Conversation Between Writers

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Jeremy Zimmerman

Today on Conversations Between Writers I talk to Jeremy Zimmerman [website, Twitter] (no relation, though we joke) about the second book in his YA superhero series Kensei: For The Love Of Danger that he’s currently Kickstartering part of the cost of publishing. Jeremy along with his lovely wife Dawn Vogel are also the evil geniuses behind Mad Scientist Journal. I was lucky enough to get to Beta-read this ambitious novel (Kensei takes place in the shared superhero world of Cobalt City and I have a Cobalt City character who happens to be Kensei’s roller derby coach. Jeremy always checks with me to make sure he’s treating my character with respect.) and I really enjoyed it. It’s a super fun read with a lot going on. I hope you’ll consider backing it.

Minerva Zimmerman: So you’re heading back onto the streets of Cobalt City once again with Kensei: For The Love Of Danger. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?

Jeremy Zimmerman: I’ve been working on my sequel to my first book, Kensei, and have a Kickstarter going to pay for some of the production costs. The sequel brings back the titular Kensei, who finds herself having to deal with a lot of legacies. Not only do her grandparents learn about her crimefighting and have something to say about it, but there’s also a World War Two supervillain who has come back from the dead in order to kill Kensei.

MZ: Yikes! So what challenges did you have in writing about a teenage superhero whose crime-fighting isn’t a secret from her family and in fact is complicated by her family?

JZ: Some of it was just fitting it with what had already been established. When I first created the character, she had no idea that her family also had a history with superheroes. It’s been a careful line to walk in order to make it plausible that it was kept from Jamie. Plus Jamie is half Japanese and have African American. Treating her family’s dual backgrounds with respect required a lot of research.

MZ: Do you have a favorite part of doing the research for this book?

JZ: Do I have to choose just one?

MZ: No! I’m just curious where your research took you and even some of the things you couldn’t use

JZ: Starting with Jamie’s family, one of my favorite parts was researching for her father’s parents. When I was working on the first book, I learned about differences between Japanese Americans who had lived in the continental United States and those that had lived in Hawaii. Living in Seattle, which has a notable Japanese American population, you learn a lot about the Japanese American experience. This is especially true when it comes to learning about how they were treated during World War Two. But in Hawaii, the experience was very different.

My other favorite research was for the villain, Imperial Dynamo. I collaborated with an Italian-born friend of mine who is also a history buff. She introduced me to the Italian Futurist art movement, which later fed into the Fascist Party in Italy. It added a really interesting dimension to the villain.

MZ: Wow it seems like you’ve got a lot of threads running through this book. What do you want people to know about that might pique their interest?

JZ: The core idea I’m playing with in the book is that of family expectations. Both Kensei and her friends have families and legacies that are pushing them in different directions. Aside from the more physical conflicts, a lot of Kensei’s emotional conflict is trying to cope with what her family wants while remaining true to herself.

MZ: I think that’s something we all can relate to.

So you’re Kickstartering some of the costs of publishing this book. Can you talk a little about the decision to go that route? I know I’m always interested in hearing why people choose one option over others.

JZ: I had debated for a while about whether or not to do a Kickstarter for this. Early on I thought I might focus my crowdfunding efforts through Patreon. But it seems like Patreon seems to work best only if you already have a sizable fan base. It also doesn’t work as well if you are mostly doing large projects. And the money it brings in mostly supports my other baby, Mad Scientist Journal.

Kickstarter has the advantage of helping make the project more visible to people. It also gives me the chance to offer some fun things to backers that I don’t have much excuse to on other occasions. So I’ve gotten to commission stickers and patches for backers. If it does really well, then it gives me the opportunity to create something a bit more robust. One of my current stretch goals is a limited hardcover edition of the book, which I would have trouble justifying under normal circumstances.

MZ: The stickers are ADORABLE!

JZ: Thank you! We are really happy with the artist we found. She’s been great to work with.

MZ: I am a sticker hoarder so stickers are always an amazing perk for me. 🙂 I recently bought an RV I’m using as a writing office, and I’m pondering what stickers to stick on it right now.

JZ: Good to know. When we came up with some of this, there’s always the worry that what sounds awesome to us might not sound awesome to other people. I’m glad the stickers are a winning point.

MZ: I hope the KS goes bananas and maybe next book you’ll have a Cleopatra Thunder sticker 😀

JZ: One of the stretch goals is to have more characters for the stickers. We could see about working in Cleopatra Thunder.

MZ: *giggles evilly* So what else are you working on these days? I know this book and getting the KS set up have eaten up a lot of your time, but you’re a person of many hats and many projects.

JZ: We’ve been working on the anthology we Kickstarted earlier this year, Selfies from the End of the World. I just sent out the ebook proofs to the contributors to have some extra eyes on it. I’ve been doing a lot of research for an overly ambitious series of YA books I want to do beyond Kensei. Mad Scientist Journal is always on my plate. And I’m getting ready to run some games later this year at a local convention.

MZ: Oh cool, what convention?

JZ: AmberCon Northwest, down in Troutdale, Oregon. Four days of roleplaying games in the middle of a winery/brewery/distillery/resort/spa.

MZ: Oh wow. I always thought that was somewhere in Washington for some reason. That sounds fabulous.

JZ: It is. I’ve been going every year since 1999. It’s a small and intimate convention, and just a ton of fun.

MZ: Are you going to make it to WorldCon or is your schedule just too full up?

JZ: Our schedule is sadly too full up and our vacation time is spread too thin.

MZ: Yeah, it’s always a balancing act. I had to cut out a bunch of other cons this year to go. Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you’d like to talk about?

JZ: Well, I could babble forever about things I learned during my research. But in terms of things people would be interested in, I’m offering the ebook for my first book for free through the Kickstarter. There’s a link [edit: THIS LINK] where you can download the files right there. You don’t have to pledge a token amount or use a coupon code or anything. I feel really passionate about the work I’ve done developing Kensei, and this is a low commitment chance to see if you like her story before committing money to the cause.

MZ: That’s really smart. I somehow missed that reading over the KS. Well, I should probably run and get something to eat. But it was great talking to you and break a leg (preferably someone villainous) on the Kickstarter!

JZ: Likewise, and thank you for taking the time to talk!

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Tone Deaf Fiction

Hey, are you someone who wants to appear on this blog in Conversations Between Writers? Let me know. 

 

So, I’ve been reading slush. I’ve been reading slush because it is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in want of improving their skills must at some point in their career, read slush. The most heart-breaking stories are the ones that were ALMOST there… but just not quite. However, I don’t want to talk about the good things… today, I want to talk about tone deaf fiction.

Tone Deaf Fiction is fiction involving characters, situations, and places completely discordant with reality in a way that is grating to a reader. Tone deaf fiction is not so much rewriting reality as overlaying a chartreuse plaid wallpaper over everything making it useless to everyone. It isn’t a few wrong notes, it is ALL the notes wrong. It doesn’t matter if you get the rhythm of the song right if you’re not hitting any of the notes.

So, in thinking about writing about this I decided to try my hand at writing a character to the point of tone deafness. I am only excerpting from a longer piece because I got tired and started relating the character to my own personal experiences (doing yoga) and it stopped being a good example of what I mean. I hope this is still illustrative:

Seth finished shaking off his penis and pulled up his sweat pants. His yoga class was about to begin and he wanted to make sure he got there early enough to get a spot up front. If he got there late and had to look through a forest of pert female asses he tended to get distracted instead of getting the best workout possible. He paused in front of the bathroom mirror to judge if he’d need to shave again before his movie date with Teresa. His fair skin was the color of antique white house paint speckled with the hint of wheaten hair along his jaw.

He adjusted himself in his pants as he picked up his yoga mat and headed out into the hall. His mat was a plain dark gray, the manliest color he’d been able to find at Target. His sleeveless t-shirt clung to his lean physique, and for $40 it also wicked away the moisture he was about to start exuding from his skin

Usually tone deaf fiction comes out of writing things well beyond your own experience. Clearly as a genre writer I don’t believe you can only write things you know well, however… don’t pick ALL the things you don’t know in one story. That’s a good way to write tone deaf fiction. I suggest training wheels. Pick a memory from your own life, and change one major truth about the situation. If you were a very young child in the memory, figure out how to rewrite everything from an adult perspective, possibly from outside yourself, but keep every single other part of the event the same. Make sure you think, “How does this change things?”  and follow each of those ripples out to their end as they change how you tell the event. Repeat this exercise until you feel very comfortable with how to chase down all those ripples and imagine out all of their changing powers. Then, change two things using the same memories, and find where the two sets of ripples overlap and create new ripples.

You can never 100% replace your own perspective and experiences from the story. You can have enough ripples that the parts of you inside the story are unrecognizable, but still, you take a part of your truth and experiences as  reference for how ripples move through a story, through a character, through a setting. There are authors who use very few sets of ripples in their fiction and some that throw handfuls of gravel into a windy pond. It’s not going to be the same for every story, and it’s not going to be the same for you throughout your career. If you don’t relate to your characters and their situations no one else will either… so, write what you know about the truth of life, the universe, and everything.

NaNoWriMo Is Not For Me – And That’s OK

(Due to bad planning on my part there’s no Conversations Between Writers this week.)Power of Words

It’s almost Halloween which means the online murmuring about National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo have begun. Starting November 1 people from all over will try to write 50,000 words in a single 30 day period. There’s a lot of camaraderie and social support in the online sphere during these 30 days and I want to support that sense of community even though I’m not a participant.

See, there’s also a lot of negative posts around this time of year too. I think we’ve all got enough negativity inside our own heads without adding to it. Writing is hard. Pushing yourself is hard. Anything that gets you doing either is a good thing.

50,000 words in 30 days is not my bag, but I know that only because I did participate for multiple years and fumbled my way through. What I suggest is to not see NaNoWriMo as a win or lose sort of journey. It’s a journey of discovery. You can learn something from doing it, even if that’s that you don’t want to do it again. And that’s OK. I hope that this NaNoWriMo brings a new understanding of yourself and your writing.

Ghosts In the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Berit Ellingsen

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Berit Ellingson is a Korean-Norwegian who writes haunting fiction such as The White. Her novel The Empty City has also been published in French as Une Ville Vide. You can find more at her website http://beritellingsen.com/ and follow her on Twitter.

 

Minerva Zimmerman

You and I shared my very first anthology appearance TOC in Growing Dread

Berit Ellingsen

That’s awesome!!! I didn’t know that was your first antho!

MZ: and I immediately followed everyone on Twitter and have been following you ever since

BE: thanks so much 🙂

MZ: I know from Twitter that you’re very science-oriented, have two cats, live in Norway, and are a pretty hardcore gamer

BE: Not sure if hardcore is the right word 😀 but I enjoy gaming and have worked as a game reviewer. Now I just write the occasional essay about games. And I work as a science writer during the day, writer at night. 🙂

MZ: you’re headed on an arctic expedition soon? Am I remembering that right?

BE: Yeah, a short trip to Svalbard in the Arctic and Longyearbyen, the biggest settlement there, it’s like a small Norwegian town.

MZ: while it’s still summer?

BE: Oh yes, because it’s summer up there too, about 8 Celsius, which is the same temperature as late fall/early spring here. Much better than when it’s 20 below freezing in Svalbard.

MZ: I very much want to visit various arctic areas in the summer, there’s just something about that environment that appeals to me

BE: I hope you have the chance to go there. The landscape is unique, and the air very clear because it’s cold and dry and still relatively unpolluted.

MZ: I think it’s the openness while still having so many secretive pockets. I’d love to go to Alaska, and do a Scandinavian tour

BE: Alaska sounds wonderful! Wide open spaces, fjords, and mountains, wild life etc. Most of Scandinavia resembles Washington/British Columbia, a bit more northern than OR.

MZ: Yeah, I grew up in Seattle and come from a Scandinavian background. Plus my family used to own a salmon cannery in Alaska

BE: Really? That is so cool! They don’t own it any more? I remember you mentioning traditional Scandinavian baking on twitter. So cool you’re continuing the tradition. 🙂

Did your family speak Scandinavian?

MZ: No, they sold it when I was very small. And my family is 3rd/4th generation so there’s not much language that’s hung on. A few words and things, but no fluency.

BE: Then your family must have been among the first waves of immigrants, in the mid-to-late 1800s. Language would be hard to hold onto after such a long time. The written language might not be too hard to pick up for English-speakers, many similar words and somewhat similar grammar.

MZ: I personally find it fascinating what things have been passed down and how culture changes. Yes, I can read a lot, plus I also took German in school. Definitely not 100% though, maybe 60% at most. Enough to get the general idea of what a Tweet or webpage is about. I am super good at reading food labels though 😀

BE: That should make it easier. Did you see the study about half a year back where some scientists claimed English was more similar to Norse and might have taken in more Norse words than they did from Northern German, which was assumed to be the “root” language till now?

MZ: I didn’t see the study, but I completely believe it. It would make the weird grammar bits of English make more sense

BE: Yeah, the similarity in grammar and sentence syntax was one of their arguments.

MZ: I know the word “knife” has always been something we’ve said funny in our family as a homage to our background

BE: How do you say it?

MZ: like “Kah-nif”

BE: heh heh heh, that sounds Scandinavian, yes. 🙂

MZ: not like properly pronounced in either language, but garbled on purpose 😛

BE: hybrid is good 🙂

MZ: Oh, I wanted to talk to you about themes in your writing. I mean this is a writer chat, I suppose we should talk a little about it 😀

BE: 😀 Language is a part of it 😉

MZ: I’ve also noticed there’s a very stylistic almost desolation or emptiness in a lot of your work. Like I almost always imagine wide open emptiness in your various settings.

BE: Glad to hear that comes across. I like to think that comes from the open landscape I’m used to here, and also a little from zen or East-Asian art, which I like (but am by far no expert on).

MZ: It feels very deliberate not an absence of description, but purposeful emptiness

BE: Oh and also, maybe a tiny bit of it is inspired by Scandinavian minimalist design.

MZ: I personally find, at least in the US Scandinavian communities there’s this strange mix of minimalist design and warm clutter

BE: Stylistically, I think what’s not said or not said directly can be as important as what’s spelled out, like the use of negative space in minimalist design and East-Asian art.

Heh heh oh yeah, I know what you mean with warm clutter. That’s like the other end of the design spectrum. Fashion designers Moods of Norway have used that to their advantage, a sort of warm, rural clutter 🙂

MZ: it doesn’t seem like they could work together, but it seems to!

BE: It does, strangely enough.

MZ: Are there other themes you find you revisit in your writing?

BE: Apart from landscapes and silence, the natural world seems to come up a lot, especially in the two novels I recently completed. Animals, plants, the stewardship of those, but also space, research, technology.

MZ: are you self-publishing them?

BE: I’ve wanted to write fiction set in space, as I mentioned to a friend, not just science fiction in a distant future, but our present, which is becoming a little like sci-fi.

I’m trying to find a publisher for the novels. If I can’t find that, I’ll self-publish them.

MZ: near future sci-fi is near and dear to my heart

BE: Like Gravity?

MZ: I love taking the cutting edge technology and extrapolating how it will change in a very short period of time

I haven’t seen that yet, our local movie theater closed down. I meant more in fiction than movies though. My novella Copper takes place not too far in the future and is a world recognizable to us now.

BE:  That extrapolation is great for science fiction indeed

I must ask this: Why is it called Copper? Peak copper?

MZ: 🙂 the word has many meanings in the story, mostly it is because they are using the old technology of copper phone lines to circumvent government monitoring

BE: Ahh, old-fashioned landlines. 🙂 Or even telegraph?

MZ: modems! 🙂

BE: 🙂 wow! I remember those. A lot of waiting for pages to load. 😀

MZ: and the screeching!

BE: 😀 yes! Our current world is indeed a little like science fiction.

MZ: How do you think being a science writer changes what you write in fiction?

BE: I think it’s made me interested in bringing in issues and themes such as the natural world and the existence outside of human cities and human culture. I’m not a hard SF writer, though, I haven’t been inspired by physics and mathematics to such a degree. It also makes me aware of current news, and what research actually reaches the news.

MZ: I will admit I dislike the term “hard” relating to SF

BE: It’s certainly a bit of artificial separation

MZ: especially when no one can decide if biology is hard or not

BE: ha ha ha, so true! Saw that conundrum in a recent discussion about the project that’s currently mapping the neurons in the human brain.

MZ: it is SO true about what research makes the news though. I mean think about research relating to only one gender or a small population of people.. it’s rare for amazing breakthroughs in certain things to get any kind of notice at all

BE: So true. When it happens it does so bc of a concerted effort of publication specifically towards the media and the top media. I guess it’s similar to most other current affairs, what gets the world’s attention and what doesn’t. The imbalance of representation.

That’s why I think the debate about representation going on in writerly circles these days is very good.

MZ: Yes. It’d be good for it to extend to science publications too.

BE: Indeed. I saw some reports last year about how female scientists are presented and highlighted in media vs their male colleagues. One female was presented as being a good mother and good cooks, despite primarily being a top scientists.

MZ: I think some scientists could use better PR too, a lot of the time they assume the research will be important enough to spread far and wide, when a lot of the time it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grants and publicity.

BE: So true! Science needs to alert publicity and the media too.

MZ: I know in Archaeology it’s talked about as “National Geographic Archaeology” and “The important stuff”

BE: 😀

MZ: cause if you’re lucky enough to get a digsite that will appeal to a NatGeo photographer and lots of full page pictorials, it’s easy to get continued funding and permits.

BE: Those NatGeo articles are lovely, though, and I’m sure they can be “Important Stuff” too.

MZ: But… so few of what actually give us amazing information also appeal to super glossy color pictures

I mean, fossilized human poop is fascinating

BE: 😀

MZ:…but I don’t expect two page spread of it any time soon

BE: There was a news story about that some weeks ago. Something about early humans and their waste. Lovely. I actually didn’t read it.

MZ: lots of exciting work going on in Oregon about that right now 🙂

BE: 😀 Really? I guess it can tell lots of things about nutrition = food = culture.

MZ: the arid desert regions are full of caves that were used by early humans to North America so they’re finding lots of preserved things they don’t normally find, shoes and stuff too

BE: Soft objects, that’s nice.

MZ: Well, I probably shouldn’t keep you up all night 🙂 Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

BE: I should probably say that not only science, but also ecology, climate change, and the not too distant present are also themes in my current work. Difficult themes, but I’ve felt it was important to write about.

It goes back to my education as a biologist and the surprise of actually living in a time of a biological mass extinction.

MZ: It is not an easy thing to accept, no.

BE: It seems like it’s not happening bc we don’t see it from day to day or notice the species being gone, but it is happening and we seem to be doing little about it.

I heard that 40% of the Norwegian bird species, just common birds that used to be everywhere in the country, are now approaching an unhealthy status. That’s unsettling.

MZ: it does seem to be happening slower in middle latitudes, so maybe that’s why people aren’t paying as much attention?

BE: It’s not just in the Amazon or Africa or the Antarctic, but in the temperate zones and near where humans live.

Yes, that’s probably part of the reason why, it’s happening gradually and slowly, or relatively slowly, and we don’t see it directly, so it’s easy to forget or overlook.

MZ: like the lobster slowly being cooked to death

BE: 😀 sadly, yes.

I saw one scientist in a fairly recent climate documentary say that it’s like we’re approaching a cliff, but we’re making few attempts at steering away from it.

driving towards a cliff, I mean.

MZ: I guess all we can do as writers is try to bring attention as we can

BE: Indeed. That’s why writing the recent novels have felt so important. I agree, that’s what we can do.

 

Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Amanda C. Davis

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Why should you know Amanda? Well… go read her story Shimmer, and then you can tell me. She is one of the people I wish I lived close enough to that I could show up outside her kitchen window holding out my empty bowl like Oliver whenever she bakes. You should also check out her website (There’s more fiction links there!) and follow her on Twitter.

 

Minerva Zimmerman

Well, I suppose the first thing is to establish how we know each other

Amanda C. Davis

Let me see. I’m sure I got to know you on Twitter, but I’m pretty sure we were in a TOC together?

MZ: Beast Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, I think

AD: That’s the one

I actually log all my TOCs in this big spreadsheet

MZ: I don’t remember if we followed each other before that TOC or not on Twitter

AD: so I can just search it for anyone and see what we’ve been in together.

I think before, honestly.

MZ: I think so too

AD: One of those things where our circles overlapped.

MZ: Yeah, it’s weird how that happens

AD: Sometimes I follow Clarion grads just to get in on the ground floor. 🙂

MZ: I’m not much of a workshop person.I found I don’t actually like workshopping in general

AD: Ah!

MZ: I just found it isn’t as useful for me, personally

AD: Is it better online? I prefer to get written crits rather than verbal ones. Possibly because it’s easier for people to be vague out loud than on paper.

MZ: I prefer one on one crits with someone I know and knows me at least tangentially, rather than the workshop format

AD: Gotcha

MZ: I have really awesome Beta Readers

AD: I’ve never gotten crits from someone I didn’t know at least in passing. Not sure how that would work for me.I’ve always had great crit partners at hand, I’m very lucky. My sister, first and foremost.

MZ: is your sister also a writer?

AD: I’m thinking about that a lot lately, actually, because I’ve been brushing shoulders with some writers in their teens lately, wondering–how can I help them without hurting them? What kind of guidance gets them through this stage into the next one?

My sister Megan Engelhardt is also a writer. We co-wrote our collection, Wolves and Witches.

Available at e-retailers everywhere. ;P

MZ: 🙂 My youngest brother is my first reader, so I do like working with siblings

though he’s 15 years younger, so we don’t have the same childhood experiences

AD: My sister and I are only two years apart, so our experiences are VERY similar. It’s good and bad in that we can usually tell what each other is trying to get at, but we might both miss the same things. And rivalry is a thing. 🙂

MZ: did you read the same books?

AD: Haha, we did to the extent that we let each other touch them. One or two prized books, we negotiated signed contracts. Not perfect overlap, though. More like a Venn diagram.

MZ: I bet family trips to the library were fun

AD: We had a bookmobile.

MZ: did your parents have to negotiate cease fires over who got a book first?

AD: We lived in the country, so every…month? I’m not good with time. This van full of books would park by the post office and we’d do our librarying there. Not over that! We were both fast enough readers that we could both get to the same book within hours.

The entire family warred over Goblet of Fire, though.

MZ: Oh, I remember fighting my mom over that one

AD: So my sister and I have been reading each other’s manuscripts since elementary school, easily.

MZ: Do you have other Beta Readers you use too?

AD: It depends on the project. I have a great local group that sees a lot of my short stuff, especially if we all write to the same prompt, and they’ve seen one novel. Then there’s this whole network of Internet friends who’ve seen various trunk novels, or who will be called to service sometime this year, I swear. Heads up, guys!

A lot of the time, shorter pieces will only go through Megan, or just myself.

MZ: How do you go about writing short fiction pieces? Do you go from prompts mostly?

AD: Most of my short fiction has been to prompt, or for an upcoming theme.

Deadlines are a big part of my motivation. If I just get an idea I want to write, it usually hangs back in my brain until I have something to apply it to, if that makes sense.

MZ: I think my short fiction generally starts with: Step 1: First you get a Deadline

AD: Haha, I feel that. 🙂

MZ: I don’t seem to finish things without deadlines as much

AD: It just helps focus my priorities.

MZ: yes, exactly!

AD: There aren’t a lot of stories I care about so deeply that they go to the top of the list. There’ve been a few. Mostly, knowing someone out there wants a specific thing is enough to float a project.

Do you remember that time I went crazy over motivation/encouragement profiles?

MZ: I will admit I focus more on your food projects

AD: Fair enough. 😛

MZ: I’m more likely to remember things that make me drool for whatever reason

AD: Let me grab you a blog link. (I just made two batches of cherry jam. AWESOME.)

MZ: Did you get the big counter mounted pitter?

AD: Oh no, I did it with a paring knife and my right thumbnail. Between the dark juice and the cuts I look like I was in a knife fight. There we go: http://amandacdavis.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/writers-whats-your-motivation-encouragement-profile/

MZ: holy cow, that’s hardcore cooking

AD: Long blog post short, I think certain kinds of writers are mostly driven by deadlines, and we are definitely two of them. So we might as well embrace what works for us.

MZ: I think I’d say that while I can be socially driven, it doesn’t result in published work

not the way deadlines do it still results in work, but just not of the type that is immediately publishable

AD: Ah, got it. Is the goal then to show it to someone else?

MZ: but that’s really important for getting through a longer fiction piece

AD: That’s interesting. Maybe deadlines work better for short pieces because it’s one and done, but if you have crit partners, getting chapters to them can be that immediate gratification you don’t get if you save a whole novel to send out.

MZ: right, cause I still need the motivation to keep going sometimes and crit partners provide that

what I’m having trouble motivating is editing longer pieces

AD: Oh, you are singing my blues right now. Have you successfully done it? Edited a full, long piece to the point where it wasn’t going to get better without professional help?

MZ: I mean, I know how to fix stuff and what I need to do, but can I afford to stop publishing short fiction for a long period of time? Plus there’s a lot of do a lot of work and then hurry up and wait to be rejected which is hard to force yourself to do.

I’ve done novella length, but not novel that’s the next hurdle.

AD: The short-term rewards are so hard to give up! 😀 You write a piece, you ship it out a couple times, it sells or it doesn’t, it’s over.

MZ: Oh no. I am a short fiction addict.

AD: Three years on a novel? I want to claw my face off.

MZ: /wrings hands/

AD: Haha, this is what happens when you talk writing to me, I just gripe about the novel for one million years.

Let’s talk about how much we edit our short pieces instead!

MZ: Ha, Ok. Have you ever had a piece that seems cursed?

AD: There’s something James D. Macdonald said on Absolute Write once, that I thought was smart, comparing a short story to a key lime pie: if it doesn’t bake up right, you just have to make another one. That’s how it tends to work for me. I’m much, much more likely to scrap a story than significantly rework it.

MZ: Yeah. Sigh. I once had a class with a guy who said one smart thing ever in my hearing (the rest of what he said had to do with how he was a reincarnation of either Jesus Christ or the Devil’s Son) about how some stories are just meant to become compost for new ones.

AD: That sounds about right, yeah. (The last part.)

And sometimes I can see the links between stories, chronologically, where I (apparently without realizing it) took a second shot at something I did in a previous story.

Oh boy, though, doesn’t it suck to throw away something that’s about 90% right!

MZ: Yeah, I’m still not convinced this one I’m struggling with isn’t fixable which is what is killing me right now.

AD: Have you ever managed to work through something like that?

Fixing it to your satisfaction years later?

I have two right now I’m hoping to pull that trick on.

MZ: Yes, but usually when the problem was that I wasn’t a good enough writer yet.

AD: I may have only done it once.

I’m curious, what specifically did you improve at, before you could fix the story?

And would a really good crit have helped you along faster, or do you think you had to get to that point at your own pace?

MZ: Well, partly was that I had the wrong crit partner for a long time.

AD: Ouch!

MZ: Like, I was learning a lot, but we were never going to see eye-to-eye on certain things because I’d have to destroy my voice to get them to where they were trying to get me. I just know myself and my writing and my voice better now. I know what things to ignore now.

AD: Being able to play your own instrument, rather than learn someone else’s?

MZ: Right, it was like trying to learn acoustic guitar for years when you really wanted to play electric.

AD: That’s funny. I’ve had my crit partners long enough that for a lot of them, I can recognize things that will bother them to death that I’m just not going to stop doing, so I can take that crit for what it’s worth. 🙂

MZ: and to take that analogy further, I have really tiny hands so I couldn’t do the fingering correctly

AD: And then if I spot that kind of thing in their work, I know they’ll want me to point it out.

I was thinking violin and tuba, but tomato-tomahto. 🙂

MZ: I was at least in the same instrument family 🙂

AD: So, but do you think voice is really what makes or breaks a piece?

MZ: Mmmm… it can

AD: I feel like it’s important and valuable, but not strictly essential.

MZ: but I think more importantly it is something that can trump other problems

AD: She said, as a devoted hack.

Ooh! Like what?

MZ: like if it is wrong it doesn’t matter how right the rest of the story is, and if it is right it can make up for a lot

AD: Ah, okay, I’ll buy that.

I think there’s room for it to be “just fine” too, unremarkable, and the story can still work.

MZ: I think you can still have an excellent story with middling voice.

AD: Yeah.

MZ: You just can’t have an excellent story with terrible voice.

AD: Unless that’s the point. 😀

MZ: And excellent voice prevents a story from being truly horrible

AD: I agree with all of that!

*high fives*

MZ: *high five*

Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

AD: Nothing in particular!

I’d be happy to do it again sometime.

MZ: I’m hoping this is something that catches on. I want newer writers to understand how writers network and actually talk and how things happen.

that it isn’t some crazy conspiracy

AD: Hahahaha

(continues laughing)

(still laughing)

MZ: we just overlap and enjoy talking about stuff!

AD: What we do is, we slave away in solitude, going quietly crazy

and then get together and just complain about it for HOURS.

MZ: and trade recipes

the recipes are very important

AD: Well yes, and that. 🙂

The thing that Twitter has really taught me about networking

is how it’s really all about mutual interest and impressing each other.

I follow people who are funny, they follow me back if they think I’m funny.

MZ: Right. I don’t follow people back who just post links to their stuff and their blogs. I follow people who talk to other people.

AD: Writers follow each other when they share a TOC, or a favorite genre or topic, or just an interest. It’s the number one best way to find new markets, support, and awesome people!

MZ: TOC are a major way I’ve ended up following people

AD: Same here.

MZ: cause it means we generally write about the same sorts of stuff

AD: People who got into things I failed to get into. 🙂

Plus, it’s a conversation starter. And something to bring to cons to get signed.

MZ: Yes. I really like following people with different interests who feel very passionately about them

AD: Same! I’ve learned fantastic things by watching people gush about them.

Have you tried baking macarons, perchance? ^_^

MZ: Not yet, I’m still intimidated!

AD: Don’t!

MZ: But my brother is staying with us at least for the summer, and he adores cooking things, so we might try it together

AD: Haha, it’s like submitting stories. What’s the worst thing that happens? You fail? Come on.

EMBRACE THE DANGER.

MZ: Well, right now the worst thing would be eating an entire batch of macaroons 🙂

AD: You are confusing “worst thing” with “best thing” 😀

MZ: probably 🙂

Ghosts in the IM: Conversations between Writers

So, I had this idea that I’d talk to other writers about writing and post it up our conversations for other people who don’t really know what writers talk about amongst ourselves. I’m ultimately very lazy, so I made it Instant Message conversations so I wouldn’t have to transcribe anything. I also had the ulterior motive of wanting to talk to some writers one on one that I’ve never had the opportunity to. For my inaugural conversation I chose:

 

Richard Dansky

Dansky-Dinosaur-Pic

 

Richard Dansky is a writer and game designer, an enjoyer of Scotches and watcher of Sasquatches. For more about him check out his website, wikipedia, Twitter, or y’know go buy his newest book: Vaporware

 

Minerva Zimmerman: Do you ever worry what Google will eventually do with your chat history after you’re history?

Richard Dansky: Actually, I’m hoping that someone’s going to go through them and compile and annotate them, so that writers of distant generations will be sure to get all my obscure Van Der Graaf Generator references.

I mean, in a lot of ways, this is the new literary correspondence. It’s just much more available to those of us with terrible handwriting.

MZ: Oh man, I’d hate to be the poor bastard that’d have to annotate writer chats

It’d be a grad student, I’m sure of it

RD: And probably their first step on the road to a career as a supervillain.

MZ: Well, they would have all of the body disposal methods writers discuss among themselves.

Now, I don’t actually know you all that well. We harass each other on Twitter and have mutual friends but I think this is the first time we’ve talked directly.

I went and did a little research (I checked your wikipedia page) and I knew about White Wolf: Wraith, and that you wrote for video games, but for some reason I never really put it together that you work on the Tom Clancy games.

RD: It’s a mixed portfolio, I confess 🙂

MZ: I’m kind of curious how that happened since it doesn’t seem like an immediate fit for the spooky reputation I know.

RD: Red Storm was founded in part by Tom Clancy, and so the Tom Clancy’s games were always very much at the core of what the studio did. I actually was brought on board for another project entirely, one that was non-Clancy in nature.

But when we were bought by Ubisoft and development on Clancy games got spread out to various studios, having central subject matter experts was seen as a good thing – people who could elucidate what “Clancy” was and wasn’t in terms of games, and who could say “No, you can’t set a mission there because we did it two games ago” and so forth.

And on the writing side, my skill set was a good match for that and I was already in-house, so it just sort of rolled from there.

MZ: So you default were the game world bible, and thus became the keeper of the bible?

RD: And I was very good at generating more verses rapidly as needed, as it were.

MZ: gotcha. What do you enjoy about game writing vs. fiction? I know for me, it was the fun of doing all the world building without having to go through the full-draft and then editing process of fiction.

RD: The fun of game writing is collaboration, both with the other people working on the project and with the players. My words, combined with models and animations and physics and systems and everything else, makes something amazing that I could never make by myself, and to see that come together is a thrill. And then, once players get their hands on it and get to do /their/ own thing with it, that’s fun all over again.

At the same time, fiction’s a nice change of pace from that precisely because it’s not collaborative and the restrictions that come from coordinating with other folks – disc footprint, number of voice sets that can be loaded, etc. – don’t exist. So I can cheerfully do my own thing and have an army of dead warrior leaves in the millions without wondering if the AI engineers are going to have a heart attack.

MZ: I have a really really difficult question.

RD: Yes?

MZ: If you were a radio DJ with your own show, what section of what prog rock song would be your opening music?

RD: Oooh.

Tough choice there between something from “Scorched Earth” by VDGG or the opening chords of “Slainte Mhath” by Marillion.

I wear my neo-prog influences proudly on my sleeve. And in my voluminous collection of concert t-shirts.

MZ: I personally think it’s one of the more interesting things about you

I dunno what that says about me

RD: It says that you’re easily amused, possibly 🙂

MZ: I do resemble that. I think that just makes me have a more fulfilled life though.

One of the other things that sticks out for me about you, is your Kill the Goddamn Vulture column

Is “the vulture” something you struggled with? Ok, what I want to know is; Does it get better?

I keep thinking that this writing gig will get easier and the self-doubt will ease up, but it seems to mutate.

RD: It is, and it’s something I’ve seen many of my friends, all of whom are ridiculously talented people, struggle with as well.

You see brilliant folks who are great writers or singers or musicians or designers or whatever do all the work and finally have the opportunity in front of them where it can pay off, and they decide they’re not worthy or they’re not good enough or they don’t deserve to do it or hey there’s this other thing that they’re going to focus on until the opportunity’s passed. And that’s painful.

But the good thing is if you recognize it, you can do something about it. You can spot yourself “vulturing” and not let yourself get away with it.

MZ: Are their passed opportunities in your own past that help remind you?

RD: And it helps if you have friends who love you who will point it out, too, and call you on your own bullshit. God knows I’ve needed it on more than one occasion 🙂

MZ: I know that’s what’s made the difference for me in some cases, because I’ve had those times when I know I let something amazing slip through my fingers and I don’t want to do that again.

RD: I have a list of opportunities I just sort of aw-shucksed my way past, and I pull that out every so often as a reminder. Because I not only hurt myself by not taking an honest swing at those, I hurt the people who’d helped get me those chances, and that’s what really bothers me still.

MZ: Wow, yeah. That sounds really familiar.

I don’t understand people who claim they got to where they are all by themselves. I know there have been so many people who have caused me to have opportunities. I hope I’m paying it forward for other people, but sometimes I don’t know that it’s something you can ever really pay back.

especially when you didn’t cash in some of those opportunities you were given

RD: There’s a certain value to self-mythologizing, I’d guess, and I don’t mean to denigrate the hard work anyone who achieves a level of success puts in. But I know how many folks have helped me along the way, and I always try to give them credit, and to follow their example by helping others where I can.

MZ: Where do you sort of consider yourself to be in your career arc? I know I have trouble sort of seeing where I am in the big picture and tend to focus really myopically on where I am Right Now. I consider you to be a fair distance ahead of me on the arc and I’m wondering if you have a better idea of where you are?

RD: I have absolutely no idea where I am in my career arc, or if it can really be described as an arc at all. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the chance to work on some wonderful projects in multiple fields – best-selling RPGs, million-selling AAA videogames, writing a novel that got a starred review in PW – and occasionally I look at my credits list and say “I did all that?” Because it’s always easy to nitpick what you’ve done and say “Oh, I got lucky there” or whatever and downplay that you’ve done something really exciting and cool.
But at the same time, there are so many things I want to do that I haven’t done yet. I want to do more novels. I’ve got a card game I’m hoping to publish soon. I’m attempting a graphic novel collaboration with someone, and even the cockamamie sports blog I write because it amuses my father.

So I guess if I were at the end of the arc, it would be an arc that I could be proud of. But I’m hoping I’m in the middle, and that I’ll always be willing to be at the beginning for something new.

MZ: I like that. I want to be perpetually in the middle.

I like the feeling of having a long future of lots of things.

I guess I just wish I had some long fiction to point at too

RD: As Brian Upton once told me, you never add multiplayer at the end of the development cycle, because adding it means you’re back in the middle 🙂

MZ: there are additional reasons not to add multiplayer at the end too 🙂

Is there something you wish you could tell your baby writer self?

Like, right when you were starting out and starting to take it seriously?

RD: Ease up on the Diet Coke 🙂

On a more serious note, I would tell my younger self to build and reinforce my professional writing habits. It’s easy when you’re 23 and made out of caffeine and lightning and you’re immortal to say “well, I’ll just pull six all nighters in a row and BAM”, when really developing a solid, steady work process would obviate the need for that sort of heroic effort.

And probably produce better work in the end.

There’s certainly a romance to staying up 97 consecutive hours to write fiendishly, but there was also a certain romance to gallivanting over the Alps with a poofy shirt and a bad case of consumption while writing poetry, and that tended to turn out poorly for everyone except the pathogens.

MZ: Is there anything additional you would tell your 30ish self?

RD: “Get some sleep”. You’d be amazed at how much better everything is if you get enough sleep.

MZ: There really isn’t a good transition for this… but, Sasquatch.

RD: Oh dear. Yes.

MZ: One of my favorite bits of following you on Twitter is your livetweets of watching Finding Bigfoot.

RD:I have such a love-hate relationship with that show. On one hand, I love cryptozoology and I love the enthusiasm that the four cast members go out in the woods with. I mean, they’re actually going out there and looking, and they’re doing it in good faith. At the same time, sweet fancy Moses, there are moments when you just look at what they’re doing or they’re saying and it’s just, c’mon, really?

I freely confess I have never seen, heard or smelled a bigfoot, but I caught the bigfoot bug from an episode of “In Search Of” – the old Nimoy version.

MZ: I loved that show! I’m a huge fan of “ancient secrets” and cryptozoology and the like shows.

RD: The Amityville Horror ep freaked me out. I was maybe 6 or 7 when I saw it and it was pure nightmare fuel.

MZ: I have never managed to watch past the first 20 min or so of the original movie, and then to see all the “true crime” investigations of the house… AHHHHH

RD: I love those shows too when they’re done in a spirit of inquiry. When it’s “bad rhetoric 101”, like, say, Ancient Aliens, well, then it’s hate-watch time.

MZ: yeah, I’m not a fan of Ancient Aliens

RD: But I maintain affection for Finding Bigfoot. Ranae’s actually RTed a few of my snarkier comments, which means I can die happy.

MZ: Well, I should probably wrap this up before we talk all evening.

How about a couple influences you think other writers should read/be aware of?

RD: Read “The Simple Art of Murder”. Read Bradbury’s “Zen In the Art of Writing”. Read stuff you wouldn’t read by choice to broaden your horizons. It’s a big world out there with a lot of stuff that can make your writing better – be open to it.

 

Supportive Partner

My husband, Aaron, does not Beta Read my writing. He is incredibly supportive and always willing to talk out specific ideas I’m thinking about, but he doesn’t read “unfinished” writing. He prefers to wait until my writing has passed through an editor and is at least on its way to being published.

There are a couple reasons for this; number one is that he’s not comfortable in that role. The last thing on earth he wants to do is say the wrong thing at the wrong time and keep me from submitting something because he made a flippant comment. Secondly, he knows me really really well and tends to see the seeds of my reality that blossom into unrelated fiction. Aaron has a hard time not pointing these things out, and sometimes that’s like someone describing how they make sausage right as you go to take a big bite of bratwurst. Sometimes it doesn’t bother you, others it can completely put you off your lunch. Either way it generally enhance the eating experience any.

I felt weird about this for a really long time, because generally when writers talk about how their partners support their writing they talk about their spouse being their First Reader. I felt like there might be something wrong with me as a writer or with our partnership because it has never really worked that way for me/us. Eventually I saw another writer blog about how they didn’t have that relationship with writing and their spouse and things worked out better for everyone that way.

I mentioned this fact at a panel at World Horror and I had someone come up to me after who was just as thankful to hear this from me, as I’d been to read it in the past. I wanted to make sure that I put this out publicly for the people who likewise need to see it.

I have an amazing partner I’ve been with for 14 years now. He supports me  and my writing, but isn’t and can’t be my First Reader. That isn’t just OK, it works out great for us. Figure out what works best for you and yours and don’t worry about what anyone is or isn’t doing.