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!