mmerriam: (Old Lynx)
I haven't blog in quite some time, it seems. I've developed a love/hate relationship with social media, and I seem to be in a hate phase right now. I should probably take one of those social media sabbaticals I sometimes go on. I think I need to get away from Facebook, G+, and Twitter. Not so much my blog and Live Journal (though Live Journal doesn't seem very alive anymore). The problem is all my friends and family are on social media and it's just easier to keep up with them that way. And now there is this Ello thing I should sign up for, never mind the fact that I've avoided Tumblr since it's inception.

The novel is still moving along. I have the third section outlined, so all I need to do is find some time to settle in and write the rest of the first draft. Once that's done, I'll need to connect the three sections together, which I suspect will take some serious time and work. I am also editing a third anthology for the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers, which should be out in early 2015, probably in time for Minicon's 50 anniversary convention. I have all the stories picked out and am waiting for the last of the contracts to arrive before writing my editorial and front-of-book matter and sending everything off to the copy editor.

For those of you playing the home game, Minnesota Fringe Festival went well. I thought the show was well received and though we were better some nights than others, we never had a bad performance. I was reasonably pleased with my own performances over the festival. I also have at least one and possibly two more storytelling gigs lined up before the end of the year. I will post more information here once things are official. I am also working on the script for a play I plan to submit on spec to a science fiction theatre festival in Los Angeles. We will see if anything comes of it.

I've been doing some thinking about where I am as an artist. I pulled out a story I've been working on off and on for the last 2 years, and I found I liked the style and voice I was exploring in that story more than the style I am using in my current novel. I'm not sure the style in the short story (very baroque and ornamental) would work for this novel, which seems to need plain, straightforward, almost invisible language, but I do miss playing with tone and style and voice in ways I normally do not.

I have also been thinking about how despite the fact that I strongly identify as a prose writer first, as a spoken-word performer second, and all other arts I pursue a veryvery distant third, I will make more money as a spoken-word performer again this year. It has me thinking about career path. My last two royalty statements from Harlequin haven't included a check because my sales have slumped. I suspect those two books are quite reasonably played out after 3 and 4 years on the market and none of my newer stuff has moved well, though I can lay a lot of the blame for that at my own feet. I just haven't had the energy lately to get out and market and pitch and shill and flog and hand sell like I have with other books.

I've been reading Jeff Vandemeer's BookLife and it has me thinking serious thinky thoughts about my identity as an artist, and artist's statements, and planning how to reach my goals. I don't need to make a ton of money to be able to stop working part-time. I fully acknowledge that I have an advantage with drawing SSDI and being on Medicare, but it is an advantage I pay for by being blind, so I don't feel all that bad about it. The thing is, I've hit a point a decade into my writing career (how the hell did a decade pass?) where I find myself hard up against the question of pursuing my passion versus dealing with my personal finances.

If I want to keep doing this being a writer and performer, I need to change my approach.

That was gloomier than I meant for it to be. Here, have a word meter to show I'm still passionate about my current project.

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Ghosts Of the Places We Live

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Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Streetcar)
Sometimes life and fiction are a little odd. In my novel Last Car to Annwn Station there is a scene where Mae is in Uptown and runs into Jill. Mae wants to walk over to Dunn Brothers Coffee, but Jill convinces her to go to Muddy Paws instead for both coffee and cheesecake. This scene, which includes them being chased by the Cwn Annwn, is the one I read to audiences.

Muddy Paws closed before the novel came out, and I wrestled with maybe moving the location, but after some discussion with first readers and other writers, left it in as a sort of "Ah!" thing for locals who remember Muddy Paws with fondness. The shop has been sat empty for years.

Well, things come full circle. Last Saturday while riding the bus to the first production meeting for the Minnesota Fringe Festival show I'm going to be in, I saw that Dunn Brothers is moving into the space Muddy Paws vacated. In honor of the new location and with a nod to the ways fiction and life intersect, I thought I'd post that except here. If you are interested, you can pick up Last Car in ebook format at Carina Press, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and in audio format at Audible.

Last Car to Annwn Except Behind This Cut )
mmerriam: (Type)
I'm lining up my next project. It's been awhile since I've written a novel (I've been focused on novellas, plays, and spoken-word pieces) and I'm looking for a project that has the potential to get me back into a major publisher. I haven't written a novel since the late-lamented monster-hunting barista project (which never seemed to jell) and I think I've been a little reticent to tackle a novel again. I also had the problem of not having a novel project that really thrilled me. I kept poking at the Spear of Destiny novel, but I can't work up the level of enthusiasm for it I need for a longer project.

What I really wanted to work on was the rural fantasy novella. You know, the one about a haunted abandoned school, small town secrets going back two or three generations, a class reunion, interfering ghosts, and lost loves. That one.

But I really felt I needed to get back to writing novels and this was shaping up to be a longish novella. I put it aside and started poking at my ideas folder and at completed but unpolished drafts of other pieces. A couple of the ideas and bits of free writing revealed themselves to be part of the rural fantasy story. I added them to the folder and closed it again.

So you guys remember that contemporary non-HEA romance coming-of-age novella I wrote a little while back? The one I had no idea what to do with and what the hell am I doing writing a mainstream novella anyway project? I finished it and had a couple of different endings, but was never satisfied with any of the endings I'd written. There was a lot of good stuff in the pieces, but not much of a payoff.

I reread it this week and realized it was part of that rural fantasy. The damned thing is two or three interwoven novellas of various lengths that make a novel length narrative. I've already written about 30K of the novel.

I'm outlining and brainstorming and thinking hard about what I want for this story. Once I've got some good stuff, I plan go back and rework the weird west novella so I can get it to market and then jump on this rural fantasy story.

Sadly, I've already had one set back in that a fairly rare and low-print run reference/history book about the Oney, Oklahoma community from 1901 to 1980 that I wanted to buy was already sold by the dealer who had listed a copy. I've found other copies, but for about twice as much (or more) as I am willing and able to pay. I could try to borrow the book through inter-library loan (it would have to come from either the Southwestern Oklahoma State Library or the Great Plains system in western Oklahoma), but I really wanted the book at my side during the whole process.

Alas, we all know what the Rolling Stones said.

Still, I shall carry on. Because this is a project I'm excited about.

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Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Type)
2013. Yeah. That was a thing that happened.

On some levels it was a tough year. My raw writing metrics were the lowest since about 2005. I had the lowest raw word count for the year since I got serious about writing in 2002. On some levels it was a down year for writing.

The numbers, however, tell a tale of a great year as a writer and storyteller:

I was Guest of Honor at CoreCon V. Blog reports here:
Friday
Saturday
Sunday

Sold 2 novels and 4 reprint short stories for publication. Published 1 novel, 1 short story collection, and 4 short stories (all in anthologies.)

Gave 7 public literary readings. Gave 3 writing-related interviews. Participated on 11 panels at conventions and gave 6 presentations for various organizations. Did a little publishing consulting. Appeared at 9 conventions and festivals.

Appeared in 2 music videos. Competed in Story Slam MN! Grand Slam and told multiple times at local story slam events. Hosted the Ghost Stories track and told 3 stories as part of Storyfest Minnesota. Performed 3 stories for KFAI radio.

Helped judge the Geek Partnership Society Writing Contest. Participated in photo shoots for Tim Cooper's War for the Oaks Reader's Series. Was active in the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers, Volunteered for MN Fringe Festival, and was active in my Writers Group.

The thing I'm the most proud of is getting my process as an artist smoothed out and working again. I'd been struggling for the last year or so, and in the last 6 months of 2013 I felt like I found my footing. I finished the first draft of a couple of things I'm pretty pleased with, especially since some of the stuff from earlier in the year as Not Up To Standards.

I wrote sparingly and sporadically in my blog this year, focusing more on steering the fiction writing back on track while working on improving as a storyteller. I did make a post about the changing writing process, which I'm pretty pleased with, An Ever Evolving Process and a post about finding my way back to being the writer I want to be in The Power of Story

What's in store for 2014? I'm not sure. I'm working on a scriptwriting project for a local theatre company. I've got more novellas in my Gaslight and Grimoires series ready to go. I'm working on a one-man show for either Minnesota Fringe Festival or to produce myself. I have finished novels to polish and market. I've got a long list of ideas and partial works-in-progress. I'm trying to pick the next novel project, with an eye toward something that might get me back into the Big Publishing Houses as an author.

What are your plans for 2014?
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Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Type)
As I near the end of the current Work in Progress, I find myself—as I always do at the end of a project—ruminating over what I have learned as a writer from this novella. Over on the Book of Face I posted this plaintive question – "When did I become the kind of writers who uses outlines and writes his scenes out of order?"

At the start of my career all those many 11 or so years ago I was a dedicated pantser—as in I wrote by the seat of my pants as the story took me. I didn't outline. I didn't plan or plot things out. I just let it happen and hoped for the best. It worked okay for me early, though some might say this is why I never had a break out into the big leagues (aka SFWA pro qualifying markets) as a short fiction writer.

But I was also a kept writer in those days. I was going to rehab classes and the U of M, but I wasn't working outside the house, not even part-time. I cannot express to you how much freedom I had to simply write as I wished. And because of that, I found myself not needing to make any major changes to the process.

Then we bought a home and Beloved Spouse (with my enthusiastic support) returned to grad school. Suddenly we were a poor grad student and disabled guy with a mortgage. I went back to work.

You guys might remember my time with the puppets. It was a disaster for me as a writer. I realize now, what I needed to do was adjust my expectation of my writing time and to adjust my process, but I was still too much of a new writer to understand this, I just kept trying to bull ahead the way I always had and I was miserable.

Then I left the puppets. Which was good for me as a writer, but it took forever for me to find work again, because hello, blind. Who wants to hire a freaking gimp? I did some growing and improving during that time, mostly because I stretched myself, sold to Carina Press and got to work with first-class editors, and had a better understanding of how blessed I was to have this much time to write.

And I say it was good for me as a writer, but looking back, I think it wasn't. The stress of being unemployed was getting to be too much on all of us. I took a full-time position in property management, became so stressed out by the job that I ended up in the hospital, was unemployed again, and then took a temp position at a major banking concern (which was actually a fairly nice job.)

We shall call this The Really Awful Times for me as a writer. Because I wasn't writing; not much anyway. I couldn't make the adjustment no matter how hard I tried. I knew I should have been able to. Other writers worked full-time, had lives, and wrote a novel or so a year plus short fiction, plus blogs, mostly under deadline. But I had stalled. The only thing that kept me sane was that I had a back-log of stuff to rewrite and submit, so I stayed working in that regard and stayed in front of readers, but behind the scenes I wasn't producing much of anything new. And what I was writing was crap.

I handed this crap to my writers group recently and they let me know in all the ways the story failed. I went back and reread it a few days ago, and I cringe that I ever let them see it. It's a hot mess. Seriously. But if I never manage to fix that piece, if all I can do is set it aside and scrap it out for parts to put in in other stories, at least I was writing something during that awful time, and I think that is what this piece is: something to make me feel like I still a writer, even if it was dreadful, dreadful drek. I wrote it and I finished it. That's worth something.

Which brings us to how my process is changing. I wrote the draft of a story called A Study in Violet, which Beloved Spouse has for First Reading. It was a straight homage to Holmsian mysteries and so it provided me with some structure, points, and notes I had to hit while still adding my own unique twists and voice. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty good (not drek) and it helped me get the writing moving back in the right direction. I made a simple outline of the points and notes I needed to hit, and I wrote toward them.

Now here I am, once more employed part-time, but unlike the situation with the puppets, I'm ready and able to learn some lessons as a write and grow into an opportunity. Rather than rant and rail about how I don't have the time to write like I once did, I've changed my methods to fit my new life and schedule.

On the days I work, I'm usually too tired and brain fried to commit fiction in the evenings, but I am able to sort out plot points, do research, create basic scene outlines and blocking, and consider what I've written up to that point, making notes of adjusts I need to make.

On the days I don't work, I have all the notes and outlines in place so that I can simply sit down and write. This has been extremely freeing. On the two or so days a week I have for writing, I can apply all the previous work, sit my butt down, and just start writing—writing to whatever point in the plot/outline I'm working on. And if that isn't working, I go write a different scene, which usually jogs lose my problems in the scene that had stalled. So I don't have as many writing days, but on the whole, I'm nearly as productive as I was when I wasn't working.

What's more, this change in process has helped make writing fun again, because for a while it was becoming less and less fun as I struggled. The change in process also allowed me to simply be a better writer. I'm not spending as much time flailing. I don't have that annoying habit of writing myself into corners. I can see the huge plot holes before I fall through them.

So I guess the take away is, if you are lucky, you keep growing and stretching as a writer. You keep improving. You know – Reach. Grasp. Fail. Fall. Get up. Dust off. Try again.

Yeah. This.

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Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Old Lynx)
"What are you doing?"

This is an important question; one Beloved Spouse will at times pose to me, usually when she catches me staring off into space, apparently doing nothing. Sometimes, rarely, my answer is "Nothing" or perhaps "Wool gathering," in which case she is totally within her rights to poke me into doing something useful, like say take out the trash.

But usually when she asks what I'm doing, and blink and give her a quick "Writing" or "Working" and get back to staring at nothing in particular.

Now, obviously I am not physically writing at these times. Physically, I am sitting in a chair, moving very little. But in my head, I'm writing, working, thinking about my current work-in-progress, considering story, characters, themes, and tone. I might be rehearsing a scene in my mind or untangling a snarl in the plot or prose. I am thinking about the work, planning, considering. My body is still, my eyes might even be a glazed, as if I'd had about 5 too many, but the brain is working furiously.

I'm lucky that I have an understanding spouse. If I say I'm writing or working, she leaves me alone to mull over whatever bit of story I'm dealing with. She doesn’t assume I'm doing nothing. She asks, and respects that at times I need to be quiet and let my imagination run.

On the other hand, I must always be honest with her when she asks what I'm doing. I can't and won't use writing as an excuse to just sit and do nothing. I can't because it's just not in my nature and I won't because I refuse to break the trust Beloved Spouse places in me and my process. I need that time to sit and think, and she gives it to me without complaint. I have to respect that.

Sitting and thinking--mulling over all the bits and pieces--is an important part of my writing process. I need this time to look out a window and think about what I am working on, to deal with knots and trouble, to find the right path of the story, to let the imagination play unfettered and ablaze as the body dwells in stillness. Writing isn't always about fingers furiously flying over a keyboard, or pouring over books and websites researching, sometimes it is about finding quiet and processing.

Though it is important to make sure the garbage gets taken out, because after a few days it will start to stink. Remember that as well.
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Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Type)
As a small press author and sometimes micro-press publisher, I find myself hand-selling my books at various conventions and book festivals. If you are an introvert like me, this can be hard. Add to the fact that I've been trained by my Midwestern grandparents to be humble in all things, no matter what I've accomplished, and it makes hand-selling my books a trial at best and terrifying at worst.

What I need are quick little pitches for each book that I can memorize and deliver on command. Beloved Spouse came up with a couple of good ones for The Horror at Cold Springs depending on exactly where I'm selling the book. I pitch it differently at Minnesota science fiction conventions--where I play up the Steampunk and Lovercraftian Horror aspects--than say in Oklahoma, where I focus more on the weird western aspect. The Horror at Cold Springs I can pitch to a potential reader reasonably well, though I need to write those pitches down, refine them, and practice them.

But for my other books, I tend to be a little lost. I can give the old elevator pitch for Last Car to Annwn Station (it's a dark urban fantasy revenge and redemption supernatural horror novel with mythological and fairy tale overtones and lesbian protagonists, featuring the ghost of the defunct Twin Cities Streetcars), but it needs a more content driven follow up.

With Should We Down in Feathered Sleep and Shimmers and Shadows I focus on the Minnesota angle, but I haven't developed a good pitch for either and I need a pitch that doesn't focus on Minnesota for when I'm traveling. I find myself flailing with both The Curious Case of the Jeweled Alicorn (though I'm starting to form something coherent. Maybe.) and Old Blood's Fate. I've got nothing right now for Whispers in Space.

I can pitch the two MinnSpec anthologies easy enough, mostly because I can pitch MinnSpec and I can shift the focus off of me and onto my writers.

So I guess what I am asking you dear readers, many of whom are writers, librarians, and booksellers: how do you go about hand-selling (if you need to do that at all) or talking up a book. What techniques do you use? Are there good resources to learn this skill? Keep in mind that I am a quiet, taciturn Midwestern male, so pitching my own work goes against my very nature. Also, for those of you who've read the books, I'd love to hear how you recommend them to your friends (if you do) and what you think are the focal points of the books. I'd even love to hear your short pitch of my books!
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Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Second Draft)
The results of my recent poll are in and I thought you would all be curious about the results. It was really close, but in truth, I'm not all that surprised with the results.

9 votes - Rural Fantasy (Novelette or novella): Haunted abandoned school. Small town secrets going back two or three generations. Class reunion. Ghosts. Lost loves.

8 votes - YA space opera (probably a novella): Reluctant young heroine. Grizzled veteran spacer. Robbery. Murder. Grand sweeping galactic plotline. A mystery and coming-of-age story.

7 votes - Steampunk Heist Caper (Novella): Large cast of characters. Lots of conflicting interests. A mystical or mechanical McGuffin. A train robbery on the European continent. Double crosses and shifting loyalties. The next Arkady Bloom novella and probably the return of Tresa Wilhelm.

6 votes - The long-delayed Spear of Destiny Novel: Evil antiquarians. Spear of Destiny. Blind Longinus, the time lost Saint. Mystical magical Minneapolis and St. Paul. Roman witches.

1 vote - Last Car to Annwn Station Sequel

1 vote – Sequel to my novelette "Memory" which appears in Whispers in Space.

Of these above, I'm probably the most excited about the rural ghost story piece. I actually have about three pages of notes and the ghost of an outline. I think this a project that has some heat and will be something I work on before the year is out.

That said, the reason the above will have to wait is that I've found a project I'm even more excited about: I really want to write a story featuring former U.S. Marshal Jefferson Stottlemyre (who is currently a sergeant in the San Francisco police in the time line) and Deputy Marshal William Blenchey (plus Blenchy's fiancee, Lady Priscilla Talbot) from The Horror at Cold Springs. I really want to write a Weird West / Lovecraftian / Buddy Cops piece set in late nineteenth century Oklahoma Territory sometime after the land run. I was chatting about this in the car with Beloved Spouse and realized just how excited I was to write this. I even have a few lines of dialogue.
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Blenchey: "It had to be a snake."
Priscilla: "A snake god."
Blenchey: "Alright then, a terrible big snake."
Stottlemyre: "Good to see you still have a sense of humor, Bill."
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Stottlemyre: "At least you get to bring your woman along on this disaster."
Blenchey: "My woman turns into a giant black wolf."
Stottlemyre: "Well, there is that."
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Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Type)
New Project Time!

It's time to pick a new project, because I haven't started anything new in over a year and that is part of my problem. I need something with new energy, something shiny I can toss myself into to break out of this stall.

Bearing in mind that I'll eventually write whatever strikes my fancy, here are my four contenders.

1. YA space opera (probably a novella): Reluctant young heroine. Grizzled veteran spacer. Robbery. Murder. Grand sweeping galactic plotline. A mystery and coming-of-age story.

2. Rural Fantasy (Novelette or novella): Haunted abandoned school. Small town secrets going back two or three generations. Class reunion. Ghosts. Lost loves.

3. Steampunk Heist Caper (Novella): Large cast of characters. Lots of conflicting interests. A mystical or mechanical McGuffin. A train robbery on the European continent. Double crosses and shifting loyalties. The next Arkady Bloom novella and probably the return of Tresa Wilhelm.

4. The long-delayed Spear of Destiny Novel: Evil antiquarians. Spear of Destiny. Blind Longinus, the time-lost Saint. Mystical magical Minneapolis and St. Paul. Roman witches.

So, any of these call out to you, dear reader?

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Stories)
This is a story about becoming lost, and finding your way back home.

#


I climbed aboard the #21 bus after another long shift at the day job auditing loan applications for the stupidly wealthy to bring in more money for the insanely rich shareholders of the banking concern I work for, in the faint hope that they will toss me enough spare change to pay my mortgage, which my employer holds. You know, working for the company store and all that.

So.

I'm sitting on the bus in the first front facing seat, desperate to avoid the gimp seats again, though I don't even know why. Maybe my anger and frustration at what I am and what I'm becoming is spilling over. Anyway, I'm on one of the new hybrid buses, so when it stops and puts down the ramp for a wheelchair, because of the seat configuration I don't need to move. I sit there thinking about how tired I am. Thinking about all the things I need to do when I get home, none of which are writing or even writing/storytelling career related.

Thinking about how I'm not really a writer anymore. Writers write, after all. And I haven't been writing -- really writing -- for a long time.

You know, useless thoughts about self and all that.

As the wheelchair ramp returns to the top of its journey, I look up. My white cane is open and we chipped up gimps tend to acknowledge each other in the language of sidelong glances, slow nods, subtle smiles.

And two of my characters get on the bus. Zoe and Robert from Rainfall. S&S

Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

I watch as they settle, my breaths coming hard, head pounding, eyes stinging as they fill with tears. For one wild moment I think about fleeing out the backdoor of the bus.

#


Here's the thing; I haven't been writing much in the last year. Very little, in fact. This has me thinking hard about my career as a writer and artist. I've been studying the arc of the thing. I was contemplating stopping, putting away the words. I would finish rewriting and polishing the completed works I had on file, find homes for my unsold pieces, meet my remaining deadlines, and fulfill any outstanding contracts.

And then be done. Set it down, put it away, buy some sensible shoes, and shirts, and trousers, get a sensible job like a good sensible American worker-citizen. God Bless the Apple Pie.

#


So Beloved Spouse has been watching Bull Durham. There is this scene where Susan Sarandon's character Annie realizes that Kevin Costner's character Crash Davis is about to break the minor league home run record. She wants to make a big deal of it and call the Sporting News, seeing it as a milestone. He doesn't. He considers being the All-Time Minor League Home Run King a dubious honor.

I completely understand. Everyone who plays wants to go to The Show—whether that show is Major League Baseball or Big Time Publishing in New York or London.

I've been a hell of a minor league author for a long time. A small-press / semi-pro All-Star. Like Crash Davis, I've even spent a little time in The Show, but I didn't stay there and I've never been able to duplicate it. I told someone once – to keep using the baseball analogy – not everyone gets to be Hank Aaron. Some of us have to be Roger Metzger.

Or the fictional Crash Davis.

And after more than a decade, I wasn't sure I wanted to keep slogging away in the small press.

#


I'm going to stop here for a moment and engage in a small digression, okay?

I am not denigrating or disparaging small press book publishers and semi-pro magazines. All of my small press publishers have been fantastic and Very Good To Me as a writer. And most small press publishers are in the business because they love books and the written word. I would NEVER give up my experiences in the small press. But any writer worth his pen and word processor wants to reach the widest range of readers possible, and the Big Publishers have the money and clout to make this happen. For a small press author, I sell really well, but to reach a national audience, you need the power of the big publishers. I learned this during my time with Harlequin's Carina Press imprint, when I got my taste of the Big Leagues. End of digression.

#


One of the problems with being an author, unless maybe you are a big-name N.Y. Times Bestseller, is that you really don’t get much in the way of audience/reader feedback. You have to take it on faith that you are reaching an audience. I've been working on the stage as a spoken word performer and storyteller, and you get immediate audience feedback. You know right away if the audience likes what you're doing. If you know you've reached the audience, if you know they care, if you feel like you've reached them…

I talked all this out with my wife and she pointed out that I've been changing my focus as an artist – more stage work – storytelling and play writing. She's right, and I have found some success on the local stage as a storyteller. But my primary identity is as a prose fiction writer. I was getting some good writing done on those occasions when we were traveling or at conventions. In fact, most of my writing was being done in hotel rooms and not much of anywhere else. I'd get good momentum coming out the conventions, feel good about my writing, but I couldn't sustain it.

Writing was about to become just one more damned thing I had failed at.

I've been a musician; a bassist in a rock-a-billy band. It was fun for a while, but I got tired of being paid poorly to play in crappy bars and third-rate night clubs. I stopped playing, except at the hobbyist level.

I've been an actor, mostly under and sometimes unpaid in small theatre. And sometimes community theatre. I stopped doing that as well.

There are other perfectly good reasons why I left those pursuits behind. And I mourned them a little, but mostly when I drop those as career pursuits, I felt relief.

The thought that I would no longer be a working writer made me sad and sick. The idea that I had failed as writer left me feeling -- well, I was in a bad place. Other, wiser peers tried to remind me that I had accomplished a lot, things other writers could well be envious of and aspiring to. I'd published two novels, three single-title novellas, ninety pieces of short fiction and poetry. My first novel was a top pick for Readings in Lesbian & Bisexual Women's Fiction and one of my novellas was long-listed for the Nebula. I had been Author Guest at a major regional science fiction convention and an invited participant at two others. When regarded from the outside, my career looked pretty freaking fabulous and other writers would love to be in the position I'm in. I can acknowledge that.

But I wasn't writing. And when I was, I wasn't even making barista pay. I had convinced myself that being a writer was a lovely dream, but it was obvious that I was never going to reach a point where I could make the minimal money I needed to make for writing to be viable. And the less I was writing, the harder it became to get back to it and the more critical I was of what little work I was getting done. I wasn't writing up to the level I felt –knew – I should be.

Like Crash Davis, I had a good set of skills and a love of what I was doing, but not enough skill or talent to make the permanent leap into the Big Leagues. I got there for a time, but couldn't make it stick. I could nurture it in others, helping mentor other emerging writers as they made their first big-time pro sales and moved on to the major publishers—like I now knew I never would. And I found I wasn't jealous of them, or even angry that they were making the sales I could not. I was just sad and tired; resigned that for me, as a writer, this was as good as it was going to get.

Resignation quickly became exhaustion. I'd made a good run, had some successes, but I wasn't writing anymore. I was a cog in a giant corporation, nothing more. Between that full-time job and the part-time job of being disabled, I didn't have the energy to carry on as an artist. Like I said earlier, it seemed like it was time to put it away, hang on to my a sensible cog-job like a good sensible American worker with a mortgage and bills all that other American Dream stuff. God Bless the Liberty Bell.

I was done.

I was done, until two of my characters climbed and wheeled onto my bus.

#


The man was almost an exact duplicate of how I pictured Robert to be. Dark hair, slight build, missing his legs below the knees. He was in an old-style wheelchair. The woman pushing him was tiny, probably little more than 4'10", if that. She was also slight of build; slender and willowy. Her hair was dyed the color of autumn leaves; red and orange and yellow. She settled him into the proper spot and set the restraints that hold the wheelchair in place with practiced ease. I caught her eye for a moment and she smiled before settling in his lap, arms around his neck. They leaned into each other, exchanging smiles, quiet laughs, and subtle touches as the bus rolled away from the curb and continued on its route.

I was unprepared for the wave of emotions. I actually bit through the inside of my lip so that I did not burst into tears. I couldn't stop looking at them even though I was pretty sure I was about to have a full blown panic attack. It physically hurt to see these two strangers who might have been my characters in another life/world/dimension. When the bus reached Uptown Station -- its final stop -- I exited out the back and fled. I couldn't face them. But there was no point in trying to get away, because it wasn't this young couple, or even Robert and Zoe, I was trying to get away from.

I couldn't face myself.

#


Charles de Lint once said, "We are all made of stories," and I sincerely believe what he said is true. We are all made of stories. We all have our own story. Life is nothing more than one big story, and I believe—I have to believe—in the power of story. This is why movies like Big Fish, Stranger Than Fiction, and Ink resonate with me so much when so little visual entertainment does; they are all at their core about the power of story.

I had forgotten that. Or at least had let it be drowned out by the less important things. I had lost my way, become too caught up in the numbers game, worrying about money, about conforming to societal expectation concerning what is really worthwhile work, about my imaginary position in an imaginary hierarchy of writers, about marketing and blogging and being public, and about not ever being able to break through to the big-time despite being fairly well-respected by my peers. About wanting to be SFWA qualified even though I never ever plan to join SFWA. I got too involved in the Internet Noise Machine: Fiction Writers Edition. It wasn't so much impostor syndrome as it was just a feeling of general failure, of not being good enough. Of being barely minor league with no chance of ever being more.

I lost faith in the power of story.

And so the Story came to find me. It climbed onto a creaky, battered city bus and settled in front of me. Presented itself in unambiguous terms. Without speaking it said, "Michael, don't forget me." It made me remember.

It made me remember why I write. It made me remember the Power of Story. What I do isn't about publishing, and sales figures and money {And for those of you who sneer at this statement: fuck you. Sure, I want to get paid and I need to get paid and I understand the business of writing, but that is not what being a writer is about in the end, and if you think it is, you've lost a little piece of your soul}.

I write because at the end of the day, I'm a storyteller and an entertainer and I don't know how to be anything else. I write for the tired worker who comes home and wants to be transported to another world. I write for the kid who needs those words worse than water as they try to figure out their place in the world. I write for the desperate and depressed and battered and forgotten and lost who need a respite and an escape, even it is for a few bare minutes.

I write for people just like you. And just like me. Because I've been all of those things above, and I can tell you, brothers and sisters, the written word saved my life more than once. Some author whom I never meet wrote a story and the power of it carried me through, got me from one day to the next -- from one story to the next -- helped me become the person I am today. If I can do the same for someone else, then it’s all worth it. I may never know if I have touched a reader, made their day brighter, helped them in some small way, but I have to have faith that I will. That I have.

That I do.

#


Thank you, young couple who were the literal living incarnations of Robert and Zoe; thank you for letting your story intersect with mine, even if you can never be aware of the impact it had on me. Thank you for helping me get back on track, for helping me find what I had lost, for reminding me of what I am in a way I could not ignore.

Thank you for renewing my faith in the Power of Story. I won't forget again.

I promise to go forward and -- to the best of my ability -- create awesome stories.

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Type)
I opened the manuscript for my "Mages Dueling on a Metro Transit Bus" novella, and I realized the first paragraph works great, but then the story doesn't really start until page 5.

It is an easy mistake to make. I front-loaded a bunch of world building stuff that I need (though the reader might not need it all), but should be sprinkled into the narrative so the reader gets what information they need when they need it, not dropped on them in a big spew of dull exposition.

Fortunately, I know exactly what I need to do next. I will cut it up and add the parts the reader needs to the story in small bits scattered about the text. The rest will go into a file, archived for my own benefit. I know what my writing project for the next week will be!

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Cold Springs)
I have been tagged by the ever delightful Catherine Lundoff to participate in "The Next Big Thing Blog Hop." Before I start, you can read Catherine's entry!

Okay, on with the questions.
************************************************************
What is the working title of your next book?

I have the title for this one pretty much set in stone at this point. It is the A Study in Violet.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I've written and published two stories that featured the character Arkady Bloom, The Horror at Cold Springs, a steampunk & weird west tale and The Curious Case of the Jeweled Alicorn, a steampunk spy-thriller novella focused on Bloom in Her Majesty's Secret Supernatural Service. My publisher, Sam's Dot Publishing, has been pretty pleased with the performance of the other two books, and we wanted to keep the series going as long as people are interested in reading it. My wife and I had been reading the Sherlock Holmes stories—including A Study in Scarlett--and we had both recently read Neil Gaimen's homage to both Conan Doyle and Lovecraft, A Study in Emerald. My wife (who actually created the Bloom character and handed him to me to play with) pointed out that we had established that elf-blood (Bloom is a half-blood) was violet. We were both excited to create our own steampunk homage to Sherlock Holmes tales and yet put a unique twist on the genre.

What genre does your book fall under?

Steampunk/Fantasy/Science Fantasy/Victoriana/Detective

What is the synopsis or blurb for this book?

When a minor lord who is arranging marriages between the sons of prominent English nobles and the daughters of the elven court is murdered, Arkady Bloom—a half-blood poet and agent of Her Majesty's Paranormal Services—is ordered to assist the investigation. Bloom is quickly plunged into intrigue and possible treason against the crown, even as his own loyalties are called into question.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Arkady Bloom: My wife and I have both always pictured this character as looking a lot like Orlando Bloom in tails and top hat.

Mr. Chillblood: Give Idris Elba scars and Victorian clothes and he'd be great as the silent, brooding bodyguard of Bloom.

Katarina: Bloom's elven changeling ward is physically based on a friend of mine, but could easily be played by Dakota Fanning.

Theodora: Katarina's automaton creation is physically based on urban fantasy author Caitlin Kittredge and I really can't see her any other way. Caitlin was an extra in a movie once, so she totally counts. By the way, Caitlin is also doing "The Next Big Thing Blog Hop." Reader her post here!

Inspector Highmore: Richard Leaf really has that tired, world-weary look, coupled with striking blue eyes.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm hoping my publisher of the previous books will like this one enough to buy it, but I don't have a contract. If they don't buy it, I'll have to consider other options.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About three months. I'm hoping to have it ready to deliver in March or April of 2013.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I answered that above. A Study in Violet is a steampunk detective story homage to both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlett and Neil Gaimen's A Study in Emerald. From a technical craft aspect, I took on the challenge of writing a story completely from the point of view of a character who doesn't speak (Chillblood).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The whole series has some League of Extraordinary Gentleman in it. Mostly I would compare it to Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Jekyll and Hyde.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If you are a fan of steampunk, Victoriana, Holemsian detective stories, and chaotic action sequences, this is for you!
*************************************************************
And there is my contribution to the Blog Hop! I will now tag five terrific writers to share what they're up to next.

Because I asked and she said, "Yes!"
Dana Baird

Because I asked and they didn't say, "No!"
Lyda Morehouse
Kelly Barnhill
Scott Lynch

Because I meant to ask, forgot, and decided to tag her anyway:
Rae Carson


Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Default)
Michael's Tremendously Simple And Mostly But Not Entirely Optional Not Really Rules More Like Guidelines For Writing and Writers.

1. You must write. You must polish it. You should find a workshop or writers group or trusted people to give you critiques. You should rewrite and polish again. You must complete the story. You must submit the story, or it will never be published. And then you must start a new story.

2. You have no control over anything except the writing, be it a short story, a novel, a query letter, or a synopsis. All the other stuff--sales, agents, contracts, awards--those come from the one thing you control, which is the writing. Focus on writing. Understand and do the stuff on the business end, but don't obsess about the stuff you don't control.

3. There will be all kinds of books, websites, and individual authors who will offer you all kinds of advice. Me, for example. There is a lot of information out there, and you are going to have to learn to sort out what is useful to you. There is no One True Way, and if some tells you there is, they're full of shit. Every writer is different and there is no one-size-fits-all way of doing this. No matter how good the advice from no matter how good a writer/editor/publisher giving it, your mileage may vary. Figure out what resonates with you, and use it. If it doesn't work, cast it aside.

4. Follow submission guidelines to the letter. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are a new writer, you must do everything right, and this is a big one. Learn the standard manuscript format. Most magazines--print and electronic--still use this format, so it's a good place to start and a good way to have your manuscripts set up. Then, once again, read the submission guidelines, and adjust your manuscript accordingly. Seriously. Follow the submission guidelines.

5. You are going to receive rejections. This is a fact of the business and you will end up with lots and lots of rejection letters, if you have the nerve and thick skin to keep at it. This is not about you as person: It's about the story, and it is business, nothing more. For whatever reasons, that story did not work for that editor on that day. The very best thing you can do about rejection is to send the story back out. Once you've sold the story, none of the previous rejection matters anymore. If you want to succeed as writer you have to be tough, you have to keep going and writing and believing in yourself.

6. Editors are your friends. They want you to succeed. They want good stories. They spend hours slogging through slush hoping for that one little gem of a story. They will give you money. If you think receiving critical feedback from an editor is an attack, you are probably in the wrong business. Learn to take criticism and to rewrite to an editor's request. And just as important, learn when to ignore suggestions and criticism. You will probably have to learn this by trial and error, but most of the learning process in this business is by trial and error anyway.

7. Money flows to the writer. Period.

8. Reach. Grasp. Fail. Fall. Get Up. Dust Off. Try Again.

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Default)
Michael's Tremendously Simple And Mostly But Not Entirely Optional Not Really Rules More Like Guidelines For Writing and Writers.

1. You must write. You must polish it. You should find a workshop or writers group or trusted people to give you critiques. You should rewrite and polish again. You must complete the story. You must submit the story, or it will never be published. And then you must start a new story.

2. You have no control over anything except the writing, be it a short story, a novel, a query letter, or a synopsis. All the other stuff--sales, agents, contracts, awards--those come from the one thing you control, which is the writing. Focus on writing. Understand and do the stuff on the business end, but don't obsess about the stuff you don't control.

3. There will be all kinds of books, websites, and individual authors who will offer you all kinds of advice. Me, for example. There is a lot of information out there, and you are going to have to learn to sort out what is useful to you. There is no One True Way, and if some tells you there is, they're full of shit. Every writer is different and there is no one-size-fits-all way of doing this. No matter how good the advice from no matter how good a writer/editor/publisher giving it, your mileage may vary. Figure out what resonates with you, and use it. If it doesn't work, cast it aside.

4. Follow submission guidelines to the letter. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are a new writer, you must do everything right, and this is a big one. Learn the standard manuscript format. Most magazines--print and electronic--still use this format, so it's a good place to start and a good way to have your manuscripts set up. Then, once again, read the submission guidelines, and adjust your manuscript accordingly. Seriously. Follow the submission guidelines.

5. You are going to receive rejections. This is a fact of the business and you will end up with lots and lots of rejection letters, if you have the nerve and thick skin to keep at it. This is not about you as person: It's about the story, and it is business, nothing more. For whatever reasons, that story did not work for that editor on that day. The very best thing you can do about rejection is to send the story back out. Once you've sold the story, none of the previous rejection matters anymore. If you want to succeed as writer you have to be tough, you have to keep going and writing and believing in yourself.

6. Editors are your friends. They want you to succeed. They want good stories. They spend hours slogging through slush hoping for that one little gem of a story. They will give you money. If you think receiving critical feedback from an editor is an attack, you are probably in the wrong business. Learn to take criticism and to rewrite to an editor's request. And just as important, learn when to ignore suggestions and criticism. You will probably have to learn this by trial and error, but most of the learning process in this business is by trial and error anyway.

7. Money flows to the writer. Period.

8. Reach. Grasp. Fail. Fall. Get Up. Dust Off. Try Again.

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Default)
Events of Interest to Twin Cities Readers and Writers

Tonight, 10/10/2012 – Emma Bull and Will Shetterly are reading at DreamHaven Books, 2301 East 38th Street, Minneapolis, MN 6:30 to 7:45pm, as part of the Speculation Reading Series.

Saturday, 10/13/2012 - Twin Cities Book Festival at the Progress Center, Minnesota State Fairgrounds, 1265 North Snelling Avenue, St. Paul, MN - 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. My friend Catherine Lundoff will be on the panel "MN Queer - The State of LGBT Literature" at 11:30. Other events include a presentation by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and a reading by local author William Alexander.

Best of all: Both events are free!

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Stories)
In my quest to broaden my artistic horizons, I've started a new—career is too strong a word—artistic pursuit: spoken-word performer.

Now, once upon a time, many many many years ago, I was an actor. I know this probably messes with your perception of quiet, introverted Michael, but there it is. But that was many many many years ago, so when I first started talking about the idea of maybe considering the possibility of taking up spoken-word performing and stage storytelling at some point in a nebulous future, it was kind of terrifying. The kind of terrifying that leaves you quivering behind the couch under a heavy quilt, hugging your confused cat and muttering fevered prayers. Or gibber unintelligibly. Whichever.

The year is 2008. Undaunted by the task of dragging me from behind the couch, and having way more belief in me than I have in myself, Beloved Spouse gave me the birthday gift of Nancy Donoval's Storytelling Workshop (because Beloved Spouse only buys the best. For my birthday the first year we were married she bought me tickets to go see storyteller and harpist Patrick Ball. I think this is where the seeds of pursuing spoken-word performing were planted). I had a great time at the workshop. Nancy is a fabulous teacher and I learned tons about story and story construction, things I took and used in my career as a writer of fictions. But I never tried to do anything with the skills I learned about performing on stage in front of a live audience. Terrified, I did put in for the MN Fringe Festival in 2010. I don't get in. I remember being kind of relieved.

Move forward to 2011. I finally suck it up and decide to just do it. Of course, I couldn't get into spoken-word performing the normal way. You know, do a bunch of workshops, take acting and vocal classes, and perform at open mics for months (or years) to fine-tune your material and delivery. No, I jumped in feet first and off the deep end. I put in for MN Fringe Festival again. The ping-pong ball gods dismissed me, but a show dropped out five days before the festival opened, and I took the slot.

Despite the fact that I was a nervous wreck and actually got a little ill the day before opening the show, it went pretty well. I'd done public readings of my fiction for a number of years, so I wasn't freaked out being in front of an audience. I knew there was no way I'd be off book in five days, so I didn't worry about it. I did a quasi-dramatic reading of three original fantasy stories to mostly positive reviews. We finished the run without any disasters and even made a little money.

Next, I lose my mind and audition for Tellebration! 2011, a major storytelling festival held that year at Open Book in downtown Minneapolis. I didn't really think I was going to get in, but I received an email letting me know I'd been picked for the personal stories track. I rewrote a script I had planned to use for a future MN Fringe Festival, cutting 20 minutes of material. The day before the festival I tell Beloved Spouse to please email them and let them now I can't do this. I plan to buy a bus ticket to Iowa, change my name, and take up raising llamas.

I did none of these things, instead fulfilling my contract with the festival. I got up on stage, I took a deep breath, and…

Yeah. It went well. Not perfect, but pretty good for an amateur, I thought. That night after the festival closed, the sponsoring organization, NorthStar Storytelling League, hosted a story slam. Well, in for a pound…The competition was terrifying. Some of the biggest names in local spoken-word performing and storytelling signed up to compete. I decided early that my best hope was to not embarrass myself while getting some much needed experience. I was one of the last performers of the night. I stepped up to microphone, took a deep breath and launched into the story.

For three and a half minutes, I was on fire. I don't know where I vanished to, but the guy up on stage using my body to tell a story about encountering a ghost on Hennepin Avenue was hitting on all cylinders and in complete command of his performance. I came in second place, to my delight and utter bewilderment. I won a bunch of free tickets to a series of storytelling events around the Twin Cities.

And then I stopped and went back to hiding behind the couch clutching my befuddled feline. Whatever confidence I had built up vanished. Beloved Spouse kept poking at me to go to the monthly story slam at Kieran's, but I kept making excuses. We did see a bunch of storytelling over the next nine months. Mostly the Rockstar Storytellers, but some other great shows a well, especially at MN Fringe Festival 2012. I would watch these fabulous storytellers and think, "Man, I wish I was half as good as they are."

Finally, the gift certificates I had won for my second place finish were about to expire. Deciding I really needed to see if I could do this or not, I wrote a piece about the life a dollar bill for the MN Story Slam in September, finishing it the afternoon before the slam. I got up on the stage, took a deep and nervous breath, and let the story go. And I came in second place.

I went back this month with a tale about how cats are plotting our demise as a species. I didn't place, but still gave a strong performance. And I found that I loved listening to all the competing storytellers, learning by paying attention to how they told their own tales and delivered them to the audience.

I realized I'd been doing that all along. I'd been watching storytellers I admire— performers like Nancy Donoval, Phillip Andrew Bennett Low, Rob Callahan, John Dingley, Amy Salloway, Katie Knutson, Katherine Glover, Rik Reppe, and others too numerous to mention—and I was studying their style, their deliveries, how they constructed a tale, how they managed the stage and the audience. I was taking a Master's Class in storytelling by the simple virtue of being open to what each performer—whether an established professional or a nervous newcomer like me—had to teach with each performance.

There's no real moral or point to this tale, I just wanted to share this cool new thing I'm doing that brings me joy (and yeah, I know there will also be anger and tears in the future. Anything you feel passionate about in life will bring you frustration at some point) and stretches me as a performer and writer.

Maybe that's what this blog post is about: remembering to stretch as an artist; to strive and grasp and grow and take chances; to try new and scary things; to be willing to fail, but maybe succeed. To crawl from behind the couch, blink up into the bright light of the table lamp, set the exasperated cat down, and be brave in the face of fear and doubt.

Or maybe it's about how to stop annoying your cat.

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Default)
My post and snippet from yesterday evoked a very thoughtful comment about how easily the concept of the character being an African and brought to Victorian England as a child when his village is decimated could go "very badly wrong very easily." The commenter also pointed that, "If you're trying to evoke the casual racism of that era, I'm hip deep in it from just what you've posted."

This is my reply and thoughts on the matter, slightly expanded:

Yes, I realize just how quickly this could go oh so wrong. I am trying to evoke the casual racism of the period in this opening, and I realize I may well be stepping into a minefield, but...

One of my chief complaints with Steampunk as literature, fashion, and fandom cos-play/role-play is that we do shy away from examining racism, classism, sexism, and the rest of the dark and seedy side of empire and colonialism. The story I'm writing— while at its heart a mystery— will also examine some of those various –isms I just described. They need to be acknowledged and have light shone on them. It would be easier to pretend they don't exist in this fictional world I'm writing in, but I think that would be worse than trying (even if I fail) to look at the reality of the period and incorporate it in a manner I hope is reasonable and sensitive.

That said, I know I'm walking on dangerous ground, and by walking on that dangerous ground I have to be prepared to face the fact that I might, even with the best of intentions, screw up. And if that happens, then I have to accept the criticism I will come in for, try to understand where I went wrong, learn from that, and do better in the future. The sort of comment the blog reader posted is just the exact reality check I need to make sure I am approaching this subject matter in a way that is both respectful and unblinking.

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Default)
Sometimes the story you are writing does not turn out the way you planned. If you're smart, you learn to roll with it, to turn down the unplanned detours, to take a chance and go down the rabbit hole, because sometimes that were the true story is to be found.

Okay, maybe letting the story drag you down the rabbit hole isn't how you work. Right now I can picture several other professional writers shaking their heads and muttering about how they, not their characters, control the story, which is how it should be. There is nothing wrong with this style of working. Many writers prefer the control of knowing exactly where they are going before they ever touch fingers to keyboard or put pen to paper. The knowing—outlines, maps, sticky notes, spreadsheets and all that—allows them work quickly and confidently. That's fine, if that works for them (or you).

I'm not that guy. I tend to take a concept, begin to run with it, stop to flesh out what happens next, write toward that, let the end suggest itself, stop and figure out how to get to that ending, and then write toward that while being perfectly willing to go haring off down side plots and chase down errant themes as they present themselves. There is joy in discovering the story in this manner, I've found.

There can also be frustration. You can get side-tracked easily. You can go down a dead-end thematically. You can write whole sections of prose that then need to be cut later because they seems to be from a totally different story.

You can find that what you thought was nice little short story about phantom streetcars suddenly (for various values of suddenly) becomes Last Car to Annwn Station, your first published novel. Yeah, that was this guy, and I'm trying to learn from that experience.

Back in June I started a story about two mages on a public transit bus engaged in low-level duel (there a metaphysical reason they can only duel on that route at that time of day) and the hapless third-party who gets caught in their crossfire. The story kept going and growing, and I was fine with that, even when it hit 15K, I was fine. I've written and sold plenty of novellas (well, four of them anyway) so I wasn't scared. But at the 26K mark, this story that had been cruising along so nicely and I loved to write, stalled out and began to sputter. I stopped and took stock, decided it had stalled because I didn't know what I was writing toward anymore, especially the end. I had gone as far as I could on nerve and the electric first blush of a great idea. Now was time to stop and do a little heavy-lifting brainstorming.

This led to my previous post about continuity, and needing to know how this piece fit in the greater overall setting. I wrote up five pages of notes, thoughts, and idea, finally deciding where I needed to head next. I sat down today and started writing toward goal.

And even though the whole thing stayed on the course I had set, it simultaneously took a hard turn to the left, began to gather speed, and started to morph. I could see where the story was going. I could easily see a story spooling out before me, building on what I had started here and using things I had established in the setting. It was all there.

And I slammed on the brakes. I didn't trust what was happening. My story was suddenly not a short or a novella. No, I could see another 60K words before me. All I had to do was point my prose at that long straightaway fading off into the distant horizon, set my fingers on the keyboard, and hit the gas. The idea of being in for another (unplanned) novel freaked me out.

And then I remembered those phantom streetcars, and what they became when I stopped trying to rein the story in, stopped trying to keep it stuffed in the little box I thought I should fit in. Back then, I finally bowed to the inevitable and let the story have the room to run that it demanded. It became something wonderful, something I am intensely proud to have written. It became my first published novel. The mages dueling on a bus story stalled because I was trying to hammer it into the shape I thought it should be instead of letting become the story that needs to be told.

Surprise and discovery is part of my process. It is a scary part of my process, but is also the most joyful, and if writing can't be an exercise in joy, then I don't want to do it.

Dear Mages Dueling on a Bus story (which became a novella),
I acquiesce to your wishes. You are indeed a novel. Let's do this, you and I!
Cheers,
Me

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Default)
Sometimes the story you are writing does not turn out the way you planned. If you're smart, you learn to roll with it, to turn down the unplanned detours, to take a chance and go down the rabbit hole, because sometimes that were the true story is to be found.

Okay, maybe letting the story drag you down the rabbit hole isn't how you work. Right now I can picture several other professional writers shaking their heads and muttering about how they, not their characters, control the story, which is how it should be. There is nothing wrong with this style of working. Many writers prefer the control of knowing exactly where they are going before they ever touch fingers to keyboard or put pen to paper. The knowing—outlines, maps, sticky notes, spreadsheets and all that—allows them work quickly and confidently. That's fine, if that works for them (or you).

I'm not that guy. I tend to take a concept, begin to run with it, stop to flesh out what happens next, write toward that, let the end suggest itself, stop and figure out how to get to that ending, and then write toward that while being perfectly willing to go haring off down side plots and chase down errant themes as they present themselves. There is joy in discovering the story in this manner, I've found.

There can also be frustration. You can get side-tracked easily. You can go down a dead-end thematically. You can write whole sections of prose that then need to be cut later because they seems to be from a totally different story.

You can find that what you thought was nice little short story about phantom streetcars suddenly (for various values of suddenly) becomes Last Car to Annwn Station, your first published novel. Yeah, that was this guy, and I'm trying to learn from that experience.

Back in June I started a story about two mages on a public transit bus engaged in low-level duel (there a metaphysical reason they can only duel on that route at that time of day) and the hapless third-party who gets caught in their crossfire. The story kept going and growing, and I was fine with that, even when it hit 15K, I was fine. I've written and sold plenty of novellas (well, four of them anyway) so I wasn't scared. But at the 26K mark, this story that had been cruising along so nicely and I loved to write, stalled out and began to sputter. I stopped and took stock, decided it had stalled because I didn't know what I was writing toward anymore, especially the end. I had gone as far as I could on nerve and the electric first blush of a great idea. Now was time to stop and do a little heavy-lifting brainstorming.

This led to my previous post about continuity, and needing to know how this piece fit in the greater overall setting. I wrote up five pages of notes, thoughts, and idea, finally deciding where I needed to head next. I sat down today and started writing toward goal.

And even though the whole thing stayed on the course I had set, it simultaneously took a hard turn to the left, began to gather speed, and started to morph. I could see where the story was going. I could easily see a story spooling out before me, building on what I had started here and using things I had established in the setting. It was all there.

And I slammed on the brakes. I didn't trust what was happening. My story was suddenly not a short or a novella. No, I could see another 60K words before me. All I had to do was point my prose at that long straightaway fading off into the distant horizon, set my fingers on the keyboard, and hit the gas. The idea of being in for another (unplanned) novel freaked me out.

And then I remembered those phantom streetcars, and what they became when I stopped trying to rein the story in, stopped trying to keep it stuffed in the little box I thought I should fit in. Back then, I finally bowed to the inevitable and let the story have the room to run that it demanded. It became something wonderful, something I am intensely proud to have written. It became my first published novel. The mages dueling on a bus story stalled because I was trying to hammer it into the shape I thought it should be instead of letting become the story that needs to be told.

Surprise and discovery is part of my process. It is a scary part of my process, but is also the most joyful, and if writing can't be an exercise in joy, then I don't want to do it.

Dear Mages Dueling on a Bus story (which became a novella),
I acquiesce to your wishes. You are indeed a novel. Let's do this, you and I!
Cheers,
Me

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.

Continuity

Aug. 22nd, 2012 09:36 pm
mmerriam: (Coffee)
It is a bear sometimes.

My "Mage Duel on a Bus" novella has ground to halt. Not only am I unsure of the ending, but I need to work out the continuity of not only the novella, but where it fits and how it affects and is affected by all the other pieces in this setting.

oof dah...

I suppose this is the danger of writing stories using the same setting. You build a mythology and continuity and you have to live with it once you've published a piece. Or several pieces that are part of a larger whole. I've been writing and selling stories in my Magical Twin Cities setting since 2005. I've sold 13 short stories and one novel using this setting. I've written three yet-to-be-sold novels, outlined three more novels, and now have this novella as part of the setting. I have a lot invested in this Magical Twin Cities setting (Beloved Spouse says I need to come up with an actual name for this setting, something unique, descriptive, and recognizable).

There is a lot of continuity to deal with.

What's worse, if the Oklahoma rural fantasies I'm writing are part of this setting (right now they don't have any published characters in common, but do share a magical system), then it adds another seven short stories and one novella to the whole mess.

Not that I'm complaining. This is a great problem to have. But it is a problem, because I have to keep everything consistent with everything else and there are stories all up and down the setting's timeline. I suppose I need to create some kind of spreadsheet or wiki or something to help me keep track of everything (characters, timeline of events, changes to the setting, rules for magic, rules for monsters, etc) going on in this setting.

And all the other settings I've been writing stories for. Besides the Magical Twin Cities setting, there is the Oklahoma Rural Fantasy setting (seven short stories, one novella, and touched on lightly in two of the MTC unsold novels), the Space Opera setting (12 short stories), the Sword and Sorcery world (The Dolenbyd Cycle, with five short stories and a yet-to-be-sold novel), the Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction / Urban Fantasy setting (two novellas and three short stories) and the Gaslights and Grimoires Steampunk setting (two novellas).

As an aside: Yes, I count yet-to-be-sold novels, novellas, and other works as being part of the continuity. I am a firm believer that I will sell everything I write. Seriously. Yes, once I sell them they will come in for some serious rewrites which may change how they affect the overall continuity of the series, but rewrites after you've sold the novel are just part of the editorial process.

So, my fellow writers, readers, tech-geeks, and friends, how would you suggest I handle keeping track of…well…everything?

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.

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