Stop Trying to Kill Hitler! – Microfiction Part I

I’ve been submitting short stories over in /r/writingprompts – today I’m going to share two shorts that I wrote this week. First one is in the morning, and the other will come out later today.

The first story is in response to the prompt: You are getting seriously fed up with all the time travelers from the future constantly trying to kill you. I channeled my inner Mel Brooks and started banging out prose. Hope you enjoy …

Stop Trying to Kill Hitler!

Making Better Stories With Diagrams

While working on Mesh, I noted some gaps and opportunities to improve my story construction so I wanted to take a blog post (or two, who knows) and talk about story diagramming. Movies, TV shows and other projects benefit from storyboarding or other forms of story diagramming so I wanted to see if it would help me build a better novel.

How do you go about story diagramming? I decided to start with another novel to see how it worked, so I picked one of my favorite technothrillers (and inspirations for Mesh), Day of the Jackal. Continue reading

Is /r/writing Hurt Your Writing?

Oof – that hurt, but it needed to be said. If we’re in the business of murdering our darlings, this published author just torched a big one. Author communities exist to help us improve our craft, network, and commiserate.

There’s a flip side to that coin. As this post points out, and as I’ve long-suspected, there’s a half-life to that helpfulness that needs to be understood. At a certain point, we can talk the talk, but we have to start walking the walk. Nobody is immune. So, if you’re wondering if you’re spending too much time talking about writing, read this and then make your choice:

Why /r/writing is bad for writing.

Stop talking about writing and write.

Foreverest – Done – Out for comments

As promised, I finished Foreverest and it’s out for comments among my tiny group of Beta Readers. Already getting positive feedback … I can’t wait to submit it for publication.

In preparation for submission, I looked through the Internet and updated my List of Scifi Magazines that Actually Pay Writers. It’s part of my Free Author Tools section, which you’re always welcome to check out and make use of for yourself.

Finally, you should read Chuck Wendig’s serialized discussion about writers and luck on Twitter. It’ll answer a few questions for you, if you’re wondering how all of this is supposed to work.

More Scifi Short Stories in Production

Back in the saddle, again. 🙂

Had to unplug for a bit, and get my head together as I work on turning Mesh into the story it deserves to be. Where many writers say that you need to write 1-2K words per day, I’m from the school that says ‘what’s the point of writing a thousand words no one wants to read?’

Sometimes it’s better to hang back and sharpen the saw, as Stephen Covey says. Meanwhile, writing other short stories and that means you’ll have some new sci-fi to read very soon. Here’s a quick preview:

Quantum State is an homage to a number of movies, video games and TV shows … I think you’ll enjoy it.

Foreverest is a neo-noir story … a simple matter of a wealthy socialite, and murder.

Siloed continues developing the world I started creating in Body Issues … and the human costs of biotechnology.

I’m working on some new free wallpapers, too. Setting new expectations of quality for myself means some delays in release, but my hope is that you’ll be pleased with the final product.

Happy Monday! 🙂

The Bob Ross School of Science Fiction

I love Bob Ross. Maybe you do, too. I love the fact that his entire TV show is available on Youtube:

Love him for his talent, love him for his afro, or love him for his voice … I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t love Bob Ross. It’s always a surprise to people when they learn that this gentle man was also a Master Sergeant in the Air Force. Bob Ross inspires me because he didn’t find success until the second or third act of his career, but once he did he seemed happy and content for the rest of his life.

We should all be so lucky.

Even though Ross’ painting was not without its own controversy, he remained a tranquil space for viewers. I think about this when I think about the kind of writer I want to be, and the kind of choices I want to make as a creator.

With Ross, the tension and the action are in the work, not in the man. We’re free to let our minds go, experiment, and try new things. He seems to navigate the line between art and commerce without compromising either. He found his niche, occupied it comfortably, and we still enjoy his legacy today.

I see this as a learning lesson for me. Maybe you’re also trying to figure out how to write, how to make, how to do without sacrificing your values. In a perfect world, I could crank out stories night and day, with no thought to rent, bills or adulting. I haven’t found the secret sauce, yet.

However, I remain confident that if I keep looking, that I’ll find a way. Bob Ross found a way to make it work. Maybe we can, too.

 

Ready Player One: Bad Writing Doesn’t Matter

I was about three chapters into ‘Ready Player One’ when it hit me: Ernie Cline is the Dave Grohl of authors. As in, I love the guy, but I’m not a fan of his work. Logical dichotomies invited my geek-auteur brain to divide by zero. Thankfully, Reddit was there to help me out. I created a thread on /r/writing to talk about it. This is about everything that happened next.

Before I say anything else, let me say this: I love Ernie Cline. Been a fan of his since 2002 or so, when I fell in love with his spoken-word performances about dorky topics. Cline has a brilliant knack for tapping into nerdly zeitgeist into a Robin Williams-style stream of consciousness. You can’t help but respect that.

It should be no surprise then, that I’m happy for him and the success of Ready Player One. Seriously, isn’t that every author’s dream? Your debut novel turns into a Spielberg project. Who wouldn’t love to trade places with Ernie Cline for a day, to experience that level of ‘you’ve arrived,’ in your life?

“But you said you didn’t like Ready Player One,” you might be saying. Yes, that’s true … but that’s not the point. As one Redditor put it: “as a writer myself I know how much easier it is to trash a book than to write one. Completing a novel is a huge accomplishment.” So make no mistake: this post isn’t about trashing Ready Player One (RPO). This is about what RPO’s success can teach us.  Continue reading

Sorry, I Won’t Like Your Facebook Page

Wait, don’t run off yet. Hear me out: this is something you need to know.

Sorry, I Won't Like Your Facebook Page

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I won’t be liking your Facebook page. Like you, I get three or four requests per week, authors and other creative people asking me to Like their Facebook page. I love my online friends, but I ignore the requests, and I go through a little guilt-trip every single time.

It’s nothing personal. In fact, it’s the culmination of a decision based on years of being a social media manager before starting over as a writer:

Facebook is the Worst Social Media Platform for Authors, Ever

No, seriously. Facebook sucks if you’re an author. Don’t take my word for it: Look at all the numbers. Even if people weren’t actively going elsewhere for their social media, you’re never going to get anywhere if you use Facebook to find new readers. People are getting tired of Facebook and it shows. Even social media marketers actively debate the efficacy of Facebook promotions.

“But I’ve figured out how to get more likes,” you’ll say. Really? Do you plan to be more successful than George Takei? Even Mr. Sulu took to the screen to slam FB’s policies of pay-to-see. Just because they Like your page doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually get shown on their feeds. It’s a bottomless pit and I don’t feel good about participating in that charade any more.

That’s not to say that Facebook doesn’t have its uses. Heck, I want to engage with other creative people on a professional level; Facebook is still useful for that. But as far as marketing myself, my books, or my new projects, Facebook is useless.

So, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t use Facebook that way. Don’t ask me to waste your time, because I won’t do it.

Some Tough Love for Barnes & Noble

Some Tough Love for Barnes & NobleBookstores are my lifeblood, both as a reader and as an author. Their survival, therefore, is something I’m keenly interested in and that’s why I found this post on Reddit to be particularly interesting: How Barnes & Noble is killing itself, partially quoted here to save you a click:

“Zero sympathy for sitting on their laurels and refusing to innovate for a decade. Now it’s too late. I only have sympathy for the workers, it’s terrible for them.

But B&N has a horrendously lazy business model. They stopped innovating after adding coffee and their tablet (both great ideas).

But off the top of my head:

Where is there official YouTube channel? Where’s the podcast? They have enough clout to do long form interviews with any author in the world. But they didn’t. Where’s their free online workshops for aspiring writers? Nowhere.

Why didn’t they attempt to have their own knock-off awards ceremony for writers? Best debut novels and all that. They don’t even need to have a ceremony, just a letter in the mail and the books in a curated space in the store. Do you know how many authors would kill for the tiniest amount of recognition and publicity?”

The post has more detail and it’s an interesting breakdown so I encourage you to look into it if you’re interested in the business of bookselling.

The key takeaway is that bookstores are a business, and need to turn a profit to survive. Book stores (and authors!) must continue to innovate their craft to meet the changing needs and interest of their readers. Blaming Amazon is lazy, and also patently untrue. Barnes & Noble has only itself to blame for its success or lack thereof.

Love Your Readers – Write for Them

I wanted to wait a few days to simmer on Charlie Stross’ ‘Why I barely read SF these days’ blog post. He makes some solid points as to it’s hard to write good science fiction and I encourage anyone who’s trying to create their own sci-fi universe to take note. That said, I wanted to respond to it because my first thought about his post was ‘Is it still okay to write sci-fi, if this is how people feel about it?’

I thought about that for a long time, and then something occurred to me that set my mind at ease. I’m passing it along in case you had the same question:

It’s okay if Charlie Stross doesn’t like my stories. I’m not writing them for him. 

Let’s face it: Charlie Stross is an immensely talented author and writer, but he isn’t my ideal reader (see this blog post for more info on who an ‘ideal reader’ is). My idea readers are boys and girls ages 11-13, of various ethnic and economic backgrounds. I remember many happy hours at that age, discovering new worlds and ideas. When I started to write Mesh, I wanted to write a book that kids could enjoy in the same way.

Not everyone will enjoy Mesh, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect Mr. Stross to enjoy my reading, just like I wouldn’t expect a child to enjoy ‘The Laundry Files.’ As ambitious as it would be to say ‘I want to write a story for every sci-fi fan,’ that’s silly. That’s saying ‘I want to be the Budweiser of sci-fi’ and we can all imagine how bland a story that might be.

That isn’t to say that his advice isn’t useful for us. Stross gave me a great way to look at world-building in sci-fi and I plan to take it with me as I continue to edit Mesh: “Worldbuilding is like underwear: it needs to be there, but it shouldn’t be on display.” You may find gems of your own that help you develop your storytelling craft and I hope that you do.

Another gem to pass along is the idea behind the picture to the right (->): don’t write for yourself, unless you plan to be the only one that reads it. 99% of storytelling’s fun comes when your words translate into a picture in someone else’s head. Don’t rob yourself of that. Tell stories that others can relate to.

In closing, take Charlie Stross’ essay with as many grains of salt as you need, and then move on. Nobody gatekeeps your awesomeness, except you.