Archive for 'writing'

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What Stace had to say on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
On Sacrifice

First…OMH, y’all, FINDING MAGIC is going to be on sale in like five days. Holy crap! And CHASING MAGIC in less than a month.

(BTW, for those curious…yes, that is basically Chess’s natural hair color; maybe not quite that blond, but definitely a lighter color. She’s naturally quite pale.)

Anyway. It just occurred to me this morning how close we are to release for that, so…eep!

But it’s not what I’m discussing. This is something I’ve thought about for a while, off and on, and I think will be interesting. It’s not meant to be advocating anything, At ALL. Especially not human or other mammalian sacrifice; for the record, let me state clearly that I DO NOT CONDONE OR ADVOCATE HUMAN SACRIFICE OR SACRIFICE OF OTHER LIVING BEINGS. PLEASE DO NOT SACRIFICE HUMANS OR OTHER LIVING BEINGS. EXCEPT MAYBE FLIES AND COCKROACHES. BUT EVEN THEN I DO NOT CONDONE OR ADVOCATE RITUAL SACRIFICE. I just thought it might be an interesting topic, and maybe an interesting discussion. Maybe something to think about as we write and/or as we read. It’s a “generic” topic, in that it’s not really inspired by any particular event (at least not in the writing world). It is, I admit, a *tad* inspired by someone I saw on a totally nothing-to-do-with-writing-or-books-at-all website. This person was claiming, with breathtaking…uh, well, ignorance…that “Ancient Wiccans” used to be PROUD when their child was chosen to be the “spring sacrifice,” killed, and its body stuffed into a tree trunk.

No, I am not joking.

But we’ll leave aside the idea of “Ancient Wiccans,” because frankly that’s not a subject I want to get into. We won’t even really get into the idea of babies stuffed in tree trunks, which is just immensely disturbing.

What we will talk about is sacrifice, because I’ve heard and seen far too many things about this, for years, where the idea of “sacrifice” is taken incorrectly. IMO. (But I’m right.) (And note that this doesn’t relate to the type of sacrifice that is literally just about death, as in several books I’ve written and many, many others other people have written. Those were not religious sacrifices.)

The thing is, a sacrifice is supposed to be–should be–a sacrifice. This is why although I love the original film THE WICKER MAN–and I do–the “sacrifice” depicted doesn’t count. It’s not a sacrifice. The residents of Summer Isle deserve to have their crops die, because they may be obeying the letter of the law but they are certainly not obeying the spirit.

Why, you say? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Because a sacrifice is supposed to be a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be giving up something of value to you, to your community. It’s supposed to be causing yourself pain and suffering to prove your loyalty or worthiness or love/adoration for your deity, to acknowledge their godhood. A sacrifice is supposed to be you giving something up.

The residents of Summer Island did NOT sacrifice anything. They gave nothing up. A sacrifice is supposed to be personal, not a good reason to grab a stranger, murder him, and walk away whistling without a second thought. A sacrifice is supposed to be one of your own, one of your community. When you sacrifice a human being (and again I am NOT advocating such in any way, shape, or form), you’re proving your love for your God is higher than any human love. You’re giving up not just a person you love but another hand in the fields, or another pair of eyes to watch the children. (You’re also confirming your belief that this life is less important than the next, and that the sacrificed soul will live in eternity with the God and all of that etc.)

If you believe such things, God didn’t ask Abraham to sacrifice some guy off the street. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, and he did that because a sacrifice is supposed to be a sacrifice. (That he stopped Abraham before the knife came down doesn’t change that proof, although I frankly wonder how comfortable family dinners could have been after that.) For that matter, if you believe such things, God sacrificed His son Jesus to prove His love for humanity. He didn’t do it because he thought it would be a hoot. He didn’t grab somebody at random or just strike Jesus with lightning while Jesus walked down the street minding his own business. He didn’t do that because that is not a sacrifice. He sacrificed his son, and he did it (or had it done) in a very big public way, because THAT is a sacrifice, and THAT proves/proved (again, if you believe such things) his love for/devotion to humanity. That sacrifice was a covenant.

And not only is a sacrifice supposed to be personal, a sacrifice is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to hurt. If you stand around beaming while your baby is taken from your arms and stuffed into a tree, you haven’t just made a sacrifice (and you’re a really cold bitch, frankly. Like, so cold I shudder thinking of you). You’ve just handed over something that means nothing to you, is what you’ve done. Because if it meant something to you you wouldn’t be grinning with pride; if it was truly a sacrifice you wouldn’t be happy. Or even calm and resigned. You might be understanding. You might be dully accepting. You might, if you’re very devout, be sort of pleased, in a, I-still-feel-sick way, that you’ve had a chance to prove your devotion. But you’re not going to feel good and happy, brush off your hands, and say, “Awesome! That’s done. Let’s go have some pie.”

What devotion does it prove, to hand over something you didn’t give a damn about to begin with? What is the point of sacrifice if after it’s done you shrug and go about your business?

The idea that understanding why a sacrifice needs to be made means it’s okay or right or normal to feel nothing about the sacrifice is ridiculous. The idea that, for example, there’s any way a woman could sacrifice her baby and feel nothing but pride and/or satisfaction is ridiculous. Animals–even cats, who are often called “bad mothers”–don’t just hand over their defenseless babies to predators with nary a qualm.

Anyone remember ROSEMARY’S BABY? Wherein Rosemary was drugged and raped–and thus impregnated–by Satan, in order to birth the half-devil child who would bring about the apocalypse? Anybody remember how Rosemary discovered this plan, and went into the nursery with a knife to kill the abomination, but then she saw him, and biological instinct or whatever kicked in and she thought, “Well, he’s half me. Half human. Maybe I can raise him right, and teach him. Maybe he doesn’t have to be evil.”

Guys, that baby had a tail and horns, if memory serves. But his MOTHER couldn’t bring herself to kill him. His mother wanted to try to save him. I’m not going to say you’re a terrible mother if you do actually kill the horned, spike-tailed baby that you know for an indisputable fact is born directly of Satan, but I will say that if you can do it without even blinking an eye or feeling the slightest qualm, I wonder about you a whole, whole lot.

And if you can do it without blinking an eye or feeling the slightest qualm–even a purely selfish one, as in, “I wasted nine months being pregnant and I have nothing to show for it”–then you have not made a sacrifice.

It is a myth that people stood around grinning when it was their turn to be or make a sacrifice. No, they didn’t. If they did it wasn’t a sacrifice, it was just murder.

Sacrifice is supposed to hurt. It is supposed to elicit an emotional reaction. It is supposed to be painful. It is supposed to be…a sacrifice.

If you’re writing, your characters need to have actual feelings about things. If you’re reading, you should expect characters to have actual feelings about things. “Sacrifice” does not mean “easy.” It should at least be a complex decision.

What Stace had to say on Tuesday, September 6th, 2011
My little Writing Rules pt. 2 (This one goes up to 11!)

So yesterday, if you missed it, I posted a bit of a rant about how disappointed I am with Dr. Who (link will open in new window) these days, particularly with the writing, which seems to have traded emotional depth, story, characterization, continuity, real suspense, and pacing for cheap manufactured twists and self-aware “cleverness.” I feel like this has been going on since the first episode of Matt Smith/Stephen Moffat’s run, and it makes me unhappy.

(In the links to that post someone posted a link to a similar discussion on their blog, here–also in a new window. It’s definitely worth a read, and don’t skip the comments; there’s some good stuff there, in particular “Mary”‘s comment at 10:25.)

Anyway, using Dr. Who as a jump-off point, I’m posting my little writing rules, the things that I keep in mind when writing and the things I, well, think make a book good. (There’s a whole big disclaimer on this in the original post, so I’m not going to repeat it here. I will repeat, though, that just because I’m disappointed with the writing, and feel that it’s in general bad writing, doesn’t mean I think the Who writers are bad writers. They’re not. I’m not sure why the writing has gone off the rails so badly, but I don’t think it’s their fault; I think they’re doing the best they can with what they’re told to do.)

So here we go, with the rest of my rules.
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What Stace had to say on Monday, September 5th, 2011
My little writing rules

I just got finished–well, okay, I finished a few hours ago–watching the latest episode of Dr. Who (it’s Saturday night as I type this; the episode to which I’m referring is called “Night Terrors.” NOTE: There are spoilers in this post, so if you are a big Who fan and haven’t seen that episode yet, you may want to skip this until you have. Also, due to length I’ve split this post in two. It’s still long, though. Look for part 2 tomorrow).

Okay. Anyway. I have not been a fan of the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat run. Sorry, but I haven’t. At all. Moffat wrote a couple of the best episodes of the Tennant run, yes, like “Blink.” But I’m having some real problems with the writing in Series 5 and now 6, and here’s what they are.

The thing is, everyone has a different view on what is good writing vs. what is not. I’m aware of that. These are my opinions. I’m a writer; these are my little “rules” for writing what I consider to be good books. You may not think I’m a good writer and so don’t like my rules; you may think I’m a bad writer who doesn’t follow my own rules. I do think I follow them, but again, it’s all a matter of perception and taste and all of that, so…the point is, this is the stuff I work on and keep in mind. Some of my pet peeves. Things I consider lazy. But just how I also think beginning sentences with participial phrases is an evil thing and hate it with a passion, my feelings and opinions may not match yours (you’re wrong, though, at least when it comes to using participial phrases to start sentences).

I also want to make it clear that I’m not saying the Who writers are untalented. They obviously are talented. They obviously are good writers. But they’re being–I believe–forced into lazy habits, and bad writing is the result.

So. Many of these came up in tonight’s episode. I will tell you about them now.
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What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
Write What You Know

You guys know I think a lot of writing advice is total crap. And really, that’s because it is. “Kill your darlings?” My ass. Yes, if you have to, you have to, and I know what the line is supposed to actually mean, but it sounds like you’re supposed to machete your way through your book chopping up anything you think is especially good. Um, why, exactly, would I want to do that? Were I to have “killed [my] darlings,” there would certainly be no Abominable Snowpimp. Although maybe that’s a bad example, because I was actually worried that it was too funny for the tone of the rest of the book. But my agent and editor and everyone else loved it so much I left it. The point still remains: You have to cut things that need to be cut, but really, if the good lines stand out with that much contrast in your work, maybe your work just isn’t good enough in general. (Sure, I have a few lines etc. I’m more proud of than any others. Every writer does. But I’d like to think they aren’t so much better than the rest of my lines that the reader stumbles over them.)

Personally I think most of those rules are crappity-crap-crap. And I’m sick of them all being passed around like Moses brought them down from the mountain. The fact is, if you write well and have a strong, stylish, commercial voice you can get away with just about anything.

But here’s one I agree with; in fact, one I believe in strongly. And I feel that it’s sadly, sadly misunderstood by many, which is why I’m going to discuss it.

See, I think there’s a belief out there, especially amongst beginning writers, that “write what you know” means that if you’re a farmer you should write about farming, or if you’re an office manager you’re not going to be able to write about the life of a wizard.

That’s not what it means.

“Write what you know” means write what you know emotionally. It means write what you understand and feel. It means write from the inside.

Great stories are important, yes. Great writing–or at least good writing–is important, yes. But what involves readers, what really makes them understand, identify with, and care about your stories–your characters–is making sure your characters are three-dimensional, fully developed people, with feelings. Your characters have to have emotional lives, because your readers have emotional lives. Your characters have to let their emotions color how they see the world, because your readers’ emotions color how they see the world. And your characters’ feelings and emotions, and their emotional desires and needs, have to be real and important to them, because your readers have emotional desires and needs that are very important to them.

I think I mentioned in an interview once that what really struck me about the responses to the Downside books was the way readers seem to either violently identify with and understand Chess, or violently dislike and not understand Chess at all. And I find the differences in those people, and the comments of the few I’ve seen who dislike her, are pretty interesting (to me, at least), in that their outlook on the world and the way they present themselves is one I often don’t understand or care for, either. That’s not to say it’s wrong or they’re a bunch of assholes; it’s also not to say that the only reason someone might not like my books or characters is because they’ve never felt that kind of alienation/loneliness/insecurity/dislike of self-satisfied people/aversion to being “normal” or whatever else. But it is something I’ve noticed.

When I started writing UNHOLY GHOSTS one of my main goals was to write a heroine I could identify with and understand, because I hadn’t seen any out there, really. I mean yeah, of course I wanted to write the most kick-ass different type of UF I could, but the reason why I cared about the book and the reason why the characters in it mean so much to me is because I worked really hard on giving them the feelings and emotions and outlooks that matter to me, that are what I understand. I know those feelings, and I know that outlook on the world, and I believe that’s why they were able to come across as clearly and strongly as they apparently did; it’s why those books are, frankly, deeply personal to me.

In other words, I wrote what I know.

I’ve been asked before what sorts of things I can’t/couldn’t write and I’ve always said I can’t really write happy people. I mean, of course I can write people who have found some happiness, or who have fun sometimes; no one wants to read a book where all the MC does is sit around moping and contemplating suicide. I’ve been unfortunate enough in the past to know a few truly negative people, the kinds of people who when I finally got away from them I was an absolute mess because just being around them was like being trapped inside a life-sucking black cloud of misery. That’s not good, and that’s something we all have to be careful with; certainly I find myself editing out some rather depressing little rambles on occasion.

Everyone has emotions and feelings. Everyone has their own unique way of looking at the world. You have to dig deep inside yourself and really feel those emotions, really think about how they affect the way you look at things. That’s what you put into your characters, and that’s what makes them real. If you’re giving your characters emotions or reactions you don’t understand or simply haven’t really thought about, the reader will know it. It will feel false, because it will be false. And false work means nothing to anyone; lies don’t resonate in the mind or the soul.

No, you might not know what it’s like to walk on the moon. But if you think about it, you probably do know how you felt when you achieved something amazing, or saw something that filled you with awe and wonder–even if it was something as simple as telling someone you love them or seeing Lord of the Rings for the first time. Those are the feelings you know. Those are the feelings you use.

“Write what you know” isn’t about the outside stuff, the plot or setting. “Write what you know” doesn’t mean your character has to do the same job as you, live the same life as you, and look like you. What it does mean is that your character has to feel–and have feelings–like an actual living person. It means those characters have to behave and react the way real living people would, and do.

Does it mean your character has to be just like you? No. But it does mean that if your character isn’t like you, you’re going to have to figure out how you differ and how you’re the same, and adjust your feelings accordingly, because they still have to be strong and real.

“Write what you know” means write from the heart. It means don’t be afraid to expose what needs to be exposed. Don’t be afraid to share something truly important, something truly meaningful, with your readers. Writing and reading should be about sharing; it should be about a universal experience the writer and reader share. It should be about feeling something, no matter what that something is. And if you aren’t feeling it, neither will your readers; if you’re lying they’ll know it, and it will at first confuse and then turn them off. They didn’t pay good money for something that rings false to them, that feels like manipulation, that feels like the writer didn’t think they were important enough to really work for. They didn’t pay good money to be fobbed off with something fake.

Writing fiction is telling a story, yes. But writing characters is telling a truth, and it’s your truth; the truth you know. You have to tell it as strongly, as deeply, and as well as you possibly can.

What Stace had to say on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Title! News! Stuff like that!

This is just a quick update today; I’m knee-deep in a bunch of stuff–not least of which, of course, if the fifth Downside book, which crossed the 13k mark last night and which is (touch wood) going really well so far. Dastardly deeds already abound, and we’ve so far had injuries and creepiness and corpses and blood all over the street.

And of course I have edits for Downside 4, as well, which you may or may not have heard now has an official title!

SACRIFICIAL MAGIC

I’m excited about it; it fits the book really well, and yes, that is sort of a hint, but you’ll never guess the big thing it’s hinting at/referring to, trust me.

I’m also working on a new project, which a few people have asked me about. I’m not saying anything about it, really, because I don’t want to jinx it. It’s something I’ve actually been sort of fiddling with for a while, but have had a bunch of false starts on, so I’m hoping this is the one that will stick. Keeping my fingers crossed, anyway. It’s called DREADFUL THINGS. Only about 7k words so far, but words I’m really pleased with. Lots of worldbuilding, which is tons of fun, and hints of Dark Doings in my heroine’s past, and murders and magic and rooftops and sewers and all those things that make books worth writing. So we’ll see where it goes, anyway.

Let’s see, what else. I was going to blog today about why we don’t get real men in movies/TV anymore, but I was so busy playing with the WIPs last night I forgot to write it. Or rather, by the time I got around to it, it was 4 am, and that’s my bedtime (I have started forcing myself to go to bed at 4, because otherwise I’ll never go to bed at all). Of course, since I go to bed so late, I also sleep late, which is why I try to do my blog posts the night before, which is why I didn’t do the Man one. So look for that on Wednesday, and then the long-promised Write What You Know post will be along very soon too, and I’m looking forward to that one.

Anyway. Since this is rather short and all, here’s a snippet from Downside Five, just for fun. I’m making the print white, because it does contain a very minor spoiler; it may be important to the plot or it may not, but just in case you don’t want even a hint of what sorts of things may happen in the fifth book, you can skip it.

This is from the second chapter, and Lex was waiting for Chess when she got home.

He walked the few more steps into her living room, plunked himself down on her new couch. Well, maybe not exactly new—she’d had it about two months—but it still seemed new.

Without asking she grabbed a beer from the fridge and handed it to him.

He nodded his thanks. “Coursen…now you mentioning it, could be maybe I got a favor you could do me.”

Uh-huh. She let the totally-not-fooled expression sit on her face another few seconds. “Really. Like what?”

“Thinking maybe you ain’t mind working me up a chatter with Terrible.”

If she’d had any liquid in her mouth she would have sprayed it everywhere in shock; as it was she just sort of sputtered. “What—but—why? Why would you want to talk to him?”

“Got my reasonings, I do.”

Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day and all of that if you’re into that sort of thing.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Edits are up to you

I hadn’t actually planned to start my little series on editing today, but this topic came up last night in email with a good friend of mine, and it annoyed me, so here we go, and we’ll do more next week (including copyedits, which will be fun, I think, and of course I’m going to use pages from the original mss of UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS to illustrate, which, again, will hopefully be fun).

Anyway. My friend and I were discussing edits, and the fact that someone she knew got a set of edits where the editor actually wrote in new dialogue.

Editors are not supposed to do this.

It is not their job.

They can tell you that conversation/line doesn’t work for them. They can maybe suggest new lines, by saying “Maybe you could try having Character A say he hates that, and Character B can say he knows, and that might make the joke clearer?” But anything beyond that is them trying to write your book for you, and you shouldn’t let them do it.

It seems to me that, especially when you get into the micropress/epress area, the favorite excuse of lame publishers for why an author might be upset with them is “S/he refused to accept editing.” “Oh, Author A is only saying we’re a total high-school clique house because she refused to accept editing so we dropped her.” “All those authors are mad because they’re prima donnas who refused to accept editing.” That sort of thing.

And I think that atmosphere, that sort of Red Pen of Damocles hanging over every writers’ head, permeates the world of writers’ forums etc., and leads many to the belief that they have to accept all suggested edits, no questions asked. If the editor says “Change this,” it better be changed.

Sadly, I also have no doubt that at some little crappy places, that is indeed the case. I know I was required to fight tooth and nail about factual accuracy, against an editor who believed people in the medieval period used hieroglyphs to communicate in writing. I’ve heard similar horror stories from small- and micro-press friends; maybe not quite as bad as that, but lots of tales about style and voice being removed and replaced with plodding paint-by-numbers writing.

Then there’s the matter of “house style,” which in a lot of cases can be downright lousy, and sometimes doesn’t make sense at all. “House style,” though, is unfortunately the one thing you’re probably not going to be able to fight with. You may be able to keep a comma here or a semicolon there if you can make a good enough case for it, but beyond that you’re going to need to let it go.

“House style,” though, isn’t generally messing about with your actual writing. It may be ridiculous things, sure, like completely interrupting the flow of a sex scene by inserting a hard break to indicate a POV switch (because we’re all so paranoid about “head-hopping” that we refuse to accept that readers are not in fact stupid, and are perfectly capable of dealing with one POV switch), or being forced to change every “start” in your book to “begin,” or whatever, because someone thinks “start” sounds “common.” But usually it’s just a few little bits here and there.

Editing is different, and editing is up to you.

It’s your book. You wrote it, and it belongs to you, and your name is on it. Yes, there is a line. An editor can refuse to accept the book, thereby requiring you to give back your advance and lose the contract, if you won’t make any changes at all. I’ve never heard of it happening, but then, most writers I know believe–as I do–that editors are generally awesome, and that it’s fun to work with them, and that they’re right most of the time with their suggestions.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a line, and it’s a line you do NOT have to cross. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re right all the time. You do NOT have to accept every edit, every suggestion, every wording change. You certainly do NOT have to allow anyone to re-write part of your book for you, absolutely not.

Working with an editor is just that–working with an editor. It’s the two of you–and maybe your agent, or maybe the editor’s assistant might have an idea, or a friend of yours who’s read the mss might come up with something you like–working together to make the book as good as it can be. It’s not you handing your work over to someone else to change it and turn it into something that isn’t yours.

There’s a difference between edits, as in your editorial letter, and edits, as in line edits, too. When I get edits from my editor at Del Rey, it’s in the form of an email or Word doc with all of her thoughts, good and bad (I firmly believe a good editor tells you what they love about the book, too; they don’t simply assume that you know they like it since they bought it. A good editor wants to talk to you about your book and the things they love about it).

I go through and implement her suggestions, basically. I may disagree with one, and discuss it with her, but so far I can think of only one editorial suggestion I dug my heels in over, and that ended up working out just fine–a quick change of something else, and it became a moot point. Really? There shouldn’t even be many issues if any, because you should agree with most of your editor’s thoughts. If s/he’s a good editor, and you’re not a Speshul Golden-Words Snowflake, most if not all of the suggestions should fall into the “Oh, riiiiight!” category.

Then come line edits. (My last few books, my ms has been sent back to me with an editorial letter and some notes made on the ms, so it’s like a combination of the two.) Line edits are “This line makes no sense,” basically. I often get “What the hell is Bump saying here, because I can’t understand him at all,” but of course, that’s me. Line edits might also be “This paragraph is overkill,” or whatever. This is where “kill your darlings”–advice with which I disagree, frankly–comes in. Lots of those overkill lines? Yeah…those are probably the “Stacia knows this is probably too much but look how good that sentence is!” lines. So those have to go. (I often stick them into a special Word doc in case I have the chance to use them later. Of course, then I never open it and re-use them, but whatever. I still have them, my poor deleted darlings, and I can go frolic in the midst of them whenever I choose.)

There may be some typos tossed in throughout there, too. There usually are. No matter how hard I try to make the ms perfect, there’s always going to be something I miss before I send it to my editor, mainly because I’ve read the damn thing so many times I see what should be there, not what is.

There will also probably be some story inconsistencies or whatever to clean up, from my own edits. If I decide to switch from having two ghosts to one, for example, I need to make sure I’ve done what is called “Following through on the cut,” and removed every reference to “they/them,” “the two ghosts,” whatever. I often miss this stuff too, again, because I’ve been going through it so much/so many times.

My editor also catches the occasional repeated word, as in “Slowly the ghost moved toward her. It raised its arm slowly, the knife in its spectral hand catching the moonlight and sending it right into her eyes, blinding her.” I don’t always notice these when I’m actually writing, and while I catch most of them when I’m editing before I turn the book in, again, I can’t find everything. I hate repeated words, actually. They bug me almost as much as sentences that begin with participial phrases (dangling or not), which I loathe with a fiery and all-devouring passion, and will never, ever use, because they’re so awful I can’t even find a way to describe how awful they are. (Let me just say, though, that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you find them in the mss of newbie writers, because they think that sentence construction is “writery” or professional, thus making them look very smooth and clever. It’s not, and it doesn’t.)

Anyway, enough of that rant. The point is, edits are something you do with your editor, not for or in spite of. You get to make the choice, and there is nothing wrong with doing so. I’d say when it comes to “regular” edits–as in editorial letter/line edits–I probably accept pretty much all of my editor’s suggestions, because I trust her, and because in most cases I agree with her. With copyedits it’s probably more like 50-75%, depending on how good the CE is, of course.

An editor is there to help you, and to help make the book as good as it can be. They are not there to rewrite your book themselves, and they are not there to remove your voice and turn it into something a third-grader would have written.

I can’t remember who said it, but I read an awesome quote a little while back. It basically said, “The only rule of grammar a writer needs to follow is to make himself understood. Everything else is style.”

It may not be true all of the time–well, it isn’t, not ALL of the time–but it is most of the time. You don’t have to let yourself be treated badly, you don’t have to let control of your work be taken from you, and you don’t have to agree to every edit.

What Stace had to say on Monday, December 20th, 2010
Let Me Show You My Updates

First, lookie! The German version of UNHOLY MAGIC, which will be published by Egmont Lyx in July 2011, has a cover! And a new title. SEELENZORN, which as far as I can tell means either Angry Souls or Soul’s Anger or something like that. (Also, Egmont is calling the books the “Ghostbusters series,” which is awesome and yet very scary in a trademark-infringement sort of way. So, um, I’m not the one calling it that, okay, Sharp Hawk-Eyed Lawyers? Totally not me.) Anyway, here it is:

Sigh, no bangs. But it's still cool.

There’s a blog, a review-and-interview-and-everything-books blog, called Floor to Ceiling books, and Magemanda, the lovely lady who runs it, has posted her Best Of… list for 2010. Guess who’s on it? Me! Well, me, for “Breakthrough Novelist,” which she says is in part because of YOU, and the fantastic little community you guys have made! So thank you all so much. Also–and I know this part will interest you far more–Chess and Terrible won for “Best Kiss.” Nice, huh? She doesn’t say which book it’s for, though, so I’ll ask you guys. What was the best kiss?

And I know you’re all dying to hear how my Twitter odyssey ended. It hasn’t. I did look into Destroy Twitter, which I liked the look of quite a bit–I loved that you could customize it and pick different themes. Unfortunately, not only is the info/FAQ/etc on the site really sparse, to the point where I had no idea what the thing would even DO unless I downloaded it and actually started running it, it was also a download program. Which makes me think it’s a opens-in-its-own-window thing, which as we know, I don’t want.

So it’s down to Hootsuite and Seesmic. I’m actually liking both of them. I’ve hooked up my Facebook page to Seesmic, so I’ve actually gotten a few FB updates in yesterday and today, which is nice. I don’t know if I’ll make Seesmic my only program, though. I do like it. The more I use it the more I like it.

The problem is, the more I use Hootsuite the more I like it, too. They both have things I really like and things I don’t like as much; the bad part is those things complement each other. Like I don’t like Hootsuite’s DM thing, because it doesn’t automatically show me the ones I send. But I like Hootsuite’s photo uploader much better. Plus Hootsuite has that cute little owl. But Seesmic’s FAQ etc. is more comprehensive. Seesmic allows me to quote part of someone’s tweet, and–I LOVE this–when you go to someone’s profile it tells you if they’re following you as well as whether you’re following them. So it’ll say, “This user and you follow each other,” or whatever, which I’ve always thought Twitter should do. But Hootsuite has some cool Google Chrome extensions available, whereas Seesmic has none. I love that neither of them force me to look at people they think I’d be interested in following. I detest that.

So I don’t know. For the moment I’m keeping them both open in separate tabs and switching back and forth between them, basically.

Also, an update on the Downside Market. I’m basically waiting to get bigger versions of the original designs, because some of them look really small on the shirts etc., and we don’t want that. I’m also going to get white ones to go on black or dark-colored shirts. I’m trying to make as many color options available as possible.

And I’m doing a few more with text, because that’s a bit cheaper, so again, lots of color options. I’m trying to get maybe a few Downspeech phrases in there, just some sort of fun stuff. And some of the really basic shirts are very inexpensive, which makes me happy. I’m also expanding the UF stuff a bit, more pro-genre/genre-related shirts.

And of course, if anyone out there wants to do some designs, please send them in! And if your design goes into the store I’ll send you a shirt. You can find the specifications right here, if you’re interested.

Oh, and I’m ripping out and rewriting like 40k words on Downside 4. More explosions! More violence! More dying! I’m hoping it’ll be a really good time when it’s done.

I think that’s all the updates I have for the moment.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, November 12th, 2009
Yes, Virginia, you need an agent

For those of you who haven’t yet heard, yesterday Galleycat published a rather ridiculous opinion piece about how agents are unnecessary and they don’t do anything and they’re just evil old vultures and blah blah blah. The same crap we’ve heard before, in other words, although I find it fascinating that this piece was written by someone who last year–obviously unaware that I already had an agent and two book deals–offered to query agents on my behalf for the low, low price of $500.00, and yes I still have that email exchange saved. He’s perfectly entitled to run such a business and I’m not calling him a scammer, but it’s interesting, isn’t it?

Agent Miriam Goderich rebutted it here very nicely. So, I’m sure, have others, but I’m about to add my voice to the chorus simply because that’s the way I roll, baby.

Do you need an agent?

Yes. Yes, you fucking do.

Period.

Okay, sure. If you’re planning on having a career in epublishing, you probably do not need an agent. If you’re planning to self-publish, you do not need an agent. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things. I started out in epublishing, without an agent, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’m glad I did it and am grateful to Ellora’s Cave for treating me so well and enabling me to make some decent cash. Working with them was a pleasure for me.

But–no offense–I wanted more than that. I wanted books on shelves. I wanted advances. I wanted a bigger career. I wanted to move out of genre romance/erotic romance; not because I didn’t enjoy it or don’t enjoy it (writing and reading), but because the more of it I wrote the more a little voice inside me told me it was simply not quite the right fit for my voice or the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.

To accomplish those things (aside from moving away from writing romance, which of course is a huge genre in all forms of publishing: ebook, mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, audio, whatever) I needed an agent.

Here’s what fascinates me (and infuriates me) about the original Galleycat article (aside from the fact that its author apparently also runs a website devoted to helping writers self-publish; again, legal, but certainly interesting). It’s this paragraph here:

One published author who asks to be unnamed disagrees, “What do you need an agent for anymore, really? Why? To negotiate a meager advance? You can’t get them on the phone anyway. You’re stuck promoting the book yourself because publishers don’t put any marketing dollars into your book unless you’re John Grisham. I don’t see the whole point when I can hire an attorney to negotiate my publishing contract for a flat fee or just upload the book to Kindle myself.”

Let’s take a look at these points, shall we?
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What Stace had to say on Friday, August 14th, 2009
The C Word

This article originally appeared, in a slightly different form, over at Emily Veinglory’s EREC blog. Then last summer it was published in the September issue of Lady Jaided, the Ellora’s Cave online magazine. But it occurred to me this evening that I’m quite proud of this little piece, and it should be on my site. So here it is.
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What Stace had to say on Thursday, July 30th, 2009
On Critiques 4

So having had my unscheduled little rant on Monday about the importance of critique, and a little bit about why having your work critiqued is important, let’s discuss today why it’s important to critique. (I know you guys are waiting for the Mean-assed examples, and for more nitty-gritty stuff on how to critique etc., and we’re going to start that next week. I want to get the theory down first as a sort of base.)

We all know getting critique can improve our work. Critique partners or beta readers can ask questions we didn’t realize were there, or point out weak areas we didn’t see. They can helps us show not tell or clean up dialogue or whatever, depending on our own individual skill levels.

But what often seems left out of the gotta-get-a-crit race is how important it is to critique others, and how that process helps us become better, more critical, more thoughtful writers.

How many times have you bought a book because it looked promising, only to discover, a chapter or two in, that it wasn’t at all? For whatever reason, it didn’t appeal to you. Maybe you thought the characters were wooden and insipid, or the writing didn’t sparkle, or the plot was cliche, or too many characters were introduced at one time and you never could keep them straight because they all seemed exactly the same, or maybe the writer kept using the word “unctuous” over and over again until you wanted to slap him or her in the face repeatedly with a bowl of oxtail soup.

There’s almost nothing in the world more disappointing than a bad book.

But bad books can teach us a lot. Bad writing can teach us a lot. Because your work came from you. Yes, we can and should learn to distance ourselves and be objective enough to see it as a piece of work separate from ourselves. That’s important.

But the way to learn that distancing and objectivity, the way to learn to take critiques, is by giving them.

When it’s someone else’s doc open on the screen, we’re not emotionally attached to it. We can view it for what it is: a piece of writing. Not somebody’s “baby.” (UGH.) Not somebody’s soul. Not their heart. Just a piece of writing, which can be judged on its own merits.

Does that mean we can forget that it’s a real human behind that piece of writing? No, of course not, and as we’ll see when we get to the mean-ass crits, it’s very possible to really hurt someone. Comments like “This sucks. Give it up,” are no help to anyone, especially not–surprise!–you.

Because when you look at something and simply dismiss it, you’re not learning anything. You’re not putting on an editor monacle and really studying why something doesn’t work. And sure, sometimes a piece will have so many problems you don’t know where to start.

But most won’t, at least not if you’re finding appropriate partners. Most will be close. And what you’ll learn in trying to make them hit the mark will teach you how to fix your own work.

Maybe the word “was” keeps leaping out at you in this particular piece. And it irritates the fuck out of you for no discernible reason (this happens. See my “unctuous” example.) It drives you do crazy, in fact, that soon all you can see is “was.”

Then you open your own book. Lo and behold, you have “was” strewn about like crayons on a playroom floor. Oops! Maybe you should try to rework some of those sentences, huh? Figure out a way to show all those things you “was”ed instead of telling them?

(That’s not to say “was” isn’t useful or should never be used. It’s just an example. But we should be careful about “was”ing.)

Here’s an example:

The night was dark. (Hey, it’s an example. Shut up.) Lucy was walking down the street, past the pub, which was filled with drunks playing darts. Lucy shivered. It was so cold outside, and her feet were (ha!) so sore. She was desperate to get home, but it was still so far away.

Now. This is not great. It’s rather dull. And something feels off about it, at least to me. There are a few issues with it, but all those wases jump out at me first. So how do we eliminate them?

We figure out how to show the dark, cold night, the pub drunks, Lucy’s desperation and sore feet, without telling them. Perhaps we try something like this:

Lucy pulled her ragged jacket closer around her shoulders, but it didn’t help much. The wind cut through her like shards of ice, whipping around the lonely buildings to shred her soul. Up ahead home waited for her, warm bright rooms and her mother’s smiling face. But here on the street only the echoes of her footsteps kept her company.

She passed through the square of pale gold light on the street made by the pub window. Inside men shouted and laughed, lifting pints, slapping each other on the back when one of them hit a bullseye. If she only had some money, she could walk in and have a drink too, defrost her aching extremities by the gentle coal fire.

Now. This isn’t great either, for another reason. Can anyone tell me what it is? Go on, critique this paragraph.

When you’ve done that, think about it. You’ve just read this opening looking for flaws. You’ve been specifically looking to find something wrong. You’ve (hopefully) taken your undoubtedly very warm feeling toward me (ha) out of the equation and examined the openings just as openings, and tried to decide the following things:

1. Is it well-written on a basic level? (i.e. are there no obvious grammatical flaws or spelling errors; is the character named Lucy throughout, does it make sense, etc.)

2. Is it well-written on a more advanced level? (Are the sentences clunky; are words repeated; do all the sentences start with “she” or “it” [that’s one of my personal bugbears].)

3. Did you get a sense of character, place, and/or time from it?

4. Most importantly, would you keep reading?

There’s more, of course, and we’ll get to it in time. For now, take a look there and tell me in comments what your thoughts are. And be honest! You’re not going to hurt my feelings.

In fact, as a bonus today I’m going to offer the sum total of my wisdom on accepting critiques. Keep repeating this to yourself:

My work is not me. My work is not me. My work is not me.

Have fun!



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