Trip's Life (Recent episodes)
26 July 2004 - Monday
I will go back and fill in day-by-day reports of Writer's Weekend as
I get time (hard to do it at work, since I need to have my notes and the
conference schedule spread out around me), but here is the brief summary
of what I've learned:
- All writers hate synopses.
- All books have to be plotted out. This can happen before or after
the first draft, mentally or in a spreadsheet or on thousands of
multicolored index cards, but it's not really optional.
- Beyond 1" margins, 12-point type, and double spacing, every
editor/agent has unique and peculiar views on submissions/query letters.
- I'm still not good with people, not even crazed geeky people.
- How to control pacing. (Too long to fit in a brief summary, and you
probably either already know, or don't care.)
- Agents, if they're any good, have strong personal preferences about
what sort of manuscripts they'll represent, so it is important to do
research when seeking one.
- Hot writer babes are all scary, married, or both.
- Editors, if they're any good, have strong personal preferences about
what sort of manuscripts they'll acquire, so see above.
- Acknowledgement pages in books similar to the one you're writing are
good places to look for names of agents and editors to begin
- I instinctively distrust women I find attractive.
- The magic code in a query letter for non-exclusive submission is "I
would be delighted to send you a copy of my manuscript". This won't
necessarily make the editor happy, but at least it'll be out in the
- Process servers lead wacky lives.
- The standard size for SF/F books has declined from 29561295615 words
to 28561295615 words, so I'm not as doomed as I might be.
- Flying to Seattle gets me eaten by whales approximately 0% of the
* * *
Home again, home again, jiggity splut!
For no readily apparent reason, my return flight went through Reno,
which added a half hour in the air and most of an hour on the ground,
but it was uneventful. I read.
Stay (Nicola Griffith) is good, but pretty emotionally
brutal. One expects no less, I suppose.
I don't know why the manga version of Banner of the
Stars has extra gratuitous Admiral Spoor cheesecake, but I'm not
* * *
Since I got home at 14:30ish, I had no excuse to not go over to the
Bertanis' and pick up my SHINY NEW POWERBOOK! And admire the lack of
gaming, but we had plenty of conversation, so it was a perfectly good
Tomorrow evening is Whisman Station Anime, and the next night is Hounds
of Balazar, so I guess I will get to actually set up my Powerbook
Thursday. Fortunately I don't suffer from
must-play-with-new-toy-immediately disease; this is one form of
gratification I can delay pretty easily.
When the final component (AirPort base station) arrives, I must
dinner the Bertanis for being all discounty and package-receivey and
I think I'll name it "spore".
Shiny new Powerbook! by Bruce (Tue Jul 27 09:43:15 2004)
w00t! Congrats on the new computer! I'm jealous.
Scary hot write babes. Hrm. So what kinda scary? :)
Re: Shiny new Powerbook! by Trip (Tue Jul 27 10:49:48 2004)
The scariest one was very East Coast and rabid, so maybe you'd be okay with her. Plus, you don't write.
Scary hot writer babes... by jesshartley (Wed Jul 28 08:14:08 2004)
Were I more masochistic, I'd ask exactly what catagory I fell into, but I'll settle for saying that, if we did meet at Orycon years ago, I'm sorry not to have kept up that acquaintance, because it was a great pleasure to meet you this weekend. :)
Re: Scary hot writer babes... by Trip (Wed Jul 28 09:10:06 2004)
I thought you were married. Did I misunderstand?
Years ago, I had no taste, so I probably wouldn't have appreciated you anyway. But I got better!:)
eaten by whales by kit (Wed Jul 28 09:43:00 2004)
I was practically certain that you would not be eaten by whales! And how glad I am that this is true!
Re: eaten by whales by Trip (Wed Jul 28 10:51:14 2004)
Kit is prescient!
How to Control Pacing by mony (Wed Jul 28 14:20:18 2004)
I don't know /and/ I care! :)
Re: How to Control Pacing by Trip (Wed Jul 28 14:23:24 2004)
Then when I get to the appropriate day, I will summarize my notes!
Scary hot writer babes by jesshartley (Wed Aug 11 11:38:25 2004)
Well, yes, yes I am, actually. I guess one out of three is close enough. :)
Make a comment!
25 July 2004 - Sunday
This being the last day of the conference, there was extra
milling around, but I did attend two talks.
Julianne Goodman spoke
extensively on pacing. I took many notes.
- Pacing can be controlled by sentence structure, word choice, and verb
- Slow pacing for emphasis
- After a dramatic scene, for recuperation
- To expand emotional impact ("slo-mo")
- To show a shift in time or space
- Too much narration => slow pacing
- Too little narration => action overload
- For slow pacing, use
- long, flowing sentences
- verbs with soft sounds
- sensory detail in descriptions
- layered detail
- long blocks of narrative (infodump or flashback)
- Intersperse infodump/flashback with explanation of importance to
characters and emotional impact
- For fast pacing, use
- short paragraphs
- dialogue (including nonverbal)
- omit adjectives/adverbs (should have been established already)
- shorter sentences
- hard crisp verbs
- no wasted words (helper verbs, "that")
- sentence fragments
- "I don't have enough to say" == pacing anxiety
- Premise is not the same as plot; that your premise can be described
in a couple of sentences doesn't mean you can't write a whole novel
She also suggested hiliting narrative, action, and dialogue in
different colors so that you can step back and see the proportions of
each in various parts of your book.
* * *
Sometime between that talk and the next one, I overheard Marci Barrett
Nice (the hot writer babe who I instinctively distrust (why yes, she is
blonde, why do you ask?)) and Corey Young ragging on lame submissions to
the contest (in general, not specifically). I had to ask. They were very
polite, but SMS was clearly burned into their neurons. They
escaped the conversation quickly, and I can't blame them.
* * *
The final content of the conference was Marci, allegedly speaking on
future history but mostly speaking on historical history. She recommended a
lot of sources for research (things omitted from letters, newspaper ads,
cookbooks, how physical artifacts from the time were perceived at the time,
backgrounds of portraits, who could afford to have portraits, etc), but
probably the most useful thing she said was "The characters think their
world is normal". (Sorry, Ralph 124C
* * *
I attended the 2004-post-mortem/2005-planning meeting, although I had
nothing to say. Soula made intelligent and useful suggestions, because
she is that cool. Various people volunteered for various things, but I
wasn't one of them.
* * *
Kit, Ted, Sarah Avery, some nigh-bald girl (hey, she's almost a
decade younger than me) named Cal and some other people went over to the
IHOP for food and blather, then returned to the hotel to lie about on
the couches in the lobby. People left, one by one, for their flights.
Later in the afternoon, Kit, Ted, and I went to the mall. Dr Ola, having
nothing better to do, joined us, and we got to hear about her exciting
childhood and her mutant child and her superpowers that only manifest at
night. (Not so reassuring when going down a steep STEEP hill while the sun
was still several degrees above the horizon!) We had vague notions of
seeing Spiderman II, but they never materialized. Instead we
wandered the mall, looked in stores, and otherwise failed to use our
brains. (I bought a couple of volumes of manga I was missing, and some
jar-opening pads (apparently thin pieces of textured rubber are only sold
in high-end kitchen supply stores, buh)).
Becoming hungry, we fell ravenously upon the food court, and I sucked
out Kit's brain for use in plotting Serendipity. (It was
Kit and Ted had to go to bed early, because their plane left the
ground at 6:00 the next morning, so nothing else exciting happened.
Make a comment!
24 July 2004 - Saturday
Today I did not oversleep.
The morning started off with Rebecca York on building suspense. She
had a handout with 24 tips which I should probably not reproduce here,
but I like #2: "Make sure the first scene starts with a dead horse in
the living room".
Since there was a handout, the only note I made myself was "If you
don't know which character done it until the end, you won't telegraph
it. So don't decide until the end, then go back and put in the
* * *
Faust, agent, was not as cool as her name, but I'm not sure anyone
could be. Regardless, she had much advice for submitting to
agents, which I duly compared and contrasted with that of Russell
- Send your agent/agency as much material as they'll accept
- Query letters same as Russell, except Jessica thought 3-5 sentences
was enough for the pitch (which should not be a synopsis)
- Workshop your query letter with people who haven't read the book
- A common error in first person writing is not describing the
protagonist. (I must be a freak, because I worked description in easily
in my first-person novel but failed in my third-person novel.)
- Accept that your precious title will get changed.
- An contract with an agent should have an easy exit clause and no
- In an editor/agent one-on-one (there were many such at WW)
- Keep your initial pitch to 3-5 sentences
- Let the editor/agent lead the interview
- Ask lots of questions, even ones not directly relevent to your
- If you send your book to every publisher you can find before giving
in and getting an agent, the agent may not be able to help you; just
having an agent isn't going to change the editor's answer if you
* * *
Then, Huge Scary Agent Evan
Fogelman, who explained that an agent provides three services to a
- Editorial contacts
- There are fewer than 250 editors with power to spend money on
- Publishing programs (eg, Tor's "paranormal romance" line) come
- Business management
- Royalty rate depends on authorial clout and book type (and
usually is some percentage on the first X thousand books, slightly
higher for the next Y thousand, and then a bit more for anything
beyond Z thousand) .
- A higher advance translates directly to more promotion of the
- Earning out your advance is irrelevent to the publisher's
- Performance bonuses according to copies shipped are becoming
- Career Development
Well-known agents will get requests from editors, which they may
know just the writer to fill.
(Hm. Those notes could probably have been better. Oh well.)
Evan also gave the method for getting a list of agents you can submit
to without wasting either your or their time. It works like this:
- Get the membership list of the Association of Authors'
- Check with Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America (or Romance Writers of America or
whatever your genre is) to find which of those are currently active in
the appropriate field
- Find some books that are similar to what you write and look in the
dedications/acknowledgements to filter that list even more
- Ask other writers or whatever contacts you have in the
industry for recommendations of people on the filtered list
Obviously these steps can be performed out of order, but they seem
pretty reasonable to me.
Evan's view of a query letter was pretty similar to others, although
he recommends using the three paragraphs of blurb on challenge and
protagonist, outline/synopsis, and then how the two interact. Oh, and he
seemed to favor sending just a query letter, not a manuscript, to an
* * *
I'm sorry, did I say Evan Fogelman was scary? No, he's just big and kind
of unstoppable-looking. Anna Genoese
is scary. Cute, in a somewhat stereotypical young-New-York-scary-chick way,
but definitely scary.
(She was especially rabid about the very idea of simultaneous
submissions; gee, you think Tor is touchy about having lost out on books
because they take longer to deal with submissions than any two other
publishers put together?)
Her advice on how to gain entry to the publishing world was pretty
standard (meet editors at cons, send in a query letter and synopsis, get
a good agent, or just write a book so awesome its mere existence causes
editors to involuntarily gravitate toward you), but she did explain the
badge code for editors at cons:
- Badge visible: OK to approach this person and strike up
conversation, in your fumbling not-as-cool-as-them way
- Badge on, but concealed: do not speak to this person except in
- No badge: do not talk to this person, full stop
Now I know! Er, not that I was likely to try to talk an editor under
* * *
I was at the talk C E Murphy and
Sarah Palmero gave on writing partners, but I don't have any notes, so
presumably I just heckled them.
No, wait, I remember they said they work by writing alternate
chapters, and having the person who didn't write a chapter edit it. This
apparently leads to a very uniform style throughout the book. Oh, and
they told the story of Kit's beautifully-described twelve-page
snowstorm, which shrank with each editing pass until it was a single
sentence. They both agreed this made the book better, but Kit was still
quite sad about the loss of her snowstorm.
* * *
The only note I have from the plotting panel is "character
words", which think means Jim Butcher's technique of having certain
words that only appear in conjunction with a certain character (eg, in
the Dresden books, only Harry Dresden is "tall"). I am unable to
articulate why this seems like a good idea, but it does.
* * *
While dinner was being set up, Sarah Avery (who I saw more of than
this, since she hung out with the Kit/Jess Axis) gave a talk on Bulding
& Sustaining a Successful Writing Group. Since the group of grad
students she formed to work on dissertations together had a success rate
of 80%, compared to 25% for the field overall, I give her opinion some
weight. She also has a handout, but I can summarize briefly:
- Decide what the purpose of your group is and make sure everyone is
clear on it:
- Skill-centered groups exist for the members to practice writing
- this is a very common type of writing group, so there are lots of
- Project-centered groups have high turn-over since members
typically leave upon finishing their individual projects. These
work best if all members are of roughly comparable skill.
- Goal-centered groups focus more on "apply seat to chair" than on
craft. Committing to a goal before others, regardless of the actual
goal, is motivatory.
- Be disciplined in separating socializing time from writing group time
- Be specific in critiques: broad judgements of quality trigger the
- If an unsavory task comes up, specifically assign it to someone, or
it won't get done.
- Rotate unsavory assignments, so the person who volunteers for
everything no one else will do doesn't burn out
- Every so often, devote an entire meeting to review of how the group
is working and whether the rules work. This cannot be left for scraps
of time before or after meetings.
- "Put Operant Conditioning to Work for You!" - maximize positive
reinforcement for having meetings, minimize negative reinforcement.
(EG, don't meet at someone's house, because then that person has to
clean up afterwards. Do meet someplace with ice cream.)
(Is it just me, or do these rules sound more broadly applicable...?)
Sarah also strongly recommended Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and
Other Dreamers by Carolyn
See, which apparently got her to write 325 000 words in 14 months. I
* * *
Because I try to not suck, I helped set up pseudo-fancy stuff for the
"Flowers of the Night Court Masque Supper". Sadly, I was not able to
wear the mask they gave me, because I have spectacles, but I did wear
the beads, and sat in the back corner with Soula and Emily and other
non-dressed-up people. I think the food was vaguely Middle-Eastern or
Many baskets of stuff (each containing several books by one of the
attending authors plus random Implements of Literature such as fancy
pens and chocolate) were raffled off. I didn't win any, but that's okay,
since I need neither romance novels nor chocolate. Soula and Emily were
both winners, and appeared happy.
* * *
I'm not sure what happened after that. More milling around and
conversing and such, I expect.
simultaneous submission by kit (Fri Aug 27 09:19:56 2004)
(She was especially rabid about the very idea of simultaneous submissions; gee, you think Tor is touchy about having lost out on books because they take longer to deal with submissions than any two other publishers put together?)
Rules for Groups by Dave (Fri Aug 27 11:53:57 2004)
Yes, I immediately started thinking of how to apply them to out Sunday gaming group.
Make a comment!
23 July 2004 - Friday
Big lazy blob that I am, I slept in through the first two talks,
which were both police procedure/law (ie, intended for modern mystery writers).
Not being a modern mystery writer, I will probably survive, but who
knows what I might have learned? And apparently the Seattle cop who gave
the very first talk was cute.
The first talk I made it to was by Russell Davis, who apparently has
filled most of the roles in the publication chain and now runs his own
publishing company (at which he is also editor and agent). He talked for
two hours, so I'm not going to put down everything he said, but some
pieces of advice that stuck:
- In his opinion, real word counts (as given by wc or Word or
whatever) should be used instead of the "whatever fits on one hardcopy
page is 250 words". I'm all for this meme spreading, but so far I think
he's the only one who has it.
- Also in his opinion, simultaneous submissions are okay, so long as
you tell the editors/agents to whom you are submitting that they aren't
getting an exclusive look, and properly inform them all if one buys
your book. Again, I approve but Russell seems to be deviant in this
respect. (Probably because he has been a writer, which I suspect most
- Check writers guidelines for the house you're submitting to at least
every six months, because they change. Ditto editors and departments.
Addressing a submission to the previous occupant of an editorial
position is okay for a couple of months, but after that is a serious
- AVOID IN YOUR SUBMISSION:
- Blatant violation of the guidelines
- Errors in query/cover letter and first ten pages of manuscript
- Bribery (editor will happily keep your bribe and deduct points for
- Weird photos of yourself, weird anecdotes, or any other kind of
- A cover letter (for a solicited manuscript) is pure business - don't
include a sales pitch.
- Sales pitches go in query letters (for unsolicited manuscripts).
Russell's opinion is that a query letter should have:
- Title, genre, word count to nearest 100
- Three paragraphs containing beginning/middle/end of story. On no
account omit the end, because that pisses off the editor.
- Directly relevent biographical information, such as having had a
job like the protagonists's; no "Charter Member of East Squidville
Writer Mafia" crap
- Mention of having met the editor, if you have
- Major contest wins, real (not vanity) publications, etc
- Adverbs bad (count as showing, not telling)
- Wait a few weeks after completing a first draft before you try
- Don't take a work in progress to a crit group.
- To put on a reader hat for revising, write out a check for $26.95
(the average price of a hardback book) before you start reading. Put a
post-it flag at every point that the book fails to keep you immersed.
- First-person novels are harder to sell, since first-person can limit
immersion. Third-person omniscient is somewhat better, but it can be
hard to direct the reader's sympathies. Best is third-person limited,
sticking to one point of view per scene, and maybe 2-3 at most for the
- Foreshadowing is best done in revision.
- Epublishing can be good and profitable, but be sure you don't sign
an exclusive deal, or at least that you can yoink your book if you get
a better deal. (Ellora's Cave
was specifically recommended as a nonsuckful epublisher.)
- Get competent advice about contracts!
- Freelance editors, ghostwriters, etc: Just Don't. (Money should flow
In closing, he offered this joke: "Editors are writers who couldn't.
Agents are writers who wouldn't. Reviewers are writers who shouldn't."
* * *
I think Rebecca York's
keynote speech was interesting, but I don't seem to have much in the way of
notes, except that she asked people to rank in order of importance to them,
"best writing", "avoiding stress", "recognition", "money". I think I
decided on avoiding stress, then writing, then recognition, and money last.
Obviously I am not a Real Writer.
For some reason, my notes for this include the aside "Enter the Moon:
werewolf martial arts!"
* * *
I'm not sure what happened Friday afternoon. There are panels
listed, but I don't have any notes, so perhaps I just eddied aimlessly
around in Kit's wake.
Oh, wait, there was the "design a fantasy species based on a real
species" thing. I did not stand up and describe my creation (isn't voice
obsolete?), but as I recall, I evolved the ruffed lemur into a VERY LOUD
species in which females dominated by sheer vocal ferocity and groups of
females owned all real estate and businesses; males attached themselves to
groups of females, but were never really part of the group.
The other creations were of similar quality, although perhaps more
* * *
Just before dinner was "Ask Dr Ola" which also ended up being pretty
mystery-oriented (although not as modern, since human physiology hasn't
changed much over the period of interest to most writers).
Dr Ola (Olivia Gates is her
real name) is quite a character. She's skinny and has breasts, wears tall
platform shoes and tight glittery clothes, is in fact a medical doctor as
well as a published romance author, lives in Egypt, and apparently never
sleeps. Later we found out about her secret identity, but I'll save that
story for chronological order.
* * *
Jim "Longshot" Butcher was
delayed by the perfidy of the air travel system, but eventually arrived to
give his keynote speech. He has a fine line in self-deprecating humor, and
his upcoming (November?) fantasy series is based on a dare involving lost
Roman legions and Pokémon, so that was all good.
* * *
Bob Hoyden and Ron Belec gave a presentation on the excitement of a
process server's life, which mostly consisted of anecdotes, but was
entertaining. It seems clear you have to have the right sort of
personality to get into that line of work.
* * *
Finally, Jacqueline Carey
gave her keynote speech, which was mostly about persistence. Pretty much
everyone else who talked about what's necessary to become a writer said,
"What Jacqueline said".
Make a comment!
22 July 2004 - Thursday
Augh! Augh! Wake! Wake! Pack! Pack!
Bah. Chrisber called while I was in the shower to let me know my
Powerbook has arrived, but there is no way I can get it before he and
Christy are both gone to work, never mind do anything with it before
* * *
Marith and I went to the Original Pancake House, where I ate eggs and
sausage and also pancakes, and then to Book Buyers, where I found
exactly the book I was looking for. Hopefully these are good omens.
Then Marith drove me to the airport, because she is the Best Sister
* * *
I got to the airport two hours ahead of time, as we are supposed to
do in this era of Republican-propaganda-masquerading-as-security, but
apparently middle-aged white guys, no matter how rumpled and
dim-looking, don't match the target profile. Luckily, I have many books.
* * *
This hotel has the slowest elevator ever.
* * *
When I walked into the basement where the conference events are
being held, about five people yelled "TRIP!", which was pretty
gratifying! Kit and Ted and Emily and Sarah were all there to yell, and
so was Jess, who I think I met briefly at Orycon some years back.
This hotel is not big enough for the 65 of us.
* * *
Apparently I was correct, or at least justified, in thinking that the
contest judges were all female. The conference is at least 80% female, and
at least a couple of the handful of males present are here mostly to
accompany their writer wives. Certainly all the organizer people are
* * *
Apparently the conference is feeding us two meals a day (the hotel
has free breakfast) for the whole weekend, thus removing any need to go
* * *
There was only one talk tonight, since the conference didn't even
officially start until dinner at 18:00, and there was a great deal of
milling about and socializing, but already I have derived utility from
Apparently all writers hate synopses, so some guy
invented what he calls the Snowflake
Method of plotting out a book ahead of time, which naturally
produces synopses of various lengths as a side effect. I particularly
like the description of a novel as "three disasters and an ending".
(Curiously, this fractal method is one that I sometimes use to write
perl scripts. I have no idea if this will correlate at all with being
able to use it for writing fiction.)
It is not coincidental that SMS both is a lousy book and
cannot be reduced to one short sentence.
* * *
I appear to be taking notes. I wonder how this will work, considering
that I sucked at note-taking in college and haven't done any since. On the
other tentacle, just writing things down helps stamp them into my neurons,
even if I never look at the paper again, so I guess it can't hurt.
* * *
Bleah, hotel bed. Not like my carefully arranged parasite-nest.
Make a comment!