Tag Archives: writing

Writing Through The Dark Times

By Robin D. Owens.

I reached the end of a book in a long series I love and found a note that the series, which the author had anticipated writing for years, had abruptly ended. She’d had a major upheaval in her life and couldn’t overcome her new circumstances to reach back into the core happiness and central theme of that series and continue.

This is an epublished author and series and she designs her career. Of course, I empathized, and I’m deeply sorry that she’s going through this, and I will darn well miss that series.

I know she’s crafting a new life, but I think she is making a career mistake.

I’ve seen the promo for the new series she’s writing under another name and I don’t think the majority of her readers will follow her to it. Or if they do, the first book will have to be so EXTRAORDINARY, the characters so completely engaging that she’ll pull her readers along, and that’s a tough job. And I think her new genre is too niche to attract more than a few new readers.

Now I know something about the above. I know about writing a niche series. I know about readers following you (or not) to other series. I know about being the sole support of yourself and your family with your writing. I know about a train wreck happening in your life that changes it into a shape you’d barely imagined.

For me, in 2010, I hung onto my series (and I do write lighter, more humorous stories and that was a concern) and added a collection of stories to what I’d already contracted for.

And there is the big difference. I was contracted for more books in the two series I was writing at the time. I didn’t have the luxury of walking away from them without paying back money that was mostly spent and thrashing around in legal complications.

I had to reach into myself and still pull up what I needed to continue those books, and hope that what I found inside would be sufficiently close to what my readers expected.

I’m sure if someone really analyzed my writing before and after April 2010, you’d see it’s changed, perhaps gotten an edge here or there it didn’t have. But one of my series, the Celta “Heart” books (all the stories have “Heart” in the title) is still continuing. The other series, Mystic Circle for Luna did not, but due more to the publisher and the changing face of publishing than my personal angst.

If I presumed to give advice to this writer (who I believe is much more successful than me), I’d tell her: fake it until you make it. Or perhaps that’s not quite an exact a phrase: wring out what you can minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and string it into a story.

Yes, writing is an emotional experience, based on inner feelings. But writing is also technique, and writers CAN be professional and carry on, especially if you have no choice.

Like I said before, you find that spot, that core of you that you reveal in bits through every story and you hang on tight to that and go there and mine it.

You also do exactly what you do during the darkISH times – the tough times we all have learned to write through. You use those processes you already have in place that work for you such as journaling (Morning Pages for those of you who follow Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), venting to friends, afternoons away (Artist Dates), rearranging your office or going to somewhere else to write. You use everything to keep on track.

You also depend on your beta readers and critique group to see if the technique and the emotion you can put in will carry you through as you limp, then return to your stride.

With this particular writer, I think that she will find she has to go back to her previous series, first because it is a money maker, then because she loves/loved it too, and she can. And I think she will try shorter pieces first with enough of the emotional resonance of her first series until she can return. Her writing may be different, but perhaps not as much as she anticipates. Time helps.

Now, that’s emotional darkness. What about LITERAL darkness? In these short days of winter light, writing can be a problem. I know it is for me. As I learned through research for my Summoning series, Denver has an average of three hundred days of sunshine a year. I have trouble writing when it’s gray. Gray days are for snuggling and reading.

Personally (and I don’t know the facts), this November and December have seemed grayer for me, and I’ve struggled, but, again, I have procedures in place and have instituted new ones. These work for me: a full spectrum light on my desk; taking a walk in the sunshine if/when it appears and if it doesn’t taking a walk in the gray; writing with friends: online in a war room, sprints on twitter, and in person.

Or grab yourself some strong coffee (or tea), some music that will put you in the mood, and just march forward word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

May all your writing dreams come true and may next year be even better than this year!

Robin

I HATE MY BOOK!

By Kevin Paul Tracy

As you grow up you become more aware of a developing ability to hold multiple emotions at a time on any given subject, sometimes quite contradictory. For example, anyone who is married can attest to how it is possible to both loathe and love that same person at the same time. I’m a big James Carville fan even though I detest almost everything he stands for. I think Tom Cruise is a giant flake, but I’ll go see any movie he’s in because he’s a very engaging actor.

So when I say, “I hate my book!” other writers understand this is a transient state – I don’t in fact hate my book, but during the rewrite and editing process, I do! I loved it when I was writing it, and even during the first read-through and edit, I’m thinking, “Damn, this is pert’near genius!” But after the fourth and fifth read-through and edit, you wish you weren’t the author if only so you could take the author by the throat and throttle him for putting out such drek!

Cap'n Crunch Cereal

It happens the same way with Cap’n Crunch cereal, to which I am, sadly, addicted. So I buy the big economy-sized box. Then, next Saturday morning I get up excited, pull up the last episode of Person of Interest on the DVR, pour myself a giant bowl of Crunch Berries, and sit down to a meal fit for a king.

Sidebar: Does anyone remember Cap’n Crunch’s arch-nemesis, the pirate Cap’n LaFoote? He had a cereal of his own as well, a cinnamon something or other. No? Not surprising, it wasn’t very good.

About two-thirds into my precious bowl of cereal the orange pieces are getting soggy and the berries are sticking to my teeth and I’m wishing I hadn’t poured myself such a big bowl. I’m sick of Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries and don’t care if I never see another bowl again. And yet, three or four weeks later, there I am, buying another box and getting all excited for the next Saturday morning!

You don’t, in fact, hate your book as you enter the fifth read-through. You’re just burned out on it. Compounded by the fact that with each read-through you keep finding more that needs fixing, and it’s getting a little redundant and monotonous, especially if many edits are the same mistake repeated over and over again. You’re frustrated and you’re a little down on your own skill as a writer.

Well, let me clue you in on something I recently learned myself. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break. I know, you want to get it done and over with and off to the printers. But when you’re burned out like this, you make mistakes and miss things, which is why it seems like you keep finding the same errors over and again. Taking a break gives you a chance to recharge the batteries. Catch up on your own reading, attend a few critique group meetings, remind yourself what it was that inspired you to write to begin with.

Most critical, though, however long your break, get back to it. You’ll find yourself much less stressed and frustrated, you’ll find yourself making much fewer errors, and you might even fall in love with your book all over again!


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

Follow Kevin at:
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On Productivity

By Mark Stevens

I did the math so you don’t have to.

25 + 38 + 18 + 52 = 133.

???????????????????????????????Left to right—Sue Grafton, Charlaine Harris, Sara Paretsky, J.A. Jance.

They are on the panel, dubbed “A Conversation Among Authors.”

It should be called “A Conversation Among Crank Monsters.”

I mean, holy cow that’s a lot of books represented up there and the 133 doesn’t include short stories, non-fiction and other books and anthologies the four have helped edit.

I’m at Bouchercon in Long Beach at the Convention Center. It’s 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon (Nov. 14) and the huge room is filling up well before the start time. The room buzzes with a rock concert vibe. Bouchercon has a special energy (this was my first) in part because the whole place is teeming with both writers and readers.

???????????????????????????????So at the panel, the fan fest flavor is in full effect. The room takes a few minutes to settle down. People are standing to take pictures as this quartet of mystery masters take their seats on the panel and start taking questions from moderator Clare Toohey.

As a writer in the crowd, I wonder:

Is it all about volume?

I know the answer:

Of course not.

The quality has to be there, too. Right?

In order to ride up escalator into the echelon of dependable writers with large audiences and sizable contracts, the quality has to be there also.

Right?

I’m going to come out and say that none of these four are exactly my cup of mystery or suspense prose. I tend to like my stories darker than Grafton and Jance produce (from what I know, at least) and Harris (most famous for all the paranormal themes that ended up in the True Blood television series.). I have read—and liked—a few of the Paretsky novels featuring V.I. Warshawski.

But even the least productive of these four has written 18 novels! That’s a mountain of words and writing experience. They are certainly testament to the number one tip you here for up-and-coming writers: keep writing.

More writing is more practice. Practice makes you better. Etc.

If Grafton pulled up stakes after A is for Alibi was first published in 1982, would she be here?

I think we know the answer.

J.A. Jance? What a career. Prolific and clearly imaginative—she juggles a multitude of series and even a quick glance through her works and you think, what would it take to keep up that kind of sheer productivity and storytelling energy for the course of 52 books?

Jance didn’t even get published until she was 41, if my math is accurate. She was born in 1944 and didn’t get published until 1985, according to Wikipedia.

So maybe it’s quality and productivity. Readers (the audience) clearly enjoy having a whole shelf full of books to explore once they latch onto a writer.

So as the hour-long panel drew to a close, the moderator gave audience members a chance to pose a few questions. One asked: “what would you do differently?”

Well, what would you do differently if you were a rock star mystery writer who could sign books all day and still not sign enough to keep the fans happy?

I loved the answer given by Charlaine Harris: “Take more risks.”

Yeah, that’s it. Keep writing and take more risks.

As good a recipe as any I can conjure up.

Kudos to the four writers for long and healthy writing careers: even if it’s not your precise shade of darkness, an inspiration for sure.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Book three in the series, Trapline, was published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

The Research Conundrum

By Katriena Knights

For some reason, I keep developing plots for my stories that require a ton of research. I don’t know why I’ve been doing this. I guess the need to just learn stuff overcomes the desire to get a book done quickly and efficiently. For example, my current WIP is a sequel to Necromancing Nim, which took place in Denver and Urbana, Illinois. Both places I’m pretty familiar with. But the sequel, Summoning Sebastian, sends my little vampire/vampire/human ménage off to the wilds of Siberia.

I’ve never been to the wilds of Siberia. I’m not sure I ever want to go to the wilds of Siberia. But the book ended up there. So I have to do research.

The conundrum comes when I try to figure out how to do research. My first instinct is to learn EVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. So I buy a ton of books, print out a bunch of websites, and collect a metric whackton of information.

And then almost never read it. Or at least not all of it.

I go ahead and plow through my story, stopping here and there to look up items, but mostly extrapolating from what I actually have managed to read from this information-collection orgy. So the story gets written. But then when I’m done I feel like I have a ton of research gaps.

So we go back to LEARNEVERYTHINGALLOFITRIGHTNOW. That creates a vicious circle.

I’m working on a piece now where I’ve constructed the plot based on some things I already know will work, but that I’ll need to do a bit of research on to clarify. When I go back to do the rewrite on each section (this is a really fast turnaround job), I do the research on just the bits I need to know about, make whatever additions or changes I think are going to work, then move on.

When I started Summoning Sebastian, I collected a ton of books about Russia. (In all fairness, I’m doing research on I think two, maybe three other WIPs with the same materials.) And yes, a lot of what I learned in the initial reading made it into the story. But when it came down to it, I did a lot more on-the-spot research, writing sections in a fairly vague, generic way, then coming back and filling in details as I got to individual scenes that needed them.

I really have no idea which is the better approach. I know I tend to over-research. In the midst of researching for several stories set in Russia or with Russian protagonists, I ended up actually learning a bit of Russian. Which is overkill in the extreme. On the other hand, while I was cleaning up bits of Summoning Sebastian, it was really handy to be able to read menus of airport restaurants in Chelyabinsk without having to run everything through Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.

What are other ways to approach research? Is binging an acceptable method, or should I reconsider my life choices? Has anybody else been crazy enough to learn an entire language just to write a foreign character? Talk to me below. I promise not to judge.

Photo credit: “Old Books” by zdelia, from freeimages.com

Words and Pictures

By Robin D. Owens

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or is it?

The following is a true story.

One year I had a calendar from Harper that features heroes from their book covers every month. Now Mr. January, a Tudor sort, intrigued me. He seemed to issue a subtle challenge, but I couldn’t quite figure it, or him, out. So I decided to do what I usually do when I can’t solve a thorny problem in my writing, present the issue to my critique group. (Note the cover is the ORIGINAL book cover for The Greatest Lover In All England by Christina Dodd).

I knew Sharon Mignerey, who hosted our critique group, had the same calendar, and that we tended to congregate in her office before critiquing officially started. And so it was on the first Saturday of February that year.

We had been talking of this and that when the calendar caught my eye, still showing Mr. January. I brought up the idea that it would be interesting to do a character sketch of the man — and his subtle challenge.

“Challenge” was the wrong word. Adjectives shot through the room. He was welcoming, generous. No, he was selfish, conceited. On the contrary, he was debonair. No, wily, dangerous — as many adjectives as there were people.

“He’s sensitive,” someone said.

This man does not have a sensitive bone in his body, I thought.

“Hey, he’s arrogant,” I said. “He’s got his hand on his sword hilt.”

“Where else would he put it? He doesn’t have any pockets,” Liz retorted. This is true. The guy is only wearing boots, thigh-hugging tights, a white, billowy shirt baring his manly chest, and a sword belt.

More discussion. I was astonished. No one in the room had the same view of the hero that I did. If we had all sat down and done a character sketch, showing strengths and weaknesses, secrets and hopes, we would have ended up with seven very different heroes. And seven very different stories. How fascinating. How wonderful.

But another thing to ponder is that a writer has more ability to direct the reader than the artist or photographer. By fashioning our stories, presenting certain characters and throwing light on their actions and thoughts, we can hopefully guide the reader. We can wring emotions, we can point out truths, we can make a point, state a theme. And while photos and pictures can do this as well, in writing there is less chance that seven different people get seven different points.

Readers may identify with some characters more than others, recognize and emphasize some themes more than others, but all would have the same general understanding of the basic story. A picture is not worth a thousand words — not when it can’t convey precisely what the photographer/artist wants. But when we deal in words, a point can be skewered home.

The critique group never did agree on Mr. January. When we continued to argue, Sharon wisely flipped the calendar to Mr. February. (Note: the cover is for the paperback anthology Tall, Dark, and Dangerous by Catherine Anderson, Christina Dodd, and Susan Sizemore).

“Ugh!” someone said. “Too tough,” someone else agreed, as we filed downstairs to start our session.

I looked at him. A Western man — unshaven, narrow-eyed, and with his hand on his gun-belt. His build, hair and eye color were wrong, but there was something about his expression, something subtle, that reminded me of my last hero. Too tough? Nah.

Five Reasons Why J.A. Kazimer is Better Than Me

By Aaron Ritchey

Many of you know J.A. Kazimer’s normal persona, but this blog post isn’t about J.A. Kazimer the person, it’s about J.A. Kazimer the RMFW scion, the writerly icon, the literary messiah! This is about the Platonic ideal of J.A. Kazimer.

I first met her in Colorado Springs many years ago and right away I was immensely impressed by her quiet awesomeness.  So yes, I didn’t come to bury J.A. Kazimer, only to praise her.  Here are five ways J.A. Kazimer is intrinsically better than me:

  1. NETWORKING EMPRESS – When I hit the doors of a conference, I am loud, outlandish, an explosion of personality. Yeah, I somehow make that work, but Kazimer’s way is far less showy, but also effective. She talks to people and listens to them, which is the key to networking. Asking questions, listening to the answers, and making connections with people. Kazimer does this so effectively you suddenly just love her. She is proof you don’t have to be an extrovert in a loud suit to network well.
  2. MARKETING MAGICIAN – When her first book, CURSES! came out, she started up a series on her blog called “The New Never News – Your #1 Source of Fairytale News,” and you could tell she had a great time writing about current events in Fairytale land. At the same time, I went to her release party where she had killer swag and a grand guest list, but she wasn’t exactly thrilled to be in the spotlight. This proves she can do the stuff she likes and she can do the stuff she might not be comfortable with, but that’s the marketing game. A little sweet. A little sour.
  3. QUERYING GODDESS – The real reason why I adore J.A. Kazimer is that she encouraged me to query agents and editors. I would write all the time, but I was too afraid to send stuff out. Not her. She actually posted on Facebook she missed the querying process. She is a warrior! And why not? Querying is all about the possibility of wonder and success. It should be an exciting process, and Kazimer embraced it so much she actually misses the process. Yes, ladies and gentleman, she is agented, which is quite the feat nowadays.
  4. INSPIRATION GURU – So Kazimer writes books for Kensington, she writes Indie stuff, but she is out there, working, struggling, playing the game. I find that amazingly inspiring, so when I get frustrated, I just ask myself, what would J.A. Kazimer do? The answer is write books and get them published by any means necessary.
  5. ACCOMPLISHED AUTHOR – So not only can she do the marketing and work it takes to be an author in the 21st century, she can also deliver goods. Her book, The Assassin’s Heart, is a Gold Top Pick by RT Book Reviews! Just to brag about her a little, the reviewer says, “Not only is this novel sassy and fun, but the author’s research into the CIA and the life of an assassin is reflected in her work, making it not just a fabulous romantic suspense tale, but a fantastic work of fiction, period.”

At the end of the day, I hope this blog post embarrasses the hell out of J.A. Kazimer, but too many times in this long road to writerly success, we have to toot our own horns, talk about our stuff like it’s God’s gift to the English language, and shake our moneymakers. I wanted to shine a light on a soldier in the field because she truly is a wonderful human being and one of the best folks I’ve met on this utterly strange, literary journey I’m on.

 

 

THE BACK NINE: SPRINTING FOR THE FINISH LINE OF YOUR NOVEL

By Kevin Paul Tracy

In golf, “the back nine” refers to the second half of an 18-hole golf game. It’s often used as a metaphor for finishing up, or approaching the culmination of a goal. Other sports analogies would be: “the home stretch;” “first and goal;” or “sliding in to home.” In writing I use it to refer to those last ten-to-20 thousand words of your manuscript. You’ve gotten past the swamp, that middle part of the novel that’s not set-up, not climax and denouement, just complication. You’re finally driving everything toward the final conflict and resolution.

Complex Fiction Plotting Chart

But sometimes, if you’re like me, getting all of your characters on stage and where they need to be at just the right time for everything to come together can be a challenge. One of the greatest examples of this is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. The first book in the trilogy, The Fellowship of The Ring (actually there are six books in the series, but they are most frequently sold as a trilogy, of which Fellowship consists of the first two) brings the major protagonists most of the way to the land of Mordor, the major goal of Frodo the Ringbearer. But Tolkien has three or four major battles to write about (Isengard, Helms Deep, The Black Gate, etc.) before the final destruction of the ring. So while Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Pippin and the like all criss-cross the country several times over, fighting and having adventures, Tolkien finds excuses to waylay Frodo and Sam, not once, but repeatedly, to keep them from Mount Doom, which is quite literally in sight most of the time, until he can get everyone else to the battle at The Black Gate to see what happens when (SPOILER ALERT) the ring finally gets destroyed. If I may critique what is arguably one of history’s great works of fiction, the ways in which Frodo meets delay after delay always seemed rather shoe-horned in, to me.

Deliberate or not, I think we can do better. Some suggestions…

If you are having trouble with logistics, getting everyone where they need to be for the final conflict, ask yourself if the final conflict has to happen where you have set it. Is there another venue, already used in your story or not, where the confrontation can take place, that your more difficult characters can get to in the same time frame? Asking myself this once led me to the discovery of a much cooler place to present my final resolution than I’d originally planned, that now I routinely ask myself this question, even if I’m not having timing difficulties.

If you’re approaching your maximum word-count, but you still have a lot to fit in, look at ways to time-jump. For example, is it necessary to describe the heist team planning the rescue of a team member from police custody while driving to the courthouse? Or is it sufficient to simply say, “On the drive to the courthouse, the team put together a hasty and daring plan for rescuing Mr. Yellow from the cops.” Then you can just let the plan unfold as it happens, which is often much more effective than laying it out for the reader before-hand.

The absolute worst is coming toward the end of your manuscript, only to become suddenly aware of a glaring flaw in your plot, something someone is bound to notice and pan you for in their online review of your book. I’ve seen writers try to plug this plot hole by suddenly cramming in at the end of their book some spontaneous and transparently make-shift explanation that rarely fools anyone. No, in such a case there is rarely anything you can do but go back and rewrite and fix it the right way. I recently encountered such a flaw that required me to go back to the half-way point of my book and rework everything drastically from that point on. It was a pain, but there is no question the novel is much stronger for it.

At any rate, whatever logistical or timing challenges you encounter as you’re “rounding turn number four” toward the completion of your manuscript, keep in mind, you’re almost done! That should be a grand motivator. Stay agile and be flexible and find creative ways around bottlenecks and log-jams. Often your characters are where they are in the book for a reason, inconvenient as it may be, and sometimes it is incumbent upon you to work around that and still bring in a strong, satisfying conclusion to your story.>/p>


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

On The Dangers of Writing Fictional Men

By Colleen Oakes

I remember discussing Twilight (a book I’m not embarrassed to admit I loved) at length with a couple of girlfriends, right around the height of the hysteria that captured a nation of teenage girls and forced a lot of grumbling married men to watch Robert Pattinson stare for hours at an exasperated Kristen Stewart. We were all sitting around my sister’s kitchen table, a bottle of wine open, and our books open on the table. My friends were listing off Edward’s desirable traits:

“He’s strong and a perfect gentleman!”

“He’s rich – he loves to spoil her.”

“He worships her and sees her for who she truly is!”

I remember leaning back and considering the implications before reminding them that “He” was written by a woman. HE is a myth of our own making.

There is a danger in fictional men written by female writers. As a female author, I see this trait in myself: a propensity to write perfect, flawless men. It’s only natural – I want to give my characters the best of the species to interact with; a man who is all things that my character needs, a man who is the combined fantasy of a thousand women. He encompasses our deepest desires, he listens with the ears of our therapists and girlfriends, his touch is like wildfire – he is the male equivalent of the lady in the living room, whore in the bedroom mythos. He is all these things and more. He is a delightful illusion of the needs that we don’t feel are being met: a portal directly into our disappointment.

There are a litany of sins committed when we write men this way. First, we do a huge disservice to our characters. Our characters don’t need perfect. They need complicated. They need hurdles. They need emotional resonance, for their hearts to harden like diamonds under conflict. Their minds need expanding, and above all, no character needs easy. There is no book, no story in “easy”, and a perfect man without flaw is easy. While Edward might make our hearts beat a little faster with the intoxicating attraction of teenage love, it’s the real men, flawed men – think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets – that really can turn our heads. Interesting is better than good.

The other danger in writing perfect men is that the writer, or even the reader can experience projecting – that is, when they project the expectations of a fictional character onto their real life partner. My husband, who is the best man I’ve ever known, can’t compare to a fictional man in women’s fiction. He doesn’t create elaborate dates involving hot air balloons or gallons of rose petals. He doesn’t love to clean, and he definitely never buys me cars or takes me swinging through the trees because his super strength makes me weigh practically nothing. There are no sunset horseback rides, although sometimes we do go to our favorite Thai restaurant for dinner and he lets me have one extra wonton. Our life lacks a certain romantic danger, but that’s okay, because our life is real. He may not be the rippling hunk of muscle with a secret fortune squirreled away, but this year when he dressed up like a Sith Lord to take our son, dressed as Yoda, out for Halloween, I could have fainted with adoration. He’s held my hair as I threw up in Las Vegas, he cried alongside me when we met our son for the first time, and he will never ever get his pajamas into the hamper. Ever.

But that’s okay, because he’s real. He is not a fantasy created by a female writer who is fulfilling her every Cosmo-inspired fantasy. He’s a man of flesh and blood and burps.

We don’t like it when men shove us into a box of their own pre-packaged unrealistic expectations.  Let’s not do the same.

A Few Bad Habits

By Mark Stevens

You brush your teeth. You comb your hair. You make a pot of coffee.

You’re on auto pilot, right? Not much brainpower required.

Your head is busy elsewhere, thinking ahead. Or something.

You sit down to write.

Man oh man, that first sentence of your new bestseller is going to be carved and shaped and chiseled to perfection. That first paragraph, too. Hey, go for it, the whole first page.

Then you get into the meat of the story and, well, not every image sizzles. Not every scrap of dialogue sparkles.

Your writing brain (okay, I’m taking about myself here) goes back into teeth-brushing mode.

Relaxed. Unfocused. Drifting.

And stupid.

I recently wrapped up a new manuscript. Two editors worked it over. Seven beta readers took it out for a spin. And before I hit “send” to the publisher, I decided to search deep, down in the muck of the narrative.

Not a pretty picture.

Those “weasel” words. The crutches, the lazy crap. (I wrote about this issue a couple months ago in recommending a tool called Visual Thesaurus; obviously I’m obsessed.)

To the manuscript: I did a search for the word “few.”

Stevens_FewThe bottom line?

Out of 100,000 words, 154 of those were the word “few.” In other words, .15 percent of all the words I used (out of the 1 million plus available at my fingertips) was the word f-e-w.

Even though this word is meaningless, blah, imprecise, blurry and out of focus, my slack writer brain had reached for it—over and over and over—like a strung-out junkie looking for a fix. Stare at the word for a minute and you’ll see how pointless it is. I’ll wait here….

Funny—neither of my editors’ noticed the overuse of this crutch word. None of the beta readers, either.

But there it was, this fuzzy bit of gunk dragging down all those sentences and my question is this: how do I let this happen when I’m writing that first draft? Does the brain go slack? To sleep? Into auto-pilot mode?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s just part of getting out that first version.

Maybe. It scares me to think that my writing brain doesn’t note when it’s being a lazy ______. If I’m willing to put that word on the page, what other slop is creeping in?

By the time I’d hit “send” to my editor, only seven instances of “few” remained in my manuscript. Each of the other 147 sentences were fortified with a better, more precise word choice that (I hope) leaves the story on more solid foundation.

Is this part of the process of editing and refinement?

Or does my sloppy style the first time around mean I wasn’t really seeing, listening and actively writing?

It’s a question I’d rather not answer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

I Hate Writing to Prompts, But Just This One Time….

By Patricia Stoltey

I hate writing to prompts.

And I’ve been writing short stories for years without much luck getting published.

So when I had an opportunity to submit to an anthology of retold folk tales, in a genre I never write, I almost passed up the chance.

Then my sense of adventure kicked in…not to mention the lure of ignoring my To Do List for a few days.

I chose the old Norwegian tale of Three Billy Goats Gruff. You know the one I mean? The goats want to get over the bridge but must outsmart the troll who lives underneath?

What if the goats had been humans? And the humans were young ladies, sisters in fact? And they lived on an island with their parents, a rich although minor Norwegian king and his queen. If the demanding parents kept their daughters away from the outside world by letting that old troll guard the only road to the mainland, what would happen when the sisters made up their minds to escape? Could the three work together to develop a plan as the billy goats did? Or, being humans, would something go terribly wrong?

And that’s how I came to write “Three Sisters of Ring Island,” published in Tales of Firelight and Shadow from Double Dragon ebooks. RMFW member Alexis Brooks de Vita is the anthology editor as well as a contributor.

Tales of Firelight and Shadow coverYou can see the full table of contents and prologue on the Double Dragon website. Here’s a little hint of what you’ll find in the anthology from the inside flap:

Tales in Firelight and Shadow is a collection of short stories by well-known and fresh new writers of fantasy, speculative and science fiction, retelling folktales from many lands and cultures. Award-winning authors present challenging new twists on familiar tales: James Morrow’s museum curator and his university professor daughter discover the ultimate answer to the human condition; Mary Turzillo’s talking cat rats on a legendary illusionist; and Tenea D. Johnson’s fairies deal with the dream dolls of nightmare.

Writers testing the speculative waters with their risk-taking styles captivate and enchant us: an adventurous young professional tries out a new eatery, with disastrous results; a haunted lake binds the horrors of the slaveholding past to the land’s future; a boy steals what a Scottish fairy has no intention of parting with. A lonely girl in a beachside shack yearns for a mermaid godmother’s gifts. Shadowy stalkers haunt forests and dreams.

Emerging novelists delight us with old tales never before told like this: Jason Parent’s Salem shyster outsmarts his own self; Patricia Stoltey’s ogre is not at all what—or who—we think; Christina St. Clair’s loving wife on the ultimate spiritual quest seems to have gone horribly astray; and A.J. Maguire’s scientist alone on the moon with her husband and the man she truly loves must come up with the courage to choose if and how she will survive. We discover that fairytales and urban legends are the stuff of personal memory.

The folktales gathered and retold in Tales in Firelight and Shadow answer the oldest of our questions: “Why is my world as it is, and how can I find my way through it?” For, if folktales exorcize the pain of lessons learned over many lifetimes, then in this world of fairy, flame and chaos, enchantment—we realize with a start—is the only reality. We dream so that we may open our eyes.

Have you had a good result by stepping out of your comfort zone and writing in a new form or genre? Tell us about it.