One thing “new”1 writers often hear is “write what you know.” It’s told to us as a hard-and-fast Rule of Writing™ that Must Not Be Broken™. Or something.
“Class, write one thousand words by Friday.”
“But, Mrs. Teacher, what do we write?” ask the worried students.
“Just write about what you know, dear,” she says, a knowing smile on her face.
Well, sure. That’s easy. I could write about being an only child growing up in a small town in rural Alabama, going to a private school, getting together with my friends and riding bicycles all over town after school and during the summer. I could expound at great length upon being an only grandchild (on one side) or what it’s like to spend all day at the municipal swimming pool in chlorinated water, getting a sunburn, and then doing it all again for 90 straight days during the summer. I could wax poetic over what Halloween was like in the 1970s in small-town Alabama. I could go on for hours about computers and the Internet and all the books I read or the podcasts I listen to. Get me started on the wonders of the universe and science and learning for the sake of learning and you’ll have to physically restrain me to get me to stop.
But . . . I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, and urban fantasy. You know, faster than light travel, teleportation, magic, vampires, werewolves, Things That Go Bump in the Night™, aliens, zombies, alien zombies, alien werewolf vampire zombies going faster than light using magic to escape from killer robots from the future . . . like that.
I don’t know any of that. And that’s where that “rule” breaks down. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great rule. For beginners. Because if you know something, you’re passionate about it. I think experienced writers and teachers tell learners that so they’ll want to write about something and therefore spend the writing time it takes to get the million words of crap out so the good words can start spilling forth.2
But at some point, you have to start writing about what you don’t know. Can’t know. One of the first stories I ever completed was about a pregnant woman who started losing time every day. Do I know what it’s like to be a woman? Or pregnant? Or married? No, no, and no.
But here’s the thing. As you mature as a writer, you develop the ability to extrapolate.
I am an only child. I was supposed to be the first of three. But I was born and was apparently (according to my mother) such a horrible child (colic) that they decided one was plenty. I try *twitch* not to let that *twitch* bother me. I think I’m doing *twitch* quite well, actually. So does my therapist.3But I can imagine what it’s like to have a sibling. My father had three brothers and four sisters, and I’ve heard many, many tales of what life was like for them growing up with so many people around. My mother has a younger brother, and I’ve also heard tales of their mutual childhood.
Aside from that, I have friends I consider members of my family. I have a housemate. I have twenty first cousins on my father’s side. I used to babysit for my mother’s friend, who had a boy and girl six and seven years younger than me, respectively. So I can extrapolate from all that what it might be like to have a little brother or sister, older sibling, or twin. Do I get it perfect? Probably not. But there are as many different types of families as there are people, so I figure if I get it wrong, people will assume that’s just how it is in that family and move on. :)
Now, here’s the funny part. As I was writing this post over the course of a few hours on Sunday night, I had a sudden realization. In my current work in progress, which I’m calling Death Scene, I have a main character Nick Damon, who had a brother Jacob, but Jacob died while they were still young. Another character Javier Ellis, is an only child. As is Charlotte (Chuck) Norris. And Manuel Gutierrez. And Lena Saunders. And Monique Johnson. And Terence Yamato. And Derek Meads. And . . .
I have managed to write what I know without realizing I was doing it. Literally all my characters are only children, essentially. How did I let that happen?
Time to rethink a few things. :)
Today’s post is inspired by GBE2 (Group Blogging Experience)’s Week 109 prompt: Sibling(s).
- I’ve been writing one way or another since I was 11. So I’m hardly ‘new,’ but since I’m also not a professional writer until I sell my writing (which, granted, would be much more likely to happen if I submitted frequently), I use ‘new’ here in that sense.
- There is a well-known(?) rule of thumb that says a writer must write a million words of crap and get them out of her system before she gets to the good words. It’s an arbitrary number, sure, and if all you do is glurge words day after day with no attempt at improvement, you’re never going to get to the “good” ones.
- I actually don’t have a therapist, but the joke was too good to let pass . . . ;)
I own a book called What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. One of the very first exercises in that book is to write at least one first sentence every day. With no requirement that it go further than just that: a first sentence to a story.
I’m not sure I even finished the book. I started doing that simple exercise, and it led me to several short stories (including the first one I ever finished back in 1992) and to my current novel series in progress. I did it for years, penning as few as one and as many as twenty or thirty first sentences every single day. Some of them were ridiculous; some were sublime. Some were speculative; some were mundane. Some were funny; some tragic. But the thing they all had in common was that they got my mental juices flowing. I’d think of a first sentence, and with it would come a sense of character, place, time, mood, theme, scene . . . pretty much everything but a plot.
It’s also how I discovered that I tend to randomly use the name Victor a lot. Usually in a negative manner. But I digress.
I no longer do this exercise, although I think perhaps I should start doing it again. Just to get my author juices flowing again. You see, I’m kind of blocked, right now. I have a ton of ideas, but when it comes time to put them down on paper/electrons . . . I instantly hate every syllable.
He was a dark and stormy knight.
“Feh! That sucks.”
As London burned, Victor looked down upon it with
“No! That’s even worse!”
Blood, red and sticky and still warm, dripped from my fingers into the still-open mouth of the corpse at my feet.
“No, no, no, no, NO!” <insert anachronistic image of ripping paper from a typewriter, complete with appropriate sound effects, wadding up the page, and throwing it at a trashcan overflowing with other crumpled sheets of paper, all with one sentence typed across the top>
I’m supposed to be working on my goal of writing short stories and sending them off to publishers. And I would be if I could stand a single syllable of anything I’ve written. I reached a point at which I simply could no longer look at my existing stories (editing stories I’ve already written is not my favorite thing about writing). My brain demanded that I work on what it really wanted to work on: my novel.
“Fine,” I told it. “You want it, you got it. Novel it is.”
There was a faint, gurgling squee from inside my skull. I would have been worried except that I’m used to things like that.
I churned out about 3000 words. A bit under two chapters of Death Scene, book 1 of the MCU Case Files, an urban fantasy series set in modern-day Atlanta, but with magic.
And I edited it and got it almost like I wanted it. And I triumphantly submitted it to my writing group. But with reservations. I wanted to change . . . something. But I couldn’t figure out what. Something was just not right. But what? Maybe they could help.
What I heard back definitely told me what it was. I think ‘uninteresting’ would be the polite term to use. I think the exact phrase one person used was ‘sterile and boring.’ Others used words like ‘slow,’ ‘no action,’ ‘stereotypical,’ ‘teaser-y/prologue-y,’ ‘not enough drama,’ and ‘no conflict.’
To be fair, they also said it was not info-dumpy (but was bordering on it), flowed well, drew them in, and was well-written, but as an opening chapter, it wasn’t enough. They wanted more from an introduction to a new world in which magic, the FBI, the police, and a body frozen in time during the act of being burned at the stake are all introduced.
And as each person said nearly the same thing, I nodded, because it confirmed what I’d been afraid of. And hey, it’s a chapter one. I should just move on and write chapter two, armed with the knowledge of the consensus opinion.
But that’s not what I did. What I did was start playing “What if?”
What if I increase the amount of magic the magical characters use? I mean, it’s frickin’ Urban Fantasy, right? Let’s get some magic in there from the get-go.
What if I start the chapter later? Closer to the action of examining the crime scene? Or, possibly better yet, what if I drop back a bit and start with the hapless individual who discovers the body looking for a place to get high and frisky with his girlfriend?
What if there’s conflict between the FBI and the Atlanta PD? Not stereotypical “turf wars,” but something different.
What if . . . ?
What if . . . ?
So, um . . . how do I turn it off? I’d like to write chapter 2, now, but instead I’m redesigning how vampires work and planning how I can introduce the bad guy from book 3. Yes, book 3. And ideas for the plot of book 2 are cropping up, as well.
So I guess ‘What If?’ can be a writer’s best friend or his worst enemy. At the same time. Which is a bit disconcerting.
Ooh! What if dragons . . .
Disclaimer: I am the exact opposite of upset with my writers group who gave me these critiques. I am, in fact, delighted. They were, as always, honest, thorough, and got right at the core of what was wrong with the chapter. To get angry at that would be hypocritical, since that’s the entire point of a critique group. I quoted some of their comments not because I was upset at them or was dwelling on them, but because they were particularly apt. I was so close to the story that I couldn’t see what was right in front of me.
I just wanted to say that because some of them will probably see this post, and I wanted to nip any angst on their parts in the bud. :)
This post was inspired by the GBE2 Blog On Week 108 prompt, “What If?”
This is a post just used to claim this blog as my own on BlogLovin. There’s really nothing to see here. :)
This book was just freakin’ weird. That is the only word that suffices. Gross, horrific, and disgusting in about equal measure, it was also funny as hell and kept me glued to the pages from start to end. (It was kind of uncomfortable, actually.)
I’m not even sure how to review this thing without spoiling it. There’s this guy named David Wong, and his friend John. They . . . hunt monsters. Like this one monster that’s made of meat. Not in the way that you or I are made of meat, but in a more literal way. Like, it’s a monster . . . made of meat. Like, meat from a freezer, all held together in a disgusting way by a supernatural power of evil.
Which can be vanquished, apparently, by really loud, heavy metal music played on a boom box. Or mint candies with bible verses printed on them.
And there’s a dog named Molly who both is and isn’t a dog. Who can sometimes levitate and talk. Of course, all she says is something about Korrok.
Korrok . . . that would be the big, supernatural evil. Kind of. It’s complicated.
I’m making kind of a mess of this, aren’t I?
Um. There’s also a girl. More than one, actually. Jennifer Lopez and Amy. No, not that Jennifer Lopez. The less said about her, the better.
Amy, though . . . she’s the kind of girl who disappears from inside a locked room for several hours every night, to be replaced by a bag of what looks like fat. And a giant, levitating jelly-fish. Of evil. Only she doesn’t remember where she went.
Look, just read it. Seriously. I . . . just read it.
I’m trying to design some business cards for WorldCon later this year. I’ve got it down to a couple of designs, the only difference being how the picture of me is oriented with relation to the text, which consists of my email, Twitter, Facebook, and website addresses (that would be here).
Both of them have a picture of me (different pictures), and underneath the image it has my name in full, and underneath that, my Twitter bio, which is this.
Creator and Destroyer of Worlds
But a couple of days ago in a chat with a friend of mine, I said the following.
I invent imaginary people and make them have conversations in my head. I also write.
I don’t know why, but I find this quite funny. My friend, it must be noted, neither laughed nor even reacted, but that is probably because she expects these kind of statements out of me, and believes that any reaction — positive or negative — could be taken as encouragement.
Is it just me, or is that better than Creator and Destroyer of Worlds? It’s a big longer, but . . . maybe I could make it work. I don’t know.
What do you think?
I’ve been a bad blogger. Because I’ve been working on stuff, but haven’t taken the time to mention anything.
And what’s more, I’m still not, because this post isn’t about that. It’s about what is believed to be the oldest artificial eye, discovered in 2006 in Shahr-e Sukhteh in what is now eastern Iran. So far east, it’s almost in Afghanistan.
What struck me and made me want to post this was this description from the Wikipedia article on the find.
[The artificial eye] has a hemispherical form and a diameter of just over 2.5 cm (1 inch). It consists of very light material, probably bitumen paste. The surface of the artificial eye is covered with a thin layer of gold, engraved with a central circle (representing the iris) and gold lines patterned like sun rays. The female remains found with the artificial eye was 1.82 m tall (6 feet), much taller than ordinary women of her time. On both sides of the eye are drilled tiny holes, through which a golden thread could hold the eyeball in place. Since microscopic research has shown that the eye socket showed clear imprints of the golden thread, the eyeball must have been worn during her lifetime. The woman’s skeleton has been dated to between 2900 and 2800 BCE
Now, picture that coming at you. A woman a head taller – or more — than most other women of the region. And maybe, given the time period, taller than most of the men, as well.
Staring at you out of one eye socket is a golden eye that catches the sun and glints, seemingly with its own light. as though she has captured and tamed the sun-god.
Now imagine her angry. With a sword.
That’s the image that is stuck in my head, at any rate. I have to see if I can possibly use that in a story.
And it’s totally not Xena, although I may – just may – be picturing Lucy Lawless. ;)
A month or so ago, Terra LeMay tagged me in the Lucky 7 Challenge.
The rules are:
So, the following are the seven lines following the seventh line on the seventh page of my WIP “Miles Maltese and the Case of the Playboy Prince,” a novelette-cum-short story I’m currently working on:
Tagging: I tag: Talya Tate, Sherry Ramsey, Nancy S. M. Waldman, Chuck Heintzelman, Jeff Baker, Matthew Quinn, and C. D. Covington. If you don’t want to play, or if you’ve already been tagged and don’t want to play again, feel free to ignore. If you haven’t been tagged and do want to play, feel free to comment, point to your blog, and join in.
As you may be able to tell from the graphic I’ve chosen for this post, my first submission of “Legal Aliens” has been rejected. No problem. It will be sent back out — better than it was, because it’s been edited — to another market. Probably tomorrow.
I have met all of my goals for the Codex Weekend Warrior contest. I’ve submitted three new 750-word flash stories. The contest is still on, and I don’t want to blow my Nom de Guerre by revealing the names or even exactly how I’ve done, but I will say this: I’m scoring consistently as far as my rating out of ten. All three are within .4 of each other. Voting’s not complete for round three, so that could easily change before round three is done by 9 pm tomorrow.
I did not meet my second submission deadline. The story simply wasn’t ready (see below), and rather than send out something that I know will be rejected, I’d rather send out my best effort. It will be ready for sending out by Monday, so I’ll just have to hustle to get the one after that ready in only one week.
My second story is one I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s a humorous fairy tale noir story I’m tentatively calling “The Case of the Playboy Prince.” I wrote myself into a corner sometime back before Viable Paradise and it simply had no ending. It languished in Scrivener waiting for inspiration. Which finally hit one morning about a week ago in the shower. I hacked out about 3000 words, wrote 2400 new ones, and it stands at 11,300+ words. Which is maybe a bit long for the market, but . . . there’s a scene at the front I can cut, distribute some of the exposition to later scenes, and maybe get it down below 10,000 words. We’ll see.
I’ve begun to work on revamping an older novella (“The Surrogate”) that I didn’t know how to end (do you sense a pattern?) as a candidate for my Q1 Writers of the Future submission. It can be as many as 17,000 words. Of course, I have selected to revamp a story that came out to 23,000+ words the first time through, so I foresee more gutting in my future. :)
Anyway, there is progress. I’m gonna hang on to that image up there, just in case. And I’m going to optimistically look for one that says “Accepted” on it.
One of my goals for 2013 is to read more short fiction. This collection definitely fit the bill. I love short fiction, and I love well-done humor. This anthology is nicely balanced. The humor ranges from puns with elaborate set-ups that are a great deal of fun to more subtle humor that doesn’t make you laugh out loud, but may make you chuckle. Evilly, even.
I think there’s definitely something in this collection for everyone, no matter what your sense of humor. The comics are a nice addition I wasn’t expecting, although my one complaint is that they’re awfully hard to read on the Kindle edition. Luckily, I have a print edition, as well, so I can see them there.
I was just looking at the table of contents to see if I could pick a favorite. Harder than I thought.
“El and Al vs. Himmler’s Horrendous Horde from Hell” by Mike Resnick is definitely in the top few. Resnick is one of the masters of short fiction, and this story kept me giggling throughout. Just imagine Albert Einstein as a wizard fighting Himmler . . . and you still don’t really come close. You need to read it.
I also really enjoyed “The Alien Invasion As Seen In The Twitter Stream of @dweebless” by Jake Kerr. If you’re on Twitter, you’ll doubly appreciate the humor.
“The Velveteen Golem” by David Sklar also satisfied by providing an entirely hilarious story that surprised me at the end with a deplorable (meaning really good, in this case) word pun that I should have seen coming but didn’t.
I think of all of them, Jody Lynn Nye’s “The Worm’s Eye View” and Ferrett Steinmetz’s “One-Hand Tantra” were my favorites. Nye’s story is a good hard sci-fi story that manages to weave humor into it in a way that doesn’t detract from the science fiction. Kudos to her for that.
Steinmetz’s story…ah, what I can say about this that won’t get me banned from Goodreads? :) “Hilarious!” That works. I mean, who knew masturbation could be a magical power?
You’ll definitely find something here to tickle your funny bone.
View all my reviews
I’m happy to report that the first two short-term milestone goals I set for myself are now met. I completed a 750-word story based on two of the prompts given for Codex‘s Weekend Warrior flash contest, and submitted it well in advance of the deadline (which is 3 AM, my time). My immediate goal is not to edit it anymore. It’s done. Alas, I cannot tell you the title or anything about it because they’re submitted anonymously.
I also spent several hours relentlessly cutting down my Viable Paradise The Horror That Is Thursday™ story, “Legal Aliens,” and submitted it to a paying market. I should hear back within a month.
I have an entry in my “Subs” spreadsheet! <beams at entry>
Meanwhile, I now need to read between forty and fifty 750-word stories on Codex and rank them (1-10). I have until Friday night at 9 pm. And edit my next short story for submission by Monday, January 21st. I haven’t decided if the next one will be “D Is for Dragon” or one of the other NaNoWriMo 2011 stories, yet.