Sunday, November 25, 2012

It Ain't Over 'Til It Is

NaNoWriMo 2012 is drawing to a close. I 'won' on the 20th, but still have five chapters or so (about 7k-ish to go) before my novel (Draegith) is finished. I am going to end up at only 60k, which is actually 10k less than the final tally for last year's book (Fnerge!). Even though I was aiming for 70k, I'm not really surprised i didn't make it.

Fnerge! had a ton of characters and hopped viewpoints regularly. In many ways it was a much more complex story. Draegith is told almost entirely from the viewpoint of the MC, except for a few brief sections where she is either not conscious or information important to the plot (that she isn't privy to) needs to be passed on to the reader. the geographic area covered in Fnerge! was vast, several entire worlds worth. In Draegith, we only see one small part of one continent. Draegith does have far more emotional content in terms of exploring the MC's relation to her world, which is why it even came close in length to Fnerge!.

I've learned a ton from the process this year. As I've noted over and over again, doing more groundwork and outlining was incredibly helpful. It wasn't easy, but I managed to average 2.5k a day for most of this month. I had several days with wordcounts in the 3k range, and my highest day ever--4.5k last Tuesday. Without all the groundwork I did in October this wouldn't have happened.

However, I've also learned just how inadequate the prep I did really is. I will likely do a much more comprehensive outline for the next book, especially in terms of worldbuilding and character development. It's encouraging to see where improvements can be made, though. And I feel like I've made huge strides in my storytelling, as well as learning a ton about what I need to learn a ton about :) The first step on the road to wisdom is recognizing ignorance.

I'm not really very happy with the novel, unfortunately. This is a first draft, so I don't expect much out of the writing, but it actually reads fairly well. Still rough around the edges, but not too shabby. The story, however, just isn't as exciting as I wanted it to be. Lacks oomph, somehow. Once I'm done with it I'll set it aside for a month or two and then come back to it and see if I'm just feeling blah because I'm worn out, or if it really is lacking somehow. And, is so, try to figure out how to fix it.

Which leads into the final topic for today. I've recently become acquainted with an entire category of thingee-stuffs: plot-aids. I bought a set of Story Cubes for me and my son to play with (he's three). Really fun. They aren't a game, exactly, more of a way of playing together. The set came with nine six-sided dice, each one bearing a pictogram on each face (all different). Things like a smiley face or a bug or an airplane. So the idea is to roll however many cubes, then make up a story based on the images that come up. Plus, little kids love rolling dice, so the whole enterprise works out well.

I've found that I really enjoy working out stories based on random prompts like this. I've never lacked for ideas to write about for my own stories, so I don't need anything to break through 'writer's block" (never had it; not sure I even believe in it), but as a tool for sparking creativity, I like the idea of these sorts of things. Or just for fun :) I've ordered another set of Story Cubes with different pictures (called Story Cubes: Actions), as well as a set of cards called Tell Tale, which are the same idea, just cards instead of dice. I'm also messing around with an app called FIG (Fiction Idea Generator) and considering several other games/tools, mainly The Storymatic. I'll let you all know what comes of these explorations.

And that's it for this week.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Too Many Stuffs

I am trying out blogging on the tablet again. Several reason for this: there is a new version of the Blogger app (not that I ever used the old one). I'm hoping it will work better for this than the painfully wonky write-text-w/-Jota+-&-transfer-via-browser method I tried in the past (which sucked). I dropped my tablet a while back and the (full-sized--best feature of Acer A500, IMHO) USB port stopped working, making the tablet far less usable. But an emergency surgery session last week, inspired by a dream, resulted in me using a tiny hypodermic needle to bend one of the four prongs in the USB, which wasn't making contact. This involved headlamps, flashlights held with teeth, and no small amount of swearing. It was a complicated/simple fix, if that makes any sense.

But now my USB works again. Yay! Which means I can use my favorite portable keyboard (A chiclet-style Perixx that flies).

Side note - If I could get a portable, ergonomic keyboard, I would be in heaven. I love my big MS Natural keyboard knockoff (also made by Perixx), but it couldn't be less portable. I've seen one that would almost work  (Kinesis Freestyle2), except it's super-pricey. Why more manufacturers don't make split keyboards like this one, I don't know.

Anyway, I've now been working on this post for about half an hour (Amazon research soaked up some time). I won't know for sure until I try to send it, but so far the Blogger app works well. It's really sweet to be able to enter rich text instead of plain text. I can do italics, woot!

Edit - Just hit blip numero uno. The editor for the Blogger app has no undo function. Not having control-z isn't the end of the world, but It's an unexpected omission. Also, no preferences menu to do things like adjust font size, etc. Hrm...

Another interesting note - all the keyboard shortcuts I've learned for navigating on the AlphaSmart Neo (which has no other input device, no mouse or touchscreen or anything) are coming in really handy on the tablet. Which is nice, because I really hate trying to move the cursor around with my sausage-fingers.

Anyway, on to more important matters. It's the end of week 2--or the beginning of week 2 1/2, I suppose--of  NaNoWriMo. I can confidently report that I'm kicking ass. No, seriously. While chewing bubble gum and taking names. It's an awesome feeling. I am currently at around 44k. I've been averaging 2.5k a day, so I should 'win' within a few more days. Ya, again!

I won't actually be finished when I win. I'm on chapter 35 of a planned 48 chapters, so I have  15-20k more to write. I originally expected to hit 70k this year, but I think I'll probably end up closer to 65k. Good enough :)

The even-better news is that I am far happier with this book than I was with last year's NaNo. Not that the last one wasn't fun, or that this one will need any less editing/rewriting later on, but I feel like I have a much better grasp of both the story I'm trying to tell and storytelling in general. The prep I did definitely helped. Although I need to do way more next time. It turns out that what I thought was a ton of outlining and prewriting was really only the bare minimum to get my story started. I've had some hair-tearing moments trying to wrap my head around the plot and characters this month, stuff I thought I already had worked out. Lesson learned.

I am, as always, still not satisfied with the work I'm doing. Definitely room for improvement. But a far more fluent effort than last time. Plus--and this is the key, the whole reason I'm so hyped on NaNo--I feel like this is a repeatable process (during non-NaNo time). The pressurized writing environment suits me, although I might take things slightly easier on the next book. I've been missing out on sleep (and most everything else) in order to keep up with my wordcount goals. But that's gotten easier, in some ways, as the month has worn on.

In other words, I think I have the trick of writing novels now. Perhaps.

All that remains is to work on writing better ones :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NeoWriMo

I am writing this on my newest writing 'tool': an AlphaSmart Neo. (I'm the first to admit that I often have trouble distinguishing the difference between a tool and a toy. But it lends more cache when we refer our toys as tools.) It's pretty awesome so far.

I went through an Android tablet phase a while back. One of the main things I tried to make work was a system for writing on the tablet, so I could do things like write my Sunday morning blog post in bed on Sunday morning. I also wanted to be able to write fiction on the go (at least first drafts). I installed a pretty decent text editor called Jota (none of the web browser played nicely with Blogspot, so I had to do the text of my posts in a separate application). I got a nice portable USB keyboard. I was able to do a few posts this way, but eventually gave up due to the clunky nature of the whole enterprise. Plus, I really hadn't achieved the portability I wanted.

In the spirit of fairness, I will note that battery life for tablets is generally quite impressive. Also, the keyboard, a very Apple-ish one sold by Perixx, is wonderful. I have several Perixx keyboards and they are all well made an fairly priced. Also also, in my limited experience, Jota (now available as Jota+) is the best free text editor on the Android platform.

Side note -- I've pretty much abandoned any hope that Android will become a worthwhile operating system any time soon, being basically an attempt to remove functions from Linux then charge the end user to reinstate them. And the constant, intrusive, usage, data, and identity tracking is creepy. DRMania. But that's a whole 'nother post.

I've seen AlphaSmarts, the Neo2 mainly, which from a writer's point of view is functionally identical to the older Neo, advertised on various writing websites occasionally. I always thought the device was a rip-off. At around $170 USD for a keyboard attached to a glorified calculator screen, I'm still pretty solid in that assessment. I do understand that their primary market is a niche educational one, so I don't fault them for the high price. Economics is what it is.

But I certainly wasn't interested.

However, a chance comment by a writing acquaintance (about her AlphaSmart) ignited an interest in them. I am an obsessive person, and sometimes a nudge is all it takes :) I did some research and found out that older AlphaSmart were often sold in online auctions for much cheaper than the retail price. And the more I read about how other writers used them and how well they worked as portable first-draft machines, the more interested I became.

I found one for $55, emailed the link to my wife as an X-mas present suggestion, and she ordered it immediately. IMHO, the retail should be a lot closer to that price. If It wasn't intended as a present (a splurge, if you will), and if I didn't have a narrow-focus writerly use for it, I wouldn't have asked for it at all.

We have a lot of trouble holding on to gifts in my household. Life is short. My wife gave me the Neo as soon as it arrived, a few days ago. Thanks, babe. You're the bee's knees.

I've written at least 5k on it so far. It's definitely helping me make the most of my time for NaNoWriMo. And it makes the perfect Sunday morning blog draft machine. Assuming I continue to get the same level of use out of it, it will definitely be worth every penny.

The Neo is light, easily portable, and totally self-contained. The keyboard feels great. It gets 700 hours of battery life out of three AAs. Boot-up time is about a second. It opens in the last file I was working on, exactly where I left off. It saves every keystroke. When I'm on the go, I'm basically using it for the notes and ideas I would've written out longhand and had to type up later. It's a real time-saver in that sense.

I love it.

It's not perfect. The screen is a reflective LCD, so the text is black on light green. No backlight. I installed some add-on fonts that unexpected_human made (do a search for them if you have a Neo, highly recommended), so I can do as many as 11 lines of teeny-tiny text, but ultimately there is no way to fit enough legible text onscreen to do more than light editing. Even with larger fonts and much less text visible, I get more eyestrain than I would using a PC and decent sized monitor.

The screen limitations are forcing me to think in a different way when I write, to plan ahead and hold more structure in my head. I think it will be beneficial for my writing on the whole in the the long run. I think I can learn to do drafts that don't require heavy revision, but I don't expect to ever turn out finished copy on the Neo. But for notes and first drafts, it's a welcome addition to my arsenal.

Batman says "Boom!"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

This will (hopefully [which is kind of ironic, no?]) be a short post. Mainly this is just an update, since I've been away for several weeks.

And why is that?

I've been busy writing and editing, busy planning for this years NaNo, and just generally feeling averse to blogging. I actually took the time to write out a post in longhand a few weeks back, on story structure (yes, again), but haven't gotten around to transcribing it. I was going to do a pencast (and will, eventually), using the new laser printer I got, which has a built in scanner. Oh, joy of joys!

Mostly, though, I've been fighting with my OS. I upgraded to Ubuntu 12.04LTS and I've been hating every minute of it. After days of fidgeting, I've finally settled on the Xfce desktop environment, w/ the file manager and text editor (Nautilus and Gedit, respectively) from Unity/Gnome.

Honestly, though, if it weren't for NaNo I'd probably be wiping my system and doing a fresh install of something like Linux Mint. I might still, provided I get enough words done. I can almost guarantee that I'll at least try running a live image (or do a dual-boot install). To put it very, very bluntly: Unity sucks rocks. Massive boulders, even.

It's probably great on new systems that have plenty of RAM and processing power. On my 1.6Gh netbook with 1Gb system memory, it is slow, laggy, unstable, and a battle to do the simplest things, tasks that Ubuntu 10.10 handled with ease.

No thanks. I came to Linux because I was fleeing the evils of microshaft, specifically bloatwear.

Anyway, now NaNo is here and I'm all BIC HOC TAM (butt in chair [actually, in my case I'm mostly standing], fingers on keyboard, typing away madly). Any of you fellow NaNoers—best of luck. I'm pushing for 2.5k a day, over 10k so far, and hoping to have a 75k-ish novel done come Dec. 1st.

And life, irritations of OSes notwithstanding, is grand.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Next Big Thing

Rebecca Schwarz tagged me to talk about my Next Big Thing. She is the author of the short stories Flotsam, Fairview 619, and the forthcoming The Gyre. Her latest WIP is Inside Out (working title).
 
Although I've put out a number of short stories as well as a novelette (through my imprint, Step5 Transmedia) it might be better to call my upcoming release(s) my FIRST Big Thing(s), since it (they—depending on how editing goes) will be my first novel-length work(s).  Further muddling the issue is the, erm… next Next Big Thing, the first novel in a planned trilogy that I'm gearing up to write during this year's NaNoWriMo.

10 questions about your Next Big Thing:

1. What is the title of your work in progress?
Fnerge! is either the name of the first book or the name of the duology, or possibly the leading phrase of the title (as in Fnerge! Chosen1 and Fnerge! 2Worlds).

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
My interest in the transformative process is essentially boundless. The seeds of this work were generated by Greg Bear's Blood Music and the merge scenes from Rudy Rucker's 'Ware Tetrology. I wanted to do a near-future thriller/monster book involving a nano-infected menace (essentially an SF draped version of the blob). Instead I wrote a science fantasy set in schizoid secondary world/universe-next-door. With miniature dragons.

Sometimes I wonder if there is any sense at all to be made of the way my creative faculty functions.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Science Fantasy is what I'm going with. With some horrific elements, of course. Also, it's kind of YA.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in the movie?
The protagonists and generally human characters could all be played by The Goonies. One of the main villains is modeled after Stephen King, so maybe he would be interested in a non-cameo? The Xyzzerns (and other nonhumans) could be played by whoever-it-was-who-animated-Gollum. Mereg the evil supercomputer could be played by Hal 3000, and Tommy Lee Jones could be Agent Alpha (that one is obvious).

5. What is a brief synopsis of the book?

A race of tiny dragons gives a young man (Andy) the power of The Mayhem in exchange for helping them defeat an evil supercomputer on the 2worlds (a bifurcated alternate plane). Other players and powers become involved, pursuing related and opposing agendas. Also, romance happens. But not with the talking dog.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It depends on how technical you want to be about defining self-publishing. I don't require an agent for submissions to my publishing company (Step5 Transmedia), and I am fairly likely to accept my own work for publication. But I won't be publishing it. My company will.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I wrote most of it during NaNoWriMo in 2011. The last 10% took me another two months. I just recently started editing in earnest, and I expect that to take another few months. Hopefully I'll be releasing the books in the first quarter of 2013.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
I would love for these books to be compared to the work of writers like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Rudy Rucker, Piers Anthony, L. Ron Hubbard, Stephen King, and Andre Norton. The setting and story are such a cross-genre mish-mash that I really can't think of anything specifically like it, but it has tons of inspiration drawn from bits and pieces of the works of the authors listed above.


9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I guess I already answered this one in #8, above. One addition: if it isn't clear, the title (Fnerge!) is very inspired by Fnord (phrase used to 'sign off' in Steve Jackson Game's writings about the Illuminati).

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Erm… lizardmen, spiders, Ankabi, and Wuzza? Furry, insane, dwarves-in-space analogs called Gonzoi? Creepy meta-mythological characters? No tea? Did I mention romance (but not with the talking dog)?

Here are my picks for the next Next Big Thing:
 
(forthcoming)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Double Crossing

I've got a new story available on Amazon and Smashwords—The Double Crossing.

Blurb:

When Martin Main slips out of his own story and into the mind of his creator, all the rules he’s ever known come undone. At first, Martin just wants to understand who he really is. Soon he has a bigger question: Who made who?

What if a player takes over the play…?

What if an inmate takes over the asylum…?

What if the asylum…is the play…is reality?

The Double Crossing is a dark-SF story that questions the nature of identity. It’s about 7,200 words.



Available on Smashwords and Amazon.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

NaNo Looms …

By NaNo, I of course mean NaNoWriMo. Which starts in less than a month. Me-oh-my, what shall I do?

I'm planning—just like last year—on writing at least the first 60,000 words of a new novel. New to this year's goal (now goals, I suppose) is this: My 60,000 words will be cohesive enough to publish without extensive revisions. I am actually hoping for closer to 70,000 this time around, but I'm not holding myself to that.

This new addition to my NaNo goals has some caveats. I fully expect my characters to evolve as I write. Thus, early scenes may need redrafting to reflect characterization more accurately. I'm not scared of redrafting to fix plot holes, add foreshadowing, etc. What I most emphatically don't want to have to do is redraft to fix structural problems—this being exactly what I'm going through with my first novel, Fnerge!.


(Yes, that last sentence is punctuated correctly. The title, Fnerge!, includes an exclamation point. Interesting related [-ish] point: I haven't decided yet whether the subtitle will be The Two Worlds, plain old Two Worlds, or the hopefully exotic 2Worlds [inspired by my publishing company's name, Step5 Transmedia]. We'll see.)

This looming of the NaNo has, in conjunction with one other factor, produced a significant change in my office layout. About a month ago I converted my desk to a standing desk, by the simple expedient of putting some paint cans and 2x4s under the desk's supports. I've really been liking it. Unfortunately, I messed my hip up somehow (probably jogging) last week. Standing for even an hour is painful, and the two to four hours I will need daily (minimum) are out of the question.

So I've had to lower my desk back to a sitting desk, which is somewhat discouraging, but unavoidable—if I want to succeed at this year's NaNo.

An explanation: I converted my desk to a standing desk for the same reason I've been jogging so much. I'm still pursuing the goal of losing 40 lbs this year. So far I've lost between 30 and 35, so I'm very close. But I've been on something of a plateau for the last few months. The extra calorie burn, plus general energy boost (seriously, definitely kept my metabolism burning harder) has been helping, especially the last week or so. Hopefully I will be able to make up for lost ground after turkey season.

Or, even more hopefully, my hip will get better on it's own before or during NaNo, and I can reconvert my desk. Or de-unconvert it :)

Back to the topic at hand. In order to facilitate a less revision prone draft, I'm taking a few steps. These are the same steps I've come to believe in taking for all my work, so this is not really a surprise. I am doing a reasonable amount of background writing, re: characters, geography, history, etc. I am doing an outline, a much more cohesive (if not less pithy) one than last year. I'm putting way more thought into what I'm going to write, and much further in advance of the actual writing.

Most importantly, I'm going into all this with a clearer understanding of Story elements than I had last time around. Hopefully this will help keep me from running into any major snags as well, like the confusion-of-direction that plagued much of my short story writing earlier this year. Crosses fingers …


I've got high hopes that this year's NaNo will be just the boost my writing needs to make a more permanent transition to (mostly) long-form fiction. I think it will. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Plain Text

Plain Text is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Blurb:

Paul Devaat is a writer with a secret, in a future world where things aren't as they seem. Devaat's success draws the wrong kind of attention, putting both the past and the future at risk. Not just his, but yours as well.

Some voices are best left unheard.

Plain Text is a psychological horror story with a weird-SF setting, featuring multiple levels of narration. It's about 5,100 words

Buy it on Smashwords.


Buy it on Amazon.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Meaningful Action

I'm fairly sure I've addressed the subject of Meaningful Action several times over, but—having come to a new(er) understanding of it—I'm going to address it again.

Meaningful action is what everything that happens in a story should be. Or, more specifically, what everything the writer relates in the narrative should be. Although a character might bath, groom themselves, and spend half an hour picking out duds, none of this is meaningful action unless it's somehow directly tied into the plot (like that character is being watched while doing so, or the water is full of nanites, or the clothes are magical, or...).

A minor exception can be made for actions that must be depicted so the reader isn't confused, as well as action that reveals character (although ideally these should be Meaningful as well, serving several purposes at once). Everything else is filler and should be gotten rid off, or, better yet, not included in the first place.

Just as importantly, Meaningful Action is directly tied to a character's motivation, usually the main character(s) and usually related to a try-fail cycle. Everything that happens in a story should be directed by a character for the purpose of accomplishing a goal and/or thwarting the goal of another.

Yes, overcoming environmental hazards or being presented with them counts (a volcano erupts, the temperature suddenly drops below freezing, etc). But be aware that survival, in and of itself, is rarely interesting enough to drive a story. Survival placed at odds with an important goal (making a run on the Death Star) is much more compelling.

So... undirected, aimless action (whether 'exciting' or not) is not healthy for a story. A reader should always feel as though the viewpoint character is acting in a way that that character believes will bring them closer to a goal. The goal should always be transparent (no false mystery!) and the action should always be explicable, if not logical (in other words: 'in character').

Action must have resolution. A character must succeed or fail, and it must be clear to the reader whether that character has succeeded or failed. Ideally, failure (excepting ultimate failure as in a tragedy) should leave room for a new approach to surmounting whatever obstacle the character has failed to surmount—whether over, around, or through.

Failure must not be relieved by coincidence (Deus Ex Machina). Coincidence is difficult to swallow in any instance, but some level of it is present in all fiction. Coincidence that saves the day robs a story of relevance. Action must have unavoidable consequences in order to feel real.Characters must have agency.

A story is a situation, acted on by a character in a meaningful way, leading to results that are clearly causally connected to the action taken by that character. No more and no less.

I'm as guilty as anybody of muffing all this stuff (like writing an awesome gunfight that is actually a snooze-fest, because it isn't actually relevant). Guiltier than most, probably. But laying it out like this, in a very clear and succinct (almost harsh) form, is immensely useful for me as a cribsheet I can refer to later, or a mental map (like a transparency) I can lay on top of my stories, then say "Hmm... is this actually a compelling Story?"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Flower, Fire, Funeral Pyre

Flower, Fire, Funeral Pyre is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Blurb:

Sometimes childish things persist beyond their natural time. Sometimes evil is blurry at the edges. Sometimes a little imagination only makes things worse.

Boys will be boys
and sparks will be fire,
floral and flush
with death and desire.


Flower, Fire, Funeral Pyre is a weird-horror tale with a distinctly Southern flavor. It's about 5,900 words long.

Warning: This story has a few instances of adult language.


Buy it on Smashwords.

Buy it on Amazon.

Happy Days Are Here Again

As noted a few weeks ago, I've reached an understanding about Story that is dead simple but—for me, at least—revolutionary. (Or possibly evolutionary?) Basically, a story needs a protagonist with an actual goal, and I need to know what that goal is before I start writing the story.

This is dramatic structure 101 type stuff and no cosmic revelation, I know. I think the reason I didn't 'get it' for so long was because my process has been seat-of-the-pants, a start-writing-now-and-figure-it-out-later kind of thing. Which, as it turns out, is a great way to develop ideas, characters, and settings. But a lousy way to develop plots. For me, anyway.

I've only written a few stories since this magical revelation, so I don't know that I've solved all my problems. I do know that I've had absolutely no trouble finishing those stories. Compared to the last three or four, which I stalled out on, one-by-one, this is a huge blessing.

Yes, folks, it's true. I've converted. I'm an outliner now.

Keep in mind that my outlines are pretty much chicken scratch compared to a serious, hardcore planner-type. And the story often veers far away from the original plan. Even so, I'm starting out with a plan now, and it feels mighty good.

I haven't written as much lately as I would like, even with this new-found fervor. Not for lack of effort or time, but because I've been putting that time and effort into publishing. This is the second week in a row that I've formatted, made a cover, and epublished a short story. Which also feels mighty good.

When I started writing, about a year and a half ago, I did so because I heard about the boom in self-epubbing. My intentions were always to put my work out myself, but I've been mired in traditional submissions (and in learning how to write well, which turned out to be more difficult than it appeared). I finally feel confident enough in my craft to move the publishing to the front burner.

I've got close to fifty short stories finished at this point, plus another ten in various stages of completion, plus a novel that's in dire need of editing. I'm still going to keep the most recent stuff in circulation as submissions to pro-paying genre markets (since it will take me a while to get to putting it up myself anyway), but I am going to focus on getting the older stuff up on Amazon and Smashwords.

I still hope to get a decent amount of writing done while I do this, but writing new work will be going from main priority to, erm... co-priority? So expect to see as much publishing talk as writing talk in the coming months. And expect to see lots more stories by yours truly go up online.

One final note: Putting my stories up is a huge motivator to write more stuff. The fact that I can log onto my author accounts and see a list of my work available to buy is, frankly, awesome. So perhaps this new pubbing focus will result in more fiction after all :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

About Self-Epublishing:

It's a pain in the keister.

Okay, maybe not compared to all the effort that would go into paper self-publishing, especially how it used to be before POD and online distributors like Amazon and Smashwords. But still.

And maybe it isn't a pain so much as it is work, and unfamiliar work at that. But, but, but...

Yep. I'm going through some growing pains. And I'm feeling a tad bit whiny.

It took me around three or four hours to edit and format my most recent story, Hunter-in-the-Dark. It took about the same so the cover, and about the same to do the actual publishing. All told, I'm about 12 hours invested now, not counting the time spent actually writing the thing.

That's not too shabby in some ways, compared to how things were for self-pubbers until the last few years. But it's about three times longer than I want to be spending on a short story. It's also about the same amount of time it took me for the last three.

So, why aren't I getting faster? I've learned a ton in the process of getting the other stories up. That should translate to increased speed, ease, and efficiency. The problem is, I'm also figuring out new things that need to be done.

So basically, my workflow has gotten 'leaner', but it's also gotten more involved. I'm currently resisting the urge to go back and fix all the stuff I had no clue about in the first three stories. Like back matter and cross-links :) I probably will, but later, after I've done a few more and figured out even more ways to improve my presentation.

The concept of which makes me want to simultaneously tear my hair out and jump for joy. It's a strange and nonobvious time we live in, ain't it?

***

Important addendum: My publishing company (Step5 Transmedia, of which I am the founder, owner, and PR flack) wants to make sure I let you know that Hunter-in-the-Dark is not actually self-published. Because it's published by, erm... Step5 Transmedia. Yep. I'm recursively shameless.

Hunter-in-the-Dark is now available


Hunter-in-the-Dark is now available at Smashwords and Amazon for only .99 cents.

Blurb:

Ferd'do is so close to being an adult that he can taste it. This is his last hunt with a troop (and under the supervision of a crusty, old pup-master). And all he has to do to be accepted as a full-fledged hunter... is survive.

Ferd'do's species (the Hunters-in-the-Dark) believe they are the apex predators of their world. But are the campfire tales true? Is there really something higher up the food chain?

And what kind of twisted creature is formidable enough to to hunt the hunters?

Hunter-in-the-Dark is a dark-fantasy short story of about 1,900 words.

Check it out!

As always, book bloggers may contact me for a free Smashwords download code.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Got Smacked in the Face...

...by what Story is and isn't, this last week or so. But, before I tell you all about it, a joke:

My new pen name (I'll be writing as a girl): Sue Doehnim. Tee-hee-hee. I'm sure I didn't think of that all on my own, but I didn't steal it (consciously, on purpose), either.

Anyway, back to important writerly stuffs.

I figured out what's been holding my story-telling back lately. (By lately I mean always, although sometimes more so than other times.) I have been doing a great job (if I do so so myself) with characterization, descriptions, interesting ideas, all the spices that go in the stew. But I've been skimping on the meat and potatoes.

To wit: a story has to have conflict. More importantly, a protagonist, which a story has to have, has to have a clear goal that the reader understands. This is where I've been failing, without even realizing it.

Sometimes my stories have conflict, but it's not really relevant to 'the problem the MC must solve to win.' Sometimes there is no clear problem. (In other words, the story just 'happens' to the MC.) Sometimes, because everyone is lucky occasionally, I get it right.

But it wasn't until this last week that I realized how important this fundamental point is, and how often I've been skating straight past it. Story has to have an MC with a clear goal. A storyteller has to know what the MC's goal is, from the start. Or no story.

I've struggled to finish several genre stories lately, not understanding why it was so dang difficult to figure out what happens next. Now I know: I didn't know what the characters wanted to accomplish. So how could I possible know what happens next (when they try to accomplish whatever it is they are trying to accomplish)?

Answer: I can't. Result: unfinished story.

Sounds dumb, and basic as all get out. But I am so fired up about writing again, because I finally understand what my fiction needs. Not plot, not conflict, not great characters and settings. Goals. I have to let the reader in on the characters goals, ASAP.

Yay, me. Now back to writing.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Typecast the Second

 Note: You may be wondering "Why does anybody need a typewriter anymore, anyway?" (Or how I came to be infested with this particular fetish.) Never fear. I may be considering explaining myself in a post-to-come.









Sunday, August 26, 2012

Into the Future...

...time keeps on flowing?

First question: Why is time--as an effect--so damn interesting? Seriously, I can barely write a story these days without twisting the narrative backward, forward, sideways, or all three. I'm not stuck on Time Travel (the Subject) so much, but on the way our perception of events changes our emotional reaction.

For instance...

Adam is at home preparing dinner. He struggles, because he only has one arm. He's lost the other one. At some point, he becomes frustrated and nearly breaks down in tears. It is clear that this is a recent loss.

If you have any humanity whatsoever, you feel at least a little sympathetic towards Adam.

Flashback to the event that cost him his arm. It turns out that he lost it saving kittens from space pirates. Now he is not only sympathetic, he's a hero. Yay!

Flashback further. He actually used to be a space pirate, and it's his fault the kittens were kidnapped. Now he's a flawed hero, who has overcome his background.

One last flashback, furthest still. He is at a meeting with a super-secret spy person, who tells him that if he can engineer the kidnapping and rescue of a certain special litter of kittens, he will not only be handsomely rewarded, he will be instrumental in enhancing the status of the spy's government during an upcoming series of trade negotiations.

Unfortunately, we also learn (during this conversation) that the spy's culture considers one-armed people to be unwholesome, marked by the dark gods, and less than dirt, socially.

So, we now know that he is not a hero, but a greedy fool who deserves his comeuppance. The End.

I've written a number of stories that jump back and forth in time for exactly this sort of effect. I've also written three that follow this template exactly, jumping backwards in discreet chunks. It seems likely that I'll write many more.

Second question: Is this sort of time-jumping 'cheating'? In other words, since this requires the withholding of character knowledge regarding the past from the reader, am I creating a false mystery? In two of the three inverted chronology stories I've used some maguffin or other to keep the MC from having any memories of their past, partly to avoid this issue. In one, I just, erm... ignored the issue.

In more normal stories, a flashback almost always feels like cheating (if it reveals crucial info, which flashbacks always should) unless there is no better, more logical place to detail the events of the flashback. Preferably before any big decisions involving the knowledge imparted in the flashback are made. Before-the-fact should happen--you guessed it--before-the-act. The writer gets a pass from the reader in this sort of situation only.

Last question: How about a sideways sort of story where stuff down the timestream is affecting stuff up the timestream (like the movie Butterfly Effect and its ilk)? How about a parallel narrative, where two simultaneous timestreams affect each other? (Nope, I don't know how that works exactly, either. Sound cool though, huh?)

Not a question, but: I'm so tempted to go back and figure out a way to write this entire post in reverse. Except that would take way to long and would likely only annoy you. So, instead, I'm going to just pretend that we are now at the beginning, instead of at the end. Do be sure to let me now how this makes you feel.

Hello, welcome to today's post, in which we talk about the twisty nature of timey-wimey and the even twistier nature of reader expectations and emotional responses.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Keep the Fingers Flowing

Fun fact of the day: As of this post, I have done a few more than 100 blogs posts. Compared to most serious blogs (like the ones that post several times a week, if not many times a day), this is peanuts, I know. But for dilettante little old me it's an accomplishment. Whee!

Moving on: I've been doing a lot more nonfiction writing lately. Much of it (life-logging, blogging) I let drop off at the beginning of the year. I've not only ramped back up, I'm doing even more than I was before. I'm also writing more idea-bank stuff, more ultra short children's stories, and doing more paper journaling. I've also been writing a decent (not amazing, but acceptable) amount of 'serious' fiction.

One of the reasons I stopped doing so much of the nonfiction stuff was because I thought the time spent on it would be better spent on writing more fiction. Seems reasonable enough, right? Wrong-o. I found that I not only didn't use the time to write more fiction, I actually wrote less. And what I wrote wasn't as inspired.

Parkinson's law - Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

I think my results are a kind of weird variation of this. By writing, writing, always writing, I'm greasing the skids. It doesn't matter whether I'm putting down journal entries or grocery lists, as long as I'm putting down words. The effect of keeping my mind engaged with and focused on language is better, more effective fiction.

A side-note: I'm at the point with my fiction where I truly believe I have the potential to make my living as a writer. Getting from part-time to full-time is the big trick, though. Financially, I mean. Given a few months to a year of uninterrupted writing, I think I would do just fine. It's getting that time that's difficult.

So how do I do that? How do I make enough writing at the level I'm at to enable myself to get to the next level? I don't know. I wish I did. In the meantime I'll just keep plugging away, when and where I can, scrabbling for traction.

Ending on a high-note: And I'll keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have any free time at all. Plenty of folks have far less than me. I'm well-rested, well-fed, and well-loved. Nobody is shooting at me; I'm healthy and whole; I don't spend every minute figuring out how to make it to the next minute.

So yeah. It's pretty awesome to have the chance to write, and maybe one day the chance to write full-time. Thanks, Universe.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Speedy McSpeederson

I just hit the go button on the sport timer (built into my Sansa Clip Zip). I am going for another speed blog.  How very exciting, hmmm..?

First things first: What is a speed blog? Answer: A post done as fast as possible, start to finish. Caveat--without looking at the keyboard and/or preparation (lworking from an earlier draft or recording, or planning out the topic, etc.)

Question numero dos: Why do a speed blog? Answer: Because I want to practice touch-typing, because I like to force myself to think on my feet, and because It makes an interesting subject. Which brings us to the following point.

I'm interested in working on the mechanical aspects of writing because the long-term benefits are substantial. I think of stories and ideas far faster than I can get them on paper. Once on paper, getting them to where they are well-written and interesting is a further time-sink. And I--like everyone--am working with a finite amount of time.

My current working model assumes another twenty years of productive writing. If lucky I may get thirty or forty, but I'll stick with what I feel confident about (barring accident or illness). When I push, I produce about 500 to 1,000 words an hour. Editing/revisions double that time. So call it 500 finished words.

My goal is to spend four hours a day on new fiction (when I go full-time, at the moment I only get an hour on average). This adds up to 730,000 yearly (4 x 365 x 500). Weekends and vacations will likely take a chunk out of that total, but it's good enough for today's purposes.

It does no good if those words are all poopy, so I need to get it right the first time as much as possible. I need to edit and revise efficiently. In order to reach these goals (moving targets, really), I need to not just write, but practice as I write. I try to improve some aspect of my craft every time I sit down, by consistently and deliberately targeting a skill or technique.

And writing speed, while not particularly relevant to overall quality, is a skill. More apropos, writing fast and well is a learnable skill. The faster I get a handle on it and the better I get at it, the longer I will be able to reap the benefits. For instance:

What if I increase my writing speed by a mere ten words an hour? 4 x 365 x 510 = 744600.  14,600 extra a year, about 3 short stories worth. Over twenty years that's  292,000. Three more novels (or one doorstop). All from a 2% gain in speed.

Or how about blogging? How much time do I spend every week on my posts? If I could cut it by five or ten percent, or more, how much time would I save? (Time I could spend getting in a little more writing.)

Assuming quality stays consistent--or even better, improves--a modest gain in writing speed on the mechanical side of things will pay huge dividends down the line.

I want a career, not a story or a book or to say the one thing I want to say. I want to be at this for a long time, to leave behind a body of work that is as vast and deep as possible. That's why I'm speed-blogging.

I am a razor; I hone myself.

Final note: 31:56.5. Thirty-one minutes, fifty-six and a half seconds. Not bad, huh? (Add another eleven minutes or so for editing.) 617 words. ~800 WPH (words per hour). Wheeee!!!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Typecast the First - Olympia SM4

(You will probably want to click on the jpeg below to open it in a separate tab or window and make it much bigger. Lesson learned. Next typecast will be a much narrower column.)


Note: I know I promised mucho Red Pen of Dream-Slaying (TM). Unfortunately, the pictures I took of the typecast came out really, really blue-tinted, for some reason. So I had to desaturated to make the best one legible. Sorry. Yes, I am fully aware that scanning the page would be far more efficient. Except I don't have a scanner. I doubt I'll get one just to support this goofiness, but you never know.

Also, I'm to lazy to delete, rotate, and reupload photo #2. Just turn your head sideways :) That's the analog solution.







Friday, August 3, 2012

Triple Take

To begin with, this post is actually an experiment in workflow. Because I enjoyed the process of writing the Armadillocon Challenge Story in longhand and then typing out a second draft, I wanted to try the same thing for a blog post, just to see how it felt.

It's important to try different things, even if they may not always turn out to be improvements, just for the learning involved. New perspectives and all that.

The problem is that I'm writing this post at work, while driving. So: cue the voice recorder.

I'm doing something a bit convoluted, in the interests of exploration. I'm writing this post first on voice recorder, then I'm going to transcribe it longhand, then I'll type it on the computer. Phew.

This means three drafts, essentially. In order to keep the process transparent--and to explore putting photos up on my blog--I will include pics of the handwritten second draft.

Podcasting is a pain for me at the moment, so you won't get the audio first draft. I suspect the 2nd draft, and third for that matter, will be substantially different, so it might be interesting for comparison, but I doubt there will be much interest in listening to me drone on. (Note from further down the timestream: The drafts are all very different. Also, I say umm... a whole lot and repeat phrases like blog post way too much. You don't want to hear the audio, trust me.)

So that's the big idea. The rational is that a blog post is the smallest chunk of writing worth doing this with. A tweet would be silly and fiction, even flash, would represent to large a chunk of time. If I enjoy working this way I will try a short story next. If not, no worries, I haven't lost much writing time. (Time traveler note the second: I don't like transcribing by hand. I do like having a hard copy to work from. See final thought for the next experiment's parameters.)

On to the main topic: As mentioned last time, I wrote a complete short at 'dillocon this weekend. I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge, to be frank, and was quite proud of myself for completing it. I've now finished the second draft of 'Apeshifters', transcribing the text from legal pad to computer document. I made substantial changes as I went. I had a blast all the way through.

I still have a bit of revising to do, mostly line edits, but the story is mostly done now. It turned out to be a pulpish adventure, heavy on the weird. It has my kind of humor. I like to think of it as rollicking.

As glad as I am to have a complete story, especially given the drought I've been in lately, the biggest value here is the lessons learned. I've gotten back in touch with why I write in the first place. The one-word answer: fun.

Putting my worlds, characters, ideas, and events down on paper is a good time. Regardless of merits. It can be a terrible story, but it's mine and I love it all the same. And the thing is: completion is the first step on the path from awful to sublime.

I've been prejudging my ideas, and that's been killing my writing. The habit reared its ugly head after last year's 'dillocon, and has persisted until now. I'm glad to kick it.

The truth is, it's very rare for a story to start out good, for an idea to come to me whole cloth and be worth pursuing. By trying to only focus on good ideas, of which I get precious few, I've been neglecting all the terrible ideas that can grow into beautiful swans if I only let them.

My work evolves as I put it down. A few pages can make a world of difference to a story. I can't know how far an idea might carry me until I've finished putting it down, all of it, every last bit.

Because handwriting leaves little leeway for editing, and because I gave myself a deadline and was under the gun, I managed to bypass the critical voice entirely. I wrote a breezy, fun first draft. The second draft tightened up a ton of things, developed the ideas, and was also great fun. Absolutely marvelous to be working like this again.

I'm so stoked.

Verdict: Pad and paper + blasting through first draft = super way to get a story of to the races. I've written more this week than I have in a long while. In fact, the Armadillocon Handwritten Story Challenge was such a success that I went to my local big box and bought a twelve pack of legal pads and a twenty-four pack of jr. legal pads :)

Final thought: Having the story in front of me, in hard copy, makes editing/redrafting so much easier and more fluent. I'm going to try pushing myself through my next computer-typed story the same as this last one, then printing a hard-copy and redrafting from that. Basically mimicking the process I used on 'Apeshifters'.

I'll let you know how that goes.

As promised, pics of handwritten 2nd draft below. Which makes this officially my first pencast. As noted, the text is substantially different, although the ideas and flow are similar.





Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Essay and story are up at Penumbra!

My story 'And Still Your Black Box Hums' has gone live over at Penumbra, along with an accompanying essay. It's in the Rising Talent Essays section. The direct link to the story can be found here. This is my first sale to a publisher and I'm very excited about it. So go check it out :)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Musings From Armadillocon 34

Musings From Armadillocon 34

It's Sunday, the last day of Armadillocon 34. I'm taking a break from the con to put this blog up. Okay, I admit it. I'm at home, not at the hotel. I got up an hour or two ago and haven't actually gotten motivated enough to drive to the con. This leads directly into thought the first:

While it's nice to have a con in my hometown and save on the expense of a hotel, I also feel like I'm missing out on the part of the experience. My drive is long enough that tiredness (and the safety of complete sobriety while on the road) won out over partying last night, for instance. I'm a private person, and generally not big on roomates, but the sleepover atmosphere of a shared room can be fun on occasion. So the social aspect, while enjoyable, has been somewhat dimished for me. Which leads nicely into thought the second:

Lonestarcon 3 is hosting the World SF con this year. It's in San Antonio, so while driving is marginally possible, it would be rough (probably an hour one way for me). A hotel would be pretty much mandatory. It's around $165 for a mambership, though. Add hotel costs and attending is a strain for me financially. Current idea is to find someone(s) to split room costs with, since I would hate to miss out on the opportunity. Hopefully I can get all that together and go.

Thought the third: I have attended some great panels, hung out with some cool people, and gotten to chat with a few old friends. So the social aspect of 'dillocon has been nice, as has the learning aspect. Plus i've gotten to see a few authors whose work I enjoy up close, and either hear them read or listen to them speak on panels. So all good. That said, this year hasn't been nearly as big a deal for me as last year (my first time attending), especially given the gap in writing experience then vs. now. Then I had been writing for about 4 months, now I have almost another year under my belt. So... good weekend, and fun, but not huge.

Thought the fourth: I've been working on completing a short story during the course of the convention. This means writing whenever there is a chance. I've been filling up a notepad (regular letter size) with notes, ideas, and of course the first draft of the story. Finding stuff has neccesitated inventing a filing and page numbering scheme, but I think I have htat worked out pretty well now. The unexpected benefit of this little challenge is that I've discovered that handwriting stories (and notes/ideas/ephemera) is actually very enjoyable for me. It's always nice to find a new way to do things that meshes well with the old ways.

Final thought: A quote from Joe Lansdale, said at the Remembering Ray Bradbury Panel - "Anytime you are a child is the best time.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back in frack

It's been nearly three months since I've posted. Even before that last post, my blogging had become irregular. If you've been wondering where I went, now the full story can be told.

Okay, not really. The cover story is that I had personal stuff to sort out. I seem to have mostly been successful in the sorting, so now it's time to get back to work.

My writing has fallen way behind in other areas as well. I stopped keeping my log, let my obsessive wordcount tracking slip away, and have barely done any transcription of ideas. I have typed a few very short children's stories (I do them for my toddler), and completed a few stories, but that's about it.

Sometimes writing is not a priority, it's as simple as that.

I am ready and raring to go now, however. I've started several new shorts, and am mulling over editing last year's novel vs diving back in to the current WIP. In the meantime, my mind is back to focusing on stories.

I have grown somewhat weary of the focus of this blog, as well. I intend to bring a more personal element  into it, as well as drift away from blogging for writers and focus more on readers/fans. Not that there are hordes of those out there, but there will be eventually.

The short way to put it: I am ready to get my work out into the world, in a serious way. I think I've come far enough that what I have to say (through the medium of speculative fiction) has real value, is important, and will enrich the lives of my audience.

Every childhood ends.

***

Big Announcement:

"And Still Your Black Box Hums" by yours truly will be published at Penumbra as part of their Rising Talent series. It will be accompanied by an essay I wrote for them about the story and a short author bio.

This is my first sale to a professional market and I am super excited about it. Check out the story and let me know what you think.

***

If you aren't watching Longmire, you should be. It's a pretty decent cowboy-cop show, but the main draw is Katee Sackhop (Starbuck from the reboot of BSG) as a shit-kicking deputy. Great stuff that all geeks should be watching.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Year One Retrospective

I completed my first short story around this same date one year ago. That was the first piece of fiction I'd ever written. I'd always wanted to write, and had endured year of urging by friends and family. (Okay, by family.) But I'd never found the time or been able to come up with anything interesting to write about.

The latter was my biggest stumbling block. I have a good command of language, but had no clue how to envision and flesh out a character, and even less how to plot out a story. I'd like to think I've improved somewhat in that regard :)

Since then, I've written more than 200,000 words, completed more than thirty short stories, have another ten or so partials that may or may not get finished, and finished the first draft of a 70k novel. I've self-published three short stories, almost sold several, and accumulated close to one hundred rejections from professional markets. I have a second novel in progress, also.

I generally spend an hour or two a day writing and several more thinking about writing. I've read maybe 20 books about writing, listened to thousands of hours of writing related podcasts, attended one convention, and done a ton of critiquing and being critiqued via the SlugTribe group in Austin and the Critters online group.

I work nearly full-time, help raise a toddler, and have a wife and several pets. I blog around once a week and occasionally tweet. My social life otherwise is pretty nonexistent.

I feel like I've accomplished a great deal in my first year, more (I believe) than most new writers. I'm proud of that.

I'm also starting to run headfirst into the wall. The one made up of inertia and apathy, the one that stops me cold with yet more rejections, with no sales, with yet another story that nobody seems to like. The one that makes me question why on earth I'm working so hard at something that looks increasingly hopeless in terms of actually ever paying any dividends.

I want to write full-time. I don't want to have to hold down another job just to be able to afford to write in my spare time. It's getting harder and harder to motivate myself to write at all. Turning out a story a month is getting tricky, much less the two or three a week that I  was managing. Not because writing is hard. Writing is as easy as ever.

Because not getting any appreciation is hard. Because not getting paid is hard. Because not knowing if I will ever get either of these things is hardest of all.

I could have gotten twice as much done this last year--if I saw a clear reward. I intended to do just that this year, but I've gotten sidetracked instead. I've slowed down, nearly chugged to a stop.

So, what now?

I've got too many stories to tell to quit. They won't leave me alone anymore. Even if I ask nicely. Even though nobody's listening.

In my first year writing fiction, I've written what amounts to several books. Writing part-time, with only the instruction I can beg, borrow or steal, I've managed to come very close to selling to professional markets. I'm getting so close I can almost taste it. I feel like I'm walking the Pattern, in Amber, with sparks above my head and everything there ever was pushing back against me.

Every autobiographical word I've read, from every writer I've ever listened to, indicates that it will get worse before it gets better. I can only hope and pray that I will measure up to the task. There is no going back.

Those few of you who read this, thanks so much for taking the time to be interested in my ramblings, and best of luck with your own writing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cheesy, Processed

Clever title is clever, amirite? Accurate, well thought out, or descriptive of the actual post is another matter, but we shall see, shan't we.

Shan't is a great word, BTW. Only an apostrophe and an n away from a weird past-tense vulgarity. An only an acid-trip away from William Shan'tner and the voyages of the starship Ain'terprise.

Okay, I'll stop now.

I'm back to musing on writing process related stuff this week. Most particularly: amplifying reader involvement with characters. I made some strides in that direction with a rewrite of an SF story, and hopefully have gotten a handle on a few things.

Most importantly: readers don't care about settings and events and cool gizmos and stuff. They care about characters. Everything else is window dressing. So, in a short story, the MC needs to be clearly delineated and compelling from the get-go. The reader absolutely has to care what happens to the MC next, or the story is over for the reader and they move on.

I think I finally have my head wrapped around that. Clever isn't enough. Well-written isn't enough. Nifty ideas are not enough. Amazing descriptions? So what. Great plot? Why does it matter. Answer: it doesn't, if it happens to an MC that the reader isn't involved with.

So I am penciling in Item Zero on my "is it a story?" checklist. It isn't a story if it doesn't have a compelling MC. Not necessarily likable or sympathetic, although that is probably almost always for the best. But compelling = required.

The full "is it a story?" list:

0) Compelling MC
1) With clear goals
2) That the MC acts upon (agency)
3) In the face of adversity (obstacles, setbacks)
4) resulting in tension mounting
5) until MC either achieves goals or fails

If you have all of the above, it's a story. If not, it's something else, possibly something (shudder) literary.

Media breakdown: I'm almost done with Charles Stross's Rule 34. I liked Halting State (the semi-prequel), but wasn't amazed by it. Rule 34 is amazing. The second-person POV is still weird, still fun, and still gimmicky, but it works anyway and does provide a very close feeling to the narrative. The SF/concept elements are fabulously deviant and fun. No spoilers here, but this novel is rude, raw, and brilliantly paranoid. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Comparison Shopper: Sansa MP3 players - Fuze+ Vs Clip Zip

Advance warning: there will probably be very little writing related content in this week's post. Hopefully you are as relieved about that as I am. If not, no worries. I'm planning a year-one review/retrospective/report-card type thingee in the next few weeks that should scratch that itch quite nicely.

Today's blog is all about a category of tech I use on a daily basis: MP3 players. Note that when I say MP3 player, I really mean PMP (personal media players.) I will be covering a lot of personal use characteristics in order to make this comparison helpful. The most important is this: I use my MP3 players almost exclusively for podcasts and audiobooks. If your interest is mainly in music, and especially if you are an audiophile with a huge collection that you want to carry, my understanding is that neither of these players may be the best option, although installing Rockbox seems to alleviate most people's concerns.

I own roughly one bajillion devices that are capable of playing audio files (most can also handle pictures, text, and video as well.) Only two are truly portable and small enough for regular use: a very dumb phone that I only use for--Gasp!--phone calls and SMS messaging and an Olympus digital voice recorder (VN-8100PC) that really deserves its own review. Both are often used simultaneously with a PMP, so neither is appropriate as a full-time solution. I understand the allure of the smartphone (i- or android, pick your flavor), but I've found that multiple, dedicated gadgets work far better for me. Battery life, price per item, and ease of multitasking are all factors.

Anyway, enough with background material and rational, and on with the comparison.

I've used a Fuze+ for approximately 20-30 hours a week for the last year and half, since not long after the launch of the device. I originally hoped to use it in a similar manner to how I actually use tablets now, for playing videos (mostly podcasts, as is a large portion of my listening) as well as audio. The Fuze+'s screen is really nice for navigation, but not good for video. The optimal viewing angle is portrait mode, at an angle (the way a user looks at it when navigating menus.) As a result, landscape-view looks terrible.

The Clip Zip, on the other hand, features a tiny 96x96 screen and no native video capability. With Rockbox installed, you can play videos on it, but the screen is the worst possible quality, so there isn't much point. The Fuze+ isn't a good choice for video, but it still beats out the Clip Zip. Same for photos (also not supported by stock firmware on the Clip Zip.)

Both have recording functions that are good in a quiet room, but awful in a moving vehicle due to interference. Both have an FM radio that works decently. Both use microUSB for transfer and charging. Both have microSD slots. Both have the same EQ and audio playback functions, which are very good. Both have excellent sound quality, which is the main point, right?

A side-note concerning the microSD slots: this is the reason I don't have any interest in i-products. Not having a physical way to expand memory and hotswap files is incredibly clumsy and consumer-unfriendly. I also have no interest in proprietary formats, connectors, and so on. No USB and SD support (any flavor, regular to micro) = no sale.

Everything else roughly equivalent, with the following exceptions: the CZ's firmware is slightly better, the CZ features a stopwatch (woo-hoo), the C+ has better battery life (although the CZ's is more than adequate for a full workday), the 4GB CZ is about half the price of the 8GB F+, and the physical controls are different. The last two are the most salient points. To be blunt: the touch controls on the F+ are frustratingly awful, even with the newest firmware; the physical buttons of the CZ are simple, easy, and a relief after a year and a half of torture :) .

An 8GB version of the CZ is available, but at a $20 or so premium. This is overpriced compared to the simpler expedient of adding an  SD card (I can get a 4GB for around $5 these days.) I haven't actually bothered yet, because it turns out 4Gb is enough (not roomy, but adequate.) I will probably add that SD card eventually, but am in no hurry.

So, that covers the main points. I think it's time for a pro/con list.

Fuze+

Pros: large screen, slightly better battery life, 8GB memory in lowest priced model

Cons: Terrible touch-pad interface, slightly less well-developed firmware, heavier and bulkier than the CZ

Clip Zip

Pros: physical buttons, small and light, handy clip, half the price of Fuze+, nearly stable Rockbox port available, stopwatch

Cons: ugly and small screen, native firmware doesn't support photo/video, only 4GB in lowest priced model

Summary

Considering that both are really only useful as music players, and that the touch interface is so god-awful compared to physical buttons, I am much happier with the Clip Zip than I was with the Fuze+. Add Rockbox and a cheap SD card and the CZ does 90% of what the Fuze+ does, at a little more than half the cost, and in a much handier and more convenient form factor.

And that's all I got. Any question, feel free to ask in the comments. See you next week.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Conversational Process Fatigue

The first question (and a I agree that it's a good one) is: what is conversational process fatigue? Or, to paraphrase that thing that one or another wonderful fictional character or historic personage said--or should have, if there is any justice in the universe: what the hell am I talking about?

This, of course, is a specious line of questioning, since I am not actually talking, but rather am writing. And yes, specious means what I think it means. I just checked, thankyouverymuch. I will answer the question anyway, since otherwise this blog is going to be rather short.

Conversational process fatigue is the condition I am currently suffering from, whereby I am sick to death of hearing other writers yammer on about their writing process, and not too keen on continuing to discuss my own. Which--according to my pageview stats--the Internet isn't keen on me continuing to discuss, either.

Yammer on is probably a far too negative choice of phrasing. Those other writers, whose podcasts' novelty is wearing out, are very nice, trying to help, and often holding forth in an enlightened and illuminating manner. It's just that I've heard almost everything they have to say a bajillion times now. It turns out that most of the basics of writing are pretty similar for most writers.

It's not that I think I know it all, or that I don't think I have more to learn. It's just that none of what I'm hearing anymore is really helping. It's the same old stuff. If I haven't grasped it by now, I'm not going to. (I make no claims either way, in terms of application.)

So. What then? How now, bored cow?

I've been listening to more audiobooks lately. A lot more. One or two a week. Mostly fiction, some non- (see media breakdown, below.) I am finding myself dropping more and more of the podcasts I used to look forward to in favor of these audiobooks (for those of you who don't know: I drive a van for a living, so I have about 30 hrs a week of usable listening time.)

I am learning so much more by listening to the fiction of of writers I admire than I ever did from podcasts. At least as far as writing goes. When I add to that my own writing, a cycle whereby I hear (read) what some author has done, go write a story in which I try to do something similar, then compare and contrast/get critiques/submit or whatever, I'm picking up tons.

And steadily losing interest in hearing or talking about "process."

Which brings up one problem: I mostly blog about my writing, and that is mostly about my own process. If I'm boring myself, and presumably my readers--no bueno. So what do I blog about?

The short answer: I have no clue. I got nuttin'. I can do media, throw in the occasional gadget blurb, I guess. I can kvetch about... you know, stuff. I can... I can...

I guess I'll have to think about this one. Or I may just forget all about this next week. It's certainly happened before.

Two things, though: writers learn by reading, and writers learn by writing.

Media Breakdown: I finished Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. It was really good. Unfortunately, assuming I understood everything correctly, it was also really depressing.

Gladwell is a nurture over nature guy, and the basic argument of the book is that really successful people (outliers) are the ones who get enough early advantages (being smart and talented helps, but the most important determinant is early lucky breaks.) He makes a good case, provides plenty of in depth examples, and I think he's right. The bad thing about that is that if he's right, my chances of success (say as a writer), are pretty much outside of my control.

I can work hard, and hard work is a necessary component of success. But so is luck, apparently. Thanks for breaking my stride, Mr Gladwell, he said sarcastically.

There is a lot more to the book than my flip comments above. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in, er, the story of success.

That's all I got for this week, see you next time.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It's Not a Stream, It's a Flood

I am going to try something totally new for today's blog post: I am not stopping for anything. The local time is now 11:35 AM. Let's see how long it takes me to put up a post, shall we.

Thought the first: I couldn't touch-type less than a year ago. I did take a typing class in high-school, so the problem wasn't lack of knowledge but of practical experience. I can now touch-type with a fairly average degree of speed and accuracy, nothing amazing but at least functional. I still have problems watching the screen Vs watching my hands and still make plenty of mistakes, but so far so good.

Learning to touch-type has been a huge factor in increasing my writerly production. If you are hunting and pecking, using anything less than all ten digits, it will be well worth your time to learn to touch-type. Unless you plan on dying in the next year or so.

Thought the second: Learning how to turn off your internal editor is crucial. The genius of Kerouac was that he got all of his ideas on paper, filterless and without restraint. The tragedy was that he didn't go back and rewrite afterwards (grin). I find that my best ideas often grow out of my worst ideas: ideas that wouldn't have made it on the page and thus been up for further processing if I hadn't let myself write whatever drivel I durn well wanted too.

I used to revise as I wrote, doing what Dean Wesley Smith calls "cycling": put up a paragraph or page or several, run out of steam, cycle back to the beginning or earlier of the new material and get a running start again. While this method does produce cleaner copy, I feel that it is inferior (for me, of course, you can figure out for yourself what works best for you) to just dumping the whole durn story and then figuring out what to fix.

I save time this way. Sometimes the story isn't worth fixing, and the sooner I move on, the better. Sometimes the structure is flawed, or characters need reworking, or events need rethinking. Once I have a solid structure, time spent polishing is much less likely to be tossed out later on. Also, as noted above, often the warts turn out to be the most interesting parts of the piece, suggesting new avenues that I would have just plain missed if I had cleaned them up beforehand. This is possibly more important than the mere conservation of effort.

Part the third: The realization of growth. I take it as a good sign that much of my earliest work is--to put it kindly--not done in the same manner as I would do it now. I have grown tremendously as a writer, to the point that the only way I would touch some of my earlier stories, if at all, would be to completely rewrite them from scratch. This is another variation of the no-cycling or editing practice from above, seen through a much larger lens: months, instead of days, hours, or minutes.

At a certain point, a point that I am realizing is arrived at far quicker than I might have suspected, rewriting, polishing, fixing old stories in general: all are worthless. I can tell a new story, from scratch, far better than I can tell the old stories. I can do it in less time, with less effort, than it would take to revamp an existing work. Easier to tear down the building and start fresh than crawl amongst the decrepit ruins and rot and shore things up, so to speak.

Onward and Upward. That's the way it goes, right? Not Fix It and Fix It Some More. Also, Less Is More.

And my favorite: Do It Right the First Time.

Media Breakdown - I just finished Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey. It was well-written and enjoyable, but I had several hang-ups. The story is basically a cross between military SF and cop/detective drama. I liked the former and didn't care much for the latter (just my tastes.) The novel is a great synthesis of previous ideas, but didn't offer much in the way of anything new or fresh, SF idea-wise. The narrative moved incredibly slowly, with a heavy focus on internal tension and angst (the aforementioned cop drama). Worst of all, the central mystery of the book, and thus the key plot point, (which I'm not revealing for fear of spoilers) wasn't resolved at all. The ending was more of a stopping point than an ending and was a huge let-down for me.

To be fair, this is the first book in a series. I expect series books to stand well on their own, however, and this one doesn't. I might be inclined to keep up with the series anyway, and/or read it when all the books are done and out, but... that glacial pacing is a huge stumbling block. So I won't be reading further when the remaining volumes come out. Verdict: well-written, but  slow and thus not compelling, unsatisfying ending (as a stand-alone book.)

Final Thought - The time is now 11:56, making this a twenty minute blog post. What say you? Should I have gone back and tweaked and reworked, or is it fine the way it is?

See you next week.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Turning Up the Tension

Turning Up the Tension

It's not obvious, but the title for today's blog is a sort-of twofer. I want to talk about adding tension to your stories (or mine, for that matter); this is the main meaning of the title. Also, I am coming up on my one-year anniversary as a writer, and I'm both excited and more than a little discombobulated. I'm not quite ready to do an official one-year-milestone type post, but I do want to talk about (you guessed it) How I Feel. Or rather--Some of the Things It's (Hopefully) Normal to Feel as a New Writer After a Year or so of Chasing Serious Success. Phew.

But first, the actual craft-related part of the blog.

I've been reading/critiquing a lot of stories lately where the worldbuilding, characterization, and so on are really good, but the stories themselves are only so-so. Mostly this relates to a lack of tension in the story, a lack of any reason for me to cheer for the protagonist. The writer has been so focused on describing what happens that they forget to fully explain why. And it's the why that is truly important.

This is actually easy to do; I've done it many times myself. I think it's one of the drawbacks of discovery writing (vs outlining). I rarely have anything more than a vague idea what's going to happen next in my stories. Which is fine, as far as getting the basic story and ideas down. And I rarely feel like my characters are lacking in emotional depth or expression. All of the descriptions are there. But sometimes the other crucial bit isn't, the bit that makes the reader give a damn.

A definition: Story -- a story is an event or series of events in which one or more characters change.

The key thing here is that the characters have to change. Not the situation. It isn't enough for the hero to save the world, or get eaten by the monster, or discover the real murderer. The hero has to grow as a person, to not just be affected by events, not just have their agency change the course of events, but have their agency be a direct result of their own inner realizations, revelations, and adjustments.

A story is not stuff that happens, is not stuff that happens to a sympathetic character, is not stuff that a sympathetic character does. It's stuff that changes a character while a character simultaneously changes it. Tension arises because we sympathize with the character, we know the character is facing an obstacle they cannot overcome, and we know that if they could just (learn to) X they might have a chance. Even if X costs them Y.

It's not enough for them to get lucky, or win through cleverness or toughness or any other quality they possessed at the outset of the story. The person they are at the beginning of the story cannot be capable of winning as-is. It's not enough for them to take losses. They must take losses deliberately, choosing them. Agency + Growth + Sacrifice = A Victory About Which the Reader Gives a Damn.

One of the things I am doing now (have learned how to do via participation in critique groups) is going back over my completed stories and trying to isolate all these things. Who is the protag (usually an easy question)? Who is the antagonist? What is the conflict? How does the protag change? What do they lose? What do they gain? When does the real story begin and end? (More on this last one in another column, maybe.)

On the other side of the things, the How I Feel side, I am both impressed and annoyed with myself. Less than a year ago, I had no clue how to write a story, period. As in, I couldn't even come up with a few characters and a plot. I had no ideas. Nothing. I've come a long way since then. I have ideas coming out my wazoo. I have no shortage of interesting characters and events to write about. And, if I daresay, I have at least a basic grasp of grammar and style.

But, looking back on what I've written so far, it so often comes up woefully short in that most crucial of areas--being interesting to anyone but me, ie storytelling skill. I am convinced it's not enough to be an excellent writer (although that is still a goal worth striving for), but that I have to become an excellent storyteller as well. And the more I learn, the more I realize just how much there is to learn, and how far I have to go. Even worse: the more I try to accomplish with my stories, the more I put into them, the more difficult they are to write.

Isn't this stuff supposed to get easier as I go along? What a gyp. And yet, I've come to far to quit now. Not only is all the effort I've expended so far on the line (a not inconsiderable amount of skull-sweat), I've seen the potential in myself to be so much more than I am. My future is at stake, the me that I wish to be. And the only thing holding me back is my own inertia (read--laziness).

In other words: If I continue to work at it (agency) and I improve as a storyteller (growth) and I let go of all those other things--often so much more entertaining--that I want to do with my time (sacrifice) = I just might win. And maybe you, or maybe the me that watches me, the inner me that both judges and condones, might be moved enough by my story to cheer me on. To give a damn.

Maybe?

Media breakdown - I watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close last night. It was an absolute tear-jerker from start to finish. I really liked it, and I highly recommend watching it (preferably with your support group in place.) It was over-the-top emotionally in all sorts of ways (only about 50% on Rotten Tomatoes), so be forewarned. I didn't like that it was based around 9/11, because I hate the "9/11 changed everything" political meme that has destroyed our country, but the film was only political by omission (no mention of the 9/11 truth movement or any other dissent, for starters). Still very much worth watching.

And that's all I've got for today. See you guys next week.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On the Double, Half the Trouble

I skipped last week without even meaning to. Writing the blog on the tablet just seemed like a hassle, so I figured I would do it later (when I was out of bed.) Then this led to that, the other intruded, and poof (or ta-da, or kaboom, whatever sound onomatopoeia seems appropriate)-- no blog. It slipped my mind so successfully, in fact, that I didn't even realize I'd skipped a week until around Wednesday (cue sad trombones.)

Sorry about that, folks.

I haven't had a particularly busy last few weeks, anyway. I restarted Novel Number Two (very tentative title) at the beginning of the month and have been slogging away at it. I am again finding that the Nano model of 2k a day come Hell or high water just isn't working, the same as last month. I am persevering anyway, sometimes only getting a page or two, sometimes getting nothing. In the last two weeks I've managed to write four chapters (out of close to forty planned.) I have no idea why this novel is so much more difficult for me to get going on, but...

The ultimate answer here is--it doesn't matter. I want to write this novel; I'm going to write this novel; the end. If it takes me six months or a year or whatever, so be it. I really would love to figure out what's slowing me down and correct it, and I will continue to devote some mental energy to doing just that, but the most important thing is that I keep pushing forward until I hit the finish line, irregardless of whether I am doing so in the most efficient way possible.

When I first tarted writing fiction, lo these many months ago, my goal was simple: finish a story. I've always had a hyperactive imagination, but plotting was an absolute mystery to me. It took me a few weeks to write 3k (and it wasn't a particularly inspiring first effort at that.) But I finished, I showed it to a few first readers, I edited and submitted, and i collected a stack of rejections. And I wrote the next one.

I believe finishing the second story was even more crucial than finishing the first. One of the things I learned from that first story was that I could write a complete story, featuring both characters and a plot. I learned from the second (and every subsequent one) that I could do this more-or-less at will. I've completed the majority of the stories I've written since then, although I've abandoned several that just weren't working as well. But I made sure to finish those first few, to establish the habit and to give myself confidence.

I'm in the same boat now. I'd actually started several novels prior to Nano last year, when I finished the zero draft of The First Novel (or Fnerge!--another tentative title.) One novel made it up to about 14k before I fizzled on it (and I might still return to it.) So I've had enough of unfinished novels. That sort of thing wrecks my confidence. So I am keeping my concentration firmly on this novel until I hit THE END.

My plan to do 2k a day five days a week is going right out the window (and has been all year.) I am going to still try to keep at the self-pubbing (on weekends,) but I am willing to let that slip as well. For the long-term health of my career as a writer, I have to learn how to produce quality novel-length fiction at a reasonable pace.

Plus, like many others have commented, novels are actually easier. At least in terms of effort per page, if not in terms of total time commitment. Short fiction takes a lot of work to pull off. I'm certainly not abandoning the form, but I want to be able to write at whatever length suits me, and write well. Which means practice. Which means I have to keep at the novelling. Ipso Facto Ergo Sum Lorium Axiom Non Serviam. Which translated from the Latin, means (roughly): I don't know any Latin.

Media breakdown - I finished listening to Halting State by Charles Stross. The second person multi-character POV was a little hard to get into, but he pulled it off, overall. I wouldn't say that the POV added anything essential, but it was an interesting change of pace. The near future media/connectivity/hacking and security focus was quite well done. The world-building and character interactions were the main draw; the actual "mystery" at the heart of the plot was rather hum-drum and mostly involved people standing around in rooms explaining things to other people. There were some fun action bits, though. I enjoyed the book and plan on reading Rule 34 (the semi-sequel.)

I've been enjoying the heck out of the recent episodes of The Walking Dead. The show is still as drama-queen focused as ever, but they've gotten pretty good at including a few juicy action bits every episode. Good stuff and probably my favorite current TV show. The upcoming second season of A Game of Thrones might change this, however.

Gadget Corner - I've been using the Android OS a lot more, now that I have two tablets. My older tablet is rooted, but not the newer one (Acer Iconia A500). I find them convenient, if a bit underpowered (in utility, not in actual processing) compared to my netbook (which mainly functions as a desktop.) Android is lacking in quality applications, plain and simple. Even worse, the OS encourages applications to be far more intrusive than I am comfortable with. I am becoming increasingly annoyed by this. I use Ubuntu

The one thing Android does better than Ubuntu is games. The repositories (Android Market and Amazon are the main ones I use) are much flashier as well, and somewhat easier to navigate. This is more than offset by the difficulty getting root, the lack of customization, the paucity of apps (no Openoffice or Audacity, Firefox is still in beta, and so on), and the OS's insistence on constantly trying to monitor me, and apps insistence on launching themselves and/or reporting back to wherever they report back to.

In other words--in terms of my privacy, Android is insecure; in terms of utility, Android is inadequate. Android feels very much like an OS that is more concerned with telling me what I can do than with allowing me to do what I wish. I'll say it again: I can't wait until I can use Ubuntu (or any other open-source Linux distro) on my tablets.

I hate having to hack on the OS just to get root. It's my hardware: I bought it; I own it. I should be able to get root as a matter of course. I should be able to set it up however I want, to do whatever I want, and to prohibit it from doing anything I don't want it to do. Seen in this light, the Android OS is an absolute failure.

And with that rant, I'm done for the week. See you all next time.

EDIT: I just had to switch over to my Ubuntu desktop computer to finish publishing this blog. It took me nearly as long to pub it as to write it on the tablet, and I was still getting screw-ups. Grrr... Android + Safari + Blogger = Suck.