Ursula Le Guin's Morals

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

February 21, 2011 -- 12:25 a.m.

Ursula Le Guin posted a satirical response to Harper's new decision contract clause that polices writer morals.

Wow...Ursula Le Guin blogs. Who knew?

Top 10 Insights From LTUE 2011

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

February 20, 2011 -- 10:45 p.m.

Beautiful cover for Karen Mahoney's Iron Witch. It would stop me absolutely dead in the bookstores. Everything is perfect, from the curve of the arm mirroring the swirls on the background to the biggest drops of color coming from the jewels in her hand.

I thought we'd see more witch in high school stories along with the Vampire craze. I always loved Willow best of any Buffy character. It frightens me a little that Buffy the Vampire Slayer started its run 13 years ago. I'm getting old... (*weep.)

I went to LTUE and enjoyed it. I was in a cranky mood part of the time so I was more Scrooge-like than I usually am, mostly because some authors tended to drop into English teacher mode, which is "Let's define things" instead of "Let's talk about writing" (The first twenty minutes of the Dystopian panel, I'm looking at you!!!)

My joy was not assisted by questions from a certain class of writers who seem to be shouting "Look At Me! Look at ME!!!" during Q&A. IE, asking, "My book is about this, is that okay?"

My response to my fellow audience members is, "Will you stop writing your book just because I say no?" If so, you're not cut out for this life. And if you'll write it anyway, regardless of the answer, why ask the question? Why seek validation from authors who haven't actually read your work?

I practiced my pitch to the editor of a small press and got shot down, which was expected. I didn't think my story quite fit her line, and she agreed with me. Good practice. Hopefully I wasn't annoying. It really is hard to sum up a story in 15 words or less. Unfortunately, the words you say in front of a mirror aren't always the words that come out of your mouth, either. And there's the strangled, fast, sweaty tone. This was my first time ever doing it, so I'll give myself a little leeway.

My worst fears are confirmed that agents/editors are being glutted with post-apocalyptic stories like Skin Farm. I would have been able to finish and query my book much sooner if I hadn't gone back and revised my first novel, so I'm a little frustrated I may have killed a book just because of poor timing. I will make sure I try the regional presses when I query in hopes that they may be less swamped. I need to read more locally published books to see if I fit in with what they're selling. James Dashner and Brandon Mull both started in local publishing, as did Ally Condie.

My friend/fellow writing group member Stephen will be posting videos of some of the lectures and panels, so anyone who didn't get to go can still get some insight. My favorite panel was probably when author John Brown broke Hunger Games down scene-by-scene and chapter by chapter, showing us the mechanics behind why Katniss so easily grabs both our attention and our sympathy. I love working with other people to strip away the smoke and mirrors behind good books. He said he'll post his slides on his website, here. It's full of good advice for new writers.

Anyway, here are my Top 10 insights from LTUE:

10) If you want your books to do well internationally, you might want to create characters from different races/backgrounds.

9) Part of the reason urban fantasy is so popular is because of its low learning curve. It's easier for readers to get into the world because everything's the same, except for one significant change, (IE, witches are real). Not everyone has the time or desire to understand the thick, complex otherworlds of your B.A.F.S.

8) Author Paul Genesse uses the Myers-Briggs personality archetypes to help shape his characters. Too technical for me, but I've never heard that method before. Probably because I put the I in INTJ.

7) From John Brown's Hunger Games lecture. Every single book only has a small audience. Even for big-time authors like Stephen King, while millions of people pick up his books, even more people hate him/don't read him. So whenever you write a book, your audience is going to be relatively small. Ergo, you should take other people's advice with a grain of salt NOT because they're wrong but because they might be the wrong target audience. (For example, Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson weren't fond of Hunger Games because they'd seen the story before, while the teenage audience that carried it to NYT bestseller status hadn't been exposed to The Most Dangerous Game/Battle Royale. My younger brother hates Wheel of Time and G.R.R.M.)

6) New authors are frequently advised to put their characters in pain. In response to a question, "How dark is too dark?" James Dashner said that too dark is when a character's pain is meaningless. You can torture your character, but don't do it for no reason. I asked a similar question to Brandon Sanderson in his class. I asked, "How do you create a necessary sense of progress while also making your characters face miserable amounts of set-backs?" The answer was to give your characters successes with one hand and kidney punches with the other.

5) From Dave Farland's lecture: When it comes to editing, don't try to tackle everything in the first go-around. He separates his own editing process into multiple stages. I know I waste too much time with line/syllabic editing early on, so it's advice I should listen to. The problem is, I never do.

4) To quote John Brown: "Manure is Gold. Cherish your crappy ideas." In a brainstorming session, we looked at stereotypical, boring ideas and turned them into interesting ones. We were dealing with ghosts. I think my favorite two were, "Ghost Labor Unions" and "A People-Whisperer" (ie, the only ghost in a ghost society who can talk to people). Either of these could make an interesting book. I came up with the idea of a ridiculous Pro-Wrestler's ghost. Think of Hulk Hogan's ghost haunting an arena, trying to scare people. Go on. Try not to laugh.

3) There's a reason big totalitarian governments are so common in dystopian stories. Because a) they make sense from a world-building perspective, since tyrannical govts logically arise after great economic/social stresses. b) they create easy sympathy with the character, because an all-oppressive government turns them into an instant underdog. If you want your novel to have the same sort of menace but don't want to use a government, find something else that has that same atmosphere of oppression. I like this advice because it transcends genres. Threats to your heroes should always feel oppressively, well, threatening.

2) Turning old tropes on their head can be good advice, but consider your audience. Larry Correia's wife got sick of goody-goody Tolkein rip-off elves, so he created "Trailer Park Elves" for his book, Monster Hunters International. But Dan Wells once pitched a story about vampires who were a twist on the trope because they were total, absolute losers and was told that you can't sell novels about vampires who...uh, suck...to an audience that loves vampires. So the advice is be original, but know your audience too.

1) Some babies have really big lungs. Seriously, lungs must make up half an infant's weight. I can't think of any other reason so much sound can exude from something so small.

I'm done!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

February 10, 2011

I'm done with the GRE. I ended up with a good score -- 1430 or so evenly split. I think so, anyway. I'm not entirely sure since I skipped through that screen kind of fast because I was just glad to be done. I think, ironically enough, I got the same verbal score on the GRE that I did on the SAT even though I studied a lot harder this time. Looking at the estimated percentile breakdowns, it looks like I'm probably going to end up in the top 5% in verbal, but only the top 25% in math. You have to get a ridiculously high math score to get in the top 5% in math. Stupid fellow overachievers.

It was weird. I wasn't feeling stressed out at all before the test, or during the writing part, but when I started on the rest of the test itself I broke down nervously and completely. They really should give you longer breaks, and maybe give you the option to break your test up over two days. 3+ hours is a long, painful time to sit, and the one minute breaks between the verbal and math sections wasn't long enough for me to go to the bathroom, especially since I had to go through the whole security/gestapo thing every time I came back to the room. I guess they were worried I'd pull a Michael-Corleone-in-Godfather moment, except with test answers instead of a handgun.

I think I'd get a better score if I did it again, although the marginal improvement is probably not worth it. Especially, I think I'd do better in math. I ran out of time in math, estimating and clicking wildly. I answered the final question with less than 5 seconds left on the clock. All in all, I found the test material useful for helping prepare for the test, but unfortunately the test prep material tends to use the same vocab and similar math questions and so doing them, I fell into a sort of rhythm, and then the actual GRE used different words and different sorts of math problems so it threw me off. I found the majority of real test questions harder than their counterparts in the study material--something to consider if anyone else needs to prepare for this monster.

The testing experience wasn't helped by the fact that the computer program uses one of the oldest, oddest fonts I've ever seen on a faded screen that made it hard to see. I spent thirty seconds trying to decide if the thing on screen was a "7" or an upside-down capital L, and looking back, I'm still not completely sure. The only thing that let me know is that I couldn't think why anyone would use an upside-down capital L for anything. Anyway, the font reminded me of the old DOS computer days, because it was so highly pixelated.

As to the writing test, well, in the analytical essay, the real world examples I used tended to be on the obvious side, and I realized I'd contradicted myself halfway through, which wasn't good, but it was too late to change things, so hopefully the testers won't notice that part. Fellow nerds will be happy to know I started and ended my essay with Star Trek quotes. I didn't have time to edit so I have no clue how well-written it was, though it felt good while I was writing it. I suspect I knocked the argumentative essay out of the park. I ended that one with a pune, or a play on words (anyone who's not a Terry Pratchett fan probably won't get that. You can read about it under literature here).

At the end of the test, I thought I had bombed terribly, so the 700+ scores that splashed up on the screen came as an incredible relief, even with the upside-down L font.

I wish I could sleep for a week.

A Truly Profound Question

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

February 7, 2011 -- 7:01 a.m.

From The Onion's review of Orson Scott Card's book, Lost Gate:
Ever notice how nobody ever writes a series about a young boy with an amazing knack for toilet cleaning and tax reform?
Now that's a writing prompt.

"I knew we should have played Chutes and Ladders"

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

February 6, 2011

Community did a AD&D episode last week. A lot of TV series have done a one-off episode involving D&D, but I can't remember seeing one this fun in awhile. Part of it was the little details. The orchestral Enya type music. The dramatic fade-ins. The loving craft of someone who knows the community. Odd, that they were doing 2nd edition, but that's the one I grew up with so I liked it all the more. I haven't had a chance to play since third came out. It's hard finding a group with the right chemistry who has the necessary time to burn.

I especially loved Pierce's throne created out of crates and traffic cones in imitation of a traditional bad guy's throne of bones. Or whatever. Wondered why the players weren't the ones rolling the dice.

Anyway, it was fun but a bit raunchy, so not for the youngins. Catch it on hulu if you have time.

I went to a book sale at the Provo Library and loaded myself down with like 20 books. Hard to resist at $1 a pop. Some of them were old favorites. Mistborn. Anne McCaffrey. Some of them I've never seen before but looking interesting. I'll tell you if they're any good.

School is going well. I had my first test last week and scored a 95%. I wish I had more time for extra-curricular activities. The book I'm writing for my creative writing class is going reasonably well. I've done 20,000 of the 50,000 required words. I'm frustrated because the book looks like it's going to be far bigger than is remotely marketable for a new author, but so is any epic fantasy I try to write. How can I write something less than 200,000 words when all the books I read, study and love are that long? I'm going to finish it anyway, for fun and practice. And who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky. What I should probably do is separate two of the characters off into their own book, but I don't want to. They all fit so nicely together. The world is too complicated, though. I'm trying to find ways to simplify it.

It's weird because this is the first time I've tried writing POVs separately. The syllabus told us to pick one character and write them all the way through. In some ways, it's helpful because I'm getting to know this one character very intimately. Unfortunately, it's also making me lose confidence in the book, because I can't imagine how I can make any character as deep and interesting as the one I'm currently writing. Also, I'm not sure how I'll make the other characters' voices distinct from hers, since hers is close to my natural internal style. I think the only way I have a shot at doing that will be to write those characters separately from start to finish as well and then do the interweaving after, which will mean keeping track of what information should go where. Sigh.

I admire Brandon Sanderson even more now that I've watched his lectures. He's incredibly intelligent and thoughtful. I suspect he sees me as a strange, spastic girl who talks too much and has a tendency to be less than tactful. For some reason, when I get around good authors, my brain short-circuits and I behave oddly. And since I always behave oddly, that means I behave REALLY oddly. I wish I had better control over my mouth. Sometimes, when I get nervous, it's like I develop temporary Tourette's.

Well, I expect he's met worse.

I take my GRE Weds in Salt Lake. I got sick of studying and so haven't for awhile. I need to review again, to remind myself of formulas and strange vocab. My practice scores have gotten much better though. I think I'll get a good score. Whether I get a great score depends on the day. Cross your fingers for me.