Genius Baby

My  youngest brought home a couple of new books from the school library the other day. One was how to become a writer. The other was how to get published.

Now, of course I’m proud. She wants to be a writer, just like me! Well, actually I think she wants to be a writer/illustrator just like Cressida Cowell, but that’s close enough. She wants to write!

How old do you think she should be for the you’ll never make any money, it’s a black hole of rejections, your cats will probably eat you in your garrett, alone, speech?


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This May Go on Your Permanent Record

So, you guys remember how I’ve blathered about my world domination book? (No? Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged in general and even longer since I’ve written about that book in particular, so I can’t blame you. Here, go read about it. I’ll wait.) Sounds cool, right? Well, now’s your chance to buy AN ACTUAL COPY OF THIS BOOK. Ahem. Yes, this is one the books that Silence in the Library publishing is putting out. Five bucks gets you and ebook. Thirteen gets you a trade paperback copy AND and ebook. And for the low, low price of $25 you get an ebook and an trade paperback signed by yours truly. It’s almost gift-giving season–surely there is someone on your list that wants to read about a prep school for the world’s next leaders. Plus there are three other books in this kickstarter that might interest you. Follow this linky here to get in on the action.

Happy reading!

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Writing math

I’ve been playing a game with myself. Every week, I set very specific goals for the amount of time I need to write. They’re broken down by project, and by days of the week (Mon-Wed, Wed-Fri, Sat-Sun) (and no, writing on Wednesday doesn’t count twice).

This week, I need to write 2.5 hours total on 3 different projects from Mon-Wed. Right now it’s Tuesday night, and I’ve written for 2.3 hours, and I still have 1.17 hours left.

2.5 – 2.3 = 1.17 in writing math.

Why? Because extra time put in on a project doesn’t count. What a fun game!

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Making animated word clouds

Recently I ran across a post about creating an Animated WordCloud for Alice in Wonderland and thought, that looks like fun. So I ran my novella through this code, which breaks the text up into 500-word chunks and makes a word cloud for each chunk, then strings them together into an animated gif.

It’s bizarrely entertaining to watch the plot of the novella go by as a word cloud.

Here’s the first image:


I removed the main character’s name from the word clouds because the novella is in 3rd person. As it is, her brother Stebbin is the biggest item for the vast majority of the book.

Here’s Stebbin later on, appropriately surrounded by an ice squid (and tentacles):


This totally counts as productive writing time.

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Back to it

Labor day has passed, and school is back into full swing. Which means both the kids are out of the house. Which means writing time!

Of course I love spending time with my kids– It’s just this makes the whole putting words onto paper thing much easier.

So, apropos of nothing, a song.

(Also, who the hell knew apropos was spelled like that?)

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Gen Con Panel Notes: Rewrites and Second Drafts

Max Gladstone, Stephen Blackmoore, Elizabeth Vaughan, Thomas M. Reid, Ray Vallese

How many drafts?
Thomas – 2 or 3 for work for hire
Stephen – work for hire edits are not change this massive thing, it’s lots of little things. So not rewrites. But typically I do at least one rewrite.
one book agent said something at end should be at beginning. It cascaded through everything. But for the most part, a couple drafts.
Max – 6-14 before the editor, then another round after that.
Of those, one to two are significant structural reworking.
Elizabeth – three drafts. First very rough. Made a mistake in not keeping a bible for world as accurately as I should.
Max – if I can still bear to move past page five after so many drafts, it’s a good book
Ray – one novella, didn’t have a deadline so it took a long time to do 5-6 drafts

Ray – turn off internal editor.

Elizabeth – process. I never go back and rewrite until done. But others rewrite as they go.
Stephen – I focus a lot on voice and if I don’t get the opening to click I might get 2-3 chapters in, and fix opening. But then I’m a linear writer.
Thomas – depends how I feel when I wake up in the morning. If you’re trying to have the fingers keep up with brain you can just keep going. But if struggling to get feel of what the characters are like, you go back. But I generally write from start to finish.
Stephen – I outline, sometimes very sketchy.
Got 50k into 3rd book in series, and realized it was all backstory and exposition so started from scratch.
Ray – I skim from the beginning and end up revising before getting to new stuff
For 35k novella, outline was 20k words because was meticulously plotting everything and filling in.
Thomas – pantser or outliner, how much rewriting depends on whether you’re a pantser or outliner.
Does a lot of planning before , so first draft is happy with, not as many rewrites.
Max – pantsers get to a point where they do some planning, outliners. Get to point where they throw out outline and make changes – no one hews perfectly to either approach
Elizabeth – whatever process gets to final manuscript is good
Thomas – I’d get to point where I don’t know what I’m doing (when trying to pants), went back to outline
Max – defined myself as a pantser, then on 3rd book had a deadline and started working and would write 20k words and throw out. And then thought about how he’d avoided that before. Several stages where he’d write out everything that happened in the book.
Thomas – why we talk about pantsers and outliners, there is a lot of structure to putting together a novel or short story.

Elizabeth – what are some concerns that you only address in second draft? Theme? Character consistency? Is there something you don’t worry about in first draft?
Stephen – I think of my outline as my first draft. When I have a manuscript, I look for repeated words, too many dialogues, “and”, things that are too close to each other,
Max – the saying no man happy until he’s dead – call no book good until it’s done, until you see the full draft. Stuff you don’t see until the whole thing,
Pacing, character logic, large scales arcs and thematics,
Elizabeth – my first draft is action and conflict. But in romance you expect the internal dialogue of the doubt of the relationship. I add that in second draft.
Reader wants to be in their head.
Thomas – macro and micro editing, the question is how much and what kind do you do on your various drafts.
Macro – scenes in the correct order, equal screen time for characters
Micro – is prose tight, too many “ands”, does this dialogue work for this character
What you do in subsequent drafts has a lot to do with what you do in initial.
Stephen – I write 1st person so that internal dialogue is integral to the story.

(Third and first person, tenses)

Thomas – writers cover so many differnt things in revisions because initial process is so different
Ray – in second draft I focus on beginnings and endings , I often start too early or go to long

Elizabeth – putting book in drawer or stepping away from it. Hard to do on deadline. But consider it for first book.
Thomas – hard to do on contract. But you have to write a lot of words (to get good at it).

Rough first drafts (draft zero) , when do you give to writing group?
Elizabeth – they get early draft but I try to clean it up
Stephen – is careful,about kind of critique he’s soliciting. Don’t want to waste anyone’s time.
Max – has critiquers but sometimes don’t have time
Different layers of people, some see final draft, some see the first or second.
The earlier I show someone a draft the more I’m looking for assurance that it’s not a travesty
Thomas – group meets every week with 1000 word chunks and shares a Dropbox.
You have to trust and get along with your group.
We all know how they write and what kind if feedback.
But you have to be ok with saying it’s still my book.
Ray – doesn’t send to writing group until second draft

What if you love something but aren’t sure it belongs?
Stephen – ask questions. Does it move the plot. Is it too clever, is it a joke that doesn’t fit. I hate the phrase kill your darlings, a better phrase is everything is fair game
Thomas – find out why people think it should go
Max – trust your joy. On second draft ask if it breaks the book, or have I written the book to live up to it.
Stephen – stop caring

When do you realize you have a weakness and how do you stop obsessing over it while writing? Eg dialogue or endings
Elizabeth – in my first draft I don’t care.
Thomas – get the story down first
Max – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying writing

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Gen Con Panel Notes: Character Motivation

Elizabeth Bear, Gwenda Bond, John Horner Jacobs, Lauren M. Roy, Howard Tayler (m)

Take it as given that characters need to be motivated. Where do you start? When you want the character to do something important to the plot.
Bear – make them want something even if only glass of water (Vonnegut)
Also makes reader care about the character
Roy – yes. Also thinks about what their controlling worldview is. How they feel like it’s keeping them from getting what they want.
What’s different about their perspective
Jacobs – at beginning of musical, character sings their desire. It’s good to know when you’re setting out what you think the characters desires are, even if it’s preserve the status quo
Roy – conflict between what they want and what they need
Jacobs – authors create situations that strip away characters , leaves their core
Tayler – musical theater shows the use of tools we don’t get to use. Into the Woods, Agony – it’s a better Captain Kirk than his Captain Kirk. It tells what he want. It’s slimy but we’re on board bc of how it’s communicated
How do you communicate that to the reader as enthusiastically as musical theater might
Bear – protag should have strong want and conflicting need. Put in situations where those conflicting desires can be exposed.
The character who runs toward gunfire will make the plot for you.
Bond – Lois lane, easy to write because she’s so intrinsically motivated and creating her own obstacles. Also confidence porn, she has the ability to see things are wrong.
When starting out I would choose the wrong character. Often the ones that are easy to understand aren’t the ones w a deep desire that can sustain an entire novel.

Tayler – when character does a thing that the writer hasn’t earned. When James Bond is awesome in first 5 min it’s earned, but for an unknown character, how do you earn the readers trust?
Jacobs – example, Fury Road. It should have been Furiosa road. Max was divorced from everything, you have no clear idea of his motivations except flashbacks.
Regret is not a sting motivator, revenge is.
In first frame he has connection to dog, and later they transfer that to the feral boy. He can form a bond and when threatened he’ll act to protect that.
But at end he fades back into crowd…
Sometimes motivation is connection to other life…
Bond – girl is wire walker. Was worried about how to make reader believe she can do it. Grabbed the physicality of wire walking. Ground us in the body of the character so we feel it. You have to show that it’s not easy and that they trained or learned.
Bear – cheap way is training montage. And reaction shot.
Meeting Eliot in Leverage, great character introduction, bar with mobsters, walks out with macguffin.
Tayler – if he were the protagonist that wouldn’t work bc you’ve set up an impossible situation and won. In ensemble cast it worked.
Bear – it can work in a lot of ways.
Sherlock Holmes, teveryone takes it for granted that he can do this.
Bond – you’re so close to the protagonist that you forget to make sure that the other people in the story are reacting to them.

Tayler – what do you do to demonstrate that secondary characters have motivations?
Roy – show them interacting with primary characters. Small interpersonal interactions to establish the character and how they talk. Who they are in relation to each other.
Bear – point about conversations is good. Usually both people are talking about their own stuff and there’s a point of intersection. That’s how we build empathy,
Bond – it’s important that those characters …
Tayler – everyone hero of own story. We are in building full of people with motivation I need to get into exhibit hall to get this thing. And they were in my way when I wanted to get here.
We want to write that so our character’s quest to be the moderator runs afoul of real people.

Obstacles. What are your favorite? When you want to drive the character arc and plot, serve multiple purposes.
Bear – character is plot. If they’re doing something out if character the writer isn’t forming the plot from what they want.
There’s the thing they need to do to become a whole, complete being. Die Hard – he wants his wife back, he needs to become a person she wants.
Bond – be as extreme as possible within the bounds of credulity.
Make the obstacles tough from the get go
Roy – they have to choose, and think they’re making the right decision
Jacobs – there have to be realistic, often unforeseen consequences to what your character decides
One rookie mistake – needing more tension, bring in man with gun, tends to be a small conflict that you’re fabricating.
Bear – the character who is constantly in conflict because they’re brittle and mouthy, are better as secondary
Bond – can be primary if you see inside them…

In your writing, moments where your characters had a motivation problem and you solved it – an aha moment
Bear – one-eyed jack, 1st person narrator. Had problem with protag as unreliable narrator, withholding information. I couldn’t figure out what he was withholding. He had interesting backstory that was motivating him, took four drafts.
Bond – last week, had about 20k words which is where I stop and see where I went wrong. Girl who wants to be magician like her dad, he doesn’t wNt her to. She runs away to join circus. Wasn’t feeling like she and dad were close. Realized she’s been practicing on her own. Now she has something to prove, and is more interesting because she’s spent six years becoming an expert on escape.
Jacobs – my first novel, horror crime mashup. Vet with PTSD. …
Roy – weird hybrid of pantser and plotter. Ending of book came to her. Don’t know who’ showing to so,ve the problem , then character gets what he wants but it wasn’t what he wanted. So etimes you have to let it percolate and let your subconscious…

Is a need to do your duty a lazy motivation?
Jacobs – some motivations are more interesting than others.
Forrest Gump a lieutenant motivation wanted to die in battle, and was interesting character
Job of writer is to make it interesting
Tayler – protag is bodyguard, job is to guard the CEO. But critters asked what he wanted besides his job. So he joined the military to save the world, realized he can only save some people. Now he has a motivation, and at end he might get to save the world – that connection made the story work.
Bond – he wants to do his duty why?
Bear – guy doing his job – Clerks. And Ned Stark.
Jacobs – interesting thing about duty is pride and ego.

Running toward bullets – but what about a no confidant protagonist?
Bond – I love that kind of character. They’re almost immediately forced outside their comfort zone.
Bear – tragic arc is guy who refuses to grow. Use a series of carrots and sticks to get him to move to take more responsibility.
Jacobs – works really well with young adult.
Bond – even the most competent character is an asshole if they never question.
Roy – wendig’s Miriam. Sees people’s death. She tried to circumvent that but it happens anyway. If your character tries to run away, out the thing right back in front of them.

Character has motivation but finds it’s not as simple as they thought (are betrayed) and have to do 180?
Bear – the turn or twist.
Bond – hague’s 5 act structure, 10 percent of the story problem isn’t driving the plot, 25 is. (?)
Tayler – it is a disaster when you discover everything you wanted is wrong, it’s a powerful story. Now they’re lost, you rescuer them
Bond – Solitaire by Kelly Eskridge

Closing remarks
Bear – break stuff, make character react
Bond – yes
Jacobs – make it worse
Roy – have characters bullshit at each other, figure out how to interact
Tayler – watch people, if you understand why ppl want things that make no sense…

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