Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Story Trailer? For Me?

A short story of mine, called "Three Transformations," will be available soon in an anthology called The Crimson Pact: Volume 2. One of the authors in the anthology, Justin Swapp, has been making short video trailers for the individual stories, and doing a great job of it. Here's that video!

See the "Three Transformations" video on YouTube.

Monday, July 25, 2011

How I Party with Social Media

I'm not a Major Player on any social network, or even kind of a big deal, but I'll tell you what. By having fun online, and making very little effort indeed, I've built up three nifty groups of social media comrades. This morning, I have 1,565 Facebook friends, 751 Twitter followers, and I've been encircled by 423 people on the new, but quickly growing, Google+. Here's what I do.

I treat the online world like an array of parties.

There are things I like to do when I go to a real-world party. First of all, I dress up. I think about what outfits I could wear for the occasion, and put on what will make me look and feel good: something that will make an impression when I walk in. When I go online, that's my profile picture. It seems to me that a fairly close-up facial picture is the best idea, since the icons on profiles and comments can turn out to be really small, especially on Twitter. That way, people can see what I look like and recognize that we've met before, if we have. If we haven't met in the real world, the picture is an introduction just as much as my entrance into a party full of unmet future friends would be. Profile information is included in my party outfit. I want people to be able to tell whether they'd like to get to know me or not, and letting them know what I do and what I like is part of that, especially if I can say it with some style.

I also like to think about what I have to say when I'm going to a party. It's good to tell people things about myself, but it's even more fun to be prepared with questions to ask them, and to pay attention and respond to the things that people tell me. Each social media site gives me different ways to interact.

On Twitter, it's all about being quick and witty. I have my public account, and anyone can read it. To avoid being boring, I like to bring some variety. I can make remarks about anything, from comments on what I'm doing to silly, repeating jokes (as anyone who has suffered through my #CAPSTUESDAY madness can tell you). Since I don't enjoy hearing about the fact that someone just drank a cup of coffee, or that they hate their job, I try to avoid broadcasting what I consider to be dull or complaining remarks (with exceptions, I'm sure). Instead, I'll mention funny things that happen, or bring up good books I've read, or ask questions, or post links or pictures. It's fine to talk about work, to a point, but interesting people have other topics to discuss, too. Also, I feel it's okay to be quiet and listen if I don't have anything to say. I pay attention to what my friends are saying and comment on that, and I'll retweet interesting things that come through from the people I'm following. I hardly ever ask for retweets, because I feel like that's the same as going up to the front of the room at a party, grabbing the microphone, and asking everyone in the room for a favor or some money. That's only to be used for the most important situations! However, I think that it's okay to make an announcement once in a while. Say, if a story of mine is coming out, or I've blogged. A quick, breezy little statement, and then I'm off the stage to mingle again.

Facebook is different, since the relationships have to be mutual. This is a party full of people who all, for one reason or another, wouldn't mind spending some time with me. By definition, they already know I exist before I arrive and start to talk. In my case, over several years of showing up there, it's become rather a large party, but because of the way Facebook works, I get steered toward a smaller room within the venue to interact with people who have shown the most interest in interacting with me. It's not really set up well for getting to know more people in the crowd. One nice thing about it, though, is that I'm given a section of wall where I can put up whatever decorations I like, and people can choose to look at them if they want, and leave me notes there. I post a lot of pictures in Facebook, and weird, wacky comments that amuse me. People joke around with me in their comments. It's a good time. I can post announcements there with the reasonable expectation that my friends will see them.

Google+ is still working itself out, so I'm not sure what kind of a party it is, but I love it. Like Twitter, people can follow anyone they like; it doesn't have to be mutual. Unlike Twitter, people can post things to specified groups only. So I can post a public thing for everyone to see, and post something else that only my friends and acquaintances can look at, and more personal stuff for just friends, all the way to sharing something with only one person. At the same time, there's no character limit for my posts, so I can go into depth with ideas if I want to, or keep it short. It has features I haven't even tried yet, like video-chat hangouts. I think the beauty of G+ is that you can make it into any kind of party you want it to be, large or small. Google seems to be way more responsive to user preferences than Facebook has ever been, too. I feel like it's easier to meet new people here than on Facebook, and it will likely become even more so as search directories get established. (In case my propaganda is too subtle (heh), I will say outright that I recommend joining G+!)

My most important guiding principle is to BE POLITE. To be NICE, whenever possible, but polite at minimum. As it is with real-world parties, so it is online: Nobody likes rude behavior at a party. Like the self-centered, desperate person who's only there to sell something, always turning the conversation back to work, work, work, and what you can do for him. Or the trash-talker, getting attention by saying bad things about people, spinning stories to the negative, and starting fights. Or the monomaniac, there to discuss ONE TOPIC ONLY, regardless of what anyone else is saying. It's rude face-to-face, and it's rude on a computer screen. People can talk about ideas without being rude and nasty. It happens all the time. I've seen it.

Social media, at its best, should not be work. It should be about enjoying people, making friends, and paying attention to what our friends are trying to do. It should be about having fun and being generous. Show up with a bottle of wine and some snacks to share, and magic will happen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Five Great Books for New-ish Writers

Although the most important thing about writing is the act of writing (and lots of it), there are books that can help with writing better. That way, you can "work smarter, not harder," which is also known as "not flailing at the keyboard like a monkey."

No offense to monkeys intended. Some monkeys may be super-genius monkeys. Your monkey may vary. I digress.

These books are for "new-ish" writers because it can take years to get published for the first time, or years between first and second publications, so a person can be a rather experienced writer while still struggling with questions of how to write stories that editors will buy. I haven't read all of the writing books in existence, but I've read many of them. Here are five of the books I consider to be the most useful for the earlier stages of learning to write fiction (and re-readable, because you can get more out of them over time).

How to get writing into your life and keep it there

Page after Page, by Heather Sellers: This is the only writing book I've read that gets into the subject of why you want to write in the first place. Lots of people think they want to write. Do they really? Do you? Once you have that all figured out, the book covers the importance of regular writing practice, and includes ways to keep yourself writing even when you don't feel like it. It also does a great job of explaining why it's important to interact with other writers, and how you can do a good job of that. This is the book that convinced me to start going to conventions, and going to conventions is brilliant! (I will definitely write a whole separate post about that sometime).

How to actually create a story

Creating Short Fiction, by Damon Knight: This, in my opinion, is the best basic, how-to-write-stories book. By "basic," I do not mean "for beginners only." You can read it, and then go forth and write stories for a while, and then read it again and get more out of it because you'll be at a different point in your writing ability. Many writing books get into the same topics as this one, but don't explain them as well.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway: Each chapter of this long-lived book includes discussion of a topic in creating fiction, as well as at least two short stories that demonstrate that topic - such as characterization, atmosphere, or structure - done well. The chapter on revision contains stories by Heather Sellers, who wrote Page after Page, listed above. DO YOU SEE HOW THIS ALL CONNECTS TOGETHER IN THE SCHEME OF THE COSMOS? Ahem. Got carried away there.

From Idea to Story in 90 Seconds, by Ken Rand: This is a short but absolutely excellent book about getting ideas, making them distinct from everyone else's, and developing them into the kind of stories you want to write. It's entertaining, it won't take long to read, and it's all good, useful stuff. If you tend to have trouble with knowing what to write, start here.

How to tighten up your prose after you've written a story

The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand: Another short and completely great book. This explains the reasons for editing unnecessary words out of your stories (and any writing that you do, really) and then leads you through an easy system that will literally cut at least 10% of your words out, unless you're already writing like Hemingway. Raise your hand if anyone has ever said you wrote like Hemingway. If you raised your hand and your work is getting published in venues that pay you money, please stop reading this, start writing a blog about how you do what you do, and send me a link to it when you're done. Thanks in advance! If you didn't raise your hand, be like me and use this book's system to cut out extra words, which will make your story easier to read and harder to stop reading. That's the goal.

Bonus! Not a book! How to put a story into Standard Manuscript Format before you submit it (but only do it this way if the guidelines don't tell you to do it another way)

William Shunn : Manuscript Format : Short Story

No two people will get the same things out of a given book, but my opinion is that there's always something to learn in good books about writing, even if you're going back and reinforcing ideas that you've heard before but never completely internalized. The main thing to remember, though, is to read about writing a little, and write a LOT.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

That was exciting!

I'm thrilled with the responses I got for my post about things I've learned from reading slush. Thanks to everyone who commented, linked, retweeted, or otherwise made my day with their awesomeness!

Soon I plan to post about writing books I recommend. :)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Five Things I've Learned from Reading Slush

As of this morning, I've read 3,357 story submissions for Clarkesworld Magazine. It's not a nice, round, significant number, but it's a big one. I started to build up that number on September 20, 2008. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the slush. Or, um, something quite the opposite of "glory." In most cases.

Because I am here for you, I'm going to share five things I've learned from reading the slush pile. I'm not going to stop at just telling you, either. I take these things so seriously that I'm going to apply them to MY OWN SELF.

1. I want you to succeed. I can't speak for all slush readers, but I think many of them feel the same way. I write blogs like this one because I hope to help you get published. I admire you when you keep trying. I remember the stories that didn't quite work out, but had a lot of potential. When that happens, I look forward to reading the next story that writer sends in. The next four items in this list are all about how to make the next one better.

2. Remove the backstory. Unless there's NO CHANCE of the reader understanding without some background, really, really don't keep all of that backstory at the beginning of your story. Ideally, it should be shown in small doses later, if at all. Those first three to five pages of not much happening are often the only pages that get read when a story is in the slush pile. A story doesn't have to start with explosions, but it should draw the reader in, and make her curious. A big lecture at the beginning pushes the reader out. My top reason for rejecting stories is: "The story begins too slowly."

3. Let the ending be complete. Abrupt endings are unsatisfying. By "abrupt," I mean that things are happening, characters are acting, and then they suddenly stop, and it's over. The story doesn't give any sense of what has changed for the character, or any suggestion of how things might go on from this point. Why did the character just do all of those things she did in the story? Did she get what she wanted? Or did the result of her efforts turn out to be disappointing? Even an open-ended story should give the reader some clues; there should be things to ponder, different opinions to form about what just happened and how it might affect the character. If a slush story has been good enough for me to read all the way to the end, an abrupt ending can be anywhere from frustrating to heartbreaking.

4. There's a connection between the beginning and the ending. What you're doing in a story is taking a character in one state, at the beginning, through the steps necessary to reach another state, at the ending. Think about a news story, with its ideal explanation of who, what, when, where, and why. I'm going to put them in a different order. Who is this character, and when and where is she located? What does this character want? Why does she want it? Who and/or what is stopping her from getting it at first, and what does she do to get it? And then there are two important additions: Does she get it? Whether she does or she doesn't, how does she feel about that? It doesn't matter what structure you use to answer those questions, but those are the things a curious reader would like to know. If you want to be really thorough, think about this, too: Who is telling the story, why is she telling it, and when is she telling it? That could help with your point of view choice.

5. A person who has read thousands of story submissions doesn't have any patience left. I'm very sorry, but it's true. I get fidgety. I've read the beginning of so many stories, and I've seen so many of the common ideas that come through, and I've been so disappointed by stories that started well but ended badly. You might not believe the enthusiasm I feel when a story shows me something new, something expressed beautifully, with ideas thought through so that I don't get distracted by implausibility. I LOVE an excellent short story. I have low tolerance for a mediocre one. If you're dedicated to writing and publishing short stories, please read the best ones you can regularly, and study them. Know what effect you're trying to achieve with your story, and do your best to achieve it. Don't try to polish the same story forever; do your best with it and send it out, and then write another one. But continue to read and learn as you go on.

Welcome to my reboot.

I've stopped using LiveJournal, because newer social media helped to ease me out of the habit of writing longer posts, and then increasing spam on LJ made the site seem. . . well, icky. So here I am. I WANT to write more posty posts, but I'm still out of the habit of it. Therefore, I can't promise anything, but I have this space available for writing, and maybe I will.