30 December, 2012

The Silent Beginning

Another great post from guest author Jayne-Marie Barker.  Check out her website here:  http://www.jaynemariebarker.com/.  She has two books out:  Beneath the Daisies and Distant Shadows, and a third one on the way.  She seems pretty cool to me so I hope you guys enjoy her posts as much as I do.  This one reminds me of something I always (not literally) tell people:  you wouldn't expect Beethoven to write a symphony without first learning to play the piano.
It is easy to write a book… or so they say.  Almost every writer has suffered in silence at one point or another when some kind-meaning reader or enthusiast stands there telling them how lovely it must be to write a novel, and how they are always meaning to start theirs, and how great it’ll be when it’s done.

Whilst writers love to talk to readers it can be a touch irritating hearing how straight forward it must be to write a book, when deep down they know that crafting a novel is pure hard work!  If only the poor unsuspecting public knew how difficult it is to sustain the smile whilst they are being told all this.  Naturally it would be impolite to correct the reader so many writers nod along with a pleasant smile.  It wouldn’t be fair to discourage people anyway, particularly from such a rewarding job.  Yes, it is not easy, but it is well worth the hard work so don’t be put off if you’re one of the millions all planning to pen your first novel next year.

Many writers often appear to come out of nowhere or arrive on the shelves or best sellers list overnight.  In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Like all professions, writers must develop their skills over time and serve their apprenticeship years.  What this usually refers to is the long stretch of time before anything they have written is ever published, but they continue to chip away, perfecting their craft gradually, hopefully learning a few new tricks along the way.  One day an agent or publisher says yes, actually, I will take a chance on you, and the writer immediately leaps into the air in disbelief at having finally jumped the first hurdle.

The beginning of any writer’s career, before their work is published, is obviously unknown to the rest of the world.  It is the silent beginning, when hope is high and ambition strong, when chances seem minuscule and nigh impossible.  It’s the toughest time, so you think, until you take the next step and you find new challenges to contend with.  This is probably true of life in general but we must plough on, if only to find out what happens!
Jayne-Marie Barker

23 December, 2012

Cues from the Characters for the Readers

You all know how I hate tricks, so I'll work hard here to define this one in psychological terms.

Over the past few months I've been ravenously studying the works of Graham Greene and John Steinbeck.  This is for the simple reason that they are awesome.  Greene has to be among the best craftsman in history.  They told me that back as school, so I didn't believe it (I hated school) but it's actually true.  He's phenomenal.

One thing they both do is use "props" for their characters.  By this I mean methods of representing a very strong characteristic.  Each author gives the character a strong motivation, and the motivation is frequently placed into the dialogue and actions, reminding the reader almost constantly who they are.  I'd thought of doing this before, and it had seemed unnatural, but I absolutely love doing it with my characters.

In my forthcoming novel, one of my characters is an emotionally disturbed, swiftly violent anarchist punk with severe anger problems and a bad sense of humour.  He tells jokes mainly for his own benefit and thinks he's hilarious.  It's great fun to think up bad jokes and draw strong distinctions between him and the others.  This is just one example.  I've tried to do similar things with all my characters.

Another thing I've decided upon is using physical props.  Does a character have a favourite necklace?  Does it represent who they are?  Instead of having them take "a deep sigh" or some such generic thing, why not have them twiddle their necklace while they're brooding.  If it's relevant to their character, it'll represent, for the reader, who they are.

You can do the same thing with the setting.   If they're on a snow bank, use the snow.   Have the characters brush snow off of their trousers in ways that evidence their characteristics, et cetera.

A little caveat:  everything must move the narrative forwards, too.  I'm talking about characters expressing themselves in unique ways, here, not leaping out of the story for cheap opportunism.  Another thing about Greene and Steinbeck is that everything, from the character traits to the semi-colons, serves the story impeccably.

All of this seems obvious, but take a look at how Graham Greene does it in The Quiet American, and you'll start noticing how precious few authors actually even bother, let alone pull it off.  You probably do risk being cheesy if you try, but the most rewarding, strongest things you can do for a story, in my experience, are the things of highest risk.  Try it, and if you fail, read some more and try again.

16 December, 2012

Characters, by guest writer Jayne-Marie Barker

Jayne-Marie Barker is the author of two fine novels: Distant Shadows and Beneath the Daisies. It's always great to have a guest post from someone who's clearly proven knowledge of her chops. You can find her website here: http://www.jaynemariebarker.com/. I love her idea at the end, and her overall point is superb. Implication for imagination, I like to say.  See below.

Wm. Luke Everest

How well do you know the characters in the book you’re currently reading?

It’s a question we rarely ask ourselves, but as writers, we must get to know our characters inside out if we want to attain the dizzy heights of fictional bliss.

Building a cast of fictional people in the readers’ minds can be fun and exhilarating but it takes work and dedication.  A character should appear to be a real person, all be it existing purely in a fictional or imaginary sense.  They need to have well-rounded physical appearances, quirky mannerisms to make them unique, faults and talents, accents, and appropriate names.

I find it helpful to create a personal history for each character.  This may or may not feature in the story, but it adds to their personality none the less, and helps me visualise them as real people when spinning the tale.  Just because the writer knows the tiny details about a character doesn’t necessarily mean all those minute points will end up in the novel.

It is an interesting question, whether or not to paint the picture of a character fully.  Do you, for instance, prefer to have a fully described individual down to hair and eye colour, height and additional details about their personality, the way they walk, their favourite colour, the way they react to news etc.  Maybe you prefer a less precise image, their movements likened to the slow crawl of the earth worm or their features chiseled into focus as they strain at the keyhole…. Before any writer can effectively draw a character in the readers mind, they need to understand their roles in the story, and consequently, the length to which that character should stand out from the cast.

So, I ask you, whether you are a reader or a writer, the next time you read a book have a little think about what you know of the main characters, and maybe one or two of the extras.  It could be fun, write down what you know about each character, then look back carefully and work out how much of this was actually given to you in the text, and how much you’ve plucked from your own imagination….  If a large portion is from your imagination then the writer has crafted the character to perfection – they are as you imagine them, fully formed in your own mind.  Job done!
Jayne-Marie Barker

08 December, 2012

Guest Post: M.R. Jordan

Here's guest writer M.R. Jordan sharing some wisdom about life in the public eye.  You may want to check out her contest, too.  She doesn't demand an entry fee, which is rare and refreshing, and she even offers to critique your first page.  Read her full guidelines here:  M.R. Jordan's Winter Writing Contest and Critique

Wm. Luke Everest

After Wm. Luke Everest sent me an email inviting me to write a guest post the first thing I did was check him out via Google. The second thing I did was read his blog. Why did I Google him? Due diligence. Thirty seconds on Google can save you a lot of heartache in the future. Imagine, for example, a stranger emails you for a guest post so you quickly dash off something and send it over. And let's say you're not a writer. Let's say you're a teacher. Well, at some point in the future the guy you wrote a post for ends up on 60 minutes to catch a criminal for soliciting underage girls.

Writers need to do their due diligence in checking out agents, publishers, and even little contests like mine. (The M.R. Jordan Winter Writing Contest and Critique in case you didn't know. It's free. )

Two years ago one of my stories was published without notification. Despite wording on the site that made me suspicious and a requirement to sign up before I could submit, I jumped without looking. I got burned, which at the time seemed like the worst thing that could happen to me. It turned out to be the best lesson I could have learned.

Anyway, don't let ambition get in the way of good judgment. If you're persistent, study writing, study grammar, study editing, and most of all, write, write, write, you'll do fine.

Tip: A writer's best resource for checking out agents and publishers is the absolute write message boards. The most efficient way is to search Google 'Name of Agent/Publisher here' plus 'absolute write.' (Thank you, Victoria Strauss, for all your efforts protecting writers from predators.)

And thank you Luke for letting me use you as a lead in to this topic.

M.R. Jordan

02 December, 2012

A Motivational Caveat

My "Unprofessional Professionalism" post seemed a little silly to me and I've realised why.  It isn't the goofy story or the models.  I like those just fine.  It's that I may have given the wrong impression. 

My point was to focus on the art, not the marketing.  I stand by that.  If you worry too much about what might sell and where, you forget to make good art.  The fact is, you don't need luck in writing.  The market is hungry for quality fiction.  If you also have original ideas, great.  That's all Leslie was saying when she told me to shut up and stop worrying about marketing.

This post is about both practicality and motivation.  Those two themes flow into each other, I believe, and it's why my other post may not have made much sense.  These are the motivations one must nurture in order to have a healthy practical attitude:  understand that if you write as well as Earnest Hemingway your work will sell, without question.  Some authors make millions while writing crap.  Good for them.  I don't want to bank on that anymore than I want to play Russian roulette.

But forget about banking.  My central motivation is to create great fiction, for the simple reason that I love great fiction.  If I can ever afford that Jaguar XR7 I long for (and indeed pay off my student loan) I'll be very pleased, but it's not the purpose of my life.

However, here's the caveat:

Take your work seriously.  Art is joyous.  To me, it's play most of the time, but one thing I've learned about doing what you love full time is that you have to take it seriously.  When I was purely focused on short stories, I found I got more done if I just wrote when I felt inspired.  I wrote faster, better, and I enjoyed life more.

Now, neck deep in a novel, I find regimenting my time more productive.  On weekdays, I make myself write for normal working hours, minimum. Usually, I want to write more. I usually start at 7 or 8 and keep going until my fiance drags me to the living room. Some days, though, I can't wait until 5:30. Some days my brain doesn't want to work at all. If it's a weekday, I remind myself how much I'd rather write my book than flip burgers or push papers.

A book is a monumental task, and daunting when mentally exhausted.  I now have to make myself rest on the weekends.   I've blitzed through fifteen, twenty day stretches before and found myself slowing down until, while it feels like I'm working hard, after writing a scene that would have normally taken me half an hour I look at the clock and two hours have drifted by.  Gusto becomes a waste of time and energy when not properly managed. 

So yes, it's a job.  It just has an artistic objective, one I've dreamed for my whole life: 

"Make good art."

29 November, 2012

Giving Thanks and a Story

Hello everybody!  Here's a somewhat off-topic post.

Let me start by saying I love writing this blog.  At this phase in my career and artistic development, it's helpful and cathartic to put my understanding to text.  The constant quest for perfection (by which I simply mean potency of one's work) is, in my opinion, part of the beauty of art.  I'm learning as I go, and sharing with all of you is a great help to me.  That's my long-winded way of saying:  thanks for reading!  So much for cutting out unnecessary prose...

Now, as my career is progressing, I'd like to post intermittently when something interesting happens.  I'll still keep to my main posts on motivation, narrative technique and practicalities of being an author, once every two weeks, but in the meantime, here's something cool that happened:

I sold a short story to a new market.  They didn't pay much.  A brand new market often doesn't have the funding for a professional payment, but you never know where they'll go, and I like this editor's style.  I also like being the front-man for their first ever issue.  It's an honour and a privilege.

This is incidentally one of the stories that got me an agent.  If you're interested, it's called "Clement's Blessing" and it can be found here:  http://www.robindunn.com/bairn1.html

I hope you enjoy!

Belated best Thanksgiving wishes for Canadians and Americans and anyone who just likes an excuse for a large turkey dinner.

18 November, 2012

Writing Beyond The Page

Guest writer Rachael Oku explains why there’s a lot more to being a good writer than sitting behind a desk.

Being a writer is one of life’s most challenging vocations. I refer to writing as a vocation as if you choose to pursue a career as a writer you have to commit wholly to your craft. Reading and writing should become your life.
Writing can be a lonely and isolating path where you have to trust your instincts and learn as you go. That said, the satisfaction that comes with perfectly capturing what’s in your head and sharing it with others is one of the main motivators.

Knowing when to share your work is crucial. Stephen King famously offered sage advice in On Writing: ‘write with the door closed and edit with the door open’. Some may wish to have input along the way, some will outsource the editing at the end, while others will keep their newest work shrouded in mystery for as long as possible.
A great way to get feedback on your work and to learn from the experiences of others is through networking. It doesn’t really matter what sort; there are book clubs that meet face to face, digital forums offering a wealth of information and niche specific groups.

There’s a lot that can be learned from others who’ve been there and done it before you, or who are going through a similar situation simultaneously. Interacting with your peers is a great way to find solutions and to retain a competitive edge, whilst hopefully finding renewed inspiration along the way.
I myself run a social enterprise that functions as a network and online membership club for freelance writers and editors. Sharing advice, industry tips, news and global job opportunities, Creative-Bloc offers writers the commercial advice and support necessary to succeed in a competitive freelance environment.

It’s a tough time to be a writer and I’ve learned that any resource a writer can find to help them along the way is invaluable. Blogs like Everest by Fog written honestly, writer to writer are like gold dust.
The truth is being a successful writer is no longer just about talent, it’s what comes after the talent. To stand out nowadays writers need to embrace social media, marketing and PR.

It’s safe at home behind your desk, but when the creative part of the process is over you have to possess the confidence to transfer your skills and operate outside your comfort zone in order to propel your writing career forward.

Rachael Oku is a 26-year-old editor, editorial consultant and freelance writer living in London. She founded Creative-Bloc, a social enterprise for freelance writers, in 2012. She is currently working on her first book and encouraging freelancers to ‘think like a business’ via Twitter: @Creative__Bloc.

04 November, 2012

Unprofessional Professionalism

You may have noticed that I recently changed "marketing" in my procession to "practicalities of success".  This is because I've already told you everything I know about marketing.  But since writers like stories, here's a story about being a writer!

"You are not a professional."

"What?  Shut up, Luke," you say.

"No, seriously.  You're not.  Before you punch me in the face, let's just clarify something:  you're an artist.  There's an arts industry, but that's everyone else's job.  Yours is the imagination."

Before lowering your fists, you ask me what the smeg I'm talking about.

"Um... see, the thing is--" I take a quick breath "--your job is just to produce good work.  If you produce fast, that's fine, but good is what you're going for.  'Make good art,' said Neil Gaiman."

"And you began this conversation with an insult?"

"I, uh... am amusingly snide."  You raise one eyebrow.  "I have fans!" I scream.  "But that's not the point.  Look, telling stories is what I'm best at, so let me try this, okay?"

Your eyebrow doesn't move.

"Right.  A story.  Let's see.... When my agent joined me!"

"You have an agent?"  You seem sceptical.

"Yes, and this one time she basically told me to shut up."

You seem less sceptical.

"See, I was yapping about all this marketing stuff.  I was telling her that I had five different ideas for a novel, and I'm equally excited about each one.  They were all different genres!  I want to write in all genres, so I asked her where I should start.  Wouldn't I have more lit-street-cred (that's how the gangsta authors refer to it... I mean, "talk like") if I start with something strait literary?  Sci-fi is taken pretty dang seriously by fans, though, so what if I lose my Science Fiction street-cred?  I was confused."

"And?"  Your eyebrow still hasn't moved.

"And she told me to shut up.  'You're thinking marketing,' she said.  'Think writing.'  Marketing is her job.  She disagreed with my woes and told me to, like Neil Gaiman says, just 'make good art'.  Gaiman even said there came a point where he was professionally answering emails and writing fiction as a hobby, so he stopped answering so many emails.  His speech (see my next post) helped me see the importance of letting myself get excited about things.  It seemed less professional--seemed I'd get less done.  But I got more done, because I wasn't wasting time feeling listless and scolding myself.  Get excited.  Enjoy it.  (Something Stephen King said to Neil Gaiman, there.)  Write whatever excites you at the time, because why you're excited is where your idea comes from.  You'll get inspired.  You'll probably find the stories you're the most excited about (or even worried about, because it's the ones you care about) will be your best ones.  Now, put down your dukes, good sir, or we'll do this the hard way.  Gangsta style."

You grin, turn into a vampyre Buffy style and take a swing.  I laugh as your fist passes through me, incorporeal.

"Your all about the imagination, see?  Like I'm using right now.  We're not really in a girl's dorm at the World University of Modelling.  And it's obvious.  Normally when people swear they don't say 'smeg', and the World University of Modelling doesn't even exist!  Don't hit me!?  Ha!  I made you up in my smegging head, and because I did it when I was excited about it, this post only took me ten minutes!"

I then kick you in the stomach (I stake you too, of course) and you fly through a bedroom wall, from which a dozen girls in the middle of a pillow fight turn gasping in awe of my manly fighting prowess.  The pillow fight continues, but with renewed vivacity and improved purpose.

22 October, 2012

Our First Fog Horn

Characters.  (See "Follow the What!?" for context, here.)

I knew a young author (now best-selling in the UK) who spoke of "what a character wants".  That's a brilliant way to move forwards, but I like to start at the bottom of the ocean.  From there, fill up with oxygen and your body floats up on its own.  It's a question of mentality and I believe it's important, especially as a distinction for beginners to understand.

Every author will have a different method.  You'll have to discover your own, but learning others' can help.  Mine is as follows:

Who is your character?

Where are they?

Why are they there?

From who they are, all else will spring.  What they want becomes an inherent function of this.  Recently, I helped someone see that Hannibal Lecture was human.  This woman was confused by the fact that Hannibal had no motivations that a reader might like.  She thought connections with a character came from liking them, in a way.  I pointed her towards understanding that, first of all, we are made to admire him, which makes us fear elements of ourselves, and second, he's human.  We feel his existence.  He's real.  Whether he acts the pure villain or the self loathing, complicated schyzophrenic, he's real.

An idiot then kept badgering me, telling me that caricatures were fine in fiction.  I'm still not sure how his comment relates to my point, but I think he offers a helpful metaphor here, so I'm glad I met him... I guess.  He said everything is fine so long as it moves the story forwards in a manner satisfying to the reader.   I agreed with him.   He kept repeating himself like a barking dog, only without the purpose of mind.  He was an idiot. 

Instead of barking, he should have looked up "caricature" in a dictionary because what he meant was "archetype".  A caricature is, by definition, a character who lacks any human motivation.  An archetype achieves singular motivation or even singular personality.  The difference is in the word "achieves".  Superman has reasons to be Superman.  Gandalf comes across as a magical archetype to the characters in Lord of the Rings and gradually we understand his complexities as they unfold for the characters we're busy following.  The reality is under the surface.  Good archetypes are people too, is the lesson I'm trying to get across here. 

I must emphasise that I'm not advocating fleshing a character out with a great deal of expository prose.  Good characters don't need expository prose.  In fact, the main thing our idiot missed was that good characters move the story forward by their very nature.

My method is simply to have them real in my mind.  From there, action (pure or not) can define them in the same way that you can, as one human to another, get a sense of another's sentience via observation.  Make them real to you.  Love them.  Hate them.  If they weren't inside of you, you wouldn't be trying to write them down, so let their reality flow. 

Where are they?  This one seems simple, and in an infuriatingly complicated way, it is.  You've invented something.  Now give it context.  That can mean almost anything, and so, like much good advice, it sucks.  Savour the fact that "context" is a vague word.  You've a universe to explore in fiction, here.  Where the character "is", is what story the reader is within.  That can even be purely in the character's head.  There are no rules in art.  There's a universe, just like in people.

Why are they there?  See how that's a question of motivation?  It's both your motivation for writing them down, and it's the character's motivation... for what?  What do they want?  That's one way of looking at this question.  But the answer springs from the other two (and inspires the other two, but only once the ball is rolling).  What they want springs from why they want it.  Otherwise you're letting plot stand in the way of character, when they should facilitate each other.

The deeper you go, the more real your surface will be. 

Now let's go way back to the metaphor about the bottom of the ocean.  Fill your lungs with your whole imagination!  Start as deep as you can with as much breath as you can and let your story boil and rise on its own.  Passion is the key, here.  Love or hate your character, your world, everything.  The more you feel, the more your reader will.  The more real your character is to you, the more your reader will connect.  The point is, here, that it's a wonderful process.  Writing is fun.  That's why you want to do it.  Even the agony is wonderful.  So free your imagination and let it play.

Live with zest and gusto, love and hate, joy and fulfilment.  Savour the depths of the human experience, from the good to the bad, and you just might create something worth savouring.  Now get back to work.

07 October, 2012

The Egg Timer Method

Some writers recommend setting an egg timer to an hour (or half an hour) and making yourself write for this amount of time.  Chuck Palahniuk is a famous example:

The idea is just to force your creative "juices" (brain juice, I guess... or heart, if you're the spiritual type--either way you're gross, and perhaps morbid) flowing.  As Chuck puts it, "If you still hate writing, you're free in an hour.  But usually, by the time that alarm rings, you'll be so involved in your work, enjoying it so much, you'll keep going."

(Quick note for reference purposes:  People have been doing it ever since egg timers existed so far as I know, but Chuck Palahniuk may have been the first to write an essay on the topic.)

It's truly great, and it works for most people.  However, I'd like to take the method one step deeper with some analysis:  why does it work?

Here we get to the meat of those creative juices.  Yum!  Here we delve inside cavities that reach--I'll stop there.  Let's keep it metaphysical without metaphor, shall we?  Why do you love writing after an hour?  Because starting is the hardest part.

Some people respond to a hard line.  Others respond to gentle persuasion.  For the benefit of both parties, I'll write a section aimed at each.

Gentle Persuasion Preferrers:

Writing is your passion.  If you've devoted this time, and more importantly this emotion into writing by now, carry forwards.  Sometimes writing seems hard, but let's reflect on why that is.  I'd bet if you're on this blog you care about the art.  (If you're just curious about me, I'm flattered :))  (Doesn't that always make the smiley face look like he has a double chin?)  Sometimes the things we care about the most are those we invest the most energy into.  Loving takes time, patience and commitment, and all of that is hard work.  When we think about sitting in the chair, especially if we aren't sure what to write, we're often expending more energy than when we are whilst working. Reflect on your love.  Writing is an expression of that emotion.  Starting is hard.

Hard Line Likers:

What would Samuel L. Jackson say?  "**** ******* egg timers!  Get yo' **** *** off the ****ing couch and sit the **** down in front yo' god **** computer and get to mother ****ing work *****!!!!!!"  he'd say, trying to be as polite as he knows how.

The poor socially disabled man....  But he has a point.  What the smeg are you trying to do with your life?  If you want to be a writer, listen to Samuel L. Jackson.  Is you're butt telling you to stay in front of the television?  Kick your butt in the *** and get your *** to the keyboard.

Back to Normal:

Let's stick to my old metaphor about islands and oceans (see "Follow the What!?").  Sometimes, no matter how much you love writing, you're going to think, "Smeg!  Wouldn't it be great just to set down the oars and coast for awhile?"  But you're spending emotional energy while you coast, for the simple reason that you're not getting anywhere.  That's frustrating.  That's exhausting.  Soon, I'll devote a whole post to Ray Bradbury's essay called "The Joy of Writing" in which he talks (writes) about "zen and gusto". 

It's very important for the professional artist to let himself (ladies can be artists, too, but I don't like slashes) enjoy his work.  Again, the reason the egg timer method works is far more important than the method itself.  Sometimes we invest so much hope, love, need (name an emotion) into a thing that the very thought seems exhausting, but the fact is, we make that investment out of love.  Let youself be in love with your work, turn those emotions into release, and get yo' *** in the chair.

Writers write.  My attitude as a teacher is to use any method that helps, but only the reasoning behind a method will help in the long term.  The egg timer is a great method.  Just don't lose sight of why it works.  What you're trying to do ultimately is shift lethargy into gusto.

30 September, 2012

A Trick for Getting Un-Stuck

When I first started posting every first and third Sunday, I meant to post every other week.  But September is a jerk that has three Sundays, so here's a brief extra one.

Recently I was feeling stuck writing my novel.  My ideas for how to move the story forward felt trite.  I plot as I go along, so all I was asking from myself was an extremely rough outline.  So I made one.

I was annoyed at my trite ideas, so I told them off as I wrote them down.  This journey sucks, I said.  This boring straight highway happens, then I'll swerve left at Tritesville and finally we'll wind up here in Idiotsberg.

As I did this, I was letting my imagination flow.  "Zen and gusto," Ray Bradbury used to say.  I was being emotional about my writing, and next thing I knew things didn't look trite at all. 

You see, I was bored with my work.  There's a saying that if you're bored with your own story you can bet the reader will be, too.  But after letting my ideas spill out, I wasn't bored.  I got excited and wound up with an extremely rough outline that I'm happy with--even proud of.

In retrospect, it was actually quite telling that I was angry.  "Zen and gusto."  That means being emotional about your work.  I believe my story deserves to be great, so when it seemed inadequate, I was angry.  I'm sure I'll get angry again and again as I move forwards, and I'll try to remember to savour that feeling, because all it means is I'm trying my hardest.  I'm in love with my story and I hate the thought of it stinking.

It's a simple trick--just writing the ideas regardless of any doubts.  It's letting go, savouring love and hate and finding the floodgates they represent.

16 September, 2012

Marketability Means Marketing Part Three: Network

"Don't waste your talent, boy," said Iain M. Banks.

As you may have by now guessed, Iain's words embody everything I know about marketing.  It's so dang easy to waste your talent for one very good reason:  your job as an artist is to focus on the art.  Simple and true.

Here's the tricky part:  it's a huge world out there.  How will anyone ever know about your work?  In the face of billions, how does your face matter worth a smeg?

Here's the wonderful part:  it's a huge world out there.  There's a publishing industry that exists to find good authors and make their work known to readers.  Plus, you are in the face of billions.

Yes, the rules are changing.  Industry standards may collapse and if they do, old publishers, with their great amounts of money to invest in such matters will either change, or they'll be replaced by new businesses.  Either way, the author's job will be to make good art.  Changing rules doesn't change the fact that there are readers and that people will want to make it their job to get writers' work into the public eye.  And why are the rules changing?  Because you are in the face of billions!

It seems daunting at first.  That's natural.  But the reason we feel lost in such a vast mire is precisely because we live in an age where everyone can communicate with vast numbers of people if they only try.  One thing I've learned to do is mention my blog whenever someone asks me what I do for a living.

I say I'm an author and, to my initial amazement, most people say, "Really?  I've got a friend who's into writing."

I say, "Cool.  I actually write a blog for--" blah blah et cetera.

They go away with my name and blog address on a sheet of paper and I go away thinking there's a chance I'll have another blog fan.  Networking can seem un-artistic, even disingenuous.  I feel like that almost every time I open my mouth about myself professionally.  I even feel weird admitting this stuff to you now.  But the facts are two-fold:

1) It's no different from making new friends.  I am a writer, I enjoy teaching, and I write a blog with the intent of teaching writers.  In saying this I've only answered a question honestly.  Yay me. 

2) It boils down to sharing yourself, and that's all any artist does with their work.  Again, readers want writers.  That's why we exist.  How is letting readers know you exist unprofessional?

These trepidations sound insane when displayed in text.  If you were to put these in an encyclopaedia of stupidity they wouldn't by under "W" for "Writers' Trepidations".  They'd be under "T" for "Top Ten Idiotic Professional Hang-Ups".  I still feel them, though, and I wouldn't be surprised if many new authors feel the same way.

It's a daunting world because it's so huge.  Neil Gaiman makes the analogy of sending bottles out into an ocean.  That's what it can feel like sometimes, but it's an illusion.  It's more like chucking stories folded into paper airplanes at a huge crowd of waiting readers.  If they like your work, they'll want another airplane.  Yes, you must usually get 'past' editors, but they exist because readers usually find good stories via trusted markets, such as book shops and quality fiction magazines.  Think about this fact for a second and you realise that, if you're a good writer, it's every editor's job to discover you. They want writers simply because they want readers.  Remember the rest of what Iain M. Banks said to me?  Let's re-iterate the whole quote:

"Don't waste your talent, boy.  If an editor asks to see your work, send them the best you've got, right away.  Let Mr Hedgecock decide if it's good enough, before he forgets meeting you."  I can't thank Iain enough for saying this to me.  In three sentences he taught me everything I need to know about marketing.

It can feel a strange world to enter.  What my previous two marketing posts, "Don't Agonise" and "Just Spew It", really come down to is the fact that people in the industry actually are interested in serious newcomers.  This is simply because there is an industry.  This post is about why there's an industry, and why therefore you can be a part of it.

In three sentences Iain summed it up.  Make good art.  Let others see it.  Let the world decide.

Don't agonise.  Just spew it.  Network.

In my blog description, I've changed "marketing" to "practicalities of success".  This is a far broader topic in which I think falls a great deal more advice.  For marketing, the answers are simple and I'd be willing to bet you already own the necessary printer, email access, deodorant and money for travel expenses.  Don't be afraid to visit conventions. That's how I met Iain M. Banks.  Just make sure you wear deodorant and pay for parking, or your train/bus ticket.

03 September, 2012

Follow the What!?

"The reader follows the character, not the story," wrote Scott Bradfield.

As this quote exemplifies, the thing about most good writing advice is that it sucks.

It's like a fog horn.  You're lost, drifting alone, blinded by doubts as well as hope.  You hear some distant calling.  You face the general direction.  Eventually if you persevere it becomes a distant light.  You're not sure.  It could be the moon.  Perhaps you'll just circle your lonely planet, wind up where you started.  But you persevere anyway.  Then it becomes blinding, and your eyes adjust and you can see, and then you realise this glimmer you've captured only helps make obvious further darkness, farther down the ocean.  And then you begin all over again.

When Scott said this to me I was confused, pleased, and I was certain that it had instantly raised my level of understanding.  Then I tried to write, and realised that it hadn't helped a smeg.  I'd only heard the fog horn.  It was years before I'd found the light and I'm now in every artists eternal struggle with using such knowledge:  the struggle with craft for perfection.

The ideal of a writer is to reach readers.  I'll re-iterate this point a million times (that's not a numerical promise--see End User Licence agreement 1.3:  smeg smeg bollocks et cetera).  Again, as with most advice, it seems obvious but it's vital to ponder about.  Imagine each story is a crystal ball.  Most are all cloudy and convoluted.  Ideas certainly tend to start that way.  But the reader wants a story.  They've picked up your ball and stared into it.  The clarity with which they see your magic is the quality of your story.

Now, you're going to hear many terms that separate a story into its elements, and these are important to understand, and mostly so because you don't want to lose sight of the ultimate unity of a story for incomplete understanding of what its components are for--forest for the trees and such.

I'll write a post on each element alone to discuss each in greater depth, but for now I'll make an overview to illustrate a point.  Most writers and editors will differentiate four story elements:  plot, character, setting, theme.  That's also what you'll hear a million (not an actual million, see above disclaimer) times on your way to meeting your first good writer.  Now, it's true in a sense, but the trouble is, if you think too hard about it you'll get confused because it's so infuriatingly incomplete.  The (good) writers who make this differentiation have a holistic understanding of these elements.

So, plot:  The aforementioned bad teachers will define this is the "action" of your story.  They're wrong, but only because they don't know what "action" means.  It isn't a story's happenstance.  It's about what happens.  Many writers will talk about a story's "arc".  They don't mean, as how-to journals will tell you, that a story has a "hook", a "climax" and an "end".  Those terms are misleading.  Rather, something compelling happens and this is carried forward to a satisfying conclusion.  See the difference?  (We'll return to this distinction many times.  Everything in a good story is action of a type, and this is very confusing.  For now, let's just focus on the difference between these two ideologies.)  In the latter, the focus is on the reader, not the words; an ultimate goal, not component elements.  Good writing isn't decoding an idea, it's making the idea evocative for readers.  Too much focus on components and we can forget their purpose. 

Character:  Who is in your story?  Why are they there?  See how these questions apply equally to every story element?  This has been discussed in "Readers and Characters".  Some will tell you that characters are a story's people, but since not all stories have people, this must be bollocks.  Characters are a story's personalities.  It is those personalities, those human connections, through which the reader will experience the story.

Setting:  Where are we?  Sometimes where a story takes place will be more important than other times, some will tell you, but sadly, this is also bollocks.  A setting will always influence the mood of a piece and its characters (intrinsically as one).  There aren't degrees of importance in art, only quality of execution.  However, in some stories the setting will be more integral for the overall purpose, and if that's true, a setting isn't just where a story takes place.  It's the mood of your piece.  It's possible for the story's atmosphere be the chief opponent of our main character.  Just look at Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Theme:  Here's a tricky one.  When something looks simple in art, you can bet it's one of the more difficult things to understand.  Often a thing's simplicity means simply that there are no guidelines.  Theme means your story's "idea", right?  Wrong.  "Idea" can mean anything from a cat shaped door-mat that stirred your imagination to the general premise that people should be nicer to each other.  Not every story has a theme, and not every story wants one.  It isn't the "purpose", because that's to impact upon the reader.  It isn't the "moral", because some of the deepest themes don't attempt to define right and wrong.  You might ask a writer, "What's it about?" and receive for reply, "A dog/cat hybrid named Lassfield!"  Then you ask, "Okay, but what's it about?" and receive a blank stare.  A theme is a story's idea about the universe.  I avoid saying it's about "life", here, because it need not even be about that.  I must say "universe" simply to be all-encompassing, and I think that illustrates just how encompassing the notion of "theme" really is.

Now, let's go waaaaaaaaaay back to our metaphor about the crystal ball.  We've just taken the ball and smashed it on the floor.  Thankfully, I haven't mislabelled the shards, but the rest is still up to you:  figure out how to stick it all back together again.  It may seem impossible, but the list of authors who can do it is long, and it's the most definite, least luck dependent way to become successful.  I'll make a post on each element individually to discuss them in greater depth, but you should always refer back to this post.  The point here is that they're all shards of the same ball.  You should never, in creating a story, keep them separate.  Even to say they "support each other" fails to define their nature.  In essence, they are one.  As with most advice, this last bit sucks.  It doesn't mean anything right away.  But it does help.  It's a fog horn.  Keep your ears open to it, acutely as you learn.

28 August, 2012

Demotivational Encouragement

"Twenty-four," said Scott Bradfield, and he laughed.  He and Steve Erickson, author of Zeroville among many others, were giving a seminar on short fiction.  Someone had asked how many stories one would normally have to write before creating a publishable one.  "Twenty-four stories."  Steve laughed, too.  "Sorry," said Scott.  "That is actually a saying among some authors, but it's complete bull.  You'll write however much you need to write."

In some ways, just like Karen Blixen's quote ("Write every day, without hope and without despair.") this sums up everything you need to know as an aspirant.  This is how you will learn to write:  through practise.  That's the biggest reason why how-to journals and suchlike are smeg.  I'll add some further words to Scott's, though, "...or you'll give up."

The point is, you're going to need to write a great deal, and this post is about reminding you of the path up the mountain.

For those of you who gaze into that invisible distance and say, "Cool," then good for you.  In fact, I've never met an author who didn't say that, back when they were aspirants.  It's the less obvious reason that professional artists are dreamers.  It doesn't mean letting everything else in your life go.  It just means fighting for this, now (see "To Will and to Be").  Sometimes that does mean letting things go, as we've discussed in previous posts, but it ultimately means deciding how badly you want a thing.

I'll ask a little trust, here.  Take this post to heart.  Feel the hardship ahead and savour it.  Know it will be a long road, that your first novel almost certainly won't get published, that editors will reject your work and you won't know why.  Know that every author in history has faced these exact same difficulties, and they aren't better than you.  They've just been doing this longer.  Know that you'll succeed eventually if you keep hiking. 

I'll end with a long quote from Thomas H. Uzzell's classic, Narrative Technique:  A Practical Course in Literary Psychology, published in 1923 and revised in 1934.

"The average beginner may well expect to write a million words before he will have noticeable facility in style ...

"The more detailed information I get as to the things successful writers actually do (as distinguished from the things that are often written and believed about them) and compare it with the actual deeds of young writers, the more I am convinced that the thing to be envied in the successful writer is not so much his 'genius' or even his 'personality', as it is his willingness to write for the sake of writing in his years of apprenticeship.  The painter spends years at his drawing, the pianist a like amount of time at his scales, but he writer too often thinks he has adopted an art without these laborious preliminaries.  Not so.  You can no more write good stories without playing literary scales than you can execute a Brahms concerto on the piano without your years at the keyboard."

21 August, 2012

Marketability Means Marketing, Part Two: Just Spew It

"Don't waste your talent, boy," said Iain M. Banks.

I reiterate this quote due to its importance. I'll also reiterate, here, the fact that I remember Iain as roughly eight feet tall.

I'm 6'3", in my prime and a mixed martial artist. I'm not exactly tiny or scrawny by sci-fi geek standards, but I remember Iain standing over me like Jabba versus Bilbo. (That would make an awesome comic book.)

Here's another seemingly random fact: I love reading.

People in the industry seem like giants to me, and I find it amusing that it actually gets a physical representation in my memory. You might ask yourself how a hero-worshiping nerd like me could get into the industry, and this would be a very relevant question.

You see, I had written on my own for a long time, comparing my work to only the best, which is always very important, but that's all I did. I'd read Bob Shaw, Ray Bradbury, Guy de Maupassant, and strive to make my stories as good, and since they weren't as good (and still aren't) I didn't submit them anywhere.

Finally, in a fit of despair, I allowed a friend to send two unpublished short stories to one of the biggest agents in the world. "The worst that can happen," I thought, "is she'll not reply, which leaves my inbox looking exactly the same as before." I only had hope in the self-destructive sense, occasionally imagining her wanting me and weeping tears of joy, knowing that what would really happen is I'd be crushed, regardless how often I told myself that it wouldn't matter.

Leslie Gardner got back to me with some advice on how to make my stories better. She didn't mention anything about wanting me for a client. I despaired. I was out with my brother at the time, and we had a long conversation in which he basically told me that I should email her before she'd forget my name. I kept despairing. My gal told me that Leslie obviously did think something of me or else she wouldn't have bothered offering advice. "She didn't think enough to offer more than that," I insisted, "and that's the point."

In a final fit of despair, having nothing to lose, I sent Leslie a fairly long email in which I thanked her for the advice and said I'd kind of, "in the back of my bouncy, aspirant brain," I said, hoped that she'd be my agent.

She got back to me and said, "Sure, I'd love to work with you."

WHAT!?!!?!?!?!!?!??!?!?!?!?!?! I'm now represented by the same gal who represented one of my favourite authors of all time.

The theme of our little story is that we shouldn't let ourselves get so focussed on the mountain top that we forget the path. Good things don't come to those who wait. That's loser talk. Good things come to those who stop waiting and start trying. I was doing it completely wrong. Had I not decided to change my method in a fit of self-destruction, I'd still lack professional prospects. Your author heroes aren't bigger or better than you, and you shouldn't be afraid to attempt joining their ranks. If you're good, they want you there (see Marketability Means Marketing Part One: Don't Agonise). What I learned from all this is exactly what to do, because it's the exact opposite of what I had been doing.

So, what's the opposite of living in your own head? Getting out into the world.

What's the opposite of not showing your work to anyone? Showing it to everyone!

What's the opposite of being timid? Being brave. I was always being brave in the financial sense and in that I was willing to sacrifice anything. But what's the opposite of living in your own head? What's the opposite of living within what you tell yourself? Telling others, so send your work out there for others to read.

All you can do is the best you can, so write your stories and let the world decide.

11 August, 2012

Readers and Characters

"The reader follows the character, not the story," said Scott Bradfield.

This was scrawled in red ink at the top of my title page.  I had a billion questions and I was nervous of bombarding the man as he probably had a novel to write.  The problem was, the statement doesn't make any sense until you already understand it--the key problem with all good writing advice.

Fortunately, elaboration on such statements is what this blog is all about.

Let's break the statement down into its component elements.  We all know what "the reader" is, so let's move onto "follows"--a question of what the reader does.  We take an idea and we offer it, and this moves forward to a conclusion, right?  Talk about deceptively simple!  But keep it in mind as you learn, too.  It's something we'll return to further down the road.  You'll notice that stories swiftly inform the reader of the premise and carry that forwards.

But for our purposes here, let's stick to our premise.  Originally I'd thought Scott was just telling me that the "character" is what the reader thought he (for the purpose of brevity, I'll just say "he" instead of "s/he" and so forth--hope I don't offend anyone) was following in the grand illusion of a story.  Looking back, I can already see the basic principle that held me from the truth:  a story is not an illusion.  Quite the opposite, a story attempts to paint truth from simplicity.

The reader is moved by character, not idea, is what Scott was saying.  The reader is trying to follow a thread of emotion, a connection with the story's events, and that connection is far beyond the story's plot, character, setting or anything else.  (Three weeks from now I'll post one called "Follow the What!?" which will be of help on this point.)  "Don't break things into component parts," Scott could have just as easily said.  "Stop thinking in terms of trying to force something down the reader's neck and just let the reader experience."

Scott wasn't even saying that the reader follows human beings.  A good story can even lack human beings altogether, but since the reader is a human being, emotion and effect will always be derived from the reader's human connection to all of your story's elements.  This means that, in effect, Scott was telling me that everything in a story is a character--everything from the setting to the actual characters, and thus everything should exist in relation to each other, because it is those relationships that the reader follows.  They won't care what happens in your story until they have some reason to connect with it, and generating that connection is what you should focus on in producing your work. 

The point?  Art is human.  Everyone from Dan Brown to Van Gogh understands/understood this.  Next time you read a story, try to see how everything relates to the reader.  This sounds self evident, but it's really quite a helpful exercise and within it lies mastery of the craft.  I'm not a master yet, but that's only because my story elements don't relate to the reader as strongly as the great masters managed.

(See "Follow the What!?" in three weeks to understand what is meant by "story elements".)

03 August, 2012

"Write Every Day" Part Two, "Without Hope and Without Despair"

"Write a little every day, without hope and without despair," wrote Karen Blixen.

I still think the amendment mentioned two posts ago is important, so let's quickly qualify:  ("...a little...," wrote Karen Blixen)--smeg that.  Write all you want.  Ms Blixen was just using those words to make the process sound gentle and easy, and it's a great quote.  I and a vast community of authors owe her respect and a debt of gratitude. 

The thing is, it isn't gentle or easy.  You might have a job, a family, an abusive partner, a heroin addiction, whatever.  You might want the dream so much that it hurts to think about what you could have, should have been.  Maybe you're just afraid of trying and failing.

For the people who let other obligations (or drug addictions) get in the way, the answer is simple:  don't.  If you're serious, why are you letting other things get in your way?  I'm not saying it's easy.  Starting is the hardest part, but fortunately your answer remains simple:  start.

For the rest of you, it's complex.  Wanting something badly enough to get off your duff and start is Step One.  If you truly put your all into the fight, then you just might even make it, but it won't be an easy road.  There will be times you fail, times you succeed, and both of them can lead to hurt, and hurt slows you down.

When Scott Bradfield first quoted Karen Blixen to me, I didn't agree.  It's important, I still believe, to let yourself be emotional when trying to be creative.   Emotion fuels creativity, deepens your connection with others (the perceiver as well as those who inspire you) which is vital for any art, and it's part of writing with your whole self.  

I took years to understand what Karen Blixen meant by those final words:  the wrong kind of hope only leads to despair.   It is destructive emotionally and counterproductive professionally to place all your self-worth on every story you finish or submit to a magazine.  It's far better to channel that  energy.  Wanting something badly enough to cry tears of joy every time you make a step towards your goal is great, but hope must be channelled into those steps, and what was despair becomes only a sense of responsibility, a reminder to truly strive your hardest.  

This is a tough spiritual exercise, but like most good writing advice, it boils down into a simple principle:  work with heart and mind.  Beginning is the hardest part.  Have you already begun?  Good.  Keep working and don't let anything, including yourself, get in your way.

30 July, 2012

Marketability Means Marketing, Part One: Don't Agonise

"Don't waste your talent," said Ian M. Banks.

As this is a blog for writers, let's begin with a story.  Starting from the beginning with our third topic, marketability, means making a simple point about being forthright, and I was fortunate to learn firsthand via a perfect illustration.

We'll begin with a setting:  Alt.Fiction, 2011. I'm sitting on a red chair only slightly nicer than those at the cinema, watching a well lit, dignified stage upon which some awesome writers and editors are making speeches and receiving awards.  After the ceremonies, I move to the bar, find myself next to a dude in glasses who asks if I've enjoyed the show.

"As an aspirant myself I've got to say, it's awesome to see so many great writers all in one place.  It's like seeing a future home from the outside," I said.

"Oh?" he replied.  "Like to write, do you?"

I told him about the MA, the MFA, Scott Bradfield and Paul McAuley and a few minor publications.  Next thing I knew this guy introduces himself as Ian Sales, editor, critic and writer.  He paid for my beer and brought me backstage.  I followed, dazed, wondering if this was a cruel joke or something.  I soon found myself surrounded by dozens of my favourite authors all in the same room!  And the really amazing part?  They all wanted to talk to me!

I was introduced to Ian M. Banks (for cryin' out loud!).  He shook my hand (I recall the man as a giant, though it may just be that I was feeling the size of a peanut) and asked how my work was going.  I told him I'd met Andrew Hedgecock at the Manchester Book Fair a month or so ago, and upon learning who I'd apprenticed under, he'd asked to see my work.

"Have you sent your story, yet?"

"I've been writing lots of stories," I said.  "I don't think they're ready, yet."

Ian stood up even higher, gave me a long critical stare.  "Don't waste your talent, boy.  If an editor asks to see your work, send them the best you've got, right away.  Let Mr Hedgecock decide if it's good enough, before he forgets meeting you."

I skipped away from this little conversation, bouncy-beans bursting in my brain like so:  "Ian Banks just implied that he thinks there's a chance I might be talented!!!!!!!"

So what's the point?  Don't agonise.  You should still re-draft your work.  Paul McAuley and Ian Banks would get their first drafts rejected, too.  (Paul actually said this to me in person.)  But don't agonise!  Once it's as good as you know how to make it, get it's a*s off the computer screen and into an email and/or letter box.  I actually received a prompt rejection from Andrew Hedgecock, but that's beside the point.  In truth, though I didn't realise this at the time, I'm almost certain he thought it very unlikely that he would publish my first submission.  In all likelihood, upon hearing that Scott and Paul thought I was worth investing some time and energy into, Mr Hedgecock just wanted to see my work for himself.

Try this exercise:  make a list markets.  This is time consuming and annoying, but it's worth the investment. First, pitch the ball to the highest mountain top.  Don't be discouraged if top markets reject your work.  Instead be proud to have competed for space with those authors you admire.  Even the best sometimes get their work rejected from those places.  Upon rejection take a brief, objective look.  (See next week's lesson:  "Write Every Day, Part Two:  Without Hope and Without Despair".)  Can you make it better?  Yes?  No?  Once your answer is "no", shove it in the letter box that same day to a slightly lesser market--so on, so forth.

Here's the best place in the world to look up markets: https://duotrope.com/.  It's clean, professional, free, you don't need to sign up to search, and every market worth their chops will advertise there.  It is the Google of the publishing industry. I've placed a link on my "Useful Sites" section (bottom right), too.

The point?  No one's going to send your work out for you until you have an agent, and no agent's going to want you until you send some work out.  So, if you're in the same position as I was, it's time to send some work out.

18 July, 2012

"Write Every Day"

Last week's post was on motivation, and this might seem like more of the same, but it isn't.  It's too important to find a place in our little cycle, so I must simply stick it here at the beginning:  this message pertains vitally to all three elements of writing.

On my first seminar on the MA, I sat with fellow students around three of the four large desks that made a square.  The walls were blank, everything smelled of carpet freshener, and the whiteboard was blank.  I eagerly awaited Scott Bradfield.  I'd already read his most famous novel, The History of Luminous Motion, and it blew me away, and this was the first time I'd see the man up close.

He burst into the room, seeming quite annoyed at having to take this hour away from his keyboard and his next novel. He turned his back on the class, grabbed the black pen under the whiteboard and scrawled: "Write a little every day, without hope and without despair." He turned back to us, sat and placed his wrists on the table. "I'm quoting Karen Blixen, here," he said. "If there's one piece of writing advice you need to take with you, this is it. If there's one sentence into which all writing advice boils down, this is it."

He stared at each of us in turn--that honest, emphatic stare he always gives. I was both glad and confused, because I'd been writing every day for years. So I'd been doing the right thing, but it hadn't gotten me anywhere yet.

I said, genuinely wondering regardless of how it might sound, "What if I want to write a lot every day?"

Scott turned to the whiteboard, one hand on his chin, stood up and began erasing the first half, "I've used this quote for years, but I think I'll change it. Okay." He turned back. "Write every day, without hope and without despair."

I mainly left that seminar full of beans because I'd changed the favoured paraphrase of a master of the craft. Me! I was special! Perhaps I'd make it after all! And I got back to writing every day. The reason I include this annecdote is to make clear:  write as much as you want.  It's actually a good skill to be able to write when you're fed up.  You'll probably have to from time to time if you become a professional.

To this day whenever I speak with Scott the conversation ends with him saying, "Keep on writing and reading and you'll get it."

The point? Writing is something you have to figure out for yourself. There's much good advice to help along the way (and far more terrible advice) but ultimately, you've got to figure this out. This is art, not math. There are no formulas here, only broad, human concepts.  I'll help point you in the right direction, and we'll return to this theme many times. This really is the most important writing advice you will ever hear or read.

08 July, 2012

Another Win for Paul McAuley

Paul McAuley, one of two amazing men who taught me during my MFA, just won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.  It's for a brilliant short story called "The Choice", which is the cover story of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine's February 2011 issue.  Paul's a terrific writer who deserves every accolade around.  I still think his "Rocket Boy" is the best smegging "Little Tailor" story ever, including "The Little Tailor" by Charles Dickens. 

Rocket boy can be read for free here:  http://www.omegacom.demon.co.uk/rocket.htm, and "The Choice" is available in all the Year's Best SF 2012 anthologies that I'm aware of.  Here's a great one:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Years-Best-Science-Fiction/dp/1250003555/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341254642&sr=1-1&keywords=dozois.

Every time I see Paul's success, I'm reminded of how lucky I was to apprentice under him.  Over three months I learned a tremendous amount, and I've carried his advice with me, gradually further comprehending the depth of meaning within even the smallest pieces, every time I write.

Congratulations, Paul, and, as always, best of luck from here!

20 June, 2012

Spiritual Zoology

There are four great proofs of spirit in my opinion: 1) Looking into a baby's eyes and seeing such vital personality there before any accumulation of experience, 2) Looking into an animal's eyes and seeing pure love, 3) If mere words on a page can connect with so many others, sentience must mean something, and 4) The fact that I've experienced being tired spiritually after too much work without play. That said, the former two proofs are, in essence I believe, far more important.

I got half-way through writing this mini-speech when I realised that everything in life is proof of spirit! Why would love exist if mere biological programming? It would obviously be inefficient. Why would we dream? Why would we have dreams to chase? Why passion for things other than the biological (to put it in gentlemanly fashion...)? Now if you'll excuse me, I must be getting upstairs as I told my fiancé I'd only be down in my office for five minutes and it's now been thirty! Why does time move so much slower when I'm tired!? (And there's one with an obvious, bio/neurological answer for ya'.)

12 June, 2012

Ray Bradbury has passed on (the author of Fahrenheit 451, among other classics).  His work has enriched the world, and he deserves to live on in memory, human to human and heart to heart just as his messages protest, for generations.  He is (and forever will be) the kind of science fiction writer who reminds us that to write of the future is to write about the present.

You can follow this link to learn more:  http://ttapress.com/1327/ray-bradbury-rip/0/4/

31 May, 2012

Readers of the Future Now

Scott Bradfield, a friend and mentor, once said to me that he hates "every book ever written on how to write."

At the time I found this disturbing, but ever since I acquired a sense for a story's overall form, I've begun to see what Scott meant. Hate is a strong word, and I find many of Robert Silverberg's and Thomas H. Uzzell's essays and books fascinating, but I do find myself arguing with what I read far more.

It really is something one, ultimately at least, must figure out for oneself. I require a human approach.  In my stories, I want to use subtlety and direct narrative to make my readers want to imagine the setting, the character's humanity and the action's vividness.  Insinuation for imagination, I like to say.

How well I accomplish this isn't for me to decide. It's for the readers. All any artist can do is offer his or her conception of the truth, and all I can promise whilst writing is my mind and heart on the humanity of a thing. We are, after all, writing for the readers.

From now on, I'll post where and when my stories publish.  I can't acquire readers without writing.  And I can't write without thinking of you.

Thanks for reading!

Wm. Luke Everest