Saturday, January 30, 2010

Running on Fumes

Yesterday I flat out ran out of energy. I finished up my non-writing work and sat down to work on some edits and had nothing to give. A lot of times, I sit down to work on writing when my body would rather be outside or my mind would rather be passively entertained by a novel or TV, but once I get into my own work, I'm happy to be there. Nope. Not yesterday.

So I did the smart thing: I took the day off and recharged. I roamed around the house aimlessly for a while, watched a Dolly Parton movie (yep, you read that right—in my defense, it was cute and mindless), read the opening couple of pages to Kushiel's Chosen, was inspired by a description of nature and finally realized what I needed to do: play in dirt. So several of my neglected houseplants got transplanted into nutrient-rich soil and my cats and I got to stick our hands (or paws) in dirt and mess around outside.

Transplanting plants led to cleaning off a bookcase, which meant then I needed to clean out part of a closet, which led to vacuuming, which led to...

It was a good time for Cody to be at work. I created messes and cleaned them up (mostly), and by the time my usual afternoon workout time arrived, I had enough energy to hit the elliptical machine for twenty sweaty minutes. Top the evening off with visiting with friends, and I feel like my muse is ready to work again. It's a very fine line between knowing if I'm just being lazy or if I really need a day off, and I definitely made the right decision yesterday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Little Take-Along

For the last three or so years, I've been carrying around in my purse a lovely 4"x3" notebook. It has a very attractive design, a built-in bookmark, and an elastic wrap that keeps the pages shut. The only problem is that it's heavy.

Okay, in the grand scheme of things, it hardly weighs anything, but add it to the weight of all the other essentials in my purse, and it was contributing to some major neck and shoulder pain. However, I can't go around without a notebook, can I? What would I do when inspiration strikes? When a new character idea springs to mind or I find a new book I want to purchase, just not at that precise moment? When I find that delicious bottle of wine at a tasting and need to write down the name?

Unfortunately, I've been going without a notebook in my purse for months now in an attempt to trim down on the weight. I've missed it.

I found the solution recently at Borders. They sell incredibly small, lightweight, moleskin notebooks with perforated pages. Genius. I got two, one in lime green, one in Granny Smith green. I couldn't even tell when I put it in my purse. I'm ready for inspiration to strike now, anywhere, anytime.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rebuilding a World

There were always little thing about my Aria novel that I never fully envisioned or that I decided upon, then realized later were problematic. Specifically, I'm talking setting. From the shape of the country to the layout of the temple at which Aria trains, I've been reworking, reimaging, reimagining.

This is what I call the daydream phase. When I spend a lot of time examining images in my head, rotating them to make sure everything looks right from all angles, adjusting size and placement of objects. Most of what I see in my head will probably never make it on paper, not in this detail. But it's the hundreds of thousands of little details that I need in order to capture the perfect descriptive sentence that explains everything else.

Along the way, I'm realizing how much of Aria's world is a blur. The immediate world around Aria is crystal clear, but the sounds coming from the street three blocks away are foreign, the shape of the stores near her house are indistinct, the elevation of the temple compared to the rest of the city is undefined. Even the location of the city in comparison to the rest of the empire is tenuous. In the last few weeks, I've jumped it from one location to the next, eyeing the tactical advantages and disadvantages of each location, the economic ramifications of each position, the impact each location will have on the future adventures of Aria.

All in all, I've spent a great deal of time looking at pictures in my head, and not a lot of quantifiable time in front of the computer screen or my notebook. It's both rewarding to find that perfect texture and image, and frustrating to not be making tangible progress.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Simple Pleasures

We've all seen the Snoogie commercials for the so-simple-it's-got-to-be-stupid blanket with arms. I made my share of fun of them. And then winter finally got here to northern California, and my cats started piling on me under and over the blankets I spread across my lap when reading or watching TV. I was reminded of how incredibly difficult it can be to keep the torso covered once a blanket is weighed down by a cat and how cold my hands get when they're holding a book outside the blanket.

So for Christmas I asked for and received a Snoogie (in a royal, CareBear blue). It was an instant cat magnet. My little girl cat will actually stalk me if I walk around with it on, waiting for me to sit down again so she can reclaim and blanketed lap. I retained my mobility even with her sprawled on me from sternum to knee, able to move my covered (and warm) arms to turn pages in books or channels on the TV. Even better, I can tuck my hands into the sleeves to warm them.

I only recently thought to bring the Snoogie into the office with me. Which means as I type, my arms are contorted around an eighteen-pound cat who has wedged herself between me and the keyboard on the Snoogie. It also means that I no longer am plagued by frozen-mouse-hand syndrome, which was a daily occurrence. I'm warm, my cat's happy, and I can move my arms. Such a simple invention. Such a simple pleasure.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What Really Scares Me

The other night, as I was laying in bed, trying to fall asleep, I got to thinking about what Aria is afraid of. What fears motivate her. And in doing so, I began to ponder the things that truly terrify me (which didn't help me fall asleep at all!). Aria and I have nothing in common when it comes to fears, mainly because mine are too modern for her.

Here are my top three terrifiers:

Unquestioning Faith: Whether it is religious or scientific, faith in a political candidate or a prom queen, absolute, unquestioning faith gives me the willies. History has shown the horrors of faith on this level. Merely look at every war before the twentieth century, and there is faith at its backbone. Maybe every war has faith for foundation: faith that our beliefs are superior to yours; faith that you simply don't know yet that you want to be like me, to vote how I vote, pray to who I pray to, and eat, dress, behave as I do. Absolute chills at the thought.

Genetic Manipulation: Science is a field that falls solidly into the massive gray area of morality. Some science is very clearly nonthreatening; some science is just as clearly devoid of any redeeming qualities. But genetic manipulation is questionable. Using the science to cure diseases seems like a good plan. Using the science to change the genetic codes of living organisms seems like a plan destined to doom the world.

Combine genetic manipulation with food and I'm feeling nauseous. Scientist still haven't figured out the complete effects that any one plant has when consumed—science is very good at singling out the specific nutrients contained within each plant (though their work is never complete), but to understand the complex relationships of every nutrient with the human system remains elusive. Studies are released all the time with new data about the heretofore unrecognized health benefits of well-known fruits and vegetables. Simply take a look at the vast changes (and often contradictions) in our nutritional guidelines in the last fifty years and you begin to see the bigger picture of just how little scientist know about food.

That doesn't mean it stops them from changing the properties of these plants, genetically manipulating them to have greater yields, more harvests, grow on less land—anything that saves farmers money and increases revenue. Genetic manipulation (and other factors) have created fruit and vegetables in our supermarket that have half the nutrition of their 1950s counterparts. I'm not seeing a great leap forward for mankind here.

I find it even more terrifying that animals are being genetically manipulated to have more offspring, more muscles, more meat at market time for less feed in the trough. If scientists don't know enough to understand the full ramifications of tweaking the genetic code of a tomato, I hardly think they're equipped to handle the complex codes of a pig or cow. Add to the fear an FDA that doesn't require labels on food to show it's been genetically manipulated or restaurants to say if they're serving genetically manipulated meats, and I'm seeing soylent green on the horizon. (Yes, fear makes me only more dramatic.)

Weather Manipulation: Messing around with the genes of individual creatures is bad enough; messing around with the weather of the entire planet is terrifying. Yet it is being done all over the world. The Chinese have been doing it for years. With enough material and manpower (both of which the Chinese have in abundance), you can control the weather. You don't want rain on a parade day, do some cloud seeding. Does it matter that changing the weather above your neck of the woods will have ramifications across the entire planet? Apparently not.

China's not the only country doing it, either. Russia, the United States, Canada, and Australia rank among the 24 countries that are trying to outsmart Mother Nature. Nothing, not even faith or genetic manipulation, terrifies me more than trying to control weather.

Which is all to say, Aria and I don't share the same fears. What does she fear? Not fitting in, losing her powers, losing the man she loves. Her fears are more grounded, more relateable; small picture vs. big picture. I find it much more comforting to concentrate on Aria's fears than my own.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Warming Up

I can see now why authors like to choose music that puts them in the mood for a particular character or novel or series. If I had specific Aria music, I would be listening to it all the time, capitalizing on the pavlovian connection previously created. As it stands, I'm forced to read back through my notes (something I often find more tedious than useful since so much has changed—though I'm simultaneously not inspired to update the notes, which is entirely unhelpful).

However, thanks to my re-immersion in the notes, I can finally feel Aria moving sluggishly in my veins, getting warmed up. Or maybe it's all thanks to Amanda Downam. I'm reading her debut novel The Drowning City (yes, she's a future NON guest), and while I find the novel highly entertaining, it also prompts the Aria in me. More times than I can count I've caught myself staring off into space, pondering pieces of Aria, Downam's novel forgotten in my fingers. It's led to some great ideas. Strangely, it is not the content of Downum's novel, but perhaps more her style that prompts these daydreams.

I was exceptionally pleased today when, out of nowhere, in the midst of work and my mind concentrating on something else entirely, I got a brilliant idea for Aria.

I can feel the flavor of this novel once more. I can see the city, the courtyard, the temples again. It's becoming real again, like the hazy filter of a favorite city once traveled to has been brought back into focus, clarified by a return trip.

It's a glorious thing.

(And, yes, I'm trying out a new name for Aria. I thinking I'm liking it.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Finding My Voice...Again

When I originally wrote Areia, my epic fantasy novel, I'd written several short stories and even more beginnings of novels, but I'd yet to complete a book. I'd yet to go through the long, arduous process of pulling a story through the full arc, or on better days, of sailing through the acts. I'd written short pieces, and each had their own tone, their own voice.

Switching between voices was easy on a shorter work. I had an edgy, snobby, and bloodthirsty Fight Club-type character, I had the everywoman romantic, I had a bizarre space nomad. The tale dictated the tone for me.

And then I got to Areia, and I wrote and wrote and wrote for three years until I finished the book. And when I finished, I finally knew who my main character was. I didn't realize it at the time, but it took all the way until a scene about 1,000 pages into the novel before I really understood the character. My tone for those first 1,000 pages is all over the place. The voice, the narrator, that invisible person speaking the tale, is at least five different voices.

So when I sat down to begin the edits, I knew I wanted to create a cohesive tone. It's a tone completely unlike Madison, my lighthearted urban fantasy. I want a tone that balances nostalgia with rye humor with fondness for the flaws and the strengths of my main character, for my hidden narrator is my main character looking back on her life (though that's never expressly stated).

To my knowledge, no author I've read writes with two distinct voices on two different genre platforms. Perhaps it can't be done. But I want to. I don't want Areia to look or feel or sound the same as Madison. I want the quality of writing to be on par (and improve!), but I don't want the same flavor. This isn't a lighthearted romp through a fantastical epic; it's a grittier, more emotional perspective of a woman struggling under the burdens placed upon her by desperate goddesses caught in an empire teetering on the edge of ruin.

All this to say I began the official edits today. Actually last night. I read through the first chapter. There are maybe three lines and a handful of phrases I want to keep. This morning I wrote the new beginning. In one hour, I got one page. That's damn slow writing for me. But finding the right voice and tone are more important than time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stormy Productivity

Today was the perfect combination of stormy weather, comfortable clothes, hot tea, and working from home (in my slippers). I love stormy weather. I love rain. I especially love when I have a choice whether or not I want to go out in it. There's nothing like rain beating on my window to make me want to stay inside and curl up with a good book. If I can't read, working is a good second. It's those days when it's perfectly sunny, with a slight breeze, just hot enough to get in the pool or maybe just lay beside it, that are harder to work on.

I blasted through a record amount of work today, and my eyes are tired but I'm happy. If this weather keeps up all week, I might just get to the actual edits on Areia. Right now, the farthest I've gotten is reviewing the character sketches and jotting notes of things to change. I'm really looking forward to the editing part.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New NON Questions

I've added a few new interview questions to the NON format, and this week's author is the first to get to answer them.

Last year's question of what is the debut author's favorite author to read was cut. I liked the question, but I found that people didn't have one answer, typically. It was actually a rather tough question. Trying to pick just one favorite author out of many simply isn't fair (and only about a third or less of the authors managed to narrow their selection down to one).

This year's current new questions hopefully give an insight into the author's daily life and are meant to be fun (and were inspired by DeAnne Cameron's questions that she often asked her interviewees). The new questions are:

What’s your favorite way to procrastinate?
What’s your favorite non-essential item on your desk?
What are you currently reading?

I'm shaking things up over at NON. (Okay, not really, but I get excited when the questions change up a little.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Name Making

On NON, I ask all the debut authors how they chose their main characters' names. There seems to be a pretty even divide between those to whom names and characters spring to life, whole and complete, and those who do the research, look through baby name books and phone books, and test out the sound and feel and look of names before they make their final decision.

For Areia, I'm definitely falling into the second category. I originally chose names that worked at the moment I needed them. I didn't want to get bogged down in research and I didn't want to waste a lot of time daydreaming up names (because nothing sprang to mind fully formed). I wanted to write the story as it was coming to me. I picked names, and ran with it. Microsoft's Find/Replace feature is a writer's dream for changes like this.

My male lead's name is Casican, which is completely made up and rather bland and easily mispronounced. I want to keep the general sound of it, though, because honestly, after so long saying Casican (aloud and in my head), something radically different would throw me off. I'm toying now with Casimir/Kasimir, which means peaceful proclamation or commands peace. It fits the character.

I'm also toying with changing Areia to Arianna, Aria for short. It's a rather simple spelling change with almost the same feel and sound. Arianna means holiest, which again fits aspects of the character.

I'll have to think on both for a while before I make a final (and global) change. If nothing else, I know my mom will be happy to see "real" names in a fantasy novel. Her first question when I started Madison after finishing Areia was, "Will the characters in this book have real names?"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Beauty in Reality

I was over on The Presurfer blog today, originally to check out one of the coolest sweater vests ever created, but I found this picture:

The post claims that by carefully combining the features of 16 attractive women, you get the most beautiful woman. (Take a closer look at the shot here.)

I found the PhotoShop skills fascinating, but I strongly disagree with their conclusion. The final fictitious woman is very attractive. But she's not the most beautiful woman in the world. In fact, I'd say she's not as attractive as their first 16 picks.

By combining all the women's faces, they took away the "flaws" that make the personality, that take the appeal from "that's nice" to "wow!" The final product is a vapid plain face of decent proportions with a good deal of makeup on.

(Oddly, she doesn't have perfect proportions. Of those 16 women, the majority have higher arching right eyebrows. I don't know what to make of that.)

Anyway, I wasn't really going anywhere with this post, only that I saw the picture this morning and I've been thinking about it all day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Query from the Start

I sat down today with a fresh project, a new book (at least one I haven't worked on in years), filled with energy to write. (Yes, as TikiBird knows in the comments from yesterday's post, I was sorely tempted to forget about Areia and work on tweaking Madison, but her timely comment saved me from dwelling and fussing and making a mess of things.)

I wasn't sure where to begin with this ginormous project, so I started with themes. I have upwards of ten possible themes that I toyed with on the novel, but there are a handful that are the big ones, and of those, there are two that I decided needed to be the focus of the novel. The rest could play their bit parts, but the overriding themes needed to be solid, flow throughout the entire series, and be specifically important at times of conflict. The themes needed to be something that puts pressure on the main character.

To really pinpoint the flow of a theme through a novel, I needed to see where it cropped up the loudest. I realized I knew just how to do that. In fact, I'd been practicing for the last month. I wrote a query.

I've heard other authors advise writing a query letter before you begin your novel, again somewhere in the middle, and then again at the end. Now I understand the wisdom of this. By describing a novel in a few short paragraphs, it forced me to cut out all the extra story lines and adventures and narrow the tale down to the key scenes. When you're working with such a small word count, the fatal flaws of a plot-holed manuscript shine through.

Suddenly I didn't have a thousand-page novel. I had a book jacket. And as expected, I also had immediate problems. Without anything else getting in the way, I could see where themes got dropped, which events were important, and where I'll need to place more or less importance in the rewrites.

I'm not saying the one hour of query writing set the entire path ahead of me for the editing process, but it was a good start. Tomorrow, I'll do it again, strengthen the query, and see where that leads me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Peering into the Vortex of Doubt

I've had a rather pessimistic writing day and I've found myself doubting Madison and its worth. Is it a complete novel? Is there enough story? Does the beginning happen fast enough?

I've concocted a dozen different "solutions," from starting later in the story to adding the second book into this one to tossing the first novel completely and getting book 2 ready to sell as book 1 of the series.

My head is not in a good place to be able to tell if any of these decisions would be good ones. They all sound good right now. They all sound like they would sell faster/easier than the novel I'm currently querying.

Making decisions from a place of doubt isn't wise. I'm still sane enough to know that. And before those tenuous shreds of logic slip away, I'm making the decision to let Madison rest in the hands of the agents to whom I've submitted, and I'll be focusing tomorrow's writing time on Areia. There's a lot to do there, not the least of which is figuring out how best to organize the rewrites. I estimate that will take me at least two days, which probably means it will take me a week. But at least I'll be making progress on something, not spinning my mind through Madison, picking at flaws that may or may not exist.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nowhere Near Where I Started

Two and a half years ago, I came up with the idea for the Madison novel that I'm now querying with agents. I wrote it shortly after the idea first came to me, within months really, of that first spark of an idea. What emerged was a lighthearted urban fantasy that pokes a lot of fun at the main character in her quest to appear up for the task of defending her postage stamp of northern California suburbia from minions of evil.

I've been working on Madison for so long now, that the final story it became completely replaced the idea that it began as. I was looking back through my early notes, and what I found was not a rookie enforcer trying to stay alive while she learns the ropes. Instead, I found something infinitely darker, grittier, and all in all, vastly different than anything I've ever written, period.

When I first got the idea, I did a freewrite from the main character's perspective (way back before she even had a name). Here's a sample of that darker world:

I am a Nightseer, though we weren't always called that. Wife, mother, and sister were probably our first titles. Then witch, of course. There's always that to fall back on. I'm sure the first few Nightseers never made it beyond that odious nomenclature. It was only later, after people got over their "shoot first, ask questions later" philosophy, that we became named Nightseers. As far as I know, we're rarer than white buffalo, and not nearly as cherished.[I originally was going to call Madison a Nightseer, but I decided instead on illuminant enforcer, which fit the role she became much better. Her talents have nothing to do with the night. Also, she's now one among thousands, not a rare breed at all.]

Of course, the title is, like much of what is believed about us, a misleading fabrication. I can see in the dark no better than the next person. But it serves our purpose to have people believe that is all we can do. I've absolutely no desire to garner more interest than that. It is bad enough to have the military and every law-enforcement agency in the country try to recruit you, thinking to use you as a secret weapon. I've never found glory or comfort in the idea of being a living, breathing weapon. If they knew what we could really do, I would never be safe. Not from the fanatics, the miracle-hounds, the greedy, the fame-seekers; namely, I would never be safe from the scientists.

I've never met a Nightseer who feels otherwise, either. Granted, I've met less than a handful, but none of them confessed burning desires to be cut open, poked, prodded, injected, examined, or explored in the name of science or any other religion. If anything, the things they told me made me want to find the smallest, deepest hole in the ground and bury myself forever with my favorite canned goods, a few good books, and possibly a nice comfy teddy bear.

Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury.

I haven't been able to sleep much in a long while. Not since Charles told me about the hunters. I sighed at the thought. When I was a child, I thought I'd been given a gift from God. I used to think that God had chosen me to judge all His people, to see their light and darkness and tell Him who was good or bad. When I grew up, I knew it as a mutation of my DNA, and all my childhood fantasies had burrowed deep into my soul, as if they fled the very knowledge presented by scientists. I no longer believe in God. I don't even know if I believe in good or bad.

I still like this character. She's haunted and hunted. She's right smack dab in the middle of her problem. Madison bumbles into her trouble, but this character has already found it, is already fleeing it, and just needs to be pushed a little to put her back to the wall and make her fight.

I haven't taken this freewrite file from my Story Idea folder. This isn't Madison. This is almost a fresh idea. There are a lot more plot points in the freewrite that are too close to the Madison that is to use, but this voice, this scared, on-edge character still appeals to my muse. If I decide to go a darker direction, this is the first file I'll turn to.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Tease for My Muse

One of these days soon, for my own amusement, and if worth it, for the amusement here, I plan to sort in Excel my Netflix rentals in 2009. Yes, it's a weird thing to do. I started doing it in 2006 on a whim, as just another thing that I could track to see the patterns of a year in a quantified manner. I tend to fuss over the chart for a day or so, fascinated by my own year-to-year trends (documentary/nonfiction videos have really slacked off, and I don't think 2009 is going to be any different). I make Cody try to pick his favorite new TV show that we started in the year, or pick his favorite movie of the year. I do the same.

But that's not what I set out to type about. I've been idly thinking over my favorite TV shows while I contemplate the eventual compilation of the 2009 list, and while This American Life doesn't rank #1, I've grown very fond of it this year.

There's something intimately compelling about the stories told on This American Life and the way their told. I find myself returning hours and days later to these snippets of people's lives to contemplate how a certain person would approach a problem, what another's response to a situation would be. These ordinary people have captured my imagination in a way usually reserved for characters in favored novels.

Which I think is part of the appeal—maybe most of it. This American Life works for me like visual character studies. It tells a slice of a story, part of a person's life, and not always even an especially important part. Just a part. It's a tease for my muse, and when I'm not paying attention, my imagination begins to fill in the story around these people, making up all kinds of things that could happen to them.

It's not often I can pinpoint a specific thing that feeds the muse, but This American Life is undeniable muse fodder.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Debut Authors Sprouting Again

I've been frantically scouring the publisher websites again, hunting down new authors for Number One Novels. I began the year with only two authors booked. Two weeks isn't a large cushion, especially when I factor in the time I spend looking for debut authors, waiting for their response, and giving them a reasonable amount of time to complete the interview. Two authors was making me a little panicked, especially since for the last three months I've had over a month of authors booked ahead of time.

Not a lot of novels are released right after Christmas, and everything I was finding was big-name author releases or re-releases. And then I parted the invisible veil, and debut authors started popping up again on publisher's sites. As it stands, I've several authors with interviews coming in soon, like Randy Susan Meyers, Rebecca Cantrell, Stephen Deas, and Alexandra Hawkins, and I've queried a plethora of additional debut authors. The lineup is looking great, and I've got some breathing room again.

I still can't believe how many times I find debut authors on publisher's sites, only to discover that the authors in question haven't bothered with a website! It's such a simple, and relatively cheap thing to do, I'm shocked that this easy marketing tool has been overlooked by these authors. And I'm not talking about authors with books coming out in a month or two; I'm talking about authors who are releasing novels in the next few weeks.

More than one websiteless author had a Facebook page. That's all well and good for other Facebook members, but what about your potential readers who aren't part of that social network? Or what about others, like me, who join just to learn about you, only to be too confused to figure out how to message the author? (Okay, yes, I need to get a little more savvy. Cody's promised to teach me about Facebook, but honestly, I find it cluttered and rather annoying at this point, especially when all I want to do is find out information about an author.)

I find it frustrating that NON could be bringing attention to nearly twice as many authors as it does, if only I could contact all the debut authors I find. And I'm very thankful to have found the debut authors I have. There are a lot of great books being written out there, and it's fun and rewarding to find new voices and get a chance to learn how each person navigated the road to publishing.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Gypsy Muse

There are certain songs out there that speak to my muse. Sometimes it's just a melody that provokes an emotion, sometimes it's specific lyrics. Sometimes, rarely it's both. For Christmas, I was given Shakira's newest album, She Wolf, and ever time I listen to the "Gypsy" song, my imagination takes over, building a character, scenery, plot—all of which doesn't fit into any story I've ever written.

I've had songs put me in the writing mood before. Most of Tori Amos's work was like that for me about ten years ago. I outgrew it, but for a while, Cody was subjected to more Amos music than is necessarily healthy. Since her, I've found calmer music easier to write to, music like Enya and Sarah McLachlin and Ingrid Michaelson. Music without too heavy a beat or lyrics that I want to sing along to.

I've never had a song evoke quite the same level of story that "Gypsy" does. It's the music and lyrics and pacing. Interestingly enough, the first minute or so of "Did It Again" on the same album brings to mind a character, too, like a mini character study in a few well-sung lyrics.

Needless to say, I've listened to both songs more times than I could count, but I've yet to write down any notes in my ideas file.

Embedded for your viewing and listening pleasure, "Gypsy":

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Minor Victory

I've wrestled my synopsis down to three pages! It feels like a victory at the end of a jousting match. I'm not sure it's a solid, really good three pages yet. I'll figure that out tomorrow. But for today, I'm pleased to have three pages. Exactly. About two words more and it'd end on the fourth page. Wish me luck with trimming it down to the one-page synopsis later!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Writing Not Waffling

There's something beautifully torturous about writing a synopsis. The paring down of my rather short novel (keep in mind I'm looking ahead at the 1,000+ pages of Areia I'll be editing next) to 1-3 pages is akin to a school assignment. The query letter I could pretend I was writing a book jacket or the movie preview text (with the ending given away). The synopsis is too long for that.

The synopsis is like a book report. Only, it is exactly the type of book report your teacher told you to not write, the one where you recap the novel, major scene by scene.

I realized earlier this week that I was approaching the synopsis the wrong way. I was writing sentence by sentence, pondering each word, each phrase, trying to make perfection happen with each line before moving on.

That works for some writers. That's how Evanovich says she writes in How I Write. It makes draft two a very easy edit, but it makes draft one take forever.

It doesn't work for me. I don't write novels that way. I write them in a rush, as the creativity is flowing. (To give you an idea, with Sasha, I was writing about 8 pages in two hours, every day.) I don't worry about perfect word choice. I don't pause when the dialog isn't coming just right. Sometimes the best I get is the sense of the scene. More often than not, even if what I'm writing comes slowly and painfully and I feel like I'm haphazardly tossing words on the page, when I go back for the first read, there are parts of magic mixed in. And having the outline, the form, the pacing makes the second draft go fairly quickly. Even if what I wrote is completely wrong, I at least have somewhere to start from.

So I stopped waffling over each word and wrote the synopsis. I was aiming for three pages, and I got three and a half, which is remarkable for this long-winded author. I've been trimming and tightening since, which so far hasn't shortened the synopsis one bit, but it has made it cleaner, clearer. Hopefully with a few more days, I'll have something presentable. Then watch out world!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Art of Interruption

There are thousands of elements that make each great story "great." I'm sure every editor out there could name the important must-have element to a great story, and not a single one would agree. For some it's fabulous settings, for others its intricate plots, relatable characters, humor, pacing, emotional arcs—the list could go on endlessly. Which is why you might be surprised when I say I've found the definitive element: interruption.

Okay, yes, you need to have some interesting characters, or at least it helps. But really, what you need to have is at least one person (and I'm sure some great authors out there could get away with making the "person" a setting and get away with it). That person needs to be doing something. That activity needs to be interrupted by something. Just when they get going again, another interruption, and on and on. It helps in the interruptions are interesting. It makes it even better if those interruptions escalate against the person's primary goals, raising the stakes so that each interruption causes more turmoil. But the main key is interruption.

I don't necessarily mean that an interruption always builds conflict, either. Rather, I've found that the authors I enjoy reading the most (Katie MacAlister, Janet Evanovich, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris) never allow their characters to get comfortable. They never allow a scene to unfold as it appears like it's going to from the beginning. The conversation gets interrupted by action, the sex scene is interrupted by conversation, magic interrupts a routine journey, an uninvited guest interrupts a quiet evening at home.

Of course, the interruptions happen during bigger scenes, too. But the point is nigh constant interruption. The more interruptions, the more story you get. Take Harrison or Hamilton as examples of this. Five hundred to seven hundred pages to each of their novels, yet the main characters live through an average of two to seven days maximum in each book. Two to seven days of my life, with its easy routines and lack of virtually any interruption whatsoever, could be fit quite easily into a few well-constructed paragraphs.

More interruptions equals more story. More story equals happier readers. Happier readers equals more book sales. More book sales equals more popularity. More popularity equals more money.

In other words, if ever you're at an impasse in your story, interrupt the main character. It worked fabulously for Douglas Adams, it works for Evanovich, it works for J.K. Rowling. It'll work for you. I'm definitely going to make it work for me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Cinderella Moment

I'm not a big fan of fairy tales. Mainly, I'm not a fan of the Disney fairy tales. I don't like passive women who meekly accept whatever atrocious position they're in, waiting and pining for the day that a man will come along and save them. I don't like those kinds of women in the stories I read; I don't like them in real life. I'm not passive. I don't expect others to hand me my dreams. My mind doesn't work that way.

Which is why my Cinderella moment has nothing to do with glass slippers and carriages whisking me away to balls. No, the moment came while I was sweating over the soap scum in my tub, scrubbing in those awkward angles that are not comfortable kneeling or bending over. It was at this moment, when Comet covered my hands and straggles of hair were tickling my nose and the pink mold was making a valiant sally against my second charge that I thought of Cinderella.

I wondered, for the first time, if the entire of the fairy tale is actually told within the limits of the story. As in, no happily ever after. Perhaps shortly after the curtains close and the spine is shut and the rosy glow of the honeymoon is over Cinderella finds herself right back where she was before, only now she's scrubbing floors in her own home instead of her stepmothers. Perhaps the only thing that changed was location.

Right, right, I know there was love and marriage, so she's got a sex life now and a glow in her heart, but when she's bent over a porcelain surface, is that what she's thinking about?

It was a thought made bleaker by my tired arms. Now I'm happy to have a shiny bathroom. Still, my take on fairy tales remains the same. Save the white knights for someone else. I'd rather have a man come along who wanted to work at my side, even if we stayed at my stepmother's house. Someone who would support my dreams, not expect me to change my life to fit his and be ecstatic about it. Actually, that's what I have, so maybe I've achieved my own fairy tale. And I never had to have a wicked stepmother, either.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Refreshed and Recovered

I had the end-of-vacation blues last night until Cody reminded me that everything I do, I love. Yes, Cody's back at work and we aren't getting to sleep in until we wake naturally (goodness, that got late). I don't get to spend 24/7 with him (which is how I prefer life and is one of the goals with writing—make enough to employ Cody, too).

But the house is quiet except for the music of my taste. (I got the newest Shakira album and have been playing it excessively because I love it! I've also been singing. Even when I'm 100% healthy, I don't have what I call a public singing voice, but here by myself, I'm belting out the tunes.) My life is back into a routine that it likes. My body likes a lot of routine. Maybe that's why I'm not terribly spontaneous; it's not in my system.

Best of all, I've returned to my writing desk refreshed. And today, I started officially querying Madison! It was enormously satisfying to start sending out query letters and charting literary agents on my spreadsheet. Tomorrow will be more of the same. About half the literary agents I like want a synopsis, and that's still in the works. I had wanted to leap immediately into Areia, but I know that in the long run, this final focus on Madison will make me much happier. My dream: to sell Madison in a 3-book deal, then Areia in a 3-book deal, with Areia's three books coming out in the same years as book 4-6 of Madison. I'm dreaming big!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Year of Reading

I have crawled from the piles of blankets and tissues and have returned to a half-version of myself. A cold attacked with a vengeance this week, taking down Cody and me. As far as times to get colds go, it was well planned: we didn't have anything in particular to do, and sleeping, watching TV shows and movies, reading, and playing video games was a pleasant way to pass an otherwise miserable time. We're both feeling better now, and I'm feeling well enough to post for the first time in five days.

I haven't had a chance to look at other people's end of the year summations, or really to make many of my own. However, I have taken the time to flutter around my reading spreadsheet and take a look at everything I read in 2009. There might be more elloquent ways to sum it up, but being fond of the quantitative view of life, here's my reading life from 2009:

Total books read: 73 (yep, this is a new record even for me. I'm not looking to "beat" it this year, but I was shocked to realize that I read that many books.)

By genre:
  • 27% fantasy
  • 21% paranormal romance
  • 12% mystery
  • 12% romance
  • 10% fiction
  • 8% nonfiction
  • 10% other

Number of new-to-me authors: 31

Number of new-to-me authors who have become auto-buys: 8

Most books read in a month: 9 (August)

Most books read by a single author: 10 (Janet Evanovich)

Authors read muliple times:

  • Jacqueline Carey
  • Janet Evanovich
  • Jayne Ann Krentz
  • Jennie Bentley
  • Katie MacAlister
  • Kim Harrison
  • Laurell K. Hamilton
  • Lora Leigh
  • Terry Goodkind
  • Todd McCaffrey