What’s Next?

What’s Next?

Greetings, everybody.

As of yesterday, my long in-progress fan fiction, Stars Above, is finished after two and a half years of work. It’s a personal victory for me, and so far I’ve been thrilled at the positive response to it.

What this means for Tasakeru is up in the air at the moment. Working on the final chapters of SA has been grueling, so I’m taking a well-deserved break from writing for at…

View On WordPress






The Amtrak Residency: Why I Think This Is A Terrible Idea For A Writer



I’ve felt sorry for Amtrak for a long time. Economic pressures and the unique problems of any rail system based inside the US (where automobile travel has too long been the be-all and end-all) have turned it into a faint shadow of the formerly great passenger and freight rail lines that helped define the 19th and early 20th-century history of the US.

But I’m finished feeling sorry for it as of now. It’s no crime to have fallen on hard times. But offering people what seems to be something wonderful and then ripping them off the minute they start trying to take advantage of it? NOT GOOD.

On the face of it, it sounds like a lovely offer.

#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel. Up to 24 writers will be selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015.  A passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection. Both emerging and established writers will be considered.

But then you read the terms and conditions, and the alarm bells go off big time. Go read them: I’ll wait. I’m not going to reproduce them here: they give me the pip.

Clause 5 is where the trouble starts. Clause 5 essentially says: “When you turn in your application, gee, anything can happen to your original writing. Who knows? We have a billion PR people working for us whose work yours might be [airquotes] confused with [/airquotes]. By signing this you agree that should this happen, you have no recourse, and we never have to credit you or pay you one thin dime. [But you’re so desperate, you won’t care, will you?] #lol #loser”

Clause 5 by itself ought to be enough to make you walk away, it’s so slimy. But then comes clause 6, in which you assign to Amtrak the irrevocable world rights to all the data in your application including your writing, forever and a day. And the day after that. 

I learned the lesson long ago both from other freelance writers and at my agent’s knee, and the lesson is as important now as it ever was — in this day of the effortless digital ripoff, perhaps way more so. The lesson is this: Never give anyone world rights to any of your writing.  Ever. Ever. Because who knows if that one piece of writing is the one that would have made you famous worldwide and rich beyond the dreams of avarice? I wouldn’t sell anyone world rights for a million dollars and that necklace of flawless cabochon emeralds I saw in the window at Harry Winston that one time*. But give away world rights to something for a single lousy train ticket? I don’t think so. They could plate the inside of that sleeper with platinum and lay on catering from Dallmayr and I still wouldn’t do it if it meant they got to keep world rights.

Better pay the ticket price yourself and keep the rights to your work in your own pocket than swap those rights for a single train ride, sleeper or not.

…Now, I hear they’re fixing clause 6 in some way or other (doubtless already having heard the first wave of complaints). That’s all well and good. But I haven’t heard a word about clause 5, which stinks to just as high a heaven.  And they tried to get away with clause 6 as it was. That says way too much about their concept of good faith as it applies to writing, and writers.

It’s not worth it. This thing is poison. So please, I beg of you, step away from the very large diesel-powered vehicle. I too am “passionate about train travel and writing”… way more than most people might guess on the first count. But this is not the way to go about it. If they’re willing to try to take this much off you before you even win, what happens when you actually get on board?

*I leaned my forehead against the window right there on Fifth Avenue in the twilight and moaned like a broken thing. Ah God those emeralds. They didn’t have a single inclusion, not one of them. (sigh) …Never mind.

Writing on the train on one’s own nickel: the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise, 2004


Shit like this pisses me off to no end. Thanks, Amtrak. Enjoy swindling poor, gullible writers out of their hard work. I’m sure all the inevitable lawsuits, public outcry, and horrible publicity will be way worth it.


askoutcasts asked: Okay, Mrs. Duane, this has been bugging me for some time: Is it a straight up-and-down rule that you should never, EVER use passive voice in writing? I try to avoid it whenever possible, but sometimes it feels like the narration just... *sounds* better when using passive voice, like it's more natural. Do you have any advice on what to do about this? And if it really IS that bad, do you have any tips on how to avoid using it?


Here’s the problem with the passive voice, from where I’m sitting. 

Optimal sentence structure (in English anyway) has a subject and an object:  something that does something to something else, in the foreground. But sliding out of the active into the passive makes that “something” harder to discern. It is, in its way, a sneaky way of not having to take responsibility for what’s happening in the moment, the scene, or (taking one step back) in the sentence. The passive clouds the issue; it’s almost as if the writer wants to distance him/her/whateverself from responsibility for whatever’s going on in the narrative. Cf. the interesting line from the behaviorist Sydney Harris: “We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice—that is, until we have stopped saying ‘It got lost,’ and say, ‘I lost it.’”*

The active voice is about agency. Use of the passive at worst can strip the agency right off the character or the point of view. At best it still partially veils the proceedings and the issue of who’s responsible for doing what…  and most likely leaves your reader at least partially uncertain about what’s happening. It’s the equivalent of purposefully smearing Vaseline on the camera lens or adding (in digital mode) a 5-pixel Gaussian blur to everything.

Mostly you should avoid the passive voice because (a) keeping your reader clear about what’s going on** is very important, and (b) if you let yourself commit it too often, you will find it easier and easier to let yourself off the hook when writing sentences or scenes that should be hard to write — except you’ve allowed yourself to become habituated to the easier-and-less-thoughtful/mindful method.

…Now then. Of course sometimes passive voice will work better for some sentence or some sequence. But you have to be rigorous with yourself when you find yourself using passive more than sparingly. You need to look carefully to see whether you’re using it as a special effect, to a specific given purpose, or just because it’s easier to do it this way for the moment, or “as a placeholder, I’ll fix it when I line-edit”***. When you catch yourself getting ready to elect to use passive voice in something written, pause and make yourself restate it at least a couple of times in active voice; consciously require yourself to explain to your inner writer why this is a better choice than keeping it active. If you’ve tried the experiment and genuinely found that passive works better, fine. Do it. (If it’s an error, you can always burn it later.)

But if you find yourself doing it more than two or three times in, say, a page? Then alarm bells should go off. Stop, sit back, distance yourself a bit. Do something else for a few minutes, and then return to the page and ask yourself, Why do I keep wanting to go passive on this? Is there something about the character business that’s bothering you? Have you got an underlying structural problem? Don’t obsess, but — as a temporary corrective — do another page or so where you stay rigorously in the active. Then come back and review the page where the passives started cropping up. Normally a reason will present itself. Correct the problem and move on.

…That’s all I’ve got on this. I fail at this more than occasionally, and have to go back and fix passages where the passive crept in because I was in a bit of a hurry. Just keep an eye open and make sure you’re using it because it is genuinely the proper tool for that particular job.

*Not that I necessarily agree with the sentiment, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is the marked difference of voice.

**Even if you’re dealing with such issues as an “unreliable narrator” or otherwise skewed or slanted POV. At such times your reader needs clarity more than usual, not less. Otherwise they’re going to start thinking you’re not playing fair with them, which is A Bit Not Good. 

***No you won’t.

Reblogging writing advice about passive voice from the wonderful dduane, who has my thanks. XD

← Older entries Page 1 of 11