Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Flashpoint Interview: Stephanie Snow

Flashpoint contributor Stephanie Snow drops by the blog today to answer our questions. You might know her from her blog, Bare Knuckle Writer, or from previous stories from Third Person Press. And if not, get to know her now! Her story in Flashpoint is "A Year and A Day."

Third Person Press: Where did you grow up? Do you think your childhood influenced you to be a writer?
Stephanie Snow: I grew up all over Atlantic Canada, the result of job migration. Because of that, I read a lot; it was easy to do in the car while we drove to a new town and books kept me company until I made new friends. That had to influence me to write, because sometimes I couldn't find the town library, or it was closed, and had to make up my own stories until I found new books. I guess it became a habit.


TPP: Who were your three favorite writers when you were young? Who are three favorites now?
SS: When I was a kid, my favourites were J.R.R Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, and David Eddings. Now, Pratchett has stayed on the list, but has been joined by Stephen King and Patrick Rothfuss. But this changes day to day, depending on my mood.

TPP: What are you most likely to be doing when you're not writing?
SS: Tabletop roleplaying, working my way through my giant to-read pile, blogging over at Bare Knuckle Writer, or editing whatever the hell I just wrote until it makes sense.

TPP: Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
SS: Get up, get coffee, read over the previous day's writing while drinking it, make notes on what needs to be done today, go for a run, shower, get more coffee, start writing. Any or all of these steps may happen out of order, more than once, or not at all...I may be defining 'ritual' loosely.

TPP: What's your favorite beverage while writing?
SS: Coffee: strong as death, black as hell, and bitter as a broken heart.
TPP: Sounds...invigorating. :) While not writing?
SS: Same as above, but in a smaller cup. Or a single malt scotch so smoky it's like drinking a bonfire.

TPP: If you were a superhero, what would your name and power/ability be? Or would you be a supervillain instead?
SS: There is no universe in which I acquire superpowers and don't become a supervillain. Doesn't matter what the power is. I could spontaneously develop the ability to talk to fruit and would still use it to raise a kumquat army and overthrow the Apple Cultural Hegemony. But if I get to pick a power, then I'll take electricity and lightning. And I'd be known on Wanted Lists the world over as Lux. Except, sexism being what it is, they'd probably call me Lady Lux or some bullshit until I vapourized someone over it. This? This is why I end up a supervillain.


TPP: What are you working on now? What's your next writing project?
SS: Right now the Big Project is the re-rewrite of a novel I crapped out a zero draft of two years ago. Next project? Not sure yet, but maybe the re-re-rewrite. Or a western, because I like westerns and haven't written one yet.


Thanks, Stephanie!
 
Remember to click over and read more about the campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/flashpoint-anthology/x/1156437
 

Monday, September 29, 2014

1001 Ways to Wreck a Story - Part Seven

 Nancy tells us about one of her writing pet peeves:

The I-Know-But-I'm-Not-Going-To-Tell-You Story

©NancyWaldman,2014

A big part of writing is structuring the flow of information, managing what should be withheld, and when it should be revealed. If you want to surprise your reader with a plot twist at the end, or if there's a mystery that your protagonist must solve, it requires a thoughtful, planned release of facts, feelings, insights, discoveries, motivations, actions. However, this isn't the same as being vague.

 

The Problem

Some inexperienced writers misinterpret the process of withholding information by making everything elusive. They think this will increase the aura of mystery or suspense. Aspects of the plot are ambiguously hinted at, but for reasons that aren't necessary they are kept from the reader. This is a good way to wreck your story
 Perhaps a protagonist has a superpower that came on suddenly late in life. The narrative is about how it has affected her: she's isolating herself, feeling a bit crazy, running away from the world because she finds people's interest in her too oppressive, but the author doesn't tell us what her power is.  Instead it says vague things like, "Her ability heightened everything, but also set her apart." "She began to avoid situations where her powers would be needed."

Even if you think you have a good reason for not telling your reader, it's probably not good enough. Because when we are aware that crucial facts are being withheld it takes us out of the story. We think about why the author isn't being forthcoming instead of being wrapped up in the narrative. 

 

The Fix

Be specific about any information that is given to the reader. If you don't want us to worry about something we can't know yet, don't tell us it exists or tells us part of the truth. We can deal with incomplete information if we are given enough concrete details all the way along.

Here are two ways to deal with the above example:
  1. Let us know early on what her power is. This can be incomplete, but it must be specific. We learn that she hears people's thoughts, but--if this advances your plot--won't find out until later that she can intercede in what she overhears.
  2. Don't mention the fact that she has a superpower until you're ready for that information to come out. This option is harder to pull off than the first, because you don't want your reader to feel tricked, but it can work as long as the clues you put in all along are specific. She seems crazy, as if she's hallucinating. Late in the story we realize this is not mental illness, but an explained--though unexpected--superpower.
You want wonder in your story. But that should be wonder as in "awe," not as in "I wonder why the author is keeping things from me," or even worse: "I wonder what I should be doing instead of reading this story."

To keep your story a page-turner instead of a head-scratcher, root out vagueness.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Flashpoint Interview: Patrick M. Charron

Today, Patrick M. Charron drops by the blog to answer our questions. Patrick's story in Flashpoint is "Battle Scars," an epic fantasy tale.


Patrick says this is "all you need to know about me."
Third Person Press: Where did you grow up? 
Patrick M. Charron:  In a small village outside of Windsor Ontario, named McGregor. I grew up on the outskirts of the small community; it was a rural environment with a forest on one side, a 50 acre wheat farm on the other, and a cattle pasture across the street. There wasn't a lot of inspiration in the area, aside from the landscape. Our games as children were rather limited, mostly involving the agitation of said cattle. Though I have since tried to replicate the sheer terror of having an entire herd of cattle charging headlong at an 8 year old fat kid, thus far, I haven't been able to reproduce the feeling.

TPP: Who were your three favorite writers when you were young? Who are three favorites now?
PMC: As I noted previously, our play was somewhat limited as a child, and as an adolescent I spent a great deal of time playing baseball. I spent very little time reading; the only pleasure reading I enjoyed were biographies of famous baseball players. It wasn't until I was nearly twenty that I began to read for pleasure, finding the sci-fi and fantasy genres for the first time. My current favourite authors, if I have to limit it to three, would be R.A Salvatore, Brandon Sanderson, and J.K. Rowling. If I'm allowed to extend it a bit, I'm also partial to J.R.R Tolkien, Stephen King, Robert Jordan, and a writer by the name of Sherry Ramsey - you should definitely check her out.
(Editors' note--haha, Patrick, we see what you did there!)
 
TPP: What are you most likely to be doing when you're not writing? 
PMC: I am not a terribly interesting person, as I spend most of my time working my day job as an accountant with the Provincial Government and my night job as a supervisor at the local Marion Bridge grocery store. My free time is spent enjoying time with my family. I do however enjoy gaming and we go to Hal-Con as a family every year.

TPP: Do you have any writing habits or rituals? 
PMC: I typically write late at night, in short bursts. I do envision, at some point in the future, spending time on the deck or by the pool, writing while the gentle breeze moves among the trees, with a hot cup of coffee within easy reach.
 
TPP: What's your favorite beverage while writing? While not writing?
PMC: On both counts, coffee. Morning, noon and night, writing, working, or relaxing. Coffee. Can't live without the Caffeine.
 
TPP: If you were a superhero, what would your name and power/ability be? Or would you be a supervillain instead?
PMC:  As much as I would love to be a super villain, I just don't have the mean streak necessary. And as much as I love Super-hero stories, I've never really considered being a super-hero myself.  I've always seen myself as part of the supporting cast, the guy that makes sure the guns are loaded and the plane is all fueled up.

TPP: What are you working on now? What's your next writing project?
PMC:  I'm working on a fantasy novel (shocking, I know) with a wayward dwarf who forms an allegiance with a venerable elf warrior, a disgraced military captain and hungry for adventurous Halfling cook. They endure prisons, portals and persons of ill-repute in an effort to imprison an ancient demon the dwarf was fool enough to release.

TPP: Is there a question you've always wanted to answer as a writer? Pose it and then write your answer. :)
Q: What is the one thing you worry about most when writing?
PMC:  That my characters will refuse to behave as I want them to, will run wild and dominate my story in ways I can't foresee.
 
Thanks, Patrick!
 
Remember to click over and read more about the campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/flashpoint-anthology/x/1156437

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Flashpoint Interview: Nancy S.M. Waldman

 Today's interview is with Third Person Press co-editor, Nancy Waldman. Her Flashpoint story is "Hearth's Glow" and there is absolutely no truth to the rumour that it's at the end of the book because it took her so long to put the puzzle together. Read to the end. It will make sense.

typical Texas girl



TPP: Where did you grow up? Do you think your childhood influenced you to be a writer? 
NSMW: I grew up in Texas—mostly Houston, but also Austin, San Antonio and from age 7 to 9, the little coastal town of Freeport. It was exciting and fun to live near the beach and the experience left me so full of sense memories that I set my first novel there. 
I come from a family of writers. The walls of our house were lined in bookcases. I have fiction, poetry and memoirs written by my grandparents and my father; my mother has hundreds of journals that she's kept. We all write something. So I figure that writing is in my genes—as are, presumably, the toxic chemicals produced by the Dow Chemical Company in Freeport, Texas back in the days before we'd ever heard the word "pollution." My dad used to say that it was the smell of money. But don't let the sparkly photo of me fool you. We didn't have much of it. The fabulous lavender and gold costume was made by my mom for our dance recital with teacher, Almeda Lobella. But that's another story.

TPP: Who were your three favorite writers when you were young? Who are three favorites now? 
NSWM: As a little girl, Carolyn Keene—the pen name for the writers of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Ray Bradbury when I was a teen. Anne McCaffrey, as a young adult. Now? That's a hard question. I just discovered Ruth Ozeki. I've only read one of her books, but loved it (A Tale for the Time Being). I think Connie Willis is wonderful. Finally, Elizabeth Moon—a fellow Texan. 

TPP: What are you most likely to be doing when you're not writing? 
NSWM: You can find me wasting time on the Internet, checking Facebook, Twitter, writing forums or my favourite fashion blog, Tom and Lorenzo, Fabulous & Opinionated. But wait! It's an addiction I'm actively attempting to modify. I love to do art, digital or otherwise. I quilt, play the piano a little. I love to cook and garden—when my body lets me—and read, of course. And, I fully intend to go back to websites and blogging someday. After years of doing my own creativity site and other blogs, I ran out of steam for that and had to let it go for a while.

TPP: Do you have any writing habits or rituals? 
NSWM: I'm drawn more to variety* than habits or rituals. But, I've recently re-instituted a dedicated two-hour writing time (usually from 12 to 2)—with a strict "No Internet" rule. I put on my headphones and stay focussed. At the end of those two hours I can let it go and do something else for the rest of the day—or choose to keep writing if it's flowing. 
But it's ridiculously easy for me to get into non-productive ruts, so I try to mix it up. If I am into a negative period I [eventually remember to] use short meditative practices to get that censorious, left-brained thinking out of my way or do timed writing sprints. I write Morning Pages (see Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way) to release mental logjams. I also use a treadmill desk; walking while writing can change things up and if nothing else, get the blood circulating—hopefully all the way to my brain. 

TPP: What's your favorite beverage while writing? While not writing? 
NSWM: I drink two cups of strong coffee with lots of milk in the morning and a cup of green tea in the afternoon. Did I say I'm not one for routine?* I don't really like green tea, but they tell me it will allow me to live forever, so I'm up with that. After hours, I enjoy white wine.

TPP: If you were a superhero, what would your name and power/ability be? 
NSWM: Living in Canada with most of my family far away, I would prefer my superpower to be: Being in Two Places at the Same Time. 
My name: Echo? Doppelgänger? Duplo. Yeah. 

TPP: What are you working on now? What's your next writing project? 
NSWM: So Many Things. I'm half-way through the first draft of a superhero story involving bees. I am focussed on short fiction right now because my goal is to get stories published in pro magazines. We shall see whether that's a short or long term goal. The odds are terrible! I do love to write novels, but since I might have Dow Chemicals lingering in my body and because that green tea may not work as effectively as I've been promised by the Internet, short fiction seems wise until someone's beating down my door for something meatier...or until I change my mind.* 

TPP: Bonus: Is there a question you've always wanted to answer as a writer? Pose it and then write your answer. :) 
NSWM:
Q: What's your best analogy for story writing? 
A: I thought you'd never ask. I think of stories as puzzles. But, of course, not a ready-made puzzle that comes in a box with a picture and a known number of pieces. It's a puzzle that I have to find the right (and right number of) pieces to and then fit them together in the proper way so that the final result is perfect. Sometimes I provide too many pieces so the result falls off the edges of the coffee table. Or maybe the first draft looks more like a pre-school puzzle because it needs more pieces. Often there are ragged borders or holes in the middle. Thinking of it this way helps because a puzzle is a game. And games, while sometimes frustrating —"They forgot to put all the pieces in this box!"—are more often fun, and ultimately do have a solution. With this in mind, I can stop taking it all so seriously, remember that there should be a whole and satisfying "picture" at the end, and know that any problems I'm having can be fixed, because it's all under my control. 

Talk about super-powers!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

1001 Ways to Wreck a Story - Part Six

The “Swallow-An-Elephant” Story

Sherry, here, with another way NOT to wreck a story. Every story asks the reader to suspend his or her disbelief to a certain extent—to willingly enter into the world of the story and accept its context for the duration of the tale. However, some stories ask or expect too much. That’s the “swallow-an-elephant” story.

The Problem
This story problem asks the reader to accept something they simply cannot. This is not a problem of genre—it’s entirely reasonable to ask a reader to accept the existence of magic, vampires, FTL travel, or other things that don’t exist in what we fondly think of as “the real world” if that’s the genre in which the story is written. The reader should come to the genre story with those expectations—in that case the onus is on them to be prepared for what they will find in the pages of the story.

No, this problem presents the reader with something far more challenging. It’s usually an aspect of the world or plot that:

- is not properly explained so that the reader can accept it

- does not make sense within the context of the story

- brings in story elements without proper setup

- requires all the characters to be complete idiots in order for it to work

The Fix
Depending on the particular flavour of the problem, the fix can entail a few different things. Sometimes you, as the author, need to bounce the idea around with some trusted readers or friends. “Does this make sense to you?” “Would you buy into a world where...” “Could you believe that the characters would do this?” Ask them to be honest. Maybe it all makes sense to you, because you know the one crucial element that makes it make sense—but you’ve failed to share that with your readers.

You may need to look at the elements of your story to make sure that you’ve set up what’s necessary for those aspects of the plot to be believable. Why would a government allow a particular practice? Why would experimenters deem a certain procedure acceptable? Why wouldn’t characters have seen a certain event coming, and prepared for it? Your problem might be in the setup at the beginning of the story, or in the way a problem is solved at the end, or anywhere else along the way. Everything needs to make sense within the context of the world and the story you’ve built.

And finally, does the story only work if your characters are completely blind to consequences, lacking in common sense, or making inexplicable choices? If so, you need to fix something. Readers usually won’t cut your characters a break or root for them to succeed if they’re only in trouble because of their own incompetence.

Don’t ask your readers to swallow an elephant. It’s simply too much work for them, and they’ll soon turn to something less challenging.

Photo Credit: SpencerCarbone

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Flashpoint Interview: Katrina Nicholson

Katrina Nicholson drops by the blog today to answer our interview questions. Katrina's story in Flashpoint is "Hair Trigger." For those of you who read Kat's story in Unearthed, "One Word," you'll recognize some of the characters in this story.

(Not a photorealistic representation of Kat)
Third Person Press: Where did you grow up? Do you think your childhood influenced you to be a writer?
Katrina Nicholson: I grew up here in Sydney. My parents fed me a steady diet of books and wacky invented games. If that's not encouraging for a young writer, I don't know what is.

TPP: Who were your three favorite writers when you were young? Who are three favorites now?
KN: The following are AMONG my favorite authors. I have a lot.

Then:

Robert Munsch
Because the princess calling the prince a bum is still the best ending to a fairy tale ever.

Anne McCaffrey
Because girls who want a pony have obviously never heard of dragons.

Bill Waterson
Because if you think Calvin and Hobbes is over a 9-year-old's head, you didn't know me when I was 9.

Now:

Jack McDevitt
Because spaceships + archaeology = you just blew my mind.

Kelley Armstrong
Because oh dear, have the werewolves misplaced their clothing AGAIN?

J.K. Rowling
Because I want to BE her, dammit.


TPP: What are you most likely to be doing when you're not writing? 
KN: Working (girl's gotta eat) or reading through the massive pile of library books that have followed me home (occupational hazard).

TPP: Do you have any writing habits or rituals? 
KN: Outlines. WRITE ALL THE OUTLINES. My first draft ritual involves not pushing past the point where I know exactly what's going to happen. I go for walks to watch head movies and work out what I'll write the next day. Rewriting, however... I make a list of things that need fixing and plow through it. My ritual involves not being interrupted by things like phones, food, and bedtime.

TPP: What's your favorite beverage while writing?
KN: Candy.

TPP: While not writing?
KN: Candy. My brain is fueled by candy.

TPP: If you were a superhero, what would your name and power/ability be? Or would you be a supervillain instead?
KN: I'd have teleportation powers and no dorky superhero name because I'd be so sneaky that no one would ever see me to call me anything.

TPP: What are you working on now? What's your next writing project?
KN: I'm not writing anything now because I just got a new job. The last thing I did was a YA short story about a Vodou mage in an alternate history Haiti. As for the next thing... I'm not sure. Possibly a romantic comedy screenplay involving bomb sniffing seals.

TPP: Bonus: Is there a question you've always wanted to answer as a writer? Pose it and then write your answer. :)
KN: I'd be very surprised if no one saw this coming...

Q: May we pay you buckets of money to publish your novel and turn it into the next Hunger Games?

A: Yes, you may.

Thanks, Katrina!

Remember to click over and read more about the campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/flashpoint-anthology/x/1156437  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Flashpoint Interview: Julie A. Serroul

Today, Third Person Press co-Editor Julie A. Serroul answers our interview questions. Of course we wouldn't let ourselves off the hook! Julie's story in Flashpoint is a rather unusual foray into science fiction for her, titled "Spark."


Third Person Press: Where did you grow up? Do you think your childhood influenced you to be a writer?
Julie A. Serroul: As a young girl, one of the most exciting days of my week was bicycling the 3 km to the end of the road to meet the Bookmobile. Climbing up into that van which was literally spilling books from its shelves onto the floor felt so exciting and looking around in it was like a treasure hunt. Even though I was quite “outdoorsy”, the tree-house that I built was yet another place to hide away and read. My appetite for books never waned, and when you love them that much, wanting to put your own thoughts and ideas on paper has an irresistible pull. Also, when you are a natural introvert, which I was as a child, “speaking” on a page was far less intimidating. After all, in a story you control both sides of the conversation…although some characters are quite willful and disobedient.

TPP: Who were your three favorite writers when you were young? Who are three favorites now?
JAS: As a kid I loved Carolyn Keene, C.S. Lewis and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Now I love many writers, but my lasting loves are Dean Koontz and Bob Salvatore. I have a love/hate relationship with George R.R. Martin who really needs to be less blood-thirsty about killing my favorite characters.

TPP: What are you most likely to be doing when you're not writing?
JAS: Reading, Zumba, Turbo-kick, Drinking red wine, Watching Movies, Four-Wheeling, I have a lot of hobbies, unfortunately, which means lots of distractions from writing. I also have a day-job that allows me to do everything else I love.

TPP: Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
JAS: Pour a nice hot cup of coffee or peppermint tea, depending on the time of day and my mood, and then either stare out the window at the scenery and think for a while, or at some of my lovely fantasy/sci-fi art pieces. I do a substantial amount of “head-writing” before I set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And I am sometimes in the mood to curl up in my comfy chair with a pen and paper instead of at my computer keyboard which sometimes reminds me too much of my day job and can stifle my creativity. The process of “head-writing” reminds me of when I was a kid and used to “day-dream”. This practice was hugely frowned on by my teachers, but now serves me well!

TPP: What's your favorite beverage while writing? While not writing?
JAS: See answers above!

TPP: If you were a superhero, what would your name and power/ability be? Or would you be a supervillain instead?
JAS: I’d likely be an Anti-hero named “Crank-porter” and my superpower would be to transport all cranky, irritable, disagreeable people onto the same island where their punishment would be to have to deal with each other!

TPP: What are you working on now? What's your next writing project?
JAS: I am currently revising a story about a couple of Anti-heroes, coincidentally. After that I’m going to re-visit some other stories that I have abandoned to see if I was too hasty. I often fall in love with new work and out of love with the pieces that are at the editing phase - when the fun is over and the work begins…it is a very bad habit!

TPP: Is there a question you've always wanted to answer as a writer? Pose it and then write your answer. :)
Q: Have you ever used eavesdropping on the public conversations of strangers to inspire a story?
JAS: Yes, but I prefer not to hear the whole conversation, only a snippet of something intriguing. Firstly, I don’t want to intrude on people’s privacy, and secondly, what I imagine them to be talking about is usually a lot more interesting and fun than the mundane ordinary thing it turns out to be if you listen to the end!

Thanks, Julie!

Remember to click over and read more about the campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/flashpoint-anthology/x/1156437