Archive for the Theories and Thoughts Category

Copywrite Ideas

Posted in Musings, short stories, Theories and Thoughts, work on March 4, 2010 by Jaym Gates

The other day, I was discussing a story on Twitter with someone. Long form short, he asked for a plot. I gave it to him, in a regular tweet. At the time, I’d thought of sending it DM, and it just didn’t seem necessary. He was surprised that I had put it out there in public.

That got me thinking. I’d considered, at the time, sending it DM. But it was just a very rough plot, one which is actually not that unique. It isn’t a story that I’m pushing the boundaries with, at least, not in main plot. It is about what I’d write into a teaser. I hadn’t given away the ending.

Yes, someone could come along and pick up the plot. They could write and submit it, and maybe even sell it. But it would still so not be my story.

I grew up reading fairytales, the Bible, and mythology, as well as an unhealthy dose of Christian apocalyptic fiction. Adult stuff, honestly, that I probably shouldn’t have been reading. But it formed interesting patterns in my head. I draw from these plots when I’m writing, and overlay it with an upholstery of horror and the stitching that comes from a love of world-building.

If you read more than three of my stories, certain similarities become apparent. Threads start forming. I write everything around a core of concepts. Things like the Aether Age stories are outside of the created world I typically use, but the details are still there.

I consider the details to be the treasure. I guard those fairly closely, and the timelines/history/mythology of my world. The plot? Show me a plot that hasn’t been done before! It’s in the seasoning and mixing of ideas that I find the real beauty and unique voice, whether in my own work or someone else’s.

However, I also have to be humble here. I’ve been working in the publishing world for just over a year. I’m still wet behind the ears, dammit. So yeah, I totally am open to having screwed up on that one.

But if I did, I want to know why, and how. I’d be interested to hear from the perspective of an editor, or a slush reader. Is it a problem to skim a plot in a public venue?


It’s a Job, Not a Reward

Posted in Rants, Theories and Thoughts, work, writing with tags , , , on November 4, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Well then, that was special. The happy-happy about where I live is that some moron decided to put the cable box right at the entrance to our subdivision. Right at the side of a very busy road. A very busy road that has many, many accidents right at the entrance to our subdivision.

Seeing the pattern here? Yeah. There was an accident this afternoon apparently, so I’ve been without internet for four hours.

Of course, I did all the non-internet stuff early this morning…when I still had internet. And since half of what I needed to do today was ONLINE…it hasn’t been quite as productive a day as I was hoping.

Oh well.

I guess this means (since at the time of writing, I STILL don’t have internet…) that I might as well write a nice long post.

About…hmm. Nothing springs to mind.

Ooo, I know, a rant. Yes, a rant.

See, I’ve seen a lot of questions basically saying ‘how do I get published?’ ‘how do I write a query letter?’ etc etc etc. Those are all good questions, right?

Well, kinda. But the problem is, a lot of the time, it’s pretty obvious that they want the easy answer. Most of these questions are easily answered by a quick Google search.

And you know what? That’s how I found out all my answers. Every time I answer someone’s questions about something related to writing or publishing, I swear they say ‘wow, you know so much!’.

Behold the power of Google. There are literally hundreds of blogs, ‘ask the agent’ and Q&A sites. Agents and publishers have Twitter too, where they talk about the daily problems associated with publishing and give lots and lots of hints and tips. And, to top off the deal, there are writer’s forums, where you can go read, ask and learn.

“But there’s so much! How do I know what’s real?”

This is actually a really valid question. There must be a dozen ‘how to write a query letter’ sites out there…at least. I stumbled all over those for a while before I figured it out. It can be hard sometimes, to figure out what is valid and up-to-date.

That’s where reading the articles on agency sites, and SFWA can be so useful. They tend to keep up pretty well with what you need to send.

Reading the blogs of newly-published authors is useful too. A lot of the time, these people are going to be talking about what it’s like, how they did it, what they have to do. This is not only good, but priceless.

What you don’t want to do is go around asking ‘how do I get published? How do I write a cover letter?’
Every successful author, agent, editor and publisher has gone through years of research, experience, study and confusion. Do you really expect to bypass all that? That’s what classes and seminars are for. Agent and writers get paid to do those. It’s part of how they make money. Shelling out advice for free is nice and some people will do it, but they get dozens of those questions every day, and the best you’ll probably get is a ‘go research’.

If you do get that answer, don’t get pissed. That’s virtual suicide. The publishing world is a small, tightly-knit one. Everyone has lunch with everyone else. So if you do go off about how unhelpful someone is, chances are, you won’t be all that welcome any more. It’s not rudeness. It’s you have your job, they have their job.

And that’s really what it boils down to. You have your job. Consider the research to be schoolwork. Read, study, do your homework. Writing is a job. No one’s going to do it for you.

So next time you have a question, Google it. There’s a lot of stuff out there to find.

Tomorrow I’ll post some of those resources. After all, it is always nice to get a bit of a headstart from someone!

*edit* Apparently, it’s just me that got lucky. No internet at all, and something seems to be broken. So I’m offline until at least tomorrow night. Gotta love it.

Writing Habits…

Posted in QWIPS, short stories, Theories and Thoughts, writing with tags , on October 17, 2009 by Jaym Gates

…are something I could stand to improve.

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday. In my defense, I honestly thought it was Saturday. ALL. DAY. LONG. I thought it was Saturday. How sad is that? So it wasn’t a lack of dedication, but a lack…well, a lot of other things. Most notably, a brain. Anyone got a spare sitting around please?

Anyways, just finished another round of editing on On Aralu’s Breast. I am pleased with the story. It went from 1200 words to about 2200. Not bad. It’s also heavily erotic. Which leads to the point of this post.

I’ve written two stories set in Sumerian culture now. New Name was not directly Sumerian. In fact, it was meant to tie into my Shadow and Soul world. But further research for Aralu pointed out that I really did write a Sumerian story there. Kema makes a very convincing Ereshkigal, and Hell there is the dusty Aralu of Sumerian myth. I didn’t do that intentionally, I swear.

And it didn’t start out to be sexual. It ended up so. Not blatantly, although a rewrite would change THAT significantly.

The last lines of the two stories were also originally very, very similar. And on thinking back, I’m beginning to notice some common things in my writing.

1.) A sort of passive ‘possession’ that allows the protagonist to see through someone else’s eyes. In Inherent, it just got tweaked so that the narrator saw the entire series of events through the eyes of everyone there. In Aralu, Ku-Inanna is watching through the eyes of a nameless god.

2.) Killing off an old god for a new one to rise. Substitute ‘dragon’ for god, and there’s the story about Prometheus right there.

3.) Changing names. In Inherent, two of the main characters take new names after coronation, and their personality actually shifts to reflect the new things. In Aralu, Ku-Inanna’s name changes to reflect his new situation. Names are power.

4.) A certain ‘breed’ of witch. Namely, one who works just this side of insanity, is very dark, and has the attitude of a goddess. I like my witches.

5.) Dragons. Three different forms at this point. There’s the dragon in Hidden Fire, which is the most ‘traditional’ of the three. Prometheus is a sort of magic/tech hybrid, and Inherent’s dragons are the most odd of the three.

There are more themes, like immortality, vengeance and being consumed by power, but those above are the ones that crop up the most frequently. So, there you have it. I have habits.

Light and Night

Posted in Musings, Seven Deadly Sins, Theories and Thoughts, writing on September 17, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Dark. Left-hand path. Descent into Hell. Root of all evil.

Evil is dark, walks to the left, below everything.

Light. Right-hand path. Ascending to Heaven. Pinnacle of good.

Good is bright, walks to the right, and is above all.

This is in mythology, religion, fiction, every day usage.

A friend and I used to spend hours debating the usage of light and dark as concepts of good and evil. We never did come to an agreement.

What is light without dark to give it depth and beauty?

The left hand path is seldom chosen, but there is no path inherently evil.

Without the depths, there is nowhere for roots to take hold, no ground for our feet.

There are two sorts of dark. There is the dark when a bag is slipped over your head, a suffocating, blinding darkness. That is the evil, the darkness that doesn’t want to see what is around it. Selfish and willfully blind.

There is the darkness of night, rest. The darkness that is not evil, but gentle and protective of secrets. It’s the stars, the wind, the lovers and the dreams.

Next time there’s a discussion of light and dark, good and evil, consider them not as flat conceptions, but living and multi-dimensional elementals. It leads to such amazing discussions, and makes magic that much richer.

Frustration, Confidence, Perseverance

Posted in Theories and Thoughts with tags , , , on August 8, 2009 by Jaym Gates

There’s a lot of talk about how frustrating it is to find an agent. To get published. To be successful. I believed every word of it before I started.

I didn’t understand the reality of it.

I’ve stated before that I intend to be a successfully published author, regardless of how long/how much work/how much frustration it takes on my part. That’s a fairly recent investment. As in, little over a year old. I’ve contemplated the thought of publication for four years, but two years was learning to write. Those were the early days of Shadow and Soul, when I was still writing mostly for the fun of it. I had no training, no guidance, nothing except sheer desire and raw instinct. At that time, I wasn’t involved with the forum.

While Red Sun was a serious project, it was a serious project by someone who still wasn’t fully committed. If I didn’t feel like writing, I didn’t. There’s a reason the rough draft took almost 2 years to complete, and still looked like crap!

It wasn’t until I wrote New Name that I really dug in. New Name was a project I loved and believed strongly in. Writing it took my breath away. That was the first time I felt I was writing someone else’s words. The difference in passion was unbelievable.

Inherent followed suite. Editing the coronation scene yesterday brought tears to my eyes. Again, it was like reading someone else’s work. I honestly don’t know where I pulled that from, because I don’t feel I’m that skilled!

Hidden and Wind-Loved were sort of the crown jewels of a year of hard work. All the sudden, I have works I’m proud to point to. I don’t need to defend them, they stand on their own.

But now that whole ‘hard work’ thing takes an entirely different track. I’m used to getting up two hours earlier than I used to. I’m used to staying up late, not going out as often, not fooling around online as much, sticking to a schedule that can sometimes be the last thing I want to do. I’m used to getting funny looks when I say I have to go home to work.

I’m used to spending time formatting, submitting, reading, researching. That all is fine with me, it’s stuff I kind of like doing.

I’m not used to marketing myself. Raised in an environment where pride, self-confidence and self-promotion were frowned on, talking about myself positively is hard. Talking about something I’ve done is even harder.

I’m not used to looking at something and honestly believing that it really is that good. I went from really not believing that I’ve got anything special to looking at some of my stuff and going “damn, that deserves to make it out there”.

I’m not used to sticking by a project that keeps getting turned down. My mindset is that if it got turned down, there’s something wrong with it. Well, no. It just hasn’t found the right place.

I’m not great at faith, is the bottom line, and especially not faith in myself. That’s going to have to change.

The problem with all these big lessons to be learned is that I don’t adapt to change half as well as I wish I did. I dig in my heels and respond negatively to almost any change. That’s my single biggest obstacle to overcome.

I have a flash-point fuse. I opened Hidden this morning to discover that the hour of formatting I’d put in there had been all jacked. BADLY jacked. And I’d sent it to, of all places Clarkesworld like that. A mature reaction would be an ‘oops, crap, must go fix and figure out what went wrong’. My reaction was purely emotional. Stupidly, unprofessionally emotional. Shit happens. Get over it.

Now, after the initial temper tantrum, I’m cool and will make it work. But that frustration is too easily triggered, and I’d better not make it to anything before I get that under control or I’ll sabotage myself. If indeed I can actually make it with an attitude like that. Project A: Change the damn attitude.

I have the skill. I worked hard for that skill. Now I have to have the savvy, the ability to promote myself, put myself out there. Like getting a first job, getting a first publishing credit is bloody hard. The cover letters look pathetic. Non-fic, I’m good, I’ve got experience there. Editing is fine too, I’ve been the editor for several people now. Fic, not so hot.

Baby steps. We’re going with baby-steps here.

Confidence is hard to get, and harder to keep.

Frustration is easy to come by, and hard to banish.

Perseverance is the hardest of all. Talent isn’t worth a damn thing without humility, perseverance, maturity and tact.

Remind me of that next time the manuscripts play Twister on me please? It will do me a world of good.

Nowhere to Submit?

Posted in Theories and Thoughts with tags , , on July 29, 2009 by Jaym Gates

Looking for a magazine to submit my short stories to has been a little frustrating, a little depressing too. So many of them say ‘Closed’, ‘not open till August of 2300AA (After Apocalypse, thank you very much)’. While I have a submission list, I have maybe five magazines to submit to.

That irritated me. And then today, I started thinking about it and came to a somewhat startling realization.

I’d love to have subscriptions to all of these magazines so that I can see the awesome work that I’m trying to match. I’d like to have them just because I love short stories. The problem? I don’t have anywhere near enough money to subscribe to F&SF, Ideomancer, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Cemetery Dance, and however many other great magazines are out there. There are too many options.

Effectively, it’s a bunch of publications trying to fill the same niche at the same time. Which is awesome. Market diversity is a great thing. But when magazines and anthologies are the only short-story market, it will get glutted in a hurry.

A lot of magazines have closed recently, and with the economy being what it is, plenty of others seem to be tightening their belts along with the rest of us. I don’t think the answer is to start more magazines. We’ve already seen that the market can’t support that many. Like it or not, a lot of places are moving online.

Personally, I love print. I like print books, print newspapers, print magazines. There’s something so satisfying about holding a book, turning the pages. I can’t read an entire book in one sitting at my computer. I tried that with Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels series. I can read a book in one sitting, if it’s in my comfy chair with a soft lamp and a cup of tea. I can’t tell you how many hours have slipped away in that manner. I love sitting at the breakfast table in the morning, reading a magazine while sipping tea or OJ. It’s a bit of escapism, because I spend so much time at my computer.

Also, if I have something in print I own it. Even an ebook can be lost in those all too-frequent computer crashes.

I’ve mentioned before that short stories don’t really get much love, and certainly not as much respect as a novel. But some of our most enduring literary works are little more than short stories, or compilations of short stories.

As a kid, we spent hours in the evening, reading out loud. It wasn’t that we didn’t have anything to do, or that we weren’t tired. My grandfather still puts in 10-12 hour days at his engineering office, my grandmother runs the property and takes care of the animals and does all of the taxes and bookwork and errands. When I was young, we were involved heavily in church as well. I was home-schooled for a long time. We watched plenty of movies (but no TV).

We would read a book a week at least… out loud. Short stories, novels, religious reading. It is one of the best memories of my life. It taught me inflection, pronunciation, appreciation. It helped me overcome a mild speech impediment (although that has reappeared to some degree… possibly because I don’t read aloud anymore!)

Short stories are perfect to read aloud at family night.

Short stories are something even busy people can commit to. Teenagers won’t get bored as quickly… And do you really want them reading something that’s the quality of Twilight or Eragon when there are such wonderful options available?

Short stories are great for giving yourself an introduction to a particular author’s work. There are many authors I’d never have picked up except for reading one of their short stories.

In short, let’s have more anthologies. Let’s give short stories some love, and let’s not forget that we really do have a nice selection of magazines to send our short stories to, it is in fact an embarrassment of riches.

2nd Time Tribulations

Posted in Theories and Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Jaym Gates

The first writing project is a combination of guts, glory and desire. A first-time writer doesn’t have a clue how they are supposed to do all this and keep it all straight, but by george they are going to make it work!

On of the ways to make that work is to read read read. But with reading comes knowledge. And knowledge is a frustrating little bugger. Because knowledge makes a writer realize that I wasn’t doing it right!.

Cue the second project. Now, it must be done RIGHT. LAWS must be followed. The RULES OF WRITING ™ must be obeyed. There are sekrits about this writing thing, don’tcha know? And if you do them all right, well then, you’ll be HEAP BIG AUTHOR.

Yeah. That gets frustrating in a hurry. Trust me. I’ve been there. My first project was the ancestor of Shadow and Soul, but it was based on years of casual, hobbyist writing with definate overtones of fanfic. But I wasn’t doing it to be HEAP BIG AUTHOR, I was doing it because it was fun. 50,000 words of literary tangle later, I shelved it, and started a new project.

This time, I was going to follow the RULES OF WRITING to the letter. I researched, I plotted, I outlined, I followed word-counts, I did everything right. And Red Sun kicked the hell out of my enthusiasm and love of the written word.

My mother will tell you that I hated that book by the time I was ‘through’. It had gone through so many dramatic changes and convolutions that I had my million words of shit right there in the history of one book. But I was doing it RIGHT, and so I would be HEAP BIG AUTHOR, yes?

No. Red Sun is a premise of gold that was alchemically reduced to a steaming pile of crap. I didn’t like my own writing. Someone less bloody-minded (and possibly far wiser) than I would have chucked the book the way of the original fantasy project. I didn’t. I actually submitted the damn thing to about ten agents before I came to my senses. Red Sun now waits to be rewritten. From scratch. Because it is a golden concept that was mangled by doing it RIGHT.

Third time’s the charm. I wrote the 11,000 word New Name in a month. Within 3 months, it was edited and ready to be read. I loved it from beginning to end, I will ALWAYS see that story as the real ‘lightbulb’ moment of “Oh my god. I love this thing called writing.” Unfortunately, its length leaves few avenues of publication, so it has sat idle for a while.

Inherent has mostly gone the way of New Name. Fast, challenging, enjoyable, beautiful. I even love editing it. I can toot my own horn over this story, I can sell it. Or, I’ll be able to sell it once I boil the premise down to a few pithy sentences. It’s had its trials, and it certainly needs more editing. But it is night and day compared to Red Sun or the early Shadow and Soul.

I’ve seen this ‘second-time blues’ in other places too, in other forms. It seems to be more pronounced when the first project goes unexpectedly well.

New Name was something I wrote from a fragment of a dream. I didn’t expect anything out of it, I’d never written a complete short story. It was so good, that I felt capable of setting the market alight with my short stories.

I haven’t completed a decent one yet, in 6 months. Nothing can compare to New Name. I’ve started, set aside, and moved on. Finally, I’ve sat down and made myself write a new story in the spirit of New Name. Instead of using any inspiration, old story or anything else, I wrote a line about the wind and have written a new myth. And I’m actually relatively pleased with it.

The most striking example I’ve seen of this concept is in my friend and writing buddy Kuro (Kelly Stiles). After submitting a piece to Fantasy Magazine, almost on a whim, Fantasy published her micro-fiction Night Comes Softly. It was an amazing success, her first publication, and against some very good competition too.

But how do you follow up such a success? She and I have been wrangling with edits on her next piece, Calling Down the Rain for a few weeks now. It’s got a ton of promise. But somehow, it keeps bumping up against the shadow of Night Comes Softly and getting scared. We compared it to the first story, when it is really its own thing and shouldn’t be lumped with that old one. The old one was a success however, and so now its a standard, a measuring stick.

It’s hard to follow success without wondering ‘will this be as good?’ ‘Was that a one-time thing?’ It starts getting too thought-out, and not as natural. And then no, it doesn’t work like a heart-felt piece does, at least not without a hell of a lot of love and nurturing.

The key to truly powerful writing is to write the unexpected, the heart-felt, the story that won’t be diagrammed and outlined like all the others. It can’t be done RIGHT. It has its own mind, its own ideas. Plot, outline, research away, but if the story doesn’t agree with you, listen to it.

I deleted 50,000 words of the old Shadow and Soul and started a new world, of which Inherent is part. And now I listen to the story, and I love it more than I ever hated it.

Leave the successes and failures behind you when you write. They have no place in anything but themselves.