Archive for July, 2010

I Screwed Up

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Hi, Eric the IT Lemur Here. During routine clean up I did something not so routine

Which is why everything looks whack. I apologize. I hope to have it fixed very soon, at which point I will remove this post. Everything still works, I just have to un-restore some files.

Scroll way down and you’ll still see real content you came for.

Well, the positions are more or less right. Still some styles to clean up. I am so not worthy and again extend my apologies to everyone. (Especially Dan, whose minions are currently being held off by only the slightest of margins by my elite corp of ninja monkey assassin priests… General John Cleaver is especially dangerous)

Dystopia

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Dystopia is huge right now, especially in YA. This is probably due to the fact that we live in one–or, more correctly, this is due to the fact that YA readers are finally paying close enough attention to realize that we live in one. The last time American teens were politically savvy enough to care about the condition of our country was in the 60s, with the Vietnam war, and I think that has a lot of parallels to today: regardless of how the war may actually be going (and you can find the full range of opinions on the net if you search for at least five minutes), I think we can all agree that the war in the Middle East has been very long, and with very little perceived progress. This kind of thing bothers people, and starts them thinking about other things, and what I find really interesting here is that most of our political and governmental complaints these days have very little to do with the war; I think you can point to the war as the source of our unease, but the target of that unease is almost entirely domestic.

We don’t like the government’s lax position on immigration–but we don’t like the strict immigrations laws they’re passing now, either. We hated our last president, and now we hate our current one for completely different reasons. Our economy sucks, and the methods our government is using to pull us out of recession tend to suck even more than the recession. We’re upset and angry and–this is the key here–we don’t trust our leaders. I think that, more than anything, is the reason I label this a dystopia. If you don’t trust the people who hold all the power, the entire system breaks.

A dystopia, for those who don’t know, is loosely defined as a “bad society.” The word technically translates as “terrible place,” and exists as an opposite of the word eutopia, or “wonderful place.” More specifically, eutopia is a common science fiction concept of a perfect place, where our dreams of the future have all come true, and thus a dystopia is considered to the opposite of perfect–a place, or a time, when our dreams have very distinctly failed to come true. We have arrived at the future, and it’s exactly what we didn’t want it to be.

Part of me, frankly, is kind of excited about this. You go back six or seven years and I would have said our biggest societal problem was apathy–we were a nation of heedless consumers, getting and spending our money as fast as we could on every stupid piece of junk they could throw at us. We didn’t care about what was happening in the world because the world was boring. I feel kind of indebted to people like George W. Bush and Barack Obama for forcing us to a crisis of political mistrust so great we can’t help but take notice. Our world is worse now, and scarier, but at least we’re aware of how scary it is. In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I voted for Obama, excited about all the changes he was going to make, but I’ve grown pretty disillusioned now that he’s made so few of them. A friend asked me recently if I was happy with my choice, and I am–I’m just not happy with any of his subsequent choices.

But I’m getting off topic, and way too political, and I know I’m going to get slammed in the comments, and on Facebook, and on Twitter, by people demanding that I explain/justify/change my political statements. Let me cut that all short by stating right now that my political beliefs, and yours for that matter, are beside the point of this discussion, which is that nobody, regardless of their political beliefs, is happy with our political situation. There is not a single person, anywhere in America, who can look out and say “yes, everything is as it should be.” None of our ideals are being met; all of our choices are impossible. We’ve hit a crux of our societal development, I think, and that’s a very hard, painful place to be. It’s got us thinking about our future, and our past, and why our present is exactly what we didn’t want. It’s the textbook definition of a dystopia.

Dystopia in fiction, of course, is usually more pronounced. We replace our current problems with wild exaggerations of them. Are you worried that the people you used to like and trust are getting brainwashed into mindless enemies–like, say, socialism or its enemy the Tea Party movement? Then our massive bounty of zombie fiction will resonate very strongly with you. Do you think that our mishandling of a seemingly unwinnable war will destroy our way of life? Then step right up to the post-apocalypse fiction shelf, more full now than it’s probably ever been. Do you think our growing preference for online connectivity over personal interaction will break our society in unpredictable and unrecoverable ways? Then lucky for you that cyberpunk is back. Everything we’re afraid of, everything we’re living through every day, is reflected in our literature. My only hope, at this point, is that these disillusioned YA readers will learn something from our fiction and do their best to make tomorrow better.

Using the Real World

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

When I first wrote I Am Not a Serial Killer, I set it in the imaginary town of Clayton, in the county of Clayton, somewhere in the American midwest–far enough north to be cold and snowy, with enough forest for my narrative needs while still being sufficiently barren for my tonal needs. It is not a real place, and was never intended to be. Then, in Mr. Monster, I wrote a conversation between various kidnapping victims and realized that the first question they’d ask is “where are we?” I wanted to be able to provide them with a real answer, so I pulled out a map of the US and pored over it very carefully and decided that Clayton was somewhere in North Dakota. I retrofitted this fact into the first book and sent it out into the world.

But I wasn’t very happy with it, and my US editor, Moshe, wasn’t very happy with it, and we both realized we liked it better when Clayton was just an everytown, existing everywhere and nowhere at once. We changed it back, and managed to catch every edition but the British one. That’s why if you have a UK copy of the first book, it’s in North Dakota, but if you have any other book (including the UK Mr. Monster) the location is non-specific.

For my next book, the schizophrenia thriller Pain of Glass, I decided I wanted to set it in a big city, mostly because the Cleaver books were in a small town and I thought it would be fun to switch things up. I hunted around and found that Chicago fit my needs nicely, so I set it there, but as I wrote I don’t think I ever came right out and said “this is in Chicago.” I stole a lot of the street names from Chicago, made up my own mental institution, and kept the book in a kind of quasi-real location, not really Chicago but not really not Chicago, either. Which kind of fits the theme of a book about schizophrenia, so hooray for that, but mostly it was just easier that way.

But I am not, shall we say, a person who likes to do things the easy way. For my current manuscript, Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition, I decided to set the book very firmly in New York City. I researched streets, neighborhoods, locations, and more to make it fit. I looked up what brand of grocery store my Queens-based protagonist would shop in. I determined which subway lines the various characters would take, and what stops they would use. As the story expanded I set each new piece in another very real part of the real world, both US and abroad, finding which cities had the right feel, which public event centers had the right capacity, and which island nations had the right extradition laws. I want this book to feel like Earth–not just an Earth, but our Earth, with a sense of reality and immediacy that will make, I hope, all of its problems feel more grounded and familiar.

I Am Not a Serial Killer needed to be vague, and EM:AE needs to be specific, and Pain of Glass needs to be somewhere in between. Different stories require different things, even when they’re all set in the same (sort of) world.

The Art of Making Art

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

I’m a big fan of musical theater–not every musical ever made, of course, but the art form in general. I find it to be a really interesting, often powerful way to present a story or idea. My tastes are fairly snobbish, though, and I find myself repeatedly drawn to the musicals that focus on story and character and ideas, rather than the big spectacles my friend used to call “Tired Businessman” shows–stuff like Phantom of the Opera or The Little Mermaid that exists primarily to show off costumes, sets, and pretty girls, entertaining an audience without really bothering to engage them on a deeper level. It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite creator of musical theater is Stephen Sondheim.

Sondheim has the distinction of being an artistic creator that EVERYONE wants to invest in, despite the fact that almost none of his shows have actually made money. At the time I looked into the financial side, about ten years ago, he had only written two profitable shows: A Little Night Music and Into the Woods. I suspect that Sweeney Todd has since joined that group thanks to the movie deal, but I’m only guessing. His other shows have all been financial failures, but wild critical darlings that small groups of people absolutely love. Everyone wants to be part of a Sondheim show because they are always brilliant, daring, and completely unique. Screw the money, this is about art.

I love all of Sondheim’s work, but my two favorites stand high above the others. First is Sunday in the Park with George, a fascinating story about pointillist painter Georges Seurat, most famous for the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” The story weaves in and out of time and space, telling some scenes in the real world, some from inside of a painting or a person’s mind, and setting one act in the past and one in the present, three generations later. The primary topics are the creation of art, the power of an artist to shape reality, and the impossible balance between art and life. It’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen, and surprisingly emotional. It’s also the only musicals to ever win a Pulitzer. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My other favorite is Company, one of Sondheim’s earliest works, about a single man in New York having a birthday part with all of his married friends. Through songs, dialogue, and flashbacks, they paint an absolutely fascinating picture of human relationships: what do you gain by sharing your life with someone? What do you lose? I discovered this show when I was in high school, and as I’ve grown, found and lost girlfriends, gotten married, had children, experienced more of life, I’ve found that the show has grown with me, speaking to me in completely different ways at each stage of my life, telling me different things–even though the show itself, of course, has never changed. My ability to perceive it has changed, and in some cases reversed, and I find that Company continues to surprise me with its insight about the various stages of life and relationships. Again, as with Sunday in the Park, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Actually, it occurs to me that the recent revival of Company probably kicked it up into the profitable category, so maybe that’s the way to make money on Sondheim–let a show gestate for thirty years and then re-release it to a much wider fanbase.

One of the things I most admire about Sondheim is his constant stretching–he’s never dealt with the same subject, or even the same style, twice. He did a show that was presented backward; he did a noh-style drama about Commodore Perry and gunboat diplomacy; he did a show about American ideals by focusing on our long history of presidential assassins. Each of these is completely brilliant and completely different from anything else. And that, dear reader, is why I’m thinking about him today. I do not claim to share Sondheim’s brilliance, but I realized this weekend that I share his insistence on non-conformity; perhaps because I admire him so much, I’m following a similar trend with my books that he follows with his musicals, doing whatever interests me the most and almost pig-headedly refusing to hit the same note twice. Before I was published my books included an epic fantasy, a horror comedy, and a historical superhero; my first published series was a supernatural thriller with a teen protagonist, after which I wrote a psychological study about an adult, after which I wrote an epic science fiction about cloning and corporate satire. My ideas for future books include a dark fantasy, a steampunk, and a drama about a man who eats memories. There are similarities here and there, but no consistent genre–no easy hook for someone (say, a bookseller or a reader) to hang me on and say “this is what Dan Wells is about, and I/you/somebody should read him because you like this kind of stuff.” Someone who writes epic fantasy will always have an audience–the same audience, growing from book to book–because they always give that audience what they’re looking for. I suppose there’s something to be said for letting your hook be “unique brilliance,” but if Sondheim couldn’t even make that profitable I doubt I’ll be able to pull it off.

How much of art is art, and how much is business? Is there a conflict between consistency and creativity? Should there be? At what point does “following your muse” become more about determination than personal expression? How much room is there, within the strictures of your artistic drive, for steering it down commercially supportable pathways?

In other words, can you be true to yourself while still being true to your audience? I think that might be the oldest question in the history of art.

The Writing Excuses Wonder-Signing

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

The awesome folks at Dragons and Fairy Tales, a great indie bookstore in Eagle Mountain, Utah, has invited the entire Writing Excuses team for a joint signing/live podcast/launch party, and it is going to be epic. By which I mean that we will gather brave companions, journey to hell, lose our mentor, and achieve apotheosis. Attendees will learn something valuable about life and/or themselves, and may or may not have a chance to drink a Threshold Elixir.

This event is going to be amazing, and you definitely want to be there:

Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells
We will be signing and reading our books
We will record two or three episodes of Writing Excuses LIVE
We will be the official launch celebration for Resident Mad Scientist, Howard’s latest Schlock book
I will be giving away to one lucky guest an advance copy of the Mr. Monster, coming out this October from Tor
Producer Jordo will have a kissing booth

The event is THIS SATURDAY, July 31, so mark your calendars and buy your airline tickets now:
Dragons and Fairy Tales
5-8 pm
3535 Ranches Pkwy
Eagle Mountain, Utah 84005
Get Directions
(801) 789-5014

A day in the life

Monday, July 26th, 2010

This is a very late blog post today, but I have a good reason: I’m really busy. And none of what I’m busy with is writing, which is the sad part and the unfortunate truth of being an author. Let me give you a quick rundown of my day.

1. I woke up with 17 new emails to answer, and that’s just the overnight stuff; new emails trickle in all throughout the day, and I take a break every couple of hours to answer them. I don’t always answer my emailsright off the bat, though, so don’t feel sad if I haven’t gotten to yours yet. And if I haven’t gotten to yours in a long time, go ahead and resend it just in case.

2. After weeding through my initial emails, I eat breakfast. Today it was leftover teriyaki chicken and rice because I didn’t like any of the cereals in the cupboard—they were all too sugary. I rarely ever eat sweet stuff, though when I do I set the stuff that tastes like chocolate instead of just sugar.

3. After breakfast I drive to work, which is in my action-figure-adorned office in Brandon Sanderson’s basement. All the action figures are behind me, though, so I don’t have any distractions while I write.

4. Normally at this point I would go through my website, approving new reader posts and writing a new blog post and telling myself that I really need to update the poll. Today I took a quick look at the reader posts, shut it down, and cleared off my desk—I have a laptop I work on, but I connect it to a big ergonomic keyboard to protect my wrists, since I have a history of carpal tunnel and hope never to repeat it. The keyboard and the USB mouse went to on the floor, and I pulled out my work for the day: a giant envelope from London filled with the copy edit galley for the third book in my series, I Dont Want to Kill You.

5. A copyedit is simple but time-consuming: the editors have gone through the entire manuscript and covered it with spelling corrections, grammar changes, typesetting marks, and line edits. This is especially intensive for the UK copyedit because the grammar and punctuation rules are significantly different, so the page has a lot more stuff written all over it. My job is to go through the whole thing, word by word, and make sure that all the changes are good, and to specifically address certain editorial queries. In this book, for example, I’ve for some reason overused the phrases “he/she leaned forward” and “he/she shook his/her head,” and the copy editor has marked all of these (and a thousand other things), changed some, pointed out others, and so on. She’s also made sure all my words are spelled right, including the ones I made up, and that all of my names and other information are consistent. As another example, in book 2 I said that the bus stop was 8 blocks from John’s house, and in book 3 I said it was 2 blocks away; my copyeditor is so awesome that she still notices and corrects something so small I didn’t even remember it. My job, as I said, is to look at each and every one of these changes—and everything that wasn’t changed—and make sure it’s all as good as I can possibly make it.

5. Today I only got halfway through, because I’m trying to build a shed in my yard. I didn’t quite finish the shed on Saturday, so I planned to put the roof on tonight, but then it started raining and I had to rush home and put my unfinished pieces into my carport to protect them. I did get the roof on, though, so hooray for that.

6. Tomorrow I go back to work to finish the second half of the copyedit, then on Wednesday I’ll get back to writing. I should finish Part 2 of my current manuscript on Thursday. And at some point in the week I’ll maybe get some doors on my shed.

Working with a Writing Group

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

The trick to working with a writing group is interpreting it–you have to know what people really mean, and you have to know how that translates into actual changes you should or should not make to your story. Let’s consider, for example, that your writing group is similar to mine: you meet once a week, you read each one chapter from each person, and you give comments. We actually read our chapter submissions beforehand, so we’re ready to go when we get there, but I know some other groups do it differently. To each his own. The important part, for our purposes today, is that at some point somebody’s going to say something bad about your work, and you need to figure out what they mean.

“I don’t understand this character’s motivations.”

Ouch. That hurts. Don’t worry, we all know that it hurts–even published authors, content with our place in humanity and firm in the knowledge that everything we touch turns to Shakespeare, still feel bad when people critique our stuff. That’s actually one of the biggest benefits of a writing group, I think: they help you develop the thick skin you’ll eventually need when agents reject you, editors demand sweeping changes, and readers deride you for ripping off Dexter. (Note: one or more of the statements in the previous sentence may apply to me.) Once you’ve dealt with the emotional kidney punch of knowing that someone finds a fault in your writing, take a second look at what they said: “I don’t understand your character’s motivations.”

That could mean a lot of things. “Your character’s motivations are poorly explained.” “Your character’s motivations were improperly established in a previous chapter, so this chapter doesn’t work.” “Your character’s personality is completely different than what it was last time.” “We haven’t seen this character in so long, because we only read chapter a week, that I can’t remember if this character’s motivations are consistent or not.” “I was hungry when I read this, so I wasn’t really paying attention.” All of these and more are real and viable explanations for what they might really mean. How do you sort them out?

If you’re lucky, you can figure it out through a context born of long association. I’ve been in my writing group for years, with some of the same people off and on since college. I know that if one friend says she doesn’t understand a character’s motivations, it usually means that the plot arc is broken and she can’t tell where the story’s going. I know that if another friend says it, it’s because he doesn’t like the character very much and wishes his motivations were different–he literally can’t understand why anyone would be motivated in that way. That may seem like bad or poorly phrased advice, but it’s absolutely not–know what they mean, and how to interpret what they say, is some of the most valuable advice I get. It helps me know, for example, that the best way to fix that character might be to fix the plot surrounding him, or that certain segments of my audience will be turned off by a given character and I might want to soften or balance him with other traits or other characters.

Of course, if you don’t know your writing group people as well as that, you will need to ask questions. This is okay, as long as you don’t defend your work: let me repeat that in italics. Don’t defend your work. Yes, it may be true that if your readers understood where you were coming from or what you meant, they’d love that thing that they claim to hate, but let me assure you that explaining this to them is a) bad for writing group morale and b) missing the point. You don’t want defensive explanations because you don’t want arguments, and you don’t want verbal explanations because your book is written down on paper. That is how your audience will, knock on wood, eventually experience it. If a person in your writing group doesn’t get something, explaining it to them might help, but it will only help them, and everyone else who ever reads the book, ever, will still not get it. You need to put your explanations and fixes into the text, where everyone can read them, and then instead of justifying an error you’ve fixed one, and no one will ever have to worry about it again because they’ll all “get” it the first time through, and you’ll be a genius, and you’ll sell a million copies. See, your writing group is helping already. But yes, getting back to my original point in this paragraph, it’s good to ask your readers questions as long as you phrase them carefully and keep your passions out of it. A belligerent “What do you mean you didn’t understand his motivations?” is bad, but a humble “please tell me what you mean when you say you didn’t understand his motivations” is good.

Now, once you’ve figured out what your writing group means, you have to decide what you’re going to do about it. Person A thought your character’s motivations were poorly presented, which ruined his ability to empathize with that character. Does that mean you go back to the beginning and start from scratch? Does that mean you go back to the beginning and edit his inner dialogue? Does that mean you change his motivations altogether? What do you do, and when do you do it? The only way I can answer this is by telling you what I do, so here it is:

1) I politely write everything down, even if I think it’s dumb. (Dear person in my writing group who’s reading this right now: of course I don’t mean you.)
2) I ignore any big changes and continue writing my book the way I want to. I’m usually about ten to fifteen chapters ahead of my writing group, and I don’t want to fix half of a book, so I save their comments for draft two.
3) When I finish the full manuscript, I send it out to other readers who can read it under different circumstances (all at once instead of week by week, alone instead of in a group, etc.).
4) When I have a lot of feedback from a wide range of sources, I consider it all carefully and try to figure out what it means.
5) I read through the book again, trying to see it with fresh eyes, keeping an eye out for the things that bothered my readers.
6) I decide which comments are valid, which are outliers, and come up with strategies to fix the valid stuff.
7) I do a new draft of the book, editing and/or completely rewriting as I go, taking into account the various strategies I’ve created to deal with the problems.
8) Steal all the underpants in the world.
9) Profit!

Sometimes I will hear a comment in writing group and think “you’re absolutely right, I’ll start doing that right now as I right the rest of the book,” but more often than not I try to wait for draft 2, and then drat 3, to let each book be it’s own thing instead of a gruesome patchwork of problems and solutions. Taking time to stop and figure out exactly what my writing group feedback actually means, and how best to solve the problems they point out, helps me be a much better writer and makes my drafts successively cleaner and stronger.

Now: it is the weekend. Go outside and play.

Arg!

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I just wrote a huge post on writing groups, which WordPress didn’t upload and refused to save, so it’s completely gone. I’ll keep looking, but the odds of me retyping the whole thing are low.

Accountability in Writing

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

…by which I really mean accountability in goal-setting. I suppose it’s possible to talk about other ways in which an artist can be accountable (to his audience, to his family, to his ideals), and that actually sounds like a pretty interesting topic, but it’s not the one I want to talk about right now.

I’m talking about accountability as a writing tactic–as a way of making yourself accountable for a certain amount of work. I’ve been struggling with my current manuscript of late, not because it isn’t awesome (it’s actually quite awesome), but because other things keep popping up, and I get out of the habit, and I have to force myself back into it. Yes, dear reader, even full-time authors need to psyche themselves up sometimes and force themselves to work. In my case, I was forcing myself to work on what I was supposed to be working on, instead of just screwing around with other stuff that was also important, though far less pressing. I needed to tweak some stuff on Pain of Glass; I needed to read the current screenplay for I Am Not a Serial Killer; I needed to plot out another story for another book I won’t have time to write until next year anyway. And that’s the just the writing stuff–there was plenty of annoying little business things and maintenance bits I had to take care of as well. Obviously I didn’t actually need to do any of that stuff right now, I was just allowing it to take over my day. So I did what I always do when I realize I’m wasting time: I figured out why.

Turns out that I was intimidated by my own book: it’s huge, and I’m barely halfway through it, and I’m at the part where it really starts to get nuts, and I simply didn’t want to put in the mental effort of getting back into my story and remembering where all the characters were and figuring out clever/funny/horrifying things for them to do and say. This is a symptom of my style of drafting, which is to say that I have a list of scenes that are supposed to happen, but no real concept of how to make them happen. Let me give you a sample of the outline notes for the chapter I wrote yesterday, with all the important spoilers removed:

“We go the office of an FBI agent, in a meeting with a member of the FDA, sifting through a huge pile of crime reports related to the BLAH (a man accidentally BLAH; etc.). They talk about their legal recourses, intent on bringing them down but not sure how to do it. The FDA guy wants to BLAH, but they want more than that. They need a hook. Someone tells them to BLAH, and they see a BLAH. They decide to BLAH.”

Please be assured that even with all the BLAHs added back in, this outline is not especially meaty, especially considering that a) both the FBI guy and the FDA guy are new characters we’ve never met before, b) this isn’t really a story, just a decision. It’s an important decision, and one I think needs to be portrayed “on-screen,” so to speak, but it’s just a couple of strangers sitting in a room talking. I simply didn’t know where to start, so I was avoiding it.

Well. Knowing why something happens is incredibly valuable, because it allows you to figure out how to change it. In this case I had two options: change my outline, or follow it. Following it wasn’t working, so I figured I’d change it, but as I started looking at who these people were and why they were doing what they were doing I realized that changing this outline would be just as much work as writing the story would be, so I went back to plan A: force myself to write it. Not every author can do this, as they rely very heavily on outlines and don’t like to free-write, but on the other hand those authors have better outlines than I do and don’t typically find themselves in this kind of predicament.

This is where we finally get to the accountability thing: there are several great strategies for goal-setting, and two of the most effective are rewards and accountability. The first is simple: when you set a goal, go ahead and attach a reward to it. A lot of people think this is cheating, since presumably the goal itself should be enough of a reward, right? Why should you have to bribe yourself to do something you want to do anyway? Because Hulk stomp puny human, that’s why. We are weak and miserable creatures sometimes, especially when it comes to big hard things that scare and intimidate us. I told myself that if I did enough writing I’d get a toy, because I like toys and that’s a good motivator for me, and then to police myself I posted it on Twitter. I made myself accountable by sharing my goal with the world.

This is a strategy that shouldn’t work, but it totally does. If you decide you’re going to do something and never tell anyone about it, it’s almost like you never actually decided it–and it’s extremely easy to convince yourself that it doesn’t actually matter, because it was never official anyway, and I don’t have to explain myself to you because you don’t even know I had a goal in the first place. Telling people makes it official–even if you tell someone who has no authority, in a completely casual capacity, we still feel like the goal has been made real. You’ve stated, out loud or in writing, that you are going to do something, and you are now accountable to everyone who heard or read it. They know what you’re doing, and they’ll know if you fail or succeed.

Through the magic of reward and accountability, I showed up at work every morning this week bound and determined to hit my goal: 2000 words, every day. The first day I couldn’t get my laptop to work, so the next day I wrote 3000 words to try to make up for it–such is the power of my goal-setting strategies. I don’t even know who most of you are, and yet I still didn’t want you to think I was a lazy slacker who says he’ll do something and then never does. I wrote like a madman yesterday, and again today, totally making up for my lost Monday and spilling slightly over the goal as I did it. And as I wrote, my weird outline problems played themselves out on the page: I wrote two or three pages of conversation, realized the motivations were all wrong, figured out what the motivations should actually be, and started over. I wrote six or seven new pages, feeling halfway confident but knowing they were missing something, and as I reached a certain phase of the dialogue I realized that the chapter really wanted to be staged as a reveal, with two characters hiding something from a third. I went back, changed the viewpoint from one person to another, added in a ton of new dialogue, seeded a few hints, and boom–the chapter worked. My weird problem chapter not only made the point it was trying to make, it did it in an interesting way and helped send the book in the right new direction I needed it to go. All because I forced myself to do it, and took the steps to make sure it actually happened. Today’s chapter came even more easily, and I even had time afterward to write this blog post about it (lucky you!).

I am totally getting a toy.

Making Use of Goodreads

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I’m a big fan of Goodreads, the social networking website that focuses on books: what you’re reading, what you’ve read, reviews and recommendations, etc. I even have a fair number of books marked and rated on my virtual bookshelf, thanks to a friendly competition several years ago with Steve Diamond when we raced each other to post as many book ratings as possible; I won, but he’s read (and rated) many more books than I have in the time since.

And that, dear reader, is the issue at hand: it has been a long time since I done much with my Goodreads account, and in that time I’ve had a book published, and I realize that my needs have changed. I’m still a reader, of course (current book: FEED by Mira Grant), but I’m also an author, which means I have more things, and different things, to communicate than I did before.

So I’m asking you guys: do you use Goodreads? How do you use it? What information do you look for? What do you wish your favorite authors did with it? If you’re an author yourself, how do you leverage Goodreads to communicate with readers?