Archive for November, 2011

What Do I Do Now That Nano’s Over? (And an Update on my Personal Challenge)

It’s the 30th!  Time’s up!  How’d you do?

Well, 50K or not, you now, no doubt, find yourselves with at least part of a novel.  Some of it may actually be usable.  But what do you do with yourself now that the Nano rush is over?

Well, DON’T STOP WRITING.  I mean, you can, if you really want, but here’s the thing — if you want to be a writer, if this is something you enjoyed and would like to keep doing, you can’t stop now that November is over.  You need to dedicate some time on a regular basis to the craft.

But back to your book or part of a book.  You have some options.

1. Burn it in effigy.
Sometimes you get nothing useful.  The characters are all wrong.  The plot is so full of holes mice think it is cheese.  You don’t have to do anything with a worthless draft.  You can lock it in a drawer and forget it ever existed.  It’s okay; we won’t judge you.

2. Keep going.
It’s okay if you didn’t finish your whole draft during Nano.  In fact, unless you can pull out a decent 70-80K in a month, I’d be concerned if you had.  50K?  Generally not long enough for a novel, unless you are writing children’s or some adult genres.  So if things were flowing, and you were generally feeling okay about things, why not keep going until the end?

3. Put it away and work on something else.
This tends to be what I do, depending on how I’m feeling, but I tend to find that after Nano I just don’t want to look at that particular project for some time.  Not a problem.  I have tons of projects to work on.  If you do too, don’t feel bad switching to something else come December.

4. Edit.
If you ARE someone who can whip out a draft in a month, you may find yourself with a draft and no idea what to do with it.  Here are things NOT to do: Do not query agents.  Do not self-publish it.  Do not give it to people for Christmas unless they are very forgiving people and love you no matter what you do.  No matter how well it flowed, I can guarantee that you need to sit down and edit the hell out of the thing.  There will be typos and odd bits of grammar, plot points you forgot that you forgot, and you may realize that you accidentally changed a character’s name halfway through the book.  Drafts can always be made better.  If you’re done writing, give it a try.

Nano has a whole forum devoted to ideas and plans now that Nano is over.  Feel free to join in there and see if you can’t get any ideas or find new friends to join you in your endeavors.

As for my grand 100K, two book plan — well.  Let’s just say that it halted after the first book.  I just couldn’t bring myself to start a second book halfway through the month.  I have 300 words on the second book.  I didn’t even bother to finish the sentence I was on before I gave up.  So, in the end, it was just a regular one book, 50K month, although it was the second half of a book instead of the first.

How has November treated you, Squiders?  Any tales of terror or triumph?


The Road Untaken

So, last week a new Muppets movie came out.  (And they put out about a million different trailers, and I have had to watch them all multiple times.  Evil marketing, Disney.)  I went to see it opening night with my sister-in-law and her husband with great expectations, but despite it being fun and full of Muppet-y humor, it still felt a little too…close to home.

Hm, how to explain this?

Jim Henson died twenty years ago.  He managed great things in his lifetime: Sesame Street, the Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal – movies and television shows denoted with humor and life lessons and imagination, pushing the envelope of how far you could create a fantasy world without the use of computer animation.  The Muppets have always been there, always been real.  When actors act opposite to them, they have something there to act off of, to see react to them.  I read something once where the Muppeteers think of each Muppet as their own individual being, where the Muppets will do and say things unplanned by the human moving the mouth and speaking the voices.

We lost a visionary when we lost Jim Henson, and I sometimes feel like the Muppets lost something too.  We had Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island within a few years of his death, helmed by Brian Henson, and those feel good.  Feel natural, feel right.  But since then…well, there was Muppets Tonight in the late 90s, which I liked, but overall, it’s kind of felt like something was missing.

The Muppets have kind of dropped off the radar, except as something we look back on as something we used to enjoy.  And the new movie plays on this a lot – the Muppets, even in the movie, are forgotten, out of place in a world where flashing lights and computer graphics are all the rage.  And it felt like that while I was watching it too – at the theater on opening night, sitting in a theater that was maybe half full at best.

And the new movie isn’t bad – it’s good, the story resonates, and all the Muppets you’ve ever loved are there, from Piggy and Kermit to Waldorf and Statler to Sam the Eagle and Rizzo the Rat.  Most of the songs are catchy (if you ignore the one, extremely random rap number), and they play old favorites like the Muppet Show theme and Rainbow Connection.

But there is this overall feeling of having been lost for some time, and it makes me wonder where the Muppets would be today if Jim were still with us, and had had them under his wing for the past twenty years.

Subgenre Study: Historical Fantasy

Hello?  Hello?  Hey, is this thing on?  If you have managed to stumble here on this, the most commercial of days, I hope that if you ventured outside into the consumerism that you met nice, friendly people full of holiday cheer but somehow I doubt that.  And if you stayed home, I hope you drank lots of cocoa and watched silly television specials.

Anyway, this week on Subgenre Study we will be looking at Historical Fantasy.  Now, overall, fantasy tends to break up into subgenres in three ways: 1) Location, 2) Time period, and 3) Theme.  Thus something can be both High Fantasy and Off-world Fantasy.  Historical fantasy falls into number 2, for obvious reasons.

Most fantasy takes place in worlds that tend to be vaguely medieval, but true historical fantasy often tries to stay truer to a specific time period, often incorporating real events or people into the narrative, or at least making sure that social conventions of the time period are accurately portrayed.  Historical fantasy can try to keep with real history (where fantastical elements are known only to the people in the story and not society at large), create an alternative history where the author is free to change key events without worrying about the space/time continuum, or like some high fantasy, much of the story takes place in a secondary world ala Narnia where the real world is unaffected.

Some steampunk would fall under the general umbrella of Historical Fantasy.

Historical fantasy actually has subgenres of the subgenre, the most common of which are:

  • Celtic Fantasy (usually taking place in medieval or ancient Ireland, Wales, or Scotland – and may sometimes cross over with Arthurian fantasy)
  • Medieval Fantasy (taking place in a medieval time period, obviously, and the source of main fantasy tropes)
  • Classic Fantasy (taking place in antiquity, usually involving Greeks or Romans)
  • Wuxia (usually involving Chinese or other Asian mythology that involves martial arts and a code of honor)
  • Prehistoric Fantasy (taking place in prehistory or before the rise of civilization)

How do you feel about historical fantasy, Squiders?  It’s really hit or miss for me, and mostly depends on how strong the fantasy elements are – historical fiction is my least favorite genre, so if historical fantasy reads too close I usually can’t stomach it (though there are always exceptions).  Any recommendations for the class?

Nanowrimo: Week Four Tips

Well, my fellow Wrimos, Nano ends next Wednesday.  You should be somewhere around 36K to be on track.

I can’t say this enough, but DON’T PANIC.

If you’re behind, you still have time.  A lot of Americans use Thanksgiving weekend to catch up, since they tend to have extra time off of work.  (I have to host Thanksgiving, however, so I have to clean my entire house.)  But don’t kill yourself, trying to catch up.  This is supposed to be fun, remember?  Any words you come out of November with are words you didn’t have before starting Nano, and even if it’s only 15K, that’s something to be proud of.

For those of you on track, congratulations!  The hard part is over.  For some reason, it feels like it takes forever to get to 25K, and then you painstakingly push on to 30K, and then, suddenly, things get easier.  It’s a downhill slope from here, my friends.  Your characters start to make sense, your story takes on fun twists that you would have never thought of before hand, and everything starts to go your (if not your characters’) way.

Remember you are not alone, no matter where you are in the process.  There are people on the forums or within your regions that are experiencing the same tribulations or triumphs as you, and they will be more than happy to help you or cheer with you.  Do not underestimate the value of your fellow Wrimos.

And soon, soon, it will be December, and we will be able to sleep again.

Happy writing!

Harry Potter Re-read: Deathly Hallows

Well, my friends, we have come to the end of the series and the end of our re-read.  Voldemort has been vanquished, though the costs have been high, and we have lost loved ones along the way.

I was fourteen when the first Harry Potter book came out, 24 when Deathly Hallows was released.  While I’ve always been a few years older than Harry and company throughout their adventures, the series featured heavily in my own adolescence and will always have a special place in my heart, along with the Lord of the Rings, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Star Trek.

But onto Deathly Hallows specifically.  There’s a ton of loose ends that need to be tied up, and JK Rowling does her best to get all of them.  We get Dumbledore’s and Snape’s full backstories here.  Pretty much everyone who’s ever been mentioned in a book shows up here and, for the most part, you know whether or not they survived the war.  (Except Cornelius Fudge – I always wondered what happened to him, after Scrimgeour took over…) Even Hermione’s SPEW efforts, which have seen oddly tacked on for the last few books, reap benefits with Kreacher, turning a loathed character into a loved one, so much so that when the Trio is forced to flee Grimmauld Place for good, you worry about Kreacher’s well-being and how disappointed he will be when they don’t return.

I feel like she picked the deaths that would be hardest to read – poor Hedwig and Dobby, who’d been helping Harry forever.  Fred, separating him from his twin forever, and bringing a tone of despair to what should have been a happy event with Percy rejoining his family.  Tonks and Lupin, right after Lupin’s finally found happiness after all his years of being an outcast, right after the birth of their child.  None of the Marauders survive Voldemort’s second coming.

On the other hand, characters that have been picked on or looked down upon by other witches and wizards get their time in the spotlight.  Neville pulls the sword of Gryffindor out of the sorting hat and takes out the final horcrux.  Luna is essential in many places, keeping people’s spirits up, and Mrs. Weasley takes out Bellatrix Lestrange single-handedly, reminding everyone that she’s a Prewett as well.  Even Dudley thanks Harry for saving him and offers him good luck.

And while there have been scenes in the other books where I have teared up, this is the only one that makes me bawl.  When Harry’s in the forest, thinking he has to die, and accepting his fate, and he’s talking to his parents and Remus and Sirius…when I first read the book, and thought Harry was actually dying, for good (I had always thought he must), that scene moved me to the point where I had to stop reading because I couldn’t breathe anymore.  It still packs a punch, though, even knowing that everything’s going to be okay in the end, for a given value of “okay.”

At some points, it really seems like Dumbledore’s show, that he had all the answers and had laid everything out the way it must happen, but Harry could have left at any point.  He could have run, he could have left the country, but it never even crosses his mind.

It’s not perfect.  I’m still a bit annoyed how no one ever attempts to integrate Slytherin into the rest of Hogwarts, and how only a handful of Slytherins are shown with any sort of redeeming characteristics at all (Slughorn stays to protect the school for the final battle, Snape is well, Snape, and the Malfoys, despite being stuck-up gits, care more about the safety of their family than the pure-blood agenda).  I’ve always thought it would be in Dumbledore’s best interest to try to have everyone get along a little better.  Every other house is shown to be fairly balanced.  For every Ernie Macmillian there’s a Zacharius Smith, and even Percy, a Gryffindor, is consumed by his own ambition, so I just can’t understand how Slytherin House managed to avoid producing even one upstanding person.

In the end, though, Harry gets the job done and the Wizarding World can return to its own petty squabbles, safe until the next great Dark Wizard comes along.

(Though I wonder…was Dumbledore the Harry Potter of his generation, the only person who could stop Grindelwald?)

(Also, poor Albus Severus, that’s quite the mouthful to put on a tiny kid.  Scorpius doesn’t have it much better.  I hope they were best friends at Hogwarts, bonded over their silly names.)


1. While a lot of things are answered by the end of the series, there are things from the Department of Mysteries in Order of the Phoenix, such as the Veil, that are never explained.  What do these things represent, and would you have liked them to be featured in the story again?

2. The phrase “for the greater good” is used a lot in Deathly Hallows.  What does it mean here, and do you believe it is a legitimate excuse?

3. Dumbledore and Voldemort both wanted to be master of death, though they approached it in completely different ways.  If Voldemort had known about the Hallows, do you think he would have changed his plans?

4. Poor Petunia.  How must it feel to be shut out from a world that your sister belongs to, and how would this have affected her treatment of Harry?

5.  Any other thoughts, about this book or the series at large?  Any moments that really spoke to you personally?

Also, if you have other books or series you’d like us to re-read in the future, let me know.

Sungenre Study: Arthurian Fantasy

Arthurian Fantasy can be considered a subgenre of the subgenre of Mythic Fantasy (how’s that for getting somewhat meta?).  Mythic Fantasy (which we have yet to get to), involves weaving mythological elements into a story’s world or plot.  Arthurian Fantasy takes the King Arthur legend and incorporates it.

The King Arthur legend can be considered fantasy by itself.  It involves wizards (Merlin), sorceresses, enchanted swords, and a host of other things that are generally considered to be fantasy elements.  (Merlin ages backwards, in a lot of versions, which is kind of awesome but would be a bit awkward, when you look like you’re six and really, like, 500.)

Arthurian fantasy can be a straight retelling of the legends, can be from a minor character’s point of view, or can change some aspects to fit the author’s fancy.  It can add new characters in that never existed in the original story, or it can even involve Arthur’s resurrection.  (Arthur is one of many mythic figures from around the world that are supposed to come again when their country is in need.  I saw the statue of another, Holger Danske, in Denmark.)  An excellent example of the latter is Peter David’s Knight Life, where Arthur returns and runs for mayor of New York City.

There can be very little magic or a lot.  People can be evil or not, depending on how the story is told.  There’s a lot of variety here for the same basic story that’s been around since at least the 9th century.

One might wonder what’s so endearing about it.  Is it Excalibur?  The love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot? Merlin’s wisdom?  The quest for the Grail?  (Admittedly a later addition to the story.)  Arthur’s half-sister Morgan le Fay?  Whatever it is, people keep coming back for more.

Some of the best known 20th-century Arthurian books include T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle, TA Barron’s Lost Years of Merlin series (YA), and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence (also YA).

Does Arthurian fantasy float your boat, Squiders?  Sick of it?  What’s your very favorite interpretation, in whatever media?  (I’ve always been rather partial to Disney’s The Sword in the Stone – I just wish they had done the rest of the story at some point.)

Nanowrimo: Week Three Tips

Oh, November, I feel like you are messing with us.  How can it possibly be week three already?  Is it really Thanksgiving in a week?

I am doomed.

But anyway.  Week Three.  At this point, everyone is, in theory, halfway to 50K.  If you are on track, good for you!  I will come to your house in the night and burn demonic symbols into your lawn.  (Kidding.  I’d send the Landsquid.)  If you’re not halfway done, DO NOT PANIC and, most importantly, do not give up.

It’s easy to look at how much time you’ve wasted and look how far you have to go and get discouraged.  But there’s still time to catch up.  Especially if you write faster than me (which I’m fairly sure everyone does, as I always come in last in word wars at write-ins – Heck, last night I only had managed a third of what the person who won did in the same time period).  It might require a few days of sitting down and really going at it, but don’t give up just because you’re behind.  Any amount of words is more words than you had before starting, and brings you that much closer to a finished novel.

Another problem that Week Three tends to bring to light is giant plot holes.  Maybe that plot you carefully designed lasted you about 35K and now you have no idea what to do for your last 15K.  Maybe you didn’t plot out your story at all, preferring to pants the thing, and you’ve written your characters into a corner that you can’t figure out an escape from (it was all a dream!).  Maybe you just wrote the most amazing scene in the world, one that made you say “Yes!  YES, this is the book I’m writing!” and then realized that the rest of your story doesn’t fit with this perfect scene and will need to be rewritten.

Don’t cry.  Crying is only allowed when your computer eats your story.  (Back up.  Back up everywhere you can think of.)

Some stories aren’t savable.  You have two options: You can start a new story (some people restart their word counts if they do, but I think that’s overkill), or you can spend an hour (but try not to make it more than that, time, like coffee, is precious) brainstorming plot fixes.  If you find one, excellent, keep going.  If you can’t, go back to option one.  I have a friend who has based an entire novel off of her plot holes.  It’s fairly epic.

Here’s the thing, though – if you find yourself frustrated and miserable, finding every excuse not to write and hating every moment you are, it’s okay to stop.  You don’t have to win Nano.  No one will hate you if you don’t.  If you’ve tried and you don’t like it, don’t do it.  This novel thing isn’t for everyone, and it’s not worth being miserable over.

I think everyone spends at least a bit of Nano feeling a bit upset at the whole process.  Either you feel like you’re writing crap, or you’re behind and disappointed at yourself, or you’re wondering if this is really worth the death of your social life.  The difference is that you’re not really sad about it.  I’m 12K behind on my 100K goal, but I’m not losing sleep at night over it.  But if you are, to the point where it’s affecting your quality of life, then it’s not worth it.

But either way, we’re halfway done, Squiders.  Keep going, give it your all, and enjoy the ride.

Ebook Formatting for Self-Publishing

Ebooks!  Wave of the future!  Whether or not you prefer your novels cheap and virtual or paper, if you’re self-publishing these days you need to have your book on as many platforms as possible to reach the widest readership.  Ebooks are an excellent way for an unknown author to get their name out there, because it allows readers to try you out without investing a huge amount of money on you.

I spend a lot of my time formatting ebooks, as it’s one of the freelance services I offer.  (As you can see if you click the lovely ‘editing and formatting services’ tab above.)  Admittedly, formatting is a bit frustrating because the oddest little things will throw your book into chaos, but!  It is doable if you are patient and willing to spend time trolling internet message boards.  Or you can hire someone (like me) to do it for you if you are short on time/patience and don’t mind spending some money.

There are three ebook publishing venues you should be using (all are free, so if you’re not doing this you’re only cheating yourself):

1. Smashwords
Smashwords takes your Word document, converts it to a gazillion different formats and, as long as your book meets their standards, they’ll allow you not only to sell your book on their website, but will distribute it to pretty much every other ebook retailer out there, including the iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Sony, etc, etc, et al.  They’ll even create a version that will run on Amazon’s Kindle, though last I checked, it will not list your book on Amazon for you.  (Note: Smashwords is one of only a few ways to get into the iBookStore. is another, and something you should look at if you are publishing a print version through them.)

However, Smashwords requires you to strip your book down, getting rid of almost all your formatting, to ease the conversion between platforms.  If you have something formatting-intensive, you might have issues meeting their standards, or you might find you cannot get your book to look like you want.

Smashwords offers a comprehensive formatting stylebook to help you meet their standards.

2. Amazon
The Kindle still owns a good majority of the ebook-reading public.  Plus it’s something to see your book listed for sale on Amazon.  Amazon offers authors a 70% royalty rate within a certain price range, which you really can’t go wrong with.

The Kindle is kind of a pain in the butt to format for, however.  Each Kindle book is, at its base, an HTML file.  (Not unlike a website.)  If you know how to program in HTML, good for you.  You are good to go.  There are some programs that you can use to convert your book to HTML (or .mobi or .prc, the other two file formats Amazon will accept) though they are a bit buggy and I recommend fixing the HTML after you’ve done so.  There’s Mobipocket Creator (which I prefer to use, because although it’s buggy, it’s easy to get into its guts to fix things) and Calibre (I honestly think it’s easier to program your entire document from scratch than use Calibre, but your mileage may vary).

If you want NCX files or a lot of pictures and you are not HTML proficient, I recommend hiring someone.  You will spend a lot of time trolling the internet and it will be full of sad, confused people.  (Luckily, if you have a novel, both are usually unnecessary.)

3. Barnes and Noble
The Nook is the easiest of the three basic platforms to use.  You can pretty much just upload your Word document, no changes needed, and it will look pretty and be readable. Barnes and Noble holds about a fourth of the ebook market these days, so even though Smashwords will eventually get your book listed on B&, I’d recommend going ahead and uploading directly to PubIt!  You won’t have to eat all your formatting and it will go live faster.

So there you have it, a very basic overview of ebook formatting for your self-publishing needs.  Have at it, Squiders.

Subgenre Study: Dying Earth

The Dying Earth subgenre is very similar to the apocalyptic fiction subgenre we explored earlier.  The key difference between the two is that apocalyptic fiction tends to deal with some major catastrophe that is threatening all life, whereas in Dying Earth things have more or less just faded over time until nothing is left and the planet is dying.  It’s a sudden process vs. a gradual one.  It’s a literal exploration of entropy, or the idea that all systems will eventually tend to go towards a more disordered state (though that is not actually what the Second Law of Thermodynamics says, but that is a discussion to have somewhere else).

While it is typically a subgenre of science fiction, it can have fantasy elements, or even feature a fantasy society that has replaced our current technological one.

Perhaps the best known of this subgenre is H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, where a man travels far into the future only to find civilization has collapsed and humankind has changed so much it is hardly recognizable.

Dying Earth books often feature lone survivors searching the world for a better place.  Whether they find it or not depends.  Often resources are scarce and the world as we know it has changed dramatically, from the oceans rising, to tectonic activity, to changes in our solar system (such as the loss of the moon or the sun).

The Dying Earth subgenre is one of the oldest in modern science fiction, with examples dating back to the early 19th century.

While the subgenre usually deals with the end of our planet (hence the name) it can also deal with the end of the universe or the end of time.  The important, defining aspect is that this end is the cumulation of a long process of events, often over centuries or millennia, instead of something sudden.

Anything to recommend in this subgenre, Squiders?  Do you find it depressing or fascinating?

Nanowrimo: Week Two Tips

Well, Squiders, we’re about a third of the way through November.  How goes your word counts?  How goes your motivation?

Week Two tends to be a bad week.  Your enthusiasm has waned, you start to hit points in your story where your planning wasn’t so great, and you begin to realize that you’ve somehow managed to write in a plot hole the size of Africa.

You realize that 50K is still an awful long way away, and things begin to look a bit insurmountable.

There’s also something known as the Sophomore Slump, where your second year tends to go worse than your first, due to the same general principle.  Excitement can take you quite a ways, but it, unfortunately, can only sustain you for so long.

That’s when perseverance kicks in.  If you’re feeling low, seek out writing friends.  Attend write-ins, participate in word wars.

Hang in there for now.  It’ll get easier again.

Happy writing!  How are you feeling?