Tuesday, July 22, 2008

But you can't always let it stew, can you?

In my last post, I wrote a little bit about my process. In short, nothing comes as a fully packaged idea. I'll get a bit here--the first spark of inspiration that gives me a character--then work out what's happened in this person's life to make them who they are. Later, something about their personality will give a clue as to the story around them. And going from story idea to actual plot is the bulk of the work.

Sometimes, this can be relatively short. Maybe a month ago or so, the idea of writing about a sympathetic Satanist bloomed in my mind. I had a vague idea of what she looked like and knew that, other than her religion, she'd be relatively ordinary. No fangs or fur, and if she used any magic at all, it would the sort that modern witches believe in that skeptics pass off as coincidence. Bits and pieces filtered in as I let this sit on the back burner. The male lead appeared...there was some sense of what her story would be about, though the more I tried to put it together, the more it slipped through my mental fingers.

For the most part, I left it alone, having my other example of "letting it stew" to calm me. See, while "Satana" (I know, my working titles suck) is coming along in a matter of weeks to months, I had the initial thought that became Quinn's Tale back in 2003. I was doing the dishes and thought, "A banshee howled when I was born." I dried my hands, wrote it down, and went back to what I was doing. It was many months before I found out who that statement belonged to, and years before he'd cooked long enough to start demanding his story be told.

Which brings me back around to Satana and why I'm writing this entry. I woke up a little bit ago (which is why this may be a little rambling, btw) and suddenly had it. Whether in the forefront or on the back burner, I've been trying to figure out the catalyst...the crime...that gets a police detective knocking on the door of the ex-girlfriend he'd dumped when he found out she was a Satanist. More importantly, what would get her involved rather than calling him an intolerant bastard and slamming the door in his face?

Now I have the answer. After this, I'll pull up my OneNote file and jot it down. But here, finally, is the question...Am I going to have to break my stewing habit and force myself to use a different process? I mean, this is great for a wanna-be. The characters feel real when I'm writing. I enjoy what I do, and I get fantastic reader reaction. But the goal isn't to have fun with my hobby. The goal is to eventually do what I love for a living. I don't see a publisher giving me a contract for "whenever". Have I set myself up with another way to fail?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Write what you love.

Every fledgling novelist hungry for the piece of advice that will make it all come together for them has heard that little gem. It--like most of the advice we receive--is fairly common sense. I mean, if you write something just because you think that's the way the market is going, at the very best, you could end up with a contract to produce more stuff that you don't even enjoy writing. More likely, you either won't finish at all, or perhaps will finish only to have a story that doesn't excite editors any more than it does you.

I know this as well as anyone, but when Kelley Armstrong announced the Shomi contest to her Online Writing Group, I jumped. Pushing aside my misgivings about the writer's guidelines, I decided that I would write the best sci-fi meets fantasy meets magic ever written. It would be the love child of William Gibson and Nora Roberts with heavy influence of the anime I try so desperately to ignore when my husband monopolizes the TV with them. And it would have dragons!

Surely, my excitement over the dragons would outweigh the youth of the characters, the irritation at the automatic happy ending, and everything else that told me this wasn't for me. I launched into character creation and world building. I got a notebook and started brainstorming, then plotting. I wrote the first chapter. And I wrote it again. And, I think, one more time.

The story was interesting; if I ran across it in a bookstore, I'd pick it up. So why couldn't I write it?

Well, part of it was that I didn't really feel like it was my story. My characters generally seem more born than created, arising out of my subconscious until I notice there's someone new there who wants attention. The bigger part was that I wasn't writing what I love. I would enjoy reading it--and I think I can work on the story until it deepens for me--but it wasn't it.

One night during the struggle for over all this, I had a dream. I was me, but not, and still in the military, but not as graphic specialist/admin role I'd taking to get into military intelligence and psy-ops. This me was trained in what such units actually did. And in the middle of this weird adventure, there was an ex-boyfriend. Not the skinny kid I knew, but a sexy, almost dangerous man. I woke up knowing that I had my story.

In fact, I had too much of my story. The more I wrote, the less sci-fi/anime it was and the more it became the sort of urban fantasy I enjoy.

I gave up on Shomi, put the story away, and went on--just a little bitter that I'd done so much work with nothing to show. Until, maybe, yesterday.

While I was not panicking about misplacing my memory stick, I sat down to write something brand new and found...nothing. Oh, characters danced in my head, but they mocked me. "What of your current stories?" they asked. OK. They didn't, really. I may be odd, but I don't hear voices. Usually. Yet, though that isn't literally what happened, there's truth to the sentiment.

Eventually, I stopped pushing for old stories or new. I stopped grappling with my muse or my subconscious, or whatever it is that drives me nuts at times like this. I did the laundry, I hung out with the family, I listened to music....and I got slapped on the back of the head with inspiration. There, out of nowhere, appeared what was missing with this story. It may not make it perfect, but that's not the point.

I've gotten the progress that I needed, and I may have just learned something new along the way.

(Shomi novel written by fellow OWG member, A.J. Menden.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Now for something new?

My memory stick took and unknown detour somewhere between my husband's computer and mine. This could be cause for panic. Pretty much everything of importance is on there, and some of it--like ShadowDark revisions--don't have a copy elsewhere. Not cool.

But I know it hasn't been taken out of the house so, assuming the toddler didn't flush it, it's all safe, just momentarily out of reach. For now, at least, rather than panic, I'm thinking of playing around with the stories that keep tickling my imagination...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Adventures in Collaborating

I didn't so much agree to collaborate (retrospectively) on my husband's novel so much as I failed to express just how bad of an idea that was.

Long story longer than necessary: I used to write with my two oldest friends. What I discovered through our process of occasionally starting something and frequently getting nowhere, was that it doesn't work for me. As the old saying goes, "I can do bad on my own." I don't actually need help not finishing a work.

But I was the one who roped X into writing. We met through a role playing game (thank you, White Wolf ), and it was his story telling ability as much as any other attribute that won my heart. It was only a matter of time before I started to encourage him to share all those fabulous stories with a wider audience. He eventually gave in, joining the writer's group hosted by Kelley Armstrong and participating in NaNoWriMo. A fellow writer so liked his work that she put in a good word with her agent, who in turn liked the first three chapters so much that she asked for the whole thing.

That's where his path to success met a road block. This agent, who has worked with some major names in speculative fiction, loved his story as well. She offered to represent him IF--yeah, the if is the problem. The middle was weak. He could deal with that. She wanted it changed from 1st person to 3rd, which is time consuming. The more time that went by, the less he worked on it, until he turned to she-who-kept-correcting-his-grammar.

It's been both difficult and rewarding. Then, the other day, my insensitivity--or rather my failure to realize what his insensitivity might be masking--created an explusion in both the writing partnership and the marriage. Working it through as a couple helped us to work it out as a writing team, but this got me thinking of all the would-be novelists I'd heard of who didn't make it as co-authors. And that got me looking for advice from published novelists who had.

Kathleen Baldwin tells us that the first lesson in successfully collaborating is picking the right partner. Follow the link on her page to see what her partner says.

This rather rambling article includes a few words on how the married team of Agnes and Egerton Castle do it.

Holly Lisle gives the good, the bad, and the ugly--ok, mostly the bad and the ugly--in this great How-to on collaborating.

If I find any more links that might be helpful, I'll be sure to update this. Meanwhile, I've got some fiction calling my name.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


...I finished Claimed by Shadow and really rather enjoyed it. With so much info already imparted in the first book, this didn't have long sections that read like a gamer manuel. And already knowing Cassie, I didn't feel like I was missing a reason to like her. Her humanity shined through more and the story was just fun. I plan on getting the third and recommend the series. (Well, you know, so long as you keep in mind what I found to be glitchy about the first and don't come after me about it.)


If I'm going to chronicle my journey from here to there, I have to say where here is, right?

I have:
  • Quinn's Tale (I know, but the other working title is even worse), a practically finished urban fantasy novel with rave reviews from the critique group and beta readers. The end is...less than it should be, though.
  • Becoming, a half finished magic-meets-tech-adventure novel that had been intended for the original Shomi contest.
  • Push, a half finished urban fantasy novel in desperate need of re-plotting.
  • Chaos, a mostly finished urban fantasy novella that just doesn't quite do it for me.
  • ShadowDark, my husband's completely finished novel that he's roped me into rewriting with him. Great story, but the agent interested in it wants it rewritten from 1st person to 3rd, and for the middle to be...tightened.

And that's pretty much it, besides a host of stories that never made it past chapter 3, and a character who keeps poking at me to give her a plot and write her story. I'll get to her, but it feel foolish to launch yet another project with so much left undone.

My problem is making them "not undone". It's not a matter of sitting down and writing--I'm writing now. I write almost daily. What I don't seem to be able to do is get over this block that keeps me eternally on the verge.

But that's why I'm here, right? To get over that. Now, I'm wondering if I'm pretty much alone in this, or if anyone has stumbled upon my humble blog and has a similar problem. Speak up if you're out there.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Welcome to A Writer's Block

The problem with Touch the Dark and Claimed by Shadow by Karen Chance is that she never shows us why her heroine is like us...

How's that for not starting at the beginning?

In the beginning, I posted a comment to a friend's blog and discovered that I was registered. Google had apparently taken my gmail address, added it to the name I use for another site*, and created a blog waiting to happen. I didn't necessarily need a blog; I've been using LiveJournal for years to keep in touch with friends publically and to write a private e-diary, and I use the other site to publish opinion pieces. Yet, an idea had taken seed in my head and it clearly wanted to grow.

A chronicle of my success going from would-be-novelist to novelist, or of my failure--a cautionary tale to keep others from being stuck in place, too.

Like most other things, the idea was procrastinated upon until it looked like I would never do it. As Chance would have it, (bad pun originally not intended, but why write around it?) I'd started re-reading Touch the Dark--a book I hadn't liked all that much--to refresh my memory before giving the second book a shot. I kept thinking, This isn't bad. Was the only problem that I read it right after something that I loved so much more?

I'm a reader on a budget. I want to get plenty of enjoyment out of each book I buy. And I'm a serious fangirl--I like to get as many books from new authors as I can to stimulate their careers (in my own little way) and keep the books rolling in. Lastly, as someone who wants to be where they are, I've got this huge cheerleader mentality. I wanted to like it. It wasn't bad. The opening scene was one of the most attention grabbing that I've seen. So why was the rest of it leaving me flat?

When I figured it out, I took the answer as another lesson in writing, and as a reason to start the blog.

Item. The information dump. Speculative fiction writers have a big challenge in letting the reader in on how their world is different from The World We Know. When done "right", the reader gets a lot of info without feeling force-fed. As it's done in the books question, I wouldn't have been surprised to see sidebars with gaming statistics.

Item. Why should we like her? This is what it really came down to. Touch the Dark is an interesting story with the sort of feisty heroine urban fantasy readers eat up. From the very beginning, we're shown how Cassie Palmer is special. But that's a given. Genre novels are written about characters who either leap into a strange new world, or get dragged, kicking and screaming. They're all special, be they necromancers, werecreatures, vampires or vampire hunters, or relatively regular people with talents. You can't get rid of all the frills--that would just turn paranormal romance into romance, urban fantasy into everything from adventures to chick lit to mysteries. But what makes the characters normal is at least as important as what makes them special. We need that connection to a person to give a damn about the cool powers or thrilling situations.

Now, the trick will be internalizing the lesson for my own work.

.....Or, you know, cleaning up a manuscript and putting it in the mail. It's hard to get published without that.

(Oh, and that other site: dustymoon )