It Sounds Familiar – Finally

I’m finally back to fixing the end bits of It Sounds Familiar for a March release.

It turns out that while I can meet my ambitious goals for writing and producing, it’s unfair to dump a new novel on my writers group and expect them to get through it in a month (unless it’s a beta read).  Lessons learned!

More details to come as I get this wrapped up.

It Sounds Familiar book cover
Cover of A Familiar Story – Book II: It Sounds Familiar.

No Joke, I’m Doing a Reading April 1

I’ll be reading at Dream Haven Books & Comics from 6:30-7:45 pm, on April 1, 2020.The current plan is that I will read from It Sounds Familiar, which should be available by then.

This event is free and open to the public. And if my story isn’t working for you, you can always browse the collection of science fiction, fantasy, and comics to add to your own collection.

Parking is available in the lot and on the street.

MarsCon 2020 – Con Report

Had another lovely MarsCon this past weekend. I got to do a little bit of everything I wanted, including talking writing with some excellent people (on panels and more casually out and about) and finding a few more anime shows to watch with the kids. We also got to see some of our friends who we don’t get together with nearly often enough.

Programming

I was on seven panels this year, five of which I moderated and two that were moderated by Kathryn Sullivan. We are frequently on panels together as she also swims in the young adult (YA) speculative fiction pool. My favorite thing about her is that she doesn’t beat around the bush on the tough issues, and she stays so positive while doing so.

I was able to coax Ozgur K. Sahin onto three of my panels. I’m always happy to have him at the table, because even if something goes horribly awry, no one will get bored with him there. Where I have home-field advantage on character building, Ozgur is by far better at plot, and he had a lot to add on both these topics. He creates historical fiction (and his book table display is an inspiration for the rapidly approaching point when I will need to manage a table at events). As he came to the indie writing path by a different route, it was great having him on my Saturday morning indie writing panel.

I was fortunate to run into T. Aaron Cisco, a Minneapolis author of Afrofuturism and hard science fiction on Friday night. I met him on a diversity panel at last year’s MarsCon, and we both read at Word Brew in October. In addition to being a genuinely nice person and an early Doctor Who fan (Whovians unite!), T. Aaron Cisco a really funny and engaging speaker. With a bit of help from social media, I was able to draft him onto my indie writer panel as well. This resulted in three completely different perspectives, which was what I was hoping for. It was probably my favorite panel of the weekend.

Authors Kathryn Sullivan, T. Aaron Cisco, and S.N.Arly in the hallway between panels.
Kathryn Sullivan, T. Aaron Cisco, and S.N.Arly standing in the hotel hallway between panels.

My last panel of the con, wasn’t really a panel since it was just me at the table. I’ll be honest, I was not expecting much of an audience at 1 pm on Sunday to hear about Midwestern mythological monsters. However, the room was packed! And the audience became excellent participants as we discussed the reasons why so many writers go back to European monsters and what cool critters we could be using here. I’m super excited to explore ways to add these creatures into my own work.

Girl Scout Cookies and Kids at the Con

MarsCon has a long history of supporting Girl Scout cookie sales. We’ve had one-hour cookie booths the last few years. This year, the con was a little short on participating Girl Scouts, so we had three two-hour cookie booths. While it was kind of a lot, it ended up not being too much for 然然 (Ran Ran). We shared our cookie memes, got to see lots of people on their way to different events, and sold a bunch of cookies (victory thy name is Peanut Butter Patties). We sold 101 packages at the booth and 36 to people who contacted us ahead of the convention with pre-orders.

Meme. Screen capture from the Princess Bride. Text reads: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. Would you like to buy some cookies?

This year we gave the spawn a bit more free rein, and they handled it very well. They had a great time, stayed up waaaay too late, and managed to not get into any trouble, so it was a win for everyone. It felt like the tween/teen population was smaller than usual, and I’m hoping that’s just a blip that will resolve next year. Nerdy kids need nerdy social activities, and it helps if the nerdy kids are actually there.

Anime

Since my son 百仁 (Bai Ren) didn’t really have any con friends to hang out with this year (and herding the little sister is only fun for so long), we spent some time together primarily checking out anime in either the YA/Anime programming room or the Anime Fusion party room.

S.N.Arly dressed as Elizabeth Lioness from the Seven Deadly Sins (Nanatsu No Taizai).
S.N.Arly as Elizabeth Lioness.

Now on our list to check out, having sat through a few episodes, are:

  • Full Metal Panic
  • Blue Exorcist
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion
  • Last Exile
  • Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

All in all, a great convention. We’re already registered for next year.

Getting Ready for the Con

I’m wrapping up my preparations for this weekend’s convention, MarsCon. It’s one of my all time favorite cons partly because it includes a bit of everything: costumes, media, anime, gaming, props, demonstrations, art show, dealer’s room, stuff for the kids, parties, movies, science room, and panel discussions on science, fantasy, writing, fandoms, and so many other things. This particular convention also features an entertainment track featuring parody and nerd core musicians.

Tonight I’ll be moderating a panel on plot. I’m one of those moderators who prefers to prepare in advance with a list of questions and resources should they be needed. My goal isn’t to follow a set path, as really good panels can often grow organically. But I figure if folks came in to hear or participate in the panel on plot, going off on a tangent on the history of Girl Scout cookies is really not giving the audience what they came for.

I expect to have some new article ideas, and a boost to my motivation on the Indie Writer series after this weekend.

MarsCon 2020 (Feb 28 – Mar 1)

MarsCon (FB page) is coming up next weekend, and I’ve got a full schedule! Here are the places you can definitely find me:

Friday
08:00 pm – Writing Craft: Plot – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)

Saturday
10:00 am – A Peek Into the Indie Writer World – Krushenko’s (Room 1117)
12:00-2:00 pm – Girl Scout Cookie Booth
4:00 pm – Psi Powers: Science Fiction or Fantasy or What? Krushenko’s (Room 1117)
5:00-6:00 pm Girl Scout Cookie Booth
7:00 pm – Through the Magic Door: The Appeal of Portal Fantasy – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)
8:00 pm – Dealing With Rejection – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)

Sunday
11:00 am – 12:00 pm – Girl Scout Cookie Booth
12:00 pm – Writing Craft: Character Development – Krushenko’s (Room 1117)
1:00 pm Midwest Mythologic Creatures – Re(a)d Mars (III – Eagle’s Nest)

A Peek Into the Indie Writer World – Part VI: Big Picture Advice and Pitfalls

Indie writers come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are old school traditionally published writers who’ve decided to try something new, while others are newer at their craft and have eschewed the traditional model in favor of something they have some control over. Since our paths may be different, the tiny details of how to accomplish our goals may vary, but there are basic recommendations that apply to all of us.

Big Picture

Learn the Business

Your indie writer gig is effectively a business, whether it’s a part-time side job or your primary source of income. It’s in your best interest to have a grasp of the basics of both running a business (how do taxes work where you live, what do you need to be documenting?) and how publishing works in general.

You don’t need a business degree and you don’t need to take hundreds of dollars in courses on the publishing industry. But you do need a foundation to launch from.

Have a Plan

Without a plan, it’s hard to figure out where to start and what you’re even aiming for. Define what your goals as an indie writer are and map out a plan to achieve those goals. Your plan can change to fit what you have going on in your life. I review my plan every three months because I have a tendency to make overly ambitious plans that need revision along the way.

Know Your Limits

When you’re running a creative venture it’s critical that you use your self-awareness to accurately identify your limits. If you lack good self-awareness, find a friend or two who you trust to be honest in helping identify what tasks you really can do, and what should you outsource. Knowing your limits applies to everything. Deadlines, timelines, editing, design, cover, business filing (ISBN and LCCN), and public relations are all impacted by skills and natural knack. There’s no shame in getting someone with the skills to ensure your work gets the presentation and publicity it deserves.

Pitfalls for Everyone

Like advice, the places where you’re likely to go misstep will be very different from someone else. These are the ones that are the most universal.

Writer Beware Issues

For every creative dream, there is a skeezy jerk with a too-good-to-be-true scam. Unfortunately a lot of predatory companies have learned to cut back on the shiny so they look reliable and legit.

As an indie writer, there are a lot of things you may choose to outsource, and before you pick anyone to distribute your work or package it for you, take a close look. Influencer commentary and reviews shouldn’t be your end point of research, since both of these are pretty easy to fabricate or buy. Check for complaints with the better business bureau, and talk to other writers (this is where a network can be handy).

Separate Your Business and Personal Finances

If you aren’t going to go all in and become a small company, the least you should do is have separate bank accounts. In the United States, it’s a really good idea to become a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). This protects your personal finances should something go horribly wrong and your writing business gets sued. Different countries have different tax and litigation regulations, so be sure you’re doing what’s best for where you live.

Don’t get Impatient

A lot of writers get impatient especially near the end, but rushing the publishing can result in a book full of typos, plot holes the size of Australia, and off-putting covers. Save your project from an unprofessional end product; resist the temptation to rush. You put so much time and effort into writing the book. Don’t throw that all away at the end.

Get a Unique ISBN for Each Edition

A lot of writers miss this detail on their first go round (or even longer). To ensure you get the best benefit of the ISBN process, make sure each type of output has its own number. If your book is coming out as an ebook, trade paperback and audio book, you’ll need three ISBNs.


This advice is just the start. Once you know you’re going indie, find resources and articles that apply to your specific situation and current knowledge to help you navigate your first release or two without making mistakes. There’s always more to learn, so be careful researching the process doesn’t become a procrastination tactic. If it helps, you can think of your first indie project as on the job training, a place where you will make a few mistakes and come out better for it.



For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part V.

For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.

Unfair Writer Brain

Brain (extra enthusiastically): GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!

Me: I am not in, nor have I ever visited Vietnam.

Brain (even more enthusiastically): GOOD MORNING MINNESOTA!

Me: Cool, cool.  Could you give me like five minutes?

Brain (talking quickly): Yep.  It’s a busy day.  I’ve seen the schedule.  Paying clients, new year prep at the high school, finish that fan thing, get back to MarsCon on programming… Lots to do!

Me (exasperated): Yeah. I know.  

Brain: And you really need to crank out a story for group, if you guys are ever going to meet again.

Me: I’m aware of this.

Brain: Great!  So I can just cut to the chase.

Me: Seriously, can you give me five minutes.  I’m trying to finish meditating here.

Brain: But… story idea!

Me: Yes.  And I want it, but… can you just hang on?  Please?

Brain (so much judging): What, so you can sit there and breathe?  Yeah, yeah.  Present moment.  Perfect moment.  You’re in the living room.  You’re breathing.  Great job! Meditation done.

Me: Urgh.  That’s not quite how it works.

Brain (dismissive): Sure it does. We just did guided meditation, with me as your guide along this path we call life.

Me: I’ve still got like… two and a half, three minutes to go.

Brain: I’m not sitting here for three minutes while you focus on existing.  Besides, what’s more fun, trying not to think about anything other than observing your breathing or contemplating the nature of selkies?

Me: Please stop.

Brain: Seeeelkieeeeees.

Speed Writing #15 – Heatwave

  The power was out, as it had been for the last three days.  Caleb sat on the front steps, leaning against the railing and fanning himself with the lid from the largest Tupperware bowl he’d been able to find.  The neighborhood was smothering in the sticky silence of the second brutal heat wave of the summer.  Nobody on this side of town could afford generators to power fans and refrigerators, and it was nearly too hot to move.  For some of the city’s elderly folks, moving too much had been a fatal mistake.

 Transformers were popping faster than the utility company could repair them, and it had become normal to hear the big diesel trucks rumbling around the city at all hours.  They still had water, but even it was warm, and he had to keep reminding himself to sip the liquid to replace what he was rapidly losing.

  The house was stuffy and oppressive.  The front porch was marginally better; there was a hint of a breeze every so often.  It wasn’t much, but he suddenly found he didn’t really need a lot to be content.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the fact that eating just made him feel sick, or it was the increasing certainty that nature really had it out for him, but suddenly life was a whole lot simpler.

He closed his eyes and focused on his breath, the only real sound he could pick up.

 An almost inaudible low rumble rolled in the distance, and he slowly raised his head.  The sky was still gray, it had tricked people into expecting rain for a week or more.  But there was movement in the clouds now, sluggish, like the city, but present nonetheless.  He stared into the sky, half expecting it to be his mind playing tricks on him.  A bolt of lightning arced across the sky.  Moments later, thunder answered.

He didn’t want to get his hopes too high, and given the lethargy, it was easy not to.  He simply sat and waited to see what would come of this.  It may just be a cruel tease of nature, or it could be salvation.

Time didn’t matter so much, as he sat and sipped his tepid water, fanning himself with his plastic lid.  Eventually the breeze picked up, and with it, the neighborhood seemed to slowly come awake.  Neighbors who had been hiding in their bathtubs or basements crept out onto their front steps and yards.  The pretty lady across the street, who Caleb hadn’t quite gotten the nerve to introduce himself to, settled herself on the railing of her front porch.

 There was a new tension in the air.  While he could hear a little quiet muttering, no one seemed too keen to break the silence.  It was as if they were afraid too much talk would turn back the shower they all desperately awaited.  It wouldn’t have.  Caleb could see that in the clouds.  There was too much power wound up in this storm.  Under normal circumstances, he would have been more than a little worried about the potential for devastation, but now he embraced even that.

 It seemed only minutes and the neighborhood was plunged into twilight, though true night was hours off.  With no streetlights, it felt eerie, like a ghost town.  Next came great gusts of wind.  That alone started stirring people up.  It wasn’t exactly cool, but it had a cooling effect on a sweaty body.  Then the fat drops starting to fall,  rare and scattered few before becoming regular.

 Caleb levered himself off the steps, raising his face to the rain.


Prompt: thunderstorm after a menacing heatwave and we’re both getting weird looks for dancing in the rain

Note: I’m still off my game from the cold apparently.  Never even got to the dancing part, which is a bummer.  It was going to be epic.

Write That Fight

Fight scenes are an almost essential element in speculative fiction; some people have a natural ability to incorporate these into their writing, while others do their best to write their way around every punch. If you suck at writing these, should you bother trying to improve? I’m glad you asked. Any time you improve on a weakness, you make yourself a better writer. Plus, fight scenes can add so much to the story.

Fight scenes don’t need to be just filler. I’d argue that they shouldn’t be used this way. Unless you’re writing the fighting version of erotica (all fighting, all the time! fightica? fightfic?), in which case, have at it.

Fights in the real world are usually over very quickly and can crop up at random, since life has no plot. This is less satisfying in fiction, where your scenes and words have to serve the story. In addition to duration, fictional fights tend to be more complex than real fights. Even for highly trained individuals, it can be tough to squelch the fight/flight/freeze reflex enough to use your techniques. The physical impact of a fight tends to get glossed over in literature. Many writers only remember to include the bruises, tight muscles, and post adrenaline crash only when it serves the story. It’s a little annoying, actually.

Combat doesn’t show up in all my stories, and it’s critical to know when to include it. Like any other scene, it needs to feel natural, like it occurred on its own and the author is simply documenting it. If you feel the author pulling the strings, there’s something forced about it, maybe in the setup or the execution. Fights shouldn’t randomly crop up out of nowhere, unless, that’s the way the world works in the story, in which case, you should make sure the reader knows it. These scenes work nicely when you need to build or decrease tension. They can provide an active transition from a lull in the story to the next climactic event.

Description can be problematic for some writers. Too little detail makes the fight muddy and hard to follow, which reduces impact. Too much detail bogs down the pacing of the story, reducing the tension and any sense of urgency. Also, it’s boring. Being trained in a form of fighting can make it really easy to over-describe. If this is your tendency, write the scene, then go back and cut as much of the technical stuff you can, streamline the prose as much as possible, and you’ll probably counteract it. I actually recommend against blocking out your fight move for move with action figures, because this makes the process extra complex and tends to result in an excessive detail dump.

If writing a fight is problematic, remember there are times you can get a pass on describing it with something as simple as, “they fought.” Another option, that works very well for many writers, is to describe something other than fight itself. You could focus on the the character’s emotional responses instead of her movements over the course of the fight. You might describe the character’s physical response to being hit and in danger (pain, out of breath, jittery from adrenaline). Another option is to show the onlookers’ reactions to the fight through cheers, applause, gasps, and distancing.

Inaccuracy makes you look like an idiot. You’ll feel like one, too, if it gets pointed out. It can also result in disinterest by casting suspicion on all your other facts. Reviewers might mock you online. But don’t let that keep you from trying. There are lots of ways to prevent inaccuracies. My favorite combination is a little bit of research plus beta readers. They can help figure out if something’s gone wrong, and often help be identify what I need to do to fix it. Sometimes I will walk through a fight scene with a sparring partner, just to get a feel for the movement and space being used. But to avoid the over-description issue, I never write a fight move for move.

If you’re working to polish your skill at writing fight scenes, try different things and see what works for you. This is art, after all, and there’s more than one right way to do it. If you’re stumped how to move forward, ask yourself why the fight scene is there and what you need it to do. This may help you figure out a basic plan of what needs to happen. If there are any stories that have fight scenes you like, reread them. A lot. We can learn things about our own writing from the examples of others. With practice, most of this becomes intuitive.