Tuesday Tickle: Culture Shift

I love characters that are enthusiastic about their jobs, especially when it’s areas that most people wouldn’t find interesting. These guys are a lot of fun, simply because they are absolutely fascinated by what they do for a living. No wonder they got chosen for the primary contact team with a new alien race… Vance (the first speaker) is a xenoanthropolgist, Ken is a botanist.

“We’ve arrived just before a period of religious observation. I don’t quite understand the whole concept, but there will be representatives from all the different canajun here. There’s a competitive aspect to it, too. Some sort of goal, or prize, that they all compete for. I can’t get anyone to slow down long enough to explain it all to me, though.”

“That’s gotta be driving you crazy. Crazier.”

“Funny man.” Vance craned his neck to watch the crowd as they laid out what looked like a series of concentric circles surrounding the low pile of wood. “Come on, let’s go up on the hill where I can get a better vantage.” He picked up his equipment and started the trudge back up the hill.

The heavier gravity took its toll before he got to the top. His recorder felt like it had doubled in weight between the start and the finish, and his feet dragged on the ground. At the top of the amphitheatre, he slumped to the ground with a whooshing sound and lay on his back for a minute to catch his breath.

Ken flopped down beside him and brushed his fingers through the ground cover. His eyebrows twitched and he pulled out a sample bag.

Vance propped himself up on his elbows and laughed. “Don’t you already have samples of all this stuff?”

“I don’t recognize this one.” Ken plucked a couple of long, toothed leaves from one plant, then dug into the soil to pull another one in its entirety. “This will do for genetic sampling. I’ll have to come back later and try for enough to transplant in the isolation greenhouse.”

“Next thing, you’re going to be telling us all we have to sleep in the corridors, so you have room for all your plants.”

“Great idea! I’ll let the captain know in tomorrow’s dispatch.”

“Har har.” Vance pushed himself upright, and reached for the video recorder. “Glad I don’t have to lug the other over to its location too. The gravity is killing me.”

“Think of all the muscles you’ll grow.”

“I wish they’d grown in the gym on the way over here.”


Three Dirty Birds Talk Self-Editing for Fiction Writers–Interior Monologue


Welcome back to Three Dirty Birds Talk, after our short hiatus. Today we’re taking on Chapter 7 of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Rennie Browne and Dave King.

This is the part about interior monologue, right? I should have reread it last night…

Zoe wonders whether she should have gotten another cup of coffee before jumping into this discussion.

Ana: The chapter starts off talking about the differences between movies and books, which I thought was interesting because I have some writer friends who watch more movies than they read, and their writing tends to reflect that. They rarely get into their characters’ heads. It has that whole looking-through-a-camera feel to it.

Zoe: Now you have me wondering how it affects writing when authors mostly play video games versus watching movies or reading books.

Ana: That’s an interesting question. I guess it would depend a little on what kind of games they like too. I mean you have the plot heavy RPGs and visual novels on one hand, and then you have shooter games on the other….

Zoe: I guess we’ll have to wait and see what kind of stuff Kate puts out after all her Candy Crush hours.

Kate: Food!

Zoe: I found the second example of interior monologue they gave interesting. It comes right after they say, “As you might expect, interior monologue is so powerful and easy to write—though, not write well—that many fiction writers tend to overuse it.” What was interesting about the example is that it read like 94% of the Amazon Look Insides I’ve seen over the past month—from trad. and self-published authors alike.

Ana: What I thought was interesting about that example was that, I thought, the interior monologue wasn’t as much the problem as all the telling and generally bad writing.

Zoe: Yes, that was definitely there too. The interior monologue just led right into it.

Kate: I’ll admit, that section made me paranoid for a while, until I really thought about it. And, to be honest, there’s still a little paranoia hanging around.

Ana: What made you paranoid?

Kate: Worrying that I was doing that in my current WIP and not being able to see it. But if it’s showing up in a lot of books, maybe it’s one of those high-level skills and I don’t need to worry about not having quite mastered it yet? Or am I just telling myself fairy stories again?

Zoe: I think it’s one of those things you smooth out in later drafts (which so many books aren’t getting these days!). In early drafts, you put lots of things in because you haven’t decided how best to get them across yet, and by the end—if you’ve given yourself time to get to a mature draft—you’ve honed them.

Kate: I do worry that I’m not seeing things, though. And that I won’t see them. And her explanation wasn’t one that really connected with me.

Ana: I’m sure Zoe would gladly point them out to you.

Kate: Lol. Zoe does love her comment bubbles. :)

Zoe: Some people have Candy Crush, I have comment bubbles. I worry about not seeing things too, but of course that’s what the beta readers are for—being your extra set of eyes (or brain!).

Kate: I need a Substibrain.

Ana: Everyone needs a Substibrain! (Preorder now!)

Kate: Lol. I found that her third example looked like my first drafts. A lot of dialogue and only a few beats to anchor it.

Zoe: That’s me too. The characters are talking, and I have to get it down!

Ana: My first drafts often don’t have the beats.

Zoe: I think with interior monologue, a good thing to remember is that it’s telling, not showing, so when you go back to edit it, ask yourself if there’s a way to show it instead. If you can, and it works, do that. If it turns out it really needs to be interior monologue, then that’s what it needs to be, and as long as it’s important to the story, you can leave it and move on. (Or make it flow better and move on, whatever.)

Kate: I tend to treat the direct thoughts like dialogue, and anything that’s more emotional like narrative/telling, particularly when a scene just shows up and it’s perfect and I have to get it down. So it might come out the first time like a big chunk o’ tell, but then I go back and look for sentences that can be replaced with an action, or eliminated altogether. I’m getting better at not fussing about getting everything right on the first pass, too, which makes it easier to follow these spurts of creativity right to the end, then fix the details after.

Zoe: That’s a good point about direct thoughts being like dialogue. They have voice. They’re more engaging. (But irritating if you have a page full of them, because then you get to the place where you’re listening to someone talk to themselves.)

Kate: You know, talking to yourself is a great way of ensuring you get an intelligent answer…

Ana: As I’m currently editing an older novel I find myself rewriting a lot of instances of ‘he knew’, ‘he thought’ etc. to turn them into something more direct and engaging. So for example “He knew he was screwed.” has more impact when it’s just “He was screwed.”

Zoe: That’s a good point too! It’s brings the reader deeper into the POV when you can get rid of some of those filters between the character and his thoughts.

Ana: Yeah, you’re not placing a pesky narrator between the reader and the character.

Kate: The discussion about narrative distance and interior monologue was interesting. It made sense, though I wonder how many people do it intentionally, and how many do it by instinct alone. I know I notice my narrative distance changes a lot depending on what’s happening in the story, and the emotional tone of the part I’m writing, and it’s not something I do on purpose.

Ana: I can’t think of a lot of times that I have given my narrative more distance on purpose.

Kate: I’ve used it during parts of stories where the subject matter was upsetting. It can show where a character is kind of dissociating too. But I usually use it to give the reader a bit of a break on the emotion.

Zoe: I haven’t actually given narrative distance much thought. (Now I’m going to obsess over it. Thanks!) I wonder if it’s one of those things you do largely by feel, and your sense of “feel” for it tends to be developed by reading a lot. You get the rhythm for it.

Kate: I think the best way to get a sense for it is by reading a lot of books. It’s definitely something where you have to feel your way through it, an almost physical relationship with the story. When the story starts to feel too overwhelming, you automatically want to withdraw. And if you’ve seen other writers do that, you at least have a blueprint for how to do it in your own work. Kind of like kids practicing for hockey–they practice making the shots, but they also watch other kids, and professional players taking shots. It all comes together to help them feel their way into a more instinctive setup for making the goal.

Zoe: (Go Bruins.)

Ana: I once zoomed out on a death scene. One beta complained that it wasn’t as bloody as it could have been, but it just wasn’t that kind of story. So I guess you have to keep in mind who your audience is, what they expect and what kind of story you want to tell.

Zoe: Absolutely! Kind of story matters. The narrative decisions you make for a kinkfest noncon smut story are going to be extremely different from a romance depicting a rape.

Ana: At least you would hope so.

Zoe: Even within a story, of course, it depends on what you’re conveying. In my horror novel, when bad things are happening to the main character, the narrative is close in, but when there’s something horrible happening to someone who had, until that point, been in the periphery, and the characters are forced to stand by, the narrative pulls back—because it’s really hard for the characters to handle having to stand by.

Ana: Isn’t that like the narrative pulling back because the characters are trying to pull back too? Since it’s too much to handle?

Zoe: Yes!

Kate: I did something the opposite in Knight, where I push farther inside Ross’s head during the worst parts, closing the narrative distance until all you can see and hear and feel is what Ross can. Using that closeness to up the terror factor in those scenes, even the ones where no violence actually occurs, just the horror of having to deal with a certain character.

Ana: I love to get up close when my characters are close to emotional break-down. Sometimes reality as they perceive it doesn’t make sense anymore, but I don’t care, I describe that too. Of course, I don’t do that for pages and pages, but I do like to take the reader down with the character.

Kate: Ana, the Evil Despot. :) I really like to use it with unreliable narrators. Those are fun. That section on page 131, where she quotes the part about the drug-addled researcher going into the boardroom? And you start to wonder where reality really starts and ends, and whether he’s just now beginning to tell himself the truth about these people? That was a hoot. I like how her sentences got longer and longer as you read, not just dragging you along in his hallucination, but showing you how he was reeling out of control, faster and faster. You just know something crazy’s going to happen. And you feel it yourself, too.

Ana: The example was nicely done, but it does make you happy the writer doesn’t stay in that character’s head for a long time!

Kate: No. I think the crazy probably broke right after that passage. But it was a good example of how you don’t have to show, not tell everything to keep your reader’s interest up.

The last thing she says in this chapter is not to take their advice to ‘show, don’t tell’ too seriously. She says that they’ve been seeing a lot of stripped-down manuscripts, where everything is shown, and there’s very little interior narrative, and the stories are losing a lot of their depth and magic. (Like having a Porsche, without all the leather seats and expensive stereo system.)

(Ana: Noooo, not the leather seats!)

Kate: Haven’t we just been complaining about that in a couple of DNF’s? There was plot, and action, but it all felt shallow, like we were eating cardboard instead of piping-hot, fresh pizza.

Don’t serve cardboard pizza in your stories. Give us the emotion, the thoughts, and the depths. Fill our hungry minds with action and feelings.

Like a really good deep-dish pizza.  :)

Three Dirty Birds Presents: The Substibook!

There’s nothing more satisfying than a good book. (Except maybe a weekend on a remote island with hot and cold running cabana boys and all the chocolate you can eat.)

But it’s an unfortunate fact of life that not every book is the wonderfully fulfilling, sensual experience we would like. And, with the advent of ereaders, there isn’t even the entirely visceral pleasure of throwing the offending object at the wall in a fit of frustration. No surge of adrenaline, so satisfying clunk, no inspecting it for damage with an ecstatic “Serves you right!”

Until now…

Three Dirty Birds presents…The SUBSTIBOOK™!


Available in high-tech silvery gray, The Substibook™ is the size of your average mass market paperback, but slightly heavier, to add to the force of impact (and the satisfying Clunk!) when it hits your wall.

To use it, you simply print out an appropriately-sized cover off the book, tape it to the front of The Substibook™, and Heave Ho! (Note: No books were harmed in the making of these videos. Exemplars are not necessarily specific to characteristics discussed.)

Feel the delirious joy of watching plot holes you could drive a truck through as they splat against a random vertical surface.

Watch as Characters Who Are Too Stupid To Live develop a deep and intense connection with a horizontal surface.

Or just use The Substibook™ as a target for your disappointment with four pages of introductory info-dump and the twenty characters it introduces–all of whom have names beginning with the letter J.

The Substibook™ can also be used for more than leaving dents in your drywall. It can also be used for exercise, as a wedge under the tire of your car (still in beta mode), and for getting those pesky zombies™ out of your garden.

For the special introductory price of only $4.99 (plus shipping and handling), you too may experience the transcendent joy of taking your frustrations out on offending books, while your ereader breathes a sigh of relief.

(Just kidding about the price–we’re not actually trying to sell anything. We thought it would be fun to do up an ad for our little running gag. Stay tuned for the Substibrain, and other random oddities as they pop up. :) )

Playing With Scapple

I downloaded the trial version of Scapple the other day, to see if it would help with sorting out plot ideas. It’s like the computer version of something I do on paper at the beginning of a story, and I do like techy toys. :)

Here’s what it looks like right now:

Walnuts mindmap

I’m playing with colours and connections, and working out the primary ‘funny bits’ (yes, that’s a technical term :) ).

Do I like it? I’m not sure yet. I like the colours, and it’s very neat and tidy at this point, which is a bonus. Storage isn’t a problem, since it’s virtual. I can save my notes into the file folders for each project.

But I find it clunky to work with, compared to some other mindmapping programs I’ve used. Moving bubbles around on the screen is a slow process involving the arrow keys on the computer, instead of being able to grab and drag like in Inspiration. I’m not seeing any way to annotate the connections between bubbles, which is something I do with my pen-and-paper brainstorming. And, for some strange reason, trying to do it on the computer feels like I’m not really interacting with the concepts and characters. I wonder if the experience would be any different with a touchscreen computer?

Overall, I don’t think there’s enough going for it to move me away from pen-and-paper, despite the fact that I’d like to get away from binders and file folders (unless I can find a file cabinet that I like). I wasn’t expecting to be completely comfortable with it right off, but I also shouldn’t be irritated with the workflow, which I have to confess I was.

I’m thinking I might try Xmind. It looks a little more like what I’m used to. The base version is free, so that’s a bonus. I like the screenshots I’ve seen too. Hopefully it’s a little more intuitive and responsive. Once I get into mindmapping mode, the system needs to be able to keep up with me, since I move along pretty fast as I try out new ideas and essentially talk myself into a basic plot.

I’ll let you know how I get along. :)

Tuesday Guest Tickle: The Foreman by JT Hall

Back Camera
Barnes & Noble

“The Foreman” was a small project that was originally supposed to accompany another short story, but it sort of grew into its own thing. J.T. has also been working on a full-length M/M romance, a paranormal mystery, which should be finished some time this fall.  Look for J.T.’s reviews on LGBT fiction, excerpts, previews and more on her blog.

What’s it about?
Tim’s got a problem with his new job as a carpenter. His foreman, Gary Zucker, is just too damned sexy. With a mustache, hairy arms, and a solid gut, Gary exudes power and confidence, and it’s driving Tim crazy. When Gary notices Tim’s attraction, he figures it’s all over. The foreman will probably fire him for having the wrong kind of wood.

Then Gary surprises him. He shows he knows how to be the boss in more than one way. The question remains if this will be a one time thing, or something more. Tim’s got one chance to show the man how good he can be, before his dream man slips through his fingers.

A quick peek at what’s inside:
“Having trouble, junior?” Gary crossed his arms, shaking his head.

Spots danced in front of Tim’s eyes until he remembered to breathe. “I’m fine,” he managed, tilting his head back farther to look up into the foreman’s face. “Just had a little issue with the knife.”

Gary’s dark eyes raked over him, and Tim wished he could go crawl in a hole. This was supposed to be a job. It really wasn’t a good idea to be crushing on the boss. No matter how often he kept telling himself that, however, nothing seemed to obey. Not his head, not his eyes, and most certainly not his dick. He only hoped Gary couldn’t see how hard this encounter was making him.

Time stretched as Gary continued to look him over, eyes narrowing. Tim felt the back of his neck heat up and prayed he didn’t do something stupid. “I won’t make any more mistakes, sir.” His voice cracked. I was just having a hard time focusing.” Even as he said the words, he imagined what it would be like to kiss Gary, to feel that mustache brush against his lips, his cheek. Tim blushed hard.

Gary snorted. “Focusing, huh?” He hooked a thumb into his belt, adjusting it. “Do I need to send you on a coffee break? Take care of that ‘focus’ problem?”

Was it Tim’s imagination, or had Gary just glanced at his crotch? He was starting to feel strange, kneeling in front of his boss.

“Um, no, sir,” Tim replied, even though a coffee break right now sounded perfect. He’d get his head back on the work. He could jerk off later, imagining what it would be like to be shoved up against a wall by Gary Zucker.

A Dirty Bird Delay


The Dirty Birds were inundated with ‘Things That Must Be Done’ this week, so we’re putting off our installments of Self-Editing for Fiction Writer’s until next week. We tried all day to make connections, but it was a no go. Hopefully, things will have settled down by the time next week rolls around and we’ll be back, chirping about writing and what we thought of the book.


Are we sure it’s not full moon?

crazy bunnyThis has been a crazy week for writers. Okay, everyone has a bad day. We bitch, or throw things, or crack open the emergency bottle of wine. But when you’re in the public eye, as writers (even small ones) are, there needs to be a little common sense applied.

By common sense, I mean you need to have some rules in place for things you can and cannot say in public.


One thing you don’t do is insult the people who pay for your books so you can get your royalty checks.

Just in the past two days, there’s been the Chelsea Cain, complaining about having to interact with her readers. Yet, she was the one who opened up her Goodreads account to questions. It’s almost like taking a retail job, deciding it was a bad idea, and yelling at the customers to leave you alone. Actually, no, it’s exactly like that. A retail job is interacting with people who hopefully will buy something in your store so you can keep getting paid. When you open up a dialogue with your customers, you have to expect all sorts of questions. Some of them will be things that might frustrate you but everyone who’s ever worked retail has nodded and smiled while dealing with a customer that made you wonder how they managed to find their way out of bed in the morning. (And, if we’re being honest, we’ve all been that customer too–probably a lot more times than we’re aware of, because retail workers never let on what a dork you’re being.) But if you see questions coming up over and over again, that’s a sign–either they feel really comfortable with you and are treating you like a friend, or they’re having trouble finding the information they want. (Or they could just be my mother, who is technologically handicapped and regularly gets the retail worker treatment. My four-year-old nephew is more techie than she is.) But there are more appropriate, and kinder, ways to deal with it than telling them to go away.

The other one that caught my eye was some tweets by Alexandra Adornetto. Congratulations on landing a book deal so young, my dear. You obviously have talent. And I’m going to assume that what happened was a result of having been feted at a young age, and discovering that the standards get higher as you get older. That, and a bit of youthful impulsivity. But being snarky at reviewers and making disparaging remarks about the quality of industry events does you no favours and fixes nothing. No, not everyone is going to like your books, any more than you liked all the books you’ve ever read. That’s a part of this industry that you bought into when you signed that contract, whether you were aware of it at the time or not. I know you’re young, but it’s time to grow up a little bit more and realize that these people don’t work for you, they’re here to help you. Help you improve your writing, help you promote it. If you don’t like the way it’s being done, there’s only one way to fix it: become perfect. And when you figure that out, could you let me know you got there? I’d sure like me some perfect. (Hell, at this point, I’d take some longer legs and call it good.)

But everyone has bad days, when all the stress seems to land on you at once. When you feel your frustration mounting to the point where you want to throw something, or yell at anyone who comes near you. Sometimes you can’t do anything to stop the stress, because it’s a book tour, and looming deadlines, and family issues, and you can’t just step out on them. So, what do you do?

The first thing, I would say, is you DON’T ENGAGE. If the questions are making you angry, don’t answer them. It’s not like the person is sitting across the table from you, waiting for your answer. It’s the Internet–we’re all used to the stop-and-start communication endemic to the medium. So wait to look at them until you feel a little less like a faulty pressure cooker, pick a finite number and only do those. Then wait a while, give yourself a break.  If the review doesn’t make you happy, DON’T ENGAGE. They have a right to their opinion. Making a fuss only makes you look like a self-entitled prig. An asshat, if you will. And there’s enough product out there that I don’t need to buy from asshats. If you can engage respectfully, that’s another story. I once got a review that started, “I really wanted to like this book…” (I think we know where it goes from there. :P) But she was honest, and not mean, so I emailed and was not mean either. I said thank you, and sorry, and I’ll work harder next time. And she was gracious.

The next thing I would do is GET HELP. Are you getting a lot of email? Hire an assistant, enlist family, maybe find an enthusiastic fan to handle stuff from an address that is specifically for fans alone. Pay them in free books and beta reading opportunities. :) But jeepers, don’t burn yourself out to the point where your bridges are going up in flames too. We all know, what goes into the internet never goes away. Don’t increase the chances of a flame-out by trying to be all things to everyone.

The last thing I would say is HAVE RULES. Barbara Hambly wrote a series called the Silicon Mage. One of the plot points was that when the mage was running the machine, it drains all the good, all the energy, out of the world. It became very hard to think, so easy to give up. The heroine in that series made a set of rules–“doing it by the numbers”, she called it–so that she would know what to do when that terrible drain hit, even when she didn’t feel like doing it. And, in the end, they defeated the bad guy, because she “did it by the numbers”. So, figure out some rules for times when you’re angry, and frustrated, and just done, and stick to them, even when you don’t want to.

You’ll be glad you did.

And on that note, and in honour of my mother (who I do love dearly but who can drive me mad in thirty seconds or less), let’s end this post with the anthem of all children called upon to talk their IT-challenged parents through…anything. I give you–“Tech Support For Dad”!

Oh, hello, he has a song called “Hermione Granger the Pirate Queen”. *click*