Tag Archives: e.c. ambrose

Magic, Intrigue, Medieval Surgery: Elisha Mancer Book Launch Day!

Yes, I’m excited today because book 4 in my Dark Apostle Series comes out this very day.  What do you mean, you’re not that excited? Oh, right, you probably haven’t read book one.  So rather than harp on about a new book that is best read after the first three, how about I post the opening of Elisha Barber, the book that started it all?

Elisha stands over an array of medieval medical instruments–the barber is in! visit my website for a scroll-over image with descriptions of each tool

Here you go:

“You sent her to the hospital?” Elisha whirled to face his brother, the razor still in his fist. “My God, man, what were you thinking?”

“The midwife couldn’t help her, Elisha, and she’s in such awful pain, for the babe won’t come,” Nathaniel stammered, his pale hands clenched together. He ducked in the low door of the draper’s quarters, his fair hair brushing the carved oak of the lintel.  “The neighbors carried her over while I came here.”

“But the hospital? That place is deadly.” Elisha set his razor again at his customer’s chin, deftly shearing a narrow stretch of the full, and now unfashionable, beard. “What did she say?

“Not so fast, if you don’t mind. I care to keep my chin today, Barber,” the draper snapped.

“Helena?” Nathaniel asked, his face a mask of anguish and confusion.

“No, you fool, the midwife!” Elisha slapped the razor through the water basin and plied it again, forcing himself to slow down. Last thing he needed was to carve the ear off the master of the drapers’ guild.

Sagging, his brother balanced himself against the wall, scrubbing at his sweaty face. “The babe’s turned, and wedged somehow. She thought the physicians—”

At the mention of physicians, Elisha froze. The draper glowered up at him from his best leather chair, but his brother’s wife lay in the hospital, contracting God-knew-what illness added to her condition. For a moment, his conflicting duties trapped him—but Helena needed him, if it weren’t already too late. The draper could abide. Flinging down his razor, Elisha roughly dried his hands on his britches. “The physicians never enter the hospital if they can advise from afar. Nobody who can afford their services goes to hospital.” He popped open the window frame nearest and flung out the dirty water.

The draper rubbed a hand across his chin and jerked it back with a cry of dismay. “You’ve not finished the job, Barber. I’ve still got half a beard!”

“Then you owe me half my fee,” Elisha told him. He snatched his towel from the man’s neck and spun on his heel, basin tucked under his arm. The razor he folded with a snap and gripped until his fingers hurt. “Why did you not come for me sooner?” he asked, dropping his voice to a murmur.

Instantly, Nathaniel straightened, taking advantage of his superior height. “I think you know why.”

For a moment, their eyes met, and Nathaniel swallowed but gave no ground to his elder brother. Elisha had caused the breach that lay between them. He had apologized, but Nathaniel’s presence here was as close as he would come to forgiveness.

 

Want to read more?  Here’s a link to the first three chapters of Elisha Barber!  Available wherever books are sold.  When you love it, you’ll know there are three more volumes ready and waiting. . . and one final book forthcoming to complete the series.    Thanks for reading!

Recipe Fiction: Let’s Fire the Formula

In another of my writing circles, once again the dreaded specter of “formula fiction” has been conjured.  The idea is that many genres–at least in commercial fiction, and (so the rumor goes) especially romance and fantasy (the target tends to move to a different genre based on whichever you are writing in)–are dominated by a formula which is required in order to sell.  And if a book sells well, that is usually taken as evidence that it was, indeed, written to formula.  It’s a tautology, but one you’ll often find repeated, whether in a derisive review or grumbled by less successful peers in the same genre. Of course that work succeeded–the author just relied on the formula!

Some people outside the genres will even sniff that the publishers demand the said formula, and that it’s laid out by page count:  kiss on page three, quest engagement in chapter two, or what have you.

First of all, if the publishers are requiring certain page counts and formulas, they haven’t informed the authors, much less provided us with a template for stamping out successful novels.  But wait, points out the nay-sayer, so many books in X genre are so similar!  That’s clear evidence that authors are just filling in the blanks.  Or is it?

I think part of the problem lies in the origins of this term “formula.”  Formula is associated with science, more precisely, with chemistry.  The idea is that you take certain items in very specific ratios, blended according to strict guidelines, and you will achieve a very specific result.  One third adventure, one third sexual tension, one third Strunk and White, voila! a bestseller.  Boy, if I could buy that formula, I’d use it.  The trouble is, it doesn’t exist.

In fiction, what we have are not formulas–rigid lists of pure chemicals to be compounded by following strict rules–what we have are recipes.  A recipe gives you a list of ingredients and the steps to follow–isn’t that the same as the dreaded formula?  Here’s the thing, recipes vary.  The same recipe produced by different cooks gets a different result because the cook knows they can add a little more spice, or bake for less time and create their own variation on what their diners enjoy.

Like cooks, authors have an audience to please.  Sure, we want to pursue our own artistic goals for our careers and for any given work, but writing is a collaboration between the author and the reader, who will receive and interpret the result.  Readers can be grouped in many different ways.  Some love fantasy no matter what, and some prefer contemporary or epic fantasy, fantasy about women or about dragons.

There are certain elements of story-telling that are more likely to appeal to a wider audience.  Adventure, love, character growth, a moment when much can be won or lost, the moment when a character is redeemed and the audience cheers.  That’s not a formula–it’s a list of ingredients, and each cook, each writer, can play with them to create their individual work.  A quick google search shows me 3.8 million recipes for chocolate cake, 3.8 million variations, some subtle and some vast, all resulting in a dessert that some people felt was tasty and worth sharing.  There are at least 3.8 million recipes for a fantasy novel as well.  Beginning with a basic set of ingredients, and an image of that desired result, the author creates their own recipe.

Rather than dismissing the work of an author or a complete genre as driven by formula, let’s think of them as being guided by a recipe–and if one author’s chocolate cake doesn’t please, there’s probably another one that will.  Or maybe you’re looking for lemon cake, or custard tart, or. . . okay, now I’m just making myself hungry.

The same basic ingredients combine to create a thousand different experiences–as if by magic.

 

Ten Tiny Tips to Improve your Fiction

      1. Suddenly, the author removed all occurrences of the word “suddenly.” Why?  Because once you have said it, nothing sudden can happen—the reader already knows it’s coming.

 

      2. “Well,” the author ejaculated, “I think fancy dialog tags are cool!” Er. . .dialog tags are meant to indicate who is speaking, and not to call attention to themselves.  “Said” and “asked” disappear into the text for a smoother read.  I’ll let you get away with a few words per manuscript that express something otherwise non-obvious about how the quote is being said, like “whisper” or “murmur.”  Otherwise, use action tags that show us the character as they speak.

 

      3. Eliminate words that slow the text. Like helping verbs, “seems,” “very,” “really,” and anything “beginning to” or “starting to.”  These rarely add anything to our experience of the scene.

 

      4. Use strong action verbs. Usually, we just say avoid be-verbs, which is still good advice. But what we mean is, look for a verb with a clear, direct impression for the reader of what’s actually happening.

 

      5. Don’t jump POV for no reason, especially to say things like “she never noticed the shadow in the corner of the room.” If she didn’t notice it, who did?  Every time this happens, the reader gets tugged in the wrong direction—away from the character.

 

      6. Begin as close as possible to the moment when all Hell breaks out. This goes for books, stories, scenes, chapters. Readers don’t need nearly as much scene-setting as we often think—and many of them have little patience for it.

 

      7. When you’re in a deep POV, you don’t need phrases like “she felt,” “they saw,” “we heard,” “he thought,” “I knew.” We are already inside the character’s head, this stuff just gets in the way (see point 3).

 

      8. Don’t dismember your characters.  “Her eyes flew around the room.”  Doesn’t that dry them out?  “He lifted up his hoary head.”  (and threw it across the clearing. . .)

 

      9. “Lay” is a transitive verb which requires an object: The hen lay an egg. It laid one yesterday, it has laid one every day this week.  “Lie” is an in-transitive verb:  I lie on the grass.  I lay there yesterday.  I have lain there every day this week.  Yeah, I know, the past tense forms look alike.  You’ll figure it out.

 

        10. And perhaps this is just for the fantasy writers. . . a rider, literal or metaphorical, takes up the reins. A member of the royal family reigns.  No, it’s not just for fantasy– I’ve seen this confused in a few non-fiction articles lately.

SPEED AND DIRECTION: A GUIDE TO WHERE TO FIND US (JUL – SEP, 2016)

Summer is coming, and with it the opportunity to stalk encounter many of us as we pop up here and there. The following list can help you keep track of where to do just that. :

JULY 2016

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Jul 21st – 23rd – will be participating in the 23rd annual conference of the Klingon Language Institute (the qep’a’ cha’maH wejDIch) in Chicago, IL.
* Jul 29th – 31st – is a GoH and appearing on programming at Confluence in Pittsburgh, PA.

E. C. AMBROSE:
* Jul 8th – 10th – appearing on programming at Readercon in Quincy, MA.

FRAN WILDE:
* Jul 8th – 10th – appearing on programming at Readercon in Quincy, MA.

TEX THOMPSON:
* Jul 29th – 31st – will be attending ArmadilloCon in Austin, TX.

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

TINA CONNOLLY:
* July 1st – 4th – appearing on programming at WesterCon in Portland, OR.

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* Jun 29th – 31st – appearing on programming at ArmadilloCon 38 in Austin, TX.

AUGUST 2016

TEX THOMPSON:
* Aug 12th – 14th – will present at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR.
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at WorldCon in Kansas City, MO.

MICHAEL R. UNDERWOOD:
Aug 4th-7th – Appearing on programming and running the Angry Robot booth at GenCon in Indianapolis, IN.
* Aug 17th-21st – Running the Angry Robot booth at MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City, MO.

FRAN WILDE:
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at Mid-American 2 (aka the 74th WorldCon) in Kansas City, MO.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Aug 4th – 7th – appearing on programming at Gen Con Writers’ Symposium in Indianapolis, IN.
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at Mid-American 2 (aka the 74th WorldCon) in Kansas City, MO.

TINA CONNOLLY:
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at WorldCon in Kansas City, MO. (Including launch party for debut collection On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories)

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at Mid-American 2 (aka the 74th WorldCon) in Kansas City, MO.

BETH CATO:
* Aug 17th – 21st – appearing on programming at WorldCon in Kansas City, MO. (Including the launch of her new novel, Breath of Earth, to be officially released August 23rd)

STEVE BEIN
* Aug 4th – 7th – appearing on programming at Gen Con Writers’ Symposium in Indianapolis, IN.

SEPTEMBER 2016

TEX THOMPSON:
* Sep 2nd – 3rd – will be giving the keynote address at the Roanoke Writers Conference in Roanoke, TX.
* Sep  14th – 18th – will attend BoucherCon in New Orleans, LA.
* Sep  23rd – 25th – will appear on programming at FenCon in Irving, TX.

MICHAEL R. UNDERWOOD:
* Sep 17th-24th – Attending the Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat from Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

FRAN WILDE:
* Sep 2nd – 5th – appearing on programming at Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA.

LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN:
* Sep 23rd – 25th – appearing on programming at the Baltimore Book Festival in Baltimore Inner Harbor, MD.

J. KATHLEEN CHENEY:
* Sep 2nd – 3rd – will be attending the Roanoke Writers Conference in Roanoke, TX.
* Sep  23rd – 25th – appearing on programming at FenCon in Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX.

A Good Book, Ruined: Reading Like a Writer

I have a couple of writer-friends who cannot critique a manuscript to save their lives, nor can they analyze what they are responding to in a work they admire.  Why?  Because they have not yet learned how to read like a writer.  Instead, they tend to plunge right in and get involved in the story, no matter what (even if the prose is uneven and the work doesn’t hang together).  They often describe this experience as being like watching the movie unfold inside their minds.

In order to hone the craft of writing, it’s important to learn to stop enjoying books. Or perhaps I should say, when to stop merely enjoying the reading experience, and start understanding it, and analyzing why you respond to a work the way that you do.  This will help you improve your own work, deliver better critiques for your writing buddies, and appreciate how the authors you admire craft their prose to best effect.

So, how do you ruin your reading experience?  Don’t worry, I’m here to help.  And I find, ultimately, that reading like a writer provides a different, but no less enjoyable experience.  The goal is to bifurcate your reading brain, so that, as you react to the work, you are also aware of the reasons for that reaction–in essence, you are observing yourself reading.  The approach is similar to techniques used in counseling or meditation, when you make note of your behaviors and responses, so that you can modify them later as needed.

A work of fiction exists on several levels: the one we tend to focus on is the macro level (the story, the characters, the plot overall), but the micro level is where the action really happens (the words, sentences, paragraphs and structures that create the on-going movie of the prose).

In order to understand the macro level of a work, one thing that helps me to break the movie is listening to the audio book, especially while I am engaged in some other activity–driving, house-painting, or what-have-you.  The physical activity means you can’t fully invest in the “reading”, and the fact that you are listening tends to blur the focus on individual scenes or moments, and instead give an overview of the work, the rhythm of scenes and sequels, the structure of the plot.

But when you want to understand what’s really going on, you’ll need to dig deeper–and this is what will also make you a great critique partner.  Reader reaction, especially to character, is often based on small word choices that build into the complete image.  If the wrong word or phrasing choices are made, the impression the reader receives could be completely different from what the author intended.  Placing two ideas close to each other in the text leads the reader to link them, regardless of what the author had in mind.  As the reader in this scenario, you need to be able to articulate what you are responding to in the text, as the writer, you need to act as a sleuth and discover the small details that are triggering your reader’s response.

Sometimes, it can come down to a single word.  The word “sneer” for instance is overwhelmingly negative.  If you intend for a character to be sympathetic, use of that single word could undercut the entire effect.

To hone this kind of close reading, I recommend re-typing passages from published works.  Sit with the book open in front of you, and simply type out what you see.  If you are simply reading the words, you may not pay attention to the sentence structure, word order, or accumulation of detail that creates scene and character.  Typing the words forces you to slow down–to freeze-frame the movie–and look at each comma, each word choice, and think about how they work together.  This can be a great way to learn from the authors you wish you could be.  The idea isn’t to copy them into your own prose, the idea is to understand how they do what they do, and think about how you can better use your own small choices as a result.  Learn from the masters–and also from the not-so-masterful.  If a book isn’t working for you, analyzing *why* it doesn’t work can be just as important.  While re-typing passages, I have found which authors are master of metaphor, and which are making lazy verb choices.

When you return to your own manuscript (or to your friend’s), apply the same kind of macro and micro analysis.  What is the overall effect of the prose?  What small choices add up to create that effect?

Thanks, E. C., for ruining reading for me. . .well, as I said, I find this kind of reading to have its own joys, including the thrill of discovery when you can see the mechanics of the magic–you can be inside the secrets of prose.  And if I do find myself sinking through the words, into the movie, then I know I have found a true master.  What techniques do you use to separate writer’s mind and reader’s?

In the meantime, you’re welcome.

News for May and June

Beth Cato

– will be attending Phoenix Comicon June 5-7. Her schedule can be viewed here. There might possibly be shenanigans and the worship of tacos.

– finished a round of edits on the first book in a new steampunk series.

Michael R. Underwood

Appearances: Mike will be attending Phoenix Comicon June 5-8 with Angry Robot Books. His schedule is here.

Publications: Mike’s superhero fantasy novel Shield and Crocus is coming June 10th.

Writing: Revising The Younger Gods, an urban fantasy coming Q4 of 2014.

M.K. Hutchins

Drift is coming out in June!
My novelette, “The Temple’s Posthole,” tied for third in the annual IGMS Reader’s Choice Award.

E.C. Ambrose

Elisha Barber by E. C. Ambrose will be released in paperback June 3rd

Fran Wilde

– Finished a new novelette.
– Finalizing edits on novel #1.
– Working on novel #2 in the Tor series.
– Sold a new short story to Drabblecast called “Local Delicacies.” (pub date TBA)
– Joined an SF Signal Mind Meld for “Books we’ve worn out reading.”
– Am co-editing the SFWA 50th Anniversary cookbook with author Cat Rambo.
– Interviewed agent Rachel Kory from SGG Literary for Cooking the Books.

J. Kathleen Cheney

-Inked a new deal with Ace/Roc for Book 3 in the Golden City series, The Shores of Spain, and the first book in a new series, Dreaming Death.
The Golden City will be coming out in mass market paperback on June 3.
-J. will be appearing at SoonerCon in OKC, June 27-29.

Lawrence M. Schoen

– The second half of May had me bouncing around from the Nebula Awards conference in San Jose, CA, to the Memorial Day weekend joy that was my return to Balticon after several years absence, to a Writers’ Retreat with some of my Taos Toolbox cohort (and others) in my own backyard of Philadelphia.
– I just completed negotiations for the publication of a new novella featuring the Amazing Conroy (both of the previous novellas enjoyed Nebula Award nominations) to come out in 2014 from NobleFusion Press as both an ebook and a stand alone trade paperback. It will feature a cover by Rachael Mayo, the astonishing artist who has done the covers for all of my books to date.
– In theory, my editorial letter for Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard will be dropping any day now. My anxiety demands cake!
– And though the actual event is still quite a ways away, I can now announce that I’ll be a Special Guest at next year’s RavenCon, alongside GoH Allen M. Steele.

Vectors: Plotter or Pantser?

Our question this week: Plotter or pantser? Have you changed your position on the spectrum and if so, how?

Tina Connolly

tina_connolly-300x450I used to be a total pantser. Not the sort of pantser who describes their process as “following the headlights down a dark twisty road”, but a terrible sort that involved seeing one little image that might be part of a story someday. It might be a sentence, it might be a character, it might be a moment. And then, seeing another little image. And another. And maybe the first image is the end of the story and maybe the second one is in the middle and maybe the third one is also in the middle, but a different middle, one that exists if the story goes somewhere else. (But in the meantime, you’re going to need this non-canon 3rd image in order to find the 4th image, and the 6th.) And then, trying to put all these things together.
This worked . . . okay . . . for short stories.

This was terrible for novels.

I have a trunked novel written this way. It’s a glorious mess, and maybe someday it’ll come out of the trunk and try to reform. But basically around the time of Ironskin (my 7th novel), I had to learn to start writing linearly. There were still many times in that novel I would jump sideways and write another piece of the puzzle that had occurred to me, and then go back. Copperhead got a little better, process-wise. And then with the last novel, Silverblind, I was finally able to just write it from start to finish. No jumping around. And I think it’s my strongest novel yet.

My current process is somewhere between plotter and headlights. I start by figuring out the loose overall arc to the story. About as much as would go on the back of a book, say. Then I start writing, finding the voice, finding out things I didn’t know. I go back and refine my outline, adding more detail. Back and forth. I’m enjoying this process much more than the floundering connect-the-dots I had before, and I think it may stick with me for awhile. . .

E. C. Ambrose

E. C. AmbroseI used to write only when the inspiration took me–so I might not write for weeks, then suddenly I would spend days on end working on the novel. Each time, the spaces seemed to grow–I’d spend more time doing nothing, then more time writing. But the books that resulted from this tended to be rambling and jumpy. I did sell one of these books, which was submitted at 220K words, and published at 167K–ouch! Painful revision!! Two big epiphanies lead me to my current process.
First of all, I had a bunch of friends doing NANO. I couldn’t take off the month of November (I was running a wholesale gift business at the time) But I could take off most of January into February, so I did a personal chapter-a-day challenge. I wrote 38 chapters in 35 days, the book that became Elisha Barber. I think this approach allowed me to maintain the energy of the work during the whole time I was writing. On the other hand, the book has a single protagonist, and a fairly tight plot structure. I would get ideas about things to happen later and jot them on old business cards to keep a sort of loose, running outline. The equivalent of a GPS for that dark, windy road where I could see a few turns ahead, but not the whole roadmap.

By the time I sold Elisha Barber, as book 1 of “The Dark Apostle” series, I had written 4 more books to follow it, and wrap the series. Unfortunately, the editors loved the first book, but wanted the rest of the series to be bigger, more epic. They wanted. . . an outline! Gasp. So this dedicated pantser sat down and brainstormed a new series structure. They weren’t crazy about it. They had suggestions. I wrote a new outline with those suggestions. I wasn’t crazy about it. I wrote yet one more outline–this time really working each major turn, especially developing a climax worthy of the whole series.

And lemme tell you–far from making me lose steam on the books because I know how they end, having that big, amazing moment to work toward has fired me up about it. I still make changes as I go–usually moving around parts of the outline rather than ditching them entirely–but the outline gives me confidence about the work. I just finished developing an outline for a new series, taking my time with the R&D, then doing a lightning draft for the first few chapters, combining the big-picture structure tools of the outline with the energy and excitement of the writing flow. Can’t tell you how jazzed I am to get to work on that!

M. K. Hutchins

MK HutchinsWith short fiction, I usually write a scene-by-scene outline before drafting. Every scene carries so much burden of the story that I feel I need to carefully plan it out for the story to flow and make sense.

With novels, I used to wing the entire thing, but the results were not always pretty (or even salvageable). Now I start a book with a very rough outline — maybe a page or two of notes, often along the lines of Dan Well’s 7-point-plotting system, which makes a lot of sense to me.

But “outlining” isn’t just something to do before writing a book. Whenever I finish a chapter, I go summarize it in my ongoing chapter-by-chapter outline. I usually outline the next chapter before I actually write it as well. Having a broad framework to hang the story on, then keeping track of what I’m actually doing, helps me a lot. But digging in and just writing gives me ideas for what should happen next. I also love writing a character into a horrible bind with no idea of how they’ll survive, because then I’m pretty sure my reader won’t know, either.

So, plotting and pantsing are, for me, both valuable tools.

Fran Wilde

Fran2014It depends on the story. Quite often, I write a scene or a voice because it wants to be written — so a complete pants — and then I block out what kind of story that scene is trying to tell — plotting. The first novel I wrote was loosely outlined. The second was pantsed, then plotted, then the last third came out in a completely different direction than I’d expected, and that was great too.

Story’s gonna story.

J. Kathleen Cheney

screenshot2Definitely a plotter. I’ve rarely had any luck just ‘going where the story takes me.’ When I try that I usually have to go back and rein in all the subplots that want to go off in every direction. So in interest of being efficient (which is my goal these days), I’m working harder on the front end. I hope that saves me headaches on the editing end.

Not that I’m perfect. I usually write an outline and fall off the outline wagon somewhere about 1/3 of the way through. By 2/3s I’m hopelessly off….so I re-outline the rest of the book then and try to fix it. In fact, this has always been a problem for me, so much so that while I do outline the story and I know where it will end, I’ll generally only produce a detailed outline for the beginning of the book. The middle third is lighter, and the last third of the outline is sketchy at best. Why spend the time creating an elaborate ending when I know that by the time I get there I’ll have to redo the outline?

That doesn’t qualify me as a pantser, though…

Michael R. Underwood

Michael R. UnderwoodI see plotter and pantser as two extremes of one continuum. I’ve swung from 95% pantser to 80% plotter over the course of my writing career. Before I wrote my first novels, all of my short stories were 100% pantsing.

My first novel was 90% pantsed, with only the vaguest structure in mind. When I wrote Shield and Crocus, my third novel (before Geekomancy, but published after), I built out a bit of an outline, a ‘lamp posts in the darkness’ structure that gave me landmarks but little in the way of connective tissue or points in-between.

Each novel since then, and in a big way in the last year, I’ve moved more and more toward being an outliner. Attack the Geek was broken out down to the scene, and Hexomancy, which I’m writing even now, Is broken down to scene and beats within. I still go off-outline, and frequently, trying not to be afraid to let my imagination lead me down unforseen paths on the day and in the moment.

My next step is not to outline more, but to outline smarter, to look at the arcs, sub-plots, and to have more of a sense of the shape of the story in addition to the beat-by-beat of ‘this happens, and then that, all leading to this’ outlining that I do now. I know that I’m only operating at the low levels of plotting, and I’m hoping I can get better and smarter at it to produce even stronger first drafts and to be able to look at complete drafts and get better at identifying where the structure has gotten lopsided and needs to be corrected to create more beautifully-shaped stories

Beth Cato

BethCato-steampunk-headshotI’m totally a plotter, but then, I’m even a plotter in real life. I’m the queen of to-do lists and planning out my day, researching restaurants before I will eat there, etc. It only makes sense that this carries over to my writing. I even do little outlines for flash fiction.

That said, I’m flexible within my plots, too. My writing tends to surprise me, especially as I near the climax. There’s often a point as I write or as I rewrite when the proverbial light bulb clicks on over my head and I realize, “Oh yeah, THAT is what I was writing.” My novels in particular are this way. I heavily outline plot and subplot up to the climax. At that point, I have vague ideas of the event and definite ideas about the result, but no clue how it actually happens.

That said, my poetry is my one area of spontaneity. I start with a prompt or first line, write, and have no idea where it will go. My rough drafts tend to pour out all at once.

Lawrence M. Schoen

Lawrence SchoenIn thinking about my answer this week, it felt a bit like being enrolled in a 12-step program and attending a meeting. Imagine yourself in a room full of cheap folding chairs occupied by a menagerie of authors, a table with bad coffee and donuts at the back, and some writer standing at the front who introduces himself by name and then adds, “And I’m a Pantser.”

When I first started writing, my fiction began with a cool idea and a character. That was enough to begin the engagement for me (and ideally, for my reader). It’s that teaser at the beginning of a television show before the first commercial break; if they did their job you’re still watching after the commercial ends. Beginnings are crucial.

With a Beginning in hand, I’d then turn to the Ending. How do I want things to look when it’s all over? Where will my character be and how is he different now (which is not the same as how did those changes come about)?

Once I had a rough idea of my Beginning and my Ending, I was off! This for me is the very definition of being a Pantser. As you stand at the start of your tale, there are an nigh infinite number of ways for you to get from Point A to Point B. Who needs a map? Turn off the GPS and just head out. The adventure will unravel.

The problem though is that while you can often get a satisfying story this way, I’ve found the the odds of actually doing so go way up when you have a clear (which is not necessarily the same as saying “detailed”) outline before you begin.

The thing that converted me was spending two weeks on top of a mountain and learning from master plotter Walter Jon Williams. I refer to his master class, the Taos Toolbox. That experience set me on the road of recovery (to continue beating the 12-step metaphor).

The last thing I’ll say about being a (reformed pantser) outliner is that when you have an outline and you get stuck on the part of the book you’re working on, you can skip ahead to another point along the line and keep on going. Which allows me to turn the unrepentant pantsers in the room and go “neener neener” when they get stuck.

Steve Bein

Steve BeinI’ve always been a plotter, and I wish to hell I wasn’t. Plotting is the hardest part of writing to me.

I’ve tried it the other way, and writing by the seat of my pants, I can churn out lots of snappy dialogue. Nice descriptions of settings and characters too. Cool fight scenes, interesting philosophical problems, all that good stuff. What never, ever emerges is story. It’s all just rambling.

So I’m a plotter because I have to be. I think of it this way: I need to log a flight plan before I take off. I need to know my destination in advance. That said, unexpected turbulence can force me to depart from the plan. I always outline, but I rarely end up following the outline point by point. The flight path evolves as it progresses, swerving to avoid problems as they arise.

So where are you on this continuum?

Vectors: What gets you excited about a new project?

E. C. Ambrose

Elisha BarberI know I have a story to tell when I have a person, in a place, with a problem.  I usually have no idea what the solution to the problem is–but I know it will get much worse before I’m done!

Most of my work is inspired by research. I’ll start reading up on a certain setting–the vital intersection of a particular place, with the historical period or current event I want to focus on.  I’ll read anything I can to build up that background material, taking notes on details I think might be useful, and considering what kinds of people in that setting would be interesting to tell a story about.  The character usually appears from this research and brainstorming. So–person, place–next, I just need the problem!  Conflict is the engine of plot.  This initial problem could be large, clearly a major conflict, or it could be a smaller one that gets the character moving (willingly, or not).  In the case of Elisha Barber, my reading on medieval surgery led me to a barber surgeon in London, his hands dripping with blood, framed in a sunlit door and saying, “My God, I’ve killed them all.”  Who had he killed?  And why?  I had to write the book to find out. . .

 

Beth Cato

Clockwork DaggerI get excited about a project when I have an outline. Yes, I’m a total square, a dweeb. I’m also diagnosed as OCD and that is very true with my writing process, too.

See, the story/poem/novel begins with the base concept, whether that’s a scene, an opening line, or a problem. But then the conundrum is figuring out how everything fits together–and this makes me very anxious. When my grandma taught me how to do jigsaw puzzles, her primary tip was, “Look for the edge pieces first.” When I start something new, I don’t know if I hold an edge piece or one from the middle, so I begin to create my own edges. I jot down notes, stream-of-consciousness. For a story, I usually type them straight into Word like a little list of plot points. This is the exciting part–it’s when my brain sees everywhere out there and I can judge if it actually makes sense, if it’s worth writing.

Novels are bigger and scarier. I get excited by the concept, but I’m afraid to get too enthusiastic. I feel a lot better about things when I have an outline and when I can see the spectral tendrils of how everything will click together. When I do my stream-of-consciousness notes for novels, I called it “plot vomit.” I hack up everything that might happen in the course of the story. It’s messy. It’s ripe. But from there, I can break things into scenes and chapters, flesh it out more, shuffle everything into Scrivener, and actually start writing.

After I finish a draft and accept that it might not completely suck? That’s when I get really excited.

 

 

Steve Bein

Like Beth, I’m an outliner, and like E.C., I need some kernel to work with before I can move forward. For me that kernel pops into being when two ideas coalesce.

Here’s an example: I heard an interview with Steven Tyler, who once forgot all the lyrics to the new Aerosmith album in the back seat of a cab. He said it was the most important thing in the world. I thought, Hell, the whole world should burn to a crisp if the most important thing in it is Aerosmith lyrics. That got me wondering what the most important thing in the world really is, and how someone could forget it in the back seat of a cab.

This was just my bag. I’m a philosopher, so I spend a lot of time thinking about the most important things in the world. Truth, justice, beauty, love, wisdom, the kind of stuff Plato wrote about. Stuff it’s not so easy to leave in a cab.

So the cab idea floated idly for years, and somewhere along the way I started thinking about time travel, precognition, and poker. (You know, as one does.) untitledIf moments are like cards in a deck, it would be really nice to know in advance which cards are coming up—or better yet, to borrow the best ones from deeper in the deck to play right now. This wouldn’t be time travel per se. More like time borrowing.

And bang, there it was: the coalescence. What’s the most important thing in the world? Time. How do you leave time in the back seat of a cab? You keep it in a time lender.

The result was “The Most Important Thing in the World,” which might be the best short story I ever wrote. It published in Asimov’s, and reappeared just this year in The Time Traveler’s Almanac. (Check out that table of contents. Star-studded to say the least!)

 

Tina Connolly

silverblindI get excited when the right voice finally comes to me. (Which, often, might be the same as knowing who the main character really is.) I’m in the noodling-around stage of a new project right now. The last couple months I’ve had it ticking along in the back of my brain, gathering bits of ideas and mashing them together. I can hear a voice starting to emerge out of it. I have a hard time working on more than one project at once, so I’m letting it build up until I have a chance to
put some words down. The whole early process of grabbing fun ideas, playing with them, and then finally, putting fingers to keyboard and finding out if there’s something there . . . that’s definitely my first exciting bit!

 

Michael R. Underwood

GeekomancyI almost always start with the Big Idea for a story. Things like “What would happen if you combined the New Weird with Superheroes?” (Shield and Crocus) or “What would geek magic look like?” (Geekomancy).

Those big ideas come knocking, and I take some notes, brainstorm a bit. But a project goes from ‘this would be a cool idea’ to ‘I Must Write This’ when I get a character, a starting situation, and an overall conflict.

When I’m developing a story, I plan, I think, and more recently, I outline. There’s an accretion effect, where my ideas and excitement for a project build, and build, and build, until there’s a point where I am nearly jumping out of my own skin to get started, and then that pile of excitement I’ve been building breaks like a wave,, and I dive into the project, riding that excitement into the beginning of the draft.

M. K. Hutchins

brownies-05021Ideas get me excited. Big, tasty, chewy, worldbuilding ideas. But a single idea does not a story make. Usually I need to slam several idea together to carry a story…but not all ideas go together. So I keep an idea folder, brimming with notes of things that would be cool to write about. Sometimes the ideas linger for years, just waiting for the right pairing. It’s like goat cheese brownies. Goat cheese is tangy and delicious. Dark chocolate brownies are decadent. Bake them together, and you’ve got a mind-blowing, tasty treat. When I try to write before I have the right mix of ideas, the results are underbaked (bad pun entirely intended).

With Drift there were a lot of different things whirling together in my brain. Floating turtle-islands inspired by Maya cosmology. Family structure on an agrarian and population-restricted floating island. A watery hell populated by dangerous monsters. A main character with a family history of treason who is still trying to figure out what that treason was. Eventually, I knew I had enough to fill a world, to fill up a novel, and I was ready — and eager — to start.

J. Kathleen Cheney

My process is very similar to M.K.’s.  I put together lots of ideas, gathered from myriad sources. Some things I can’t even tell you where they came from. (I was asked recently about my underwater artwork idea the other day, and could only reply that it sprang fully-formed from the dark corners of my mind.)Jia-li hands

I usually mentally string those ideas together with characters, then come up with a plot. Then I flesh out that plot with all the circumstances that make it logical. This photograph, for instance, cut from a magazine ad, ended up being tied with several other images, two concepts, and some time-period studies into an entire series of short stories (including “The Dragon’s Child” and  “Early Winter, Near Jenli Village.”)

But at some point, the possibility of a Romance comes along for one of my characters, and that’s when I truly start to enjoy it. Yep, somewhere deep down inside, I have a Romance Writer struggling to get out (I probably subsumed my romance-writing twin in the womb or something.)

(I do write stories without any Romance, BTW, Fleurs du Mal being an example of that.)

Cover reveal: E.C. Ambrose with ELISHA MAGUS

E.C. Ambrose debuted the cover of Elisha Magus on Goodreads a few days ago–now it’s Novelocity’s turn! This second book in the Dark Apostle series will come out July 1st in hardcover and ebook.

Elisha_Magus(1)

In Elisha Magus, the barber-surgeon, feared and hunted for his spectacular regicide, finds himself under the protection of a duke, and offered the duke’s daughter, Rosalynn, in marriage. When Elisha escorts Rosalynn to a retreat in the New Forest, he hopes to recover the dread talisman stolen by his lover and teacher, Brigit, after the battle. Elisha learns more about the shadowy nature of witches and the truth of his own power: that he has become so close to Death that he is indivisible from it—a power that Brigit is desperate to learn. Does his knowledge make him a necromancer, feeding on the fear and pain of others?

When he befriends the discredited Prince Thomas, Elisha has the chance to forge a more just nation, but his enemies grow stronger and more vicious, wielding the power of death to craft a reign of horrors that will blacken the future of England—and maybe the world.

News for April and May

Tina Connolly

tina_connolly-300x450– Wrote and sold a brand-new story! It’s called “Super-Baby-Moms Group Saves the Day!”, and I sold it to Alex Shvartsman for the UFO3 humor anthology.
– Is currently doing copyedits for Silverblind. Then come page proofs, and then we are ALL DONE.

Beth Cato

BethCato-steampunk-headshot– sent sequel novel The Clockwork Crown to editor a month and a half before deadline. Huzzah!
– science fiction poem “Barstow” in Spark Volume V
– steampunk poem “Cogs” in the April issue of Apex Magazine
– will be attending LepreCon in Mesa, Arizona, on Saturday May 10th

J. Kathleen Cheney

-sold two more books to Ace/Roc (Penguin), The Shores of Spain, the third book in the Golden City series, and Dreaming Death, the first in a new series that includes a character who’s previously appeared in her fiction, Shironne Anjir. If you’d like to read a story about her, “Touching the Dead” was originally published in Jim Baen’s Universe and reprinted in The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe, Vol. 2. It’s also available free here.

E. C. Ambrose

E. C. Ambrose-is doing a cover reveal on Goodreads on May 9th for Elisha Magus, book 2 in The Dark Apostle series!





Steve Bein

PMA cover— The Italian translation of Daughter of the Sword hit shelves.
– Turned in copyedits for the mass market release of Year of the Demon, which comes out in September.
– Had a very successful panel at C2E2, and then shook hands with Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and later that night I had drinks with Patrick Rothfuss and John Scalzi!
Got a first look at the cover for Philosophy and the Martial Arts, which features an essay from Yours Truly.
– Looking forward to another great panel at Minneapolis Comic Con on Saturday, May 3, this one on writing and martial arts.
– Still going all stops out, full steam ahead on Disciple of the Wind.

(And because Steve was too humble to mention it himself, were noting here that Colleen Lindsay included Daughter of the Sword in her shortlist of top scifi/fantasy, including other notables like William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Charlaine Harris.)

M. K. Hutchins

MK HutchinsDrift will now be released in mid-June.
– My short story, “Water Lilies”, is up for free at Daily Science Fiction.
– show quoted text –
http://www.mkhutchins.com/


Fran Wilde

Fran2014– Interviewed Mur Lafferty AND Novelocity author Michael R. Underwood for Cooking the Books.

– My Storium kickstarter stretch goal level funded and I get to join the amazing group of authors writing for this incredible game. My space opera, State Liminal, will be available by the fall.

– And the big one: edits are turned in on the novel. Wooo! ::falls down:: ::gets back up:: ::keeps writing::

Michael R. Underwood

Michael R. UnderwoodAttack the Geek: A Ree Reyes Novella was published on April 7th. I conducted a short but potent blog tour to promote it, with highlights including an appearance a special GeekMom edition of Fran Wilde’s Cooking the Books.

The Skiffy and Fanty Show (of which I am a co-host) was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fancast. This means I may now forever style myself a Hugo nominee. Two weeks later, I am only vaguely getting used to the idea.

Tor.com hosted the cover reveal and a first chapter excerpt of my upcoming novel, Shield and Crocus. I also received a box full of ARCs for said novel and somehow restrained myself from trying to dive into them like Scrooge McDuck.

And along the way, I started the first draft of Hexomancy, the third Ree Reyes novel.