Sunday, July 20, 2014

High Heeled Shoes, Oil Rigs, and Writers, Part I

I'll admit, I'm a little exhausted this week. After a few days of physical illness, an all-day writers' conference that I helped coordinate, a 14 mile run, and a migraine headache, I'm ready for a few days of rest. This is my last week before I have to start seriously planning for the fall semester of teaching, so I'm going to enjoy it.

That means I'm going to take Chuck Sambuchino's advice and steal from myself for the next three weeks. For those of you who don't know, Chuck is a successful author, speaker, and edits for Writer's Digest. I met him at a writers' conference this year. Really nice guy and someone you should listen to if you're a writer. Why? Because he's a VERY successful writer. He didn't get that way overnight: he worked for it. He built his platform from the ground up and he knows his business. He even wrote a book about it which I reviewed in the newsletter for our state writers' guild. It's called Create Your Writer Platform. My only quibble is the numbering is off from the table of contents to the actual pages, but it's close enough you can find what you're looking for. It's probably an update and no one thought to update the TOC. Go figure.

In any case, I used this book and a couple of others to do a presentation on creating a writer's platform for the conference I helped coordinate. In that presentation I came to the following conclusions:

1. A writer's platform is a stage you build to stand above the crowd so others easily find you among the myriad of other choices.

2. A writer's platform is constructed of three basic parts: your public presence, your publishing presence, and your web presence.

3. If you don't start building your platform early--as in months to years before your book is published--you won't have a leg to stand on for publicity and marketing when you book does launch.

So in the next couple of weeks I'll be sharing parts of my presentation with you and hopefully you'll find the information helpful. The books I used as references, at least, should be full of gold. I don't get any royalties off of selling them, but I do like to pass along helpful information.

Buy Chuck's book. Read it. Follow his advice. It helped me triple my blog hits in three months. I had to work for it, but that's when you know you're doing something right.

If something's not working, revise what you're doing. Who says jumping horses mid-stream is a bad idea?


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Building Writer Platforms Part II

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 
Currently: Adverbaholics Anonymous

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gender Issues: SF vs. Fantasy

Okay, so, nerd that I am, I’m perusing through my copy of the 1998 version of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy by John Clute and John Grant (Don’t judge. You know some of you do it, too.) and found the following entry:

“GENDER: Fantasy as a genre is generally perceived as more hospitable to women than SCIENCE FICTION and HORROR, and more flexible in the choices it offers than historical fiction or romance, yet the standard patriarchal bias imposes limitations which are seldom subverted or even questioned. Whereas sf as the potential to question gender roles and try to envision new ways of living, fantasy looks to the past, seeking out patterns and archetypes.” (Clute and Grant p. 393)

Hmmm. Interesting. I’d never thought of looking at the genres that way. In fact, my first thought was to disagree and say modern speculative fiction on all spectrums has opened up to all sorts of new views. Some I agree with, some I don’t, some more mainstream than others. Especially with the boom in self- and indie publishing, my instinct is strong female characters are making a charge to the forefront of literature.

Twenty to thirty years ago it was difficult to find strong female characters in either sf or fantasy. You could find them if you looked, though.

All of Anne McCaffrey’s female characters, although some might argue a little stereotypical, were strong. Her books (mostly in one universe, by the way) are sometimes more “science fantasy” than science fiction. Dragons? Yeah, genetically modified lizards bred to telepathically bond with and fly around with a human. Cool. Did she look to the past for patterns and archetypes or did she question gender roles and try to envision new ways of living? Dragon-riding women leading raids on brimstone from a rogue red planet? A woman whose brain lives in and runs a ship? A singer who fails to graduate from school but instead becomes someone who runs ships? Definitely envisioning to me.

But she was a female writer. What about a male writer from that same time frame?

Piers Anthony, on the other hand, may have a few strong female characters in his Xanth, Apprentice Adept Series, and Incarnations of Immortality series, but they’re hidden beneath his male characters’ misogynistic, sexually explicit (and sometimes disturbing) attitudes toward them. Don’t get me wrong. As a kid I loved reading the first 10 or so of the Xanth series and the first set of the Adept and Incarnations series. However, when I go back and look at the text I’m shocked at the attitude displayed toward women: objects. In the Adept series the “love interests” were robots and animals. Literally. Worse, his later volumes add another level of “ick” (I’ll let you research that on your own if you wish), receiving more negative reviews in Amazon than positive (which is disheartening for me because I grew up loving his work!)

So, in his fantasy and SF worlds, Piers Anthony definitely used old patterns and archetypes.

But what about today’s speculative fiction?

Well, I hate to fall back on the popular, but let’s look at J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Hermione Granger. Definitely fantasy, here.

First, she wasn’t the “chosen” one, but she was always saving the day. Why? Because she was clever, smart (two different things!) and persistent. She hung in there when everyone else, boys and girls included, ran screaming like banshees, and was truly one of the great heroes of the story because of who she decided to be, not because of who she was BORN to be. And in the end did she cave to the stereotype and marry Harry Potter? No!

Definitely envisioning a new world in fantasy land.

And as for modern SF, let’s slip on over to cyberpunk and Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash. The two main female leads, Y.T. and Juanita, both have amazing hacking abilities to help Hiro Protagonist (If you haven’t read the novel you should and yes, that is the main character’s name.) He relies on both of them to do their job to save the world from a Sumerian herpes-like disease that affects both the physical and ‘net physical beings. It’s a trip and so are his women.

Snowcrash is definitely a new world, his female characters strong, yet he relies a lot on patterns and archetypes, but it's for a reason and not with a negative attitude toward them in any sense. I agree with the definition? No. As with most generalizations, the definition can be true about some works and not about others. Since it was written 16 years ago, it may be invalid altogether. However I still think it’s worth considering the message we’re sending as we pass books into the hands of our children. What’s the message we want to send? Read it first, then decide if it’s appropriate.

Revision. You gotta read it first before you can revise.


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
We'll See What This Week Brings

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jim Butcher vs. Robert Frost DEATHMATCH

Jim Butcher’s latest installment of the Dresden series, Skin Game doesn’t disappoint. (I tried NOT to read it all in one day…EPIC FAIL! So much for getting anything done that day.) It’s classic Dresden like we’ve been craving since before Changes which threw all of us for a loop. Or loup garou, depending on who you’re talking about.
That’s all I’m going to say in the way of review for the book, because if you’re a fan and HAVE read the book, you don’t want a recap. If you’re a fan and HAVEN’T read the book, you don’t want any spoilers. If you’ve NEVER READ Jim Butcher’s Dresden series and enjoy urban fantasy, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? Go ye, therefore, and buy Dead Beat and get started on one of the best darkly funny fantasy/noir series ever!
My focus for this post, instead, is to dig a little deeper into the metaphors of Harry Dresden’s powers (which now include, among other things, being able to wield both fire and ice), as they reflect his psychological state and throw in a little philosophical Robert Frost for good measure.
Shall we dance?
Frost has a magnificent little poem that goes like this:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
(p. 220, The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged, © 1969)
I’m not a poet. And I know it. However, I can recognize a metaphor when it thwaps me on the nose.
Basically, Frost is comparing fire with human desires and ice with human hate. When taken to extremes, both are equally destructive. Therefore, according to Frost, it doesn’t matter whether the world is destroyed by literal fire/ice or the passions/rancor of human behavior. Either way we’re dead. You can read this as a physical, metaphysical, spiritual, and/or psychological destruction. Whatever sinks your boat.

(Isn’t that so cool? Hot? Metaphors are awesome. Just wait. It gets better!)

To go one step further, if you are warm, you tend to move faster to get away from whatever is bothering you. (Think walking on hot pavement. Or hot coals.) If you’re cold, however, you’re slowed into moving carefully. Too much and you’re immobilized. Almost…apathetic. Sound familiar to some of today’s attitudes? We need a little fire to drive us, a little ice to cool us down. A balance. It’s the extreme of either that kills.
Hold on to those thoughts.
Throughout the Jim Butcher’s series, Harry Dresden must choose the lesser of two evils. He hates what his choices do to the people around him (gets them physically maimed, psychologically raped, killed, etc.,) but in his world, he has to make on the spot decisions. Or die. There is no contemplating the repercussions, only Fuego! and Infriga! and now Parkour! (But that’s merely flavor text. I digress. And giggle.) Each book he’s burdened with more guilt as the body count racks higher.

In the past, Harry’s power came from the focus of his emotional will into either force or fire or whatever effect he needed. Here’s a cool Wiki that documents all the facts from the books: 

Now that he has access to ice, this new power has, in some ways, immobilized his already stunted emotional growth. He’s withdrawing from his friends and family for fear his spiral into the depths of this new power will create an evil Harry that only hates, that only strikes out in self-preservation, that only serves the Id, instead of choosing to help as many as he can.

Now, even though Harry has a balance of power (fire and ice) he is unbalanced emotionally, fighting to keep his humanity vs succumbing to the overwhelming desires and hatreds his power tempts him with.
So will Harry's world end with fire or with ice? Desire or hatred? Only Jim Butcher knows for certain.
I do know one thing, though. Harry faces the same issue every one of us face daily: the fear of choosing wrong. Which type of publishing route do I use? Which job do I take? Which man/woman do I date or marry? Do I marry at all? And thousands of others.
But just as Harry is learning, we can’t live in fear of either the fire or the ice. The fire moves us when we need to be moved. The ice stops us when we need to be stopped. The key is to use each when we need them and not to be consumed by either desire or hate in the process. Balance is the key.
And THAT, my friends, is why speculative fiction is just as literary as Shakespeare, Goethe, Chaucer, and Ge Hong.

Revision. It’s not just for literary snobs. (Take THAT Ruth Graham!)

Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
We'll See What This Week Brings

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Author Interview: Margo Dill on Curses

Revision: First of all, I have to congratulate you on an amazing book. I started reading Caught Between Two Curses one morning and didn’t realize how deeply sucked into the story I was until the phone rang at noon. I was actually a little peeved at the caller!

Margo: Thanks so much! I have had several people say that they finished reading it in a day or two, including my own mother.
Revision: Since this blog focuses on revision and metaphors, those are some of questions I’m going to pitch at you. I hope I don’t hit you with a curve ball. Do you have your bat ready?

Margo: Always ready, okay, wait, maybe I need to take a few practice swings.

Revision: Your previous book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg required a lot of research into the American Civil War. What kind of research did you do for Caught Between Two Curses? What part did your research play in making the book believable? Did your research force you to revise what you wanted to write?

Margo: I have to be honest that I didn’t have to do much research for Caught Between Two Curses, except for some information about the Curse of the Billy Goat--the whole reason why the Cubs are not winning the World Series, of course. Other than that, I did a little research on other curses, how people think they have broken curses in the past, and Chicago. Although I have been to Chicago several times, so I was familiar with my setting.

Revision: Curses in literature are usually a metaphor. For example in the movie Brave, the curse put on Merida’s mother is a metaphor for how daughters view their mothers as monsters until they realize their mothers are merely looking out for the best interests of their daughters. In Caught Between Two Curses, beyond simple revenge, how would you interpret your curse metaphors?

Margo: Mostly they are about love--what happens when love goes wrong? The curse that I made up for Julie’s family was put on by a scorned lover--hence the revenge you’re talking about. But more than that, it’s how love can be viewed by some people as something they are entitled to or that they own. And when love is treated this way, it can cause serious damage. In the book, love gone wrong causes death--it sounds like this book is so serious, when really it is quite quirky and fun, except for the death curse, that is.

Revision: In Caught Between Two Curses, some of your central themes focused on the pressures of teen sex, the importance and difficulty of family ties, and what it means to be in love. When you are in the idea phase of choosing what to write, do you pick your themes or do they emerge organically from your text? How does this change in the various stages of revision?

Margo: I think more about plot and characters at first, with a vague idea of my themes. My themes come out more after my first draft, at which point I try to figure out what they actually are. Then when I revise, I really have those themes in mind, so I think it helps focus the revision.

Revision: You have a marvelous way of drawing the reader into the story, making sure nothing pulls them out of the story. What is your process for revising from first draft to last to smooth out those rough edges so the reader can’t put down your book?

Margo: First of all, thank you--that’s nice of you to say. I wish I had a smooth and easy process, but I just really don’t. I basically write the first draft and most of the time, I have my critique group critiquing as I go. So, I’m always going back and fixing things, even before I finish the ending. I revise and revise and my critique group critiques and critiques. They are invaluable. Then I usually try to get it published--but often too soon, and I have to revise again. I can’t even tell you how many times I revised this novel. I took out an entire plot point that was too confusing and getting in the way. I started the book about 5 different times before I decided to start with the Julie and Gus scene. At one point, I had pink post-it notes all over the floor with scenes written on them and important character points, and then I put them all in order on a poster board to see if I had any holes.

Revision: A few weeks ago, Slate columnist Ruth Graham in her article “Against YA” slammed adult readers for indulging in YA fiction, basically saying, “Grow up, the world ain’t pretty, so read literature that reflects the real world.” In one of my previous blogs posts, “Why Do Adults Like Young Adult Speculative Fiction?”  I discussed several reason why I think adults like and SHOULD read YA literature. Why do you think people like her are so against adults enjoying a good read no matter what genre or age group its marketed for?

Margo: I responded to her on WOW!’s blog here, but really, I think two things about that column--one, it enraged readers, but her article got a TON of views, probably one of the most well-read Slate articles ever. So, if you want people to find out who you are, write something controversial. Second, I think she’s a snob--at least when it comes to reading. I think it’s ridiculous to judge people for what they read. WE really want people to read more--whatever they want to read--just read.

Revision: You have a lot to balance in your life: a husband, kids, an editing business, writing, keeping up with your platform, marketing your books, etc. Your life is in a constant state of revision to stay sane and get things done on time. What would be a few pieces of advice for other people trying to do the same?

Margo: Sometimes, I don’t feel like I do a very good job with the balance, but what I try to do is organize my day into segments and get rid of the mommy guilt. So, I try to plan one to two special things with my kids each day--this could be big like the zoo or small like playing outside in the backyard. They don’t care what as long as I am spending time with them (and the dog, too!). I also ask for help. My husband works nights, so some mornings he watches the kids so I can work. My parents do a lot of entertaining too. I also have to be organized. I have to know what I am going to work on when I have the time to work on it.

Revision: Thank you so much for your time, Margo! Good luck with Caught Between Two Curses! It’s a wonderful book and I hope a lot of people read and enjoy it.

Margo: Thank you so much! I appreciate your time and having me on your blog!


Margo L. Dill is the author of Caught Between Two Curses, a YA light paranormal romance novel about the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs, and Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, a historical fiction, middle-grade novel. She currently has two more books under contract--both are picture books--with High Hill Press and Guardian Angel Publishing. Besides being a children's author, she is also a freelance editor with the business, Editor 911: Your Projects Are My Emergency! and she is part of the WOW! Women On Writing e-zine's staff as an editor, blogger, instructor, and social media manager. When she is not writing, editing or teaching online, Margo loves to spend time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and crazy Boxer dog, Chester in St. Louis, Missouri. Find out more at

WOW! Women On Writing:
Book trailer: Caught Between Two Curses


Next main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Surprise! Surprise!

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!