Tag Archives: Writing

MY 2022 YEAR IN REVIEW

I’m pleased to announce that I had a couple of items published in 2022:

  • Etruscan Afterlife appeared in The Reinvented Heart, edited by Cat Rambo & Jenn Brozek
  • The Holy Wars of Mathematics: A Secret History of the Calculus of Chicanery, which appeared in 99 Tiny Terrors, became available via Amazon.

My Virtual Appearances (still available to watch!):

My In-Person Appearances:

  • Balticon 56 (science fiction convention in Baltimore)
  • Chicon 8, (World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago)
  • Multiverse (SF & fantasy convention in Atlanta)

Most Enjoyable Reads:

  • Hot Moon by Alan Smale
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
  • A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
  • Booth by Karen Joy Fowler

Most Unexpected Pleasure:

  • Being invited to write a regular column. Details soon!

Best Trips:

  • San Diego to Seattle via plane, automobile and overnight train
  • Runner-up: summertime spent at a lake in the Adirondacks

Best Educational Opportunities:

  • Smithsonian Institution on-line classes about art, archaeology, and world heritage sites
  • Close Runner-up: The Rambo Academy classes for writers at all skill levels featuring many different aspects of our craft.

Best Museum Experiences:

  • Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles
  • Royal Ontario Museum, especially dinosaur fossils and minerals

Most Entertaining Streaming Series:

  • Wednesday

Guilty Pleasure:

  • Enstrom almond toffee

Things to come in 2023: Watch this space for announcements about:

  • Murder at the Westminster Dino Show
  • Who’s a Good Hellhound?
  • Other fun stuff I can’t disclose yet!

THOUGHTS ABOUT NANOWRIMO

National Novel Writing Month is November. It’s when lots of authors set out to write a whole novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, in a single month. Some writers can do so. Some cannot or chose not to. Many fine writers ignore the whole thing. That said, NaNoWriMo can be useful for newish writers in several ways:

  • It gets them in the habit of writing.
  • It gets their families, friends and those in their household in the habit of expecting them to be absorbed in writing.
  • Lots of words, or at least a goodly number, end up on the page, words that can later be supplemented and improved later.
  • It provides camaraderie with other NaNoWriMo writers. Thus, it can counteract the lonely aspects of this solitary endeavor.

Nonetheless, NaNoWriMO doesn’t work for everyone year after year. Here’s why:

  • It causes some of us writers to compare our output to that of others. Now there’s a surefire way to sap the joy out of writing. Plus, it increases the pressure to crank out the words.
  • It leaves those working on short stories, essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction feeling like afterthoughts.
  • New writers who don’t end up with 50,000 words can feel like they’ve failed. Never mind that life events, holidays, academia, and work schedules are not conducive to a month of intensive writing.
  • It takes some doing to adapt NaNoWriMo’s word count to the process of revising a work in process.

Final thoughts: if you are a writer and NaNoWritMo works for you, that’s great! If it doesn’t, for whatever reason you can identify and even if you don’t know why, please don’t think of it as a failure or yourself as a failure. Creative writing is not a win/lose competition.

THE DREADED EDIT LETTER

This isn’t a real edit letter, although when procrastination sets in, an edit letter awaiting a response can feel this old. Let me back up for those who might not know what an edit letter is. After a story or book has been accepted for publication, the acquiring editor will usually send the author a letter explaining whatever changes the editor believes will improve the work. They range from minor stuff like commas and hyphenation of words, to adding or deleting sentences or paragraphs, or more significant issues. Sometimes editors will point out plot holes or the need to explain more about how a character acts or feels. They may include suggestions or leave the fixes to the writer.

As a writer, I never know what the edit letter may contain until it pops into my inbox. Thus the trouble begins. By this I mean brain weasels take hold before I have a chance to open the email. The brain weasels scream that the editor has decided not to publish my work after all. No, I reply, that’s absurd. Next the brain weasels say the editor has major problems with my work, intractable problems. That’s absurd, too, I reply. But wait. What if the editor has found something I don’t know how to fix?

You can see why I’m tempted to postpone opening the edit letter. When I do, it’s fine. Rather, there are some good suggestions that make for a better story. with relief, I fix stuff. As I turn in the revisions, I swear I’m never going to let the brain weasels play their tricks on me ever again. Then next time…

KEEPING SECRETS (WRITER EDITION)

A writer should have a secret. This advice was given to me years ago when I was first learning to craft fiction. Readers love surprises, the theory goes, with an important caveat. The writer must lay the groundwork so that the reveal comes as a surprise, but then the reader thinks, ‘yes of course, even though I didn’t I see that coming.’

Real life, being messier than fiction, also requires writers to keep secrets from their readers and even other writers. There can be exciting news but it’s not yet time to announce it. Frequently, it’s not the writer’s place to disclose the news. Maybe the author sold a new story or book, learned their work will be republished, or accepted a business opportunity, was asked to appear at an event, got nominated for or won an award, received a favorable review, or racked up impressive sales figures. You get the idea.

The writer may be sworn to secrecy until the project or event is announced and everyone sends their congratulations. If the writer seems pleased but not giddy with excitement, this may be because they’ve had weeks or even months to absorb the happy news.

Keep in mind, those of us with intense imaginations (we are writers, after all) have already envisioned the exciting event in considerable detail. By this, I mean not only what we’ve achieved but sometimes the possibility of the project crashing and burning. Thus, simply finding out how things turn out can spark relief as much as anything else.

Might these musings be a long-winded way of hinting that you may want to watch this space? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

58 BOOKS ON WRITING (PLUS ONE I HATE)

Hey writers, how many books about the craft of writing fiction are on your shelves? Mine contain 58, not that I’ve read every word of all of them. I’ve only dipped into parts of some. There are general how-to’s and more specialized ones on plot, character, dialog, scenes, point-of-view, structure, suspense, emotion and such like. There are others devoted to a specific genre like science fiction, mystery, etc. Some (maybe most) give the ambitious reader exercises to try at home. Many dissect sentences and paragraphs that achieve superior results.

And now you’re waiting for me to get to the book I hate.

First, I think it important to tell you why I reacted as I did. This one came into my life recently. That means it had some tough competition, like Nancy Kress’ BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, & ENDS and Donald Maas’ THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, and books covering a broader range of artistic endeavors like David Bayles and Ted Orland’s ART & FEAR. The latest one that didn’t measure up was written by a professor who is overly fond of quoting his own work. Even when he drew examples from other works, many of his examples left me indifferent. He also exuded impatience at encountering the same weaknesses again and again in succeeding classes of students taking his courses. My sympathies were with his students. Worst of all, I’m searching to come up with something–anything–I learned for my investment of time and money.

While pushing onward through his chapters, I wondered what my reaction would have been if I had read this one years ago when I was a newer writer. Would his points have impressed me before my forays into 57 other books on writing? Is my response largely because his work is more suitable for Creative Writing 101 whereas seminar material is more my speed?

Lastly, why am I telling you this? The reason is simple: As writers, we find ourselves on a seemingly never-ending quest to improve our story-telling skills. Rather than growing annoyed at a writing manual that doesn’t work for us, lets go find something more tailored to whatever it is we’d like to learn, whether that’s working in a specific genre (romance, detective stories, historical fiction, etc.) or tackling a specific format (novels, short stories, screen plays, or multi-volume series) or developing ways to write despite adversity in our lives.

Do you have a book about writing that you found particularly helpful to the point that you return to it for fresh guidance?

MY NEXT STORY DROPS ON MARCH 10!

I tell you this now so you can get in on the ebook for a discounted pre-publication price. My story, “Etruscan Afterlife,” combines an ancient sarcophagus for two people with a mechanism for uploading the human mind and thereby escaping death. It will be in The Reinvented Heart along with stories and poems by some incredible writers such as Jane Yolen, Naomi Kritzer, Fran Wilde, Seanan McGuire, Lisa Morton, Xander Odell, and Beth Cato. Paper copies are expected to be available in May. Still undecided? Check out this review! Kudos to editors @catrambo and @@jenniferbrozek

WRITER’S LIFE: WHEN TO SAY “YES” OR “NO” TO AN OPPORTUNITY

Throughout a writer’s career, opportunities come along. It’s almost always gratifying to be asked to write something, especially when it’s unexpected. New writing-related projects hold out hope of growing an author’s readership. I don’t know a single writer who thinks they have more than enough readers. For lots of us, our first instinct is to say yes.

Some projects are no-brainers. Others are require serious thought. For me, unexpected offers have included solicitations to submit stories for themed anthologies and to work in a different genre or medium. That’s how I’ve written a screenplay, a game, and branched out from science fiction and fantasy into essays, detective fiction, alternate history, and horror. Other opportunities have involved teaching, mentoring, judging, collaborating, and presenting at an in-person or on-line event.

Here’s my advice: Be open to these offers and be careful! First do your due diligence in looking into the business proposition. Also, be sure, to stop and consider what else is on your plate. Many writers–including me–have more current projects and hoped-for future projects than time in the day. There usually isn’t a sure-fire way to decide if a shiny, new opportunity should get to shove something else aside, especially when the upstart arrives during a particularly busy period. Sure, FOMO is powerful. Nevertheless, you really don’t want to say yes, only to have to back out when the realities of over-commitment set in. Nor do you want your personal life and obligations to suffer.

Ah well, if nothing else, this is a better class of problem for a writer to have. It also illustrates that few writing careers proceed as planned or imagined. Best of luck to you!

READ THE ANALOG READERS’ AWARD FINALISTS FOR FREE

For a short time, the stories Analog readers voted the best of 2021 are yours to read right here. I’m so honored to have “The Last Frontier on this list with these fine stories.” I had a great time creating an alternate timeline featuring a woman in the Apollo space program. Hope you’ll give all these stories a read!

MID-WINTER BLUES AND SUMMER FROLICS

(c) John Naman

With the recent cold snap and pandemic seemingly everywhere, I’ve been huddling indoors making plans for all the places I maybe could visit when warmer weather hits. I’m mostly planning trips around science fiction and fantasy conventions, so my first task is looking at where I might be going: LA, Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans, if the universe cooperates. This led to updating my bio, which means figuring out who I am as a writer.

Don’t worry, the dinosaurs will always tromp through a fair number of my stories and essays. Nonetheless, I am branching out. Recently, I took a stab (pun intended) at writing a murder mystery as well as a screenplay. Sure didn’t see either of those coming. I’m also looking into a collection of my short fiction, some of which is out of print. Stay tuned!

MY 2021 YEAR IN REVIEW

I’m pleased to announce that I had a couple of stories and several articles published in 2021:

  • The Next Frontier: an alternate-history novelette about the 1960s space race in the July/August issue of Analog (link is to current issue, not previous one)
  • The Holy Wars of Mathematics: A Secret History of the Calculus of Chicanery appeared in 99 Tiny Terrors. It’s my first published flash fiction (under 1000 words).
  • Monumental Thinking was in the January/February 2021 issue of Analog, is my take on suitable replacements for statues being torn down these days. (Link is to current issue, not previous one)
  • Astounding Analog Companion: Q & A in which I talk about writing alternate history
  • My first SFWA blog post: Reasons to Publicize Your Award-Eligible Works

My Virtual Appearances:

  • World Fantasy Convention panel on dreams and nightmares in fantasy and horror

Most Enjoyable New Novels I Read:

  • Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Garcia Moreno
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Most Unexpected Pleasure:

  • Being solicited for a hot new anthology to be assembled next year. I can’t tell you or they’d have to shoot me. (Wait…is this how that sentence is supposed to end?)

Best Trip:

  • June excursion to the Big Island of Hawaii in June. Have a look at some of my photos from it.
  • August runner-up: time spent at a lake in the Adirondacks

Best Educational Opportunities:

  • Virtual Humans to Mars conference: three days of inspiring, uplifting presentations by remarkably clever humans from all over the world. You can attend in 2022 and find out how these people from around the globe are making future trips to Mars a real thing!
  • Close Runner-up: The Rambo Academy classes for writers at all skill levels featuring many different aspects of our craft. They even have gift certificates if you are stumped by what to give the writer in your life.

Best Pandemic Antidote:

  • Occasional flower deliveries for creating beautiful arrangements via ReVased.com. Have a look at some of my creations here and on Instagram.

Most Fun New Series:

  • Tie: WandaVison, For All Mankind (season 2)

Guilty Pleasure:

  • Bridgerton

Things to come in 2022: Watch this space for new announcements:

  • Etruscan Afterlife is a short story appearing next year in The Reinvented Heart, edited by Cat Rambo and Jenn Brozek (preorder now!)
  • Branching out into two new projects I can’t disclose yet!
  • Moar dinosaurs!

What were some of your favorites in 2021?

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