Writers: Don’t forget your mats!

With my first major show of the year coming up (Planet Comicon), I thought I would share a few tips I’ve learned with my fellow writers (aspiring or otherwise).  Even if you are not a writer, you might find this useful.

Floor MatWhen doing a show, don’t forget your mats!  I have had a sit down job for a number of years and standing in one small area for 10 hours straight can leave me a bit worn out.  Believe me, standing is worse than walking (or hiking 18 miles with a heavy pack).

At my first big show, I stood on the hard concrete the whole time and by the end of the three days, I was miserable.  I went out right after that show and bought some relatively inexpensive floor mats ($25).  I am not specifically endorsing Dick’s Sporting Goods, but the image above is exactly what I purchased.  They are four 2′ x 2′ squares and you can configure them to cover a different amount of area depending on what space you have behind the table.  While only 1/2″ thick, they do not weigh a lot or take up a great deal of room when you are bringing your things onto the floor.  (For actual exercise mats, I bought a 3/4″ thick version.)

I’ve used the set for a while now and it has held up even on asphalt and rough ground.  Most of the time, I configure it to cover 2′ x 6′ (or 2′ x 8′ for larger tables).  However, I will likely buy another set of four so I can cover 4′ of depth both behind and under the table.  While I will advocate standing most of the time, when you are actually signing a book (or taking a break) being able to scoot the chair easily under the table, and not off a drop, is nice.

A word about standing.  You might ask: Why should I stand the whole time?  They give me chairs for a reason.

Well, my response is that when you are standing, you will appear more approachable and engaging.  It helps to be able to converse with people eye to eye and standing facilitates that.  In watching other tables, and from my own experiences, tables where the person stood had more people stop than those where the person sat the whole time.  And to be able to sustain standing for 3 or 4 days straight, I really recommend the mats.

That Google search just put me on a list

google searchThe things I do for my characters…  They ask for my help and too often I can’t turn them down.  So, the next thing you know, I’m off on the internet asking questions on their behalf.  Questions I am sure will eventually get me put on a list somewhere.  (Don’t ask me about voices and listening to my characters, that is just something writers do.)

And other writers also know this: readers expect accuracy.  Heck, I expect it in what I read and definitely in what I write.  So when one of my characters needs to know about something, I go off and do research.  In the “good o’ days” that would have been encyclopedias, libraries, and perhaps asking friends or looking for someone knowledgeable (high school and college professors are great people to get some interesting bits of information from).

I’ve also purchased quite a few reference books.  I own The Peterson Field Guide to Venomous Animals & Poisonous Plants.  I bought a book on the International Mars Mission that details quite a bit of what would be needed to get to Mars (it was more of a 800 page scientific report than a text-book and was for a scfi story I had started a few years ago).  I kept all my math, chemistry, and physics text books, as well as one I bought on DNA sequencing (I think that one has gotten outdated).  You just never know what might come in useful.

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Writing: I want to die!

Grave StoneThat is not what most people will say on most days of their lives.  So why is it that I see far too often a group of “bad guys” willingly fighting to the death when they have other options?

A few weeks ago I talked about the value of a bad movie and how you should take away lessons for writing from the time that would otherwise be wasted.  Here is a second lesson I wanted to impart from that thread:

The bad guys don’t want to die!

I don’t believe the villains in the real world want to die any more than anyone else.  In fact, I would argue they might want to live even more than the “good guys”.

In looking at any character, we really need to examine their motivations.  One common attribute I often see in villains is greed.  I see it in the real world when I read news stories about people I find I don’t really like.  They tend to have a willingness to take advantage of those in vulnerable positions, possibly causing significant harm in the process.  They usually desire power (or money as a means to power).  They might defend their own friends and family, possibly even to the death, but what I can’t see is an army of “bad guys” charging into a hailstorm of bullets, watching their comrades dropping dead all around them, and still chasing after what amounts to money.  After all, you can’t spend it when you are dead.

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Why waste a bad movie? Aspiring writers take note.

It happens to all of us from time to time, we read a bad book or watch a movie that fails to live up to our expectations.  I used to grumble about the wasted time for a little while and then promptly forget about the book or movie.  (I have a couple notable exceptions where it was so bad I’ve turned the event into a badge of honor.  I’ll reference a day of moon related movies for those who have heard my story.)

However, as a writer, I am no longer so quick to put the bad experience from my mind.  Instead, I have been taking that grumbling time to think about what was wrong with the movie or book and look at the mechanics of why it failed.  I’m not referring to bad acting, but to actual story issues.  Perhaps the dialogue lacked substance or seemed forced.  Perhaps the holes in the plot were so large a small moon could have flown through it.  Sometimes it is the pacing that feels off; both in the intensity of activity from scene to scene or when my suspension of disbelief crumbles because what should have occurred over days or weeks in the story, happened in minutes.

In doing this, I will not only identify the issues I felt existed, but also think about what might have led to those problems.  Perhaps large parts of the original story were cut to keep the length down, but in doing so, do I see anyways they could have fixed the issues to keep the story engaging and enjoyable?  Were the characters flat because I could not identify with the character motivation?  Did the story have incredible levels of technical detail for certain parts, then make illogical jumps in other parts (or simply invalid statements about the technology)?  Did the technology/magic behave in a consistent manner?  I have been doing this post movie/book analysis for a while, even when it is a movie or book I really enjoyed.

For any aspiring writers, I suggest that you also take the time for this thought exercise to improve your writing.  We can improve our own craft from looking at others, both when they do it right as well as when they do it wrong.  And importantly, I feel less like I wasted several hours of my life if I can claim it was a learning experience.

My Writing Process, part 2

In the first part of this series, I talked about the struggles I had initially faced as a writer.  In this part, I want to talk about how my writing process changed and what I am doing differently today.

Forest PathWhen I put aside the project I had been working on (which reached an astounding 200k words and was not done), I knew I needed a different approach.  I wanted to create something that was marketable, and for fantasy, that meant I needed to have a finished product between 80k and 120k words.  In the supermarket format, that comes out to roughly 320 to 480 pages.  Anything too small is not considered worth the investment to readers and anything too large has production costs that make it more risky to produce.  For me, the goal was right in the middle, 100k words. Continue reading

My Writing Process, part 1

Daughter's RevengeWith my third book, Daughter’s Revenge, now available, I can say my writing process has become more formalized and I am now able to do the actual ‘writing’ in just a few weeks.  It is amazing to look back upon what had once taken me years to do and is now no longer a daunting task.

I am not saying writing is easy; it can still be challenging at times, but the mechanics that used to get in my way are no longer the roadblocks under which I once suffered.  What is even more interesting is that the change was not as gradual as one might expect.  If fact, the change in my approach resulted in a rather sudden change in my output.

A little bit of background

When I first started writing, which was when I was in Jr. High, I approached writing very much as a ‘discover’ writer.  I had a vague concept of where the story was going, knew a little bit about the characters, but I needed to learn about the world, who was in it, and what was happening just as the characters did.  I often waited for my muse and when it struck, I’d rocket through a few chapters and then crash squarely into a wall.

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Learn and Grow – New Covers

Mother's Curse CoverYou may have already noticed a bit of a change on my site and in the Heirs of Cothel Series: New Covers for the books.

I really liked the initial covers, but based on feedback, we realized that the current trends in the industry are to use photo manipulated covers instead of ones that are completely illustrated.  I will show a little bit of age and say that when I was growing up, pretty much every cover was based on a painting or drawing.  It was the heyday of TSR and they had many artists on staff to produce some very remarkable images.

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The Power of Magic

TN0_5834Magic is a mainstay of fantasy stories.  In practically all fantasy novels there will be some power or ability that certain people/creatures have that could be considered magic.  The mechanics for each world and setting tend to be varied, sometimes significantly.  In some stories, the magic system is well-defined, in others, it can be vague and even inconsistent.  In some worlds everyone understands magic, in others only a select few are graced with knowledge while the rest believe only in folklore.

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Monday Musings…no wait, it’s Tuesday

wet trailHoliday weeks are great!  Sometimes you get to spend time with family and friends, other times, you just get to relax.  Of course, the rest of the week is a mess since it is never the day it is supposed to be.  And what’s more, while today my mental clock is behind, by Thursday, I will be certain it should already be Friday and the week will feel longer than most.

For me, this long weekend was actually quite busy with not a lot of rest.  It resulted in a pile of tree limbs I need to cut into pieces (I know if I leave them in my driveway more than a couple more days, someone will be thinking bad thoughts about me).  The yard got mowed, cloths washed, dishes done … ya the really exciting things.  But work on the book also happened, a soccer game attended, kept up with a friend in France, spent time with family … a good weekend.

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