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I tweeted the other day that I feel like a badly written timeslice algorithm--there's never enough cycles to go around. Whatever I choose to do, there are multiple other things that aren't getting done, and I never seem to catch up.

Of late my writing has been the thing shortchanged. I don't have a deadline I'm working to, and thus it's easy to focus on the other parts of my life that do come with pressing deadlines.

A while back I was invited to attend a writers retreat, and at first I was enthusiastic. Then the realities of trying to schedule this around the day job started creeping in. But in the end, I realized this was something I needed to do, for myself and for my sanity. With a little schedule juggling, I crossed my fingers and said yes. Then I went ahead and booked the plane tickets, so I'm committed.

So now I have a deadline. Three months from now I'll be hanging out with other writers, discussing our works. So I damn well better have something that I'm enthusiastic about working on and sharing.

And cross my fingers that the day job doesn't get any more insane.
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You'd think this would be obvious, but recent evidence suggests not.

First, never assume that your cover letter is going to stay attached to your manuscript. This is especially true for electronic submissions, where your attached file may be downloaded and stored separately from the email. Always include your contact info on page 1 of the submission.

Second, always include page headers with the page number and either your name or the story title, preferably both. I received multiple submissions without page headers of any kind, and it was a freaking pain in the butt when the printer spit pages on the floor and two of those stories got mixed up. Not to mention that later I'll wind up adding page numbers to make it easier to discuss the story with my co-editor, e.g. "The scene that starts on page 4 is..." What makes it even more inexplicable is that these stories were submitted in Microsoft Word where adding page headers is a basic function.

Even stranger was the story where the author had forgotten to put their name anywhere in the manuscript. Just a bare title, no name, no contact info, presumably they assumed that I'd be happy to hunt back thru the emails to figure out who had sent it in.

Finally spell check is your friend. Proofreading is your friend. Take that extra hour for one last pass before you send your story in. And if you know you're terrible at catching your own mistakes, have someone else take a look at your work.

Remember, first impressions count. A poorly formatted story sends the signal that you can't be bothered with the details, and will be difficult to work with. Don't give the editor a reason to be cranky before she reads a single line of your story. Because if it comes down to a choice between two stories that are equally good, the editor is going to pick the one that didn't make her sigh with annoyance. Trust me on this one.
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This summer I was a guest lecturer at the annual Odyssey Writing Workshop. My talk was on writing a series, spanning everything from why you might want to write a series, the pros and cons of doing so, the various types of series, to plotting techniques for both individual book arcs and series arcs. Along the way I shared bits of wisdom from my own experiences and those of fellow writers on how to (and how not to) write a successful series.

The lecture has now been distilled into a two-part podcast at the Odyssey Podcasts website here. Look for podcast 67 (Part 1) and podcast 68 (Part 2).

And my thanks again to Jeanne Cavelos for inviting me back to Odyssey, and to the students who made it such a great experience.
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Really thoughtful post on the "Strong Female Characters" trope. I hate Strong Female Characters by Sophia McDougall. Thanks to Juliet for sharing the link.
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Five things I learned while teaching at Odyssey

Last month I was a guest lecturer at the annual Odyssey Writing Workshop. It's a truism that a teacher learns as much if not more than her students, so I thought I'd share what I learned from the experience. Some were new, while others were things that I already knew, but needed to be reminded of, much in the same way that every New Year's Eve I relearn why champagne and I don't mix.

- The best way to learn something is to teach it
- Deadlines and real life don't always mix
- There is no one true way
- Avoid the trap of comparing yourself to others
- There is no substitute for the energy you get from being around other writers

Click here to read the full essay )
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The narrator of the upcoming audio book emailed me to request pronunciation assistance, commenting that I had created a specific and vibrant world. I'm pretty sure that's a code phrase that means fantasy novels with invented languages are a freaking pain in the ass :-)

In any case, I'll be putting together a pronunciation guide for him to use. And once again having to face the fact that the villains in this story sound an awful lot like Silver-rats when read aloud.

Could be worse. As I recall, buried in the Devlin series is a minor character whose name I pronounced differently each time I read it aloud. When it comes time for that one, I'm thinking dealer's choice will be the correct answer.
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MIND MELD asked a group of authors: As a reader and as a writer, how do you feel about the practice of revising books after they have been published (or at least have reached the ARC stage)? How much revision goes into your writing process? (How clean are your drafts)?

Click here to read what I had to say on the topic, along with Lucy Snyder, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Jon Sprunk, Christopher Golden, Rhonda Eudaly, Leah Petersen, Linda Nagata, and Deborah J. Ross.
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Thanks to a friend who introduced us via email, I met up with two area sf&f writers last night. It was fun to hang out and talk shop, and the chosen venue of a local brewpub was ideal.

My people are a simple people-- we like to talk about writing, craft, what's going round the internets, the latest sci-fi movies, the endless submission/rejection/submit again game. And, oh, yes. Beer.

We found out that we'd all been at Boskone last month, and even had mutual friends there, but hadn't met up. Next time I go to a con, I'm wearing a shirt that says "New Hampshire resident" on both sides, to make it easier for fellow Granite Staters to spot me.

Hopefully we can do this again soon. Among the many things I miss about Binghamton is the loss of my local group of writers. The internet is a lifeline, cons are great fun, but there's nothing like being able to regularly meet face to face.

Now if I could only convince jpsorrow that he needs to move to a New England college town....
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The reason why we write sequels is the sheer number of things that have to be named when you're starting a story set in a new world. Character names are bad enough, but everything has to be named--countries, cities, rivers, mountains, seas, monetary systems, religions, governing organizations and political factions, the lists are endless.

Mystery writers have it easy. :-D
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I've spent the past week working on a synopsis, which has been behaving in the way they typically do. Over this morning's coffee, I found myself considering why it was that writing a six page synopsis is so much harder than writing an entire chapter of a novel.

And then it hit me. A synopsis is to a novel as dog years are to human years. Each page of a synopsis carries the weight of fifty or more pages of story. A superdense form of prose, each paragraph of a synopsis must do the work of at least a scene, if not an entire chapter. It's as if I went to do my normal workout only to find that someone had swapped out my five pound handweights for fifty pounders. No wonder it's taking me so long to make progress.

The important thing is that I am making progress, so rather than beating myself up over having created only five good pages, I should recognize that these five pages are worth many times their weight in ordinary prose.

Now all I need is more coffee, and I'm ready to tackle that one last page.

Oh, and if someone wanted to return the hour that was stolen from me last night, I wouldn't say no to that either.
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There are indeed ten (and only ten) rules for being a successful writer. Unfortunately, as soon as you discover all ten, they have to kill you.

Thus for self-preservation and to ensure your website doesn't describe you as "a brilliant talent whose life was tragically cut short just as she was coming into her prime" I suggest that you stop trying to figure out the ten rules.

It's better just to bumble along and make do, like the rest of us. There's no harm in having a few maxims to follow--I'm fond of the sages:
If it's not fun, why do it? --Ben & Jerry

Do, or do not. There is no try. --Yoda
But please, do yourself and your loved ones a favor. Stop collecting rules. It's safer that way.
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Yesterday, in the span of a half-hour, I came up with not one but two new story ideas. Different genres, different tones, even different POVs, the only thing they have in common is me.

I drove to the Cybercafe, whipped out a notepad (silly me, I'd left the laptop at home since I was supposed to be running errands) and wrote them up.

This is the part of being a writer that most folks don't understand, as they sidle up next to me at parties and offer to let me have the privilege of writing up their great idea. Having ideas is never the problem, the hard part is picking just one to work on.

When you go to the shelter, you can't take home every puppy you see-- you've got to pick one. And the same goes for story ideas. Even if I live to be five hundred years old, I'll never have time to turn all of my ideas into stories. So I have to choose carefully--adding up all the disparate factors from my passion for the story to market conditions and timing-- a cool idea for a short story can be tucked in between contracts, a three book series can not. I'll ask friends and colleagues for their advice, and then, when brain and heart agree, it's time to start writing.

And to hope that this puppy will be easier to housebreak than the last.
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This summer I was a guest instructor at Odyssey, where I focused on the role of sidekicks as part of an overall discussion of characterization. The first half of the lecture was posted as a podcast last month, and they've just made the second half available on their website here.

Podcast #32: In this podcast, the second of two parts, Patricia Bray explains how the sidekick's characteristics can balance those of the protagonist, or contrast with those of the protagonist. She discusses the requirements for a good sidekick, and describes how the sidekick's character arc can complement or contrast with the protagonist's character arc. She explains the difference between a sidekick/protagonist story and a story with multiple protagonists. She also lists some of the very useful purposes a sidekick can serve in a story, such as making your protagonist more believable, providing an embodiment of the protagonist's motivation, and serving as the external conscience of protagonist. She also reviews the various mistakes an author can make in creating a sidekick. Patricia discusses sidekicks in short stories as well as novels, and explains when you might want to use the sidekick's point of view. You can find part 1 of Patricia's discussion of sidekicks in Podcast #31.
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Yesterday I finished the chapter I've been working on for a while. I'd been stuck for over a week at the same spot, making one false start after another as I tried to finish one scene and then begin the next.

I finally realized that the problem was two particular paragraphs. I'd worked hard on them. They were well-written, and had information that is critical for understanding one of the central character arcs.

And this was absolutely the wrong place for them. They functioned like speedbumps, slowing the pace down to a crawl. I hated cutting them, but once I did, the scene flowed the way I needed it to, and I was able to write the next scene and finish off the chapter.

The chapter isn't perfect, but it's solid, so I can keep moving forward. I've saved those paragraphs in my story notes file, pretending that I'm going to use them, but in reality we all know that I'll just visit them from time to time, pet the perfect prose, and somewhere in the new chapter or the next, I'll figure out a different way to get this information across.
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This past summer at the Odyssey Workshop I discussed the role of sidekicks in fiction, as part of an overall discussion of character-driven writing. The talk went over so well that they turned it into a two part podcast. The first part is now up on their website here.

Once I got past the kneejerk reaction to hearing my own voice (OMG! Hyperactive squirrel!) I was pleased with how it turned out.
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Ah, it's the end of summer. The favorite time of year for any writer, due to four little words...

Sale on office supplies! (I know, you thought I was going to say "kids back in school.") And for some, that is indeed a blessing, but for those of us without rugrats, now is the time to pick up pocket folders, notebooks and all those other necessities of the writing life. Indeed, I'd been distressed when I ran out of pocket folders earlier in the month, but now I have a fresh new supply which instantly makes me feel more organized and efficient, even if all I've done with them so far is to pet them.

I don't actually have to do the research, I just need a folder labeled "Story Research" and I feel as smart as if I'd stayed in Holiday Inn Express last night. While the folder labeled "STORYNAME - WORKING COPY" starts off pristine, then becomes satisfactorily worn as completed chapters begin to bulge out both sides, until ultimately it's held together by rubber bands.

Is this story worthy of the rare purple folder, or is a blue one good enough? Should the research be in the same color folder as the completed manuscript pages, or in a complementary color? Do I want to make notes in a notebook or on a yellow legal pad? Decisions, decisions. It's these crucial nuances of the writing craft that they don't teach in school, but that can nonetheless make or break you as a writer.

And let's not even get started on the pens.
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Yesterday was a good day-- heard from my agent arcaedia that she likes the new project. And I managed to finish off a short story, my third attempt at the short format this summer. Not quite sure what I'll do with it, but it was an interesting exercise.

Although the short story would serve as a springboard for an entire novel, so I didn't stray too far from my roots. I suspect that if I'd been a student at Odyssey this summer, rather than writing a dozen short stories I would have produced the openings to a dozen different novels :-)

Now it's Saturday, the rain is pouring down so biking is off the agenda (although frequent trips to check the basement for water are now on the agenda, thanks to the memories of the 2006 floods.) Not quite sure what I'll do with myself, but I'm sure I'll figure something out.
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What could be cooler than this?*

Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop 2009
Odyssey is one of the most highly respected workshops for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror writers. Top authors, editors, and agents serve as guest lecturers, and fifty-three percent of graduates go on to be published. The workshop, held annually on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH, combines an intensive learning and writing experience with in-depth feedback on students' manuscripts. Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. Director Jeanne Cavelos is a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell and winner of the World Fantasy Award.

This summer's workshop runs from June 8 through July 17. Guest lecturers are bestselling author Jeffrey A. Carver; award-winning authors Melissa Scott, Patricia Bray, and Jack Ketchum; and Ace/Roc Editor-in-Chief Ginjer Buchanan. The writer-in-residence is New York Times bestselling author Carrie Vaughn. The application deadline is April 8. For more information, visit www.odysseyworkshop.org or call (603) 673-6234.


*And, of course, you'll get to meet me :-)
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As announced on the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop's webpage I'll be one of the guest lecturers for the 2009 workshop. Odyssey is well-known for both the quality of the program and the success of their graduates, and as you can imagine I was honored when Jeanne Cavelos approached me about participating. I'm looking forward to a great time.

Other lecturers for 2009 are writer-in-residence Carrie Vaughn, and fellow guest lecturers Jeffrey A. Carver, Melissa Scott, Jack Ketchum and Ginjer Buchanan.

If you're interested, the workshop runs from June 8 through July 17th, 2009. Early admission deadline is January 31st, 2009, with regular admission applications due by April 8th, 2009. Details are on their website.

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