Call for Submissions: Sacrificed

My inspiration posts have been absent the last couple weeks because I have been at my parents’ house and their computer is… well, let’s just say that it doesn’t really have the processing power to handle the upload function in WordPress, or actually even the post thingy itself–it lags horribly and I can’t get anything done.

I know, I should get these things done ahead of time! I guess old habits just die hard.

Anyway, I am exciiiiited because I am editing a f/f anthology! This one is sort of a companion to Protect Me, though it is its own anthology as well. Here’s the call:

The allure of the beautiful young woman as a sacrifice is one that has long been a part of storytelling. From the virgin sacrifice given to calm the monsters/gods to the child who is tithe in fairy stories to a member of their party sacrificing themselves so that everyone else can continue their quest, there are all kinds of examples of women as sacrifices in fantasy fiction.

You can write any type of fantasy: high or low, mythic or fairy tale, urban, historical, or even a universe that combines fantasy and sci-fi elements–as long as the fantasy element is stronger than the sci-fi element, the story is fine. We want very much to see fantasy worlds that are lush and real, but make sure you never lose focus on your characters!

And make sure that your characters get a happily ever after; while we are interested in seeing the women in your story face death, we do not want to see any of them die. We are interested in what these women can do in spite of being the sacrificial lamb.

Submission deadline: October 26th, 2012
HEA or HFN Ending Required? Yes

And it is going to come out three days after my birthday next year! This is very exciting; it will be like a birthday present for me.

I have been wanting and meaning to edit a f/f anthology for some time now, but I had yet to hit on a topic that I liked well enough in the context of f/f. Tentacles are more a m/f thing–it’s pretty hard to write f/f tentacle sex, in my mind, and much easier to put that into the m/m box. Protect me… that could have translated well to f/f, maybe, but I think it’s more of an m/m trope.

But the sacrifice–that’s a very female thing, in fantasy and history and all. I debated for a little while–f/f is hard for me to write, and sometimes hard for me to read, because it’s very personal for me–and ended up deciding that yeah, I would do it. And here it is :3

I am so excited about this! Means I get to go drum up writers for submissions, which is going to be tons of fun. No, really, tons of fun; who else can say that their job is to read tons of porn on the internet?

A letter

Dear 2011,

You were a hard year for me, in a lot of ways. But I wouldn’t take any of it back; I am older and wiser and it is because things were not easy.

There was a month where I wrote less than 4k words, and another where I wrote 93k; neither wordcount was an easy thing for me to deal with mentally. I did them both, however, and I learned that I can write 23k words in 21 hours… at the cost of several days of productivity. I learned that productivity–or lack thereof–builds on itself. The more you do something, the more you are used to doing it, and I swear I spend the whole year forgetting that lesson and all of November and December having it hammered home.

Maybe this year it will stick. And maybe, just maybe, I will learn how to get through November and not feel completely disgusted and uninterested by what I spent November producing.

For the first time in years, I had an amazing time at family vacation this past summer. I felt very much a part of my family, and that belonging has stretched outside of the bounds of family vacation a bit; I feel closer to my brother now than I have ever felt before. It is a good place to be.

I edited my first anthology! And I learned that I can’t put off editing to the last minute; I have a pretty low threshold for how much editing I can do before I need to take a break. I felt really bad about that, but I learned the lesson that came with it, and it is one I plan on putting to good use this year. As soon as the stories for my next anthologies are finalized, I will start editing them.

Bipolar stuff was especially hard this year. I had a real depressive episode for the first time in years, and it seriously threatened my sanity. I came out the other side, though, and that is all that really counts in the end.

I fell in and out of infatuation. More than once. I am still in love, and I think I will always be in love with her just a little, but I have learned not to believe that caring about each other and being very sexually compatible will hold a relationship together when we butt heads over everything else. If I’m fighting constantly with my significant other, there is probably a good reason and I should probably pay attention to it. Everyone else might be fine with just love, but I learned this year that I need more than just that.

Sweat lodge stuff was very instructive this year, too. I started going to the lodges at R’s and I learned how to fire-tend the way he does it. All of it makes so much more sense than the stuff at K&B’s; I am so grateful for the chance to learn from him, and to continue growing spiritually. (Even if my spiritual growth ends up knocking everyone else in the lodge flat on their backs.)

I feel like this year I gained so many friends–not just people I talk to or hang out with, but people who genuinely Give A Fuck about me–and I am humbled by that. Every single one of them is an awesome friend and an inspiration to me in their own way.

Because that is another thing I learned this year, and I think this may be the most important idea of all: everyone has their own struggles. We’re all just living, and trying our best, and that is all we can do. My stepdad always said something on the lines of He’s doing what he can do, and that’s all he can do, and I don’t think it was until this year that I really began to understand what he was trying to teach me. It is an amazing lesson.

All in all, I regret nothing except for the instances where it took me a long damn time to pick up on the lessons I was being taught. I can’t help it, though; I am a slow learner when I am being stubborn.

With that I will bid you farewell, 2011. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

On authors beta reading/giving critique

Beta reading in an insightful way can be very hard for authors. It was very hard for me, for a long time (though I didn’t realize it then) because I just twitched to go through and make tons of corrections that were all to stylistic things and ended up strangling the voice of the author I was reading for.

I think it was a pretty sucky time to be my beta partner, and I look back and am not surprised that the people I was reading for then don’t have me read for them anymore. But I got older and wiser, and learned how to beta in the way most useful to my partner.

It can be hard for an author to look at something and divorce themselves from the way they would have written it. But it’s totally necessary, if you are going to be an effective beta reader/crit partner: you cannot focus on things that are stylistic issues. I am not saying that you should never mention these things–if there is something that really bothers you and you believe would trip up readers, go right ahead–but don’t put tons of focus on it.

Because the things that are really important to focus on, the things it will help your beta partner the most if you focus on, are the parts that don’t work for you because you are having trouble following the plot logic/characterization/whatnot.

So look at the comments you are making. Do these comments boil down to “I would have written it X way”? If so, nix them and make comments that are universal, comments that point to problems or good parts that most everyone can agree exist to one extent or another.

Some good questions to consider when beta reading:

  • Does the plot follow logically from one event to the next?
  • Is there enough conflict to carry the plot/keep the story interesting?
  • Is the characterization consistent?
  • Do the characters have clear goals/motivations?
  • Is the language/syntax appropriate to the point-of-view character? This means: is the sailor swearing? is the bride blushing? and if not, is it clear why they aren’t?
  • Does the point of view character have a strong voice?
  • Is the sex too technical? Too… anything? Not enough anything? In other words, is the sex appropriate to the characters having it?
  • Is there a fair amount of narrative traction?
  • Do the subplots make sense? Do they have a purpose/feed into the main plot?
  • Does it feel like there are any missing scenes? This would fall under the ‘plot logic’ heading–are all the paths that the plot takes clear? Do you feel at any point like you missed something plot-wise?
  • Are there any plot points which were unresolved?
  • Do any scenes feel like they drag along at a snail’s pace?
  • Does the tone that the scenes are written in fit well with the story?
  • Is the pacing even throughout the book?
  • What is the characteristic of the writing: dry? purple? somewhere in the middle? How does this line up with your preferences as a reader? (Keep in mind that the way something is written can have a big effect on your enjoyment of it.)

Of course there are instances where any of these things might not happen and the story not suffer for it–there are exceptions to every rule–but generally when you are beta reading, you want to focus on the elements of the story/storytelling than on line-editing. (Unless that is what your beta partner asked for, in which case, have at it.)

And always, always, if the answers to these questions are yes, then tell your beta partner that they did a good job on these things! It can be a huge blow sometimes to hear that you did this, this, and that wrong and nothing right. So if they are doing any of the above things (or some things I didn’t manage to think of) correctly, tell them, and they will love you for it.

For the record… these are also things I consider when reading submissions and editing. So beta reading effectively can extend to more parts of your life than reading your friends’ work.

Thus, it is important to learn to beta in a relevant way.

Some useful links:
Examples of beta reading – Very helpful if you are unsure exactly what format you are supposed to use when beta reading for someone.
How to Beta Read – Exactly what it says on the tin: an in-depth look at the way you should beta read.
Results of a Beta Reading survey – This is a very, very comprehensive survey of 54 beta readers from 2008, and the results of it. Helpful for the Do’s and Don’ts and also for going into depth about the ways that beta readers mark things, the resources they use. Like I said, very comprehensive.
Absolute Write’s Beta Readers Forum –  One of the many spots to find readers, and they have some useful information in their sticky topics, too.
An Experimental Psychologist’s Take on Beta Reading – Very interesting and an excellent resource for those of us who are science-minded. It is broken into four sections: Part 1 – Subject Pool; Part 2 – Recruiting/getting them to read; Part 3 – Data collection; Part 4 – Results and conclusions.

Any links I missed that aren’t just reiterations of the above? Toss ’em up in the comments and I’ll edit the entry :)

Why should authors write short stories?

A recent post on one author’s experience with short stories inspired this post, though I am not writing (mostly) from a personal point of view; I am writing from an editor/beta/publisher point of view. And I am defining short story as anything under 20k words. (Over 20k is novella, over 50k is novel. These are the definitions I generally go by.)

Short stories are invaluable. They are worth their weight in something more valuable than gold: experience.

Of the two new beta-partners I have acquired lately, one of them is a new(er) author and has no love for short story format. She asked me why she should be writing short stories, when all of her ideas were novel-length, and I told her: because it takes a hell of a lot longer to finish a novel.

You can write 100 short stories in two years, but 100 novels?

Let’s do a numeric breakdown, since numbers are pretty hard to argue with. Even if you only counted a novel as 20k words, that would mean writing 2,000,000 words in that two year period. One. Million. Words. Two years in a row. That’s just under 2.75k words a day, 19.2k words a week, 82k words each and every month. Forget NaNoWriMo’s 50k–you will be going for the long haul. For two years.

Even if you did manage to write that much, the novels would probably be worse for having been rushed. When you are writing that much you have no time to stop, to plan, to let ideas ferment in your mind. Never mind any kind of editing experience; the only experience you will be getting here is novel-writing experience.

We’ll go back to the numbers, now. 100 short stories. I will use 5k as my number, here. That is 685 words a day, 4.8k words a week, 20.6k words a month. This is much more manageable!

Not to mention that you would have plenty of time to plan out short stories, edit them, submit them to publishers (if you are that brave), and hone your craft. You will have enough time to join a critique group and have your stories critiqued by others, or to do something with the crit that your personal beta has given you.

So, yes, short stories are experience because you can churn them out and edit them much faster. They are also experience because you really have to make every word, every scene, count.

You will learn pretty fast (Or I know I learned pretty fast) that when you try and make your writing conform to certain word counts that you will have to sacrifice some element, or elements, of the story in order to have a narrower focus. Part of the joy (and the pain) of short stories is that they are snap-shots, and while they can be very complete and finished, they can also be a glimpse at a much larger world.

Both of these things are okay in my book, as long as the author learns the art of writing a story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and doesn’t leave readers going “That’s it? But what about this? And what about that? And this other thing!” You really don’t want this, even if you are intending your short stories to be some kind of single-author anthology. It is fine for readers to want more of a character, but if they want more of the story you were trying to tell, you were trying to tell too much story for a short story.

That’s what writing short stories is really good at: making you figure out what the fuck you are doing. It becomes harder to get two characters and throw them in a room; there has to be some conflict in order to make the story interesting. Oh, yeah, you know me: it all goes back to conflict. Short stories are not, contrary to what I have heard some people say, too short of a medium for real conflict.

They are too short of a medium to tell all sides conflict, but they are just the right length for other, shorter conflicts, or for specific parts of a larger conflict, especially one where the beginning and middle of it are boring. Just show us the end, if all else fails. I have seen authors do this to great effect!

So, short stories: good for experience with finishing and editing, for learning how to focus a narrative, and one last thing: mistakes tend to show in stark contrast in short stories.

If the author is inexperienced, it will show. If the author isn’t used to finishing things, it will show. If the author rushes the ending, if the conflict is unclear, if there is no conflict, if the narrative is disjointed, if… any mistake, you name it, it will probably show more in a short story than in a novel-length. The only two things I can think of right now that you can tell more with novels than with short stories are pacing and keeping characterization consistent.

Consistent characterization throughout a story is a post in and of itself, I think, but I also think that writing short stories can help you a lot with your pacing, especially stories in the 10-20k range.

One last thing that short stories are good for is giving out presses a test-drive. Submitting a short or submitting to anthologies is a good way of seeing what their contracts are like, seeing what their editing is like, seeing what their general feel is. You don’t want to sign your novel over to a press and find out that their editing is horrible after the fact. You don’t want to find out that they withhold royalties after you have already sold your book. You don’t want to find out that they are uncommunicative only after months of spotty e-mail exchanges.

These are things you want to know before committing a piece that you have poured months of hard work into, and there is no better way to do that than with a short story. Not to mention that anthology deadlines give you goals for when you will be finishing things–I know this is something that helps me a lot!

Why should you be writing short stories? The important question, to me, is why aren’t you writing short stories already? There’s not a singe author who can’t stand to improve their writing, and short stories are an easier way to go about that than novels.

Learning by osmosis: recommendations

I have a new person that I am beta reading for… well, two, really. But one of them is much more interested in the idea of learning to write better than they are in specific edits to their work, which is really what I like to do.

Teaching is something I have always enjoyed, and getting to teach about writing, well, I can’t really think of anything I would enjoy more!

One of the things that her and I have been talking about is the idea of learning to write well by osmosis. Both of us agreed that the books that you read influence the way you write. I have heard other writers say the same thing; one friend reads books/documents from whatever time period she is writing in, in order to get the voice/tone for the time down correctly.

The only question, I guess, is then… what do you read? You don’t want to read bad books, but finding good authors is like finding a needle in a stack of needles.

So these are my recs! They are mostly fantasy, because I am in love with fantasy.

For voice/learning how to write first person to best effect: Sarah Monette’s Melusine series.

For world-building: Martha Wells, specifically Cloud Roads.

For learning how to tell effectively: Naomi Novik.

For breaking out of genre norms for female characters: Robin McKinley.

For ideas that are really original: Emma Bull.

For the most tightly written trilogy I have ever read: Lynn Flewelling’s Tamír triad.

For narrative traction: The Hunger Games by Suzane Collins. You can read the rest of the trilogy if you like, but the first book is the best example of narrative traction.

I think that’s about it. Do y’all have any recs for me? This is my goodreads page; I have read everything here! (Though, I need to add some to that. Umm.)