Marcy Kennedy

Do the Odds of Success Really Matter?

Star Wars The Empire Strikes BackBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I have a creative’s heart and a scientist’s mind. I like facts and formulas. I like logic. I like percentages and statistics.

I don’t like when the odds aren’t in my favor on something I really want. Because I have a strong rational side, odds that aren’t in my favor make me want to move on to something with a better chance of success.

I’ve been feeling that way lately listening to the talk about the publishing world. Traditionally, odds of success as a writer were terrible. According to the BEA’s industry analysis, as late as 2004 writers had a 93% failure rate. Most books published sold less than 1,000 copies, and authors were always told not to quit their day jobs because they wouldn’t be able to make a full-time living from their work.

Then the self-publishing boom hit, and for a little while, it seemed like things were changing. We fed our dreams on stories of people like Amanda Hocking and, more recently, Hugh Howey. We started to hear about writers who couldn’t have made a living in traditional publishing now bringing in full-time income as self-published authors.  

But how many? Behind the scenes, there were also a lot of writers who were frustrated and discouraged because they weren’t making a full-time living, especially now that the early gold rush season is past. In fact, a survey in 2011 of self-published authors found that the average amount earned was $10,000. Half of the authors surveyed made less than $500/year. That’s okay as a bonus but certainly not enough to live on.

So we have to ask ourselves if we’re going to listen to the odds, or if we’re going to be like a Corellian and flip the odds the bird.

In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Corellian Han Solo, Princess Leia, and the droid C-3PO are being chased by Empire ships intent on destroying them. Han decides to head into an asteroid field because the Empire ships won’t be able to follow them (at least not as easily).

“Sir,” C-3PO says, “the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to one.”

Han doesn’t even ease up on his speed. “Never tell me the odds!”

C-3PO telling Han the odds and Han ignoring them becomes a running joke in the movie, but it’s based in the idea that in the Star Wars universe, people from Han’s home world of Corellia don’t care about the odds.  

My husband, one of the biggest Star Wars fans I know, couldn’t tell me why Corellians ignore the odds, so I went digging to learn more about Corellians and see if I could solve the puzzle.

What I discovered was Corellians don’t just ignore the odds because they’re crazy or stupid. It’s not that the numbers don’t matter. (Because let’s face it, we’d be fool-hardy to completely ignore the numbers.)

So what makes Corellians feel like they can beat the odds? And what makes them succeed at beating the odds?

Corellians like a challenge.

If you’re the type of person who when someone says “you can’t,” replies with “watch me,” then you understand the love of a challenge. When Corellians look at a situation where they have a 10% chance of success, they hear that it’s not hopeless. As long as it’s not hopeless, they believe they’re the ones who’ll beat the odds, so they take a chance and try.  

Corellians trust their skills and abilities.

When Han Solo flew into the asteroid field, when he later made a direct attack on a Star Destroyer, he did it because he was an amazing pilot. He had years of practice. Corellians ignore and beat the odds because they know where their abilities lie, they’re prepared, and they know how to use their skills to the best of their advantage.

Corellians are extremely adaptable.

Corellians’ innovative natures are a large contributor to their disregard for the odds because they can adapt when it looks like the odds aren’t going to go in their favor and find a way to get around whatever the obstacle is.

When Han Solo made the direct attack on the Star Destroyer, he hid on top of the command tower so the Star Destroyer couldn’t detect them. The problem was they couldn’t move because as soon as they left their position, they’d be spotted. But Destroyers vent their waste before going to hyperspace. And that gave Han the opportunity to have their ship drift off with the waste.

What do you think? Should we let the odds discourage us? Or should we take a lesson from Corellians and find a way to beat them?

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How to Use Google+ to Easily Record a Video Blog

Google+ for author platform buildingBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When someone talks about the advantages of video blogging for your author platform does your heart start to race with that how-am-I-going-to-find-time-to-learn-another-new-thing feeling? First you’d have to figure out what technology you need, then you’d have to buy it, and then you’d have to learn how to use it.

Or you could just sign up for Google+.

Google+ offers what they call Hangouts and Hangouts on Air, also known as “video options for the tech challenged.”

You can read the rest of this post on the Author Media blog, where I’m guest posting again about Google+.

If you’re tired of hearing about Google+, have no fear. This is my last post on the topic for the foreseeable future (i.e., probably for the rest of the year).

If you want to know more about Google+, make sure you register for my 90-minute webinar on Saturday, June 15. A Crash Course to Using Google+ to Build Your Author Platform ($35) covers how to effectively set up your profile, what to do about circles and communities, other ways to use hangouts and hangouts on air, and more. Even if you can’t attend the live event, the webinar will be recorded and sent to all registrants. Click here to register!

 

Why We Ought to Ask Ourselves “Can We” Rather than “Should We”

Star Trek Into DarknessBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

In the newest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, Kirk faces a series of choices where the outcomes are lose-lose. Does he let Spock die or break the Prime Directive and reveal their ship to a primitive society? Does he allow their ship to explode or fix the problem but irradiate himself to death?

Every time he makes a choice, it seems like someone is ready to tell him he made the wrong one. Finally Kirk is fed up.

“I don’t know what I should do,” Kirk tells Spock. “I only know what I can do.”

Granted, the situations Kirk faced are ones we’ll never deal with. And there are situations where we need to think about should and shouldn’t, right and wrong.

But what about when we face a choice without a clear right or wrong? A choice where each path holds potential drawbacks. Maybe in those cases we should worry less about should we or shouldn’t we and think more in terms of can we or can’t we.

Because there’s a difference, and making ourselves phrase the question as a can rather than a should often changes our perspective on the core of the issue.

Last week, for example, my husband’s car reached the end of its life, and we started asking ourselves the inevitable questions.

Should we buy a new vehicle or a used vehicle?

Should we trade in my truck and go down to being a one-car household?

I was making myself sick wondering what we should do. Once I started thinking about it in terms of can do, the answers were easy.

Can we really afford a new vehicle without putting ourselves in a bad financial situation?

Maybe some people would have said we should have taken on the crushing debt to buy a new car because of the warranty or reliability or it looks nicer. Phrasing it as a can question made the answer simple for us.

Can we really afford to pay for and maintain two vehicles when my husband goes back to school in the fall?

Maybe some people would have said we should keep two vehicles because of the inconvenience of me not having a car at my disposal. Phrasing it as a can question, though, helped us get down to what was really the issue for us. We’d made a choice to sacrifice in the short-term to send my husband back to school in order to help us reach our long-term goals. We can’t make payments on two vehicles while sending him to school, and my truck doesn’t get good enough gas mileage to be our sole vehicle when he’ll have a two-hour commute each day.

Yes, it’s semantics, but changing the way we ask a question can sometimes also change the way we look at it.

Is there a question you’re facing where the answer becomes easier if you ask it as a can rather than a should? If you’re in a two adult household, do you share one car or each have your own?

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6 Reasons Google+ Is Better for Author Platform Building than Facebook Is

googleplusBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I know I said we’d be alternating between science fiction/fantasy posts and writing posts week by week now that I’ve gone to my summer schedule, but I have a special guest post up today that I didn’t want you to miss. (Next week it’s time to talk Star Trek: Into Darkness!)

Today I’m at Jane Friedman’s blog giving the six reasons I believe Google+ is actually better for author platform building than Facebook is. Click here to read the post. And remember to leave a comment at Jane’s site so I know you stopped by!

Is Technology Killing Our Creativity?

Iron Man 3By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I don’t camp. I prefer to be in a place with electricity and running water. I’ve owned a Kindle for years, and I’ve been using computers since the only game you could play on them was pong.

I’m not someone who thinks the world was better off before technology.

But I am someone who’s wondering what our dependence on technology might be doing to our long-term ability as a society to think creatively and to innovate.

Reliance on technology hurt Iron Man Tony Stark.

After fighting the aliens in New York during the final showdown in The Avengers, Tony Stark—a creative genius—is in a tailspin. Every time he thinks about New York, he has a panic attack. His technology failed him, and he almost died as a consequence. Since then, he’s made over 40 upgrades to his suit, tweaking and tinkering.

At the start of Iron Man 3, what he’s ended up with is a suit that malfunctions more than it works.

One of those malfunctions strands him in Tennessee (he started in California). He scrounges parts to try to repair his suit, but still can’t get it to charge properly. With no suit, he doesn’t know what to do.

Then a little boy reminds him what he is. He’s a mechanic. The suit isn’t Iron Man. He, Tony Stark, is Iron Man.

His creativity created the Iron Man suit. When he became overly dependent on the technology he created, he lost that creativity.

It wasn’t until his suit was taken away that he got his creativity back. He breaks into the Mandarin’s mansion using items he could buy at a hardware store and rig in the little boy’s shed.

I wonder sometimes if we aren’t raising a generation who will have the same problem. All the technological inventions of the past 20-30 years came from a generation that was forced to use their brains and creativity apart from advanced technology in order to create it. But will the next generation be able to innovate apart from their current technology or will their creativity be stunted by it?

Is a generation coming who won’t know how to write, only to type? Is a generation coming who can’t do mathematical calculations by hand, using their mind? Is a generation coming who doesn’t need to remember anything for themselves because the answer is only an internet search away?

And if those things are true, will their minds be as sharp as the great men and women of the past who enabled us to reach this point in the first place?

I don’t have the answers, but I’d love to know what you think. Are we in danger of allowing technology to kill our creativity? What might be the solution if we are?

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Top 5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Foods that Sound Good Enough to Eat

 

Turkish Delight C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

One of the things I love most is when the creator of another world makes me crave a food or drink that doesn’t exist. For fun, I thought I’d make a list of the top 5 I’m desperate to try.

Klingon Raktajino from Star Trek

My husband frequently jokes that he’s going to buy me a shirt that reads “Instant human. Just add coffee.” So, as you might imagine, a coffee was going to make this list.

Raktajino is a strong, dark coffee introduced to Federation citizens by the Klingons. Barely an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine goes by when someone doesn’t order one. I’ll take mine extra sweet, thank you.

Butterbeer from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series

I want to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando just so I can try a butterbeer. Based on the Harry Potter movies, it looks thick and creamy, and it’s topped with foam. I’ve heard talk that it tastes like butterscotch.

EAT ME Cakes and DRINK ME Bottles from Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland

I’d only want to try these in a controlled environment (after all, I don’t want to be eaten by my own cats or crash through the roof of my house), but it’d be a lot of fun to be giant or tiny for a little while.

Turkish Delights from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Turkish Delights exist in our world. They’re basically flavored gelatin coated in powdered sugar or covered in chocolate. They’re a bit like a giant jelly bean center really.

The Turkish Delights in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are enchanted so that once you eat one, you desperately want another and will keep eating them until someone stops you or you die. I don’t like that aspect of it, but my theory is that means they’re the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. I’d just need to make sure to eat them with someone trustworthy around to stop me.

Fizzy Lifting Drinks from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I read all Roald Dahl’s books multiple times as a kid. While I would also love to drink from the chocolate river and try the gum that tastes like a whole meal (as long as I didn’t end up as a giant blueberry), the treat that appealed to me most were the drinks that would make you float. I’ve always wanted to fly 🙂

Your turn—what imaginary food or drink would you love to try?

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How to Write a Killer Pitch

Writing a book is easy…at least when compared to what we need to do after we finish. We had 50,000 to 100,000 words to write our novel, and now we have to condense that down into a couple of paragraphs for an agent pitch, query letter, Amazon description, or back cover copy.

It feels unfair. Mean really. After all, if we’d wanted to write something short, we would have written a short story.

But it’s not as scary as you might think if you break it down into a formula. If formula sounds too scientific, then think of it as baking cookies and this is your secret recipe to cookies a pitch that will make anyone’s mouth water.

Click here to read the rest of this post.

(This is a guest post I did for Kristen Lamb’s blog on Friday, but I loved it so much that I didn’t want to risk you missing it.)

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What Would You Do If You Only Had 21 Days Left to Live?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the WorldBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Before anyone panics, no, I’m not dying in 21 days. (That I know of anyway.)

But that question has been on my mind since I watched Seeking a Friend for the End of the World because in the movie, that’s how long they have before an asteroid destroys the earth. All hope for diverting or breaking up the asteroid has just been lost as the movie opens.

In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, people’s reactions are a lot like you’d expect. There are riots in the streets. Some people start drinking, doing heroine, and engaging in orgies. Some commit suicide. Some keep going about their daily routine like absolutely nothing has changed, showing up for work and cutting their lawns. Some seek to do the things left on their bucket list, make their souls right with God, and reconcile with estranged loved ones.

And it got me wondering what I’d do if I only had 21 days left.

There’s a quote that floats around where some famous author was asked what he would do if he only had a few days left to live, and his answer was, “Write faster.”

That wouldn’t be me.

If I had 21 days left to live, I’d set this computer down and never touch it except to write emails to people I cared about and wouldn’t be able to see in time to tell them how much they meant to me.

I love my job. I love to write. But it’s my career. If I had only a little time left to live, it’s not going to matter if I make enough money to pay the bills for next month. It’s not going to matter if I hit my word count on my novel or finish that next round of edits. If I’m gone, no one is likely to read it anyway. I’m not famous enough that someone else would take over the work involved in publishing my writing.

What’s going to matter to me is getting in as much time with my husband, and family, and friends as possible. Walking my dog and cuddling my cats. I’d eat what I wanted and I wouldn’t exercise 🙂

Thinking about that made me realize something. None of us really knows how long we have. We might only have 21 days. We might have none. Worse, someone we love might have none. Today might be the last day we have with them.

Which means we should be focusing on the important things every day rather than neglecting them for the someday when we’ll have more time. Too often I fall prey to the peer pressure that says to succeed we need to work 10-, 12-, 14-hour days. I don’t believe that, and I’ve made it my goal this year to figure out how to work smarter and make better use of my time. To take back my life.

(In fact, I just finished a fast draft to increase my writing speed. I’ll share more about that in a Wednesday post when we focus on writing.)

I value hard work. Hard work is important to success. But life is more than work. Or at least I believe it should be, no matter how much you love your job.

What would you do if you only had 21 days left to live? Do you think I’m wrong or wrong in my stance on long hours and life-work balance?

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Will Artificial Intelligence Ever Be Possible?

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

From Data in Star Trek, to David in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, to the cylons in Battlestar Galactica, we seem to be fascinated by the idea of robots who can think for themselves. (And the implications of that for our survival as a species.)

Scientists have made great advances in creating more adaptive code for their robots, in making them look more lifelike, and even in giving them the ability to mimic human facial expressions. Check out this video from the 2009 TED Talks.

But this is still a long way from robots being sentient. No matter how complex their programming, they still abide by it. No robot has been created who, like Data, can exceed the sum of his programming or who, like the cylons, can redesign their own programming and independently build more of their “species.”

So here’s my question for you. Do you think we’ll ever develop true artificial intelligence (in other words, sentient robots), or is this a concept that will forever remain a part of science fiction? More importantly, do you think true artificial intelligence would be beneficial or dangerous?

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How to Format Internal Dialogue

How to Format Inner DialogueBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Welcome to the next installment in my series on inner dialogue. If you missed the earlier post on Inner Dialogue in Your Fiction: What It Is and How to Tell Good from Bad, make sure you take the time to read it as well. (And my apologies for such a long gap between them. I’ve been sick, and the blog here suffered right along with me.)

As you might have noticed from the comments last time, when it comes to internal dialogue, the most common question is “how do I format it?” It’s easier than you think.

The answer depends on what point of view you’re writing in.

In Omniscient POV Use Italics and a Tag

Because omniscient POV maintains some distance from each character and the author’s voice is dominant, it’s the time when you need to make sure you’ve clearly attributed the thoughts. If you don’t, you risk the reader not knowing whose thoughts they’re listening to. (Please remember that in these examples I’m not trying to illustrate how the POVs are different. I’m only trying to show you how to format your internal dialogue.)

Ronald took Melody’s hand and flashed her a smile fit for a dentist’s ad. “I’ll pay you back.”
Liar, she thought. Where’s the $1000 you still owe me? “I’m maxed out this month.”

As you might have guessed, this clarity and ability to put thoughts in present tense while writing in past tense is one of the often overlooked advantages of writing in omniscient POV.

In Regular Third Person POV Use Only Italics…Or Don’t Use Anything

You have options if you’re writing third person point of view but aren’t bringing it to the intimate level of deep POV.

Ronald took Melody’s hand and flashed her a smile fit for a dentist’s ad. “I’ll pay you back.”
Liar. Where’s the $1000 you still owe me? “I’m maxed out this month.”

Because we’re in third person point of view, we’ll already know that any thoughts are Melody’s so we don’t need the “she thought” of omniscient POV. The italics clue the reader in that we’re now hearing Melody’s exact thoughts.

The italics also allow you to use present tense thoughts in an otherwise past tense story if you want, without jarring the reader. If you choose to give the thoughts in present tense, just remember to be consistent throughout and, whenever possible, set them off in their own paragraph in the same way that you would dialogue.

You could also write this as…

Ronald took Melody’s hand and flashed her a smile fit for a dentist’s ad. “I’ll pay you back.”
Melody yanked her hand away. Liar. Where was the $1000 he still owed her? “I’m maxed out this month.”

You don’t have to add the action beat in front of the internal dialogue to make it work without italics, but I wanted to show you that it sometimes helps to ground the reader. Also, if you don’t use italics, you should keep it in past tense (assuming the rest of the story is in past tense).

For First Person or Deep POV (Third Person) Don’t Use Italics or Tags

You don’t need italics or any other signal. You’re deep inside your character’s head, and your reader will understand that what they’re reading is what the character is thinking.

The trick with this is that, to maintain consistency and keep from jarring the reader, you must maintain a consistent tense. You can’t be switching to present tense in your internal dialogue if you’re otherwise writing in past tense.

Ronald took my hand and flashed me a smile fit for a dentist’s ad. “I’ll pay you back.”
Liar. Where was the $1000 he still owed me? “I’m maxed out this month.”

No matter what point of view you’re writing in, never, ever use quotation marks for internal dialogue. Quotation marks signal spoken dialogue.

What do I do if I’m writing a paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction story and people can speak telepathically?

This is actually the trickiest of all because now you’re juggling externally spoken dialogue, internal dialogue where the character is thinking to herself, and head speak where two characters are speaking privately in their minds.

Here’s what I recommend to keep it all straight.

  • Use quotation marks for normal dialogue spoken out loud.  
  • For inner dialogue where the character is thinking to herself, don’t use italics or tags. Keep the tense consistent, and format it the way I showed you above for deep POV (third person).
  • For head speak, use italics. The first time this happens, you’ll need to use a tag or signal to the reader somehow that they’re talking in their heads. Once you establish that italics mean “we’re talking telepathically,” the reader will assume that’s the case every time they see italics. This is why you can’t then also use italics for inner dialogue where the character is thinking to herself.

So for the sake of demonstration, let’s assume Ronald and Melody from our example are telepaths now, and they’ve met up with a third character named Edgar who owns a classic space cruiser that Ronald desperately wants to buy.

“Sorry, bro.” Edgar rolled his three eyes. “I need cash now, not someday after you’ve been flying her for months.”
Ronald took my hand. Loan me the money? he asked telepathically. I’ll pay you back.
Liar. Where was the $1000 he still owed me? I’m maxed out this month. You’ll have to ask your sister.

Not the best written example, but it gives you an idea of how it would look.

Do you have any more questions about internal dialogue? Do you prefer to see it with or without italics?

Want to learn more? Check out my book Internal Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide!

(You might also be interested in checking out Deep Point of View, Description, or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)

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