The Writing Process Blog Tour Continues

March 26, 2014

Thanks to Claire Gebben for inviting me to this tour. Claire was born and raised on the southeast side of Cleveland in Moreland Hills, Ohio, and penciled her first novel at age ten. Her writing has appeared in Shark Reef, The Speculative Edge, Soundings Review, The Fine Line, and ColumbiaKIDS e-zine. The Last of the Blacksmiths is her first novel.

Now, on to me.

What am I working on?

Hair of the Bear is the sequel to New World. It’s in the final editing stages and will be available Real Soon Now. These books take place in a fantasy wilderness derived from American folklore and lumberjack tales, a rich cultural source almost totally untapped by fiction writers. Lucky me!

Ninja Girl will be available shortly thereafter. The draft is finished and needs editing. It’s about a teenaged girl who discovers that she has super powers. She learns that ninjas throughout history have always been women, and she’s introduced to a secret society and its quest to save the world from another secret society. But she still has to survive high school. It’s borne of my love for Joss Whedon’s work, of course.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I have a science-fiction writer’s taste for implications — pushing ideas as far as I can to see what new insights arise — and a thriller writer’s taste for danger and a pounding pulse. My characters are usually faced with mind-bending scenarios, which they struggle to deal with so they can avoid being killed.

I often write about power. My characters are often enormously competent — flawed, of course, broken sometimes — but talented and capable in some way, and they often find themselves granted enormous powers. Perhaps through technology or magic. Then we get to see what they do with that power. Will they fail? Abuse it, destroy themselves? Or will they rise to the challenge?

Why do I write what I do?

I draw a lot of inspiration from writers I love, both novelists and screenwriters. Awe can be motivating. But I think I draw more inspiration from writers who stink, or maybe from good writers who blow it. Nothing sticks in my imagination like witnessing a poorly executed idea. I’ll worry that thing like a toothache, and twist it and twist it and twist it, until I have my own story to tell.

How does my writing process work?

Some writers don’t plan much, because they are afraid that if they take the time and effort to plan a novel, their creative energy will be used up so when they sit down to write page one, they won’t want to do it.

You know what uses up my creative energy? Writing the draft. When I type “THE END,” I’m pretty much done. I sure can’t turn around and rewrite if the draft doesn’t work. So I plan and outline a lot, with notes and index cards on a corkboard. And rather than deplete me, the act of planning charges me up. By the time I start a draft, I’m ready to explode. And when I finish, I’ve got something that’s pretty close to being right.

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That’s it! Now, if I had done my job right, I would have found a couple of writers to link to next… but no luck. Writers are often too busy to blog, so I’ll just pass the buck to my partner this week, Stephanie Lile.

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A Writer’s Commencement Speech

September 5, 2013

Last month, I graduated from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts with my sparkly new MFA. My fellow grads were kind enough to elect me as their commencement speaker.

Among other things, I said this:

There are benefits to a writing career. Nicholas Taleb, in his book Antifragile, says that in most careers – teacher, banker, janitor – the unexpected is bad news. (He calls this the “turkey problem”: most turkeys are fed and cared for, day after day – it’s very predictable… until Thanksgiving, when those turkeys confront the unexpected.) Most professionals don’t like surprises, because the biggest, most career-changing surprise possible is downsizing, budget cuts – sudden unemployment. And what’s the best surprise they can hope for? A Christmas bonus? A three-percent raise? Teachers, bankers, and janitors crave the status quo.

Writers love surprises. We struggle to escape the status quo, because in our business, that’s called “breaking out.” For us, the unexpected is good news. We don’t get downsized. For us, the biggest, most career-changing surprise possible is sudden best-sellerdom.

Plenty of turkeys are optimists, but wouldn’t be if they could see the future. Plenty of writers are pessimists, but wouldn’t be if they could see the future.

A lot of people seem to have enjoyed the rest of the speech as well. And trust me — the line about lentils was really, really funny.


Come on, Amazon is cool.

December 20, 2011

“I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.” – Kent Brockman

In this, my love letter to Amazon, I’m going to point out a few brilliant things they are doing. This is a big deal for me, because their brilliance has a direct impact on my life as a writer.

One: They are giving Kindles away.

Not exactly, but they are selling Kindles at a loss. I got mine last Christmas (thanks, Mom!) when the price fell to $139, which I assumed was a promotional price. Wrong – they’re now $79 (sorry, Mom!). Hard to say what they spent on Kindle R&D, but the overlords at Amazon know that the ereader isn’t the moneymaker… the ebooks are. So they are moving Kindles out the door at a rate of over a million units a week. They want as many ereaders out there as possible.

And since my work so far is exclusively digital, so do I.

Two: The uploading model.

Think of all the ways Amazon could have botched this. They could have charged $200 per novel upload, or offered twelve percent royalties, or both. Instead, uploading is FREE and the author royalty is up to 70%. Authors don’t even sign a rights contract, because Amazon doesn’t ask for any rights to the manuscript.

Instead, all authors lose is “first electronic rights” by virtue of making their work available to the public online. A big question used to be: “Can a writer still score a deal with a traditional print publisher for a novel self-pubbed on the Kindle?” The answer is now YES.

Amazon leaves an unprecedented amount of decision-making to the writer: cover, jacket copy (aka product description), price (with some nudging via royalty percentage to keep it between three and twelve bucks), tagging (which is what passes nowadays for genre), and marketing.

Ah, marketing. Amazon lets the authors tear their own hair out about how to market their books, because Amazon knows that a book’s greatest advocate is its author.

And yet…

Three: The Browsing Revolution.

The Amazon sales pages, with their lists, tags, and rows of “also-boughts” are outstanding at bringing similar books to within a click or two of each other. Right there on my sales page for Outrageous Fortunes are novels by Harry Turtledove and Peter Pauzé. If I market my tail off to drive traffic to my Amazon page, some of those potential readers click over and buy books by Turtledove and Pauzé.

Well, darn. But I’ve learned to love it, because it works both ways. My work is on the sales pages of plenty of other books, and promotions by their authors help me. This interconnectedness helps get readers to the books they will obsess about, and that way, everybody sells more books. (Are you reading this, Barnes & Noble?)

Four: In 2011, my beautiful little Creative Writing MFA program, NILA, just received a $15,000 grant from Amazon. Is there an ulterior motive? Sure, Amazon wants their 30% of book sales, and perhaps better-educated writers will sell more books (and there’s this little thing called PR). In the meantime, they are funding higher education.

Now, Amazon has taken some heat from different folks lately. I try to keep up with that stuff, and while Amazon is hard on publishers and booksellers (whose inefficiencies make them soft targets), its strategies consistently revolve around treating writers and readers with respect.

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PS: There’s mad hullabaloo about Amazon’s new KDP Select program (and what it means for Smashwords, among others). I haven’t signed up… yet. Still collecting data. More later.