Archive for February, 2013

Step Up That Game

Posted: February 24, 2013 by stonehengewriters in Matt's Words
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It has happened!

What, you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first, allow me to show how I got here.

As a writer, my immediate payoff for writing is in fact…the joy of writing. Slaving away those hours upon hours in front of a computer, brainstorming ideas throughout the day, locking ourselves in a closet as we outline…(well maybe not ALL of us can relate to that), all of these things don’t always feel like work. Because face it, most of us write because we have a passion for storytelling, a love of the craft, or a character that keeps pounding on the inside of our skulls, begging to be released onto paper.

But it isn’t all fun and games, is it? No matter how we cut it, writing is hard. Very hard. The first draft of my novel read worse than a kindergarten drawing. My parents thought it was great, but then, they are a little biased, aren’t they? Only after I joined a writers group – Stonehenge – did I understand just how terrible it was.

And then, the real work began.

First, I studied the craft. I learned the basics of grammar – by reading books, practicing what I learned, listening to podcasts, then doing it all over again. And yes, my friends, this was work. A lot of work. I then unearthed the value of great storytelling, discovered the advantage of 3rd person limited versus omniscient. (For those unfamiliar, stay tuned for a post about this.) Learning and practicing. Learning and practicing. It was hard work, but once I felt comfortable with my writing, and felt that it was publishable, do you think I stopped there?

Good guess. No. While continuing to read about and practice the craft, I researched the publishing industry and conferences. I learned about agents, query letters, synopses, pitches, developmental editors, the various forms of publishing…and my head was spinning. How, oh how, was it possible for my baby to get published? Why did I ever pick up the pen? Of all the talent, all the writers in the world, why would I ever believe anything from little old me would be put into print?

Well, I also believe self-doubt, self-loathing is a part of most every writer’s process. Yes, process. And when we find a way to get over this, the cycle repeats. But, that’s for another post…

Above, I mentioned conferences. Browsing on the internet one day, I discovered this thing called San Francisco Writers Conference, and it was super expensive. But the more I read about it, the more I knew I had to attend. I read it was a great way to not only learn more about the craft and industry, but to also meet published authors, agents, editors, and publishers.

So I signed up with an excited, but heavy heart. I wasn’t sure it would pay off. Couldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? I have a family, mouths to feed. How could I justify paying so much for this little hobby? Well, writing is more than a hobby to me. It is a passion. I strive to learn more, to build upon myself, to make my writing better than I’d ever thought possible.

My lovely wife has always supported me, (though she rarely cracks open a book). But, there are many ways to support those you love. She knows my passion, and she felt justified to encourage me to pursue my dream.

In 2012, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference. I left renewed, invigorated, and felt more connected to the industry. I met lots of great people, and discovered us writers are one giant, family. I took what I learned back to my writers group, worked on a few more revisions, then decided to go again this year.

This year, in 2013, this year, I did not expect this to happen. With a much improved manuscript, I reconnected with some great people I met at the conference the previous year, and thought to continue to improve upon it even more. I write Fantasy, which is only 6%-8% of the market. But those hopes, those dreams which haunt in the dead of night, those passions that keep my fingers punching the keys, would not allow me to see reason.

The final day of the conference, the awesome Pam van Hylckama Vlieg – book blogger, agent, and social media extraordinaire – offered me representation.

Often times, I daydreamed about that moment – what I would say, how I would feel, how I would act if that moment ever arrived – but none of those dreams compared to the emotion that moment elicited. My jaw was on the floor. I was confused. Could this really be happening? Me? Joe Shmoe? I looked from Pam to my manuscript sitting before her, then back to Pam. And I was still confused.

But yes. She nodded, confirming that impossible notion. And like any unintelligible cave man, all I could say was, “Really?”

Obviously, I’m a writer, not a speaker.

And now the journey begins. I look forward to working with her on the last revision of this manuscript, look forward to the moment she finds a publisher, and I look forward to our many future projects together.

You can find us here: Pam’s Clients

Here are my final words. I wrote a book before I knew how to write. If I can do it, so can you.

The Value of the Written Word

Posted: February 20, 2013 by K D Blakely in Karen's Words

Only a few hundred years ago, information had to be passed by word of mouth. Most people could not read, even if they had access to books. And most did not. Books were rare and valuable. They had to be copied out by hand; an extremely tedious and time consuming process.

So I believe the printing press was one of the defining inventions that literally changed the world.

I would go so far as to suggest that it changed the world even more than the industrial revolution, or the light bulb, or electricity. I believe it was the abiity to share complex ideas through the written word that allowed us to get where we are today. (I know some would argue that is not necessarily such a good thing, but that’s a different subject for discussion.)

It is our ability to share knowledge that keeps fueling new finds in science and technology. (Remember, we’re not going to get into whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing here.) As a writer, computers and the internet are two of my favorite things. And as a sci fi/fantasy writer, new science and technology provide ever expanding scenarios for stories…

I’d take this one step further. I believe it is the books of sci fi/fantasy writers (and in the past 80 years, films based on a written script) that have driven some of our current technology. Writers like Jules Verne dreamed of nuclear submarines and rockets to the moon. People at the time may have enjoyed reading his books, but most believed, “That could never happen!” However, after the next few generations grew up with the ideas in those books, that thought became, “How could that be done?”

When I watched 2001:A Space Odyssy in the theaters when it came out in 1968, people were amazed by some of the ‘2001’ technology shown in the film. Remember, this was the year before the first landing on the moon. Some of it hasn’t come true (we don’t routinely take trips to other planets and space stations – yet), but some of the smaller ideas (that people thought of as highly unlikely) actually exist. Talking computers and webcams are a normal part of our life. There are companies that are now into the space rocket business. And we do have a space station.

Need more examples?

Flip phones always make me think of Star Trek communicators.

To give comics their due, there’s talk of creating a wrist phone (lovers of old comics will immediately think of Dick Tracy) in the near future.

And as I saw on television the other day, they are working on a flying car (it may not fly high, and it may not drive faster than 35 MPH, but we’re still talking a FLYING CAR) that should be ready for sale in the next few years. Writers have used flying cars in sci fi/fantasy novels for years!

I’ve heard people claim that sci fi/fantasy writers are just dreamers who’s crazy ideas add no practical value to the world. Of course, science tells us entertainment can be relaxing and help lower blood pressure. And teachers tell us reading expands vocabulary and the ability to think abstractly. I think those have practical value. But even more practical than that, I think the dreamers of today help produce the innovators of tomorrow.

What other ideas have writers dreamt of that will come to pass in the future because someone read about it (or watched it in a movie, or saw it in a comic)? An idea that will spark a desire in someone to make it a reality. Someone who will stop saying “That could never happen!” and start asking,”How could that be done?”

That is the value of the written word.

Dream a little dream.

Posted: February 16, 2013 by jennyleelee in Jenny's Words
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You can learn a lot from the world. You can learn more from kids.

They are enthusiastic with every fiber in their beings about the things and people they love. They ask questions. They laugh. They accept help when needed. They cry when they have exhausted all they have into what they love and nothing is left but the tears. They imagine possibilities and crave movement of life. They play. They want. They move.

They aren’t afraid of failing.

Kids engage in their worlds differently than adults do: kids trust that the world will bring them what they need, whereas adults may not share the same enthusiasm.

This is a tragedy.

Many adults give up on themselves too quickly–I’m guilty of this! We give up on dreams deeming them childish notions of fantasy and not realistic. Well, shame on us.

We should remember that part of being an adult is holding onto those dreams–to stay engaged with them while balancing a life that makes sense. Part of being a good example for a child is never giving up on what makes your heart glow, even if it takes your entire life to achieve it.

My grandpa (who is 81 years young) once told me that the secret to staying healthy was to stay active in all facets of life–the same sentiment applies to our dreams: if you leave the dream alone, it slows down and eventually dies without ever reaching its true potential. But, if you stay active with your dreams and work them out daily, then you have a larger chance of holding your dream in hand, of keeping the lightness that your childhood held for you.

The unwritten part of earning dreams is it’s hard work. It is hard to fulfill a dream, and rightfully so. Dreams push us forward, to try out new things, to encourage us to hold onto that piece of ourselves that takes years to properly develop. If dreams were easy to achieve, then they would be called everyday routines.

I wrote the following some years ago about listening to your dreams–it is still the only piece of work that I’ve done that I actually have memorized (I have a frightful memory for remembering my own words–this may have been why I started writing them all down).

I.

I am above you.

You.

You are planted in the firm grasp of reality.

I am above reality. I do not exist.

Or do I?

You can see me in a glance, if you close your eyes and take a chance.

Close your eyes, become one with me. But if you leave your reality, all you know will vanish.

Are you willing to take a chance? Are you willing to become a dream? Are you willing to leave reality and soar above with me?

 Your world might be of a certain reality that you’ve grown accustomed to, that you’ve built a routine in. It’s comfortable and safe. But why not expand yourself to believing in yourself just enough to rediscover the world that enchanted you as a child?

Why not let yourself just try and hold onto the dream that made you truly wonder if you could really do it?

Why not?

I remember that years ago, when I encountered my first writer’s group and choppy-sentence ridden passages I hated them.  My own sentences were long-winded with a tendency towards the passive. Now, I catch my stream-of-consciousness rough drafts to be choppy, halting and exactly what my younger self despised.

Yet, now, I’m defensive of the choppy sentences.

What happened?

Everyone’s style changes.  Life, reading, and our own minds conspire towards this end  Even if, somewhere, we want to hit the pause button, we really don’t have a choice.

I think that it was easier to slow down and think through things in a long-winded fashion when I was younger.  I didn’t understand that the chaos of life could cause a person’s thought patterns to come in continuous clips of phrases, to be constantly urgent and hurried.

That doesn’t fit in every scene.  When you want something to move slower, to build character rather than plot, this sort of choppiness needs to be edited out.

So while scouring my short stories for too little sentence variation, I am thinking about the pendulum swinging from one end to the other despite my desires.

I suppose we have all witnessed changes in our writing over time. Have any caught you off guard in this fashion? Have any weaknesses morphed into strengths? Or vice versa?

Learning to whistle.

Posted: February 13, 2013 by Rien Reigns in Rien's Words

Learning to whistle..

 

They say there are no original stories, they’ve all been told. What’s a writer to do then? That’s easy. Take a familiar story and change it up, twist it around until it is totally different and unique again. That seems to be the trend right now in books and movies.

Hook

Hook

This weekend I watched Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Warm Bodies. I review the movies on my blog. H&G isn’t so much a twist on the familiar fairy tale as it is a continuation. It answers the question of what these poor children did after they killed the witch. They became witch hunters, of course. Another continuation story I love is Hook, although that story could also fall under the What If category. What if Peter Pan grew up? Robin Williams is excellent as the grown-up Peter Panning, by the way.

Fairy tales are perfect stories for adjusting because almost everyone already knows the original tales. The characters are familiar and the plots ingrained in our memories, thanks in part to Disney. Changing the setting, or genre, or point of view of the original makes the same old fairy tale new and exciting again. Sometimes the author and/or director can make the adaptation work, such as Red Riding Hood, and sometimes it bombs, like in Beastly. I liked him so much better as the Beast.

220px-10_Things_I_Hate_About_You_filmOne of the most retold plots isn’t a fairy tale, really. Romeo and Juliet has been a big redone a million times (not an exact figure), because it works. One of my favorites is West Side Story. I still cry whenever I hear the song Somewhere. And the latest version is Warm Bodies. I absolutely loved the zombie aspect, very timely. Shakespeare’s work has been modernized to great success. I will never tire of watching 10 Things I Hate About You. The Taming of the Shrew was brilliant originally but the modern twist made it more relatable to today’s audiences—and freakin’ hilarious!

I don’t know about you, but every time I leave a movie theater of finish a book, I always ponder how I would write it differently, how I would change it to be my own. So don’t worry about writing a story no one’s ever read before because that ain’t gonna happen. But you can find a way to freshen up an old classic. Find a plot hole in your favorite story and plug it up with your own vision. Ask what if? Put the characters in a totally different world and see what happens. Swap the good guys and bad guys. What if  Cinderella wasn’t as sweet and innocent as we’ve been lead to believe? Maybe Robin Hood only stole to cover his gambling debts? Who knows? The possibilities are endless.

What are your favorite twisted-up classics?

“What the hell are you talking about?” you ask, incredulous at the ridiculous and counter-intuitive title you just clicked.  Horror, especially the graphic sort, is a public menace that desensitizes us to negativity.  In the war between good and evil, positive and negative, light and dark, extreme fiction pulls us out of balance in a direction we should not tread.

This, my friends, is horse manure.

Like any other symbolic product, art that draws on the dark, the nasty, the gruesome, and the violent is received by different audience members in a variety of ways.  I know this because I have experienced horrific art in ways different than others assumed that I would. The idea that because I like something you see as negative means I glorify or support negativity is false.  Personally, I feel like I’ve taken positive lessons from extreme art.

By way of example, let me take you back to my teen years.  Yes, the dreaded 1980s.  Big hair, parachute pants, actual arcades.  The decade was awash in all kinds of subcultural sounds, from pre-Goth, depressing New Wave stuff to dudes in make-up party rock.  Me, I dug on thrash.  Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and of course, Slayer.  You would be correct to assume, with names of that sort, that these bands didn’t exactly sing happy songs.  And as part of the subculture that worshiped these bands, I had many a devil and skull on my bedroom walls.  The thing was, I never took it as bad because I was never a bad person.

So imagine my surprise when one day, based on the Slayer tee I wore, I was accused of being a Nazi.  Turns out, a lot of people thought that the band glorified the Third Reich and supported their ideology.  And maybe they did.  There was certainly some Nazi imagery in the artwork the band chose.  The biggest reason people thought that, however, was because of one of the bands most popular songs, Angel of Death.  The song is about Josef Mengele, and approaches the notorious doctor by singing graphically about his gruesome medical experiments during the Holocaust.  The lyrics pull no punches. They are graphic and nasty. And they are likely in the realm of truth in depicting what this monster actually did.

Now, I freely admit that I did (and still do) really like this song.  The music is fast and the subject matter appeals to my sense of the macabre.  But, I never liked it because it glorified Mengele and the Nazis.  In fact, as gruesome as some of the lyrics were, they are actually presented in a value neutral sort of way.  They come off more as a list of facts.  When I heard the song, I never thought the band was holding Mengele up to be emulated.  I actually took the song to be on the side of the victims.  I took it as an illustration of horror and terror brought down on innocent people, and I tended to empathize with them.

The song sensitized me to the horrific.  The opposite of what many believe horror does.

That influence carries over into what I write today.  I choose, at times, to rub my readers faces in nastiness because I want them to feel it in a visceral way.  No doubt, sexual violence makes frequent appearances in what I write.  But I don’t write it for the purpose of titillation, though I’m aware a small percentage of readers will be titillated.  And I don’t write it just to shock.  I write it because it’s a prominent part of our culture and I want people to engage with it, understand it, and work to integrate the impulses that cause it.  I want to sensitize the reader to the horror a victim experiences so that they will empathize with them.  Hopefully that empathy becomes part of the way they approach the world.  And, I want to sensitize the reader to the darkness that might lead someone to victimize someone in that way.  I want people to empathize with the perpetrator because he is us and he won’t go away by ignoring him. Perhaps that sensitivity will lead to solutions.

Does graphic horror desensitize?  In a world where drone strikes are discussed as body counts and dead innocents are referred to as collateral damage, I think maybe we’d be more sensitive if our noses were rubbed in the smell of burned fleshed and the gore of shattered bodies a little more often.  Go watch graphic scenes of torture in films like Hostel or Martyrs and see if you can still stomach the idea of “enhanced interrogation” or still think it’s okay to farm out information gathering to nations with less restrictive rules.  Irreversible does not make me want to victimize women.  It makes me, by engaging my primal emotions, want to resist their victimization.

So go on out there and fight desensitization.  Get elbow deep in the gutter.  Imagine the out of control.  Empathize with the light by entering the darkness.  Write some extreme fiction.  It can be a public service.

What mind do you read with?  I find it all rather complicated—sometimes I have on my reader-mind…or my editor-mind…or my writer-mind.  With the reader-mind, of course, I just enjoy what I’m reading and get carried along by the story.  With the editor-mind, I wince at comma splices and notice repetitive word choice.  With the writer-mind, I appreciate the craft, and have some idea of why the reader-mind is having such a good time.

Based on conversations with friends, I think this is something that often happens to writers.  We engage with the craft in so many ways, it changes all the ways we engage with a story.

Now and then one mind comes out when I’d rather it didn’t.  The editor-mind has had fits over some of Mercedes Lackey’s word choice.  And the writer-mind nearly got me into real trouble with a paper in college.

We were supposed to write a literary analysis of a book of our choice from a selected list, and I’d chosen Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme.  I have to confess, one reason I made that choice was because, hidden among those sixty stories, there was one called “The Phantom of the Opera’s Friend,” which is about exactly what it sounds like (that, I think, was the fangirl-mind at work).  But that wasn’t the main reason.  Mostly, I was fascinated by Barthelme’s use of pop culture references.

Pop culture turns up in stories all the time, to good or bad effect, but this was particularly interesting because Barthelme’s stories are bizarre.  Fragmented, fractured, plots go in strange directions, characters may be in fantasy stories or they may simply be delusional, the writing style changes midway, some stories are all dialogue or all stream of consciousness and, well, it’s all bizarre in pretty much every direction it can be.  And then in the middle of the chaos, just as I had completely lost any sense of normality or touch with the real world, Barthelme drops in a reference to Rolling Stone or Nietzsche, and suddenly I felt I had a touch-point again.  Suddenly the bizarre was again accessible and I felt reconnected to the story.

My writer-mind thought this was fascinating.  What an amazingly cool device in writing!  You can tell a completely mad story, and keep the reader grounded by giving them something familiar in the midst of it.  I still think that’s wonderful.

But my professor wanted me to be looking at it as a reader.  All right, so you read a bizarre story that you can connect with because the writer used a trick with recognizable references.  So?  What does the reader get out of this?

I still don’t have a good answer to that.  So I wrote something vague about disconnecting from the world and then reconnecting in order to learn something about the world.  My professor didn’t really like that as my conclusion and to be honest, neither did I, but I got a decent grade–so I guess it worked out.  The real difficulty was that my writer-mind got very excited and got me into writing about this, and then it was all the wrong angle for the paper I was supposed to write!

Most of the time the writer-mind helps me out, though.  I like being able to appreciate the cool things writers are doing.  Mostly it just gives me a different way to enjoy what I’m reading.  The editor-mind does interfere with some reading…but I guess it also encourages me to read good books!

So do you run into this reading?  Do you find it benefits or detracts from your reading to have all these different minds at work?  And do you know any reliable way to turn the wrong ones off?

Or maybe this all seems quite fragmented and fractured and disconnected from reality, and I ought to have thrown in some pop culture references to keep you connected.  But after all, why do you think I even mentioned the Phantom of the Opera? 🙂