Friday, December 25, 2009

Seasonal Update

black amidst dark green
wild hunter awaiting prey
the cat's in the tree

She likes the christmas tree, and doesn't care a wit that it's plastic. Silly beast.

The project mentioned before got slowed down a lot by other writerly concerns, but I still have hopes that it will be done before January 1. I do want to start the new year with a clean-er plate than it currently is.

Any things that you're in the middle of finishing?

Oh, and by the way, Season's Greetings from us to you. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

A New Game Plan to Avoid Moral Victories

Now some of you may know that I'm a football fan. A huge watch-whatever-game-is-on football fan. I've watched a lot of not-so-good football teams play tough against really good teams. The fans and the commentators always say "Well, they played tough. The [INSERT LOSING TEAM HERE] can grow and learn from this. That was a real moral victory."

Bah, I say. A loss is a loss is a loss is a loss. And losing is no fun. It is hateful. It makes you want to cry and pout. Although I do not recommend doing it on national TV. The commentators will make fun of you. See this poor guy as an example.

How does this relate to writing? Funny you should ask. I've had too many moral victories as a writer. I've got to stop saying "At least, I wrote today. That's something." Or "I've got two first drafts. That is more than I had before." This is not the kind of thinking that a successful writer has. I've been writing "seriously" for three years, but I've not sent out a single query letter. I have had the "Wait until next year mentality" for far too long.

No longer will this be the case. I'm changing my game plan.

I'm giving myself deadlines and am making myself publicly accountable for those deadlines.. I'm stating here that this is what I have to do this year. Look for regular scoring updates throughout the coming year.

Game Plan for This week: Write 6,000 new words.

Game Plan for the Rest of the Season:

  1. Finish a 90,000 word first draft of TDC by the end of January
  2. Plot MLTM – World War II short during the first week in February
  3. Write a 10,000 -15,000 word first draft of MLTM by the end of February
  4. Read and EDITS the first draft of TDC by the end of February. Make Notes
  5. Plot GL in April..
  6. Complete the first pass of Revisions on TDC by the end of May
  7. Submit TDC into the Maggies and other contests as time permits.
  8. Read and EDITS the first draft of MLTM during the first week of June. Make notes.
  9. Complete first pass of revisions on MLTM by end of June
  10. Complete second pass of revisions on MLTM by the middle of July
  11. Query MLTM by the beginning of August.
  12. Complete a first draft of GL by mid October.
  13. Complete second pass of revision for TDC by the end of September.
  14. Cry and send my second born novel into the big bad world. Query TDC during the month of October.
  15. Plot as yet unidentified novel during October.
  16. November 1st – NANO BEGINS!!!!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pre-emptive seasonal haiku

hyacinths in snow
spring's head eating winter's tail
an icy blue sky

It's coming down to the end of the year. I have a project that I'm trying to finish, and amorphous projects politely waiting in the wings for brain space to be freed.

What about y'all? Is there productivity, or a frenetic spinning of wheels?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Revision Game, Part one--2nd drafts: The Big Picture

(x-posted from my blog)

On my blog last month, Cher asked me to go into more specifics about how I revise novels. I didn't get a chance to post on the topic during the NaNo challenge, so I thought I'd delve into it now. In parts. Yes, I'm breaking it down that much.

Those of you who won NaNo last month are hopefully still racing toward those magical words "The End" (or maybe some of you have hit them already). But what do you do after you reach those words?

Personally, I close the file. Then I don't open it again for at least two weeks (if at all possible). During that down time I work on other projects, write a short story, talk to my neglected husband, read as many books as I can without my eyes rolling out of my head, whatever--the point is to let the dust settle on the story I just finished. (**Note: I highly recommend still writing something while letting a first draft sit. It takes about 3 weeks to form a habit, so if you slip out of the habit of writing, you have to force yourself to the keyboard again.)

After letting the first draft sit a while, I've found I can return to it with much more objective eyes. Once the dust has settled, I read the draft in its entirety, just to see what is on the page. I also make notes as I'm going along. Not in-line, nit-picky notes, but big picture notes. Reading a first draft can be painful, and it's sometimes hard not to jump in and start fixing stuff right away, but it is important to read through the whole book. I usually run into some scenes that make me cringe with how bad they are, but I also run into scenes that go unexpectedly well, or where I laid a foundation for a plot element I didn't even plan to work with but now I see where it could fit and make the story so much stronger.

By the time I finish reading, I typically have a lot of notes. Things like: Such-and-such character is flat or goes through an abrupt personality change in chapter X; ABC plot line totally dropped; XYZ scene lacks tension; and so on. For the most part, everything I list in my notes affects the book as a whole or at least several scenes. So, my second draft is focused on fixing the issues in my notes.

This is the big stuff. I'm not going to slow down and make sure all the dialogue and descriptions are perfect at this point. I'm just going to work on the big issues.

Mostly fixing these issues are about asking myself questions and implementing the answers. Character has a personality problem? What is their motivation through out the book? What are they thinking? What do they need/want? Plot line was dropped? How can I weave it back into the chapters? Scene not working? How else can I get from point A to point B? What is the worst possible thing that could happen at this time? Can it happen? (ect.)

If I didn't work this way, if say, I polished chapter 1 until it was 'perfect' and then I got to chapter 11 and realized 'hey this is a cool plot element, let me work it in early to set this up better' or 'huh, this character doesn't work. She hasn't been acting at all in character' I would have to go back to the beginning and I would lose a lot of the work I did. So, big stuff first. Second draft (for me) is all about making sure the story is being told.

Okay, I think I've rambled on enough for one post. Check my blog later for part two (3rd drafts: Scene by Scene).

Happy Hump day everyone!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Making Up For Lost Time

Deadlines are a tricky thing. You set them, you remind yourself of them, and hopefully you meet them. But life is complicated and tries to derail you. You have to prioritize and reprioritize and pick and choose your battles with the calendar.

Time management can sometimes feel kind of like balancing a ball on your nose while juggling knives and dancing on a balance beam.

On occasion, you drop a knife. (Hopefully said knife does not land on your foot or end up clipping an innocent spectator . . .) Falling a little behind in your time management is okay; mistakes happen and life gets in the way. You buckle down, devote a day or a week or whatever you need to really focusing, and get back on track.

Sometimes, though, you drop all the knives, the ball bounces right off your nose mid-step and lands under your foot, and the next thing you know you're down on the mat, staring up at the ceiling.

You're so far behind that you can't catch up with a little extra diligence. It's just not physically possible. Crap! What do you do now?

My answer: you catch up with a lot of extra diligence.

I'm in this position now. I have this glorious three-book-a-year plan with writing timelines and revising timelines and querying timelines and everything designed to overlap beautifully. A key component of that plan, however, is that I get the first 50,000 words of my winter project written during NaNoWriMo.

The problem: I did not win NaNoWriMo this year, and I'm not even keeping the 36,000 words I did write. I'm scrapping it and moving on to a whole different project. So now I'm 50,000 words behind schedule. That's not something I can make up in a day or two.

I suppose I could shift my deadline. It is my deadline, after all. One of the benefits of being an unpublished, unagented, aspiring novelist is that the only person I report to is me. But because all of the timelines are wrapped around each other, moving one deadline means moving them all. And I don't want to derail my whole year just because I spent November working on an idea that turned out to be a dud. Dud ideas are bound to happen and I need to work around them.

So instead of a few days or weeks of extra focus, I'm going to try to spend the next few months making up for that lost time. I spent the morning going through my goal tracking spreadsheet, tweaking the next three months. I cut out a few of my days off. I raised the bar on my daily goals by 1000 more words on writing days and 5 more pages on revising days. If all goes according to plan, I'll be back on track by the end of March.

It'll be harder. It'll take more dedication and effort. But I'm creating time here. That ain't easy.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tuesday Morning at the BookaPlex

The 'ping' was either Mom's breakfast toast or a new email. Anteriyuma Snapdragon Cooper, just "Snap" to her classmates, swiped her thumb across the fingerprint-resistant screen on her ComPlex cellphone. "Wicked-nova!" she stared at the bright display. The five-star review for the newest Zombie Paradox book had just zipped to her Inbox. "Marra Thneed's book got front line POD billing!"

"I take it you're off to the BookaPlex this morning," Mom said, scraping a healthy measure of grape jam over a piece of hot sourdough. "Vampire's Den Eleventeen?"

Snap rolled her eyes. "Zombies, Mom. Zombies. Vamps are SO 21st century." She sniffed the air and shifted from foot to foot. The smell of roasting caffeine was tempting, but Mom didn't have the caramel flavoring in the cabinet like the BookaPlex's café. "I saved up for the paperback. And I figure I'll grab some coffee with friends."

Mom spun around, butter knife still in hand, and a drop of jelly oozed into a pockmark in the beige linoleum at her feet. "Your father and I make sure you have perfectly good coffee at home. Why do you insist on squandering your allowance over there?"

"For the third time this week, Mom. It's not the coffee, it's the company." Snap waved her cellphone at Mom and snagged her Plastic from the holder by the back door. Shoving the card into her back jeans pocket, she added, "I'll be back for dinner." Snap bounded down the back stairs and onto the sidewalk, hiding a grin at the lingering image of her disgruntled mother with her hands on her hips, hair sticking up like she'd shoved the knife in the toaster instead of just the bread. Mornings.

The BookaPlex was bustling with activity, and Snap spotted her usual crowd by the periodicals. "Mere!" Snap waved her phone and the little plastic cartoon doll hanging from the phone's keyring lit up as she approached. Mere's friendship doll lit up in response and Snap's best friend barreled across the café area with arms outstretched and twin braids bouncing over her shoulders.

"It's out! Have you read the reviews? Oran42 said it's the best one Marra Thneed's ever written! Ever! How do you beat that?"

"I know!" Snap's sneakers squelched against the polished floor as she jumped into the air for a high-five. "You get your copy for the signin'?"

"Five more minutes. I've been nursing my hot chocolate and checking out the mags." Mere pointed to where two of their other friends were sitting, thumbing through the latest news on the BookaPlex's rental touchscreens.

Only Sasha waved in their direction; Toby had his headphones on, his eyes closed, and bobbed his head to the latest issue of what Snap knew had to be Music World.

"Be back, Mere." Snap scampered onto the thick pile carpet that filled a good third of the rest of the BookaPlex. She weaved past the bargain table, stepped around shelves of hardcovers and audiobooks, and made a direct line for the PODs. Two were empty, and she dove for the door, slipping inside with a quiet 'snick' of the latch.

"Good morning," the machine chirped at her with a friendly sort of voice.
Snap loved that voice. It meant she was going to get a brand new, hot-off-the-presses book before she'd even finished her cup of coffee.

"Will you be using paper or Plastic today?"

Snap swiped her card through the reader and tabbed through the printing and shipping options on the screen. "Not electronic, not mailed to my doorstep, I just want plain old . . . " she mashed the button with a grin, "paperback."

"Please make your selection."

Snap typed in the title and wiggled her fingers in the air before pressing down on the cover image with barely restrained glee. A preview of the text sprang to the screen and she thumbed through it, already more than happy with the book about to be in her hand.

"Would you like to make any other purchases today?" A list of related titles came to the forefront of the screen, each sporting their own preview. The list based itself on publisher marketing and her own previous purchases.

Snap thought about it. She 'could' print off a copy of Nosereaper. And maybe get something for her brother. She stared down at the card in her hand. Not today. The holidays were around the corner and she would have them all shipped instead, pick up a stack of hardbacks her parents had been drooling over. Besides, the new Ed Riley wasn't even out yet and Mom would want that for sure.

"Leticia McEllen's Faeries and Peacocks is 20% off today with your purchase of Zombie Paradox Four."

Snap thought harder. She chewed on her bottom lip, sighed once, and finally pressed "No."

"Please verify your identity by placing your thumb on the scanner," the machine chirped. When she did, it said, "Thank you," adding in her own voice, "Anteriyuma Cooper."

Snap's cellphone pinged as the receipt hit her Inbox. "Wicked-nova! Zombie Paradox Four is so mine!"

"Your book will be ready in - 30 - minutes at the front desk. Please be aware that if you do not pick up your purchase in the next 24 hours, it will be shipped to your home address. Have a book-tastic day!"

Snap grinned and stepped down from the POD. Already a line had formed for the machines, most of them teens like her. Someone asked, "Printing?"

"Printing!" Snap waved the receipt still gleaming on her cellphone screen at the boy in line. "Coffee time," she murmured to herself and trotted off to join her friends.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coffeehouse Ramblings

Ok, I should have probably entitled this post "observations of a 31 year old in a college coffeehouse while feeling old", but that seemed like a really long title so I backed off of it. Tonight was the last night of the National Novel Writing Month and I hosted a Write to the Finish Line Write-in. I finished my 50K at around 9ish and didn't leave the coffeehouse until 11ish. That left me nearly two hours to people watch. Now as you know, I'm a writer. Some of you may not know that the word writer is a synonym for an "observer of life." It is also a synonym for nosy, but I like "observer of life" better.

Below are the things that I learned.

  • According to the two twenty year-olds sitting next to me, Isn't it Ironic by Alanis Morisette is now an oldie. This made me sad…mostly because they're right. Jagged Little Pill is still one of my favorite albums and it is one of the first CDs that I purchased for myself. I remember buying it with my hard-earned baby-sitting money and driving to myself and my brother to tennis lessons while the songs from that album climbed the chart. Those kids in the coffee shop were probably 5 years old while I was listening to that album. SAD!!!!
  • Some people think they can plan out their lives. Sitting directly across from me (conveniently enough for observation purposes) were two boy wonder medical students or would be medical students. I'm not sure which. One of them proceeded to describe to the other in detail the life that he wanted to have. My favorite quote. "I told my girlfriend that if we were still together in my second year. We should just go ahead and get married and then we'll have a few years together before we have a kid if she wants to." He wins for least romantic proposal ever.
  • Same medical students. Another great quote. "One of my classmates is 39 years old. I don't want to be old like that before I find my passion." Deluded, deluded boys. I say better late than never.

That concludes my coffee shop observations for this evening. I think I will go grab my cane, my Ensure, and my arthritis medicine, and go to bed now. Good night!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Process Story RE: The Process of Writing a Novel

Last Wednesday, Kalayna posted about her writing process (crossposted here and here) and as a writer with the opposite type of process, I thought I'd expand on it.

(Turnabout is fair play!)

Kalayna has a very detailed pre-writing and writing process. I have no pre-writing process and a completely scatterbrained, I'm-sure-there-is-a-method-to-the-madness-in-here-somewhere writing process. You guys all know I'm a pantzer; we don't need to into that again.

But I have a really detailed revisions process. I revise in seven different waves. This process first came into existence with Aundroma, because I revised the first book so many successive times, each time looking for different things as I learned more and more about craft, that the waves just kind of happened. That very haphazard experience formed the basis for revising as I do it now. With Familiar, I think I finally got my revising method down to a solid process.

Wave 1: Macro-edits After the initial crazy first draft writing phase is complete and I've let the story rest for about a week, I read through the whole thing again and look for major plot holes, scenes that I meant to include but forgot about in the frenzy of writing, characters who appear out of nowhere or disappear with no explanation, and subplots that never resolve. I don't do any line editing in Wave 1. All I do is identify these major problems, make notes to myself on existing scenes detailing the changes that will need to be made, and write any new scenes that have to be inserted into the story.

Wave 2: Highlighting With Familiar I tried out the EDITS system, as taught by Margie Lawson and I am totally hooked on it. If you can get into one of her classes, do so. EDITS is fantastic. I go through my whole manuscript and highlight all of it using the EDITS technique. I do end up doing another round of reading through the manuscript at this point (it's hard to tell whether a sentence is yellow or green or blue without reading it) so I do also end up making some more notes to myself during Wave 2, but that is not the focus. It is important, I think, to note that I don't analyze the highlights at this point. All I do is read the sentences and classify them. Analyzing comes later, in much smaller chunks.

I call Waves 1 and 2 my second draft. This part of the process takes about a month. At this point I stop working with the manuscript as a whole and work waves 3 through 6 on each scene before moving on to the next scene. I won't look at the manuscript as a whole again until Wave 7.

Wave 3: Scene edits At this point, I break the story down into small chunks, usually scenes or chapters and go through a really detailed edit. This is where I look at the EDITS highlighting to make sure all my colors are balanced. I go through all those notes I made before and fix the random little issues. I make sure the flow of the scene works, that the tension is right, and that the story is moving the way I want it to.

Wave 4: Micro-edits Once I've got the scene just the way I want it, I start really drilling in line by line. I'm looking at this point for repeated words, excessive adverbs, passive voice, grammar issues, etc. This is also the phase where I start reading the text aloud, because I catch a lot of errors when reading out loud that I miss when reading silently.

Wave 5: Critique I am blessed with a fabulous critique group that meets once a week. I try to bring 10-20 pages to critique every week. I recommend every writer find a critique group. A critique partner is a must, but a group, in my opinion, is better. By getting multiple perspectives, from writers all over the board when it comes to genres and career levels, every scene gets filtered through a slightly different lens, which gives me a better overall view of what works and what doesn't. I don't always make the changes my critique group suggests, but they are pretty smart, so I go with their advice more often than not.

Wave 6: Scene polishing After the pages go through the group--assuming the group doesn't read them and tell me they just don't work at all and they need to be rewritten--I make whatever adjustments need to be made and give it one final look, making minor tweaks here and there. After that, barring a major story change occurring to me during the revision of later scenes, the scene gets locked. I put it in a separate file and don't look at it again until Wave 7.

Waves 3 through 6 make up the third draft. Now, assuming I've made it through the whole manuscript without going totally insane, we're back to working with the whole text once again for the last wave.

Wave 7: Final polishing After putting all these pretty revised and analyzed and critiqued and polished scenes back together into a manuscript, I have to go through the whole thing again on an overall level, just to make sure the whole things flows together right and that the overall plot arcs in the right way. If I'm lucky, I don't catch more than minor tweaking and transition smoothing here, maybe a balance here and there of the scene/chapter breaks.

Theoretically now my manuscript is perfect and lovely and ready to send out to agents and such. I try not to look at it again after this point, but I don't usually succeed at that. Invariably, a random little quirk here and there will occur to me and I'll open the document and make a quick change.

So that's my process. What about you? What's your process?

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Love the Smell of Libraries in the Morning

I'm a book buyer, an avid reader of fiction. I still do my research at the library. From dusty old books. Because they're tangible. The physical connection to the book is one of the reasons I love them. One more note to my overactive brain that says, "Cool. We're reading now. Shut everything out but just this one imaginary world, time, person, people, creature. Immerse yourself. Because you deserve it."

Books have been my alternatives to movies for a long time, first for the price difference and second for the lack of a screen, though the former is leveling out at an astonishing rate as the price of a paperback goes up a dollar a year. Increasingly, I've been entering physical bookstores and can't find the book I'm looking for since they refuse to carry it. Sure, I can order it through the physical store, sure I can order it online, but when I want a book NOW to read NOW and can't find it because it's not carried in the store hey -- a short walk away from this bookstore over here is a movie theater. It's lunchtime, and matinees are just $7. Which is $0.99 to $1.99 cheaper than the book I would have bought...big screen, here I come.

If they do have it in stock, the bookstore wins every time. Because you know what's NOT cheaper than a book? New eyes.

(Insert severe train-jumping veer to the left here. Weee!)

I squint at a screen innumerable hours a day. My eyesight is wretched--still steadily declining from the negative 7s and ousting me from the range of some formats of laser surgery. My morning and evening commutes, and bathroom breaks, are about the only time during the day when I'm "unplugged". I'm a technical writer, copy editor, graphics designer, and software quality assurance technician during my day job. I write fiction at a computer in the evening, I watch TV with my husband at dinnertime, I exercise to an assortment of cheap fitness DVDs and the Wii Fitness Trainer, and I even record my steps on a handheld game thingymabob. The last thing I need is another screen. I've resisted the smartphone, though the Droid is like a homing beacon calling to my inner Star Wars obsession. (In that every time I hear about it, the iconic Verizon "Can you hear me now" is replaced with "Where could he be? Threepio! Threepio, will you come in?") Procuring a smartphone at this point would likely sign the remaining usefulness factor of my eyes away.

The eReaders theoretically have a format that's book-like, and won't induce further eye deterioration. I'd be inclined to acquire one as the competition wears on, but only if I can, say, back up the data elsewhere in case the thing blows up, be able to redownload without repurchasing my purchases (via CONVENIENT activation/inactivation of licenses or somesuch), and limit my access to simply BOOKS from the thing. I've recently discovered I do too much from my laptop/desktop computers, and to that end I can't sit there and read an ebook for hours on end like I can with a physical book. This has nothing to do with eyestrain. There is simply too much going on.

Online, I can't shut out the world.

Nothing tells my brain to enjoy the book, immerse myself. Instead, my brain goes, hey, go check your email! Go update the latest version of this eReader software! And while you're there, go read the replies on your twitter! Go see the latest publishing news! Go work on your own book! (Thankfully that last one does in fact occur despite the other distractions around me. But at that point I actually have to disconnect from the internet to keep that kind of work going longer than 15 minutes.)

Do you have too much screen exposure? What steps of physical separation do you have to take to get a moment of peace or get back to work? How do you get away from the monotone electronic buzz that flits through our lives every hour of the day?

....Do you even try?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Process of writing a novel

Not long ago, I asked for writing questions on my blog, and this is one I received. ( X-posted)

Cher asked: What process to you go through during the writing of a novel? Also, something that keeps popping up is the use of scenes and sequels. I'm a little confused about the differences. I understand the functions but when I look at other's writing I can't point out which is which. Any suggestions or examples?

My answer: There are a couple different ways I could interpret this question, so if I don’t hit on what you are really asking for Cher, please let me know. (*Disclaimer* this is the process that works for me and I am not claiming it will work for everyone.)

Anyway, my process for writing a novel goes something like this:
I start out with brain storming sessions where I figure out my world and my characters. I tend to work with pen and paper in this stage, and the result is typically a mess. I rarely start with plot ideas, so this is truly just figuring out who I’m dealing with and what the world around her is like. My world and my main character tend to develop simultaneously. As I figure out what interests me about her, I learn about what the world around her must contain, and as the world fleshes out, I learn the rules and the pressures that will have shaped her. It is very organic—thus the mess. Once my idea start to solidify, I tend to write down the major rules to my world so I don’t forget. If I’m lucky, during this process, other characters and a plot have emerged, but not always.

The next step I take is what I call ‘post-it note plotting’. Basically, I write down every idea for a scene I have, in whatever order it hits me, on a post-it note. Then, once I have a whole lot of such scene ideas, I try to arrange them into a coherent plot. I blogged on this process a few years ago if you’d like to see a picture of a complete post-it note plot arc.I used to do this on actual post-it notes which I then stuck to my wall, but these days I use a program called scrivener which has an amazing outline/post-it note feature.

Now that I know the structure of my plot, I transfer the scene list from post-its to my computer. (Obviously, I now skip this because I use a program these days.) I then take this scene list and flesh it out into a full and fairly detailed outline. I have yet to write one of these the same. My first outline was based on time. Night one: list of scenes of occurred on that night in order. One outline I structured based on key points such as ordinary world, inciting incident, rising action, turning point one, ect. and listed the corresponding scenes under those points. I’ve written outlines broken down by chapters. I tend to go with whatever feels ‘right’ in my head at the time I’m organizing. It’s very trial and error for me. As you’ve probably noticed from my early posts this month, I didn’t actually go through any of the stages I’ve mentioned for this year’s NaNo novel—that is one reason it is stalling out at times. I’m a plotter and I like the road map, even if I don’t follow it. (Oh yes, I should have mentioned that. Despite the fact I write very detailed outlines, I still deviate from them as I write, but they do let me know where it is I think I should be should I get stuck.)

After all the pre-writting stuff, all that is left is to sit down and write the novel. (Easier said than done, right?) Once I start writing, my only processes to to write one word after another. I know that doesn’t sound very helpful, but it is true. In a first draft, my concern is to get the story down on the page. I don’t consciously focus on scene and sequel, or the heroes journey, or any of the writing rules I’ve studied. I just write the story.

I’ve taken numerous online writing courses, read dozens if not hundreds of writing craft books, and sat down and picked apart my favorite novels for how and why their writing worked for me. As I sit down to write a first draft, it is my hope that all the information I’ve gained has merged with my subconscious and my inner story-teller so it will be applied without my conscious effort as I write. Also, with any luck, my pre-writing plotting has already dealt with things like character motivation and logic issues, so they are already in place when I write.

Once the first draft is finished and the whole story is on the page, I start worrying about consciously applying writing principles. I evaluate the story as a whole and by scenes. I’m condensing what is actually a whole lot of work into a couple sentences, but I’m not really sure how to explain revisions. There are Macro story edits where I evaluate logic ensure I have rising tension through out the scenes, that characters grow, that I don’t drop story threads, and such. Then there are more micro edits where I look to ensure each scene serves a purpose to the story (or better yet, two or more purposes) as in, does the scene progress the plot, show character development, create tension, ect. and does the scene start and end at the correct spot. (As in, not too far before or after the main purpose and action.) Then I go to the very micro edits where I evaluate the flow to sentences and my word choice. After all this and some polishing, I send the manuscript out to my critique partners so they can poke holes in it. After more revisions, the MS then goes to editors, who poke even more holes in it. Yet more revisions, and then I have a very tight book which (hopefully) won’t have any holes left for readers to find.

So, that is my whole process, from idea to polished manuscript.

As far as your question about scene and sequel in particular, I have read books and taken classes on the subject, but I have the same issue you have Cher. I understand the principle, but I can’t tend to pick them out unless there is an obvious ‘rest’ beat. By the way, that is how I tend to think about scene and sequel—scenes are ‘action’ beats where the character is actively taking action to achieve a goal and sequel I translate to a ‘rest’ beat when the character is reflecting/planning/deciding what action to take next. The important thing to remember is to keep ever increasing tension in the story. Even in a ‘rest’ beat, the end result is the decision to take action (always better when the decision is between two bad choices.) Make sense? Like I said, I don’t consciously write thinking “okay, this is a scene. Now this one is a sequel.” I just tell my story, and hope that I’ve assimilated enough of these principles that I follow them subconsciously.

For more about writing craft, here are books and classes I highly recommend:
Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham —This is a great book both about the structure of single scenes, and the structure of scenes throughout an entire book.
Goal Motivation Conflict by Debra Dixon —This is an amazing book to help make sure your characters are moving forward logically and that you throw the right things in their path.
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King —This is a micro editing style book—I love it. (This is also part of the grand prize package for the NaNo competition)
Margie Lawson Teaches several amazing classes, in particular the EDITS class, which help you break down your scenes and really see what you have on the page.
Mary Buckham Teaches an amazing class called POWER PACING. I highly recommend it. She is also the co-author of the craft book Break into Fiction.

Have a great hump day (okay, so it's almost over. I hope you had a nice one then.) If anyone has questions, feel free to ask!

Monday, November 9, 2009


I'm a pantzer. I've discussed this before. I write by the seat of my pants. I don't plan things out in advance. I don't outline. I, on occasion, allow myself to jot down ideas for a future project in blurb form, but I usually only glance at them once before I start writing, just to point myself in a vague direction of the idea.

That is not to say I have not tried to plot. I have. It just doesn't work for me. I've talked on my blog before about how I'm getting more and more plotter-ish, but I don't think it'll go any further than it has. I like the freedom and the thrill of pantzing too much.

In fact, during this year's NaNoWriMo, I set an all time pantzing record for myself. I came up with my idea for my current project approximately 10 hours before the event started.

I've noticed something funny this year though. Perhaps it's been going on for a while, but because I'm more involved with other Wrimos this year than I have been in the past I'm just now witnessing it, but I've seen a whole bunch of people trying to mess with their method. I've seen pantzers try to bang out and then stick to an outline. I've seen dedicated plotters pick up a shiny new idea and try to just run off with it with no direction in mind at all.

I applaud them for their bravery.

I fear for their sanity, even more than I do for every Wrimo's sanity. (And I fear for us all a great deal, trust me.)

But I wonder if they will make it. Will those panzters trying to plot get a few weeks (or possibly days) into November and then suddenly toss the outlines out the window and take the story off in a whole new direction? Will the plotters giving pantzing a shot break down and take a few writing days off to outline and world build and character sketch?

Or will the event reveal an ability they never knew they had? Will they come away from it able to write both ways from now on, like a right-handed person who breaks their arm and has to learn how to do everything with their left as a result?

NaNoWriMo has always felt to me like a pantzer's paradise, but I know plotters who swear by it too. It really is all about getting out of your own way and letting the words rule the day. I've often toyed with the idea of using NaNoWriMo to experiment with writing in a different genre than I usually do, but it has never occurred to me to try a whole different writing style.

What do you think? It's too late for me to try it this year, but is it something to keep in mind for next year? Or are these plotting pantzers and pantzing plotters even crazier than I am?

Also, are you one of the switchers? If so, how's it going for you? Has it made you nuts yet? Have you given up and reverted to your familiar form? Or is it working for you?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rewards for NaNoWriMo?

It's NaNo, and I'm not having any trouble keeping above a daily 1,667 word count because I've had a set daily goal all year long. It feels like a tiny boost compared to last year's uber-challenge. As of last night, I was already up to 12,226 words! So if I want a real challenge, I have to spice things up a bit.

This month, I will:
  • Write 50k words from beginning to THE END of one or two versions of the story driving into my skull.
  • Complete four steampunk rings and post completed pics up on my blog to show off the finished results.
  • Give up my Saturday morning writing time in leiu of "Husband Appreciation Time". This is prime hours for me productivity-wise, but the hubby is so supportive and awesome regarding my writing efforts that he should get a medal. (In leiu of medal I'll be popping something in the slow cooker on Saturdays and watching a movie with him...hehe!)
  • Increase my baking to 2 loaves of bread a week (yum!) to have extras in the freezer.
  • Stock up on frozen baggies of homemade slow cooker soup.

  • My rewards? At 25k I get to start using the WiiFit Expansion pack in my daily exercise routine. At 50k, I get to hit the bookstore for Cherie Priest's new novel: Boneshaker. And for the first two weeks of December I get to avoid writing altogether while my prose stews -- time enough to binge on the new Sims 3 expansion pack, whittle down my TBR pile, and busy myself with holiday craftiness.

    What are your rewards for meeting your goals this November?

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    The Joy of Index Cards

    Index cards are one of the best inventions ever! Let me tell you why.

    1. You can use them to jot down ideas and even whole paragraphs when you don't have time or space to expand them in your ms, for example, if you're in a meeting or at a stoplight. Then when you go back to writing, there's your idea waiting for you.

    2. You can do quick character profiles that you can use later when you hit a plot snag and can't remember exactly what trait would cause your character to say... stick someone into the attic rather than the freezer. Instead of pulling up a file, grab the index card with the attributes.

    3. Portability. A desktop is heavy, a laptop can be heavy, and there may be too many people sardined next to you on the train for a notebook. Index cards can be held in one hand and written on by the other hand, then slipped into a pocket.

    I've given three reasons why I love to have index cards to hand. Are you a fan? Tell us why they are a staple. Are you not a fan at all? Tell us why you eschew them.

    ...Did you catch it? Hope not. :)

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    NaNoWriMo Resources

    NaNo begins at Midnight Saturday evening. That means if you haven't gotten geared up yet, it's time to get your trackers together! In this post I've collected a handful of my most common favorite resources for NaNo, as well as a handful of 2009-specific resources.

    The 2009 Report Card
    My favorite goodie is this modded spreadsheet by Cameron Matthews (based on the report card by Eric Benson). It features space for you to enter your word count and helps you calculate all kinds of statistics about your noveling experience such as your overall mood, best writing location, and how long it'll take you to meet your goal based on how many words per hour you've put in so far. Handy graphs, too! This version is for Office 2007 but you can run it in compatibility mode with 2003 with no problem.

    I was also able to track down two new Open Office versions of this spreadsheet here courtesy of NaNoWriMo participant laebrye and here courtesy of NaNoWriMo participant Atalanta. Keep in mind that's available through the NaNoWriMo forum.

    (And if you use these, folks, don't forget to say thank you!!)

    The Novel Worksheet
    New this year from Cameron Matthews, this workbook takes you through the whole process to publication: From NaNo draft to Final draft. The spreadsheet workbook is configured to allow you to set your own deadlines and anticipated page counts for each phase of your process. Everyone's process is different so it won't work for all, but I can tell you one thing: it will work for me!

    (Note: This is only for Office 2007. You can use it in compatibility mode with Office 2003 - but it's looks like some things won't reference correctly.)

    Official NaNoWriMo Workbooks
    Available in PDF downloads from the Young Writer's Program website, the geniuses over at NaNoWriMo have put together awesome workbooks for elementary, middle, and high school students. But you know what? They're terrific for adults too! So share with your favorite creative young person or use them yourself. Each workbook talks about storytelling elements and provides exercises to stoke your brain engine.

    Word Count Widgets and Meters
    Aside from the official NaNoWriMo widgets designed for your blogs and other webpages, you can customize status bars at these fine sites:
    HTML Meters
    Language is a Virus NaNoWriMo Word Meters

    There are probably others, but since servers get so slammed during November, I try to steer away from anything offering updated images with hosting. A simple coded slider works wonders.

    Write or Die
    Yes, I know that I've already talked about this wonderful tool of reckoning. But Dr. Wicked has recently released a new DESKTOP version. It's $10. Go buy it and crank your productivity!

    (self-quoted endorsement: You can achieve similar results without Write or Die by procuring a monkey/little sibling/ever-supportive significant other, setting an egg timer offline and scribbling in a frenzied haze of glory. When you get stuck during your time limit, your previously procured moral support device/person/creature must mock you until you begin writing again. Kamikaze mode for the pen and paper edition should also involve a cattle prod. A little electroshock encouragement never hurt anyone. Right? Beuller?)

    Seventh Sanctum
    THIS is the place to go when you're stuck. I don't recommend it for figuring out the nitty gritty of your novel, but I highly recommend it for a brain boost (and a good chuckle). Find a generator that suits you (Mecha Namer? CatGirl Generator?) and click the button to douse your brain in a bizarre idea that just might point you in the right direction. Just looking at all the generator names is enough to get my fingers moving sometimes.

    Happy writing, everyone! And for the Daylight Savings Time crowd: Go ahead, rejoice that November 1st has an extra hour of writing time. Use those precious minutes wisely, and aim high! You can do it!

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Do you NaNoWriMo? A contest and Prizes!

    NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. This will be my fifth year participating in the challenge, and this time, I've decided to do something a little different. This year, I want to invite everyone out in the blogsphere to NaNo with me. As a good hostess, I'm giving out prizes to those who join me in the challenge. These prizes include free books and a mention in the acknowledgments of my upcoming release, TWICE DEAD.

    Interested in learning more? Check it out over at MY BLOG

    I hope to see you there! Write with abandon!

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Character Interview -- Gerrit

    For some reason I thought that Gerrit would have chosen an out of the way spot, perhaps a dingy hole in the wall with bad lighting and people looking around furtively. Instead he chooses a quick-eats place, with lots of light and lots of people; I guess he's taking advantage of group cover. We get our trays and food and sit at a table against the wall.

    I pull out my recorder, but he stops me.

    "It's less conspicuous if you just use a mic attachment." From a jacket pocket, Gerrit pulls out a small black cylinder attached to a long wire. "I'd have used wireless, but somehow I don't think you are quite there yet."

    He's mocking me, but the mockery isn't malicious, at least I don't think it is.

    "Okay, it looks like you should be set. Start the interview, except you can skip the name and place of origin questions, if you don't mind."

    Obediently, I click on the recorder. The break in the ritual discomfits me; maybe that's why he did it. "How many scams were you running?" I figure to get right to the heart of the questions, and hopefully get a point back in my favor.

    Gerrit looks up and then back to me. "Good start. Let's see..." His voice trails off as he thinks. "Zero. I wasn't running any scams."

    "Well, you certainly weren't on official business for all of the jobs." I allow myself a direct stare and a raised eyebrow.

    He holds up a finger. "True. I had 3 jobs running, besides the 9 to 5. Jobs, mind you, not scams." The finger wags at me for emphasis and then he takes a bite of his salad. He fills his mouth yet manages to chew without looking like a 2 year old. While he eats, his gaze meanders around the room and comes back to me.

    "Can you tell me what the ... jobs were?"

    Gerrit shrugs. "Why not? They're over and done with aren't they?" He eats another forkful of greens and reds. "I was running papers from the Tenir embassy, I was trying to catch Donovan with his pants down, and I was committing planetary treason. It's a great game out there; you should try it."

    "And at the same time you were working as an intelligence agent for the interplanetary government?"

    "I know!" The glee takes his voice up a couple notes.

    "What would have happened if you had gotten caught?"

    "But there's the rub;" He leans towards me. "I didn't."

    "But you got caught in the end, though, didn't you." I force myself to keep the accusation inside. No sense in opening that particular can of worms. "Okay, granted you didn't get caught. However, in the event you did, let's just speculate, what would have happened?"

    Another long look around the quick-eats. "Peons." He gives me his full attention. "If the first, then nothing more than a slight reprimand. For the second, perhaps a short suspension." A pause. "But if I had gotten caught with Reynor, it would have depended on the spin. I think I could have gotten away with it." A shrug, tossing the thought out as if it didn't matter. "And if I couldn't work the crowd, they would have killed me."

    "Isn't that a bit harsh of a punishment?"

    "_I_ think so. _They_ consider it a necessary example making, a refining of the workforce, if you will." He waves his hands in large slow arcs. "It's all about control."

    "And you don't like being controlled?"

    "They can't control me." His hands are still. "I've given them opportunities, but they don't even see them! It's no wonder that they couldn't," He stops short, and I'm glad to see there are some things he takes seriously.

    "Back to something you mentioned before, this being a 'great game.' Is it all just a game?"

    "Not just a game. The only game worth playing."

    He gives me the first smile that I've seen on his face so far. It drifts over his face, and is so open that I find myself blushing.

    "Then why did you call Thytira?"

    The smile is gone. "I wanted to turn the game and needed help to do it. Thytira's a straight shooter, a good one to have as back-up."

    "You felt you needed back-up?" This was getting interesting all of a sudden.

    "Normally no, but in this case, yes. I'm not straight enough to turn a game like this on my own." He shrugs, acknowledging the truth. "It's one of my flaws."

    There is a soft beeping from the inside of Gerrit's jacket. He pulls out a slim rectangle. "I have to go. But thanks for taking the time to talk to me." He stops me when I reach to unhook the mic attachment. "Keep it, it may come in handy another time."

    A very different sort of man. I'm almost sorry he's dead.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    The IMAX experience, RE: Phoning It In Or Watching It All Unfold

    Nikki posed a great discussion Monday, and as a writer on the opposite side as her experience, I thought I'd expand on it.

    Unlike Nikki, who is a listener, I am one of the 'watching the action unfold' type of writers. (Which, considering I'm also a painter, probably isn't all that surprising.) I visualize my scenes, watch them play out, and then try to match words to what is there. When I'm lucky, these scenes take place on a full 3d IMAX screen in my brain. When I'm not so lucky, it's more like watching reflections in a recently churned mud puddle. My mind's camera pulls in and out (often discarding details I'm not paying attention to) and can jump right into the character's head and see the scene through her eyes (though in all honestly, even though I write first person, I usually see most scenes--especially action scenes--in 3rd.)

    While I can push my camera into my characters' heads, and even hear their thoughts, I can't question them the way Nikki describes. A character interview is an exercise in futility for me. Imagine myself sitting across from a character and them answering questions? HA!

    If I want to know anything about my characters beyond (or usually in the past) of the here and now, I have to crawl around the cutting room floor and watch the clips of forgotten footage detailing their pasts so I can understand their current motivations. While this can be highly entertaining, sometimes I do wish I could just scream "WHY??" and get an answer.

    My characters are blithely ignorant of me (or perhaps they just ignore me.) When a new main character appears (not one who walks onto the screen of an already playing story, but a shiny new idea) it is often like being only half awake. Maybe I'll hear snatches of dialogue or get a couple second long images of something really cool, but everything is fuzzy around the edges, and it takes time to tune in. For me, there is never a grand entrance where a character walks into my mind and just tells me her story (though that sounds terribly nice). No, the characters move into my brain, paint their setting on the walls, and then act out their story without breaking the fourth wall.

    I've said before that this or that character 'isn't talking to me', but after reading Nikki's post, I realize that means something slightly different to me from her definition (though the end result for both of us is the same.) What I mean is that the curtain call has gone out, but the character has not shown up on stage, or he does show up but has pulled a prima donna and is leaning against the backdrop, pouting. Nikki, I get the feeling, really does mean her character stopped talking. Again, same result, different experience.

    I'll wrap up with that, but I also want to expand on Nikki's questions: When character's make a first appearance in your mind, how does that initial introduction tend to go? Do your characters talk to you? Or are you only an observer? Also, I'd love to hear more people chime in on if they are listeners or watchers. Anyone out there both? Maybe you see some scenes and are told others. Something else entirely?

    Happy Hump day everyone!

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Phoning It In Or Watching It All Unfold

    I've always been kind of fascinated with how other writers come up with their stories. Not the incredibly impossible "where do you get your ideas?" question, which I don't think anyone can actually answer with anything other than "everywhere". More, once you have the idea, "how does a story take shape in your head?" How does it go from the random light bulb flicked on by the muse to something coherent and beautiful filling up the pages?

    In my experience, there are two types of writers. Those who have the story told to them by a character (or sometimes by a few characters) and those who watch it like a movie playing in their head and just scramble to get it all down on paper.

    I am a listener. A character moves into my head, plunks down on a squashy old sofa, and then proceeds to ramble endlessly about their life. They call me up, chatting away until the cell battery dies about random, sometimes incomprehensible things (which will sound familiar to any of you who've ever talked to me on the phone) and I struggle to take dictation, snatching at every word in case it turns out to be important later.

    As with anything else, there are plusses and minuses to being a listener.

    On the positive side of things, I never have to worry about what a character was thinking when something went down. I don't usually struggle to figure out what a character would say or do in a certain situation. (If I am struggling with that, I know I'm really blocked and it's time to break out the meditation.) I don't have to worry about figuring out their backstory or analyzing their wants and needs. They're there, in my head. I just have to ask them.

    Oh, yeah, the character interview is my best friend.

    On the other hand though, characters tend to be very self-absorbed. They don't notice what other people are doing unless it directly impacts them. They also don't stop to smell the roses very often. Or notice what's out the window next to them. Or pay much attention to the scenery at all. If you're familiar with the EDITS system, this means that I get a lot of yellow, and struggle to find even the vaguest hint of green.

    At times when I'm begging for green and despairing my overabundance of yellow, I'm jealous, horribly, irrationally jealous, of the watchers.

    Watchers see the scenes in their head like a movie. A couple of my critique partners are watchers and when I listen to them talk about the way they work through a scene, I am struck by that crazy the-grass-is-always-greener (oh, no pun intended there!) kind of envy. Their stories don't come in as a monologue over a sometimes crackly connection. They see it all in full-color, high-action cinema form.

    Again, there are plusses and minuses though.

    Setting? Check! Action and stage direction? Check! Dialogue? Check! Internalization and motivation? Um. . . not so much. Unless they're lucky enough to be watching a movie with a voiceover at the time. (Those are kind of annoying in real movies, but I imagine must be very much appreciated in muse-movies.) Watchers have to work at the whys. They have to look at the reactions and puzzle out the backstory to find out what's really going on. "What were you thinking?" is a popular question, I imagine, in the character interview.

    I say that to my characters a lot too, but usually shouted in a frustrated, you're-killing-my-plot-with-your-damn-antics! kind of a way. The watchers probably sound more curious and interested when they say it.

    So what are you? A listener? A watcher? Something else entirely that I just haven't had the benefit of encountering yet?

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Dialoguing It Out

    I am a solitary type of writer. A hermit writer, if you will. And yet, even hermits need to go trading goatskins for matches and toilet paper (this hermit has a delicate bum, thank you very much).

    Away from the metaphor a bit, and moving to reality, there are times when I need to talk about my various attempts at scribbling to other people not already in my head. Those are some of the most difficult conversations!

    A lot of the difficulty stems from the fact that they aren't in my head. The people I'm talking to have no idea of the chunks of backstory I'm dealing with, and they don't immediately understand the motivations of my characters. But why should they?

    I'm asking them to talk about characters who don't exist outside of my grey matter. When I think of Taliesin, I know exactly how she puts her hand on her hip, and the tilt of her head. I know which of Absinthe's jokes made Dace laugh even when he is angry enough to ask for his key back. How can people _know_ what I'm talking about?

    Part of me concludes that I just shouldn't dialogue about these things with the uninitiated. The more sense-filled part of me admits that if I can't dialogue about these things with the uninitiated, and make them understand where my characters are coming from, if I can't get them to love Simon and his complaining as much as I do, then do I really know my characters as much as I think I do?

    What do you think? Let's chat.

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    A writing soundtrack

    I know I've posted on the topic of music before, but well, I'm a massive consumer of music so I'm going to talk about it again. I'm not a fan silence (unless I'm trying to sleep) so if you run into me, you'll probably find I have wires running from my ipod to my brain ears.

    Now, as a musicwhore consumer of music, it is a bit of an understatement to say I have a large music library. My tastes are diverse and I can get a little itunes happy once in a while, so I'm pretty sure if you hit shuffle on my library the auditory experience will be the equivalent of living inside a schizophrenic's brain. (Side rant: Shake to shuffle is NOT a feature on the ipod nano--it's a menace. Anyone know how to turn it off? /rant)

    Recently I've been on a Darkwave/Industrial kick. I have a manuscript due, uh, tomorrow, and I have a good power mix playing that has been great for this last push of revisions. Here are a list of the bands in the mix:

    The Cruxshadows (of course)
    The Birthday Massacre
    Emilie Autumn
    One-eyed Doll

    So what are you listening to? Do you have a 'soundtrack' for certain activities?

    Monday, September 28, 2009

    Practice Your Pitch In Unexpected Places

    Last week I was on vacation with my husband and his family in the Catskills. The trip was very nice, and I had a lovely time. And there are some places that are just too scenic not to be inspiring. I love mountains. Mountains are my favorite places to vacation. (Other than cruise ships, that is.)

    But I'm back from vacation and Moonlight & Magnolias is only a few days away. And I have plans to pitch my current urban fantasy project there. I've been polishing my manuscript and fine-tuning my pitch for weeks. And this past week, I got some unexpected practice.

    This is the first time since I started writing full-time that I've been introduced to a large number of people. Invariably, when you are plunked down in a small talk situation, people ask what you do for a living. And for the first time, I decided to answer the question with "novelist". I might not have had anything published yet, but writing novels is what I do after all.

    This, of course, led to that terrifying question "so, what do you write?" I've posted before about the benefits of contests like TwitchWeek for coming up with the one-line answer to this question. But sometimes you have more time than that to talk, and the dilemma becomes how much information is too much. You never want to tell someone interested in your book "it's complicated" or "it's a long story" or "it's hard to explain". At the same time, you don't want to launch into one of those boring, long-winded, why-don't-we-just-sit-down-and-I-can-recite-you-my-entire-manuscript-verbatim explanations.

    And then my opportunistic side took over: What a perfect opportunity to try out that two-minute agent pitch I'd been working on!

    After all, there was no pressure here. These people were just random people I met at a vacation resort. The odds were pretty slim that they were in any way involved in the publishing industry. But if I could take people with only a fleeting, polite curiosity and get them really fascinated in under two minutes, how much better prepared would I be for someone who started out interested?

    Several people glazed over and zoned out well before my pitch was done. But not everyone. And by the end of the week, I was much more comfortable with talking about my book.

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Interview with a Character

    I would like to preface this by saying that I'm not insane even though it may seem like it from the following post. As a writer, I've always found it helpful to interview my characters. I find out a lot about their speech and thought patterns that way. This, however, is the first time that I've ever done it in a magazine article kind of way. I got the idea from NL's friend Lindsey.

    Austin Lowell saunters through my front door into the living room. He stands on the tan linoleum of what is supposed to be my foyer, wearing his dress blue Navy Uniform. He's a good looking man with dark red hair and piercing green eyes. He holds his white cover in his hands and his legs are slightly splayed apart. He's the very image of the confident US sailor. I smile at him and welcome him to my home.

    I've met him before. We spent a whole month together back in November 2007 -- the first time that I attempted to write his story. He doesn't know this though because this is Austin before he meets Carly McKissick, the woman that will change his life forever. This is my rebellious, flirtatious Austin who doesn't know that I'm about to torture him. That is probably a good thing. He may not be so forthcoming otherwise.

    "Good evening, ma'am." His drawl is deep. I hear the echoes of generations of Southerners in that drawl. I think about the sound and tone of his voice. If he were in one of the gospel quartets that used to visit my little Baptist church, he would be a baritone.

    "Won't you sit down?" I direct him to the brown suede chair in my living room. It is the newest piece of furniture in a house that is filled with hand-me-down furniture from my mother, aunts, and grandmothers. Still, most of the furniture in the house was younger than Austin. Significantly younger. The Austin visiting me today is only 24 years old, but he was actually born in 1918—much earlier than my furniture's manufacturing date. Having characters that were born before your furniture's manufacturing date is one of the risks of writing historical romance.

    He settles in to the chair and I sit across from him in the floral monstrosity that was a gift from my grandmother. "Thank you for coming by Austin." I say. "I have a few questions and would really appreciate your answers."

    "You're welcome, but I really don't know why you need to talk to me." He flashes his white teeth at me and leans in a bit, twirling his white cover in his hands.

    I'm not sure how to answer his concerns. Is he even aware that he is just a figment of my imagination? I decide not to test the theory. "I just want to know a few things about you."

    "Such as?" He reverses the direction that he was spinning his hat.

    "Well, tell me a little bit about your past" It feels like cheating to begin the interview this way, but I don't care.

    "I was born and raised on the Rocking L ranch in McKinney TX. My parents died when I was five and I was brought up by my Gramps and my Uncle Howie." Austin rattles the sentences off as if they had happened to someone else.

    "You don't seem very connected to the story. Why?" I already know the answer, but I want to hear him tell it anyway. I want to see what he is willing to reveal.

    He looks down at his hat and stops spinning it. He slowly places it on his knee. He keeps his gaze downward. "The past is the past. Nothing can change it now."

    Apparently, he is willing to reveal nothing. Nothing about the fact that his uncle virtually kicked him off the ranch when he was 18. Nothing about the fact that his uncle's fiancé had been the daughter of the biggest landowner in the area and was only a few years older than Austin.

    I don't push and switch gears with the next question."What about the future? Do you know what you want to do when you get out the Navy?" I tap my pen against the paper. As a writer, I've often wondered about soldiers and sailors in the middle of a war zone. Do they think about the future? The conclusion that I've come to is that it depends on the soldier or sailor. I wondered what Austin's answer will be.

    "I don't know really." His lips compress into a tight line and he pulls on the hem of his jumper.

    This interview is not going well. He doesn't seem to want to open up and talk. I need to find out something that he is passionate about and fast. I look down at my notes and I remember that I'm a romance writer. I should ask him about women.

    "What do you think of women?"

    This gets his attention and flashes me those clean white teeth again. "What do you think I think about women?" He laughs. "I love them. Any size, any shape, any age. I love being around women."

    "Why?" I can't resist asking.

    He leans in towards me as if he is going to tell me a secret, his expression serious. "Women." He pauses again. "Women are a God's gift to man. Created so that we wouldn't be alone. They come in all shapes and flavors. They can be strong. They can be delicate and gentle. They can be feisty and flamboyant. They're beautiful. They're soft. They're flirty. They're beautiful." He lips quirked upwards in a half smile. "Did I mention that they are beautiful?

    I can't believe that any man could love all women so I ask the inevitable followup question. I "Have you ever met a woman that you don't like?"

    He doesn't answer the question. I know that he won't. He's a gentleman. I try another track to get the information that I need. "What traits don't you like in a woman?"

    "Dishonesty." He answers quickly. He looks shocked. I guess that he's told me more than he wanted me to know.

    I jot down my observations. "So you don't like all women?"

    "No. I suppose not." He leans back in his chair and looks at his knees.

    I need to know more information. "Tell me about the Navy. Do you think you're going to make it a career?" I tweak the question that I'd asked earlier.

    He looks up and smiles. "I don't know that I'll live that long. War is coming. I've been in since '37. The last year, there've been a lot of changes. Especially since Roosevelt started the draft." He pauses before continuing. "For all intents and purposes, we're already at war."

    "Really." I don't say more than that.

    Austin pounds a fist against his leg. "I know I know. There's been no formal declaration of war." He sucks in a breath and lets it out again, "For the last six months since I transferred from Pearl, I've been doing escort duty. My ship, the Tuney, has been guarding the armaments shipments that we're sending to Britain. Lend-Lease Act, my Aunt Petunia." He sounds like he wants to say something stronger. "We might as well have declared war on Germany. The Jerries have been doing everything they can to sink us. "

    "How do you feel about that? Entering the war I mean?" I lean in a little, hanging on his every word. I don't want him to know about the war.

    "It isn't like we've been given an option, ma'am. That's for the boys in Washington decide." He picked up the white cover in his hands again.

    His answer surprises me. In my eyes, Austin is and has always been for the war. I think about my next question and decide to push a little. "Surely, you must have some feelings about it. What do you think of the isolationsists?"

    "A lot of boys died in the Great War. Just like them, I'd hate to see that happen again, but…." He trails off and then looks at me with those emerald green eyes before starting to speak again. "I'm a petty officer in the Navy. What this means is that I take orders. I'm in charge of a whole lot of young men. It is my responsibility to see that they get home, safely. I suppose that it would be a whole heck of a lot easier to do that in peace than it is in war. But, I'll do what I'm told." He crushes his hat in his hands. "I'll tell you this though. Part of me worries that if we don't take them on now in Europe. In 20 or 30 years, we'll be taking them on in our own backyard."

    I decide to conclude the interview and I stand. "I've got enough information for now. Thank you for your time."

    He stands too. "I've been pleased to meet you ma'am." He holds out his hand.

    I take it. "I've enjoyed talking with you as well. I hope that we can speak again soon."

    He nods and shakes my hand before turning and walking out of my door, but not out of my life. I'm going to enjoy giving this young sailor his happy ending.

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Apples all over the Place

    I had another blog planned out... but I decided not to post it today. It feels unfinished.

    So instead, I'll introduce a character from a story idea that I'm playing with, and natter on about how she is messing up my carefully arranged ideas. Her name is less important than her description, so she'll go by "the ambassador's daughter" for now. :)

    Here's where I was with her and her motivation. She doesn't want to be known as someone's kid, she wants to be known in her own right. So she goes against convention and puts in a bid for personal recognition (= she works against the interests of both her father, the ambassador, and her home planet). The thing that could potentially get in her way is an accusation of "wanton behavior."

    And here is where the first snag trips me up. I was planning for her to utterly ignore the accusation because point of fact, it impacts her father moreso than her (cultural details of the planet's social infrastructure), and she is so focused on her goal that small things like this are unimportant. But if she ignores the accusation, then her motivation for hiring my main character to find out who is behind the accusation falls flat. Which means that my storyline starts out contrived, which irritates me (since I poke at that issue in my critique partners' writing, I can't really let it slide in my own writing, now can I?).

    The fix is for her to be deeply affected by the accusation's consequences. However, if I change the situation so that she has to pay attention, then the actions of my bad guy (the one doing the accusing) have to be modified as well. And if he changes his actions, then a beautiful chunk of plotline has to be radically changed.

    And this is where the second snag surfaces (don't laugh now): I already feel overwhelmed by the amount of players in this story idea and their wants and needs; I really don't want to add more complexity to this idea.

    But I don't think I have a choice... Because darn it, this idea is cool, and I should at least give things an honest go.

    (Okay, go ahead and laugh. :) I know the effort not to is making your nose hurt.)

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Knitting a Novel

    You can't just fall in with any group of writers and form a critique group. You have to have common ground to work from. You have to have other things in common, besides writing, so that you can understand where your partners' perceptions are coming from. At least, you do in my experience.

    When it comes to this critique group, we have lots in common. Of the many things, in addition to the obvious writing thing, we all knit. (Well, I shouldn't say "all"; Sarah doesn't knit. Yet.) Yes, you heard me correctly, we knit. And not just in our private homes either. No, we have been known to engage in this completely granny-ish activity in public. In cars. In subway trains. In meetings. In restaurants even.

    I'm new to the TriMu; I have no idea how knitting became a group activity. In my mind's eye, I have a fuzzy image of a poorly planned outdoor NaNoWriMo write in on one particularly chilly November day. The original TriMu sat there, plotting and trying desperately to keep typing away, even though they shivered so badly that they couldn't hit the right keys. ("Hey," they told one another bravely, "it's Nano -- it's not like you were going to write anything comprehensible anyway!")

    "F-f-fingerless g-g-gl-gloves!" a Mythmaker shouted through chattering teeth. "What we need are fingerless gloves!"

    At this point, I'm assuming someone had some spare yarn handy or maybe an extraneous sweater got unraveled for a good cause, and another of them happened to have a set of knitting needles on them for reasons at which even my whimsical imagination cannot guess. And thus a craft habit was born. As I said, I don't know how exactly it all went down. By the time I joined the TriMu, knitting was already the thing to do, and I was taught the craft as part of my induction.

    I like how I say "induction" there, as though there was a formal ceremony and the TriMu didn't teach me how to knit in Tori's living room while we watched the California Raisins' Claymation Christmas Celebration last December.

    In any case, we "all" knit. (It's only a matter of time for you, Sarah.) And as I was sitting on a train last weekend with my most recent knitting project, it occurred to me how very like knitting writing a novel can be.

    Finally! I can hear you all thinking. She had to get to the point eventually.

    You start out with a pattern, a plan for what you're going to knit and what stitches you're going to use to make it look the way you want it. This sounds suspiciously like an outline for writing a novel. As a pantzer, I don't hold with that kind of nonsense, but I do at least go into a new writing project with a vague idea of what I'm starting up. So maybe you don't always start with a pattern, but you at least sit down with some vague inkling as to the shape of what you want to knit. I'm fairly certain most knitters don't sit down thinking they'll knit a sock and come away with an afghan. I'm sure it happens that way sometimes, just like novelists sometimes sit down to write a romance and come away with an epic high fantasy trilogy. . . Not that I've ever done that. ;-)

    So you have your pattern and you get your yarn and your needles and stitch markers and what have you together and you start off with the knitting. And maybe while you're knitting, you decide you like the way something might look if you tweaked the pattern a little here and there. Or maybe you make a mistake (this is something I never do. . . *innocent whistle*) and end up liking the way that new "pattern" looks and so you just go one with knitting it that way instead. Or maybe you make a mistake that you don't like the look of and so you sit there and spend an hour or so unknitting. Which is a lot harder than it sounds, by the way, so much so that unknitting is something I actually never do. (Incidently, why do we never notice these mistakes at the time we're making them? Why is it always rows and rows later that we realize them?)

    Or, put another way, you get your research materials and notecards and word processing programs and what have you together and start off with the writing. And as you go, you might come up with a smoother way to make that plot you outlined earlier work or the characters might go off in a direction you didn't expect but really love or you might get six or seven chapters in and decide that your main character needs to die and someone else should be telling this story and so you have to go back and rewrite it all.

    Or, put still another way, you work the craft, whatever it may be, and gradually make the project your own.

    And then the project starts to really take shape. Your fingers get used to the pattern of the stitches and you get into a rhythm and rows (or words, as the case may be) just start to flow off your fingertips. There may still be tricky moments, mind you. You might have to sneak an extra stitch in here or there to make up for dropping one somewhere else, just like you might have to throw in a line of dialogue you didn't anticipate to set up the big twist at the end that you didn't see coming before. But the point is that things are starting to tumble and if you just keep going with it, everything will work out.

    And before you know it, it's time to cast off. Time to type "THE END". You've finished. It might not be what you set out to do, but who needs more socks anyway? Epic high fantasy trilogies are so much warmer.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Return of the Negligent Tri Mu

    Hi everyone out in the blogsphere. You probably noticed I have been, well, rather absent of late. (And don't tell me if you didn't notice. ^_~) I have missed about, uh, four of my scheduled blogging days, which doesn't sound so bad until you realize that means I haven't blogged here in almost two months. I have no excuse, so I will offer none. I will just apologize, and offer up this unscheduled post to tell you (or tease you with what I'm not telling you) what has been going on in my corner of the writing world.

    If you follow me on twitter, you probably know that I just recently returned from Dragon*Con. I had an absolutely marvelous time. I got a lot of books signed by writers I admire, ended up on stage with my favorite band (The Cruxshadows), and I was sat on a panel with the amazingly talented Charlaine Harris about Writing Strong Female Protagonists. (Also on the panel, not to leave them out on the name dropping, were several other amazing authors in my genre [and a couple outside it] including Stacia Kane and Laura Anne Gilman.) I had a great time on the panel, and it was unreal to be up there with all of those accomplished authors.

    The day before I left for Dragon, I received a wonderful email from editor. It included a mock up for the cover of my next book--which is stunning! Unfortunately, I can't share yet. But I have received approval on my title. The next Dark Haven novel will officially be titled TWICE DEAD. It will be released in February 2010, so check back for more information and I'll get the cover up as soon as they send me the final design and I have approval to post it.

    Another very exciting event occurred that same Wednesday before I left for Dragon (it was quite a crazy day.) I'm not ready to divulge details yet, but check by my blog later this week for more information.

    Well, that is it for this impromptu post. I should be back blogging on schedule in my appointed slot next week. See you then, and Happy Tuesday readers!

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Found a Peanut

    Well, actually it's more of found a plot hole and kinda filled it, but that doesn't scan nearly as well.

    Here's how the story went. I had an idea, spawned from a monthly challenge back when we had monthly challenges (Or was it a holiday challenge? I don't remember and it doesn't matter. What matters is that there was a challenge and I had this great idea.), but it got stalled due to technical difficulties. The idea persisted, however, and I figured what the heck, let me ride it (= write an outline) and see where this baby goes.

    The snag happened once I took my protagonist off-planet and sent her to a different planet. I knew what I wanted her to do on the planet, sort of, and I knew she had to go there, but once she got off the transport, I was stuck. Hit the wall. Ran out of gas. Had no change to make the call (for those who are anachronistically minded).

    I was wallowing in this hole, getting my clothes absolutely filthy, but unable to pull myself out, when out of the... gray matter(?), a new idea burbled up: what goes on on this planet? It felt like a digression, a tangent, if you will, and yet I had no where else to be so I spent some time working on backstory for the planet. (Yeah, that sounds SO stupid when I type that, but let's continue on.)

    This backstory turned out to be just what I needed. I still haven't any idea what my protagonist does once she gets off the transport, BUT I have so many new possibilities to pick from. Talk about going from famine to feast!

    So. In conclusion. The peanut was not rotten. It was roasted, lightly salted, and a delicious blend of crunchy and chewy. Yum!

    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Do Not Skip Ahead

    I've been having a little trouble lately reining myself in. I finished a first draft recently and there's a huge part of me that just wants to query the heck out of it, even though it's nowhere near ready for submission. I know better, and I will restrain myself, but every time a "perfect" opportunity shows up on my radar, I have to talk myself down.

    A few weeks ago, one of my favorite agents opened back up for submissions on a very limited basis. And she's asking for Urban Fantasy.

    And then I saw mention of a contest that looks oh so very cool.

    New agents with an interest in my genre are popping up left and right.

    And urban fantasy is on the rise.

    Look hard enough, and "perfect" opportunities will just jump out of the woodwork at you.

    Except that they're not "perfect", because my manuscript is not done. As I have to remind myself every single time I see one of these tempting blog posts or tweets or news articles, trying to query right now would be bad for me.

    Why? Well, there are many, many reasons. And don't worry. I'm going to list my favorites here! (Admit it; you were worried I was just going to say that and run, weren't you? Okay, maybe you weren't, but I'm going to list them anyway.)

    • Agents and editors say it all the time. "Do not query your novel before it is finished!" I literally see someone tweet or blog about this at least once a day. Sometimes as often as ten or twelve times a day. With so many "unspoken rules" and "unseen observers" in publishing, breaking a rule that all the gatekeepers are shouting at the top of their internet lungs on a daily basis just seems like a bad idea.
    • I know, in the logical side of my brain, that my WIP isn't ready to be seen by anyone outside my critique group yet. So why would I send out a query that would just make me afraid that someone might request the manuscript? What would be my plan really? I query, and then when I get the request, I scramble and try to force myself through the revisions in the amount of time I could reasonably pass between receiving the request for a full and sending it? In today's instant gratification, technology on demand world, how much time is that really? It's not like I have the US Postal Service to blame for a delay if the agent asks me to email them the file. How much time would I really be able to buy myself then? A few hours? A day? A weekend? Not enough, no matter what kind of excuse I came up with.
    • Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I did manage to buy myself a few weeks so I could crash through the revisions process. It can be done. I've seen it done recently to marvelous success. Some people are capable of that kind of thing. I envy those people, because I am not. I know it would show in the manuscript I sent out, and then, when I got the inevitable rejection, I would always feel like I blew a great opportunity. Sure, I could revise it and requery, but I think agents and editors are probably inclined to look even more critically at a second submission. Why raise the bar for myself needlessly?
    • In business, they say "dress for the job you want". As an unpublished novelist, I don't want to put anything less than my absolute best work in front of industry professionals. I'm sure, as a newbie, I'll still make a ton of rookie mistakes. Adding an extra one that I know about just seems silly.
    But knowing all of that doesn't stop me dreaming. It doesn't stop me seeing a "perfect" opportunity arise and saying to myself "Oh, if only my novel was finished, I know that would be just right for me. . . Well, they only need a query letter and the first five pages to start with. My first five pages are pretty good. Maybe I could just submit and then revise like mad crazy, just in case I make it to the next round?"

    No! Stop! Do not pass Go; do not collect $200 in imagined royalties. It can be hard sometimes, letting a "perfect" opportunity pass you by, but that's the name of the game. When the manuscript is ready, there will be other opportunities out there for me, opportunities that really are perfect. Until then, though, I just have to keep restraining myself, reminding myself.

    Do not skip ahead.

    Saturday, August 29, 2009

    Creative Nurturing

    There's some stuff in the office fridge that has reached the "Do Not Feed After Midnight" and "Do Not Get Wet" stage. You know the species. The kind that turns green, sprouts arms, yells "Feed me, Seymour!", and shrinks away from the tiny yellow bulb in the upper right corner. The kind that runs and hides on trash day. Every trash day. For a year.

    If you love writing, or painting, or singing, or whatever art form calls to you and you're not out there, doing it, as often as possible, you'd better prepare for the aforementioned monster. This beast lays the guilt on thick, ruining your art-free day, accidentally trampling on your self-esteem with its raging. You think, "I'm not cut out for this; I'm never going to be an artist, so I should just give up!" and the nudge persists, changing from gentle urging in clear, plaintive tones to insistent, constant nagging. And raging! Oh the raging...Stifling headache? Let the creativity free!

    You give in.

    The muse-turned-uncouth-monster can react in many ways.

    1. The Binge. A tumultuous session of art-binging is satisfying but unsustainable. This practice creates a vicious cycle. You will be blissful on the days you give yourself up to the art - and yelling at yourself for the rest of them. Pace yourself.

    2. The Dance. This is the not-quite-what-I-want sequence of steps. You prance around what you really want to do with everything and anything but that to which you must eventually succumb. Avoid the inevitable. Don't let your muse samba alone.

    3. The Chair. Like a pro-wrestling smackdown, a man's soap opera, you take the ring and assail yourself with a round of hurt - berating yourself for ever wanting to give art the time of day. Ever. Beating it with the folding chair, into submission, until it's quieter than a mouse nomming on the ceiling tiles and attic insulation. And just like in wrestling - that move will come back to bite you.

    4. The Pretender. You decide (*snort* You decide? Your muse totally decided for you, silly human...) that you're going to give art another chance. Your muse believes you as you sit down to work and promptly stuff her in a pretty genie bottle, mosaic glass. You quickly reverse your position and abandon the art in Perfect Storm splendor. That bottle won't hold the muse-monster for long. Whiplash hurts. Brain whiplash is twice as bad.

    5. The Leaf-On-The-Wind. You display a rare patience with that creative creature that threatens to eat the right half of your brain. Repetition, contemplation, dabbling in the medium of your choice - your real desire - calms the storm between your ears. You recognize peace, but soon allow yourself to be swept away by some newfangled thing that promises you even more happiness. Don't listen to the anti-creativity temptress. The crash landing can be disastrous. Muses can't die. Not really, not forever. But they can take an inordinate amount of time to recover - and it itches.

    I am and have been guilty of each and every one of these offenses against the muse, but I am lucky enough to be once again back on track with music and writing to fuel my journey. (And also a brain. Brains are vital to this process.)

    Daily cultivating of your imagination garden, your art song, is the only way to sooth the agony of artlessness. Creative nurturing tames the soul.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    Break a Rule

    The ubiquitous they like to comment on the way things should be done. These armchair humans try to tell the world how to run itself according to the they philosophy. For example, they say, "never run with scissors." I say what if you have to cut someone's hair that got stuck in the ceiling fan and that person is getting really dizzy and might hurl at any moment? I say run with the dang scissors. They say, "don't chew with your mouth open." I say, how's anybody going to see your purple tongue after you eat a grape jolly rancher if you don't? They say, "never pet a burning dog." Okay, well, maybe I can go with that one. Don't start petting, grab the garden hose first. The point is, there are exceptions to every rule. Come to think of it, I think they say that one, too.

    They also have a lot to say about writing. "Don't let your characters think too much." "Make sure every word advances the plot in some way." "Never begin your story with characters waking up in the morning." "Never make the romantic male lead a pimply red head." The thing about all the they philosophy is that as a general rule, they are right. A lot of the they statements about writing are good things to know. But some rules were meant to be broken. There they go again.

    I say let your characters think for a change. It's not often that people do that particular activity, so it might be refreshing. Let some of your words be there just because they are beautiful, whether they do anything or not. Wake your characters up with a tsunami wave in the middle of the night on page three and see what happens. Let that red head get the girl. She'll buy him Clearasil anyway, and everyone will live happily ever after.

    I say, go ahead, break a rule.

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Goads and Goals

    Right then, I'm here writing a post when I should be doing my daily writing exercise. It's a procrasteling, but sort of a necessary one. When I get published, it would be a good thing were I to have an established web presence: le voici.

    November is slowly getting closer to rising on the horizon, and it is an extra piece of dried pine to the hearth that is my writing. Currently the flame is sleeping, occasionally turning over and giving everyone a start, then calming back down, disappearing into the coals of my mind.

    One of these days, if I don't punk out, the fire will get used to being fed, and will be crackling more than sporadically. Until then, having NaNoWriMo is a good way of keeping me alive, so to speak.

    Which is another reason for the daily writing exercise: How am I supposed to pop back into the actuality of writing 1800 words a day if I'm currently averaging 100 (yes, I''m being generous)?

    Fellow followers of the craft, let us continue on! Using whatever tools motivate us in changing intangible thoughts into visible words. :)