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Amy J. Murphy

Author of the Allies and Enemies series.

Category: editing Page 1 of 2

Murderbots and Other Stuff You Should Read

Hey! This one goes out to indie authors. You’ve heard that advice to read a lot if you’re looking to up your game as an author. It’s a great way to learn your craft as you entertain your brain. (Not to mention support your brethren.) And, I don’t know about you, but I gain inspiration when I enjoy a well-written story. It’s some great advice. I read about 2-3 books a week. Not all of them are fiction. There’s some non-fiction writing craft stuff in there too.

Here’s a shout out to some books that I’ve recently “discovered” and don’t have enough good things to say about.

  • All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells – Refreshing POV narrator. Good world-building.
  • Disappearance At Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay – Fantastic style. Same author of A Head Full of Ghosts.
  • The Frozen Sky (the Europa Series Book 1) by Jeff Carlson – If Alien and The Expanse had a baby…
  • Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 1) by K.M. Weiland – This writer’s energy and dedication to detail make we want to go take a nap.
  • How To Write A Novel The Easy Way Using The Pulp Fiction Method To Write Better Novels: Writing Skills by Jim Driver – Some good advice here.

Not all of them are science fiction. Reading outside of your customary genre is a great palate cleanser for the imagination. I hope you pick them up and enjoy them as much as I did.

And, just another mention in case you’ve not noticed or seen my earlier posts: Allies and Enemies is now available as a box set. This one includes exclusive content too!

Short Stories: Chihuahuas vs. Dire Wolves

Here’s a theory—Chihuahuas have the souls of larger dogs (most likely dire wolves) wedged into those tiny little bodies. It would explain why these tiny pups think they’re big enough to take on a cat twice their size or why they always seem to shake. (The shaking is actually their molecules vibrating with the effort to keep all that “big dog soul” energy contained in such a small package.) Like I said, a theory.

Consider short stories. You’re trying to package an entire universe, complete with exposition and world-building into this teeny weeny manuscript that shouldn’t be more than 30,000 words. Forget dire wolves, you need to build a Chihuahua with the soul of a great white shark. For someone that writes 90,000-word novels, keeping it under 30,000 is asking a lot. (Weird, right?)

If you follow me on Twitter (@selatyron), you might have seen my occasional tirade, joke or weakly veiled cry for help as I blunder through this process.

So, why am I trying to torture myself this way? I’ve been tapped to contribute for a sci-fi anthology coming out this summer. Cool, right? (I’d mention its name here, but I’m not sure if that’s ok or not. Suffice it to say, it’s got some really awesome authors in this group. I was very flattered when I was invited to join in.)

I had an idea already kicking around—a backstory of a minor character in the Allies and Enemies series. It’s not as dark as some of the military sci-fi I’ve put out. And, if a newcomer likes the story, they might want to further explore the series. Win-win.

And then I realized I had to actually write a short story, something I’d never really done before outside of the occasional middle school essay (and come to think of it, those were hella-long too).

My inner George McFly started to panic, so I sat down and researched how to write short stories. (Believe me, I realize how strange that sentence sounds.)

So, here are my top four takeaways from this surprisingly daunting process:

  1. Short stories don’t necessarily have to have a beginning, middle, and end. They can be the turning point or “moment of truth” for a character that’s part of a larger world. It’s this moment that is the meat of the story and not necessarily the rest of it.
  2. This is a chance to take risks. Change verb tenses. Write it from the antagonist’s perspective. Try a genre you wouldn’t normally consider. It’s a short story, so even if it flops, you haven’t actually lost too much of a time investment.
  3. This forced me to try to write in a less sprawling style. I learned to try to be succinct with my word choice.
  4. Telling is “ok” in a short story. (I know. I know. You’re supposed to “show not tell.”) But in this condensed universe, it saves time, words and page space. Just avoid too many info dumps because that can be confusing to readers.

To prep for this, I started listening to fiction podcasts that showcase authors who have mastered the art of the short story. (My fave is the one offered by Lightspeed Magazine on iTunes.) Listening as opposed to reading, helped me to develop an ear for pacing and tone. Not all the author’s voices are the same when you compare their styles and genres, but if you listen to them back to back, patterns start to emerge. It was a huge help in constructing my story’s road map.

[And you’ll be pleased to know that the ‘comments’ field has been re-activated. Take that, spam bots!]

Keeping it real

Recently, I was interviewed for the Rocking Self-Publishing podcast by the charming Simon Whistler. (The podcast should air on 3/30. I say should because I’d like to give Simon an easy out in case he realizes what a spaz I am.) This was a fantastic experience for me. Not only was it lots of fun chatting with Simon, but he asked some excellent questions. During the interview, I had the chance to discuss my personal philosophies on being an indie-author and ran through my Top 5 Elements of Middling Success or How to Fail Upwards. (I’m still working on the title.)

One of the elements on my list (#5) is “Don’t give up.” I think it goes hand-in-hand with the concept that you can’t judge your success by the what you see around you. Success is an internal measure. I think that’s where a lot of folks fall down. It’s easy to find reasons to give up when your self-pubbed book is not an overnight sensation like The Martian or Wool. Let’s get real. Before these two books became best sellers, they started out as ideas. They’re the result of a lot of hard work. They were not magically generated overnight. That’s crazy-think, right there. It’s pretty bricky to think right out of the gate you’re going to have a best seller on your hands without having to get those hands dirty.

You have set realistic goals. Ambition is great. It gets your motor running. But know where you’re motoring. If you continue to establish unrealistic goals, you’re heading for a cliff. So, there’s a method for figuring out your goals called the SMART technique. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for clever acronyms.)

  1. Specific – Be specific about your goal. If you’re never written and/or published a book, instead of saying “I’m going to become an author”, a more specific goal would be “I’m going to independently publish a science fiction novel by the end of the year.”
  2. Measurable – Decide on a way you can measure your success. For instance, “I’m going to write for 30 minutes a day.”
  3. Attainable – Here’s where you ask yourself what’s actually physically possible. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to write 5,000 words a day when you know you struggle for the time to even write 500. Aim for what you know is possible for your steps along the way. Don’t say “I’m going to sell 100 books this week.” when you have no control over what other people will or won’t buy.
  4. Realistic – Be honest with yourself here. It’s easy to say something fantastical like, “I’ll write a book a month.” (OK, I know there are people that really do that, but I’m pretty sure they’re cyborgs or genetically enhanced.) Try saying, “I’m going to self-publish on Amazon at the end of October.”
  5. Timely – Making a deadline keeps it real. You’re making an appointment with yourself, be it 30 days or 300 days. Make yourself keep that appointment.

So, Murphy, you say, what’re your goals if you’re such an expert on this?

First of all, I’m many things, but not an expert. I only know what’s worked for me.

My goal is easy. Aim low. Well… not low, but I’m realistic. My motto: “Mid-list, at best.”

It was easy to get caught up in the excitement when my first book, Allies and Enemies: Fallen, caught some good traction. I never thought I’d be the next Weber or Scalzi. But my books have (temporarily) shown up on lists with their books which is/was pretty awesome. It’s also quite humbling. It made me realize how much harder you have to work to stay there.

And I’ll likely never receive a Nebula or a Hugo. But I am now a member of SFWA which was a goal I’ve had for quite some time.

Be real with yourself. Know what you can do to get to what you want to do. It’s not going to happen overnight. But, hang in there, kitten. It’ll happen.

 

 

Write a @$%*! Author Bio, already.

dogYou stare at the blank screen. The little cursor is blinking away—you swear it’s mocking you.

You have to be witty, charming, appealing. You have to write your author bio.

Sure, you can talk about your book for hours, but when it’s time to talk about you, your muse clams up and slinks off to a desolate corner of your little mental cocktail party or maybe goes to bury herself under the thick pile of winter coats in the master bedroom.

You need a good author bio. It may seem unimportant: why would anyone care if you live in Montana? You write about Vikings for cryin’ out loud.

Believe it or not, there are readers out there that actually want to know about you. It’s your chance to make a connection with your readers. Also, you need one for your website, your book jacket, and your Amazon author page (and don’t forget Goodreads). It doesn’t have to be an arduous task. You can have a bit of fun with it. (And, it’s ok to make stuff up—kinda. Just check out Peter Clines’ bio. You’ll see what I mean.)

There are few tips on writing your bio. Maybe they’ll help you come up with a really entertaining one:

  1. Keep it brief. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace. Aim for 200 to 250 words. Some spots limit you to 50 (ie a by-line).
  2. Use third person to talk about yourself and present tense whenever possible. ( ie. “John likes to scavenge thrift shops in his spare time for vintage bowling shirts.”
  3. Be relevant. Try to zero in on facts about yourself that make your expertise relevant to the subject matter of your books. For instance, if you write about genetic engineering run amok with killer species of watermelon, you might want to share that you’ve got a Ph. D. in genetics.
  4. Here’s your chance to tell people how awesome you are when it comes to writing. Were you a finalist in a literary contest? Did you book rank in the top 100 on Goodreads in the “underwater basket-weaving category”? Great. Throw it in there.

If you’re still not feeling it, here are some great author bios that may inspire you:

Peter Clines

https://www.amazon.com/Peter-Clines/e/B0039LGSLW/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1484146012&sr=8-1

Chuck Wendig

http://terribleminds.com/

Steven Campbell

http://www.belvaille.com/bio.html

 

Have fun!

(Also, you might have noticed there’s no longer the ability to leave comments after posts. I disabled it. You can thank the porn-viagra spam bots for that.)

Meet Me At Arisia 2017

arisiaArisia, “New England’s Largest and Most Diverse Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention” has just announced its programming for 2017 and I am delighted to be on two panels. Taking place from January 13 – 16, 2017 at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, this con seems to grow bigger every year. I’ve been attending religiously, but this is my first chance to be part of a panel as a legit author (the second panel is about costuming).

This year’s Guest of Honor is Ursula Vernon.

If you’re attending Arisia, why not stop by and say hi?

Marketing Your Book in a Digital Age
Faneuil (3W), 8:30am – 9:45am
Tracks: Writing
Types: Panel
Anna Erishkigal (moderator), Timothy Goyette, Constance Burris, Amy J. Murphy
Ebooks now constitute 30% of the book market, with some genres (such as romance) approaching 89%. How do you market these books? What opportunities does digital provide? What’s a reader magnet? And how do keywords make your book more visible? Come learn how to use MailChimp to build an email subscriber list, leverage your website, and reach out to readers without appearing spammy.

#SFWAPRo

Protecting your writing time.

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Lately, I’ve been running into some pretty big revisions in the completion of the third book in my Allies and Enemies series. (Allies and Enemies: Exiles)

While I love spending time in this universe with the characters I’ve created, I’m really ready to complete this series and move on to the next group of writing projects. I’m finding it difficult to edit/revise my manuscript and write new material at the same time. Throw the whole indie-author self-promo/marketing wrinkle and you’ve got yourself one stressed out writer. (Oh, and did I mention the “day job” too?)

The purpose of this post isn’t just my little bitch fest. Although admittedly, it is kinda cathartic. It made me seriously consider what methods are there “out there” for an indie-author to balance his or her time commitments. I see others of my ilk pumping out books just about every month while I struggle to complete a manuscript in under a year. Also, I see these folks manage to cruise through promos and blog posts? I consider myself a pretty smart person… well, I know enough to be dangerous about many things anyway. For some reason, this perfect balance seems to be eluding me.

So, here a few tips and tricks on how to help with the distractions and help protect your precious writing time:

  1. Establish a set schedule to block out your writing time and stick to it. Physically write it down on your schedule and make an appointment with yourself. Make yourself keep it. It doesn’t have to be a fancy app; even an old fashioned calendar would work. There are even free templates you can print out for Office.
  2. Take control of interruptions. Make sure that other members of your household understand that your writing time is sacred “butt in chair” time to keep the interruptions to life-threatening emergencies. Turn your phone off, if you can.
  3. Stake your claim. If you don’t have a dedicated writing space to yourself, consider carving one out. Take the laptop to the local library and camp out there. Noise reduction headphones or earplugs can drown out the noise if your best option is a coffee shop.
  4. Kill the distractions. The deep black hole of the internet is a huge time suck. (I mean you wouldn’t be reading this right now instead of writing if that weren’t true.) If the temptation to sneak a peek at Twitter or the Facebook is great enough to lure you away from writing time, leave your phone in the other room. Consider using software like Cold Turkey or Anti Social that allows you to block access to social media sites for set periods of time. You can also temporarily disable your wifi access if you don’t trust yourself.

What do you do to help protect your writing time?

Don’t Blow Your Blurb

blurbYou’ve done all the heavy lifting (as in writing an 80,000 word novel). You’ve polished the prose, checked all your commas, formatted the ebook and even your roommate’s cat loves the cover art. For all intents and purposes, your ebook is ready to go.

But wait! You’ve got to write your book’s description for the Amazon listing. For some hellish reason, you’re expected to summarize your blood, sweat and tears into a concise, compelling paragraph that will convince would-be readers to buy your book. It’s your sales pitch. It’s all come down to this. This is the reader’s introduction to your work of art and it’s all up to this tiny little paragraph (or two). It’s probably the most important thing you’re going to write when it comes to your book. It hardly seems fair, does it?

How do you squeeze your book into a synopsis that sings? (Bear in mind, I’m speaking with writing book blurbs or short synopsis for fiction books.)

Here’s a handy formula to help make that blurb:

  1. Start with the situation. Describe it simply.
  2. Throw in a “but” (or a “however” or an “until”) Basically anything that implies that things are going along swimmingly until something throws a wrench into the works. This something creates a crisis or a crunch point.
  3. Introduce a means that offers hope to overcome the crisis. This should be an enticement to the reader.
  4. Consider the tone of the story. Is it meant to be humor? Horror? Dark dystopia? This is your chance to that flavor.

Here’s an example of a very familiar story:

The tyrannical Galactic Empire, under the command of the bloodthirsty Darth Vader, captures the beautiful and brave Princess Leia, leader of the Rebel Alliance. Thrust into the path of destiny, wide-eyed farm boy, Luke Skywalker joins forces with an enigmatic Jedi Knight to rescue the princess with the help of Han Solo, a dashing starship captain. Can the unlikely trio save the princess, rebellion and the galaxy from the Empire?

The irrepressible and talented Rachel Aaron (Bach) wrote the following post about constructing a worthwhile blurb. You should check it out here. (http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/search?q=blurbs)

So, fellow indie authors, how do you tackle this daunting task? Do you have a method to this?

Readers, how does the book description affect your decision to buy an ebook? I’d love to hear from you.

#SFWAPro

Self-Editing or How to Keep Your Brain From Eating Itself

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I got my edits back from my very patient and all too kind editor. And now is when the blood-letting starts. For me receiving my edits is a lot like report cards week at school—exciting and full of dread. You know you did your best, but you worry about any nasty surprises that may be in there. (Fun Fact: I got a D in typing my Freshman year. TYPING!!!! Can you believe it?!)

As writers, we are our own worst critics. We like to imagine the worst and allow that to feast on our brains. Any “nasty surprises” I dread would be things like finding out my astute editor has located a universe-ending plot hole that I never realize existed or that I change my main character’s name mid-story and didn’t realize it. But, hey, it happens. The question is how to tackle it in an efficient, brain-cell saving manner.

Here are some ideas on how to do your edits and avoid a brain meltdown: (*Note – I’m assuming that you’re using Word or a word-processing system that has a means to track changes here. And you’ve just got your edits back from your editor.)

s_c_b“Remember, short controlled bursts.” Define a beginning and an ending for each session of editing and stick to it. If you keep plugging along you’ll start to lose focus and get sloppy. Mistakes will slip through the cracks. Best to come back to it and view it with fresh eyes rather than muscle through.
average-joesAim low. Focus on the easy fixes: grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. That will clean up your screen and make it feel as if you’ve made some progress.

 

Broad strokes. If you come across any changes that affect the whole story, this is where the “Find and Replace” feature is your best friend. For instance, at the start of your story, you spelled your character’s name one way and then mid story got creative with the spelling. You can use Word’s Find and Replace (control + F) to hunt down all the misspelled instances and then replace them with the proper spelling.

rabbitholeAvoid the rabbit holes. When you work section by section with your edits, resist the urge to “jump around” to double check things. If you’re like me, you end up disappearing down another rabbit hole and losing the original thread of your revisions. If you do feel such an urge, scribble yourself a note on an index card or notebook as a reminder for later and then proceed with the edits to the section at hand.

Many editors and beta readers like to use “Comments” to communicate their edits. It’s a great way to keep all the thoughts and ideas together in one spot.

One of my favorite tools for editing and one that’s helped strengthen my writing skills is the Word Loss Diet by Rayne Hall. I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s part of her Writer’s Craft series, which is also a wealth of information. You can find Word Loss Diet for the ebook and at a great price too.

I hope these tips serve you well. How do you like to approach editing? Be sure to leave a comment below or share this post with others.

When should you be aggressive about passive voice?

dontdeadLike any other writer that has the grammar and punctuation tools active while using Word, I’m sure you’ve seen the annoying blue squiggly line with the warning “passive voice, consider revising” message pop up in your editing. Most of the time (for me at least) I did not elect to phrase things that way; it just sort of happened. I don’t consciously think of verb tense when I write. It’s like driving into your day job; you go on auto-pilot. In retrospect, you may not even recall stopping for any traffic lights along the way (which is a bit frightening).

Recently, I was helping beta read a work in progress for a friend. The subject of passive voice came up. I admit I’m hard pressed to understand why it’s considered a no-no. Like “-ly” adverbs, it also seems to get a bad rap. Where’d this animosity to the tense come from?

From what I can tell, this seems to be symptomatic of native English speakers. In the US, native English speakers learn from an early age that sentence structure has a 1) subject, 2) verb and, sometimes, 3) an object. Something does something to something else.

Consider this example:

The zombie ate Negan’s face.

Subject:               The zombie

Verb:                     ate

Object:                 Negan’s face

Aside from being hopefully prophetic, it’s pretty straightforward in terms of tone and it moves things along in the action category without a lot of pondering. It’s easy to read. This format is also common to see in non-fiction and in other areas where concise communication is imperative.

Consider the same thing shown in passive tense:

Negan’s face was eaten by the zombie.

Aside from sounding a little bit like Yoda, you can see what’s going on. Negan still got what was coming to him, but the action gets dragged down a bit. The emphasis is changed. It causes questions to bubble up for the reader. Depending on your goal as a fiction writer, this may not be what you want. Automatically, as a reader, my brain starts generating questions: what’s the important thing here? The zombie? Negan’s ruined face? What kind of zombie? (I think you get the picture.)

Need a way to test if you’re using passive voice? Try this: (I’ve seen this floating around on Pinterest a lot.)

Try to add the phrase “by zombies” after the verb in your sentence. If it makes sense, then your sentence is in the passive voice.

Here’s an example.

Original:

 The Republican National Convention was overrun.

Now add “by zombies”.

 The Republican National Convention was overrun by zombies.

Yep! You’ve got passive voice. From there, you can rearrange the structure to the active tense to sharpen things up.

Here’s a WikiHow article on how to fix passive voice: (I like it because it’s pretty short and straight forward.)

http://www.wikihow.com/Fix-Passive-Voice

Used the right way, passive voice can be very useful to change the focus of your subject. Maybe you don’t know who or what completed the action, and you want the reader to feel that sense of mystery too. So, it does have a place. Doled out in particular areas, it can be useful.

But if you want your prose to zing along without bogging down the works with lots of questions, try to avoid it.

Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique

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Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique

Like many folks, it wasn’t until adulthood that I was diagnosed as an adult with ADD. With this discovery, a great many mysteries about my childhood (especially high school) were suddenly resolved. It explained my ability to “hyperfocus” on certain projects, becoming completely absorbed to the point of obsession while my attention would drift about erratically when it came to day-to-day events.

To this end, I believe it’s why it took me nearly 10 years to finish my first book. It’s why I can recall verbatim all the dialogue from movies or TV shows (that I like) after one viewing, or recite an article I read while in sixth grade about a tribe on Borneo. (They eat a soup made from soaking bird’s nests.) Those things landed in my “hyperfocus” window. (Not always exceptionally useful information, I admit.)

By the time I’d learned about my ADD, I’d already had a lot of “work arounds” for life in general. I used lists and “rituals” for daily living to make constant distraction easier to combat.

This past month while recovering from a workplace-related injury, I had a lot of time on my hands to write. However, I wasn’t getting it done. I’d write a few paragraphs and then disappear down some rabbit hole, only to re-emerge hours later wondering where the day went.

I discovered a method to help me train my focus on writing called the Pomodoro Technique. I first saw it referenced in one of the many, many ebooks I’ve purchased about increasing writing speed. I can write quickly—that’s not the problem. My problem was actual “butt in the chair” time. It’s SO easy for me to leave my desk to get a coffee only to end up wandering around my home as I ping from distraction to distraction.

Honestly, I was not avoiding the act of writing. I’d was dying to sit down and tell a story, but my brain (or rather my attention span) had a vastly different agenda.

The Pomodoro Technique is pretty easy. The name just sounds fancy (and possibly expensive). As it turns out—it’s Italian for “tomato”. This is because the person that thought it up had a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and was Italian. Go figure.

It works like this: (*disclaimer: this is my version of how it works)

  1. Set your timer for 20 minutes (For me, it’s 23 minutes. That’s about as far as I can park my attention.)
  2. For those 20(ish) minutes, you sit in your chair and write.
  3. The timer goes off and you get a 5 to 7-minute That’s when you go grab a coffee, do sit ups or chase the dogs around the kitchen table.
  4. When the break is up, you do another 20-minute interval of writing.
  5. Rinse. Repeat.
  6. At the end of four of these 20-minute sessions, you can schedule a larger break (like 10 to 20 minutes).

The goal of this method is to train yourself to be productive in a shorter span of time and is meant to promote “mental agility” through frequent breaks.

How did it work for me? Pretty well, for the most part. I had some two and three thousand word days there. The result was the final draft in the third book in my Allies and Enemies series. I felt that I had better focus because I could tell myself that whatever distracting thought that bubbled up in the middle of my writing stent (How many seasons of Supernatural have there been anyway? Is house paint flammable? Did I order more contact lenses?) could wait until break time. It was exhausting because I did it for four days straight, which I might not repeat unless I’m under a tight deadline.

Even if you don’t have an actual diagnosis of ADD, the technique might be helpful if you’re trying to make the most of the writing time that you have. I used a customizable app called “30/30” that I found in the Apple store [here]. It’s pretty nifty. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique [here].

(And, in case you’re wondering, I used the technique to finish this blog entry.)

#SFWAPro

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