Post #44 – Writing Retreats

10/25/18

Are they worth it? Are they comparable or better than writing conferences such as CapClave, which includes small workshops in addition to panel discussions with writers and editors?

And what to choose? A blogger I follow, Luke Tarzian, recently went on a writing cruise. There’s, of course, Clarion West and Odyssey. This Wired article on the Strangely Competitive World of Sci-Fi Writing Workshops was eye opening too.

Then there is Writers of the Future, if you place in the contest. I admit I am skeptical about this contest given L. Ron Hubbard’s history. Based on what I’ve seen online, the contest and retreat appear to be legit.  Also, big names in the speculative fiction realm attend every year and teach during the retreat, but it’s hard to overlook the Scientology connections as reported here and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, I’ve submitted a story every quarter for the last year.  One of my stories got through the first round of judging recently, and I admit I am intrigued by the possibility of spending a week learning the craft. Since I’ve continued to submit a story every quarter, it may still happen eventually, though my conscience is weighing heavily on me these days.

The thing about Writers of the Future is it’s free. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can justify both paying for the retreat and taking the time off from work. One seems manageable. Both seems burdensome.

Maybe it’s an investment I need to make to get better. A couple beta readers have mentioned I’ve noticeably improved since starting out, which was a great ego boost. But I don’t want to plateau. I know I’m far from a good writer, and I want to continue to improve. I’m thinking it’ll be an investment to make when one of the two constraints are lifted, i.e. the retreat is free or I’m retired.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve attended a writers retreat, which one, and what you thought of it.

Photo credit: Christian Georg via Pixabay

Post #35 – Exposition, My Old Nemesis

8/23/18

Like any new writer (and maybe any old writer?), I regularly fall prey to the exposition trap, or info dump. I feel I need to set the stage, so I end up writing paragraph after paragraph, if not page after page, of backstory. My first flash fiction piece was 1000 words of exposition.

Not surprisingly, editors haven’t accepted my stories containing lots of exposition. Benjamin Kinney, an editor at Escape Pod, always provides me with one or two sentences of critique when rejected a story. For two such stories, the critique focused on too much exposition bogging the story down.

When I reviewed those stories again, he wasn’t wrong. One began with four pages of exposition, the other a modest two. I revised this latter story to spread out the exposition. A little at the beginning, a little in the next scene, and then the remainder in a third scene. And the story is better for it.

The story with four pages of exposition is more of a hard sci-fi story, and I’m struggle with how to avoid the info dump. Then I saw this article published by Writers Digest.

First, I’m pleased that others recognize how difficult it is to avoid the info dump in sci-fi. When a writer cannot assume a reader knows certain things about a setting or even a people, more exposition is needed for a reader to understand the where, when, how, and who of a story. That’s the problem faced when writing sci-fi. The story often doesn’t take place in the here and now with the usual suspects. It takes place in the future, on a planet in a distant solar system, inhabited by four-armed aliens.

Second, page after page of exposition used to be the norm. I recall many classic sci-fi stories written this way. I remember entire chapters of exposition, and that didn’t bother me. Apparently, that’s not what readers (or is it just the editors?) want to see now. Readers are writers’ customers. If we don’t satisfy our customers, we don’t get published. So now we writers must be more sophisticated with our exposition.

Remember the flash fiction piece I mentioned above that was all exposition? One beta reader pointed out that issue and suggested I expand the story by telling it from the viewpoint of the antagonist, who was mentioned only in passing. That’s what I did, and I’m pleased with where the story went. I even added to that story, which is part of the novella I planned to submit to Tor earlier this month.  Alas, as noted in Post #34, I didn’t quite nail down the ending to that expanded story; so it remains a work in progress.  Once I do, I believe I’ll have a better novella ready for submission somewhere.

I also began revising the story with four pages of exposition.  I took the paragraphs in those pages and spread them, one or two at a time, throughout other scenes.  I haven’t yet cleaned up the flow of those paragraphs.  Right now they read like someone picked them up from elsewhere and dropped them wherever they landed, which is mostly true.  It’s on my to do list, and once again I believe the story will be better for it.

I have a plan for the next time I write a piece with an intricate backstory or complex setting or characters.  I’ll write out the exposition but keep it to the side.  Then, as I draft the story, I’ll drop in pieces of that exposition as I go.  I did something similar when drafting the sequel to the story with four pages of exposition.  Since I already knew the backstory, I could easily insert that in nuggets as I went along drafting the new story.  This technique made writing the sequel much easier.  I hope the same holds true when drafting a completely new piece.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve struggled with how to handle exposition and how you mastered it (or still are working to master it).

Photo credit: jarmoluk via Pixabay

Post #27 – Collaboration

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 #26 – Submission Guidelines 2 – Waiting Periods and Hard Sells

6/21/18

In Post #24, I discussed my strong recommendation to read and reread a market’s submission guidelines each time before submitting.  I mainly focused on the issue of a market’s preferred formatting.  However, there are two other pieces of useful information often included in submission guidelines — waiting periods and hard sells.

Most markets do not except multiple submissions, meaning a writer may not have more than one work under review at that market at a time. Some, however, also have a post-decision waiting period. Even after these markets accept or more likely reject a story, the guidelines ask a writer not to submit a new story for consideration for a period of time, which varies.

Strange Horizons asks writers to wait 7 days after receiving a rejection before submitting again. That can feel like an eternity when a writer has a story ready to go. Strange Horizons has an added quirk. It only accepts submissions from noon Eastern on Mondays to noon Eastern on Tuesday. If it rejects a story any time after Monday, a writer must wait two weeks to submit again. I’ve had this happen. I consider it a minor inconvenience though since Strange Horizons at least is open to submissions every week, unlike some other markets with much less frequent submission windows.

The longest waiting period I encountered is for Grievous Angel.  The editors there ask writers not to make new submissions within 12 weeks/three months of a previous acceptance or rejection note. The rational is this helps the editors fight their backlog. That’s a serious backlog! Granted this is a flash fiction market, so there likely are a larger number of submissions. On the other hand, other flash fiction markets do not have similar waiting periods. It may be a matter of limited staff resources. Who knows? Rest assured, I have marked on my calendar when I can submit to this market next.

Then there are those submission guidelines containing a list of hard sells. As the name suggests, these are types of stories that are not likely to be accepted by that market. Clarkesworld Magazine has a lengthy list of hard sells. Strange Horizons also includes a hard sell list, though it cautions a prior editorial team generated this list, so it does not necessarily reflect the current editorial team’s tastes.

Because a story falls into one of the hard sell categories does not mean it shouldn’t be submitted or that if submitted, it will be rejected automatically. At least I hope not. I assume the hard sell list is meant to serve as a warning that such stories need to be exceptionally good and/or take an unusual approach to the subject matter to stand a chance at acceptance.

Again, I hope that’s correct. The first two stories I wrote both involved not only time travel but easy time travel. I realize that’s a well worn sci-fi trope, and it appears on at least one hard sell list I’ve encountered. However, the time travel component was not of any significance in either story. Time travel served as a means to set up a difficult decision for the characters in the stories. I hope editors pick up on that. I also hope editors read past the time travel incident, which both times appears early in the story, and don’t simply reject the story at that point.

I have a couple other stories involving common tropes — kids find something in the woods or kids discover a ghost — but my hope with all these is I wrote them well and unique enough to find the right market.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve wrestled with the waiting periods or hard sell lists in submission guidelines.

Photo credit: DanielCubas via Pixabay

Post #24 – Submission Guidelines

6/7/18

Aeryn Rudel addressed some of this on his Rejectomancy blog post titled New Author Starter Kit – Submission Prep. Here are my thoughts.

For starters, I will echo the first thing most editors include in their submission guidelines: before submitting READ THESE GUIDELINES CAREFULLY. Do it. Don’t skim; read all the way through. Then go back and read them again.

Like the pebbles on the beach in this post’s featured image, every set of guidelines is different. Even if I’ve read them five times, I read them each time before I submit in case they’ve been updated. Then I read them again. On the second time through, I make each required formatting change to my story as it appears in the guidelines, just so I don’t miss any. For example:

Editor prefers Times New Roman. Check. Editor wants all identifying info removed (author name and address, byline, last name in page number header, author listed in the metadata). Check. Editor requires document saved as an .rtf or .doc file instead of .docx. Annoying but check. Editor accepts submissions only via email with “[New Submission]” in the title. Check.

There are too many permutations to remember when, like me, you’re submitting 15+ stories to a dozen or so markets.

I also recommend periodically double checking that the editor for a market hasn’t changed. It can’t look good if you address your cover letter to the editor who left the magazine two months ago. Editorial teams change, and submission guidelines often change with them.

Submission guidelines are a great resource. An editor is telling you exactly what he or she wants, which means your submission will have the best chance at acceptance. If you’re a salesperson, which we writers are, in what other industry are you able to know your customer’s personal preferences so as to market your product to them most efficiently? Okay, I’m choosing to ignore the new world of Facebook, Google, and Amazon where the sales companies know everything about us.

My only complaint is how much of a time suck reading and complying with the various guidelines is. I realize each editor has different preferences, so each editor’s guidelines will be different. But the time it takes to conform a story and submit it according to the guidelines is time I’m not writing or editing. Can’t they all agree to use the same guidelines, personal preferences be damned?

Many submission guidelines say to use a standard manuscript format.  Most cite Shunn’s manuscript format for short stories.  However, a few cite an alternate version posted on the SFWA website here.  They essentially are the same.  Luckily, the manuscript template in Microsoft Word follows these formats for the most part.  It’s when an editor deviates from the norm you must be careful.  That’s why you read the submission guidelines and then read them again.

Let me know in the comments your experiences with submission guidelines.

Photo credit: globenwein via Pixabay