Skip to content

Corey J. White Posts

The Announcement

One morning in early July, I woke up to an email from one of the editors at Tor.com Publishing. They’d recently had an open unsolicited submission window and I’d submitted the manuscript for my sci-fi novella Killing Gravity. It had received a really quick form rejection from another publisher just a few weeks earlier, so I had basically convinced myself there was no way a publisher with as much clout as Tor would want it (Lesson the first: personal preference is a strong condideration in editorial decisions. Just because one editor rejects a story, it doesn’t mean it [and by extension, you] are rubbish). The email subject read “Offer on Killing Gravity,” and I had so thoroughly convinced myself of the impending rejection that I actually thought, That’s a strange way to phrase a rejection.

Honestly, if the email subject had simply read: “RE: Submission – Killing Gravity” there’s a chance I might have deleted it unread (Lesson the second: never, and I mean NEVER, self-reject).

Needless to say, I opened the email.

I literally couldn’t believe it, I was in shock. My first response was to send my partner (the award-winning author of Welcome to Orphancorp, Marlee Jane Ward) a message reading: “Fuck. Motherfucking Tor want to buy my fucking book.” 6am eloquence is not my forte. My second response was to stumble through, knock on my housemate’s bedroom door, and repeat the news to her more-or-less word for word (she later said she thought something terrible had happened, like a death in the family, because I was white as a sheet. When I said ‘in shock’ I meant literally).

Flatiron Building
Photo credit: Marlee Jane Ward

Marlee and I had already planned a trip to the States, which meant it was perfectly timed for us to be able to meet up with my editor Carl Engle-Laird in New York, and even receive a tour of the tour offices in the historic Flatiron building. It also meant I could have an editorial meeting with Carl over beers in Kansas City while we were there for WorldCon. Sure, the internet’s an amazing tool, but there’s nothing quite like face-to-face. It’s great when everything just falls into place.

Now here we are, a few months later. The announcement has been made, including the amazing news that Tor.com Publishing are going to publish Killing Gravity’s sequel, and now I can talk publicly about it. Something I mentioned on twitter is that a big part of why this is so exciting (besides it being my first book, which is a huge deal on its own) is that Tor.com Publishing’s line of novellas is consistently of a super high quality, with multiple award-winning novellas, brilliant emerging and established authors, beautiful cover art, and an editorial desire for better representation with their authors and books. To think that Killing Gravity got chosen out of slush to be published alongside Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe, as well as upcoming titles from Charles Stross, Cassandra Khaw, and Laurie Penny (not to mention all the other well-regarded authors whose work I haven’t checked out yet), is incredible. Talk about external validation… (I’d had 130 short story rejections in the 18 months before this sale, so Lesson the third: it’s all about forward motion).

So if you need me, I’ll be here, talking about Killing Gravity, offering advice, posting fiction (my own, and links to others), and trying to make the most of this opportunity to kick-start something resembling a writing career.

Leave a Comment

How to be a Writer…

There are so many posts like this one, and so many of them are dull, repetitive, or full of shit, but I thought Rebecca Solnit’s 10 Tips on How to be a Writer hit the nail on the head.

2) Remember that writing is not typing. Thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, composing in your head and in sketches, maybe some typing, with revisions as you go, and then more revisions, deletions, emendations, additions, reflections, setting aside and returning afresh, because a good writer is always a good editor of his or her own work. Typing is this little transaction in the middle of two vast thoughtful processes. There is such thing as too much revision—I’ve seen things that were amazing in the 17th version get flattened out in the 23rd—but nothing is born perfect. Well, some things almost are, but they’re freaks. And you might get those magical perfect passages if you write a lot, including all the stuff that isn’t magic that has to be cut, rethought, revised, fact-checked, and cleaned up.

Thank you to Jane Rawson for the heads-up.

Leave a Comment

The Business of Writing

I’ve recently had cause (which is equal parts *squee* and frightening) to start paying attention to the business aspects of writing, and coincidentally I came across this post here, which details much of the business/financial side of things, from someone who either knows, or has at least done plenty of research.

But whilst that post deals with the end result of having written and sold a book, Peter M. Ball has been posting about treating your writing practise as a business. Peter M. Ball’s blog often has some interesting and insightful bits of writing advice (of particular interest is this series of posts about Die Hard), but as well as that, he’ll sometimes have advice geared more to the business side of writing (something I plan on talking about more here… eventually).

His recent post – Dear Writers: What’s Your Business Model? – is full of insight. Maybe your writing practice is a magical, soulful, unpredictable beast, but… you want to make money from it right? Ideally you’d like to make a living from your writing? Then, like it or not, you need to think about it like a business.

When I started putting together a business plan, I had to think beyond that: who was a writing for? What was I giving them? Who were my competitors and how would I do better than them? Most important: what was my business model? Where did the money come from?

And because small business book after small business book stressed the importance of that, I set aside my eager enthusiasm for 48 hours or so and did some research. By the time I was done I had rough answers for all those things – enough to make me confident about the potential income – and for the next eighteen months my estimations were pretty accurate.

That 48 hours gave me a niche to fill, an identity that set me apart from the other people working in that space, and reasonable idea of what I needed to do to start generating cash-flow. It told me the most valuable places to focus my energy – what to do, and what not to do, when time was limited.

My plan and research served me well enough that I was surprised other weren’t doing it, given that it was largely put together with 48 hours of research and some scrap paper. I had a clear business model – this type of product, released this often, with this kind of focus – that gave me a clear measure of success or failure.

I had never had that, with anything I’d written before. It was remarkably focusing.

Check out his full post here.

Leave a Comment

An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories

If you haven’t already read Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, I cannot recommend those books enough. The series is part Lovecraft, part Stalker, part X-Files, part climate-change polemic, yet completely original. I finished Annihilation in a single night, and read the other two within the week. One day I hope to be able to write a series (or even a book) that is as masterfully-written, intriguing, and harrowing as the Area X books.

But shilling for Mr VanderMeer isn’t why I’m posting today – I’m here to share this post of his, which went up a few days ago at Electric Lit: An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories.

I thought it would be useful to take some very dramatic job that a character has — in this case, a dragon slayer– and demonstrate how it is that the average day of a dragon slayer is no different than the average day of an insurance salesman, in terms of not necessarily being of any interest to a reader.

When you’re first thinking about story and scenes, you have to choose what to dramatize, and what you won’t.

Lots of great advice and helpful diagrams at the link.

Leave a Comment

The Savannah Liar’s Tour

I’d been meaning to post this for a while, but time does what it does, and here we are… I recently read Will McIntosh’s The Savannah Liar’s Tour at Lightspeed Magazine. It’s interesting, surprising and touching – SF with the feel of contemporary fantasy.

Excerpt:

On the trolley, Delilah pointed out Chippewa Square, a cozy park shaded by huge Live Oaks.

“At last count there were seventeen hundred such squares in Savannah.” She was speaking to everyone, all of the tourists on her trolley, but she was looking right at me. Her gaze sent a thrill through me like nothing I’d ever experienced. “Under no circumstances should you go near any of them. They look friendly, but they bite, and many carry disease—”

According to Delilah, a creature lived in the Savannah River that could swallow the Loch Ness monster whole. The Buddha was buried in a local graveyard.

Today was the day. I was going to speak to her.

With the tourists chanting her name, Delilah stepped off the trolley, took a bow, waved to or shook hands with each person as they exited her magic trolley, onto the cobbled street, back in the real world.

I lingered so I’d be the last off. My heart tripped as I climbed down the steps. As I paused in front of her, I could find nothing to do with my hands. They felt wrong on my hips, wrong in my pockets, wrong dangling like dead fish at my sides.

“Your show is really something,” I stammered. “I’m spreading the word, telling all my friends.”

“I was wondering when you were finally going to talk to me,” Delilah said.

Read the whole thing here.

Leave a Comment

The Killing Jar

While my original plan was to point anyone reading to one of Laurie Penny’s short stories, first off I’m going to share one of her articles: Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless. If you’re not familiar with Laurie Penny’s non-fiction, she’s been writing about social and political issues, feminism, and various ways these areas intersect for a few years now. If you’ve read anything of hers before, it was probably some of her excellent coverage of the Occupy movement.

It only makes sense that a writer so cognizant of socio-political issues would write science-fiction that is layered, unique and equal parts scathing and accurate in its portrayal of the absurdities embedded in modern society. The Killing Jar is one of those stories that when I read it I wished I’d written it – serial killings as government subsidised art, in a Britain that feels not-too-far from today’s. It reads like one of the better episodes of Black Mirror, but without needing to rely on a tech angle. It also represents a future that could be the logical conclusion to society’s obsession with true crime.

Excerpt:

I feel a bit sorry for Tony. It’s not that he’s not a good serial killer, it’s just that for various reasons things haven’t worked out for him, and he hasn’t achieved the sort of notoriety that someone with his skill set really deserves.

For instance: The last troubled, hard-drinking detective with unorthodox methods who Tony managed to hook into a daring cat-and-mouse game ended up in rehab for alcohol abuse, thus wasting months of painstaking antagonism. He’s alright now, but part of his recovery program apparently involves no longer doing active police work, which pisses Tony off no end after the amount of time he put into the creepy post-crime scene flirtation they had going on.

The new inspector on the case just doesn’t have the same sparkle. Sure, he breaks the rules now and then, but his colleagues generally like him and he’s Tony says he doesn’t have enough personality disorders to be interesting.

Personally, I think that’s a bit rich coming from Tony.

It’s not that Tony is boring, precisely. And it’s not that he doesn’t have any other interests, or things that he cares about with the sort of sick fervor you’d expect from people in his line of work. It’s just that he cares about being a famous serial killer slightly more than anything else.

Read the whole story at Terraform.

Leave a Comment

The Science of Happiness

Here’s an interesting article I came across courtesy of Julian Simpson’s always excellent INFODUMP email newsletter – The Science of Happiness.

Here’s the kicker: Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross. This is a microcosmic example of evolution, of adaptation. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger. Therefore, your first mystical scientific evidence: your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality. Let that sink in for a moment before you continue, because that’s a seriously profound logic-bomb right there.

Your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality.

Read the rest here.

Leave a Comment

Don’t be afraid of the future…

Warren Ellis posted a talk he gave last year in Dublin to his ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter – which you should sign up for. If you’re interested in the modern science fictional condition, it’s required reading.

We just need to keep telling the folklore.  Using the language.  Tell the stories.  There’s no such thing as future shock.  It turns out that we’re all much stronger than we ever gave ourselves credit for.   We dealt with gods and monsters, so by god we can deal with the space eels.  We adapt.  Everything tells us that we should be overwhelmed by our accelerating future that’s happening faster than we can prepare for.  But Stewart Brand said “we are as gods and might as well get good at it,” and he said that forty-seven years ago, the year I was born.  And we are monsters, and might as well admit it: we’re pursuit predators who can heal almost any wound, show up just when you think we’ve gone away, and we’ll attempt to have sex with pretty much anything in the universe.  Don’t be afraid of the future.  We will never die, we can do everything we ever want, and we love stories more than anything.  Stories are magic, magic is science, and science is what makes us human.   Don’t be bored, and don’t be afraid.  Have a drink.  Sit around the pool in the clearing.  The future is coming, and we’re going to win.

The whole things is here.

Leave a Comment

The Structure

You’ll find a new story by award-winning author Marlee Jane Ward up at Slink Chunk Press, The Structure.

Disclaimer: Marlee and I are… close.

An old lady who she thought looked very kind once hit her Mama on the head with a chunk of concrete and twisted rebar. She grabbed their full trolley and took off, with Destiny in it. Destiny jumped out, skinned both her knees and as she cried the lady laughed at her. Lantra cried too. Destiny tried to help by collecting a few bits and pieces on their way home. Mama told her she was a good girl, hugged her and smeared blood and tears all over Destiny’s best t-shirt.

This man looked very dirty and scary and his face was all dirty and peeling. Lantra stared forward as he approached. When he passed the man reached into his sack and pulled out a bottle. He flicked it into the trolley and it rattled in around Destiny’s feet.

“Luck for the day, ladies,” he said, and tipped his hat, even though he wasn’t wearing one. Lantra smiled a tight-lipped smile back at him and Destiny picked up the bottle.

“Thanks mister!” She called after him. She felt good that the man had been okay, but even more assured of her theory. You could really never tell what people were going to be like out here.

Leave a Comment

Work Harder

You may have heard about my good friend* Hugh Howey, who is one of those recent few writers who have turned eyeballs on self-published and serialised fiction into success and book deals and bathtubs full of whiskey (but not whiskey that was made in a bathtub, because that would be gross). Anyway, he’s posted some advice, and goddamn if some of it doesn’t sound damn fine. Choice cuts pasted below.

*I’ve never met the man and he has no idea who I am.

So here’s the #1 secret to success and a career of working in your underwear: You have to work harder than anyone else. Period. Look around. What are other aspiring writers doing? That’s your ground floor. Your minimum. That’s where you begin. Double that. I promise you, this is the easiest path to success. What follows is specifics. But this is the general rule: Work harder than anyone else. If you don’t have this as your benchmark, you are going to have to rely on too much luck. And this blog post isn’t about the luck, it’s about how to minimize your required dosage.

[…]

1) Make a long-term plan. My plan was to write two novels a year for ten years before I ascertained whether or not I had a chance of making this work. You don’t get into the NBA without at least ten years of shooting drills and pickup games. If you set a longterm plan like this, and stick with it, you will succeed. Because you’ll find yourself in the top 0.1% of aspiring writers. 99.9% of your colleagues will drop out before they finish their plan. But you’ll outwork them. And yes, even if a thousand of you read this blog post, and all thousand of you implement the plan, all thousand of you will earn a living with your writing, leaving not much room for everyone else. Tough shit. There are more seats on this bus than there are people willing to put in what it takes to make it. Keep in mind that the videogame and TV busses are packed. We can lure more and more of them over if you implement your plan. And that plan all starts with:2) Reading. I assume this is a given, but you never know. I’ve met people who don’t read at all but want to become writers because they think it sounds like an easy gig. The underwear! The mumbling! The Googling! The thing about writing that’s different than playing a guitar for a living, or acting on stage, or painting, is that we all do some writing. In fact, we do a lot of writing. We write emails. Blog posts. Facebook updates. A novel is just more of that, right? Wrong. The writing is the easy bit compared to the crafting of engaging plots and characters. There are some things you only gain through absorption. Read a lot, read the greats, and read outside your comfort zone. Want to write science fiction? Read crime thrillers and romance novels. Learn how to unspool a mystery and how to inject love into your stories.

[…]4) Daydream. Most of the writing takes place away from the keyboard. I did most of my writing as a yacht captain, roofer, and bookseller. I also got in the habit of driving with the radio off, in silence, with just my thoughts. Tune out the distractions and live in the world of your creation. Know your characters, your plot, all the twists, the larger world, before you start writing. And then keep most of that shit to yourself. The reader doesn’t care. Most of what you think is interesting is boring. Your novel is going to be a greatest hits collection, every one of your best ideas packed into a single volume. Hold nothing back. You’ll have more great ideas.

5) Learn to fail. Your first book will not be your best. The elation of completing that first draft is awesome; soak that up; remember it; get addicted to it. Because you’ll want to do this ten or twenty times before you write your best work. We’ll get to the craft stuff in a bit, but for now, just know that you should revise, revise, revise, edit, publish, and then get started on your next book. This was the best thing I ever did: I didn’t waste time promoting my works until they were already selling. I kept writing. So when things did heat up, I had seven or eight works out there. All those works are brand new as long as they stay undiscovered. You aren’t in a rush. Remember the plan.

Learning to fail also includes learning to write like crap and not care. Push through. We all write like crap, some of us by the steaming, fly-buzzing bucketload. The reader will never see it. You’ll revise it to perfection and delete the bad parts. The key is to have something down to work with. So learn to fail. Keep going. Ignore the sales of existing works. Ignore the bad reviews. Keep reading, writing, practicing, and daydreaming.

[…]
6) Plot trumps prose. The thing you absolutely should not do if you want to make a living as a writer is go to school to learn how to write. MFA programs churn out editors and waiters. Sure, you can craft a perfect sentence, but you’ve got nothing to write about, because you’ve been in school your whole life. Readers prefer the clear and concise delivery of an exciting story more than the flowery and sublime delivery of utter ennui. Hell, they’ll even take the horrible delivery of a great story over the absolute perfection of dullness. Some of the bestselling novels of my lifetime have been lampooned for the writing style therein. Granted, if you can do both, please do. But first learn to craft a story and tell it in the clearest manner possible. That means studying story. Read Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces ($13 for the hardback!). Watch great films and TV shows to see how they pull it off. Read what’s selling and ask yourself why it’s selling.

[…]
9) Write Great Shit. This seems obvious, right? But here is what separates failed works from those that succeed. I think a lot of craft writing advice is outdated. Times are different. Attention spans are shorter. You can coax a reader along, and give them a slow build, but only if you hook them first. So start your story at the most tension-filled moment, even if that’s in the middle or at the end. Introduce a likable, flawed character in the first paragraph. In that same paragraph, name the stakes. It used to be that we had to distill our novel down to an elevator pitch for prospective agents. Now we need to do the same for readers, and your book should open that way.

[…]

10) Find your voice. I put this last because it’s the hardest, will take the longest, but may be the most important thing you ever do as a writer. What the hell is your voice? It’s how you write when you aren’t aware that you’re writing. Everything else you do is mimicry. Self-awareness is the enemy of voice. When you fire off an email to your mom or best friend, you are writing in your voice. When you blog, you will begin to find your voice. Your voice will change the more you read and the more you write. That’s normal. It’s still your voice.

Why is voice important? Not because it will land you an agent. Or because your works will win literary awards. No, screw that. Your voice is important because you can’t enter a flow state without it. When you find your voice, your fingers won’t be able to keep up with your writing. You won’t stumble. You won’t flail. You won’t sit there wondering what the next best word is. You’ll have an idea or a concept, a visual image, a conversation that you want to convey, and you’ll know immediately how to convey it.

Your voice will get easier to find the broader your vocabulary becomes. You’ll have more pieces to slot into the jigsaw puzzle of your prose. Your voice will improve as you study your own writing to see what works and what doesn’t. My voice is sing-song. I fell in love with Shakespeare’s sonnets and read so much iambic pentameter that I can’t help but have my syllabic stresses rise and fall to a beat. I like the way it feels. It feels like me. I also discovered that I love run-on sentences, with lots of comma clauses, but only if I intersperse those sentences with a bunch of choppy, short, incomplete clauses. My mother pointed this out to me. She was right. Nailed it. And I learned to embrace this.

Getting comfortable with your voice means becoming less self-conscious about your writing. When this happens, you can tell the story in your mind without getting in your own way. Stop reading what you’re writing as you write it. See the world in your head. Visualize it. Smell it. Hear it. Sprinkle in details from the periphery of your character’s senses. Make the world real. Then just tell it as naturally as you can. I promise this will go better than trying to impress yourself or anyone else. I promise.

There’s plenty I didn’t bother to copy, so go have a look at the whole thing yourself. The only thing I’d add based on my own experience – self-care. Look after yourself. Find out what your limits are and don’t push yourself beyond them. Burning out isn’t fun. Stress sucks. Mental health issues are real issues that you need to be wary of and consider when you’re chaining yourself to the keyboard.

And now, speaking of, this novel isn’t going to edit itself.

Leave a Comment