Links: fluffers, hobbits, and cowboys

Another week, another round up.  We have the usual helpful craft links this week, as well as some inevitable sex, some famous British writers courting controversy, mistakes listed and books criticised, a one sentence precis of the journey to Mordor. Oh, and I throw in some Star Wars, just because you never get any of that stuff when it’s Steph’s turn.

At Write to Done Sean DSouza used a slightly confusing metaphor to remind us that you can often improve a piece by cutting out unnecessary introductory matter. In a nicely recursive touch, though, he included an extract from an early draft of the post which well illustrated the point.

At Magical Words Edmund Schubert showed how setting can be used to establish character, and how character in turn animates the setting description itself.

At Mystery Writing is Murder Elizabeth Spann Craig looked at ways of tagging your secondary characters without annoying your readers.

Juliette Wade of TalkToYoUniverse discussed patterns of repetition in character arcs, and apparently stirred up some real discussion because she later posted further explanation and illustration.

Juliette also reposted a piece about the evolution of language. In this area, I’ve always enjoyed archaic/modern mashups. Deadwood, Rome and My Own Private Idaho are among my favourite examples, joined now of course by the Coen Brothers’ True Grit.

At The New York Review of Books Blog Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana conducted a conversation about True Grit while over at the Guardian, possibly piqued by Martin Amis’s latest moment of controversy, Will Self took a sharp implement to the Coen brothers’ reputation:

Patchy, is the overwhelming feeling that emerges from a reread of the Coens’ CV: one fairly decent film supporting – like celluloid bridgework – the obvious weaknesses of the two on either side.

And what was that about Martin Amis? You have to love him. Well you have to do something with him anyway. There have been some quite specific suggestions this week after he said he would only write childrens’ fiction if he were brain injured.

Janice Hardy posted a blinder this week on layering plots from the main conflict, subplots, theme and character arcs.

At Edittorent Alicia reminded us that just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean you can make everything up and convince your readers at the same time.

In a repost at The Story Department Karel Segers discussed the three c’s of a good scene: clear, concise, colorful.

Mistakes lend themselves to listing. Guest posting at Julie Cross’s blog, Roni Loren listed five things that writers should NOT do.

Superhero Nation offered ten reasons why novel manuscripts are rejected.

Victoria Mixon was guest posting too, in this case at Wordplay. She outlined the four most common mistakes she sees as a fiction editor. They are: lack of structure, inappropriate backstory, poor characterisation and unpolished prose. Which sounds like a spot critique of The Story From Hell’s current draft. Now I’m depressed.. Perhaps some pictures would help.

Like these, maybe, that Paul Kincaid showcased at Big Other. They are nice WWII propaganda style posters for the campaign against library closures. Of course that reminds me we’re suffering swingeing ideologically motivated cuts in Britain right now. So I’m depressed again. What could take my mind off it?

Marissa Day grappled with sex at The Book View Cafe Blog. Now we’re talking. Sex is notoriously hard to write and often ends up seeming needlessly anatomical or unintentionally funny. Day advised the purveyor of literary smut to ensure that descriptions of the act are bound up with character, emotion and story. I have some pink furry character, emotion and story handcuffs somewhere.

At Go Into The Story Scott embedded Mr Plinkett’s Star Wars Episode 1 review. If you haven’t seen this before and you too are disproportionately outraged by the prequels (oh, George, what were you thinking?) then you must check these out (there’s one for each prequel). They’re laugh out loud funny, and they have a lot of smart things to say about story structure, and about what happens when no one dares stand up to a director.

If you do get hooked, look out for a montage from the critique of the third movie which shows clips from all the many many scenes in which people sit on couches, or stand in corridors, or walk along corridors, or stand for a bit then sit on couches, while they impart great gobbets of indigestible information to one another (no, really, what were you thinking?). Here’s the first part of the first movie critique:

Get the rest at youtube.

Go Into The Story also hosted some understandable frustration that recent journalism about The King’s Speech has praised the director to the skies and all but ignored David Seidler, the screenwriter, who championed the project for years.

At Finger Puzzled my old San Francisco writing group colleague Cynthia Cummins posted her poem Yellow (red eye taking off from Dulles).

Guest Posting at Write it Sideways Julie Duffy (of StoryADay) offered six ways of keeping on writing when life threatens to overwhelm you. I like the suggestion that one should take the day off. I have this problem, and will do that directly.

Emily Mandel wrote philosophically about bad reviews in the Millions. An interesting piece, and something of a breakthrough since this analytical approach allowed her to respond to her critics without seeming at all petty – a hard act to pull off.

The ever-entertaining Chuck Wendig of TerribleMinds reminded us that, in addition to bee wrangling and fluffing, he claims screenwriting among his accomplishments. Here’s his short guide to the craft (of screenwriting).

At Paperback Writer Lyn Veil posted a very funny reply to an unsolicited mail from a self-publishing shill. I wouldn’t say the post is against the business or the practice, but it does point out some of the hidden costs.

At Wordplay KM Weiland listed reasons you should consider telling, not showing: to summarise stuff the reader already knows, to cover important but boring background information, and to bridge potentially tedious spans between key story elements. I think Tolkien could have used this last one in The Return of the King. “And after a long and boring journey through Mordor in which Frodo was frail but saintly, Sam was a good servant, and Gollum was a pain in the arse, they arrived at Mount Doom. And now for a battle.”

On the subject of The Lord of the Rings, Benedicte Page reported in the Guardian (some months after the fact) that The Last Ring-Bearer, a Russian retelling of the story from the point of view of Mordor, has been translated and made available online. Apparently formal publication here is impossible because the novel would count as a derivative work. Of course that doesn’t speak to its literary merit.. after all presumably Wide Sargasso Sea would have fallen foul of the same rules had Jane Eyre been in copyright at the time of writing. I’ll be reading the story, and I’ll report back here.

Halt! You shall not read this paragraph! I must put up token resistance to test your resolve! Terrell Mims wrote about the threshold guardian this week.

There was more writer’s journey stuff this week at Magical Words where Stuart Jaffe covered the core of the heroic journey from meeting the mentor (your Gandalfs and Obi Wan Kenobis) to approaching the inmost cave (that’s your basic Death Star, Mount Doom kind of thing). Oh, yes, and on the way there are some threshold guardians.

In The Paris Review Daily Joan Schenkar, the biographer of Patricia Highsmith wrote about the seductive way that her subject haunted her life. And my god what a photograph — no wonder she cut a swathe through both sexes.

Meanwhile, in The London Review of Books, Anne Enright recalled Angela Carter

Let’s end with some free stories. At Big Other, Rachel Swirsky compiled links to some of last year’s best SF and Fantasy stories that she judged accessible to the general reader.

I’m back in two weeks.. Steph’s up next.. have a good one.

If you like Inflatable Ink’s round up, and want to read our links daily as we research them don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

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Links: Fire in Cairo

This week’s been like living through the 1980s all over again, except that this time around we don’t have Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev, or Lech Wałęsa, or CND, or LOAF (that’s Libraries Open And Free, all you young folk out there), or a sound-track by The Cure. This time around, it’s the Egyptians throwing off the yoke rather than the Poles and Eastern Europe waving goodbye to Communism; Barack Obama and the Brit Twinset wringing their hands and hoping for the best, rather than the Big Three of yore claiming victory and a splendid future for democracy. The leaders of the new rebellion are non-existent or invisible; the umbrella protest groups we all joined or marched with back in the day are long gone; and Lady Gaga sings the songs.

Charlie Stross is curiously optimistic over this week’s events in Egypt. I wish I could feel that way too.

We had a hurricane in 1987, much stronger and more damaging than the gales plaguing Britain this week. Not quite as strong and as damaging as Cyclone Yasi, though. Pity those who left the UK for Australia because of the weather; even Perth managed a bad week, with wildfires raging through her suburbs as Queensland and Victoria continued to submerge. The Americas suffered too, with a major snow dump that reached the parts other snow dumps cannot reach. Like, Northern Mexico.

Nathan Bransford brought more bad news from North America in his weekly publishing roundup. Borders is rumoured to be facing bankruptcy, and Canada’s biggest book distributor declared this week. Not the best time to be a Canadian writer, one way or another.

Still.. on with the remit.

It’s become increasingly clear that new authors these days must engage in promotional activities in order to sell their books. A change in the job description if ever I saw one (although Dickens and Shakespeare may not have agreed.) In a thoughtful post on Murderati, J T Ellison wondered whether modern social networking obligations might not get in the way of literary art, or indeed the act of writing itself.

Usefully, Janice Hardy has now reviewed the book sales figures and blog traffic levels she achieved during her blog tour last October, and wondered if it had been worth the effort. (Spoiler: in those terms, no it wasn’t.) However, when Elizabeth Spann Craig offered up her own thoughts on book promotion techniques on Mystery Writing Is Murder, she concluded that blog tours were both enjoyable and effective. Different things work for different authors, then, or so it would seem.

While we’re still on the theme of writer-as-social-animal, I should mention Natalie Whipple’s brainwave earlier in the week. She basically offered to host classified ads for critique partners on her blog. The idea proved more popular than Natalie had anticipated, and she has now closed her books–at least for the time being–since running such a service manually is likely to prove labour intensive. She has started looking into the possibility of creating a more permanent critique partner matching service, which sounds like a most excellent plan!

But enough of the social networking already. Let’s look at some of the writerly advice doing the rounds.

A number of bloggers focused on the smallest building blocks this week, starting with Gail Carson Levine’s post about finding the perfect vocabulary level for your reader base, Just Words. Janice Hardy similarly put the humble sentence under the microscope when she looked at the use of adjectives–harmless-looking syllables that can either wreck your prose or bring it to glowing life. The inimitable Juliette Wade wrote about the importance of the grammatical subject, and how getting it wrong can mess with the reader’s perception of a scene. Domey Malasarn of the Literary Lab explained how paying attention to small details slows the pace of a piece of writing, and Janice Hardy–who had an exceptionally busy week online–illustrated the need for variety in sentence structure in her post, Feel the Rhythm of the Words.

That’s the microcosm dealt with, then. How about the bigger picture?

I’ll start with Janice again. This time her post is about the inciting event; “the moment when things irrevocably change for the protagonist“; the event from which the story springs, leading inevitably to the core conflict. Janice is an exponent of the Three Act Structure, and it works well for her. Read and learn.

Anna Stanizewski wrote about the importance of layering conflict, which seems a fairly similar idea to me, but I could be missing something. Domey Malasarn came up with a nice post about consciousness and the recurring image; all I could think of, while I was reading his piece, was the haunting film of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now.

Lynn Viehl posted an item about “multiversing” in which she looked at the idea of parallel universes from a number of perspectives, including the means by which two people can witness the same event in very different ways.

Michelle Brower of Dead Guy wrote about what not to write about, in a post rather wonderfully entitled Blood and guts and bludgeoning, oh my!

Kristen Lamb put on her book-doctor’s coat to demonstrate how a practised agent or editor can diagnose a problem novel just from reading the first few pages. An edifying insight if ever there was one. Back at the Literary Lab, however, Michelle Davidson Argyle reckoned we should all take the reams of writing advice out there with a very large pinch of salt indeed.

I’ll leave the final word to Natalie Whipple’s agent. “Write what you love,” she advised Natalie in a moment of crisis. “That’s your job.

If you like Inflatable Ink’s round up, or want to read our links as we research them, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

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Links: About characters, mostly

As you’ll be aware, it’s been a bad week for Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka, with heavy floods displacing millions and causing the deaths of many. Two of the Write Anything columnists live in Brisbane, and the blog’s team are putting together an anthology of flash fiction to raise funds for those affected by the Queensland floods. Submissions are invited, and you’ve a fortnight to get yours in.

We’ve less to worry about here in the UK, now that the snow’s more or less gone. (I keep finding frozen heaps in car parks and our local pond only thawed out today, but basically… it’s over.) There’s nothing to distract us now from the swingeing cuts that have been foisted on our local councils by the powers-that-be, and–as in the USA–libraries have been first in the firing line in many areas. Following proposals to replace paid librarians with volunteers, John Harris protested in the Guardian that “librarians do so much more than shelve books and say shhh!“, while Jen Brubacher–who is a librarian–took it on herself to explain her current research project.

On to the writerly stuff.

A lot of our regulars picked this week to focus on characterisation, one way or another. Darcy Pattison posted on Fiction Notes about differences in levels of development between major and minor characters. KM Weiland sees things differently, and argued that it pays to know the backstory for every minor character, even if you’re never going to use any of it. Juliette Wade agreed, pointing out that a well-rounded secondary character can easily become a reader’s favourite. Janice Hardy stepped in with a post about the relationship between point-of-view and character development, and Alison Janssen of Dead Guy reminded us that sometimes the development of a character is the story. Meanwhile Lynn Viehl had been testing a piece of freeware intended for genealogical research, and reported that it’s perfect for keeping track of fictional character data.

There are other areas than character to explore, of course. Kay Kenyon posted an item about the importance of a strong plot, along with some pointers to resources for learning plotting skills. Cheryl Ossola, getting into some resources of her own, wrote about non-linear plotting and the hidden story. Way over my head, but it may make good sense to you. Julie Eshbaugh posted a piece on Let The Words Flow about anagnorisis–the moment when the hero learns something that changes everything.

Talking of things that change everything brings me smartly to critiquing. Elizabeth Spann Craig wondered when is the best time to offer helpful suggestions, while Janice Hardy wrote about putting critiques to good use. Charlie Stross was more interested in finished works, and published an item that should go some way to take the sting out of poor reader reviews. John Gilstrap went one further and attempted to make sense of Amazon’s sales rankings. Good luck with that, pal.

Over at The Kill Zone, Kathryn Lilley wondered whether a sugar placebo could really banish writer’s block? (Spoiler: it seems it can.)

Scott GF Bailey of The Literary Lab shared a thoughtful piece about the courage needed to create original art, but Tawna Fenske reckons originality is overrated and a piece of art doesn’t have to be all-new to be good. Indeed. (Check this one out just for the Obadiah Parker clip, I promise you won’t regret it!)

Two pieces of stellar news this week from our regular linkees. First, The Pain Merchants–the UK version of Janice Hardy’s YA novel The Shifter–has been shortlisted for the 2011 Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Second, Lynn Viehl made the Times extended list with her latest release, Frostfire. Congratulations, both!

And finally.. here’s cartoonist Matt Bors on the cleansing of Huckleberry Finn.

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Links: Another year, another planet

First it was Christmas, and I got lots of Christmas and birthday presents. Then not much happened. Then it was New Year.
(My diary for this week, 1972)

I’ll start this week’s roundup with the not-much-happened part, since this is chiefly a blog about writing and nobody, but nobody, writes anything much when the entire family’s dropped by/there’s a party going on/the turkey’s about to burn. Matt tweeted away like a good’un throughout the week, and left a scattering of links to items ranging from a thought-provoking article about the nature of copyright, to a brief note about a trope, to a couple of pieces about Star Wars <sigh>. Well, this is his blog!

The best part about Matt tweeting as he surfs is that he finds a very wide repertoire of beguiling–and sometimes useful–sites. Two of this week’s batch I hadn’t come across before, edittorrent and Quick Writing Tips, regularly publish thoughtful and original pieces on the written word. All grist to the mill, as they say.

When browsing in more familiar territory Matt and I often find we highlight the same items, give or take the sci-fi articles on So it was with Janice Hardy’s re-post this week about the mid-point reversal, and Nathan Bransford’s about the courage a character needs before s/he can determine their own fate. (It seems it’s re-post season, this week when not much happens.) We also pounced on Kristen Lamb’s long, cool look at the ways in which a traditional critique group can help or hinder a novelist. As Matt paraphrased it, “Get your writing group to critique your outline, not your prose.”

Julie Eshbaugh of the Let The Words Flow team is another Christmas baby. She celebrated her birthday this year with a reflective post explaining why she writes exclusively for young adults, and offered several pointers to help you decide whether your own writing future lies in the same market. Natalie Whipple was equally deep in reflection, albeit for different reasons. She reached back into her memories of childhood and pulled out a rather lovely metaphor about how the way you view the past can affect your life.

One of the things I like best about following Natalie’s blog is that she always comes across as very human. It’s totally in character that her post telling us to look for the bright spots in our dismal past was followed a day later by a heartfelt farewell to the Year of Suck. Judging by the number of posts I’ve seen on the subject, she’s far from alone in that sentiment!

From a publishing industry perspective 2010 wasn’t so much sucky as transitory, according to Nathan Bransford. From a literary perspective it wasn’t even that; Anna Staniszewski and Jen Brubacher both listed their favourite reads of the year online, and it was positively a good year for the short story, according to the Guardian‘s Chris Power. Also in the Guardian, Kate Figes interviewed publishers about books that had failed to meet their expectations in 2010, and the book on the market they most wish they’d published themselves. Meanwhile Suzannah Windsor Freeman kept the flag flying for the new writer with her top ten fiction writing articles of the year on Write It Sideways.

The New Year marked the end of Barbara Poelle’s humorous weekly blog posts for Dead Guy, and a celebration for Jodi Cleghorn as her latest story was accepted for an Australian anthology. Over at Lit Drift, Alison Leiby agreed with Natalie’s assessment of 2010 enough that she came up with a couple of humour books to add to your 2011 reading list.

Kristen Lamb posted about New Year resolutions and how to give yourself the best chance of fulfilling them, and the Guardian‘s Kathryn Schulz wrote about why it’s better to make even a crazy, unattainable resolution for the New Year than none at all.

And finally, Scott G F Bailey over at The Literary Lab celebrated the New Year by posting an appropriately seasonal poem penned by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Ring Out, Wild Bells. Tennyson was Poet Laureate for over forty years, which probably explains why much of his poetry lacks passion. This particular poem was published in 1850, the year Tennyson became Laureate. Vive la différence!

Happy 2011, everyone, and may your camels increase!

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Links–and a Google e-bookstore review

The biggest online news this week has to be Google’s e-bookstore launch. Admittedly, this is bigger news in the US than it is anywhere else, but there are hundreds of public domain works available globally from the get-go. I gave the web-based version a try on my netbook, since it’s free.

Sadly, I have to report that the quality of the e-books is extremely variable; Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, for example, is represented by a poor-quality scan of a much-abused library copy, and is not adaptable to smaller screens. To be fair, there is a warning with regard to the optimal screen size on the book’s homepage; but it would have been nicer of Google to ensure that everything in their bookstore was available in their own e-format, which does work nicely on a netbook, prior to launch. These scanned books aren’t even capable of providing a working index; and the downloadable PDF version of The Woman in White is still worse, in that both body text and image are missing from the first page(!). Best to stick with the Gutenberg Project for the poorer quality offerings, then. However, the properly formatted e-books are a whole different matter.

Where Google’s real e-books score over Gutenberg is that the text is broken down into screen-sized chunks, so there’s no frantic scrolling and no chance of losing your place; plus you don’t need to stay online to read a novel. Once the entire book is cached, you can disconnect and walk away from your modem if you like–useful when your internet connection is sporadic, or when it’s charged by the minute, or both. (I’m looking at you, East Coast!) If you stay connected while you’re reading, though, Google will ‘remember’ which page you last read and open the book at that page the next time you access it. The service would be better still if Google would make it possible to download e-books in their proprietary format for local use via the browser, and synch on connection to provide the page-keeping service; at present you need an initial internet connection for a few minutes every time you want to access a book, regardless of whether you already cached it.

All in all, Google’s e-bookstore is not quite an alternative to the mighty Kindle; but it does have the potential to offer another use for a laptop or netbook, and I definitely will be using it on long train journeys!

Some of the authors we regularly follow on Inflatable Ink have their own news, too. May I offer heartfelt congratulations to Susan Dennard of the Let The Words Flow team, who happily announced her first publishing deal this week. Scott G F Bailey hasn’t quite got that far yet; he shared with the world his struggle to synopsise a complex novel which is full of ambiguity. Cheryl Ossola, meanwhile, had a productive time on her weekend retreat, and posted a nice piece about the lessons learned.

Bad writing happens to all of us from time to time (and to me today, by the looks of things.) Elizabeth Spann Craig blogged on Mystery Writing is Murder about why you should keep on writing regardless of quality. Natalie Whipple concurred, given that editing is a primary function of the author. Janice Hardy approached the subject of poor writing in a different way, focusing on the plotting problem she termed “Nice Writer Syndrome“. Kristen Lamb went one further with the subject of plot as part of her series on structure, stripping back to fundamentals to illustrate why there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.

PaperbackWriter Lynn Viehl published an article, aimed at this year’s NaNo participants, which effectively covered the basics of editing in a single helping. Janice Hardy used her Re-Write Wednesday slot to focus on cutting back the number of characters in those early drafts. Others were more concerned with the quality of the characterisation, with Alexandra Sokoloff musing on the essence of character and Elizabeth Spann Craig looking into the difficulties that lie in creating an enigmatic fictional personality. Sarah LaPolla of Glass Cases posted a thoughtful piece, too, in which she compared writing about emotion with method acting.

Over at the Self Editing Blog, John Robert Marlow offered a helpful guide to putting together a beatline as a fiction-writing tool. He used The Matrix to illustrate the technique. Juliette Wade wondered on her blog, TalkToYoUniverse, whether–and why–and when–writers should follow the rules, and when it might be OK to break them. And in a guest post on Men With Pens, one Tim Brownson shared an unusual approach to workload prioritisation that has particular resonance for writers. Be warned, though, this does involve nose-blowing.

And finally: The Guardian are publishing a podcast in which an established author reads one of their favourite short stories, every day between now and Christmas. Enjoy!

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Links: Better late than never

Hundreds of people posted Thanksgiving cards et cetera online this week, which means that large chunks of America are more or less missing from the blogosphere. Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

For the last time this year (yay!) I’ll open up this linkfest with a few NaNoWriMo links. It’s probably unkind of me to note at this point that there are a darn sight fewer NaNo links this week than there were in Week 1, but then most of the entrants (including myself) didn’t make it to the end for one reason or another.

Kristen Lamb apparently did, which announcement caused me to go and re-read her blog entry from last week which appeared to state otherwise… Aha. Yet another idiom fails to make it across the Pond intact. I read “I still have 2,777 words” as “2,777 words completed”, whereas Kristen intended us to understand that she still had “2,777 words to go”. Big difference there, and congratulations Kristen!

Lynn Viehl’s only a third of the way through, but that’s OK because we know she has the self-discipline to continue until her first draft is complete, regardless of the NaNo deadline. Mary Jo Campbell’s almost to the halfway point and toying with her stats, wondering whose stupid idea this was anyway. Jordan Rosenfeld is further on, contemplating 35,000 words of “dreck” that would normally have taken her three or four months to produce.

Natalie Whipple didn’t do NaNo–she just wrote 37,000 words in 2.5 weeks anyway, bringing her completed first draft to a total of 58K presumably not-entirely-dreck words. She seems fairly pleased with it, despite the speed. Jeff Cohen termed this the most dangerous moment in the life of a book, and urged much caution and even more editing. In similar vein, James Chartrand of Men With Pens likened frequent writing without attention to the craft to frequent driving without improvement beyond the basics. And we all know how many bad drivers there are out there…

So. Editing time, then.

At Let The Words Flow, Julie Eshbaugh wrote about Chekhov’s Gun (read: foreshadowing), which is one of the many, many things that should go into a novel somewhere between the first draft and submission.

On The Other Side of the Story, guest writer Juliette Wade explained that there is a difference between revising a scene and fully rewriting it–with examples.

For all those of us with truly awful writing habits, Write It Sideways are planning a 31-Day Makeover Challenge. This set of tips and tricks–but mostly tips–will be published daily throughout January 2011, and will include items with themes as disparate as finding inspiration and writing on a budget.

Terry Pratchett is presiding over a contest to find unpublished SF/fantasy novelists living in the UK (are you listening Matt?). The deadline is December 31st, and the full work needs to be entered, so if you don’t happen to have an unpublished SF/F manuscript lying in a drawer somewhere already you’re probably too late. That said, the prize is a juicy £20,000 advance–enough to allow most of us to do nothing but write for a full year–which might spur some on to NaNo-like efforts.

Lynne Patrick published her must-read exposé of the economics of publishing a week or so back. She followed up this week by answering comments that had been made in response to her original article. Pop over to Hey, There’s A Dead Guy In The Living Room for a dispiriting insight into the costing of a book, and much more.

Even though there’s very little money to be made through it, the urge of authors to be published remains strong. Lynn Viehl produced a list of ten current submission opportunities across the board, from novels to poetry, online and off. She also provided a resource link. In similar vein, Gary Smailes over at Bubblecow started a series highlighting publishers who will consider submissions from writers without an agent.

Meantime, there are scams a-plenty to avoid. Like the one James Frey perpetuated on the MFA students of America. Or like less high-profile, but equally damaging, idea thieves.

The Guardian ran a piece this week about the King James Bible, just about to reach its 400th year and never out of print yet. It’s always a shock to realise how much our mundane communication is spattered with biblical references… and they never seem to go out of fashion, which isn’t the case for most. Speaking of which, Kathryn Lilley of The Kill Zone discovered last weekend, and ended up adopting the word snollygoster.

And finally, some food for thought from 101-year-old Dutch author Hans Keilson. His 1947 novel Comedy in a Minor Key was published in translation in the USA earlier this year, but has just been published in the UK for the first time. A New York Times reviewer hailed Hans as a genius back in August. “Genius?” he mused. “I’m not even a proper writer!”

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Links: Sex and criticism (so just like real life, then)

OK, so I put “sex” in a post title again. Ease off, though. At least let’s get the NaNoWriMo posts out of the way first.

The bits of the www I’m monitoring at present seem to have finally quietened down on the NaNo front, you’ll be relieved to hear. Maybe that’s because everyone actually doing it has no time to write blog posts on top–mostly–or maybe it’s because Thanksgiving happens around now, ish? Whatever the reason, I only have four NaNo links to share with you this week. There’s one from Anna Staniszewski, who wrote about Beating the Lazies; one from Mary Jo Campbell, who posted at the half-way point; one of the three items posted by Lynn Viehl, who has had a particularly rough week and tried to talk herself back into caring about NaNo in the middle of it; and one from Kristen Lamb, who appears to have given up on NaNo altogether.

All four women are published authors, albeit with varying degrees of experience. It’s interesting–and something of a relief, since I’m pretty sure now that I’m not going to make the deadline myself–to see that none of them have 25,000 words under their belt at this point. Lynn keeps a record of her NaNo output online, though, and it’s very evident from her archives that NaNo isn’t usually so much of a problem to her as it has been this year.

I’d never tried to write a sex scene until the moment it became unavoidable in my NaNo project last week. I’d heard a lot about the difficulties of making it believable and yep, every last one of those advisories was correct. Jen Brubacher added her voice to the choir even as she published an erotic photograph as Thursday’s writing prompt. She couldn’t resist that old gag about size not mattering, though.

Randy Susan Meyers (that’s the lady’s name, not a description) posted a thoughtful article in which she explained that a well-written sex scene can be useful as a means of offering a window into a character’s soul during a vulnerable moment. Tawna Fenske, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoys sex and gets a real kick out of ramping up the heat in her writing. The only thing holding her back is that she doesn’t know whether her readers want monkey sex or tortoise sex. Gosh. Where to draw that line?

Elizabeth Spann Craig had similar issues in her blog post this week. Not over the tortoise sex, no. Just over how much she should tailor her story to her readers or, in the case of her young daughter, listener. Torturing fluffy kittens was never on the agenda, but a character that isn’t allowed to have anything bad happen is… probably not conducive to an interesting tale.

The problem of catering to the reader has ramifications when it comes to handling criticism, too. Susan Dennard posted a short article on Let the Words Flow that should, I think, be mandatory reading for every fiction writer who ever asked someone else’s opinion. In her article, she explored two ways in which authors can–and often do–misuse the criticism they receive for their writing.

As if to back up Susan’s experience, Larry Brooks chose to post an item two days later about the real meaning of rejection. He explained, quite rightly, that when an agent or publisher says “no” to a book, what they really mean is they don’t know. Quite rightly, because–as with Tawna’s monkeys and tortoises–whatever turns on Reader A may well be anathema to Reader B; and Agent C needs to convince Publisher D, who is probably hoping to sell books to both readers (and a few more besides.)

There are times, though, when critique partners or even groups aren’t thinking in those terms and will say “no” simply because they aren’t sold on an idea, which can be quite hurtful for the author. Cheryl Ossola wrote this week about a friend’s “rather skewering experiences” with writing groups, which in turn makes her appreciate her own current group, and especially its leader, all the more.

And finally: If you thought the only way to make it as a poet was by starving in a garret, here’s some food for thought.

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Links: Just a quickie

As we’re approaching the midpoint of NaNoWriMo 2010, naturally the blogosphere is crowded with it. And for much the same reason, I’m pushed for time! Noteworthy elements only, then.

Mainly this week’s news is about the NaNo backlash. Matt actually emailed me when Cheryl Ossola joined the ranks of the disaffected, but it seems to have started with an article by Laura Miller, who is a senior writer at My immediate response? Any web editor worth their salt would kill to have a senior writer like Laura. Someone who can set all the nerds a-twittering. That said, it was the blog entry Ann Aguirre posted on Writer Unboxed that gave everyone a space to make their feelings known. Things got so heated in the feedback comments that blog co-founder Kathleen Bolton was compelled to upload a kitten. (We’ve all had bad days at work, right?)

I find myself liking Lynn Viehl more every time I read her blog. Not only is she not too scarily far ahead of me in her NaNo wordcount–because she’s had health and family issues, too–but her response to the backlash kerfuffle was to walk away from the computer and bake a pie. When I do that, I feel as pathetic as a cold smelly failed star; when Lynn does it, I feel a whole lot better about everything. It’s that long list of publishing credits she has that does it, I think. That, and the heap of juicy fiction-aiding freeware she shared with the world earlier this week.

Anna Staniszewski was one of many who claimed that Week Two is the hardest NaNo week, but I liked her post because she explained so accurately why that is. There was no disputing Mary Jo Campbell’s analysis either.

Outside NaNo, I don’t have a lot of writerly links this week. Janice Hardy gave us a conflict post that Matt deemed “useful”; Alison Janssen reminded us that no character is an island; Natalie Whipple offered sound advice for new writers. The inevitable Scott G F Bailey finished his Hamlet novel and posted an interesting piece about the modifications it’s been through over the last three years (NaNo-ers, beware! Here be dragons!)

Back to Janice Hardy, who has been blog-touring in recent weeks and is now ready to share her thoughts regarding the experience. She offered good info for anyone thinking of using their social network as a marketing tool.

Next up, a rant from Lynne Patrick–probably the first person to mention the Net Book Agreement since I started helping out Matt on this blog. I’m with her, by the way; I worked in a few independent bookshops, back when we still had them in every town in the UK. The loss of the NBA really did change publishing immensely, and not for the better. In similar vein, the Guardian Books Blog highlighted concerns about the dismantling of the Public Lending Right, a tiny but useful quango which ensures that libraries pay authors when their books are read.

Eh, if I’m going to be old and curmudgeonly tonight I might as well link to Charlie Stross’ piece about cars too. We’re almost ready to ditch ours because we finally live in an area where the public transport’s good enough to manage without–for most journeys. There are still a few of our regular journeys that, like Charlie’s, are simply too awkward to contemplate without a car, and too short to justify hiring one. Still, I’m not sure his robo-cars are quite as good an answer as a better bus service..

I’ve somehow managed to get this far without even mentioning the other literary scandal on the intertubes this week. Not sure I want to, either; I’ll let The Kill Zone‘s John Gilstrap do it for me.

And finally–Write to Done are asking for nominations for the top ten writing blogs of 2010. Submissions by December 1st please!

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No links friday

Steph has had a difficult week of it, what with NaNo kicking off and various other trials — I’m sure she’ll bring you up to date on Tuesday next week, when she resumes her diary.

I promised I’d cover her today, but what with unavoidable short notice, being on my travels again, and the day job demanding attention.. well, I got nothing. OK, not nothing, I couldn’t resist a bit of browsing. I started out with…

Nathan Bransford is no longer an agent.

Jason Sanford responded to Dave Truesdale’s decision to end coverage of semi-professional SF markets.

Zadie Smith reviewed The Social Network.

…but then, I came over all hang spring cleaning, although it’s not spring, and I have no intention of cleaning.

No, I’m going to drink beer, watch Stargate Universe, and (perversely) write a computer program which imitates natural selection. Why am I undertaking that last project? I’m delighted to report that I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll show it to you one day anyway. Oh, and wasn’t The Walking Dead fantastic? I might watch that again.

I advise you to go and do something for no good reason yourself, and have an excellent weekend. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Here’s a video of a dog licking a cat.

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Links: Laughter, the Best Nanomedicine

Guess what? There were lots and lots and lots of posts about NaNoWriMo again. No, really. (Whimper. Please God make them all go away in November. Please? I promise I’ll be a much nicer person for the whole of the month.)

Write Anything re-ran Karen Maxwell’s 2009 NaNoWriMo Workshop all last week, which is kind of like cheating, albeit pragmatic. I mention it only lest anyone out there is likely to find it useful this year and/or is already having the nasty attack of self-doubt I expect to encounter at 11:59pm on October 31st.

The advice given throughout the series is fairly standard, in-depth how-to-write-a-novel material. Personally, though, I got stuck on the title of the first Workshop item: Find, and Flush Out, an Idea. Flush? Like a lavatory or like a hare or like a strawberry? I’ll never know whether that was deliberate creativity or a typo, but for the rest of my life whenever anyone mentions rounding out an idea or bringing a plan to fruition I’ll have a mental image of a tiny, terrified Idea skulking in the undergrowth and hiding from the baying hounds who would tear it bloodily apart. Is that fair, I ask you?

Nathan Bransford posted a freshly-written three-part NaNoWriMo Boot Camp in which he covered all the bases pretty well, as he does. Lynn Viehl went seven better with a list of Ten Things to Try that had nothing–and everything–to do with writing a novel. I liked that, but even better was the Crowley-esque advice she gave at the beginning of her NaNo Q & A session on Wednesday: “Do whatever you want.

Jen Brubacher will be posting story prompts Monday to Friday throughout the ordeal month, which may be helpful for some.

Anna Staniszewski bravely announced that she will be joining the merry throng this year because she wants to try out something new to her, and NaNo is the best time to do this. And Inkygirl’s friend Errol made another NaNoWriMo music video with at least one laugh-out-loud-funny line in it.

That’s it, that’s all, I’m not mentioning the N-word-ish-thing again until next Tuesday (when I promised Matt I would.) Let’s whizz round the best of the rest.

Two strong posts on characters: the inevitable Scott G F Bailey pondered upon character development and decided it’s less about personality change than about self-discovery. Gail Carson Levine wrote an equally thoughtful piece in which she discussed how to make dark characters likeable–never the easiest of remits.

On a completely different tack, Julie Eshbaugh posted a short essay on symbolism, and how to make it work in your writing. Now there’s a topic that doesn’t come up too often.

There seem to have been more ‘lifestyle’ posts than usual this week. Three survived my delete-button frenzy: Laurie Halse Anderson’s post about travelling light (because both Matt and I obsess over this too); Randy Susan Meyers’ review of a book which she refers to as “a writer’s shrink for the cost of a trade paperback“; and Elizabeth Spann Craig’s post about the odd reactions she has had to the simple confession, “I’m a writer.” Alison Janssen also amused with her Choose Your Own Adventure post yesterday, which makes it four survivors I suppose. I never claimed to be able to count…

Over at The Kill Zone Nancy J Cohen wrote an interesting piece about refilling the well of creativity, while James Scott Bell posted an item about first lines as story prompts, giving me an instant flashback to University days. Talking of which, Charlie Stross this week refused to write a potential non-fiction best-seller in his always-entertaining Books I Will Not Write series. Well, I think this one would be a best-seller. It would’ve been popular in our student household, for sure.

And finally, DON’T, whatever you do, click on this link.

You fool! You’ll be there hours. (Thanks to Joshua Mohr for the introduction/advert!)

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