Monday, December 31, 2007

Free Story and a Sale

It's my turn on the Advent Calendar over at Torquere -- you can read my story "Catching Courage," which is a sequel to "Chasing Fear," here. Things have improved a little since Halloween for Emilio, but not as much as he'd like. Now it's New Year's Eve and they're spending it with Martin's family, which always makes Emilio hunch into his shell whether it's logical or not. Can he convince his gut of what his head already knows?

Includes a free bonus recipe for tres leches cake, although not, unfortunately, Abuela Sandoval's recipe. ;)

All the other Advent pieces are still available through the main Advent page.

Also, my novelette "A Spirit of Vengeance" is on sale for 15% off here through January 2nd.

Happy New Year, everyone! [wave]


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Taking a Breath

I'm actually caught up right now. Well, mostly. I mean, I have a bunch of partially done projects, but I don't owe them to anyone, so they don't count when it comes to being behind or whatever. So yay. :)

I had a deadline on the 23rd (for a fic fest) and one on the 24th (for the Torquere Advent promotion) and both are done. I was actually about 40 minutes late with the first one, but the moderators said it wasn't a big deal, for which I'm grateful. And the second one was a bit late but only on a technicality. I mean, when someone says something's due on the 24th, then right before then they say they're going to be out of the office doing, like, holiday stuff until the 26th, I think I'm justified in giving myself two more days of leeway, you know? [duck] So I got it in today, about six hours ago, and hopefully that's cool and everyone who needs to like it will like it. It's a short sequel to "Chasing Fear" called "Catching Courage," about the same two characters.

And that's it. That's everything I owed to anyone in the near future. Next deadline is... I think a little over a week into January (I'd have to look at my calendar) for my next Romancing the Blog column, but I wouldn't want to write it this far in advance anyway; one never knows when some hot topic is going to go sweeping through the industry the day before your column's due, you know? :) And if not, I have a couple of ideas anyway, so that's cool.

But I don't owe anyone any fiction right now. It feels kind of loose and drifting, but at the same time it's like the world is full of potential. Everything I see or hear or read is a story idea and I could sit down and write about absolutely anything.

Often that kind of freedom is a bad thing; if I have to produce X number of words by Monday, being able to write about "anything" can give me a case of paralysis. You know, when your eyes go big and round and unfocused, and you're looking at such a huge chunk of the world that it seems impossible to focus in on any one bit of it? That's bad, and frustrating. I wrote some really putrid (to say nothing of horribly boring) compositions in high school when the teacher told us we could write about "Oh, anything!" :P

But right now I don't have that Monday deadline. Not needing to produce a finished product at any particular point means I really can write about anything, and if it starts to suck five pages in, it doesn't matter. I can start it over, approaching the same idea from another angle, or I can completely trash it and grab a new idea and try something completely different. It doesn't matter and that means I'm free to dabble and experiment and do something weird or different or just interesting. And that's cool.

Mind you, too much of this kind of freedom can also mean I never get around to finishing anything; having definite goals is a good thing, most of the time. But every now and then it's great to be able to just kick back -- to go web surfing, or read whatever I want, or play a computer game, or go browsing through story scraps and ideas from years ago -- and do whatever. Plenty of time to get all serious and focused and efficient later.

Have a great Rest Of The Year, everyone! Don't work too hard. :D


Friday, December 21, 2007

Review of "Chasing Fear"

Cassie over at Joyfully Reviewed posted about "Chasing Fear," my Halloween Sip. This is what she said:

"Park ranger Emilio Cardenas much prefers being in the woods to spending time with people, but when he gets caught up in a job, he forgets everything else. When he finally finishes his work, he realizes he’ll be late coming home. That might not be a big problem for most people, but when your lover is a Greenman, it’s not good to be late…

Chasing Fear is a very cool story of magic, nature, and facing fears. I liked shy, antisocial Emilio. His Greenman lover, Martín, is both vulnerable and tough. Angela Benedetti did a great job of showing the caring between the two men as well as a slice of Emilio’s painful past. This story is a good read for when you’re in the mood for a little unusual magic."

This is my first review and I'm absolutely delighted by it. Thanks to Cassie for her kind words; I'm very glad she liked my story. :D

The review post is here.


New Release: The Joy of Exchanging Gifts

Lowell is an anthropologist, working with the Enknopans, studying their culture and ways. They haven't completely accepted him, so he's not invited to their year changing celebration. He decides to show his very good Enknopan friend Tiklup some of his own Christmas traditions, but things don't work out exactly as planned. Can he still have a happy holiday?


Well, ho fucking ho, Lowell thought, shifting one more time in the barely-too-tight smoke hole. He knew it was useless; he'd been wedged in for over an hour and a half and all he'd managed to accomplish with his pushing and squirming was to get himself in even tighter.

It'd seemed like a fun idea at the time. Of course, some variation of that statement was probably carved into a million gravestones across the Hundred Worlds, and on billions more memorial markers in various alien languages in the far corners of the universe. (There were actually a hundred and eighteen known human-inhabited worlds, but the Recovery League thought "The Hundred Worlds" sounded better on the news posts. Early in his career as an anthropologist, Lowell had learned that in most cultures, facts had to bow to considerations of marketing and image, or whatever the locals called them.)

The local tribe, the Enknopans, were all gathered somewhere outside their settlement, engaging in some sort of year's turning ritual which involved renewing family bonds. Lowell had been told, very politely, that he was not welcome to participate or even to observe, since he wasn't related to any of the Enknopan clans.

It'd been a sharp disappointment, not only because Lowell was specifically there to study the Enknopan culture and lifeways, but also because he'd come to feel close to the people there; being so firmly excluded was a reminder that he was still an outsider. It'd been a while since he'd received quite so clear a reminder, and it'd stung a bit.

To show that he didn't hold a grudge, and also because the learning and sharing had to go both ways in order to be ethical and respectful, he'd decided to share a Terran year's turning ritual with the Enknopans, and specifically with his friend Tiklup. Tiklup had taught Lowell how to carve wood with a knife, and Lowell had made him a covered bowl with a leaf pattern on the lid. It was pretty crude by local standards, the sort of thing a youngster just learning to carve would make, but Lowell was just learning and he was proud of it. Tiklup had been encouraging, and Lowell was sure he'd appreciate the effort, and understand that it was a tribute to his teaching.

Besides, they'd come to be very good friends, with all that meant to the Enknopans, who had some unusual (to a Terran) ideas about public and private activities.

The local star, called Upiklip by the locals and noted as FUSC-32829 on the most common star charts, was just beginning to show over the horizon. Of course Lowell was facing east, and he hadn't brought his hat or his sun visor. Upiklip was whiter than Sol, where Lowell had been born, and emitted more UV radiation than he was used to. If no one came to pry him out soon, he'd be sizzled good. His first few days on planet, he'd gone without a hat a couple of times and the sunburn had penetrated all the way down to his scalp. He'd looked like he had a terminal case of dandruff for the next week, with huge flakes of peeling skin working their way out of his hair.

Lowell moaned and buried his face in his crossed arms.


Get the rest here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No, Really, I'm Working

Kate Elliot posted What is Work? at SF Novelists the other day and talked about all the things she does that don't look like work but really are. It's the sort of post you want to forward to your family and friends, just so you can say, "See! It really is working when I'm staring off into space!" :D

Because of course, everyone who writes already knows that the stuff she described is work, along with whatever other things we do that Kate Elliot doesn't.

Personally, I spend a lot of working time playing a game called Sherlock. It's a shareware game that I got back in the DOS days, and have upgraded several times since. It's an awesome game -- it's a logic puzzle, like the ones you see on paper sometimes, where they tell you the names of six men and six women and their six kids and six pets and their six different colored houses and the six different cars they drive (or whatever collection of data) and then give you clues like, "Joe lives next door to Ellie and does not drive a Ford," and "Mary's child is a boy and her house is neither green nor blue," etc., and you have to fill in a grid to figure out how they all go together. Sherlock does this with a great mouse interface and graphic clues and I heart this game muchly.

I'm not always working when I play it, but sometimes I am. It's perfect for keeping the surface of my mind just occupied enough while my subconscious works something out. I'll often write a few paragraphs, play a few games of Sherlock, write a few paragraphs, play a few games, etc., especially if I'm having a hard time getting the characters from Point F to Point M or whatever.

I was also happy to see that Ms. Elliot and one of the commenters both work while walking, and that the commenter actually talks while walking. This is a great relief to me because I do that too. :) For whatever reason, talking a problem out to myself is more effective at times than just thinking about it, and talking while walking is more effective than talking while just sitting at the keyboard, although that can work too. (I don't know what I'm going to do when my husband retires -- maybe rent an office of my own, so I have somewhere to go where I can talk to myself in private...? :P )

Sometimes I'll get good story ideas during that border-time between waking and sleeping. I've gotten new story seeds that way, and also come up with solutions to story problems while my mind is half-asleep and drifting. Occasionally, if I'm having a hard time with something and other methods aren't helping, I'll go try to take a nap. For whatever reason, lying down and thinking about it with my eyes closed and my body horizontal can spark new ideas. I don't explain it, I just take advantage when I can. [rueful smile] So yeah, sometimes I'm working while napping.

What do you all do that's actually working but doesn't look like it?


PS -- if you've never read any of Kate Elliot's books, she rocks. I highly recommend Jaran, an SF book with a strong fantasyish feel to it (no magic or anything, but most of the action takes place on a low tech planet, with horses and tents and swords and such). She creates wonderful, memorable characters and her worldbuilding is awesome.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent Calendar

I keep forgetting to mention this here :P but Torquere's doing an Advent Calendar this year. Each day has a [something] by one of the Torquere writers; so far it's been very short stories or scenes, or recipes, or short stories with recipes. :) And some of them come with news about a discount on one of that day's writer's stories, so if you check every day you might find something you'd like to try for cheap.

My day is the 31st and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do. [grin] I'll post again on the 30th or 31st as a reminder and you can see what I came up with.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dialoging Back and Forth

When I was a baby writer I used lots of dialogue tags. It just seemed to be the way things worked; I've always been a voracious reader and that's the style I picked up, reading through my childhood and teenage years. Then I got online in the eighties and started hanging with other writers, both pro and working on it, and I discovered that dialogue tags were passe. Those in the know sneered at dialogue tags, so I changed my style and got out of the habit of using them. For years you could read entire stories of mine and find nary a one.

Then it changed again. I think it was some time in the nineties when... some writer whose name I can't remember right now said that the most invisible word in the English language, after articles and such, was "said." That there was no reason to avoid dialogue tags, that they were clear and simple and the reader's eye moved over them just fine. Everyone else who supposedly knew How Things Work seemed to agree. OK, fine, I started using dialogue tags again.

Now the pendulum has swung once more and we're back to sneering at dialogue tags. [headdesk] You know, I don't care anymore. I'll use them where I want to and not use them where I don't think I need them, and if my editors want any added or deleted, they can let me know. [wry smile]


Saturday, December 8, 2007

New Release: A Spirit of Vengeance

My novelette, "A Spirit of Vengeance," was released today at Torquere. This is one of my favorite stories and I'm excited to see it go up. :D

When Josh comes home from a business trip to find out that his lover, Kevin, has been killed, his life takes a terrible turn. Even worse, Kevin is haunting him, wanting Josh to exact revenge on his killer. Josh thinks Kevin is a hallucination to begin with, but he soon starts to believe that his lover's spirit is really hanging around.

As he begins to believe in Kevin's ghost, Josh also starts to believe he knows who killed Kevin. He's not sure what to do, and neither is Kevin, who never really considered an afterlife. Can these two figure out how to catch a killer and how to move on with life after death?


[Early in the story, Josh comes home from Kevin's funeral.]

Josh pulled into the driveway of their rented house -- his and Kevin's and Kat's, the shabby old Craftsman the best they could afford by pooling their incomes, the two starving artists and the unknown actress -- stopped the car and just sat. He stared through the windshield at the avocado green paint on the garage door and thought of all the times Kevin had sworn he was going to paint it over some other color, any other color, and forget their deposit.

Another shiver ran through him and he roused himself to get out of the car. He left his suitcase in the trunk but did remember to lock the car before walking through the gap in the privacy hedge up to the front door. Stuck in the crack right above the knob was an invoice from BioClean, the company Kat had hired to clean up the house after the body had been removed. He looked down at the list of services performed -- walls cleaned and steamed (6), carpet removed (3), sofa removed, chair removed (2), windows cleaned (6), floors cleaned (2), misc. unsalvageable debris removed (see itemized list, attached).

Pain slammed through both his knees when they hit the smooth boards of the porch and swelled to meet the agony tearing his heart into fine shreds. He buried his face in his hands and cried, great shuddering sobs that shook his shoulders and jerked his arm and his cheek against the front door; he'd curled up against it when he'd lost his balance and fallen. He'd not cried before, not been able to or not quite comprehended in his gut that Kevin was truly gone, that he was dead, but the clinical, businesslike list of all the things that'd had to be cleaned of blood and whatever else had been spilled, all the things scrubbed and sterilized or torn up or thrown out, added up with a total charge at the bottom, plus tax -- that had clarified all his nightmare imaginings and made it real.

Kevin was gone and Josh sobbed out his grief and loneliness.

:Don't cry for me! Help me!:

Get the rest here.


Why is it that everything's due around the holidays? [laugh/flail] I just got another short story done and proofed and submitted to Torquere last night for their holiday promotion -- gotta love the quick turn-around time of an e-publisher. And NaNo just ate November, except for the chunk in the middle when I was at my mom's, which took its own fairly huge bite. And one lesson I learned last month was to try not to make journal posts of great general interest when I'm supposed to be spending all my free time writing; I cross-posted the piece about badly-written BDSM fiction to my LiveJournal and it got a nice even 125 comments. O_O Of course, almost half of them were mine, posting replies to people, but still, that's a lot and it took up a huge chunk of time of its own.

Still to come this month, I owe a story for a holiday fic exchange, and a short chunk to Torquere for their Advent Calendar. They're posting a short, free chunk of something each day -- story snippets and recipes and whatever all else the writers have come up with, and some of them come with discounts on stories by the writer whose day it is. Check it out. :)

I also have a novelette called "A Spirit of Vengeance" coming out today -- I'll post a link when it goes up on the site -- and I'm spending the day hanging out at the Torquere Social community on LiveJournal, so wander over and say hi. :) I'll be giving away a free copy of the e-book to someone on the community; info on that will go up some time around noon.

Later all! [wave]


Monday, December 3, 2007

Drawing the Line

[Note that I'm dealing with generalities here. There's a link at the bottom to my LiveJournal where I talk about specifics, if you're interested in what brought this on.]

There's a case up in the air right now (meaning that the person claiming injured party status says she's going to sue but I don't know if she has yet) which has made me think about where the line is drawn when it comes to "borrowing" from other writers. Where does browsing and scrounging and scavenging and reworking turn into really lame and uncool copying?

To the best of my knowledge, plagiarism only covers actual words-in-a-row. That is, if I write:

"Bob and Tommy went to the pond to go fishing. They spent the afternoon and caught three trout, but Tommy got sunburned. They hitched a ride home from an old man in a blue Ford, and Tommy had a horrible night because he was burning up."

and someone else reads that, then writes:

"Boo and Timmy went to the woods to go hunting. They spent the day and caught three rabbits, but Timmy was sunburned. They hitchhiked home with an old guy in a blue Honda, and Timmy had an awful night because his sunburn was really burning him."

anyone who read my bit and then read the second bit would be able to tell that the second was copied, although not exactly. The second paragraph isn't actually plagiarized, but if you read the first one and then the second one, you might raise an eyebrow.

What if you read two novels like that?

What if you read two novels that were almost like that, with some lines and paragraphs about that close, and others not?

It's clear to me that the second novel isn't plagiarized, not exactly. Not legally, in a way that a court would accept. (So far as I understand this to work, with the usual IANAL disclaimer.) It's been rephrased, rewritten in places, with all the names and enough key words changed that it's not copying exact words-in-a-row, or at least not enough words, not enough important words, for a crime to have been committed, although someone made a great use of their thesaurus. It's derivative as hell and incredibly uncool because of it, even if it's not plagiarism.

Because seriously, writing a novel that's pretty clearly a MadLib of someone else's story is really lame, no matter what a court of law would say. And publishing it and making money off of it just adds injury to insult.

I think most of us who write have lifted ideas from other writers' stories. Aside from the old (and true) adage that there aren't any new plots, we'll see someone else's character do X and wonder what would've happened if they'd done Q instead. Or we'll see a plot twist or a gimmick or a point of characterization or worldbuilding or whatever, and think, "What if I did this with it...?" Writing a story is rather like making a patchwork quilt, and the scraps of fabric we sew together to make this quilt come from all over our life experience, which includes books we read, movies we see, music we hear, paintings we look at, and everything else. The fact that Stoker wrote about vampires doesn't mean another writer can't do it too. And Anita Blake is just another in a long line of vampire hunters (from Stoker's Van Helsing on), blended with some other characteristics to make her stand out, and many of those characteristics probably came from Hamilton's own experiences of others' creative works.

This sort of thing isn't a problem. It's where ideas come from, and that's fine.

But where do we draw the line? How much can we scavenge before it becomes uncool?

Is it a matter of blending it with enough other scavenged pieces? Like the old saying from uni, "Copying one source is plagiarism, copying many sources is research" -- how many sources do we have to copy before we move from plagiarism to research? And is there a grey area in the middle. If one source is plagiarism, and, say, fifty is research, what's twenty? Ten? Five? Two?

Where do we draw the lines between "just fine" and "kind of iffy" and "uncool" and "lame!" and actual "plagiarism?"

And what can/should be done about those grey areas of "almost", from "almost fine" to "almost plagiarism?" Is the "kind of iffy" level all right, where the source of this or that bit or gimmick is pretty clear, where you can see the scratches on that one chunk where the serial number was filed off but most of the story and world and background are properly scavenged and blended? I've actually read stories like this, where I've recognized a source I was pretty sure the writer drew from, and you probably have too. Is this "almost right," and if so, how close is the "almost?" And what about the other end of the "almost" spectrum, where we have a MadLib novel which is about as close as I can think of to plagiarism without actually being plagiarism. If this is "almost wrong," how close is it to that end of "almost?"

I'd never thought about it before, but there really isn't a single clear line between original writing and plagiarism. And that's disturbing, because so long as there's not, there'll be people who'll push into that grey area, trying to see how far they can get before someone notices and calls them on it. It looks like that's what's happening now, and unless it turns out that this whole thing is a huge hoax on the complaining writer's part, I really hope something happens to the second writer. If she did do this, then having her rep smeared and being unable to sell any other books would be a good start, even if she can't actually be sued.



[I'm trying to keep this theoretical. If you want to see the specifics and haven't already heard about the situation, check out this post in my LJ, along with the links from it, or just Google "plagiarism Massa Amanda" and the first few items will be relevant.]

Monday, November 19, 2007

When Ignorance Is More Than Annoying

It's always annoying to be reading a book, even a work of fiction, and come across places where the writer is pretty clearly faking it and doing a horrible job. When there are things you know are false being blithely tossed about, with no apparent plot-related reason for stretching the truth or twisting a fact, it's hard not to think some scornful thoughts about the writer who couldn't be bothered.

I majored in history, emphasis on the Middle Ages in Europe, and whenever I see a character in 12th century France eating turkey, or a 10th century English castle with enough bedrooms to open a modern-style hotel, or any medieval characters anywhere speaking and acting as though it were perfectly normal for everyone they know to be born, live until about age thirty and then drop dead, I start talking to the book and what I have to say probably wouldn't please the book's author even a tiny bit. These kinds of problems are easily fixable with minimal research and thought, and the incorrect information is rarely vital to the plot. But even I have to admit that the particular flavor of ignorance being spread here is only annoying, and not actually harmful to anything but the general level of knowledge and intelligence among the populace.

There are some topics, though, where false information in fiction can be actively harmful. One of them is BDSM.

I've unfortunately become accustomed to writers of BDSM fiction who don't know what they're talking about. Despite the many who are knowledgeable about the subject (and just damn good writers), there are unfortunately a few others who think that the whole BDSM thing is "cool" to write and who just sort of dive in with the most rudimentary knowledge, most of it false. That's bad enough, and whenever I see people commenting on these twisted, full-of-crap stories to say that they never knew anything about BDSM before but they're learning So Much from this story!! I start swearing and feel a strong urge to throttle the writer.

Up until now, most of the writers I'd entertained thoughts of killing were amateurs -- people who write stories for fun and post them online for anyone to read for free. This is still bad but at least their audience is pretty limited. Right now, though, I'm up visiting my mom and I was browsing through her bookcases. I found an anthology of BDSM stories (yes, I have an incredibly cool and open-minded mom) and sat down to read. There are four stories in this book and I'm a few pages into the second one, and so far we're two-for-two on writers who don't know what the hell they're talking about. These are professional writers, who were paid money for their stories and whose books are being sold in bookstores all over the country and for all I know all over the world. That's a huge potential audience, and I find this horrifying.

So how is this different from the historical errors? It's different because people who believe this crap can actually get hurt. It's different because the BDSM community is already grossly misunderstood by the more conservative end of the population, and having people end up in the hospital -- or dead -- because they tried some dangerous practice without understanding it and without knowing what precautions to take and with no clear step-by-step instructions is the sort of thing which could hit the news and convince that many more people that there should be laws against all this "perverted" stuff. And the fact that the people who were hurt or killed got their information from some ignoramus who wasn't even a member of the BDSM community isn't going to matter one bit.

And in the case of the amateur fiction, or possibly even electronically published professional fiction, depending on how some reporter or politician decides to slant the story, the outrage could spill over onto the internet in general. There again, there are plenty of people already who think the internet is dangerous and should be regulated and censored. If someone ends up hurt or maimed or killed because of bad information they got off the internet, whether from a web site or a blog post or an e-book, that could easily sway public opinion that much farther to the regulation and censorship side, which would affect all of us who hang out here, whether we're into BDSM specifically or not.

Some of the ignorance is perfectly harmless. One of my favoite writers wrote a story a while back where the female protag needed to go undercover as a prostitute, to try to get close to a villain with a strong streak of kink who was known to regularly patronize a certain BDSM house. The protag and her boyfriend (who was also an agent and had Issues with her doing this in the first place) hired a professional dominatrix to teach our heroine the basics, in hope that she could pull off her masquerade as a pro herself and fool the villain. The supposed professional trainer gave them a "flogger" made of velvet ribbons tipped with feathers, saying that after all, it was supposed to be pleasurable. [facepalm]

This was incredibly stupid, but it wasn't actually harmful. Anyone who read this book and then decided to try a velvet-and-feathers flogging session with their significant other probably wouldn't find it terribly exciting, or even very stimulating, but they'd have a hard time actually getting hurt, unless they had a strong feather allergy or something.

[And to this day I truly hope that the writer originally had this scene written as a realistic training session, but had it vetoed by an uptight publisher. I really hope that. Because otherwise my respect for this writer would have to take a huge nosedive.]

But when I read a story where a sub is branded against her will, and then goes into agonies of guilt for thinking negative thoughts about the "Dom" who did it to her, because a True Sub never ever thinks things like that about a Dom, I really need to slap someone. When I read about a sub who's incapable of allowing herself to take pleasure in sex unless there's pain involved as well, because she doesn't feel she deserves to enjoy sex unless she's being punished at the same time, and her Dom thinks this is normal, that's another slap I owe someone. When I read about a large BDSM community where a sub has to "prove" to the group at large that he's worthy to serve a Dom (any Dom) by demonstrating that he can take a certain amount of pain by being whipped long and hard in public, I just have to headdesk and then wish I could slap the writer. When I read about a Dom who binds and gags his sub, then leaves him alone in the house for an extended period, I want to get out the baseball bat.

All of these are actual examples from stories I've read. All of them show a serious ignorance of the basic philosophy and mindset of someone who's into BDSM, and do it in a way which could get an ignorant newbie badly hurt or even killed, either because of a specific practice which is incredibly unsafe, or a more general mindset held up as an ideal which in actual fact could lead someone into a dangerous situation with either a predator masquerading as a Dom or just some other ignorant idiot who doesn't know any better. With any luck, a reader who's curious about kink will find someone knowledgeable to play with, or at least to use as an info resource. Or as a last resort, there are plenty of good information sources (non-fictional ones) online, for someone who prefers to do their research in private, although someone starting all the way back from square one might have some trouble sorting out the good ones from the iffy ones, especially if they're not willing to take the time and trouble to cross-check information with multiple sources.

But if the reader goes up to their boyfriend or wife or whomever, who's just as ignorant as they are, and says, "Hey, this sounds like fun -- let's try it!" then the results could be dire.

Normally I'm willing to assume that adults are adults and capable of taking responsibility for their own decisions. And likewise, I think people who depend on any "facts" they've gleaned from a piece of fiction, without double-checking them with a non-fictional source, are kind of stupid and deserve whatever results.

On this subject, though, and in the current social and political climate, a sufficiently harmful outcome could conceivably end up splattered all over not only the dummy who took a piece of fiction as fact, but also all over other people who were minding their own business and doing nothing wrong. Whether it makes it that much harder for legitimate members of the BDSM community to go about their lives without being sneered at or scorned, or whether it provides that last bit of ammunition some technophobic politician needs to convince a voting majority that Something Must Be Done about the internet, the consequences of this particular flavor of ignorance could spread a lot farther and cause much more damage than out-of-period turkeys.

I have no idea what to do about this, except perhaps to issue an open plea for publishers of BDSM fiction to make sure their editors who handle these books know enough about the practice to weed out the ignorant and clueless stories. That won't do anything about the amateur end of the problem, but at least the professional end -- the one with the much larger audience and international reach -- could police itself and make sure it doesn't spread any horrifically bad information. Which would, incidentally, also make the stories much more enjoyable to read.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My First Column

As I mentioned a while back, I was invited to be a regular columnist over at Romancing the Blog (which was incredibly flattering :D ) and my first column went up this morning. A bit earlier than I was expecting -- I set it for 6am as per instructions and just assumed that'd be Eastern time, but whatever. :) It's up here if you want to read it; it's about jealousy in romance novels.

Oh, and the butterfly in my icon over at RtB is a pic I took at a butterfly farm on St. Martin. I have no clue what species it is, but it's very pretty and I'm delighted that it came out, since my camera skills are rudimentary at best. :)


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Creativity and Communication

Or maybe I should have titled this one "Conventions -- Breaking and Following." Or something like that. Because I've been thinking about walking the line between wanting to be new and fresh and different -- creative -- and wanting people to read my work and actually get what I'm saying. And not just word by word or line by line, but at a higher level in the story.

Recently, both Bernita and Stacia have blogged about expectations and conventions (whether they knew it or not :) ) and it got me to thinking. As writers, we always want to do something new and fresh, something unique and creative, something that'll make people sit up and notice us and wonder where we get our awesome ideas, 'cause damn! People who come up with something new and different are praised and remembered, and we're encouraged to be fresh and innovative with our writing, to avoid the standard and the common whenever we can manage it.

So it's easy to think that being new and different is always a good thing, and that following the long-blazed (and paved and marked and mapped) trail is always bad. Or at least, that following that trail is doing things the lazy way.

That's not always the case, though, and that's because art is communication and in order to communicate effectively, we need to speak the same language as our readers. That means more than just using English (or whatever) effectively; it means also being aware of the conventions of our literary form and genre because those conventions are part of the language. They're ways of communicating with the reader, and if we abandon those conventions without thinking carefully, we can end up alone in the wilderness with no one who even cares enough to try to pick up our trail.

Bernita was talking about characters, about types and stereotypes, and it got me thinking about the standard wisdom regarding fully-fleshed, three-dimensional characters always being Good and two-dimensional, placeholder characters always being Bad, or at least lazy. That might be true for major characters in the story -- protagonists, antagonists, major supporting characters -- but it's really not true for the bit parts. I commented at the time:

"But the bit players can be off-the-shelf types and usually should be. Making them three dimensional and fully rounded and quirky and interesting would give them too much importance. It'd set up expectations in the reader's mind that the writer has no intention of fulfilling, which would leave the reader feeling dissatisfied and maybe even cheated. It'd be rather like the old theater saw -- having a gun hanging over the fireplace in Act One and not ever firing it."

That's because readers are used to gauging a character's importance based on how much time is spent with the character and how much information is given about it. Inserting "the blond barista" into your story and saying nothing else about him is a signal to the reader that this character isn't important. He's a piece of furniture and is meant to be a piece of furniture. The reader can feel comfortable letting him do his job and then forgetting him, focusing her attention on other characters, on plot points and setting details which might actually be relevant later.

A writer who fleshes out every character, makes every single person who appears in the story unique and three-dimensional and interesting, no matter how important or trivial they are, does the reader a disservice because not every character should catch the reader's interest. By developing all characters equally, the writer has eliminated an important channel of communication with the readers and unless they open up a new one which conveys the same information, the readers are going to end up confused and annoyed, whether or not they fully comprehend why.

There might be a reason for thoroughly developing a particularly minor character, and the most obvious example I can think of is a red-herring character in a mystery. This sort of character is deliberately developed in a misleading way, because the detective character is being misled along with the readers, and that misdirection is part of the fun for readers who like to solve the puzzle for themselves. If there's no particular purpose to making readers pay attention to a character and believe they should remember him, though, then it's best to let the blond barista be just the blond barista.

Stacia was talking about a book she's working on which might well end up having no sex in it, although the sequel certainly will. This is another kind of communication, having to do with reader expectations based on earlier experience.

There are a lot of romance readers who prefer to have explicit sex in their stories, and there are a lot of readers who prefer the "sweet" sort of story where the scene fades at the bedroom door, or never gets there in the first place. There's some overlap between the two groups, but there are quite a lot of readers who are firmly in one camp or the other.

So what's the likelihood that someone who firmly prefers their romances sweet will read the first book, like it in part because it has no explicit sex, then read the sequel and be disappointed and maybe even angry because suddenly there's boinking right there on camera? Or conversely, that someone who firmly prefers sexy romances will read the first book, dislike it because it has no explicit sex, and never bother to read the second book, which they would have enjoyed? Both problems are based on miscommunication -- readers assume that books in a series are going to be alike in certain ways, that there'll be a similarity of experience in reading all of them. So the characteristics of the first book tacitly communicate to the reader what subsequent books are going to be like. When that's not the case, it's as though the writer has sent the wrong message to the readers, meaning X but actually saying Q, at least so far as the readers understand.

Objectively, there's no reason why all the books in a series should be similar, and there are some well-known series which aren't. Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series comes to mind -- the first book is an SF romance with a good adventure story, the next several are SF adventure, then one book takes a very dark turn and the protagonist's life changes radically. Then we have an SF mystery-adventure with some hints of romance, and the most recent book was a classic comedy of manners type of romance in an SF setting. Most of us aren't Bujold, though, and at any rate the overall story after the first two books was more about the protagonist's life than just "Yay, space adventure!" type books. (The first two were about his parents.) The protag, Miles, grows and changes and there's a very strong continuity from one book to the next. When the stories turn dark (in Mirror Dance) the reader is ready for it. Not expecting it, perhaps (or at least I wasn't) but the change in tone didn't feel out of place. Nor did the romance which came later -- Miles had been looking for a woman to love and who would love him back all along, and had had several lovers through the series, so when he finally found The One and focused on pursuing her, the story flowed smoothly into the romance mode.

And I think that shows how to handle this sort of change. A very episodic series, where little or nothing significant changes about the main character(s) or the setting, or the kinds of stories told from one book to the next, sets up an expectation with the readers that the sameness will continue. And that can be good -- a lot of readers like knowing what they're going to get and going back for a fun comfort read over and over. But if there are changes and developments all along, and the focus of the books is on some overall story arc -- the protagonist's pursuit of some overall goal, even if it's something nebulous like growing up or figuring out who she is or finding some kind of purpose -- then the readers will focus on that as the backbone of the series, rather than on the type of story being told over and over.

Even with the first book of a series, it can be made plain that the main characters have plans which extend beyond the end of that first book, that there are things undone and questions unanswered, that the characters and their world are different at the end of the book and will continue to change as the story arc progresses. (Which was basically what most of the commenters agreed was the thing to do -- make it very clear through the book that the couple was heading toward having sex. That lets the people who want to see it know that it's coming, and lets people who don't want to see it decide whether to go on. Or at least be ready to skim here and there. :) )

So for example, in a romance series with all the stories set in the same universe and each book about a new couple meeting and overcoming obstacles to form a stable relationship, while having some fun sex along the way, inserting a book where that book's couple doesn't have sex would be jarring to the reader. No matter how good a story it was, failing to meet established expectations is always a problem and promising a second book about that couple (which hadn't been done before in the series either) which contained sex probably wouldn't help much. If the series focuses on something else, though -- if the whole point is clearly the developing characters and relationships over a number of books -- then the readers will know what to expect from the beginning. If it's clear that this isn't an episodic series, but rather that there'll be change and development and strong continuity from one book to the next, then the readers will get the message that there's an overall story arc here and that reading the next book won't just give them more of same.

It can work either way, but you need to communicate with the reader and make sure that what they're catching is what you're pitching. Taking a hard left off the paved road and setting off in a new direction, machete in hand, is fine so long as you make sure you leave enough signs and tracks that the readers can follow you. If you're deviating from something which is standard or traditional or conventional, you need to think about what those abandoned conventions signal to the reader, and make sure that whatever new and creative form or style or gimmick you come up with, you have some way of clearly replacing any lost signals. If not, your readers won't be able to follow you and you'll end up out in the wilds all alone.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Release: Chasing Fear

Torquere is doing a blitz of short stories especially for Halloween. Mine is called Chasing Fear.

Emilio loves Martin with everything he has, but he's still scared to go out and be openly gay, especially with the way his family reacted to the news. Martin just wants to go out and have a good time, so he pushes Emilio's limits to the breaking point. Emilio figures having a Greenman for a lover has its dangers, especially when it comes to going on a date in the great outdoors. Can he and Martin learn to see eye to eye?


It got dark early in late October, and more so in the thick, steep corners of Griffith Park where the trees fought for the sun, and clearing away undergrowth wasn't as high a priority as it was in the more popular, path-wound areas. Emilio Cardenas liked it up there for the quiet and empty space and the sense of being small and alone in the middle of Nature -- it was a tough feeling to find in the heart of metropolitan southern California, even for a ranger. He got twitchy when he spent too much time with people, though, and the heavy rain over the weekend had given him the perfect excuse to escape.

Sure enough, one of the tough old oaks that'd been loosening its grip on the soil sliding out from under it over the last few years had finally lost the battle and toppled. He didn't call for help with it; instead he spent the day taking it apart himself with the chainsaw and moving the wood downslope to where his little electric truck was parked on a narrow dirt trail.

Leaving the largest trunk sections round had meant he could just give them a shove and let them roll down to the flattish trail. Most of them had hung up on the viburnum shrubs at the downslope side of the path and the two that'd kept on going he'd just left; they'd make a great habitat for bugs and fungus as they rotted. The rest he'd finished cutting up and piled in the back of the truck.

It was twilight by the time he finished and the rougher trails were tricky to drive at the best of times, even in the narrow park vehicle. He should've hopped right up and headed back to the station and home to where Martín would be waiting, probably eyeing the clock and scowling, but instead he just stood for a while and felt the chill dark of early evening creeping across his skin.

A night sparrow called nearby and Emilio listened to its aggressive chirruping. When it had quieted, he pulled out a bottle of water and drank. It was another delaying tactic and he knew it, as was walking over to one of the healthy oaks a few paces off the path and leaning back against the trunk. It was dark enough that he could've seen a few stars if he'd been on open ground, even in the middle of LA County. All that was visible overhead from beneath the trees, though, were the dark, squirming branches, the ropes of climbing ivy and millions of shivering leaves.

A loop of ivy dropped out of the tree like a black snake and wound itself around his chest. Emilio gave a frightened shout and tried to move away, but the ivy tightened. One of his arms was caught and before he could get a good grip with the other, another vine bound it to the tree trunk, swooping up from below this time.

Emilio cursed again and a dark, masculine silhouette moved out of the shaded wood. The man strolled over to where Emilio was still struggling against the vines and cocked his head, looking him up and down. Emilio glared at him and jerked hard against the ropey vines, which had grown to the thick, tough wood of old, established ivy. He knew who it had to be, even before the man stepped out of shadow.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Come Hang Out With Me On Friday

I'm hosting the Torquere_Social community on LiveJournal tomorrow (Friday, 26 October) so come drop in and hang with me for the day. I'll be posting a couple of snippets from stories, including one from the short story I just wrote for Halloween, "Chasing Fear." If you don't have a LiveJournal, that's fine -- anonymous posting works dandy and you can just sign your post so I know whom to wave to. [wave]

I've never done this before O_O so come help me out tomorrow? Thanks! :D


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Busy Week

So I was working on this story. It was an urban fantasy, although since the whole thing takes place in a single house, I don't know how "urban" it technically is. It's set in a universe I've written in previously, and the other stories were definitely urban fantasy, so anyway. I'm going along and everything's chugging reasonably well, when suddenly both guys turn all Serious and there's anger and guilt and shame and threats flying around. It all fits the story and I like how it's developing, but wrapping it at less than 8K words (Torquere's upper limit for short stories) is sort of iffy, much less the 5K we were kinda-sorta asked to please try to keep it to for the Halloween blitz, since the editors didn't want to have to work thirty-six hour days to get however many stories spruced up and ready to release by Halloween.

Okay, so that one goes on the back burner. Luckily another idea came wandering by so I grabbed it and started banging away, one eye on the calendar and trying really hard not to let my blood pressure go too high. (I tend to spring leaks when it does and that gets messy.) This one's even more "only technically" an urban fantasy than the other, since while the guys live in the LA area, the story takes place in Griffith Park and they're surrounded by forest and such the whole time, so....

Anyway, this one's actually a bit more Halloweenish than the first one, so that's good. I got it finished and gave it an edit, wrote up a cover letter (I really hate writing synopses [flail]) and came up with a title (even more flailing 'cause I hate coming up with titles even more than I hate writing synopses) and sent it off. That was the 19th, about five hours ahead of the deadline, yay. I got an acceptance within a day and edits in record time.

A nice lady named Jane at Torquere (who's my editor for "Spirit of Vengeance") taught me how to use the Track Changes thingy in Word to go over the edits, how to "clear" edits and add comments and such, for which I am eternally grateful. I felt a bit silly asking, since the story she's working on is my second with Torquere, but with the first I just e-mailed "It all looks good" back and that was that. [cough] Anyway, I know how to do it now, thank you Jane. :)

So I sent my edits back for the Halloween story (which is called "Chasing Fear" by the way) and in the middle of all this I got an invitation from Romancing the Blog to be one of their regular columnists. Wow!

That was seriously cool and I'm incredibly flattered to have been asked. I've been reading and commenting over there since I found them back in August, while poking through links on someone's blogroll, and I've enjoyed the discussions over there very much, so it'll be fun being a regular part of the community. I wrote up a short bio and found a nice pic I took at a butterfly farm on St. Maarten to use as my avatar there. I'll post a note here as soon as I find out when my turn in the barrel will be. :)

Speaking of taking my turn in the barrel, I volunteered to host Torquere's social community on LiveJournal this Friday, the 26th. (And I'm not nervous at all. Not even a tiny bit. O_O ) I'll post a reminder note on Thursday with a link so anyone who wants to can come hang out with me for the day.

Right now, the top two things on my agenda are doing the edits for "Spirit" and working on some commentary I'm doing on a friend's manuscript. One's fun and the other is less so, so you can probably guess which one's going to be getting more of my time....

Hope everyone else had a great weekend. Personally, I'm ready for a nice, long sleep. :)


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

High School Homecoming Princes

I just had to share this here because it's incredibly cool. My faith in humanity and particularly the American chunk of it just went up a notch. :D

Royal yes to diversity at Davis Senior High

The students of Davis Senior High (in Davis, California) elected a gay couple as their homecoming royalty. Even more amazing, there's been no protest or wanking, from the administration, the student body or the parents and community (at least as of the time the article came out, which was Saturday). Amazing! And very heartening. Go, Davis! I hope it spreads.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Loose Id to the Rescue

For anyone who hasn't seen already, check out this post over on Treva2007 on Livejournal. Loose Id plans to bid on the contracts held by Triskelion, which is going through bankruptcy. There was a lot of worried blogging going on about what'd happen to the Triskelion authors (and other authors whose publisher had or is going under) since bankruptcy courts don't recognize contract clauses which revert rights to an author if a publisher goes under.

Treva says:

If successful in their bid, Loose Id, LLC will release the majority of contracts at no cost to the authors who entered into them.

In a few cases, new contracts will be extended to the author from Loose Id in lieu of the Triskelion contracts. If an author chooses to reject the offer made them, their contract will be released by Loose Id, at no cost to the author.

This is incredibly cool and I think Loose Id deserves some major kudos, whether or not their bid is successful. If I ever get back to writing het, this publisher will be at the top of my submission list, 'cause you can't beat working with truly good people.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Playing with Genre Definitions

Another one of the Standard Topics came up a few days back on a romance blog, that being the "Isn't it outrageous how people diss us and sneer about how formulaic our stories are?!" topic. I've seen this one come around over and over since I first started hanging out on RomEx in the eighties (anyone who knows what RomEx was gets a cookie, and anyone who used to hang out there too gets a brownie and a wave) so it wasn't really all that interesting. It got me thinking about genre definitions, though, and how they contribute to this sort of brangle, and some other neat things you can do with them.

You can sort out a lot of genres by how they're defined. I've come up with three standard types of definitions: by plot, by setting, and by emotional impact.

Some genres are defined by their plot. They have a specific kind of story to tell. The setting and tone are irrelevant; only the plot is important when it comes to deciding whether a story belongs in one of these genres or not.

Since romances are defined by their plot, there's actually a molecule of truth to the "formulaic" sneer. A romance is defined by a main plotline consisting of two (or more) characters getting together and overcoming obstacles to form a stable romantic relationship. There you go -- that's your formula. Anyone who can't riff a hundred different detailed plotlines off of that needs to concentrate on their day job, though, 'cause that's open pretty wide.

Mysteries are also defined by their plot. The main character has some sort of puzzle to solve; the solution to the puzzle is the goal and the puzzle itself is the main obstacle. Usually they involve crime but they don't have to. Sometimes the main character knows part of the answer -- they might know who committed the murder, for example -- but they have to figure out some other part -- like how they did it, or how to prove it. I've heard mysteries dismissed as formulaic too, by the way.

The YA "problem story" also fits in here. The teenager has a problem, usually something typical of adolescence and growing up, and works to solve it. So long as the plot fits, the rest of the story can do whatever the writer wants.

Some genres are defined by their setting. So long as the story takes place in a certain type of place, it qualifies, no matter what kind of plot it might have. Note that setting includes social setting as well as physical, and different kinds of props.

Historicals (including Westerns, which are their own genre for whatever reason) are defined by their setting. If the story takes place in a reasonably realistic version of the past -- that is, if it looks like the writer was making an effort, even if they trip here and there -- the story's a historical.

Science Fiction is defined by its setting, although it doesn't have to be set in the future. Rather, science fiction is a setting which includes some sort of speculative continuation from a baseline. So a story set in the future where humankind has colonized other star systems and has all sorts of neato-cool high tech to play with is SF, but so is a story set in a future where everything collapsed and the remnants of humanity are grubbing in the dirt and eating each other. Both represent a continuation -- one a social and technical advance and the other a retreat -- from the baseline of the here and now.

But one can establish a different baseline and end up with science fiction set in the past; the steampunk subgenre makes great use of this idea, starting (generally) from Victorian England and using "advanced technology" based on the huge, complex mechanics of the early Industrial Age. An example for anyone unfamiliar with the genre is The Wild Wild West, especially the movie, but even the older TV show qualified when Artemus got out some of his wilder inventions. The point being, though, that your "advancement" can vary quite a lot depending on where you draw your baseline.

Fantasy is defined by a magical setting, whether the pseudo-historical setting of classical fantasy or the grittier contemporary setting of urban fantasy or anything else the writer cares to use, so long as there are magical elements to it. (Magic Realism is fantasy with its nose in the air; the difference only matters to the marketing department.) These can include magical items, magical creatures, magical places, or a system of workable magic used by one or more characters.

Paranormal hovers between SF and fantasy. Paranormal deals with unscientific things and phenomena in a pseudo-scientific way. It can have a science fictional feel to it (although not always), but it deals with plot and setting elements which have more of the magical about them, leaning it toward fantasy. Exactly where it is on the spectrum and which way it leans more strongly is up to the writer.

Some genres are defined by their emotional effect on the reader. Different writers will use different tactics to achieve their desired effect, but they tend to sort out in accordance with just how they hope the readers will feel while they're reading.

Horror is a good example here. The purpose of a horror story is to scare the reader. Many people will immediately think of ghosts and vampires and zombies and demons and other classic monsters when they hear "horror," but those things don't define a story as being part of the horror genre. A romance writer can create a romantic vampire and have him get the girl in the end, a science fiction writer can come up with a logical sounding explanation for what ghosts are and some sort of gadget for communicating with them to work out a peaceful coexistence, and a mystery writer could come up with a humorous demon who's desperate to figure out who killed Satan's favorite succubus before the Boss gets back from Tahiti. None of these stories would necessarily qualify as horror, despite using classic monsters.

The horror writer is free to use whatever comes to mind so far as settings, gimmicks, characters and plots go, so long as the reader ends up frightened and the story as a whole is either frightening or setting up for the fright. It's the effect that's important, not the method used to achieve it.

Suspense is another effect, that edge of the seat "Omigod, omigod, omigod!" that keeps the reader chewing their nails down to the elbow. And if they actually know in advance what's going to happen, so much the better. However a writer gets the reader into that state is fine; it doesn't have to be a chase or a murder threat or whatever.

Erotica is in this group too. One might think this would be a plot-defined genre, as in "Characters want to have sex, climax occurs when they get it" [cough] but you can write an incredibly erotic story that doesn't actually have any sex in it. Unfulfilled yearning can be extremely erotic, as can displacement activities such as eating. The point isn't the specific activity, even though certain activities are extremely common in the genre. The point is how the reader feels about what's going on -- whether the reader thinks what's going on is sexy and arousing. That "Mmmmm..." effect is what it's all about.

Note that these are definitions, not standards of excellence. Someone can follow the puzzle-story rule and end up with a story which qualifies as a mystery and still have it be a really bad mystery. A clunky science fiction story, with the "science" based on errors and fallacies and cliches so old they creak, can still qualify as science fiction, however awful. An erotic story which completely fails to push any of its readers' buttons is still erotica if it's clear the writer was trying. What makes a good romance or historical or horror story is way beyond the scope of this piece.

Once you know how to define your genres, though, you're more likely to be able to blend them successfully. If you know exactly what defines science fiction and romance, you can write a romance plot in an SF setting and make both work. (This is harder than it sounds, as any number of romance writers have discovered.) You can write a historical mystery or an erotic western or a suspenseful fantasy.

Note that it's easier to blend two genres if they're from different groups. Historical romances have been a thriving subgenre for ages, but you have to work harder for an erotic suspense. Piers Anthony wrote a science fiction fantasy by having the protag pop back and forth between universes, one science fictional and the other fantasy, but even as well as he did it, it feels a bit awkward.

Mystery romances have also been around for a while, but the writer has to juggle two different plotlines and it's easy for one or the other to feel shortchanged. Horror erotica is also very difficult. (And note that I don't consider an erotic story where one of the main characters is a werewolf to be actual horror, unless the story is intended to be bona fide scary.) Manipulating the reader's emotions takes skill and excellent craftsmanship, and manipulating them in two completely different directions within the same story is tough. Doable, but tough.

Being aware of what you're doing can help, though. Knowing exactly what needs to go into your story and where all the parts belong -- this to the plot, that to the setting, this other to the tone -- make it more likely that a story will succeed. Having well-defined goals is always a good starting point.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Doesn't (Necessarily) Hurt to Ask

So I've got this story. It's called "A Spirit of Vengeance" and it's a ghost story, and I think it's one of my best. I was thinking about making it my next submission to Torquere, but as I was browsing through their guidelines I saw a bit that says they don't take stories which "contain rape or other gratuitous violence."

That gave me pause because the way the character in "Spirit" became a ghost was by being raped and murdered in a hate crime while his lover was out of town. One might think that this would nix it so far as Torquere's concerned, but that "other" gave me some hope. If what they object to is gratuitous rape, then maybe I still have hope for this, because I don't consider the rape in "Spirit" to be at all gratuitous. And besides, it's all over and done with before the story begins -- it opens with the dead guy's lover leaving the funeral. And I really like this story; it's very deeply emotional and it's gotten some great comments from readers.

I suppose I could've just submitted it and let them decide, but I didn't want word to go around the office about how that Angie chick's too dumb to read guidelines, you know? :P So I sent a query to the editor who worked with me on my first story, described this one and explained why I didn't think the rape was gratuitous, and asked if it were something Torquere might be interested in. She wrote back and said it was, and that I should submit it. Yay!

Now, I wouldn't say it never hurts to ask, because despite what we're told in elementary school, there really are stupid questions. If I'd asked whether they'd like to see my het romance, or my children's adventure book, or my survey of southern California gardens, any of those would've been stupid questions because Torquere doesn't publish anything close to those areas. In this case, though, I had reason to believe that my story might not come under the stated ban, and I made it clear in my letter that I had read their guidelines and was just asking for some clarification. It was a reasonable question from someone who'd been paying attention rather than a shot in the dark from someone who hadn't bothered to do any market research.

And in this case I'm glad I asked.

Epilogue: I submitted the story Monday night, got a receipt acknowledgement yesterday, and a contract offer this morning. O_O I have to say I was completely blown away by how fast this happened. I was expecting it to take a couple of weeks at least to hear back but this was, like, instant. They are really on the ball over there and the more I work with Torquere the more I want to keep working with them.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Research vs. Invention

Candy Proctor wrote an interesting post today about that authentic feel a reader gets when fiction sounds real, whether it actually is or not. It's an interesting post (and I'm still pondering the concept of "aboutness") but it made me think about the trade-off we need to make whenever we don't have extensive personal experience or some other acquired expertise in the topic(s).

I think there's room for well done fakery in most areas of fiction. No one expects a writer to look up absolutely every fact about everything used or shown or talked about in a story, and sometimes doing so would be a bad idea even if we could. Using a real restaurant -- with the name, location and staff accurately described -- when a character gets a raging case of food poisoning there and dies is a good way to get sued, for example. But even beyond the grasp of the lawyers, a well crafted fake will often work just as well as the real info, at least for the majority of your readers. Weaving research with invention is a valuable skill and writers who are good at it can surround the reader with a seamless mesh of rich detail which all flows and hangs together.

I do like accuracy when I read, of course, but I also like my favorite writers to publish more often than once every five years. [wry smile] And from the writer's point of view, even if the need to earn a decent paycheck a bit more often isn't an issue, it can be frustrating and unsatisfying for a writer or anyone else to put so much prep work into projects that they only get results two or three times per decade. Some people have the mindset to make this sort of schedule satisfying, but for everyone else there's a reasonable balance which can be achieved.

I think the trick is to figure out who your audience is and make some sort of decent squint-and-roll-the-dice estimate as to about how many of them are likely to know more about [whatever] than you do, and make your researching decisions from there. Diminishing returns become a factor eventually and if you get to a point where another year of research will only cut down your nasty letters and sarcastic reviews from, say, five to three, maybe it's not worth the time spent. You might have to just accept that there's going to be some small fraction of readers out there who'll be sneering, but if the vast majority will be reading and nodding and reccing, you're still well ahead of the game.

Not that anyone can estimate reactions that closely, but it's definitely possible to hop onto Google and start reading reviews and other commentary in the genre (and preferably the subgenre) you're writing in. What do the readers want? What do they praise? What do they laugh at? This is really basic information, and for that matter one might hope that anyone writing in a given genre would have already read enough in that genre to know these things, but I've read plenty of stories where it was pretty clear the writer did not know the genre even that well and I'm sure others have too. Even someone new to a genre can find out what the readers like and dislike and scorn with just a few hours spent blog-hopping, though, and I can think of a writer or two who engineered their own downfall by (apparently) not bothering.

Or maybe they just didn't pick up on the subtleties.

One writer wrote a murder mystery a number of years ago set at a science fiction convention. Theme mystery series are popular and this could've been a neat idea, but it was pretty clear to me, as someone who's attended and worked SF conventions for a very long time, that this writer's actual experience of SF cons was extremely minimal, to the point where I doubt she'd ever attended a general SF con of any size. The book was published by TSR (the company which at the time owned the Dungeons and Dragons property) and there was some speculation among friends of mine at the time that maybe TSR had sprung for a couple of free passes to gaming conventions, which are unfortunately very different from science fiction conventions. Or maybe they just described them to her. It was particularly frustrating because so many small details were correct, but they just underscored the major clunkers. Whatever the reason, though, I and a number of others spent the entire book wincing and eyerolling over errors, which was a shame because the writing was decent and the mystery itself was interesting.

It's one thing to get a few minor details wrong, but when the entire setting sounds fake and third-hand to anyone who's actually been there, you've got a serious problem. Especially with something like a theme mystery, where the whole point is to market the books to a special interest group, you're deliberately courting readers who'll know where all your duct taped patches are. :/ It's like writing a police procedural and forgetting about Miranda, or writing a war story about submarines and completely ignoring pressure, or having your hard-SF characters hop into their reaction rocket and fly out to Rigel by lunchtime. These are incredibly basic errors and would signal to any reader at all familiar with the genre that the writer was faking and not doing a very good job of it.

Comparing time and effort spent in research versus your skill when it comes to invention, and balancing the result against the likely return in reader satisfaction is a valuable skill whenever you're writing about things you aren't already an expert at. It requires a strong familiarity with the intended audience, though, and a misstep can do considerable damage to both the story and the writer's reputation.


Friday, September 28, 2007

And Published :)

It's up! [beam] Wow, that was fast! I just responded to the edits last night and it's up already. Thanks to my editor, Shawn, for being very cool and very speedy. Champagne and sparkling cider on me! :D

Learning to Love Yourself

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I just got the edits on my story from Torquere. I've been feeling really excited and at the same time dreading it a bit -- sort of a combination of, "Come on, come on, next stage, let's go, wanna be published!" along with, "Omigod, what are they gonna do to it?!?!" [laugh]

Turns out they didn't do much, which pleases me to no end. It was just a handful of things, marked in Track Changes on the Word document. Which I've never used before -- I was wondering if I'd have to go hunting through the menus to find it but they're right there and very obvious, although I had to expand the window horizontally to see the notes. They look just like traditional proofreader's margin notes, though, which makes sense but was still sort of cool.

There were two misspellings [duck] and a bunch of very minor stylistic changes, most having to do with punctuation, some separating or pulling apart of sentences, a "dammit" changed to "damn it," that sort of thing. And they don't like compound ending punctuation. I tend to use ?! occasionally and there were one or two of those in this story, both of which got axed down to just ? instead. Nothing I couldn't easily live with.

One thing cracked me up, though -- I've been trying to cut down on my habit of putting a comma before a conjunction. I do it a lot and technically you're not supposed to, but sometimes I think it makes the sentence clearer. I can get a bit excessive, though, so I've been cutting down.

They put a bunch of them back, LOL! Ah, well. I'll have to keep that in mind when I next prep a story to submit to Torquere.

All in all, though, it was a much less painful process than I thought it'd be. There was literally nothing really significant, no major changes at all. I was half expecting to have to cut out the poem at the end, for example. It's really awful doggerel, and although it's supposed to be awful doggerel, I could see someone just wanting to X it out completely. They left it, though, which is cool. [hearts on her editor]

So, I replied to say that it looks fine and the next step is putting it on the schedule. Whee! Can't wait -- I'll definitely be plastering that all over the blogosphere when I get it. :D


Monday, September 24, 2007

Worldbuilding as an On-Going Process

Fantastical worldbuilding seems to be the topic of the day, with WrittenWyrdd and Charles Gramlich both talking about it. They both made some good points and it got me thinking about something I've noticed here and there, especially in science fiction stories.

WW made the point that things are changing pretty quickly, and that someone who was born ninety years ago has seen a huge amount of change in his lifetime. That's very true and the rate of change has been increasing. And yet how often do SF books set in the far future, whether the setting is a future Earth or a planet colonized long ago, where the culture changed only so far and then stopped? It's as though the writer needed Setting X for the story, so they explained how it came to be that things changed from what we have now to what they've got then, and then it all froze and has remained static ever since.

A ship full of religious zealots who believe it's sinful to read on Wednesdays and that long pants are an abomination unto their god leave Earth to build the perfectly moral society. They find a nice planet, build their colony and ban reading on Wednesdays and all pants longer than the knee. A thousand years later when the story takes place, they're still religious zealots, they still don't read on Wednesdays and they still toss the protagonist in prison for wearing long pants.

Seriously? What's the likelihood that any culture stays that static for that long? Even assuming a static environment, which in itself is pretty far-fetched, this would be unbelievable. But on a newly colonized planet, where the people have to deal with alien plants and animals and geology and weather and who knows what other conditions, where any food stock they brought with them has to be adapted, where completely unforeseen dangers and problems and challenges will force them to adapt their habits and values and priorities in order to survive in this strange and possibly deadly place -- a thousand years later they're still rabidly anti-long-pants? Ummm, right. Sure.

The guy WW knows who just turned ninety has seen not only great technological changes, but also huge changes in attitudes and morals and values and priorities. The expectation of what's "normal" has changed several times since 1917, and society has adapted each time. Your average American in 2007 has a much different world view from that of your average American in 1917, or even 1957.

And if there's anything we know about large groups, it's that they're going to disagree. More than two people can't agree on where to go for lunch, much less on what government policy should be. Heinlein once said that a committee is a creature with six or more legs and no brain, and snark aside, I think he was pretty much on it.

So how is it that our entire religious society is still monolithically anti-long-pants after a thousand years? We're supposed to believe that every single generation grew up in absolute accord with the beliefs of their elders? They somehow completely eliminated teenage rebellion, and the desire of the young to be new and different just because? They eliminated the tendency toward factional divisions, and the really useful technique for an opposition party of proposing something different from what the party in power espouses, just to be different? They completely forbade all scientific and technological innovation, and are still using the technology their ancestors brought to the planet, since significant technological change always brings social change with it? (And yeah, in too many stories they still are using the same exact technology their ancestors were. [sigh])

Things just don't change once and then stop. Or if they did, then that's a major issue and big enough to dominate a book all by itself, explaining why and how. Realistically, though, human societies continue to evolve. Sometimes it's slower and sometimes it's faster but they always do change, and they keep changing, and then they change again. Writers who are developing new worlds for science fiction need to keep this in mind.

How did your society begin? What was the baseline? How and why did it change after that? What was the new baseline? Then what changed, and how and why? Then what changed? And then what changed? The farther in the future (or at least, the farther from your baseline) your story is set, the more change you need to work out, a whole series of changes which are all logical or at least believable. The readers might never see a lot of this info (but we're used to that, right? readers rarely see more than ten or twenty percent of our research and development no matter what genre we're writing in) but the writer needs to know it so that everything hangs together. And if the writer doesn't know how a civilization (or a character or an institution or whatever) got from point A to point Q, it'll show.

Charles talked about wanting to see the exotic in fiction, and the exotic is what makes SF -- and fantasy, and horror -- especially creative and memorable. But just as too many books don't show enough change, it's also too common to see what are presented as differences, as exotic and strange and weird, being just rehashes of our mainstream culture. If all a writer's familiar with is American culture, or Western Civilization, that's not a very large pool from which to draw, especially when you're looking for really basic characteristics of a society.

Take the economy. It's always just a given that there'll be some sort of even-exchange economy. Whether what's exchanged is money -- some sort of symbology representing work or production -- or whether the exchange is a direct bartering of goods and services for other services and goods, it's rare to find a future society, or even an alien society, which works any other way. And yet there are other ways of organizing things.

Families, for example, tend to run on true communism -- from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. If Mom is a programmer and makes $65K a year, then that's what she does and that's what she contributes to the family. If Dad is a wood carver and travels to craft fairs on weekends selling his nature carvings, and takes care of the house and looks after the kids during the week around time spent at his carving, then that's what he does. If Sam is fifteen and can cook dinner every night and do all the yard work and laundry for the family, then that's what he does. If Chrissy is five and puts away her toys and cleans the bathroom (sorta) once a week, then that's her contribution. No one expects Chrissy to eat less food or go without shoes just because she doesn't contribute much of anything to the upkeep of the family. No one expects Sam to grow up with crooked teeth just because braces are horribly expensive and his cooking and chores don't add up to "enough" to "repay" the family for that expenditure. This system works for just about all of us and yet hardly any future or alien societies use it.

But okay, that's communism and there's a knee-jerk negative response toward it in the US. There are other systems, though. The potlatch system awards status to people or families who give away a lot of stuff to others in the community. In that kind of society, the status and admiration is worth more than wealth, so people accumulate stuff just so they can give it away in exchange for status. And reciprocity is like barter but not so direct -- more a system where people do favors for each other, give things to people who need them and get things from other people. There's a general awareness of who's given you things or done favors but not the strict record keeping that a money economy has, or the right-now exchange of value for value that a barter system uses.

Most of these alternative systems work best for small groups, but SF writers are supposed to be imaginative and good at extrapolating. If a society got to, say, the classical period on a communistic or potlatch or reciprocal system of exchange (and the Roman Empire did have a bit of the potlatch about it, with the Senators spending a lot of their personal income on public works and facilities and celebrations, because it was expected of their class and they'd lose status and influence if they didn't) how could that be tinkered with to last through the Middle Ages? The Industrial Revolution? The Information Age?

What new systems -- economic, political, social -- might settlers on a new planet come up with? After all, they're starting fresh. They can do whatever they want. What new and different systems might they invent and try out? And then how might those systems change in a generation or three? A century or three? A millenium or three?

There are more options than are immediately obvious in the industrialized world. An anthropology class (or even a good text or two) is a great source for ideas and will give a writer some notion of just how many different ways people all over the planet have organized themselves. When writing aliens, or even human societies far enough away from ours, it pays to give them customs and institutions and social organizations different enough from ours that they actually feel alien, different, exotic. And once you've got that, keep in mind that the society will change over time. A society with a dynamic history behind it will always feel more realistic than one which has apparently been stuck in the same rut for the last fifty generations.

The exotic is all about change, though. Whether your society starts with "us" and then evolves away, or starts somewhere strange and different and then evolves to be even more strange and different, it's not an alien (or elven or nether plane) society if it sounds like it was lifted right out of Iowa.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Writers and Readers and Creative Diversity

Wendy Crutcher posted this morning in Romancing the Blog about a favorite contemporary romance writer whose latest book was a paranormal romance, and expressed some dismay at a well-liked author moving to a subgenre she doesn't really care for. The point of her post was something else (and worth reading) but it made me think about the preference so many readers have for reading in their favorite little niche or two and their reluctance to try new things. I'm sure we've all heard of writers who've changed pen names when they changed genres, and the standing wisdom that it's better for marketing purposes to become a whole new person if your writing changes too much.

But as Ms. Crutcher's comments, and those of any number of other people I've heard on the subject show, there are readers who don't even want to shift subgenres, much less genres. Ms. Crutcher bought the latest book of this writer she likes, but is hoping she'll move back to straight contemporary. And I know people who just won't shift their reading patterns, period, no matter how much they like a writer.

This is rather depressing because I'm the sort of writer who likes to try a lot of different things. Looking at my current backlog of completed stories, I have:

Humorous Romance 2
Humorous Erotica 2
Humorous Erotic Romance 2
Erotic Suspense 1
Erotic Paranormal Romantic Suspense 1
Erotic Suspense 1
Contemporary Erotica 2
Contemporary Romance 2
Romantic Adventure 1
Contemporary Romantic Erotic Suspense 1
Contemporary BDSM Erotica 2
Humorous BDSM Erotica 2
Contemporary Erotic Romance 2
SF Erotic Romance 1
Non-Romantic SF 1
Non-Romantic Fantasy 2
Contemporary Fantasy Erotica 1
Contemporary Fantasy/Horror 1
Urban Fantasy Romance 1
Urban Fantasy Humorous Romance 1
Comic Fantasy 1
Comic Contemporary Fantasy 1
Humorous Contemporary Fantasy Romance 1
Comic Fantasy Erotica 1

Wow, I didn't realize I'd written so much of the funny. [blinkblink] And actually, although I tried to distinguish between comedy (where the funny is an integral part of the story) and humorous (where there are significant funny bits but the story isn't necessarily funny), there are still others that have less significant funny bits. The Urban Fantasy Romance, for example, has funny bits but I could take them out without changing the main plotline. There's also some suspense, but it's just the last few chapters, so.... :P

But the point is, I like trying a lot of different kinds of stories. There are a few in there which aren't erotic or romantic (unusual for me) and there's even one which is technically het, since at least the main character (male) is fantasizing about a girl. I have lengths from three hundred words and change to just over 40K. Straight contemporary, urban fantasy, horror/fantasy, modern (but not urban) fantasy, SF....

I like writing different things -- different settings and lengths and moods, sexy and not, romantic and not, normal and fantastical, tense and light, plus anything else that pops into my head, and the thought of "branding" myself and sticking to one subgenre forever is dismaying. Any suggestion that I "should" stick to one thing for whatever reason makes me snarl. One of the things that makes creative work interesting and absorbing and creative is always learning and growing and pushing one's boundaries as an artist. If you can't do that, then why bother?

I don't even think everyone has to do it the way I do, everything all at once. If someone wants to write half a dozen historical romances, then eight contemporary romances, then five contemporary paranormal romances, then ten non-romantic urban fantasies, then whatever else, that's cool too. I can understand serial monogamy, even if I don't practice it, at least literarily. :)

But the thought of spending my life writing nothing but X, even if X is something I like.... No, that's not for me. If someone else is into that, and finds creative satisfaction in writing all in one subgenre forever, then good for them, honestly. I can't do that, though, and I know a lot of other writers who can't either.

So what do we do? Have a different pseudonym for every genre? Or even every subgenre? Completely re-market ourselves every time we do something new or different? Or see sales drop when we write something new under our old name and wonder whether it was marketed properly or whether it was just tossed into the same old chute, despite the fact that it doesn't fit? Here I'm thinking of Orson Scott Card and Alan Dean Foster, two well known SF and Fantasy writers who each wrote a straight historical novel at one point. Most bookstores shelved their straight historicals with the SF/Fantasy books, leaving SF/Fantasy fans annoyed at what looked like a bait-and-switch, and leaving fans of historical novels with no clue the books existed because they never showed up on "their" shelving unit in the bookstore. That serves neither the writers nor the existing fans of the genre the writers tried.

I certainly understand having preferences for some genres and not caring for others. But when it comes down to it, for me it's about the writer, not the genre. Personally, I'll follow a favorite writer (I call them my short-list writers) anywhere. I might not absolutely love everything they write, but I'll at least give them a shot no matter what they try or how their stories change. One of my very favorite historical romance writers switched to contemporary romance back in the eighties. I was dismayed but I tried her new book and it was good, so I kept buying her contemporaries. It wasn't a genre I liked but I liked her so I kept reading her books. One of my favorite fanfic writers has gotten me to read and enjoy a World War II story, fercripesake! Now that's skill. When I read the summary when the story began, my initial reaction was "Ack!" but I tried it and it was good. There you go -- that's what matters. And I hope at least a core of my readers will follow me, even if they're sort of iffy at first, because they like me and my writing, because I don't plan to dig myself into a rut just to make it easy on Marketing.

But a lot of readers won't, and will whine and gripe and swear when their very favorite writers "abandon" or "betray" them. [eyeroll] Wow, entitled much...? That's what's out there, though, and we need to at least think about it. :/


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

OK, This Is Just Freaky

Check out this article in Wikipedia. It's about a particular linguistic oddity....

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is a grammatically correct sentence used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated constructs.

I had to keep reading and squint for a while before I got what it's saying, but yeah, it does work. That doesn't make it any less freaky, though, LOL!

I love stuff like this. :)


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Conflict, Plot and Structure

So I'm reading this novel online. It's being posted a chapter at a time, as it's written. The writer's not bad -- her mechanics are decent, I care about the characters, the setting is unusual and interesting, the flow is mostly smooth. Her dialogue doesn't clunk and she makes me laugh at times and some of the passages and scenes are quite beautiful. But I've found it hard to keep reading for the last six or ten chapters.

That's because, about that long ago (and that's as close as I can come without searching back for the exact point) the main conflict wrapped up. The characters had been running for their lives from an agent of an overwhelming authority and the entire first chunk of the novel had been about that flight, that struggle to escape from unjust persecution. The characters were clever and brave and had just enough good luck and they succeeded, yay! There were some less important plot holes left and I would've been interested in a sequel, but the Main Conflict was resolved and the story was over.

Except it wasn't. It just kept going. Another chapter went up, and another, and not a whole lot was happening. There was some character and relationship development, and the characters did some, "So, what do we do next?" type of pondering (which reflected my own thoughts and I'm sort of wondering whether it didn't also reflect the writer's flailing around as she tried to regain her grip on the story which had slid out from under her). A couple more chapters down the line the characters had another problem to solve, although it wasn't really a novel-weight problem. They solved that one and fell into another short-term problem, promptly this time. And just a scant handful of chapters ago, they solved that second not-really-heavy-enough problem and (promptly again -- she's getting better at this) found another one.

Now they have another longer-term goal and it looks like they're set for a while. But I still have to sort of make myself read each time a new chapter goes up, because my inner reader knows that the main problem was solved like eight or so chapters back and the story was supposed to end and it didn't and my inner reader is still a bit pissy about that. Maybe it's that I don't trust her anymore to be in control of this story she's writing. Once I start reading each new chapter, I enjoy it (which is why I bother nudging myself each time) but that reluctance is still there.

So what happened? It could be a few things, and without interviewing the writer about it (since I don't know her anywhere near well enough to have the, "So, exactly what mistakes are you making with this story...?" discussion [wry smile]) I have some guesses.

First, it might be that she didn't have a clear idea of exactly what the main plotline would be when she started. She might be a seat-of-the-pants sort of writer, who starts with some characters and a situation and just writes wherever they take her. This works for some people but not for others, and if this is how she works then in this case it hasn't served her very well. Even when writing seat-of-the-pants, you still need to be aware of how conflict, plot and story relate and she doesn't seem to.

Second, she might've had a clear idea of what her main conflict was all about when she started, but when she got to the end she saw that there were more unanswered questions or more interesting things for the characters to do, so she just kept writing until she came across another major conflict. If this is the case, then she might have a decent grasp of plotting but not know much about structure. That is, it's possible she can identify a major conflict and how it relates to a plotline, but she's not quite clear about how conflict and plot relate to story structure, or specifically to where a story begins and ends.

Or third, she might have started out with some clear ideas of what she wanted her characters to do over the course of the story, including the parts she hasn't written yet, but didn't know how the events of the story relate to conflict, plot and structure. Some beginning-level writers think that writing a story is just "telling what happened" and have no notion of the structure behind it all.

Whatever the problem is, one of those or something I haven't thought of, the bottom line is she's not in control of her story and it's suffering for it. Which is unfortunate because like I said at the top, it's basically a good story, interesting, well-written at the mechanics level, with good characters and all. It's the larger structure she's not getting.

Pick a protagonist. Who wants something and can't have it? Who's about to fall into a flaming pit and wants to escape it? Whose action to achieve some goal is going to drive the story? You can have multiple main characters, although they're trickier to keep organized and their goals need to be pretty closely related, even if the reader doesn't see how until the end of the story.

What does your protagonist want? [Goal] Why can't he have it? [Obstacle] What does he do to try to get it anyway? There -- that bit right there is your plot. It's depressing how many writers can't define "plot" at that basic level.

There can be multiple subplots (in a novel length story there had better be) but the main plot should be introduced first so the reader knows what the story as a whole is about. If your story opens with your protag griping to her best friend about how much she hates her job, how pointless her life seems, and how she has all these dreams and goals of owning her own business and making a difference in the lives of many people, then that's what the story's about. There's your protag's goal and that's what the readers will assume she's going to work to achieve over the course of the story. Introducing some gorgeous guy in chapter five and turning it into a romance novel doesn't work -- the readers will feel cheated and misled no matter how well-written the romantic storyline is.

The climax of the story comes when the protag either gets what he wants, or comes to realize and/or accept that he can't have it no matter what he does. Everything after that -- and it should be as short as possible -- is just wrap-up, weaving in loose ends. If there are loose ends which will take another chapter or more of weaving, then either they should've been taken care of before the main plotline wrapped, or they should be left for a sequel.

The story I mentioned at the top ended when the main conflict was resolved. The characters' main goal, as presented, was to escape the unjust persecution of the government and specifically of the government agent who'd been after them. Once that was achieved, the story was over.

The characters still had more to do, yes -- they weren't kicking back on a beach sipping umbrella drinks once they slipped the net and went zooming off unpursued -- but the main plotline of that story was finished and the story should've ended. Their next major goal, the one they're currently working on, should've been the driver for the main plotline of a sequel. (And I estimate she's over 150K words, while barely into the second main plotline -- it's not like breaking this up would leave her with two scrawny stories.)

The two intervening minor bits could've been worked in or worked around; personally I can think of one I would've dropped (neither of the two main stories would've been affected at all) and the other I'd have tied into the second main plotline. The one that could be dropped without hurting either of the larger stories could even have been written up as a short story, taking place between the two novel-length stories. It's not like these are printed books which have to fit neatly on a Borders shelf; each story can be whatever length it needs to be.

Instead it's all mashed together, the edges stuck onto each other with duct tape, and the story feels random and disconnected. It doesn't feel like "A Story," and that makes me as a reader back off a little, emotionally. It feels like the writer's just sort of wandering and I no longer fully trust her not to lead me off a cliff somewhere. Which is a bummer because she is a good writer; she just needs to learn what a story is so she knows when to begin and end.