Category Archives: Writing

What’s Noumenon? Nothing, what’s Noumenon with you?

confetti parade

 

How is everyone’s Monday?  I hope your Monday is as fantastic as my Monday, because, guess what?  I get to announce some very exciting news.

My novel, NOUMENON, is officially forthcoming from Harper Voyager, Voyager UK, and Heyne in Germany!

NOUMENON is an interstellar adventure, wherein the world comes together to investigate alien megastructures, what it means to be human, and other mysteries of the universe, despite struggles against rogue AIs, failing generation ships, and hidden saboteurs.

From the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement:

Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Marina Lostetter’s NOUMENON, an interstellar epic featuring a convoy of starships staffed with clones of Earth’s best and brightest sent to investigate a possible alien megastructure, to David Pomerico at Voyager, in a two-book deal, by DongWon Song at the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency (NA). Rights to Emma Coode at Voyager UK, by Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein and to Heyne, by Danny Baror at Baror International.

If you have a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace, you should be able to view the announcement here.

This should be especially exciting for those of you who wanted more after reading my story Balance (second-place winner in the Jim Baen Memorial writing contest).  This novel expands the story of Jamal and Diego’s convoy, following it from inception to mission’s end.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m SUPER EXCITED.

~Marina

P.S. Big THANK YOU to everyone who worked on these deals, and especially my agent DongWon Song, who guided me through the process and got this book in front of the right people.

 

 

 

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Super Bowl XLIX and Writing — What can We Learn from Football?

It’s Super Bowl Sunday!  And to celebrate, I’ve got an article up on fellow author Kate Heartfield’s blog about football and what writers can learn from the sport in terms of creating conflict and tension.  It’s all part of an ongoing series she’s hosting about writers and their unlikely influences.

Why does someone root for the Packers instead of the Bears? Why, if you’re a Washington fan, do you “hate” the Dallas team and vice-versa? What exactly do the people of Oakland have against the people of Denver?

And why do we sometimes root for cheaters?

Find out in the post! Check it out here: http://heartfieldfiction.com/2015/02/01/unlikely-influences-what-marina-j-lostetter-learned-about-conflict-and-tension-from-football/

~Marina

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Short Story Sale!

I’ve just sold a sci-fi humor detective story to Galaxy’s Edge. My first story with this venue is set to appear in the September issue, so I’m very glad to have another one in the works.

Happy dance time.

~Marina

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The Quirks of the Slush Pile, P1

Ah, Wednesday. We meet again.

As you probably know, I’ve been a first-reader for Waylines Magazine for several months now. Long enough to see some negative patterns in the submissions. Today I’d like to cover one of those negative aspects, and though this might be a discussion that’s a little rough on the ego, I feel it’s an important one to have.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone based on my experience, and they do not reflect the opinions or official stance of Waylines or any other publishing venue.

So, what is the biggest problem I see in the slush? What do approximately 80-90% of the stories I vet have in common?

They’re boring.

Ok, well that’s subjective, you say. One story can’t be all things to all people, and I’ve read plenty of published stories that I thought were boring.

True enough. And I’ll be the first to admit that for the most part, the entire selection process is subjective. But thus is the way of any entertainment industry.

But, I bet (and hey, I could be wrong) that you don’t find 90% of the available stories boring. And I do have concrete reasons behind my boredom. I’ll list not only the causes, but also ways I feel a skilled author can counteract them.

Number one. The story’s premise is unoriginal. This is top reason I find the majority of manuscripts in the slush can’t hold my attention. When I open up a ghost story and it feels like the twelve other ghost stories I’ve recently vetted, there’s no help for it. I’m unengaged almost immediately. I see this especially in the genres of paranormal horror, epic fantasy and hard-er sci-fi. Why is it so hard to sell a zombie story or a vampire story? Because everybody writes them.

But wait! Why then are there so many published zombie stories and vamp stories? The TV show Heroes was essentially X-Men, but that didn’t seem to matter. And how is The Walking Dead different from any other zombie apocalypse?

I’ll tell you how: the people. The best way to counteract a run-of-the-mill premise is with deep, original, heart-felt characters. Why do viewers and readers keep consuming zombie stories if the premise by itself has been beaten to death? Because these stories offer characters in conflict in instantly digestible circumstances. A writer or filmmaker doesn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining the milieu–which signals their intent is not to interest you in this exciting new idea, but interest you in these intense, fascinating people.

This is not to say that original ideas don’t need to be paired with great characters–they do. But a great character can carry an audience through almost anything. Most often I see these unoriginal premises supplemented by equally unoriginal characters. Which brings me to my next point.

Number two. The story’s characters are cardboard (and/or bad characters doing bad things apparently just because they’re terrible individuals).

I’ve only ever read one author who could pull off the cardboard character, and that was Michael Crichton. Why? Because he thought of things like, what would happen if I mixed real dinosaurs and theme parks? And then produced an engrossing plot from the premise.

What makes a character cardboard (ie. two dimensional)? Typically such characters are some form of stereotype fitted with a few quirks that scream LOOK, REAL PEOPLE ARE QUIRKY. Atypically, they’re simply non-people that could be replaced with any other person in the universe and the events of the story would still take place in exactly the same fashion (in other words, they have no effect on the plot, they’re just vehicles for it). Cardboard characters don’t seem to have any thoughts that are particularly special to them, their emotionality is flat, and their motivations are equally as stereotypical or non-existent as their personalities.

I pair this with bad characters who have horrific behavior for no apparent reason–ie., their motive is that they’re eeeevil, mwahah. I see this more in the horror genre than any other, but these characters are just as uninspired as the good guy who is just good because he’s sooooo good, or Orphan X that is the same as all the other orphan characters, or Female X who is more a prop than anything else, or Snarky Cowboy X who…you get the picture.

Even in stories where the protagonists are well rounded, a stereotypical I’m evil just to be evil bad guy can really kill my interest.

The fix? Well, you’ve got to have one hell of a plot to have dull characters–and one hell of a setting, and fantastic prose. After all, it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in a story when the story’s characters don’t have genuine emotional stake in it themselves.

Number three. The story has low tension or no tension. This is created through a variety of ways. It can happen through a lack of conflict, where the character is doing something like the laundry/getting dressed/walking the dog as usual–which means both the character and the audience are waiting for something to happen. Don’t make your audience suffer through a waiting-room like experience.

It can also happen through uninspired or false conflict. False conflict often manifests as a woes-me character walking down the street (or riding in a train car, or lying in bed) doing absolutely nothing (or a load of inconsequential stuff) while describing the world and how dark and dreary it is. This is not conflict, this is whining. Uninspired conflict is something like, my friend was mean to me today–which turns out to be the long and short of it. Conflict, like people, needs depth.

Conversely, dropping the reader into the middle of a war zone when they’ve got no concept of who is fighting or why also creates low tension–which I’m sure seems counter intuitive. One fight scene is largely like any other fight scene and is utterly boring without a reason to care about the fighting (especially when approached with movie-like detail. In film, lots of things happening mechanically at once can be absorbed in an instant. Trying to describe the same action in prose draws it out and sucks it of any tension created by the one thing fight scenes have going for them: immediacy).

These problems can usually be solved through a healthy amount of chopping (and in some cases, adding). Get to the good stuff–and no, none of the above is the good stuff.

Number four, and my last point. The story is filled with loving, repetitive descriptions of everything. Going over every object, every expression, every flit of the wind in minute detail gets really old, really quick. Now I’m probably more inclined to have a hair trigger on this than other people. While my husband is glad to have someone’s wardrobe described every time they come on the literary stage, I am not. Especially when we’ve already had someone’s general sense of style explained, and the adjectives being applied to their wardrobe are the same every time, and the only thing different about the dress or shirt or shoes the character is wearing today vs. yesterday is that they are green (but the author can’t just stop at green, oh no).

This slows down the plot and character development for a bit of self-indulgent authorlyness, in my opinion. Some call it world building. But to me, once the world is built, you don’t then need to show me a scale model, and five more sketches, and some of the prototypes, and a few of the extra nuts and bolts you threw in. Give me a sense of the world, then move it along, please.

These repetitive descriptions are especially irritating, in my opinion, when paired with the dull premises I mentioned before.

This is a kill your darlings moment, I think. The way to solve this is to tabulate how many times you’ve described Queen Odessa’s hairdo, and, unless her hair is somehow important to the plot or her character development, scale back.

Everything on this list basically goes back to the idea that all aspects of your writing needs to sing. But I think everyone needs suggestions on how to counteract weak points because, let’s face it, we’ve all got ‘em. Boring just happens to be the issue I see most often. Hopefully this short list is helpful to you.

If you’ve got any other points on why a story might be perceived as boring, let me know!

~Marina

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Writers of the Future Workshop Week and Gala, Part 3

Here is a links to Part 2 (which contians a link to Part 1).

So, on Wednesday I typed up the following and posted it to WordPress.  Or, at least, I thought I did.  I was surprised to log in today (in order to moderate a comment) and find that there was no Part 3.  Either WordPress glitched on me, or somehow I navigated away from the page before actually hitting publish.  Luckily I save all of my lengthy posts in word docs.   I apologize for not catching the mistake sooner!

So, Sunday was Gala day.  We had a nice breakfast at the hotel in the morning, and then all the ladies were rushed off for hair and makeup (the guys got a couple of hours of down time, I believe.  Which is a fair trade off, since they did have to suffer through tux fittings earlier in the week).

Our beautification was done by cosmetology students, which had its pros and cons.  As we artists and writers were new to our perspective industries and had been learning all week, I liked the idea of furthering education in yet another field.  However, having students instead of pros do the work had its issues.  The woman who did my hair was very nice, but insisted on curling it.  I tried to explain that it would not work (I slept in curlers for my wedding and my hair was perfectly straight six hours after taking them out), but she went for it anyway.  As a result, when I finally made it on stage that night (I was the last writer to give my thank-yous), my hair simply looked like I’d failed to comb it.  And I’d made the mistake of telling my makeup artists that I usually wear smokey-purple eye shadow.  All she heard was purple, apparently, because man, my eyelids were puuuuurpppple.

Other ladies had much more luck–and others, much worse.  But, overall, despite our hits and misses, we all looked quite fantastic once we slipped into our gowns and jewelry.

My husband, father, brother, and step-mom had all flown in for the awards.  It was fantastic to see them all, if it was only for a few minutes.  I’ve been to several awards events with my husband, and at all of them the awards recipients were given specific times to take pictures with their guests.  Not so at the WotF gala.  We winners were rushed from one thing to the next, pictures here, interviews there, but never with our significant others.  The only time I got to spend with my husband was a few minutes on the red carpet out front, and at dinner (I would recommend future winners take dinner time to break out the cameras).  I got to see the rest of my family even less, as they were understandably not invited to the dinner.

The event itself was magnificent.  Beautiful sets, fantastic guest speakers, and wonderful dancers.  A special vignette was preformed for a few of the stories, and I was so glad mine was chosen.  (ETA: one positive point to the mis-post is that I can now share with you the gala clip that includes the dance done for my story, Master Belladino’s Mask.  My speach is in there too, but you can ignore that.)

Everyone’s speeches went well–even when they didn’t go as planned.  Alex Wilson (author of Vestigial Girl) ended up thanking two wives (though he insists he really only has the one).  I was introduced by none other than Larry Niven, who was quite shy and very nice.

After the ceremony we were all whisked away to the signing (this is when most award events afford the recipients some time for pictures with family).  We were seated in a circle emulating book order, which had me between Brian Trent (whose work opens the anthology), and Andrea Stewart (whose story, Dreameater, comes right before mine at the end).

It was a whirlwind event, with everyone in attendance coming by to get their copies of the anthology and calendars signed.

David Wolverton’s son, who had been in a coma for the entire workshop week, woke up for the first time that night, right before the gala started.   It was perfectly serendipitous.

After the signing I got to see my family for a few minutes, to thank them briefly and give hugs before we were once again rushed back to the hotel for an after party–which Joni Labaqui graciously hosted.  Though I don’t remember the exact time, it was pretty late at this point.  Mike Resnick hung out with us for a while, and though I had to tear myself a way relatively ‘early,’ I know many of the winners stayed up until 4am or so.

And that, my friends, was the gala.

There will indeed be a Part 4, as though the awards event was on Sunday, the workshop week wasn’t officially over until Tuesday.

~Marina

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Writers of the Future Workshop Week and Gala, Part 2

Here’s the link to Part 1 if you missed it.

And jumping right into part 2:

Once we turned in our twenty-four hour stories, we got to have some fun (not that whipping out a story, isn’t fun).  We formally met our illustrators and saw their work for the first time.

Down stairs in the ASI building, prints of the story illustrations had been nicely framed and set up on easels in a semi-circle.  The illustrators stood off to the side so that we writers wouldn’t have any indication of who had done what.  Then we had to guess which illustration belonged to our story.  This was nerve wracking for the lot of us– the writers were worried that we wouldn’t be able to recognize which illustration was ours (and that we would thus insult the illustrator), while the illustrators were worried their work might be too different from the writers vision (and that we in turn would be insulted).

I was immediately drawn to the illustration done by Tiffany England.  I made a beeline for it as we came in through the doors.  I thought, This is mine.  I’m pretty sure it’s minePlease, can it be mine?  But I hadn’t even looked at any of the other illustrations yet, so I had to pry myself away and make the rounds.  All of the illustrations were beautiful (Among the notable included the piece done for Marilyn Guttrige’s story, The Ghost Wife of Arlington), but yep, the first one I had been drawn to was the illustration for my story.

After, we writers returned to our seats for some lectures by judges and past winners alike.  It was great to learn about different people’s processes (I think Kevin J. Anderson’s method of writing-by-tape-recorder is the most unique) and publishing experiences.

The next day (day five) we took a field trip to Bang Printing’s facilities to learn about how books get made, to see Writers of the Future Vol. 29 being printed, and to get our first copies.  Christopher Reynaga (author of The Grande Complication) came home with a special find: an un-cut copy with the pages still long and uneven.   The tour was an amazing experience, not just because we got to see the book in all its many stages, but because we did it as a group–authors and illustrators together.  My favorite workshop-week picture was taken here, as a group of us marveled at an un-cut copy of the book (It can be seen here).

After our tour at the printers, we writers went back to do our critique session (while the artists got to play it cool at Disney studios, I might add).  The crits were followed by more guest speakers, including the editor-in-chief of Locus mag (Eric Cline, author of Gonna Reach Out and Grab Ya, had a spirited discussion with her about the pros and cons of self publishing).

That night we had a big group dinner with all of the attending judges and winners, writers and illustrators alike.

Saturday (day six) then consisted of even more wisdom from the pros.  The professional interactions at the workshop, I’d venture to guess, are something newer writers would be hard pressed to get anywhere else.  Sure, you might run into many of the judges at conventions and hear from them on panels, but at WotF they’re there for you, not you and the thousands of other con-goers, just you and your fellow winners.  You could get in-depth education by taking a workshop (many of the judges provide workshops), but that wouldn’t give you such a wide range of people to hear from.

On Saturday we also went to the Ebel theater to do a dry run of the awards ceremony (we all took turns getting on stage and saying whatever came to mind so that the sound crew could make the adjustments needed).  After that we had a brief session with John Goodwin in which he discussed speeches and showed us some examples from previous years, just so that we’d all be comfortable and prepared.  Then we jotted down our thank-you speeches and spent some time practicing (of course, very few of the real speeches ended up much like the practice ones–except for Brian Trent’s (author of War Hero), which included a list of at least 20 names spewed forth in one breath).

The gala really deserves its own post, so I guess I’ll reserve that tale for next week.

Again, if you’ve got any questions, I’m here to answer them!

~Marina

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Writers of the Future Workshop Week and Gala, Part 1

Ok, I’m nearly back on schedule.

The Writers of the Future workshop week was wonderfully educational.  We had two amazing primary teachers, Dave Wolverton and Tim Powers, and a plethora of secondary speakers who all gave their take on different aspects of writing fiction professionally.

When I arrived I was picked up at the airport at the same time as Stephen Sottong (Author of Planetary Scouts), who along with Tina Gower (Author of Twelve Seconds and our Gold Award winner!), was my quarter-mate.  Tina ended up being my roommate for the week, which was fantastic.  After long evenings in the hotel lobby talking to night-owl judges, we’d often go back to the room and stay up a few hours more talking.

The group stayed at the Loews hotel, and walked a few blocks down Hollywood Boulevard every day to the Author Services building.  The writing workshop was taught on the fourth floor, while the illustrator’s was taught on the first in front of the stage for the L. Ron Hubbard Golden Age Theater (where live radio plays of Hubbard’s works are preformed.  We got to see one on the Monday before we left, and it was very well done).

The ASI fourth floor is beautiful, and the area we were taught in is basically one big library (the majority of which is devoted to Hubbard’s works, but there is one wing devoted to the works of WotF winners).  There, Tim, Dave and company instructed us on the ways of the professional.  We received both lessons in craft and in business.

The most amusing thing about the workshop was the constant intrusion of the photographers (who were very nice).  Those pretty pictures you see on the WotF website and newsletter?  They didn’t get that well composed by accident (most of them, anyway).  We were constantly having our table tops rearranged, papers hidden, and drinks removed.  This constituted a bonus lesson in photography.

The most stressful thing about the workshop was by far the twenty-four hour story.  We were given an object, a trip to the library, and a stranger (ok, we had to find the stranger, none were given to us) to inspire a story, then we were expected to produce a completed story(as in, written to the end, not necessarily submission-ready) in twenty-four hours (that’s twenty-four hours writing time.  The inspiration points happened over the previous forty-eight hours or so, so we did have time to think and digest before having to produce words).

On our first workshop day we received our objects.  I was given a box of who-knows-how-old raisins out of Tim’s grab bag.  A few of the other objects included a floppy disk, a magnifying glass, and a hotel room key.

For me, the stressful part came not when we were given the go-ahead to start typing, but when we had to go talk to a stranger.  As a confirmed introvert, striking up a conversation with a random person is not my thing.  But I did it.  Thankfully my stranger was a very nice sunglasses salesman from Turkey (Alisa Alering [Author of Everything You Have Seen] also spoke to a sunglasses salesmen from Turkey–oddly enough, they were not the same person).  A few other people (ahem, Tina) had much more awkward encounters.

The actual writing part went smoothly for me.  I think this is because I’ve had some practice writing stories in a day.  We started writing at 4:00pm and were expected to have our story printed and turned in by 4:00pm the following day.  I was able to write ‘the end’ on a 4,000ish-word draft at around 12:30 or 1:00am, while others were up most of the night.  The next day I edited at my leisure, making sure to strengthen themes and descriptions– other people did not have the same opportunity to rework.

Again, I don’t think writing the story went well for me because of any extra craft skills I possess.  I think it had 100% to do with having written that way multiple times before.   I was able to plan and pace myself accordingly.  If there is one piece of advice I’d give to future workshop attendees, it’s to practice this method ahead of time.

After we turned in our stories, Dave and Tim chose three for us to critique as a group.  For some people, I think this might have been the most stressful part of the twenty-four hour challenge.  A few seemed to dread the thought of their story being pulled from the pile.  Tim and Dave could of course chose whichever stories they wanted by whatever method they wanted, and they joked about throwing the manuscripts down some stairs and picking the ones that flew the farthest.  Apparently mine was quite aerodynamic (a fine quality in a story), as it was picked along with Tina’s and Chrome Oxide’s (Author of Cop for a Day).

I got some very insightful feedback, and have since reworked the story a bit more.  I submitted it for the first time on Tuesday.  If you get a chance to participate in this workshop, do your best to make sure the story you write isn’t a throw away.  Don’t complete the challenge just because you have to–aim to get at least the beginnings of something submitable out of it.  Every story you write is practice and the Big Game all at the same time.  So, it’s ok if you try something and it doesn’t work for you (like writing a story in one sitting), but always do your damndest.

I will return next week with Part 2 of my recap.  There might end up being a Part 3, we’ll just have to see.

If you’ve got any questions about the workshop or twenty-four hour story in particular, feel free to ask!

~Marina

P.S.  I’ve sold another story!  Details soon.

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WotF Vol. 29 Cover

It’s a little after-the-fact, but the cover for Writers of the Future Vol. 29 has been released, and the book itself is available for pre-order!

WOF-29-Bookcover

Anybody else hear Elton John in their head singing “Rocket Maaaaan” when they look at the cover?  The illustration is by wonderful Stephen Youll.

You can pre-order a mass market paperback from Barns & Noble or Amazon.  The e-book version will be available in several formats for imediate download on April 14th.

~Marina

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Penumbra Article

I’m still on hiatus, really I am.  Just wanted to pop in to let you know that I’ve got a short article on grounding the reader up at Penumbra’s blog.

Hope you find it helpful!

~Marina

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Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology and Penumbra

Now that I’ve got a completed contract in hand, I feel free to announce that my story, “Ol’ Soapy’s Revenge” will be appearing in the Lost themed issue of Penumbra coming out in April.  It’s a humor piece that I’m quite tickled to have accepted.  Funny is hard, in my opinion, and when I write humor I’m never quite sure if it works or not.

In other publication news, Stupefying Stories Presents the 2013 Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology  is out for a limited time.  It features 43 authors who are eligible to win the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Campbell Award for short, which is voted on at the same time as the Hugos).  My story, “Rats Will Run,” which first appeared in Mirror Shards Vol. 2 is reprinted within.

978-1-938834-05-9

Writertopia keeps a list (updated by the individual authors) of those eligable for the Campbell.  My profile is here, if you’d like to see it.

The Campbellian Pre-Reading Anthology is free and available in a variety of electronic formats, so even if you aren’t eligible to vote for the Campbell Award I suggest downloading it.  Tons of great stories for free, how can you beat that?

Happy reading!

~Marina

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