Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chapter Eight and Cake

My life has been filled with birthdays lately. My mom, dad, grandma, and Cody all have a birthday within three weeks of each other, which means lots of shopping and partying in the month of August and early September--and lots of chocolate cake! (Luckily for me, I get along very well with Virgos.)

All the fun has eaten a bit into my writing time, but I'm happy to say that I got back into the full swing of it today and completed the edits on chapter 8! I'm now up to page 175 of the book with only two chapters left to go.

It also means that I have time now for a little bit more birthday shopping.

Happy Birthday, everyone!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Frozen Yogurt, Wii, and a Few Other Things

I didn't do any writing this last week, if we're not counting the hour I worked on Madison on Sunday. This week was a busy one for Cody and me. We had an apartment inspection, so our cats got to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Mack Fu (the real Mr. Bond) did just fine. He's a laid back cat that loves people and doesn't seem to have a territorial bone in his body. Zenzo, his sister, transforms from mild-mannered lap cat to pop star diva/Diana the Huntress when she's in unfamiliar territory, and she spent the entire night and two days she was visiting Grandma and Grandpa and her cousins (my parents' two cats) hissing and growling at everything in sight (though she still wanted to be petted and to sit on laps while she did this). For those of you who have never seen a cat who can be simultaneously begging for a pet and hissing with annoyance, I present Exhibit A:

Isn't she precious?

We also celebrated my parents' birthdays this weekend. I've gained and extra 5 lbs in chocolate cake to prove it.

The only progress made on the writing front was that my research book, The Encyclopedia of Amazons, arrived. Despite its title, I was expecting a book of stories about women warriors. Instead, it is an alphabetized list of warrior women with a brief paragraph or two of biographical information. It is very brief. Very dry. Very factual. Very encyclopedic. Not at all what I was expecting, though it was exactly what was advertised. I'd built it up in my head to be a book filled with women's stories woven together in a creative narrative. My disappointment was short-lived, because simply reading the snippets of information made me start building the stories of the women in my head, which was the whole point of the book--to provide inspiration. As Cody put it, it's a perfect research book.

Oddly, this made me think of video games. I've been a fan of many of the Nintendo games from the very first console that came out when I was a kid. I've never gotten into the arcade games very much. Fighting from level to level in misspelled combat games never really did it for me. Nor did the racing ones, at least not for long. For me, it was always The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, and to a lesser extent, the Mario games. I finally realized why: They build on a story. You're not just running around trying to get items and kill enemies, you're following the path of a story arc. You're getting to play the hero/heroine, just as when you read, you get to see the world through the eyes of the hero/heroine on the adventure. I recently got a Wii for my birthday, and I've been playing through the latest Metroid game (Metroid Prime 3: Corruption) and the LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Star Wars games. I highly recommend all three, but especially the LEGO games if you're not a big gamer.

My most eye opening revelation of the week, though, was this: Pistachio frozen yogurt is really, really good! Who knew?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Madison Fox Edits Update

I've finished editing and marking all the changes in the manuscript of the first 7 (out of 10) chapters of Madison.

This is my second thorough edit of the entire book. In my previous edit, chapter 7 ended on page 160 and 47,530 words. On this edit, chapter 7 ends on page 163 with the total of words being 49,430.

As you can see, I'm not changing much, which is why I know that the book will be ready to sell as soon as I finish this edit. It's that thought that keeps me going.

I have 3 chapters left to edit. In other words (according to the previous draft), I have 73 pages or 20,963 words left.

I'm off to change over some laundry, then I'm on to chapter 8 edits!

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Hero Question

I briefly mentioned in the previous blog that I've been doing a lot of thinking about heroes lately. Here's the back story:

When I was a junior in high school, I had to write an essay about someone who was a hero of mine in order to get into AP English. At 16, I realized I had no official heroes. I couldn't even define what a hero was. There was the dictionary definition, which referred to warriors and men of great achievement--not exactly people I could relate with. I guessed it was going to take a little more pondering than I really had time for, so I ended up writing my essay about Sally K. Ride--a strong female who I could easily find facts about.

I didn't realize that it was going to take me nearly thirteen years of pondering the definition of a hero to figure out the answer.

This thought has plagued my subconscious in small, unobtrusive ways over the years. For the most part, the question comes up when I'm writing, trying to craft a hero on paper. Recently, I was watching a KVIE show about a painter in Mexico who did these amazing forced perspective murals, and the subject matter was always the heroes of Mexico. (I can't remember the painter's name!) It was the first time in a while that I had to race from what I was doing to find pen and paper and jot down ideas--this time about heroes, of course. Most of my ideas came out in the form of a question: What makes a hero? What makes a hero last throughout time and the next generations' critiquing? Can you be a hero when you're young and then continue to live up to it? In order for you to be a hero, do others have to forget all your faults? Too many questions!

I could tell you the steps of a literary hero's journey, which I suppose could be applied to real life, though I've found that difficult. (For anyone out there who is writing, I highly recommend that you also understand the mythic structure of the hero's journey as defined by Joseph Campbell. It's instrumental to creating a good story--in fact, all good stories throughout time have followed this structure, so the more you understand of it, the better your story arcs and plot lines will be. A really good book that covers the hero's journey is The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. I have the 2nd edition, but I'm sure the third is even better.)

I can also tell you people who are "national heroes" or what I call "traditional heroes," which inevitably are men who fought and/or died in battle, led the country in politics, or sacrificed themselves for the greater good.

But that's too vague--too all-encompassing and, frankly, to chauvinistic. As I've come to believe, a hero cannot be someone dictated to the masses as heroic. Thinking of someone as a hero is a very personal thing. Thus, being a hero must be a second-party quality, as in, a person cannot simply perform a feat and call themself a hero; a person can only be a hero through the eyes of another.

I abandoned the traditional definition of hero and decided that a hero--MY hero--should be someone I look up to. Someone I admire. I have spent a long time searching for people who fit that profile, which means I have spent a long time evaluating what traits I find admirable. In no particular order they are:
  • Being true to yourself/honoring your priorities
  • Following your passion/having the strength to carry out your dreams and ambitions
  • Being compassionate to others; treating family and friends with respect and love
  • Being kind to animals
  • Being conscious of the environment and your personal environmental impact
  • Speaking your opinion in a healthy way, even when it's not popular

I have several heroes now--women and men who I feel embody these traits. Who are your heroes? Why are they your heroes?

p.s. A few nights ago, I realized that I'd finally answered my hero question, which reminded me of a short story I'd started early in college and never found the right ending for. It's a raw story that makes me feel uncomfortable reading it--uncomfortable in a vulnerable, I-would-publish-this-under-a-pseudonym kind of way. It is, I realized that night as I was trying to fall asleep, a fantasy of a woman struggling to discover this very thing: Who should she look up to, who are her role models? While it is in no way autobiographical--I would never tear books from library shelves as she does!--it comes from a deep place in my subconscious. And happily, I finally have an ending!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Real Adventure (i.e. Not in a Book)

Sometimes the best thing I can do to become more enthusiastic about my writing is to do something that recharges me. Often, that's something simple and easy, like reading, hanging out with friends, seeing a good show, etc. This weekend, Cody decided we needed to do something a little more adventurous: a hiking trip at Northstar at Tahoe.

During the summer, the ski resort opens up to the hikers and mountain bikers, with free gondola and ski lift tickets for hikers (I think the bikers had to pay a little). If you're not up for a hike or bike, you can stay in the Sweden-style (or so I imagine, having yet to go to Sweden) miniature town that is the Northstar resort, where you can roller skate in the rink, trampoline jump a la the first Tomb Raider movie (hooked to ropes and doing flips), shop at some very expensive stores, or dine at restaurants you'd only expect to find in cities. Since we were appareled like hiking pros (ahem, dorks--see the picture), we headed straight for the trails.

Free of charge, we road a gondola lift and two ski lifts to the top of the mountain, to promptly discover that at approximately 8,000 feet, we couldn't breathe as well as normal. So we took a nice, slow hike through the woods on the plethora of designated trails, stopping occasionally to snack on the gourmet selection of snacks Cody had packed.

I was eager to see wildlife. It's become a goal for me on the walks we take around our home (the best sighting last week was an adorable gaze of raccoons), and I figured in the great outdoors of the Sierras, I'd see some pretty amazing creatures. Like this mule deer, that is nibbling on Cody's finger:

While all mule deer ended up hiding from me, we did spy a few adorable ground squirrels that posed very nicely for the camera. (Well, one looks like a glowing angel of a squirrel--the other might be doing something naughty.)

I can't say that I didn't think about writing while we were traipsing across the tip of the mountain. There so many story ideas yet to be written! I also thought a bit about heroes and what it takes to be one, which is a post for another time, but something that has been on my mind for quite some time now. But for the most part, I breathed in the clear, clean air of the mountains, admired all the hardy trees and bushes that thrive despite being buried under pounds and pounds of snow during the winter, and enjoyed Cody's company.

When we were done hiking, we were far too dirty to comfortably hang out in the swanky Northstar/Sweden village, so we headed back to Truckee. On the way, we passed through a huge valley that buffeted the car with wind. On a whim, Cody pulled over and got out his kite. (Apparently, it was less of a whim than I first thought, since he had the kite packed.) We played in the wind for a while before finally deciding we needed dinner.

It was such a pleasant, fun, refreshing getaway, that even after two hours of editing Madison today, when I realized that instead of only having one more chapter to edit, I actually had three, I was pleased and not upset.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Warrior Women

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new research book: The Encyclopedia of Amazons: Women Warriors from Antiquity to the Modern Era. The title alone captivated me. Here, I thought, is a great research book for strong female protagonists who have a propensity for violence (aka Areia).

I love that the fact that there are so many women warriors throughout history that in the book blurb on Amazon, the Library Journal says of the author:

Salmonson defines the term "amazon" through Greek mythology and includes only those women who actually participate in direct combat. She excludes from the encyclopedia women who were spies, assassins, famous murderesses or criminals, orators, or hunters.

Of course, now I want the author to do a follow-up book on women who were spies and assassins, etc.

I came across the book through sheer coincidence while surfing the Internet. One interesting page had led to another until I ended up on someone's blog page and they were talking about how great this book was. Even better, when I told Cody how I thought I should buy the book (which for those who don't know me and my ingrained compulsion toward delayed gratification, that meant that I should hunt through the local used book store for months on the off chance they'd have it in stock before maybe purchasing the book), and Cody said I should just buy it. Right then. So I did!
(See what I mean about wanting to do research on the book I'm not technically working on? I'll let you know if I like it.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More than Procrastination

I am amazed and surprised that the entire month of July flew by without a single post from me! Okay, maybe I'm not that amazed by no post, but more by how quickly the month passed. And despite the fact that I completely ignored all my raving fans (yes, I'm talking to you two ;), I did not ignore my writing. In fact, I was more inspired than ever in the month of July.

As you might recall, I've set myself a schedule of working 5 hours a week on Madison. This dedicated time has enabled me to get through the final edits of 6 (of 8) chapters (then I can start approaching editors and agents, sell the book, and do this full time!). However, there's nothing like having to work on one book that makes me want to work on the other one more.

I believe this is my form of procrastination. Once I decide upon my current project (in this case, Madison), the other book (Areia) suddenly looks more appealing. I start thinking about Areia while I'm driving. I start getting ideas for Areia edits and Areia 2 while I'm walking through the halls at my 9-5 job. I start thinking of things that need to be researched for Areia despite the fact that there are things that more urgently need to be researched for Madison 2. (I really need more creative names for these books!)

Nor does it help that I don't want to read books in that same genre as the project I'm working on because I don't want other people's works to subtly influence my work. Madison is a contemporary fantasy; Areia is an epic fantasy. So while I'm editing Madison, I try not to read contemporary fantasy (harder than it sounds since that's my current favorite genre), and epic fantasies are a big no-no while I'm working on Areia. And for those of you who might think I'm putting too much thought into this, well, I wish you could read some passages from the earlier drafts of Madison and see the Laurell K. Hamilton/Anita Blake influences (which is ironic since Anita Blake is virtually the antithesis of Madison Fox and Laurell K. Hamilton writes horror/fantasy, not contemporary fantasy).

All of which brings me to my long-winded point: In the beginning of July, I decided to read the next book in Jacqueline Carey's epic fantasy Kushiel series, thinking it was safe since it was an epic fantasy and I was focusing on my contemporary fantasy. For a while, it was safe. The only danger was to the people in my life, who I rather willfully neglected while I immersed myself in the tale.

Then I finished the book.

Now, there's one more book in the series out there on the shelves, prominently displayed and vocally announcing its presence in every bookstore in the area that I've shopped in since. I could buy it and read it and live some more in the world of Terre d'Ange. The temptation is strong--like Jedi mind powers-strong. For those of you who don't know (though I'm sure I must have mentioned it by now), I adore the Kushiel series. In fact, (and I just ran out to my front room where all my bookcases are to verify this) Carey is the only epic fantasy author that I still purchase. I read much more epic fantasy 10 years ago--even 3 years ago--than I do today. Of course, I'll buy the last in the Wheel of Time series when it releases next year, but other than that, all the epic fantasies on my shelves are 3+ years old. Which is all another very long-winded way of saying that I love Carey's writing. I love the world in her Kushiel series. I love the characters. I want to meet them and party with them and go on adventures with them and.... You get the point. When I read her books, I lose track of the real world. Thus, I try to space them out. There's only so much neglect Cody and Mack Fu and Zenzo (not to mention the rest of my family and friends) can take before they get irritated.

So I did the next best thing: I worked on my own epic fantasy.

I didn't stop working on Madison. I just worked on Areia after I'd finished my Madison hours. In the mornings before work, I edited Areia while eating breakfast. When I got home, I'd write out new scenes. After dinner, I'd collapsed into my reclining La-Z-Boy and use the cats' favorite blanket as a fluffy table while I hacked and slashed my way through superfluous character notes-type sections and added character-building descriptions in their place. I ran one pen out of ink and another's close to giving out. I found that while Madison had become work (what I had to do in those 5 hours), Areia had been freed up as a fun, hobby-esque type activity. Madison was a must do, Areia was a get to do.

Alas, my energy ran out near the end of August, but it was a very good run. A few things happened in my work life that burned me out fast, so I went from working on my writing like it was my full-time job, to vacation/recuperation mode. Tomorrow, though, I'm back on the 5-hours-a-week routine. I'm also back here, hopefully doing far more regular posts than, well, none.

p.s. Kate, please forgive my use of hyphens where there should be en dashes! It annoys me too!