Category Archives: Voice

The Passage into Autumn

Autumn has finally returned here in the Southwest, and we can feel the passing of summer into winter. The harvest and roasting of green chile is almost over, and the leaves have begun to brown along their edges on the trees.

If all goes well, there will be one more burst of blooms from the trimmed rose bushes, and then they’ll go to sleep for the winter.

Some of you already know that the print edition of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic is a finalist in Science Fiction & Fantasy for the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. (The lists are a great way to find authors and publishers located in the Southwest to take a closer look at.)

I’ve been offline almost completely these past two months as I wrestle with the last 1/3 of the sequel novel to Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. What makes it so awkward is that I feel as if I’m collaborating with an earlier version of myself. The novel was started and the first draft finished back in 2013, then got derailed in the editing process due to severe illness and other difficulties.

Health-wise I am finally whole again. So things should get moving rather quickly as autumn passes into winter. I’m excited by what is to come.

I am not the same writer I was back in 2013. I’ve changed. A lot. So most of the sequel got rewritten this year from the ground up … but stays true enough to the 2013 version to not be a complete break from the past.

Book three in the Dorelai Chronicles will be where I can start with a clean slate from the first page.

So now, as the seasons pass from one extreme to another, is a good moment to pause, look around, and enjoy the change in the flowers, grass, and trees. Some parts of the world are waking up, and some are going to sleep. Whichever way it is, may it be wondrous to watch.

Pleasant days, Lynn

 

Every Renown Writer Starts Out a Beginner

Every renown writer you love to read started out as a beginner.

This is so obvious, and yet it gets forgotten so easily since it’s the masterpieces that get remembered when we talk about our favorite dead writers…not the unpublished works and the weak stuff published early on (unless you’re an English major doing research or an obsessive fan).

Very often, people who are not artists or just starting out have this mental gap in their heads about the journey that an artist takes from beginner to master:

beginner———– > luck  ————> master

Mastery and success are attributed to luck.

Well, there’s a middle phase that gets left out:

beginner ——-> apprentice ——> journeyman —> (95% hard work, 5% luck) ——-> master

The apprentice phase for writers is equivalent to the law school phase for someone who wants to be a lawyer. This is the phase where a writer often has to get on a plane to study with a particular writing teacher or to attend a national-level writing workshop. In old novels or movies, this was the point where the young artist packed up to move to an international hub for artists like Paris or New York City or London.

And then there’s the journeyman phase, where the writer has started to sell his or her stories, but there’s still so much to learn. This phase lasts for years to decades, or even a lifetime if the writer decides to stop learning and coast.

As for mastery, it doesn’t spontaneously happen. Don’t ask me why, but people  seem to have a natural tendency to ignore the middle phase when they talk about a particular famous dead writer or fantasize aloud about how easy it would be to write a bestselling novel if they just had the time.

And yet it’s the hard work in journeyman phase that will make or break a writer in becoming a master of the craft.

I think one of the most valuable lessons a writer can do once past the beginner stage is to choose a couple of favorite writers (both living and dead) and read their early works.

So, for example, if you were a huge fan of Charlotte Bronte as a writer, you’d dig up a research book that had her unpublished first writings and probably also a copy of her first novel, The Professor.

Or how about William Shakespeare? Go read his earliest plays (researchers still fight about which play he wrote first, so I’d advise reading several). Then think about how we’d see him now if he’d stopped after those early plays and had never written anything more.

But make sure to also include some favorite recent writers who wrote over a long time frame, twenty years or more.  For example, I went out and bought collections of the early published short stories of three recent writers whose later works I loved to read:  John D. MacDonald’s More Good Stuff, Stephen King’s Night Shift, and James Lee Burke’s The Convict & Other Stories.

This turned out to be an eye-opening exercise for me as I read the unpublished  early works of old greats (such as Jane Austen) and early short stories of favorite present day NYT bestsellers.

Their early works weren’t as well-written as their later works were. They’d gotten better at their craft over time. Big shocker, right?

Of course not.

But I’ve noticed a lot of my fellow Americans like to see their artists as the equivalent of Athena jumping fully formed out of the skull of Zeus. The arts are supposed to be “easy.” You have either “got it” as an artist or you don’t. No hard work, no sweat, no tears, no frustration, no years of dedicated study–as if somehow the arts are different from every other human endeavor.

So reading the early works of these various writers impressed upon me, at a deep gut level, how craft gets better over time as one works at it. Hmm, let me put it bluntly. A few of the early works “sucked.” A few seemed like they showed “no talent.” And yet these writers persevered and became masters of their craft. It would have been a terrible thing if any of these writers had quit during the early days due to a mistaken idea that it was impossible to improve in writing skill.

Every writer starts out a beginner. Where we go from there is up to us.

Writing the Unmarketable Novel

Almost two years ago I finished a YA novel, Soul Cages, that I knew in my heart of hearts was going to be a nightmare for an editor to get past the sales & marketing department of a traditional publisher.

That’s because in my gut I knew it was going to be difficult to get any readers to even want to pick it up. I knew the book was in trouble sales-wise as soon as my usual first reader burst into tears while reading the synopsis, and then refused to read the manuscript. I had to get other readers to take over for that book. Most ended up loving the story, but I never forgot the response of that first reader.

Seeing your first reader cry in sorrow really sucks.

Let’s face it. Most of the time, readers are coming to a story to mentally relax for a while. They’re coming for entertainment. I’d written a story that was a weird horror/romance/special issues tribute to Judy Blume, C. S. Lewis, and Stephen King in one go. It dealt with ugly nasty stuff like family abuse, the way kids with Asperger’s sometimes get treated badly, the abuse of Scripture in the Bible to justify cruelty, and anti-Semitism…among other things.

None of that stuff is appealing for entertainment. Ugh, who wants to read all  that after a bad day?

The novel went through several rounds of editing, but there comes a point when you realize as a writer that you can only make a weird “Frankenstein” novel  marketable by censoring your protagonist and mutilating the story by chopping it up. Chop out the romance, or chop out the horror, or chop out the Asperger’s.

In the end I decided to leave the main character alone. It was her story, not mine, and I decided to let her story stand as she’d told it to me, and I went on to write new stories.

And it was the best decision I ever made. I’ve written another novel and many  short stories since I put Soul Cages to rest, and a lot of exciting things have been happening behind the scenes these last six months. Things that would not have happened if I had attempted to keep rewriting Soul Cages to death.

Soul Cages itself has been released in e-book form, and it is still under consideration with a certain midsize traditional publishing house (though I suspect in the end the editor will fail in getting it past marketing).

I’ve done no email blasts, no blog tours, no ads, no book launch party, no “push” of any sort. And I don’t intend to. My limited work time is better spent writing new stories to improve my craft, and some of those new stories will prove to be more marketable–i.e. more appealing to readers–than Soul Cages is.

But am I sorry that I wrote Soul Cages? Do I feel I wasted my time by working on an unmarketable novel?

No.

I think it’s good for an artist to write at least one story where it feels like you’re spitting in the eye of the market. Writing that unmarketable novel made me a better writer by making me a gutsier writer, and I think I’ll be reaping the benefits for decades to come.

Thoughts on How Instant Feedback Can Impact the Voice of Some Writers

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I turned comments off on my blog back in November 2010 due to severe time constraints:

I didn’t know what impact it would have, but one of the surprising results was that now my blog thoughts sometimes dig deeper into things.  The time I used have to waste wading through spam in the queue instead gets spent thinking and writing the post instead.

Since writing those words, I’ve been mulling things in my mind, and I’ve come to realize that there’s more to this than having more time to think now that I’m no longer babysitting a blog comments queue.  (I do, however, still have comments flipped on in Facebook and a Contact Me page so people can talk to me direct when they need to.)

There’s the issue of a writer’s voice, or what I’ve nicknamed the “Aw, crap” factor–as in, “Aw, crap, if I write about that, I’ll have to deal with too many comments. I want to spend that time writing instead.”

So instead of writing the post that might stir things up, I’d write something bland that would have no risk of being interesting enough to trigger responses from people.

Writers who have the extra time to referee a comments section don’t have this “Aw, crap” problem. But it’s become clear to me that I do.  And I suspect there are other writers out there as well who are subconsciously making their posts bland because they also have time crunch issues.

A few months after I turned off comments, I finally felt comfortable enough to do livelier blog posts, and my web traffic jumped. I also started writing things that would unexpectedly catch the eye of other, more established, bloggers. It’s too soon for me to tell what the permanent increase in web traffic will be since the spikes in traffic happened so recently. I’ve seen spikes as high as 10x the November traffic.  Maybe 2x – 3x? I’m guessing at this point.

So if you’ve got a severe time squeeze, you might want to give flipping comments off on blog posts for a few months a try to see if the “Aw, crap” factor has been in play.

Also, the same “Aw, crap” factor can come into play if a writer posts fiction online with comments flipped on. I’m never going to post fiction with comments turned on, since I’ve already learned I’m too likely to self-censor myself to avoid comments.

I can easily imagine myself thinking, “Aw, crap, I don’t want to write that story idea because it will piss off too many people and I’ll have to deal with too many comments and fights between readers who either love it or hate it. I don’t have the time for that. Let me write something soothing instead.”

And so I’d end up writing something so boring it would put everyone to sleep. I’d stifle my voice as a writer for fear of having to deal with too many comments.

Hmm, I think this happens quite a bit to writers even outside the world of posting fiction online. It’s so much easier to write stories that are bland and soothing and make everyone go “Zzzzz…” so that one can tiptoe away before they wake up. Stories that are lively stir everyone up like bees so that they break into camps and start fighting about the story (some love it, some hate it).

Of course, some writers thrive on controversy and fistfights and instant feedback.  Their writing gets better, instead of worse. So it’s important to experiment and see what works best since each writer is different.

Good luck testing all of this. May you find the path that suits you best.

Ray Bradbury and the Enthusiasm that Becomes a Writer’s Voice

Yesterday I stumbled across a 22 minute interview with Ray Bradbury done by the National Endowment for the Arts’ “The Big Read” program.   It’s well worth watching.  There’s even a loud car purr to relax by 😀

But, watching this interview, I was struck by just how vivid and alive Bradbury is compared to some people I’ve met.  He’s refused to be mocked by the world into disguising, hiding, and getting rid of his enthusiasms, and it shows.

How many people do you know go to Paris to walk the streets while stopping to read TENDER IS THE NIGHT along the way?  It’s the actual physical act of getting out into the world and colliding with it that can generate so many new ideas.

Enthusiasms can also act as road signs of what to write about as a writer.   They can help a writer find his or her voice.  For example, a passion for astronomy could turn into a science fiction story or a literary novel about an astronomer.  And I’ve noticed how “catching” enthusiasm is.  I’m not into cars, but by watching the hosts of “Top Gear” on the BBC talk with passion about cars, I’ve caught some of their enthusiasm and am starting to pay attention to the cars and trucks I see daily.

Bradbury has priceless advice to give on finding one’s voice as a writer, both in ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING and in this “The Big Read” interview.  Check them out.