Good news for Scribd subscribers

Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide is now available on Scribd. If you’re a subscriber, it’s included in your membership. Click here.

Do you use your library’s OverDrive eBook lending service? Good news, you can now request Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide and read it for free.

Blurb for “Enemy Beloved”

Illithea Dayasagar survives alone, on a distant continent. For her mission to succeed, she must remain hidden.

But the fireball that splits the sky and scorches the earth does not go unnoticed. Neither does the corpse she finds instead of the meteor. 

Especially once he turns out to be very much alive. And very much a mystery.

Passion and betrayal collide in “Enemy Beloved,” a story of true love and sacrifice.

Now available in Venus, part of the Planetary Anthology Series.

Now LIVE! on Kobo

Kobo was actually the easiest one to set up. Added bonus, they are part of OverDrive, a system that allows libraries to lend eBooks. So, if you’ve wondered how to get your work into libraries, this is one venue. I think it’s also available through other aggregators.

But why would I want to “give” my eBook to libraries? First, you’re not “giving” anything. Second, having your book in a library is advertising. Someone who enjoyed your work might just decide to check out and see what else you’ve written. Gasp! What a concept.

Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide is now available on Kobo.

Didn’t need an ISBN for this either. Yes, this means they’ll have different ISBNs, but I don’t expect this to be something that needs tracking to justify the cost of an ISBN.

Now LIVE! on iBooks

As I said before, the self-pub plunge is as much for the benefit of the experience as anything else. iTunes Connect was easy enough to navigate. iTunes Producer, like most Mac programs, a breeze.

Easy set up. One glitch because I didn’t have the latest version of Java installed.

Review was MUCH faster than Amazon.

And now I’m live on iBooks with Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide.

One of the nice things I noticed about this is that it’s very easy to set up promo codes.

No, didn’t need an ISBN for this either.

I took the self-pub plunge

Most of my author friends are self-published or hybrid writers. I often feel “out of the loop” when it comes to the details of the self-publishing process, so I decided it was time to take the plunge. At the behest one of them, I took the six blog posts about my workshop experience and why a rejection is an opinion (not a death sentence), and created a book: Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide

Although it took all day, it took far less time than I thought it would.

I already had the KDP account set up, but I had never worked with the KDP system or Vellum (the layout software).

Here’s the run-down of what it took to go from a series of blog posts to a finished product.

I chose an image off DepositPhoto.com, and fired up Pages. This probably ate up most of my time. It had been awhile since I’d worked with Pages for anything other than writing, but it all came back to me. Create a black background. Add image on top. Check the reflection option. Add the fonts for the title and author. I spent more time playing around with fonts and colors, to be honest. Way too many choices, most of them bad. Saved it, changed the type of file, and done. Reopened it in Preview in order to adjust the ratio of image width to height, per Vellum’s suggestion. That took like another minute.

Next, Vellum. Great software, took about ten minutes and one very specific question posted to a group, and I had it figured out — the front and back matter, the chapters, the headers, dividers, everything–bam, bam, bam. It was amazing. By contrast, I was struggling with Jutoh for days before I threw my hands up in disgust and wished I’d never heard of it. With one press of a button, Vellum generated everything for all the platforms/venues/formats, all in one step: Generic ePUb, GooglePlay, iBooks, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and Print (i.e. a PDF).

It took longer to actually proof the PDF, Kindle and iBooks files (by looking at every page inside the file) than it took to put the book together, and that includes futzing around with the fonts and colors. (BTW, leave the extra pages in the PDF alone. They’re there for a reason.)

Vellum is pricey, but worth it (works only on Mac). You can play with a full version for free, but you have to have a license to hit that magic button that spits out all the stuff you can then upload to the various venues. No, you don’t need Vellum if you’re doing KDP because you can upload a .docx or .PDF or .rtf file instead, but that doesn’t mean that all your versions will look the same if you wide (other platforms).

Uploading to KDP was simple enough. The one snag I hit was with the paperback version, which took two tries to get right, so maybe fifteen minutes to re-do.

Did learn that you don’t need an ISBN–Amazon will “give” you one.

There was a 24-hour turnaround on the approval process.

Voila. That’s it, in a nutshell. Even a rocket surgeon can do it.

Up next, publishing on iBooks, Kobo, and Nook. Also CreateSpace, D2D, all this stuff I’ve heard of but never had a reason to look into too deeply.

Elements of Craft: The Syntactical Contortions of “Creative” Dialogue Tags

I would really, really, really, love it if people took to the habit of understanding the meaning of words before they used them. I know it’s a lot to ask, but bear with me anyway.

You want to get creative? That’s fine. Lots of ways to do that. Dialogue tags are, however, most definitely not the way to do it.

Who decided that “said” and “asked” and “whispered” and other clear, simple, useful tags needed to be replaced by “creative” tags like “moaned” and “laughed” and “smiled.”

Really? Who? Because we have to talk. We really do.

You’re setting a bad trend. And here’s why: Writers will go forth and use words that don’t mean what they’re trying to make them mean. Our language is already dying the death of a thousand cuts as certain factions contort words into near meaninglessness—it’s linguistic matricide (h/t Tom Kratman)—and while what I’m about to rant about doesn’t quite reach the level of insanity of making things mean whatever we want them to mean, each according to his or her own personal philosophy, well, folks, you’re not helping.

Why take speech tags that are almost invisible to readers (but still function as a valuable signpost for clarity), and turn them into blaring neon signs that take the focus off the dialogue, yank the reader out by the short hairs, and scream, “Look at me! I’m being so creative I’m ignoring what a word actually means! Love me, damn it!”

So, not only is it a pathetic attempt at “creativity,” it is distracting and annoying—two things your readers are NOT reading for. Yes, they’re reading for escape, for a distraction from the real world, but they’re not looking to be distracted from the story you’ve worked so hard to pull them into, by amateurish attempts to avoid the right word in favor of a substitution that’s sort of the same, but not really.

  • Example 1: “Oh, no, not that,” she giggled.

Go ahead and giggle while you’re saying “Oh, no, not that.” Go on. Send me a video file of it if you manage it.

Giggled (per dictionary.com) means “to laugh in a silly, often high-pitched way, especially with short, repeated gasps and titters, as from juvenile or ill-concealed amusement or nervous embarrassment.”

So, I can see why a writer might want to use the word giggled, to convey the meaning that the character’s laugh was silly, or that the amusement was ill-concealed or that she was nervous/embarrassed.

But the words “Oh, no, not that” don’t convey ANY of that. And if the words preceding it DO convey either silliness, or amusement, or embarrassment, then you don’t need to contort the physical action of speech into “giggling” because your reader will already KNOW what you mean, because you’ve done the work of showing them (and congratulations, if you did that work; it’s not easy, so good for you, you’re doing your job as a writer well and should be proud).

If on the other hand, you’ve NOT shown them, and are trying to TELL them via the use of the word “giggled” then you’re probably failing because the reader can’t know if you meant silly and/or high-pitched and/or repeated gasps and/or juvenile and/or ill-concealed and/or nervous and/or embarrassed. The word alone simply does not have that power. You’re misusing it on multiple levels.

Let’s add to our list of things that aren’t speech. Remember, now, a synonym means “a word having the same OR nearly the same meaning as another in the language.”

For giggled, the synonyms are: cackle, chuckle, guffaw, snicker, chortle, hee-haw, snigger, titter, twitter, and teehee.

So by the logic of anything goes if it’s a synonym (of said and other appropriate speech tags), we should be able to write:

  • Example 2: “Oh, no, not that,” she teeheed.

Again, send me a video of you saying “Oh, no, not that,” while you cackle, chuckle, guffaw, snicker, chortle, hee-haw, titter, twitter (no, tweeting on Twitter doesn’t count), or teehee.

The mouth is capable of a range of motions and sounds. But not all of those things are speech, any more than a facial expression is speech. It may be communication, but it’s not speech.

For example, a glower is a facial expression. No speech is involved, yet I’ve seen it used as a speech tag. Along with huffed, smiled, and ejaculated.

Yeah, really. Apparently this guy had some superpower that allowed him to ejaculate words. Now, if that gave you the same gross image that it gave me, congratulations!

Do you see what I mean now about being yanked out of the story?

Just because “giggled” doesn’t conjure up the same mental image as “ejaculated” it doesn’t make it a better choice for a dialogue tag, just one that’s not as gross.

If you’re still not convinced that you should stick to things that are actually physically possible, like said, asked, whispered, murmured, and shouted, then maybe approaching it from a different angle, a different train of logic, might.

  • Example 3: “Oh, no, not that,” she said, giggling.

Again, we have the same problem. She’s either speaking or she’s giggling. I suspect that many of these physically impossible dialogue tags actually started like this and then someone needed to reduce their word count or had some stupid algorithm tell him that the word “said” was being overused, and he decided to combine the two actions and cut his word count.

Verbs ending with “-ing” mean an action is in progress. For example, “Jan was giggling and jumping” tells us that Jan is doing two things at the same time. On the other hand, “Jan giggled and jumped” tells us that first she giggled, then she jumped. It IS possible to do two things at once, giggling and jumping, for example.

But there are some things that are impossible to do at the same time (like speak AND giggle), and writers seem to ignore this reality in favor of “creative” sentence structure as well as “creative” dialogue tags.

This is not just one aspiring writer’s pet peeve. The misuse of infinitive-verb phrases is rampant enough that John Gardner (The Art of Fiction) took the time to write about it at length and went so far as to call it “bad writing.”

“Sentences beginning with infinite-verb phrases are so common in bad writing that one is wise to treat them as guilty until proven innocent—sentences, that is, that begin with such phrases as “Looking up slowly from her sewing, Martha said …” or “Carrying the duck in his left hand, Henry …” In really bad writing, such introductory phrases regularly lead to shifts in temporal focus or to plain illogic. The bad writer tells us, for instance: “Firing the hired man and burning down his shack, Eloise drove into town.” (The sentence implies that the action of firing the hired man and burning down his shack and the action of driving into town are simultaneous.)”

Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers (Kindle Locations 1489-1493). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Here we have the same problem: plain illogic and implication of simultaneity where none can exist.

As Gardner explains, these kinds of “syntactical acrobatics” come from a writer’s attempt to get rid of something terrible, but instead of making it better, they end up making it worse.

They’ve made it different. They can no longer be accused of using “said” too much. And bonus! They can sneak in some telling and not have to work on showing. No wonder it appeals to so many. But different, isn’t necessarily better.

And change for the sake of change is no virtue either. Haven’t we learned that already?

There has to be a reason, a good reason, to abandon clarity and proven methods.

Gardner tells us that a properly used infinitive-verb start has its place—for example, when you DO want to slow down the action, as long as it meets the test of logic and physical possibility.

So how about dialogue tags?

When is it okay to make them stand out?

Formal speech is one reason. “…said Jake…” is more formal that “…Jake said…” and if you have a good reason to want for it to stand out to a reader, this construction does that subtly but powerfully.

How about “she cried”? Well, again, one definition of “cried” is “to utter inarticulate sounds” which implies it’s not a good dialogue tag since the sounds are inarticulate. But if by “cried” you mean (because the situation makes it clear) “to call loudly; shout; yell” then it would definitely work as a speech tag if that’s what’s going on.

Similarly, “she demanded” might be a legitimate dialogue tag, if the dialogue does not convey the demand. I honestly can’t think of an example where the combination of situation, dialogue, and physical beats can’t come together and show that something is a demand, but one might very well exist.

Same with “she replied.” It’s usually quite obvious that someone is replying to a question. So why waste words explaining something that’s obvious?

Why resort to syntactical contortions?

And does it really hurt to get a little creative and be different?

Well, yes, it does. Because once you throw out standards and clarity, anything goes.

The Speech Tags Wall of Shame*

“And then the prince ran out after her,” she danced.

Now maybe she was a tap-dancer and she was doing morse code with her shoes or something. I don’t know.

“How exciting,” Louisa clapped.

More morse-code perhaps? Maybe she has a clapper installed and is using it to send out messages. Who knows? Were these questions the things the writer was going for? Was the writer’s intent to distract the reader and kick him out of the story?

“But that’s not the best part,” Lana pedaled.

Yeah, here I am trying to figure this one out. And I’m pretty sure at this point I’m also wondering why I’m wasting my time reading this drivel. Obviously the writer is working extra hard to kick me out of the story and I’m going to oblige him by leaving. There’s what, a million books right at my finger tips, all competing for my money and attention.

Oh, but it gets worse.

“I love you,” he kissed.

“I love you more,” she tasted.

“No one could love more than I,” he licked.

Who else is ready to put that book down and take a shower? I know I am.

Okay, I’m back.

Yes, yes, I know, you’ve seen these creative dialogue tags in published fiction. Maybe they self-published and there was no one to edit them or their editor doesn’t know any better either (I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print for anyone who is self-publishing or who is editing).

Consider also that some authors (Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James) may be too famous to edit and probably got there on the strength of something else–something you don’t have.

Thing is, if you’re NOT famous enough for your name to carry a reader through an uphill battle against confusion, through being repeatedly yanked out of the story, through the pitfalls of the latest writing fad, you might consider this:

KISS—Keep It Simple, Stupid…

And pour your creativity into your world-building, your characters, your ideas instead. Radical thought, I know.

 

*courtesy of http://theeditorsblog.net/2015/03/30/smiling-or-laughing-dialogue-a-readers-question/

When the heroes are bad guys

“Make your characters interesting.”

Don’t recall exactly where I got this little bit of writing advice, but I was thinking about it when a few someones came up to me and asked if I’d seen Lucifer. I think it was prompted by “The Devil You Know” (an unpublished short story of mine) which featured The Duke of Hades.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks and I’ve got the first disk of season one and I’m setting myself up for another Hollywood disappointment—my standards for anything coming out of Hollywood have fallen so much that I’d rather watch Korean dramas with subtitles (which I hate because they’re distracting).

Nevertheless, hat tip on Lucifer. I loved it. From the first episode. And no, it wasn’t all because of the eye-candy, or the arrogance, but because they somehow managed to make him interesting in a good way.

Plus, I seem to have a soft-spot for anti-heroes.

Exhibit one: John Ringo’s Ghost. This is the book that made me a John Ringo fan and I refuse to apologize for it. He did something aspiring writers should take note of—he wrote a good bad guy, a tortured soul (who may not be as tortured as he ought to be sometimes, but I’m good with that too) who strives to do good and isn’t some Gary Sue, or whatever the cardboard-character moniker-of-the-day is. And all the haters (which sometime seem legion) are nothing but an endorsement that he did it the right way.

Exhibit two: Susan R. Matthews’ Andrej Koscuisko. Despite the excruciatingly slow start, I powered through the first two books because the idea of a surgeon training to be torturer was not just too fascinating to put down, but she wrote him so well that I forgave the info dumps and it carried me through all the things I didn’t like. Just to be clear, it’s not torture porn, which I will NOT read or watch (I refuse to watch things like Saw or anything in that genre and stopped watching Walking Dead for this very reason). But the Fleet Inquisitor (Under Jurisdiction) series is, again, about someone who is inherently good but sometimes has to do bad things and pays a terrible price. Those differences matter.

Before getting into exhibit three, Lucifer, I must mention the fact that I’m not a religious person.

What does that mean? Well, it means I don’t go to church. I didn’t get married in a church, and some years I bother to put up a Christmas tree even though my kids are now old enough to know that Santa’s real name is “Dad.”

It also means that I’m envious of people who can make the required leap of faith and I think that Judeo-Christian values have brought the world more good than harm and are worth living by. I also think the scientific explanations for the creation of the Universe and the THEORY of evolution are just as much an article of faith as anything in the Bible. Minored in astrophysics, so I do know something about this, before someone jumps in and tells me to go take some science classes.

I see Nature’s God in the Golden Ratio, in mathematics, and I know that we don’t KNOW. We only theorize. And I don’t mix up theory with knowledge. “Know” is a very strong word in my world. And I’m not particularly big on faith, turning the other cheek, or forgiveness either. But I do know that our rights come from God, in no small part because I’ve lived the nightmare that comes out of “rights” coming from government. Make of that what you will.

So now that you know my take on anti-heroes and life, the Universe, and everything (with apologies to whomever I’m ripping off with that phrase), how did I end up liking Lucifer?

What appeals about Lucifer is the idea that Hell is a place where bad people go to be punished. And that the Devil likes his job. Because bad people do deserve to be punished. There is good and evil in this world and justice is NOT served when we pretend and equivocate that there isn’t good and evil. And unlike humans (whether judge, jury, or executioner), The Devil KNOWS. He has no doubts. Reasonable or otherwise.

I wonder if the appeal and popularity of this show rests in exactly this: that bad people will get their comeuppance and that there will be no doubt that they deserved it. What’s driving our craving for this?

A lack of justice in the real world perhaps?

That and maybe because Hollywood did use some of its “magic” to make him likable and entertaining.

They gave him a shit-eating grin, a total acceptance for who and what he is, and cast him not as some tempter, some trickster, but merely an agent of consequence.

Humans make their choices—they have free will after all—and they reap the consequences of those choices. That too is something that is sorely missing in the real world. In fact we seem to spend an inordinate amount of effort and treasure at insulating people from the consequences of their choices. So no wonder we enjoy the escapism into a world where that is not the case.

I also loved the idea that he’s totally upfront about who and what he is and yet few believe him, or in him. No one is asking us to believe that a pair of glasses keep everyone from realizing that Clark Kent is Superman. Also, the weaknesses of this character are far more interesting—see, there’s that word again—than Kryptonite. In fact they’re palpably human and I admit I’m a sucker for the fact that Chloe is his Kryptonite. Yeah, total sucker for romances. I can’t wait to see how it all pans out so I bought the entire set.

Hollywood, please don’t disappoint me.

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part six)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Mar. 2nd, 2018

Are we there yet?

Anyone who has spent five days in a conference room, six nights in a hotel bed, and played Russian roulette with every meal in a strange place not famous for its culinary delights (yes, I’m a foodie; sue me) knows what I’m talking about. By this point, I’m just ready to be done. The end can’t come fast enough and even the upcoming TSA “experience” is something that doesn’t look as bad as the memory of the most recent TSA “experience” fades. Even the support and camaraderie of my fellow writers, the companionship of my husband, is not enough to make me want to face this day.

I have to give you a little background on this one. I didn’t want to write this story and despite the nine hours (in one day) it took to get it on paper, it was the most difficult one for me personally. The theme was “passions,” whether it was something that led to passion or a crime of passion.

A preference was stated for crime/mystery and science fiction or fantasy were not allowed. Seeing as I mostly write science fiction and don’t read crime/mystery I felt totally unprepared. The additional requirement that it NOT be an intellectual puzzle, but focus on the emotion made it even more difficult.

I wanted to skip this assignment altogether.

I didn’t for two reasons. First of all, I was always that student, the one that never blows off an assignment, never turns in anything late, etc. (Yes, you can hate me; I’m used to it.) Second of all, I’m paying good money to be here, so I’d be short-changing myself. Third, I do know what I’m passionate about. Anyone who knows me well knows this.

Even though I finished this story on the day I got the submission guidelines, I waited. By Wednesday, I knew that if I didn’t send it out now, I would not send it out at all. I had several big fears about this one, beside it being too close to my heart. I wasn’t sure how much of a risk this story would be. I also wrote it in first person (a distancing technique) and I pulled back even further by using a lot of filters, even though this was the “Disney” version of events.

The summary: Fictionalized account of true events and crimes under the Ceaucescu regime as told by a survivor of communism. Renata’s childhood experiences drive her passion for and love of America.

  • Editor 1: Pacing issues but still got into it; startlingly good.
  • Editor 2: Wow; really well done; compelling narrator voice kept him in there; liked wrap; really nailed emotions; played on the heart strings; parts had a dreamlike quality; backed away from the emotion in places; showed atrocities at arm’s length; powerful prose; loved the ending; move in closer (i.e. close narrative distance by removing filters for example).
  • Editor 3: Without question a powerful story; not sure it’s a crime of passion; they’re government crimes; might not fit concept; no idea who is being lectured; need a cause for narrator’s reaction, so it’s not a general conversation.
  • Editor 4: Agrees with editor 3; thought character was too passive; wasn’t powerful for her.
  • Editor 5: Worked for her because [the editor] lived through the Cold War; liked it; character’s passivity is exactly what communism would do to a human being; would’ve bought it.
  • Buying editor: Spectacularly written; disagrees with editor 1 because the literary nature of the story needs big paragraphs to slow down the reader and let him see the horrid life the character saw; the character is talking to all of us who dismiss other people’s painful stories, so it doesn’t need details about the person being responded to; the passivity is absolutely logical; the character is NOT passive at the end; passionate for new country;  it’s about the character learning how to be active; works well; great writing; difficult things that are being addressed; buy.

I was still recovering from the word “buy” from Kristine Katherine Rusch when Dean Wesley Smith (editor 1 in this case) said he went back to re-read this particular story after working with me on my space opera pacing issues. He told me that if I can get this kind of emotion and power into everything I write, readers will be flocking to me in droves.

I tell you this not to brag, but because I know that as writers we tend to focus far too much on the criticism we get rather than the praise. We don’t hear or take in positive things like we hear or take in negative things. While this may be especially true of writers (including myself), I think it’s very much a human trait, and it’s there for a good reason—survival. Our brains are wired to respond to threats so that we can run or fight, and this tendency to give the negative power over us is part of that survival mechanism.

I come away from this intense and exhausting week, a better writer.

My purpose in sharing this, especially with all of you writers and would-be writers, was to show you–really, truly, show you–that a rejection is not fatal, and that it is contingent on many factors.

Please, please, please, note how many times something was “liked” but not bought. Please note the difference between taste, personal preference, and the wide range of possible interpretations based not just on the editor’s life experience, but also on editorial goals/requirements:

  • Did this story fit the theme?
  • Did the word count justify extra length?
  • Was the writer willing to make changes knowing that even with requested changes, it might be rejected?
  • Was the story fixable in the time the editor had?
  • How did the presence of other stories influence the take on your story?

One unique aspect of this workshop was that editors bought pieces submitted to other anthologies. That’s how I ended up with two sales. One to the anthology I originally wrote it for, and one to an anthology which rejected the piece I wrote for it but bought a story I wrote for a different anthology.

You won’t find that in a slush-pile setting, but its equivalent is “send it out again.” Find another market for it. Even one element of the story can fit another theme and get you another chance to have someone say “buy.”

So send it out again.

And again.

Postscript:

You may recall from my first post about this workshop that we were supposed to read the stories as if we were buying them, i.e. generating a table of contents for each anthology, as if we were buying. It was essentially the equivalent of saying “I liked it” and nothing else. Only three of the other writers in the workshop included The Greatest Crime on their buy list. Remember when I said that only the buying editor’s opinion matters? This is why.

Not only are we the worst judges of our own writing, other writers don’t do so well either. By the way, I didn’t go look at the lists. I don’t know which of my other stories made it onto the lists (someone else in the workshop brought this story’s “count” to my attention). I avoided looking at the list because in the end, other writers’ opinions don’t matter either.

So take those opinions with a grain of salt—a big grain—as well.

It’ll save your sanity.

And your writing.

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part five)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Mar. 1st, 2018

The fifth story was an exploration of dragons.

The first thing the buying editor admitted to was the fact that she did not articulate what she wanted as well as she thought she had. Unfortunately, that wasn’t apparent until she got the stories and it was too late to do anything about it. This brought up another important point about things that influence editorial decision-making. When they get a lot of stories that aren’t quite right (for whatever reason) the pressure on their time increases. They need to keep an eye on these time pressures, so they are more likely to buy stories that don’t need work.

Read the rest here: Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide

Part Six