A Querying I will Go!

IMG_5208It’s been a wild spring with unpredictable weather and plenty of changes to adapt into my life. As a family with young kids, the only thing I can depend on from day to day is unpredictability.  My youngest has developed a fascination with Minecraft and loves to play on the worlds he is creating with someone else. I’ll admit, I think it’s really fun to play with him as well, but every hour spent playing video games is an hour not spent doing anything that will help me reach my goals.

That said, perhaps the biggest news is that I’m starting to query out my epic fantasy novel. I didn’t image there would be this much stress associated with waiting for publishers and agents to give me their approval, or rejection, or no response at all. I’ve been at it since December but have only started sending out multiple queries at a time this last month.

The plan for the next few months is to always have five queries out at a time and to participate in whatever Twitter pitch contests drift my way. While this isn’t super aggressive, it doesn’t take over my life either.

[For those scratching their heads – a query is simply a formal letter sent to publishers and literary agents that tells about the book and about the author. A pitch is a short sentence that sums up the book. Both are mind-numbingly hard to create.]

On the short story front, I have two pieces that have been accepted and are awaiting scheduling with the publisher. I will most definitely be posting as soon as I have more info. One is a retelling of classic Vietnamese folklore, the  Starfruit Tree and is slated for an anthology. The other, The Skull Collector, is best described as a cross between Moana and the Hunger Games and will be in a magazine.

Other news, I was asked to judge a short story contest for the University of Utah Valley’s Warp and Weave speculative fiction literary magazine. While I’ve judged stories before, it’s never been for anything more than my writing group. All the stories were amazing so it was a true challenge to pick those that rose above the rest.

There’s always a ton of fun/agonizing work to do. While waiting for query responses from agents and editors I have a bundle of great ideas I’d like to work up into publishable short stories and a draft of the sequel novel to create. I also have a handful of presentations to prepare for upcoming conferences, for more info click here.

Here’s to a great Spring!

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Writing Exercise: Three Nouns

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One of the toughest parts of the writing process is getting started on a new project. While the easiest way to overcome white page paralysis is to embrace the “crappy first draft” idea there are other options. Today’s writing exercise comes from WritingExercises.co.uk where you can find hundreds of prompt generators, randomizers, and all other sorts of golden nuggets.

The exercise:

Take three nouns and freewrite

The beauty of this exercise is that it allows the brain to make abstract connections between three unrelated objects which often generates fresh characters, places, and stories. 

Freewriting is best with a timer and an atmosphere free of distractions. I prefer 15 minute chunks. It’s long enough to form a few concrete ideas and begin running with them. Often it feels like nothing but drivel comes from the exercise until I go back and read what’s there and find a few gems that I can use.

Check it out – here’s a handy three noun generator, just for you!

Fantasy in Real Life: Bike in Tree Micro Fiction Contest

Bike in TreeThe story behind this surreal image is that in 1914 a boy left his bike chained to a tree, then went to war and then never returned. As it is writer Wednesday, let’s use this as a writing prompt and create something even more awesome.

Your challenge:

Write a micro fiction (100 words or less) about what really happened to the bike.

Best entry wins a mini-featurette to be posted next week!

Rules:

  1. Entry must be posted in the comments no later than Friday, July 10, 2015.
  2. Entry must be 100 words or less, not including the title.
  3. Winner will be notified on Monday, July 14th (when I get around to it…)
  4. There is no inherent cash value to this prize and therefore it may not be exchanged for cash. (However, publicity is worth it’s weight in gold so… go for it!)
  5. Have fun and keep it PG13 or less.

Using Rites and Rituals in Fiction

StarWarsIV_327PyxurzWe’ve come around back to writer Wednesday once more and today we are talking about using rites and rituals in fiction.  When I say rites and rituals, I’m referring to any choreographed set of actions performed by several people that is meant to add importance to an event. For the sake of this post we will use the term “ceremony” to include all rites and rituals and related events. These events include formal religious rites and public occasions such as awards, weddings, anniversaries, coronations, and funerals.

Some ceremonies are simple. For example the Japanese Tea Ceremony is performed by one host and is meant to show respect for the honored guests through a demonstration of grace and good etiquette. This isn’t to say that is is easy, the ceremony takes years to learn and a lifetime to master.

Large ceremonies can require hundreds of well-trained individuals to do their part. The success of the ceremony depends on how well each person can perform their part. A coronation, especially when it is also meant to be a display of power, is a perfect example of ceremony on a massive scale. There is a military presence in dress uniform, a religious order also in ceremonial dress, the members of government, and the people of the country. They all have specific roles to play, symbolic gestures or actions to perform, and often a prescribed set of words to say.

Including ceremony in your fiction, when and if the story calls for it, will do several awesome things for the story itself.  First, it deepens and broadens the world where the story takes place. If there is a ceremony, then it must mean that the world has a deep rich history. It makes everything that much more real.

Second, a ceremony transforms a scene into a formal event and brings with it deeper and more poignant emotional notes. It forces the reader to read closely and think about symbolism and ideas in a more abstract way, which draws them deeply into the story.

Lastly, a great ceremony will bring a sense of awe and wonder. Everything from the costuming to the venue itself is eye candy. The characters will have plenty to react to and their reactions become the readers experience. There should be beauty and mystery paired with decorum and a sense of importance.

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The Southern Oracles of Neverending Story

A fictional ceremony should contain some, if not all of these elements:

  1. Central focus – this might be a person, object, or goal. All participants in the ceremony are either physically or mentally centered on this item. Everything that happens returns to this item.
  2. Ceremonial dress – clothing, or lack there of, is hugely important to most ceremonies. Be sure to describe it! Think graduations and weddings, there are the robes, the white dress, the robes of the clergy, the stoles and caps of the doctorates.
  3. Unique venue – Special events call for special places and this place will reflect the needs of the ceremony. Weddings take place in churches or specially prepared outdoor locations. Award ceremonies use special halls and public meeting areas.
  4. Prescribed Actions – Perhaps one the key elements of a ceremony is the repetition of the same actions each time. These actions depend of the needs of the ceremony and may include dance, song, chants, specific routes to walk, repeated words and phrases.
  5. Sound – Much of this is part of the prescribed actions, but it bears repeating. Will your ceremony use music, drums, clapping, or stomping? Take time to consider the ambiance. If it is a solemn ceremony it will be quieter, if it is a celebration it will be louder. Sometimes the most noted feature of a ceremony is the silence that is maintained.

How will you use ceremonial rites and rituals in your writing? What are your favorite fictional ceremonies? Share in the comments!

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For more inspiration, check out some of these unique ceremonies:

Genre Talk: Dark Fantasy

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Surreal, bizarre, and ringing with that horror that only Stephan King can produce, the Dark Tower series is most definitely a dark fantasy.

From heroic to epic and everything in between, the fantasy genre has something for everyone who loves a touch of magic in their fiction.  Fantasy is defined as any story, artwork, or film with elements that are scientifically impossible and are often set in imaginary worlds. That which is impossible is explained as magic and includes people or things that can do the extraordinary.

Dark fantasy takes those elements and adds horror.

These works, which include literary works, art, and film, are dark and gloomy and often give the viewer a sense of horror and dread.

There is still a bit of debate between the finer points of what elements make up a dark fantasy. The point where people are divided comes down to the setting. Some argue that supernatural horror set on earth should be considered “contemporary fantasy” and “dark fantasy” should be reserved for supernatural horror that occurs on secondary worlds.

The term gets confused further when writers use the term “dark fantasy” and sometimes “gothic fantasy” it as a less lurid way to refer to horror.

Because the definition is fairly vague, works classified as “dark fantasy” come in every shape and size. There are no elements or tropes that must be present beyond the presence of supernatural elements and a dark, brooding, tone. So yes, there be vampires and werewolves here.

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And everyone knows that these Edwardian vampires wouldn’t dare sparkle.

Popular works that fit in the Dark Fantasy category include: Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series.

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Read more Genre Talk articles:

Keeping the Story Real

If Ace Rimmer can ride a random alligator then it must be ok, right?

If Ace Rimmer can ride a random alligator then it must be ok, right?

It’s writing Wednesday and yet another chance to inundate the webverse with more unsolicited writing advice. Woo Hoo!

Today’s topic is about keeping it real when it comes to plotting a story. I’m sure we’ve all seen or read at least one story where something happens that’s hopefully exciting or at least vaguely interesting, but has nothing to do with the story. Jack M. Bickham refers to this as “dropping alligators through the transom.”

Unless your story is about mutant alligators taking over an office building, there is probably no good reason for it to happen.

I can hear the argument already.”This scene was kinda dull so I thought adding killer bees would add a bit more interest.”

Ahem… If your scene was dull, and you knew it was dull, why is it even in your story? Just sayin’

The point that I’m trying to make is that all story elements need to make sense. Being super cool isn’t a good enough reason to add something new. It has to feel like it belongs. David Farland also talks about this in different terms.  He says that the story needs to be honest to itself. This doesn’t mean it has to be true, a good piece of fiction weaves together a multitude of realistic elements in new and intriguing ways.

Not sure if you are guilty or not? This is where having another critical set of eyes check over your story can be a life saver. As writers we can get blind to our own work. The story is so alive in our head that it’s hard to see when we might have added something that doesn’t make sense.

So, what happens if we have dropped the proverbial alligator? Relax. It’s not the end of the world. One of two things might have happened. The first is when you have added something that totally works in your world, but you’ve neglected to build your world enough to make it feel natural to the reader. The fix is to add a few more passages during the early chapters of the book, or scenes of the story, that make your alligator fit.

The other thing that might have happened is a bit tougher to fix without removing the offending element entirely. This is when something has been added to spice things up, but it feels like it doesn’t belong with the story.

Say you have a space captain that needs to land his failing craft before it explodes. It’s taken a hit from a Xabulon warship and is being pulled into the planet’s gravity. While wresting the controls, the second-in-command has an allergic reaction that swells his throat shut.

We have two big problems. Saving the second-in-command and landing the ship safely. If the allergic reaction has something to do with the enemy that they are facing then by all means use it and slam your readers with a super dramatic scene. However, if it doesn’t, it feel like it’s coming from nowhere and might just serve to confuse or worse take focus away from the real problem.

There is one place where random elements work well, and that’s with humor. This is where introducing the delightfully unexpected can pay off. That said, there are limits. Too much and it comes across as goofy or silly. Ace Rimmer, seen in the picture above, is a character in the BBC space comedy Red Dwarf. His entire character revolves around the absurd and unlikely, like riding an alligator to escape an exploding airplane. It’s silly and not at all logical and that’s what makes it fun.

Whatever you end up doing, Mind your alligators and Happy Writing!

Writing Fantasy Profanity

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Don’t mix up your Bantha Poodoo with your Nerf Herders! Getting swearing right is important.

It’s writer Wednesday and today we are going to delve into the risque topic of fantasy profanity. Well, ok, it’s not all that risque. In fact, the reason many people like fantasy novels is that there is rarely ever any swearing.

Instead, we enter the world of alternate swearing. In a fantasy world there are different beliefs and different cultural practices that lead to different terms being considered profane, just like different English speaking countries have distinct swear words. Saying ‘bollocks’ or ‘bloody’ in the US barely gets an eyebrow raise because most people don’t know what they mean.

Using standard swearing in a fantasy novel doesn’t make sense because you wouldn’t expect an alternate civilization to develop the same swear words. When they are used they pull the reader from the narrative – a big NO NO.

Let’s see how these titles handle swearing –

Mazerunner, James Dashner: (I’m talking about the book, not the movie) The Gladers those who live withing the maze use ‘shuck’ and ‘clunk’ ans their stronger swears.

  • Clunk is a direct replacement for sh%t and comes directly from the sound made when using the rustic bathroom – and yes, this is explained in the book.
  • Shuck rhymes with fu%k for a reason.
  • Other slang includes: shank, slim it, slinthead, greenbean, jacked, and bloody.

Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: There are a plethora of these, for the complete list, check out the wiki. These words are tied directly to the world where much of the protagonists history includes blood, fire, and magic. The most popular swear words are the following:

  • Flaming used much like we use ‘damn’ and expresses anger or hatred toward something or someone.
  • Blasted a slightly stronger version of ‘flaming’
  • Light used as an exclamation similar to how we use ‘god’
  • Burn (me, you, etc) is also similiar to damn and is used when people are upset
  • Blood and Ashes expresses anger and disgust.

Star Wars Universe: While this is sci/fi the same rules apply – it’s not our world or culture so the swear words would be different. I was actually surprised at how many of these there are, for a complete run down, including origins and definitions, check out this article.

  • F-bomb substitutes: crink/crinking, farkled. kark/karking, kriff/kriffing, krong, Skrog/skrogging, snark/snarking (no relation to today’s snarky).
  • S-word substitutes: druk, dwang, Holy Sith!, shab, shavit.
  • Other Insults: Bantha poodoo, e chu ta, hutt-spawn, laserbrain/blaster brain, lurdo, nerf herder, schutta, sculag, sleemo, son of a blaster, stoopa, vong.

Needless to say, there are many ways to handle swearing in your world.  The more deeply embedded into the culture and world, the better these insults will be.  If your world has a lot of water elements then there should be some water related swearing and insults, wethead, salt and slime, salty, bilge, etc. A desert culture would use a different set that evoked images of heat, dry, and stench.

Whatever you do, make it meaningful. Random words used as swear words won’t affect your reader nearly as much as words that have a history and a purpose.

Happy Writing!