Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sci-fi Quirks

I love science fiction.  Despite my first few novels being more paranormal than sci-fi, and my best seller being a political thriller, my heart has always been in science fiction.  I grew up in the genre, and if given a choice of topics to read in, I’ll choose sci-fi nine times out of ten.

That’s not to say it’s always an easy genre.  For starters, bad sci-fi is worse than the worst “mainstream” writing.  It can be super-cheesy and make you want to wretch.  But beyond that, there’s a great deal of science fiction that is either too sciencey or too weird.  Some sci-fi writers want to show you how smart they are by going into great detail about the technical aspects of the ships they design or the equipment they use.  It’s like reading a technical manual, and I don’t know about you, but I rarely pick up books hoping to find a set of schematics inside.

Science fiction can also be super-weird.  I get that things are different by design.  After all, we’re usually talking about a speculative future we know nothing about and are trying to figure out what might be there, both from a technological standpoint and an alien standpoint.  In reality, it’s almost certain that alien races and worlds won’t be like Earth or have two legs and two arms attached to a torso.  There could be worlds covered in intelligent fungus, or giant creatures that fly through clouds of hydrogen gas, or even species that are nothing but a series of electrical impulses that exist around the accretion disk around black holes.  There could even be stuff weirder than that in actuality, but very rarely does that stuff translate well to a story.  And then there’s the weird way some sci-fi writers write their stuff.  Again, different is sometimes necessary to convey how different the world is, but there are times it goes too far(I’ve tried several times, for instance, to get into Earthclan by David Brin, and its strangeness trips me up every time).

Whether it’s technical stuff or weird stuff, these things should be vehicles to move the story along rather than be the focus of the story to begin with.  I get it – we spend lots of time coming up with this great background, and we want people to share in our brilliance, but they didn’t come to understand how the FTL drive works or to read about the way a globula interacts with a festoon during mating season on Ytron IV.  They want those things to make sense within the worlds in which they exist, but they’re not the reason the reader came along.  Some science fiction writers need to understand that better than they do so we can have good stories instead of car manuals or science textbooks.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Other Writing Pursuit Desires

I lamented earlier that my “real job” takes time away from the writing I’d like to do(which, honestly, is an issue for most writers).  Well, I thought I’d elucidate what else I’d like to be doing with my time.  Writing is the most obvious choice, but there are other writing related things I’d like to engage in beyond just writing novels.

There are a bevy of writers’ boards out there, and I’d like to engage on them.  These boards can be fascinating places where quirky folks like me share tips and techniques.  There is some garbage there, as with any online board, but there are also jewels that take time to uncover.  Engaging in a substantive and time-relevant way takes time and effort, something that can be in short supply when normal jobs require time too.

Marketing is another area I’d like to be able to devote time to.  I know there’s a misperception out there that publishing houses will advertise their books, but that’s mostly bullshit unless your name is King, Rowling, or Patterson.  Those authors are proven best-sellers, so publishing houses tend to focus their efforts on what they think has the best chance to make them money.  Now I know that you’re thinking, “But Russ, you’re an indie writer, so why are you talking about traditional publishing houses and their advertisements?”  I use that to point out that if most traditional authors have to do their own marketing, then we indie folks have the same(or a bigger) burden.  And marketing requires time(and money), so that’s an area where I need more focus.

The last thing, but not the only remaining thing, I’d like to mention is going to writers’ conventions/conferences.  This may sound dorky, but going to one of these events has been a dream of mine for a while now.  Watching panels, finding critique groups, and networking is something I think all writers should do, but I have neither the time nor money(although, honestly, I could scrape together the cash if I had the time).  But it’s not just the day or two(some longer) time commitments of the conventions/conferences themselves, there’s also the travel and preparation, which impinges more on time.

Does this all mean I’m not committed?  No.  I stay as involved as possible, but I also value the security that money brings, and I won’t sacrifice that security.  If it was just me, I might be willing to consider it, but having a family makes that sacrifice apply to more than yourself.  The way to solve this is the paradox that I need to sell more so I can have more time to sell more.  Basically, that means I need all of you to get off your asses and buy more of my books.  😊

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Real World vs Writing

Every writer’s dream is to wake up when the sun is warm and spend all day either outlining or writing their latest tome.  You know…take our time, meticulously pour over every plot point and line of dialogue, and figure out the lines of connection between the characters and the story.  And a few writers are able to do this.

Most of us are not.

I have a “regular” job with a large corporation that consumes me during the day.  It pays pretty well and lets me live a lifestyle the way I would like for my family and I.  It also limits my writing time to a few hundred words per day(when I get around to it), as evidenced by the time it is taking to write my most recent novel.

This is the balance most of us have to make until we (ever?) make it.  And in those of us who have to work outside of writing, there’s always a sense of guilt that we’re not devoting the time to writing that we need to in order to break through.  It requires real time sacrifice, which sounds cliché but involves very real trade-offs.  My job time is pretty non-negotiable, so how much of my lunchtime do I give and still eat?  After the clock runs out, do I write or spend time with my kids?  When does the yardwork ever get done?  How about dates with my wife?

Point is that a non-writing job, which most of us have to have to not starve or freeze, severely limits our time to write, which limits our ability to put out new stuff, which limits our ability to break through.  Am I just bitching in general?  Sure, to an extent…but, and I know this will piss off some of those who are full-time writers, I believe it’s harder being a part-time writer due to the need for another job.  Why?  Simply because time is a finite resource.  Without an unlimited supply of it, you cannot meet the writing goals of those who do nothing but write.

I don’t mean to start a writers’ war, because each of us have nuances that others don’t.  I just would like it recognized that those who cry, “Just write full time!” don’t have the full context always.  Like I said, I’d like to have the dream stated in the first paragraph, but as long as we’re wishing, I’d also kinda like to have a pony…

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Blogs vs Novels

Allow me to state the obvious – blogs and novels are different.  I know…shocking!

Although one must be at least a decent writer to do one or the other well, each type of writing requires different skills.  When I write a blog post, it’s a stream of consciousness.  Yes, I have a topic I’m looking to write about, but I don’t plan it out all that much, and I certainly don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on it.  Instead, I use the topic as a guide and write whatever happens to come into my tiny little brain regarding it.  Occasionally something will spin off like a stray electron spinning off into space.  Lots of times, the final product may not even look anything like what I originally thought I was going to write about.  Beyond that, there are extraneous words, especially in the use of adjectives and adverbs that I’d shy away from in writing a novel, mostly because, while I check to make sure everything is spelled properly and makes a modicum of sense, I don’t spend the time editing and shaping a blog post the way I do a novel.

Novels, on the other hand, are deliberate and planned out.  I craft an outline and know basically where it’s headed.  In my outline, I may have very specific action sequences or bits of dialogue I’m looking to use for the effect they create.  After writing a novel, instead of publishing it right away, I’ll put it aside for a bit so I can look at it with fresh eyes, and I do that so I can better edit it and remove those words that don’t directly contribute to the story. 

Of course, novel writing and blogging are different animals, even though both involve writing.  I liken it to playing speed chess versus regular match play.  I was reminded of this while watching The Queen’s Gambit recently, although I should’ve thought of it on my own since I spent a lot of time in my teenage years at chess tournaments and hanging out in chess clubs(yup, I was cool…and still am).  Speed chess is like blogging in that it’s a quick stream of consciousness.  You don’t have time to think through a great deal of strategy, so you just react.  In match play, you plan out your attack in greater detail, and you might spend five minutes(the usual allotted time for your side in a speed chess match) or more on a single move.

So why am I rambling on about this?  Because I don’t want folks to think that the skills are the same, or that every good blogger is capable of being a good novelist(or vice versa).  I think I can both write a good novel and good blog post, but I have to shift mindsets between the two, and any writer worth his or her salt has to do the same.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Why Not Everyday?

Some have asked me why I don’t blog every day?  Obviously I put out a decent amount of content, so why not do it every day?  Well, there are three reasons.

First, I’m pretty busy.  In addition to trying to write novels and blog posts, I have a “regular” job since writing ain’t paying the bills.  I’d love it to, but it doesn’t, and I need to put food on the table and a roof over my head, so any writing is done in my limited spare time.

Second, I don’t want to saturate the net with my stuff.  Three days a week is plenty given the limited availability of topics, and folks can bore easily if they get too much.  Back during the Monday NightWrestling Wars, Monday Night Nitro would give just enough to keep folks interested and yearning to come back for more.  However, when they expanded and started wrapping up storylines in the course of the show, to say nothing of how stupid the storylines became, people got tired of it.  It was just too much, and I don’t want people to tire of my writing.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, I don’t get paid to blog.  I’m doing this for free.  Yes, I enjoy it, but not enough to do it full time without adding coins to my bank account.  Maybe petty and shallow, but still true.  😉

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Nasty Spam

I’ve spoken previously about the negatives associated with engaging nasty comments.  There’s usually no upside.  However, I don’t know that I include spam comments in those rules of engagement.

I despise spam comment.  Do the folks generating these things really think they work?  At all?

I’ve debated whether or not to engage with them.  And by engage, I mean tell them to go the hell away.  Nastily.  I know I appear as sweet as a comb of honey, but I have a mean streak when I get pissed, and I’ve been known to revel in using it.  When I put my mind to it, I can make people feel tiny and stupid.

Of course, that’s not the best trait from a perspective of humanity, and it could draw even more spam comments, despite making me feel (temporarily) better.  Still, the temptation is ever-present.

What do you do regarding spam comments?  Any suggestions?

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Dropping Blogs

As I’ve said before, I like debate.  I want to encourage dissent.  Without those kinds of things, life gets boring(one of my favorite authors even made this point in his book A Call ToArms when the main character was engaging with a newspaper editor, and the editor said, “I like editors and writers who disagree with me.  Keeps things lively.  I don’t know that I’d care for a homogenized world.”).  Take a look at the blogroll to the right, and you’ll see a mish-mash of varying points of view, from Sarah Hoyt to Hugh Howey.  I don’t drop any of them because they may express a point of view I don’t always care for.

That said, I’ve dropped blogs in the past for the way they’ve treated others.  Alternate points of view are fine – and, in fact, welcomed – but don’t get abusive.  A blog I used to enjoy a while back took umbrage at another writer and directed his followers to spam on over and loudly make their displeasure known.  The blog directed against wasn’t even one I was familiar with, but apparently they made an un-PC point, and the blog I used to have on my page thought unleashing the mob would be a good idea.  So yeah, I dropped them like a bad habit.

I’m always on the lookout for good blogs to add to my blogroll, but I’ve also found I have to be careful since so many folks can get abusive quickly in today’s polarized climate.  Encourage discussions; don’t encourage self-righteous mobbings.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Morphing Blog Topics

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a scrap sheet of paper by my desk with the blog topics I come up with for the month.  Whenever I get an idea, I write it down so I won’t forget it.  However, just how faithful my post remains to the original idea is questionable.

When I write a blog topic down, I usually have a pretty specific idea about how I want to handle it.  However, days, sometimes weeks, often go by before I get a chance to sit down and write on the topic.  At that point, unless I was very specific in my note, I find myself improvising a bit, using the topic idea as a jumping off point, but usually straying a little from what I’d originally envisioned(that I now can’t remember).  It got me wondering just what some of my blog posts would look like if I’d sat down and written them at the moment I thought them up.  Of course, that’s not practical since I have this weird thing called “a life,” and my time isn’t always readily available.  Such a shame, for who knows how much stuff has morphed beyond what was originally intended.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Longer Books

I was looking at my bookshelves recently and noticed, once again, how each book in the Harry Potter series got longer.  The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber ofSecrets are fairly short in length, but the books start getting longer once we get to The Prisoner of Azkaban, exploding with The Order of The Phoenix.  Basically, as JK Rowling’s books got more and more popular, as seen by enormous sales, she was given freedom to include more of her vision in the novels.  She’d proven her talents and draw, so she wasn’t as subject to some snarky editor cleaving out large parts of what we’d all love to read.

Editing is essential in our work, but I wonder just how much gets left out that the reader would enjoy.  We tend to trim based on what we think the audience would tolerate, and, truth be told, there are some tomes that need to be cut.  But every so often, you run across a gem that you want so much more of, and that’s where the freedom to tell more comes in.  Still, it seems like readers would only tolerate that kind of stuff once they know and approve of the author.  So it becomes a catch-22 – the reader wants to know you’re good, but once they know, they seem to wish you could go back and write more in what they’ve already read(and approved of).  I’m sure we all have authors and stories we wish had told us more.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Dedicated Writing Time

I love to write.  Given that I’ve published five novels, that point should be obvious.  However, what I’ve discovered is that just finding time to write is difficult.

As some of you know, I spent 24 years in the Army.  Now you may ask how I found time to write several novels while in the military, and the answer is pretty simple – when you’re not doing combat related stuff on deployment, you have almost nothing else to do with what little free time you have beyond eating and sleeping.  There are no games to go to, no kids’ plays to attend, and no road trips to take.  I could’ve sat around and stared at the ceiling of whatever building I was housed in, or I could take time to write a few words.

Back in the real world, on the other hand, there are lots of distractions.  My appreciation for those who have full time jobs and still manage to write new stuff has grown considerably.  My new pace for publishing is likely to slow considerably, and I wasn’t publishing at a blistering pace to begin with.  So if y’all want to see more of my work on a more regular/faster basis, then help put me in a financial position to do this full time.  😜