Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dissection Preview, Getting to Know You, September Goals

This is your biweekly headsup that a short story dissection is coming later this week. Friday I'll be posting a dissection of "Less Stately Mansions" by Rob Chilson. This story was published in the July/August 2011 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. So, if you have that issue and haven't read this story yet, now would be the time! If you're not familiar with my Dissecting the Short Story series, what I will do is write up a detailed analysis of the story and what I think may have been some of the issues that the writer considered in crafting their story.  The most recent Dissection was for Dave Zeltserman's "A Hostage Situation."

Next, since there are a LOT of new people coming to the blog thanks, in part, to Rachel Harrie's Platform-Building Campaign, I wanted to have a quick getting to know you with my readers!

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Seinfeld Chain

One of my first blog entries talked about how "Writing Begets Writing" and NOT writing begets not writing. I'm really committed to maintaining the momentum I've built up in the last month around my writing. Some days it feels like the easiest, most natural thing in the world. Other days it can feel like a real drag -- the words don't want to come on a new story, the story I'm going through an edit on feels like it's just not working, etc.

So I'm looking for ways to help myself keep writing. I've already talked about one of the techniques, using peer pressure as a way to keep myself writing, not wanting to have to tell people "Yeah, I guess I sort of set that aside for now." (Again.)

Getting into the Twitter and blog world has been helpful, too. I spend lots of non-writing time thinking about writing and discussing writing with other people. There's a hazard, though, that I could end up spending all my time talking about writing instead of actually writing. That's a balance that I'm trying to carefully calibrate. (Hmm... Could that be foreshadowing of a future blog post?)

My third approach to holding myself accountable to my own writing goals will be The Seinfeld Chain.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Links : August 28, 2011 Edition

Another week has gone by and it's felt like a really good writing week. I've gotten some work done with new stories that I feel very pleased with. I wish there were more hours in the day, though...

Sunday is the day that I go through articles and blog posts I've read on the internet and link to ones that I found especially fun or interesting.

Today, I have one special link to present first. Rachael Harrie has kicked off her third Writers' Platform-Building Campaign. For those of us who are working to build our networks as writers this looks like a fantastic opportunity to reach out to those who share our interests and connect with them.

Now, on to the rest of the links!

Friday, August 26, 2011

I'm Joining the #writecampaign Effort; You Can Too!

Rachael Harrie has organized two previous events for new writers, bloggers, etc. who are looking to expand their online platform and their network of like-minded professionals. She recently announced a third Platform-Building Campaign and I'm going to be taking part. This looks like a great opportunity to continue meeting new people on-line who share my interests in writing and reading. I expect I'll learn a lot from this experience. The campaign itself is a September/October thing, so this will feed very nicely into my November plans for NaNoWriMo. I'll be sure to post updates along the way here and on Twitter; if you read the description of the Campaign and think it sounds like something you'd enjoy participating in, sign-ups are still open as of today!

Six Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading

One of my favorite genres for reading is the mystery genre. I especially like private investigator stories, but read a wide variety of other types of mysteries as well. Most of my writing has been in science fiction, fantasy, and horror but recently I've been adding some mystery stories, too.

Writers almost always benefit from being well-versed in the work created by others in their genres of interest. To that end, I've put together a list of six mystery writers whose fiction I believe is of use to people who are new to writing mysteries. Even beyond that, since many of the attributes of these writers' works I discuss aren't specific to mystery fiction, they could be good examples for writers of all genres.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rejecting Rejection – A Survival Guide

Being rejected isn't fun. Now, that sentence may seem like a great one for the “No Duh!” Files, but rejection is something that the vast majority of writers who try to get published deal with regularly.

We've heard the famous stories. Frank Herbert's novel Dune was rejected by twenty or more publishers before it was picked up by Chilton, a publisher that you may know best for their automotive repair books. Before The Firm and his other best-sellers, John Grisham saw his first novel (A Time to Kill) get turned down dozens of times. A Wrinkle in Time by Madaleine L'Engle is another classic which was rejected over twenty times before being published.  Still, knowing that well-known authors and their works faced repeated rejection doesn't remove the sting when it's our own work being turned down.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dave Zeltserman Interview

This is a real treat! After posting last week's "Dissecting the Short Story" for Dave Zeltserman's "Hostage Situation", I sent Mr. Zeltserman an email pointing him to the article and asking if he'd like to chat about the story and his writing in general.

I'm thrilled that he agreed to do so, especially since he's got a new novel (A Killer's Essence) coming out next month, and I'm sure he's got a lot on his plate.

Michael Haynes: How did the idea for "Hostage Situation" come to you? Was it one of those "Hey, what if a werewolf happened to become a bank robbery hostage?" type of things or did it develop in a different manner?
Dave Zeltserman: Pretty much that. The idea that popped into my head was what if a guy who is going to turn into a werewolf is stuck in a hostage situation and is desperate to get out so he doesn’t kill the other hostages.

MH: Was the story essentially fully formed in your mind before you started writing it or did you start with the basic idea and see where it took you?
DZ: Fully formed.

MH: Is that typical of your short story writing process?
DZ: Yes. Every story and novel I’ve written is fully formed in my mind before I start writing. "A Hostage Situation" was short enough where I didn’t have to write an outline, but I usually have a detailed outline before I start writing.

MH: In my write-up about this story, I noted that the "Lawrence Talbot" name was a really big clue. Did you have any reservations about using that name, and possibly giving the game away too quickly for some readers?
DZ: Nope. I figured it would be a fun story for any movie buff who recognized the name, although I only used Talbot once in the story so I wouldn’t beat people over the head with it.

MH: I didn't notice any out-and-out misdirection in the story, such as giving the reader a false clue to another possible explanation. Did you consider inserting anything like that?
DZ: Nope. I never add any intentional misdirection in any of my works. I believe in having my stories and my character’s behavior and reactions have a strong sense of truth to them. For a story to be ultimately satisfying you need that level of honesty, and the twists need to be natural.

MH: The goal of the "Dissecting the Short Story" series is to help other writers see what worked for stories accepted for a "big" digest magazine. Are there any specific tips you'd like to share with writers who enjoy working in the short form and are looking to improve their craft?
DZ: I thinking you’re going about this the right way, which is reading and understanding the markets that you want to sell to. Beyond that, reading the best short stories in the genre you want to write. For sci-fi/speculative fiction, that would be writers like Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury, for crime, you want to read and study all of Hammett’s Continental Op stories.

MH: "Hostage Situation" is a crime/horror crossover. Looking at your other publications, it seems that you've written some other genre-blending fiction, including your upcoming novel A Killer's Essence which your website describes as a "crime novel with supernatural element." Is this something you set out consciously to do or did you just sort of stumble into it?
DZ: I’m not concerned with writing formulaic genre pieces, but instead in writing the stories and novels I want to write. Because of that my writing tends to be all over the place, from lighthearted + charming mysteries with my Julius Katz stories to intensely dark  + brutal crime noir, like with my novel, Pariah. I don’t bother with genre boundaries. My novel, Blood Crimes, for example, is a mix of noir and horror — think vampires in a Sin City world. My novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which was shortlisted by the ALA for best horror novel of 2010, confounded editors, because on the one hand it’s quiet horror, and on the other it’s a parable. Same with A Killer’s Essence, which is just so different than the typical crime novel. Fortunately, there are still a few publishers (not many) willing to publish works that are different from the norm.

MH: Is there anything else you'd like to share with my readers?
DZ: I’ve gotten to know both Janet Hutchings and Linda Landrigan, editors of Ellery Queen [Mystery Magazine] and Alfred Hitchcock [Mystery Magazine], respectively, and both of them are just great, and very fair in evaluating every story that’s submitted. If you ever think that Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock are closed clubs, they’re not. Both Janet and Linda are looking for the best stories they can find to publish. So while the competition is fierce, every writer has a fair shot in getting published by them. You’re going about this the right way — first understanding the market and the editor’s tastes before submitting, but also just make sure to send them your very best. And if you get a rejection with a personal note, that means you’re close, and make sure your next submission is even better.

MH: Thanks for sharing your time and your experience. It's been great talking with you!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Links : August 21, 2011 Edition

It's Sunday again!  I hope that everyone is feeling good about their last week of writing. If you're not, though, it's a new week and you can start with a mental clean slate!

Sunday also means that it's link day on my blog. Here are several links to articles I've read in the last week that I thought others might enjoy or learn from:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Making Peer Pressure Your Friend

Peer pressure has gotten a really bad rap! When we think of peer pressure, the typical connotation is around pressure to do something "bad." While that sort of peer pressure undoubtedly exists, there's also a tremendously positive kind of peer pressure as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "Hostage Situation" by Dave Zeltserman

This is the first of a series of posts (introduced here) which will appear once every two weeks on the blog. In this series, a short story from a recent major digest will be analyzed in detail, to see what we can learn about how the author approached creating the story.

"Hostage Situation" by Dave Zeltserman
Published in: 
September/October 2011 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
Approximate Length:
2000 words
Chronological Narrative, Third-Person Limited
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:
A bank patron, Lawrence Talbot, is present when a robbery occurs is distressed at the timing of the event. There's somewhere he needs to be, and when the robbery turns into a hostage situation, his worry only increases.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Coming Attraction: Dissecting the Short Story "Hostage Situation" by Dave Zeltserman

A real love of mine in the world of fiction is the digest magazine and the (generally) short stories they contain. One of my major fiction-writing goals is to have a story published in one of those magazines such as Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, or Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The vast majority of the fiction I've written over the years has targeted those markets.

As with any market, it helps to read what they publish, so you can be familiar with what they tend to choose from the submissions which they receive. I'm going to take that a step further on this blog. I'll choose a story from a recent issue of a major digest magazine once every two weeks and write up a detailed analysis of it and what I think may have been some of the issues that the writer considered in crafting their story.

Since this frequently will involve going into details of the plot, I will announce the story 2-3 days in advance so anyone who wants to read the blog post when it comes out has time to read the story first.

The first such story will be "Hostage Situation" by Dave Zeltserman which appears in the September/October 2011 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. My post about this story will go up on the site Thursday evening. I hope that reading it will be as useful to you as thinking and writing about the story has been for me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Only a Paper Moon?

Say, its only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me

"It's Only a Paper Moon" by E. Y. Harburg & Billy Rose

"It wouldn't be make-believe" -- as fiction writers, that's what we're trying to achieve. We take our ideas and our words, our "paper moon," and ask readers to believe in them enough to be drawn into our stories.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Links

I hope everyone is having a good Sunday!  Here are a few writing-related articles which I've read in the last few days which I found interesting.

Changing Scale: Looking at Your Story from Different Angles by Janice Hardy (The Other Side of the Story) - Janice takes here architectural background here and relates it to writing. She talks about how changing your perspective -- going from looking at the "big picture" of your story to some details or vice-versa -- can help provide new ideas for your writing.

Forty-Five More Flaws That Expose Your Lack of Writing Experience, Part 3 (Plot to Punctuation) - A list with detailed examples of nine "gotchas" that novice (and -- as the author notes in the case of George Lucas -- experienced) authors can trip themselves up on.  Part three of five.

Why a Messy First Draft is a Good Thing by Julie Musil - I can see myself coming back to this one several times during NaNoWriMo.  "A messy first draft means you've finished a book."  Good words to remember!

What Self-Publishers Can Learn from Restaurant Impossible by Joel Friedlander (The Book Designer) - Since I've been thinking a lot recently about how publishing has changed and is changing, this article was interesting for me to read, and I liked his use of a TV show to draw parallels between writing and another business.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Why Write?

Something has happened. I'm virtually certain that I've written more words in the last two weeks than I've written in any such period during the last twenty years. Now, I don't think I can keep this up as an everyday thing. It does give me reason to believe that I can make NaNoWriMo work. The writing over the last two weeks has involved three stories, some revisions to earlier stories, and several blog posts. For NaNo, I'll have one particular "world" to work with and if I do appropriate pre-planning, I think I'll be able to make it through.

But it's also had me wondering why I'm writing so much. Why, in fact, I write at all. I can say that I'm not 100% certain I know the answer to that question.

I'd already started thinking about this topic -- in fact, I'd already started a draft of this blog post -- when I had a conversation with a friend about my recent writing which really reflected what I'd been trying to work out on my own head.  This friend is not a writer. In fact, it's safe to say that the idea of writing is something she finds uncomfortable. And yet, when she was asking about my own recent writing endeavors, I was hard-pressed to explain what motivated them.

Some writers talk about feeling compelled to write, as if not writing is like keeping things bottled up inside them. I know that writing is not like that for me. After all, I've taken breaks of multiple years from writing before.

I also know that I'm not doing it for the money. Well, not really.  I guess I'm sort of doing it for the money, because I have little interest in having stories published in markets which don't pay at all. But, on the other hand, realistically I know that whatever I'm likely to earn from writing will almost certainly be -- at best -- the third-string stream of income into our household.  Also, if I were wanting to make money from writing, I'd probably be spending more time on non-fiction than fiction.

For me, I think that a large part of it is that I'm writing because I view it as a challenge and an opportunity for achievement. When we're kids, there are always achievements to strive for -- honor rolls, athletic trophies, academic awards, perfect attendance. As adults, a lot of that fades into the background. No one is going to hand you a certificate for getting up and getting your kids on the bus every morning of the school year. You might get some verbal thanks for a job well done at treating a patient, or fixing the wiring in someone's home, or getting a database query to perform properly but you're probably not going to be giving a medal or even have your name written up in a newsletter.

But, if an editor looks at something you've written and says "I want that for my magazine/publishing house/website."  Well, that's a bit of validation. A small victory. Is that a childish way to look at the world? To still want that external validation? I'm not sure -- but I do think it's a large part of why I write.

There's more to it, of course. I know I'd love to hold a copy of one of the "big" digest magazines with a story of mine in it. It would be something permanent and tangible, sort of like I was talking about in the Publishing post, it would be something that grandchildren could look at, that you might see someone reading on the bus. And I also like the idea that other people could get enjoyment from ideas I've created from nothing, just like I've gotten enjoyment from other peoples' ideas.

In the end -- does it matter why we write? I think that it does help to be aware of your own motivations, as it can help you through the times when it's hard to write. It may be that understanding that motivation is part of what moves writing from being a hobby to being something more.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts on Publishing

The publishing world has changed dramatically in the twenty years since I first took any serious interest in it. That shouldn't be surprising; lots of "worlds" have changed dramatically in that time but I've had reason to think some about those changes recently.

That first period of taking writing seriously would have been in the very early '90s. Most of what I tried to write then (as now) was genre fiction, almost entirely SF/F/H. I was also working completely in the short fiction world. There were a handful of "big" magazines (Analog, Asimov's, F&SF being the biggest) and a lot of small press magazines which paid anywhere from a few cents a word to not a cent. Those small press magazines also tended to come and go with some regularity.  There were occasional themed original anthologies which took unsolicited submissions.

Though I didn't attempt anything novel-length at that time, I was aware of the fact that there were Publishers (big and small) and Vanity Presses/self-publishing. The general impression I got was that no one who seriously considered being a potential professional Writer would be going the self-published/Vanity Press route.

Fast-forward to 2011 and some things look the same, others look a lot different. In the short-fiction world, most of the "big" magazines of 1991 are still around, though circulation numbers continue to drop and F&SF switched to bi-monthly larger-size issues a while back. Small press magazines still exist, but a large percentage of them are electronic.

In terms of electronic publication, the huge change has been the rise of the e-reader and eBooks. No longer does self-publishing necessarily mean throwing a bunch of money at someone to print copies of your books and then hope you can sell them so you aren't losing money on the deal. Sites like Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing have been game-changers; you upload your "book" (which could be non-fiction, a novel, or even a single short story) in the proper format and its made available in their marketplace. When people buy it, you get a (typically hefty) percentage of the sale price.

Now, the trick of course is that people have to buy it. Otherwise, you've burned your first publication rights and haven't gotten paid for it. Still, I suspect in the Twitter/Facebook/Google+ world, it's a lot easier to drum up interest in a book by someone nobody has ever heard of than it was 20 years ago if you were driving around on a tour of independent bookstores with a couple crates of books in the back of a van. John Locke has sold over a million books that way, and even with the reduced percentage of the sale price he's received by pricing his books at 99 cents, that still represents a lot more money than many authors ever make. Obviously one example doesn't mean "Oh my gosh, everyone should be self publishing novels at 99 cents -- it's a gold rush!"

For me at least, there's still something ephemeral-feeling about eBooks. If you publish an eBook, even one that sells well, you can't give signed copies to your friends and your grandchildren won't one day run across a copy in a used bookstore or library.

But it does give one reason to think, especially since we're still clearly in the dawn of the eBook age. Being flexible and keeping your eyes open for changes will be valuable skills for writers new and old.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Writing Begets Writing

This isn't exactly a novel thought.  A google search for the phrase "writing begets writing" comes back with quite a few results. There are a lot fewer hits, though, for the equally true converse "NOT writing begets NOT writing."

For me, at least, it's incredibly easy to NOT write.  I've repeatedly gone years without doing any serious writing at all.  Then something will spark me to start writing again, and all of a sudden, I'll be at it full-tilt. Until something comes along and I stop writing and start not-writing.

I've gone through this off-and-on cycle as far back as I can remember.  I dabbled at lots of various juvenile writing when I was, well, a juvenile.  Then around my senior year of high school, something led me to start writing. A lot.  Just in the last few days, I found my old folder of (handwritten) records of story and poetry submissions to magazines in the 1990-1992 timeframe. There were probably over a hundred submissions, in all, for around two dozen different works.  (I've always been surprised when a professional writer indicates that they've forgotten about something they wrote. I guess I shouldn't be surprised any more. Several of the titles I'd written on those pages meant absolutely NOTHING to me.)

Then, around early 1992, I just stopped writing, other than papers for my classes. But, from time to time, I'd start back up in a burst of activity.  One summer was spent in part working with two co-writers on an epic comedy screenplay.  (This, most likely, did not play to my strengths as a writer. But it was an interesting experience all the same.)  Probably the second most-sustained amount of writing I've done was in 2007. I wrote quite a few new short stories during that time, a couple of which have been published.

For a while during late-2007 I was doing a "Seinfeld chain" where I wrote at least 500 words every day.  I wrote the longest story I've ever written then -- a mystery of about 9000 words.  Then I hit a bit of a dry patch.  For a few days I said "Well, I'll do revising on some of the things I've written, and I'll give myself credit for that."  My self saw through that ruse real quickly and said "Hey, we're back to NOT writing now. Groovy."

And that, mostly, is where things sat until recently. I was still occasionally looking at my submission log (now in a nice spreadsheet) and sending out what I'd written, but there were even long lags in this activity.

In the last few weeks, I've written two new stories, come up with an idea for NaNoWriMo, made notes on another story, and done some moderately-heavy revisions to one of those 2007 stories.  Clearly, the switch is back to ON.

So, why write all this?  Heck if I know.  I'm writing now, right?  So, I guess I'm writing about writing. And hopefully some of my friends are reading this, and they'll ask me from time to time "So, how's the writing going?" Maybe that will help me keep from going back to NOT writing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Writing Blog

"A Writing Blog" -- such a descriptive title. And, really, does the world need another writing blog? Of course not; but apparently I think that I need one.

I'm currently in one of those cycles where I'm taking my writing a bit more seriously. I've got an idea percolating which I think may well work for this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) though I will say that the idea of trying to write 50,000 words during the school year AND hockey season strikes me as being a sign of possible insanity. We'll see. At least I type quickly.

At the moment, I've got a half-dozen or so short stories which are in various levels of making the rounds of publishers of short fiction. The newest is still out to the first prospective publisher; one of the older stories has been through seven rejections and is back out for an eighth time.

I don't know how frequently I'll update this blog until the November NaNoWriMo season is more closely approaching. (And, really, the idea that I might decide to blog and churn out still more words while trying to produce 50,000 words on a novel all in 30 days... Did I say "possible" insanity?)

If you're interested in the fiction and non-fiction I've had published in the past, please look at my Publications page. Thanks for stopping by!