Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Ten Books of 2011

I have just spent several hours wallowing in my beloved Excel tracking sheet for the books I've read in 2011. I now know such delightful things as how many fantasy novels I read this year (16), which author I read the most of (Janet Evanovich at 5 books), what month I read the most books in (10 books in August), and how my totals stand up to last year's totals (new-to-me authors dropped by 8%, while the number of books I personally authored doubled).

Inspired by Just Can't Know's Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2011, I've toiled an extra twenty minutes in winnowing out my favorite ten books out of the 81 I read this year. In the order in which I read them, they are:

Friday, December 9, 2011

World-building Bliss

Dani Marco: My inspiration for Eva
For the last month, I've been happily building the world of my next novel. There's no rush. I want to get it right from the beginning. Plus, I'm trying a different approach this time. I'm trying Kim Harrison's method. With my own adaptations, of course.

For me, this means extensive character write-ups on my main people. I now know how Eva Parker (my protagonist) dresses, what her hobbies are, what she's afraid of, what her strongest and weakest character traits are, etc.

Monday, October 31, 2011

On the Block: Round Two

I've finished the first editing pass of my novella, Mika. Two weeks of steady work netted me a much tighter story, one with a great arch and a solid, fun tale. However, I didn't meet my word cut goal. The original story was 23,667 words. I wanted to cut 10 percent across the board, but while I'm sure I cut even more than that, rewrites added it right back in. After round one, I cut 1,483 words (4 pages!), leaving me at 22,184 words.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seeing Red

After six weeks of writing, my story idea morphed from short into novella. I made peace with the bloating before I began, when I was still in the storyboarding stage. Even then, I could tell it wasn't going to be a simple 12-page piece. But I liked all the elements, and the goal of this project was to give myself some creative freedom while keeping the writing crisp and tight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Query Letter That Worked

This week on Number One Novels, we have an exclusive look at Amy Ackley's query letter—a query letter that won her the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Young Adult Fiction. Out of 10,000 entrees, Ackley's novel was selected to move from round one to round two by her query letter alone. Amazing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gaining New Perspective: A Lesson from a Derailed Novel

As the dust of Faye settles and I'm able to more rationally look back over the massive derailment that is the novel, I realized that despite the immense frustrations of the project, I think I learned more while working on this one novel than I did on the previous four. I learned a lot of what not to do (rush down plot holes, begin before the plot is solid, change points of view, have a vague theme, have a vague emphasis of the overarcing story, and change the magic/world system midway through the novel—to name a few).

There were also a lot of productive lessons—I defined what it takes for me to write a good novel, I streamlined what makes a novel great (to me), and I pinpointed my key weaknesses (overwriting and dialog).

Happily, I found a workaround for the my troubles with dialog: third-person perspective.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Power of Doing Nothing

I finished Faye with a smear of mixed emotions and underwhelming ennui. After a sprint that lasted ten months rather than the predicted two, I was numb. The book ballooned beyond control to over 850 pages—a length no editor wants in a debut and a length that far exceeded what was necessary for the story. I'd self-indulged in plot paths and ill-fated decisions regarding point of view and character exploration. Ahead of me was a massive edit and rewrite, if I could muster the energy.

Meanwhile, two other stories, both seeming infinitely more interesting and marketable, build in the back of my mind, spilling over to cover the hallway-length whiteboard and splatter the walls on colorful sticky notes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcome Back, Science Fiction

It's been a long time since I've wanted to read true science fiction. I've read a few technology-heavy fiction novels, but it's been almost fifteen years since I last delved into this genre. I tend to enjoy fantasy far more than science fiction. However, Gini Koch's Touched by an Alien was almost a blend between the two, and a very enjoyable reminder of a subgenre I've been ignoring.

One might say it was fate that directed me to buy Touched by an Alien.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Guideline to Great

My approach to writing novels so far has been a bit like stabbing in the moonlight: I've had an inkling of what I'm doing, an idea, organization, some skill, but no real plan aside from finishing a novel. Of course, I always plan for my novels to be instant New York Times bestsellers that launch my career in a J.K. Rowling/Stephanie Meyer/Suzanne Collins sort of way, but aside from that, my general plan has been to write something I find entertaining.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Belatedly Catching The Time Machine

I don't know how the first thirty years of my life passed without me reading H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. As a fantasy fan, as a public school student, as an English major, somehow this book slipped through the cracks until I received a free copy with an ARC of Felix J Palma's The Map of Time.

While I read this book, I unexpectedly had the scholar on my shoulder, where she hasn't perched in almost a decade. I found myself noting themes, passages that would work well for essays, and analyzing the prose.

Friday, May 27, 2011

To Write a Good Novel, Read This

Dear me,

Sometime soon, maybe not this month, maybe not even before summer ends, but sometime soon, you're going to start another book. Your sixth novel (!!), and like the ones before, you're going to get very excited about the project. You're going to start storyboarding, start building the characters, then say, what the hell, and jump into the story only half ready because you simply can't wait.

I'm writing you today to remind you, to beg you: Don't do this! Read this letter again. Pay attention to everything you've learned. Make number six the novel that gets it right—from the beginning. So remember:

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Want to Outline Like Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison and I had a chat yesterday. Well, technically, Harrison talked with all two hundred of us gathered for her book signing (my first-ever book signing). But I did get my two minutes of one-on-one time with her, in which I gushed shyly about how inspiring I find her writing, and she encouraged me to keep writing. "You speak about it with such passion, I can tell you'll be published," she told me. I was struck speechless, frozen in place while I had a momentary commune with the Universe and whatever power Harrison might have to evoke the truth from those words. Then I mumbled my thanks and danced away from the signing table, feeling elated and like an enormous dork all at once.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Under the Influence: Bingo by Proxy

Every once in a while, I come across a fact that stops me in my tracks while my mind whirls around to catch up. Often, they're not even significant facts. This week is a case in point:
  • If you are into bingo and enjoy going to bingo halls as your form of gamboling, as my grandfather does, you no longer have to actually participate in order to play. You can, instead, have a computer play for you, and your sole job is to yell out "bingo" when the computer tells you that your ticket has reached a bingo.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tension Tells the Tale

Several weeks ago, I read Jennieke Cohen's piece "Dynamic Duos" on the New Kids on the Writer's Block blog, and it's been rattling around in the back of my head ever since. To summarize, Cohen pointed out that there is always tension between the protagonist pair. In ever novel or movie, the two main people (usually the two people destined to fall in love) experience a perpetual frisson. This frisson can morph, grow or shrink, but it remains until the end of the story. Without tension, of course, there is no story.

I read her article, and my knee-jerk response was that she was wrong.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Under the Influence: Degloved Edition

As planned, here's the first "Under the Influence" post, detailing all the tidbits of new-to-me knowledge that manipulated, molded, and influenced my thoughts and actions this week, including the fiction and nonfiction my highly susceptible subconscious processed.

The most prominent, seared-into-my-brain new piece of knowledge is this:
  • Veterinarians call the removal of the tip of a cat's tail skin down to the bone and tendons "degloved." As in, my cat degloved her tail this week and had to have the last few vertebrae of her spine amputated.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Easily Influenced (And Not Proud of It)

In college, I took a literature class—American Literature or Literature Criticism; I forget what it was called—in which we studied Whitman and Thoreau and similar authors. At the beginning the semester, the professor handed out the syllabus and this advice: Don't make any major life decisions while taking this course.

Bizarre advice, he admitted, but one he'd been told by many former students to give to future classes. The class changed the way people think, at least temporarily, and decisions made during the semester were often regretted a few months after the semester ended.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


After my last post, Marc asked if I outline my stories before I begin. He pointed out that it doesn't stifle creativity and it could help with my plot problems and save me a lot of time. I totally agree. I was going to respond in the comments, but realized I had a bit much to say on this.

First off, I love to outline. I love putting the pieces of the story together and spending all the creative daydreaming time with the novel before I start. It gets me really excited about the project, building the type of drive that's necessary to work on a novel for the next year or so.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Long Road: Back on Track

Despite my best efforts, my novel has ballooned beyond rational proportions. Five hundred pages, and only one-third of the way done. Worse, my plot is fundamentally flawed.

I don't know how I got this far without seeing these large, gaping holes in logic and character motivation. How I missed that I was forcing plot so I could have character development, rather than the other way around, or at least plot and character working in tandem. The story's trail had grown murky, and I was mired in a swampy plot that was sucking me under.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fully Converted to YA

Have you ever been knocked upside the head by a book? Please tell me you have. If you haven't, you haven't lived. (Or, you haven't found your genre, at least.) Sometimes a book comes along that grabs reality and folds it into an origami swan, and the world printed in tiny black letters on paper becomes more substantial than the people around you, than your job, than the priorities you place so much importance on.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Avocados to Autism

I had the perfect avocado the other day. I do not award an avocado with the status of perfection lightly. I'm an avocado connoisseur. Or, more accurately, I eat a lot of avocados. (Thank you, Chile, for shipping this glorious fruit to Costco all year long; and I apologize, Planet, for not eating locally.) The last few batches of avocados have been crap. Brown and stringy, off-tasting, or just plain rotten. But not this one; this one was perfect.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Minor Victory

There is nothing quite as satisfying as having a tough scene finally break open and start writing! Today, the conversation I've been writing and rewriting worked. It was too pivotal of a plot point for me to leave a note and pass up; the way the characters responded and behaved here determines events later.

I didn't finish the conversation or even the scene. That's okay. It's starting to flow. I'm happy with today's results.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dialog: My Archenemy

This morning's writing session was an exercise in frustration. It should have been easy. The entire scene is basically a conversation. But it's one that shifts a few people's perceptions and reveals character growth only hinted at before this. This isn't just characters chatting; this is emotional translation.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Facebook Domination

On October 3, 2010 I finally succumbed to peer pressure and joined the Facebook community. Initially, I was overwhelmed. Then I became addicted. It was only in December that I realized it had become something of a problem for me.

Since joining Facebook, my blog posts dwindled to nigh nonexistent.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Dreaded Slump

Every novel I've written has one: a point in the process where I can't remember why I'm writing this piece. I call it the slump. Maybe it should be The Slump. As obstacles go, it's worthy of the proper-noun capitalization. The slump is when the excitement of new characters, new settings, the whole story has been worn away from hours and days of familiarity, and the story has stretched in my mind. It's no longer a series of key points on a storyboard; now it's 100,000+ words of events and dialog and decisions and characterisations to keep track of.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Succulent Redo

Sadly, the succulents from my birthday did not survive me or summer (though probably it was me). One by one, they withered, wilted, and died. With each death, so died my hopes of ever getting anything to survive on this sun-baked balcony of my apartment. For several months, I have resisted buying new plants, hardening my heart against their cute greenery. From my office window, I have gazed out at the empty plant holder and thought, I'm doing the right thing. Nothing else need die at my hand.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Book Collection as Personalized Art

I love a good home library. It shows, too. Our moderate-sized apartment is packed to the rafters with bookcases, so full that we have to have bookcases behind our couch (and there's no room left for walking between them, so the bottom shelves are, unfortunately, covered). I look forward to getting a house for many reasons, but not far from the top is to have a library or at least more wall space to press bookcases up against.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Books Read in 2010

The last half of December was vacation time for me. I took a few weeks off work, a week off writing, and checked out of pretty much everything but fun for a while. It was wonderful!

What did I do with all my free time? See friends, family, and an delightful amount of Metroid: Other M. I also spent an inordinate amount of time playing with my Excel chart of the books I read last year.