Category Archives: Commentary

Novel Writing: Creating the Rough Draft

pencilsI’ve always been a writer. I started my first book in early grade school, all written in child’s scrawl, pencil on paper. It was a fantasy story about mermaids from a child’s point of view, not to mention from a child’s mind. I did three drafts of the story, of which I thought of at the time as being a novel, but now in my adult years can properly label a novelette.

This story never got beyond the rough draft stage. In my child-level experience, I thought that you sat down and wrote what came to your mind and when you finished the draft, that was it. You could send the novel out into the world.  For the sake of the planet, it is fortunate that this story remains locked in a file drawer where only I will see it. Trust me. It was the right choice.

I know now that this is far from the truth; a novel is born in the revision process and fine-tuned in editing. Yet, in that singular experience as a child playing at being a novelist, I had the right idea. Rough drafting is a matter of sitting down and writing with abandon whatever comes into your mind and getting it down on paper as fast as possible.

The results are often a mess.

I cringe when I read my raw roughs. The adverbs leap at me. The passive voice drags me down. I wonder how this mass of jumbled words will ever appeal to a reader and become a book I could be proud of. Yet, it does happen. I have published a book and sold short stories to magazines. More books will come in the future.

Below are four books on the rough draft process that I personally have found to be excellent guides for me. Through them, I have relearned the spirit of drafting that I stumbled upon as a small child and tap into my creative muse to good effect.

no plot no problem by chris baty

No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty

It is fair to say that my relaunch as a writer during my mid-forties is due to Nanowrimo. This is a writing event that pushes the aspiring author to compose 50 thousand words toward the rough draft of a novel. I attempted Nanowrimo for a few years without success. I wondered if I would ever break through the writer’s block that held me back for almost a decade and be able to tell stories via the written word again. In 2010, I had an idea for a science fiction book that grabbed me. This epiphany combined with an Alphasmart 3000 to write with and the purchase of the Nanowrimo guidebook: No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty. It is what allowed me to write my first 50 thousand word rough draft of a novel.

Baty describes in the book his idea of writing a rough draft in the space of a single month and setting up quotas to propel you to finish. Quantity is the goal, not quality. You are to turn off your “inner editor” and write. This allows your inner muse to break through and get your ideas down on the page. If you are a writer who is not sure how to get started, No Plot, No Problem will teach you how to develop an organic style of writing.

on writing stephen kingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

I want to say up front that I am not a fan of Stephen King. I do not read or enjoy horror as a genre and I have only read one or two of his books. That was enough for me. However, his memoir about being a writer is fascinating. I do not have a single writer friend that has not recommended this book to me when learning about the fundamentals of writing. King touches on his life and people and places that have inspired him. In many ways, this memoir is also a master class on learning to write and living as a writer. If you are wondering how to begin writing, this is one of the main books you should add to your personal library.

outling your novel km weilandOutlining Your Novel by KM Weiland

This book is a late addition to my writing library, but it stands tall among the other volumes. When I first started drafting, I was a pantser who wrote by the seat of my pants. My work was organic and the characters did what they wished. In the end, I hope that it all made sense.

During my second year of writing, I realized that meandering through a story did not create the tension and conflict that makes for a great plotline. I needed to learn how to plan or outline the main elements of my story first. The resulting first draft was easier to revise and edit, speeding up the process of my publication flow. Outlining Your Novel is both a book and a workbook to teach you methods to create concise outlines for your stories. Weiland gives many great tips that I’ve found helpful. I read her blog regularly.

90 day novel alan wattThe 90 Day Novel by Alan Watt

As I prepared for Nanowrimo in 2012, I had a particular problem. I was returning to my original science fiction world that I created in 2010 and wanted to work on its sequel. The sword-wielding engineer and champion of the book, would not speak to me. I could not picture her. I didn’t know her background. I knew where she fit into the story, but without being able to envision her, I was dead in the water.

The 90 Day Novel saved my bacon. The first 30 days of the system are a series of questions to help you write about the hero of your “hero’s journey” story. I used this book to develop my heroine starting in the beginning of October. On November 1st, I started Nanowrimo and not only was the heroine clear in my mind, but I had plenty of plot points figured out to propel her to her destiny. While I have not used the rest of the system, it mirrors much of the experience of Nanowrimo with a few individual twists. If you are looking for a guide to help you develop a main character and a general storyline for a rough draft, this could prove to be an excellent resource for you.

2015 Year in Review for Author Wendy Van Camp

BOB - Wendy Van Camp Swag Table 2015

I’ve been writing stories since 2010, but before 2015 I was practicing a hobby, hoping that it would blossom into a career. This is the first year that I feel that I’ve become a professional author. I’d like to share with you the highlights of the promotion of my first novelette “The Curate’s Brother: A Jane Austen Variation of Persuasion” that was published in October of 2014 as an ebook and then made into a paperback in February 2015.  I’ve been on a wild ride of promotion and book signings ever since.

2015 Readings

Gypsy Den
February – Anaheim, CA
I was to do my first public reading in a little bohemian coffeehouse known as the Gypsy Den. Two weeks before the reading, I confessed to one of my friends that the book was only available in ebook. She was stunned and urged me to print copies to autograph at the reading. The idea stunned me too. Although my ebook had been out three months, I did not realize that I was a “real” author! Of course, I needed to print my books and bring them with me, but until that point, I had not realized this. The reading was to an audience of RWA members, many of them published authors themselves. The questions they had for me after the reading were direct and about my writing process. Afterward, I autographed and sold several copies of my newly printed novelette.

Wendy Van Camp - Lady Jane Salon 2015

WesterCon
July – San Diego, CA
This is the west coast regional science fiction and fantasy literary convention. The location changes each year. This year it was in San Diego, CA and hosted by Conjecture and ConChord, two local science fiction conventions. It was a huge event for me. I organized a Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading for five women science fiction authors to read their work, of which I was one. We had a great turn out and I was tickled to see a large group of knitting women who turned out to listen to the stories and continue work on their knitting!

WorldCon
August – Spokane, WA
This was the first time that I had attended WorldCon. I have never traveled so far for a convention before, but I was determined to attend. I joined 19 other science fiction authors at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading on Friday night. I did not read from my published novel. Instead I read an excerpt from my upcoming “Steampunk Wonderland” series that should debut in 2016. WorldCon was great fun. I met many wonderful new authors, took home so many new books that I ended up having to ship the bulk of them home via FedEx! I also attended the Hugo Awards live for the first time. I will be returning to WorldCon next year.

Books on Broadway
October – Costa Mesa, CA
This was an event put on by DeAnna Cameron in connection with her promotion company, Books on the Vine. I read an excerpt from The Curate’s Brother during a “high tea and regency romance” reading. The entire audience were Jane Austen fans. I ended up reading my except four times as the audience was rotated around me. It was my second highest sales event of the year. I had a wonderful time and I hope to return to Books on Broadway one day.

BOB - Wendy Van Camp Reads From The Curates Brother 2015
2015 Book Signings

Gallifrey One
February – Los Angeles, CA
Each year, I book a table at the Dr. Who convention in Los Angeles, CA and sell my artisan jewelry and books. It is a great way to get an autographed copy of my book or of the chapbook of science fiction stories and poetry that I participate in each year known as Quantum Visions.

WesterCon
July – San Diego, CA
After the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, an hour was set aside for the group in the dealer’s room of the convention for all the authors to display and sign autographs. We all sold a few books and had a great time.

Westercon68 Autographing (2015) Jude-Marie Green, Barbara Clark, Wendy Van Camp.

WorldCon
August – Spokane, WA
I am a jeweler in the art show at WorldCon and as such, I am offered time in Author/Artist alley to display my jewelry or hold workshops. I chose to bring my books and do book signings. I booked two days in Author Alley and ended up selling and autographing the most books in a location for the year.

Books on the Vine – Pop-up Bookstore
October – El Dorado High School, Placentia, CA
My book will be available for sale in the shop all day and I autographed my Austen Variation novel “The Curate’s Brother” from 1pm to 2pm. This is a fun, well-attended event in Orange County, CA.

LosCon
November – Los Angeles, CA
I’ve been a regular in the dealer room at LosCon for at least half a decade. My table there is mainly for my jewelry, but I also bring my books to sell and autograph. This was where “Quantum Visions”, edited by Jude-Marie Green, makes it debut. I displayed the chapbook that featured my scifaiku poetry along with short stories from other members of the Orange County Science Fiction Club Writer’s Orbit. I ended up selling and autographing as many of the chapbooks as I did my own book. It was a great way to meet new readers and have a chance to chat with them.

2015 Podcasts

Changes
YouTube – January 7th
Join author Wendy Van Camp for *CHANGES*, an hour long conversation with Sally Ember, Ed.D. about science fiction books, the science fiction literary convention circuit and much more!

The Event Horizon
Krypton Radio – August 13
I’ve completed a podcast interview with Krypton Radio. We spoke about scifaiku poetry, John Carter of Mars, writing fanfiction and a little about my upcoming Steampunk Wonderland series. It is available to listen for free on iTunes or Stitcher.

Epic Geeking Out with Authors 1
Blab – September 24
A group of science fiction authors get together and talk about science fiction novels, steampunk, WorldCon and more geeky topics.

Writing Block: epi 41 – Wendy Van Camp: Self-Published Author & Poet
LibSyn – October 28
Britany Mills interviews me about how I discovered Scifaiku poetry and the writing process behind my novelette “The Curate’s Brother”.

2015 Speaking Engagements

Starting the Engine of Your Author Platform

When publishing your first novel, common advice is to start a website and use social media to promote the book. Most authors do not know how to tap into social media and waste much time on repetitive marketing tasks that don’t seem to work. Instead, you need to create an “engine” to automatically distribute your marketing content to key sites and reduce your online workload. Come join Wendy Van Camp as she explores how to interlock three popular social media networks and grow your brand as an author.

WesterCon
July – San Diego, CA

CHWG Writer’s Workshop
Buddamouse
Claremont, CA
November

2015 Blog Interviews

The Write Stuff: Interview with Raymond Bolton 
Writing a Persuasion Prequel: Interview with A.R. Silverberry 
Author Spotlight: Interview with Kasper Beaumont 
20QS with Author Wendy Van Camp

2015 Writing Challenges

September Flash Fiction Challenge

During September of 2015, there was a 30-day challenge to write a flash fiction story once a day via the Fantasy and Science Fiction Society, an online writing group I am a member of. I joined in the challenge on September 2nd and decided to commit to finishing the challenge no matter what. The prize to me were not merit badges or other WDC goodies, the real incentive was to have a bank of stories that I could submit in 2016 and begin to start publishing more regularly. The challenge was a grindstone that came close to overwhelming my month, but somehow I preserved and managed to write thirty flash stories. Many of which I feel will be worthy of submission in 2016 with a bit of revision.

Nanowrimo

I am a volunteer Municipal Liason (ML) for my region in Nanowrimo. This keeps me very busy October through early December. Right after my September Challenge was over, I moved directly into prep work for Nanowrimo. I manage the Facebook Group and Twitter feed for our group and work with my partner Rosie de Guzman in scheduling write-ins, developing three gatherings for our wrimos, and committing to hosting one write-in per week during November. This is all in addition to my writing 50 thousand words of a rough draft novel. It is like plunging into a cold lake and not coming up for air for ten weeks.  You have to know that I love it.

Jane Austen High Tea and Regency Reading

AustinPoster (blog)It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a new book must be in want of a reading. Thus, I drove to Costa Mesa, CA one fine sunny Saturday in order to participate in the Books on Broadway’s Celebration of Jane Austen Afternoon Tea and Regency Book Reading.

Books on Broadway is a quaint bookstore that specializes in both new and used books. The narrow aisles of the shop create a cozy feeling. The books are stacked from the floor to the ceiling with every inch filled to the brim with an astonishing good selection of popular novels. As I wandered through the tight labyrinth, I had a hankering to take books from the shelves and take them home. Behind the bookstore is ample parking. During the event, a canopy had been set up to provide shade for the guests in the parking lot. It was where all the goody bags and raffle prizes were kept.

BOB - English Tea Service 2015One of the draws of this salon reading was an English High Tea Service. The bookstore owner offered a fine selection of biscuits, jam, and crust-less finger sandwiches along with a brilliant hot black tea served in china teacups. I had two cups of tea with lemon slices and found it set the mood for the afternoon. The silver teapot was fun. It rotated on a gear system that allowed one to tip and pour your tea with a single hand.

I was given a small space in the bookstore to call my own, complete with a cute little table and elegant chair. I set up my swag and books on the table where they could be seen. Throughout the event, I gave away many fliers about my blog, No Wasted Ink, and links to where you could purchase an ebook version of my novelette.

BOB - Wendy Van Camp Swag Table 2015

Dozens of ladies came that afternoon. Many were dressed up, but California is known for its casual atmosphere and some wore their typical weekend garb. We authors were asked to dress for the event. Alina K. Field dressed in a blue regency gown that she had sewn herself and Anne Cleeland wore an English Highwayman outfit complete with a costume pistol! I was somewhat dull in comparison in my black tee and leopard print skirt, but we do what we can.

BOB - Wendy Van Camp Reads From The Curates Brother 2015Since the aisles were narrow, the store owner decided to set each author in a corner of the shop and to rotate in the guests to hear our readings. I ended up reading my prepared excerpt of The Curate’s Brother four times. I did not read directly from one of my books, instead I had printed up the words in a larger font that was easier for me to see and allowed me to use my leather portfolio.

After each reading, I answered questions about my novelette from the guests. Questions ranged from the cultural differences of our time and the regency period and how language had a difference cadence in the 19th century. It was an educated crowd and the conversations were pleasant. It was wonderful to meet so many Austen fans in one place.

BOB - Goody Bags for English TeaAfter the performances, the guests went to the canopied area outside and the raffle began. Several authors connected with Romance Readers Club had donated new books and there were wrapped packages of them on the tables. I had donated one of my regency novelettes and the lady that won it seemed pleased.

Afterward, those that wished to purchase a book from the authors did so. I was kept busy autographing until closing. As I drove home, I reflected that this had been a good time and I’m glad that I was invited to come. I hope to return one day.

Below are the authors and owner of Books on Broadway posing for a photo at the event.

BOB - Authors and Owner at Jane Austen Tea and Reading 2015

Scifaiku: A Poet’s Journey

Scifaiku - Crush - by Wendy Van Camp
One Friday afternoon, I was sitting on a bench at a local science fiction convention with little to do for the next few hours. I learned that there was to be a workshop on how to write scifaiku poetry put on by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

I had never heard of scifaiku before and was intrigued by the idea. I ended up attending the seminar and this decision changed my views on poetry. As it turned out, I was the only student at the workshop along with a couple of magazine editors that published this form of poetry. The instructor taught how to brainstorm ideas for your poems and the elements that were needed for proper scifaiku. I not only became hooked on the poetry form, but I ended up publishing the poem I wrote in that workshop several months later.

Defining Scifaiku

Scifaiku is minimal in execution and elegant, similar to haiku. It is distinctive since it contains the human insight, use of technology and vision of the future that is natural in science fiction, but delivers it in three short poignant lines. The form is inspired by the principles of haiku, but it deviates due to its science fiction theme. The standard length of a poem is seventeen syllables.

While traditional haiku has three lines of five syllables, then seven, and then five again, scifaiku does not need to follow this structure. The structure is merely a guideline in Scifaiku and the poet can write more than seventeen syllables if they wish. This is due to science fiction having technical terms that make the shortness of traditional haiku difficult.

How to write Scifaiku

Scifaiku contains certain theme elements, much like haiku does. In traditional haiku, the poems are about nature. In scifaiku, the poems are about science fiction. Each poem needs to evoke a science fiction premise along with its own observation of that idea. For instance, you might include a technological word like space, laser, nebula, biofeedback, or teleport. Technical words often can be long and have many syllables, but this is allowed in scifaiku.

In traditional haiku, a word is included to indicate the season or time this poem is taking place in. I was taught in the workshop to also include this element in the scifaiku poem. It is not a requirement, but I am finding that including it makes my poems stronger. I tend to not use seasonal words, but I do like to use words that give a sense of the time.

Haiku and scifaiku both involve creating a sense of a single moment in time and space. You need to discover that tiny moment and the feelings that it invokes within yourself. Scifaiku is about creating a tiny bubble in the universe that makes one consider the human condition.

Scifaiku - "Cold"

Brainstorming Techniques

When I am ready to create a limited series of scifaiku poems, I take out a notebook and create three columns. One column is where I write down ideas of science fiction concepts I might want to compose poems. The second column I list moments of time. The final column is where I write down ideas of feelings that could be evoked. From these lists I begin to mix and match the three concepts to create different scifaiku poems. I pick the three best to create a sequence to send to magazines. Each of the three scifaiku poems can stand on their own as singles, but together they touch on a theme that unites them. These clusters of poems are what end up publishing. Scifaiku is such a short form of poetry that most magazines appreciate having a couple of them together to flesh out a single presentation page.

Authors of Scifaiku

  • One of the earliest published poems in this form was Karen Anderson’s “Six Haiku” from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1962.
  • Terry Pratchett used scifaiku as a chapter epigram in one of his early novels, “The Dark Side of the Sun” in 1976.
  • Robert Frazier published “Haiku for the L5” in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine(1979) and also “Haiku for the Space Shuttle” (1980)
  • The most extensive use of scifaiku in science fiction is by David Brin in his “Uplift Universe” and in his novel “The Postman”. In “Uplift”, the dolphin characters speak a haiku-like language called Trinary and he has characters quoting and writing haiku in the story. In “The Postman”, Brin used scifaiku as chapter epigrams.

 

Where to Submit Scifaiku

I tend to write scifaiku in a small series when I prepare them to be submitted to magazines. Each of the poems is related via subject matter and work together, but also can stand separately. Each series is three to five poems in length. This gives the magazine a little more to bulk out on the page since scifaiku is such a short form. Most science fiction magazines do accept poetry submissions, but not all will accept scifaiku due to its brief format. You should read the magazines you wish to submit to and learn their publishing guidelines before sending in your work.

Awards for Scifaiku

There are few awards for scifaiku. It is a rare form of science fiction inspired poetry and often will not be eligible for recognition in regular poetry awards. However, The Science Fiction Poetry Association gives out a “Dwarf Star Award” for the best short length speculative poem each year which does include Scifaiku. The nominees for the award are published in their annual anthology, Dwarf Stars. Joining the Science Fiction Poetry Association allows you to nominate and vote for the award in addition to giving you a copy of the anthology.

Orbiting Secrets, a Scifaiku poem illustration

Last Word

Scifaiku is a poetry form that I’ve grown very fond of. It is my hope that more people will begin to write it and that it will flourish as an art form. From a single seminar on a lazy Friday afternoon, I have been transformed into a poet of sorts and my life has become all the better for it.

Comparing 3 Alphasmart Digital Typewriters

An Alphasmart is a digital typewriter that was designed to help teach keyboarding to grade school children in the public school system. The Alphasmart has a full-sized keyboard, is portable, lightweight and built to take a beating. It has no internet connection. It stores the keystrokes the student makes in file buffers that can later be uploaded either to a computer via a cable or to a central unit in a classroom setting. Since the children can not access the internet, they learn to write without distraction and pick up keyboarding speed with ease.

The last few years, the Alphasmart has been phased out of the school systems in favor of tablets and chromebooks (a limited laptop). Many of these tough old alphasmarts now flood eBay for a low price. For $20, you can have a self-contained writing machine with a full-sized keyboard and a small screen interface that will not get between you and your writing. I personally use an Alphasmart Neo as my drafting machine of choice, but I started out on an Alphasmart 3000 and found it more than up to the task of writing a novel.

There are three main model types of Alphasmart to choose from. Which one is right for you may not be readily apparent. Below I am going to make a comparison of the three models going over their strengths and weaknesses. I know writers that use any of these three models, so once you know the differences, you should be able to determine which is the right one for you.

Alphasmart Neo and Samsonite Shuttle Case

Alphasmart Neo

The Neo is known for the sharp lettering on its LED screen and can be seen in bright sunlight when you write outside. The lines that are shown are adjustable via the alphasmart manager program. It ranges from 4 to 7 lines. I have mine set at 5 lines because I like the text to be a little larger.

You will need a book light to use with your Neo when writing at night. I always bring my Mightybrite dual music stand light with me to the coffeehouse when I write with it.

The Neo has eight compartments for your writing, each will hold approximately twenty-five pages of text. The Neo comes with a built-in thesaurus, dictionary, and word count feature. Having an instant word count on the go has been a real asset to me during Nanowrimo when keeping track of your word count is critical to keeping up the pace of your drafting.

Battery life on the Neo is fantastic. It takes 3 AA batteries and this will keep your Neo running for 700 hours. I change out mine once a year and my machine is ready for instant writing at any time. I never need to hunt for an outlet when I’m out writing in coffeehouses and I can take my Neo to the park or into my backyard for outside writing.

There is no internet connection for the Neo. This makes it an excellent non-distraction machine to use for your writing. I do bring my smartphone with me when I write so in the event I do need to look up something on the internet on the fly, I can do so, but the extra effort this takes usually keeps me from doing the act. I view this as a positive thing.

Alphasmart Dana

Alphasmart Dana

When new writers are looking over the Alphasmart line, many gravitate to the Dana. It has a slot for an SD card, has a word processor, and a larger screen to see your work. However, there are problems associated with the Dana that you need to be aware of.

First off, the palm based word processor that you can use with the Dana is no longer supported. Even if you found a free download of the program, the license keys are gone. If you have a license key from the past, you can use the word processor, but if you are a new user, you are out of luck. You can upload any palm based software into the Dana and find it compatible, but frankly, if that is your goal, I think you are better off with an inexpensive laptop or tablet. The Dana does not have the ability to save every keystroke the way the Neo does, it stores the data on the SD card. There will be times when you will lose all your text.

The screen on the Dana is larger, but it is fainter and harder to see the text. Some people have gone as far as remove the over screen on their machines in order to make the screen more readable, but this is difficult to accomplish if you don’t have the technical skills.

Like the Neo, the Dana does have the standard simple word processor, dictionary, thesaurus, and word count features. However, it does not have the battery life. Your Dana will last only a few hours on a charge, similar to a laptop.

Alphasmart 3000

Alphasmart 3000

My first Alphasmart was the 3000. It has a solid, full-sized keyboard with a good feel. My typing speed is fast on the machine and the screen has sharp, crisp lettering. The standard eight files in the AS3T only hold around 8 pages each, so when writing on it, I recommend “sending” your data to your computer each night and freeing up your space when you can. It is good to get into this habit anyway so that you store your data in a safe place. While the AS3T is a rugged machine that stores every keystroke, I feel better seeing my work in my Scrivener program on my desktop.

The desktop manager does not have a word count feature in the AS3T. It only has a simple word processor, dictionary, and thesaurus.

The AS3T uses three AA batteries and has the same 700 hours of run time as the Neo. You pop your batteries in once a year and then don’t worry about it. The AS3T is a little more square and longer than the Neo and I find it harder to perch on my lap, but if you have a tabletop to write on, you should be fine. The AS3T also will need a book lamp to light up the keys and screen when writing at night or in a dim coffeehouse.

Rating the Three Alphasmarts

Of the three machines, I feel that the Neo is the best choice for an author. The keyboard is the most ergonomic, the screen is the sharpest and easiest to read and it holds more data. The word count feature is a real plus too. Being able to turn on the machine and start writing in around two seconds is a real plus.

My second choice is the Alphasmart 3000. While it doesn’t store as much data as the Neo and the keyboard is slightly less comfortable, it is a solid and dependable machine. I own one as a backup and will not part with it.

Finally, I feel that I should give a word of warning about the Dana. While I do know of people that own and prefer them, I feel that due to their age and that much of their palm OS software is difficult to come by, makes the Dana a poor choice. Spare yourself the headache and look at the Neo or AS3T.