Over the Edge

Edginess is all the rage these days. Has been, for a long time, really. Push the envelope. Do something shocking and different. And that’s is all true and good – to an extent.

Once upon a time, a little film you may have heard of called Gone With the Wind made waves by using the word ‘damn’. Scandalous. And for the time, it was. And I am pretty sure we can all agree that standards when it came to books and movies in the era were pretty far out of whack.

Nowadays, not so much. It is, to borrow from V for Vendetta, the land of do as you please. This has some really good instances- think of Ned Stark or the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. Shocking, edgy and unexpected.

On the flipside, you have to work really hard to be shocking and edgy, and a lot of authors jump from that side of the line to outright brutality. I’m not going to debate the artistic merits, or lack thereof, of brutality- if that’s your thing, Marquis de Sade is out there for you to read. But think of the sheer number of books and movies that feature an inciting incident that involves a wife/girlfriend and/or child being some combination of raped/tortured/murdered. Shocking, right?

got.gifSorry, no. A couple things: First, no. It’s lazy. Sure, a significant other or child being brutalized would set me on a path to revenge, but it’s still distasteful. Does that mean it should never be done? Of course not- there are plenty of examples of good literature that include those elements. But it is lazy writing. Because of the emotional punch that the reader receives by empathizing with the protagonist, it elicits a reaction.

But it is overdone, and usually poorly done, and usually the focus is on the wrong thing. Don’t believe me? As any editor how many submissions they receive which feature – and glorify – such brutality. I’ll wait. Back? Told you so. So in addition to being a cheap inciting incident, it’s overdone, and any true edge is lost.

So what would be the non-lazy way of going about it? Think of The Count of Monte Christo- who suffers? Someone innocent? No – our protagonist. We still empathize with him, and with his suffering – in fact, to a depth that we would not achieve were Mercedes raped and/or murdered – which is the road many authors these days would go.

In fact, the tale of revenge is so deep that when he begins to terrorize other’s families, we excuse it! We are so deep in his head, his feelings so much our own, that it traces through the rest of the book. It is not something spurred by a hero kneeling in the rain, holding a body, shouting Noooooooo before going on a rampage. It is a human, who is wronged deeply, and not only goes on a journey of revenge, but by the end, is forced to judge himself for his actions.

Edginess is a useful tool. But it is not the only tool, and if you lean to hard on it, you’ll find yourself with a shallow work, lacking subtlety and substance.




Don’t Listen to Me

If you’re a writer, everyone has advice for you. A lot of it is good, but even the good stuff starts to lose its weight after the thirty gajillionth time you hear it. Here are some I (and a select panel of other [better] writers) have heard that are beaten to death and/or wrong:

Write Every Day: Why? Having a routine is great, and it means you’re being productive. But if you have a different writing schedule, who the hell cares? And not enough focus is on quality. Don’t worry so much about your word count and worry about how good those words are.opinionated

Show, Don’t Tell: Just… stop saying this. Writers say this like it’s a bloody mantra, usually with some lovely variation of don’t tell me it’s raining, make me feel the drops. Two things here: 1. Everyone knows this. 2. Sometimes it is OK to just say something. It’s called exposition. Do it well, and sometimes it is fine.

Write What You Know: The sheer amount and popularity of paranormal romance and YA dystopia suggests this is not essential. Granted, all those books are exactly the same, so maybe they mean write the same book as someone else, beat for beat. Seriously, though, while, yes, you should know what the hell you’re wiring about, write what you don’t know a little. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, or an alien, or a black man in the 1940’s, but those aren’t reasons for me to not write about them. (people need to stop writing that YA crap, though)

Write Until Your Story is Done: Do you like football? I like football. We just went into the offseason, so it’s time for everyone to complain about no football for a while. As soon as the season starts, everyone will complain about having to watch the Jags/Browns game. Your book is the same way- people want to read it, but if it drones on forever, they will hate it. So if your clone dystopian YA book is 150,000 words, you need to cut that sucker down. Less is always more when it comes to writing- make your words count.


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.


PS Hands off Finn, Poe is mine

Wanted: Fiction Authors

Seeking one (1) qualified writer to fill desired position. Must have not less than ten years experience, and have no less than three (3) NYT bestsellers, and short fiction sales to every (literally) pro market.

Job duties to include:

  • Working long hours for no pay on something which will likely never be read.
  • Coming to despise your own work with a hatred you previously imagined impossible.
  • Renouncing vacations, friendships and any and all free time.

Required Qualifications:

  • Must love daily, cold rejection.
  • Must enjoy ongoing criticism of work you consider personal.
  • Must embrace conflict and controversy. Candidates who have experience overreacting to perceived slights are preferred.

Compensation is DOE (and name recognition) and is not guaranteed.

Getting Over Yourself

Allow me to present two truths:

1. No one likes being rejected

2. If you seek to write professionally, you will be rejected.

Bummer, right? It seems every day, on some form of social media, someone is bemoaning a rejection. Not that this is bad- that’s just point number one up there. But, as a writer, you know it’s coming. Even the best of the best, the most well-loved and revered authors were rejected. In some cases, much more harshly than you or I ever will be. So how do you get over it and move on?

It's not as bad as all that

It’s not as bad as all that

It starts, I think, with what’s inside. Artists are, generally speaking, kind of an insecure bunch, particularly when it comes to their own works. So when the work is rejected, that makes it sting that much more. But, as point 2 states up there, it’s gonna happen, so my advice? Expect, revel in it, and just accept that. That’s not to say you’re going to (or should be happy), but do this: when you get a rejection, set a timer of some sort. That’s your time to feel crappy about it. When that time is up, it’s over. Tell yourself to bury it and move on. Or, as the saying goes, hope springs eternal: Have another something ready to submit. Rejection from one place? Fine. I’ll submit something somewhere else. They don’t need you? You don’t need them.

Sometimes there is a silver lining as well- it is a pretty saturated market out there, after all- and most of us are eager to sign the first chance we get, be that for short fiction or some book deal. But how many stories have you heard of someone passing up an offer, and then getting a better one? So maybe the short story you submitted to the place that pays $0.01/word will get picked up by Fireside. Or you pass up a small press and get signed to a big one. Step back from the rejection, and look at the big picture- maybe they did you a favor.

Speaking of the big picture- there is simply so many people submitting to so many markets, you’re going to get left out sometime. Your work might still be fantastic, but those are the numbers. Besides, would you really want everything you wrote to be accepted? Sure, the paydays would be nicer, but what motivation would you have to improve? Would readers want all you, all the time?

So- take it in stride as best you can, and be the best writer you can and it will all (probably) work out.


Why I Get Paid to Write (and you should too)

This is a thing, it seems, which crops up from time to time. Some form of writer’s not being paid, maybe they shouldn’t, exposure is reward enough, etc. Now, for the most part, the people saying this are probably quite well-intentioned. But it’s untrue and a trap for writers.

I have about 950 followers on Twitter, a couple hundred subscribers to this blog, and like ten on Facebook, because I hate Facebook and forget it exists. So it’s not like I am swimming in fame or my Kickstarter is the literary version of the Veronica Mars campaign. Obviously a little exposure would do me good (also, I’m kind of a miserable self-promoter). But here’s the thing: Giving my work away doesn’t help.

I’ve done it- the 444 project was a free thing- and, as I said, well intentioned, but it didn’t do me any good. Perhaps a few followers, but no books sold and no backers to Kickstarter as a direct result of it. Because what happens, when you give your product away, as a writer, is you remove value from it. SFWA pro rate says that a word of fiction is worth $0.06, and various markets are higher or lower, but that’s the baseline. So why should I tell people each word is worth zero cents?

If you think that’s not the case, and are saying, no, Dean, they read the free bit and then love it and then go buy the book, think of your last trip to the grocery store where they had samples out. You took one, even if you weren’t hungry, right? And how many times did you buy the product that is sitting right there? Pretty rare, right? Most of the time- in most cases, always- you munch on whatever it is, and then go get what you were going to get anyway. It works the same with writing. Maybe one person or two loves the free stuff, and shells out a few bucks for my books, but the odds on that are slim- let’s say one person in 1,000, which is probably optimistic. That means if I make $5 off every book sold, I need 60,000 people to read the free bit to equal what I would make off one 5,000 word sale at pro rate (that number is 120,000 if it’s a Fireside sale).

Stitch Loves Getting Paid for his Work

Stitch Loves Getting Paid for his Work

It also devalues the market as a whole. It’s a buyers market, to be sure, fiction is. Just search the hashtag ‘writer‘, ‘amwriting‘, etc on Twitter and see how many results you get (also, fellow scribes: can some of you be a little less up-your-own-ass about writing? It’s just pretentious sometimes, ya know? If you’re nodding, going yup, ignore this. If you’re incredulous, I’m talking to you). There are other markets that pay a whole bunch more than fiction does, because no one writes press releases for a hobby. It’s a big sea of fiction out there (which, incidentally, decreases your odds considerably in the above paragraph), and sending the message hey I am just giving it away doesn’t help the market overall (it bears pointing out that publishing it- even for free- likely means you can never sell it, either).

There are, however, ways of sampling your work or gaining exposure that are beneficial. A guest post or interview will often do wonders. This gains you exposure while accomplishing the opposite of giving a story away- it emphasizes the value of your work, shows you have pride in it. Readers respond to this. Likewise, I write my column at Nerds Feather for free (You can pay me if you want, G), and guess what? This blog, the Kickstarter and my book have all had hits and sales because of it.

Excerpts are a different story, and the more effective sample. Leaving the reader hanging will make them want to know what happens next- think of the grocery store again. Which is more likely to get someone to buy bacon- giving them a strip of bacon, or them smelling bacon cooking? Let them smell your work, and make them hungry for it. Don’t give them a bite size piece they can munch on and walk away.


PS: gentle reminder that I have a Kickstarter campaign running right now to support a print run of 3024AD that will be distributed through indie brick-and-mortars. Please support it!

Sophomore Slump

I knew this day would come, one way or another. That I’d be here writing this post, even though goddammit, I KNEW it. Basically, I haven’t put metaphorical pen to paper in about three weeks. Not due to writer’s block, which is rarely an obstacle for me anymore, but because life has been crazy. I took a new day job because, surprise, people aren’t rushing out to buy a scifi book by a first-time indie author (NOTE: Not actually a surprise), no matter how well received it has been. And, for those of you who have paid attention to me for more than three seconds, you know I am incapable of doing things at anything less than full speed.

I published a book last year under similar circumstances, so I wrack my brains trying to figure out what is different. Part of it is, I’m sure, that writing is a job now, not a distraction- one I hope will be my full-time career before too terribly long. But it’s not just a distraction from a long day anymore, it’s work, and it’s not just writing. It’s marketing, planning, etc, etc, etc. So my instinct is less to jump on the computer and write until I pass out as soon as I walk in the door. I want a distraction from the distraction (which essentially sums up my personality, if you factor in booze).

There is also my complete lack of patience, wanting it all now (buy my book already), so focusing on actually, you know, writing seems a little more difficult when I wasn’t also trying to peddle my wares. Do I work on the book? Which book? A blog post? Where should I invest money? Crap, I don’t have enough money.

Short version, no excuses. I have to focus, and it will get there. I don’t have a magic pill that gets me, or you, over this sort of hump, and I won’t pretend to (there are plenty of writing blogs that do, if you’re into false hope). It’s work, and I have to work at it.

That’s the fun part, really.