Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

I might have known. Michael Malone can definitely pick a good read. A few months ago, he told me about a fantasy series, The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. The first book, Name of the Wind, was a non-stop listen, a four parter from Audible. The release of the second book has been postponed yet again. So I asked Michael if he'd read anything else that good lately.

The good news. He'd just read The Final Empire the first in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.
He read it in one day so it promised to be another winner. (You may recognize Sanderson as the author who will finish the Robert Jordan series.) The bad news depending upon your schedule is that he read the last two in the trilogy the following weekend so I knew I was in trouble.

I looked it up on Audible, thrilled to find my favorite male narrator, Michael Kramer, reading the series. He read all the Mark Beamon books by Kyle Mills, his voice lending a decidedly self-deprecating humor to them. I can still hear Kelsior's voice from the first book, oops, no spoilers.

Once you've read it you may want a copy of this poster. The signed copies apparently all sold out but there is one available for $9.99. I have the perfect place for it in my office. http://www.brandonsanderson.com/store/item/39/

I waited before starting the second book, Well of Ascension, because I couldn't afford to get sidetracked last week. But with classes over and the mail route to run, I cranked up the ole Ipod and dived back into the series. I'm two thirds finished. I know I won't be able to put off reading the last book, Hero of the Ages. I'll have to squeeze in some time this week to finish Tempest Rising so I may have to put a slot on the planner for listening to the series. (Forget that, once I started it I was dead. Now, I've got to download the third book and just eat all the chocolate in one sitting.)

If you want to read more about Sanderson's books and listen to a great podcast go here.

Today's Mistborn blog referenced an excellent podcast he did on revisions.

Thanks, Michael

Monday, March 29, 2010

The 10,000 Hour Rule of Proficiency

I love Murderati I've mentioned it before because the writers who post on the blog are some of my favorites and because Allison Brennan never fails to come up with solid, honest advice to writers, in addition to sharing her knowledge of craft and the publishing industry.

Sunday's blog post, I Think I'll Be a Heart Surgeon, was especially direct and as one commenter mentioned, encouraging.

The 10,000 Hour Rule.
I'm sure I've spent 10,000 hours over the guitar learning new songs and performing but I never really had a passion for it, even though I was constantly prodded to do something with my talent. But I probably spent 10,000 hours in music training and performing just in high school. When I discovered the computer back in the early 90's I spent many thousands of hours learning the ins and outs of hardware and software, eventually getting a job teaching night extension classes and I enjoyed it. Believe it or not, it was very creative, designing exercises and delivering the training as fun and computers as practical, not intimidating. But I never loved it like I love writing.

When I finally allowed myself the time to write toward publication, to get serious and believe, I found my core passion. I may have believed I could be the next one-book wonder when I started, who doesn't think that way? But I've since released the expectation of THIS book getting sold over THIS book being the best I can make it. I don't know if I've put in 10,000 hours, that's over a year's worth, but I'm probably close. And still I'm a newbie.

Few authors have done more to show us the realities of the industry while at the same time arming us with what we need to succeed. If we're good enough. If we continue to improve. If we work hard. Very hard. And if we're lucky. Thanks, Allison.

And if you just refuse to click on the link to read the post, here it is in full below. (Something else Allison does is share her knowledge and expertise without reservation but the words below are hers, not mine.) But you really should go there and read the comments as well as the other great posts.

I Think I'll Be a Surgeon, by Allison Brennan on Murderati

My good friend Karin Tabke wrote a blog last week asking the question, "How hard do you work?" and pontificating on the 10,000 hour rule: that to be truly good at something, you need to put in at least 10,000 hours. I thought that sounded like an unusually long amount of time, until I figured out that there were 8,760 hours in a year. Suddenly, 10,000 hours didn't seem very daunting at all.

Doctors go to school--not including residency--for eight years. Between classwork and studying, they probably put in 60-70 hour weeks for at least nine months of the year. That's over 20,000 hours just to graduate--and most of us probably prefer a doctor with a few years experience.

Musicians--the top guns, the ones who play at Carnegie Hall--practice many hours every day, often from when they are young children. I played piano for eight years, and I was technically proficient--but I didn't love it so much that I was willing to put in more than the minimum required 30 minutes a day. (I can play piano, I've said, but I can't make music.) A girl two years younger than me practiced three hours every day. Was it any surprise that she was better? Yes, she had natural talent. But without practice, that natural talent would have gone nowhere. Just for the years she was a minor--before going to college--she practiced more than 10,000 hours.

Athletes train year-round, practice hours every day in and out of season, is it any wonder the basketball player who spends his free time shooting hoops and conditioning is the one getting the scholarship?

Then why is it that every writer on the planet hears, "I could write a book if I had the time." Or, "I'll write a book when I retire." Or, "It must be easy to churn out [fill-in-the-blank] books--they're so formulaic." (Romance writers get this all the time, but I know many mystery writers who hear the same thing. After all, aren't all mysteries the same? Murder, investigation, solution. Duh, anyone can do it, right?)

No one goes up to a doctor and says, "When I retire, I'm going to be a heart surgeon." Or, "If I had the free time, I'd go to medical school."

Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone thinks they're the best person to tell it. How many hours have they put in to read, learn the craft, write, edit, delete, and write some more? I grow frustrated at times by some writers who finish a book and are then stunned and defeated by rejection. Many times these writers blame the system (New York wouldn't know a good book if they wrote it themselves.) Or agents (they don't want to work, they want the easy money.) Or the reading public (they just want to read trashy books.) Far too often, these writers become discouraged and spend more time lamenting the system or learning only about the business of published, rather than learning the craft: how to be a great storyteller.

One of the best things that Romance Writers of America does that few other writers organizations do (largely because most aren't fully open to unpublished writers) is teach want-to-be authors that they need to practice, write, re-write, write some more, and repeat as necessary. That most authors do not sell their first manuscript, or even their second. Or third. Yes, some do--many do not. An article I read when I first joined RWA in 2003, the year before I sold, said that among published authors in RWA, it took on average FIVE MANUSCRIPTS before a sale and FIVE YEARS, SIX MONTHS of writing before making the first sale.

Storytelling is hard work that takes thousands of hours of practice (and this doesn't include the thousands of hours of reading) but it doesn't get easier.

A doctor or a lawyer or an engineer may become more confident in their abilities as they gain experience, but I'd venture that open heart surgery is never easy, no matter how many times you've done it. Books are the same way. It doesn't get easier. Authors may gain confidence, or may see problems in their stories earlier simply because they have more experience, but writing is never easy. In fact, as we've discussed here recently, it gets harder. My books are tighter and cleaner when I turn them in--meaning, the technical part of the writing is easier for me after 14 books--but the storytelling is harder now than when I started.

But even so, I love it. With all the warts and heartache and long hours and the fact that I'm still learning and have much, much more to learn about storytelling (like who knew I needed a theme? Thank you Alex and Stephen) . . . I wouldn't want to do anything else. There is no end of the road, where you've learned everything you can. Basketball players, when they win, don't stop practicing. Doctors, when they graduate, don't stop reading medical journals. Writers, when they get published, don't think they now know everything. (In fact, many of us are stunned when people come to us for advice because we're really just winging it.)

I figured I probably wrote or studied craft about 10,000 hours from when I was ten until I was 34, when I sold my first book. Since I sold, I've put in over 14,000 hours writing and re-writing and studying and practicing and learning from people who know much more than I do.

Writing is hard work. It takes hours, thousands of hours, to go from crapola to something marginally publishable. And if you fail as a writer, you can always be a heart surgeon, right?

Writers, what are some of the odd or insulting comments you've gotten about your writing? Readers, what are some misconceptions about YOUR profession? What, if anything, are you willing to put in more than 10,000 hours to master?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chocolate Cake

Okay, if you've followed my blog you know I love chocolate cake, specifically, dark chocolate. All the rules go out the window when I'm faced with a luscious home made devils food either in cake or cupcake form. Especially with that seven minute frosting.

So two days ago I ordered dinner at the pizza place and looked across the counter at a covered cake container and the moistest, most mouth watering fudge cake met my eyes. So I ordered a piece. For an appetizer. I mean isn't that what Marie meant when she said, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" (Let them eat cake, for those of you who don't speak French.) And did she say when they could eat it? NOooo. I'm sure she meant any ole time.

So there I was eating, no, savoring, each bite of cake and thinking about THE RULES... You know, THE rules we all face but as a writer I'm always wondering if I should follow one or break it. It's hard for me to break a rule on purpose. Growing up I was more of an accidental bad girl. And I'll be the first to admit I had a few accidents.

Anyway, I've been struggling with my manuscript, Tempest Rising, for the last month. At about 90k which is the top end of where most romance publishers want a book to be, it's still not complete. The thing is I've planned, plotted, written scenes and synopses up to the end. So I asked myself, Self, I say, what would be wrong with putting THE END on it and going back through it in a high level read through to determine what adjustments I need to make to plot, magic, and character arcs. I have been stalled and questioning whether I can write the end until I understand more about the paranormal elements that have evolved in the last six months. I mean, WHO SAYS, I can't stop with approximately 10k to fill in and go back to the beginning now?

Okay, I hear you, I think. You're probably thinking what I eventually came around to - how am I going to know what special powers the heroine and hero need to defeat the BBG (Big Bad Guy) unless I plod my way through the turmoil and conflicts and fight scene.

My conclusion - I wanted to take the easy way. I'm getting to the nitty gritty of the fantasy part, freaking out and thinking - "*^&%#, I can't do this." I had no idea what I was getting into when I created a paranormal world.

So you'll be proud to know I pulled the plug on the rule breaking and wrote 1700 words yesterday. Fixin to get started again right now.

I AM Going to finish this book next week. I CAN do this.

Ya think?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Fever!

"You're a winner. The day you were born - your egg beat out all the others!" Wayne Dyer

So in this respect no one is the fastest, strongest, rightest, or smartest. Each is unique coming out of the womb. Last Sunday night an Oscar winner praised everyone in his life for allowing him to take an old 8 mm projector and make movies. No one ever told him he was wasting his time. He was allowed to follow his soul purpose. What a wonderful gift to give our loved ones.

You have to admire the female director of The Hurt Locker, Katherine Bigelow. I loved Avatar but heaping it with so many accolades while ignoring this movie shows a global propensity for escape, for familiar themes and happy endings. Why? Maybe because we're worn down and maybe, because we're chicken. Hurt Locker makes us reach deeper, become involved and relate intimately to the more uncomfortable issues like war, death, and loss. An important film to be both entertainment and social commentary.

Don't mind me; I'm morose today.

My creativity is at an ebb. I want to just sit and listen to the second Mistborn book or the next Charlaine Harris mystery but I feel guilty - overflowing with 'shoulds'. I should be writing forward, finishing my class materials, getting taxes together, cleaning the house, swapping out the winter clothes, doing my online workshop, anything besides what I want to be doing, or NOT doing. It's gorgeous, sunny, and I'm ready to sit out by the bayou.

Hell, what is Spring for! I'm for the sun! Bye

Friday, March 5, 2010

Super Sneaky Virus

These guys might look cute but after you've dealt with a computer virus you're more likely to think of them in terms of the bad monster Liam Neeson calls up in Clash of the Titans with the gazillion teeth. And you might compare the others to those very rhythmic Scorpion creatures.

Unlike some computer users I’m uber freaky when it comes to virus scans. Like a smoke detector in your home, you must NOT be without one. And just like you keep fresh batteries in your smoke detector, you absolutely, positively, without fail, come HELL or highwater – keep the virus programs updated.

LET ME SAY THAT AGAIN because if you own a Windows PC, this is the most important item to have - a virus scan with THE LATEST VIRUS DEFINITIONS downloaded and installed before you allow someone in your household to get on the internet.

But that’s not all. If you want to stay virus free on your pc or laptop, you need more than just a virus scan. You need a spyware catcher, malware destroyer, and vigilance.

Believe me, my respect and fear of the latest big bad virus was renewed yesterday while working on my handouts for my upcoming classes.

I Googled the ‘windows 7 logon screen’ (something I do often for blogs and such) and received a page of images. I right clicked the one I wanted and hit save as. Immediately, a window popped up stating that Personal scanner for the Control Center had found several viruses and the numbers were running up fast. Then a dialog box comes up asking you to download the fix for this virus, like you have no choice.

This all looks very legit so it's important not to panic. Hundreds of thousands of computer users have fallen for this scheme. They have entered credit card information to pay for this extra protection and the money went straight to the Ukraine or Czech republic or wherever these guys are.

This virus is known by a new name everyday. It started with Windows XP calling itself XP Antivirus 2009, or Eco antivirus, Control Center, Security Center (not to be confused but it surely is with Windows Security Center) then Windows 7 Antivirus 2010. One clue is the address. You will see http:// Ip address and more. Instead of for example - http://windosecurity.com/microsoft or whatever you’ll see something like http://91.198.5.etc.

There are some steps you can take to minimize your risk. Prevention can often prevent a very expensive computer repair.
1. Use a reputable virus scan – AVG, Norton, McAfee, PC-cillin, etc. and set the program to update automatically when your computer goes online.
2. Use a malware program to find destructive programs like this that infiltrate your computer, sometimes called Trojans
3. Download a spyware program like SpyBot, Ad aware or Superantivirus that finds adware, spyware, worms, parasites and root attackers.
4. Run them one at a time, once a week - minimum.
5. Know the programs you have installed for these purposes so you can do the next step.

I mentioned vigilance. When you see something happening on the screen STOP! Read what’s on the screen. If you don’t recognize the program and if there’s anything about infected files, close the program or windows using the red X in the upper right corner. Do not click OK on anything. Close your browser and immediately run the Malware program, then the antivirus and spyware deleting the suggested files. Let the computer do it’s thing until these programs come up clean.

IF YOU CAN"T CLOSE THE WINDOWS PRETTY QUICKLY TURN THE COMPUTER OFF BY HOLDING DOWN THE POWER BUTTON FOR FIVE SECONDS THEN TAKE IT TO YOUR COMPUTER PROFESSIONAL. This virus has been known to take over with no option but to completely format and reload the programs and OS.

Remember, you don’t send money online when prompted to anyone claiming to be your virus manufacturer, the Social Security Administration or the IRS.

A protected computer is a happy computer.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Another Good Blog for Writers

I found this link from Michael Malone's blog, May Contain Nuts. Chock full of reviews and some free reading. I was curious enough to look at the image below and got right into the story. Read the Equivoque Principle for free.

Lots of reviews and interviews to be found there. Check out Me and My Big Mouth