Monday, July 29, 2013

In the wake of the Wake

Saturday night I attended Jay Lake's pre-mortem Wake. I'd like to share my thoughts on it but the fact of the matter is that I'm too tired. The bookstore I work at is moving to its permanent home and all that heavy lifting has not only left me too exhausted to collect said thoughts, it has also put me in a considerable amount of pain. (Anti-inflammitories are my best friends)

I'm going to take today off to recuperate. I may get some writing done, I may not. It depends on how my wrist is feeling (I strained it while packing boxes). But do not fret, dear readers. As serendipity would have it, I have another guest post at The Fictorian Era. It's on one of my favorite subjects: Dracula.

Enjoy, and I'll fill you in next week on all the raucous goodness of the wake.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Strangers with candy

This afternoon my mom and I passed a couple of kids selling lemonade on a street corner near our house. It made us a little sad that my step dad wasn't around because he's a sucker for these things. My mom and I however, are not. We won't succumb to cuteness until we hear the kids give their sales pitch. Heck, when we see Girl Scouts selling cookies outside the grocery store we won't open our purses if the troop leader gives the pitch, even if we already intended to buy. We insist that the girls give the pitch themselves. We're not doing it to be mean or obstinate. We do it because we know what they'll gain from the experience.

My family has a long history with the Camp Fire Boys and Girls organization. My mom was a member as a child and a club leader as an adult. When my siblings and I were old enough, we joined up as well.  For those who aren't familiar with Camp Fire, it's the Boy Scouts' sister organization. I know a lot of you probably thought The Girl Scouts held that title, but no. It's Camp Fire. Like the Boy Scouts, we learned outdoor skills. When we weren't foraging for fagots (as in a bundle of sticks, not a homosexual)(believe me, the latter are harder to find in the woods), we did a lot of handcrafts and service projects. In order to fund all our escapades we sold candy every winter.

Yes. We were dealers. Instead of being taught not to take candy from strangers, we were taught how to sell candy to strangers. And you know what? We were really good at it too. My sister and I were the top sellers in the city two years in a row. We've got the badges to prove it.

Here's what we learned:

It's not easy giving a sales pitch. Practice helps a lot, but it still can't completely prepare you for the butterflies that do a polka in your stomach when the big moment comes. Let me tell you, it's not easy selling candy to grumpy vets on a Saturday morning, especially when they answer the door with a handgun tucked into the front of their pants. But if you can find the courage to open your mouth and give your spiel, you can be pleasantly surprised. That same scary vet turned out to be one of our best clients. He bought at least five boxes every year.

Write a good pitch and memorize it so you can recite it with confidence. Nothing kills a potential sale faster than "Um...I have some stuff to sell...if you're interested, maybe." Their time is just as valuable as yours so get to the point quickly. Tell them what your selling, and what is special or unique about it. That's all the information they need to make up their mind. If they want to know more they'll ask.

If they say no after hearing your pitch, don't badger them or try to change their mind. Thank them for listening and move on. Just because they say no this time doesn't mean they'll say no every time. If you're not annoying than they'll be more likely to give you a chance the next time. Plus, moving on brings you closer to the person who will buy from you.

As is usually the case, I had no idea back then that all those hours spent hauling twenty five pound boxes of candy uphill to knock on someone's door in freezing temperatures would serve me well now. But it's because of those lessons and my experience that I'm not nervous about pitching to agents and editors at WorldCon next month. I'm nervous and excited about everything else, just not the actual pitches. There's no way I'm going to deprive future generations the chance to learn that same lesson. One of those kids may grow up to be the next J.K. Rowling.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The magic of the moment

Magic systems have never been my strong point and I tend to avoid enchanted items for similar reasons. Perhaps it's because I'm so enthralled by the plot that I can't keep my hands still long enough to think up of one. Or maybe it's because I didn't play enough D&D as a kid. I don't know. Either way it's a problem.

Now, I 'm not asking for help on the subject. I know there's a lot of different ways to build magic systems, I just haven't found a method that I really like yet. It's something that I'm going to have to play with a bit.

Anyway, this week as I worked on F&F I got a cool idea for a magic item. It's an item that I'd already worked into the scene and intended to only feature this one time before it disappeared with a little smoke and mirrors. Maybe some fancy hand waving too. But the item is really, really cool. It would be a shame to let it disappear so quickly. That was when it occurred to me that if I gave the item a magical compulsion, I could combine a character's weakness for said item and use it against them.

I don't know if this is a sign that I have more of a magical (for lack of a better term) way of creating magic systems or if this was more of a brilliance of the moment type of thing. Considering how much I have on my schedule right now it's not something I can experiment with in depth right now. But it is something for me to consider in the future. It's also a good reason not to completely avoid creating systems/items in the first place. Having a magical item in F&F is going to add more complexity to the plot and it'll probably open a few doors for more magic in the story. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out as I work more on the book.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The masochism chapter

Last week I started writing in earnest the first chapter of F & F. At the moment it's just going to be a novella but that may change once I really get into it. Provided this chapter doesn't kill me first.

I know some of you are thinking "If the first chapter is that hard, then scrap it/change it/find your muse" and any other time I'd agree with you. When my brain doesn't want to focus on a story or a scene it's because there's something not right with it. That's not the case this time. This time the reason I'm having problems is that I'm writing in a gender neutral third person.

It's more difficult than composing a dialogue scene with no blocking or tags, more difficult than writing an argument between five people (AKA tag hell), and more difficult than getting through a Japanese business party scene without the American pissing off the company president.

Most of my writing is in third person, so that's not what's hanging me up. It's the gender neutral part. I like having the choice between using the character's name and the myriad of gender specific addresses (he/she, his/hers). Variety is the linguistic spice of a story and the spice must flow.

Well, in this chapter the spice is flowing like mud because this time I can't use any of the above. Hell, I can't even use the character's name because that's a dead giveaway too. I have to use their professional nickname instead. The same word, over and over again. I spend half of my writing time wracking my brain for other ways I can phrase a sentence so I don't have to use their nickname again and even then, three times out of five I end up using it anyway. It's driving me crazy (I know, short drive). I'm seriously tempted to use ______s instead. It would be a lot easier. What do you think? No? Is that your final answer? You still have three lifelines...


Yeah, you're right. It would look pretty stupid to have  ________ in every third or fourth sentence. That means I'm stuck slogging through the spicy mud that I want to be a half melted chipotle chocolate bar but is in fact, just mud that I have to shape into something appealing. Doing the difficult thing now will make the later reveal much, much stronger. I have to keep reminding myself that the effort will be worth it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hi ho, hi ho...

Today's post is going to be quick since I have to leave for work soon. It's kind of weird, this whole working on a Monday thing. I think the last time I tried it was back in 2004 and I didn't like it very much. Oh well. At least today is a one time thing (I swapped shifts so I could have Gaiman day off). But do not fear dear reader, there is still a post for you. It's a bit more scholarly than my usual posts and I mean that in a good way. I discuss how ancient myths and legends have influenced sci-fi. It's a good post, if I do say so myself, and if you haven't read it already (it went up on Friday) I encourage you to do so. This post even has Ken Scholes' stamp of approval (which made me squee a little).

You'll find it here on The Fictorian Era.

In other news, Harrison Paul (one of my writing group members) recently put his novel, Kaybree Versus the Angels up for sale on Amazon and Smashwords. It's only an e-book at the moment but I encourage you to check it out. It's a YA fantasy and the first in a seven book series. I really like it and if you like it you won't have to wait long for book two. (It's just as good. I'm beta reading it right now.)