articles, and long form releases) in only three short years. The feeling of immense dread, that expectation someone will turn on me hard enough to give us all whiplash and scream, “FRAUD” is a constant. It’s never enough that gatekeepers and people you respect within the craft have given you the green light, nope, now the reader is coming to the party. This is the person willing to part with money to put eyes on something you’ve worked hard on and they honestly give no fucks about how the sausage was made; only that it’s tasty, tasty sausage.

And that’s a tough one. Some folks dig breakfast sausage and others like hot links. There’s no way to please everyone and you know this but it doesn’t matter. The idea that anyone is going to openly hate or, worse, PRIVATELY HATE something you worked so very hard on is mortifying.

Now I’m craving beer brats…ANYWAY.

So how do we handle that? How do we move past our own egos, because let’s be honest, this fear is utterly soaked in the flop sweat of our ego, and allow the product to stand on its own wobbly legs while we close the door on it forever?

Well, I think for one you don’t do that. I think you need to watch your darling be accepted or torn to shred by the dogs. You need to accept that once things are out of your control there’s an opportunity to learn at hand. I’m not talking about assessing where flaws were in writing/promo/overall sales; we can all suss that out well enough. I’m talking more about building thicker skin—allowing the scars to build up and be able to tackle all feedback and lessons with as little emotion possible. Too often we allow our emotions to bleed out more after producing than we do during production. It’s a flawed approach. Scream, cry, and laugh while you create. Become stone when you present. Still take the bits and pieces that improve your craft but don’t anchor, be ready to move on to create the next big project.



That’s the only way to keep the screaming and crying from starting. And hell, maybe all that pent up anxiety and frustration helps your next work become something better. That’s the goal: to always grow and further perfect your craft. Never become complacent, never become satisfied.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hide someplace and ignore I have a new novella out. You should go buy it and judge me while I pretend not to care.

You can buy No Happy Endings by clicking HERE.

Angel Luis Col√≥n is the author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS, THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR, and the upcoming short story anthology; MEAT CITY ON FIRE (AND OTHER ASSORTED DEBACLES). He’s an editor for Shotgun Honey, has been nominated for the Derringer Award, and has published stories in multiple web and print pubs. Find out more at angelluiscolon.com or on Twitter by following @GoshDarnMyLife.


Monday, December 5, 2016

The Overlooked Gift

During this season of festive cheer, it's easy to think about the gifts that are bought and exchanged on a fixed date, and come in a pretty bag or shiny paper.

For the creative writers, thoughtful storytellers, and those who appreciate a story of substance with less action, that probes the depths of a broken soul, there's been a gift out there for the last four years, and it's coming to an end in ten days.
I speak of arguably the most overlooked show on television. Rectify. We have been sharing Daniel's journey since the beginning, and I have no idea if it will end with some glimmer of hope, or with gut-wrenching heartache, but I do know this: I will have tissues handy.

Rectify is the story of a man who, at the age of 18, was sentenced to be put to death for a rape/murder. It begins with his release from prison after DNA evidence calls his conviction into question. As we move forward with Daniel's journey to adjust to a world where people use smart phones instead of Walkmans, to adjust to being out of isolation, to grapple with having choices and the ability to walk outside or sleep in or decide what he wants to eat for breakfast, we share his recollections about his experiences in prison.
We see how he was broken inside, and we watch as he's broken on the outside.

I don't know how else to describe this show, other than to say that it's one of the most haunting, sad and beautiful shows I've ever watched. I know I felt Tatiana Maslany was overlooked for far too long before getting her Emmy, but it is an absolute tragedy that Rectify has not received those accolades.

Remember the preacher from Deadwood? This show was created by that actor, and Ray McKinnon has demonstrated his storytelling genius with a show that is arguably one of the greatest series ever to date that should be on every top 10 list out there.
 "What was real to you, Daniel?" "The time in between the seconds. And my books. And my friend."
 The first three seasons are on Netflix, and you can catch up on season 4 on the SundanceTV website. Time to call in sick and cram to catch up for this Wednesday's penultimate episode.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tis the Season for Genre



It’s that time again. Holiday gift shopping. And it probably comes as no surprise, but I tend to give books as gifts. A lot. So I always peruse those holiday recommendation lists in generalist magazines and newspapers. And then I throw them out.
Because, really, how many literary novels or enormous coffee table books can one person be in the market for? The lists are pretty and prestigious, but they’re not practical as gift-giving advice. Because what do people really read?
Genre.
Crime fiction, science fiction, horror, romance, fantasy, western. Some people stick to one. Others freely admit to loving several. But their tastes are rarely – if ever – factored in when it comes to the gift lists in general publications. Genre is the dirty little word they won’t talk about.
To me, these lists should have two purposes. The first is to introduce people to books they might not otherwise know about (say, if there was a new ten-pound coffee table pictorial history of hard cheeses). The lists usually achieve this. The second goal should be to also recommend books that people would actually be interested in reading.
Forget about it. They don’t do it.
And this, especially to me as a former reporter, is just shoddy reporting. The list-makers should be examining the tastes of the book-buying public. It might be difficult and time-consuming and – oh, wait.
Bestseller lists. There are several, easily obtainable by pretentious listers and anyone else with an internet connection. And they all say one thing. Genre rules.
The most recent New York Times bestseller list for combined print and ebook sales has nine genre books in the top ten – one romance and eight EIGHT! crime fiction/thrillers. (The same thing held true the week before, with an adventure novel replacing the romance.)
And this trend has existed for a long time. People are putting their money where their bookcases are. They like genre novels. A lot.
So I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that the kinds of books people buy are also the kinds of books they’d like to receive. That's the point of a gift, right? It should be the point of a gift recommendation list, too.