Tuesday, December 18, 2012

THIS WEEK IN "UGLY THINGS"...

...MY WRITING PROCESS

in Ten Steps


Step 1 - Get hit over the head with a killer line, killer scene, or killer description. Write the shit out of it. Rejoice, for life is good and words are easy.

Step 2 - Outline. (head fills with the sound of droning and grinding. sometimes it smokes)

Step 3 - Write the story from the outline in measured increments (either scenes, chapters or word count goals). During this process, I keep picking up the damp towel under which I've hidden the Shiny New Idea that hooked me to keep myself inspired. Also, to make sure it's still alive.

Step 4 - 90% of the way to completion, wade through the existing story with a dull axe and a steak knife, hacking and slashing. Repeat this for too long. Glue the pieces back together. Proceed.

Step 5 - Crank out the ending. Rejoice. Then, from 24 to 48 hours after completion, wallow. There is no version of spent like the thin, sad version felt after finishing a book.

Step 6 - Edit. Smooth and polish, attacking my weak points* with extreme prejudice.

Step 7 - Send to beta readers. (paint smile on face and apply filter to online communications so that I appear cheerful and confident when inside I am ill)

Step 8 - Take grain of salt in preparation for next steps.

Step 9 - Review criticism** and revise as necessary. Some remarks can be erased as though they were never made. That's fine. But others must be addressed. Revise, polish, spell check and remove all flagged comments.

Step 10 - Wrap in a warm synopsis and a sparkling query and send into the world.



*Weak points vary from writer to writer. Sometimes dialogue is stilted or emotional interchanges feel false. Those must be seen plumped until the pop or feel genuine. Plot threads may be introduced in abundance, but then left to wilt. Those must be weeded out.

**If your readers return nothing but praise, find new readers.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

THURSDAY - DINNER EDITION

Later, after she had finally rinsed the sriracha from her eye, she would reflect that she needed to be more vigilant in the kitchen. Then her eye, even as it continued to burn and throb and weep, wandered toward a recipe for Thai hot pepper noodles, and she knew this would not be the last time she upended a shotglass of milk onto her own face.

Fin

Also, Ow

Monday, December 10, 2012

COVER REVEAL: CARNIEPUNK EDITION


If I knew what baited breath was, I could confirm that I have been suffering from it while waiting for the CARNIEPUNK cover to be revealed. The lineup for the CARNIEPUNK anthology is stellar, and the glimpses I've had into the other author's concepts and stories has had me squeeing regularly for the last few months.

So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the moment you've all been waiting for - CARNIEPUNK.

The cover will be up exclusively at All Things Urban Fantasy for a few days, to allow readers to browse the contributing author bios at their leisure. The book is available now for pre-order at a number of sites (links on my books page), and it will be released July 30, 2013 both in paperback and as an e-book.

Friday, December 7, 2012

INSPIRATION BY DEFAULT

I've been going through a rare and very lucky phase lately wherein pretty much everything I see inspires me. Of course, this may be because I'm writing about crime, the loss of individuality and the future.

Alternatively, it could be because winter is my creative time. Outside it's dark and unbelievably cold, so there are no enticing distractions there. Inside, all I want to do is cozy up with a book, even if I have to write it before it can entertain me.

I wonder if other people write because they want to read something specific but haven't been able to find it in the vast marketplace. I wonder if there are true creative seasons, or times, or places. I wonder if I blog every time I'm faced with a knotted plot point and am too lazy to put the time into unwinding it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

HAPPY HAPPY

Happy Thanksgiving to all...even those who celebrated it weeks ago and those who don't.

I'm all about great food and reflection (though not my own reflection following a bounty of good eats), so this may be my ideal holiday. This year I'm thankful for good health and opportunities. To more of the first and making the most of the second!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

HEY LOOK, A BOOK!

I'm super pleased to announce, on behalf of my pen name, the release of RUNNING IN THE DARK from Carina Press. It's available now in e-book and audiobook format (details on my books page, and here).



Warning: contains fast cars, disgusting monsters, the undiscovered successor to makeup sex, the confusing truth about seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, and feelings.

Monday, October 15, 2012

AW BLOG CHAIN: GET THEE BEHIND ME

This month's AbsoluteWrite blog chain prompt was simply irresistible: Otherworldly. Usually I write urban fantasy, but I wanted something a little stranger than the usual. So, of course, I wrote a Western. The story is less than a thousand words, and the other blog participants are listed at the end - I encourage you to check them out. There are some wonderful words being presented this month!


Get Thee Behind Me, Get Thee Beside Me


            “Come on, Ponce,” Mira said, tugging again on the coarse lead. The mule dug all four hooves into the sand and laid his white-tipped ears back. He was done, and Mira could hardly blame him. The crumbling trail stretched on and on until it arrived in the town of Dalton, a startling patch of green on the red dust plain. Right now, if she were to hold up her hand, it would disappear under her thumb.
            “We’re not going all the way tonight, bonehead.” Behind them the sun hung low, dripping fire onto the horizon. “But we’re also not sleeping this close to the mountains.”
            After a spell, the mule acquiesced. The small wagon creaked along, and Mirasol’s bones ached in sympathy. A day spent digging clay out of the not-quite-dry lakebed had been harder than she’d anticipated.
            She guided Ponce into a depression beneath a dune and unhooked him from the wagon. Red clay cracked and fell from the hem of Mira’s dress as she set to making a fire. It was no wonder Honaw had sent her instead of coming himself. The apothecary’s mind was twisted by his craft, but he must have known he was too old for this task. And why should he be bothered with physical labors when he had an able and willing apprentice?
            Mira settled onto a blanket, idly rubbing at patches of dried clay on her legs and arms. Normally, this time of night, Honaw – if he was in the mood – would tell her stories. Tales of brave warriors, pining spirits and bloodthirsty skinwalkers.
            She pretended she wasn’t scared, so far from town. She pretended she wasn’t lonely.

            She woke to the feel of a weight climbing her leg and just stopped herself from reaching for it. No telling what was slithering about the desert at night. A small red blob slid over the top of her knee. She blinked. Another followed the first. A round thing appeared between the blobs. A face, more or less. A ridge protruded over glass-shard eyes. It had no mouth.
            “Hello,” Mira said.
            It hefted itself up until half a pound of red clay creature stood on her leg. Its head rested on a plump middle section. Beneath that, its four legs were made of twigs. She sat up slowly. Where it had been caked with clay, her dress was now clean. On the other side of the fire, Ponce stomped and whinnied. The clay creature swiveled its head to face the mule, then swiveled it back.
            “Don’t worry about him,” Mira said, to the creature, and the mule, and herself.
            It turned, revealing a scorpion tail drooping from its backside.
            “Isn’t that lovely.”
            It seemed to inflate at the compliment. Mira swallowed. Honaw had said the clay was special. She hadn’t thought to ask how. The creature walked to her hand, resting on her thigh. One leg stretched out and scratched at the padded flesh beneath her thumb.
            “What are you-” She inhaled sharply when it scratched again. A line of blood rose to the surface of her skin. The clay body spread so it could lower, spider-like, over the scratch. It bent its head and began to suckle. Its entire body rippled with each pull.
            Ponce stomped again, and this time his whinny was quiet. Mira couldn’t take her eyes from the creature even as the sound of hoof beats neared. “Little creature, you must hide.” Its body contracted as her fingers closed around it. Its eyes shone brighter and its flesh flushed darker as she slipped it into a pocket above her waist.
            She stood as the horses appeared atop the dune, two roans and a bay. The rider of the bay wore a black coat and hat, and silver flashed from his seams and brim.
            “Miss Mirasol Sombra.” His voice rumbled with good humor.
            “Marshal Paulie.” The creature squirmed, its legs – or maybe tail – scratching at the fabric between her body and its.
            “Whatever are you doing out here, alone, at night?”
            She didn’t answer as he rode around the berm and dismounted, his deputies following suit quietly. They didn’t look at her, instead surveying the wagon, then cautiously plucking apart the drawstrings of the sacks. Ponce jogged in place, tossing his head.
            “Thought he could get away with it, did he?” The marshal laughed. He was jovial for a man of the Order, guarding the line between humans and spirits. He pointed at the wagon. “You know what this is?”
            “It’s clay, sir.” The creature scratched at her, in that soft area between ribs and pelvis, and she struggled not to squirm. She had an idea, not a complete idea but the beginnings of one, of what Honaw might have wanted the clay for.
            “He thought nobody would notice you off scavenging. Clever bugger.” He approached her, a wide man with the arrogant strut of badged authority. “You know what a golem is, Miss Sombra?”
            “No.”
            “It’s a monster. Not like the dark spirits that haunt these hills. It’s worse, fashioned by a man’s own greed. It’s got no soul so it can’t be exorcised. It’s got no heart so it can’t be killed by regular means.”
            The deputies tossed the sacks onto the ground and pulled machetes from their saddlebags. They stoked the fire, breaking wood from the wagon and tossing it on top until the flames climbed high.
            “What’re you doing?”
            “You didn’t hear what I said? This clay is already transforming. We’re here to restore the natural order.”
            Behind the Rule Man, the deputies chopped off bits of clay and tossed them into the fire where they hissed and shrieked.
            “Your master give you any other chores, Miss Sombra?” Paulie asked, all humor gone. “Anything else I ought to know about?”
            The creature pressed its little hands against her skin, and shivered.
            “No, sir.”
            “Well, get on your way back to Dalton then, girl. Get thee to safety.”

Participants and posts:
Ralph Pines: http://ralfast.wordpress.com/
randi.lee: http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com
Aranenvo: http://www.simonpclark.com
pyrosama: http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com
hilaryjacques: YOU ARE HERE
meowzbark: http://erlessard.wordpress.com

slcboston: http://fleasof1000camels.blogspot.com 
areteus: http://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com 
bearilou: http://theglassopossum.wordpress.com 
dolores haze: http://dianedooley.wordpress.com 
SuzanneSeese: http://viewofsue.blogspot.com 
bmadsen: http://hospitaloflife.wordpress.com 
Linda Adams: http://garridon.wordpress.com 
Alynza: http://www.alynzasmith.blogspot.com 
Orion mk3: http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com 
BBBurke: http://awritersprogression.blogspot.com 
SRHowen: http://srhowen1.blogspot.com 
Damina Rucci: http://thegraypen.wordpress.com 
CJMichaels: http://christinajmichaels.blogspot.com 
wonderactivist: http://luciesmoker.wordpress.com 
Lady Cat: http://carolsrandomness.blogspot.ca 
xcomplex: http://arielemerald.blogspot.com 
debranneelliot: http://www.debragrayelliott.blogspot.com


Indisputable Favorite Thing Ever

I freaking love this. Might have to take a day off to watch it on repeat...or a week off.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

5 QUESTIONS: ANSWERING READER QUESTIONS

While these questions weren't specifically posed to me, they did lead Internet users to my blog - how, in some cases, I have no idea - so I will do my best to answer them. Please note that I am not an expert in all of these fields.

Question 1: Why are you so vain.

Answer: I will answer this as if it were a question, even though the punctuation denies that. Also, who uses punctuation in Internet searches?

It's probably because, over the years, I've been conditioned by this long-running Q and A I have with a mirror, mirror on the wall. Now that my vanity has been brought to my attention, I will work on it. I may also cover the mirror and/or attempt to explore other dialogue with it. It's likely just as bored with our relationship as I am.

Question 2: Where I can download [enter name of popular video game] for free/torrent?

Answer: I suggest you begin your search here.

Question 3: Why do books have to end?

Answer: I suppose that's the nature of a story, to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Though, the larger the story, the more cosmically drawn-out these sections are, making it impossible for mere mortal humans such as ourselves to comprehend some stories.* So, because some stories will continue to survive and possibly grow after we're gone, it's as though they are infinite. A matter a perspective.

Question 4: What's the Dread Pirate Roberts costume made of?

Answer: Presumably you are referring to the one worn by Fezzik (as portrayed by Andre the Giant) when he is storming the castle in the guise of the Dread Pirate Roberts (contemporary incarnation being Westley). The costume consists of The Albino's wheelbarrow and the Holocaust Cloak given to Fezzik by Miracle Max.

Question 5: Is Iceland made of ise (sic)?

Answer: Yes. Ice and volcanoes. And it's guarded by a fearsome flotilla of narwhals.

*I assume here that you are human, as you most likely assume that I am human.

Monday, October 8, 2012

WRITING AROUND FEAR

This post is inspired by the comment Caryn Caldwell (thanks!) left on my prior post suggesting that aspiring authors often avoid writing rather than face their fear of it. I'm using fear in a general sense here. Other words that may apply include:
  • Apprehension
  • Worry
  • Embarrassment
  • and Doubt, Doubt, Doubt
I assume that most of us start writing fiction because we want to read something we cannot find on the family bookshelves or at the local library, or because we want to take a favorite story further (some day I'll tell you about my Terminator fan fiction. It's probably the best shit I've ever written), or because we have this desire to communicate outside of the parameters of regular, daily conversations.

So then why do we stop a hundred or a thousand words into a novel? Why can we complete chapters one through three, but always shy away from starting chapter four?

It's because of all those things above. In our minds we have these splendid, sprawling, Important stories filled with impassioned characters and meaningful conflicts. And then we look at the words on the page and they don't match.

And you worry whether you will ever, with your hands and your vocabulary, be able to do justice to the scenes in your mind. For comfort, you fall back into a favorite story written by a favorite author, that one where you've memorized the lines and dog-eared the book and can see, really see, the story unfolding. And you doubt you'll ever get to that level, where you can inspire the same sort of absorption and urgency in the reader.

And you're afraid.

I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter. No, in that first foray into writing, you most likely won't be able to do justice to the stories in your head. The brain is a marvelous and powerful thing, but she's stingy with what she'll let you take from her. A good description here, a great line of dialogue there. But you have to sweat and bleed to fill in the words around those. There is no magical inspiration, no muse feeding you words so that you feel like a conduit for brilliance.

Writing isn't easy.

It's not easy for you. It wasn't easy for your favorite author, either. But then, what is? Did you drive like Steve McQueen in Bullet the first time you got behind the wheel of a car? Did you score a goal the first time you stepped onto a soccer field? Did you bake a perfect cake the first time you cracked an egg?

No? Good. Then this will be a little easier.

You might never lose the (general) fear of writing. But the only way to get close to being the writer you want to be is to keep trying. Keep writing. Expose yourself to critiques. Twist that gear inside your ego that allows you to find the valuable comments in critiques and revise accordingly. Read critically. Repeat.

Don't sit in front of the keyboard telling yourself that you're going to write a Great Novel. Settle in with the idea that you're going to tell a good story. If it's not good after the first draft, take some time away, then come back and fix it.

The words are not absolute, no matter how long it took you to write them.

They belong to you and must bend to your will. Mix them up like Scrabble tiles if you have to and use the individual letters to build a better story.

I don't have a cure for fear. I believe that every author, even the most successful, still feels it from time to time, if not always. But I do believe there are cures for bland writing, and that those cures are persistence and the ability to revise and reinvent.

What am I missing? What other cures and tonics and, dare I ask, ointments are out there for writers?

Monday, October 1, 2012

5 TOOLS FOR PRODUCTIVE WRITING


I constantly hear the complaint/lamentation that aspiring authors don't have enough time to write. That, because of [insert time-eating thingie(ies) here] they cannot possibly finish a story or meet a word count.

Following are five tools/tips/mindsets that will help you to be more productive. Not everybody is the same, so your mileage may vary, and if these tips don't work for you, I encourage you to find your own. Five - just a handful - of things that will help you to write.

1. Cut Yourself Off. I am not referring to a trick in which you put yourself into a box and then appear to - or actually - sever your body in the middle. No matter how inspirational it might be in those first few minutes, the blood loss will eventually dampen your stamina.

Remove yourself from distractions, especially the Internet. Keeping in touch, up to the second, with everyone in the world isn't actually imperative. The planet will keep spinning if you take an hour off.

For those of you, like me, who may be physically unable to keep from clicking, try FREEDOM. It works on both Mac and PC. If you're addicted to another device, you may be on your own. The first few times you use it, you'll probably rock back and forth or chew your nails to the quick as you discover the depths of your Internet addiction. After that, it'll clear the tempting clutter and allow you to write. Best $10 I ever spent. (So far, I've taken three Internet breaks while writing this post)

2. Strong Like Bull! Most of us have to steal time to write - from social obligations, from our recommended eight hours of sleep, from other optional time expenditures such as Castle reruns and exercise.

Don't skip the exercising. At first, it won't matter. You won't notice the half pound that creeps up over the course of the week, the tightness in the back or the aches in the shoulders. Six months down the road, you'll find you can't get comfortable when sitting at the computer. A year along the way, you'll  have weaker core muscles, resulting in worse posture and radiating aches and pains.

I've been writing nearly every day for three years now. This is in addition to a full-time desk job. Exercise, I've found, is essential to making it another three years. If you aren't keen on going to the gym or if, like me, the outdoors is prohibitive for months at a time, find some things you can do at home. I bought five 20- and 30- minutes exercise videos for a few dollars each. I dislike one of them, but rotate the other four. Everyone can spare 20-30 minutes from their day to keep their bodies strong. Despite all my sci fi reading, it appears that, at this point in human history, we're only getting the one body.

3. Surround Yourself with the Soothing Sounds of... Silence or noise, take your pick. I have to write in silence, so I invested in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Others need a movie or music playing in the background. Figure out what works best for you, and get attuned to it.

4. Blinders. This wasn't a problem before I started researching agents and fiction-publishing periodicals, before I started looking at the business of publishing and networking with professionals and other writers. What did I discover? That, no matter what you've accomplished or suffered on any given day, something better or worse is happening to someone else.

You got a flash piece accepted in a magazine? So-and-so got a "Significant" deal with a major publisher. You snarked at someone on Twitter? Writer X had a profanity-laden meltdown on Facebook. E-book sales are up? Paperback sales are plummeting. You sent a query to Agent Y? She pointed out an error-ridden query on Tumblr.

These things happen every day and paying attention to each event does nothing to help your book get written. Nothing. Sure, there are some good tips slipped in amongst all the agony and the ecstasy, but you don't need to be monitoring the pulse of publishing to get those lessons.

Disengage from the drama and focus on the thing that matters first and foremost in publishing: writing a damn fine story.

5. LOVE. It sounds hokey, but it's true. This business will test you in ways you couldn't have anticipated, unless you've worked in the arts before. You will learn like mad. You will be awed and made dreadfully envious by the works of other writers. You will adore and despise your characters and stories in equal measure. You will look at the nights and weekends you gave up for a story that will live  in a box under the bed rather than on the shelf of bookstores around the world.

You will be hurt. You will want to give up. And, once you reach a certain point, you'll be drawn back to the words again and again. It will appear that you have a masochistic flaw in your brain and, hell, maybe you do. But, embrace it. Embrace the compulsion and learn to love the process of writing. Not just those first magical 10,000 words or the words "The End" stuck to a sloppy first draft.

Learn to love revision, snipping and spackling. Learn to love criticism that, though it might burn, will make the story bigger, bolder and tighter. Write for the love of the story and not toward the earmarks of "success", and this road will be a lot less painful to walk. Or run. Or fly over.

(Six Internet breaks were taken during the writing of this post)

Friday, September 21, 2012

A WRITER'S DEFINITIONS

I must write for two hours each day or I go insane.

Definitions:

Insane - Uncontrollably angry. Dangerously distracted. Prone to muttering to self in unintelligible, quick fashion that may cause others to believe I am speaking in tongues. Moving in response to thoughts unrelated to my own physical condition.

Two - Anywhere between one and six.

Write - Making pictures in my head. Sometimes the pictures move. Sometimes they talk. Sometimes they hurt one another, or are already hurt when they arrive. Often I crunch the pictures up like pieces of paper and squeeze them until they run down my neck and through my arms to dribble out of my fingers. When I'm working well, I can reconstitute the pictures into words in a way that "looks" like they did in my head. When I'm not working well, it's all stick figures with bad attitudes and nothing interesting to say.

Must - Bound by an imperative, essential requirement and obligation to myself.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

COME ONE, COME ALL: ANNOUNCING CARNIEPUNK!

I'm absolutely giddy to announce that my short story, Recession of the Divine, will be included in CARNIEPUNK, an anthology "which combines the carnival setting and the world of urban fantasy, a place of deception, where monsters wait silently in the dark.

The other contributors include (y'all ready for this?):

  • Rachel Caine
  • Jennifer Estep
  • Seanan McGuire
  • Rob Thurman
  • Delilah Dawson
  • Kelly Gay
  • Kevin Hearne
  • Mark Henry
  • Jackie Kessler
  • Kelly Meding
  • Allison Pang
  • Nicole Peeler
  • Jaye Wells


Some back story on how this project came to be on Kevin Hearne's website

The anthology will be released from Pocket in August, 2013. From the hints I've seen, these stories are going to be CRAZY.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

ISN'T IT ABOUT...TIME?

Earlier this week I noticed that two of the stoplights on my morning commute had been retimed, possibly adjusting to the different traffic pattern that comes with school starting.

It occurred to me, as I sat there, panicking and trying to figure out how I was going to make up the 2.8 minutes I'd lost, that I might be a little too busy for my own good at the moment. :/

Thursday, August 23, 2012

THE 96TH HOUR


My best moments are 48 and 96 hours after I've finished a story. Not 48 to 96 hours, but rather at 48 and 96 hours. Not on the dot, which is usually around 1 a.m., but close.

Immediately after finishing a story - drafting, redrafting, editing, receiving critiques, fixing according to critiques, then taking a deep breath and hitting send - I'm wiped. Like, draped boneless across a piece of furniture, chirping intermittently to myself.

24 hours later, I'm functional but a bit sad - finishing a story always leaves me in a bit of a funk. And then, around hour 48, while picking up the pieces of my life that have gotten dusty and/or moldered while I was working, ideas start creeping into my brain.

They look around, measure the windows for treatments and pick their rooms. They invite guests. They make themselves comfortable.

They are rarely new. Most stories I've at least glimpsed before I begin writing. A moment with a character here, a dramatic scene there. Some are already half told, in need of continuation, climax or resolution.

Then begins the outline. This is a frantic period characterized by aching hands and giddy insomnia. Then, around the 96th hour, I begin to write.

It is, I think, hour 96. Again.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

ALASKA TIME: HIKING, GOLD PANNING, TAXIDERMY

Yesterday was my employer's summer picnic. Going outside this summer has been a dicey proposition since the weather has been less than agreeable. The day turned out just fine. The food and company were great and since we were in Alaska, it was of course beautiful.

 On the trail at Crow Creek Mine

Scouting hiding sites in case the ring wraiths came along.

Collecting my GOLD. Actually it was more like gold.

This taxidermied lynx head is So Happy To See You!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

MANGOS! SECRETS!! HAMSTER CAPTAINS!!!

Sorry about all the exclamation points. It's been awhile since I've blogged and my perspective is askew.

Productive day has been productive.

After day jobbe, grocery shopping and a picnic dinner with the child, I made a boatload* of mango salsa, worked on Sekrit Projekt** and read a bit from a book that actually made me laugh out loud***.

And tomorrow I'm going gold panning. Hear that? Real life gold panning. With a freaking pan and EVERYTHING****. Wish me luck!


*A very small boat, perhaps large enough for a hamster captain and a small crew of voles. They're very efficient. Hence the joke: "How many voles does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" Answer: "Only one. They're very efficient." I did not say it was a good joke.

**Very soon to be UnSekrit Projekt. :D

***The last time a book made me laugh out loud, I was on an airplane and trying very hard to be quiet and unobtrusive. So of course I started choking, which made me squirm and spasm, and I nearly ended up with my seatmate's wallet in my mouth. Turns out it looked as though I was having a particularly violent seizure.

****I have no idea what else is involved. Gold, I guess. And some water, maybe.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

PLEASE HELP ME LOVE YOUR BOOK: A PLEA FROM A READER TO ASPIRING AUTHORS

I critiqued a novel for a new author last year. It was military science fiction, which I read steadily but not frequently, and had some unique attributes. The author was enamored of these unique elements, so much so that - while the first chapter opened with battle - we spent several pages watching his gaze drift lovingly over the individual parts of his war machines. In a movie, this would have been a musical montage laid over scenes discolored to indicate they belonged to someone's memories, and would have taken 10 seconds. It takes significantly longer than 10 seconds to read three pages, especially when they are laden with layers of minute detail.

This battle scene was told by a single perspective, a commander dealing with strong emotions due to something bad happening in the past and then - after we see a fight but have no idea who is battling who, or why, or whether this is a daily skirmish or The Final Battle - more strong emotions after a few of her troops are killed.

I advised the author that, while there was some tension and drama, the opening was not engaging. I didn't know this person, and while I made polite, sympathetic noises in my head, I didn't care about what she was going through. And the disproportionate way in which he'd focused on his mental inventions made me feel as though we were seeing the full footage for an upcoming advertisement, before it was edited down to a sleek, sexy 30-second spot.

He dismissed my comments, saying that, because I didn't read more in the genre, I couldn't understand and therefore wasn't a useful beta reader*.

Eyebrows rose.

My comments weren't critical because I was giving him a didactic assessment. They were the criticisms of someone who likes to enjoy what she reads, and there were ways to make it more enjoyable. Hundreds of thousands of books are published in the U.S. each year. That's new books, adding on to the MILLIONS already available. How do readers select their next read? Sometimes by word of mouth, purchasing a novel because a trusted source suggested they do so. More often, the reader picks a title up or clicks on it online, opens it and reads the first few pages.

My takeaway from the first chapter I read? Something happened featuring unique machines and it upset a character.

What I wanted to find? Something happened and it upset me. 

Not that I'm going through life looking to be wounded by fictional people, but I want to engage. I want to be drawn in and made to care. And yes, I want that from the beginning. Even after I've purchased a book, I am so busy that if something inside of that story doesn't plant a hook and maintain a connection, I might never pick it back up. That's even easier with an e-reader where there's no physical reminder that pages await. And that connection is independent of the genre. I often give books outside of my go-to genres more time to grab hold of me, because the fact that I'm stumbling is generally due to my lack of experience, not poor writing.

Sometimes stories aren't engaging through no fault of the author. Reading is entirely subjective. One reader might be on their third copy of a book since they re-read the first two until the binding surrendered and the pages fell out. Another might not be able to remember if she even read the book collecting dust on a shelf.

That's fine.

But, dear aspiring authors of the world, please don't refuse to give readers a chance to fall in love with your stories. That leaves us all poorer.

*Someone who reads in order to give constructive feedback rather than a pleasure reader.

Monday, July 16, 2012

DARKNESS AND CLARITY


Since shortly after I began writing for publication, around the time in fact that I began receiving edit letters, I became exceedingly aware that vagueness could be a Very Bad Thing.

This hadn’t occurred to me as a writer. Before I wrote (meaning actually finished stories and wondered if someone else might pay me to print them), I existed as a reader. I encountered vagueness but it was in finished books, so I could wonder or marvel or gripe at it, but I couldn’t change anything. It was what it was…speaking of vagueness.

Now I have a better sense of whether an author is vague on purpose. If a character’s dim past is mentioned three times but never revealed, for instance, I’m going to call that a choice. I won’t always be right.

When you’re slogging through the valley of a story, you know what came before – though you can no longer see it – and you have an idea of what should be coming up – though it doesn’t always pan out as planned. So Writer Me (or Writer You, in your case) finishes a story, dusts off and climbs out of the valley, thinking I’ve written something in which A happens so B happens while C is occurring, at which point either D or E must occur – and if it’s D we’re all hosed and if it’s E, then we’ll all party like it’s carnivale meets Mardi Gras (insert action and smexiness as necessary). And that’s when the strangest and most terrifying thing of all happens.

People read the story. 

That’s the terrifying part. The strange part is that they come back to Writer Me and say, “What a great/awful/slightly frenetic story of L happening, then M occurring, followed by a great big B, then a lovely little J – however did you think of it?” And I have no answer because I’m frantically scrolling through the manuscript trying to figure out what the hell this person read. Also, I’m jealous because that story sounds far more awesome than what I wrote.

So how does a writer make sure they story she wrote is the story that will be read? The simple answer is that she can’t. Reading is subjective, and while it’s difficult to skew “Dick and Jane run” – even with a plethora of personal experience in Dicks, Janes or running – it become easier the more characters, situations, backgrounds and variables are introduced into a story. And that’s where the challenge lies.

Certain events or elements must be clear in order for the story to make sense.

The reader has to know that Batman was born Bruce Wayne. 

The reader has to understand the simple pleasures of daily life in the Shire. 

The reader has to know that magic and tech are at odds daily, and sometimes hourly, in Atlanta.

The rest of the story is darkness and clarity. The reader will identify things known to him: certain pop culture references, the taste of unripe grapefruit, how it feels to stand at a bus stop in the rain for so long that you become sure you’re never going to be picked up. And the reader’s mind will fill in the gray areas, whether they are left intentionally or not.

An intentional gray area would be the motivations of the character Mr. Wednesday in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Does he wish good or ill on Shadow, the protagonist? The readers don’t get to step inside Mr. Wednesday’s mind, but we do get to ride about in Shadow’s, and therefore this gray area concerns us. Some readers believe he’s rotten to the core. Others have sympathy for him…I won’t spoil it, but there’s a compelling argument for sympathy.

A potentially unintentional gray area might be the environment. Most of my stories take place in winter. I know what 32 degrees Fahrenheit (freezing point) feels like on bare skin. Many people do. I also know what -50 degrees feels like. I would hazard that most people don’t. I could state the temperature and move on, or I could describe it: the sharp touch and instant shivering; the way that exposed muscles try to curl in on themselves to escape it; how deep the piercing sting of being dropped in lukewarm water after being outside for too long.

Is the temperature important? It’s omnipresent and potentially fatal, so if my characters go outside – and they do, those crazy kids – it’s important.

So vagueness isn’t always bad. Sometimes the details are unnecessary. Sometimes the mystery is intriguing. I’m more aware now of which elements need to be clear to tell the story I intend, which the readers are likely to be able to fill in themselves, and which may require some additional description. Rooms are my nemesis, which is a bit pathetic on my part, but there it is.

I’ve been told I have “white room syndrome”, a terrible affliction in which the places my characters exist are known only to me. I’m working on it. I keep paint and molding and stairs in a little shack in my storytelling valley. It’s a shanty really, a single story of roughhewn wood, with a blackened stovepipe that’s been hammered nearly flat on the south side. Can you see it?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

SPECULATION TIME!

What's that old fantasy? If I had a million dollars...

If I had a million dollars...I'd probably put most of it into a retirement account, because I'm paranoid and frugal.

But if I had another million dollars or two (why limit it to one if this is a speculative fantasy), I'd probably fly around the world, following phenomenal meals people are tweeting about. So, you know, if I follow you, be sure to make a little extra. And let me know what to bring.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

TBR MADNESS

There are sooooo many fantastic July releases coming up.



And this after a healthy June, and with an amazeballs August on the way.



However shall I keep up???

Monday, June 11, 2012

DERAILED: OR HOW I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT MARRIAGE AND ENDED UP TALKING ABOUT DEMONS AND MOPS

There are two unique hemispheres to my brain. Not the right and left. Everybody has those for the most part. I'm talking about the plotting and the pantsing parts. And, here's the trick, one lives inside the other, and yet I swear they are of equal strength. If you look at my brain, you'll see one brain-shaped thingie with no seams. That's the plotting brain. Inside of that, like a floating kidney, is the Pantsing Brain. It's the part that nods and smiles while Plotting Brain explains what we're about to do, then dekes and makes a run for unknown territories at the first opportunity. It's the Leroy Jenkins of invented human organs.

Want an example? I was going to do a post about how strange the convention of marriage is, how much effort goes into making it work and the final advantages of it. I may have been led astray.

* * *

Marriage is one of the oddest conventions I can think of. I understand the purpose of it, the reasons behind common-type law marriages, before the rituals and various authorities got involved, with their blessings and their licenses. But the mechanics, the actual meat and bones of the thing, are strange.

If someone came up to me on the street and asked if I wanted to spend most of the rest of my life with him and whatever collection of strangers he might have revolving around him - sight unseen, mind you - I would most likely say no. Because that's fucking insane.

Unless that man was Zachary Quinto, in which case I'd think that he seemed like an interesting fellow who was probably surrounded by lots of interesting people, and I might agree, but more out of curiosity than dedication.

I once read (I think this was Joseph Campbell or, if it wasn't, I was reading The Power of Myth at the same time I read this) that marriage isn't simply two people uniting. It is, by the act of agreeing to get married, the creation of a third thing. You make your vows, but those vows aren't just promises to each other. They're promises to the marriage itself.

"I take you in sickness and in health" means that I won't let the marriage wither and die just because you ate all that bad crab meat and fell ill, then developed a secondary infection that became permanent, and then your hair fell out  - not because the crab meat was bad but because you're actually allergic to it - and so now you have endless diarrhea and mangy hair.

Where was I going with this?

Oh, yes. So, when I stay with my spouse through these bad times (that was a hypothetical. our crab-eating has never had dire consequences), I'm sustaining the marriage. Sacrificing to it, I think Campbell (or whoever) said. Like there is this invisible, shivering presence over in the corner behind the recliner, and each day that the spouses stay together it becomes more substantial. Growing more powerful on the mutual sacrifice. Or maybe it starts off substantial, a warmth surrounding the shared home that glows brightly and once just before nightfall. But, if it's forgotten, then it darkens and dissipates. And then one day, you've got the Swiffer out and it swiffs up a pile of ash behind the recliner and the marriage is over. The two spouses are intact (having survived the crab incident), but the third thing - that entity you created through the exchange of words - has died.

Alternatively, I suppose it would be possible to give too much to the marriage, taking too little for yourself. You will become aware of this when your sister stops by to check out the kitchen remodel and leans in and says, "Who's that hairy bloke eating turkey legs on the divan?" And you look over and realize the bloke wiping his greasy mouth on the curtains is your marriage, bloated and smug, and that it's your needs and dreams that you've been swiffing up for the last few years and, by God, perhaps it's time to put that fucker on a diet.

Confused?

Allow me to sum up:

1. Marriage is an odd thing.
2. Marrying creates a third entity which may or may not come from a demon realm, sparking into existence through the conjuring magic of vows.
3. If "swiffs" isn't a verb, it should be.

Any questions?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

WEEKENDS IN THE WILD - GLACIER EDITION

Following a work week full of sluggish computer systems, long meetings in static conference rooms and the piped-in stench of hot tar (a large building was being roofed across the street), we took off for Seward (Kenai Peninsula, Alaska) on Friday evening.

The just sub-three hour drive was a bit rough on the already-tired four year old, despite the lakes and waterfalls and freaking gigantor moose we passed. Seriously, the moose on the Peninsula have been eating their Wheaties, and possibly other moose (who have also been eating their Wheaties).

Saturday was gorgeous and, rather than bury our heads in our laptops and iPhones or strap on the Wii controller, we did this:

 Rock-walking outside the Alaska Sea Life Center

 On the path to Exit Glacier

 The edge of Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier wash-out

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

IT'S ALRIGHT, I'M A WRITER

I took Memorial Day weekend off.

This was momentous because I work every night and every weekend - on top of my full-time job - and have for so many months now that I can't remember the last time I took three days off. Or two. Or one.

I had a great time. Walked in the sun. Ate some fabulous food as well as a suspect serving of potted duck (not recommended, even if you love potted meat and especially if you love duck). Caught up with old friends. Drank quite a lot of absinthe (just the legal kind, don't get too excited).

It was an exhausting weekend, partially because I flew twice and slept little, but mostly because of how often I interacted. With real, live humans. I forget sometimes, when I'm buried up to my neck in my laptop, that writing is about conveying realistic experiences. Even if you're writing fantasy, sci fi or any other kind of speculative fiction.

If the interactions don't ring true, the reader won't follow. And if the interactions aren't unique, just recycled scenes from the myriad books you've read, they likely won't sell.

So, with three full days of people-watching sloshing through my brain, I'm back at it with new material.

How do you recharge? Where do you find your inspiration?

Monday, May 21, 2012

WHEN, IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS, YOUR CHILD FORSAKES YOU FOR AN ALTERNATE HISTORY OF HIS OWN CREATION

Setting: At the grocery store, with the four year old in the cart (also one of the more bizarre answers you can get at the game of Clue).

Kid: I'm a new boy.

Me: Do you want olives, new boy?

Kid: Yes.

Me: So what makes you new?

Kid: I've never been to Earth before. This is my first time.

Me: Do you want regular Goldfish or parmesan Goldfish, tiny Oshkosh-clad extraterrestrial?

Kid: Regular. I'm from Saturn. I'm here for work. I'm going home in three days.

Me: What's your home like?

Kid: It's painted green, and there are no baby things in my room, and my parents are like you. They have the same hair as you.

Me: How do you get back and forth?

Kid: I fly through space. In a giant bar of soap.

Me: 'Cause it's biodegradable?

Kid: Yes. Can I get a new one here?

Me: A new soap rocket? Maybe in sporting goods.

Kid: I like it here. I like meeting people. And eating olives. But I can't wait to go back to my home country.

Me: Planet. Saturn's a planet.

Then we go to check out, where a woman who had been trailing us down the aisle congratulated him - a foreigner - on having such a good English accent. She was, unfortunately, serious.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

NEXT-DAY OBSERVATION



You know those breathalyzers you can install in your car so that the ignition locks when you blow above a certain level? Twitter needs those.

The end.

Monday, May 7, 2012

INTERVIEW WITH PARANORMAL ROMANCE AUTHOR TIFFANY ALLEE


I am here with (or, according to Google maps, 3,670 miles from) Tiffany Allee, author of paranormal romance Banshee Charmer. Banshee Charmer is the first in her Files of the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency novella series, and was recently released by Entangled Publishing.

From the Files of the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency - Book I 

When she’s sent to a crime scene and finds her second dead woman in as many weeks, half-banshee detective Kiera “Mac” McLoughlin is convinced a serial killer is on the loose. Incubi are extinct, her boss insists. But what else can kill a woman in the throes of pleasure? When her partner is murdered after using witchcraft to locate the killer and Mac is thrown off the case, her frustration turns to desperation.
Certain the killer is an incubus, Mac works behind her department’s back to chase down slim, sometimes perilous leads. While the killer eludes her, she does discover handsome Aidan Byrne, an investigative counterpart from the enigmatic Otherworlder Enforcement Agency. Mac typically runs her investigations fast and hard, but with Aidan at her side, she’s running this one “hot” as well. But Aidan knows more than he’s letting on—something that could shatter their blazing romance and add Mac to the killer’s growing body count…

Let’s talk passion. Why romance, and why paranormal in particular?

First of all, thank you so much for having me here! I love your blog and read it regularly. J

Romance is a constant in most people's lives, whether they are currently in a happy romantic relationship, avoiding them because of a bad experience, or considering jumping into a new one. It fills out and complicates our lives.

Banshee Charmer, like most of what I write, is about characters that are striving for something—and that goal is further complicated by romance. The heroine of this story, Mac, is trying to find a serial killer. In order to catch him, she has to work closely with another law enforcement officer…who she is attracted to. This factor brings a whole new level of emotion into the mix.

As for the paranormal aspect, what can I say? I love me some monsters and magic. J

Your main character, Kiera “Mac” McLoughlin, in a banshee, sort of. Can you talk about researching and adapting the folklore to suit your contemporary world?

I wanted a character who was just a little different from what I've seen in books and on television, but still somewhat similar. A character whose species probably isn't the first to come to mind when a person thinks of the paranormal. And I needed a species that I could manipulate to suit my world.

Banshees are interesting in that there are a lot of different takes on them in mythology. They are sometimes thought of as evil and sometimes merely as messengers who bring words of warning.  With so many mythological creatures generally thought of as either evil or good, I liked the idea of a gray area type of character.

Sexy, sneaky, good-with-locks Aidan Byrne is Kiera’s unconventional partner in her investigation. And they have rawr-worthy chemistry. Why do they work so well together, considering their differences?

I think they work so well together because Aidan is willing to look past Mac's gruff and at times hostile exterior to the vulnerable woman beneath. Mac sees the goodness in Aidan, despite how his actions may make him look. And I think that she likes having someone recognize that she's a bit of a softy underneath her toughness.

But above all, I think that they work so well together because Aidan sees things in a more positive light than Mac does, and uses humor to communicate. Mac—whether she'd ever admit it or not—needed a little humor in her life.  And Mac gives Aidan something to care about, and hope for a future. Not to mention someone to trade verbal jabs with.

You kind of hit the ground running on the road to publication. Can you share a few of the a-ha moments along the way?

My a-ha moments have been so many that it's hard to pinpoint them all. I first really started on the road by reading and interacting with the fantastic people on the Absolute Write forums. Then—after trying my hand at a few stories—I got brave enough to seek out beta readers. That, I think, has been the biggest thing that has helped me get on something of a fast track to publication. The critiques I've received have been invaluable, and by taking and applying the lessons I've learned from my fellow writers, I've become a much better writer than I would have on my own.

I'd have to say my biggest a-ha moment was realizing that writing is a job. Oh it's fun too, don't get me wrong. But it's also difficult work that offers no secure reward at the end. If I didn't truly love it—even the ridiculously frustrating parts of it—I definitely wouldn't have made it this far.

So, what is next? Can you give us a briefing on the next in the Files series?

The second book in the Files series comes out toward the end of May. While it is a series, all of the books can be read as stand-alone reads. Succubus Lost is a story that follows Marisol Whitman, a succubus, in her mission to find her missing sister. Marisol is a secondary character in Banshee Charmer, and I'm excited to share her story. 


Find Banshee Charmer at Amazon  Barnes & Noble


Find Tiffany Allee at Website  Goodreads  Twitter

Saturday, April 28, 2012

JUST ANOTHER ROCKIN' SATURDAY NIGHT

Scene: Me, sitting on the couch with the three year old, watching The Princess Bride.

Cary Elwes (on screen): Whatever happens to us, I want him to live a long life alone with his cowardice.

Kid (turns to me): Ask me if I'm going to do that.

Me: I'm not going to ask you if you're going to live a long life alone with your cowardice.

Kid: Ha! I wouldn't anyway because I'm Brave.

Me: Okay.

Kid (fishes in pocket): Also, I have this! (pulls out a new, unwrapped bar of Lever 2000 soap, jumps off couch and runs through house) Super bar of soap! Super bar of soap!

I used to go out drinking. It wasn't half as crazy as this parenting thing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

SPELLCHECK. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD USE IT.

I got a call from a doctor's office today - a specialist, not even a doctor - that I'd been waiting a few days for. I've been referred to specialist clinics before for this or that, but got in quickly and saw PAs and nurses, mostly, with maybe a two minute visit from a doctor. Or he might have just conversed with the nurse or PA outside my room, after which they told me to go home. Then they sent a bill for eleventy billion dollars and we were done.

So I got the call from the specialists and they told me they could squeeze me in sometime in June, which blew my mind because I've always considered specialists to be like the SWAT of doctors. [Doc SWAT, coming to Spike this fall] But instead, it appears they're overburdened doctors with a real good idea of how specific systems and organs work. Whatever. So I gave the woman my info and confirmed the appointment and hung up.

An hour later I get a call from the same office, from a woman who sounded the same. I immediately panicked, certain someone else saw my referral form or chart or whatever and determined that I needed to come in STAT. Like my symptoms indicated an expiration date. And that date was 5 p.m. today. But no, it was just that they had written my name down two different ways, which she seemed to find highly suspicious, but which I pointed out was probably just a typo on one of them. So she asked how it should be spelled, J-A-C-Q-U-E-S or J-A-C-Q-U-E-Z. As if anybody outside of the porn business has the last name Jacquez*. And then I worried that they might think I was in the porn business, which would lead them to asking me all kinds of porn-specific questions when I got there - in June - and I wouldn't be able to answer most of them, and then they'd think there was something really wrong with me.

I guess the moral to the story is to use your spellcheck or, I don't know, read the papers you were given. Save a neurotic writer from a spontaneous meltdown.

*Apologies to all the people who really have this as either a first or last night. I'm sure you're all fine people. If this is both your first and last name, let's just pretend we don't know each other, 'kay?

DOING MORE

I received an email today, from a passionate aspiring author, asking why I don't blog every day.

It's the key, she said, to building an audience before you have a lot of published books that can build their own buzz. Which made my mind drift off into a world where reading a book became mildly intoxicating. And then I remembered that, with the right book, it can be mildly intoxicating. Euphoric. Consciousness-altering.

Where was I? Oh, yes. I don't blog every day because I have two jobs and a family. Yes, I do consider writing to be a job and, yes, I do dedicate hours weekly to both writing and educating myself on the craft and the industry. Because I'd rather be writing those to-be books than blogging about writing them. Which isn't to say there is no value in posts of that nature. Some of my favorite blogs before I was published, and some of my favorite blogs to day, are about the process. The journey. The Sisyphean climb toward publication.

Neil Gaiman recently wrote a post on the writing process and that point in the drafting of a book where he steps out of the fog and onto the clear path. Neil Fucking Gaiman. Talking about being uncertain. For me, that may be all that ever needs to be said: writing a book is taxing and frustrating and crazymaking. It's also, in brief lonesome moments, the most satisfying thing you can imagine.

So that's why I don't blog every day. More power to those who manage to while hitting their writing goals. I tip my hat to you all.

End trans.

P.S. If I did blog everyday, you'd all want to scream at me to stop the inanity. So there's also that.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

THE ALLURE OF THE SHELVES



It is virtually impossible for me to grab a single book from my bookshelves. I'm drawn to the nearby spines, enticed by the larger tomes near the bottom, and find that I must reassure myself that the books in the back row (there's never enough room for them all) are still nested cozily amongst each other.

Eventually I forget what I was looking for in the first place, choose a favorite or something I've been meaning to read, and withdraw, only to repeat the process again hours later.

Monday, April 9, 2012

THIS EASTER EGG WILL SELF-DESTRUCT

My son is three going on four. He loves pirates and applies pirate logic and pirate language to the non-pirate aspects of his life. I mentioned to him that we would have an Easter egg hunt on Easter. "An Easter egg treasure hunt," he asked, eyes lighting up, "with a treasure map and gold doubloons (which he pronounces "goldenblues") and everything?"

I blinked. "Yes, just like that."

On Easter morning, while he was at church with my parents, the Easter bunny stopped by and dropped off the following note:



Hey Kid,


I need your help. While I was dyeing eggs, a wicked snow bird - allied with the snow spiders - stole the candy eggs! The snow bird has filled her nests with eggs. Those she couldn't fit, she gave to the snow spiders to hide in their webs - along with some gold doubloons.


Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to recover the eggs. If you are caught by the snow bird or the snow spiders, I will disavow all knowledge of this operation. 


Good luck, son.


Yours Truly,


The E. Bunny


P.S. There's a map.

There was a treasure map, carefully marked with X's. He chose to accept.

Snow birds nest in the sides of snow banks.

And in vast, glacier-like expanses of snow.

Gold doubloons. Snow spiders can weave webs for days. They won't stop a dedicated treasure hunter.

And the wickedest, wiliest snow bird is no match for this kid.

Hope you had a great Easter...with far less snow than we had.