Archive for August, 2012
Thursday, August 30th, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
Yesterday was an odd day. I had to make a professional decision I’ve been waffling about for over a year. This isn’t one of those small ones. This is one of those “cut ties and move on” decisions. In other words, a BIG one.
I can’t really talk about the decision yet, but I can talk about the process and why it took me a year to do something I should have done immediately. Before I started writing I was a partner in a law firm. I made major decisions all the time and was in trial almost ever week. Confidence wasn’t really an issue for me. Sure, I worried about the clients and the parts of the practice that were totally out of my control, and when you practice family law there is a huge amount of crazy that is out of your control. But I knew my job, knew the law and was comfortable getting on my feet and presenting a case. I knew I could succeed.
Then I switched careers and began writing full time. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I had control over much of anything. My confidence in writing a good book was fine, but I’ve never had that equilibium, that sense of peace some get where they instinctively feel like they’re safe at their publisher (ie, won’t be dropped) and can keep selling no matter what. That remains out of my grasp and since I’m a look-ahead type probably always will. As a result, I’ve sometimes made decisions out of fear. Sure, I’ve turned down bad contracts. The lawyer side of me isn’t totally dead, but I’ve sometimes failed to fight for myself as hard as I should have. That’s not okay.
In the case of this major decision, I stayed too long. I let worries about the market and self-doubt in my position in it to dictate a decision rather than looking to the things I should have, like my comfort level. Intellectually I knew if I wasn’t happy, didn’t feel like I was being heard, felt unimportant or forgotten, it was time to go. But I held back because that twinge of doubt played with my head. Now with the decision made I feel twitchy and go back and forth between “this was a mistake” and “why didn’t I do it sooner.” I’ve been assured by author friends that’s normal. Still, that doesn’t make the doubts any less real.
I have no real or helpful advice. My situation is stll shaking out and I’ll talk about it more here as time goes on. I think the only thing I can honestly say, and say with some conviction, is that deep down you know when it’s time to go. You feel it, sense it, talk about it. In fact, if you’re like me and wrestling with the doubt demon, the people around you will likely clue into your need to move on before you admit it to yourself. But, really, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.
Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
There are days when I can’t hear the breakers — when the sound of the gulls is a distant memory. This is when the writing no longer flows the way I want or the head monkeys are chattering so loudly that I can’t hear the breakers — I can no longer find the vast ocean of story.
When I am so lost in the jungles of stress and overwhelming and conflicting priorities I have to make the time to climb to the canopy and see if I can find the general direction of the sea.
At time I frequently go back to Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. The introduction to that volume is the best treatise on why writers write that I’ve ever read. This helps me get my head above the shadows and into the light of the blazing sun.
But there are days when it’s not enough. There are days and even weeks where the thought of putting down another word, another syllable crushes me.
Of course, I have to make sure I’m getting enough sleep, adequate exercise, and decent food intake. I make sure I’m reading new things and catching movies and some decent television shows (like Downton Abbey) to keep the creative juices flowing and remember what other people mean by character and story.
But even with all that, the support of my family and even giving Bradbury a second read I have to resort to the drastic measures. I go into my office, turn on the fan, put on some Pink Floyd, dim the lights and sit in the rocking chair my family made for me last Father’s day. It’s the coolest thing, all wood burned with names and images from my first book, Black Blade Blues (There were other chairs, other rooms. This is just the latest incarnation.)
Then I rock and think, think and rock. I think back to that five year old kid who read his first book solo all the way up to the emails I get from fans. I think of my first novel written at fourteen and how my best friend took it with him when he moved away (before computers — typewritten and the only copy).
Then I think about all the things I love about story, the joy and peace I get from reading a really wonderful book.
And I look into myself and fish around until I find that silver line that runs from my heart to deepest part of the ocean and I follow it through the undergrowth searching for story. I fire up my latest piece of work on my laptop and type in words until I feel I can hear the raging surf.
It doesn’t work every time, but it always works. Right now, as I type this small essay I’ve tried for three nights in a row to no avail. But I find the thread each night. I find my way back to the keyboard. And I hear the words on the edge of my mind.
The monkeys are getting quieter as the jungle thins and the need to push this novel forward once again is nearly cresting the surface of my mind. It’s not writers block in the sense that I can’t find the words. It’s more a setback in the sense that I can’t feel the story.
For me it’s an emotional thing. Until I unkink the line between my psyche and the story I need to finish, there is no free flow of thought. No ideal tidal pull of emotion.
But I can hear the waves and I can smell the salt. I have to be close. I can taste it in the air. Tomorrow, maybe? I’m that close.
Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 by Sasha White
I’ve talked about this before, but it can’t be said enough. Mostly because I often have to remind myself….and this is a good way to do it. I’m talking about education. I’m one of those people who read the bio of an author if I like their work, and I’ve been reading a lot lately-and loving most of it. WHat I’ve been noticing is that most authors have a higher education of some kind. There’s the lawyers and Dr’s who turned writers, but there’s also those who took English Lit, or History or something, who have turned author. If they don’t mention their higher education, then chances are they’re married, and their bio states how when they’re not writing they enjoy spending time with their supportive spouse and kids and so on.
Well, I’m neither of those. I failed almost half my classes in my first year of Business Admin in College and never went back. I’ve never been married, or even in a long term relationship, and I like liveing alone. Something that sounds even worse….I couldn’t tell you what a noun/verb is if you help a gun to my head. Yet, I am a National Bestselling Author of erotic fiction.
It’s easy to read other authors bio’s and feel like I’m a sham, but I don’t because while I may not be book smart, I am very life smart. I may not be married or have experience long term relationships, but I have been in lust, and maybe even in love. I’ve travelled all over the world, and talked to people, and experienced life, and that is my education.
Plus, I love people. I love stories. I love combining the two, and digging deep and seeing what makes people do the things they do, and act the way they act. And I think that’s where my magic as a writer comes in. I believe character development is the heart and soul of every story. People can learn craft (and yes, I’m still working on that), but not everyone can learn how to find the heart of a story.
Strangely enough, I think it sounds easier to learn how to tell a story than to learn the actual technical craft aspects. I mean, A story is a beginning, middle and end, right? Yet after reading over 40 books in the last month (Yes, I’ve been on a reading binge) it’s easy to see that not every author gets that magic. Some of the self published ones I’ve read recently were more enjoyable than some of the big name best sellers that have been traditionally published, and that’s made me think…. they weren’t really better written, I just enjoyed them more because they had that raw magic element. They were unique stories with characters that weren’t perfect, and weren’t cliched.
Some writers can’t overlook a few typos or a grammatical error and just get into the story, and I agree if there are too many, it bothers me also, but for the most part, I’m okay with it. It made me glad that more and more people are going after their dreams of being an author, even if it means doing a lot more work by self-publishing.
Monday, August 27th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
This question came from my Facebook feed awhile back, from Tracy: “I’m curious about your process of going from initial ideas to outline (or if you outline).”
It’s a good question, because it’s one of the more arcane bits of the writing process. We end up talking more about the mechanics of writing after we actually get the ideas into prose. But how do we prepare ideas before we actually start writing? What turns an idea into a story?
There’s a new-writer mistake, especially in short story writing, one I committed quite often myself early on: You’ve got this fantastic idea, you want to tell it to the world, so you write a story about it. Bam! But no, because if the story doesn’t deal with the implications, the consequences, the effect that idea has on the character, the world, and so on, then it actually isn’t a story. What this new-writer story looks like: “Hey, everyone, what if there was a secret race of intelligent, space faring duckbilled platypuses? Ta da!” (I don’t know what the plural of platypus is, I’m sorry.) It might be a good description of space-faring duckbilled platypuses, and an interesting idea, but unless something actually happens, or the story has something interesting to say about the existence of space-faring duckbilled platypuses, it isn’t going to go anywhere. (Lest this idea seem too crazy, a while back Charles Stross wrote an award-nominated story about space-faring lobsters. But that idea is, as you might expect, a small part of a much larger story.)
“Idea, ta-da!” is really only the beginning of the process. This is what writers mean when they say ideas are the easy part.
A few months ago I wrote a post where I pretty much brainstormed a story real-time. The idea was: What if all children in the world under the age of ten vanished? A newer writer might depict the event itself, what it would be like to watch the children vanish, and end the story there. But the really interesting stuff happens after, doesn’t it? It’s harder, digging into the implications of that event, seeing what the world would look like ten years later, and so on. It takes time, it takes thought, it takes thinking about some traumatic and uncomfortable ideas and scenes, but you have to go there and include that emotion if you want the story to affect people. (Children of Men is one of the best science fiction movies of the last ten years. It’s about a world where no children have been born in 18 years, and does a great job depicting the cultural implications. One of my favorite scenes shows an elementary school that has been abandoned and is going derelict, overgrown with weeds and falling apart. It’s a gorgeous, true detail that really added punch to the story.)
So, idea isn’t story. What do I do to turn an idea into a story? I brainstorm. I think about it, I write stuff down, think some more, write more stuff down. I try to figure out who my main character is early on — who will be most affected by the idea. I follow that person around for awhile.
Eventually, a scene will emerge from this muddle of ideas and scrawled notes. It’s not always an important or climactic scene, it may just be an image, and it may not even make it into the final story, but it will be important for the brainstorming/outlining process because it finally takes the idea and puts it in a context, puts it in a world. Once I have a scene, I can start imagining what came before that, and what came after. If I’m doing this right, by this time the initial idea is part of the background noise, because the real story involves the characters, settings, events, and scenes that have emerged from all that woolgathering.
For example: The idea behind my Kitty werewolf series is that a world with vampires and werewolves would need its own talk radio advice show because Dr. Laura wouldn’t be able to help these beings with their problems. By the time I got to the first story — about a werewolf radio DJ being stalked by a bounty hunter while she’s on the air — the initial idea had moved firmly to the background. Exactly where it needed to be. It’s a wonderful background, but I needed a character like Kitty to tell stories about for the idea to really go anywhere. The novel didn’t happen until I imagined a very specific scene: Kitty at a nightclub, dancing in celebration of her first little victory. That scene appeared early on in Kitty and The Midnight Hour, which is a book about a young woman learning to stand up for herself.
And that’s how I go from idea to story outline — “werewolf radio DJ” might be a fun idea, but it took writing several short stories and doing a lot of thinking to get the novel-length idea of “young woman learns to stand up for herself.” That last theme gave the structure to the outline I subsequently wrote.
I’d be interested to hear about other people’s processes. Like I said, it’s a stage people don’t often talk about, and I’m curious to hear how similar or different my process is from others.
Saturday, August 25th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Howdy folks and Happy Saturday!
I’m writing to you from my exercise bike in the Den of Ken — I’m still on my first mile while the coffee brews. We’ll see how far into this post I get before I hit my ten miles.
Yesterday afternoon, I wrapped up the revisions for Requiem, my fourth novel (and the fourth novel in my series The Psalms of Isaak.) I submitted the revised manuscript to my editor two weeks exactly after submitting the first draft. I received her editorial feedback about a week after sending over the initial manuscript.
This book, as you know, is very late. Later than the White Rabbit. Of the four novels I’ve written, the only one not interrupted by catastrophe was Lamentation. It was written in a six week blur of fear and loathing, so it really doesn’t get off the hook for being hard. I’d been pretty frightened of novels and writing a 120k book in six weeks was pretty grueling. Canticle and Antiphon were interrupted by the deaths of my mother and father respectively…and I finished Antiphon just as my daughters were being born. Three years ago.
Requiem was more challenging than I ever imagined it would be. First, there were the babies. Two of them. So I didn’t really even sit down to try until they were about a year old. I wrote in fits and starts, managing probably the first five chapters before the PTSD flare-up took me out for a long stretch. For a while, I couldn’t write at all. Then, after the treatment in Chicago — and after I’d had some time to process all of the events that triggered the flare-up — I slowly came back to it. I was working like a fiend on it when Jen’s grandma and father died within ten days of each other last Fall. And work stopped. Then, I was back to it in the spring when my step-mom died. And work stopped.
The lights came back on in late July which was good timing — the book was in Tor’s production calendar and we really didn’t want to move it again. So with much encouragement from my editor and my friends and family, I went on a tear. I wrapped the book in a two week push that left my wrists and hands sore, turned it over to my editor and then went on a revision tear that just concluded yesterday afternoon.
I hated Lamentation and Canticle both when I finished them — thought they were utter crap. With Antiphon, I had practiced enough that I felt like it was an okay book. At the end of Requiem, I found myself actually quite pleased. Of course, time will tell on that but I feel pretty confident that the fourth installment in the Psalms will be well received.
So yesterday, I celebrated. I took myself out to lunch and a congratulatory drink. Then, I took my body out for a one hour massage where Sarah the Massage Therapist paid special attention to my hands, wrists, arms, shoulders. I’ll find more celebration opportunities today. And I’ll continue the research on my next project — a short story — by reading up on the Frank L. Baum’s Oz stories.
I was asked yesterday what finishing Requiem means to me. It was a great question.
The first thing that came to mind was that it meant a close to this particular chapter of PTSD and loss. There will be other losses. I see some of them up around the bend a few years and I won’t be able to do a damned thing about that. Losses will come. Fortunately, the PTSD treatments make it easier but loss is loss and even writers without that particular bugbear experience work stoppages when people they love dearly die.
The second thing that came to mind is that it made me more confident of going full time. I’ve mentioned here that I’ll be going full time in the not-so-distant future. One of my fears has been around work stoppages. And though I’m sure to have more, I can’t imagine ever having the confluence of 8 losses and 2 babies born in the same four year period again. Statistically, I should be more likely to be run over by a herd of elephants. Or not.
The third thing is that once this button is pushed and the book is accepted (which should happen Monday) I will get paid. And I will get paid again when the book comes out. And along the way, via my royalty statements, I’ll start seeing any foreign advances showing up. To date, Germany and France are the only countries to have published all three books. Spain published the first and dropped the series. I can’t remember what’s happening in Russia and Bulgaria but I think they’ve only published the first. And the same is true of Japan. But any place that signs on for the book will be paying me, eventually, through the royalty process since the series earned out completely when Antiphon came out in hardcover.
Getting paid is nice.
The fourth thing and I think the most important is that at the end of it all, halfway into that brutal two week push to finish the first draft, I found myself having fun. I was exhausted but having the time of my life. I’d been very aware along the way of how my love affair with writing had gone sour and had become a complex and painful love/hate relationship. Not during that last week of Requiem. I was having a blast and fell completely in love with writing again. I felt that joy of creation and that enthusiasm for seeing how my characters rise up to deal with the rocks I’m throwing at them. So far this one means the most to me and it feeds the confidence about going full time. If I love it, doing it will come naturally most of the time. And I can already tell I’m flooded with energy and ideas. I’ve started a production calendar for the first time since before my mom died in 2007.
And fifth, it means that I’m just one book away from concluding my first series and fulfilling my first book contract with Tor. I’m happy about this, Tor’s happy about this, and the fans of the series are happy about this. I’m one book away from figuring out what next. Not bad, turning two interconnected short stories (one of which failed to stand alone) into a multi-volume series. Especially for a boy who was terrified of anything longer than 15,000 words.
I’m sure that as I process this, I’ll discover other things that finishing means to me. I know one big one is that it means I can slow up a bit, take in some movies and television, read some good books. I’ll be working short stories and possibly a novelette over the next few months, then settling in around Thanksgiving to read the first four books carefully and start laying out the foundation for the last book, Hymn.
I love the questions that splash into our brains and ripple out. “What does finishing Requiem mean to you?”
I think those questions are important and I’m really glad I was asked.
So what about you? What are you finishing? And what does it mean to you when you finally do?
Well, look at that! I’m sitting at 9.5 miles now. Not bad at all.
Trailer Boy out!
Friday, August 24th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Dear Thirteen Year Old Diana,
Hey, you. You in the molded desk chair in the second row of study hall. The one ignoring her Latin homework and scribbling yet another opening to what will be (I’m sorry to inform you) another unfinished fantasy novel. You who spent the weekend dressing up like characters from Jean M. Auel or Marion Zimmer Bradley (depends on the weekend) with your best friend. You with the beat-up paperback of yet another Mercedes Lackey or Christopher Pike novel taking up the space where your math homework should be.
I’m you in twenty years, and I have some news.
This week, I received author copies of the new anthology, UNDER MY HAT: TALES FROM THE CAULDRON, which is edited by Jonathan Strahan. It’s your fourth fiction anthology this year (well, tied for fourth, as you have another out the same day, which is edited by one of your new best friends, though don’t worry, you still have the old one, too). And it’s gorgeous:
Nice, huh? That’s your name there on the front, along with names you know, like Peter S. Beagle and Jane Yolen and Patricia McKillip, and names you don’t, but will later on, like Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher and Holly Black. Your story is called “Stray Magic” and it’s about a girl who is a lot like you are now, a girl who loves animals and tries hard and has no idea what she’s really capable of.
It opens the anthology.
So here’s what’s going to happen. The publisher of this anthology (which is Random House, and don’t freak out, but you know them pretty well by now), is going to send you some early copies in the mail. And you are going to sit down to read the other contributors’ stories. Spoiler alert: they are totally awesome.
Then you’re going to flip to the back to read the contributors’ bios. You’re going to lose count of the awards and honors they’ve received. You’re going to lose count of the books they’ve written (especially that Jane Yolen). And you’re going to see your name there among them, and start to cry, and wish like hell that you really could go back in time and tell your thirteen year old self that someday…. someday this book will be out in the world. (Next Tuesday, in fact.) She will be in an anthology with these writers whose works she so adores.
And, most of all, that she should keep scribbling, because eventually she will finish a story, and it’s going to change her world.
PS: I didn’t even tell you about the novels.
ETA: Forgot to mention, I’m giving away an early copy of UNDER MY HAT on my blog today. Hop on over to enter!
Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
A fellow romance author mentioned YA author Sherman Alexie on twitter today. I’m a huge Alexie fan. I think he’s an exceptional writer. I also think he’s an important voice in the writing community.
A year ago there was a new round of “YA books are too dark!!” cries form folks who wanted to ban certain works from schools and libraries, including one of Alexie’s books. Alexie wrote an article for the WSJ that conitnunes to resonate with me. I give the link to my students in writing classes because I think the article is that important. It’s called Why The Best Kids Books Are Written In Blood and you can click through to read it. I am moved by it every time I read it. The ending is one of my favorite parts:
And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.