Prepping to Attend a Convention

By this point, I’ve gone to a few different conferences and conventions along the east coast. I’ve been to a tiny anime convention in Virginia Beach and I’ve been to New York Comic Con (in costume both times). I have attended a single-day journalism conference in Virginia, a brief journalism seminar/conference in Athens, GA, and I’ve gone to an enormous week-long journalism conference in New York City. Earlier this year, I went to my first creative writing con in Richmond, VA. And this weekend, I head right back up to my wee hometown for Raven Con.

I am habitually a terrible packer when I travel. The last few times, I’ve only forgotten a hairbrush. That mega conference in NYC? Pretty much forgot everything; I spent the first day buying clothes to last the trip. I’m the sort who does very well with a checklist. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a helpful checklist of what to bring to a writing convention when you’re just a regular attendee.

Basic Gear for Any Convention

Paper for taking notes

Some people prefer to take digital notes, either on a phone or laptop. Panel discussions move very fast; one presenter had advanced two slides in the time it took me to pull out my phone and open the camera. Also, you have a limited amount of space that might not accommodate a laptop. At the NYC conference, none of the panels I attended had tables for attendees. I recommend a notebook or notepad you can comfortably write in with or without a table. Personally, I prefer a legal pad.

Pens and pens and pens and pens

Bring all the pens. Bring Sharpies. If you have pens with your name, logo, website, contact info, etc., bring those. You will need something to write with. Other people will need something to write with. Make friends by being the person who has a pen when someone can’t find one. It will also give you piece of mind that you have many spares when two of your pens run out of ink and one just won’t work.

Phone charger

Taking lots of pictures, videos, recordings, and notes will eat up battery life. Posting to social media will, too. Exchanging numbers, texting friends, and checking Facebook during that one panel that turned out less interesting than you thought also drains your battery.

Get fancy with a portable charger. You and everyone else at the event will probably need to recharge a device at some point. That’s going to lead to a lot of demand for a limited number of outlets. I have a Kodiak Plus 2.0.

Snacks and bottled water

Don’t be fooled; all conventions are marathons whether they last a day or a whole week. You will need sustenance, and the time to go buy some doesn’t always fall when you need it to. Stay hydrated, keep your blood sugar in a good place, and save a little money.

A decent-sized bag

Depending on the event location and rules, backpacks might be prohibited. Always check your event’s rules, guidelines, and FAQs. Between everything you plan to bring with you and everything you didn’t plan on taking home, a bag big enough to hold it off will come in handy.

If You’re Job-Hunting or Networking Professionally at a Convention

Business cards

These are quick and easy ways to let people get in contact with you after you’re all done running around at the convention. If you’re new to business cards, include the contact information you’re comfortable with handing out and leave space to handwrite additional information for specific people. For example, my cards include my name, website, and email address. The back is blank so I can only give my phone number to people of my choosing.

Résumés

If you’re trying to get a job out of the networking opportunities cons offer, this is essential to keep on hand. There’s always a chance that you won’t actually hand any out. There’s also a chance that someone will give you their card and tell you to send them a copy of your résumé. Won’t you look so organized and prepared if you can hand them a copy right then? (But attach a copy with a followup email after the con, too!)

Leave behinds

This includes whatever handouts you have with your branding and contact info on them. Business cards, personalized pens, postcards, what have you.

Convention Dress Codes

Know your convention

New York Comic Con? Wonder Woman costume is encouraged. Journalism convention? Not so much. Anime and comic conventions tend to be casual, so jeans and T-shirts are perfectly fine. Events advertised as more professional networking opportunities should see you in business-casual.

Nice-casual and business-casual are good rules of thumb. You can still dress nice in jeans. At the end of the day, wear what you’re comfortable sitting in and what you’re comfortable presenting as your first impression.

Comfy shoes

You might think this wouldn’t matter so much if you’re spending only a little time walking between panels and the dealers room. Tired and sore feet are a major buzzkill at any event, and poor footwear can contribute to back pain. Cons are fun, educational, and exciting. They shouldn’t be painful.

For costumes, take the time to make them comfortable. Take it from someone who nearly passed out in a bathroom stall because her corset was on too tight. Make sure you can walk, sit, and breathe comfortably. And, for the love of all that is holy, make sure your costume won’t make going to the bathroom a hellish ordeal.


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Thoughts from Kathryn Stockett: From Book to Movie

While tearing through my closet on a great spring cleaning purge, I came across a legal pad. Unsurprisingly, it was from the college days. I flipped through just in case there was anything I might want to type into a more legible format and save. Between class notes with no headings or dates to clarify where/when they’re from and pages of brainstorming for Thieves, I found an interesting entry.

More than once, I’ve referenced the time I got to ask Kathryn Stockett about deciding to let her book, The Help, be turned into a film. I wrote about it during my time with student media. In my post about Lani Sarem at the Agile Writers Conference this year, I mentioned that same conversation. I even brought it up during my interview on the amazing A Handbook for Handbook for Mortals podcast.

It should be obvious that what Stockett said at the 2014 Savannah Film Festival really stuck with me. Her talk was something I hadn’t really known was going to happen, so I hadn’t planned for. At the last minute, someone said we needed someone from student media to go and write about it, so I did. The question I came up with: “I’m someone who doesn’t want my writing to ever be adapted into film. As someone who did decide to let her book become a movie, can you explain what went into making that decision?”

I really wish I knew where my original notes from that conversation were.

The legal pad I found does not contain those notes. It does, however, contain something just as good: something else I wrote around that time when Stockett’s words were fresh in my mind. There are certain phrases that, upon reading them, I recall being direct quotes. However, I didn’t use any quotation marks in my notes. And judging by the incomplete last line — “And if you get it” — I never finished writing whatever this is. It could have been a class exercise. It could have been a draft for a blog post I never got around to finishing.

Whatever the reason behind writing it, it contains what I took to heart from Stockett. I asked her for insight into why — besides money — an author would consider selling the film rights to their book. At the time, I was vehemently against ever having any of my writing adapted. While I’m still not entirely in favor of the idea, I do know that, if the option ever comes before me, I’ll revisit this scribbled page of notes.


From my notes about Kathryn Stockett:

Kathryn Stockett visited for the Savannah Film Festival and I was able to participate in her discussion panel. When Q&A opened for the students, I said I had no intention of letting my fiction be turned into movies, so how did she make her decision?

Right away, she asked why not. Was I afraid to let go of my work? Yes. That was exactly it.

She said you can’t say no if someone wants the film rights to your book. But it was all about getting your work into the right hands. Find someone who cares about the story and wants to protect it.

The author’s job is to write a book. As she said, if you’re not a screenwriter, don’t write a screenplay. Write the book, cut the cord, and find the right hands to put it in. She said the best you can do is outline the key elements of your story and tell the screenwriters/producers that they have to hit on these points. From there, you can kind of negotiate some things like actors or certain scenes you don’t want out.

But you have to be able to let your story go. When the book gets published, your work is done. Let the screenwriters do their job now that you’ve done yours. And while the income from the movie rights is nice, a movie will renew interest in reading your book. And any kind of movie tie-in where you have famous actors on the cover is going to get you more readers. Selling the movie rights isn’t selling out if you just write a book to be a book. And if you get it


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Bill Blume at AWCon 18: Characters Who Come Alive

Of the many reasons that contributed to the last-minute decision to attend the 2018 Agile Writers Conference in Richmond, VA, getting the chance to meet Bill Blume was the most exciting. For the longest time, I didn’t realize there was any kind of writing community in Virginia. It wasn’t until I graduated college and moved to Georgia that I heard about the James River Writers.

Great timing, right? I lived in Williamsburg for about 13 years and found the writing community there after I left. I connected with Bill on social media after I moved to Georgia and had always looked forward to the chance to meet him. To me, Bill is one of those authors who bridges the gap between reality and the dream. It was so disappointing when I found out Bill did a reading from one of his books in Williamsburg—at my old high school, no less!—a week after I had visited once.

Seeing Bill at AWCon 18 was exciting enough by itself. Bonus for me: his lecture was on the very thing I was struggling with in my revisions for The Thieves of Traska. He had so much wonderful advice that I needed to hear, in fact, that I decided my whole manuscript needed to be rewritten. For the sixth or seventh time (I’m starting to lose count).

Character Motivations

One of the first things Bill pointed out was the need to identify what sets the main character apart. What skills or powers do they possess? How did they gain these abilities, and how do they help or hurt the character in their attempts to achieve their goal? These are questions we as writers generally know to ask ourselves, but sometimes it’s easier to answer them when another writer asks those questions.

There were some surprises in his questions about the main character’s obstacles. “How does the character get in their own way?” he asked. What becomes less important to them as the story progresses? He even suggested to find ways in which the setting can be a disadvantage.

This was a new way to verbalize something I had instinctively addressed with one of my main characters, but not the other (sadly, it was main character B, and not the prime focus of the story). Reed has a very clear goal of trying to find Claire, and he knows he needs help. But his horrible attitude and the way he treats other people earns him more enemies than friends, hindering his search at every step. Thinking about where I felt I did it right really helped me realize where I needed to do better.

Character Descriptions

Bill’s main advice for character descriptions: keep the details consistent, and keep a record for yourself. He also said: “Give the reader a few things, then let them fill in the rest.”

A few deliberate details that contribute to the character will do more for the reader than an info dump about their exact appearance as the author imagines them. Some writers, such as other AWCon 18 guest speaker Lani Sarem, use comparisons to actors to do the heavy lifting of their physical descriptions. As a reader, those descriptions always left characters with blank faces for me. Whether I’m reading someone else’s work or my own, I have a hard time putting an actor’s face to a book character. I’d be imagining Rupert Grint as Ron Weasely, or Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit.

Building the Cast

Up to this point in Bill’s presentation, I had only made notes of relatively minor changes to make to my manuscript. Then he gave all this wonderful advice about not overpopulating your story, posing this question:

“‘Do I name this character?’ Well, do you really need that character?” — Bill Blume

Naming too many characters can lead to overpopulating the story. And an overpopulated story gets convoluted. As Bill said, “you end up adding scenes so every named character has an arc.” Pushing aside the surge of dread I felt when I realized that yes, sorry, I did exactly that thing you said not to do, I asked about using names for minor characters who show up briefly, or strangers to the main character, to avoid overusing “s/he said” tags.

Bill’s solution: have the main character assign nicknames to these strangers. The hero of his YA books, Gideon, doesn’t always know the names of the vampires he slays, but he does come up with some wickedly entertaining nicknames to call them by.

For people like me, who realized they had a few too many characters, Bill offered The Cheat. Make a hybrid character. Instead of having two roles performed by two different characters, find a way to combine them. I’ve done this between drafts before, and it inevitably solves narrative problems. It also presents new opportunities to do something else Bill said is essential for motivating your characters: challenging them.

When the Writing Begins…

“I obsess over my first draft, but I still get it finished.” — Bill Blume

To stay focused, give your characters scene-specific goals. In every scene, every character has a goal. Don’t ignore your characters when they push against your plans. As Bill said, if a character pushes against you, it’s a red flag that it’s not working. That’s where my former professor, author Jonathan Rabb, would say to go back to what happens just before the character pushes back to figure out exactly what isn’t working.

But Bill warned against getting too caught up in the character as a device. “Don’t get so wrapped up in your plot that your characters forget to be themselves,” he said.

THE BIG DON’T

There is a rule I’m forever going to refer to as “The Big Don’t” that is even bigger than “show, don’t tell.” I was familiar with this rule before 2018. It shows up in just about every book on writing books that I’ve read. It shows up in blogs articles, and responses from my beta readers. My own mother told me not to do this, and of course I did it.

“One of the dumbest things you can do is try to write a series before you’ve sold the first one.” — Bill Blume

Thank you, Bill. I’ve seen the error of my ways after committing said error for nearly a decade. I’m going to put this on a plaque to hang near my desk. That way I can hit myself over the head every time I catch myself doing The Big Don’t.


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AWCon 18: Scott T. Allison on the Villain’s Journey

One of my favorite seminars at the 2018 Agile Writers Conference given by Dr. Scott T. Allison, a professor of psychology at the University of Richmond who has published extensively on heroism and leadership. I wondered if his talk, “The Villain’s Journey: How to Craft a Worthy Adversary to Your Hero,” would confirm some of the ideas I had about writing a quality villain.

The short version of my take on villains: they are characters who have the right goal, but take the wrong steps to achieve it. The villain is the hero of his own journey, and the story’s hero is a constant obstacle—the villain of the villain’s story.

When Dr. Allison mentioned there was an uncomfortably fine line between the hero and the villain, I got excited. He surveyed a large group of people beforehand to come up with the top 8 qualities of heroes and villains. These were his results:

Top 8 Qualities of Heroes and Villains

  1. Heroes: Smart | Villains: Smart
  2. Heroes: Strong | Villains: Resilient
  3. Heroes: Selfless | Villains: Egotistical
  4. Heroes: Caring | Villains: Vengeful
  5. Heroes: Charismatic | Villains: Greedy
  6. Heroes: Resilient | Villains: Immoral
  7. Heroes: Reliable | Villains: Violent
  8. Heroes: Inspiring | Villains: Unstable/Volatile

Right away, it seems like most things on the villains’ list of qualities are the kinds of qualities a hero might show at the beginning of the story, but later overcome. And sure enough, Dr. Allison suggested the villain is who a character who went on the Hero’s Journey, but didn’t complete it as they should have. For reference, the Hero’s Journey (based on Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth) includes the call to adventure, meeting a mentor, meeting allies and making enemies, the main crisis, and the resolution. Throughout all this, the hero usually undergoes some sort of emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, or moral transformation, and/or finds whatever quality he lacked at the start.

Looking at the above list, it almost sounds like the hero could start off a villain. If the hero is one who starts off egotistical, greedy, or immoral and learns to be selfless, generous, and moral along the way, he’s completed his journey. If he doesn’t, he’s the villain.

Dr. Allison suggested this failure might come from one of three things:

  1. The character never gained what they lacked.
  2. The character had a poor or corrupt mentor.
  3. The character had no mentor at all.

One person in the audience commented that when we catch ourselves rooting for the villain or sympathizing with him, it’s like we’re kidnapped by the villain’s point of view. When another person asked if the hero becomes a villain when he fails the journey, I was happy to recommend Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (in particular The Final Empire trilogy) as an example of how that might be done.

Final Thoughts on Writing a Villain

Dr. Allison’s entire talk was fascinating. I loved that he brought up The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Phillip Zimbardo—the man behind the Stanford Prison Experiment. That happens to be one of the books I found by pure chance, sitting on the wrong shelf in the bookstore. It also happened that I was the only person to have read any part of that book. It’s a fantastic psychological insight I would recommend to anyone, regardless of whether you’re a writer.

But of all Dr. Allison’s statements, my favorite is when he stressed the importance of mentors. He said the mentor is often the one whom you’d least expect to get advice from. But he also said this:

That is the exact reason I chose to focus on young adult writing, though it is true for all genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. These words ought to hang over every writer’s workstation or be inscribed at the front of their notebooks.


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Lani Sarem at AWCon 18: I Remain Unconvinced

Lani Sarem appeared at the 2018 Agile Writers Conference in Richmond, VA over the weekend. I discovered the conference via the social media anger at 1) Sarem speaking at any writing conference at all; 2) the continued reference to Sarem as a best-selling author; and 3) the “How I Navigated the NYT Bestseller List” topic of her seminar.

This was one of the big reasons I decided (last minute) to make the 8-hour drive back to Virginia and attend AWCon. I had questions for Sarem. When all hell broke loose with the release of Handbook for Mortals last year, I read the articles and blog posts as they came out. I read her quotes and I read what she posted. Standing outside the room, waiting to take a seat at the front to hear her side of the story, I set aside my opinion of Sarem and listened. With my background as a journalist, I relish any chance to hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth—especially if that chance includes the opportunity to ask questions.

Photo of conference program with a star next to "How I Navigated the NYT Bestseller List" seminar by Lani Sarem

Sarem made a point of attacking the credentials of Phil Stamper, the one who started everything on Twitter. She told us he has no published books, and the only writing he’s done is published on Wattpad. That still makes him a writer. And you don’t need a contract with a big publisher to ask questions.

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With her background in the music industry, Sarem is used to how that industry works. The way she explained it: if you go to a concert and buy CDs at the concert venue, those CD sales count toward the musician(s) total record sales. She took issue with that not being the case with what she referred to as “Book World,” and even stated, “The book industry is broken.”

At conventions, she took pre-orders for her book. When it came time to submit those orders, she did not go directly to the distributor. Instead, she (and her team) contacted stores confirmed to report their sales to The New York Times and filled the orders through them. “Every sale should count,” she said.

That, by itself, is a statement I agree with. However, The New York Times can’t mandate every bookstore to report their sales. According to their website, the stores that do report their sales do so by choice. It is a newspaper, not an independent agency whose sole responsibility is tracking book sales worldwide.

All of this almost seems irrelevant amidst Sarem’s repeated, “All I wanted to do was make a movie.” There was a certain naïve appeal to her desire to write the book alongside the movie. She cited common disappointments with book-to-film adaptations: the story changes because a different writer is in charge of the script version, the book and the movie don’t match, and the actors look different than the author wanted them to be imagined.

I nearly laughed. Earlier that morning, Bill Blume talked about bringing characters to life and said, “Give them [readers] a few things, then let them fill in the rest.” This is common advice in books, blogs, and talks about writing. Perhaps the common-sense truth that Sarem seems to be missing is you can’t control other people’s imaginations. And what happens if the actors whose resemblances were stolen drop out of filming? Or refuse to be a part of it? Or die?

Also, the main reason a book and its film differ is not just because a difference in writers. After all, William Goldman wrote both the screenplay and the book for The Princess Bride, and those do not match up perfectly. Books and film are two different mediums. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, talked about having her book adapted to film, as cutting the cord and letting the filmmakers create a film.

“A script cannot hope to cover all the internal conflict that the novel does, nor can it include all the subplots that a long novel can. Novels often emphasize theme and character. They are often reflective, but movies move. These are all reasons why novel lovers often hate movie versions.” —David Trotter, The Screenwriter’s Bible

Aside from the obvious fact that books have a far less strict time constraint, only dialogue really works the same between both platforms. And if Sarem makes the movie dialogue match the book, it’s hard to imagine which will be the more painful experience.

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Going into Sarem’s discussion, I was afraid she would use it as a platform to continue defending her actions. Worse, I feared she was actually going to advise people to do as she did. During the Q&A session, Greg Smith took a moment to say: “There are people in our community and in the larger communities who look down at people who are self-published and look down on people who hustle to get the word out. It doesn’t matter how you do it, the thing is you want to get the book you are writing into the hands of the people who need to read it. That’s the most important thing.”

Having been taught by writing professors who often shrug at self-publishing, I’m very familiar with that thinking. During my undergraduate studies, I was unsure whether or not I agreed with them. Since connecting with several wonderful, talented writers via social media who are self-published, I have decided for myself that there is nothing about self-publishing that makes writers lesser than traditionally published ones. As far as Sarem’s methods in getting her book into the hands of people who need to read it, I don’t agree with them at the writing of this post.

I was disturbed when someone asked if there were steps to get on the bestseller list. “You have to play by certain rules in the book community. Or,” Sarem said with a shrug, “you can just go after fans who love the story.”

She did offer her steps to get your book made into a movie, however. Step 1: Write a book. Step 2: Find a producer (someone who would be passionate about it).

That’s it.

I question Lani Sarem’s authority at a writing conference. After listening to the way she tells her side of the story, my impression is that she sounds like she sat down to play Monopoly and threw a tantrum because the rules aren’t like checkers. I am glad I got the chance to hear what she had to say, and to ask my questions, but she did not change my mind. Even her parting words of advice were undermined by a subtext of “stop picking on me!”

The only worthwhile advice she gave: “Support your fellow writers.”


Note: This post was updated Feb. 5, 2018 with a more accurate quote from Greg Smith, edits to my language and attitude, and Greg’s note, which he requested I post since the comments function was not working properly.


Note: I discuss additional details from Sarem’s talk, including the apparent budget for the Handbook For Mortals film adaptation, on the Handbook for Handbook for Mortals Podcast. Find the episode with my interview here.


Greg Smith’s note on “Lani Sarem at AWCon 18: I Remain Unconvinced”

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for coming to the Agile Writer Conference this year. This is the second year we’ve put on a show featuring some of the best writing talent in Richmond and beyond. I appreciate your article about Lani Sarem’s presentation and I would like to address your comment that “Greg Smith took a moment to clarify to us that the purpose of Sarem’s talk was to provide insight into how to get your book turned into a movie.”

The exact words I spoke after Lani’s seminar were:

“This is our attitude at Agile Writers as well. There are people in our community and in the larger communities who look down at people who are self-published and look down on people who hustle to get the word out. It doesn’t matter how you do it, the thing is you want to get the book you are writing into the hands of the people who need to read it. That’s the most important thing.”

As a journalist, I hope that you will correct your copy.

The reason I invited Lani was because she disrupted the publishing world. She took a different approach to marketing her book. She broke no laws or ethical standards. She only made sure that every sale counted.

There are people in the writing community who dismiss writers because of the way they write, publish, or market their books. The James River Writers (Richmond’s non-profit literary hub) were invited to have a free table at the conference. They wrote this to me two days before:

“I’m sorry for the late notice, but JRW won’t be able to have a table at the Agile Writers conference this weekend. We’re uncomfortable with the inclusion of Lani Sarem and would prefer not to be seen as endorsing her. Where possible, please remove any mention of JRW from any event literature and online in places like Meetup.”

This is simple shunning. I’m glad you didn’t take this attitude and decided to come to the conference to learn first-hand what Lani had to say. While we have different opinions about Lani’s method, I fully appreciate your point of view.

Thank you for coming to the Agile Writer Conference. And, thank you for your kind words about my friend and cowriter Dr. Scott Allison’s presentation on The Villain’s Journey. I hope we’ll see you next year at AWCON19.

Continued Success!

Greg Smith
Executive Director
Agile Writers


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Saying Goodbye: Words of Wisdom from Sarah Domet

Last night, I went to a conversation with authors Sarah Domet and Jonathan Rabb at The Book Lady Bookstore. The event promoted the paperback release of The Guineveres, Domet’s debut novel. For the umpteenth time, I crowded in with the rest of a gaggle of Savannah’s writing and reading community. Toward the end of the conversation, someone asked Domet how she felt about letting go of her first book while moving on to her second.

The Guineveres began in the form of her dissertation before years of work grew it into the acclaimed novel it is today. Domet said she felt very protective over her characters, and an almost maternal fear of sending them out into the world. “My pregnancy hormones might have had something to do with that,” she joked. The Guineveres was released In October 2016, two days before she gave birth.

“The hardest part,” she said, “is that I don’t get to be a part of their lives anymore.”

No character’s life is confined to the timeline of a story. They have memories of events before a novel begins, and—barring a tragic ending—they have a future that goes beyond the words “the end.” After spending years growing alongside your characters, it’s hard to stop writing about them. The draw of a spinoff or a sequel is strong. Even Domet wanted to keep going in the lives of the four Guineveres in her book.

For the last few weeks, a similar thought nagged at me. Despite the many ideas on my mental shelf of novels to write, The Thieves of Traska staked the biggest claim on my time. I revise, rewrite, reorganize. It even took over most of my artwork. Every line I share for the writing hashtag games on Twitter comes from Thieves. Lately I’ve been grumbling to myself: “Why don’t you work on something else for a change?”

Last year, I dove into the first draft of the sequel to Thieves. Okay, that’s not really something else. I made significant headway before going back to revise Thieves. Those revisions ultimately made the half-novel I had drafted moot. Any time I try to start it over, I worry it’s just a waste of time. I’m still revising Thieves. When it gets an agent, that will probably mean more revisions. And then there will be an editor and—oh, right—more revisions.

“Oh god, this will never end,” plays on repeat in my head.

Inscription in Sarah Domet's "The Guineveres," which reads: "For Amanda - Best of luck with your book! Thanks for coming out tonight!"
“For Amanda – Best of luck with your book! Thanks for coming out tonight!”

A few months ago, I managed to get out two and a half chapters of a completely unrelated novel. I decided to give it some space when I caught myself doing an info dump in chapter three. Last week, I drafted the first chapter (again) for still another novel. That one excites me; it combines an old idea—the incomplete National Novel Writing Month 2012 project that inadvertently created Thieves—with a new one I came up with last year.

In spite of that, most of my time goes to Thieves. I keep thinking the next revision will be THE ONE. Then it’s ready to pitch to agents. Just as soon as I change this one thing. And this other thing. And, oh, a beta reader has more suggestions! Better make those changes, too.

When Domet signed my copy of The Guineveres, I asked her how she transitioned from the stage of making one more revision to actively seeking an agent.

“I think you get to a point of frustration,” she told me. “I just realized that nothing was going to come of it if I didn’t do something. You can’t get anything done if you just sit on your behind.”


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Best and Worst of Critique Comments (bonus)

It’s been fun going through the nice and nonsensical comments my peers have left on my short stories over the years. Some are helpful, some are supportive, some are mean and some are just plain funny. They’re a great way to remind my fellow writers — particularly those new to having their work critiqued — that everyone’s got an opinion. Sometimes those opinions can hurt your feelings, but it’s important to look past that for any valuable input you can use. Just like when you read customer reviews on Amazon.com, you tend to ignore the ones that just say “Awful product. Never buying from this company again.” because there’s nothing there to advise you on why you shouldn’t buy the product. For all you know, that guy didn’t even read the product description before he bought the thing.

For this bonus episode, we’re actually going to take a look at some more comments left on the last three short stories I wrote. What makes these comments so special? Well, they come from my professor. I’ll go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt — it’s the end of the year, the loud class next door has been bugging him all quarter, and there could be something in his personal life really stressing him out. This is the first time his comments have proved less useful and — as in the first picture below — a little hurtful.

Instead of launching into a defensive tirade, I want to use these comments to show you all that even professors, who we sometimes put on a pedestal for all their wisdom and experience, can offer less than helpful feedback.

hunters comments
“I’ll allow this one trip down a medieval rabbit hole, but if you do it again, you’ll start with a C. That you didn’t know if the story is set before or after The Black Death tells me you need to do more research.”

This wasn’t the first fantasy story I’ve passed off as historical fiction for this professor, but it’s the first time he’s responded in this way. This story earned an A, so I’m at least doing something right. But that just makes the threat of a lower grade bizarre. (To clarify, when he said “you’ll start with a C,” he meant that a C is the highest grade I could get if I did everything else perfectly.)

This professor also doesn’t like genre fiction — he prefers contemporary realistic fiction — so I’m taking this particular comment as an opinion of taste rather than objective assessment of quality. Taste should have no bearing on a grade.

sleepless comments
-A Good, if a bit melodramatic at times. She had a miscarriage? Stillborn? Co-worker’s callous remark a bit implausible. Where does he work, or Where did he work? In a silver mine in Reno circa 1870?”

For my contemporary story about the married couple that had a miscarriage, my professor generally felt it was melodramatic. During verbal critique, he offered some rather morbid suggestions on how to adjust the situation to be “more dramatic,” such as turning the accidental miscarriage into an abortion forced by the husband. This question about where the husband works that a coworker would make such a callous comment about the wife seems odd, especially given its phrasing.

Sure, I have years of anecdotal proof that people, myself included, can make tactless remarks without thinking. I think we’ve all said things and realized a few seconds later that, gee, I really shouldn’t have said that. But it’s hard to tell if what I wrote sounds more like intentional insensitivity when my only feedback is a quip. It’s important to explain why something doesn’t work when critiquing.

invaders comments
“A dystopian futuristic Robo Cop War of the Worlds woman warrior swooning techno romance novel? Part of one?”

Perhaps the least helpful feedback (as far as clarity on what changes are needed to improve the story) comes on the last story I submitted. Only the professor read it, so I can’t use my classmates’ comments to help decipher what’s “wrong” here. I guess any mentions of giant machines during an alien invasion will bring to mind War of the Worlds, but I’ve never seen any Robo Cop. Regardless, most writing is derivative of something these days.

What’s not working with this feedback is, again, that I’m not being told what isn’t working. Is it the “romantic voice” people have said I write in? Is the presence of a female character — who spends the whole story freaking out and trying not to bleed out from a gunshot wound — to blame for the “woman warrior” feel? What exactly am I supposed to change for the revised version?

As you can see, my friends, comments you don’t know how to respond to can come from anyone. They could even come from you. If you get responses like this, ignore what won’t help you. And if you’re critiquing someone else’s work, remember to explain why you think a change is needed.


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Best and Worst of Critique Comments #6

Here we are, ladies and gents: the last Best and Worst of Critique Comments. It’s been a load of fun and I love all the wonderful reactions you’ve posted here or on Facebook. Thank you very much to everyone who has been reading this mini-series since it began!

This final story was only 500 words. It’s in the more romantic vein of work I’ve produced, focusing on a moment between a husband and wife a few months after she’s had a miscarriage. I spent a few weeks on this one and I’m very happy with how it came out — especially since everyone underlined the sentence I spent the most time crafting. There was some dissent on whether or not I should have dropped an F-bomb at the end of the story, but I haven’t decided what to do about it (if anything).

So without further ado, I give you the best and worst of the comments:

“This is a very soft, romantic piece. It suits your romantic voice. I was a little bit confused as to what exactly was going on, but I appreciate the subtlety you use to convey your ideas.”

“Such a truly wonderful short-short. You captured a moment, a history, and a hope in a small space as well as I think was possible for this.”

“While somber, you balanced it with such great humor. Because, well, when something is just too damn sad to be funny in life, that’s the moment that it has to become funny if progress is going to be possible. So beautiful job with that.”

“Aw this DID hit me right in the feels!”

“Weddings are murder.”

“It’s engaging the whole way through and the ending made me smile. Also, the coworker is a DI**. Don’t change a THING.”

“I want a hint of how/why she miscarried, if it just happened, or if something external caused it. It would be easy to include here.”

“I like that the dialogue is very casual and funny, but what’s going on is deeply emotional. You made it touching and sad without being melodramatic at all.”

“What does this mean?” Written next to an underlined piece of dialogue that says, “I said you’ve never been easy.”

“There maybe could have been more descriptions of their body language and their comfortability with each other. There’s a lot of dialogue, so add some descriptions.”

“Good dialogue. Good chemistry between characters. The amount of ‘I’s can be cut down.”

“I presume Maelyn was their child that died or was a stillbirth. I presume she wants to forget the nightmare through sex.” 

“Excellent story. Really tells a lot about the couple and their marriage without a bunch of ‘fluff.'”

“No! It was a sweet story, don’t spoil it with foul language.” Written next to the F-bomb, but not near the word “di**” a few paragraphs before.

“I would have wanted to know more about their past, but due to the word restriction, see that’s impossible. You could consider making the father losing his job somehow related to them losing their child.”

“Maybe change the title. It sounds to romance-novel-esque and the story is so far from that. :|”

“So sad… :(” Written next to the sentence, “It’s something I can only see in my dreams.”

“I don’t know. This line seems too rough for this piece. It’s a little jarring. I understand what you’re trying to say though. Maybe ‘f***ing’ is too strong of a word.”

“Love this whole thing. You say so much with so little.”

“Genetic flaw/virus?”

“I do like page one more than I like page two, though — there’s something about that conversation that just seems off when compared to the trauma but, then again, it’s a way of dealing with it.”

“Also, why was Tom such a di**?? Maybe add a little line about him, that describes his relationship to the narrator/his wife. But this was beautiful okay?!”

“The relationship between the two is so descriptive and lively. There’s a crucial AND symbolic meaning, even in the rhythm of your voice.”

“This was a really interesting take on what I assume to be a pregnancy? Or abortion? Or miscarriage? Your writing is so quiet and really beautiful.”

“I love Maelyn, she seems so genuine. When she curls back up in his arms and just giggles — aw, dead. I also loved the transition from touching her head and wanting to touch another. Nice subtleness with the information regarding a failed pregnancy.”

“The only part I’m unsure about is the ending. It seems like this would be in the realm of her character, but it doesn’t fit here. It tears away from this tender moment you have given us.”

“?” Written next to the circled phrase, “I hope to God.”

And there we have it. Thank you very much for reading! I wish there had been more outlandish comments, but there was only one person who seemed to be reading a completely different story.


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Advice From the Pros (And How to Take It)

Last week, my duties as an intern took me to various classrooms. Several designers were visiting for SCADstyle to give lectures, talk on panels and meet students. I attended the events and shadowed some of the visitors, taking notes on how they interacted with students and the advice they gave.

I had the opportunity to follow Dana Thomas around as she spoke with fashion students designing their senior collection and I sat in on a short lecture she gave to a Writing for the Arts class. When I took that class, Ms. Thomas came and gave similar advice to what she did now. I know I had the same glassy-eyed, “how the hell am I supposed to do all that” look on my face as the students I visited. Advice from successful people is great, but it can be hard to digest. Hopefully this is makes it easier to swallow.

Advice: “Read every day!”

You want to write for the arts? You better be reading the arts sections of The New York Times. You want to write or review books? You better be reading the latest reviews (also in The New York Times). You want to write anything even slightly relevant to what’s going on? Read The New York Times. Every day. Front to back.

How to do it:

If you’re a student, here’s where you take a deep breath. You won’t be shooting yourself in the foot by not reading NYT every day. You can stay up to date by listening to the news, checking Flipboard, skimming your local paper, checking out the homepage of nytimes.com, and clicking on the list of trending topics on Facebook. As a student, your primary goal is learning and getting your degree. If you want to submit an article to be published on Huffington Post but you haven’t been reading it religiously, give yourself a crash course on what they’ve published over the last few weeks.

If you’ve got a job or an internship in some field related to your career, there’s a good chance the time to catch up on the news is built in to your workday. No matter where you work, they probably have an office subscription to newspapers and magazines related to your field. They have these subscriptions so employees can read them and be up to date. You’ve got the publications there in the office, it’s part of the job to read them and know what’s going on, and you don’t have to panic.

Advice: “Join the student newspaper!”

Get professional experience in an environment where it’s okay to mess up, plus you get your writing published. And if it’s an online newspaper, you don’t have to be a writer; they’ve got photography, videography, graphic design, social media, marketing, editing, etc. And it looks great on your resume!

How to do it:

That was Ms. Thomas’s advice to students in the Writing program, but the idea works for everyone. Join the student newspaper/debate team/architectural society/whatever they have in your field of study. There’s the constant fear of having too many obligations, too much work, too much stress, not enough time for eating, sleeping or socializing. The great part about student organisations is that they know you’ve got that going on. Seriously. Everyone on the team has the same struggle, so they’ll understand if you have to quit halfway through because your classes got really intense.

And it really is okay to mess up in these organisations. Most likely, you’ll walk away with nothing worse than a bruised ego (unless you don’t play well with others, in which case no amount of skill will save you from being voted off the island).

Advice: “Fake it til you make it!”

You claimed to be an expert with Photoshop and now you’ve got a huge project to turn in by the end of the week? Just don’t let anyone catch you Googling how to do all the stuff you said you knew how to do.

How to do it:

Start by being honest about your abilities and open to a challenge. Bragging and making up skills might help get you the job, but actually having the skills will help you keep it. If you don’t have them, be willing to learn. Pretending otherwise is frustrating to everyone involved. I’ve sent out reporters who claimed to know what they’re doing only to see their work later (and sometimes get an unhappy email) and find out they don’t. I’ve also been asked to do things I didn’t bother telling anyone I didn’t actually know how to do. It’s a lot of extra work on both sides.

No one will think less of you for not being an expert, especially if you’re fresh out of college.

Advice: “Get an internship!”

Employers love if you’ve had an internship prior to applying for an entry level job, so get as many internships as you can. You might have to do unpleasant tasks like filing, making copies, or the dreaded coffee runs, but it’s a small step on the path to a better paying job and a stable career.

How to do it:

Just like working for a student organisation, an internship is a place where everyone knows you’re inexperienced and want to learn. It’s okay to mess up. You know you’ll work for a set amount of time, so there’s no need to wake up wondering if today’s the day you’ll get fired. Do your best, learn what you can, and take it easy. If you do well, it may turn into a paying job when your time is up. If not, you’ve still got the experience on your resume.

As for filing, making copies, or getting coffee, all that falls under the “stuff you’ll have to do anyway” category. Everyone I work with gets their own coffee, but filing and copying things for other people shows you how to do it when you’ve got your own things to file and copy. Basically, you’re the Karate Kid.

In theory, advice from successful people is scary. And then you find yourself actually doing it and you laugh because it’s not as hard as you thought. So take a deep breath, friends. You’ll get through it.


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Best and Worst of Critique Comments #5

Ah, the return of a popular series! If you need to catch up on the last four episodes, you can find all of those right here. The guidelines are slightly different from last time; instead of writing an 8-10 page short story for class, the limit is 6-8. We still had to print off 30 copies and read the story aloud, and yours truly volunteered (as usual) to go on the first day. In my mind, I thought the first day would be next Tuesday so I would have the weekend to work on this. I quickly realized the first day was actually Thursday (yesterday).

Due to this immediate deadline, a pleasantly tiring day at work and me getting sick, I could not write a fresh story. I did the next best thing and grabbed part of a chapter from The Thieves of Traska. It’s an experimental sort of chapter–I sprinkled in a few scenes from her brother’s point of view for a subplot that was difficult to execute when the whole story was told from Claire’s perspective. I wasn’t sure about keeping it, but my classmates‘ opinions make me think it should stay.

Without further ado, I give you their comments!

“Great stuff! I’d love to read the rest. Confused as to the timing and how this escape went down.”

“What does this mean?” Written next to the sentence “Well, what was one more palm to grease?”

“I like the premise, but it feels unresolved. Would have liked a cut to what Claire is thinking.”

“I find Reed’s possessive and obsessive nature very interesting, but also creepy in a way.”

“Nice, atmospheric piece. I could very easily envision the scenes that you constructed… I wanted to hear more about what was going down, more about Claire, etc. … It kind of reminded me of Fargo atmospherically.”

“Is he referring to his sister?” The words “precious possession” are underlined. “I would change ‘possession.’ Just … ow. She’s a person. :(“

“I would like some more descriptions. The ones you have are fantastic, but a few more might solve some of the period-confusion people seem to be having (the sheriff and village confusion is bogus though because freaking Robin Hood had a sheriff GOD!)”

“I definitely want to read more! Lots of tension and unknowns. Worried about the guardsmen. Hopefully he likes Claire. Is there gonna be a romance there? Don’t tell me! I think this is super rad and I hope you keep developing it.”

“It feels like a book chapter, not a stand-alone.”

“I like how all of the characters have complex moralities; there’s not a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ oversimplification, especially with Reed and Claire, that felt real, believable, and interesting.”

“There is not much of a resolution and we’re hung out to dry. It’s good to be ambiguous at times, but this feels odd.”

“The use of a sheriff combined with chain mail and tunics is very confusing. Apart from that small detail, the story kept my attention all the way to the end.”

“Wish I knew more of Claire… Kind of want her to take him out in the end.”

“This seems a bit of a unique place to have the story, to end before the action really starts. It isn’t bad but I am left wanting to know what happens … Good narration, good dialogue, and a slight sense of wit.”

“Setting and time have me a bit confused. Would like more dialogue at beginning. I like the gritty characterizations.”

“While the tension between the sheriff and Reed was particularly interesting, I wanted someone to be the main antagonist. I thought that was Garrison, but the sheriff seemed to be that.”

“The very beginning states Reed didn’t want to involve the authorities, but then he goes to the police guarding the prison? Or is he at his last resort? That would make sense. Reed also wouldn’t want to openly admit that he saw Claire after she escaped from jail because he would be arrested for harboring a fugitive.”

“I like it. Sharp dialogue, interesting characters, a page-turning plot… I think you have a great start for a novel here.”

“The characters’ background is unknown thus, confusing. We need to know why Claire was in jail and what criminal behavior she has. I also wonder who the narrator is. Perhaps an omnipotent POV?”

“Was he holding it or did he get stabbed? :|” Next to the sentence “Seeing the tiny blade flash into Garrison’s hand had been a surprise, though.”

“This is kinda suggestive of domestic abuse???” Next to the sentence “It wasn’t anybody’s business how he dealt with her.”

“I don’t think this is really a ‘short story,’ more like the opening to something bigger, which is both really good and bad.”

“I think it’s well written, and there’s even a bit of humor in it, like when the one guard walks in and says, ‘Does it look like no one got hurt?’ lol.”

“The ending could be stronger because I feel that nothing is really resolved. He is still going after Claire just as he was at the beginning.”

“This sounds too painful to kind of brush off, even if he’s a tough guy.” In reference to a cut on Reed’s face.

“This is written very well, is engaging and intriguing, and I want to read this book, I want to solve this mystery. I’m willing to bet Garrison isn’t such a bad guy and Claire sees this in him? Or maybe he has something she wants? Man I have so much I want to know and you do such a good job of pulling me in with just this one bit. I want to know Claire’s character and her past and yeah you get the point.”

“I wish you wouldn’t have stopped right there, as well. It makes the story feel bit off. Or maybe that’s just me wondering what would happen when Reed actually found Claire.”

“Obviously incomplete. Abrupt ending. Couldn’t decide what time period was until chain mail was mentioned. They didn’t have time to draw wanted posters or the money to get paper. Felt like fantasy.”

That last person also wrote this comment, but I have no idea what it says.

Snapshot_20150326

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Best and Worst of Critique Comments #4

The final verbal critique of the quarter. The 500 word short story I wrote for class was one I’m very proud of. I spent a few weeks on it and even volunteered to read first two days before we had to sign up for days to read. Saying I was excited is a bit of an understatement.

The story is set in Ireland sometime in the 1300’s. Colin is an arrogant man who repeatedly beats his wife and suffers from a leg injury he treated himself. After the wound gets infected, the wife sends for a doctor and Colin succumbs to a fever. When he wakes up, he discovers his wife has left him and the doctor amputated his leg.

This is probably my favorite short story that I’ve written. For those interested, you will be able to read a copy in the near future. In the meantime, here is what my classmates said:

“I enjoyed it. My only concern is the word ‘healer.’ This story seems to take place in the past, but not so long ago that the word ‘doctor’ did not exist.”

“Love the characters. Very gruesome little surprise for Colin.”

“I enjoy the sense of irony throughout the story and dark (…almost comic) end that it had.”

“I enjoyed the second part of the story the best… I feel that the selection is very strong and is the perfect glue to hold the 1st and 3rd parts together.”

“I love the middle part; the image of him struggling alone in the dark is very cinematic & creepy. Big impact.”

“Only the wife’s character seems a little inconsistent–first we see her as a complacent beaten wife, then a little fiery/sarcastic with ‘big lout,’ then she cares for him (calls the doctor), but then she leaves–a bundle of contradictions.”

“Perhaps if you had read it a bit louder and with more inflection (it was quite monotone) there would be more tension or emotion. Great story though! When I went back and read it a second time I found all the components I felt were lost in translation from your reading.”

“Nice! Seems to have all the major needed elements. I enjoy the idea & for only 500 words it does the job. No real suggestions/corrections on my behalf. Extremely nice!”

“F*** yeah! Water of life, yo!” (Written over the word “whiskey.”)

“Great ending! Your flicks are superb, especially for people who like historical fiction. TAKE RABB’S CLASS! It’ll forever change your writing style.”

“Bummer, he lost his leg! But I s’pose he deserved it.”

“The wife’s got her chance to escape. Though the story is interesting as is, I’m left wondering of her fate–maybe that’s what you wanted!”

“Why did it take so long for his wife to leave? He’s obviously a drunk, couldn’t she have snuck out sooner?”

“I wasn’t surprised when she left because she didn’t seem scared of him, and I didn’t feel bad for him because he hit her. So I wish there was something that added drama. That aside though, this is really well written. It has good pace and is well put together.”

“Awkward opening sentence.”

“‘Ass’ would be a stronger word.”

“If this is what caused the wound, make it seem a little more like a hackjob. Like, a little more detail on how it festered.”

“Nice premise from start to finish. Very ‘olden’ days style but it could work. I like it. Make it a little more clear she only stays because he supports her.”

“Awkward sentence/gesture.”

“AAND I love the inclusion of the ‘putting him out of work’ comment in the third paragraph. PERFECT way to just slide that information subtly. Nice job! Overall, great job! But you already knew that. :) If there’s one thing I’m gonna miss from Fiction, it’d be reading your pieces.”

“Post discussion: Since when does location matter? That’s not the point of the story, man. Why are people SO nitpicky about silly things. :(“

“Can I ask the writer where exactly his leg was cut off at?” (Actually a question presented during verbal critique. I told her I would get back to her with an answer once I was certified to amputate legs.)

“I don’t totally understand how he got the injury or what exactly kind of injury it is besides something with his knee so maybe clarify that a bit more. Also, I’m not sure about using the word ‘healer’ instead of just ‘doctor.’ Healer makes me think of magic & spells, but this guy just amputated the leg. It doesn’t seem like he really does anything like a healer would.”

“I like this a lot. Your style of writing shows us the characters without dialogue or a real physical description which is great. I would like to know if the wife really did leave him or just couldn’t be there for the removal of the leg.”

“I love that you wrote this from the abusive husband’s point of view. Usually it is from the wife’s perspective.”

“You should try to read with a bit more emotion. I think that it would enhance your style. This is great writing but more emotion when read would show that off more.”

“It’s tough to get a story arc in just 500 words, but you did it well and so cleanly. (is that a pun? I’m not sure.) I wonder if Colin’s wife left him for good. I’d think so, but the ambiguity there is oh-so-good.”

“The story was interesting because it was about the tense feel of the situation rather than two people trying to connect. Actions instead of dialogue was a good idea. His leg was amputated right?”

“I really enjoyed your story. It was bright and happy and filled with joy and butterfly farts. I wanted to rub this story down with vasoline and call it my sugardaddy.”

The last comment is definitely one I’ll remember. I kind of wish there had been more outlandish or negative comments to amuse you with, but it seems my class is of the opinion the story is good. Also, my reading voice could use some work.

Best and Worst of Critique Comments #3

As with my fiction class last quarter, our first two stories are critiqued by the whole class. Everyone gets a copy to write on and we read it aloud. A moment of insanity struck me the day we signed up for when we’d present our stories. When no one volunteered to go first, the voice of my competitive side screamed out “Cowards! You don’t lose anything by reading on the first day!” With that thought in my head, I signed up to read mine first. Turns out the only thing you lose by doing so is extra time for revisions.

Still, I pulled through with something I’m proud of. The story takes place in a Catholic church in an undefined European city during the Middle Ages. It features Maeve (a thief raised in the church), Father Andrew (Maeve’s paternal figure), Quinn (a rich nobleman), and Isabella (a noble lady). Isabella and Quinn had an affair. To increase tension between Quinn and his wife, Isabella hired Maeve to steal Quinn’s family portraits. Quinn and Maeve arranged a meeting in the church to negotiate the return of his paintings. After Isabella pays Maeve, the thief reveals that she didn’t actually steal the paintings; she hid them in Quinn’s house. When Isabella finds out she was tricked, she tries to have Maeve killed.

Now that you know the context, on to the comments that amused me and/or temporarily inflated my ego!

“Why won’t [Isabella] pursue [Maeve into the church]? If it’s because people are around, what good is screaming from outside?” The answer being that Isabella respects sanctuary.

“Judging from the title alone, I certainly did not expect the content within, and I like that!”

“I think Maeve’s blatant disregard for the church rules is what initially caught my attention.”

“Nit picking, but if this was the olden days, where would she get licorice?”

“Butter?” Written next to the circled words “eating knife.”

“Sellable?” Written as a correction for the word “salable.” A few people wrote this, although “sellable” is not a real word.

Old time period. It’s not obvious straight away that this isn’t modern. (You can ignore this comment.)”

“How would she do that? Nevermind.”

“Never good idea to go upstairs. Any horror movie watchers know that going upstairs is a good way to get trapped.” At one point, Maeve runs back into the church to escape Isabella and hides in the bell tower.

“Him clenching his bleeding hand to his chest?” Actually a fair suggestion; I forgot this person had been stabbed in the hand. But, as I told my roommate, “clenching” is for teeth, fists, and sphincters.

“This isn’t relivent, your not trying to protect her from an accident, you’re trying to stop her getting murdered. The two things have no connection.”

“Very nice way of setting the stage with the first page.” I can’t help but wonder where, if not the first page, I should set the stage.

“I know we nit picked today, but don’t let that discourage you from the great foundation here.” Since a few people had comments like this, they must not have heard me say I didn’t give a damn what half of them would say because most of it would be useless.

“Maeve is a great name for her, by the way–the ‘v’ in it just fits her personality.”

“Odd for a woman [to smoke a pipe].”

“I’m not totally knowledgeable of the Catholic Church, but I feel like they don’t have monks.”

“[Maeve]’s not very likable.” Will someone please tell me where it’s written that the main character MUST be likeable?

Is she selling them or not? She’s receiving money for it. NVM. Read the entire story. It makes sense.”

“Owww :(” Next to the part where someone gets stabbed.

“As usual, your stories are wonderful! I can’t think of anything major to say, I got confused at times, but only because you hadn’t explained until later what certain actions meant (like why she was getting paid and the affair and so on); I don’t consider that a bad thing, of course I have to be patient and keep reading haha!”

“I think this is absolute gold. I love the consistency in your tone, and the sort of subtle snarkiness in this piece. The dialogue is admirable because there’s a lot of it but it didn’t overwhelm the pages. The characters and the ending were just as solid. Good job.”

“How would she be taking them?” Written near some dialogue where Isabella says Maeve might be mistaken for a prostitute because of the way she’s dressed. Maeve responds, “I have no intention of taking any of your customers. I’ll direct anyone looking for a cheap thrill to your villa.”

“I am fond of the names chosen except for Isabella. It seems almost too long compared to the others or too ‘light’ for a character that you want us to not like. (I am being ‘nit-picky’ when I say that.)”

“Point?” Written above the underlined words “small eating knife.”

“You’ve woven a delectable short story–I’d like to know the time period. Language was suberb.” I assume that was supposed to be “superb.”

“I needed a bit more background on the villian, like Isabella, and Quinn in the story. Just a tiny bit more. Also the way you read it out loud took away a lot of the excitement of the story for me.”

“Overall, I really enjoyed your story and you read it very well.”

All the spelling and grammatical mistakes are the commenters’, not mine. What bothers me the most this time are the number of people who wrote they were being ‘nit picky’ as though apologizing for having something negative to say.

Since no one asked about my religious beliefs, I’m going to assume it wasn’t obvious that I’m not Catholic. That’s an accomplishment, in my opinion.

The Next Big Thing: Blog Hop

I was tagged in this Blog Hop business a while ago. I meant to get on it right away, but a few things pushed ahead of it. Now that I’m less busy, I can indulge in this and talk about my own writing. As part of the rules, I have to explain the rules:

Give credit to the person who tagged you. That would be Dave Higgins over at Davetopia. I’m very glad of this; I enjoy reading his blog.

Explain the Rules. Self explanatory.

Answer the ten questions about your current work in progress. Since I’ve started various projects and work on them at different paces, I’ll go with the one I’ve been working on for the longest.

Tag five other people and link to their blogs. Continuing this practice isn’t necessary, but I wouldn’t mind sending some of my readers to blogs I enjoy reading.

Now that the rules are out of the way, I shall get on to the questions. I am hesitant to put any details of my writing in public view, but I have been working on this book for almost six years now.

What is the working title of your book? The new working title is Beholden to None, thanks to a coworker. It had a placeholder name (Bayonets IN SPACE), but I’m glad it has a serious title now.

Where did the idea come from for the book? Randomly, I thought “What if Pandora’s box wasn’t a box, but actually a person?” The story has absolutely nothing to do with that now, but that’s where it started.

What genre does the book fall under? I’m going to go with science fiction.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in the movie rendition? That’s a tough question. I never thought this would be a book anyone would ever want to turn into a movie. I think I could see Arnold Vosloo as my villain.

What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book? As of right now, that would have to be something along the lines of “Civil war has divided an alien planet as they fight for Earth’s fate: enslavement beneath the Secure Empire, or a hostile alliance with the Ahkhar Fleet.” (As I’m sure every writer does, I hate writing a one-sentence synopsis.)

Will your book be self-published or published by an agency? I honestly have no idea. We’ll see what happens when I finish it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It took me a little under a year for the first draft. The five years since then have been spent on the second and second-and-a-half drafts. (Draft 2.5 happened when I rewrote the plot.)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Another difficult question. Aside from the previously mentioned thought about Pandora’s box, I’m not certain what inspired me. It could be my failed first attempt at science fiction made me want to write something new that was much better.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I’m not sure about “within my genre,” since I haven’t read as much science fiction as I would like. I like to think I’ve channeled some Brandon Sanderson into my writing, but that might be wishful thinking. There is one place, however, where I noticed a major shift in my writing; the way I handled each character’s emotions made me think I subconsciously tried emulating Monica McCarty (a romance author). I believe I wrote that part when I first discovered her work and then developed a minor obsession.

What else about your book might piqué the reader’s interest?
Two of my characters share a telepathic bond, and the addition of a third person affects their relationship as well as the events of the story. Plus there are giant robot fights (if you’re into that kind of thing).

I’m going to break the rules a bit here and ask Shylock Books to tell us about her project.

The Best and Worst of Critique Comments #2

So we had another full-class critique of short stories. This time, the story had to be 500 words (as opposed to the last story, which was 8-10 pages). After some of the comments I received last time, I figured I’d get another healthy dose of nonsense with the occasional constructive comment. My classmates did not disappoint.

For context, this short story featured a girl named Adelaide breaking out of jail in a country-western type setting. She picks the lock on her cell door, then fights off two guards. She dispatches the second guard by grabbing his crotch and twisting.

“Ew.” (Written above a line that reads “The stench of old piss clung to the dirt under her face.”)

“If the locks are modern-day, they might not be possible to pick.”

“I feel like I’ve seen a lot of Medieval fantasy stories have this kind of sequence (the knife in the boot, the lockpick, the thief escaping prison. . . almost like a Tamora Pierce novel.)”

“Whether it was intended or not, the piece ended on a humorous note because of the man’s ‘buckling knees’ after he gets grabbed in the balls. It was hilarious and lovely!”

“Is this a prison with both men and women?”(and a few sentences later:) “Is she in a co-ed prison?”

“Story does not stand on its own, more like an excerpt. How big is this girl? Modern cell?”

“Fast paced–me gusta. Thank you for making it a kick ass woman and not the stereotypical male assassin/thief. I liked it a lot. The concept is super witty and yeah. I’m going to draw you a cactus.”

She definitely drew a cactus

“We don’t know her well enough to support her escape, and for all we know she’s not exactly a Robin Hood.”

“Cool story.”

“Feels more like a slice-of-life than a fully contained story. Perhaps because of how casually Adelaide handles the situation. Not a bad thing, just an observation.”

“It seems like she would put up a more sophisticated fight. She seems smart and aware and I wish she would have fought more easily.”

“Would that be in her pockets?” (written next to the underlined phrase “…her coat, her satchel and all the jewelry she’d stolen…”)

“I wish we knew why she’s in jail.” (See previous comment for the answer.)

“Fun. A cute little adventure story, has a beginning, middle and end.”

“Your descriptions are literally out of this world, I literally have no stylistic complaints.”

“She is a girl and obviously she is strong, but I feel that she recovers from that punch way too fast. She could be a little disoriented or surprised by it.”

And now the story in a series of drawings (sadly, there is no name signed on this copy):

The Best and Worst of Critique Comments

I finally got to present my short story to my fiction class, and the comments I received were worth the wait. (I had food poisoning the day I was scheduled for critique, so I was in limbo for two weeks.) As confident as I am in my writing ability, I was nervous because my classmates all wrote in a modern setting. Also, our professor told us he didn’t want us to write fantasy–but I did anyway because I love breaking rules.

A drawing of Grant one of my classmates did.
A drawing of Grant one of my classmates did. That may be Gwenhwyfar behind him, but I’m not sure.

Here’s a synopsis of the story: Solomon and Grant are bounty hunters pursuing a murderer who has taken refuge in a small village. Grant’s reckless actions earned himself and their fugitive a noose around their necks. The village chief–a terrifying woman named Gwenhywfar–will only allow Solomon to save one of them. As Solomon reaches his decision, a villager informs Gwenhywfar that her son died of the injuries Grant caused. Gwenhywfar shoots Grant, forcing Solomon to take the murderer he was after in the first place.

These are some of my favorite comments (in no particular order):

“What is a dirge?”

“What kind of Native American tribe is this if [a woman] is chief?”

“Why are they both pointing their guns at Grant?”

“What does this mean: ‘the hammer of his gun’?”

“Thank you, THANK YOU for doing something that wasn’t set in modern times!!”

“I think you juggled too many characters, a plot that you have no experience in, and a motivation you likely have little attachment to. This story is very ambitious as it’s about bounty hunters who f*** up and then have their whole task turned onto them. You execute the story-plot clearly, but I just think emotional qualities were missing due to this (most likely) being a foreign circumstance to you.”

“I really like the psychology of the situation that Gwen put Solomon in; it was mentally engaging and it made me wonder what I’d do in that situation.”

“I don’t know that I like how Gwen killed Grant so suddenly. It was very sudden, and interrupted the flow a bit.”

“The two G’s are jazzing here.”

“Dirge sounds awkward. Rephrase.”

“That being said, I see creativity and talent in the noodles and oodles. I’m excited to see what stories you bring to class next.”

“There are literally no words I can say to describe how badass this story was. I was engaged and curious the entire time, and tense, too. I have no complaints. I’m sorry I’m not helpful. I just really like the story.”

“Not sure WHAT era we’re in, but I can’t imagine such a high-ranking person being a woman.”

“This is like a badass chapter from the Django/John Wayne Diaries.”

“What’s a mantle?”

“[The word ‘niggling’] seems awkward.”

“Good title, such a different story than the ones we have read. Well written as is written in the time of the event. The ending is well resolved. How do you know about all of this stuff? It’s very interesting. I enjoyed it very much. Too many dicks…”*

*That last comment was a little difficult to make out; the last sentence might say “too many dies,” but it also looks like “too mong dicfs.” Since Gwenhwyfar was the only female, I’m assuming I read it correctly.

From this, I’m saddened about my classmates. Usually the word I get the most grief over is “niggling” or some derivative of it. Only two people questioned it. Most of them wanted to know what a dirge is, or what I meant when I said that Gwen wears a fur mantle on her shoulders.

Sadly, few people signed their names, even though we are supposed to. Personally, if someone is too scared to admit to their opinions, I’m going to disregard them.

Anyone interested in reading the story can email me at switzythoughts@gmail.com.