Status of Submissions

It’s been a while since I wrote up something about the works in progress. This is more for me, but if you like, you can read along. I’ll hide it after the first one, so you don’t have to, either.

The Winter the Troll Danced with Old Nick: Undergoing 3rd rewrite. Will be finished and ready to go out at least by August 7th. Damn it.

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Writing, Reading, and Reading Out Loud

The English front office is weird today. I’m…the only one here. Which I did not expect, and which makes me wonder if I should get trained in how to contact all these folks if there is no one here.

We interview our last job candidate today. I hope the rest of the committee turns up. I baptized myself with about a third of this morning’s latte, so at least I’ll smell like Grandma’s kitchen for the interview.


Write-a-thon: Why yes, I have finished chapter 5. Yes, that is four days earlier than planned, thank you. So, right now, I’m reading through the first five chapters and ramping up the description factor. Sunday begins chapter six. So far, on schedule.

The Writing Process: I think I’ve covered what I do for revision, but I haven’t talked about proof reading. I do have to confess that I am the worst proofreader of my own stuff in the world, and I often default to good friends who are awesome proofreaders (my friend Lisa can spot a misspelled word from across a crowded room). It’s important, no matter how lazy, and/or type A you are, to put the work down for a couple of days and look over spelling, punctuation, and spacing. Don’t be like Grandma Cath. Do this carefully. It’s important.


Because I’ve been focusing on writing in my spare time, I’m not doing any panels. However, I am doing a reading. That would be the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading with me and Kathy Sullivan, and it would be Friday from 3:30-4:30 upstairs in that literary place it always is. I will be reading the Augean Stables bit from Hulk Hercules, O-Taga-San, and if there’s still time, the Hephaubot scene from HH.

I like reading at conventions. I’ll be doing it next week again at Readercon. I think I might do a post on how to ramp that up, eventually.

One more thing to post for today, and then I’ll move on.



Update for those following the write-a-thon: My current goal is rewriting a chapter a week. Last night I breezed through a great deal of chapter 5. I have one more scene to add in tonight, and then I can move forward. That was faster than expected.

I’d like to talk about one more aspect of revision before I let that topic go, and that’s rhythm. How many of you take the time to read your work aloud after you’ve completed the basic story? I think it’s a very important step in making sure that your writing sounds good and that you don’t have those evil sentences that begin and end with the same words. If you like the way words sound, I think it’s almost indispensable.

How do you handle the flow of your sentences?



That was a blindingly busy weekend. We had dinner with friends on Friday, moved the in-laws to a more accessible apartment and had another dinner with another friend Saturday, and saw that most cultured of films, Jonah Hex with a third friend on Sunday. The evening was polished off with a psychedelic movie about Revelations.

And…I got my line edits for Crystal Vision (the next Swill, coming out in August), and had to respond to a series of interview questions for the local paper Iowa Source about Hulk Hercules.

So, yes, I am going to spend my evening catching up for the Write-a-thon, as I need to make up some time for yesterday.

Great big and all kinds of shout-outs to Catrina, Shannon, and Brent, who have already sent lovely money. Remember guys, every bit helps a fledgling writer.

Gotta go get a shot, buy some spaghetti, and get my butt in a chair.


Character Background

Many authors advocate for working with their characters before they begin to plot their story. Revealing information about the characters is helpful with main plot and subplot. A standard in the writing world is a heuristic that asks you all sorts of questions about the character. They are as numerous as books on writing. A quick Internet search reveals a character profile, as well as a good column from The Lazy Scholar.

In the article, LS suggests that not only are character profiles a good way to get started, and not only are they are a great resource when you’re slogging through the middle, but that you can also employ them at the rewrite stage. It’s an excellent continuity check, as well as a measure of consistency of actions.

I don’t use them too much. I could see the need in a more complicated story. What I often do is write about my characters when an issue about their past is something I want to know. This piece won’t usually make it into the story, but, like the zero draft, this is my way of figuring out who they are, to place them in situations and see what happens, or have them tell me stories about where they’ve been and what’s important to them. These pieces often don’t have plot, but they are very helpful to me because they reveal motivations, emotions, and priorities.

How do you work with your characters? How do you revise them when needed? Do you ever decide to cut them? How do you do that?


Clarion Write-a-Thon

Let’s talk for a moment. Frankly.

What does a workshop mean to a writer? What does it mean to a writer that they can work uninterrupted on their craft? What does it mean to a writer to gain insights from professionals in the field to help them on their way to a writing career? What does it mean to a writer to be in a classroom setting that believes in genre fiction, and takes it SERIOUSLY?

To this writer, it meant a lot. I was very lucky that my college (Kirkwood Community College, gem of the Midwest) paid for my trip to Viable Paradise so that I could meet wonderful people, receive invaluable instruction, and feel that I was taken seriously as an author. Now, it’s time for payback.

UCSD Clarion is sponsoring their first annual Write-a-thon this year. The timing is right. I will be finished with teaching on July 1st, so there’s only about a week of overlap. The money goes to scholarships for writers who can’t afford Clarion else wise. I’m participating.

Other people I know are participating too. I don’t care if you sponsor me or them. The point is that you sponsor someone, that you give an emerging writer who might not be able to afford this experience a chance to study and gain support for their work.

If you’re interested in sponsoring Catherine Schaff-Stump, just click on my name. If you’re interested in sponsoring other writers, this link will get you there.

Notice that not only is Clarion UCSD having a workshop, but so are Clarion West and Clarion South. Your choices are abundant!

What is my writerly goal? To finish the troll novel rewrite 3, to get that baby out to agents and publishers. I was going to do this anyway. Now I’m doing it for a good cause.

Thanks for your help. In the future, the book shelf you line may be your own.


The Outline: Friend or Prohibitive Foe?

Let’s talk about outlines for a moment. I used to be outline phobic. I had the misconception that outlines locked me into plans I couldn’t necessarily follow through on. Now, I use outlines in a whole ‘nother way.

Whatever a writer uses to get them through the story is a useful writing technique. Notice how I’m talking about ending the story. Most stories start promising, hit some mud in the middle, and die an ignoble death in the tar pits of fiction. (Some resurface as fossils. Others become word petroleum. Yes, it is true.) We have to persevere and wade through the swampy middle to get to the end. Remember, revision is our friend. We can clean and sharpen.

So (rolls up sleeves) the writer has a first draft. The writer has asked questions, received feedback, and now it’s time to revise.

These days, the first thing I’m likely to do is OUTLINE my story. I go through it, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, and look at the action. There are many ways to do this, some low, some high tech.

1. Recipe cards. After you’ve written the main actions on the card, you can divide them up, shuffle them around, and throw some cards away. You can even notice gaps where you need connections.

2. The spreadsheet. Some people like scenes all in one document.

3. Scrivener (not a paid endorsement). Scrivener is for Macs (similar software is out there for pc). With Scrivener, you can shuffle hi-tech postcards, or you can do what I do, which is pop whole scenes in and out of chapters. I also keep a file for scenes I trim, just in case I decide to throw them back into the story, or reference them later.

I use the outline mainly for plotting. My stories center on character and action. Sometimes I’ll do an outline for a character story arc and write that straight through. If I do several of these, I have a master story outline of several character story arcs. I do have to build interactions among these, and you guessed it, I figure out the best places to do that among the outline.

I am, in the case of the first draft, what they call in the trade, a pantser. As I revise, I am definitely more of a planner, and all the way through, I am intuitive about what feels and sounds right for my characters.

Should we talk about how to get to know your characters? Probably. That’s another topic.

I’d also love to hear how you organize your plot and novel structure as you revise.


Giving Good Crit

Last entry, we talked about being active when you received crit. Now, how can you get good karma points as a reader?

I actually do a lecture on this with my students, because we have to do some peer edit training at the beginning of the semester. There are a couple of pitfalls that peer editors don’t avoid.

“Your paper is good. I wouldn’t change a thing.” There are two reasons that I see this happen in the classroom: 1. The student doesn’t know enough about writing to make any suggestions, and sees the writing as so much better than something they can do that they really believe the paper is unchangeable. 2. The student doesn’t want to take the time to crit the paper.

In theory, in a writing group, number 2 isn’t going to be our option. If it is, get out of that writing group! Number 1 can be a problem, which is why it’s important to be in with a group of your peers. There are ways to teach people about writing so they can help each other crit. I usually model anonymous student papers with the class. Perhaps a way to get on the same page is to critique a story that isn’t from one of the writers in the group, and give people some common ground.

What about those rare instances where a paper/story/novel really is good? It *can* happen. My suggestions at this time are for complimenting readers to substantiate what the writer is doing well by telling them the specifics that work, if no other reason that you don’t want a writer accidentally get rid of good stuff when they inevitably do some tweaking.

The other pitfall? When I give the speech about being too nice, perhaps the pendulum swings the other way.

“This paper sucks.”

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Getting Good Crit

Two weeks out from the end of the summer semester. Mamma wants some down time! I guess I should have figured six weeks in which you taught a class, oriented a new group of students, presented to the board, added a level on another campus, and interviewed and hired for a new teaching position would be a little busy, huh? Didn’t even see that coming.


All right, world. I *think* that’s the last of the Hercules books out to kind people who helped me out with the book. I think next up I need to be thinking about a contest. Here. With amazing Morty Moose tokens. And mythology stuff. Look for something soon. In July. When the semester is over.


Before I move on to the next exciting installment in my series of writing process, you need to take a look at these two links:

Maggie Stiefvater Revises.

Maurissa Guibord on the qualities of a good critique group.


All right. So you’ve got this manuscript in your hands. What do you do with the darned thing? That’s a question if you’re both a writer and a reader.

Let’s start with the writer then. I know that, as you wipe your brow from the concerted effort of writing your work, that you think your job is over. Guess again, writer san (sorry. Bryon’s been building a tori in the garage, and he just had me out to see it) You must continue to be active. There is no passive in writing.

Remember our detachment from yesterday? This is your place to ask questions of your readers. Look over your story. Pin down any issues you might have with:

1. Plot and story
2. Characters
3. Pacing
4. Description
5. Wordiness

I could do the numbering thing all day.

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Critique: Part 1–The Need To and the How To

Once a writer has a first draft, this is the point where things get interesting.

For many writers, the idea of showing drafted work to someone initially is very hard. I tell my students from day one that they have to get over that. The benefits of getting feedback on any piece of writing far outweigh the negatives. I know that creative writing can feel very personal, and a bad feedback session makes a writer feel small. The best advice I can give you is this:


When you are drafting, you want to care. A lot. You want to have fun and play. You want to explore. When you show your draft to other people, you have to put the draft outside of you. Outside of your ego. Outside of your emotions. What’s being examined are the words on the page, not you or your writing process, or your multiple hours (years? decades?) of work.

Someone is doing you a favor by looking your work over for you. They deserve a kind and courteous response from you for doing so. Even if you don’t agree with a blessed word they say.

I know that all peer editors are not created equal. Writers want to find someone that will give both positive feedback and constructive criticism. If a critique is only negative, and not helpful, I doubt that it’s helpful to you as a writer to go back to that person for a reading in the future. Similarly, someone who strokes the writer’s ego, but doesn’t substantiate that praise, or doesn’t give you anything to chew on as revisions occur, might not be the best person to read your work.

Another factor to consider when asking someone to critique is getting a writer at the skill level as you are currently. A more experienced writer can teach, but really can’t give a less experienced writer the same kind of feedback as a peer can. I think you need both kinds of feedback.

Writing is viewed as a solitary occupation. Where can you, writing in Cherokee Scream, Texas (population 614) find someone to read your work that knows something about writing? Glad you asked.

Not all of these methods have proven successful for everyone, but they have for someone, so I’m listing them here.

Continue reading “Critique: Part 1–The Need To and the How To”