Monday, February 23, 2015

Thoughts on COSine 2015

Couldn't find the 2015 version. Deal with it.
So after me taking a year off, and them taking a year off, I finally got back to COSine, the small-ish Sci-fi & Fantasy Convention held every year in Colorado Springs. Cons are great, and this one is just large enough to have a lot to do but just small enough to see the same people every year. They may not recognize me (well... yet) but seeing their familiar faces is in itself a good time. It being a small-ish Con, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg to attend, and even though it's just in the Springs I like to stay at the Con hotel for the weekend (nice weekend away plus the hotel's event rate is usually quite stellar).

All that to say, I attended COSine. To attend a Con means you're not a guest, you have to pay to get in, you don't get anything fancy to attach to your laniard, and you don't get to sit on the panels. You do however get the opportunity to learn a shit load, self-reflect while listening to other people pontificate, and ask questions to people more professional than you ... all the while semi-hiding that you've written multiple books and probably could do all those things if you weren't being lazy... But hey I digress.

First thing I noticed was that the event was at a different hotel than usual, and as it happened the place was a bit fancier. The Hotel Elegante, which boasts very nice rooms and a lovely 10 Commandments mural just outside the front door (hey, it is Colorado Springs after all), was damn fine and I hope they have it there next year. On the other hand, I was not quite happy with the food at the hotel restaurants (I'm kind of a food snob now, that's a different story) but just up the road is Flatirons Bar & Grill which, despite the country music droning into my ears during lunch, quite impressed me.

Second thing I noticed was that the Guest of Honor (GoH) was Nathan Lowell, whose name sounded familiar but not in an I-love-that-guy's-books sort of way. In fact, it took until halfway through the Con for me to actually remember where I knew his name from. The main reason I'm not uber-familiar with him is because Lowell writes mostly Sci-fi (Quarter Share is apparently where it all began), but a lot of his philosophy on writing is inline with my own. He runs a blog and various other social channels and does incredibly well for himself, despite not being in RMFW or SFWA (there was some discussion regarding these things during his Author Interview). Check him out.

No, the reason I knew who he was is because he's huuuge on (which, if you'll recall, I published The Ninth Avatar there for a bit, before Trapdoor Books acquired it to publish and I had to take the audio version down). You'd think that would be enough to jog my memory, but when the brain works the brain works. I knew Nathan Lowell because he did the podiobooks readings for Michael Sullivan's The Crown Conspiracy and subsequent novels, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Audio books just aren't my thing, but I can handle them in short bursts.

Anyway, to get back on track here, Lowell quoted an often-used set of rules for writing (& publishing) that are attributed to Heinlein (who is talked about so much at COSine he needs to have some sort of welcoming bust on the registration table). These are explained very well here, but to put it very simply:

  1. Write
  2. Finish it
  3. Don't rewrite except on Editorial order (aka you're being paid or will be paid)
  4. Market it
  5. Market it until it's sold
  6. Start something else
Sitting there absorbing a currently well-known author regurgitating a ridiculously-famous author's ELI5-simple writing rules, I had one of those "what the fuck am I doing?" moments that less crass authors refer to as epiphanies. 

COSine came at a really good time for me, and approaching the end of last year I wasn't even 100% sure I was going to attend. I'm very glad I did, because it fed into what was already going on in my mind, which is me telling myself to get off my mind's ass and do some work. With everything that's been going on the last 5 or so years, unemployment that led into a very stressful job, raising a puppy, struggling with who I am these days, I found I'd really let writing fall by the wayside. In fact, it was one of the first things to go when the times got tough in my life, and that makes me incredibly sad in retrospect.

Sad not because of all the time I've missed out on that I could have been writing instead of playing Final Fantasy XIV or watching Burn Notice through for the 10th time, but sad because I treated writing as optional. That implies a lot, not the least of which is a lack of professionalism, and I can even throw in a reference to how disenchanted I felt at the time. Writing should never be the first thing to go. All that was in the process of changing; I'd finished up Scions, put a cover together, and released it out into the world. I was pondering what to do next (besides avoid marketing like the plague) when I decided I'd go to COSine for a weekend away among other SF/F fans and authors.

Sitting in on Nathan Lowell's Author Interview was the swiftest and greatest kick in the ass I've gotten in a long time. Now, of course that was weeks ago and I'm just blogging about it now, but that doesn't mean I've been idle in the meantime. I ditched my old writing journal, which was full of notes on all three books I've published so far, as well as critique group notes from my old Writer's Group (which I've actually been avoiding all this time ... damnit) and on my way back from Colorado Springs I picked up a new writing journal. In it I've written some writing & marketing goals, quite a few notes, and general thoughts. 

Change doesn't come overnight, but thanks to COSine 2015 it's no longer as glacial as it once was. Cheers to what hopefully becomes a great year, and see you at COSine 2016 (where we can all fawn over Jim Butcher and get our Dresden Files novels signed!!!).

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Scions Giveaway Ends Tonight!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Scions of the Shade by Todd Newton

Scions of the Shade

by Todd Newton

Giveaway ends February 23, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wheels are turning for more good things, stay tuned and good luck!

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Monday, January 12, 2015

How you say it

I love this picture so much that I'm just
going to keep using it again and again.
Writing is communication, that's what it's all about, and we all kind of know that going in (to one extent or another). Some of us are great at communication, some of us not so much. Writing is actually one of the easier ways to communicate because it's passive.

Think about that for a second. I don't mean passive verbs vs. active verbs or anything technical like that; writing as opposed to say, speaking aloud, is a passive form of communication. Even something like IM or text messaging is passive in this context. While it's true that once you hit send it's gone, you have ample opportunity to think about what you're going to say, shape it, and edit it before it goes out.

And that's where the subject of this post comes in because communication has two moving parts: what you say and how you say it.

Fiction, whether it be fantasy novels or pretty much anything else, tends to all be saying the same thing. Or at least similar things. Themes aside, which are really just the sauces of stories, your general novel is going to have the same basic ingredients: plot, characters, conflict, etc. So the "what you say" is the conveying of some sort of story, typically through the eyes/minds of your characters and/or narrator, of a journey, whether literal or figurative, during which there is struggle and growth and resolution. What differentiates you, and your novel, from the thousands of others being written and read right now, is the "how you say it" part.

Think of it this way, why do they keep making Spider-Man movies? We all know how they're going to end: the hero always wins. Is it how he wins that matters? Is it the cool visual effects, the brilliant acting abilities, or just the heroic display of action that keeps us coming back? It's a question for the ages, but what's not up for debate is that they keep making the movies and we keep watching them. Now, I could be cynical and say they're just doing it for money, but let's stay on point here.

They keep making them because even though it's essentially the same story, it's told in a different way. No matter which villain(s) he fights, no matter whether he ends up with Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson, no matter if he's a photographer, college student, or both, the way the story plays out is what keeps us interested in the newest iteration.

This is true for all communication, how you say something can greatly change the context of what you're saying. In one sense it's as simple as the difference between a whisper and an exclamation, the difference between "i love you" and "OH MY FUCKING GOD I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!" Even though they're basically saying the same thing, what they're conveying is far more than just the words themselves. There's meaning behind everything, and nowhere is that more true than in writing.

As you write, you must be thinking about how you're saying things. Word choices, sentence structure, what details you reveal vs. what you keep hidden, it's all vital. One of the earliest lessons that starting-out writers are taught is striking adjectives and adverbs or avoiding the overuse of them. Why? Because it's insulting to your reader to have to spell everything out for them. Take this for example:

Jane stood by the window and was very sad.
Jane looked longingly out the window with sorrow on her face.
Jane gazed out the window for a time to hide the tears streaming down her face.

Some of you may be thinking this is one of those "show vs. tell" discussions, and you'd be right. This topic is very much informed by showing rather than telling, but this goes a step further to say show well, don't tell. You can see in the example above that the first sentence is just plain telling; if you write sentences that plainly state [character] was [emotion], or if you use the word "very" in your writing, stop. This may be the way you think, but it can't be the way you write because it's weak. Don't be a weak writer.

The second and third examples, though, have only subtle differences. The second is still very much telling, having to convey meaning with an adverb and the idea of sorrow being on someone's face. The third is all showing, and it's evocative. We can read a lot into that sentence. Who was she hiding the tears from? Is she angry, sad, both? Why is she gazing for a time, is she too upset to speak or is she waiting for someone to leave the room? Obviously most of these questions would be answered contextually, but the ones that aren't keep us interested. There's nothing interesting about the first two examples, just a sad woman being sad.

But how you say it relies on more than just what words you use and what details you choose to share; even things like the length of your sentences are incredibly important, not just to the readability of your work but also how the information comes across. It can be something as subtle as not using a comma (even where you think one should go) or separating your thoughts into shorter, terse sentences to give the appearance of hurried tension. Sometimes things like this work, sometimes they're too obvious for their own good.

You can have the most boring, cliche story in the world plot-wise, but if you tell it well you can still captivate your audience and achieve an emotional reaction. Often it doesn't even matter what the writing is about if it's great writing, which is always what you should aim for. By the same token, if the way you tell the story is terrible, it makes no difference what kind of story you're telling. Ideally you try as hard as you can with both, but if you're going to worry more in one area than the other, make it "how you say it." What you say is a lot more malleable, at the end of the day.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Celebrate something

The Holidays are here again. A time for people to either pretend they're ridiculously happy while they're ridiculously miserable or genuinely be somewhere in between. Personally, I can take or leave the holidays except for one thing (I'll get to it eventually), because honestly I dislike being accosted for money by bell-ringers every time I go to the grocery store and having to listen to the droning on about some drummer boy everywhere I go.

But that's me. I'm somewhat of a Scrooge. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy certain aspects of the holidays, namely the "being with people I enjoy the company of" part.

As with Valentine's Day, one should not need an excuse to show or tell someone they love them, appreciate them, and enjoy their company. If you're not doing these things, chances are you're not being shown or told much either. Life is not a Disney movie, where we can all be ourselves and magically everything will work out in the end; relationships require a bit of maintenance.

As with pretty much everything in life, you get out what you put in. If you have friends you never speak to, you'll eventually find yourself with fewer friends. Your priorities are elsewhere. Now, I don't mean that in a negative way, but it's the truth: if you're not spending your time and effort maintaining relationships, you're spending them elsewhere. Maybe you play ice hockey and that's what you've made your life all about. Perhaps work has overloaded you, you're stressed to fuck and have no energy for "being social" after bearing that stress for gods know how long. Whatever the excuse, you could probably use a hug.

And that's what holidays are good for: free hugs. With the holidays package comes the native feature of being around other people, usually that there is mutual shit-giving-about. And even if not, you can make some new friends while bonding over either mutual likes or mutual dislikes. It's not that difficult.

Or, if you prefer, you can be alone for the holidays and escape all the gleeful hoi polloi. There are some advantages to alone time, particularly for us introverts, so long as we recognize that too much of it is unhealthy. Here too, though, you get out what you put in. If you spend all your time alone, chances are you're going to perpetuate that because you're the center of your universe. Or maybe you'll just get some writing done.

Despite my fervent objection that some people take it too far, the holidays are an excuse to be happy regardless of what else is going on in life. It doesn't hurt that most of us get a few days off from work. It's also a time to celebrate. Whether it's a birth, a season, yearly traditions, or just the people who enrich your life, take a moment to celebrate something. Even if it's just the fact that you're alive, that you made it this far, and that you have unknown and exciting things ahead of you, rejoice. You don't have to get lost in the trappings of giant bows and peppermint bark, I promise.

Happy Holidays to friends, family, and strangers. Cheers to you and yours, and here's looking forward to an excellent 2015.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scions, Pride, and Blood - A welcome back to blogging

This is my work and I'm proud of it.
Click to purchase.
So... holy shit. I blogged a whopping 3 times in 2013, and none at all in 2014 (not counting this one). To the uninitiated, that might seem like a drastically long period of inactivity. It might be enough to start thinking that I've given this whole writing thing up.

I haven't, and I have proof.

Scions of the Shade, now complete (with cover and all!), has been released out into the wild. That's a major step in the right direction for me, and I was hoping that would release some of the blockage I've had creatively. Somewhere, deep inside my mind, there was this belief that an unfinished project kept me from focusing on something new.

But you know what I came to realize? I haven't stopped learning. I haven't stopped living (well, to be completely honestly, for a little while there I did). But you know what else? That's okay.

The constant demand for perfection [sic] aside, I can tell from re-reading my previous posts that I was letting discouragement bring me to a complete halt. It's an easy thing to do, just convince yourself an activity is pointless and it's pretty much guaranteed you'll stop doing that activity. That's fine for lame stuff like making your bed, hanging up your jackets and jeans, or putting things back in drawers. Not so great for writing.

What it does is negate any pride you might feel in your work. Far from being a sin, pride is a vital part of why people do what they're good at. Common sense, but if you feel like you're good at something you're bound to enjoy doing it a hell of a lot more than if you feel like you're terrible at it. That's sort of a different topic. A topic for another day.

We're talking about pride in your work here. Pride in what you have created, in the time and energy you spent and the outcome it produced. Can you be proud of an unfinished novel? Well, I guess you could if you wanted to be, but it's completion that really gives you the pride, accomplishment, and therefore confidence to move on to the next one.

The way I thought of it this morning was, how are you going to spend your blood? As macabre as that sounds, I'm sure we've all used the phrase "blood, sweat, and tears" from time to time. I don't know about you, but writing doesn't make me sweat (if it does, you're probably doing it wrong), and it certainly doesn't make me want to cry (maybe if I were writing heart-rending romance or the next Twilight fanfic though...), so blood is all that's left.

It's never helped me to try a "live each day to the fullest" mentality; no matter how hard you try, most days are full of mundane bullshit like commuting and bathroom breaks that--despite my best efforts--I can't make feel epic. Rather, I'm going to try to approach this how I approach most of my life, and that's with a niggardly grasp of my time. Where I spend my time matters more to me than where I spend my money (as my bank account can attest), and is the primary focus of just about every decision I make. Before I even do a mental cost/benefit analysis, I'm wondering if I should be spending my time on this thing.

So, to make the metaphor work for me, blood = time. I'll just keep saying blood because it's evocative and because people like vampires (sparkly or otherwise).

We'll see how it goes.


I'm working on a few new series' of topics that hopefully you'll see posted here within the next month or two. May even return to an organized approach to blogging in the New Year. It's time to take this shit to the next level. If you agree, want to help, or want to be involved, leave a comment or shoot me an email. I'd be happy to spread the love with some mutual pimpage.

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