I’m attending Odyssey’s Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel starting in January. One of their requirements is no blogging because of the amount work we will be doing, so I will be in “Advanced Individual Training” (Army Speak for “Good training.” Hoo-Ah!) for my writing and will return February 12, 2013.
— Linda Adams,
My short story “Six Bullets” is now available from Starcatcher Publishing in the the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard. The story is about a princess who enlists in the military and then must battle her way up a river with only six bullets.
When I broke up with my cowriter, it was messy and I was very angry. But I realized one thing: I needed to get another book started. That became Miasma. I wrote the entire story in about 30 days. Then started revising it right on the screen.
Yet, there were a couple of nagging problems. These problems were why I had agreed to cowrite in first place, and unfortunately, cowriting didn’t fix them:
The books ran too short, as in unpublishably too short.
I couldn’t get subplots into the story.
So I cast about for solutions. But how-to books are written for common problems, and these was clearly rare problems. I posted to message boards, and this was typical of the response:
“Just add a romance!”
Uh, guys, I couldn’t get the subplots into the story. How would adding a romance be any different? It was discouraging because there was nothing out there. I finally decided that subplots weren’t going to happen. So I did every workaround I could think of to get the word count up.
Enter The Details Monster.
A little short on a scene? Add more details.
I did not know I was bad with details. I was a big picture thinker, but twelve years in the army had left me overcompensating on the details. What I didn’t realize was that I couldn’t tell when I had gone to far.
I finally got the story up to 80K. Barely. I sent it out the agents, got the rejections, though I was scared to death of the prospect of getting published. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I got published and had a year deadline and ran into more problems.
One agent was kind enough to give me comments. When I read them, I realized that the subplot problem was really affecting the story, and that I’d gone too far on the details.
So I restarted the story from scratch and used mind maps to help me cut back on the bigger details. I decided to only use three of the bigger details on any subject and that forced me to pick the best of what I had. One of those was on what kind of magic the main character had. I also decided to let the lowest level of details go because it was too hard trying to manage the Details Monster.
But that subplot problem was still there. Maddeningly, I could see how it was influencing the story and creating other problems, and yet, I did not know what causing it. If I couldn’t figure that out, my novels were dead in the water.
At the point, I wondered if I was ever going to be able to produce a publishable novel, and if it was worth my time beating myself over trying to solve the problems.
For whatever reason, I started looking on the internet one more time in the hopes of finding a clue, and I ran across Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel. There’s a lot of truth it in it. I had been line editing rather than revising, which was keeping me from seeing the story. I signed up and spent two months pulling out my hair. I was going through pages and pages and pages and pages of details. There was so much I could not find the story.
I also found myself beating around the edges of the subplot problem. Only now it also involved theme. Class members told me that theme and subplot were there, and that I must just not be seeing them.
Finally on lesson ten, the source of the problem revealed itself to me. I was walking through one of the steps and it suddenly hit me that I’d started the story way late. Every writing book assumes that writers need to chop off the first 50 pages, not that the writer is starting too late. I’d literally started in the middle.
It explained a lot. I’d been seeing setup in weird places, even at the end. Because the story started in the wrong place, setup had to force its way into the story, and it was forcing out theme and subplots.
Or so I thought … my journey to the land of subplots and details was only beginning.
Have you ever had a time when you just wanted to give up because the problem seemed so insurmountable? Tell me below!
Today, I have a guest post from Rabia Gale, who is also one of my WANA buddies. She’s done a lot of posts on how women are depicted in fantasy novels on her blog and has a novella out called Rainbird. Here’s her bio:
Rabia Gale breaks fairy tales and fuses fantasy and science fiction. She loves to write about flawed heroes who never give up, transformation and redemption, and things from outer space. She grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and now lives in Northern Virginia. Check out her fantasy novella, Rainbird , or visit her online at http://www.rabiagale.com
A few months ago, while watching an episode of Warehouse 13, something about the show began to bug me. It wasn’t until a scene with most of the characters on-screen that I realized what had set my story senses tingling.
There were too many women in the cast. Two female field agents, one female geek, one female psychic. Add the formidable Mrs. Frederic to the women’s side, and the two men were outnumbered.
Warehouse 12 did something right, for it exposed how I’m conditioned to expect far fewer women than men in my action-adventure. If the gender imbalance had gone the other way—as is often the case—I wouldn’t have been bothered at all.
I grew up in the 80s, so I’m no stranger to the Token Woman phenomenon in many of the cartoon shows I watched. From Cheetara in ThunderCats (no, I’m not counting the prepubescent Wily Kit) to the princess (what was her name again?) in Voltron (the planet version) to Arcee in Transformers: The Movie, these characters were mostly sidekicks and/or love interests. For young girls like me, desperate to find a character to identify with, they were often the only way to live vicariously in the worlds and adventures that captivated us.
As I grew older, female characters went from supporting characters to protagonists. However, the lone woman trope still persisted. It had morphed into the Special Snowflake Woman. She was the one female who dared to do a man’s job, usually by becoming a warrior or ruling the kingdom in her own name. This Special Snowflake Woman was different from ordinary women—often because she hated embroidery, dancing, or the vapid chatter of her female companions—and inducted into the company of men. Males were her teachers, friends, and companions.
What this trope did was to set our heroines—and by extension the female reader—apart from other women. This trope—especially in fantasy—denigrates the majority of women, painting them as weak, stupid, and boring. It reinforces a male ideal of strength, and ignores the complexities of female relationships.
When we write so few women into our stories, we miss out on the opportunities for the tough, middle-aged female veterans to mentor young, starry-eyed swordswomen, for a queen and her daughter to argue over policy, for the tomboy to befriend and value the dainty girl who loves to embroider. We miss the opportunity to take a group of very different women and send them to pull off a heist, tramp through the wilderness, defend the village, or outwit the Dark Lady (*grin*).
This year, I’ve had the challenge of looking for a writing book that would be appropriate for a 12-year old. My niece is interested in writing, so I wanted to get her a book that would be educational on writing, fun, and yet not too focused on rules. I wanted to eyeball them in the bookstore, but even the bigger Barnes and Noble really doesn’t have much in the writing department. I started using 1-star reviews on Amazon to help me find what might be right for her.
Something like a book on writing is a very personal thing because all our creativity works differently. Read the rest on Unleaded — Fuel for Writers.
Meanwhile, check out this awesome cover for my next anthology. My story, “A Soldier’s Magic” will be published in it.
This time of the year is always about the food. We go over to family’s house and load up on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and my favorite, pumpkin pie, and repeat again at Christmas. The food’s always delicious. But what about the military? When I was growing up, I watched MASH and saw Hawkeye Pierce inciting a strike because the food was so bad. Was it really that bad?
The field is a challenging environment even for the most experienced of cooks. The Next Iron Chef recently aired where the chiefs all had to cook on a beach. They had limited resources, which not only included the types of food available, but the equipment, and environment. These were extremely experienced chefs, and they struggled with the environment at times. Now imagine someone inexperienced in the harsh environment of the desert, where food spoils quickly and they’re using portable stoves.
We left Dhahran after about six weeks, leaving our catered food behind. Our cooks had to prepare the meals for our battalion. The battalion had two active duty units, one National Guard, and one Reserve. The latter two met once a month and trained two weeks a year, so not much experience cooking in the field.
In a logic only the army could have, the battalion pared the two experienced units on one shift and the two inexperienced ones on the other. The result was two meals that were great, and two meals that were … well, bad seems kind. How the heck can you botch up hamburgers and hot dogs?!
Then there was the chili mac, which was the most common army meal. Tim Dugan, an army cook, notes:
Sometimes we get to change it up, but as a whole, we are required to follow the recipe card exactly. As a result, when you eat at an Army quality dining facility, you get the same product. Cooks want to “flex” and make the product a little different, taste a little better, or have a little more flavor. However, a good shift leader, first cook or DFAC [Dining Facility Manager] manager will keep his or her eye out, and will prevent that from happening. Non-cooks should know that the Army sets these standard recipe cards to limit cost, control nutrition and prevent allergens.
As a result the soldiers will add hot sauce. So we’re having chili mac in the mess tent. We sit down, and there’s this guy across from us pouring on the hot sauce. He eats a spoonful of it and then takes off his hat and slams into the table.
Oh, dear. Seems someone got a little too creative with the seasoning …
Yup. Military meals can have their moments of serious badness.
Linda Adams – Solider, Storyteller
Yay! My short story “Six Bullets” is now available from Starcatcher Publishing in the the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard. The story is about a princess who enlists in the military and then must battle her way up a river with only six bullets.
First up, I get to share some news with you. My short story, “Six Bullets” was recently released in the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and a Lizard. My story is about a princess who enlists in the military and then must make a deadly trip on a river to save the kingdom — with only six bullets and an army after her.
Since I have a Nook, here’s the link to Barnes and Noble for the book. Ebook only right now, but a paperback version will be coming out probably later this month.
Onto the the topic of the post …
Let’s start this by saying that I do give 1-star reviews if I don’t like a book. I also give 5-star reviews, but a book has to be really, really, really good to get the Linda seal of approval. I’m spending money on the book so I’m thinking about the value I got. I also have the right to express my opinion about something I liked or didn’t. And, yeah, I know there are people are there who are probably horrified, because there are those who fear even a single 1-star review, as if it puts a knife through the sales.
Bad reviews don’t necessarily mean they’ll negatively affect sales. I’ve seen readers say they like reading 1 and 2 star reviews, because it gives them a more balanced opinion to go along with the 4 and 5 star reviews. It’s impossible for all readers to love one book. No single book is so amazing that it actually has nothing but 5 star reviews, and if it does, I’ll probably skip reading it.
That describes how I use reviews. I know the 5-star ones are going to say the book is good, but the lower reviews give me different perspectives. The differing opinions make them valuable:
Yet book reviews are not science; they are, by definition, a matter of opinion. They can be negative or positive or somewhere in the middle, but the thing that makes them right—the thing that makes them valuable—is honesty, conveying a point of view deeply felt by the reader.
I had to do a review for an indie anthology, which turned out to be not ready for publication. When I posted my review, I discovered it had all 5-stars of glowing praise. Did it make me change my opinion or wonder if I was wrong? No! It made me wonder if anyone had actually read the book. That’s not a type of review anyone wants associated with their book. Remember the paid book reviews scandal?
But let’s get onto the big question:
Do negative or middle of the road reviews influence whether I buy the book?
With non-fiction, I do look at the reviews to see if the book’s going to work for me or not. I was thinking of buying a cookbook for 2 that cost $40. Reviews identified it as “Cooking for two with lots of leftovers.” It was a 4-6 serving book. I was glad for those reviews because they kept me from wasting money on a misrepresented book.
Then another cookbook popped up on my radar. Reviewers commented that recipes in the book were too simple and not challenging. Ah ha! That was what I was looking for. I don’t like to cook, and I’m not very good at it. I have trouble hard-boiling eggs, so simple works. Ka-ching!
A layman’s book on physics looked somewhat interesting, at least enough for me to read the reviews. A 1-star review pointed out it was more suitable as a science journal article. That review established it wasn’t for me, but I knew someone who would probably enjoy it, so I passed the title and the link along.
With fiction, if I chose not to purchase another novel by a particular author, it has nothing to do with the reviews. It has everything to do with the promises they broke in the book that I just read. Fiction is very subjective, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of books that lots of people hated (Da Vinci Code anyone?).