Abandoning Reality: My Search for a Good Fantasy

I suspect that there are good fantasies out there, but I’m having trouble finding ones that fit my taste.  Of course, it could be because I’m looking at the local library.  Like I have the money to buy books these days?  Trying to make ends meet is hard enough.  If I’m going to pay the price of today’s paperback books, let alone hard cover, it’s going to have to be a book that I intend to read again and again.

So, far, I haven’t found much to even read in the public library’s collection, although they try to keep up with new purchases, but almost everything seems like a really bad romance novel with witchcraft/vampires/werewolves, or a slog through a graphic, bloody, hopeless conflict with an immense number of exhausted/embittered heroes who are really good at killing things but have rather limited lives in terms of anything but war and killing.

The last really good one I read was Guy Gavriel Kay’s Lord of Emperors, which was a bit slow at first, because it took a long time to get the main players into position and in touch with all the key characters for what was really going on in the story.  Now, the characterization was lovely, but it did take a long time to get to the point. When things finally began to coalesce, I couldn’t put it down–which is saying something these days. I really liked Tigana and A Song for Arbonne, but the truth is, it takes Kay a long time to get the story underway.. (Hey, I can handle it, because I like stories that set things up. Tolkien takes a long time to get underway in the Fellowship of the Ring, but the characters are so delightful it’s worth it.)  Kay has enough lovely scenes, great writing and potential for something to happen that you keep reading . . . .

Right now, I’m trying Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind. It’s not riveting to me, but I find the two main characters—the “restored” title character and her companion, a happy-go-lucky young mage—intriguing enough to keep reading, but not racing through it as I do with books I love.  I have always found Goodkind’s writing style a bit detached. I like to go into characters when I read, but while Goodkind’s characters are intriguing, his style of writing about them seems distant, like he’s reporting what they’re thinking or feeling, instead of experiencing it. The mage I find a refreshing counterpoint to the tradition of grim wizards off on dark doings and meandering toward certain (and certain to be unpleasant) death.

And, I gotta say, when I read the MSWishlist tweets from mostly younger agents and what they are looking for, it’s depressing. Especially since everyone is looking for MG or YA, and asking for things like a sex worker who likes being a sex worker and isn’t wanting to leave the business . . . .  (I have to wonder what the heck they’re reading in “middle grade” lit these days. Seriously?)

Okay, call me old school. But I really prefer my fantasy heroic, with people thinking about more than just killing, and/or sex. I’m not all that interested in dragons, trolls, etc. although when they’re well done, I don’t mind them. I’m looking for something that’s character-driven, and sees the world through a larger prism that immediate personal gratification. But then again, I really don’t want didactic stories either

Don’t know if it’s out there, but I keep looking. I wrote my own fantasy in large part because I didn’t see what I wanted out there.  We’ll see if I can find a way to interest an agent in it.  But given what I’ve seen on the “wish list”, I think my quest to find the right agent could be a “good fantasy” in itself.

© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2017

 

 

 

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Novelist R.M. Kinder Displays Her Song Writing Skills

It’s short notice, but if you’re in the West Central Missouri area, you should make plans to be at Montserrat Vineyards in Montserrat, MO tomorrow, Sunday, June 4, 2017.  The SpoFest folks (Spoken Word Festival) are holding a special writer’s reading event and our own R.M.Kinder of the Blackwater Literary Society will be providing the music this time, instead of reading.

An accomplished musician and songwriter, R.M.K. will be playing and singing her original pieces with a special performance of line dancing to one of her songs.  Her first novel, An Absolute Gentleman, was very well received. Her second novel, The Universe Playing Strings,  is just out from the University of New Mexico Press, and is getting good reviews.  Universe is about musicians in Tucson, where R.M.K. was active in the music scene for many years.  It’s a treat to hear her play and sing, so don’t miss it.

The event runs from 6-8 pm.  Montserrat Vineyard has a lovely outdoor venue and serves simple food, their own vineyard samplings, and some beers.  I’ve been to these before and it’s a lovely way to spend a summer evening in Missouri with friends, food, wine and good writing—and good music. Come and join us if you can!

Getting back in the saddle: 500 a day

I was talking with some of the younger IDs (Instructional Designers) at work last week about the writing process.  I knew that they were both inclined toward planning out their work in detail before putting together workbooks or elearning scripts. I mentioned that I had discovered several years ago that there’s a lot of value in spontaneous writing.

There’s something special that happens when you just start writing. Your creative mind is freed up somehow to explore things you didn’t realize youCommunications Training had in mind, and to make connections that always seem so mystical in the writing process. Some of the work I’ve produced using this technique is some of my best writing, I think.

I also had decided last week that it was time to start getting more done.  I drive about three hours a day, since I live in Missouri and work in Kansas.  Between my work demands, my seven cats (who don’t all live together and need separate times with mom) and my drive time each day, not to mention household demands, I don’t have the luxury of planning every word I write. I also have learned that revision is actually more fun than first drafts anyway . . . !

So I’ve decided to get back to “just writing.”  I had done NaNoWriMo in the past, but I asked myself what’s so special about 50K words in one month?  If I did 500 words a day (two pages double spaced essentially) I’d end up with 50K in three months.  Not too shabby.

So that’s my new goal: 500 words a day.  I often take my lunch hour to write, and I think that’s doable in a lunch hour. As a working writer, I often write to deadlines, and can jump in and usually get something worthwhile pretty clock and writingquickly when I have to. And write now, I have to. I need to be producing more—and more quickly.

What do you think? How do you handle a busy schedule and still get your first drafts done?

A Day at WorldCon 2016 in KC

I didn’t get a chance to post anything about it last fall, but a friend treated me to a day at World Con Science Fiction Con which was in Kansas City last fall year.  Normally, if I go to a really big conference, it’s World Fantasy–but who could pass up World Con when it’s in the neighborhood. World Fantasy was close in Ohio, but it would have meant a long drive, kennel fees for seven cats, hotel rooms, days off work, etc. World Con was about the same distance I drive every day to and from work.

My friend, Chuck Hoctor from my writer’s group — Blackwater Literary Society–had never been to a writer’s conference before, and while World Con isn’t purely a writer’s conference, it was definitely worth the trip.  Not only did we attend some insightful panels on publishing, editors, agents, screenwriting, and more, I got to talk to some people I didn’t expect to see.

I caught up with Ginjer Buchanan, who was the long time senior editor at Ace, and who I had known since winning the Sci Fi, Fantasy and Horror award at Southwest Writer’s Workshop some years ago.  I also got to talk with Eleanor Wood of Spectrum Literary Agency, and a very kind agent from London, whose name escapes me at the moment. Melissa Snodgrass (Star Trek) and George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) were there, along with so many other lights in the SF world.

Chuck and I did a little reconnoitering in downtown KC to find lunch and dinner, which was fun.  All in all, it was a fabulous day–made possible by a dear friend’s generosity.

© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2017

Print versus E-Book Publishing: An Author Crunches the Numbers

Reading an interesting article this morning which you may find useful as well. Here is the link to a guest article about one author’s publishing experience by Carter Phipps on PriceEconomics.com’s website. :

http://priceonomics.com/can-authors-make-money-selling-books/

He walks through the history of his first book,including the specifics on advances, royalties and foreign advances, plus info on how the book was marketed, and what role both he and the publisher played in that.

The really striking part is in the middle of the article, where he does the numbers for his first book and comes up with abou $8 per hour for a project that took a year to write, and over three years to get into the market and break even for the publisher. And it wasn’t even a bad run. As he notes, the book didn’t do badly and actually did pretty well.

Depressing, right? Well, read the rest of the article to see how he works out why people are turning to ebooks, and whether that’s working any better in his experience. However, Phipps doesn’t diss the publishing industry, and notes that there is nothing to replace the prestige of a book being published traditionally—which certainly factors into sales.

But he also does some number crunching on a hypothetical book if he had gone through Amazon, which is insightful. Nonetheless, it only looks at possibiities, since his whole scenario using Amazon is merely for curious comparison.

He does add one thing I didn’t know, and I suppose I should verify somewhere else, but I’ll leave that to y’all, since I’m on the clock today.  He says that Fifty Shades of Grey was origionally self-published before going on to be a runaway hit in traditional publishing. He also notes that Romance does fairly well as ebooks, as do some more narrow categories like erotica. Hm. Makes you rethink the focus and genre of your last project or your next one, doesn’t it?

So take a peek at the article, and then, let me know what you think!

© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2014

Future of Book Publishing in 2014 – Interesting Article

Well, that’s what I get for typing before I have a cup of coffee. Forgot to include the link to the article in question! Find it below!

Following a link from Greenleaf Book Group on LinkedIn, I found an article from a company called The Idea Logical Company (?) about the publishing industry at http://www.idealog.com/blog/nine-places-to-look-in-2014-to-predict-the-future-of-publishing/?

I was especially interested in the notes on how illustrated books are faring on digital, since I was contemplating that route recently as a writer/illustrator. Then there’s the usual depressing news about Penguin Random House, mergers, the continual mashing together of major publishers into one giant supercontinent, or as idealog.com puts it, “So we now really have a Big One and a Following Four, rather than a Big Five.”

Check out the info on lit agents dabbling in publishing: I’ve been seeing a lot of this floating past as I cruise the Net, and even the freelance sites.

And the discussion about Amazon versus the entire rest of the publishing industry, so to speak. All in all, a very interesting article, with both depressing and hopeful news for any creative or non-fiction writers out there.

What’s your take on it all?

© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2014

Singing the Writing Blues

No, it’s not writer’s block. It’s worker’s block. I’ve been focused for the last few months on rebuilding my freelance business, and/or finding work since recovering from the “Great Recession” and a medical issue that started a couple of years ago and took a year to resolve. Then, as one discovers, it often takes even longer to feel yourself once again after the ordeal.question mark

So today, I made a decision. Regardless of what else is going on in my life, it’s time to get back to writing fiction. Storytelling is not just a vocation, it’s a writer’s raison d’etre. A writer is never as happy as when sitting in front of the keyboard (or for purists, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee at the local java shop), immersed in what John Gardner called “the Dream.”

It is a Dream. It is the place where the world recedes — where even in the midst of utter chaos, the writer feels at peace. Probably, that’s a bit because when you are in the Dream, writing, you are in control. If you can’t control anything else in your life, you can at least control your story.

Of course, that’s debatable as well. Some traditionalists say that the story only comes alive when it or the characters take control, and the writer is helpless to do anything except act as scribe. Who was it—wait a sec, I’ll grab the quote book—yes, Ray Bradbury who said,“’My stories run up and bite me on the leg—I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off”

But others insist that they have total control over the story and the characters, and use them to tell their message.  So who knows? Which one are you? I tend to hang with the first set. I know things are going right when that magical moment occurs, when you suddenly realize (and find yourself in the middle of writing something amazing about it) WHY that thing just had to be in the background in Chapter 2 although you did’t know at the time what the heck it was there for, or even if it mattered.  It just had to be, according to your Muse. Or when a character says something you never expected to come out of his/her mouth, even as your fingers are typing the darn thing.

It’s been some time since I was in that place. I’ve been writing other things, of course, but none of them as satisfying or meaningful as stories. But it wasn’t just the outside influences that made me stop for a while. It was also the internal worries — the sense that the publishing world is simply spinning out of control and that there wasn’t any point to what I was doing.  After all, it appears that fewer books are being published (fiction), and that everybody and his brother and sister are publishing e-books (both good and bad), and when the fan fiction I read online for a favorite TV show is sometimes so good that I can’t believe it’s from people who aren’t intending to write professionally . . . well, it just makes you throw your hands up in the air and say what’s the point?

Well, the point always was, and always will be, because you want to. Because you must. Because the darn story has run up and bit you on the leg.  But then there is the lingering suspicion that bargains I made with God when loved ones were dying, about how I’d give up ANYTHING if He would help them . . . .   It kinda makes you wonder sometimes, if He took you up on that offer.

But, I was never a very obedient Christian. I can’t remember if I made that bargain, or if it was ever intended to be accepted.  It seems an odd trade-off, and hard to imagine a God who takes away the one reason for existence (even if you did make the deal at some desperate point in your life) like some Mafia enforcer collecting on an overdue debt.

So I decided that if I could not justify the time to sit down and write as I used to, I could at least justify two hours a week. I know, sounds paltry.  Should be doing the “write every day”or “write five pages every day” or something else. But you start where you start. Or, perhaps the word is restart.

If any of you have gone through a similar period of self-enforced (or otherwise) hiatus from your creative writing, let me know. Let’s slug a mug of beer and sing the blues together . . . and set out to reclaim our existence.

© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2013

Keywords and SEO: Heading Toward Mush?

I was trolling on LinkedIn today, and while reading yet another profile summary, I was thinking about the way the summary was written.  There was nothing wrong with it, but the phrasing, although smooth and polished, just seemed curious, and oddly familiar.

And then it hit me. She was probably fitting in keywords for SEO.  I had seem similar phrasing before on similar types of profiles, probably mine included.

That got me to wondering. If we’re in the same profession, or working in a similar industry, or providing related services or products, it stands to reason that we’re going to be using very similar, if not identical, keywords. After all, we want to hit whatever keywords are used most often in searches.  That suggests that an awful lot of people, companies and products are using the same keywords, over and over again.

Now, I’m no SEO guru, and I suppose there’s a mathematical algorithm or something that says that even the slightest difference makes a big difference.  I can see that when I Google myself. Using my middle initial or not brings up results that are pretty far apart.  I sometimes wonder how people know I’m the same person — or if they do, and they just don’t care.

In the end, however,  I wonder how unique each profile is? Maybe unique isn’t the issue. Maybe everyone wants to look just like everyone else, and the trick is simply to make sure that out of 100 totally similar profiles, your’s is in the top six. Personally, I suspect that mostly comes from purchasing a placement contract.  Like certain brands at the grocery store.

If that’s the case . . . are we really talking keywords and SEO here? Or are we just talking a different kind of advertising budget than the good old days. It’s still mass media; it’s just changed formats and anybody can buy a commercial or billboard to at least have your company’s name show up.

It seems that people with similar backgrounds, interests, career positions, etc. would tend to use similar repetitive words over and over again.   The rules of English language tend to force the same or similar phrasing, position, and combination of keywords in the same ways.

So by the time we all get through keywording ourselves and everything around us to death, will we all be saying the same thing — about the same thing?

So maybe that’s a good thing? (Trying to be positive here, folks.)

That kind of reminds me of the old quip about putting an infinite number of monkeys in a room with an infinite number of typewriters, and if you wait long enough, they’ll produce one of Shakespeare’s plays.  Anybody remember the great old comedy sketch by Bob Newhart about that?

Just a thought. Anybody out there want to comment, or tell me how it works and doesn’t produce this result?

© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2013

Good News For Writers Who Feel Guilty

I don′t know about you, but this last year has been a doozy in many ways. (Doozy, that′s a technical term for . . .whoa!) I have struggled to find time to work on my own creative writing, and felt a ton of guilt over what was clearly a lack of self-discipline. But an article in Poets & Writers Magazine′s Jan/Feb 2013 issue gave me new hope. Although this post is a little belated, I think you’ll find it worth your time to find the article and read it in its entirety if you haven’t already.Pencil Sharpeners and Pencil

The author, Arnie Cooper, takes us on a tour of the writer′s brain, touching on everything from writer′s block to why we humans love stories, plus some insights into why readers (and writers) become so engrossed in a character′s feelings and actions.

When it comes to writer′s block, Cooper introduces us to Roseanne Bane, an instructor at Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her book, Around the Writer′s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer′s Resistance (Tarcher, 2012), focuses on the three parts of the human brain — the brain stem or “lizard brain” which controls bodily functions, the limbic system or “leopard brain” which gives us the capacity for emotion and reactions to threats, and finally the cerebral cortex or “learning brain” which allows us to solve problems, plan, design and, of course, write fiction.

The problem is that when a person is under stress or threatened by anything, whether that threat is actual or simply perceived, the limbic brain takes over. It limits higher brain functions in order to deal with the immediate threat, and doesn′t let go until things are calm . . . or at least we feel like they are.

According to Cooper, because we are not normally aware of this shift in control in the brain, we assume that the reason we can′t seem to get back to our writing is because we’re just plain lazy.  In reality, we are struggling against biologic reactions to life’s challenges.  Cooper gives us hope, however.  He notes that new research shows that “this resistance to writing can abe overridden by establishing new neural pathways — or more simply, starting new habits.”

To do so, Copper references “Hebb’s Law,” (named for Donald Hebb, a Canadian psychologist influential in the field of neuropsychology) which suggests that we can create new triggers to signal the brain neurons related to our writing tendencies to fire up and get busy.

For example, synapseswhen I was in college, I always sat down to write with a fresh cup of coffee and a peppermint stick (which is odd, since I don’t really care for more than one bite of peppermint at most.)  As I became engrossed in my project, I might forget about both of these triggers until the java was stone cold and the peppermint untouched. I also used to select a very specific piece of music (usually classical or jazz) that captured the feeling of the book or script I was working on. All I had to do was put it on, and I was instantly immersed in that particular story. Over time, I gave up those rituals, but I still probably have other, more subtle ones.

Toward the end of his article, Cooper discusses Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. (Ten Speed Press, 2012).  Now, there’s a mouthful.  Cron teaches at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, and cites some insights learned in a 2009 study reported in the journal, Psychological Science. Researchers used MRI to track the responses of people reading short stories.

In essence, that study and others around the world found that readers actually feel and experience what the characters do physically.  Apparently, when reading a book or watching a movie, the audience’s brain mirrors the sensations, both physical and emotional, even though the body is sitting still.

I did a little trolling on the Internet for more on this, and found intriguing discoveries that show readers (and presumably writers) experience much of what characters do.  Emory University researchers reported that when readers came across  statement like “He had leathery hands,” their sensory cortex was stimulated in the area responsible for perceiving touch, while the statement “He has strong hands” did not produce the same effect.  Studies from France show that when readers read about a character who “kicked the ball” or did some other physical act, the part of their brain that was stimulated was the motor cortex, and that the specific locations stimulated were those related to the specific action.

In a study led by the cognitive scientist, Véronique Boulenger, of the Laboratory of Language Dynamics in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

The amount of research out there about how readers read and how writers write is actually pretty astonishing.  I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel better to realize that when I have trouble writing fiction during a stressful or emotional time in my life, it’s not just because I’m a wimp: it’s simply nature.  And it’s also good to know that all that time we spend slaving over the beautifully crafted sentence or scene actually does matter.  Woman with typewriter.

Now, the question I have is . . . given that I am beginning to suspect that this kind of writing is falling by the wayside in today’s web-driven, short sentence, scanning-rather-than-reading world, are businesses and others missing the mark?  Does good writing really have a more powerful effect on people than we gave it credit for? Are we missing an opportunity for impact by dumbing down the quality of our language and messages?

Perhaps it’s time to refocus on the luxury of really well crafted prose (and poetry) rather than obsessing over those folks who are experimenting with “writing a novel” (yes, I am using quotation marks on that deliberately) via Twitter. Somehow, I just can’t see curling up in bed with a good tweet, and savoring it to the very last . . .  character?

© Chanda K. Zimmerman, 2013