Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tip O'Day #462 - No More Lazy Research

Guest blogger Cynthia Echterling on “The Facts, Nothing but the Facts.”

My pet peeves in novels or films include unbelievable incidents, bad technology, and cultural inaccuracies from not doing adequate research. Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters have become famous by debunking this sort of thing for our education and amusement.

When writing my science fiction novel, Torqed: The Search for Earth, a group of characters were planning to defraud an insurance company. They discussed how to switch on Torq's ability to hibernate and trick an adjuster into believing he was dead. All they needed to do was chill him, but in an environmentally controlled spaceport, that wasn't possible. Their first thought was to slip him outside temporarily. Would it work? Would he instantly freeze or would he explode? In many of the SciFi movies I'd seen, that's what happens. Is it accurate? I did the research and the answer is, no. You can survive about 90 seconds. Your lungs would collapse, or rupture if you try to hold your breath. Nitrogen bubbles would form in your blood stream. Your bodily excretions would freeze. You might puff up some, but you don't explode and you don't freeze rock hard instantaneously. Fortunately, you'd be unconscious from lack of oxygen before any of that happened. My characters decide it is not an option.

Crime or espionage stories have people surreptitiously offing someone with a gun using a silencer, and nobody hears anything except a gentle thoop. Not happening. A silencer can only reduce the sound of a gunshot by 20 or 30 decibels. You want to kill someone quietly? Try poisoned blow darts. Keep in mind that, in many countries, blow darts are illegal. If you're planning to kill someone, that probably isn't an issue for you. Just don't plan on buying one over-the-counter from Wal-Mart. As for the poison? Curare is used in South America, but that just paralyzes monkeys. It is rarely lethal and you'd need a large dose to paralyze a human.

Historical fiction is another breeding ground for inaccuracies. Don't rely on what you thought you learned in school, because it may be incomplete, out of date, or completely wrong. For my novel in progress, I needed to research Native American cultures. There are vast differences in social roles, customs and technologies. Did you know that Native Americans drank beer? It was made from corn, potatoes, birch and other substances and often reserved for ceremonial purposes, but not always. Though drunkenness was frowned upon by the Aztecs and could earn you severe punishment, Aztec elites indulged, not by drinking, but by taking their beer through another body orifice (hint: not their noses or ears). While they enjoyed their beer, they were also smoking cigars, eating popcorn and watching ball games. They just didn't have big screen TVs.

My point is, we all make mistakes, but unless you want some factoid-obsessed geek ripping your work to shreds, do your research!

Cynthia (or CD) Echterling is a SciFi and Fantasy author. The link to her SciFi novel Torqed: The Search for Earth can be found here. She is also the author of post-Apocalyptic Scavengers and fantasy Beer Wars.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tip O'Day #461 - Collaborate or Not?

Guest blogger Marsheila Rockwell on “Trust in the Dark Places.”

Writing is an intensely personal act, and it is perhaps the most private and isolated of all professions. (Except for lighthouse keepers, and the cosmonaut in Armageddon who got stuck up on the Russian space station by himself for months and months.) We writers spend a lot of time in our heads, creating new people and places that no one else knows and loves quite the way we do. That creation is an intimate process, one that we sometimes have trouble even explaining to other people, let alone trying to share it.

Sometimes we do share it, however. Sometimes authors collaborate with one another to create characters and worlds together, be it for a poem, a short story, a novel, a series, or an entire career’s worth of work. So how do we do it?

Honestly, a lot of times we don’t. It’s not always enough to admire another writer’s work or even to be good friends with them. When you try working together, you may find that even though you write the same sorts of things in a similar fashion, you just can’t get a project to gel. You may blame it on different writing processes or expectations, but to me it always comes down to a matter of trust. In order for me to successfully collaborate with another author, that person has to be someone I’m willing to let into the dark places in my head, someone I trust enough to share that intimate process of creation with, who I can hand the reins over to with full confidence that they not only share the vision I have for the story, but can help me make it even better.

When it doesn’t work, you have a broken, unfinished piece that usually you’re both too disillusioned with to ever touch again, and those ideas are lost, sometimes forever (and sometimes the relationship is, too). But when it does work, you find that together you have brought to life a character, a world, a story that’s better than either of you could have created on your own, and it is a truly exhilarating feeling.

Collaborating isn’t for everyone, but you’ll never know until you try, and if you can find someone you can trust in the dark places, you’ll create some amazing things together. Good luck!

Marsheila “Marcy” Rockwell is the author of The Shard Axe series, the only official novels that tie into the popular MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons Online. In addition to working on the second book in a trilogy based on a comic book property created by one of the biggest names in fantasy, she is currently busy sharing the dark places in her head with her writing partner Jeffrey J. Mariotte. Their latest joint project involves serial killers, meteor strikes and maybe the end of the world. You can find out more here: http://www.marsheilarockwell.com/ (and here: http://www.jeffmariotte.com/).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tip O'Day #460 - Break Out of Your Funk

Guest blogger John Grover on "Finding Inspiration and Keeping the Spark."

For about twenty-five years, I’ve been having a love affair with writing horror. I’ve been writing for as long as I could hold a pen but I really took it seriously around the age of eighteen and wrote my first serious horror story. After that I wrote a novel. The short story was picked up by a magazine that went out of business soon after and the novel still sits in my closet, unpublished. Did that stop me from writing? Not in the least!

I love writing. It’s part of who I am; it makes me infinitely happy and I’ve written horror since I was able to read the likes of Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Shirley Jackson and H.P. Lovecraft. I never have a lack of ideas or the ever-growing list of projects but sometimes I discover that what I truly lack is time and energy.

There never seems to be enough time to write everything I want and there are days when I’m just too tired to care, too tired to put in the time and think to myself where did that young guy go that wrote every single day no matter what?

He is still there. He just needs a little inspiration, something to keep the spark alive. There was a day not too long ago where I was about to embark on a new project, a new book series about the supernatural and I sat stared at a blank computer screen. Nothing would come. There was no desire, no energy, no spark. I knew right there that I was in a funk. I wanted to write. I loved the idea of the story and its characters but I just couldn’t.

So I turned to what I loved most about writing my favorite genres and getting lost in their worlds. I took a break and read horror books and horror stories, read my peers online, put in my favorite horror DVDs, browsed horror art online, and immersed myself again in the passion and emotion of my genre.

I was carried away by words, by sight, by sound, riveted by the emotions these things stirred, no longer reading or watching but becoming a part of it. This was what I wanted to give my readers, but not just that. This was what I wanted to give myself. I broke out of my funk and wrote that book and fell in love with my characters. I think it’s one of my better books. This is the kind of inspiration I try to surround myself with every day.

When I write and get involved in the world of my story, I get into the feeling that I am trying to inspire. I collect horror and fantasy art, scouring all around the net for the frightening, the macabre, the gothic, the wondrous and I keep it in a folder on my desk, like an artist does with swipes from magazines and books. I use them as screensavers and wallpaper and I take them out to get into the mood and to add a visual to the story I might be writing. It really helps me flesh out plots, characters and entire worlds.

Not only do I collect inspirational art but I listen to music in my genre, ambient sound, creepy movie themes, gothic bands and so on. I collect movies and TV shows and have them running in the background as I write. I put my favorite authors in stacks of books beside me on the table. All of these things inspire me every day and sometimes I feel like I never left my childhood and the little boy who told stories in books made of construction paper that were bound together by some staples.

So whenever you may feel like you just don’t want to write or that you’re burnt out or in a funk, take a break, recharge and do what you did when you were young, do what it was that drew you to writing in the first place. Reread that classic book you read in school, put on that music that gave you the best feeling when you finished writing that masterpiece. These things keep that spark alive and keep those creative juices flowing.

You never know when those things may inspire your current project or inspire you to give something different or unique to your readers. Ever thought of including a recommended play list in one of your books — a list of songs that would go perfect with your book that your reader could download? Or how about interior art to go with your fantasy book, concept art that you can keep on your desktop or share on your social media? Cover art that could be made into t-shirts, bookmarks, coffee mugs or some multimedia in your eBook — book trailers, video clues to a murder mystery or sound bites.

Whatever it is you write try to find a little inspiration every day and you’ll keep that creative spark alive and your writing fun.

John Glover is a horror, fantasy and sci-fi author from Massachusetts. He’s been published in various magazine and anthologies and has a few horror novels out on Amazon. His most recent horror novel, The Fetch, was released last month. For more information, check out www.shadowtales.com.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tip O'Day #459 - Just Say "No"

Guest blogger Karin Kaufman on “Jumping the Publishing Curve.”

In early 2011, I sent a query letter to a literary agent. One of those “if you don’t receive a reply, it’s a no” agents who haven’t the time, energy, or inclination to send even a one-line rejection via email.

I thought, OK, fine. I can deal with no reply. I’ve spent hours on the synopsis and query — properly formatting the latter to avoid being disqualified from the get-go by an assistant whose job it is to scour queries for obedience to format — and I’ve jumped through numerous hoops, some justified, some silly, but big deal. If I don’t hear from the agent, I’ll move on. I’d been told it could take years to land an agent, and after all, this was only my first query letter. I had many dues to pay.

Two months later, realizing that, indeed, I’d scored a big red no on my query, I turned to the next agent on my list. This one wanted the following: (1) a query letter of three (no more, no less) paragraphs, (2) a short synopsis, (3) a long synopsis, (4) a jacket blurb, (5) a tag line for my novel, and (6) a marketing plan.

In other words, he wanted me to do his job for him. With very little chance that my work would pay off. I calculated how many hours it would take for me to jump his gates like a good little pony and laid down my own big red no.

No, I will not start down this path. No, I will not make sure my email subject line is just right so that your automated system doesn’t kick it out. No, I will not spend the next three years sending queries by the score in hopes one agent will deign to respond. No, I will not sign with an agent only to find he can’t market my book and has decided to retire to North Carolina. No, I will not take a $3,000 advance (if I’m lucky) and be consigned to the back shelves (if I’m lucky) of a dying bookstore chain. No, I will not accept a 7.5 percent royalty rate when I’m the one supplying the content. No, I will not confine myself to one genre. No.

I’m lucky. It took me one query letter and a brief, wavering moment as I considered writing the next to decide to go Indie. That moment happened to coincide with the explosion in Indie publishing. Other writers have spent years searching for an agent—and years more waiting for a publisher to come along.

In July 2011, I published my first novel, The Witch Tree, on Amazon. So began the Anna Denning mystery series. In 2012, I uploaded the second book in the series, and last year I published All Souls, a speculative thriller that, had I been beholden to an agent and publisher, never would have been written.

God bless agents, with their hoops and gates, for pointing me toward Indie publishing. If you’re considering going Indie, I encourage you to give it a try. These days you have nothing to lose. After all, agents are beginning to call Amazon the “new slush pile.”

You have to laugh.

Karin Kaufman is author of the Anna Denning cozy mystery series and the Gatehouse Thriller series (under the name K.T. Kaufman). Her first novel, The Witch Tree, was a 2011 Grace Award finalist. When she’s not causing mayhem in the lives of her characters, she enjoys reading, drinking far too much coffee and tea, and taking walks in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her two rescue dogs, Sophie and Cooper. The Amazon Kindle link to All Souls is http://goo.gl/pbuKqx.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tip O'Day #458 - There's Still Room

Guest blogger Donna Levin on “The Last Endangered Species.”

The novel 1984 is one of my favorite books, and I’ll leave you to wonder what that says about moi. In 1984, George Orwell predicted many horrors that have come to pass: government spying, “enhanced interrogation,” and strangling political correctness. The prediction that hasn’t come true – yet – is factory-produced fiction (Winston Smith’s lover, Julia, repairs “the novel-writing machines”). But when I saw how the auto-correct capability on my iPhone changed cyxt to Hi there, I realized that this final abomination cannot be far away.

My anxiety seemed even more justified last week when I read about the HemingwayApp: a program that will scan your prose for adverbs and the use of passive voice. Not that we shouldn’t be able to do this for ourselves, but we used to make our own clothes, too.

Throughout the ages, many jobs have disappeared. There are no more elevator operators. There are still blacksmiths, but according to WikiAnswers, “they are few and far between.” And your average town crier has been out of work a long time.

I don’t know anything about computer programming, but I know what they can already do, and any kid in junior college familiar with javascript could install a MadLibs-type program for a Regency romance outline:

HEROINE has __ eyes __ hair __ is ___ tall and is: spoiled and willful/beautiful but unappreciated by her family/was rich but just lost her fortune and now must become a governess….
HERO has __eyes__hair and will obviously be six feet or taller with broad shoulders. He: is mysterious and aloof/is ardent and affectionate/has a bad reputation …
He also has a secret: he’s already married/has murdered someone, but justifiably/is closely related to a famous criminal/has insanity in his family…
HEROINE and HERO meet: on the moors/at a ball/in a creepy castle/at her father’s house when he appears looking for a place to stay in the middle of a violent storm…
They fall in love. Total, pure, eternal loooove. But:
They face an obstacle: parents objects/financial difficulties/hero goes away (to war, to care for elderly relative, charged with a crime (he didn’t commit)…
Then: Good fortune intervenes to bring them together: the parents see the light/the person in the way dies from illness or in a fire (or is murdered, but by villain)/a previously unheard-of relative dies and leaves a large inheritance…

Sentence structure in English has only so many possibilities, and with all due respect I’ll bet computers can compete with Georgette Heyer or Barbara Courtland in that arena.

It’s a long, long leap from writing formula fiction to the genre we think of as literary. (A genre that can be just as awful as it can be inspiring. Ever try to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead?) But last week on The Daily Show a scientist was predicting that our entire brains could be uploaded onto CDs. That particular idea doesn’t hold much appeal, but as Walt Whitman wrote, “every inch of common air throbs a tremendous prophecy, of greater marvels yet to be.” And Whitman didn’t even have a laptop.

Novelists have always lived on the edge of unemployment. The computer-produced novel will be to writers what automotive repair has been to the blacksmith. As with blacksmiths, there will always be room for a craftsperson or two.

Donna Levin is the author of the novels Extraordinary Means and California Street, as well as two books on the craft of fiction, Get That Novel Started and Get That Novel Written. Learn more at her website.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Quote for Writers #167 - William Carlos Williams

167. A Quote which Might (or Might Not) Inspire You to Write:

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.” — William Carlos Williams

Dixon says: Most authors I know don't write for fame, or fortune, or to attract groupies. They write because they must. Period.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Tip O'Day #457 - For Sale: Pure Unadulterated Crap

Guest blogger Robert N. Stephenson on “The Difficulty with Editing.”

In this fast-paced age of publishing and self-publishing, the first and most important aspect of writing seems to have vanished from the whole publishing process - editing, and I mean real editing, not the formatting you do yourself before you post the files to Createspace and Amazon.

The down side of almost all self-published books is that they are poorly edited. They often validate the impression that all self-published books are cheap and a waste of money.

Sometimes authors pays substantial fees to editors for their suggestions, but them ignore or argue against those comments. Yes, you are the author. You have all the rights in the world regarding how your book is presented, rightly or wrongly. It is true that you can reject all advice, based on what you determine to be art, or your artistic voice.

But, and this is a major but, if an expert suggests a change to make the story better, or to fix a flaw in the plot, maybe it’s best to follow some, if not all of that advice. After all, you are trying to sell your work to readers who expect value for their money. If you disappoint readers with shoddy editing and a poor story, they will not read more of your work and will often tell others not to bother. What's more, they will spread the view that ALL self-published books are rubbish. I will be quick to add that traditional publishing sometimes delivers stinkers because writers ignore editorial advice and stick to their artistic guns. However, the hit-and-miss rate of legacy publishers is quite a bit lower than among self-publishers - which is currently about 80% rubbish.

Why so high? As indicated, there has been next to no editing involved in the creation of these books (both fiction and nonfiction). For some strange reason, new writers often think they are the next JK Rowling and know everything there is to know about being famous. Yet they know absolutely nothing about being a professional writer and working damn hard to tell not only a good story, but a story that will move someone to say, “Yes, I was glad I purchased that.” It has been said in many forums that places like Amazon are overflowing with poorly edited crap.

Yep, pure unadulterated crap.

What is the cure? Dig into your pockets and pay an editor to get your book to a state of professional quality. The reason traditional publishers actually sell books is because they invest in the books they publish. If you believe in your work, surely you too can invest in yourself. After all, you are asking readers to invest in buying your book.

Robert N. Stephenson’s latest book is Uttuku, available at Kindle here. His work has appeared in many languages and he has received honors such as the Black Dog Award for nonfiction and the Aurealis Award for short science fiction. He teaches writing at several Australia colleges.