Notes to Self: In Which I Tell My Inner Editor Where His Advice Can Go

Last time, I tried to trick my inner editor by writing notes to myself, rather than the "real draft", in the hopes that he wouldn't offer up advice. You may recall, it didn't work.

I got better this time. It turns out writing that post helped me identify when my Editor was sticking his nose in (again, these are my actual notes):

  • Anna and Suriya prepare to go to the airport.
    • Suri wakes. Anna has clothes for her, but they're like Anna's -- short. Suri is embarrassed to wear them. Anna has nothing else. “Besides, you'll look more American.”
    • Anna shows Suri the fake passport. It's a US passport with a fake name. In fact, her last name matches Anna's (Pak), implying a relationship. “It won't be enough to fool immigration, but by the time we're in the States, we'll be safe.”
    • Anna has a rented bike to return. They catch a songtaew to the airport. [Boring. Stage Direction.] {Thanks, Inner Editor. Now shut up.}

Jonathan Coulton, Code Monkey

This is easily my favorite Johnathan Coulton song. Probably because I can identify so strongly with it. It's also a pretty good AMV to go with it.

That Thing Where I Draw: Anna

Suriya first meets Anna in a hotel room, after waking from a drug-induced sleep. Anna saved her from the bounty hunter who drugged her, or so she says. She says she's there to help, but mostly she seems annoyed at having to deal with Suriya at all. She won't even answer Suriya's questions.

But who else can Suriya ask? She's never met anyone with powers like hers before.

Suriya doesn't trust Anna, but she goes along with her for the time being. Mostly because she has no choice -- Anna has to take Suriya back to her employers or else kill her. Needless to say, Suriya isn't happy about it.

I Draw Like I Write 3

I'm starting to realize that the similarities between my drawing and writing processes are not so much about process, but more about the emotions I go through while doing it.

"Ugh. I do NOT want to do this. I want to have done it."

"Hey, that's not bad. Maybe I should draw this thing after all."

Cindy peeks over my shoulder at this point. "Oh, that looks really good!" she says. That's just enough to keep me going.
"I hate drawing hair." "I'm good at hair." "I hate drawing hair."
"That's actually pretty good. At least it will be once I go through the endless, endless revision process."

I know there are folks that just love doing the first draft. Turns out that's not me. I love outlining, but doing the work of detailing every aspect of the story (such that it is a story) is hard. It's a constant struggle between hating it and loving it, where the only thing that keeps me going is the encouragement of my Beloved Alpha and others.

And yeah, drawing for me is no different. Come back Wednesday to see the final version, and to find out who this girl is.

Jonathan Coulton, Baby Got Back

I got this as an internet meme a long, long time ago. Like when people actually sent things to each other via e-mail. It was the first I'd ever heard of Jonathan Coulton.

It's an acoustic cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back", and really, it's everything a cover should be. Enjoy.

Guest Post: I Need Help. Who Am I?

Emmet is an old friend of mine from real life. He's alternately a craftsman, a house painter, a pastor, and despite his confusion here, a moderate-level geek. Right now he's in Africa "doing… you know, stuff." He sometimes thinks digitally at

After reading the request for guest bloggers I was struck by two nearly simultaneous thoughts. The first was, “Hey that sounds like fun.” The second was, “I don’t think I’m qualified to geek-out about drawing, writing, or… well Geekdom.” Don’t get me wrong, I can talk about all that stuff, but only as a visitor and not as a member. If there is one thing I’m almost 73% sure of (other than 82% of all statistics being made up), it’s that no member wants a visitor coming in and telling them how to run the place, it’s just not respectable.

This realization led me to the question, “What am I?” You see, several months ago I was on a hiking trip with a friend. One night we undertook the task of scientifically locking down the specific requirements and nuanced characteristics of many common “titles”.  A non-comprehensive sampling of the list includes, geeks, dorks, nerds, preps, D-bags, A-holes, and jerks. What is the difference between an A-hole and a jerk you ask? Well it comes down to levels of intent, dedication, and self-awareness. Oddly enough, as we basked in the glory of our accomplishment, we mutually confirmed our suspicions that none of these titles fundamentally applied to either one of us. If you disagree, I’m sorry, but you’re arguing with science, nothing we can do about it.

So what am I? I have an aptitude for strategic board games (if you are new to Ticket To Ride and pick up two black cards or a black and a green on your first turn, your destination is L.A. to Miami, trust me, it just is). I have an interest in video games, but I’m inept on a PC. I love LOTR but can’t tell you the name of Gandalf’s sword or make a clever pun in Elvish. I may be treated as an honorary geek or nerd in some gatherings, but the title would be purely situational. I certainly don’t own the T-shirt (you know who you are)(for the rest of you it’s Adam that I was talking about just there, you know with the “Geek” T-shirt and all… classic). 

I’m a fan of movies, but I’m not a “Film buff”. I love The Shatner but I’m not a Trekkie. That said, Seven of Nine is by far the hottest crewmember, or at least was up until the reincarnation of Uhura. Now they would have to fight for it… seriously, can we make that happen? Just checking. Likewise, I like Star Wars, but I fail at being a Fanboy. I just don’t have the energy, plus I’m a bigger fan of at least a dozen other movies. Yes, Han shot first; I mean come on, just because he doesn’t want to hear the odds, doesn’t mean he’s an idiot. When Jabba’s bounty hunter comes for you, you shoot him before he gets a chance to shoot you. Think people, this is common knowledge. I still wouldn’t write a strongly worded letter to Lucas, well okay, maybe for what he did to Jr., but not for the prequels or the continuous editing!

I find myself adept in many groups but not truly a member of any of them. I’d say that I was a poser or a chameleon, but I’m not faking interest, it’s just that my interest is passive and non-definitive. On the Myers-Briggs I’m an INTJ, also known as a “Mastermind”, which is pretty cool but hardly helpful. I mean henchman or wingman would have been more useful. Shoot, even Village Idiot would have been more definitive (stupid higher education).

Am I alone? When viewed comprehensively, are we all too complex to be classified, or am I just a member of a yet to be classified group? 

Please help!

Guest Post: The Fiction of Writing

Susan Kaye Quinn is an ex-engineer, writer, and elected official: but mostly she’s a mom. She writes middle grade and young adult novels, and blogs about writing and reading books for advanced readers, ages 8-12, over at Ink Spells.

The general public seems to have this idea that if you write a novel, you will be instantly rich and famous. You will don a tweed jacket or a silk scarf and pose in some odd angled picture that will make you look artistic. You will have masses of people flocking to sign your books as you tour the world, greeting your fans. As an esteemed published author, you can now be grumpy and retire to your hidden forested retreat where you will spin your next eagerly awaited book.


This fiction of the writing life is spun by the media attention focused on famous authors, those few Michael Jordan's of the writing world that are household names. Most of the public, especially readers, assume this lifestyle is enjoyed by all writers. People assume you write to make money, or to be famous, to have that elusive cachet of being a "published author." Although many writers would like to be JA Konrath, paying the bills with their writing, most realize that is unlikely to happen, or if it does, it will be a decade or more into their "writing career." If they are very lucky.

If you tell your family and friends you're not in it for the money or glory, that you write because you love it, or because you literally cannot stop like some literary addict, you're likely a get knowing look that says, "Sure. Sure."

Although your close family are probably well-disabused of this notion already, you may have to repeat it endlessly to friends and well-meaning extended family. Although it's bad enough before you have published, I suspect it is even worse after you have an actual book available for purchase. Because you've made it, right? Everything is sunshine and nirvana, right?

Except when you can't sell your second novel, or the first one performs poorly. Or maybe you have a wonderful run of several books, but then your career stalls out and needs new direction. A career in writing is more akin to a career in acting or music—you're only as good as your last book, and even that doesn't guarantee you'll sell another one.

Now that I've got you thoroughly depressed, here's the upside: There has never been a better time to be a writer.

No, I'm not delusional, at least not about that. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, all the myriad online resources grant you access to a community of writers. Even though your Uncle Sandy and your PTA friend in the pickup line may have no idea what the interior life of a writer is like, you have a host of virtual writerly friends who do. Friends who understand that writing is like bleeding your heart onto the page and who want to talk about plotting and voice and the minutia of craft. Friends who sympathize with the agony of rejection, the frustration of a harsh critique, and who know in their hearts that you write because you love it—because they do too.

My brother is a talented writer, who never published. He gave up in his early 20's, back in the pre-internet days, when writers toiled in isolation. He is in awe of my blog, my crit group, my author facebook page, and my knowledge of agents and the publishing industry.

"This is nothing like when I was writing," he says.

Exactly so. So chin up, lads and lassies! It's a brave new world for writers.

Secrets of the Alliterati

I'm either on my way to, or recently arrived in full jet lag at, the United States. I may or may not have lots of internet time here, but I think I've left you in good hands anyway. We've got guest posts, Johnathan Coulton, and even a drawing to keep you happy while I'm away. I'll try and stop by the comments if I can. Otherwise if you want to know how I'm doing, you might want to follow my Twitter feed.

Meanwhile I've written a guest post over at The Secret Archives of the Alliterati today. It's about netters and knockers and tricks to avoid the dreaded infodump, especially in speculative fiction (sort of an extension of this post). Go check it out.

In Which I Prove We Will Achieve FTL Speeds by 2050

Supposedly it's impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. Supposedly it requires an infinite amount of energy.

But I posit that science knows far less than it does not know. At one time, it was believed man could not fly, the sound barrier could not be broken, and man could not reach the moon. Not just believed, but considered scientifically impossible.

And yet we did it.

So on the assumption that science is wrong about what we cannot do, I have collected the data on speeds man has attained over the past 300 years. The trend, ladies and gentlemen, clearly shows that we will send something through space at the speed of light around the year 2050.

If not, who cares? This was fun anyway.

Books I Read: Mistborn Trilogy

Title: Mistborn Trilogy (three books)
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2006-08
Content Rating: R for action violence

Vin is a young street urchin who discovers she is an Allomancer, a trait which allows her to burn ingested metals giving her amazing powers. More than that, she is Mistborn, a rare breed of Allomancer who can burn all of the eight basic metals. In Mistborn, she joins a thieving crew to do the impossible: to overthrow the immortal tyrant known as the Lord Ruler.

The Well of Ascension continues with the events that occur after the Lord Ruler's fall. The Empire is in political chaos, but worse than that are rumors that the mists are killing people and the koloss -- who made up the Lord Ruler's most terrible armies -- are rampaging across the land unchecked.

Finally Hero of Ages pits Vin and her friends against a dying world and a god named Ruin, whose opposite -- Preservation -- seems to have disappeared entirely. It seems an impossible task, and it really is, but in the end... let's just say I really liked the end. Everything makes sense.

Don't let those summaries fool you. These three stories build one on top of the other. What I love about this trilogy is the way secrets are constantly revealed. Brandon Sanderson has created quite a world, and he takes you into it gently. By the end you know (almost) everything.

I also love the action. Allomancy is a really unique way of doing magic. By burning different metals, Allomancers can push or pull on metals, affect the emotions of others, or increase their own strength and perception. The result are Mistborn flying or tossing each other through the air, metal objects whirling towards their enemies, super-powered leaps and punches...

Gah, I'm not doing it justice. The action is awesome guys, just trust me. And that's just with the basic metals. Turns out there's more to Allomancy than eight metals, and there's more to magic in this world than just Allomancy. Seriously, if you like fantasy, adventure, or action, pick up the first one and see what you think.

Contest Winner! and Thoughts About Contests

And the winner is..... MYRNA FOSTER!

Congratulations, Myrna. Just let me know what book you like, and I'll send it your way. Any book at all (except maybe this one).

Thank you to everyone who entered, and thank you especially to all of you who read the story and offered thanks and encouragement. You guys are awesome.

If you enjoyed Pawn's Gambit, you might be interested to know there is an audio podcast version available at BCS as of today. Like everything there, it's free to listen to. Also, you get to learn how to pronounce my name (dang, I should've made a contest for that!).

So this was my first time running a spread-the-word style contest. You know, the ones where you get bonus points for each of: being a follower, already having been a follower, commenting, linking on your blog, linking on Twitter, linking on Facebook, following on Twitter, following on Facebook, already having followed on Twitter/Facebook, etc, etc, etc.

Obviously I didn't do all that. It was intentional, of course. I wanted things to be simple. You had to spread the word, because otherwise, really, what's the point? But that's it. I didn't require anyone to read the story -- I understand fantasy adventure isn't for everyone -- but I wanted everyone to hear about it and read it if it sounded interesting.

I also wanted it simple because of how I tend to do contests. When a contest gives me a list of things to get points for, rather than go, "Gosh, I can enter this contest any way I want!" I tend to be all, "Dang, that's a lot of stuff I have to do to maximize my chances."

Cuz that's the thing: I don't want to enter unless I give myself the best chance possible. But I don't always want to follow a random blog I just met, or give up one of my three posts per week to someone else's contest. You know? It's psychology: when people are given more options, it makes it harder for them to decide, not easier.

I got some proof of that in your contest entries. I expected the simplicity of the contest, and the attractiveness of the prize, to garner a bunch of entries who didn't answer the bonus question. That is, people who entered but didn't read the story. But what happened was, out of all the contest entrants, only TWO people entered without answering the bonus question.


Interesting, no? Well it is to me, but then I like psychology.

Anyway, what about you? What makes you want to, or NOT want to, enter a contest?

Fantasy Slang: How to Not Scare Off the Reader

You know where slang comes from. You've built a dictionary for your made-up culture. Now how do you teach the reader this new slang without overwhelming them? Also without resorting to cheap tricks or boring exposition? Here are some guidelines I use.

If the meaning of the slang is obvious from context, no explanation is needed. Don't give it. Seriously, the reader doesn't need every phrase explained. Often context is enough:

"I'm sorry. About... about what I said..."
Sam waved it off. "Nothing. Birds in the wind."

If the meaning is unnecessary to following the story, don't give it. Have you ever read the poem "Jabberwocky"? Half the words don't make any sense at all. A couple you can figure out from context (frabjous, galumphing), but most you just don't need to know (slithy toves, borogroves, tulgey wood, and pretty much everything else). And that's okay. You can understand the story fine without them.

If the meaning is not necessary yet, don't give it. Not every term has to be explained right away, even if it's important later. When it becomes important, the reader won't mind you stopping for a paragraph to explain it. In Air Pirates for example, the word 'jacks' is introduced on p. 15 (see excerpt below):

B'Lasser flashed a foot of sharp steel.

“Oy, oy, oy!” Dean came running out from the back, hands waving. “No blood! You gotta fight, you take it down the road. Else I call the jacks in here.”
There's a little context, but the full explanation doesn't come for another 25 pages. Yet nobody's ever complained.

When you finally do need to explain it, there are a number of ways you can do it -- more than I list here, certainly:

1) Include a character who doesn't "get" the slang and needs it explained, or who can at least identify with the reader's confusion:

Hagai looked around. "What did you do with my friend?"

"Easy, lad," Sam said. "I just showed him the way out. I didn't pack him either, if that's what you're flailing about. 'Sides, man like him, float in the dark he would."

Hagai didn't know what that meant. "So... you didn't kill him?"

"Nay, Gai, I didn't kill him." Sam's smile mocked him.

2) Use context. You know that first tip, where if the context is there already you don't need to explain it? It works both ways: if you need to explain it, add the context. For example, "grubbing":

Normally, if Sam wanted a snack, he would've just grubbed it off the shelf while no one was looking. But Crike Cappel, who'd been grubbing a lot longer than Sam had, taught him that he had to establish “legitimacy.”

3) When all else fails, tell. You don't want to do this often, but don't be afraid of it either. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?

Fitch came back a few minutes later with the keys. As he opened Sam's cell door, Sam said, "Where's the guard?"

"Sleeping," which meant he was unconscious.

I know I've been talking about slang, but these modes of introduction work for any made-up terms in any genre. (Though obviously speculative fiction will have more of it).

What else? What other methods have you used or seen to introduce foreign terms without being intrusive?

DON'T FORGET! There's still a contest going on for a free book. Link to the contest post for a chance to win. Read Pawn's Gambit to improve your chances. Contest ends Thursday at noon!

Fantasy Slang: Building a Lexicon

Using the origins of slang I talked about last week, I came up with 120 slang terms and over 50 different idioms for the Air Pirates world. Sound like a lot of work? Well, it was and it wasn't. I didn't do it all at once, but over a long period of time (actually all 19 months I drafted the novel).

It was very hard at first, but once I got some patterns down and got a feel for the air pirates' language it became easier. Here are some things that helped:

Many of the methods I outlined last week require an understanding of the culture involved. Metaphors arise from what a culture is most familiar with: a farming culture will use farming metaphors, an underwater civilization will use ocean metaphors, etc. Jargon that has transitioned to mainstream slang will be dependent on the subculture from which it came (in my case, pirate culture).

The Air Pirates' world is one of airships, pirates, and the ever-present fear of dark water. Sam talked about this some in his Talk Like a Pirate Day post. Knowing the foundations of their metaphors made it easier to come up with them. Then I often evolved or shortened them (thus obscuring my sources), but not always. Modern slang is a mix of phrases whose origins are immediately apparent and phrases whose origins have been forgotten. I wanted the Air Pirates' language to be similarly mixed.

Don't try to come up with 100 idioms at once. That'll drive you nuts, and you won't even use half of them.

While writing Air Pirates, I mostly came up with slang words as I needed them. Sometimes I thought, "I feel like they'd have a special word for this. But what?" But mostly I came up with my own slang whenever I found myself using modern idioms and cliches. This had the added benefit of wiping my manuscript (relatively) clean of cliches.

Every time I made up a new slang term or idiom, even if I didn't end up using it, I wrote it down in a separate document. Sometimes I'd make up an idiom only to cut it as part of a larger revision. But I still had the idiom saved in my "Pirate Slang" document for use later.

Then every time I needed a slang term or idiom, I'd skim through the existing ones to see if anything fit. Sometimes I'd use a word I already came up with, sometimes not. If nothing else, skimming the old words made it easier to come up with something new that fit the existing pirate lexicon.

And that's pretty much it. Next time I'll talk about how to introduce all this odd slang to the reader without overwhelming them.

Meanwhile, have you ever made up slang for a story? How did you do it?

DON'T FORGET! There's still a contest going on for a free book. Link to the contest post for a chance to win. Read Pawn's Gambit to improve your chances. Contest ends May 6th!