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Posts Tagged ‘for writers’

A writer writes, of course. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night…no, wait, that’s mailmen. But rather like mailmen, we must persevere, against natural and unnatural intrusions, even if Cthulu himself is bashing through the door or the Sha’Daa is scheduled for next week. Writers must write. I know a few, Ed Morris among them, who could probably hold Cthulu off by simply pointing a smoking-hot pen at him and saying, “BACK OFF! I’M ON A DEADLINE!”

A corollary to that: writers must write no matter where they are. This has been said by better speakers than myself, and all I can do is nod along enthusiastically. When someone tells me that they have to have “space” in which to write, or that they can only write at the kitchen table while sipping their morning coffee, I immediately assign the tag “beginner” to my mental file on them. This is not intended as a slam, in any way, mind you—everyone starts somewhere. As for Big Name Writers who claim to have such locational restrictions on their writing output, that’s an entirely different situation—akin to a great artist who can draw fantastically lifelike figures, yet in his later career focuses on creating puzzling abstracts resembling a five-year-old’s effort. I  don’t have the words for the difference; it just is. Perhaps one of my fellow Purposefully Backwards bloggers will be able to articulate this better than I can.

Moving along and leaving the people whom I just offended to froth amongst themselves, I arrive at my point, which is to talk about the various places I have written. Specifically, where I wrote the Children of the Desert series, because that progression illustrates what I said above.

Secrets of the Sands took me about five or six years (as I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t know it would be published, so I didn’t track from the First Day Of Writing) to draft, revise, polish, revise, edit, agent, edit, revise, edit, edit, sign with publisher, then edit, edit, and edit before final publication. The agent to publication cycle took about three of those years, all told, and I’ve already recounted the story of how Secrets came to be, so I won’t bore you with that again. But I wrote that all sitting at my desktop computer, because back then I didn’t have a laptop to speak of; just a clunky ancient thing with a broken monitor hinge that my husband loaned me from time to time when we traveled together. (How old was it? Well, it took 3-1/ 2 disks. Yeah. That old.) It took me forever, even with all the time in the world available to me—I didn’t work Outside the House all that often, and I had all day available to write while my husband was at work. And yet it took a long, dreary slog to get the bloody thing to the publication point.

Mind you, by the time I started to write the second book, I had the agent but not the publisher; so there was a certain amount of overlap involved. And the second book very nearly wrote itself. I had read somewhere that publishers wanted 90,000 word novels, and the original manuscript for Secrets of the Sand weighed in at twice that (it cut down to about 140K by publication time). So I wrote book 2 very tight, very lean, and it flew out of me in three insanely intense weeks of sitting at the desk, devouring the sandwiches that occasionally appeared beside me, staggering off to bed at 2 a.m. and sprinting back to the computer at 6 a.m. (no, seriously, I did leap out of bed that early) to start on the next segment.

That 90,000 word marathon has since become two 160K books, but  never mind that now. The point is that I locked my focus down and did it, and it was wildly exhilarating and incredible fun and I never want to do that again. I don’t think I got out of bed for a week after I finished that book. So I found out that I don’t want to take five years to write a book, and I don’t want to take three weeks. There’s lots of middle ground, of course, but once I locked into a contract with a publisher that middle ground became: one year. Write it, deliver it, and get moving on the next one.

Now, I’m lucky; I have a publisher who will slide timetables around and let me have the time I need to write a really good book instead of a fast one. I’m also lucky in that I have routinely been writing one to two books ahead of contract, so deadlines really haven’t been an issue for me up to this point.

However.

Once one signs that magical publishing contract, there is a certain amount of peer pressure, if you will; an expectation among one’s readers and fellow writers and family members that the next book will be produced in the shortest possible time. That you will always, always, be working on the next one, whatever that might be. And so the landscape of location changes from my sacred single spot writing place to wherever the hell I have half an hour to finish that chapter.

When it came time to rework the second book into what later became Guardians of the Desert, I began writing on a real laptop when I traveled–or when I was ill–or when I just didn’t feel like going upstairs to my office–or when I wanted to work at a local cafe, just for the fun of it. So Guardians was written in an increasingly varied set of locations. I believe at one point I threw my back out and wound up in bed, all propped up on pillows and writing away. It was wonderful; nobody bothered me at all, and despite being in pain I got tons of work done.

By the time I started working on the first draft of the restructured book three, I’d totally gotten the hang of writing on the go. I was able to write at conventions in between panels, sometimes, or in the early morning before going to my first panel, or after I staggered back to my room at the end of the night. I wrote in hotel rooms a lot for books three and four, actually, because between conventions and traveling to visit family, I spent a lot of 2011 on the road. At one point, during a trip to Florida, I booked a hotel room for two nights just so that I could get away from my family and write several chapters on the latest revision of book three. They thought I was nuts. I got the work done. They still think I’m nuts. I have a book I’m really proud of. I call that a fair trade-off.

I wrote at least two intense chapters of Fires of the Desert while sitting in airports waiting for my flight. I wrote at the dining room table. I wrote in bed a lot. On at least two occasions, when we lost power at the house, I went to the nearby Panera and wrote for hours over endless cups of coffee and the occasional pastry. I wrote in the car (with my husband driving) on the way to and from conventions. I wrote during meetings with my beta-readers; whenever they questioned or commented unfavorably on a section, I asked them to wait for five minutes, whipped out a couple hundred words by way of correction, and read them the new version to astonished applause.

Because of the way the book revisions and restructuring have been overlapping, I haven’t written a book a year. I’ve written two books a year, when you untangle the process. My typing speed is way higher than it used to be, mind you, after that much practice; and the books have largely been revisions of existing drafts (I was working on book four, in truth, before we started tearing book two apart). And I didn’t have an Outside Job last year.

Still. I couldn’t have done all that if I’d stayed in one place to write. It’s not just the laptop; it’s the attitude that I have to write, and I’m going to write wherever I am, that’s made the difference. And that’s a positive example of peer pressure if I ever saw one, because I am by nature the laziest creature on the face of this planet (except, perhaps, for my dog Shadow, also known as “that big black puddle in the sunny spot over there”). It’s only through meeting people like Ed Morris, whose output and drive truly shames me into insignificance, that I’ve set the bar for my work so high–and begun working harder than I ever have before in my life,  in ever more varied and occasionally bizarre locations.

Because a writer writes, and neither travel, nor family, nor the dark of power-outs, shall stop us going about our appointed duties…

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One of the best things about summer: 4-day cons. PlayOnCon takes place this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama, and we’ll be there all four days. Zachary Steele and Barbara Friend Ish will be participating in panels and other fun. We’ll have a table in the Dealers Room–where you can check out, among other things, Zach’s forthcoming Flutter, the hilarious sequel to his Anointed, and pre-order your copy. (And don’t miss the Fairy Catmother t-shirts, on loan from friend of the house Diana Bastine.) And we’ll be hosting the very first public playtest of the Tarot-based card game Cliche Studios is developing for Barbara’s next novel, War-Lord of the Gods.

This is going to be an action-packed weekend! For this year, Faerie Escape: Atlanta has teamed up with PlayOnCon, so in addition to the usual fun at PlayOn there will also be programming for lovers of Faerie. We’ll be participating in some of it, including a workshop on bringing fresh air and fresh ideas to stories inspired by Faerie (6 pm Friday). We’ll also be hosting a program of faerie storytelling, including readings from Zach and Barbara, some of which will be sneak peeks at forthcoming works, as well as a reading from Ed Morris’s There Was a Crooked Man (performed by Sales Diva Rachael, since Ed can’t be with us this weekend).

PlayOn is also hosting a number of open-to-the-public meetups at the convention hotel, which we’ve already talked about here. Barbara will be hosting the writers’ meetup, and Zach plans to be present too; we’ll probably kick things off there with a couple readings there, too. Unless everybody just gets right into the spirit of the meeting without prompting; then we’ll just hang out.

Anybody who follows the play-by-play around here knows how excited we’ve been getting about gaming recently; we’ll be hosting a workshop on using game development to enrich the story world, Saturday at noon with James & Ant from Cliche Studio. This will be a very hands-on workshop, so if you’ve ever wanted to get advice from a live game developer, this is a good chance to do that.

There will be a lot more fun there this weekend, and of course we’ll be in the thick of it, including much more writing, publishing, and gaming programming. Hope to see you there!

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It’s easy to understand how writers get into these binds. So excited that someone, finally, loves his work, the writer simply asks a few questions about his particular hot-button issues (or not!) and gets out the pen to sign.

Please, stop.

Writers, it is critically important that you understand what you’re signing. That contract is not the Golden Ticket, and the publishing house is not the Chocolate Factory. The contract on your desk is the playbook for your relationship with that potential publisher: it contains all the rules and plans for the operation of getting your books into the hands of customers, and each one is different.

Let me stress that: each one is different. Each publisher has a preferred boilerplate contract, which is different, if only in seemingly minor things, from anyone else’s; and any individual contract is likely to include modifications specifically for the project in question, which reflect the writer’s, the agent’s, or the publisher’s particular needs and wants at this moment. And whether or not you understand the terms it sets out, by signing you have agreed to its terms. You won’t successfully argue these points later.

The bottom line: if you can’t read and understand the contract, right down to the letter, it is incumbent on you, in not only your best interests but also the interests of everyone else involved, to stop and make sure you do.

There are a variety of resources available. Your agent, if you have one, can help you understand the details of a publisher’s proposed contract. (We hope you are sure of the conditions of your agency contract as well!) If you don’t have an agent, there are books on publishing contract law, notably Kirsch’s volumes, that can break down the meanings of clauses that aren’t readily understood by people new to the industry. If you can afford it, consult with a lawyer who is familiar with publishing. Take the time to know exactly what you’re signing.

It’s true that there are some so-called publishers who are really just in the business of separating writers from their money; there are ample resources on the internet to help writers check out the reputations of publishers and agents they’re considering working with. But just because a publishing house has a good reputation does not mean it operates in the way you assume it does, nor does it mean you would be pleased with your specific contract if you took the time to understand it.

Please, do yourself and everyone involved a favor: understand what you’re signing, and don’t sign until the document (not the verbal agreements, but the document itself) reflects terms you’re prepared to live with. Anything less at this stage is just a recipe for misery later on.

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Today on the Pendragon Variety Podcast, the Ladies Pendragon interview Mercury Retrograde publisher Barbara Friend Ish about the publishing industry, small press publishing, and opportunities and strategies for writers. Oh, and pajamas. There’s a lot unusual insider information for writers and some fun behind-the-scenes stuff with the Ladies Pendragon themselves. You can get into the spirit of this early-morning podcast recording by pouring yourself a cup of coffee (bonus points for obscure tea) and putting on your most comfortable pajamas.  Stop by and listen:

Pendragon Variety – Episode 30 – Interview with Barbara Friend Ish

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“I have multiple demons on mental speed-dial. Their names are variations on Doubt. One is called Misgiving, another Mistrust. (Oddly, I think both are male.) Anxiety, Paranoia, Qualm, and Concern visit regularly. The weirdest of the bunch likes to call himself Dubitation-the others keep trying to get him to call himself Dubious, but he likes the old-fashioned version better.”

This guest post by our own Leona Wisoker on Jhada Addams’ blog should be required reading for everybody. Writers especially, creative people of every stripe–and anybody who ever wanted to accomplish something. Read the whole thing here. You can thank us later.

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In her interview in last month’s Locus*, N.K. Jemisin issued one of my favorite calls to action yet:

“The way we write traditional epic fantasy now is making the whole genre look bad. I’ve heard so many people who read my book say, ‘I stopped reading epic fantasy years ago, but I liked this. It doesn’t feel like those epic fantasies.’ I think what they’re saying is that the genre has become so formulaic that it’s almost stagnant. I’m tired of fantasy medieval Europes in general, but what really bugs me are bad medieval Europes. … There’s no reason for medieval Europe-based fantasies to be as boring as they are. It’s time to shake things up.”

If that novel–okay, that series–you’re working on bears more than a passing resemblance to the works of Tolkien/Jordan/Eddings/{other wildly popular epic fantasist}, are you certain what you’re doing isn’t just rehashing a story you loved? For that matter, does that vampire/werewolf/other urban fantasy tale on your hard drive break new ground? Really?

I would not suggest that either urban fantasy or epic fantasy, even epic-fantasy-in-a-setting-that-smells-like Europe, is *dead*–but both of those territories are pretty seriously over-farmed, and if you’re writing for publication, you need to bring something new to the party. If your setting smells like settings we’ve seen a hundred times before, why did you make that choice? Why is it important to the story you’re telling? Would your story be improved by digging deeper into your setting and making it actually serve the tale you’re telling?

Yes, people are still selling the same-old-same-old. And people are still buying it. But I think Jemisin’s right: we can do better. Fantasy and science fiction are uniquely suited to explore characters and ideas that can be handled nowhere else. We have immense freedom in the tools and settings we use. What ideas are you pursuing in your story? How does your setting contribute to what you’re doing? Do your characters truly arise from the world you’ve created for them? Why does any of it matter?

Fantasy may be immensely popular, but it’s still the Rodney Dangerfield of genres. I think that’s because fantasy writers and readers have largely forgotten the power of the possibilities and challenges we grant ourselves when we work in this field. Senseofwonder is why we come to this genre; but it is the question of meaning that makes us stay for the end of the tale.

You mustn’t be afraid to dig a little deeper. That’s where the gold is.

* Yes, I’m behind on my reading. This is a surprise?

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Every published writer has to do book signings. It’s the rule. We approach them with mixed anticipation and dread. Well-meaning friends, whether pros or people who once read an article by a pro, will offer advice ranging from “Go out there and accost every person who walks into the store” to “Bring food. People can’t resist food.” The truth is there’s no super-secret formula, and every author must develop her own style.

But every once in a while, a truly stellar set of reflections on book-signings turns up on the net. Here is the latest: “My First Bookstore Book Signing”, from the blog home of Mercury Retrograde author Leona Wisoker. If you are among those who approach the idea of a sit-and-sign with trepidation, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

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