cheap drama

October 29, 2014

This is the week I’m supposed to be doing all the stuff I was putting off until after MileHi Con (no more traveling this year!).  That’s not going as well as I’d hoped.  But — I got a really nice surprise last night because I had forgotten that I had tickets to go see Erasure at the Ogden.  Fortunately, I remembered, and went, and had a great time, because Andy Bell is a god.  He came out in sequined tails and top hat and opened with “Oh L’amour,” and I pretty much burst into tears, which makes me think I’ve been a little more stressed out than I realized.  Whew.  I danced for an hour and a half solid.  Nice, huh?

I caught up with last week’s episode of Arrow and it had a bunch of examples of why I like the show so much — most of them involving Ollie and Thea.  So Ollie flies to Corto Maltese to try to talk Thea into coming back home.  And it’s all very straightforward.  While another show might have tried to turn it into some big cat and mouse hunter-seeker thing, where Ollie has to spend the whole episode just looking for her, none of that happens.  He finds her working in a coffee shop, they hug, they sit and talk like adults.  It’s unexpected and it’s great.  Then, when Ollie apologizes for keeping secrets and that he wants to be open with her now, what is the first secret he reveals?  It’s not, “I’m the Arrow.” It’s that their father survived the wreck of the Gambit, but then killed himself so Ollie would have enough food.  It’s an awful story, it’s another bit of lore about their family, and it affects Thea.  Because now Thea is the one keeping secrets — that she’s been training with Malcolm Merlin — and that half the reason she’s doing what she’s doing is so she’ll have secrets of her own, and maybe that’s not a good thing after all.  It’s super clear that this brother and sister still love each other.

The reason I like these story beats is because they avoid low-hanging fruit.  They’re not obvious.  They don’t go for cheap drama — cheap drama would be Thea hating Ollie and them screaming and fighting.  But no, they sit and talk, and there’s a ton of stuff going on in subtext.  The guiding principle in scenes like this isn’t “Let’s get our conflict by having all our characters go after each others’ throats.”  These scenes are anchored on a premise that doesn’t change:  Ollie and Thea love each other, even when they hurt each other and keep secrets and screw up.  The drama comes from watching them try to work it out.

It’s refreshing and I’m really enjoying it.

MileHi Con this weekend!

October 24, 2014

MileHi Con, Colorado’s longest-running SF convention, is in Denver this weekend!  I will be there, doing programming and stuff!  I also have a new costume, which I will be debuting tonight.  I’m excited because there was a point this week where it was not coming together at all and I didn’t think I would have it done.  But it’s done, and the lesson I learned is it’s really really hard turning 2-D anime outfits into 3-D wearable objects.  Massive respect to cosplayers who do anime cosplay on a regular basis.

Will I see you at the con?

Next item:  Let me tell you about the time Kevin Hearne sat me down and asked if I had accepted the Holy Taco into my heart as my personal savory.  What choice did I have at that point but to join the Holy Taco Church, a group of authors who like food.  Hey, I like food!  My first post is up here.

In other news, my health insurance sent me email about what I should do if I think I have ebola.  Better safe than sorry I suppose.

 

This gig is always changing, and sometimes I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.  Good, I think — if it’s changing then I’m changing which means that maybe I’m evolving to keep up, which would be nice.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about how the way I send out short stories and pursue publication for them has changed.

In almost ten years of being published novelist, I’ve figured out that while I’m writing novels I can also write about 5-6 short pieces a year. That includes anything under about 12,000 words.  Before about 2007, I wrote short stories and sent them to magazines (online and print) on a regular basis.  Quite a few sold.  Quite a few didn’t.  When the novel-writing really picked up, I wrote fewer shorts, sent out fewer, and eventually only sent stories out sporadically because something strange was happening:  I started getting invited to submit stories.  This was a weird and wonderful thing — it meant I could write a story and pretty much be guaranteed that it would have a home (maybe with rewrites, but still).  Some of the uncertainty went away.  Huzzah!

For a few years there, I said yes to just about every anthology invitation that came along. This is pretty normal — as a newish writer, it’s really awesome getting asked to write for anthologies.  Plus, there’s a common neophyte worry that if you say no, you’ll never get asked again.

After I hit the NYT bestseller list for the first time in 2008, the anthology invites increased — it turns out editors look for authors with “NYT bestseller” in front of their names when they pitch anthologies because it’s a selling point.  Turns out, the sale of an anthology to a publisher can depend on having a couple of NYT bestsellers in the table of contents.  I felt a huge amount of pressure when I first found this out, like I would be letting people down if I didn’t say yes to anthology invitations.

But remember that 5-6 stories a year?  That includes all the stories I promise to anthologies.  This is one of the reasons that around 2007-2008 I stopped sending things out to magazines almost entirely.  Magazine editors were asking me for stories (and wow, was that a shocking switch after some 10+ years of collecting rejection slips), and I simply didn’t have anything to send them because all my new work was going to anthologies.

I found this to be a frustrating situation.  The anthology invites are most often for theme anthologies with specific guidelines — like, say, werewolf Christmas stories — that I would never have written about if I hadn’t been invited.  Meanwhile, I was collecting a whole stack of story ideas I just didn’t have time to write.

Short stories can be a playground.  It’s where I can experiment and try new things and explore ideas I can’t do anywhere else.  Novels are a big investment of time and energy, but short stories?  Not so much.  A few years ago, I decided I wanted to have more time to work on my story ideas instead of writing to assignment, so I started saying no to most anthology invitations. Remember, I only have a few short story slots per year, and I wanted to keep some of them for me, because that makes me happy.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that over the last 3-4 years I feel like I’ve written some of the best short stories of my life.  Since 2010, I’ve landed stories in “Best of” reprint anthologies for the first time and got a Hugo nomination.  Harry and Marlowe came to life and are going like gangbusters. I think this strategy of making sure I reserve a few of my short story slots “for me” is paying off, and it feels really validating.  (I’ve also collected more rejection slips in the last couple of years than I did in the couple of years preceding, but really, that’s okay.)  At the same time, I’m pretty sure that those years of writing “on assignment” probably helped make me a better writer as well, because they taught me how to better craft and structure a specific idea into a story that will stand out.

So, what does it take for me to say yes to an anthology invitation these days?  1) The theme is something I already have an idea for and I’m looking for motivation to write said story, 2) I want to work with the editor, or 3) Some other undefined really good reason.

I’m at a place now that would have astonished me 10-15 years ago:  I can be picky.  I have options.  And I wonder what changes are going to happen over the next 10-15 years?

 

 

Books in the Basin was a hit, I believe.  Next up, in two weeks:  MileHi Con, which sometimes feels like it doesn’t really count as travel because it’s the local “hometown” convention.  But it’ll be the last big gig of the year — promotion for Low Midnight starts in January.  Until then, I’ll be able to kick back for a little while.

Hey, have I mentioned recently that Low Midnight is out on December 30?  Just in time to use the gift cards you get for Christmas!

A couple of other things are due out before the end of the year:  I’ll have a Wild Cards story up on Tor.com in a week, and the next book, Lowball, will be out in November.  Oh, and the re-release of Wild Cards 4: Aces Abroad will be out in January, it looks like — I have a story out in that one, too.  An embarrassment of riches!

A couple of other short stories should be making their way to the world soon.  More news when I have it.

I may also have a couple of surprises.  We’ll see if I can make it happen.  (This has been a busy year, but I’ve spent much of it in a holding pattern, waiting for news, waiting for delayed releases to happen.  But progress is happening.  Excelsior!)

In the meantime, I’m working on a third Golden Age book.  It passed 50,000 words last week.  Now is the part of the writing when I’m trying to tie all the threads back together.  Fingers crossed that I can make it happen.

 

this weekend — Texas!

October 8, 2014

I’m back in Texas for the Books in the Basin Festival in Midland and Odessa, Friday and Saturday.  My schedule’s on the website.

After this, I just have MileHi Con, and then I can take a bit of a break.  Which is good, since I’ve decided I want to finish the novel I’m working on by Thanksgiving.  It’s about 3/4 done now, so I think I’ll be able to make it.

Maybe I’ll see some of you in Texas!  In the meantime, have a good rest of your week.

 

 

happy Friday

October 3, 2014

My brain’s a bit scattered today, so this is going to be a post of random things.  Like, how I’ve spent the last couple of days dipping my toe into MRA and PUA screeds, in the interest of “know thine enemy,” and I’m really really glad I grew up expecting to make my own living and support myself in this world, meaning I would never need to depend on finding a guy to do it for me, and how that may be the real triumph of feminism right there.

Anyway.  I’ve had Ookla the Mok’s song “Doctor Octopus” stuck in my head since FenCon (“Boom-shalaktopus!”).  I got to meet and hang out with the band at the convention.  They’re really great and you should check them out.

I have a million errands I’m going to try to get done today, like:  new passport photo, flu shot, and putting together a Wonder Woman costume for my niece.  Because that’s the kind of aunt I am.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

workshop stuff

October 1, 2014

So, I taught a workshop last weekend!  And it went pretty well, I think.  I talked about a lot of stuff, and I promised my students I would post one of the checklists I mentioned, but didn’t have a print out for.  (See, every workshop I learn a lot about what works, and I incorporate that into the next one. I’m really getting to like slide shows and handouts.)

This is a character checklist, but a much more useful one that the one that goes “What is your character’s favorite food?”  Because I worry that the “vital statistics” type checklists I’ve seen in some “how to write” books trick us into including information in our stories that isn’t actually necessary, while forgetting more pivotal details like Why is your character doing this stuff in the first place.  So yeah, I’ve never really done “What is your character’s favorite color?” type characterization surveys, and instead think a lot about “How did my character get into this situation and what  personality trait is going to get her out?”

So, here’s a character and plot checklist I’ve adapted from the course materials from the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, by Jeanne Cavelos.  (Yes, sixteen years later I still have all my course materials from Odyssey and I still use them.)  Jeanne has put a ton of writing information and resources on the Odyssey website — and Odyssey even sponsors online workshops, if you’re interested in more in-depth work.  So, without further ado, a character checklist:

Character Checklist (from Jeanne Cavelos & Odyssey):

  • Does your character grow out of the setting in which he was raised? What is his relationship with the setting? Does he have any effect on it?
  • Is the reader “shown” the character through powerful, concrete sensory details that allow him to visualize the person and his actions?
  • Are small and large actions, appearance, and dialogue the main sources of revelation of character?
  • Is what you tell us about the character consistent with what you show about the character?
  • Are all the details included significant, or is there extraneous detail or information?
  • Are there any generic elements in your character? If this character is an archetype, have you made him individual and specific?
  • Does the character have some “consistent inconsistencies?”
  • Have you researched necessary areas to be able to write about such a character?
  • Does the character’s personality have an effect on the plot?
  • Does the character have a clear central desire? Why does he want this? Is this desire integrated into the plot? Do we know what set this desire off, and how it is finally resolved? Does the character have something important at stake in the conflict?
  • Does the character have clear opinions about what’s going on around him?
  • Does the character enhance or embody symbols or themes in the story?
  • Does the character change?
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