Monday, May 2, 2016
Sunday, May 1, 2016
So why was I running away from blogging about books on writing? You’ll probably think this is an oxymoron, but I don’t read books on writing. I can see your faces right now all distorted with disbelief. A writer who doesn’t read books on writing? How does she improve her craft? That’s a fair question, to which I respond, “I learn on the job.”
“Huh?!” you ask. I can see the blank looks on your face. Let me give you an example. I had been writing poetry and short stories for many years. When I entered graduate school I was faced with the task of writing my research for publication. Of course having written fiction I delved into long flowery prose. My professor looked at me and asked, “What the hell is this, a mystery novel?” He then said, “Cut out everything five prime of the verb.” (He was a geneticist so in laymen’s term, remove every clause in front of the verb.) As we proceeded with the editing he advised me to “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell what you told them.” From that I learned that technical writing is very different from fiction. It is succinct, to the point and information driven rather than prose driven. In fiction we build suspense and steer the reader in a certain direction, in technical writing we just tell you the facts and how we perceive them; you can interpret them how you want.
In writing fiction, I was just loosely aware of POV and the importance of telling the story from a particular point of view. I would write like I was the omniscient God knowing what every character is thinking, feeling, and doing at all times. When my first book got accepted for publication I was assigned a wonderful editor: Monica Harris. In her first edits I would see little notes saying, “pov”. So I called her up, and we spent a few hours on the phone, both her and my kids screaming in the background, discussing points of view and the importance of not switching pov in the middle of a story. I again learned some important lessons on writing and I learned them on the job.
After years of writing romance I decided to dabble in children’s literature. Was I in for a surprise! As great as I thought my writing was, when I gave the manuscript to a focus group of kids to read, they could not get through it. So it was back to the drawing board, editing it to death. Children’s book author and publisher and former novelnaught, Carol Mitchell helped me make it readable for kids. And of course my co-author and a child herself, Lynelle Martin, ripped it apart and made me take out every big word, rephrase every rigorous sentence, and remove everything too “sciencey” for kids to understand. Several things I learned about writing fiction for children include letting the protagonists be slightly older than the target age of the readers and making sure that they solve their own dilemmas. Again I learned on the job.
I haven’t read any books on writing recently, yet I am constantly working on developing my craft through practice, through suggestions from editors, through reading blogs, articles and of course other novels by various authors. So my favorite book on writing isn’t a book after all. It is experience, and that you can only get by leaning on the job.
Saturday, April 30, 2016
by Velda Brotherton
Friday, April 22, 2016
Since my first novel was published in 2008 there has been nothing but turmoil and upheaval in the industry. I'm tired to the bone of it all. I've come full circle and I'm back to the basics: my love of reading and my love of writing. Reading has been the mainstay of my life, my escape, my therapy, my delight, my muse, my great teacher. And writing? I no longer fuss about what I 'should' be doing. I do what I want, zipping back and forth between genres, between novel and novella and short story, between editing and formatting my own work and doing the same for other writers.
Late last year I discovered the pleasure of writing in a totally new, fun historical niche (new to me as a writer, not a reader) when a short story turned into a novel which I serialized and which now outsells my twenty-something other indie titles. I'm now reading up on the history because I'm about to start another series set in the same period. Plus, I'm back at school and one year into a graduate programme. The taught courses are behind me (or will be when I turn in the last paper on Friday) and then the real work begins for the vivas and thesis that will absorb much of the next two years. I see a lot of juggling in my immediate future: school-related research and writing, fiction writing and publishing, editing jobs.... I've also been invited by one of my lecturers to tutor her UG courses. I have to make time to enjoy my two awesome grandkids...and to do this every now and then:
|Me just chilling on Maracas Beach, Dec. 2015|
Sunday, April 17, 2016
After sifting through who knows how many submissions, the editors at Pocket Books selected ten stories to be published in the forthcoming anthology. As fate would have it, I knew two of the winners. They’d each won berths in previous editions of the anthology, but hadn’t rendered themselves ineligible to enter this new version of the contest.
It was exciting to see the contest revived, and to see a new crop of winners announced. When the first version of the contest was originally was conceived back in 1997, there was nothing else like Strange New Worlds. It was the only writing contest for a licensed property where the entrants had an opportunity to be make a professional short story sale. That version of the contest ran for ten years, granting the wishes of dozens of hopeful Star Trek fans and even launching several writing careers.
One of those beneficiaries is the guy whose blog entry you’re reading right now. I sold stories to Pocket Books for each of the competition’s first three years, after which I was no longer eligible to enter future contests. Now I write Star Trek novels on a pretty regular basis, so all those teachers who mocked me for reading Star Trek novels during my free time in school? Nyah, nyah, nyah.
That didn’t mean I stopped paying attention, though. I followed along each year as the anthology’s editor, veteran writer Dean Wesley Smith, offered updates. I was one of the program’s biggest cheerleaders, encouraging people to send in their own Star Trek stories, and I celebrated along with everyone else when each year’s new group of winners was announced. I made several friends thanks to the contest, and we keep in touch to this day.
Everything I’ve accomplished as a professional writer links back to that first contest sale. When it was announced that there would be no more contests, I was as sad as anyone to see it go. Strange New Worlds was a wonderful way for fans to get in on the fun of playing in the Star Trek sandbox, so I was thrilled when I heard last fall that the contest was being revived just in time for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary in 2016.
So, here we are, nearly two decades since that first competition, and I feel a little like Father Time watching as Baby New Year takes the stage. The contest is back, and we have a “next generation” of Strange New Worlds winners. Are any of the ten people who sold a story taking their first steps toward their own writing career? Could be. Maybe one or two of them will even sell a Star Trek novel to Pocket, one day. Weirder things have happened, you know.
(You can’t see me, but right now I’m pointing my thumbs at myself.)
Personally, I’m rooting for all ten of them.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Monday, April 11, 2016
When my wife, Earlene, said this to one of the security people, he was horrified.
"You can't do that."
"Of course we can," she replied.
He smoldered for a minute. "It's against the law. What are you going to do? Eat it?"
"Don't be ridiculous. We're just going to go looking for them. Take a few pictures. We're not going to catch them."
And so we were off. This is actually a frequent journey for Earlene. She wanders along the River Caule trying to see how many of the illusive creatures she can spot. This particular day, we were lucky. We found five iguanas on the ground. Even I can spot those. But in the trees, it is a much more difficult task. They have natural camouflage, except for their long - often striped - tail.
My eyesight is as good as Earlene's. Still, she will spot iguanas much faster and more often than I will. I'm best at picking them out when she points to them.
To some extent, particularly if you have a writer's mindset, hunting iguanas is much like proofreading your manuscript. The out and out mistakes are like the large, orange iguanas - reasonably easy to spot. Oh, you can miss the big, bright iguanas, and you can miss the misspellings, the incorrect grammar, the missing quotation mark. But these are easier to spot.
Many of the young iguanas are green and others are brown. I can look at the tree, the natural habitat for iguanas, and not find a single one. Earlene can walk up and within minutes point out four iguanas. Once she does, I see them also. These are like the more crafty error in a manuscript. The untrained eye will look right at these subtle mistakes and not see them. Once an error is pointed out, it seems obvious. "Of course that's an iguana," I say. "There's his long, striped tail lying along the branch." Or, "Okay, I see it. That is a POV switch."
An author not trained in proofreading will overlook many errors that, once they are pointed out to him, are obvious. "How could I have missed that," he yells.
After many iguana hunts with Earlene, I now can find those shy iguanas. I may pick them out before Earlene sees them. My eyes have been conditioned, trained to pick iguanas out of the foliage. And the writer can learn to be a better proofreader, particularly if he has some guidance, or he studies the comments an experienced proofer leaves for him. It takes practice, work, concentration, and freedom from distractions. But those devious errors, or weak spots, will become as easily identifiable as the sly iguana.
Go on an error hunt, and take a guide along if you can. And understand while practice may not make perfect, it will make things better.
James R. Callan