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!