Monday, May 25, 2015

Pen Names - Should I or Shouldn't I?

When I first started self-publishing, I considered using a pen name for the first couple of books I published.  I didn't because I write too many different kinds of fiction, and if any had a different name, they probably all should have one.

Every now and then, I do regret that I didn't use a separate pen name for my children's fiction... except I really couldn't. For two reasons: one is that most of the children's fiction I wanted to self-publish has already been published under my own name.  Same with my fantasy and mystery short fiction.

The other is that my "children's" fiction tended to be all for different ages, and most of it was actually written for adults. I couldn't find a clean line to draw between my different stories.

So I ended up just using my own name because it was easier, and because in the end, my work is unified by my own style, and genre has little to do with it.

Enter the Story Game

When I started playing with the Story Game a couple of years ago, even before I thought of writing stories from it "for reals," I planned to write these books under a pen name. 

I had three reasons for this:

1.) The books might suck, er, I mean be kinda cheezy* (in a cool, pulpy sort of way).

I enjoy pulp and old movies.  When I read, I can forgive a certain amount of extra cheeze or illogic or datedness in a story if it has something to compensate for that.  Usually, with a pulp story, there is a certain zest to it that comes of being written fast, cheap and sure.

And I would like to have the freedom to write something cheezy or stupid.  Even if others know I wrote it, using a pen name feels like saying "Hey, I warned you."  Or maybe "I meant to do that, honest."  It's like... giving myself permission.


Let's be honest here: I tend to give myself permission to write whatever I want anyway.  And these books aren't coming out any cheezier or dopier than anything else I write.

And ... if I ever do come up with something truly cheezy and dopey later, then I'll want to use yet another pen name to separate them from these books.

*(NOTE: "cheeze" is not the same as "cheese" though both can be stinky or tasty, depending on circumstances.)

2.) A pen name puts another layer of separation between one kind of story and another.

Most of my work is very hard hard to divide one genre from another.  But I plan for this series to be very consistent and up to code in terms of their genre, even if they are a series of stand-alone books, and even if the genre in question is a little dated.

So if these books have genre consistency... that means they'll have a chance to appeal to people who like to know what they are getting. The sort of people who don't like my regular work.

Furthermore, these books were planned to be different in style, not just genre.  So even people who like cross-genre fiction might not like my regular style.  Using a pen name, then, would give them a fence line.  "End of Safety Zone.  Here There Be Quirks!"


As far as I can tell, the style and appeal of these stories are turning out to have pretty much the same quirks as my regular fiction.

So the fence is kinda pointless.  (Here there be quirks, and also there there be quirks.)

3.) Typography.

Typographically speaking, my name has only one good thing going for it: the first and last name are about the same length.  Which means you can stack the first name on top of the last and they'll look nice and square. But that's about it.   No interesting opportunities for nesting or interactions between letters, or to play with different size and stacking.

If I use a pen name, though, I can choose it based on typographical possibilities!  I can choose the initial letters, and all the rest of the letters and make each name any length I freaking well please.  I can have interlocking As and Vs, or nest a short first name between the risers at the beginning and end of the last name. Or do that thing with the large block sanserif type where a long first name is stacked, in small type, on top of a gigantic but short last name.

I can change an N to an M just to make the text line up the way I want. I can add or subtract a vowel.


As I look over various pulp covers for the right "look" for the series, I find that the one that works best is one that depends on the type being really plain and boring.  No stacking, no interlocking.  Who cares whether it's an N or an M?

I can't find any examples just now, but it was a post-pulp paperback style, oddly self-conscious, while pretending it isn't.  Kind of a "hipster meets grunge" thing: where there would be this incredible mid-century modern art, but the typography and design elements were so plain they seemed to say "Hey, this is just a cover on a cheap pulp paperback - it's what's inside that matters."  Kind of pretentious and anti-pretentious at the same time.

Which is something you can say for a lot of visual arts of the period.

And for that particular style, it doesn't matter what your name is. It's like typing it on a typewriter.  If it comes out ugly, that's just how it is.

(Maybe, someday, when I track down the examples of what to do, I'll explain why I think this would be a good style to use.)

So anyway... much as I like the idea of using a pen name for these books, I am beginning to lean away from the idea. 

It will, of course, ultimately depend on how these books come out, and how the art comes out.  It's just looking more and more like it's all a part of my existing brand.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DNP Ep 2 - Zen Mountains and Regaining the Joy of Reading

I've been hearing again from writers who bemoan the fact that they can't enjoy reading like they once did.  That, and an interaction about the folk/rock singer Donovan on Twitter, inspired me to write a blog post about how you will get it back.

You can listen to the audio version here, or read the text below.

Download link: Daring Novelist Podcast - Episode 2 4:00 min

Here's a famous quote from a zen master that really applies to writing:

"Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen, through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this, when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters." - Chingyuan Weixin

What's that quote about?  Well, I think it's about something we all experience in learning our craft.  Everybody who learns a new skill, especially creative skills, has a moment when they cease to enjoy the thing they are learning about.

So when you are a reader, you love reading, and you experience the story as a story.  It's not complicated, the story just is what it is, the way a mountain just is what it is.

Then you start learning how to write, and how to make your story work as well as those other stories you love, and suddenly you find that you can't read for pleasure any more.

Suddenly you don't see the story any more -- you see elements. You see how it works but not what it does.  Or if you see what it does, you no longer feel it in yourself.  You are too aware of the mechanics and parts.

Many writers fear reaching this point.  Some give up in despair, because they think the magic is gone. Others shut their eyes tight and back away, determined to recapture their "innocent" state, and stop learning. 

Yet others sigh, and continue on, mourning the loss of the magic of the story, but happy to have achieved a different happiness through creation.

Now and then you'll hear someone quote a poet about how if you analyze poetry it's like dissecting a frog -- you might learn something but you kill the frog in the process.

But that's utterly wrong.  That's not really how literature works.  Because you can't kill a story by understanding it -- not any more than you can kill a mountain or water.  It's just that while you study, you become blind to the life or soul of it for a while.

Once you've mastered those distracting elements of story, the story becomes available to you again.  They will no longer distract you.

However, before you can actually see the story again, you have to do one more thing:

You have to let go.

That's the thing that will bring the magic back.

The only reason you can't see the story is that you trained yourself to be compulsive and see every error, every device, every trick.

So the last lesson, is to master yourself, and your need to correct everything.  You need to train yourself to see the story in spite of the errors.  You have to let go of your acquired need to correct those errors. 

When you have mastered yourself to the point where you can mark an error or not as you choose, then you will be able to see the mountain again.

See you in the funny papers.

Challenge Update - Progress If You Squint

The past week made me feel like a failure, because Life got in my way.

Until I realized that, even if I can't do 5000 words a day unless I actually have the day to myself, I have been doing 2000 words a day, even with Life dancing a rumba on my head. (No, wait, that was the cat dancing on my head.  Life was trying to dance with me, and kept going for the dip when I wasn't prepared...)

The Xtreme Outlning experiment has indeed made that 2k level of writing an easy, low-key task -- something it has never been before.  Two thousand words used to be something I had to work at.  Now it isn't.

It's actually easy enough that I mainly have to worry about forgetting, because it leaves time and energy for other things.  And you know how I am about Other Things. 

I don't think, however, that I'm going to get the book quite done this month. All the same, it seems like a really fruitful experiment. I'll sum up more of what I learned end of next week.

Audio Blog Post Coming Up!

A part of my problem with the current project -- doing the romantic suspense stories under a pen name -- is that it is no longer shiny.  I am still highly motivated on this book, but I don't know if the motivation will last for three books in one go.  Audio is calling to me again.  Other series are also calling.  (Also, the covers for the romantic suspense books are calling, even if I don't feel like writing them all right now.)

Since I've been seriously neglecting my second podcast -- the one associated with this blog -- and I had a short, interesting post waiting to be published, so I decided to record it. this morning.  It went swimmingly, editing and all.  (Well, it was only 3-4 minutes.)  The sound quality is much improved over the previous episodes, so I had to redo the opening and closing as well.

(Have I mentioned that I love my Shure SM58 microphone?  I recorded this while the computer was running and the cat was snoring withing 3 feet of where I was working.)

I'll be posting that later tonight (as a text post, as well as audio).

As a teaser I will post a little music video of a song that refers to the same Zen principle that my post will refer to.  Only my post should be more clear as to what I'm talking about.  (Which is readers just read a story, then when you learn to write, you lose your ability to enjoy reading... then when you master your skills, you enjoy reading again. i.e. First there is a story, then there is no story, then there is....)

This is a song by Donovan, a very hippy sort of singer from the sixties, who I grew up with.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Spine Poetry - DVD Edition

There's a meme going around called "Book Spine Poetry" -- you stack books so that their titles create a poem.

I started to go hunting among my books, but I spotted a couple of titles among my DVDs that seemed ripe, so I went after that instead:

I Wanna Hold Your Hand,
Queen Margot.
Shall We Dance
In The Heat of the Night?

This is fun. I might make this a regular feature....

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Return to/of the Challenge - Slow Going

So I was very productive in my week off the challenge. However the kerfuffle expanded (as kerfuffle is wont to do) to take up two more days than I expected.

I got Tuesday's podcast episode in the can. It needs a little tweaking, but not much.  I read the first chapter of The Man Who Did Too Much -- quite a challenge, really, but FUN, and maybe I'll tell you more about that Tuesday or Wednesday after it's posted. (I'm honestly considering reading the whole thing on a podcast.)

I also did a couple of raw recordings of short episodes for the writing podcast of this blog -- but that's for later.

(In the meantime, I hope you caught the previous episode -- "The Bellhound." A somewhat silly contemporary fantasy story about a woman and a not-quite-a-dog.  I think I'm getting better at performing, and I think that episode shows it.)

The 5k a Day Challenge

So I didn't start back until yesterday, and so far I haven't yet got up to 5,000 words in a day's progress.  I got about 3,000 both Saturday and Sunday.  And on Sunday, at least, I worked ALL DAY.

But I am pleased all the same, because I was doing hard and fruitful work: developing character "vibes" -- for want of a better term -- and also filling in some parts that I hadn't hammered out in the outline because I didn't realize they needed hammering out.

My heroine has convinced me to let her keep her sassiness.  "I am sweet.  I am not one of those obnoxious and shallow heroines. I can make people love me, especially when I get into trouble. I have surprises up my sleeve for you."

And she did.  She has a frankness and aplomb that make her work as a suspense heroine without her being tougher than your average damsel.  (She actually is a little tougher than your average damsel, but the toughness doesn't come from knowing how to use nunchuks.)

Not sure if it's a problem if she becomes a "type" I will use a lot. Especially in the voice area of the series.  After all, this is supposed to be a kind of formula series where readers can expect a similar feel from each book.  (She is actually is a variation on the type of heroine I use a lot in my regular fiction. But I think it will be more noticeable in this pen name.)

Writing Across The Whole Story

The other thing I did was start writing bits of end scenes that were problematic in my head.  As I worked them out, I began to discover additional scenes that make the timing and development work better.

I always work across the whole story when I write -- I don't write from beginning to end.  I thought doing the Xtreme Outline would change this, but it didn't.

It enhanced it.

It supercharged it.

Wow Jingies, it's a fabulous experience now.  It's like painting quickly across a canvas, spontaneously, without hesitation, because you can see the whole composition while you work.  You've got a little burnt ochre on your brush so you dab, swash, dab to tie things together before you load up on the blue.

I still still stall out inside the scenes often -- deciding if this is the moment for the heroine to look away or the cop to play it hard or soft -- but there are no squishy blank spots for me to avoid until I figure it out. I do not get stalled between scenes at all.  Never.  I can jump anywhere and get straight to work.

Me likes it muchly.

I just hope the pace picks up once I get these odd scenes nailed down.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Update - Best Laid Plans, and all that

I'm sure you're waiting with bated breath for an update on the Writing It All Fast project.  It started well (more below) but an accelerating series of stumbling blocks has caused me to change the schedule.

Problem the First: I very much want to try this "write a novel in 15 days" thing, so I don't want to do half days to keep it going.  I'd rather take days off as a break -- but not more than two days off in a week.  So I've decided that postponement is better than muddling through. (I think I can restart Thursday.)

Problem the Second: I suddenly realized that I have way more going on this week than I meant to.  Most of the individual items aren't enough to throw off the writing day -- but I figured out they are doubling up on me.  But I realized that if I rescheduled a few things so that I can fill those days with kerfuffle -- in particular the podcast for next week -- I will be clear for about two weeks.  Sort of.  Maybe.  (Best laid plans can oft gang agley.)

Problem the Third (and perhaps most important): I have discovered an intermediary -- and necessary -- step between the "Xtreme Oultining" and the "Write Like The Wind" stages.  Specifically, it's about finding the voice of the story.  I am glad I chose this book to go first, because it requires a voice that doesn't come naturally to me, therefore, it made it fully obvious what I need to do.

The upshot is, until Thursday, I plan to visit doctors and deal with repair guys and go out of town, and record and edit most of next week's podcast ... and also work on the voice of this story.

Progress Report - Stumbling Over Voice

Day 0

So Friday's launch actually went pretty well. In the morning, as I expected, I finished up the outline. I would still like to do a little work on the end, but I think that's reasonable to put off until I have this half written.

Went to Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It was fab.  Not perfect, and not better than any other Marvel Movie ever made, but I think we've reached the density of story here where it's more important to tell the story than to make bigger things blow up or have heftier smashing.  The standard action comic movie is pretty much at max "smash" level now.  As you expect with a Whedon movie, there are some WONDERFUL small payoff twists that are just utter delights.  These are sprinkled in with the larger twists that we know will be there.

Then, in the evening I settled in to write at least 2000 words to get the story going.

And I did.  I wrote 2400 words actually.

They weren't utter dreck either.

And yet....

It did not sparkle where it needed to sparkle.  The best stuff was the stuff that didn't fit the tone of the story.  The opening paragraph came off a little 'hard-boiled' -- Chandleresque description.  Then other elements were "This happened, then this happened" prose.

But those things are fixable. All stories are awkward getting out of the gate.  A bigger problem was that the writing went very slow -- and the whole point of this exercise was to speed up the process.  The problem went back to voice -- I could see what was happening, and didn't stumble over details or have trouble making decisions, but there was no voice in my head telling me how to translate that into words.

I figured that would fix itself as I sank into the story.

But then over night I started redoing that opening page in my head, and I realized that maybe this needed a first person narrator.  I should pitch what I did the day before and start over.

Day 1

Saturday went way better.  I hit 5400 words without breaking a sweat.  I kinda wanted to go for 6k, since I was going over the same ground for part if it, but that didn't happen.  And I wrote fast, until I hit one critical moment, when I started writing sideways.  I couldn't get the prose through the door.  I kept moving, kept trying, but I was doing what Dean Wesley Smith calls "walking to the story."  Just describing the mundane things that the characters were doing to keep momentum while I tried to get the story to continue.

Problem: I don't do regular romance.  I have never written an ordinary everywoman who is attracted to a cute guy just because he's a cute guy.  And because she's not looking for romance and the story pulls her away from that attraction.... I could not get the story to move on, because the attraction didn't happen.  And the attraction is kind of a foundational element of what happens.

The other problem, and probably a bigger one, is that I don't do "everywoman" very well. But that I learned today....

Day 2

Kerfuffle destroyed half the day, but when I finally sat down I decided to try a scene where the heroine deals with an annoying nemesis.  It was great.  She was sassy.  I was hitting my groove. And then I realized, this is not the heroine that lives in this story.

She might be that heroine's big sister. She might be the person the heroine wants to be, or imagines she is secretly, but honestly, I don't think so.  Or to put it in Avengers-speak: she is not Tony Stark.  She might be Captain America. She might even be Agent Coulson, in the earlier pre-death-and-reserrection iteration.

That's the thing about Classic Suspense.  At her very core, the main character is ordinary -- and any greatness that seeps out needs to come from soul of ordinariness.

And this overlaps with the classic romantic heroine -- the kind who may have resources, but she still needs a hero. The classic suspense hero isn't someone who defeats the bad guys so much as holds them off until the cavalry gets its act together. Because it's not his job to be a hero -- he's filling in because somebody has to. And I think it's reasonable for that to apply to a romance heroine.

I tend to write proactive, independent people.  But I don't think all characters need to be that way.  There are perfectly lovely helpless people who also have gumption.  Melanie from Gone With The Wind would be one extreme.  Many 1940s heroines also qualify, even if they don't know how to fight effectively.

And this particular story, imho, needs somebody soft.  And even though I know how to write a soft-but-likeable secondary character, I don't know how to write a soft protagonist...

Well, except for one -- Mick McKee is a kind of soft protagonist.  He may be a gunslinger, but he also makes a decent damsel in distress.

This heroine might end up being a female Mick.  But,this week, while I deal with all this kerfuffle, I'm going to be auditioning some 1940's style heroines (and others) and see if I can come up with not only a good sense of this character, but the range of characteristics that I find appealing in a modern setting -- for future reference.  And I may talk about that in a future post.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, May 1, 2015

April Wrap Up - So Far So Good

Today ends April, and the April Challenge of writing outlines.

I did not do as much as I had hoped: I had wanted to do two "Xtreme Outlines" and get some progress on a third. However, as expected "Stuff" happened, so I didn't get the second and third done. (Though I made some progress.)

So here is the official progress count:

On Covet Thy Neighbor -- I am this close to actually being completely done on it.  I have a space near the end where I tore out all the threads and haven't quite got them woven together again.   I plan to play around with it tomorrow morning (Friday) before I go see the Avenger's movie.  But I think I am close enough, overall, to start writing on it tomorrow night after the movie.  I am just going to do a couple of sprints, to see how far I can get in timed combat... er, timed writing sessions.

On In Flight -- That one had a whole lot of material already written (at least half, probably more) and all I really did was mentally review the story, from memory, so I could get an idea of what to pull apart. I re-outlined about half the story, but not with full scene beats. (More to a level 2.0.)

 On Death of a Plain Girl -- I, uh, didn't even crack open the document.

 One of the things I've discovered is that outlining really is telling a story.  It is almost exactly like any writing.    I get stuck on the same things I would have while writing, but it's much less frustrating, and overall saves time, even though it takes longer than I expect it to.

But I remind myself that this is all in addition to some of my other projects.  So overall, pretty good.

See you in the funny papers.