Market Opening: Uncanny Magazine

Hey everybody, sorry for the recent drought of posts, but real life has been keeping me away from blogging.  I’m not here to whine about anything, though; I’m here to let you know about a new market opening.

Uncanny Magazine is opening for submissions in just two days (that’s September 11th, 2014).  I’m really excited to have this new market opening, not just because I like having new places to send my stories, but also because I like having new places to read great fiction.  (Though I think that I failed to post anything about it at the time, I did recently help fund their Kickstarter.)

So, go get your best manuscripts ready, and help make the launch of Uncanny great.

Submission information is here.


I’m Making a Thing!

It’s a…it’s a…it’s a THING!

AtMoM


Plug: The GameMaster’s Apprentice

Full disclosure: I know the person behind this Kickstarter personally, and I like to see my friends succeed whenever possible.

When I’m writing or running a game, sometimes (often) I run into situations where I need more information, and I need it fast.  Often this means that I need an NPC or side character.  If I’m writing, this inevitably means opening a web browser, looking up a list of names associated with a culture/language/region, and then opening Wikipedia and falling down a link hole, never to return.

That is sub-optimal.

That’s why I’m excited by The GameMaster’s Apprentice.  It’s a deck of cards that can help keep you off of the internet when you should be writing.  I suppose you could also use it for its original purpose of saving face with your players when you’re running a game and they go and do something you weren’t expecting.

In addition to knowing Nathan, the project’s creator, personally, I also know his work.  As he mentions in the video above, he worked on the Serenity RPG, which is a system that I absolutely love using when I want to run or play a swashbuckling adventure game, whether I’m in the Firefly universe or not.  At the time of this writing, the project is a bit over 50% funded, which is great, and if this looks like a useful tool to you, I’d encourage you to back it yourself.


Tolerances

This past weekend, I went to the Bay Area Maker Faire, billed as “The World’s Biggest Show and Tell.”  There were a lot of really interesting things there, way more than I could have seen in a whole week, and one of those things that I missed (because I went on Saturday, and it happened on Sunday) was Adam Savage’s talk.  Luckily, we live in the information age, and it’s already up on youtube.  You can watch the whole thing on your own, though most of it is a question and answer session, but I’m mostly interested in something that Adam said in his semi-prepared speech at the beginning.  To paraphrase, he said that what separates novices from experts is knowing where you need tight tolerances and where you can get away with loose ones.

Adam was talking about this in the context of making things, but that, especially, resonated with me as a writer as much as a maker.  Precision of language is something that can make or break a story.  Knowing where you need to be precise and where you can be more vague is the difference between holding a reader’s attention and either boring or confusing them.  If a character, Bob, has been sitting in a chair and then leaves the room, you only need a loose tolerance in your language to tell readers that the character stood up from that chair, walked to the door, opened it, and left the room—you can just say “Bob got up and left the room,” or even just “Bob left.”  That’s a pretty loose tolerance, but readers don’t need any extra verbiage to get the intended meaning from that sentence.

You would need close tolerances, though, if Bob left the room without getting out of his chair: “Bob, still seated, rolled his chair across the room and out the door,” or “Bob half rose, still gripping his chair, and shuffled out of the door.”

The important part in both of those examples, though, is knowing what level of precision is required and keeping your language compact while meeting the informational requirements of your sentence.

All of Adam’s 10 Commandments of Making can be seen in the video below, and I think most of them can apply beyond making things, but this one lodged in my head particularly.


Spurious Writing Prompt

Ok, time for a writing prompt, because I don’t know when the last time was that I posted one.  This exercise is inspired by an exercise I did way back in my freshman year of college (thanks, Gary!) where my class was asked to base a story around a picture selected from a book of pictures of mid-century America.  Rather than a picture, though, inspiration comes from a graph (yes, I know that graphs are pictures of data).

Specifically, your story should draw from any of the graphs at Spurious Correlations: a collection of curious statistical correlations generated by a computer from publicly-available data.

Correlation: 0.915876

Of course we know that correlation does not imply causation, but for the purposes of this writing exercise, it might well be more interesting to assume a causative relationship between the data.

I can think of an xkcd for almost any situation.

If you write anything that you want to share, post it (or a link—if you try to post a novel in the comments, it won’t make it out of moderation) in the comments.


Storium

Ok, yes, late to the party.  Right here.  Mock me, internet.

But if you haven’t heard of Storium yet, read on.

Storium is a freeform group writing roleplaying game.  No dice, no stack of rulebooks, just story, moderated by a narrator.  It’s one of those things where machine versus man…

Wait.

If you’re a narrator, you get to guide players through a story that you’re all writing together.  It’s like being a DM, only a lot more open, and better if you don’t plan too far ahead.

If you’re a player, you are telling the story, too.  You make it happen.

Oh, and a lot of famous authors are writing settings for the game when it launches publicly later this year.

While I’ve written about other games being good as writing prompts before, Storium is far and away the best game-as-a-gateway-to-writing.  I’m just starting a game with some of my close friends to get a feel for what Storium has to offer while conveniently getting their help to hash out some ideas I’ve had around a set piece.

Storium is on Kickstarter.  It’s funded.  They’re trying to make it to $200K in the next two days so that they can do Storium for Schools, which seems like an awesome idea.

Be there.


Late Starter

The phrase “In late, out early” is one that you’ve probably heard more times than you can count if you’ve ever taken a class on or listened to a podcast about writing.

And you’d try it yourself, really, you would, but you’re scared.  I know I’m too scared to take that advice as far as I need to often.  Yes, I’ve chopped off a first chapter or two, moving them to my scrap text files in case I need something from them later, but I’m always worried that I’ll take off too much, and my readers won’t be with me, when usually I’m too timid.  Yes, you can come in to a story too late, but I’d wager that what most people would think was way too late in their own writing is just about the right place to start for actual readers.  Because you need to trust your readers.

They’re not dumb.

I just started reading Wesley Chu’s The Lives of Tao, and his first chapter is daring in its execution of coming in late.  If I wrote that book, I don’t know that I would have been able to start so late because I’d be afraid that my readers wouldn’t get what was going on at all, but as a reader, it works for me 100% just getting thrown into the story.  Of course, part of trusting your readers is letting them self-select.  Your story will never be all things to all people.  If you’re writing space opera, no matter where you start, you’re unlikely to hook a reader who just isn’t into space opera (though you’re substantially more likely to hook them if you go in late than if you start with a huge infodump).

So.  Be brave.  Start your story where things start happening and not a moment before.  And if you’re interested in seeing a great example of “in late, out early,” you can check out the first chapter of The Lives of Tao here (Amazon).


A Wild Submissions Tracker Appears!

I’ve mentioned Duotrope’s Digest here before, I’m sure.  It’s  a website/service that helps you keep track of your submissions and collects data on markets so that you can get some sense of how long you’ll be waiting on any particular submission, as well as how likely you might be to get your piece accepted.

When I started using Duotrope’s Digest, the service was free, though they were always accepting donations (and I would donate whenever I could), but last year they went paid because they were struggling under upkeep costs.  You can pay by the month, but the most economical way is to plunk down $50 for a year of the service, which I think is a good deal for all that the service offers: submissions tracking, detailed statistics, a searchable database of markets.  And so I’ve paid.  I’ve got a lot of submissions logged there over the years, and that alone has been enough to keep my business.

Now, though, there’s another option.  (Actually, they’ve been around since sometime after Duotrope went paid in 2012, but I only found it, via Cat Rambo’s Twitter, very recently.)  The (Submission) Grinder is, well, pretty much the same thing as Duotrope, though at the moment, they only track fiction markets (which is most of what I’m writing and trying to sell anyway, so that don’t make no nevermind to me right now).  They’re also free and aim to stay that way.

So, other than not needing to pay and only being able (at the moment) to track fiction markets, what’s the difference?

The first, and most noticeable difference to my eye is that the Grinder’s submission tracker includes fields for tracking if and when you’ve been paid and when your piece has actually seen publication.  Beyond that, they also keep track of which markets have been recognized by SFWA and which have been nominated for or have won Hugo or Nebula awards, which is pretty snazzy.

So which should you use?

If you only write fiction and currently don’t use either service, you really can’t beat free.  If you already use Duotrope (and/or you write more than just fiction), you may as well get your money’s worth.  However, if you’re a Duotroper and a fiction-writer, especially one who likes getting paid, it may be worth your while to contribute your data to the Grinder–it’s not much more work, and it helps them provide more accurate statistics.  And, hey; it’s free.


Writing Your Story Now

In my last post, I wrote about the process I’m going through right now of totally re-writing a story that I first wrote almost nine years ago, and that got me to thinking about a common trap that writers fall into (and I’m as guilty as anyone).

Writers, especially new ones, often have a story, the story, that they want to write but which they hold off on because they feel that they aren’t good enough yet to do their story, their perfect, precious story-baby, justice.  This is a noble thought, sort of.  Except that if you can’t write any of your stories now because you’re not good enough, there’s no way for you to put in the work to get good enough.

I feel like this idea often comes out of some strange belief that once you write your story, that’s it: there’s nothing left to do.  But that isn’t true at all.  Writing the story down is often just the first step in what can be quite a long process of edits and re-tooling, if not re-writing altogether.

There’s nothing to stop you from revisiting a story, even years later.  Sometimes you’ll write something, and it just won’t quite work.  Maybe you can’t figure out what the problem is, or maybe you know exactly what the problem is and know that you don’t have the skill to fix it right then, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to fix it later.

So if you’ve got that story that you don’t think you can write yet because it needs to be perfect, maybe instead just give it your best shot now.  It might not be perfect, but you won’t be able to see where it isn’t working until you’ve gotten it down.

Hopefully it won’t take you nine years to get back to it.


The Fruits of Re-Writing

There is a story that I wrote back in 2005 (almost 9 years ago, now, if you can believe that) which, at the time, I thought was quite good.  Hell, George Scithers, editor of Weird Tales at the time told me that it was “Damn good.”  (Words I’ll never forget.)  I think, in retrospect, that he was saying that the story itself was good.  The writing may have been the best of my abilities at the time, but it does not hold up well today.

(You can actually find an early draft of this story online still if you know where to look, though I’m not going to tell you where.)

There is a website that I wrote back in 2009, which isn’t quite so long ago, but it feels like it was ages ago, since I was still in college at the time.  It was alright for what it was at the time, because all I could really do was some HTML and CSS, and when I learned a few tricks with PHP, it got to be a little better (though not much).  Still, it was clunky: if I wanted to add a page link to the menu, for instance, I had to add it to the index file for every single page.  Until I learned about the date() function in PHP, I even had to make sure I touched the site on the first of every year just to update the copyright notice at the bottom of every page.

I don’t make any bones about where to find that website.  You can get to it at www.HilaryBisenieks.com.

But the site you’ll find there today isn’t the site that I first wrote back in 2009.  Yes, it has the same copy, and yes, that copy is a bit out-dated in some places or incomplete in others, and yes, if you hadn’t visited the old site in a long time, you might not notice the difference visually, since the layout is about the same.  But those things are like the story; the underlying code, the HTML, CSS, and PHP that let me make a change just once and have it apply to the whole site, that’s the writing.  It’s mechanically better.

The other day, I took another look at that old story, maybe inspired by my work re-writing my website.  I cringed a little (I did a fair bit of cringing trying to sort through all the tables I used to lay out my old site and find the actual content).  The re-write isn’t done yet, and I’ll have to put it in front of my betas a few times before I let it out into the wild, but it’s getting there.

George died a few years ago.  I wrote about the influence he had on me as a young writer at the time of his death.  I hope that the new version of this story lives up to the potential he saw in those early drafts.


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