Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Stephanie Meyer is the first author I know of who let people know on a wide scale the sort of music that inspired her to write; I remember going up to the music section of Borders a couple of years ago and seeing a large central display with the Twilight covers plastered over it, advertising that the selection of Muse below was what had accompanied the writing of Twilight.

The role of music in writing comes up frequently on various of my writing forums, too: the validity of inspiration by music, stories written specifically to accompany certain songs (referred to as songfics), whether background music is distracting or beneficial, the genres of music best conducive to certain kinds of writing, theme songs for certain characters or stories and whether that extra dimensionality helps hold the characters in the writers head.

The answers to all those questions vary from writer to writer: some can only work in utter quiet, and consider using music to set a mood frivolous, others listen to classical to stimulate the creative portions of their brain, still others have a hard time writing unless they have a specific playlist whose lyrics exactly reflect the mood of the piece.

Like every other aspect of writing, there is no one true way, none that is inherently superior to others. As long as a good story is coming out of it, the tools and environment that foster it are little more than interesting side notes.

Music can definitely be a tool. Like lighting or temperature or having other people in the room, it can set the mood for writing. I know I would have trouble writing most parent-child affection moments to an accompaniment of death metal. With collaborations, I've found jointly putting together a soundtrack helps us gel the tone of the world: if we're both suggesting 90s punk, we have roughly the same idea of the tone, if one of us is suggesting disco and the other bluegrass, we obviously have more discussion to do to make sure we're on the same page for the story. I've found this focus on tone useful for my solo writing projects as well, though to a lesser degree, as, well, I'm the only one working on the world.

It's possible to take enjoyment of it as background and use for mood setting too far, of course: if you find that you're unable to write unless listening to a particular song, that's probably not conducive to better writing in general.

Beyond the writing end, music can be a good way to engage readers: the Twilight soundtracks were intensely popular, and people liked listening to them as they read the books. It creates a more immersive experience to have the ears engaged as well as the eyes, and can help the reader be more fully transported to the author's world.

It can also help the author engage the readers, as almost any peripheral to the story itself can: asking for music recommendations from readers creates a community atmosphere and can foster a feeling of being invested in the story. And who doesn't want readers who feel personally engaged?

If you're interested in what I listen to as I write this, you can find it here. I'm always happy to take recommendations.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books As Personal Identifiers

What we read says a lot about who we are, or at least about who we want people to think we are. I read Wired and BBC Breaking News' Twitter feed and Silicon Valley Insider's Twitter feed (bit of a trend, there -- headline-surfing is much easier when everyone's limited to 140 characters) and romantic suspense and paranormal romance and science fiction and fantasy written by rationalists and webcomics. Those say a lot about who I am as a person - I like up-to-the-minute technology and thought, and I'm an old-fashioned romantic at heart.

Sometimes, though, I'll cave to boredom or a weakness for shiny advertising and pick up a book that's 'in' right now. The other night before a meeting in the Starbucks in Chapters, I was seduced by the New and Hot shelf near the door and looked at The Sentimentalists. A Giller Prize winner, it is also the product of small press: the initial print run was 800. It's a testament to the power of literary awards in Canada, to the fact that story still trumps all the gimmicks in the world, that I was able to find the Nova Scotia-printed small-press novel in Chapters in Victoria less than a year later.

The win for The Sentimentalists also says a lot about who we are collectively as readers. Introspective and focused on the past, it also tries to make sense of war and human relationships: current, universal issues more easily approached through veils of fiction and historical context. It says that we as readers want to know more about how everything works in our own psyches.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Becoming More Awesome Through Reading

Today on my way home I stopped in Chapters. I browsed the new and hot, the three for thirty dollars. Considered buying Cormac McCarthy, as he's considered a great writer and I want to read great writers to see what works for them so I can apply similar strategies in my own work, but decided against it as these reads are for my commute and I want to be absolutely sure of enjoying my read as well as being improved by it.

So I wandered upstairs to the Science Fiction and Fantasy section, and looked at the slim pickings of Cory Doctorow's published books before picking up a Jacqueline Carey I haven't read. But as part of my attempts to better myself, I stopped in the non-fiction section downstairs. Did you know that the section on sex is right next to the section on psychology? I found that out today, and also that anything remotely educational about sex is well-hidden by the Cosmo Truth Or Dare games. So I picked up a book on decision theory.

Decision theory features largely in my plans for world domina- self-improvement. Yes. By making better decisions and being aware of the mechanics of my own decision-making, I can improve my life: get healthier, manage time better, reach my goals better.

So I'm quite excited about my new book purchases.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You May Have Noticed . . .

. . . the appearance of an ad box on my blog a few weeks ago. I'm currently running Google AdSense. In a few months, I plan to switch to Project Wonderful. I'm going to be collecting data on how much using either would earn for me, and how well I like the ads that are displayed.

These two are the only ad services other than Facebook Ads that I'm familiar with. I'd be open to suggestions on other services to try, and would welcome them. AdSense and Project Wonderful run differently enough that I'd be interested to see whether other services emulated one or the other or innovated something else entirely.

Ads on a website or blog are excellent tools for any independent author, editor, or assorted indie-publishing related person to earn at least minimal returns whether or not they are making sales.

In an ideal world, of course, we'd all be millionaires from our book sales. In the meantime, smoothing out the times between royalty checks and payment threshholds from author services websites is something we can all appreciate.

I installed AdSense first because it's so conveniently integrated into the Blogger platform. From my end, the tabs to post and monitor settings are right next to the tab governing the AdSense interface with Blogger. They won't pay me until I've earned a hundred bucks, though, which is something Project Wonderful has on them: Project Wonderful will pay up if you've earned at least ten. Another thing I like about Project Wonderful is that I know people who advertise through it: writers I know, comics I read, games I play.

Which is another reason I installed AdSense first: unless Project Wonderful earns me exponentially less than AdSense, I will probably stick with it when I install it.

I can't run them concurrently because of AdSense's terms and conditions, sadly.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Keitai Shousetsu

The word literally means 'cell phone novel,' and it's a particularly Japanese phenomenon that's spread west slower than the Japanese trends Gwen Stefani espouses.

The first one on record came from Tokyo in 2003, but probably the most notable early work was Koizora (Love Sky), published in 2005. A semi-autobiographical romance, it spawned a film, a television drama, and a manga series, as well as being picked up by a traditional publisher to be put out as a two-part paperback and earning a long article in that most prestigious of cultural bastions, The New Yorker.

Like most of its genre, Koizora was originally published to a website that aggregates them, posted from the author's cell phone, received by readers in SMS messages. Chapters were generally 70-100 words, to fit within character limits.

It was also free, as are most. Keitai Shousetsu are about sharing your story and getting it read - connecting with fans, which is one of the motivating factors behind Creative Commons. Using free media to connect to readers worked well for a lot of Japanese authors of cell phone novels: in 2007, 5 of the 10 bestselling novels in Japan started life as cell phone novels.

Part of the reason for the popularity of them is that the authors knew how to connect to their audience: their target readers are cell phone-savvy teenagers interested in upcoming trends and romance. There was also a shared culture of anonymity: most authors of Japanese cell phone novels go by handles and are never known by their real names.

The mobile culture in Japan and other parts of East Asia is one of the reasons cell phone novels have taken off there. In contrast, the highest-viewed cell phone novel in the US has had a mere 30000 views.

Part of the difference is that we're used to longer chunks in Western culture: fans of George R. R. Martin were utterly outraged when his latest novel was delayed. Some of the serial stories I read publish only in several-thousand-word chapters. Cell phone novels or Twitter novels require a shift in thinking, a willingness to let things unfold at precisely the author's pace.

But RSS feeds for continuing stories and places like Wattpad are making serial fiction more viable in the Western world, or at least to Western writers: polylingual East Asian readers are still a huge portion of the audience on Wattpad.

The literary and cultural scene continues to evolve rapidly, making this an exciting time to be in writing and publishing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sex Scenes with EC Sheedy

"The two most powerful words in our vocabulary are love and hate. The most loaded word is sex."

Tonight Edna "E.C." Sheedy spoke to the Victoria Writers' Society about 'the warmer side of romance.' An author of romantic suspense, Edna had sharp and funny insights to share about the adventure of writing sex scenes.

One of the first things Edna addressed was the difference between sex scenes and love scenes: many writers in her genre prefer to call them love scenes, as they're stops on the path to two people falling in love. Sex scenes can happen in any kind of writing, and the Victoria Writers society has creative non-fiction and short fiction and novel and speculative fiction writers amongst it, who might not necessarily be writing about love when they write sex.

Audience is one of the primary things to keep in mind when writing a sex scene. Harlequin publishes 30 different lines a month, each appealing to a slightly different demographic, so "it's worth knowing that even with the diehard romance fans . . . warm, warmer, and warmest are always still in play."

In fabulous fashion, Edna broke down an approach to writing romance into simple steps. First, the rules:
Rule 1 - You never. ever, ever have to write a sex scene.
Rule 2 - If you do write a sex scene, never ever ever go beyond your personal level of comfort. It'll be hard to write, and awkward, and it'll be awkward to your readers.
Rule 3 - It is a far better thing you do not to write a love scene than to write an egregiously bad one.
She talked about Rowan Somerville's adventures after getting the award for 'worst sex scene in fiction,' and read the offending line. It was quite, quite deserving of the award, though I was too busy horrifiedly picturing it to capture the quote accurately.

Then, if you do decide to write a sex scene, it's time to ask yourself some questions;
1. What do you want the scene to show the reader other than sex?

If a sex scene doesn't contribute to the book, moving the story ahead in some way, ask yourself if you really need to do it. Sex shows character. It's about as intimate as two people get. Sex can be a powerful plot device in almost any genre. This gives the sex scene, the love scene, a purpose.

2. What kind of sex scene does the tone of your book require?

"Tone sets up expectations, so if you jump from light and frothy to dark and dirty like a kangaroo on steroids, it's going to jar the reader."

3. What kind of sex scene fits your characters?

4. Have you strewn enough rose petals and have you thrown enough curves? Have you built enough sexual tension?

Sexual tension is the compelling force in fictional romantic relationships.

"What keeps your characters apart is more important than what brings them together."

The group had fun listing off pairs with great sexual tension - the iconic Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, Booth and Bones, even Edward and Bella.

Edna's tips:
1. Watch your words - language matters.
2. Watch your body parts - remember so far that no limb or appendage can be in two places at one time.
3. Use sensory writing. Avoid clinical description. Engage any and all of the five senses.
This is sometimes where comfort level comes into play.
4. Set the scene. Show enough detail so your reader is in that scene.
5. Choosing your point of view with some degree of care. Choose the character that has the most to get out of the love scene or the most to lose. Point of view is hard for a lot of writers; Nora Roberts, the queen of romance, slides rather sloppily from one character to another in the middle of a scene in some of her earlier works. Jacqueline Carey, on the other hand, has excellently consistent point of view throughout.
6. Don't forget the dialog.

Near the end of her talk, Edna mentioned something that's been coming up consistently for the last year and a bit in the circles I frequent: that publishers don't want to fix anything these days. You want your manuscript as perfect as possible before sending it in. She addressed this in part by taking classes in grammar.

Overall, a very informative talk, and hugely engaging. I need to go find some of her books, now.