Tag Archives: Writing

To delete, or not to delete

Ellen CurtisSometimes the hardest thing to do is to take your own advice. Part of my job as an author on the convention circuit means I am constantly asked for writing advice. Sometimes, people want help figuring out how to develop characters, how to plot out a novel, or just what my general writing process is like. A lot of times though, people come to writing panels because they’re suffering a bigger problem, such as the dreaded writer’s block.

Some people –cough cough- Matt –cough cough- don’t believe in writer’s block. In fact, Matt’s gone so far as to call it writer’s laze, saying that people just aren’t focusing enough on their work, etc. etc. I don’t buy into this at all.

I’ve struggled with writer’s block in the past in some pretty severe ways. The Tourniquet Reprisal was challenging for me to write, not just because of my busy personal schedule at the time, but because I was struggling with the direction we were taking with the series. Looking back, there are lots of things I would have liked to do differently with my contributions to the novel. That said, this view stems from where I am now, years removed from the project and after having completed a degree that trained me to analyze fiction. The old adage, that you are your own worst critic, holds true for me I think, and it is entirely to Matt’s credit as ‘show runner’ for Reprisal that it turned out so well despite my struggles with it.

The Tourniquet ReprisalGiven the hardships I had with Reprisal, I faced a daunting task heading into Exodus of Angels. I very much wanted to redeem myself for what I viewed as a failure to my partner. I dropped the ball; as I said in the last blog, I wasn’t prioritizing my creative endeavors the way I wanted to due to the workload I was dealing with. Exodus presented me with my turn to be show runner though, which meant I needed bring my A game.

I went into Exodus excited. The plot had mostly been hammered out since Matt and I first sat down to discuss Infinity. I knew what I wanted to do, I felt I had some really strong characters, and I felt that the plot was exciting and hearkened back to some of the aspects of Infinity that were missing in Reprisal. Talking it out with Matt, both of us were pretty excited to start in on writing. Thematically, we were hoping to tackle some pretty big issues that we were really excited to bring to the series.

Cinders (Xander Drew, #1)Matt, as the writing powerhouse he is (you guys have seen how many Black Womb/Xander Drew books he’s got out, right?), hammered out the majority of his portion of the novel fairly quickly. I have to say, it is honestly one of the most emotionally mature pieces I think he has written, and I am so proud of what he accomplished with it. His success with the ‘B’ plot of the novel didn’t translate to my success with the ‘A’ or ‘C’ plots though.

The first few scenes came out easily, but my writer’s block from The Tourniquet Reprisal was sticking around like a stubborn cold. Something wasn’t adding up for me, and I wasn’t sure what it was.

I didn’t think it was my new character. I had been so excited to write her for so long, and my idea of her was so concrete that it felt very natural to translate her experiences. She was a fully formed person in my mind, and seemed to have a life of her own that could carry an interesting story.

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Cathy drinks Coke: Native Advertising, Product Placement, and K-Mart Realism in fiction.

Cathy drinks Cherry Coke
Cathy drinks Cherry Coke

I was asked once at a convention by a fan of the Black Womb series if I had accepted any money from the Coca-Cola company to feature their product in my novels. This was in response to that reader noticing — quite astutely — that one of that series’s protagonists, Cathy Kennessy, is exclusively seen drinking Coca-Cola. Cherry Coke, to be exact.

The short answer to the question of “Do I accept money from Coca-Cola to feature their product?” Is an easy-to-give no, but rather than leave it at that, I think the question deserves a little unpacking, because there was a time (years ago) when this really wouldn’t have been a question. But now media saturation of product placement has gotten to the point that any time we see a product in our art of in our fiction, we have to ask ourselves: is this Product Placement, Native Advertising, or K-Mart Realism?

Let’s start by looking at each of these, respectfully.

Product Placement is something we’ve all become familiar with, as it is in our face all the time. Sometimes, it’s more egregious than others. I remember seeing a movie (and I honestly can’t recall what it was, sorry) recently where a couple was getting into a car to escape someone, inciting a high-speed chase. I’m assuming this was an action movie, but it may have been a horror film. In any event, the characters get in and we cut away from them as the door closes to a shot a the car’s tail lights and them speeding away. Well that’s fine, that’s a pretty standard way of telling a story. But, at the last second, the camera tilted jarringly downward to get the silver-lettered brand name of the vehicle into center frame before the car sped off. As someone who studied cinematography (albeit briefly) this is a blatant product placement. The camera shifted in such a way that no professional cameraman would do it accidentally: he’s be fired. It was intentional product placement, and worse, it’s to the detriment of the shot and the story that shot should be telling.

I think for me that’s the line between acceptable product placement for me personally: does it take me out of the story? And that line is going to be different for different people. For example, the Transformers movies have reportedly been some of the most lucrative product placement deals in history, as the main characters of the films themselves are in fact GM vehicles. But that never takes me out of the movies, even the glamor shots of the cars when they first show up: it doesn’t say to me: look how cool GM is, it says: look how cool Bumblebee is. Some will have a different experience, of course. I find the product placement in the later seasons of Dexter to be some of the most damning, as they will frame the brand name on his stool while the action is almost happening off-panel.

But this has been quite a long digression. The point of product placement is that (or should be) that products will be needed to move the story along and make it so the character’s world seems like our world. This is K-Mart realism, which we’ll get to in a second. What changes this to product placement is that, instead of making up your own product (like Friends did with its “Big Brown Bags”) or just going with whatever feels right, the creators basically open up the bidding: whichever car company places the highest bid, that is the company that gets their car driven by the characters.

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Sci-Fi from the Rock: Some Guidelines

Sci-Fi from the Rock
Sci-Fi from the Rock

**Please comment with more questions, they will be added**

So right now we’re in the midst of preparing for Ten Years of Sci-Fi from the Rock, or so it’s tentatively titled in my head, and it occurs to me we might want to have a list of guidelines — really a kind of FAQ — that we can add to as time goes on and more questions come up.

What is the target audience?

For this specific collection, we’re going for an equivalent of PG to PG-13. That’s mainly because this book, more than the previous three, will be linked to the convention itself in that it’s celebrating 10 years of the Sci-Fi on the Rock convention.

So there will be acceptable levels of violence, gore, sexual content that will be judged on a per-story basis.

As an author, I’d very much encourage potential authors to not to take this restriction into account when drafting. Write what you want to write, fine-points of content can be debated during editing.

What genres will be accepted?

Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Hard Sci-Fi, Horror, Speculative Fiction… Anything “Generally Geeky,” as one fan said when I struggled to list all the possibilities. Generally Geeky is a good term.

Fan Fiction or anything involving copyright-protected characters will not be accepted. If you’re writing something that involves legal-to-use previously-created public-domain entities, like Sherlock Holmes or something, make that clear in your opening email to us so that it doesn’t get flagged.

Who can submit?

Almost anyone with any connection to the convention, no matter how tenuous.

This includes: convention staff, guests, attendees, friends of the convention, and people the convention or Engen invites to submit.

Got a story to tell? — Submit to Sci-Fi From the Rock!!

More Sci-Fi from the Rock
More Sci-Fi from the Rock

Got a story to tell?  We think everyone does! Especially the talented staff and attendees of Sci-Fi on the Rock! That’s why Engen Books produces the Sci-Fi From the Rock anthologies, highlighting short stories from our region, written by the staff a guests of everyone’s favorite Sci-Fi convention!

Next year is Sci-Fi on the Rock’s 10th Anniversary, and we’re going to ring it in in style with a new anthology celebrating the Con’s decade of history bringing science-fiction to our region…

… but Sci-Fi on the Rock isn’t just made possible by its staff and guests: it’s made possible by you! So between now and December 31st 2015, Engen Books will be accepting submissions for publication in the as-yet untitled 10th Anniversary Sci-Fi From the Rock from anyone who attends the Convention!

Stories published in the Sci-Fi from the Rock anthologies have copyrights retained by the authors to help local authors with stories to tell get their stories out there for people to enjoy! So you, the author, retain all creative control of your work: Engen only has the right to print it in the print and electronic format of this one anthology collection!

Entries should be no longer than 20,000 words in length, but there is no minimum limit. Flash fiction is accepted, short-form stories are accepted (no poetry in this edition, sorry guys!) We also accept in many genres: not just science-fiction! You can write in fantasy, speculative fiction, horror, thriller, hard science-fiction, or anything in between! (Please note: we want a broad range of stories, so please let us know what you might be writing in as soon as you do!)

Entrants will be entered in a draw to win a FREE PASS into the 10th Anniversary Sci-Fi on the Rock in 2016!!!

Send all entries to submissions@engenbooks.com by December 31st, 2015, with the following information: Your Name, the title of your story, the genre of your story, and the length (approximate is fine). Please note: if selected we will need some further information on the author, please provide a reliable e-mail address. J

Or: Fill out below! (print clearly)
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Name:____________________________     Approx. Length:___________________________
Story Title:________________________      Genre:___________________________________

Reliable email: _______________________________________________________