Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dated Pop Culture

Okay, Bob was right.

When I first wrote Ninth Wave, I wanted to have Brenna use TV and movie references. Having her make those references was part of a character quirk I wanted to use, partly because at the time I didn't have as good a handle on her as I should have. When I turned in the manuscript the first time, my agent told me to remove all those pop culture references because they dated the book. Well, when they're current, that's no problem, but years or even decades later? I am currently reading a perfect example of how those kinds of pop culture references can date a book, just like Bob said. I'm glad he made me take out the movie references in my novel.

I'm reading books by two different authors who wrote back in the 1980's, and while I get all their pop culture references because they're from the time frame when I was in high school and college, not everyone who reads those books will find them familiar. My daughter certainly won't, though she's heard at least some of the music. For me, reading them is like a blast from the past, and I'm not sure whether I actually enjoy it or not. The stories are both great, but the dated culture...well, let's just say that I think I prefer to read about things either in the present or within the last decade, rather than things that are obviously from twenty to thirty years ago. Alternatively, I'd rather read about something very, very old--so old that it seems new again.

That said, even when it isn't a reference to pop culture, something else will probably date the books being written today, whether it's the make and model of a car, a style of phone, a computer, or just about anything. That's the only problem with modern urban fantasy. Twenty years from now, the tech of today will be obsolete, and these books, too, will be dated. The stories will still be great, but it'll be my kids reading them and saying, "Wow, what a blast from the past."

No matter how much people may gripe about epic fantasies set in vaguely European medieval cultures, these stories are fortunate enough not to be dated in quite the same way as stories set in a time frame that living people can actually remember. It may be that the medieval stories will one day seem fresher than the pop-culture-laden stories of today. I guess in about twenty or so years, we'll have to see.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Short and Sweet

The short story is done. That's the interesting thing about the subconscious--you set it to work on something and sooner or later it will serve up whatever it was that you ordered. (Of course, you might have asked for something on the order of apple pie and got lemon merangue instead, but often the things that happen unexpectedly are the best.) I had to spend quite a bit of time last night preparing several mini books for eBay, so it was late by the time I got done. At that point, I still didn't have anything to bring to Moxie today, so I opened a blank document and put fingers to keyboard. I threw out the previous two or three beginnings altogether and used an entirely different POV, who turned out to be the perfect narrator. Next thing I knew, nearly 4,000 words and about four hours had gone by, and I was extremely hungry. I have never had a whole story come out that cleanly in the first draft before, in one marathon session. It wasn't easy to wake up after only three or so hours of sleep and get to my meeting, but determination laced with caffeine did the job. I've run the story by four people so far, and they all reacted exactly the same way to it. I believe something along the lines of "wow" was the consensus. Now that's an amazing feat, just when I needed one! If this story doesn't sell, I'll eat my magic hat.

Now to format it and pick a magazine to send it to.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Decent Human Being

I must now sing the praises of a stranger on the Internet, who provided a solution to a very perplexing and potentially expensive problem.

Somewhere between two and three years ago, I bought a Laser Jet 2600n for Pookatales Press. Awhile back, I began noticing a variance in the distribution of the magenta toner on some of the images I printed out, but assumed the cartridge just needed to be shaken to redistribute the toner.

That wasn't the problem. I replaced the nearly-empty color cartridges, but when some of my mini book text wasn't as dark as it should be and the graphics looked faded, my husband and I started looking into the problem. Nothing helped--not recalibration and not bumping up of pixels or toner intensity--nothing. When we printed a test page, everthing else looked okay, but the magenta looked...faded. I assumed the cartridge was damaged, and went out the next day to replace it. That didn't fix the problem, and I had nothing else to try. So I Googled a question about why my printer was not printing the magenta correctly--hoping that by chance, someone would have an answer. And they did.

Turns out the HP Color Laser Jet 2600 series all have a common design flaw: the mirrors deep inside get gunked up with dust and toner, especially the mirror that is on the bottom. The magenta cartridge is on the bottom, which is why it shows symptoms first, but eventually all the colors will get faded and icky. HP apparently hasn't addressed the problem, but someone took one of the printers apart and figured out what was causing the issue. Not only that, but he made a PDF file with detailed instructions (including pictures) for how to take apart the printer and clean the gunked-up mirrors. I was extremely impressed. I found the question and Mark Froggatt's reply on this page, with the PDF file of the instructions attached to his post.

This person has just saved me a lot of money and hassle. Of course, the Huz was the one who got to take apart the printer and put it back together again, but he says that he'd never have dared go so far into the innards of the printer without those directions. We'd have had to replace an otherwise perfectly good printer after use for less than three years, had this person not taken the time and trouble to put a solution out there for anyone to use. Some days I actually gain back some faith in my fellow humans. This was one of those days.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


The last time I talked to my agent, he was very happy that the last round of edits to The Ninth Wave were done, and we talked about which editor's desk it would land on next. I can't say a lot about that at the moment, but it was going to a very, very good place, so until I hear otherwise, I'll keep hoping for the best. While he was very happy to hear about the last critique, the rewrite and the results thereof, he wanted to know whether I had anything else to tell him. Did I have any story credits, any other contest results, any other irons in the fire that might prove useful? I didn't . I wish I did. Therein lies my problem: credentials and the lack thereof.

Last year, The Ninth Wave was one of the eight finalists in the PNWA writing contest's Science Fiction/Fantasy category. They told me that it's very, very hard to final in this contest, and that last year they had a record number of entries. So that was huge for me. But it wasn't an actual publication credit. Due to the special crit, the rewrite and my kids' correspondence school schedule snafus, I haven't had time to enter any other contests. And I have a very hard time writing short things. Remember my trouble with the synopsis? I got the thing down to three and a half pages. Whoohoo. If I needed a one-page synopsis, I'm not sure how I'd do it. I have written a few short stories, (all in the epic fantasy genre) but I sent all those out years ago and when they didn't get published, I used them as text for my miniature books. So all my short stories have been self-published. The distribution was so low that it hardly counts, but technically I can't offer first publication rights on them since they came out through Pookatales Press. Some of the limited edition copies were sold to people in other countries. The books are even listed on Amazon, though they don't have all the information and you can't buy them from there. They are still available through my Pookatales Press website, and I sometimes sell them on eBay.

If I need to pull another magic rabbit out of my hat and come up with some other little tidbit of credibility, I guess I need to write a brand new short story, then submit it to the current roster of fantasy 'zines.

Gah! I so rarely write short! I don't like doing it. In the hopes of writing a new short story to take to the Moxie this weekend, I've been messing with an idea all week long, and I must have rewritten the first thousand words at least three times already. For whatever reason, I find it's harder for me to throw out a thousand words of a novel than to throw out an entire short story if it isn't going well. So of the maybe 3000 total words written this week, I've probably thrown out 2500 of them. I feel like I need this short story for the potential credit...but I'd really rather just keep writing on the second Brenna novel.

If I can't get a really good start on a short story--any short story--before Sunday, I'm going to bag it and just write on the Brenna book. Or maybe I'll manage to do both. I was hoping that doing some more work on Brigid's Forge could be my reward for writing a tight, edgy short story that I can shop around to magazines. Sigh.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hardcovers vs Paperbacks

Wow, my fingers are tingling. The huz was working out in the garage, which is insulated but not heated, and I went out there to talk to him. By the end of the conversation, I was more chilled than I realized. Now I'm in my office, and my fingers are tingling as they warm up. It's interesting trying to type like this--kind of like trying to talk after you've just eaten ice cream.

Note to self: It isn't spring yet.

When the new Patricia Briggs book, Bone Crossed, came out in hardcover, I had two different opinions about the change. Like many others, I'd been waiting eagerly for the next installment in the Mercy Thompson series. Of course, all my other copies are in paperback, since that's how the series started out. Now the fourth book comes out and it's in hardcover, which leaves me with the same dilemma that every other book buyer has. Do I buy it in hardcover, or do I wait for a year for the paperback version to come out? Well, my answer is "yes."

The issue is complex. First, I can choose to afford the hardcover if I really want to, but with money as tight as it is, I shouldn't. I should spend the money on food, or bills, or something like that. But I don't. I buy the hardcover for several reasons. One, I want to support Patty's success. She deserves the switch to hardcover, to the big time. I know the book will be fabulous, and I really do love hardcover books, so I don't mind owning the hardcover. It's beautiful, and I'm proud to have it on my shelf.'s expensive, so in the weeks before its release I waffle about it. I put my name on the waiting list at the library, where I clock in at number sixteen for the hold. My intentions are to be patient, save money, and wait for the paperback, yet still get to read the story--at least within a few months of its coming out. But we all know I'll cave. I'll at least go to the bookstore and sit in one of their comfy chairs and read the book there in hardcover. I don't have to buy it. But husband and kids love Mercy, too, and they probably won't have the time or ability to go to the store, sit in the chair and read the book for free. They, too, can wait until the library's copy is made available to us. But who wants to wait? I don't, so I can't expect them to. Plus, if I read the hardcover in the store and don't buy it, but then I want people to buy my books when they're published, what does that make me? I can't hope people will spend money on my books when I'm not prepared to spend money on other people's books, even if I am broke. So what do I do?

I rush to the store and buy the book in hardcover on release day, of course. And then I devour the story over the course of the next two days. Then I promptly start reading it out loud to the Huz...he likes it when I read, and it's good practice for my own author readings someday. So less than a week goes by, I've bought the hardcover, and I've read it twice. When the paperback comes out, I'll buy it, too; it'll match the rest of the series already on my shelves. I've paid it forward, I've supported an author I love, and I'm still broke, so one book more or less isn't going to make a huge difference. I'm really happy about Patty's success, and wish her all the best as her star continues to rise.

The writer in me looks forward to the day when I'm successful enough for my books to come out in hardcover, which the addicted readers will then buy because they can't not do so. It's not that I'd really want to cost them even more of their hard-earned money; I doubt I'd see that much of it anyway. For me, it's not about me getting more money. It's about how well my work can capture the readers' interest. I want my work to be good enough that readers would be willing to spend extra money just to get a new book fix. That's a serious gauge of how good an author is at the writing craft. What writer wouldn't want to be that good?

If I, the reader, am not willing to spend extra money to buy your hardcover, then...I guess I'm just not that into you. If I hurl my money at the hardcover because I can't not have my book fix, then you've hooked me and reeled me in long ago, and no change in book format is going to shake me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Notes Posted

Okay, promise kept. I said I'd post the notes from my urban fantasy presentation over on Genre Bender, and I did. As I said before, they're very basic. But I promised I'd post them for those who missed the last Boise Spec-Fic meeting or for anyone who's just curious. (Genre Bender has some great articles by unpublished writers for unpublished writers; they're worth a look.)

Monday, February 09, 2009


One of the great things about being in a critique group is that you get to see your partners' manuscripts before anyone else does. You get to make comments, point out things that you loved or things that bother you about the other people's stories, and generally be in on the stage when the gems are rough--before they're tumbled and polished to a fine gloss. It's fun to watch the process, to look at a polished piece and know what it looked like before it was polished. Kind of like looking at your friends' kids and saying, "Gee, I remember when she was in diapers, and now she's all grown up, tall and beautiful."

There is another side to that, though. You see a rough draft. You suggest changes. The crit partner makes changes, then brings the manuscript back with the changes in place, but in many cases, it still looks much the same. You go through it again, maybe catch a few more things that need to be fixed, make comments, and then the writer takes the work home again and makes more changes. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. By the time you see the supposedly final, polished, submittable version, you've often read the manuscript so many times that your eyes are starting to cross and you're tempted to skim. But that's exactly the time when you shouldn't skim. If there are errors in there now, chances are the writer has gotten tunnel vision as well and can't see the few little typos or other issues that may be there, as yet undetected by anyone because of the more glaring errors that stole the spotlight in earlier drafts. The writer might even have added errors by mistake while writing that final draft, and just can't see them to save his soul--or his manuscript.

This is often the stage that benefits the most from completely fresh eyes, but sometimes there just are no fresh eyes available. So it's up to the crit partners to read just as carefully the fifth time through as they did the first. I try, but occasionally I still find myself tempted to skim a scene I've already read in triplicate. When my friend who is entering the contest sent us her final draft this last week, I took a few days' break from reading it and then finished it up at Sunday's Moxie meeting. And even though I'd read it more than once before, I'm glad I didn't skim. This final version was tight and fast, and I could see where all the fat had been edited out of it. All the slow parts were gone. It held my attention despite the fact that I'd seen it so many times before, because it was so polished. It was like looking at a friend whom you've only ever seen in blue jeans or cutoffs, only this time she's wearing an evening gown and looks like she's ready for the Emmys. It was the kind of transformation that makes you say you're proud that you "knew her when...".

But with a smile and a nod for my crit partner, I'm glad this entry is ready to go out the door, and doesn't need to try on another dress. Good job! Heaven knows, you've read my stuff time and again in the past; it's good to return the favor.