• Maybe there's a novel left in me after all

    Last month, maybe late September, a pen pal of mine asked if I was going to do NaNoWriMo. My instant reaction was to scoff, "Of course not!"

    Then I kinda thought about it. It didn't sound like a half bad idea. It also sounded like a terrible idea. 

    Back when I used to do NaNoWriMo successfully in Michigan, it was a lot easier to sequester myself, to hunker down like a little cave goblin and hiss if anyone came too close and threatened to get between me and my word count. 

    This November, hoo boy. Not only are we going to Disney for almost a week, but then my mother in law and her boyfriend are coming to town a few days after we get back. Then there's the regular things we do, dnd groups, book clubs, hanging out with friends. If that weren't enough, I got the Regal Unlimited movie pass a few months back, and there are a ton of good movies coming out this month. Trying to add 1600 words a day on top of that sounded like madness.

    And yet, something about it was compelling. i've been 'trying' to write now for several months, but mostly just spinning my wheels and not writing. 

    So I decided to go ahead and do NaNo. If I worked hard, I could front load the month with lots of words, so that if I got ANY while we were away, it would be helpful, but not break me if I didn't get to it.

    But I haven't really found the NaNo group out here to be my style. It's nothing against them, it's just that, well, this is a college town. The announcement said that all NaNo events this year would be on the Liberty campus, and let's be honest, that's a resounding no thank you from me. Plus, the group doesn't seem very big or active. So having that form of support wasn't going to happen. It would be detrimental to go skulking around on the forums looking for conversation rather than just writing. 

    Then, it got to the last few days of October. I was itching to just get started already. That's when I had an epiphany:

    I don't want to do NaNoWriMo, I want to write a novel. 

    It's nothing against NaNo. But I've been used it as a crutch in the past - sure, I get words written, but I don't do it in a very healthy way. It's all or nothing, and it's good for getting words down, but poor for revising or carrying out a habit in the long term. I want to write in a way that is sustainable for my life. 

    So, that's what I'm doing. I've been puttering away at this novel for the better part of a week and a half now? I'm aiming to write at least a thousand words, or spend at least an hour trying to write, at least every other day. So far, I'm doing a little bit better than that, and I'm pleased. I like what I'm writing, and accepting the fact that it's going to be a clunky first draft that requires a lot of revision, should it ever get that far. 

    But mostly, I'm just happy to be doing it. 

  • A Writing Analogy

    I didn’t mean to go dark for so long. The last month and a half though has been a lot. But I’ll leave that for another time. 

    I’ve been dabbling a bit in writing again. Don’t get all excited, I’m not going to be on the bestseller list any time soon. I’m just doing it for my enjoyment, which is still better than nothing. 

    But I had a little epiphany yesterday that I wanted to share. It’s really obvious, but my brain finally framed the concept in a way that makes sense. See, people talk about not trying to make the first draft of anything good. You’re trying to get it all down, and then you can go back and fix it. 

    Well, mild perfectionist that I am, I don’t -want- to go back and fix it. I want to get it right on the first try. (Duh)

    But see, I’ve also been painting more lately. (By ‘more’, I really mean ‘more than never’, so don’t get excited about that either) When I paint, I’ll either sketch something out and throw down some loose colors at first, or I’ll just do some sort of background color. I don’t worry about the detail, because first I just have to get the basic idea. I’ll go back and add more color, more depth, and then really zoom in on the details last. 

    So why on earth do I expect that I should write things down with complete detail and perfection on the first pass? 

    As I said, it’s pretty obvious, but the painting metaphor really hit my brain the right way. 

  • That Time I Accidentally Predicted The Future

    Several years ago (this was a year or two we moved to Virginia, I think) I was worldbuilding for a story. 

    I'm not saying that I accidentally predicted some things, but I kinda did.

    The EU Collapsed, USA pushed nasa into something non-sensical (Space FOOOORCE)? 

    Our government is run by CEOs. Huh. News is all entertainment and sensationalist.

    Ah yes. But we're pretending that everything still functions the same.

    Well that's just a touch familiar.

  • Here, there, everywhere.

    During a chat the other day, Matt and I decided that I would take over his Fictional Discipline site. I want to write more (both blog & fiction), and the FD site gives me a bit of structure that this one lacks. Turns out, when you can write about anything, you find yourself writing about nothing. So I'm in the process of putting my own stamp on the place, redecorating and all that.

    I'll still maintain this site, such as it is. I'm hoping that if I'm writing more over there, it'll grease the wheels a little bit and I'll have more to write about in general. Right now, my personal life is mostly about cats. I feel a little guilty constantly cat-blogging, even though it's my site, and if there's one thing the internet in general seems to tolerate, it's cats.

    So, while I'm grooving to some Elton John, you go check out Fictional Discipline.

  • In which I have the writing bug

    A few months ago, I told Matt that I wanted to write again. 

    I haven't even wanted to write in a while. I don't know why. Maybe it was that real life was so busy and serious that my brain had no space for creativity. Maybe my creative well was dry. Maybe it was something else entirely. 

    While I had this vague urge to write, I had nothing to write about. Obviously - I haven't even had anything to write about. I mean, unless you want to hear the story of how my gag reflex got the better of me while trying to clean the litter boxes.

    Finally, the other day, I had an idea. 

    I don't know where this is going. I want to write out this idea and see where it goes. I don't care if it's never suitable for anyone else to see. At this point, I want to write for my own therapy. 

  • This is Where I Leave You and storytelling

    Matt and I have a terrible backlog of movies. We'll buy a movie, or have a movie given to us, and I kid you not, there's a 50/50 chance that it will sit on our shelves for a year before we get around to watching it. I don't know why, exactly. It's not that we don't like movies. We're just really bad at watching movies. 

    Not that you care about that.

    Anyway, I finally got around to watching This is Where I Leave You a couple weeks ago. I wasn't expecting much, because I got the dvd from my parents, who were both very meh about it. 

    But much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. Then again, I really like movies that are snapshots of a character's life over a short period of time. Movies that have comedic moments, but on the whole aren't slapstick comedies. So this fit the bill for me.

    What really impressed me about this movie though (and has made me really eager to read the book at some point) is how the characters were handled. See, a while back, I had an epiphany of sorts, that we think of ourselves as the main characters in our story, and everyone else is a side character. But everyone has their own stories, their own problems, that we are often completely unaware of. 

    While Judd (Jason Bateman) is certainly the focal point of the movie, and the character that everyone else revolves around, each character has a pretty well thought out story arc. No one is a throwaway character in the move - something is happening to everyone. They may be all brought together by their father/husband's death, but Judd just split up from his cheating wife, Paul and his wife are trying (and struggling) to have a baby, Wendy is not only raising two kids with a man she is kind of apathetic about, but she has to deal with the regret of leaving an early love. 

    There's a lot going on. The movie gives touchstones where the characters come together to deal with one crisis or another, but everyone has their own problems to deal with. I love when a movie (or book) does this. Even side characters need backstories and problems. Too often they get swept under the rug for the sole purpose of being a plot point or sidekick to the main character's story. When it's clear that even the side characters have their own lives, I am impressed. 

    Another thing to note, is that the characters' personal baggage also affects how they interact with each other. Philip, the youngest, may be a charming playboy, but when it comes to his siblings, he is almost begging for their approval. There's a scene where Philip tells Wendy that she, not either of their parents, is the voice he hears in his head, because he feels that she raised him. It's a moment of vulnerability that wouldn't have played out between him and another character. Judd's desire for privacy keeps him from telling his family about his martial issues, keeping him aloof from the family for a good part of the movie. 

    Characters that are well fleshed out and interact with each other in a way that reflects their own neuroses and baggage is great to see. This movie is a wonderful example of that, so if you're looking for an example for your own work (or just something to appreciate), I recommend checking it out. Bonus: It took me so long to see this movie that no doubt the dvd is cheaper than it would have been a year and a half ago. 

  • When I used to write for fun

    I don't even know how to start this. Matt and I have been talking about writing - but that's not exactly an uncommon thing. That's like saying, "Matt got up and made coffee this morning and I woke up to the sound of the bean grinder going WHRRRRRRRRRRZZZZZT."

    Anyway, this conversation prompted me to dig through my old story files on my desktop. I pulled up "the little star wars fanfic" I wrote at the end of 2004. I don't remember how long it took me to write it - in my mind, I wrote it in a whirlwind week or two, staying up late at night in my room with a laptop and music, clacking away on the keys to my heart's content. Whether that is accurate, I don't know.

    This star wars fanfic is one of the startlingly few finished first drafts I have. I never had any intention of editing it, and I still don't. Good grief, I barely dare read the thing, because I'm willing to bet (or I certainly hope) that my writing voice has gotten a lot better since then. But when I opened it up and waited for the pages to load, I was thinking ... 30? 50?

    147. Single space. 57,449 words.

    Now, this isn't that big of a deal. I write somewhere in that vicinity whenever I do NaNoWriMo. But I wrote this much with no one prompting me to. No one cheering me on, no imagined gold stars for writing it or finishing it.

    I just wanted to write it. Badly. And so I did it.

    I'm both proud and sad when I think about it. On the one hand, BOOYAH, of course I can pump out words when I want to. I don't describe myself as a writer for no reason. However, I could write all these words over the space of a couple weeks (we'll even say it took me a month, though I'm sure it was no more than that) - and now I can't write that many words on topic in much longer amounts of time.

    Gosh. I miss writing.

    What changed?

    I still ... I still love writing, when I do it. Working on a story is like some sort of adrenaline kick like I assume runners get. But I stopped writing for the love of writing, and started trying to be an author. I tried to plan stories that audiences would like, learned the ins and outs of the business so that I would be prepared, learned about the craft of writing ... And in the process, I talked myself out of writing things I love.

    “Come in.” Halae said groggily. The door opened, and Carth slowly poked his head in.

        “Is it safe?” He asked. Halae smiled and waved him in. Carth instinctively closed the door behind him.

        “What are you doing here?” Halae asked, pointing to a spot on the foot of her bed. Carth hesitantly looked around and then sat where she had pointed.

        “Haven’t you learned how to probe my mind yet?” He replied teasingly.

        “I could…If I wanted to.” Halae said seriously, “But…You’re my friend, and I don’t. Besides, it takes all the fun out of talking to someone, when you know everything about them.”
        “Well you must be telling the truth, because I shocked you pretty badly today, didn’t I?”

        Halae flushed and laughed. “Well soldier, you took me by surprise, that’s for sure.”

        “But that’s not what I’m here to talk about,” He said softly, “I’m here to talk about you.”

        Halae looked at him in surprise. “Me?”

        “Yeah gorgeous, you.”

        Halae smiled meekly, “Well, what about me?”

        “I’m worried about you.”

        “Don’t be,” She replied slyly, “I’ll be fine.”

        “I’m not joking, Halae.”

        “Neither am I.”

        “Yeah, and I suppose trusting Bastila’s wisdom over your own intuition is fine too, right? Almost forgetting what I know you know deep inside is the right thing for a bunch of principles that the Jedi are pounding into you?”

        “Carth – you don’t…”

        “Understand? No, I don’t. I don’t understand why you’re letting them zap all the life out of you. It’s one thing to train to be a Jedi, but it’s another thing to let them destroy your personality. In three short weeks you’ve turned from the most damned persistent woman I’ve ever met to the biggest damn pushover. The Halae Star I knew on Taris would never have let me walk away from her today. She would have chased me down and beat me with a stick until she got her answer.”

        Halae sat, stunned by Carth’s accusations. Yet, she knew every word that he was saying was absolutely true.

        “What do I do?” she mumbled.

        “Without your intuition – force – whatever they call it, we would still be sitting on Taris…We would have been sitting in that apartment twiddling out thumbs when the planet exploded. Use what you’ve got. Stop trying to be a carbon copy of Bastila and be what you are – Halae. Be Halae, the Jedi, if that’s what your heart tells you is right, but don’t just be the blonde Bastila. Or else…”

        “Or else what?”

        “Or else I really AM going to have to take you over my knee and teach you a lesson! That’s a promise.”

        Halae laughed. As Carth rose to leave, she called out after him, “Hey Carth!”

        He turned around with a grin, “What?”

        He nodded and ran his fingers through his hair, “No problem.”

        “And Carth?”


        “When do I get to hear about your wife??”

        Carth laughed, “Some other time.”


  • What they see is what you get

    This week, I read "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. I saw the movie last year, and I enjoyed it. It was dark and twisty in a way that reminded me of one of my favorite novels - Wuthering Heights. (Not that the stories themselves have anything in common...Just that you go, "Wow, that's ... messed up.")

    As best as I can remember, the movie and book are very similar. I think there was at least one character omitted from the movie, and there were a few scenes in the book that I didn't recognize from the movie, but all the major points were the same.

    But I liked the book way better. Why is that? Surely, movies are a nice shortcut. Spend two to three hours on a movie, and call it good, or spend several days on the book. Plus, having seen the movie, that's pretty much what I pictured in my head, so my imagination wasn't unique. But what made it superior, and what I think might be the downfall of all movie adaptations, is that what the characters were thinking was spelled out.

    On screen, the character tilts their head and scrunches their nose. In the book, another character sees this and thinks, "they always scrunch their nose when they're about to tell a lie." There's so much more information that can be learned from the page because film doesn't have the time or perhaps the ability to convey it.

    I think it's easier to feel sorry for movie Nick Dunne than his book counterpart. Sure, he's confused as to what's happening in the first half of the book, but by the end, it's easier to come to the conclusion that he's brought this on himself and he and Amy really are two insane peas in a pod.

    Same goes for the Game of Thrones books versus their tv adaptation. While the first few seasons seem (to the best of my recollection) on point with the books, to me it's far more interesting to see their thoughts. There's only so much Tyrion Lannister can say out loud without being executed - but he can think a lot more.

    Of course, whether to let a reader into the character's head is a narrative choice. The author can leave the reader out as much as if they were watching a screen. But that's another discussion for another day.

  • So, about that novel...

    Unfortunately, I didn't finish the novel I've been working on this month, but I did meet my word goal. That's a huge step in the right direction, and I am so glad that I've spent this time working on it. It's given me something to focus on when a lot of other things have felt so chaotic.

    It's also given me a writing project to work on, and forced me not to be so picky, and I'm also grateful for that. At this point, I feel like I'm a little over halfway through the novel story-wise, so I have a lot more to go. I'm excited to keep writing, and pehraps one day, go back and revise it. I liked the concept when I started writing it, but here, at the end of the month, I love the story far more than I thought I would. So I would like to do it justice, and I already know that there's a lot to be tightened down and cleaned up.

    But, I'm starting to realize that this may just be my writing process. Maybe I need to thoroughly brainstorm, write a messy draft just to get everything out there, and then go back and clean everything up. Maybe it's okay not to have a pretty first draft like we would all like.

    Perhaps that's the lesson of this year's NaNoWriMo - that it's okay to just get it all out there, that there's beauty in finding unexpected joys along the way.

    For now, NaNoWriMo 2014, over and out.

  • This thing I do

    I think I've mentioned that I'm participating in NaNoWriMo this year after taking a couple of years off. After being the municipal liason in the last region I was in, it's really nice just to kick back and write as a participant. I'm not responsible for anything other than my novel. (Well, as far as NaNo is concerned, anyway)

    I'm having fun with it. I have other ideas that I would like to work on, but I chose to go with one that I had a pretty good grasp on, but could benefit from just pouring out on the page and understanding that there would be a lot of revision later.

    I'm not going to tell you about the writing process, the characters, making things up on the fly, planning, or anything like that. All I want to share right now is how 'contained' NaNo is for me this year.

    In past years, NaNo has been this thing that has encompassed the entire month. It's what my social calendar revolved around. It was what I thought of when I woke up, and when I went to sleep. I ate, slept, and drank noveling. And there was nothing particularly wrong with that, but even if I stuck to the 1,700 prescribed word count per day, I was so sick of writing by the time December rolled around.

    This year, it's been different. I don't know why. I actually have much less to do than in past years, so if novel writing wanted to take up all day, if it wanted to keep me up writing into the wee hours of the night, it could! Instead, I sit down either in the morning or at night, for up to a couple of hours, and write.

    I don't fix up a writing playlist, I don't try to make the perfect writing spot. I just sit down and I write. Granted, yes, I had a very good outline going into the month. It would take me a lot longer to write if I didn't. But when I finish a scene, I think back to my outline and think, 'okay, now what needs to happen to get to this?' and I go from there.

    You know what? It's nice. This feels sustainable, when I'm not trying to make writing the only thing I do in a day. I have a good feeling that come December first, I'm not going to throw up my hands and walk away from this novel for six months.

    Maybe writing doesn't have to be this extra special 'event', maybe treating it like it's not much different (but just as important) and cleaning out the litter box is the key. It's writing. It's this thing I do.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a character that I need to disillusion. Sorry, Abigail.

  • Tis the Season for a Novel

    Tis the Season for a Novel

    So, I think I'm going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. The last couple Novembers haven't felt right for it, but I think this one does. It sounds outrageous, move 700 miles and then start writing a novel six days later. But hey, why not? When has writing a novel ever been easy, or life provided a 'good time', perfectly carved out, to work on a project?

    Nope, you have to make the time.

    Besides, I think undertaking something like this might be the perfect thing for me. It'll keep me grounded and give me something to think about other than moving. Plus, it'll get me out of the house and help me meet people.

    For Matt's sake, I need to meet people. Otherwise, he's going to be tethered to me by cell phone for the entire winter, and neither of us really wants that.

    The only downside is that I'm feeling really protective of the idea I've been fleshing out, and really don't want to try and throw that out in a month. So I'm going to have to hammer out another idea between now and then.

    It's fine, I'll just take notes inbetween packing boxes.

  • It's Novel Season

    It's Novel Season


    Be very very quiet.

    At long last, it's novel season in my brain.

    Truth be told, it's been 'novel season' for a while. I just haven't had the time/effort to put actual pen to paper. What you see up there are my 'cheat sheets'. I made a quick character creation sheet a few years back to help quickly flesh out characters. They're one of the first steps in novel creation for me now. I start with the tangible questions, and then flesh them out even further - but at least this way, I have something to start with.

    Also, please pardon the fact that I totally botched the word 'caucasian' on the papers above. I can spell - really.

    I can't really tell you much about the project at hand. In my brain, it started out as, "Oh, here's how I think I can fix my 2009 NaNo novel..." and then those ideas took off on a life of their own such that they're really not the same story. It would be like saying cake and pudding are the same thing because they both use liquid.

    I've got some good character ideas, however, it's the world building that is really fuzzy. I'm not sure where the idea falls on the sci-fi/dystopian spectrum, but I guess we'll find out.

    For now, I'm keeping the working title of the NaNo novel, just dropping the word "The" - "Zoe Project" ... in my notes, I refer to it as either "Project Zoe: Red" or "Zoe: Red". Why? Because it's a "redo", and I arbitrarily decided that I'd keep my materials color coded red.

    Oh, the random nonsense that comes with starting a new project. I love it.

    So, yeah. I'm finally (thank you brain, for cooperating, at last) working on something again. It's probably light sci-fi, I guarantee there's an element of romance in it (because all of my stories must), and my folder and notebook are red. There you go, now we're on the same page.

  • Does my world need an economy?

    Recently, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    The short answer is: yes, your world really does need an economy.

    It's also important to ask yourself, is it important to me to write a tight, well-written economy? as well as, what will the market bear? The amount of worldbuilding that may go into a hard sci-fi novel may be vastly different than what a YA novel set in the suburbs near Denver will require. You, the author, should have a pretty good grasp on what's going on in your world, but all ideas are subject to plot and pacing. You might know very minute details that won't make it onto the page. In fact, most economies are implied. You'll do far more work on your end, because it's really the results of your economy that are shared. Know when to say that's enough with the details, because your story should be, first and foremost, entertaining. Worldbuilding is important, but if you have a great setting lack compelling characters, no one will care.

    Your world's economy drives the stakes of the story. Without money to be made, people won't stay in an area. Is your story set in the remnants of what was once a booming industry? A thriving trade hub? Your world's economic status will have had some effect on how your characters were raised, and perhaps what their view of the world is. (Think of Katniss' reaction to the Capitol, for instance) Are your people dependent on other countries to get the resources they need, or are they self-sufficient?

    The geography of the world will dictate what kind of jobs are available, as well. A trade city will need to be accessible, not stuck at the peak of the mountains. You probably won't find many fisherman or farmers in the desert, but a jeweler would operate best in a thriving city. Think back to who settled your cities - the first successful settlers, in the long run, tend to become the people with influence and resources there. What drove people to settle there?

    Economy isn't limited to money, but includes bartering goods and services - so long as people with valuable skills are around. What does your character offer to those around them? What would happen if your character came from a bartering community and found themselves in a currency based system - or the opposite?

    Economy matters to everyone. The status of the economy determines whether (and what) a family eats, whether a country can afford to go to war. Economies can drive acts of desperation or lull them into complacency. Even the little guy can have more power than a king if they have enough resources to pool together.

    While we tend to think of economy in terms of money, it can also come in the form of social exchanges, such as gender bias, or marriage for alliances. In our society, our careers are a form of economy. We suss out our standing in society and who our advantageous acquaintances are with the question what do you do?

    Also, if you want to be 'outside the box' with your economic system and draw attention to it (which is totally cool!), try to make it strange enough to be interesting, but recognizable enough to sustain interest and not scare away readers.

    Hopefully you found some decent food for thought in this. I know that for me, world building is something that I love in concept, but struggle with knowing what questions to ask. After sitting through this panel, I feel like I have a much better grasp on how to shape an economy.

    (Authors leading this panel: Rae Carson, Cherie Priest, Ron Collins, Brian McClellan, Ferrett Steinmetz)

  • Publishing House Consolidation

    Last weekend, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    This panel was an amazing wealth of information for me, though I'm a little concerned that I won't be able to translate the information very well. The main topic was how large publisher consolidation affects writers, though it had a lot of good publishing knowledge and pros and cons. Hopefully you find something in here as interesting as I did.

    To answer the main question, how does publisher consolidation affect writers? - well, here are some things to consider:

    • With the rise of e-books, better means of self-publishing, and legitimate smaller publishers, this isn't as damaging to writers as it would have been ten years ago.
    • The main power of the big houses is in their money. They are more stable, financially, and the house is less likely to fold under you while trying to get your book published. They also can make better distribution deals with sellers like Barnes & Noble to get your book on more shelves, faster.
    • However, with publisher consolidation comes less competition. There are already too few people in control of choosing what 'trends' are within the industry (and therefore, controlling what gets published), and fewer houses means that even fewer people set the tone - which stinks for you and me.
    • This also means that there are fewer big houses to submit your work to, though this is probably the most obvious problem for writers.

    So, what does this mean?

    Well, you can try submitting your work to smaller (the panel referred to them as "mid-size") publishing houses, as they are becoming more viable options. The two main drawbacks to these are money related - they don't have as much money, so they're a riskier bet, and your advances with a mid-size house may be substantially smaller. But, here's an interesting tidbit - the closing of the Borders chain a few years ago really messed up advances for just about everyone. Distribution numbers went down substantially because Borders, along with B&N, was one of their biggest buyers. With that, advances have tanked.

    Mid-size publishers have some great things to offer to writers. First, they are more flexible than bigger houses. Often, they can make decisions faster, because larger publishers are bogged down in being corporate behemoths. They may be more likely to take risks and look for works that wouldn't fit in the main stream (depending on the publisher, of course!).

    Additionally, mid-size publishers tend to have a better view of the long term. Bigger publishers very rarely sign for more than one book up front, because they want to see how it will do. Their expectations are higher, and if you don't do well enough, you'll be cut before the prologue of book two. But smaller publishers understand that with a series, each new book will bolster the sales of previous books, and that sales tend to grow over time. They are better able to make long term investments in writers, and it's paying off.

    Obviously, this doesn't mean that bigger publishers aren't still an option. They are a completely legitimate option, but it's good to know your options and try to figure out where you might fit best. The world of publishing is still up in the air - they still haven't figured out how to deal with digital publishing yet and personally, I think we're going to see more upheaval before writers and publishers find a new groove.

    In the meantime, for writers who are willing to be entrepreneurs, there is hope and new avenues opening up. Just keep looking for them.

    (Authors leading this panel: Laura Resnick, Myke Cole, Bradley Beaulieu, Michael R. Underwood.)

  • Researching Historical Fantasy

    Last weekend, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    This Historical Fantasy panel, led by author Howard Andrew Jones, brought up different ways to research for novels and various things to think about. Good stuff!

    I could sum up this panel in two words: Don't assume! But that's not very fun. So, here we go.

    When doing research, look into a mix of primary and secondary sources. (If I remember correctly) Primary sources are those that would come from within the culture/time period directly, and secondary sources are anything else. A mix is important, because there are certain things that we don't talk about when we're in the moment. First hand descriptions may give you a better look at how that culture functioned, but may lack descriptive details about clothing, foods, etc. It really depends on what you're researching, but finding a good mix of sources is your best bet.

    If you need help, professors are potentially a good resource, as they may have a wealth of knowledge on obscure topics that they'd love to share with someone who is actually interested. Another potential resource? Roleplaying guides, for names, art, and the like. (The author recommended the GURPS system, of which many books are out of print, but you can find them if you're savvy.)

    But what are some things, specifically, that are good 'food for fodder' when building your historical fantasy?

    Well, one thing to remember is that, at the core, humanity really hasn't changed. We're a bit more civilized (usually), we're more educated as a whole, and our tribes are larger, but we still have them. How we go about accomplishing things may have changed, but we're still trying to feed ourselves, put roofs over our heads, and build relationships with others.

    Keep in mind that travel is a fairly recent phenomenon for most of the world. We can go further, for cheaper, and faster than was even conceivable a few hundred years ago. Some people did travel, yes. But keep in mind the scope of these things, and the toll they could take. If your relatives headed out west via the Oregon trail, the odds that you were ever going to see them again were pretty dog gone low. In Pride & Prejudice, Darcy makes a comment that Mrs Collins is fortunate to be settled so near her family. Elizabeth points out that fifty miles, at the Collins' income level, was not near her family.

    People didn't travel the way we do now. For some, going to the next village may have been a real rarity. Remember things like geography, seasons, and income restrictions before sending everyone in your novel on road trips.

    Also remember that innovation was slow up until the industrial revolution. People were fairly resistant to change unless there was a profit to be made. If it wasn't broken, chances are, people weren't trying to fix it.

    But, all that aside, sometimes, there was really cool technology available that we may not readily know about. For instance, in the Byzantine empire, they had sun telegraphs. This means that they could communicate far faster than your standard horse and parchment. What kind of communication patterns apply in your culture? What kind of technology might there have been that we don't really pay attention to now?

    Try to resist the impulse to info dump on your readers when establishing differences in culture. The truth is, much of the research you do will stay behing the scenes. Accent your world with new information for your readers, so as not to overwhelm them. Show how their lives are different through their 'everyday' patterns - through their thoughts and actions, not through paragraphs upon paragraphs of text.

    What kinds of things have changed in our culture over the years that we take for granted? One thing I learned about was the concept of "two sleeps" - I had never heard of it before. Apparently there's quite a bit of evidence from various sources that points to our ancestors sleeping for a few hours, waking for a period of time, and then sleeping until morning. You can read more about the concept here. This is why research is important - what else don't we know about because it has died out in our culture?

    As it comes to magic, think about the roots of mysticism. Now, if you want to write straight up "everyone has a wand and casts fireball" fantasy, that's fine. But in a more historical grounded perspective, keep in mind that in pre-science/education days, superstition and mysticism was far more common. People would view things that we might consider mundane as mystical. If you were bitten by a snake, you might very well assume that someone had cursed you, rather than your clumsiness being to blame. While we now understand some of the medicinal properties behind herbs, a lot of these were just magical concoctions then. People who were able to do 'magical' things would have been feared. They'd have been on the fringes of society, visited by desperate people in the dark of night. Some things actually worked, and some were deeply rooted in superstition. How that plays out in your historical fantasy or in the perceptions of your characters is up to you.

    In the end, as I said earlier, don't assume anything - do plenty of research and question everything. But, err on the side of writing a good story over being accurate. Even the most well-researched novel will have errors, and you will get called out on it by someone who knows more than you do, or doesn't appreciate your take on it. Mention it in the afterward if you feel guilty - if you're writing fiction, take some liberties and write a good story.

  • "If I Knew Then What I Know Now..."

    Last weekend, I went to Legendary ConFusion, and attempted to sit in on as many writing-oriented panels as I could. I'm working through my notes and trying to share some of what I learned. Enjoy!

    This panel featured authors Lucy A. Snyder, Ron Collins, Jacqueline Carey, Tobias Buckell, C. C. Finlay and Ian Tregillis talking about the things that they wished they had known prior to becoming published, as well as some general writing advice.

    - How much writing time would be spent in the business and self-promotion side of things.

    As a writer, you are your own business. (Definitely for tax purposes) Treat yourself as one. We tend to think that when we get that book deal, we're golden. But the truth is, you are your own best advocate. Take the initiative and look for events and ways to get your name out. Learn to set up and interact on social media. Publishers may want your book to succeed, but you'll need to help.

    Along the lines of social media, specialize in the marketing that makes you happy and brings you results.

    - How important a community of other writers is.

    A good community of writers can help you grow creatively, and if you're at different places in your careers, you can benefit from their experience. While writing itself might be a solitary thing, having a community is really under-rated.

    - Love the craft of writing, and don't focus so much on just selling your work.

    If you don't love the art of writing, it's just going to be another day job when you have to do it full time. It's not a career with guarantees, and you'll end up pouring more of yourself into it than most day jobs. So make sure you love the writing process, the art of it, or consider keeping writing as a hobby.

    If you worry too much about 'getting things sold' and don't work on actively improving your craft, you'll hit a wall. Focus on the art and your work in order to improve.

    Challenge yourself. Write in different tenses, try different styles to keep your writing fresh, to give yourself new tools, and hone your voice.

    - If you take care of yourself, you will be able to produce good work.

    Watch your energy levels and make sure you refill your well. If you're constantly running yourself ragged, it will be a lot more difficult to sustain creativity, and you will burn out. Take care of yourself.

    - Learn how to give and receive feedback as part of your toolset.

    Feedback is generally good for telling you that there is a problem, not necessarily what that problem is. Learn how to take feedback from others and discern what really needs to be fixed. One of the best ways to build up this skill is to practice. Find a trusted community, and give feedback of your own.

    - There is no formula for success, and it is not a race.

    Take your time and soak up information. Learn about the business, about editing, about the craft. Learn from other people. If you are very good, your work will find a home. It may take a while, and it may not be the first path you try, but it will happen. Keep working. Keep honing your craft. Make sure your work is actually improving in quality. Go back and read samples of your writing from six months, a year ago. If you're not perfectly happy with it, it's likely a sign that you're still learning and growing, which is good.

  • Fumbling around

    I don't know if the picture has anything to do with what I want to write about. But when you get some fourteen odd inches of snow in a short period of time, I think it's worth sharing pictures from that sort of mess. That is me, attempting to break into my trunk in the middle of said snowstorm, looking for our shovel. It took me a good 15 minutes, standing in thigh deep snow (because of drifting), to clear off the trunk enough to crack it open. No shovel.

    The last few years, I've been making these lists of 100 things to do each year. They've ranged from silly, to serious, to really obscure. Last year, I tried to make the list very tangible, such that I could (in theory) record every thing I did. But then our move date got pushed back past the end of the year, and that put a hault to several things on my list which were contingent on taking place afterwards. Rather than continuing to work through the list and accomplish the things I could do - after all, it was a largely fun list - or even finding creative ways to work around some of the things I have planned for post-move, I just stopped.

    It wasn't even that I consciously gave up - I kept the list taped to the fridge until the end of October, telling myself that I was going to work on things anyway. But I realized that my brain gets stuck in these ruts, where things must happen in a certain way in order for me to continue. These thought ruts don't always make sense either, when I really think about them. Let me give you an example.

    #37. Read a book on writing
    Now, I henpecked my way through this one book on character development, a few pages at a time, for months. Truthfully, I got bored with the book, but I was close enough to finishing it that I couldn't just abandon it. I really wanted to read this book on the revision process that I'd picked up, and oddly enough, it was far more relevant to what I was doing than the character book. But because I had started the character book first, I didn't want to start the revision book. But I was too bored to finish the first book. So I never actually finished either book because for some odd reason I wouldn't just put down book A and read book B, like I wanted.

    Now, apply this lack of logic to a problem in which you have a novel that you're revising, while you really want to start work on a new project. LOGIC says that you can work on both. My rut logic says that NO, revised novel must happen first, even though said novel has had developments that essentially knock it squarely back into worldbuilding territory.

    I admit, it's really frustrating to realize the amount of things I haven't worked on because of these non-sensical notions of how things must go.

    But, knowledge is power. Realizing I do this, hopefully, means that I can work around it. Maybe it means that I fumble around a bit more, that I do things without insisting I have a perfect plan first. I don't like when things are messy. I want them to go according to plan. But there's really so little in life that we actually control...maybe I need to embrace that flexibility with the things I want to work on, as well.

  • When Creatives Collide

    I'm writing this from a hotel room.

    It's far less scandalous than it sounds.

    My darling, beloved, married-almost-six-years husband and I are both super creative people. I don't know if this is necessarily rare, but I feel like I see a lot more creative/analytical pairings in my sphere than creative/creative. I think having so much in common with him makes our relationship fun - couples who don't share hobbies and passions don't make sense to me, but obviously they work out too.

    Matt is primarily music-driven, but he also really enjoys writing and dabbles in what I'll call "art" (drawing, painting, design, that kind of thing). Meanwhile, my primary drive is writing, followed by "art", and I also like to dabble in music. In a strange way, these things intersect and overlap perfectly such that I think we always have a basic understanding of what the other person is talking about, without getting in the way of each other creatively. This strange little diagram is how I can talk out plot crises, and Matt gets art for album covers. I really wouldn't have it any other way.

    But, as I've mentioned before, our current living arrangement involves us sharing the living room for our creative purposes. Despite his best attempts to give me a laptop so that I can work elsewhere, our schedules tend to line up just so that he's trying to record music while I'm playing a video game.

    I don't know a lot about recording music, and I don't retain half of what Matt tells me about the technical side of it, but I understand that the sounds of blaster pistols and lightsabers don't necessarily jive with trying to go through the delicate process of mixing. I try to be respectful of his space, and astonishingly, this isn't even a conflict. I'm just pointing out that a less tolerant person probably would have strangled me with his headphones by now, and been pretty justified in doing so.

    To be fair, he inconveniences me as well, what with his sleeping at normal human hours while creative streaks send me on something of a nocturnal schedule. But then he leaves a nightlight on for me, so I don't crash into things at 2 or 3am ... yeah, he wins all the awards here.

    I told Matt a couple of months ago that I thought it would be really super helpful if I could lock myself away for a weekend, without distractions, to get a lot of work done. Making such a request is difficult for me, because it feels so frivolous. I shouldn't need to go elsewhere, the bedroom should be enough - right? But the truth is, it's not just for me. I get to lock myself away, and he gets time to record, record, record, without wondering whether he should be paying attention to me.

    Granted, he does kind of get the short end of the stick. He has to stay home with the girls while I get blissful silence. But his recording gear isn't mobile, and mine is. Plus, Matt likes to be a homebody more than I do, so it's ... less guilt-inducing than it could be.

    He's working on an album that he wants to release at the end of next month (I hope I'm not breaking anything confidential by saying that!), and he's got jury duty looming over his head starting next week. I need to make some serious headway on Roselyn's Legacy if I have any hope of cleaning it up enough to query before December. Since we now know that our apartment won't be ready for a month further than we planned ... I think this is good. It comes at a good, much-needed time for us to kick some creative butt.

    I just know that, "Yeah, I'm spending the weekend in a hotel, five minutes from home" sounds pretty dog gone weird.

  • Reading Influencing Writing

    Earlier this week, my friend Susan asked if it was just her, or did other people find that what they were reading influenced how they wrote?

    I find that for me, this is absolutely true. I'll even share pieces from older drafts of Roselyn's Legacy, because hey, if you can't laugh at yourself...

    It all starts when I read a historical biography.

    My writing takes on a very factual tone. I do not use 'fluffy' words, and my writing is very succinct. In this phase, I will write more descriptions than character interactions. Because of the tone, they will be dry descriptions. It is possible that I will forget what contractions are.

    I may write something that looks like this:

    It had been a tragic accident. Richard was on a hunt with his men in the woods north of Cartha's capital, when his horse became spooked. His men said that Richard's skull cracked against a sharp boulder, and that his soul departed within moments.

    But from historical biography, I transition to historical fiction, or perhaps an older novel.

    Upon finishing one of these superb pieces of fiction, my writing takes on a tone of an entirely different quality. I find glee in phrasing things in a more amusing manner, possibly using unique vocabulary choices to give it an 'air'.

    In practice, here's what happens:

    Oh, but my lady, flowers come to life in the spring, and the fields become a rainbow of color. In the summer, the ladybugs hold their own masques with the crickets and play symphonies among the tall grass. In the fall, the leaves become like jewels in the trees, rubies and blazing topaz strung together with the brightest gold. Obviously I’ve never seen it in winter, but I imagine it’s peaceful, blanketed under all that snow.

    It's about this time that I will want to read something light, like "chick-lit".

    My characters might get chatty about this time, and they sure develop a sense of humor! Even the, like, super cranky ones are full of wit. Any attempt at writing cleanly goes out the window as adverbs come in style like a new pair of neon scrunchies! I try to be extra smart and add in puns that don't belong or do "sneaky" foreshadowing. I definitely get a casual tone, which isn't always appropriate for the setting, but whatever because it's my book, LOL.

    That makes me see things a lot differently. Is the King secretly employing anyone else that I should be aware of? Do bakers lace their bread with loyalty serum?”
    It’s still better than being inside,” Roselyn muttered, “Most of the palace smells foul. It’s like the breath of every dead King of Cartha has been trapped in the building for centuries.”

    No lie, in the draft that both of the above quotes came from, there is a four page, in character rant about hair dye. Thankfully, that was five years and many edits ago.

    MOVING ON...

    I don't share this to terrify other writers. It takes a while to find your voice as a writer, and that voice will likely change from project to project. You might think that the solution would be to swear off books while writing something of your own. But one of the most common pieces of advice I see is to read read read.

    I've found that the way to counteract outside voices is not to read less, but read more. In the past few months, I've been reading through at least two books at a time, finishing on average a book every 7-10 days. The two books are never in the same genre, and are very far apart in tone and subject matter. It didn't start off as an intentional decision, but I've found that this rapid fire method lets me enjoy the books, glean information, and not get too swept up in the author's style.

    I also recommend not just reading authors whose style you'd like to learn from, but those who are completely different, to expand your palate. I find I am a lot more likely to adopt a style when it's an author I admire.

    However, there's good news: even if you can't shake the copy bug, this is why the revision process exists. You can always go back and edit for tone. Read and re-read, and if it helps, read out loud.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a Tudor history book to finish reading. Tomorrow, Roselyn might be feeling a lot more factual.