Saturday, August 31, 2013


The price of admission to most conventions is sitting on panels to discuss various aspects of the genre. Sometimes these are on a subject you know and have an interest in discussing at length.  Oftimes it is otherwise and you must struggle to utter a single relevant comment. Worse is the situation where you are completely at sea, having no idea of what the other panelists are talking about,  and could care less.

There is a rush when you find yourself before a packed room of fans and beside some of our genre's notables and find that people are actually interested in what you have to say.  Well, at least appear to be interested. I always make a few notes, but thoughts and ideas bubble up during the discussion, which incidentally, often veers away from the stated subject and descends through a virtual rabbit hole into fantastic territory, especially when the panelists themselves get into it.

These ofttimes are the best remembered by panelists and audience alike.

The one thing that I try to hold in mind is that everyone in the room has paid to be there; not only in entrance fees, but for transportation, lodging, food, and a loss of time they could otherwise spend working or doing other things.  More importantly, that they chose to come to this panel over the others in hopes of illumination or simply to watch we trained monkeys perform.  Whatever the reason I always try to respect the audience and give them value for their investments.

Some panelists use the panel to hawk their books, announce new stories, or otherwise promote themselves, but this is the normal quid pro quo between readers and writers.

And one more reason to continue.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Halfway Through

Elmore Leonard, the novelist who recently died, once admitted something about his writing that shocked me to my core:   "I never know," he'd said, "what the story is about until I'm halfway through."

Wow! And all this time I thought I had a problem about this

The process of discovery, of seeking a path from the initial setup to the epiphany is one of the daunting joys of writing.  Was Leonard talking about where his tale was taking him or was he talking about discovering that the story had already been written in his mind and waited only to be typed into being?  Was his comment a case of the muse --a fickle creature that eludes our most ardent pursuit -- appearing to momentarily grant clarity, precision, and insight OR was it the aggregation of accumulating facts piling up in his mind to reach a fissionable mass?

In my own case I can only compose a story by mounting the menacing production monster and applying fingers to keyboard, sweating words onto the page, and toiling for hours to produce a block of type that might charitably be called a draft.  The production of pedestrian flashbacks, complicated action scenes, and boring exposition is dull and unimaginative until I somehow strike a seam of narrative gold. This discovery provides a thrill like no other, second only to finding that absolutely perfect denouement to close the tale. But my muse provides such grace rarely and leaves me alone to deal with the toil of editing, revising, and rewriting to make the story appear as if it had been produced effortlessly.

So, yes!  I guess that I too occasionally have had that moment of discovery "halfway through."


Monday, August 19, 2013


One cannot live life in a dark room, writing, writing, and writing forever and so, one must occasionally venture out to the gatherings of the clan at a genre convention.

I have to admit that I am not completely comfortable at conventions. Mostly this stems from my dislike of crowds, the noise, and the clamor.  Worse is the smell of desperation given off by my fellow writers who are desperate to sell copies of their latest novel, are seeking an agent, or trying to convince a publisher that their next book will be better than the last, despite what the critics might be saying. The short fiction writers mostly hang around the edges, ignored by all.

Equally distasteful is the conviviality of the typical con party where one must put on a happy face and listen to the most inane pronouncements of the garrulous crowd surrounding the free food and drink. I dislike party rooms packed thirty deep by fans who cage snacks wherever they can.  Give me quiet conversations at the bar or in some quiet nook instead.

Worse still is the dealers' room packed with unread books by writers I've never heard of, all of which beckon tantalizingly on table after table, providing an overwhelming feast of potential reads that I know I will never be able to consume.  Worse, with so many good writers producing novels in endless profusion, what chance have I of reading them all, much less selling one of my own?  I usually leave the room with less than I want, poorer in pocketbook, and depressed in spirit.

So why do I go to a convention if it is so uncomfortable?  I go because it gives me a chance to meet my fellow writer face to face and chat about the business. It gives me a chance to meet new writers or those who I have always wanted to meet and whose conversations always exposes me to new ideas and opportunities.

Better, it makes me feel like a god-damned WRITER!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

My WorldCon Schedule

Because there is so much SFWA work and meetings to be accomplished in San Antonio I have signed up for a relatively light panel schedule.

Wednesday August 28: Arrival
Thursday, August 29,  0900-1700:  SFWA Board meeting
Friday, August 30, 1100:  SIGMA panel
Friday, August 30, 1400:  Accessible Hard SF
Friday, August 30, 1700: Kaffeklatch
Saturday, August 31, 1000 - 1200: SFWA Business meeting
Sunday, September 1, 1130: Reading

If you will be at any of these, or run into me elsewhere, be sure to say hello.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Process, process, process

I usually follow a rather structured process to develop a story once I get an idea in my head (which only happens three or four times a day, usually someplace where I can't write it down, and frequently having nothing to do with whatever is happening at that moment.)  Sometimes I can retain the idea long enough to write it down and, if it works, expand it a little.

Once I decide to work with an idea I'll write a page or two to expand the thought and then think about where that thought leads me.  Then I write some more, sometimes chronologically, sometimes just exposition, rarely an ending, or describe a setting. The result is that after a few hours I get a thousand words (more or less) of rather messy text.

My next step is to put the text into Scrivener and break it up into scenes.  I then add notes about the missing elements in each scene: character(s), setting, and/or time stamp and maybe expand those notes into narrative.  Then I look at what I've got, figure out what's missing and populate those scenes with a sentence or two.  I repeat this as many times as I need.  Sometimes I build a scene just to complete an arcs or add emotional complexity. All the time I am fiddling, moving the cards around to get the optimal pattern for the story.

When I am satisfied with the structure I begin writing each scene in detail until all the cards are filled with narrative, dialogue, or exposition.  Usually this process generates more scenes or breaks an existing one into smaller parts. The point is always, as I said in my blog on Scene Theory, to confine each scene to a few characters, a definite setting, and at a specific time.

I usually go through three to five drafts, occasionally on paper, before I send it to an editor.

I've discussed process with other writers who use very different approaches. Many sketch out some text and build it brick by brick, unsure of where the story is going and then, when they reach an end, go back and write it correctly.  Others write unimpeded by consideration and type whatever comes into their silly little heads for hours on end.  Some like to compose the entire story in their head before committing fingers to keyboard.  A few anal retentive types prepare detailed outlines, going so far as to delimit each entry to represent a paragraph of the final story.

And a few liars swear that their stories emerge fully formed in the first draft and need no editing whatsoever.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Writing Advice

This entry marks my one hundred and sixty posts since I started this blog!  When I started writing this string of rambling prose I never imagined that I could be this garrulous.

The blog began with a promise to myself that I would post something every single week, but not spend more than ninety minutes on it and not a nanosecond more. As Lord Kelvin once said in response to a criticism , "Speed of attack preserves one from errors that arise from excessive contemplation." So too with me: I would rather be called out for a mistake made in haste than confirming that I am an idiot. Now I spend less than half that amount of time.

My original intent was to use this blog to explain, mostly to myself,  how and why I do this strange writing thing in my dark and lonely room  and thereby expiate some of the mixed emotions that accompany creating and delivering a decent story.   Later I thought that, along with this process of sometimes excruciating self examination, I'd pass along a few helpful hints based on my own idiosyncratic experiences. To my utter surprise I found an audience eager to get an insight into my [miserable] writer's life. What's more I learned that my concerns were more common than I imagined.

Aside from my blogs about the self-doubt that always surrounds me when I write, the most popular blog for a long time was my Ten Stages of Story Development that I later modified with Step Eleven of the Ten Step Process when I discovered ten steps were never enough to finish a story. I also documented going through the process in my January and February 2011 blogs just to show that the process I outlined could be followed to produce a salable story (it did!)

I've also mused about the joys of story acceptances and the pain of rejections, rejections, rejections. I've talked about plotting, submitting too early, and all the little demons that afflict all writers regardless of experience (What! You thought you were the only one who had these problems?)

All things considered maintaining the weekly blog has been a healthful and satisfying endeavor for these hundred and sixty blog posts.  I hope you  found them helpful, if only to know that there is someone out there equally suffering from the writing affliction.