Tuesday, November 27, 2012

RedditGifts Marketplace

For any of you who are aware of Reddit, it's a massive community and every year they have the world's largest Secret Santa gift exchange. More than 50,000 people are participating. I'm participating this year and it's a lot of fun.

One of the ways the full time staff makes its money is through the RedditGifts Marketplace, which is new this year. They're curating a collection of merchants and artists to sell items through their Marketplace to help support the exchange and artists like myself.

I'm the first author they've added to the market place. I'm sure more will come, but right now mine are the only books available through Reddit.

You can buy my books at a slight discount, all signed, through their portal here. I'll be handling the shipping and handling just as if you'd be buying it through me, but it'll be supporting this great team of people at the same time.

If you want the bundles I've put on sale for the holidays still, though, they are still available here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holiday Sales

In the spirit of the holidays, I'm going to be putting signed, print copies of my books on sale between now and the end of the holiday season. If you've wanted to grab copies for yourself or as a gift for friends, they will never be cheaper.

The sales are as follows:

Novel bundle:

Lost at the Con and Operation: Montauk - both of my published novels will be available for the low price of $20 + S&H. That's $10 off the suggested retail for the both of them. They'll be signed and personalized.

Shorts bundle:

Man Against the Future and God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut - Both of my collections of short stories and essays will be available for the low price of $15+S&H, which is $5 off their suggested retail price. They too will be signed and personalized.

The whole shebang:

Lost at the Con, Operation: Montauk, Man Against the Future, God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut, and The Colossus: All of the printed work above, plus my convention special steampunk novella "The Colossus". This would ordinarily retail at $55, but it's going to be available for $35+S&H. That's a full $20 off.

Of course if you prefer digital versions, all of my books are available digitally for all platforms. If you'd like to buy multiple copies or sets, let me know and we'll work out an even larger discount. I find books are always the best gifts and who wouldn't want to pass on some of mine?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Triumph Over Tragedy

In the next few days I'll be submitting my third short story in as many weeks for an anthology. This one, though, might be the one I'm most proud of. Not the story, per se, though I do think it's really good stuff, but it's the most important anthology.

Put together by my friend and author R.T. Kaelin, Triumph Over Tragedy is an anthology that includes more than 40 authors and every cent of the proceeds are going to the Red Cross and relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

I won't say I was the first author to sign up when the redoubtable Mr. Kaelin cooked up the idea, but I was pretty darn close, and I'm very glad to be involved. For a donation of at least $7, you can get some very, very cool stories.

Here's the full list of authors involved so you can know why $7 for stories by all of them would be a steal:

• Robert Silverberg (Hugo and Nebular Award winner)
• Marion Zimmer Bradley (Locus Award winner) (donated by the MZB Literary Trust)
• Elizabeth Bear
• Michael J. Sullivan
• Mark Lawrence
• Bradley P. Beaulieu
• Philip Athans
• Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Stephen D. Sullivan
• Rick Novy
• Jean Rabe
• Maxwell Alexander Drake
• SM Blooding
• Erik Scott de Bie
• Alex Bledsoe
• Matthew Wayne Selznick
• R.T. Kaelin
• Ari Marmell
• Jaym Gates
• C.S. Marks
• C.J. Henderson
• Marian Allen
• Bryan Young (<== That's me, in case you forgot)
• Donald Bingle
• Janine Spendlove
• T.L. Gray
• Miya Kressin
• Steven Saus
• Addie King
• Rob Knipe
• Vicki Johnson-Steger
• Tracy Chowdhury
• Doris Stever
• Gregory Wilson

I'm told more are coming.

As of this moment, the anthology has raised over a thousand dollars, I'd like to see you guys double it. Click here to go to the page and donate.

The story I'm providing is a science fiction piece in a world I've been building for a long time for an extended stay in. I hope you guys will enjoy an early taste of it.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Operation: Montauk: The Book Report

A young fan of Operation: Montauk read the book and liked it enough to do a book report/movie poster.

It's one of the coolest things I've seen and made me very, very happy.

If you, too, want to experience this "Awesome Fantasy," you can grab it in the store.  It's also available digitally (links here). 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Writer's Rules Revisited #7

I've been busy working on my new book as part of NaNoWriMo, but that doesn't mean I want to leave you guys entirely out in the cold. 

For those new around these parts, a brief explanation is in order. A long time ago I posted a list of rules and guidelines I've been collecting in my notebook over the years as a writer. I put together the list on the blog and it was fairly popular. (You can read the whole thing here) But there's only so much that comes across in a simple bullet point list. I wanted to expand on it and we've been doing it two or three at a time ever since.

If you want to catch up on the series:

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 herePart 4 here, Part 5 here, and Part 6 here.

23) Avoid cliches. Avoid them in characters, action, dialogue, story, plot, and anything else that risks being cliched. If you must use a cliche, add uniqueness and freshness to it.

Cliches tend to be the first thing our mind thinks about when we're percolating a story or a plot point. They're cliches because they ring true, but they're tired and need to be put to rest or reinvigorated. And it's a cliche in any form we're talking about.

When you're conceiving of that villain and want to give him that gnarly scar across his eye, think better of it. Everyone has done that. Don't give him the same ambitions as every other villain you've ever read about, it gets boring. With characters, I like to try to find the cliche and then work out how the exact opposite could be true. Your brooding hero is an orphan who lost both of his parents tragically? How very average of you. Why not have him come from a very well balanced and loving home and come up with a different and altogether more startling reason for his demeanor?

You need to try coming at things from a different angle than everyone else has.

Locations are another thing you can use to avoid cliche and they present interesting possibilities for interaction between your characters...  Say you have a scene that would normally take place in an office. Not much can surprise you about an office and the way the scene will play out won't vary from almost any other office. But what if that meeting were to happen in a coffee shop, or a pizza parlor, or an elevator where people are coming and going and the people meeting are reluctant to talk around others. What about a park bench? Or a mechanic's shop? Or on the side of the road with cars roaring by changing a tire? Anything but the boring old office.

I know for your first drafts you're told not to second guess yourself and just write, but second guess some of your choices just once and think if there is something more interesting and less cliched for you do to.

This applies to your prose as well. There are tired old metaphors and similes that that everyone uses. Like a hot knife through butter? More than you could possibly imagine? Butterflies in the stomach? And on and on and on and on...  If those are what you need to put down for the sake of getting your first draft done, great, more power to you. But when you're revising, you need to come up with much better, more precise, more finely tuned imagery.

Part of this is really just being hyper aware of what's been done too often and exploring the world around you enough to know what would be fresh. But think about it constantly.

24) Don't write a story you only have half a heart for. It does a disservice to you and a disservice to the material.

You know that feeling you get when you come up with a scene and all the pieces fall into place and you just can't wait to sit down and start writing it? You have an energy and an enthusiasm for it that is unmatched, it's the scene that makes you want to write the whole piece...

If you're that enthusiastic about one scene, you need to work hard to make every scene that important to your ability to finish your work. That enthusiasm for the story and the prose translates to the reader. What you're feeling comes out in the words and makes its way to your audience.

If you don't have that enthusiasm for a story, it's probably going to be limp and your audience will feel it. And writing is something we do because we love it. If you're not writing something you love, you're just working on sending yourself to an early grave.

Be in love with what you're writing. It's better for everyone.

25) It's a good writer who can write what he knows, it takes a great writer to write what he doesn't. Cut your teeth on what you do know and research the hell out of everything you don't and you'll do fine.

They always tell you to write what you know. Whether you know something or not, you still have to know it in order to visualize it, imagine it, feel it viscerally, and then translate it to words your audience can absorb. 

For those starting out, it's easier to write people, places, and things that are much closer to you, you understand them better. If you're a good writer, you're relying on all of that instinct and experience to provide the most rich experience you can provide a reader. Once you've written more, you can more easily rely on the discipline that writing on a regular basis provides. And the more often you write, the more often you'll find yourself in your every day life looking for things in the world around you that will give you clues to include in your prose and stories.

And if you want to tell a story somewhere or someplace you've never been, then you'll be able to do the proper research to give you the physical details, and you'll use your disciplined imagination to actually put yourself there.

More than anything, though, it's being conscious of what you have around you. Notice things about people, listen in on conversations, make up wild and drastic stories about people passing you by every day. I love taking public transportation for all the different stories I see, hear, and make up. I love walking down the street or hanging out in coffee shops for the same reasons. I spend so much time in my every day life wondering how I'd shoot any given situation I was in if I were filming it for a movie or a short film. I watch and listen to passersby, wondering what their stories might be, noticing little details about them that I might include in my stories. 

All of this goes down into my notebook. All of it. And the more I put in my notebook, the more I "know," even if I don't know it. 

I'm not sure I'm even making sense, but it really is a thing that writer's learn to do and it's a blessing and a curse. I catch myself staring at people, embedding those odd details in my brain. I catch myself not wanting to get off the train when I'm supposed to to see how a conversation will play out. I watch movies and tell myself a thousand ways it could end before the third scene is over and, more often than not, one of them is usually right.

It's just what you have to do.

For working in a place where you need a specific look or feel for your prose or dialogue and you're researching it, don't just go to history books about the topic. Look up newspapers (if possible) from the era. Watch movies set in that time. Read books written in that era and/or about that era. Don't just rely on what a history book will tell you, get a much more bird's eye view of the time and place. Once its soaked in, you can keep it all there and start writing. You'll be amazed by how much you retain.

I suppose that's all for now. Keep writing and good luck with your work.

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

If you want to check out the whole list, you can find it here. And while you're thinking about it, feel free to order a signed book from me, or check out my collection of work that's available digitally.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Writer's Rules Revisited #6

It's been a while since I revisited my "writing advice" sorts of columns since I've been so busy with conventions (like the incredible and excellent Geek Media Expo) and my new book, but I know a lot of people have been consuming every writing tip they can as they work on their NaNoWriMo novels and I wanted to bring these back for you guys.

If you want to catch up on the series:

You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 herePart 4 here, and  Part 5 here.

Now that that's all out of the way, we can get down to business:

20) Read other peoples books and screenplays that you admire and are better than your skill level. You don't necessarily need to switch to their style, but adapts their strengths into your style and learn from their mistakes. 

I think this rule is very important and it seems very obvious. Too often I hear people who want to be writers complain that they don't read, that they don't have time, that it's boring, or that it just doesn't fit in with their routine. With very, very rare exceptions my expectation is that I'll never hear of these people as writers. Would you work on a car without learning how an engine works? Would you build a couch without understanding the fundamentals of how to comfortably support the weight of the user and without ever sitting on a couch yourself? No? Because the same level of craftsmanship and focus on craft required to build an engine or a couch or a recipe or anything else is the same level of craftsmanship required to write a story, whether it's a screenplay or a novel.

You have to know how and why stories work and you need to be able to dissect what doesn't work about them. If you aren't doing massive amounts of reading, then you aren't going to learn anything to hone your craft.

I read a lot of screenplays when I'm working on a screenplay. My favorite source for them is Drew's Script-O-Rama. There's a section there called "film scripts" and it provides links to the shooting (or early) drafts of hundreds and hundreds of our favorite movies. You want the script, not the transcript, because a transcript isn't at all what you need to study. A transcript of a film shows you what the film is in screenplay form. The early drafts and shooting script show you what led the filmmakers to the final product. There are plenty of different ways to write a screenplay and different styles of formatting. For instance, William Goldman is much more jerky and technical than, say, a script from Sergei Eisenstein, who writes more like a novel. Brad Bird's draft of Ratatouille was incredibly fun to read and enlightening. Alex Proyas's early drafts of Dark City barely resemble the final film. But I've learned something from each and every one of them. My style of writing a screenplay is about as different as you can get from William Goldman, but I think he's one of the greatest screenwriters who has ever lived.

Being able to discern what from their style I like and don't like reinforces my ideas of what my style should be. Reading their material with a critical eye will allow you to evaluate what you're doing right, what you're doing wrong, and what you can improve.

Reading other authors in the same way is key. Hemingway used to advise people to find the author's they loved, and then pick the ones whose style they could beat the hell out of and improve on it. For Hemingway, that author seemed to be Flaubert. For Kurt Vonnegut, that authorial influence quite clearly comes from Mark Twain.

For me, one of the author's whose style clicked in my brain, both for the screenwriting side and the novel side, was Graham Greene. I'd already quite enjoyed the film he wrote called The Third Man, but I read a book of his called Dr. Fisher of Geneva (or the Bomb Party) and it was at once simple, elegant, and cinematic. All of Greene's books had the hallmarks of good films and novels. I consumed everything of his I could find and wish I had his gift. And we all have dozens of writers like that. Michael Chabon. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Cervantes. Steinbeck. Hemingway. The list goes on and on and on and on. Don't be ashamed of your influences. Know what it is they do that you like and what you think they could have done better.

And don't forget the importance of devouring non-fiction. Do your research. If you want to write for a living, you're going to have to read lots and lots and lots. Don't let that discourage you. If the prospect of having to read stacks of books and screenplays doesn't thrill you, then maybe writing is something you should keep as a hobby and leave the professional work for those of us willing to do the leg work.

 22) If someone doesn't understand the images you're trying to show them, if someone doesn't "get it," it's your fault. As a writer, it's your job to make people "get it" and if they don't, you haven't done your job properly. 

It's easy to forget that your novel, your story, your screenplay, is a fully formed entity in your brain. It's easy to forget that sometimes there is information vital to the story, to the description, to the action, that is locked only in your imagination and sometimes you can forget to put it down on the page. If you have a reader explain that they didn't understand how something worked or played out, or they can't visualize something the way you wanted them to, it's not their fault for not getting it.

I'm a firm believer that it's your fault for not giving it to them properly. Your job is to make the writing as clear and concise as possible. Sure, they need to have room to imagine things, but your job is to give them all the information they need to invest in the story, whether that's geography, descriptions, motivations, anything. If something is unclear to readers (unless that's done on purpose), chances are good that you're going to need to do some rewriting.

This isn't to say you have to spell every little thing out, you still need to be paying as much attention to pacing and execution as you are to what specific actions and places and people that readers are imagining in their heads. It's a balancing act like everything else in writing is. This one is just a little more precarious than others.

This is why writing groups and advanced readers and editors are so inherently valuable. They're coming at your story with fresh eyes and will be able to very quickly tell you what confused them. When that happens, don't dismiss what they're saying, address it in the prose. They're a reader and their opinion is every bit as valid as someone who is going to eventually pay for the privilege of reading your story.

 * 21) In screenwriting, avoid metaphors and similes in the action. Readers generally skim and if they only skim the metaphor part of the sentence, they'll get images in their head that aren't actually in the movie.

This one is very specific to screenplays, but I think it's an important one. It is imperative that you remember that novel writing and screenwriting are two completely different disciplines. They work two entirely different parts of the writing muscle and must be approached differently in very nuanced ways.

One of those ways is to eliminate metaphors and similes from your screenplay. They work very well in prose, but if you get someone skimming a page in a screenplay and reads that you've got a murder victim pinned to the wall like a butterfly in a collection, some production designer somewhere might go immediately to find out where he can find butterflies, pins, and a collection of them. Screenwriting is an art that thrives on clear writing and brevity, so those extra words that constitute a metaphor or a simile are largely wasted effort anyway.

Things that work elegantly and beautifully in prose will not usually fly in screenwriting. Adding in images that aren't going to be in what you imagine the final movie to be is only going to serve as confusing and may well get your screenplay tossed in the trash by a reader somewhere.

And that's it for this installment.

Be sure to check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

If you want to check out the whole list, you can find it here. And while you're thinking about it, feel free to order a signed book from me, or check out my collection of work that's available digitally.