Monday, September 26, 2016

Practicing Self-Love in Front of the World

I was on a roll writing last night. Going to bed very late means getting up very late. But while I'm riding the wave to finish the last three Bloodlines books, blogging may be sporadic the next couple of months. That's not to say I'll be totally quiet...

Who do you write for?

It's a simple question, right? Or is it?

"I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it." - Toni Morrison, author of Beloved

I totally understand where Ms. Morrison is coming from.

Most writers can answer the first question of writing, which is "Why do you write?"

And regardless of the answer, it raises a second question I find most writers, old and new, don't ask themselves. "Who are you writing for?"

Some writers will answer, "For the readers."

Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But do they really understand what the readers want?

I see and hear so many writers, particularly the new ones, jump on a particular bandwagon because the subject matter/genre are what sells at the moment. Then they are shocked when their "perfect" story for a subject matter/genre doesn't sell.

I've read some of these stories. There's no passion. No spark. Nothing to set them apart from the crowd. In fact, there's times where the contempt for the subject matter shines.

Want some examples of the badness?

Let me start by saying I love Meg Cabot's writing. Absolutely love her! And I love vampire romances, which is why a friend gave me Meg's book Insatiable for Christmas of 2010. Two of my favorite things should be better than those two-pound Reese's cups Hershey puts out for holidays, right?

Ah, no. If you want to read the Amazon reviews, many readers thought the same thing I did. The characterization was piss-poor, and the heroine's constant derogatory comments about the genre did not sit well. Now, maybe Meg was trying to do a witty parody that fell flat on its face. However, I suspect a gun was held to her head by her publisher and/or her agent who told her to jump on the vampire train or else.

Want another example? Fifty Shades of Gray gives a perverted view of the BDSM lifestyle by indicating something is wrong for a person to enjoy it. BDSM has its own rules, none which were in play in this book. The heroine "saves" the hero from his "bad" choices through her "love" at the end of the series. E.L. James didn't bother to do any research, and there's a tangible contempt for anyone who likes BDSM.

But, Suzan, I hear you say, both of the books you mentioned ended up on the New York Times Best Seller List!

Yes, they did. Insatiable based on Meg's reputation. FSoG because of it's basis as Twilight fanfic and the novelty of a taboo subject.

Now, without going to or any other website or bookshelf, name a follow-up to either of those two books in the same genre that did just as well or better. I'll be extra generous; if you can name one book published after 2010 in the comments, I'll revise part of my opinion and give you full credit.

But the part where these books were painful to read because these two authors didn't enjoy writing them? I definitely stand by that opinion.

And I have to wonder if this is where part of the tortured writer mythos is coming from. You must drag yourself to your desk everyday, crafting a story you neither respect or find desirable to read if someone else wrote it, and only when you write the perfect story, the perfect paragraph, the perfect line, on a subject you hate will you find fulfillment.

I'm a proponent of write what you love. If I'm not having fun, it shows. In fact, I rewrote "Diplomacy in the Dark" after my beta reader pointed out, "This wasn't as good as 'Justice'."

I didn't expect them to point out craft flaws, but I did ask some pointed questions. The response came down to, "It felt like you were going through the motions."

And they were right. The first draft was too much like something George R.R. Martin would write. I was trying too hard to emulate someone else's success. And frankly, I didn't enjoy writing it.

So I started over from scratch. On the second try, I got "Now this reads for like a Justice Anthea story!" from my beta.

And while different people like different characters in the Bloodlines series, the overwhelming favorite is Sam Ridgeway. I have fun writing her, and it definitely shows to the readers.

You see, I wrote Sam for me when I was in a very bad place in my life. Complications from my first pregnancy left me unable to have any more children. My marriage was falling apart. My first business had failed due to economic circumstance truly beyond my control.

What it came down to was I needed something, anything, fun, or the depression would have consumed me. And Sam was fun.

But she was also my lifeline. My inspiration. If she could climb out of the hellhole of her death, I could find a way to deal with my own problems.

So I wrote to entertain myself first. And I continue to write for me. It doesn't mean I don't care about the readers. But if I'm not laughing and crying along with my characters, if I'm not enjoying the story, I know my readers won't either.

My unconscious resentment of writing something I don't like will show in the story.

One of the best piece of writing advice I've received was from Tobias Buckell. At a talk he gave, the subject of his work in the Halo universe came up. He said some writers will produce contracted tie-in stories just for the paycheck. Tobias's criteria was "Will I have fun doing this project?"

I think the fun quotient is important for a writer no matter who signs the paychecks.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Music in My New Car

Then there are the songs that even have my MIL tapping her toes as I take her to doctors' appointments.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Nine Worst Provisions in Your Publishing Contract

Yes, I've been rather quiet over the past week. For all of you readers who have patiently waited for three years, I'm working hard to get the last four books in the Bloodlines finished before the end of 2016.

If you're a writer though and are seriously thinking about a trad deal, here's an excellent little handbook from David P. Vandagriff. If the name is unfamiliar, he also goes by The Passive Guy, the head honcho over at the think tank otherwise known as The Passive Voice.

David's book is not legal advice since contrary to what certain people tell you, not all contracts are the same. His tome covers the ickiest provisions of publishing contracts, provisions designed to take all your money, your hard work, and your career away from you. He also gives you tips to avoid these soul-wrenching clauses. If nothing else, the book is great conversation starter for you and your attorney.

David's book will be free over the weekend!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Music in My New Car

Then there are the selections DH and I can agree on...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Failing to Keep Up with the Joneses

We're closing in on the last quarter of the year, and I feel like I'm slipping farther and farther. The list of tasks to get done in 2016 has quite a few things crossed off as of today, but I still have over half the list left to go.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

My old anal self would be despairing at this point for not being three quarters of the way through the to-do list by now.

But my new self? Well, she listed everything that's come out, or is about to come out, this year to an old friend over dinner last Friday. The friend, who is not a writer but is an attorney looking to change careers, was impressed because to her, writing is tedious and time-consuming.

And I realized my old self had been doing something stupid. I'd fallen into the same trap I'd warned other writers about--comparing myself to other people. Failing to keep up with other writers didn't necessarily mean I had failed.

Already, I've written more this year than I had last year or the year before. I'd definitely published more this year than I had last year or the year before. Maybe I wasn't as caught up with my business plan as I would have liked, but I wasn't sitting on my hands either.

This last week alone, I uploaded the print version of Justice: The Beginning, reviewed my portion of the galleys for Sword and Sorceress 31, organized my blurb sheets for each published story (which was a way overdue task), edited a bit more of Zombie Goddess, and wrote a bit on four different novels.

So I'm failing forward.

And that's always a good thing.

Monday, September 12, 2016


Tom Junod wrote an incredible, thoughtful, moving article for Esquire Magazine about the pictures AP photographer Richard Drew took on the morning of September 11, 2001. The most famous of the photographs, dubbed "The Falling Man", was originally published on September 12, 2001. And over the course of the last fifteen years, that picture has been censored.

Not by the government, but by the American people themselves.


Junod elaborates on the possible reasons as some of his journalist colleagues attempted to identify the man in Drew's photo series. But the common theme in the responses from families the reporters contacted is a mixture of anger and shame. Junod equated the emotions to our collective horror over the terrorism of that day.

I believe the reaction is due to another reason. It all comes down to Americans' bizarre relationship with suicide.

Suicide is often equated with mental illness. Even assisted suicide for those in the end stage of disease are looked at askance. Yet, neither of those situations remotely compare to the place those people trapped in the Twin Towers found themselves that morning.

As DH said to me on that day fifteen years ago, "How bad were things up there that jumping out a window was a better option?"

No one knows exactly how many people jumped that awful morning. Junod gives estimates based on educated guesses from viewing raw footage. 9/11, the accidental documentary by the French brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, left in the shocked firefighters' reaction when they realized the sounds they heard were bodies. Allegedly, the documentarians edited out some of the hits because the constant thuds were too much for them.

I recorded 9/11 when it was first aired on March 10, 2002. I admit I haven't been able to watch the recording again, much less the airings of the film on the anniversaries, because of those sounds.

The NYC medical examiners office refused to classify anyone who died in the Twin Towers attacks as "a jumper". To the M.E.s, those people did not go to the Towers with the intent to commit suicide that morning.

So I can understand Junod's suggestion over the collective horror over something we witnessed and could do nothing to stop. But it doesn't explain the anger or the denial directed at those who chose to jump. And maybe that's the problem. We don't know what went through their minds that morning.

Collectively, Americans pride themselves on their can-do, never-give-up attitudes. We condemn people for giving up or not trying hard enough. And to some of the families of those who died, the idea that a loved one "gave up" is anathema to the person they knew.

But did these people really give up? Essentially, their choice to live was taken from them by nineteen members of al-Qaeda. They were reduced to suffocating, burning alive, or being crushed to death when the walls and ceilings started to collapse.

Instead, some of these people found a fourth option. An option not dictated by those who wanted to kill them.

To me, it was the bravest option. A final screw-you to the terrorists.

And frankly, it's the option I would have taken too.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Music in My New Car

The reason our library is so eclectic is our differing tastes. DH is a little more Classic Rock. I'm more New Wave/Hip-Hop/Dance.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Special Star Trek Post on a Special Anniversary

Once upon a time, a little science fiction television show called Star Trek debuted shortly before my first birthday. Of course, I didn't have the cognitive process at the time to appreciate this show, which didn't matter. The area where my parents lived at the time didn't have a TV station that carried the program.

Both situations changed three years later. Star Trek had been cancelled by NBC, but the show's new owners, holding company Gulf + Western, licensed it into syndication. Our local TV station broadcast started airing reruns at five p.m., which was when my mother would be cooking dinner.

And this is a perfect example of why parents should ALWAYS monitor their children's media consumption if they don't want their children thinking on their own.

My mother was horrified by the show on too many levels to count. To her, the worst part was my fangirl worship of Lieutenant Uhura, a black woman. I'm not sure what made a racist like my mother give in, but I managed to finagle a Sunset Malibu Christie for my 8th birthday. She was the only African-American doll available at any of our local stores at the time.

As soon as I could, I took off the doll's swimsuit and sunglasses, and created a bright red mini-dress for my "Lt. Uhura" to wear on her adventures. And did she have adventures! She and Wonder Woman (another Barbie who was re-imagined) were often sent in to rescue G.I. Joe and Steve Austin from missions gone wrong.

However, Star Trek did far more than hone my sewing skills. I was fascinated by the U.S. space program. For the first time, I saw a female astronaut, and I had hope that I could be one, despite my mother's protestations that girls could not be astronauts. (In all fairness, her statement was true in 1969.)

Despite the alleged maternal care that I didn't get too big for my britches, I studied and dreamed and finally, not only did the civilian astronaut program open, but women were accepted into the military academies. Majoring in physics seemed to be the path to my goal, except...

I failed horribly in a couple of core classes my junior year in college. My advisor, who was also the head of the physics department, was nearly in tears. How could I understand quantum mechanics and not get basic electricity and magnetism?

To make matters worse, I received the information packet for applying for the civilian program at NASA. And I discovered that my eyesight was so bad it wouldn't even qualify for NASA's laxer civilian program. You have to remember that this is the mid-'80's. Lasik was a highly experimental procedure from the godless communists of the U.S.S.R.

Oddly enough, I qualified for an internship at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the following summer, but my heart was no longer in physics. If I couldn't be an astronaut, what was the point of continuing?

As I tried to stuff the core classes for a computer science degree, Paramount, who now owned the rights to Star Trek, decided to try a new series. By that time, it had become something of a running joke in my sorority that I was a Trekkie. To my surprise, a bunch of my sisters wanted to go with me to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Hey, if there was a movie for non-Trekkies to see, that was the one.

Anyway, WUAB in Cleveland planned to carry the new series as well as the original Star Trek on Saturday evenings. They normally scheduled movies for Friday night prime time and decided to run the double-episode premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation as their Friday night movie, as well as showing it during it's regular Saturday night timeslot.

Anyone familiar with Greeks knows they like to party. Everyone in my sorority had plans for Friday night, and I thought, Yes! I'll have the living room TV to myself to watch the new series!

Which was a great plan until lunch on Thursday when I was badgered about going out on the next night. Two of my friends cornered my in my dorm room later, demanding to know what I was doing. I broke down and told them the truth. They decided they would stay and watch the premiere with me, then go to whatever party they'd planned to go to.

Thursday at supper, Martin, the boyfriend of one of nagging friends, charged up to me, demanding to know why I didn't tell him WUAB was airing ST:TNG a night early. Did I mention he started as a physics major as well? Oh, and he told me he was joining us to watch the premiere.

Now, Martin wasn't the typical science nerd. He was hot, athletic and popular. He told his brothers he was watching the new Star Trek show with his girlfriend, Anne-Marie. And Anne-Marie was also hot, athletic and popular. The next thing I know, my quiet Star Trek premiere night was an informal Greek mixer.

Five minutes before the show started, I stood up and announced if anyone so much as spoke during the show, I would seriously harm them.

Surprisingly, everyone remained absolutely silent.

Once I was out of school, I attended every Star Trek convention I could. I have an autograph from George Takei. Got to listen to DeForest Kelley's poetry. Saw Walter Koenig's unspoken dread over the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Over the years, Star Trek became my test for friends and eventually my husband. If you couldn't stand the show and couldn't keep your high-and-mighty opinion to yourself, I knew you couldn't accept me.

So of course, since I love Star Trek, my son feels he needs to rebel and hate it. Or so he claims. Where most teens try to hide their porn consumption, my son tries to hide that he loves Star Trek: Voyager. He's binged the first three seasons over the last couple of weeks.

And this week, I received this gorgeous specimen. My friend Ro knew I'd been having a rough few years. She sent me the 50th Anniversary Lt. Uhura as a surprise. And she arrived just in time for today.

Happy Birthday, Star Trek! May you continue for another fifty years!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Mondays, Labor Days, and Tornado Sirens

It's the first Monday of September, which means it's Labor Day here in the good ole' U.S. of A. It also means the monthly testing of the town's tornado sirens.

At 10 a.m.

After a firetruck had been in our complex's parking lot until after 3 a.m.

And parked right outside our window.

With the lights flashing.

No, we weren't sure what was going on, and frankly, we didn't want to.

That's the problem with living in an apartment. Sometimes you end up with skeevy neighbors.

But it's also a symptom of modern life in rural America. The folks in this town with a living-wage job either work white-collar for THE MAJOR EMPOYER or blue-collar for the handful of decent factory jobs that are left. The rest try to make do with a combination of minimum wage jobs.

And that dramatic range shows in our neighbors.

Unless they're like DH and me and they work from home. Okay, maybe not like DH and me when the neighbors are selling drugs instead of fantasy books.


So I will continue nodding in a friendly way to the neighbors, and not ask too many questions of them.

And write my books.

On Labor Day.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Music in My New Car

The last time DH and I bought a car was literally last century. Goddess, how things have changed! We've each been uploading our own favorites to the onboard entertainment computer. The result is a bit...eclectic.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Writers and the Dunning-Kruger Effect - Part 2

Why is there a Part 2 I hear all you cute, fuzzy new writers ask? Sure, I listened to you last week, Suzan. I know I'll run into the occasional crazy reader who thinks they know more about a subject than I do. But it doesn't really matter, does it?

Yes, it does. Because we writers can be just as guilty of the Dunning-Kruger Effect as the readers, especially when we are first starting out.

Lots of us think that because our English teacher gave us a chocolate bar for winning some essay contest in fourth grade, we can write professionally.

Oh, Goddess, how I wish that were true!

I've done several types of writing professionally over the last twenty-eight years: tech writing, legal writing, magazine article writing, and genre fiction. The rules and purposes for each are radically different. If I tried to write fiction in the same style as a technical manual, it would be as boring as hell. If I wrote a complaint the same way I write fiction, opposing counsel would demand a resubmission of the complaint, saying that I didn't state an actual issue of fact or law to be decided, and that's assuming the judge wouldn't also chew my ass out for wasting her time.

I assume all of you reading this blog knows the basics, but let's start there with a few examples just in case:

- Spelling

You'd think this would be the easiest part, but it's not. Most of us have forgotten more vocabulary and spelling words since junior high than we remember. And it's okay. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus next to you or on your browser tabs for quick look-ups.

If you're like me, and you read a lot of Canadian and U.K. books, sometimes you can flip between the different spellings for the same word, e.g "gray" versus "grey". Some readers don't give a flying flip because technically both are correct spellings. However, you will get an occasional person who throws a fit about "grey" because "'Murica!"

All I'll say is the best idea is to stay consistent in your spelling and terms. If you use "grey", make sure that an elevator is a "lift" and a cigarette is a "fag".

- Grammar

The best word of advice is to know the rules before you break them. If you're writing a magazine article, you're generally going to use more formal grammar than you would writing teen dialogue for a fiction novel.

Two of the best places to review grammar rules are Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style. A few things to keep in mind:

- Elements of Style has an originally publishing date of 1920, Chicago Manual of Style 1906. While both guides have been updated, they were written for more specific purposes than prose fiction.

- English is a constantly evolving language. New words are constantly being added as new things are created, and old words are discarded as they fall from common, every day use.

- These are guides, not the Fifteen Ten Commandments carved in stone. Or if you're talking to Captain Jack Sparrow, they are merely suggestions. The truly important thing to remember--keep your meaning clear to the average reader.

That said, here's some examples of breaking the rules:

"She drove around town. She couldn't decide on a restaurant. And she ate my candy!"

I'm sure your grade school teacher beat it into your heads that you should NEVER start a sentence with a conjunction. Bullshit! This is an example of an arbitrary rule forced on English by a bitter old priest who decided that English HAD to look just like Latin. Uh, no, it doesn't.

"Who did you give my puppy to?"

There are two items here.

First, the "to" is hanging out there by itself. The dreaded dangling participle goes back to that same bitter old priest and his obsession with Latin. So feel free to let your participles dangle if your sentence makes sense.

The second issue is "who". Since it is the indirect object, the proper form should be "whom". However, just like we no longer use "thee", "thou", and "thine" as pronouns, the use of "whom" has fallen out of favor--except for a few English majors with broomsticks firmly stuck up their asses.

- Homonyms

This is one area where you do need to follow the rules because if you don't, you can totally change the meaning.

"There over the hill..."

"They're over the hill..."

Do you mean something or someone is on the other side of the hill, or are you insulting someone for their advanced age?

- Punctuation

Again, follow the rules unless it involves an Oxford comma. My personal feeling is you only need the Oxford when confusion may arise.

Good Example: "At the store, I bought carrots, celery and chicken broth."

Bad Example: "He brought his dogs, Miles and Jim."

Are Miles and Jim his dogs or are they his cats? Friends? Brothers?

- Possessive forms

Again, this one where you do your damndest to get it correct, and if you're confused, go to your preferred style guide. The real problem I see often is whether to use -'s when a proper name ends with an -s.

Example: St. James' townhouse or St. James's townhouse

Technically, both are correct. The only thing I would say is whichever form you decide on, use it consistently through your work.

There's a lot more to writing basics, but I'm trusting that you know them, or you're smart enough to brush up as you write.

Good luck!