J.M. Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

Some Details About Me Posted Elsewhere

Nov
04

Some comments I wrote on my relationship with writing were posted by fellow blogger Richie Billing. My blurb is accompanied by that of another writer named Paul Freemanwho I had not heard about before now.

Richie is planning a series of posts like this, and I think it’s a interesting concept–looking at how writers got started in the craft and what keeps them going. I find it interesting that Paul Freeman responded to someone’s sarcastic jab by going all in on a book. My fall into writing was much more gradual.

Anyway, head over and read the post.

~J.M.

REBLOG: The #1 Rule Of Writing

Jun
10

Victor has some great thoughts here, presented in parable, which is always a useful technique. I fully agree with his point, though I don’t know if I have enough authority yet to demand others listen to my opinion. All I can say is that I agree that writers need to work up from the bottom, and it’s a rough struggle.

I don’t see myself as a Whitney or Flynn. I was top of my class in college, I know I am a decent writer. But I also know that I am entitled to nothing, that I need to prove myself the same as any other new writer. I’ve encountered people like Victor’s John, people just out of college that think having a degree means then are suddenly a professional entitled to professional work and pay.

My encounter was with a graphic designer. She had just graduated from art school. She never made a book cover in her life. Her online resume was only a dozen pictures, all or most being her school assignments. And yet expected me to pay her professional rates for a product whose quality I couldn’t begin to judge.

In my case, I started out targeting the bottom. I sent my work out to publishers offering little or no compensation, just to prove myself, get feedback, and make a name for myself. I’ve recently hit my twentieth acceptance. I feel like that is a pretty significant milestone. I have been at it for about 8 months, and have yet to get accepted with a professional-level publication. But I know my writing is getting better, and my reputation and fan-base is growing, slow but steady.

I already have a book deal, though is only a novella and with a indie publisher. I also have a job with a serial fiction company. I am making inroads into the fiction business. Sooner or later I will get that first professional credit, which I like to think will come sooner rather than later. I have a few good pieces in the submission cycle that I think can make it. I’ve had a lot of help revising and editing those pieces, which is critical. I also have my finished book, which will find a home eventually. I am not rushing it. I know traditional publication takes time and I am investing that time to ensure maximum success.

I believe that is what makes a successful author. Though, I’m not yet a proper authority on the subject. I’ll get back to you on this once I’m a genuine pro.

REBLOG: Post of the week – A voice in the water

May
20

Thank you, David, for your great reading of my story!

For those of you who don’t know, David Snape is a blogger who has does a regular guest writing spot. Last week he posted my story A Voice in the Water. Yesterday, he chose it for his guest post of the week, and read the story out loud in a video. He did a great job on the reading, too. And I am quite surprised how well the story fit being spoken aloud. Maybe I need to start reading my stories here on this blog.

Reblogging my own story – That’s kind of weird…

May
12

David Snape kindly shared my flash story “A Voice in the Water” on his blog. Head on over and check it out. And while you’re at it, check out the other authors whose work he has shared.

REBLOG: WHY ALL THE PRESENT TENSE?

May
03

This is a very nice article on the rising use of present tense in fiction, especially short fiction. I find present tense creeping up more and more in sci-fi and fantasy, and I don’t care for it. I’ve written about the use of present tense a lot, along with first-person and other stylistic choices. For me, the ultimate rule is if you move away from standard convention, it should have a reason. There should be a clear reason why you are writing in present tense, or first-person. If there isn’t, and you’re doing it just for style or to be quirky, it’s going to fall flat. I’ve written a couple S/F pieces in present tense because it was right for the particular piece, but it was a long and hard decision to get there. As it should be.

REBLOG: YOUR PILE OF FAILURES

Apr
26

This is a very good article on failure, and the artistic process in general. I think the biggest take-away for me is the passage: “Think of it like this: If you have three finished short stories and the first doesn’t sell you still have two more in circulation. If you write one short story and wait for it to sell before writing the next one you may never be published ever—you may not even ever get to write that second story.”–This is right on.

I, of course, take this advice to a perhaps ridiculous level. I have about forty stories now on my tracker. I have 31 pending submissions. So far, I have received 15 acceptances, and 81 rejections! But just as this article says, having so many stories circling around, I feel less invested in each individual piece. The more I write and submit, the easier each rejection becomes. It feels like moving to a point of perfect Zen harmony, where I am satisfied with any response, acceptance or rejection. This helped significantly with my book submissions.

I have recently received the first response from an agent, and it was a rejection. But it didn’t even cause me to stutter. I sent out queries to two more agents this week, and if those don’t pan out, I have a bunch more tagged in my Writer’s Market book. At this point, I have enough success to know I am doing something right, so all I can do is keep driving on.

Failure is a reality of life. But it is a truth that today’s youth are not being taught. I recently started negotiations with a graphic designer to maybe do a cover for my book. The discussion was dead on arrival. The designer was fresh out of college, had no experience, a completely blank resume. Yet she expected to get near professional rates for her work. Of course, I wasn’t going to pay that for work I could not gauge the value of. Plus, as an artist myself, I know how it is to get started in the business.

Half a year in and most of my publications are still with free or token-pay publishers. You have to make a name for yourself, build a resume, before you can start demanding professional rates and respect. Hand-in-hand with that comes failure. Lots of failure. You have to get through the failure and prove your worth, then you can call yourself a professional.

It can be discouraging, but if you look at the most successful writers, people like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, they struggled for their success. They worked other jobs while the wrote. They got rejected, time and again. But they kept at it, and in the end it all proved worth it.

If you really want to be a professional writer, you just got to grin and bear it, embrace the struggle and let it make you stronger. If you do, you’ll make it someday.

The Rules of Good Microfiction, REBLOG: TLT – Wildfire in lavender

Jan
27

Story writing gets harder the shorter your story gets. Regardless of its size, a piece requires several things in order to be a complete story: characterization, crisis, and resolution. You could call it the CCR rule of short story writing (as in, if you don’t heed the rule then who’ll stop the rain?)

This proves difficult to do with flash fiction (under 1500 words), even more so with microfiction (under 300 words) and almost impossible with nanofiction (under 100 words). The shorter you get, the more you have to leave out or imply. You must choose each word carefully and only write that which directly hinges on your story’s CCR points.

Reblogged here is a nanofiction piece by Gina, aka Singledust, that represents a very good example of a tiny, but largely complete story.

First, she gives us clear characterization. The word “they” gives us a group, and the description of the first sentence tells us they are a couple. We do not need to know other details such as how they look or their personal backgrounds, since it is not relevant to the crisis. All that is important is that they are lovers.

Next, we have a clear crisis. Someone is approaching and will discover the lovers. The description of the sun as a creature tells us the couple feels disturbed, if not distressed by the idea of being caught. The choice of the word “creature” here is probably one of the most important in the entire piece, as it sets the tone and the crisis (“lay entwined” is probably a close second, as it does most of the characterization work).

Finally, we have a resolution, or at least an implication. The author tells us it is “too late to take cover” so a confrontation with the approaching woman is inevitable. What form that confrontation takes is left to the reader’s imagination, but the crisis of discovery is concluded nonetheless.

It is hard for me to imagine how you could do more with this limited number of words. The photo is helpful for setting the scene, but is not necessary to for this story to be fulfilling.

Microfiction, by its nature, must leave a lot to the reader; it contains a lot of ambiguities. The trick is not feeling compelled to give your reader everything and forcing yourself to stick to only that which relates to your CCR points. Readers can come up with description and relationships on their own, and it is often a good idea to leave them to it. What you need to provide is the story, the happening, the drive and action. The rest will come along on its own.

Many, if not most, microfiction works fail this test of completeness in some way, being more of a vignette than a full story (most focus on character to the detriment of crisis or resolution). I’m sure many of mine do. Ultimately, the trick is knowing what your story is about and restricting yourself to only that.

REBLOG: A Crash Course In Suspense

Jan
27

Victor has some good points here about building suspense. Particularly in fantasy and action, suspense is vital to keeping the reader engaged. Readers do not want to given everything easily, suspense is emotion and emotion is why people read.

As Victor suggests, foreshadowing is a good tool for building suspense. Letting the reader know something is coming. But you don’t want to reveal too much. There’s a delicate balance between making it visible enough for the reader, but not letting on about the meaning to early.

I would add that slowing your prose is a good method for building tension. Once you have a danger present, you can add a few extra lines to stretch out the resolution. It leaves the reader wondering what will happen, leaves them begging for the result. I often do this by focusing on the character’s breathing or feeling, getting a bit stuck in the drama and fear, before letting the situation resolve. It doesn’t take much, just two or three sentences, but the impact can be significant.

REBLOG: A Warning Sign You’re Suffering From Culture-Blindness

Jan
24

Victor makes a very good point here, though I’m not sure what stuff he’s reading that starts like a slug…maybe that old-timey “Classic” lit. What you read certainly does have an effect on how you write and it is very good advice to make sure you stay aware of what current readers expect and demand. Twain is great in its original form, but it would be very different if the man was writing today. Market context is key.

Today’s readers (and perhaps to a more significant extent, publishers and editors) expect you to grab them with your first paragraphs, if not sentences. The shorter the piece is, the faster it needs to get rolling. With flash, your first sentences not only need to be active, they also need to setup the story in a significant way.

I will admit that I, too, don’t give stories much of a chance if they don’t hook me right away. There’s just so much content out there these days that there is no reason for a reader no to be picky. It’s not like a hundred years ago when you had to walk five miles in two feet of snow to get to a library that only had a dozen books. By the time you arrived, you were committed to reading “something.” By contrast, I get about a dozen stories in my email inbox everyday from a collection of sources including blogs I follow and daily flash subscriptions. So you had had better make your story meaningful and unique in the first few sentences, or I’m moving on to the next one. It is an absolutely vital skill for any modern writer.

Victor’s “fast” example is even a bit to slow for me. I want to know what the story is, what the crisis or the character is, right away. I’m assuming this story is not about a caravan, but perhaps the master? I would start it with the caravan master (or other protagonist) watching the caravan and doing something, being active, even if that is just thinking. That way we know who this story is about and we have them placed in the world. But that is just me.

Here’s how I’d write it, seeing as it would likely be a character-centered short story for me:

Rezza watched the sand fly up from the hooves of the horses, the asses grunting in the clouds of white dust. The heavy bundles strapped over the animals creaked and rustled in the morning sun. Rezza hoped they would be strong enough to make it through the brutal heat of the Yellow Valley; everything rested on his getting to the other side.

A Simple Trick That Makes Your Fiction Much More Sticky And Relatable

Jan
13

I have to agree with Victor here, though I would lean more towards the idea of being realistic with your writing and expectations, rather than idealism v. normalcy. You should always consider how realistic your characters actions are; this, of course, includes the way they talk and interact. There is a bit a leeway in fantasy since it is a different world than our own–no one doubts Legolas can shoot as fast or as accurately as he does because the world suggests it to be true. I am currently exploring the idea of exceptional skill and its implications in my book. In addition to asking yourself what are the realistic limits for this character and world, it is also interesting to ask: what are the implications of failure?