Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing for Others (Update 7.2.14)

An oft repeated piece of advice is to first write what you love. Don't worry about where you'll sell it or which readership or if the fans will like it - write for yourself first.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, if you don't love it then staring down the blank screen day after day to finish a story/novel/whatever will be a tedious business. Secondly, if you don't love it your readers will be able to tell. Passion for your story absolutely translates onto the page. So does boredom.

After I had my first story published (a little piece of flash about the aftermath of an argument between a husband and wife that wanders into suggestive territory) I quickly realized that writing for myself was the first step, but at some point I would have to deal with what the readers think. (Just a hint, for that particular story the words "softcore porn" showed up in the comments.) It was around that time I settled on another personal rule.

I do not write for those who don't like what I write.

I've gotten a few weird looks over that one, but the fact is that there are certain things you will find over and over in my work. If you don't like those things... chances are you are not the reader I meant the story for. And that's fine. I write what I like, for myself first. That anyone else likes (or even loves) what I put on the page is icing on the cake.

But there is a point in digging into the words that it gets difficult to remember that I'm not writing in a vacuum. The whole point of putting these stories on paper is to share them. If I wanted to keep them all to myself my head would be pretty crowded, but I'd have a lot more free time on my hands. But I write to share the things I enjoy.

A few weeks ago a friend introduced me to The Hillywood Show. I was absolutely delighted with their parodies. Not only are they very loving recreations of various creative entities, but they're funny. Even if you (like me) are only slightly familiar with the particulars of specific fandoms.

And then, yesterday, I discovered the reaction videos*. And I quickly realized that these videos were almost even better than the original parodies. Why? Because for folks who are creative, having fans who are genuinely excited about the content you produce is a kind of satisfaction all its own**.

I've spent the first half of this year digging on various projects. (The not-yet-finished Southern Gothic Horror novel. The OGN script. A novella that turned into an unfinished novel. A super-secret project for a different pen name. And some other stuff.) All of which are things I love. But what I love most about them is the fact that at some point I will get to share them with folks who are equally excited about the story and characters.

This is the value of remembering that while we write first for ourselves, we are also writing for our fans. Somewhere out there is someone who will be as excited as you are about that killer scene in the middle act. Someone who will laugh as hard as you do at that joke the MC made. Someone who will cry when that character you both loved dies.

We write for the folks who love our work.
We write for the fans.
Because we're fans too. 

*So, I didn't know this was even a thing. Kind of like unboxing videos. Only these are folks watching various shows or videos and recording their first reactions.

**Personally, I also appreciate the satisfaction of being paid for my work. But having happy fans is obviously in contention for the top spot.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Teaser: Legacy

With only 13 days left until Legacy is released as an eBook, I thought I would post a teaser to whet your appetite.



Summer heat grips Savannah in an iron fist. Even with the wooden doors at the back of the zeppelin hanger opened wide, it's sweltering under the metal roof. Willa wipes a dribble of sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand. The fans turning overhead barely move the humid air and her shirt's already soaked.
She glares at the guts of the tension-triggered, chain transmission lying on the crate that doubles as a workbench. “More like tension fucked.” The derailing arm is sticking at all the wrong points, dropping the chain every time she attempts to change gears. She gives it another prod, prompting it to fold at the appropriate joints, but it moves as a whole and the chain snarls.
Fire and damn.” Resisting the urge to whack it with the spanner, she reaches for the screwdriver instead.
The money had been good. If it hadn't, she'd never have taken the job running rifles down to the Gulf in the face of a storm. Trouble with good money is it never makes up for the trouble that comes with it. Now all four props on her air-ship are wracked and need new parts before they'll run smooth again.
The bell at the front door jangles. Then heavy footsteps.
Willa doesn't even bother to look up. “No trips today.” Likely no trips this week.
I'm looking for Captain Arch.” The voice is deep, with a rough edge.
You've found her.” She waits for the muttered apology, the hasty retreat. A quarter turn on the middle tension joint and another prod at the derailer. Better.
You're Captain Arch.” The stranger's tone is a mix of disbelief and amusement.
She stands up, wipes the grease from her hands. “That's right.” He's dressed like an Amerigish trader, but his hands are not those of a merchant and his accent is a blurry Imperial. She fixes him with a hard stare. “You're not from these parts.”
He shakes his head. “No. I'm far from home.” Something about that makes him grin, dry as dust, and it catches Willa off guard. There's a rawness to him she recognizes. The sense of never belonging.
She clears her throat. “Can I help you with something?”
His grin softens. “Maybe. I understand the sly-like smiles now. The lack of a first name.”
It would have spoiled the joke.” She hooks her thumbs into her belt. “As it is, it don't matter much if what you're looking for is transport. Squirrel is down for repairs.”
He rubs his fingers through his hair. “A shame. I've plenty of coin to spend on the right pilot. Every man in town says that's you.”
Willa frowns. He's clever, holding out the promise of good money, but she's just about had her fill of that. Besides, if every captain in Savannah is pointing him to her it can only mean one thing. “You're headed for Lake Ponchartrain.”

Coming 7.14.15

Friday, June 26, 2015

When Am I Done? (Update 6.26.15)

This weekend I'm attending a little regional SF/F convention (LibertyCon). As a part of my activities for the weekend, I'm doing a reading on Friday afternoon.

I've only done a couple of readings before, but, despite the nerves about actually reading my stuff out loud in front of strangers, I tend to enjoy them. I like sharing my work with folks (even if I feel like I'm about to swallow my tongue the entire time). However, picking something to read is always a challenge.

Do I select something short so folks can hear it beginning to end? Something already published? Something forthcoming? Part of one of the (as yet) unpublished novels? There are pros and cons with every choice, but this time I settled on reading the first section of a novelette I am putting out as an eBook reprint in another couple of weeks.

Legacy was originally published last fall in Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls, edited by Jennifer Brozek. It's a great little steampunk story about a (fictional) queen of England, the fictionally portrayed but absolutely real life Marie Laveau, and my totally fictional and non-queen protagonist, Willa Arch, who is just trying to survive to see another day. And there are skin-changers (shapeshifters), voodoo zombies, and a large helping of asskicking.

Due to the length constraints of the original publication there were a few narrative beats I had taken out. Since I'm republishing this myself in digital format and no one is likely to say "I would really have liked to read this story but 7k words instead of 5k is just too much" I figured I could add back in some of the partial scenes I had left out.

So far those little revisions are going well, but I find myself walking a fine line between writing the story as I had originally seen it (before I realized it wouldn't all fit under 6k words) and just writing the whole thing from scratch at twice the length. Because it would be easy to do that. Add in more subplots, more back story, put a little more distance between the key plot points. These are all things I tend to do when I revise. It's great when the thing I'm writing is a novel. Not so great when I'm trying to keep it within novelette range.

But I'm also looking at the original story and part of me is a little sad that I was willing to let it go without the additional scenes. The story is stronger now. Why did I think it was so good before?

And here's the thing. The first version is good. It's short and tight and tense. It lacks a little of the finesse the newer version is achieving, but it is still a good story. I'm proud of it and pleased that it was published. Does that mean I can't make it a little better? Of course not. It's been two years since I wrote the first version of Legacy and I've developed a lot as a writer since then. My craft, I like to think, is finer than it was then. It is only natural that I would see areas that could be improved.

Will I continue to publish longer, more polished, more detailed versions after this? Hell, no. Because I know what my original vision was. I also know that at the time, for various reasons, I was not able to achieve all of it. Now I am. And once I'm satisfied with the new version, that will be it.

Writers always lament never being done with a novel or short story. "There's always something left to change." And yes, as a new writer, it often feels that way. As I've grown more confident in my literary abilities, I find myself less dissatisfied with things I wrote six months ago. Less likely to look at something I've had published and think "Damn, I wish I'd changed that."

Don't get me wrong - you can always improve on craft. I will probably never grow out of finding sentences I think are clunky or poor word choices. But I have reached a point where I feel I can trust myself to say "Yes. This is done." And that is a good place to be, because it keeps me moving forward - finding new stories and writing those as best I can.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Silence is Support

Back in May, Irene Gallo said something on her Facebook page regarding the Sad/Rabid Puppies. It was, perhaps, not the most thoughtful thing she could have said, but it shouldn't have been a big deal. However, Theodore Beale saw it, screencapped it, sat on it for almost a month, and then released it with a statement about how it was just another example of the libel and slander coming from Tor. Because everyone knows by now that Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia are not racist, sexist, homophobic right-wingers. Because they keep saying so. (More on this in a moment.)

It's an argument that's been going on for a while now. Folks call out the things the Sad/Rabid Puppies say as having sexist/racist/homophobic overtones (not necessarily all three at once) and then there's a big outcry from the Pups themselves as they insist, with lots of vehemence and fingerpointing, that they never said those ugly things. (Again, more on this in a moment.)

It's an argument a lot of folks are getting tired of having, no matter how strongly we feel that we should make it known that the Puppies in all their flavors, do not represent the heart of the SF/F fandom. At least, we hope not.

And then something really terrible happened.

Last week a young man walked into a church in Charleston, sat down with a group of folks having a Biblestudy, then stood up afterwards and murdered nine of them. He said it was because black men had been raping white women. He said it was because he was taking back his country. He said he hoped to fire the opening volley in a race war.

After the fact, all the signs that this malignant worldview had been simmering for a long time. There are photos of him wearing apartheid era flags on his jacket, of the Confederate States of America license plate on the front of his car, of him burning the American flag. And then, his friends talked about how he used to make racist jokes a lot, but they never took them seriously. That maybe they should have.

It is a terrible thing that has happened. This young man with a head full of poison, has murdered nine people. Maybe he would have murdered them no matter what. But one thing has become clear - he thought he was not the only one. He thought he had the support of his friends and neighbors and family. Why? Because none of them ever thought to call him on his shit. They just chuckled at his jokes, maybe uncomfortably, and nodded a little and he took that to mean they agreed with him.

So now we come back to Brad Torgersen, Larry Correia, and Theodore Beale - the loosely allied figureheads of the Sad and Rabid Puppies respectively.

Personally, I think that Torgersen and Correia are primarily ideological bigots. They have made it clear they are adamantly opposed to particular ideas and political movements that they lump together under the label "Liberal". They are not kind nor do they mince words about how they view folks who identify with or support those ideologies. Their apparent racism/sexism/homophobia, I believe grows out of that ideological bigotry. They object to the ideas and they believe that certain groups (People of Color, women, LGBTQ) are pushing those ideas so they attack those groups. Not so much for the color of their skin or their gender or orientation, but because of their ideas.

It's still ugly and narrow-minded, but I'm not certain they actually believe PoC are actually lesser humans or that women are best suited for procreation and almost nothing else.

Theodore Beale on the other hand does believe those things. [Let me just note that I do not like disseminating Beale's philosophy. But there is always an argument made that his words have been "taken out of context" or somehow "misunderstood". I feel there is an unpleasant value in seeing that these are the things this man actually proclaims to believe, and repeats to his friends, family, and followers.]

And this is the man that Larry Correia decided to push onto the Hugo ballot last year (2014) in order to piss off the liberals at WorldCon. This is the man the Brad Torgersen continued to work with this year, synching up slate-voting ballots to exclude all but a few non-Puppy nominations for the entire Hugo ballot. This is the man they have chosen to fight beside in a (ridiculous) culture war.

But, Torgersen and Correia maintain that they themselves are not racist, sexist, or homophobic. They just, don't say anything about Beale's ongoing rants. Maybe they laugh at his jokes or hit like on the comment window. They can argue all they want that they are not be bigots themselves, but their actions say otherwise.

Correia reached out to Beale last year. This year he reached out to GamerGate (with admittedly uncertain results when it comes to the ballot stuffing) - a group known for its sexist attitudes towards women and a radical and violent fringe. And Torgersen got in deeper with Beale by coordinating their slates under the Sad and Rabid Puppies flags.

This isn't just silent support. This isn't just silence that is interpreted as support. This is a deliberate alliance with those who do not hide their racist, sexist, homophobic agendas.

But I will not be silent. And I will not support the ideologies that led a young man to murder nine men and women in a church in Charleston. I will not shrug and say "That Vox Day. He's an asshat but what can you do? It's just one man ranting on the internet." I do not want the others like Dylan Roof looking at the world of SF/F and thinking "See? They agree with me."

Because I don't.
Because we don't.
Because silence only leads to regression.

Forthcoming! (Update 6.22.15)

This weekend I will be at LibertyCon. If you will be too, you can check my schedule here.

I also have two new novelettes coming out in July. In an effort to make my stories easier to find and obtain I am publishing reprints of my backlist and releasing a few brand spanking new things this year.

First up is Legacy. A steampunk tale set in Savannah and Lake Ponchartrain, this was originally published in Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls (Graveside Tales, Oct. 2014). It's a lovely, dark action adventure story with a dark underbelly. And shapeshifters.

Coming July 14, 2015! 

Next up is Dust. This is a completely original (i.e. never before published) urban fantasy with a heavy noir twist. 

Coming July 28, 2015!

In writing news, I finished an OGN (Original Graphic Novel) script a few weeks ago. The Southern Gothic is still chugging darkly along. The end of the summer tends to be a little slow in publishing land so I'm focusing on finishing up a few in-progress projects in prep for the fall. 

More to come soon!


Monday, April 13, 2015

"Fixing" Diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy

A couple of months back I was on a panel at a local con titled Diversity in Fiction: What is it, How to do it, and Why. As the panelists (many of whom didn't know who else was on the panel) came in and sat down there was a bit of an awkward moment as we all recognized that the panel was basically white. But we figured we were there to talk about writing diverse characters so we'd roll with it.

But the first question came from a PoC woman in the audience who demanded with some intensity to know how we, a bunch of white folks, intended to fix the diversity problem in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

 First of all, there's a lot of factors that roll into diversity in fiction (across all genres), but there are, in my mind, three main areas of diversity in fiction. Diversity of authors, diversity of characters/setting, and diversity of readers.

On that panel, we were failing any broad representation of diversity as authors. This is not to say that our experiences, stories or voices were identical. The nature of being human means that each of has a unique voice and a story to tell, but it's fair to say we likely had more in common than not. And there was nothing we could do about that. I am a white, straight, cis, abled woman. Barring an unforeseen car accident or unlikely gamma ray mutation, I will always be a white, straight, cis, abled woman.

The only thing I can do is issue an open invitation to those who have different voices than mine to write your own stories and put them out there for the world to see. (This is one of those areas where there are other factors involved. It's not just that there aren't diverse authors; there are issues with getting ones work out there if one is not a white male. But not trying is a sure way to make certain our voices are never heard.)

I first started writing SF/F because I was frustrated that there didn't seem to be enough of the stories I really liked to read. And it wasn't that I read books by white men and thought "Ewww. This just isn't for me." (Although there were a few of those.) It was more that there were certain books that stuck with me longer, that spoke to me, personally, on a much deeper level. Almost without exception they were written or co-written by women and had female protagonists or a fairly equal mix of male and female characters in lead roles. But there were never enough of these books and it seemed like the only way to "fix" that was to write some of my own.

So, to have more diversity in the authorship, those voices who had previously been excluded or ignored must join the conversation because the rest of us cannot and should not be trying to speak in your stead.

But beyond diverse authors, there are also diverse characters and settings. And this is something everyone can participate in. Because diversity is and has been a part of human experience for thousands of years. This doesn't mean that every story has to have a broadly representative cast. It doesn't mean you should write to fill some idea of a diverse quota.

It does mean that characters can be gay or PoC or trans or differently abled and it doesn't matter whether that orientation or color has anything to do with the story. Because strong characters, the ones we remember and love and hate and dream about are the ones who are larger than their function within the story. It does mean the "rules" we tend to think of when we create a story and put together a group of characters are wide open. It does mean we think beyond our normal defaults of character and setting.

Which brings me to the third part of diversity, which is the diversity of readers. I don't know about you, but I have yet to find an author who would rather have fewer readers. But, for a variety of reasons, we have tended to write in such a way that has limited our readership by limiting the type and diversity of characters we present. And there are readers out there that figure if they aren't important enough to be represented in our fiction then clearly they aren't important enough to be a part of our readership and they will take their dollars somewhere they feel welcomed and valued. (And don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we should be interested in diversity only because it gives us the chance to make more money. But just from a practical standpoint, limiting your readership by deliberately restricting your pool of characters is just a dumbass move.)

I would suggest the solution to this call for diversity, to "fix" the problem of homogeneity in SF/F is as follows.
1. Be certain that each of us individually is doing our best to welcome a variety of voices into the genre. (Even the grumpy old white ones and newer liberal ball-busting ones, provided that folks are still being respectful of differences. It is possible, if not always easy, to disagree about certain issues and still respect folks as individuals.)
2. Write outside the box when we sort out our characters and settings. Think a little further afield than Tolkien or Jordan. Question why you might automatically make a character white/straight/male*. Assume that unless there is a specific reason why your characters shouldn't be diverse (i.e. your fictional planet is populated by clones) that they should be more reflective of reality. 
3. Consider whether your stories are excluding portions of your potential readership. Now, I don't ever suggest writing for a specific group of people (partly because I'm bad at that), but you can certainly look to see if you have included elements that you know will be offensive or which might be less inclusive** for no reason other than that's the way it's been done before.
4. Be passionate about what you write, no matter what color or gender or orientation your characters are. Because passion for your stories and your characters is what will appeal to readers. (Not your passion or support for a blanket type of fiction because down that road lies much ickiness.)

Because love for what you do is always going to be more appealing than disgust or hatred for what anyone else does.

*There is nothing wrong with straight-white-male characters. But we've seen a lot of them already, to the point that we tend to assume they are the best protagonist for any story. By reevaluating the instinct to have our protagonists be straight-white-males we give ourselves room for stories that are less formulaic or rehashing old tropes.

**Naturally, you can't include everyone in every story. But there are ways to avoid being exclusive, whether intentionally or unintentionally, if we put a little more thought into our story and character choices rather than chugging down the same old track which has already been chugged down a million times before.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Beginnings and Growth (Update 3.20.15)

While digging through stuff post-move, I ran across my first "novel". It clocked in at a stunning 164 pages and I wrote it when I was in high school. It was fun - a little space opera involving interplanetary intrigue - and also spectacularly awful.

Just for fun, here's the first page. (I don't think I ever titled this anything other than Shasta. Also, note the rip of the planetary name? I was a big Star Wars fan and had a crush on Han Solo and thought it would be totally cool to borrow Corillia (Corellia) for my book too.)

It was the year 6004. One the planet Corillia a new ruler had just come to power. This new ruler was Shasta Coral. She was the only descendant of the late Daren Coral. Kings, queens, princes and lords from the various surrounding planets were coming to pay their respects to the new ruler of Corillia. Many of them had a shock when they first saw Shasta. They had pictured her as being short and gracefully plump, with blue eyes and blonde hair, rosy cheeks, and a dimple in her chin when she smiled. Therefore it was quite startling to find that Shasta Coral was tall and slender, with black hair and green eyes, dark skin, and she had no dimple in her chin because she rarely smiled. 
Many of the visiting rulers were quite shocked about this, but there was a small group that was quite pleased. They could tell at a glance that this princess would make an excellent ruler. She was the type to stand up against anything. 
One man who was very please was a lord by the name of Van der Brecken. Hans Van der Brecken. He was a member of the Corillian Council. He was an extremely tall man. He had blonde hair and blue eyes, and he had a thick sort of accent. He waited until Princess Shasta was alone and then he went over to talk to her. 

So, first of all. I'm a little surprised I still have a copy of this manuscript because I really should have burned it years ago. But it's kind of amusing (in a toe curling way) to see where my roots in novel-writing lie. But there has also been something about the very basic structure of this story that I have always loved.

In 2008 (roughly 16 years after I wrote that first dreadful version) I wrote the following as a test prior to NaNoWriMo. (Although I have written as a hobby for most of my life, in 2008 I was finally starting to think about what I needed to do in order to write as a career. NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect challenge to test the waters, so to speak. But I wasn't sure I would be able to write the required number of daily words so I sat down and rattled off the opening scene of the now-evolved space opera plot as a test.)

This version also has problems. Number one is, the damn thing is unfinished. And those apostrophes. And the formal tone. But there's a lot more complexity to the notes I made on this version and there is a lot of development in the voice and craft (despite the aforementioned what-the-fuckery with names and formality).

So here's the first page or so of the version from 2008.

Incense filled the air, the thick, sweet ceremonial smell of death.

Na'Maru stood for a minute outside the great gates. Four years since she had stood here last and it seemed that nothing had changed. But the banners on the wall were not red in celebration of birth, nor black in the celebration of victory, nor green to welcome a new season but white, the color of mourning. In the distance bells tolled ceaselessly in lament. Not until the body of the king was laid to rest would they fall to silence again.

“My lady?” Gerard asked, a note of concern in his voice.

“It is nothing.” She straightened her shoulders. “Let us go in.”

Arrival through the gates was unnecessary. As the daughter of the heir-first she could have taken a skipper right into the estate. But Na'Maru had always enjoyed the walk from the massive gilt doors to the sprawling stone fortress that was the ancestral home of the family Makentyre. In older days many smaller walls had climbed the hill, protecting the king from encroaching threats.

Those walls were long since gone, their usefulness faded as were the stories of battle and bloodshed. The road had been widened and trees allowed to grow as they would. What had been a defensive feature was now little more than a walking park.

Gerard shook his head in disgust. “They grow lazy here in the central worlds.”

Na'Maru nodded but said nothing. They neared the top of the hill and the road became steps, broad and shallow. As they rose above the tree tops the city became visible, a dark and uneven mass that flattened out near the star-towers and climbed erratically into the mountains to the west.

Na'maru's staff-bearer made a chuckling noise that was not a laugh. “They have no fields,” she said.

“No, Anii'a. The fields are very far from here.”

“But if there is an attack how will they eat?”

“With great difficulty,” Gerard said wryly.
Sometimes it's easy to see where we've grown as writers. (At fifteen I could look back at the stories I wrote at the age of ten and see the improvement.) Other times it's not so simple. I compare the books I wrote last year with the one I'm writing now and wonder - am I getting better? Or just different?

The answer is yes. I write nearly every day and with every word I put down, I'm improving and growing and changing as a writer. That change may be so small that when I look at what I wrote today and compare it what I wrote a month ago, I won't see the difference. But I have to trust that in another year or three, I will. (I also have to recognize that people who aren't me may see the difference far more clearly. I do not, personally, see a lot of change between the current WiP and the last one, but my alpha-reader tells me the current one is much stronger. So, I keep writing and trust that I am doing what I'm supposed to.)

One of these days I'm going to tackle this (still unnamed) space opera and actually write a finished and not-full-of-suckage draft. One of these days.

In the meantime, it's one word at a time.