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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just Do It!

Of late, I've been following Dean Wesley Smith's blog. He is a writer who's published over 90 novels. A prolific writer who's doing exactly what I want to do as well, make a living at writing great fiction. In a recent post, he wrote:
The truth: Writing a story is fun. And those of us lucky enough to do it for a living have the best job in the world, period. I sit alone in a room and make stuff up and people pay me large sums of money to do that. What is so hard about that?

I feel the same way, and is why I wanted to focus, not only for any readers of this blog, but also for myself, on a spin-off thought from his most recent blog post, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Book as Event. He certainly challenges the common assumptions people make about writing novels and getting them published, and I've learned a lot following his blog and his "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" thread. Worth your time to read if you're an aspiring novelist.

But this one is his big sacred cow to kill, and I can see why. So allow me to take some time from my National Novel Writing Month word piling to put my own thoughts down that his post inspired.

Most people assume that to write a best selling, or even good selling book, it has to be an amazing story, a heart-pounding read, flawless word usage, or as Dean Wesley Smith puts it, "art." And one might be led to believe that, if the facts corresponded with said theory. Just a look at recent best-sellers in the publishing world would draw the conclusion that there is not a one-to-one correlation.

Take Eragon by Christopher Paolini. Written by a teen, this book becomes a best-seller despite the fact it is criticized for the writing being wooden and full of trite plots and characters. But the end result? It worked for a lot of people.

And then there is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Violating numerous writing rules for good stories, and roundly criticized among fellow writers, it topped the best-sellers list. Do any of my crit partners wish to say he could do that because he knew what he was doing? Ah, I thought not. Yet, apparently he did.

And we could no doubt go down the list and find others that if one were to listen to fellow writers and critics, should have never seen the light of day, much less made the best-sellers list. But what does this show us?

One, that a book doesn't have to be perfect to make it. It's one of the points Dean makes in his recent blog entry linked above. Browse your library fiction shelves sometime. You'll find great books, but you'll also find books that will make you say, "How on earth did this ever get published?" Or, "What was the editor drinking when he decided to send out this contract?" A lot of bad writing and poor-excuse-for-stories get put into print by major publishing houses all the time. And some of those stories actually make them money. People will really plunk down good money, read the book, and enjoy it!

Two, I hear far too many of my writer friends and fellow National Novel Writing Month buddies lament that their stories are not that good. And maybe some of them aren't. It may be that they are just tossing in words, detailing everyday, boring events in the lives of their characters with no real story, plot, or even character development/interaction that is not worth anyone ever sloshing through. They only care about getting a word count. End of story.

Great, more power to you. But I suspect there are also a great number who try to get something down on paper that works. They know it won't be perfect, but they hope it will be something they can edit into shape, maybe become the seed for other stories, novels, or a future rewrite. But as Dean says, most of those stories end up getting thrown into drawers, rarely to see the light of day again, much less an editor's desk.

I can relate to Dean's writing style, to write quickly. Every novel I've written I did within a month's time. At the end of this NaNoWriMo, I will have six novels done. How many have been published? One. It was, just like Dean, my third novel I'd ever written, Transforming Realities. Before that was my first published book, a novella, Infinite Realities, but I don't count that as one of my novels.

My 2006 NaNoWriMo novel is fairly polished. I thought I'd do a little tweaking, but it is nearly ready to go. The rest are either rough drafts or in the middle of edits. And my edit process has been long and drawn out. I write in a month, but take a year or more to edit and get it ready. So each NaNo I add to the novel count waiting to go out.

Now, it isn't that I don't think these stories aren't good enough. As a matter of fact, I'm sure they are all good enough to be published. I have no doubt. But I will admit that I've fallen into the idea that I needed to get my book, if not perfect, near perfect before I send it to the big editor or agent who will be reading the first lines, and stuffing it back in the envelope with a rejection slip before he/she gets to the end of the first page.

My goal to this point for the next year was to get the third and final book in the Reality series published, The Reality. I also wanted to finally get Mind Game, that near-ready novel, out to someone, start shopping it. But that was about it.

Now Dean has inspired me to pull the stops out. Don't worry about getting it perfect. These are good stories, and need to get into the hands of editors so people can read them. And who knows, one of them might sell well. One of them might become a best seller. I might actually end up, to the protesting of my bosses, be able to quit my job and make a living at this writing gig I enjoy. I might be able to get paid well for making up stories. But I'll never know if I allow myself to think my story has to be just right to make it.

What really needs to happen is it needs to be a good story. People vote with their money, and that is, in the end, the vote that counts if one's goal is to write so people enjoy what you write. The lack of sales doesn't necessarily mean its a bad story, mind you. There are several factors that come together, but great sales does validate one fact: people enjoyed the story. If they didn't, no amount of marketing would get people to buy it in sufficient quantities.

And that's what stories like Eragon and The Da Vinci Code were. Good stories despite their imperfections, and people voted with their wallets. My stories are just as good, maybe even better. And I need to release them to see if they fly or not. If I keep them in the nest, we'll never know.

And so I'm making a new year's vow, pledge, whatever you call it, a little early this year. I'm going to get out to editors as many of these books sitting on my hard drive as possible during the following year. I'm still going to do NaNoWriMo. I've too many stories needing to get out to stop writing, and I may write in between! But my focus will be to get these stories out into hands, first the editor's, then the public's.

And how about you? If you have a story sitting on a hard drive, don't tweak it to death. Do the edits, then send it out. Then start on the next one. Dean's inspired me, and I hope he's inspired others to do the same.

Enjoy the journey!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Flash Fiction Published!

My flash fiction titled Life Intruders has been published by the on-line science fiction and fantasy magazine, Resident Aliens!

This is a space opera story involving the crew of the Neptune 2, a ship I created as a teenager in a comic strip. This time frame actually takes place in the world I created with the novel I first wrote (not yet published) titled World's Apart, but several hundred years after the events in that series (I have two more books planned for that series, but haven't started writing them yet).

I'm hoping to create a series of these stories, so this is only the first to come of what I hope will be many more. If I'll just get busy and write them!

Thanks to Lynn for publishing this first entry. And enjoy the story. Be sure to check out other stories in the magazine, it is a good one to read.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Muse: A Fun Read

The Muse, by Fred Warren, takes the reader into the world of muses, thus the title. Stan is a writer who's having trouble figuring out where to go with his story. His writer's group, consisting of Davos and Jilly, are also struggling. Then along comes Leila, and suddenly they're able to not only get their stories back on track, but find buyers and break into the big time. But how? And more importantly, why?

That's the engine for this story as the seemingly innocent events grow to dangerous proportions. Our trio, along with Stan's wife, Charity, and his daughter, Hannah, are thrown into the world of a Muse intent on destroying them along with many others.

There is a Christian element to the story, but that is due to the characters being Christian, not an attempt to preach. Most anyone would be comfortable reading this, no matter what religion or non-religion they are. But you'll not find an attempt to deliver an overt message or belittle anyone else in these pages.

The strength of the story lies in Mr. Warren's well developed characters. He has a great cast, and they are well written. Their interaction provides much of the story's spark. The only character I felt who could have used more nuance was the antagonist. She starts out interesting enough, but by the end, she evolves into the typical, arrogant villain. But the rest of the cast had depth and interesting interaction, and was what kept the story vibrant.

I read this rather quickly. On my limited schedule, reading a book takes a month or more, but I found myself sitting in the chair, late into the night, with a cup of tea or coffee, reading yet another chapter. I finished it within four days of starting. Would I call it a page turner? Plot wise, not really, but the writing and characters were so well done, I had to find out what would happen to them, and that kept me reading.

Which is good, because for me, it was a slow burn on discovering that there was a danger to confront. Mr. Warren takes his time building to the point where we fully realize the danger Stan and his friends are in. I found myself wanting to "get there" much sooner than we actually did. That coming from a guy who likes fast-paced narrative. Your mileage may vary.

Related to that, I had watched the book's trailer. I knew at some point, our heroes would end up trapped in an alternate reality and have to fight their way out. If I hadn't been looking for it, I may not have felt this way, but the entry into this alternate reality doesn't happen until the last third of the book. I not only grew impatient waiting for them to get there, but wasn't ready to leave when they did. Mr. Warren introduces several characters once in the new world who I would have loved to learn more about. If I had my say, I would have preferred more time in the alternate world and less in the real.

The plot is a mixture of both original concepts and predictable moments. It isn't complicated, and I did feel more could have been done with it. Yet, the world of the Muse held interest, and I can tell Mr. Warren had invested the time in their back story. While the plot had a couple of holes, I had fun reading it. He paints the world, both real and alternate, so you feel you're there. The plot adequately displays his strength: the characters. If you don't need cliff-hanger action on every page, and prefer characters who you find interesting, my bet is you'll enjoy this novel as well as I did.

Can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other bookstores.