Monday, October 31, 2011

Yay for NaNo, Happy Halloween, and Blessed Samhain!

Three things today:

1) Tomorrow is the start of National Novel Writing Month! I'm not participating this year as I've already got projects going, but I want to wish all the NaNo-ers the best of luck. Have fun, don't run out of coffee, and pace yourself - 1667 words a day will get you to the 50,000 word finish line by the end of the month. Then you can have your very own National Novel Revising Month in December. ;) NaNo can be a lot of fun, just don't let it stress you out.

2) Happy Halloween! Here's my favorite song for this holiday -

If you're out trick or treating or partying tonight, be safe and have fun. And watch out for zombies, because you just never know.

3) A Blessed Samhain to those who celebrate! Whether you think of this as the witch's new year, the turning of the wheel of the year to autumn (that's certainly what it feels like here), a day to honor your beloved ancestors whether genetic or spiritual - or a mix of all of that and more - may this day bring you joy!

This is one of my favorite witchy songs - it never fails to remind me how much I love this time of year.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Why Should I Read You?"

Happy dance time! Not only did I write a short story (16k) this month, I also finished the fourth rewrite of my urban fantasy, aka "The Zaphkiel Project." October is the BIAM_Challenge and I completed two of my three goals tonight. The next one is to plot my NaNoWriMo project before November 1.

Not a stellar accomplishment. It hasn't led to any contracts or accolades. But it means I have something to submit.

However, I digress. I've been watching Case Histories on Masterpiece Mystery. (It's also gotten to the point I'm dreaming mystery plots now. Scary thought.) This past episode dealt with private detective Jackson Brodie becoming involved with a novelist, Martin, who wants protection after a particularly nasty road rage incident.

At one point, Martin is talking to Brodie's secretary, Deborah. And she rather disdainfully dismisses his books as pulp fiction (I'm paraphrasing here), adding, "Why should I read you when I can read Mark Twain?"

It's enough for Martin to give up writing. And it's a prejudice genre writers still face. Whether we write mystery, horror, fantasy, romance, or science fiction, we are considered by the literary community to be the bastard stepchildren. Not that the genre community is immune from those same prejudices.

I decided to read Kate Atkinson's books, the ones Case Histories is adapted from. Interestingly enough, Case Histories is filed under fiction in one library while Started Early, Took My Dog is cataloged under mystery in another. And yet both are mysteries involving Brodie. 

Don't get me wrong. I love literature. Hesse, Camus, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Fitzgerald, etc. are among my favorite writers. The Stranger and Demian have had a significant influence on my writing. Steppenwolf is on my TBR pile.

But I also love reading genre writers, among them Josh Lanyon, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mary Stanton, Thomas E. Sniegoski, etc.

We should be past this We/They divide, especially with the publishing industry being in such a flux. Writers need to support each other, not tear each other down. It's almost like the traditional vs. indie publishing argument, both of which have their benefits and disadvantages. (And I'm not getting into them here.) 

That said, read what you want to read. If you're a writer, write the stories you want to write. Because somewhere out there is an audience waiting for you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I have been missing in action...

It's been a while since I've blogged here. I must admit I've had a lot of personal stuff I had to deal with, not to mention my assorted Lyrical Press deadlines and some very challenging changes in my work environment at the newspaper publisher that keeps a roof over my head.

However, I hope to amend this absence. I'll kick off by announcing the cover art for my novel, Inkarna, which is set for a mid-2012 release through the awesome Dark Continents Publishing. Read more about the behind-the-scenes details on my blog here. At any rate, the cover art is pretty awesome.

I've got plenty other news, which I'll share here. But, in the meanwhile, if you're reading this and you're on Twitter, feel free to follow me there @nerinedorman

I don't bite...much.

Well, I nibble. ;-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why I Don't Read Fantasy

When I was a little girl, boys were an alien species, to be avoided at all costs. I didn't understand them, I didn't want to talk to them, and I certainly didn't want to read about them. Hence, I tended to gravitate towards books that had female protagonists. If there were boys in the book as well, I would put up with it, but there had to be a girl in there I could identify and empathise with.

When I hit puberty, boys became marginally more interesting, but when I was in high school, all the boys seemed horrendously immature and shallow. Needless to say I didn't date much. No surprise that I completely identified with the girl in LABYRINTH (who was also called Sarah), who didn't go out on dates, spent all her time immersed in a fantasy world and who was burdened with babysitting a baby half-sibling she found a trial.

Anyway, I digress. The point here is that I only wanted to read stories about girls. When I was young I wanted stories about girls who were isolated; different; alone. When I grew out of the angsty teenage phase I wanted to read books about independent-minded, intelligent, courageous women who could hold their own in the world of men.

When I developed my obsession with STAR WARS, in my early teens, I had a brief flirtation with reading science fiction. Most of it didn't really grab me - there was a distinct lack of decent female characters. And this, when we come down to it, is the reason why I've never read fantasy. There are a lot of fantasy films I've seen and enjoyed (the aforementioned LABYRINTH being one - THE PRINCESS BRIDE is another one of my favourites). But I've never got into reading the genre. When I went through my sf phase I picked up a shabby copy of THE SWORD OF SHANNARA at a second hand book shop. I thought it was so dreadful, I never finished it - even at age 14, when my reading tastes were a lot less sophisticated. In retrospect, this is probably another reason why I never felt the urge to pick up another fantasy book.

Admittedly, the genre has come a long way since the 1980s. The stories are not full of insipid, two-dimensional women these days. There are a lot of female fantasy writers who I am reliably informed write books about strong-willed, intelligent women who know their own mind and are looking for more than just a handsome man to marry. But I have never read any of these books. My own prejudices are hard to shake. Plenty of people have said to me, about a particular fantasy author, "you'll like her books, they have a strong female protagonist." But as well as strong women, I like books filled with mystery and suspense, and most importantly, at least one gruesome death. Browsing in the book shops I always gravitate back to the crime and horror sections, even if my intention is to go to the fantasy section. I still go back to those books with the moody black covers and blood spatters. I'm comfortable with routine. That's why I always go back to the violence in the end.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Playing with (and learning from) Wordle

Wordle is this neat site where you can create a word cloud from whatever text you want. You just copy, paste, and click go. You can edit the font, the colors, the orientation of the words, and the number of words. It's a great way to literally take a snapshot of your story and see what words you used most frequently. With this you can see what was emphasized and maybe spot some problems too.

I've plugged five books into Wordle to see the results. This is my very first (unpublished) novel Page of Wands:

You can definitely tell the names of the main characters. There are too many filler words present: like, just, around, something, back, thought. Seeing school, mother, and father point to it being Young Adult. Seeing ears and hair make me laugh because I know why those words were used so much. It's interesting to see this representation of a book I wrote that will never be published and that I haven't re-read in quite some time.

Here's Bring on the Night:

Again with the prominent character names, which I expect would be normal for any book. Like and know are the problem children here, though I do enjoy seeing fangs and shotgun together.

Mojo Queen:

With this one being in first person, Roxie's name is very small. I see some things that do give away something about the story: aura, energy, magic, demon, glasses. Blake is in giant letters, ha. And then there's like, grr.

Red House:

Once again Blake is in giant letters, though it looks like Daniel is larger this time (meaning it was used more). New character Shelby must have been around quite a bit. And damn it, there's like again.

The Key of Darkness (this is volume one of my web serial):

This is in third person so main character Eve's name is used a lot. And Pete! Who stole the role of hero right out from under Knox, the poor guy. Chet is also prominent. I'm just proud the top three characters are more pronounced than the word like.

From these snapshots I can tell that characters are king in my stories, and I have a problem with the word like. Better work on that.

Wordle is pretty fun to play with and I plan to use it from now on with all my stories, of whatever length. You can save the image by whatever method you use to take a screencap. I use the snipping tool, which is found in the start menu under accessories.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Other Work In Progress

Today I thought I would talk about my other creastive endeavour - my doll's house project.

I've always been fascinated by dolls' houses. If dolls were characters to me, dolls' houses were settings. But I always wanted them to be like real houses, with things in drawers and cupboards and food in the fridge. When I was a child, I decorated my dolls' house with offcuts of carpets and wallpaper. I cut squares of cardboard, drew pictures on them and put them in the hi fi cabinet as record album covers. I drew pictures of dresses on coat hangers, coloured them in, cut them out and stuck them in the wardrobe. I fashioned food out of Play Doh and put it in the little fridge.

I had the concept right, if not the scale. As an adult, I decided I wanted a proper dolls' house, with everything in the correct scale. For my 30th birthday, my husband got me a flatpacked Georgian Townhouse. This has been a work in progress ever since. As my 42nd birthday is a couple of weeks away, this will give you an idea of how long it's been a work in progress. I am attaching a picture of how it currently looks. Perhaps, you might think, not much progress in 12 years. But everything in this house so far I have created with my own two hands. Look at those staircases. Each step had to be glued onto the backboard, each rail had to be painstakingly glued onto a corresponding step, and the bannisters had to be affixed to the top of the rails. And then they had to be painted, and screwed into the house. And note there are three of such staircases...

I have to say this sort of thing doesn't come naturally to me. I have no manual dexterity, and no patience. But working on the dolls' house is a creative outlet of sorts. I have to think about how to decorate each room, and I've been collecting furniture over the years. There is some satisfaction in making progress on the project. OK, it's not looking perfect. There are brush marks and blobs on the paint work, and air bubbles in the wallpaper. Some of the edges look rather scrappy. And I still have a lot more work to do on it.

We have recently been doing some sorting out at home, and in the process of this the dolls' house was moved from the cupboard in which it was hiding. It's now on display in the dining room. Being on display means, of course, I have to make progress on it. I am hoping this will be a little more frequent now that I am looking at it on a daily basis. Time is a factor. In order to make any meaningful progress I have to have several hours free, with no other demands on my time. This doesn't happen very often

But when working on the dolls' house, I feel, should be my preferred activity when I'm not writing and getting frustrated by not writing. It's a creative outlet, and it gives me a similar sort of satisfaction to writing.

Hence, now the house is out, I am pledging to spend more time on it and not forget about it for years at a time, as has happened up to now. It might even help me through my current writers' block.

I will endeavour to post progress reports on this blog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Horror Recs

The other day one of my Twitter followers mentioned The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. I haven't read it but saw the movie adaptation years ago. Think along the lines of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. A Gothic ghost story.

Of course, when I saw my local library had a copy of Susan Hill's book, I had to add it to my TBR list. I love reading horror novels. And this got me thinking. Why not talk about some of my favorite books and stories I've read since childhood? In fact, it was probably those stories that inspired me to become a writer.

Tales of Terror (Ida Chittum) This illustrated collection of Ozark-based ghost stories still resonates with me well into adulthood. One particular story, "The Haunted Well" stands out, a tragic story of an enraged father who murders his family, leaving behind a daughter who witnesses the massacre. Filled with pathos, dark humor, and unique characters (including a woman who can read the future with a feather pillow), this is a book I'd read again. (From what I understand, one of the stories, "The House the Dovers Didn't Move Into," is based on a true account.)

The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) If you're a horror fan and haven't read this novel yet, why not? Quit reading this post and grab a copy now. I'll wait. Got it? Good. Because Shirley Jackson's novel is probably one of the best horror stories ever published. Jackson successfully creates a malevolent character in Hill House, a hulking manor guarding dark secrets. Sometimes the most effective horror is what you don't see. The ending is probably one of the most disturbing I've read. (Also check out We Have Always Lived in the Castle.)

The Shining (Stephen King) Another haunted house story, this time with a hotel has the malevolent character. (I don't know if King was influenced by Jackson but the homage seems to be there.) I remember the part about the concrete tunnel on the playground being especially disturbing because the reader doesn't know if something is lurking there or if it's Danny's imagination. Add the isolation in the mountains and a father slowly going mad and this ranks as one of my favorites by King. Want to scare your readers? Put the characters in jeopardy with supposedly no way out of their situation. But make them sympathetic. Jack Torrance may not be a candidate for father of the year, but he loves his wife and son and struggles to do the best he can. This is what makes his descent into madness such a powerful struggle between good and evil. 

"Eyewitness" (Robert Arthur) Okay, it's not horror but this tale is pretty damn clever. A detective knows an actor murdered his wife. The only problem is proving it, which he does with the help of a magician. Whether the technique they use to catch the killer really works is debatable but I'm willing to suspend disbelief.

Is this list complete and comprehensive? Of course not. But these are the stories out of many that have remained with me over the years. I'm sure I've forgotten one or two which will rear their heads after this post is published. If that happens, I'll just chalk it up to Murphy's Law.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

FantasyCon 2011 Round-up

This past weekend was the hottest October weekend in the UK since records began, and as such it was a great time to be heading to the seaside town of Brighton, back to the same hotel where World Horror Con was held about 18 months ago.

FantasyCon is a Con both Hubby and I like to attend, and we arrived in Brighton around 2pm. My reading was at 3:30pm, so I figured this was plenty of time to prepare. Unfortunately the hotel wouldn't let us check in until 3, so we left our bags with the concierge and went to find the bar. We ran into a few T Party people on the way.

I wasn't so nervous about doing the reading. I was more worried about not having an audience. There were two reading rooms, with readings scheduled against each other, and I think I lost out to the competition in the end. Plus, Friday afternoon was a quiet time, as not everyone had arrrived. Still, Mark West of Stumar Press - the publisher of my forthcoming anthology - made it to the reading, a couple of T Party people and one or two others so I wasn't playing to an empty house. I read two stories from the forthcoming SOUL SCREAMS. When I rehearsed them at home, I timed them together at over 20 minutes. For the reading, though, I was done in 15. I guess I was reading a bit fast.

Once the reading was done, I felt I could indulge in some alcohol (I didn't want to be incoherent for my reading) but I really wanted to attend the panel on crossing genres, so I didn't get to spend much time in the bar. Panel moderator was Sarah Pinborough, and the wonderful Mike Carey was on the panel, along with other writers whose work I haven't read: Gary McMahon, Steve Mosby and Suzanne McLeod. I think I shall have to remedy this soon. They all write some variation of crime/supernatural crossover, and that's just my cup of tea.

During the panel, Hubby had succeeded in getting us checked into our room (the queue had been far too long at 3pm). We attended the FantasyCon welcome party, catching up with a few more people in the bar. I encountered Simon Clark, whom I remember having long conversations with nearly 20 years ago, when a group of mainly BFS members used to have monthly pub meets in the Wellington pub in Waterloo. The monthly pub meets still happen, but the venue has changed several times since then, as has regular attendees. I don't think he remembered talking to me nearly as well as I remembered him, but he was gracious enough to pretend he did.

Friday night ended with the infamous FantasyCon raffle. There are usually a lot of donated prizes, so it goes on for a while. Happily, I did win a prize - a book called WAKE UP AND DREAM by Ian R Macleod. Not an author I know, but the book looks quite interesting, and I'm never one to turn down free books, so it, too, has been added to the towering TBR pile.

Saturday Hubby and I decided to sample panels representing all genre fiction, so we went to the Trends in Fantasy Fiction panel, and the Where Next in SF? panel. Hubby then snuck off to his favourite Brighton guitar shop, while I wandered around investigating various launches, and a couple of readings.

In the hotel lobby I caught up with Gavin Williams and Tim Lebbon. As I mentioned in my lowdown of Horror Con, these two chaps and I used to be in the same writing folio - a sort of postal writing group - many, many years ago. They've both subsequently become very successful writers. Tim Lebbon especially is now a Famous British Horror Writer (and yes, that's Famous with a Capital F). Quite nice that they both still remember me, though. We had a good chat.

Hubby returned with his loot from the guitar shop in time for the interview of veteran sf writer Brian Alldis, by Christopher Priest. Mr Alldis has led a fascinating life. After the interview he was signing books, and Hubby went off to buy one. He came back very happy, having engaged Mr Alldis in conversation for about 15 minutes, mostly about Singapore, where the writer was stationed during the war, and where Hubby ends up travelling to for work fairly regularly.

After a foray outside for some dinner and a walk along Brighton's sea front - well, it seemed a shame to waste such a lovely day inside all the time - we returned to the bar for some more drinking and socialising. The evening's entertainment included a Burlesque show. However, after the first half I dragged myself away from the girls with nipple tassels to attend another panel, on How to Scare Your Readers, which was populated by some of the best contemporary British horror writers. And one might be forgiven for thinking that contemporary British horror is dominated by bald blokes, as there were three of them sitting in a row - namely, Adam Nevill, Tim Lebbon and Simon Clark. The other two panellists were also blokes, though not bald - Ramsey Campbell and Tom Fletcher. Personally I think this panel should have had at least one woman - we women of horror are woefully under-represented.

In any case, the panel was very interesting, and Adam Nevill's book THE RITUAL has gone on my TBR list, after Tim Lebbon - who himself writes some damn scary books - cited it as being the scariest story he'd ever read.

This panel was followed by Ramsey Campbell's midnight reading, where the iconic horror writer read out one of his characteristically whimsically and disturbing short stories.

After that, I ventured back to the bar to find the first FantasyCon disco in full swing. Since the delegates at FantasyCon are mostly, like me, 40-plus geeks, the music played was entirely to my liking. The disco was Sarah Pinborough's idea and I hope it becomes a FantasyCon tradition, because it was jolly good fun, even though bopping around in such sweltering heat meant none of us smelled too fragrant by the end of the evening.

Sadly, the evening had to end, and we retired to bed. Although there were activities scheduled for Sunday until mid afternoon, we were anxious to make an early start home, as engineering works meant our journey was going to be somewhat arduous. We said our goodbyes and left.

The post-Con comedown is always a struggle. After a weekend in such excellent company, getting back to real life can be a wrench. Sadly, I was obliged to return to the day job on Monday morning, but I have many wonderful memories from this year's FantasyCon. I feel doubly sad about this Con ending as it's the last one I'm attending this year. Already I've got post-Con withdrawal symptoms, and I don't, as yet, have any Cons for 2012 booked up to have more to look forward to. I need to address this soon, methinks.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Digital Conferences and Challenges

This week I'm hanging out at the Muse Online Writers Conference. I'm also participating in BIAM_Writathon with the intention of finishing my vampire short story and revising both the werewolf novella and the Zaphkiel Project. Nice thing about BIAM is there's no pressure. Having other writers cheer you on doesn't hurt, either. :-)

But I digress. Currently, I'm looking at four workshops in the Muse Con. If I could forgo such necessities as eating or sleeping, I'd take more classes. Writing is an ongoing learning process and I look for such opportunities, even submitting my work for feedback. (Yes, I'm nervous about what the instructor will say about my first page submission!)

The Muse Online Con is my second digital conference. Last year, I participated in Coyote Con, a month long conference. I saved the transcripts to a folder for future reference. At some point, I'll organize my notes for easier access. Call me weird, but I have a binder marked Query/Agent, another labeled Characters, etc., all filled with handouts, notes, and articles on their respective subjects. If I need to check a character writing tip, I pull that particular binder. Easier than trying to find the same information in a pile of writing magazines. But that's just me. Your mileage may vary.

I don't know if Coyote Con will continue. (It wasn't held this year.) The Muse Online Writers Conference seems to be ongoing every October. This year's registration is closed, though.

Are digital conferences the wave of the future, given the expense and impracticality of travel? Possibly. But I'm still thinking about that day trip to Nashville and every year I make it a point to go to Bowling Green for their con. Then again, I can drive those distances.

Happy writing!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The long haul

In the four years I've been writing seriously I've completed three novels, three works of novella length, and a NaNo novel that I think would be considered category length. Two works have been published. One was given a revise and resubmit, which I'm beginning to think is worse than an outright rejection, at least from my perspective, and one is on submission. Oh and one of those novellas is the first volume of my web serial, which I am definitely counting toward my output or collected works or whatever you want to call it.

With all of that accumulated word count I am still so very far away from knowing what I'm doing, I can't even see a hint of it on the horizon. So I do my best to keep moving forward, writing and learning as much as I can. For the past couple of years I've set goals for myself. This year's kind of got blown up and I had to reevaluate some things. My short-term goals have changed, as far as what specific projects I want to work on and what I hope to do with them. Lately I've found myself thinking about long-term goals for the first time.

Here's the way I think of this: writing and publishing are two separate entities that hopefully will converge when the stars align just right. Goals, whether short or long term, are a two-track thing, writing goals and publishing goals. Writing is a craft and an art, publishing is a business, and I really think it's best to keep those distinctions in mind. As I consider the prospect of long-term goals I think of these two things separately and that would be my advice for any writer.

The first thing you have to figure out is what you want to be writing over the next several years. I don't mean just genre. You have to ask yourself, are you happy with the level your writing is at? Or do you want to level up? This is going to take a hard, honest assessment of your own work and that can be tough. If you decide you want to level up, when you think about your aspirations don't fall into the trap of telling yourself "I could never be that good" (this one is really hard for me). You have to find a way to push your doubts aside and go for it. (Not that I have any idea how to banish self-doubt, do as I say with this one, not as I do.) Once you figure out where you want your writing to go, you have to figure out how to get there. What kind of stories, what kind of themes, how deep do you have to excavate inside yourself to write what you want to write.

When you think about publishing goals it's a little more straight forward. What kind of contracts do you hope to be getting over the next several years? Do you want to stay in digital and/or small press publishing, do you want to move into large press publishing? Do you want to try self-publishing? Do you want to start querying agents? (The thought of querying agents fills me with a visceral horror similar to that I get from the threat of zombies and standing in a long line at Walmart.)

I don't have answers yet to these questions, but I am glad I've at least started to think about them. I'm not going to rush to figure these things out because I want to be sure, but I do hope to have a better idea of what my long-term goals are by the time the new year rolls around in a few months. It can be easy to let the short-term overwhelm us but sooner or later every writer has to ask themselves, what am I doing with this and what do I want to be doing? Keep up with your deadlines and daily word count, but don't forget to give the long haul some thought too.