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Category Archives: Life

Advice to a Young Writer

Advice to a Young Writer

This message from a young writer arrived last week via my website:

I am interested in writing teen fiction light novels. The genre I would like to work with is fantasy, adventure, and space. What does it take to become a fiction writer? What steps did you take? and How did you accomplish your work? I am still working on my fiction story. I created a link [omitted]. Just to get a head start.

A few days later, when I had time to provide a lucid reply after sleeping hours and hours, I wrote back:

Welcome to the land of stories! We writers are an odd bunch, living so often as we do in worlds of myth and make-believe.

How does one become a writer? One writes.

A lot.

Like all crafts, writing takes time and practice. Often, the first book written will not be the first book published. Many writers have manuscripts that will never see publication, because those were their practice books. Maybe book three or book five is the one finally published, the one readers might think is the author’s first book ever.

Dragon’s Rook took twenty years from concept to publication. Most writers don’t take that long. I was busy making a living while writing short stories and poems, submitting them to contests or magazines, and then — at long last — finishing a novel.

However, there are many unfinished novels. Some I threw away, because the time to write them had long past. Some I kept, because I still have a passion to complete them.

I can’t give you any rules or checklists to guide your journey. It’s unique to you. However, all writers become writers by — drum roll, please! — writing.

Learn all you can about constructing compelling storylines, creating intriguing characters, writing dynamic dialogue, and even learn proper grammar and sentence construction. Good paragraphs are structured like good jokes: not that they are all funny, but that they build toward a strong ending. Write a strong sentence, write a strong paragraph, write a strong scene. Repeat until you have a chapter, until you have another chapter, until you finally have a book.

Avoid cliched phrases or trite characters. Avoid lazy writing. There may be only a limited number of stories in the world, but find a way to tell your story in a fresh way.

Be open to constructive criticism. Not nasty put-downs, but honest feedback meant to help your work improve. Be humble and teachable. Be ready to stand up for your story choices, if necessary, but also be ready to consider other options. Be willing to look at the story honestly, and to see its flaws as well as its strengths.

I saw on your website that you have some of your story posted. A word of caution: Avoid offering too much of your work for free, or too soon. A chapter or a scene might be okay, or a short story related to the novel not included in the book itself. (Many writers are offering free short stories or deleted scenes as bonus material for readers.)

I wish you all the best on your journey, and I hope to hear good things about you in the future.

Sincerely,
KB

Any other advice you’d give a young writer?

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Evocative

Took this shot with a 1:1 lens at sunset in December, and we were losing light fast, so settings for one shot weren’t accurate for the next shot. Still, I like this image. It’s been brightened and sharpened and filtered, and remains imperfect, but it evokes other images.

If this were a book cover, what kind of story would it contain?

Jamie at the campus
(c2016, KB)

 

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A Real Head-Scratcher: Manufactured Drama

A Real Head-Scratcher: Manufactured Drama

This blog may be called Adventures in Fiction, but how ’bout some real-life manufactured drama?

For a little over a year now, I’ve decreased my freelance work and returned to a ‘real’ job: stocking freight for the local unit of a nationwide store chain. Stocking freight may seem menial after the other jobs on my resume, but it was my first choice when I applied. First, it would keep me active and not standing in place, as a cashier must do. Second, it would force me to exercise, which editing and writing do not necessarily encourage, as one spends hours before a computer or a narrow-lined notebook. Third, it would be good physical therapy as I continued to recover from injuries (and avoided doing the actual therapeutic exercises, because they hurt). Fourth, it would limit my interaction with the public—although, to my horror, there is still altogether too much of that. And, fifth, it would provide the extra income whenever income lagged from royalties or freelance jobs.

Now you know why I was there. So, where’s the drama?

My team and the overnight team are both short of members; thus, some of us stayed a few hours late to finish freight so the other team wouldn’t have to scramble to take up our slack. Some time around 1 a.m., a woman and her young daughter were looking at handsoaps, but my cart was partially blocking one shelf. I moved the cart back toward me, and opened a box.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said the woman.

“No, it’s fine,” I replied. (The words on the page are far more stark than they were spoken.)

I kept working.

The woman said something to her daughter, and then continued with “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You don’t have to be upset about it,” and more comments in that vein, as if she were arguing with someone.

Then I realized those apologies and offended remarks were directed at me, and she was working herself into tempest.

Not knowing if anything I said to mitigate the situation would actually escalate it, I kept silent. Do not engage. Do NOT engage.

She and her daughter moved on, and I thought they were gone, but they soon showed up on the next aisle I prepared to stock. Then her husband arrived, and they had a low-voiced conversation while I and my teammate exchanged status reports and moved on to our last cart of freight. We returned to separate aisles.

I opened a few boxes.

The husband walked past, muttering.

I caught “…rude, m_____-f_____ing…” and again didn’t realize immediately the words were directed at me until he was already several aisles away.

My teammate stepped out into the main aisle and looked at me.

I said quietly, “Some people are offended all by themselves,” and returned to my cart.

“What was that?” the man roared.

I stepped back into view as he strode toward us, one fist raised, and I stared at him.

Standing off to the side, my teammate replied, “We were talking about work.”

And then we went about our tasks.

He had nothing to do but drop his hand and go about his business.

It was a Doc Holliday moment: “Oh. Johnny, I apologize; I forgot you were there. You may go now.”

My thoughts: Wow. What a way to defend your wife’s honor. Mutter a few obscenities in a passive-aggressive walk-by cursing. Yeah. You da man.

Later, when the teammate and I told our supervisor about the incident, he shrugged it off—the customers’ offense, not the aggression—and told us to alert management whenever we feel threatened. In the moment, however, all I considered was the ridiculousness of the situation and that I was too far away to step between the angry man and my teammate, should he choose to swing at her.

Thank God he backed down in the face of our calm, ‘clueless’ response.

When I recounted the incident later to Bubba’s Wife and expressed my lack of understanding over what I could have done to offend the female customer, she said, “The woman wanted attention, and you weren’t giving it.”

Shrug.

That’s the second time in about a month that people have worked themselves up into an offended frenzy over what they imagine to be my offense. What must they have imagined about me? About themselves? And why was anger and offense their go-to reaction?

 
 

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Story Mines: Dreams and Family Lore

Story Mines: Dreams and Family Lore

Dreams and family history are two rich story mines. Below are a couple examples from my life:

This morning, shortly before waking, I had a long and detailed dream about my old job. There were new faces and new ideas, and none of the rookies seemed unsettled to see me, but started telling me what was going on, whose idea was whose, what worked, what didn’t, and why.

However, before I could meet the new employees or reach the new workspace (a shiny new and bright concession stand, one of many places I oversaw in the old job), I had to pass people with whom I used to work. They didn’t greet me or smile, but immediately began complaining about my absence. They were sarcastic, passive-aggressive, unhappy.

When I tried to leave that little conclave of depression and blame, they followed me, still complaining, still muttering. None of them, however, set foot into the bright, new workspace.

I turned around from admiring the new setup and speaking with the smart, young assistant manager, and looked out the open door to where the conclave gathered in the dark. They shot ugly looks, quieted but never stopped muttering.

That’s when I woke.

That’s also when I was reminded that 1) those burdens are no longer mine to bear, and 2) vision and gratitude turn on the lights.

(originally written March 1, 2014)

———-

Most of my social media connections know what I think about racism, the pernicious, persistent misnomer that’s not about race — we’re all the human race, there is no other — and all about skin color and ethnicity: Racism ends when we let it end. When skin color and ethnic origins are simply allowed to be, without the assumption or the weight of something ugly attached.

I don’t tend to make ethnicity a big deal in my stories. People are who they are, who they decide to be, who their actions lead them to become, and sometimes their origins have an impact on that.

The Deer Place“, however, directly addresses racism, and mixes elements from family lore and my father’s childhood. He recalls being called a “dirty Indian” and other names when he was young. He also had a special place on the mountain where he met the deer, and one day he discovered where they went.

(originally written February 28, 2015)

 

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Communication and Respect

c2016, KB

c2016, KB

There’s a meme I occasionally encounter on social media, and it’s a quote from Isaac Asimov:

There is a cult of ignorance, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.

Usually, I let the meme pass without comment.

Not so after the most recent encounter:

Unfortunately, democracy is made up of flawed human beings of varying perspectives, values, and educations. One trauma, one triumph, one challenge, one loss, one gain, one ________ can change our view of the world and of ourselves.

We — an all-encompassing “we” — need not assume that someone’s disagreement with our point of view means they are the ignorant one in the conversation.

Regardless of where we stand on certain issues, we too often think we stand above those with whom we do not agree. That, I think, is one main reason there are such gaping chasms between groups in this country.

Are only those with whom we agree worthy of courtesy?

Are only those we deem our intellectual equals worthy of our respect?

Are only those we consider morally correct worthy of being treated with decency?

We tend to assume we’re the ones with the whole truth, and often do not consider we might be mistaken.

On the other hand, there is absolute truth, and if we have no strength of conviction, we’ll never stand for anything.

There’s a time to hear and understand other points of view, even if we never change our own stance.

There’s a time to examine ourselves and explore other ideas, and then decide whether or not we need to adjust or to remain firm.

Simply because others disagree does not mean we double-down, speak louder, or become aggressive in trying to change their minds.

Maybe we’re the ones who are wrong.

Maybe, in our ignorance, we overlook their intelligence.

 

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Dragon’s Bane Update

Dragon’s Bane Update

First, a bit of housekeeping: The recent Goodreads giveaway was a success. Not quite as many participants as the 2015 giveaway, there were still a large number of entrants interested in Dragon’s Rook. The winners are Jessica from the Netherlands, and Sheila from New Mexico. Signed paperback copies have been mailed, and should arrive soon.

Second, questions have been asked by readers concerning the availability of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of The Lost Sword duology. They have served as prods to speed up the completion of the story:

1) I just finished Dragon’s Rook and loved it. Any news on when the sequel will be available for purchase? I can’t wait!

(T)hank you for the kind review! We writers pour pieces — minutes, hours, years — of our lives into our work, so when readers receive it well, we are encouraged to continue.

As for when Dragon’s Bane will be available, I had hoped it would be completed and published by January 2016, but life matters took me away from it for a long while. (I won’t bore you with the details.) However, I hope to have it ready soon.

Today’s revisions included (SPOILER ALERT) a reunion scene between two characters who each thought the other was dead. 🙂

2) I just finished Dragon’s Rook, really liked it. I was wondering when the sequel is coming?

First, thank you for reading the book!

Second, I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.

Third, I wanted the book completed and published this year. However, due to life circumstances, my writing has been quite slow. Dragon’s Bane is about one-third complete, and there are copious notes regarding unwritten scenes.

The ending scene was written about fifteen years ago — believe it or not! — but it may change. I’m exploring a couple of potential plot twists that never occurred to me during the writing of the first book, but which may deepen the story even further.

Below is a taste, a scene from the first third of the book, a confrontation between Lady Yanámari and her mother, Queen Una:

The eyes widened, the fury grew, and as it did, Queen Una fully materialized, her form solid, even the tiny creases around her eyes and mouth delineated. She released Yanámari and stepped back, lifting her arms from her sides and lowering her head, looking at Yanámari from beneath dark brows.

As the queen opened her mouth to speak, Yanámari laughed. The sight was too comical: flowing black garments, menacing stare, threatening posture. A bit too much like the Hôk Nar Brethren. In the past two days, she had seen more amazing things than this.

Beside, what true power resorted to manipulation and magic?

There was something external about magic, as if the one who practiced it and the one upon whom it was practiced were both tools of a capricious power that must be cajoled and lured with secret rites and careful spells. Is that where her mother had been all these years? Learning the dark arts? What an absurd expenditure of time.

Where was she when I was a child and longed for a mother? When I might have loved her?

But there was no hope of traveling that road—the cart had already passed.

(c2016, KB)

For more information or to read reviews, visit keananbrand.com.

 

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A Brief Word About Beta Readers

A Brief Word About Beta Readers

In a discussion on Facebook, someone asked the difference between a beta reader and an editor, and the cost one might expect to pay for the services of either. When I said that one should not pay for beta readers, there was disagreement. However, I still maintain that one need not pay for beta readers.

Consider them your product testers. They’re the focus group who tries out the new invention, samples a new product, gives feedback on an upcoming ad campaign, views an early cut of a movie, or tests a new video game to see if it plays as it should.

If you (or a close, trusted individual) are the alpha reader of your manuscript, then beta readers are the folks who see the final, pre-publication draft. That version can still be a manuscript, or it can take the form of a galley or proof copy of the book.*

In return for their effort on your behalf, give beta readers a signed copy of the published book, or offer to read or test something they’ve created.

But don’t hire beta readers as you would hire an editor. And while editors can provide a similar service in the form of a manuscript critique,** there’s nothing like getting feedback directly from readers — who are, of course, a writer’s intended audience.


UPDATE (8-7-16): The paragraphs below are from a reader’s comments in a Facebook discussion sparked by this blog post. They expand upon and better explain what I attempted above.

A beta tester for a video game or other piece of software enters into an agreement wherein he receives a free or discounted early release of the software to use, and in return, the tester will tell the company what he thinks about the software — what does or doesn’t work, what is or isn’t intuitive, what he would like to see changed or further developed, etc. The beta tester is not paid for his work. He is asked, as an average user, to give the company his average-user opinion of the product. At best, he gets a free copy of the software, but it is both understood and accepted (and generally stated in some Terms and Conditions document somewhere, for legal reasons) in the IT community that beta testers are not compensated.

Testers who are hired on for their services are not hired to come at the software from the average user’s perspective; they are hired to make sure that the software functions appropriately (e.g. program doesn’t crash on loading, save function actually functions, etc.). They are hired to seek out and fix problems with the software, not to provide the average user’s perspective. These testers are not referred to as beta testers, because that’s not the job they do.

A beta reader receives a free or discounted early release of a book to read, and in exchange, the reader will tell the author what he thinks of the book — what does or doesn’t seem to fit or flow well in the story, what does or doesn’t make sense, what he would like to see further explained or developed, etc. This makes a beta reader the exact literary equivalent to a software beta tester. Traditionally, beta readers are treated the same as beta testers — that is, they are not paid for their services. And there is nothing wrong with that.

For clarification, if any reader, compensated or otherwise, provides any services outside what I listed above (other services include but are not limited to any form of editing, proofreading, etc.), then he has ceased to be a beta reader and strayed into editor/manuscript critic territory.


* It’s best if beta readers are honest with you about what works or doesn’t, what they like or don’t like, and are willing to give specific feedback (not merely generic “I hate it” or “I like it” statements, but detailed responses).

Prepare a list of questions for them to answer, so they know what kind of feedback you need. Example: “In the scene where Tara is driving Sven to the airport and they encounter an overturned ambulance, is the dialogue and action believable? Why or why not?”

Keep the questions simple and straightforward, and keep the list short. Try not to make the readers feel they’re doing homework, but make it easy for them to help you.

Also provide readers with a simple way of reporting any typos or grammar issues they find. It’s handy when they provide you a page number, and maybe even a paragraph and a line number — “page 35, paragraph 3, line 7” — as well as a description of what’s wrong (“dipsolve” should be “dissolve”). 

** Manuscript critiques may cover such issues as continuity, characterization, worldbuilding, etc. Regular editing may also touch on those issues, but will also focus on the writing itself.

 

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