Saturday, September 29, 2012

Paper Cuts

I must admit that in addition to my severe case of PSS (Premature Submission Syndrome) I also suffer from Teflonitis.  This latter disability prevents me from seeing the less than obvious mistakes in my on-screen drafts. The obvious are easy, grammar and spell-checking take care of the simple mistakes, I am able to catch a few misspellings the checker misses, remove a bit of unnecessary alliteration, correct punctuation errors (mostly commas that breed like flies), random repetitions that pop up seemingly independent of my finger's fumbling strokes, and glaring grammatical errors.  Successive edits are successful in removing the last of these to produce, at long last, a perfectly written final draft.

Or so I usually think.

So what is the problem?  Well, after I've reviewed and edited/corrected a passage seven or eighteen times, when I know every word by heart, when I've sweated blood to perfect each deliciously wrought sentence, I begin to see an ideal, a perfect vision that in no way resembles the reality before my eyes:  I see what I want to see as my eyes slide unhindered across the passages.  It is as if the words were teflon, impervious to change.

I've discovered too many submissions soiled  by stupid mistakes. There have been so many that I've become wary of relying solely on what I see on the screen.  Sometimes I cast the draft in a different format or convert it to ebook format just so it can be read differently.  Sadly, this helps only occasionally - how many times can you reread the same words?  The "read aloud" features on most computers can help, but that is more to do with pacing than achieving the correct presentation.

What does work for me is printing what I thought was the final, final draft onto paper and then sitting down with red pen and painfully reading every syllable of text, editing where necessary, and writing marginal notes regarding necessary rearrangements.  Sometimes I jumble the pages so I can read the words without getting caught  up in the progression of the story.  In nearly every instance I've done this and regardless of how absolutely PERFECT I thought the draft had looked on the screen, I invariably find stupid errors on every page.  Usually, the result is that I end up with my printed draft awash in a red tide that represents the final, final, God-damn-it final draft.

Editing a printed draft is slow, painful and humbling, but a necessary experience.

Friday, September 21, 2012


The thing that always strikes me when I read any decently written complex novel, is the number of times the reader is reminded by a remark or observation of something mentioned earlier in the story.  This something could be something that is important to know at this point, but whose details were probably buried among the detritus the wordy writers spreads with a trowel over her/his pages.

Usually these reminders speak to a seemingly trivial attribute, a peculiar manner of speech, a way of dressing, or perhaps a facial tic.  It could remind the reader of an event barely mentioned one hundred pages earlier, or a remark about a trip mentioned in a conversation. Whatever that reminder might be, it bears on what is described on this page, at his plot point, or during this event.

There's a reason to remind the reader.  The writer cannot, at first mention of one of these important details, say "Look here, this is really important for you to keep in mind" since sic a remark would pull the reader out of the story and probably be irritating as hell.  Since novels contain a dozen or more of important details, it is no wonder the writers feels that hand-holding is necessary!

Short fiction, on the other hand, rarely needs these crutches to memory. Stories in this category are generally brief enough that even small, unnoticed details tend to stick in the reader's mind, and are easily recalled when needed.  Even if the reader misses the original detail because of poor short term memory, they can easily reread the story to discover what they missed ( Hey, its only a few pages!)

One added advantage for writers is that removing the need for reminders and relying on the reader's persistence of memory usually makes a short story's prose crisp and clean.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Naming of Names

A writer sometimes must assume the role of a minor god and name the creatures and things of his or her creation. While a general fiction writer faces little problem in this beyond selecting an appropriate name for the characters and locations, the challenges posed to the writers of speculative fiction are more interesting.

Some speculative stories are grounded in popular tropes where the backgrounds and activities have already been so well established that the writer faces little challenge.  In these cases they are in the same situation as the general fiction writer and have little need for naming creativity. Likewise for shared universes or continuations of established series.

But where SpecFic breaks new ground, creates innovative environments, or invents alien beings, the selection of names becomes more interesting.  On a new planet (no problem naming these) strange life forms evolve and with them, behaviors.  Should the writer call these alien animals, plants, and other creatures by some invented name, vary a similar Earth animal's name, or simply call them by a more familiar name, leaving it to the reader to understand that the "horse" of the story is actually a green-scaled beast? What about intelligent races?  They have names as well, names dictated by their vocal range, environment, history, society, and god-know-what-else  - just like us.  How do we treat their names?  Grzzzbyx might be what they call themselves, but such a weird grouping of letters breaks the flow of the story as the reader struggles with their pronunciation problems.  A better choice might be call it "Grizzbik" or just "Joe." Keep alien names simple and pronounceable is the safer choice.

Putting alien star systems and their populations aside, what about the story's human names? Selection of these is not always easy.  Does the writer select from the smorgasbord of international names to depict an egalitarian future or steadfastly stick to familiar European names or be daring and attempt Asian ones?  Each choice of a character's names has connotations, assumptions, and premises that might bring unwanted associations to the reader's mind. Stereotyping characters unconsciously is fraught with as many dangers as those deliberately stated so, whatever the source selected, the writer should always be aware of the implications of naming names.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Character and Change

Character is what illuminates the story, engages the reader in the situation, and, hopefully, allows them to identify with the protagonist.  Right now, I'm having a problem with character; not simply the character himself but where he is going and why.

Character development is the focus of much literary advice and most of that advice is that the main character should develop and grow as the story progresses, arriving in a different physical or mental place at the end of his or her arc. IMHO, this type of story frankly sucks because it too often has an artificial epiphany or revelation that segues into a smug and too often preachy denouement.

While it is true that most of my characters undergo some sea change in the stories I have written ones where the lead character actively resisted change - holding fast to his concepts to the bitter end, like Tam, the captain in my VIXEN novel. Others dither about in states of confusion, never resolving their inner lives - Sam Boone is an outstanding example.  Then there are the tragic characters of my Shardie cycle, ever doomed to a bitter end.

Would that life were like that but, unfortunately, the majority of our lives aren't. We seldom experience flashing insights that change our lives or minds, we never encounter abrupt alterations of our lifetime trajectory, nor do we change that much at the end of each "adventure."  Any serious changes take place slowly and often with great resistance as we fight the inevitable with rationalizations, excuses, and delays that enable what needs changing to persist.

And maybe that's where my current issue is taking me - not to resolution, but an acceptance of changes inevitable arrival.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Writing this post while waiting for another exciting day to begin here in Chicago at the World SF Convention.  I though it might be a good time for a little self-promotion.

For the past year I've been modestly publishing in eBook format collections of my published works and a few otherwise unpublished novels.  Of the latter, I despaired of ever seeing them emerge from the piles of slush that must overwhelm the shelves of traditional publishing houses.  I've had some languishing for literally years with neither response or even acknowledgement of the submission.  This is scant reward for months, sometimes years, of effort.

My most recent adventure was to put out a hitherto unpublished Sam Boone novelette to see what would happen.  In addition I have a host of short stories, novellas, and novels that have not seen print that I may, if time allows, put through the Smashwords grinder and thus into the world of eReading.

Thus far I  have six collections in Kindle and three self-published novels in the eBook universe, none of which I have promoted through social networks save an occasional reference on Facebook and here. In a show of blatant self-promotion I now present a partial list for your amusement and, hopefully, purchase:


I also have some collections of my published stories and other works at Amazon Books

Wish me luck.