Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Jordans Are Safe

It should come as no surprise that one of the most therapeutic and relaxing things for me to do is play with books. Rearranging, stacking, moving, fondling... It's one of the best parts of moving (because there aren't many great things about packing all your stuff into boxes, carting them up and down stairs, and then unpacking it all, only to have everything now dirty from being in boxes).

With the last move, once everything else was put away, I pulled all my books out of their boxes and stacked them around me in the middle of the dining room/library to try to make sense of how they had previously fit on the shelves. I've got a great picture of me somewhere sitting happily in the middle of a sea of books.

When we got new bookcases (a couple of years ago) I got to go through the whole process again. But today I finally got around to saving the Robert Jordans. With the addition of two new bookcases, it meant that they had to be squeezed in beside the one in the front room along a wall that gets direct sun in the winter. So ever winter, I have to leave the blinds half closed so the spines of my preciouses don't fade. This year, I've had a very ugly system of things propped up closer to the books to block the sun, because I need sunlight and having the blinds half closed just wasn't cutting it.

I just finished rearranging the books on three different bookcases to move the Jordans (and other fantasy books) to the dining room, far away from direct sun, and I moved books I don't care so much about (cookbooks) to the previous Jordan shelves.

In the process, somehow I came up with two empty shelves! They're in the front room, in the direct-sun area, so I can't fill them with new books or fantasy books. I'm at a loss with what to do with that space, but I'm very happy to have all my beloved books safe from the sun.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Setting Up

My office is bare. Not my desk, but my walls. I've taken down all the storyboards for Madison One and Two, moved all Madison notes to the wall behind me, removed all the maps for Sasha (it was set in New York, and having never been, I needed the maps), and took down all the Areia storyboard notes—notes that have been sitting on the walls for years waiting for me to get back to them.

All the Areia storyboard notes have gone into an enormous Excel document I call a scene tracker. This document enables me to list the scenes (one per cell) in a column, the subplot scenes in another column, the background plots (there's a lot going on in the world that needs to be included but doesn't necessarily have an immediate direct impact on Areia), and a column to where I can note the stages of the hero's journey (so I don't fall prey to my classic blunder of no third act). The Excel doc has all three books on it, and the last two books, while fully outline by the main events, are nowhere near as detailed at the outline of book one. However, forcing myself to think about the third novel in terms of the hero's journey gave me a brilliant idea for the culmination of the whole series. I'm already excited about scenes I most likely won't write for at least another year or two!

I found this Excel scene tracker a great help when I was doing the edits on Madison. I could use it to keep track of the day and time, see the flow of events easily, and make notes to myself for the next round of edits. It made inserting and weaving new scenes and themes throughout the novel much easier than trying to keep it all straight in my head.

I got the idea of using Excel to organize a book from Deanna Cameron (a 2009 NON author). Unfortunately, I can't find the exact post to link, but her blog is a great one for writers (and readers) to peruse. There's lots of advice earlier in the year from well established authors on how they marketed their novels.

I'm tempted to start working on Areia right away, but I know that with Cody home this week and not really having a schedule/routine of any kind, I'll be much happier to take the planned vacation and start work on January 4. In the meantime, my horribly outdated website needs work and Cody's great at designing websites...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Distance and Time

I've pretty much taken the last week off, enjoying time with family and a distance away from writing and my novels. I'd all but come to the conclusion that Sasha will be a shelved novel, not finished, not fully realized, but I wanted to be sure. So while I had the time, I read it. (Yes, TikiBird, I know I said I wouldn't, but I did. I read it in my recliner, no pen in sight, no desire to edit on my mind.)

I was surprised to find scenes and dialog that made me laugh or that were perfect as is. I expected a lot rougher of a first draft, but the tension between the characters was real and believable and their conversations were witty. Shocking. Delightful.

Halfway through my reread, I thought maybe I was wrong. Maybe I could finish this novel. Visions of having two novels being queried at the same time danced in my head. I continued reading.

Something happened about twenty pages from the end (of what I'd written), and I realized all over again that this was not the novel for me. I adored reading it. It is a novel I would have purchased, if written by someone else. But it wasn't a novel I wanted to write.

I told Cody, in a rare moment of complete honesty, that I wanted someone else to read what I'd written merely to stroke my ego with praise over how good some of those scenes are. That's a really shallow reason for me to want anyone to read anything. It's definitely not reason enough for me to continue writing. Or, if it's a reason, it's not the right one.

So my decision is final: I will be starting work on rewriting Areia after the new year (while querying Madison). I've taken down all storyboards of Sasha. I'm going to recycle the pages I printed. The files have been moved into the larger "Story Ideas" file. It was fun and it was good practice, but it wasn't right for me. As far as learning experiences go, it could have been a lot more painful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Big Sigh of Relief

As of Sunday, I called a halt to all things not related to Christmas gift shopping so we could focus. That means no synopsis work, no query reading, not much of anything at all really, except shopping.

Cody and I tried to do finish our shopping in batches over the previous weekends, and every earlier attempt was thwarted. The presents just weren't there, despite the fact that the stores have always had these items stocked before. And I admit, we were getting desperate. After all, Christmas is three days away!

Today, we hit the goldmine. All those previous trips served as very good research trial runs, and we left the house this morning with a list of stores and items. We found everything except for two items! Hooray! After lunch, we went back out (individually) for each other. I am *almost* done shopping! So close!

I have vowed to Cody and now to you that next year, we will finish within the first week of December, because this last-minute stress takes a lot of the Christmas joy from the holiday! Tomorrow we have one more run, and then we can take Christmas Eve to rest before the opening extravaganza. Whew!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Shrinking of a Universe

I've finished the rewrites and entering all the edits for Madison, and now it's nose-to-the-grindstone, get-published mode. Which is exciting on one level (especially when I think about future success and moving on to the next book), but in the daily reality, it's a lot of hard work. It's also far more time-consuming than I ever imagined.

For example, Thursday I looked for agents for two hours. In two hours, I found 8 agents that are good possibilities and 5 agents that are second, third, and fourth picks. That's really not too bad, even if I haven't sent anything off to these agents yet (that's two hours from another day). The bad was how reading through all their specifications awoke all my doubts and fears and took another two hours to shake off.

Today, I worked on creating an exciting synopsis. Two hours meant I wrote a whopping two paragraphs, double-spaced to equal about a page. Two paragraphs! And I'm not sure if I like the second one. It's amazingly hard to compress a book down to a two- or three-page summary. As Cody said, it's like my book was the big bang, and now the universe is collapsing on itself back to something infinitely small. A lot of energy was expended on the first part, and a lot is being expended now.

All that universal contraction has left my fingers cold and my stomach hungry. Those, at least, are quick, easy fixes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Looking Ahead (From My Position Hiding Under the Covers)

I've been working on Madison for the day, able to immerse myself in the rewrites, which means that I'm now done. Done with what I'm officially calling draft 8, though there are parts of this book which have seen at least double that many rewrites. It's now time to work on the query again.

Which meant I jumped on the Internet to procrastinate for a while. Unfortunately, I started checking out writing-related blogs (thinking that it's not procrastination if it has to do with writing), and I scared myself. Or, more accurately, the articles I was reading scared me. They were all about the business side of being a writer, and about ebooks and royalties and the trends in the industry, etc. There are days when the business side of writing really appeals to me, and today is not one of them. Today I would happily cower under a blanket and not think about it all.

Fortunately, I have that option right now. I can work in oblivion on my novel. Soon, though, I'll be dealing with the real world (I hope) once my novel sells. And then I'll have to learn all the lingo. I hope it will be easier than actually writing the novel. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Balm for the Eyes

I watched Julie and Julia last night. It was a feast for the eyes, as I'm sure many a person has already claimed. What I hadn't expected was to find a writer's comfort in the story. I knew that Julie Powell had achieved the coveted novel contract because of her blog, and that the movie was based on her novel, but I'd sort of glossed over this fact in my salivating, er, anticipation of the movie.

I also hadn't realized that the Julia Child part of the movie was going to follow her progress to becoming a published writer, either. It was incredibly gratifying to watch these two women struggle through the process, Julia taking years, Julie taking one year. It was pleasing to watch Julie, especially, who I more closely relate to with meltdowns and the occasional narcisistic bout.

The rest of the movie was just plain enjoyable to watch. The colors were vibrant, the relationships real, the food delicious (looking). The movie stayed with me enough that I dreamed of it. It was exactly what I needed to watch—something beautiful and fun and uplifting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Am I Actually Considering This?

I've been in a funk about Sasha. I'm not thrilled about the story. I'm not passionate about it, and I'm 200 pages into it. If I'm not thrilled about it here, not excited by the plot and the characters, that doesn't bode well for three months from now when I'm in the thick of heavy edits or a year from now when I'm shopping the novel. If I'm not excited about the idea of selling the novel and being asked to write a sequel or another novel within this world, that's a very bad thing at this stage.

I'm toying with stopping. With calling the project a good lesson in writing and storyboarding, and setting it aside. Only I really like Eva, my main character. She's grown on me a lot. So has Justin. So have some of the elements of the plot.

It's just the world sucks. It's too real. It's New York, May 2010. Nothing special. No magic but that which Eva possesses. (And Eva possessing magic is part of the problem, because it's not critical to the story...)

So I've just spent the last ten minutes brainstorming an idea that I'm much more excited about. It's drastically different, brought back to my home turf in northern California, mixed in with some ideas that truly terrify me (making the story have more of an impact for me) and there's a lot more magic involved, plus an alternate history feel to it.

But I still haven't decided. Do I really want to toss 200 pages of hard work and start all over, with nothing? Do I really want to change this story completely? Am I quiting, or am I changing tactics?

Part of me thinks that I should just finish writing the novel and try to sell it since I've come this far. I also realize that writing 200 pages and 40 or so days of work isn't the bulk of a writing project. That's only the beginning. So stopping now could potentially save me a year of frustration while I try to wrangle this story into something I want to read and write.

I've decided to give my text a read through. See how it holds up. See if it makes me want to continue. I'm also going to pitch my new idea to Cody and see how it goes over. But tonight, I'm going to finish my margarita and not think about it anymore.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Day Off

Today is the first day since November first that I've gone a day without working on writing. (I'm not counting that horrid Sunday in which I tried to take a day off and ended up ruining it with my wailing and whining about the direction of Sasha.)

Today was heavenly. I'm psyched about getting back to work on Madison rereads tomorrow, but for now, I'm going to go finish enjoying my day of relaxation.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Getting Busy

After a year of interviewing first-time authors at NON, I've begun to notice a pattern. Okay, I've noticed several patterns, but the one that's important for this post is the pattern of busyness. First-time authors are either people who are lucky enough to take time off of regular work and focus exclusively on pumping out that first novel, giving themselves a limited amount of time, and therefore a great sense of urgency, or they're writing as a second career, squeezing time in between work and life. Either way, their free time is just about tapped out.

Then they sell their novel. And now they've got to market a novel and write the next one. While the first novel may have taken years to perfect, they're expected to get another one on the shelves a year after the first one is finished, which means writing the second novel in less than a year while marketing the first, going to signings, getting their website in order, and doing all the other things that don't seem like they're going to take that long, but they do, because suddenly they're not just writing: they're running a business.

The authors who I get interviews from right around when their novel releases have very specific requests about how their interviews are handled, tend to be faster to return them, and, in general, are more focused. There's a lot on their plates. The ones that I don't find until months after their first novels are released are more relaxed about the whole thing, having gotten into the groove of being a published author.

I don't completely know what to do with this realization yet, other than enjoy the free time I have right now and remember something I learned the hard way at a previous job: always take time for organization. It's saved my butt more times than I can count at previous jobs, at current jobs, and even with little things, like NON. So when that busy time comes for me, I plan to have my organization in place to help smooth the road from self-motivated busy (I'm writing because I want to) to deadlines and committments busy (I'm writing because I need to).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Am I a Steampunk Girl?

I am fascinated with novels that can take history and twist a few key points and come up with an entirely different outcome. I didn't realize this about myself until I started thinking about Jacqueline Carey's books as more than just great novels. They take history and they reinvent it into an outcome that's different from what we live and see today. Only she takes it from a much earlier point in history.

I think the term for these novels is alternate history. It's not really a genre all on its own, but it's close. It's like a subgenre to other genres. The only one I know of that gets its own genre is steampunk, though maybe even that is subgenre of fantasy. Steampunk is a rather widely accepted (and growing more popular) alternate history where the steam engine continues to play a large role in inventions and the world never advanced into oil-based engines (or electricity?).

In my mind, steampunk is entwined with clocks, specifically the inner workings of clocks, all the gears and layers and metal and jewels and precision. There's a magic to old clocks. Have you ever taken apart the back of a pocket watch and seen how intricately its held together, tiny gears with groves moving other tiny gears all designed to keep time perfectly.

I love looking at the inner workings of clocks. I don't care all that much that they keep time—I'm not big on knowing what time it is when I'm not working, so I don't carry a watch. But I adore the innards of a clock. Strange, right?

So if clocks and steampunk are one and the same (which I'm not sure that they are), and envisioning a world in which we continued with steam instead of coal and oil for our engines makes me happy, does that make me a steampunk girl? I'd say yes, but I've also never read a single steampunk novel. The idea of writing one is only mildly appealing at this point. I think I might just be an alternate history fan with a penchant for pictures of the innards of pocket watches. Or maybe my next novel will be steampunk. I'll have to let the idea percolate and see what comes of it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Epic Siren

I just finished Jacqueline Carey's Naamah's Kiss and I find myself in the same mental state that every one of her books leaves me in: I want to stop all work on my current novels and return to the first novel I wrote, Areia—the monstrous epic fantasy of some 1,300 pages.

I know how I want to rework the story. I know how I want to edit down, what scenes I want to highlight. I know how I want the ending to go. I'm toying with a story-changing element that would affect the background and secondary characters. I feel like, given distance from the story, I actually know the main character better (I've spent a lot of my time with her in my head despite the two years since I've sat down and worked on the novel). The only problem is this: I'm not sure if it would be quicker to rewrite the book or to edit it—there are that many changes needed.

I think editing it would work best. Paring it down to basically an outline of ideas, scenes, paragraphs, character sketches, that I would then work into the new story. Which is all well and good, but it took me two years to write and edit Madison, a 320 page novel. It's still not polished.

Granted, not all that time was working exclusively on Madison. Three months were taken up writing Madison 2, and two months were taken up working on Areia. I had the idea after I finished NaNo for the first time that I would be refreshed and return to Areia with new eyes, able to find flaws I hadn't seen on my first read through. I was right. I found lots of flaws. In those two months, I got through about 50 pages of text. That's it.

I'd never edited an entire novel before. I'd written Areia and I'd written Madison, but I hadn't realized that writing a novel is about 30% of the work and 30% (or less) of the total time it takes me to complete a project. (I'm really, really hoping that those percentages increase drastically with more practice!) So I had no idea that taking 1,300 pages and cutting it down to about 600 or less and making it buying-me perfect was going to take so, so long.

I have an inkling of an idea now. It still doesn't make me not want to work on the book. But I'm aware enough to know that I need to finish Sasha first, and I need to finish Madison before that, and I need to have my book(s) in the query phase way before I work on Areia. Areia's a great story. It has lots of potential, and I know it will make it to shelves some day, but it's going to have to wait its turn.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Funny People Not That Funny

We watched Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen's Funny People last night. With those two comedic fellows, I expected something much funnier than what I got. Netflix lists the movie as a Showbiz Comedy. Apparently that's the new term for drama with a few one-liners.

My feelings about the movie aside, it was worth watching if only for the sets! I've hunted through the Internet and can't find pictures of the gorgeous houses they used in this film. I coveted the indoor pool, the infinity pool, the grass and stone driveway, the open-air sitting rooms...basically all of Adam Sandler's house and any place he stayed during the film.

I'm happy to report that my dream home(s) exist. Now I must find them.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I live a whopping 165 feet above sea level in northern California, yet last night it snowed! Not much—just enough to cover the grass and tree barks...and cars. Maybe an inch or two. I didn't have to drive in it, and I enjoyed playing around in it this morning. By midafternoon, it was all melted.

As I child, I grew up in the foothills, closer to 2,000 feet above sea level, and we'd typically get snow once or twice a year, and ever few years, we'd get enough that school had to close. Those were magical days.

Snow still holds that invigorating delight from childhood for me. I've never had to put chains on a car or shovel my driveway. The hardest thing I've had to do is scrape frozen snow from my car's windshield. I imagine that people on the East Coast in or colder climes would scoff at my delight in a few white inches. But to me, it's just pretty. The air tasted clean and crisp. It doesn't get better than that, especially when viewed from the comfort of my warm house.

(Of course, now I have a desire to taste really hot, tropical air and see if it tastes as clean, or if it is only really cold air that has that untainted mineral flavor. I simply must take a vacation to the tropics!)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jacqueline Carey: Telling Not Showing

If you've read anything at all on this blog, it's pretty hard to miss that I love Jacqueline Carey's writing style. She brings to life such vivid characters with such a loving touch that they linger with me for days (sometimes years) after I've finished the novel. It's a gift I admire and strive to obtain.

Reading her eighth novel, I'm familiar enough with her style to start subconsciously dissecting it as I read, and I've noticed one of the strange things she does: she tells you what's going to happen before it happens. Often.

If a scene is going to turn out badly, the character might say something like "And I wished I'd never gone with him." If the character is going to have a happy time, perhaps Carey will write something like "It was a night I would cherish in my memory for all time."

This goes against everything writing workshops and professors and many authors will tell you. She's telling, not showing. Granted, she follows it up with a great deal of showing, but first she tells. And amazingly what it does, every time, is heighten the scene that follows. If it's a tension-filled scene, the tension is higher. If it's a scene between lovers, it is more poignant. As if, by introducing and telling you what to expect, Carey makes the scene that much more powerful.

It's an interesting technique. One that I don't know would work with my own writing style, but one that I love, nonetheless.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Real Author Work

So many authors on their blogs will talk about how nothing they do is real work unless it is writing. It doesn't matter if they spent the day blogging, responding to fan mail, negotiating contracts for a new novel, going to their tax accountant, reading over an audio script of a previously published novel, or working on the adaptation of their novel into a graphic novel or TV show. If they're not producing new material, the rest doesn't matter.

Personally, I've always thought this is a little tough. As an group, successful writers seem to all be workaholics, and I thought their own taskmaster drive was holding them to too high a standard. After all, all the other things are part of their work. They need to keep their fans happy and panting for the next release; they need to put down the foundations for new work, keep the business side of their job going, and maintain all the "side projects" like graphic novels that are jobs unto themselves.

But today I think I understood. I spent an hour this morning going over my query letter again. Then, having worked on it until I my edits began to make it worse, I set it aside and started looking for an agent. I spent another hour dabbling my fingers in the Writer's Market and individual agent sites. It was a full two-hour "writing" session for me. I should have felt just as accomplished as I did when I finished a session of editing Madison or writing Sasha.

What I felt was like I had slacked off. Yes, without finding an agent, my writing will never be seen by anyone but family and friends. Yes, to find an agent, I need to spend some time researching the. I need to spend even more time working on my query letter. But at the end of the day, none of that feels like it counts as real work. There were no additional pages added to my "done" pile. There wasn't even a new card put up on my storyboard.

Part of me wants to wail that this job is impossible. Part of me wants to slap that other part of me. There's a balance out there, and I've decided that another chocolate chip cookie just might help me find it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A (Possible) New Goal

I finished Janet Evanovich's (with Ina Yalof) book How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author. The book was like NON on steroids. It was written in the question and answer format, and I'm pretty sure that most of Evanovich's answers are already up on her website (since she mentions that in her intro), but printed in the convenience of a book I can read while brushing my teeth or riding on a plane. The book was designed for fans and writers, but more specifically fans who are writers.

I didn't learn anything in particular that I'm immediately integrating into my work life. I already want a treadmill and elliptical machine in my office. I already want to employ my family when I'm selling novels. I already want to incorporate or form an LLC with my writing business once I start making money.

What the book did was entertain me, inspire me, and encourage me as a writer.

It also sparked an idea: I would love to see a series of these books done with different famous authors. I would love to be the editor on those books. I would love to get to interview these authors and help find passages from their novels to illustrate the way they talk about their writing (as was done in this novel). I could see such a series selling moderately in stores, but even better electronically. Kindle owners and writers everywhere would have a little insight into their favorite authors' lives.

I think I'm onto something here. Now if only I knew a famous author willing to help me pitch my idea to a large house (like Penguin or Random House, since they seem to own half the imprints out there).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fixing the Frustration

It's December first. I'm a NaNo WriMo winner. The word count is complete but the book isn't. There's at least another month of writing ahead of me. My usual response would be buckle down and write. Yet, I've had this growing frustration in the back of my mind. NaNo took a huge chunk of energy, and that meant that when I got to the end of the day, I didn't have anything left to give Madison.

I beat myself up about this for a while. Forgave myself. And began the cycle again when I realized I was being silly. So I made a decision that's good for my mental health and good for my writing career: I will be setting aside Sasha until I finish Madison.

The moment I made the decision, I felt much better! I spent the two hours this morning that I built into my schedule for NaNo working on typing up the edits for Madison. Another couple of days of this, and I'll be doing the final read on the book and spending my mornings working on query letters and researching agents. What a relief!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of Act One

I've done it. I've written every day in the last 30 days except one. I've typed out 70,676 words in a month. Even though this is the third time I've done NaNo, 70,000 words by the end of November is a lot for me. This time last year I was at only 53,000. Unfortunately, I'm not done with my novel. In fact, I'm not even close to done. I'm 240 pages into a novel that should be about 300 pages, and I'm going to have to cut a huge chunk to make it fit, because there's a lot left to write.

If my adventure of writing a novel was to be described in Acts, I just finished Act 2 of the journey—completing the quest of writing 50,000 words in 30 days—only to realize the real treasure (the finished manuscript) still lies out of reach at the end of Act 3.

After Act 2 typically comes a happy lull where everyone feels good about what's been accomplished. I'm feeling a post–Act 2 depression. I really should be much farther along. If this novel is going to be about 80,000 to 100,000 words long, I've spent too much time on a beginning and not enough time on action. I feel behind in a race that exists only in my head.

Were I a slightly more seasoned writer, I'd probably go back now and edit down the beginning to streamline the story, but I still worry about the possibility of getting bogged down in "the perfect beginning" and never finishing the novel, as I did for many years with my first book.

So I will push ahead and write the rest of the novel as the first should have been written, with brevity at the forefront of my mind. I'm not a minimalist writer, so forcing myself to think of ways to make the scene progress faster, the action sequences to come more rapidly, the characters to minimize their internal conundrums is difficult for me, but the results (as I've seen with Madison) are well worth it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Who's Writing This—Me or My Character?

There seem to be two camps of authors out there: those who say their characters are basically real in their head, with the ability to dictate the story and tell the author where to go, and those who scoff at the first camp as utterly ridiculous, since that character is nothing more than a figment of the author's imagination, and therefore has no opinion or idea that is not, in fact, the author's own idea. I say both camps are actually one and the same, just with different perspectives.

I think it is a bit silly to believe that the imaginary people that I create somehow occupy a part of my brain separate to that which is me, and that they can, from their thrones in my head, dictate where the story should go and what they should say. At the same time, a character, once created, is never all me. She is never again just my imagination. She becomes the whole of her parts, and her experiences and dreams dictate her actions, just as mine do in my own life.

So when authors of the first camp say their characters took the story in a different direction than they planned, or that they took over, I believe this is nothing more than the summation of the character's personality traits making a decision that feels right to the character created. It is the author's feel for the rhythm of the characters and the story that makes the moment feel right or wrong. The author may originally have planned a different decision for their character, but by the time that point in the story was reached, it no longer feels true to the character.

For example, in writing Sasha, I preplotted many of the major scenes with quick notes on 3x5 cards. If I had more of the scene envisioned than would fit on the card, I would type it up in a Word document to remind me of my vision weeks later when I reached the scene. Sometimes these notes were nothing more than an extra sentence or two; sometimes these notes were whole pages of dialog and descriptions.

I recently arrived at a scene I'd entitled "Confrontation" because my main characters were to have a very heated argument about their mutual betrayals. I'd written out half a page of their verbal volleys back when I was storyboarding, but when I read back through them now, nearly five weeks later, it no longer rang true for the characters. The scene needed something quieter.

Were I an author of the first camp, I'd say that Eva refused to be pigeonholed into that conversation and had a mind of her own for what needed to be said to the male lead. Were I an author of the second camp, I might claim that this change of plans was nothing more than me changing my mind. Instead, I feel that my decision to go with a different mood for the scene was one of those magical moments when the characters felt like real people, and their decisions—down to when they picked a fight to when they chose to deflect one—felt as clear and real as my own emotions, and I accepted it for the blessing it is, hoping that when I do the first edit, it reads as true as it feels now.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

One Hobby Down

Writing has always been the thing I've done on weekends and during holidays for as long as I can remember. The more serious I get about it, though, the less it's like a hobby and the more it is like work. And I'm not complaining.

However, when I get together with friends, I don't have a lot to say. I work at home. I write. I spend exceptional amounts of time in my own head, and a lot doesn't translate to casual conversation. I wondered if I'd backed myself into a socially dull corner.

And then I realized that most of my favorite authors—the ones who produce multiple books a year and who write almost as fast as I'm ready to read them—they've all talked about how they are workaholics, working seven days a week for the most part.

I've never considered myself a workaholic (quite the opposite when I worked in the corporate world), but with the recent ongoing experience of NaNo, I can see how I could easily fall into that category. I've been writing about 2 hours every morning before switching over to work. Those two hours fly by. If I could write all morning, edit in the early afternoon, and do non-writing author work in the evenings, I'd be a happy girl.

I was just reading about Janet Evanovich's writing schedule (get up at 5 a.m., write until 2 p.m. with a break for exercise and eating, work on other author stuff in the evening five days a week, and just write in the mornings on the weekend). It sounded ideal.

NaNo has also reminded me how important it is to work on the weekend. It's so helpful to be in the story every day. A day off throws my personal rhythm, and a day off makes it easier to take the next day off, and the day after that...I've learned that from experience, too.

So maybe I'm on to something when I can't think of a hobby I'd rather be doing than writing. And when writing becomes my career, I guess I'll be a workaholic, because I still don't think there will be something else I'd rather be doing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

To Sum Up

Now that I've gotten back in the groove of writing (aka, I'm not rolling around on my bed moaning about how this book just doesn't work and my characters aren't believable, followed by flailing around various rooms—wherever Cody is so I'll have an audience, because pity parties are better with an audience—with long wailing sounds reminiscent of whale songs, and instead my writing time is filled with the sounds of the keyboard keys clicking away) I can take a more philosophical approach to the bad parts of writing a book. The wound is no longer fresh. The memory of the pain has receded.

So this quote, taken from Devon Monk's post on Deadline Dames, seems like a token of hope to me now, like the leftover chocolate chips in the bottom of the box after all the cookies are gone:

"I think as time goes on, writing becomes more predictably difficult, but the frustrations, bumps, glitches, fears, failures, challenges that you’re feeling right now never go away."

She also comments on how, while it is work, writing is and should be fun, but it was the line above that stuck with me. Yes, there will be times in the future where the blog posts become text tears and literary moaning again. It's inevitable. And in some way, that's very freeing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The First Sex Scene

Sasha is a romance of sorts. There are romantic elements, at least. I haven't pinpointed down exactly how I'll market it, but it's definitely a romance. Romance means sex. Since before I even began to write, I've been toying with how to handle the sex scenes. Do I have a fade-to-black sort of approach? Do I have a detail-by-detail approach? Something in the middle?

I've gone back and forth on this more times than I can count. On the one hand, I like to read romance novels with sex in it. That is, in fact, one of the top reasons I don't want to read YA romance/fantasy: no sex. On the other hand, my mom is going to read this book. So are my friends. I know that the sex scenes I read in novels are not pulled straight from the author's life, just as Eva and Justin's sex scene wasn't pulled from my life. But sex scenes are pulled from the imagination. The imagination can be a pretty private place sometimes.

Today I got to the first sex scene, and I decided to write it out. The whole thing. Each move, each sensation. To write what I would want to read. If I chicken out later and take a more Janet Evanovich fade-to-black approach, so be it, but at least I'll have this written so later I'm not coming up to a sex scene dry.

In fact, I was at my word count minimum at the start of the scene. The first kiss put me over 2,000 words. I considered stopping, but the echo of Laurell K. Hamilton's advice about writing sex scenes came back to me: don't start them cold. She's written often in her blog that she's learned to not stop writing in the middle of a sex scene, because it's hard to recapture the mood when she comes back to it. A very valid point, I thought. So I continued to write. The seduction had begun; I couldn't just cut it off there and hope that tomorrow would bring a similar mood.

Which is why I finished at 3,422 words for the day (over double the traditional NaNo daily word count)! I'm pleased with the choice I made, and though this sounds weird to say, figuring out how my main characters have sex told me a lot more about them than I thought it would. So hooray for getting a large scene down on the page, and hooray for adding new depth to my characters.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Supporting the Cause

Today, the Office of Letters and Lights, in other words, NaNo WriMo organizers, are holding a donation day to raise funds for next year's NaNo WriMo goodness. The goal is to raise $100,000 dollars in a day, which is a tall order for this organization of start-up authors. Of course, you can donate or buy things from the store for many days to come, but today's the day with the goal. If you like NaNo or you like debut authors, or you just plain like creativity, it's a very good cause to support.

I did my part by purchasing this lovely shirt:

You might note that this shirt says NaNo WriMo 2009 Winner. While I liked the participant shirt, I thought this one was especially fitting, since yesterday I topped 50,000 words. At this rate, November should be a 64,000-word month for me. What a doozie!

(p.s. Unlike the bar at the top of this page says, this book is so not 68% done. It's more like 45% done, but the word count doesn't reflect this because I have so much to cut from the beginning.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Title Is Taken

I'm always on the prowl, mentally and physically, for good book titles. I have difficulty thinking of great titles. For my novels, I want something that captures the imagination and pulls a reader in even if they've mistyped something while perusing Amazon.com and wound up on the wrong page. The kind of title that inspires at least a hesitation in the casual bookstore or Costco browser, makes that spark of interest ignite the impulse to pick up the book and flip it over to read the back.

That's a pretty tall order for a title. It's part of why I yearn for a fan club: so I can run contests for titles for future novels and have my creative title-gifted fans submit lots of ideas.

In the meantime, I rely on Cody and very long, tedious brainstorming sessions that devolve into self-mockery titles of unending length (which is also why I'm rather attracted to books with titles that never seem to end—somebody's brainstorming session led them down the path to that paragraph of a title, and the marketing geniuses at the publishing house went along with it: it's magic).

However, Russell Brand, one of my favorite comedians, stole the very best title for a book: My Booky Wook.
Yes, there have been several books with the same title, so I could still use it, but I'd hate to be the "not the Brand book, the other My Booky Wook, the urban fantasy novel." And, of course, in that daydream, for some reason "My Booky Wook" makes sense as an urban fantasy novel.

Anyway, the best book title out there is taken. I guess the only way to top that is to call my book My Booky Wooky, but that sounds like I'm trying too hard.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Book That Almost Wasn't Read

I am a fan of Lora Leigh's Breed series, and I thought I would branch out and try one of her other series. I selected Killer Secrets, which is filled with alpha males, much like her Breed series, but is set in a (slightly) more realistic, action-packed setting. I liked everything I read on the back, so I purchased the book and brought it home.

Then, trying to decide between it and another book for which one I should read, I did my tried and true test and read the first line of both books. The idea is that whichever first line appeals to me more, that's the book I will read.

Killer Secrets has been sitting on my shelf for several months because of its first line:

"Slipping into the ICU unit of the military hospital wasn't an easy task."

ICU unit? As in Intensive Care Unit unit? Did he next go to the ATM machine? How did this get past Lora Leigh, the editor, copyeditor, and proofreader?

I've finally decided to push past my disproportionate annoyance with this editing flaw and read the book. So far, so good, but that first line really drives me crazy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pep Talk Wisdom

One of the great things about participating in NaNo is the pep talk emails that get sent out to all the participants. I'm loving Kristin Cashore's emails this year: they've been spot on every time.

Writing tends to be a very private adventure by its very nature, and so I tend to start thinking that I'm the only one fumbling to find my character's true voice or to weed out the dry parts of the story even before I write them. Then I get an email from Cashore, and it's like she's in my head, listening to me complain. The most recent email is no exception. She writes:

Here's what it starts to be like for me somewhere in the midsection of a novel:

(1) I've written the beginning, but I'm pretty sure it's a pile of crap.

(2) The end, when I even dare to contemplate it, feels as far away as Uranus.

(3) The prose I'm writing right now, here in the middle, sounds like a stiff little busybody who's sat down too hard on a nettle.

(4) I've discovered that my plot, even if it's an engaging plot, has sections that are not engaging to write, and I'm bogged down in those doldrums sections, when all I want is to move on to the exciting parts that are just ahead—but I can't, not until I've written the parts that will get me there. Boring!

(5) The house is strewn with post-it notes on which are written about a gazillion important reminders of things I must somehow remember to find a way to weave into the novel at some point, although, where, I can't imagine. Some of the post-it notes are written hastily in a code I have since forgotten. ("He is temperamentally sweet, but dangerous, like Jake." That would be very helpful, if I had the slightest idea to whom "he" refers, or if I knew anyone named Jake.)

(6) Worst of all, whenever I take a step back and try to examine objectively this unstructured mess that is half created and half still living in my head and heart and hope (and on a gazillion post-it notes)... I get this horrible, sinking feeling that my novel isn't actually about anything.

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

Hell yes! That's exactly where I'm at right now. I just spent three hours getting my daily word count and at least half of that time was spent doing some editing and adjustments to the previous scene while the fixes were fresh in my head. The fixes really needed to be made for me to feel ready to write the next scene, but there are reasons why I don't normally edit like that while I'm in the middle of a book: 1) it takes a lot of energy, and 2) it takes a lot of time.

And then I read this line in Cashore's email: "Throwing out the last twenty pages you just wrote can involve just as much progress as writing three new ones."

I hesitate to make that the quote for this novel, for fear of drawing the wrong energy into the project, but just reading that line made me feel better about all the cuts I've already made and all the cuts I know still need to be made from the beginning of my story. And before my head turns ugly and I start thinking about all the ways in which this project has been much more difficult for me than Madison ever was, I'm going to get out of the house for a while.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gearing Up

I just finished catching up on my email, which took over an hour. Only one of the emails was a friend email; the rest were action items—bills to pay, items to note/track, etc. However, one of the things that simply had to be done was some Amazon book shopping. I've had a few Amazon gift cards sitting around in my inbox for over a year! They needed to be used.

For simple reading pleasure, I selected Kim Harrison's White Witch, Black Curse because it'll finally be out in paperback next week. I can't wait. Harrison packs so much story and character development into each novel, I'm always impressed and awed.

For some writing advice, I chose Janet Evanovich's How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author. I saw this book many months ago in Borders, and my first thought was it was going to be tripe. Yeah, that's not exactly nice, considering that Evanovich is one of my favorite authors, but a lot of the "how to be a writer" books out there are more about how the author made their success, not filled with applicable ideas for new authors to try. I picked it up and thumbed through it. Yes, Evanovich draws a lot on her own experience, but she uses it to explain the lessons, not just to show how she succeeded. Helpful stuff. Still, I set the book back on the shelf, but it's been popping up in the back of my head a lot lately, so I thought it was time to get it.

The other book I got is a new names book, Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse-Dictionary of Baby Names. (I think that all name books are amusing by going under the title "baby names" as if somewhere out there is a book floating around called "adult names.") I have a 15-year-old name book right now, and this one looked like it could offer a different way to search for character names. Since I'm in the middle of writing an entire novel worth of new characters and trying to come up with names almost daily, I thought this could be useful.

The rest of my time in which I was supposed to be doing chores was spent reading about all the stuff happening with Harlequin and the RWA. Check out Pub Rants and Jackie Kessler's blog for explanations and a breakdown of how Harlequin has stepped into murky water.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's a Process

Of all the blogs I visit, I think Deadline Dames is my favorite for writing advice. The blog is run by nine published authors, who offer advice and inspiration for writers and an inside peek into the world of authors for readers. Yesterday's post was especially pertinent to my life: Tips for NaNoers. However, it was Jenna Black's recent post that cheered me up more.

In the post, Black details the minimum number of times she reads through her own story before it's published, noting at what stages she goes back for reads and rereads, when she does edits, and when she does rewrites. It was comforting to see that she reads her book at least 7 times, with the beginning getting an extra 6 reads along the way. Having just finished my umpteeth read/edit of Madison, and seeing what's ahead of me for Sasha, it was wonderful for me to see that a published author has to spend so much time polishing her work, too.

Which got me thinking. I have this idealized vision in my head (still!) that really good authors like Janet Evanovich and Laurell K. Hamilton, authors with lots of books under their belts, don't have to do edits. That they write their first draft, it goes by their editor, and they make the changes suggested, and then it goes to copyedit and print. I know this isn't true. I also know that these seasoned authors don't have to do as many edits as those starting out their career. But it wasn't until I read this blog yesterday that I fully realized how absurd my expectation of zero edits is.

To put it in perspective for myself, I tried thinking of other jobs where the first attempt was expected to be perfect. Artists spend hours and days and possibly months with their canvases, getting every color and detail just right. Engineers draft a design, make changes, build their invention, and make rounds of modifications until everything runs smoothly. Chefs make multiple variations of a dish until they get the flavors just right. One pass simply doesn't cut it.

I think with writing, it has the illusion of appearing to be easy. You read a great novel, and it seems like those perfect sentences must have just flowed in exact form onto the page, since there's no better way they could have been arranged. And there's the implication that if you're making something up, it should be easy. After all, children make things up all the time. It can't be too hard.

Writing a novel also has an elongated learning curve. It takes writing a whole book (or three, or eight) to learn the process, and writing a book typically takes at least a month. Then there's editing it. Then there's critiques, rewrites, and edits again. For me, it takes some time and distance to see some of the major flaws (like the lack of a third act, character holes). It has taken me a little over two years to get Madison ready to sell. That's a long, long learning arc.

Because the process takes so much time, I had the feeling that one book should teach everything. There are very few other things that it took me two years to learn (and that's not counting the previous eight years that I've been working on other writing projects). Part of my depression this weekend was realizing that I still have so much more to learn. Which is why it's such a huge comfort to me to be reminded by published authors that this is a process. Rounds of edits are just part of the process.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seeing Acts Everywhere

One of the unexpected upsides of my meltdown and rebirth (aka Sunday of Doom aka Disastrous Day Off) is I realized that if I'm having a hard time writing past the second act, it would be a good thing for me to study how others do it.

Since then, I've watched Bolt, Police Academy, and an episode of Legend of the Seeker. In each, it was actually pretty easy to pick out where the second act ended and what event changed the main character(s) and renewed their urgency in the quest, which then culminated in the third-act climax.

Bolt I thought was going to be the easiest, with Disney and children's movies in general being more obvious about their story arcs, but it was actually Police Academy that was the easiest. I'd probably have more problems dissecting other elements of the spoofy movie, but the acts were very clearly defined.

I've also passed the second act climax in Ten Big Ones, and it was good to see it in written form. Hopefully recognizing second-act climaxes vs. third-act finales will help me imagine more complete stories from the beginning. Only time will tell. At least it will improve my editing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Failing and Flailing

I've been feeling a little burnt out with nearly half a month of writing 2,000+ words every day, working on Madison, working on work, working out, working around the house...you get the picture. Friday I had a light workload, and I was feeling pretty refreshed, but when I sat down for my writing session on Saturday, it dragged, so I stuck with my plan of taking Sunday off.

What a disaster! I had the goal of a relaxing day of fun, with zero time on the computer. Theoretically, that should be easy. Except, the night before, once the decision was already made, I realized that my character's electricity-killing ability wasn't really important to the story. Remove it, and I'm writing an ordinary romance (not my genre). Keep it in, and the story needs to change. Saturday night, this seemed very doable.

I woke up Sunday with the Sasha story in my head, and not in a good way. I wasn't even out of bed before I was wondering how I was supposed to rework the story. I was depressed after twenty minutes of staring at the ceiling.

We got out of the house for a while, and that helped, but the moment we returned home, so did all my fears and doubts. I pushed them aside and laid down on the bed in the sun. This was a day for relaxation. And while I was relaxed, I had a few great ideas for a scene coming up, and I thought I'd run with it. Cody was napping, I had the time; why not storyboard the rest of the novel. The ideas seemed like they were starting to shift and move.

So I jotted notes and paced and put up new note cards and took down old ones and got out my trusty The Writer's Journey—

And realized I'd done it again: I'd written a two-act story.

I paced more. I talked out loud. I had a cookie. I had another cookie. I jotted more notes. I jotted random words for inspiration. I tried creativity-inducing exercises. I woke Cody up. And then the real pity party started. Oh, it was awful. I'll spare you the details (and save myself a little pride) and simply say that at one point I was questioning my career choice, my ability to be a writer, and how terrible a person I was.

We left the house. It was the only solution short of blacking out. All the ugly thoughts in my head wouldn't stop. We went for a walk. When we returned, we watched Bolt. And finally, finally, after so much frustration and self-pity (and did I mention frustration?) a new idea came to me, a way to rework the ending and get my third act.

The idea is far from fleshed out (it's a whopping two cards of my storyboard), but the third act is there. I wasn't even terribly excited. I was just tired.

I still can't decide if the day off was good. Emotionally, it sucked. But it made me realize the flaws in my story and see the lack of the third act before I finished and even before I got there. And I've already decided how to cut out 5 scenes from the beginning to get the book moving faster. Plus, I've got a better grasp of the genre (paranormal action with elements of romance—yes, that needs work and focus). I've also pinpointed a direction. Possibly I consolidated a month or more worth of editing frustration into one day. But, holy cow, that day was not one I'd want to relive!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Packing for the Apocalypse

For the first time in a long, long time, Cody and went to see a movie on the opening night. Given my waning obsession with all things apocalypse and 2012, it should come to no surprise that we went to see 2012.

I promise I won't give any spoilers away here. The movie was highly entertaining peppered with moments of improbable pauses to explain things to the children in the movies. I really enjoyed the whole show, despite John Cusak. Cusak makes a very believable semi-deadbeat dad with a failed career. He's not so believable as an action hero. (Cody disagrees, citing Gross Point Blank. I say that Cody's argument is still flawed.)

But the movie got me thinking of this apocalyptic scenario: If I know that 90% of the earth's population is going to be wiped out, and to make this fantasy enjoyable, I also know that all the people I love are going to be safe, and I know we're all going to get on an arc, and we're allowed only one suitcase, what would I bring?

A survival guide comes to mind. Clothes to layer. Eyeglasses of different strengths. But beyond that, what is there to take? I've been running this over in my head for a whole day and come up with surprisingly few items. Most things seem like they'd be useful, but then they'd be used up in a month or two (a flashlight's batteries would die, the toilet paper would be gone through, the toothpaste squeezed from the tube, the books read to deterioration). And none of those things would lend themselves to survival once land is again found. I guess I would pick a lot of different nonfiction books: how to farm/irrigate/find water, how to build a house, how to weave and crochet and knit, how to take care of injuries, how to find plants that heal. Or maybe I would take things that others would find useful so I could barter for someone's medical skills or for a shirt someone else wove. What would you pack?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another Goodwin Original

On Thursday, Cody and I attended a friends and family event at the 20th Street Gallery in Sacramento, California, where one of my favorite artists, Suzanne Goodwin, had 20 pieces on display. The show was a 20/20 show, where the artists were challenged to do 20 pieces in a little over 20 days. As a NaNo WriMo participant, I can appreciate the trials and joys of such a tight deadline for an artist, and I always love going to Suzanne's shows to support Suzanne and see all the wonderful pieces she's created. This time, there was an added bonus: We took home a Suzanne Goodwin original!

It's she cute! Cody and I both fell in love with this 8-inch by 8-inch painting. I've been roaming around the house with it for the last two days trying to find just the right place for it. I'm thinking she's going to find a home in the office. While she hasn't (yet) inspire a story, she makes a cute muse to watch over my shoulder.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Great Author

I finished Sharon Shinn's Mystic and Rider last night and wanted to rush immediately off to the bookstore to get the next in the series. Unfortunately, I was dressed in my jammies and had just finished brushing my teeth before bed, so I'm still without The Thirteenth House (book 2). (Though, sad to say, I was headed for bed before the bookstore was closed; this NaNo thing has been wearing me out!)

Shinn is a new author for me. While I've seen her books in the stores for years, I've never ventured to pick on up. This time, it was a combination of a coupon and the beautiful color of the cover (I'm a sucker for these warm colors) that made me take the chance. Ah, such shallow reasons!

The novel was a quiet read. By this, I mean there was not a point when I was consumed with the need to stay up all night finishing a chapter/scene. Yet, I loved the story, I loved the characters, especially the development of the characters as a group, growing tighter and more loyal to each other through the course of the novel. Her world was delightful, fraught with peril, uplifted with comedy. Enchanting.

My favorite part was the end. To be specific, the last two paragraphs. Let me preface my praise with this: I don't like poetry. It's not that I don't like poets or pretty or evocative words put together just right. It's more that I don't like the space poetry needs. It needs lots of white space on the page. It needs lots of mental space to let the poem unfold in. It needs time and separation from the moment to be appreciated, or so I've always felt. But I like my words to be strung together into something that moves forward, something that is real and rich on the page, creating a new world or character or scene even if I'm reading while sitting in front of a speaker in the middle of a Metallica concert. Basically, I want words that take up so much space in my mind and create something so much more that this world temporarily falls away. I suppose that may happen for some people when they read poetry. It's what happens for me when I read really good books.

There are many authors on my auto-buy list who create this escape through speed and high action, and I love that. But there are those few who create an escape through action and characters and the raw beauty of their story, and it is these authors which I'm both in awe of and adore, like Jacqueline Carey and in some scenes Robert Jordan or Laurell K. Hamilton.

Shinn's whole novel was fun to read, but the ending achieved this beauty. The last few paragraphs were pure poetry in story format, and they made me love the story that much more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Half Done, Four-thirds to Go

For all that I've whined and moaned on this blog at times, I'm usually very happy with my writing, with the act of writing, and especially with the memory of having written that day. So it's been uncharacteristic of me lately to feel upset with my writing almost instantaneously after I finish for the day. Today was a perfect example. I wrote more than I normally do in less time, the story was flowing, and the characters had a few moments of connection, but I closed the Word document and immediately felt like I'd written a day's worth of crap.

I decided it was unwise to listen to that ugly voice, so I'm focusing on things that are positive.
1. I figured out the motivation of my evil characters last night, which means I can map out the ending.
2. The story is progressing.
3. According to the traditional NaNo numbers, I'm over halfway to the word-count goal.

The rest of the fear can go sit on a shelf for a while. I refuse to dwell on how little story has happened in these 85 pages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The 30/70 Rule

It's a well known fact (at least to me) that I write over word count/page count every time. Most of my editing is cutting, trimming, tightening. So I realized, especially after reading about the average length of debut novels being no longer than 80,000 words, that I was setting myself up for extra work later on by making my word count 100,000. Not just is that too long to begin with, but even as I looked at that word-count goal, I knew that I'd overshoot it. I always do. Which is why I've decided to cut the number down to 80,000 and hopefully tighten the story as I go and I keep a stricter eye on the length of my scenes. (I could be deluding myself, but if it works, hallelujah!)

With edits in mind, I keep thinking of something Laurell K. Hamilton mentioned recently on her blog: when she first started writing, she says that about only 30 percent of what she wrote was good, but she had to write the other 70 percent to get to find that good 30 percent. When I read this, I scoffed. Only 30 percent was worth keeping! It's a good thing my average was reversed!

Or so I thought. Now, a bit more humbler as I'm back in the writing process and remembering all the edits I make even as I'm writing, and then all the subsequent edits I've made to Madison, I think I can believe in the 30/70 rule. I've trimmed so much from Madison, added so much new text, changed sentences, scenes, conversations, character names, that my original manuscript looks closer to the character/plot sketch of the final product than an actual novel. I'm already editing and rewriting Sasha, sometimes as I go, sometimes as NaNo No-No days of redoing scenes. How quickly I forgot about all the trials along the way!

And yet, I still hold out hope that with Sasha I'll have a better ratio. Maybe a 40/60 ratio of good to bad text.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lightening Up

Today I had a very frustrating writing session. I struggled along with flat descriptions, slow pacing, and characters with erratic emotions that didn't match the scene. It was painful. It was torture. I finished two hours of writing and thought I'd barely gotten 800 words. Nope, I'd written 2,358, more than my daily allotment.

But it's not good. I know that's okay in the NaNo rules. I know that it's less about writing something readable and more about just writing out the story, but the scene is haunting me, so I have a feeling that tomorrow will begin with rewrites. The scene doesn't need to take that long (and if I'm going to keep the book down to a decent page count, it can't take that long).

I know where I went wrong now, after a day of percolation. I lost sight of where the tension was in the scene. I can fix that.

I spent the day feeling bad about how long it's taking me to get the feel for this story and to get the pacing right for these characters. And then I sat down at my desk to blog and looked at my calendar: Nine days. I've been working on this novel a whopping nine days. It's time to cut myself some slack. Madison, the novel I love and am almost ready to sell, has taken me two years to perfect to the point where I take pride in it as I read it. I think that expecting that same level of polish after nine days was a bit much. It's time for me to lighten up.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

When the Internet Isn't My Friend

Sometimes the Internet is just plain scary. I logged in today with the intent of writing a fluffy little post about my first QVC purchase (I've gotten sucked into so many of their pitches and thought I needed what was being sold, but this is the first time I made the plunge). I'm very pleased with the purchase, and it was fun, and it was in the grand scheme of things, pointless, especially in a writing-related blog, but I like celebrating firsts of all kinds, and I was going to celebrate with you.

Then I stopped by several of the blogs I follow. Everyone out there has serious topics of late: how writing saved their life, changed them, helped them find something better than abusive relationships; how hard the industry is; how the novel length I've chosen is probably too long for a debut author...

Scary stuff (though the article about writing saving the author's life was very powerful—it just was much more serious than my mood). I don't need doubts planted by other people. I'm rational enough to be able to tell when what I write is good (and I have had feedback, real non-Mom feedback, that supports both my good and bad opinions about my work, so I know I'm not delusional). I get along pretty well in a bubble of hope and inspiration and determination. Being told that it's hard doesn't help. Being told that I'm writing too much...well, it's good to know, but at this phase in the writing process, I can't think about word count too much. I have to focus on a good story and cut and trim later.

Which is why I'm going to check out Cute Overload and then log off, because I don't need the added pressure of an industry's collective doubts and fears.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A NaNo No-No

Yesterday morning, I finished a scene that struck a sour chord. All day I pondered it in the back of my mind, and by the late afternoon, I knew where I'd gone wrong. I even jotted down some quick notes for how to fix it in the next scene.

This morning, while brushing my teeth, I realized that I didn't need to fix the next scene—I needed to fix the scene I'd already written. And I knew exactly how to do it.

So this morning I broke one of the number one NaNo rules and went back to text I'd already written. I started out with the idea of doing the changes as edits, but I realized that I pretty much (except for two paragraphs) needed to scrap the entire scene. The entire scene!

I cut out eight pages (2,161 words), saving them in another document in case my new notion was way off base. Then I wrote 11 new pages (3,277 words) and confirmed that the bad feeling I'd had all day yesterday about the previously completed scene being wrong had been right: this new scene is the one that needed to be written.

I've decided not to count the removed text, since my real goal is not so much to make the NaNo word-count goal as it is to make my own 100,000-word novel goal. Still, it pleases me that I'm ahead of schedule even with the cuts, having amassed an "extra" 4,363 words more than the daily NaNo requirement (being 1,667 words per day). Since my personal goal is 2,000 words a day, I'm still ahead there too, with a spare 2.365 words, just in case I need a day off.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Coming Up for Air

I had a wonderful writing session this morning, in which I wrote 3,692 words! I started trying to make the scene short, and it got away from me. Great for now, but I know there'll be a lot of cuts and edits to this section later. Of course, it's the beginning, and it takes me a while to get the right tone and pace for my new world/book.

But that's not what this post is about. It's about The Proposal. I finally got to see Sandra Bullock's latest romantic comedy and I loved it! It made me laugh so hard in parts that I couldn't breathe (always a good sign in a romantic comedy), and though I saw the ending coming (it's kind of hard not to with a formulaic genre I've read and watched a thousand different times), it was unique enough that I was captivated.

Which is a rather jaded way of saying that I think all fans of the genre and all Sandra Bullock fans should see this film if you haven't already. So cute!

(And I'm going to blame my lack of articulation on those 12 or so pages I wrote this morning—they didn't leave much creativity for a witty blog post.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sing Along With Me

I love my new ending on Madison! I've been dancing around the house and in general being quite obnoxious about how much I love the ending I added on to Madison. Editing it the other night was one of those magical moments when my writing was better than I remembered it!

As you might have guessed, I finished the final major edits on Madison and I'm now typing them all up, one hour at a time (or whatever time's worth of energy I have left at the end of the day—so far an hour is the max). Every little bit gets me closer to selling it, and now that I've chopped off a good 30+ pages from the beginning and added an equal amount to the ending, making sure there's actual story on all the pages, I know I'm going to sell this novel.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Can't Equals Motivation

I recently discovered that there seems to be nothing quite as motivating as knowing that I have to stop writing to really get my creative juices flowing. I've been writing in the morning, so I can devote the most energy to writing before work has funneled off it's portion. However, I also schedule most of my appointments for the morning because I like large, uninterrupted blocks of time during my day in which to work.

Thus, I had a problem today when I was almost finished with a scene in Sasha, almost finished with my minimum daily word count, and I had to abandon it and rush out the door to a chiropractic appointment. I considered canceling the appointment because the scene was so alive in my head, the dialog vivid and fresh, the next scene building behind it, but I really needed an adjustment, so I went.

When I returned home, the scene had cooled, but I managed to finish my minimum in a matter of minutes and wrap up the scene. Now I need to learn how to capture that I've-got-to-leave-in-just-a-minute, hurry-up-and-type-it-all-out-in-the-remaining-two-minutes urgency at the beginning of my writing session.

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Book, New Name

I have finally settled on something to call this new novel. It's most definitely not the title, but since I still needed something easier to say than "my current NaNo WriMo novel," a nickname will have to suffice. Thus, I shall call it Sasha.

Why Sasha, you ask, since the main character's name is Eva? Well, I've secretly been calling the novel Sasha for a while now, since I first conceived the story idea almost half a year ago. Sasha is a secondary character around which the entire plot revolves. Yep, you read that right. Although the main character, Eva, is who the story is really about, her story wouldn't be possible without Sasha. I thought of Sasha long before I thought of Eva and her electricity-killing curse. I thought of Sasha long before I considered she'd be in danger for most of the novel. She was the impetus of the whole book. She's also not human.

I'm not sure how much I'm going to give away of this novel at this time, though, so that's a sad little teaser for a project at least a year from being read. But I'm happy to share the novel's nickname, finally, and be able to have something to call it while I slave away at my word-count goals.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It Has Begun!

NaNo WriMo has begun! For the third year in a row, I stared at the blank first page of a brand new novel, and I didn't curl into a little ball under my desk (as a small part of me wanted to do). Instead, I began typing. Then erasing. Then typing again. I deleted almost as much as I kept as I tried to find the right voice and tone for this story, weed out information that only I need to know about the characters, and keep the pacing going. Yep, all that, and I wrote only 6.5 pages.

The last two years of my life have been devoted in one shape or another to Madison projects. I know the Madison world pretty well by now. I can slide in and out of it in a matter of minutes. But while I've been kept awake many a night by visions of this new world, getting it down on paper proved a tad more difficult than I imagined. I'm writing in the first person again, so getting into my new character's head was also challenging. She's different from Madison, more mature, more self-sufficient, more focused and driven. She also, finally, has a name: Eva Parker.

Choosing a name took a large chunk of time out of my day. I'm still not a hundred percent certain it is the name, but I'm liking it for right now. The male lead: Justin. As of yet, no last name. (Cody wants "Case," but I've vetoed that; the novel's going to have humorous elements, but I'm not leaning toward spoofy.)

The other thing I'd forgotten: how much energy writing takes! I've set a goal of 2,000 words a day, with the expectation that this novel will be 100,000 words. Which means, I should finish December 20, like an early Christmas present to myself. That's the goal as of today, day one. I'll let you know if I still think it's realistic in a week.

For all you NaNo WriMo people out there: I wish you luck. The rest of you should try this!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Somewhere I Never Thought to Find Jane Austen

As I cruised through my local Borders today, I came across this:

The Marvel comic adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice! I've seen P&P in the theater, in the wonderful Colin Firth TV miniseries, as a book (of course), as a book with zombies (what?), but never before as a comic book.

I thumbed through it. I'm not a comic fan, so I can't tell you if it was well done or not. A comic book with no fantastical elements seems a little odd to me. An adaptation of the zombie version would have made more sense to me.

I'm fascinated, though, that this book was ever considered for publication. I know that there are a lot more women and teens reading comic books these days, but are they reading ones with nineteenth-century story lines? Perhaps I'm out of touch with the novel-to-comic crossover audience, but it seems to me that typical Austen fans are not also comic fans.

And most important, what is the magazine-style cover all about?

(Eeek! NaNo starts tomorrow! How exciting!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

All Madison, All Day

I took the day off work and focused my entire day on editing Madison, starting at 7:30 a.m. and ending now, leaving myself enough time to workout and eat before meeting some friends tonight. Were it not for my planned outing, I'd still be editing Madison instead of typing this blog.

Today flew by. I broke it down into 90-minute segments so I'd remember to stand and move around at least once every few hours. My butt thanked me. So did my back.

I think I need another day like today to get "caught up" to where I want to be. I've edited 273 pages of the 314 total, which is much farther along than I was at the beginning of the day. However, I still haven't entered any of that into the computer, which goes faster than editing but still takes time.

The best thing is that I really like my story! I can see that it's better now than when I first wrote it two years ago. So's my writing. I can see that it's a complete story now, one that's ready to be published once these edits are through. I think that's what has me so energized after the long day. I've written something publishable!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NaNo WriMo Cheater (Or How I'm Not)

I've mentioned in several posts that I'm preplanning my NaNo WriMo book, and I've had several people (family members) immediately ask the question: "Isn't that cheating?"

Technically, yes. All NaNo WriMo books are supposed to be complete scratch on November 1, and then written entirely in that month. Preplanned and preplotted books go against the "rules." However, the idea behind this rule is to prevent first-time, never-finished-a-book-before writers from getting bogged down in creating a perfect book, nitpicking over the details, and generally using things like storyboarding and research as an excuse not to write. The other reason for the rule is to show people who have labored over half-done novels for months or years that it is possible to finish a novel (albeit a short one) in a month.

I don't fit into either of those categories. I know that I can write a book in a month. I've done twice (though last year's dragged on for an additional month or more, but I followed the word-minimum every day the entire time and I greatly exceeded the 50,000-words minimum, so I count it). I also know that I'm not going to get bogged down in the pre-writing details of my book.

I've been editing Madison for eons (two years) and have realized that the more concrete I can make the story arc upfront, the better the story is going to be in the long run, and the fewer rounds of edits I'll have to go through (fingers crossed). Furthermore, I'm not writing the book yet. I'm waiting to start on November 1. The anticipation is motivational. It's prompted me to look at my story idea and flesh it out beyond an opening idea and a main character. In fact, yesterday I spent over an hour working through the plot points. I don't know the ending, and I'm the type of author who likes to (needs to) know the ending so I can manipulate the middle with foreshadowing and plot twists, yet still stay on track.

So, final answer, "No, I'm not cheating."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Normal Rules Don't Apply to Writing

I think I'm finally finding the balance between pushing myself too hard and too little. When I was in high school and college, and even more recently, I would refuse to give myself a break on virtually anything, pushing myself too hard (to reach goals, to be perfect in all things, to always be improving) until I would reach my limit, then I'd stop. Stop trying, stop everything. In high school and college, these stops couldn't last too long, because the next project would be due and I'd be back into the pushing phase.

When I gradated into the workforce, the slacking phases could extend to months at a time, followed by guilt, and then extreme dedication to being the best at everything once more. But it occurred to me today that I'm not in that cycle any longer. I've learned how to be gentler with myself when I'm aiming for perfection, and also how to prompt myself when I know I'm coasting.

But writing doesn't fit into any of the same logical parameters. For instance, if I'm tired, I try to go to bed earlier, or I don't work out as hard. If I have a lot of deadlines and projects for my paying job, I give myself time off later and I make sure I have plenty of relaxing, fun things to do during my down time in those hectic periods. But when it comes to writing, if I don't feel like doing it, it doesn't matter.

I'm not being hard on myself here. And I'm not complaining. I've learned that if I don't feel like writing, that's too bad, because I'm not going to reach my goal unless I work when I'm feeling inspired and when I'm not. And usually, even if I don't feel like writing when I sit down, I'm enjoying it in no time, and at the very least, I feel good about myself when I've reached my daily goal.

Again, this is a good reminder (like my earlier-this-week post about how I feel better about myself when I write) right before NaNo WriMo starts. If I complain when I'm in the middle of November, remind me to look back at these posts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back to Editing: At Last

Today I worked on Madison for the first time in three weeks, and I was reminded of something: I feel better (about my day, about myself) when I write. It's essential to who I am, it's part of my DNA, it's part of that core inside me that is either happy in the moment or not. It's sad that I've been away from the book long enough for me to have to "remember" this truism all over again, but I'm not complaining—I wrote today.

I have a goal to finish the Madison edits before NaNo WriMo. It was a goal that got pushed aside for more important things. I don't know if I can do it now. If you'd asked me this morning, after I got up early and worked on Madison for an hour and half before starting my job, I would have said it was doable.

Then I got to thinking. I'm doing a hardcopy edit, meaning I'm making all the marks on the paper and writing the needed transitions by hand. I'm about one-third of the way through the edits. Then I need to enter them, do another polish by hand followed by computer entry again, and finalize my query. That's a lot to pack into the four remaining days of the month.

If I don't finish it by November, I'll have to work out some new plan of attack that includes continuing the edits and writing the new novel. Hey, I'll be just like a lot of other early-in-their-career (before they've made the New York Times best seller list) published authors!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Debut Masses

I thought, back in January when I started Number One Novels, a blog to showcase debut authors, that I might be running a little lean on new people by this time of year. I know, intellectually, that a lot of novels are published every year, but I have never seen it, and with large-number things, I need to see it to understand it. (Four hundred people and a thousand look a lot the same in my head—they look a lot different when I'm crowded into a stadium with them.)

I know, from agents and authors pointing it out, that novels typically stay on the bookshelves at your nearby bookstore for a whopping 6 or so weeks. With that kind of turnaround, there's bound to be a lot of new material coming in.

I also know, as a nation and as an individual, how story-hungry we all are. Case in point, I'm already reading my 64th book this year (and that doesn't count those I started and couldn't get into).

It stands to reason that a lot of the authors filling the store bookshelves are new to the scene. But seeing the number of them as I have in my debut author hunts helped me make the leap from intellectually understanding the influx of debut authors and actually believing the numbers.

And these are just the published authors. With the number of queries agents and editors reject, I feel that every person I meet should have a novel or two lurking in the confines of their desk. Maybe I'm helping skew the numbers, since I have three lounging about, waiting for me to polish them.

Fortunately for me, editors and publishers are still buying up debut works like crazy, and fortunately for the NON blog, there's no end in sight of debut authors.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fantasy Goals

I've always loved writing fantasy. In college, I wrote a sci-fi short story (great first page, horrible follow-up 19 pages) and a futuristic/alien fantasy screenplay (great concept, horrible everything else). I've tried ordinary fiction with a few short stories: one was abysmal, about a breakup of proportions I'd never encountered and couldn't make believable (though there were some great Kleenex to life analogies, if I remember correctly), the other was an adventure short story, where I forced myself to pare everything down to the essentials (difficult for me) and left much of the story off the page (like all the elements that made it a little bit more than just fiction) and it was a good story, but it lacked that special something to make it great. Plus, they all lacked a solid ending (a theme of mine that I'm working hard to fix).

I've written an epic fantasy novel (of epic, 1,000-plus-page proportions) and two urban fantasy novels (both Madison novels). The next book I'll be starting soon will be a romance adventure with a feathering touch of fantasy (as I picture it now; everything could change as I write it). It's impossible for me to flesh out a story idea without it turning into a fantasy no matter which way I write it. And I consider that a good thing.

Despite all the fantasy types I've toyed with, the thing I've always longed to write is magic realism, where everyday life has accepted magic. Madison comes close, but it fits too perfectly into the urban fantasy category. I don't know why I find magic realism such a pleasing idea to write. I don't read it—at least, I haven't found a good author who writes it. I think, much like the allure of steampunk, it's the combination and possibilities of what my life and everyday life would be like if magic existed.

I haven't had any plot/character ideas that work with magic realism yet. When I do, though, you know that'll be the next book I write. Because, really, what could be better than here and now with some magic added in?

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Coming (Cue Jaw's Music)

It's so close I could almost touch it! (Lots of squeeing has been going on in my head, especially late at night when I should be asleep, but I'm lost in my new story.)
I totally need this poster.

Here's the other choice if you want something a little sunnier. I love rain, so the top poster is definitely in my future.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Liking the Graphics

We watched Land of the Lost last night. There's a lot I could say about the lack of character development or the cheesy plot ploys, but there wouldn't be much point. I didn't watch the movie expecting dynamic characters and seamless plot arcs, and I didn't particularly want them. I wanted spoofy comedy, and, for the most part, I got it.

The element I wasn't expecting to be so good was the special effects. They were incredible. I suppose I should be used to seeing realistic bizarre creatures and scenic views, but this movie still managed to shock me. Yes, there were some atrocious costumes on the monkey and lizard people, but the computer generated dinosaurs were amazing!

For some reason I felt the need to continually remind myself that they weren't real (rather than simply enjoying the movie). I think it was because they seemed so plausible. Even the point where Will Ferrell is riding a dinosaur looked real. Impressive.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Young Grasshopper of Publishing

At a recent family gathering, I had the opportunity to discuss my career choice—mainly, I answered a lot of curious questions about the publishing industry—and it occurred to me that I was sounding very knowledgeable. I've been picking up lots of information in the last few years, but it wasn't until I was talking with people with no knowledge of this world that I realized how much I had learned.

And then I checked out what was happening at Pub Rants (discussion of royalties and information publishers send an agent/author) and I realized how little I know. Apparently I've finally reached that level where I know just enough to realize how much there is that I don't know.

I hadn't really thought about it before, but I guess it's a phase that happens in all new endeavors, whether it's a new job or a new subject in school. I went far enough in Spanish to realize that I barely knew anything. I didn't make it that far in physics. I surpassed the hurdle into the territory of "knowledgeable" in literature. I've had jobs where just when I thought I knew everything, I realized I knew only the tip of the iceberg...and then I got a lot better.

I'm going to take this as a good sign. I'm doing the right thing. My research is paying off. Now I just need to sell Madison so I can learn, firsthand, everything involved in the next step (and everything involved in royalty statements).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Testing the Waters

October 27th is fast approaching. If you have to ask why is this date so important, then you're not a Robert Jordan/Wheel of Time fan. October 27th marks the date that the final novel of the Wheel of Time series will be released. Of course, this is a 12-book epic saga, so there was no hope that it would all be wrapped up that easily. The book, titled A Memory of Light, will be released in three installments, the first of which is called The Gathering Storm. Since Robert Jordan passed away before he could complete the series, Brandon Sanderson has stepped up to finish it.

Despite the fact that The Gathering Storm will be out in a little over a week, I felt compelled to check out Sanderson's writing ahead of time. I decided on his debut, Elantris (it seemed like the best place to start). I will admit that a strangely large amount of my decision was dictated by the design of the back flap. Odd, I know, but sometimes it isn't the story that pulls you in as much as the art/design, as sad as that is. I also read the first line of chapter one:

"Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity."

That's a pretty compelling hook.

I'm now a mere 89 pages into the novel, and I'm greatly enjoying it. Better yet, I can tell from the rhythm of his writing that I'm going to enjoy his style in The Gathering Storm. Best yet, I've found a new author I like!

(Holy cow! I just checked out his website. The man is doing a ton of signings for The Gathering Storm, as in multiple signings in different states on the same day. Also, he and I would probably get along great if those little tracker bars he has on his site are any indication. And he's got a lot of information on his site about his books that I've never seen on an author's site before. I'm impressed. Brandon Sanderson, my new hero.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Madison First

So after yesterday's post, I took a good look at why this book is taking me longer than I expect. I immediately scratched perfectionism off the list: these changes are large and important, not nitpicking over action verbs (the type of thing that I figure could be done to death, or at least done while the manuscript is in a few agents' hands). No, the culprit was life. Okay, maybe that's a bit broad. The culprit was how I've prioritized life. Usually, Madison comes last. After eating, work, socializing, and working out. Not intentionally, but I have chunks of time that are alone (read: perfect work and working out times) and chunks when I'm not (and eating is a priority no matter what). So today I did something that I used to do on a regular basis and fell out of the habit of doing several months ago: I put Madison first.

I actually combined Madison with breakfast, but the Madison hour lasted long after the food had been devoured. And it was a good thing, because today turned into another day I would have not worked on it. I would have found excuses why I couldn't (like that I wanted to read or surf the Internet or watch TV). Instead, I left work for last, and that has to be done, so I simply worked a little late.

This works better. I'm not as frustrated at the end of the day or feeling as guilty. I think I'll try to stick with it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Have you ever had that project (home improvement, science fair, writing) that refuses to stay on the timeline you set? Madison is that one for me. Every time I get to the point where I think, another couple of days, and I'll be ready to send this off, a couple of days turns into a couple of months. All the edits have taken far longer than I ever thought they would. Even hammering out a good query letter took at least five times as long as I thought it would. This latest round of edits is holding true to form. And I'm frustrated and tired and just want it to be finished. Done. Ready to sell. Ready to at least pitch. Grrr!

Monday, October 5, 2009

End of Battlestar

*Lots of spoilers beyond this point. All who haven't seen Battlestar Galactica and still wish to, don't read.

As always, I'm a bit behind the general population when it comes to watching TV shows. Specifically, I just finished watching the last episode of Battlestar Galactica. And I have one huge question: Did anyone else feel a little cheated by the "angel" answer to pretty much everything?

I was really hoping that something would be revealed about Baltar and why he always had visions of Six, something scientific and explainable (at least in that world), like maybe he was also a Cylon and was sharing/living in some sort of Cylon vision. Nope. She's an angel. And what about the fact that it's not until the final episode that it's revealed that Caprica Six has the same visions? That felt cheap and confusing.

On top of that, Cara was an angel? I wanted a better answer.

Other things (which made me unhappy) left unanswered :
  • Why did Lee know he wasn't going to see his father again, when his dad was simply planning to build the cabin he and Roslin always wanted after he buried her?
  • Why, in the future, did they find only the remains of Athena and Karl's child, Hera, but not Athena or Karl, or for that matter, the remains of anyone else that landed on the planet or any of the natives already inhabiting the island?
  • Why did everyone have visions of little Hera leading them to their salvation, when in fact it was Kara?
  • Why was Kara called the Harbinger of Death by the Cylons? Because she was dead?
  • Can an angel see a vision of another angel as seemed to implied by the piano scenes with her "dad"? (That leads to a whole bunch of other possibilities, like maybe the reason no one found the rest of the human and Cylon population's bones was because the were all unaware that they were angels and only Hera was real.)

I'm still not sure if I'm pleased with that final episode or not. It felt like a finale, if not one that answered all my questions. Was that an intellectual choice on the writers' part to leave the audience with the same questions that the people on the ship had? To draw analogies between questions we ask ourselves about God and the unanswered pieces of the show? Was this whole show supposed to demonstrate how Christianity and science can coexist? Was it all Christian propaganda, that God exists, angels exist, and there is A Plan? Am I trying to make this deeper than it is?

I do know that I have no desire to see the special Battlestar Galactica: The Plan, so at least I have one answered question.