Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cadaeic Cadenza

The Cadaeic Cadenza by Mike Keith is a story in which the lengths of the words are all dictated by the digits of pi. It's very neat if you're into that sort of constrained writing.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pete Abrams Interview

Sluggy Freelance was one of the first webcomics I was ever exposed to, and it's gone from a very light gag-a-day affair to an intricate and interwoven labyrinth of a thing with highs of slapstick and lows of really genuine darkness and drama. I like it, but I've known folk for whom it was less their speed, and it's a huge commitment to read the 13 years of 7 day a week back archives. Still, I like seeing discussions of process, and that's there in this interview.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing! Without any presents at all!

A lot of people assume because I'm a single, atheist, anti-consumerist type person, that I'm going to hate Christmas. And it is true, I kind of fit a profile. But I don't just not hate Christmas, I really love it. I love all the goofy old songs, and the crazy light displays, and the gingerbread and turkey with cranberry sauce. I love getting together with my giant family. We all get along well. I have parents who love me and nephews whom I can spoil. It doesn't mean anything to me in a religious sense, but I enjoy the feeling of togetherness and tradition you really only get around the holidays. Everybody on the street knows the words to the same songs you're singing, and all the adults are winking and telling wild stories about flying reindeer and an obese anti-burglar who somehow still fits down your chimney. It's full of this whimsical collective make believe you hardly ever get as a grown up, and all around are these reminders not to take things for granted and to work to make the world a slightly better place. Things get a little hectic, but all that stress pays off in smiles from your friends and time off work.

So Merry Christmas out there, or whatever your celebrate! And if you don't celebrate, do something to make the week special. 'Tis the season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beautiful Individual Snowflakes

I've used the Snowflake Method to good general success. People who don't approve of outlines have told me it looks like it will strangle all the fun and creativity out of writing, but I find a solid outline frees me up to do more of the prose and thematic stuff that make me happy. And I like how this oscillates between plot and character, making sure they both grow together.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On Horror

A while back I wrote a science fiction piece that centered around cannibalism. Some of the people who initially read it, including my dear friend John, told me that it was nice, but it was really more of a horror story than a science fiction one, which took me completely by surprise. Yes, I'd put some kind of graphic bits about dismemberment into the piece, but I'd done my best to present them through the eyes of a character who saw absolutely nothing weird about it; within the context of the story, almost no one was bothered by it. The point was to highlight the desensitization and play it against a pretty innocent adolescent love story that provided the bulk of the action. None of the characters were in any jeopardy, or even had any particularly intense moments outside of love sickness. Folk seemed surprised to learn that I hadn't thought of the story as horror at all.

I have some ambivalence about horror. Actually it's the exact same ambivalence I have about comedy, when you boil it down. Both genres are working to elicit a very specific and subjective emotional experience: respectively terror and a good laugh. It's a very tricky thing to do. Tastes vary and presentation is at least as important as content. It's a smoke and mirrors show in which surprise is a vital factor, and it's easy to get disastrously wrong. A story that isn't funny or scary runs the risk of being everything from banal to obnoxious to downright offensive.

Add into that mix that what constitutes "horror" in fiction is a wide and varied rainbow of dark stories. I tend to like the Lovecraft flavored horror best, because so much of the real menace happens out of sight- just flashes in the corner of your eye of something huge and horrifying- and because I dig the fundamental terror of a universe that is at best apathetic to human concerns, and at worst openly hostile. By contrast, there's a vein of horror that tends not to do much at all for me, in which a main character will go about being as terrible as possible a person, and then in the end get their just desserts through some supernatural means. On the one hand, it's not necessarily my bag because I tend to dislike the main characters enough that I don't want to follow them long enough to see them get killed, but on the other, this feels less horrific to me because the basic premise is that there's a just universe, and bad things ultimately happen to the people who deserve it. It's a bloody but comforting thought- one that doesn't instill in me a sense of disquiet and uncertainty. I feel like the best ghost stories make you a little afraid, somewhere in the back of your head, that the ghost could be coming for you. That it doesn't matter if you're good, or if you do what you're supposed to- or if it does, it takes only the tiniest slip to make yourself vulnerable. Perhaps I have an unduly high opinion of myself as not deserving celestial vengeance, but it's that potential for random unmerited terror that gets my blood racing.

But as I said, tastes vary.

That's true too of the level of gore. For me, how much ripping flesh and rotting viscera makes it onto the metaphorical "screen" doesn't directly correlate to being scary. You can write a good menacing yarn without any of it, or you could stuff your story to the gills with gore and actually have it achieve the opposite effect. The blood and trauma can become desensitizing and almost slapstick, if they're hung on a frame that isn't sufficiently robust to hold their weight.

It's certainly not something I have down to an exact science, or even a concise thesis (as you can probably tell from this post). These are my best guesses for what makes good horror for me:

1. Evil will triumph. Even if your character escapes momentarily, something fundamentally antagonistic to clean, decent humanity is going to win out in the long run.
2. There is a sense of menace to the reader, however hypothetical or indirect it may be. It certainly doesn't need to be spelled out in "La Llorona comes by the night for children who walk unsupervised by the river" terms but perceived safety undermines the feeling of horror. And if it's not a warning about the thing that might be under your bed, then your story's just a record of things that happened.
3. It incorporates a problem far out of the ordinary. Ordinary problems can be solved rationally. You can get your head around them. The problem need not be paranormal- there's great psycho horror- but it can't be normal.
4. It plays off fundamental and universal fears, as much as that's possible. Darkness, violence, the unknown, tight spaces, falling, blood, jeopardy to loved ones, clowns, whatever you like. People have visceral buttons and part of the fun of horror is having them pushed.

Anyway, those are my genre thoughts. I don't, in practice, consider myself a horror writer per se, but that's where the money's coming from, and I'm as happy to wear that hat as anything else, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Ostentation of Peacocks

I recently wanted to know the names for groups of birds, and the internet yielded up to me a bounty too rich not to share.

Addendum: And for animals in general:

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Five Year Plan, Comrades

I stopped by Tim Pratt's website, and he mentioned both his birthday and the goals he'd set for himself back in his college years. He also mentioned he'd sold his hundredth story recently. It got me thinking about where I am now and where I want to be as a writer.

So, here it is, starting with my birthday (coming up next month) because that's a nice, easy, memorable date.

Year One (January 2012):

Have 30 short stories in circulation (I list "in circulation" because that's the aspect I control of. Ideally some of these will be published as well).
Have 1 novel in circulation.
Attend at least two professional conventions.
Be eligible for and purchase SFWA membership.

Year Two (January 2013, assuming inaccurate Mayan doomsday prophecies):

Have at least 70 stories in circulation.
Have 2 novels in circulation.
Attend a nice writing workshop (I wish you didn't have to quit a job, basically, to go to Clarion, but I've heard good things about Viable Paradise.)
See if I can get on a panel at a convention.

Year Three (2014):

Have enough short stories previously published to be able to pitch an anthology.
Have at least one novel written that I think is awesome and clever.
Have met Neil Gaiman.
Have had previously published work solicited.

Year Four (2015):

Have acquired an agent and sold at least one novel. Have earned an advance.
Write a novel on contract
See if I can get someone to pay for me to be at a convention (room and entry).

Year Five (2016):

Have had a book published.
Have achieved enlightenment/happiness.

I don't know, I actually start to get a bit nebulous more than a few years out. I mean, I don't know what else will be going on in my life. I can't anticipate windfalls or serious setbacks. I'm probably missing some steps or approaching things naively, and examining it, five years seems like an awfully long way away.

Still, I guess if you're going driving it always helps to have a map.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tom Robbins

When asked who my favorite author is by someone who doesn't seem to have an hour ready to listen to me ramble, I say Tom Robbins, which is as true as an uncomplicated answer can be.

Tom Robbins writes zany, madcap novels that are generally billed as "magical realism", though that's a term I've never grown to love. The books tend to have a pretty hippie sensibility, an undercurrent of paganism, a healthy dash of polyamory, and some of the most delightfully playful prose running free across the open market.

The books of his I've read and can personally recommend are:

Another Roadside Attraction. This was his first book and in some ways it's still my favorite. The first line is "The magician's underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami." It's got a fun set of characters, fabulous little asides, a flea circus, a baboon, a character answering to the name of Marx Marvellous, and a blasphantastic premise.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues- When Sissy Hanshaw is born with freakishly large thumbs, she turns lemons into lemonaide and becomes a paragon hitchhiker. This book features extensive philosophical talk about race, douching, and the anal temperature of oysters. That last one is actually how it opens. There is also a character who answers to the name Bonanza Jellybean.

Jitterbug Perfume. This book is about immortality, transcendance, industrial espionage, and beets. It also features a conversation between Pan and Tarzan.

Skinny Legs and All- There's a really sweet love story in here, wrapped up in a hot bacon shell of fun instalation art. There's also an animate spoon, sock, and can of beans, all of whom are major viewpoint characters. This book also has one of the absolute best climactic scenes I've ever seen in a novel in terms of buildup and payoff that's worth waiting for.

Fierce Invalids From Hot Climates is about looking at life from a different angle, and follows a secret service agent who is left in a wheelchair by a shaman's curse. There's also a hacker granny. Switter, our dashing hero, is really quite a charming man.

Like I said, this fellow's one of my heroes. He takes some daring leaps and there's always spectacular verbal acrobatics. If you're of a social conservative bent (or particularly religious), I think there's a chance the subject matter itself will tend to be upsetting, but otherwise I heartily recommend them.

Thanks and Happy Non-specific Winter Holiday to all of you!

Friday, December 3, 2010


I love the short fiction audio podcasts. I'm arriving more than fashionably late to this party, because, as a consequence of being both poor and credit-averse, I tend to fall well behind the gadget curve. But a good friend of mine lent me the iriverclix she no longer uses, and for a couple of months now at jobs where I'm encouraged not to speak to anyone or during long drives, I've been listening to some of the big ones. The ones I've listened all, or at least most of the way through are: (Fantasy). My friend John introduced me to Escape Pod, but I gravitated first to PodCastle, probably because the first story was by one of my all time favorite authors, Peter S. Beagle. If you're just sampling, I recommend from this the stories "Come Lady Death", "The Cambist and Lord Iron", "The Fiddler of Bayous Teche", "The Narcomancer", "The Behold of the Eye", "The Annals of Eilen-Ok", "Cup and Table", "The Run of the Firey Horse", and "Hell is the Absence of God". I do think its worth a straight listen all the way through. The fiction skews contemporary, and there's a fair chunk of not-straight-white-male stuff (which has apparently alienated some of the people who came in looking for Conan, just to give fair warning). (Science Fiction). The grandaddy of fiction podcasts, which spun off PodCastle and PsuedoPod and boasts about 270 individual episodes. Steve Eley hosts for most of those, and has a lot of really fabulous musings on genre and genre publishing. If you're just doing a quick scan through, I recommend "Exhalation", "Kin", "Joe Steel", "Will You Be an Astronaut?", "Nano Comes to Clifford Falls", "Eros, Philia, and Agape", "Skinhorse Goes to Mars", "On the Eyeball Floor", "Cinderella Suicide", and "The Clockwork Atom Bomb". There's really a lot more to recommend, but if you start at the beginning, please be patient with it. It's something that's really grown as a market in the five years it's been running. You can also sort for just Hugo nominees, which are almost always all on the show. (Flash). Drabblecast does both genre and non-genre, but it's emphasis is on short and weird. Not to downplay the stories, which are often awesome, but the best part of this podcast is the host, Norm Sherman, and his hilarious intros and outros including news about giant squid and mutant hogs, sketch comedy bits about news, purple prose rambles about his podcast becoming the oral history of generations of post-apocalyptic underground mutants, and more than all of these combined, his fabulous musical stylings. Some of the absolute choicest episodes include "Clown Eggs" (if you listen to nothing else in this whole entry, listen to Clown Eggs!),"The Worm Within", "Sleep Age Economy", "Jelly Park", "Annabelle's Alphabet", "Babel Probe", "Apologies All Around", and "Synesthesia"

In addition to being a fabulous way to pack my life full of clever fiction, these podcasts have also been a good way to learn about the markets. All three of these are primarily reprint markets, and most will make a note of where the story was first published, as well as almost always where the author has been previously published. It can help one get a feel for which markets are more likely to take which type of story (obviously not as good as actually reading the magazines, but if you're short on money or eye-time, this can be a way to help).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month Debriefing

I was pretty behind coming down to the wire, but after one month of writing I have 50,000 words of a sort-of novel.

As to the state of the project itself, I feel like there's a good novel in there. Somewhere. There are basic plots, characters, and situations that hold up, and if they can be shuffled into the proper order, attached to a good solid outline, and buoyed and buttressed by extra scenes that do some of the exposition and world building duty, it could really be something decent. My monster creation currently has members of itself that are nothing more than naked bone, and some where rich, fatty flesh is hanging like tumorous overripe fruit off the thinnest little phalanx. I'm not entirely sure about the pacing either. But I'm a little surprised, honestly, how much I really do believe in it.

Ultimately the frustrating difference for me between short fiction and a novel is how much more needs to be in focus in a longer work, and how much each of those things needs to hold up to scrutiny. If you want to write a short story in which a waiter fights off zombies with his server tray before eventually managing to sling them into a conveyer oven, all you really have to get across is that your character is a waiter and there are zombies. What's important is the immediate situation, not why he became a waiter or where the zombies came from. The size demands that the peripheral details have a soft focus and don't distract from the matter at hand. But in a longer work all those things become important, because without them your focus points seem detached, lifeless, and unbelievable. It feels like the difference between being able to throw a killer fastball and being able to juggle. I don't think they're really the same skill.

My plan from this point is to finish out the rough draft of the main plot, then put it down and read a good novel, in the rough vein of what I'd like mine to be, paying some extra attention to structure and supporting detail. Then I need to come back, reread what I've written, and make a detailed outline and novel bible (I need, for example, to nail down some distances, solidify my ideas for the city police force, and remove and correct a number of placeholder names.) Once I have an outline plan to work from, I can fill in extra scenes and tweak the pacing and events until they're solid. Then I can give it a pass for the beauty of the language and then, it ought to be a book.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Strangling the Muse

Not just a creative masturbatory euphemism anymore!

The following is just my personal opinion- my own little quirks and excentricities, and certainly nothing for folk to get offended about, because I don't intent to try to jackboot anybody into my way of thinking on this subject.

That said, I dislike when people talk about their "muse" as some sort of flighty, bitchy personification of creativity that comes and goes as she (almost always she) pleases with narry a care to the woeful writerly wreckage she trails in her wake like the train of a runaway bride.

I think it has to do, ultimately, with what you think art is and isn't. I know a lot of people think of creative pursuits as tapping into a force outside of and above themselves- in some cases people even talk about being empty lenses that bend and focus the divine, or vessels and messengers through which something larger speaks. Their story and their characters, they say, actually exist, and are possibly more real that we are, and they are not creators, only chroniclers.

None of that really jives with my experience. I'm on the opposite end. Oh sure, I have inspiration, but I try to live on the philosophy that that's just a bonus. Shaping and refining that daydream into a story is something that takes practice, and a cultivated skill and understanding of the tools of a narrative that comes from picking apart the best and the worst, and reconfiguring them- intellectual decoupage. Purposeful repurposeing.

It comes down to a trade off. If you want credit for what you produce (and I do!) then you also have to be willing to shoulder the blame when you produce nothing. If you want a dearth of production to be somebody else's fault (even if that somebody's less real than the tooth fairy in this case), then you have to humbly accept the whims of a personification with a track record for punctuality and planning worse than the crew of the Titanic.

In the end, I suspect it's mostly about world view, and one's general sense of agency in the universe. I guess it mainly bothers me because, as I see it, the power is in your hands if you have the will to grab it, and then you don't have to expose yourself to the inconsistencies of a harsh imaginary mistress. Unless you like having someone made up make you miserable.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More Helpful Links

Dr. Wicked's Write or Die bills itself as "putting the 'prod' in productivity". The program has three settings of punishment when you dilly dally instead of writing words. The first flashes the screen at you to remind you to keep writing. The second makes obnoxious noises and refuses to stop until you write. The third (the one I use) starts eating words if you sit still for too long.

You can use Write or Die online, but I downloaded the $10 desktop version. I use it when I have a high-volume deadline I need to work to or when I'm having trouble getting out anything at all. You don't always get Shakespeare, but you know what you do get? Done.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Old Favorite

Maybe I'm an incurable dork, but Etymology Online is one of my favorite websites in the world. In part I use it to help name things, but mostly I just spend hours lost in the mysterious journey of words throughout the ages into the random-seeming forms they take now.

Check it out, I'm sure you'll love it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Non-Exclusive Reprint Rights

So from my fabulous friend Barbara A. Barnett (plug!) I learned about a neat little project called "Anthology Builder". Folk with an interest in short fiction both contemporary and classic can take it upon themselves to select up to 350 pages of reprint and public domain fiction, nonfiction, essays, and illustrations and make it into a $15 (plus shipping) anthology of their own creation. I think it sounds like a great gift idea, and while the pay an author gets for submitting their story isn't exactly top notch, it's pretty comparable with a lot of the other small run anthology markets.

There are some great names in the stacks, with public domain stuff by Poe, Wilde, and Doyle, and some solid contenders like Eugie Foster and Cat Rambo in the more recent.

Anyway, check it out, it seems like a cool deal.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I knocked out what I consider to be a pretty decent sonnet the other day. I have no idea where one sells a sonnet, if one is so inclined, or what sort of people broker poetry out to those who need a fix on it.

I enjoy poetry, and I will consistently give the advice to anyone who asks me that if they want to improve their prose, they should write a bit of poetry. It's prose concentrate, without the necessity of an immediately coherent narrative, and freed from the shackles of strict grammatical prescription.

I mean all poetry too. Sonnets, limericks, and haiku to get a sense of rhythm and economy in a confined space. Free verse stream of consciousness to work on punchy, concrete images, and the rubik's cube magic of juxtaposed reference. Lewis Carrol or Seussian nonsense poems just to play in the sound of the language Dense, singularly focussed works around one image or feeling, with every word serving toward that sole purpose.

When I find myself unsure or disappointed in my own prose, I always go back to poetry. I've found it's served me well.

Poetry Hunter is a decent reference, by the way. Here are a few of my favorites:

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelly
Pequeño Vals Vienés by Frederico Garcia Lorca (Little Viennese Waltz in English, but if you can read Spanish even a little it's worth it for the sound and rhythm of the original. )
Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
And because a friend sent me a really delightful response poem, the original: To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell and To His Importunate Mistress by Peter DeVries

Sunday, November 14, 2010

National Novel Writing Month Part Two

I'm going to be perfectly honest, I have fallen behind in national novel writing month. I principally blame a lack of discipline on my part, but if I'm going to suffer to let myself make excuses, I've also been very busy with school.

Here nearing the halfway point, I've come to a couple of conclusions.

I managed novel writing much better when I had a detailed outline and a clear picture of the tone I wanted for the work. While I think some good things have come of my ineffectual puttering about, I've stalled myself out on questions like "what is the central conflict actually?" "Do I want this murder to be the central focus or more of a macguffin?" "Who are my characters and what motivates them?"

Even when I had an outline I'd tend to go off script when the inspiration struck, but I always knew where I was going, and I rarely just stared at the empty page and felt lost.

I've also been going to the live meets, and that's just amazing. I tend to be a bit on the shy side about my writing (which I know is a stretch from someone who blogs about writing, but I've written some genuinely terrible things, as I believe I mentioned, not in terms of quality, but in terms of blood, gore, and random horror). Even with good friends I often don't talk about it unless directly cornered. Because what would I say, really? "I wrote a space abortion story I'm really proud of, want to read it?" I'm getting better about this, and actively trying to let people know what I'm doing and what I think, but there's always that initial reluctance.

Except at these writer's meetings. I got into this room full of women who shared an enthusiasm for the same thing as me and suddenly, bam, just like that, no awkwardness, no fear, and we were talking just like old friends.

Even if the novel's a total wash (I don't think it is, in fact I'm sure I can catch back up), it would still be worth it if I can keep in touch with a few of these folk.

Siberian Silver Fox Study

A really neat and fascinating study conducted in Siberia to selectively breed foxes for domestication (as well as a batch for hyper-aggression). Within three generations, foxes born to the domestication group actively sought out human contact, even as babies. Within eight generations there were marked morphological differences, including different shape, coloration, and a general tendency to maintain juvenile traits longer, and in some cases indefinitely. Aggressive foxes raised by domesticated mothers showed no perceptible reduction in aggression from their natural parents, even when they were transplanted into the domesticated foxes as embryos.

I'm not a biological determinist in general, but this is a really neat, and seemingly solid study.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


While it's not related to writing specifically, Kickstarter is a pretty fabulous resource for creative endeavors and projects that require more investment up front. Say you want to make a film, put on a play, or begin publishing a magazine or anthology. You make an estimate of the upfront costs you will need for equipment, staff, distribution, what have you, and give a pledge that you will create this project if you can meet the backing goal by a given date. If the goal isn't met, none of the pledged money is collected. It allows a large number of interested parties to donate to making a project happen, with less risk that they'll give money to a project that never gets off the ground.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The 1% Project

Before I start, I want to say, this is less a political manifesto than a thought experiment.

The Credit Suisse estimates that across the 4.4 billion adults living on the planet, there is a collective net worth of 195 trillion US dollars in 2010. Of that 195, the study indicates that the top 1% own about 84 trillion. Given a World Bank estimate that the global population is about 6.7 billion (please excuse the quick, dirty math), the redistributed wealth of the top 1% would give every man, woman, and child on earth about 12,500 US dollars.

I have thought for some time that it would just be the most fascinating thing to do to get a bunch of authors to posit on that exactly happening, in a collection of short tightly focussed stories. Again, not out of a sense of populist rage, but just as a way to examine what that amount of money means around the world, and different people's take on what that loss or windfall would mean for the people who received it.

How many people quit the jobs where they were making dollars a day? How many people quit the jobs where they were making minimum wage? What does this mean to a man who worked his whole life to amass his fortune, and now finds himself with nothing, just on the whim of the universe? What about the man who has never worked at all? The addict? The wife who's trying to leave? The wife who's trying to make her husband stay? What does it mean to the fisherman on the Amazon who lives on less than ten dollars a day? What does it mean to a middle class American who is 70,000 dollars in debt? What does it mean to the American who was previously just middle class, but is now the new richest man in the world (the report indicates you're in the top 1% of the world if you have a net worth of over about 560,000 USD)? What does it mean to the village in a war torn or dictatorial country that can now pool their money to buy a used T-55 Russian tank?

What happens to that money in places where it's illegal for women or certain races or religions to own property? What happens to that money when it goes to a child, or a comatose adult? Do people pool their new money with their friends and family to take care of collective needs, or do they jealously guard it as something that's just their own? What does that money mean to someone three days walk from the nearest place with electricity? Do people use it to improve their means of earning a living, like with the micro-loan program (which gives out loans in averages of about 100 USD to help people own the tools of their trade, rather than spending all their income renting them)? Do they blow it on something silly? How many people, unused to having money, are immediately taken advantage of by someone just a bit more canny? How many are robbed, now that the people with guns know everyone has $12,500? What happens at the IRS offices? What happens to powerful political figures who were used to being able to hire guards? What happens to an illegal drug mogul?

How do people change their lives? How do they survive? How do they rebuild empires?

Obviously, in the end, it varies by person.

What I envision are small, character focussed stories from as many locales as possible, detailing the reactions of one character or one family to the changes around them. I think it's something that would be a lot of fun, especially if one was able to get the perspective of multiple people. This is the sort of thing it's very easy to get blinders on about, and someone's always thought of something you haven't.

I don't really have the infrastructure or time to make this happen right now, but I really do think it's a fun and fabulous idea. Sometime later.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

I'm participating again this year in National Novel Writing Month (I refuse to shorten it. This is my thing and I don't intend to force it on anyone else, but I don't like acronyms or neologisms.) I'm ahead of schedule at a little less than 5,000 words and working to build up a buffer.

There are people who are opposed to National Novel Writing Month on very reasonable grounds: that it encourages sloppy writing, that it facilitates people slacking on writing all year long and then trying to make up for it in one burst, that most of what comes out of it is utter drivel.

I think that's all more or less true, but my experience with it has been incredibly positive. I write faster with the deadlines, and before I began national novel writing month last year, I was paralyzingly afraid of diving into a long-form work. I'd written dozens of short stories- more than the word count necessary for a novel and a half- but I was completely unconvinced I could sustain characters or ideas over the time it took to tell a novel length story, not to mention working out the logistics of the more complicated plot and interaction a novel required.

Even though my first try had serious problems, I found myself really enjoying the kinds of subtle character growth you can't get outside of long form. The format of the challenge, fast, furious, and messy, encouraged me to get past my anxiety about not being good enough- one I had more or less gotten over in the format I was comfortable with.

I think if one wants to be good at any pursuit, it's important to push the limits of what you think you can do, to stretch outside the safe zones where you're comfortable. I think National Novel Writing Month, whether the novel results are ultimately worthwhile or not, pushes writers to grow, and as such, it's got my thumbs up.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away....

Barbara A. Barnett talks about her experiences being a female science fiction fan and writer.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

On Excuses

I tend to adhere, as do many writers, to the philosophy that writing is like a muscle- it requires continuous daily exercise to grow as strong as possible, and will atrophy with disuse. I think studying and taking in worthwhile works in the interim can help, but the process of writing benefits by writing regularly.

That said, I've not been doing so.

There have been various perfectly good reasons: funerals, recovering from surgery, being out of the country, starting a new and unexpectedly demanding career training. There have also been fairly weak excuses: being tired, not being sure what I want to write, having work (I currently have a pretty undemanding job), being sure I'll get to it later (see excuse number one), unpacking and cleaning that wasn't important to me until I needed to procrastinate, gearing myself up for national novel writing month.

I get accused of being too down on myself, but even at my gentlest, I think I've had a pretty appalling lack of discipline recently.

So what I need to do is work out how to best manage my priorities. My schooling is going to have to come first, and work comes second out of the necessity of it being done so that I can continue having a place to live, and my third priority needs to be setting aside time when I have the energy and mental freshness to put out a good thousand words a day.

I think the first thing I need to do is manage my sleep schedule better (I work nights and drift toward vampirism if left to my own devices), and make sure I have a morning routine that provides a reliable framework for time to write.

In short, if I'm serious about this, and I like to think I am, I need to start getting up earlier and stop making excuses.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lovecraftian Lovesong

"Heartache over Innsmouth" by Norm Sherman

This is the best Lovecraft send up I have ever heard.

Visit Norm's Podcast, The Drabblecast, here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Yanked out of the closet

I'd like to preempt the people who are about to roll their eyes and say "gosh, Lesli, I wish I had your problems"; yes, I love my supportive family and friends and I'm very lucky to have the success I've had.

That said, my supportive family and friends are making me very nervous.

My father has a framed picture I did when I was eight. Both of my parents have always encouraged me to write. When I told them I had been published, they were overjoyed. The only problem is, I'm not sure I adequately prepared them for what I had written.

My writing, even when I'm not aiming for horror, has a tendency to go dark, weird, and morbid. In person I'm actually pretty happy and mellow. I think I get on well with people, and certainly my acquaintances think nothing letting me play with their children. I'm a little worried that won't survive a published work of fiction that involves murder, suicide, cannibalism, dismemberment, vivisection, torture, the undead, and/or witchcraft (I think I average about 2.3 of those per story, even in comedy). I'm worried that this sort of thing will upset or alienate the people who love me, or that they'll see themselves in some terrible thing I've written.

I know it's a problem a lot of horror writers have, and I imagine there are currents of the same in crime and romance fiction. I also know a lot of it is me getting myself too worked up.

I don't think my father has read my story yet. My mothers have, and they've been leaning on all of their friends to read it too. Nothing's gone terribly wrong yet, but there's a part of me that's still very clinched up about the possible fall out when people get a look at what I do with my spare time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Friend, excellent author, baker of delicious cookies, and all around rocking person Erika Wilson was published today in Everyday Weirdness! Check it out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Please Feed Duotrope is one of the best resources out there for writers, with a very comprehensive list of publications sortable by a variety of qualifiers including the lengths of works they accept, their pay rates, what medium they print in, whether they accept electronic submissions, their response times, and so on. It's updated frequently, it has suplimental features like interviews, and it allows you to maintain a bank of your own stories which tracks where they have gone, how long they've been there, and how it relates to that magazine's average response time.

And it does all this for free.

It does, however, ask you for donations to cover the cost of bandwidth and man hours. Duotrope hasn't met their goal on donations since December of last year. I know most of us don't have much in the way of spare cash, but this is a really wonderful service that shouldn't disappear from the face of the web.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thoughts on Creative Commons

"Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." - Tim O'Reilly

I've been listening to the straight run of Mur Lafferty's "I Should Be Writing" (my paying job involves up to six hours of driving in a day). It's been helpful in terms of tips and information, especially with regards to publishing, and once every four episodes she interviews an established author (including Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, and Connie Willis).

Ms. Lafferty's a big supporter of new media, and an institution within the Podcasting community. She's released two books in free serialized audio format, both of which I believe she later sold as print books. Thanks to her dedicated fans and her new media marketing campaign, she was able to bump her first printed novel up to #16 on

Obviously, new media and giving away work for free can help develop a critical mass of audience you need to sell in today's competitive market place, especially for novels.

These are the pros of the approach:
  • The single greatest advertising force, especially for something like books, is word of mouth.
  • People tend not to be willing to invest $7-20 in a new author they've never heard of before, but they are often willing to invest $0 and a little bit of time, especially in a format like audio that they can listen to on the road or at work.
  • Numerous authors have demonstrated people will buy a physical print version of a product they've already gotten for free (Doctorow, Lafferty, Siegler).
  • People who aren't going to buy your book for more than free would usually not have bought your book in the first place, but if they like your free copy, they may be willing to invest in your next.

That said, and despite the fact that paying work pays very little more than free, I'm not ready to pursue the free approach quite yet. For one thing, this kind of plan takes a very serious and constant media presence I'm not sure I can maintain. For another... it's going to sound a bit arrogant, but I think I can succeed in the traditional market, at least enough to meet my needs. I want the validation that comes with getting into the gated community of paid publishing. I also tend to write more short stories, which are not exactly moneymakers at the best of times, so marketing has a limited possible cash turnaround, and I suspect will actually hurt me in terms of selling the products themselves.

I think as I expand my library of finished (and ideally published) works, I will very likely make my back catalogue available for free, but I don't currently have a volume of work that satisfies the requirements of a media presence style of marketing. That's a running leap I plan to take after I've had a little more practice walking steadily.

One step at a time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cross-gender and Multicultural Writing

I have been going through the archives of Mur Lafferty's "I Should be Writing" and there was a discussion on writing for the other gender, which seems to baffle people. I want to say something on that, and extend this advice to every politically loaded axis of personal identity.

I believe people's traits are not particularly inherent to their social class, race, gender, nation, or sexuality, but what those axises do change is people's relationships with those traits, and what society in general expects of them.

So here is a process.

1. Pick the traits you want for your character. I don't mean black, straight, and moneyed, I mean like they're recalcitrant, competitive, intensely focussed on personal hygiene, and they compete in dog shows. It doesn't have to be anything wild or "different", just however you would normally make a character. Don't think about how to write a woman, or an Asian American, or a post-operative transexual. Just think about who they are as an individual right now.

2. Determine how fixated they are on the political axis of their identity and what they think they're "supposed to be" based on that (note, this may not be the standard, this is their personal thing). You'll hear people say things like "people like me don't go to college" or "that's fine for them, but I don't think it's appropriate for someone like me". Does your male character shop alone for fabric because he loves sewing, but feels like it might make him a little less of a man? Does your black character feel guilty about liking Tarantino more than Spike Lee? Does your lesbian feel a little vain about how many men's head she turns, even though she has no interest in them? Is your quiet domestic female proud of herself for doing so well at being the perfect wife?

Conflicts and double standards of identity are great for character development.

3. Once you've determined how they feel about the places they deviate or conform with their idea of their axis, think about the social pressures this axis brings on them and how they react to that. Say you have a very aggressive woman who loves to fight and is pretty proud of how well she does- what does she do when people whisper behind her back, or when her friends ask her why she just won't settle down and be normal? How does your shy young black man who loves to compose waltzes react to his classmates and his relatives trying to engage him in verbal sparring, or get him to play music that they think of as less white? Does your character hide and try to blend? Do they dig in their heels in resentment and be what they are more visibly? Do they lose confidence in themselves because deep down they feel everyone around them is right?

Conversely, how does that shy young black man feel when a white professor congratulates him on not confining himself to "the ghetto of black music"?

Society is no more uniform than people are, but statistics do come into play. If your character deviates, they will eventually catch flack from one side or another (or from many sides. You can't please everyone, but sometimes it feels like you CAN displease them all). If your character conforms but feels ambivalent, they're eventually going to be rewarded for something they're not sure they feel good about. If they naturally conform, they may internalize the expectations so thoroughly they have trouble believing anyone COULD deviate ("oh that's just silly! All women are inherently nurturing!") and get flustered when they run across it.

Not only do these scenarios help you round out a character, they make for great scenes.

So, that's my thought process on it, and I hope it's something I do right by. I also highly recommend Nisi Williams' "Transracial Writing for the Sincere" for people who want to be more multicultural with their characters, but are scared of doing it wrong.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Inventory

So, recently, I went through what stories I have on my computer. These are the rough numbers:

-? an unknown number of unwritten stories (though probably over 50) for which I have made quick notations as they occurred to me. These include:
  • a weird west Chinese gunslinger story
  • an instillation artist vs. a zombie invasion
  • a puppeteer in a house of imperial courtesans
  • a love story in a restaurant called "Baba Yaga's Dancing Chicken Shack" with some notes about folk-tale themed dishes the place would serve.
I have been scribbling notes down on receipts, spare pieces of paper, the backs of class notebooks, just whatever's handy. Many of these are affixed to my refrigerator with magnets, and, honestly, I don't look at them much, but they're there when I need them.

-About 50 unfinished stories. In my defense, the bulk of these come from a weekly group exercise I was a part of in which we would be assigned a quick prompt and then given one hour in which to complete a story. Some of these were the disposable trash one might expect, but I got some real gems too, and I hope to go back to many of them.

-About 75 first drafts. Between hour writing on one site and contests on another, I have finished a fair bit of fiction, but I have a great deal of anxiety about editing. I realize it's something I just need more practice at, but it has had an unfortunate tendency to actually make stories worse. Even among the best of these stories, I don't feel there are any ready to send out yet.

-About 10-15 stories in some stage of editing.

-6 stories currently in submission rotation, of which 3 are flash.

-1 published story.

I went through this list and looked at which stories I was absolutely sure I wanted to publish. These were my personal favorites, and the ones I think show off my best as a writer. I came up with 28 out of that list of 125 written and partially written stories, which is a little easier to work with. For the 17 that were first drafts, I'm going to see if I can find a magazine home to submit them to, and if I can, I'll edit up the ones I think I can place first.

Those 17 are (in alphabetical order by title (not appearing)):
  • the beetle creation myth
  • the wish granted to the schizophrenic
  • the slipstream thing in the car trunk
  • the noveau-arabian nights fable with the pastry
  • the story about the maze and the guy destined to die 100000 times
  • the flash dream piece with the lizards
  • the arctic unicorns story
  • the kid's fiction about fear and manticores
  • the swamp witch love story
  • the punk rock version of the orpheus myth
  • the story where they show crazy people in a circus
  • the flash about virgin sacrifices in a divine brothel
  • the story about the old female knight coming home
  • the story about the dragon rider pirates
  • the jazz era retelling of Eros and Psyche
  • the hungry ghost story/ Chinese festival story
So that's my plan.

Happy Bicentenial Mexican Independence Day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On Blogging

I have been told by numerous people in the field as well as by trusted friends that as more of the onus to promote fiction falls on the writers, a blog becomes an absolute necessity.

So I made a blog.

Then I had to sit down and do some serious thinking about what it was I intended to blog about. Presumably this will be a way that people can reach me if they find something of mine they like (leslianne.wilder, and another handhold I can give them toward remembering my name (Leslianne Wilder) if something I've done sparks they're curiosity- though the latter only works if I fill the space with something worthwhile to them. If this blog does what it's supposed to, it may be the lasting impression I give to numerous people with whom I hope to work in the future.

Which means I also want to be very professional with what I say here.

So my blog, by this metric, needs to be both honest and inoffensive, personal and professional, unique without being exclusionary, and good enough to keep my name in the minds of people who might like to buy the next great story I write- the one that makes all my previous stories look like amateur scribbles on the bathroom wall, but will sit in dusty, living-Emily-Dickens-like obscurity unless someone takes a chance on it.

And I need to do all this without taking time or effort away from the actual writing I do, because I can market a really attractively wrapped box till my throat is hoarse enough to fall out, but that doesn't make anyone less upset that it's empty.

So here's my plan as it stands: at least one blog a week on one or more of the following topics:
  • Reading recommendations and authors I personally admire
  • Publications you may not know about yet
  • My experiences writing fiction and any insights I feel comfortable advocating
  • My experiences trying to sell fiction
  • My experiences with actual publishing
  • My calmly expressed observations and opinions on trends, themes, and movements within published fiction.
I resolve not to use this space as my personal soap box to complain about things that bother me. I will not whine into the void. I want this to be a useful place even for people who I disagree with, and I want to succeed in the writing world not just by being a good writer, but by being a good person.

Thanks for sticking with me while I thought through that in text form.

~Leslianne Wilder

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Shock Totem #2

My short story "Sweepers" appears in the now-available Shock Totem #2, which you can pick up here. I'm absolutely ecstatic about the cover art, and I wanted to take the time to say how unfailingly kind and enthusiastic the editor, Mr. K Allen Wood, has been. This is my first professional sale and it's been a wonderful experience overall.

And I don't say that just because my name somehow ended up first on the cover.

Here are the table of contents for issue #2:

To Be Titled: An editorial, by K. Allen Wood
* The Rat Burner, by Ricardo Bare
* Sole Survivor, by Kurt Newton
* The Spooky Stuff: A conversation with James Newman, by John Boden
* Sweepers, by Leslianne Wilder
* Rainbow Serpent, by Vincent Pendergast
* Strange Goods and Other Oddities (Reviews)
* Abominations: Hide the Sickness: An article by Mercedes M. Yardley
* Pretty Little Ghouls, by Cate Gardner
* Messages From Valerie Polichar, by Grá Linnaea & Sarah Dunn
* Return From Dust, by Nick Bronson
* Leave Me the Way I was Found, by Christian A. Dumais
* Upon My Return, by David Jack Bell
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)