Love Bites

If there are two words that sum me up, ‘hopeless romantic’ comes as close as any. Tragic romance is generally my speed, but I am certainly a romantic at heart. But let’s talk about writing romance for a bit.

toastNot romance novels, because I have exactly zero expertise in that arena, but romance in fiction in general. Io9 had a great post on the Eight Worst Kinds of Fictional Romances, and while they cite TV, it applies to books too. And for the love of bacon, just stop already. Seriously.

But authors aren’t the only ones who are guilty. I swear, if I see one more Finn/Rey/Poe love triangle/some pairing, I am going to claw my eyes out. God forbid any characters have good chemistry and don’t end up in bed together.

One of the most influential books for me was Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. It is an adventure about a close friendship, and does a much better job of communicating real affection between two people, as well as real issues between those people, than any of these shoe-horned romances that come from jamming two characters together.

If you’re writing, take a good, hard look at why two characters are dating/married/sleeping together. As that Io9 article says, are you just writing a plot point? Because if you are, it will feel flat and your characters will feel phony.

On the flip side, maybe two characters really seem to bounce off each other, and that wasn’t in the plan. Hey, guess what? That’s how real life works, which means that if those characters do get together, it feels natural. But what if your plot points demand they don’t? Hey, also real life. Give your readers a good dose of will-they/won’t-they. Maybe bring them together at the end. Maybe have them never get together. Maybe have one die tragically in the others arms (spoiler alert).

Romance is great- I love it, but it is not necessary. And when it is forced into a story, it takes away from the depth of the characters, distracts from the story and feels like a cheap grab at your readers emotions. Consider it as carefully as you would anything else in the story, and remember- less is generally more.

-DESR

PS Hands off Finn, Poe is mine

The Approching (Learning) Curve

Writing, as a profession, is a nebulous and often silly thing. Writing, in and of itself, is straightforward. You write, tell the story that is in your head, and that is about it. But the attempt sell ones work commercially introduces all manner of grey area.

These areas are those things you wish you had a map for, the things that I now say I wish someone had told me that when I started. To quote a friend: Here’s the thing: It’s all out there. All of it. You just have to look. If you do, you can save yourself a whole bunch of heartache, work, and, hopefully, rejection.

I talked the other day about submissions, manuscript format and the like. Those are hard-and-fast things. Please, follow them. Always. This is basic and common to every market, every book, every editor.

But what about the grey areas? What should you do when the rejection comes? What about reviews?

Honestly, this is a problem. There are so many wonderful things about the internet, and what it does for the writing and reading communities. It brings us all together. You can get to know your favorite authors, authors can thank readers. It’s grand. Only… some people take to far. There are far too many instances like that, things which are completely inappropriate. So let’s run through a few scenarios and see how you, and author, can comport yourself professionally.

 

oreo

Trust me

 

 

I got a rejection from [an agent, and editor, etc]: Sorry. Eat an Oreo. That’s it. Do not reply to the editor. Do not say thank you to them. Do not ask for feedback- it is not their job. Editors and agents get literally thousands of emails. If you just clog them up with more emails, they will remember you, and not for any of the reasons you want.

Most of all, do not be angry. They are doing their job. Do not threaten them, do not send an all-caps rant to them, nothing. Don’t even subtweet them. You think editors don’t see that stuff? Even if it is much later, and another editor/agent/whatever sees that you are in the habit of bashing people online… do you think it helps your chances?

In short: Do not reply to a rejection in any way, shape or form.

My book got a really nasty review! Sorry. Eat an Oreo. Leave it alone. They were wrong? They were stupid? They gave you two stars because their Kindle battery died in the middle of your book (it’s happened). I cannot be clear enough about this: do not reply to a review ever. It is a bad look, no matter how right you are. If there is clear abuse/misinformation/whatever, contact wherever the review is hosted. Don’t leave a reply. Ever. And certainly don’t do anything close to stalking, intimidating, or threaten them. If you do, though, please make sure I can see it, because there is nothing that brings me greater joy than watching stupid authors melt down publicly.

My book got a great review! Awesome! You may eat Oreos at you discretion. Do not reply. Not even to say thank you. It’s a bad look, and looking like you got a nice review from a friend (even if they are not) won’t help you.

Also, if you buy reviews, you are an ass.

My MS is ready! Time to submit! Hold up, tiger. Eat an Oreo and slow down. Real talk: Your manuscript sucks. Look at it, typos all over the place. Did you really write in first person present? Why? Look, you couldn’t even keep it straight and wind up in past half the damn time. You forgot about Carl’s B story for, like, six chapters. Your ending is flat out boring. Seriously, your mom is embarrassed for you.

Still with me? Good. First off, you needed to hear that, because you are in for a world of hurt over the next few months. But you can prevent some of that! Get beta readers. GOOD beta readers. Not your friends, not people who like you. People who will tell you what I just told you up there. Your friends will be all “OH EM GEE DEEN UR SUCH A GR8 RITER”. I’m not joking, this happens, so get people who will make your work better, not tell you how great it is– even if it is great (which it isn’t. You suck. Give up now).

Which brings us to query letter time!

PFFFFT DESR, my book is a special snowflake and I hate the idea of writing a query letter. Totes don’t need one. This doesn’t fit anywhere else, so you get it here, and it gets its very own paragraph:

You are not a special snowflake, and neither is your book. You and your precious baby are another drop in the ocean, and agents and editors are drowning in them. So get it out of your head that you’re special, that you’re the exception and that you don’t have to play by the rules.

Harsh? You bet your ass. But not writing a query letter, not polishing your MS until it shines, is like showing up to a job interview in Bermuda shorts without ever turning in a résumé. You’re just going to get laughed out of the office, and the only small mercy you get as a writer is that you only get a form letter, instead of seeing them laugh. That’s harsh.

So sit down and write the letter. Did you do it? GOOD. It sucks. Your mom is embarrassed again. Why do you do this to here? Google ‘query letter critiques’. Polish your query letter. Make it shine. Then, maybe, your mom will look at you again. Don’t get your hopes up, though.

hope

God, I love that gif.

No one has bought my book and I have submitted it everywhere! I told you it sucked. Write another one. Every writer has a million words sitting in the garbage. Very nearly every book that has been published has been rejected literally dozens of times. Life goes on. Can it, start a new one. It can be hard, to be sure, especially that first one. You worked so hard on it, were so sure it was *THE* book and… no one wants it.

Eat an Oreo.

DESR

Yogurt

Once upon a time, when ebooks were first a thing, and the ability for readers to have a critical voice via reviews was new, I was optimistic. Cream will rise to the top, right? Traditional gatekeepers will be eschewed for the true voice of the reader.

hope.gif

You are so right, Tom Hardy. This is why one should never be optimistic or trust humanity, because people are terrible and stupid. Because this is the kind of crap you see: Books that come out and within days have hundreds of glowing, four- and five-star reviews. However do they do it?

In a tale as old as time, to paraphrase Beauty and the Beast, they buy them. Yup, packaged reviews. Go for it. My favorite bit is where they promise it won’t look sketchy. What do you think, Stitch?

stitch eyes

I feel ya. The cream is rising, only the cream is curdled and a lie. I don’t have words for how low, how cheap, how wrong this is. Just bribing their way around terrible writing and lack of any actual sales appeal.

But at least that’s as bad as it gets, right, Minion?

minion no

Crap. Posing as a fake Penguin employee? How stupid can people be? If you want to get sued and ridiculed on the internet, there are far easier ways to go about it. But, no, you have to do this. Again, words fail me, and I’m a writer. Words don’t fail me very often. Do you have anything to say, Captain Malcom Reynolds?

mal

You too, huh? But the words I do have are unfit for a family blog (not that families read this, but whatever) (let’s take a moment and imagine the idyllic American family gathering in the evening to read this blog. No, stop crying).

Go back and sink to the bottom where you belong. Take it away, King Julian.

shut up

DESR

So You Want to Be a Professional Short Story Author?

Not that *I* am, or whatever (OK, I kinda am), so take all this with appropriate grains of salt. But friend o’ the blog David Winchester recently challenged me to write a short story, submit it, have it rejected, repeat. To which I replied:

DONESO.

I’ve done that once or twice, and have received more words in rejection letters than I have written in my life. I’ve written about rejection before, and why it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. If you want to write, commercially, you’ll be rejected. It’s a fact. If you have written and tried to peddle your wares, you crack up every time you read one of those breathless headlines about how someone was rejected X times before being published.

futurama_benderBut, for what it’s worth, here is my approach to writing and submitting short stories. Feel free to use and/or ridicule it as you see fit.

Write: I mean, obviously. But it’s not as easy as that; not always. Life prevails upon us all. And, at least in my case, at a certain point, writing becomes a job- which is fine- but we are not as excited to get to our jobs as we are our hobbies. In any case, this is the obvious first step. So do it, and do it well.

Submit: Here is where is gets interesting. Where does one submit their stories too? Ralan is great resource. Here is my method, such as it is:

  • Market specificity: Sometimes I will write a piece with a specific market in mind- either because something in the market (such as an anthology or collection) inspires me, or because I have something that seems to suit them. In either case, it goes there first.
  • Best opportunity: Some markets are only open for a period of time, and these are the ones I usually submit to first- generally the reason they are open for a limited period is because the pay is better, or they are a large market, so these opportunities are usually at the top of my list.
  • Pro-Paying Markets: SFWA defines pro rate as $0.06 a word. If I am rejected by the above, I look to the markets which are continually  open. This is generally the longest part, and at this juncture, I want to say this: READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.  Look, you can write the all-time crappy story, and the next time you submit, they will read it with fresh eyes. If you submit in 8-point comic sans, in the body of your email? Welcome to the auto-reject list. If you think that’s not a thing, you need to meet more editors. Be professional, be respectful. Read each guideline, and follow it.
  • Semi-Pro Markets. One should not confuse this with ‘lesser quality markets’. There are many places that publish fantastic fiction, and have fantastic editors, but pay less than $0.06/word. Nor should you confuse with selling to these markets with any manner of failure- it is a SWFA guideline, used for their membership criteria. So selling to a semi-pro market isn’t a knock on you, or them. That said, I submit here next because, hey, I like money.

win.gifIn light of the above, though, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know your markets. Read them, and while you can’t read them all, at least read one issue of places you plan to submit. Have an idea of what they are likely (or not) to accept. In line with the first point up there, start with the place that publishes fiction most similar to your own. That’s not to say a market won’t accept your work if it is of quality, but, you know, keep the odds in your favor.
  • READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Literally, if there is nothing else you take away from this, it is READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Because here’s the thing about submission guidelines: If you write a catastrophically bad story- like, really bad- they will reject it. And the next story you write, they will read and judge on its own merits. If you send in a story in single-spaced, 8pt, comic sans format, they will never ever read anything you send them again ever. Here is a guide to standard manuscript format– which will guarantee you are at least not offensive- read it, know it, love it. Start a SMF template. Read submission guidelines.
  • Learn to deal with rejection. Because you will be rejected. Sometimes it will be a total form letter, sometimes person. Sometimes it will say get better and sometimes it will say it was very good and just missed the cut. Each one stings in its own special way, so get over it. Have a routine. Eat an Oreo every time you get rejected. But then log it (submission grinder is a great way to track your submissions), make a joke, and submit somewhere else. Also helpful: write, and submit, enough that it doesn’t matter. If you only submit a few things, each rejection stands out. If you submit a lot, it just kind of happens, and it’s easier to take in stride.

Over the coming year, I am going to be doing a few things. I am going to

bender

All of us in a year

write at least one (1) new short story every single month, and submit it (and submit it, and submit it, and..). I am also going to track the results here (I already track them on submission grinder, obviously). Why? A couple reasons: Accountability. This way y’all can yell at me hey jackass you haven’t submitted anything this month. It’s a big motivation. Also, to encourage you to do the same- set some goals, be it word counts, submissions, sales, whatever. Post your results as well. That way, at the end of the year, we can look back and you can laugh at me for not selling anything while you have a book deal. Wait, no, we can celebrate our success. Yeah, that.

 

*drinks*

DESR

 

Star Wars: A New Favorite

Spoilers follow. You have been warned.

I have been kicking this around for a while, since the very first scene of The Force Awakens, but I think it is solidified for me:

Poe Dameron is my favorite character in Star Wars. Not in the Force Awakens, in all of Star Wars.

Most of you know my affinity for ‘bucketheads’- Phasma, Fett. I like characters with mystery. Phasma was a bit of a letdown, I think, but maybe she had to be- Fett worked because there was so little known about him, you can create your own mythos.

poe 2.gif

Aw, look, he’s happy

But Poe, damn. I love flying, so pilots are characters I tend to like. Poe is just that, brashly so, and loves it. The Han Solo parallels are obvious, so why Poe and not the in-four-films-and-is-classic Solo?

 

One of my favorite things about TFA is the subtle changes to parallel characters, and where Han learned to care about others over the course of the OT, it is part of Poe’s soul. He cares about BB-8, even more so than we saw people care about R2. He instantly cares about Finn- “Yeah, well, I’m not calling you that.” He refuses to accept that this person doesn’t have an identity. And when he sees Finn again, this bad-ass, tough-as-nails smartass almost cries. And when that person asks for his help, he barges in on his boss (who clearly likes him and respects him, but still) to make sure that happens.

To me, that sets him apart. For all my love of a lot of ‘bad’ characters, I love that Poe so genuinely cares about others more than himself. Combine that with everything else he is, and he takes the top spot for me.

Oh, and that hair? Just look at that hair.

DESR

The DESR Guide to Avoiding Spoilers

Look, I get it. Star Wars has been out for a few days, and if you hear one damn word about what happens it, SPOILED. Why even bother seeing the movie? What’s the point of seeing Citizen Kane if you know (SPOILER) Rosebud is his sled? Or The Maltese Falcon if you know (SPOILER) the Falcon is fake? Or The Passion of the Christ if you know (SPOILER) Jesus dies? Or Star Trek Into Darkness if you know (SPOILER) it’s actually shitty movie?

bb8.gif

‘Boop’ is droid for ‘Are there spoilers?’

So how do you avoid spoilers? Never Fear, gentle reader, for I am here to help you. Follow these simple steps and you’ll remain unspoiled:

 

  1. Stay off the internet. This is probably pretty obvious, but avoiding spoilers is like a diet- you gotta be committed. Log on to the internet once, and Google a recipe for an aioli, and it autocompletes to Kylo Ren is Luke Skywalker’s sentient Aioli. See? You just read a spoiler. All because you got on the internet, you dumbass. Don’t bother seeing the movie.
  2. Throw your phone away. “But Dean,” you say, plaintively, “Can’t I just turn it off? Log out of my social media accounts?” You can. If you want spoilers. Because your BESTIE, BFF, or whatever you young folks call friends these days, they will text you. They will call you, and they will say “OMG THAT PART WHERE REY IS ACTUALLY HAN’S ILLEGITIAMATE MANDALORIAN JEDI CHILD” and spoiled. Throw it away.
  3. Move to a mountain cave. Again, possibly the obvious thing to do, but if you had done it and the steps above, you wouldn’t be reading this. So pack your crap- not anything that can be used to communicate with you outside world- and find a nice hole somewhere secluded. One word of semi-oscure caution: Make sure no time travelers have used the cave and scrawled spoilers in cave paintings on the walls. You know that’s what cave paintings, done by time-travelling trolls, to spoil movies for you. They’re on Twitter now, Time machines in the future. And, technically, the past.
  4. Cut off all human contact. And I mean all. You have a spouse? They would love NOTHING more than to spoil it for you. You have tickets for it tomorrow? As you’re drifting off to sleep, they will whisper Snoke is really a giraffe and, boom, twist is spoiled. Say goodbye to your kids, too. Some snot-nosed classmate saw an advance screening and blabbed all over school, and as if your kid has the good sense not to come through the door screaming the entire plot. So say goodbye to you family, your friends and get to the cave.

Or you could just stop whining and see the movie.

 

[EDITED TO ADD] None of this is to say you should try to spoil a movie for someone. If you’re one of those people, stop it, you’re a dick

Storyboarding

So I have been absorbed in two large projects lately, and have hit that point where I need to flex some different muscles. So I am going to ask you guys to chip and give me some ideas.

Tweet me (or drop in the comments) a pin (or something easily pinnable), and I will pin them all to a board, and then write a short involving all the suggestions.

That’s it, really. Can be any image, objects, etc. Lemme see what you have!

DESR