Monday, October 31, 2011

Words and Music (or, Countdown to NaNoWriMo)

Here in the Eastern United States we're now down to under nine hours until 2011's National Novel Writing Month starts. I plan to get at least my first 500 words in tonight after midnight rolls around.

While I'm writing, I'll likely be listening to music. Just last night, I was chatting with a friend and critique partner of Twitter (@digitalinkwell) about what type of music we like to listen to while writing. Both of us like listening to instrumental music, particularly film scores.

Here's a list of ten CDs I like listening to while writing, seven soundtracks, one classical album, one jazz album, and Mogwai (which Wikipedia calls a "post-rock" band). All of these are available to legally stream using Spotify, as well, which is convenient for if you want to try hearing something new. The links below go to the Spotify pages for these CDs.
  1. Tron: Legacy soundtrack (music by Daft Punk)
  2. Spirited Away soundtrack (Joe Hisaishi)
  3. Princess Mononoke Symponic Suite (Joe Hisaishi)
  4. Passion - Music for The Last Temptation of Christ (Peter Gabriel)
  5. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Mogwai)
  6. The Dead Zone soundtrack (Michael Kamen)
  7. Defiance soundtrack (James Newton Howard)
  8. Vasily Kalinnikov Symphonies #1 & 2 (performance by National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine)
  9. Dead Again soundtrack (Patrick Doyle)
  10. 13th House (McCoy Tyner)
What's going to be on your playlist as you write in November?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Links: October 30th, 2011 Edition

I've been mentioning NaNoWriMo during each of these Sunday Link posts in October, now the time is almost at hand. I still have a bit of work I'd like to get done as prep work, but I have a reasonably good feeling about where I stand. Hopefully a week from today I'll still be feeling optimistic. Anyone who wants to be a writing buddy on the site and hasn't found me there yet can add me as a buddy via my NaNo site profile.

In addition to the good news I got earlier this week about my story being accepted as one of the winners for the October Kazka Press Flash Fiction contest I also heard today that my story "My Name is Imago Montoya..." finished in 8th place in the second Platform-Building Writers' Campaign challenge. Woo-hoo! Thanks to Saba from Of Thoughts and Words, Margo Kelly, and Janice Seagraves from Janice's Home for donating the prizes which I won and to Rachael Harrie and all the others who volunteered to coordinate the challenge.

Now for this week's links!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "The Gap" by Mikal Trimm

Welcome to the new installment of my Dissecting the Short Story series where every other Friday I look at a recently-published short story from a major genre fiction publication.

"The Gap" by Mikal Trimm
Published in:
December 2011 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
Approximate Length:
2500 words
Third Person, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Winning Prompt and Upcoming Publication

Two quick news items. First, congratulations to David Powers King, whose prompt I've selected. If you didn't see the prompt, it is:
"A child finds a candlestick in the gutter on her way home from school."
Thanks, also, to scribblingpencil who also suggested a prompt. I liked the photo, but it didn't stir any immediate story ideas in me.

The story based on David's prompt will be published on Friday November 4th. I'll then be issuing a new call for prompts on Saturday November 5th, so if you want to participate in that round, start thinking about what you might want to prompt me with!

The second news item (also relating to prompted flash fictions, come to think of it) is that I've been informed that I am one of the winners of the October Kazka Press flash fiction contest. I'm very excited about this. It's my first publication in over a year and also the first of my "new" stories which has been accepted.

The Kazka Press story should be posted November 1st, I'll make sure to point everyone towards it when it's live.

The timing of this couldn't be better. As I mentioned to a friend on Twitter earlier today, I'd been getting to the point recently where I was really having to work hard at taking my own advice to "reject rejection" and not let writing frustrate me. Having this piece of good news (along with a small, but nice, personal comment on a rejection from a market I really hope to sell something to one day) has helped my mood immeasurably. A great boost going into this last pre-NaNoWriMo weekend.

One final note, I will be posting the Dissecting the Short Story article for this week tomorrow, but it may be on the late side.

I hope all of my readers are having good writing weeks. See you tomorrow at the Dissection!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story Preview & October/November Goals

Every other Wednesday I announce the story for this week's "Dissecting the Short Story" entry, to be published on Friday. This week, I'll be looking at "The Gap" by Mikal Trimm from the December, 2011 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you have a copy of that magazine and would like to "read along" with me, now would be the time!

Like in the previous entries from the "Dissecting the Short Story" series, I'll be looking at this story to see what techniques the writer used and decisions they made to help make the story effective. The ultimate goal is to use this information as a way of better understanding how professionally-published short stories are written.

Monday, October 24, 2011

7 Things to Do When You Feel Like You're Losing Your Mind

We've all been there, right? That feeling that you're just about to go absolutely bonkers and that if one more thing goes even vaguely not-just-right, you're going straight over the edge?

OK, but going over the edge isn't exactly a good life strategy. With NaNoWriMo coming up, a lot of writers are going to be dealing with some extra stress from the presence of that deadline. But other writers are dealing with deadlines of one kind or another all the time, be they from agents, editors, contests, or what have you.

And it's not just writers who deal with this feeling. There are a lot of holidays coming up, and while those provide many great experiences and memories for many people, they are also a great source of stress and agitation for many people.

So here's a list of 7 things to do when you feel like you're losing your mind:
  1. Breathe. Oxygen is what drives our bodies and our brains. Also, for some people, focused breathing exercises can be a source of relaxation. If you're feeling panicked, one of the best short-term things you can do is be aware of your breathing.

  2. Don't make rash decisions. For a writer, this could mean not pressing the button to delete some work that you've gotten frustrated with. For someone else, it could mean not sending out a hotly-worded email telling everyone not to bother showing up for Thanksgiving. Conceivably there could be good reasons to do either of those two things, but make sure you've slept on it, and don't act in the heat of the moment.

  3. Talk to someone about it. For writers this can be very easy -- there are lots of places to vent about your frustration with writing, from Twitter to blogs to forums like the Absolute Write Water Cooler. For general like issues, though, this can be hard, especially if part of your stress comes from interpersonal issues in the first place. But letting it all stew inside of you can be a path to greater stress levels. Try to find someone who's a good "sounding-board" who won't be emotionally involved. They may end up giving you a bit of a reality check -- there may be things you're doing which are increasing your own stress -- but sometimes that's what we need to hear.

  4. Take a break and do something "guaranteed" to be fun. This is a good thing for when you're feeling "stuck" in some way and are having trouble making progress. So, if you've been staring at the screen for a long time and haven't gotten much accomplished, it may mean you need to take a break. Sometimes the best thing to do is to set the situation aside for a few hours and do something which you'll almost certainly enjoy -- watch a favorite movie, go to a favorite restaurant, do some type of exercise you really get pleasure from. When you come back -- and you need to make sure that you plan to come back to what you need to get done -- you may find that your perspective has changed and, if nothing else, your mood should be better.

  5. Take care of your body. This is not the time to be skipping meals, drinking to excess, or going without sleep. When you're under a lot of stress, you need your body and mind to be as sharp as possible.

  6. Make sure you're doing the most important things first. If your stress is being driven in part by feeling overwhelmed by the number of demands on your time, make sure that you are prioritizing effectively. There are lots of different ways of looking at this, but one is to divide tasks up into "Urgent and Important" (which means they are both time-sensitive and of value to you), "Non-Urgent and Important" (so there is little or no time pressure, but it's of value), "Urgent but Non-Important", and "Non-Urgent and Non-Important." An example for each of these could be:
    • "Urgent and Important" - Submitting an entry to a contest before its deadline.
    • "Non-Urgent and Important" - Finishing a final draft of a short story before submitting it to a magazine with open submissions.
    • "Urgent but Non-Important" - Incoming messages on Instant Messenger or similar tools. ("Non-Important" here can depend somewhat on context. If this is an important professional message or an important person in your support network, such messages may not go here. If it's someone pinging you "just to chat" while you're deep in trying to get your main character out of the jam you put him in, then it probably belongs here and maybe this would be a good time to turn off the IM software.)
    • "Non-Urgent and Non-Important" - Watching an episode of a TV show you don't really have any interest in just because it's on. (And it's OK to have leisure time, even when -- sometimes especially when -- you're stressed, but there may be better choices for that leisure time than something left on the TV "just because.")

    Remember that the "Important" piece of that depends on your goals and values, not mine or anyone else's. So the examples above definitely shouldn't be taken as a statement of what should or shouldn't be "Important" to you or anyone else.

  7. Remember that you are not your writing. So even if you're feeling like your writing is a complete wreck, that does not make YOU a complete wreck. Everybody has a multitude of roles which they play in their life. If it's your writing (or some other specific part of your life) which is driving your feelings of stress, work to remember that you have value in many other aspects of your life as well.
I hope that one or more of these tips are helpful to you in dealing with stress either as part of your writing life or simply life in general. What do you find helps you when you're feeling stressed?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Links: October 23, 2011 Edition

With just over a week remaining until NaNoWriMo kicks off, I finally got some decent planning time in yesterday. Nowhere near as much as I probably should have, but enough that I felt good about what I had accomplished. I've got the main very-high-level story arc nicely laid out and the main character's family tree about 40% complete. I want to get to the point where I have a reasonably-detailed outline done by the end of next Sunday. By the way, if you are looking for an online tool to make a family tree, Family Echo seems to work really well.

Normally I wait until the very bottom of these links posts to tout anything of my own, but I do want to draw attention to my new "Call & Response" Flash Fiction series. The basic idea here is that readers can propose prompts for me to write a flash fiction based on. The prompts can be anything at all: a picture, a song, a concept, whatever. I'll pick my favorite prompt, write a story based on it, publish it on the blog AND send a $5 Amazon gift card to the person who provided the chosen prompt. This seems like it could be a lot of fun for all of us.

And, yes, along with counting down the days to NaNoWriMo, I'm still counting down the days until I can replace phone with one of Sprint's new iPhones. Playing with the one my wife bought has definitely convinced me that this is a good choice for me.

Now for this week's links!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Call and Response Flash Fiction: Request for Prompts

If you saw my "Suggestions, Please?" post you know that I'm interested in adding some new features to this blog. There was no great consensus (except around NOT having more frequent links posts) but the most popular item was Flash Fiction. I wanted to try to do something a bit different with this. Here's what I'm proposing:

"Call and Response" Flash Fiction. 

Every other Friday (when I'm not posting a "Dissecting the Short Story" post) I'll publish a new short story, definitely under 1000 words, probably under 500 words. Now here's the twist that gives the series its name... Each story will be based on a writing prompt supplied by one of my readers.

Here's how it will work. Every other Saturday I'll post a new request for prompts. The prompt can be anything at all. It can be a photo, a concept, a few words. Whatever. People will have until Noon Eastern Time on Thursday to submit their prompts. Thursday night/Friday morning I'll announce the winning prompt from among those posted. The following Friday I'll post the story inspired by the prompt.

I know that's a lot of days to keep track of. Here's a concrete example. This is the first request for prompts. I'll pick the winning prompt on Thursday October 28th 27th (edit: Bad at math, sorry...) and publish the resulting story on Friday November 5th.

Oh, yes... I've used the word "winning" a couple of times. That's not just a "hey, feel good about yourself, I picked your prompt" type of winning, either. The person who submitted the prompt which I select will receive a $5 Amazon gift card as a prize for having a great prompt. (See, I'm sneaking in the "contests" that 25% of the people voted for in the poll...)

So, readers, think up some killer prompts and you could win a few dollars and see your prompt turned into a honest-to-gosh flash fiction. The first round is open NOW! I'm looking forward to seeing the creative prompts my readers come up with.

A bit of fine print: All rights to the story created based on the prompt will be held by the author of the story. The $5 prize is only available to people with an Amazon account to which I can send the prize electronically. I reserve the right to add more fine print to future versions of this activity if I feel the need to do so. (Though I sorely hope I don't need to.) There are no guarantees that I will continue to run this activity beyond the currently-posted Request for Prompts. (Though I sorely hope that it will be fun for us all and that I will want to do so.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

#FridayReads - October 21st, 2011 Edition

For those not familiar, #FridayReads is about discussing what you're currently reading. As the FAQ states, it "promotes literacy and a passion for reading." Here is the entire Twitter feed for the #fridayreads hashtag. Through talking about what I've been reading, I'm hoping to accomplish a few things: make myself think a bit about how exactly I'd describe something I've recently read, let people know about books I've enjoyed, and hear from my readers about what they are reading.

Since my most recent #FridayReads post (two weeks ago) I finished reading the novel Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. It went in all sorts of directions I wasn't expecting, but maintained its tone throughout and was, on the whole, a lot of fun. There's an introduction to the book which is available online and which tells about the background of him writing the novel. He ended up being a sort of pioneer in the indie publishing eBook world with this novel, making several thousand dollars posting it for free and letting people send him donations if they liked it. Interesting stuff!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Vacation in Paradise" - 3rd WriteCampaign Challenge

OK, so it's time for the third and final challenge in Rachel Harrie's Platform Building Writers' Campaign. This time the challenge was called "Show Not Tell" and was described as follows:
"Write a blog post in 300 words or less, excluding the title. The post can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should show:
  • that it’s morning, 
  • that a man or a woman (or both) is at the beach
  • that the MC (main character) is bored
  • that something stinks behind where he/she is sitting
  • that something surprising happens.
Just for fun, see if you can involve all five senses AND include these random words: "synbatec," "wastopaneer," and "tacise."   (NB. these words are completely made up and are not intended to have any meaning other than the one you give them)."
I chose not to try to include the random words since they were optional. (Though, as a lover of Indian food, the idea of a "waste o' paneer" was troubling in the extreme...)

Without further ado...

Vacation in Paradise

Lea groaned. The moist air weighed on every inch of her body. The sun seared her eyeballs as she stared into it, out east over the water. The sand beneath her bare feet gritted. Her teeth gritted. Everything was pain and misery.

She plopped onto the ground. How much longer would she have to wait here for Jacob to return? He said he'd be back before dawn, but that had been a lie. Curse the man anyway, and his infernal plans.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Good Idea/Bad Idea Tips for Working With a Critique Partner, Part One

Something new that's been added to my writing toolbox in recent months is working with a critique partner. In years past, when I was writing, I might show a story or two to a friend or a family member. They might or might not see some things that they thought I should change.(*)  But, it was a very ad-hoc thing and I wasn't necessarily showing my stories to people in a good position to comment on stylistic flaws they might have.

(*) Once, my wife found a doozy of a typo. This was four or five years ago and I think she still brings it up from time to time. A character who had a bit of a drinking problem was trying to convince another character that he had not over-imbibed that night. "Only one or two bears, I swear!" he told the other character. Heh. Whoops!)

It's important to listen to your Critique Partner. (Photo courtesy: murielle)
A critique partner (CP sometimes from here out) can help you with any number of things about your writing, from catching the typos that have slipped by spellcheck and your own re-reading to pointing out serious logic flaws. I've put together some tips for working with a critique partner to make sure that both you and your partner have a pleasant experience. Today's installment will talk about receiving critique. The next installment will talk about giving critique. For each tip, I've put together a quick "Good Example"/"Bad Example" pair that I hope will illustrate the tips.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Links: October 16th, 2011 Edition

Hmmm... Didn't October just start? The post title claims that we're more than halfway through the month, but I'm finding that hard to believe. *double-checks calendar* Nope, that's right. Well, how about that. They do say that time flies.

Speaking of time... There are still a few days left to enter the first Kazka Press monthly flash fiction contest. One of the things mentioned in my poll was an interest in knowing about new contests and markets. Since I like flash fiction, this one definitely was of interest to me. The people running it were also very responsive when I asked for some details about rights, etc. while they were still in their "pre-announcement" mode last month. This is going to be a monthly contest, so keep an eye on their site if you like writing flash fiction.

Among everything else this week I've been doing tech support work for my wife who got to be one of the first Sprint customers with an iPhone. I must say it's a pretty slick device. I should be able to get a new phone once November rolls around, and I'll likely get one for myself. So it's not really "tech support" it's just "reading ahead" for my own iPhone usage.  :)

But enough about my technophilia. It's just a bit over two weeks until NaNoWriMo time (and I'm not, I repeat, not panicking despite being a bit behind where I'd like to be with planning). One thing I am pleased about is having coming up with my one-sentence description for my planned novel: "A young woman who has just lost her parents to a car accident would give anything to be able to change that aspect of her past, but finds herself in a position where she must protect a different element of the past to save what remains of her family."

Now for this week's links!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dissecting the Short Story: "Turning It Off" by Susan Forest

This is the fifth entry in my Dissecting the Short Story series. If you're not familiar with the series, every other Friday I examine a short story from a recent major fiction digest magazine to see what we can learn about how the author approached creating the story.

"Turning it Off" by Susan Forest
Published in:
December 2011 Analog
Approximate Length:
4000 words
Third Person, Chronological
Summary [WARNING: Spoilers Included!]:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Poll Wrap-Up and Dissecting the Short Story Preview

Last week, I ran a poll to see what features people might enjoy me adding to my blog over time. There weren't any runaway favorites. The most votes went to Flash Fiction entries (50%) with Contests, "Posts Highlighting Upcoming Contests and/or New Markets", and "Bringing an eBook To Market, Start to Finish" each getting 37%. (People could vote for more than one choice.) The only choice to get no interest at all was more frequent link roundups.

As I mentioned in the post introducing the poll, I'm mostly looking at working some new types of content in once December rolls around. The rest of October is going to be pretty busy with prepping for NaNoWriMo and then, of course, November is NaNoWriMo itself. I suspect the first thing I'll do once December rolls around is look at doing a periodic Flash Fiction posting, possibly on the Fridays alternate to the Dissecting the Short Story Fridays.

Speaking of Dissecting the Short Story Fridays... This week is one of them! This week's story comes from the December, 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction. It is Susan Forest's "Turning it Off." If you have a copy of this magazine and want to read up on the story before Friday's posting, now's your chance!

Thanks again for the feedback both via the poll and comments on the post introducing the poll. See you all Friday!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Writing Can Be Frustrating, But Don't Let It Get You Down!

This has not been the easiest of months for me so far writing-wise. After a fantastic August and September in terms of productivity I've only had a so-so first third of October. I've managed to keep up with my daily writing for my Seinfeld Chain and my blog schedule but that's been about it. To top it off, I've also not been terribly pleased with the quality of some of what I've written. In short, there have been some days lately when thinking about writing has made me feel sort of like this...

Photo courtesy ralaenin
But I know I'm not going to get anywhere by wallowing in my frustration. So, what can be done to work through this and get back to a place of greater satisfaction?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Links: October 9, 2011 Edition

We're now down to just over three weeks until NaNoWriMo starts. The NaNo site is supposed to be re-launching with an updated version tomorrow (October 10th). So once that is live, it should be worth popping over to check out the changes if you're participating this year.

I'd be interested to know what sort of prep work any of my readers who are planning to do NaNo are doing. I know that some people do absolutely no prep at all and other people have detailed outlines, character descriptions, etc. in advance. 

Now for this week's links!

Friday, October 7, 2011

#FridayReads - October 7th, 2011 Edition

On the Fridays when I'm not dissecting short stories, I will be talking about what I'm currently reading or have recently read. I usually have three-to-five books that I'm reading at any given time, so I expect there should be a lot of different books over time that I'm able to let people know my thoughts about. These aren't going to be full-fledged reviews, but I hope that it's enough to give you an idea of what I thought about a book and whether you might like it or not.

I finished one of the three books I was reading in my last #FridayReads post. That was The Postmortal by Drew Magary. This one surprised me a bit, I had expected it to be less serious than it ended up being. I'd already noted that a couple weeks ago when I was only about 25% of the way through the book, but it got progressively darker throughout. I think it's fair to say that Magary paints pretty much a "worst case scenario" for what could happen after a cure for aging. At the same time, it's hard to really refute his general thesis that this could very easily be the worst thing to happen to humanity.

I'm also still reading Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. That one continues to be amusing, though I'm not sure exactly where it's going to end up going. I didn't think to talk about the cover last time. I love the cover to the paperback copy I have (it's the same that shows at the Amazon link above). It's got this late-50s/early-60s feel to it that which, even though the story isn't set during that time period, doesn't feel out of character with the story itself.

More (including my two new reads for these two weeks) past the jump...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Suggestions, Please?

I started this blog just about two months ago, mostly on a whim. I had just leapt back into writing with both feet and was constantly thinking about writing. Writing about that "thinking about writing" seemed like a natural thing to do.

I've been thrilled with the response. There have been over 400 comments left on the blog since I started, nearly 100 people are following it through Google Connect, and four of the posts have had over 100 views. On the one hand, that may not seem like a lot but I know that it takes a long time for a blog to build a following and this seems like a very good start for two months in.

Thinking about the future of the blog, I know that in November I'll be writing some about my experience with NaNoWriMo. I also currently plan to stick with the four posts per week schedule I've been on recently. I plan to continue the bi-weekly "Dissecting the Short Story" posts. What I'd like to know is what my readers would be interested in seeing more of and/or added to the rotation.

So, I've put up my blog's first-ever poll. It should appear at the right side of your screen (if you're using the Blogger/Blogspot interface) and it will be open (if I've done this correctly) through 12:01 AM (I think Pacific time) on 10/11. I would be very pleased if you'd provide your feedback on what you'd like to see more of on my blog. If you select "Other" it would be helpful if you left a comment below to clarify.

Thanks for a great two months! I've enjoyed reading your comments and getting to know you. And I hope that we continue the conversation into 2012 and beyond.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Eight Time Management Tips for Writers

Writing takes time. There's just no two ways around that. And most writers will have other activities and priorities vying for their time. It's a common complaint that someone wants to be a writer but can't find the time. There may be some cases where this is simply a excuse. Where there's the desire to say that a person wants to be a writer without putting any skin in the game. That's not what I'm looking to discuss here. That sort of thinking can come from a variety of sources but needs a totally different set of tools than the problem where someone is 100% genuine in their desire to find time to write but is struggling with putting that desire into practice.

With that in mind, here are eight tools that can be used to help writers manage their time:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Links: October 2nd, 2011 Edition

As promised last Sunday, this week's links post comes with a bright shiny new month attached to it. Welcome, October!

Earlier this weekend I went to my first Tae Kwon Do tournament in over twenty years. I wish I could say that I had achieved better results, but I can honestly say that it was a good learning experience. Like writing, martial arts training isn't something that most people can just pick up and excel at without hard work and a number of failures along the way. So, just like I am working to not let writing rejections get me down, I intend to not get overly disappointed about the less-than-I-hoped-for performance I turned in and work to do better next time!

Voting for the 2nd challenge in Rachael Harrie's Platform-Building Writers' Campaign remains open through the 11:59 EDT on Monday 10/3 Friday October 14th. (The 10/3 deadline is for entering the contest, not voting. Thanks to @I_Am_LadyJai for setting me straight on this.) The judging for this challenge is strictly based on popular vote. So, if you read mine ("My Name is Imago Montoya...") and enjoyed it, I'd truly appreciate you voting for it by clicking here and "liking" entry #42.

And now, the links!