The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Enjoying Your Own Writing

23 July 2014 | No Comments » | Matt Jones

Remember the last time you wrote something really good? I mean REALLY good? Maybe something you set aside for a little while and upon revisiting it you thought, “Did I really write this?” Something that fuels imagination, incites rage, or simply gives you goosebumps. It’s for those moments that I write. To be honest, it’s for those moments that I live for.

But lets step back and look at my life. This month is all about getting a glimpse into the world of our fellow fictorians. For my day job, I’m a Software Engineer. I write code and I love it. I guess it makes sense. During the day I get to write clever algorithm and create new software. At night I get to write clever prose and create new worlds. In both jobs, my favorite moments come when I can look at something I wrote, be it code or prose, and bask in my own brilliance.

Now, I guess there is something that makes those moments so special for me. They happen, but not as often as I would like. I guess one of the problems with writing every day, for a long time, is that you get used to it. You come to learn what to expect with your abilities and you don’t always end up pushing the envelope. In coding it is the well understood, easy to read code usually is always the best. A favorite quotes goes as follows:
“Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.” –Brian Kernighan

The same goes for writing. You learn what works and what doesn’t. To some degree, writing is taking pieces of a novel and putting them together in the right order to keep the reader entertained. If you make it too clever, or too convoluted, you’ll lose a lot of readers who just want a simple novel. The chances of doing something really amazing sometimes feel few and far between.

But that doesn’t mean it never happens. Sometimes magic strikes, and sometimes I can channel that magic to create pure brilliance on the screen. When I read it later, the magic is still there and it flares to life. And sometimes, I forget all the mistakes I’ve made. I forget the negative criticism I’ve received. I forget all the rejection letters I have. Sometimes I know that I am a writer, and this is why I write.

And that’s why I keep writing.

The Potential of Daydreams

22 July 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Patrick Sullivan.

Part of becoming a writer is learning to chase dreams. What ifs, fragments of ideas, whispers of truth and falsehood mixed together into a cocktail that sends the imagination off in any number of different directions. It can be taken for granted once you get used to it, having the ability to wrestle with ideas and draw them from the strangest places.

Yet many look down on this skill, the ability to daydream and find ideas. People tease about daydreams and how you should live in the now, not in your head. But where would we be without those who think big? From science that changes the course of human history all the way to stories that inspire people to be what they are capable of, find who they really can be, daydreams can send ripples across all of human existence.

A personal example of such inspiration is recalling a talk Tracy Hickman has given twice at Superstars Writing Seminar where he talks about the time he met a veteran who was gravely wounded, but still saved lives thanks to the inspiration he found in books Tracy and Margaret Weiss wrote, and what that moment meant to him.

Being able to give courage to the fearful, hope to the hopeless, and belief to those without is a powerful tool, and storytelling can do that in a way nothing else can. Stories are funny in that they can appear trivial, yet have so much hidden power to inspire.

For me, the most personal example of inspiring others came about because of my alpha reader. I tend not to let many people near my novels in their early state, but one old college friend insisted, so after doing continuity cleanups and the like, I send ‘em her way. One of those novels stuck with her to the point that we had a text conversation one evening where she was imagining a future for those characters after the events of my novel.

Watching her imagination soar because of a story I wrote, inspired by characters I crafted in a world of my own design, felt amazing. Especially when I considered the fact this happened months after she read the book. That character, those scenarios, rooted themselves so deeply in her head that she needed to let them run free. It tells me a lot about how writers who are okay with fan fiction feel about others’ reactions to their work. It can be intoxicating.

So now anytime I’m writing a story, I ask myself what I hope to inspire in my readers. It doesn’t need to be preachy and message-filled, but it should let them take away something. Perhaps it’s simply a good laugh, or maybe something more. But I always do it with purpose, because I want anyone who comes to my stories to walk away better for having read them. To be inspired.

Guest Writer Bio:
Patrick Sullivan is an explorer of ideas across many forms, from digital data and code to stories. He grew up in southern Arkansas, but found his true home in Denver, Colorado, where he now works in the software industry while writing tales he intends to someday share with the masses.

Outside, in the Office

20 July 2014 | 1 Comment » | fictorians

A guest post by Kevin J Anderson.

IMG_2956I write and publish four or more novels a year, and my creative office doesn’t have either a computer or a desk. It also doesn’t have the distraction of a constantly ringing phone, an endless succession of emails that need to be responded to (or marked as spam), doorbells to be answered with the latest UPS package of cat food from amazon prime (and the related distraction of cats who want me to feed them that food), or employees or family members who lie by assuring me “this will only take a minute.”

No, my real creative office is outside on the trail.

After outlining a novel, I take my notes, my digital recorder, my hiking boots, and my imagination and I hit the trail. After a few minutes, surrounded by trees, rocks, or streams, I can sink into the zone, immerse myself into my world, my story, my characters. As I walk, I think up the sentences that I would normally type out… but instead of moving my fingers around on a keyboard, I just speak the words out loud.

IMG_2915I have so programmed myself to write this way that now I find it very frustrating to sit my butt in a chair and stare at a screen for hours on end. When I’m walking, I am inspired by the landscapes in my beautiful Colorado. It may not be a genuine alien world, but I can imagine that—and all without the constant real-world distractions that harass a writer cooped up in a home office.

The only distractions I encounter are the occasional rattlesnake or hailstorm, but I can deal with that better than tedious phone conversations.

When I’m out walking, especially on long hikes, I can sink into a fugue state, entirely into what I’m writing, and when I dictate, the words go straight from my mind and out of my mouth, recorded directly without any intermediary step. I can just reel out what’s in my imagination.

IMG_2950The scenery itself is often inspirational, and when possible I try to be in a place that reminds me of what I’m writing. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado or Death Valley in California as I write my Dune novels with Brian Herbert; I’ve been in a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains while writing about Han Solo and Princess Leia on the polar icecap of a planet, and I spent time hiking around the Anasazi cliff ruins of Mesa Verde while writing about derelict alien cliff ruins in my Saga of Seven Suns.

Obviously, my hiking trips are work-related.

I have a typist (several, actually, because I tend to overload them!) who transcribes my digital file and sends me a Word document back, so that I can polish it…and there’s the tedious butt-in-chair keyboard time I am forced to endure.

IMG_2888But sometimes I extend the getaway into a camping trip, so that I can really move my working office onto a picnic table out in a beautiful National Forest site. That’s where I’m writing this, sitting at a table under a lodgepole pine tree at a perfect campsite next to a river 85 miles up the Cache la Poudre canyon in northern Colorado. An extra battery for the laptop, and no internet connection, a growler of my favorite microbrew beer: It’s the perfect office, alone in the forest (except for a moose visitor who just walked through the campground), away from it all where I can concentrate on being in the worlds inside my head. It’s like taking a vacation in an exotic place with my imaginary friends.

It’s the best office in the world.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson was born March 27, 1962, and raised in small town Oregon, Wisconsin, south of Madison—an environment that was a cross between a Ray Bradbury short story and a Norman Rockwell painting. He first knew he wanted to create fiction when he was five years old, before he even knew how to write: he was so moved by the film of War of the Worlds on TV that he took a notepad the next day and drew pictures of scenes from the film, spread them out on the floor, and told the story out loud (maybe this is what led him into writing comics nearly three decades later!). At eight years old, Kevin wrote his first “novel” (three pages long on pink scrappaper) on the typewriter in his father’s den: “The Injection,” a story about a mad scientist who invents a formula that can bring anything to life . . . and when his colleagues scoff, he proceeds to bring a bunch of wax museum monsters and dinosaur skeletons to life so they can go on the rampage. At the age of ten, he had saved up enough money from mowing lawns and doing odd jobs that he could either buy his own bicycle or his own typewriter. Kevin chose the typewriter . . . and has been writing ever since.

Find Kevin and his new releases on his Facebook page, the Word Fire Press page, or his blog.

Never Pitch to an Editor in the Bathroom

19 July 2014 | No Comments » | fictorians

A guest post by Gerald Brandt.

I have been going to World Fantasy Conventions since 2008, when it was held in Calgary, Alberta. I had been “seriously” writing for a couple of years before that, alone in my office, churning out mediocre short stories, gathering rejections.

That year, I happened to go to a local convention, and met some other science fiction and fantasy writers. As a group, we decided that since the World Fantasy Convention was in Canada, we had to go.

Once there, I attended every panel I could, took copious notes, and got to bed early so I could start the next day fresh. I did manage to meet a few people, and made a couple of friends. All in all, a great convention.

I have learned how to do conventions better since then.

Out of our group of five that attended that convention, only two of us are still writing, and published. Of the people I met in Calgary, one became part of our little convention group, and we ended up hanging together at every convention we attended. This story is about Adria, Sherry, and me.

The 2010 World Fantasy Convention was held in Columbus, Ohio. All three of us were able to attend. We flew in at different times and met in the heart of every convention—the bar.

Columbus was beautifully set up, with the bar situated in an open area, right between the room the panels were held in and the hotel rooms. Everyone, no matter where you were going, walked through the bar to get there. Columbus is where I learned how to do conventions.

On Saturday night, the second day of the convention, two parties were held. There were probably more, but these were the ones the three of us were interested in. One was held by a small press out of Calgary: Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing was doing a reading and a book launch.

Across the hall from Edge was the Tor party. Tor parties always start out as private affairs. After a couple of hours, they open their doors to the general riffraff. People like me.

Adria, Sherry, and I went to the Edge party after a late dinner and listened to some of the readings. A bit later, the Edge party got into full swing and we chatted with the people we knew, introduced ourselves to the ones we didn’t, and generally had a good time.

At one point, we ducked out to the hallway and walked into the Tor party. It was a zoo. There were so many people milling around the two-room suite, we could barely breathe. After about ten minutes, we gave up and went back to the Edge party.

Sometime around 1:30 in the morning, we decided we’d had enough. We were exhausted and ready for our beds. The hallway was relatively quiet by then, and we chatted as we waited for the elevator.

Someone in our group, I’d like to think it was me, but I doubt it, decided our night shouldn’t be over yet. One of the reasons we were here was to meet editors and agents, and from what we’d heard, the Tor party was the place.

We left the elevator and went back to Tor’s room. It was still full, but not nearly with the same amount of people as earlier. Even with all the people, there was no one we knew.

Throwing caution to the wind, we ventured in deeper, eavesdropping on a conversation here and there. Eventually, someone approached us, a smile on his face and a drink in his hand. He had noticed we didn’t have any drinks, and he knew where they were. Did we want one?

Hell, yeah!

The drinks, as it turned out, were stored in melted ice in the bathtub. Our generous host plopped down on the toilet and reached into the cold water, asking us what we wanted. As he pulled out our bottles and tried to get them open, he asked what we did.

Me, being the shyest of the group, didn’t answer. Sherry stepped forward and made the introductions. We were authors, she said, from Canada. The next words out of her mouth were “And what do you do? Do you write as well?”

The response was a quick no. “My name is Paul Stevens,” he said. “I’m an editor for Tor. Do you have anything to pitch?”

After a second of embarrassed silence, Adria took over, calmly pitching her latest novel while Paul sat on the toilet looking up at us. Sherry was next. By the time it was my turn, Paul had already stood up, and we moved outside the bathroom where I finished my pitch (with some help from Sherry. Thanks!).

They always say never pitch to an agent or an editor in the bathroom. It’s rude. It’s uncouth. But what are you going to do when the editor asks? That’s easy. Pitch your heart out as he sits on the toilet.

We each got a full request that night, meaning Paul was either very kind-hearted, or we pitched pretty damn well.

 * * *

As a follow up on where to spend your time at a World Fantasy Convention, it’s obviously the bar. You’re not there to get hammered and make a fool of yourself, you’re there to meet and talk to as many people as you can. Don’t try to sell yourself or your book. Just relax. The people you meet there—agents, editors, other authors—will all remember you, though it may take a couple of conventions. They say it’s not who you know in this business, and they are right. But if these people see you, year after year, and put a face, a personality, to the submission that crosses their desk, it helps put a human element into what can be a very difficult process.

I’ll see you at World Fantasy 2014, in Washington, DC.

Gerald BrandtGuest Writer Bio:
Gerald Brandt has spent most of his life dealing with computers, from programming to administration. At other times, he has flown airplanes, climbed sheer rock faces, been a famous mascot, waitered, flipped burgers, sold flowers, and learned kung fu. Born in Berlin, he grew up in Canada and gladly calls it home with his two kids, beautiful wife, and a shedding cat. Gerald is a long-time member of the Backspace Writer’s organization, and a founding member of Poverty of Writers, a local critique group. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter as geraldbrandt. http://geraldbrandt.com

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