What Should I Tell Them?

What if one of my children—or later, one of my grandchildren—was to ask if she should be a writer? What should I tell her?

ChildrenIt would be easy to recall all the downsides and advise her to grow up to be something—anything—else. Why subject my own flesh and blood to the long hours alone, the frenzied and awful first drafts, the agony of editing, the anxiety of submission, the torture of rejection, and the years of solitary obscurity?

Why not spare her all that, since I know about it and she can benefit from my wisdom?

But then…

There is that giddy enthusiasm as a good story idea takes hold in your mind, the godlike power of creating a world and peopling it, the fun of coming up with a clever line, the thrill of getting your first (and all subsequent) acceptances, and the ecstasy of seeing your name in print. There’s all that.

Looking back on what I wish I’d known, should I tell her that stuff too? Should I tell her:

  • she shouldn’t expect instant success? It may happen, of course, and I’d be very proud if it did, but chances are low.
  • to, therefore, get and keep a day job, (or marry into wealth)?
  • to consider certain genres and shun others? Romance and horror sell well, but others are so-so.
  • to be unafraid of submitting (like I was for a long time)? Even if I told her, would it make any difference?
  • that rejections are no cause for distress? A rejection is not the end; it’s the beginning of new opportunities for that story and that market.

When it comes down to it, I guess all she really needs to know is whether she has an inner drive to tell a story through written words. Does she have a fire inside that will burn despite any setback, any hardship? Is her little mind filled to bursting with an idea that must get out somehow?

That’s something I don’t know, and can’t impart.

If the passion isn’t there, nothing I can say will make her a writer.

Conversely, if the passion is there, nothing I say will stop her from writing.

If you’re a writer, leave me a comment about what I should tell a child or grandchild who’s curious about becoming a writer. What did you tell your child? Because if there’s one author who’s aching to know such things, it’s—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Author Interview — Stephen Blake

You may have noticed I have not yet interviewed all the authors who have stories in the newly famous anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today I’m pleased to bring you one more; I’m interviewing Stephen Blake.

Stephen BlakeOn his website, Stephen describes himself as just an ordinary bloke (he’s English), and a fantasy and science fiction loving geek.  His Twitter page describes him as “Writer & exaggerator. Cat, Dog & Guinea Pig Wrangler. Tai Chi Enthusiast. Cornish and Proud.”

Now, the interview (British spelling and all!):

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Stephen Blake: I’d always spoken about writing, always dreamed that I might be able to do something. It took a redundancy, illness and a lot of encouragement from my wife to actually go for it. I should say that a trip to a convention (BristolCon 2012) also made a difference. I’d always had ideas for stories but never did anything about it. Finally meeting authors who were real people, who sometimes held down jobs and seeing that they were not that different from me – it got me thinking. I realised the only difference between us were my own excuses – so I got rid of them (the excuses that is; all the authors I met are fine and did not meet their demise).

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

S.B.: Ideas seem the easiest. In fact I probably have too many. Having free flowing ideas is great until you can’t decide which one to work on next.

The most difficult aspect for me is that of personal discipline. I’ll procrastinate and dance around getting on with a job but once I start I am usually very productive. It’s just the getting going part.

I should say I also struggle with the reading in public. Unless you write so well as to not need to promote your work, it seems that giving a reading is an important part of being an author. I get nervous but I read in public at least once a month now and I’m dealing with it better all the time.

P.S.: How did you become interested in writing steampunk?

S.B.: I find the whole idea fascinating. I grew up watching things like “Island at the Top of the World,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Warlords of Atlantis.” Steampunk, for me, encapsulates adventure and excitement. The possibilities are huge. You can go fantasy and discover lost races, you can go sci-fi and have clockwork automatons. The setting, usually the Victorian age, is so interesting. Remember how interested they were in the supernatural, the thing to do back then was to have a séance. Someone will say you can do all these things in any setting or time period. All I’ll say is ‘steampunk’ lets you do it with style.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.B.: I’ve always been a voracious reader. Childhood favourites stay with me now, such as Enid Blyton, C.S.Lewis, and Roald Dahl.

At school I always had one book out of the library over and over and that was a collection of Greek myths. Even now, I enjoy reading them.

More recently I’ve enjoyed R. A. Salvatore, Gareth Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith, and Joanne Hall. I read all kinds of things. I’ve not long finished some Agatha Christie and Robert Louis Stevenson. I like reading all sorts, I even believe Stan Lee has had an influence on me, hence my characters always seem to have a disability of some sort or they are a social outcast. I think as writers we can learn from one another. I’m like a sponge trying to take in every lesson I can.

AvastYeAirships (4)P.S.: You wrote “Beneath the Brass” for Avast, Ye Airships!  Can you tell us a bit about the story?

S.B.: It’s a journal, kept by a young woman who has been put into an asylum. There’s nothing wrong with her but she accused her brother of attacking her and he’s made it seem like she is mad. Pirates rescue her and it is her account of all that befalls her during that time. It’s love, peril, airships and automatons but not necessarily in that order.

P.S.: In your website, you mentioned having joined a critique group. How has that group affected your writing?

S.B.: Well hopefully I’m reducing the vast amount of commas I apparently use. Mostly it is just very supportive, knowing that people are going to be honest with you and give you constructive criticism. I struggle sometimes with confidence – believing myself to be more lucky than talented. I know that these people (Victoria and Inez) will be brutally honest, so that when they say “it’s good”, it really means a lot.

Airship300P.S.: Your story “Lord Craddock: Ascension” appears in the anthology Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion. What is that story about?

S.B.: It’s about fighting slavery, fighting stereotypes and preconceptions and using those preconceptions to your advantage when trying to take down slave traders. It also involves automatic carriages and jumping automatons.

Bristol has history of being part of the ‘triangular’ slave trade route and I liked the idea of someone fighting racism and slavery in a steampunk vigilante kind of way.

P.S.: Before writing your stories, do you imagine a scene, a character, or a plot outline?

S.B.: I get an idea. Usually it’s a ‘what if?’ scenario. After that I just think about it and see how it plays out. It’s usually no more than the beginning and end. I normally take a while to figure out what happens in the middle. I can just think and scribble notes for months before I actually start typing a story.

Recently I had a story accepted for an anthology typed out and submitted within ninety minutes. I don’t see that happening often though, if ever again.

For “Beneath the Brass,” my first thought was, what if Stephen Hawkins was alive in that time period? What if he became a pirate? In the end the story is not about the pirates but about Miss Alice Reynolds, the lady stuck in an asylum. Until you start typing away on your keyboard you can never be entirely sure how it will unfold.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

S.B.: I’ve a few things on the go. My big work in progress is tentatively called “Blood Key” and is a YA fantasy with elements of steampunk. It’s the tale of a young girl who ends up in a world not seen by us since the days when the Celtic druids travelled there. It’s the story of her trying to get home and those who want to use her to get the magic flowing again and seize power.

I’m also working on a really interesting project called “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” It’s an anthology of children’s stories designed to encourage young boys to read. It’s very fascinating because each story will actually be chapters. I’ve written three stories for it but that is not the end. I now have to work with the other authors to make all our stories fit seamlessly together as if it were a single book. I’ve got to say this has tested my imagination no end. I can dream up tales of Victorian steampunk, demons and zombies quite easily – trying to put myself in the shoes of a mid west American twelve year old has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Stephen Blake: Go for it – that is the best advice. You’ve got to give it a go. The more you write the better you’ll get. Lord Craddock was my first attempt and it got published (after an awful lot of editing mind you). For some time I believed that was a fluke and yet here I am with a story in Avast, Ye Airships!, and soon I’ll have another three stories in a children’s anthology, “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” All because I just stopped talking about how I’d like to write and did it.

One other thing I realised early on is that writing is like music. One person hears a song and it evokes an intense feeling of dislike within them. Another hears the same tune and they feel it touches their very soul and fills them with happiness. Write the stories you want to write and they’ll find an audience, even if it’s only you (but that is highly unlikely!).

I could go on and on. Join a local group of writers. Read lots. If possible meet authors and compare notes. Keep trying for anthologies because you’ll meet great editors who will take your writing by the scruff and knock it into shape.

Thanks, Steve! All my readers will soon be regular followers of you on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, and will become avid readers of your blog.

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Recalling the Moment

When people ask, “how did you get the idea for that story?” it’s useful to be able to remember that exact instant when the lightning struck, when the light bulb glowed, when the muse whispered. For some of my stories, I can. For others, I have no idea.

People expect you to remember. They want to hear about the light bulb moment. After all, that’s a bit of a story in itself.

220px-Suzanne_Collins_David_Shankbone_2010Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games series, has a great story for how she came up with the idea for the first book in the series. As reported here, she was channel-surfing between a reality show involving a competition among young people, and some news coverage of a war. The two TV shows blurred in her mind, and she came up with her book idea. She also claims that the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which she read at age eight, became the inspiration for the plot.

This is often how it happens. Two or more ideas get merged in your mind, and they can be widely separated in time. Some of these ideas could be something half-remembered from childhood.

On occasion, an entire story coming to a writer in a flash, so that it becomes a race to get it written down before the memory degrades. Other authors refine and mature a basic idea over time before they are ready to write. Whichever method you use, it’s still a good thing to write down the initial idea right after the bulb illuminates, perhaps in a daily journal. That way you’ll be ready when people ask.

What’s that you’re thinking? You’re wondering how I got the ideas for some of my recent stories? How nice of you to ask.

A Clouded Affair” came from a clash of two ideas. I was in a dieselpunk mood, having never written in that subgenre. Then I saw the call for stories for an anthology titled Avast, Ye Airships! Clearly, they wanted steampunk. What to do? How about a battle between a steampunk pirate and a dieselpunk pirate?

For “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” I was responding to a planned anthology of Steampunk Shakespeare stories. I wanted a lighter tale, so I reviewed the Bard’s comedies, and selected “A Comedy of Errors.” Clockpunk seemed a better fit than steampunk, so I went with that. While my story didn’t get picked for the anthology, it found a happier home as part of my What Man Hath Wrought series.

The Cometeers” is one story whose genesis I don’t recall. For some reason, I must have been thinking about save-the-Earth-from-destruction plot lines, and thought about how I could set such a story in the steampunk era.

Here’s a sneaky notion, to wrap things up. Since you won’t always recall the “ah-ha moment” when a story idea occurred to you, and since your zillions of fans will demand to know how it actually happened, it’s probably okay in this instance to make up a story. After all, you’re a fiction writer—making up stories is what you do. Moreover, who would say your explanation is wrong? Certainly not—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Author Interview — Steve Cook

Once again Poseidon’s Scribe has landed a fascinating interview with a fellow author, who has a story appearing in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today’s interview is with Steve Cook.

Steven CookSteve Cook is a part-time writer, part-time teacher, currently dialing down on the latter so he can focus on the former. He’s married and lives with his wife and cat in London, England.

At last, the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Steve Cook: I began writing fiction in 2010. It was my first year working as a primary school teacher and I had prepared as much as I possibly could during the Christmas holiday. Then, the first week back in January, we had a record snowfall for the area and the school was closed. We happened to live opposite a Starbucks, which meant we were basically in there every evening. I just grabbed my netbook and took it over there and started to write, funneling all the readiness and energy into that instead. I rattled along writing chapters of a pretty terrible book idea, and then got into NaNoWriMo in a big way. That’s been responsible for most of my output over the last six years.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

S.C.: The easiest aspect of writing for me is world-building. I probably spend too long on it, but it pays off when you can write something in that suggests a deeper, richer world beyond it. Short stories and flash fiction that flesh out the world are something I really enjoy doing. The most difficult aspect of writing is editing, without a doubt, and I get round it by showing my stuff to different people. Everyone has a different thing they look for: my wife is a designer and illustrator, for example, and she really focuses on the visual design of what I write.

P.S.: What genres have you written in, and do you have a favorite?

S.C.: I’ve written mainly fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy both of them! Most of my fantasy writing in the last year or so has been for the Dungeons and Dragons group I run; they’ve been playing for the best part of three years now. I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Noctis Point, which is the book I’m working on right now. It’s set a couple of hundred years into the future, and it’s really fun to take technology from today, or even theoretical technology, and apply it to that setting.

AvastYeAirshipsP.S.: You wrote “The Clockwork Dragon” for the Avast, Ye Airships! anthology.  Can you tell us a little about that story?

S.C.: “The Clockwork Dragon” is a story about some privateers working under contract to retrieve an artifact; they’re ex-pirates, so it’s not long before treachery and greed overcome the captain, who teams up with the cook and absconds with the loot. It’s up to the first mate to track them down in a chase in the skies of Ireland and Scotland. Like most of the fiction I write, it grew organically from one image, one scene: a giant clockwork dragon, bellows for lungs, canvas wings and so on, hovering over an airship in lashing rain. I actually own a clockwork dragon miniature, and it has made an appearance in our D&D game!Clockwork Dragon

P.S.: You participated in Nanowrimo last November.  Was that your first nano?  What was that experience like?

S.C.: I’ve been taking part in NaNo since 2010. I honestly can’t remember how I came across it, but it’s brilliant. It breaks up the writing into bitesize chunks and even gives me a little chart to let me know how much I’ve written, what my average is, that sort of thing. It also helped me to come across other local authors in the Milton Keynes area; several of us met up towards the end of the 2010 NaNo to write together. I didn’t make it the following year, sadly; a combination of a lack of enthusiasm in my story idea and a crazy work schedule meant that I fell short by a considerable distance. In 2012, I wrote Poisonroot, and built the world that my D&D group plays in, so that’s constantly being worked on. In 2013 I cheated slightly and wrote ten short stories set in the world of Poisonroot; that was even more fun because I got to play with different styles and techniques within the same body of work. I actually completed two NaNo projects in 2014, because I did Camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year. That was the first version of what would eventually become Noctis Point, the bulk of which I wrote in November 2014. Finishing my most recent NaNo was a close run thing; I was working as a teacher still, and we had the inspectors come in. We had four days of twenty-hour work days, and writing just wasn’t a priority any more. I had to write 12,000 words in two days to finish. My NaNo author page is here.

P.S.: From your website, it appears you are into Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs.)  Do you find that helps your fiction writing, or takes time away from it?

S.C.: Definitely it takes time away from it! I’ve played a lot of MMOs, but for the last eighteen months I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV. It’s a real timesink, but it’s also a way to talk with my friends and be social. My wife and flatmate both play it as well, so there’s always something going on. There are some wonderful little bits of writing that are inspirational, but mainly I’m in it for the music, which I listen to when I’m writing.

Murder MatchesP.S.: You recently collaborated on a product called Murder Matches.  It looks like a murder story told from eight different points of view.  Can you tell us more about that?

S.C.: Nana Li is a good friend of mine, and incredibly talented. She had been working on an idea inspired by designer matchboxes, and wanted it to be a murder mystery where each matchbox contained a character profile or statement which, when put together, would help a reader solve the mystery. I love things that twist and I’m a real fiend for puzzles, so it was awesome to work with her on this. I can’t give away too much for fear of spoiling the mystery! Writing the characters was fun, as each one had a different voice. It was a real challenge, giving away a couple of clues in each one while at the same time trying to suggest a motive for everyone. We’re working on a sequel for release this year.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.C.: I’ve read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which is pretty much all I write. For fantasy, authors such as Trudi Canavan, Stephen R. Donaldson, Tolkien, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett, Raymond E. Feist and Peter V. Brett have really inspired me. On the science fiction side, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter, Stel Pavlou, Iain M. Banks and Dan Simmons are really high up on the list. I’ve read quite a lot of John Courtenay Grimwood’s cyberpunk books as well. The truth is I’ll read pretty much anything going! I can see little things that have inspired me from all of those authors, flairs or personal touches that strike me as being from that particular style of writing, but I try wherever possible to have my own style.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

S.C.: Noctis Point is a science fiction story set a couple of hundred years in the future. Through war and economic collapse, the Earth has eventually been united into an Empire, which has begun to reach out to the stars for colonization. In the process, it has encountered an alien race living on the moons of Jupiter; imagine spider-centaurs and you’re halfway there. These ‘Spiders’ are initially peaceful, but things quickly turn bad when they ambush a delegation from Earth during peace talks, and battle lines are drawn. Another faction involved in all this is the psychs, living on Mars. They are humans who have evolved psychic powers when they turn sixteen, and more of them are beginning to appear every year. Partly in fear of them, the Empire has ordained that they should live on Mars, in a base known as Noctis Point, where they will be trained in preparation for joining the Empire’s armies as elite soldiers. The story follows two main characters: Alex, a boy who manifests the power and is sent to Noctis Point to train; and Imperial Princess Ariadne Cutter, the daughter of the Emperor, whose role as her father’s spymistress leads her into a terrorist plot that could have grave consequences on the war.

P.S.: Please tell us about your podcasting activities.

S.C.: I run a once-weekly podcast, Pocket Fiction, where I read either a short story or part of a longer piece. Up until just recently it’s been my own work, which has been really useful for me, but I’m looking forward to working with some of my fellow pirates in the anthology. I’m always looking for people to collaborate with, and producing Pocket Fiction is genuinely fun. Having more time recently has allowed me to go for better production values as well. I built a little recording booth and I’ve begun to add sound and vocal effects to deepen the immersion even further. Pocket Fiction is available on the iTunes store, but I also upload each week to Tumblr and to YouTube, where each video is played over a roaring fire. That was one of the initial ideas I had for the podcast; that it was tales told around a campfire, something to make you feel warm and relaxed.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Steve Cook: Tell people who you trust to give you honest feedback that you’re writing; they’ll help you and support you, and hopefully you can persuade them to read your work. Sometimes it’s good to plan stories out, but more often than not I find the characters somehow wrest control of the story away from me halfway through and we diverge. It’s ok for characters to be different on paper than how you initially imagined them. Probably the most useful thing I do is read my stuff out loud; having to read each word finds every mistake, every awkward phrasing, and sometimes you pick up on things that you would otherwise have missed.

 

Thanks, Steve! I’m sure you’ve enticed my readers to visit your blog, follow you on Twitter, and visit you on Tumblr.

Poseidon’s Scribe

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What the *Bleep*?

It’s been fun, interviewing the other authors with stories in Avast, Ye Airships! Perhaps in the coming weeks, I’ll be able to interview the rest. In the meantime, I’ll resume my normal Sunday postings of writing advice, and today’s topic is profanity in prose, damning in dialogue, characters who curSwearing in dialoguese.

Considerations

Before letting one or more of your fictional characters cuss, there are some thing to consider. First, does swearing fit that character? In real life, some people swear often; some reserve swear words for unusual situations; and others never utter any profanity. It can depend on a character’s background, upbringing, the character’s present company, the character’s age, the character’s feeling, and the situation.

Another consideration is your audience. Some readers get turned off by too much swearing. Some will even put down the book at the first curse word. Others read right through them without being fazed.

You should also think about the level of intensity of the swear word. Yes, they have levels of offensiveness. These levels are subjective, so what’s low on your list might be higher up for others. As an example, the “c” word for vagina is usually consider much more offensive than the words “damn” or “hell.”

It’s interesting to note the categories of swear words, and what it would say about your character if she uses words from one category only. Swear words seem to be broken down by (1) body parts, actions, or emissions, (2) races, (3) genders, (4) ethnic backgrounds, (5) religions, and (6) occupations.

Consider, also, the country and time period of your story. Swear words vary considerably by nationality and over time.

Methods

If you’re going to allow a character to swear, here are some ways to make it effective in your story.

First, don’t overdo it. For most people, swear words average 0.3 – 0.7% of the words we use, though for some the frequency is 0% and for others up to 3.4%. Overuse of swear words can turn off readers, and give the impression that the author doesn’t have much to say.

Consider the deeper meaning of Lord Byron’s quote, “He knew not what to say, so he swore.” (I swore less frequently after my mother-in-law referred to that quote.) Among other things, swearing can be a sign of low intelligence.

As an alternative to using swear words, consider using regular words in a way that accomplishes the same thing. I’m not talking about silly, substitute swear words like “freaking.” I talking about using regular words in imaginative, creative ways. My Dad said his Marine Corps drill instructor could chew out the platoon for ten minutes without using a single swear word, but every Marine felt he’d been cussed out. Here is a website with some great insults using no curse words at all.

Use swear words to reveal something about the character who speaks them. You can even make certain swear words into a character’s catch phrase. That can help orient the reader as to who is speaking when there’s a long string of dialogue without tags.

Be consistent. If a character swears once, have him swear throughout, though you can change swearing frequency or words as a way to emphasize a change in other aspects of the character.

In summary, don’t be afraid to let a character use profanity, if it’s right for that character and right for your story. But don’t go overboard. I’m damned right about that. I swear, or my name’s not—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

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Video Trailer for Avast, Ye Airships!

Here’s a marvelous video trailer for the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! 

 

The trailer was made by d chang, and the original music composed and performed by Dan Bernardo.

The music and video have a nice, ethereal quality. I love the sounds of—well, it sounds like rope tightening, or planks creaking—interspersed with the rush of wind. You really feel like you’re aboard a steampunk pirate airship. You may even be overcome by an urge to drop everything and buy the book.

I hope you do, and that you enjoy one story in particular, “A Clouded Affair,” by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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