Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Writing Year in Review

It was an interesting year for me, filled with quite a few firsts. I published my first fiction way back in 1995, but only got serious about writing in the past two years. Without further ado, here's the successes.

  • A steampunk short story "Revolutionary" was published in the anthology Steel & Bone by Xchyler Publishing.
  • A short urban fantasy story "The Blight" was announced as a finalist in the Dragon Comet writing contest, with winners to be announced this coming February at LTUE.
  • A horror story "Exposure Therapy" was accepted for an anthology to be released, also at LTUE.
  • I won NaNoWriMo. For those who aren't familiar, that means I wrote a minimum of 50K words toward completing a novel. I posted about it earlier. That novel is at 73K now, and is going through edits.
  • I have four short stories currently out waiting for a response, three of which I can query next week to see what the status is.

My log also shows six rejections for the year, so it looks like my accept/reject ratio isn't that bad. I'm not a full time writer, so there are limits to how much I can have going at once. Given that this is all from the evenings and weekends not taken up by family, church, or career, I'd have to say it's not bad as entries into the writer community go.

I've been blessed to meet and become at least casual friends with a large number of fellow-writers both local and remote. The local writer community that I bump into at conventions and events is supportive beyond what I could have imagined or expected.

Picked up more books, and reviewed more books than any other year that I can recall (but I'm not counting when I raided my dad's library all through my teen years).

For the next year, my goals are to:

  • Attend four conferences (probably LTUE, FanX, Salt Lake Comic Con and Salt City Steamfest) to hobnob.
  • Recruit four new beta readers to add to the pool. This assumes I will also be a beta reader for others.
  • Publish Crystal King.
  • Submit four short stories to open calls or contests like web publishers, or 
  • Get invited to an anthology.

Some of those should be pretty easy, and some will require me to really stick my neck out and plow through undiscovered country, since like many authors, I'm naturally reclusive. If you see me, feel free to drag me out of my shell and encourage me to jump into the thick of things. I will try not to be grumpy about it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Non-Synonyms: John's Pet Peeves Number 6

This is more about language and attitude than about writing, per se. I've noticed a tendency for people to treat things as synonyms when they really aren't, and it makes communication much more difficult. It's even worse when it becomes tribal, and a group equates non-synonyms in their battle against some other tribal belief set.

To make this more about writing, these can be used as flaws for a fictional character to very good effect. A character could conflate any of these pairs, and become a more interesting and deeper character rather than a cardboard cutout. Flaws in fictional characters are interesting, where flaws in real people are more often disappointing.

So here are a few things I've noticed that have caused confusion in the past.

Opinion & Fact


Did person so-and-so really say that horrifically biased and controversial thing, or was it put together as an attention-grabbing meme? Or on a more personal level, have you taken the time to learn the difference between opinion and fact, and can you identify them when you see them?

A person's opinion is always valid, and facts are always valid. The difference is that one person's opinion may differ from another's and still be perfectly valid. Facts are non-negotiable.

Feeling something doesn't make it right for everyone. It doesn't actually make it right for anyone, necessarily. I like pizza. This doesn't mean that you must like pizza. That's the nature of opinion. On the other hand, disagreeing with me that 2+2=4 (given standard definitions) is a matter of fact, and disagreeing with me would mean that you're wrong.

Moral relativism fits into this argument, where a person may believe that they are the only one qualified to determine what is right and moral for them, when morals are really a group-wide and often humanity-wide or even a universal concept. Moral absolutes work like facts, even if we pretend they work like opinions.

If you like the idea of deciding what's right for yourself in spite of rules, regulations, standards and laws, but don't believe someone else should rob or kill you because of their own differing internal morals, then you don't really believe in moral relativism, and are simply selfish and confused. Your job is to tell if that's my opinion, or if it is a fact.

Fame & Intelligence


Have you ever seen a movie star or sports star or some other famous person come out for or against something to throw their weight behind a cause without having the background to know what they're talking about? Now, if someone wants to lend their weight to matters of opinion as mentioned above, that's great so long as everyone understands it's opinion. Lots of people take stands like that on even very controversial hot-button opinions. The problem comes in when the issue can be dealt with on a factual basis.

Some people jump into matters which can be determined by facts without first arming themselves with said facts. For instance, everyone seems to have a friend who re-posts without bothering to check Snopes.com or other fact-checking sources for every miracle cure or social outrage. Don't be that guy, but feel free to write about him for purposes of mockery.


Intelligence & Rationality


I saw an article about this a couple months back in reference to a very intelligent man who was convinced by his internet "girlfriend" to become a drug mule. A very intelligent man made completely irrational decisions, and destroyed his career by ending up in a foreign jail.

A quick web search showed me that this is a pretty common topic. Smart people do stupid things pretty regularly. An high score on an IQ test doesn't mean someone makes good choices. If you're a pen-and-paper role player, think about the difference between intelligence and wisdom which are typically used to help describe your character. Intelligence is knowing stuff, while being rational (or having wisdom) is making good choices based on the information you have, or can deduce.

Understanding & Agreement


This comes up at home a lot. The kids like to tell me how I just don't understand because I am not them. I'm afraid that in most cases I understand just fine. I just don't agree, and that's why kids aren't allowed to (insert dangerous or stupid idea of the day here).

In the cartoon Calvin & Hobbes, you see this all the time. Calvin wants to ride his sled off the roof or do some other outrageous thing, and his parents won't allow it. Calvin believes it's because they just don't understand. Rules suck and are designed to oppress the young and bend them to the will of the misinformed and ignorant adult, which Calvin sometimes imagined as mindless dinosaurs or evil insectoid invaders.

Love & Approval


I have had legal custody of three nieces and a nephew for over a decade because their parents had some serious problems with the legal system. I disapproved of the parents' actions regularly and pointedly, and often directly to them. Through it all, they were still family, still loved, still prayed for, and still helped whenever it looked like I could do something productive for them. Sometimes their idea of help and mine differed (see Understand & Agree above) but I did what I could. The extended family (and particularly their kids) still loved them through all of it, while maintaining a lack of approval for the poor choices which were made.

Part of raising children is teaching them what is approved and what is not while maintaining a loving environment. You don't let your toddler play in the street, even when she wants to, because you don't approve of the behavior. Your disapproval is enhanced by your love, not diminished by it.

Disagreement & Hate


This is linked at the hip with the previous idea of love and approval. I can disagree with you without hating you. It's pretty easy, actually. It happens all the time. I disagree with kids, as noted above. I disagree with my boss, my friends, and complete strangers. My own internal desires and goals disagree with each other on a regular basis, but it's never filled me with self-loathing. Disagreement is part of being human. Whenever there is opinion involved, you can guarantee disagreement. When facts are involved, guess what. People still disagree. People can disagree without hate. Whether people do disagree without hate is up to them. Feel free to disagree, but know that you will be wrong. I won't hate you for it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Crystal King novel



I just finished my first pass of Crystal King all the way through to the end. It was my NaNoWriMo project. I was able to top 50,000 words to win NaNoWriMo, but I wasn't done yet. At about 60,000 words, I have my first rough pass done. Really rough.

Some writers need to edit down from their first pass. Because of the way I write, I'll expand the story as I edit, since I tend to write without all the color and description in my first pass.

One amusing note was that Brandon Sanderson posted regularly on how much he wrote in November, and he squeaked in at 50K on the 30th of November. If you ignore clear quality differences, I outwrote Brandon Sanderson last month. :)

Brandon posted this on Facebook:

And I've finished #NaNoWriMo2015. 50,031 words on Stormlight 3 this month--with an entire hour to spare, even. :)
Posted by Brandon Sanderson on Monday, November 30, 2015


Reasons why I made it this far

  1. NaNoWriMo gave me targets to shoot for.
  2. I had a really detailed outline, which helped me to write quickly. I topped 4,000 words on at least four days.
  3. My outline was the right order of magnitude in size. I had hoped it would turn into about 80-90k words, and it might reach 80k once I flesh things out a bit.
  4. I took Thanksgiving week as vacation from the day job. I was on pace to make it without that, but it helped.
  5. Friends and family all encouraged me.

Next

If I can get my editing done quickly enough, my goal is to have it ready to pitch at LTUE. I have one small press I've already worked with whom I can ask to give it a look, and one or two more I really want to check with.

Also, there some anthologies here and here I want to submit to, but those depend on whether I get my edits done on the novel.