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Month: March 2009

Who, What, Why… huh?

Who, What, Why… huh?

Now that the site’s been launched, I have two specific projects on my plate that want my attention.  One is a short story and the other is my 2006 November Novel.  The short story is pretty close to being ready for critique (or it was until I disassembled it last night and discovered some new gaps I need to fill,) but the novel… well, I mean, it’s a novel.  Not even one, really.  It’s the scaffolding around what will some day be a novel.  60k words of scaffolding.  

It’s been sitting in its binder for a while, taunting me.  I gave it a read late last year just to see what was in there, having given it a long cooling-off period.  I’m guessing I need to discard about 20k of those words, replace another 15k, and add 40k new ones, but I hadn’t really got to work on it.

I mentioned it to a friend last week.

“What’s it about?” he asked.


I hate that question. It is a perfectly reasonable question, one that I should be able to answer. I have 60k words of fiction, some fairly fleshed out characters, and a nearly coherent story arc. “What’s it about?” should be an easy question to answer. I told my friend that I’d get back to him.

Last night I was trying to round out my Five Things, completely forgetting that I had in fact read my DailyLit and therefore already had five things for the day.  I had been working on the short story for a while, and had exhausted myself on it for the night.  I looked around my desk, hoping to find one more thing to do, something that wouldn’t take much time.  I grabbed the binder that contains the printed draft of my novel and flipped it open. I had made some notes last week on changes that I need to make, new insight I had gained on a main character and solutions to a few problems that had been bothering me.  Incorporating those changes was too tall an order for 10:00 p.m. on a Monday night.  

In the pocket of the binder’s inside cover there were some hand-outs from a writer’s conference.  I flipped through them idly until something caught my eye.  “Who, What, Why?” the paper said.  It was about writing a blurb for your book, something I have never really tried to do.  And what is a blurb, if not an answer to the question “What’s it about?”

So I decided I would try to write a blurb.   One paragraph, how hard could it be?

‘Who?’ Well, that was easy.  I like my cast of characters.  I know some of them better than others, and I’m learning more about them all the time.  They all have names, and ages, families, and in some cases, occupations. They have personalities and voices. ‘Who’ is an easy question to answer.

Likewise ‘What?’  I know what they do, where they go, and when.  But when I got to ‘Why?’ I found that my answers were thin, if they were there at all — and if I don’t know why they do what they do, then the reader sure as hell won’t.

This is basic characterization.  I can’t answer “what’s it about?” until I can answer “what’s she about?”

Fortunately the answers started coming as soon as I asked the right question. Tonight I’m pretty tired, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it to Five, but I’m going to go add to my notes on the novel for a little while. 

What’s it about?

I’ll get back to you.

No more excuses: is live!

No more excuses: is live!

Well, okay, it's been live for a while, I just didn't tell anyone it was there.

Today my blog and my fiction are moving to a new home,

The fiction landscape has changed since 2002 when I first set out to 'break in.'  Back then the only way in was through the submission/rejection cycle.  The harrowing tale of Myrtle the Manuscript  was what we had to look forward to in our efforts to get read.  Three cents a word and my name on poor-quality paper was the only way to get a story into the hands and minds of people who like the kinds of things that I like.  The thing is, what 'breaking in' meant to me was restricted by the time.  'Breaking in' wasn't really the goal at all: the real goal was just to write the stories that were in my head, and as with any art, get it out there to see if someone else liked it.  The only way available to me to do that at the time was That Way. 

All of that has changed.  Writers like Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler, and T.M. Camp are proving that.  Futurismic posts Free Fiction Friday every week.  Quality short stories aren't just available on the bottom shelf of the news stand or in a $30.00 anthology anymore. Entire novels are available for free, just a click away, to read yourself or hear performed by the author. What Patrick refers to as "barrier to entry" is practically gone, for both the reader and the writer.  The reader was barred by cost and availability; the writer was barred by having only one channel with a heavily guarded gate.

I want the same thing today that I wanted then: I just want to write stories, and I hope that over time I will acquire the skills to write good stories, stories that affect people and make them see things slightly differently than they did before.  That's what good stories do for me, and that's what I hope to do for someone else. 

So having abandoned the idea of payment and editorial approval, and of submission/rejection/submission as the only viable path to readership, that left me with this:

What if people don't like it?  Won't they write me off as a hack and never read my work again?

Well, yeah, they might.  But then I heard something that made that not matter so much anymore.

A while back I posted about something Scott Sigler said in an interview with Mur Lafferty, about how he had people listening to his fiction via podcast who didn't like his work the first time they heard it, or the second time they heard it, or the third and fourth times — but they loved the fifth story they heard.  "What on earth is happening," he said, "when someone will 'try me out' five times?"

That snippet of interview was the final thing I needed to just put together Inkhaven and start posting my fiction.  I am posting free stories in PDF and Kindle formats, because I think that maybe people might like the 'fifth story.'  People may like it, they may hate it, but it's there if anyone wants to read it.

I am starting out with two that I like more than most — Office Demons, which is humor, and Habitat, which is decidedly not.  New stories will be added with what I hope will be some regularity, but you know how it is.  It doesn't go up until I think it's ready.

Thanks for everything, LiveJournal.  And to the readers of this blog, sorry to ask you to jump one more time with me.  I deeply appreciate your support.  Hope to see you at my new home! 

See how easy that was?

See how easy that was?

It's almost ready.  The site, I mean.  The one I've been talking about for six months.  It needs a couple more tweaks, but I think I'll be ready to announce the move this weekend.

Which means that once again, I'll be abandoning the LiveJournal blog.  I've moved my old posts over to the new WordPress blog on my own domain (to be announced!) and all future blog posts will happen over there.  There is more to this move than just the blog, but I'll talk more about that when it's ready.

Meanwhile, back to that Rule of Five.  Have I diligently done five things toward my writing goals every single day?  No, but I've done at least three on most days, and I'm moving forward.  I'm spending time on the website, time on writing, time on reading, time on critiquing.  I've been motivated to make use of any down time I have — I'm thinking through story problems and new ideas and writing them down every chance I get. 

One of the ways I'm managing to keep up with this is through the application of Anne Lamott's excellent advice: short assignments.  A couple of days ago I added 100 words to a short story.  You and I both know a hundred words is nothing — it's a paragraph.  I still count that as a win.  It was *something.*  I'm also making use of DailyLit, and this time I didn't oversubscribe! (It's so tempting to subscribe to everything that looks interesting.)  So five days a week I'm guaranteed to read some fiction — and *that* counts as a win. Securing a beta-reader for Ill Angels, which I think will finally be readable shortly, counts.  Doing anything at all on the website counts as a win — fixing the template, adding content, making a graphic, doing other… things, which I will tell you about this weekend.  They all count.

Scrawling — by unskilled, unpracticed, messy ball-point hand — the first few sentences of a new draft of Chapter One of Found Objects counts as a win.

It's working.  I'm getting more ideas, producing more output, and am happier with the results than I have been in a long time.

Do you get that itch in your brain, too?  There are three pieces of paper sitting on my desk at home right now, all hand-scrawled notes that are waiting to be incorporated into existing works on my computer.  I can see them in my mind, and they make my brain itch. I can't wait to get home to them tonight.

This is going well.  I am satisfied with this.