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Trip's Life (Recent episodes)

5 Most Recent Comments
2018-11-24:  "Re: Useful and important" by Trip
2018-11-24:  "Useful and important" by marithlizard
2018-11-03:  "Re: what's wrong with liking routine?" by Trip
2018-11-03:  "what's wrong with liking routine?" by marithlizard
2018-10-25:  "Re: Road to El Dorado" by Trip

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 researching.
  • 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 open.
  • 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 time.

* * *

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 complaining.

* * *

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 evening.

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 generally superior.

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 tense
  • 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 41+.)

* * *

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 yummmy!)

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 appropriate clues."

* * *

Jessica 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 Davis.

  • 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 time commitment.
  • 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 book
  • 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 resubmit.

* * *

Then, Huge Scary Agent Evan Fogelman, who explained that an agent provides three services to a writer:

  • Editorial contacts
    • There are fewer than 250 editors with power to spend money on books.
    • Publishing programs (eg, Tor's "paranormal romance" line) come and go
  • 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 book.
    • Earning out your advance is irrelevent to the publisher's profit.
    • Performance bonuses according to copies shipped are becoming more common.
  • 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:

  1. Get the membership list of the Association of Authors' Representatives
  2. 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
  3. Find some books that are similar to what you write and look in the dedications/acknowledgements to filter that list even more
  4. 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 agent.

* * *

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 emergencies
  • 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 any circumstances.

* * *

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 resources available
    • 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 dishonesty/discourtesy dilemma
  • 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 fear it.

* * *

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 Eastern-Med.

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 editors haven't.)
  • 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 faux pas.
    • 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 style)
    • Weird photos of yourself, weird anecdotes, or any other kind of weird shit
  • 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 revising it.
  • 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 whole book.
  • 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 towards author.)

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 trite.

* * *

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 flying away.

* * *

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 Ever.

* * *

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 female.

* * *

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 outside ever.

* * *

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 Writer's Weekend!

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.

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