It’s All About You #amwriting #writingtips

Over the weekend, I chanced to have an interesting chatroom encounter with a person claiming to have multiple neurological diagnoses. I say “claim” because it’s a chatroom, and you never really know. I spend a fair amount of time in that particular chatroom, and most folks seem honest. I try to be when I’m not goofing around or being ridiculous.

I’m going to refer to this person as a male called “D”, though I have no idea of their gender, and this is clearly not their real name. I’m just doing it for simplicity.

D had been in the room before, and wanted help with writing stuff. Being myself, I stepped up and offered to help. During his previous request for assistance, he’d announced he enjoyed writing fanfic, and wanted help with mashup ideas.

To be clear, I think fanfic is great. I don’t spend my time writing it, but I have daydreams and such, and my brain wanders through what ifs for characters I like. To those who write and read fanfic, that’s great. If you ever have the urge to use my stuff for fanfic, knock yourself out. Anyway.

It soon became clear this person had a narrow list of ideas, but couldn’t pick one and wanted someone else to pick for them. Of the things on the list, I didn’t know much about most of them, so I didn’t say much once that list was revealed. I will say that I still think Harry Potter vs Predator would be neat. But I digress.

On this second occasion, the one which prompted this post, D entered the room and posted, “I hate writer’s block.”

If you don’t hang out with writers, you may be familiar with only the basic idea of writer’s block as some mystical creature shaped like a wall that writers bang their head against while producing nothing. Some writers see it that way too. In reality, it’s not a mythological beast or even an actual thing. Writer’s block is just another way of saying that you’re tired, overworked, burned out, need a vacation, should eat, could use some exercise, or have some other problematic issue with self-care. Either that, or you did something wrong in the story and your brain knows it, but can’t figure out what it is.

Whenever people try to cop the writer’s block excuse around me, that’s what I tell them, one way or another. As I did in this case. More or less–do some exercise, take a nap/get a night’s rest, and/or eat, then come back and try again. If that doesn’t work, switch to another project for a while. This is what the professional writerfolk (and, for that matter, most artistfolk) do, because we can’t wait around for airy fairy muses to flutter out of the sky and wave a magic wand around our heads with ideas. We hunt muses and seduce them so they never want to leave in the first place.

If you subscribe to the muse theory, that is. Anyway.

Other folks in the room did what they do, which is offer suggestions, none of which seemed to satisfy or appease D. He then did what I later realized was whining with a post which roughly translated to: you’re all jerks, I don’t know why I bother asking for advice here, this is a waste of time.

To which, I, being me, pointed out that yes, it is a waste of time because he doesn’t need outside ideas, he needs to think about what kind of stories he wants to tell and figure this stuff out for himself.

Which apparently made me sound like a sanctimonious bitch, but that’s not the point.

The point is this: any average human can string together words to make grammatically understandable sentences, draw lines and shapes, or arrange elements on a canvas. These are not especially challenging activities to the average human.

What makes writing, drawing, or design into art is the pieces of yourself that you put into it. It’s the tools you select and how you apply them. In writing, it’s about your word choices, the beats of the plot, the nuances of the characters, the descriptive details. It’s about expressing something in a way that evokes emotion.

What a writer needs from the outside isn’t ideas. It’s a sounding board. Someone to whom you express ideas and they help refine or shoot down the really stupid crap. If you can’t come up with an idea in the first place, taking someone else’s won’t solve the problem.

As a side note, this is why there are some specific challenges inherent in writing with a co-author, but that’s a whole different ball o’ wax.

Happy writing!

Sunday Surprise

Oh, look. I’m in a bundle. If you haven’t read Al-Kabar yet, now is a smashing time to pick it up with a bundle of other cool fantasy novels.

creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

And this is the last author interview for the fantasy bundle. Stay tuned for more author interviews and more bundles. Ladies and gentlemen, last but not least, please welcome Lee French!

Where do you live and write from?

I live in Olympia, WA, the wacky heart of the Pacific Northwest. My workspace is a beanbag next to a coffee table and a large window with a view of the incessant rain. Sometimes, the sun comes out. It’s disturbing and distracting.

Why do you write?

I write because not writing is harder. After a few days without writing, unless I’ve been doing physically exhausting work, I get cranky and weird(er). At this point, I’m more or less unable to work at a regular job anymore because my writer brain muscles are so strong.

When did you start writing?

Shortly after I started reading. I was a late bloomer, not really grasping…

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Summer Is Coming #amwriting

The start of June means I’m busting my butt to finish whatever I can in time for GenCon. Here’s my con schedule through September:

July 1-2: GEARCon in Portland, OR

July 6-9: NASFiC in San Juan, PR

August 1-3: MALCon in Denver, CO

August 20-24: GenCon in Indianapolis, IN

September 9: Readerfest in Renton, WA

September 30-Oct : GeekGirlCon in Seattle, WA

And that’s it. Looks like not much. Lies. All of it. I’m driving to all those places, except Puerto Rico. Turns out PR is an island. Who knew, right? July 23-29, I’ll be in Iowa, riding Ragbrai, which I’m also driving to. I also have other personal matters to tend to, which will result in me traveling all but a week or so from the last week of June through the end of August. For a value-added bonus, I’m having long-overdue dental work done in there somewhere.

And that leaves…not much time for writing. As usual.

This Ragbrai will be my last, at least for the foreseeable future. As I’m discovering this spring, training takes too much time away from writing. My parts aren’t very happy about the amount of riding I’ve been doing, either. At this point, I’m concerned about my knees and their ability to handle the whole ride.

At this time, I’m expecting to have two new books in time for GenCon. One is the fifth book of The Greatest Sin, title to be revealed with the cover in the near future. The other is Darkside Seattle: Fixer. More to come soon about both!

Sunday Surprise

creative barbwire (or the many lives of a creator)

One more for the ride! And one more that I met in person! I am thrilled to have her onboard! Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Debbie Mumford!

Where do you live and write from?

I make my home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the USA. Vancouver, Washington to be exact. No, not Vancouver, British Columbia, that’s in Canada, several hundred miles north of where I live. Vancouver, Washington is just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, and in some ways, is a bedroom community to Portland.

As to the question of my writing, I don’t have an actual office. I write on a MacBook Pro laptop, sitting in my favorite chair in the living room … with my feet up. What can I say? I’m into comfort! With my body at ease, my mind is free to wander into other worlds and visit possibilities of existences other than…

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New Release: What We’ve Unlearned #ebooks #book

Writerpunk Press has put out their newest anthology, and I’m so pleased to have a story in it. What We’ve Unlearned: English Class Goes Punk has been unleashed!

My story is titled A Connecticut Rigger in King’s Court. I hope Mr. Twain would be amused by my cyberpunk rendition of his story. For it, I began with the question, “What if Ada Lovelace was a time traveler from a cyberpunk future?” Madness ensues.

As with all the Writerpunk titles, all profits benefit the PAWS no-kill animal rescue in Lynnwood, WA. I’m pleased and proud to support this award-winning charity project.

7 Life Lessons Learned from @Ragbrai_Iowa #Cycling

Oh, barf. An inspirational post. Quick, kill it with fire before it causes any harm!

Seriously, though, you can get life lessons from anything. I’m just another idiot who noticed there are things that equate between x and life, and I’ve written them down because they seem brilliant to me.

1. Hills are daunting at the bottom.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. Standing at the bottom, looking up at the hard thing, is the kind of thing that makes people want to either climb or give up. If you want the thing enough, you’ll climb. If you’re not invested in it, you’ll give up and go play video games or something.

2. Hills are exhausting in the middle.

So, you started climbing. It’s a long hill. Kinda steep. Not super-fun. The view from the top of the hill is allegedly cool, but you’re getting skeptical because this hill never ends. Of those who decide to climb, a whole lot give up in the middle because it’s hard.

To be clear, I consider getting off my bike to walk equal to giving up.

3. That bit where you’re near the top but not there yet is…well, it’s something.

You can taste the victory. It’s just ahead. But you’re not there yet. Most people who get this far keep going because it becomes a matter of having invested enough time and energy into the climb that giving up is a much worse failure than if you’d given up sooner. You’re in it for the long haul.

At the same time, it’s really frustrating to be so close and yet so far. When you’re in granny gear, you can barely breathe, and your muscles are screaming, keeping going is one of the hardest things imaginable.

4. There’s always another hill.

Seriously, there is. No matter how awesome the view from the top of this hill, there’s always another one that might be better for whatever reason. Anyone who tells you it’s the last hill is probably either lying or trying to sell you something.

So you know, if you ever come alongside me and suggest that hill ahead is the last one, you’ll be told something like, “Lies! Perfidy! There’s always one more hill. Always.”

5. Determination will only get you so far.

No matter what your hill is, you need more than one skill to reach the top. You have to know how to do the thing and then practice it until you’re good at it. You have to work on five other skills too. Maybe it’s learning how to talk to people about your thing, how to do the paperwork to keep your taxes manageable, how to find some sort of thing, or whatever. You gotta learn the skills, plural, and figure out how to deal with your weaknesses.

In cycling, it takes strength, endurance, determination, motivation, and a particular sort of “callouses” in a rather sensitive portion of your anatomy. Seriously, that seat is rough on your tender parts. If you’re not used to the seat, it’ll murder you with pain and blood flow issues. I have the value-added bonus of chronic tendonitis in one knee (and also one elbow and both wrists, which don’t impact cycling much, but certainly don’t help), which I have to train to overcome for a distance ride like Ragbrai.

6. Never pass up the unexpected awesome thing if you can help it.

One time on Ragbrai, I ran across a vendor selling frozen, chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick. I was full from lunch and didn’t get one. I’ve never seen any such thing again. This makes me sad. Do I need to explain further?

7. Everything is better with a good team.

Yes, everything. Even when your project is highly solitary, there are other people doing other parts to smoosh your part together with. In writing, which seems like a solitary activity, there are bunch of other people involved. Even the most self-reliant indie still needs a beta reader or five. Those of us with better things to do hire editors, cover designers, formatters, and more. A team.

I ride Ragbrai alone because I have no cycling friends interested in coming along with me, but I always manage to get adopted by some group at the campsite. Pork Belly Ventures, an excellent charter service that I highly recommend, has a lovely bunch of folks who ride with them year after year, and I’ve met several, as well as a whole bunch I’ll probably never see again. If I want to, I can plop down beside any of them and share my dinnertime.

#My5: Inspiration, or Weird Associations #amwriting

One question most of us penmonkey types get asked often is how we come up with these wacky story ideas, what inspires us, and what exactly is a “heckbiscuit”? That last one might just be me, but the point still stands. Many folks just want to know what makes artist brains do art. KM Alexander, a delightful gentleman who writes disturbing things, asked me to participate in a celebration of this question and its various answers, called My5. As such, I present five things that have inspired my stories. Specifically, the Maze Beset trilogy of superhero novels.

1. The X-Men. Back in college, which happened so long ago cellphones hadn’t been invented yet, I read X-Men titles. I wound up in enforced proximity to these comics often and picked them up to pass the time that otherwise would been blank boredom. Prior to college, I had been exposed to the X-Men cartoon, so when I had the choice of several different comics, I picked up the X-Men ones.

My favorite X-Man is Nightcrawler. Because duh.

On the whole, the movies have been kind of disappointing, but they came out too late to blunt my interest in the characters.

This is the basis for the humanity of the supers in the series. They have lives and families, and the story isn’t really about the superpowers. The powers are just the cool guns and tech they use.

2. The Heroes TV Show, Season 1. Never mind the later parts where it got really weird. The initial season showed supers in a way I hadn’t personally seen before. Superhero as everyday person with a bizarre power and no spandex really appealed to me on many levels. I know comics have been exploring this idea for a long time, but aside from X-Men, I never got into comics much. I like lots of words and not many pictures. This show happened during a segment of my life when I had time to watch TV, and it hit a lot of buttons for me. I looked at that and Hmmed and muttered a lot.

This is where the basic idea of the novels came from. Genetics, conspiracies, modern day action, and all that.

3. Marvel Super Heroes RPG (MSH). Technically, this happened first. I started playing D&D in high school, which turned out to be a gateway drug for Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, and MSH. That’s right. D&D is, in fact, a gateway drug. For other RPGs.

MSH is ridiculously silly. I once used random chargen to create a character made entirely of strawberry jell-o. I’m not saying it was a good character or I ever played it, but random chargen gave it to me. Another time, it gave me a character with two forms. One was stupid and the other was smart. Ah, MSH, you’re adorable. Because of you, I have a lot more d10s than I need for anything else, ever.

But this is where the idea of random, bizarre superpowers entered my head, which is the foundation on which the trilogy sits.

4. Mutants & Masterminds RPG. Like MSH, M&M provided an opportunity to be a superhero, only this time with less silly rules. Before starting the novels, I started an M&M game on the Myth-Weavers RPG bulletin board site. The game, now in its sixth year and still chugging along with two of the original players, began with exactly the same premise as the novels.

More importantly, I present a quote from the character generation section, specifically the (Alternate) Form power:

Swarm: Your “body” is actually thousands of other tiny creatures: insects, worms, even little robots.

It’s not hard to see where the idea of a person being made up of a swarm of tiny dragons came from. Thanks, Green Ronin Publishing!

5. Friends. (Sorry, no pictures!) A staggering number of my ideas come from chatting with friends. I say “What if…” and then we ramble on tangents via chat or in person until the idea is awesome. In this particular case, the two players mentioned in #4 are friends who’ve been playing the characters of Jayce and Liam for all of those six years. I shamelessly yoinked their characters (more or less with permission) and used them. Bobby came from having an NPC of that name who interacted with their characters and became a real person for having done so.

Those are my five. Check out these other #My5 posts for more ramblings on inspiration: KM AlexanderMichael Ripplinger, Laurie Tom, Eric Lange