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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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When I was at Odyssey last week, one of the comments I kept hearing from students was how much they enjoyed the in person aspect of critiquing, and how they struggled to find suitable writers groups in their hometowns. I sympathized with their struggles-- in Binghamton I'd been part of an active critique group that had started with my best friend and then our primary recruiting ground was Waldenbooks employees who were also writers (I'm looking at you Joshua, Tracy and April...) But when I moved to New Hampshire, it was only through the kindness of a mutual friend that I connected with local genre writers. Strangely enough we found that we'd all been at Boskone just a few weeks before, but hadn't run into each other. The next time I go to a con, I'm wearing a shirt that says "I'm from New Hampshire" to make these connections easier.

But rather than relying on cons, what we need is an online matchmaking tool that hooks writers up with potential critique partners. Modeled off eHarmony, where you begin by entering your geographic location and genres and then answer compatibility questions such as:

[Poll #1921053]

Really the only surprising thing is that no one has thought of this before.
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When I was at Odyssey last week, one of the comments I kept hearing from students was how much they enjoyed the in person aspect of critiquing, and how they struggled to find suitable writers groups in their hometowns. I sympathized with their struggles-- in Binghamton I'd been part of an active critique group that had started with my best friend and then our primary recruiting ground was Waldenbooks employees who were also writers (I'm looking at you Joshua, Tracy and April...) But when I moved to New Hampshire, it was only through the kindness of a mutual friend that I connected with local genre writers. Strangely enough we found that we'd all been at Boskone just a few weeks before, but hadn't run into each other. The next time I go to a con, I'm wearing a shirt that says "I'm from New Hampshire" to make these connections easier.

But rather than relying on cons, what we need is an online matchmaking tool that hooks writers up with potential critique partners. Modeled off eHarmony, where you begin by entering your geographic location and genres and then answer compatibility questions such as:

Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 0


The new member describes her work as the next Twilight, only better since her vampires not only glow in the dark, they each have a guardian unicorn. Do you:

View Answers

Run very far, very fast
0 (0.0%)

Smile politely and hope you'll be able to influence her style and taste
0 (0.0%)

Resolve to judge the work on its own merits
0 (0.0%)

Squee loudly and proclaim yourself BFFs
0 (0.0%)



Really the only surprising thing is that no one has thought of this before.
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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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Kicked off the weekend with a writers group meeting last night, where one of our members revealed fabulous news. Much time was spent bouncing up and down with glee. Alas she's not ready to go public, but when she is, we're planning a proper celebration.

Need to finish proofing the galleys for AFTER HOURS, then getting together Sunday with Joshua to collate our changes. Having both of us independently checking the entire manuscript, plus each of the individual authors looking over their own stories, should ensure that we catch as many mistakes as humanly possible.

And oh, yes, I'm also finishing polishing up the new proposal so I can send it to my agent.

Other than that, a lazy quiet weekend planned. :-D It's been that kind of month, so it's no wonder that I haven't read a single page of published fiction since October.
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My guest blog is up on the Magical Words website click here to read.

It's the early lessons that I keep coming back to. "Don't hit your sister" "Sharing is important, even if it is the last cookie" and "Never get involved in a land war in Asia" are all still important axioms to live by, while the advice "Be neat, be polite and be on time" applies as much to my manuscripts as it does to me.
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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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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 part of my writing process, when I finish writing for the day I'll print out the pages I've just written. Later I'll mark them up, and then the next time I sit down to write I start by inputting the changes and then move on to the new stuff. It's the equivalent of warming up, a way to stretch my creative muscles and get back into the flow of the story, which is vitally important if you're not on a schedule where you can write every day.

Yesterday as I was having my morning coffee I pulled out the hardcopy of the last scene I'd written before work went crazy. As soon as I started to read it, I knew I'd made a mistake. These pages were old, and had none of the changes I'd planned. There was still that awkward info dump on page 3, the order of events was off, and I spotted a character that I'd already decided didn't need to be in this scene.

So I set it aside, went to the computer and printed off the pages again. But they were exactly the same as the ones I'd looked at earlier. Confused I checked to see if I'd saved it under a different file name. No luck.

"Ah ha!" I thought, "I must have been working on the laptop and forgotten to copy the file back to the desktop." So I checked the laptop, but that version was even older.

I retreated back to the kitchen and stared at the offending pages. They were wrong, wrong, wrong! I knew that I had fixed them.

Except, it seems I hadn't. Or if I had, the changes had been lost when someone decided to reset the universe without telling me.

I finally did go ahead and revise the scene, but the entire time I had to fight off the sense that I wasting time making changes I'd already done before.
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Anyone who's tried to balance a day job with writing knows how hard it can be. Sometimes the impact is easy to see--working a 14 hour day makes it difficult to find the energy to write at night.

Sometimes the impact is more subtle. When I first graduated from college and started working as a programmer, I stopped writing. But as I moved up the ladder to the point where I was managing programmers rather than getting to do the fun stuff myself, I once again discovered within me the desire to write.

It took me a while to make the connection. To realize that I was a creative person, and if I couldn't satisfy my creative urges in one venue, I'd turn to another.

Fast forward to last Friday. In my new assignment at MegaCorp, I've been asked to come up with the most efficient method for processing currency adjustments. After a couple of attempts, I created a script that produces the right answers, but it takes too long to run.

By coincidence, after the early morning writing session on Friday, I'd been stuck on a plot point. Normally this would mean that throughout the day my subconscious would be working on the plot point. But instead it had been preempted by the programming challenge. When I had the "Ah ha!" moment and reached for my pen, it was not to jot down ideas for the next scene, but rather a new idea for setting limits to the data blocks being calculated.

Even after I'd gone home, and immersed myself in the story once again, it was hard to get my brain back into writing mode. The creative idea generator wanted to solve the programming problem, and I had to tell myself that it was the weekend and I would not under any circumstances allow myself to power up my laptop to work on the day job.

Fortunately the opportunities for creative coding are few and far between, otherwise this balance would be even tougher than it is. But perhaps this explains why Einstein did his best work when he was employed as a patent clerk :-)
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Wrote this morning and then biked, accomplishing both my goals for the day.

I got a later start biking than I wanted, so it was fairly hot, but I did complete the route and never dropped into granny gear on the hills, which means I'm stronger than I thought. Though it wasn't easy--there was one spot when I was flagging and gave myself a pep talk. "It's not that hard, you shouldn't be this tired. Think about it, this is only 10% of the ride you'll be doing in July."

Immediately I felt depressed. Less than 10%? I'd never make it. So I rapidly switched mental gears. I stopped thinking about the July cancer ride. Instead I told myself, "Hey, you're just over 50% of the way through today's ride."

Bingo. Instant motivation. I was halfway there, and I knew I could push through it.

I use a similar approach in my writing. I don't sit down to write a novel, which is an overwhelming task. I've learned to break my writing into manageable goals: today I will write a chapter. A scene. Three manuscript pages to meet my commitment for [livejournal.com profile] novel_in_90. Whatever I need at the time, I set achievable goals, with realistic milestones.

Would I like to have written more? Yes, but I managed my 750 words for today which is good enough for the win.
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and eventually they add up.

This month I've rejoined [livejournal.com profile] novel_in_90 and signed up for a cancer fundraising ride in July, and my reasons for doing both are the same--I needed goals.

As I've mentioned before, ever since I began supporting the corporate finance databases, I've had trouble balancing the day job and the rest of the life. My DBA responsibilities now involve scheduled work several nights a month as well as the occasional weekend. This was prime writing time, and I found it hard to get into a writing routine, especially in the absence of an externally imposed deadline.

Similarly, this year's bike trip isn't until September. Which seems very far away, and thus I've slacked off on the training, letting myself take a pass when it was too hot/cold/wet.

But time is slipping away, unnoticed, and I realized that it was June and I had nothing to show for the past couple of months. So I gave myself goals. First, Novel in 90, which is a commitment to write at least 750 a day, every day, with the ultimate goal of 67,500 words in 90 days. It worked for me last summer when I was finishing up THE FINAL SACRIFICE, so I decided to give it another spin.

Since Saturday I've written 5,750 words. That's an entire chapter that didn't exist before. All because I was no longer waiting for the right time. I'm not even waiting for the right words. In true Nin90 spirit, I've written paragraphs that I knew were crap, just to keep moving. It's the end results that matter, words on pages. I once heard Nora Roberts tell a room full of writers "I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank page." I'm following her example, and so far it's working.

I know I won't get to write every day in the 90. But I'm committed to try my best, and to keep making progress. Small, manageable goals that will add up to the whole.

As for biking, rather than training for a week-long trip in September, I'm now focused on training for a 1 day ride in July. By giving myself a short term goal to work towards you can bet that I'll be out on the road this weekend, regardless of the weather.

Now if only I could figure out a way to write while biking....
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Ten writers walk into a B&B...

Today is the semi-annual STAR writers' retreat. We meet at the B&B for coffee, tea and pastries at 8:30, then by 9AM it's off to our corners to write. We emerged at noon for a group lunch, sharing details of what we've accomplished so far this morning. After lunch we had our theme workshop presentation of the day--by popular demand [livejournal.com profile] jennifer_dunne and I did our role-playing workshop on how to pitch to an editor or agent. (The rumors that Jennifer was pitching a Ben Hur/Winnie the Pooh pastiche called Ben Honey are complete falsehoods.) After the presentation we've retreated back to our corners for another couple hours of writing before we break for the day.

I'm pleased that I managed to get writing accomplished this morning, since my schedule has been thrown out of whack by the new job, with its requirements for scheduled overtime on top of the normal daily grind. Tonight, for instance, I'll have to start working at 5:30, so knowing that's ahead of me has sucked some of the enjoyment out of today.

As for the crime--last night the gamers got together and tried out the CSI game I'd received for Christmas. The rules of the game seemed overly complicated--we'd all figured out the key elements of the crime but the rules required that you had to keep visiting the evidence stations even if you already knew the killer. Plus the clue cards assumed you were a CSI junkie and already familiar with the key terms, something that left Amy at a disadvantage. Verdict was that the game was okay, but unlikely to be put into constant rotation.

Came home last night to find the final shipment of my birthday wishlist books had arrived. 9 titles to add to my TBR stack--3 research books and 6 fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, historical and YA). I think my TBR stack has doubled since January 1st, so I'd better start making inroads soon.
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Becoming a published author involves mastering many skills, one of which is learning how to write a synopsis for your book. If you've never seen one before, this can be a daunting task, so [livejournal.com profile] jpsorrow put out a call for his friends to share examples, and declared that March 18th was S-Day.

For my part, I've posted the synopsis for THE FIRST BETRAYAL, the first volume in The Chronices of Josan series. Because this was a proposal based on sample chapters rather than a completed novel, the package included detailed background information as well as summaries for all three books in the proposed series. In order to avoid spoilers for either THE SEA CHANGE or THE FINAL SACRIFICE, I've removed those sections from the synopsis posted on my website.

At the time the synopsis was written, I has only writen the opening chapters of THE FIRST BETRAYAL. Astute readers will notice differences between the synopsis and the final book. I like to think of the published book as the "Director's Cut" of the story.

You'll also notice that many of the details in the synopsis never made it into any of three books, such as Prince Lucius's family tree, or the detailed history of the Ikarian empire. This is an example of world-building--as an author I need to know the underpinnings of the world and civilizations that I've created, but it's not necessary to explicitly include these in the story.

In his livejournal announcement [livejournal.com profile] jpsorrow refers to synopses usually being 3-5 pages in length. This is where I beg to differ--while shorter is generally better, synopses come in a wide variety of lengths, depending on the project and the author. The synopsis for THE FIRST BETRAYAL was the longest one I've ever written, mainly because it wasn't associated with a completed novel--there had to be enough detail in there to convince the folks at Bantam that I had enough story to sustain a multi-volume arc. Luckily Bantam liked it, and as you've probably guessed, they bought all three books in the series :-)

So, without further ado, click here to read my synopsis. Then take a look at the links posted below, to find more examples.

Enjoy!

Plot Synopsis Project participant links:

For more examples, check out the links below. Note, authors are posting throughout the day, some links may not be immediately available.

Edited on 3/24 to add permanent links to the blog entries.

[livejournal.com profile] desperance Chaz Brenchley's entry
Mike Brotherton's entry
Tobias Buckell's entry
[livejournal.com profile] scbutler S.C. Butler's entry
Barbara Campbell's entry
[livejournal.com profile] davidbcoe David B. Coe's entry
[livejournal.com profile] jennifer_dunne Jennifer Dunne's entry
[livejournal.com profile] sleigh S.L. Farrell's entry
[livejournal.com profile] difrancis Diana Francis's entry
[livejournal.com profile] frostokovich Gregory Frost's entry
Felix Gilman's entry
[livejournal.com profile] jimhines Jim C. Hines's entry
[livejournal.com profile] jackiekessler Jackie Kessler's entry
[livejournal.com profile] mindyklasky Mindy Klasky's entry
[livejournal.com profile] madkestrel Misty Massey's entry
[livejournal.com profile] mizkit C.E. Murphy's entry
[livejournal.com profile] naominovik Naomi Novik's entry
[livejournal.com profile] jpsorrow Joshua Palmatier's entry
Maria V. Snyder's entry Link takes you to Myspace page, then search for 03/18/08 entry
[livejournal.com profile] smokingpigeon Jennifer Stevenson's entry
[livejournal.com profile] msagara Michelle West's entry
[livejournal.com profile] ladnews Sean Williams's entry

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Describe algor mortis, livor mortis and rigor mortis.

Oh, no, wait, that's the exam I'm studying for.

Back to the topic of the day, revisions. A couple of weeks back I posted my patented process for dealing with revisions. Today I'm going to discuss the contents of a revision letter, and how I make the requested changes. Keep in mind that this is one writer's process, and not meant to imply that this is the only way, it's simply the way that works for me.

Click here if you want to read more )

And now it's time to study for my exam tomorrow. For those keeping score at home:

ALGOR MORTIS: the cooling of the body after death.

LIVOR MORTIS: the settling of blood in the lower regions of the body after death, sometimes refered to as lividity.

RIGOR MORTIS: the stiffening of the body after death. Note that maximum stiffness is achieved approximately 10-15 hours after death, and the body will remain in this state for 24-36 hours before relaxation begins.

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