Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Meet Mr. Bond

It occurs to me that I posted the picture of Mr. Bond on the left without ever introducing him or the book he's in. The Adventures of Madison Fox is the smaller novel that I wrote last year. To read a synopsis of it and to find out information about the key characters, please visit my website at

I fell in love with the Mr. Bond character for several reason. The first was that I was already in love with the model from which I took his characteristics: my cat Mack Fu. Mr. Bond (and Mack Fu) is an overweight, food-obsessed, curious, lovable cat. Yes, that describes about half the population of housecats in America. I know. Mr. Bond has what other cats out there don't, though: a bond (no pun intended) with Madison Fox, and she with him.

In the course of the story, Mr. Bond's life is threatened (though I can't say more without giving away spoilers). It was a tough scene for me to write. I got all misty-eyed at the thought of my beloved Mack Fu going through the same experience as Mr. Bond. Even when I was long beyond the scene and was merely rereading the book, I had to pause to bury my face in Mack Fu's furry belly for comfort. He (Mr. Bond) became a much larger character in the book than I ever anticipated, which was a delightful surprise. I hope you all will enjoy him as much as I do when you get to meet him. Until then, here's an excerpt of one of his scenes:

Beyoncé woke me at seven o'clock the next morning. Groggily, I peered at the CD alarm clock. My hand hovered over the snooze button as my sleepy brain tried to remember why I needed to get up. Oh, yeah. Work, I thought. It was Saturday. Saturday was my early day at Sundage Cars. "Another day, another . . . Aww, shit." I flopped onto my back. Beyoncé was way too cheerful about how crazy love had her looking. "You wouldn't be so cheerful if your craziness got you fired," I muttered.

A loud purr announced Mr. Bond a moment before the weight of a small pony compressed my chest and lungs. Mr. Bond settled in, his nose inches from my chin. I swear he smiled.

"Are you taking pleasure in my misery?" I asked the lummox. He purred louder and half-stood on one of my boobs. Wincing in pain, I quickly got an arm on the outside of the covers and moved his foot, then was obligated to pet him. His eyes closed in contentment, his purr grew louder, and his claws began a gentle kneading that made me incredibly thankful for the covers between us. Feeling blindly with my other hand, I managed to turn off the too-cheerful music. After a few minutes, I rested my hand lightly on Mr. Bond's back and started to drift back to sleep.

The beast head-butted my chin. I cracked an eyelid to look at him.

"Is this your way of telling me to get up and find a way to make some money, or are you just hungry?" Mr. Bond's kneading claws inched toward my face. "Okay, okay. I'm up. Move, you big oaf." Mr. Bond launched from my stomach, forcing all the air from my lungs. I laid flat until I could catch my breath.

"You're lucky that wasn't my bladder."

He came with me to the bathroom, twining around my legs while I was on the toilet, then trying to stick his face under the faucet when I washed my hands. I allowed myself to be herded to the food bowl. It wasn't empty, but I could see the bottom of the bowl. Sighing, I filled it, and Mr. Bond happily wagged his tail.

"You should have been a dog," I told him, fondly patting his head.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hate, But Only in Small Doses

An anonymous person asked in a comment to "Falling in Love" if I could write about a character I hate. The answer is yes . . . with one stipulation: the hated character would have to be a secondary character. I really like my main villain in Temple, but I would never, ever want to create a story from his perspective or about just him.

My hesitation is this: What if that was the book that sparked a huge fan base? Would I then feel compelled to write additional books with this character that I hated? Even if I "loved to hate" them at first, I'm sure I would eventually just hate them. I spend a lot of time with these imaginary people. Would you want to visit with your most hated enemy every day for hours at a time? Worse yet, would you want to be in the head of someone whose values/morals/judgment/very essence you didn't respect or enjoy?

While it never would have occurred to me to cast a character I despised as my main character, other authors have been "forced" into it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was with Sherlock Holmes. So was Agatha Christie with Hercule Poirot. Both authors hated their main characters when they wrote them (thinking simply to create, then kill them), only to have their fans rave for more.

I shudder to think of a life of fame and fortune brought about by hate and loathing. I'd rather have fame and fortune brought about by love and delight any day. But I guess that makes me normal.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The "I" in Areia

Amanda brought up a point in her comment to "A Twist of Plot; A Tweak of Character" that I've pondered many times myself: how much of me is in each character and plot I write?

I found myself contemplating this a lot after two years of working on Temple. When I first started working on the novel, I was enamored with epic fantasies. All my favorite authors were epic fantasists. I loved the scope of this style, where each story was filled with an entire world of characters and thousands of pages in which to get to know them all. By the time I was finishing Temple, I was reading mostly modern fantasy—short 200-250 page books based in real time, real America, with a few magical twists. The pacing of these novels is completely different, as are a lot of the character types. My tastes had changed so much that I didn't want to continue writing a book which I then felt I would no longer read.

So as soon as I finished Temple, I took a few months off to give myself some space (and to not become depressed about nearly three years worth of work that potentially was not worth publishing). During one of those months, I wrote exactly the type of book that I now like reading. The Adventures of Madison Fox is a fast-paced modern fantasy with a lot of comedy. It's fun and a quick read. It's 211 pages. It was done in 30 days.

Writing that novel got all the doubts out of my head about my beloved Temple novel, and I was able to return to editing it without second-guessing everything. Madison served as a reminder of all the things I liked about epics that are not part of the slimmer, modern tales. (Ironically, I found myself wishing Madison was an epic fantasy at several points during that month, but I wisely realized that was merely the complaining voice of insanity that wanted to let the book-in-a-month goal sail by without facing the responsibility of creating an ending.)

Now, as I edit Temple, I find myself once again pondering Amanda's point. So many of the choices I'd made at the beginning of the novel were not exactly on par with where I wanted the story to go now. Parts and characters no longer fit with who I am today—they fit with who I was nearly three years ago. The early chapters are becoming over half new text, half reworked and reorganized old text just to make everything fit with the ending of the story. My mom, who is reading the book in chapters as I finish them, observed another change that I hadn't: she noticed that my average sentence length had shortened, which is not my "typical" writing style and is more true of the style in which I wrote Madison.

I know this phenomenon is not unique to me. I remember hearing Steven Spielberg say of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in a collector's edition released twenty or so years after the original that if he were to write this same movie again today, he would never have ended it the same way. The ending of the movie fit with the person he was twenty years prior, not the man he was today. His off-the-cuff comment rattles around in my head, surfacing at odd moments while I'm editing. Will I look back on these novels twenty years from now and wish I could end them differently?

If nothing else, it makes me want to finish my books faster. I know that I'm changing as a person every day—my tastes, beliefs, desires, and goals are subtly altering in a myriad of ways I'm hardly conscious of most of the time. However, over an extended period of time—say over the 2.5 years it took me to write Temple—these changes are more readily apparent (in more ways that just a different taste in novels). To keep a novel true to me (and to not have to extensively edit it), it would definitely behoove me to finish them quickly.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Falling in Love

I don't know what falling in love is like for you guys. I've never been a love-at-first-sight kind of person. Love always sneaks up on me. It doesn't matter what type of love. With my cats, one day I was thinking, "Aren't they cute? Glad I could rescue them." The next, it was "Mine, mine, mine, all mine. They're the best cats that EVER existed. The smartest, the cutest, the most well behaved. I can't wait to see them again." I had a similar experience when I fell in love with Cody. One day, I was thinking, "This is a great man. He's funny and I like hanging out with him." The next, I was thinking thoughts that I'll censor for your sake. . .and mine (hello, Mom!).

On some level, I always knew that I'd fall in love with my characters, but I thought it would be an intellectual love. After all, I've spent so much time creating them and their stories, I knew that I would be at least fond of them.

I didn't realize that I'd fallen in love with my main character, Areia, until I finished the entire story (2.5 years later) and was talking it over with Cody. The more I talked about Areia's personality, the more I realized how much I liked her. I liked who she grew into. I liked the choices she'd made. I look forward to writing the rest of her story (two more novel's worth, I believe) so that I can spend more time with her. It was love. Not love at first sight, but definitely a form of love.

What I didn't expect was that I would fall in love with some of the secondary characters. Jeral, most of all, surprised me. He is Areia's good friend at the temple. He helps her grow up in so many ways. The day I wrote his last scene, I realized that I'd fallen in love with him too, because it felt like I was parting with a good friend. I moped about the house and replayed all his scenes in my mind. Yeah, it was a bit pathetic. And when I reread my book, and got to meet him all over again and read through all his parts again, I got really excited. When I got to his last page, I went through the same funk again.

It was kind of funny, kind of sad. I understand now why authors will return to a series or a world or just one character of the world that especially touches their heart. I could write a whole book on Jeral just to spend more time with him. Which is pretty weird, since I could "visit" him any time I want; after all, he's just an idea in my head. It makes me wonder if I'm becoming one of "those" authors that I make fun of—the ones that insist their characters are separate from themselves, as if these bits of fiction from their head can make their own decisions. And then I wonder if it can be a bad thing for a character to become so real that I have feelings for them. I don't think it can. I have a great fondness for many characters created by other authors. Why not fall in love with my own?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Twist of Plot; a Tweak of Character

I'm sure that most new authors would say the same: the story I started out to create is not the story that I finished. It's not even close. The only thing that remained the same was the character's first name.

I originally created Areia to be a girl with nothing left to her name but a desire for revenge, who hunts down and trains with a fabled assassin master. Revenge for what and against who? I never figured that much out. I wanted Areia to be emotionless, able to kill without a lot of thought behind it. Eventually, she would have more assignments than she could complete, working in a ruthless society set in a hot, desert location. Her main struggle would have come from when she started to care and when vengeance just wasn't enough.

Instead, what I eventually settled on was an emotionally charged girl who is gifted with magical powers and becomes part of a society of women bent on saving and protecting a Empire that is rotting from the inside out—in a nice, pleasant environment with lots of trees and beauty and a history of very little violence. Areia's main struggle comes from within, which is the same, but it has to do more with finding out who she is, finding a sense of belonging and balance in her life.

I had this great in media res beginning, too, with Areia lurking in her victim's office, waiting to kill him before slipping out. I also had a horrible analogy between her and a vase, but that could have been improved on. I expected a short story, maybe 250 pages or so. Possibly a series, but most likely a stand-alone.

It's strange what can change in the course of writing a book.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tasty Thoughts

Seeing as how I've been insatiably hungry lately, I've been thinking a lot about food. Well, I've not been hungry—it's more that I've been hungry for flavors. A coworker of mine calls it "gula", though no dictionary I've looked it up in recognizes that as a word. He says it's a mouth hunger. I've been hungry for the taste of everything from Indian food to multi-tiered chocolate cake to pretzels and peanut butter. If someone could just bottle the essence of those foods so I could dab the flavor on my tongue, sometimes I think it would satisfy me. Maybe it'd just make me crave it more. Probably crave it more, if I'm being realistic. If something is good, I want more of it.

So lately I've found that when I try to focus on my story and the edits I'm working on, I start fantasizing about the character's meals. What would Areia's first breakfast at the Temple of Shadow and Light be? What snacks does she sneak back to her room? Is it the right season for strawberries, because those sound delicious right now. Maybe a French roll with some cheese. Only I couldn't call it a "French" roll since the entire country of France—along with the entire world as we know it—doesn't exist in Areia's world.

As I've been pondering all this food and the meals I want to have, it occurred to me that writing and food have a strange relationship for me. It's either one or the other. If I'm writing really well, I can't—won't—stop to eat, because once I stop and focus my attention on food, I lose my creative momentum. If I try to start a writing session with a snack in front of me, I usually stutter along through writing or edits until the snack is devoured, then I really get down to work.

So I go on these crazy writing binges, and when the story is going well, I don't notice the hunger. Maybe I should bottle it as a diet. Write. Write what you're crazy-passionate about. Duck your head into your imaginary world and don't raise it again until you're exhausted. Then inhale food.

Of course, that sounds like a terrible idea once I've written it down. Not the crazy-passionate stuff, of course. Just the starving and then scarfing.

There is a happy medium, and when you're lucky enough to experience it, you'll know and rejoice. It happens when you have a really attentive partner and he quietly slips into your writing world, sets a snack in front of you, then slips back out before you lose your train of thought. Then, not only do you have food, you also have true love.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

My Method, My Magic

I think one of the most frequently asked questions about authors everywhere is how do they do it. How do they go about writing novel after novel? What is their process? I know that it is one of the first things I look for when I visit an author site. As a writer, part of my curiosity is to learn from the published masters. However, it's mostly just a curiosity as a reader. Do they have a regimented schedule, or do they write fiendishly a when the muse strikes, cramped over their keyboard, spewing words and scenes and chapters? Laurell K Hamilton writes a self-imposed number of pages a day, starting at the beginning of the book and always moving forward. Diana Gabaldon writes scenes as they come to her, picking whatever she's inspired to write, then piecing them all together later. Karen Marie Moning gets up at the ridiculous hour of 4:30 a.m. to write until lunch, then edits in the afternoon. Everyone's method is different, yet every one of these authors produces New York Times bestsellers. They only tying theme between every author's schedule is consistency. They write every day. They set their own goals (page length, word count, time limit) and they meet it. Every day.

Figuring out my own method was part of the fun. When I first started writing Temple, I would write a scene, maybe two, then go back and edit them. Then I'd write another, find a new direction I wanted to move the story in, and have to go back to edit the first part of my story to fit. I did this over and over again for several months. I'd just get everything as I liked it, realize that my plot was shallow or my character inconsistent or any number of other problems, and I'd stop, go back, and fix everything. There was very little forward process. I was driving myself nuts.

I decided that maybe novels were not my thing. Maybe I needed to work on something shorter. I'd just taken a short story class in college and had done really well. Having only 12 pages to fit an entire story in will really make you pare down your thoughts and story arc. However, short stories don't sell. Or maybe they do, but not to me. I've never purchased a magazine that includes short stories, and the only compilations I've purchased have been mandatory ones for class. If I didn't want to read them, I couldn't expect other people to.

One thing that does sell and that I enjoy are screenplays. I took a class and wrote a screenplay the next semester. I learned that my dialog needed some work and that most of my joy in writing comes from creating worlds and thoughts, none of which get a big part in a screenplay. More importantly, I learned how to storyboard.

Storyboarding, at least for me, is taking my book scene by scene and jotting it down on note cards. It means I had to know my entire story before I started writing. Suddenly the nebulous ideas of a woman who has some magical power and must save an empire weren't going to work for me. I needed to know what her powers were. I needed to know about the empire and why it was in danger. Freewrite after freewrite uncovered more and more facts about Areia, my main character, and the city she lives in called Suan'me. I build up a place where she would go to train: the Temple of Shadow and Light. Friends and enemies came into the scenes. The more I learned, the more note cards I was able to fill with scenes until I realized that I had too much novel for one book. I had a trilogy.

Only when I had the entire first book mapped out and every scene documented, did I begin to write (again). (The second and third book are on note cards, too, but their structure is still flexible depending on the edits of the first book.) This time, I didn't go back to edit. As often as I could (meaning 2-7 days a week) I would sit in front of my computer and write. At the end of each day, I would leave myself a note to remind myself the next day where I wanted to take the next scene. I did this for two years. Granted, my book is 1,300 pages long, so it took me a little longer than a person who might have been writing a nice 75,000-word novel. At it's final length, Temple is 413,771 words long.

Some of you might think my method takes away some of the magic. If I know what's going to happen in the story, what's the point in writing it, right? Fortunately, I've never thought that way. Knowing that the two lead characters in a novel are going to fall in love and most likely be married by the end of a book doesn't stop me from reading a romance. Nor does knowing that good is going to somehow overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and defeat evil stop me from reading a fantasy novel. The pleasure comes from specifics—how will they fall in love? how will a character evolve? how will they deal with each trial? Writing a scene for me is much like that. I don't always know what a character is going to say when I begin a scene. Many times I've had scenes take a different twist than I planned, or had characters react differently than I had decided they should. And for me, since I love my characters and spend so much time with them, it's nice to know that even though their going through some terrible things in the moment, I know the outcome.