Do You Ever Save Earlier Drafts?

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I’ve been toying with the idea of saving earlier drafts of stories I write. It’s an opportunity to take a look at how I draft a story, and a look at how ideas change over time. Of course, there’s an unhealthy side of this: part of me always likes looking at my mistakes.

With other media, people get a chance to look behind the scenes and see what goes into making that thing work. Movies have extra features, TV shows do the same, and there are plenty of documentaries detailing other work. Writing doesn’t get that treatment, because the magic happens with fingers hacking away at a keyboard or with a ink-splattered hand scribbling across paper. Well, not the latter for me, because nobody can read my handwriting – including me.

Good writing involves cultivating those serendipitous moments into a coherent whole. Nobody gets to see it happening before their eyes, which is a shame. Even when I’m writing, sometimes it takes me going back over a passage to really appreciate what I’ve got. The closest I’ll ever get is to compare an earlier draft with a later one, but that still quite doesn’t capture the magic of telling a story.

Still, I wish I had the presence of mind to save some earlier drafts that I liked but ended up not going with. I think if people truly realized some of the stuff writers go through in delivering a story, they might get appreciated more. Or maybe it’s just a chance to share more than what’s on the page.

What do you think?

Putting the Social Back in Social Media

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Talking is something I generally like to do. I will find any excuse to chat with people at any time. Writing – to me at least – is just a more permanent form of chatting with people. However, all of this changes when I’m focused on a project, because I do not multitask very well.

In today’s day and age, we’re able to be more connected to each other via technology. Selling books relies heavily on this, and writers are supposed to be heavily invested in social media. Personally, I don’t mind spending entire days reading blog posts and conversing with people. Since it gets in the way of my writing, I can’t afford to do it as much as I’d like.

At times this can be incredibly frustrating, because I feel antisocial. Naturally it’s in my head (along with a lot of other things competing for my attention). Rather than let it get me down, I try to turn it into something to look forward to. Right now I can’t spend as much time here and on other media as I want.

Soon, I hope to spend more time visiting all the wonderful places I’ve found over the past few months. For the moment, I have to settle for just quietly hitting the like button.

Self-Published Books Are Real Books Too

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If you don’t follow the amazing Linda G. Hill, check out this post about a Facebook discussion she was privy to. I was going to comment, but I ended up writing a rant of my own. Some people in person have expressed similar opinions that trash self-publishing as prone to errors. It’s not really fair to self-published authors. Below is the comment I wanted to add (but ended up getting away from me).

I can’t think of any work I’ve read that didn’t have some typo, error, or mistake. Writers juggle hundreds of thousands of words (that’s including the ones that make it and the ones written down and then deleted). One, two, or even ten mistakes out of thousands of opportunities isn’t a good reason to trash a book. This happens no matter how the book gets published, because the writing process is different from the publishing process.

Even the quality of self-published books gets a bad rap. Other publishers used to publish crap all the time. For example, meet Tanaka Tom, the Six-Gun Samurai from Georgia. Here is its Goodreads review. I’ve read some of it, and suffice it to say I didn’t like it. Despite my personal tastes, there are some people who actually like the story. Different people have different tastes in entertainment, and books are no exception.

For people who are skeptical of self-published books, remember that there are thousands of new writers putting stuff out there. This volume of work means that even companies which sell these books cannot always read a reader’s mind. It takes readers to actually find and recommend good writers and books to others. If one typo is enough to make you put down a book, that’s fine. Just please do not assume that everyone else has the same attitude towards good books.

Self-published books are just as good as their traditionally published counterparts. If anything, they highlight the difficulty in writers putting together a story good enough for many different people to enjoy. I’ve been told that on average, a self-published book will sell 10 copies. Beat that average, and you’re a success. Unfortunately, 10 books means a writer gets paid a pittance for many hours of labor. In traditional publishing the sales are higher, but that’s only because writers need it to earn back their advance. Thus, writing only gets done because writers love telling stories.

Litter Mysteries

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I live out in rural Alabama, where there is plenty of green space to see as you drive along the country roads. Most people might enjoy seeing what there is to see of nature out in rural America, but there are still a few people who think the ditches are perfect for waste disposal. While people drive along they can’t see what gets thrown out. However, I take strolls along these roads, and I get to see all kinds of things people throw out.

Normally the trash is fairly standard. People who drive practice applied laziness here in my neck of the woods, so although they’ll get crumbs or spilled beer in their cars, they can’t bear the thought of the wrapper or can remaining after they’ve finished. It’s a convoluted calculus.

But then there are times when I see something get thrown out that I end up wondering how it got there. These are things that beg for explanation, even if it’s purely conjecture. And on my walk Thursday, I noticed something truly inexplicable: an air freshener inside a used condom.

Now that I’ve shared this with the Internet, I feel better.

If anyone can provide an explanation for this particular combination of country litter, I’d be more than happy to entertain theories.

Beta Readers

This past Saturday I went to a presentation about publicizing books. One of the things we talked about was beta readers. Although beta readers shouldn’t replace a good copy editor, they can really help give a reader’s perspective of your manuscript. In fact, a published author at the presentation said it’s always a good idea to get readers to look at your work, not just writers. After all, readers are generally the target audience for books anyways.

At any rate, I’ve been looking at some resources to get a good idea for if I ever wanted to use beta readers myself. I found this helpful list which goes into some broad details about how to treat beta readers well. I also found a beta reader group on Goodreads, though I’ve never used it to look for help with a manuscript before.

If you’ve had experience with beta readers before, I’d love to hear from you. According to some of the writers I’ve spoken with, they can be a blessing or a curse. Any tips or tricks would be much appreciated.

Science Stuff to Ponder: Floating Over Venus

I love SciShow Space. They’re a great resource for all kinds of space-related tidbits of information. It’s also a great channel to provide new things to consider for sci-fi plot lines. In fact, here’s a video I was ecstatic to come across:

I’m a bit biased when it comes to Venus.
The first book I ever wrote (it’s unpublished, though I should have done more with it) featured people colonizing Venus on floating structures. Naturally, seeing similar speculation where it might come true is always an awesome feeling. Hopefully many other people who dream about floating high in another planet’s atmosphere can get excited about this too. It’s something that draws me to science fiction; today’s daydreams could actually become tomorrow’s reality.

The best thing: someone reading this could very well be a future visitor or colonist to Venus. How awesome is that?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Image credit: Douglas Raymond.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

If I’m being completely honest, I’d have to say that I forgot today was even a holiday. It took Google to remind me (and then remind me again). A younger, more party-enthusiastic version of myself would be ashamed. St. Patrick’s Day is a great holiday for getting together with people and tossing a few drinks back. The more I think about it, though, I realize that I must have had a little luck.

I don’t really believe in luck, though. Sure, there are things in life which are outside any person’s control, and those things can be fortuitous. In that way, luck might be a thing, but I don’t think anyone can control it. If there was a way, I’m pretty sure those people would be in Las Vegas getting rich at the craps tables. That’s what I’d do with it, at least for a little while.

Regardless of whether anyone believes in luck or in the trappings of St. Patrick’s Day, I think that it’s a good idea to take stock in your own good fortune. Luck, I think, involves some sort of positive outlook, a way to search for and appreciate when good things happen. That can’t always be a bad thing. Like the green beer people might drink today, it’s enjoyed best in moderation and with good cheer.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and may you all have whatever luck you can find!

Vox Deae

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Lucy was having the same dream again, one of those weird, embarrassing ones that nobody could ever figure out. She heard a knock at the front door and went to answer it, lamenting that she was still in her pajamas. Throwing open the portal, she saw a young man wearing a tight blue shirt. He flashed her a perfect, toothy smile that made her forget what she was even doing. His cologne reminded her of an ex, one of the few who ended things on good terms. “Hi,” he said, holding out a hand.

A voice rumbled out from below, “GIVE HIM TO ME.” The deep tones shook the ground she stood on, rattling the pictures on the walls and the teeth in her skull. If the man noticed, he made no sign of showing it.

He did, however, see Lucy change her expression. “Is everything okay?” he asked, putting another hand on hers.

Somehow, Lucy felt the cold metal of a wrench in her free hand. “I think I have to do this,” she said apologetically, sorry for something she didn’t fully understand. Bringing up the wrench, she swung it down hard on the man’s head, opening his skull. She pulled him inside and shut the door behind him.

“GIVE HIM TO ME,” the voice commanded, this time rumbling just enough to open the door to her basement. Lucy dragged her victim, his hands still grasping hers, towards the dark chamber.

Awaking with a scream, Lucy sat straight up. Her heart felt like she’d just run a marathon, and her pillow felt like it had been completely soaked. “Strange,” she said, lifting it up. Her sheets weren’t wet, but she saw a dark spot on the wall behind her headboard. Pushing on the drywall, she heard a squishing noise. “No!” she screamed. A pipe must have busted in the wall.

Frantically she darted out of bed and ran around the corner to a utility closet. Dragging out a toolbox, she tossed hammers and screwdrivers out until she laid hands on a hefty wrench. She ran into the bathroom and threw open the cabinet underneath her sink. Her house was over a century old, and she had to toss out all the crap she kept under the sink to get at the old cutoff valve. Throwing the wrench onto the valve head, she threw her entire weight into twisting it closed. With a creaky protest, the valve turned and she couldn’t hear the sound of any water. “Perfect,” she said, angry that she’d have to call a plumber again. Whatever gremlins haunted this place, they struck again.

Downstairs, Lucy heard a knock at her front door. “Oh shit,” she said. Of course she’d get a visitor right now while she was still in pajamas. Lucy took a deep breath and marched down the stairs to the door, throwing it wide open. She saw a young man wearing a tight blue shirt that read, “Howard & Sons, plumbers.”

“Hi,” he said, flashing a perfect smile with perfect white teeth. “You called us about a leaking kitchen faucet?”

“Yes!” Lucy said, completely forgetting that she already had someone coming today. “While you’re here, could you also take a look at a busted pipe?”

The man laughed. “I came at the right time,” he said. He held out a hand. Lucy took it, and felt something dreadfully familiar. Her dream came flooding into her mind, and the man’s hand felt exactly the same. She froze, dreading what usually happened next. He seemed to notice her change in demeanor, and he reached out with his other hand.

Underneath her bare feet, Lucy felt a low rumble shake her house. Almost imperceptibly, the pictures on the walls clattered, and a vase she kept near the front door tipped over and shattered. The plumber looked to his right in curiosity. Behind her, she heard the door to the basement creak open.

“I think I have to do this,” she said apologetically, sorry for something she didn’t fully understand. Lucy brought up her wrench and swung as hard as she could.

Sciencey Fiction: Is FTL Travel Even Worth Putting In Stories?

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Okay, so whether it’s warp drives, hyperdrives, wormholes, or any other sort of engine, science fiction used to be dominated by ships that hurled people in faster than light (FTL) travel. Stories sometimes didn’t even really care how it got done, focusing more on the pure whimsy of going from planet to planet on a never-ending odyssey. A really good short example of what I’m talking about is the Spaceman Spiff stories in the old Calvin & Hobbes comics. Nowadays, it’s hard to find that carefree travel kind of story.

Part of it is for good reason: the laws of physics currently don’t allow for FTL travel. The short dirty reason I’ve always been told is that it takes an infinite amount of energy to just get to the speed of light. Science fiction needs to have some amount of science integral to the story, and breaking the laws of physics feels like cheating. Moreover, lacking good science in a science fiction story can quickly turn something into fantasy rather than sci-fi.

But I also see a loss here. Sometimes (like in Star Trek) the story just makes an assumption that humanity will eventually increase its body of knowledge to the point of using new discoveries to tackle current impossibilities. There is a kernel of hope in some brands of science fiction that looks forward to the future with eagerness and not hostility or cynicism. FTL travel can signify that in a way that almost went without saying. It admits that physics are still physics, but people can overcome any problem through using knowledge.

Does this mean that FTL travel is a relic of an idealistic past, or is it something worth keeping around? As a fan of the genre, I think that it depends on the story being told. FTL travel shouldn’t be a crutch to excuse bad science or to gratuitously throw a story into the sci-fi genre. It should be used almost as a literary device, a way to paint a story with an optimistic tone.