Don't Get Sloppy

I was in Fort Lauderdale last weekend, officiating Beach Brawl 2014 (and yes, I'll write a post explaining roller derby, given the number of times it's been requested), and I left my Flash drive in the business center of the hotel. I don't really use it anymore. Once upon a time, Dropbox wasn't as useful as it is now, and you couldn't sync across multiple desktops with simple internet access. You had to go to a web location, upload stuff, and blah blah. It was the same as a Flash drive except less convenient.

So back in the day, I kept EVERYTHING on that Flash drive. And while it doesn't include the most recent draft of my most recent novel, it has everything as of the completion of FAMILY JEWELS. Why? Because Dropbox could get hacked. Accidents happen. It's always good to have a backup of your backups (and I update my external hard drive even less frequently than I do my Flash drive).

This all sounds like sage advice, so what makes this post-worthy? Well, when I first started saving things on my Flash drive, there was no such thing as Kindle Direct Publishing. There was no black market of plagiarized novels self-published to reap what few sales they can from the ill-gotten work of others. Now, if I lose my Flash drive, EVERYTHING on that drive (which is EVERYTHING) could be posted to KDP by a nefarious neerdowell, tarnishing my reputation and stealing my work. While none of those novels have been published, some of them have strong prospects for future revision (Triad Society anyone?). Those prospects are dashed if someone steals them off a lost Flash drive and throws them up on the internet in their current form.

This is NOT to tell you to ditch the Flash drive, but it IS to suggest that you lock any folder that contains your writing. Sure it adds a step for when you want to access it, but adding password encryption means that if you leave your Flash drive in a business center, you don't have to panic and wait to see your first novel from five years ago suddenly shitting all over KDP.

Lesson learned. :)

The Constant Struggle

Like so many creative people, I struggle with depression. I'm one of the fortunate ones in that I received help for the problem early on in my life and have been able to learn the warning signs of when things are bottoming out. That doesn't mean anything's been fixed. You don't fix depression. You learn to cope with it. If it's severe enough, perhaps you take something to mitigate the problem and make your life livable. But you don't ever fix it. I think that's the thing people who've never dealt with depression have trouble understanding. Well that, and you don't have to have a reason to be depressed. No one ever understands that.

And that's what I'm pondering today. I'm feeling down. Why? Because I'm feeling down. There is no why. I'm employed. I'm paid well. I'm happily married. I have cats. My writing career has been on a consistent upward trajectory. The derby season is going splendidly. There is no reason to be down except for the fact that I'm down.

When you're down, you find things to be down about (rather than getting down because of all those things). I should be feeling up. What a great life I have. But I don't. I'm still in the middle of the querying process of my most recent novel. That's always stressful in its own right, but it's oh so worse when you're bottoming out. Each day that goes by without word is one more opportunity for the depressed part of your brain to say, "See, you're a failure." It doesn't matter of those days are fully within the time the agent says they take to respond. It doesn't matter that response was so strong that you skipped stages of the process and went right to full manuscript review. Those are positives, and you don't focus on positives when you're depressed. You focus on every day that's gone by since those requests first came in and today, where nothing has happened. You listen to the demons inside your skull whisper that you're not good enough. You're never going to be good enough. If they liked what you had written, they would have read it by now. They would have answered. You're a failure. No one likes what you write. No one likes you.

That's a pretty shitty thing to say to a person, and you're saying it to yourself. How horrible is that? But it's like a wave. You just have to ride it out until it crests and things fall back to normal. You get through today because, at some point, tomorrow is going to be better. Maybe not tomorrow, but the day after. Or the day after that.

When I was submitting The Triad Society for the third time (meaning the third agent who had contacted me for re-writes), I said if it was rejected, I was going to take some time off from writing publishable stories and focus on fan fiction or something that would be fun without the pressure of submission following. I never did that. I got hooked on Family Jewels and started the process all over again. I remember how hard it was to have TTS read by three different agents on four different occasions only to have it rejected. That's pretty cool, right? People contacted me and said, I like you're story. Let's work on it. I think it's pretty cool, too, and days when I'm not depressed, it makes me happy. Today, well today I focus on the rejection part of it.

When I talk about rejection with my non-writing friends, the response is near-universal. Why would I want to subject myself to rejection? Why don't I just self-publish? I always tell them the same, if the story isn't good enough that I would brave querying, it's not good enough to be self-published. Self-publishing isn't a free pass. If you're taking your writing seriously, your story needs to be the best it can be no matter what path to publication your'e taking.

And it doesn't matter, because you can't escape depression. Feeling down that an agent rejected you? Swap that with your Amazon sales ranking. Only two people bought your book that month and one of them asked for a refund. No one likes you. No one wants to buy your book. No one thinks you're good enough. No one likes you.

See the trend? You don't need a why to feel this way. Depression is the why. All you can do is ride it out. When it passes, take the time to focus on the positive. Remind yourself of your accomplishments. Let the sunshine warm you and know that you're not alone. Keep working. Keep trying. Your day may not be today, but you still have tomorrow.

In Between Times

I always take a little break between manuscripts. I consider it a "voice reset." I used to be so jazzed I would immediately roll into a new project, but I found the voice of the next project sounded exactly the same as the one I had just finished. It inevitably led to a lot of rewriting and sometimes I'd have to drop all the work done as unusable. So now, I take time off and refresh. Sometimes that means playing around on HitRecord. This time around, I dabbled in my Knight Rider fan fiction. Mostly, though, I've been writing a lot of documentation. I'm the head of non-skating officials for New Hampshire Roller Derby and it's the start of the season. I've been writing a ton of "How to Officiate" documentation, which is a totally similar but totally different skill set than fiction writing. I do a lot of documentation for work, too, so it's not jarring. It does draw from the same pot of energy, though. I have trouble writing documentation and fiction at the same time.

Also, I think part of me is stalling until February. I wrote the first draft of FAMILY JEWELS in February then spent the rest of the year making it awesome. I think part of me wants to try and recreate that magic. I'm torn on what to do next. I had planned on writing THE CENOSAPIEN AGENDA. The original story idea had been as a sequel to FJ, but it quickly evolved into a different character (Serenity McIntyre), a different setting, and a different genre. Interesting enough, it changed so much that the sequel idea to FJ became a valid sequel again. So I can write TCA or I can write DISAPPEARING, INC., which is the sequel to FJ. Something to ponder as February begins next week. I'm still writing "How to Head NSO" documentation, so I guess this is a curse of riches situation or something.

(And admittedly, part of me is hoping that an agent says, "BAM! This is it. You need to get to work on a sequel because publishers will want more of this!" which would make the decisio-nmaking process much easier.)

Covering All the Bases

This post should almost be labeled a redux because I've posted so much of the conversation before. I am once again dealing with that balancing act of craft vs voice. I think more aspiring writers would do well to actually listen, absorb, and apply the feedback they receive from agents when they query. Too often I hear, "It's all subjective and that person is wrong. I'm just going to self-publish." I think that attitude is one major reason why self-publishing still has the negative stigma that it does. But that's not the point of this post.

The point of this post is that taste is subjective, but craft is objective. You might like a poorly written book. You enjoy it despite its lack of technical prowess, storytelling over mechanics and whatnot. So when receiving feedback, it can be hard to understand what is a matter of taste and what is a matter of craft, because the two aren't entirely segregated. They're a cozy Venn diagram. If an agent says, "I think X could be improved," you have to examine this and decide where in the diagram it fits and whether or not its actionable. (Pro Tip: The earlier you are in your career, the more likely it falls in the craft side, so don't get all pissy and go self-publish just because someone didn't extol your genius.)

I'm in that murky larval stage. I've spent the last four years working on pacing, chopping scads of overwriting from my work. I didn't think it was an issue until an agent told me so. I examined my work, saw her point, revised, and improved. One of the main reasons I'm so resistant to self-publishing my own work is that the querying process has improved my craft more than two flipping writing degrees ever did. Working in the system has made me better, so I'm not so quick to talk about how the system is busted and worthless. (Again, getting off track, so I will sum up by saying I agree with the Chuck Wendig school of thought. Publish what's best for you at any given time. It's not one versus the other. For me, I've decided my first step will be a traditional one, however.)

So recently I received feedback about trimming 10k from a manuscript. This is great news. There's interest there or they wouldn't have asked for a resubmit. But I don't know if I want to cut 10k. I'm still analyzing my Venn diagram. This isn't the overwriting of old (or the rambly nature of this post). This was a revised and revised-again manuscript that was built to be what it is. Perhaps with more specific editorial feedback, I could better understand what needs to be cut. But a simple note of "cut 10k" doesn't get me very far. If I had thought 10k needed to be cut, I would have done so of my own accord. So I have to ponder, is this a matter of taste or a matter of craft?

My wife commented about how I like to explain things. I do. She said she doesn't need an explanation. She assumes something happened because the plot needed it to happen and she goes along to see what happens next. I HATE THIS [BOLD FACE]. I hate this soooo much. It reminds me of every bad D&D session I ever sat through where the DM did things for no other reason than that's what he wanted to have happen despite any semblance of logic. I just saw "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and there was a prime example right in the middle of the movie. They went to location Beta (one of numerous supposed safe locations, as we had been at Gamma previously) but the bad guys found them! Oh no, a character is taken! Oh no, people are shot! My first thought? Oh no, their secure location has been compromised. They must have a mole! I wonder who the traitor is...

EXCEPT WE NEVER FIND OUT! The security breech is NEVER addressed again. How the fuck did it happen? Sure, I get the power of plot guided the bad guys to the location, but for real, if I'm assuming this is really happening in the setting as provided, how the fuck did they find out? Was someone sloppy and get followed? Was someone turned? Was the site never truly secure? Are none of the other sites secure and if so, how did the previous conversation at Gamma site go so smoothly?

EXPLAIN THIS TO ME, MOTHERFUCKER!

My wife doesn't care. She went along for the ride. But for me, it soured the rest of the movie. There was a whole different story there that I think would have been more interesting than the standard run and gun we see so often. (Why do we drive anywhere if you can outrun a moving vehicle?)

I hesitated in writing this post because I didn't want it to sound like, "I'm not revising any more. What I wrote is perfect." Fuck that. I hate when famous authors do that. Given feedback, I will rewrite if I think it'll make my story better. Absolutely. I want it to be the absolute best it can be. But when I hear, "You should be more like [author]," that doesn't do anything for me. I'm not [author]. I'm me. I don't want to be that person. I want to be me. I have my own voice. And my voice explains shit. I'd like to think there are people out there that want their shit explained (the outer shell of the corn doesn't break down because it's indigestible cellulose, you see). But who knows. Maybe that's such a niche readership that it really will require self-publishing to find them. I haven't come to that point yet. I still have my goals. I still think it's a matter of finding someone who resonates with my voice, and I'm hopeful I'll find that person soon. But I wanted to share my thoughts. I've come a long way. I probably have farther to go (if you think you don't you're both wrong and an asshole). The "Am I good enough?" question never really gets answered. It's always a process of self-examination, and the better I get at this, the harder it is to reach a conclusion. That seems backward, but that's what's happening to me.

2013: A Singular Endeavor

I don't normally do a year in review because my pursuit of publication has been an ongoing effort for over four years now and that story has only changed somewhat. Write a novel -> query, write a novel -> query, start new year, repeat. That was 2009 through 2011. Then came 2012, the year of the great rewrites. I was asked by three different agents to revise and resubmit four different manuscripts, and the entire year disappeared while working on those stories.

And here we are at the end of 2013. It started much like it did every year before it. In February I started and finished the first draft of my most recent novel, FAMILY JEWELS. 28 days almost to the minute. I didn't feel proud. I didn't feel excited. I felt like I had been there before and it wasn't working. 2012 had gotten me "this isn't your best work" plus "this is so close but not for me" plus "I can see how another agent would love this, try sending it to X and Y" plus "This is an amazing story, but it can't be your first novel on the market" all of which equalled being in the same place I had been at the start of the year. Obviously I was improving at my craft, but I still didn't have representation and I still didn't have a book deal, and that just wasn't good enough. And so, we begin 2013, the year of the singular endeavor.

I finished the first draft in 28 days. I spent six months on the second draft. I spent another two on the third draft. And another two on the fourth draft. I did other things in between. I joined a roller derby league. I learned how to skate. I learned how to officiate. I became the head non-skating official of my league. I injured myself repeatedly. I joined a group dance studio with my wife. I wrote the first chapter of my next novel. You know, I lived life. I took all that advice I had always said didn't apply to me and I applied it to me.

And here I am at the end of 2013 and guess what? I still don't have an agent. BUT, I've written the best novel I've ever written since I started taking my writing seriously. It's not my favorite story I've written (that still belongs to WITH A CROOKED CROWN), but it is lightyears better than anything I've put down on electrons. I read Donald Maass' prompts on Twitter and gave more thought to characters that would have otherwise been cliches. I got AMAZING feedback from my beta readers and I applied it to fill all the holes and fix all the failures in logic. I asked myself, what more is there to my character and then I tried to find it and offer it up in the story. (Sure, I've done all that before, but not with the rush I've felt before. It was always, "I don't have any more time to make this better" and that was a mistake. This time, it was going to be better until it was the best it could be.)

How do I know I accomplished that? Well, I started querying this past Saturday (with the twelfth draft of my query) and by Monday, I had two full requests. That's right, kids, FULL requests. Not partials. Stick that feather in my cap, why don't I? I think I will. My query is strong. My synopsis doesn't read like a shopping list. My novel rocks. Even if this doesn't get me an agent, I know that what I'm doing now is what works for me, what makes me the best I can be, and I'm confident that if this novel doesn't have an agent calling me up and saying, "Let's take over the world together," the next one will. Or maybe the one after that. Let's keep going until we find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of this Tootsie Pop.

So happy new year to you, ladies and gents. I hope your past year has been as rewarding as mine and that your forthcoming year is filled with hopes and accomplishments.

Sex Scenes and Sexuality

I have, in my time, both acted as and utilized beta readers. With that, I've found that different authors have different policies in how they treat their beta readers. I have rules on how I deal with them. They are unpaid volunteers that are doing me a great service without any promise of return. I gain nothing by arguing with them (a trap too many authors fall into, in my opinion) nor do I gain anything by trying to change their minds.

My Rules (a list that may or may not be expanded on later as it wasn't the actual focus of this post)

  1. Say thank you
  2. Understand you don't have to keep everything they say, but neither should you ignore everything they say.
  3. Do not explain your story to them before, during, or after they've read it. If they don't understand it from what you've written, you weren't clear enough (or they read too quickly, which does sometimes happen *cough* my wife *cough*).
  4. Do not argue with them. You don't win beta reading by proving your point. You win it be receiving valuable feedback.
  5. Don't be afraid to ask questions. They know your story now. They are a resource. Especially if it pertains to their professional field. Don't waste time being scared that it'll make your job harder. The goal of beta reading is to revise another draft and make the story better
  6. Do not seek approval. Seek constructive criticism. "I like it" is never good feedback unless it is following by a bulleted list of what could be done better (numbered lists are also acceptable).

With those rules in mind, I'm going to bend #4 because I received feedback that really gave me pause. I don't want to argue with the reader (well, I do, but I'm not going to). Instead, I'm going to respond to the statement in general terms and explain why I respectfully disagree.

In my current novel, I have a gay male character who has sex with another gay male character. The sex is not the point of the scene and it occurs in only a few sentences. The point of the scene is fear, the two men are soldiers and they know they're going to die soon. They take comfort in each other's company before that inevitable time should come.

The comment I took issue with was that the scene "if you can call a few sentences" sounded like it was written by a straight white guy. It needed to be more graphic to demonstrate that I was genuinely okay with two male characters having sex. I can certainly see that interpretation, but I think that interpretation reveals the bias of the reader and not the writer. If the characters had been male and female and the two had been heterosexual, I would have written the moment exactly the same. The sex wasn't the point. Comfort was the point.

Perhaps the flaw isn't that I did not write it graphic enough but rather did not make it comforting enough. But I would challenge anyone that would suggest graphicness somehow proves acceptance of a sexual act to swap the sexuality of the characters and see if the same scene works. If so, it has nothing to do with the writing but the reading.

I am waiting for more beta feedback to come in before I fully revise the draft, but I have gone back over the scene and don't see a positive in adding more graphic content. Perhaps a little more lyrical description, but any more would undermine the pacing of the moment.

The Darwin Elevator is Nigh!

A year ago I bid in the Brenda Novak charity auction on what I thought was a really interesting prize to raise money for Diabetes research. Jason Hough (pronounced Huff not Hugh) made available the opportunity to name a character or company/vehicle/whatnot. Fending off a last-minute challenger, I made sure the Selby Systems LTD (previously appearing in the figure game Iron Tyrants) continued it existence. I struck up an association with Mr. Hough and had the grand fortune to read his first novel, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, before its release1. As it comes out tomorrow, I wanted to share with you why you should read this book.

Concept: An alien craft deployed a space elevator in Darwin, Australia. A plague wiped out most of the population of the planet, a radius around the elevator the only safe spot to live. A have/have not dichotomy has formed with the oligarchy living in space and the chaff living in Earth-bound slums. Your main character and his crew of scavengers are all immunes, people unaffected by the plague, who gather resources outside the radius of the elevator. Politics, power grabs, gun fights, and the next alien spacecraft fuel this march to the second of a trilogy that will publish over the next three months.

What's great about this book: While one dystopian future is looking much the same as the other, Hough does a great job exploring the world outside of Darwin and up in space at the top of the Elevator. I wanted to continue reading immediately because the setting felt like a fresh take on old tropes. I like the post-catastrophic Earth he's built and I want to explore more.

What's good about this book: Hough handles aliens like Spielberg handled Jaws2. They're coming, but they're not running around Mel Gibson's backyard.

What's refreshing about this book: You'll hear a lot about the pacing. Everyone's all, fast-paced blah blah blah. The second half picks up the clip, so it's definitely a march from beginning to end, but the first half is paced exactly as it should be (and thus the second half is paced exactly as it should be). I kept thinking about how people kept commenting on the pacing, but really what they mean is "There's isn't any extraneous crap in this book". We don't get the history of everything. We don't get a description of every button on a character's jacket. Here's what you see. Here's what you hear. Here's what happens. Bam, let's move on. This is the opposite of a George Martin book, and that's not a bad thing3.

What's familiar about this book: The first chapter has a strong correlation to Firefly. Hough is aware of it and is pleased with the comparison. There is a strong "Why do my plans never work" vibe, but the Firefly comparisons chill as the book progresses and it does NOT read like fan fiction.

What's unfortunately familiar about this book: It had what I thought was a simple but awesome villain. He thinks he should do more, but he isn't as talented as he thinks he is. But he has the power to force himself on other political entities to increase his role. Anyone that's worked in an office has met (and suffered) under such a person. It was pinpoint accurate and I loved seeing him as the villain. Eventually he becomes the more traditional sexual sadist that we see so often, and that actually lessens the character in my eyes. He want from being selfish to being "Evil!" Thankfully, he's not the focus of the story, so there are long gaps between his Evilness.

What's unnecessary about this book: The primary female character suffers sexual violence. As it relates to the villain I mention above, I am of the opinion this was unnecessary for her personal arc or the establishment of the villain as villainous. I've wrestled with this kind of thing in my own writing, and you can here it discussed ad nauseum on the interwebs, but in this case, I take the position that this did not further the character or the story in a meaningful way4

What's really cool about this franchise: Book 1: July '13; Book 2: August '13; Book 3: September '13. If you like one, you only have to wait a month for the next one. That may limit the growth of the author or it may not, but as a consumer, it's cool not to have to wait six years between installments.

Something nitpicky that I liked: I read an ARC, which means it's not the final final version that you'll see printed. It's the mostly final printed version. Even so, the number of errors that slipped through copyediting was lower than what has been happening in years. It's a sorry state of publishing how lazy editing has gotten (either through less talented copyeditors, tighter deadlines, cheaper publishers, or all of the above) so it was nice to see a book that didn't have typos on every page.

All in all, if you're in the mood for some science fiction, pick this one up. When you get to the third book, you'll even get to see Selby Systems make its appearance! If you think to yourself, "Hey, I know a guy named Selby," BAM! That was no accident, fella.



1: Don't worry, I had already pre-ordered it, so the man'll still get his royalties.

2: Interesting tidbit, Spielberg had actually planned on showing Jaws much earlier in the film, but it was his editor who cut the shark until the end. For all those people who think they don't need an editor, even Steven Spielberg needs an editor.

3: I love Game of Thrones, so don't get your undies in a twist. It's book five. I don't give a shit what five courses they had for dinner each day of the week. Chop chop, motherfuckers.

4: There's also a shower scene that some reviewers5 have called male fantasy fulfillment. I don't think that's the case, but it did pull me out of the story as I rolled my eyes.

5: And for those of you that read Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, what was up with that review? "Read this book. Here's everything that's bad with it." Not the ringingest of endorsements. It's Hough's first book, and if this is the point at which he starts his career and grows, we will see some quality science fiction from him in the future. As for me, I'll be reading the second installment come August.

Did we put the cart before the horse?

I have a growing number of draft posts. It almost feels like I've been actively updating this journal because I have so many posts started that the interaction was initiated even if it wasn't completed. I've been journaling in one form or another for a decade now, opening my first LiveJournal account in February of '03. A writing journal is not a blog, and I tried to make that clear from the start. A blog is what you get reading Chuck Wendig, Roni Loren, or Janice Hardy, people who actively produce content in a professional manner on a frequent basis. Three years ago, all you heard on the internet was how writers needed to start building their platform even before they published their book. This isn't a bad idea, but what it didn't take into account is the transitory nature of the internet. Three years ago, writing blogs were all the rage. Kristin Nelson, Nathan Bransford, Rachelle Gardner, the Rejectionist, the Intern, Pimp My Novel, and on and on. How many of them are still blogging? Time constraints and new social media turned that messaging to new avenues.

I blogged like that for a while. A little while, and a lot of that information I would now have to revise to accommodate what I've learned. I don't follow my own Rules any more. The Rules need to be revised, but I can't revise them because I'm trying new things. Once I know what the New Rules are, I'll write those up.

So here's the kicker. I didn't want to be a blogger. Go read Chuck Wendig if you want your lists of 25 things new authors should know. I've read that messaging in one form or another for years now, so I find his voice interesting but his messaging not that new. I definitely don't want to write that. I don't want to tell you how to be a writer. Go read Chuck. He's great at that. But you'll eventually learn that lesson and then what? Then nothing. I've entered that in between space where I have no intrest in talking about the basics but have no news about publications to put here. When I started this journal, if you had asked me if I would be unpublished in 2013, I would have said "I don't think so." Mmmm ego. This place was to tell you about the experience of the process and of course news about my forthcoming work. My work is coming, just not forth.

This is NOT to say that I am retiring writing in this space. That's certainly not the case. I like you people. I think I need to redesign my site, however. I need to move away from blogger and make a static page the primary landing page again (like how it was when I still used LiveJournal). You don't want someone looking at your blog and seeing your last post was months before (this applies to you too, agents! A two-year-old unused twitter account does not advance your interests!). I have nothing new to talk about. Well, kind of new. I have all those drafts I need to finish. But most of them have to do with how I'm trying new things in my writing process. I've slowed things WAY down (I've spent three months on the first half of this draft where the entire draft before was completed in a month). I'm not overly investing. I've begun the experiment and when I have the results, I'll share it with you.

I've used WordPress before but I'm thinking of SquareSpace. I think their prices are high for hosting, but I like their tools. I had planned on paying for a guy to work me up a really awesome custom WordPress space, but money this year has been especially difficult with all my injuries and the resulting medical costs.

So, most likely, you reach this place through some kind of blog feed, in which case, I doubt you'll notice a change. But if you visit JosephLSelby.com, that may change in the coming weeks.

Where Did All My Free Time Go?

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted. Mea culpa. I tore a tendon in my shoulder and the recuperation (ongoing) has really thrown my routines for a loop. I've been working from home a lot or not working and going to physical therapy a lot. It may have been a good habit to write on the train every day, but once I stopped taking the train, writing became a lot harder. I also waited longer before starting a second draft. It was helpful, but dear lord I finished the first draft at the end of February and here it is back end of April and I'm not done with the second draft yet. What the hell? So lazy! :)

With the shoulder, I'm not allowed to roller skate. The risk of a fall may move me from physical therapy to surgery, and that's not something I want to risk because I watched a YouTube video of what they do in the surgery and hell no I don't want them perforating my collarbone so they can tie my tendon in place. Screw that! The silver lining in that situation is that I had to come to terms that this most recent attempt to start a men's roller derby team in southern New Hampshire has flopped. For that reason, I volunteered to officiate for the very successful women's roller derby league. Come out to a match! I'll be the guy in a pink shirt they announce as Charles Dickins.

Board games are really big in the Northeast, I've mentioned before, and I have a group that meets every week to play. But that was my big group activity. Usually I worked, I wrote, and I spent time with my wife. Now that I've added roller derby to the mix, my time has evaporated. It's amazing how popular the sport is and how much people need help. If you're at all interested in seeing what the modern derby is like, head to the Googles. It's a safe bet something is going on near you.

Now that I'm going back into work more frequently, I'm writing again, and the second draft is coming along. The first few chapters were a slog, but I've whipped them into shape and the next chapters have gone much faster. I'll give them another pass before sending them out to beta readers. Gonna get this thing to its fighting weight.

Because I'm commuting, that means I'm on the subway, which is where I traditionally read. I broke from my comfortable genres (fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or biography) and went with literary fiction, something I never read because BORING! I know I'm often told I write literary fantasy (another way of saying, your work is slow moving and focuses too much on character, where are all the explosions?), but I don't write literary literary because I don't want to focus on language and emotions and god aren't I see emo, tear. Or so was my perception of literary. But then I read Jamie Ford's HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET and holy shit, people, you have to read this book. It has cemented itself as a contender for my favorite non-fantasy/sf book of all time. I kept gushing on Twitter because it was just SO good. Even when it slowed down, I didn't stop reading, I just yelled GODDAMMIT FORD, WHEN DO THEY KISS? at my nook and kept on reading. If you're looking for something new to read, you HAVE to read this one. Have to. That's an order.

And once you're done with that one, keep an eye out for Jason Hough's debut sf THE DARWIN ELEVATOR. It comes out in July (I already pre-ordered), and I was lucky enough to get an eARC, which I'm reading right now. I'll offer my thoughts at greater length once I'm done.

For now, go read HOTEL and/or play roller derby. You'll thank me later.

Wind Sprint: Serenity

I tell Liz Poole all the time that I'm never going to write Urban Fantasy. But an opening line while I was driving from physical therapy gave me an idea for a character that turned an espionage thriller plot I had been ruminating on into a genuine urban fantasy.

The original espionage was inspired by a crazy lady I passed in the subway one day. She stood near a street musician, one whose music I really enjoy. He's a junky that plays a mean harmonica with a bean can shaker. He makes some great blues music. She was screaming, "SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Except she wasn't screaming at the musician. She had her back to him and was shouting at the escalator. I wanted to know what she was seeing. And wouldn't it be interesting if something was actually there?

Combine with that a separate experience where a less talented musician was there not actually playing at the time I passed. Someone threw money in her hat and she handed the person a folded piece of paper. Now, most likely, the paper was folded around drugs. But what if it wasn't? What if the musician was a CIA operative passing information to another operative? How cool would that be?

Mix those two together. What if the CIA isn't just your normal espionage spooks? What if it's a supernatural agency? Who can infiltrate better than a changling that can change his/her features? (Reminds me a little of Gail Carriger's work and some other urban fantasy I've touched on but can't remember at the moment. Lurker, ring a bell with you?) A small government program attempting to track the tidal wave of immigrants moving to America at the end of the 19th century (tracking Irish and similar "blights" on the country), discover supernatural beings living among us. The Cenosapian Identification Agency is formed to identify how pervasive the infestation is and to determine whether they're a biproduct of the Irish or something else entirely.

Fast forward a few decades when the government begins to fight the red menace and all of a sudden supernaturals are necessary to fight back communism. Stalin and Hitler both had their own cenosapian programs and if we give the reds the advantage, it'll spell the end of democracy for the world! Fast forward a few decades more and now the wall has fallen and post-War colonialism is winding to a close. Espionage isn't that useful with only one remaining super power. [Avoid all your overdone plots and think of something cool to go here.]

Now all you need is a main character. And that's today's idea, Serenity.

"My parents didn't name me Serenity because they were Buddhists or existentialists or anything like that. They were nerds. Big, cosplaying nerds, and they named me after a spaceship. Thanks mom. Thanks dad. Why couldn't you be hippies? Make love not war. Smoke weed. Wear hemp. If we had spent my childhood getting high and eating brownies rather than rolling for initiative, maybe I wouldn't be in this mess.

I rolled a three, by the way. Maybe that's the problem too."


(That last part might riff too close to GEEKOMANCY, but the point of a wind sprint isn't to show off a new idea, but to fastball pitch an idea against the wall and see what kind of Rorschach shapes come out of it.)

I'll puzzle around with this more after I'm done with my next draft of FAMILY JEWELS.

Sooper Groops!

Supers fiction is perhaps the smallest niche of sf/f. Supers can be fun or it can be incredibly cliche (if you grew up reading comics--which if you're interested in supers fiction is a good bet). I tend to think of supers creatively as graphic novels for that same background of comics reading. I can't think of a supers novel I've read, but I still collect Atomic Robo regularly through Comixology.

This morning I was riding the subway on my way into work. I like to see how people read on the train. Person to the left of me was using a tablet-type e-reader (backlit screen). I was using an e-ink eReader. And the guy to my right was reading a paper book. He was reading Arabian Nights, a book that's good in snippets but I found boring when trying to read all the way through at once.

The thing is, when I was young, I always wanted to have a super hero or a team of super heroes called the Arabian Knights. And that got me going this morning. A United Nations style organization that fields super teams from all over the world.

Canada - Heroes, eh? (via Nate Wilson)
Germany - Die Übermenschen (via Nate Wilson)
Greece - The Furies
India - The Arms of Shiva (via Nate Wilson)
Russia - Politburo
UAE - Arabian Knights
UK - Her Majesty's Royal Champions (via Nate Wilson)
USA - Damage, Inc.


What groups would you create?

Novice Juggler

I know it's been a while since I posted. I've been meaning to for a while, but some "things" happened. I hate things. Rarely does one converse about things and speak of good news. Good news is "events" or even "news". "Things" mean shit's gone down.

For me that's my labrum. What's a labrum you ask? Good question. We all hear about rotator cuffs because pitchers tear them all the time. They're what make you rotate. The labrum is the tendon that sits inside your shoulder socket to let your bones do their thing without grinding together. I tore mine in 1997 but thought it was only a bad muscle pull, so I let it heal naturally. This was stupid on my part and made my shoulder for shit ever since. Well never fear, it's torn again so maybe this time it'll get fixed for real. Of course that means drilling holes through things and tying things and being in pain until all that happens. I've been on vicodin, which, I don't know why anyone would want to be addicted to that shit. Your brain is fuzzy, you can't comprehend, you're tired ALL the time, and you can't poop! And people take this shit willingly? No thanks. If I'm going to be fuzzy headed, it'll be from the pain. At least I won't be tired.

But I have accomplished some things. The first draft of FAMILY JEWELS wrapped up at the end of February. I spent my writing time finishing Peter V. Brett's THE DAYLIGHT WAR. If you're reading his Demon Cycle, I expect you've already picked this one up. If you're not reading his Demon Cycle, you're missing the best epic fantasy being written in the market today, so go pick up THE WARDED MAN (in the US, THE PAINTED MAN in the UK). Normally after that very brief break, I would jump right into a second draft, but I'm considering a revision to "The Rules" and as such am trying new methods to see if they improve my process. I started the second draft but immediately stopped. I'm going to write a short story instead. One with mermaids! And not the Disney mermaids either.

What I don't know is how my typing will be affected if they drill holes into my bones. I go for an MRI on Monday and things should become more clear after that. Until then, mermaids and future private detectives and lots of Aleve because my head remains clear on Aleve. Screw you, vicodin.

Be Sure to Use the Appropriate Nasality

It's been a while since I've posted. I have a few drafts that I'll probably never publish (that happens from time to time), but I have a really good reason why. I've been writing like Robert E. Howard. Not specifically in his style, but when he wrote Conan, he said that the barbarian himself stood behind him, threatening to kill him with his axe if Howard did not tell his story. I started a new draft at the end of January and I fully expect to be finished by the end of February. We often do the numbers and say "If you maintain 1000 words per hour and write two hours every day, you'll have an 80,000-word draft complete in 40 days!" This is absolutely true, and 1000 words per hour is not unreasonable. But things happen. You don't necessarily write 2000 words on Saturday or Sunday. Or you make a mistake and have to rewrite a chapter. Whatever. Forty days is optimistic. It usually takes me three months to finish a first draft, which I still think is respectable. So finishing in one month is both exhausting and exciting.

What would make me stop this high productivity to post here? Well, I'd like to say it's my blog post on what kind of critique critism you should hope for and the dangers of positive feedback, but it's not. It's so I can whine!

A debut author's book is coming out. The cover is being shown all over the webs and people are posting its blurb and an agent says, a fantastic urban fantasy debut! So why am I whining? Because--by the description being posted--it's not urban fantasy! It's contemporary fantasy. Now you might not care for the arguments of what makes a book epic fantasy or what makes it urban fantasy (does it have to have vampires, blah blah blah), but if you're an aspiring fantasy writer, those questions are important. Because when you start looking for an agent, you will see time and time again that the agent is interested in urban fantasy but not other types of fantasy.1

Some agents will just say fantasy with a preference toward... or just fantasy. But that's less common than you might think. Books are shelved in sections. eBooks have metadata. We can be specific, and for personal preference or monetary interest, agents (and editors) specify what kind of fantasy they want. So when a genre is incorrectly shelved in another genre, two things will happen. First, people will be less interested in the story because they think they're buying something they're not.2 Second, people will say that the genre it should have been in is under-represented.

"No one is reading/writing contemporary. It's just too small a market." NUH UH! You're just shelving it wrong! waaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!! /baby

September marks my fourth anniversary of being a querying writer, so let me ask this anniversary wish. Don't make it harder for me to find representation than it already is. If a book is epic, it's epic. If it's traditional, it's traditional. And if it's contemporary, it's contemporary. Who knows, maybe you'll popularize a genre that hasn't been getting a lot of attention otherwise.



1 Urban was the cash cow for the last decade, so this isn't surprising. Likewise, after Game of Thrones hit it big on HBO, you saw a lot of agents add epic to their list of interests. This faded a lot faster because people who aren't used to reading epic discovered what a mountain of text comes with an epic manuscripts. If you're under 150,000 words, you haven't written an epic fantasy. Or at least, you haven't written it very epically.

2 See this post by Kristin Nelson to understand the importance of metadata.