Tag Archives: critiques

Broken

I started writing my first Broken story yesterday. I’m using a broken mirror for the focus. I’m also making it a Dirty Little Freaks story, but I haven’t figured out yet just how I’m going to be working that in. I’ve got a little over 500 words so far, and I’m going to have to ramp things up pretty soon or the story is going to fall apart.

The idea I’m considering for this is that there is either some kind of creature lurking behind the broken mirror, or some supernatural force is responsible for breaking the mirror, along with the mind of the prior tenant of the apartment where it is located. Either way, I see nasty things in the future for Miss Carson.

Speaking of Dirty Little Freaks, for those of you who, like me, are fans of Patrick Rothfuss, I’ve got some great news! He just announced on his blog that he will be releasing a sequel to his fantastic not-for-children’s book, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle. There is no set release date yet, he just says that it will be out late this year. However, you can pre-order it now. You can even pre-order a signed, limited edition copy. I would love to get it myself, but unfortunately my finances are a bit tight right now, so I will be waiting to order until they have an actual release date. Of course, this means that I won’t be getting the limited edition, but since the bearded one lives in the same state that I do I will probably be able to get it signed anyway. He may even be at OddCon next year, if my friend Zombie Joe has anything to do with it.

And that brings me to another topic. Joe is also one of the fantastic members of my writing group. We try to meet every Thursday to either write or to discuss our writing. Since I have been only working on short stories this year, and all of them are first drafts, I didn’t really want to share them with the group. This makes me feel guilty for not contributing, although most of them probably don’t mind, since there are still plenty of drafts that need critique without mine being added to the stack.

I also feel a bit anxious for feedback on what I have done. Many of the ideas seem good to me, but I would really like to hear what other people think as well. No matter how many stories I write, none of them count if nobody ever reads them.

So what I have suggested is that I share a few of my stories every month, and the group gives me feedback solely on the idea, to let me know if the meat of the story is worth the effort it will take to edit or expand it into something I can publish. Two of them have already told me that they are willing to do that for me, so I will be sharing some of my January work next month (our critique night is tomorrow, which is why I am not sending them out right now.

So that’s what I’m up to this week. I’m going to continue working on this broken mirror thing, and hopefully it will shake out in the end so that I can get it finished by Saturday. I’ll let you know on Sunday how it went.

In the meantime, here’s a question for you:

Imagine that you are being taken to a mental hospital and you only have time to say ten words to your therapist before they drag you away. What would they be?

See you on Sunday!

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Socializing for an Anti-Social Profession

Let’s face it, writers spend a lot of their time alone, lost in the worlds inside their heads. Some of them have even been known to bite when provoked. Getting those words on the page is the only way to get the voices to stop.

But stories are about people, and it’s kind of hard to understand how people work without spending any time with them. So every writer needs to get away from the manuscript once in a while and get out there where the stories are. If they’re lucky they can also find other people who share their interests and might be able to help refine their work into something they can print.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

– Stephen King

Today I’m going to tell you about two of the things in my life that help me get my writing done. Writer’s groups and conventions.

I have been with a writing group for a few years now. We meet on a weekly basis and discuss our work. In the past, we would read our pieces out loud and get critiques from the others. That worked, but there were times when nobody had anything to read, or when only one person had anything prepared, so there was sometimes a bit of guilt or tension in the group.

We are shaking things up a bit now. We’re still going to meet weekly, but we’re only going to offer critiques once a month. The other weeks we will use as a scheduled writing time, with the opportunity to discuss any story problems we are stuck on with the rest of the group. We will also take some time each month to discuss a book that we have read.

I’m not sure about the book discussion, as I already have a discussion group that I go to at my local library once a month. I have enough trouble getting through the books on my own to-read shelf without adding yet another one from someone else’s list. But I’ll give it a try anyway, because at least the books that my writing group discuss will be more closely aligned with the ones I normally read for pleasure. The library book group mostly discusses popular fiction and non-fiction, which I would probably never read on my own.

As for conventions, it is nice to be able to get out and meet new people every once in a while. Conventions give me a chance to get out there and participate in discussions about interesting topics led by interesting people. I also get the chance to meet famous people, like Larry Niven, who has been a favorite author of mine for decades.

This year my convention plans include Odyssey Con, April 12-14, and WisCon, May 24-27, both held in my home town of Madison, Wisconsin. I almost decided to skip Odyssey Con this year, but when they announced that the Guests of Honor included Alex Bledsoe and Kevin Hearne, I just had to go. Alex is also local to the Madison area, and I have met him several times and consider him to be a friend. He is a great guy and his writing is superb. Kevin is the author of the Iron Druid series, which I started reading a couple of years ago and have loved every bit of it, so I am looking forward to meeting this outstanding author.

While at the conventions, I will have a chance to sit in on discussion panels with these two greats, as well as many other writers and fans, and pick their brains about writing, news of the world, and our future on this planet (and possibly others). And there will be lots of other, like-minded people around as well, each with their own opinions and views to share.

I highly recommend that, whatever your situation, you should try to connect with other writers. Either with a writer’s group or a convention. Preferably both. And if you can afford to travel, come and join me in Madison at one of my conventions and introduce yourself. We’ll chat.

I’ve got to go lock myself in a room now and get some writing done. I’m going to write another Alchemist story this week, and I am hoping that I will be able to finish it ahead of schedule again. As usual, I will post another update on Wednesday.

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August 25 – Working the Story

Revisions, revisions, revisions….

Editing is tough. Taking your first draft and covering it in enough red ink to make it look like a low-budget horror movie isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to look at the story in many different ways.

What are the strengths of the plot? Are there any weak points that need to be strengthened? Are there any pieces that don’t need to be there at all?

Does the character development flow throughout the piece? What do they learn at the end?

Is there enough tension throughout the story? Are there any parts that are too slow or feel boring?

What about the little things? How is the spelling? Are there any words missing? Are there any words repeated close together? How about punctuation and grammar?

These (and more) are all things that need to be reviewed when you are editing. I meet with a critique group every week. We read our stories out loud while the others read along. When we finish, they give feedback, which the author can use to answer some of those questions.

This week I read my “final” version of my story to the group. They all agreed that it was much better than the previous versions, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have suggestions. I still came away with comments on every page of the manuscript. So now I can take those ideas and work the story one last time before I submit it.

And yes, I do mean ONE last time. Editing always has a point of diminishing returns. Most authors probably think that even published works could use another pass or two of editing. I have heard comments from several famous writers that they wish they could tweak their story just a little bit more.

But sometimes you just have to say “enough is enough”. Sometimes that is when you hit your deadline. Sometimes it is when you just can’t stand to look at the story anymore. My published story, “Losing Control”, was submitted on the day of the deadline. This story, “The Hunt”, still has a month to go before the deadline, but I am getting tired of looking at it. So I am giving myself one last chance to make it better before sending it off into the world. And if it comes back to me with a rejection slip I will think about tweaking it again before sending it somewhere else.

Some authors like the editing process. Some hate it. As for myself, I think I’m kind of in the middle. I like the way the story grows stronger as I edit, but it is a lot of hard work that I wish I didn’t have to do. And I’m not a good enough writer to be able to make the first draft worthy of being the final draft. Yet.

So good luck with your editing! I’m going to try to finish mine this weekend, and then I have to figure out what my next project will be. I’m thinking that I should either start editing my Dragons At Dawn book again, or start figuring out what I am going to be writing for this year’s NaNoWriMo. Let me know if you are going to be participating in NaNoWriMo this year and I’ll be your writing buddy. We can give each other encouragement while we pound away at the keyboard and overdose on coffee shops and late night word sprints.

See you Monday!

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August 8 – It’s Here! It’s Here!

Today I came home to find a terrific surprise. I received my check and author copy of the Big Book of Bizarro, for the short story I sold (“Losing Control”, on page 392). It’s official. I’m a published author!

OMG. I’m still a bit freaked.

Okay. Deep breaths. Relax. It’s just a book, right? Ommmm….

All right, that didn’t work. I guess I’m just going to have to gush. I guess we’ll start with the acknowledgements. That’s what writers do, right. They thank all the little people who helped make it all happen. And by little people, I mean all the people who are so much cooler than I am that inspired me to be more like them. So where do I start?

I think I’ll start with Zombie Joe. He got me started. Last year he inspired me to finally start writing again. He got me into NaNoWriMo and hooked me up with a lot of local author types. And he kept me writing by providing a sounding board for me to talk about my stories and ideas, and by telling me cool stories about other authors he knows personally, like Jim Butcher, Mark Henry, and Alex Bledsoe. Thanks Joe!

I also want to thank one of my co-contributors to the anthology that my short story is appearing in, Mercy Loomis. She is also a member of my critique group, and gave me vital feedback that helped me make the story good enough to submit. Not only that, but she was the one that told me about the submission call in the first place. And then, if it wasn’t for her I might have backed out of submitting the story. Just before the deadline I started second-guessing myself and my story, thinking that it probably didn’t fit what they wanted. But she told me to submit it anyway, and she was right! And to top it all off, she gave me crucial advice when it came to signing my first contract. Thanks Mercy! (Her story is called “Succor the Child” on page 355, and it’s awesome!)

I also want to thank the rest of the critique group, Jesilea Ryan and Jenny Lowe. They also gave me a lot of help working out the issues with the story. It got stronger and better with each pass.

Next on my list are my family and friends that have been reading my stuff and giving me feedback. Their comments usually aren’t as focused or as helpful as my critique group, but it is nice to know I have their support.

I also want to thank my local librarians. They have also been really helpful and supportive as I have been working on my writing career. And they even promised to order a copy of the book so that everybody in Madison will be able to read our stories!

And last but not least, I want to thank the editors Rich Bottles Jr and Gary Lee Vincent for accepting my story and marking my debut into the world of publishing.

Now, who’s next?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Book of Bizarro

PS:

I just killed off my co-worker in my current short story/novella project, “The Hunt”. I’m still working on the ending, and I have already burned through three drafts of the beginning. Hopefully this will all coalesce into something worthwhile soon. I’ll see you all back here on Thursday for another update.

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July 28 – Major Revisions

I have been working on my short story this week. As promised, I took it to my critique group on Tuesday and they had some good comments. Unfortunately, one of the comments require me to start over from the beginning and add another character. This will take the story in a different direction, but in the end it should be a better tale.

The original idea was this: Demons have invaded and destroyed most of civilization. Most of them are gone now, but then, so are most of the people. A young woman is out bow hunting, using an old building as a vantage point to take her shot. She takes down a deer, but then a demon appears and chases her, so she goes from being the hunter to being the hunted.

The new plan will be that there are two hunters, both women. They have been rivals for years, but are forced to work together for the good of the tribe. They set up on opposite sides of the parking lot to take their shots, each on top of an old SUV. The younger one brings down a deer, but the demon appears and they run for the cover of the building. The demon eats the kill before chasing after them. The older one was slightly farther away from the building and is caught as they climb the stairs. This allows the younger hunter to get to the roof, where she takes cover in the maintenance penthouse. Now she is trapped, alone, and the demon is trying to break down the door for dessert. Even though they were rivals, she feels guilty about the death of the other hunter and is terrified that she will be killed as well. I haven’t figured out yet how she is going to escape.

So I had to start from the beginning and try to figure out what I could keep and how to rework the story to make it fit the new plan. I had to make the hunting part start in the parking lot because I learned that the distance from the building would be too far for a bow. There are also several themes dealing with fear of the dark and concern about tetanus from the rusty vehicles that I will have to minimize due to these revisions.

I had about 4000 words before I started these changes, and I’m still around that level now but I have a lot of work yet to do. I’m hoping to be at least back to where I was (with the hunter holed up in the penthouse) by next Monday. This weekend is going to be busy!

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July 18 – Vacation is Over, Back to Work!

Today marks the return to my Day Job. I didn’t get a chance to do much writing during my vacation, but I did get a lot accomplished at home. I can actually have visitors over now without feeling too embarrassed about the piles of junk scattered around my living room. I also got a chance to watch the latest Harry Potter movie (it was brilliant!), finish the Terminator – Sarah Connor Chronicles TV episodes (I’m still upset about them cancelling that show), and take my wife out to dinner at her favorite restaurant (Red Robin).

So now that my vacation is over, I need to get back to writing. I’m still looking for a good short story idea. Ideally I would like to get a first draft written tonight so I can share it with my critique group tomorrow. I haven’t brought anything to the group in some time, and I’m feeling a bit guilty about it. I’ll have to do some brainstorming this afternoon to see if I can come up with anything. There are a few interesting things about my workplace that may be suitable for a quick tale. Hmmm….

I’ll check in again on Thursday and let you know if I came up with anything. See you then!

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July 1 – My First Submission

So today marks a milestone in my writing career. Today I sent my first submission for possible publication. I expect that my next milestone will be my first rejection notice, but at least I made the effort.

Today I submitted my short story, “Losing Control”, to Burning Bulb Publishing for consideration for their upcoming anthology, The Big Book of Bizarro. It is supposed to be a trade paperback and they are paying 5¢ per word for up to 3000 words, capped at $75. I almost chickened out and decided not to submit, even though I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks tearing out what little hair I have trying to edit the piece.

It started with a dream that I had a few months ago. I thought it was interesting, so I made a couple of notes when I woke up and stuck them in my story idea file. Then about a month ago one of the authors in my critique group sent me an e-mail telling me about this call for submissions. This was just after WisCon and I had just decided that I should start working on short stories because that’s what I learned from some of the panels at the convention. I looked over my idea file and thought, “Which one of these might be bizarre enough for this?” And the only one that popped out at me was this one. It’s about a woman who is impregnated by the spirit of a dragon. The baby dragon is incorporeal, so there are no physical signs of pregnancy, but instead its spirit grows inside her, crowding out her soul. At the end it pushes her out of her own body and takes over. It’s the weirdest idea I had, so I ran with it. The first draft was about 3800 words, but since the guideline was for 3o00, I knew I had to trim it down. I read the first draft for my critique group and they suggested edits, which helped bring down the word count, but it wasn’t until the third or fourth pass that I got it down to 3000 words. My final draft, finished this morning, was 3009 words.

There were two reasons I almost decided not to submit the story. The first was because I thought it wasn’t good enough. At our last Tuesday night critique session, the woman who told me about it read a piece that she was going to submit. It was great. Really dark and disturbing. Which is exactly what the submission guidelines say they want. That was the second reason I thought about passing. I didn’t think that my story was “creepy, chilling, disturbing, and moody” enough. I think my story is strange, but probably not “disturbing”.

So that’s why I think I’ll be getting a rejection slip soon. I’m sure it will be the first of many, but I had to start somewhere! I’ll keep you all posted as soon as I hear the word. And after I get the rejection, I’ll see if I can find any other markets for the story. If nothing comes up, I may post it here.

My next post will be Monday. I’m going to try for a Monday/Thursday posting schedule from now on, so I’ll see you back here on the Fourth!

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ROW80 Update June 22 – Critique Groups

Goals:

  1. Spend at least half an hour every day on writing or editing, an hour on weekends
  2. Finish planning the rewrites of my three works in progress
  3. Post to my blog on the ROW80 update days (Sunday and Wednesday)
  4. Read at least one of my books on writing every week

So much for my “final” edits on my short story. I thought it was done, but when I read it for my critique group last night, they had all sorts of comments on how it could be improved. So now I’m going at it again, and this edit will actually be deeper than the last ones. Hopefully it will focus the story and make it much better. For anyone who is interested, it’s called “Losing Control”, and is about a woman who gives up control to a mystery man in a sexual encounter and never gets it back. It also has dragons.

So my point here is the importance of having someone who can give you constructive criticism on your writing. No matter how cute you think your baby is, someone else is going to look at it and see the way the kid takes after the ugliest branch on your family tree. Even though the comments my group gave me on my story mean that I have a ton of rewrites to do, I appreciate every bit of feedback, because it means that the story will be a lot better in the end.

I’m also planning to rewrite my short story for my Finding Valhalla book that tells how my heroine got to be a Valkyrie. It was a good story, but I think that the plot wasn’t quite right for the character and her family legacy, so I am tearing it up and doing it over.

For all of my friends from ROW80, it has been great being a part of this project, and you may see me again in the future, but for Round 3 you’ll have to count me out. Of course, you are welcome to keep stopping by my blog, and I expect to stop by your blogs to keep up with my friends. Best wishes and all my love!

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ROW80 Update June 8 – Editing, editing, and more editing

Goals:

  1. Spend at least half an hour every day on writing or editing, an hour on weekends
  2. Finish planning the rewrites of my three works in progress
  3. Post to my blog on the ROW80 update days (Sunday and Wednesday)
  4. Read at least one of my books on writing every week

Editing day. I presented my completed short to my critique group and got some good feedback. There is a lot of editing to do, but I think I should be able to make it a lot stronger (and maybe a bit shorter) when I am done. My first draft came in at over 3800 words, and the submission guidelines are for up to 3000 words. They will take longer, but the maximum payment is for 3000.

I also got Cassie Alexander’s file on her critique comments from the WisCon writer’s workshop, so I am also starting to plan how to work in her suggestions for Finding Valhalla. I’ll probably work out the edits for my short story first, just because that has a deadline.

Hopefully I’ll have a second draft of my short done by Sunday. Then all I’ll have to do is figure out the right title!

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ROW80 Update June 5

Goals:

  1. Spend at least half an hour every day on writing or editing, an hour on weekends
  2. Finish planning the rewrites of my three works in progress
  3. Post to my blog on the ROW80 update days (Sunday and Wednesday)
  4. Read at least one of my books on writing every week

Keep on keepin’ on. That’s the idea today.

I have been trying to write every day, but yesterday didn’t go so well. I had time to write, but I didn’t. No excuse. I thought about writing, but nothing actually got done.

I didn’t get a chance to read any of my books on writing this week, but I picked up a book on body language from Barnes & Noble that I expect could be useful. Having a better understanding of body language should help me to describe character reactions in a “show, don’t tell” manner.

I hope to have my short story finished for my critique group on Wednesday. Then a few edits later I will submit it and see what happens.

Check out my Book Reviews page for my latest review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. In summary, it was great.

See you back here on Wednesday!

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