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Writing Popular Fiction for the masses
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28th-Jul-2008 01:00 pm - Book News
interrupted love scene
I should've said something last week, but it completely slipped my mind.

My alter ego's first novella, "Heavenly Bodies," was released last Tuesday by Loose Id in the anthology Going Up, Going Down.

The blurb:

Heavenly Bodies by Renae Johnson
Samantha Beasley's life is great. She has a job she loves performing stand up comedy, a house she recently bought and a brand new Prius sitting in her garage. Too bad that life is over due to a blender malfunction that left her dead and standing in front of the Pearly Gates -- and an angel so hot he should be a male Victoria's Secret model.

Adam's sent back to earth to protect Samantha and keep her from dying again. His plan of action? Keep her locked up in her house -- and away from all blenders -- for the next twelve hours. Samantha has a different plan: teach the angel a few new tricks, and make heaven a place on earth.

Happy reading!

Aubrey aka Renae
18th-Jul-2008 03:13 pm - Short Story Accepted for Anthology
Wheel of Time
I just wanted to announce that my short story, "The Tethering," was accepted for the Tainted anthology by Strange Publications, which is due out in October. When I have more info on it I'll let you all know.
11th-Jun-2008 09:41 pm - Nelson, Victoria: On Writer's Block
Kitty: Angry Calico
On Writer's Block: A New Approach to Creativity
Writer: Victoria Nelson
Genre: Writing
Pages: 191

For those of you absolutely tired of seeing all these reviews on procrastination and writer's block, REJOICE!! For this is the last book in my pile of research. And while you're rejoicing, if you're seeking to beat the snot out of whatever source it was that gave me this idea of talking about procrastination and writer's block for my teaching module, look no further, because this book was it.

Rather, not the WHOLE book, but an excerpted section entitled "The Master-Slave Relationship." At my January residency, I took an Advanced Reading Module, but instead of a book, the esteemed Mike Arnzen gave us a selection of essays to read on the writing life, and Nelson's essay hit home. The essay, particularly at that time, was such a perfect portrait of my writer's block that the author might as well have included my picture in the essay.

I wasn't the only one in the class who felt that way, of course, which speaks to the readability of Nelson's exposition. Nelson tackles the topic of writer's block with an objective eye and absolute frankness. Rather than speak in absolutes that can cast judgment on the writer, she examines each and every kind of situation that can spark writer's block and what a writer should or should not do about it. She's very focused on the individual, stressing that it's up to the individual writer to know themselves and make the decision that's best for them, based on listening to their intuition (rather than their ego). She also points out that with rare exception, the all-authority, must-do attitude in regards to the act of creative writing rarely produces good writing, and usually leads to MORE block.

It's really a good book, one I'm glad to have finished my research on. This is a title I think anyone with the desire to write should have in their collection, no matter if they're at the starting line, along the middle, or a consummate professional. This book is helpful without resorting to New Age-ism or sentimentality or psychological mush to explain the topic. Oh, Nelson uses metaphors and some psychological terminology, but after reading The Midnight Disease, this book is like a freaking beach read, which is really, really awesome.

The only BAD thing about this book is that it's no longer in print, which is a bloody shame. To get your hands on it, you're going to have to scour the used books venue. My favorite is abebooks.com (the link takes you to THIS specific book, because--you know--I'm persuasive like that).

My Rating

Must Have: Duh. This was, beyond a doubt, one of the most useful and interesting books out of my research, and if you're a writer, you need this in your library. Period.


As a thank-you to all of you kind souls putting up with these constant reviews (don't worry, I won't be doing another project like this for a LONG while), I've decided to have a giveaway at my journal. If you're at all interested in ANY of the writer's block/procrastination books I've reviewed, just click HERE to enter.

Happy Reading!
23rd-May-2008 09:08 pm - Fiore, Neil: The Now Habit
Kitty: Angry Calico
The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play
Writer: Neil Fiore
Genre: Self-Help
Pages: 202

Continuing with my research on writer's block/procrastination, next up in the pile is Neil Fiore's The Now Habit. This book wasn't on my original list when I scoured the internet for research, but it should've been, because the person who introduced me to the book at a later date was the very person I'd gone to for suggestions not more than a week earlier! He used this book as a basis for an online chat on writer's habits, and it caught my attention enough to snag the title and read it all the way through.

I don't know if I've reached a point where everything I'm reading is kind of simmering into ONE GREAT TRUTH about procrastination and the things that cause it and how to fight it, or if Fiore just made much better sense than the others I've read. He lacks the philosophical crap of Pressfield (unlike Pressfield's book, Fiore's The Now Habit deserves to be labeled and shelved in self-help), and he also doesn't bother with eyebrow-raising notions of bi-vocal thinking introduced in Peterson's Write.

The biggest difference is that unlike the other two titles, both aimed at getting over procrastination and writer's block, Fiore's book has nothing to do with the craft of writing. Writing a novel might be a project he refers to from time to time, but Fiore is focused on the problem of procrastination itself. Like Peterson, he doesn't believe in beating people over the head with the notion that if you're a procrastinator, you must be lazy and therefore unworthy of your undertaking, and like Peterson, he believes that it's necessary and healthy for people to engage in play, because in doing so, your work becomes something else, something worthwhile, if only you can adjust your attitude about it.

There's nothing new-agey (except for maybe the relaxation exercise detailed in the back of the book) or preachy about Fiore's strategy or exposition. He tackles the problem of procrastination for what it really is rather than what everyone else assumes it to be (like Pressfield). His strategy focuses on how guilt-free play can lead to quality work, as well as how to use an "unschedule" to meet your deadlines and make big projects far more manageable, the latter being something that Kelly Stone touched on in Time to Write.

It's actually refreshing to read a book that has nothing to do with the writing process and all about procrastination and its roots. This book has clicked with me in ways the others haven't, and I suspect it's because it looks at procrastination as the big picture, rather than one narrow aspect of it (in my case, writing a novel). I would've killed to know about this book back when I started my degree in 2006, even more so to have known about this book in my second year in 2007, when procrastination had truly started to become disabling. Even without trying the "unschedule," I can already see how this book's principles and strategies can create a healthier, more productive mindset for someone like me, and I'm glad I've got this book in my arsenal.

My Rating

Must Have: Obviously. This book is for more than just writers, it's for anyone who puts off doing ANYTHING for any reason and feels guilty/worthless/lazy for doing so. It's for the workaholic as well. It's a book I'll recommend to anyone without feeling bad or needing to clarify my recommendation, so if you or someone you know suffers from procrastination of ANY kind for ANY kind of project, even if it's just paying the bills on time or not being late, this is the book to go to.
Kitty: Angry Calico
Write. 10 Days to Overcome Writer's Block. Period.
Writer: Karen E. Peterson
Genre: Writing Literature/Self-Help
Pages: 272

When I sat down and made my list of writer's block/procrastination books I wanted to read, this book was not on it. I'd seen it while perusing through Amazon, but I wasn't impressed with the ratings and seriously doubted that the author could make good on her promise of overcoming writer's block in 10 days. However, when I was in Borders looking for the titles I DID want, I saw this one on the shelf and couldn't resist. I mean, promises like that take balls to make, and I was curious just how exactly Peterson thought writers could overcome their block in a mere ten days.

This book, while shelved in the writing section of the store, deserves to be in psychology/self-help. And it's not so much about overcoming writers block as it is about recognize your own habits and why you do the things you do and about retraining yourself according to those habits to fit writing into your life, to not let your brain get in the way.

Rather, your right brain, that is. Peterson spends the bulk of her book discussing how the differences between what our left brain wants and what our right brain wants is really the source of writer's block, and it's interesting stuff that even brings up a good point or two. Like the need to have a BIG CHUNK OF TIME AND GET IT ALL DONE NOW is a total right brain mentality (ha ha) when it comes to writing. I'm so guilty of it I could form my own club. But such a mentality is one of the major sources of writer's block, because we're always looking for that often allusive BIG CHUNK OF TIME and never getting it, and therefore, our right brain isn't satisfied we have enough time to write (which is a bad way to look at things for those of us who write novels).

But there's more to this right brain versus left brain stuff than that snazzy little tidbit I offered above. Peterson offers countless exercises which you do TWICE in order to figure out what you REALLY want/need when it comes to writing. Why twice? Well, the first time, you use your dominant hand (which is supposed to represent your left brain, well, it is if you're right-handed). Then the second time you're supposed to close you eyes, then answer the same questions with your non-dominant hand (which is supposed to represent your right brain for those of us who are right handed) and you get an different set of answers.

You're supposed to. There's a TON of exercises to do, and with each one, Peterson discusses her OWN results to show the differences, which is all well and good, I guess, but that's the major thing that slowed me down in this book. That and well, the whiff of BS I kept getting every time I tried to imagine coming up with two different sets of answers based on the hand I was using.

Okay, okay, so I didn't do the exercises, except once when I could photocopy the duplicate list at work and actually DO one (I hate writing in actual books, especially since all exercises in all writing books can be done over and over), and yes, I actually got different answers. Shocking, but I'm not entirely sure how well that'd hold up over the course of every exercise, and I'm not sure how long I would "let" myself let the answers be different. I suspect my brain would wizen up and REFUSE to let the answers be different, if you know what I mean.

But hey, I'm a cynic, and it IS interesting stuff Peterson presents. She also talks about how our brain development as babies and how it relates to our family dynamic greatly effects our creativity and motivation as adults. Don't ask me to paraphrase it, because I can't. Sometimes, what she said made sense, and then I'd be reading and she'd refer to it and I'd ask myself what the hell the connection was again.

My Rating

Wish I'd Borrowed It: As research material, this book has a lot of interesting stuff to consider, but you need to be open to the psychology behind it, because that's what Peterson pushes. That's not a bad thing, but she spends more time with the psychology and the exercises than actually revealing the 10 day program to overcome writer's block, so the book doesn't live up to its title in that regard. Well, I don't think. Like I said, I didn't do the exercises and therefore didn't do the 10 day program BASED on those exercises, so it might actually work. But for who?

I'd recommend this book to writers who are blocked, they know it, and yet NOTHING seems to work. Severely, ridiculously blocked writers need to read this. Writers who spend time doing more fun stuff than writing (in the case of us who have deadlines) need to read this. Hell, this book might've been more useful to me a year ago. But when you read this, I think you need to actually PARTICIPATE in every exercise and every step the book offers, because while the information is interesting, it's really not going to help you unless you give her program a shot. But fortunately, this book takes a far more "nurturing" side to writer's block and Peterson believes in having your cake and eating it too, so for writers who have guilt themselves out of rewards because they feel guilty for choosing fun over writing, you might ought to check this out.

And if you do, and you actually participate in every step of this book, including the 10 day program? Holler and let me know how it works. I'd love to know. :)
8th-May-2008 06:16 pm - Pressfield, Steven: The War of Art
Kitty: Angry Calico
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Writer: Steven Pressfield
Genre: Self-Help/Writing Literature
Pages: 165

Normally, when I review non-fiction, I just post the whole of my original review from my personal LJ to review communities because there's nothing to spoil. However, in the case of Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, I'll make a special exception. It's not because I spoil anything, but because I had such a negative reaction to the book that I really don't want to inflict it on you unless you're just dying to read it.

In a nutshell, Pressfield's book is a self-help dealing with how to combat writer's block. It's actually more opinion and personal philosophy than anything, and while there's nuggets of good advice in this book, Pressfield spends a lot of time attacking the ills of the world and the psyche without very much evidence to support it in relation to the focus of the book, which is overcoming writer's block. His advice in a nutshell is you just gotta do it. You've got to take yourself seriously and write your ass off, and THEN you're a professional.

Nothing wrong with that way of thinking, especially if it sits well with your psyche, but if you find yourself cringing from those statements, or know that that particular mindset hasn't worked for you in the past and won't work for you now, I wouldn't recommend this book. And for those of you who do read it, I hope you have a far better experience with it than I did. It pissed me off in so many ways that it simply didn't have to.

My full review is in my LJ if you're really interested. As always, comments and discussion are most welcome.

REVIEW: Steven Pressfield's THE WAR OF ART

Happy Reading!
6th-May-2008 09:58 pm - Stone, Kelly L.: Time to Write
Kitty: Angry Calico
Time to Write: Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing into Your Busy Life
Writer: Kelly L. Stone
Genre: Writing Literature
Pages: 245

It's time to kick off my writer's block/procrastination book reviews. First up, Kelly L. Stone's Time to Write. This book is relatively new, and it came to my attention via the SHU Writing Popular Fiction Board (aka, a forum for us zany grad students). Between the pretty cover and its boast of having "more than 100 professional writers reveal how to fit writing into your busy life" (lifted straight off the cover, if you must know), I thought this would be a promising start to my reading binge.

Time to Write is aimed at writers of ALL kinds. Fiction, non-fiction, magazine writers, and even those who don't have aspirations of getting published. And I'll admit, and the start of the book when Stone is discussing a person's "Burning Desire to Write," I kept rolling my eyes and steeling myself for what surely would be a rather overly optimistic and cheerful book aimed to annoy cynical writers like me.

But thankfully, that was not the case. Oh, don't worry, the phrases "Burning Desire to Write" and "Vision of Success" still make my inner cynic smirk, but there's a helluva lot of great advice in this book, and the best thing about it is that every bit of it is made with the acknowledgment that every writer is different and therefore has different needs and drives (save for the initial "Burning Desire to Write").

How does this work? Well, partially because Stone interviewed over a 100 different writers for this book, writers of all genres--fiction and non-fiction--which therefore provides us with a variety of viewpoints and work habits. But Stone goes a step farther: we don't just get one writer saying, "Mornings are the best time to write" and another saying "Evenings are the best time to write," we get reasons WHY these writers say the things they do and then SUGGESTIONS on how to create such a schedule in your OWN life.

For example: I'm constantly hearing about writer's whose best time to write is at the crack of dawn. I envy them the ability to haul their asses out of bed at 4:00 am to write before work, and as much as I'd like to do that, I love my sleep too much and could never make myself do such a thing, even for my "Burning Desire to Write."

Or could I? Stone suggests that rather than trying such a habit cold-turkey (like she did and like I would if I tried and like many of YOU would as well), but letting your mind and body adjust to such a schedule in baby-steps by setting your alarm five minutes earlier each day until you reach the desired time allotment to write in.

The morning example is the easiest one to discuss, but Stone provides all KINDS of different writing schedules, and not all of them involve writing every day. I know, scary, right? Such a thing flies in the face of everything you've been taught about writing and discipline, doesn't it?

But while providing a variety of methods to get your butt in the chair and beat procrastination, Stone also constantly stresses one point: treat your writing like it's a REAL job that you get paid for, even if you aren't raking in any cash. The reasoning is that if you're treating it seriously, you'll start giving your craft the credit it's due, and guess what, others will start taking you seriously too and respecting your work and time a little more.

Overall, this is an easy book to recommend. It doesn't patronize, though if you're a more "educated" writer like I am (meaning you've been to numerous workshops and classes and have heard it all before), you might find some things repetitive or silly, but by the end, even the most cynical writer should get some kind of good out of this book. I know I did. In fact, I'm very tempted to use this book as the basis for my teaching module. I think this is a great resource for not only beginning/amateur writers, but for writers who are battling the evil demons of writer's block/procrastination as well.

The point to take home: you must take yourself and your writing seriously.


Next up: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Kitty: Angry Calico
Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
Writer: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Creative Writing
Pages: 172

It's kinda funny, and rather sad actually, that the required read I put off until the very last is the book I probably should have read first off. Le Guin's how-to book on creative writing isn't about plot or character or the dreaded beginnings-middles-ends, but rather the nuts and bolts of the craft of writing itself. Le Guin is a fantasy/SF writer, but this book is aimed for fiction and non-fiction writers of all kinds.

Steering the Craft is a book that is aimed at those writers who look at writing as an art, as a craft. People who are interested in writing as a skill. With this in mind, Le Guin discusses the sound of language, punctuation, syntax, the narrative sentence and paragraph, rhythm and repetition, adjectives and adverbs, tense and person of the verb, voice and point of view, implicit narration: imparting information, crowding, leaping, focus, and control. She also offers a nifty glossary full of terms that writers may not know or may not remember, as well as a lovely appendix on the peer group workshop and an even better one on forms of the verb.

It's a good book for all writers, no matter where they are in their craft, to have and refer to. Le Guin provides a great many exercises that I of course did not participate in (I have issues interrupting my reading, so sue me), but plan to use in the future. There's a lot of stuff in here that made better sense to me now after hearing my mentor harp on certain things for so long, which made me wish I'd had this book right when I started working with him, so that I'd have another point of reference to go to.

The book is also filled with a number of examples for each topic, mostly pulled from literature, and while I'll admit I would've liked to see some more modern examples of the same thing, I understand the reason Le Guin used the examples she did. So many writers aren't familiar with the classics, or are afraid of them, and it's a cool thing when you can read something out of your time and still understand it. Better still, when you can study the craft and learn something from it. I'm no stranger to classical literature, and I even enjoy it from time to time, but since I rarely read it anymore, it's not a bad thing I was forced to look at those examples.

There's so many good things in this book, though I'll be the first to admit that there were some sections that felt woefully short. At times, I'd turn a page to continue reading and then flip back, thinking I missed something. But on the whole, I feel this will be an excellent resource to have as I continue to work on my own craft, especially when it comes to revision. Again, I really should've read this book long before now.

Le Guin makes several important statements through-out the book in regards to writing and writers. But the most important, in my personal opinion, was this (emphasis mine):

Ultimately, you write alone. And ultimately you and you alone can judge your work. The judgment that a work is complete . . . can only come from the writer, and it can be made rightly only by a writer who's learned to read her own work (8).

In some ways, this book can teach writers how to "rightly read [their] own work," and will also encourage writers to seek out environments that will help them to do so.
19th-Mar-2008 06:34 pm - Context 21 writing workshops
Hi everyone,

Context will be happening September 26-28, 2008 in Columbus, Ohio; several Seton Hill instructors and students are already signed up to participate.


A couple of the workshops have sold out. Here are the workshops that still have seats available:

Michael A. Arnzen: Fiction in a Flash

(Friday, September 26th, 7:30-9:30 pm)
Join award-winning writing professor Mike Arnzen as he leads a 2-hour workshop on writing flash fiction.

Paula Guran: Novel Package Critiques
(Saturday, Sept. 27th, times TBA)
Editor Guest of Honor Paula Guran will be offering individual critiques of novel submission packages (1st 3 chapters + synopsis). Fantasy, horror, cross-genre, and paranormal manuscripts will be accepted. At the convention, Ms. Guran will meet with you individually to discuss your manuscript. In addition to the discussion, she will give you a written critique of your work.

Diana Botsford: Creating Compelling Plots
(Saturday, Sept. 27th, 9:00am-12:15pm)
Join award-winning screenwriter and instructor Diana Botsford for a rigorous 3-hour workshop on creating compelling storylines for long works such as novels and screenplays. Participants will learn how to incorporate enough twists and turns to create a well-constructed plotline of the dramatic, emotional, and thematic elements of your project.

Diana Botsford and Chun Lee: Creating the Comic Book Series

(Saturday, Sept. 27th, 2:00-4:00pm)
Join Chun Lee and Diana Botsford, authors of the new FE comic book series, The Fracture, in this 2-hour workshop on creating and writing a comic book series for publication. Learn how to write a proposal for a series, how to write a 'pilot' issue, what it takes to collaborate with others (illustrators, inkers, colorists, etc) and most importantly, how to tell a story visually.

Timons Esaias: World-Building Workshop
(Sunday, September 28th, 10am-1pm)
World-Building isn't just charts, maps, forms, voids, clans and tedious courses in orbital mechanics. And it's not just for SF/F/H, either. We'll discuss when to do it and how not to let it bog you down; world-building resources; techniques for designing and developing your world; and then selling it to the reader.

Erin Hoffman: Interactive Narrative and Game Design
(Sunday, September 28th, 11am-2pm)
This workshop explores the fundamentals of video game design through the use of interactive fiction, exploring the places where interactivity and storytelling overlap. No technology or game training is necessary, though a laptop computer is highly recommended.

Tobias Buckell and Paul Melko: Writing Great Openings
(Sunday, September 28th, 2pm-5pm)
The most important part of any story is its beginning. Without a strong opening, you risk losing your reader's interest. Strong openings become even more important when it comes time to try to sell your story or novel, since many editors won't read past the first page or even the first paragraph if you don't enthrall them right away. Tobias Buckell and Paul Melko will give you tips and exercises to help you write prose that grabs your reader from the first sentence and doesn't let go.

There will also be a full track of writing-related panels; these are still being scheduled. For more information about the workshops, please visit:
7th-Dec-2007 11:49 pm - Free Books!
Kitty: Angry Calico
So here's the deal:

As a member of the Pyr Street Team, I wanted to do a little something extra aside from just posting book reviews in my blog. I came up with the fun (for me) idea of doing a year-end discussion of the imprint in general, and then came up with the really silly idea of doing superlatives for the 2007 releases.

But the CROWNING idea was coming up with a Pyr Book Giveaway. If you've been interested AT ALL in ANY of the Pyr books I've reviewed in my journal (need a refresher? Just click here), now's your chance to win one.

Interested? For details on how to enter, just go here.

Good luck to all who enter, and I do hope there's a lot of you, simply because if this goes well, I might be able to do something similar in the future!

Happy Reading! :)
Hi everyone,

We're in the beginning stages of putting together the writing workshops for Context 21, and we're looking for feedback from people as to what they'd like to see us offer. Most of the workshops will be aimed at a mixed group of people interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, horror, and related genres, but we may be able to offer some "master class" type workshops for people who are already being published.

So, a poll:

Read more...Collapse )
31st-Aug-2007 04:06 pm - Scam Alert: Quechup.com
If you have received an invitation to the social networking site Quechup.com, DO NOT SIGN UP FOR AN ACCOUNT!!!

If you do, the site, without giving fair warning, will raid your email address book and send an invitation to EACH OF YOUR CONTACTS that states it is from you and asks you to sign up for their service.  In other words, YOU WILL HAVE BEEN SCAMMED.

Read a summary of the scam here on Chuck Palahniuk's  website.

Best luck in avoiding this extremely unethical nonsense.
30th-Aug-2007 02:02 pm - Context roommate sought ...
apexdigest is looking for a roommate for Context ... visit his journal for details.
28th-Aug-2007 07:14 pm - Publisher parties at Context 20
Last year, some who attended Context yearned for a better place than the hotel bar to unwind, drink and hang out after a hard day of workshops, since the bar was a bit too loud and overrun with townies.

Yearn no more!

On Friday night, CGP/Liaison Press plans to host a party, and on Saturday night Apex Publications will definitely be throwing a party. Both these parties will feature food and tasty adult beverages, so minors will not be admitted.

Times and rooms TBA.
Kitty: Angry Calico
Finished reading Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction and posted my review in my LJ. It's a good text, excellent critical companion, and a must for anyone discussing the treatment of women writers, characters, and fans in science fiction.

As always, comments and discussion are most welcome.


Happy Reading! :)
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