Writing Archives

March 02, 2004

Big guns in translation

I'm looking for a translation or near equivalent to "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Latin (or possibly Greek, Akkadian, or any other of the not-really-used-these-days languages).

Any suggestions?

Continue reading "Big guns in translation" »

March 30, 2004

Two shots away

Well, almost away. I have just finished printing two stories, one to be sent to the L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Contest (which seems promising, and hopefully is not a front for that pesky cult he founded), the other to be submitted to F&SF. Both are SF stories, though both are quite near-future, as I find myself tending toward.

I have adjusted my chances of seeing these stories published from zero to nonzero. We'll see how it goes.

April 22, 2004

Formish or not?

Back from Japan, and it was pretty cool. I'll post more on that later, once I've finished my writeup.

On returning, I found this rejection from Fantasy and Science Fiction:

Many thanks for giving me a look at "On Mount Helicon," [that'd be my short story] but I'm going to pass on this one. This story's told well, but ultimately it didn't quite win me over, alas. Thanks anyway for submitting it, and best luck to you with this one,

Yours truly,

Gordon Van Gelder

Now I don't think this is exactly like the other one I've received from Mr. Van Gelder (which I forgot to look at this morning), but I'm curious how it compares to those received by others from the same source (just went back to look at Cataptromancer's, which appears to be different).

Of course, some organization last night revealed that I have several stories that have only been submitted to one place each. Tsch. All SF, too, which means they have at least two more viable targets in the print world each.

Continue reading "Formish or not?" »

April 24, 2004

Three more away

I became organized and realized I had some stories sitting around that had been rejected only once each, from a couple years ago. After going through and catching some disturbing errors in them (free advice: proofread your stories in printed form, rather than on screen...I'm not yet sure why, but I and others do seem to edit better this way), I'm sending them back out, two to Analog, one to Asimov's.

With more shuffling of targets awaiting any story that's rejected on this round.

It was rather nice rereading my older stories...I enjoyed them, which is, I think, a good sign.

So once these are mailed, I'll be waiting on seven submissions of various kinds (one being the scientific paper I've recently submitted, which is sort of its own category...)

May 25, 2004

Aced twice by Analog

I received two short story rejections in the mail yesterday, in Analog's particularly impersonal style. Both stories have now been rejected by F&SF and Analog. Time to find the next target.

Still pending are a story at Asimov's and another in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest.

June 21, 2004

They quarterlike me!

At the end of March I sent a short story to the L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of The Future contest (which targets unpublished or barely published SF authors). On returning from the Bay Area this weekend, I opened this letter:

Dear entrant:

Thank you for entering the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of The Future Contest. Your entry placed in the quarter-finals of the 2nd quarter 2004 (January 1 - March 31, 2004).

Judges for the quarterly judging are Doug Beason, Gregory Benford, Algis Budrys, Anne McCaffrey and K.D. Wentworth.

We commend your achievement and hope you will submit another entry for the 3rd quarter 2004, which closes June 30, 2004.

This pleases me. I'll be sending in another entry.

Continue reading "They quarterlike me!" »

June 29, 2004

More Writing for The Future

Per their request (and it's good they reminded me the next quarter was about to close out, or I would have missed it) I'm mailing another short story off to the Writers of The Future contest. We'll see if they like this one, too.

If I do this enough, I'm going to have to write some more short stories. For now, though, the dissertation takes precedence.

Oh, and because my boss doesn't understand calendars, my defense has been bumped to August 11.

December 19, 2004

Writing a novel, again

I'm thinking of writing (another) novel. I've written a number of short stories in the past couple of years, but I'm pondering something that Orson Scott Card once said, which is that the startup cost for writing a short story is basically the same as that for a novel. The upshot of this idea is that if you're going to write, say, 120,000 words, then your time expenditure goes as such:

12x10,000 word short stories: Startup time (X) plus completion time (Y) per story -- thus, 12X+12Y.

120,000 word manuscript: Startup time (X) plus completion time (12Y) -- thus, X + 12Y.

Thus, I may just go ahead and write a second novel, while pondering if I can actually do anything with my initial attempt (which was written in 1999).

Any thoughts?

Continue reading "Writing a novel, again" »

December 21, 2004

Writing, TiVo

I don't typically do that "music listening to" bit, but I am listening to Nikka Costa (from some Buffy songs collection) playing on the television through a wireless connection between laptop and Tivo. Booyah.

I'm continuing to think out what I want to write about as I start on a second novel. I'm going for much more preplanning on this one, and I have definite /themes/, which is a plus.

That, and my upcoming job won't suck the soul out of my day, I think, so I'll actually feel sane and able to kick out an average of a thousand words a day or so (which gives you a 200-page novel in just under three months). We'll see if I can hold up to that average once I start writing, but when I did the first one, I hit five thousand words a day. I had more time then, but that honestly represented only about four to five hours of writing. After five thousand words, I'd just kind of bump up against my sanity limit. Still, twelve and a half pages a day isn't bad, and two and a half pages a day don't suck, either.

...and now I'm listening to an entirely different song from the Buffy collection. I guess that would obviate listing a specific song under "music" (though I went in originally intending to listen to Rasputina, before I started wandering through all the other songs that have been left for me on this computer).

February 11, 2005

The mail brings...

Oh, Analog. You are so cold in your form letter rejection. But Apple is cuddly, buying me off with a rebate.

That's what my mail brought me today. The upshot of the rebate is that the original purchase was made with a gift card, so I've effectively managed to convert some frozen gift card money into actual, negotiable currency.

The short story, sadly, has not been converted into anything at all.

April 15, 2006

True West and what a character needs

Yesterday, Littlestar and I went to see True West at the San Jose Stage Company. It was nice to see a play in such a small venue.

As we'd gone with a mass of animation/illustration students, there was a Q&A with the actors afterward. This showing of True West featured:

Joanne Engelhardt
Rod Gnapp
Randall King
Gary S. Martinez

Though I didn't take extensive notes, Gary noted (and everyone agreed) that you primarily look to the text to understand your character -- both in your character's lines and in what else is said about that character. Joanne Engelhardt, for example, only appears late in the play, but the first five lines of the play describe her character, such that you have an image of her in your head the whole time.

Given this emphasis on the text, and the fact that they were working from the material of a solid playwright (Sam Shepard), I ended up asking, "What do you do when the text is bad?"

Rod gave me an answer that I found helpful for character motivation in general: "Pick an objective and an action." He also described it as, "A desire and a verb."

So, basic character = Objective + Action or Desire + Verb

Good way to look at it.

April 18, 2006

Race when there are no constraints

A little while back, M posted a link to a Pam Noles essay on race in SF, along with some of his own thoughts and observations.

These days, when I write something I'm generally inclined to put in a fair range of ethnicities and to pretty much split my character distribution by gender. For example, the protagonists in Inhabit are a white girl, an Asian boy, an African girl and another white boy (this was targeted for a certain magazine originally, or I probably wouldn't have had two white folks...). The characters in my SF pitch Pathfinder are a mixed Indonesian-Dutch group, with the two leads on the ground being Sutiati and Hans. All the characters in the fantasy pitch Righteous are sort of Asian-esque, though I admit this one does have an actual princess as the only real female protagonist. ...and the leads in the future-superpowered adventure story Atopia are white and Philipino (and a guy and a gal).

I caught myself today thinking about a new fantasy pitch and deciding that all the characters would be black, then coming up against a biological limitation -- in that long-standing agricultural communities tend to pale out (probably from malnutrition, lack of vitamin D). Then I thought, "Well, I was going for a fairly fantasy-esque idea with some fantasy physics in there, so there's no reason I can't ignore that little bit of biology as well." Of course, the immediate follow-up thought was "If I really, honestly did a story with all the characters black, how much of a barrier would I come up against in trying to pitch that? As a comic series? As a book? As a movie?"

The unfortunate thing is that producers might just say, "Sure" and go ahead and make everyone white. This makes me sad, for the obvious cultural segregation and disenfranchisement reasons and because it's so boring. Having such a tight limit on non-whites in entertainment means that (1) it's all white folks, all the time and (2) it's all the same non-white folks, all the time. It's silly and stupid that I can say, "Oh, it's the generic Asian old guy" and M knew exactly who I was talking about.

May 17, 2007

Creative outlets

Do you have an urge to write stories in the Warhammer 40,000 universe? Interested in the topic of wholesale planetary destruction?

GW's Black Library imprint is running a short story contest looking for material for its Planetkill anthology. Click here to learn more.

If, instead, you have a comic all ready to go and want to pitch it to the nice folks at Platinum, you can click here to learn about their Comic Book Challenge.

The entry deadlines are May 21st for the Black Library contest and May 31st for the CBC.

May 22, 2007

For aspiring writers

This thread on the Black Library's discussion boards has a neatened-up version of the Turkey City Lexicon, a long-running guide to major writing issues, with a special emphasis on science fiction writing. The BL version I'm linked to has a bit of additional commentary relating specifically to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but that shouldn't be a problem even if you aren't familiar with that setting.

Some favorites include:

Plot Coupons

The basic building blocks of the quest-type fantasy plot. The "hero" collects sufficient plot coupons (magic sword, magic book, magic cat) to send off to the author for the ending. Note that "the author" can be substituted for "the Gods" in such a work: "The Gods decreed he would pursue this quest." Right, mate. The author decreed he would pursue this quest until sufficient pages were filled to procure an advance. (Dave Langford)


The unwitting intrusion of the author's physical surroundings or mental state into the text of the story. Authors who smoke or drink while writing often drown or choke their characters with an endless supply of booze and cigs. In subtler forms of the Dischism, the characters complain of their confusion and indecision -- when this is actually the author's condition at the moment of writing, not theirs within the story. "Dischism" is named after the critic who diagnosed this syndrome. (Attr. Thomas M. Disch)

August 23, 2007

Writing question for the day

When writing for a largely American audience, I think it's fair to say that if I leave out any major descriptors of a person's appearance, most of my readers will assume that the person I'm describing is caucasian (meaning white, rather than, say, from the Caucasus). In writing contemporary fiction, it's easy enough to "tag" a person up front so that readers know not to default to "white." For example:

"A Pakistani gentleman walked across the room, clutching his briefcase in his hands."

Now, even absent additional description, the reader can orient themself in general on the person's appearance.

In writing a work for fantasy that is not meant to be grounded in reality, however, I do not want to put the following terrible, terrible kludge down on paper:

"Prince Tormai, who looked rather like a Pakistani, surveyed the room from his throne."

Kind of breaks the mood.

In that case, I need to default to a physical description. Dark hair, fair skin, blue eyes, green eyes, prominent cheekbones, freckles, and so forth. This brings me, however, to the following question, which fortunately isn't a problem for me during my current writing, but will come up in the next thing I work on:

What's a good, concise way to describe someone with East Asian (that is, covering the general range of Korean, Chinese, or Japanese) features accurately, such that people get the right idea, but without kludging it -- and without any easy outs such as having the person in question have an "Asian-esque" name?

In other words, if Linda Jones of the steppe tribes actually looks Mongolian, what's the optimal way to convey that?

October 05, 2007

Open submissions seasons is on at Wizards

Wizards of the Coast's adult speculative fiction line is currently at the beginning of its annual open submission season. The season runs from September 1 to February 1 of each year, and is the time during which Wizards accepts unsolicited submissions for novels from anyone, agent or no (if you have an agent, you can submit year 'round). Their requirements are:

A one-page cover letter
A signed legal agreement
The first three chapters or thirty pages of your novel, whichever is shorter

They helpfully remind you to also please actually have written a novel, because if after the 4-6 month consideration time they decide they are interested in your work, you have to send it within ten business days. If I had an appropriate novel, I'd think of sending it their way.

The submissions guidelines, in full

They also accept submission for young adult novels throughout the year:

Submissions for the young-adult Mirrorstone imprint

August 26, 2008

Worst logline contest

Over in this entry on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, they're holding a "Worst Loglines" contest.

A logline is the single-sentence blerb that sells a passing audience -- be it people reading TV Guide or a movie producer -- on the concept of your movie.

You can submit up to two entries, each a single logline at sixty words or fewer. The first prize is a professional query letter critique, a phone call to discuss the critique and a plan to get published, and copies of the 2009 Guide to Literary Agents and 2009 Writer's Market.

Sounds like fun. The deadline is the end of August.

January 23, 2009

Have something to say

I've learned a lot of the lessons that I now apply to my fiction, regardless of form, from reading about screenwriting.

Over at Danny Stack's blog, he's reposted some fine writing tips from Joss Whedon, originally appearing in 4Talent magazine.

Click here for Joss Whedon's top ten writing tips

My favorite quote: "Even if you're writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs."

About Writing

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