Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Can Web Publishing Get Nastier?

Apparently so.  Check out this post on the wonderful At Last! Writer Beware Blogs.  You know how we all (or at least I) skim the standard fine print when registering with a new site?  That's because most of that stuff is the usual don't hold responsible if you poke your eye out with a straw while reading, don't swear or post offensive stuff on the site, the owners can boot you off at their discretion without explanation, etc.  Well, apparently on WEbook, the fine print is a whole 'nother ball game.  Don't even chance it.  Give this site a pass or risk having every right WEbook can think of grabbed forever in exchange for pennies (which they don't have to pay until they accumulate up to $50, which C.S. has painful experience in finding out how corporations can find ways to pull the plug just before you reach that magical $50 mark if they want to, which they probably do.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Steve's Straggler Writing Exercise

Prompt: Protagonist challenges aspiring history
Personal note: This was a royal pain in the ass, but ultimately I got a kick out of the result.

Buster was my protagonist. The story was an alternate history piece in which an aspiring commoner challenges the system in an epic battle to defend the rights of the downtrodden. The only problem was that Buster was a lazy bastard.

His desires were for his bag of Fritos and a Double Gulp. His passion for the nap that followed. I tried to kill him off, but Buster was crafty. He'd hide behind his sexy and compelling lover or inside the priceless antique armoire I'd added to the story in a loving tribute to the memory of my father. He even managed to inadvertently kill one of my assassins when he - ah, shit [time's up].

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Letter as a Young Man

I did the 15 minute INK exercise.  It's long (370 words) so I hesitated posting it, but hey, just because I wasn't at the meeting doesn't mean I'm exempt from reveal my unedited warty nakedness.

Aspiring History Challenges Protagonist


The Letter as a Young Man


Kamila Zeman Miller


She held the letter tight, crumpling the heavy paper, afraid to destroy it, afraid to keep it.  Her slippered feet pressed deep into riverbank mud.  Icy water and colder air chilled her.

Get rid of it.

Keep it.  You have to give it to someone important.  They have to know.

She thought she’d be worried about the future, but mostly she worried about history, how the letter would be remembered if it survived the night.  Would it even matter a hundred years from now? 

The letter wanted to live.  It seemed to be a handsome officer in a black uniform rather than parchment, and she didn’t want that young man to die.  He looked noble and honorable but his heart beat with a dark rhythm, necessity’s music.  Rather than fear what he might do, she felt drawn to that practicality and how it mingled with good intentions.  The letter’s soul aspired to create, to become, as so many beautiful souls had always wanted to be. 

Let him live.

Why did she have to hold a pivotal point in history’s making?  And why couldn’t it be on a warm summer night with all kinds of time to muse? 

She could freeze to death without ever knowing which was the right way to go. 

Just fling it into the river.  Maybe someone will find it.  Then it won’t be up to me.

She started to fling it, but she couldn’t force herself to let go.  His spirit called to her.  Hold me.  Send me to my future, to glory.

Glory.  The war had glory enough.

She flung it.  It spun on the water’s surface, lit by moonlight. 

Oh God.

She plunged after it into the river.  The shock of cold shrunk her breath into tight gasps as she struggled to swim with her nightgown flowing awkwardly around her body.

She grabbed the letter, plunging it under the surface while paddling toward shore again and again.  When she reached shore, shivering, she opened the heavy folds.  The ink was running, fading.  She’d lost him, not to choice, but indecisiveness.

My freewrite from Friday's meeting

"Your protagonist is weak, Janna."

She had been about to interrupt him, but at the coldness in Professor Lanard's tone, her jaw hung open stupidly.

He waited, but she said nothing, because no words formed in her mind, only the vision of a gaping black hole, her usual symbol of the immutable naivety that was her novel.

She could tell by the lean of his shoulders and the fervor in his eyes that he was not finished.

"You aspire too high, Janna."

This popped her out of the fog. "Cardinal rule of dialogue--overuse of character names sounds unnatural to the ear."

She wasn't sure where that came from, but she liked it. She studied his face, waiting to see the tell-tale signs of his classic defensiveness poking through his frown. But he didn't.

The corners of his mouth twitched into a half-smile. "A challenge. That's what you need to give your character. The history the background is all well and good, but we have to see what she makes of the challenges thrown her way."

She thought for a moment, running through story scenarios and characterization weaknesses. In an instant she realized she was forcing her character to survive with just her own timidity.

Somehow the line between the fiction and the real had blurred in her mind, but no more. This was an easy fix.

She looked him clearly in the eye. "I could do that."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Writing Exercises

We had a fun INK meeting last night, even with Kami's absence. Since she had submitted one of the two pieces up for critique, we finished faster than usual and decided to introduce a new aspect to our meetings. Writing exercises.

We each picked a word out of a book to create and unwieldy sentence, and used it as a prompt. We wrote for fifteen minutes and then read them aloud. They were all interesting, and Steve's and Carole's had us laughing. I decided to post mine here.

Keeping in mind, however, that this is a writing exercise, completed in 15 minutes with no editing or research. Typing it up, I found several places that I wanted to fix, but I restrained myself.

Writing Exercise
15 Minutes
Prompt: Protagonist challenges aspiring history

"You dated this wrong." Dr. Beals tossed the manuscript on the desk in front of her. "Or did you forget the Visigoths?"

Audrey pulled the manuscript closer. She hadn't forgotten the Visigoths. No one studying under Dr. Beals could forget the Visigoths.

"My findings suggest that Carthage wasn't involved--"

"Nonsense." Dr. Beals sat with finality and crossed his arms. The light from his reading lamp glistened on the stiff strands of his overly gelled hair and on the frames of the half-moon reading glasses that he looked over sternly. "The Visigoth threat was all encompassing. Revise it and return it by eleven tomorrow."

Audrey took her battered manuscript and left the office. A cluster of freshman from Dr. Beals Western Civ class glanced nervously at her as she left the history department office.

Visigoths. She hated Visigoths. She couldn't write about anything in early Roman civilization without Beals foisting his damned Visigoths at her.

"Hey, Aud!" Trent hurried to catch her. Audrey tucked her paper under her arm.

"So, what'd he say?"

"What do you think he said?"

Trent was all grins, hopping on the balls of his feet. "He said yes? I can't believe it!"

Audrey wanted to kick herself. Trent didn't give a damn about Beals and his Visigoths. And now he'd think she didn't give a damn about his extended research trip, which he'd invited her to join. If she could get out of Dr. Beals Thursday night lecture.

She'd completely forgotten to ask.

Damned Visigoths.

"Well, believe it," she said lamely. She'd call Dr. Beals when she reached her room. No, he'd be raking freshman over the Visigoth coals. She'd ask him tomorrow when she turned in her paper.

Which would take all night to revise.

Trent gave her a peck on the cheek. "Awesome. I'll get packing. Pick you up at one tomorrow?"


Another peck on the cheek and Trent bounded away. Audrey slouched back to her room and tossed the paper onto her desk before sinking into her bed.

She had to go to the library. See if she could find references to Carthage and Visigoths.

Why? She'd done the research. It was good work. Her best work.

Did she want a passing grade or not?

Did she want her integrity or not?

Audrey laid back and stared at the ceiling.

Damned Visigoths.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Passive: Progress is being made

Passive or not, I am making writing progress.  Eets just verry verry slllooowww.  I had something going on every day off, and I had a lot off in a row.  I'd be frustrated, but it got to the point where I just had to laugh.  Starting out with a last minute prom prep helped.  Always begin with a high note before plunging into the pit, if possible.  My first day back at work this week I was still dealing with the fallout from a water pump failure that cascaded into a water tank replacement.  But it's all good.  I still managed to get some editing done at the Fireside and some critiquing done this morning while the tank was being installed.

Which, btw, sadly I'll be late, verrry laaaate to INK tomorrow because I close.  I should be there around 8:30 or 9pm.  Knowing our INKiness, ya'll will still be in full swing.  Just in case, though, I'll email everyone my finished critique tomorrow morning before I leave for work.

If I remember.

Provided nothing else drastic comes along.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Trying out my first blog post here!

Howdy all,
Just wanted to finally give this a try. I'm just about ready to publish my e-book, so I've been reading up on Google Adwords and landing pages and PayPal. Fascinating world that marketing is. Back in college I used to feel slightly nauseated at the thought of advertising, and the idea of the hard sell left me cold and irritable.

Yet when I adjusted my thinking to focus more on marketing (i.e., promotions, branding, press releases, etc.), I realized it didn't have to be about making false or exaggerated claims in order to sell products. What I've done with newsletters and with my upcoming e-book is share the information that I've acquired over time, and that provides the customer, client, or browser with quality information, and sometimes I am able to bill for that information and sometimes not.

Merely the act of sharing has benefits all its own. I am a fiction editor by trade, but in its way, editing is teaching. I used to think teaching must be the hardest job in the world, but is both the most rewarding thing I've ever done and the easiest.

Wow, apparently I have a lot to say on this topic =), but I'll shut up now...

Monday, April 7, 2008

I Have Returned

I've been away for a few days, and I've returned with a new script to be written and a short story to be submitted. No, I didn't finish a short story while I was away. I returned to find a very kindly worded rejection in my in-box. So, out it will go again, once I settle on the next market. I have one in mind already. Just need to do a bit of last minute checking.

While finding it, however, I found one for another story, the one that went out to WotF. So I'm rather eager to have it back (though if it wins, they can hang on to it as long as they need :-).

No great brainstorms while I was gone, other than realizing I was writing on the wrong script. I did, however, find the perfect writer's retreat. Ah, just so very lovely. I'll be posting about it (with pictures) on The Other Blog later.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Memory, Patterns and Pain

"I Remember the War" came back from the Lucky Labs with some great comments and lots of encouragement, so it's time to open that old chest, dust off the weapons, saddle up Longshanks and head off to the big city.  

I realized (how did I not see this when I wrote it?) that my newest short, "Strangers Think They Know Me," is not only also in first person (lately I've been writing a lot of first person--weird because I normally vastly prefer third) but also revolves around the past and memory.  Huh.  Do I have an issue I don't know about yet?  Am I trying to use the prose as a therapy whipping boy?  

The words have got to come from the heart, but there's a fine line at the edge of an abyss between standing on the solid ground of theme and story arch and characterization that's informed by life experience and plummeting into the realm of re-experiencing your own pain for the sake of 'true-life' drama or flogging the reader with political views/frustrations and so forth.  I understand the impulse, I really do, and sometimes it leads to great writing.  I would not want the world to be deprived of C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed because someone told him that he shouldn't write while he's in the midst of a traumatic event or right after one.  But writers ought to be cautious and remember the lessons of various authors who have written 'the divorce novel' or other such works.  

I suspect that works of fiction are particularly vulnerable.  They're very heartfelt and are written with passion when an author is under the influence of a crisis, but they may turn out to be tattered orphans that sleep under the porch and dig around the garbage cans for food while the rest of the children are well kept.  I've heard that when a writer goes through a traumatic event, editors are of course immediately concerned about the welfare of someone they've worked with and often bonded with, but that there's an accompanying dread that they may end up with a trauma novel on their desk.  

Maybe it's better to write about the experience as non-fiction if you're in the middle of it.  Then it's more... what?  I can't put it into words.  I guess the story isn't trying to be something other than what it is.  There's also nowhere for the author to hide (which obscures what's going on) and it's less likely that, if the author is in the middle of a trilogy, established characters will suddenly start acting crazy, accusing each other of infidelity or becoming sobbing wrecks that can't drag themselves out of their depression long enough to combat the Big Bad.

Anyway, for whatever reason, memory is on my mind.  It's possible that I'm just in the midst of a series.  Painters paint in series.  It's smart, actually.  You work with a certain palette and get good at a type of composition or a certain subject and run with it.  I don't think it works for short story writers in terms of marketing, unfortunately.  Editors, and readers, will want to see new and different things.  The closest writers have to a painter's series is the novel series and/or the themed short story collection, though I think that single-author themed short story collections are rare.  ?  Something to find out.  In the meantime, though, I don't have to worry about repeating myself.  Two stories revolving around memory isn't a trend, it's a blip.  Now if the next story is about memory in some fashion, then ...

Then I might start building a symmetrina (with thanks to Bruce Holland Rogers for writing such a beautiful and effective one for Polyphony, handily entertaining and instructing me in one swell foop.)  

I think it's a mistake to panic about something abstract, and so many of the rules and worries about writing that plague us are abstracts.  It's a safer bet to concern yourself with the concrete stuff--structure, grammer, narrative style, etc. than to flip out about what you're writing or why.  Save that for later, the kind of later that never comes around.  You know, the 'I'll start brushing the dog's teeth every day, but not right now" kind of later.  (Apologies to folks who brush their dog's teeth every day.  You have my sincere admiration.  I just know that I'm never going to do it even though I should.)  It's enough to be aware.  I'm aware I should brush my dog's teeth.  I'm aware that I should be cautious when I'm writing from direct experience if that experience happened to me recently or is happening right now.  But it won't stop me from writing about it, fiction or non.  I just might let it simmer a little longer on the back burner before I go to edit, revise and market it.  If nothing else, something that comes that deep from my heart deserves extra care.  Just in case this memory thing is coming from the storm around me, I'll keep this all in mind, but I suspect it's just happenstance.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I Did It

I actually did it. I submitted a short story to a market.

Wow. I feel, suddenly, real. A real writer, submitting to paying markets.

This feels good.

I need more stories to submit.

Oh, right, I have a script to write. Well, I could squeeze in a few minutes on a story, too, right?

Tougher Than I Remember

I don't remember Script Frenzy starting out so rough, but then again, last year I scrapped the first ten pages I wrote and started over with an entirely new script, so I guess that could be called rough.

I've spent an hour writing two pages. Just 577 words. An hour. At this rate, it's going to take me a couple hours a day to do the five pages I need for each. Which is pretty much most of my free writing time.

Five pages doesn't sound so bad, does it, when Nano demands seven each day. And honestly, Script Frenzy only demands three pages a day (100 pages in 30 days), but since I'm leaving town on the 22nd, I have only 20 days (I'll need the 21st to get us all packed and ready--or to make up the last few pages).

100 pages in 20 days.

And not just any ole 100 pages. 100 SCRIPT pages.

What I truly forgot was how different the thought process is for script-writing versus prose writing. I have to twist my head all into visuals. For example, this morning I'm thinking about my second scene, which introduces the main characters. And I've already gravitated toward a point of view character, Carly Wells. I'm thinking about what action she'll be doing (cleaning up the apartment she shares with her fiance) and I'm crafting bits of narrative as I go ("She loved Will for his scientific brilliance, not for the Texas Hold'em parties he threw every Friday night, leaving her with a mess to clean...") when I realize, Stop! You are thinking in prose!

Erase, rewind. Start again.

CARLY WELLS, a twentysomething co-ed with a sense of orderliness, is throwing away empty pizza boxes and beer cans. And does not look happy about it.
The first day is always the roughest, but now that I'm wrapping my head around the style once more, I'll be in full swing soon. And thank goodness, because I'll be plotting building by then and I'll need all the brain cells I can spare for that part!

It's good to be script-writing again.