Thursday, December 29, 2011

Eat that Elephant: Edit Effectively

Okay, so I stole the analogy from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, but I don't think they'll mind. "Eat the elephant" comes from a question: "How do you eat an elephant?"

If you look at the elephant carcass, you'll get overwhelmed. You'll think—no, you'll know—that it'll take forever and God only knows when you'll finish it.

And while you dither over how gargantuan your elephant is, your neighbor is quietly finishing hers.

It's the basic concept of breaking things down into manageable chunks. If you look at too much at once, you'll be overwhelmed and the task will take far longer than necessary. (Yes, I omitted that comma before the conjunction on purpose.)

So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Different folks have different-sized mouths, too, so chunks that are "bite-sized" for one person might choke someone else. The issue is knowing yourself and how much you can handle at a time. And being flexible when something happens that sabotages what you can handle. Bending with the problems rather than breaking under them.

You might be asking, "What does project planning have to do with editing effectively?"

Everything.

As of this writing, I have several writing projects on the to-do list. A novelette to finish writing for a December 31st deadline, but I've been editing as I go so it'll only need a proofread. A final 10k words or so to write in A Fistful of Earth, which will then need a heavy coherence edit, because I changed my mind about some things while writing scenes but didn't go back to make it all fit.

And Jami Gold is hosting a pitch session on her blog that I think a particular novelette of mine would fit well—if I can finish it by January 10th.

Oh, and I got asked by an anthology for a story. No deadline, but I'd like to be prompt about submitting something.

And remember, my day job is writing, editing, and proofreading for clients. So easy to get overwhelmed, to go "Ulgh! I've already edited 20k words today! I'm done!"

Editing is insidious. It has a way of taking longer than you planned—and of making you think that's okay, when it's only taking so long because you're letting the size of the task ahead of you overwhelm you and slow you down.

To edit effectively, you break your task down into chunks. Get it done one bite at a time.

That might mean one type of editing at a time. That might mean one scene or chapter at a time. That might mean one task at a time—like reading through to evaluate what it needs, then making the plot connect, then the characters, etc. It all depends on you, how you think, work, write.

And different stories will need different things.

I often edit as I go. When that doesn't work for me, I like breaking it down with Holly Lisle's notecard method, except instead of colored notecards, I use white ones. Then I color-code the top edge to indicate if a scene's good, needs some work, needs a lot of work, or needs tossing. (I'll describe this process further in a later post.)

But this is me, how I work. Not everybody can write content and critically evaluate it at the same time—and even then, I draft faster if I drop the critical mode. But I'm capable of pulling off an "average" pace of 1k words per hour with critical mode on, so I don't often bother to turn that side off.

And not everybody's comfortable tackling content edits, line edits, copyedits, and proofreading at the selfsame time. Even though I'm practiced at it, I'm not always comfortable with it. When that happens, I make sure to break it up ASAP, so I don't waste too much time dithering over how much I have to do. (A Fistful of Earth will probably need such breaking down.)

How do you usually break down your editing?

—Misti

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Goals for 2012

As I look at this month, I don't think I'm going to hit all my goals. Finishing A Fistful of Earth, for example. (Sorry about that.) I had to take most of last week off, which put a serious crimp in getting my goals accomplished.

(By the way, as Dean Wesley Smith reminded readers recently on his blog and Kristine Kathryn Rusch points out in her Freelancer's Survival Guide, goals are things you can control. Things you can't control are dreams. So word count output? That's a goal. Number of sales? That's a dream.)

So I'm taking a deep breath and setting up some public goals for 2012. Who's with me?

Goal #1: Write 50k words of fiction per month.

I'm doing the "50k words per month" thing with Margo Lerwill, fellow fantasy author. (If you're a fantasy fan and haven't read any of her short stories yet, shoo! They're $0.99 US each, and most are in the word count borderland between "short story" and "novelette".)

Not sure how she'll be tallying her words, but for me, it's of fiction. The blog posts here don't count. Forum posts don't count. Notes don't count.

Only story counts. An average of 2500 words per weekday. I even made myself a checklist.

Goal #2: Write 1, Sub 1 (per week).

I plan to write and submit a short story a week to markets. Considering my goal of writing 600k words of story this coming year, this goal should be a stepping stone for that other one.

Of course, it's one thing to know that you're capable of something, and doing it is another thing entirely. That's why I found a buddy who's willing to try it with me—my in-person friend Holly Parker, whose primary publishing experience involves FanFiction.net. Right now, she doesn't even know how to find story markets. She's learning that this week (I'm helping). Even writing original stories will be a challenge for her, but she's open to it.

I made a checklist by week for this, too—and submissions tracker worksheet on Google Docs, so we can keep each other accountable. I even set up a plan for the year, with characters/themes I can focus on each month, so I don't get overwhelmed.

Goal #3: Finish and release the Chronicles of Marsdenfel.

By Christmas next year, I want to have all 4 books out: A Fistful of Fire, A Fistful of Earth, A Fistful of Water, and A Fistful of Air.

Ideally, I also want to release print versions and a bundled version. (Note: I've been holding back on print version just yet due to cover image quality. I'm trying something that, if it works, will make photo stock quality a non-issue for that series.)

I think this one's self-explanatory. ^_^

Notice that none of my goals are about sales figures.

I can't control those. Thus the goals on things that I can control: output.

I have other goals, an entire 3x5 card full of them, some of which will help fulfill the others. But these are the three I'm making public.

What are your writing goals for 2012? Want to join Margo and me on the 50k words per month? Or what about Holly and me on Write 1, Sub 1?

—Misti

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Taking This Week Off…

I could claim off on account of Christmas, but I don't celebrate. (Short version: there's no command in the Bible to celebrate it, and the holiday actually has pagan origins.)

No, I'm claiming this week off from any substantive blogging on account of the nasty rashes I've had all over since Sunday. At first, I figured it was irritation from my wool sweater. Then I thought it was hives, some sort of allergic reaction, but I hadn't changed my diet…

Then some of the bumps developed these little blister tops, today.

Yeah, this gal who even avoids the outdoors due to her grass allergy ended up with poison ivy for the first time in her life.

And a friend died last weekend. His memorial's this morning. He was ready to go; he'd survived his cancer for over a year longer than expected, and he was looking forward to being with the Lord.

He's left a wife and 6 kids behind, the oldest of which is newly married. The youngest will be 10 next month.

He and his family are all Christian, specifically Presbyterian. (Yes, we attend the same church.) Supportive prayers for the family from fellow Christians would be appreciated.

Thanks.

—Misti

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Sun Also Sets—Writers and Depression

Maybe it's because of all the time we spend in our heads, riding our characters' emotions as well as our own, but writers are notoriously prone to depression. Just think of all the big-name authors who have died young, either from suicide or other causes, like abusing their bodies. Ernest Hemingway and several songwriters spring to mind, and that's before I even check the Wikipedia lists.

I don't know about you, but it scared me, when I was in high school literature classes. Made me wonder if I was doomed to a gloomy life of depression and angst. (So I was a melodramatic teenager. Shoot me. And be glad I don't inflict my first few novels on you.)

As I've gotten older, I've realized that I'm prone to depression, too.

You may recall the hormone disorder I've mentioned having. Sometimes, it makes me giddy and inexplicably happy, but more often…

If my laundry lingers unfolded for more than a day, I'm depressed. If it lingers folded but not put away… Well, I'd better get some vitamin D ASAP. (Vitamin D's technically not a vitamin; it's a hormone that your body creates out of sunshine exposure.)

That sunlight's often the most effective treatment for depression—for me, anyway. Going out for some frozen yogurt or to visit some friends can help, if neighbors are mowing their lawns, since I then cannot go outdoors. (Alert: if you take melatonin to help you sleep, that can make depression worse, too.)

Okay. Great. Depression's not unusual for writers. Why am I bringing it up, and how does it relate to self-editing?

First, why I'm bringing it up: nobody was interested in my giveaway. That's pretty darn depressing. I'm figuring that it might've been an idea that was better in my head than in practice—or maybe I don't have a large enough following for it to work, yet. So. No more giveaways for the at least the next few months, unless I get personally invited or see an opportunity that seems too good to pass up.

And I'm pointedly distracting myself with songs like "Another Mad Science Love Song" and "Oh, Michelle" by Seanan McGuire* when I start dwelling on the "Nobody wanted a free story!" aspect. I know I can write well. *(Be warned that "Oh, Michelle" has PG-13 cursing, and I'm a fan of black humor.)

Second: how does writer depression relate to self-editing?

If you have to ask that, you've never faced a "sea of red"—a good editorial pen. (And if you've never given yourself a "sea of red," you probably aren't the best at self-editing. Are there exceptions? Yes. Some folks produce very clean first drafts. Are you likely one of them? Not unless you've already a voracious reader and you've written a ton.)

Look, it's not unusual for me to work as tutor or editor. And all the less practiced writers I work with are convinced that they're the most terrible writer ever when they see the corrections I make—even when I reassure them that they're not. (I could tell tales of fan fiction so bad that… Never mind.)

It's the ones who've faced it before that have some sense in how to conquer that "Oh, I suck!" sensation that comes when you're looking at a piece that needs to be edited.

Because not everything needs revision.

It's like A Fistful of Fire. I mercilessly marked up a printed copy of the book, then realized when putting in the edits that most of the changes were downright optional. Which I noticed because I'd bothered to take a step back and to take a deep breath before I dove into it.

If I'd been depressed, I would've applied every little change, some of which would've altered parts of the story into the voice of Destiny's Kiss. (…Ooops?)

When you're writing, when you're editing—whether it's self-editing or with a beta or with a paid editor—you need to pay attention to your personal cues. You should have something that you can pay attention to, to notice when you're getting depressed.

Nip that depression in the bud.

The sun does set.

But remember that it rises, too.

What cues you in when you're getting depressed? Do you notice? How do you counter your depression?

—Misti

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Playing to Your Strengths – Writing to Hide Your Weaknesses

I promise I had this post in the queue before Red Tash guest posted over on Let's Get Digital (blog of David Gaughran). I also had it planned before Bob Mayer posted on his blog.

Ah, well.

Still, they spoke of making sure the first story or stories you write are simple enough for you to pull off. So they were talking specifically to newer writers.

Whereas I believe that everyone should make sure their project of choice is something they can pull off.

Don't get me wrong—writers should always seek to stretch themselves. But if you struggle with organizing plot logically and always have to go back and make sure you didn't overthink something and turn it into nonsense, well… As much as you might long to try your hand at writing cozy mysteries, you probably aren't ready for that, yet.

This is where self-editing comes into play. Ideally, you should do this before writing a story: sit down with all your story ideas and consider how they fit your abilities. What do you struggle with? What are you good at? What will each book require?

Struggle to write realistic dialogue, but your action scenes are killer? Then that character-driven drama with nuanced conversations probably isn't the best choice, right now. But lonely assassin story might work.

Do you have a hard time writing distinct voices for your different POV characters, but your humor scenes can make readers laugh out loud? Hm, then that multigenerational southern Gothic one probably won't work, but a lighthearted story limited to 1 POV, maybe 2, might work well.

Does plotting make you whimper and rip your outline to shreds and go back to the emotional arc outline? Then that plot-heavy spy novel probably won't work, unless maybe you could make it character-oriented… Hm. That might actually work.

See what I mean?

Now, don't neglect stretching yourself; but don't stretch yourself in every area at once. That way lay frustration.

Get fairly comfortable with what you're doing, then experiment. Always write in 3rd person limited? Try 1st person or omniscient POV. Always use present tense? Try past.

If you're feeling really adventurous—and are willing to produce something you probably won't be able to sell—try second person POV or one of the forbidden verb tenses (future, present perfect, past perfect). Those things aren't used for a reason, so trying to produce something that works despite that reason can be quite a valuable exercise.*

Are your stories always dialogue-heavy? Make yourself write a story that's description and monologue.

Are your stories always description-heavy? Try writing a story of pure dialogue.

If your experiment flunks, then you aren't as comfortable with your writing as you thought. Keep going. Keep practicing.

And don't tackle too many experiments at once unless you're willing to risk biting off more than you can chew.

For a writer to have novel or story ideas that they can't yet write is normal. I have one, myself, that I try to tackle every so often, only to sigh and lament "Not yet." Others that I stir, say "Hmm…", and nudge a little further back on the stove to keep simmering.

And the fun thing is, waiting to tackle the "hard" stuff will make it easier, because you'll have less to tackle at once. I struggle with transitions; I don't think with them—which even confuses me, sometimes—and therefore have had to really study when they're needed. I realized that it would be better for me to focus on stories with a limited timeline. But—

Even those limited timelines need transitions at every scene shift. So I was practicing the transitions, getting better at using them—and my ability to write a first draft that'll be coherent to someone other than me has increased dramatically.

What are your thoughts?

—Misti

P.S. April 2012 Update: Jami Gold's addressed this on a different tack over on her blog. Worth reading. ^_^

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Cover Unveiling — Plus a Giveaway

I'm so excited! I have a few things to share with you today.

First, I've gotten a new cover for my urban fantasy for young adults and older, Destiny's Kiss, created by the talented Najla Qamber. She took my concept cover ideas and came up with something that fit what I wanted.

Moreover, she tackled working with me. I'm not the easiest person for an artist to work with. (Thus why I've learned to buy images from artists and do my own typography.)

In celebration of this new—gorgeous—cover, I'm hosting a giveaway, and the winner gets their choice of 1 of my stories in e-format (as a Smashwords coupon or e-mail attachment)—

And nobody entered. That puts this on my list of "ideas that seemed good at the time but evidently weren't."

Ah, well.

And one of the options available is the original draft of A Fistful of Fire. Considering the original edition of A Fistful of Fire was perhaps 17k words and the final book is 79k words, I think it'll be of interest for comparison.

This is an e-book giveaway, open worldwide, except where some law would interfere with it.

How the Winner Will Be Picked:

From a drawing. See "How to Enter" to see how to get entries into the drawing.

How to Enter:

(Each entry method can only count once.)

  • Leave a comment on this post: +1
  • Mention the giveaway on social media or your blog: +1
  • Leave a review for one of my stories: +1
  • Leave a comment one one of my blog posts* other than this one: +1
  • Blog about one of my stories or blog posts*: +2 per story or post blogged about

*Only substantial blog posts like "How to Serialize Your Novel (or Not)" are eligible. Miscellaneous ones like "Website Down" aren't. I'll assume you're intelligent enough figure out what "substantial" means.

You must leave a comment tallying up your points, with links to off-site entries. (And if you've already done something that would've qualified for an entry, like left a review for or blogged about a story, you can count that retroactively.)

If you have to tally points more than once,, I'll edit your comments to combine them.

Giveaway closes 7am Tuesday, December 13th, 2011. Winners will be announced the next day.

When I announce the winner, I'll also be raising the price for Destiny's Kiss and announcing the title for its sequel.

Now let's see the pretty cover that made me decide to do this:

Destiny Walker is an exceptional student despite her youth, sullenness, and the werewolf baby she had to leave on a stranger's doorstep. Across the Atlantic, Kismet Baros was a rare type of Magik who was under the protection of the vampire court. Only Destiny and the judge who emancipated her know why Kismet no longer exists.

When powerful Magiks from Kismet's past show up, Destiny must face her demons. She must decide what she is—person or property—and if she'll sacrifice the few friends she has to save the many.

If she doesn't, she'll be the gunpowder that sparks World War III.

(A novel of about 59,000 words / 215 pages.)

ALERT: Contains mature themes, some violence and gore, and a handful of cases of objectionable language.

And if you like this giveaway, just wait until you see what I have planned for when its sequel comes out!

—Misti

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2 Types of Editors in This World

If you've ever started poking into online information about editing, you've likely discovered that the job descriptions for editor are myriad, and they differ from situation to situation. Some make sure all the content lines up and the plot works; some ensure that all the commas are in the right places. Some verify your data, while others make sure you're suitable for publication.

But when you get right down to it, there are only 2 types of editors:

  1. "Big-picture" editors who focus more on the forest than on the trees.
  2. "Little-picture" editors who focus more on the trees than on the forest.

Content editors, for example, are the first type. This is also the type of feedback you usually want from a beta reader. Does this plot work?

Line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders are the second type. The technical aspects are their forte. Are my mechanics right?

A good editor of any type will have crossover in what they see, like a copyeditor who catches that your villain speaks like the heroine in one scene. That's a detail catch, but it's based on the big-picture analysis of who your characters are. The content editor who says you should study dialogue tags is catching a little-picture issue.

But every type of editing is skewed towards the forest or the trees. The skew might be slight, but it'll be there.

Acquisitions editors, for example. Acquisitions editors often don't edit at all but just make executive decisions about acquisition. They can lean either way. Both sides of editing will usually be important to them, because they're trying to find a piece to accept. They ideally want to find something that'll fit their publication or company as-is.

But what if an acquisitions editor needs a piece, nothing in the slush pile is ideal, and the choice is down to two pieces? One that's a little weak on the plot (forest) but that she couldn't put down for the beautiful prose and grammar (trees), and another that's missing a comma or two (trees) but that she couldn't put down for the compelling story (forest)?

Some acquisitions editors will prefer one, some the other. That's to be expected.

Because editors aren't the only ones like this. Some folks enjoy a movie or a story as a whole, while others enjoy them for the details.

Consider your average book review that's left on Amazon, which answers "Did you enjoy this story?"

A big-picture answer could be "I loved how Joe Blue always made lemonade from his lemons!" or "Suzie Maye was so annoying, but I couldn't help but love her anyway!"

A little-picture answer might be "I loved the poem headings to every chapter" or "That scene where Joe had to fish Suzie Maye from the semi filled with whipped cream made me cry!"

Neither type of enjoyment is better than the other. They're examples of how we're all different.

It probably doesn't surprise any of you to know that I (a proofreader/copyeditor) am a "tree" person. Sudoku's a breeze for me, and checkers isn't too hard, but chess? Eeek. So much to keep track of and analyze! (Interestingly enough, as I've gotten better at analyzing the "big picture" for stories and my own writing, I've gotten better at chess, too.)

What about you? Do you tend to analyze and enjoy things on a "little-picture" level or a "big-picture" level?

—Misti

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plans for December 2011

#1:

I won't be intentionally releasing a short story for December. I have a reason for that.

…Because I've already had a story come out, in the first Saffina Desforges Presents anthology: "Primpriety", an urban fantasy novelette featuring a girl whose day's sleep gets interrupted by a murder outside her apartment that she can't stop, and things go downhill from there after she's bribed into tracking the murderer for the cops. And no, she isn't exactly what you're thinking. It's a completely different "world" from my Darkworld series.

The anthology is currently $0.99 US on Amazon.com. I'm not sure of its price elsewhere. I know there are plans to release it on other vendors, as well, but for now, all I have are the Amazon URLs:

#2:

I'm working my butt off trying to get A Fistful of Earth done, like I promised. I had "writer's block"* for too long, because I wasn't firmly enough in the narrator's head, but… Well, that writer's block lingered for longer than it needed to, because I had some personal problems get in the way of addressing it.

At any rate, it's flowing now. Even if I don't get done for NaNoWriMo, I should at least have a working draft done by the end of next week.

That means…

#3:

I'll be trying to get A Fistful of Earth out when promised ("late 2011"), but that promised release might not be the final polished version. I have some ideas for how to work that, but we'll see how necessary they are.

#4:

I've commissioned a new cover for Destiny's Kiss. It's gorgeous and fits the genre. I look forward to revealing it (and my cover artist) to you.

But I can't. Not yet. Because…

#5:

I'm working on some stuff to coincide with the new cover's release. That's as detailed as I'll get on that right now.

#6:

Write 30k words in the month of December, finishing the first draft of the sequel for Destiny's Kiss. (See my nice little progress bar in the sidebar? I can't promise that I'll keep it 100% up-to-date, but I'll do my best to keep it close.)

#7:

I owe some of you folks reviews of your stories. (And then there are the folks who I've promised to read and review… You know who you are.) I'm hoping to do that this December.

What are your plans for reading and writing in December?

—Misti

*Just FYI, I consider "writer's block" to be the subconscious's last desperate attempt to nab my attention when I'm not hearing it scream "Something's wrong!" at me.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Editing Ability, Muphry's Law, and the Overconfidence Effect

Okay, for two weeks now, I've been addressing self-editing. First, I asked "Is Self-Editing Unprofessional?"; then I asked "Must Writers Be Professional?".

I admit that I hadn't heard of Muphry's [sic] Law before I went searching on Wikipedia for the name of the concept I'm actually wanting to bring up, but this one also works.

Muphry's Law
"if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written"
Source: Wikipedia

Nobody's perfect. For everything, there's a point where you have to say "It's good enough" and let it go.

But is that thing actually good enough for general consumption?

I noticed something, even as a teenager when I was hanging out on fan fiction sites (…and learning how to balance critique with praise).

As a general rule, the more confident someone was about her writing, the more her writing sucked. (Saying "her" because so many fanfic writers are female.)

The less confident someone was about her writing, the better it tended to be—until it plateaued at a point where someone was fairly confident that they could put a sentence together without being convinced that "My writing is the bestest thing evah!" Those coolheaded ones were the fantastic ones, mind you, but they didn't realize that or even believe it of themselves.

The tendency to overstate your ability in a subject has actually been researched. I thought there was some "law" about it, but what I'm finding is the term "overconfidence effect."

Overconfidence Effect
The less you know about a subject, the less you assume there is to know, and the more you overestimate your knowledge of that subject
Source: Wikipedia

So let's try a quick quiz to test if you might be able to self-edit your own work. Answer honestly, now.

  1. You know everything there is to know, everything you need to know, and everything you should know about editing.
  2. You know a little, but you know that there are many things still need to learn.
  3. You know some, but you're not sure you know everything you should.
  4. You know a fair bit, though you're sure you don't know everything.
  5. You know a lot. You're sure it isn't everything, but you know where to look things up.

Now let's rate your score:

  • If you answered 1: forget it. You have a long way to go before being able to edit your own work—and event that can't start until you have an attitude change.
  • If you answered 2: keep heart. You have a way to go, but you're on the right track!
  • If you answered 3: keep at it. You're getting there…
  • If you answered 4: try it out. You might be ready; at any rate, practice will do you the most good, now.
  • If you answered 5: get to it. You're a good candidate for self-editing; at worst, you'll clean up your strong points to make it easier for someone else to identify your weak points.

I'm not going to gracefully bow out of this one. I'm an editor for my "day job", so of course I consider myself a 5. But in my own writing, my weakest points are transitions and plotting. I brain functions in odd, transition-less ways that loses folks who know me well, so I have to focus to make sure I connect the dots. I can also produce individual characters, situations, and scenes that make a pre-reader plea for more, but stringing them together into a plot? That's harder for me. (That's part of why I have so many WiPs—some are only characters and situations, right now; no plots.)

Even in day-to-day life, I have a tendency to think too hard. That's part of why I've been making myself write so many short stories; they're making me focus on Ockham's Razor, to produce plots that fit in about 3k words.

Might you be an exception to the above rules of thumb? Possibly. But I can't think of one exception that I've ever encountered in more than 5 years of working professionally—if you count my time as a hobbyist, we're entering two-digit territory—so forgive me for being dubious.

Now that you have some idea of if you're a good candidate for self-editing or not, this series will continue, addressing issues like the different types of editing and tricks to help yourself see what's actually on the page instead of what you thought you wrote.

How'd you score on the quiz? What are your thoughts on Muphry's Law and the Overconfidence Effect?

—Misti

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow USians!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Must Writers Be Professional?

As a recap from my post last week, let's look back at Merriam-Webster for a some pertinent definitions (according to the unabridged online dictionary):

professional
participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs (definition 2a)
professionalism
the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person" (definition 1a)

Ergo, if you're seeking financial return from your writing, you're a professional. If you're not seeking financial return, you're not.

Notice that there's no time limiter in there. Someone who has a plan for financial return in the long run despite a plan for no financial return in the short term would still count as a professional.

But must writers be professionals?

In self-publishing, in freelance writing, there's a common attitude that you must be professional, else you shouldn't be writing.

Funny. It was my dabbling (for fun) as a teenager that gave me the skills to be what I am now: author, proofreader, tutor, etc. I didn't even know freelancing existed at the time, but I unprofessionally wrote articles to help friends, critiqued their papers (and they mine), and proofread everything I saw or heard. (There's a reason my mother adds "Do NOT proofread this!" to notes she leaves around the house for me.)

I would spend hours teaching basic grammar to fellow fan fiction writers. Some of you readers even know me from way back when. I remember reading comments on someone's story, to see someone respond to my comment: "Oh, don't mind her; she's rude and a little mean." I remember the time I spent a good hour per (short) chapter, critiquing someone's story per that author's request, and the author having to defend me publicly when her other readers came after me.

Any hobby has its dabblers. The artist who takes a year to make a painting for a friend. The sculptor who produces clay objects now and again when she wants them. The knitter who makes toys to give away. The poet who only bothers to write poetry if she forgets to buy a card for a friend's wedding. (Only those last two are me.)

Okay, so others might tell such creative folks that they should sell their work, but if they don't want to, nobody will flip out and ask them why they even bother with their hobby.

Whereas a writer who insists on being "unprofessional" and giving their work away for free gets insulted and pressured to stop writing.

Why?

Okay, so I suspect I know why. Writers are generally under-appreciated and underpaid. Look at how often writers are pressured to accept "exposure" as appropriate payment for something. (Dude, if I want exposure instead of payment, I'll make that call, thanks.) Newbie freelance writers, seeking work online, are often pressured to take paltry amounts of a few cents per word—

And I bet that paltry amount, offered to freelance writers, stems from fiction markets. See, magazines and e-zines are deemed as "pro" 'zines if they pay a minimum of 5¢ per word for fiction. A would-be freelancer (or someone looking to hire freelancers) might see that, not realize the distinctions between fiction and nonfiction—or between FNASR and "all rights"—and therefore offer something that seems reasonable to them… with it actually being a fraction of standard freelance rates.

Many types of freelancers give up all rights to what they produce. Add a "0" to the end of what's generally offered for fiction, and you'll be closer to hitting a standard freelance rate.

That difficulty many writers have finding respect and appropriate payment probably makes them a wee sensitive when someone waltzes in and says, "I don't care about the money! I just want to be read!"

You know, there are music artists who offer their music free, too, as downloads or just for streaming online. Maybe it's just where I hang out online, but I haven't heard anyone accusing such artists of devaluing music.

Not everyone's trying to write for their "day job", just like not everyone's trying to paint or sculpt or knit or sing as a job. They might do it for fun and share it for fun.

So no, I don't think writers must be professional, whether they write fiction or non-fiction.

What's your take?

—Misti

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is Self-Editing Unprofessional?

There are two main schools of thought in self-editing:

  1. Nobody can adequately edit themselves.
  2. Everybody can (learn to) adequately edit themselves.

My "day job" is as a freelancer. I proofread, write, edit, and write—for small businesses, with small businesses, for individual entrepreneurs and self-publishers, etc.… My first freelance job ever as an 18-year-old college chick was writing online articles, and I was expected—required—to adequately edit my own work. But as an editor for self-publishers, I'm expected to insist that everyone needs an editor.

I can't be the only one who sees the inconsistency there.

Business writers, students writing term papers and test essays, professionals writing their own e-mails—all of them must edit and proofread their own work. Okay, in some cases, editing can be outsourced, but on a test essay? My best essay grade in college was one where I was given the topic and had an hour time limit to produce that essay. My teacher gave me a 99% and later apologized for not giving me 100%, because she hadn't found any errors and the essay still resounded with her.

(Anyone thinking "But wait! Freelancers go through editors, too!" Yeah, for some types of writing, but in my experience, those are acquisitions editors; their job is to make sure you nail the tone and angle that the publication wants, not to play English teacher for you. And I know of one university that doesn't allow undergraduate students to get help beyond "You have comma splices in your paper.")

Self-publishers, though, are often told that they're being "unprofessional" if they don't hire editors and proofreaders for their manuscript. While I agree that most writers need or can benefit from a good editor, and a proofreader's often a good idea, I disagree that hiring an editor makes someone professional.

Hiring an editor doesn't do you diddly squat if you don't understand what that editor's supposed to be doing—and if your editor doesn't actually do her job. (Saying "her" because so many of us are female.)

A (near-)"flawless" manuscript isn't what makes you a "professional," either.

Look at Amanda Hocking. She's a nice girl, polite and treating her writing like the business it is. But all the editors she hired—and there were more than one—evidently didn't catch something in her My Blood Approves series that struck me as a large plot hole, which probably could've been fixed with little tweaks. (I still read all four and don't mind recommending them to people who enjoy that kind of paranormal romance.) Am I to consider her "unprofessional" because her works aren't "flawless"?

Look at Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, pro writers who probably have more stories under each penname than I have ideas. They know what they want to do with their writing, and they're more concerned about getting quality stories out there in enjoyable form than flawless form. Rusch has been an award-winning short story editor. Am I to consider these two "unprofessional" because they don't even aim for technically "flawless" stories?

Merriam-Webster is the dictionary of choice in US publishing, in my experience. The pertinent definition of professional (2a) is "participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs" (according to the unabridged online dictionary).

Professionalism is "the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person" (same source, definition 1a). So it's how you behave and what you want out of your chosen profession.

That makes "professional" a matter of attitude, an attitude of seeking financial return from your chosen profession. (You don't have to be "professional" and seek financial return from your writing if you don't want to—but I'll get more into that in a later post.)

A professional freelance writer, one who wants to make money at writing, must self-edit and self-proofread to get assignments, unless they seek clueless clients. (I'm sure this happens, and I feel sorry for the deluded clients.)

A professional author, on the other hand, can hire a pro editor or self-edit, depending on what they need. I find many more typos in, for example, work by another author I like who's a NYT bestseller and gets edited and proofread by one of the so-called "Big 6", then particular self-publishing authors I enjoy, some of whom I know don't hire out.

Now, notice that I'm not saying "You must self-edit your story" or "You must hire a pro editor."

I'm saying your choice on whether to self-edit or hire out editing does not have any bearing on being a professional author.

(Yes, I intend to return to the topic of self-editing next week.)

What are your thoughts on (self-)editing and professionalism?

—Misti

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Where Are the Religions in Fiction?

I suspect I'm going to get in trouble for this one, but here goes.

religion
a set of beliefs about reality
note: by this definition, atheism is a religion.

Where is the religion in fiction? I don't mean in the big "This culture against that culture" sense. I mean in the personal, "This is what I believe" sense.

It's my experience in reading that most characters are practically agnostic. Whatever they believe doesn't affect their day-to-day lives or interactions with people, unless it's a specific religious genre.

I'm a devout Christian. To consider devout Christians either conservative hatemongers or nice PC folks—which is what I usually see in fiction—is a false dichotomy. One I weary of seeing.

But then, I'm also weary of seeing "devout" folks of a particular religion do things that are actually counter to that religion's doctrine. A Jew who doesn't think about breaking kosher laws when he eats a cheeseburger or rare steak. Someone whose religion says "Do not kill" but readily kills the bad guys without a twinge of conscience. A Christian who readily jumps into bed without being married to them, without acknowledging how that jives with "You shall not commit adultery."

I'm not saying there aren't people who consider themselves devout and act like that.

But where are the people who actually are orthodox, who follow the core doctrines of their faith?

It's possible to hold views that aren't PC, to be willing to bring them up, and to not feel obligated to jam them down others' throats. For example, someone could think homosexuality "unnatural" for procreative reasons while 1. not hating homosexuals, and 2. not jabbering on about their view. (Note: I did call that an example.)

I realize that it's difficult to write accurately on a religion you don't share, never mind to write from the perspective of someone with a religion you don't share.

But authors often write from the perspective of characters with different genders and cultures than themselves. Why not include religion in that?

Religion adds realism—and conflict potential. (How'd you know I was going to say that?)

Maybe your character faces a situation that tests what they believe and makes them evaluate which values take precedence over others. Someone who believes killing and lying to be both bad will have trouble figuring out what to do when in a situation that offers an apparent either/or choice.

Maybe the hero and heroine of your romance novel have different faiths—or different interpretations of the same faith.

Maybe your MC's being targeted by a killer because something they do for their faith makes the killer think they're actually of a different religion.

Possibilities, people. Just think of the possibilities on that personal level!

I know I had fun playing with them in Destiny's Kiss. It's also one of the reasons I enjoy Richelle Mead's Bloodlines—the poor narrator's stuck in a situation that makes her reevaluate what she believes.

What's your favorite example of personal religious conflict in a story? Have you written anything that involves attacks of conscience?

—Misti

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Release: November 2011

I like all my stories, but this one marks a special time for me. I wrote it in-between wondering why I couldn't get A Fistful of Earth to work. Something was wrong, but I couldn't figure out what, because the main plot points were holding up no longer how I looked at them.

I decided to poke at how Lallie Nonsire, a probably baseborn girl raised in an orphanage, met her rulers and became friends with Silva Feyim, a girl who was daughter to the Prophet of the King and cousin of the ruling family. I figured there was a short story in there.

There was: a short story of 2,600 or 11 pages, entitled "Of Her Own". Writing the short story was the first time I felt myself completely in Lallie's head. Extrapolating from there helped me enter the head of the adult Lallie.

"Of Her Own" is available for $0.99 US from the "big 3" vendors (Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, & Amazon), and it'll reach other ones like Apple and Kobo over the next few weeks.

"Of Her Own"

All young Lallie Nonsire wanted was a quiet life, minding her own business and ignoring what she was by birth.

After her magic betrays her by saving a friend's life, she'll settle for escaping Saf before she's turned into a live torch.

But where can the child of a despised race go?

***A short story of 2,600 words or 11 pages.***

CONTAINS: Some violence.

You can find it at the following vendors:

I hope you enjoy!

—Misti

ETA: I have no idea where my post title or labels went. I had them in here when I started the post. *scratches head*

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where Are the Handicaps in Fiction?

I almost called this one "Where are the chronic conditions?", but pretty much everything I'm talking about here are chronic (long-term and/or lifelong) conditions. (This is the fourth post in a series.) Right now, let's think about the outright handicaps.

So where are the handicaps? Where are the blind, the deaf, the fibromyalgic? I know I've read a few paralytic characters. Some authors have had blind protagonists in their stories, like Patricia Briggs in "Seeing Eye" and a YA novel with an author and name I can't remember, though I remember wanting it on my to-read list. (Blind girl gets kidnapped on accident in a car theft; ring any bells with my readers?)

The most common handicap I can remember reading in fiction? Bad knees. It's like every other kick-@$$ urban fantasy heroine has bad knees. (And water stains in their bedroom ceilings the shape of some state, but that's a topic for another post, methinks.)

What about bad wrists? Lots of people have carpal tunnel (a condition where all fingers but the pinkie finger are affected, with often severe pain or numbness). Thanks to typing, lots more people are prone to having that inner forearm muscle cramp up, which sometimes gets misdiagnosed as carpel tunnel.

(If you can bend your hand forward at a 90° angle without debilitating pain, you've been misdiagnosed. Stretch your wrist out by bending your hand back—holding two fingers at a time. In an emergency, you can follow the muscle diagonally across the inside of your forearm, from the side of your wrist below your thumb, to find the "trigger point" by your elbow—the spot that hurts like heck to touch, but if you force yourself to press and hold it for 30 seconds, your arm should loosen up. DISCLAIMER: I'm not a physical therapist; I'm just passing on what works for me and friends.)

What about weak knees and/or ankles? When I was in elementary school, my knees or ankles sometimes gave out without warning. I warned teachers, but some wouldn't believe me even after it happened. They thought I was collapsing on purpose to get out of class. (To be honest, I don't blame them for that assumption. Sports fiend I was not.)

What about vision handicaps? I can think of a few characters with glasses, but… the glasses don't effect them much. The glasses never fog up; they never have a lens fall out in the middle of a parking lot and roll under a truck; they never make it impossible for the hero to eye something sidelong, because his eyes are so bad that he effectually doesn't have peripheral vision.

Oh, and those scenes where the hero's glasses would be most inconvenient? He just so happens to be wearing contacts. (I remember one scene in This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti where a girl's glasses are gone, and she has to drive despite her atrocious vision, but that's the only time I can think of where a MC's glasses actually influenced things.)

Some people can't wear contacts. Many people have astigmatism. I have mild astigmatism in my right eye; the result is that I have a spot to my upper right where it's impossible to focus my vision. It's always blurred, unfocused. So if I happen to glimpse something in just that spot on the upper right, I won't be able to identify or read it. Here in the US, we drive on the right side of the road, so that's where road signs tend to be. I have to pay attention so I don't miss any.

Some people are color blind. (This is much more common in guys, for genetics reasons.) There are different types, so it could be interesting to see a mystery where the witness and sleuth are both different types of colorblind, and therefore don't realize it when they see the same striped shirt or some such clue.

Some have no depth perception. I don't—or if I do, it's minimal. I can't gauge distance. It's most obvious if I'm, say, standing on a chair; I then can't tell if I'm two feet up or ten. When you have this problem, you adapt by paying attention to angles, lining up the ground and walls and background with what you're looking at, to figure out what's closer. As an interesting side effect, I've found that I can answer "Which item is closer?" with comparable accuracy to someone with fantastic depth perception. When driving, I follow a policy of "Assume things are closer than you think."

Some people can't smell. Some can't taste. (I've been told that either one makes food unappealing.)

Some are missing a limb, a finger, or a toe. I know a teenager who lost a toe to a lawnmower.

When people are handicapped, they adapt. But the handicap itself has conflict potential. Maybe a killer teases his intended victims by playing a music box as "warning", but your sleuth is deaf and never hears it. Maybe your teen is struggling with a recent amputation—something that's more common than you might think—which would affect his sense of self-worth and would test his friendships; will his friends, his girlfriend, stay with him through the discomfort and awkwardness?

Personally, I've had some fun with my fantasy to create some paranormal handicaps:

  • Silva Feyim (A Fistful of Fire) – a seasonal telepath unable to block out what she hears, which will eventually drive her insane.
  • Jillian Giovanni ("Romeo & Jillian") – limited sensations and access to the five senses.
  • Emris Winters ("The Corpse Cat") – able to be controlled by another if magically bound by someone with one of her bones.
  • Lyn Burgess (who you should be able to meet before Christmas) – burns when exposed to sunlight – though not quite for the reasons you think.

See what I mean? ^_^ Being deaf wouldn't exactly be a handicap to a telepath—unless known deafness brought horrible consequences and there were ways to block telepathy. (Yes, that's something I have stewing.)

But that doesn't mean I don't stop to consider handicaps when writing. I have characters in my head with more conventional handicaps, but they've not been written or released, yet. Including one guy, the hero of a romance, who'll have a bum leg.

What handicaps do you want to see in fiction? What are your favorite examples of handicapped characters? Anyone know the name of that YA book with the kidnapped blind girl?

—Misti

Monday, October 24, 2011

Question: What Do You Want to See?

Okay, I can take a hint.

While there's obviously some interest in my "Where are the…?" series, I'm not getting much response to it or new releases. Which makes me wonder:

  • Is there something you want me to talk about?
  • Is there a type of story you'd like me to write?

I still plan to continue my current "Where are the…?" series and a new release per month that's set in Aleyi (like A Fistful of Fire) or the Darkworld (like Destiny's Kiss).

But is there anything else you readers and followers want to see, as well?

—Misti

Friday, October 21, 2011

Where Is the Asthma in Fiction?

This is the third post in my "Where are the…" series. I've asked "Where Are the Allergies?" and "Where Are the Genetic Diseases?"

Asthma actually does appear in fiction, to some degree. I can't recall any titles with it, but I know I've probably read some, and I've at least heard of people, like Lisa Gail Green, making asthmatic characters. I have the impression that asthma (or diabetes) usually show up in something like a thriller, where the kidnapped child is without her medication and must be found before time runs out.

In those cases, it's a nice use of a chronic condition, but there's so much more possible—and more than 7% of adults have some form of asthma. So why is asthma so rare in fiction life?

There's even more than one form of asthma. (Here comes the biology talk, but it's fairly mild today.)

Asthma means the airways inflame and constrict, making it hard to breathe to the point of wheezing and coughing. (Sound familiar? It's comparable to part of what happens with the allergic reaction of anaphylaxis.) It's a chronic (long-term) condition. As an analogy for how it works, you can think of it like eczema. You'll probably be fine as long as you take proper care of it, and sometimes it won't bother you at all, but sometimes it'll flare up and get really bad if you don't catch it in the early stages.

Then there are the variants. Allergic asthma is when the asthma is triggered by an allergic reaction, usually pollen.

Exercise-induced asthma is when the asthma is triggered by physical activity. Exercise triggers asthma in most asthmatics, but some people only have asthma symptoms during exercise. (For an alternative for what could cause that, go down two paragraphs.)

According to Web.MD, there's also cough-variant asthma when the coughing is the primary symptom, not the wheezing. But even that site's description says the triggers are usually exercise or or respiratory infections. So it seems like a fancy way of saying "Some asthmatics have more of the coughing symptom than the wheezing symptom" to me. Any of my readers know more than that?

One "variant" I am familiar with is "airway constriction disorder" or "seasonal asthma", which is how a doctor might describe "You're having trouble breathing, but I'm not sure about what's causing it, so I'm not comfortable saddling you with an asthma diagnosis." A magnesium deficiency can cause chest constriction. Fix the deficiency, and the breathing trouble goes away. I learned that one from experience.

Why did I specify that the "airway constriction disorder" could cause exercise-only asthma? Because magnesium is a required electrolyte for your body. When you exercise, you excrete magnesium and other electrolytes like potassium in your sweat.

Now, go check the magnesium content of your favorite sports drink.

It probably doesn't have any. This can kill you.*

Don't believe me? Look up "sudden cardiac death." Even folks more inclined to blame aspartame and other food additives admit that low magnesium is one of the causes.

Asthma has potential for conflict, even as a factor in relationships. Maybe the hero in that YA novel doesn't want to admit he has asthma, so he forces himself to keep up with the track team to his own detriment—or maybe he takes good care of his "asthma", but his actual problem is a magnesium deficiency that causes a seizure on the track. Maybe the girl in that romance novel thinks the non-asthmatic guy's making up his trouble breathing to manipulate her into feeling sorry for him, not realizing he does have the muscular constriction of a magnesium deficiency.

Possibilities, possibilities.

What's your favorite example of an asthmatic character or an asthmatic condition adding conflict to a story? If you're a writer, have you written any stories with asthmatic characters?

—Misti

I'm not a doctor or anything, but I've read about this magnesium issue enough and heard about it from doctors I trust.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where Are the Genetic Diseases in Fiction?

Two weeks ago, I talked about the different kinds of allergies, how they work, and their conflict potential. Genetic diseases are another area that doesn't often make an appearance, except for maybe the occasional high-profile condition, but there are far more types of genetic conditions than autism and Down's syndrome.

(Alert to the queasy: biology talk ahead.)

There's a condition that means you have to stay healthy and avoid infections, else risk gangrene and amputation (diabetes). There's a condition that mean a bunch of benign tumors grow throughout your body, which can destroy tissue and turn malignant at any time (neurofibromatoses, NF). There's a condition that means you have to carefully watch your diet or else you'll end up with brain damage (phenylketonuria, PCU).

I haven't even scratched the surface.

You might know I'm a proofreader. What you might not know is that proofreaders also tend to be good at genetics, and vice versa. My original career plan was to become a research geneticist as a day job, while I wrote fantasy on the side.

See, I have a genetic disorder.

Oh, I look normal. Put me beside just about anybody, compare how much I eat to what I weigh, and I'll seem enviably healthy. Okay, so I have to watch the ingredients in what I eat, and I sometimes wear sunglasses inside to nip a migraine in the bud, but no biggie. Lots of women have allergy and migraine problems.

You know your endocrine system? The one that makes and regulates the hormones, that keep the rest of your body in order?

My endocrine system can't even manage itself.

The condition I have is misnamed, presumed rare, and often described incorrectly. It's either insulin resistance that causes the endocrine problems, or endocrine problems that cause the insulin resistance. Doctors keep changing their minds. (Insulin resistance is what causes adult-onset diabetes. That means anyone with my condition is probably prediabetic, too.)

What I have is PCOS, PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome. And according to a study done more than 5 years ago, 5-10% of women have it, and it's genetic. Guys can have it, too (though the study didn't specify what guys' symptoms were.) And doctors still call it rare.

The problem stems from genetic expressivity and penetrance. You can have the genes for something that doesn't actually show up. You might have the gene that says "Add another finger and/or toe", but it won't necessarily penetrate. So you won't have that extra toe that your uncle had.

Once a condition does penetrate, it may not be 100% expressive, meaning it might show up to different degrees. If you cross a pea plant with red flowers with a pea plant with white flowers, you'll get a pea plant with a specific shade of pink flowers. But if that flower color gene were less than 100% expressive, you might end up with different shades of pink.

PCOS (and many other conditions) are not 100% expressive, and they possibly might not completely penetrate, either. That's why diagnosis and treatment are such a nightmare.

So now doctors say women can have the cysts on the ovaries without having PCOS, and completely ignore the variety of symptoms that can stem from having a messed-up endocrine system. I was diagnosed by doctors researching my condition. Since then, I've had more than one endocrinologist be skeptical—even though I have symptoms like metabolism trouble. My metabolism's just hyperactive; usually the metabolism is hypoactive.

In other words, most women with PCOS have very slow metabolisms. That's why they struggle to lose weight. My metabolism's overactive; I have to fight to maintain my weight. Imagine having to eat even when you're not hungry—and having to buy enough food to feed someone 2-3 times your weight. It gets expensive.

Endocrinologists are skeptical and won't admit I have it, these days, because I never had my testosterone levels checked—even though I have particular symptoms of elevated testosterone levels. (You know those big hairy women who were shown off in freak circuses, once upon a time? High testosterone. Fortunately, most of us with the condition aren't that furry.)

I also started getting hot flashes when I was 20 years old. That isn't a typo. A few years ago, at the end of a hot flash, I lost my cold sensation. I can detect cold, I get goosebumps and shivers from getting too cold, but I don't feel cold, myself.

Imagine discovering you're cold because you realize your feet are numb and your toenails are turning blue. It's kind of scary.

The loss of cold sensation may not be related to the PCOS, though I think it is. The hot flashes? Definitely related. (If you get hot flashes, try putting an ice brick on the back of your neck the next time one flares. If one isn't available, sticking your head in the freezer also helps, but it probably isn't very good for you.)

I'm not saying all this to complain. I'm used to my body, so it doesn't seem so bad to me as it does to someone else. I'd rather have my condition than NF. My friend with NF would rather have her condition than mine.

I'm saying all this to point out that genetic conditions, like allergies, have variety and implications that can make your story all the richer.

Does your teen girl with PCU drink the diet soda because she thinks it'll help her lose weight, even though she knows the aspartame is poisoning her neural system? Does your character with NF envy her healthy sisters and daughter because the tumors have misshaped her face, making her feel ugly?

What's your favorite example of a character with a genetic condition? Have you written any characters with genetic conditions?

Personally, I like Graysha Brady-Phillips in Shivering World by Kathy Tyers. Graysha's genetic disease is slowly killing her, it limits what she can do, and it affects the entire story—but only because it's an integral part of who she is.

—Misti

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October's Story Release

This month's story release is another short story, "A Blackmail and a Birthday". (If you know me from the Hurog forums, this is a slightly revised version of "A Summer Birthday".)

It's set in the Darkworld, the same urban fantasy world as Destiny's Kiss, "The Corpse Cat", and "Romeo & Jillian", but it's a stand-alone.

While waiting for her boyfriend to treat her to her first drink, Ember hears a gun. Her 21st birthday’s about to get a bit more eventful than she expected.

***A short story of 3600 words/14 pages***

CONTENT ALERT: Contains mild language, violence, and drunkenness.

It's currently up on Smashwords, in processing on B&N, and still in formatting for Amazon. (Sorry. That takes longest.)

Usually this short story will cost $0.99 US, but for today only, you can head over to Smashwords and use coupon code WU65C to get the story free. (Okay, the coupon might work tomorrow, too; I'm not quite sure how Smashwords handles the expiration date.)

I've listened to folks I've seen online and added an approximate page count with the word count, as well as a basic content advisory in the product description. While I doubt any urban fantasy fans are going to have a problem with the content, I figure it's better to be safe than sorry. Doesn't hurt me any to add that info.

I hope you enjoy this release, and I'd appreciate it if readers would leave a comment about how/if they liked it, either here on the blog or as a review. That way, I know if I'm duly confident or utterly delusional, and readers can find stories they like.

Thanks!

—Misti

Monday, October 3, 2011

Website Down—FIXED

Just fyi, I am aware that my website's down. I'm switching hosts, and I tried to time it so the one would end as the other picked up, but… Er, yeah. Failed that one.

My new host actually costs less and gives me more perks. Once I've had them long enough to verify that they're as great as they seem to be (and as has been reported to me), I'll do a public announcement about who they are and why I'm so pleased.

For now, I will say this: There are certain things I've wanted to do for years, but I couldn't find a web host in the price range I was paying that offered me the ability to do it, and I couldn't justify paying more to be able to do something that might not work out.

I'm paying a great price for more bandwidth than I'm likely to use—with reasonable costs if I end up needing more!—with subdomain and add-on domain ability. Just the subdomain thing alone would've been enough to put me on cloud nine.

And I'll stop now, I blather too much. Here's to hoping this web host experience will be better than my last one!

ETA: My website's back up. Thanks for your patience!

—Misti

Friday, September 30, 2011

Where Are the Allergies in Fiction?

Allergies are greatly underrepresented in fiction.

On one hand, I can understand why. Many folks don't have any allergies and therefore know little about them. (I'll distinguish contact allergy, allergy, and intolerance in a minute, but right now I'm referring to all three. And if biology talk makes you queasy, you should probably stop reading, now.)

On the other hand, allergies add another layer of realism and potential conflict to a story. In the rare event that you do see an allergy in a story, it's either a fantasy creature's sensitivity (like silver burning werewolves), or full-blown anaphylaxis (windpipe closing up) from sesame seeds or peanuts. But people can be allergic to anything, and there are many different types of allergies and reactions—and then there are intolerances and contact allergies, which are entirely different ball games but can be just as problematic.

Many folks can be excused for not thinking of this topic, but not me. I had friends and family with severe allergies long before I developed any of my own.

I first started developing allergies about 7 years ago, with a stressful… situation… that essentially shut down the portion of my adrenal gland that protects against the development of allergies. My adrenal gland still isn't functioning right, and as a result, I have a huge list of allergens (things I react to).

An Incomplete List of What Misti Reacts to:

  • grass
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • mold
  • stevia (the natural sweetener)
  • strawberries
  • tea tree oil
  • nitrile (the common latex-free gloves)
  • rice
  • eggs
  • almonds

And yes, that's an incomplete list. Some of those are allergies, some are contact allergies, and some are intolerances.

Some things, like antibacterial soap and spring flowers, always gave me a hint of trouble. There's one soap in particular that's always made my skin itch. Spring flowers always made my nose itch to sniff them. Now, even minor exposure to one of them causes cracking skin or full-body itching.

The thing is, those are my skin reacting, not my immune system, so those aren't "allergies" in the "Call the allergist!" sense. "Contact allergy" is a good way to describe those; my reaction happens upon contact—but even a contact allergy can be serious. I can't even be in the same room as strawberries without the traces in the air irritating the interior of my windpipe, which makes breathing uncomfortable, even painful. It isn't anaphylaxis, because my windpipe doesn't actually swell (or at least the allergist told me it doesn't). But it still interferes with my breathing, and the reaction won't go away without antihistamine help.

If I touch tea tree oil, my skin peels off—but tea tree oil is a fantastic antibacterial and antifungal, even better than vinegar. My mom sometimes uses it for disinfectant. I live with my parents. You can imagine that I'm very careful with spray bottles that have homemade contents. Usually, they're vinegar. But sometimes… (Oh, and castor oil causes the same thing for her, so I have to be careful about the special antibiotic-free soaps I buy.)

Allergists enter the picture for what could be called "true" allergies, when your immune system attacks the allergen in your system. Such allergies usually get worse upon repeated exposure, though it's possible in some cases to retrain your immune system to accept the allergen. That's the premise behind allergy shots: load up the allergy sufferer with antihistamines and trace amounts of the thing they react to; the antihistamine will keep the person from reacting (much) to the allergen, teaching the immune system that the allergen is okay.

But allergies aren't something to take lightly, even when your reaction's mild. If you ignore the allergy, it might go away, but it's far more likely to get worse. Reactions can include itchy skin, hives, swelling, dizziness, headaches, seizures—as well as other weird things you wouldn't expect. I used to know a girl whose brain swelled upon exposure to her allergens, which was murder on her equilibrium, among other things.

That brings us to intolerances, things that the body can't process properly. These will build up in your system and get worse if you keep eating/touching/encountering them, but once the thing you react to is out of your system, you'll be back to normal. Your reaction won't be any worse if you react to it, recover, then react to the same amount of it again.

Often, an intolerance causes pain that's resolved by expulsion (vomiting and/or the runs), though sometimes it's just pain. (Imagine sharp stones are bouncing around in your stomach whenever you move. That's how I feel for a full day after eating a mouthful of rice; day 2 is a severe but tolerable stomachache; day 3 is back to normal.) But intolerances can also cause reactions like arthritic symptoms and general fatigue.

As an added bonus that an author can play with, there are also psychosomatic allergies. These happen when someone's so afraid of something that they'll react when they expect to, say if they taste it (even if that taste is imitation) or see it (without realizing that it's fake).

I've been accused of being psychosomatic, but there are two problems with that theory.

  1. I react even when I don't know my allergens are present. If I were psychosomatic, I'd see the item, then react, not start reacting and have to wonder what on earth is going on.
  2. I don't react to artificial versions even when I've tasted the flavor and am worrying about allergen exposure. If I were psychosomatic, I'd react even to artificial and imitation versions. I eat strawberry Twizzlers just fine.

See? I have no excuse for not writing characters with allergies. I know so much about them. I pop homeopathic antihistamine pills up to 6 times a day. *takes one* (This stuff works great, by the way. Conventional antihistamines suck; they only last me a week, tops, before they stop working.)

I was musing on this earlier this year, trying to figure out where to fit the different types of reactions into my stories. I realized…

I'd written a character with a food sensitivity into Destiny's Kiss without even realizing it. The character has hints of the allergy in the book, if you're familiar with the particular sensitivity s/he has.

No. I'm not telling you who it is; that would spoil the fun. I will say that it isn't the narrator, and it's looking like she won't discover that this character's an allergy sufferer until book 3.

But I'm also concentrating, now, and making sure I consider my characters' allergies, contact allergies, and intolerances when I write. There's so much untapped room for allergy conflict outside of the "Oh, noes! Hero's throat swells shut from one of the most common allergies! How original!" I look forward to exploring it.

Who's your favorite character with an intolerance or allergy? Have you written characters with intolerances or allergies?

—Misti

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rudeness Is Intention, Not Action

It seems like a lot of people have a set belief that X action is rude, and they're quick to call out others for it. Shoot, I've even alerted others that something they said could be interpreted as rude, in a way I found polite, only to have someone else scold me.

But this isn't (exactly) about me. This is about what I've noticed in life.

I've noticed that rudeness is relative.

For some people, in some cultures—even in some parts of the USA—any kind of bluntness is rude. If you don't couch everything in a sweet cutesy "politeness", you're unspeakably rude. But for others, that insincere nicety is rude.

If your hair looks like a crow's nest, I'm one of those people who's naturally inclined to say as much. I've learned to adjust it to something more innocuous, like "How was your morning?", which can get the full story of you didn't sleep well and woke up late and didn't get a chance to brush your hair. (Or that you got a new hair stylist, which might get me asking who just so I can avoid that person.)

But don't expect me to feed you what you want to hear. If your hair's a mess, and you're looking for someone to deny it, I'm the wrong person to talk to for moral support. Even if I get the clue (which is unlikely), I find dishonesty rude. So if you say "My hair looks terrible," I'll agree and remind you that you can brush it later, not soothe your pride.

I live in the southeastern United States, a part of the country renowned for its "hospitality" (meaning the cultural norm is to be sugary sweet to your face, no matter what's said behind your back). You might suspect that my bluntness costs me friends.

Actually not. I have a lot of friends, and I get along with a lot of people. (Probably in part because I'm as willing to volunteer "That color likes you" as I am to give a forthright opinion when addressed.) From others' comments, I really think that "rudeness" and "politeness" have more to do with intention than action.

See, I've been told by some folks that they stopped thinking me rude when they realized I expected them to speak to me the same way I spoke to them.

What is rudeness but treating others in a way you would never allow yourself to be treated?

What is politeness but treating others the way you want them to treat you?

Thoughts?

—Misti

ETA: Just realized that this headache is actually a budding migraine, so please let me know if something doesn't quite make sense. (I only started getting migraines this year, and I'm the only one in my family who gets them, so I'm still working on recognizing the warning signs.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Trust Me, I'm a [Insert Source Here]

This has bothered me for awhile, but I tend not to talk about it. Mainly because I don't want to put ideas about my credibility or lack thereof into people's heads.

Case in point: my bank's changing some policies that'll add fees to my two checking accounts. Discussing the matter with them revealed something I could do each month that would waive the fees from those accounts. I joked that I could always [insert loophole that would let the same money be used to waive the fees from both accounts]. The banker got nervous about me taking up that train of thought.

Okay, I realize that my delivery on jokes isn't obvious, but that loophole search is how my brain works. Give me a true/false question, and I naturally think of the exceptions to something being true or false. Give me a DRMed file, and I'll have ideas about what would need to happen to it to crack that DRM, though I've not actually done that. (Oh, but I've been tempted.)

I admit all this so I hopefully don't lose credence in your eyes when I say that people trust others too much.

You're online. Someone gives advice that sounds unusual to you, but you decide to trust it, because "Hey, they're an [author/editor/doctor/whatever]." (I've done this, too.)

Er, what are you thinking?

Let's suppose that that person actually is whatever source you think they are, which is a bigger assumption than many of us like considering. (And is the reason I don't like bringing this up.)

Does that source know everything about your specific situation? No. (At least, I hope not.) Does that source live anywhere near you, to know how your locality affects your situation? Probably not. Is that source infallible? No.

We are all of us fallible, so why do people mindlessly believe what Doctor So-and-So or Agent Shark or Kris Rusch say? Not trying to offend my doctor or Janet Reid or Kris, all of whom I respect. And all of whom I trust as sources who know what they're talking about.

But they aren't infallible. And I think they'd agree with that assessment.

Sometimes, I find myself reading along and nodding with whatever particular folks say, because they're so much older and wiser than I am, with so much more industry experience…

Er, right. Does that mean when someone older than me says "Climb that cliff!" I say "Which one?"? I've always wanted to rock climb, but I've never actually done it. I'm not going to start trying to climb some rock face without any kind of harness, support, or help, just because some bloke tells me I can. I know I don't have the proper training or even strength to pull that off.

I don't care if your vast array of professional experience says that anyone can climb that particular cliff, even a petite girl who's made ill by exercise. I'm physically incapable of doing it. If I let you convince me that I can, I'll only hurt myself.

I've had doctors poison me with things they were told, repeatedly, that I was allergic to (Tylenol and latex-free gloves). I've read enough agent advice to know that one agent's "Don't ever do this!" is another's "Do this!" I know enough writers to recognize that we all have different goals for our careers.

And, as young as I am, I've had enough business experience to know that even the best advice is useless if it doesn't fit your goals.

Be careful who you trust. Know your goals. And develop your own opinions, folks.

Please.

—Misti

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New Free Short Story Release!

I know, it's past the first week of September—but I did in fact release another short story at the start of this month! (I just forgot to put up the announcement when I meant to, sorry!) It's even set in Aleyi, the same world as A Fistful of Fire.

"Driven by the Deadline" is about Fael Honovi and why she tied herself to the felven royal family, anyway.

Honovi knows she's going crazy. It's only a matter of time, since she's stuck in a monochromatic land of creepy.

She's a shade, stuck in a plane of reality separate from the primary one—and completely incapable of manifesting a body in the primary plane. With someone killing off the felven royal heirs, Honovi's been asked to play godparent. She'd love it, a distraction from the grayscale monotony that's her life.

But can she get there without her own plane of existence stopping her?

***A short story of 2,300 words.***

ALERT:
This title's on the creepy side.

"Driven by the Deadline" is a short short, hitting about 2300 words, so I have it up for free on Smashwords, who will distribute it to other vendors. It's currently $0.99 US on Amazon.com.

I'm still working out what next month's release will be. A Fistful of Earth is more difficult to write than I expected. Lallie's… not the easiest character to convey. I'm still aiming for "late 2011" release, but it may end up in December. (I hope not.)

In the meantime, please enjoy "Driven by the Deadline"!

And reviews would be appreciated. ^_^

—Misti

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

5 Reasons You Want Harsh Reviews: How to Take Negative Reviews (3 of 3)

Wait wait wait—you want harsh reviews? Harsh reviews?

Yes, you do. Even if you can't handle reading them. You want harsh reviews, be they earned, partially earned, or entirely unearned.

Ask me why. *waits*

Glad you asked. The reasons are fivefold:

  1. Harsh reviews balance the effervescent ones. You know that gushing 5-star review from your MMO guildmate that you just know people are assuming came from your sister?** (Especially if you don't have a sister.) A harsh review provides a dissenting opinion, letting folks consider the feedback and decide what matters to them.
  2. Harsh reviews help you nail your target audience. Oh, I'm sure you think you know who your target audience is, but there's nothing like a harsh review to make you realize that a particular type of person is not part of it. Or maybe that there's a disconnect between what you're writing and the audience you intended to reach.
  3. Harsh reviews can help you grow as a writer. A harsh review can be like a highly critical critique partner, except the space constraints generally force the reviewer to focus more on big-picture issues than getting hung up on the details. Like any critique partner, the critic won't always be right; sometimes they'll attribute a problem to the wrong source, or they'll be entirely off-base about a problem. But sometimes they'll be spot-on.
  4. Harsh reviews can strengthen you. I don't just mean as a writer; I've already addressed that. I mean as a person. Nobody likes accepting blame, but forcing yourself to evaluate negative feedback for the germs of truth that might be buried within it can help you handle mistakes you make in life, too.
  5. Harsh reviews provide you with resource material. If you have the nerve to study them, even a troll can provide handy content for you to pull from the next time you need to make a complete donkey of a character. I honestly used to beg for flames when I was a teenager; they were so inspiring.

Now, I'm aware that some people are so depressed by a single harsh review that they'll mope and fret over it and possibly ruin their writing trying to make that single reviewer happy. Don't do that.

There's a secret to being able to handle harsh reviews: You can't make everyone happy.

Got that? You cannot and will not make everyone happy, even in your target audience.

A good friend and I have similar tastes in reading: we both like particular story types, genres, and plot elements. You would think that we share favorite authors.

We don't. In fact, we generally hate each other's favorite books. She loves Vicki Peterson; I prefer Patricia Briggs.

It's taken many attempts to read each others' favorite authors and more discussions on the matter for us to realize: We like different writing styles. On a technical level, something between Vicki Peterson and Patricia Briggs makes each of us love one and dislike the other. Both are fantasy authors who write snarky characters, subtle development, and great humor.

My friend isn't a writer. Okay, so she dabbles with writing, but she's actually an artist. Her paintings are gorgeous.

Imagine if we both were giving feedback to some poor writer. As soon as one of us was elated about a story, the other would go "Meh" or "Ulgh." That writer would have to pick and choose which pieces of our advice to listen to.

Remember: You will not please everyone. Don't try to.

Have you ever entered the "Please everyone" trap?

—Misti

**If you're reading this, Shallon, I do love getting your reviews. I just know that some folks don't take 'em seriously.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Case Study on Earned Critique: How to Take Negative Reviews (2 of 3)

Some of y'all might remember my post on why I pulled my self-published short "Butterfly Boots". The long answer went into my exposure to fan fiction vignettes and international literature making me produce something that didn't fit my audience.

The short answer? I screwed up.

Now, I realize most of you haven't read "Butterfly Boots", but that shouldn't be necessary. My 2 critical reviewers kindly gave me permission to reproduce their reviews here.

This is a Real Story? July 13, 2011

[by Michael P. Gallagher]

I'm not really sure what this was, although I do know I was struggling to figure out what was going on while reading it - and when the ending came I mentally said, "huh?" This something really had no plot, no beginning, and no end. It's almost as if someone just cut and paste a section from something and slapped it into an eBook.

I found it ironic, and chuckled a little, at the end of the story: there is a brief snippet on the author and it says the author is described as a person that "...took her a while to figure out that `finish a story' thing." No kidding. Can I have my five minutes back?

As I type this review, this book is free in the Amazon Kindle store but that shouldn't make you want to try it - there are several hundred short stories for free right now (just type in "short story" as your search term in the Kindle store section of the Amazon website, and sort from lowest to highest price); most of them are pretty good. This one deserves a wide berth, free or not.


Well... the cover is pretty... July 15, 2011

[by Betty Dravis]

I like the cover and the title of this "little offering," so thought it would be a fun read, one that I could pass on to my granddaughter Melissa's mother to read to her. She loves butterflies and has some cute boots of her own.

I've been warned that some E-books are not up to industry standards and can slip between the cracks easily, but this is the first time I've encountered one. Well, I have seldom been so disappointed in a book. It actually doesn't make much sense, which is too bad because the germ of an interesting idea is here... It is just not developed; the dialogue is jerky, it has no structure, and the punctuation is definitely not up to par. :-(

I hate to look a gift horse in the face (since "Butterfly Boots" - a short story (Aleyi) (Tales from Aleyi) was one of the FREE Kindle offerings), but I simply can't give this a good rating. I'm sorry to be so critical, but I will be happy to read something else by Ms. Wolanski after she takes a few more writing courses. She does, indeed, have a good imagination. :-)

Reviewed by Betty Dravis, July 15, 2011
Author of E-book "1106 Grand Boulevard" and other books

Now, before anyone jumps in and calls these two "mean," remember what I said in my last post, about bluntness not necessarily being mean.

Looking into these reviewers, I find it interesting to note that they're both significantly older than I am. I doubt they read fan fiction, where vignettes are popular. In fact, just the complaints on the lack of structure told me that these two weren't familiar with the vignette form of writing. My first impulse was therefore to dismiss their critique, because "Butterfly Boots" was a vignette.

But, after letting the sting subside, I gave "Butterfly Boots" another hard look. Yes, it was exactly what I'd meant it to be. Yes, it was a vignette. Yes, vignettes aren't a standard literature form (in English, anyway).

And I had set "Butterfly Boots" up everywhere as a short story. Not vignette. Short story.

That's like calling first person POV "stream of consciousness". Yes, there are come similarities, and yes, they're related, sort of—but they aren't the same thing. Not at all.

I had screwed up.

I faced a choice. I could repair all the blurbs and descriptions everywhere for "Butterfly Boots" and still frustrate those readers who don't know what a "vignette" is supposed to be. Or I could pull "Butterfly Boots" until I had something more significant to pair it with. As a vignette, it didn't make much sense if you weren't already familiar with the world of Aleyi.

So why on earth had I released it as a stand-alone, a free introduction to my world? I have no clue. I've done stupider things, but I like to think that most of them haven't been as public.

At any rate, I therefore decided to pull "Butterfly Boots" until I could stick it as a bonus with something more substantial. Some folks have expressed disappointment that it's no longer available.

Now, one line in Betty Dravis's review still does bother me: "The punctuation [in "Butterfly Boots"] is definitely not up to par." I follow the Chicago Manual of Style with one British modification that didn't show up in "Butterfly Boots"—but "Butterfly Boots" did use dialect. Professional opinions differ on how to punctuate dialect and how to use it properly.

It was tempting to privately grumble (after checking "Butterfly Boots" again) that someone obviously didn't understand proper apostrophe use with dialect. And while that might be the case, something else occurred to me: I like em dashes and ellipses.

It used to be that those symbols (and accented letters) only showed up properly online if you happened to use the HTML code that matched that special character. OtherwiseÀyour symbols got all messed up.

But web applications have improved in the past 5 years. I'd gotten lazy. I'd left the special characters in "Butterfly Boots", so it's possible that they'd messed up and caused Miss Betty's comment. Possible. That's something I can try to fix with some basic use of TextWrangler and the Find… Replace function.

So I earned those critical comments. I also suspect that some folks will consider me "unprofessional" for sharing this story.

I say "Tough." Negative reviews don't have to crush your soul. Take a deep breath and see if you can learn something from it. It may not be what the reviewer intended, but there's a lesson in that review if you care to learn it.

The line between "professional" and "unprofessional" behavior has always confused me, anyway… probably because opinions differ on where that line is…

Post 3 to come: Why you want harsh reviews.

Have you earned a critical review? How did you handle it?

—Misti

Friday, August 26, 2011

Attitude and Negative Reviews: How to Take Negative Reviews (1 of 3)

When I first started writing online, it was fan fiction, most of it in the Star Wars section on FanFiction.net. I was MistiWhitesun for quite some time, and I was a bit notorious for being "rude and a little mean".

Not that I intended to come across that way. But I didn't mind receiving forthright critical reviews, so I gave them, too. After my feedback left an in-person friend offended and hurt, I approached her to figure out why she was upset. I realized:

  1. Most folks don't see 100% negative feedback as an implied positive. Me, I knew how much time that took to create, so I knew the critic had to see something worthwhile if they bothered to spend their time reviewing.
  2. Folks take negatives better if you couch them between positives. Open with a positive, put the negative in the middle, and close with a positive.

Yes, I actually had to learn that. I'm from the North (of the US), a region that's renowned for being blunt. If someone doesn't like you, they're mean to your face. They aren't all sweet to your face before they backstab you with gossip later. (Yeah, I live in the South(east), now. Talk about culture shock.)

So when folks told me point-blank that a story sucked, I was more inclined to take it as honesty (as they saw it) than meanness.

I have a point to this rambling. A lot of advice online says "Don't read the negative reviews" and "If you must read them, don't reply—and definitely don't agree."

But here's the thing. Negative reviews can be anywhere. Even if you actively try to avoid them, someone will helpfully send you a link to a lackluster review. Someone will send a poorly-formatted rant into your inbox. Your fans may comment on your social media site about this terrible review that they lambasted.

You'll get negative reviews. You'll see some of them, whether you want to or not. So why not learn from them?

Think of negative reviewers as critique partners in a writing group. Some will be wrong. Some will misidentify a problem. And some will be spot on.

What if someone reads your short story and is squicked by the characters who are cousins and lovers? In some regions, that situation doesn't bat an eye. In others, it's legally incest. (And no, the Bible does not have any regulations against first cousins marrying; I mention that because some folks assume it does.)

A reader might be so grossed out by the cousin-lovers that they can't enjoy anything about the story and leave a 1-star review. They may harp on the (presumed) illegality of the relationship. They may call you a pervert and say all sorts of unnecessary things that makes your blood boil.

But what's the actual problem? They can't handle the cousin-lovers. That is not your fault.

I fail to see what's wrong about replying to that person to say "I'm sorry that those characters disgusted you so much. Just so you know, sexual relations between cousins of the first degree is legally permissible in the state of South Carolina." That way, someone else who reads the review gets both sides of the issue.

Now, what if a reader sometimes couldn't keep track of who was speaking? The reader gives the story a 1-star review, saying you don't know how to write, need to take some classes, etc.

A retort "I DO know how to write! I've written professionally for years!" wouldn't help matters. Their opinion of your writing ability isn't the problem. The problem is that one of you wasn't paying attention: either the reader missed some speech transitions, or you didn't put them in. That could be your fault.

So take another look. Maybe the reviewer is way off-base, or not your target audience—or maybe you did screw up the speech transitions. There's even a line in Black Beauty where the wrong name was attributed to the speaker in a conversation. Confused the heck out of me when I was in grade school, until I figured out what had happened.

And then there are the 1-star reviews that complain that the story was a complete waste of time. Those bite, and I've gotten two of them. (I also earned those, and we'll get into why in my next post.)

But consider: What makes someone consider something a waste of time?

When what they get doesn't match what they were expecting. And that, folks, likely is your fault. You (or your publisher) screwed up. The cover, the description, the blurb, the excerpt—something mislead the reader. The reader feels cheated, and you've wasted their time. The chances of them intentionally reading anything else you ever write are slim.

Are there exceptions? Certainly. I know some folks were furious upon getting a graphic novel when they ordered Homecoming by Patricia Briggs, even though it was clearly marked and marketed as a graphic novel. That was their fault, not the author's or publisher's.

Then there are the hateful trolling reviews that are just someone's attempt to tear you down to make themselves feel better, but we'll get into how to approach those in post 3.

Do you read your negative reviews? Why or why not? Do you respond?

—Misti

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