Monthly Archives: January 2012
Ordinarily I don’t post on Tuesdays, but today is different. Today I’m interviewing Andre Vonstone, main character of Moonshadow’s Guardian, brother of the king of Moonshadow, and a newly minted vampire. Andre was banished from the kingdom about a year ago after trying to kill Cameron Graves, High Priest of the Temple of Ashe. He’s only just returned to Moonshadow, and I am lucky enough to be the first person to interview him since his return.
DLG: Welcome to Dianna’s Writing Den, Andre. Can you tell us a bit about the incident with Cameron Graves that got you banished?
Andre: Do you make a habit of speaking so directly? It might be wise to remember that I can and will kill you if you piss me off.
Then again, I did come here to share my story.
Cameron is a good priest–he performs the last rites without getting teary, he encourages people with warm words and he gives great speeches–but he’s not always a good man. We’ve had a number of disagreements over the years. The night we got into our fight, we’d both been drinking too much. He said that he wanted to marry Elizabeth, my favourite cousin. I lived with her and her parents for several years of my childhood.
I didn’t think anything like that should happen, so I told him it was a bad idea. He wouldn’t lay off of it, and he said some really dirty things about her. I couldn’t help myself. I was drunk. I attacked him.
Either way, he still hasn’t tried to marry Elizabeth, so I got my point across.
DLG: Fascinating. How did you feel about getting banished for this fight?
Andre: Well, I think it’s more than a little stupid. I mean, I know he’s a priest. I know that. And I know I took it too far. But of course, my brother never thought about throwing me in the dungeon. He just threw me out. I certainly didn’t feel any brotherly love. Mostly, it just irritated me. I didn’t mind travelling through Tar’Ig’Vor and the Magi Plains, but I much prefer Moonshadow.
DLG: Is that why you came back?
Andre: Not really. I mean, I was getting sick of travelling. But I could’ve stopped in any town in the Magi Plains and made a life for myself. I thought about it. I didn’t think about staying in Tar’Ig’Vor–the people there aren’t really civilized and they have such a restrictive culture–but I did think about staying in the Plains, making a life for myself.
What brought me back was my son, Calder. He’s the product of a relationship I had with a maid about eight years ago. We were together for about a year, and I even suggested–before she got pregnant–that Jacob allow me to marry her. He said I shouldn’t be marrying a commoner. She got pregnant and she was so angry that I wouldn’t–couldn’t–accept him that she left me.
I kept in touch with her and I always kept watch over my little boy, and I promised him I’d be back for the spring festival. He was the one thing worth risking my life for.
DLG: Wow. What a beautiful story. Now that you’ve been appointed as one of the king’s advisers, what do you plan to do?
Andre: Well, I’d really like to go live in some small town where nobody knows my name in the heart of Moonshadow. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. I’m going to stay here and try to help my brother rule the country. I’ve worked in some… interesting… fields before and I have expertise he might need. Really, it’s a way to stay close to my son, and maybe I can even make the kingdom a better place for him.
DLG: Those sound like pretty honourable goals. It’s been great talking to you, but it appears to me that we’ve run out of time. Thank you so much for joining us.
Today’s interview was part of a blog chain at the Absolute Write Water Cooler. The idea is that each month we do a chain of related posts. This month’s theme was interviews. You can check out the interview before mine here and sometime in the next couple of days you’ll be able to see the next one over at Twilight Asylum. You can find a list of the rest of the participants here.
Feedback is crucial to any serious writer’s progress. It’s nice to have someone read your work and tell you it’s awesome, but that’s not really why feedback is important. In fact, if somebody’s looking at your first draft and telling you it’s awesome, odds are they’re just trying to flatter you.
The reason why feedback is so important to a writer’s progress is because we’re often too close to our writing to see what’s wrong with it. We love those pretty sentences that just don’t belong. We’re so deeply in love with our world that we forget our readers don’t know anything about it. We already know the story, so we tend to skim instead of slowing down to find the spelling mistakes. A second pair of eyes helps us catch those mistakes.
The people who give feedback are generally known as critique partners or beta readers. They usually work on a friendly exchange basis–they read something of yours, you read something of theirs. The best critiquer is another writer with different strengths than yours. For example, my newest critique partner is someone who has never completed a novel, but who’s written lots of short fiction. This is mutually beneficial because she can help me tighten my short stories and I can help her stay motivated through longer projects.
There are lots of places where you can find feedback on the web. Most writing communities have a section designed for giving and receiving feedback. Not all of them are active or helpful, but there are some gems. There are also websites with a structured critique function, where you earn points or credits by critiquing others’ works and then use those credits to put your own work up for critique. One that I’ve found very helpful is Critique Circle. With their queue system, you often have to wait three or four weeks before your story goes up for critique, but I’ve gotten many useful critiques and read some amazing stories on critique circle.
Some critique groups are run by email loops. These include the Internet Writing Workshop, which has several lists for different kinds of writing, and Critters. I’ve used both Critters and the Novels-L list of the Inernet Writing Workshop. Critters is pretty demanding and I found it too hectic to keep up with. Novels-L sends me a lot of email, but they don’t expect me to critique very many of the chapters that pass through my inbox.
Critique groups can be wonderful things, but sometimes you want a long term partner. It’s nice to develop a relationship with another writer, to have someone to bounce ideas off of and someone who will always read your work. These relationships can be hard to find, and I’ve started many only to have them fizzle away into nothing. Most writing forums have a board dedicated to finding beta readers, but it can be difficult. It’s quite likely that you’ll go through several critique partners before you find somebody you can work with in the long term.
I found my latest critique partner using a site called Ladies Who Critique. The site opened last year and it’s helped many people find their critique partners. So far the critique partner I found on Ladies Who Critique is a great match. It’s a really interesting website designed specifically to match up writers with the critique partners they need. I don’t know of any other sites like Ladies Who Critique, but if you find one, I’d love to know about it.
Next week I’m going to talk about etiquette when giving and receiving critiques.
Do you have a critique partner?
Today’s market listing is focused specifically on anthologies. Anthologies are a great way to join a bunch of other writers in creating something and to get your name out there. They almost always have specific themes, so unless you happen to have something suitable on hand, you’ll probably have to write a story specifically for the anthology you want to submit to.
The Fantasy Faction Anthology Created by a well known speculative fiction blog and forum called Fantasy Faction, this anthology will contain several non-fiction articles as well as stories written by well known authors. For those of us who aren’t so well known, they are holding a contest which includes six publication places and three cash prizes.
Shanghai Steam This anthology is an attempt to delve more deeply into steampunk from an Asian point of view. It looks like a really cool concept anthology and they pay $0.03/word up to 3, 000 words.
Bibliotheca Fantastica Dagan Books is looking for stories about books–rare, weird, maybe even magical books–of up to 10, 000 words. I think this is a great idea for an anthology and I’d love to get it in my stocking, even if I’m not really sure I have anything to submit to them. They pay two cents per word.
Dark Faith 2 Run by Apex books, the same people who run Abyss&Apex the magazine, this anthology is looking for the story that only you can write, something that’s both deeply personal and universal. It’s a good idea to read the first one before submitting to this one.
I hope you find at least one of these anthologies to be worth submitting to. Don’t forget to go through the guidelines thoroughly and to make sure the deadline doesn’t slip past you. If you miss a reading period for your favourite speculative fiction magazine, there’s always another one, but it doesn’t work that way with anthologies. While some of them are annual, it’s best to assume that it’s a one off and that you only have one chance to get into that market.
For anthologies, I suggest reading the guidelines three times. The first time is when you find the anthology. The second time should be after you finish the story you’ve written for the anthology, and the third time should be right before you submit, after edits. No matter how awesome your story is, if you don’t read the guidelines, your story might be formatted incorrectly and it might just end up in a trash can, virtual or real. You want to always give your work the best chance possible.
Over the last week of December and the first week of January, we worked on fairly long short stories. Now it’s time to talk about editing.
Editing a short story is a much less painful process than editing a novel. It’s a shorter process, and if you go through each of these steps you can make it a lot easier for yourself. I recommend taking a day or two away from your short story before you start editing it. You don’t want to stay away a long time. Particularly if your end goal is to make money, it’s a good idea to have several of these on the market at one time.
When I edit a short story, I usually follow these steps:
1. Proofread on the computer. Sure, you don’t see all your mistakes on the computer, but spelling and grammar aren’t necessarily the most important things to focus on at first. It’s a good idea to reread it on a computer first and edit anything that stands out to you. If you can, read it somewhere other than where you wrote it. Your brain will automatically pay attention because of the new surroundings, and that should be enough for you to see the worst grammatical mistakes. If you can already see a flaw in the structure of your story, you can try to fix it now. If not, move on to the next step as soon as you’ve proofread your work.
2. Get feedback. Some writers go through several edits of their work before anybody looks at it, and I’ve always done that with longer works. With short stories, I find that getting feedback right away is the best. I see stories as movies in my head, and most of the time I don’t notice when it doesn’t look quite as nice on paper. There are a lot of critique groups out there and forums where you can look for a long term critique partner or beta reader. Feedback is a great thing to have.
3. Print it out. Armed with the feedback that you’ve gotten, look at your story again, this time on paper. Make a note about anything you find awkward either on the margin or on the back of the page. Cross out sentences you don’t like. Add details you left out because the image is so clear in your head. Proofread. You can either do this in one really long reading, or you can read it a few times, each time with a different goals. I like to take the intense, one read approach to my short stories. After you’ve gone through it, list the important changes you need to make on the back of the last page.
4. Edit your story. This is the long part. While it takes only a couple of minutes to notice most of the errors on any given page, it can take a while to fix them if they’re structural. Of course you can always get stuck looking for the right word too. Either way, it has to be done. Armed with your annotated story, go into your word processor and start editing. Make all the changes you’ve already noted, but take your time to read through it and fix anything new you notice. While the proofread on the computer was just a skimming to make sure it wasn’t awful, this is an edit to try to make it good.
How long this part of the process takes depends on two factors: how long the story is, and how badly it’s messed up. If you’ve written a ten thousand word story, it’s probably going to take longer to edit than a two thousand word story. However, if your ten thousand word story is relatively clean grammatically and sound structurally, but the two thousand word story is just a mess, the shorter story might take longer to edit. No matter how long it takes you to edit, don’t forget to reward yourself after you’ve done it.
5. Get more feedback. Now that you think you’ve got an awesome story, it’s time to send it back out into the world. Get more than one opinion if you can. If you’re lucky, people will notice improvements and they’ll only be pointing out grammar issues and spelling errors. Odds are that your readers will still see something that throws them off, but that’s okay. That just means it’s time to start the process again.
How many times should you go through this process? Well, that depends on how much experience you have as a writer, and it also depends on the story itself. Some stories take a long time to really become what you’ve envisioned. Other stories come together almost fully formed and only need the most superficial polish. Only you can know when it’s time to send a short story out into the world.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be talking about the process of finding feedback, critiquing etiquette, and the submission process.
How do you usually edit a short story?
While I am hoping to use several of these prompts to create standalone flash fiction, writing responses to these prompts from the PoV of one of my novel characters is a really good way to build character. Today I’ve got not only a prompt for you, but a small response to it that I wrote from the PoV (point of view, for those of you who don’t know) of Riana, the main character in Moonshadow’s Guardian.
It’s been thousands of years since I protected Eternia, but I will never forgive myself for failing her.
She was just a little girl the first time we met. I remember her cute smile, her little head all covered in long black hair like a curtain. I remember her parents explaining the politics to me, the threats that made them so afraid for their daughter that they summoned me.
It never occurred to any of us that she would be the murderer.
I remember going to magic lessons with her. She was so powerful that when she was being trained in offensive magic we took her out into the woods, away from anyone she could hurt. I was so proud of her, it was almost like she was my own daughter. She was almost as powerful as me. Sometimes I wondered why they’d summoned me in the first place.
I knew she was powerful, but I had no idea what she was capable of. I spent too much time in the pubs pursuing human lovers. I never saw the darkness growing inside of her heart.
I still don’t know what drove her to it. Nobody ever explained to me. With all the blood, all the bodies she left behind, I knew I’d failed her. I knew that I missed something, that I could have stopped it. Normal girls don’t kill all the guests at their wedding. I knew I failed, but nobody told me how. They just stuck her in limbo and sent me Home to contemplate my sins. I wish I knew.
I still dream about Eternia. I don’t think it will ever stop, not until I know what happened to make her that way.
Some of us are instinctively better with grammar than others, but none of us are perfect. We all have to edit our work to make it into something awesome. Every writer makes different mistakes, but individually, we tend to make the same ones over and over again.
This is why it’s a good idea to create an editing watch list. There are a few things that pretty much every writer does in the first draft that, while not necessarily wrong, don’t make the story better. Your editing watch list will contain words and punctuation that you use too often. We all have crutch words and behaviours, words and behaviours that we force on our novels and our characters because we can’t think of anything else and we know they need to do something.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to create an editing watch list. I’ve only just created mine, but I can already see that it will help me when I edit stories in the future. While you’re making big storyline changes to your novel, if you have this list sitting next to you, you can edit out crutch words and excessive exclamation marks. First edits, particularly of longer works, are generally done to work on story problems, not grammar, but if you can get ahead and easily fix some sentences while you work, what’s wrong with that?
You might be able to figure out some of the crutch words you use and when you cross the line into excessive punctuation on your own. For example, nobody needed to tell me that all of my characters sigh a lot. I know that, and as I go through a story, I try to cut a couple of the sighs out of the story. But the best way to discover your crutch words is to pay very close attention to your critiques.
Over the last year or two I’ve written a couple of short stories and a couple new drafts of novels. I’ve submitted bits and pieces of my writing for critique to a couple of different groups while trying to get settled with one in particular. One thing a lot of people told me in critiques is that in fiction, you really shouldn’t have too many semi-colons. In fiction it’s usually best to separate a semi-colon sentence into two. It builds excitement or helps readability or something like that.
I love semi-colons. I think they look cool and they’re immensely useful. It’s been a hard thing to cut out as many semi-colons as I could. It’s meant the deletion of some pretty phrases that just didn’t work as two sentences. I’ve been very reluctant to cut them out, but it’s just one of those sacrifices you have to make. Some pretty prose is acceptable, but when it is totally unrelated or it’s taking readers out of the story, it’s got to go.
Without critiquers, I would have kept on using a semi-colon every couple of sentences. A critiquer is also the one who pointed out to me that I use ‘and then’ a lot when it’s already implied. That advice has helped me to create my editing watch list.
Find a good critique group, online or offline–for online, check out Critique Circle or the International Writing Workshop–and listen to them. They will tell you which words you use way too many times. By really paying attention to what they say, putting these words on your editing watch list, and making sure to run through the manuscript quickly before sending it out, you can beat these words up and out of your story. So don’t forget to write up your own editing watch list before we go deep into the editing trenches.
I don’t know about you, but this year I’m planning on making several submissions and hoping for at least a couple of publications. Most of the markets I’ll be listing are markets that I’m thinking about submitting to. I will only be listing paying markets, as I will only be submitting to paying markets this year. For now all of the markets I’ll be listing are for speculative fiction. Almost all of the markets I’ll be posting accept electronic submissions, but don’t forget to read the guidelines thoroughly before you submit.
These markets accept longer short stories, for the most part under 10, 000. I’m hoping to find a home for the short story I just wrote, and maybe you will too after reading this list.
Abysss&Apex Magazine of Speculative Fiction Abyss&Apex accepts stories of up to 10, 000 words. They run on a quarterly schedule and have set fiction reading periods. The next one is in February. Payment is five cents per word up to 1, 500, with a flat payment of $75.00 for longer works.
Lightspeed Magazine Originally just a science fiction magazine, Lightspeed recently merged with its sister magazine to start accepting fantasy submissions. They are not accepting fantasy submissions until further notice. Paying five cents per word and accepting stories up to 7500 words long, this is a market to watch.
Strange Horizons This magazine is looking for speculative fiction stories of up to 9, 000 words. They do prefer shorter stories of under 5, 000 words, but it’s perfectly fine to submit a story between 5, 000 words and 9, 000 words. Strange Horizons pays its writers 0.07 cents per word. They are currently not open to fiction submissions, but they will re-open for fiction submissions on February first.
I hope that you’ll submit your fairly long short story to at least one of these markets. If you manage to find a home for one of your stories thanks to a market I sent you, let me know. I’d love to hear your success stories. If you’re too shy to comment, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Do you plan to submit more short fiction this year than you did last year?