Write Tip: The Importance of Heroines

A modified version of this post first appeared on the blog of author Jeremy Ship on October 27th. A companion piece on heroes appeared around the same time on Adventures In SF Publishing’s blog.

One of the traditional tropes of much science fiction and fantasy has long been the damsel in distress. Naturally, modern women often find such characters hard to relate to. They certainly find them hard to admire. So in revisiting the Golden Age style for my debut science fiction novel, The Worker Prince, one trope I was determined to avoid was the damsel in distress. In the end, I wound up with four strong female characters in major supporting roles. Here’s a break down:

Tela—pilot, slave rebellion leader, young but very smart and very independent.

Miri—Boralian princess, spoiled but yet independent. Refuses to accept the history and philosophy officially espoused by her ruling family, instead educating herself and her son, Davi, with exposure to diverse sources. Unafraid to question. Unafraid to confront her brother, who rules the Boralian Alliance, when necessary.

Lura—slave woman long separated from her husband who disappeared along with their only son, Davi, twenty years before. Nonetheless, she takes care of her sister’s family and stands firm in her faith and conviction and hope for the future.

Kray—sole female member of the ruling Boralian Council, life-long friend of Miri, independent, strong-willed, not intimidated by the powerful men around her.

One advantage in writing strong women characters is that I grew up in a family of strong women. From my mother to my grandmothers to my twin sister, the women in my family were taking no guff, and believe me when I say I tested those boundaries. But you quickly learn to respect women who are not pushovers. It’s amazing to be both loved well and scolded well by the same people. Yet you learn that their passions for both run deep, and it makes you a better man.

To me, the importance of strong heroines is twofold. First, for inspiring young women to grow up to be proud and comfortable and secure in their identities. And second, to raise young men who will respect and appreciate those women for all they have to offer.

Literature is influential. It teaches even as it entertains. If all we provide for young readers are examples of weak heroines, they will, in some way, grow up expecting that’s all they should find in the real world. All human beings have their weaknesses, of course. No two humans are exactly alike, we are all individuals. So writing characters as individuals is vital. And offering examples of the infinite possibilities available to our young people, I believe, is an author’s responsibility. A part of this is modeling behaviors which such strong individuals might exhibit. Being strong women does not automatically mean bitches. That is one old stereotype we can all do without. At the same time, strong women can cry and express a variety of emotions. Showing emotion is not a weakness. It’s just something women in society have learned to do better than men. In many ways, they are fortunate in that opportunity.

For me, the trick to writing strong women is to write them like men. But remember key things. Women are all about communication, especially emotional communication. Whereas men tend to prefer action to show their emotions and don’t tend toward long emotional discussions, those things are the opposite with most women. Of course, women also have different priorities and often different concerns. From child birth to homemaking, etc., women do have different societal expectations to wrestle with than men. Whether your characters go the traditional route or buck the trend, the questions must be asked and answered and can be used in building their characters.

One important clarification point: when I say I write them like men, what I am saying is that if I treat women characters like men in initial approach it’s easier to make them stronger and write them with the same considerations I give male characters. Because I, like many male writers, never claim to understand women, there is a tendency to write weaker women and feel uncomfortable with approach but if I approach them the same as male characters, it becomes easier. Then I apply the key things mentioned to focus on aspects which address femininity and differences like the importance of emotional express and communication and it works well for me. Female readers, at least, respond to it.

There’s also certainly nothing wrong with male heroes rescuing or helping their women. Some women in real life even fantasize a bit about this. But you can have a woman in jeopardy without her being weak and defenseless. Especially in larger than life space opera settings, such as mine, the odds against characters are often larger than life themselves and require teamwork to overcome. A male hero leading the way is not all bad if that character has knowledge the female character would rely on to help get them out of the trouble they’re in. The woman can use her skills as well to contribute and work with the man to extract themselves to safety.

I think the key to keeping heroines strong while still building dramatic situations with real jeopardy and challenges for the characters is to emphasize the individual strengths of the characters and think about how those can be used for each character to react differently to the various circumstances you put them through. It’s also not wrong to have the woman rescue the man sometimes. In my case, having a woman partner who can do that is a big turn on. I like to be taken care of, too. Don’t you?

It doesn’t make me feel week to rely on someone else’s strengths. It make me feel loved and safe, and that’s a good feeling. So employing these things in your story just makes it more relatable for readers. It also makes it more fun and connected to their contemporary reality, and that, when writing in the speculative realms, can only make your stories more accessible and successful.

There are many ways to approach this, of course, but here’s one technique you may find helpful:

Make three lists:

1) Traits typically associated as typically associated with men

2) Traits typically considered associated with women

3) Traits your story will require characters to have

Be sure and write these lists in context of the world you are creating. In other words, if it’s not set in the contemporary world, think through how things might be different in the period/place in which you are writing from the contemporary world in which you live and employ those ponderings in making lists of traits which would exist in that world.

Then pull items from the first two lists to create characters which meet the needs of the third. Consider specifically how these traits can be used to surprise readers, not in a “that’s unbelievable” way but in a “I didn’t expect that way.” Remember, they still have to believe the character could exist. Part of that depends on setting, situation, etc. of course, but don’t overshoot the mark either. You can use traits appropriate to a made up world which might seem different from the contemporary one. You just have to set them up properly through world building. The key here is to be aware of what you are doing and work deliberately to sell it in the context of the story.

So don’t forget about the need for strong heroines. What are some ways you can employ them to make your stories rise above the rest?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. The sequel to The Worker Prince is forthcoming in 2012, The Returning. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

The Worker Prince is the story of a prince who discovers he was born a slave. When he raises objections about the abusive treatment of slaves, he finds himself in conflict with both friends and families. After a tragic accident, involving the death of a fellow soldier, Davi Rhii winds up on the run. He then joins the worker’s fight for freedom and finds a new identity and new love. Capturing the feel of the original Star Wars, packed with action, intrigue and interweaving storylines, The Worker Prince is a space opera with a Golden Aged Feel. 

4 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: Get In Late, Get Out Early

When I went to screenwriting school, the key thing they taught us about writing scenes was to enter a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as possible after that. Forget the niceties. None of this:

 

Bob walked in the room to find Guy sitting on the couch, chilling.

“Hey, dude, whassup?” Bob asked.

Guy shrugged, not even glancing over. “Nothing. You?”

“Meh. Me either.”

 

No. You’d better have something more interesting. We can assume they’re nice, normal people but we don’t need to see their mundane, routine, room entering banter to prove it.  Show us that and you’ve lost our interest. Why? We can see that every day. And when  you write it out, it’s quickly apparent how boring our lives have become.

Instead, you want to start with as dramatic a spot as possible.

 

           “Why am I here?” Hachim choked out. Sweat dripped off the arms of the chair as it soaked through his robe. After twenty minutes alone in the interrogation room, he looked like he’d fallen into a lake. Tarkanius and Aron shook their heads, and Aron was thankful he wasn’t present for the odor. They watched through the one way glass as the Major Zylo stopped across the table from the sweaty Lord, staring at him.

            “You know why you’re here,” Zylo said.

            Hachim coughed. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

            “So you always sweat this much when you’re innocent?”

            Hachim grabbed the towel Zylo tossed across the table at him and began wiping the exposed flesh of his face, brow, neck and arms. “It’s hot in here.”

            “I’m perfectly comfortable.” Zylo sat in the seat across from him and leaned back, watching as the Lord cleaned himself. “You’re gonna need a new robe.”

 

Are you hooked yet? I hope so. This scene should be a lot more interesting. If not, go back to your boring life. I hope you’re very happy there.

The difference between scene 1 and scene 2 is that when scene 1 starts, nothing is happening. The characters aren’t even all that interesting. In scene 2, the drama has started before we’re allowed in the room. Hachim’s already sweating, Zylo’s already hostile. It’s obvious right away Hachim is guilty of something, at least as far as Zylo’s concerned, and Zylo intends to get to the bottom of it. We’d like to as well. To me, this illustrates well the craft of getting into a scene as late as possible. Something interesting is already happening. No wasted space. No chit chat.

Now let me show you the rest of the scene so we can talk about point two: getting out as soon after.

  “What is this about? You have no right to detain me without cause!”

            Zylo nodded, then slid a datapad across the table, watching as Hachim set down the towel and began to read.

            “Conspiracy? Assassination?” Hachim’s eyes darted up from the screen. “I had nothing to do with it.”

            “You knew about it.”

            Hachim shook his head. “If you could prove it, you’d have already arrested me.” He smiled smugly.

            Zylo laughed. “The Alien Leadership Summit.”

            Hachim’s eyes raced to finish the charges. “What about it?” Hachim slid the datapad back across the table and shot him a confused look that wasn’t very convincing.

            “What’s the location?”

            “That’s classified for the Council.”

            “I have clearance, trust me. I’m on the security team.”

            Hachim hesitated, then melted under Zylo’s stare. “Idolis.”

            Zylo shook his head. “Buzz! Wrong answer. And it was all over the news.”

            “So? I am not the only person privy to that.” Hachim leaned back in his chair, attempting to appear bored, but Aron saw the fear in his eyes. And Zylo saw it, too.

            Zylo chuckled. “Yes, you were.”

            Hachim looked at him again, startled. “What?”

            Zylo nodded, smirking. “Each Lord was given a different location.”

            Hachim frowned. “A different location? They can’t hold the Summit in more than one place…” His voice trailed off as the implications sank in. Zylo raised a brow as their eyes met. “Lies? A trap?”

            “A security precaution. How many people did you tell?”

            Hachim shook his head. “No, I’m innocent. I’m not going to tolerate this abuse.” Slowly, he stood from his chair and took a step toward the door.

            Zylo shoved Hachim back into the chair. “Sit down and start answering.” Hachim looked offended at the treatment. Zylo wasn’t even phased. “Now!”

            Aron looked at Tarkanius, wondering if it were time for them to join the interrogation. Tarkanius shook his head. “No. Let him suffer.”

            “Then their fate will be yours.” Zylo shrugged and turned to casually stroll toward the door. Hachim’s eyes widened.

            “It was Niger’s idea,” Hachim began. Zylo turned back as Hachim’s shoulders sank with his weight in the chair.

 

Can you see how fast it moves? And the whole thing is fairly dramatic. In fact, you don’t even get to know what he tells him. Why? Because talk is boring. It’s more interesting to show that in the scenes that follow. In context, this opens Chapter 12 in my forthcoming novel The Returning, so readers will actually know more coming into it than you did. They’ll know, for example, that Hachim has been betraying his trust as a public servant. That people’s lives are at risk if he’s leaked the data as suspected. People we care about’s lives. Still, it illustrates my point well. It’s tight. It’s dramatic. It sets up the character’s relationship quickly. The characters are revealed through action and dialogue. There’s tight pace. And it holds your interest. Plus, even both pieces combined, it’s short. In late, out early.

Try it. Not only will your pacing automatically be better. Your readers are likely to turn pages faster. And your writing is even going to be more fun. Yes, this is an interrogation scene. But you can do the same thing with any scene where there’s conflict, and, frankly, most of the time, if you scene doesn’t have conflict, you shouldn’t be writing it. Seriously. Conflict is the heart of good fiction. If you don’t have conflict at the heart of a scene, find a way to dismiss it with a couple quick telling sentences and skip to the next dramatic moment. Your readers will thank you for it.

In any case, that’s how you get in late, and get out early. I hope it helps you improve your craft. Feel free to comment, ask questions, dialogue about it. I won’t bite…well, then, part of the dramatic tension is your not knowing for sure if that’s true. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Lessons In Letting Go: The Author And His Babies

One of the more important lessons I’ve learned since I started on the path to writing professional fiction in 2008 is about letting my babies go. There is a point with every manuscript where you are so close to it, you want to just hold it tightly and keep chipping away its deficiencies, molding it gently and lovingly into the best baby it can be no matter how long it takes. And don’t get me wrong, revision is a good thing. Striving for quality is important and professional. Insisting on perfection, however, is not. Did that just rock you in your boots? Was it unexpected? It shouldn’t be. If there’s anything writing should teach you it’s that you’re not perfect.

Writing is often like holding a microscope lens up to the world and pointing out all the flaws and tears and imperfections. And the more you do it, the more uncomfortable it can sometimes be as things hit close to home and remind you of your own failures, weaknesses and imperfectness. Do you know what I mean? So many parts of me as a writer wind up there glaring at me from the page. And so many things come out through the writing which wake me up from my vain self-ignorance and glorious denial to provide a reality check. There’s always that point where I just can’t stop rewriting. I tell myself time and again “Just another little polish on those adverbs” or “Just another little trimming of expositional diarrhea” and the next thing I know I’ve done a whole new draft. Sometimes I even recognize myself putting back in things I’m sure I took out before as unnecessary. And that’s the first sign it’s time to set down the manuscript and think about what you’re doing.

Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about? And the more you study craft and listen to writers talk about it and read reviews and critiques and read other writers, the worse it can get. You realize “maybe I’m not there yet. I’m not good enough.” And you  know that if this work gets published it will be out there forever representing you. And you just can’t let that be your legacy. Am I right?

Why am I thinking about this on the eve of the release of my debut novel? It’s because my friend Patty saw the 4 star review I posted of my novel on Goodreads and lambasted me for giving my own novel anything less than 5 stars. I started researching and found bestselling novelist Kat Richardson, a friend of mine who’s also on Goodreads, has given her novels 4 star reviews. So I asked her for advice.

She said this: “I believe in honesty, not self-inflation. I don’t think the books are perfect and I think 5 starts ought to imply near-perfection. I have rated some higher than others because I, as the author, feel some are actually better realized products of my intent. ”

And that made me reflect on the times since I handed in the manuscript when I’ve gone through and nitpicked the novel, worried what reviewers will say, worried what readers will think, worried about the pros I respect whom I asked to blurb my book. And then the blurbs started coming in and they were so positive. And although yes, the authors may not be telling me the flaws they see, they are willing to have their name associated with my book in a sort of endorsement and that means something, right? It’s like being accepted into an exclusive club of sorts…like my writing just became legitimately professional level. Even if it’s beginning professional. After all, it doesn’t matter how big a name, every author had a first novel. And most of them have written better books since. So letting go is part of the process, isn’t it? And as hard as it is, it’s a healthy part of it.

For me, I would never rate my own book 5 stars out of 5 because I know it’s not perfect. I know I’m not perfect. I mean, I gave Robert Silverberg’s “Lord Valentine’s Castle” 5 stars. I gave “The Lord Of The Rings” 5 stars. My book can’t even begin to compare. In fact, by those standards, I’m thinking three would be stretching. I am no Silverberg. And I am no Tolkein. But Silverberg and Tolkein started somewhere, didn’t they? And it’s probably a place very similar to where I am right now as far as how they felt about their own work. Silverberg has criticized his own early work as not very good. I read it and thought it was still brilliant. So given that reality, should I really feel too concerned about putting something out there at this time that’s not the best I’ll ever write? My answer to that is: Of course not! What I have to worry about is putting out something right now that’s less than the best I can do at this moment.

Since handing in The Worker Prince final draft to my publisher, I’ve written short stories and most of the next book in the trilogy. I have found myself breezing through certain aspects of the writing which I really struggled over and agonized through when I wrote Book 1. How can that be? And through my chat with Kat and considering Patty’s pushing me I realized it’s a natural part of growing as a writer, learning craft and internalizing what you learn. Of course things you’ve learned get easier over time because they become like instinct. And other things need to be learned. I’m sure when I finish Book 2 and turn it in, I’ll be wondering if it’s good enough. Book 3 as well a year after that. My whole career I’ll probably release every novel I ever write with the same reservations. It’s natural. It’s normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not time to let them go.

In so many ways for novelists, our books are like babies. We do our best to guard them, nourish them, raise them up to the best they can be. But then they reach 18 and it’s time to set them free, let them face the world on their own two feet and come into their own. It’s a natural part of the lifecycle of a novel or short story. And I’m pretty sure after what I’ve experienced that as flawed as my first novel is no one is coming to stone me or insist I retract it or apologize to every other person who’s a real novelist for besmirching them by daring to label myself the same, you know? Okay, it doesn’t release until October 4th so I may be wrong, but somehow, I don’t think so. Somehow I think I’m ok. And you know what? That’s a good lesson to learn.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Write Tip: 15 Web Resources Invaluable To Writers

We all have our favorite tools we use when writing. But one of the advantages of the modern age is having a lot of great resources available right here on the World Wide Web. What are the tools you never write without? Here are 15 of mine:

1) www.dictionary.com This great website is a quick and easy way to look up any word you need and quickly right on the web. Other similar sites exist, such as http://www.merriam-webster.com/, but this one has become my go-to source. In addition to the dictionary, it also has a companion http://thesaurus.com as well as a reference, translator, quote engine and more. Very useful for writers of both fiction and nonfiction.

2) http://www.behindthename.com/ A source for etymology and history of names which can be invaluable for helping pick names not just at random but for their deeper meanings. Again other similar sites exist, such as http://www.thinkbabynames.com/. Either way, they’re quite handy to have around for naming characters.

3) http://geology.about.com/ and www.geology.com. Great resources for current and past information on everything geological. Wanna build a realistic world? Don’t forget your geology. What kinds of plants and trees grow in which type of environment? What might a map of your world look like? What exotic plants exist in a climate far from your own? These sites can tell you, stimulating your creative process and helping you make a more believable world.

4) Reference.com offers hundreds of links to references of all shapes, sizes and types from almanacs to dictionaries and literature. Sister site to www.dictionary.com but worth its own separate listing because it’s such a great resource.

5) Encyclopedia.com an online encylopedia with short articles on all kinds of topics to aid your research or even story generation. Offers links to published resources like Oxford University Press and Britannica right online.

6) Internet Public Library  a site offering links to full text books, articles and references for free.

7) Library of Congress access photos, manuscripts and an online library of books from the U.S. government’s key gatekeepers and copyright warehouse.

8) http://www.authorscopyright.com/ a blog offering news and other up to date information on copyright which every writer should be aware of.

9) Creative Writing Prompts offers over 300 writing prompts for writers to help stimulate you and get you started.

10) http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/ a site from SFWA providing information helping weed out scams. There are lots of people preying on our dreams out there. It’s good to have a resource to help avoid them.

11) querytracker.net find agents, see sample query letters and schedule email follow ups on your queries all from this handy database.

12) writenews.com Up to the minute news for writers on the publishing business.

13) http://duotrope.com/index.aspx Looking for a home for your story? This is a go-t0 source for many writers. View listings by genre, pay rate and more. Get weekly reports sent to your inbox. Easily find new markets. All in one handy online database.

14) English Usage, Style, & Composition A collection of reference works which includes American Heritage, Strunk & White, Fowler’s King’s English, and other indispensable public-domain works.

15) http://www.copyright.com/ The copyright clearance center is a go-to resource for finding out what’s in the public domain and what isn’t. Especially invaluable for nonfiction writers.

These are just a few examples of the numerous resources out there. What are your go-to web tools for writing? Please add to the list in the comments. In the meantime, I hope this list proves helpful to you.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Writing Good Action Scenes

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a fan of action. Movies like the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series always entertained me. I like action in my reading, too. Space opera is my favorite science fiction genre and sword & sorcery tops my fantasy favorites. Is it any wonder that I find myself often writing action in my stories? But writing action can be a challenge for writers. When making movies, you have visual and other clues to use to inspire the tension and pacing in the audience, but when writing prose, this can be more difficult. So here are a few key tips I’ve learned.

1) Write in short snippets as much as possible. Action scenes are not the time for long internal dialogues by characters. Think about a time you were involved in a high adrenaline situation. You didn’t have time to take long pauses for deep thinking. You had to react and do so quickly and so must your characters. The same is true of long speeches. People tend to be interrupted in speaking by the need to act or react. So dialogue and even action should be described in short spurts. If you have more than four sentences to it, think twice about whether it should be split up.

2) Use action to break up dialogue and dialogue to break up action. Intersperse the two components in short segments to add a sense of pacing and tension. Writing long sections of dialogue and long sections of action will tend to read slow and thus stall the pacing. This is especially true of dialogue as noted above. Alternating them adds a sense of realism and keeps things moving.

3) Get to the point. Long descriptions of weapons and scenery don’t belong here. If things need to be set up, do it before the sequence occurs so you don’t have to interrupt the action to do it. You want to focus on sensory details–what the characters see, feel, touch, etc. Are they sweating? Are they hurting? Not on what the building behind them looks like or even the street itself. You don’t want to spend pages like Tom Clancy describing their weapon here. We need to know what it is and how it works and their skill level so we can not be surprised by their actions, but set that up elsewhere. During the action, we should already know.

4) Don’t make it too easy. Yes, the hero will likely win. But make it a challenge. Be sure and make the opponents threatening enough that the hero is in real jeapordy, otherwise the dramatic impact will be greatly lessened. No matter how skilled your hero is, he or she must have to face obstacles. In action sequences the odds should seem stacked against him.  Let them bleed from a wound. Let them misfire or miss with the sword. Let them sweat and even have to run, barely escaping. Sometimes it’s even good to let them lose one time only to have them win later on. Force them to stretch themselves in some way to succeed. Make them human or the reader’s will struggle to care.

5) Keep it believable.  This goes hand in hand with number 4. Real people are imperfect. They make mistakes. They fail. Make sure your action sequences are well researched and realistic. Besides humanizing the hero, don’t have vehicles or weapons performing beyond their capabilities. You may assume readers won’t know the difference but some will. And writing without limits rings hollow. Make sure you respect the limits and use them to up the tension. A man stuck with a sword fighting men with guns will face tense moments. A man against incredible odds is a man we root for.

6) Keep it tight. Anything absolutely not necessary should be cut. This includes long descriptions and dialogue as mentioned in number 1 but also the scene openings and closings. The rule I learned in film school was to get in a scene as late as possible and out as soon as possible. Nothing hurts pacing more than disobeying this rule. Be sure you start the action as fast as possible and end it the same. Don’t drag it out unnecessarily in your desire to make it more dramatic or a “cooler” sequence. Make it exactly as long as it really needs to be to serve the story and no longer.

7) Give the readers breathing space. Be careful about putting too many action sequences too close together. Movies build to a climax which may have twenty minutes of action but before that action scenes are interspersed with slower moments. Make sure you intersperse your action sequences with moments of character building and reflection, dialogue and discovery–slower sequences which allow readers to breathe a bit before the next intense action scene. In between scenes are where you make action sequences matter.  Action is not just about a character we care about surviving but about stakes he or she has in that victory. What is the character’s driving need or goal? This gets set up in other scenes and provided driving undercurrent to the action which makes us care.

8 ) Pick your moments. Action stories tend to have several sequences spread throughout. Be sure you consider in choosing which sequence to include where the overall dramatic level of them. You want the biggest action sequence in the entire piece to be either at the closing of the piece. Those in between should leave room for a build up to the major action sequence to come. Ideally, each scene builds up to those that follow but this can be accomplished in ways besides upping the stakes and tension or odds. With proper character arcs, character’s emotional stakes can be developed in such a way that each later sequence matters that much more, making the readers care more as well.

9) Make it matter. Action scenes do not exist solely to entertain readers and add tension. They have a greater purpose to serve the story. Something must happen which ups the stakes or increases the challenges with each scene in your story and action scenes are no exception. Don’t write action for the sake of action. Write action because it serves the story. Every action sequence should move the story and characters forward in their journey, if not, they don’t belong int he story.

10) Incorporate humor. Humor is a great tool for not only breaking the tension but building character during action sequences. It’s no accident characters like LEthal Weapon’s Riggs and Die Hard’s McClane engage in witty banter during such moments and your characters can as well. From funny actions to funny dialogue snippets, this makes the action both more enjoyable and less tense when done at the right moments and can add a lot to reader enjoyment. Don’t be afraid to incorporate it when you can. It doesn’t have to be cheesy catch phrases either. It’s all in the wording.

Just a few tips I hope will help you in writing action scenes for your stories and novels. I know these lessons have helped me.

As an example, here’s an excerpt from my debut novel, releasing October 4th, The Worker Prince: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2011/04/26/novel-excerpt-the-worker-prince-chapter-1-opening/

For what it’s worth…

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My latest project:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

Can you really tell within a few paragraphs if something is good?

Guest post by Patty Jansen
Many people are surprised when agents and editors say that they often don’t need to read an entire story to know that they’ll reject it. Some writers are even insulted. But if you read five to ten story submissions a day, and you keep this up for a few years, you tend to develop an eye for picking the 10% or so of submissions that show reasonable promise to pass onto editors. How do you do it? Here is a quick checklist I use to weed out the stories that I’ll reject immediately from the ones I’ll continue reading—in the first few paragraphs (I usually do read a bit more, or skip to a different part of the story to see if the story redeems itself). I want to stress that this is my list, and that other people may well have different criteria. That said, the issues below will raise their ugly heads at some point in the selection process.
A decent magazine gets hundreds, or even thousands of submissions each year. They typically have a number of first-line slush readers. Those people will see hundreds of submissions. They don’t need to read an entire submission to know that they’re not going to pass it to the next level. Sometimes they don’t need more than the first sentence.
Why?
There is a myth in aspiring writer-land that grammar and style don’t matter all that much. That it’s the story’s content which determines its publishability, and that beautiful prose alone won’t sell your work.
Yes, yes, and yes.
That said, what sinks a lot of stories is a lack of what I’ll call natural flow in the text. It comes both from not listening to writing advice to taking it way too seriously. It comes from trying too hard to sound interesting and from lack of cohesion in the writing. It comes from tics every writer picks up somewhere along the line.
The most important reason a story gets rejected after a paragraph or two is that there are issues with the writing style and occasionally the grammar.
What do I mean by this, and what sets red flags?
Apart from the obvious (is the text grammatically correct and are there spelling mistakes?), an experienced slush reader will see:
If first few the sentences are unwieldy and trying too desperately to fit in too much ‘stuff’. Chances are that the rest of the story follows this pattern. Sure, this is fixable, but a lot of work for the editors, and a lot of communication with a writer who may not be ready for quite this much red ink. Too much effort. Reject.
The first few sentences contains odd word choices. The writer may be hanging onto the ‘no passive language’ or ‘use interesting verbs’ mantras too much. Again, this takes a lot of effort to fix because it will be insidious throughout the piece. Too much work. Reject.
The first sentence and the second sentence don’t follow one another. There needs to be a flow of logic in the text. If the first few sentences jump around like crickets in zero-gravity, chances are that the author has a problem expressing logic in a format readers can follow. This takes a huge amount of time to fix. Reject.
The first three sentences all start with the same word, usually a pronoun. A quick scan reveals that this continues through the text. Or the sentences start with some other repetitive pattern, like a participial clause (a clause containing the –ing form of a verb) or a prepositional clause, like: In the kitchen, there was…, or, After he did this, he… Writers often use these and participial clauses to avoid some other structure (never start a sentence with ‘There was…’ says the bogeyman), but the end result can become a repetitive mush of too-complicated sentences and death by ten thousand commas.
The story starts with an unnamed character and a quick scan reveals that there is no reason for the name of the character to be mentioned for the first time only on the third page. That by itself is not a great sin, but often, the lack of a character’s name will signal POV problems that may be more confusing.
The first few paragraphs contain words that are repeated several times, for example a four-sentence paragraph in which the word ‘door’ is used five times. Again, this is fixable, but if the writer hasn’t pick this up him or herself, it will likely occur throughout the story.
And an experienced slush reader will see these things even before he or she has started to take notice of the story’s plot or its central premise. The easiest way to make it past a first slush reader is to polish your style, and the best way to do that is by writing more and reading what you want to write. Meanwhile, try to volunteer as a slush reader some time. It’s a crash course in what works in fiction.
Besides a writer of crazy fantasy and hard Science Fiction, Patty Jansen is slush reader and editor at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She blogs at http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/, about writing, about science and about editing and slush piles. Patty is a winner of the second 2010 quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest and has published in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and has a story forthcoming with Redstone SF.

Writing my First Sequel

At the beginning of February, I started writing my first sequel novel, tentatively titled “The Returning,” which carries on the story of my forthcoming first novel “The Worker Prince.” An epic space opera series, the books tell the story of Davi Rhii, born a slave but raised a Prince, who helps his native people of birth win their freedom and full citizenship in the Borali Alliance.

Whereas the first book is a space opera coming of age story set against political intrigue and a revolution, the second book is more of a thriller/mystery with forces rising to try and upset the balance and restore the Alliance to its pre-revolution state with Rhii and his people enslaved again.

It’s an interesting experience to revisit a milieu you know so well. On the one hand, I feel very comfortable writing these characters and much world building is already in place. On the other,  I felt the need to start with a multi-chapter outline through Chapter 5. While I reserve the right to change the outline as I go along, and I have, the desire to connect the story and capture the feel of the first novel compelled me to do more planning than usual.

It’s interesting to work within the parameters I’ve already set forth with a different type of story.  On the one hand, banter between characters is fun and easy to write, and I am finding it easy to just drop in the back story in little chunks in trying to avoid the common mistake of sequels known as the info dump (I was criticized for this some on my first novel and endeavored to fix what I could). On the other hand, because I know it so well, I have no idea how much is too little or too much, and I find myself seeking beta readers who have not read the first book to better guage their sense of frustration at knowing too little or desire to know more and when. So far, the betas have not even mentioned this, so I may be doing okay, although I have asked them to write questions which occur to them and where in order to give me an idea if there are pressing questions readers need answered at certain points along the way.  


While it took me a bit to get back into the swing of things, so to speak, it’s delightful to write these characters knowing them so well because I can actually enjoy the scene as it unfolds almost like a reader would, much more so than the first time around. Of course, when I run into a new character that’s a bit different, but so far it’s mostly been the old regulars. I have dealt with mostly new settings however, and that allows me to introduce some new technologies (i.e. gadgets) and other ideas to build the world further. In some ways I think introducing new settings with familiar characters will make it easier for the reader. It provides them with familiar guides to lead them into the new parts, which keeps them still feeling like they’re with old friends rather than disjointed and on totally unfamiliar ground.


I also notice how my craft has evolved. Although I will still need many drafts to polish, I am adding more detail in this first draft than I did in the past and setting up story arcs, inner monologues, etc. much better. So far the beta reader who wrote back to me said “I’m not bored” implying he was intrigued and it challenged him to give notes as a result. I’ll call that a good sign that the book is on track.


Interestingly, I just finalized the contract on Book 1 at long last and will probably sign it officially this week. So we are off and running with a projected publication date in late Summer. Next week, I go to Rainforest Writer’s Village from Wednesday through Saturday to do nothing but write, so I hope to get two chapters done there. Since I just wrapped chapter 3 today and plan to do another before I travel, that would put me at seven, around half way. Exciting stuff. What have your experiences with sequels been like?



Call For Beta Readers: The Returning

After learning from other novelists about how they do beta reading, I’ve decided to try and recruit beta readers to read as I write. The novel in question is the sequel to my forthcoming first novel, “The Worker Prince.” This book, titled “The Returning” is a space opera epic with a touch of thriller, murder mystery and political intrigue.

The basic premise is that after the workers (Vertullians) achieve citizenship and freedom from years of slavery, someone is killing them off, one at a time and stirring up questions amongst both workers and their former enemies, the Borali Alliance about whether they can all live together in peace. Our hero, Davi Rhii, former Borali prince, now a Captain in the Borali military, is sent to investigate the murders and report back to the Council of Lords. In the meantime, he faces a personal challenge in his developing relationship with Tela as their parents pressure them to marry and Tela resists his attempts to keep her safe. Aron, the first ex-worker to serve on the Council of Lords, has proposed making the worker religious holiday, The Returning, an official Alliance holiday to encourage a sense of unity, but now that plan is stirring up controversy. Meanwhile, Davi’s exhiled Uncle Xalivar is content on regaining his power as High Lord Councilor of the Borali Alliance.

Beta readers will recieve a chapter at a time. I am using the system developed by AJ Hartley at www.magicalwords.net. Readers will read the chapter on either Word file or paper and mark passages using the following system:

A=Awesome. Something about this just blew me away. Excellent.
B=Bored now.
C=Confused. He said what? The people of Anth believed in what? He can get out of the rabbit burrow because…? Huh?
D=Don’t care. Ten pages on minor character’s lineage? So what? Yeah, I’m sure it’s really clever and all but… I’ve got QVC to watch.
You only need to mark the passages which evoke one of the four responses listed. Total honesty is requested. Don’t worry about offending me. It’s first draft–a lot of work will be needed before it ever sees a publisher’s desk. And detailed explanations won’t be demanded, although they can be helpful when offered. This allows me to get a sense of how you respond to the manuscript. I prefer people who have not read book 1 because I need a sense of how well I am trickling out the back story. Is it too much, too little?
I am writing about a chapter a week (22 pages on average). I would hope you could read each chapter within 2-3 weeks and get back to me. I can’t pay you except to say I will acknowledge you in the book when it’s published and I can offer you a free copy. 
If anyone’s willing, please get in touch. My beta readers on the first book said it captured the feel of “Star Wars: A New Hope” and really liked it. I hope you’ll enjoy this as well. You’ll be helping me write a better book and I’ll also throw in a free e-copy of book 1 when you’re done if you want.
Thanks for taking time to consider it and for your support of my work and this blog!

Painting With Words: Imagery In Fiction

I don’t know how many of you have ever tried to learn a foreign language, but believe me, English is one of the harder languages to learn. As the husband of an immigrant, I can attest to my wife’s continuous learning curve with our crazy language.It’s been eye opening for me as a writer, someone who’s always had a gift with English words, to watch this process. And what I’ve discovered is that one of the biggest challenges in learning English are some of my greatest tools as a writer: figures of speech.

The tropes otherwise known as “figures of speech” are expressions not intended to be taken literally but instead used to symbolize related things in some way. The five most common figures of speech are:

Metonymy – one thing is represented by another thing associated with it. Ex: “all the crowns of Europe” wherein crowns refers rather to “kings”

Synecdoche – a part stands for the whole. Ex: “all hands on deck,” with hands standing for men.

Personification – in which human characteristics are bestowed on nonhuman things. Ex: “the gentle breeze” or “the calming storm

Metaphor – a comparison which assumes or states a comparison without acknowledging that it is a comparison. Ex: “the woman is a peach” or “the eye of a needle

Simile – a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” Ex: “the woman is like a peach

Other common tropes are:

Hyperbole – extreme exaggeration. Ex: “when she smiles her cheeks fall off.”

Oxymoron – the linking of two contradictory words. Ex: “act naturally” or “random order
Pun – a play on words using either different senses of the same word or similar senses/sounds of different words. Ex: “when it rains, it pours

Imagine being a foreigner trying to sort all those out?
For fiction writers, the simile and the metaphor are our most vital tools for painting with words, i.e. creating imagery in our fiction. It’s the tension between the two compared items which holds the power of such statements to inspire pictures and images in our readers’ minds. How alike or different are they? Good metaphors and similes get readers’ brains working to imagine how the writer could come up with such a relationship. They are intriguing, inspiring, interesting, even surprising. They contain an abstraction or judgment but yet are brief, condensed. At their best, they make us look at things in a new way.
From childhood, we are taught to learn by comparison. By being told to “be careful” when we fall, we learn that “be careful” is a warning of impending harm, which we will then apply to other situations. Our past experience forms a basis by which we predict the future and soon we are using language so full of similes and metaphors that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
A pitfall of this phenomenon is clichés. “Her heart broke as he said it” is so overused it fails to have impact any more. “Her heart shattered like glass with the impact of his remark” is different altogether. Most writers spend a lot of time developing the craft of using these kinds of comparisons. Often one has to focus intensely on these aspects of his or her fiction. I know it’s something I continue to wrestle with. But when successful, metaphors and similes form the core of rich prose. 
So next time you laugh at a foreigner struggling with English, think about your own efforts to learn craft. Maybe you’ll understand better where their struggle comes from. You might even empathize.
For what it’s worth…

Tomorrow I’ll share some exercises on how to build up your skills with imagery.

2010 Best Writers I Discovered In 2010

Since it’s that time of year, I thought I’d do a few Best Of posts.  The first one is about writers I discovered this year for the first time and really enjoyed. Given my years away from genre reading, a lot of these people are far from new, but here goes anyway, because if you don’t know who they are, you should:

Mike Resnick: I have read more books by him than any SF writer except Orson Scott Card at this point. His writing style is simple like my own without the hard SF. Instead he has great plots and characters in exotic settings like Africa or Africa inspired planets. Just really good solid story telling and craft, and to top it off, not only did I discover his stuff but we became friends this year. He’s been a real help and encouragement to me, and I’m grateful.

Jay Lake: I discovered Jay through Ken Scholes, whom I discovered in 2009 when I found “Lamentation” and loved it so much I bought “Canticle” and read it straight after. Ken is amazing and Ken and Jay are like brothers. Different yet connected at the hip. Jay and I have argued a lot over politics and some over religion. But Jay has been gracious to me and encouraging in my work and life. He’s been inspiring as well because he’s my age and yet he’s fighting cancer with a passion and dignity I don’t know if I could muster under similar circumstances. He’s a heck of a nice guy and if things work out, he’ll be my instructor at Cascade Writers in 2011. His Clockwork Earth series (Mainspring, Escapement, Pinion) introduced me to Steampunk and made me a fan. And his “The Death of A Starship” novella and short stories have awed me as well.

Nnedi Okorafor: I have her novel “Who Fears Death” sitting beside my bed waiting to be read. I’ve only read a short story by her but her conversations with me on Twitter have been deep. She’s passionate, kind, and very, very smart. She’s deep and well worth investing time in as a person, so I know she’ll be worth all of our time as a writer.

Brenda Cooper: Her story “Robot Girl” in Analog last April blew my mind and made me a fan. I have one of her novels here waiting to be read as well, but I’ve read several of her short stories and also spent time chatting with her at World Fantasy and on Twitter and she’s one admirable lady. Also deep and well worth the time.

Blake Charlton: Dyslexic med student and fantasy author and an awesome guy. “Spellwright” held me spellbound, a great read, and I can’t wait to read “Spellbound” and anything else he comes up with. Blake was one of my early Twitter friends and we finally got to hang out in person at World Fantasy. A nice guy, very smart, perceptive, and the first pro to help me out by giving feedback on a section of my novel. It was quite helpful and much appreciated. He’s a great conversationalist with a great sense of humor. Highly recommended.

James K. Burk: His debut novel “The Twelve” is some of the best character and world building in anything I’ve read all year (and I read Song of Ice And Fire this year by the way), so I recommend checking him out. Previously he had several shorts published. I look forward to more from him in the future. He also gave very useful feedback on my novel at the ConQuest 41 Writer’s Workshop and he’s a good friend.

Sam Sykes:Sam’s “Tome Of The Undergates” was the first sword & sorcery I’d read in years and I’m hooked again. Have a whole stack yet to read of the stuff. I can’t wait to read his follow up, “Black Halo,” either. Sam wrote one of the grittiest books I read all year and also one of the most honest, and he also wrote the longest battle scene I’ve ever read. He’s a nice guy and very perceptive and active on Twitter. He was also my first guest on Science Fiction Fantasy Writer’s Chat on Twitter so I owe him props forever.

Wendy Wagner: Another Twitter friend, nonetheless, her stories in several anthologies have been very impressive, but none more than “The Secret Of Calling Rabbits” from John Joseph Adam’s “The Way Of The Wizard.” I can’t wait to read her novel next year, and I’m proud as heck of her for beating me into SFWA membership.  As one who for whatever reason has read more male than female writers, Wendy has me looking at women writers with new eyes.

Christie Yant: Christie is another Twitter friend who has also set me on a path of respect for women writers. Her story “The Magician & The Maid & Other Stories” from “Way Of The Wizard” is coming in Rich Horton’s Annual Best Of next year. She gave some very insightful and thoughtful notes on one of my stories and has been a great resource for me and connected me with a lot of people. A truly talented writer and I look forward to her future output as well.

These 9 are my best and favorite new discoveries this year amongst specfic writers for reasons listed above. Who have you discovered this year?

AUTHOR’S TIP: Thesaurus Abuse No

I got criticized once that my writing style uses simpler words.  Why not show off your vocabularly or use more sophisticated verbage, they asked.  My answer:  I’m writing for a wide age group, and vocabulary is only useful if it adds to understanding, not if it takes away from it.

For example, my friend, a talented writer, just tweeted this from his WIP:  “Her soul was gnawed through, suffocating, sensitive though numb.”  Out of context, that does very little for me.  Intriguing use of words? Yes.  But meaningless without more context.  Knowing this friend, he’ll give it the context.  So I’m not worried about him, but I’ve seen plenty of writers who use words like this and end up with a jumbled mess.

Have you ever been reading and come across a word you had no idea the meaning of and it ripped you right out of the story and world?  Do you hate that?  I know I do.

Publisher Candlemark and Gleam offers this comment:  There’s a difference between having a good vocabulary and a good grasp of wordplay and being overly clever; think of the poor, overused thesaurus before running amok. Trust us, saying “her violet orbs welled up with viscous, salty fluids” does not, in fact, work as well as “her eyes brimmed with tears.” Won’t someone think of the thesaurii?

It’s not that I’m not impressed with a good vocabulary.  Well used, it can be both educational and intriguing.  I often go through during polishing and substitute words using a thesaurus.  This is to keep it from being stagnant with overly repeated words.  But I’m very careful where and what I replace.  It does you no good to show off words when the reader has to look them up constantly and step out of your story.  It’s distracting, annoying, and, in the end, insulting.  Writing is communication.  Communicate with your readers.  Fiction is story telling.  Telling them a story doesn’t work if they don’t understand it.

So when I’ve heard people criticize my lack of sophisticated words on occasion, I point to authors who are quite successful and don’t need that.  Authors like Mike Resnick, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, to name a few.  I’d much rather have words a lot more people can read than words only suitable for a select few.  How about you?

Part of having a vocabularly is knowing when and how to use the words.  If you can’t do it well, you don’t really own those words.  So don’t try and fake it, because, trust me, readers will know.  And it won’t give you cred.  It will take away cred.

For what it’s worth…

NaNoWriMo

For those who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise know as NaNoWriMo.  I have never participated in this before but decided this year I would.  I had planned to write a SF novella, but after a couple of days being stuck on that, pulled out my old first novel, the love story I had tried to write two plus years ago, and decided to revisit it.  The NaNoWriMo rules say no previous words, so this likely won’t count for credit.  I have copied a few dialogue sections from the old novel, but mostly rewritten everything else.  In any case, I don’t care.  I love this story and believe it deserves to be told, and I’ve learned a lot about my craft since I first started to write it.

One of the refreshing things about it is the switch from my usual genres.  Having crafted science fiction and fantasy novels and dozens of speculative fiction short stories since giving up on this novel, I was getting burned out.  All I’ve written and read has been those two genres.  I feel very refreshed to be stepping away from that for a bit, and I hope that freshness carries over when I return to speculative fiction after this novel draft is finished.

9452 words in three days.  3 whole chapters.  Feeling pretty good.  I can tell the structure and writing is much better than the last time, although I definitely will need to do some more drafts to work on the descriptive prose and emotional arcs.  First goal is to get the story and basic character arcs down.  Once I know the themes, all the rest can fall in place much more easily.

Likely I’ll take another pass at my fantasy novel before revising this one, but then I’ll have to move on to a sequel for “The Worker Prince” as I prepare for its publication.  I will want to get that done and to the publisher by the time the book comes out next Spring so I can stay on schedule with that series for one book a year.

In any case, it feels good to be writing daily again.  It’s taken some time away from job hunting and editing, but I need to do this for me.  Almost five months of barely writing has really left me depressed and discouraged about my writing career.  Professional writers can’t afford that kind of time off and if I want to reach that goal, I can’t either.

I’ll keep you informed as I keep chugging along.  Whatever the case, it’ll be nice to have three novels instead of one by the Spring next year.  I just hope these two have better luck helping me get an agent than “Worker Prince” did.

For what it’s worth…

World Fantasy Report

I keep putting this off but I have to blog something this week and I really don’t know why I haven’t just gotten down to it.  Maybe it’s because I don’t want to acknowledge that World Fantasy Con is over.  So fantastic an experience was it that I wish it could have gone on much longer than it did.  As much as I did in those four days, it passed like a flash, and looking back it wasn’t long enough.

Unlike many cons, World Fantasy is a literary convention focused on writers, editors, publishers and artists.  It leans heavily toward pros, semi-pros and aspiring pros, and it is all about one thing:  networking.  Sure, they have the World Fantasy awards.  Sure, they have panels.  But the heart of this convention is community.  And I felt a part of the community of Science Fiction and Fantasy in a special way.  I met some people I have long admired and wanted to meet, and I met others who are just getting started just like me.  Some of those were friends I’d already met on Twitter and Facebook.  Some were new faces.  Either way, it was a delight to be able to finally say “yes, I know these people.”

I spent a lot of time just meeting as many people as I could.  In some cases, I used the excuse of books to get signed.  In others, I used my position with Tangent.  At no time did I try to sell anyone my work.  Instead, I focused on just making a good impression and getting to know them.  In the end, I found people often asked me about myself in turn.  One person at the TOR party, upon hearing my dream of one day being a TOR author, introduced me to Tom Doherty himself as a great new writer.  Mind you, this was someone who had never read my work.  Doherty asked me what I was working on and who I was going to send it to, then suggested I send it directly to one of his editors.  I could have pinched myself.

Another time, I got to chat with editor John Joseph Adams, who happens to date a friend of mine.  JJ is a really nice guy and I enjoyed picking his brain about editing and his approach as well as anthologies.  I pitched him an idea of my own to get his opinion and he thought it was a good idea, then suggested some potential markets.  I already have one publisher interested and want to approach another just in case.

I also spent several hours with Mike Resnick, one of my writing heroes.  I’ve befriended him on FB and Twitter, and though I didn’t remind him of his promise to buy me a drink, instead we talked about my novel and how to market and he introduced me to several people who came by — Kay Kenyon, Gordon Van Geller, and others since Mike knows everyone.

Lastly, I spent several hours chatting with Jeremy Lassen and the publisher of Brilliance Audio about publishing and other topics.  They were very kind to this ignorant neophyte and explained things, offering the wisdom of their experience.

I also got the chance to give out some copies of my book “The North Star Serial, Part 1.”  Mostly to friends, including Mike Resnick, as a thank you for their support.   I attended readings of friends like John Remy, Sandra Wickham, JJ Adams, and Saladin Ahmed.  And I got autographs and brief chats with luminaries like Paolo Bacigalupi, John Scalzi, Peter Straub, David Drake, Gene Wolfe, David Hartwell, Gordon Van Gelder, and others.

With all the free food in the Con Suite and the free books, I was in unemployed person’s heaven.  I still spent a bit of money on a few books and meals and luggage costs, but overall, I just got the chance to hang out and relax.  The two or three panels a day I managed to attend were informative and enjoyable.  And downtown Columbus turned out to be a great experience as well.

For me, as I prepare to release my first book, I got a better sense of what a con might run like, which can help me prepare to participate more fully as a writer next year.  And I got a lot of brochures on various cons to help me learn about what’s out there.  Truly a memorable experience.  I’m so glad I went.

To Simon, Livia, Blake, Sam, Sandra, Erika, John, Christie, JJ, Saladin, Brenda, John, and the other new friends who let me hang out with them, such a pleasure.  I look forward to doing it again.

For what it’s worth…

World Fantasy Con, Columbus, Ohio

World Fantasy is still a whirlwind for me, and I am in definite withdrawal.  I will post more reflections on this as I have time to process, but I will say that 30 minutes chatting with Tom Doherty in which he asked “when are you going to send us something,” 2 hours chatting with Mike Resnick and being introduced to all of his contacts as well as getting his advice on marketing, publishing, etc., and an hour picking John Joseph Adams’ brain on editing definitely justified the cost of the event.  Add to that meeting so many wonderful people from my Twitter and Facebook feeds and many new ones as well, just made me feel like a part of a big family and that’s really encouraging.

More on the panels later, but they were wonderful, even though there were many I wished I could attend but didn’t make it because of balancing sleep, panels, and networking.  The parties were fun, the free food unexpected, and the travel smooth.  I am so glad I got to go, and I so look forward to the next one.

Thanks to all who helped make the time so enjoyable and productive. Here’s some pics of the relative people:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2085972&id;=1085393457&l;=10d94d796c

For what it’s worth…

The Wronging of Elizabeth Moon

These comments very much address how I feel about the Elizabeth Moon controversy and unfair treatment and villianizing of her by other parties.  And in general, they also address how the Left browbeats anyone who doesn’t agree with them in the name of intolerance, showing their own intolerance as they do so.  Both sides are guilty of this, but the Left in particular has gotten way out of hand.  If Moon had said the same things she said about Muslims about Christians, no one would have objected.  Which is just as wrong as saying it about anyone else.  The difference?  Christians are acceptable villians to the Left.


I did not make these comments, and I am lifting them without permission from a Listnet, so I will neither take credit nor offer it but I agree 100%.  I do not 100% agree with Elizabeth Moon, however, she does demonstrate how many Americans stereotype Muslims.  The way to address that is not with vitriol but reasonable discussion to reveal the falseness of the stereotypes and assumptions being made.  Her one point I do agree with is that groups often want special treatment they won’t extend to others.


Here are the comments I endorse:


1. Moon’s comments make explicitly clear that she is not talking about an
entire group of people.
 

2. It is true that the Convention has the right to do what they did, but
likewise those of us who do not agree with their actions have the right to
criticize them for political correctness (which is exactly what this is).


3. The comments weren’t made on the convention’s “dime,” and there is not
reason to expect that she would make political comments at the convention,
so the “not on my dime” rationale doesn’t hold up.

It is unfortunate that in today’s America, the left/progressive side of U.S.
politics is the bastion of a new McCarthyism, where you can’t say something
that is not-PC, or hold a view that is not an approved viewpoint. It is
particularly unfortunate to me, because I’m very progressive/liberal on
social issues, and when I was younger and first became politically active, I
bought into the idea that the left/progressive side was the side of
tolerance, free-flow of ideas, etc. It is anything but that. Both sides have
their villains in this regard, but the left is far worse than the right,
which strikes me as ironic.  

Lastly, when I read stories they stand on their own merit (or fall on it),
and I really couldn’t care less about the person views of the author. So
an author is against homosexuality – that’s may be somewhat expected given his
religious views. The fact that I am in favor of gay rights and gay
marriage, etc. doesn’t prevent me enjoying one of his stories, if it is a
good story. Same for Elizabeth Moon. But this goes back to the sort of
McCarthyism I was talking about above, where it isn’t just enough to
criticize or disagree politically with one’s opponents, but where instead
they have to be vilified personally to the point that you can’t even
separate the person’s political views from a piece of science fiction.

 
Unfortunate.

[Disclaimer: I am not progressive/liberal but I do tend to be progressive/conservative and moderate on social issues. ]

It is indeed unfortunate and un-American when people handle controversies like this today, and I think it’s ruining our country.  I pray daily that it will stop.  For what it’s worth…

15 Authors Who’ve Influenced Me

Apparently, this is one of those list things going around so here’s mine (and the list is far from complete)

15 Authors Who Have Influenced Me: (no particular order)

Robert Silverberg
Mike Resnick
Ken Scholes
Nicholas Sparks
WEB Griffin
John Grisham
Timothy Zahn
Orson Scott Card
Alan Dean Foster
JRR Tolkein
CS Lewis
Arthur Conan Doyle
HG Wells
Charles Dickens
Leon Metz

FIrst Book Signing

Attended my first book sale/signing this weekend at the La Viña Winery Harvest Festival.  We were situated right next to the very loud music stage in the El Paso Writers’ League booth.  The booth was nice and it was loaded with books by our members.  I sold 3 Saturday and 2 Sunday, but that was just my own.  I sold several books by other authors as well.  I am not and never will be real pushy.  My theory is: I want people to get the right book for them.  No sense having them mad at me for talking them into the wrong book plus badmouthing the book to their friends.  Better for everyone if they say: “I got it from El Paso Writer’s League.  The guy was really nice and the book was good.”  Good for me, good for EPWL, and good for the author.

Being the only SF book was a bit tough, but those to whom it sold seemed really enthusiastic about it.  I had hoped that my bargain price would make the book sell a little better, but it didn’t sell much when I wasn’t there.  So I am assuming it’s either my charisma or the lack of others’ knowledge of the book which made the difference.

It was a fun experience.  Fun to chat with the customers, other authors, browsers, and just to hang out in the clean air.  We had the world’s longest corndog, samples some wines, and even had a funnel cake.  Two weekends in a row.  You can’t beat that!

In any case, I hope to do more of these and start selling my book.  I really need to get the income and make back my investment, plus, I’m proud of the stories.  I think they’re enjoyable and a good tease of my writing, even if they’re shorter and simpler than most of what I do.

One weird thing about book signings is that sometimes people ask you to write things like “to my best friend” or “with all my love.”  I wasn’t asked to do that this time, thankfully, because I won’t do it.  To write anything untruthful just isn’t me.  But I did have a guy who wanted me to include “outlandish” in whatever I wrote.  So to him I wrote:  “May this book inspire you to dream outlandish dreams and reach for the stars.”  Pretty good improv, if you ask me, but then, I am a writer, so I’m supposed to have a way with words.

I’m going to offer a special deal.  The first 15 people to comment on this blog this week will get the discounted price from LaViña of $5 per book.  That’s $7.49 retail, so you ave $2.49.  You’ll either have to pay shipping or arrange to pick up your copy, but hey, everyone who’s read it has liked it, and you will too.

Okay, let’s start those comments…

Science Fiction Oddball

Sometimes I feel like a science fiction oddball. The stories I like most and like to write are good old fashioned space opera, like Star Wars or Star Trek, and sword & sorcery like Legend Of the Seeker, or high fantasy like Lord Of The Rings, etc. I don’t like slipstream. I don’t like stories which have no discernible speculative element. I don’t like preachy stories pushing a political agenda. And I don’t like stories with overwhelming amounts of science or magic which feel like textbooks. Tell me a story with good plot full of action and riveting, well developed characters.

Partly this is because I am a child of the media generation which are not the most die hard science fiction fans these days. I did not grow up on the old school science fiction stuff. I read some of it (Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Lord Of The Rings, Lord Valentine’s Castle, the Narnia Books, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and more). I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek tie-ins and the movies and tv shows. Those were what I got my biggest science fiction fix from. And certainly I have enjoyed going back and discovering much old science fiction stuff along with the new, both of which I continue to do. But I still want those lovable characters with action as they fight bad guys, save the girl, and save the world.

I don’t write hard science fiction. What would be the point? Biology was the only class I flunked in college. I never took Chemistry. The only science class I did well in was Astronomy, in which I got an A minus. And I skip the long boring sections in Tom Clancy books where he spends half a chapter describing a gun or vehicle. Who cares? Tell me a story. So those kinds of things just don’t impress me. In large part, that’s because they don’t make me feel anything. Characters do.

As I prepare to get my novel deal finalized and figure out a marketing plan, I am hoping there are lots of others like me, because that’s what I wrote, and I fear that may make it less appealing to the standard science fiction crowd. The fans who attend ComicCon and DragonCon would love it though, and I hope to reach out to them. Not sure how yet, but that’s the goal. Every reader who’s read it so far has raved about the book, including two fellow writers and two professional editors. Two small presses are bidding on it. I believe it’s good and people will like it. But they have to read it first.

Here’s hoping this is one case where being an oddball doesn’t leave me standing on the sidelines at the big game.

For what it’ worth…

NOVEL EXCERPT: Prologue from The Worker Prince

This is the first chapter of my forthcoming science fiction novel The Worker Prince. It’s a space opera in the vein of Star Wars and Star Trek. If you enjoy it, please spread the word.

Prologue

Sol climbed to the top of the rise and stared up at the twin suns making their daily ascension. Yellows and oranges faded under the increasing blue of oncoming daylight, leaving a red glow on the horizon.

For as long as he could remember, he’d started each day with an escape from the heavy, polluted air and the noise of people, factories and traffic. He’d hoped the peaceful, quiet sunrises would calm him as usual to face the day ahead, but today he had no sense of peace, and the silence of the city’s edge drowned beneath the clamor within him.

My precious son! My God, don’t forsake us now!

The wait had been interminable, punctured by endless prayers to God for a precious gift. Now they had to send him away—their Davi! Was there no justice in this universe?

He glanced at his chrono and sighed. Wouldn’t want to be late to serve the Borali Alliance! After one last look at the twin suns, he turned and hurried back along the path toward Iraja and the starport stretched out on the horizon near the city’s edge.

He labored more with each breath as heavy air filled his lungs. The depot occupied a strategic site at the center of the planet ensuring easy access from all regions. Ignoring the droning soundtrack of the city awakening, Sol timed in on the chrono and greeted Aron, his co-worker and lifelong friend.

“Regallis,” Aron said, smiling.

“Regallis?” Sol asked. It seemed so far away—one of the outer planets in the system.

Aron nodded. “It’s perfect. Good population, frequent tourists, fertile plants, peaceful, no pollution. Best of all, no slavery. Davi should find a very happy life there.” Sol smiled at the thought. “I plotted coordinates for the capital. Figured it would give him the best chance.”

Sol clapped Aron on the shoulder, as the idea blossomed. “Thank you, Aron. We knew we could count on you.”

Aron, short and bulky, filled out the blue-green uniform jumpsuit, leather boots and tool belt both wore more fully than the thinner, taller Sol. They moved across a hangar toward their workstation, despite the deafening racket closing in around them—the constant hum of machinery, men raising their voices to be heard over it, the roaring of engines, the staccato hammering of tools. The sounds, the chaos of starships in all states of repair and the smell of fuel and sweat combined to make the hangar a place most visitors preferred to avoid. Sol didn’t even notice.

“What do you have left to do?” Aron asked as their eyes scanned the daily work assignments on their terminals.

“Test the seals and navigation system, replace injector. Then I need fuel.” Sol sighed, ticking the tasks off on his fingers like always. There would be no time to work on the courier today.

“My friend at the fuel depot has left over military fuel cells. They almost never ask for them back. He volunteered some for the courier.”

Sol beamed. If he’d ever had a brother, he hoped it would have been someone like Aron. “What did I do to deserve a friend like you?”

Aron shrugged. “Some people are luckier than others.” Sol laughed at Aron’s silly grin as they set to work on their assigned tasks.

As they commenced with their work, Sol stared through the hangar’s transparent roof at the clear blue sky overhead. Through a break in the gray, polluted clouds, the clean purity of a blue sky contrasted with his daily existence. He and Lura had adored every moment since the birth of their son. Every giggle, smile, or sign of personality sent waves of warm amazement coursing through him. There was not any more precious gift than that of this little creature who’d come from their love.

Lord Xalivar’s decree had taken the planet by storm. All first-born worker sons would be slaughtered for the gods. There were rumors that the crisis resulted from one of the High Lord Councilor’s nightmares, but no one knew for sure. Xalivar didn’t need a reason. Concerning the slaves, his word was law.

The gods! Gods our people don’t even believe in would dare to take away our Davi! Sol and Lura desperately wondered what they could do to save their precious boy. After hours of discussion, they’d found a single choice.

The next morning, Sol had begun modifying the round, silver craft designed to carry supplies and papers between planets in the solar system. Being a mechanic at the depot put him in the perfect position. He installed a vacuum sealer and oxygen vents and hollowed out the carrier cavity to hold the cushion on which he would place their tiny son for the journey.

Sol enlisted Aron, who had access to navigation charts for the entire system, knowing together they could find a place where Davi would be found and cared for. The courier’s sub-light drive would cut travel time to no more than a day to anywhere in the solar system.

Lura wouldn’t eat and barely slept, sitting with Davi and refusing to leave him. At least Sol’s work kept him occupied. He couldn’t bear watching her suffer, and if he didn’t act, Davi would be sacrificed with the others. Healing would come when they knew he was safe. Sol was, even now, working on a tracking device, which would send back a signal to the depot when the craft landed. They might never see Davi again, but at least they would know he’d escaped to a new life.

As the suns’ rays warmed the space where he stood, it comforted Sol to know their baby boy would see the same suns wherever he wound up. Shadows crept away like their quat, Luci, who loved to sneak around feeling invisible with her arched back and long tail. Luci would miss the precious little one, too. Sol offered a silent prayer of thanks for the time they’d had with their precious son then turned back to his tasks.

***

“LSP Squads are landing and moving toward our neighborhoods.” A co-worker appeared beside Sol’s worktable, his fearful eyes darting around like flies hovering over a corpse.

“We don’t have much time,” Sol said to Aron as the co-worker hurried off, and they abandoned the hulking barge to finish the courier.

Aron tested the navigation system, while Sol checked the seals. Less than thirty minutes later, the first reports of methodical killings came in—first-born males of all ages slaughtered by LSP squads moving from home to home.

“I hope Lura heard the news.” Sol couldn’t stand still.

“I’m sure everyone on the planet knows about it by now,” Aron replied as both did their best to hurry without making any mistakes. “She’s probably on her way here already.”

Sol nodded, fighting the tension rising within. She would follow their plan and head for the depot with Davi. With his supervisors watching, he couldn’t run home and warn her. He’d risk encountering the LSP squads, who tended to shoot first and ask questions later of citizens who interrupted them in action.

The supervisor was upon them within the hour. “There’s no courier on your worksheets.”

His gray jumpsuit bore not a blemish or wrinkle, unlike theirs which were covered with grease and grit. The stare from the green-scaled supervisor’s disproportionally large orange eyes might have been intimidating if Sol hadn’t already grown used to it. Tran hurried over waving the two lower arms extending from either side of his rounded, voluminous stomach. Two parallel arms extended out of his shoulders above them, one holding an electronic translator which translated his words from his native Lhamor—a series of clicks and clacks—into the common used standard, the official language of the Alliance.

Sol’s throat tightened, but Aron remained calm. “It’s the courier for Estrela Industries, Tran,” Aron said as he typed calculations into the navigation system’s computer. “We got notification they’ve moved up the testing. It’s for a top-secret program authorized by Lord Xalivar himself.”

Sol and Aron had long ago devised the story about the courier belonging to an important defense contractor. They’d seen too many other workers killed just for failing to meet their quotas. Since couriers were a part of their regular routine, it was easy enough to excuse their working on it from time to time if anyone asked. Before now, no one had.

Tran mulled this over, staring at them as if he could read their minds. “It’s almost done—a few minor adjustments.” Sol used a wrench to finish checking bolts on the courier’s hatch.

“Well, you can’t leave today without finishing your assignments.” Tran’s eyes reddened with suspicion before he whirled and marched away. At least they’d bought themselves time.

“If he goes to the manager—” Sol shuddered at the memory of past tortures for disobedience.

“He won’t. He flinches at the mention of Xalivar’s name,” Aron reminded him, as they hurried back to work on the courier. Sol’s breathing normalized again, and he hoped Lura was on her way there.

A clerk in a red jumpsuit appeared, handing Aron some parts for another project. As Aron signed the laser pad to acknowledge receipt, the co-worker looked at Sol. “They’ve started in your neighborhood. We just heard.”

Sol and Aron exchanged a frightened glance as the co-worker slipped away. Sol’s muscles tightened as his heartbeat climbed. He jumped at the communicator’s beep, then double clicked the talk button. “Station sixty-five.”

“Your wife is in the lobby,” the auto-bot receptionist responded. The line went dead.

Sol’s shoulders descended as he turned to Aron. “Get the pod to Test Pad Seventeen-A. We’ll meet you there.” Aron nodded as Sol hurried toward the lobby.

Lura waited with Davi wrapped in a blanket, rocking him in her arms. She wore a simple white jumpsuit and tan leather shoes, her long brown hair flowing down her back. As it had for fifteen years, her beauty took his breath away. The most perfect human he’d ever met had chosen him. He felt like a leprechaun from an Old Earth fairy tale grasping a pot of gold.

Sol hugged Lura, seeing the fear in her eyes. “Come with me.” Grabbing her arm, he steered her away from the four-armed auto-bot, which sat permanently affixed before a huge communications console. He tried to relax, knowing it was a mech but as they neared the door, Davi began crying.

“Is that a baby?” Tran’s voice came from behind them, and they turned to see him frowning as he approached.

“It’s our son,” Lura commented, then put a hand over her mouth as Tran reached for a communicator on the wall.

The clerk who’d delivered supplies to Sol and Aron earlier entered at a run. “Tran, Station Thirty-Four has no fuel.”

Tran stopped reaching for the communicator and turned to face him. “What do you mean they have no fuel?”

As Sol pushed Lura through the door, Tran whirled back around, scowling before the door slammed shut behind them.

Lura’s tears flowed as they zigzagged through the chaotic hangar toward the test pads. They almost couldn’t hear Davi crying above the din.

“I’m sorry…” Lura’s hand shook as she clung to his arm.

“Let’s hope Aron’s got the courier ready.” Sol tapped three numbers into a security door and it rose into a ceiling cavity with a loud, whooshing sound. He ushered her down a dimly lit corridor.

“I don’t know if I can let him go,” Lura said, as she had over and over since the decree’s release.

“If we want our son to grow old, we have no choice, love.” Sol’s practiced emotional burying failed and his voice cracked as they moved past numbered doors toward Test Pad Seventeen-A.

The dark walls and floor of the narrow corridor absorbed what little light the reflector pads overhead provided. If Sol hadn’t known the way, they would have progressed more slowly. They stopped before a gray door marked seventeen-A as Sol entered another key code into the security pad.

The door swung up and Sol rushed Lura and Davi onto the test pad, where Aron was busy double-checking the courier’s navigation system. Mounted on the launcher, the courier appeared bigger and taller than it actually was. Upon seeing it, Lura clutched Davi tightly to her chest.

“Lura, we must hurry!” Tiny daggers danced and sliced at the surface of Sol’s pounding heart.

“I’ve got the coordinates programmed. And I borrowed fuel for the sub-light drive from Station Thirty-Four,” Aron said and Sol winced. “It should take them a while before they miss it.”

Sol climbed a small ladder and examined the courier one final time. “Tran’s already been alerted. Why’d you do that?”

“There was no time to go anywhere else,” Aron said, his face registering alarm.

Sol motioned to the courier. “Let’s get the engines prepped. They don’t know where we’ve gone.”

Aron and Sol hurried about the final launch preparations as Lura held Davi and cried. After a few moments, Sol stepped down from the ladder to join her.

“He’s going to Regallis, Lura. Aron checked it out himself. He’ll be in the capital. Someone will give him a life we never could.” Tears flowed as his hands carressed the feathery down atop his son’s head.

“How can this be happening?” Lura said through her sobs. “We’ve waited so long for a child!”

Sol’s arms wrapped around her, holding his family for the last time. “We have to have faith, Lura. God will protect him. It’s time for him to go.” He reached for Davi. Lura resisted a moment, then kissed Davi’s forehead and surrendered.

His infant son lay so light in his arms—soft and warm. The eyes looked to him with total trust, but instead of cuddling with him as he wanted, Sol hugged the tiny boy to his chest and hurried up the ladder to the courier. Placing Davi in the molded cushion, he wrapped the safety straps around him, put the life support pad in place and turned it on. Its LEDs lit up bright green. The note he’d written for whoever found Davi rested secure in the info pouch on the side wall. Everything was good to go.

Lura rushed up the ladder beside him. She removed her necklace his mother had given her before their joining ceremony and set it beside their son. Since the ceremony, Sol had never seen her without it. Tucking the family crest emblem inside the blanket where it couldn’t float free and scratch their son, he reached for the hatch, bending down as he did to kiss Davi’s head.

“Always remember we love you,” he said, the last words his baby son heard before the hatch closed over him.

Sol clasped Lura’s hand and led her down the steps. He nodded as Aron entered the launch code in the computer, and they all moved out of range to watch. The courier’s engines ignited, humming as they rose to full power in preparation for launch. The room vibrated around them as the courier’s engines shot out twin columns of orange-red flame, rocking the pedestal upon which it rested, before launching into the sky on its journey to the edge of the solar system. Sol wrapped his arms around Lura as she collapsed against him, sobbing. Security forces arrived, surrounding them, and Sol glimpsed Tran’s orange eyes peering in from the doorway.

326 pp · ISBN 978‐0‐9840209‐0‐4 ·Trade Paperback/Epub/Mobi · $14.95 tpb $3.99 Ebook  · Publication: October 4, 2011  · Diminished Media Group
Available now for 20% off on preorders!!!

Trade paperback only

 EPUB or MOBI — please specify in notes on order

The Worker Prince: Book 1 In The Saga of Davi Rhii

AUTHOR’S TIP: Playing The Waiting Game

I think one of the hardest parts of being a writer is the waiting. You wait to hear back on submissions, wait to hear back from beta readers, wait for checks to arrive, wait for books to arrive, etc. And if you’re anything like me, waiting is probably not your forté. So what do you do to get through it?

Here’s a few suggestions:

1) Keep multiple projects going. Once you send out the latest manuscript to your betas or a slush pile, get to work on the next one. Okay, you can allow yourselves one evening to celebrate your satisfaction, but, after that, back to work. After all, even if this one gets accepted, careers don’t happen on one submission. You have to keep building your business.

2) Regard it as a business. All too often I meet writers who talk as if their writing is a hobby, yet act as if acceptance or rejection is something their life depends on. I have few friends whose hobbies are so important to them. If you’re that invested, it’s not a hobby, so stop pretending it is and treat it like a business. Work on your craft, including writing classes, reading a lot, studying what other writers do and how they describe their own craft and struggles. Set up a database for you submissions and your income and expenses. Treat it like the business you want it to be.

3) Blog about it. That’s what I’m doing and it’s therapeutic. There are lots of people going through the same thing and sharing with each other is an encouragement and learning experience.

4) Remind yourself that finishing and submitting your work puts you a step ahead of many others. Lots of people say they are writers or want to be, but only those who actually write, complete it and submit it have the chance to actually make it as professionals.

5) Offer Reader Incentives. This one won’t work with the markets you submit to, but it might work with your beta readers. Of course, it all depends on your budget. But think about running little contests with your betas for the person with the most helpful notes, the quickest response time, etc. You can offer everything from gift certificates for a cup of Starbucks to writing lessons or services. It might be a way to keep your betas motivated. After all, if they’re not writers, they probably don’t realize how hard the waiting is or how important their input is to your success.

Everyone’s situation is unique, so I’m sure you can think of better ideas than I can. See what you can come up with to make the wait time pass more quickly. Whatever works for you might not work for me. The point is to use the time to further your career, instead of regarding it as holding you back.

Good luck with your writing.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: Making Perfect Bound Arcs With Create Space

After almost a year, nine drafts, two independent editors, a series of beta readers, two critique groups, and a few rejections, I was tired of looking at the word file that was my novel’s manuscript. I still believed in the story and characters and felt good about my writing though. Both the professional editors I’d worked with and the betas had raved at about, as had my crit group members. I’d polished and polished. But still had not achieved what I wanted — holding the finished book in my hand.

Then I remembered the process I’d used to self-publish my short story collection using Create Space. If you format the cover and book interior yourself, there’s no set up cost. And if you don’t click “Submit For Publishing,” Create Space never releases the book to Amazon or stores. This could be the perfect way to get to that next phase, I thought.

I went through the manuscript again and polished it some more, addressing a few issues I discovered with the main character’s arc, polishing and tightening words and sentences and making sure it was ready. Then I sent it out to two betas for corrections and final notes.

After their notes came back, I implemented them into the manuscript, made a copy of the Word file and started reformatting the copy to meet Create Space’s instructions for the interior of a 6×9 trade paperback. Locating a free temporary cover image off the web, I trimmed that down and used Photoshop to fit it into Create Space’s cover template. Then I sent both files off to a friend who was experienced with Photoshop to double check and polish.

When they were ready, I sent them to Create Space for file approval.

Up to this point my total cost: zero. Much cheaper than print cartridges and paper reams would be.

A day or two later, after Create Space approved the files (which took a couple of tries with the cover because Create Space’s instructions aren’t any more understandable than anyone else’s), I ordered a copy for proofing.

Looking it over, I made a few changes, resubmitted the files, and, a week later, had another proof.

What a great feeling it was to finally hold the book I’d dreamed up 25 years before in my hand looking like a real book. Oh sure, I still had to find a publisher, but at least I knew it would look good that way, and reading the paperback was much easier than reading a backlit .doc file.

Since I never submitted for publishing, Create Space never released the book for sale so no one except me and Create Space even know it exists. I sent a few copies to faithful betas and a couple of reviewers and then submitted to small presses.

Now I am awaiting word from two who are interested in bidding for it. Altogether a very useful tool for getting professional looking book copies inexpensively. Total cost per ARC: $7.50 + shipping.

For what it’s worth…

Self-Publishing

Well, it’s time to get back to blogging after another week of insane busyness. I’m not sure if anyone regularly follows this or not, but from the comments at least a couple of people have stopped in. Since I just had my first experience with self-publishing, and I try and make this blog about all things related to writing, publishing, editing, creating and reading fiction, it seems appropriate to blog on that experience.

First, a disclaimer. I don’t put much credence in self-publishing. Okay, I know that’s ironic coming from a guy who just self-published a book. Want to hear something more ironic? The small press which publishes the ezine running the stories told me after he heard I self-published that he’d like to publish them. (Still talking to him about that possibility so these few books may actually end up as collector’s items one day). I don’t give self-publishing much credence because the publishing industry as a whole doesn’t, and I share their reasons. Anyone can self-publish, and, in many cases, they don’t even have to hire a professional editor, copy editor, etc. So with self-published books, you don’t know what you’re getting.

Also, since self-published books are a dime a dozen and professionally published books are not, it is clear the ones people put money in and agents chose to represent have been vetted as standing out amid the hordes of possibilities, which means they are probably higher quality than the run of the mill self-published book. (Don’t yell at me. Of course there are exceptions!) So generally the pro-published ones can be bought with confidence that your money and time will not likely be wasted. We all know how that goes though.

The reason I chose to go this route is that I have queried a ton of agents about my novel, which gets rave reviews from readers, editors, and others but can’t see to land an agent, and I have yet to sell short stories to major markets, so I need to build my brand identity and name recognition. The best shot at doing that is at the two conventions I will attend this year: ConQuest 41 in Kansas City at the end of this month, and World Fantasy at the end of October. I will also try and slip out to Raleigh in August for National Science Fiction if I possibly can.

The goal is to give these books to agents, writers, publishers, and editors as swag. 13 pulp-style space opera stories, all 5-6 pages, 15-1600 words, with one chapter from each of my novels at the end and information on my website. If nothing else, I hope to sell enough to family and friends to support the swag copies, and one or two people might actually like the stories enough to take a further look at my work. If I get really lucky, I might get a reputation as a promising writer and generate far more interest than that. Either way, I have nothing to lose.

I chose CreateSpace because there was no set up cost. As long as I formatted it myself–and I spent a lot of time doing so and editing, reviewing, tweaking and still let an error through (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH)–it only costs me shipping and cost to get the books. Selling them through Amazon’s distribution net keeps my costs down but gets me very little profit. Selling on my website gets me 4 times as much. But anyway, the point was, other than artwork, shipping and cost per copy, my overhead is very low. The quality is high. And it was fast.

A lot of sites offer you self-publishing with required set up costs from several hundred to one thousand plus dollars. I not only don’t have the money, I don’t see the point in investing that in something I will mostly distribute as swag. So this made sense for me, and although there have been some hiccups, it’s overall been a good experience.

The hiccups came in two ways. 1) Figuring out how to format the files to meet their technical requirements was tough because I had no idea what language the instructions were written in. They looked like English but read like anything but. 2) Once I did that, I had made some errors which only a person who’d done this before would know, such as making the pages you want facing the front of the book always odd pages, etc. 3) My artist is in college and almost failed to meet the deadline, so I hired another guy, and ended up having to combine their work into something that worked. Both are talented, great guys who do great work, but my deadlines were just ridiculously tight because I only decided to do this two months before I needed the books, and I still had to write the stories! 4) I set myself a stressfully short deadline.

In the end, I had to send proofs in three times to get the books right and still ended up with 50 books containing flipped pages in two spots. Not a major big deal for average readers, but for the swag-pros, I couldn’t live with it. To their credit, CreateSpace replaced those books for free, expedited shipping.

I will say it’s cool to see your book for sale on Amazon, and to receive books with your name and words on them even if they have minor errors. And I really hope they are well received by the recipients as they were by my beta readers. I am doing a giveaway on good reads to generate buzz and reviews, and who knows where this could lead. The stories start circulating in Digital Dragon online in July, and these 13 are just the first part. I hope to write at least another 13 more.

I’ll let you know how they’re received and how the various sales/giveaways go. For now, that’s how my first self-publishing venture has gone. For what it’s worth…

(To purchase The North Star Serial, Part 1 for $7.49 plus shipping, go to my website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net)

Sharks in Publishing

I just got an exciting email this past week: an anthology wanted to publish one of my own favorite short stories. Having not yet made a professional sale in fiction (so far I have had fiction work only appear in ezines) and given that he was paying the professional rate, I was naturally excited. Until he broke the terms out. He wants me to hand over the copyright to DE (his company) and that’s for life. He wants to have his editor rework my story to meet his needs with no input from me (I did negotiate and finally got him to agree to give me approval), and he wants to restrict my sale of the story in the future unless he gets paid.

I have submitted to a lot of professional fiction and nonfiction markets. This is the first time I was ever asked to give up a copyright. I sent out the question to three groups I am involved with, including American Christian Fiction Writers. The combined membership of the groups is easily several hundred. Of the fifty responses I got within an hour, only one person had ever been asked to give up copyright and she had refused. Another friend told me it is unethical to even ask.

DE’s reasons were to protect his investment in the anthology he was creating. He wanted total control so he could market it. When I offered him First Serial Rights and Electronic Rights, he told me that was archaic and the way of the past. He was working in the way of the future. If he’s able to foretell the future, that is indeed impressive, but every fiction market I research online still asks for the rights I offered, never copyright. Not even book publishers ask for that. So I guess he’s the only one who’s really hip and ahead of his time then.

I pulled the story and refused to agree unless he changed terms, so I lost a nice pay check and a chance to be published. It made for a depressing day, but imagine what would happen if one of my favorite stories was suddenly in demand by Hollywood for a film or TV production and I didn’t own it. If I wanted to someday do a collection of my short stories (if I ever do sell any and become respected enough) and couldn’t use this one. Imagine if someone wanted to give me an award and include it in their award anthology and I couldn’t allow that?

DE justified this additionally by saying he was buying stories from Indian writers for $10 each and was offering me thirty times that, so he was treating me more fairly and helping me get exposure. Well he’s exploiting the Indians and he wanted to exploit me, because this is his first publication venture. He has no track record, no distribution and isn’t even sure which stories he’ll end up using and whether it will be print or ebook. The more we emailed, the more I realized he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that made me even more convinced I’d be a fool to turn over my intellectual property rights to him.

To all you writers out there, it sucks to lose a sale. I get that, believe me. But don’t get so desperate you lose your self-respect and sell out. It’s not worth it, and it will come back to haunt you. Take my advice and those of lawyers and others and stand up for yourself. I hope someone else buys this story, because I really like it. But at least if they buy it, it will be from me and not someone else.

Wouldn’t you prefer it that way with your stories?

For what it’s worth…