Monday, March 30, 2009

In My Experience, Muses Are A Bookish Lot

I don’t get “writers’ block” too often. My muse is fairly cooperative and if I want to write, I can usually write something. It might not be exactly what I’m supposed to be working on -- instead of the revisions and short stories I had planned to work on this weekend, I spent the better part of three days banging out the first few scenes of a shiny new project -- but if I sit down in front of the computer, I can usually make something happen.

There have even been times when I couldn’t stop myself writing. An idea will take hold of me and I find myself clinging to my keyboard for dear life as the words race from my brain to my fingers to the page in front of me. I’ve been known to miss work, forget to eat, and contemplate skipping important family functions, like weddings, just to write when my muse demands my attention like that.

There have been other times, however, when I couldn’t. There have been days when, try as I might, the cursor just sits there, blinking at me, and the empty space on the page stares back, mocking me with all its blank, unfinished business.

I try, when one of the unstoppable writing times is upon me, to pay attention to the things I was doing just before. I try to find some trigger I can keep in the back of my mind and pull out during the . . . um, unstartable? . . . times. (There I go, making up words again.)

It would be nice if the answer was something very simple and quick. I would also love to realize that I was nibbling on a Hershey’s Special Dark bar every time. (Because doesn’t everyone need more excuses to integrate dark chocolate into their lives?) Alas, to my knowledge, there is no sweet in the world tempting enough to call forth a muse. At least, not for my muse. Maybe yours is different.

No, for me, the answer is usually novels. Every time I get sucked into a new idea, I can usually point to a few days spent lost in someone else’s fictional world immediately preceding. Sometimes the fiction is connected to what I end up writing, sometimes it’s not. I went through a phase last summer where I read a fourteen book series about a medical examiner in fourteen days and ended up completely rewriting the mythology of Memories shortly thereafter. Last week, I devoured three books about werecats in three days and then spent the weekend writing about familiars.

There are times when I feel lazy reading. After all, I love to read. I always have. Well, excepting one very rebellious phase I went through in third grade anyway. For me, there is no better way to spend a day than curled up with a good book. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a good book, actually, just a book. And I get completely sucked into the story when I’m reading. And I do mean completely. Completely in a “Honey, let’s have fast food for dinner tonight instead of a nice, normal, nutritionally-redeeming meal, because I can eat a burger one-handed” kind of a way. Needless to say, reading is not a chore for me.

So I’ve never associated reading with work. It has always been about pleasure for me, and there are times when life is so busy and so stressful that taking time out to do something for pure enjoyment’s sake seems irresponsible. But maybe it is that very non-stressful, pure pleasure aspect of reading that lures my muse back to me. Now that I know how to get her to come back, I’m not terribly fussed about why it works, but I am a little curious if it is the same for others.

So what about you? What gets your muse going? (And if your muse does happen to be irresistibly drawn to dark chocolate, I’m so very, very jealous!)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Time to Lock and Load

Friday: The tentative clacking of keyboards begins. Discussion of works, past and current and future, is shared among all. Word challenges amass, 15 minutes of frenzied counting, one, two, three times and more. Sleep? What is this?

Saturday: A bare whisper of sanity is snuffed by the early morning dew. Dragonflame licks along the windowsill. Furious treasure-guarding gnomes begin digging into the front lawn. Sexy shapeshifters deliver pizza. A steady typing rhythm ensues, gathering momentum, hour by hour. Rain or shine, the word airline is on time, no delays. A broadsword-wielding crazy-man stands on the kitchen table, threatening the bananas and the cookies. The stars wink on by the dozens, every ball of light a new tale.

Sunday: Coffee would be really good about now. The gnomes have broken through the living room floor. A dragon is snoozing lightly on the front lawn. There shall be no escape. Breakfast is interrupted by an indoor snowstorm, two monkeys, and a small talking rodent. The word counting games have escalated into all-out conquest, war. Too many plots draw tighter, close ranks, victory at long last. A car door slams. They have come to take us away. Home. The world thousands upon thousands of words richer.

This is no ordinary weekend. It's a Tri Mu lock-in!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Behind the scenes at Modern Mythmaker Picture Day

I know. I know. This is supposed to be about craft, but we had so much fun getting our pictures taken yesterday that I wanted to share it with our readers. So I stayed up last night creating a you tube video when I should have been sleeping.

Here's the video. (It is 8 minutes long and only has pictures that were taken with my camera.)

Let me know what you think!

PS There is music attached. I just can't use it on YouTube.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Journeyman Voyage of a Junior Cartographer


The journey has hit a snag. The supply mule that was supposed to arrive, hasn't. So here I am, up near where the mountain pass begins, waiting...

I could keep heading up the pass, hoping that when I get that much further, the mule will catch up to me. But that really is the sort of foolish thinking that got me started on the journey in the first place, putting the dream before the sweat.

So instead of going on, I'm making camp here. I hear the sound of water close by so at least I won't die of dehydration, and I have a guide of poisonous/edible plants so theoretically I won't starve, and the guy down in the last village seemed trustworthy so I'm sure the mule will get here soon.

You might ask why I don't just return to the village and break some heads to find out what happened to the mule. And here's where things break down.

I'm not actually on a mountain. Well, not a topographical-feature-mountain anyway. I'm still working on revising 2006's nano. And the revisions have slewed to a grinding halt. Imagine the sound coming from your car that lets you know that you better find the money to get the brakes replaced before you find the money to buy lunch at Wendy's. That's the grinding I'm talking about.

That is also the lack of a supply mule. I see where I'm headed, over the mountain pass, but without the mule I'll probably end up dying of pneumonia, or something equally as ridiculous.

On the positive side, there is still inspiration flowing (I still enjoy the story), so at least I have water to drink. As for the plant guide, mine has the oddest title: The Snowflake Method. The cover doesn't even have a plant on it (which is suspicious, that is true), but it was the cheapest in the bin and it came recommended, so I am hopeful.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

And That’s Why I have a Scrap File

I’ve been chugging away and making steady progress on the first draft of HB2 (Haven book 2) but I have to say, some times I feel a slight bit of déjà vu while I’m writing. You see, I technically wrote a first draft of HB2 several years ago, but near the end, I changed the plot in a major way without backtracking to fix the first 2/3rds of the book. Add the fact that I’ve had a couple years of writing experience (and improvement) since the last time I touched that draft, and you can guess why, when I recently re-read the draft, I decided starting from scratch would be easier than trying to repair the old draft. So, I am, in fact, writing the first draft—again.

That said, some of the scenes from the original were quite cute/useful/etc and will make it back into the book (though written completely fresh.) Many are still in the outline, but are, of course, changed in drastic ways by the new course of the plot. I was writing one of these scenes the other day, and getting rather discouraged as it just wasn’t working. I looked at my notes in my outline, and the scene appeared to fit. But it didn’t. It just died on the page. So, I pulled up that lost forgotten file, and discovered that when I originally wrote the scene, one of the characters had an extra nudge of motivation that tipped the scale. I worked that motivation in and, like magic, the scene suddenly took on new life.

I’m glad I didn’t delete that old file (and let me tell you, it was tempting) but my habit is to save everything. Each book I write has a file called “Scrap.” As I rip things out of a novel (dialogue, description, scenes, or in this case, an entire draft) I dump them into that scrap file. Once in a while, I dig through my scraps looking for hidden treasures. I might not end up using them in the same story, or even for the same character the text was originally written, but sometimes that discarded bit of writing can be shined up and worked into a scene in a new way. This time, finding that character's extra motivation saved me a lot of headache, and might have even saved the scene. So keep your junk—you never know what it might be good for.

Anyone have a good story about reusing cut material? How about some tiny thing that saved an entire scene?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sorry, I Can’t Write Today; I’ve Lost My Voice

Every character in every story ever written has a voice. No matter what perspective in which the story is written -- from the completely devoted first person to the distant third person omniscient -- every character has his or her own way of speaking. The concept of “voice” in writing is a confusing one, but it’s also very important. In fact, I would go so far as to say the voice of a story is the most important part. More important than even the plot in some cases.

Because when it comes right down to it, no one cares what happens to a character they don’t really want to listen to. And we’ve all opened a novel or read a magazine article and thought “I love this chick! She’s hilarious!” When that happens, we usually aren’t talking about the author; we’re talking about that sassy character that just walked onto the bar and threw a drink into some guy’s face because she misunderstood what he just said and thought he called her fat. No worries, she thinks. You don’t get to be twenty-eight without doing something worth getting doused in strawberry margarita. And just like that you’re hooked.

If you’re writing a story from multiple perspectives, every one of them needs to have a different voice; no two people think exactly the same way and so no two characters can be written in exactly the same way. It’s this concept of creating multiple voices within a story that frequently gives me troubles. I’m finding as I go through Memories that my voices need a little tweaking.

In what is probably a horrendous practice for a writer, I’ve taken to making up words for problems I notice in my writing while I’m going through revisions. I know I should be articulate and a wordsmith and perfectly capable of using the appropriate word, but sometimes made up words are just easier. And they’re more fun to blog about. ;-) Quite a few of my made up words have to do with voice. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

Skitzovoice: This is what happens when characters who are not suffering from the mental disorder of schizophrenia suddenly start thinking like they are. Halfway through the book, their personality drastically changes for no apparent reason, usually explained by my taking on another project or taking too long a break in the middle of the writing. By the time I come back to it, I’m not actually writing the same character anymore. It also happens when I don’t really have a clear picture of the character in my head, so their personality bends to the situation, rather than bending their perception of the situation. This can be disconcerting for the reader, to say the least, who doesn’t usually know or care where I was in my writing process when the character went all wonky.

Blendyvoice: Every character in the story begins to sound the same. No one has their own quirks or accents. This usually happens when my distance is wrong. I’m too far away from the characters and so I’m not getting a clear picture of them. As a result, I’m telling a story, not showing one, and it’s not very compelling that way. The worst ‘blendyvoice’ for me is when all the characters start talking like me. As a writer, I don’t generally consider myself interesting; that’s why I make up other people who have interesting lives. I don’t do them or the reader any favors by stripping them of their individuality and turning them all into little mes. (‘Mes’? Really? I’m just not having a good English day, am I?)

Annoyingvoice: This one seems pretty self-explanatory to me. Characters with ‘annoyingvoice’ don’t last very long. Their voice irritates me and I hate listening to them. While writing a character that inspires a visceral response is usually a good one, it takes a stronger writer than me to put up with a character induces migraines brought on by excessive teeth-grinding for very long. Maybe they’re excessively whiny or they do a lot of shrieking or they are over-fond of things like “Ugh” and “Sigh”. When a character like this pops into my head, it’s actually impressive if they last until revisions. They usually get killed off after a couple of pages and then eventually written out of the story completely.

Now sometimes these voice “mistakes” are good. Sometimes as a writer you have to do things that don’t make sense in order to get your point across. Maybe your character is mentally unbalanced, traumatized by some event in the story or trying to be something they’re not. In that case, ‘skitzovoice’ can work very well to demonstrate that. If you want to show two characters growing closer together -- by supernatural means or just through the general development of their relationship -- a little ‘blendyvoice’ is called for. If you really want the bad guy’s henchmen to get under the reader’s skin (and make it totally forgivable when you kill them off in a spectacular fashion) ‘annoyingvoice’ could be a way to accomplish that. NOTE: I don’t recommend it for the Big Bad, though. If my main villain ever suffered from ‘annoyingvoice’, I would likely never finish the book, as I would dread sitting down to write it.

As with everything, from the consumption of sweets to the harmonizing of multiple voices, the answer lies in the concept of moderation. A little ‘blendyvoice’ is okay, if the situation calls for it. ‘Skitzovoice’ isn’t bad, so long as it doesn’t indicate that you don’t really know your characters all that well. Just don’t overdo it. All you have to do is find the right balance. It’s as simple as that.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

A New Era Begins

I’m not sure whether I should start this blog with a Star Wars analogy, a Lord of the Rings analogy, or a baseball analogy. I’m going with baseball because that is what I know best. Last fall, we scouted and drafted two new players to the Modern Mythmakers team, NL Berger and Sarah Templeton. Yea! They are fabulous additions to any team and great writers. We expect great things of them!

With the addition of the two new members, we have a new “lineup.”

Batting in the leadoff position is one of our new teammates, NL Berger. NL Berger has written and is querying an epic fantasy novel that does not involve broadswords and wombats. Her first post will go up Monday, March 16th.

Batting second is Kalayna “The Contract” Price. Kalayna has the best batting average of our group. One book completed, edited, and queried. One book published. She’s batting a thousand. Frankly, I am jealous. Kalayna’s next post will go up on Wednesday, March 18th.

Our own Haricot Vert is batting third. Nicknamed The Green Bean, the expert knitter writes speculative fiction with a little bit of epic fantasy thrown in for good measure. Vert’s next post will go up on Friday, March 20th.

I’m batting in the cleanup spot. Tori Pryer is one of my many names. Muahahahaha I write paranormal romance with a historical twist. The serial killer that is existing in my head for my current book scares me a little bit and well, my stories will eventually involve a broadsword and maybe wombat or two. My next post will go up on Monday March 23rd.

Batting fifth is our own Darlene Goodman. An aspiring YA fantasy writer, Darlene enjoys linguistics, quoting Pinky and the Brain, and chasing aliens. (OK, so she doesn’t actually chase aliens, but she’d like to.) Darlene’s next post will go up on Wednesday, March 25th.

Batting last is one of our new teammates, Sarah Templeton. Sarah is in the process of editing her science fiction novel and turning it into something publishable. Sarah is owned by two cats and a lizard. Her lizard is currently plotting its escape so that it can go home with NL. Sarah’s first post will go up on March 27th.

And that my friends is the Modern Mythmakers lineup. Visit every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a new post!

We look forward to chatting with you.

***post edited. The cleanup batter is indeed the fourth batter. Big thanks to NL's sister for making the correction.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Roll Call: Sarah

Well, okay, I, Sarah, shall grace the site with an introduction.

I work in science fiction and fantasy, and dabble in a bit of everything else fictional. My everyday "reality" sports a healthy dose of elves, talking animals, dragons guarding stolen treasure, and aliens. And I like to write about them, too.

I'm obsessed with names and world-building - from social and environmental factors all the way to fleshing out of specific characters who may never even show up in a book. It just isn't right for me to set a story on a world I'm not able to play with. The obsession of my youth has led to the crafting of three whole galaxies, the planets and people therein, and countless short tales that are somewhere between short stories and flash fiction. Luckily, the time was not wasted; I'm using one of these model solar systems for my current project, StarStones.

StarStones is a YA science fiction novel (that may or may not actually be young adult by the time I'm through with edits). I'm also seeing how my creative energies do when they're focused on the romance genre, with one paranormal romance on paper so far. With the wealth of knowledge among the Tri Mu, I suspect these projects will blossom and grow into complete works. Works ready for me to stick my thumb out to the publishing world and see if someone will pick me up.

And me!

Roll Call: Nikki

Who Am I?

I always feel a little silly answering a question like that, because I want to be witty or charming or on some level interesting. There’s a lot of pressure in trying to be interesting -- at least there is for me. There’s also the temptation to get all deep and introspective. Who Am I? It’s quite a heavy question, isn’t it? Of course, deep and introspective tends to trend toward the boring, so that’s kind of counterproductive on the interesting front.

Alas, I cannot find myself interesting and I have no desire to be introspective, so I shall settle for mundane and hope that you all forgive me.

I wrote my first novel, a tragically horrible YA romance of which we shall never speak again, at the age of twelve and have been writing off and on ever since. I’m finally at the querying stage of my first real novel, the opening book of an epic fantasy trilogy. I also just started a new project and have two others seriously percolating (and about a million others flittering around somewhere -- probably in a broom closet in the back of my mind). Most of my background lies in romance and mystery, but lately I’ve been gravitating toward fantasy.

New Myth Makers!

Official Announcement

Hello readers! I have very exciting announcement today. During the last NaNoWriMo, the Tri Mu met two new local writers we clicked with. Since the beginning of the year we have been holding weekly critique meetings and are currently all engaged in a writing/editing challenge, so it seemed way past time to force invite them to blog with us.

Please help us greet NLBerger and Sarah Templeton as new Myth Makers!

They will both be writing introduction posts shortly, so be on the look out for that. Also, we are currently working on a brand new design for the blog, and will be rolling out a new blogging schedule, so check this space soon!