Saturday, August 30, 2008

What Sarah Monette knows about writing

Reading this in Storytellers Unplugged, I thought it was too good to not share.


What do I know about writing?

I know that it’s hard.

I know that if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun.

I know that learn by doing is the only game in town.

I know that the only way out is through. And there aren’t any shortcuts. Anything you think is a shortcut is just going to get you in worse trouble.

I know that most of the cliches of writing advice–write what you know, omit needless words–work better as koans, as meditations, than they do as advice.

I know that fiction is all lies.

I know that you have to tell your lies as if they were truth. Lots of circumstantial evidence and telling details. And conviction.

I know that in the end, it turns out that those lies are all there to point the way toward the truth. Or a truth. Or some truth. If we could just tell the truth straight out, it would save a lot of time.

But on the other hand, telling lies is fun.

I know that even now, when there isn’t so much as a drop of creativity left in me, I’d rather be writing than not.

I know that my creativity will come back–it’s like stalactite formation: slow but inexorable–and that pretty soon the whole gaudy gruesome carousel will start up again.

I know that writing never stops challenging me. And if it ever does, I’ll know I’m doing something wrong.

And I know, even when I hate it as sometimes I do, that writing is the best damn job in the world

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A new blog and books to boot!

I'd never run across Book Binge before, but with their contest to win seven Shomi books, I'm in love already!

Those of you who have followed the opening of A Writer's Block know that I flirted with Shomi's first contest for publication; it wasn't for me, but I still love the idea of fusing "romance, fantasy, sci-fi and everything in between." I've read the first three, Wired, Moongazer, and Driven, the last of which was my favorite. The post-apocalyptic word of Driven captured my imagination a little more than the others, but that's not to say that the reality jumping in the other two novels weren't worth the ride.

Eventually, I'll probably read the entire line of books, but I'm most looking forward to Phenomenal Girl 5, both because I have the privilege of "cyber knowing" the author and because I want to see more of how superheros work in novel format rather than comics. Also, Eve Kenin returns to the world of Driven in her not-quite-sequel Hidden. Will she be able to work her magic on me with new characters? I look forward to finding out!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I had it, and it was brilliant, but I lost it.

The plan was to rush to the computer and jot down the few lingering tidbits of dream that remained, hoping to rebuild it from there. But I thought, "I can hold these fragments while I start the coffee." And then nature called. And now, I sort of still see the back cover...a girl--just a bit too young for the initial thought to be "a woman"--with near buzz cut short red hair besides an older man, both in trench coats and glowing with power, surrounded by dark.

See, I dreamt of a graphic novel...sort of Neil Gaiman meets steampunk in the prelude, and dark gothic by the end. Something jarred me out of deep sleep, and in that forgetful, not truly awake level, one part of my brain wondered about the lingering adventure that turned into a graphic novel even as another part had gone on ahead and focused the writing progress I made last week and what I intend to write today.

Too much was lost by the time the first part realized that it wasn't a story I'd read before, but rather one I could write.

Next time, the coffee and restroom breaks will have to wait.

I feel good about the fact that there will be a next time. And that leads to last weeks progress. From the goal of 7,000 words, I have ::drum roll:: 181. And I'm thrilled. Rather than lamenting about how much I suck and trying to delve deeper into my personal abyss, I feel like I've met the unwritten goal of shocking my system. Think of it as a mental/emotional defibrillator.

There are a lot of reasons why wanna-be novelists stay wanna-be for however long (years, forever). Some of us just aren't novelists. We love to read, perhaps have a bit of the creative spark, and think, "I should do that." And then never do because it's more of a recurring waking dream than a goal. Others never get into the right mind frame and put it off. Doing it after the baby's in school becomes doing it after all the kids are off to college or something. Others get lost along the way. That first attempt gets deleted or put into a drawer...and so does the second attempt, and the third...

And some of us have Issues.

I, friends and neighbors, have Issues. So for me, this isn't a matter of putting it off until later, or thinking that I would like to write but not being a writer. It's like writer's that goes far beyound my fiction, affecting everything from weight to my parenting style. And I do need that occasional dip into the abyss to sort out why I am who I am, and try to fix the bits that seem broken. It's not as simple as "I'll write this many words today."

Setting the goal and making the decision about letting this go if I'm still here in a year got me to understand that I can't. Oh, I'm not taking it back! The decision stands. But writing isn't just something that I do, it's part of who I am, and I never quite got what I meant until it came down to honoring it or losing it forever.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More about doing it...

The previous post's title made a lot more sense when I was planning to write as much about my stalled writing process as about the book being reviewed.

I wrote that hours ago--yesterday, since it's well past midnight. But instead of finishing, I did mommy things. OK, I can't stop being a mother to be a writer. But I watched TV, nothing that I HAD to see. I swept the kitchen floor. I fooled around on Facebook. I had sex. I thought very clever thoughts about the difference between analysis and behavioural psych. I picked up Unleashed and started reading again. (And I could bitch more about how the story's crafted, but it's still a good story. Check it out if you're into YA.)

Now it's ass o'clock in the morning, I can't sleep, and I'm ready to chuck clever for down and dirty. I've done the exercises in The Artist's Way. I've soul searched. I've done...crap. I know all the setbacks and harsh bits of life that got my internal soundtrack stuck on "you're not good enough, you'll never make it." While it's lovely that my best English teacher, a bestselling author, and my own creative heart tell me that I have talent, it's obviously not their voices that I'm heading.

Whatever. This is the point where I stop thinking about, stop trying to work it out, and just start doing.

Seven thousand words a week. I make my commitment here and now, with no bribes to get me to do it, and no punishments if I fail. I'll post a note about hitting or missing target from time to time because this IS supposed to be about my journey for good or ill. But that's it.

Or that's mostly it. If I'm still at it a year from now with nothing to show but not-quite-ready manuscripts, I'm packing it in.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Make like Nike and "Just do it."

When Jackie Kessler posted in Fangs, Fur, and Fey offering up author copies of Hotter Than Hell for bloggers, I jumped at the chance to get a copy. A free book from a new-to-me writer, sent by the author herself? Hell, yeah! Plus, I saw this as step toward perhaps being an official reviewer, as opposed to being any old opinionated reader with internet access.

I had no idea that it would become a part of the psychological jumble that keeps me a would-be novelist.

Kessler sent the book immediately, and jumped right into reading. Only the review writing began and ended in my own mind. I thought about the good, the bad, and the particularly interesting bits, but they never seemed to make it onto the screen. I spew my opinions all the time; this shouldn't be so hard!

Leaving my psyche alone for a bit, I recommend the book. The bad news is that it's the third in the series. The good news is that I was able to follow it without reading the first two, which are written from the point of view of our narrator's former lover.

The problems with book reviews is that there's no way of knowing if someone has similar tastes. I grew up on "classic" fantasy and discovered urban fantasy decades ago, falling in love with stories by Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Pamela Dean and so on. For readers like me, urban fantasy didn't begin with Laurell K. Hamilton (I actually read a discussion where an author pretty much wrote that; I only recently stopped twitching), though we might point to her middle books to trace the time when UF came smashing headlong into paranormal adventure, some how got attached to paranormal romance, and then publishers seemed to decide it was all one big thing.

While that works fine for the publishers, the Internet is littered with uf fans writing, Remember when world building and supernatural elements were much more than window dressing for an impossible relationship that always seems to work out in the end? And paranormal romance readers examine perfectly satisfying stories and wondering why there wasn't enough emphasis on the relationship and what's with the (logical based on everything that's come before) ending.

Hotter than Hell is one of those books that can please readers from both sides of the bookstore isle.

Daunaun is an incubus--a bad guy by default, capturing souls slated for Hell now before they can repent later. It's fun getting the action from his point of view, rather than seeing him through the eyes of his victims. The sex is hot and when he means vulva, he says vulva. There's a lot to enjoy here.

That doesn't mean that the story is perfect. There are three main mysteries in the book: one that is more a curiosity than not, and two that directly effect whether Daun lives or dies. Demons attack and he wonders why in the sort of way that one might wonder why the sky is blue. OK, so maybe he prioritizes differently than I do (me, I'd worry about the guy who's trying to kill me today before I worried about the task that, failing it, might kill me in three days). But getting over that, the answer to the other mystery is so clear to the reader that you start to wonder what the hell is wrong with the narrator. How can he possibly experience the same clues he's relating and not finding that one and one make two?

There were times when that seemed almost too annoying, but the story remained interesting, and the character's growth became a welcomed pay off. Thumbs stars out of 5...I've got to start my own rating system. Meanwhile, add this series to your To Be Read list.

(And I'll blog about my writing dysfunction in just a little bit.)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Rambling thoughts.

Descriptions are important.

I'm supposed to be writing about something else completely, but I've just started reading Kristopher Reisz's Unleashed, and on my way to deciding whether I like it or not, I'm bothered by the lack of descriptions. I guessed immediately what the main character looks like because there's a guy and the girl on the front cover. Be nice to have some sort of description--what if I had a later copy with a different cover...or it had been damanged --but that does for him. And he's got a chick holding him on the front, three other teens in the back. The girl he's with on the cover and one of the guys on the back are black. So this is the group of kids he's with at the start of the book? I mean, his best bud's name is Bwana. Like most people reading it, my initial reaction is "what the heck sort of name is that?" Some others, like me, will immediately assume it is the sort of name certain black parents might give a child as an alterntive to a "slave name." (Just looked it up, by the way. It's Swahili.)

OK, whatever. On page 19, there's Misty toying with her lip ring. Aha! The chick on the cover has a lip ring! And the other two with Bwana are two out of three of his remaining original group? What do the other people in the story look like? ....Oh, but wait. I'd forgotten (totally blanked it until reminded on page 22) that Misty has a brother.

This, of course, is much ado about nothing. I didn't relate well to teens when I was one, I'm a Bostonian and they're in Birmingham...real descriptions sometime soon after the characters were introduced might have helped me not have this total sense of disconnect. But it's interesting enough to keep me reading for a bit.

Maybe tomorrow, I'll write what I should be writing now.