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Friday Writing Fodder

Round 2 of Friday Writing Fodder, my new regular blog feature, includes links both serious and humorous in nature, but all intriguing with possibilities for future stories. I hope many of you find inspiration here.

Asteroids the size of the Pyramid of Giza to fly by Earth https://apple.news/A8l89QdjZRiCuK9lODqUl9Q

NASA finds a planet with 3 suns. https://apple.news/AmrTA2b3EQL-S_kOleQFCQA

Physicist thinks mysterious space object might be an alien spacecraft https://apple.news/Ap17hGr53QpqxipicQ2GN5w

Orangutan steps up as “Mr. Mom” for daughter after mate dies unexpectedly. https://apple.news/ALibfTpNJRoqqSmJD9Mvc1A

Columbia’s Cocaine Hippos Must Be Culled (Follow up from last week’s hippo story) https://apple.news/A4YBKR86rQ4-v29jOmRSNzA

This fossil shows how dinosaurs peed, pooped, and had sex. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/19/world/dinosaur-fossil-sex-study-scn/index.html and fossilized butthole shows how dinosaurs have sex. https://apple.news/ANuVE3VN1QDO3FzdiQkrLxQ

Spotted and oddly striped zebras may be warning for species’ future. https://apple.news/AgQi61wXHRm6QkLUjBD1_bA

WriteTip: Using Location Scouting For Enhancing Descriptions and Settings

This week I want to look at a technique I’ve begun to use which has really enhanced my writing. One of the areas I struggled with the most as a beginning writer was descriptions. I came from a screenwriting background. I just wasn’t use to going into so much visceral detail, and I struggled to build a vocabulary that seemed authentic to my voice in writing them. So I have spent a lot of time thinking about and examining how to write visceral passages better.

When I started the John Simon Thrillers, I set it in 2029 Kansas City. And I decided to use as many authentic locations as I could for the story to lend it a sense of authenticity and to entertain local readers both. But I figured if I was going to write those locations, I needed to know what they were really like, so I began taking road trips to scout locations, much like they do for films and television. I took pictures, made voice memos, and even wrote a few sample passages describing what I saw, what I smelled, tasted, heard, and so on. This really leant my John Simon novels a nuance that readers seemed to enjoy so I have employed it as much as I can since (COVID period being excepted).

And there are a number of tools besides a map or GPS and my car that have added to my ability to find and scout these locations and write them well I thought I would share with you.

First, Google maps is fantastic because it not only has the geographic (default) mode but a satellite mode that shows actual pictures of places, and in some you can even do street view and view the area in 3D. This, of course, enables you to write descriptions in as much detail as you desire but also to pick out any unique features you want to examine more closely on your scout. Oh yes, you should still scout, because Google maps is only updated so often and it can’t capture the sounds, taste, smell, and so on of the actual place—things that your characters can recall as standing out most to make the descriptions jump off the page.

Second, do you have local film commission or a state one? And do they have a locations database? In Kansas City, the database is fantastic—filled with pictures and addresses of all kinds of locations, many of which I was unaware of and can use in my stories. You can find that here.

Third,  good notebook or digital recorder is essential. For one scout, I had a longtime resident drive around with me for a couple hours and tell me all about the city, leading me to various locations that had historical importance or other significance for him and describing his memories. This was also a great way to discover cool locations to use in my stories, many of which I would have overlooked or not been made aware of easily on my own. I also use the recorder/notebook to record my own impressions in person at each location I scout, so I get a fresh bird’s eye perspective of what it’s like to experience them first hand and what really stands out.

Fourth, I recommend checking out the Images of America series of local books to see if there are any on your area. Several cover Kansas City in various detail, including one about the history of all the neighborhoods that really adds fun details you can drop into your story to add depth and nuance. These books are available at any bookstore, especially big chains in large numbers in the travel section but also via Amazon and so on.

Fifth, visit local museums and ask to talk to a curator or historian. Tell them what you are doing and ask if they have any insights or suggestions. You will be surprised what you come up with. And may even find a new friend or source willing to be available as a resource for answering questions and so on.

Sixth, talk to friends and family who live in the area or nearby and ask them what the interesting features are and what stands out in their memories. This is a great way to pick up little real descriptions that sound like people talk which you can drop into your stories.

In the end, putting in this effort will not only enhance your Setting choices themselves but the Descriptions you write about them, making them seem far more authentic than you could have managed using just your imagination or long term memory. For local readers, who can be annoyed by writers who just guess and get little details wrong, it will earn you respect. For nonlocal readers who may decide to go visit favorite locations from your stories, it will do the same when they experience the very same sensations you describe in your books upon their own visits. More than that, you can write with a confidence and surety that you “got it right” on a whole new level that will strengthen everything you write for that project.

That’s how I use location scouting to enhance my writing. What unique techniques do you use? I’d love to hear your ideas in comments. For what it’s worth.

Friday Writing Fodder

I’ve decided to add a new regular Friday feature, in which I gather links to the articles I discover throughout the week and post to my social media as potential story fodder. Perhaps someone other than my immediate circle needs inspiration and can find it here, if nothing else some of it is quite entertaining, some of it quite informative, and the rest at least interesting (I hope).

Dire Wolves are real. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2021/01/dire-wolf-dna-study-reveals-surprises/

Italy braces for its biggest mafia trial in decades. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-55633091?fbclid=IwAR1wixB7HU2Yw9ZaXS3KhCdfV7RPNoaPzVgCDDbDdckZQcs789WTInh-1uM

Rare Superplanet unlike any other discovered
https://www.foxnews.com/science/super-earth-nasa-discovers-10b-year-old-planet

Wanting out of the house despite COVID restrictions, wife puts husband on leash and takes him for a walk. Yes, you read that right.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55631198

Polar Vortex… let the disaster stories commence.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55631198

Columbia is overrun by hippos.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/01/11/invasive-hippos-escobar-colombia-castrate/

Astronomers keep watch on nearby planet with signals that seem technological in origin
https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/01/proxima-centauri-blc1/617635/

Human culture lasted years longer than originally thought by 20k years.
https://phys.org/news/2021-01-human-culture-years-longer-thought.html

New super fast space ship
https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/deep-space/a35133014/jupiter-nuclear-plane/

Well, so there you have it. Some interesting reads that I hope inspire you and stimulate your imagination, or at least keep you entertained. Tune in every Friday for more.

Apologies for a missed WriteTip.

I missed this week’s WriteTip. There are lots of reasons. Discombobulating and stress worrying after last week’s insurrection in D.C., busyness—I have sold 3 anthologies in 6 weeks and all have required a lot of time for negotiations and general set up, depression (yes, even when good things are happening, that’s why it’s a disease),  and also improper sleep. In any case, for those who always come looking for them, my apologies. I will try and make sure I do one next week.

Announcement: Coming in 2022–my 16th anthology, second Young Adult anthology

I am pleased to announce that Blackstone Publishing has bought a pitch for my 16th anthology project, and second YA anthology which is The Hitherto Secret Experiments Of Marie Curie (working title). Co-edited with Henry Herz, the anthology will feature 18 dark stories of science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror set during Marie Curie’s high school years in Poland telling tales of her and her classmate’s antics. Our authors are: Scott Westerfeld, Jane Yolen, Mylo Carbia, Alethea Kontis, Jonathan Maberry, Scott Sigler, Stacia Deutsch, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Beth Durst, Lissa Price, Christine Taylor-Butler, Jo Whittemore, Dee Leone, Susanne Lambdin, Emily McCosh, Steve Pantazis, Henry Herz, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt & GP Charles.

The project is set for 2022 release simultaneously in print and audio, formats to be determined later. We will have more specific details, including release date and so on, as things get closer. This should be a fun and fascinating project. We hope to include as much real science and history as possible while also having fun with the subject matter and the fascinating character of one of the most important and well known female scientists in world history, a double Nobel winner.

Here’s the announcement that ran in Publisher’s Marketplace:

More to come…

On the Shocking Events of January 6, 2021

Folks, I don’t do politics here for a very good reason. It’s a no win scenario for authors. I have fans of all ilks and stripes, and I value them all. But I am going to make an exception today.

And I am not going to debate you in comments.

What happened in Washington, D.C. yesterday—January 6th, 2021—is one of the most horrendous, horrifying, shameful events in U.S. history. A sitting President sent his supporters to the capitol to rampage. There’s really no other way, after looking at the facts, to describe it. And it’s an outrage. If you supported Trump before, you can’t now. Not reasonable, decent people. I have long felt he was a bad president, lacking the moral character and integrity to execute the duties of the position appropriately. But what I have seen the past two months since he lost reelection has been an abomination I hope I never see again. His behavior is nothing short of unacceptable. It’s not acceptable for a U.S. president to attempt a coup. It’s not acceptable for a U.S. president to refuse to concede. It’s not acceptable for a U.S. president to incite violence and attempted overthrow.

Our democratic republic is not perfect. There are issues to work out. There always have been, and there doubtless always will be. But it has always been a comfort to me and a source of pride that we have had peaceful transitions of power in this country. 2020-2021 ended that. And I pray to God, it is a one time aberration we never see again. There is also no doubt in my mind that the president incited the violence. He has been courting and winking at extremists for four years. Did we really expect them not to do what they do at some point? You invite them to the party, they party their way—extremism. Violence. Riots. Looting. All of it happened at the capitol and four people are dead. It’s a miracle there were not more deaths or injuries. It’s a damn shame there have not been hundreds more arrests. Including the president.

I have no issue with the 25th Amendment being employed.  But I also now believe impeachment is demanded. And I hope he faces criminal charges for his irresponsible, dangerous behavior. I don’t care if you agree with me, but if you don’t, I tell you—your opinion is not welcome here. I have Facebook unfriended family in the past few months for supporting this heinous man so don’t think for a second I won’t block you. It’s not about freedom of speech. You have plenty of places to exercise that. This is MY blog. MY website. MY world. You will not do it here. I will not allow my space to be seen in any way as endorsing or tolerating support for the worst president in U.S. history—our country’s biggest mistake.

On that note, however, it makes me sick that so many people are thinking the only lesson to learn from yesterday is that we have to condemn Trump and his enablers. It is so much more than that. We are a broken society, divided like never before. We need to find a way to reunite around our commonalities and re-engage with mutual respect. Or this kind of thing will happen again. Yesterday is an indictment of all of us. Don’t kid yourselves. We have all played a part in it by sowing hatred and divide and dismissiveness toward anyone who doesn’t agree with our views. That’s not a matter for debate. It’s an opportunity to learn. History we fail to learn from repeats itself.

I pray that we can find more common ground moving forward. I pray that we can put aside the enmity that has plagued us for over a decade and rally around our commonalities to move forward together in a productive and peaceful way. We need to do that. The world needs us to do that. Future generations need us to do that. Today’s children need us to do that.

The one thing we cannot do is ignore the heinous events of January 6, 2021. Those will live in infamy as an eternal blot on us all. Yesterday, for the first time, I felt shame for my country. I never want to feel that again.

Write Tips: The Importance Of Risk Taking In Writing

I once had a fortune cookie which read: “Some good things will happen, but there will be bad, too.” I thought: now there’s a writer who’s afraid of risks. Seriously.  They covered all their bases and what was the result? A pretty unsatisfying fortune. I mean, I knew that already. Where’s the excitement in that? What do I have to anticipate? More of the same.

I mention this because this is an important lesson for all of us who write: to write with an impact, you must take risks. Seriously.

How many times have you read something and thought: ‘I’ve seen this before’ or ‘how cliche?’  We’ve all been there, right? I think this occurs most often because writers play it safe. They’re afraid to take risks.

Although I’ve gotten really good notices for my debut novel, The Worker Prince, I did get some criticisms. Among them were comments suggesting I could have been more innovative at times. Even the reviewer who listed me Honorable Mention on his Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Years Best SF Releases for 2011 said this. So I challenged myself in The Returning, sequel to The Worker Prince, accordingly. The first book got notices for its complicated plotting. But in book 2, I wanted to step it up a notch and really surprise readers and myself. The fact that I succeeded seems obvious from the fact that as I went back into the manuscript after two months away to edit it, I found myself surprised at plot points I’d forgotten. ‘I didn’t remember doing that! Cool!’ is a good reaction for you to have to your own stuff. It’s even better, of course, when readers react that way. After all, we’re often so close to our own work, we can’t be subjective. Setting aside a manuscript and not looking at it for two months really does help though, but still, the final test remains what will readers/reviewers think?

Not that I’m suggesting we write for readers and reviewers. You can’t do that. But once you put a book out there, that piece of your heart, that part of you, it becomes part of a community who read it, and their interactions with it and responses to it become valid measures of its success, good or bad. That’s all the more reason why taking risks is so vital. We’ve all heard the saying: there’s no new plots, only old ones told in new ways. In Science Fiction and Fantasy, in particular, this is a common quote. And you’ll often find it true. But being original in your basic plot isn’t what gives your book the “Wow!” factor. It’s the approach you take which does that and that’s where risk taking can really pay off.

What are some risks you can take? Here’s a few examples:

1) Kill A Character—we all hate to “murder” our babies. (It’s a good thing to hate, I’m not arguing.) But it’s important to remember, these are fictional beings, not real ones. And sometimes what’s best for the story is what’s worst for them. Bad things have to happen to your characters to keep your story interesting, to raise the stakes. Otherwise, you’re setting readers up for a pretty bland read. So sometimes, killing characters, especially ones readers love, is a great way to add new energy to your story and the character dynamics of those who remain and surprise readers with unexpected twists and turns. In The Returning, the death of characters transforms the story, changing the course of other characters’ lives as well as the conflicts faced by the world itself.

2) Switch Genders—have a character who might fill a traditional role, such as male sidekick to male hero, be female instead or vice versa. You can develop all kinds of unexpected interactions and chemistry from that alone. For example, what if the traditional spiritual advisor to the king in your fantasy was a woman? So often we see that role as a man, a sorcerer or a priest. By making it female, new dynamics come into play. The male/female dynamics which now have a role allow you to examine gender roles in your world. What would the queen or other women think of this woman’s power? How does it affect their relationships? Those are just two examples of the dynamics which might come into play as a result.

3) Use A Non-Traditional Setting—Ken Scholes did this exceptionally well with his Psalms Of Isaak which has a mix of traditional epic fantasy setting elements and postapocalyptic SF elements (swords and bows, blacksmiths, horses, metal men, desert, sand, ruins, etc.) By setting his epic fantasy story in such a milieu, he keeps it fresh and fasncinating, even when familiar elements appear. And the furthermore, the setting encourages risk taking how he uses any traditional elements, including magic.

4) Do The Opposite Of Instinct—if your first thought is to do one thing, search for something else. Often our mind goes to the most familiar or obvious first, but the search turns up more interesting options. For example, in deciding about killing a character, I had to choose between a likable character and one who was more challenging for readers. I chose to kill the likable character because the ideas I had to further develop him were less interesting and his death created all kinds of dynamics for the hero and less likable character to work through. It just made sense. Both of them have dramatic arcs as a result of the death, whereas killing the less likable character would have actually removed tension.

5) Take Unique Approaches To Themes—Especially if you’re using oft-repeated themes (and let’s face it, so many of them are), it’s important to look for a new angle. What hasn’t been done or done the way you do it? Thematic elements add depth and wholeness to your fiction, but they can also be cliche, which makes it important to find ways to infuse your thematic elements with a freshness. For example, the Moses story which inspired The Worker Prince is about slavery, and to me, a big part of that was founded on ideological bigotry, so when I wrote the book, even though my main goal was to provide a rip roaring old fashioned space opera adventure, I worked in themes dealing with ideological differences and used real world religion as an example of how our own egos can lead us to judge ourselves better than those who don’t share our ideals. It can be a very subtle thing we don’t even realize we’re doing. But what if we did it so much it became normal and grew larger and larger? Could we really believe others are not equal to use as human beings as a result? Would we actually enslave them? It’s an approach I hadn’t seen taken to the story before, and so far reader response has been positive. Ironically, using Christianity as a real religion in my book, even though it’s not preachy or trying to push religion on anyone (their words) was a risk. I’ve had a few people who shy away from the book because of it. Ironically, those people often admit if I’d written it as Christianity but called it something else, they would have been fine. So there’s two examples of risk in regards to themes. (For more on Themes, click here.)

I’m sure you can think of plenty of other examples. Please share them the comments so we can all learn.

My point is that risks are what keep your writing fresh and unpredictable not just for readers but for you. And the result of having to make risky or unexpected choices is being led to unexpected places in your character arcs and plotting. These, in turn, pull more out of you and push you in ways you’d never have been pushed. The result is a better book and you becoming a better writer. Recently I saw a friend’s debut novel get slammed by some reviewers who focus on fantasy. The reason? They said it was too much like what they’d seen before; too predictable; not risky. I’ve read the book and enjoyed it far more than they did, but how would you feel if this happened to you? I’m sure my friend’s next book will be far riskier in many ways. The reviews will push him to strive harder and think more about his choices and the result will be a better book.

We all have room for growth in our journey as writers. Where should you be taking more risks? When are you going to start? Beginning 2021 by taking some risks would be a great way to start, wouldn’t it? For what it’s worth…

WriteTip: Training Your Sensory Observation Skills for Better Description

When I was first starting out as a writer, I came out of screenwriting, which I’d studied in college, so one of my chief weaknesses was visceral description using the five senses. I wrote entire drafts of novels and stories with no mention of smells or tastes or touch, for example, and only used eyes and ears because they came more readily to mind. One of the beta readers of my first novel The Worker Prince wondered if everyone was naked because I never mentioned clothes, so I did an entire sartorial pass to add clothing descriptions here and there.

Over time, however, I’ve done a lot of work on this area, and learned that one of the most helpful skills you can develop is good sensory observation of the people, places, and things you encounter in the world around you. Like me, this may not come naturally, so here’s a few techniques to help you better develop this skill.

1) The Emotion Thesaurus by Becca Pugliosi and Angela Ackerman is an essential if you lack this natural ability. It is the one single writing book I carry with me wherever I go and might right, just to have handy, and it is the most worn out—page corners bent, cover bent and stained, and so on—of my writing books. This books is broken down by emotions and provides lists of physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and cues of acute long-term or suppressed experiences of that emotion. It is so well thought out and detailed that I have used it to create a whole new visceral vocabulary. Now I mainly refer to it when I feel stuck in a rut. I don’t call many writing books essential but this one is if you, like me, lack natural ability to describe by the senses.

2) Location Scouting—Just like movie crews scout locations for their work, so should you, if you need to improve descriptions. Go to the location or somewhere similar if you can, sit quietly, and observe. Take note of what you hear, what you see, what you smell, what.you taste, and so on and write them down for later reference. Then you will have distinct descriptive cues to pull from when writing that location or one similar. Obviously, if it’s a specific and well-known location, you are best off to go there directly to make these notes, but sometimes such travel is impossible, in which case, somewhere close can suffice.

3) Web Research—From Google Maps satellite and street views, which can be used to describe visual cues, to eye witness accounts written or on video, the web is filled with resources to help enhance your descriptions with first person accounts of various locations that can enhance your stories. Maybe the lighthouse they describe isn’t the one in your book, but it’s similar enough. Chances are the weather, the sights and sounds, and so on will be close and those fodder for your writing, so browse.

4) People Watching—My go to spot for people watching in the age of fading malls is Costco or Sam’s Club food courts. In a matter of a few minutes, you can overhear dialogue of people from a variety of age groups and ethnic backgrounds just sitting there nursing a soda and a slice of pizza as you jot down vocabulary or snippets of potential dialogue. Out of touch with how young people talk, you’ll get a refresher here. What about immigrants or senior citizens? All of them will be within earshot every few moments at a busy club store like these. I can spend an hour easily just making notes on my iPad as people walk by me. Don’t worry, if it looks like you’re writing, they’ll never know…or care.

5) Reading— Some writers are really good at visceral descriptions. Nicholas Sparks, for example, seems to be an expert at it, love or hate his stories. Regardless of your taste for genre, studying writers like this can give you whole new vocabulary and perspectives on how to approach description effectively in your own work, so don’t dismiss or blow them off just because the books they write “are not for you.” Consider it work research, not reading for pleasure, and take notes. It can greatly enhance your skill set.

6) Practice, Practice, Practice—It’s easy to overlook this last one because you may feel like it’s a waste of time. But you rewrite passages all the time when drafting your books, right? So what’s the difference with sitting down to practice description by writing down as many difference ways to describe a particular person, place, or location as you can come up with, one after the other? By practicing your descriptions, and varying them, you can learn a lot about describing and discover all kinds of new approaches and phrases that don’t readily pop to mind when you write, thus improving your arsenal for when you do write.

7) Patience—Last but not least, let’s remember this is a skill that like any other takes time to develop. Improving any skill is work. Don’t just expect to pick it up over night and move on. You will probably need to work at it. Why else would I suggest so many different techniques and approaches? The best way to improve is to employ all of them multiple times, until you don’t need to any more. And that will be a matter of months or years, not days or hours. Be patient with yourself. You’re trying to become better at your passion, remember? And being better will lead to better success and greater satisfaction—prizes well worth the effort.

So there you have seven ways to improve your sensory observation skills for better description. A write tip I hope is truly worthy of the name. For what it’s worth…

Write Tips: 7 Tips For Surviving The Art and Challenge of Collaboration

I have had a lot of opportunities to collaborate in my creative life, as a musician, as a writer, as an editor, and so on. I’ve had some bad experiences, and I’ve had some good ones. Thankfully, most of them since I became a writer and editor have been good. And I wanted to talk today about both the art and difficulty of collaborating.

First of all, collaboration requires humility. You have to recognize that you are working with an equal force—someone who is going to have an equal number of ideas and passions going into the project and an equal stake in the result. That requires you to be cooperative and considerate both in how you navigate and respond to the collaborator’s input. Sometimes, it helps to decide up front who will be senior collaborator. For example, when working with Jonathan Maberry in his universe, I deferred to him creatively. After all, Joe Ledger his IP, created out of is head, and his is the ultimate boss of what is canon and what isn’t. Interestingly though, when we did the Joe Ledger anthology together, Jonathan deferred to me more than expected on the editing role. He still edited and had input on story order and of course worldbuilding, but he respected my abilities and experience as an editor enough to let me take responsibility for some details that I could handle on my own without his involvement. We were thus able to divide the labor in some key ways that made it easier for both of us and saved time and back and forth.

Second of all, collaboration requires consideration. You are not creating your own work. It is a group effort. Whether the group is two people or more, the end result will come from both of you, not just one of you, and thus, it is important both of you feel satisfied with the result.Thus it is impossible to be a dictator and control freak when collaborating. You have to find a way to work together and separately in ways that compliment each other. And you must understand and respect that the final result will be something that encompasses both of your creative ideas and visions for the project, not just your own. In fact, inevitably it will be something Neither of you would have created on your own.

Third of all, collaboration requires mutual respect. Don’t collaborate with people you don’t respect. You’ll just be in for trouble. I’ve had the case where someone I collaborated with as an equal instead regarded himself as my superior and expected me to defer to him accordingly. Now, in experience, sales, and so on, we really were fairly much equals. He was not more famous or more respected, nor did he have an established body of work far exceeding my own. He just, I learned later, was a guy who believed he was a better writer than most people he collaborated with, and, as such, would be “in charge” of such collaborations. Needless to say, this made for trouble.

Fourth, collaboration requires deference. There are many times during collaborative ventures when you will find the need to allow the other to take the lead. For example, you divided a story into scenes and they wrote some, you wrote others, then polished each other. Well, when final decisions are made, unless you agreed in advance one of you would be the final arbiter, you will have to defer to your partner on his/her scenes. It’s theirs, and, after all, you’d want them to do the same on your scenes, right? You may have to defer to them on things they have more expertise or immediate knowledge of. If your partner is more experienced with a particular aspect of the project, let them take the lead and see it as an opportunity to learn from them so the next time, you can take the lead. This is appropriate. Let the person who has the experience and wisdom take the lead. They should do the same for you. And so on.

Fifth, collaboration requires mutual commitment. It’s kind of like the biblical concept of unequal yoke in a marriage. You need to be on the same page with your commitment to work level and time deadlines and so on. If not, one of you will feel they are more committed to the project or even doing all the work, while the other slacks off. So agree in advance on when things will be done by each of you and endeavor the best you can to meet these expectations. Otherwise, you are in for conflict.

Sixth, collaboration requires patience.  Like any other situation when you might be working with other people, you must learn to be patient with the other person’s different way of doing things, different abilities, different expectations and so forth. You can’t expect two different people to see everything exactly the same or work exactly the same. It’s rare. If you find it, though, run with it and embrace it as the gift it is.

Seventh, collaboration requires communication. You must learn to discuss things more than you might normally. Operating on assumption is a pitfall that can derail any relationship, especially a collaborative one. It’s much better to anticipate and discuss potential problems or concerns before they arise than to try and deal with them after they happen when you are irritated or frustrated with each other. So communicate. Set some expectations and boundaries for your collaboration in advance then commit to meeting them so you are in it together. Most of all, remind yourselves constantly it is a team effort. Not “mine” but “ours.”

So there are a few hard learned tips for better collaboration. Can you think of others? Please feel free to contribute in comments. For what it’s worth…

The Joy of Rediscovering Your Natural Talent

If you’re looking for this week’s Write Tip, I posted it Monday due to demand during an online discussion over the weekend. You can find that here. So instead of another WriteTip, today, I am going to talk about rediscovering your own natural talent.

I recently had the chance to go back into my first ever novel and start the process of rewriting and reworking it into something publishable. And the number one thing I didn’t expect to find but did was: good writing. In fact, I’d say I found a level of writing that shocked me. Some of the prose in that early novel was almost as good as anything I am writing today. There’s stuff I have written since writing that I wouldn’t say that about. Stuff that got published. Yet here was this raw, first novel, back when I knew almost nothing about fiction prose and craft, outshining stuff I wrote when I did.

I am not saying I didn’t do a lot of revising. I have and am. Just past halfway on that project at this point. But there’s way more usable prose there than I ever expected. And the characters and story were surprisingly good. So much so that I used the first half almost as is in form and structure, with revisions only to prose and a few character names. And I admit it surprised me.

When you go back to work you wrote 12 years ago, you expect to find a mess. I was expecting I’d read it and be embarrassed. I was expecting I’d throw most of it out and start from scratch. But stylistically, the prose was very similar to my other most recent novel, the second novel I ever tried to write in that subgenre (keeping it secret for reasons). And so I had to wonder if there isn’t some natural talent for those particular types of stories I had not realized I had. There’s something about the purity of prose written in innocence—without all the self-imposed pressure of knowledge gained from experience and the externally imposed pressure of industry standards imposed upon it—that really speaks to you. To me, it said I had a lot more natural ability than I thought, and more than that, reminded me that sometimes innocence has its advantages.

There’s something that happens to us when we discover professional standards and market expectations that puts a new weight on our work in ways that can actually interfere with it. Instead of just writing what naturally comes to us, we constantly reshape it into something that fits all the expectations and standards we have been taught and spent years internalizing. It’s most subconscious, of course, and happens as our brain translates story to the page, but it is very much a reality. And I sometimes wonder if it also can affect purity of our work in ways that negatively impact it.

Anyone who’s creative has at one time or another admired a child’s imagination and the freedom under which it operates. Wished we could go back to that untainted, unspoiled state. It’s something we often try to do as we create, in fact. But there’s a difference between adult child-like imitation and the purity of the real thing. And that is what I’m talking about. This is not a self-aggrandizing damn I’m good post. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead, I am saying that to see for yourself you had capability you didn’t recognize or appreciate long before you ever knew you did is revealing and telling. It’s aLos encouraging and inspiring; a reminder that maybe you truly have found your calling and are doing what you should be.

And for me that was uplifting and encouraging after a year which has really beat me down. Not just COVID-19 and the accompanying depression but professional crises on several levels that have put me through some challenges I thought I’d be long past at this point in my career (and wish I was), including exploitative contracts that had to be fought over, an overzealous editor (an old friend, in fact) that I have to fight off, and other such indignities. It was a pat on the back of sorts, an encouragement, I sorely need to renew my strength and resolve so that I can press forward to the next phase of my career confident that what I’ve dedicated the last 12 years of my life too is not wishful thinking but something I was born to do. And that’s a very good thing, because there’s truly nothing else I want to be doing with my life, so giving it up or changing course at this point would be very heartbreaking.

It’s nice to know I had ability even before I had the knowledge I needed to really take advantage of it, and it’s nice to know that ability could reach heights that for many years I thought I wasn’t capable of. It’s a bit ironic and frustrating that my learning curve held me back a bit from those heights in some ways, getting to where I am, but it’s also nice to know that work I consider the best of my career is at a level that matches the untainted heights I have been capable of in the past.

I don’t doubt that not everyone will be able to make such discoveries in their own work. I don’t doubt that everyone’s experience with such revisiting the past will be unique to them. But I’m thankful this was mine, because I really needed that. For what it’s worth…