Post #27 – Collaboration

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6/28/18

Last Sunday, I organized a workshop for the Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. The topic was collaboration. My friend, and established author, Bria Burton graciously agreed to be the speaker. She has collaborated on four themed anthologies with The Alvarium Experiment. The fourth, titled The Prometheus Saga 2, will be released July 27.

I took the idea for a workshop on collaboration from Collaborators by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. As a sci-fi author, I first encountered Anderson’s work writing in the Star Wars universe. In addition to his own novels, he’s since dived into the Dune universe and written at least 13 books (and probably more) with Frank Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, finishing Frank’s original series and providing the backstory to that universe. He additional has collaborated with his wife, Rebecca Moesta, as well as Doug Beason and Dean Koontz.

Anderson postulates there are five main types of author collaboration. These are:

1) The Full Monty where both authors contribute the same amount of effort and develop every step of the project together.

2) Round-Robin Method where Author A writes the first section or chapter. Then Author B writes the next section or chapter, and so on back-and-forth.

3) First Draft, Last Draft where the authors discuss the project initially and agree on the basic story line, characters, setting, etc. Author A writes the first draft, and Author B edits, fleshes out, and does a final polish of the manuscript. In The Science Fiction Professional, sci-fi author Mike Resnick confirms he uses this technique frequently when collaborating. Of course, at this point in his career, Resnick is Author B.

4) Master and Apprentice which is similar to First Draft, Last Draft. Here the two authors consist of an established writer and a new writer. The two authors develop the story’s outline together, which the Master approves. Then the Apprentice writes the first draft. However, instead of conducting a full edit, the Master offers comments on the draft and gives suggestions and brainstorms solutions to address weak spots. This method is designed as more of a mentoring experience and a way to give the Apprentice a leg up in the industry by contributing the Master’s name to the work.

5) Ghostwriting where one author usually is silent and yet does all the work. The ghostwriter’s name may or may not appear on the work. This is seen often when celebrities decide to write. It’s also seen when an established writer no longer desires to continue a series he/she created or is no longer able to continue the series due to death. V.C. Andrews is a prime example.

Anderson also points out the numerous reasons for collaborating. These include gaining additional expertise, splitting the workload, having a new learning experience, for fun, and to build your carrier. He also cautions there are pitfalls to collaborating. If collaborators do not choose each other wisely, they may never speak, let alone work, together again.

Having never collaborated on a fictional piece (I collaborate almost every day on nonfiction pieces for work), I enjoyed hearing about Bria’s experiences. I’ve mentioned before I’d like to collaborate with one of my beta readers. I believe our strengths and weaknesses are complementary. I write dialogue well, while she’ll be the first to tell you that’s not her strong suit. She is better at establishing the settling, which I struggle with. I’m hoping together we can pull our strengths and develop a great story.

I have just such a story in mind. It’s my next project after hammering out the novella I mentioned last week, the submission window for which will close August 13. I’m hoping once I commit to this project here, it’ll be a done deal. I’ve already worked out the plot points. I just need to get them on the screen.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever collaborated with another author and what the result was. Are you still speaking to each other?

Photo credit: diannehope14 via Pixabay

Post #22 – Finding Inspiration 2

5/24/18

In Post #19, I lamented how I’d run out of ideas for short stories. In Post #20, I explained where I planned to find inspiration for new ideas but failed to address two important sources – my current writing projects and calls for submissions.

I think one of the reasons I have not had any new story ideas is because I haven’t written as much lately. I find when I’m writing one story, other stories often pop into my head. Sometimes these new story ideas are sequels to what I’m currency working on. Other times, it’s a completely new idea. Creativity spawns creativity. That’s certainly a motivating factor to get back to writing more.

Another frequent source of inspiration are calls for submissions. I’ve written three short stories specifically crafted to satisfy a call for submissions. One was a very general call for humorous speculative fiction. Up to that point, I had not written a funny story; so I wanted to take on the challenge. I came up with a 2000 word sci-fi story that incorporated dad jokes.  Feel free to cringe.

Another call for an anthology asked for fantasy stories with female leads and stated the anthology always ended with a short humorous story. Having tackled humor once before as noted above, I again tried my hand at it. I like the added challenge of crafting a fantasy story, a genre I hadn’t tried yet. This time I came up with a 2300 word story loosely based on a pun involving a well-known evil mythical creature.

The third time involved a ridiculously specific call from Uncanny Magazine. The full call is here. In sum, it involves a mysterious corporation, since vanished, that created a portal to other worlds and times on three interlinked tropical islands. Oh, and the islands are inhabited by dinosaurs. This time I ended up with a 3100 word story, which again was written to be humorous.  (I’m beginning to see a trend here.)

The results were mixed.  I enjoyed writing all three, and my beta readers all thought the stories were funny. That was heartening. Unfortunately, all three were rejected by their intended markets. That was disheartening. Regardless, I’ve continued to submit these three stories to other markets.

I realized, though, each time I read one of these calls for submissions I immediately started crafting a story in my head.  Why not do that more often?  Authors Publish releases a list of markets with themed calls about once a month. I’ve had to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of thinking I can craft something by the deadline, which all too often is too soon for me to realistically draft something. I’m now contemplating the opposite. Why not let my imagine be spurred by these calls? Even if I don’t make the deadline, I’ll eventually have a story for submission elsewhere. It’s the inspiration that I need.

One call I recently came across that got the imagination going was from FurPlanet with a theme of The Rabbit Dies First. The call asks for anthropomorphic tales “centered around two concepts: the rabbit is going to die, and someone else is next.” How about that for stirring the imagination pot?

Let me know in the comments where you find inspiration for your writing.

Photo credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Post #21 – Who Do I Write For?

5/17/18

Another point I’ve read is every writer has a specific reader in mind when they write. Stephen King, in On Writing, states he writes for his wife. She is his intended audience, which also happens to be true. King always has his wife read a new work first.

In one of six writing tips attributed to John Steinbeck, he confirms there is no generalized audience for a writer; so forget about it.  Instead, he found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person, real or an imagined, and write to that one.

Michael Morpurgo likes to tell a story as if he is talking to his best friend or one of his grandchildren.

King also says a writer friend of his always wrote for the same person even after that person was long dead. If you believe King and Steinbeck, the audience a writer has in mind while writing isn’t necessarily the intended audience at publication.

The audience I envision while writing varies by project.  Like King, my wife frequently is the person I have in mind. She has given me a lot of support with my writing, so I want her to be entertained with the works I ask her to read.

I also often include names of family or friends in my stories. When doing so, I find I especially want them to read that work. Though I use their names, the associated characters are not necessary my friends. Nonetheless, so far that’s gone well. No one has come back saying they hate how they’re portrayed. That’s good since the characters aren’t actually meant to portray them.

One other I can’t leave out is my sister. She has read almost everything I’ve written and is a trusted member of my critique group. I certainly have pictured her as my audience more than once. Since I often use people and places from my youth in stories, I know she will recognize them like few others would. She also has appeared as a character in a story, along with a couple of her friends, which I wrote with her in mind. She’ll be the first to tell you they are nothing like how I wrote them.

For the picture book manuscripts, I always envision my little girls. While I like the idea of bringing joy to any child who reads a book of mine, I especially want my girls to be entertained as I see they are when reading other children’s books.

Let me know in the comments who you write for.

Photo credit: EvgeniT via Pixabay

Post #20 – Finding Inspiration

5/10/18

Last week, I promised two things: details of my unusual writing circumstances on April 29 and where I intend to draw inspiration.

On April 29, I attended the National Gallery Writing Salon with my fellow Northern Virginia Writers Club member and one of my beta readers, Michelle McBeth. Indeed, she has my gratitude for registering for an extra spot, which she then graciously allowed me to use. By the time I was ready to register, the salon already was wait-listed.

The salon was at the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art – East Building, and the topic was flash fiction. The idea was to view Edward Hopper’s painting Cape Code Evening (1939), which is the featured image for this post, and work through five writing exercises involving the painting. By the end of the 2.5 hour salon, the goal was to have most of the elements of a flash fiction piece written.

When the first writing exercise ended, I had the plot of my flash fiction story.  When the third concluded, I’d written most of the story. On the subway home, I wrote the introductory sentences to each of the three sections of the story. The next day I put it all together and had the first draft of a 500 word piece.

Did I find the salon useful? Yes and no. First, I’ve never liked group discusses where people talk about how they feel or what they think this or that means. That went double here where most of the writers attending do not write speculative fiction and were focusing on things irrelevant to my writing. Luckily, when we broke off into groups of two, I, at different times, teamed up with Michelle, who writes speculative fiction, and a gentleman, who also happened to write speculative fiction. That made at least pairing up bearable because we were all on similar wavelengths.  For example: “The darkness of the woods does not represent the sadness felt by the woman in the painting. The darkness is a non-corporeal being coming to eat them.” That’s my type of analysis! At the same time, I will give credit where credit is due. The painting and the salon did give me an idea for a piece that I enjoyed writing and one I hope gets published.

My other source of inspiration lately, like many sci-fi writers, is science. I may be one of the few people who still receive a physical paper every morning, the Washington Post. One of my favorite sections comes on Tuesdays, Health & Science. The health stories usually are interesting, especially the medical mysteries, but they haven’t inspired any story ideas yet.

The science stories, on the other hand, are great sources of information. Orson Scott Card, in Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-This-World Novels and Short Stories, says he usually does not rely on one idea for a novel, instead he likes to have two and weave them together into a single story. When I read that, I asked myself how does that work? Then I read a science article in the WashPo and thought that would make a good idea for a story. Later I read a second science article, thinking that too could be the basis for a good story. Both stories involve very unusual reproduction outcomes from two different animals. I plan to use both but in a single story. Like Card, I will mesh the two ideas into one story, hopefully making it better.

I envision the story will involve two alien races, each exhibiting one of these reproduction outcomes, meeting and cohabiting. I think it was David Gerrold, in Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, who mentioned a certain scientist’s opinion on how to make an alien race believable. (I need to dig this guy’s name out.) He advocated the unusual characteristics of the alien race should exist somewhere in the animal kingdom on Earth. Earth’s fauna are so varied they essentially encompass every characteristic possible in life anywhere in the universe. I’m not sure I agree with that, and what fun is it to create an alien race that exhibits elements we’re already familiar with? And what if the element present in an Earth animal is so obscure, like discussed in the two articles I’m drawing from, the average reader has no idea such elements appear on Earth? I understand the desire to ground a new race in what is known, but is it practical?

For me, at least this time, it doesn’t matter. My two alien races will have a solid grounding in obscure Earth fauna reproductive outcomes. Maybe I should include a bibliography with the story to prove the bona fides of my two alien races.

Photo credit: Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art

Post #19 – Help, I Need Inspiration!

5/3/18

This is what I feared when setting my writing goal this year. I’d run out of ideas. That was part of the reason I set a goal of 50,000 words for 2018 instead of doubling that.  After a very productive first quarter, I’ve written all of 1250 words in April. I’ll need to average 5625 words each for May and June to stay on track, but inspiration is lacking.

That is not to belittle those 1250 words. I’m proud of them. Next week I will discuss how I wrote the last 650 under unusual circumstances on April 29. For the first 600 words, I received inspiration one morning from the title of a song I heard at work while listening to Google Play. During the walk back from a haircut at lunch that day, I ironed out the plot details. I then hammered out the story that afternoon. It must have been a slow day at work. I already finalized and submitted that story to a new market for me, one that only publishes flash fiction of 750 words or fewer.

If it weren’t for that flash of inspiration (pun intended) and the unusual circumstances on the 29th, I’d have written nothing the entire month.

I’ve kept up my submissions though. In addition to the 600 word story above, I submitted three other stories in April for the first time. I also revised two existing stories. The first was an flash fiction piece, which was a sequel to another story. Both stories have been rejected on their own a couple times, so I decided to make the flash story the last chapter of its predecessor. One of my beta readers felt the sequel wasn’t working on its own as a stand alone story, too much exposition to catch the reader up on the events of the predecessor, especially for a flash piece. By combining the two, I cut much of that exposition. I already submitted the combi-story for the first time and am hoping for more favorable results.

I also revised a story written in response to a call for submissions with a very specific theme. That market rejected the story. However, I am proud of that story too. It’s a humor piece I really enjoyed writing, and my beta readers all said it was funny. A couple also said a certain element did not go in the direction they anticipated, and they enjoyed that surprise. In anticipation of sending this story to other markets, I changed many of the details specific to that theme. I’m also including several revisions suggested by one of my beta readers, who was not able to review the story before I submitted it to meet the call’s deadline.

Now I must decide when to submit that story. In Clarkesworld‘s submission guidelines, the editor, Neil Clarke, has a list of hard sells, one of which is “stories originally intended for someone’s upcoming theme anthology or issue.” Everyone will be circulating those to other markets, so he suggests waiting a while. But how long is a while? It pains me to have a story finished and not submitted somewhere.

Unfortunately, these revisions don’t add to my word totals. If anything, they subtract from those totals since they usually involve cuts. Next week I also will discuss where I plan to find inspiration.