What can a non-dinosaurphile learn from a journey, however brief or prolonged, into the Mesozoic? How many dinosaur species existed? How can we extrapolate so much about dinosaurs and so much about the history of the Earth based on, well, a handful of decayed carcasses? Or do we have other clues? What do we not know about dinosaurs and need to know and why do we need to know?
These were a few of the thought-provoking questions that Carl Slaughter asked when he interviewed me for SF Signal. While I pondered my answers, I learned a couple of things, myself. First, it’s a lot more fun to be interviewed about a topic that you love, particularly when the interviewer’s comes at the subject in a way that you hadn’t quite considered before. I hope you’ll check it out, particularly if you’re like me in that you’ve never lost your love for dinosaurs. And while you’re at it, I hope you’ll read Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs in the April 2016 Analog.
I figure five is a manageable number, right? It isn’t betting everything on just one or two all-important resolutions. Nor is five so overwhelming that you can’t even commit them all to memory. So here goes:
- Resolve to set some realistic goals — daily, weekly, monthly/quarterly, and yearly. By this, I don’t mean the vague and perennially popular “finish a novel.” Instead, resolve to COMPLETE certain component tasks in the project-management sense. It could be to complete research by X date, to have an outline done by the end of Feb., to reach 20,000 words by the Ides of March, to spend the month of April editing, to prepare query letters, etc.
- Memorize your resolutions. Repeat them to yourself in the shower, on your way to work, or at some point every day. You’re apt to feel silly, but they’ll be more on your mind. Plus, you’re more likely to do what you said you’d do.
- Build your goals into your calendar, to-do list, and whatever organizational system you use. While a sticky note next to your laptop seems to be one approach, maybe it would be better taped to the TV remote.
- Get accountability. By this I mean tell your writing buddies, or friends or a trusted family member or two precisely what it is you intend to achieve. See if they’re willing to ask you how you are progressing from time to time. Even if they don’t ask, give them regularly scheduled progress reports. Don’t expect to be perfect, as we all get derailed for all sorts of reasons. But do expect to show them demonstrable progress.
- Keep a written record charting your efforts. There are word-count spread sheets out there, not to mention all sorts of time logs and journals for noting what you’ve achieved periodically. I think it’s important to have annual totals to give you a sense of what’s realistic given everything else in your life.
Lastly, for those who’ve read this far, make sure to celebrate your ability to do this thing.
Why no, you shiny, seductive story idea, I am not–repeat NOT-about to chase after you, forgetting my vows to work faithfully on my current story all the way to the end. Because I’m all about finishing. I don’t need my laptop cluttered with yet more folders full of partials.
Ah but what if I forget about this latest intrigue? Will this idea be lost forever? What if it’s really better than all the rest? OK, so I’ll take a very few minutes and jot down the basic concept. Well, and maybe an opening paragraph. Hmmm, I may as well expand this into the opening scene since I know how it goes and getting it down won’t take very long. Plus the ending because I do know how it ends.
Let’s just add in a quickie outline and character sketches for the protagonist and antagonist. Wouldn’t hurt to add some notes about the setting. Oh and a snippet of terrific dialog just popped into my head. I can’t be expected to let that vanish, can I? So while I’m at it, I may as well write the second scene.
And now my writing time for the day has been consumed. But tomorrow is another day for getting back on track.
I got word that I’ve resold a short story that came out last year, which means it’ll be reprinted in a different publication. This marks the first time that two different editors have bought the same story of mine. While I’ll have more details after the publisher announces the forthcoming volume, I do have some thoughts about reprints, particularly for writers of short fiction at the early stages of their careers.
When first starting out, the conventional wisdom is to focus your efforts on producing one story after another, and on submitting them to prospective markets one at a time, beginning with the top markets looking the sort of thing you write. Eventually, an editor starts snapping up your work. Maybe several editors do so. That is as it should be. Keep on writing new stuff. However, don’t treat your first few sales as ancient history. This is the time to look into reprint markets. There may well be more of them around than you realize, including several top markets. Make a list for each story you already sold as to where you might get it reprinted. Don’t forget to review your contracts so that you know what rights you’ve retained when you contemplate reselling your stories.
Next, be prepared for rejection all over again. Just because one editor published your story, odds are that others may well turn it down. This does not mean that your sale was a fluke or that it was a poor story. Keep trying. While it’s never a sure thing, reselling that story is probably easier than making the initial sale. Plus, a resale is one of the best ways I know to dispel your qualms about the first sale being a mistake, or about your writing not being good enough. Reprints are incredibly validating.
Now here comes the fun part. There is something utterly delicious about the prospect of a second check arriving when you’ve already been paid once for the hard work. It’s a freebie. To be sure, reprint markets typically pay lower rates per word than first sales, and the rate for that first publication wasn’t exactly astronomical to begin with. No matter, that check is terrific.
Still not persuaded? Then consider that here is the opportunity to get your fiction before new readers, most of whom likely did not read your story when it was initially published. Come to think of it, maybe this point should have come first. After all, isn’t the first and foremost reason why you’re trying to get published precisely because you want people to read your story?
Here comes a block of time taking you away from the regular routine. Certainly a writer can carve out a slice of it for working on the story or the novel, right? How hard can that possibly be?
You aren’t alone if it proves almost impossible. Fact is, many writers dread the interruptions, scheduled and unscheduled, intruding upon their writing time from now until the end of the year. I can attest that momentum vanishes faster than one’s favorite holiday dish. Progress is sporadic at best. What’s a writer to do?
Two words: be flexible. You can make progress, just perhaps in different ways than you would normally do. Here are some possibilities:
1. Keep your phone or a small note pad and pen with you always to make notes. If you prefer, send yourself voice mail or email or text messages so that you can capture a few ideas or sentences right when they strike you. If you go for a walk after a big meal, be sure to take your notepad or phone along.
2. Set the alarm for just 5 or 10 minutes earlier than need be. It’s not so very much sleep to give up and you can use those precious minutes jotting down whatever first thoughts come to mind about your work in progress: things like what a character might do next or if a scene would be better shown from a different POV, or if more needs to be made of a certain event, Whatever it is, it’ll help keep the story alive in your mind and give you a place to pick up again when you do have the time and solitude you need. I suppose you could do this at night right before you turn in, but only if you are a night owl. Besides, the intuitions that come to you first thing when you wake up are frequently the most valuable. For one thing, they don’t have to compete with all the pressing needs of the day that start pounding at you all too soon.
3. Whether you travel or have people come to your place, you’re likely to happen across new names of people and places. Write them down. The same goes for noteworthy turns of phrases you don’t hear every day. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll forget them if you don’t. You never know when you can use them in your fiction.
4. Speaking of travel, that’s when you want to be on the lookout for new experiences—especially tastes and smells. Particularly the less palatable ones are what you’ll want to make a note about for later use.
5. Don’t fret about what you are not accomplishing if you are using your time to refill your store of experiences and ideas. Do be sure to capture at least one or two of them–even in rough form–every day.
‘Nuff said. I now return you to your regularly scheduled holidays.
I recently sold a short story to the 19th market I tried. I first submitted this story to an editor almost exactly three years before it finally found a publisher. Why did selling the story take so long? There were two markets that had it for five months each before turning it down. Another one took four months, So that’s 14 months just for 3 magazines. After the first 4 top markets said no, I took it back and spent a couple of months intermittently revising it. Plus, there was another 2-month period when I didn’t send it out when I was ill. Apart from those times, this story has been steadily making the rounds.
During these three years, my opinion of the story fluctuated. At times, I thought it was one of the better stories I had written. On other days, I was ready to banish it to the bowels of my word processor. Interestingly, now that it has been bought and will see print, I find that I simply don’t know what to think of its merits as a story. I’ve lost all perspective. This isn’t unusual, as my opinion about most of my stories fluctuates radically over time. I’m not the only writer who experiences this.
But here’s the important point: While I might no longer be able to judge the quality of this little story of mine, if I ever could, I never gave up believing in it enough to keep searching for an editor who would like it so well that it would find its way into print in a fiction magazine. And so it’s time will soon be at hand.
The delays, rejections, and rewrites that befell this story are not so very different than what many well-published writers have experienced. If there’s any conclusion to be drawn from all this, it’s that persistence—or more accurately, stubbornness beyond all reason—can pay off. Not always, of course. I do have at least two other stories that have been circulating for longer and have collected more rejections than this one. I’m far from giving up on either of them.
Nevertheless, rather than have you conclude that submitting stories inevitably goes like this, let me tell you about a different work that I sold two days after finally finding a good home for the story that collected 18 rejections in three years. The first editor who read this other piece bought it three weeks after I sent it to him. You just never know.
Once upon a time, it was enough for the hero of a science fiction book or movie to want to save a few people in a space ship from, well whatever was endangering them. That soon morphed into the whole space station, or town or city, needing rescue. Then the stakes got raised and the hero had to save the nation or space colony. That became the world/planet. Eventually the galaxy. Ultimately the entire universe. These days, the situation’s no better in fantasy where the rightful ruler’s life is at stake, oh and also those of the common folk, plus those of generations yet unborn, and that goes for every other country on the map adorning the frontispiece. No pressure or anything.
But not all SF or fantasy stories have to go that way. [Warning: mild spoilers to follow.] The Martian is a smashing success built upon a plot that turns on one astronaut’s efforts to rescue himself, and only himself, with no more than what he has on hand, which he must use to produce everything he needs for a long time. Yes, several others at a great distance try to come to his aid. And yet it remains a tale of one person’s survival against long odds. It helps that both the book by Andy Weir and the movie focus on a resourceful, likable character, one who is brave, smart, resourceful, and curious. These qualities are precisely what brought a character such as the protagonist to Mars in the first place. He needs every one of these characteristics if he is to prevail in his life-or-death struggle.
You see? You don’t have to raise the stakes to galaxy-spanning, or even global, levels. Not convinced? What if I told you that one person’s fight to survive with minimal resources in an incredibly hostile environment happens to be a plot that has been enthralling us since Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe in 1719?
Still not persuaded? Have you seen the You Tube video that opens with one turtle lying on its back, legs waving uselessly, and then another turtle comes along and manages to right it? How about the video in which a baby polar bear tumbles into the water and Mama Bear plunges in and rescues it? Have you noticed how many jillions of views those clips have racked up? Truly, your character doesn’t need to set out to do anything more than to save himself or herself or one other character, who doesn’t even need to be human.
Sounds easy enough to write a story like this, you say. Well, there is a trick to it. Namely, not just any protagonist will do. Like many newbies, I went through my share of whiny and worthless characters before some really terrific protagonists turned up at my casting call, ones who had what it takes to save themselves. Or to save others. The right stuff. Let ’em have at it.
When I first started publishing short fiction, I found it frustrating that so much of the writing advice out there was geared toward novelists. This still seems to be true, although nowadays, advice for fiction writers is apt to focus on publicizing their work as much as creating it, or even more so. What’s a writer of short stories, novelettes and novellas to do to help those who’ve read a few of their shorter works find more of them?
Well, one answer-by no means the only one-is to set up an Author Page on Amazon.com. You can set up your free Author Page in under an hour, usually in considerably less time than that if you are at all technologically savvy. Here’s how. First, search on Amazon.com for your name and whatever pseudonyms you’ve used. Amazon should spit out a list of magazines, anthologies, collections, singles, and other publications in which your work has appeared. You will want to make sure that it’s complete, particularly as to stories that may be a few years old. If items are missing, it’s pretty easy to fill out the form to alert Amazon to what needs to be added. In fact, when I’ve done so, they made my requested additions overnight. Also, don’t be surprised if your search turns up some items that aren’t yours.
Next, you want to hop over to Amazon’s Author Central and start adding your published work to your Author Page:
Why should you take the time to do this? Well, here are a few advantages of having an Amazon Author Page:
- Readers can click “Follow” to get automatic updates as to your latest stories
- You can include a photo and brief bio for those interested in finding out more about you
- You can add links to your Twitter feed, Facebook page, website, and blog posts to let readers know what’s new
- You’ll be better positioned to help your readers find your novel-length work or stand-alone shorter works as they come out
- You’ll generate publicity for the books and magazines that feature your stories, never a bad thing
Given that this blog post is all about publicity, here’s my Amazon author’s page. I hope you’ll click on my Follow button. Thanks!
Seldom do I see a film twice, so the fact that I watched Fury Road two times is a tribute to how fine a film I thought it was. While others have commented at length on its vision of a future dystopia, its special effects, its feminist viewpoint, etc., what struck me the most was something else.
Namely, Fury Road is a film that places its faith in the intelligence of the viewers. It trusts us to understand what’s going on in the characters’ heads without relying upon chatterbox heroes having to spell out their motives, detail their formative experiences, moan about their conflicted feelings, etc. [Warning: mild spoilers to follow.] In short, I simply love that neither main character, Max and Furiosa, are much given to talking at all. Nor do many of the supporting cast give us long-winded speeches. And yet we understand perfectly well precisely what has been done to the women fleeing with Furiosa. Similarly, in one scene in which Max returns to the War Rig covered with blood, little is said apart from the line, “That’s not his blood.” It’s left entirely to our imaginations to fill in the details. What an effective moment this is in a movie filling the big screen with monster-truck action.
The power of pared-down dialog, which cedes to viewers or readers the ability to draw certain inescapable conclusions, is something that can take a beginning fiction writer time to appreciate. Like many newbies, I was certainly eager to make sure every single reader got exactly what I had to say. Thus, my key points would be both shown and told. Having worked to rid myself of this tendency, I’m particularly aware of those instances in which uncertainty leads an inexperienced writer to tell something a second time, and then rehash it yet again in dialog. All this does is annoy readers, who may well conclude that they are being talked down to. That can be reason enough to bail on the story.
Eggs. Feathers. Hunting packs. Dinosaur fossils are giving paleontologists tantalizing dribs and drabs of evidence as to all sorts of things these days, evidence suggesting not only what dinosaurs looked like, but how they may have lived beginning with the moment they hatched to the way they moved, to how they hunted, to how they interacted with their own species, and so much more. A lot of this was presumed to be unknowable when I was in college, back when all that paleontologists had to study were the bones that happened to have survived for tens or hundreds of millions of years. Plus, more and more intriguing specimens are being discovered and described every day from every continent, even Antarctica.
For a science fiction writer like me, all this means that September is the time to begin a new chapter in my education. I’m looking forward to taking Dino 101 again. Whew! They sure don’t make those Mesozoic critters like they used to.
Final note: A (virtual) gold star goes to those of you who recognized that this distinctive looking dinosaur comes from China and has been named Anchiornis huxleyi.