Negative reviews? Please.

You know who can rip my stuff to shreds and inflict more psychological stress/pain on me than I’m already experiencing?

Me.

You think that review of Going To Pieces was bad? He didn’t even bother to knock the TITLE. What kind of wuss misses an easy dig like that? Pfft. And let’s not even get started about how he stayed away from critiquing the sex, the position(s), the BDSM, the colors of the decor, OR the vocabulary. “repast”? Really? Who uses “repast” in everyday conversation?

Every time I send a story off, I’ve got a serious case of cognitive dissonance going on: “They’re going to LOVE IT!” is followed immediately by “No, no, they will HATE IT. LOATHE IT.” Which is then drowned by “They’re going to ADORE IT!” and so on, until I decide to reread my submission.

The last story I submitted? Has at least one glaring typo. I’m amazed I managed to keep it under the word count–so I’m proud of myself for that–but I’m also half-convinced that in so doing I’ve wrung all the sensuality and hotness and immediacy out of it. I look at it and think “If I just had another 1,000 words! I could make Jackie’s whole look less gimmicky-sounding. Or I could do more with the plant. Or…”

I have yet to see a review of my story in Model Men, which is a Benny and Phil story. Phil’s the POV character… The first-person POV character. There are people out there who are going to declare that I am an absolute wash as a writer, simply because they hate Phil’s voice. There are other people out there who will rightly point out that there’s a minor omission toward the beginning of the story that ideally shooooould have been filled in, now that I think about it. (It doesn’t detract or otherwise substantially change the story itself, though, so I don’t think it really matters all that much.)

People have pointed out the problems with First Flight and Tobias’s Own, though for the latter most people were polite enough to not mention the fact that I smooshed six months of being attracted to one another into a couple of “telling” sentences. There’s more than that, of course, since they’re novellas, but seriously.

And not every negative review I’ve gotten has been bad — one of my favorites was for Gone To Pieces, where the reviewer said she was pretty sure Brice was pudgy, balding, and friendless. The story still wasn’t her cuppa, but we both agreed that Brice was a jerk and a half. I don’t care about that — tell me the story’s not your thing, even tell me why, that’s great. Make me laugh at the same time? That’s even better!

Write a lengthy critique that focuses on things I didn’t do or didn’t do the way you were expecting/wanted me to? Especially when it was a request story and you weren’t the one who requested it? I’ll fume about it, then write something relatively neutral in response.

Tell me I suck and I’ll get annoyed; tell me to quit writing and I’ll dig my heels in and keep on. Claim that anyone who has given my stuff bad reviews is a bully and I’ll be really confused. As I said at the beginning, dude. You want someone to point out every last wonky beam and misplaced modifier, I am at your service. I wrote it, I better know damn well just where it sucks and how.

So, y’know. I’m not saying I want negative reviews, or that I embrace them all with a smile on my face–because in all honesty, I’d rather have people love my stuff, warts and all. It’s just that for the most part, people who’re going to give First Flight one star because they had a traumatic run-in with their great-aunt’s hyacinth macaw when they were 12 and now they hate all birds (or whatever) aren’t going to bother to pull it apart the way I can.

Change and Conflict

So my weekend was full of change. Granted, a fair amount of it had needed to happen for a while–my mattress and my bed frame were not playing well together, to the point that I not only added a couple of boards to the frame, but then stuck all of my old pillows between my frame and the mattress.

On Sunday, one of Mom’s friends called her up and said, “Hey, I’m getting rid of the bed in the guest room. It’s practically brand new–do you want it? If so, come over and get it.” Mom, knowing about my bed situation, said “I’ll round up Connor and we’ll be there by 4.”

So I spent most of Sunday blitz-cleaning my room, discovering both things I thought I’d lost forever (my new carry-everywhere-just-in-case notebook; my microSD card for my new Nook) and things I only wish I’d lost forever (some lube packaging that was supposed to have gone into the recycling bin months ago turning up, happily bright orangey-red and obvious, among the stuff under my old bed).

I also discovered that I own entirely too many clothes. I don’t need all of them, and I certainly don’t wear all of them. In a bold move, I actually threw away some socks because I didn’t wear them, they didn’t have mates, and they weren’t worth giving away. Some things went into a give-away box, but not nearly enough. Since the idea was to get enough room for my new bed, I didn’t take the time to do a thorough cull–but I will.

My new bed is awesome, by the way. No head or foot boards, but that’s not a big deal–I can get those later. The lady who gave it to me threw in two sets of sheets, two standard pillows and one body pillow/bolster, a memory-foam topper, a bed skirt, and a heated mattress pad (though we walked off and left the cord behind, oops). Oh, and a dark purple blanket-with-sleeves-that-isn’t-a-snuggie-as-far-as-I-know, though that was intended for the Unofficial Nieces.

It’s taking a little getting used to, both in terms of sleeping in it and in its presence. It’s been a while since I’ve had a bed this tall, not to mention one where I’m in danger of falling out of either side. (My old bed was a twin-sized mattress (no box spring) that was in the corner, so I tended to end up against the wall. The new one is a double/full with box spring, and only the head is against the wall.) I’m exceedingly happy with it, though, especially after having discovered the hard way that a saggy mattress really does affect your back, and that in turn affects things like, say, being able to walk. Sleep. Think.

What does all of that have to do with conflict? Everything! No, wait, bear with me.

Once upon a time, I was grumbling about conflict. That fighting made me tired, and writing characters who fought all the time was just as tiring. Reesa, who is wise beyond her years, pointed out that just because the usual word used as shorthand for “stuff that moves the story forward in small, smooth increments” is “conflict” doesn’t mean that it’s all about fighting.

This fascinating (and totally worth reading!) article starts with the statement that, “In the West, plot is commonly thought to revolve around conflict: a confrontation between two or more elements, in which one ultimately dominates the other.”

The author of the piece argues that there are other options, but the premise–that “conflict” is inherently violent, requires a “winner”, and that violence is the only tool in the western story-telling arsenal–is the same one I started with. And it’s not true.

Part of the problem is with the connotations of the word “conflict”. People have used the word “conflict” as an euphemism for “war” (or massacre, or genocide) for so long that probably at least two generations have grown up internalizing that connotation.

You can find conflict in the most mundane of tasks. Take changing a light bulb, for instance. The first conflict is one’s desire for light, but alas, there is none. No one wins or loses anything, in this case — it’s just a fact: I want the light on, but the bulb is burned out. So I have to go find a new bulb, which isn’t too difficult, and something to stand on.

Ah! The stepladder. It’s downstairs. So I have to put the new bulb somewhere safe (so the cats don’t knock it down and break it, and where I won’t forget it), then tromp downstairs to find the ladder. I find the ladder, but… It’s behind a bunch of boxes, which I have to move before I can get to it. And before I can move the boxes, I realize that I have to go to the bathroom, which means I have to go back upstairs…

See? You thought changing a light bulb was boring! Getting ready for my new bed was the same way. Very little actual violence (there was a bit of recyclable-tossing), but plenty of conflict that didn’t necessarily have a winner or a loser. There are ways in which it is possible to have a negative outcome–dropping the vacuum’s dust-cup full of, well, dust and cat hair and fuzz and crumbs and God only knows what onto the freshly-vacuumed floor, for instance. Or attempting to adjust the blinds and having them fall down. Or any of a million other ways that things go pear-shaped.

The point is, you can write a story without violence, without people clashing and without defining who/what “wins” and who/what “loses” — but you cannot write one without adjectives or adverbs.

It doesn’t hurt to use a search engine, I promise.

Come over here. Yes, you. Sit down right here beside me–we need to talk.

Look, I know you’re excited about writing a story set in a place you love, but have never been to. I understand, I do. Now, sweetness, it’s really really important to remember that there are people who live in the place you’ve chosen for your story’s setting, and that, particularly in the US, it’s likely they’ll have a chance to read it.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? Sh, no, just let me have my say, please. When you pick a particular location, you need to look up some fundamental basics. Check out the weather patterns, for instance, and look at the average temperatures for various times of the year. I’ve never been to New Orleans (argh argh argh), but I know that they don’t get hurricanes year-round. Kansas is not all corn fields and tornadoes 24/7/365. There are more cities in North Dakota than Pierre and Minot. Not everyone in Minnesota is decended from Scandanavian stock, eats hotdish, or is Lutheran (or all three at once).

If you can’t go to your chosen location for whatever reason–financial, familial, etc–then for the love of all that is seen and unseen GO TO THE LIBRARY. Use Google or whatever your search engine of choice is. Check out guidebooks, check out blogs from people living in the area (even if you do have to wade through the unpredictable results of machine translation), ask the people you know if they know anyone in [Wherever]. I personally know a guy who knows people in Finland, plus I know there’s a Finn on one of my mailing lists. If I want the lowdown on living on a farm just below the Arctic circle, I can ask them if they either know anything about it or know someone who does.

Please. It doesn’t take all that long — and if you’re like me and tend to get sidetracked, set aside a couple of hours one weekend and just get lost. Make notes and bookmarks, or copies, or whatever! It doesn’t matter if you ever use all of the information, but at least do your readers the courtesy of actually making the attempt.

Thanks for listening,

love,

A fan of Street View for finding neat-looking places

And Now For Fun With Search Strings Theater!

I use Woopra Analytics to keep an eye on visits to my site, mostly because there’s a plugin for WordPress that makes it easier to check them. My favorite part is seeing the stuff that people are looking for that leads them here, like the following:

books about things that are not awesome
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?

writing without adjectives or adverbs
…is pretty much impossible, I think. All you’ll find here are arguments against even trying.

fwbs
I don’t know what their FWBs stands for, but mine is short for “Filthy Welsh Boys” (which is what I started calling Max and Trev during the long-distance phase of their relationship — it involved a lot of sex-heavy text messages/pictures and of course video chats.)

name of someone easily entertained
Connor J. Wright, at your service. *Hat tip*

why am i always the odd one out
Because you yourself are strange and unusual? It’s okay to be the odd one out. I honestly think that odd people are more fun, most of the time.

how to tell a story without adjectives or adverbs
You pretty much cannot do it, is what I’m saying. Still, if you manage to do it, please let me know.

why is reesa awesome
It would take too long to tell you all of the ways in which she is awesome, so I’ll stick with these two: she writes (and shares!) Awesome Stories, and she can do that whole plot thing, which makes me a little jealous at times.

how to right a two paragraph story with adverbs and adjectives
…Well, you did ask about writing, not spelling or homophones. First things first: decide what you want your story to be about — titles and all of that can come later, if they ever do. You don’t have to have a detailed idea, just something to aim for. First Flight started with the really simple premise of “I love ravens and I wanna write a story about them/one!” From there, it grew into what we have today. I have another story (which may or may not ever be finished, never mind published) that started life as “there’s this war, and a soldier in love with his immediate superior, and the one in love just wants to go home and never see another sword again…Plus he’s gone and confessed to his officer that he’s in love, but the officer is thisclose to dying of pneumonia, so then what?”

The next thing to do is both the simplest and the most difficult: WRITE it. And if it takes more than a couple of paragraphs to get your characters and your story where you want it, that’s okay — it’s what rewrites and editing and revision is for. The only “real” rules for writing are that you absolutely cannot get anything written if you don’t do the work, and that there are as many methods (outlining, seat-of-the-pantsing, hybrid, snowflake, etc) to getting from “idea” to “story” as there are authors. If one way doesn’t work, try another.

which is done first revisions or edits
This is a great question! I don’t really know, but I suspect it really depends on the author. With First Flight (and Tobias’s Own, to an extent), I actually started my own “This Stuff Needs To Be Changed” file before I got anything back from the editors/proofers. My sailors story was sent back with suggestions for revision, as well as edits, which means that some people see them as synonyms.

because science thats why
“Because it’s science, that’s why!” is a line from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Eegah. Dr. Forrester has installed a radiator in Frank, and Joel asks why he didn’t just leave Frank alone; the doctor starts his reply by saying, “Since Frank’s blood was a previously unknown type, the money that brings in will–Why!? Because it’s science, that’s why!” At my house, ‘because it’s science, that’s why!’ has pretty much become a way to (jokingly) tell people to mind their own business… Or to admit that we’re not sure why we’re doing whatever. Heh.

“Because it’s science, that’s why!”

To answer the question that has turned up several times in my “searches” statistics:

Knowing your parts of speech allows you to write sentences that delight both your English teacher and your readers.

For example, if you don’t know your parts of speech, you won’t know when you’ve broken the “rule” about not using adjectives and adverbs. Knowing your parts of speech can make learning a second language much easier. If you get bored easily, then knowing your parts of speech can provide you with hours of entertainment–don’t just stand in line at the grocery store, copy-edit the headlines on the tabloids! Also, it makes you a kick-ass Mad Libs player.

In all seriousness, though, I have found that knowing an adverb from an adjective from a direct object has been the most helpful in learning other languages, as well as in my writing. For instance, the simplest sentence construction in Japanese is: [Noun] is [noun/adjective]. In Japanese, the verb always comes at the end of a sentence, and there is a particle that marks the end of the subject. This makes it dead easy to make up declarative sentences, such as: sora wa aoi desu. Sora ([the]sky) is the subject; wa is the subject-marker particle; aoi (blue) is an adjective; desu (is) is the verb. [The] sky is blue. (Japanese has no articles. On the other hand, German has at least nine.)

More complex sentences are just as simple (providing you have the vocabulary). Watashi no neko wa kuro desu. Watashi (I) is a pronoun; no is a possessive particle (essential an apostrophe-S); neko (cat) is a noun; wa is the subject marker — this makes ‘watashi no neko’ (my cat) the subject. What about my cat? Well, we already know where to look for the verb, and it’s the same as the first time, so we know that my cat is…something. In this case, it’s another adjective: kuro (black). My cat is black.

How about something a little more exciting? Here’s this one:

Watashi no neko wa neko no tabemono wo tabemashita. We already know what the subject is: my cat. Same construction as before, pronoun + possessive particle + noun being possessed. Then we have another possession: neko no tabemono. Tabemono is ‘food’ (literally ‘eating thing’, tabemasu = to eat, mono = thing), so it’s cat food. There’s a new particle, wo, which usually denotes that what came before is a direct object. And, at the end as usual, we have the verb tabemashita (ate; past-tense form of ‘tabemasu’).

So, in English, we have the sentence: My cat ate cat food. What was eaten? Cat food. (And yes, I suppose the narrowest answer is just ‘food’, but I’m not being that picky.)

Now that we know what goes in each slot, we can make up Japanese sentences all day long. Watashi no neko wa ninjin wo tabemasen. (My cat didn’t eat [a] carrot.) Anata no mimizu wa kowaii desu. (Your earthworm is scary.) Kore uma wa shiawase desu. (This horse is happy.) Anata no uma wa watashi no ninjin wo tabemashita. (Your horse ate my carrot. [Explains why the horse is happy.])

And that is just one of the reasons that it’s good–vital, even–to know your parts of speech.

A new hat!

A figurative one, anyway — real ones tend to make my head hot.

I got into writing on purpose, but a lot of my stories come about by accident: usually because I start with one idea and my characters wrench the tiller from my hands and adjust the sails to their liking and we all end up somewhere else.

This new hat I’m trying on, it’s kind of an accident, too. I joined the YA GLBT Books (nĂ©e YA M/M Romance) group on Goodreads because despite my advancing years, I still read YA books. Hell, I will read (okay, look at) picture books, too, if it comes down to it. If I come across Fox In Socks at a store, I can’t go on with my shopping until I have at least read the tweedle beetle battle. Out loud.

Anyway, my point is, I didn’t actually mean to put on the hat of a YA Author, but it seems to have slipped onto my head anyhow. I’m not complaining–far from it–I’m just kind of surprised. Kind of excited, too, because this means I have a shot at getting some of the completely RANDOM things I’ve written out into the world, which is always fun.

Thing is, if I’m going to write YA stuff, I’ll probably need to use a different name. Probably nothing radical–C. J. Wright, perhaps. Or maybe I’ll drop the C and go with Julian Wright instead. I’m trying to decide whether I should add a subdomain here, or if I should bite the bullet and have a separately-hosted site… A tumblr, maybe.

Before I do any of that, though, I should really have something to offer in terms of YA content, which means polishing up my . It will be M/M for now, though I may branch out in the future. I’ll make sure everything’s clearly labeled, no worries.

Now I have to try to decide if I should change a character’s name or not. Hmm…

What do you mean, “That’s not what we meant”?

Why saying what you mean is vital.

So I was poking around on the Kohl’s website and ended up at the Homecoming landing page. In addition to the rather…interesting…photoshop job on the girls at the top of the picture, the bottom of the page presented me with the above. It says “Shop teen guys”, and there’s a picture of a Timberlake-esque blond guy who looks like he’s about 24 (but I’m terrible with estimating ages; I have no idea how old he actually is).

When writing ad copy, it’s vitally important to eliminate as much ambiguity as possible, as well as to say what you mean. Yes, most people will properly add “clothing” to ‘Shop teen guys’; but the rest of us smartasses are making jokes about complaining that they don’t carry the dude we’re looking for.

I try to keep things cheerful around here.

But today, I’m going to talk about something that’s more important that maintaining a near-Stepfordian level of happiness.

The thing is, hiding stuff is nothing new for me. It’s nothing new to most people, though it might take some digging for some of them to find something they’ve kept to themselves.

I haven’t told my father–or most of my family, actually–what I write. My father has been poisoning himself with AM talk radio for years, and goes to a fundamentalist-type non-denominational church. (Peri-Christmas services with those people were both incredibly frustrating and deeply annoying, but that’s another rant and a half so moving on.)

My father himself, though, is an incredibly generous man, with a good heart. He loves little kids and thinks they’re just the greatest. He loves his job, which is driving the bus that picks up and drops off special-needs elementary students. If my brother and I needed anything–money, his presence, a plane ticket, whatever–he would move heaven and earth to help us out.

I still have no idea how he’d react to finding out that I’m the author of Awydd. Of Totally Choice. Of some of the other stuff on my hard drive. (And while I’m not precisely out to him in the traditional sense, I don’t make a point of being anyone other than myself around him. Being bi is a blessing, in this case.)

That uncertainty feeds on itself, and I keep what I write to myself. He knows what my pen name is, but fortunately it only turns up Terminator 4 fanfics when you drop it into Google (add ‘smut’ to my name and this page turns up, though).

The rest of my uninformed family are… It’s less that I’m afraid that they’ll disown me and more that I worry that they’ll be disappointed in me. That they’ll shake their heads and say “This is what you use your creativity on?”. I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of my grandparents reading the sex scenes, but that’s more of the above mixed with the fact that my grandparents read out loud to one another, and I reeeeeeally can’t/don’t want to imagine my grandmother saying some of the stuff I’ve written.

On a less-squicky note, I think that Tobias’s Own Adventure is actually a good point to start with in that regard. It doesn’t have any hard-core words in it (I don’t think I even used any of the milder aversions for them, either, come to think of it), and the most that happens on-screen is some kissing.

Anyway, my whole point is that it doesn’t matter who you are, there are things that you keep back because that’s how humanity works, and because there are far too many narrow-minded fools in the world who would just as soon scorn you as shake your hand for things that in no way affect them. And that I think I’m going to suck it up and come out to my family about my writing when Tobias’s Own comes out, just so that no one can ever try to use that against me*.

* Not that it would work very well. I have this terrible habit of digging in my heels and demanding to know WHY I should do what other people want me to, and then disregarding the reasons if they don’t make sense/aren’t good enough for me.

You know, Brain, the one with the idea usually does the work.

So why can’t I decide/figure out if I want to do a historical or a futuristic-y SF thing? I know it’s going to involve pirates, in some capacity; it will also possibly involve either indentured servitude or pottery. Or both.

Basically, so far, all I’ve got is a chronically sea-sick young man nicknamed Cabriti who is exceeding glad to be back on dry land and a burning desire to do more than that.