Category Archives: Writing

Gender Equality and Pen Names

*reblogged from my home site The Lunatic Poet

the-first-quarrel

As I was having dinner last night I read something that made me do a double take. In most of our fast food places we have this little circular called Coffee News. It has these small blurbs of trivia and jokes and short posts about random facts and things. The one that caught my eye and caused a serious discussion with Big Son was about how J.K. Rowling’s publisher used her intials instead of her name (Joanne) so that the book would attract young male readers. It made me stop and ask Big Son if gender makes a difference in the books he reads as he was and is a young male reader. He said no. He’s just as likely to read a book written by a woman as he is by a man and the name on the cover doesn’t make a big difference except for him to go look up other books by the same author if he really likes the book.

However, we both began talking about how it might make a difference to young boys because they see a woman’s name and think it’s going to be something for or about girls. Meg Cabot and The Princess Diaries for example. But many of the books Big Son has read were written by women. In fact, he said, in his opinion, women tend to write better fantasy genre stories while men are better suited to sci-fi/tech. As for fiction, he thinks both do well. Not that we really consider gender when buying books. We buy and read a book for content, not the name on the book. In fact, both Big Son and I have read James Patterson books and we own zero. Not a one.

So here’s the thing…in today’s society gender equality is and has been an issue, for a long time. Centuries ago women had to write under pen names just to have their work published while men were often published over a female author, whether established or not. But, more and more the line between who can write better in what genres is becoming blurred. Women can write fantastic sci-fi and tech stories and men can write some of the tenderest romance books. Julie E. Czerneda and Nicholas Sparks jump immediately to mind. And what about Ursula K. LeGuin and Richard Paul Evans?

And yet, women are still having to hide behind pen names to attract male readers. J. K. Rowling is writing as Robert Galbraith, although I do believe this is to differentiate between her “adult” self and Harry Potter for the kids. But still. What does this mean for me as someone who is working towards publishing a first novel? Should I consider publishing under initials only to attract male readers, or does it even matter?

What about you? Does the name on the cover affect your reading choices? If so, how and why? Should it even matter?

Jesi

Setting Goals

write-goals-down-2

I don’t know about my fellow Twisted Writers but life has been sucker punching me left and right. There’s been a lot going on that’s out of my control and unfortunately, writing took a backseat to trying to pick up pieces the overturned snowglobe dropped into new places. Hence, the reason why I haven’t been posting on Mondays here or even on my home blog.

I’ve had some exciting news recently. I’m being given the opportunity to become a freelance writer for the company a friend of mine works in. It’s not overly creative but does give me the chance to work from home and get a foot in the door for better opportunities in the future. However, having not had the kind of experience most freelance writers have, I’ve been a little concerned about my ability to be successful and pull this off. I’ve not had the formal education most writers have. But I’m not going to let this deter me from trying.

The whole experience happened rather quickly and it made me stop and think about the first time I sat down and wrote anything after my dad died. I had a goal in mind then and I was determined not to let anything stop me from accomplishing that goal. The last year has been a hard one and I have let myself become distracted from my original objectives. That’s why this weekend I made the decision to accept the offer my friend’s company extended to me and see where it leads. I am also going to sit down and complete my first draft on my NaNoWriMo project from this past November. My goal is to have my first draft and edits done and a manuscript ready to go (whether self-publishing or traditional, I’m not sure yet) by the end of the year. Possibly the summer if I can manage that but I still have some  life issues that will affect my timeline. But I am going to do my best.

What writing goals have you set for yourself that haven’t been met yet? What will it take to meet them?

I know how hard it is to let life take over when things get out of control. Writing anything and completing it is a way to feel as if you are in control of something.

Set some goals, even small ones, and finish them. I guarantee the small boost of confidence you get from completing even something small is worth it.

Have a great Monday!

Jesi

Top 100 Military Science Fiction Books

This is a repost of a list put together by my friend Cedar Sanderson based on recommendations from her readers. I’m honored to have Vengeance from Ashes, written under the pen name Sam Schall, included in the list.

mil SF art

Military transport drone
by LMorse

I realized that although I have made many lists of books, I have never done a list for military science fiction, one of my favorite sub-genres to read. An online friend asked about recommendations, so I did what I usually do, and crowdsourced the list-making. Over 300 comments later… No, not all of them were on-point. Thread drift is an art. But it was fun to watch the conversations spin off as folks learned about new books.

The following list I broke into two sections. The first, the top ten of MilSF, is ranked roughly according to how many people enthusiastically said “you must include…!” After that, there is no real order, just as they came in and I recorded them on the list. There are a few notes interspersed, some mine, and some from the people who recommended the books. As you will see, there are many series, but the links will go to the first book in a series, to introduce you to the author. Or to the author’s page, and you can decide from there.

Enjoy! I know I have a few more titles on my to-read list today.

Ominous Winds by Hideyoshi

Ominous Winds
by Hideyoshi

The Top Ten

 

  1. Robert Heinlein – Starship Troopers
  2. David Drake – Redliners
  3. John Steakley – Armor
  4. Jerry Pournelle – West of Honor
  5. John Ringo – Hymn Before Battle (Free!)
  6. Lois McMaster Bujold – Warrior’s Apprentice (link to Baen. The covers on Amazon of her books make me cry, they are so horrible. Buy them from Baen)
  7. David Drake – Hammer’s Slammers
  8. Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game
  9. Keith Laumer – For the Honor of the Regiment
  10. David Weber – On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington Series) Free Book!

 

Hyper G-One Confrontation by Hideyoshi

Hyper G-One Confrontation by Hideyoshi

Readers Recommend

 

  1. Dave Freer – Rats, Bats, and Vats
  2. Grossman and Frankowski – Two-Space War
  3. Dave Brin – Startide Rising, The Uplift War
  4. Peter Grant – Laredo Series
  5. John Dalmas – Soldiers
  6. Sam Schall – Vengeance from Ashes
  7. Leo Frankowski – The Crosstime Engineer, The High Tech Knight (they get a little worse with each one after that, IMO)
  8. Keith Laumer – The Cold Equations compilation (in addition to Bolo-verse)
  9. Zahn and Weber – Call to Duty
  10. E. “Doc” Smith – The Grey Lensman -verse, but especially the title book.
  11. John Varley – the last of the three Titan novels – Wizard
  12. M. Stirling – Any of the the Draka-verse, in particular, Marching Through Georgia and Stone Dogs
  13. Vernor Vinge – The Peace War, The Bubble War
  14. Ric Locke – Temporary Duty
  15. Jerry Pournelle – Janissaries, King David’s Spaceship Falkenberg’s Legion
  16. Niven and Pournelle – The Mercenary and West of Honor
  17. Gordon R Dickson – Three to Dorsai!
  18. Elizabeth Moon – Vatta’s War
  19. Jay Allan – Crimson Worlds
  20. Ian Douglas – Star Corpsman
  21. Elizabeth Moon – Serrano Series
  22. Michael Z Williamson – The Weapon (Freehold Series)
  23. Harry Turtledove – World War Series
  24. David Weber – Mutineer’s Moon
  25. Tom Kratman – Carrera series first book is free!
  26. LE Modessit – Forever Hero
  27. John F Carr – Uller Uprising (free book)
  28. John Campbell – Lost Fleet
  29. Niven – Man-Kzin Wars
  30. SM Stirling and David Drake – Raj Whitehall series
  31. Weber and Ringo – Empire of Man series
  32. Mike Shepherd – Kris Longknife
  33. John Birmingham – Axis of Time trilogy
  34. Joe Haldeman – The Forever War (note that other titles are not recommended)
  35. David Sherman and Dan Cragg – The Starfist Series
  36. John Scalzi – Old Man’s War (note that the sequels are not considered as good)
  37. Marko Kloos – Frontlines
  38. Christopher Nuttall – Empire Corps
  39. Doug Dandridge – Machine War
  40. Keith Laumer – Reteif’s War
  41. H Beam Piper – Space Viking (or, I’m told, anything by Piper, and I’d agree) Free Book!
  42. Robert Asprin – Phule’s Company (a rare humor book in the genre)
  43. Sandra McDonald – The Outback Stars
  44. Joel Shepherd – Crossover
  45. Steve Perry – the Man Who Never Missed
  46. Thorarin Gunnarson – Starwolves
  47. Andre Norton – Star Soldiers
  48. Timothy Zahn – Cobra Series first book is free
  49. Dietz – Legion of the Damned
  50. MCA Hogarth – Spots the Space Marine
  51. ZA Recht – Morningstar Saga
  52. Correia and Kupari – Dead Six
  53. JL Bourne – Day by Day Armageddon
  54. WJ Lundy – The Darkness
  55. EE Doc Smith – Lensman Series
  56. Robert Frezza – A Small Colonial War
  57. McCaffrey, Moon, and Nye – Planet Pirates
  58. Flint and Drake – Belisarius Series
  59. Chris Bunch – STEN series
  60. Mike Smith – The Last Praetorian
  61. John F Holmes – Irregular Scout Team One
  62. Sabrina Chase – The Long Way Home
  63. Mike Resnick – Starship series
  64. Jean Johnson – Theirs not to Reason Why
  65. Tanya Huff – Valor series
  66. Taylor Anderson – The Destroyermen series
  67. David Feintuch – Hope series
  68. H Paul Honsinger – To Honor You Call Us
  69. Fred Saberhagen – Beserker series
  70. Leo Frankowski – Cross-Time Engineer
  71. William R Forstchen – Lost Regiment
  72. BV Larson – the Star Force series
  73. Brad Torgerson – The Chaplain’s War
  74. Thomas DePrima – A Galaxy Unknown
  75. Elliot Kay – Poor Man’s Fight
  76. Jamie McFarlane – Privateer Tales
  77. GP Hudson – The Pike Chronicles
  78. Dan Abnett – Ravenor series
  79. Daniel La Cruz – Aye’s of Texas
  80. Niven and Pournelle – Footfall
  81. Dan Abnett – Gaunt’s Ghosts
  82. Ringo (editor) – Citizens
  83. Poul Anderson and Gordon R Dickson – Hoka!
  84. Michael Stackpole – Battletech books
  85. David Drake – Leary Series
  86. Roland Green – Peace Company
  87. Mark E Cooper – Merkiaari Wars
  88. Thomas A Mays – REMO
  89. Travis Taylor and John Ringo – LookingGlass series
  90. Sarah Hoyt – A Few Good Men
Carrier Concept by Kheng

Carrier Concept by Kheng

For more awesome SFF art check this out.

Writing Using Given Elements

writing

Saturday night I discovered I had a writing assignment to do in preparation for my Critique Group the next day. It’s been posted for a while but because I was still doing NaNo and working on Real Life stuff I had completely missed seeing the exerise. So, while I was out I began thinking of different scenarios I could use to write about but what I kept returning to was Christmas lights and Gremlins. I love Christmas lights. All those mutli-colored fireflies lighting up and pushing away the dark makes me happy. It’s like seeing bits of hope in the middle of the night. It’s nice when you have a community where most of the houses are decorated but my favorites are the single homes out in the middle of nowhere where there’s nothing but you and the dark. I have very fond memories of driving to my grandparent’s house at night and seeing those pop out of nowhere like lit breadcrumbs showing us the way. And as for the Gremlins, well, I kept going back to the Phoebe Cates’ scene where she’s talking about why Christmas sucks for her.

Here was the exercise details:

  • Instructions: Take the information provided below and write the first 500 – 1000 words of a new chapter or novel/short story opening. Genre is up to you. Point of view is up to you. But each of the elements listed below must be included.
  • Objective: To hook the reader and to set the atmosphere without losing reader interest.
  • Basic set-up: Your main character drives up to a small house that is off the beaten track. From the outside, the house looks like most others in the area. A single light burns in the front window. Your main character gets out of the car and crosses to the front door. It opens under the MC’s hand. The MC calls out. No one answers. MC steps inside and finds . . . .

As I was brainstorming Saturday night out loud with my husband, I knew I wasn’t really wanting to writea traditional Christmas story. Like Gremlins, I wanted my main character to have a reason to like or not like Christmas. I went to bed Saturday night and woke up the next morning with my idea in place. After getting some caffeine in my system I started writing, and the next thing I know I’ve spent an hour and a half writing without thinking about it and I had to rush to finish it because I still needed a shower and I didn’t want to be late for Group. And Group ended up being so much fun because of the exercise. Three of us apparently had the same idea in a way; we wrote a murder/mystery opening, though mine was the only one with a Christmas theme. So, below find my unedited contribution to yesterday’s writing assignment.

I have another one to write for the next meeting and I’m thrilled, I tell you. Thrilled!

xo Jesi

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

In the sleepy little town of Oak Hollow in the deepest part of the backwoods of Mississippi, you can count on three things happening throughout the year. The first is the annual Holy Roller Baptist Tent Revival and Come to Jesus Meeting, and yes, it is actually called that. All the little old ladies fry up chicken and potatoes and bake casseroles and desserts. There’s even the occasional squirrel prank pulled thanks to that old Ray Stevens song. It actually works half the time, though I’m sure the teenage boys pulling the prank aren’t trying to bring anybody to Jesus.

The second thing you can count on is Mayor Goodwin’s daughter being crowned Miss Oak Hollow for the New Year Parade, Fourth of July parade, Christmas Parade, and, hell, pretty much every town ceremony requiring a queen of events. She’s been Queen of Everything for the last five years, including head cheerleader, only because she’s the Mayor’s daughter. And she’s not even all that pretty.

The third thing, and in my opinion the most exciting, is the Christmas Eve murders. Every year for forever, one person in the town dies on Christmas Eve. Where most people supposedly go to bed dreaming of sugar plums and all that magical crapola, here in Oak Hollow we all go to bed wondering who’s going to be wrapped up in tinsel with a big, bloody bow stuffed down their mouth. It’s been going on for so long now you’d think the police would have caught someone by now, but nope, this here is Oak Hollow. We’ve got one of the laziest sheriffs in the country, and he’s fanatically superstitious.

By the way, I’m Mags, and in the Oak Hollow people context I’m the girl with the big mouth always asking for trouble, according to Sheriff Boggs at least. Most of the kids in this town try to get as far away as they can once they turn eighteen, but not me. I want to catch the murderer who killed my Uncle Johnny on Christmas Eve three years ago.

Now, imagine the scene. I’m eighteen and have a license and a beat-up old junker of a car. I bought it for $500 from Old Miss Johnson, the crazy chicken lady, after her license was taken away from her because she drove her car into the middle of the entrance of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Not that that matters right now but I’m damn proud of that car. Took me all summer working at the Piggly Wiggly as a cashier to earn the money to buy the thing and I get to crow about it all I want, thank you very much.

So here it is Christmas morning and we’re all ignoring the fact that we know someone’s been killed. We’ll know by lunchtime who the unlucky victim was, because that’s how small towns work, even on Christmas. Mom’s in the middle of making her usual big Christmas lunch and she tells me to go pick up Uncle Johnny, her bachelor brother, who lives on the outskirts of town. Why me? Because I’m eighteen with a license and a car, remember?

Ever notice how Southerners have a way of making it sound like you’d be doing them a favor when in reality they just got you to do something they don’t want to do? “Maggie, be a dear and run to the store for some milk please.” “Mags, honey, I can’t leave the house right now and I need you to go drop this casserole off at the church for me, thank you.” And my mom is the queen of guilt trips. So when she “asked” me to go get Uncle Johnny, I went. I tug on my galoshes because it’s been raining for the last three days and there’s mud everywhere, and I grab my jacket, keys jangling in the pocket where I left them knowing I’d be sent on some mission today. I’m like Mom’s messenger/errand runner since I got the car. Next, out the door, into the car and pray to the car gods that the engine will start in the cold air. Yes! The engine turns over though not without its usual groaning that it has to wake up so early in the winter. Now for the trek out to Uncle Johnny’s.

It’s still a little dark, thanks to the cloud cover, and most people have left their Christmas lights on. I love seeing the multi-colored lights shining on the houses. It reminds me that hope is hard to kill, despite the fact that we all know someone’s dead. My little car trudges along the street with Christmas music playing fitfully from the radio. I only get one station and since the tape cassette player is broken, Christmas music it is. Besides, I don’t own any tape cassettes. Actually, the Christmas music doesn’t bother me and I’m merrily singing away with Jose Feliciano when I reach Uncle Johnny’s driveway. My tires leave that satisfying crunch sound as I turn onto the gravel and pull up to the house.

The first thing I notice is that Uncle Johnny’s Christmas lights are off. All of them. He owns about four acres and every Christmas he puts on a big Christmas light display for the town. Everyone brings their kids out to see it because he’s always doing something different every year, and he leaves them on all day every day. Today would be the only exception I’ve ever known. Maybe he just forgot or overslept, my mind rationalizes. I don’t even think it could be anything else. Still, I hesitate just a moment before walking up to the door.

I see the traditional Christmas candelabra in the front window, its electric candlelight sending a warm yellow glow out into the gloom. Seeing that on must mean Uncle Johnny is still in bed sleeping. So, I run up the porch steps and knock on the front door calling out as I do, “Uncle Johnny! It’s Mags. Mom sent me to come pick you up for lunch!” But my words trail off as the door creaks open under the force of my hand. Shit! This would be where the unsuspecting heroine of the horror movie finds herself in trouble. I don’t want to go in. I don’t want to go in.

I have to go in.

I push the door open and warily stick my head through the entrance. It’s much too quiet. Not even Uncle Johnny’s infamous snoring. Damn, damn, damn. I don’t have a cell phone because I bought a car instead, so I’ll have to go inside the house to use the landline phone. I take a deep breath. Okay, Mags. You can do this, I tell myself. I walk through the door trying not to let my eyes fall on anything specific. The phone is in the kitchen which is only accessible through the living room. Crap. I turn to my left and begin walking that way. So far, so good. Nothing out of the ordinary. The Christmas tree is up and the lights are on. Everything seems normal. Except it isn’t. Christmas music blaring and the smell of pancakes cooking should be assaulting my senses but they’re not. This does not bode well. I have a feeling I know what Uncle Johnny received for Christmas.

“Get to the phone, Mags. Just get to the phone. You can call mom and then dad can drive over and check things out himself.” I repeat this over and over as I walk through the living room to the kitchen. I get through the kitchen doorway and there’s Uncle Johnny sitting in his normal spot at the kitchen table, a surprised look frozen on his face. He’s been draped in tinsel and there’s a big red bow-the kind you put on cars-tied around his chest. There’s no blood anywhere, though. He’s simply frozen solid holding a piece of paper with a message on it. I don’t want to look but curiosity compels me forward to read the missive. It’s only three words long.

“Ho Ho Ho.”

 

Thankful

As impossible as it seems to me, it’s already that time of year to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Christmas will be soon around the corner, but as my children actually like to point out whenever they see Christmas displays already showing up at stores and on the street – you can’t just skip right over Thanksgiving. And for me, taking the time to be thankful is just as important as the turkey and dressing and time off work and school with family and friends.

I am blessed with a great many things in my life, family being at the top of my list, but since this is a blog that always comes back to writing (and reading sometimes too), I’d like to share some things I am thankful for in my writing life. Maybe some of these things are shared by others as well? Please feel free to share with me in the comments which ones we share and also the ones I may have missed. And since I won’t be posting on Thursday, let me take this chance to wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings. 🙂

In My Writing Life I Am Thankful For:

1) Fellow Writers – Meeting other writers, whether through writer’s groups or online, has helped me tremendously. I have learned from others through their stories and blogs and critique of my work. I have enjoyed sharing the twisted writer side of myself that thinks of new characters watching people at the park or dreams up new dialogue while waiting in line at the grocery store. It helps to know I am not alone in in getting lost in thought that way. It is also comforting knowing that I’m not alone in my doubts and second-guessing myself. Fellow writers help in so many ways and I am thankful.

2) Office Supplies – Am I the only writer nerd who loves to pick up new notebooks or pens or pencils or Post-its or dry erase boards or who knows what else because I know I may fill those notebooks or Post-its or whatever it may be with ideas or even snippets of my next work in progress? There’s so much potential in an empty notebook. There’s so much possibility in a blank page or new ink or a stack of index cards. It may be silly, but I am thankful for office supplies.

3) Time to Write – It doesn’t always come easily or often, but when I am lucky enough to make the time to write, it is something for which I am always tremendously grateful.

4) Inspiration – I find inspiration in many places, at odd times and sometimes even in dreams, but always I am grateful that inspiration has been found. It is a gift to stumble upon an idea or feel a story start to take on a life. I am thankful to see with a writer’s eye all the possibilities that lie beyond what is on the surface.

5) The Work – I am thankful for the feeling of having written. I feel grateful for the creative outlet that sitting down to write allows in my life. I like having the need to put words down on the page. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to pursue a dream of writing and I am grateful each time I work to make that dream reality.

 

Did I Just Compare Writing To Knitting? You Bet I Did!

I’ve been doing a lot of knitting lately. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing. With NaNoWriMo almost over I’ve been working hard to sit down and write every day. I haven’t always managed that but I’m much better than I was last year. Now what does knitting have to do with that? At first glance, not a thing. But, recently, it hit me that writing and knitting are quite a lot alike.

First, knitting and writing require patience and practice. You aren’t going to learn to knit the moment you pick up a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. Neither are you going to automatically write a bestseller by picking up a pen and putting it to paper. Both require skills you have to learn, over and over again. Knowing how to hold a string and a needle in one hand and a second needle in the other while simultaneously wrapping that string around the second needle without dropping the first needle is not a natural or easy skill to learn. It takes time and a lot of patience. So, too, knowing how to put words and phrases together so that they make sense is not a natural skill, but a learned one. We are not born knowing how to speak. We have to learn through daily lessons (listening to those around us and mimicking those sounds) how a word means something and how a certain way of saying it makes it mean something else.

The more challenging the knitting or writing, the more experience you gain. As in knitting, writing requires you to challenge yourself. Once you learn the basics of knitting then you are able to challenge yourself by attempting a project, for instance, knitting a hat. This will teach you new skills that you do not know yet. Writing is the same. I participate in writing challenges throughout the year because they force me to think outside the box and push the parameters of my current knowledge. Sometimes I am forced outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes my insight and/or perspective changes. My writing reflects these experiences. Challenges push you and if you aren’t being pushed then you, and your writing, can stagnate. What good are your writing skills if you aren’t using them to learn new ones or explore new ideas and perspectives?

Knitting and writing create black holes. Think I’m kidding? I’ve been knitting for over fifteen years. When I’m working on a big project such as a sweater or a blanket (or a freaking Harry Potter scarf in which I begin singing “this is the scarf that never ends…yes, it goes on and on my friends. One day I started knitting never knowing what it was, and I’ll continue knitting it forever just because-you get the idea), I will reach a point where it all stays the same no matter how much or how long I knit. The project never gets bigger, never gets longer, it just STAYS.THE.SAME. This is the black hole of knitting. No matter how many stitches I knit, the project eats them for breakfast. Then chaotically spits them out at some random point in the future without any notice. This means that I am often over my intended length or width and my measurements are way off. Then I have to carefully, stitch by stitch, go back to where a place as close to my measurements as possible. It’s a pain the butt. During NaNo I have discovered this same effect. I have gotten behind more than a few times and I have caught back up but it felt as if it took forever. I would type and type and type and not get anywhere close to the word count I was trying to reach. Then, after hours of writing and typing and losing sleep, I went to look and realized (after lots of tears and caffeine) I had written over my goal. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go back and re-type since I’m not editing as I go, but still…it was a pain in the butt. Knitting and writing black holes are evil. Watch out for them.

Knitting and writing are cathartic processes. I’ve heard knitting called a Zen hobby. The idea being that its meditative and relaxing. Have you ever watched someone knitting? Let’s say they are knitting a lace shawl. Guys, this means they are making fabric with a lot of holes in it. Having knit a shawl I can tell you, there is nothing relaxing about it. One mistake means you might have to rip THE WHOLE THING OUT! Seriously. In fact, knitting is one of the least relaxing things I do. I’m having to constantly read the instructions and watch what I am doing so I don’t make a lot of mistakes. One oops! and hours of work has to be unraveled and remade. How is this cathartic? Well, actually, its not only cathartic but enjoyable. You see, while I’m knitting (and focusing on something other than the problem that drove me to pick up my knitting in the first place) I have to concentrate on what I’m doing which drives everything else out of my mind. My breathing calms and I am able to think more clearly, less emotionally. While I’m knitting, I begin thinking about other ways to handle/deal with whatever the problem is/was. Basically, I’m using a more productive solution to deal with my stress. Writing does the same, but in a different manner. When I take my emotions out in my writing, I create a more emotional piece. I write out my problems from a different viewpoint (or at least I try), or I write in a new character who I immediately destroy or harangue or plague with problems. Its much more constructive, less destructive, though Freud and Jung might question my sanity. It’s definitely more productive than letting the feelings sit and simmer and eat away at you.

In the end, with both knitting and writing, once all the edits are done, you realize YOU have made something incredible out of nothing. In knitting, the magic takes place after all the knitting is done and your project is put together and washed and dried. In writing, the magic is in the final edits. With knitting, you’ve taken some string and two sticks and created a wearable (usually) item that someone will love. With writing, you take something (words) out of nothing (air) and created something that can be held in two hands (or listened to if its in an audible version) that someone will love. Its an amazing, almost miraculous, thing, and while you may think anyone can do it, the truth is not everyone can. You can’t just pick up a pen and begin writing without basic skills, and some people just never develop those skills beyond simply fillout out forms and their signatures. And, oh, horrors! Some people do not have the inclination or desire to write a story! Good thing there are enough of us out there who do, and who want to learn and give voice to the stories that live inside our heads. And, fortunately for me and my family, my knitting knowledge might just save us during the next Ice Age because, you know, skills.

Happy (late) Monday!

Jesi

Falling Flat

My husband and I are fans of an interesting TV show called Project Greenlight which is a behind the scenes series about getting a movie made from executive producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. We watched several seasons of the show years ago, but then there was a long hiatus between the previous seasons and this season. This season’s show on HBO ended earlier this month.

In addition to the seasons of Project Greenlight, we have seen a few of the movies that were made during the show. We have never really been overwhelmed with the results. It’s not unusual to have a more enjoyable behind the scenes adventure to watch on the TV show than a good movie as the result.

While this season of Project Greenlight, with the contest winning first time director Jason Mann assisted by Project Greenlight producer Effie Brown, had a lot of drama over the direction of the film that made the show a lot of fun to follow, the movie never really seemed like it would turn out well.

HBO premiered the movie, The Leisure Class, earlier this month to pretty poor reviews. Despite the bad reviews, we watched it On Demand just to see the end result. Unsurprisingly we found out it just was not good.

What was good about watching it, for me, though was finding lessons in what not to do when developing my own stories and characters.

The Leisure Class was Mann’s own script developed out from a 3 minute short film. The story takes place over the course of about 24 hours and is supposed to be a comedy. I think. Or a dark comedy perhaps.  Perhaps it is meant as satire? The issue is that it hits none of those marks. There is little that is funny and a lot that just falls flat because you just don’t get who the characters are or why we should care about them. Who are these people? Why are they doing the things they do? Why would anyone possibly say some of the things they say or respond the way they respond?

Ed Weeks plays Charles, a supposedly charming Englishman (who just comes off as a bit of a slimeball honestly, not at all charming) who is supposed to marry Fiona (Bridget Regan), a stiff upper class daughter of a wealthy Senator who is running for some sort of office apparently herself. They have an engagement dinner where Charles’s brother unexpectedly drops in causing the scheming Charles some difficulty. Tom Bell plays the screwball brother, Leonard, that shakes the family up.

It could be funny. Instead it’s just awkward. He doesn’t really cause that much trouble. The trouble is rather unbelievable. The aftermath is really unbelievable. The characters’ reactions are frequently the most unbelievable. Several scenes are just painfully bad with characters saying the most awful things to each other and for what purpose? Big meltdowns and confrontations should serve the story somehow but these seem to be confrontation for confrontations sake. Shock for shock value only.

Tell me a story! Not a rushed compilation of stilted scenes pieced together that can almost be blended together into a chunky mess of a story.

Make me care about the characters! If the character’s actions don’t make sense the story doesn’t make sense. If what the characters say doesn’t fit who that character is supposed to be, the story doesn’t make sense. The characters have to make sense for the story to make sense.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter how fine the details are if the overall story doesn’t work. The biggest lesson seems to be to just make sure there is actually a good story there. If there isn’t a solid story, no one is going to care how pretty it all turns out. Tell me a solid story and make me care about the characters or there’s just no point.

NaNo Week Two & Using Adversity In Your Writing

As you know, I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). We’re two weeks in now with two more weeks to go. By now, according to a daily word count calendar, I should have completed 25,000 words. I have not. But I am not that far behind, only a few thousand words. Completely doable. I am not out of the game yet. 

It’s not so much that I want to “win” NaNo because I could care less about that. I just want to see if I can reach that 50,000 word mark for myself. I haven’t written every day but I’m not skipping that many days. Some days I may not write more than 200 words while the very next day I come back and write over my daily goal. I have already surpassed my total for NaNo last year, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a win already.

Currently, as I stated above, I am behind on my word count goal. There are events in my life that had to take precedence over the weekend, and they out me behind. I’d like to say these were normal every day things that just caused time to get away from me, but they were not. I’ve ridden an emotional rollercoaster several times in the last three days. This seriously hampered my desire to do anything but fall into bed and sleep until things straightened themselves out. So, writing became secondary. 

But, despite how I felt last night, I went to my bedroom where it was quiet and peaceful, grabbed my laptop, and began writing. I knew I was far behind where I wanted to be and I started to feel a little overwhelmed. After a brief Facebook writer support group meeting and a little encouragement, I calculated how many words I’d have to write over how many days and proceeded to type one word after another. It took a while to reach my new word count goal but reach it I did, and before midnight I looked at my word count total-21,000 words. It might not be 25,000 but I’m satisfied. Those words were well earned, and the writing was cathartic. 

One of the good things to come out of the dog-pile that was my weekend is all of the writing fodder. All of the emotional turmoil and fallout made for some excellent material to use in my book or in future books. My writing last night was very emotional and I think it will show later on. And in return I was able to look at what had happened through my character’s eyes. It allowed me to step back from my own perspective, view it through someone else’s, then let go of all of the stress caused by worrying over things.

Writing, even when I don’t particularly feel like it, is what I’ve learned this week. But if you persevere and just keep typing one word after another, even if they aren’t particularly good words, then you’ll reach your goal, whatever that may be.

Are you participating in NaNo, or even your own version of it? What have you learned and how is your writing going? Let me know below.

Jesi

What I’ve Learned During NaNo’s First Week

Happy Monday!

What? Too perky?

So Not Sorry. After a long weekend of feeling like someone skewered my insides while also having a house full of kids (and one of those gets sick, too), I deserve a little perky.

Plus, I have a grand total of 12,459 words in my NaNoWriMo word tally. That’s for one week of writing. By today I should have 15,000 words written and I will get it done. I’m not going to push myself into misery though, which is why I took yesterday off. It was a beautiful day and I had been up until 3 a.m. writing 4,000 words, I felt good after being sick for two days, and I decided I’d earned the break.

I’m learning a lot from this round of NaNo. I’ve figured out that if I give myself 20 minutes, and only 20, to socialize and distract myself from writing then I can actually focus on writing without being distracted because I spent my allotted time and have to earn more. It’s my reward system and it’s working for me. Next,  I’ve discovered that for the first hour I am pushing myself for words. This sucks because I might manage only 500 the first hour. However, once I get past that first hour and those 500 something amazing happens: the story takes over.

I’m serious. I’ve had a week of testing this theory. It’s like sitting down to do homework at first or reading a book someone tells you to read in a genre that you don’t normally read in. There’s pain. There’s whining. There’s wining. 😉 But after a while you realize that the book isn’t so bad or that you’re almost finished with all those thousands of math problems. Once I get past the mad toddler stage of that first hour I find that the words are flowing, the characters talking and telling me their part of the story, and I get lost in what I’m doing. So much so, that Saturday night I lost track of time and that’s when I looked at my word count and realized I’d gone over my daily goal. That’s happened quite a few times this week.

Another thing I’ve learned is to not focus on my word count. Because it’s insanity. I may be a lunatic poet but I’m not actually all that crazy. (Hush AJ.) At first I caught myself looking at my word count every ten minutes to see how close I was to my daily goal. It was a distraction in itself. So I tried to focus more on the writing, not the words. It’s helped but it is really tempting to look and keep track of those words. I’m now trying to just let it go. (Ok, Joe, stop it. If I have to hear that song one.more.time…)

Let’s talk about editing-as-you-go-now. One of our biggest problems, right? Not this time for me. I have somehow ignored all those little niggling impulses that say “go back and fix it now.” Nope. I am making all kinds of errors and just leaving them. I am info dumping. I am deliberately ignoring all the rules and liking it. I have chapters all over the place. I have scenes happening before other scenes. I have characters introduced that I will need to go back and create an introduction for. I have timeline issues. But it’s all good. I will go back after November, or when I’m finished writing, and sandpaper the hell out of it. That’s why its called a rough draft.

I’ve also developed an interesting little quirk. I like to knit, and with fall here and winter on its way I began knitting a scarf for one of my eldest son’s friends. (Its a Ravenclaw scarf, CJ. Thought you’d appreciate that note.) I’m almost done with it and have now begun knitting hats because they’re quick to make. Well, I’ve begun  keeping a hat in progress next to my laptop. Whenever I get stuck on what to write, I pick up the hat and knit until an idea comes to mind. There’s this idea that knitting creates a Zen-like mindset in the brain. I cannot corroborate that with any scientific facts but it does clear out all the minutiae and let’s me begin to focus on the problem at hand. Clearing my mind allows new to form and I can brainstorm while still being productive, which then allows my writing to be more productive as well. Plus, I love the yarn I’m working with right now. Its SOOOOFFFTTTT. So…writing and knitting, though not at the same time, an interesting but effective combination.

This week has definitely been worth the time I’ve invested in NaNo. Just learning more about my writing process, and how its evolved during the last two years, has been a gift in itself. I know I need to allow myself distractions and reward myself for a job done, even if it’s a small one. Knowing that I will be pushing myself for words the first hour or so allows me to know what to expect, and I will be developing a strategy to combat this problem as November goes on.

Week Two is here and I hope you’ve discovered things about your writing, and your writing process, that will help you as you go forward. And I would love to hear about it. Pipe up in the comments. Let’s see what ya got!

Jesi

When you want to just stop

The other day, a writer in one of the online groups I belong to posted that he was ready to just chuck the whole writer-thing because he hadn’t liked his first day sales (and he went on to give us the number of sales made). I’ll admit, my first reaction was to reach through the screen and shake him because the number, while not best seller level was higher than most indie writers will ever see in a single day. Then I decided that wasn’t the best course of action and thought I’d take a look at what he had just put out and talk to him from a reader’s standpoint.

This writer’s work falls into a very particular sub-genre, or at least that is what his titles suggest. So that presents the first challenge for him. He titles his books one way but the covers cue something completely different. That confuses the potential reader. Are they going to get a book about X, as the title suggests, or about Y, which is what the cover cues?

Then there was the confusion raised by his Amazon listing. Doing a search by his name turns up a number of titles. That’s a good thing. Even better is that the new book is the first thing showing. But the second thing showing is a compilation of his work that says it includes all of the series in question. Hmm. So is the first title really a new one or is it included in the compilation that is a better buy? More confusion.

All of which can be easily fixed by making some changes to the cover images for the series and the copy on the cover and in the product descriptions.

But what about his complaint about sales from an author’s standpoint. He had expected sales at least ten times higher than they were. His conclusion about why sales were so bad was that Facebook has changed its algorithm that determines not only who sees your posts but how many people see them. You see, he has a large and active Facebook page and he had relied on that in the past for his promotion.

The problem with doing this is multi-fold. First, as noted, Facebook has changed its model concerning who sees your post. You should never put your main promotion effort into something that you have absolutely no control over and that changes how it does things more often than you change underwear (okay, an exaggeration but not by much). Even if you knew our promotion posts were going out to every one of your followers, they aren’t all going to look at it. Either they won’t get notice that you posted something or they are busy and don’t go to Facebook that day or they scroll past it, etc.

But there is another problem with putting most of your emphasis on promoting to people who are already “fans”. (I put that in quotes for a reason. All too often, people who join an author’s fan group have never read the author’s work or read only one or two books and then move on to other authors. They hang around because they like the interplay in the forum.) You have, hopefully, already won over those people and they will buy your work whether you promote it on the page or not. What we have to do is look for new readers to expand our fan base. So we have to look for new ways to find them. Social media posts are one way but not everyone is on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google +, etc. Blogging helps, especially if you can get guests blog gigs on other, more popular blogs than your own. Getting those who have read your work to post honest reviews on Amazon and elsewhere also help. But they have to be HONEST reviews.

And, when you see your sales for a certain title declining, you have to be able to look at it with a critical eye and figure out why. Is it the normal slump that happens after a book has been out for awhile? If so, that means you had better have another book ready to go pretty darn soon or your audience will move on to another author and they might not think to come back to you. Is your cover still cuing the right genre or sub-genre? This is something I’ve had to look at of late with regard to my Nocturnal Lives series. The covers were spot on for genre cuing when they first came out. Now, not so much. So the books will be re-released over the next few weeks with new covers. This will be done in coordination with the release of the next book in the series. Is your product description something that hooks the reader? Does it look professional (I see far too many where there is no spacing between paragraphs, leaving you to read a wall of text. Not good.

In other words, instead of throwing your hands up and threatening to walk away because a book isn’t selling as well right out the gate as you think it should, look at what you have done to write, edit, package and promote it with a critical eye. Writing is a business, something we tend to forget about all too often. We have to treat it as such. And, on that happy note, I need to get back to work. I have editing jobs to finish before I can write.