Okay, let’s have some fun. Not that we weren’t having fun for the previous 150+ episodes, mind you. But this is extra-fun.

Brandon, Dan, and Howard take the urban fantasy writing prompt about big-box stores and decide to brainstorm a story out of it. When we begin this ‘cast all we have is the prompt.

Then we brainstorm, plowing through setting, character, conflict, and story.

By the end of the ‘cast we’re ready to make a pitch to an editor and sell the book.

Okay, maybe not. But the book is totally ready for us to sit down and write. Or, better yet, for YOU to sit down and write.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn, narrated by Marguerite Gavin

Writing Prompt: Take what we’ve done in this ‘cast and try to come up with a plot and an ending. Alternatively, take the list of competition films from the most recent Sundance Film Festival and pick six that are somehow part of a Fey plot.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership*.
*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

Audible® Free Trial Details
Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.

By Writing Excuses | April 10, 2011 - 3:27 pm - Posted in Uncategorized

We begin our discussion of Urban Fantasy with a discussion of definitions, which quickly devolves into an argument over what we are actually supposed to be talking about. Moving right along, we explore what sorts of things we find in an Urban Fantasy, and what sorts of rules these stories usually abide by.

Dan tells us how he set about writing the John Cleaver books, which certainly qualify as Urban Fantasy, Howard tackles the burning question of where one might start in the project of building a mythos, and Brandon explains
his own Urban Fantasy projects, including one failure from which we can all learn an important lesson.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Dresden Files Book One: Storm Front, by Jim Butcher, narrated by James Marsters.

Writing Prompt: . Give us an Urban Fantasy in which the point of origin for your crossover is big box store retail spaces which somehow breach the boundary between our world and the magical one.

This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Audible.
Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse for a free trial membership*.
*Note: From the Audible website, here are the terms of the free membership. Read the fine print, please!

Audible® Free Trial Details
Get your first 14 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one audiobook credit. After your 14 day trial, your membership will renew each month for just $14.95 per month so you can continue to receive one audiobook credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. A very small number of titles are more than one credit. Cancel your membership before your free trial period is up and you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. Any unused audiobook credits will be lost at cancellation.

By 'nother Mike | January 5, 2015 - 11:53 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 10.1: Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2015/01/04/writing-excuses-10-1-seriously-where-do-you-get-your-ideas/

Key points: Writing Excuses, Season 10, will be structured as a master class. That means homework! How do you generate ideas? Geewhiz and then struggle to a story? Do something like… Tone, theme, idea? Wow, I want to blow that up? I wonder what that would be like if… See the related podcasts on being influenced. Some ideas bring their own outline or structure with them. How do you find the gems? It has attractive depth, suggesting ramifications and ideas. Does the idea excite you? Does it suggest conflict and a story? Sometimes you need to reward yourself for generating an idea, but you can’t work on it now — so write it down! But how do you get ideas? Go two deep! Push past the first idea to a deeper idea. Read and follow new and old technologies. Ask “What could go wrong?” Don’t grab the first thing in the garden of low-hanging fruit, look for fruit that’s higher in the tree, that’s different. Synthesize!

[Mary] Season 10, Episode One.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Season 10! No, seriously, where do you get your ideas?
[Mary] 15 minutes long.
[Howard] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Dan] And I’m Dan.

[Brandon] We are starting our 10th season of Writing Excuses. We wanted to do something different for this season we’ve been thinking about for a long time. We also identified a problem we have, which is that our students often wish and express a desire to be taking writing courses but can’t, either reach them or can’t afford them and things like that. So we thought we would approach that.
[Mary] So what we’re doing is we have structured the entire season as a master class. You will be doing theory and exercises and of course our usual banter and the occasional…
[Howard] And one thing… Well, one thing to keep in mind here is that Brandon just called you all students, instead of listeners. It’s on. And that means… Homework!
[Brandon] Yes. So some of the changes we’re going to be making are writing prompts are going to be transforming into writing exercises. Now we will still occasionally be doing a writing prompt. Most of the time, we’ll be doing these with wildcards. What the formula is going to be is we’re going to do each month a topic. We have posted these on our website. In conjunction with that topic, we will do two theory episodes where we talk and approach that. We will also do a Q&A episode with listeners about that topic. We will also have one wildcard episode, usually the second one of the month, which is going to be nothing… No relation whatsoever.
[Dan] It’ll be our usual unfocused chaos that you’re used to from the previous nine seasons.
[Brandon] The goal of that is we know that some of you listen very intermittently, you just grab episodes that are interesting to you. We don’t want to break what’s working, so you should still be able to listen to all of this independently and not change your listening habits. However, if you listen straight through and do the assignments as assigned, the goal is to help walk you through this year through a story that you’re working on.
[Mary] But we don’t want you to think we’re taking you back to 101 levels.
[Brandon] Yes.
[Mary] We believe that you’ve been listening for several seasons and that you are here because you are committed and want to improve your craft, not because you are just starting.
[Dan] If you’re a brand-new listener, this is still a great place to start. We’ll be giving you the basics that you need. We’ll help you through it. And welcome to the podcast.
[Brandon] Thanks for listening.

[Brandon] So, let’s launch into it. No, seriously, where do you get your ideas? We… As writers, one of the most common questions we are asking… Asked is where do we get our ideas. It’s become something of a cliché among writers that that’s what fans ask.
[Mary] But even when I’m doing an intensive workshop, we often see people who struggle with getting from the geewhiz, cool idea, to an actual story. So…
[Brandon] So, month one is going to focus on ideas. We’ll be doing two podcasts, the first will be about generating ideas and the second one will be about taking an idea and developing it. In this podcast, we’re going to talk about idea generation, and we’re each going to talk about where we get our ideas and how we choose which ideas are actually good ones.
[Mary] One of the things you will find is that everybody starts in different places. I tend to have what I call the geewhiz idea, which is… Sometimes it can be something that I have seen in a bit of research, like honey ants are these ants that drink a lot of nectar and they get really big and they become a food source for their colony. What would happen if there was a sentient species that did that? What would that civilization look like? So that’s an interesting geewhiz idea, but then I had to struggle to get it to a story.
[Brandon] One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that I very often have tone ideas. Meaning I’ll be working on a piece and I’ll consume some piece of media. I’ll read a book or I’ll see a movie or I’ll just be thinking about some of my favorites and I’ll say, “Wow. I really wish I could do something like that.” Recently I’ve been doing Mistborn books with a Western meets Sherlock Holmes feel. Both of which are because I was experiencing that media and saying, “I wish I could do something like that… Wait, I’m a writer. I can totally do something like that!”
[Brandon] Mistborn came in the first place because I said I want to do a fantasy heist novel. I love heist stories. Can I do this in a fantasy setting? That’s all tone. I’m looking to match a tone and that’s… I’ve never realized before how frequently I do that.
[Dan] I do something very similar, but not so much trying to match the tone as just the theme or the idea that somebody else has done. I’ll watch a movie, I’ll read a book and think, “That’s so cool.” In a similar experience, I want to play with that idea. I can. I’m an author. But my version of their story would be so different. I like what theme they were exploring, but I want to say different things about it.
[Brandon] Dan… Oh, go ahead. Sorry.
[Howard] I just look at Wow, that’s a cool thing. I want to blow it up.
[Howard] I wanna… But then… I mean, the first idea is I wanna blow it up. My second thought is “But what if I just set fire to it instead?” No, no, no, no, wait. Thermite? Oh, wait, hang on. It’s actually made out of aluminum. I very quickly run down this destructive chain.
[Howard] And will often end up at biological warfare instead of explosions.
[Brandon] Now, Howard, I know you also have science fiction ideas, where you’re like, “Wow, if I have this thing spinning at this rate and this weird orbit…” Sort of technical makes-my-brain-hurt sort of stuff, and then out of that comes some story with stuff blowing up.
[Howard] Yes. That… Well…
[Mary] There is a running theme.
[Brandon] Yeah.
[Howard] The James Bond movie Casino Royale which began with the parkour chase…
[Brandon] I think that’s the second one.
[Dan] No, that’s Casino Royale.
[Brandon] Is it Casino? Okay.
[Howard] That’s Casino Royale with the urban running. I remember looking at that and thinking, “Wow, that’s really neat. I wonder what that would be like in a rotating reference frame where gravity is a little lower?” From there, I ended up creating parkata urbatsu, which is the martial art of urban movement in the Schlockiverse. It is a long path from watching a James Bond movie to creating your own futuristic martial art, but I can look at every chain in that path and see how I moved from an idea that was pretty cool and belongs to somebody else…
[Howard] To an idea that is pretty much all new.

[Brandon] We can reference with this, podcasts we’ve done in the past about when you can be influenced and how to steal without actually stealing. How to be influenced. We’ll link those in the liner notes. I think those will be helpful podcasts to relate to this one.
[Howard] Oh, great. Now you’ve made homework for me.

[Brandon] Sorry, Howard. I wanted to ask you, Dan, have you ever watched something…
You said you get your ideas from I-want-to-do-that. Have you ever had the they-ruined-that,-I-want-to-do-it-right?
[Dan] Yes. The famous one that I talk about a lot is Battle Star Galactica, which I adored the re-imagined series and the way they were playing with the concept of what is a human, what does it mean to be human. The opening credits of every episode talked about the Cylons and ended with, “And they have a plan.” But they totally didn’t have a plan.
[Dan] You get to the end of that series, you get just to the end of the first season, and realize they’re making this up as they go! They don’t have a plan. So I wanted to do both of those. I wanted to play with my own version of the Cylons, which is what the Partials are, but I also wanted to figure out their plan in advance, so that you could get to the end and go, “Oh, my goodness, this all actually does make sense.”

[Howard] Wait. So when… An idea can actually be like an outline?
[Dan] Oh, don’t get ahead of our first…
[Brandon] Yeah, outlining’s not for a long time.
[Howard] I know it’s not. But the idea that…
[Dan] Yeah. In this case, the idea… One idea was for the cool artificial people, and the other idea was for an outline. I want to construct this very mysterious outline. I want to be able to have multiple people who seem to be working together but are not, and have it all actually make sense when you see the gears moving behind it.
[Mary] A lot of times when you’re looking at a tone thing, also, there’s an outline comes inherent with it. Like fantasy heist novel, there’s an inherent structure there. So sometimes you do have that as part of your idea. But the challenge then is what you fill it with.
[Dan] Sometimes, the outline… Or the idea that appears to you out of nowhere does not suggest anything. The cloning novel that I talk about all the time which I have now finally sold. I got that from watching The Sixth Day, the Arnold Schwarzenegger cloning movie, and thinking, “Okay, I want to do cloning, but I want to do it my own way.” I came up with my own cloning technology, and then thought, “Well, now what?” Which I guess we’ll talk about next week.
[Brandon] Right. We’ll talk about that next week.
[Dan] Where do we go with this idea that does not, by itself, suggest its own story.

[Brandon] I want to ask one more question of you guys. How do you know which ideas are good and which ones aren’t? Because as writers, often times we have more ideas than we can write. Once in a while, you run into somebody who doesn’t have enough ideas. We’ll talk about that next. But first, how do you separate the gems from the rocks?
[Dan] Well, going back to the cloning story that I was just talking about, I knew that one was great when I started telling people about it and instantly everyone I told said, “Oh, what about this?” They would all come up with their own ramifications of that technology and start spinning off new ideas of their own. I knew I had found a gem.
[Brandon] Wow. So if you can come up with a pitch about it, you can get across easily to people?
[Mary] Well, I think it’s not actually just the pitch. It’s that when people start doing that, that demonstrates that there is a lot of room in that idea for a story. There’s potential.
[Dan] That there is attractive depth.
[Mary] Yes.
[Brandon] Right. Okay. So, attractive depth. I like that a lot. For me, it’s a mix of how excited I am and about whether the idea actually suggests a conflict and a story. When I think about it, does it inspire me to begin spinning off directions or is it a geewhiz but that’s not a story. Which of these is it? I end up taking the ones that suggest more, that suggest a problem. Those are the ones that I spend more time mulling over. It’s really the ideas that really start attracting other ideas that are important. We’ll talk about that next week as well.

[Howard] If the idea is just so compelling that I want to start working on it instead of working on the stuff that is currently paying the bills, that’s usually a really good sign that I have a problem.
[Brandon] We all know you have a problem, Howard.
[Howard] But… Well, I make a point. The part of my brain that generates ideas needs to be rewarded for generating the idea. I accomplish that by writing the idea down. If I got something that is consuming my thoughts and distracting me from the ideas I’m currently executing on, I’m pretty sure that’s a good idea and so I will write down all… A whole bunch of notes about it and I know it’s good. Then I can let it go and get on with getting work done.

[Brandon] Awesome. Let’s stop for our book of the week. Mary?
[Mary] The book of the week that I’d like to recommend to you this week is Lock In by John Scalzi. Now one of the cool things for me about Lock In is that John started with this idea for this game, and you’ll hear him talking about this in some of his interviews. There’s this really cool idea for a game for people who are locked in to their bodies and using mechanical apparatus or threeps, short for 3POs to move around. He had this fantastic idea that needed all this world building. That idea is not in the novel anywhere.
[Mary] It’s not even referred to in a side note or in a news broadcast. It is not referenced anywhere in the novel. But all the world building and other ideas he had that came with it are in the novel. So all of the idea generation… Basically he started with an idea and then went two steps down to a new one. That’s the novel that he wrote. It is brilliantly narrated in two different editions, one is by Wil Wheaton and the other is by Amber Benson. The reason it’s in two different editions is because, and a lot of people will read the text version and not realize this, the main character is not given a gender. Because the main character became locked in at the age of two and has always lived in an android body. So is not gender identifiable.
[Brandon] That’s awesome. That is so cool.
[Mary] So… It’s such a cool idea.
[Howard] Very, very fascinating. If you go to audiblepodcast.com/excuse, you can start a trial membership with Audible and you’ve got two choices for this book. You can get it narrated by Amber Benson. You can get it narrated by Wil Wheaton.
[Mary] It’s awesome either way.
[Howard] Yeah. It’s awesome. It’s awesome either way.

[Brandon] Excellent. So, ideas. Let’s say we have listeners who are struggling either identifying the good ideas or even generating them in the first place. How can we help our students, what can they do to have better ideas and come up with more of them?
[Mary] One of the things that I like to talk about is going two or three ideas deep. Which is, you have your first idea… That idea is probably related to something that was floating around. So you are probably not the only person who’s having that idea. So you go one idea deeper than that. So, let’s say that my idea is what about… This is going to be a terrible idea. What about a team that plays basketball with oranges?
[Brandon] Ooo.
[Dan] You’ve read my next book already?
[Mary] See. It’s like, “Oh, Dan’s working on that.” Well, the part that I’m most excited about that is the oranges. So what if it’s not a team? What if it’s an individual… An assassin who kills people with oranges?
[Mary] An assassin is way cooler. I’m more excited about the assassin than I am about the oranges.
[Brandon] An assassin who uses random implements as their hallmark, that they kill with something that you’re carrying on you?
[Mary] Yes.
[Brandon] Something like that? So he has killed with oranges before, or she has, because they found somebody with an orange, but whatever the person happens to carry with them, they will use to kill.
[Mary] Like now they’re killing with the Hugo award.
[Brandon] That’s an awesome idea.
[Dan] It ends up, by pure chance, being an orange every time.
[Dan] And he’s getting pigeonholed by the media. He’s like, “I’m not the orange killer, guys. That’s pure coincidence!”
[Mary] They’re discounting the other murders.
[Dan] They don’t give him credit.
[Howard] No, no, that wasn’t him. This killer used a banana.
[Brandon] Okay. It’s okay. [Garbled… Sketch]
[Mary] That’s what I mean when I’m talking about an idea that’s two deep.
[Brandon] Yes. Yes.

[Dan] So if you are having trouble leaving getting to this point…
[Mary] [inaudible]
[Dan] To… So many of us have talked about how we get ideas from other sources. Make sure you are consuming media. Make sure you’re reading books. Make sure you are reading science articles. Get on Twitter and follow Wired Magazine, the Science Channel, all of these places that are just overflowing with amazing new technologies in neuroscience, in robotics, in…
[Mary] Old technologies.
[Dan] Space travel.
[Mary] Surgeon’s apprentice… Chirurgeons, however you say it.
[Dan] Chirurgeon.
[Mary] Apprentice just did this whole thing about a rotating… A wind up rotary saw for surgery from the…
[Howard] Oh, gosh, I saw that.
[Mary] I was just like, “I want to tell stories with that terrible, terrible instrument of destruction.”

[Brandon] Yeah. Asking yourself, “What could go wrong?” is a great place to start. Look at one of these pieces… Read history and say, “What could have gone wrong that didn’t?” And let’s make it go wrong.
[Dan] A few years ago when I was first really trying to teach myself how to write short fiction, I spent a week at Mary’s house in Portland. I had listened to some radio show on the drive there about memory and about how a scientist in New York had just developed a drug that can wipe memory. Just based on that, I wrote four or five different short stories, all on this one concept of erasing memory chemically.
[Brandon] That is pretty cool.

[Howard] It’s funny. You mentioned Twitter. From a humor standpoint, I refer to Twitter, and I’m coming back to the orange… I refer to Twitter as the garden of low hanging fruit.
Because you will see something happens and on Twitter, 10,000 people will all tell the same joke. Because it is fascinating to watch, and as a humorist, I watch it and I ask myself, “What’s the fruit that’s higher up in the tree? What is it that I can reach for that’s different?” It’s this same principle. We’re looking for not the easy idea, not the idea that immediately leaps to mind, what’s the idea that’s past it, where you have to push a couple of other ideas out of the way or synthesize a couple of things and find something that hasn’t already been hashtagged a million times.
[Brandon] Wow. That’s a really great metaphor.

[Dan] What you just said about synthesizing. That is a great source of ideas. If you have a couple of things or maybe you just have one thing that might be cool but you don’t know what to do, mash it together with something else. Take random stuff and just combine them in new ways that no one’s thought of before.
[Mary] Jane Austen with magic.
[Dan] No one would ever do that.
[Dan] Trying to be serious here.
[Mary] Wild West fantasy heist.

[Brandon] We said at the beginning that what we want to do is start giving you writing exercises rather than just prompts. This won’t be every time, but we will be doing it consistently. For a given month, we would probably build on the exercises we have given you. We’ll wipe it clean for the next month with the next topic, but if you do these, you can then use them the next week with the writing exercise we give you. If you skip a week and don’t do it, we will make it so that each exercise can be done cold as well. But we’re going to give you this writing exercise today.
[Mary] I want you to write down five different story ideas in 150 words or less. Think of them as little notecards. I want one story idea to come from interviewing or talking to someone. One to come from research. So reading some… Reading a magazine or a book. One from observation. Take a walk. If you see someone walking down the street, think why are they going that direction and see what story comes from that. A piece of media. Something that you’ve watched. Take an idea and shift it slightly. Or music. See if you can be inspired by music, either the lyrics or the tune. The tone.
[Brandon] Excellent. Well, this has been Writing Excuses, Season 10. Hopefully, you will enjoy this master class as we go through it this year. You are totally out of excuses, so now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | December 23, 2014 - 6:06 am - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.53: Writing for Fun

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/12/21/writing-excuses-9-53-writing-for-fun/

Key Points: We get into writing because it’s fun, because we love it. If you think “I’m just a hobbyist” or “I’m not a real writer,” you are wrong. If you want to write, you are are real writer. Have fun. Experiment. Try something new. Outline a really cool, exciting idea. Write fan fiction! Don’t get trapped into thinking that everything you write has to be important or publishable. Have fun, get excited, and write.

[Mary] Season nine. Episode 53.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Writing for Fun.
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Dan] I’m Dan.

[Brandon] We’re going to talk about writing in a fun way. Now, on the podcast, we often talk about the professional side of writing. Writing as a pro does get kind of stressful at times. The thing is, we all got into this because it was fun, because we loved it. Nobody becomes a writer because… Well, I’m sure there are some people…
[Brandon] But most people, and I hope you listeners, don’t become… Didn’t become writers because you wanted to make millions of dollars, you became a writer because you just legitimately enjoyed doing this. So during this podcast, we want to talk both about writing perhaps as a hobbyist and not stressing about the fun… Or not stressing about the professional side. We also want to talk about if you are writing very consistently, how you can make sure that your recapturing the fun and having fun every day as you’re working on your writing.
[Howard] If you’ve been strong-armed into writing…
[Brandon] Yes. [Chuckle]
[Howard] I’m so sorry. We love this. I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
[Brandon] Well, no. We’re coming off of Nanowrimo where I think a lot of people have… Last month, they knuckled down, they wrote their 3000 words a day or whatever, and they might be thinking, “Wow. Writing isn’t fun anymore.” On the other hand, I meet a lot of people will come to me and say, “I’m just a hobbyist,” or “I’m not a real writer.” I want those people to know, “Yes, you are.”
[Dan] You totally are. When Brandon was pitching this idea to us, to do this as a podcast episode, he used the comparison of people who play basketball. I know I’ve got… I don’t do any game that requires legs, but I’ve got neighbors that play sports all the time. They’ll go every Thursday night and play basketball together. At no point does anybody ever say, “Well, that’s too bad that you never made it to the NBA.”
[Brandon] Yeah.
[Howard] Or… Or…
[Dan] You’re a failed basketball player. No, you’re not, you’re doing this for fun and you love it.
[Howard] If you don’t work on your free throws, you’re never going to be able to go pro.
[Dan] Yet with writing, we have this sense that if you’re not getting paid for it, if you’re not going pro, that you’re wasting your time. That’s not true.

[Brandon] No, it’s not. I remember… Dan can back me up on this. We were writers together in our early days so I can remember the moment when I realized I just really love this. I love writing these books. It was so much fun to back then, run to Kinko’s and print off a copy and get it bound so that I could go the next day to my friends and say, “Here’s the new book.” My readership was five people. But they would get that book, they would read it, they would love it.
[Howard] Your Kinko’s bill! Oh, my God.
[Brandon] My Kinko’s bill… It was like 60 bucks to print off any of these books. But everyone… It was so much fun. I had such a thrill of finishing that book that I realized I’m going to keep doing this. It doesn’t matter if I never sell a book. It doesn’t matter… If I’m 70 and I’ve been doing this my whole life, I’m not going to be a failure because I’ve loved every minute of it. If what I’m doing is I’m taking Thursday nights and I’m writing my books or… Thursdays, Saturdays, Fridays, Mondays, what…
[Brandon] I do this pretty compulsively, but the money is not a measure of how much I enjoy or how much you enjoy doing this job.

[Howard] I… The thing to consider here is that if you are writing as a hobbyist, if you are just writing because you want to enjoy it, you don’t need to worry… You shouldn’t worry about external validation. You’re writing this for you. You’re writing this because you want to write, you want to put the words on the page. I want to free you up to do that. You don’t need external validation. I’m externally validating you right now.
[Dan] Merry Christmas.
[Howard] You want to write… Yeah, Merry Christmas. You want to write. Congratulations. You are a writer.
[Brandon] Yeah. I really think that there are people who are listening right now who need to hear this. I remember… Dan, you were talking… Telling a story about getting discouraged because all your friends were selling a ton of books.

[Dan] Yeah! I made this stupid mistake a couple of years ago of going out to dinner with you, and with Brandon Mull and with James Dashner. If you ever want to feel poorly about yourself and your artistic success, that’s a great opportunity to do it. I came home that night just feeling like, “What am I doing? I’m not selling a fraction of what these guys are. Am I wasting my time? What is the problem here?” And realized in that moment that that’s not why I do this. I don’t write because I want money. I don’t write because I want to get on the New York Times list. I write because I love it. In that moment, when I considered quitting, I thought, “Well, what am I going to do? Well, I’d probably just end up writing anyway because that’s my job. That’s been my hobby my whole life. It’s what I love to do.” That’s why we do this.
[Howard] We’ve talked in the past about wanting to write versus wanting to have written. For me, recently, I’ve been way behind on getting the comic out. Okay, so way behind for me means I’m only 10 days ahead. But I would look at the artwork that needed to be done and it felt like a chore, because at the end of it, I wanted to have drawn the comic. I have switched recently to using brush pens instead of technical pens. What I found is that that switch up meant that when I was sitting down at the table and not thinking about being done, just thinking about putting the line on the page, there was something about the tactile experience, about the visual experience of… One minute there’s no black there, and now there is, and it’s kind of magical. That is fun! And I enjoy that. With that being there, I can sit at the table for hours and just draw. And then the work gets done.

[Brandon] I think that that’s really important to say. We want to talk more about that. I think there are people out there who need to hear right now that it’s… Just go and write and love it, and don’t stress about becoming published. There are other people who are working so hard on this that they need reasons… Or not reasons, but they need ways so they can make sure they’re capturing the fun, and not turning this just into a chore. Discovering new brushes and new technique is one way to do that. With actual… With writing, I think that you can do this by experimenting.
[Dan] Absolutely. I talk about this a lot. Do… If you feel like you’re losing fun, try something new. Whether that is today I’m going to write a genre I’ve never written before, or I’ve always done third person so now I’m going to do first, or I’m going to write about a character, a side character in this story just for the heck of it. Or one thing all three of us have done, I know, is just outline something. Don’t even have to finish it and write it. Just outline a really cool idea that gets you excited.

[Brandon] Yeah. Speaking of which, I should talk about our book of the week, because there is a story… I habitually do this as a writer. I’ve found that the way to make sure that I’m always having fun is that I’m always free to jump and try something new. That I’m not locked into one world, one setting, or even one type of genre. One of the books that I did this with a few years back was called Legion. Well, the sequel Legion: Skin Deep which… These are very episodic, so you could start with this one. It’s about twice the length of the first one. It is free on audible right now. You can download it. It’s only free for three more days. Okay. So if you haven’t grabbed it, you need to grab it right now.
[Howard] It is… Christmas has already happened. I’m sorry you didn’t get your present.
[Brandon] But as a present, Legion: Skin Deep is 100% free in audiobook. It’s four hours long. You can just go sign up for an audible account. You don’t even have to pay them money or sign up for credits or anything. You can just download that book for free. Anyone who’s been listening to this podcast who has already signed up for audible to support us or to get books… Thank you very much. Here is your free present. Go download my new book for free. The story is about a guy who has a very weird psychological disorder in which he can become an expert in any topic very quickly but that information manifests itself as a hallucinatory person who appears to him and is his expert team. So in the first book he learns a new language and it manifests as a hallucination, a woman he can see who interprets that language for him. He has this whole… He has 40 something people who are each an expert in different fields. He solves problems by kind of wrangling all of his hallucinations together to point them in solving this difficult problem. He’s like an action hero, except he’s really a middle manager and all of his hallucinations are the real action stars.
[Brandon] Legion: Skin Deep. It is very fun. I would recommend it to you, but I’m a little biased, since I wrote it.

[Dan] Now, for a peek behind the scenes, I have to ask the self-serving question here. A lot of times when we do these really fun, I’m excited about this and I’m going to write it kind of projects, we’re inspired by another work. What inspired you to do Legion?
[Brandon] It was the John Cleaver books and your… You knew this, right? It was Dan’s weird take on psychological disorders, and… I think it was actually Hollow City. While you are doing Hollow City…
[Dan] It was Hollow City, which is my book about schizophrenia.
[Brandon] Yeah, your book about schizophrenia, because we were doing the workshop, the writing group on it. I remember exactly now. I’m like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if he were an action star?” You’re like, “What?” I’m like, “Yeah. These hallucinations, if they helped him out.” You’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” I’m like, “You should write this book.” So like a year afterward, I’m like, “Dan, you remember that cool book that we brainstormed that you should write?” And then finally, Dan said, “Brandon, write the book. I’m not going to write it, it’s your book.” So I sat down and the next month I wrote it. Had a blast, and it turned out really well.
[Howard] That was actually a great insight into properly managing critique during a writing group. Dan, write the book that you want to write. Let Brandon write that one that he’s telling you your book should be.
[Dan] It was really an awful writing group comment, of, “Hey, you should really make this into an action star.”
[Howard] Wow.
[Brandon] I did not say that about your book.
[Dan] No, you didn’t.
[Brandon] I said that there is another book out there that I think you could do some cool stuff with schizophrenia for. But it was the wrong way to make a comment.

[Howard] But talking about being inspired by something and talking about fun, I have been really enjoying Gearbox’s Borderlands 2, especially the downloadable content, Tiny Tina’s Dragon’s Keep. I think it is… Or Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep… Some of the best videogame writing I’ve ever had the joy to play through. And it had… It inspired me to want to write stories in Gearbox’s universe. I’m never going to get paid to write stories in their universe.
[Howard] But I sat down and I outlined some fun stuff. It was fun to do. When I was done, I’d had fun and I’d gotten it out of my system and I didn’t make any money. But I had fun. That’s…
[Brandon] I do this all the time. Legion is an example of something that turned out very well that I released. I’ve… I have several of what we call trunk novels. These are books I’ve written and put aside because I wanted to explore a new genre. I think that a lot of newer writers have trouble writing things that they know aren’t going to be published. I was working on one of these books… I wrote a book called Death by Pizza. It is an urban fantasy.
[Howard] Oh, I remember that.
[Brandon] It’s not very good. As I was writing it, I knew it wasn’t very good. I have another one, it’s a screenplay that I wrote. Not very good. But I wrote it to learn things and to practice things. Then I put it aside and said, “I’m never going to publish this.” I do this all the time with my published novels. I will write the viewpoint of the character I’m not intending to put in the book. A behind-the-scenes for me to get to know that character better. And also kind of just to refresh myself. Sometimes I stick them in, sometimes I don’t.

[Dan] Yeah. You see this with so many other art forms where people will do a concept sketch or a style guide or something like that. You’ll see this for movies. We love looking at those. This is the design for the monster… All the designs for the Star Wars monsters that they didn’t end up using. Those are fun. You can do that as a writer, describing all these things or saying I’m just going to write this scene because it sounds exciting. You might never use that. You need, I think, to not enslave yourself to the idea that everything you write has to be important or publishable. Just write it because it’s fun, because it gets you excited and can help you write the real thing you’re working on.
[Howard] I got a couple of pages of campy film noir private investigator first-person stuff which I wrote just because I wanted to play with that POV. It is totally unusable.
[Howard] But everything I put on the page was me having fun, being over-the-top, clever but not clever. It’s a riot. No, you can’t have it.

[Brandon] So, those of you listening who were thinking the other way. You were not thinking like… You weren’t the one who was thinking, “Oh, I should be okay just doing this in hobby.” You’re like, “I wanna be hard-core.” I think what we need to give you as a present is it’s okay to break your deadlines now and then. Even as a professional writer, who has a decent reputation of keeping deadlines, once in a while I call my publishers and I say, “I need to write on something else.” Now, we’ve talked about on the podcast the importance of keeping deadlines, of meeting deadlines, of making deadlines for yourself, of setting goals. These are all very important. I don’t want to downplay the importance. As a pro or as a semi pro, it is important to keep your promises and things like this. But I’m giving you the permission right now, if you are worried about the fund leaving your writing, I’m giving you permission to break a deadline, to put a book aside, to go and write something just because it was fun. Because you need to remember how much you enjoy this, and what a blast it is to be a writer. If you ever lose that, it’s going to be very dangerous to the quality of your writing.
[Howard] Doomed! Doomed, I say… Oh, wait, we want them to be happy.
[Brandon] We want them to be happy.

[Dan] That could be a great writing prompt. Everyone listening to this, you’ve got that one thing that you really want to write that you haven’t let yourself write yet. Go write it right now.
[Brandon] I think that we can do that. We are out of time. So that’s your writing prompt. Write that thing. Write that thing, that idea you had that is just a goofy idea. Where you’re like, “Oh, I could never do that.” It’s time to write that thing. Make that your New Year’s promise to yourself that you’ll write that thing. Whatever it is. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | November 19, 2014 - 6:55 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.47: Conversation with a Bookseller

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/11/17/writing-excuses-9-47-conversation-with-a-bookseller/

Key points: Be aware of catalog and back cover copy. Get good cover art. Avoid the weird mashup descriptions for the cover copy (it might work for a pitch). Catalog and back cover copy need to say what the book is about, and give trigger warnings. Who can I hand this book to? Authors who come to stores should be ready to engage customers, but not push them. Booksellers and editors may not read the whole book, so make sure the beginning gives a clear idea of character and atmosphere (genre). Howard: make sure the first chapter tells the reader what they are being promised. Be aware that genre crossovers may only sell to the intersection, not the whole two bubbles. Sell the booksellers, and let them sell their customers.

[Mary] Season nine, episode 47.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, the bookseller perspective.
[Sara] 15 minutes long.
[Howard] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Sara] I’m Sara.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Dan] And I’m Dan.
[Brandon] And Sara’s our special guest star. You heard her melodious voice earlier when she pitched a book to you on a previous cast and we enjoyed it so much we thought we really need to record a podcast with a bookseller talking about a bookseller’s perspective. So we’re going to be throwing a lot of questions at Sara. I hope you’re ready for this.
[Sara] I love questions.
[Dan] Sara? I was going to say, start by telling us about your bookstore.
[Sara] I work at the Little Professor in Homewood, Alabama. It’s a small independent bookstore. We are Birmingham’s oldest independent bookstore. We opened in 1973.
[Brandon] Excellent.
[Sara] I wasn’t there. I’m much younger than that.
[Brandon] I think only Howard was alive in 73.
[Howard] I was five. Thank you for that.
[Howard] I remember Birmingham well.

[Brandon] So. This is a podcast for writers. So what I want to ask is we’ve got our listeners here. They may be considering self-publishing or they might be going… We might have book packagers listening or editors. Can you tell them, from a bookseller’s perspective, what makes you pick up a book?
[Sara] Well, usually I’m reading catalog copy, so it’s your marketing department or your publicist. Whoever does the catalog back cover copy.
[Brandon] Okay. You know catalog copy is different from back cover copy. For those who are listening. If you aren’t aware. Catalog copy tends to be more spoileriffic in order to give the bookseller a better feel for what this book is going to be. Whereas the back cover copy’s job is to be… Not to be as spoilery, to be a… Get someone to read the book, whereas the bookseller’s is to get someone to sell the book.
[Howard] Yeah. The back cover copy versus the catalog copy I’ve seen… In many cases, the catalog copy is like back cover copy plus. So that the bookseller can see hey, this is what’s going to be on the back of the book that we want you to sell, and this is what’s going to be inside it to you know what people are picking up.

[Sara] Right. After that, it’s packaging. If you are self-publishing, get good cover art. That does make a difference.
[Brandon] Do you notice the difference between when you have good cover art and a well-designed cover concept or is it really just the art that pops out at you?
[Sara] It’s definitely both, but it seems like the art is more important. I will sit there and stare at a book for days on end, so design does matter to me. A customer is going to… When I’m trying to hand them something, is going to look at it and go, “That just looks icky.”

[Brandon] Right, right. So, catalog copy. Do you have any recommendations on writing catalog copy or back cover copy? What really works for you?
[Sara] Please don’t try to do the weird mashup. Because if you tell me it’s a Game of Thrones for middle grade readers…
[Brandon] Right, right.
[Sara] That doesn’t…
[Dan] That’s our writing prompt.
[Howard] The Red Kindergarten.
[Howard] Okay, we’re done. Okay, let me say this about back cover copy and about the mashup specifically. That works great in a Hollywood pitch session when you are talking to a producer level person who wants a quick picture of what they’re going to be spending money on. When you say, however, this is like Star Wars meets The Hunger Games, you’re making a promise to a reader that you are just not going to be able to fulfill.
[Sara] Yes. And… I mean I as a bookseller who have read a book may use that pitching it to a customer because I can then keep talking. But it’s usually just the most generic thing combined with whatever has sold the most. So everything is The Hunger Games plus something right now in YA. Even if they have nothing to do with each other.
[Brandon] As an aside, when I asked my agent to give me some advice on query letters for my students… I was going to go teach a class on it. The number one thing he said was don’t make it sound like a Hollywood pitch. That will turn… In his opinion, it turns him and editors off, because they want to know what the story actually is. They don’t want to be wowed and dazzled by fireworks.
[Sara] I think it can work with customers. I can make a Hollywood pitch and…
[Brandon] To them.
[Sara] Sell it to a customer. But editors, agents, booksellers… We see literally hundreds of these every day in our catalogs or in query letters and we’re tired of them.
[Brandon] Okay. So it’s…

[Howard] You know what the difference for me… I do a lot of selling at conventions. I will never tell anybody that Schlock Mercenary… It’s like Bloom County meets Babylon 5. I would never say that. Okay?
[Dan] I want to read that now.
[Howard] Because coming from me behind the counter, it sounds like I have a really, really inflated opinion of my literary important. But if, on the other side of the table, another fan is standing there while I say, “Epic space opera, four panels at a time,” and the other person says, “Oh, man, I love this. It’s like Bloom County meets Babylon 5,” that carries some authority. So you, as a bookseller, you can say things that the back cover copy, that the author can’t.

[Dan] Now, it seems, Sara, like what you’re saying is that the purpose of the catalog copy and the back cover copy is to tell you what you need to know in order to sell it to a customer.
[Sara] Exactly.
[Dan] So what kinds of things do you like to see on there?
[Sara] I need to know, well, honestly, what your book is about. To a certain extent, I need trigger warnings.
[Brandon] Okay. Yeah.
[Sara] That’s not…
[Howard] When you say about, that’s not this is a science fiction adventure. You need to say this is about… This is a coming-of-age story with triggers for violence and…
[Sara] Right. I need to be able to drill down to who are the people I can hand this to. Because if I hand a book with let’s say a child death in it to a customer who can’t cope with that, I have violated their trust. They will not want to come back to me for a book recommendation.
[Brandon] Interesting. I haven’t seen anything that extensive in catalog copy. It seems like it should be.
[Sara] There isn’t yet. There is a movement to request it.
[Brandon] Yeah. That’s a really good idea. That could be very useful.
[Sara] I do have people where I say, “You’ll love this book. Skip chapter 10.”

[Brandon] I’ve had books that I know about… I’m not going to mention them by name, but… Yeah, I know that completely. We’ll come back to that concept, but there’s another concept that I want to make sure that we hit with you, which is author interaction. Do you have authors come into your bookstore?
[Sara] We do. We’ve actually had Dan come to our bookstore.
[Dan] I was about to ask, who is your favorite one who’s come in?
[Sara] Oh, this is…
[Dan] As a leading question.
[Howard] And is the building still standing?
[Sara] I also have had Mary come to the bookstore.
[Dan] Give us your favorite who is here right now.
[Brandon] Give us your favorite male podcaster on Writing Excuses…
[Howard] Who is on the couch with you…
[Brandon] [inaudible… Who has come to the store]
[Sara] Oh, I will.
[Dan] Hey!
[Sara] Mary was my favorite author that I had… Threw a tea for.

[Brandon] So. Author interactions. Things you’ve noticed that authors do with booksellers that works or things that doesn’t work, that you’re like, “Oo, I really need to tell authors don’t do this anymore.”
[Dan] Either interactions with a bookseller or just with a customer.
[Brandon] Either one. Yeah.
[Sara] We… Because our store is small, we do have a lot of self published authors that come in. It’s a very different interaction. There’s not generally name recognition there. We’ve found that for self published authors, being willing to engage the customers… “Hi. Would you like to take a look at my book?” Or “How are you doing today?” Is great, but don’t… “Do you want to buy my book? It would be really great if you bought my… It’s a great, really great story.” That puts them off.
[Brandon] Too used-car salesmany? Is…
[Sara] Yes. When it comes to slightly more known authors, we really haven’t had very many bad experiences. We know you’re on book tour, we know you’re probably really tired. If there’s anything we can get for you to make your signing easier, let us know that. Let us know that as far in advance as possible. If it’s the moment you walk in the door and you really need a coffee, that’s fine. But don’t…
[Brandon] But do you really need only brown M&Ms? Then…
[Sara] We’re going to need some notice. We’ll take care of it, but we’re going to need some notice.
[Howard] It sounds like 20 minutes. But if I really need…
[Dan] Well, from my side… she had a carrot cake…
[Howard] 4 pounds of sashimi grade tuna…
[Dan] It was awesome.
[Sara] Yes, I did have a carrot cake for Dan’s signing.

[Brandon] All right. Let’s go ahead and do our book of the week. Since you are a bookseller and so good at this, we’re going to ask you to pitch a book for us.
[Sara] The book I would like to pitch is The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. It’s narrated by Susan Duerden. The easiest way to explain this book is to tell you how it starts. Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a park surrounded by corpses. She has no memory. The only thing she knows is there is a note in her pocket that says, “Your name is Myfanwy Thomas. You’re in what used to be my body.”
[Oh! That’s awesome. Neat.]
[Brandon] That happens to me every day.
[Sara] She finds out that she works, or the body she is in the works for a comp… Or an organization called the Checquy which protects England from supernatural threats. She has two options. She can take box A, get a new identity and try to hide from them, or she can go to work Monday morning.
[Brandon] Excellent.
[Wow. What a great pitch!]
[Howard] Okay. I’m on board. Audiblepodcast.com/excuse, start a 30-day free trial membership, pick up The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, narrated by Susan Duerden, and wake up in somebody else’s body.

[Brandon] Fantastic. All right. So let’s talk a little bit more, a bookseller’s perspective on page 1. What are you looking for on page 1? I assume, a lot of booksellers I’ve talked to and editors, they don’t have time to read the whole book.
[Sara] Yes.
[Brandon] They’ll read a couple of chapters to get a real feel for the book, and if they get excited about it, they can still sell it and know about it. They get really excited, they’ll probably finish it, but they may not have time. So what can an author do in those opening pages and opening chapters from your perspective?
[Sara] I would like a clear idea of the character.
[Brandon] All right.
[Sara] I need that person to stand out. I need this to be somebody I want to spend time with. I also want to know generally… It’s very similar to back cover copy or catalog copy, I want to know where we’re going. Are we on an adventure? Are we in a dark creepy psychological mystery that I don’t want to read before bed? I need atmosphere and I need character, generally. Those are the two most important things.
[Brandon] Okay. I talk about that a lot, so it looks like we’re on track.
[Laughter – inaudible]
[Howard] Well, I’m a big fan of your first chapter being something where the reader can identify the things that they are being promised. Whether or not you’re going to fulfill those promises in the way they expect is up to you as an author, but the reader develops expectations. My least favorite books are the ones where I read the first chapter and when I’m done, I really have no idea what might be coming.
[Dan] Well, we talk a lot on the podcast about how you need to be careful with a twist so big it changes the genre part way through, or subverts something everyone was looking forward to. This is one of the reasons that we haven’t really discussed. A bookseller going around pitching a science fiction to everybody and then doesn’t know that in chapter 10, it actually turns into an epic fantasy…
[Howard] Urban fantasy.

[Brandon] So step me through the process behind making a bestseller at your store. Because I’ve talked to a lot of booksellers, and it’s very interesting to me that a store can sometimes sell 300 copies of the book that no one else in the country is selling that number of. What makes that happen? Can you break it down, an anatomy of it?
[Sara] Make us like your book. I mean, that’s what it comes down to.
[Brandon] But are there certain ones that you like and are easier to sell and that people come back and say I loved this book and tell their friends, and are there other books that sometimes you have trouble selling even though you love it?
[Sara] We… Yes. There is a book that I adore. But it’s a hard pitch because you have to be a particular type of fan to read it. It’s Low Town by Daniel Polansky. It’s a noir murder mystery in a secondary world fantasy.
[Brandon] Right. Right.
[Sara] I can’t sell it to all my mystery fans, I can’t sell it to all my fantasy fans.
[Howard] That’s kind of a high concept conceit.
[Sara] But when I hit, they love it.
[Brandon] John Hemry had trouble with this. He’s since republished as Jack Campbell his early books. I think we’ve talked about them before, were JAG which is like the military police…
[Howard] Judge Advocate General.
[Brandon] The military… Not police, but lawyers prosecuting milit… Prosecuting crimes in space. So they were space opera JAG. He said he thought, “This is going to be great. I’m going to grab all the people who love JAG and all the people who love science fiction.” It turns out the booksellers could only sell it to the people who liked attorney fiction and science fiction. It’s really weird.

[Dan] When you do those genre crossovers, which I have done some of, you have to remember how Venn diagrams work. You’re not getting two full bubbles worth of people, you’re getting this sliver where they intersect.
[Brandon] But see, once in a while you do. It’s still kind of hard for my brain to grasp. It might be when the genres aren’t so narrow. But this is part of the reason that YA explodes so large sometimes, is because you can grab the adults who will read kids’ books and the kids who read kids’ books.
[Dan] You look at the ones that have really succeeded… All of the Harry Potter plots were mystery plots, and yet it was never marketed as here’s a great mystery for kids.
[Brandon] Yeah. It might be a marketing problem, or it might be that the genres are just too narrow sometimes.
[Howard] Because Harry Potter has a marketing problem?
[Brandon] No, no, no.
[Howard] I know.
[Brandon] That’s why Harry Potter succeeded and JAG didn’t.
[Sara] Marketing makes a big difference. How much you trust your bookseller… I can get people to read books that they say, “I don’t know, but I loved the last five things you gave me.” So…
[Brandon] This is one of the reasons…
[Howard] So what I need to be able to do is find 1000 booksellers like you, who have trusted customers, and then write a book that all 1000 of you are just going to love?
[Sara] Yes. That is exactly what you need to do.
[Howard] What’s the formula for that?
[Dan] That’s what I did, and it works pretty well.

[Brandon] Sara, this has been awesome. Having you on the podcast. This is a really fresh perspective for us. In a lot of ways, I think it’s important for our listeners to remember, sometimes you are not selling your book to a customer, you are selling your book to a bookseller. That’s your job. Their job is then to sell it to the customers. That’s why we love having great booksellers, particularly independent bookstores. You find this happening more often at these bookstores than you do sometimes at some of the larger stores where the staff changeovers so frequently… Is frequent. So we love you coming on the podcast. We love you selling books.
[Sara] Thank you.
[Brandon] We really appreciate you.
[Howard] Final plug for your store?
[Sara] Little Professor in Homewood, Alabama.

[Brandon] And would you give us a writing prompt?
[Sara] I will. I actually got some homework from Mary in a writing retreat that we did. Get three of your friends to send you one photograph of a random object. Anything they want. You have to use all three objects in the first 13 lines of your story.
[Brandon] That is awesome. I guess we can thank Mary who is not here, she’s at a wedding. But we wanted to make sure that we got Sara on the podcast before the Writing Excuses retreat ended.
[Whoo! Cheers.]
[Brandon] We’re not sure when this one will air, but it is the last episode we’re doing at the retreat, so hopefully you all listening will be able to come to our next retreat, and you can be the applause in the background. A thank you again to Sara, and to you listeners… You are out of excuses, now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | October 21, 2014 - 8:41 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.43: Writing Mysteries

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/10/19/writing-excuses-9-43-writing-mysteries/

Key Points: What’s the difference between mystery and thriller? Tone. Thriller is a subgenre of mystery, like a cozy. Two labels, exciting or cerebral. Pacing and revelation of clues. Thriller, the audience is one step ahead of the hero, knowing something is about to go wrong, while mystery, the audience is one step behind, wondering what will happen hext. The thriller often involves jeopardy of the hero. Does a mystery have to have a dead body, murder, in the beginning? Not always, sometimes you start with a smaller mystery. Other subgenres within mystery? Closed room mysteries, fair play mystery (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FairPlayWhodunnit) Mystery always involves a puzzle, and the differences in subgenres often reflect how the puzzle is presented. Mystery often plays with structure. You can’t remove the impossible from a supernatural mystery. YA needs a strong character arc, but mystery often resets the main character in each book.

[Unfortunately, between the echoing and the similarity in voices, there is a good chance that I may have misidentified one or more segments of this transcript. My apologies to Mette Ivie Harrison, J. R. Johannson, and Mary Robinette Kowal if I have given your words to someone else.]

[Mary] Season nine, episode 43.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, writing mysteries with Mette Ivie Harrison and J. R. Johannson.
[Mary] 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Brandon] And we have two guest stars this time. We have Mette Ivie Harrison, who’s been on the cast many times. Say hi.
[Mette] Hello!
[Brandon] And we have J. R. Johannson joining us for the first time.
[Jenn] Hi.
[Brandon] So tell us what you guys write to give us a big… A quick recap of what you’ve been doing.
[Mette] I write mostly young adult fantasy romance, but I have a new adult mystery coming out end of December called The Bishop’s Wife.
[Brandon] Okay. And J. R. Johannson… Can I just call you Jenn?
[Jenn] You can.
[Brandon] I’m going to call you Jenn.
[Dan] You can call me Jenn. I write young adult thrillers. I have… My debut came out last year. It’s called Insomnia. My sequel just came out in June. It’s called Paranoia. I have a standalone thriller with McMillan coming out in June called Cut Me… Or it’s like January, called Cut Me Free.

[Brandon] All right. I’m going to start with this question. What is the difference between a mystery and a thriller? Because thrillers usually have a strong mystery component, and I never heard the term thriller when I was growing up. But suddenly it was the thing. It feels like it came out of mysteries, maybe? I don’t know.
[Mary] The way I’ve heard it described… Do you want to go first?
[Dan] Okay. My answer’s going to be different than your’s, though. Which is that I don’t think there is a substantive difference between a mystery and a thriller. I think there might be a difference in tone. You’re certainly not going to call like a cozy cottage mystery a thriller. But they’re shelved in the same part of almost every bookstore I’ve ever been in. They tend to be grouped together in online places. They appeal to the same audiences. They go to the same conventions. It’s just two labels, one of which sounds exciting and one of which sound cerebral, but they’re the same genre to me.
[Brandon] So do you think what happened is that mystery became associated with the kind of cozy, which is the subset of mystery… They call them cozies because you what, curl up by the fire and you read this mystery about a detective who’s… Because it became associated with the Agatha Christie style of mystery, that everyone thought that was a mystery?
[Dan] Exactly. Mystery kind of became associated with the Masterpiece Theatre kind of… BBC, Hercule Poirot kind of stuff.
[Mary] What I was told was that it had a lot to do with pacing and revelation of clues. In a thriller, you build suspense by letting the audience be one step ahead, just a fraction of a moment ahead of your hero, so that they know something is about to go wrong, and that a mystery is based on wondering what is going to happen next. So your audience needs to be a fraction of a step behind your hero.
[Dan] Well, okay, if you’re going to give us a brilliant answer, fine.
[Brandon] Jenn. You write these. What do you… How do you define a thriller for yourself?
[Jenn] I think I would agree with Mary. I think it has more to do with pacing and the tension, where you reveal things to your audience. Exactly like that.

[Brandon] Okay. Now… Often for mysteries, from my external perspective… I’ve read a few of them. I haven’t ever written an actual mystery that would be shelved there. A murder at the beginning is often a classic mystery start. What percentage… Or is this something you need to do for the mystery genre? Does a cozy have to have a murder at the beginning? How does this work?
[Mette] I had a long conversation with my editor about this precisely because she says that too many authors feel obliged to basically have a dead body, if not on the first page, then at least in the first chapter. If you’re writing a certain kind of mystery, that works. But if you want to do a lot of world building, which is something that mystery has in common with fantasy and science fiction, that world building takes time and so sometimes it’s useful to have a smaller mystery that’s not the murder. Which also often happens in fantasy, that you have like a smaller problem that is solved and allows your hero to build character.
[Brandon] It’s Jabba the Hutt’s palace, right?
[Mette] Yes. So in fact, in my book The Bishop’s Wife, there’s a disappearance first and people suspect it’s going to turn into a murder, but there’s no dead body until about three quarters of the way through the novel.
[Brandon] Okay. But the dead body is pretty important to the genre, then?

[Mette] Yes. Definitely. I think… I was going to say I think one of the differences between mystery and thriller is that thriller often involves the jeopardy of the detective. That’s one of the differences between cozies… In particular, cozies, you have a character, like the Agatha Christie characters, who are nosing around and figuring things out but they’re not necessarily in jeopardy. Especially not through the whole book.
[Brandon] That’s a great definition.
[Mette] That’s the thing about pacing… That’s part of the pacing issue is that you have a character who is just looking around in normal… In the normal world, but isn’t necessarily a spy or somebody who is constantly in danger.
[Brandon] Right. So if we look at the archetype of… One of the biggest thrillers recently is The Da Vinci Code, right? Da Vinci Code starts with a dead body, an investigator is brought in, and within like the first few scenes of being there to investigate the murder, someone starts trying to kill him and he has to go on the run from murderers, where he finds out he’s wrapped up in this whole thing. That’s kind of the quintessential thriller archetype. Then the mystery, the cozy, is the there’s been a baffling mystery and Hercule Poirot is called in to figure it out because no one else is smart enough to figure out who caused this… Who killed this person. Are there other genres… Sub genres within the mystery genre?

[Mette] There’s one called, I think, a closed room mystery, which is the story where you can’t figure out how somebody got in the room to do the murder. There’s another one where… I’m trying to remember the specific term for it, but it’s a mystery in which all of the clues that you would need to solve the crime are revealed on the page, rather than… Sometimes you will have a mystery where the detectives are either holding back information or doesn’t in fact have the information until the climactic moment. That’s different than a mystery where the audience is invited to participate in trying to solve the crime. Then you have an obligation as a writer to make sure that you give all of the information to the reader even… You can try to make it tricky for them to figure out what matters and what doesn’t, but… It’s… I think it may be called fair play, where you have to make sure that the audience has the information.
[Brandon] Great. So, the puzzle aspect is a very big deal. The idea that this is… In a mystery book, you’re presenting a puzzle to the reader to one extent or another. The fun of reading the book is figuring out how the puzzle comes together. Perhaps, kind of the definition between the different sub genres of the mystery genre is how is that puzzle presented. Like, as we said, with the thriller, the puzzle is this mortal danger element is keeping us kind of focused on that, snap, snap, snap, snap. Where the cozy, it’s here’s this mystery. Can you figure it out? Our detective is smart enough to have figured it out on page 1 sometimes, in some of these. Can you figure it out?

[Dan] I think it’s interesting to look at stuff like the modern Sherlock Holmes. Both series, BBC and America’s, which have kind of taken this classic mystery character and put him into much more thriller-oriented stories. Sherlock Holmes as modernly portrayed even in the movies is in constant danger. And there’s all of these other things. So I wonder if that’s just a sign that tastes are different or that studios assume tastes are different. In books, mysteries are still going strong.
[Brandon] In the original Sherlock Holmes, I will say, he was in danger a surprising amount of the time for the era that he was written. It’s not always, but once in a while, he’ll say, “You’d better bring your trusty gun along, Watson, because this one’s…” So even then, there was tension at the end for Sherlock Holmes a lot of the time.
[Dan] That’s true.
[Brandon] But the difference, I think, in a thriller is the sort of page probably three, you’re going to have your protagonist in danger.

[Brandon] Let’s stop for our book of the week. Our book of the week, Mette’s going to tell us about The Ghosts of Belfast.
[Mette] The Ghosts of Belfast is right in between thriller and mystery. It’s by Stuart Neville, who is an Irish author. It’s an interesting story. It’s told from one character’s point of view, and he’s not the detective. He’s really the villain of the story, and you find out gradually, it’s unfolded, what he intends to do. It begins with something like number 12, that’s the chapter heading. It goes down from there and you realize they’re counting down the number of people he intends to kill.
[Brandon] Oh, wow.
[Mette] So, you see it from his perspective, but it also is a fascinating story about Ireland and what the legacy is after we have peace. What do you do with people who were involved in the wars beforehand? This is somebody who is taking revenge for things that have happened 20 or 30 years ago. So you get to find out… Again, this is… lots of world building is going on in this mystery. That’s one of the things I find most interesting about mystery, is being set in a world that’s not mine.
[Brandon] Wonderful. Well, you can try The Ghosts of Belfast, download it for free on audible, try a 30-day free trial by going to audiblepodcast.com/excuse.

[Brandon] This is actually an excellent segue into my next question, because my experience with mysteries and I’m… I’ve very much enjoyed the various different ones I’ve read, seems like the structure of the book is fundamental in creating a mystery. Whereas sometimes like a fantasy, the structure doesn’t need to be… Need to be quite in the forefront, as it does here where you’re talking about this thing, where it’s like the countdown. Or the structure of, for instance, I was thinking of… There are some mysteries where on page 1, they reveal how the criminal did it, and the rest of the book is the detective and the criminal playing cat-and-mouse as the detective tries to figure out what you already know. That’s a fascinating structure for a story. It seems like the mysteries often play with structure. Have you noticed any of this? Have you tried this with your books?
[Mette] I love to play with structure. I think mystery, like any genre, has rules and the funnest writers are the ones who like to break the rules. Like, I have a bet with myself about how late I can like have the dead body show up in each of the books in my series.
[Brandon] That’s clever.
[Mette] Because I feel like readers expect a dead body, and I think it’s interesting… It’s an interesting challenge as a writer to get readers to keep turning pages, like in a book that supposedly a mystery, and still not have a dead body. I hope in their heads, they’re saying, “Wow, this is such an interesting mystery, but there’s still no dead body. When is the dead body going to come?” Eventually, I’m going to write one where the dead body’s on the last page.

[Mary] How do you handle it, Jenn?
[Jenn] I think, as with anything with writing, you have to know the rules and then break them. I think structure, as far as mystery, it is as important as any other genre. I think where the dead body is… Like with Insomnia, there is a dead body in the first chapter, but it’s in a dream, so it’s kind of a… It’s a memory, and he’s witnessing somebody else’s memory of killing someone. So we know someone killed someone, and there is really nothing he can do about it. It really doesn’t play into the plot a whole lot other than that. So it’s just kind of more revelatory of his situation than anything else. So there’s a lot of different ways that you can play with it. To use the dead body in different ways, to reveal different mysteries than what you might normally expect a dead body to reveal. That’s a different path than you might normally expect your main character to be on.

[Dan] Okay. So, Jenn. I’m really excited to have you on this podcast, because I have read your book and loved it. You, like me, write supernatural mysteries, which changes things. The classic Sherlock Holmes line, once you’ve removed the impossible, anything left, however improbable, must be the truth… You can’t remove the impossible.
[Dan] I mean, it’s supernatural mystery. So how did you go about dealing with that problem in your story?
[Jenn] It was a really interesting problem in my story, because in Insomnia, he sees the last… The dreams of the last person he made eye contact with before he goes to sleep. So he’s dying of sleep deprivation. There is a situation in which he’s losing time, and he’s not entirely sure if he is the person who is stalking this girl and he’s… It really comes to the point where he’s eliminated almost everyone else, and he pretty much has to decide that it must be him. That’s a kind of difficult conclusion for your main character…
[Brandon] Wow. That’s a fascinating way to do it. Really interesting.
[Jenn] It’s a hard thing for your main character to come to come and still make your audience like the character. Because they don’t want him to be the bad guy. But at the same time, like… Logically, it’s the only conclusion he can come to at that point, so…
[Mette] That’s really playing with the structure of mystery also, where you’re toying with here’s my detective, my hero character, and then also my hero character turns into the villain. I think that’s a really fun thing to play with.
[Jenn] It is. It is.

[Mary] One other thing that occurs to me is that you’re also writing YA and not always, but frequently, mysteries don’t have a strong character arc. Often, in a long-running mystery series, the main character resets back to zero. But in YA, you always have a strong character arc. That’s frequently what is driving the book. So I’m wondering, how you were playing with blending those two things? Mette, I think you do that as well in yours. So I’d love to hear how you both play with that sort of…
[Mette] I think character arc is one of the… Not only the most crucial parts in a YA book, but it’s also one of the funnest for me personally to develop. For this character, he is such a… He’s an antihero in a lot of ways, and he has such a kind of downward spiral in a lot of ways in this book that it’s really important that we’re in his head. There is no other scenario in which this would work. He has a lot of the typical ways that you would make your character… Audience relate to your character. He has the best friend that the audience’s always love and that absolutely loves him, and sees the best in him. It’s really important with the character arc. It changes… It’s a series, so it changes… Every book, he has a different story and he evolves in a different way through his character. So he doesn’t reset to zero like you normally would in a mystery. Just kind of evolves in a different way through the series. So it does kind of change because it’s a YA, but I think that is a common thing with mysteries, that they kind of start over.

[Brandon] Now, we’re running out of time. I want to give you each a chance to pitch the book that you have. When it comes out, if it’s out, and that sort of thing. Will go ahead and start with you, Jenn. What should they buy, when should they buy it?
[Jenn] Okay. I’ll pitch the next book I have coming out. It’s called Cut Me Free and it comes out in January. January 27, 2015. It is my first contemporary urban thriller, set in Philadelphia. It’s about a girl who grows up in an abusive household and she escapes when her parents kill her little brother. She’s starting over in a new city with a new identity, and she starts receiving packages that have her old name on them and has to figure out who has followed her and who knows about her past.
[Brandon] Cool. Mette?
[Mette] Okay. The Bishop’s Wife is about a Mormon Bishop’s wife, sort of an ordinary woman. All of her children have grown up, and she has time on her hands. So when a young woman in her ward disappears under mysterious circumstances, sort of in the middle of the night in December, she ends up deciding that the husband, this young woman’s husband, has killed her. She’s determined to investigate. So she brings cinnamon rolls and brownies over to the husband’s house, offers to babysit his daughter, and then while he’s gone, she rummages through their entire house to find out clues about where this woman is. It’s loosely inspired by the Josh and Susan Powell story. If you’re in Utah and were around during that, this came out of some of the questions I asked in my head about ways in which our community helps conspire to protect people, and maybe should be exposing them more.

[Brandon] There we are. Well, I have our writing prompt. Our writing prompt is for you to solve a mystery. Where is Howard? Howard is not on this podcast. Why, where, what happened to Howard? Write that story. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | October 7, 2014 - 8:20 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.41: Fan Writing, with Christopher J. Garcia

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/10/05/writing-excuses-9-41-fan-writing/

Key points: Fan writing is writing that you do because you love writing. Creators need to make their own decision as to where their writing falls. Fanzines came out of sports fandom, baseball, boxers, and wrestlers. What kind of writing? Sercon (serious-constructive), talking about fandom, talking about science fiction, fannish fanfiction about fandom, and fanfiction itself, of course. Also poetry! To do fan fiction? Start writing! Answer three questions: Do I have something to say? What do I want to say? How do I want to say it? “Fan writing is basically geeking on paper.”

[Mary] Season nine, episode 41.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, fan writing.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Howard] I’m Howard. Oh, whoops.
[Dan] Wait, which is which, I can’t tell anymore.
[Mary] I’m so [dismayed?]
[Brandon] We have special guest scar… Star, Chris Garcia.
[Chris] Hi, everybody.
[Brandon] Chris is a Hugo award-winning…
[Chris] I will never get tired of hearing that.
[Brandon] And also Hugo nominated for his acceptance speech, which is one of the most meta-things in the history of the Hugos.

[Brandon] We’re going to talk about fan writing. What is fan writing? I think a lot of people get confused when they look at the Hugos and there’s a separate category for fan writer versus the fiction writing and things like this.
[Chris] Well, it’s interesting. Fan writing is… it’s most broad definition is very simple. It’s any writing that don’t pay your rent.
[Chris] I have not paid rent to prove that. It really comes down to this. Fan writing has… There are lots of very fine definitions people try to give it. Fan writing is writing about fandom. Writing about a particular type of thing, like people who write about Wheel of Time or this and that… That’s considered fan writing. But really, fan writing is just writing that you do because you love writing. Like all the writing everyone on this panel is going to do for the Drink Tank Issue 400 at the end of the year…
[Chris] Right there, I have an oral contract. Beautifully done, Chris.
[Howard] Isaac, stop the tape.
[Dan] Great, delete it.
[Chris] But, yeah, fan writing is really… It’s been… Fan writing is as old as writing. It’s arguable that fan writing was first and professional writing was second. I’ll stick to that, because it gives me a sense of purpose.
[Mary] So, does…
[Brandon] Well, I would assume that somebody wrote something long before somebody got paid for writing something. So, yes, that’s got to be the case.
[Howard] I wrote thing. You stop writing thing, go hunt.
[Howard] I’m pretty sure that was the publisher’s conversation with the author.
[Mary] So does fan writing…
[Dan] I’d love to see the royalty conversation.
[Mary] Get 15%
[Howard] What is hoof? Me want meat.
[Dan] Me want hoof and ankle.
[Mary] You said 15%. You didn’t say which.
[Dan] You eat antlers this winter.
[Mary] [inaudible]
[Mary] Sorry.

[Dan] Chris, would you like to say something?
[Howard] You’re absolutely right. I think fan writing came first. One of the places where I get confused is when somebody like John Scalzi or Jim Hines who… I mean, they both won best fan writer Hugo awards, but they are professional authors. Where is that line… How does that…
[Chris] Well, that’s actually an interesting question. As a guy who lost to both of those dudes, it was a vast injustice.
[Chris] But what it comes down to is that they both do a significant amount of writing that is not paid for, for their blogs. Occasionally they’ll send things out to other folks. I’ve had both Jim and John write for me, for example. That… And I’ve had many people on this panel. Mary, I remember, is one… One of the numbers. Will actually… That will actually qualify as fan writing. It does become sort of tricky when you look at the argument that if you’re… If Neil Gaiman writes for a fanzine, is he eligible to be a fan writer? The argument is, well, of course he is, but he probably shouldn’t be. It sort of comes down to the idea that the actual creator should judge where they’re best placed.
[Brandon] We run into this with our podcast, in a similar thing. Where does Writing Excuses, the podcast, belong, because there is a fancast category and we are not in it.
[Howard] Now that we have the anthology out, we should qualify for best novel.
[Howard] Because it’s all one big volume. I’m just screwing with it.
[Mary] But… But… I ran into that with Lady Astronaut of Mars last year, where it was… It was moved out of the category I thought it should be in. Because I thought it was a novelette, but they thought it was a dramatic presentation because it was an audio. But the point being, with the category that the person winds up in… For me, some of it is that the Hugos are by and for the fans. Professional writers, professional editors… There are other categories that we can win. The fan writer category, for me, is one that… There is… That’s for people who are not eligible in other categories. That’s part of it, for me, is that I feel like it… Even though I… I feel it would be inappropriate for me. Like I won’t enter a masquerade.
[Chris] Oh, really?
[Mary] No. Because there are other awards I can win. For a lot of the people who are going into a masquerade, that is the award they can win, and it feels inappropriate for me.
[Howard] Phil Foglio won Hugo awards two years running, I think, for best fan artist back in 78, 79 or 79 and 80. He got nominated a 3rd year, and at that point, he had started submitting covers for the Robert Asprin series. He told the committee, “No. I don’t want to be in this category anymore. I want to do this for a living.”
[Mary] Now, saying that I think it’s inappropriate… Inappropriate for me. This is again… The creators…
[Howard] I’m saying Phil felt the same way.
[Mary] Creators should make their own call on whether or not…
[Chris] Their own determination.
[Mary] Like I think that Jim absolutely feels… And was appropriately in the fan writer category. But I think it varies from person to person. Which is what makes it so sticky.

[Brandon] Let’s spend a little bit less time on categories. Let’s talk about actually doing the writing and making a fanzine and kind of the… Let’s talk about just putting together a fanzine. And the history of fanzines. This is really interesting to me. What is a fanzine, where did they come from, and how do you put one together?
[Chris] Well, it’s real easy. Fanzines came from… Actually, and this is sort of the weirdest thing, is that I’ve done a lot of research into… Fanzines came out of the sports fandom tradition.
[Chorus: Really?]
[Chris] There were fanzines in the late 1800s for the various booster groups doing like… The New York Giants, all those sort of baseball teams and, oddly enough, boxers and wrestlers. I got really lucky that I got to find a… There was a classic wrestler named William Muldoon who eventually became the head of the New York Athletic Commission. He had a huge fan club, several thousand people around the world. This was in the 1890s. So, there was a fanzine that was called Muldoon’s Strongmen. It had all of this wonderful stuff. It was incredible. Out of that came other fanzines in other areas. We started seeing the first sort of fanzines actually came out of Lovecraft fandom. They were doing fanzine-like things. Then the real sort of kickoff of science fiction fandom… zines was a thing called Comet from one of the major fan groups in the early 30s. From there, once you had cheap mimeograph and cheap reproducing… Bam! Thousands of fanzines around the world. At one point, there were 1800 different titles being published in the US alone.
[Brandon] So let’s distinguish…
[Howard] Historically, you’ve just told us that jocks built the thing nerds love.
[Chris] Yes. It is rather shocking. It is… This is the weird thing. I really want to write a book someday about the crossover between wrestling fandom and science fiction.
[Brandon] That would be beautiful.
[Chris] I had a wonderful panel once with me and Dick [Lepouve?] We were talking about 1980s wrassling. It was awesome. He never wrote that article for me.
[Brandon] So, let me distinguish here. From my understanding, these are including both nonfiction and fiction pieces.
[Chris] Usually, yeah. They tend towards nonfiction, particularly nowadays because there’s so many outlets for fiction. There was sort of a… There’s sort of a distinction between a thing called sercon, which is serious constructive, talking about fandom, talking about science fiction, and sort of they call it fannish, which is more things like fanfiction which was… Fiction about fandom, not fanfiction taking other characters. But that also sort of folded into each other. So nowadays, you sort of see a lot of blending of those two. There’s also a lot of… Something that gets really overlooked, there was a lot of poetry being published. Oddly enough, the dude whose name I will never remember for the life of me, but it’s a writer, actually published a lot of poetry in this fanzine called Granfalloon.

[Brandon] All right. We are actually going to stop for our book of the week. We’re going to let Mary tell us our book of the week.
[Mary] That’s right. The book of the week I’m going to recommend… I’ve talked about this series before. The latest is, and the final in the series, is Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor. This is a wonderful series that is both urban fantasy and epic fantasy. It’s about a parallel world to Earth where there are angels and demons. It’s wonderful, it’s dealing with political issues, it’s dealing with prejudice and wars and gorgeously written. The narration by Khristine Hvam is so good. This book makes me weep. I normally take a break every two hours when I’m doing a long drive. I was driving and realized I’d been in the car for five hours and that I needed to get gas and couldn’t feel my legs.
[Mary] So it’s a really good book. I highly recommend it.
[Howard] Audiblepodcast.com/excuse. Start a 30-day free trial membership.

[Brandon] All right, Chris. One of our listeners, let’s say, wants to start writing, doing fan writing. What do you suggest that they do?
[Chris] I suggest they write. This is literally… This seems to be the easiest thing in the world, is just to put words on paper, for me. It’s like something I do when I’m not even thinking. I occasionally wake up and will have a novel in my hand that I will have come up with through the night. I might not have used actual words, but it’s there. It’s… If you can just write. It doesn’t matter what… It doesn’t matter how you write, you’re the one who determines what gets out there. If you just put words to paper, and you decide to put them out there, you’ve got a fanzine.
[Dan] So beyond the writing itself, what are the kinds of questions that a wannabe fan writer should ask themselves? About what direction do I want to take this… I don’t know what those questions would be.
[Chris] The three questions I think… And I apply this to all sorts of things throughout my life… Is do you have something to say? What is it that you want to say? And how do you want to say it? If you are a fan writer who really wants to get their ideas about art out, do you want to do that through words or you want to do that through art? Do you want to… Are you someone who has a real love of graphic design? Do you want to have it be all written very standard, justified margins, do you want to have a very strange little cutouts? It’s find your vision. It really… It applies on all sorts of things. It’s figure out what you want to do, if you have something that is really meaningful to do it for… I mean, I, of course, skipped that step. I have never done anything meaningful in my life. But this one thing, I will do and do consciously. I will say, “You know why I want to do it? Because it’s fun.” I honestly… One thing I think a lot of folks miss is, this is fun. It’s something that I love to do. And I drag people in, like Vanessa, I’ll just drag in with me on these little projects. I hope that my infectious love of this thing will infect them, and Bradley Voytek will study it.
[Howard] My daughter and I… My daughter is an artist… Met Chris at Convolution last year. I remember being… I… Okay, so Dad really wants his daughter to have a great art career, and I was nervous about approaching Chris about maybe… Because I know her work is great, but maybe, would he consider… I talked to Chris about it, and he looked at her. It’s like, “Oh, I love having art. I love this. Send me all your stuff.” I bring this up because… Okay, maybe you disagree… But I bring this up because if you are a writer or you are an artist and you are looking for an outlet, other than your own blog, maybe email Chris?
[Chris] Yeah!
[Howard] Because he does this magazine and that’s an outlet where your fan writing, your fan art, can appear.
[Chris] Absolutely. It’s one thing… Having foolish friends is very useful. I luckily have a number of foolish friends who are willing to send me stuff. That art, by the way… That cover for handicapping the Hugos last year, spectacularly wonderful. One of my favorite covers I’ve ever got to run. I’d love to have a cover from Howard someday. But… Again, oral contract!

[Chris] That’s recycled. I mean, there’s all sorts of wonderful things that you get and you sort of build community. That’s what happens in all these things. How do blog communities happen? Well, people start commenting on your things, you start commenting on their’s, back and forth. People start writing for you, you start writing for other people. Bang. Something grows. I’ve… I have about seven different zines that I do. Each one of them comes with a different community. I have a steam punk zine that happens… I published a couple of steam punk things, people started to send me steam punk articles. I have a zine that is about fandom, that we do different themes, and it’s because me and my buddy, James, said, “You know, it would be great if we could actually have some themes.” These things just keep happening and happening and I keep getting dragged up in them.
[Brandon] This is the beautiful thing about science fiction and fantasy fandom. This is the core and the soul of it, that science fiction and fantasy came about really through the fandom roots. Most of the writers, particularly if you look back at the gold and silver ages of science fiction, these are people who were fans first. Everyone’s like, “We love this stuff. No one’s doing this stuff for us. Let’s do it ourselves.” That’s where a lot of the magazines, a lot of the writers came from. There’s this grand tradition of fandom creating its own community. Long before the Internet was around that made it all so easy. It’s why this community is so tightknit, and it helps people. I’m… I have a career today because I went to conventions. The people who organize conventions and were doing fan writing, a bunch of fans published my first fiction story. I was a teen and the people who ran the local fanzine also ran a contest at the convention. They picked mine as the winner. It was the first time, it was stapled together, and they handed it to me and said, “There you are. You’re in a magazine, and you are published.” This is where we come from. I think we owe a great deal in our community to the fan writers, the fan organizers, and the people who create fanzines.
[Mary] Absolutely.
[Howard] And the jocks.
[Laughter] [And the jocks!]
[Brandon] So, we are out of time. I’m sorry. I do have to call it here, and ask for… Okay. One thing. Go ahead.
[Mary] I just want to… Is it safe to say that fan writing is basically geeking on paper?
[Chris] It’s geeking on paper. That’s exactly what it is. Yeah. And we do it a lot.

[Brandon] Let’s do our writing prompt, Dan.
[Dan] Okay. Our writing prompt is, you are going to pick your favorite book or movie or play, whatever, and you’re going to write something about it, but… Here’s the rules. You’re not allowed to do a review, you’re not allowed to do a synopsis, and you’re not allowed to do fanfiction. It has to be something else.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses. Now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | September 25, 2014 - 7:47 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.39: Publicity for Books

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/09/21/writing-excuses-9-39-publicity-for-books/

Key Points: Publicity is all about getting review coverage, interviews, podcasts, blog tours — get the book out in the world so that people know it exists and they can find information about it. Word-of-mouth is what sells books. Get advocates, and get the booksellers excited. A well-written request to the publicist may get you a free book to review. To work with a publicity department, suggest pitches or write blog posts they can use. Suggest trendsetters you know. Put together interesting essays that touch on your book, and let the publicity department figure out where to use them.

[Mary] Season nine, episode 39.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, publicity for books.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] And we have special guest star, Patty Garcia. Say hi, Patty.
[Patty] Hi, Patty.
[Brandon] Patty is a publicist at Tor Books. She has… What’s that? Publicity Director at Tor Books.
[Mary] I was just going to say…
[Brandon] I’m sorry. She has worked on my books and many other books and everyone’s books and all of our books, I guess.
[Howard] She’s never done publicity for me.
[Brandon] Well, yes, you don’t really have publicity.
[Dan] You’re not cool enough.
[Mary] That’s because everybody knows you already.
[Brandon] That’s true. You’re already [garbled]
[Howard] That one did go on tape.
[Brandon] And continuing our theme from last time, Patty is also a rock star.
[Patty] True story.
[Brandon] So from the Rats of New York, you’re the bass player?
[Patty] Yes, I am.

[Brandon] So let’s talk about publicity for books. Now, new writers often have a lot of preconceived notions about publicity and about what will happen with books and what works and what doesn’t. I’m going to share a little story here first, and then let you get into it. My most eye-opening moment with publicity, and this might actually be more marketing… That’s one thing that authors don’t get straight, is what is marketing, what is publicity. I came in and said, “So we’re going to do some advertisements for my books?” The… I think it was actually Tom who quoted at me the price that it costs to buy an ad in the New York Times. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but he quoted it at me and my jaw dropped and I realized it was more money than Tor would earn off of my entire book’s print run to run one ad. Suddenly, how this works all changed in my head, where I realized they can’t spend more money on the ad, on one ad for one day, than my book will make. This is why you’re not going to be on TV. This is why it’s going to be very rare to get newspaper advertisements and things like this. So, I’m like, “Well, what is publicity?” I had no idea. Patty’s going to tell us what it is.
[Patty] It is good times, my friends, lots of good times, let me tell you. So, basically, our job in publicity is to get the books review coverage. Get the authors interviews. Get them on podcasts. It’s basically getting the book out into the world so that people that are perusing online or in newspapers or wherever they happen to be looking, to get them information about the book and that it exists. It is, in a way, again the reviews and the interviews and people talking about the book, which is to say, an advertisement is… It’s just like a static thing that’s just kind of off to the side of the page. This is more author interactive. We hope. Because the number of books being published, it’s a lot of zeros, probably close to pi. At this point, and I’m talking about self-published and e-only and everything. So that relative to the number of… Before… Newspapers, back in the old days, newspapers used to do a lot of book review coverage. Well, the newspapers are kind of going by the wayside, unfortunately. Also, they’re shrinking, so there’s no longer a dedicated book section in most major newspapers anymore. So it’s really difficult, but still a lot of people are looking for books. Now that being said, there are some really great ones that cover genre as well, since we’re doing a genre podcast. We’ve got Michael Dirda at the Washington Post who is amazing, and he covers a lot of genre and he’s great. [Dav Morinews?] covers genre, [Bill Figure?] Cleveland Plains Journal, LA Review sometimes does it, so it’s very interesting. I’m just talking about newspapers right now, because again, still a lot of people look to newspapers for book coverage and book reviews. Then, when I started in publicity at 24 in 2006, they had just started doing online reviews and we first started to see the blogs and things. It was Patrick’s Fantasy Hotlist and… What was that name?
[Brandon] Oh, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist.
[Patty] Yes, exactly. It was two. It was Pat and it was… Love and respect… Oh, Fantasy Book Critic. With much love and respect, Robert Thompson. Because that’s how he always signs off on email. Much love and respect, Robert Thompson. His name is one word. That is it. In any case, so those were the only two real games in town. But hey, we would take them. Now it’s just grown, I mean, it’s just out of control with the number of online sites and fans and [garbled]

[Brandon] So let me ask you a question on this. How, as a publicity director, publicist, you’re working on a book… How do you distinguish? Like, I will get hundreds of people who want to review copies of my books, and will come and say, “Can you send me one?” I’m always like, “Oh, I’d love to have a review.” But then part of me says, “But we can’t send them to everybody.” How do we determine which of these blogs we’re sending to? How do we allocate our resources? It seems like that’s the most important thing that you can decide, is how do I allocate my resources or the resources the publisher’s given me, the monetary or the time.
[Patty] So, every house is different, but generally publicist get anywhere from 150 to 200 review copies. That sounds like a lot, but when you think that you have to send two to Publishers Weekly, which is a trade magazine, two to Locus, two… There’s certain review places that they want two copies. The New York Times wants two copies, one for the review editor and one for whoever it might go out for review. Let me tell you, every time you follow up and say, “Hey, did you receive this book and will you review it?” There’s a big percentage, I’d say 80% of the time, they’re going to say, “I never received the book.” They did, they just haven’t opened up the package. Because if you’ve ever been in the office of a reviewer, like you’re afraid that one day you’re going to read their obit and they’re going to find just their feet sticking out from a pile of books because they get too many books and so many books.
[Howard] Well, but that’s not a good excuse to not review.
[Patty] Exactly. Because [garbled]
[Brandon] Crushed by Wheel of Time or Stormlight Archive books.
[Patty] Yes. Exactly. Crushed by the Stormlight Archives. In your case, it’s just a one, so… The one book.
[Mary] This book fell off the shelf on to Jason Denzel [inaudible]
[Patty] Exactly. So long, Jason Denzel.

[Brandon] So, Patty, is it… Would you say… My assumption is, having been in the business for 10+ years now, that word-of-mouth is what sells books. Is this our primary method? So it’s really interesting that this word-of-mouth is our method. As I was coming to understand publicity a little bit more, this is one of the things that I started to figure out, is a lot of brands aren’t selling off of word-of-mouth. A lot of like mainstream brands or whatever… Like toothpastes are not selling as much off of word-of-mouth. They’re selling off the advertising. You go into the store, you are browsing for toothpaste, you see the one that you saw the advertisement for, and the advertising on the package makes you buy it. Whereas when you read a great book, you talk about it more, I feel, than you talk about a toothpaste. Unless there’s something revolutionary about it.
[Dan] Maybe your books.
[Brandon] So for a lot of industries out there, what they’re trying to do is brand themselves in the right way so that when you walk by, because everybody wants toothpaste, hopefully, they see yours. Where with books, not everybody reads. A certain percentage of the population is going to read a book for fun next year, and it’s a much smaller percentage than is going to use toothpaste. So our job is not to do the same sort of branding advertising so much as to get some advocates who will talk about our books to people.
[Patty] Yes. You are correct, sir. $500, you are correct. That is true, so that is… That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish by getting the reviews, by getting online mentions, by getting authors that are amenable and have the time to do blog tours where they’ll write blog posts or do Q&As. But another aspect of our job, particularly for me as the director of the department, is I’m trying to get the booksellers excited. Those are the people in the store that when someone goes in the store saying like, “My son likes to read…” But they don’t know what to get them. So the bookseller’s knowledgeable to say, “I have the perfect book for you. You like Regency stories with just a hint of magic? Well, let me tell you so Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey, Without a Summer, etc., etc. That’s my job as a publicist, too, to never stop plugging. But [what you’re assigned to?]

[Brandon] Speaking of plugging…
[Mary] Oh, is it?
[Brandon] It’s time for the book of the week.
[Patty] Already? So fast.
[Brandon] Speaking of plugging, do you have a plug for us of a book that they can get?
[Patty] Oh, God. I wish I was an auctioneer, because I would name every single book that Tor publishes. Because that’s my job, especially with several of my authors on stage here with me and in the audience. But I have to say, the book that I choose to plug is… And this was hard, but then again, not that hard. There’s a woman that… This is her pseudonym, her name is Katherine Addisson. The book is The Goblin Emperor. When I read this book, as… Again, as the director, I have to read pretty much every book that we publish, and it’s very difficult sometimes, and not just because of the amount, but sometimes some of these books are just not my cup of tea because I just don’t like that particular… Hey, we all have that, so I’m just being honest. So I have to be honest, and I told her this… Her name is Sarah Monette in real life. I told Katherine, I was meeting her at C2E2 and I had read everybody’s books that was going. I needed to read hers and I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to read this,” because it was just a type of fantasy that I’m not a particular fan of. I figured I would read 60 books… 60 pages, just to get a flavor of it, and I loved this book. It was so good. It was one of those books where you’re walking and like reading at the same time and trying not to run into anything. It’s a big hardcover, it’s hard to do. It’s just a really great story. It’s a standalone, there is no wait for… You gotta read the next 10 books… Cough, cough.
[Patty] It’s just one book. It is a beautiful story, and it’s really well written. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
[Brandon] I’ve written standalones before. They’re just as long as other people’s series.
[Patty] They are. I know.
[Howard] This one’s available on Audible?
[Patty] It is available on Audible.
[Howard] Outstanding. Head out to audiblepodcast.com/excuse and pick up the Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Do you know who the narrator was? I’m sorry.
[Patty] I don’t know who the narrator was. I apologize. That’s over my paygrade.

[Patty] But I would like to say one more thing. That is thank you. We just won Locus Award’s Best Publisher for the 27th year in a row.
[Brandon] Wow.
[Patty] Let me tell you that we in the office are not… We are all like… You can’t see me because this is a podcast. Basically this look…Aaa! Which is kind of a like surprise, happy, oh my God, my jaws hitting the floor. Because we never expect to win. I mean, I know that sounds stupid, but I don’t want to be like… Oh, that famous actress, Mel Streep, but it’s true. Like we really appreciate it so much, because it’s fan driven and we just never have any idea we’re going to get it. So many great publishers are putting out so many great works right now. We were up against a lot of great people out there. So I just want to thank everybody for voting us again. We always appreciate it. We never rest on our laurels.

[Mary] So, one of the things, going back to something we were talking about before the break, trying to get it out there and having people talk about the book. One of the things we used to talk about when I was doing this sort of thing with theater was that there was a here he that it took seven impressions to make a sale. That someone had to see something seven times, before they remembered it enough to be like, “Oh, that thing. I should pick up that thing.” Do you have a sense of that with publ… I mean, is that something that happens with publicity for books as well, or is that something that is strictly for other types…
[Howard] Do you have cold equations for getting out that many reviews or…
[Patty] No, I mean…
[Mary] Like, is there a critical mass? Like if I get it in enough places, it’ll take off?
[Patty] It’s just… We have had books before where we have… If we do a blog tour, for instance,… A minimum of 20, if we can do up to 40, that’s great, and anything over that, we’re just whoo-hoo! We have had books, I won’t name them here, but we’ve gotten over 100 on line mentions, reviews, super successful blog tour and it just doesn’t do a blip. Conversely, it used to be that authors wanted to be on the Today show, because that sold books. We have another imprint that we do, Forge, and that’s a whole other topic, a whole other show. But we have had authors from that imprint on the Today show and it’s just not even a blip.
[Brandon] Not a blip? Wow.
[Patty] Not a blip, not a thing, not any kind of movement. So it’s really hard to say.

[Howard] Brian McClellan, his Promise of Blood book, I think he’s published with orbit. I picked it up because I met Brian at a convention, and he was a fan of my comic, so… Out of duty, I decided to read his book. It was on sale for like $2.99 or something. I read it and loved it and blogged about it. When I blog about things, I link to Amazon because I need to get paid somehow for giving away things on the Internet. I can track. I have sold 1100 copies of his book. 1100 copies of his book. Funny thing happened, his publicist called me and said, “Can we send you copies of his next book?”
[Howard] At occurred to me that as a publicist, as a publicity director, you probably have your fingers on the pulses of some of these things. How do you do that? Because I would like to be able to get more free books, and I’m wondering how to get on the radar.
[Patty] Well, a well-written… We do, we do have to keep track of a gazillion different things, and that’s why our eyes are constantly rolling in separate directions when you see us walking down the street. But we do keep track of those things. Because we have Lexis-Nexis, which is the aggregator of all the articles that came out, that probably a lot of people don’t know about. Of course, we use Google, so we can tell.
[Howard] Is Lexis-Nexis something that we have access to or is it a…
[Patty] It’s expensive. Mostly, it’s in-house types of people who use it. Basically it’s a way to track articles.
[Howard] Subscription aggregator? Okay.
[Patty] But we would see it through that. Like, “Wow, look at all this activity.” But if a publicist isn’t finding out, and you would like to receive books, a well-written… It doesn’t have to be long, but just tell us what you’re reviewing, how many blog hits you’re getting, a timeframe of when we send you the book… Because a lot of times, we’ll send a book and it doesn’t get reviewed for a year and a half later, which is fine because we want the book to continue to sell, but what if it’s out of print at that point? So we kind of like it to be timely. Please, please, please, please include your street address, because often times if I’m super busy and I get an email from somebody requesting a review copy and they don’t have their address on there… I’m sorry, I just, at this point, I’m going to delete it. Because I just…
[Howard] Don’t have time to go back and look it up.

[Brandon] Patty, I want to go in a slightly different direction with this. Let’s say one of our listeners is a new author, their book is just coming out, and either they have like publicity is just scaring them or they’re feeling like they’re lost. What is your advice for a new author? What steps should they take? What things can they do? How can they work on their own? How can they work with their publisher? That sort of thing.
[Patty] Okay. So the number one number one rule is be nice. Please, please be nice. You would not believe how many people are not nice in this universe. But that’s just kind of an aside. But just have ready… Please know that we have databases that we use, so obviously we’re going to be sending your book to your local newspaper, your local radio stations. We have a great list of science fiction, fantasy… We have it broken down by genre. Like urban fantasy, magical realism, zombies, vampires, cats, whatever… The whole thing. So we have a pretty good list. So we… Writing to us and telling us that we should be sending your book to Locus magazine is just not at all helpful, and it takes time out of our afternoon. So maybe just come up with… If you have like three ideas or something… Of “Hey, here are three different types of pitches you could use. Here’s an idea, use this to pitch, here’s an idea, use this to pitch.” Come up with different… Like maybe write four different posts for blog posts we could use, because bloggers like to receive…
[Brandon] I see a lot of that happen these days. Sometimes… I mean, Barnes & Noble blog will come to us and say, “Hey do you want something…” And whatnot, or “can you do something?” So having a few of these ready could be really useful.
[Patty] Exactly. Have them ready to go.

[Howard] So if you… If the publicist… If the publicity department hasn’t set up a blog tour, are the things that the writer can do in order to get that ball rolling, so that something like that happens? I mean, because sometimes blog tours are effective.
[Mary] One thing that mine asked me was… She didn’t phrase it this way, but if I knew any trendsetters, basically. Like… Trendsetters are people that… Like Howard Tayler…
[Mary] John Scalzi. No…
[Howard] I’m a taste maker.
[Mary] Taste maker, trendsetters… Sorry. Someone people runs from is probably not as…
[Patty] Not as catchy.
[Mary] Yeah. But that would be one of the things.
[Howard] Well, Mary, you’ve got The Favorite Bit on your blog.
[Brandon] Scalzi has one that similar to that.
[Mary] The Big Idea. Which is where I got the idea for My Favorite Bits.
[Brandon] The big idea for your favorite bit?
[Howard] What’s funny is that when I wrote a thing for My Favorite Bit and The Big Idea, and looked at them side-by-side, I realized I am not allowed to write the same piece for both because Mary and John know each other.
[Mary] It’s not that. It’s that we have audience overlap.
[Howard] Well, yeah.

[Dan] When you’re writing something like this, it helps to think outside the box as much as you can. You can only read so many articles of “Here’s what I think of my own book.” The most successful blog tour I ever did was a timeline of the Partials series. Which is not me talking about the series, it was not me talking about the characters or where the ideas came from. It was just a bunch of world building information that was… Ended up being super popular with the audience.
[Howard] Didn’t you do some tour post type things about sociopathy when you were doing the John Cleaver…
[Dan] Yeah. Just trying to get as wide a variety of blog articles.
[Patty] Yes. That’s great. Like have a lot of creative ideas. This whole… About who my favorite writers are and what my writing inspiration comes from, just as much as you get a little tired of hear… Of answering those questions, people don’t really… That’s just not what we want to pitch. We want you to pitch.
[Brandon] You want a really cool blog idea to pitch.
[Patty] Right. Exactly.

[Brandon] If you had it in hand, and Barnes & Noble came to you and said, “We want Brandon Sanderson,” and Brandon Sanderson says, “I can’t write a blog post for you for this.” If you had it in hand, by this new author “We have this really cool thing that this author wrote. Why don’t you take that instead?”
[Patty] Exactly.
[Brandon] Being there for when the authors who already have a slot can’t fill the slot I think is… I’ve seen when new authors get a huge amount of publicity, it’s when a bigger author drops the ball. I’ve heard Pat Rothfuss talk about the fact that there was a big author at DAW who missed a deadline, and they had already set aside all these resources, and Pat’s book was ready. Pat said, “Yes, I’ll do that.” Then suddenly all of this… All of these things happened. So being ready, being proactive, might be the place to be.
[Howard] Let me… I want to go back to this point that you’ve made because it sounds fascinating. As a new writer, putting together interesting essays that touch on your book. Putting them together in advance of knowing where they are going to go and just handing them to the publicist, publicity department, is a valuable exercise?
[Patty] Yeah. I… Well, not… I mean, we don’t want to make you do all the work.
[Howard] But those… But you having that thing means that if an opportunity presents itself, you can just execute.
[Patty] Exactly. Exactly.
[Howard] That’s a thing that writers can and should do.

[Brandon] We are out of time. I would like to make mention, for Patty’s sanity… You may see Patty at a tradeshow or at a comic con or something. Patty can’t buy your book. Patty’s a publicist. Patty does have people coming up to the booth all the time saying, “Will you read my manuscript to buy it?” That’s not a Patty question. That’s Paul Stevens job, and he’s going to be on our next podcast.

[Brandon] Sorry, Paul. All right. We need a writing prompt.
[Howard] Okay. Here is your writing prompt. You need to write an essay that touches on one of your books that will interest people in your book. You’re going to hand this essay to a publicist. Whether or not you have one. Imagine that you’ve got a publicist. This is the essay that you are writing. I think that it’s an exercise that…
[Brandon] That’s a fantastic one.
[Dan] Whoo!
[Brandon] Well done, Howard
[Mary] [inaudible]
[Brandon] You’re out of excuses, now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | August 26, 2014 - 8:29 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.35: What to do when you disagree with your editor

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/08/24/writing-excuses-9-35-what-to-do-when-you-disagree-with-your-editor/

Key Points: Beware the mismatch. Publishers usually understand that you and your editor may not match. Is that a risk there? Yes. Conventions are good places to build relationships. As a writer, if things are not working, saying so will not blacklist you and ruin your career. Not saying anything may ruin you. Make it a business decision, not personalities. Lay out the groundwork and offer an alternative. You may be orphaned, or passed on to another editor. When you have an issue, look at your priorities. “It’s your book, you have to be happy with it.” When you disagree, step back and look for what needs to change — it may not be what the editor thought it was. If you disagree, try a phone call and talk it out. Be aware that the editor has marked all these changes and given them to you — but that doesn’t mean they are beating you up with repeated notes, they are just being thorough. Watch for shared visions! Licensed IP is different — it is their book.

[Mary] Season nine, episode 35.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, what to do if you disagree with your editor.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you’re in a hurry.
[Dan] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Dan] I’m Dan.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] And I have not had as many editors as you guys have had, so…
[Brandon] Well, fortunately, we have a guest star, Peter Orullian. Say hi, Peter.
[Peter] Hello.
[Brandon] Peter Orullian is a Tor author with a book Vault of Heaven and the sequel soon to come out. He’s also had some interesting experiences with multiple editors. He’s a good friend and also a rock star.
[Peter] Thank you. Yes. Know me for that.
[Mary] This is not the metaphoric rock star?
[Brandon] No. He is actually a rock star. We are also…
[Howard] Not the beverage?
[Brandon] Recording live at WesterCon.

[Brandon] All right. Peter. We want to talk about dealing with editors. Now, I get questions about this a lot. Most of the time on Writing Excuses, we talk writing craft, but once in a while, we like one of these episodes where we talk about kind of the real world of writing as a working writer. One of the aspects of working as a writer is dealing with editors. Sometimes you have fantastic relationships with the editors. Sometimes you have less than fantastic relationships with the editors. Sometimes editors that you otherwise have fantastic relationships with occasionally you have a big disagreement. So we’re going to talk about what to do, how you navigate this, how it feels, and what your experiences are. You kind of just went through this. Do you want to outline this to us, what happened?
[Peter] Yeah. So I had this great experience where I had an agent that was not a good match. I fired him because he’d been asking me to write thrillers. So I started to market those thrillers, found a new agent who didn’t want the thrillers but wanted my fantasy which was 10 years old. He sent it to Tor, Tor bought it, and assigned me an editor that was a complete mismatch. He and I… He effectively, in my view, was editing my voice. So as we got into these editorial discussions, it was really, really challenging, because I wanted to do so many different things with the book that was so much older, and he wanted to publish the book he bought. So we butted heads for a long time. Ultimately, it soured to the point where we went our separate ways. What I learned through that… One of the things I learned, with most publishing houses, you have one gimme. They recognize there’s going to be mismatches sometimes. So if your thoughtful about going through your agent and talking to your publisher in a very respectful way, they’ll usually try and find you a better match.
[Brandon] Okay.

[Howard] I would be concerned… I come from the business world. I would be concerned that firing your editor or asking for a different editor is… You’re letting… You’re getting rid of the person who was passionate about buying this book for the publishing house in the first place, and that seems risky. I mean, was that the job that this particular editor had?
[Peter] Well, my case was a little interesting, in that my agent sent it directly to Tom. Tom kind of was the deciding factor.
[Brandon] And at Tor, Tom is the publisher.
[Howard] So you’re safer.
[Peter] I was a little safer. But the thing that happened for me is, I had been coming to places like this for a long time and meeting editors in the dealers room, etc. So at the time, when I realized this really was not going to be a long-term relationship with this editor, I already knew an editor there with whom I was friends. Literally for 10 years, when I’d go to New York, we’d go to dinner. So I broached the subject with her, and she said, “Don’t feel weird. This happens.” She said, “I’ve taken on writers, and I’ve had to give away writers that… Which this has happened.” So what I found was the most powerful thing you can have as a writer is an agent internally who’s going to be a great advocate. So these kinds… These weekends are great because you get to meet those kinds of people. The friendships really are very, very important.

[Brandon] I’m picking up several really important things that I’d like our listeners to highlight you just said. The first off was know that making a little bit of a disturbance as a writer is not going to blacklist you and ruin your career. If you honestly get to the point where this is not working, you’re not being a prima donna to kind of throw your weight around. Even if you have very little weight. It’s okay. I think new writers… I was like this. I’m still kind of like this. It’s like, “Oh, don’t make waves. Agent, don’t make waves. I want people to be happy and to like me. Let’s not make waves.” But sometimes you need to, and you need to be okay, and you need to understand that this is a business and all the editors are treating it like a business. Maybe there will be some hurt feelings, but it will be okay in the long run.
[Howard] We had an episode… I don’t remember who said this, but I think it was an editor who said that he recognized that the very cheapest way for us to put this book into print is for you, the author, to be the person who writes it for us. So you always have that as leverage. You are still the very best way to make this book happen.
[Peter] I mean, there’s definitely a risk, to underscore what you’re saying. You can become the problem.
[Brandon] You can.
[Peter] That reputation will follow you. But I think the inverse is true. Like what I did. I had the same fear. So I spent a lot of time having conversations with writers, with other editors I knew, and approached this sort of as very thoughtfully as I could. So they knew, by the time I got to the point where I said to my agent, “I really do think we have to make a change.” When we approached Tom, it was like, “We understand.” We kind of laid out what the issues were. It wasn’t Peter having a problem… I need… You’re not doing well enough for me. So I think a lot of how you approach it is it.

[Mary] I think one of the things that… When you say you laid it out for them, that it’s very much about making it a business decision.
[Peter] It is your career. Right.
[Brandon] You were proactive. This is the other thing I highlighted I think is really important. You talked about going and meeting other editors, knowing the business and saying, “Here is an alternative. Here is…” You had laid out your groundwork and I really… That’s, I think, very important to this. You aren’t coming off as a prima donna because you’re saying, “This is not working. Here’s something I think will work.” You’re offering an alternative.
[Peter] It should… I would say this. There are definitely personalities in the sort of larger writer-editorial pool in New York. Some of them are challenging. Some writers are a great fit for the particular editors. But when I started to approach this, it was easy for me to sort of convey my case to people because the editor had a bit of a reputation, right? So that worked in my instance. I’m not going to say that’s going to work for everybody, but…
[Brandon] Now I’ve had an experience similar to this with my middle grade books which were at Scholastic. What happened to me is, I got orphaned. Which is an industry term for your editor leaving and you getting handed to a new one. I had done one book of a four book contract with an editor who was passionate and excited about my books, who had bought them and been my advocate, and then she moved to another editorial house. I was given to another editor who acted very excited. They always do, it’s part of their job. But we were a bad match. This editor did not fight for my books, did not really edit my books, kind of had this problem of the stepchild thing, which doesn’t happen to all stepchilds, but the fear is, and what happened to me was that the editor’s books that they had found, that they were passionate about, were more important than my books. My series just completely bellyflopped. First book did gangbusters. Second book, complete just vanish. We had this kind of had experience for the next few years, until finally we bought the books from the publisher and took them somewhere else. Which is something I was able to do in the state that I’m in. But there were two… Three… Really two books in there. The last one got no editorial. It was just sent in, they said this is good. But there were two books where I had to work with an editor with whom I disagreed. You got your first book out working with the editor that you eventually moved on from. Let’s talk about this idea of how to work with an editor.

[Brandon] But first, Howard is waving at me, we need to stop for the book of the week. Peter, you are going to promo Unfettered to us.
[Peter] I am. So Shawn Speakman is a friend of mine and he’s a cancer survivor. He published this anthology called Unfettered of great fantasy writers who donated short fiction in order to subsidize all of his healthcare. Because as a freelancer, he has none. So one, that’s a really great thing for him to do rather than to declare bankruptcy. But the book itself is wonderful. It features Brandon. I’ve got a story in there.
[Howard] Wasn’t that the one that launched at Phoenix… ComicCon?
[Peter] It did.
[Howard] There was a lot of noise about that book. A lot of excitement. I was…
[Brandon] There’s one thing at WesterCon, we have copies at my booth.
[Peter] In addition to the sort of great humanitarian purpose that it has come there’s wonderful fiction in there. I also happen to have written a song based on it, so you should check that out.
[Brandon] Great. How can they get a copy?
[Howard] Audiblepodcast.com/excuse, pick up a copy of Unfettered edited and compiled by Shawn Speakman, and written by all of the awesome people.

[Brandon] Let’s talk about working with an editor when you disagree with them. Let’s try and narrow this down, like hopefully most of our readers, when they have an editor… Or our listeners, when they have an editor, they will usually get along with them, but once in a while, have something with the editor that they just disagree on. Have you guys had this, Dan and Mary? I think we all have. Let’s talk about what you do when you disagree with the editor.
[Dan] I have… I love the editor that I worked with at Harper…
[Howard] That always starts well.
[Dan] I know. I love him, but there was one issue on the first Partials book on which we disagreed very strongly. There was, at one point, one draft of the revision that had three or four layers of tracked changes, arguments, going back and forth throughout the book. There’s a friend, and I saw her here earlier at the convention. She asked if she could read an early manuscript, and I accidentally sent her that one.
[Dan] That had this giant argument where we’re yelling at each other. It was awesome. But the… What I learned from that is really taking a good hard look at your priorities. I think that goes back to what Peter was saying about are you willing to stick with an editor you don’t like. Well, you have to decide is having a horrible career that you hate or is having no career at all because you refused to rock the boat more important than rocking the boat? Or, on a smaller scale, is giving up this one thing that you think is great, maybe you should trust this editor who knows what he or she is doing. I had to learn that lesson on Partials, which is embarrassing because it was like the fifth book that I published. But, take a good hard look at your priorities when these things come up and that can help you decide which way to go.

[Mary] I had a situation with my editor where we disagreed on something, and went back and forth trying to understand what it was, and she’s like, “You know what, it’s your book, and you have to be happy with it, so…” We… I kept it the way I wanted it. The book came out and many of the reviews flagged the same thing.
[Brandon] Oooo.
[Mary] As an error. I looked at it again, and I’m like, “You know what, she was in fact right.” So what that has taught me is that when I have a disagreement with my editor, that I take a step back and recognize that the reaction that she is having is… It’s not the reaction that I’m trying to provoke. So what I need to look at is I may not need to change the work to the thing that she is telling me to change it to come but…
[Brandon] But something’s wrong.
[Mary] Something is wrong.
[Howard] [garbled – you need it not to be broken?]
[Brandon] That’s the number one thing I’ve noticed working with the editor, when something is wrong, usually he’s pretty good. Moshe’s pretty good at saying, “This is what’s wrong.” Sometimes he’s not. He’s misfired and said, “This is wrong,” when it’s really problem three. This is something you cultivate working in a writing group, because I’ve noticed in a writing group, most of the time they’ll notice something’s wrong, but most times they’ll be wrong about what it is.
[Howard] It’s a statement, “The customer can always tell when there’s a problem. The customer never knows how to fix it.”
[Brandon] Now, the editor often does.
[Howard] Right. The editor often does, but sometimes he’s wrong.

[Brandon] I think Mary’s right in truly trying to identify what’s going on here. The other thing that I would say is if you start having a really big disagreement, call them. Because what I’ve found working with editors is… Over writing… We in this field generally are really good at writing. Imagine that. We’re very… We’ve been trained, usually with a university education, to make our arguments and our rhetoric is forceful, as pointed, and as powerful as possible. So when you start going back and forth in your track changes, you suddenly start just getting harder and harder and things like this. If you call the editor, sometimes the editor says, “Yeah, it’s not really that big of a deal. I think it’s just this little tweak, if you make that…” You say, “Well, what if I did this?” He’s like, “Oh, yeah, that might work.” Whereas you’ve had like three pages of arguments over whether to use the word lectern or whether to use the word podium, when it was just a simple thing if you talked to the person.

[Dan] One thing related to that that I run into all the time, and I have to always remind myself, so I want to point this out, is you have to remember as you are going through an editor’s changes to your work that they have written all of them at once and then given them to you. So the changes that you come upon in the manuscript, they don’t know that you already fixed the earlier comment.
[Brandon] Oh, that’s so annoying.
[Dan] So I’ll read through and I’m like, “This is the 50th time you’ve told me that this thing is wrong. I’ve fixed the other ones. I know it’s wrong.” Then I have to remind myself, “Oh, yeah. He wrote this before I fixed all the other ones. I won’t get mad.”
[Brandon] Well, in his mind, he’s like, “It’s the 50th time he’s done this thing. Why won’t he fix it?”
[Dan] When he hasn’t given any of it to you yet to fix.

[Peter] Many of the things you’re describing, I think are part and partial of an editorial relationship. You’re going to hit these things. For me, the thing that I learned going through this sort of rough process with my… A misalignment, and I heard this actually from Jacqueline Carey, she… This is what like hit me because I asked her for the same advice. She said… She talked about sharing the same vision. So what I realized is that the editor that I had… We didn’t share the same vision for the book. So no amount… It’s like getting into the weeds, the comma splices and this… That was not where it was at. It was at the highest level, we were not aligned on what this book and series was. So when I moved to the next editor, that was the first thing I said to her. I said, “Look. You and I are great friends. I know you’ll be professional. But we need to share the same vision on this book and series.” So she read it and the last… Like this is totally gratuitous, but the last thing she wrote me after my last… She says, “You take editorial input like a dream.” So night and day. But we share the same vision on the series now. So that’s… At the highest level, you hope you get that. You don’t always.
[Brandon] That’s awesome. That’s really helpful.

[Howard] The flipside of this… The first thing I did for Privateer Press, Extraordinary Zoology, the editorial process was kind of a train wreck because it got handed off midstream. I was meeting with them to talk about doing other stuff and the conversation we had… I’m going to mirror what Mary said. The conversation I had with their continuity guy and their editor and one of their marketing people. I came out and said, “Guys. It’s your book, you need to be happy with it.” It’s licensed IP. The editor looked at me and was like, “What? No, no, no, no, that’s not what authors say. You mixed those up.” But it’s… I had had a bad relationship, or not a bad relationship, a bad experience, and I wanted to make sure that I was writing the book that they wanted, that it was their vision. That’s just the opposite to what you’re saying.
[Brandon] We should point out licensed IP is different. Working on the Wheel of Time was very different than working on my own books. The Wheel of Time, I would sometimes make these arguments, but then at the end, I would say, “Harriet, it’s your call. It really is.” With my editor in New York, it’s my call. At the end of the day, I will still do what Mary says. If I think… I will say, “This is my vision of the story, this is staying.” I will make that call. You should, I think, have that right as the author to have the final say. You should just listen really, really well to people who have been in the business a long time. All right. We’re going to go ahead and stop. Peter, I want to give a big thank you to you. Vault of Heaven is out right now and the sequel…
[Peter] The sequel is turned in. It will come out in April or May of next year.

[Brandon] Excellent. Dan has a writing prompt for us.
[Dan] Yes, I do. I had one. I forgot what it was.
[Brandon] I even prepared you ahead of time.
[Dan] I know. I remembered what it was and then… Okay, I remember what it is now. Totally unrelated to anything we’ve been talking about. Okay, you’re going to write like a sword fighting scene or a fencing scene à la Princess bride where they’re kind of jabbing wittily at each other with every stroke. But then, you’re going to make the witty jabs part of the magic system…
[Brandon] Oooo
[Dan] That makes the fight possible.
[Brandon] That’s really cool. Well done.
[Howard] Suddenly he really isn’t left handed.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.

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By 'nother Mike | July 30, 2014 - 10:26 pm - Posted in

Writing Excuses 9.31: Critiquing “An Honest Death”

From http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/07/27/writing-excuses-9-31-critiquing-an-honest-death/

Key Points: What people liked about the story? The main character. “I like stories about people who are competent.” When competent characters run up against something outside their competence, that creates good conflict. The concept was good. The pacing was good. The dialogue, the choice of first-person present tense. What’s not working? Secondary characters are too similar. Be careful about maid-and-butlering, and overdoing the information. Beware of world builder’s syndrome. Watch out for technology assumptions. Sometimes when you think you have painted yourself into a corner, friends can suggest a way out. Beware of over-complicated plans. Make sure you know how the main character is involved in solving the problem.

[Brandon] Okay. This is Brandon from the future, cutting into this episode to say, “Yes, indeed, the Writing Excuses anthology is available. It’s called Shadows Beneath. We have it in a gorgeous hardcover as well as in e-book forms on all of your favorite e-book platforms. If you buy the hardcover, we send you the e-book for free. So if you haven’t read the story we’re doing this week, you’ll want to stop right now, pick up a copy of the anthology, read through that story so that then you can follow along with this critique session and see what professional writers have to say about a story going from first draft to last draft.”

[Mary] This episode of Writing Excuses is brought to you by Audible. Visit audiblepodcast.com/excuse to start your free trial membership.

[Mary] Season nine, episode 31.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, critiquing Howard’s story.
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry.
[Mary] And we’re not that smart.
[Brandon] I’m Brandon.
[Mary] I’m Mary.
[Howard] I’m Howard.
[Brandon] And the part of Dan will be played by a rowdy group of European soccer hooligans watching American football for the first time.
[Assorted screaming]
[Brandon] And we once again have Eric James Stone joining us. Thank you so much, Eric.
[Eric] Thanks for inviting me.

[Brandon] All right. So. We have done this with the other people in the Writing Excuses crew, where we each wrote a story and have critiqued them. Last but not least is our friend Howard.
[Mary] Mwahahaha.
[Brandon] Who has written a story and you will be able to go and download this as part of the Writing Excuses anthology. You should go do that right now, before you listen to this, because we’re going to spoil. What we want you to do is read the story. We will include in the e-book edition the draft that Mary and I and Eric just read so that you can read the story, listen to our critique, and have in front of you the original draft so you can see what we went through. But it makes us feel much better if you’ve read the story first because seeing it in its glory and beauty…
[Howard] Because one of the things that we are going to talk about is the fact that what Brandon and Mary and Eric have read really isn’t the whole story. I am stuck and need help getting the characters and the plot and all the things to one of the possible endings I have in mind.
[Mary] The reason we decided to go ahead and do this with a partial story is that we know that this is something that happens to a lot of you. So one of the things we’ll be talking about are the tools that you can use to get yourself out of this spot.
[Brandon] Now, like the other podcasts we did of this nature, this will go longer than the 15 minutes. So be prepared. This is going to be a long episode as we begin to Howard’s story. I’m just going to lead the discussion as I normally do with these. As I often like to do… I don’t remember if I did it with the other ones… I like to start with what’s working whenever I’m doing a critique. Because I don’t want the writer to fix what’s working.
[Howard?] Awesome.

[Brandon] So let’s talk about it. What did we like about this piece?
[Eric] Well, one of the things I really liked is, I like the main character, the security guard. I like stories about people who are competent.
[Brandon] He was very competent. And it was shown to me how competent he was. There was very little telling of that, and it was great.
[Eric] Yeah. So that way… With a competent character, if they run up against something that’s outside their competence zone, that creates some good conflict. This story, I think, as a really neat concept with the whole immortality coming up thing and then is it Death, is it aliens, what’s interfering here? So I really liked the concept there and really wanted to know how it was going to end.
[Brandon] One thing I want to highlight that was working very well for me was the pacing. The way that you included your breaks really enhanced the sense of pacing. You had a nice little zing at the end of most of them. I was just… I was really engaged by this story. All the way through.
[Howard] I remember you actually cursing me when you got to the portion of the document that read “Boneyard” instead of…
[Brandon] I’m like, “What!” You had kind of indicated you weren’t done, and I’m like, “I’m hoping that means he just doesn’t know what to do with the epilogue.” Like I with my story.
[Brandon] I read the whole story, and then you’re like, “I don’t know quite what to do…”
[Howard] Oh, dear.
[Brandon] No, it just stops. I’m like, “Argh. Tayler!” So…

[Mary] I… One of the things that I liked was the dialogue. Particularly because this is first-person, and you’re writing in first person present tense. I like the immediacy that that gives. I also like the character interactions.
[Brandon] I feel like you picked the right tense, and it helps… It enhances the story.
[Howard] That, by the way, is very gratifying, because as I was first writing this, I remember thinking, “You know, I used first-person present tense when I was writing the horror stories for Space Eldritch. I should just go with the straight third person limited.” I could not find the voice for the characters. So I changed characters. The original pitch for this was our protagonist was the CEO.
[Brandon] Oh, okay.
[Howard] But in that version of the story, he was just telling people what to do, and I thought, “This is boring.” He’s not… I mean, yes, he has to think a lot and do things, but all he is doing is telling people things. So I searched characters and it still didn’t feel immediate enough. Then I switched tenses and that appears to be where my stride and the pacing of this story fits. So I’m glad that’s working.
[Brandon] I remember brainstorming this way back when we did it, and even having brainstormed part of this with you…
[Mary] I was still surprised by stuff.
[Brandon] I was surprised by things. It was working real well. I still don’t know what the ending is. Even though we brainstormed the concept, I don’t know if this is an alien or if it’s actually Death or if it’s industrial espionage. I love that about it.
[Howard] Good.

[Brandon] Why don’t we go ahead and look at what’s not working for the part that’s already here, and then for the second half of the cast, we’ll tackle this sort of larger issue of how do I end the story, can you guys help me brainstorm an ending, this sort of thing. Okay?
[Howard] Okay.
[Mary] For me, his seconds are too similar. I found that I was doing a fair bit of confusing of who else was there. I think it has to do with speech patterns, and also his assessment of where they fit into the competencies. Because everybody seemed to be of equal competency levels.
[Brandon] And doing the same kinds of things.
[Mary] And doing the same kinds of things.
[Brandon] But, you know, one of the things that snapped when I learned that Mo was short for Mohammed. Wasn’t it?
[Howard] Yes.
[Brandon] That character suddenly became clearer in my head. It’s the whole Orson Scott Card thing, right? Where it’s not necessarily that he was an ethnicity, but the fact that he was now a longer name, different from the other ones and of a different… Like Orson Scott Card said, “When you’re naming characters, try to make each name distinctive from the others in an interesting way.”
[Howard] That was exactly what I was doing. With regard to their extreme similarity, that is always a problem with me with secondary characters during first and second drafts. It’s not until I have the story shaped the way it needs to be shaped that I can go back in and tweak the dialogue so that the characters’ speech patterns identify themselves a little more directly.
[Brandon] Looking back, at the start you called him Mohammed the first time, but I wasn’t into the story yet. He was Mo for a long time, and then when you called him Mohammed again, that’s the first time I grabbed onto Mohammed.
[Mary] I completely missed… I mean, I didn’t… It wasn’t sticky for me.
[Eric] Yep. It didn’t stick for me either. The one that did stick for me was the…
[Howard] Failalo?
[Eric] What?
[Howard] Failalo? The Polynesian name?
[Chorus] Yeah.

[Brandon] So. Talking about things that didn’t quite work. I’m going to try to start larger and go smaller. I’ve got some text-based things, but we’ll get to those later. I felt that there were a couple of places where the narrative got a little clunky for me. One was there was some maid-and-butlering in the scene between Woolrike? Wollreich?
[Howard] Wollreich.
[Brandon] Wollreich. That’s right, we just had a rike. Anyway, Wollreich and the protagonist chatting and it was like, “As you know, we hired these people…” There was a lot of information in there that as a reader I felt like I didn’t 100% need.
[Mary] I had a lot of that too. I went through and I marked in the text… There were… For me, it was a lot of the stuff about how incredibly valuable this thing was. I’m like, “You know what, I just need somebody to tell me this is valuable and I do not need them to justify it.”
[Brandon] At the same time, in that same sequence, we have like the… Our main character saying… This is… I’m thinking of stepping down or something like that which didn’t seem to work. I mean, I can understand him being shocked, but somebody needs to run security for this. They are going to need somebody. So it makes perfect sense that it would be him. But he’s like, “Oh, I’ve just realized my mission parameters are much larger than I thought. This is a big deal, I’m overwhelmed.” But there was this discussion of “I may need to quit, sir” or things like that. I’m like, “Who’s he gonna… Is he going to hire someone better than you?” I mean, I don’t understand that interaction completely. It was part of this… Do we need all of this? I’ve been presented with a character who’s like, “Tell me what we need to do. I’m going to then take the next few steps.” For him, finding out “Wow, you’re doing this awesome thing. Okay, I will have to deal with that.” Felt like… Anyway…

[Howard] I need to figure out how to fix that, because at least in the way I’m envisioning the further unfolding of the story, the corporate espionage angle here is pretty important and one of the principles behind protecting against corporate espionage is the value of the data in the value of the knowledge that the data exists…
[Mary] But you don’t need to spend as much time on the page getting to that.
[Brandon] That’s what I feel too. This was all good. In fact, I even like this conflict of am I capable of handling this. I just felt there was way too much spinning of wheels in this scene for me. I’m just giving reader response.
[Howard] No, no, that’s good. What I want to make sure of is that that’s not… That the thematic element isn’t the problem, it’s the way I’m over-narrating it.
[Mary] It is.
[Brandon] Right. I mean, one that I highlighted, just to go back, this is like “You know that inbound marketing team we created?” I’m like, “Why do we need to know about… What? They’re doing market research?” I mean, I think in just a couple lines you could say… You could get across the idea of this is how were going to profit on this with less back and forth. I don’t know. This is… I just was bored there.
[Mary] Likewise. It was because I got it really early on. So I think… Like you need a better…
[Howard] Part of this is…
[Mary] You figuring out what the…
[Howard] The world builder’s trap of I have figured out how the CEO and the Board of Directors is structuring this to protect the data as well as they can, and I want to share how clever I am with my readers.
[Mary] Yep. But you don’t actually need it for this story progression.
[Howard] Yep. Dialing back the sharing of the clever.

[Brandon] Although, on another tack, I’m not sure if this is for everyone else or not, but I kind of want to know if you’re going to mention we’ve discovered the secret to immortality. Either to just say that or to go further and say it means this and this or something. I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t the right time for it, but at the end I’m like… What is it?… All he says is “We’ve introduced an order of magnitude increase into human longevity.” The guy’s like, “You’re sure this works?” He says, “Yes.” The reader is like, “What does it mean, you’re sure it’s working? You’ve only had two years. Does it mean our cells are no longer breaking down?” I want a little line of proof.
[Eric] I had some plausibility problems with that as well.
[Howard?] As do I.
[Eric] Now, you can say it’s working in mouse studies or whatever. The original mouse who got it five years ago is still alive or whatever. I don’t know how long mice actually live.
[Brandon] I just need something there. I don’t need all the technobabble, but I need some… I need him to offer our guy some proof.
[Mary] I mean, if you said, “On a cellular level, aging is no longer happening.”
[Brandon] Yes. That right there. That tells me what kind of immortality this is.

[Mary] One of the places that I had a thing of disbelief was that his team, granted all hyper competent and everything, would just happen to carry around bugging equipment on them, when they’re doing a panic call. I’m like… Because he said, “It’s about the size of a wall plate,” when he’s talking about the transceiver. I’m like, “Having the camera dot, I can…” Okay, maybe that’s just in your bag all the time at a place where they don’t want you to do any…
[Howard] No, that’s a good point.
[Mary] They don’t want you to do any of this stuff. But you… I mean, what budget item was your secret bugging equipment on? So that… I had some… I had some disbelief with that.
[Brandon] Wow. That’s interesting. Now you say it, yeah, it pops in. With me, my problem with the bugging equipment was actually that I didn’t have explained to me how it worked. You assumed I knew, and I’m like… When they went in and they’re like, “Let’s download the feed.” I’m like, “What? Why?” I thought you were going to go look at a screen and have someone watching that all the time, he does that’s how security footage works for me and things. I was very confused at how…
[Howard] That’s funny.

[Mary] I also felt that there was going to be a… Let us… We want some live footage of him. I think… I mean, as fantastic as it is, watching them be… The problem with this is that it’s… This is one of the places that you demonstrate their area of competence and how well they work as a team. So for the overall story structure, important. But in terms of getting us the next information we need, all you had to do was to get rid of his prohibition against having the…
[Howard] Yep. You’re absolutely right. Well, and the other thing…
[Brandon] I’m going to go a different direction on this. I’m going to disagree. I really liked that scene.
[Mary] Oh, no, I like it too.
[Brandon] But I think it’s just… Easily justified with simply having him say, “I’d been looking for an excuse to convince myself to bug his room for a long time now. My men knew that. I have not gone forward with it because bugging my employer is not something I do unless I have a good reason.” Answer right there.
[Howard] Yup. That solves it. One of the reasons that it is important to me is that on a story level, the reader needs to be shown that the interloper, whatever he is, Death, alien, whatever… The interloper already knows enough to know exactly where the camera is in to speak to the camera.
[Brandon] Right. And the camera is not the corporation’s. It is our individual’s… Security team’s.
[Mary] No, that’s true.
[Howard] Exactly.
[Mary] That’s a good point.
[Howard] That’s…
[Brandon] That adds a lot of layers to this.
[Howard] We’re swiftly running up against the corner that I’ve written myself into.

[Brandon] Let’s stop for our book of the week, and then let’s go to the corner. Okay? So our book of the week this week… Mary, you’re going to do The Firebird?
[Mary] Yeah. So this is The Firebird by Susanna Kearnsley. This is a book that I picked up because I really like the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, and I went to see what else she had narrated, and she’d narrated this book by Susanna Kearnsley who I’d met at a convention and like. So I was like, “Oh, let me listen to this book.” It’s a little outside my genre, and loved it. This is… It’s urban fantasy… Or paranormal romance, I guess, but… Basically what she’s doing is she’s taking the traditional Firebird tale and she is retelling it in two time streams. One of them is a… I think 1400s Scotland? Maybe 1600s Scotland… I’m a little… I can’t remember now because it’s been a while since I’ve listened to it. The other is contemporary. So you’re getting the quest for the Firebird told through these two different time streams that weave together beautifully and also stand on their own beautifully.
[Brandon] Wow. That’s awesome.
[Mary] So if you want to look at nested narrative structures and really good character relationships, this is wonderful. The only caution that I have for you is that you should not listen to it while you are driving if you are prone to weeping.
[Brandon] Okay. All right.
[Mary] Because it’s got some very effective storytelling.
[Brandon] Well…
[Howard] Audiblepodcast.com/excuse, start a 30-day free trial membership, and pick up…
[Mary] The Firebird by Susanna Kearnsley.
[Howard] The Firebird by Susanna Kearnsley.

[Brandon] All right. So let’s address the big problem. Which is that our story that we were all really enjoying ends. Without and ending.
[Howard] Ends in the wrong place. Let me start by telling you the intended structure of the story is the thing that happens next is that the easy, logical answer for what’s going on is that our protagonist and his team are, for some reason, spoofing everybody with their camera and their tricks. Now this team has been brought into the full corporate secret. So… The bodyguards are there in a room full of the company’s brain trust, and honestly, the bodyguards are all armed. This is a situation that the brain trust is probably very, very uncomfortable with. Their logical action would be to immediately demand that the bodyguards disarm themselves. Which makes perfect sense. It follows…
[Brandon] Well, if I were in this situation, I wouldn’t do that. If I were in this situation, I would play along immediately. If I suspected the bodyguards, I’d say, “Wow, we need to do more research, investigation into this. Let’s set up a better surveillance and see if we can do this.” Then once the bodyguards were gone, then I’d deal with it. I don’t deal with it in the room right there with them.
[Mary] Ditto.
[Brandon] Nononono.
[Mary] When someone is in the room with you and they have weapons, you do not escalate. You defuse.
[Brandon] Yep. So I would try and… That’s… I think that…
[Howard] Okay. You know what, that works even better. That actually works even better. Because what they wanted to do is, they want to get the bodyguards out of the room. What the interloper wants to have happen… And the interloper is playing everybody.
[Brandon] Right. Okay.
[Howard] That is something that needs to be made clear as the story unfolds. This is a story goal. That is what the interloper expects to have happen, is that the bodyguards will be neutralized. Then the interloper and his interloper buddies will materialize in the room and murder everyone.

[Brandon] Okay. Okay, so what you have right now is… We are on our last act of this story.
[Howard] Yes. We are heading straight into…
[Brandon] This is the climax right here.
[Howard] Straight into the last act.
[Brandon] What do you want the interloper to be?
[Howard] Okay. The interloper is… And that’s the other trick, is revealing this information in some way. The interloper is a species of alien that… Some sort of extra dimensional alien that has found a way to feed off of energies released when people die. They can materialize in our plane and kill us, but when they do that, they are exposed to us killing them back. Which is something that they don’t want to have happen. If we just die naturally, well that’s awesome for them, because then… Hey, free food.
[Brandon] If we stop dying…
[Howard] If we stop dying, they all starve. So what they are trying to do is set up a situation in which they can maintain the status quo. For whatever reason, this to them seems like the best strategy.

[Mary] So I’m going to say that this is one of those scenarios where I feel like the bad guy’s plan is too complicated. The bad guy’s plan of I need to convince them to not do this… The plan up to the point of…
[Brandon] Let’s stop this.
[Mary] Let’s stop this.
[Brandon] That works good.
[Mary] That plan all makes perfect sense. The let’s kill all of these guys is really, really… Forgive me… Really, really stupid. Because if you can materialize anywhere…
[Brandon] Yes. You just smashup all their computers and their equipment, for one thing.
[Mary] And then you materialize in their bedrooms at night and kill them in their sleep.
[Brandon] Yup.
[Mary] Smother them with pillows.
[Brandon] Or you materialize in their bedrooms while they’re going to sleep and like, “I’m Death. I can go anywhere you… Let’s prove it. Go and lock yourself in any room you want. I will appear there. I can prove to you I am Death. Now stop what you’re doing.

[Howard] See, that’s one of the problems that I’m up against, because as I was trying to define a… For lack of a better term, a power set… Why don’t they just materialize everywhere? What is the cost for them of materializing and dematerializing? It’s got to be something beyond the risk of being seen. I also wanted to play with the fact that Texas I did some research into Death imagery. The fact that they look like a classic representations of Death is cool, but those classic representations of Death are the last 800 years, 900 years. So either they haven’t always been around for this isn’t what they’ve always looked like. But once I start opening all these cans of worms, the story gets bigger and bigger and bigger and that’s not what I wanted.
[Brandon] I think you were just fine saying, “They discovered our plane about the time these depictions of Death started appearing.” Solves a lot of your problems there. But the bigger problem is this one of how do we end this? Eric? You’ve been quiet for a bit, and you’re really good at this stuff. Do you have any advice?

[Eric] Well, I think part of the problem is how is the main character going to be involved in solving this problem?
[Howard] That is… I hadn’t actually gotten around to describing that. The main character… The way I had imagined it is that either when he is disarmed or when he is sent from the room, realizes that “Oh, this is a scenario that somebody potentially has planned for. Those people are now all in that room without protection. I’ve identified a threat that can materialize anywhere. I need to be back in that room.”
[Brandon] Okay. I think Mary’s argument that they can materialize in the bedrooms at night is really a big deal for this story.
[Mary] Yeah. So… Which may involve… This may be one of those places where you actually have to rejigger your middle a little bit. So it might be that this big scene that we have happening in the office gets shifted to a bedroom.
[Brandon] Right. Or you can rejigger it so that…
[Eric] Is that the right verb?
[Brandon] So that their experimenting with this whatevers… Immortality stuff involves the creatures’ home planet. So because of the science that’s going on in this lab, this causes the creatures to manifest here. They’ve broken open this plane, so it’s not just chemicals. It changes your story a lot. But it gives you a connection there that then it… It’s me, I’m looking for a magic system explanation. This is what I do. Then fixing it is a matter of if they can only manifest here, what do we do? Anywhere we’re going to use this, they manifest, so we come up with a solution that causes that they cannot manifest where were doing our research or something.

[Howard] The original version of… I say the original version of the ending. The ending that lept to mind as the story came to me while I was driving is that there is a fight. We realize that we can kill them. We somehow realize what their plan is, and that their numbers have bloated hugely as our numbers have gone up because there’s so much food. Now there are maybe millions of them, who can appear at will and will need to in order to eat. So we are going to give humanity immortality. Now we need to arm you, because you’re going to have to fight for it.
[Brandon] That’s a cool ending.
[Howard] It’s a really cool ending. I just gotta figure out how to get there.
[Brandon] That’s a great ending. I like that.
[Mary] But you know… I mean, you don’t have to… You don’t actually have to work as hard to get there as… Because all you need is… For that ending, is for your alien to appear and for there to be a firefight and for the alien to be killed.
[Brandon] Yup.
[Mary] That’s all you need. You already have everything in place. So you don’t need to get your good guys out of the room. You don’t need to do… You could actually…
[Brandon] You need to do… Find out the alien, have your good guy make the call that I’m going to go to his house at night, one of these things is going to show up, and I’m going to shoot it in the head or something, like Mary suggested earlier, which could be a valid way to go about this. I don’t know. The discovery that needs to be made is that these are aliens, this is what they do.
[Mary] One of the… If you want to do something with… Like have them look at the tape and be like, “Okay, so there’s… This thing occurs right before he appears.” This gives us a warning signal. So rather than have our guy push a panic thing…
[Howard] Was that… UV scatter? I actually forget…
[Mary] It was UV scatter, and it’s like, “Okay, if UV scatter is happening…” Or “look at the way he’s looking at things. We suspect that he is only seeing in this spectrum.” Or something.
[Brandon] Right. The other thing that you have going on here is that it looked right at the camera. So it saw them. What can it see, what can’t it see? Could it see you because it was watching the room and it didn’t get distracted by this thing? If you palm the thing and stuck it somewhere unobvious… If there were two cameras and it only spotted one of them, it tells us something about the alien that they can use. You need some sort of information about the alien that can be exploited.
[Mary] And something that… It is… Something in our main character’s area of competence. Which would be about threat assessment. If all of the scientists are looking at him, going like, “Well, it’s alien. Da-da-da-da.” And he’s like, “Screw that. This thing doesn’t have binocular vision.” Or something…

[Howard] That’s exactly what I’m trying to set up. Is that he approaches this from threat assessment. They approach this… They come close for threat assessment when they’re talking about game theory and trying to understand what the motivation would possibly before running this sort of a scam.
[Brandon] I kind of like using the theme of the story. I kind of like the ending being him brushing in someplace and shooting the thing, just because it matches the first scene so well.
[Mary] It could be clearly this thing wants to talk to you. Because he’s like, “The only time this thing appears is when this room is empty or when Wollreich is in it by himself.” So let’s set up a scenario where…
[Brandon] You could have a let’s interview the alien scene where it’s like, “All right. We’re going to talk…”
[Mary] I don’t even…
[Howard] That’s… I like that because part of what that can give me is a scene break in which a lot of the discussion among the brain trust…
[Mary] Happens offstage.
[Howard] Yeah, happens off scene. As I talked to Mary about this in the commute from the airport before we stopped talking because we realized we might have a fun episode here… Oh, my gosh, we’re into 30 minutes.
[Brandon] Yes. I warned people. We’re going to have to wrap it up here really soon.

[Howard] I know we will. The… One of the problems I had is I wanted all of this information to be revealed, and I wanted to show instead of telling, but I had too many characters. I had too much information for one character to have it all, and too many characters for a short story to work. But if I can roll that offscreen and have somebody say, “All right. Wollreich, we need you to be in the office by yourself. Here’s the list of questions, and let’s see if this thing comes in.” Our hero has not told anybody that his threat assessment is “When this thing appears, I’m going to let Wollreich start talking, and then I’m going to kick down the door and shoot it in the head.”
[Brandon] See if they die?
[Howard] And see if it dies.
[Brandon] Okay. Well, we do have to wrap up. Hopefully this was useful for you. You can see this kind of story is really hard to feedback as a writer… As a writing group because it’s not done. It’s the same sort of problem we had with my story, where my ending was not the right ending, and we kept searching for it, and it was through the discussion that I got closer. But it is a tough thing to do. We’ll have to see how you do, Howard.
[Howard] This discussion has shown me that the corner that I had painted myself into is shaped differently than I thought it was. The part that I thought was a wall might be a door.

[Brandon] All right. So, writing prompt?
[Howard] You have painted yourself with actual paint into an actual corner, but there is a magic system in which the paint and the corner are significant elements. Why is you have painted yourself into a corner such an important element in this magic system that you’re going to make up?
[Brandon] Awesome. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses, now go write.

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