Monthly Archives: April 2016

Remembering Ed Dravecky

Hey guys. Pauline’s taking a break this month, so you have to deal with me.

I in turn have to deal with Dallas-area fandom blowing up my Facebook feed, because they’re dealing with the thing we all have to deal with, at least until magic tribble serum gets FDA approval.

From a distance, to Google News and the rest of the world, it looks like this:

WhoFest Co-Founder Dies During Festival in Irving

File 770 keeps it straight and to the point: Ed Dravecky III (1968-2016)

But the people in my neck of the woods are sharing this:

And this:

And everywhere you look, it’s love by the numbers:

Ed Dravecky Remembrance Fund - 223% funded in 1 day

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t know Ed. I’m really sorry to say that I’ll never get the chance. But in the midst of the tempests perennially roiling the teacups of fandom, I think it’s worth taking the time to remember the people who spend their lives quietly making the world a better, happier, more inviting place for others. Good people doing good things rarely make headlines on their own – but they’re out there, and they’ll get exactly as much publicity as we give them. And until we lock down the formula for magic tribble serum, that’s probably the best, most important thing any of us can do.

#ThisOnesForEd

Cybermorality: Soldierless Warfare, pt. II

In the last installment I addressed the moral cost of engaging in war with robots rather than humans. That was a response to a Rolling Stone article, and I condensed that Novelocity post down to a few sentences and sent it in to Rolling Stone.

Well, they published it. So yes, Novelocity had it first and one of the best known magazines in the country had it second. Looks like we’re pretty cool around here. I’m just sayin’.

Rolling Stone letter

 


Steve Bein

How to Bake Up an Author Brand

Toilet Scorpion

My current business card, front and back, which shows my identity as “author/baker/geek.”

If you write and sell stories, you are a business person. You sell stories, but you also sell yourself. This is your author brand. It’s an identity that should be constructed with care.

If your social media presence ONLY consists of “Buy my book!” “Here’s a line from my book!” “Here’s my book link to Amazon!” you end up looking like a spam bot. This type of author is especially prevalent on Twitter. Do I want to be friends with a spam bot? No! Do I want to buy the product pitched by a spam bot? No way!

At the same time, though, we authors are business people. We need to sell books. We need to post those Amazon links. This is where author branding comes in. You must be more than your product. You must find a balance between posts about your book/story and yourself… and the book-selling element shouldn’t dominate.

Ask yourself:
What is my expertise?
Who am I as a person?
Am I a parent? A spouse?
A cat lover? A dog lover?
A hobbyist–a knitter, scrapbooker, woodworker? A foodie?
A resource within my fandom?
What do I want to project to the public?
What defines me?

Lemon Cornmeal Shortbread10_smIn my case, back in late 2011, I realized I wanted to post more regularly on my blog. I didn’t feel comfortable doing frequent “how to write” posts, so I wanted to figure out another way to build my online author identity. I’d had a good response to a series of recipe posts the year before, so I decided I would make them a regular feature. I chose Wednesday as my posting day and dubbed the feature “Bready or Not.”

Other personal elements I share online include my cat, Porom. The internet exists because of cat pictures, after all, so I must do my part. I sometimes discuss or share links on autism, as my big day job is being mom to an autistic son. I also do what I can to support my author friends by sharing links to posts or giveaways, or calling out books that I have read and loved. I make an effort to stay positive and avoid drama.

ToiletScorpionAs you build an online identity, you need to be aware that you are in control of how much you share. Some people share the minutia of the day; others manage well with a couple tweets or Facebook posts a week. However you construct your brand, do remember to post regularly. Keep your presence out there. Share animal pictures, craft projects, or recent book buys. Heck, I recently shared a picture of a rather large scorpion that I found in my toilet bowl first thing in the morning–that gathered quite a reaction online!

As for me, I have maintained weekly Bready or Not posts for years now. My food blog has been mentioned in print publications like the Arizona Republic and RT Book Reviews Magazine. People associate me with cookies. I do my utmost to live up to my reputation by bringing baked goods to most of my events across the United States. I can be shy in person, but cookies help me to open up to people, and for them to open up to me.

I don’t even have to mention my latest book as I pass around a container of lemon cornmeal shortbread. My public persona is basically, “Hey, I bake delicious evil stuff. I love cats. I’m an unabashed geek. And oh yeah, I have published a few books, too. If you liked that cookie, the recipe is on my website!”

At heart, author brand is about the soft sell. It’s about presenting yourself as a public person–a public character–someone who is more than a book.

And in my case… someone who also traumatizes people with photos of scorpions in toilets.

The Revision Chronicles: 3 Ways to Make Your Stories Work Harder

shearsAre you a rambly writer? Perhaps you’re a pantser? Or perhaps you’re always thinking in epic scope, with hundreds of scenes and casts of thousands–even in a short story.

If this is you, then . . . your story pieces might not be working hard enough. Every new character is someone the writer has to try to care about. Every new scene is a new place for them to imagine. Consider where you might start compressing things to make every piece work harder.

 

Making Your Stories Work Harder

1.Combine characters. Two one-dimensional characters might be stronger as one three-dimensional character. (Wait, I’m not sure that math adds up….)

The cool thing is that this potentially makes for an even more interesting character if you think the two minor characters’ traits are incompatible at first. I had one story where the protagonist had a hardnosed boss, and a coworker with an unrequited crush on her. Each did one small thing for the story: the boss was there to move along some key plot points, and the coworker helped show the aloofness of the protag’s character. But combine the two and wow! I immediately got a way more interesting character, since he now had to be hardnosed and unrequited-crushy at the same time.

2. Squash scenes. A common trap at the beginning is to have a scene that does JUST one thing. It is mostly plot (an action sequence.) Or it’s mostly character development (two characters talking about their feeeeelings.) No, I’m not saying that every tender moment needs to take place while the lovers are being chased through a city. But look over your scene, see what it’s doing, and see what other elements you can add in to make it richer. See where you can squash two scenes together. Maybe scene A over here only really has one piece of pertinent info, when you come down to it, and the same is true of B. Squish squash.

3. Deadhead details. If you’re taking the time to show details about the rooms, clothing, weather, etc–make sure those are very specific and necessary details about place, character, or mood. Get rid of the generic ones. Remember, you can use details in all kinds of cool ways–worldbuilding is a key one, of course. If the sink is a normal sink but the door irises open, get ye to the door and iris it for us. If you’re stopping to describe clothes, then I want to be learning about the background of the characters or, again, the worldbuilding, through the details of what people choose to wear. Be the camera and choose only the key things to show us.

 

Of course, this goes hand in hand with the first month’s suggestions about ways to trim your stories–but coming at it from a slightly different angle. Sometimes with stories–certainly with flash–I start to feel like I’ve examined every darn word a thousand times–trying to make it DO MORE.

There you have it, folks. This month’s tip. Combine, squash, deadhead.

Til’ next time! This has been (dum dum dum!) The Revision Chronicles.

SPEED AND DIRECTION: A GUIDE TO WHERE TO FIND US (APR – JUN, 2016)

With Spring comes more opportunities for you to encounter one or more Novelocitists as we traverse the cosmos from one venue to the next. To make it easier for you to find us, here’s a list of our upcoming appearances:

APRIL 2016

FRAN WILDE:
* April 28th – May 1st – is Staff at Paradise Lost Writers Retreat, San Antonio, TX.

TINA CONNOLLY:
* April 21st @ 7:30 – her 10-min show “Silence” is premiering with the Pulp Stage in Portland, OR.

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* Apr 23rd – 24th – appearing on programming at  DFW Writers Conference in Fort Worth, TX.

TEX THOMPSON:
* Apr 23rd – 24th – will present at the DFW Writers Conference in Fort Worth, TX.

MAY 2016

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* May 12th – 15th – is an Award nominee and will be appearing on programming at the 2016 SFWA Nebula Conference in Chicago, IL.
* May 27th – 30th – is a GoH and appearing on programming at BayCon in San Mateo, CA.

BETH CATO:
* May 13th – 15th – is an Award nominee at the 2016 SFWA Nebula Conference in Chicago, IL.

TINA CONNOLLY
* May 1st – is co-teaching a Clarion West One-Day Workshop (From Idea to Story) in Seattle, WA
* May 13th – 14th – is an Award nominee and will be appearing on programming at the 2016 SFWA Nebula Conference in Chicago, IL
* May 13th, 2pm – will be signing at BEA in Chicago, IL

FRAN WILDE
May 3rd r/fantasy – is doing an AMA about “The Jewel & Her Lapidary,” Online.
May 4th , 7pm, Main Point Books “The Jewel & Her Lapidary” launch event, Bryn Mawr, PA.
May 12th – 15th – is an Award nominee and will be appearing on programming at the 2016 SFWA Nebula Conference in Chicago, IL.
* May 27-29 – is a Compton Crook Finalist and is appearing on programming at Balticon 50, Baltimore, MD.

MICHAEL R. UNDERWOOD:
* May 12th – 15th – will be appearing on programming at the 2016 SFWA Nebula Conference in Chicago, IL.
* May 27-30th – appearing on programming at Balticon 50 in Baltimore, MD

DAVID WALTON:
* May 27th – 30th – appearing on programming at Balticon 50 in Baltimore, MD.

TEX THOMPSON:
* May 12th – 14th – will present at the OWFI conference in Oklahoma City, OK.
* May 14th – 19th – will teach at the Writers Retreat Workshop in San Antonio, TX.
* May 25th – 27th – will appear on programming at ConQuest in Kansas City, MO.

JUNE 2016

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* Jun 17-19th – appearing on programming at Comicpalooza in Houston, TX.

TEX THOMPSON:
* Jun 17th – 19th – will appear on programming at Comicpalooza in Houston, TX.
* Jun 24 – 26th – will appear on programming at SoonerCon in Oklahoma City, OK.

FRAN WILDE:
June 4th – is Speaking to the Garden State Speculative Writers’ Association, NJ.

MICHAEL R. UNDERWOOD:
* Jun 30-Jul 3rd – appearing on programming and running the Angry Robot booth at CONvergence in Bloomington, MN

BETH CATO:
* Jun 2nd – 4th – appearing on programming at Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, AZ.

Chekhov’s Hobby

I spent last Sunday with my regular writing group, performing a novel break on one of the member’s work-in-progress. If you’re not familiar with the technique, think of it as a gathering of authors disassembling a novel into its component pieces and poking and prodding them in an effort to ensure that each serves the needs of the book, advances the story, informs the characters, and so on. The process can be an incredibly powerful tool, particularly if you’ve got a group of authors who are experienced in the technique (it’s one of the things that gets taught up at the Taos Toolbox Master Class run by Walter Jon Williams, but I digress).

A consequence of this experience was that a day later I found myself musing on the things authors choose to include and not include when describing/fleshing out a character. And that got me wondering about the hobbies of fictional characters.

Of course everyone knows what a “hobby” is, but just to be thorough I went to wikipedia, that everyman’s epic online resource, which drilled it down into a variety of things including:

  • Collecting (e.g., Stamps, Coins)
  • Making / Tinkering (e.g., Model Building, Cooking)
  • Participation in Activities (e.g., Outdoor recreation, Gardening)
  • Liberal Arts Pursuits (e.g., Dancing, Reading)
  • Sports and Games (e.g., Flag Football, Parcheesei)

Everyone has some hobbies, whether they engage in them with relentless passion or dabble only occasionally, and so by extension we should expect the same to be true of fictional characters, particularly if their authors have attempted/intended to make them well rounded.

But how often does this actually happen?

I’m finding myself hard pressed to think of regular examples of this where the hobby in question is not seen simply to set up a plot point later in the story. With a nod to the famous gun example, I’m choosing to call this kind of usage, Chekov’s Hobby.

We’ve all seen it, the numismatist in Act I who by the time of Act III reveals that sesterces simply weren’t around in Rome during the 5th century A.D., and thus the museum piece is a forgery! Or the hobbyist working on building a ship in a bottle when she’s first introduced, only to be on hand at some critical juncture to point out something about three-masted schooners that is critical to the plot. And on and on. Much more often than not, when a character is demonstrated to have a hobby, it’s Chekov’s Hobby, and not present simply to flesh out the character.

Now I suspect some of you reading this may cry “foul!” and cite the doctrine that everything in a story should serve more than one purpose, and thus it’s perfectly fair to include a hobby as part of a character’s make-up and have it serve double duty as support for a future reveal or plot point. And I think that’s fair to some extent, but only if we see it occurring in that manner as often as we see other bits of character embellishment and description used in the same way. You know, things like hair color and handedness and sexual identity and religious affiliation and favorite ice cream flavor and which side of a king-size bed they prefer to sleep on.

But we don’t, usually, and on the oh-so-rare occasions when we do, they stand out as really marked examples, exceptions to the rule as it were.

This is less of a problem (to the extent that you see it as a problem at all) in main characters, because they have more breadth and agency (and more “screen time”) in which to show off such nonessential aspects of their character and background. Not every element we see has to be important to the plot, though I’d argue that it all factors into the overall personality. It’s common to give main characters “quirks,” which in turn makes them more individual and realistic, and hobbies make for good quirks. But evidence of hobbies among secondary characters feels much less common to me, despite authors tending to include physical descriptions of these same characters. It’s gotten to the point with me that when I do see a secondary character reveal a hobby, I immediately begin wondering how and where that hobby will factor into the resolution of the story, because otherwise why did the author include mention of it? And the reason that’s a problem is because it’s taken me out of the story and left me looking at the meta-story.

I realize that, as part of the contract with the reader, the author is trying to play fair and not burden the reader with a lot of extraneous information that isn’t relevant. But there’s a difference between having an opening scene where we meet two dozen named characters of whom twenty will never be seen again and adding a sentence or two to show someone knitting or doing the crossword or dusting a shelf containing commemorative plates, secure in the knowledge that the evidence of these hobbies exist only to show these secondary characters have rounded lives and the particulars won’t be mentioned again in service to the plot.

Seriously, is it too much to ask that authors work a bit harder and not succumb to Chekov’s Hobby? Because I have to say, the joy of finding a character in Act I who just so happens to enjoy carving variant chess pieces (like unicorns and half-elephants) is crushed when the murder weapon in Act III turns out to be a whittling knife.

Pacing the Novel, part 1: Getting up to Speed

The most important thing about your first novel is finishing it.  The only way to learn to write a book, and that *you* are capable of writing a book, is to actually do the job, from beginning through the middle, to the end.  Short story writing can teach you all kinds of useful skills for crafting the elements of fiction:  character, plot, setting, theme. However, novels have their own special set of considerations.

A book that really takes off!

A book that really takes off!

One of the keys to a great novel is pace.  In a short story, pace is often less critical because the focus of the work is clear and direct.  The story pursues a single goal, and does so whole-heartedly, without digressions, diversions or dithering.  In a novel, you have much more latitude for these things.  Especially with a first novel (and even more so with a book of speculative fiction), there is a tendency to be drawn toward two poles:  exploring everything possible about the world, the characters, the situation,  OR making the plot snap along like the proverbial roller-coaster.

This is the first of a series of articles about how to manage the pace of your novel so that it moves at an appropriate speed for your readership and your material.

Wait a minute–an “appropriate speed”?  Isn’t pace all about speed?  Not necessarily.  Pace is about revealing your plot and characters in the most engaging way for your readers. Sometimes, that will mean moving quickly–bounding from one plot turn to the next to keep them on the edge of their seats.  But sometimes it will also mean drawing them so tightly into a moment of character revelation that they are on the verge of tears, fully experiencing a single instant in the fictional realm.

I describe these two poles as movement (the rate at which the plot unfolds for the reader), and intensity (the impact of that plot on the reader).  A book which is entirely focused on movement may be described as fast-paced, but is likely to leave the reader unmoved–yes, lots of things happened, but the reader didn’t get involved in the characters and their problems enough to care.  A book which is entirely focused on intensity may devolve into chapters of navel-gazing and inner monologue, but leave the reader with the sense that nothing is happening and that they are wasting their time.

The balance between movement and intensity is partially determined by the genre in which you write.  Thrillers are known for their fast movement.  Romances and literary fiction often lean toward greater intensity–how the character feels or reacts to what happens is as important (or more so) than the actual events.  This is why the art of pacing is individual to each book.  Even within these genres, individual authors or plots may emphasize a different ratio.  The key for your work is to be able to consider how your book will benefit from careful pace-management.

Over the next segments of this series, I will turn first to general principles of creating movement, then of intensity, then two lists of ways to boost either one to craft the best book you can.  Next up:  the basic building blocks of pace!