Friday, October 31, 2008

Characters Coming Out of the Woodwork

With NaNo WriMo bearing down on me, I've been a little concerned about book 2. I've known the plot of it nearly since I finished book 1, but knowing the main events doesn't make a story. I needed to know the characters. At least four new main subcharacters are going to be introduced in book 2, and if they don't work, the book won't work. Until yesterday, they were vague, disembodied ideas.

I didn't plan yesterday to flush out the characters--it just happened. I was on the treadmill (which is a great place to do some thinking) and I was going over changes that I need to make to book 1 in my head. I came up with some brilliant connector bits that I hadn't realized until that moment were needed to fill weaknesses in my story. Once those were in place, it was like the characters for book 2 came out of nowhere, complete with names, ages, appearances, regions, and personalities. They were talking, practically on top of each other, to each other, to me, to themselves. It was fabulous.

I darted back up to my apartment (on rather wobbly legs), practically shushed Cody when he tried to talk to me, and spent the next twenty minutes writing down notes of everything they'd said to me.

I'm officially ready. Bring it on, NaNo. I'm not scared.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Falling Behind

I am behind--three books behind, to be specific. Not on my own writing, though honestly I'd love to have three books published by now. If you'd asked me when I was 18 years old how many books I'd have published by now, I'm sure I would have said five. So technically I'm behind in that too, but I'm not going to think about that right now--too depressing.

I'm concerned because I'm behind in the number of books that I've read this year.

Don't you keep a list of the books you read in a year? Doesn't everyone? I started last year, and by this time in 2007, I'd read 44 books. This year, I'm only on book 42. I'm sure there are people out there that are scoffing at that number because, a) they read that many books in the first three months of the year and they think I'm a total slacker, or b) they haven't read that many books in the last three years and they think I'm crazy for feeling like I'm behind and I have way too much time on my hands. There's a potential for a third category of people who are thinking that I'm silly for even making a list in the first place. To them, I ask: If I hadn't kept track of the books I'd read last year, how would I know that:

  • 28% of the books I read last year were fantasy, 24% were romance, and 10% were paranormal romance (I only just discovered the paranormal romance genre at the end of 2006, and the blend of my two favorite genres was a miracle to behold--as my 2008 numbers show).
  • I read 52 books last year, though not one book a week.
  • I read the most books in May (7).
  • The author I read the most was Janet Evanovich, but there were only five other authors that I read more than one of their books (P.C. Cast, Laurell K. Hamilton, Jude Deveraux, Karen Marie Moning, and Lora Leigh).

I haven't run all the numbers for this year since it's still not over, but paranormal romances have definitely jumped to the most-read slot with 14 of the 41 books I've read this year falling in that genre. Fantasy's a close second, followed by non-fiction (I'm as surprised as you), and finally romance. This year I decided to keep track of which authors I was reading for the first time--so far, 18! That's far more than I thought. I think this proves I'm past my lack-of-new-author rut*.

(*When I was around 18 or 20 or so, my taste in books changed. Before I'd been reading a lot of epic fantasy and historical romances. By something about all the changes in my life changed what I wanted to read, and by the time I graduated college, the authors of my teen years no longer appealed to me. It took me a while to find new sub-genres in the fantasy world to like (like contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, certain horror that's character driven and not a celebration of gore). And, of course, I recently discovered paranormal romance, the blend of fantasy and romance in sometimes contemporary but always interesting worlds.)

So now I have lots of authors I know and love, and I know where to go when I run out of unread books on my shelf (if you knew me and my book-buying obsession, you'd be laughing right now), but I'm still behind.

It's not my fault though. It's not even events in my life that are to blame. No, I blame Jacqueline Carey. In July I read Kushiel's Justice, the fifth book in the Kushiel series. It utterly captivated me. I walked through life in a daze, my mind still exploring her world even when I wasn't reading. When I finished the book, nothing else sounded good. For a few days, then for a few weeks. This is unheard of for me. If I don't have a book to read, Cody goes into hiding. I become a bit crazed. I need my reading fix. But not this time. I was sustained on the story I'd just finished reading. Now that's a good story. One day, I hope Areia can do the same for other epic fantasy lovers out there.

Until then, I've got some serious reading to catch up on.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sneaky Dates

Last night, as I was happily telling Cody the basic plots of the next 4 Madison Fox, Illuminant Enforcer adventures (as you can see, my imagination works much faster than the writing process), I abruptly realized that November is a mere 3 days away! Which of course means NaNo WriMo is a mere 3 days away! It seemed to come out of nowhere, sneaking up on me while I was looking the other direction (we'll forget for the moment that I have a calendar right here in my office that I look at and write on daily).

My sudden panic and giddy excitement is due to the fact that now, in only 3 days, I will begin the second book in the Madison Fox, Illuminant Enforcer series! My days will need to expand to include time to write the allotted word count and still get my paying job done as well as the edits and selling of Madison 1 done! I'm not quite sure at this point how that's going to happen. I'm in the wing-it phase, just as I am with the plot of book 2. Oh, I know what'll happen on a big, general scale, but all the little details and subplots haven't surfaced yet. If my experience this time is true to last time, in about a week I'll be filled with the need to storyboard book 2 out. Until then, it's all a vague blur in between major plot points.

If you want to join in on the fun and complete your own NaNo WriMo masterpiece, let me know and we can encourage each other. If not, wishes of luck will suffice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sex and the City Yearnings

I finally watched the Sex and the City movie last night. (I'm apparently a little behind all women in America, so I'm guessing most of you have already seen this or at least know the general plot.) I'm still trying to decide how I feel about it. There were some scenes where it was simply unbelievable to me. (**SPOILER ALERT**) Like when Carrie beats Big up with her bouquet. It just seemed so drastic. After talking him through having the wedding the night before, she suddenly becomes bridezilla the next day. Clearly, the movie needed the twist to make it last more than a half hour, but it felt forced. Also, as much as I love the idea that Carrie could afford to own a 1,000-square-foot apartment in a good part of New York and have a closet full of $500 designer shoes and who-knows-how-expensive designer clothing with near-nightly outings to expensive restaurants and bars all on a writer's salary, I just can't quite believe it. Okay, maybe I could believe that by this point in her career she could afford it, but this was her lifestyle throughout the whole show. Perhaps it's just the jealousy talking.

I'm still up in the air about the way they used the exact same conversations three or so different times for completely different topics. I think I like it. In fact, there were a few times where I thought it was brilliant. I just can't decide it if was overdone. Hell, it's a movie, meant purely for entertainment. I was entertained. We'll say I liked it.

One thing that I loved about the film were the sets. The clothing I could take or leave (most of it leave--I guess I'm just not that high-fashion); but the decor in the apartments made me lust for my own place, a couple hundred thousand in my savings account, and an interior designer. I turned off the TV and looked around with fresh eyes at my white-matte walls and outdated pictures and wanted to change everything (which is very hard with an apartment manager that won't let you paint). My dilapidated furniture should be replaced with trendy, expensive pieces, my hand-me-down desk needs an upgrade, my bedroom needs an overhaul, and my kitchen...sigh. Okay. Reality. I love my bookcases, for all that they would never be seen in a trendy apartment. I love that I have all these things, dilapidated or not, and am not living in poverty. I love that I'm following my dreams and I know the money will follow. I'd just really like to have a super fancy dinner out and return home to a place that had been cheerfully redone by my fairy designer godmother. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Soft Change

I just finished reading Anjali Banerjee's Invisible Lives, which is a tale of a woman with the ability to see people's hidden desires and her own search for love and marriage while staying true to herself. (Check out Banerjee's blog! It might look familiar.) It is so very different from anything I've read recently--different from anything on my bookcases since college. Centralized around Indian culture and characters but maintaining traditional Western plot arcs, I found reading it a bit like watching a Bollywood film. Everything familiar was exotic, sometimes confusing, and in many ways softer than an American book exploring the same themes.

In reading it, I've found a strange peace, a tranquility. Though my thoughts have been idly toying with dark fantasies and creepy scenes for a yet undecided book, I still enjoyed Invisible Lives. It was like it soothed my conscious and gave it a safe place to explore the scary thoughts from.

Banerjee's prose is beautiful, too. It reminds me of reading a short story, where imagery is tightly monitored under the constraints of strict word/page counts. Her descriptions were so image-invoking, so perfect, and what she left unsaid told the story as much as what she wrote, which is a unique gift in itself.

I might not have noticed her subtle ability to tell parts of the story with unsaid words had it not so recently, blatantly, been referenced in Sunshine (Robin McKinley), the book I finished just before this soft-spoken romantic comedy. As Sunshine (the main character) is in the middle of vampires and learning that she has a special ability to kill them using her knife, McKinley writes:

Reading scary books is weirdly reassuring, most of the time: it means at least one other person--the author--has imagined things as awful as you have. What's bad is when the author comes up with stuff you hadn't thought of yet.

I'd thought it was bad when I was just reading stuff I hadn't thought of.

And even then I'd known that sometimes it's worse when the author leaves it to your imagination.

I stopped using my knife. I found I didn't have to. I found out I could do it with my hands.

And that's all McKinley says about how Sunshine kills the rest of the vampires in that scene. Brilliant.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Research Traps

I have spent, over the last several weeks, an impressive amount of time cruising through websites for writers, workshops, agents, writers' groups, advice on writing, advice on writers' groups, advice on selling/marketing/querying, etc. Lately I've been drawn to sites of workshops that promise (but don't guarantee) amazing results and boast New York Times bestseller previous-attendees, which of course automatically makes me think that all I'd need to do is throw down $300-$4,000 and I'd be set. My novel(s) would launch into the world on glittery wings and whisper into readers' ears everywhere sweet nothings that would make them all run to their nearest Borders/Barnes and Noble/Costco and buy a copy of my book for everyone in their family.

Those glittery-winged thoughts have been the bright spot in what have otherwise been darker and darker broodings brought about by all this research. It seems that steeping myself in researching how to sell a book has unfortunately had a few negative side effects, mainly an overwhelming exposure to the doom-sayers of the writing world (and there are many and they seem to breed within the virtual world like sponges on the writing society, happily sucking the life from hopeful new writers, and tragically, these sponges are usually wannabe or published writers themselves!). These are the sites/articles/blogs dedicated to reminding everyone how difficult/odious/masochistic writing and selling a novel is, and how slim the odds of being successful are. Often this insidious message is sickeningly couched in the guise of help.

The general circling of my thoughts reflect the infection of this bleak outlook, and I've noticed a change from being focused on writing the best book I can to a focus on:

  1. Fear. Fear that if I don't attend (fill in the blank) workshop or read a book/article about (fill in the blank), my book will not sell. Why would any agent want to look at a story that hasn't been workshoped by so-and-so and hasn't met the requirements of so-and-so's article?
  2. That writing is somehow difficult. It's not. Really. It takes time. It takes perseverance, and that's the difficult part. The writing is the fun part. The writing is what makes me smile (and what keeps me awake at night when I don't want to turn my imagination off just yet and figuratively close the book and turn off the light). Characters are a joy to meet and to learn about. Plots are fun to create. The imagination is a delightful place to explore.
  3. Evolved Procrastination. There's always some hesitancy in sharing one's writing with others. I've yet to meet an author/writer that doesn't agree with this. There's some point when you have to accept that the book you think is perfect and adorable and highly entertaining (or else why would you be bothering to write that story) is ready to be handed over to people who are going to hunt for its imperfections. It takes courage. It takes a thick skin. It definitely helps to develop the ability to see that critiques are about the novel and not you and to be able to know what's a good critique and what's not. There's a lot of emotional baggage that can accrue before you let go of a book, and there are, therefore, a lot of reasons an author can think up to not release their work quite yet. I can feel that procrastination inching up behind this research. It's chipping away at my natural confidence and filling in the cracks with doubts and questions and giving me excuses to postpone. Indefinitely.
My solution: forge ahead. The right opportunities will come to me as I need them. For now, clearly, I need to focus on my writing and on selling my book.

Is this egotistical or naive? Only time will tell.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Negative Effects of Alcohol

I've posted before that wine and writing do NOT go together for me. Wine is one of those things that seems like it should increase my creativity by knocking aside those pesky logical thought patterns and inserting hilarity (or at least randomnimity that could be worked into creativity). Today, however, has proved once again that wine and writing should be kept separate.

I had the best of starts today. As a guest, I attended a local Romance Writers of America meeting to listen to an agent talk and give critiques. For a newbie author just starting to test the waters with my story, meeting an agent and hearing an agent give advice was the equivalent for many people of meeting a famous celebrity and being invited to their personal house party. I don't know what I was expecting--perhaps a person with molecular structure uniquely attuned to good writing, who could walk through a room and feel the current of the air change around writers with talent and writers who were ready to have their work sold. In reality, the agent was not quite so sci-fi, super-human, but she was evolutionarily advanced: She was a Reader.

Yes, today I realized the fabulous fact that in my starstruck wonder had heretofore escaped my worldview: all agents are readers. As in, they love to read. As in, they probably feel supremely delighted and blessed to have a job that allows them to read for a living (and sell stories, of course, but first they have to read them). All the agent websites with their submission guidelines spelled out in varying degrees of foreboding language made me miss this key point before. After all, agents are inundated with queries and submissions. They have their own slush piles that they desperately do not want to allow to multiply unchecked, so they throw up all these scary Violators of Submission Guidelines Will Be Shot signs all over their websites to weed out those unsure of their bulletproof armor (er, stories). But in their hearts, they're readers, and they love a good story. (If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might be sensing a trend: like how the obvious has to bonk me over the head a few times before it really sinks in.)

I really enjoyed listening to the agent talk. I enjoyed the critiques. I was motivated to come home and jump into editing my story. I was ready to pound out another book tonight. There are people out there who live to read, and I was ready to keep them well fed for the rest of their lives.

But first I wanted to go see Suzanne Goodwin in art show as I'd been planning to do for the last few weeks. Suzanne is my absolute favorite artist, and she's also a friend. The show was outside, and Suzanne had spent the day working on a gorgeous new piece that she'll hopefully have a picture of on her website soon. It is completely not my fault that the gallery hosting the event was also serving free wine. It is only partially my fault that I went back for seconds.

In twenty minutes, I was robbed of my motivation. Languidity set into my limbs and my thoughts. My stomach reminded me that food would help things out, and after dinner, some dessert would be just the thing. Now, I'm stuffed and more tired than motivated. Sigh. Tomorrow I will write again.

...And hopefully I won't regret posting while still a little tipsy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Who Else Wants to be Danielle Steel?

So I've never read Danielle Steel, but apparently I'm one of the few who hasn't, because I was on her website the other day and learned that every one of her books has been a bestseller! Every one! She was on the New York Times bestseller list for over 390 consecutive weeks! That's over 7 and a half years!

Naturally I figured that she was a life-long recluse that lived alone and did nothing from dawn to dusk but write. I mean, how else are you going to pump out as many books as she has (73 to date)? Some of us have to have lives, otherwise we'd be that prolific, right? Wrong. She has 9 children (9 children!), runs two foundations to help causes she believes in, and she's a guest curator at an art gallery in San Francisco. Ms. Steel, you're making some of us look bad.

She's also had time to be married 5 times (though she claims only two were "serious" marriages--I'm still trying to decide what that means). When does she date? Where is her time machine located? How can I get my hands on one of those? Maybe it's built into her 1946 typewriter that she writes all her manuscripts on. (Who is translating those into digital documents? I guess she doesn't have to worry about sending out online submissions to agents and editors.)

Danielle Steel has become my cattle prod since I found her website. When I don't feel like putting in my one measly hour of writing a day, I simply remind myself that Danielle Steel not only puts in up to 20 hours of writing a day, she also works on 3-5 books at once, probably while simultaneously bouncing a child on one knee and telekinetically doing the dishes and scrubbing the toilet. If she can do all that, I can definitely devote an hour of my day to writing. How else am I going to break her Guinness World Record of having the most consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Fifth Choice

Yesterday I mentioned that I wrote four different new beginnings. The plan today was to go back over them, pick the best sentences, words, and ideas, and make the best one. Only last night I was inspired by nothing in particular and started a fifth beginning. I woke up today with the rest of that beginning already in my head. An hour of writing time later and I've got my new beginning! Of course it needs work (and to be typed up), but it's a start of a start. Hooray!

Today was one of those days when I realized how much I love writing and how much I love getting to work from home so that I can write more. I am incredibly thankful that I have the resources and opportunity to pursue my dream!

I also realized that it was sunny. Yeah, not a very bright (if you'll pardon the pun--or would that be anti-pun? are there anti-puns?) observation, but it was strangely startling to me. Apparently, my mental image of a full-time writer involves a lot of dark hours, which isn't the case at all. It's light and cheerful in my office, and if I got to continue to write for the rest of the day, I wouldn't even have to turn on a light to see my work. Maybe the stereotypes of authors working late nights to meet deadlines have infiltrated my mental imagery. Or reading about authors like Karen Marie Moning who get up at 4:30 in the morning to write. Perhaps I need to remind my subconscious of authors like Jude Deveraux who write from 9 to 5 (or so I believe I read somewhere). Or Janet Evanovich who has an amusing recounting of her general work day on her Web site that includes all her writing time in the daylight hours. I'm sure there're others. Maybe I'll be one of them. Or maybe I'll be posting in a year that I simply must get up at 4:30 am to get any real work done. (Hahahaha!)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pinpointing Perfection

I've spent my writing time today working on a new beginning. All the elements are there. All the story is there. But narrowing the ideas and themes down to just the right words to convey the right tone, pacing, and meaning has proven an ornery task today. Finding my "Madison" voice again after being away from it for a while has been part of the difficulty--and having to untangle it from Robin McKinley's voice that is strong in my head from reading Sunshine. However, the good news is that I now have four new beginnings (five, if you count the original beginning) to work with tomorrow (or later today, if I'm ambitious). The even better news is that I have pinpointed my main theme. I thought I had it before, but in writing those 12 tag lines the other day, I realized I had two themes and two starting story arcs to one tale. Only the two themes were too intertwined to separate them without unraveling the whole story, which is when I realized that I really had one umbrella theme that I'd been completely overlooking. Now, to avoid the pitfall of too blatantly telling my theme to the reader, and I'll have a solid story.

I was reading a bit of Diana Gabaldon's blog yesterday and came across this quote: As my husband says, “to a writer, ‘finished’ is a relative concept.”

I understand the feeling. Gabaldon was referring to the much larger process of the production of a book after it is sold (and all the reiterations of edits it goes through), but I feel that way about the whole process of a book. I "finished" the book when I completed the first draft, and I celebrated as if I was done. Then I edited it and was "finished" again. Only to edit it again. Give it out to respected peers for their feedback. Edit again. Get more feedback. Edit again.

At each stage, a part of me has felt like I've finished--like now I have a sellable book. I admit, that part of me has grown smaller and smaller with each edit, but it's still there. Even this time, I'm hoping that once I rework the beginning (and a little of the ending, now that the theme is concrete), I'll be finished.

I hope.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A New Poll

Check out the new poll to the right and tell me what you think of the new look of the blog. And if you have more to say than can be contained in a button's click, please leave me comments. I'm not sure what I think of it, but I'm not sure what I want to change (and trust me, I've changed everything on this page at least three times in the last two day's worth of doodling, so I'm not sure if anything looks good anymore).

Does Daydreaming Count?

Life intruded today and I didn't get any writing time in. Okay, if I'm honest, a little laziness intruded too. So I've been wondering: Does daydreaming count? I've spent a lot of time thinking of Madison and crafting the changes that I need to make over and over again in my head. Sort of like how a baker makes pie crust, all the kneading (but not too much) and then rolling it out, spreading it thin across the surface of the mind (if we're still in metaphor) and seeing what you've got. I guess it doesn't technically count, because I could have daydreamed and gotten some actual work done, but one of the two is better than none, right?

Now I want some pie. Have you ever had Claim Jumper's Chocolate Silk Pie? It doesn't get much better. (Even if you can't wait for it to thaw, it's still really good.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

New Beginnings

I was reading through the first chapter of Madison and realized that the first five pages felt more like good character development than story. It also helped to have this gently pointed out to me recently. So I spent today rereading the chapter and seeing what I wanted to keep and what needed to be cut--and (big sigh here) what needed to be improved. I remind myself that this is good; this is making the story stronger, better. This also means another careful look at the entire manuscript again. I refuse to dwell.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Character Bubbles

I've been reading lots of advice for how to market my book (as you know), and of course the first advice that everyone gives is "write a book." Often it's followed by the advice of "write another book." And I want to. I'm ready to. I'm ready to get to work on the next Madison book (again, as you know because I think I mention it every other day). What I hadn't consciously realized until today was that my subconscious has been working on a completely different book.

Over the last several days, in the back of my mind as I'm reading, driving, talking, watching TV, researching, (okay, you get the point) little snippets of characters have bubbled to the semi-surface of my mind. Characters that are dark, almost evil. Hardened. No-nonsense kind of characters. The kind of characters that would chew Madison Fox up and spit her back out without a second thought. Characters that would never be encountered in an Adventures of Madison Fox, Illuminant Enforcer novel. Characters that demand their own stories. It was only today that I realized that I was having these musings. I was reading along in a great book that I highly recommend (Sunshine by Robin McKinley), and this character came out of nowhere, and while I'm still reading, my subconscious dissected it and dismissed it as not quite finalized, not quite ready for, well, birth. It was bizarre watching this happen in my own head. I mean, who else is in here with me? Apparently someone dark, rather cynical, and a little bit of a perfectionist.

I think that I was aware on some level (obviously) that these character bubbles were happening, because I've had a really hard time falling asleep these last several nights. Something inane will catch my fancy, and then I can't rest until I've built a story around it. For instance, last night I thought how weird it'd be if everyone was dead but my character--especially how weird the silence would be. (For those of you who don't know me and don't know about what I call my Stand fantasies, this is a fairly common thread of thought that can occupy me for hours on a car ride and which Cody has been subject to more times than I'm sure he would like. In my Stand fantasies, started because I watched most of the made-for-TV rendition of Stephen King's book The Stand nearly 14 years ago, 10% of the population, including me, survives a terrible disease/disaster and then we're left to fend for ourselves in this grossly underpopulated world. In every scenario I've contemplated, it's the real me, and I spend my time picturing the animals I'd rescue from homes--and when I would stop rescuing them because they'd probably all be dead--where I would go, what crops I would grow, what libraries I would raid, what staples I would hoard--which is where I try to figure out what I consider a staple to be, as in, do Hershey's dark chocolate bars count?--and what skills I would try to teach myself to regain the standard of living that would henceforth have been denied to me by the death of everyone out there who knows how electricity works and how to build a house, etc. Like I said, this can go on for hours and is a discussion for another day.) Well, the other night, I thought about it only this time with a character in my place. It made it a whole different daydream. I pictured this character running down the middle of the deserted boulevard near my house, with only the sounds of the crickets and owls and the soft tread of her boots on the pavement--and the crunch of predators in the bushes. There'd be no car noises, no hum of electricity, no horns, no crazy neighbors having too-loud sex at inconvenient times at night. Just my character. All alone. In the silence.

As you can tell, there were some noises bothering me, too, but the story that was building caught my fancy. I tried to cast Madison into that role of the woman running down the street, and she didn't fit. It was a scene for a different person entirely. Someone hardened in a way Madison will never be.

You see, it's clues like that that should have told me another story was brewing. It's been so long since I've thought of anything other than Madison or Areia, it took me a while to realize what was happen. Now that I know, I'm eager to find out what this next story will be.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cloudy Contemplations

Today is one of those perfect contemplative days where the sun can't seem to decide if it wants to shine through the cloud cover or just let the day drift by in soothing shadows. I woke thinking that it was very early in the morning (which it definitely was not, but the lighting fooled me), and decided that while Cody slept, I would use the day's energy to start the day with a creative exercise.

Thus, I've just spent the last hour jotting down ideas for tag lines for Madison. Tag lines--also called the high concept of a story, a teaser, or a fast pitch--are like the story blurbs that you see on the back of books (only tag lines typically have to be only two sentences) that define your whole story in a gripping way. I've just written 12 (!!) and I'm not sure I completely like any of them. I chose to do it like a freewrite, where I just wrote what came to me and didn't go back and edit them. That'll be later. And once I've picked the top five or so that I like, I'll post them here and you can all vote to let me know which you think is the best. Meanwhile, I'll be massaging my cramped fingers back into a normal, non-clawlike shape.

Speaking of voting, if you have a moment, please cast your vote in the poll at the top of this blog. (Or are you all tired out by the idea of another thing you need to vote on right now?)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Blurry Research

I've spent another morning doing odds and ends (too many really) and the last hour researching quality queries and synopses. My eyes are a bit blurry and I'm really wanting to continue, but paying work beckons. I did find a new blog (thanks to some friendly advice yesterday), this one by Kristin Nelson, who is an agent blogging about all kinds of helpful agenty/publishing things.

Isn't the poll at the top of the blog obnoxiously big? I looked for ways to change its appearance, but I didn't find any. If you know of any tips, let me know. I'd really like for it to not look so porno.

Since this is a short one, I'll leave you with a quote:

Be the leader you're waiting for.

I heard that yesterday, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. It sounds like good advice for a main character.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One Query Down

One hour = one rough draft query letter. Not bad. There are, of course, a billion and one ways to write a query letter and from what I've learned it boils down to one thing: being psychic. The examples of queries that have sold books vary as much as the people who buy the books. It's all about the individual person's taste, what's selling on the market, and luck (and, of course, a good story, but I think I've got that nailed). So my current strategy is to write several query letters and pick from the best. I have two so far. One focuses on a more lengthy book description, like a mini synopsis, the other gives a more general overview. To show you a bit of what I mean, here are the two different opening paragraphs for my query letters:

Query 1

Humor, fantasy, and a dash of romance make Basic Trouble a delightful urban fantasy. The quest of the often clumsy and always optimistic and resilient Madison Fox defines the two themes of this book: finding meaning in life and a place to belong. Madison finds both only when she embraces who she was always meant to be: an illuminant enforcer, using her unique ability to fight evil.

Query 2

Beneath commonplace suburbia lurks evil creatures who feed off the good life force of average, oblivious people. Only a small group of people can prevent evil domination of the world, one small region at a time. Madison Fox is one of those people, though she doesn't know it yet…and there's hardly time to train her before the evil hordes overwhelm her region.

In the second one, I don't mention the title (Conventional Demon) until the second paragraph. As you can see, I'm also still trying to decide on a title. Luckily, I have several people who are helping me think up ideas and narrow them down. You can also see that these are still in rough draft format.

Take the poll and tell me what you think of the opening paragraphs. I appreciate the feedback!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sex Sells

Yesterday's post made me think about a blog I'd seen in my quest to drive traffic to my site. I did a Google search for how to increase traffic to a blog. One or the results was a blog that said that all you had to do to increase the number of hits to a blog was to put the word "sex" in the blog's title. It was a long post, which managed to say the word sex a great number of times but to offer no other advice. It seemed like a very narrow way to go about it. First of all, putting sex in the title of the blog doesn't always work for the subject of a blog. Say, for instance, you're doing a blog about saving the environment. How do you work it in there? Or about a knitting? Or--let's go out on a limb here--writing?

Perhaps if my characters were having sex (they're not currently), I could mention that. Or if I was writing a sex scene, I could talk about that (I'm not currently). Further on down the line, after my characters are having sex (which they will be), and after a few novels have been published and you've all read about said sex and said sex partners, I could give sexual hints about naughty scenes to come. But right now, that sort of advice was absolutely pointless.

(Or was it? I've used sex 10 times in this post (and title), 11 if you count "sexual"--wait, now that's 12. I'll let you know if I have a sudden rush of new traffic. LOL)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Looking for a Third

Have you ever said something into a quiet room that gets a completely different reaction than you expected, especially the reaction of shock when you were expecting nods of agreement? I feel this stems from the unfortunate fact that everyone else can't hear all the other thoughts that lead up to that comment. Or maybe it is because everyone doesn't think about the same things I do. Perhaps it's because people have different associations with phrases and words than I do. In any event, it's often embarrassing. Case in point:

The other day, while gathered with my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and my grandparents, I casually mentioned, "Cody and I are always looking for a third in our relationship."

The room was suddenly dead silent. Then my mom proclaimed, "I don't want to know about this!"

At which point it occurred to me that everyone in the room was probably thinking that I meant that I wanted a third person for sex. I guess that was the logical conclusion. I suppose that's what all those people mean in the personal ads of newspapers. You know, the "Young couple seeking adventurous woman who likes to travel," which is probably not a request for a chauffeur. However, that wasn't at all what I meant. (As if I would say such a thing in front of family!)

Mainly I think about how great it would be to have a third person in our relationship when I'm thinking of money. It's rather shallow of me, but I think about how great it'd be to have three incomes. Then we could buy a house, buy new furniture, buy new cars, get more cats (we'd have more square footage for them to roam in), I could write full time, we could travel more. The list goes on and on. Of course, it'd be great to have another person I cared about as much as Cody, for there's no such thing as too many people to love and being loved by too many people in my book. But that's a secondary thought. Mainly it's the selfish, shallow "want" thoughts that make me blurt out things like, "Cody and I are always looking for a third." The sex rarely enters my mind, I swear :)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paying Attention

In the "All Done" post last week, I mentioned that I've recently transitioned to self-employment. As you might have determined by my description of my soul-sucking former job, I did not leave it on a happy note. I left because I was burned out. I'd never fully understood what people meant before when they said that. I'd been stressed before. I'd been in need of vacations before. But I'd never been burned out before (and I don't recommend it).

Burned out meant that the thought of getting out of bed in the morning to go to work made me feel like shutting out the whole world--hence the hour-long snooze marathons that would ensue, only to be followed by rushing around the house to get ready in time. Burned out also meant that despite being a person that loves breakfast and truly believes that it is a very important meal, I couldn't eat. I'd sit down for the smaller and smaller portions of blander and blander foods that I'd serve myself for breakfast, take a few bites, and be "full." The few times I mindlessly pushed through a meal had me running for the bathroom, panting and gagging over the toilet (never fun). I was exhausted by my workday before it began, and by the end of the day, my mind would be numb to thoughts of doing anything. Collapsing in front of the TV became the best evening activity I could think of. Running errands became a mountainous hurdle to surmount. And going to bed with the thought of getting up to do it all over again was depressing and disheartening.

Sundays were the worst. After two blissful days of (usually) not working, thoughts of the upcoming week would creep in and my mood would sour. By the end of a Sunday evening, even I didn't want to be around myself.

I could go into all the reasons I burned out. They're numerous and have nothing to do with working too many hours, which is what I thought would eventually be the cause. It had more to do with managements unrealistic expectations, responsibilities shoveled onto me without the authority to see them through, and being treated like an expendable commodity. I can pinpoint the day that this burnout, two years in the making, started, and I remember with crystal clarity the day that I realized it was never going to get better.

When I left that job, I felt like I'd been given years of my life back. I was filled with energy and optimism. I had a chip on my shoulder large enough to land a flock of pigeons on, but the unwavering motivation to prove to whoever cared to notice that I could do way better (monetarily, emotionally, physically) without my previous job than I could do at it. I still feel the same way a month later (though I've chiseled down the size of that chip a bit; I think it'd only fit a vulture or two now).

In the past month, I've pushed myself harder than I had in the past two years. As every self-employed person can tell you, working for yourself is more than a full-time job. It's about self-promotion all the time and always hunting for the next project. The workday doesn't always end after 8 hours, especially not if you're trying to be fully self-employed and be a (yet-unpublished) author, too.

I've loved it all. I love how much time I get to spend with Cody, family, and friends. I love making my own routines and my own schedule. I love taking breaks when and where I want. I'm right here at home, so all my meals are better, fresher, healthier. I can fit exercise in at any point in the day. I can play with my cats when I need a break.

Only, I haven't been allowing myself to do much of that. I've been so focused on work and on that chip on my shoulder that tells me I need to constantly do more. When I'm doing marketing research for Madison, it's telling me I should be looking for job opportunities. When I'm working on a query, it's telling me I should be figuring out how to market my book. When I'm looking for jobs, it's telling me that I should already have them or that if I could just sell Madison already, I'd feel much more fulfilled. When I finish work for the day, it's telling me I should have done more household chores, and when I spend more of my day doing household chores, it's telling me that I should have written more.

It's a faulty, flawed thought process. It makes no sense, not even to me. And it took me a while, almost a month, to realize the real problem. I'm a firm believer in the Universe and the law of attraction. I feel that the Universe is very friendly and kind, and that it gives me what I need when I need it. When I first left my soul-sucking job, I received lots of work. It was just what I needed--a decision-affirming boost to rocket me into success. But in the last week, that workload has diminished, and it has felt like I've been running uphill on a treadmill as I look for more work and as I research how to sell Madison. Last night, I finally took notice. When I'm on the right path, good things come to me easily. When I'm headed the wrong way, the Universe is going to let me know, and things get more difficult.

You see, I'd been thinking that simply quiting the job that had fried my last nerves and whittled my core, sustaining strength down to nil would be all that was necessary. And it did work--temporarily. But like a person who has been seriously, physically ill, it's taking my body and mind some time to recover. I hadn't given it that time. I'd expected it to jump right back into 100%, full-throttle mode. Finally, I'm listening. I'm taking a day or two off. I'm going to relax and meditate and read and spend time laying in the sun. I'm going to go to Borders without a goal and wander through the aisles simply for pleasure. I'm going to sleep in without guilt. I'm going to take the vacation that I've needed. Then, when I'm truly rested, I'm going to ease back into my work schedule and I'm not going to be crazy-demanding of myself.

That's the plan, at least. Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Potential for Acting

I've been perusing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site for helpful advice on marketing novels. Along the way, I came across an article for Jeff Carlson's Plague Wars trailer. I have never heard of Carlson or his book before, but I was fascinated by the idea of making a live-action trailer for a book. What a great way to get word of your book out there to people! Like most authors (I assume), I'd love to see my novel translated to the big screen (and into a graphic novel). So the thought of making a trailer fits right in. In fact, I can already visualize it.

Is there anyone out there who might like to play a gutsy, if clumsy, heroine in a short 2-4 minute preview?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

False Start

I almost started book 2 in the Madison series today. It was powerfully tempting to set aside query letters and synopsis creations, marketing research and agent hunting to start writing the next book. I almost convinced myself that I needed to write it--that it would help sell the first book (which I think it would) and that I need to keep writing to not lose the story idea or the pacing.

Then I realized that if I spent all my writing time with thoughts of everything I needed to do to get the first book sold floating around in the back of my head, I was going to do exactly what I was afraid I'd do--ruin the pacing and the story idea of the second book.

So instead of spending today's mandatory Madison hour writing book 2, I did some marketing research. As soon as laundry is done, I'm off to Borders to do a little more. Sigh. So close.

(I would also like to say, I'm a big dork. Cody read through my recent posts, then turned to me and gave me our much-joked about "jazz hands," pointing out that I'd used the phrase "I'm jazzed" in a recent post. How embarrassing! How corny! I was going to edit it out, but then Cody posted a comment about it, so short of deleting the comment and the dorky "jazzed" phrase, I'm left with no choice but to leave it all as it is. And, of course, draw a little more attention to my own dorkiness.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Writing, Not Running

The Universe clearly wants me to write. Three times this week I've gotten up to go down to my apartment's mini-gym and workout. Two of those times, the gym has been locked and I've had to return to my apartment without working out. I suppose I could have walked about the apartment complex, because I was only going to they gym to do some cardio work, but it's cold outside! I like the pacing of the treadmill and the convenient clock it has on the machine to tell me how long I've been torturing my body. Possessing neither a watch or the ability to regulate my own speeds really well when there are distractions like nature and wildlife about, I didn't even bother with the walk.

Instead, I came inside and got an early start on my writing time. The final chapter of Madison is quite tricky. It's hard not to give too much away about the next book without leaving too much hanging. I wonder if it would help to write out the next book, or at least the first several chapters of the next book now? Probably.

Unfortunately, now it's time for query and synopsis work. Okay, that's the wrong attitude, but I know how to write--I don't know how to craft a perfect query, and that's got me antsy.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Insight into My Mild Insanity

Yesterday I focused nearly exclusively on writing, which meant that I worked on writing for four hours. They were a good four hours. I edited, I looked for agents, and I did some work on Areia. It was really good stuff. I even got chores around the house done, errands elsewhere completed, and I exercised. It was a red-letter day...or it should have been. I got to the end of the day and felt like I'd failed. I hadn't found an agent (yes, yes, I know; one day of searching and my novel wasn't sold yet. Even I knew I was being a bit dramatic.), I hadn't created the perfect ending for my novel that would make readers' hearts swell with happiness and their fingers itch to reach into their wallets to buy the next one, and I hadn't worked for five hours (which has been my goal). Lucky Cody got to talk me down from that dramatic emotional maelstrom.

Today, I researched agents and general after-a-novel-is-finished stuff for an hour and I'm jazzed.

There's no figuring it out.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

All Done

It's been a ridiculously long time since my last post--a month and a day, to be specific. A lot has happened in my life in that time. The most major change is that I switched from a full-time office job to being self-employed! Of all the wonderful and great things that I've done in 2008, leaving behind the (soul-sucking semi-)corporate world of my previous job ranks in the top 3! Now I no longer work in a place that was making me physically ill; instead, I work from home, and that means that I have a lot more time and energy to focus on my writing.

Unfortunately, that focus was a little lacking for the first few weeks. The transition to being self-employed and making my own work hours was tougher than I thought it would be. Finding the balance between work time for writing and work time for working when it all happens at the same desk was difficult, to say the least. Working won again and again, and it is only this week that I'm finally seeing that unless I put writing first (meaning that I write in the morning before I jump into work), it isn't going to get done.

A few other things intruded on writing time, all of them pleasant. I recently flew to Oklahoma to see my dad's side of the family. That was a fun trip, and I got to visit with relatives that I haven't seen since I was in my early teens. I've also been able to spend more time with my mom, with Cody, and with friends. Now it's merely a matter of finding the right balance between work and fun time (which I think is going to mean getting up earlier than I have been--bummer).

As I mentioned before, this week has been a very productive writing week for me so far. I have finished the third round of edits on Madison. You read that right--I've finished editing Madison! I hope that the changes from here on out are minor and easy (as in, remove a sentence, add a description--not rewrite the final chapter as I just finished doing).

The book is now has 11 chapters, 72,293 words, and 243 pages. (That's 10 pages and 3,800 words longer than the second draft, and 5,182 words longer than the first draft. This makes me a little squeamish about the edits on Areia, which I'm hoping to make smaller. Despite my efforts to trim down Madison to the best prose possible, it still came out longer. Of course, Areia's a much different book... I'll just have to wait and see.)

Now it's officially time to hunt for agents and publishing houses! I'm so excited!