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Good Times

Two awesome things happened in my writing life in the last two days.

One: wrote a short story I’d been wanting to write for a while now.  I managed to quiet down the excuse monkey and do it.  Amazing how after working on a 60k word + novel for a while makes writing up 3 to 5k words seem like so much less work than it used to.  I finished the entire first draft of the story in about 4 hours.  It’s a retelling of the Samson and Delilah story.  I’ve wanted to retell it ever since listening to Regina Spektor’s Samson song.  The original story is so stupid that I wanted to write a version that makes more sense (and involved more of a fantasy/sorcery bent to things rather than just stupid people).  It feels really good to get the story done.  I think I might take a chance and submit it to S&S depending on how my rewrites of the two other stories I’m considering go in the next week.  Though Samson drives some of the action, I feel that Delilah is truly the central part of it, so the strong central girl thing comes through well enough if subtly.

The second awesome is that I found out about grad school.  I’m in!  So now I have to figure out how to pay for it and what I’m going to do about that whole “sorta misrepresented the stuff I write” problem.  Though, to be fair, my two stories I sent in weren’t exactly mainstream normal either.  One is about a teenager heroin addict who kills her abusive ex (and has his ghost in the story) and the other is about a violin player from Hometown, Everywhere going to the Big City and finding herself (and falling for another girl). (And the final installment of that story, which I didn’t send them because I haven’t finished it yet reveals that the girl she’s in love with is actually a hermaphrodite with the bits of both sexes.  And I’m probably going to rewrite the whole thing and put a more high fantasy bent on it since as one reader pointed out it has that feel anyway).

I’m now brainstorming and taking all ideas for how to raise money for school.  So far on the maybe possible list (instead of the silly list) I’ve got bake sales and chapbook donation/sales.  It wouldn’t be that expensive to print up a little (maybe 40 page) chapbook of my poetry.  I’m not sure how many people I could convince to donate/buy them.  Anyone know how bake sales work?  Any other ideas?  I’m not expecting to raise all 25k, but it would be nice if I could get some monies to put towards books and such.  The more costs I can defray on the front end, the better it will be in the long run since I’m pretty much doomed to some sort of Federal loan.  (So much for having no debt. At least interest rates are low right now).

This does not affect the Ten in Ten plan, by the way.  I’m going to work my thesis into my novel plans and hopefully write a novel for it which will be that year’s novel.  Probably War Witches, but maybe the sequel to Dangerous depending if I get lucky and the whole sale thing happens.  I guess I’ll have to cross that whole “doesn’t like to write lit fic” bridge when I come to it, eh?  MFA programs do have a reputation for turning out writers who sound just like each other (and their profs), but I have my own fairly distinctive voice and thus this isn’t a huge concern.  I’m stubborn.

Well, now to wait for the paperwork machine that is the University proper to get around to processing that I’m admitted to the program and do the whole actual admission process so I can find out about aid.

Back to writing. Yay.

Humble Pies

I found a writing notebook from when I was 12.  I read over the stories in it and had a pretty good laugh at my poor baby self.  It isn’t exactly warming how far I’ve come as a writer, because hey, I was 12.  I wrote these stories to try to get published in Sword and Sorceress.  I’m glad now I didn’t send them in.  MZB has/had a bit of a reputation for being pretty harsh.  A friend of mine suggested I post some actual writing, so for your viewing pleasure, I’m going to post (without any editing at all) a short story from my 12 year old self as well as the letter I wrote to accompany it as a submission for S&S (S&S 9 or 10, it would have been).  No laughing. Well, ok, a little laughing is appropriate.  All comments of mine are in italics.

Dear Marion Zimmer Bradly,  (I’m sure misspelling her name would have gone over well)

I have written many stories but never tried before to have one published.  If you don’t like my story, could you please send me a list of you’re guidelines so that I can do better next time! (I was apparently in love with exclamation points at this time in my life, they are everywhere).

Thankyou,

my name

Lessons (even then I loved one word titles for my stories, so some things don’t change I guess)

I have to keep going. I must keep going. I will not fall. I will not fall. I must keep going. I will… not…fall.  I… will…not..stop. I must…move, must…run. I will not…stop. I…must…keep…going.  I… will…

I looked up. A big leafy branch met my vision. I was bound securely to a tree.  This was fun! Forcing my throbbing head to move I looked around.  Where was Rumor?  Then I remembered being dragged.  How far? How long?  I thought about that great black oaf!  I would skin her with a dull knife if… Stop, I told myself sharply.  For all I knew she might have been killed by this pack of rat eaters, that, until recently, I had been hunting.  Oh Rumor, please live. Please live. (I also still loved commas too!)

I must run. I must race. Hurry. Oh my sister, I come! (No, seriously, the exclamation point!)

Rumor, I thought bitterly.  This was my fault. Sure we had needed the money, but we’d lived through leaner times.  Oh goddess why?  My Rumor. Rumor.

“It’s awake.” Three rather uncleanced and unshaven men approached me.  Great!  “So kid, ya going to tell us what ya were doin’ near our camp, eh?”

I sighed. This had better be good.

Run, plunge. Stop. Wait. Liston. (I couldn’t spell listen, apparently, but I was consistent in using an o, that’s something right?) I will come. I must run. I will not fall. I must… go…on… I COME…

“Well?”  They looked at me.  Ok, I thought, take it slow, don’t say anything you’ll regret.

“I was lost, I am trying to get to the city of Sarket.  Do you know the way?”  Well, that wasn’t to bad.  A knife leveled at my throat.

“How did you get so near our camp?”

I tried again.  “I was lost.” I said perplexedly (I hope!).  (yes, I couldn’t spell listen but I could spell perplexed, mmm private school education)

The knife dug in a little. “How did you find our camp?”

“Aw, come on Jerrik, maybe the kids tellin’ the truth, let him go and send him to Sarket.”  On of the men pleaded. Yes! I thought, liston to him. He’s right! And I’m not a boy!

“Shut up, Kellis, Now kid do you want to live?” Jerrik glared at me.

“Mmhmm.” I nodded meekly. I was just about fed up with them.

“Good, then, tell me how you found our camp.”

Fine, if they insisted, I would, “My nose,” I snapped.  Their looks darkened. Whoops!

Easy, keep to the shadows. Sweet sister I come, look how I come. Slink, crouch, wait, wait, wait, now!

Two things happened at once. The first was I kicked Jerrik in the knee.  At that moment the other two crashed into him proppeled by, by, by Rumor!  They fell to the ground, stunned.

“Quick, untie me!” I hissed at her.  She grinned, her pink tongue hanging out.  “You’re drooling” I remarked politely as she began tearing apart my bonds.  As soon as I was free I checked the stunned bandits.  “Uh, Rumor, be a little more gentle next time, please?”

“Why?” She asked.

“Their dead” I replied.  (their, they’re, oh well. I know plenty of adults who can’t keep those straight, sigh)

“Ohf, really?” She said with some difficulty.  I turned to see her dragging our gear out of the bushes.

“You’re wonderful.” I laughed.

“And you’re dead.” Said a voice behind me. I moved, dropping into a spin kick that connected sharply with his chest as he fell I jammed my dagger into his throat.  Twisting to the side I ducked under a sword stroke and thrust up into his ribs.  I then dove for the sword and lept to my feet, armed!  Standing, sword in guard position I awaited the next attack.  It never came.  “Demons!” The two remaining men fled.  I turned to my companion.

“Well, let’s retire back and plan that attack on the camp.” I grinned broadly.

“Yes,” agreed Rumor. “Let’s and this time, please, make sure that the sentry you ‘killed’ is actually dead!”

*********

And that is the story.  Pretty improbable fight scene at the end, isn’t it?  Not entirely sure what I was thinking there.  Where did those guys come from?  All sorts of questions raised there.  Also, what is Rumor? I think I meant it to be a large cat, based on a Terry Brooks’ character of the same name that is a Moor Cat.  Poor little me. At least I never sent one in. I’m nearly 27 and I can barely handle rejection.  I can only imagine the pain I would have been in after inflicting that story on the S&S slushpile.

Perspective. I has it now.  Time to go work on something a little more current. Enjoy!

This Week In Writing

I’m putting the novel edit on hold this week in favor of finishing the edit on one of my short stories.  The reason for this?  It’s here.  This anthology was the whole reason my little 12 year old self started writing fantasy short stories.   I’m not sure the story I’ve got that is closest to being done is really exactly suited for this.  I’m going to rework the beginning and see how I feel about it.  I have a couple others that are nowhere near as polished that I could possibly rework also.  The reading period doesn’t begin for almost two weeks, so we’ll see what I can accomplish in that time frame.

So the plan for this week: rewrite the beginning of Monsters, look over my other short pieces and see what I have that might work, and just basically get back into the writing every day groove now that my uberlong work week is over.  2 hours a day, whether I need it or not.

On Series

Today over at John Scalzi’s blog there was a reader post about diminishing returns in series. The part of Scalzi’s answer that I’m going to talk about is specifically the world-building.

I’ve always enjoyed series. I thought it was mainly due to the characters. Once you get to know someone, even in a book, you want more of them. You want to know what happens to them, you want to hear their jokes and fight through their issues with them. I think that familiarity and interest in a character or set of characters has something to do with why people love series and why authors like to write them.

It wasn’t until I wrote my first novel that I understood the point that Scalzi brings up about worldbuilding. Now, as an avid roleplayer and sometime GM, I understand the difficulties of building worlds. I’d never understood it from a writing perspective, however, because until a couple years ago, I only wrote short stories.  Each story is a tiny world, and I didn’t have to worry too much about over-arching consistencies or taking things out of the small perspective.

Novels have no such protection.  For my first book I built a city, then a world.  I started small, thinking only about the characters and the immediate world around them.  But in order to bring length, richness, and consistency into things, I had to form a history and from there a whole bunch of layers, rules, reasons, and description took shape by necessity .  I’m still working on it.  Every time I sit down to edit I find things I haven’t completely thought out that need tuning and details that I either need to explain further or change to something more in line with the world as a whole.

I wrote this first novel as a dare.  It was sort of a joke novel.  Now I’ve got about 15 pages of the sequel (the first chapter basically) also on my computer.  I didn’t mean to do a sequel.  I have other novel ideas, other worlds I want to build and explore.  But since I’m spending so much time building the world of the first novel, it almost seems a waste not to explore the world further.  There is much left unsaid, undone.  The second book will have barely any of the main characters from the first, though as I outline and plan it they speak up more and more.   I’ve spent so many hours inside their heads, so many hours imagining their planet, their cities.  I want to do more in that universe.  I feel like if I’m putting in all the effort, I want to reap a little of the fun too.

I think series jump the shark when the Author stops caring about the characters or starts just following a formula to churn things out.  As with anything, there is a time to let a world go.  To relate it back to gaming, would you run the same dungeon ten times in a row just with slightly different monsters?  No, of course not (hopefully anyway, cause damn that is lazy!).  Your players are going to get bored since they’ve already fought through the same corridors.  Returning to the dungeon once or twice could be interesting to them.  Familiarity can leave room for surprises if you change things a little and upset expectations in good, reasonable ways.  Too much familiarity (haven’t we fought this dire rat before in this room? Or… yeah, we know the grick is about to pop out from behind that suspicious black shrubbery) just breeds contempt.  The key is not to let things get stale.  The key is to care.  Care about your players (or readers), care about your world, your characters.  If the Author has something invested in the work (besides the money…), it shows.

I don’t think there is a “law of diminishing returns” so to speak in writing.  I believe it is fully possible to just get better and better as one goes.  Keep caring, keep writing, keep exploring the crazy ideas or the areas of a world that are still shrouded in darkness.  It’s a lot of work to build a world.  Might as well enjoy the bounding about inside it finding problems to solve and dusty corners to explore.  As for my writing personally, well, frankly this is the first novel I’ve ever written.  Because I’m learning and growing my craft, if I’m doing it right any other books I write in the series will be better than the first.  And that’s just as it should be.  If everything went according to some law, thereby, I would say it would be a law of compounding returns. (Invest early and often kids).  The more you write, the more you explore and grow and evolve as both a writer and a person, the better your writing should be.  So it follows that the final book in any series should be worlds better than the first.

If it isn’t, maybe, in the words of the internets:  Writing, UR Doin’ it Rong.

Writing, I Choose You!

Well, I made my decision.  I am not taking the new job.  I know I wouldn’t have time for writing, not writing anything substantial anyway like a novel.   Thus do I go forward into the unknown.  I can’t succeed if I don’t try, right? Hopefully that thought won’t be a thin blanket in the years to come.

This week I’ve gotten exactly nothing done.  I was on quite the roll with my novel edit last week.  This week I’m working 11 nights in a row (I have 6 days left) which means I have zero energy or brains for anything.  At least I’m getting lots of reading done.

Next week I plan to get cracking.  I want the novel edit finished by the end of April.  I have two more chapters to add that need to be written from whole cloth and about ten more chapters that I have to go over with the proverbial fine tooth comb for errors, inconsistencies, and stupidity. Everywhere in my hard copy notes I’ve written “More Peril”!  While amusing me, it also means more work.  Fortunately, I have the new Dresden Files novel to inspire me.  If Jim Butcher can do one thing perfectly, it is creating peril.  Poor Harry never gets to sleep or eat or prop his feet up.   There are plenty of scenes in my novel where I give my characters a break or gloss over parts where they could be in a lot more danger.  Just one of the many things I’m slowly fixing.  It is mild comfort that authors I enjoy like Jim Butcher or Elizabeth Bear go through multiple drafts that apparently often number in the double digits.  Comparisons can only go so far, however.  Every writer is different, every writing process is the same.  I think this is one of the places where writing lots really does help a writer get better.  We learn about ourselves this way, we learn the HOW of what we’re doing.  Every time I try something I haven’t before with my process, I’m growing as a writer.  Just as every time I continue to do things that work, I still refine the why and how of what’s working.  Maybe in ten years I’ll have more concrete answers. Maybe things will be wildly different.

Also, I joined the Online Writers Workshop, http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com .   I haven’t posted any writing yet.  I will likely post a short story for review once I’ve finished rewriting the first half.  I have reviewed a few stories.  The quality of work on the site is higher than on the random forums I’ve been trolling.  There are still the gems of the “oh my god, why do you even bother thinking you can write a coherent or interesting story?”  I had the entire house in stitches over one such piece (the melodramatic live reading probably amped up the badness factor).  The quality of the criticism is pretty good, so I’m using my 4 week trial to see how helpful it could be for me.  We’ll see.

That about wraps it up for this week.  I’ve been getting about 5-6 views a day, strangely enough.  So if anyone reading this has fiction writing topic  posts they are interested in me writing about, let me know.  I’m trying to think of some more craft related things to write about since as long as all I’m working on is my novel edit, it makes my posts here rather dry.  I do intend to write up a post about writing for comics and how I do it. That’s all for now.

The ten in ten project continues!

Editing and Bribes

I added an entire chapter today in the beginning part of the novel. It sets up a conspiracy that is alluded to later and ties the events of the first two chapters into the events later in the novel. What it means for the practical side of writing is that I now have a ton of inconsistencies to go in and fix as well a couple more threads to pick up and weave into the main part. Which means that for the moment, the novel gets even messier.

I want it done. I want to be able to print a few hard copies, stuff them in binders, and then disperse to the people who have offered to be my beta readers. I want to start on my new projects and get this whole stupid thing over with. It’s so easy to just ignore it, however, and work on other things. I’ve got books to read and two other novels in the works. So I arrived at a natural solution to trick myself into buckling down and just doing it.

Bribary. I wrote a sticky note and fixed it to the wall behind my monitor. It reads “When you finish editing your novel, you may spend 250 on things from your Amazon Wishlist. So do it! Now!” Thus not only will it be off my back in terms of needing to get done, but I’ll get real life rewards of things I want. It’s sort of like getting paid to do it. I think if I make a real effort and a big push, I can finish in two to three weeks. The more hours I spend on it, the faster I’ll get to reward myself. It’s a cheap trick. But if it works, I’ll use it.

The other bribe I’m debating offering myself is to go to World Con in Montreal in 2009. It would be awesome to get to vote in the Hugo awards and it would be a good networking opportunity since agents and editors go as well as some of my favorite authors. There are also workshops and such run. If I can get both novels done this year and edited up to a basically polished state, I think I’ll be ready to find an agent and launch myself into the world of rejections (err, I mean professional writing, really).

I’ve also joined the Online Writing Workshop. So far I’m just reviewing things since I don’t feel I have anything to post for reviews yet. Once I’ve finished the rewrite of my Monsters short story, I’ll probably post that. The quality of writing on the site is better than most and the reviews I’ve read so far are fairly detailed and helpful. I’m using my month long free trial to see if I could get enough out of it to be worth the 50 per year fee for access. So we’ll see how that goes.

Well, that is the news on the projects of doom so far. I’ll try to think up a more interesting or at least writing informative post later this week.

Ranty McRant

Please ignore the whining.

I’m having a terrible time editing this damn novel. It’s sad really. I want to burn it, delete it, throw it far far away. Unfortunately, I know it would sling back around like a bad joke to smack me in the face. One of the reasons it’s being such a pain in my ass is that the ‘fixes’ for it are actually pretty obvious but super time consuming. I’m pulling parts that didn’t make sense before together, which requires pages and pages of completely fresh material. I’m revamping the science and making it less fly by seat of pants (or seat of wikipedia), and I’m inserting a great deal more character interaction and hopefully motivation. I’m brimming with ideas about it. Ideas are never the issue.

Basically, I feel like a person who buys an old fixer-upper house and then sinks 10 years of time and money and effort to make it beautiful. I don’t want to find out my lovely house isn’t worth what I’ve paid for it. I’ve said before that I sort of hate this novel. It was a dare, a bit of a joke. But I also know that I’m often my own worst critic. I know that there are things worth exploring at least in this novel. I can see the possibilities in the ragged and ugly bones of my tale.

But the doubts linger. Would this time be better spent writing one or both of the other novels I’m working on this year? I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ll ever really know. I do know that I would love to just have this damn thing done already. Not to overuse a literary convention, but this novel is fast becoming my writing albatross. I know I need to just suck it up and git’er done. If only things were so easy.

In other news, no word yet about that job. I’m still on the fence. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep plugging away at the writing. Now if only I could banish thoughts of my Civil War Witches novel from my brain. That novel is at least a year or two away from being written. Grr.

Alright, /endrant.

Wrenches

Well, I’ve been offered a job in Technical and Marketing Writing.  It’s sort of using my degree, at least one of them.  The pay is low for the work, but not too low.  It has benefits and such.  It’s also full time.  Which means no more days free for writing.  I know me, if I have no me time, I don’t get to write.  I can’t do it with distractions or too much structured time.

The pros are real experience in a field that actually pays reliable money.  And it’s about double what I’m making part time now.

The cons are a commute, and no more free time.

So, do I choose fiction writing?  Or money?

Forward at Last!

My computer is all set up and my writing rescued from the old, corrupt hard-drive. Which means I now have access to my novel. Which means no more excuses for not editing it.

I’m terrified of it not being good enough. I know it isn’t good enough right now. It’s not long enough, the writing is a complete mess in terms of grammar and consistency, and there is so much more telling than showing it’s sort of pathetic. I don’t know if I can fix it. If the bones aren’t good, what’s the point right? In the 2008 Writers’ Market for Novels and Short Stories there is an article about how to know when something is no good and when to move on to the next project. It’s where I first got the idea for the ten novels in ten years. And I know in my head that it isn’t done. There is a decent story here, there are characters I kind of like sometimes.

The problem is that this novel is my Frankenstein. Not the book, the monster. It’s the first. My original baby that I threw together from bits and pieces I could find laying around. A bit of a bad spy novel I read once, a couple characters from an old Shadowrun game, a villain right out of one my dreams, a mall fight scene because I thought it would be cool. It’s a patchwork novel, a strange creature built from cut corners and stolen inspirations. And to make it acceptable, to make it truly mine, I can’t just put a pretty dress on it and send it to the ball. That is why this rewrite is going to be so much work. I have to tear into the structure and rework the very marrow of the stuff. There will be carnage.

Time to get it out of the way, however. I have to do this. So for my two hours a day I’m going to be reworking a chapter at a time of Dangerous. (God do I wish I had a real title for this, sigh). It might take me longer than two hours per chapter, it might not. I don’t really care. One chapter per day. This will only take at most 20 days, and that’s if I add chapters. I can’t remember where it stood exactly, but I think it’s only about 17 chapters long at this point.

Things I want to do to this novel besides burn all copies:

1) Fill out character backstories and motivations. It’s third person omniscient, so this should be fairly easy.

2) Add about 100 pages to the novel. I don’t think this will be difficult either.

3) More world description. Make the setting matter more and feel more oppressive and dystopian. Include more news casts and more camera/police presence. (I should watch more Fox news to get more ideas, heh).
4) More peril. Things in the novel are entirely too much on the side of my protagonists. They should work harder. It’ll be more interesting.

5) Rework pretty much all the writing. It’s super sloppy right now due to me trying to cram words in for the word count. Contractions are a good thing.

Those are the main things. If I manage to fix all those things, I think the end product will be something more like a workable draft. Then I can finally inflict it on my friends and mother. They keep asking about it, silly fools. Well, by the end of March they will have learned the error of their ways. Oh yes.

Waxy Thoughts

After spending the majority of a 12 hour work shift putting together a reading wish list and trolling writing forums, I’m exhausted and full to brim with thoughts that won’t seem so deep tomorrow.

After reading a largish amount of amateur short fiction in the last few days, I’m yet amazed at ego involved. On the one hand, posting for reviews is good. Having others read one’s work is useful often. On the other hand, so many of these ‘reviews’ are fellow amateur writers who refuse to say anything more negative than making gentle comments about maybe looking into cleaning up grammar or spelling mistakes. It’s a lot of back patting and hand holding. For me, it’s very hard not to fire up the flamethrower and wade on in. For criticism to work, it has to be constructive. But it also has to be critical. “You’re story was nice.” or “I liked it.” doesn’t help. Even a little. And really, the illusions about their skills that 99% of these writers seem to harbor, well, it’s staggering. Half the time I’m tempted to leave truthful yet equally unhelpful reviews like “you really need to scrap this and start over” or “maybe your talents lie more in knitting, or cooking, or something that will never involve the English language or a keyboard.” Of course, this doesn’t tell them much. It doesn’t really help because such negativity is easy to ignore. So instead I try to offer real criticism that basically says these things in very long form. I tear tiredly into these little tidbits of drivel offered up by the writing virgins and hope that at least some part will sink in.

There’s a strange gap in writer ego, as far as I can tell. People who write amateur fiction seem to fall into two camps. There are the writers who think they are the next great ‘thing’, the undiscovered genius. Then there are those (of which I’m one, I must admit) who think that they’re pretty much doomed to remain unread and unloved because they’ll never be sure if anything they’ve written is any good at all. Sometimes I wish I could change camps. Having some measure of pride or at least misplaced glee in my work might spur me to actually get things done. Certainly some of my least favorite writers among the published masses manage to produce vast amounts of their mediocre fiction. Perhaps that thin illusion of potential would make a nice shield for my easily bruised writing ego.

Perhaps I should just stop reading good books. Every time I read a decent novel, I dig myself a little deeper into the trench of personal expectation. Sadly, reading bad novels just pisses me off instead of providing a ladder out of said conceit. Recently I’ve been reading Simon Green’s Hawk and Fisher stories. I’m disappointed. It’s amateur writing at its finest. The potential is there, but the stories so far feel like something churned out to meet a writing workshop first draft deadline. I pretty much hate reviewing things, so this should tell you how surprised I was at the quality of this work. I mean, it came recommended, damnit. Sigh. It should give me hope; this mediocre work by an author with plenty of published works to his name. Somehow this only makes me sad.

In the writing project news category: I’ve decided that while I’m not a daily writer sort of writer, I need to kickstart myself. I’ve taken on a lot more project than I intended to, which means my usual method of binge writing isn’t going to cut it. I can’t keep treating writing like a free bag of cookies that I eat half of before I realize I don’t really like these cookies, but then finish out of guilt. So I’m aiming for 2 hours a day of writing type activity. That’s ten hours a week. (weekends are full of work, and work is full of stupid which isn’t good for writing). We’ll see how Plan B goes. Plan C involves a blow torch, six white mice, a one way plane ticket, and pink silk stockings. Don’t ask.

(edit: also, I realize the irony of saying I write mediocre fiction vs my arrogant presumption that my critical reviews of other works are valid and useful.  In my defense, I’m a pretty damn good editor.  Also, I read more than pretty much anyone I know.  It might be cliche to say that reading makes you better at writing, but it is true to an extent.  I’ve spent years feeling out and learning what works or doesn’t as I read. )