A light from the shadows

One of the new things we’re doing at FMP is talking about books we’re reading. No, we’re not just giving another book review. Book reviews will happen from time to time, but the why is more important than the what…

Any reading I do needs to have a purpose. In this series, I’ll talk about books I’m reading and why I’m reading them. What did I hope to get out of them? And am I getting it? (So, it is a book review, but it’s a purposeful, targeted review instead of an “I’m a book arse” review or a “this is my 5th grade book report” review)

That said, let’s get to it, dear reader!

Ender’s Shadow

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card is the first book of a companion series to the Ender’s Game series. It’s top shelf sci fi by a top shelf author. But, I’m not (just) reading it because I like science fiction.

In my current writing, I’ve got some parallel perspective and parallel story telling going on. As I’ve said previously (link), there’s a parallel book to the one I started last November (link) that needs to be written. So, I’m doing myself a favor and looking at how one of the best does it.

Ender’s Shadow tells part of the same story as Ender’s Game, but it’s a story of its own. It follows Bean, friend to Ender Wiggin, and tells Bean’s story with the story of Ender and the war against the Buggers as a backdrop.

If you liked Ender’s Game, you’ll probably like Ender’s Shadow. It’s not just a retelling of the same story. It has its own storyline, and turns that hold suspense, even though we know parts of the story already. It has its own payoff, even though we know the kids will win the war.

What I’m getting out of it

I’m reading the book, and will compare it side by side with Enders Game, as part of learning and improving my parallel storytelling. The first thing I’ve gotten out of Ender’s Shadow is a firm appreciation for Card’s world and abilities as he tells a second story in the same place and time without tripping over things. It’s an individual story that can stand on its own. It proves that it can be done and shines light on how to do it.

I’m also learning more about how to make a story have real stakes in speculative fiction, without having the world ending cataclysm or ancient magical super widget front and center in the story. Having read Ender’s Game, I already know the big revelation at the end of that story. In this one, Card’s telling the story of a kid growing up and facing real stakes challenges with the world-ender as a backdrop, not the main tension line of the story (it’s still a component of the plot but not the part that really drives the story).

What I’m doing next

I mentioned it already, but the next step is doing a side-by-side comparison. Reading about the same events from Bean and Ender’s perspectives. Hopefully this helps my study of perspective for things within book and between books (I’m a polyphonic sort of writer…).

Yeah, there are challenges. It’s not just a “sit down and read a book” sort of reading. It’s not just a “read and make notes in the margins” sort of reading either. It’s not simple reading, but there’s a payoff. I’m learning craft from one of the best.

After that, after Ender and Bean have had their victory? I’m still working on my book and working on perspective and storytelling. I’ll also be doing more reading. Pray for me dear reader, next I’m going old school with The Great Gatsby!

Writing is a craft. It’s something that takes effort and study. Part of that study is reading.

Take the time to read, dear reader. Read the good books and the bad. You can learn from both if you try. And, I’ll see you next post.

Growing and adapting

It’s January 2022. It’s a new year and a new opportunity for improvement. Here are some things we’re doing to improve here on the blogs.

Reorganizing

Over the next few months, we’re reworking and reorganizing the pages on our websites and the way we organize posts in the blogs. These changes should help us focus our material and develop our outward facing presence to improve communication and access to information. The specific changes will vary depending on which blog/site you’re viewing.

There are those who’ll ask, was the old stuff bad? Is there something you’re trying to hide? Nope, that’s not it. It’s just that I’ve learned a lot since we started all this (seven years ago) and it’s time to apply what I’ve learned and clear away some of the dead wood.

New voice

At Words Mean Stuff, we’re adding a new contributor. The blog has always been about learning, developing, and making good choices. This year we’ve got a professional teacher and instructional designer sharing some of the writing duties. She’ll be introducing herself in a couple of weeks.

Better organization

One thing bringing in a new partner forces me to do is to up my planning game. I need to talk to her about what she’s putting up and when she’s doing it; that means I need to think farther ahead about the stuff I’m putting up. Working together, we’ll both improve our product.

Improving what we’re already doing

The section header says it all, dear reader. The point is to refocus and help us do what we’ve wanted to do, and to do it better. Sharing the things we’ve learned and discovered is important. Improving our skills is important. The changes this year are a way of doing that.

If you’ve found value in anything we’ve produced, stick around. Things are only going to get better.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. I’ve got a digital photography course calling my name (we’re improving our visuals too). It’s a new year and a new chance to learn and improve. Take the opportunity dear reader, share your successes if you like, and (or course) I’ll see you next post.

Merry Christmas 2021

It might not be politically correct to say, but who cares! Merry Christmas dear reader. Merry Christmas to all.

What is Christmas? Why does it matter?

Christmas is a Christian holiday (even for the ones who want to forget that…). It is also a day with significant meaning. It’s a day meant to celebrate the search for peace and love. It is a day to celebrate the possibility of people coming together, being good to each other, and living in peace (it’s possible if we really work at it!). It is a day to celebrate the birth of one Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Who is this Christ we speak of?

Well, there are many people who wonder about that. People debate and even argue whether Jesus was God, a literal son of God, or just a man.

In my understanding, none of us is “just” anything. We’re far more complicated than one aspect or idea. And that applies to the man named Jesus too.

Our understanding is part of the problem. For Jesus to be what I understand him to be, his existence is partially outside of our current understanding. This sometimes leads to people making assumptions. It leads to serious mistakes, including writing off Jesus Christ as impossible, or (equally bad) assuming our Savior’s life and existence will always be outside of our understanding.

Some will even say that Jesus never existed, that he was just a story. Well, if he was just a story, that was a great story. Look at how the story of Jesus has shaped our world. Maybe this is something we should look into a bit more.

A few things I find in the story are that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, both man and god combined. He came to this world. He taught. And he left a lasting mark on our world, and on our individual lives if we’ll let him.

People will argue and dispute the logistics of how he could be man and god at the same time. Others will argue there’s no archeological proof he existed. But those questions aren’t really the best place to start.

If you’re teaching physics, it’s a lot easier to start with Newtonian models than string theory. If you’re teaching psychology, behavior is a lot easier to observe than neurochemistry. Maybe we should focus on who Christ was and what he taught and stood for before we go mucking about with the metaphysics of dual man/god existence.

As for archeological evidence of Christ; that was two thousand years ago. It can be a struggle to find evidence of individual people living much more recently. Finding evidence of a specific homeless person living on skid row right now could be a bit of a challenge. More important questions include what does Jesus (real or fictional) represent and can we come to know him.

My God is a god of agency…

One of the most important things God has placed in our world, and one of the most significant things his son showed us, is the principle of agency. We as people are allowed, even expected, to make choices; to act for ourselves and learn from the results of our actions. A key implication of this principle is that we won’t really learn about God and our Savior without making a genuine decision to learn and then acting on that decision.

We are given rules and guidelines about what we should do. But neither God nor God’s Son force us to follow them. We are free to choose our actions, and then benefit or suffer from the results.

Understanding this principle of agency and that we must genuinely choose to search and learn for ourselves is the first step to coming to know the truth about God and Jesus.

With an emphatic yes, we can come to know God and our savior. It just takes effort on our parts.

God is both knowing and knowable.

God knows us. His son Jesus knows us too. And we can know them.

I love it when people ask me if I’ve ever seen God. The answer is no, I haven’t. I haven’t seen the wind or the interaction of ions in a human nerve cell either, but I can observe their effects.

Coming to know God and our savior is a process or seeking, experimentation, and observation. Sometimes we study the testimony of others (like what we read in the bible and other sources). Sometimes we appeal to God directly (as in praying). Sometimes we examine the results and draw conclusions.

It really helps to listen to the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost, but even when we can’t hear them, we can observe things in the world.

Do people who love and care for their families seem happier? And we’re not just talking Christian families here. Check a few Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists while you’re at it. The principal functions on its own, no matter what title we may put on our faith or behavior. If the results fit the principle, then the results support the principle. God teaches us to love and value our families, and I’ve seen the principle work with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. If you follow the principle, you get the result.

Right now, dear reader, I’m telling you I believe in God and our Savior Jesus Christ. I know they are here for us and Christmas is a holiday to celebrate that. So, Merry Christmas dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Nanowrimo 2021: I won! I “lost”! I learned… And what happens next?

NANOWRIMO 2021 is now in the history books, and as promised, I’m back on the blog. In this post I’ll tell you a bit about how it went and what’s yet to come.

I won

I did. I finished a nearly 60,000-word manuscript in less than a month. A story that’s been on my mind for a few years is now recorded in print!

I “lost”

Honestly, as I said here (link), I’d intended to get TWO manuscripts for a total of 85,000 words finished. So as Cuddy said on House, “I passed by their meager standards and failed by my own.”

But, there’s the question… Did I really fail? To be honest, I don’t think so!

I learned

One of my goals this year was to apply skills I learned at a writers’ conference. My outline was better this year and exposed changes I needed to make in my planned stories and some things I needed to learn. I actually applied skills I’d listened to and thought about. I discovered some flaws in my work and started addressing them much earlier, saving myself a lot of re-working.

I’m coming out of this year’s project with a better plan for what to do in the future. I also discovered the seeds of a third (3rd!) book hiding in the mix. It comes from needing to know what a pair of secondary characters in the finished first draft are doing. Their story touches on the one told there, but isn’t really that story. It’s a separate story that’s happening right beside the one I was writing. I’m going to have to apply all the planning tools I’ve learned to that story to finish the one I’ve written, so why not write the newly discovered one too?

I know what I need to do to finish the manuscript I’ve created, what I need to learn to finish the second, and I have a plan for the third. I’ve even got research materials ordered (some have arrived already) to help me do that. I also learned that NANO can, does, and did help me in other (even non writing) ways.

So, NANO’s over. I won. I lost. And I won in an even bigger sense…

So? What happens now?

Now? First I recover. Second, I assess what happened and mark the lessons learned (like the stuff I just wrote about…). Third, coming up quickly, I survive Christmas. Then the big stuff really starts rolling.

In January I start my first really big 1 ½ pass on the new novel. I create a new outline, including the stuff for those secondary characters (which will become a new first draft…) and make notes on what’s needed to fix the story. Then I do more research and work on stuff a piece at a time.

As I’m doing all that for the book, I’m also making changes here at the website/blog as I’ve discussed previously. I will also be working on a writing conference I’m taking part in and hopefully helping some people make their lives better.

There’s lots that needs doing, dear reader. And if we really commit ourselves, there’s a lot of good we can do. I wish you both luck and blessings in your good doing, dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Well dear reader, that time has come (again)… I’ll be taking about a month off from the FMP blog to complete a NANOWRIMO project. As I’ve said, I’m working toward my highest goal ever this year and actually feeling pretty good about it (found some new tools…).

After NANO, I’ll be back and things will be changing. I’ll be using some new tools for writing and planning and we’ll be welcoming a new contributor in December. But while some things change, others will remain the same. This blog is still about writing and publishing (though we will add more gaming content!), so we’ll still be focusing on telling stories (ours and yours). Please, come check out the new stuff after NANOWRIMO.

Until then, see you next post!

NANOWRIMO vs the writers’ conference

Well dear reader, it’s true I’m doing a National Novel Writers Month project again this year. It’s also true that I was at a writers’ conference last week. And, to be honest, the writers’ conference both hindered and helped me in my thinking about NANO this year…

Things that get in the way…

My wife and I were officially on the “nonfiction” and “fiction” tracks of the conference respectively, but we went to sessions based more on interest than a sense of “supposed to”. That led to me spending a fair amount of time thinking about what to do with my Instagram and how to improve some nonfiction projects. It also led to me feeling a little unprepared for the manuscript I’m starting in two weeks.

I’ve always considered myself a “plantser”, both a planner and a pantser. But it was shocking just how much planning some of my fellow attendees were doing for their books. It left me with a (temporary) feeling of “I can’t do this! I’m not ready.”

I attended a session on plotting that had some useful information. I applied it to the story I planned to tell for NANO. I had trouble making it work. I had trouble making the advice work. I realized the story wouldn’t work.

I had stove-piped two stories together. At least one of those stories wasn’t ready to be told yet. It was a problem. The planner part of me was stymied. I wasn’t sure I could pull things off.

May also be the things that help you!

The plotting advice kind of threw cold water on the story I meant to tell. But then I remembered two other stories I’d “been gonna” work on.

I had the background research for those already done. I was just getting pulled toward the other stuff because it was shinier and newer. Finishing the stories I’d left “on the shelf” would clear the way for newer stories and solve problems with stories further along the line.

They need to be written. I know that. So, I crossed my fingers and went to work again. Applying the things I’d learned about plotting to work on my newly remembered ideas. And, wouldn’t you know, it seems to work. The stories seem to work. Which means I can make the whole series work!

What matters is the effort you put in

Not all stories are ready to be told. No story “pops out” perfected on a first draft.

That’s ok. I know how to work. And the stories that feel ready are ones I’ve been wanting to do for a while. The others will come when their time is right.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Even after I finish my new, better plotted, first drafts, where will be a lot to do. But by improving the work I do on the front end, I will (hopefully) reduce the work on the back end. That means the stories will get out faster.

Six years of NANOWRIMO “wins” and the conference tell me one thing, that what you get out of your writing depends on the effort you put into it.

They also tell me I (and you) can do it if we put in the effort. We all had a first time somewhere. I’ve written a book. I’ve published a book. I went to the conference as a first-time attendee. Now I’m on the convention committee!

It can be done, dear reader. We just have to put in the work and really think about what we want to do. Speaking of which… I’d better get back to work. Good luck with your writing dear reader, and I’ll see you next post.

Building better…

Sorry folks, no politics here. Today we’re talking about some changes happening to the blog.

New contributors

I’ve been working this blog and Words Mean Stuff solo since the beginning. But, my point of view and skill set aren’t the only ones out there. It also takes a lot of work to do it all right. So, to bring you better and more interesting content, and to help me find the time and space to do the back-end stuff I need to keep up on. I will be joined by other contributors in the next few months.

My most significant partner in writing (who hasn’t decided on what name to use with the blog) has a PHD in instructional design and experience teaching French and Chemistry. She’s also female…

Instructional design and psychology (my science background) have some similarities but significant differences in focus, meaning we’ll be able to expand the understanding and viewpoints presented on our topics.

We may add other voices as time goes on.

Improved planning

When it was just a one man shop, it was pretty easy to handle the planning. I rarely got into arguments with myself over what content to put up and when. But, with multiple authors, we’re improving our planning process.

In the past I’ve sort of had a plan, but there was no paper trail. I never had to write anything down. In the future, we will have more detailed three month and year plans that help us coordinate who’s writing what and when.

In might not sound like much but it’s important. It’ll save a lot of head banging about what to write and allow for better preparation.

Better pre-writing

Speaking of better preparation… One of the side effects of my previous writing methods was a dearth of pre-writing research. There was some, but not nearly as much as I’d like. Often, I was falling back on what was in memory and on the shelf over my desk instead of digging deeper.

Having a better schedule will mean I can collect information over time and not have to rush at the last minute to put stuff together. I’ll be able to feel (and be) better prepared for the stuff I write and share. And I’ll have time to deal with the “should do” stuff too…

There’s more to it all, of course. But this is a blog post, not a book. And, the situation is developing as we speak. If I waited to write it all, it would be a book, and one written after the fact.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. We all have things we can learn, that we need to learn. Learning and growth can be challenging. But we can do it! Good luck with your journey. And, I’ll see you next post.

P.S. Over at WMS I’m talking about the process from a slightly different (more internal) angle.

Punt or prosper?

This week on Forever Mountain Publishing, real adventures (and decisions) in writing! This week I’m sharing a bit about a project I’m working on, and why I’m making the decisions I am.

The idea

Some readers may know that I’m not just a writer. I also make stuff! A while back, I wrote some chainmail instructions. I’ve published (and sold) books and instruction sets in the past. But one set hadn’t really gone anywhere. Not yet.

I had a thought. The instruction set is for a chainmail camping tool. It’s outside my usual chainmail market. What about publishing it in a camping or backpacking magazine?

It wouldn’t be too hard to convert the instructions into an article. It’s an opportunity to break into a market I’ve been thinking about. So, why not?

The options

Initially, I had a magazine in mind. But is it the right market? I looked at the magazine rack in my local store and found three options: my original choice, a “glossy” frontiersman magazine, and a more hunting oriented magazine. I’ve looked all three before. They seemed like good possibilities. So, I considered them further.

The easy shot…

My first option, the initial one, is a pretty sure sale. It’s a small mag. I know I can make the writing standards (I’m more of a pro than a lot of their contributors). But, they’re small, they don’t pay in money (an ad or subscription but not cash…), and (to be honest) the writing isn’t always up to my standards.

The glossy…

This option is the ‘highest end’ magazine of my prospective markets. They accept freelance stuff, but you can also find a lot of paid ‘article’ advertisements. This one’s a better-paying choice (they actually pay money…). The writing standards are higher (there are pros in the mix) and competition is going to be a lot higher.

The ‘middle ground’…

This one has better writing than the easy shot, but isn’t as big or glossy as the glossy mag. It seemed like a good option. But, when I opened the magazine, I noticed a few things… There was no statement about writers’ guidelines or submissions. They might be online, but I also noticed something else…

Like many magazines, this one has a classified section. But, there’s a note at the top that ad space is only available to subscription holders and regular readers. Whelp… Um… this would have been an interesting option, but if they’re going to restrict themselves like that, I’m not sure I want to play ball with them. If my purpose is to expand my market, why go with someone with an editorial mandate of exclusion?

The unexpected…

I’d almost decided, and then… an ad for another magazine came to my attention. They weren’t on the rack at my local store, but the ad had a link to their website.

They weren’t as glossy as the glossy mag. I didn’t see a bunch of paid ‘adverticals’ and glossy paper. I did see quality writing, clearly stated writers’ guidelines, and a range of articles that fit with what I’d be submitting, without duplicate material. They were also offering around $40.00 per printed page.

The choice!

I did my research. I did my thinking. And… the unexpected magazine, the one I hadn’t seen from the start, is my first choice. I could start with the easy shot, but why? If I just go down the easy path, I could shoot low. I could get less than my work worth because I undervalued myself and underestimate my chances.

I could go for the glossy mag, but I don’t like the feel as much. It might net me more cash, but the unexpected magazine feels like a better fit. My material meshes with what they’re publishing without duplicating it.

The unexpected option beats out the ‘middle ground’ magazine because I don’t like dealing with people who are exclusionary for reasons other than subject-matter fit and quality of writing. Digging deeper definitely did me a favor here.

If things go bad with my first submission, I still have the easy shot as a backup. Based on their writers’ guidelines, they don’t mind something that’s been submitted elsewhere. But, by choosing the unexpected option: I get a magazine that’s a good fit for the article, I get more of what I want out of the work, and I maintain a backup option should things not go so well the first time.

Researching your publishers is a thing, dear reader. Remember, just like job interviews, it’s not just convincing them you’re the right fit, you’re also making sure you find the best fit for you and your work.

Well, dear reader, the article won’t finish itself, and you’ve got your own projects. Don’t sell yourself short. Do the thinking and choose the best option available based on your plans and needs. And, I’ll see you next post.

NANOWRIMO the countdown begins…

I know, I know it’s only August, but November is coming. And, November is the month for NANOWRIMO.

I’ve talked about NANOWRIMO before. Actually… Several… Times… . I’ve ‘won’ several times too. But it’s still relevant for many of us in the writing community. So, it’s time to talk about it again.

NANO is a great opportunity to crack out a first draft. From its inception, helping people get off their butts and write that story has been the point of NANO. For those of us who try it, and especially for those of us who finish a manuscript, there are things to remember.

  • We’re talking about a finished draft, not a finished book. Nobody’s going to have a finished ready to publish a book in a month. (Well, maybe Steven King…)
  • There is genuine work involved any time you write a book.
  • You need to plan ahead.

Pantsers need to plan too…

When I wrote “you need to plan ahead,” about thirty people I know shouted, “but I’m a pantser!” Great! But… Planning the manuscript isn’t what I’m talking about. Planners can outline and think. Pantsers can start the month with nothing but a blank page. But there are still things to think about and plan beforehand.

When are you going to write? You need to work writing into your schedule. If you don’t, it won’t happen. Finding the time often means making the time, and that takes planning. It also requires understanding how and when you write best. If you don’t know this before you start, you might learn a lot, but I’m not betting on you finishing a manuscript.

Where are you going to write? Do you have a good place to do it? Sure, you can clear a corner in your house, but working on a running dryer doesn’t work for most of us… What kind of environment works best? Again, this takes experience. And making sure such a place is available takes planning.

Do you have the correct equipment? It doesn’t matter if you’re a pen and paper writer, a laptop literato or just making do with your phone. If your equipment fails on you, you won’t get very far. Making sure you’ve got gear and supplies goes a long way to insure your success. (I’ve got several boxes of pens, a stack of notebooks, and a pallet of soda, so I’ll be ready).

Whether you plan the story or not, planning how you’ll succeed is important.

One thing most of us shouldn’t plan on is doing lots of editing… (At least not during NANOWRIMO)

It’s National Novel Writing Month, not National Novel Editing Month…

Some people do lots of editing as they write. They usually take a lot longer than a month to finish a manuscript. NANOWRIMO ain’t that kind of party. It’s a race to completion kind of thing, and opportunity to put your inner editor on hold and let the ideas flow. We’ll call the editor in later. But NANO is a great opportunity to just let yourself tell a story.

If you struggle with that inner editor nerfing your ideas, NANO can really help. It creates a reason to put that editor on hold.

It’s not for everybody, or every book. But it’s worth trying.

For fiction, NANOWRIMO works for me. For non-fiction, it really doesn’t. Even if you only get started on a manuscript, you’ve gotten something out of it. If you learn it’s not for you, you’ve gotten something out of it. You’ve learned more about how you write. But… how do you know it does (or doesn’t) work for you before you try?

The ‘prize’ depends on what you do with it

‘Winning’ NANOWRIMO is a personal achievement. There are ‘prizes’ for finishing, for toping 50,000 words. Most of the rewards are software discounts, free trials, and other benefits intended to draw your business to NANOWRIMO backers. Often the biggest prizes are the ones you give yourself.

  • If you win, you’ve got a completed manuscript (or at least a sizeable chunk of it).
  • You’ve learned something about yourself and your writing. Every manuscript is different, so I learn something every year.
  • You’ve gotten to be the first one to experience a story! Yeah, it’s your story, but it’s a new story (or at least a new telling) and you got there first. Nobody, not even your inner editor, got to spoil it for you.

NANOWRIMO is a wonderful opportunity. But you get out of it what you put into it (and hopefully more). Even if you’re a panters who’s starting with a blank page, some preparation is necessary to succeed. But you can do it!

I’m writing again this year, and I’m inviting you to come along. And, as always, I’ll see you next post.