Thursday, May 21, 2015

Parenting Comic

I drew another comic. This one's about parenting. I hope you like it.



Check out my other comics here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Writing Tip Tuesdays: Embrace Your Process by Cara Bertrand

Welcome back for another round of Writing Tip Tuesdays! I'm very please to welcome one of my oldest "blog friends" (hers was one of the first blogs I ever followed) and a super talented young adult author, Cara Bertrand!

Cara told me that she hopes the following post is helpful to at least one reader. Well, mission accomplished because I found it super helpful. I'm sure you will too 

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I have a confession: sometimes I suffer from writer envy. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I do. See, when it comes to writing, cooking, and just about anything at all, I am a complete and utter pantser. Planning and I just seem to be on different wave lengths. I prefer to dive in and do something, even if I know it might be faster or less messy if I did some advance prep.

But you know what? I wish I was a plotter.

I’ve tried to become one. I’ve read eagerly and, sometimes, with envy all the blog posts and tweets and anecdotes and how-tos that I stumble across from those curious creatures who plan everything out. They talk about their glorious daily word counts and I imagine how, if only I could implement their process, I too could write like the wind.

Yet despite all my wishing and reading and trying, I still haven’t attained that magic. Four complete novels later and I’m still (mostly) a pantser, the turtle to the hare. And I’m (slowly) learning to be (mostly) okay with that. To accept my process and appreciate others. We can’t be any other writer but ourselves. Believe me, I’ve tried. But it doesn’t mean we can’t improve. Instead of trying to become a different writer, I now try to become better at the way I write.

And even a pantser can benefit from some kind of directions. Blank page? Okay. Blank brain? Oh no. So try this trick I gleaned from Rachel Aaron:

Before you begin your writing session, set yourself a timer for five minutes, pick up a pen, and wake up your brain by jotting down notes—a basic plan, a list of what’s about to happen, bits of inspiration, dialogue ideas—for what you’re about to write.

Here’s an example of my brainstorm when I was sitting down to write the main character’s first boxing match:

-In the training room
-nerves more than first flight test
-Ivan not 2nd à opponent
-wanted to ask Willa à afraid /Shell volunteered /went with Quinn
-Kell’s first reffing (W asked not to) / “looked as nervous as me”
-masked, shorted, gloved / “bizarre Zorro”
-first tap “didn’t hear the silence”
-circle, circle, circle à practice  patience, better endurance
-See W in crowd?
-BOOM
-didn’t hear the crowd for ears ringing
-BELL
-advice from Q “maybe throw a punch”
….

Just five minutes (more if you want, but not less!) with the pen and paper can do amazing things for your focus and, ergo, your word count when you finally put your fingers to the keys! Even I can manage to plan for five little minutes. I still don’t write like the wind, but this trick has helped me increase my gentle breeze to a moderate one with occasional strong gusts. I’ll take it!

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Isn't that great advice? A big thanks to Cara for sharing.

Please plan on stopping by next week when I will host the red-head herself, none other than the unconquerable, uncomparable, unstoppable Morgan Shamy!


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Writing Tips Tuesday: Market Research Part II with J.W. Alden


You probably noticed that I completely blew it last week in that I didn't manage to post the second part to J.W. Alden's fabulous short story market research tips piece. I blame it on unexpected travel and a sick 8 month old. Please forgive me.

But here we are! Better late than never! Please enjoy!

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When in Doubt, Query

So what if you've done all your reading, but you're still not sure you have a bead on a particular market? What if it's a publication you can't research before submitting, like an anthology or a new magazine? What if it's a market that asks for a particular theme, but you don't quite understand what they want? In these instances, consider querying the editor. Shoot them an email. Send them a tweet.

Uh-oh. I feel your hackles going up! I know. Interacting with editors can be intimidating. They are the masters of your story's fate, after all, and you want to stay in their good graces. You don't want to feel like you're bothering them or wasting their time with a dumb question. But I promise you, editors are not as scary as we writers build them up to be in our minds. They're people who love fiction, like us! No matter what your inner Impostor says, an editor won't read your email and say, "What? Who is this person? How dare they interrupt my morning with questions? TO THE INSTANT REJECTION LIST."

Now, obviously you shouldn't get in the habit of peppering editors with simple questions that you can easily answer yourself by reading the market's submission guidelines or picking up an issue. But when all else fails, it usually doesn't hurt to ask.

When STILL in Doubt, Submit

So what happens when you've sent your story to every market you're intimately familiar with and still have nothing but rejections to show for it? What happens when you get to a market on your list you haven't read, and you just can't afford the proper amount of time (or money) reading up before submitting? Maybe the market sounds like a good fit based on the guidelines, but there's a rapidly closing submission window and not enough time to properly research. At the end of the day, it still doesn't hurt to submit. Your only worst-case scenario here is a rejection, and those aren't the end of the world. Trust me; I have a lot of them.

My aim here is mostly to save you time. Even if you don't write your story with a particular market in mind, if you figure out which markets will or won't like the kind of stories you write, you might save yourself weeks (or months) of waiting to hear back from an incompatible editor just to find a form rejection in your inbox. What I'm definitely not trying to do is scare you off from submitting to a market just because you think you haven't properly researched it yet. When in doubt, submit. I'll leave you with a quote from Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov's Science Fiction. She was a guest lecturer my year at Odyssey Writing Workshop, and she had this to say on the subject: "Don't reject yourself. Let me do it."

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That last line in particular really grabs me. You never know what will be accepted where. You have to give your stories a chance to be successful. Great stuff from J.W. Alden.

Please check back in next week for a writing tip from young adult author extraordinaire, Cara Bertrand!

 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Writing Tips Tuesday: The Power of Market Research by J.W. Alden




Welcome back for another Writing Tips Tuesday! Today I'd like to welcome a fellow short story writer, and someone I really look up to, Mr. J.W. Alden! This guy just keeps landing stories in markets that I desperately want to break into. Daily Science Fiction? He's been there. Unidentified Funny Objects? Yup. Fantasy Scroll? Darn Tootin. I mean, the guy's been published in Nature! I'm a scientist by day and I've worked with plenty of world renown researchers who've never managed to get a paper into Nature.





So, how does he do it? J.W has been gracious enough to stop by and share some tips on selling short fiction. In fact, he ended up with enough material that I'm breaking it into a two-parter. So be sure to come back next week for the second half!

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The Power of Market Research for Short Fiction Writers


That is some finely manicured facial hair.
Selling short fiction is hard. Every time I sell a story, there's a small part of me that says, "How did I do that?" Sometimes it even feels like I must have tricked that editor into buying my story, somehow. Those of you who've been at this writing thing for a while are probably hearing your Anti-Insecurity Alarms going off on my behalf right now. ALERT: IMPOSTOR SYNDROME, right? Right. But the reason this particular flavor of Impostor Syndrome has legs is because sometimes you can trick an editor into buying your story. Well . . . kind of.

Trick is the wrong word, because it implies dishonesty. There's nothing dishonest about effective market research, which is what I'm really talking about. With the right approach to research, it's possible to discern the tastes of the editorial staff and write a story that connects with them by design. In my experience, most writers don't take this approach. Most writers finish a story, and then go looking for a market that fits. I do that too. Sometimes the story just comes first. But as often as I can, I try it the other way around: write the story with a particular market in mind. I don't have the longest list of publication credits in the world, but every pro-rates sale I've made so far, I wrote to market this way. My most recent sale to Nature I even stubbornly sent to a few other markets first because I didn't want to trim it down to meet their word count requirements, even though I wrote it with them in mind. After getting a couple of rejections, I realized the error of my ways and made the necessary cuts. Voila, it sold.
 
Does this mean you'll sell every story you write this way? Of course not. There are a lot of factors that determine whether or not an editor buys your story, many of which are out of your hands. But even if you don't make the sale, and now you have to shop that story around to markets you didn't have in mind when you wrote it, it still helps tremendously if you're familiar with which markets are buying what.

So, how do we do that? There's a ton of markets out there, from print magazines to online publications to anthologies. It's pretty much impossible to keep up with them all. Here's a few strategies that I fine helpful.

Find the Markets


The most useful tools for this first step are online listings like The Submission Grinder. The Grinder has a huge database of fiction markets. You can search with specific parameters such as genre, wordcount, and payrate. Better yet, it also serves as a submission tracker, so you can keep track of how long your stories have been out in the wild. Duotrope is another website with similar functionality, but they charge a fee. If the listings are all you're after (and you write SFF), you might also try Ralan.com, one of the oldest listings of SFF markets on the web. Using a service like these can help you build a list of markets that you think are worth aiming for. This will be your research list.

Another great way to find out about new markets is to join an online writing community. There are a lot of these out there, whether it's message boards, facebook groups, or subreddits. The first big writing community I joined was Absolute Write, which has a huge message board full of writers exchanging ideas and information, including market info. The community I spend most of my time in these days is Codex, an online writing group for "neo-pro" SFF writers like myself. You have to make at least one pro sale or graduate from a major workshop to join, but the discussion within has been invaluable.

Read the Markets


Surprising amounts of writers I've talked with don't bother reading markets before submitting. But there's no better way to get a feel for a market than by reading the stories they're buying. After a while, you start to notice little commonalities here and there. Susan McEditorpants tends to buy a lot of stories written in first person, while John P. Editsalot tends toward third person. That's the sort of thing I mean, though it's not always so obvious. Keep a notepad or word document to write down observations like these, and before you know it, you'll see patterns emerge. That's why it's important to read as much as you can. Bonus: reading a lot makes you a better writer!

Of course, there's a reason many writers don't do this. As I mentioned above, there's an overwhelming number of markets buying short fiction these days, thanks largely in part to the rise of electronic publishing. There's just not enough time in the day to read them all. So how do you manage all that content? Well, the first step is to resign yourself to the fact that you're not going to be able to read every issue of every magazine cover to cover. If you're like me, your first instinct is to try, especially if it's a magazine you're paying for. But you just won't have the time. The overall goal here is to read as many different publications as possible. For those released monthly, I tend to read about half of the issue before moving on to the next market, sometimes even less. If I'm trying to crack a particular market, or I just plain love what a certain publication publishes, I might read more. But for the most part, I try to keep it as manageable as possible. If I come to the realization that a market doesn't publish the sort of thing I write, I have no qualms with taking it off my reading list for good. And if I do end up submitting to a market that's not in my regular reading cycle, I'll still make a point to look at their most recent couple of issues before submitting, if possible.

Another potential speedbump is the subscription fees some of the big print markets charge. Not everyone can afford (or is willing) to pay for them all. If that's the case, take a trip to your local library. Many keep a magazine section, and you'd be surprised what you can find there. This is how I read magazines like Asimov's and Fantasy & Science Fiction growing up. Some publications are also willing to send writers a sample issue at a reduced price, and reading one is better than none. You can also sometimes get free or cheap issues at literary conventions, though this is hit or miss, obviously.

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Seriously folks, there are some top level nuggets of wisdom in there.  Be sure to stop by next week for the exciting conclusion!