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If Walls Could Talk: Nominations

M.H. Norris

Not too long ago, yet at times it truly does feel like a lifetime ago, I started coming to the realization that perhaps I could take this little hobby of mine and maybe attempt to make a living out of it.

I’d been writing short stories for ages and have a couple of notebooks of old short stories and files of early attempts that make me just want to cringe and wonder how I thought that maybe I could make a living off of this.

Granted, by not giving up and continuing to improve my craft, I have become the writer I am today.

I got into a discussion about writing and making it to a point where one can make an actual living off of it. It takes time for most writers to get to the point where they can sustain themselves in this business.

Can you get to the point where you can?

Yes.

Is it going to be easy?

No.

I’ve been a published author for four years now and feel like I’ve still got a ways to go to be where I want to be as a writer.

I’m not discounting the people who became overnight successes.

But I’m not depending on that for myself.

Earlier this year, I was recording my first ever episode on the Television Crossover Universe Podcast. When James and I wrapped up with the gang, we discovered that Badge City: Notches had been nominated for Best Novella in the 2016 Pulp New Ark Pulp Awards.

I was an award-nominated author.

It wasn’t even that I’d won yet. At that point I hadn’t. It was that I was even nominated in the first place that made my day.

I’ve mentioned it a few times here but often I feel like my writing isn’t that good and I wonder how Notches did as well as it did…

But to be nominated for an award…

I think I called half my phone telling people I’d won when the winners were announced. The awards were going to be given about 600 miles away from where I live and I figured I wouldn’t be able to make it.

But then my mother got it in her head that this was something I shouldn’t miss, accepting my first ever award for writing. She went through a lot so that I could be there.

I got to meet J Patrick Allen, author of the Dead West series, while there. He won an award as well and it was fun meeting another 18thWall author.

Now the award sits in my office, letting anyone who wanders into my domain that I’m an award-winning author. A friend had gotten me a blown-up framed cover for my college graduation, and now I’ve got the two arranged.

So, by now I’m sure you’re wondering why I decided to talk about this today. Or rather, why James let me ramble on about this for a week.

The 18th Annual Preditors and Editors Readers Poll (http://critters.org/predpoll/) is out and myself along with some of the other authors from around the Wall are nominated!

Here’s our current nominations:

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel: The Dragon Lord’s Secretary, by Nicole Petit

Best Mystery Novel: The Whole Art of Detection by M.H. Norris

Best Anthology: After Avalon

Best Artwork: After Avalon

Best Editor: Nicole Petit

Another nomination, albeit one that isn’t around the Wall: The Time Travel Nexus is up for best review site as well.

New Call for Stories: Their Coats All Red

Anthology Curated by John Linwood Grant and Matthew Willis

To the office of the Prime Minister:

As you have no doubt been made aware from previous correspondence, Mr. Gladstone, problems of an unusual nature still arise in the further reaches of Her Majesty’s empire.

You remember the transport we lost in the Chinese seas, and manpower spent keeping it from the press. One of the officer’s wives, a Mrs. Kathleen Morland, was found drifting in the same waters. Yes, two years later. She wore strange finery, speaking in a language that we still haven’t placed, and only telling a broken story through far more broken English. She complains of voices from some long ago time, saying things she wishes she could forget. The ship which rescued was followed to port by strange lights.

One exploratory party Africa reported total darkness for a period of 106 hours. No trace of the sun. Light suddenly returned around noon. When their guide returned the following day, he was nearly mad with grief. “The darkness now resides within us. Our light has faded.”

Just as I was about to hand this to my secretary, one more report arrived. Trouble along the Indian border, as ever. Word is fragmentary, also as ever, but suggests something unhealthy and alive in the biting wind.

While troubling, I don’t believe there is anything the foreign office can do at this time. We’ll continue to look into these on a case by case basis—but the difference in geography, actors, and dates seems to suggest we can do little but watch, record, and pray.

Yours truly,

[The signature is missing, crumbling away to a burnt-out blackness. The letter shows signs of having been thrust into the fire, but saved before the letter was wholly consumed.]

What We Want

Their Coats All Red: Dark Tales of Empire is seeking strange stories which are steeped in the history of the British Empire from about 1880 to 1905. These must be tales which capture the feel of the high Victorian era.

We don’t want stories of the Empire itself—we want stories of the weirdness underneath. Ghosts, spirits, madness and monstrosities are all welcome. Make it psychological or physical, but make it good.

Crucially, every submission must contain an element of the weird, the uncanny, the supernatural, or the paranormal. This may be in the form of spirits, hauntings, monstrosities, folklore and folk-horror from the region in question, or simply the completely inexplicable. Dark, foreboding, or unsettling are good keywords. Weird fiction also encompasses dark fantasy, of a sort, opening the door for dark historical fantasy a la Manly Wade Wellman, Neil Gaiman, or Tim Powers.

We are looking for stories which reflect the vastness and variety of the Empire, and so suggested geographical settings include, but are not limited to:

  • India and the Raj
  • The East Indies in general
  • China up to and including the Boxer Rebellion
  • Egypt and the Sudan,
  • West Africa and the later Ashanti Wars
  • South Africa, both the Zulu Wars and the Boer War
  • At sea, around, or going to or from, any of the above

We want to see the impact of Empire and its infrastructure, from any viewpoint. The military side of life on the frontier is an obvious one, and an encouraged one, but not the only approach.

We will check your history.

Characters of any relevant culture, ethnicity, or allegiance are welcome, not only the British soldiers. The lost, bewildered British soldier or colonial administrator; the embittered Indian servant or Rajah; the scorned Egyptian woman and the dying Boer farmer are all equally possible protagonists. What we do not want are stereotypes. Think real people in strange situations. No cartoon racists or noble savages.

Farmers marching under a parched South African noon to fight the Boer, with whom they often had more in common than they had with their own officers. Young London women shipped with their husbands to quarters in Calcutta with little company save their Indian servants. Traders and planters in Malaya, fighting the monsoon shadows, and the forlorn garrisons in the Sudan. The sailors of the West Africa squadron, seizing slave ships off the Gold Coast.

The Bombay char wallah, beaten once too often by the English Major for being too slow with his tea. The Zulu who trades his iklwa for a Martini rifle. The Egyptian woman who finds her officer lover will not acknowledge her in the street.

Complex and human are the watchwords. Be sensitive to the humanity of characters on all sides.

We would also like to encourage stories with female central characters. The high Victorian era is when modern women began seriously entering their own careers, studying science, and starting their own businesses. While there were many problems in the era, it would be exciting to see achievements celebrated, in fiction, instead of the era’s failings presented as the only path for women. This is, after all, also the era of Nellie Bly, Annie Oakley, Mary Kingsley, Isabella Bird, Marie Curie, Cristina Trivulzio Belgiojoso, Harriet Martineau, and Jane Addams, among many, many others.

Using the Cthulhu Mythos is acceptable, however we do not want simple retreads, pastiche, or Lovecraft-lite. Write something fresh, creative, and, of course, deeply embedded in the Empire if you choose to try this route.

If you would like to write a story regarding an earlier event (such as the Sepoy Rebellion), please query the editors.

What We Don’t Want

Don’t rely on ahistorical cliché. Corsets weren’t that tight (except for a hot five minutes in 1850s France). The English weren’t repressed, and all the evidence usually carted out to prove it is a hoax (“Lie on your back and think of England”) or a joke that started about Americans (“They cover the most scandalous, shapely legs in their house—the piano legs!”). Falling into ahistorical cliché is a serious black mark against stories.

We’re looking for realistic takes on the Empire itself. In other words, the Empire was neither cartoon monstrosity nor entirely wonderful. Like so many things, it was a mix of positive and negative. If stories try to address empire as a concept, or the English Empire in particular, it’s essential to keep this in mind. Stories which fail to keep this in mind will be an increasingly hard sell.

This does not mean we’re looking for stories where “The English only thought they were doing positive things in their Empire building.” We’re not interested in anything so dismissive of the past. We’re not looking for comments on Empire along the lines of “actual evil” versus “perceived good,” but the much more difficult and human, “actual evil” vs. “actual good.”

We are not interested in Steampunk.

A general historical story of the period, however weird and unnatural, will not cut any ice—it needs to be rooted in the Empire.

We are not interested in political screeds for or against the English Empire, or empires in general. 

We’d rather not receive missionary stories. It’s an over-used take on colonial issues, and unless it’s astonishing or very, very different, we’re not likely to let you get away it.

Stories set in locations such as America, Canada, Australasia, and the West Indies are also feasible, but they will be a harder sell unless they have directly relevance to the theme of Empire. Stories may be set in Britain, but they would have to relate to an aspect of Empire. No Victorian gents merely musing how they got shot in the leg in Afghanistan, please.

Sundry Details

Payment: 5% of the gross profit will be paid for each accepted story. These payments will be issued to you at quarterly intervals. Stories under 1,500 words will only receive 4% of the gross profit.

Rights: First World Digital and Print.

Deadline: April 15th, 2017

Word Count: 4,000-16,000

How to Submit your Story:

  • All stories should be sent, as an attachment, to theircoatsallred@18thwall.com.
  • The file must be formatted in .doc or .docx.
  • The interior of the document must be in double spaced Times New Roman (12 point font).
  • Indents must be placed through your system’s Paragraph function; do not set indents by pressing tab or space. If you already have tabbed or spaced indents, please remove them first. Please use full em dashes (—).
  • At the top of your document, please include William Shunn’s submission header.
  • Tell us a bit about yourself in the body of your email. Don’t stress this, it won’t make or break your submission.
  • Place the collection you’re submitting to, your name, and your story title in the subject line of your email. For example, “Their Coats All Red / Rudyard Kipling / The Mark of the Beast.”

John Linwood Grant is a writer of strange period tales and dark fiction, author of the Tales of the Last Edwardian series, including A Study in Grey, and co-editor of Occult Detective Quarterly.

Matthew Willis is a journalist and writer, author of a period sea novel Daedalus and the Deep, and editing credits include the recent Stalking Leviathan anthology.

Download Guidelines as a PDF

Those Magnificent Writers on Their Writing Machines #2 (12/17/2016)

James Bojaciuk

Welcome to the newest feature on the 18thWall Productions site, “Those Magnificent Writers on their Writing Machines.” Regularly, we’ll see what our writers are up to, tease you on upcoming 18thWall releases, and sometimes give you other exclusive previews and treats.

A magnificent writer on his writing machine.

What have our authors been up to?

As ever, authors and their works are in no order whatsoever.

Nicole Petit

Nicole Petit had a chance to be interviewed by John Linwood Grant on his soon-to-be-famous site, greydogtales. Click over for a chat about King Arthur, Sophie Aldred’s Ace, editing, curating, and After Avalon.

Nicole Petit on greydogtales

If you’re curious what this whole After Avalon business is, click the nifty ad below.

Hannah Lackoff

Hannah has been remarkably busy, as of late.

Two of her stories have recently been featured on the Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast.

The Path of Bones

The Path of Bones, featured on episode 144.

Download The Path of Bones here.

The Beer Connoisseur

“The Beer Connoisseur,” featured in episode 138.

Download The Beer Connisseur here.

“Six” appears, appropriately enough, in issue six of Shoreline of Infinity.

Following in “Six” footsteps, her story “Seven Ate Nine” appears in Flapperhouse #12.

“I Hope This Doesn’t Hurt My Chances,” a story Hannah describes as [FILL IN], appears in Dark Moon Digest issue #25. It’s also available on Amazon.

Lastly, Hannah’s story “Gamer” appears in Spirit’s Tincture Issue 2, available free online, and also in print.

Whew!

You can also pick up a preview of her collection, After the World Ended, right here. 

Pedro  Iniguez

Pedro’s first novel has recently released! Be sure to pick up a copy–Pedro is a very talented author, and this promises to be something special.

GREATER LOS ANGELES 2166 CE… WHEN A PROMINENT BUSINESSMAN is brutally murdered, Detective Audric Devereux is assigned the case. But nothing could have prepared him for a puppet master’s deadly game, a game that turns innocent women into mindless, cybernetic killing machines. Now, delving deep into the streets, Devereux must weave through the crazed, violent underbelly of the City of Angels, as death stalks the innocent and guilty alike.

Pedro’s story “Killadelphia” was just recently announced for Altered States II. Keep your eyes out for it.

Josh Reynolds

Speaking of remarkably busy authors…If anyone’s going to outpace Hannah, it’s Josh. In just the last few weeks, he’s released, announced, or otherwise had his fingers in the pies of the following:

Josh’s novel, Fabius Bile: Primogenitor, is available now from Black Library! (And on Amazon as well.) As he describes it, it’s “the perfect Christmas gift for Grandma!”

Josh was also recently interviewed at Black Library Live 2016.

His other new novel, Nagash: The Undying King, is available now~exclusively from Warhammer World.

The third of Josh’s four Advent 2016 stories released recently. Find it, his other advent stories, and an Advent subscription here.

Brian M. Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass’ recent anthology, The Children of Gla’aki, was discussed at length on Microphones of Madness. You can listen to Part One here, and Part Two here. Josh’s story, a Royal Occultist tale, is discussed at length in Part Two.

John Linwood Grant

Occult Detective Quarterly #1 is currently at the printers!

A contents list has recently been revealed as well.

If Sam Gafford, Travis Neisler, Dave Brzeski and I don’t go insane first, ODQ1 will now have even more in it than expected, including EIGHT chunky stories, one of which is a novelette! Looks like 96 pages of goodness, including styles/eras such as Classic PI, Edwardian, Cosmic Horror, 1920s, Victorian hauntings and contemporary chills.

FICTION

“Got My Mojo Working” David T. Wilbanks & William Meikle
“When Soft Voices Die” Amanda DeWees
“Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You” Adrian Cole
“Orbis Tertius” Josh Reynolds
“MonoChrome” T.E. Grau
“Baron of Bourbon Street” Aaron Vlek
Occult Legion Chapter One: “The Nest” William Meikle
“The Adventure of the Black Dog” Oscar Dowson

ARTICLES

The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor – Charles R Rutledge
The Man Behind Doctor Spektor: An Interview with Don F. Glut – Charles R Rutledge
“How to be a Fictional Victorian Ghost Hunter (In Five Easy Steps)” Tim Prasil

REVIEWS

Dave Brzeski and James Bojaciuk

Watch this space for more reveals on what Mr. Grant is doing with 18thWall Productions.

J Patrick Allen

His podcast, Rocket Punch Radio, can now be found on YouTube (in addtion to all the usual places).

Gregg Chamberlin

Gregg shares page-space with Hannah in Shoreline of Infinity #6, where you can find his story “A Visit at St. Nick’s.”

If Walls Could Talk: Pacing Your Pace

M.H. Norris

This column is called “If Walls Could Talk,” and for once the Wall talked. The Wall asked me to bring up something I said in last week’s post and to talk some more about it.

Last week I mentioned, and a couple of times before as well, that pacing is something I struggle with. Pacing is especially crucial at the end of the story, just where I tend to struggle with it most.

Pacing is one of those things you don’t notice unless it is being done wrong.

But done right, it’s a seamless part of a good story.

But when an episode of a TV show drags, or a movie doesn’t seem to be able to find it’s end, or there’s too much fluff in a book, we notice and it’s reflected in reviews and our opinion of it.

Pacing is something fun to talk about because, as I said earlier, you don’t always notice it when it’s done right. It is also something I struggle with.

Pacing Fails the Most in your Endings

They’re a balance where all the tension and anticipation you’ve spent however long building comes to a head and sometimes it feels like it’s hard to live up to the expectations you set for yourself, much less the ones set by readers.

One easy way to break tension is to have a character moment in the wrong place. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have them. No, they are necessary for the story.

Here’s an example:

In the fifth season of the show Psych, Shawn and Jules finally get together—but by the time the season finale rolls around they haven’t told her partner, Detective Carlton Lassiter (Lassie) yet. Lassie finds out when he catches them sneaking a kiss. But he doesn’t reveal that he knows until the next season premier.

From there, it becomes the premier’s B story as Lassiter reveals he is more hurt by her hiding it than them being together. They bicker a bit and it leaves you wondering if it’s going to affect the investigation they are involved in.

What it doesn’t do is stop the story so that they can have a moment to fight it out.

As much as I agree with Lassie, for a story-writing standpoint, the way the writers handled it is better. Instead of stopping the action in either episode, they wove the character moments into the story itself.

There have been times where I’ve tried to throw something character related in the wrong place. Usually that earns me a slap on the wrist, some red ink, and a “Try again, no.”

The beginning is another place I’ve seen some pacing problems

You can take too long to get to the heart of the story, or you can rush. Find the balance. Don’t let your readers get bored or don’t feel like they’re missing the first chapter or two.

Then we hit the dreaded middle where things tend to drag anyway. You’re too far to do beginning stuff and it’s a bit early for your climax so you’re stuck with this space where you don’t know what to do.

As a mystery writer, I’ll end up having to do the breakdown, oftenon paper. Yes, I am one of those nerds who hand writes notes. It helps me sort my thoughts out, and helps me know which pieces I’ve put into play and which pieces remain.

The middle is, to me, the second hardest place to maintain a good pace. There are writers who think it is the worst place, but I tend to stress a lot about my climaxes. No middle’s as bad to pace, for me, as a climax.

A story is the sum of all its parts

You’ve got the characters, the plot, the climax, the resolution, the location, and then you’ve got the pacing.

All of these have to work together for a story to fit.

Unfortunately, as I’ve said a couple times before, people might not notice if your story’s pacing is done right.

But then again, that’s a good thing.

If Walls Could Talk: ‘Tis the Season for Editing, Falalalala la la laaaaa

M.H. Norris

Working on edits is one of my least favorite things to do as a writer. Ask James, I’ve come a long, long, long way in that department (and for the record, it was me who added the extra long [and James who added the third]) but it is still something I dread.

One part of editing is cutting things. It can be hard. So often it’s easy to come up with justification. “But there’s a character moment there!” or “Don’t I need this to set this up?” or “This is important because…”

You get the idea.

How many of these have you used?

See, if I try to deny using any of these, James will add an editor’s note to this post and tell you some story that I’d prefer not get mentioned.

Writers get attached to their work; if you’re doing your job right then you have to. You’re writing thousands of words about one character (or a group of characters) and expect the reader to get invested enough to stay until the end.

And sometimes what we think is best for that investment and connection is not actually what’s best.

Which is why having a good editor is so, so important to a writer.

That person who tells you no. The person that takes the red pen (or has Microsoft Word frequently set to red text) to your work and leaves you wondering if there is at least one page in this entire story that doesn’t have red ink on it.

Let me tell you, those are the most satisfying pages.

Writers can’t be objective. Not about our own work that is. There are times we take great pleasure in ripping apart other writers and let the world know what we think they are doing wrong.

Yeah, I do it.

I’m not sure if this is a pep talk for you or I’m using this as an excuse to give myself a pep talk as I get ready to do edits on yet another story.

Either way, I’m a firm believe that behind every great writer is a great editor. (And writers, make sure you include them on your Christmas shopping list. Let’s be real, they put up with a lot from us all year round.)

I tease James all the time that I ignore his edits and don’t cut stuff but the truth is I think there’s only been twice where I’ve put something back he cut and that was after I justified it pretty extensively.

Why is stuff cut from a story?

Length

If you’re writing a short story for a collection, length is a factor. It’s less of one in a book but at the same time try to keep those between 50-85K words if at all possible.

Sometimes, your story is just a bit too long.

Or maybe it’s too short and by editing something out, you open up the door to add something else that is needed.

I’ve also had it where I didn’t explain something enough and entire scenes have been born to make sure the story flows better.

Which leads me to my next point…

Flow

Sometimes, stuff has to get cut or moved to another part of a story because it messes with the flow of the story. You’ve noticed it in a story before, or even an episode of TV, where something doesn’t quite work. It hurts how the rest of the episode flows together.

That’s when it’s important to let someone cut for you. You might not see that it’s going to hurt the overall story. But a good editor will point it out to you.

Pacing

This is something James has to get on me about. I think I did a post a couple of months ago about writing a climax and it is something I struggle with. The biggest struggle is pacing.

Your entire story builds up to it. It’s like TV. I can tell when a show has the right bad guy or not because of how far into the episode we are. Psych used to do it all the time. They always caught the bad guy about 36 minutes into the 42 minute episode.

Scenes sometimes disrupt pacing, especially when you get close to the end.

Once again, writers have trouble objectively seeing that problem.

Well, now that I’ve used writing this as an excuse to not work on edits long enough, I guess I should get back to it…

If you take nothing else away from what I say this week, take this. Find a good editor. It needs to be someone you can trust because I’ve done it both ways and the whole process goes smoother if you trust the person doing the edits.

If Walls Could Talk: Antagonists and Motive

M.H. Norris

Sometimes, one of the hardest things for me is deciding who whodunit. It’s honestly more than who did it, motive is key when writing a murder mystery.

book cover the whole art of

In Badge City: Notches, it was because of a psychotic break. That one I debated for several days over the motive—bouncing between a cold blooded psychopath and finding a real motive until I came to what I settled on. But I’m not spoiling it all.

In The Whole Art of Detection, it was an elaborate cover job. That one was hard trying to come up with something worth all the trouble. In the end, I took the line from Criminal Minds where they say that “it doesn’t have to make sense to us but it has to make sense to the bad guy”—the unsub.

Spending time on your good guy is easy. Everyone wants to be the hero, so that makes them easier to write—and makes them more relatable to your audience.

But some of the best stories, some of the truly solid ones, are the ones that get you to relate to the bad guy. Those ones where you almost wish they’d gotten away with it while you are relieved at the same time that the victim (or victims) got justice.

Those episodes of crime dramas are to me the most conflicting, yet satisfying.

I was writing a pep talk for my region on NaNoWriMo’s site when I started talking about things to do to help them push over the 50K mark by the end of the day. One thing I spent some time on was talking about your antagonist.

So many genres lend themselves to these over the top antagonists. I played with having one in a story I wrote long ago. The cartoon villain with the mustache, evil laugh, and optional cat.

But then, as I grew as a writer, I realized that that doesn’t’ make for a satisfying story. Why is this person doing it? What is their motive?

That’s when you hit a sweet spot. What fuels their desire to do whatever is they are doing to stand in your protagonist’s way?

They usually have to believe in it, whatever it is. They have to believe that that is truly the right course of action and commit to it.

Motive and fleshing out the bad guys is something I like to spend time on. James and I will spend hours upon hours with me going “why did this person did it?”

The motive might change several times until I find something I’m happy with. In Badge City, I agonized over that antagonist. The Whole Art of Detection changed I want to say at least four times and the motive changed just as many.

There’s one parting thought for you as I wander back to try and secure my win for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Don’t be afraid to change things.

Your story will thank you later.

If Walls Could Talk: Something That Lasts

M.H. Norris

Happy Birthday Doctor Who!

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It’s hard to believe that 53 years have gone by since An Unearthly Child aired. If you haven’t had the chance, make sure you head on over to the Time Travel Nexus where we are going to have a variety of blog posts all day celebrating the anniversary.

As for me, I have plans to curl up and watch some Sarah Jane Smith.

Fun fact:

Did you know the beloved show was almost dead in the water? November 23, 1963 is a day most Whovians recognize as the day we first met The Doctor and Susan, but sometimes you forget that November 22, 1963 was the day before. Doctor Who’s first episode was lost in the sea of news flooding from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In a time where reruns were basically unheard of (a concept itself that is basically unheard of in today’s world), Producer Verity Lambert talked the BBC into re-airing the pilot right before the next episode the following week.

heigham_who_large

The movie that came out the night before the fiftieth anniversary, if memory serves, An Adventure In Space and Time, was a biopic of sorts which documented how hard Verity had to fight for her show.

Because she knew, somehow, this idea of an alien running around time and space in a blue police box was something that could last.

And here we are 53 years later because Verity Lambert, a name a lot of Whovians don’t know, fought for something that she had helped to create, helped to bring to life because she had a feeling about it.

What about this episode stood out so much that it launched something that is still going strong after 53 years?

To me, one of the curses of being a writer is that I can’t help but judge the writing of everything I watch or read. It’s one of the reasons I’m not happy with the last couple series of Doctor Who.

On the flip side, I study them to see what they’re doing right and when a show has lasted as long as Doctor Who, the writers are doing something right. Yes, I know it took a break there through the 90s, with the exception of the movie, but even then audio dramas happened, books were written…

The show has existed continuously in one form or another and has developed such a rich history and lore that fans can sit there and discuss things in what may seem like a foreign language to someone who doesn’t understand Doctor Who.

What drew me to it?

That’s another way I approach something like this, when I want to study what it’s done right.

I’ll tell you the exact moment I was hooked on it. Or rather, let me show you.

How can he honestly think anyone is going to forget that?

The show is called Doctor Who for crying out loud. If you want to begin to figure out the Time Lord who lies about his age (worse than a woman turning 40) you need to be prepared to spend a lot of time doing it.

That’s what keeps people coming.

Thirteen people have technically played the same character, yet you see people debating over who was the best, and who did what better. Honestly, there’s pros and cons to all of them. Yes, I’ve said time and time again that Ten is my favorite, and he still is, but honestly, I love Six, Seven, Eight, Nine too.

dwmr043_andthepirates_1417_cover_large

They’re all the Doctor.

What can we learn from Doctor Who today as we celebrate its birthday?

If a story focuses on the characters, and lets you get close to them, it can get away with a lot of plot problems.

Quite frankly, Dimensions In Time (the thirtieth Anniversary special) is a hot, hot mess. But it’s fun to watch because of the characters. Even if they only appeared from the briefest of cameos, even if they’re not technically themselves (probably), they brought most everyone back.

This is the lesson we can learn from Doctor Who. The show is at its strongest when it focuses on its characters.

Rose and Ace faced their demons during the course of their runs, and Sarah Jane did it herself during a spin off. That’s part of what draws what draws us in. They aren’t perfect.

d07-7h-149

Their traits draw us in too. Ace has a love of explosions that isn’t necessarily safe (no more so than her love of smacking Daleks with baseball bats),  Sarah Jane snuck into the TARDIS without The Doctor’s permission…you get the idea.

And despite all their faults, or, really, because of them, they live on.

Honestly, the things that last, the authors who “make it,” and the stories that live on even after their creator has passed are the ones whose characters help to do it. Sure, we’re enchanted by the story, but I know it’s the characters I’m drawn to.

There’s been a few projects I’ve had to sit to the side. My biggest regret has been that the characters won’t get their chance to shine. Because, that’s where I start. Here’s the character. What is going on with them? With this story? This scene? This moment? How is it going to move them forward?

Why should you care about their story?

Why do we care about a man who travels space and time in a blue box?

Now that’s the 53-year-old question, isn’t it?

the_cast_and_verity

If Walls Could Talk: Keep On Keeping On

M.H. Norris

For the first time ever, the entire 18thWall team was together at L.I. Who. One night, when we went to grab some dinner, a discussion came up regarding one of the panels. Ben Kasson made the statement that someone had asked one of the actors for acting advice.

M.H., Nicole, K-9, James, and Ben. The whole gang.

Her answer was to keep on acting. Which is really good advice, but Ben was in the middle of making a point. Writers give that answer too. Keep on writing, don’t stop.

“Read everything you can get your hands on” is another favorite of mine.

As Ben pointed out, the truth is that is honestly the best, and easiest, answer to the question that a lot of creative professionals get.

Keep On Keeping On

Week to week, I try to offer some advice sometimes something I overhear and need to chime in on or something I struggle with on my own writing.

One thing I took away from the weekend is don’t be afraid to ask that question. Honestly, you don’t know the answer until you try even if it is the keep on keeping on. Sometimes, how they deliver that answer actually answers your question a bit.

New writers go through a few stages the second of which I haven’t fully manage to coax myself out of. The first is the idea that you are the best writer there ever was and that your words are going to inspire the masses and that what you spent hours scribbling away at is worthy of the New York Times Bestsellers List.

I might exaggerate just a bit but you get my point. A lot of people who enter this field often times come in with confidence.

If you’re still in this stage, let me attempt to burst that bubble. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.

There is a very large chance that your writing is bad. Grammatically full of errors, POV issues everywhere, dry prose, forced dialogue—these are all problems I’ve spent weeks covering because they are some of the most common problems I see in new authors.

snoopy

The other most common problem I see in new writers is that they don’t realize that there are any problems in their writing. You think I’m exaggerating but I’ve seen people who are trying to make the jump from writing in their bedrooms to actually having their work out. There have been times where I’ve wondered if the writer is going to be able to handle the jump.

What do I mean by that?

When you let someone else take a look at your work, whether it’s a writing group or an editor or even a friend, it leaves you feeling a bit exposed. I’ve heard someone use the example that it’s like sitting there naked—and it’s not an incorrect comparison. Especially if you’re passionate about the subject, you put a piece of you into what you write and having someone sit there and judge it isn’t the most fun of experiences.

I’ve been doing it for years and I’ll be honest, it doesn’t get a lot easier.

But aren’t the things that are most worth doing hard for a reason? It makes the good parts seem that much sweeter.

Here’s my other piece of advice for writers who want advice on how to get published or how to get better as a writer.

Do Not Do It Alone

I had someone ask me about this once. Did I really share pieces of my novel with other people before it was published?

And the answer is, yes, I did. I had people seeing bits and pieces of Badge City so that they could tell me how it was going. They saw rough rough drafts and drafts close to the finished product.

Badge City: Notches

In my opinion, my writing is stronger because I allow people to give me advice. I allow that not so invested opinion to come in and help me make things stronger. It helps me to get out of my own head and look at it. The very act of having to justify some of the choices I’ve made sometimes points out what’s wrong with a story or a scene.

Another conversation I had earlier this week was talking about the idea of walking up to myself even as recent as five years ago. Would younger me recognize me? Superficially, probably.

Would younger me recognize my writing as her own if it was sat in front of her?

Absolutely not.

First off, five years ago, I never imagined I would be writing mysteries, much less getting ready to launch a series of my own. Nor would I imagine some of the opportunities I’ve had in the last five years.

For my birthday, James and Nicole gave me a collection of my work, including some of my older stuff they dug up from the depths of their computer storage. Some of my stuff is hard to read because all I can see are the mistakes.

Keep On Keeping On

There was a second stage, I mentioned it earlier. The one, to a certain extent, I’m still in. The funny thing is it’s the polar opposite of the first stage.

It’s where you hate everything you write and everything seems like garbage and you can’t understand how people buy your work and how on this Earth you manage to be one of your publisher’s bestsellers last year.

Like I said, I’m still in it a bit. There are honestly days where I hate what I’ve written and it sometimes takes James telling me it’s not that bad to keep me from deleting it all.

You have to Keep On Keeping On when you are in a stage like that. And trust me, I know just how hard that task seems to be. How all you really want to do is to chuck your work into the bin and start from scratch because it seems awful and it’s never going to come together.

This is another time it’s good to have people around you to help you. Because sometimes what the piece needs is a little push in the right direction and you’re so involved, so invested that you can’t find it yourself.

After Ben’s discussion, I did think a little over the advice I’ve given, the ideas I have for more, and what I would say if someone asked me the question.

I would probably tell them a lot of what I said here today. And of course, I would have to end it with the traditional…

Keep On Keeping On

If Walls Could Talk: The Importance Of Strong Characters

people

I was in a couple of discussions this past weekend and a similar topic showed up multiple times. When that happens and the topic is related to writing, that’s a sure sign that it’s probably going to make itself into a blog post.

Plot and Characters.

Two things that one cannot make a story without. Two things that people often bicker over what’s important.

Let me say this. You cannot have a good story without a solid plot. I’ve seen my own stories fall apart because the plot has had holes the size of Texas in it.

That’s why so many people have spent time writing books, blogs, and articles on the idea of plots. Don’t neglect it.

But, far too often, I see people neglect character development for the sake of a shiny plot. And let me tell you this, no matter how good your story, no matter how much you’ve thought your plot through, if you do not take time to establish your characters and help them to develop and thrive, then your story will fall flat.

There was a show that came on almost a decade ago and aired for one season, Commander in Chief. It was a political drama with the premise of a woman Vice President becoming president after the POTUS was killed.

I watched the season after reading about it in a screenwriting book. I was intrigued by the idea and the book mentioned the writing was good.

And to an extent, I agree with the author of the book. It also only took me one viewing to see why it only lasted one season.

After all the ups and downs of the season, I came out at the end realizing something very important.

I didn’t care about any of the characters.

The writing wasn’t bad, it had some rather witty moments. But after a 22 episode season there wasn’t a single character in that show that I was emotional invested in.

I’ve said, a few times during my time blogging for 18thWall even, that when one goes to try a new TV show, one comes for the premise but stays for the character.

It’s the same for books. The series that survive and become big are the ones that have characters that people latch on to. They are the ones where people almost forget that they aren’t actually real and laugh and smile at their successes and cry along with them when tragedy strikes. They are the ones where the story is strong and compelling and seem like an old friend.

Who is your protagonist? Your antagonist? What makes them tick, what motivates them?

And most importantly, why should people care about them? Why should they get invested in their lives?

Answer that, and you’re good to go.

If Walls Could Talk: Blasting Off with NaNoWriMo 2016

M.H. Norris

A lot of writers embarked the adventure that is known as National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMmo yesterday. They blasted off on a mission to write 50K words in 30 days.

It’s not too late to start. You can take yesterday’s words and make them up as you go.

NaNoWriMo is a great way to build a solid writing habit.

For me, it’s the one month out of the year where I use some of my writing time to write something purely for fun, for me. Usually, it’s outside of the mystery genre because I like to use the month to push myself. Sometimes, it’s an idea I’ve had that I just can’t quite get rid of and know that if I give myself the chance to write it, that maybe I’ll be able to focus on actual contracted work.

This year, it’s outside my usual genre. It’s not only something I’m pushing myself to do but it’s something I’ve said that I always wanted to write, and I decided that there was no time like the present.

So yes, I’m taking my column this week to add my two cents into the flurry of NaNoWriMo advice.

This is my fifth year doing it and I’ve only won twice. There’s a bit of a rush when you hit November 30th and can validate your word count and enter the coveted winners page.

So here’s some advice for those of you who are embarking on NaNoWriMo journeys of your own.

1) Things might not go according to plan

This can happen in a variety of ways. There might be days where you can’t write 1,667 words. Make it up another day or if you know it’s coming try and work ahead a little so that the loss of a day doesn’t hit you but so hard.

Your story might not go the way you planned. I’m talking to both Planners and Pansters. Granted, Pansters don’t have a hard set plan in place (panthers earning their name by flying by the seat of their pants), but that vague idea of what you want can change.

Either you find your characters lead you on a different path or you discover it and lead them. People who haven’t had the experience of characters telling some or all of a story don’t understand how they can influence how you write, but trust me when I say it’s a very real thing.

2) The finished product will be rough

You’re writing 1,667 words every day for 30 days to get to 50K. The draft that gets produced is going to be rough. I’ll join the people who say to tell your inner editor to take a break.

To an extent that is.

Yes, you can’t sit there and obsess over editing here in November. But if you need to tweak something so that you’re story flows better, go ahead and do it when you’re thinking about it to avoid the risk of forgetting.

But accept that fact that if you want to try to publish whatever you are writing this November, you’re going to need to spend some quality time with a red pen.

Or, if you’re like me, a pink pen.

3) It’s not going to be all sunshine and roses

The 20-30K point can be rough. Middles are hard, I’ve done a couple blog posts noting that. Thanksgiving and Black Friday are this month and all around us people are gearing up for the holiday season and there are so many other things you can do besides sitting down and typing up 1,667 words each and every day.

Don’t give in to that temptation.

Granted, things are going to happen and there might be days where you don’t quite hit 1,667.

That’s okay.

But don’t let it happen a lot because I learned my first couple of tries that those days can build up fast if you’re not careful and the more you miss the harder it is to make it up.

For those of you doing NaNoWriMo, you’ve done one of the most important things you can do as a writer. You’ve told yourself that you’re going to sit down and write that book.

So congratulations for those of you who blasted off on that journey yesterday. And for the rest of you, as I said earlier, it’s not too late to start now.

Good luck!

Margie22's TARDIS NaNo Calendar