Friday Links

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Happy Friday, and for those of you in the US, happy Labor Day weekend! It’s already pretty quiet in my neck of the woods, and I know a lot of editors have already headed out, if the out-of-office messages that started creeping up Wednesday are any indication. It’s the last gasp of summer, at least from a work perspective, and everyone’s making the most of it.

My plans include some actual work, likely tomorrow, depending on how much I can power through today, followed by a BBQ with friends and a stack of personal reading. I might even read out on my balcony if I can muster the energy to sweep the darn thing. Whatever you have on the schedule, I wish you a wonderful weekend, and I hope you manage to squeeze in some reading and/or writing time.

But first, I have links to share! Some reading suggestions in here, in case your weekend plans involve a beach or pool, a lounge chair, and a shady umbrella. Enjoy!

21 of the Best British Sci-Fi Writers You’ve Probably Never Heard Of – Chances are you actually have heard of most of these, especially if you read within the genre already, but it’s still a great list and I hope it inspires you to check out some new books.

Opportunities for Writers: September and October – A list of contests and calls for work with September/October deadlines.

An Interview with Elissa Schappell – A wonderful interview excerpt where Schappell talks about all the hats she wears (editor, reviewer, writer) and how on earth she gets so much done. (Complete interview in issue 15 of Slice.)

How to Stop Putting Things Off and Make Yourself Get to Work – We all procrastinate on some level. Some great tips on how to get on with it already.

25 Must-Read Books for Fall – If you’re looking to get a jump on your fall to-read list, here’s a great starting point. Nice diverse set of titles.

Writing What You Know vs. Knowing What You Write

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One of the most common pieces of advice handed down to writers — particularly those just starting out — is “write what you know.” It’s not bad advice on its own, but it frequently gets a bad rap. People are quick to point out how limiting such a rule can be, particularly for anyone intent on writing science fiction or fantasy stories. How many writers, after all, truly know what it’s like to rocket across the galaxy in a space ship? Who has personal experience fighting off a dragon? Even with more mainstream fiction, you can see the problem. Must you wait for your spouse to die before you can write about a character experiencing such a loss?

For me, the difficulty comes not with the advice itself but in the literal interpretation. Of course you don’t need to limit your writing to your personal experiences, or to subjects  on which you’re already an expert. Focus on what you find interesting or compelling, or what has you curious, and then get to know about that subject. Fill in the blanks in your knowledge so you can do the subject justice when you sit down to write. Or, if it’s a topic that requires you to flex your imagination, make sure you research around the subject’s fringes so your imaginings feel authentic. Tolkien’s Middle Earth may be populated by imagined people and creatures, but it feels real because he applied familiar details to the world they inhabit; he described the nature and the geography, created maps to trace the Fellowship’s journey, and used his knowledge and interest in linguistics to invent entire languages for the different races. So, read up on some astronauts and their experiences with space travel. Learn about various lizards and birds and dinosaurs and see what facts about their anatomy might apply to your dragon.

When it comes to writing about what you know, emotions can be similar across different experiences. Just because you’ve never lost a spouse, doesn’t mean you haven’t lost someone you loved — a parent or grandparent, maybe a close friend. You can read accounts from people who have suffered the death of a significant other, but you can also empathize on a different level over the general loss of a loved one. How did it feel? What were your reactions? Can you imagine the differences and the similarities between your experience and the one you’re crafting for your character?

Writing is a creative endeavor, and by its very nature requires you to create as you go. If you limit yourself to writing only about the current contents of your brain, you will do yourself — and your readers — a disservice. The key is to use your own knowledge as a jumping off point. Tap into your experiences and emotions and mine those for your work, of course, but don’t discount the ideas that stem from what you wish to learn, from the fleeting thoughts that require you do some digging. Expanding your world is half the fun of writing, so stay open to inspiration and the opportunity to discover something new. If you don’t know about your subject when the idea first sparks, you will by the time you finish your final draft.

Friday Links

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Another tense week here in the U.S. My weekend plans include brunch and books and manuscripts. Er… not in that order. I fully intend to unplug from the internet and the news, however, because it’s mostly just depressing me. Maybe I’ll peek occasionally, so I’m not completely out of the loop, but other than that… just no. It all makes me want to bang people’s heads together. So much irrational cruelty and needless violence. Somewhere on my shelves there must be a book that will remind me that human beings do good things, too. Because the other option, apparently, is to watch celebrities pour ice over their heads (for an admittedly good cause) and that’s getting old.

But first, I have links! There’s a pretty diverse group this week, so I hope there’s something to appeal to everyone. May you be inspired to some creative greatness this weekend, or at the very least find an excellent read. Enjoy!

Finding My Voice in Fantasy – Author and Time magazine book reviewer Lev Grossman discusses how he made the leap from “literary” writing to fantasy.

Why We Must Strive for Diversity in SF/F – Author David Mack talks about his own work and his reaction to readers criticizing his diverse characters.

Practical Art: On Teaching the Business of Creative Writing – A great look at some of the practical aspects of a writing career that should possibly get addressed as part of a writer’s education.

Surreal Worlds Digitally Painted by Gediminas Pranckevicius – Amazing art work that looks like it should serve to inspire some fantastic fiction. (For those of you looking for a prompt.)

Why We Need Independent Bookstores More Than Ever – The director of a smaller publisher weighs in on the book-selling wars.

When to Cut that Scene – Some good tips on how to revise with an eye toward editing out the fluff — no matter how much you might love it.

Learn to Write a Synopsis: This Week!

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I posted about this a few weeks ago, but I wanted to repost for anyone who might have missed it or who might be on the fence about whether they want to sign up.

Last year I taught a webinar through Writer’s Digest on how to break down the sometimes daunting task of writing a synopsis, whether you need a short one to serve as a blurb for your query letter or something more substantial to send to an agent or editor on request. It went very well and I still have people query me or come up to me at conferences, mentioning that they took the course and found it helpful. So, I’m happy to say I’ll be teaching the class again, Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool, on Thursday, August 21, 2014, at 1pm ET. Even if you can’t make it live, please keep reading to learn why you might still wish to register.

The class airs live online via a PowerPoint presentation, with me calling in to teach, and everyone attending able to type in questions as we go, which I then answer at the end of the session. The class gets recorded, so attendees receive the presentation with my narration and all the Q&A material afterwards. In addition, the course includes a synopsis critique. Attendees have a couple of weeks following the class to take everything they’ve learned and apply it to writing or revising their own synopsis, which they can then send to me for feedback.

Please note that while you can purchase the course materials after the fact, only writers who register for the live class on August 21st will be eligible for the critique. You don’t need to actually attend live if your schedule conflicts, but you should register ahead anyway if you want a chance to submit your synopsis for some comments. I’m looking forward to helping more people tackle the synopsis hurdle, and I hope a few of you will join me!

Cover Art: ROCK ADDICTION by Nalini Singh

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New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh stuns with a sizzling contemporary romance…

A bad boy wrapped in a sexy, muscled, grown-up package might be worth a little risk…

Molly Webster has always followed the rules. After an ugly scandal tore apart her childhood and made her the focus of the media’s harsh spotlight, she vowed to live an ordinary life. No fame. No impropriety. No pain. Then she meets Zachary Fox, a tattooed bad boy rocker with a voice like whiskey and sin, and a touch that could become an addiction.

A one-night stand with the hottest rock star on the planet, that’s all it was meant to be…

Fox promises scorching heat and dangerous pleasure, coaxing Molly to extend their one-night stand into a one-month fling. After that, he’ll be gone forever, his life never again intersecting with her own. Sex and sin and sensual indulgence, all with an expiration date. No ties, no regrets. Too late, Molly realizes it isn’t only her body that’s become addicted to Fox, but her heart…

ROCK ADDICTION releases September 9th, 2014. You can pre-order it now through iBooks, with additional pre-orders on the way. Keep an eye out here, or at Nalini’s blog, for further updates, including excerpts from the book.

Friday Links

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This has been a long week filled with sad and tragic and angering events in the media. I’m hoping for a calm and peaceful weekend with a stack of good books and, possibly, a couple of cocktails. Wishing you the same.

But first, I have links! I’m quite pleased with this selection and I hope you all find something here to inspire you. There’s a mix of words of wisdom and good, strong kicks in the rear. So please check them out, and have a wonderful weekend. Enjoy!

How Rainbow Rowell Turned a Bomb into a Best-selling Novel – That’s the tick-tock type of bomb, not the failure sort of bomb.

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are – Some really thoughtful and considered ideas.

Vintage Books Offers New E-book “Vintage Shorts” – Both new and classic shorts, essays, etc. to be released as low priced short e-books.

Inside Junot Diaz’s Class at MIT:What the Writer Wants His Students to Read – Diaz pretty famously criticized American MFA programs for their lack of diversity, and here shares the reading lists for his own classes to show what he considers a more even set of works.

Writing Around a Day Job – Author Tom Pollock shares his thoughts on how to manage regular writing time while holding down a full-time job.

On Depression, Isolation, and a Creative Life

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In light of the sad loss of actor/comic Robin Williams yesterday, the internet has been flooded with all sorts of information about depression, including many calls for people to seek help if they need it. This is wonderful and important, but I feel like this is also the sort of thing that happens whenever a public figure commits suicide or announces a history of depression, and what we truly need is a more ongoing openness in the face of this illness. People don’t only need to seek help the week someone else succumbs to their own depression; they need to feel able to talk to someone whenever they need the assistance. And this is particularly important for anyone suffering from depression in a void.

There have been suggestions that creative types — writers, actors, artists, etc. — are more prone to depression because they are more sensitive or their work requires them to mine their demons or for whatever other reason. Maybe this is true, but I suspect not. All sorts of people suffer from depression — far more than you might suspect — and I don’t believe it has anything to do with what they’ve chosen for a career. It’s an illness, not a side effect.

However, many creatives spend time isolated — writers or artists working alone, actors with down time between parts — and so I think they sometimes have (or feel they have) less of a support system than someone with an office filled with coworkers. The same is true of people who live alone, travel alone frequently for business, and so on. Depression isolates a person all by itself, making it difficult to reach out for assistance for so many reasons, and so if that person is also isolated in reality, they have even less of a chance of seeking help from someone.

So yes, please reach out if you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, even if it’s only a fleeting thought. The suicide prevention lifeline in the U.S. is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and I’m certain there are similar helplines in other countries. The only way to find a solution to your problems, no matter how impossible they seem, is to remain in the game.

But for those of you who know people who might be depressed, please make an effort to reach out to them. You can’t fix them or cure them or tell them much that will register, because a depressed person’s brain will filter your words and hear what they believe rather than what you say. But, what you can do is remind them that you are there for them and that they have a support system. Check in just because you care. Be present in their lives so that, even when their brains are insisting they are alone, some small part of them might still realize that you want them in your life.

Friday Links

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Enjoying some slightly cooler temperatures here, finally, and I’m hoping they hold up through the weekend so I can continue my productive streak of the last couple of days. I’ve got tons of reading and a bit of writing on my schedule. How about you?

Whatever you have planned, I’ve got some fun links for you to check out to kick off the weekend (or kill a little time before you quit for the day). I hope they inspire you to carve out a little reading and/or writing time of your own. Enjoy!

Ursula K. LeGuin Talks to Michael Cunningham about Genres, Gender, and Broadening Fiction – Wonderful interview, plus a link to a terrific e-book deal.

Pacing Doesn’t Just Mean Wearing a Groove in the Floor – John Scalzi talks about the “different thing” he did in his latest book, and why he chose to do it. (Hint: It has to do with pacing.)

Short Story: A Process of Revision – Antonya Nelson talks about her short story writing process and how she used it in teaching her latest workshop.

Lessons from Behind the Counter at a Comic Book Store – On feminism and marketing and comics.

Science Fiction and Fantasy 101: Thinking Academically about Genre – A great tie-in to my post from yesterday, with some recommendations for a “course” in SFF reading.

 

Reading on a Theme: Learning Your History

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Years after graduation, I still miss school once in a while, and never so much as when I wish I had the time and excuse to read a number of interconnected books the way I would for an English class — titles that somehow link together, whether by author or time period or style of writing or genre. I loved being about to read several works in a row and have discussions about what made them similar, what the authors were trying to accomplish, how the works played off of each other.

Reading on a theme gets more difficult once you leave school. In my case, there’s a lot of other reading mixed in with my personal choices, so there can be huge gaps of time and many other works addressed between books I’m reading for pleasure. But of course, if you’re looking to write in a particular genre, reading on a theme should be part of your regular routine.

Working on a young adult manuscript? You should be reading young adult books, new and old, bestsellers and quiet mid-listers. Writing a romance? Get to know the history of the genre. Dig into some of the old favorites you hear mentioned by friends or on blogs. Read all the big authors. Check out some debut  titles. Creating your own fantasy world? You’d better have an idea of what’s been done before.

So this sort of academic approach to a specific reading topic isn’t just useful for your own edification, but for mapping out the playground where you’ve chosen to spend your time. Yes, you need to read the recent books to know what’s working at the moment, but you should also get an idea of what’s come before, of the sorts of stories that serve as the foundation for the titles that came later. Create your own survey course and wade into the books that readers loved ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Only then can you say with some certainty whether your ideas are fresh.

Most genres come with a huge backlist, and no one expects you to read them all. But a little bit of digging can help you come up with a list to start from, including the landmark titles that changed the genre and the authors who have contributed the biggest ideas. Check out the websites of writers you admire and see if they recommend books that influenced them along the way. Ask your local librarian for their thoughts on important books in your genre. Visit university websites and see what titles are covered in any genre-specific courses they might teach. By all means, read titles in that genre randomly, as you discover them, but also consider a more systematic approach, where you read some works chronologically to get a real idea of how the influences flowed from one generation of writers to the next.

All writers need to read broadly, to improve their general knowledge and gain inspiration, but you must also take the time to learn the ins and outs of the genre that interests you most. Only once you know the rules — what’s been done, what’s been overdone — can you turn things on end and create something different.

Dog-Day Productivity

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August tends to be my least productive month of the year if I’m left to my own devices. I think it’s a throwback to childhood, when those last lazy weeks of summer felt slow and uneventful, the weather hot and humid, the shiny lure of the new school year ahead both a promise and a threat. My natural inclination was to sleep late, read more books, and spend my afternoons in air conditioned movie theaters. My most energetic hours came after dinner, when the sun dropped and the temperature cooled as much as it was going to, and I felt like I could think clearly for the first time all day.

As an adult, my inclinations haven’t changed all that much. I’m a night owl by nature, and that’s never more true than during a heat wave when I crave the evening with its escape from a punishing sun and the oppressive heat that makes me yearn for a nap. But being an adult, I can’t quite spend the month lying about all day, seeking shady spots like an overheated house cat. I have a job, and chores, and other grown-up responsibilities. But that doesn’t mean I can’t adapt my schedule to best take advantage of my more productive hours. Come August, I become nearly nocturnal. I’ll use those mid-afternoon hours to run errands in air conditioned locales, then put in a few more hours at my desk after dark. I work when I feel most alert, and leave the more mindless activities for the part of the day when I feel sluggish.

Now, I’m aware that I’m fortunate in having a job that allows me this sort of flexibility. But there are plenty of other ways to ramp up your productivity if the summer has you lagging behind your writing goals. If you can’t rearrange your schedule to take advantage of when you feel most creative, how about changing your location or finding a new way to jump start your brain? Take your laptop to the local library and enjoy their air conditioning while you work on your daily word quota, or maybe shift to a different room in your house. My office has a west-facing window, which makes afternoons at my desk brutally hot, so sometimes I will take my laptop and work standing at the breakfast bar between my dining room and kitchen, the change of venue both far cooler and a great chance to stretch my legs. If the heat has you skimping on your regular workout — and losing out on brainstorming time — try taking a walk through your local mall to rev up your blood and your ideas, or take a dip at a local swimming pool. Let your mind drift and see what fresh plot twists occur to you.

Summer heat can make it difficult to remain productive. Energy dips, the beach or the local pool calls, and a nap in a shady spot sounds like the best idea ever. But if you take a look at your own work patterns and get a little creative, you can still hit those writing goals without feeling stressed. Good luck, and happy writing!

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