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Last night I went to see a high school performance of a play that I have now seen three times, A Servant of Two Masters. This is not a major play like Cats, and I hadn't sought it out, but coincidence or what have you led me to seeing this same play multiple times. The first time was at a community theater in Alameda, California, enough years ago that I didn't remember having seen it until the events in the play the second time were too familiar to be dismissed. The second performance was last year on a school trip (you bet I volunteered ;) ) to Ashland, Oregon to see a portion of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that is ongoing there. And the third, as I mentioned, was a local high school. (read more on my new blog)

Also don't forget to check out the Interesting Links posts since you last paid a visit to Tales to Tide You Over.
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My posts have become infrequent enough that I decided to move both blogs into a single one. Then, of course, I forgot to post anything about it here.

My pre-NaNo pondering can be found here:

The obstacles I face in my writing time (humor):

And an update with a snippet.

If you haven't already, do check the Friday's Interesting Links posts as well as they include a large number of links relevant to writers of all stages depending on what I tripped over and thought would be of interest.
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The Muse Online Conference 2009
I've mentioned this conference on and off over the last couple of years, but this may be my first official conference report. Though I'm not one to hang about in my robe and bunny slippers, Muse Online is unique in that it is 100% online with the interactions occurring round the clock in a combination of forums and chats. This year, a new aspect was added: pitching to both agents and editors. The feedback so far is overwhelmingly positive and it looks like more agents and publishers will participate next year.

So enough with the generals. Here is my Muse Online experience:

I have been offering a writing techniques class since 2007, my second year, so the whole Muse Online experience began for me back in June when I put my class materials together. I was not alone in the focus though, because the year-round, related listserv was buzzing with people trying to confirm their memberships and eager to see what this year's conference would offer.

I reviewed the folks offering pitch slots and identified one agent who accepted works like my novel. From that moment on, there was all the normal panic associated with an in-person pitch, only slightly lessened by the realization that this would be typing not speech, so I'd be unlikely to dissolve into stutters or lose my voice. And if my hands shook, I could always edit before I pushed send.

I did put together a pitch, edited it again and again, got crits, edited again, and finally polished the pitch before I submitted it to Lea, who evaluated all pitches to make sure the work was a good match, a pre-screening to ensure this aspect a greater chance at success. I also attended two pre-conference workshops on in-person/online pitches to prepare.

A week before the conference, the presenters were allowed into the forum and I put up my welcome thread in the board reserved for my Non-Verbal Communications workshop. I already had a list of names and emails for both my forum class and the related chat that would have been intimidating if I didn't know how many people, myself included, tended to over schedule. Since my workshops involve a feedback component, the number of active members can affect my participation in the rest of the conference, but at the same time, the more the merrier, because overall, Muse Online attendees tend to be supportive and encouraging of their fellows' efforts.

Late Sunday, I posted the introduction to my class and went to bed.

When the alarm rang on Monday morning, I wandered in, armed with my conference agenda which I had already beefed up with direct links to the specific forums, and notes about whether I'd downloaded the related documentation and read it. I first went to my workshop and responded to the enterprising folks for whom the sun had risen long ago, and then to each of the workshops I had signed up for.

My first mistake. I had carefully converted the Eastern times into Pacific and recorded when the chats would be (the only time-dependent aspects), but had confused 12pm with 12am in my rush to get ready. So I missed my first chat, luckily one that was a recap of the pre-conference pitch preparations.

Despite that rocky start, though, I managed to keep up with my own class and read the material in the ones I'd signed up for. The very first day I had to mock up a website in a class on marketing yourself online and put together a scene with specific dialogue requirements on top of the reading. I also had the opportunity to ask questions based on the various readings, one I took where necessary.

I managed to keep up with the readings and some of the assignments for the first two days, but on my pitch day, I could focus on nothing else as much as I tried. I answered questions and gave feedback in my class by sheer force of will, but the rest, I thought, could wait a day.

The pitch itself went not at all as planned. My first shake occurred when the agent said, "Hello." A simple thing, but I had step by step directions that said hop in the room and paste your pitch because time is short. I stalled for a moment, but since there had been some confusion about rooms and the moderators were clearing out stray people, the delay before I said, "Hello" back went largely unnoticed. Still, remember that panic?

Then I pasted the first line of my pitch and paused to give the agent a moment to read, as counseled in the staging area where the moderators gave a blow by blow account of the pitches to help prepare those waiting. I was second, so I hadn't seen many of the tips, but I incorporated what I could.

I was preparing to paste the second line when she asked about genre. That's in the last line of my pitch, but easy enough to bring up. Then she follows with another question: length, and another question. Suddenly, I have lost the security blanket of my carefully polished pitch and am winging it.

Here's the thing though. She couldn't see my shaking hands, and I learned that rather than drone on about the ten thousand details and complexities that made up my novel, I was surprisingly coherent and clear. Ultimately, she told me to send in a partial, so despite losing my footing, I'd managed to do just what I'd intended, intrigue her about the story.

So, my first experience with an "in-person" pitch? It was positive, fun in a scary kind of way, and a confidence builder simply because I didn't lose focus or run on.

Not too surprising, I rode that high for the rest of the day while I tried to catch up with my classes.

Then came the limits of an online conference. The next day was swallowed whole by a programming issue on a site I support. Eight hours later, exhausted, I struggled to catch up with my classes and failed. However, I did manage a trial run for my chat with my two marvelous moderators who helped me transform a wild and crazy concept into a functional chat game.

Friday morning, I ran my non-verbal charades game in chat (with the help of three moderators, actually). Everyone had fun and learned things all at once. It was so popular that when our time expired, the game continued back in the forum and has been borrowed by a couple attendees for their own writing groups.

The rest of Friday and Saturday, I rallied and managed to catch up on the reading if not the assignments in all but two classes, as well as keeping up in mine, and on Sunday I finished off everything but one class that was largely lecture so I can still read and benefit from it.

This conference has all the rush, adrenaline, learning, and overwhelm of the in-person conferences I've been to with a firm writing focus and none of the hotel and commute costs. I recommend it to everyone, only do try your best to set the week aside, because you won't have time for much else.

My conference take-aways were many, but here are some of the top ones:

1) The biggie was that I learned I can pitch Shadows of the Sun effectively.
2) I learned some online promotion techniques that should serve me well, and already I've improved my website with this page:
3) I learned how to improve my bio. I haven't implemented the change yet on my website, but it's in the works.
4) I now know just where Demon Rules falls in the MG/YA market and how to put that in my query letter.
5) And I picked up a handful of writing techniques that will be fun to try.

That's not to mention the chance to chat with writers I wouldn't normally have encountered, the joy that comes in seeing people grasp concepts not because it's easy but because they've worked their tails off, and the creative energy that comes over me despite the post-convention drain, an energy that has sparked progress on two separate editing projects as well as a handful of deadlines.

Some people say you get what you pay for. If you truly believe that, then let me recommend you plunk down a donation at the end of next year's conference, because whatever you pay, this one is worth it.
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Hi everyone. Wow, I didn't realize I'd neglected this blog so much. Trouble is that my focus has been largely on critting and non-fiction writing, so I didn't have much to say on the fiction writing world.

So, a quick catch-up:

1) I've redone my website so it now is a pure writing focus. (I mentioned this regarding the image at the top, but I've done a bit of polishing.)

2) I sold a short story that's available online so if you've been curious about reading something of mine, just go to the "For Readers" page of my website. Also, while you're there, check the "Latest News" page for additional happenings.

3) I should have been doing a crossover post all along, but I've started a new tradition on my Stray Thoughts blog called Friday's Interesting Links. Since these links have a heavy writing/publishing focus, they should be of interest to anyone here who does not also follow that blog. Check out this week's here:

4) The outlines:

--The Princess in the Tower is the closest to done of all three outlines, but it still needs some work.

--The Farmer Boy is the farthest from being done as I only did the examples necessary for my class and haven't gone back.

--Let Me Tell You All About Myself is probably about halfway done. The concepts are all there, but the threads to pull it all together need fleshing.

5) NaNo - yes, I'm planning to do NaNo this year, the first planned event since my second year doing it back in 2004 (note I've done NaNo every year regardless :p). However, I have yet to settle on a project, so things are still up in the air.

6) This month I'm going to both Muse Online and World Fantasy. Hope to see/meet in person some of you there.

7) And I've finally started working on a fiction project again...Selkie. I'm in the process of re-outlining based on the feedback, after which I plan to retype the whole thing because so many of the edits are a word here, a phrase there, that will change the meaning significantly. I find retyping allows me to integrate them better.

I think that's about it :). Any questions?
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I, Margaret the Magnificent, will now perform the amazing, death-defying act of writing three novel outlines simultaneously before your very eyes. If my attention slips, if I falter, my brains will begin to leak from my ears, but I scoff in the face of danger and dive into the challenge without the least tremble. See how steady my hands are as they pound against the keyboard, how my eyes crinkle with concentration, how my teeth grit as I attempt this task? Watch carefully as the scenes bloom under your very eyes...

Okay, not really, but that's how it feels at times. I am doing something I have never done before.

I've written, edited, and prepared three different novels, I've even actively written two WIPs at the same time, but I have never tried to wrap my mind around three different worlds simultaneously.

You nod your heads sagely and say that this explains the sudden silence on my writing blog. You might even wonder if you can see a hint of red behind these black letters as blood vessels pop in my forehead, but I swear I have a logical explanation for my latest insanity.

If you recall, I mentioned I was teaching a class on outlining. And you might also recall I mentioned a sudden inspiration out of nowhere.

These seemingly unrelated events are actually behind this situation I now balance precariously.

I've learned from the other classes I have taught that it helps students if I perform the same tasks they do, live and with possible hiccups. So I had planned to work on an idea for the class long before that little inspiration dropped in my lap.

Then, when I started on the fairytale example (to use a fairytale is part of the class), I started seeing double, one a true telling and one a modern retelling.

Since my students were welcome to do the same, a true telling or an adaptation, I went ahead and built both as examples. Not only that, but I specifically chose a fairytale that would challenge me to work on one aspect of my fiction writing I find weak--writing humor.

Then, round about week three of the class, the outline marathon begins on Forward Motion in preparation for the 10-day Labor of Love writing challenge I usually participate in but was not planning to this year. I couldn't very well leap ahead of the class and outline my new stories because it would encourage my students to do the same. So instead, I wrote only what I needed for the next lesson (5 scenes each) and pulled out that inspiration to get another 20 scenes.

And there I found myself outlining three stories. It happened almost without my conscious knowledge, or at least without my acceptance.

If you're curious as to what happens next, join the club. For the time being, I'm working on each of the outlines separately and with different levels of focus. During the outline marathon, I focused mainly on the inspired idea because of where we were in the class. Since then, I've worked on both of the class outlines (as well as starters for at least three additional outlines as extra examples in the class) and the modern-day retelling is winning at the moment, though the inspiration, Let Me Tell You All About Myself, is still the one with the most scenes with 20. The Princess in the Tower has sixteen, and The Laughing Farmer Boy stands at only 6.

Ideally, all three will be fleshed out in time for the big decision as to which gets written for NaNo. If, as I suspect, The Laughing Farmer Boy turns into a young YA or middle grade, it won't be long enough for NaNo. The Princess in the Tower is sure to be YA so between 50k and 60k most likely, while Let Me Tell You is a complicated mature novel that would best fit in women's fiction if it didn't focus on a male MC. What do you want to bet I do both the fairytale inspired ones? Sigh.
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If you've been reading this blog for a while, you will have seen me take all sorts of ideas through their paces. If you're curious as to how I get rolling, I'm teaching a workshop on Forward Motion through August and into September that takes you through my process one step at a time. This is outlining for organic thinkers, though the methodology works on both inspired and crafted works (as not all my ideas come dressed for the party).

Anyway, if you are interested, here's the specifics for the six-week workshop.

From Ideas to Outline will introduce a series of techniques to convert an idea into a workable, non-constricting outline. Come prepared to work hard as you will be asked to perform each technique yourself so that you can judge whether it works for you or not.
Begins Monday, August Third. Facilitator: Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Note that theses workshops are free but do require that you become a Forward Motion member (which is also free). Once you are logged in, click the below link to go straight to the right section (note the Learning Center 2009 link is available from the header on any forum page):

Hope to see some of you there.
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Gak! I have been attacked, sneak attacked at that.

I've been pushing on so many things that my life has come to resemble a tornado, touching down on one project just long enough to leave disaster in its wake before bouncing off to find another victim. To counter this, and give me space to do what I need to teach a class starting August 3rd that'll run for 6 weeks...I declared once I finish Molly, that's it. I'm not starting another novel (meaning writing, not prep work) until NaNo. This is a blessing because it means I won't be scrambling to finish a novel before November 1st, especially since after the class, I'm teaching another at Muse Online (remember registration closes on August 1st) and going down to World Fantasy 2009 in San Jose (meaning I won't even be here for the start of NaNo).

And those are just the big external things. I'm currently critting a novel with another in the queue, I let my Selkie edit fall to the wayside when I got overwhelmed, and I'm supposed to be editing and submitting short stories which means getting and receiving crits...and acting on them.

Do I sound frantic enough? And that's not even considering my computer work, my kids, my hubby, and plans to go on vacation a lot in the remaining days of summer.

The last thing I needed was an article on self-publishing and the concept of having to explain your life's story on a first date to cross my plate.

What do these two things have in common? Well, absolutely nothing to any reasonable person. But when have I ever claimed to be reasonable.

Enter Let Me Tell You All About Myself.

The idea crossed my mind early this morning. I wanted to pass it to a friend because it was funny, but she wasn't around. I figured I'd have forgotten it by the time she got back, and went about my business. Bad move.

That gave the story a hook into my memory because I wanted to tell it to someone. And with that hook, it wiggled its way through the barriers to that swamp I call my idea generator and started shuffling through the mud, stirring up an unholy mess.

No, this isn't an urban fantasy, science fiction, or even a romance. I can't even claim this as a crossover mainstream like Coma Wedding. Let Me Tell is a psychological mainstream novel about expectation and delusion. About building up an image that becomes so real that you start to question whether reality can compete. (Okay, I forgot about the article talking about a man whose girlfriend is a body pillow stamped with an anime character, which might have had a slight hand in this mess too.)

The closest genre to something I've completed before is a romance, but it's certainly not conforming to the genre requirements since we only meet her through her self-published autobiography. However, because of that, I'll need to come up with entries that are sweet, funny, endearing, and positively wonderful (oh and I don't do funny well :p). But mainly it's the story of a guy who finds his perfect mate between the covers of a book, and the struggle between wanting to find the reality and fearing it won't measure up.

And to make matters oh so much better (not :p), because the idea burst in upon me with such weight, it already has an almost complete initial synopsis and a handful of scene suggestions. This makes it worthless as my "work alongside" idea for the August workshop, which is From Ideas to Outline. I still have to find an idea for that...but maybe I shouldn't look too hard until the 1st has come and gone :p.
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A long time ago, I asked you all to weigh in on my author photo (something I should redo at some point ;)), and now I'm asking for your digital opinions again. I did a complete redesign of my website from top to bottom. It's no longer a multifocused site as the old one was, and though I am planning to redesign it again in the next couple of years, most of those changes will be in the backend.

However, I created the original template using a website development software. I've done a fair amount of tinkering, so the resemblance to the generated site is minimal, but it did offer a header image I thought would work with my theme until I could find something better.

Valerie Comer offered a picture she had taken to use as a base and I've spent a fair amount of time manipulating it into what I wanted, only to discover that I've got a fundamental contradiction. I love the distance view with mountains and clouds and hints of a world behind, but the image itself is too distant for the message in a bottle that was supposed to be there as the original inspiration for my theme.

Anyway, this has left me wondering if I'm clinging to that original theme too much, or if I should just give in.

So, here comes the question:

Which of the below images do you think best represents my theme and looks best. I have put the wrapper around the new one so that you can see how it would look. I have not put a bobbing wine bottle with a scroll of paper inside in the closer one yet, but I probably could. After you've commented (if you haven't already), you might enjoy a peek at my new site. If nothing else, the extent changes should stun you. If curious, you can compare using the link to my old site at the bottom of the left sidebar.

Image 1:

Image 2:

For those of you who don't know, my website theme originally had its start in my new business cards, the style of which were designed by Val's talented daughter Hanna Sandvig. Here is an example, though she made them in three colors:

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Wow, it's been a bit since I've posted to my LJ. The absence was far from planned, but is as it is. The writing front has been a bit up and down for me through June and July, though I'm hoping to see that turn around.

I've been writing a bit of non-fiction for Vision ( and finally critting again, but on the home front, there hasn't been much fiction going on.

Molly stands about 15k from the end. It's not her fault. A combination of family stuff and a serious, knock me on my back, cold put an end to creativity for a bit. As much as I'd like to blame Molly, so I could move on to something else, it's not her fault. There's also the chance that with things so crazy, the hormone replacement isn't doing its job, a lovely thought considering that some day I'll have to go through ending the medication. But since this is affecting my creativity across the board, Molly is not to blame.

Neither is Selkie, another project currently in limbo. I had started collecting action points and possible reworks as I went through all the wonderful crits, but hit that same wall. This isn't a writer's block as much as a creativity amputation. The good news is that it's starting to fade...I'll admit needing 10+ hours of sleep a night has been a part of this mess.

Oh, and it's even affected my reading. I'm halfway through my very first issue of Neo-Opsis. I was enjoying it a lot, but just haven't read any. I started an issue of Discover magazine... The one thing I am reading is Steven Barnes' Lion's Blood, which I was thinking was too slow and I couldn't find the story and and... Until I realized that it's an epic. It's not about a specific tale. It's about a world and its people and how they interact and how their lives are intertwined. It's exactly the type of novel I love...or used to. So I'm adding this to the pile of missing creativity because all I can read right now easily are short, sweet things that don't ask for much.

Oh, and I need to do something with my hands all the time. I went to a wonderful acapella singing group with my sister and had a wonderful time, but if she hadn't given me some string to weave (okay, crochet without a hook and no, the results weren't pretty) I'd have lost it.

So...that's my update (note the extensive use of ellipses because my mind trails off all the time), and join me in the hope that it's coming to an end. For two days I slept a normal amount and had at least a couple hours of productivity, including sending Shadows of the Sun out to agents. Today was a little rough, but still some useful moments. Here's hoping to find a trend in the right direction.

Oh, and as a last note, a bunch of my first drafts have been calling of late, pulling me into the morass of new things to edit so I don't have to do the hard work of a final polish. I plan to resist until Selkie's set.
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I have always intended to be a science fiction writer. This may strike those who have known me since childhood (or know me now) as strange, but here's the reason for it. When I was writing fairy tales, I still considered myself more of a storyteller than a writer. Odd given that I wrote more short stories than some famous writers (though none are publishable quality but hey, I was 7-10ish), but this is a fact I only realize in the past tense. Had I considered myself a writer then, I would have known that a strict diet of science fiction was not for me...or a strict diet of anything.

But when I discovered authors as a fascinating species of people who told wonderful stories, the authors I discovered were science fiction (ignoring the fact that several have been reclassified as fantasy based on new standards of what counts :p). Had my sister any idea of how much of an absolutist I could be, she would have varied my introduction into books as fun a bit more because this led to years of frustration on her part as I scorned fantasy writers.

Needless to say, if you've been following this LJ at least, I no longer box myself so completely into a single genre. I wrote a bunch of literary stories while taking creative writing in college because that was expected of me, but they in no way impinged on my image of my writer self. I was a science fiction writer and that was that.

Then I discovered that the one author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, who had done the most to capture my imagination with her sociological science fiction actually published writers too. It was not much of a leap to my plan to succeed, a plan still ongoing despite her death because others have picked up at least part of her tradition. The only trouble was that she chose to publish fantasy not science fiction. What should have been an insurmountable barrier to the absolutist me, became instead a challenge. I went cursing and screaming my way into writing fantasy.

I was lucky enough to get all but one rejection with a kind note, something I didn't realize was lucky until years later, but ultimately I could not manage, still can not manage, to write what she's looking for. On the other hand, had she not pushed me to writing fantasy, there are a number of novels under my belt that would never have been written, so overall, I think I came out on top.

What's the relevance of that story? Well, it all becomes clear when you see the statistics that came out of my Story A Day challenge.

I wrote ten stories. The average length was 3,036 words with the longest coming in at 4,765 and the shortest at 1,124.

Of those ten stories, six were science fiction and four fantasy.

The science fiction stories were, on average, shorter (2,776 words) but that was because two of them were less than 1,300 words. The longest was the longest overall.

The fantasy stories averaged 3,427 words, with the shortest being 2,555 and the longest being 4,387.

Therefore, though I had more science fiction stories than fantasy, I had more fantasy word count overall than I did science fiction.

I can't say, at this point, which are my favorite stories because the most recent ones resonate the most just because of proximity, but I will not be surprised to discover some of each genre making it to my top list.
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Not quite an analysis, but here's a blow by blow description of writing my last three stories. I got home from BayCon (which involves a five hour drive through the mountains) on Monday night with three stories still to go and the end of the month looming.

Back from BayCon. I'm tired, but had a wonderful time. Survived my first moderation stint thanks to wonderful panelists and participants. (10:22 PM May 25th)

Today is my birthday! I'm bleary eyed and non-productive, but I have a smile on my face :D. (12:10 PM May 27th) Note: I actually started the story on the 26th, but didn't get very far after unpacking and all.

Short story up to 1800 words. That's about it for the day. (12:10 AM May 28th)

More progress on the story, though it's still not done. I think I broke it, to be honest, but maybe editing will patch it back again :). (12:28 PM May 28th)

Time for me to shut everything down and get to bed. Okay, past time, but got into a good programming kick. Sadly, the story remains in progress. (11:52 PM May 28th)

I did it! 4,765 words and has issues, but the story is done :D. (10:17 AM May 29th)

Odd statistic: I have written 95 short stories for Forward Motion's Story a Day since it began in 2003. (12:26 PM May 29th)

And started story 9. It's building as it goes. Not sure exactly where that is, but up to 800 words. (8:49 PM May 29th)

Umm, forgot to update, but as of 1am, story 9 was complete at 2555 words. And this one I didn't break :D. (10:16 AM May 30th)

Since I seem to be updating as I go: Story 10 is conceived, outlined, and about 500 words. I really like this one. SF culture conflict. (1:16 PM May 30th)

Like most writers on a deadline :p, we chose today to rearrange two bedrooms and my study. Furniture, vacuuming, even buying a mattress. (4:16 PM May 30th)

Hmm, good thing there's one more day to go. 10th story stands at 920 words (about 1/3rd), move about 1/3rd done, and I've lost my voice. (11:16 PM May 30th) Note: unrelated loss of voice as I was not using Dragon for these stories.

And DONE! 10 stories in one month. I swear it gets harder each year, but I love the challenge. (11:16 AM May 31th)
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Story 7 - Life on the Line (Speculative Fiction)

I have been doing Story a Day since 2003. Some years have been easy, some hard, and some, like this one, just filled with too much other stuff to be able to concentrate. However, analyzing the process is proving quite interesting. For example, SAD 7 has been waiting for me to do something about it forever. It's the 20th and I got the prompt on, I believe, the 8th or 9th. Now there was a lot going on in my life to account for, but ultimately I didn't have even an idea to jot down, though I had some rumbles rolling around in my head.

Today, I sat down with an "or else" hanging over my keyboard and produced an interesting little story, and I mean little at 1124 words, based on that group of random thoughts. It's not a bad story, but neither is it one I feel will cause me, or others, to sit up and take notice. So what's the difference between that and some of the prompts that have haunted me for years because I ran out of time to write them (and do plan to someday)?

Simple. This is tripping over something I already knew (and even mentioned in the Story 6 analysis) but hadn't really nailed down. Prompt writing works best for me when I get a visual of a character. Curve of Her Claw, my story in the Cloaked in Shadow anthology, came to me in a rush as the words "dark elves" gelled around a very distinct figure (which, btw, the artist did an excellent job of capturing). From there, it was just a matter of nailing down the story.

In contrast, From the Ashes, my story in Triangulation 2004, with "hard port," or Unique Worlds which won the Confluence 2007 writing contest, with "fewmets at the end of time," came very slowly, almost teased into existence. In both cases I almost didn't have a story in time for the deadline.

Characters bring their story with them for me. Ideas do not. I do write idea stories, but they may take years to come together and are written in snatches here or there rather than as a concentrated whole pouring out as quickly as I can get my fingers to move (well, on the good days ;)).

What purpose does this serve? I now have a better idea of which generators are the safer to use during SAD, but this extends beyond that. I know if I want to do a themed anthology that offers ideas not characters, there's a good chance it will take me longer to put something together. There's always the idea stories that rush out and kidnap a character into them, but I can't count on those as easily as I can character stories that will shanghai ideas to wrap around. I also know that when on a strict deadline, I should focus on finding the character however the story came to be.

What prompted this analysis is:

A Quick Story Generator:
The theme of this story: dark comedy. The main characters: clumsy novelist and stressed astronomer. The major event of the story: surgery.
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Story 6 - Prospects (Science Fiction)

What did I learn from this story?
Well, if you'd asked me two hours ago, I would have said that I could NOT write a short story based on something as thin as this even though I generated two characters to make it better:

The tired, rude gigolo who fears people think he/she is a fraud.
The graceful time travel technician.

However, I came up with an idea. I hate writing idea stories. They're much harder, slower, and require more work in the edit.

However, about a third to a half of the way through, Pierre came to life, took hold of the story, brought it over the edge into risque so I had to excerpt a little bit to post on Forward Motion, and I happen to think it ends with a kick in the gut...

The answer then? If I let myself be open to it, even stories I craft rather than create can take on a life of their own and bring me joy.

Of course it's at a WAY nasty length. Too long for flash and too short for anything else :p.

The prompt generator was:
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Valerie Comer is running a series on her blog about muses as a side event to her Me, My Muse, and I workshop on Forward Motion and invited me to offer some of my own experience.  Pop over and read all about it here:
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Story 4 - A Ship of the Line (Science Fiction)

This one was the perfect story. I got the prompt the night before, came up with the idea, was too tired to jot it down, and when I woke up in the morning it was still there. So I wrote up a 558 word synopsis to keep it from escaping. Then my day kind of went crazy and it took all day to get to the end, but still, this is why I love SAD. The feeling of getting a solid idea in a flash is a thrill, and then making it happy that same day? Just wonderful.

This story came from here:

Story 5 - Balance (Fantasy)

This story was an interesting one. I set it down first as a synopsis with two POVs. Then as I was writing it, I thought it would end up too long, so eliminated one of the POVs and futzed with the outline to fix it. Didn't write much of anything most of the day, and panicked at the end. I finished all but about 400 words out of 3,338 using voice recognition (saving frequently but it didn't crash...possibly because I wasn't using it in Trillian and had cleared up some system resources). Where I had noticed before that I tended toward dialogue with VR, this story is oddly not quite narrative but certainly not dialogue heavy. It's a mood piece I guess. I'll see what I think when it comes time to edit.

However, with this one I definitely broke through any worries about Dragon crashing and worries that VR was going to be dialogue heavy.

And whoops, I used the same generator twice: I guess it really works for me :).  For those who might have read it, this generator brought both Purity, which got an Honorable Mention in the Oceanview Short Story contest, and Ties That Bind, which got an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future.
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Story 3 - Community Service (Science Fiction)

Now for this one I cheated. I'm not proud of it but this is the truth.

I try on the first pass to get one prompt from each generator...just to test things out. I know I'm supposed to use the first prompt I get, but the adventure game generator has never worked for me. On my good days, it offers a novel-length work in synopsis. On my bad, like today, it stymies me entirely. (

I got the prompt last night before bed (so at 12:20 am), and couldn't even manage to read through the whole thing. Then, this morning, I read through everything only to remember that it provides not just prompts but full plot concepts. And not just one of them but several. In the last few years, I bullied my way through to something, but this year I didn't have the will. So...when nothing much would coalesce into anything useful, I chucked the prompt and skipped to the next generator. Before breakfast was over, I had the beginning to a very odd little story that hits most of the concepts of the prompt and ignores some of the big ones, but it was a fun write.

The prompt I did use was:, another that has given me novels, but some short stories as well, like Community Service.
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Story 1 - Independence (Fantasy)

So...what did I learn in this story?

I learned that I have to hit SAVE even when using Voice Recognition :p. I also learned that I tend to go dialogue heavy through VR and maybe I should try and focus on my storytelling more.

I also learned that trying to recreate the sweet parts from memory after a loss is a sure way to make me avoid writing. And even more importantly, that if I just let the story unfold again, it may be stronger in parts than the lost original.

I used the new Zettercise generator for this one:

Story 2 - Sweetentime (Urban Fantasy)

Unlike the previous one where I didn't know where it was going, this story came together rather quickly in the shower. I actually raced out with my hair in a towel and in my robe to jot down the beginning and a synopsis, to make sure I didn't forget anything. The difficulty with this one was to come up with a way to tell the whole of the story without a lot of mechanical description of how the elves were doing what they'd done or even this world. I think I managed to show the interactions between the worlds okay. I skimmed the other and may have to change that in the revision.

What I learned? Well, I'm still a little iffy on the urban fantasy side. I write contemporary romance and fantasy, but I think the balance of the mundane with the fantastical is very difficult in UF.

This one came from Kat Feete's generator:
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As some of you may know, I descend into the heart of muse insanity each year for my birthday month. In 2003, Holly Lisle started the Story A Day challenge on Forward Motion,, as a one-off dare to produce 31 stories based on online story generators in a single month. I pushed as hard as I could and only managed 25, many of which weren't worth editing. But the rush of ideas and creation and just pure lunacy was addictive.

At this point I don't remember whether I influenced the decision to keep it as an annual event or not, but I certainly appreciated the fact. However, the reoccurring version came in a softer form. You can still drive for the 31 stories, and some do, but there are also levels from 10, 15, and 20 stories in a month.

For the past three years, I have managed only 10 stories, but still, that's more than I write the rest of the months combined. And some of my more solid stories, stories that have reached the final consideration pile in several pro markets, came from this extravagance.

However, between the fact that my son's big school musical always falls in May, and BayCon, a Northern California Science Fiction convention, also does, this challenge leaves little time for my other writing projects.

You won't be hearing much from Molly, for example. And though I hope to finish consolidating the crits for Selkie at least, that may not happen until June.

So, to keep you all busy, I'm copying over my notes for the Advanced Writers Board challenge on Forward Motion. On top of writing the stories, the challenge on the second board is to consider what each story taught you and tell everyone else about it. Sometimes the lessons are trivial, and sometimes they're a real kick in the pants.

I'm starting out behind, so I may combine a few of the shorter ones, but you'll probably see more posts from me because of this than ever before. I just hope you enjoy them, and maybe even learn something about your own process in watching me question mine.
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Through Arcane Rules and Procedures, We Persevere Because We Must

This comes as a spinoff from last week's post. In the comments thread, we had a little chat about how most writing rules aren't actual rules for all that the term is uses. New writers often promote them as absolutes when picking up almost any published book would show that's not true, while the phrase, "you have to know the rules before you can break them" is frequently tossed about. However, if they really were rules, there would be consequences (and fame and fortune from breaking them successfully is not what I mean ;)).

In driving, if you run a red light, the only question is whether you're caught. You are guilty. You have broken a rule. There's no way around that fact.

In cooking, if you substitute salt for sugar just because you feel like it, someone's going to notice, and not in a positive way.

But in writing, that's not true. Some of the experimental fiction works prove even the basics, like punctuation and capitalization, are up for interpretation if you manage to do it well. There are no hard and fast rules in writing. Everything is subjective, with the only requirement for success being that you somehow catch the imagination when you do break the rules.

This is a very difficult concept for writers. Most things work on the basis of rules, not just driving and cooking in the examples above. As you gain knowledge of the rules, you automatically improve whether it's blacksmithing, piano, or the aforementioned driving.

But writing doesn't work that way. The rules are different for each writer, the dangers are different, and techniques that help one person can crush another. Even worse, there's no guarantee that with practice we'll improve. Some writers hit a plateau they can't get beyond and others peak early.

It conflicts with our understanding of life and the way things work.

The whole fear of "writing to a prompt" is based on real life where if I follow the same sewing pattern I'll end up with the same thing you do. But that's not true of writing. If we follow the same pattern, some of us will end up with masterpieces of the genre, others will end up with brilliant outliers, and still others' efforts will result in cardboard cutouts that make a reader cringe.

People scoff at romance and detective novels because they are formulaic. Those people are usually the ones who have not read any, or picked up one and dismissed the whole. Put Nora Roberts next to Holly Lisle next to Lucy Monroe next to Lynn Viehl in romance and you'd be hard pressed to figure out that they're writing the same genre. Take it even closer and choose seven Harlequin Presents novels by different authors. Some will be works of art, some will not. Some authors take the formula as a jumping off point, others stick to it rigidly. Some have a spark; others are decent stories but no more than that.

Writing is not rocket science.

In rocket science, if you put the same ingredients into the same mix, you'll get the same explosion. If you find a rocket design that works, you can replicate that design again and again and it'll still work.

In writing, even with the same author, you put the same ingredients in and get something different each time. I have certain themes that show up frequently in my works. However, the result of those themes varies radically and cross genre lines. It takes literary analysis to recognize the patterns; I know only because I have analyzed my works out of curiosity.

Authors who figure out a winning plot structure can use it again just like the rocket scientist, with one simple difference: no guarantee it'll still work, or even that it'll look the same. Successful writers take the same design and create something new every time. If a writer rubberstamps books though, they soon lose readers who despair of shelling out hard earned cash to read the same book with only the character names changed.

Writing taps into one of those places we do not understand, the hidden underpinnings of humanity that make no sense when brought to the light. When it doesn't reach into the swampy darkness, the writing comes out flat, cardboard, or even worse, bland. When it does, tears drip onto the pages, people stare as the reader bursts into uncontrollable laughter, or readers explain in detail why they hate someone to death, only to reveal that someone exists between the covers of a book.

Creativity is a mystical force. The muse is a mystical creature that none can explain or command. Creativity doesn't require practice as much as it requires nurturing. Muses are fickle and tricky, but can be wooed and bribed. Ultimately, most writers could do almost anything else, including minimum wage jobs, and earn more per hour than by writing. Forget any dreams of low stress, hanging out at pubs, sipping your tea with a finger curled as you scribble down the next masterpiece.

I've been a non-fiction editor/abstractor fulltime, I've run systems departments, and now I write and freelance. Of all of them, the editor/abstractor was the most relaxing. Systems and writing run neck and neck, and I never had to put myself in the place of an abusive, manipulating crime boss in systems ;).

This is one of the biggest struggles. We can't see the end of the trail because there is no trail. There is no promotion path laid out, no promise of an income, much less a raise, and no hopes that anything will ever get easier.

Every writer has to cut their own way, though they can borrow another's machete to make the process a little faster. There's no guarantee of success either in improvement or in accolades. And in the measures of modern industrialized society, all but the very cream of writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are failures with regards to economic status and stability.

So...if we can't measure success by the hours we've put in, by the income we earn, by moving up the writing ladder, just what is it that keeps writers going? What makes us batter our heads against rules that aren't rules, against skills that might actually undermine our progress, and an environment where we have to crawl past the carrion bodies of other writers who couldn't keep going across the desert in hopes of an oasis at the other side?

Because we have to. Because to do anything else would mean denying our true selves. Because that way lies madness as the voices in our heads start breaking out into reality because we don't keep them confined in fiction.

Whether we love it or hate it, writing is a calling as true as any other, and not one that can be ignored.
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I was writing up a note for my Thinking Sideways project when a topic came up that I wanted to talk about here as well, and in more detail.

When I discovered Internet writing communities, I was hammered with a bunch of "thou shalt not"s, as are most writers, no matter where they stand on the experience scale.

Even though I had written a ton by that point (two novels, easily 50 short stories, and a couple novelettes, plays, and poems), because of my isolation, I was vulnerable to peer pressure. I figured that I'd been hacking my way through, making it up as I went along, and so must have picked up a ton of bad habits. If the "Internet" says it's right, I must, therefore, be wrong.

To this day, I'm still fighting the impact of that period in my writing career, and to some degree, I'm still vulnerable and carrying out "thou shalt"s that if I took a step back and looked at them, are insane.

Ones I've conquered include "thou shalt not use the verb 'to be'" and "thou shalt not use 'that'" (which has the dangerous companion of "thou shalt replace 'that' with 'which' at every opportunity where 'that' cannot be purged," something resulting in broken grammar on top of unintelligible sentences).

My father broke me of "that" simply because he could not comprehend my sentences and wasn't willing to jump through the elaborate hoops expected so we can avoid a perfectly good word that (note ;)) happens to stand out when overused.

However, this concept has recently hit me on two fronts. One of the processes suggested by Holly Lisle in Thinking Sideways contradicts the "general rules" and is actually something I used to do before facing those same rules and bowing to them.

A while back, a friend edited a book for me that had two separate voices, one omniscient and one close third. She said choose one...but more importantly, choose either. I had a strong omniscient voice when I started writing that was crushed out of me, so I've substituted with a super close third. Now that change I regret with a vague sadness, but a close third is more of what the market is looking for and I'm happy with the new style, except that my third is SO close that it sometimes confuses people. SIGH.

But it's a more recent happening that brought me to writing this post.

I am in the process of collecting the crits of From the Sea (Selkie) into a single document so I can evaluate the trends. First of all, if the OWW trend of controversial stories succeeding holds true, I've got it made :p. I'm working on the third of four and there's significant disagreement about certain characters and situations :). But that's beside the point.

In going through this story and seeing their comments, I realized, had a full-on DUH moment, that I'm still crippled by one of those "thou shalt not"s.

Some time back, I was told not once but repeatedly that it is a point of view (POV) slip to say someone smiled because they can't see their own face. This started an endless round of arguments and warped my writing FOREVER!!!!! Okay, drama over, now that I've realized it, I can fix it too.

Instead of avoiding the act in the POV character, I went about coming up with ways that made obvious what we all know, which is that we KNOW when we smile. So I have smiles curling lips and pulling cheeks and...(sounds familiar? ;)) It's too much. It's ridiculous. It's annoying! I do not question why my critters pointed it out in the feedback. I question how I could have continued on this vein without realizing myself that I'd been had.

Double SIGH.

So I have my work cut out for me in this edit, in the edit of everything written prior to this moment, and in the writing of everything ever after, but I will break myself of this bad habit. I will rise above the "thou shalt"s and just write.

It seems to me there's a sense among writers that every opinion must be validated to hold weight. It's not enough to say this seems awkward to me, but rather some rule must rise from the deep to put authority behind the opinion. Only trouble is that the opinion gives writers a choice whether to adopt the change or stick with what they have. These manufactured rules, though, either make the critter seem foolish or can scar the writer for some time to come.

There are rules about writing. Grammar rules that are fixed (or mostly so) like capitalization and putting an end punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. What people need to remember is style rules are not rules. They're at best guidelines and at worse yokes around the necks of people trying to succeed.

The only rules I've heard that stand firm for me are these:

1) Thou shalt not confuse the reader (unless it serves a plot purpose).
2) Thou shalt entertain.

And, as you can see from the parenthetical phrase after the first, even those have caveats.


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Margaret McGaffey Fisk

April 2017

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