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AHOY.

I’m outta here.

FOR GOOD.

Okay not really. I’m just traveling for the next mumble-mumble several days, so you won’t see me back with posts until sometime next week. In the meantime I will be cavorting around the Pacific Northwest, causing trouble and delivering shenanigans and doing a jig on your social norms and mores. Or something. Shut up.

In my stead, I have given you a flower.

That flower is a gayfeather. That is really its name.

At the bottom of the post is also a lovely, cuddly photo, in that it is a photo of a grass-carrying wasp cuddling a stung, paralyzed tree cricket as it levers the bug into a hole under a patio chair in order to feed the cricket to her WASP BABBIES.

Ain’t nature sweet?

Also, do not forget, this week is:

DARTH VADER, ANNUAL #2, by me and Leonard Kirk and with a Mike Deodato cover. It features Vader getting up to some REAL SHIT with Tarkin and Krennic and the nascent Death Star, y’all. You might get a little stardust in your eye if you’re not careful.

Have a great week, frandos.

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We have our first winner in the Awkward Author Photo Contest.

It’s this fella, who appears to be wearing himself on his own shirt.

I don’t know why I picked it. It sang to me. Like a sweetly awkward song. It feels earnest, authentic, but still preciously gooby.

WELL DONE, JD BUFFINGTON.

Now, it’s your turn.

Here are the rest — there are 40 more submissions.

They are utterly weird and wonderful. You will find some familiar faces in here, perhaps.

Your job now is:

Pick your favorite.

Just one.

JUST ONE.

Go to the comments section below.

Type in the number of your favorite photo — the number that corresponds with the photo in Flickr. Aka, the photo’s title.

That’s it.

Type nothing else, or your vote may not be counted.

Do not choose two.

Choose one, type only the number.

We’ll keep voting open till Wednesday, July 25th.

Enjoy. Vote. See you on the other side.

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A crew of outcasts race across the galaxy in order to prevent the genocide of magical creatures. Part-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of captivity at the hands of human beings. On the day of his release from prison, he attempts to win back his faster-than-light stoneship in a game of skill. But Gary’s longtime nemesis, Jenny Perata, rigs the game and steals the ship out from under him to make an urgent delivery.

With a mysterious time-locked cargo in their hold and the authoritarian Reason regime on their tail, Gary and Jenny are forced to cooperate despite the fact that she once held him hostage and he was imprisoned for the murder of her best friend. What could possibly go right?

Take care of yourself

No matter what you’re creating, caring for yourself should always come first. Don’t believe people who say that artists should suffer to make good art, or that being comfortable will somehow diminish the final product. Folks, I wrote a 2,300-word butt joke while sitting in bed, eating a cupcake, and watching Marvel’s Avengers on repeat. Live your best life and the words will be there.

The last nineteen months have been unrelenting. Terrible things unfold before our eyes every day. Our hearts pound when another fundamental right is stripped away, but there’s nothing to run from and no one to fight; no zombies to hit with shovels or alien ships to infect with viruses. Instead, our apocalypse is moving in slow motion, drawn out over torturous weeks and months. Between the daily horror show, we still have to slap on a smile and pull a shot of espresso for a customer, or give yet another PowerPoint presentation on sales figures. We’re living in a terrible juxtaposition of the horrific and the mundane and it takes a toll on creativity.

It’s okay… nay, it’s vital, to find little pockets full of wonderful things and marinate yourself in them. There’s a distinct possibility we may be in some kind of nuclear winter by this time next year, so aim to absorb as much joy as possible before we’re roasting squirrels over a campfire made from back issues of Asimov’s.

I’ve joked to friends that it’s a steak and Legos kind of year, but I’m really kidding on the square. We all need to find something that gives us a moment of respite from the onslaught. Find your own steak and Legos. Read romance novels from the library with a cup of your favorite tea. Take a quiet hike in the woods and photograph native fungi. Make a Wendigo and share it on Twitter with other sandwich aficionados. Collect fountain pens and inks. Find your thing and steep yourself in it, let it infuse you with power, then come back to your work with a reinvigorated mind. Be healthy and happy and write lots of butt jokes.

Find Your Tribe

Your tribe is your ride-or-die posse and your supportive cheerleading team. They know when to push you to work harder and when to offer comfort and a listening ear. You have to find your own tribe. No one can tell you where to find yours and no, you can’t have someone else’s.

Four years ago, I was poking around writer twitter as a total newbie, asking everyone I followed how to find my tribe. All of the best writers had a critique group or beta readers who helped them craft their stories into sellable gems. The closest I had in my little town was a man who spent the last forty years working on his novel about a dog on a road trip. Listen, there’s nothing wrong with a dog road trip, but if you’ve been working on the same book for forty years, you’re not writing a book, you have a typing hobby.

I found my tribe when I attended Clarion West–a six-week workshop for writers of science fiction and fantasy also known (to me, at least) as Sci-Fi Summer Camp. We bonded over board games and a shared love of storytelling. We laughed every day and thankfully cried only intermittently. They’re the people I turn to when I need to untangle a story or commiserate over never-ending edits.

And I’ve found other tribes since then. There’s the group that gathers on a message board to practice epic feats of rejectomancy. We can tell what an editor has eaten for breakfast by the punctuation in her personal rejections. And another group that likes to meet in person for a few hours of writing followed by a board game chaser. And a group that likes to have intricate and pedantic discussions of craft that are excruciating… until you’re the one with the plot problem.

If you’re a newbie, it can feel like you’re an outsider to all of these established tribes. But you need to find your own people. And you will.

Find your motivation

Three years ago, I taped a picture of a Tesla Model X near my writing desk, thinking that the dream of owning an electric car would motivate me to write. I’m sad to report that not one extra word was written out of the desire to sell enough books to buy an $80,000 car. (Also, Elon has turned out to be a lot less cool than he seemed at the time.)

By contrast, Space Unicorn Blues was written in an epic twenty-day writing sprint motivated solely by spite. I remember the day clearly. I was tearfully complaining about my eighteenth rejection for a bizarre short story about a woman who has a portal between her grandmother’s attic and her uterus. My husband tried to console me by gently and kindly suggesting that I try writing more “normal” stories.

I was so angry at his suggestion (basically, this is the default state of our 21-year marriage) that I opened my laptop and started writing the most bizarre story I could put to paper. There are temperate rainforest starships carved into the bellies of asteroids and faster-than-light engines powered by unicorn horns. Magic and technology collide in grating and painful ways in order to sow conflict between characters. Turns out, when properly motivated, the words will flow like water.

You don’t know what you don’t know

I populated my book with humans from, you know, actual places around the globe besides America. They are people who come from different backgrounds and who have experiences that don’t mirror my own. This meant a lot of research went into making their lives as accurate as possible. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is descended from aerospace engineers from Bangalore. Captain Jenny Perata is a Māori woman who uses a wheelchair. Game hostess Ricky Tang is an Chinese-Australian transgender woman.

Some of the best memories of making this book were sitting down with people who are not like me and having discussions about how to portray these characters as realistically as possible. I got it wrong… many times. For example, my friends from Bangalore asked, “Why is your main character speaking Hindi? I always speak Kannada at home.” I had been treating India as a monolith. Just like every other place on the planet, India is populated by diverse people who have distinct cultures and languages. If I hadn’t spoken to an actual Bangalorean, I would have missed that detail entirely.

It’s also critical to pay your experts. Sensitivity reading is difficult work; wading through incorrect and sometimes harmful language, then taking the time to explain how the writer has erred. Pay readers the going rate or agree on a mutually beneficial arrangement like critique trades or a barter. Just make sure you’re compensating people fairly for their time and labor.

Finish your stuff

I’m going to tell you a never-before-revealed secret about Space Unicorn Blues in the hope that I can spare you the agony that I inflicted upon myself. (I am also fervently hoping that my publisher does not read down this far.) When I submitted the manuscript for consideration, the book wasn’t finished. Oh there definitely were a hundred thousand words in the file, but only the first few chapters had gone through the four drafts needed to be ready for public view. The rest was a terrible mess of scenes that didn’t really add up to a novel. I figured that if Angry Robot was interested, it would take them weeks to request the full manuscript. Plenty of time to spruce up the ending!

Readers, they wrote back in four days. You have never in your life experienced a more conflicted career moment than having a publisher request your full manuscript… and it isn’t ready. I spent the next week scrambling to rewrite twelve thousand words a day. Please, do not do what I did. Finish your work and don’t send it out until it’s ready. LET ME BE YOUR CAUTIONARY TALE.

* * *

TJ Berry grew up between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the Jersey shore. She has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and spent a disastrous two weeks working in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries. TJ co-hosts the Warp Drives Podcast with her husband, in which they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror via pop culture and literary lenses. It’s smart, snarky, and just a little bit saucy… just like TJ.

TJ Berry: Website / Twitter

Space Unicorn Blues: Indiebound / Amazon / B&N

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(No, that cat isn’t the cat we’re saving. This battleworn death metal cat is a cat that skulks around the woods around my writing shed. I don’t run it off, as I hope it has better luck catching the mice, moles and voles instead of the songbirds it sometimes stalks. Stop chasing pretty birds, cat!)

This is about the book by the late Blake Snyder: Save the Cat.

It’s a fine book. You should read it [indiebound / amazon].

Here’s why I like it: it breaks story down into very recognizable blockbustery beats. Like, oh, here’s the part of the movie where there’s a FALSE VICTORY and here’s the part where ALL IS LOST and oh now it’s the time of the movie when the HERO has to say some COOL GLIB SHIT and GLISTEN SWEATILY. Or something. Whatever. There’s a worksheet. It’s great.

I meet a lot of book authors who really love this book and who swear by it. And I go to writing conferences and conventions and inevitably I see someone doing a talk or a workshop and they lean on the book — sometimes a little, sometimes a whole lot.

And that’s okay.

But it’s really worth noting:

Save the Cat is a book about screenwriting.

It is not a book about… well, writing books.

And that’s a vital distinction, because Snyder’s book isn’t here to tell you about the bones of story in general, it’s here to give you a very specific framework you may apply to any screenplay you care to write, and more specifically, with the goal of writing a sellable, blockbustery film.

And here you might say, “But what if I want to write a big, sellable, blockbustery book? Isn’t that the same thing, Mister Chuck?”

Nnnggh.

Whhhh.

*winces*

No.

Not really?

Not really.

A book is not a movie. A movie is not a comic book. No one format is another format. Each carries with it a series of advantages and limitations (and some limitations are also advantages, assuming you don’t buy a duck hoping it’ll be a dog). A film tends to be a thing that follows a clearer, more illustrative pattern. It doesn’t have to be! Many times, it’s not, specifically when we look to smaller, niche, more “indie” films. But bigger films tend to follow more typical patterns and tropes. A book, though? A book is bigger. Sprawlier. Stranger. Books can be exciting and cinematic but even then, if you write them exactly like you’d write a film, you’d potentially end up with something too lean, too shallow — because films do not explore an internal dimension. Yes, there’s subtext! Yes, actors and direction reflect an internal world of the characters. But books don’t reflect that — they rip open the exterior wall to show what goes on inside character’s heads and hearts and histories.

A film is a lean 90-120 minutes.

A book is…

*whistles*

Not?

Further, a screenplay isn’t even a film. It’s the blueprint of a film. A screenplay is a very robust outline. So: Save the Cat is preparing you to write a very robust outline, the goal of which is to outline a future film made by a whole team of people.

A book is just you.

I mean, yes, there’s input from an editor.

But the book is the book. It is the alpha and omega of its own narrative.

It’s not meant to become something else (and if it does, that’s rarely on you, and when it does, it’ll be squished and made malleable to fit into whatever additional format, be it TV or film or an STD pamphlet or an injectable nightmare invented by Elon Musk).

The final problem with Save the Cat is that it is totally formulaic.

That is its purpose.

To give you a formula.

Now, that’s not all bad. A formula is a really great jumping off point to understand certain story-beats — and to recognize those beats in popular storytelling media. Of course, the danger of that too is the predictability of those beats. Storytellers, and inevitably audiences, begin to unconsciously (and later, quite consciously) internalize those rigorous beats. It means that stories become safe because we can detect the pattern. We know what happens after an ALL IS LOST moment. We know, “oh hey here’s the part where the VILLAINS REGROUP and MEGATRON fights CAPTAIN AMERICA.”

That can be good.

It can be comfortable to watch stories and to know how they’re going to go.

It can also get really, really boring.

Which leads me to this:

Save the Cat is like an Applebee’s meal —

It’s rigorously tested and reliably reconstructed and, at the end of the day, safe.

And by safe, I do also mean “boring.”

That’s not so much the fault of the book, which again, I like just fine — but it is one result of relying on it like it’s a fucking LEGO instruction manual instead of just another way to break apart and utilize the fiddly constituent bits of storytelling.

There’s definite value in taking Save the Cat and mining it for a deeper understanding of how stories are constructed — the rise and fall and twists of certain beats is useful to see. It’s a neat peek behind the narrative curtain. Because at the end of the day, the bones of story are common between formats, despite their differences. It’s like in nature: a dolphin, a dog, and a human being don’t look much alike, and don’t act much alike, either. But rip off all their skin (metaphorically, put down the skinning knife) and you find that the bones are similar. I mean, seriously, it’s fucked up, a dolphin has hands, you guys, a dolphin has motherfucking hands inside those flipper mitts. Which leads me to believe that, at any point, a dolphin can take off its gloves and like, undo knots, or hack a computer or some shit.

Still, at the end of the day, stories are not computer programs, they’re not math equations, they’re not cookie recipes. They’re much wigglier and weirder than that. They follow patterns, but they are also best when the patterns are made to serve the story, rather than the story made to serve the pattern. Stories can be best when they are not tourists on a tour bus following a prescribed, predefined path. Sometimes a story is at its most interesting when the tour bus gains sentience, jumps the fence, and fucks off into the woods, rumbling toward a cliff as the tourists inside its metal body scream and bleat. It’s not about confidently striding along well-lit paths; it’s about a trepidatious journey through a dark forest where the only light you get is a flashlight whose batteries are dying.

So, what I’d ask of you, Dear Authors of Books — and, arguably, storytellers of all stripes — is to use Save the Cat sparingly, and without any kind of dogmatic devotion. Do not study it (or worse, teach it) as if it is true, but rather, as a book full of formulaic beats that any good storyteller should feel free to smash apart. You should be comfortable rearranging those beats, reversing them, fucking with them ten ways from Tuesday. And you should also concentrate less on any kind of prescriptivist, plot-focused storytelling methodology. It has value as food to feed the story, but not as a formula by which the story must rigidly adhere.

Save the Cat? Read it. Enjoy it.

Just don’t put a ring on it.

THIS HAS BEEN A PSA FROM CHNURK MANDOG

*rainbow and star cascade across the screen*

*star explodes*

*rainbow melts*

*centipedes descend*

* * *

DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.

Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.

Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

Indiebound / Amazon / B&N

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It is another Monday.

Though, hopefully we can all agree that Mondays are fundamentally stupid, so we should collectively all agree to call them Pre-Tuesdays instead. And you can welcome this particular Pre-Tuesday with the open arms of GARY THE CRAB SPIDER, who has claimed that particular day-lily as his domain. (Sorry for folks who might be arachnophobic; I like to think that the photo is funny and goofy enough that you can barely tell he’s even a spider.)

GOOD MORNING, FELLOW WORD-NERDS.

A real quick buncha information to stuff into your brainholes:

First, hey, my Darth Vader annual — drawn by the impeccable Leonard Kirk — comes out July 18th, or next Weds, so hopefully you’ll grab it at your local comic book grotto. Note that some very fun people claim they want to boycott the issue — or “soycott” it, I guess, since they seem to love the “soy” insult with great dipshit gusto? — so feel free to read their very sound logic on why you should boycott my issue of a comic book.

Second, some folks have been asking about The Raptor & Wren (Miriam Black book five!) in audio — well, the day has come, and it is here. Narrated once again by Emily Beresford. Check it out.

Third, the audio for Damn Fine Story will be coming soon.

Fourth, soon I’ll have some cool news in the form of [redacted].

Fifth, note that the Awkward Author Photo Contest runs till this Wednesday, so you’re on your last chance to get in a photo. Don’t miss out. Prizes! Glory! Awkwardness!

And I think that’s it for now.

Here is another cool macro photo that I’m really happy with, this one of a blue dasher dragonfly — up close and personal.

Note too that the dragonfly’s head, if you ignore the eyes, looks like the face of a weirdly bearded man —

Or perhaps the King from Katamari Damacy —

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HELLO, PEOPLE.

As you’ll note, the blog looks a little different, now.

New theme, some tweaks, some gentle massages.

If you’ll do me a very kind favor — swing by, scout around, see how everything looks? Make sure nothing seems broken? I’ll keep on tweaking some of the typography and stuff, but I’m mostly digging how it looks. Hopefully it serves as a fairly nice update to the site given that it’s been a while since I’ve actually changed shit around here.

The merch section is gone, because it was crap — also I’ve had a few issues getting paid from sales by the provider, Zazzle, so I’m going to wait to see if they’ll fix that before I go re-upping. Also noodling on a way to sell photo prints here, too, but that’s something for down the road.

New contact page.

New about me page.

Updated appearances.

My books/works section is updated, too — though I’ll still need to do some tweaks on individual pages to make them all line up and be consistent across each. Anyway! If you’ll do me the greatest solid of dropping into the comments and letting me know how it all looks? Thanks! You’re the bee’s knees. The literal bee’s knees. Without you, a bee can’t do karate.

And that makes you damn important.

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New Atlantis is a self-contained nation of magic users, ensconced on Nantucket Island after a devastating war and ruled by courts named for the major arcana of the tarot. Rune Saint John and his bound companion and bodyguard, Brand, are the last survivors of the fallen Sun Court; they make a living doing odd jobs involving varying degrees of danger, mostly for the formidable Lord Tower.

After participating in an attack on the Lovers Court, Rune and Brand end up shielding the sheltered and abused grandson of Lady Lovers and searching for the missing son of Lady Justice. Their quest leads them to a conspiracy that involves undead monsters and murder, and may be connected to the fall of Rune’s court and the brutal assault he endured afterward.

TAKE NOTES

Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, there’s so much value in capturing inspiration as it occurs to you. Writers see the world through unique filters—we see real-time events in words and phrases. So journals? They are your friends.

(And the reverse is true. I’ve LOST entire scenes by not having a journal handy. I once lost an entire solution to a bridge between tricky chapters because I ate a cream-based chowder despite my lactose intolerance, and was….er, stuck somewhere without a notepad. To this very day, I can’t remember the idea, I only remember saying to myself, “THIS SOLVES EVERYTHING!”)

It’s also worth your time to figure out a way to categorize those notes. I have a stack of old, filled journals that reach my waist, which are hell to transcribe. I’m much smarter now – I work in concert with my innate laziness, and dictate my notes directly into an email, which I then mail to myself, so all I need to do is copy and paste the email into a larger database.

These notes are my secret weapon. As a die-hard planner, I’ve never felt that having a detailed outline robs me of spontaneity during the writing process. Rather, it’s a huge safety net that I can tightrope walk over without fear.

IT’S OKAY TO USE “SAID” AND “ASKED”

Elmore Leonard said it best in his TEN RULES OF WRITING. It’s okay to use “said” and “asked.” If I find myself struggling with dialog tags, there’s a good chance I’ve forgotten that the reader’s eyes tend to skip over things like that.

In a wider sense, one of my greatest learnings during writing THE LAST SUN—a novel that leveled me up as a writer—is that I can evoke entire scenes with sparse details. It’s one of the most treasured compliments I get from fellow writers. I’ve learned that I can trust the reader to paint between the lines. I’ve learned that it’s okay to give my reader agency; it’s okay to let them finish the setting in their mind without leading them by every bookshelf, every weather event, every article of clothing.

I’ll never forget reading the WICKED LOVELY books. Melissa Marr had this one scene where she described the mansion of a crazy person by saying there was trash all along the floor, and a charred log sticking out of the drywall. That’s all she wrote, and my brain all but exploded with the details of what the rest of the house must look like, because a charred log stuck in a wall is some seriously wild shit.

WRITING TEAM

You’ll hear this a lot: join a writing group. But what KIND of writing group? For me, picking the right people changed my life. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest – joining my NC-based writing group changed my life. It didn’t just help my WIP, it made me a better writer. It made me explore my relationship with criticism, and realize that genuine feedback is a gift.

Not to mention, there’s value in supporting each other, even if someday you’ll be foaming at the mouth because of that one guy who gets published first and meets Robin Hobb before you did.

But seriously, a good writing group is a network that will help you on your road to publication, because every friend you make leads to all the industry friends they’ll make, and so on. While it was my own talent that walked me through the door toward publication, a fellow writer opened the door for me, and gave me an introduction to my now-agent (the incomparable Sara Megibow). I will owe him forever for that, even if he did meet Robin Hobb first.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS AND SALT THE EARTH

For me, 80% of editing is hitting the delete button. I rarely find myself having to do large-scale rewrites, but, by God, do I tell the readers things they don’t need to know. And it doesn’t matter how pretty the words are, or whether diamond and pixie dust rises in fragrant clouds from the prose, it weighs down the story. It blocks the fire exit. It’s like an outstretched leg, tripping the reader into a decision to get up for a snack, or put down the book for the night.

There’s so much value in writing a lot of that exposition in the first place. More often than not, I needed to do it so that I, myself, understood my world and characters better. But once I’d learned that? Its needed to be gone, and I had to develop the cold-blooded skill set to do it.

My best trick was to stick the final WIP in a drawer for 6 months, so that the passage of time made it easier for me to bear down on the manuscript with a knife and axe. And the more I did that, the easier it got. It’s worth it, to develop that mercenary switch in your head.

TAKE CHANCES, DON’T JUST PLAY THE MARKET

I need to write what I’m passionate about. If I don’t, the reader knows. Understanding the market is fine, and I’m not saying it’s entirely without influence, but writing is a labor of love. I need to be able to sustain that love over the course of the boring bits, right? Not every scene can be a character returning from the dead or a car chase or a shower scene.

I made a decision early on that I was going to write novels similar to my biggest mainstream inspirations—but to do it with main characters who just happen to be gay. Even better, to set those novels in worlds where I don’t need the words “gay” or “straight” – to make relationships of all size & shape endemic to the world-building. That was a risk, for me. That was a chance I took. And you know what? It paid off. I’m amazed at the number of people who are responding to my characters. It was so damn awesome to see how hungry people were for a story like that.

So, take chances, because I’ve learned there are plenty of people thinking the same thing I am, and are just waiting to see who else steps forward first.

* * *

K.D. Edwards lives and writes in North Carolina, but has spent time in Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, New Hampshire, Montana, and Washington State. (Common theme until NC: Snow. So, so much snow.) Mercifully short careers in food service, interactive television, corporate banking, retail management, and bariatric furniture have led to a much less short career in higher education, currently for the University of North Carolina System. He is ridiculously proud to guest blog on Chuck Wendig’s site, because Chuck is one of his Big Writing Heroes.

KD Edwards: Twitter

The Last Sun: Indiebound | Amazon

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Last week, Laura Anne Gilman finished up the enviable task of writing and then publishing a whole trilogy of books, which is always a success that should be met with fireworks and whiskey and a Herculean nap. That book is Red Waters Rising, and you can check it out now where books are sold. Here she is, with some final thoughts on ending the series…

* * *

Many thanks to Chuck for giving me a bit of a platform today.

This month is the release of RED WATERS RISING, the third book in the Devil’s West series, what I’m calling (in my head, anyway) the “Devil’s Ride trilogy,’ about the adventures of two very different people bound together by a devilish plan to keep the West That Wasn’t safe against the Future to Come…

And I’ve been blessed that the trilogy’s gotten such a positive response from readers and reviewers, because it was, in technical publishing terms, a holy hell crapshoot.

Honestly never had any desire to write “weird west.”  Or any kind of western at all, honestly.  I was born and raised on the East Coast, and at heart am a city girl.  Urban fantasy?  I got you covered.  And as a history major/geek, you wanna do historical fantasy?  Hey, let’s go all the way back to the Etruscans and create a new mythology!  Contemporary dark fantasy?  I’ve got your sociopathic elves right here!  (no, really, I do.  Careful, they definitely bite).

But – despite knowing how to ride a horse and safely handle a shotgun, and, okay, I admit it, owning a pair of authentic, bought-in-a-feed-and-supply store-in-Oklahoma pair of cowboy boots,  the idea of writing a western of any sort had never meandered across my thought patterns.  Or rather, it didn’t until the opening lines of a story – “John came to the crossroads at just shy of noon, where a man dressed all in black was staring up at another man hanging from a gallowstree ” – cracked open a world I didn’t know I’d been creating, and out spilled not just a handful of diverse short stories, but this trilogy,  SILVER ON THE ROAD, THE COLD EYE, and this month’s RED WATERS RISING.

And I went from “no desire to write weird west” to “holy shit I love writing American historical fiction with a heavy dose of Da Weird, give it all to me now please let me do this forever.”

Even if I did have to spend several years explaining why there are no gunslingers in this time period.

And now, with the trilogy complete, and new adventures on the horizon, I’m looking back over the words written, things learned, and hopes both realized and deflated, and trying to sum it all up for you, the joy and the frustration, the heartbreak all writers are heir to.  But that, I discovered, leads me not to words of wisdom, but, well, filk.

Really, having met me, you should have expected nothing less.

…Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to write alt-westerns

Don’t let ’em ride horses or learn about flintlocks

Let ’em write spaceships, or Regency frocks

Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to write alt-westerns

‘Cause they won’t fly off the shelves and they’re quick out of print

Despite dedicated readers who say it’s their thing

Alt-westerns need obscure lib’ry resources and costly road trip wand’rings

Little known factoids and magic and historical plights

Them that don’t read ‘em won’t like ’em

And them that do sometimes won’t ever find ‘em

They’re not bad they’re just a bitch to write

and writers are so stubborn when a book’s got their heart…

Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to write alt-westerns.

Laura Anne Gilman: Website | Twitter

Red Waters Rising: Indiebound | Amazon

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LOOK, A PRETTY PICTURE.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, this here website has gone a little wonky. I spent most of last week dealing with my webhost, LiquidWeb (who are great, by the way) in order to squash some bugs. And squashing some bugs meant doing tons of updates — both to WordPress and to some server side business — which took time and put the website out of commission and such. It’s mostly up and working again, with the exception of the blog page. Individual blog posts, like this one, should work fine, and subscriptions should once again be going out. (They stopped, which was one of the bugs that needed squashing.) But the blog page itself is now weirdly empty, which means I need to somehow find a way to update my theme and hope that does the trick.

So, we’re operating at 90%, but still trying to eke out that last ten.

Worse comes to worse, I may just say fuck it and nab a new theme and just start changing the look of the site, because it’s been a while since YE OLDE TERRIBLEMINDS had a refresh.

In the meantime!

That means I missed announcing the end of the Awkward Author photo contest — I’ve updated that page accordingly and extended the due date out. The contest submission period now runs till July 11th, Wednesday, since this week is a holiday. Get awkward and enter!

Let’s see. What else is up?

The world is still a clogged and bulging sewer pipe, so that’s fun.

Here is a fun Twitter thread I did about dreams, if you’d rather that.

Also, if you haven’t met Mister Carrot, do so.

And I’d be remiss if I did not remind you that today is the last day to grab Zer0es at the $1.99 price for the Kindle e-book. So, if like hackers and artificial intelligence and thrillery fun-times with a little splash of body horror, hey, I got you covered for under two bucks.

I think that’s it for now — expect some potential further wonkiness throughout the week as I continue to fold, spindle and mutilate the website back into fighting shape. Be good to each other.

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Previously on Tremontaine…

Ixkaab Balam came to the city to do her family duty and put a botched spying mission behind her; she didn’t expect to find politics, the sword, or a discovery that threatens to put her family’s coveted chocolate monopoly at risk.

By the time of Kaab’s arrival, Diane, Duchess Tremontaine was long used to the surprises her city could deal out. Originally from the north, she had also once been a stranger to this place. With a past to hide and a house in financial peril, the duchess wasted no time in forging a secret alliance with the newcomer.

Politics, however, never has only two players. Kaab and Diane quickly found their plans complicated by Rafe Fenton, a handsome scholar with more passion than sense, and Micah Heslop, a farm girl with a unique perspective on the world and the mathematics that define it.

The dance of betrayal and treachery that followed was mostly fun and games. After all, in this city the powerful hire swordsmen to fight – sometimes to the death – for entertainment.

But now, a complex engineering project that could open the city to the world threatens to put everyone at risk. With little distinction between enemies and lovers or rivals and friends, survival – even for the savviest of players – is not guaranteed.

This city that never was is changing, dear reader. Outcasts are the tastemakers, and now, more than ever, is the time to keep your wit as sharp as your steel!

* * *

As Tremontaine approaches its fourth season, we’re showing off the cover image for the first time — and, to celebrate, its current writers got together digitally to ask each other questions about the weird world of collaborative writing, extreme research, and letting other people see our most draftiest drafts.

Tessa Gratton: What’s your favorite thing about writing for Tremontaine?

Liz Duffy Adams: I like being a sort of stealth collaborator on Tremontaine, emerging from the wilderness into the Land to join my name with another writer and then vanish again. It was intimidating at first. I read and loved Tremontaine before I was invited into it, and of course Swordspoint and the other original novels before that, so I was reasonably steeped in the world. But suddenly to be writing in these fabulous characters’ voices, characters I had no hand in creating, in this immensely rich and detailed world where I had only been a tourist, not a citizen? I quailed a bit.

And then I began to enjoy myself. The hunt episode in Season Three that I wrote with Delia Sherman was sheer pleasure; working with Delia—she of luminous wit and perfect sentences—is always great fun, and among other things a brief moment with Lady Davenant alone in her chamber made me very happy. And now I’m back in Season Four in another episode co-written with Delia, and three with the droll and brilliant Joel Derfner, with whom I got to introduce a couple of new characters and so feel I’ve left a small footprint in the City, before slipping back off across the river.

Joel Derfner: Which of our characters is the most difficult for you to write, and why?

Tessa Gratton: I find it extremely difficult to write Micah. Or rather, to convince myself to write from her POV. Once I’m in it, I can do it–she’s so unique and her voice is fun, interesting, and entertaining, her perspective different from everyone else’s. But when I’m working on an episode in its early stages, choosing which point of view I’m going to use for an episode frame, or for individual scenes, Micah is always my last choice. I avoid her if I can help it, and it took me a while to realize why: she’s not ambitious and she doesn’t have desires the way the rest of the characters do–which is a function of who she is. Sure, she wants things: to learn, to grow, to have family, protect her loved ones, to ascend to a purely mathematical state, probably. Unlike our other main characters, she’s not a schemer, and she isn’t an actor. She’s a reactor. You bet she’ll finish something somebody else starts if it will protect her people, but she doesn’t start things on her own. To me, that makes her a less useful protagonist. I love how she wanders through our narrative, affecting people and making everything just better, but that’s frustrating for me to write, when I need DRAMA.

ALSO anytime somebody calls Micah cinnamon roll, I think to myself, “I like to eat cinnamon rolls.” Especially in a show like Tremontaine, I look for ways to hurt the characters, to make them suffer and dial the angst up to 100%. I just can’t do that to Micah!

Ellen Kushner: Which character do you most identify with?

Karen Lord: Definitely Joshua. A bit of an observer, drama happens around him more than it happens to him, and he tries his best to look out for his friends.

Racheline Maltese: I wouldn’t say I identify with Diane–I don’t have that type of self-control, for one–but I think her actions are highly rational and, for the world she lives in, highly reasonable. I know we’re often supposed to preface discussions of her with “I know she’s a bad person, but…” except I don’t think she is. Davenant is a bad person; he’s not trying to survive, he’s trying to dominate. Diane really is trying to survive, even if that survival is through winning. She’s just a perfectionist about her survival. I get it. I really do.

Karen Lord: What new thing did you learn from writing with a team that changed your own solo writing process?

Ellen Kushner: The main thing I have learned, with humility and respect, is how differently everyone’s brain works. I know by now that we’re going to end up with thirteen highly elegant novellas. But as we work our way through First Outline to Second Outline to Zero Draft to It’s Ready for Editing Draft, some people’s First Outlines read like rough arguments inside their brains, while others are precise right down to the word count for each scene. Some Zero Drafts appear smooth and polished. Others – well, OK, mine – are full of alternate word suggestions and bracketed questions.  The one thing we all have in common is that everyone is convinced that their rough draft is awful, which I find hilarious because they’re all so brilliant. And Joel Derfner taught all of us the [say something really smart here] technique of [adjective] bracketing in Zero Drafts.

Liz Duffy Adams: Is there a character you feel particular ownership over/affinity with, and how does it feel to share them?

Karen Lord: Out of all the strangers in a strange Land, Esha, probably. I quite like sharing her as long as she’s Doing Stuff for Herself more than she’s Doing Stuff for Others.

Ellen Kushner: Which of our gang of authors would you most like to have write your own death scene?

Karen Lord: Tessa, without doubt! It will be profound, touching and remembered for generations to come!

Ellen Kushner: I want Liz Duffy Adams to write my death scene because the dialogue will be spectacular. I want Joel Derfner to write my death scene, because it will happen so fast I won’t feel a thing. I want Karen Lord to write my death scene because the secrets of the universe will be revealed (after some hot sex). I want Tessa Gratton to write my death scene because it will be incredibly moving and everyone would cry buckets. I want Racheline Maltese to write my death scene because there will be a spectacular sword fight – and maybe a cow.

* * *

Tremontaine season 1-3 are available on the Serial Box app and website and on all third party retailers. Season 1 is also available in print wherever books are sold. Tremontaine season 4 will be available on September 12th.

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