Posts Tagged ‘fiction writing’

Build A Better Story Review

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

The Quintessentially Quilly  website reviewed my fiction writing ebook.BABS cover

You can read it by following this link

Interview with Nebula Winner Eugie Foster

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010
Eugie, Her husband Matt and the TROPHY (by Keith Stokes)

Eugie, her husband Matt, and the TROPHY (photo by Keith Stokes)

Eugie Foster’s story “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” (Interzone, Feb. 2009) won the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and is currently a finalist for the Hugo Award. Eugie also won the 2002 Phobos Award and was named the 2009 Author of the Year by Bards and Sages. Her publication credits number over 100 and include stories in Interzone, Realms of Fantasy, Cricket, Fantasy Magazine, and Apex Magazine; podcasts Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle; and anthologies Best New Fantasy and Best New Romantic Fantasy 2. Her short story collection, Returning My Sister’s Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice, is available from Norilana Books.

* Can you give us some background on yourself and your writing?

Growing up, I was your classic nerdy kid, perpetually nose-deep in a book. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. My mother was a librarian at the University of Illinois (in Champaign-Urbana), so I was ensconced in library stacks and in one book or other throughout my childhood. There were the obligatory ballerina-veterinarian-jockey stages growing up, but they were always “I wanna be a ballerina and a writer” or “I wanna be a veterinarian and a writer.”

Cover art by Ahyicodae

Cover art by Ahyicodae

* How did you get the news that you won?

Lessee, I was sitting at the banquet table at Nebula Weekend, chewing my fingers to the bone waiting for Jack McDevitt to announce the Best Novelette winner. I remember him saying, “And the winner for Best Novelette is ‘Sinner… ‘” and then it’s something of a blur. I can’t recall going up to the podium, only that I was suddenly there, looking out over the assemblage of SF luminaries and clutching the note card with my acceptance speech on it—which I almost hadn’t written because I didn’t expect I’d really win—and very, very glad I’d decided in a last-minute fit of panicky optimism to write it. The first thing that came out of my mouth was “wow” and then some incoherent babble, at which point I’d gathered back enough of my wits to realize I really ought to stick to what I’d written on the card. Then Jack McDevitt was handing me this beautiful chunk of Lucite with my name inscribed on it, which I wobbled back to the table with, and promptly burst into tears of joy.

* Tell us about the story, its origins, a synopsis, the main character, the hook.

The central conceit of “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest” is a society where people change their identities, their societal roles, even their personalities based upon different masks they put on every day. I’ve always found masks so evocative. They’re universal icons, found throughout history and spanning nearly every culture. The donning of another face, or the corollary, the relinquishing of one’s own, is a transformative act, an unambiguous exchange of identity.

Fundamentally, “Sinner” is an examination and exploration of themes of identity and self: who we are against a backdrop of societal roles and expectations, the external and internal influences that affect our sense of self, and the choices we make that reflect who we truly are.

* Is there any politicking behind the scenes at the Nebulas?

This is the first year using the revised Nebula Award rules and procedures, and I think they have really gone a long way towards eliminated the political elements and the potential for logrolling that was in the old system—as well as increased nominations and voter participation overall.

Nominations are now anonymous, where they weren’t before, and there’s a set nomination period rather than having them ongoing year-round. Also, members can now only nominate five works in a category, where before there wasn’t any limit. Additionally, the system went electronic this year, although paper ballots and nomination forms are still available for folks who prefer that method. I think transitioning the process to an electronic system has really streamlined it and made it easier for members to partipate. I’m obviously coming from a position of bias, but I think the changes are a vast improvement over the previous system.

The Dragon and the Stars

The Dragon and the Stars

* What’s next?

As always, I’ve got several short works I’m working on in various states of completion, including a novelette that I’m wrestling to keep from turning into a novella. And I’ve been plugging away at a novel for a while now, although I keep getting sidetracked by various other writing projects.

With regard to new publications, The Dragon and the Stars anthology from DAW came out in May which includes my story, “Mortal Clay, Stone Heart,” and “A Patch of Jewels in the Sky” will be reprinted in the anthology Triangulation: End of the Rainbow, slated for a July release. There are also Spanish, Czech, French, and Italian translations of “Sinner” forthcoming in Cuásar, Pevnost, Ténèbres, and Robot, respectively.

* When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing since I could read, but I started writing seriously, professionally, and for publication in 2000 when I attended Ann Crispin’s Writers Workshop at Dragon*Con.


Eugie Foster

* Do you have any quirks when you write?

Quirks? I don’t think so. I have to write on a keyboard; writing longhand is too messy and too slow for me. But I write on a number of different machines: my laptop, various desktop PCs, and my Droid smartphone—which has a Word app installed for that purpose. So I can write in just about any setting or circumstance. My preference is a quiet room with limited distractions, but crowded trains, car rides, and between emails is more likely.

I am somewhat particular about my computer setup, I guess. I customize all the applications I use until they’re exactly the way I want them, frequently customizing my customizations in open source apps. Does that count as a quirk?

* What’s the best thing about fiction writing?

SF is the stuff that fires the imagination and leaves you wandering around in a cloud of “what if” and “ooo” for the whole day: the magic, the sense of wonder, the ideas, the fantastical worlds. The same fascination and love that draws me as a reader of speculative fiction is what attracts me to it as a writer.

* Where can folks find out more about your writing?

My website includes links to read and listen to my work, and I have a blog at I’m also pretty active on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace (follow @eugiefoster).

If folks would like to read or hear my Nebula winning novelette, it’s available for free at Apex Magazine and Escape Pod, narrated fabulously by Lawrence Santoro.


Saturday, May 15th, 2010

The short essay below is based upon the material in chapter 5 of my book on fiction writing: Build a Better Story.

Today’s topic is characterization and I’ll concentrate of an aspect that you’ll have trouble finding in how-to books on fiction writing: a character’s philosophical outlook on life. Everyone has a philosophical outlook (but you may not be aware of it) and characters deserve one also because this attribute influences the way the character thinks and defines the character’s reaction to some story stimuli.

This element is one of the first that I give to a new character since it influences other some attributes and dictates still. For instance, a reader will not believe in a cheerful character who is supposed to be a pessimist. Similarly, a morose character will make a poor (i.e. unbelievable) optimist.

In building a group of characters for a story, I ensure that the characters have a variety of philosophies. A lot of conflict and humor can be achieved by giving the protagonist and a sidekick conflicting philosophies such as mysticism and materialism. This last pair pits a character with a strong belief in faith against another who doesn’t believe that faith has anything to do with events or results. This pair of characters will attribute an event to completely different causes. One will see it as an act of god while the other will believe it is only luck or coincidence. These differences of opinion can provide the writer with a wealth of material that is useful for conflict and/or humor.

There is much more about characterization in Build a Better Story including a list of personal philosophies I use for my characters along with an explanation on what the philosophy entails. I also detail another little understood aspect of characterization; Dominant Reader Emotions. This aspect is critical; it’s what you want the reader to remember about the character.

BABS cover


Monday, April 12th, 2010
The following short essay is taken from Chapter Six in Build a Better Story.
Unless a story is very short, a single plot will have difficulty holding a reader’s attention.  If the story drives from the beginning to the end in a straight line, it lacks complexity.  If the story line zigs and dips and otherwise detours from its goal as secondary issues are explored, it increases the reader’s interest.  That is the purpose of subplots: to defer the ending of the story and increase the reader’s interest. BABS CoverSubplots do this by providing a break from the main plot and allow added complications, diversions and trickery to further entertain the reader.
There is a preferred arrangement for organizing the subplots; they should be nested within the main plot.  Thus, the story always starts with the main plot.  After the main plot gets established, subplot A is introduced.  Back to the main plot for a while followed by the introduction to subplot B.  The same technique is used for subplot C and subplot D, if necessary.  In this structure, subplot A is not as important as the main plot but is more important than subplot B.  Subplot C is of less importance than subplot B, but is more important than subplot D.  In fact, it is possible with a minor subplot such as D, not to show it at all, but to merely have the characters discuss its progress from time to time.
When approaching the end of the story, subplot D is closed first, followed by subplot C, then B, then A and finally the main plot is concluded.
Have a story that needs to be told?  Build a Better Story will help you get it done.  The trailer will explain more about the book.

Build a Better Story

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Build a Better Story is now available at Smashwords for download in EPUB, MOBI, LRF, PDB, and TXT formats.  It is available on my website in .PDF format.BABS cover

Have a story that needs to be told?  Here’s the best way to go about doing it.The book describes a process that eases the work involved in developing a story.  This reduces the time spent in reworking flawed and imperfect drafts. Following the process allows more time to be spent on the creative activities and shortens the time spent on less creative work.

Besides the process, this book takes a unique approach to character building and plotting.  It identifies problem areas that inexperienced writers struggle with and explains how to address those problems including character motivation and scene design.

Blog and ping

Build a Better Story

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Build a Better Story is now available in ebook format. It replaces the previous version Get it in Gear.  The new version has 67% more material.  Its focus is on providing a method of organizing the thoughts and story elements in a way that simplifies writing the first draft.

An artist doesn’t start slopping paint on a blank canvas the instant she gets an idea for a new painting.  She sketches the ideas on
paper and then prepares the canvas.  So too, an author has to sketch out the story ideas and prepare the ‘canvas’ before setting out to write the first draft.  Build a Better Story shows you how to do that.

Build a Better Story received five stars from Readers Favorites.

Check it out here!

BABS Cover

Show, Don’t Tell

Friday, February 26th, 2010

This is a writing maxim that often surfaces in critiques.  Many inexperienced writers carry the show to extremes.  Having seen the “show don’t tell” admonition in every book on fiction writing, they assume that every instance of telling is wrong.  The reality is that every story is a combination of showing and telling. BABS coverWhile showing is a must for action scenes, telling is useful for compressing time and space.  Description is usually telling.  So is all exposition.  Both description and exposition are necessary ingredients in every story.  Taking the SDT principle to its extreme usage, the story will degenerate into a series of trivial actions.  A few simple examples will clarify this issue:


Janet took a shower.


Janet went into the bathroom, stripped, turned on the water and adjusted the temperature.  She stepped in and allowed the water to flow over her body and hair.  She squeezed shampoo into her hand and washed her hair . . . This is showing, but to what purpose?  What reader will want to be ’shown’ Janet taking the shower when there are more important and interesting events waiting to be revealed.  The telling took four words.  The showing took thirty-eight and counting.  While the longer example satisfies the SDT rule, it is dull.

As you can see from the example, telling advances the story without bogging it down in trivia.

This brief essay is taken from my Build a Better Story ebook on fiction writing.  It’s scheduled to be released in March, 2010.

New Interview

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Today I was interviewed by Susan Whitfield on her blog.  We talked  about Fool’s Gold and my writing projects.

You can catch it here.

Fiction Writing Discussion

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Starting today, (1/6/10) I’ll be a guest on the Writebuzz website to discuss various aspects of fiction writing.  This week’s topic is Story Construction. The remaining schedule is as follows:

1/13: Motivation

1/20: Characterization

1/27: Plotting.

Stop by and check out the discussion.  You may like the site and elect to join it.

Interview with Arthur Dorrance on Odyssey

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Just what is this workshop and what does it try to do?

It was the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop (, located in St Anselm College, Manchester, NH. Jeanne Cavelos (a former editor and published novelist) runs the six-week program for sixteen students each year. It looks for people who have published or are close to publication quality, to improve their skills at writing genre fiction. It involves lectures by Jeanne on various aspects of the craft, with six guest lecturers and one writer-in-residence

Susan, Arthur and Jeanne Cavelos

Susan, Arthur and Jeanne Cavelos

who stays with the group for a week. As with Clarion, it is a boot camp for writers. Each student is expected to write something for critiquing every week, and there’s not a lot of free time.

Who can attend?

I don’t think there are any firm guidelines. My class had both men and women, ages ranging from 18 to 56 (they have accepted 17 year olds), education from post-high-school to doctorate level. We also have published novelists and fiction award-winners in the group. And, no, I don’t know why they picked a dud like me.

How do you get enrolled?

You submit an application (which include two references familiar with your writing) and a writing sample. Admission is competitive.

How much does it cost?

Application fee is $35, tuition $1900, and housing is $775 for a shared room and $1550 for a single in a suite with other students. There is no meal plan, although there are restaurants in walking distance (<0.5 miles).

What do you do during the workshop?

Basically read, write, and participate in the workshopping, with brief periods devoted to eating and sleeping (I rarely slept more than 6 hours a night). I can’t speak for other classes, but everyone in my class was very motivated, and that instilled a work ethic even in me. An example of dedication was a woman who had gotten married just before the program started — so that she came to Odyssey rather than go on a honeymoon. People got ill while there, and continued to work anyway.

My typical morning started trying to finish critiques of the two or three stories given to us the previous day. And on the days that my story was due, I had to have a completed manuscript in a folder by 7:30 AM. I also had to write a submission attachment for Jeanne Cavelos, explaining goals set/met and lessons learned. In the submission attachment, I usually threw myself at the mercy of the court, because the story was written in the early morning when any plot contrivance seemed reasonable. As I said more than once, “it made perfect sense at 3 AM…”

Then, starting at nine, we had two to three hours of lecture on various aspects

The entire class except Arthur (someone has to take the pictures)

The entire class except Arthur (someone has to take the pictures)

of genre fiction, and then one to two hours of critiquing circles. Most of the class ate in the college coffee shop for lunch (it was closed for dinner and weekends). Some also went there for breakfast. I did breakfast and dinner by myself (we didn’t do joint meals). I missed having a microwave (the dorm wiring wasn’t rated for that amperage).

We were also supposed to do exercises (WRITING exercises, that is) during the evening, but I found that I had no time, between panic-stricken brainstorming/scribbling to have a semi-coherent story for the deadlines and the critiquing. As with a college course (and you can take this for credit), there are way too many handouts and assignments.

Weekends were spent on laundry, and catching up (on sleep for one thing). We also had a SF reading at a Barnes and Noble (five minutes for each student), and we went to Reader Con.

Additional thoughts?

When you are continually with fifteen other people for six weeks, you either get into fights or you get very close. We got very close, although sadly it’s much harder to stay in contact once we were no longer in close proximity. I suspect that Jeanne puts a lot of thought into who would get along at these workshops, but I also think my class was fortunately very compatible. For me it was in some ways like a SF convention the whole time, where you were with people who understood references to movies or books, no matter how obscure.

Although there are guest lecturers, Jeanne is the principal lecturer, and we learned her perspective on writing and on the publishing business. I don’t know how she did it, because she gives an entire curriculum by herself. This is different from Clarion, where different writers lecture on different weeks.

There is now an online Odyssey workshop being offered, for people who cannot take six weeks off during the summer. There is also an invitation-only, eight-day workshop exclusively for Odyssey graduates called the Never-Ending Odyssey, taking place after the six-week course has ended. (As I have said, I don’t know how Jeanne does it.)

In retrospect, would you do it again if you could relive last summer?

There is no question in my mind that I would take this workshop if I went back in time. I think I was lucky in that everyone in the 2009 class was exceptionally compatible — I’ve been in workshops where this has not been the case — but even if they weren’t, I believe the workshop is worth it. Jeanne Cavelos is also an exceptional teacher and resource for any aspiring genre writer. I might never reach the bestseller list, but that won’t be the fault of either her or my classmates, whom I’m hoping to keep as friends via Facebook.

That’s it for the interview.  If anyone has a question or comment, Arthur will get back to you.

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