Finding My Writing “Voice”

I’ve been struggling (good struggling) a lot with my writing “voice” of late.  It’s such a crucial element to a good story and yet it’s not something you think about right away when you first dabble in writing.

 

I’ve been reading a book that was recommended to me called Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight.  He talks about how there are several stages of development for a writer.  The first stage is always very conceptual.  An author thinks of interesting concepts and little else.  Like a really good opening line or scene with no plans for how it could actually unfold into a fully developed plot.

 

I think if I had read that when I first started publishing my stories I would have totally denied it.  My stories were perfect back then.  Any reviews that said otherwise was an affront on my genius.

 

I think if I had read that by my second year of writing/publishing I would have acknowledged the truth of it and been embarrassed.  Like I should remove all of my books from Amazon and completely rewrite all of them.

 

But now?  I’m comfortable enough with my writing to acknowledge the truth of what he said and realize that I am, in fact, human.  I need to develop my writing skills just like every other human being who claims the title of author.  And this takes time.  There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.  I had to write the stories I did in order to evolve.  It’s a natural process.

 

There’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to plots.  You could make an argument that just about every possible plot element has been done before somewhere else.  So the key is not your idea so much as how you deliver this idea.

 

I find this… difficult.

 

For one thing there’s no way to quantify it.  It’s not like you can always apply x,y and z to a certain scene and voila! Your writing voice appears!

 

For another thing I’m not even sure what my voice is trying to say at times.  What kind of a writer am I?  three years ago I would have scoffed at this question.  I would have said the story idea makes the writer.  Now I’m thinking it’s the other way around.

Cross-posted from Book Brouhaha.

Black Beacon Books

Not content with just writing fiction, I decided to set up an independent publishing house last year because, believe it or not, there aren’t enough publishers giving talented short fiction writers a chance. That the endeavour will prove viable as a business is unlikely in the current climate, but that doesn’t matter. The aim is a humble one, to publish and promote a handful of gripping titles in the genres of mystery, suspense, horror, and the just plain strange and quirky. Six months after the ghost tale “809 Jacob Street”, our debut title, was released, we now have three titles for sale via our website and on the shelf at two bookshops in Australia.

If you are as passionate about short stories as we are, Black Beacon Books is definitely worth checking out: www.blackbeaconbooks.blogspot.com

NEW READ: “Fugitive: The Uxel Herum Saga” by Alain Gomez

Genre:  Young Adult Science Fiction

Summary:  Book 2 of the Uxel Herum Saga

Fearing retribution, Uxel Herum flees Gemshorn. Her escape is short lived when her ship malfunctions and she crashes to the surface of a neighboring planet, leaving her completely stranded.

While trying to explore her new surroundings Uxel is captured by the natives who are as formidable as they are fearsome. Their leader offers Uxel a chance to prove her skills, provided Uxel has any skills worth proving…

Buy this story here.

NEW READ: “Clay (The Punk Series, Book 1.5)” by P.J. Post

Genre:  New Adult Romance

Summary:  Why did she get in that truck?

Bethany Warner is graduating from high school and is looking forward to college and the gymnastics team with few regrets, except for maybe Tommy – her possessive ex-boyfriend.

And as the last party of high school is turning into a dangerous and unforgettable nightmare, she meets Connor Clay, a punk and musician with a reputation for violence.

Clay retells the opening chapter of Ache from Bethany’s point of view, showing us not only her perceptions of the events of that fateful evening, but also much more about who she is and most importantly – why.

Welcome back to the 80′s, the party is just getting started.

Buy this story here.

Promotion Ponderings

So as this I get this new year going I find myself yet again pondering promotional pursuits.  I admit, I’ve kind of been off the social media bandwagon for about a year.  It just sucks so much of your time away it wasn’t worth it to me.

I was losing writing time due to time spent on social media.

So, I stopped.  I kept blogging (obviously) but other than making new release announcements I did nothing on Facebook or Twitter (my medias of choice).

For the most part I feel like this was a good life decision.  When I first started I desperately tried to push books thinking that every new follower was a potential sale.  It was kind of a harsh wake up when I realized that every other author I was following was doing the same thing.

The end result was a year of forcing myself into a writing schedule.  Which worked out really well.  I’m now at the point where I’m writing 800+ words every day.  I wasn’t doing that a year ago so I’m pretty proud of myself.

My only teeny tiny regret was this was all time lost developing a possible mailing list (among other things).  I have somewhat remedied this situation by creating simple websites for all of my pen names.  But I do realize the necessity of having to do slightly more.  Let’s just say it doesn’t hurt to connect with people on social media.

So I’m going to try and put some social media time on the schedule.  The schedule worked well with the writing thing.  It makes sense to set aside a half hour or two to shmooze with people on Twitter.  So long as it doesn’t cut into writing time it’s a good thing… right???

Cross-posted from Book Brouhaha

The Business Model for Pulp Fiction

I was having a really interesting discussion the other day about pulp fiction and the Golden Age of short stories.  The cheaper publishing costs plus the popularity of the magazine format plus the space exploration obsession of the age made for fertile grounds in the short form fiction arena.

So the argument in said discussion was that we are no longer living in the Golden Age for short stories.  The form isn’t as mainstream as it used to be, which, therefore, means that you can’t make a living as a short story writer.

This really got me thinking.  And you know what?  I call bull on that statement.

You know who really made the money during pulp fiction days?  The publishers.

You know how the authors made money?  By writing constantly.  Guys like Ray Bradbury were PROLIFIC writers.  They had to constantly churn out new stuff in order to make a living.  And even then it wasn’t like most of them were making millions.  At best, most of these authors “got by.”

So the excuse that it’s no longer the Golden Age of Short Fiction is not a valid one.  Short stories have always been a hard sell.  It was probably even harder back in the day because there was so much more competition.

But what’s interesting is that the business model hasn’t changed at all.  Only the medium.  Pulp fiction writers had to write constantly and send their stuff out everywhere until they got nibbles and eventually a paycheck.  Same goes for ebooks today.  The only way to make money with short stories is to publish as quickly as you can put out quality work and to post your story on every single online book selling channel you can find.

You gotta love short stories or leave ‘em.

 

This is a cross post from Book Brouhaha.

NEW READ: “Reborn: The Uxel Herum Saga” by Alain Gomez

Genre:  Young Adult Science Fiction

Summary:  Book 1 of the Uxel Herum Saga

To any Imperium official that asked, Uxel was a simple fruit merchant. She makes enough to make her business appear legitimate, nothing more. The real money was in selling weapons and information.

She encounters an intriguing stranger in the marketplace. One Uxel hopes will be interested in making a lucrative trade. But this stranger is not all he seems and the deal he offers Uxel has nothing to do with money but a chance to become a powerful tuner.

This young adult science fiction novelette is approximately 13,500 words.

Buy this story here.

Take It From An Editor

You’ve wondered, worried and labored over every word and phrase in your latest piece of short fiction. When you perfect the last edit and pronounce your piece “done,” go ahead and have a celebratory break with a latte and a few cleansing breaths. Enjoy this time, because when you come back, you’ll realize that you’re anything but “done.” You’re about to start the tedious and daunting task of submitting your work for publication. Don’t panic. Just learn to think like a literary journal editor. While all journals and magazines have their own unique submission methods and procedures, there are a few tips that will serve you well over most mediums.

 

Let’s talk cover letters…

- Always include a cover letter, unless the publisher specifically requests otherwise. Not including a cover letter comes across as flippant and frankly, just a bit lazy.

- Keep it brief. Editors are often frazzled people. Don’t offer up a list of five dozen previous publications, just give them the highlight reel.

- Entertain. Tell the editors why you’re qualified to write the story you’re submitting or tell them where the inspiration for the piece came from.

 

The main course: your short fiction manuscript…

- Pay close attention to the submission guidelines and be sure to submit your work in the format and/or file type requested. Ignoring submission guidelines is like saying “Here, editor. You spend your time reading my work. But just know that I took absolutely no time reading or considering your standards.”

- Avoid font insanity. More than likely, the editor reading your work already has a headache. Don’t add to the misery with something offensive like four different fonts or endless italics.

- Proofread, proofread, proofread. Basic spell/grammar check is not enough. Take the time to read your manuscript aloud and you’ll inevitably discover errors that your computer missed. Also, pay attention to consistency in your spacing, indents and margins. Basic proofreading errors can render a good manuscript completely unprofessional and doom it to the rejection pile.

 

Now, just wait…

Some publishers allow you to “nudge” them if you haven’t heard anything regarding your submission after a specific period of time. Most do not. So… don’t! If you haven’t heard back and you’re still within the standard response time window, or even if you’re just outside it, think carefully before you “nudge” an editor. Sometimes, they bite.

 

Dealing with it…

Rejections happen. They are not personal and sometimes, they aren’t even intended to be a reflection on the overall value to your piece. Editors are considering things like upcoming themes, available space, trends and timing. So your fiction just may be stellar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for every publication. Never shoot back a terse reply to a rejection notice! Not only will you burn your bridge with that particular publication, you just may end up with a reputation in the small world of literary journals as a diva.

 

Hooray!!!

Acceptances happen, too. And it’s natural to be thrilled when they do. Thank your editors promptly and provide them with any additional material they have requested. Don’t leave them hanging.

 

And most importantly, please remember: despite mounting evidence to the contrary, editors are people too!

 

Kerri Farrell Foley is the managing editor of Crack the Spine Literary Magazine (http://www.crackthespine.com/) and the author of “In the Margins.” (http://www.kerrifarrellfoley.com/p/in-margins.html)

50 Words at a Time

I have an hour set aside every day for writing and I have to fight to keep it free.  That’s something that non-writers just don’t get.  “Can’t you just write for a half hour now, do this with me, and write for a half hour later?”  No, I can’t.  I need uninterrupted writing time in order to get the brain flowing so that the resulting words are good, usable words.

It’s like running.  You can’t just get warmed up, jog for fifteen minutes and cool down two to three times a day and expect it to yield the same results as jogging for an hour straight.  You need to get in the groove and stay in the groove for a prolonged period of time.

So yes, my writing hour is an entire hour but it’s also only an hour.  I might have some free time later in the day, I might not.  It doesn’t matter so much to me so long as I get that scheduled hour in.  Later on I might fight the battle of how many writing sessions I get into one day.  But for now the hour seems to be enough to placate my inner, frustrated artist.

Which means that much of my writing challenges come from what I can do in that hour not the number of hours I type.  This has led to some interesting psychological battles with myself (split personality here I come).  At first when I tried the self-imposed writing hour I told myself I just had to get something down.

Then I realized I was being ridiculous.  With no word count looming over my head it meant I was giving myself permission to walk away after fifteen words.  In terms of writing output (the entire point of a schedule) I was better off doing what I was doing before the schedule.  At least when writing when the spirit moved I would have inspired sessions of writing 800+ words.

So I realized that I needed a word count minimum for said writing sessions.  It wasn’t so much about the hour as it was getting words down on the page.  I could contemplate my story all I liked but if I didn’t actually put something down to paper it was fruitless labor.

I started small.  I told myself that I had to write at least 300 words before my writing session was over and those 300 words needed to be finished within an hour.  It took me a surprisingly long time to really embrace these deadlines.  I would always get the 300 words down but sometimes it would take me the full hour to do so.  I’d check my email, check Facebook, check sales… check anything but my work in progress.  Training yourself to not only focus but be creative on demand is no easy task.

The word count minimum eventually had an effect, however.  It took months but I finally started to notice that I was not only reaching that goal more quickly but also going way past it on a regular basis.  So I upped the minimum by fifty words.  I figured 350 words shouldn’t change all that much, right?

Wrong.

I was back to struggling with myself.  Most of the hour was wasted with various forms of procrastination.  My creative self in full rebellion against my business/publisher self.  It took awhile before I was back at a point where my minimum felt easily achievable.  But you know what’s interesting?  It didn’t take as long to get used to.

I’m now at a 450 word minimum.  Each time I raise my self imposed goal it takes less time for my brain to embrace the increased writing output.  I was seriously on 300 words for more than six months.  The 450 goal happened a few weeks ago and I could see myself easily going to 500 in the not-too-distant future.

I think the reason why it’s working for me is because I’ve allowed myself to slowly adapt.  If I had set the standard too high right off the bat I would have probably frustrated myself.  Any enjoyment I glean from writing (oh yeah… this is supposed to be fun…) would have been sucked away by impossible standards.

My ultimate goal is to hit 800-1,000 words in my hour-long writing session.  Just seven more sets of fifty to go…

This post is a cross post from Book Brouhaha