March 09, 2009
Writerly advice

Apparently, in addition to the regular readers of my blog (both of them!), people sometimes stumble upon my site and post questions in the comments section. Here is a recent comment that was posted to news about the upcoming anthology, Swordplay (out in paperback in just a few months!):

I'm an aspiring author. I have several pieces I've begun to put together, however, being somewhat of a beginner, I know they aren't as great of quality as they could be. As a professional author, is there any advice you might give to a young novice?

Hi, Laura.

I'm just starting out myself... even though I've been writing in one form or another since high school. It was only a few years ago that I began to take my fiction writing seriously enough to pursue it as a career. There are many others more qualified than I am to help you along your way, but I'm happy to pass along some advice anyway (beyond the "Wear Sunscreen" variety, which is always worth keeping in mind):

  • First, keep practicing. That means, keep writing. If you write a story and it doesn't work as well as you'd like... save the manuscript, open up a new, blank window, and write it again from scratch. Or, open up a new, blank window and write something else. Each time you sit down to write, think about what one thing you're going to work on this time -- for example, voice, character, language, plot, pacing, orchestration, setting, sensorial details, etc.

    The guitarist, the gymnast, the radio announcer, the basketball star all get better by practicing their craft. Each time they practice, they try to address one or two areas where they could stand to improve. Same is true for writing. It's okay if you write crap, just as it's okay for the aspiring concert cellist to practice and it sounds like crap. Keep working it. You'll become pretty decent faster than you might expect.

  • Meet with other writers. You'll find these other writers at cons (conferences and conventions), at readings at your local bookstore, and at workshops and university classes. I posted an article about going to cons on my blog here a couple of years ago. Talking with other writers is a great way to learn more about the field and about how you want to define your place in it. I'd also advise you to regularly touch base with writers both at your current level and beyond it. For that matter, help out those who are coming up behind you. I have benefited from having some great mentors, and it's only fair to likewise offer what support I can to other fellow aspiring writers.

    You'll also find like-minded writers at your local chapter of the Mystery Writers Association or the Romance Writers Association. And while the best place to hang with SF writers is at the cons, some metropolitan areas do have an active writers community you can tap into. In Seattle, for example, there's the Vanguard group and the Clarion West parties and readings held each summer.

  • Attend workshops. It is a bad idea to spend *too much* time and money going to workshops, but attending one or two now and then is a great way to sharpen the proverbial saw and help advance your technique, let alone meeting fellow travellers who will become your support network as you go. Beware: some classes and workshops may drive home the point that there are things you *shouldn't* write. These workshops are poison, and can be very difficult to recover from. (I took a class at college that put me off of certain fiction writing for years.)

    Allow me to recommend, in particular, the Clarion-style workshops (Clarion West in Seattle in particular, but also the Clarion workshop in San Diego and Odyssey in New Hampshire) and the Oregon Coast Writers Workshops. For writers who are not yet sending their work out to editors, I recommend the "Kris and Dean Show" at the Oregon Coast. If, however, you are already sending out your work, or if you've already attended a Clarion-style workshop, then you should seriously consider the "Masters Class" at the Oregon Coast.

  • Form or join a critique group. This is particularly useful for beginning writers. You need to make sure the group is a good fit; that you can learn from the critique without giving too much fuel to the editor in your head who will trash everything you write. My best advice here is to find/assemble a group of people who share your goal of improving your craft and who want also want to share their work with the world. Writers who write for the sake of assembling words on a page are fine, fine people; but, if you want to become a published author, you'll find more useful critique from people who also want to become published authors.

    I know I wrote up a little article about the do's and don'ts of critique groups. I'll have to look for that, and post a link here when I find it.

  • READ! Read anything and everything you can get your hands on, but especially read "the good stuff." I don't mean read literary work. Literary does not necessarily mean good. I mean, read "Year's Best" compilations -- not just in your field, but across genres. Read best sellers... again, across all genres. Are you writing romance? Stephen King still has something to teach you. Mystery? You can still learn from Nora Roberts. Read the classics, but don't shun the contemporaries. Read for pleasure.

    In fact, Laura, here's an exercise that I think you'll find worthwhile. Go out right now and pick up a copy of the Year's Best Crime & Mystery Stories and then write a crime story. Next up: Year's Best Science Fiction. Then, do the same with Year's Best Horror. I don't know what genre(s) you are interested in, but do this exercise. You'll learn something from it, I promise you. I certainly did. (I never wrote historical fiction until the piece I did recently based upon Custer's Last Stand, which is the story I sold to the aforementioned Swordplay.)

  • Cruise writers and editors and agents blogs. Eventually, you'll find yourself returning to certain blogs on a regular basis. Read for insight. Read for inspiration. Read for good word, uh, usings.

  • As you write, so shall ye submit! Once you write it up, send it out there. You are writing in the hopes that someone will want to read it. So, submit your work to editors! They can't buy it if you don't send it to them.

  • You are the worst judge of your work. Your job is to write it, not to decide whether it's any good. Let the editors and your readers decide for themselves.

Thank you, Laura, for allowing me the opportunity to get all didactic. It appeals to the teacher in me. But, all that said, the best advice for aspiring writers is always this:

Keep writing.

Drop by from time to time and let me (us) know how you do, okay?


Posted by at 02:27 AM in the following Department(s): Articles , Writing | Comments (2)
 March 16, 2009
In memory of JBH

During my time at WVBR-FM, I worked with an amazing collection of talented people. They all had something to give, something to learn, something to teach. A few of the cast of characters at VBR had been there for long spans of time -- even decades -- and provided the thread of continuity that bound the rest of us, who were there for no more than three or for years at a stretch.

One such character was John Barry Hill, our "JBH". He was the station's chief engineer when I was there, and had been for decades before. He was, at the time, one of the station's three living memory keepers; he knew the crews from by-gone days, and helped (and, to be honest, sometimes hindered) the development of the station's overall character by providing us with continuity.

JBH was not a perfect man, and he was not necessarily perfect for the radio station. But he was a good man, and he was, on the whole, good for the station. I'm glad to have known him.

I enjoyed his story-telling, and all of the many technical tricks he taught me. He was a gifted practical joker, and had a lively sense of humor. And the man had a voice -- both in the character sense, but also in the vocal sense -- that was compelling. Today, as a writer, I tend to focus on narrative and character voice. As a listener, I'm enthralled by good 'pipes'. JBH had it all. He had Voice. He could put you at ease, or rile you up, but mostly, he just told great stories and explained in just the right words how to do what needed to be done.

JBH is the second good friend of mine from my VBR days to have passed this scene. I have yet to comment on the passing of one of the station's other great "memory keepers" -- Atley Nesbitt. I will, in time. Both men deserve to have their memories honored. While it may be some time before Atley gets his recognition, I was touched to learn about a brief tribute paid to JBH by fellow WVBR alum, Keith Olbermann:

Here's to you, JBH. You made a lasting impression on all of us who knew you.

Posted by at 10:05 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 March 27, 2009
Defining Genre Fiction

Recently, a fellow writer on one of the writers' networks lists I'm on posted a question about the delineation between different genres. I wrote up the guide below off the top of my head. Since apparently some other writers occasionally peruse my blog, I thought I'd include it below for your edification:

Allan Rousselle's Partial List of Genre Definitions

  • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. That's romance.
  • Boy meets girl, girl offers her honor, boy honors her offer, it's honor and offer all night. That's porn.
  • Boy meets girl, boy and girl talk a lot. That's chick lit.
  • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy (or girl) dies. That's tragedy.
  • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy saves the world from alien invasion. That's science fiction.
  • Boy meets dame, dame brings nothing but grief into boy's life. That's crime noir.
  • Boy meets girl, boy goes off to war, boy dies. That's a Lifetime movie.
  • Boy meets girl, boy or girl is a vampire/werewolf/ghost. That's paranormal romance.
  • Boy meets girl, boy and girl speak with British accents. That's Jane Austen.
  • Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, car eats boy. That's Stephen King.

I hope this helps all of my fellow aspiring writers out there. A friend on the list had a great addition; I'll ask for his permission to include it here. Do you have any additions *you* want to make? Please add them via the comments.


Posted by at 11:38 AM in the following Department(s): Humor , Writing | Comments (4)

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