Let’s Talk About Writing Groups!

 Before we get to the discussion today, I’d like to thank any readers who purchased and commented on Warrior, my newly released novel. For those of you who don’t know what it is, you can check it out here. If it looks interesting and you read it, be sure to leave some feedback somewhere. I love hearing from readers.

Anyways, I’d like to talk about writing groups today. They’re an important part of any person’s development as a writer, whether they take place online or face-to-face. Why? Writing groups get you in touch with other people, writers and readers, and people are good for your writing.

We need audiences when we work on our writing. A single person is not capable of looking at their work and seeing all the necessary revisions needed. More importantly, our best work happens when we write with others, not alone.

We’ve all had that one misconception of a good writer. They’re that person who sits in a room lit by candlelight. They peck away at a typewriter for hours, agonizing over each line, and everything they write is golden because that person has something special that no one else has.

This is a false notion. All great writers have a great editor, or a horde of them, that help out during the writing process. When there’s a group of people reading your work, you have the benefit of multiple perspectives on your writing. One person can read your work and have a problem with something. You might not change it. If four people have a problem with the same thing and actually talk their way through what specifically troubles them about it, then you actually have something to work with.

Writing groups are essential for this reason. Your story will never please every single person on the planet, but it can become something incredible by working with the people around you. And writing groups are a great way to get free editing and consulting on your work 🙂

The next big reason you should join a writing group: you will read other people’s work.

Reading and responding to another person’s work will not only let you experience a broader scope of writing, it will make you a better writer. I’m serious. A 2003 study by Jay Simmons examined several classes of high school and college students over the course of three years. Their collective data showed that students who had the opportunity to respond to peer writing the most often also scored higher in writing assignments.

So do yourself a favor and get a writing group together. Make a google doc, meet some locals. If you’ve got an internet connection, there’s really no excuse for writing alone. Try out some websites like fictionpress.com or wattpad.com. If you’re not writing strictly original fiction, join the communities at fanfiction.net or archiveofourown. They’re all great sources for writers to make connections with one another.

So audience, what have your experiences with writing groups been? If any?

Let’s Talk About Attention Economy!

Yeah, that’s a pretty big, fancy phrase I’m throwing around – attention economy. Fear not! It means pretty close to what it sounds like. 

The attention economy is the coined term used by some to define the economic system of the internet. Michael Goldhaber points out in his 1997 conference presentation that the internet primarily funnels information to people. In this sense, information is a product of the internet, an abundant one.

Why do we care about this? Well, that’s what I’m selling right now, information. Hopefully it’s in an entertaining and digestible format so you, the reader/viewer/audience, can understand what’s going on in the world.

I’m not really charging for this information, though. There’s no reason to. You could go google and read up on attention economy just as easily. There’s something else I’m (and every other internet user) is after with this blog: your attention.

Attention is the currency of the internet, or so attention economy theorists claim. It’s something I’m inclined to agree with, and it’s important that you understand this economy as a struggling young writer/blogger/youtuber because it’s what makes your paycheck. That’s right. Attention is what makes the money thing happen. Why else do we pay Facebook to generate likes for our pages? If you’re an independent writer, there is nothing more valuable in the world than other people talking up your book, mentioning it to others, or generally just posting a link to something related to your work anywhere on the internet.

Generally, people need to be entertaining in order to hold onto that attention. Something boring and educational like this little blog probably won’t generate a lot of interest (sorry reader who finds this fascinating!), but is good to get out there when the creative mood strikes you.

So! What can you, an indie writer, do to get some interest generated on the internet? Well, there are a few immediate options. My favorite one is fanfiction.

MeGustaFinal

Yes, fanfiction is a very good way to generate attention as a writer, and it’s so freaking fun! It also lets your readers share a fandom with you and brings you down from that “untouchable paragon” status that a lot of writers get awarded. I don’t really like being an untouchable paragon. I wrote my original fiction because no one else was writing epic fantasies with lesbians and I WANTED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT THESE FEELS! It just so happens that along the way, someone else decided I was kinda worthwhile as a writer and rolled me up into their little publishing company. Still, you see me out here, shouting into the void at you guys, begging for your attention.

All internet celebs do this. Every blog, tweet, vlog, or tumblr post is an attempt to connect with another human, and some of us just happen to make money out of making those connections possible. More often, I see community builders getting rewarded for providing a public space of interaction. Livestreamers on twitch.tv can get donations from subscribers and people in the chatroom while they play their games. Artists solicit donations for comic panels and site maintenance. These creators, comedians, and entertainers are making an epicenter for human interaction.

So, dear writer, I suppose what I’m saying is that you should make yourself an epicenter, put yourself out there a little bit. Give people something to discuss and stop hoarding away every story you write in the hopes that some agent will pay you for it one day (spoiler alert: I kinda dislike the concept of agents). Share a short story, write a rant, post that fanfic you had an idea for, make photo collages for tumblr, be part of a community! Give your readers your attention. Have a conversation with them. Listen! They might just give you some of their attention in return.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Talk it up with me! I love responding to comments, I promise 🙂

What do you all think of this new internet economy?

Also, I’d like to thank my readers for keeping Warrior in the top 100 for lesbian romance all week now. Y’all rock. Leave a review when you’re done!

Let’s Talk About Clean Prose!

Well, I really do suck at updating a blog regularly. Let’s ignore that and get right to the point, the pen’s point if you will.

Some of you may have heard that the Golden Crown Literary Society is meeting up this weekend for their annual conference. This conference hosts the Golden Crown Literary award ceremony, a pretty big deal in lesbian fiction.

I try to read most of the books that win a Goldie, though I have some catching up to do. Currently, I am slogging through The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer, which won a Goldie in the Speculative Fiction category for 2012. About halfway through the story I set it down to check out some of the reviews on GoodReads (which I’m glad I did!) to see how others thought about it.

A lot of people had the same thing to say: I wanted to like this book, really! I think that mantra is the only thing powering me through this novel. I want to like it. Badly. Who wouldn’t want to? It’s a lesbian retelling of the story of Persephone and Hades, except without the freaky kidnapping. It’s gold! Or it should have been.

Before I continue any further, I want to say that Sarah Diemer is a good writer. The prose just fell flat for me in The Dark Wife, which made it all the more disappointing in light of its Goldie. Many of the repeated problems in the prose were minor, slap-of-the-wrist fixes that are often shot down by a writer’s extremely talented editor. Since Ms. Diemer self-published this story, I’m guessing she did not have a horde of editors to sound off ideas with. As a result, the story had some repetitive problems that many writers suffer from.

And before you start thinking that editors just rinse out the originality of a story and writers need to be free and fuck the system man its overrated you be free as a bird and do whatevah you want!, just stop. Stop right there. Because (finally) we’ve hit the point of this update.

When we write, we owe it to our readers to deliver a polished story that fully accomplishes what we wrote it to accomplish. Things like purple prose, excessive dialogue tags, too many commas, and awkward syntax get in the way of meeting that goal (unless your goal is to highlight those problems in writing).

Why do they get in the way? I’ll tell you.

One or two prose-oddities in a story are good. But what if that obtuse prose keeps popping up? What if the main character keeps having heavy, weepy, rageful, ecstatic FEELINGS on every single page? It would be like eating cake for every single meal. Eventually, you’re going to get sick of the cake.

And I eventually get sick of overly thought-out prose. I think one of my favorite things to hate on is using two verbs to describe one action. This is a nice touch when it’s an important action to highlight. It’s different, so it tells the reader, “Hey! Something interesting is happening. Wake up!”
But if every single person needs two actions to highlight one (ie, he barked a laugh, she skipped a hop, he bellowed a shout) it’s going to get exhausting. The same thing goes for adverbs: Slowly, carefully, lowered down from the ledge, Sammy walked herself down the path.

Do you see what I mean? This sentence highlights actions first, the person second, and the destination last. People consistently, pathologically arrange sentences with the person first, the action second, and any objects or destinations last. This sentence tells me that the actions are more important than the person. Used sparingly, tricks like this are useful. Used consistently, you can get some very unhappy readers.

This kind of prose distracts people by nature. It forces the reader’s brain to decipher something, and not in a this-makes-me-think-about-deeper-issues-that-resonate-with-our-chaotic-and-dissonant-world sort of way. The reader gets pulled out of the story. If that is your goal, then congratulations, get to it.

But there are stories out there that use this prose. They use it without meaning to give their readers mental whiplash. This prose highlights the author and their pen strokes, not the characters and their world. But the story is about the characters and their world, okay?

Here’s the problem. The prose keeps the reader from getting what you (dear writer) want them to get out of the story. It’s something we all struggle with, myself included. It’s also something we can fix if we just paid attention to our own damn sentences.

I think that’s the advisory for today. Pay attention to your sentences. Never just write something and call it good. Re-read it, first! Hell, I even proof-read this blog before I posted it. And I found messy sentences. Good job, me. You get a gold star.

So readers, did you enjoy anything in this post? Let me know! I want to hear your thoughts on writing creatively and effectively. Leave a comment, please.

Another book? And there’s sex in it?

That’s right. With my coauthor, Rae D Magdon, I just released another book for purchase. This time around, we’ve gone through the publishing company Desert Palm Press, and let me quickly thank my editor and fellow writers for their support throughout the process. I should probably also thank Rae for putting up with me through all the drama of being a full-time student, employee, and writer. That’s kind of tough!

For those of you who have not been following, Rae and I worked together on a sci-fi novel (read: erotic novella set in a sci-fi universe) titled Dark Horizons. It’s now available in print and electronically, and I don’t know how to feel about finally being at this level. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I held the first copy of that paperback to my chest and sobbed when it arrived. Having something you wrote in print like that is seriously cool.

But I’m also conflicted. As the reviews for Dark Horizons pour in, I keep on noticing a trend. Like All The Pretty Things (which I only wrote like 1/4 of), Dark Horizons receives some flak for being too short with not fully realized characters. People also are commenting on the abundance of sex scenes and lack of other scenes. I guess this is because Rae and I wrote it as an erotic novel. It’s express purpose is to entertain people in the bedroom department. Normally, erotic novels are easy to recognize for what they are and people don’t expect much more from them. So, why do people so nicely ask for me and Rae to write something with a more involved plot?

I suppose it’s my fault. You see, I have a hard time writing strict erotica. I let the feels get in the way like no other. I also have a thing about character dynamics and helplessly long plot structures that I’m sure many of my readers adore just as much as me. Because of this, I took a lot of opportunities to cut out sex scenes and insert character development scenes, and as I imagine the sequel (YES, THREE-STAR READERS, THERE WILL BE A LONGER AND MORE INVOLVED SEQUEL :D), I can only think of plot points and dramatic dialogues, but I have a hard time imagining where the sex will go (NO ONE TELL RAE). Of course, the sex scenes will end up in there and hopefully it will be longer and more involved and hopefully Rae and I will find that balance our readers are seeking.

That paragraph basically meant to say that I tried to turn Dark Horizons into a sci-fi romance when it was originally just meant to be a smut novel. The final product is an item stuck in limbo that may readers still love, and for that, I am grateful. All you people out there who haven’t read it, go give the story a try, but know going into it that the premise of the story is “How do we get these two characters to have lots of sex?” And when you’re done, leave a reveiw because I do cherish all of your constructive criticism.

I do have one favor to ask. If you review, please stop explicitly describing the sex scenes in your comments. For some moronic reason, I told my mother my pen name and then forbade her from reading the smut novels. Instead, she reads the reviews you lovely people write about my stories, and some of you plainly tell her what Rae and I write those characters doing, and I don’t need that in my life am somewhat embarrassed to know my mother knows what those stories contain.

But readers will do what readers do. Any review left is appreciated, and you can be as explicit or not as you want. Thank you for taking the time to read this rant. I sincerely hope those of you who read Dark Horizons enjoy it.

UPDATE: My fantasy epic / romance novel is just about done. I’ll be sending it off to the editor April 1. You can look for Chronicles of Osota: Warrior this summer. For those of you who prefer a longer, more traditional-style romance novel with lesbians, this story will offer more of that. It’s also about 40,000 words longer than Dark Horizons, so if you like sprawling epics, it’s good for that, too.

Thank you all for reading. I’ll try to update this blog more regularly with helpful writerly advice now that some of my more ambitious projects are out of the way.

Writing Lesbian Characters

First of all, a huge thank you to my readers who have helped make All The Pretty Things a huge success. Rae and I would be nowhere without you all.

Now that thanks are out of the way, let’s get on to talking about writing.

So, mainstream media is slowly seeing an introduction of more and more lesbian characters. On the whole, I think this is a good thing. When I was a teenager, I often felt angry at the lack of lesbian characters in mainstream media because I had nothing to relate to. In reality, there were quite a few. The television shows Degrassi and South of Nowhere were accessible for me, though late in the game considering I was entering young adulthood before these shows moved anywhere within my sphere of knowledge. And at the same time, those shows still did not really have a “lesbian” character. They had female characters that exercised their right to heteroflexibility from season to season. To be fair, I hear South of Nowhere ended on a better note concerning it’s “lesbian” characters.

Still, this whole conundrum points to a sticky situation with the inclusion of lesbian characters into shows, mainly that most of these main character are not true “lesbians”. And then we get into the whole discussion of the fluidity of sexuality – down with labels! And yes, this is all good, but at the same time, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth when I am hard-pressed to find within the mainstream media a good example of a straight-up lesbo couple, or just two women in love. I think the best example that comes to mind is the long-standing relationship between Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who.

But am I even entitled to push for the inclusion of more lesbian characters in mainstream media? Why can’t Rizzoli & Isles be a couple? Why not Myka and Helena? Why can’t we indulge in these feels rather than tease? I know lesbians only make up a small portion of the population, but I believe less than 1% of television characters represent a healthy homosexual dynamic, and while many dramas present a certainly less-than-healthy heterosexual dynamic, there are still vastly more well-written, wonderful heterosexual couples that I adore, and all I’d like to see is perhaps a handful more to add to my Vastra/Jenny ship, the only canon pairing of a lesbian couple I think I absolutely love, and one of those happens to be a lizard woman from the dawn of time.

My coauthor recently told me how she just wanted a film company that took the summer blockbusters and replaced all the sexy main male characters with sexy female characters instead that did the exact, same thing. A little unrealistic, I know, but I think this desire brings to light a very important concept. Having “lesbians”, or just two women in a  relationship, does not necessarily make the romance function any differently from the heterosexual counterparts. Perhaps that is what I’m getting at. It’s not that the entertainment industry needs more girls kissing, it’s that it needs more genuine relationships. Knock off these shallow, 3-5 episode teasers where a female character has her “lesbian” phase.

Come to think of it, Willow and Tara and Xena and Gabrielle were also good examples of two women portrayed in a relationship. While the romance was muted with Xena and Gabrielle, there was a definite, serious treatment of the relationship, and the same goes for Willow and Tara, side characters in the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.

But these characters have been retired from the media scene. We need new characters. We need to keep pushing the envelope. Lesbian characters, like every other character from any walk of life, deserve a spot in media. Any character that breaks the norm deserves a spot, and not a fleeting appearance. I’m just pushing the lesbian thing because I happen to be plugged into that scene. I think it largely informs the way I write. I create fantasy, adventure, and sci-fi novels with lesbians in them specifically because I want more books to read with these exact situations in them.

And of course, none of this is to say that something is no good without a lesbian character. There are works of literature, art, and media that I adore with no mention of lesbian characters whatsoever. The writing is just good enough on it’s own. These movies and stories can be thought-provoking, deep, wonderful, and loved for their portrayal of the love between a young couple regardless of any one person’s gender. But when it’s all said and done, I’m not always going to read or watch the deeper stuff. Sometimes I just want what everyone else has. I want the entertainment factor. I want plain. I want predictable. I want a silly romcom or 20-book sci-fi series that I can consume like junk food. And maybe I want it specifically because the audience that caters to light lesbian reading is so small. Maybe denial of a genre has made me long for it more. Or maybe I see it as a point of pride to achieve integration into the mass market of media.

Like this rant? Hate it? Leave a comment!

Legit Publishing

So a little over a week ago, I published All The Pretty Things with my coauthor Rae D Magdon. We went through Kindle Direct Publishing figuring that it would be the fastest, easiest way to reach the few fans we managed to collect over the years. Fast-forward nine days and we’ve sold over 500 copies and are listed as #1 seller for kindle sales in Lesbian Romances. Crazy, right?

We did all of this ourselves, though. We didn’t send out query letters. We didn’t talk to agents, didn’t pursue publishing companies, didn’t do anything my writing professors advised. It was just us and the supportive community of the interwebs. Now the question is: are we legitimately published?

I think the answer is yes. I think this new form of indie publishing has gotten a bad reputation from the abuse of anyone using it, but I think if a professional approaches it in the right direction, it is just as legitimate as any other form of publication. That being said, I think indie publishing opens up authors to some shortcuts I do not advise them to take.

To begin with, there’s no one but you running the operation when you self-publish to an online format. That means that if you’re not looking for help, no one is going to edit your story but you, and that is not acceptable. I don’t think authors should go out and pay for a book doctor, but I think now more than ever writers need to network with one another and exchange resources with one another. Writers in groups will get access to five or six competent editors, some of them more often than not with degrees or real world experience. Someone asked me one day if I thought there was a loss of quality in writing through the self-publishing route. I think as long as a writer is working with other quality writers and editors, they have the potential to be just as high quality as a book that was published through a company.

Honestly, indie publishing is going to become a serious form of getting your book out there, just like kickstarter can be a legitimate form to fund serious projects. If writers get lazy, their work won’t sell. It’s as simple as that.

But it’s a hard gig. I sit here panicking once every few hours that I’m not doing enough to make sure it stays successful. I got into writing and publishing because I wanted to reach a wide audience. I wanted people to read my stories and find something worthwhile in them, and waiting to see what will happen in the next few months is tough. It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to do as a writer.

So, I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. If you like what I said, or disagree, go ahead and comment. I’m always happy to have a conversation about writing. And if you like lesbian romances, you might consider checking out the novel All The Pretty Things. You can comment on it through goodreads or amazon if you feel like. If not, Rae and I are always providing new and interesting fanfiction, always for free.