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Short Story Boot Camp!

Short Story Boot Camp. Day one, August 12, 2015.

I’m trying to teach myself how to edit better. Usually my editing process involves a lot of flailing around, spell checking, some conceptual thinking, and then a lot of quitting. Does not make for very good stories, do not recommend.

Right now I have 10 short stories, including 3 flash stories, 1 Novella, and 1 full novel to edit. I can write. I can produce. I can knock out words with the best.. Okay maybe with the second best of them. No one can keep up with Seanan McGuire so don’t even try. I just hadn’t figured out the editing process.

Lately I’ve been doing some more reading and thinking about writing and backing up to that conceptual process. Two things that have really sparked me is Mary Robinette Kowal’s lovely answer to a Goodreads question I posted about process.

The second is, yes you can giggle. Writing Fiction for Dummies.  What these two authors did here that’s different than most writing books was simplify some basic steps for editing that either hadn’t been explain this way before or I just hadn’t grokked the way it had been explained.

OK three things. My good friend Erin Hoffman also answered the same question I asked MRK about process that helped me tweak my ideas. [ go read Erin’s books now pls. I want her to write more. ] Erin is the most plotter of plotters in that her outline really is her first draft. Erin’s second draft is the actual word flow, her outline fleshed out. She finishes that, then edits, and third draft is what’s submitted. Her outline might take her a month or better, but from there, it’s fast, clean, and rather elegant. Much like everything Erin does. That’s how she’s taught her brain to work and I am hella jealous. I’ve come to realize that I’m the exact opposite. My first draft is an exploratory exercise so that I can write an outline from there.

Helpful hint I learned from this: What kind of writer you are will dictate what kind of editor you are.

What I’m finding out for me is that once my exploratory is done, I have to go back and do what Erin did in the beginning. I start by reading through and creating an outline, do some conceptual thinking, then apply these next few steps:

1. Storyline/concept. What is this story? What is the elevator pitch? Distill the entire story into 25 words. Does this feel right/match expectations? If not, tweak until it does.
2. Three Act Structure outline. What is my opening act structure and the inciting incident that opens act two. What is the body of act two and identify the middle inciting incident that twists the story, then the third inciting incident/disaster that forces act three. What is the climax to the story and the aftermath/wrap up.
3. Character synopsis. Who are these people? What do they want? How does the action in the story help or hinder them? Are they really necessary or can I combine characters to make the story flow better. Sometimes this happens after the next two steps.
4. Chapter by chapter synopsis. Going back through the outline and deciding what changes need to be made on a macro level. Is this incident really powerful enough? Or can I twist it harder to make my characters cry more.
5. Scene by scene synopsis based on the CbC synopsis. (these two steps are combined in a short story, of course) This is the papercut under the fingernail before slicing lemons level. For both me and the characters. Does each scene do what it needs to do to advance the action?
6. Third draft. Send to my awesome friends who have agreed to beta read.
7. Take beta reactions, read through story again, make those edits.
8. Submit. Make sales!

Back to Short Story Boot Camp. I’m going to take these concepts and 7 steps to make step 8 happen. I’m taking those ten stories and the novella and applying this new way of editing to see if the flailing stops and actual work happens. Ironically, the easiest ones aren’t the shortest ones, but the ones that make me the most excited. So I’m tackling Makewater Station first. It’s my prairie punk story with an alternate history of the US.

I use Scrivener to write with so I created a blank project just for Boot Camp. Each story has it’s own folder and the most recent copy of the text after previous edits pasted into them. I love the split screen option and side note screen to work in to keep track of characters/things/etc. And I’ve created a folder to chronicle/write blog posts in about my adventures in editing.

My goal is to make some sell-able short stories as well as figure out how to tweak my editing process in order to tackle the book. Here goes!

Epic, edited by John Joseph Adams

Next book on my finish list is the anthology Epic, edited by John Joseph Adams. I wanted this because of the first story in it, “Homecoming” by Robin Hobb. The over all theme is epic fantasy, and all the stories I read in it definitely meet that criteria.

I have a rule about Anthologies. If I read half of the stories in it, it counts as read. Not everyone will like every story in an anthology and life is too short to read stuff you don’t like. This round up, I’m going to take each story I did read one at a time.

Homecoming – Robin Hobb

I was half a page into Homecoming before I realized that I had read it before. Doesn’t matter, I’ll read anything by Hobb. If you’ve read her Live Ship Traders trilogy, you’ll recognize a lot of the background that’s being laid. It’s a beginnings story, of how the Rain Wilds were populated. I can’t say Colonized, because I don’t think they ever managed that much. You can live in a place that never submits to the colonization process and the Rain Wilds falls into this category. It’s written in diary form, but masterfully.

As the Wheel Turns – Aliette de Bodard

I’m pretty sure this is the second story I’ve read in this verse by de Bodard, but I can’t remember where I read the first. I’m thinking either Beneath Ceaseless Skies or Strange Horizons. This one picks up after the death of the mother, from three POV’s reflecting on what her death has meant to them, framed by types of tea appropriate to that POV. It is a futuristic space opera story, but in an Asian future where the culture has not been subsumed in the dry, plain Western way that most space operas are written. Regret and grief are the themes and I like how de Bodard handles them in this story.

The Alchemist – Paolo Bacigalupi

I’ve not read anything by Bacigalupi before this, and I find that I regret this lack of pleasure. I do know who he is, many friends and writers I follow also follow him. Well now I’m adding to my to read list. Alchemist follows an inventor who is trying to find a solution to a nasty side effect of magic use: Brambles. As in, a plant that is called into being by the use of magic and will choke the land and poison the people living there. And when he succeeds, the result is not the one he expects. It’s a trip through the dark side of human nature, and frightening in a way.

Rysn – Brandon Sanderson

This story was a delightful light romp, very welcome after reading the Alchemist. I skipped a couple stories to come to this, and I’m glad I did. The theme within is cultural differences and respecting them, no matter how outlandish they seem to you. It’s short and simple, but Epic doesn’t always have to be world wide to still be epic.

Mother of All Russiya – Melanie Rawn

A great look into the founding of Kiev Russia. I was vaguely familiar with the founding, but from the historical and therefore male POV. Rawn tackles it from the Queen’s POV, the one who by necessity of protecting herself and her son, manages to keep her position and prove herself as not just adequate, but great ruler. With the help of a little magician.

Riding the Shore of the River of Death – Kate Elliott

This is a short story in Elliott’s “Crown of Stars” verse, which I have not read. The verse is a rigid patriarchal world, and our heroine hopes to earn her Manhood so that she would not be forced into a marriage. I really like the way she reached out to grab her own future, and not just settle for the one chosen for her.

Bound Man – Mary Robinette Kowal

Kowal’s story is a delicious juxtaposition between a matriarchal and patriarchal world, with a little time travel thrown in. A warrior called to to help, with complications. I think this is my favorite story of the book, mostly because of the way Kowal handles the culture clash and the main character Li Reiko. The character’s main strength is that she is both mother and warrior, and no need to separate the different facets of her life.

The Narcomancer – N.K. Jemisin

I’m not sure, but I think this short is from the Thousand Kingdoms verse, exploring life on the borders a little more. The main character has to find the balance between his duty to others and his vows, without breaking either.

Strife Lingers in Memory – Carrie Vaughn

The last story I read in the book tells the story of what happens after the prince and princess get their happily ever after. Very believable take on PTSD and what it takes to deal with, and that it’s a lifelong battle sometimes.

Stories by Ursula Le Guin, Tad Williams, Orson Scott Card, Patrick Rothfuss, Michael Moorcock, Trudi Canavan, Juliet Marillier, and George RR Martin are also included in this anthology, but I did not read them for various reasons. 550 pages of awesome, epic stories.

2015

Brushing off this journal to try a project this year.  I’m going to try to document a few words on what I read.  Mostly for a mental exercise but also to see if this is something I can stick with for a whole year.   I’m trying to think more objectively about what I read, and not be just a passive consumer of media.   I’ve had a few days off so I got a lot of reading done.

All books will be cataloged on my goodreads shelf: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/9260692?shelf=read-in-2015

First full book of the new year was Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty’s Greatest Hits,” an anthology of short stories she wrote in her Kitty Norville werewolf verse.  I mostly wanted to read it because of the final story, but I enjoyed all the short stories in it.

Stories of note are “Conquistador de la Noche” about the vampire Rick and his humble beginnings, “Wild Ride” about Kitty’s first were friend TJ and his start on the dark side, and “Long Time Waiting” about Cormac’s brush with his new brain pal Amelia.   The rest of the stories are just off shoots of the main story arc with Kitty and other folk, but are fun little reads.

Mild spoilers from here if you haven’t read past “Kitty Takes a Holiday.”

Long Time Waiting was the story I most wanted to read.  Cormac’s character intrigues me, and I couldn’t see him willingly allowing another mentality into his head and change his personality willingly.  There are a couple other Cormac stories in the book, reflecting on his own beginnings and path and I liked them rather much.  It’ll be interesting re-reading the series with these new points on his character. Not such a hardass after all, just preferring his own methods.

If you’re a fan of the books, then you will enjoy this book.  Some of the stories are more character sketches, but fun to read.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Second book of the year is China_Contemporary, but Thames & Hudson.  It’s an architecture and design book, looking at the modern evolution currently happening in China and how it incorporates traditional Chinese that already exists.

I loved it, from first page to the last. I got it for inspiration in my writing, but it also has given me lots of ideas of home and garden design too.  and the impulse to clear out a lot of the clutter that exists in my life.

Traditional Chinese design incorporates a lot of detail and decorative carving and modern design is not discounting that.  But there are a lot more clean lines and open spaces in this book, suggesting an influence from Western Post Modernism.  I see that more in the blocky design without as much decorative detailing than the open spaces.

This is a book I wish I had bought instead of borrowing from the library. It’s on my list to get at a later time.

~~~~~

Short Stories – Naomi Kritzer

To my very happy surprise, Naomi Kritzer had short stories in both magazines I get monthly.

The first story is “Jubilee: A Seastead Story,” published in the Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine for Jan/Feb 2015  It’s the fourth such story that S&SF has published in this series from Kritzer.  I’m hoping at some point, Kritzer will either write a full book about the Seastead or a compilation of short stories about this verse.  This story follows the protagonist Beck Garrison in the aftermath of minor revolution and major disease outbreak on the Seastead in the absence of her father, but with the inclusion of her mother. It felt a lot shorter than the other three, or perhaps I just devoured it faster.

The second story is “Cat Pictures Please,” in Clarkesworld Jan 2015,  about an AI who becomes self aware but in a more altruistic way than most AI’s.  Think more Jarvis than Hal.  It was a very fun read and tickled me deeply.

According to Goodreads, there are a lot of books by Kritzer out there.  I’ve got some reading to do.

Amtrak Residency- a few thoughts.

Posted on

Here’s the official application form for the awesome Amtrak Residency program for writers!

So this has gone live.  I’m mostly typing out my thoughts here, because part of me is screaming yes, do it, doo it!  But the rational side still has questions.  So first things first, the link to the official terms:  http://blog.amtrak.com/officialterms/

First ow is term #2: This is only open to residents in the 48 contiguous US.  And the way this reads, even if you live somewhere else or are willing to go to one of Amtrak’s start points, you’re still disqualified because of legal residency.

Term #3, application period ends March 31, 2015.  So this isn’t a rush, which is awesome. But we have no guarantee that this period will stay open that long.

Term #4 is outlining the application process.  This makes me go ucky face [emphasis is theirs on this part]: 

Partial or incomplete/piecemeal submissions (e.g., submission of Application without writing sample/answers to questions) will NOT be accepted or reviewed.

Carefully read these Terms. Then, click the check box signifying that you have read, fully understand and agree to these Terms. IF YOU DO NOT CHECK THE BOX INDICATING YOUR AGREEMENT TO THE TERMS, YOUR APPLICATION WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED OR REVIEWED.  

Proof of entering information at the Website is not considered proof of submitting Application. Sponsor (or its agencies) may acknowledge receipt of Application but is in no way obligated to do so.

In other words, it’s up to you to make sure everything’s perfect, no second chances.  Because oh yeah, only one application per person, or….

Submission of more than one Application will result in disqualification of all Applications submitted by a given individual and none of the Applications will be reviewed.

They’re strict on this shit, yo.

#5 is content guidelines which are reasonable for a family oriented business so more yadda yadda yadda etc.

#6 is where writers on Twitter have been flipping their tables.

In submitting an Application, Applicant hereby grants Sponsor the absolute, worldwide, and irrevocable right to use, modify, publish, publicly display, distribute, and copy Applicant’s Application, in whole or in part, for any purpose, including, but not limited to, advertising and marketing, and to sublicense such rights to any third parties.

So whatever you send in on your application not only doesn’t belong to you, but they get to use it as they wish and no promise of putting your name to it if and when they do.  Emphasis mine on that bit.  I’m a bit hesitant on this issue as well.  But a strict reading suggest that only the application submission is subjected to this, not the writing done while on the train itself.  Let’s be honest, that’s the work you should be most possessive about.

Skipping ahead a bit to #10: There will only be up to 24 in total.  As in, they’re gonna only allow two dozen trips in the residency program but reserve the right to have fewer.  The amount of the award is $900 USD.  Any passage that goes over, you’re paying for the rest.

And this is NOT a vacation trip.  You reach your destination, you either pay for a hotel to stay in overnight, or you’re right back on another train.  Which for me means, no playing hinky with the schedule to keep your ticket under said $900.  It’s the travel agent in me. [ Flexibility in schedule means cheaper tickets.  Remember that kids.]  Granted, this detail isn’t explicitly outlined in the terms, but I remember it being mentioned in the Twitter chatter previous to the announcement of this program.

The rest of the terms are the usual legal “cover the company’s ass” stuff.

The last Hmm isn’t in the terms and agreement, but the application itself.  They want to know your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram links.  So they expect some social media output from you either during or after the trip.  It’s never free.  It’s all in what they want from you. 

Also not mentioned is whatever agreement you sign to get the trip.  This is just the application process.  There will be more down the road if they choose you for the writer.  Every job has a book of paperwork you have to sign.  Amtrak has to cover their bases, or else lose more money on the deal.

That said… The romantic side of me is already dreaming of being in that little roommette pounding away at the keys.  I’m still in.  But if you decide to apply, remember to keep your rational side just as present as the romantic in you.

In response to PETA

So yesterday, I had this reply to my short and quick tweet at PETA to practice what they preached. https://twitter.com/peta/status/418610856155299840  They linked two webpages to me, their own website about their facility’s work, and a blog post the CEO of PETA made on Huffington Post.

In response, I offer this open letter.  I apologize for any typographical or grammatical errors.  Those are mine.  But the information on the links I’m giving have been very well researched.

To the person who runs the Peta twitter account, if you clicked the link, thank you for taking the time to at least look at a counter argument.

I’ve read Ingrid Newkirk’s words about the so-called shelter PETA runs before.  This blog post from Huffington is new, as is the bright shiny page of your own website swearing you SAVE animals.  Well, the records from Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services say a different story. In 2010 alone, PETA took in 792 dogs and euthanized 693.  Of cats, you took in 1553 and euthanized 1507.  Zero of those were received from another agency, 1499 of the cats were marked surrendered by owner.  Did you look the owners in the eye and tell them thank you for allowing us to euthanize your cat?    One lucky cat did go back to their owner, one blessed and fortunate cat.  The number that really stands out were the animals you say you had on hand January 1 in 2010.  Six cats and 14 dogs.  Twenty animals out of thousands.  And you’re proud of this?

Actually, no.  Newkirk’s blog post claims that they take in the animals no one else wants.  That you turn away no animal at all. And to back up her claim that PETA takes in the horribly sick, hurt, and abused animals, she added horrific pictures guaranteed to turn a person’s stomach.  So.. going back to the cats, [and yes, I have a reason to pick on cats], you’re going to tell us that the 1507 cats in 2010 were horribly maimed and sick?  Hrmm.  I cry foul.  Maybe in a city the size of Washington DC, for Norfolk?  Let’s take a closer look at that, shall we?

I know Norfolk mainly for the Navy base there.  My cousin was based there for a while, on the U.S.S. Nimitz.  Now, military life comes with it’s own hazards, and combining pet ownership with those hazards has resulted in some horrific stories. But I doubt this figures in as much for your statistics, as you claim to help the rural impoverished folk.

So I looked up the census statistics for Norfolk.  Nice sized town, with a population of 242,803 reported in 2010.  Let’s keep the numbers the same year as the ones above, shall we?   49% white, 43% black, with the remaining 8% being mostly Hispanic or Asian descent.  Not surprising, Native American population there is 0.6%.  But that’s a different cultural post. 

So what you’re saying, in a town the size of Norfolk, you’re going to get 1500 abused and mistreated cats in one year?  As well as 693 dogs and 1430 other Companion Animals?  [for this, I’m assuming you’re meaning birds, ferrets, lizards, snakes, gerbils, hamsters, and the like.  Which is another disturbing number, given how many rescue organizations specialize in species like those.] So 3630 animal abuse cases you take in and euthanize out of the kindness of your hearts.  Yeah I’m still not buying that number.  Especially since, between 2003 and 2005, pet-abuse.com only shows 507 media reported animal abuse cases –statewide-.  Either you’re on the mother lode of animal abuse or your numbers are off.  What’s doubly horrifying if these numbers are true, why aren’t you working with local law enforcement?  There’s not a single word on your website about cooperation on dealing with the human element of these tragedies.

There’s another point I’d like to make, based off your own information.  Back to the Census for a moment.  Median Household Income for those years is reported at $44,164.  That’s a decent income for a two person household, if we figure for your average nuclear family.  But we all know the nuclear family is a myth as well.  Persons living below the poverty level is listed at 18%.  And these are your target families, according to your press releases.  Let’s say low income families in the area are also in the 18-20% range above the poverty level. 

Now, here’s the thing.  You’re being awful sly in the way you’re presenting your data.  By suggesting that you help these people, and you take in these horribly mistreated animals from them, you’re also suggesting that us dumb, poor hicks don’t care about our pets.  I grew up a hick, in a rural area that makes yours look overpopulated.  And the only animal abuse I can remember is when old lady Rackley across the road in our 300 person town kinda went around the bend and started shooting any animal that went across her acreage.   Don’t say it’s because people are poor that their animals end up in horrible conditions.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of the animals you take in, you get because you’re PETA!  You LOVE animals so Sparky’s sure to get a better life while we figure out how to keep our ownselves fed.  Because I promise you, in rural families, kids come first, pets and live stock second, parents third.  

 Not everyone’s perfect, I agree.  But that’s where the animal welfare laws come in, and again, I see a distinct lack of information there.  Usually when PETA’s involved in a media case, your first word is Euthanize.  Other organizations step in to do the actual dirty work to save, succor, and rehabilitate the animals.  The most well known case of which, ironically, also happened in Virginia.  But of the 50 dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting organization, only one had to be put down because of aggression, and only one other due to their physical condition.  Look at the information BAD-RAP, Best Friends, and the legal case report to confirm those.  I also highly recommend the book “Lost Dogs” by Jim Gorant that chronicles the evolution of those dogs. [warning though, Gorant is pretty honest about PETA’s reaction to the case. Might be a bit painful to take the criticism.]

 I’ve gone on quite a bit, I know.  And I am sorry.  But I cannot accept PETA’s word for what they do in their own shelter.  I didn’t even touch on the complaint PETA makes about ‘warehousing’ animals when they argue against No-Kill shelter.  I’m familiar with those.  See the cat in my Twitter icon?  That’s Deuteronomy.  When I found him at a small rescue (also called Best Friends) in Edmond Oklahoma, he was already ten years old.  And he’d been at Best Friends for three years.  But when I walked through the cat room, I didn’t have a choice. He picked me.  He literally reached out and caught my shirt, yowling as if he was asking “Finally!  What took you so long?”

 A 10 year old toothless cat would barely see 24 hours in your shelter.  But thanks to Best Friends, he had another 14 years with me, healthy, happy, and adored.  So in ‘Dude’s’ memory, I have to argue against your practices. 

 If PETA really wants to tell the truth, allow an independent inspector into your shelter.  Take pictures of each animal that walks into your door and post it on the website.  Expand your housing unit and your adoption area.  Promote healthy adoption information.  When people bring you pets because they don’t know what else to do, help them find solutions.

Best of all, practice what you preach.  Stop the killing.  We beg you.

Books of 2013, my reading review

My year in review, book style! Probably boring for most, so this is mostly my own thoughts.

Read the rest of this entry

writing rules

I have a confession to make.  I’ve thrown a few of the writing rules out the window.  Which ones?  Well, let’s go down the list.

 

1. Turn off everything to focus on your writing.  Yeah, tried that.  Spun in my chair. Took two hours to write 250 words.   Even what I wrote looked bored.  Eventually I gave up on that tactic all together.  Partly because there’s too much to read and do that I’ve not quite given up on yet.  Tumblr, I’m looking at you.  Also because I work nights and therefore sleep days, so if I want to talk to friends and game with them online, I have to dedicate half my waking time to that.  Leaves fewer hours for chores and bill paying and dog playing. 

 

So while I’m chatting and scrolling through Twitter and Tumblr and reading articles, I also have Scrivener open and either the TV on or Netflix streaming and a couple instant message windows open.  And I get my words done quicker.  It’s weird. I know.   Sometimes it’s because I have the last thirty minutes of my evening before going to work to get my words done, but they get done. 

See also: turn off the internet, or use a computer that’s not connected to the internet.

 

2. Work on one project at a time. As you can see from above, I’m quite used to multitasking.   I’m more used to letting a project bubble in the back of my head like the Witch’s cauldron in Brave until that perfect cake comes out of it for my plot/character/issue.

 

3.  This rule depends on whether you’ve read “Around the Writer’s Block” or not.  Have separate times for self care, play, and working time.  I… tend to do it all at the same time.  Take that whole list above and add in knitting and/or playing games.  Yes, I’ve knitted while playing World of Warcraft.  It takes a long time to fly from point to point!  I’ve also put the needles down to flip screens and add a couple sentences then flip back to keep from getting ganked on arrival. 

 

4.  Don’t read while you work.  Norman Mailer is quoted as only reading the New York Times while he works.  I don’t have time for that.  In addition to all the above, I have podcasts to listen to at work, and audio books.  I also read in the tub or on the web when Twitter and Tumblr don’t have enough to amuse me.  The only variation on this rule that I have is that I don’t read during the times I have Scrivener open.  Those words are mine and I can’t concentrate on someone else’s work then. 

 

What I don’t go against:

 

1. Write every day.  This I do.  The Magic Spreadsheet community keeps me going, and I’ve friended a few other users to share encouragement.  I’ve got an 80 day chain now. I’ve leveled up to where I now have a 350 words a day, but I still get them done.  Since it’s so close, I often push to get 500.  In the same amount of time that I got 250 done in.

 

2.  Edit while I write.  I don’t do this, or I’d still be working on chapter one instead of chapter 21.  I told myself to write crap and second draft will fix that.  Future me might hate me greatly for that crap, but.. she’ll just have to deal with it.

 

3.  Apply butt to chair and do not release until day’s wordage has been done.  Despite my multitasking and online life, I have been known to shut it all off in that desperate 30 minutes to get it done.  I try to do it earlier, but I don’t yell at myself unless I don’t do it.  Then I write at work on breaks and lunch.  But I get the words done.

 

Maybe some day I’ll be able to wean myself off all the distraction and put out a bigger word count, but right now, this is what works.  I’m not saying that it’s ok to dump all the hard stuff just so you can goof off.  If you don’t get the words done because you’re goofing off, then you need more discipline.  All I’m saying is, sometimes you need to distract your anxiety and your hyper critical self to get the words done.  And if you work better with distraction, that’s okay too.  What counts is the work getting done.