Blog listing sites
Web Directory
OnToplist is optimized by SEO
Add blog to our directory.



Convincing People to Read

I like to read and I'm always a bit surprised when people say that they don't like to read. On the other hand I totally understand, especially when I think about my experience in high school English class. I already liked reading by the time that I reached High School, but if I hadn't I honestly think that it might have convinced me that I didn't like to read.


High School for me was quite a while ago and perhaps it has changed, but there are a few ideas that I still see from time to time. The first of these is that we all need to stop looking down on books. I don't care whether it's Twilight, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Grey or the most recent Stephen King novel they are popular for a reason. Some of those are clearly not written for me and if I read them I'd either be annoyed or bored. On the other hand I know plenty of people who would find the Martian Chronicles, The Foundation Trilogy, 1984 and Ender's Game boring. I can even imagine a person who wouldn't enjoy the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Though I'm not sure I can explain that.)


All of these have something in common with every other book that has ever been written. They are finite in length and they were influenced by other books. Did you like the Twilight books because of the romance, perhaps you should try a Jane Austin novel. Were you intrigued by the vampires, Bram Stoker's Dracula is considerably more interesting than you might think (And Mina Harker is a way more interesting female character than any in Twilight though that's just my opinion.) Know a kid who has read Harry Potter 4 times, ask some questions and find out which of the many great books fit what they liked. Whether it is The Hobbit, The Once and Future King, The Dresden files, The Hunger games or any of a dozen other ideas you have one huge advantage. They are already interested in reading. You just have to find books that meet them where they are at.


And that's the problem I had in my High School English class. I had an excellent teacher, a good school and I was interested in the subject but I had no connection to Shakespeare, Beowulf or most of the other required reading. And while I completely understand the desire to get people to read important books, those books are important because they connected to the people at the time. Shakespeare is still remembered because he made plays that people wanted to watch, Beowulf was a popular story and the Canterbury Tales has significant amounts of toilet humor.


Here is the secret, if you want kids, or adults, to read you have to understand why people read. People read because they enjoy it. People read because they form connections to books, because a book, better than any other type of media can grab you and say that someone else understands how you feel, that there are people that feel the same way. Remember that confusion and anger in high school, so does Holden Caulfield. Do you feel the weight of the world on you, like everyone is counting on you. Harry Potter certainly understands that. Are you exhausted and just want to give up. Sam and Frodo certainly could relate. I don't know perhaps if you're a teenage girl trying to deal with romance Bella might actually make you feel better. The point is if you are going through anything there is a book character that can step up beside you and say, "I understand and other people go through this too." And while that may not solve the problem it certainly helps. But it requires the right book at the right time, not just the important book.


I believe that if you can get the right book into the hands of anyone and get them to read enough to understand that it is speaking to them that they will enjoy it and even if they don't make the time to read more books they are going to at least understand the value and perhaps the next time they need a book they will seek it out but at least they might have some positive memories of that book.


Tracking Story Submissions

I was looking for some ideas on the best way to track story submissions and was surprised on how little I found. I'm sure there are plenty of good article on keeping records of your stories but since I was thinking about it I thought other people might be wondering or have some ideas on how to do it better.


The first thing is what you need to keep track of with a story. At the bare minimum you need to know where you submitted your story and when. This is the bare minimum because you need to know when to check on the progress of a submission and when to give up on hearing back without risk of offending. That length of time is subjective and it isn't the point of this article but it's best to simply go by the length of time they say. If they say they will get back to you in sixty days, don't write asking for updates until it has been sixty days even if that seems a long time.


Of course there are other things you'll want to keep track of as well. One of the vital ones is everyplace that the story has been submitted to before. There is simply no value in wasting your time and the time of a publisher by sending them something they have already rejected. This will also help you keep track of how many times the story has been submitted.


Beyond that you have things that are nice to know. If you get any type of personal response with a rejection not only is it worth noting what it said, but who said it. This isn't just useful but it can also be surprisingly encouraging. I remember way back when I was starting I got a rejection letter for a story I sent to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The note on it was short and something to the effect of not what we're looking for at the moment. I felt the same pang everyone does when they get a rejection letter. Then I looked at it a bit more carefully, and specifically the signature. It was signed by Gardner Dozois.


There aren't a lot of editors I know by name but Gardner Dozios is one of them. I don't really understand what an editor does well enough to comment on his skill, but I know that I've loved a lot of things with his name on it and the idea that he had actually read something I wrote was excited. I also know enough to be fairly confident that he hadn't been the only one to read it. I would bet money that there was at least one person who read it first and believed it was good enough to show to him, and it's likely, from what I know of how many submissions they get, that there was another person involved before he saw it as well.


Another note I got back was a bit more frustrating but also enlightening. It pointed out a typo on the seventh page of the story and the need to edit better. I agree with anyone who says that I need to edit better because everyone everywhere can stand more editing, but there's a lot more information imbedded in than that you might think. First, she made it to the seventh page of a nine page story. Secondly, if I had been successful with telling the story she either wouldn't have noticed or wouldn't have cared about the typo and third, I knew considerably more about that editor and how to make her happy.


It can also be useful to keep copies of anything you send with a story. This is going to be primarily cover letters and summaries. Sometimes you will keep those the same for multiple submissions and sometimes they will changed each time, but either way knowing what you sent to someone can help you figure out the response you get.


I'm not a terribly organized person so how to keep track of all of that is probably presented best by someone else but I'll tell you how I used to do it and how I do it now. I used to have a physical file folder. I would print a copy of the story and put it in the folder, along with a paper that had a list of submissions. When I got a rejection I would add that to the folder as well as writing down the information. This kept everything in one place and made it very easy to make certain I didn't accidentally submit a story that I had already sent to someone else.


The weakness, besides the destruction of trees, was that I didn't have a good way to see stories that had been gone a long time without a response. This didn't come up often as most people are fairly good at responding but it did happen. I tried to fix this by moving the folder to the front of the cabinet every time I sent it out and that helped some but I still had to look at the back to double check and that tended to take a while.


In the last decade things have been more centered around the computer since everyone accepts electronic submissions. (Or at least I haven't found anyone who doesn't.) But the problem is largely the same. Keeping a folder for every story isn't a terrible idea and I may start doing that. But there are some software solutions.


For this I'll largely have to trust other people as I haven't used any enough to really suggest them. Writer's Write's article , which is by far the best I found on the subject suggests The Working Writer and while it seems a bit dated it would likely work. There is also a story tracker app for the iPad/iPhone that has generally good reviews. I also found Submission Tracker and while it has nothing to do with writing since it's for tracking submission is Mixed Martial Arts I found it way to entertaining to leave out.


Perhaps the easiest and best way to do this though is with something may have heard of called spreadsheet. I am completely out of my depth with suggesting how to do this, but for making a list like this I know it works well and other people have suggested that.


Now to the real point of this article. If you are a writer or someone who is simply good at this type of thing I am pleading with you to share anything you know about how to do this better. I have described a number of processes I have used and I can keep track of things using them, but I'm not a fan of anything I've done and I'm sure someone out there has found a far better solution. Please share that solution with the rest of us.




Writing Excuse: I'm Too Busy

There is no more universal excuse in the modern world than I don’t have time. There are a hundred ways to say it, but it comes down to the simply I’m to busy excuse. And in all but the most extreme cases it’s simply not true. People have time for their priorities. What they really mean is that I have other things I would rather be doing. That perfectly fine in many cases, but if you want to be a writer then you have to find a way to make time because while I’ll defend anyone who puts words to paper in some format or another as a writer if you don’t actually type something you’re not a writer you just like the idea of being a writer.
I can already hear people saying that I really don’t have time. If you’re in a military boot camp, in a doctoral residence that keeps you working 18 hours a day or some similarly demanding situation then you can excuse yourself for the moment, but even then in most cases it’s a short term determent and if you’ve been using the excuse for more than a few weeks you’re lying to yourself. You can make the time if you want to.  
Step one is to understand that your writing is important because you’re important. It is acceptable and important for you to take time for yourself. Your kids, spouse and friends will understand that, but only if you do. Treat your writing as unimportant and so will they. That means scheduling time to work and treating it like work. Enjoyable work, but still work.
Next you need to understand that you don’t need a lot of time. Pick up a notebook or get a word processor for your phone and begin to take notes when you have downtime during the day or take the write your novel on your phone in those down times. It has been done. And you do have those downtimes. The odds are no one will notice if you write a few things down during the long office meeting, your kid won’t see you taking notes during halftime at his basketball game and no one is going to see you in the bathroom. There are plenty of other times as well. Stuck on hold, it’s the perfect time to grab your notebook and write. This is after all important to you so do it.
You’ll still need some time at the computer in most cases and you’re too busy for that, right? No. You have a priorities issue. You get time off work every year right? How about instead of visiting the beach you find someplace quite and lock yourself away. Plenty of writers do this including a number of well known authors. They lock themselves away for a week and write the first draft of their novel. And since you’ve been taking notes and working out the story in the spare minutes you can do that. 
The other option is to do a very small amount every day. Writing just 100 words a day will let you write 36000 words in a year and you can even take off Christmas, Thanksgiving, your birthday and two other random days. And once you’re used to that you’ll discover 100 words won’t take you anytime at all. It’s only one or two paragraphs and once you’ve decided to do it and really focus it shouldn’t be more than fifteen minutes a day. Though in most cases I think you’ll find you spend more time doing it once you make the decision even though you didn’t have the time before.
We all have busy lives but writers make time for writing. Stephen King wrote Carrie while teaching English, J.K. Rowling is a single mother who wrote in cafes because taking her baby for a walk helped her fall asleep.  Countless other less well known authors have kept jobs long after being published and continue to put out more work. The question isn’t whether you’re busy it’s what your priorities are. If you care about something you’ll make time for it and if you don’t care it’s better to admit it and move on. 

Reading is an Act of Trust

I was thinking about writing as an art and how it differs from other forms of art and I recognized something that I had never really articulated to myself before. I think writing is one of the only forms of art that people pay for before they know if it’s good. Even other forms of story media generally give clues to the quality before you pay.


 It’s hard to imagine any way it would work with any other form of art. I have a painting here, no, you can’t remove the curtain before you buy it. My music is great, so please buy it before you listen to it. And so on. A movie is a bit closer but they give us previews that are the best parts and with a comic book you can know if you’ll like the art before you give anything for the story.


It’s not just money though. I give away a fair amount of writing and most books have preview chapters. But there is still far more cost in time and effort before you have any idea if what I wrote is good. Sure the back cover might make you chuckle or the first line is great, but buying or even deciding to read a novel is agreeing to spend the next ten hours with someone. Sure you can always leave, but you don’t want to have to.


This dichotomy is most clear to me at comic book conventions. I have two novels which I bring and sell. They sit next to posters, comics and the offer for hand drawn sketches and the reaction to them are very different than any of the other art. There are naturally the people who just don’t read books, but even the people who do have a much different reaction to a novel than a comic book. They ask what it’s about something they almost never do with a comic book. They’ll turn it in their hand and flip through the pages without reading anything and rarely will they read the back. A tiny summery text that attempts to represent a two hundred page story in two paragraphs of writing that has a different tone and style than anything inside the book and rarely they’ll decide the premise is interesting enough and buy my book.


But in the end it comes down to trust. They know almost nothing about my book. They are simply trusting me with their time and possibly their money with no real evidence that I’m a good writer besides two paragraphs on the back cover of a book. And beyond that they are trusting that I’m someone who they want to spend many hours listening to tell a story. They trust that the painting is good before the curtain is pulled back, that the music is good before play button is pushed. Of course if they have already seen my work then that trust is easier. If someone who does music I love has a Kickstarter I’ll give them money before I hear the song and the same is true of a book from an author I love, but in the case of the author there was still a first time when I had to give them a chance.


In the end I give people that chance for the same reason anyone does. Fiction or Nonfiction, short or long, happy or sad, A good book allows me to see the world in a different way. I step into the mind of someone else and understand them a bit better. I learn to care about kids making rockets in their back yard, about hobbits and wizards, about living statues and alien creatures. It is art and for me at least it is the art that reaches in the deepest and changes me the most. So I’ll keep looking for the people I can trust. The writer I can enjoy a long evening with. The ones who help me to see a bit more clearly, to think a bit more deeply and to care a little more and I will continue to endeavor to create stories that will do the same for someone else.


Improving Your Fantasy Weapons: Axes

In most fantasy the most common weapon is the sword. That is perfectly reasonable as it was the most common weapon on a medieval battlefield, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the best or most interesting weapon for all your fantasy stories if for no other reason that they have been used a lot. If you want a weapon that would be used by someone with less money or by a truly aggressive warrior who wanted to do a lot of damage on the battlefield another great option is the axe. And just like swords there are a number of different types of axe and reasons a person might want to carry one.


Unlike a sword an axe is an almost purely offensive weapon. If you are trying to block with an axe you’re going to be at a significant disadvantage. But that isn’t all that important because with a good heavy axe there is little need to be defensive because it’s almost impossible to parry an axe with the sword and even blocking it with a shield is going to be uncomfortable and dangerous.


The danger is because in most cases shields would be wood with some leather and, if you were lucky, metal studs. We all know what an axe does to wood and that isn’t uncommon the battlefield either. But even if the shield is metal or doesn’t break an axe blow hitting a shield is going to hurt and so long as they remain aggressive counterattacks are going to be very difficult. This is a huge advantage for someone with an axe because so long as their opponent is constantly on the defensive they are in little to no danger while a single blow with an axe is likely to end the fight.


For the fantasy writer the primary advantage of the axe is the psychology of it. An axe immediately tells you something about the person or culture who is using it. Anyone using an axe is going to be aggressive and likely not just on the battlefield. The most famous of the axe wielders in history are the Vikings and the most aggressive of them are the berserkers, both of which would make a great starting point for a fantasy race.


But it’s not just going to be the psychology of the people using the axe that is important. In many ways the primary value of the axe is that it is scary. Someone using an axe is likely to be bigger, stronger and more aggressive than almost anyone on the battlefield. In fantasy this effect could be even more impressive if the axe wielder is a troll or giant who is far bigger and stronger and possibly with some more impressive natural defenses making a single enemy or small group a real deciding factor in a battle.


If you truly want to make your axes interesting though you’ll want to make certain they fit the character and what they are used for. Axes come in a wide variety of types. From those used to cut wood on a farm to weapons made specifically for battle. Thinking about this is going to give your weapons far more personality.


In the cases of war axes the primary difference is size. As a weapon they can from a one handed hatchet or tomahawk (including those that can be thrown) to massive war axes. The largest axes used on a battlefield were used by the Saxons. These massive axes were about five foot six feet tall and only the largest warriors would be picked to use them. Weapons like this would be devastating to anyone who got in range of them the bigger they are the more difficult they are to defend against.


In fantasy armor is often overlooked, but if you plan to use armor the axe has some more interesting aspects. That is to say that a well made axe is going to be fairly useful against almost any type of armor. Chain armor is going to be almost useless against an axe because a single blow is going to break bones whether it cuts through the armor or not. Against plate it’s less useful but it can still do more blunt force damage than a sword because more weight is in a smaller area. Also many axes have a spike or smaller blades on one side and an axe blade on the other. This is primarily for use against armor since the spike would go through a helmet or plate better than the blade.


I personally can’t think of a single magical axe in fantasy literature though it was a very common weapon throughout much of the dark ages and a magical axe could have a number of interesting uses. Perhaps a weapon that magically protects the user allowing for even more aggressive use of the axe or one that made them berserk. But even without the use of magical axes there is plenty of room for the use of more axes in fantasy literature and having a few more characters carry one of the most brutal and devastating weapons of the medieval age is likely to add a fair amount to drama to your story especially if the characters personality matches that of the weapon or if you want to add in an entire army of axe wielding men who are an almost unstoppable aggressive force.