Saturday, April 27, 2013

5 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Writing a Book by Brian A. Klems at Dana Sitar's blog

4-22-13 Brian Klems
by Brian Klems (@BrianKlems)

When writing my book, Oh Boy, You’re Having a GirlA Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters, I ran into a lot of roadblocks. I’d like to place the blame elsewhere, but the truth is, they were my fault (Okay, I’ll place part of the blame on TBS for airing all those reruns of “Scrubs” — seriously, I just can’t get enough of that show).

Most of the roadblocks, though, were from avoidable mistakes I made during the writing process. Thankfully, now I know better.

To help you out, I’ve pulled together the five things you shouldn’t do when writing a book. These are tips that I wish someone else would have told me before I started writing Oh Boy. To save you a lot of time, do not:

1. Tell Anyone The Plot of Your Book

When you’re writing a book, occasionally someone — like a family member, friend or that loaded guy sitting next to you at the bar — will con you into talking about your book while you’re writing it. Wrong move. They will offer unsolicited pieces of advice like, “You should name your main character Booger.”

While most are honestly trying to be helpful, the majority of them — who have never written a book — will likely be offering bad advice. Best to stay hush-hush about it until it’s finished and you can have it edited or work-shopped by other writers.

2. Get Attached to Any Part of Your Book

Oh-Boy-Youre-Having-A-GirlAs writers, we often fall in love with our own writing and plot points. This happens to me all the time. I write an awesome first paragraph and continue writing a chapter. As I go along, it’s clear that the chapter has taken a decidedly different turn and that first paragraph doesn’t quite fit. But I love that first paragraph. So I spend countless hours rewriting the rest of the chapter, even though deep down I know the only real solution is to cut that first graph.

It’s brutally painful, but not cutting it is a mistake rookie writers make. And if you want to publish your book, you’ll cut anything that doesn’t quite fit — even if it’s a part you love. [Like this idea? Tweet it!]

3. Set Unreasonable Goals

I believe in goals, so no matter what you are writing — a novel, nonfiction book, memoir, poetry chapbook, an article on how to write a blog (which I did) — you need to set some. That being said, don’t set goals that are nearly impossible to reach. Unreasonable goals will only cause you to get mad at yourself and will, in fact, slow your process down rather than speed it up — after all, if you feel like you’re letting yourself down, you’ll be less motivated to write.

I like to set time goals as opposed to word-count goals. For example, if you only have 30 minutes a day to write, just sit down and write as many words as you can in that 30 minutes. Some days you may only walk away with a couple hundred. Others you may knock out a thousand or two. But if you walk away with any words, you’ll feel more confident knowing you worked as hard as you could that day to get that many words out.

And eventually, they will add up.

4. Only Save Your Book in One Place

Like every writer, I have a very love-hate relationship with computers — as in, I love them when they are helping me work more efficiently and I hate them when … well … nearly all the rest of the time. It’s not intuitive to me to continually hit “save” when writing, especially when I’m in the zone. So when I forget to save (which happens all the time) and my computer crashes (which seems to happen every time I’m finally satisfied with my work), I lose everything.

I finally started writing using Google Docs, where it not only automatically saves your work but it saves it online, so you can access it from any computer you want. After writing the first few chapters of Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl in Word and losing nearly 50% of my writing, I fell in love with Google Docs because they took away the unnecessary stress of worrying about my computer crashing. Now my computer could reboot all it wanted and I’d still have all those wonderful words I worked so hard to write.

5. Take the Fun Out of Writing

Too often writing a book turns into a chore. That can happen for many reasons — stressed over a self-imposed deadline, trouble defining a character, dealing with writer’s block, afraid that the book just isn’t good enough so far, etc.

I once got stuck on one sentence — one sentence – because I didn’t think it was “funny enough” and used it as an excuse to stop writing for days. That’s a true story.

And now, looking back, I see how absurd that is.

The important thing to do is forget all of that — all the worries and stresses and self-induced headaches. Just focus on the reason you wanted to write a book in the first place: Because you’re a storyteller and you have a story to tell. Remind yourself of that every day and you’ll have fewer roadblocks to finishing your book.

What mistakes have you made — and learned from — when writing a book?

brian-klemsBrian A. Klems is the online editor for Writer’s Digest magazine and author of Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters (Adams 2013).

He’s also the editor of The Writer’s Dig and hosts the popular parenting blog,

You can follow him on Twitter @BrianKlems.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Doing a rewrite for Orchid Games' Heartwild Solitaire Game Series on my original texts....

Doing a rewrite for Orchid Games' Heartwild Solitaire Game Series on my original texts and I've been given the "rewrites" down by Sandlot. AMAZING. The romantic game is for adult women first but the E for Everyone had them editing out "nude" (although the male leads sculpts nudes), "naked," "touch," "kiss," "stroking," "caressing," "heat," "wet," "thigh," a fully deleted sex scene, and my favorite "prude."

So, I'm rewriting from the original for E my way. Amazing. They even added a violence that was more subtle before. Amazing. [] and

Sunday, April 21, 2013

WSJ: The Return of The Serial Novel

Serialized fiction, an all-but-lost art form that was practiced by such literary giants as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Joseph Conrad, is rebounding in the digital era. The growing use of tablets, smartphones and e-ink devices has created a vibrant new market for short fiction as readers flock to stories they can digest in one sitting.

Hoping to make novels as habit-forming as appointment television, a handful of publishers and several new digital-publishing upstarts are experimenting with the same type of short, episodic fiction that weekly or monthly periodicals published in the 19th century.

St. Martin's Press has published five serial novels in the past year, ranging from historical fiction to erotic romance, and has three more in the works. Penguin's digital romance imprint, InterMix, is testing serialized romance and erotica, and has released three titles so far, with several others on the way. 

The science-fiction and fantasy publisher Tor recently published a science-fiction epic by John Scalzi in 13 weekly episodes.

Amazon, which is leading the way with the format, has released 30 serialized novels through its new Kindle Serials program and is adding a new series every week. Readers pay $1.99 for an entire series, and new installments update automatically. Like a TV show, the episodes are designed to be devoured in a single sitting and end with a cliffhanger.

"The Charles Dickens model actually fits better now than ever because people want bite-sized content," says writer Sean Platt, who has co-authored six digital serial novels.

The serial model could be a boon for publishers and booksellers. Breaking up a longer work enables them to charge readers slightly more for it. Authors and publishers can also use a gradual digital release to test new series and characters in a relatively low-risk way, and build buzz for upcoming print titles. But digital serials could also be bad for business if they eat away at future print profits—still the biggest revenue source for most publishers.

Publishers and writers are now wrestling with the format, trying to figure out the best price, length, and intervals between installments.

Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, AMZN +0.35% says the company is still trying to "fine-tune" its serial-publishing program based on reader responses. Amazon launched its serials last fall with 10 novels. The company has since added 20 more series, which range from romance to crime to supernatural thrillers. The best-selling title so far, Andrew Peterson's thriller "Option to Kill," has sold some 80,000 copies.


"Early data indicate that shorter is probably better, and a one-week cadence works best," Mr. Belle said.

Others worry that if readers are forced to wait, they might not return. In an era when people binge on streaming TV shows and can instantly download all 20 books in their favorite crime series, the weekly-appointment model might not hold up, says Dan Weiss, publisher at large at St. Martin's, who has overseen the development of several serials.

"We originally thought it would be fun to publish brief books with cliffhangers, and publish them like a TV show on a weekly schedule," Mr. Weiss said. "But since then, with 'House of Cards,' binge viewing has come into vogue," referring to the original TV series that Netflix released all at once. St. Martin's may try publishing several episodes at once, he said, because their brevity makes them "easily digestible and phone-friendly."

Romance novelist Beth Kery wasn't prepared for the vicious backlash to her novel, "Because You Are Mine," which InterMix published last summer in eight weekly installments. The book was a hit, selling more than 500,000 copies. But some of Ms. Kery's longtime fans detested the format. Some readers were outraged over the $1.99 price tag for each installment, which added up to $16, far more than many e-books cost. Others resented being teased with cliffhangers.

"I am really sick of sitting down to read this book and just when you are enjoying it, it ends," one Amazon reviewer seethed. "Release the whole book, I would enjoy it more," another wrote.

This month, Ms. Kery's publisher finally released the complete story as a $16 paperback. It's also available now as a single digital volume, for $9.99. Ms. Kery is currently releasing another eight-part serial romance, "When I'm With You."

Publishing a novel in increments poses additional challenges for writers, who have to worry about readers dropping off mid-series, as well as new readers coming to the novel in the middle or toward the end.

Mr. Scalzi, a best-selling science-fiction novelist who released his new book serially with the imprint Tor, says he struggled at first with the unfamiliar format. 

He wanted to make sure the 13 individual episodes could stand alone but also added up to a single, seamless story for readers who chose to wait and consume it in a single serving. (Tor will release a print edition of "The Human Division" next month.)

The novel has been landing on Amazon's science-fiction best-seller list every week, and sales have grown with each episode. When the final episode came out this week, Mr. Scalzi announced that the saga would continue, telling fans on his website that the serial "has been renewed for a second season."

A version of this article appeared April 12, 2013, on page D2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Return of The Serial Novel.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sci Fi Circuit: The Magic of World Building, April 12, 2013

What does it take to make a sci fi world real?


As a science fiction fan, I love to be transported into new and fantastical worlds. As a sci fi screenwriter, I’m fascinated by understanding what it takes to make that happen, and happen well?

It’s not just a pretty gadget

Part of the appeal as fans, I think, is that just like in James Bond movies, we sci-fi geeks love to see new and clever ideas and how they work. It seems to be something of a thing, to have at least one super cool new piece of technology per sci fi film, like the hand-embedded phones in the re-release of Total Recall (2012).

But clearly a little fancy new technology isn’t the only thing it takes to make a futuristic world seem real.

What else is it?

The kind of world-building I deeply admire is what I’ve seen Joss Whedon doing with his sci fi masterpiece series Firefly and even with The Avengers. The world-building is all part of the background. It makes sense. We get it. When it comes to our attention, it’s part of the story but doesn’t overwhelm it. Everything serves a purpose. He does a masterful job of showing and not telling.

And that IS an issue with sci fi.

As Carson Reeves puts it in his excellent book Scriptshadow Secrets, “Science fiction is a memory hog.” 

He goes on to say, “You know that WHIRRRRR noise your laptop makes when Firefox starts sucking up your memory? That’s the exact same effect sci-fi has on a screenplay. 20-25% of your screenplay will be dedicated to exposition when you write sci-fi. This is due to all the rules and backstory and futuristic shit that needs to be explained… 

So make sure if you’re tackling this genre, you’re willing to put in the extra effort to minimize and hide all that exposition…”

So how do we build convincing and beautiful worlds while reining in the exposition?

First let’s start with the science, context, and backstory. To answer this question, I dragged out my early version of  The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card for a look at the ingredients that go into building a world.

Setting the rules

Card lists first coming up with the “rules” for space travel, time travel, and magic.

For instance, pretty much at the outset of Star Wars and Star Trek we see that lightspeed and warp speed work in these universes. Even though the technology for traveling faster than the speed of light is currently seen as highly unlikely if not impossible in the scientific world (classified by Michio Kaku in Physics of the Impossible as a “class II impossibility”, meaning that it “sits on the very edge of our current understanding of the physical world”), we take it as a given that we can whip across the universe at enormous speeds without any time dilation effect.

In other universes, however, like those depicted in Aliens and Prometheus, cryo travel is required to traverse any kind of long distance, the impact of which is clearly seen when Ripley in Aliens asks, “How long was I out there?” and the answer, “Fifty-seven years,” produces a real shock for her character.

Similarly we must convey the rules of time travel — and as the writers of these tales, we get to decide on the rules.

For instance, think of the various ways time travel plays out in movies like The Butterfly Effect, the Back To The Future trilogy, and Déjà Vu. In each of these, we quickly learn the time travel rules for the particular story, such as, do people travel back through time into their own minds? Can they observe their earlier selves from the outside? Affect the past and alter the future? Or does time remain elastic and resilient, regardless of the changes we might try to make?

And even though we usually think of “magic” relative to fantasy stories, many of the sci fi worlds we see encompass some kind of magic, whether with technology or something like the Force in Star Wars.

Regardless of whether it’s magic or science, from the outset, we have to know the rules.

Detailing the past

We also need to understanding the past, including for example how a particular alien race has evolved to appear the way it has, and how it communicates — at least as the writers of the script. I love how Card describes understanding the backstory for a particular town with a mob led by a demogogic preacher and deeply understanding the kind of people that follow him. 

He says, “Now, maybe you won’t even use an incident like that in the story. But you know it, and because it’s in there in the history of that town, the people in that mob are no longer strangers to you, no longer puppets to make go through the actions you want them to perform. They’ve come alive, they have souls — and your story will be richer and more truthful because of it.” (Emphasis added.)

In my own work and reading on this subject, even while I am at times tempted to throw up my hands and say, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t care about that!” I find that my work deepens the more care I put into thinking about the world and story behind what we’re seeing.

Understanding language

Joss Whedon’s brilliance shines when it comes to language, which is the next of Card’s world building items. Ever the erudite communicator, not only has Whedon thought through a likely political and cultural evolution for the future of the human race in Firefly, he has extrapolated slang words like “ruttin’” and “gorram” along with the notion that characters will swear in Chinese. Along with subtle Asian cues in clothing, lettering, and set design, we quickly grok that China’s culture has become an integral part of these new worlds.

There’s nothing like a good delivery of language, whether we’re talking Aliens or Much Ado About Nothing to get us well-immersed in the tone and spirit of a particular world.

Designing scenery

According to Card, designing the scenery “… is the part that most people think of when they talk about world creation: coming up with a star system and a planet and an alien landscape.”

Carolyn See writes convincingly about the importance of “geography, time, and space” in her Making A Literary Life. Although I’ve been tempted to ignore such specifics along these lines at times since I’m writing “in the future,” I can see the validity of her point that we can become boring when we try for “universal” by neglecting the details.

I’m again reminded of the beauty of the ship “Serenity” in Firefly, and the careful thought that went into creating it, down to the flowers painted on the dining area walls. If we’re paying attention, we surmise they were added by one of the characters on the ship.

But here’s a question I wonder about: How much of this happens on the set, and how much happens in the writing stage?

As I contemplated that question, I remembered hearing Jane Espenson talk about writing the episode “Shindig” for Firefly. She described coming up with the idea for transportable door knobs that function as futuristic hotel room keys. And guess what? It’s in the script. So the writer does and can play a role at this level too.

And what about exposition?

Carson Reeves suggests that most sci fi projects need some kind of backstory introduction to help avoid overly expository dialogue. He points out the well-known use of the title card in the Star Wars franchise, but also references voice-overs in Avatar (and the video journaling did an admirable job there too, in my opinion), and the documentary-style footage in District 9.

I love this point from Michael A. Banks from his chapter, “Science Fiction: Hard Science and Hard Conflict” from How To Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy, & Science Fiction (from Writer’s Digest) about the degree of attention one must give to the science behind the fiction: 

“More detail is necessary, because you are frequently showing the reader things that don’t exist. 

You’ll have to depend on intuition to tell you just how far you can go without being a bore. … If the science is to be part of the conflict, you’ll have to take it quite a bit further. Because conflict is so closely tied to characterization, motivation, and the overall success of plot, you will have to give the science behind a conflict as much attention as you would any of the other basic story elements.”

He also says, “The ground rules are simple: Don’t tell the reader everything you know, and don’t dump the information you do use on the reader all at once. … Use only detail that adds necessary color, moves the plot, or helps the reader understand events, characters, or background.

I know that as I’m writing, I’m constantly asking myself, how can I convey this more concisely? How can I show it? How can we feel it? Can I make it tighter or clearer? If it means my reader “gets” my story more clearly, it’ll be worth the effort.

Lest we forget

Last, here’s a point I think is worth remembering, again from Orson Scott Card, about the value and importance of sci fi in our own world today: “Indeed, one of the greatest values of speculative fiction is that creating a strange imaginary world is often the best way to help readers see the real world through fresh eyes and notice things that would otherwise remain unnoticed.”
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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Telegraph: Game of Thrones's George RR Martin: 'I'm a feminist at heart' By Jessica Salter

Game of Thrones's creator George RR Martin explains to Jessica Salter why his epic fantasy, which features boobs, swords and dragons, surprisingly appeals to women.

Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, played by the actress Gwendoline Christie
Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones, played by the actress Gwendoline Christie Photo: HBO

I am sitting on a leather chair in the middle of a very manly den – walls decorated with giant swords, model soldiers in mid-battle in glass cabinets – talking to George R. R. Martin about why women love him. What is the secret to his appeal? His fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which has been adapted into the hit television show Game of Thrones, has an army of female fans clamouring for his next instalment. 
The writer George RR Martin at home in Santa Fe PHOTO: Nancy Newberry
‘It is one of the things that pleases me most,’ Martin told me when I went to interview him at his home last month in Santa Fe, New Mexico. ‘The fact that women love my characters.’ He is playing it down – more than half of his fans are women.

Typically fantasy writers paint women either as angels or demons. But Martin’s women are more three dimensional - part of his creative appeal.

They include the beautiful and manipulative Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey), who would defend her children and family to the death; Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), a strong mother, devoted wife and a shrewd political strategist not afraid of a 300 mile trek on a horse to join her son in battle; Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), a nine-year-old tomboy who wants her own sword and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who wants to cross the narrow sea to win back her father’s throne.

Oh and not forgetting the most awesome Brienne of Tarth, a female knight played by the 6’ 3’’ actress Gwendoline Christie.
So how does he get inside the head of, say, his teenage characters? 'Yes, you're right I've never been an eight year old girl,' he says, 'but I've also never been an exiled princess, or a dwarf or bastard. What I have been is human. I just write human characters.' 

The sexy high priestess Melisandre, played by actress Carice van Houten PHOTO: HBO
He gets plenty of feedback from his fans. ‘Some women hate the female characters,' he says. 'But importantly they hate them as people, because of things that they've done, not because the character is underdeveloped.' 

The pitfalls of lots of other fantasy texts, he says is when writers stray into writing in stereotypes. 

But because Martin has a sprawling world with thousands of characters (and five books to do it in), he has the luxury of developing each one fully. 'Male or female, I believe in painting in shades of grey,' he says. 'All of the characters should be flawed; they should all have good and bad, because that's what I see. Yes, it’s fantasy, but the characters still need to be real.’
Martin should be used to female adoration by now. Although he has only hit mainstream consciousness in the last few years (his books have sold more than 20m worldwide), he has been a minor celebrity on the science fiction circuit for years. His wife’s first words to him, when she met him at a science fiction conference in 1975 were that his first novel, A Song for Lya, ‘made her cry’. 

Now he is mobbed wherever he goes - his trademark fisherman's cap an instant giveaway that he is the man behind the globally successful franchise. 

Arya Stark, a nine-year-old tomboy played by Maisie Williams PHOTO: HBO
His books feature sex pretty heavily (to say the least) but it is something that has been ramped up even further for the television show, which is back on Sky Atlantic tonight. Often crucial conversations between characters happen while one of them is having sex (not always mentioned in the book) - something that has the American academic Myles McNutt to term them ‘sexposition’.
‘Is it simply because we couldn’t be trusted to pay attention otherwise?’ McNutt asked on his blog. ‘It’s as though they think having a prostitute appear and only talking, without actually having sex, would be some sort of cop-out. In my view, at least, it’s the other way around: it just feels lazy.’ 

Daenerys Targaryen, the would-be queen, played by actress, Emilia Clarke PHOTO: HBO
Gina Bellafonte in The New York Times went further. Last year she wrote: ‘all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.’ The truth was, she sniffed, ‘Game of Thrones is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.’ 

Female GOT fans lept to Martin's defence, including Emily Nussbaum from the New Yorker who wrote that the strength of the series was ‘its insight into what it means to be excluded from power: to be a woman, or a bastard, or a ‘half man’ [dwarf].’
But Bellafonte's comments still rankle with Martin a year later because he is, at heart, a feminist, despite being cautious about admitting it.
‘There was a period in my life when I would have called myself a feminist, back in the seventies, when the feminist movement was really getting going and growing out of the counter culture of the sixties,’ he says. 

‘But the feminist movement has changed. Sometime in the 80s and 90s I read some pieces by women saying that no man can ever be a feminist and you shouldn't call yourself that because it's hypocritical, so I backed off. I thought if the current crop of feminists believes that no man can be a feminist, then I guess I’m not one.’ 

Cersei Lannister, mother of King Joffrey Baratheon, played by Lena Headey PHOTO: HBO
I tell him men are allowed to be feminists again – that he can have Ryan Gosling, the 21st century’s thinking woman’s crumpet, as his mentor. He chuckles behind his candyfloss beard. ‘To me being a feminist is about treating men and women the same,’ he said. 

‘I regard men and women as all human - yes there are differences, but many of those differences are created by the culture that we live in, whether it's the medieval culture of Westeros, or 21st century western culture.’