Friday, December 28, 2007

A Little Business

Working hard to get issue seven of IGMS out as soon as possible. It should be in the next week to ten days, but it really can't be soon enough for me; I'm really looking forward to getting this issue out there. It's got one of the strongest line-ups of stories we've published yet.

Here's a quick look at the TOC:

Cover story: "Silent As Dust," by James Maxey
"Unryhmed Couplets of The Universe" by Sharon Shinn
"The Braiding" by Pat Esden
"The Smell of The Earth" by Joan Savage
"After This Life" by Janna Silverstein
"Lost Soul" by Marie Brenan
and Part II (and the conclusion) of last issue's novelette:
"The Price of Love" by Alan Schoolcraft

And, as usual, new stories from Orson Scott Card and David Lubar.

And speaking of stories, let me mention a few points to the folks who already have or are thinking about submitting stories:

1) I'm heavily bought on fantasy of all kinds and long stories in both the SF and fantasy areas. My greatest need is for SF under 7,000 words. If you have something long or fantasy that you think is absolutely perfect for IGMS, go ahead and send it in; but know that your best chance of selling me something right now is with shorter SF.

2) I don't remember if I've mentioned this here before or not, but I am also now working as managing editor of a new nationally distributed women's magazine. It's a much better job for many reason than my old one (editing that regional business magazine, which, as you may recall, drove me insane at times). The first issue of that magazine is set to come out in April, but our publisher was recently invited by the NFL to come to Hawaii in February for the Pro Bowl and speak at a luncheon the NFL holds for the wives of the players. It's a fantastic opportunity, but it also means that we're all going to be working like crazy on putting together a smaller-sized sampler issue of our magazine for the publisher to take along with her. Basically that means my time for reading IGMS submissions is going to be severely limited until the end of January. Sorry; I hate making you wait as much as you hate waiting, but it's not everyday the NFL invites someone to speak and we have to make the most of this.

3) If I get a moment to write another of the "Five Things I've learned About Writing" before the next issue of IGMS comes out I will. If not, look for the "Stories Behind The Stories" in issue seven to start here as soon as the issue goes live, and then I'll get back to my "Five Things" when the SBTS have all run.

I hope everyone had a great holiday, whatever holiday it may be that you celebrate. Do make sure you catch the new issue of IGMS when it comes out. I don't say this lightly or often because I want you to take me seriously when I say it, but this is going to be one of the best overall issues we've ever had.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies, Oh My...

One of the (other) things I've learned about writing - especially in the area of non-fiction, is that a good writer will find ways to recycle a piece for more than one purpose. Applying that lesson to myself, I took one of the ideas I had for this blog (and the "5 Things I've Learned About Writing" series I'm supposed to be doing) and wrote a speech for my Toast Master's club about Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies. I mention this upfront because I'm sure you'll notice the voice of this piece is different from my usual posts. When I write a speech for Toast Masters it tends to sound much more like more normal speaking 'voice' than when I write for print.

Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies, Oh My…

I was reading an article in National Geographic this past summer abut the intelligence of swarms. It talked about how any large group - everything from bugs to birds to a herd of buffalo - can take on an intelligence much greater than that of the individual components of the group – and how scientists are applying some of the principals of swarms to solve human problems. Included in that story was an example of a trucking company that had developed a computer model for routing its trucks based on algorithms inspired by the foraging behavior of Argentine ants, a species of ant known for laying trails by depositing pheromones.

Everybody get that? Let me repeat it: a trucking company developed a computer model for routing trucks based on algorithms inspired by the foraging behavior of Argentine ants, a species known for laying trails by depositing pheromones.

Okay, I like to pretend I’m a reasonably intelligent guy, but my first reaction was, “What…?”

But here’s the thing: In the next paragraph, the writer of that article gave me something I could sink my teeth into. He gave me an analogy. He said that what the ants (and therefore the trucking company) were doing was like when someone goes into the forest to collect berries. Over time a path is worn in the ground to the best places to find berries.

Now that I understood. Algorithms and ant pheromones? Not so much. Berries in the woods? Now you’re talking my language. And that’s kind of ironic, really, because, the language we’re talking about is pictures. Word pictures.

Writers (and speakers) are all trying to communicate a message, and to do so as clearly and effectively as possible. So what I want to talk about today is the power of metaphors, similes, and analogies. I’m not going to bore you with dictionary definitions of these terms, but the essence of all three is that they describe something by comparing it to something else.

There are a lot of ways to do this, and a lot of reasons to do this. You might be trying to describe something unusual – Argentine ants and their pheromones, for instance - so you compare it to something people are more familiar with. This helps them understand what you’re saying.

On the other hand, you might be talking about something very basic, like writing, and want to jazz it up. Writing in and of itself isn’t terribly hard; you’ve all been doing it since the first or second grade. But you want to make it more interesting, to catch people’s attention, so you might describe it using cooking terms. You might say that writing a story is like cooking a meal, and that if all you give people is meat and potatoes, they certainly won’t go hungry, but nobody’s going to rave about your cooking, either.

If you want to present a meal that really satisfies, you’ve got to spice it up a little. You’ve got to throw is some oregano, some thyme, maybe a little parsley on the side. Well, okay, skip the side of parsley. Nobody likes that stuff. Using parsley as a garnish is like using clich├ęs in your writing. Don’t waste people’s time.

You also have to be careful not to get carried away. If you noticed, I got kind of carried away with my analogy here and it turned from using cooking to describe writing, into using writing to describe cooking. As with herbs and spices in good cooking, you want to make sure you don’t over-do it. A little salt makes everything taste better, too much and it overpowers the meal. Everything in moderation.

Another advantage of using metaphors, similes, and analogies is this: they help people remember your keys points. By using one of these comparative devices, you are subliminally telling people (by placing extra emphasis on it) what your most important points are. That helps to reinforce those points in their minds.

Let’s say you’re writing a magazine article about gardening, and you’re trying to describe the perfect soil to plant rosemary in. And say the perfect soil for planting rosemary is rich but pale and very dry. Well, that’s not terribly evocative. But if you say it needs to be rich, pale, and very dry – kind of like Bill Gates… Hopefully you’ll get a laugh. But more importantly, you’ve reinforced your point, and made it one people won’t forget.

The last thing you want to remember is to make sure your metaphors and similes work with the subject matter you’re trying to describe. I remember one time a friend told me about someone who came to his writer’s group with a mystery story. And in this story the author had portrayed a particularly gruesome killing. He had the police at the crime scene trying to figure out ‘who done it,’ and suddenly the author describes the fingerprints the detective found like this: “Detective Spade studied the bloody print on the victim’s slashed throat and couldn’t help but notice how much the swirling pattern reminded him of the tiny whirlpool his toilet made when he flushed it.” That doesn’t add anything; in fact, it’s a terrible distraction. It’s counter-productive. You have to make sure your comparative descriptions fit with the tone of the subject matter.

Metaphors. Similes. Analogies. You can call them word pictures if that makes you happy. But I would say that more important than what you call them, or the differences between them, is remembering the power they have when used correctly. The power to clarify, the power to enliven, the power to reinforce. The power to make your writing really stand out – as if it were covered with Argentine ant pheromones.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Would You Stop?

Suppose you were an employee at a bank, and you knew that millions and millions of dollars were kept in that bank. The amount varied, but there was always at least a couple million on hand at all times. Now suppose you found out that not just one or two, but many, many employees were stealing from the bank - on a regular basis. Now take this insane hypothetical situation one step further and suppose you learned that anyone caught stealing from the bank, no matter how much they took, never got a worse penalty than being fired from the bank. They didn't have to serve time, they didn't have to pay back any of the millions they stole; they just couldn't work at the bank any more. And they had to get caught stealing at least three times before they were fired. Would you stop stealing from that bank? Ever?

If this situation sounds more familiar than it does bizarre, I know something about you: You are a baseball fan. Because the situation I just described is the way baseball is dealing with the issue of steroids, HGH, and other drugs banned by all reputable professional sports.

Now I know that most of the folks who read this blog are science fiction and fantasy fans (and/or writers), and baseball is probably the last thing you expect to hear about from me. But I'm interested in other things besides SF/F and baseball happens to be one of them. I'm a big baseball fan, and as such I'm thoroughly disgusted by the response (or lack thereof) from baseball clubs - and especially baseball players - to the Mitchell Report, which came out yesterday. Disgusted, but hardly surprised.

Those hypothetical bank employees I was talking about earlier are the baseball players of the past decade, and until someone (the commissioner, the owners, somebody) gets really - and I mean really - hammer-down, take-no-shit serious about this issue, it is not going to change. And in a further does of ugly reality, change is not going to occur until something hurts the owners or the players where they hurt the most - their bankbooks. And that will have to come from the fans, one ticket at a time. So the question I opened with - Would You Stop? - has as much to do with fan attendance of Major League Baseball games as it does to the players who are cheating to gain a competitive advantage. Because that's the only things that's going to make areal difference.

Are the fans or the players likely stop, or even cut back? I find it less likely than the bank robbery scenario I opened this blog entry with.

My (continued) condolences to true baseball fans.


We now return you to your regularly scheduled SF programming...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

First Peek At The IGMS Antho

Got this in the mail today; it's a sneak peek of the cover of the IGMS antho coming out next summer. It's like an early Christmas present, with the lone drawback that it makes me wish the actual book was coming out sooner. C'est la vie...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Write Because You Love To

I debated titling this post "A Harsh Dose of Reality," but that sounded scary and I didn't want to scare anyone off with the title. I thought I'd wait and do it with my first sentence. It's important to note that I'm not here to throw a bucket of ice water on anyone's dreams. It's important to chase your dreams - whatever they may be - with all the vigor and passion you can muster. But there are also certain realities that must to be faced. Arguing with them is like arguing with gravity; you can say as often as you like that you don't believe in gravity, but if you step off that third floor balcony without making the proper preparations, you will have some unpleasant consequences to deal with.

And the first dose of reality is this: publishing is a business. Notice, I didn't say writing is a business. Writing can be a business, but it can also be a lot of other things. That's why you need to know why you are writing. I'll come back to that in a minute.

Publishing, however, is always a business. And your short story or novel or essay or magazine article or whatever it is that you write is a bottle of ketchup to a publisher. It is a product to be marketed and moved and placed and, ultimately, consumed. And with writing, as with ketchup, the better quality the product, the better it is going to sell. So by all means, take all the time you need in order to create the highest quality piece of work you can. Baby that story, love it, agonize over its development.

And then send it out into the marketplace. Because unless you're going to spend your entire "career" writing for your Great Aunt Tilly, that is where your stories are going to have to go. And be prepared to deal with the accompanying realities of said harsh marketplace.

Now, I have a feeling at this point that you're struggling with a disconnect between the idea of stories going out into a harsh marketplace and the title of this post, "Write Because You Love To." Let me connect the dots for you as succinctly as possible, with a series of question and answers.

Do you need to produce the highest quality writing possible in order to get published? Of course.

Are you going to get rejected? Of course.

Are you going to put a lot of hours into writing, hours that could be spent with friends and family; watching TV or movies; hiking, biking, gardening, reading, or whatever else makes you happy? Of course (if you're serious).

Are you going to make a lot of money as a writer (even though you've make all these sacrifices)? Of course NOT.

And what one thing is going to see you through all of this? What one thing is going to ensure that you do produce the highest quality of writing you can? What one thing is going to make you get up tomorrow morning and do it all again? What one thing--

All right, enough already. I'm sure I've made my point.

The answer, of course, is Loving What You Do.

So hold on to that. It's what (I hope) got you started in the first place. The day you start writing only for the money, you're in trouble. I say "only" because there's nothing wrong with wanting to be paid for what you do. The epitome of success is getting paid for doing something you love. But you see, there's that word: Love. Getting paid for something you love requires the love.

And I've learned that you're much more likely to achieve it if you keep sight at all times on the reason you started writing in the first place.

I wish you nothing but success.