Butterflies Like Jewels

For your entertainment I’ve posted my latest short story as a .mp3 file.

This is not a HALO story. It is a noir fantasy with a nod to H.P. Lovecraft.

This story appears in Elemental: The Tsunami Relief Anthology: Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy. If you enjoy this story consider purchasing the book; all profits go to the victims of the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami.

Please right click the link below and “Save target as…”

Butterflies like Jewels

(Note: this is s 32 Mb download)

Special thanks to Syne Mitchell –my wife and a damn fine writer in her own right (she also has a story in Elemental)—for all her expertise in setting up this website and the recording.

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3 Things You Need to Succeed

I’ve received many questions about the business end of writing. To answer I’d like to start with a high-level overview of what you will need to make it in any creative business endeavor and then drill down in later posts about Agents, Editors, and Proposals.

You will need ANY TWO of the following THREE things to succeed.

Talent: You have a gift with words. Your prose is flawless, and your characters spring fully formed from your forebrain.

Drive: You get you at 4 AM to bang out a few revisions. Three hours later you’ve written an entire chapter.

Luck: Mega Hollywood agents accidentally call you. You’re mother is friends with major media CEOs. You inherit a million bucks letting you quit your day job!

Let’s examine these in order of least-to-most importance.

Talent is least important. You can learn how to write. I did (at least what passes for modern popular writing). Don’t get me wrong, true talent is a gift to be cherished. Sometimes, however, great talents refuse to change a word of their prose to appease editors or adapt to find a new (larger) audience. By and large people with only talent fade from the publishing world.

Drive. You can guess how I feel about this. There are impossible deadlines, endless rejections, and countless rewrites. And then you get up the next day and do it all over again for the pure joy of it. Without Drive your career will slow to a crawl, choke, and fall into a coma.

Luck. The single most important thing. There are innumerable barriers beyond your control to getting published. Once published these obstacles continue as you climb from first-time writer, to mid-list author, to “hey I can actually make a living at this!” …and beyond. Luck opens holes in publisher’s schedules, aligns cosmic factors so the NYTIMES reviews your novel, and keeps the editor who loves your work gainfully employed.

In the end, however, you can only control ONE of the three things. Talent–you’re born with it. Luck? At the whim of the stochastic and often-cruel gods. That leaves Drive…and that ALL up to you.

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Un-stick Yourself!

I’ve talked about how it’s easier to keep going if you are already writing…but how do you restart if you’re stuck?

Here are eight tricks that work for me (your mileage will vary).

1. I get up at 4 or 5 AM to write. The higher functioning parts of my brain are off when I plop down at the keyboard at this insane hour. Sometimes I start to write before procrastination kicks in.
2. Coffee, in small bursts can overcome inertia. Too much is bad. Trust me; I was at once drinking 16 cups a day. Not good. I’m down to 4-6 cups.
3. Chocolate. Sugar rush and endorphin-like chemicals. Pimples and sugar crash to contend with.
4. Exercise. Blood to brain = a good thing.
5. Music. Eight out of ten times music will get me going. I’ll even construct play lists for certain projects or characters which I’ll then listen to whenever I write on that project or in that character’s voice. Hearing key songs will instantly snap me into writing mode. Of course after listening to these same songs a million times, you may never be able to hear them again without screaming.
6. Watch a DVD. When I really can’t write I’ll pop on a movie and watch it in the corner of my monitor as I write. More often than not, I’ll just end up watching the thing. But if its one I have seen many times, sometimes I can write. The entire point of this is to keep my posterior in the chair at the computer. More time at the keyboard = a greater chance to write. I remember watching CRIMSON TIDE over and over while I wrote some of the space combat scenes with Captain Keyes. The influence is glaringly obvious.
7. Three sentences. A trick from Roger Zelazny. Just write three lousy sentences. You can quit after that. You’ll be surprised how often this frees you up and you keep writing. The trick is to really give yourself permission to stop after three sentences. With the pressure off sometimes magic happens.
8. A deadline. This is the ultimate motivator! When an editor is paying you to deliver on a specific date, the fear of missing that deadline is like hot coals to the feet.

If you have any tricks, feel free to share.

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Kick Your Muse Out

Coweh asks…

Do you think you could cover what gets you going for inspiration?

Inspiration is overrated, Coweh.

Sure, you can get lucky when a bolt from the blue strikes, but that’s rare. If you’re trying to make a living at a creative endeavor…you could get into real trouble waiting.

Kick your muse out. You can’t afford to depend upon such ethereal, fickle creatures.

Don’t wait for inspiration. Make your own.

I start with an idea, and then spot the obvious clichés, try to make it better, and think about it for days, or months, or in many cases years. I research, analyze, figure out what’s working and make it better, figure out what’s not working and get rid of it. I then set the project aside to let my subconscious process it all.

This is hard work.

Sometimes I feeling like I’m throwing myself into a brick wall over and over, until something gives and I discover how to make an idea compelling and cool. Sometimes an idea never pans out.

Since my process can potentially take so long, I have about half a dozen projects (novels, screenplays, and comics) in various stages of development at any given time.

Others say to share your fledging ideas. 90% of the time, however, even people you love and trust will pick apart a premature idea until there’s nothing left but blood and tears. You must eventually expose your idea to others, but only when it’s strong enough.

People want to believe that inspiration is a magical thing and comes without effort. If that happens—great! Count your blessings.

If you want to make a living at a creative profession, however, get ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Most people I tell this to don’t like it. Go figure.

My advice: work the idea, think lots, and keep your secrets until you’re ready.

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Every morning when I sit down to write, I’m afraid. After almost a million words written and over a million books sold, I still am terrified that I can’t write, tell a good story, and have nothing worthwhile to say. My higher brain functions shutdown and I stare at the blank screen like an ape dumbfound by the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I have a bunch of tricks to get myself started (I’ll cover those in a later posts, don’t worry). Once I get started, though, the words come–sometimes so fast I go into a Zen no-mind lightening-hot state and tap and tap and tap until I realized that I’m in that mental state (which always then breaks the spell) and I look up and see a thousand words on the screen.

I’m sharing this because I wanted those who are trying to write and have this problem to know it’s okay. Lots of other writers do, too; you’re in good company.

You can get past this. I do everyday. Don’t give up.

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