Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Bogged Down in Books

I worked the Scholastic Book Fair at my older mobile one’s school this morning, which was actually really fun! And I only walked out with one book and it wasn’t even one for me, which is kind of a victory. (I bought my smaller mobile one Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. I have both of her Hark! A Vagrant collections and the mobile ones really enjoyed King Baby, so I figure it’s a good bet.)

Also! I discovered Mary Downing Hahn is still publishing! She was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I re-read Wait till Helen Comes fairly recently and it held up pretty well even as an adult.

I seriously considered picking up one of her books (for me, my mobile ones aren’t old enough, and the older one is a bit sensitive about scary things anyway), but I didn’t because I’ve reached that state where I’m in the middle of too many books and hence am making no progress on any of them.

I’m in the middle of…six books right now. They are:

  • A Dweller on Two Planets, Frederick S. Oliver (1905) — this is a book the author claimed was written through him, and deals with Atlantis and re-incarnation and whatnot. I’m about halfway done, and it is pretty impressive work for a late nineteenth century homesteader.
  • The Well at the World’s End, William Morris (1896) — early fantasy, a lot of emphasis on chivalry and knighthood and all that jazz. Still working through all the public domain books I downloaded years ago when I first got my Kindle and Amazon was giving them away from free. This book must be really long because I spend half an hour reading it while reading the exercise bike and only move 2% at a time.
  • Thrice Upon a Time, James P. Hogan (1980) — At MileHiCon, there was a man selling old scifi and fantasy paperbacks for $2 each, and I bought four. This is one of them. I bought it because I thought Hogan’s Inherit the Stars was excellent science fiction. This is also scifi and the story takes place now-ish, and is a fairly common mix of overshooting on technological achievements and somehow missing all the societal changes that have happened.
  • Heirs of Power, Kate MacLeod (2017) — Reading this for a review group on Goodreads. Fantasy. So far so good!
  • One Man’s Wilderness, Richard Proenneke (1999) — nonfiction about a man who built a cabin by himself in the wilds of Alaska and lived there for 30 years.
  • First-person Singularities, Robert Silverberg (2017) — I’ve probably had this book since it came out. Whoops. But in my defense, nobody else is requesting it from the library. Science fiction short story collection, all told in first person. I always find short story collections a slow wade, because I like to digest a story before I move on to the next one.

One Man’s Wilderness and Heirs of Power should probably be my top priorities–the first is due back to the library in a few days (and there’s a hold request on it) and my review for the second is due Saturday–but when you’ve bogged yourself down, don’t you find it hard to read at all? Too many stories vying for attention.

And it doesn’t help that I re-read the second half of City of Hope and Ruin yesterday to remind myself of the ending/characterization so I can start working on the sequel.

But yes. Too many books. Must stop picking up more. The first two are slow going and I don’t read them very often, but I should probably just power through them and get them out of the queue. And also read more recent books. But I hate looking at those unread books on my Kindle library…

How many books are you reading right now, Squiders? Any recs (not that I need them)?


Patreon Research

Well, squiders, I wrote most of a blog post yesterday, and it just wasn’t gelling. The longer it went on, the less sense I felt it was making. And then I got distracted by things and I never posted it, and, believe me, that is for the best.

Yes, yes, it is.

Anyway, what I got distracted by is actually a better post topic, so let’s do that instead.

I’ve had a Patreon for…oh, who knows. Two years, maybe? Three? It is something I set up and then have never quite figured out how to work with it, so mostly I stare at it out of the corner of my eye in the hopes that I will magically figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with it.

And every now and then I poke at it, tweaking things here and there, which doesn’t especially help but feels somewhat productive.

Patreon helpfully sends out a newsletter with tips on attracting patrons and growing your audience and tools to use and whatnot, though they seemed to be mostly geared toward people who work in podcasts, music, or video (probably because these seem to be the most success categories on the site). They recently sent out an email about a section of their app that allows creators to easily take video of their process which got me thinking about my poor, mostly abandoned Patreon again.

(Also I checked out the app, but apparently they recently changed it and everyone hates everything about it, so I’m going to leave that alone for now.)

So I spent some time yesterday looking specifically at other SFF writers on Patreon who seem to be doing decently, to see what they’re doing.

These people fell into two categories:

  1. Larger name authors who are probably leveraging an existing fanbase (including award-winning authors like Kameron Hurley and self-pub gold standard Lindsay Buroker). I kind of looked at these but I figure that what’s working for them is probably out of my reach at this moment.
  2. Authors I hadn’t heard of

So I poked through category 2. And here are the trends I noticed:

  • Most people had “per item” payment tiers rather than monthly tiers. So every time they finished a short story or a chapter or whatever, their patrons would be charged.
  • The people with the most patrons were extremely productive. One was writing 50-60K words a month on a regular basis, and most of the other ones were putting out at least 2-3 novels a year.
  • A lot of Patreons (especially ones with monthly tiers) were focused on a certain project, like a series of novels or shorts related to a series. Very few were “support me on everything I write.”

I have a video intro because that was highly recommended when I set up the account–not a single one of the others I looked at yesterday had one. I guess that makes sense. If you’re working in visual media like most people on the site, why wouldn’t you do a video? But for a writer, where the story is going to be most important, hooray, it looks like one isn’t necessary. Which is fantastic, because I’m going to take my down. When I get around to it.

So, I’m wondering, if I want a specific project Patreon where I can generate a lot of content and potentially build on something that already has fans, maybe I should modify mine to be specifically about the City of Hope and Ruin sequel. The book has had decent buzz and Siri and I have had people asking about a sequel since immediately after it came out. Or maybe I can make a separate page that both Siri and I can have access to? Not sure about that–it might be one page per account (in which case maybe Siri wants to make one?).

I’ll have to ask her about it.

Does anyone have any experience with Patreon, as a creator or as a patron? What has worked for you, or what do the creators that you follow do that you like?

Sick Day (and Story Structure)

Happy Thursday, squiders. I hope yours find you better than mine, where I am literally a fountain of snot.

(Tips for dealing with sinus congestion–and hopefully getting rid of it? I will love you forever.)

Anyway, Siri and I spent about four hours yesterday pounding out stuff for the sequel of City of Hope and Ruin. (We were both sick, so hopefully everything is coherent when I go back over it.) We made decent progress, mapping out character and relationship arcs, and poked at the plot (still being a jerk) a bit. And we’re going to start writing, so that’s exciting.

We also spent some time talking about structure and how to apply that to the series as a whole. (We’re thinking it will be a trilogy, and I think I’ve talked to you guys in the past about how writing a trilogy is like writing a very long 3-Act structure each with its own complete arcs.)

And I found this very lovely blog post on 3-Act structure, which I thought I would share with you. It’s here:

It’s by K.M. Weiland, whom I generally recommend when it comes to the nuts and bolts of fiction writing. But this is a very complete look at the structure and what needs to happen in each part, and I recommend it if you’re curious or would like a refresher.

As for me, I need more tea and kleenex, and I’ll see you guys next week.

The Trials of the Follow-up

As I mentioned to you guys at the beginning of the year, Siri and I are working on the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin. Or, more accurately, trying to work on the sequel to CoHaR. We’ve been trying to hammer out a plot now for about three months.

And we’re having the worst time. We can’t figure anything out. There’s so many options available that we can’t get anything to gel. What are the character arcs? What is the main plot? How many viewpoint characters do we want/need?

Who knows?

This is a new issue for me. I tend to either write standalones (ala Hidden Worlds or Shards) or planned series where I have an idea of the entire arc of the series. But because the Fractured World is supposed to be a shared universe, Siri and I purposefully left as much open as possible at the end of CoHaR, with the thought that maybe someone else would write a novel in between it and whenever we came back to it.

But no one did, and our own inventiveness has stymied us.

This kind of falls into the “Trap of Success” that you hear talked about sometimes, or the fear of success. Essentially, because you were successful the first time, you have to live up to said success.

(For example, CoHaR has been getting some praise, including being listed on lists of best diverse fiction, like this one, so, you know, things to live up to.)

I have a friend whose first novel did amazing–it was a bestseller, got great reviewers, was optioned for a TV show (which was happening last I spoke with him)–and he’s been having the worst time with the sequel.

The success. Sometimes it gets you in the end.

But anyway.

Hopefully we can get the basics laid down soon so we can get onto the writing (and, let’s be honest, rewriting) of the book. It’s due in its finished form to Turtleduck Press at the beginning of December. So wish us luck!

Where is the Best Place to Write?

We’ve talked about writing locations before, Squiders, about libraries and coffee shops and home offices and whatnot. We’ve talked about setting up our own and what mine looks like (though the images seem to have been eaten in the website hacking snafu of October 2016) and talked about the pros and cons of different locations.

But recently, when I was on my way out to the coffee shop for writing again, my husband asked if I was really more efficient when I went out. And, to be honest, I didn’t know. I do like coffee shops because they allow me to escape from the house and because I like coffee (and tea, and hot cocoa, and iced tea, and…) but I don’t actually know that I am more productive than I am sitting at home in the office, for example.

So I’ve made a spreadsheet.

Have I concluded anything? Not yet. I suspect I need a lot more data (and I’ve been lazy this week as you can see), and I’m wondering if I need a few more columns. (I also need to be consistent on times–I’m trying to do 24hr time so it’s clear when I’m writing in the evening vs the morning to see if time of day is a factor–but I can see off the top of my head that at least the second entry on the 4th needs to be changed to evening.)

I’m also not sure if converting to words/hour is helpful. Like, that fifteen minutes at the library on the third. Would my output have been the same had I written for the full hour? Hard to say. Maybe things were really flowing. Or maybe I would have hit a block 100 words later.

Another thing that may be unduly influencing things is where I am. Some scenes are almost word for word reused from the last draft, so I’m just modifying wording or adding in a little more nuance this time through, and that certainly goes much faster. Some scenes are brand new and difficult (ala the entry on the second) and that really eats my word count.

Is word count even a good marker for telling how much I’m getting done? Not sure what else to use.

Well, I’m at 94K for the rewrite now, and I’m making decent progress, so perhaps in a month we’ll be done (finally!) and I can work on a different project which might be more consistent on scene difficulty. (That probably doesn’t exist.)

Thoughts, squiders? Better way to track? Maybe a column for “how was the flow today” with a scale to 1-10.

Common Writing Mistakes: Lack of Conflict

So I lied, Squiders, and found one more common writing mistake.

Today we’re going to talk about conflict. Conflict in the writing sense is when something stands in your protagonist’s way of getting what he/she/it wants.

(NOTE: The protagonist of a scene may be different than the protagonist in the book.)

Conflict breaks down into external (forces outside the protagonist standing in the way) and internal (forces inside the protagonist standing in the way).

In elementary school, you probably learned a conflict breakdown that included Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, etc. That’s just a further breakdown of external conflict, for the most part.

Stories need conflict to be interesting. The tendency for some beginning authors is to think that means they need exciting things, like battles and car chases and gunfights, etc. While these things can all be good in the right circumstance, without an emotional tie to the plot, they fall flat.

A conflict does not need to be big, but it does need to be present. This is why scenes where the character brushes their teeth or takes a shower so often fail. Now, if they’re taking a shower to wash off the blood, or if they notice their canine teeth don’t look quite right…

Kit! I hear you shout. But what about slice of life stories? Or literary stories? Those don’t have conflict.

Sure they do. They might not have “Evil shall descend on the land and destroy all life” levels of conflict, but they have it.

The best book I read last year was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. It was originally published in Swedish and was translated into English in 2013. The main conflict is that Ove wants to die, and things (mostly people and cats) keep getting in his way. It’s a lovely book and I highly recommend it if you have not read it.

Is this an earth-shattering conflict? No. Does it matter to anyone except Ove? No. But it is there.

A story needs an overarching conflict that drives the plot, but each scene also needs some form of conflict. These can be directly related to plot, or they can be related to characterization or a subplot. And, as I noted above, the protagonist of a scene (the one who has a conflict thrown in his way) does not have to be the protagonist of the book. In some cases, the book’s protagonist can be the antagonist in a scene.

There can be the urge to include scenes just because they’re fun, or they’re exciting, or they’ve got the coolest bit of worldbuilding in them. But ask yourself two questions:

  • Is this scene telling me anything about my character?
  • Is this scene driving the story forward?

If the answer to both is no, the scene’s doing nothing, and it either needs to be removed, or it needs to be reworked.

Thoughts on conflict, squiders? Tips on making sure you’ve got the right amount/the right type of conflict?

I’m Sensing a Trend

Happy Tuesday, squiders! I just finished reading The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip, which is the first of a fantasy trilogy and was published in 1976.

Do you know what the book reminded me of?

The Finnbranch trilogy that we did the disastrous readalong of over the summer last year.

I mean, The Riddle-Master of Hed is a much better book, but it involved a lot of the same elements: young man whose destiny has been determined far in the past, a bunch of supernatural people, shape-shifters from the sea, a lot of wandering around, and a bunch of pretty thick mythology.

(Wikipedia tells me that the book features themes from Celtic mythology, which Finnbranch did as well, though McKillip is not quite so obvious about it.)

From this, I can only conclude that this was a fairly active fantasy subgenre in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I mean, what are the odds that the two fantasy novels from essentially the same time period (As I said, this one was published in 1976, and the first Finnbranch novel, Yearwood, is from 1980) I’ve picked up in the last six months would be so similar in tone and themes?

(I suppose it could say more about me than the publishing trends of the time. Obviously something drew me to pick up both trilogies, whatever the heck it was. This is what happens when you hoard books for years. You have no idea what you were thinking.)

Does anyone read more of the period of fantasy/remember this period in fantasy? Was this a trend? If so, what would you say is the quintessential book of the “destined young man who is more than he seems with story drowning in mythology” genre so I can get it out of the way? (Or avoid it entirely. Still not sure.)

I wish I’d done this trilogy first. It’s probably way more enjoyable without the Finnbranch flashbacks. I will probably read the next two books, because now I’m invested, and also the third book was nominated for the Hugo and a bunch of other awards.

Read this series, squiders? Thoughts? (No spoilers yet, please!)