Querying for Your First Agent #amquerying

I realized something the other day. I've been "querying" for my first novel, Passages and Passengers, for over a year. I quoted the word, because I realized that in that period of time, I have't treated querying like the job it is. I haven't given it the attention to detail I have with my editing and my writing. I haven't busted my ass making sure that I am sending out queries every week to play the game of large numbers.

So, over the 4th of July, I started in earnest. I decided it was time to do this, and to do it right. 

This post is aimed at anyone who, like me, is trying to get an agent for the first time. I am, obviously, no expert in this, as I don't yet have an agent. So instead of telling you "how" to do it, I'm going to share a variety of resources and tools I've been using. Hopefully it will be helpful. 

Before You Start

  1. Have a finished book. Finished meaning fully written. Edited (more than once). Ready to publish right this second. Note that your "fully finished" status will likely change periodically. I have gone across, then back, then forward across this line a few times based on feedback I've received over the last year.
  2. Have a couple of synopsis written for the book. Often I find agents looking for a "brief" (which I take to mean a few paragraphs) or a couple of page synopsis. I would suggest doing these ahead of time. Disclaimer: I am not great at writing these, so I don't have a great recommendation here other than "do this." 

Step 1

I would suggest doing a bit of research on the querying process. For me, this was listening to people I respect on podcasts (like Writing Excuses and I Should be Writing) talk about the process. This also lead to a new podcast for me, Shipping and Handling (which is hosted by two agents). 

A few selected episodes to look at are:

  1. http://www.shippingandhandlingpodcast.com/post/131173981747/episode-22-queries
  2. http://www.writingexcuses.com/2011/07/03/writing-excuses-6-5-query-letters/
  3. http://murverse.com/isbw-348-stop-kicking-your-own-ass-jen-udden-interview/
  4. http://murverse.com/isbw-276-rapid-fire-the-great-agent-query/
  5. http://murverse.com/isbw-275-rapid-fire-the-great-agent-hunt/

I'm sure there are others that are worth listening to, but these are a few that jumped out at me!

Step 2

Develop a strategy for locating agents you want to query to. For me this is a blend of three things:

  1. Make sure the agent is accepting queries AND that they are interested in the genres I am querying (Adult Fantasy and Young Adult Urban Fantasy)
  2. Do some background research on http://absolutewrite.com/ to make sure that the writing community at large doesn't have anything overly negative to say about the agent and their agency.
  3. Consider what would make you personally interested / disinterested in approaching the agent. For me, this always involves a web presence (meaning if the agent has a crappy website or no website at all, I probably won't query them) and also their background and the types of books they are personally interested in. This has been difficult for me to hit on the head but I am still trying to figure it out!

Step 3

Resources for finding agents are plentiful. Sites I have found to be particularly useful are:

  1. http://agentquery.com (totally free)
  2. https://querytracker.net (both free and premium not free)
  3. http://www.writersmarket.com (not free)

I would also look into social media "pitching" contests, as many of these give you more direct access to agents. Several I can personally recommend are:

1. #PitMad - Sponsored by Brenda Drake - http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/
2. #SFFPit - Sponsored by Dan Kobolt - http://dankoboldt.com/sffpit/

There are countless others. I've personally had better luck with #PitMad that #SFFPit, but both are reputable and well supported in the industry. Brenda Drake has a number of other contests throughout the year that are well worth looking at on her site well.

Final Thoughts

As you work through the agents, a few final things I try to keep in mind:

  1. Don't rush so much that you make mistakes. Every now and again I find a typo in a query letter, and I kick myself. It's embarrassing. 
  2. Keep track of the agencies that you are actively querying. MANY agencies have policies for simultaneous submission to their agents that doesn't favor you doing it. I do this via a spreadsheet in which I track which agency, the specific agent, the work, and the last date queried. I also track how I came across this agent, just in case I stumble across them again by accident.
  3. Pay close attention to ALL of the submission requirements. Many agencies do not allow attachments. Many of them ask for very specific writing sample lengths (three chapters vs. 5 pages vs. 50 pages).

Review Alameda’s Awakening by Tara Pegasus

Alameda’s Awakening is a coming of age story filled with complex relationships that push Alameda (Ada) to her breaking point. Set in the 1950’s in a meat packing town, the story follows Ada as she prepares for life outside of her parents’ home. The daughter of a protestant minister, she has long considered converting and becoming a Catholic nun. Now that the time is upon her however, Ada begins having second thoughts, unsure if that is the life she wants to live. Romance, tragedy, and her family influence Ada as she must navigate the increasingly treacherous waters of her life. Author Tara Pegasus paints a darkly beautiful portrait in her newest novel as she explores this historic setting. Brilliantly written, Alameda's Aweakening is a fascinating look into the life of a young women fighting to find her way in the world.

Alameda's Awakening
$14.99
By Tara Pegasus

Reflections on the Shannara Chronicles

One of the very VERY first adult books I ever read was the Scions of Shannara by Terry Brooks. I rapidly fell in love with his work, and have read most of his books (and I can safely say that I had read all of the Shannara books as of about ten years ago). I actually got to meet him when he was on tour in 2009, which was AWESOME!

I met Terry Brookes in Eugene, Oregon in 2009

I met Terry Brookes in Eugene, Oregon in 2009

But, then a funny thing happened. I realized as I picked up a new book from one of his series that I knew nothing about anyone in the series anymore. I wasn't picking up a book with familiar characters, characters that I had left at some cliffhanger, stuck in the midst of a plight that might have destroyed the world in the previous year since the last book was released.

See, Shannara is a series of books that, I would argue, is about the world of Shannara more than it is about the characters of Shannara. Sure, there are Ohmsfords, Leahs, and Elessedil's throughout, but they aren't the same ones. In fact, most of the "series" of Shannara books are written generations apart from the others. 

This is not to say the writing is bad. Quite the opposite. I think Brooks is one of our generation's best sci/fi writers. He tells brilliant stories, and makes engaging characters that I want to read about. And that's my problem! When a series wraps up, and I have only gotten to spend a couple of short-ish books (or in some particularly terrible cases, just a single book!) following those characters, I want more. I don't want to meet the next Elessedil. I want to read more about the current one. That original series of books I read, now called the Heritage of Shannara, was particularly tough for me to let go. Walker Boh, Wren Elessedil, Par and Col Ohmsford... to this day, I want to read more about those characters. I want a Wheel of Time level of material about that group of people!

This brings me to the Shannara Chronicles, the show that MTV piloted this year.

I was super sketchy on MTV of all places doing the show. Surprisingly? It was actually pretty good. IGN and IMDB both gave it pretty favorable reviews throughout. Like an 8, which is more than 'pretty good' these days. Sure, it's more of a YA show than the books are YA books... But that's to be expected on MTV. So yes, the love triangle is, perhaps, a bit more played up than it needed to be. They probably played up some of the technological things more than they needed to (both effects and things I shouldn't talk about becase spoilers). But that's alright. It was enjoyable. 

Enter my concern. Remember how I said I wanted to read more about the same characters? I'm kind of in the same place with the show. Season 1 explores the Elfstones of Shannara, which is the second book that Brooks wrote, part of the original trilogy. Guess what? Books 1 and 3 are about totally different people than Elfstones, and without giving spoilers, season 1 of the show effectively covers the content of book 2. So, where does that leave us with season 2? 

Sure, some tv shows swap casts (see True Detective) but I don't love the concept. I'm really interested to see where this goes. Will season 2 move into Legend of the Seeker territory and start making up entirely new material about the characters from the book? I sort of hope not. That worked great on Dexter. It didn't work so great most other places. Legend of the Seeker by the way, the TV show adaptation of Terry Goodkind's Seeker of Truth series, was... um... much less good. And, it totally bailed on the original storyline from the books (for no good reason).

Rumor has it there is a season 2 of Shannara on the way. I'm really interested to see how they handle what comes next.

Review: Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

I had a chance to meet Matt Wallace at WorldCon in Spokane this year. I really enjoy the Ditch Diggers podcast that he and Mur Lafferty put out, so hearing him read upcoming work was a real treat (I also discovered that he is a mean Munchin player, but I digress).

Envy of Angels is the first novela in a series about a private catering company called Sin du Jour, which caters exclusively to supernatural creatures. Two new chefs inadvertently join the ranks of the Sin du Jour staff, and are whisked along for the ride as the company must prepare an unorthodox meal with a highly irregular main ingredient.

Envy of Angels is hilarious. It's irreverent. It's dark and demented and it's awesome. It's a quick read (although, I must confess that I read it much more slowly than I ought to have). Wallace nails perfectly a twisted, dark, yet light-hearted sense of humor. This isn't a heavy book, and unlike so many other dark tales, this one stays fun and fast paced without getting bogged down by gore and violence.

I finished the book and immediately sighed with regret, knowing that it would be a long time before the next one comes out. THEN I remembered, hey this is a novela! It's shorter than other books. What do you know? The next one in the series, Lustlocked, comes out in January. Hooray!

I HIGHLY recommend picking up this novela. This is the second of the Tor.com novelas post-WorldCon, and while incredibly different than Paul Cornell's Witches of Lychford (which I reviewed in September), it's still super high quality and worth a read.

The POV Cop Out

I love writing in 3rd person limited. It's my go to POV. The vast majority of the books I enjoy reading are in 3rd person limited. It feels just right to me. Generally, 1st is too narrow a POV. Omniscient is too broad. 

So, now I'm writing a first person POV novel, and I'm finding myself in an interesting situation: for the first time in a very long time, I can't just change POV to show off something cool that I want to share.

For example, one of my principals, but not the POV character, just left with a secondary character. They are going to have a conversation about something that the POV character experienced. They are going to talk about the POV character. There is no way for my POV character to overhear this conversation. Selfishly, I want to know what happens in this conversation (and of course, I will, because I'm making it up). But, there's also a part of me that wants to share what is going to happen with that conversation with the reader.

Certainly I can recap later, but that's not the point. I am SO used to being able to go </endchapter> and then jump to another headspace in another character to cover something going on there. I don't get to do that with this book. I think that's good for me, but it's a real pain in the ass, that's for sure.

So far, I have to say that 1st person is both much much easier and infinitely more difficult to write. I have exactly one plot line to juggle right now. This is compared to the seven I have in my other novel. One is much easier. But, I also have to be much more strategic about where this character goes, because if I want to have something 'on screen' I have to include my POV there. I can't send three characters in three directions and still see everything they are doing. 

Interestingly, in many ways, I think writing the super complex, multiple POV book helped me prepare for this one. I'm excited to see where things wind up.

Ditching the Press

I did a very strange thing recently. I drastically simplified my website. You might have noticed a few weeks back that my site was down for a few days. I needed to relocate to a new server, and I had an interesting decision to make: stick with Wordpress, which I've used as the hosting platform for MikeMadison.net for a decade, upgrade (in terms of potential functionality) and totally rebuild my website in Drupal, which I use for my day-job, or punt entirely and go with a managed solution like Square Space

Guess what? Square Space won.

Sure, you might be thinking, nice going Mr. Full-time Web Developer. Get lazy. Why do real work on your website when you can just pay someone else to do it for you? Wait. That's it exactly!

Five+ years ago, I was a free lance web developer and this website was one of several tools I used to garner business. "I'm good at the Internet, look at my web presence." It worked fairly well too. I supported myself (and my then-fiance, who was a student) on nothing by my income as a free-lancer. 

Now though, I do web development for an organization and I'm not soliciting business here. In fact, now that I've re-purposed the site to be about my writing, I've significantly simplified it's use. Oh, and I've done a terrible job of keeping Wordpress up to date. You know, security patches. Making sure my site doesn't get hacked, stolen, taken over, etc. Pretty important stuff. 

Enter this new decision. Drupal is, arguably, more powerful than Wordpress. I make my living leading a Drupal capability. But, Drupal takes a fair amount of energy and time to maintain, secure, and keep up to date. I do that every day, all day. The last thing I want to do is come home and do MORE of that. 

I heard about Square Space on a lot of the podcasts I listen to. I always wondered what it was, how it worked, and if it was worth it. This seemed like an opportune moment. It's different than using Wordpress, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes different is good.

A few of the things I like about Square Space:

  • It's really easy to use. Like foolishly simple, particularly the design part
  • I was able to import everything from Wordpress
  • I get to pretend I don't know d#@% about web development
  • I don't have to update ANYTHING but my content. 

A few things I don't like:

  • Things I think "should" be simple take a bit of prodding to figure out how to use
  • I have to rely entirely on their interface, API, etc. (Yes, you do with Wordpress and Drupal too, but they are a bit more extensible) 
  • I actually had to contact technical support because I can't figure something out. That's not really Square Space's fault, it's just embarrassing.

So yeah, the new and improved MikeMadison.net is, actually, new and "simplified" which means I can spend a lot more time on stuff that matters. Like writing. And reading. 

I would absolutely recommend looking into some sort of managed platform if you are in a position similar to me. A website is a luxury I CAN afford, but one that I don't want to suddenly have to pour my life into managing. Square Space is a really handy tool that helps me simplify that luxury. I'd recommend you check it out. 

Initial Thoughts on Destiny: The Taken King

It's release day for Destiny: The Taken King and I kicked the tires a bit tonight. My wife Jill and I play Destiny together on Xbox One (we've gamed together for years). 

If you aren't familiar with Destiny, it's from the same studio (Bungie) that developed the Halo series for Microsoft. It takes place in a future version of our solar system where we have been overrun by not one, but four different types of aliens and most of the civilization on Earth has been destroyed. It does a really slick job of blending technology and "magic" for the character abilities and special features. All-in-all, it's a super fun game (and way too much of a diversion, since it is more MMO than FPS).

The Taken King introduces significant changes to Destiny which I won't fully detail here. IGN did a really nice job of describing them here.

I've complained (basically since release) that Destiny's leveling system is a waste of time. Basically, you level to 20. Then, from there, you increase in level based on the amount of "light" that your character gains. Light is dependent on the gear that you have. So, the better the gear, the better your character. Sounds like any other game, right? Not really. The issue here is that to level up, you are constantly grinding through the same (limited) content to dump experience into gear to fully unlock abilities and "light." It gets super repetitive and tedious super fast.

Well, that is gone. Now, light only makes you harder to kill and makes it easier to kill other people. It has nothing to do with level anymore. Thank god. 

Tonight I played my Titan for an hour or so. I was instantly converted from "light" level 34 to "actually" level 34 last week when version 2.0 went live. I completed a number of bounties over the past week that I didn't turn in. So, as soon as I logged in today, I was able to pretty much immediately jump from level 34 to nearly level 36. That was sweet, but nothing very special happened. You don't get your 3rd class specialization without doing a quest, and that quest itself is 2 missions into the storyline of the expansion. 

After a brief (yet repetitive) tour of the tower quest, which yielded several new pieces of gear and a free exotic primary weapon (sweet) I headed to Mars' moon Phobos for the first mission of the game. It was, expectantly short. The first level of an expansion always is. Then we returned to Earth to chase down some super secret equipment that Nathan Fillions Cayde 6 had hidden on the top of a tower overrun with bad guys. 

Finally, I went to Mars (and then Mercury) while my wife went to Venus (and then Mars) to unlock our Titan and Warlock 3rd class specs (respectively). Titans get a super cool flaming hammer to round out a solar spec, and Warlocks get an amazingly badass lightning storm ability that makes them float around like wizards, electrocuting everything in sight. I'm eager to see the Hunters' new void bow and arrow, but it would have to be fairly epic to compete with the Warlocks' storm. 

Overall thoughts are that the game got a much needed refresh. I'm skeptical about the amount of content injected into the game at this point. I've essentially paid $140 for Destiny since release, and I still don't have as much content in the game as I do in other "MMOs" like EVE, WOW, Elder Scrolls Online, etc. However, having said that, there is something about Destiny that is more enjoyable and less obsessive for me than those other games. So, that's a plus I suppose. I also find that playing on a console is a really nice change from playing on my desktop in a cramped office. Still, the updated UI is SLICK and a lot of the little helper features are really nice (e.g. the new interfaces to retreive melted items / armor, shaders, etc.) 

I think the new quest system is going to really add some additional components to the game and provide a needed diversion other than the existing bounties (which, get quite repetitive as it stands).

I hope that they've done something to address the ridiculous gap between some of the content in the game. That is yet to be determined. My usual fireteam can EASILY take on any of the nightfalls in the game, but continue to struggle with raid content. This is something of a downer for me, as I always enjoy pushing on the harder areas of a game. However, unlike most other games that I've played, I haven't found Destiny to be particularly learnable. If you go into an encounter and get your ass handed to you, it's not out of the realm of possibility that you will still be getting your ass handed to you HOURS later. WOW raids (as an example) have a fairly learnable and repeatable aspect to them. Once you learn how to do them, you can do them. Because Destiny is a FPS, that isn't necessarily true. The innate difficulty is much higher. 

I'll be checking out as much of the content as I can in the coming weeks. But for now, back to writing Book 2. This has been a fun diversion. You should take a few minutes to watch the "live action" trailer for the expansion. 

Review: The Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

I got really lucky at WorldCon this year. The r/Fantasy Subreddit had a drinks with authors event and as part of that event, they were giving away a ton of books. As it turns out, not only did I win, but I had a chance to get a hold of an ARC (advanced reading copy) of Paul Cornell's The Witches of Lychford, his new novella that was just published by Tor.com. 

Unfortunately, due to my schedule, I'm behind in posting a review (had hoped to get it out prior to the release of the book) but better late than never!

Witches of Lychford
$10.09
By Paul Cornell

Lychford is a fast, fascinating romp through smalltown Britain. A supermarket is being built for the first time, and only half the town wants it. This is particularly terrifying because building the store will tear the boundaries between our world and the magical worlds beyond. The local cook (who also happens to be a witch), the reverend, and her old friend from high school have to team up to save the day.

I read Lychford in a single sitting on a plane and I greatly enjoyed it. I was sad when it was over. One of my main complaints about Cornell's other writing (I read his book London Falling earlier in the year) is that it sometimes takes him awhile to get to the action. That is NOT the case here. Lychford though is non-nonsense, charming characters that jump off the page and pull you into the adventure with them. 

I highly recommend checking out the novella! Here it is on Goodreads.

Review: Flicker by Kaye Thornbrugh

There’s still a fascinating story that Kaye Thornbrugh has woven through the familiar to make this a very unique journey.

Let’s be honest. There’s lots of fairy stories out there. If you’ve read them, if you’ve read urban fantasy like The Dresden Files or the Iron Druid Chronicles, there will be lots in Flicker that will seem familiar to you. But! There’s still a fascinating story that Kaye Thornbrugh has woven through the familiar to make this a very unique journey.

Lee, a high school student, goes missing at a party. She wandered into another world, a world filled with fairies. Years later, she is rescued by Nasser, a Seer, who brings her back to her world. Flicker is about Lee’s return to our world, a world she now realizes is filled with magic. Magic that her new friends Nasser and Filo can use, and perhaps she can as well.

Flicker is urban fantasy, but it isn’t jam packed with action like some. It’s a very character driven story. In fact, one of the only criticisms of the novel I have is that there is a lot of jumping between characters in the beginning. By the end of the novel, you know the characters well enough that this isn’t bothersome, but it does take a bit to get acclimated to each different character’s voice.

Flicker (Flicker #1)
By Kaye Thornbrugh

Flicker has some romantic plot points, but it isn’t a paranormal romance. Instead, it’s very much a coming of age story of friends, magic, and discovery.

I had a chance to meet Thornbrugh at WorldCon in Spokane this year, and I knew right away that Flicker was something I wanted to read. I’m excited to check out Brightly, the sequel.

If all of this hasn’t swayed you, the Kindle edition of Flicker is free on Amazon. (Would still recommend it if it wasn’t!) But hey, you should check it out. It's a fun read.

Check out Flicker on Goodreads!

 

WorldCon RoundUp

I’m a little late in writing this, but better late than never! I attended the 73rd WorldCon in Spokane, WA a couple of weeks ago and it was one of the best experiences of my writing career (so far). This post will cover the trip, some of the people I met, the panels I attended, the books I had signed, the readings I heard, and last but not least, photos of some of the experiences! I’ll also be doing a series of posts in the coming weeks to describe my path to WorldCon, which will hopefully help you if you’re considering attending your first WorldCon as a writer! I am avoiding politics in this post, as it is about my experiences specifically, and I don't feel that I have enough to bring to the political field that were the Hugo awards and other goings on. However, if you are interested in that topic, Wired has a great summary of everything that happened there.

WorldCon was at the Spokane Convention Center right downtown in Spokane, WA. Thankfully it’s only a two hour drive for me so getting there was easy. Unfortunately there are a lot of wild fires burning in the state right now and things were quite smokey on the way in.

Wednesday I mostly focused on getting into the hotel, registering for the con, and attending my first panel!

The panel I attended was all about contracts. I am now sure, more than ever, that I don't want to be a lawyer. (Glad we covered that). The panel focused on how, as an author, you want to make sure that the contract is in your best interest where of course, the publisher is writing the contract to be in theirs. Some really handy info from the author Mike Resnick and literary agent Joshua Bilmes.

The rest of the day Wednesday was mostly getting settled in, exploring the dealers' room, etc. I also attended several parties Wednesday night including First Night and the location bid parties for the contenders in the 2017 WorldCon bid. I have to say, while there was free booze, the parties were tough to attend on my own.

Oh, and Wednesday/Thursday also looked like the world was going to end in Spokane.

That's the sun btw, not the moon, and that is an unfiltered look at the sky. The smoke was terrible.

Thursday was a day full of panels. I got a lot out of the day, attending a self publishing panel, a live Ditch Diggers recording (if you aren't listening to Ditch Diggers, you should be!), a panel on writing diverse characters in SFF, and a reading from Brandon Sanderson from the 3rd Stormlight archive book! Thursday night also saw a drinks with authors event, at which I won an ARC (advanced reading copy) of Paul Cornel's new novela, Witches of Lychford,  from TOR.com. I also got a chance to meet chat with Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson for a few minutes. Again, this was a tough thing to go to on my own. I recognized a LOT of my favorite authors here, but the authors weren't really chatting it up with the crowd, and it was tough to get into conversations. I left fairly quickly.

Friday was an amazing day. I had a chance to pitch my novel to an agent and editor at sponsored pitching sessions. This was a fairly large, nervous part of the con for me, but both of these conversations went very well! I also had a chance to see Writing Excuses recorded live on Friday...


...and in fact they recorded three episodes with Gail Carriger, Kevin J. Anderson, and Charlie N. Holmberg. Super cool to see how they put these together! Mur Lafferty also organized an I Should be Writing meetup on Friday, so I got to meet her and Matt Wallace. And, bonus, Matt read from his upcoming novela Envy of Angels which sounded amazing. I've already pre-ordered it over at Amazon and you should too!

 

Friday also saw the chance for me to play Magic the Gathering with Brandon Sanderson! I was terrible. But I got to play MTG (a win), against Brandon Sanderson (a super win), he signed a card for me, AND I got to go hang out at the bar with some new friends I met at the con.  All in all, an excellent day.

 

Nothing terribly exciting happened Saturday and Sunday. I spent most of those days perusing the dealer room and meeting authors, having books singed, and attending panels. I also had a chance to chat about my work with a number of authors and people in the publishing industry. It was less about pitching, and more about getting to know people. I got to watch the Hugo awards with a great bunch of people (including Matt Wallace). THEN on Sunday, I got to listen to Mur Lafferty read from three of her upcoming projects, all of which sound super cool. In fact, I got to meet LOTS of people that were there selling their books.

Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology
By Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler

All in all, I think WorldCon was worth every cent and the time I spent there. I am not sure I will go again as a non-professional writer. Not unless it's once again in a city that is within driving distance. The cost of attending + flight + hotel + vacation seems prohibitive for me to go without a real purpose. However, given the location and the experiences I had, I loved it.

I met a TON of authors in person, including:

Brandon Sanderson Howard Taylor Dan Wells Charlie N. Holmberg Gail Carriger Mur Lafferty Matt Wallace Kameron Hurley Wesley Chu

That's not counting all of the amazing northwest talent I met from the Oregon/Washington/Idaho/Alaska area.

I came back so energized and excited that I cannot wait to experience another con in the future. I'm hoping to hit GenCon in Indiana next summer (thanks to family being there and combining trips). So, hopefully more coming on that in the spring. I'm hoping that Mary Robinette Kowal in particular will be out and about at some point as well, so I can get the last signature on my Writing Excuses Anthology, Shadows Beneath.

OH. Right. And I officially started writing book 2. That was pretty fun as well.

A Good Place to Wind Up

I swore up and down when I started writing Passages and Passenges that I wouldn't make the same mistakes that I did when I was working on my first, failed novel. I've talked about this several times, most recently in my post Changing the Habit #5. I was fairly certain therefore that I would start, and just go with it. I was totally wrong.

Finding the beginning of my book took almost a year of writing the book. I still think that's totally nuts. There's a lot of pressure to get the beginning right. Right?

At first, I planned on starting with major action. So, chapter 1 opened ... explosively. Then, I realized that the cinematic, explosion filled approach was totally out of character (not in a POV that made any damn sense) for the way I was writing the novel. Scratch that.

Then, I moved the time frame forward about ten minutes and started after the explosions were done. I let my character deal with the aftermath, literally crawling his way out of the mess I had just made. While an interesting way to start the book, I realized that as a fantasy series, starting with a sci/fi element was really misleading to the reader. As cool as the first chapter was, again, it wasn't consistent. Scratch that one too.

I don't know exactly when I decided to start with the fantasy element of the book, but things started going much MUCH more smoothly at that point. But. My beta readers were concerned that starting the middle of the action didn't give me any chance to really explain the world, to explain the rules of the magic system I was using, or to setup anything. They were right, too. Scratch THAT as well.

Somewhere in the middle of my big rewrite that I did last year (I totally rewrote the book from page one after finishing a very rough draft) I wrote a chapter. I think it was chapter 21 originally. This chapter was one of a series of flashbacks, I believe it was the third such. I got very positive feedback on the chapter, and in fact, was strongly urged to move it up top. Instead of a flashback, make the action start there.

Where I am now, is that "21st" chapter is my first. What was the first chapter, the really action packed, fantasy scene, actually now happens about a quarter of the way into the second chapter. Even though my novel no longer starts with explosions and in the middle of nutso action, I do give the reader a much more grounded approach to the world and let them get to know and care about the characters a bit before I put them in mortal danger.

I know how much I stressed out about finding that great beginning for the book. After about two and a half years of working on the book, multiple failed attempts, I accidentally wrote a great beginning. Awesome!

I was listening to Writing Excuses recently and they happened to be talking about beginnings. Dan Wells made a really excellent point, that the beginning you write early on probably isn't going to be the beginning that actually makes it through all of your editing and rewrites anyway. So, there's no reason to stress about writing that perfect beginning when you start.

I can totally relate to that.

More, I recently suggested to a friend that if she's having trouble getting out of the beginning, just skip it. Start a chapter down the road a bit. We all know something is going to happen before that chapter, but often, it's actually easier to write the "real" beginning of the book after you understand your characters and your plot better than you ever will when you start writing on line one. Especially if it's your first book.

As always, writing is more important than hitting the nail on the head with every word. The act of writing five or six crappy chapters, early on, is much better than iterating over the first chapter again and again, trying to find that perfect beginning.

It’s a Web Web World: Part 3

I spent some time in the last week giving advice to a friend on setting up her website in preparation for the release of her novel. This is part 3/3, focusing on some of my personal recommendations on a path forward. If you missed the other parts in this series:

Part 1 Part 2

A few other things I personally recommend that you try to include:

  • Support Mobile devices. This is critical. So many people find your site via social media and a lot of them will be on a tablet / phone. Google has also started penalizing sites that don’t support mobile versions. All websites natively allow a phone/tablet to view them, but not all respond to the size of the screen. This is a design thing and related to the template you pick for the look/feel.
  • Use Analytics. Google provides them for free, so do other services. Analytics will help you understand how much traffic you have coming to your website, and will give you more data than you’ll ever be able to read. Still, it will help understand things like…
    •  Do most people visit my site after I post a new blog entry, or do I have consistent traffic?
    • Are people using a particular feature on my site?
    • What types of devices are people using to browse my site?
  • If you blog, have an RSS feed so that people can subscribe (and make it obvious so they can). I never read blogs just to read blogs. I do subscribe to them via Feedly though and read articles that sound interesting
  • If you blog, setup integration with your social media so you can broadcast new posts. My blog automatically posts my new articles to both Facebook and Twitter.
  • If you have a store, make absolutely certain that all payments are collected via a secure connection (look for the HTTPS in the URL). Often this means that your redirects the user to the PayPal / Authorize.net site to handle the transaction. Without this, credit card numbers being input into your website will be unsecure! (This is a big one)
  • If you can’t afford a web designer to help you with the look/feel of your site (that’s ok), look into a premium template for your site. Depending on your technology (e.g. Wordpress, Drupal, Joomla, Tumblr) there are many many options for this and they are affordable. You may not have a super fancy site, but you don’t necessarily want it to look like a high schooler built it (even if you are a high schooler). A person’s impression of your website may have a direct impact on your business. Don’t be the Space Jam website. That isn’t helping anyone.
  • Make sure your technology supports exporting content. The web is a dynamic, ever changing place, and what you are doing today may not be what you are doing in the future. Your domain can move with you! Just make sure your content can easily move too.

Finally, remember that a website is something you can spend 40 hours a week working on. My day job is a being a web developer, and it’s definitely a field that you always have new things to learn. Your main concern is being a writer. If you spend all your time blogging and tinkering on your website, then you aren’t building the platform that your website is supposed to be pushing. Find a solution that makes it as easy/quick as possible for you to maintain your web presence without infringing on your actual writing time.

Oh. And have fun with it. It’s supposed to be fun!

It’s a Web Web World: Part 2

I spent some time in the last week giving advice to a friend on setting up her website in preparation for the release of her novel. This is part 2/3, focusing on some of the specific features you should focus on when thinking about setting up your site! If you missed the other parts in this series:

Part 1

I always recommend stopping and thinking about what you’re trying to do with the site prior to doing a bunch of research. There are so so many options for web presences that you could spend days trying to track them all down. In general, here are a few things you’ll need to consider:

  • What sorts of things do I want to do with my website?
  • A blog? [Moderate]
  • Social Media (e.g. Twitter/Facebook) Integration?  [Easy]
  • Basic Contact Information / Bio / Publications List [Easy]
  • Link to existing store-front (e.g. Amazon Store) [Easy]
  • Event calendar / appearances [Moderate]
  • On-Site E-Commerce [Difficult]

There are of course countless other things you might do, but these are some of the common ones. If you are thinking you want to do something complicated (like e-commerce) that will help you limit your options from the next list. If you are just wanting a blog, again, that will help you decide.

Easy items above are essentially static content. Once you post them, they don’t change very often. Even basic HTML can be used for something like this.

Moderate items above (the blog, the calendar) are items that you are likely to change regularly (daily, weekly, etc.). Because of this, having a static HTML site is going to be incredibly painful for you, and having some sort of database driven solution will make your life infinitely simpler. However, this requires more technical resources as a result (not necessarily more expensive, just more complex).

Difficult items (the store) get even more complicated, because while you need the database driven complexity of the moderate items, you also have to have the payment processing and product support required for e-commerce. Note that payment processors like PayPal and Authorize.net are super easy to setup and use, but they will take a commission out of every sale (and this should be considered a cost of doing business). Expect on top of everything else that commission to be a few cents ($.30) or so a transaction, plus a percentage of the transaction.

In the web world, we recommend that you write simple statements about what you want to do with your site to help you keep track. These user stories / use cases are very helpful in determining the components you need for your software. Things like:

  • I want my readers to find me online
  • I want my readers to buy signed copies of my books
  • I want to publish my appearance schedule in an easy to find location
  • I want an easily updatable blog (to help me post regularly)

As you consider these levels of complexity and the uses for your site, the other things to consider are the actual subscriptions you’ll need to accomplish what you want to do.

  • Domain/URL: I strongly recommend owning your own domain. The actual URL doesn’t matter much, as long as it’s yours and you plan to keep it.
  • Where to get it? Many of the places you will host your website will provide a discounted domain if you get it from them. I would leave this step until later (despite it being incredibly important)
  • What is privacy? When registering a domain, you have an option to get a private registration. I strongly recommend this, as it ensures that people can’t look up your contact information by looking up your domain. (Yes, it does roughly double the price of the domain.)
  • Hosting: The host is the person who actually provides the computing resources for you to manage your website from. You have to have hosting of “some variety” (more on this in a moment) unless you own a web server that you are publishing to the Internet (and, let’s be honest, if you are still reading this post, you probably don’t!)
  • Should I auto-renew? YES. You do NOT want your domain to expire. Someone can buy it the instant it does. Don’t mess around with this. Put a reminder on your calendar and buy the domain for multiple years at a time if you can afford it.
  • Can I have my own email @mydomain? YES.
  • Managed Software Solutions: A managed solution is something like Square Space, Wordpress.com, Shopify, etc. Each of these services charges you a flat monthly rate (or, nothing, depending) and provides you with software and the basics to run that software on the web. In general these options are the simplest, fastest, and least labor-intensive ways to get a site up and running. I recommend Wordpress.com or Tumblr if you need a simple solution.
  • Managed Hosting: This option is similar to the first, but you are responsible for managing the software. So, they manage the database, the server, etc., but you do the rest. Often cheaper (even a few dollars a month), this option requires significantly more understanding of technology and time on your part.  Note too that this option is often a shared hosting resource (vs. dedicated below) and as a result, you may not get the most blazing fast, incredibly powerful website, ever. Services like Blue Host and Fat Cow are good places to begin your search (or they were 5 years ago).
  • Dedicated Hosting: This option is basically the “on your own” model. You might still be able to get some management from the company if you want to pay for it. Most beginners don’t need this level of service. There are pros in this arena, mainly related to the performance of the server, but the costs of renting one can be prohibitive, and again, if you don’t know what you’re doing, this is going to be a very confusing path indeed.

Next, consider your budget. Are you looking to spend a couple hundred dollars a year? More? Less?

As I discussed with my friend, e-commerce can rapidly raise the cost of what you’re trying to do. If you just need a basic blog, Wordpress.com provides you with a blog and domain for about $20 a year. If you want to bring in your own domain from someplace else, it will run you about $40 a year . That’s all. That falls nicely into the Managed Software Solution I mentioned above and it’s pretty cheap.

On the other hand, if you want to have a store front on your site, going with something like Square Space ($20 a month if you pay up front) as a managed solution is one option, versus getting a managed hosting site, installing a content manager (e.g. Wordpress again) and then setting up e-commerce that ay. Again, in this option, you will be paying less than $20 a month, but you will be on the hook to make sure that you don’t have any security vulnerabilities, etc.

Make sure to check back in a few days, or subscribe, for part 3 which will talk about a few items I think are must haves for the site.

If you missed the other parts in this series:

Part 3

It’s a Web Web World: Part 1

I spent some time in the last week giving advice to a friend on setting up her website in preparation for the release of her novel. I thought I’d blog a bit about some of the things she and I discussed, since they are general topics that would be applicable to other people in a similar situation. This post is the first of a three part series that will cover a range of topics related to improving web presence and setting up an easily maintainable / manageable site.  

If you don’t have some sort of web presence, I would highly recommend that you explore one. Social Media is absolutely critical to being found on the internet these days, however what social media site you use today may be quite different than the one you are using in ten years. Having even a basic website that people can find you from provides continuity in your web presence, allowing you to shift and change your social media preferences as you see fit.

The first thing you have to remember is that managing a website takes time and money. There are a wide variety of options that will have an impact on how much time and how much money, but they are both required commodities in this endeavor. As a general rule of thumb, the more of your time you are willing to put into the work surrounding the site, the less money it is going to cost you and vice-versa.

For example, if you go with a totally “managed” solution (meaning someone else does all the work for you) or you hire a web designer/developer, you won’t have to do very much work at all, mostly just manage the content. However, in this option, you will be paying a professional or a company (or hopefully both) to do most of the heavy lifting for you. That could be anywhere from $20 a month to thousands of dollars a year (depending on who, what, where, etc.).

On the other extreme end of the spectrum, you could be responsible for managing your web server, the database, all of the security patches, etc. You could take care of everything, including the content. In this scenario, you could easily spend less than $100 a year to maintain the site. However, you would be on the hook for everything that goes wrong and would spend time away from your other job/writing/activities managing the site.

Most likely, you’ll wind up somewhere in the middle.

Make sure to check back in a few days, or subscribe, for part 2 which will talk about some of the components you should consider for your site!

 

Part 2

The Slow Pitch

I did #PitMad a few weeks ago. If you don't know what that is, that's ok. I didn't either until very recently. Basically, #PitMad is your day to pitch a completed book to a captive audience of fellow authors, agents, and publishers who are actively looking for new work to share and publish. Pretty cool, huh?

Twitter pitching contests are becoming more and more popular. I opted not to participate in #SFF (science fiction / fantasy) on June 18th, but I did do #PitMad on June 4th. My cousin, Ashey Warren, participated in the event earlier in the year and she reflected on it as well on her blog.

The concept is simple (and wonderfully outlined on Brenda Drake's website here). You get to tweet up to a couple of times an hour for 12 hours. The contest starts at 8am EDT, which is super early on the west coast, so plan accordingly. I took the day off, although you can totally use something like Tweet Deck to schedule your tweets. I didn't do it this way, more on that in a bit.

You need to construct at least 12 (if not more) tweets that contain 140 character minus whatever hashtags you use to identify your work. So, for my novel, I had #PitMad, #A (for adult), and #SFF (for science fiction/fantasy). That left me roughly 125 characters to play with. Otherwise, your tweets can really be about anything that will hook someone's interest on your novel.


Agents / publishers who are interested favorite your tweets and invite you to query them. This is the good part.

Let's start by saying that I have minimal experience querying on a novel. I do however have several years of experience querying for short fiction. Doing a query is a necessary evil that is a slow, slow process. With a novel, that process can easily stretch for months for each person you query, and even then there is no guarantee that you will hear anything back at all, let alone useful (or positive) feedback.

With something like #PitMad, you DO have a captive audience. You DO have people who are reading the pitches on your book, and if they indicate interest, there's a reasonable chance they are already interested in what you have to say. Does that mean they will snap up your book? Not at all. Does that mean you have a reasonably good chance (if someone favorites a tweet) that you will get an agent to actually read your work? Absolutely.

Now, on to the part about why I took the day off of work and actually sat around manually sending tweets. I was fortunate enough to have some interest in my book. Assuming an agent favorites hundreds of tweets (and yes, many do), I didn't want to be at the bottom of that stack. I wanted to be ready. So, going into the day, not only did I have all of my tweets ready to go, I ALSO had a query letter ready, a couple of different length synopses, and several different cuts of my book (different agents want different sample lengths). This meant that when I did manage to land a favorite, I was able to put together a query in less than an hour of the time the tweet was favorited.

I have no idea if that made a difference. I really don't. But, it makes me feel professional, and I think it IS professional, so it's totally worth it if you can take the time. Plus, I was able to craft slightly different tweets based on what I saw on the hastag, and I think that improved my outlook some. I was also able to retweet or other authors that had pitches that sounded interesting to me.

Which, brings us to the last nice thing about #PitMad. Even though you can only tweet twice an hour, retweets help get the word out. You certainly don't want to ask your follows to spam the hashtag, but having some extra retweets of your tweets during the day will only get you more attention.

A big thank you goes out to everyone who helped me on the 4th with some retweets. I really do appreciate it.

I'm planning on doing #PitMad again in the future, and in fact will likely continue doing it until I have sold a book. I think it's a brilliant way of approaching the publication of a book, and major thanks to Brenda Drake for organizing it.

Amazon Hates Crossroads of Twilight

A friend of mine is currently reading the Wheel of Time for the first time. He loves it. That's good. However, because he's buying all of the books as Kindle books from Amazon, he's getting access to the reviews of the books as he buys them, which is a fascinating scenario.

Often if I'm 10 books into a series, I'm reading along as the author is writing the books. I'm totally invested. I'm sitting around on the edge of my seat waiting for months (or years) at a time, waiting for the next book to come out. I would never consider buying, say, the next Dresden book based on the review.

My friend isn't doing this. He's invested. Still, when he went to buy Crossroads of Twilight, he noticed with some alarm that the book only has 2 stars. This is quite out of the ordinary for a Wheel of Time book, most of them are 4+ (a couple are 3-3.5) but 2? That's the sort of review you'd expect for a really terrible book.

That I suppose begs the question... is it terrible?

When I first read the Wheel of Time, I hated this book. I read book 9. Big things happen. Then, book 10 comes along and hardly anything happened. Then I had to wait two years (because, Robert Jordan was incredibly ill at this point) since it took him a long time to write Knife of Dreams. Knife of Dreams was undoubtedly a better book. But despite hating Crossroads... I don't think it's a bad book.

This is encouraging for me. Robert Jordan is an incredibly talented and famous author. He has a really terrible review for a book in the middle of his series. He has more books after this. He would have written many more books had he continued living. It's a good reminder that not every book is well received, and not every bad review is because a book is bad.

And, sometimes bad reviews are pretty hilarious.

701 of 764 people found the following review helpful

By Ian Marquis on May 14, 2005

Format: Mass Market Paperback

Phone Rep: "Hello, this is ****, representing Bigelow Tea and other fine beverages. How may I help you?"

Caller: "Well, see, I have this problem with my tea..."

P: "Which variety of tea are you having the problem with?"

C: "Bigelow Blueberry Blast."

P: "Alright...what seems to be the problem?"

C: "See, there was this one batch of tea I brewed for myself one morning. I brewed it into a gleaming silver pitcher with a matching silver ropework tray and a set of three silver cups, each with its own saucer that was engraved around the perimeter with tiny flowers. I had bought the set in Saldea. Oh, the Sea-folk porcelain is wonderful, but I'm prone to breaking it. Anyway, I poured myself a cup of tea. There were piping hot scones in a silver bowl on the tray next to the tray that held the tea. The basket was covered with a white embroidered cloth slashed with blue silk, much like my dress. Oh, the neckline is a bit too low-cut for some of my acquaintances, who prefer good stout woolens to that Arad Domai silk that clings to the body in such a way as to leave very little to the imagination. So, as I was eating a scone and drinking my cup of tea, the steam from each rising and intertwining together like dueling serpents, I noticed a peculiar taste in the tea: it was cool and refreshing, with a hint of mint. Of course, I thought nothing of it. Giving my earlobe a tug and my braid a pull, I remembered the idiocy of every one of my male friends, indeed every male I have ever come into contact with, or ever will for that matter. The lot of woolheads can never compete with the superior logic and rock-solid reasoning that every female in the known universe possesses. It's no wonder we all behave the same."

P: "Um...what was your problem with the tea?"

C: "Oh yes, I'm sorry. After I had consumed the tea, I placed the cup on the silver ropework tray and covered the gleaming silver basket of scones again with the white embroidered cloth slashed with bands of blue silk, much like my dress. I remembered the stout man in the streets of Tar Valon: a vendor of sausages he was. Though I know I will never see him again, I felt it necessary to familiarize myself with every aspect of his appearance and personal history. He was a short, stout man with black hair that was beginning to grey at the temples, slicked back on his head in the manner of warriors, though it was obvious he was not one. He wore brown shoes of stained leather that rustled softly against the dirt of the streets, kicking up clouds of dust that lingered in the air even after he had passed. His pants were of stiff wool, dyed green and patched in many places. He wore a leather jerkin over a soiled white peasant's shirt, the cuffs of his sleeves rolled up and out of his way. Around his neck was a silver chain with a medallion attached to it that bore the image of a bear. He spoke with a gruff voice..."

P: "The TEA, ma'am."

C: "Well you don't have to be rude about it. I was only filling you in on the relevant details."

P: "I don't have all day, ma'am."

C: "You do remind me of a lad I once knew, back when I used to frequent the palace in Camelyn..."

P: "Look, we'll send you a case of Blueberry tea, alright?"

C: "Oh...alright then, I suppose that will do nicely."

P: "Do you have any other problems?"

C: "Well, there is this one other problem I have, but it's not with your tea. The other day, I was pouring myself a goblet of spiced wine. Only the wine had grown cold after being left on the windowsill for whatever reason. So I siezed hold of saidar. It was pure rapture...like opening all of my petals to the sun, for I am a flower. It was like floating in a river that tore along with great speed: resist it and you would be consumed by it. So I accepted it and was consumed by the sweet joy. I sent a tiny thread of fire into the pitcher to warm the wine. Soon, steam rose from the pitcher of gold, sunlight rebounding on the inset gems. I removed the pitcher from the stark Cairheinien plinth of the finest marble and poured myself a glass. But the use of saidar had turned the spices bitter..."

*CLICK*

C: "Hello? Hello? Wool-headed sheep-herder..."

A History in Three Parts

It's been a few weeks since I posted, my apologies for that. I'm continuing my revision on the book, I still have a few dozen percentage points to lob off in this read through, but I'm encouraged by what I'm reading. Amazingly, the newest material I've written is cleaner than much of the old material. I credit some of this to writing in Scrivener and not on my iPad. I'm a much more accurate typist on a laptop than I ever was on the iPad. I also I think, have to credit some of it to where I am with my writing now. I have a much firmer grasp on my characters and my story than I did even six months ago, let alone a year or more ago. The difference is showing.

This post is all about the past, and three instances of it.

First of all, I recently listened to a story on NPR about a rejection that Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House books, received. What was to be her first novel, was finally published decades after her death, and it's selling out like crazy. This book, unlike her others, wasn't written for children. It was a much more accurate memoir. I find it difficult to think of someone like Wilder as a novice writer, but it just goes to show, that not only does everyone start somewhere, even things that are rejected today might very well wind up a best seller. Eventually.

Next, I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a genealogy seminar hosted by a local chapter of Sons of Norway. I don't have any Norwegian blood in me... at least I don't think I do, but my wife does, and one of her co-workers put on the event. It was actually incredibly interesting, not only when thinking about working on my own family history (which is admittedly from other countries) and as a writer.

In Norway, there are many traditions that are quite different than modern American record keeping. For example, the date of birth was not actually the date of birth. It was the date of baptism. Many other records centered around the confirmation date in the local church. While both of these examples happen to be tied up in religion, I think they are both great examples of how a culture can be very different than the modern one that we are aware of.

Another example I found interesting was the naming structure. It's a Given Name, a Family Name, and then a Farm name. I actually, inadvertently started following a similar naming schema for my book, where people's last name is based not on their family lineage, but on the location of their birth.

You and I certainly won't be the first (or the last) authors to pull inspiration from old histories, so I'm not suggesting something novel here, but it might lead you down an interesting path. Besides, aside from writing, you might stumble across something cool about your own family.

Finally, I finally watched the first episode of the Outlander television show this evening. I don't typically read a bunch of historical fiction/fantasy, but it seemed like a really well done adaption. It's shot well, I'm super impressed by the acting, and honestly, more than anything it gives me hope. With Games of Thrones' success, this could well be another SFF television show that helps define the genre in a way we just don't usually get on TV. It also makes me hope that the upcoming Shannara television show (being produced by MTV of all places) is well done so that it survives more than a season.

OH, and I also discovered that my favorite production team is behind Outlander. Ronald D. Moore (of such awesomeness as the SciFi channel's Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek Deep Space Nine) created the show along with Ira Steven Behr. These gentlemen have done amazing work in the past, and they even brought in Bear McCreary to do the soundtrack for the show. I don't listen to a ton of symphonic stuff, or even soundtracks anymore, but I can just turn on Bear's music and listen for hours and hours and hours...


Useful Apps

A constant struggle I have (and many of my friends apparently share) is keeping track of all the crap I want to read on the Internet. It's somewhat of a losing battle, considering the number of people I follow on Twitter, the number of friends I have on Facebook, not to mention the usually bombardment of stuff that flies into my computer from all corners of the globe. Thankfully, there's an app for that!

I found a couple of Apps that I would strongly recommend you check out. They have significantly streamlined my Internet usage over the past several months.

Pocket Pocket is an App for iOS and Android (not Windows the last time I checked) that lets you save articles. Not super fancy. Doesn't sound that exciting. Seriously it will change how you browse the Internet.

I often have time to flip around on Social Media between things during the day, but I rarely have time to actually read full articles that sound interesting. Enter Pocket. I can save articles that sound interesting to Pocket and come back to them later on from any of my devices. Something I found on Twitter this morning on my phone is saved so I can easily find it on my tablet tonight.

You can also easily share from Pocket to social media, so if you find something that is worthy of a share, it's only a click away.

Feedly RSS readers are hardly anything new. I've struggled over the years to find good ones, and Feedly definitely fits the bill. I keep a fairly active, yet organized list of subscriptions. I follow a bunch of writers and writer news sources, and Feedly helps keep them organized for me (as well as up to date).

When an author posts an update, I instantly get that update thanks to the RSS subscription in Feedly. Like pocket, it's shared between all of my devices so I can tick off items as I go and my other devices are kept in sync.

Feedly also allows you to download articles  so you can read them offline, easily share items to Social media, and perhaps my favorite, easily save them to Pocket. So, as you find things you want to read, you can then add them to Pocket to read them later. Super cool.

Both of these Apps have really helped me keep up with thing I want to read. I always see stuff I want to read, and now I have a way to keep track of it. Oh, and did I mention they're both free Apps? Very worth checking out!

Shameless plug: if you do happen to set up Feedly, you can subscribe to my blog right here so you can stay up to date. Thanks for reading!

Diversity isn't a Four Letter Word

I decided as part of the scope and focus of the blog that I wouldn't use it to discuss political topics. So, today, instead of using recent events in Indiana as a launching point for this discussion, I will instead use this insanity from the director of the new Final Fantasy 15 video game. He says...

"Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players," Tabata told GameSpot in a recent interview. "Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they'll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way."

I think we can safely assume that the new Final Fantasy isn't going to pass the Bechdel Test. That's pretty unfortunate, for a number of reasons.

  1. I really love Final Fantasy as a series of games. Granted, the past several (all numbered 13 coincidentally) have been moderately terrible, but I've always viewed them as really incredible story telling platforms. It's really disappointing that they are moving in this direction. The relationships between the party members always make for interesting tension and story development, particularly if there is a love story there. They are missing out on a huge opportunity here, if nothing else.
  2. This is a really unfortunate trend that continues pretty much everywhere even in the 21st century. You find it on TV, in Movies, in books, and in video games (not to mention in real life). Even the big, mega blockbusters are absolutely guilty of this. Marvel, for all its money and power, has no female lead cast anywhere, and it will still be several years before the Captain Marvel movie comes along. When the new Star Wars cast was announced initially, there was only one female cast member in the 'new' cast. Oh, and I think she might have been a princess. (Yes those are both Disney movie examples. Sorry) This has been improved upon recently by expanding the cast list.
  3. Finally, the entire point of a cast of characters is to change the behavior of your party. A story is successful IMHO because of the actions and reactions of the characters in it. I read stories almost exclusively for the character development. When the person responsible for implementing a story says he doesn't want his characters to react, I find that immensely troubling.

I recently talked about changing your perspective and why this is so critical as a writer. This applies to character as well as your setting and world building.

My novel has four primary POV characters in it. Three of those four are women. One of those three is African American. This is a stretch for me. I am neither female nor African American. I didn't do this to be able to punch my ticket and say "Yep, Diversity! Hooray!" I did it because I think these characters have something to add to the story. I think they have their own stories to tell, and because they are inherently different people than me, these aren't stories I know right off the bat. I get to grow with these characters and learn about their lives, about their challenges, and about their wants and desires. All of which are necessarily different than my own. I think that's awesome.

Because I have a gender diverse cast of characters, I get to experiment with tropes that are super over done in new and unique ways. I have a damsel in distress, except he's not a damsel. I have several super badass fighters that can absolutely throw down and hold their own without any help from anyone, and they are women. I think these things make my story stronger. I think these things make my story more honest. I think these things make me a better writer.

If you haven't tried writing outside your comfort zone, try it. Maybe you won't publish the first attempt, but seriously, try it. It's a great exercise. When you're writing your character back stories, really look at who you've got in the cast of characters. If it's a first person POV that might be tough to write from another gender. But that's ok. If you have a cast of several characters, ask yourself, what would happen if this one was a woman instead of a man? What if that one was gay, not straight? What if that one wasn't the same ethnicity as the other characters? You never know, it might make your story that much more interesting (and appealing) for yourself and your readers.

A Day in the Life

This is a topic that has interested me for years. While I am a writer, a published writer even, it isn't my full time job. I've found a couple of resources recently that have really been revealing and I thought I would share them.

Ditch Diggers is a podcast created and hosted by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace. I love Mur's work on I should be writing and her urban fantasy that I've read (Shambling Guide to New York City and Ghost Train to New Orleans). I don't know much about Matt's work, but I plan to look into it a bit.

There are only a handful of recordings so far, but Mur and Matt spend each episode talking about topics in and around the writing industry, and give a fairly blunt and open view of their careers as writers.

If you're looking for a 'how to write' or 'help me write' podcast, this ain't it. I would refer you to I should be writing and/or Writing Excuses for that. No, this is an honest look at what a couple of writers have experienced in their careers. This does have a content warning.  Check it out! 

Debut Author Lessons is a series of blog posts from Mary Robinette Kowal that she has written over the course of the last five years. She coves a wide range of topics that span a number of aspects of a new author's career, including travel, signing, contracts, agents, etc. It's an easy read and well worth the time. Check it out!