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Writing is an Art

A response to Want-a-be Writers Versus True Writers

Typically I wouldn’t respond to negative thoughts about a blog of mine.  However, on Google+ I have received some responses from colleagues whom I respect and feel that perhaps they warrant a genuine response.

Arrogance was not my goal in that that post.  I am certainly no expert in all things writing and therefore have no place for arrogance.  Perhaps an explanation of why I needed to post that post is in order.

I had recently purchased a piece on Amazon.com.  It was by far the worst written piece I had seen.  A  lot of that may have fallen on the editor, but clearly it was an example of garbage being published.  This coupled with the comments I have received that my art can be done by anyone with pencil and a paper upset me.

I believe anyone can become an artist of some sort.  It may take some many years of practice and others only a few months.  The fact remains that some people are disillusioned with what their talents are.

People assume that all it takes to be a writer is to write.  Just as they assume all it takes to be a photographer is to take a picture.  Everyone takes photos and everyone writes something.

However, writing your grocery list in Courier font, double spaced,  with one inch margins all around does not make a story.  Therefore you are not a writer in the since of being an artist.

Anyone can become a great writer with time and the right course of study.  The fact remains that seriousness of the art form is needed.  Many self proclaimed writers have not dedicated themselves to the craft, and are generally not serious enough to really succeed.  As I mentioned in “Getting Published” there are many stumbling blocks along the way, in which a person who is not serious will drop off.  However, the steps in that article can clearly be skipped by self-publishing.

Next, I have nothing against self-publishing.  I may very well self published my first novel.  I only used it as an example of how the bad writing can leak in.  As one of my colleagues pointed out, “…I know of at least one author going into his fourth book with a big publisher and I think the quality of his writing is utter crap.”

She is right, while self publishing as made it easier for the crap to get in, traditional publishers have had leaks in their “filters” for years.

 

So in summary, please take this from my previous post:

Writing is an art that is difficult.  You can help struggling artists with good reviews, and you can help readers with bad ones.  While anyone can write, it takes time and patience to become good at it.  How much time depends on your natural abilities.  Lastly, I would never want to discourage anyone from getting into writing.  The hope is that my blog posts will actually encourage you to do so.

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Want-A-Be Writers Vs True Writers

Just because you write, doesn’t make you a writer.

I have recently discovered that writing has this in common with Photography.  Everyone who picks up a camera, takes pictures of their family reunion, and posts them on a Facebook Page they made; calls themselves a photographer.  That is a steamy load of crap.

Photography is an art form and requires a lot more then point and shoot.  Over the years, photography has been watered down by many factors:  Easy exposure, easier to use equipment, easy digital printing, and friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.  The result has been an over abundance of people calling themselves photographers and they have watered down the craft.  Add this to the fact that photography is a misunderstood art form (that is to say most people don’t know what makes a photo art), and the true photographers are ripping their hair out.

Writing is clearly not much different anymore.  First, most people won’t know good writing if it bit them in the ass.  I am not talking about styles, genres, or your own reading preference.  I am talking about a well written story.  There are plenty of books I don’t like, but they were written very well.  It was just not something I enjoyed reading.  Writing, like photography, is a craft.  It takes time to perfect each piece (though a true writer never reaches perfection).  But most people accept anything written on the page that is must be good to get published.

Writing is getting watered down now, just like writing.   Easy exposure, digital printing, easier to use equipment, and  friends/family who won’t tell them they suck.

Easy Exposure:

Anyone can create a Facebook Page.  I have four of them.  Anyone can create a blog.  Twitter, Google+, good reads, and much more.  Don’t get me wrong these are great tools for the Author to use, I use all of them.  However, anyone can slap “Writer of…” on their page.  It makes it harder to establish the true writer’s from the hacks.

Digital Printing:

Lulu, Create Space, and a ton of other print on demand publishers have made it so anyone with an email address can publish something.  Don’t get me wrong.  This, and the e-publishing for e-readers, is revolutionizing the publishing industry.  For years publishers have excluded excellent writers based on editors opinions, agents, and other such problems.  But it has also removed the filter.  This means we are getting all kinds of utter crap out their too.  It makes it harder to know who to buy from and who to avoid.  It has also put an undeserved negative stigma on self published authors.

Easier to Use Equipment:

Word Processors, writer’s programs, easy to use publishing software, and a slew of other programs to help writers.  They are great tools, but again they enable many people to fool themselves into thinking they can write because some program keeps track of grammar errors, or characters, or chapters.  However, most want-a-be writers don’t know anything about plot threads, prose, or even when to use bad grammar.  Have you ever read a book where every character speaks perfect English?  That’s horrible, because I have never met anyone who always speaks perfect English.

Friends/Family won’t tell them they suck:

This is where you can help out.  If you have a friend or family member who writes, and they are no good at it.  Please tell them to stop.  Thank you.

Truth be told, that is hard to do.  At the very least though, please don’t tell them they are good at it.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  You don’t have to tell them how good they are.  Just don’t say anything.

The true problem here is that most want-a-be writers never show their works to other writers or join writers groups.  They assume they either don’t have to share, or they are delusional to their own abilities.

How can readers find good, real writers.

You used to have some level of trust, that if they made it to bookshelves they were at least somewhat skilled in the craft.  That is simply no longer the case.   Anyone can make their way on to Amazon.com.  How do we decipher the good from the bad?  It really is harder then you think.  Many great writers are self published.  They have great blogs, Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, and more.  So how do we really tell?

Well in many cases, it is simply trial and error.  You buy a book from them, they are clearly a hack so you never buy from them again.  Or you buy their book, love it, and can’t wait to get something from them again.  But there is something you can do to help with this.

Read the reviews.  The reviews will tell you what other readers thought.  Read them carefully.  Look for items that are simple opinion versus objective facts.  For example:  “I didn’t like that the entire book takes place in space.” (opinion) versus “There was an entire section of text that was formatted in red ink for no reason, punctuation is missing, and the Point of View changes mid-paragraph.” (objective facts).  Ignore the comments that simply say “it sucks” or “the best book ever”, neither of those gives you any insight to the book.  Lastly, remember rating systems (stars or number scales) are almost always opinion based.

But you, as the reader, need to go one step further.  Write a review.  Most people don’t write reviews on their purchases, despite the fact that nearly every online retailer has the ability to review.  Write a detailed review about why you liked, or did not like, the book.  If it was because the writing was bad, point out examples.  Share both your opinions and facts.  Say you liked it because of this reason and then point out the writing is strong with believable dialogue.  A good well written review helps the Author sell more books, but it also helps other readers know if they should stay away.  Bad reviews are just as important as good ones.  So write both.

I am trying to make it a habit of writing a review on everything I read.  I write reviews on Good Reads, and on the site in which I purchased the book.  You should do the same.  It really doesn’t take much time, especially in comparison to what you spent on reading the book, and it helps everyone involved.

There are a ton of good writers out there.  It is great that it is so easy to find and buy great writing from all over the world.  The downside is that some garbage is getting in too.  Hopefully more people will help the true writers filter out the hacks.  The hacks are what have given self-publishing a bad name.

Lastly, if any of you hacks are reading this.  Study the craft, work hard at it, and chances are you can be just as good as many writers.  Like any art form, writing needs to be studied.  The true writer will study his craft constantly, the hack doesn’t take it serious enough to bother.

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Getting Published (Get Used to Rejection)

So you want to be a published author?  Well, me too.  Many writers do.  There are many ways to get published.  There are short works, there are novels, and of course there is the “traditional” way and the “self-published” way.  I am going to talk mostly about the Traditional Publishing Method, with a focus on short stories.

A Quick Mention to Self Publishing:

I am not downplaying self publishing, but I don’t have experience in it.  You certainly don’t have to deal with the rejection of an editor if you self publish.  It is relatively easy to get the story published in self publishing, but hard part comes in reaching an audience.  You likely don’t have an audience, and getting people to read your stuff is harder then you think.  Don’t think you avoid rejection either.  You have to get rejected by the audience and that can often be a lot worse then an editor.  At least an Editor rejection is between you and them, the public often posts it’s rejection on the web for the world to see.  Ouch!

Traditional publishing is the opposite.  Hard to get published, but most publications have an established readership.

The Cycle of Getting Published

Some of you may have recently seen my post on Twitter:

“Write, submit, get rejected, submit again. Rinse and Repeat.”

This is a pretty accurate cycle to expect when trying to get published in the vast market of short fiction available to Speculative Fiction writers.  I might modify it now to add “edit” after write.  Its a vicious cycle and it can be a damn discouraging one.  However, when you get that first acceptance letter, it can be really rewarding.  You just have to get past the discouragement and press on.  Hopefully this can act as a guide to getting past that discouragement and get you to the acceptance letter.

Step 1: Write

It seems obvious that if you want to get published you need to write.  But you can’t sit around on one short story and wait for it to publish.  You need to write and you need to write a lot if you ever plan to get published.  When you are done with one, move on to writing something else.  Keep writing.  Write in blogs (you can start by leaving a comment on this one), write in writers groups, but above all write in your Works in Progress (WIP).

Your WIP is your ticket to getting published.  I don’t know of any author who’s blog was seen and they were offered a publishing contract.  It is your WIP that you have to get out to the editors.  Find the time to write and do it.

You will improve with each completed story.  You will improve with each submission.  You will improve.  Every author has only been improved over their years of writing.

Step 2: Edit

This is where we separate the hobbyists from aspiring artists.   Editing is where most writers give up, put the WIP aside, and never touch it again.  Editing is where most people give up on their dream of being published.  There are two reason for this:

First, is perception.  They either look at their work and see it as garbage, worthless, and unfitting.  They are harsh to themselves and they get discouraged and they shelf it.  Or, they look at their WIP and see it as gold, the best thing ever written by man kind.  They don’t change a thing.

Second, they get stuck in the editing cycle.  They never stop editing.

Lets go back up to the first.  Perception.  You really need a combination of both these perceptions.  You must be your toughest critic and your biggest fan at the same time.  It is the toughest thing to do.  You have to know what works and what doesn’t.  Truthfully the writer is the only person who knows what’s best for their story.

But your own perceptions can easily get in the way.  You need that second opinion.  This is where your writers groups come in handy.  Share your work with others.  Take a look at their opinion.  Don’t be discouraged by a “bad” critique.  They will make suggestions and point out things you may not have seen.  Then you decide what works for your story and make the changes needed.  Remember you don’t have to accept every suggestion.  But even suggestions that don’t work are more valuable then you think.

The editing cycle is dangerous.  I know many writers on their eighth or ninth draft of a work in progress.  To tell you the truth, they will continue to edit from now to infinity.  They will not stop editing, as a result they will never move on to the next step to get published.  You have to know when is enough.

It may be different for each of you.  But I strongly urge you to set a limit.  For me it is four drafts and done.  I write it (draft 1).  I edit it (draft 2). I get other writers to critique it and I make changes (draft 3).  I give it to my Grammar Cop and make changes (Draft 4).  Then I go to Step 3.

This is not a hard and fast rule.  If there is a major change made in Draft 3, I may resubmit it to my writers group for critiques again.  However, the point is, I know when is enough.  You won’t please every reader, you probably won’t even please yourself.  It will never be “perfect”.  When I read my manuscripts for my published works, I still find things I would change now.  Because I have learned a lot more since I completed those.  It is part of your growth as an artist.

Move on, its best.

Step 3: Submit

Submit your story to a publisher.  Since I am focusing on Short Works that means a magazine, ezines or anthologies.  There are so many of them it is difficult to know where to start.  My tip is to aim high.  Start with a professional market.  A market that pays six cents a word or more.  They pay more, tend to have more subscribers, and what is the worse they can say?

I always start with SFWA approved markets.  It is my quest to join them someday.  After that I go to other pro markets.  Then Semi-pro, then others.

A little research goes along way too.  I use Duotrope.  A free submission tracker program that has tons of markets listed.  If they don’t have them all they are pretty damn close.  They track everything from response times to acceptance rates and everything in between.  They can give you a lot of information about a market.

After pay rate, you should take a look at response times.  Most markets will not accept stories that are awaiting a decision from other publications.  So if you send it to a market that takes five months to reply, your story will be tied up for at least that long.  So keep that in mind when you send out a piece.  It takes time to hear back.  Fast markets take 10 days, slower ones can take up to a year to reply.

Next, look at acceptance rate.  Some markets are very challenging and have less the 1% acceptance rate.  Others, have acceptance rates in the 80-90% ranges.  In my opinion, the latter is worse.  I avoid markets that seemingly accept everyone.  It doesn’t make it a very strong credit in your portfolio.  Often they have small readership because the quality of story is low.  Remember Editors act as a filter to filter out what is either poorly written and, more commonly, what doesn’t work for their readers.  With out a good filter, the quality and identity of the publication goes down.

Last, you may consider electronic or print publication.  Ezines are taking things by storm.  But, some people just really like seeing their name in print.  For me this is not really a factor.  Ezines are a creditable publishing venture now.  However, it may matter to you.

NEVER SUBMIT TO A MARKET THAT CHARGES YOU A READERS FEE!  All money should flow in the direction of the Author.  You should never have to pay someone to consider your works for publication.

Step 4:  Get Rejected

It will happen.  You will get a rejection letter.  It is more likely to be a form letter.  You will likely never know why the editor rejected it.  And you will be disappointed no matter how much you prepare yourself for it.  It is just part of getting published.

I hate this part.  We all do.  I make it a game in some ways.  I have all my rejection letters.

The form letters are the worse.  There is no way to tell what the reason they have for rejecting it.  Most likely it is a simply matter of the opinion of the editor and his/her own taste.  It rarely has anything to do with the author’s ability to write.  There people who simply can’t write, but think they can.  But mostly editors reject stories based on their own subjective opinions.

Personal Rejections are nice, for being rejections.  I have only got one.  There you might get some glimpse into what the editor was thinking.  In mine, the editor didn’t like the ending.  While is was simply one line, it let me know one key thing… the editor got to the ending.  They liked my writing enough to read to the end.  So you might get a glimpse to the editors thoughts with a personal rejection.

Rewrite requests are even better, and rarer.  There is much debate on if a rewrite request is really a rejection.  To me it is.  You can rewrite it send it back in and you are still not guaranteed to get published.  If you get one of these, you have to make the choice to do the rewrites and submit again to the same market, or simply move on.  It really depends on you and what the editor wants you to change.  I have not received any rewrite requests.

Step 5: Submit Again

I get the rejection letter, and I submit to a new market.  Always in the same day, sometimes in the same hour.  Don’t dwell on the rejection.  Submit again.  I don’t even look at the manuscript again.  Some authors do.  However, going back to the edit step, may well trap you in the edit cycle.  The one I personal rejection I mentioned about about the editor not liking the ending.  I didn’t change a thing, submitted it to another market and they bought it.  Point is, that changing for one editor’s opinion may not be wise.

Dwelling on the rejection is the part where many authors, who got past the edit step, fail.  They get that first rejection, begin to think they are not good enough (or at least the story is not), and weeks go by and the story never goes back out.  One editor’s opinion ruined their entire writing career.  Writers have to know that getting rejected is part of the publishing world, and they need to push forward.

I suggest you just move on and submit again right away.  Trying to analyze the form letter, or dwelling on the rejection, will never get you published.  The only way to get published is to submit.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

Really you should do Step 6 right after you submit the first time.  Rinse yourself of that story you just finished, and start at Step 1 with a new idea.  But, I put it as Step 6 because it is just as important to Rinse yourself of the rejection.  Rejection is something humans attempt to avoid.  So in short: Get over it and move on.

Get to work on Step 1 again and get yourself published.

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Writer’s Block

I can hear all of you yelling at you screens:  “Where have you gone Richard?  Why did you leave us?”

I know I have been quiet on here. I haven’t posted in 10 days.  I think in blog time that is something like 3 years.  I have been stricken with a terrible case of writer’s block.  The only natural enemy of the writer.  Well, there may be others, but writer’s block is certainly the worse .

Writer’s block is that horrible condition where a writer has no idea what to write.  In can be minor; like not know what to write on Twitter.  Or it can be severe; like not knowing what to write anywhere.  Writer’s block affects all writers of all ages, there is no vaccine against it, and it often requires lengthy treatments that are not guaranteed to work.  Worst of all it’s not covered by most insurance carriers.

My case was moderate.  I managed to put together a few tweets, I think I got on Google+ with a post, and Facebook got a few posts.  But, I could not think of anything to write, both here or for a new short story.  I haven’t got anymore written on my novel.

I tried all the treatments.  They don’t work.  I brainstormed, I read, I wrote nonsense, I opened the documents to type, and still nothing got down to the page.  I tried hard to get something down on paper some where.  Nothing.  Not even a sticky note on the fridge reminding me to buy my son Ice Cream toppings for his school party.

I had an awesome dream.  I woke up and thought, This will make the most awesome story known to man.  Sure enough, my writer’s block was so severe that I didn’t write the idea down and fell back a sleep.  That is a cardinal sin in the writing community, and I did it.  And now, I still can’t remember even the smallest detail of what that dream was about.  All I can remember now is, You fool.  You could have been the next Heinlein, and you didn’t write it down.  Your note pad was arms length from your bed and you were too lazy to write it down.

Then yesterday I got a rejection letter from a publication for my latest short story.  Its okay, it was only the first market I have sent it too so I was not really surprised.  However, when you have writer’s block it is a bit more discouraging.  I sent it off to another publication as I promised myself  I would always do.

And then I had a great idea for a blog post.  I will write about Editors.

Then I realized that might be career suicide if I wrote down what I was thinking of editors after getting a rejection.  So I decided that post should probably wait.

Well then my Van broke down… yes I drive a mini-van.  Stop looking at me like that.  Men drive mini-vans too.  Well, as you have read in other threads, writing provides stress relief for me.  Well, I needed it and I still couldn’t think of a damn thing to put on paper.

Then today, I went through my routine.  Checked Facebook, Checked the Facebook Author Page, Checked Twitter, Checked Google+, and then I got to this site.  And I thought to myself, I need to blog.  My adoring fans need to hear from me.  It has been three blog years since I posted.

It didn’t work.  I couldn’t think of anything.  Then after going back to Facebook and then back to this site.  It dawned on me.  I should write about the tragedy of Writer’s Block.  And so, I give you this post.  I managed over 700 words here.

I AM CURED!

So what is my point is all this?  I am not sure I really have one.  Give me a minute, let me see if I can make one up…

Okay I got it.

Writer’s Block is a debilitating disease to a writer.  And really only time can cure it.  The more you force yourself to writer something the more resistant the disease becomes.  Sometimes you have to just take a break and let the disease run its course.  And when you are ready you will have something great to write.  Or at least something to write.*

If you have suggestions on how to cure Writer’s Block, please feel free to comment.

Now if you will excuse me, I have things to write.

*Note:  The statements made in this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA, your 
results may vary.
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Shining in Crimson By Robert S. Wilson

Today Shining in Crimson (Empire of Blood) by Robert S. Wilson was released in the Kindle Version with the Paperback and Hardcover editions set to be released October 2nd.  You can check out his website to see more about it, or visit Amazon to buy eReader version.  Also you can follow Shining in Crimson on Facebook.

Now that you can look up what I am talking about, I thought I would explain why I mention this particular book release.  Robert and I are both members of the Hatrack Writers Workshop (or Hatrackers).  In early February I came across a post in our Fragments and Feedback section in which I read an intro to a Vampire book.

Typically this is not my genre and I tend to steer away from it.  I don’t remember why I chose to read this, but I am glad I did.  I was hooked by the style of this small opening fragment.  I offered to review the whole thing.  I had not read a critiqued a novel before, but if I can help I figured I would try it.

I spent the rest of the month reading over three chapter blocks.  I offered my advice but truthfully I fell for Robert’s characters, their struggles, and the overall plot.   And I continued to push him to send me more chapters, while he continued to try to get them edited.  And, like most stories I truly love deep down, I was a little sad when it was over.    From the time I read that draft to now, I would say that I gained a friend in Robert.

It was a really good book, and I generally don’t care for Vampire stories.  Perhaps it is my limited knowledge of the genre.  Perhaps it is the way Twilight has transformed the mainstream vampire story.  I don’t know why I don’t care for the genre.  However, Robert changed my mind.  Or at least opened my mind a little.

This is not the Vampire story where the vampires are hunky men, and you have to join Team Mark or Team Sam.  This is about Hank, the Main Character who finds himself charged with a crime and sentenced to visit Necropolis, a city belonging to the Vampires now.  This is a sure death sentence, but Hank is desperate to survive for the sake of his son.

There are several plot threads to this story giving it depth and forward motion.  I found myself turning pages with ease as I hoped for the success of the various characters.  I’ll stop here.  It’s time for you to pick up your Kindle and read Shining in Crimson.

I have chosen to pre-order the paperback version which will ship on October 2nd in honor of Robert’s mother’s birthday (who passed away in 2006).  If you wish to pre-order a paperback or hardback edition you can do it here.  If you are on Goodreads you can enter to win a copy here.

At the very least, pick up the Kindle Version for only 99 cents.  It will be the best dollar you ever spent.

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It’s Not About the Money (The True Joys of being Published)

On August 31, 2011, I officially became a published Author with my Flash Fiction piece “Death Watch”  in Liquid Imagination.  This was a remarkable thing and such an unbelievable accomplishment.  I had not planned to reach the goal of being published so quickly.  After all, I had not started submitting anything for publication until March 2011.  “Death Watch” is only the second short story I have written, and the first Flash Fiction piece.  So frankly, I was over joyed to have it published so quickly.

Okay, enough bragging.  Lets talk about why being published is so much joy.  Truthfully I thought seeing my name in print would be the coolest part.  That seems to just one of many cool things I have found.  But first, lets talk about money:

The pay check is not the satisfying part at all.  In fact, I was surprised how little I care about it.  If you write for money you will be sadly disappointed.   At SFWA defined pro rates, you would have to publish eight hundred and forty thousand (840,000) words a year in short stories to make just $50,000.  And out here in California, $50,000 year doesn’t go far.

To put that in perspective, that is 2300 words a day with no days off.  Now editing, and submitting come into play.  Editing takes a lot more time than writing ever does.  And lets not forget that some of the most simple of editing changes can cause massive rewrites.  Submitting takes even longer.  You can usually only submit to one market at a time, and then you are at the mercy of the publication to respond.  Some publications take a long time, others are really fast (usually to reject it).  From the time I finished “Death Watch” to the date it was published was just over five months, and I am the exception.  Many of my fellow authors have waited years to get one story published.

So, assuming you can get 2300 words a day written, and you can get accepted by pro-rate markets, and they accept you fast; then you will make okay money in the writing of short stories.  More realistically you will try to turn out one short story a month (a goal I have not even achieved yet).  Assuming your short story falls into the normal range of two to five thousand words, you are looking at roughly $1440 to $3,600 a year.  This of course assumes they all get accepted at pro rate markets.

So if you are writing for money, sorry to shatter your dreams.  However, if you are like most of the Authors I have met you don’t really care about the money.  You find other joys in being published.  Joys and satisfactions far better than money.  For me, my goal was two things:  To share my stories with an audience that would enjoy them, and to see “By Richard Flores IV” in print.

I am here to tell you that is just the beginning.  In  less than four full day since I was published, I have discovered so many other things that are fulfilling to being published:

On the day I was published this site saw a 50% spike in traffic to this blog.  The unique views were the second highest they have ever been (the highest was the day I created it).  And people were looking at more of my blog then the home page!

WordPress reports that one of the common search terms to get to this blog is “Richard Flores IV”.  People are searching for me!  People want to find me!

WordPress also reported today that some one searched “Flash Fiction by Richard Flores”.  So not only was someone searching for me, they wanted to find more of my work!  To that person (and others looking):  I have another story due out in October in Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  I find it very inspiring to see that people enjoyed my work enough to want to find other things I have written.  That alone could keep me writing indefinitely.

Feedback!  I am getting an overwhelming amount of feedback on people’s thoughts about “Death Watch”.  People are sending me their praise, and I enjoy that a great deal.  I like to know that people enjoyed reading my story.  But even more so, I like the emails coming in telling me what they took away from my story.  People have sent me a number of interpretations that I had not planned when I wrote it.  It gives me satisfaction to know I wrote something that had a deeper meaning to my readers then even I planned.

Inspiring others to write.  Two people have told me that my talks about writing have inspired them to either write or resume writing.  That makes me feel good!

Perhaps the best part of being published is this (and it ties in all of the above):  I have readers!  After all, the real reason any of us become authors is to have readers.

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New Story Published

Today Liquid Imagination published Issue 10 of their online magazine.  They are a remarkable publication that merges artwork with stories.  I am really glad that my first published work is with them.  I hope you all enjoy it as well.

Please read Death Watch in the Micro Fiction section.  I am proud of this piece as it is the first ever Flash Fiction piece I have ever written.  Flash Fiction is fiction under 1000 words, and it can be incredibly hard to write a fulfilling story in such a short length.  I originally wanted to try it much later, but when this idea hit me it felt right at its current length.

Read Death Watch here:  Then enjoy some of the other great works in the current issue.  Please share the story with your friends and family and feel free to let me know what you thought.  Also, feel free to let Liquid Imagination know by visiting their Facebook Page.

Thanks for reading.

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The Author Who doesn’t Read

Don’t worry, I am not one of those.  In fact, it was reading that inspired me to write.  However, it amazes me how many aspiring writers who have told me they can’t read.  Not because they are illiterate, but because it “gets in the way” of their writing.  Some have even told me they don’t like to read.  Others write in a genre they never read or don’t like to read.  This really amazes me.

An Author who doesn’t read is like a painter who has never seen art.

Reading can not get in the way of your writing career.  It has to be part of it.  It doesn’t matter what you write, you need to know the genre.  This is true for many reasons.

  • Writing is an art, you can learn a lot from other prose.  You can see what you like, and what you hate.
  • Reading expands your own knowledge.  Even if you read fiction you learn a lot about punctuation, dialogue, and even a few new words.
  • If you are trying to get published you will learn what publishers are buying.  This is also true for short stories, you can learn a lot about what an editor likes by reading their magazines.  It will save you a lot of time with submissions if you see that publication doesn’t much care for your style.

Recently I noticed my reading time had fallen by the way side.  I am behind on my favorite magazine.  My solution, I bought two more books.  I have now made it a point to make time to read every day.  At the very least I read the story of the day on Daily Science Fiction.  They email me a story every weekday, and of course who can resist reading email.  I can’t.

If you hate to read, don’t write.  If you think you will get rich, you are wrong.  If you don’t read a particular genre, don’t write in it either.  You don’t know the genre, write in a genre you read.  Or , pick up a few books from the genre you are writing in, and see what they are like.  I hate nothing more than the aspiring Sci-Fi writers who think it’s all about spaceships and geeks.

Next, no matter what genre you write, for me it is Science Fiction (mostly), you need to read other genres.  I have read the classics, Romance (ugh), Horror, Westerns, and many others.  Some I have liked, others I hated.  With the exception of Romance, I have found at least one novel in every genre I have read that I like.  Even better, each of the books I read (even the Romance ones) made my Science Fiction writing better.

Last, you have to read some non-fiction too.  Writing help books, current events, even the newspaper are all good things.  Once thing about Science Fiction is that you really have to understand the workings of our current world in order to create new ones or speculate how ours might be changed in the future.

The Author who does not read, will ultimately fail.  While writing is time-consuming you have to dedicate some of that time to reading.

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Muse (Where I get my Ideas)

Once people found out I was a writer, and more so now that I have this blog, the most common questions I get is this:

“Where do you get the ideas for your stories?”

My answer is always the same.  Getting the ideas is the easy part.  Taking that thought and making it into a story is the hard part.

I think the common misconception about writers is that we get the idea for a whole story in our heads in a flash of brilliance and inspiration.  It has been my experience that is not how things really work.  I have yet to have a sudden epiphany and instantly a whole story come to my mind.  It is usually one line that come to mind, or even just a fleeting thought.  Odds are you have had one too.

For example, you may have wondered “What if the sky was green?”  or “What if I could visit Venus?”  That’s all it takes for me to get started.  I start thinking about it.  How would life be different under a green sky, could it change our skin color?  Could it change the way things look around here?  I play with the idea in my head until I am either ready to write about it, or I throw it out.

That’s right, not all my ideas became stories, I’ve had to throw a few out.  Throw them out is not really accurate.  I keep a book of my random thoughts and ideas.  Since I think of them a lot at night, and have a nasty habit of forgetting by morning, I write them down.  Some have turned into stories, others are still sitting there.  Some of them joined with other ideas in the notebook and their love child became a story.

So when do I think of all these great ideas.  All the time.  At night when I am about to fall asleep.  Some come from dreams I have had.  I have to write those down in my notebook fast since I forget my dreams easily.  At the gym on the treadmill, I mull many a story idea over there.  What else am I to do walking all that time and getting no where?

Ideas come all the time.  Its the ones that stick in my head that become stories.  The ones I can’t seem to stop thinking about.  They grow in my head, until I am dying to write them down.  I have to constantly ask myself, “So What?”  The sky is green, so what?  So, I can visit Venus, now what?  As I keep asking myself what is next, the story just form in my mind.

However, that is hardly the end of it.  The next challenge is getting the idea on paper.  Developing the right way to say things; to paint a picture with my words.

What do I like to do to help me catch my muse, to keep coming up with those ideas and playing with them in my head?  Music is always a good way for me to clear my mind.  I mentioned above, the gym always works for me.  Sometimes a long drive also helps.  Some authors find reading helps them.  I tend to get wrapped up in the story I am reading, and while reading is very inspirational, it doesn’t allow me the chance to play with my own ideas.  But, I know it works for many.

So, while getting the ideas is easy, using them is hard.  That is what really takes time.  Good luck with yours, you just may have the next big idea just waiting to be developed.

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Weddings (and my thoughts on romance in writing)

What is it about weddings that gets everyone so worked up?  Is it the romance in the the air?  Is it the idea of a new couple starting a life adventure together?  Is it witnessing young love?  Or is it the free food?  I don’t know.  I am hardly an expert on romantic endeavors, which is why I write Speculative Fiction.

That was was thinking yesterday, as I attended my Aunt and Uncle’s wedding vows renewal.  I didn’t know wedding vows had an expiration date.  I will be checking the back of my marriage license later to make sure.  Anyway, it was good fun with a small ceremony, toasts, lunch, desert, music and dancing.  And while typically I don’t enjoy wedding ceremonies, this one was just how I like them – short.

The celebration of love and a new life together is exactly what weddings are all about.  Whether it is a small wedding in the gardens followed by a backyard reception (like mine was), or a full blown out spectacle, it should be about love.  Try not to get wrapped up in costs and one-uping other weddings.  Weddings should be about the couple and not about money.

Now to tie this into writing…

There is a great running gag that we fans of Speculative Fiction know little about romance, I even made such a joke in my opening paragraph.  It seems to be thought that we are all inept in matters of love and women.  But, I think its just another stereotype that has been circulated out there so much it is accepted as fact.

Some of the most romantic scenes I have read come from Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.  Scenes which truly create the feeling of love between the two characters.  Realistic scenes that evoke emotions I have actually felt.  Perhaps it ties into good character development.  I care about these characters so when I see them in love, I feel it too.  Or perhaps we Sci Fi writers are more refined in the art of love then we are given credit for.  I think it is a little bit of both.

Creating a believable romance scene takes time.  Many confuse romance with sex, and this has to do with the least romantic of all the genres…  Romance.  I recognize that as my opinion, but I don’t find romance novels the least bit romantic.  They are hardly real, believable, and the characterization if often very shallow.  They run from one sex scene to another. They feature bare chested men with unrealistic muscles sweeping young scantly clad women off their feet.  Often rescuing the woman from an evil man who some how hurts her with words or violence.  I don’t find the situations they present realistic and I could care less about their characters.  I realize this is my opinion, but this is also my blog.

So, what makes a believable romance scene?  It is not the scenery, its the characters.  Why do strong characters have better romance scenes?  Because it mimics real life.  I watched a guy on TV propose to his girlfriend during a kitchen renovation.  I can guarantee that was the most romantic experience for that woman, not because of  scene (it was a demolished kitchen) but because it was thought of by him and meant something to her.

Think about all the romance you have experience in your life…. was it ever really the scene?  Even if it was a moonlit beach on white stallions, was it really the scene?  Likely not.  It was romantic to you because it was shared with your romantic partner.

The same is true of books.  Strong characterization will lead to the feeling of romance between your characters simply because I (the reader) know your characters so well.  The romance will come to me because I am sharing this experience with your characters and I care about them.  The scene, the circumstance, and the rest will fall in place.

So you have strong characters, what’s next?  That is really up to the characters, isn’t it?

So as I enjoyed the romantic event of my Aunt and Uncle renewing their vows after 25 years of marriage, I thought of all this.  After all the event was romantic because I knew the characters and I love them.

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