Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book Talk with Lynda: Special Guest J.T. Buckley



It’s been a while since I had a guest over. Part of the reason is that summers are busy for everyone. The main reason, though, was that S.K. Anthony (our dear Kat) took my carafe last time she was here, and it took me a while to get a replacement. Did you know it’s not safe to just put your face underneath the pot while it’s brewing? Me either. I scoured that instruction book from front to back and there was NO warning about it. Of all the dumb information that’s in there, you’d think they’d consider putting in something useful.

But hey, I’ve invited J.T. Buckley over today, and not only does he like coffee—and he’s a registered nurse, so any burn-related issues can be taken care of swiftly—but he’s an author.

So welcome to my kitchen, J.T.! [Pours a large mug of coffee, sits down, remembers guests should be served first, and reluctantly pushes favorite mug across the table. Heads off to find second-favorite mug.]

JT: Lynda, come back to the table—I brought my own cup. [Pulls a large mug from his bag that says “I am a writer I tell lies to people for money” and pours himself a cup while pushing the other one back. While her back is turned, he pulls out his Chicago Manual of Style and sets it on the side of the table.] I want to thank you for having me over. Your house is quite lovely, although not as I pictured it . . . Oh yeah—brought you presents! Here’s a coffee cup from Florida, and a new carafe for your coffee pot. With S.K. coming by, it never hurts to have a spare.

Lynda: Thank you so much! A person can never have too many coffee cups, I always say! And gosh, the carafe . . . you’re right. Having a spare is a great idea. And I’m really glad you could come up from Florida on short notice. The grape smell in my backyard will hopefully make up for any disruption to your schedule.

JT: Hey, it’s no problem, we have a hurricane passing close, so there’s less rain this way. The grape smell is quite nice. That reminds me. [Pulls a bag from the other one.] Fat-free muffins. No frowning until you taste them. I hope you have grape jelly.

Lynda: Muffins are muffins. If you brought one of your creations, I’ll eat them. [Spots the Chicago Manual of Style.] You brought your copy! Let me get mine so we have some great decor while we talk. I really feel like that lends some class to the atmosphere. [Grabs her own copy.] CHEERS! [They clink books high in the air and settle in.]

So. You have a couple published books under your belt, and I know what you have coming up for release soon, so you know I have to ask you: you don’t seem to stick to one genre. Do you actually have a favorite, or do you write what the voices in your head tell you to write, and don’t argue with them?

JT: Well, if I had to pick, my heart is in science fiction and fantasy. Authors like Heinlein, Clarke, Norton are who gave me the desire to write. Then of course I was a role player from way back, so those two genres are well represented in role playing games.

Lynda: Working with science fiction authors opened my eyes to the RPG factor. Many of them use a lot of those elements to determine what comes next in a space battle, or an action scene: a roll of the dice will tell whether you’re hit by a photon torpedo or you have an engine down, for example. I think a lot of it (role playing) prepares you for the “what if” factor that’s needed when writing sci fi.

JT: Urban fantasy is a new love; books like Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality brought me into that genre. So the Terra Rising series is a work of passion for me. I was tired of all the whiny dystopian society SF out there so I decided to create a space opera series with happy endings. But the voices do control what I am working on at the time.

Lynda: I like that Terra Rising has a happier tone to it. I don’t mind dystopian but I get a little irritated when every author of sci fi seems to think the future is all doom and gloom.

What prompted you to write Blood and Steel, then? It’s definitely not space opera. Trying to stretch your writing muscles? Something you couldn’t shake from your mind? A dare? Lose a bet?

JT: I hated the way vampires were portrayed and how inconsistent their concepts were. I knew that vampire novels were a fad, but I had a new thought about it. What if vampires were hidden among us? What if they were like regular people? What if they were treated as a minority that everyone was afraid of because they didn’t understand them, so they had to hide who they really were? Blood and Steel started out as a vampire-bashing story but turned into an urban fantasy with a romance subplot. Kind of the mortal-enemies-fall-in-love kind of thing. Then there is the internal conflict when Rick not only becomes a vampire but loses his identity at the same time. I also wanted to try something current day yet extraordinary. Voilá! Urban fantasy. It is also part of a bigger group of books I will be introducing in the near future … Plus as a history buff, I can weave my characters’ histories into past events.

Lynda: A lot of dark fiction writers get really ticked at monsters not being monstrous, like the “sparkly vampire” crowd. The idea is that if a character is scary enough to be a monster, then they should be more bad than good. I’m not sure what side of the fence I’m on where that’s concerned. I kind of like both ideas but not in the same book.

JT: I am not into the sparkly vampire crowd; my “good” vampires just want to be human again and my bad ones are definitely bad and create real monsters as is plain in Blood and Steel: Awakenings.

Lynda: Have you ever thought about combining genres to have a fantasy set in space? I’ve been reading lately about science fantasy, or space fantasy. It seems to blur the line, much like the Star Wars universe.

JT: Strangely enough, I actually do have a short story that is an idea start for something much bigger. Faster-than-light travel is facilitated by wormholes created by mages between areas of space. The story starts with a mage on his “final exam” and his professor dies in the middle of the transit and he has to take over. He successfully completes the transit but because of the microseconds of lost concentration between the two, the fabric of reality doesn’t close, generating a “tear” in reality. Magic is used throughout the ship with magic-augmented weapons, scrying navigators, etc. The story is going to be the mage trying to seal the rift caused by his dead master.

Lynda: Whoa. I really like that story idea! I’m partial to anything that messes with time/space and wormholes. I love the different ideas writers come up with for what could possibly happen (fictionally) in a black hole or a wormhole, or with the stretching of time’s fabric, so to speak. So please make sure I’m still your editor when it comes time to getting that story ready. I’d hate to miss out on seeing it before everyone else. I’m nosy that way.

I have to ask you this because everyone always wants to know these things. [Looks over at the cat, who blinks twice and avoids further eye contact.] Yes . . . um, everyone wants to know for sure. Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? Or a plantser? Or some other made-up name that still describes a combination of those two extremes?

JT: I am a combination. I write a skeleton story as my outline then flesh it out. So I guess I am a panlotser. Ha! Got that out without too much trouble. [Looks in his cup and frowns.]

Lynda: Got it. You wear lots of pants. I think. And you write while wearing them. That’s a good habit, you know. Not everyone gets it right. And it looks like you need more coffee, and I know I need another muffin, because I’m pretty sure fat-free means calorie-free, so I can have extra. And the coffee will taste better if it’s not lonely. [Fills both mugs and is astounded that JT’s mug actually holds 24 ounces of coffee with room to spare.]

So do you have a favorite part of the process that you’d consider your sweet spot? Some people hate rewrites and others love them. Some like the concept portion but hate the execution of it. Others are happiest when they send it off to someone else.

JT: I love the whole process of creation and writing until after the second rewrite, then it becomes a drudge until it comes back from you and I get to go over it with fresh eyes. Then it becomes a pleasure again. So I guess the main writing part and the first pass with the finalizing are my favorites. Does that make sense? This is really good coffee—does AndyAndy like it?

Lynda: AndyAndy would love it if he hadn’t had to go to rehab and swear off the stuff. He had a lot of chill-out time with catnip therapy that helped him get back on track. Now the coffee is all mine. I mean, ours. For today, anyway, and then it’s back to being mine.

I recently found a quote about the whole writing/editing process by Samuel S. Vaughan:
“Why isn’t the manuscript ready? Because every book is more work than anyone intended . . . By the middle of the writing, the book has become, for the author, a hate object. For the editor, in the middle of editing, it has become a two-ton concrete necklace. However, both author and editor will recover the gleam in their eyes when the work is completed, and see the book as the masterwork it really is.”
It describes so well what I’ve heard authors mention. It also describes how I’ve felt on occasion when an edit is much more involved than I expected, or when a story has that “once through is enough” feeling but I still need to go through it a second time. Thankfully, those times are few. Over the years, the quality of the writing I’m willing to accept has gone up—I’m not so desperate for work that I’ll take anything and then be sorry I said yes. The result of taking the better-quality work is that I’m happier while I’m working. No one should ever dread working on a book.

JT: I am surprised you haven’t asked for my advice to new writers . . . well, since you didn’t ask, here it is anyway. Remember that a first draft’s job is to exist. Nothing else.

Lynda: I can’t believe I didn’t ask that either. I think I was distracted by the muffins, even though I’ve only eaten three of them. But I’m glad you remembered to give good advice anyway. So many newbies forget that the whole thing is one step at a time.

JT: And that is the key, one step at a time.

Lynda: So I know you have the next book in the Terra Rising series, Manifest Destiny, coming out, because I have the manuscript in my grubby mitts right now. What else do you have brewing for next year? I know you writer types always have at least three books going on in your brains, even if only one is actively getting written.

JT: Well, I have Blood and Steel 2 coming out in the winter, and the first book in my new fantasy series. It is called Feren: Rise of the Mage King . . . and several more are in the works but they are top secret.

Lynda: Top secret stuff is always my favorite. I can't wait until I'm in the loop on those, too.

After J.T. leaves my kitchen, you can find him in a multitude of places. His house is one of them, but I won't give you the address because he's all out of muffins. Here are the other places to look:

Amazon Author page: amazon.com/author/jtbuckley
Facebook JT Buckley page: https://www.facebook.com/authorjtbuckley/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorJTBuckley
Website: www.jtbuckley.com
Blog: www.jtbuckley.com/blog
Facebook Terra Rising page: https://www.facebook.com/bookTerraRising
Facebook Blood and Steel Series page:
https://www.facebook.com/Blood-and-Steel-773903689365731/

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Worst Writing Advice: Semicolons—Are They Even Legal?

I had planned on talking about semicolons in the same post as contractions, but when I started typing, I realized I had too much material for one post, and each piece of bad advice deserved its own spotlight, such as it is.

So without further ado, I bring you [insert your own musical soundtrack of dread here]

SEMICOLONS

The semicolon is a piece of punctuation that brings out strong emotions in people. I have never met anyone who feels ambivalent about them—either they love semicolons or they hate them with every fiber of their being.

Of those who hate the semicolon, the numbers seem to fall into two camps: the I-Don't-Know-How-to-Use-Them-Properly people and the Semicolons-Are-Forbidden people.

I get that some people may not know how to use them. Punctuation can be a tricky thing at times, and a punctuation mark that isn't really a full stop but isn't really a comma can get mighty confusing. Not knowing is perfectly fine, and provides job security to editors all over the globe. Semicolonially inept (semicolonically? nope) writers give me one more way to show how I can help to polish their work. And if I had to make up a statistic on the spot, I'd say that easily 70% of the writers out there are challenged by the seemingly innocuous mark. So it's really no big deal. Just ask your editor to fix it and you're golden.

But the other group of writers concern me because they are victims of the Worst Writing Advice. Every so often, in writer/editor groups, I see a post that goes something like this: "I read somewhere that you shouldn't use semicolons in fiction. What should I do with a sentence like this?"

So . . . once again, I'm here to tell you that a "rule" is not actually a rule. There is nothing anywhere that prohibits the use of semicolons. Ever. Not in nonfiction, not in fiction, not on a boat, not with a goat, not in the rain, not on a train. The most strenuous of the WWA-givers can only come up with such weak reasoning as, "I feel it's better," or "Author McFamous doesn't use them," or my personal favorite, "Semicolons make people have to stop and think." Commenters on a particularly fired-up thread tried to equate use of semicolons with not putting readers first.

To that, I say, WHAT? Seriously, whatwhatwhat? Let's think about this. If a reader doesn't really know what a semicolon does or how to use it properly, they're not going to be tripped up by seeing it in the narrative. That reader will see all commas, semicolons, periods, and ellipses as roughly the same thing: a pause of sorts. They don't give a rip about independent clauses, dependent clauses, missing text, list format, or speech interruption. They just keep reading and the whole thing is a non-incident. They're there to read, not to analyze the latest best-seller for its sentence structure.

Chalk this up to yet another guideline that has gotten misconstrued along the way. All punctuation serves a purpose. Sometimes the differences are more obvious (question mark vs. exclamation mark) and some provide a subtle nuance that serves a particular end. Bottom line: if you don't like semicolons, don't use them. No one is forcing you. But don't tell others they aren't allowed to, just because you don't like seeing them. 

A few very rough guidelines mention that semicolons are used less often in dialogue than they are in the narrative when writing fiction. That makes sense because of the way we talk and think, but again, it's not a hard & fast rule. Other editors have mentioned that semicolons are rarely used in marketing copy. Again, this makes sense because marketing is all about the shorter sentences and punchy impact. Shorter sentences don't lend themselves to a need for semicolons.

Other than that, I can't think of many situations where I'd recommend removing one that's used properly. I'll leave you with a quote that will hopefully inspire you to sprinkle semicolons throughout your manuscript without fear:
"We use semicolons for the same reason we replace cement floors with marble: cement floors are functional but are not as elegant, not as aesthetically pleasing as marble. [ . . . ] Business memos do not need semicolons. Creative writers do." —Noah Lukeman, The Art of Punctuation