Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Pen, The Keyboard and The Writing

In the absence of any update from me (yes, I know, I know, I’m sorry) here is the second guest post here at Mirrormask Fiction. This one comes from Sam Lee over at Thinking Out Loud.

Hello, gentle readers of Joel’s blog. I’m Sam, guest blogging from, and write in a multitude of genres and in story lengths with the goal of telling a good, enjoyable story. This year I’ve written quite a few short stories, for the first time in years and years, and had a blast. Next year I expect to write both novels and short stories, and have just as much fun. Check out my blog for story-on-sale-updates and general writing and publishing thoughts that I just can’t keep to myself.

I’ve been a touch typist for a very long time, but my first love was writing longhand, and there’s something about the process that makes for a different writing style, and a different thinking style, than what comes out from the keyboard.

Almost all of the stories I’ve written this year I’ve written–as in composed, drafted, finished–on the computer, via typing. Sure, I’ve scribbled some notes in longhand and so forth, but mostly, they are results of time at the keyboard.

Recently, though, I wrote a story with a first draft purely based on paper, in longhand. The way writers two hundred years ago and beyond wrote all the time, I reminded myself as I struggled, at first, to read my own handwriting and find a comfortable hand, and tried to throttle my thoughts both slowly enough to transcribe to paper and yet quickly enough to follow the relentless pace of the pen moving across the blank page.

I know I write differently longhand than on the keyboard; I can almost fool myself that at times, I can type at the speed of the imprints my thoughts leave in my mind before they fade, whereas I almost have to imagine more vividly and in detail, and more heavily, when writing by hand, since my hand will most assuredly not keep up with my racing thoughts. I don’t know how Shakespeare did it, honestly, or Jane Austen, or Dickens, or Tolstoy (okay, he had his poor wife!), or any of the writers who came before us managed to write as much as they did by hand, and often, with quills and ink instead of long-lasting steel nibs and so on. Perhaps it gave them more time to think, and less time “drafting”, and made them more decisive (or at least more decided) in their daily writing, in their writing workday.

For there is something physically satisfying about writing longhand, and a pleasant shift in composition and in thinking that I don’t even realize until I’m well into the day’s work. Too, there’s something satisfying about having irrevocably “done” pages–compared to the ephemeral-seeming nature of pixels on screen–that gives you a sense of accomplishment like no other. I don’t think I could keep it up for everything I write, but I can foresee doing this again, for a change
of pace, perhaps, or to indulge myself. The problem is that I still have to get the words and stories onto a typed page (actually, into a computer file) in order to publish and submit it, and frankly, it seems easier to save myself the time of transcription to just write straight onto the computer, as it were.

If–no, when–I do write another story longhand, however, there’s a pitfall that tripped me up for a while and that I’ll share with you. In typing up that first draft after I finished the longhand-story, I got stuck somewhere after the opening pages and avoided the task for a while. I didn’t realize until a few days later what had stopped me.

Instead of merely transcribing the story on the page, I realized I’d been rewriting it on the fly as I typed, trying to improve the storyline or bring in more details, or some other such thing. I hadn’t prepared any notes on any “fixes”, and in any case, had had no intention of rewriting the dratted thing when I’d finished it, but there I was, getting in my own way, trying to make it perfect, or at least “cleaner”, when I had no idea if what I was doing was having that effect. I caught myself in time: the brain, like a car, does not do well when you press the gas and brake pedals at the same time. You
get nowhere fast and it’s bad for the car, and frustrating for the brain.

I re-learned the hard way that the Heinlein rule that once you have finished a story, leave it the **** alone, refrain from rewriting it (especially on the fly!), and get on with the next. If you think you had any problems in an old story, “fix” it in the new story. Even–or especially–with longhand stories.

So the overall lesson learned on longhand writing is that, after I write it, I still have to make myself apply Heinlein’s Rules to it. Write, finish, don’t rewrite, send it out, keep it up.

I’ll make myself transcribe directly from the paper to the typed page, and then put the story up and leave it alone.

How about you? Do you write longhand, or on the keyboard? If you do both, do you find yourself writing differently? What do you do when you transcribe from paper to pixels?

This is my first guest blog, so be gentle. (grin)


Concept Albums and the Novel

For the first ever guest poster here at Mirrormask Fiction, I would like to introduce Eric Zawadzki, half of the ultimate writing team over at Four Moons Press (the other half being Matt  Schick). The two of them have released a fantastic fantasy novel, Kingmaker, which you can find here. Without further ado, here is Eric with a fine post about Concept Albums and the Novel.

I first want to thank James for giving us a spot on his blog, and I want to encourage you to check out his post on our blog.

In my Senior year of high school, I stumbled upon Pink Floyd’s The Wall among my father’s collection of movies. The images, music, and lyrics resonated with me in a way no other musical work ever had. It was my first contact with a concept album, and at the time, the experience was completely mind-blowing.

Here was this album that told the story of a character with all his highs and lows. I had heard story songs before, but they usually had one main melody and told the tale of just one incident. The Wall, though, was epic – fresh melodies shot through with recurring riffs, competing themes, and a conclusion that drew all the pieces of the story together.

It didn’t hurt that at the time, I was yearning for both radical independence and the approval of others. The album’s exploration of alienation was therefore cathartic to my 17-year-old self. I‘m still a sucker for concept albums, such as Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle Earth, which retells stories from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.

I mention all this because I find that the books that stick with me the longest are the ones that feel a bit like a really good concept album. They collection of pieces (scenes or songs) assembled in a way that supports the central concept of the book (or album).

I suspect one of the trickiest problems with creating a concept album is you cannot get away with any filler. With any other kind of album, if I like only eight of the ten songs, I just don’t ever play the two songs I don’t like, and I’m not going to feel cheated. With a concept album, though, especially one where every song transitions seamlessly into the next, I expect (perhaps unfairly) that every track be at least acceptable, and preferably amazing.

I’ve definitely heard supposed concept albums where the songs didn’t fit together very well. Sometimes they simply felt like they were in the wrong order – too many slow songs stuck together, or a dynamic change so dramatic that it was almost alarming. Less often, but certainly more annoying, some had songs that only fit the theme of the concept because the track list said they did. I always wondered, in the latter case, whether they had only come up with six really good songs but needed ten, so they just shoehorned some other material into the same album, or whether they genuinely saw some connection that was completely invisible to me.

By the same token, I’ve definitely seen books that meandered from incident to incident without any real sense of purpose. Even if most of the individual scenes are perfectly fine, it’s hard to stick with the story as a whole, because a good novel is a concept album – it has to be greater than the sum of its parts and cannot have dead weight. Furthermore, the story it tells must make sense.

A concept album that manages to assemble 10-20 individually awesome songs into a logical pattern from which the theme of the album emerges like a phoenix rising from the ashes. It is a wonder to behold and will likely sit on repeat in my iTunes shuffle for weeks. The same goes for a novel that successfully cobbles together character, plot, setting, and style into something that touches deep into the soul even as it entertains. For me, The Hunger Games did that. So did The Sparrow, The Death Gate Cycle, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, The Lord of the Rings, and too many other books to count. All of them have their flaws, but at the time they moved me in ways not all books do.

I’m not 17 anymore. These days, I struggle more with my own mortality than I do with feelings of alienation. But to this day, whenever I hear The Wall – especially “Comfortably Numb” or “Hey You” – I remember what it felt like. The same is true of The Death Gate Cycle, whose optimism spat in the face of the inconsequential power of the individual never entirely left me. I listen to music and read to be entertained, sure, but I also want to feel something powerful and to be inspired.

What novels or songs (concept album or otherwise) have changed your perspective or captured your exact feelings of the moment?

Terry Brooks’ “Imaginary Friends” Available For A Good Cause

From Terry Brooks website:

Most of you know that Shawn, our faithful Web Druid, has been battling a re-occurrence of cancer that surfaced some months back. Thankfully, he is well on the way to a full recovery thanks to chemotherapy treatments and doctor care. Less happily, the result of all this is a huge medical bill he has no hope of being able to pay back in the time frame the hospital has set.

Because we all love Shawn and value his friendship – no one more than me – we all want to do what we can to see him through this. So I am announcing effective today that I am giving Shawn the use of my short story IMAGINARY FRIENDS for an exclusive download for a period of 90 days. During this time, readers who have never read the story or would like to read it again and obtain an ebook copy in the process can do so. IMAGINARY FRIENDS was a story I wrote 20 years ago for Lester del Rey for inclusion in a coffee table book of stories by Del Rey authors called ONCE UPON A TIME. That book has been out of print for years, and the story has not been used since. The story is about a boy named Jack who discovers that he is dying of cancer. I won’t reveal any more except to tell you that this was the story which served as the jumping off point half-a-dozen years later for RUNNING WITH THE DEMON.

So I am putting it up for sale for 90 days at $2.99 to help Shawn pay off his medical bills. All of the proceeds of sales of the story will go to him for that purpose. Here is a chance for all of us to show Shawn we support him. Goodness knows, he has supported me over the years. I know many of you have become friends with him, and maybe you’ve thought now and then about how you might let him know what that friendship has meant.

Here is a really good opportunity. Order the download, read and enjoy your copy of the story, and know you are helping someone who really needs it. Then drop a note to the website, if you are so moved. I can promise you that by helping Shawn you will be doing me a real favor.

Shawn Speakman is a truly important figure in the fantasy world, both for his work as Terry Brooks’ web guru, but also his website – The Signed Page – “devoted to bringing signed and personalized books to fans who are unable to meet their favorite touring writers”. He is also a writer in his own rights, who made his epic fantasy novel available a few months ago in order to help gain health insurance as a working writer.

This is a great cause, so I hope I can count on anyone who reads this to support it!

Nanowrimo Day 3 and a Guest Post

At the end of Day 3 I am just under 10k, 8640 to be exact:

2021 on Episode 5 of the Phoenix Odyssey (The Phoenix and the Last Bornsword)

827 on Soulreaper’s Dawn: Apprentice

596 on The Mad Queen

660 on Restoration: Redemption

0 on a short story, The Faerie Lady of Pinedale

Next couple of days I’ll be lucky to get 2k I should imagine, my parents and cousin are coming to stay so I’ll probably be busy with RL stuff. Otherwise, I’ll be hosting Eric Zawadzki and Matthew Schick from Four Moons Press for a guest post tomorrow evening, and they have kindly agreed to host one of mine over on their website:

So be sure to check it out!

Nanowrimo Day 2

Only started nanowrimo 2011 today but managed 4536 words:

2072 on Episode 5 of the Phoenix Odyssey (The Phoenix and the Last Bornsword)

1060 on Soulreaper’s Dawn: Apprentice

575 on The Mad Queen

507 on Restoration: Redemption

322 on a short story, The Faerie Lady of Pinedale