Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad and Publishing

First: I am so sad I could cry. Or scream. Perhaps the latter is a tad more likely. From my standpoint the fact that Five of the Big Six have jumped on board the Apple wagon in hopes of pressuring Amazon is about to prove a massive error.

Ok, I get it, Apple sells. It's in the brand. We are sensitive to branding and so all the Apple lovers are about to race out and replace their iPods and macs with... what? A colorful Kindle-esque gizmo that can't even let me check my e-mail and chat at the same time? The memory is lousy, and it isn't even capable of flash.

Guess what, there's a new trend: Book trailers. Do a search, check 'em out. I'm not a hundred percent certain of what I think about these things, but if I "assumed" they were here to stay, and my iPad can't read those that have been composed in flash? Well, how many electronic devices do I need in order to do my e-book shopping.

E-books and Amazon are behind the whole Publisher-Apple contract, anyhow. With Apple, the Big Guys can set the price on e-books. Ok. I want the publishing houses to survive the current economic tumult and the cultural progression towards completely virtual existence because, at some point, I want my manuscript to be approved of by one of their editors. Unfortunately, I don't feel that selling e-books through the ApStore at a higher-than-Amazon price tag will win converts. But the publishers need customers and lots of customers to keep up. Print sales are plummeting and have been for awhile, while e-readers took CES by storm. More e-reader platforms, more e-books, more options. As the market expands, supply and demand will determine the future.

Truth is, any electronic data is competing with FREE. Free is illicit, yes, and most of us listen to the angel on our shoulder more than the demon, but the contrast is still present. I fear that the higher the price tag, the more it will drive people to pirate. The blade we'd be walking on is the cost of good intentions, where do good intentions and law abiding ways cost too much?

E-readers are going to be The Thing for the next few years. The trend isn't going anywhere. But the upcoming generation that will be using them exclusively-at some point-will also be a generation accustomed to increasingly free entertainment. The pressures of the law make "cheap" acceptable, and even honorable-- The Right Thing to Do is to buy it, not pirate it. But if the cost to Buy becomes too large a dent in the wallet (keep in mind that one affect of a recession is an increasing awareness of what-can-be-gotten-for-a-better-price) then Free and risk of being caught begins to look more worth it.

In order to compete with piracy, and to keep piracy down, e-books need to be affordable. Amazon has the right idea in that regard. But the Big Six are afraid that selling e-books at such a low price will be the end of their institution.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe brand loyalty carries more weight than a smaller price tag. But entire brand names have been built on the foundation of discount pricing. Mind, that isn't Apple. But the paperback certainly arrived on the scene as a quicker, cheaper alternative to the hardback. Affordable convenience seems to me to be the greatest seller in America today, and I just can't see E-Readership being any different. Perhaps I'm blind. Or perhaps the publishers are... we'll see what this decade brings!


Monday, January 25, 2010


Today is my last day of vacation before school starts, so I decided to treat myself to a rare day of writing with no other obligations. When I was eighteen, this activity was common, but it hasn't happened in months. I was daunted at the idea. These days, I sit down for an hour in the evening and turn out a few sentences, if I'm lucky, then get called away to other tasks. In the morning, when I'm at my best for writing, it seems I'm always busy. But today the calendar was clear so I took the challenge.

Let me say here that I am very, very easily distracted. I can't write with music on in the background, for example. I can write when my boyfriend is in the same room, but not if anyone else is nearby. If my room is even a tad out of order, I'll stop in the middle of a scene to tidy it. This might help explain why the manuscript for my second novel is only thirty pages long so far.

This morning I set up rules for myself: no opening a firefox window for anything except to check or google images (I use the latter one a lot to get visuals straight in my head); no getting up from my chair except to eat or use the bathroom; no staring off into space blankly for longer than I could help. Lately I've been spending all of my writing time on outlines. And don't get me wrong, outlines are important because I like having later events in mind when working on earlier parts of the book, but I have a habit of letting outlines consume me, and they gum up the process when I get frustrated because certain plot points aren't working as I want them to. So another rule was that I could have my outline page open while working, but I couldn't add to it.

I sat down and started to work. Before I knew it, it was one in the afternoon and I had produced a couple of pages. For me, that's pretty good. Between lunch and dinner, I wrote two more. I had forgotten how accomplished it makes me feel to create. As Neil Gaiman says, "The world always seems brighter when you've just made something that wasn't there before."


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Read Like a Writer

I know, the title sounds like a bit of advice. It isn't. Right now, for me, it's a dilemma.

I used to turn it on and off, that analytical voice that told me "watch that turn of phrase," or "look how that scene was built." I could let myself sit back and enjoy a book, when I turned off the voice. Now I want to turn it off and can't.

My home town has been battered by wind and rain this week. Tree branches and puddles create a maze to walk through on my way out of the house in the mornings. A head cold hasn't made the mornings' necessary travels any easier. So in the evening all I craved was a book and a cup of tea.

I want an escape from my own misery, into the travails of some distant hero. I want their pain and challenges to make me forget my own. Just for a minute. I want to be a reader, swept away into the author's world. But sniffling as I was I couldn't get the voice to quiet. I wanted to enjoy my experience. But instead I was thinking: "Look at this scene... step by step... the description! I'm terrible at description... should I find a way to integrate it this way?"

It isn't a bad book that I'm reading. It's one that, if I could just silence the Writer-mind I would thoroughly love. And I think that, in being sick, I should be allowed a little silence. I really need the escape.

But no., the whisper of distracting thoughts continues until I set the book down. Again and again the same pattern happens, with me aching for a good read and uncertain how to calm my own analytical tendencies. Suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

If You Build It They Will Come?

So, kind of a ridiculous title but the premise of this blog reminded me of that (in)famous line from Field of Dreams.

My New Year's Resolution this year was to write a short story each month, regardless of how bad or ridiculous it winds up being. I figured it would be a good exercise in finishing things if nothing else. I've been working on the same novel for years now so when I first thought about really doing this at the beginning of the month I thought 'I have no idea how this is going to work. What am I going to write about?'
I'd gotten used to my story and my characters. Sure sometimes new stories and concepts would occasionally drift across my mind, but nothing particularly vibrant. Nothing with much life. It's a fine state of affairs for long term novel writing but doesn't much work when you need to create something new. But I've found, as the month has worn on, the ideas have come.

I was in the shower the other day and an idea came to me. Which was weird, because the concept of creative showering does not seem like it belongs in my life. (No, the story has nothing to do with showers.) Anyway, the point is, they aren't just concepts that are faintly interesting, they're alive. The characters, the settings, they're practically tangible. I'm not going to pretend that the writing is the best I've ever done but I'm writing.

I'd forgotten that quick, bright burst of inspiration. And here's the conclusion that I've come to. In concentrating on my novel I had stopped looking at new ideas. Now, having decided to write a series of short stories, everything is ripe with possibility. Granted, the inspiration for some ideas I won't admit even under pain of torture (previous defense of fluff not withstanding).

Perhaps shutting out new ideas is necessary for concentrating on long term projects and preventing Creative ADD but I would like to keep myself open.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Between the Margins

In high school and undergrad, I had a bad habit of spending class writing. Sometimes this would be a scene from Arylle that was burning to be recorded. Sometimes it would be jotted plot elements that couldn't wait for later. But most often, it would be experimentation. All of the things that I didn't dare to do during "writing time" for fear of wasting those precious minutes, was carried out here, in the back pages of my spiral-bound notebooks.

I was cleaning through my closet yesterday and realized just how much of this pastiche there is. During high school, when I was involved in the drama program, I wrote two pages of a play (about, creatively, a high school drama student). Never before or since have I written plays, nor have I felt the desire to. On the very last page of my organic chemistry notebook, there are three different pieces of bad poetry. Deep within my biology notes is an attempt at a nonfiction discussion of the stages of grief. Various dreams, story ideas that were never brought to fruition, shufflings of letters to create names (some used, most long forgotten), all grace the pages of my French notebook. In Sociology, I turned to different voices than I usually employ, from a first-person Holden Caulfield type narrator to an ethereal and detached one.

An interesting pair of pieces appeared in my English notebook. First this one:

What will I do when I can't hide from my fears anymore? There isn't much time; I don't have time. I can't think or I'll drown, can't speak or I'll choke. I'm asphyxiating because I can't confront, I'll never confront, I'll always hide and there's no way to stop it. If I try, I can black everything out until only the smallest scent of my fear remains, but what good will that do but postpone the inevitable? I dreamt of guns last night. I was shot to death by a stranger, shot to death several times, I think. But then I escaped and it happened all over again because I couldn't escape.

Then this:

Life is a strange sort of thing. I want to mold it into crazy shapes. I want to take it out on a date (I'll pay; life's never fair). I want to slam it against a wall and hurl abuses at it. I want to fill its pockets until they bulge. I want it to make love to me until I am exhausted. I want to reciprocate the favor. Leave me weak and wounded, but don't neglect me. Tell me anything so long as it's sincere. I'll try believing in it if it doesn't let me fall.

These are the only two examples I can find in my entire history of writing in which I have tried stream of consciousness. Usually, everything is thought out ahead of time and I only write when I am sure of what I want to say. As it is, these both end after only a short while, and have a rather abrupt conclusion. All the same, they've been hiding between pages on how to write essays and avoid plagiarism all these years and I had forgotten that they existed. To me, all of these discoveries were like hidden treasure, even the really embarrassing ones.

So I ask a personal favor to whoever has to sift through my things after my death: don't just toss the class notes. You might find something interesting in there. And if by some odd twist of fate I end up a fabulously famous author, your bank account will reward you for your effort.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Research, Research

This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. Tidbits that I've picked up on other blogs have helped in this regard. So today I will wade through my thought process. But first I want to state a few things: as in all writing projects research is engaged differently for different people. As Melissa and Erica have addressed at different times in the last week or so, one way to is akin to stewing over your own experiences. Eventually, the flavors will bleed together in a complimentary form and something will emerge. For me, this synthesis is most common in rough drafts.

And yet... as I have discovered again and again that research does not end with the first draft. My latest drafts of Novel One are alternating between manic and silent. On a recent post in the blog Agent Savant, featuring Teresa Medieros' writing tips, is a quote directly applicable to this cycle: "A creative silence may be your subconscious saying, 'Hush, child. I'm working on a better plan.' " I find myself whittling at details, gathering them and finding edges to smooth while the larger bits are secreted away in the corner of my brain. Reexamining the world-building aspects is definitely part of my research. Sometimes i have to pour through non-fiction texts to fiddle with the logic of my world, making certain all my t's are crossed, my i's dotted. This is where i am right now.

While this is partially due to questions that arise at critique sessions, I also know that I have to be careful in this phase. Sometimes that intersection of "new approach" and "self doubt" can lead down the wrong path. This can be a matter of voice, which C.E. Murphy addressed today on Magic Words. Her caution, I think, is well warranted when she says that "[She knows] a lot of writers who have been screwed up by listening hard to people telling them how they “should” write, and trying to do that for years and years, rather than trusting themselves and their own style."

However there have been times when I've felt my voice has changed. With changing preferences in reading material, my written voice changes and it takes effort to smooth the word choice into something applicable to the story. On the other hand, I know myself partial to poetic writing. Many have picked a bone with this part of my style and for a time I did not write this way. But I think that, in the end, I have to trust what I want. There are quite lyrical fantasy epics on the shelves, not that they are everyone's cup of tea. Or that my style is intensely lyrical. I just like descriptions that way ...

So another portion of research enters at this phase: reading fiction.

Who's done it? Who's done it well? How? Why?

I think a key part in defining one's style is knowing what one likes to read. That isn't to say that every writer mimics spot-on their favorite authors. But this, like the first step of piecing a story together is synthesized from experience. Our minds sort out preferences and channel them into our own "voice." Sometimes this is dependent on how we talk, which is defined by our relationships with others and so forth, but it is also reliant on how familiar we are with literature.

I read a lot in the SF/F genre, non-fiction, and mythology. I read a lot about culture, though this tends to be modern works rather than historical. My favorite authors and societies are my key inspirations, and mythology and fantasy inform my style. Understanding what informs us is a good way to untangle an understanding of one's own voice in order to be true to it.

All research that develops character, plot, world, etc., needs to support this voice. The voice sustains the story after everything comes together in those manic moments when research and creativity meet and the next draft hammers across the keys and is fixed onto the screen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Defense of Fluff

So, technically I'm a day late, but does it really count if I haven't gone to bed yet? Yes, my sleeping habits are atrocious.

The idea for this post struck me because, to be honest, I've been reading quite a bit of fluff lately. I figured that if my distinguished cohort, Mel, was going to go so far as to defend Bad Writing I'd take my chances with Fluff.

You may be asking yourself: Well, Erica, what exactly do you mean by Fluff, that's a pretty vague term.

Fear not. I have a definition. 'Fluff' is the sort of ridiculous fiction that, if you are at all literarily minded, you feel sort of ashamed of reading. But you do it anyway. Because Fluff exists for no other reason than to be engrossing in the most awful of ways, end with some sappy cliche, and leave you with happy warm bits of love floating about inside you.

Now you may be asking yourself: Isn't Fluff the same as Bad Writing, or at least it's product?

I contend that it is not. Certainly, a great deal of Fluff is badly written. However, bad writing is simply bad writing and can be inflicted on something not remotely fluffy at all. Now, here's where I tread into dangerous territory. I also contend that some Fluff is very well written indeed.

Just as bad writing is simply bad writing, good writing is simply good writing. It can happen to sweet stories just like it can happen to heavy ones. Granted we all love to praise Joyce and Dostoevsky but who among us really, in their heart of hearts, wants to curl up with Crime and Punishment on a rainy afternoon?

At this point you may be sniffing huffily to yourself and thinking: I for one enjoy fine Russian literature.

Well sure, I do too. But we all have that slim paper back volume we're not entirely sure we want our friends to know we read.

Sometimes it's nice to just relax and let a story take you where it's going to go without thinking about it's thematic or social integrity or noting the subtle layers and pleasing moral ambiguity of its characters. Sometimes its nice to know that the good guy is going to win just because he's the good guy and everyone is going to wind up madly in love with who they're supposed to. (I'm a girl, I like a good thread of romance in my novels. )

Yes, storytelling has wonderful, grandiose heights of great philosophic importance and relating at least a touch of that is part of good writing. But not every story has an that great of a point to make. Not every character is all that complex. Not every plot thrilling. That doesn't mean the book is bad.

It's just fun.

It's Fluff.

Like cotton candy for the brain: no redeeming nutritional value but my doesn't it taste good. And like candy, if it's not in excess, why not indulge every once in a while?


Monday, January 11, 2010


Quite often, authors “borrow” friends, family, or even passing strangers to make characters out of them. Despite the disclaimer that adorns the inside cover of many books, assuring the reader (and lawyers) that all of the people and places within these pages sprang from no where other than the author’s imagination, we are all guilty of fictionalizing reality from time to time.

With me, I find that sometimes I meet people so over-the-top that they seem a caricature already. A boy I once had a history class with, for example, who wore a different pair of designer sunglasses everyday all through class. A young goth man with his made-up face buried in a book of antique French poetry on the Paris metro. A girl with dark eyes and a strong laugh with a tattoo of cascading stars down her backbone that she would show to anyone who asked. All three made me pause and want to write them.

Many times, I do. The character starts out as a clone of their inspiration. In the case of Designer Sunglasses, this is how Karied Travan, a main character of my current novel, was born. I pasted D. S. directly into my world, coiffed blond hair, chiseled jaw and all. I wrote Karied as I imagined D. S. would react in the fictional world of Lirana. He would have to be rich, almost certainly spoiled, and possess an ego the size of the city. As I wrote more and more about him, though, I began to learn about Karied. I discovered his weaknesses, his all-consuming secret, both his artificial and true charm. He grew a family, a history, a future. And now he is almost unrecognizable from his roots as D. S., though he still resembles him physically.

Likewise, oftentimes characters spring from elements of ourselves. In the movie 9, a scientist uses a device to put pieces of his personality into nine homunculi, who then go on living after the apocalypse has killed all human life. Each of the nine creatures has a full character based on some of the scientist’s traits: the curious one, the power hungry one, the slightly neurotic one, etc. Although I would like to think that I don’t translate myself so blatantly onto the page, I know that my personality, interests, and beliefs seep through. Reading my novel, Erica said, was like reading a dictionary to my soul.

In the end, perhaps the most effective characters are a blend of both the known and the new. As we hone our craft and continue to write, we learn how to nurture characters into their full form, making them as real as if we just caught a glance of them on a crowded metro train.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Onward into 2010

There are many changes coming. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Technology is going to impact everything this decade-- and its alterations to writing and publishing are already beginning. Will this change the way we write? Will this change our definitions of "good writing?" I certainly would not be surprised if it did.

Still, I am glad for those things which will not change. As the determination to keep to my new resolutions has not yet worn away, I want to focus on what I can control. I can't control the change in technology. Perhaps the shift is alluring because it will happen despite my thoughts on it bending one way or another. It is a meter by which the American culture can be gauged even as people choose to alter their own material reality.

What can be controlled is my own part in the system. Which, as we all know, is dependent on time-management. I was once very good at both selecting my time to write and duplicating the environmental requirements to trigger "inspiration." It's a psychological trick. I am working on organizing my life and setting aside "writing time" that is predictable, regular, and surrounded by my requirements in such a way as to flip the switch on the writing mood. Tea, coffee, music ... some trigger is required... but it has to be different from what I did in the past.

Likewise, time for research must be set aside. I am about to embark on a new project, and this one makes research necessary. I have to spill over Chinese mythology and history, as well as Irish mythology and history ... and California history. This needs to be managed too, so I don't evade my writing responsibilities.

The revision of Novel One continues, but I'm only going to allow a day a week for it. Then there is blogging...

But if it were not for these things, the industry as a whole wouldn't exist. You need a product to market. And while it is important for writers to understand how it all works-- the focus remains on the writing. Experience the pure creative mental space of the rough draft, and enjoy it. Revising can be just as creative, but more analytically and (IMO) more neurotically so.

By the end of the year I want my organized life to contain my writing in a balanced, focused way. I am not in a point in my life that I can unleash the passion and let it reign for 8 hours or more a day. Earthly concerns interfere too often for me to allow my desires to guide me. I cannot stop writing either. So balance, time management, organization with the goal of producing final drafts--that I can do.

Technology may change, and the options for New Project and Novel One might be different from those currently available, but neither control my writing here and now. I make my decisions while researching both industry and whatever subject matter pertains to my novel-writing. What impact the changes proposed at CES hold for the future remain to be seen, and part of me is excited. Another part thinks the excitement is distraction from achieving my goals in baby steps. So here's to a year spent walking that slow road toward my goals!


Tuesday, January 5, 2010


First, I would like to apologize for my recent neglect of this blog. Shortly before Christmas my family was informed that my father had died. Things were, understandably, strange for awhile. That being said, I shall try not to be too maudlin. However, this does bring me to my point.

That old adage 'Write what you know' has, I think, at one point or another been the bane of every fantasy writer's existence. But, of course, there is truth in it. We all draw on our lives, consciously or unconsciously, in our writing. To be honest, sometimes I do it quite blatantly. So, does an experienced life lead to better writing?

Will having seen the splotch of blood on the bed sheets where my father lay decaying enrich my writing? (sorry, a bit of maudlin indulgence there) Good writing is good writing and just because someone has had a terribly interesting life that doesn't mean they're going to be able to turn around and channel it creatively. That much is obvious. But when you are already a writer, does the richness of your experiences enhance the richness of your writing? As writers should we be seeking to see and feel and be in as many ways as possible?

Though it sounds exciting, I don't think I could live that way. I think the balance is in not seeking experiences for their own sake but meeting your life as it comes and embracing it. Exploring it, grasping it, and using it.

And now I find I must apologize again. This post has been a bit rambling and short. I am still a bit off kilter.

Until next week


Monday, January 4, 2010

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Writing is like sex.

Now wait a minute, hear me out. It’s not a bad simile.

When I write, I find that my progress mirrors the sex cycle. I have to get into ‘the mood’ first, and this sometimes takes a while. I stare at the computer screen, waiting for some spark of inspiration. What in the world are these people going to say next? How are they feeling? What does this place look like? At this point, the writing is rough and I have to convince myself that no, I would rather not browse facebook all evening instead. Captioned cat photos? Those can wait, really.

Suddenly, something clicks. This can be as small as a turn of phrase, an expression; or as major as a new plot development. I stop and think, “Hmm, not bad.” Another tentative line follows and I usually pause again. Easy characters help here. For some reason, characters are either easy or difficult to write; there’s never an in between level (Erica touched on this before). My characters either jump onto the page and practically move my fingers for me or they stare from a corner and make me coax out every syllable. When it’s time for a scene with difficult characters, sometimes the facebook urges win out. But once the flow begins, I fall into a rhythm. Line follows line and if I’m lucky, they make sense.

At this point, I forget the computer, the cramp in my leg, the cat pictures. I list deeper and deeper into the action until I’m there, standing among my characters. I no longer have to wonder what will happen next because it’s already happened without my thinking about it.

This grows stronger and stronger. I’m a transcriber, a channel. I can’t record the things I see before me quickly enough. It builds and builds and builds.

Then I’m pulled out, blinking. If it was good, I’m pleased with what I see before me. If I’ve betrayed a character in some way, it feels like faking and I have to delete it all. But it’s usually good. Once the rush is gone, I’m done. Writing even a single word more feels forced.

If I’m interrupted before hitting the crescendo (such as when the phone rings or I have to be at work in five minutes and I have a fifteen minute commute), I feel groggy until I can get back to the writing. All day long I’ll be preoccupied with a single line of dialogue, or a problematic character. I feel like I’m viewing the real world through a haze and my concentration on every other subject is impaired. When I get back to writing, it takes longer than before to find the rhythm. My story is a stubborn partner.

Incidentally, Hemingway said that sex and writing make bad bedfellows; that the same energy producing a physical orgasm also goes into the creative process of stories. Once he had achieved the former, he said, making any process on the latter was almost impossible until he had built up a need again. Consolation for celibate writers?


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