Sunday, December 29, 2013

Flash Fiction: Bruised

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: Now that the big five-week challenge is over, I thought it was time for something a little more, well, typically me. I used that challenge to stretch myself, writing types of things I don't usually write and merging my voice with that of others. This one is just a little bit of an idea plucked from the chaos in my head. Have you ever noticed a bruise and found yourself totally unable to recall where you got it? When something like that happens to me, the Muse invariably ends up making up a story.

His hand slid up my thigh and my body tingled. God I needed this. This week had been hell. Literally.

But he paused a few frustrating inches short of the goal. "How'd you get this bruise?"

I pushed up on my elbows. It said sad things about my life choices that I didn't know which bruise he was talking about.

From his tone, you'd think I had a mark the size of a melon. This one wasn't bad. About the size of a half dollar and, instead of throbbing purple and red, it was already faded and splotched over with yellowy-green.

My brain filtered back, trying to match the bruise up with something. A screeching meow and a dull thud.

He gave my thigh a little squeeze, letting me know he was waiting for an answer. I bit my lip, debating. Even though I hadn't gotten that particular bruise at work, I didn't want to talk about that night.

Blood and guts weren't good pillow talk.

Besides, I didn't want to be that girl right now. I wanted to be a normal girl about to have normal sex with a normal guy. Okay, not normal sex. Damn great sex.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," I said, shifting my legs and hoping he would get the hint.

No such luck. "I always believe you." He traced the bruise, content to just lie there and talk instead.

We were naked here. Shouldn't that be enough to distract the man?

"So what was it? Rogue shape-shifter? Runaway zombie? Biker witch on a bender?"

I rolled my eyes. "I was getting out of bed, stepped on the cat, and hit the footboard." It was the exact truth, not one letter more.

He glanced from the bruise to the footboard, lining it up. "Why do you put up with their shit?"

"I tripped over a cat. My normal, not-in-any-way-magical cat. It could happen to anyone. Or don't you believe me?"

My heart clenched; I hadn't meant to ask that. I never asked that. Because at some point he wouldn't believe me anymore. At some point all of them did. And then I'd be alone again.

"I always believe you," he said, and my heart started beating again. "But you left out the part about why you were getting out of bed. It was for something completely outside normal human nightmares, right?"

Clever. Too damn clever. I flopped down on the pillow. "I don't suppose I could get away with saying I just had to pee?"

"Is that what happened?"

The mattress dipped as he crawled up my body. His gaze met mine and there was a challenge I hadn't expected there. All this time I'd been waiting for him to reject my crazy shit and use "the truth" as an excuse to pull away. Instead he was daring me to not give him a reason.

When this thing between us went south, it wasn't going to about him not trusting me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Behold All the Excuses!

Wow, December is a busy month. There's the post-Nano burn out to contend with, the grinding gears exhausting make-myself-sit-down-and-just-do-it work of getting back into Familiar, holidays to prepare for, traveling to do, and family to visit with, etc, etc, etc.

Look, look, I'm just full up with excuses this month!

This is supposed to be my week to post a review of a writing book, but, while I have a couple of them in my TBR, I didn't have time to read any of them. Better luck next month, I suppose. I also don't really have anything left in my brain for a blog post, so instead I'll leave you with this cute little meme I saw on Twitter the other day. I think it sums things up nicely.


If you're celebrating Christmas today, have a merry one! If not, enjoy the relaxing/frustrating day of pretty much everything being closed. And have some fried rice for me!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Abstract Thoughts: Getting the Train Moving

Writings of The Muse
I know I just blogged a nice whiney little rant last week, and you thought you were going to get a break from me for a few weeks, but I'm back again. The Inner Editor traded blogging weeks with me. She didn't really know how to explain what's been going on lately. It requires a good metaphor, and encouraging imagining isn't really her forte.

Picture a train coupled up to something heavy. I don't mean one of those cute little trolley-like trains you see in old movies, which are only capable of hauling half a dozen little old ladies drinking tea and nibbling on scones. I mean a big monster of a train pulling... I don't know, industrial mining equipment or something.

Now picture what happens when that train tries to start moving. One doesn't just drop something like a train into drive and zip away, 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds. The engine revs, the wheels wobble, the axles strain. Things inside the engine that I don't actually know the names of grind and groan come dangerously close to snapping and shattering into a million tiny pieces. Potential energy ramps up and up and up until finally, ever so slowly, the train gets enough power together to lurch into motion.

The wheels rock forward a little, then a little more, and then a little more, eventually turning all the way round. The next rotation is easier, but not by much. Momentum builds little by little and the wheels turn faster and faster and eventually the train is screaming down the track.

That whole start up process doesn't look like much from the outside. I'm not a train expert, by any means, so I couldn't really say. But it probably only takes a few minutes, really.

But from inside the engine, it must feel like an eternity.

If you can place yourself in the role of that engine, you'll have a good idea of what it's been like to live in Renee's head over the past few weeks. The degree of difficulty in going back to Familiar after spending a month on Guardian was unexpected. After all, we've taken time away from working before and come back to it with no problems.

But the reality of that kind of break is that while Renee is out of the game, the rest of us are still plugging away at it in the background. This time was different. This time Renee didn't just take a break; we all actively engaged in working on a completely different project. Familiar was still running in the background, I suppose, but no one was really paying any attention to it.

So we learned a very important lesson this year thanks to NaNoWriMo. Leaving Guardian's world and getting back into the right mindset for Familiar has taken a lot more effort than any of us anticipated. So we'll have to plan for that if we ever do something like this again.

But I think we're good now. The wheels might still be a little wobbly, but they're turning again at least. I sincerely hope it won't be long now before momentum is driving us so hard the brakes become useless.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Flash Fiction: 200 Words at a Time, Part Five

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: Here goes the final round of Chuck Wendig's collaborative flash fiction challenge. I have to say, when I initially read the description of this challenge five weeks ago, I thought it would be something fun and kind of mindless to get everyone through the holiday rush. It hasn't been that. It's been fun, yes, but certainly not mindless and I've learned a ton. I'm so glad I decided to participate. There were many good stories to choose from again this week, but this one jumped up and grabbed me right away and wouldn't let go. I just had to finish it off. It's called "Making Merry" and was co-authored by Amanda L. Webster, Michael D. Woods, Jeff, Mark Gardner, and now me. My contribution picks up at "Well, well. If it isn't my little Merry, all grown up." Enjoy!
(Source: Chuck Wendig's blog)


Making Merry

Merry took a last, long drag on her cigarette before flicking it out the window. The butt skittered across the pavement, throwing a shower of sparks across the street. Nash always nagged her to quit, but Merry had always been more afraid of living than she was of dying. Her breath hung in the chill night air over the steering wheel. She pulled a wad of Starbucks napkins from the center console and wiped the fog from inside the windshield so she could get a better look at the neat suburban ranch.

It was a duplicate of every other house on the block. If she was drunk, she might have gone to the wrong house. But she wasn't and besides, she knew this house. She knew the dormant lilac bush that shouldn't have been planted so close to the front door. She knew each straw covered rose bush by name.

Merry had left the envelope with the bail money under her sister's pillow early that morning before leaving for work. She hoped Melody wouldn't find it and spend it, not realizing what it was for.

The porch light flicked on. It switched off, then on again. Once. Twice. Thrice. It was time.

Merry switched the headlights off and drove slowly past the house. The street lamps along this stretch of road were busted and anyone standing near a window would have to look hard to catch a glimpse of the vehicle as it cruised by. Forty dollars well spent, contributing to the delinquency of rock-throwing teens be damned.

After parallel parking between a Saab and a BMW, Merry slouched deeper into the seat, reached to adjust the rear-view mirror and watched the house. Within minutes of the flickering porch light, three men climbed from nearby cars and walked up the sidewalk toward the front door. Merry edged forward, staring hard into the mirror. Was the fourth man already inside? It didn't matter. If everything went as planned, come morning she would either be in jail or dead.

She slipped back down into the seat, pulled a pack of Winstons and a lighter from her purse. Merry lipped a cigarette from the pack and lit up. She took a deep pull, certain it would be her last, and held it briefly before exhaling a thick plume of smoke out the window. Only minutes to go.

"So good to see you," said Nash, aiming a pistol at Merry's head.

"Wish I could say the same about you," she replied, slowly scooting herself higher in her seat, the pistol following her head as it rose.

"When are you going to quit that kid's habit?" he asked.

Merry took a drag and said "No time like the present." She blew the smoke out hard in Nash's face, while simultaneously flicking the half-smoked butt into his face. Sparks erupted as the orange-hot coal exploded between his eyes. Nash's face twisted in grimace. His eyes clamped shut and he took a step backward. Merry pushed the car door open as hard as she could, smashing it into his knees. Nash fell to the ground, dropping his pistol. She got out of the driver's seat and pulled her .38 snub nose revolver from her shoulder holster under her coat.

"You stupid bitch," Nash said through gritted teeth, rubbing the ashes from his face. "What are you going to do now? Storm the house?" Nash chuckled, "Good luck with that." He glanced around, found the pistol about an arm’s length away. He glanced up at her and began a sudden reach.

"Yea, that's it big boy, go for it," she said, pulling the hammer back on the pistol.

"Like you need an excuse." He said keeling in front of her.

"It makes the paperwork easier to fill out."

"When have you ever cared for ease?"

Merry smiled as he looked down again at his weapon and brought the metal in her hand down hard across the back of his skull. She felt sorry for Nash she actually liked him, but this was the way it needed to be. Regardless of the outcome, she knew what she needed to do.

Storm the house? She snorted indignantly. In the darkness of the broken street lamps she crept up to the house. Kneeling under an open window, she strained to hear as many details as possible.

"I'll see your ten and raise you twenty." She heard through the window. Another voice responded, "You're full of crap." A pause, followed by, "Tryin' to buy the pot, eh?"

What the hell? Her intel couldn't be this wrong. She uncocked the hammer on her revolver preparing to leave and knocked over a metal decoration.

"What was that?"

She froze, willing herself to blend into the shadows.

"What was what?"

"I heard a noise outside."

A figure appeared in the open window. He scanned the yard and his eyes locked on Merry.

"Well, well. If it isn't my little Merry, all grown up."

For a heartbeat that voice threatened to ruin everything, to freeze her just a few feet short of her goal and leave her more helpless than ever. But then the other men in the house started shouting and scrambling, their panic breaking the spell.

He didn't flinch when she raised the gun, didn't try to duck or tell her to stop. Maybe he didn't think she could really do it.

He hadn't been keeping very close tabs on his little Merry after all. Before he could realize his mistake, she squeezed the trigger.

"Drop the gun!" someone screamed in her ear. A heavy body slammed into her back.

Nash, she realized, recovered from his sprawl on the pavement and rushing to the rescue.

Too late.

She smiled, not even minding that he latched the cuffs tight enough to cut off her circulation. She'd seen the bullet slam home, seen the hole open up just above his nose, obliterating that crease he always got when they didn't show proper respect.

It was over.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writer's Block is Real

When I was in college, I was a part of the residence hall association, which, for those who never had the privilege, was basically like student government for the people who lived in the dorms. We put together ice cream socials, debated the merits of 2-ply toilet paper, and lobbied the housing office for new pool tables and televisions.

Oh, and I suppose I should say we were like student government for the people who lived in the residence halls. Because the housing office folks were on a big kick that calling the buildings "dorms" sent the wrong message. It brought up images of tiny little rooms and crap furniture, and a dorm was just a place to sleep. Our buildings were meant to be more than that, a place with tiny little rooms and crap furniture where you lived. So there were no "dorms" on our campus. We had "residence halls".

Yeah, we had dorms. The reason I know we had dorms is because all these years later when I try to explain to someone where I lived during my first three years of college, all I've got is an image of a tiny little room with crap furniture where I slept. Calling it a residence hall instead of a dorm didn't make the rooms any bigger or the furniture any better or magically turn Weaver Hall into the hot spot on campus where all the cool kids wanted to hang out.

I am reminded of this useless propaganda effort every time I hear someone offering up writing advice and telling people that writers' block doesn't exist.

"Writer's block isn't real. You're just stuck," they say. Or "It's not writer's block; you just don't understand the direction your characters are trying to tell you to go." "You don't have writer's block. You're just in a slump and the writing is hard right now."

When people say these types of things, I sort of want to smack them. Imagine for a moment that you told me you were poor, and I said you weren't poor, you just don't have sufficient income to meet your basic living expenses. I'm pretty sure you'd look at me and say (or more likely shout), "What the heck do you think poor means!?!"

And when you get right down to it, writers, as generally articulate individuals, wouldn't have a concept called something as freaking silly as "writer's block" in the first place if it didn't exist. The sensation of sitting down in front of your work-in-progress and being unable to find a single intelligible relevant word anywhere in your cranial cavity is real. I'm pretty sure every writer in the history of writing has felt it at least once in their career.

So let's all agree to face the facts here. Just as I lived in a dorm in college and people who don't make enough to put food on the table are poor, writers who feel stuck and are having a hard time writing are blocked.

Writer's block is real. It's not a myth or an urban legend. It's a thing that exists.

When I get writer's block, it usually manifests itself this way: I sit down at my computer to write and instead of opening the appropriate Scrivener project, my brain directs my fingers to click on my grocery list instead. Or I get the sudden overwhelming need to rework my project timelines. Or the alarm goes off and I'm just too terribly exhausted to get out of bed to write that day. If I'm not paying attention, I can quickly make 100 other things more important than the day's word count and oops, my writing time is over, and aw, shucks, better luck next time.

Because the idea of writing just doesn't sound appealing enough that day. I don't like the feeling I'm getting from the work lately and while I might technically know what happens next in the story, I don't have the words to get myself there. Something between the creative part of my brain and my ability to articulate is, to use the most appropriate word possible in this context, blocked.

The reason, I suspect, that so many people in the industry try so hard to convince us that writer's block doesn't exists is that it's become too popular. Too trendy. We all know the cliche because we've all seen the movie. The ennui-ed writer hanging around the bar at night, lamenting their stymied career, using the trauma of having *heavy sigh* writer's block to explain away all manner of what would otherwise look like very lazy behavior. And to get themselves laid.

And so instead of being a problem to overcome, it's just oh-so-cool to be a writer tragically suffering from writer's block.

But in as much as writer's block is a real thing, it's also not a thing you can tragically suffer from. If you're moping around in bars, bemoaning to all the tragedies of your writer's block, doing pretty much everything except trying to write, you aren't having writer's block. You're just being dumb. Or lazy.

Instead of likening writer's block to a terminal illness, let's instead look at it more like a bad hair day. Just like a bad hair day, writer's block absolutely sucks and it's the last thing you want to be dealing with, but you can't use it as a reason to call out from work. You just have to either suck it up and spend a lot of time and energy overcoming it or hide it under your hat.

Unless you want to make your boss to laugh really hard and then get fired. And look like a pathetic idiot to everyone you subject to your ridiculous tale of exaggerated woe.

(There are also some people who do stupid things to their heads, like ask the stylist to give them a Beiber or opt for the cherry Kool-Aid method instead of coughing up the dough for real dye. Those people aren't having a bad hair day. They're like those "writers" who don't actually try to write and spend all their time talking about how they're "blocked" instead. They're just dumb. Or lazy.)

There is a ton of advice out there to help writers get past writer's block, especially in articles and books and blog posts claiming that writer's block doesn't exist.

Those, by the way, usually say something like this: "Writer's block doesn't exist. But when you get that stuck feeling where you're supposed to be writing but can't think of what comes next no matter how hard you try (which sounds an awful lot like writer's block but shhh, we're not calling it that because writer's block isn't real) here's what you should do..."

I don't want to get bogged in the various methods of combatting writer's block here. There are tons of ways to work past a block and also ways to hide from one and work around one and generally trick writer's block into irrelevance. I'll save that for another post, since this is already kind of long and meandering as it is. I've just been reading a lot of these "writer's block is a myth" posts and such lately and it's been grating on me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Abstract Thoughts: This Is Not What I Signed Up For

Writings of The Muse
I should probably be using my blogging time to talk about something constructive or at least creative, but I'm going to have to take a little time here to rant instead. I'm not sure I'm really liking this plan Renee has pulled together with all the bouncing back and forth between projects. I'm the new kid on the block around here, so I don't really have the seniority to kick up a stink or anything, but I feel like the victim of some bait and switch.

You see, when I signed on as Renee's new Muse, I was told all about how she likes to work on more than one project at a time. But I understood that to mean she liked to be writing one thing and editing something else. I'd be sharing the workload with the Inner Editor. And for a while it worked out. I mean, we didn't have anything to revise yet, but we were writing one story and the Inner Editor was helping with the plotting and tracking stuff.

But now we're not doing that. We're working on two completely different projects now. I mean, sure, Renee is only working on Familiar, but it's not like Guardian just went away. I've still got to keep those characters occupied in the background. Otherwise they might wander off and try to insert themselves into another story entirely.

So I've got two completely different sets of characters and plots to keep track of, not to mention all the subplots and settings and magic systems. And with the plotting on both of them done, there's nothing the Inner Editor can help me with.

Renee doesn't see there being any problem with this. The Idea Salesman is all "suck it up, sweetheart". And I swear I overheard the Inner Editor talking to someone about plane tickets and the Caribbean the other day, and then she went out and bought new luggage. I think she'd planning on running out on me.

Leaving me to keep Familiar chugging along and keep Guardian from drifting off too far as well. I know I'm intangible and all, but that doesn't me I can actually be in two places at once.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Flash Fiction: 200 Words at a Time, Part Four

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: Time for round four of Chuck Wendig's collaborative flash fiction challenge! We're coming to the end of things now, pushing the stories forward toward next week's conclusions. It should be interesting to see how people tie these things up. A bunch of them are making me want to keep writing them for another 10,000 word. Or okay, since I can't write short stories, probably 100,000 words. This week I decided to go with a story started by Liz Neering and continued by Andrea Speed and Kyra Dune. As I've been doing, I haven't marked out the places where the author changes for the sake of reading continuity, though those links will take you to each evolution of the story. My contribution picks up with He disappeared between one heartbeat and the next...
(Source: Chuck Wendig's blog)

Isa stood in the deer blind, the tip of her rifle pointed through the narrow slat out towards the forest beyond. To her teammate she looked like a stranger, a bundle of cold-weather clothing with only a thin strip of brown skin showing between scarf and snow goggles. The brown strip turned to face him, black eyes a shadow behind polarized plastic.

"I fucking hate these sneaking missions," she said. "I just want to shoot something. I don't think that's a lot to ask."

Tyler snorted. Behind the heavy fur lining of his coat, he opened his mouth to speak, sending a puff of white into the air. But whatever he meant to say was lost in the sudden crunch of snow, the snapping of evergreen boughs. The hunters' eyes snapped back to the woods.

Lumbering out from the treeline was a massive creature, wrapped in battered leather, dragging a heavy metal ball and chain. Blood dripped from its mouth and hands. Its head turned as it scanned the field. The hunters drew close together, crowding around the blind's small opening.

"I can shoot it, right?" Isa hissed. "It's far enough away. The others won't hear." Tyler shouldered into her, shaking his head. But neither moved the muzzles of their rifles, and neither took their eyes off the beast.

Isa then saw a flash out of the corner of her eye, a swift movement that almost made her flinch, and was enough to tear her eyes away from her target. "What the hell was that?"

"What was what?" Tyler asked.

She pulled out her binoculars and scanned the shadows where she had seen it. Right now she saw nothing but darkness. "I think we have a secondary contact," she said, even though she had no visual confirmation. After a while, instinct took over, and her instinct told her they were being watched, even though they were well hidden in the blind. The problem was, the blind wasn't camouflage from everything. Just most things.

Tyler snickered. "Getting nervous?"

She tapped her earpiece, and said, "Team two, come in." They were higher up the range, and theoretically had a better vantage point.

Normally communication was instantaneous. But there was nothing but a white noise hiss over the line. "Team two, respond."

Now Tyler's eyes flicked towards hers, his jaw tightening in annoyance. He hit his own earpiece. "Team two, report."

Nothing. That wasn't good.

There was an odd thunk on the roof of the blind, followed by a dry scritching. Isa's stomach burned, and she tightened her grip on her rifle. Something was on top of them.

"Still think it's just my nerves?" Isa asked through clenched teeth.

Tyler eyed the roof. "No. And I don't think we better wait around for Team two, either." He moved toward the door.

"Whoa, wait a minute." Isa grabbed his arm. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I thought you wanted to shoot something."

"Yeah, but I don't want to get killed in the process. You have no idea what's up there."

The scritching sounded again, followed by a squealing sound which could only be strips of the tin roof being peeled off. "I don't know about you," Tyler said, "but I don't like the idea of being stuck in here like a sardine in a can. At least outside we have some room to maneuver."

Isa hesitated, then gave a brisk nod. With both hands firmly grasping her rifle, she followed Tyler out the door.

He disappeared between one heartbeat and the next, gone in the whisper of a not-quite breeze and a pattering rain of something thick and liquid. Isa pulled back into the blind, instinct guiding her.

Her mind tugged apart the flash of what she'd manage to see, trying to make sense of it. Red eyes. A gaping wet mouth. Too many legs, four of which had torn her partner to bits. Wet slurping and dry cracking met her ears. Her stomach twisted into a hard knot and shoved bile burning up to the back of her mouth.

The sound was coming from both sides. She crept to the lookout, searching for the monster they'd been sent here for.

It was gone, lost in a mass of furry legs and bodies. There had to be at least a dozen of them, making quick work of the giant's corpse.

She'd never get past them all.

Her brain disconnected from the scene, training focusing her on survival and shoving the details aside to be dealt with later. She activated the distress beacon on her utility belt, sparing a brief second to send up a prayer that she would still be alive when the extraction team found her.

Then she reached into her pack, silently extracting a pair of grenades.

Friday, December 13, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Wrap Up

Another November has come and gone and thus ends another NaNoWriMo. As most of you know, I set aside Familiar for the month of November in order to devote myself to a new project, Guardian. I also used last month as an experiment, testing out a new, more detailed plotting method and daily writing plan.

Some people have asked me why I didn't just continue to work on Familiar through November and focus on finishing the draft, especially since I'm behind on my (self-imposed) deadlines.

There were a couple of reasons for this:

1) Even though I suspect I have about 50k left to write on this draft of Familiar, I don't let myself take the same project to NaNoWriMo more than once and I worked on it last November and thus making it ineligible. I am a stickler for rules, particularly rules I make up for myself that don't really have anything to do with logic at all and are just there because I felt like I needed a rule.

2) Because Familiar is threatening to become one of those never-ending projects that sucks time out of my entire life forever, I decided not to let it derail my original plans for NaNoWriMo. I had intended to start a new project in November of 2013. I didn't want to let Familiar not being done yet stop me from moving on as planned.

3) Probably most importantly, I periodically need a change of pace to clear out my head. I get too sucked into a story if I work on it exclusively for too long and I get to the point where I can't see my way out anymore. I can always tell I've reached this point when the scenes in my draft start ending with, "NOTE TO SELF: THIS SCENE SUCKS AND IT'S NOT WORKING AND I DON'T KNOW HOW TO FIX IT BUT I DO KNOW THAT I DON'T WANT TO FIGHT WITH IT ANYMORE. MOVING ON BEFORE I STAB MY EYES OUT WITH A PEN."

Yes, I really write that kind of thing right into my drafts. With the caps lock and everything. I feel better about myself when I come back to those crap scenes to review later if I can at least tell myself I knew it was crap when I was writing it too.

Anyway, that's why I made the plan I did. Now to debrief and look at how it all worked out.

First, I suppose I should say that I didn't "win". I did not reach 50k in 30 days. I barely managed to scrape my way across the halfway point, ending the month with a grand total of 25889 words. So, on the one hand, no winner's certificate for me. Bummer. On the other hand, 25889 words of a brand new novel! Yay!

To get into the numbers (and excuses) for a minute, here is my word count graph for the month. As you can see, things were chugging right along, albeit a little slowly, for the first half of the month. I lost one weekend to a cold, but otherwise I was on pace. Then the whole thing went to hell and my writing time pretty much evaporated.

I got sick, again, this time with a flu-ish thing that left me with a fever and nausea and dizziness and pretty much no way in the world to sit upright and form coherent sentences. Then, once I recovered, I had life stuff to catch up on and travel to prep for. And then actual traveling to do. Then I was attacked by yet another cold, this time with the added fun and excitement of my younger daughter accompanying me. (Because it really was too much to hope that I could get sick three times without one of the kids catching something from me.)

And then the month was over and that was that. I think in the whole second half of the month I only managed to sit down to write one time. So, given that I only actually wrote for the first two weeks, I'd say that 25k is just fine and dandy.

Additionally, I'm very pleased with the new plotting method and daily writing plan and I think I'll be making them part of my regular process, taking them back to the second half of Familiar with me. I've always considered myself a pantser, but I suppose I'm now officially a plotter. Maybe it's a growing up thing. Maybe it's just a temporary necessity thing. But whatever the reason, the plotting is working for me these days and so I will be sticking with it.

So I didn't "win" NaNoWriMo, but I'm happy with where I am. Great. What's next?

As you've probably already guessed, I'm going back to working on Familiar full time until I finish the draft. I toyed with the idea of splitting my time between the two projects, but I didn't like the way my timeline looked under that plan. I don't want things to end up too far off track and I feel like at this point, the sooner I move Familiar out of the writing column and onto the next stages, the better.

(Yes, I have a timeline. I have several, actually. And Gantt charts.)

(Okay, I don't have Gantt charts. But I could! I just don't have my old project management software anymore and I'm too busy to build myself a new template. That's a procrastination project for another day.)

I also toyed briefly with the idea of just letting Familiar go and continuing on with Guardian. I like Guardian a lot. Charlie is turning out to be a different character than I originally expected and she's very interesting to write. The story is... darker than I'm used to and I like it. Plus she's got one heck of a mouth on her, which gives me a nice place to put all those damns and shits and fucks I have to hold back in front of the kids.

But, in the end, I can't let go of the cats. I want their story told, not shut away in a folder on my hard drive to be fiddled with here and there on snow days. I could keep it as a trunk novel, to be worked on in between other things, but I know that means it'd probably never come to anything and that makes me too sad. As much as I sort of hate it right now, I'm still enough in love with it that I want to work things out.

Besides, I think the Idea Salesman would be far too depressed if I didn't go rushing right back over to the page after his grand motivational halftime speech.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Abstract Thoughts: I Think You Mean an Ingenious Idea

Brilliance from Idea Salesman
Good grief! I finally talk Renee into letting me have my own weekly feature on the blog (alright, fine, it's not really my own weekly feature, since I have to share it with two other abstracts, but it's still more dedicated internet space than I've ever managed to finagle before) and I fumble the very first pass by getting my post up late.

Sorry. That was a great set up, IE. Hit me right in the numbers. Totally my bad. I didn't have my head in the game.

I could blame that hulking 2000-pound blocker of a cold that's taken over Renee's whole freaking life lately, but I really should have seen him coming. What with it being winter and Renee being one of these "why do I need to put on a coat and shoes just to run outside real quick?" people.

Because it's only -9 degrees out there and snowing, woman! And you have the immune system of a... well, someone with a really weak immune system. Like a premi baby or an old person or something.

I don't know. I'm intangible. I don't really know how immune systems work.

The last week or so has been pretty much non-productive. Renee is having a really hard time getting back into Familiar and all the mucus and fatigue isn't helping matters. There was some discussion of forfeiting, just chucking the whole thing into the graveyard and moving forward with Guardian instead, but we talked her out of it.

We know what's wrong with the first half. We were too focused on defense, on not letting the damn subplots run out the clock on us, and keeping that hotshot witch and his ego from jamming a big old I in the middle of our TEAM. We played our offense too conservative, making the plot all about the running game, bashing and smashing our way up the field and never giving our main character the go ahead to just let the damn thing fly. Nat has one hell of a throwing arm and we might as well have had her in a straightjacket. We got battered ugly and everything took too long for us to put any real points on the board.

Is editing it going to suck? Yes. But that doesn't mean it won't be worth it. We've been working on this book for a long time now and these characters deserve the chance to play all four quarters. We can turn this game around right now. We can do better with the second half. It doesn't matter who's wining at halftime. At the end of the day, the winner at the end of the fourth quarter is the only one who gets a tick in the W column.

Sorry about all the football talk. I beat that metaphor to death, I know. What can I say? It's the end of the regular seasons and I'm all excited about bowl games and playoffs. It's taking up a big chunk of my focus right now.

Anyway, I wanted to get some kind of post up here, just so Renee would know I was taking this seriously. I don't want her to get the idea that she can replace our posts with knitting tips or a dream diary or something.

Renee, you can't do that. It would be wrong. And really, really not interesting for your readers. I don't think bots dream and I'm pretty sure they don't have fingers.

Speaking of ideas for the blog, I'm going to make another push for expansion in a few months. We're up to three posts a week now and I talked Renee into a goal of four before the end of next September. Fiction posts and giving us our own space were easy choices. Writers write stuff, so there's always plenty of that, and we abstracts are funny enough that even Long-Suffering Husband looks forward to our posts. But pretty much everything else she puts up here is writing advice and there's only so much writing advice an unpublished novelist can really put out there. I gotta say, I'm a little stumped. Anyone have anything in particular you'd like to see Renee add to the blog?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Flash Fiction: 200 Words at a Time, Part Three

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: This is week three of Chuck Wendig's 200 Words at a Time Challenge. Sorry it's a bit late to go up; it took forever to go through all the entries from last week and decide on one to continue. I'm learning a lot from this challenge about story structure. (You may have noticed me ranting away on Twitter over the weekend.) Following a basic 5-part story structure, this week's entry should be the midpoint of the story, the crest of that big introductory hill, pulling everything together and then pushing it off the cliff so it can all plunge downward through the falling action to the conclusion. I chose to continue a piece started by David Kearney and continued by Mark Gardner. I did make a few minor copy edits. (An "an" that should have been an "and", a missed comma here and there, an accidental name change, that kind of thing. Oh don't look at me like that; sometimes I just can't help it.) Because I wanted you to be able to see how the pieces flow together into one story, I didn't do anything to mark the places where the writers change. You can link through to their sites to watch it evolve though and my contribution begins up with Alice took her place at the far side of the stage...
(Source: Chuck Wendig's blog)

The lecture theatre door slammed shut with a bang so loud half the room jumped in their seat. Alice descended the stairs, not oblivious to the 200 pairs of indignant eyes boring through her, and took the only available seat at the front of the class.

Professor Gordon Kane stood at the lectern and looked over the top his glasses at her. "Welcome Miss Turner, what a remarkable entrance. I was just about to introduce my colleague to your classmates, may I continue?"

Alice’s face burned so hard she thought her hair might catch fire.

Kane gestured toward a tall man wearing a green turtleneck and a tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows. "I expect that many of you will recognise our guest," he said.

She recognised him immediately; in fact, he was the very reason she was late for class.

"His book, Changing Minds, has spent the last six months perched at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, his television show of the same name has surprised and delighted audiences around the world and we are very fortunate to have him here today. It is, therefore, my very great privilege to introduce Dr. Lucas Spencer."

The room erupted into deafening applause. Dr. Spencer moved to the lectern and held up his right hand. "Thank you, Gordon. Thank you, everyone," he said. "I'd like to ask for five volunteers."

Alice's hand rocketed upward. She willed with all her being that he choose her. She didn't want to look too desperate, but she had to be chosen. Dr. Spencer looked around the room and his eyes locked briefly with hers. She hoped her loud entrance was enough to get on stage. The blast radius was only five feet, so she had to be in his "bubble."

Dr. Spencer chose a diverse group of volunteers. Different ethnicities and social standing, but they were all male. Alice wondered if she had chosen the wrong gender. After four of her classmates made their way to the stage, Dr. Spencer looked at her and smiled.

"Alice, please join us on stage."

Alice glanced at the watch covering the scar on her wrist. She had worked hard to show her peers she was just like the rest of them.

If they only knew, she thought as she ascended the steps to the stage. It was almost time--her purpose on this world had almost reached fruition. Dr. Spencer greeted each volunteer with a hearty handshake. That would be her moment.

The room was awash with hundreds of conversations, but she focused on only Dr. Spencer.

Alice took her place at the far side of the stage. She let her gaze bounce, never settling on Dr. Spencer for too long. Her fingers kept reaching for the watch, pinching the links of the band together and then smoothing them.

Adrenaline disguised as nervous fidgeting.

Sweat trickled down Alice's neck as he shook the hand of third boy he'd chosen and she resisted the urge to squirm. Dr. Spencer was close enough now that she could feel the edges of the psychic field. She prayed her modified suppressors would hold.

Dr. Spencer took the hand of the boy standing next to her. "Don't be nervous," he said, his quiet voice modulated to be smooth and enticing. "There's nothing to worry about. Not anymore." Dr. Spencer smiled and the boy smiled back, his eyes glazing under the attack.

Dr. Spencer dropped his hand and took a step toward Alice. Then another.

So close now.

Her heart pounded. Her fingers twisted the watchband one more time. Positioning the detonator under her thumb.

Dr. Spencer took the final step and held out his hand.

Alice took a breath, tried to pull her lips into a smile, and pressed the button.


*****UPDATE*****
McKkenzie picked this one up for round four and added 200 more words. So much for Plan A, Alice! I wonder if Plan B will work out?

Nothing happened. Dr. Spencer stood there with his hand out, his lips began to curve upward as his eyes twinkled.

"Aren't you going to shake my hand, Alice?"

Alice looked down at the watch as her already pounding heart picked up the pace. She was pressing her own naked wrist bone. Her eyes flicked up to find the watch dangling from Dr. Spencer's finger. Oh crap, the suppressors weren't working.

"A fine piece of craftsmanship," he said, giving the watch a mocking swing. "I take it you have strong opinions about my work?"

Alice suppressed a shiver as sweat began to soak through her shirt, chilling her skin on the drafty stage.

"I have strong opinions about slavery, sir," she grated through clenched teeth. Her equipment hadn't failed her entirely. She could still think, but could she act?

Dr. Kane cleared his throat. "So... ah, if we can get started..." he began. Alice registered the confusion in his voice and the growing tension in the room.

Okay, the bomb wasn't happening, but she still had the semi-auto Colt in the small of her back. Spencer was trapped in this body for now. If she could blow a few holes in his head it would be over.

Her hand slid around her slim waist and she struggled to hide a surge of relief as she grasped the gun and pulled it free.

*****ANOTHER UPDATE*****
Mark Gardner picked this one up and added 200 more words to conclude it. Poor Alice. So much for Plan B. But yay for one of the ones I worked on making it all the way to "The End"!

The watch was a decoy of sorts. The real suppressor was subcutaneous, and the watch was the amplifier. As he held it, it amplified his powers, trapping him once and for all.

Alice raised the colt and stared into the confused eyes of Dr. Spencer. The device embedded in her wrist burned as Dr. Spencer attempted to sway her actions.

Dr. Spencer's hold on the audience began to falter. He would need to release the members of the audience to focus his control on Alice and the assembled victims on the stage. Alice felt her resolve fail as the implant embedded in her wrist burned. She knew at that moment that this was her end.

She struggled against her own body as she pressed the colt against her breast. Dr. Spencer smiled. Alice felt her trigger finger move and she said aloud, "You will lose!"

Dr. Spencer retorted, "My dear, I will always win."

Alice knew she had to have the full power of Dr. Spencer focused on her. She knew it was time and allowed herself to succumb to him. Just before she pulled the trigger, she saw the boy he greeted before her. As he pulled the trigger on his own colt, aimed at Dr. Spencer, she saw a scar on his wrist matching her own.

Then she saw only blackness.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Influences: Jim Butcher

A few years ago I was at a dinner with some relatively distant cousins of Long-Suffering Husband. Second or third cousins, maybe, or cousins a couple of times removed? I'm not really sure how the whole numbered cousin thing actually works. Anyway, during the small talk someone asked me what I did for a living and, feeling pressured to make, if not a good then at least an interesting impression on his family, I told them I was an aspiring novelist.

They were suitably intrigued by the idea, or at least willing to indulge me, and so they asked, of course, what it was I wrote. The cousins had never heard of urban fantasy and so I did my best to explain the concept.

Me: Think magic and monsters, but set in the real world.
Cousin-in-Law #1: Oh, sort of like Twilight. I love that book!
Me: (*don't recoil in horror* *don't recoil in horror*): Well, those are more along the lines of what's called paranormal romance. And my stuff is also written with an older audience in mind. Twilight, being centered around a high school student, is actually categorized as Young Adult.
Cousin-in-Law #2: So you write things like the Dresden Files then?
Me: Um...

That's when the conversation went a little off the rails. You would think, as someone who was claiming to be an urban fantasy writer, I would have heard of the Dresden Files before. Unfortunately, it seems I was one of the last members of the general sf/f community to find out there was a fictional wizard living in Chicago. Even though I'd discovered from my critique partners that what I was writing was called urban fantasy, I wasn't exactly well-read in the genre.

Have I mentioned before that I had a lot of stupid in my head when I was getting started with this whole writing thing?

I managed to turn the conversation to books in general and actually ended up spending most of the meal dissecting the film adaptations of Harry Potter. I don't think I came off as too flighty; I think they thought I just nervous and didn't want to talk about my own books. (Good thing they didn't know me; asking me about my writing is usually a lot like opening a flood gate.)

But I knew that I had to do better. I had to get reading. Not only was it important for my career in general, I also had future awkward small talk situations to consider. I needed some published examples I could point to that people might actually have read for when this conversation inevitably happened again. And, since they'd come up, perhaps I should check out these Dresden Files books.

I suppose I could go into a whole long story about how I eventually came to actually read the entire series (so far) several years later and how much I love it, but I suspect by now that would be kind of repetitive for those of you who have read these influences posts before. I'm willing to accept that by calling Jim Butcher one of my writerly influences, you probably already guessed that I've read and love his books.

(Well, there are certain authors I count as having influenced me because I don't like the way they write, but I'm not going to blog about that here. On account of the coward thing I talked about a few posts ago. Sorry, folks, but it took everything I had to leave in the recoiling in horror bit above.)

Anyway, marching ever so slowly back over to the point, one of the things I really like about the way Jim Butcher writes, particularly with the Dresden Files series, is how well he's developed the character of Harry Dresden over a very long arc without losing sight of the short-term needs of each individual book.

When writing a series, the novels have to be able to stand up in two ways. Any given novel in a series is usually meant to attract new readers. There are exceptions to this, of course, but for the most part publishing houses don't just want to sell books to the people they already sell books to. That's not a good long-term strategy for any business. They need to attract new customers and so they must be able to draw new readers into Harry Dresden's world with each new release.

But they can't do that if they're demanding that those new readers immediately commit to plowing through a dozen or so earlier books first. The average reader might be enticed to pick up a new book for whatever reason (a pretty cover, a recommendation from a friend, something they saw on the internet, excessive water cooler talk making them feel left out of the new big thing, etc.) and then, if they like it, go back and read the books that came before it in the series. But most of people aren't going to "test out" a new series by picking up a 15-book boxed set.

I mean, I probably would; I'm obsessive that way. But I assume most "normal" people wouldn't be willing to invest that kind of time or money at the outset.

That means each book needs to be able to stand alone. There needs to a novel-specific plot arc and a certain level of character development and change that occurs within each individual book, making for an independently satisfying conclusion. New readers need to be interested in continuing the series and learning more about the character, not feel lost or cheated for having not been a reader from the beginning.

At the same time, you don't want to alienate your loyal readers either. Just because a publisher needs to attract new customers every time, that doesn't mean they're interested in losing the existing customers. The goal, after all, is to sell more books each time, so they need to get readers hooked on the series and then coming back for more.

If you keep telling the same story over and over again, eventually people will get bored and stop reading the series in favor of something else. We've all seen those book reviews that read something like, "If you've read books 1-19 in this series, you don't need to bother with book 20. It's the same story, just with a giraffe instead of a barbecued chicken." Nobody wants that. So you can't just focus on the short-term arc and how the character grows in one particular novel. Each one has to flow into the next and build on the continuing story so that the long-term reader is also satisfied at the conclusion and wants to come back again for the next one.

This is an extremely tough line for any writer to walk. I suspect it's a necessary evil brought about by the nature of sales and the evolution of contracts and such. Series novels are very popular right now. Publishers want to squeeze every dime they can out of the franchise and I suspect most authors don't mind having semi-steady gigs either. Publishing is a very fickle business and it would take a very strong and confident writer to look at a nice publishing contract and say, "No, sorry, I know people love these characters, but this story is done." So they keep writing them, sometimes long after they know they probably ought to stop.

So far the Dresden Files books don't seem to have run into these problems, at least not in my opinion. I don't think anyone who has read the series could reasonably argue that Cold Days was just a rehashing of Storm Front or Proven Guilty. In fact, I suspect that if I went back and reread Storm Front today, I'd be shocked at the way Harry reacts and the kinds of decisions he makes there, because he's just such a different guy now. Similarly, if I could somehow plunk Grave Peril Harry down in the middle of the events in Changes, I'm pretty sure that book would have ended very differently.

Harry Dresden is not a static character. When faced with similar choices over time, sometimes he makes the same call and sometimes the things he's seen and done in between have changed him so much that he goes in a completely different direction. But he's also not a wholly reinvented character every time either. There are some things he'll probably never understand and some priorities that never seem to shift. The events of all the books combined have caused Harry to grow and mature in such a way that he's both familiar and surprising for the long-term reader.

At the same time, the books haven't become inaccessible for new readers. Knowing how Harry's relationships have developed certainly deepens the reader experience, but it's not essential to enjoy each individual story. What we see of Harry's experiences in Storm Front, for example, provide a nice set up for the events of Proven Guilty and how he deals with the fallout of those events in later books, but none of that is necessary to enjoy the story or understand the urgency of Molly's situation. Similarly, seeing Maeve and her... entourage in Summer Knight isn't required to understand the problems in Cold Days, though revisiting those characters is more interesting for knowing their backstory.

Since I'm writing in a genre that's getting to be almost exclusively focused on series, crafting a character that can sustain a longer growth arc while still being relatable in the short-term seems like a skill I'm going to have to master. The Dresden Files series is still being written and as both a reader and a writer I'm terribly curious to see just how far Jim Butcher can push the character of Harry Dresden without breaking him.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Abstract Thoughts: An Insufferable Idea

Wisdom of an Inner Editor
One of the perils of being intangible is that it's difficult for one to hire a decent lawyer. Even the most detail-oriented individual can end up with a very shoddy contract without an attorney keeping his/her eye on things. A contract, for example, that includes vague clauses about cooperation in marketing efforts to be determined.

I'm the most senior abstract living in Renee's head. When I signed on as her Inner Editor, this blog did not exist and she hadn't the faintest inkling that she would one day hire an Idea Salesman. I enjoy my work, don't get me wrong, but mornings like this make me wish I could take a mental health day.

Because here I sit, railroaded into spending my time writing a blog post by a chauvinist pig with all the charm of a Southern high school football coach who moonlights as a used car salesman.

Let me explain: the Idea Salesman somehow convinced Renee that expanding the blog again was in her best interests. And, since apparently our posts generate the most positive feedback, he also convinced her that the best way to go about that was to give the abstracts their own weekly feature, instead of restricting our online appearances to once every month or so.

I'm fairly certain he meant for it to work out that he got his own weekly feature, but Renee chose to interpret his suggestions as including all three of us. (Thank the gods for small favors there.) And I, as the most senior abstract present, won the dubious honor of going first.

Renee, you shouldn't have.

Really.

The Idea Salesman might spend his days flittering around on the internet and swallowing huge swathes of the twitterverse whole, but I have real work I need be doing.

There are notes to be made regarding the 25000 words of Guardian written during the last month and the ~65000 words to come.

The Muse and I have a meeting scheduled later today to discuss plans for going forward with Familiar.

And a loose structure needs to be pegged out regarding the new story idea percolating in the back of Renee's imagination, so it will be ready to pick up and run with once the two current projects are finished and not forgotten in all the demon fighting and romantic fumbling sure to happen between now and then.

We've all been down with a bad head cold (yes, a head cold infects all the voices in a writer's head as well; we're the ones who have to live here, after all), travel fatigue, and holiday chaos for the past two weeks. It's time to buckle down and get back to work before the whole plan for the year ends up hopelessly off track.

If he wasn't such a maddening jerk hell-bent on ruining the good name of creative abstracts everywhere, I'd be content to let him have his way and leave all the blogging responsibilities to the Idea Salesman. But someone has to take the floor every now and again to be the voice of reason and responsibility around here.

Flash Fiction: 200 Words at a Time, Part Two

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: This is the second round of Chuck Wendig's 200 Words at a Time challenge. Last week I wrote the first 200 words of a 1000 word story and put them out there for someone to maybe pick up and run with. More than 70 other people did the same thing. I read through all the entries, most of which were really awesome by the way, and picked out this one by Courtney Cantrell to continue. This challenge was really tricky for me, not because I only had 200 words to work with, but because I had to take someone else's character and try to make him my own, without undoing what the previous writer had already created, and still move the story forward toward its midpoint. I tried to blend my writing style with hers so the story would flow together, but I'm not sure I pulled it off. I also haven't written straight fantasy in a while, so that was an interesting gear shift in my head. Ms. Cantrell's first 200 words are below, followed by my addition, which begins with Berien's stuttering line. Maybe next week someone will take up our 400 words and run with that.
(Source: Chuck Wendig's blog)

"I was cleaning bean sprouts when I heard the news."

As Feral's voice wavered out into the silence of the crowd, Berien Ghantek squirmed in his seat. The new boots pinched, and the formal shirt's stiff collar made his neck itch. He tightened his grip on the banner pole. Above his head, the bright red flag twitched. If he kept his hands on the pole and his mind on his duty, he wouldn't give in to the urge to scratch.

"One remembers every detail of that moment." Feral cleared her throat, but her ancient voice remained raspy. "The earthy scent of the sprouts. The tiny snapping sounds as they broke beneath my clumsy fingers. The cold splash of water at the pump. I was but a young girl then, but we Ghanteki have not forgotten. As every year, today we remember and raise our house standard to our queen, Alarena Bright-Eye. May her rest be peaceful, her rising soon, and her vengeance entire."

"SHE SHALL RISE," replied all of House Ghantek.

Trembling, Berien got to his feet. Although he forced his gaze to stay on Feral, he could feel the more than five hundred Ghanteki eyes shift to his face.

"H-house Ghantek remembers the F-f-fallen Queen!" he stammered.

Annoyance flashed in Feral's eyes, but the crowd shouted their response anyway. As she'd said herself, they'd been doing this for decades now, and they only had the one line to remember anyway.

His throat got tight and Berien swallowed a cough as she began her second reading. Feral would have him scrubbed raw and purified every day for a month if she decided he hadn't taken this seriously.

It was just too hot. Couldn't Queen Alarena have waited a few weeks until autumn to die?

Of course, then it would probably be raining.

The crowd shouted again and Feral began her third reading, this one about the battle to come. Her words washed over him, filling Berien's ears without bothering to catch his attention. It was almost over now.

"House Ghantek defen--" The third standard-bearer cut off with a squeak.

Berien followed his gaze to the prayer tower at the back of the crowd. The priest there, a new man fresh from the monastery, stood and threw off his ceremonial robes.

"SHE SHALL RISE!" shrieked his withered corpse.

Thunder boomed, shaking the world, and the altar burst into white-hot flame.


*****UPDATE*****
Simon B. picked this one up and added a third part. The action is really picking up now!

The crowd gasped and turned as one. Berien watched with them in disbelief as a dozen robed acolytes tore themselves away from the throng and joined the skeletal figure upon the tower. The bearer who'd been interrupted--a blade-sworn whose name he couldn't remember--had fallen to his knees, repeating his pledge over and over.

Feral was going to go absolutely pastoral. Berien looked over his shoulder to her for guidance, grimacing at the collar digging harshly into his neck.

The old matriarch stared dumbly past him. Her usually stern expression was gone; she stood, transfixed by the flames, as horror and confusion fought for purchase on her face.

A scream snapped Berien’s attention back to the prayer tower. The group of priests were pushing back into the crowd. A flash of steel, another shriek--more urgent, this time.

They'd armed themselves.

Berien laid down the Ghanteki standard as respectfully as he could and felt an illicit flush of relief as he realised he wouldn't be leading the parade later on. He pulled open his shirt, unfastened his rapier and stepped down from the stage, making his way deftly through the surging, pressing bodies of the crowd.

Decorum be damned.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Reading About Writing: How to Write a Novel, by Nathan Bransford

What Writing Book Did I Read This Month?
How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, by Nathan Bransford
The most important thing to know about writing a novel is this: You can do it. And if you've already written one, you can write an even better one. Author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford shares his secrets for creating killer plots, fleshing out your first ideas, crafting compelling characters, and staying sane in the process.

Why Did I Pick That Book?
I've followed Mr. Bransford's blog for years. He offers great advice and insight into the publishing process. In fact, while I was happy for him when he sold his first novel, I was really sad to see him change his title to "former literary agent" because he was on my list of top agents I would really love to work with someday. He was actually one of the first agents I ever queried.

In related news, he was also one of the first agents to ever send me a rejection letter. Which just shows how much smarter than me he is, given that I refer to that book as the Epic High Fantasy Trilogy of Doom, Book One.

What Did I Think of It?
Overall I enjoyed this book. Having followed the blog for years, there wasn't exactly a whole lot of new information here, but I liked having it all pulled together and organized. Blog topics sort of pop up and jump around as they're relevant to the industry or questions that keep getting asked. That's the nature of blogging and it's all well and good, but it doesn't make for a very good view of the big picture. Having Mr. Bransford's advice organized around the writing process, rather than chronologically on the blog, gave me a whole new perspective on his methodology and recommendations.

What Did I Learn from It?
I suppose the biggest thing I learned from this books is that I have a pretty good handle on the overall writing process. This book is very general, geared, I think, toward new writers still fumbling their way through what to do once they've had that "hey, maybe this voice knocking around in my head is trying to tell me a story and I should probably write some of that down" ah-ha moment. While I did pick some nifty little tips and tricks up here and there, for the most part I read this book and got a nice affirmation that I (mostly) know what I'm doing.

That might sound trivial, or obvious, but it's really not. I don't know about you, but I'm frequently plagued by the fear that I'm doing this writing thing all wrong, that I'm never going to figure it out, and that one day the whole mess is just going to blow up in my face and splatter me with word shrapnel. Having someone I respect as a professional in the industry confirm my notions about how things are supposed to work is a huge help.

Would I Recommend This Book to Another Writer?
Yes. It's funny and practical and a very good overview of the steps, choices, and emotional turmoil involved in writing a novel. I'd especially recommend it to newer writers. It occurs to me that sitting here at the end of NaNoWriMo, the world is jammed full of folks who just tried their hand at writing a novel for the very first time. I don't know about the rest of you, but I finished up my first NaNoWriMo with a mixed up jumble of elation at having accomplished as much as I did (however little that ended up being), disappointment that I didn't manage to pull off something crazily beyond human capability, complete and total exhaustion, and a whopping dose of fear about what came next.


This is a great guide book, giving a nice overview of the whole writing process, from the first big idea to potential publication and then some. There's a lot of information in here and a lot of encouragement too, from someone who has been in the business for years. If you're a new writer dealing with fear of the unknown or an experienced writer looking to get some perspective on the whole process, this is a great book for you.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Flash Fiction: 200 Words at a Time, Part One

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: Write the first 200 words of a 1000-word story. This challenge will continue for five weeks. Next week, I'll take someone else's 200 words and continue that story for 200 more (for a total of 400 words). Then I'll add 200 more words to someone's 400 word story the following week, and so on, with the goal being to end up with a 1000-word story after five total challenges.
(Source: Chuck Wendig's blog)

"I think I'll stab him." Miranda eyed the two fingers tapping the steering wheel and forced them still, not wanting to think about how she needed a cigarette. She had to focus. She had a murder to plan. "Can't use a big kitchen knife. That's so... cliché. Glass from a broken mirror could work. It'd send a message."

The radio fuzzed out as her car idled at the fifth red light in a row. She punched the power button, letting silence replace the static. Getting a new antennae was too far down on the priority list to even think about, as was paying someone to dig the broken CD out of the useless piece of junk in the middle of the dashboard. She'd had to give up on things like non-essential car repairs and cigarettes and living in a neighborhood where people didn't steal your car antennae when she'd walked out on her ex two months ago.

"Would it negate the bad luck thing though? Or just make everything worse?" Her teeth pulled on her lower lip while she worked through potential consequences. Then she laughed. "Well, I guess it probably transfers, since he's the one who ends up dead."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Writings of The Muse
In just about every aspect of her life, Renee is an extremely organized person. She's schedules everything. Even the laundry. She loves planners and to-do lists and spreadsheets. So much so that it almost surprises me she's not an Inner Editor in her own right. Though, I suppose, being human would make that difficult. It's kind of hard to flit around in someone else's head when you're not incorporeal.

Most abstracts don't really like the whole incorporeal bit, which can get in the way of things like dating and picking up the dry cleaning. But it does make our jobs a whole heck of a lot easier.

I'm getting off track. Renee is very organized and scheduled and she likes things to progress steadily and predictably so she can plan it out all down to the last possible detail.

Except when it comes to her writing.

When it comes to setting down fiction, Renee prefers to take all that nonsense and fling it over her shoulder and right out the window, and never mind whose head it might happen to land on. (That's frequently Long-Suffering Husband, but that's a whole different blog post.) She doesn't like plotting, or tracking, and her preferred method of forward progress is to percolate for a few days (or weeks) and then blast out ten thousand words in one messy euphoric afternoon.

Remember that old parable about the tortoise and the hare? Renee lives like the tortoise, but she writes like the hare.

The hare may not win the race in the story, but you have to admit that he's never boring.

Alas, we've come to a point where we just don't have time to work that way. Between minding the kids and maintaining the house and neglecting the husband and even herding the cats, there's plenty of time for percolating--Renee's of the belief that if you're not thinking about at least five things at once, you don't have enough on your mind--but not a whole lot of wide open afternoons with nothing on the calendar but a big cup of coffee and a bigger cup of words.

We get two hours in the morning when she really ought to still be sleeping. That's it. And so there needs to be structure, or these books will never get themselves written.

I'm trying to be patient with Renee. She's not happy about this development, but she's trying. We plotted out our current writing project and made a lovely spreadsheet and set a number of daily, weekly, and monthly goals. We spend the first fifteen minutes of every writing session looking at what we wrote last time and figuring out what we're going to write this time. We're keeping tabs on pace and progress.

It's not as much fun. It doesn't have the same sense of romance and whimsy as the old method did. But at the end of the day, it does seem to be working. The words are still flowing and the work is still satisfying, which in the long-term is probably better. I think I've finally convinced her that this is the best way to go.

We're slowly transitioning Renee from hare to tortoise.

Because really, is there any other pace at which you could transition into being a tortoise?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Flash Fiction: Caught in the Rain

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: Enough with the blood and brains and bugs in ears! Not that I don't love a good horror story, but sometimes you just need to spend a cold rainy afternoon kissing a hot guy. And maybe sometimes the hot guy bites. Paranormal is funny that way. This is another prompt I pulled out of my own head rather than a formal challenge, though this one was at least written recently.

"What has put that grin on your face, I wonder? You look as though you've just thought up some enormously annoying prank."

"I'm wondering what you were like as a kid." I leaned back on my hands, letting my feet hang over the edge of the picnic table as I studied the worn wooden planks above my head. The sudden summer storm pounded on the roof and I really hoped the rickety park pavilion didn't leak. I was already impersonating a drowned rat. No need to add insult to injury. "Is that how you spent your time? Thinking up enormously annoying pranks?"

His eyes widened, surprise seeming to slow down his ability to blink. "I... I don't... You want to know what I was like as a child?"

I'd never seen him flustered. The temptation to tease him curled my lips up into a grin. "No, no pranks for you. You were probably too well-behaved for that. All studious and obedient and always there to help little old ladies cross the street. I'll bet you were positively charming as a child."

"I'm charming now," he muttered in a voice I almost didn't hear over the rain. He shook a dripping lock of wet-ink hair out of his eyes. "I fail to see what could possibly be of interest about my childhood," he said. "It was a long time ago."

I shrugged. "So? Don't you remember?"

"Of course I remember," he snapped. Then he paused. "Some. Fragments. It was a long time ago," he repeated, sounding melancholy this time.

"So what was it then? Annoying pranks or model mini-citizen?"

I tilted my head a little, trying to understand his expression. A couple hundred years was a long time for anyone, even an immortal, and I wondered if I should change the subject. Perhaps he didn't remember. I couldn't even imagine living so long I forgot my childhood. Would it hurt, losing those memories?

Would he even have noticed, if I hadn't brought it up?

He shrugged, interrupting my musing and drawing my gaze to his wide shoulders instead. His wet t-shirt clung like a second skin, giving me a very nice impression of his muscles.

"Some mix of both, I suppose, as most young boys are."

I snorted. "That is such a cop out."

"If I told you I was an unholy terror as a boy, you wouldn't believe me." He turned toward me and favored me with a teasing grin.

I sat up, no longer quite steady on my wet-noodle limbs. That grin was lethal. "Were you?" I challenged, one eyebrow raised.

"I imagine my sisters must have thought so." A little note of wistfulness slid into his voice. "They were forever shrieking at me."

I swallowed. I hadn't even known he'd had sisters. "About?"

He smiled, mischief replacing the sadness that had been creeping up on him. "They had an inexplicable disinterest in frogs and snakes. Particularly with regard to their sleeping quarters."

My jaw dropped open. I snapped it closed, trying to force a little boy who liked slipping snakes into his sisters' beds to match up with what I knew of the oh-so-proper man.

He chuckled and reached out, pushing some of my damp hair off my forehead and tucking it behind my ear. "Is it really so shocking? That I was a boy like any other once upon a time?"

"No... I just... I never..." Now it was my turn to be flustered. I could swear my hair was tingling under his touch. "I guess I never really thought about you that way before. As a boy, I mean."

I wished my voice didn't sound so breathy and pathetic. I'd always considered myself a confident woman, but he made me feel like a silly teenager with her first crush.

The woman in me did her damnedest to shove that fluttery little girl aside, not wanting to miss out on a moment with a very promising dose of potential.

His gaze searched mine, his fingers still partly tangled in my hair. The laughter from a moment ago faded and something else took its place between us. "Not as a boy," he said slowly. "In what way does that mean you have thought of me then? As a man?"

My heartbeat felt thick and a scorching image shot through my brain, bringing with it the phantom sensations of his lips against mine, his hands roving over my body. A wave of his magic or my own fantasy? Did I want to know?

Did I even care?

His eyes warmed to something rich and smooth like a particularly fine dark chocolate as the silence stretched between us. My mouth went dry. His gaze dropped, tracing the path of my tongue across my lips with obvious interest.

I leaned toward him as his fingers settled more deeply into my hair, the weight of his hand on the back of my neck impossible to resist. Not that I had any form of resisting in mind. My eyelids felt heavy but I made myself keep them open. I wasn't interested in missing any part of this.

His lips met mine, firm but not quite demanding, drifting away too soon. He teased me with small, light little kisses that danced around the edges of my mouth. I found myself chasing his lips with my own and he paused. The whisper of a chuckle vibrated between us.

To hell with that. I wasn't a damn toy he could play with.

His fingers tightened, holding me still when I would have pulled away, and I gasped at the gentle tug on my hair. He took advantage of my parted lips, his tongue sweeping between them to taste me and I forgot about… everything.

I slid a hand up his arm and over his shoulder, loving the feel of his smooth muscles beneath my fingers. I pressed my body closer, wanting--needing--more. He felt so good. So very, very good.

"Mine."

The voice whispered in the back of my brain, so quiet it barely registered. I had more important things to pay attention to at the moment. Our lips tangled together and there was nothing light or teasing about it anymore. This kiss was all heat. Heat and darkness and something utterly wicked.

A slow burn started to curl low in my body, warmth licking through my veins like a drug. My hand slid around the back of his neck and my fingers curled around his smooth blue-black hair.

The storm turned the pavilion into a quiet little cocoon, swallowing every sound except my sighs and the thudding of my racing heart. His tongue stroked against mine and I sucked at it lightly. In the next moment he was gathering me closer, lifting me onto his lap. My knees parted, sliding around his hips, and a groan rumbled in his chest as I pressed against him.

His hands slid down to my ass, pulling me closer still. Our bodies slid against each other, lining up deliciously. I gave up the fight with my eyelids and let them flutter closed, the better to savor the feel of him.

And God, did he ever feel good. His mouth drifted over my cheek and down the side of my neck. Fire danced under my skin as his teeth dragged lightly over my skin. The wet heat trailed back up and found the sensitive hollow behind my ear. I moaned and rocked my hips against his, needing him to be closer. Needing him to touch me.

Needing him. Period.

"Mine," the voice in my head said again, a little more insistent this time, and a shiver raced through me. That voice was... unfamiliar. My fingers clenched in his hair.

He pulled back from my neck, leaving the damp patch of skin tingling. His lips caught mine again, but only for the briefest instant before the gentle pressure of his hands on my shoulders put a little more distance between us. I made a little sound of protest when I realized my lips couldn't reach him any longer, even though something alarmed was trying to force its way through the lust fogging over my brain.

"I think the storm is letting up," he said, sounding so calm I would have thought him totally unaffected if I couldn't feel an impressive amount of evidence to the contrary pressing against me. Somehow I found that smooth calm even sexier than a growly rasp would have been. "We should go."

The rain pounded on the roof harder than ever, but I agreed anyway. Another wave of racy thoughts had zinged through my brain, scattering away the impression of that foreign voice in my mind. Racy thoughts that involved more privacy. And less clothes.

A little more rain wouldn't kill me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cowardly Writer, Reporting for Duty

I noticed a bit of a kerfuffle brewing in the blogosphere yesterday about authors and the expectations regarding reviewing other books. Authors, in case you didn't know, aren't supposed to have opinions about other books unless they're asked for them, and then they're only supposed to have good opinions. The general rule of thumb seems to be that old cliché: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

There are a lot of reasons for that. There are concerns about professionalism and there are fears about ending up on some kind of mythical industry blacklist. There's a sort of mandatory fun kind of aspect to the writers' club, telling us that we should all only be interested in helping each other create our lovely art, and leave the ugly infighting and competitiveness to people like lawyers and politicians.

Because all artists are wonderful, well-balanced human beings, never given to selfish behavior, ego, or emotional temper tantrums.

The incredibly ridiculous BS aspect of the rules aside, they're there and they probably aren't going anywhere any time soon. Then things like social media come into play and further complicate matters, because authors are expected to have an engaging and entertaining presence on social media, but the risk of creating a controversy (either intentionally or unintentionally) is always there.

Social media is great. Really, I think it's lovely. I access Twitter mostly through an app on my phone and I'm connected to that pretty much all day long. I chatter with my friends, keep track of books I want to read, and get information about what's going on in the world, etc. All in handy little bite-size snippets I can glance at while I'm waiting in line at the grocery store or watching my kids try to build the world's tallest block tower.

Social media connects people from all around the world and lets us engage is the free and spirited exchange of ideas. We work together and make friends and share life. I sometimes do #1k1hr writing sprints in the morning with a woman in Sweden. It's ouch-it-hurts o'clock for me and I'm pretty sure it's the middle of the afternoon for her, but we're both writing and so it works. I live a pretty small life here in reality, rarely venturing much beyond my little suburban neighborhood except on vacations, but on the internet I get to do a little globetrotting a couple times a week.

How fleurking cool is that?!?

But it's easy to forget sometimes that the internet isn't my personal playground and I don't get to control who else is globetrotting. I read somewhere the other day that a person's blog is like their living room. If you go there, you should play by their rules and they can kick you out whenever they feel like it.

I sort of agree with that, as long as we're all willing to acknowledge the fact that most of the time the blogger doesn't actually own the house their bloggy living room is in and so really the bank--be it Blogger or Wordpress or whatever--is the one with the power to kick everyone out, including the blogger themselves. Anyway, you go to someone else's house, you should be polite and drink their particular brand of tea. Or, if you don't want to participate in their tea party, then you excuse yourself and head on home to enjoy a cup of coffee or can of Coke or shot of tequila on your own comfy couch instead. That's generally accepted protocol we all learn how to deal with as small children and I'm good with that.

But it's also important, I think, to realize that my blog isn't like my living room in the middle of a typical Tuesday afternoon. My blog is more like my living room on a Friday night, if I had just thrown open the front door and invited the whole neighborhood over for a big freaking party. I'm posting this on the internet where anyone and everyone could stumble across it, not sending a private letter to a few close friends, and later I'm going to tweet about it too, inviting everyone in the world (who happens to use Twitter) to come over and play.

On the one hand, yeah, if you go to someone's party and get all drunk and loud and start cursing at everyone and breaking the furniture, the host is perfectly allowed to kick you out and tell you never to come back. And if you get violent and abusive, or you keep showing up over and over again, busting into every dinner party they throw and vomiting all over the table, they're perfectly within their rights to call the cops and have them kick you out and tell you never to come back, possibly with some kind of restraining order to back the request up.

But on the other hand, if you throw a party for everyone in the neighborhood, you have to be open to the possibility that people you've never met before, and who might not particularly like your brand of jazz, are going to show up and complain about the music or the food or your random collection of wiener dog figurines. We want everyone who comes to our party to have such a great time that they go home and tell all their friends how awesome we are and then drag them along to our next party. But it's also a possibility that they'll think we suck and they'll go home and tell all their friends that instead.

That's the risk we take when we open the front door by blogging in the first place.

Other forms of social media are the same kind of thing, only, to stretch the metaphor even further, they're less exclusive than your living room. Unless you have one of those private accounts where people have to request permission to follow, Twitter isn't your living room or even your front yard. Twitter is more like Central Park.

You can go to Central Park and hang out with your friends. Outside the metaphor I'm abusing to death here, I've never been there myself. But I would go if I could, because it looks like a cool place to get together with folks and spend an afternoon.

But you know what they say about Central Park? If you hang out there long enough, everyone in the world walks by. And if you're standing next to that big fountain in the middle of everything shouting about how much you think someone sucks or how stupid you think they are, you can't really get all indignant if that person happens by and hears you. Particularly not if you're shouting their name in such a way that they can hear your cries no matter where they happen to be in the park at that moment. (Which, by the way, is what you're doing when you @-tag someone in a tweet.)

Now maybe you're the type of person who likes to stand in the park and shout about your viewpoints and you don't care who hears you or what they think. That's cool. That's either some incredible confidence or an equally incredible lack of self-awareness, but either way, have fun with that. Free speech and all, shout away. (Again, recognizing that this metaphor isn't perfect and Twitter isn't actually a public park. Someone else owns that space--actually, lots of someones since Twitter's IPO--and they can send you packing if they so desire.)

But if you're going to do that, recognize that free speech works both ways and someone might decide to shout back at you. Your opinion is just that, your opinion, and everyone else has an opinion of their own that might not necessarily agree with yours. They might decide to stand up right next to you and shout the exact opposite of what you're saying. That's cool too. More free speech and all.

I'm not that type of person. I have opinions about a lot of stuff, but I also have a bit more than a boat load of insecurity. I don't like being yelled at and I don't particularly like confrontation. I'll have to toughen up eventually, or I'm not going to last very long in this business. But for the moment, I'm a coward, and I'm okay owning that particular title.

Some of the cowardice stems from insecurity. I have opinions, but what if my opinions are wrong. Humans are burdened with a need for external validation and a fear of rejection and I've got an uncomfortably large helping of both running around in my psyche. I'm not confident enough to go shouting to the whole world about something, because I worry that the world will just point at me and laugh. Or maybe take absolutely no notice of me at all, which is less scary but still hurts.

And at the most selfish core of things, I suppose I should admit that at least a part of it is because I have fears about my someday career. I think if an editor I might someday want to work with loved a book enough to get his/her boss to invest in it and then spent many hours of their time shepherding it through the whole publishing process, they might not appreciate me standing in the middle of Central Park telling everyone who walks by that said book sucked so hard it may have sprained something.

That kind of thing might hurt their feelings, or bruise their ego, or needle their pride. I know it would do all that and more to me. And people with hurt feelings, bruised egos, and/or needled pride have a tendency not to act like objective professionals. I may not like it, but I can certainly understand it. So it's not hard for me to imagine that they might go back to their office and see my query letter in their inbox and say, "Well then, let me just send you a copy of my form rejection letter and you can review that in the middle of the park."

Or an agent who has no connection to the book I'm railing against at all might see me going on and on in what I think is a perfectly fine if... enthusiastic manner and decide I'm raging around like a crazy person. So he walks by as fast as possible without making eye contact, making a note never to invite that freaking lunatic to one of his cocktail parties.

And the author whose baby I'm stomping all over probably isn't going to be all that eager to hang out with me at a conference or host a guest post for me when I'm trying to publicize my own book somewhere down the line. His/her friends probably aren't going to be interested in doing that either, and neither are the people whose lives may have been touched in some way by that work. Because, of course, just because I thought the book sucked, that doesn't mean there aren't people out there who loved it and had their world rocked by it.

Is it "fair"? Is it "right"? Probably not. I wish things were different. In a perfect world, I could be a person independent of my career. I could have my personal opinions about life and literature and politics and religion and sex, and I could vent them wherever I wanted with no consequences. Maybe we'd even then all have reasonable and informed discussions about those things. And none of that would enter into a business decision regarding my writing. Agents and editors and readers would all judge the material solely on its own merits and what I said and did off the page wouldn't matter at all.

Unfortunately, the world isn't perfect, life isn't fair, and what's right doesn't usually hit the top spot on the average human being's priority list. And, of course, in that world where no one got their feelings hurt, there wouldn't be much of interest to write about either, so maybe we shouldn't be trying so hard to go there anyway. Regardless, I try to keep my head down and my trap shut when I'm in a pissy mood, and I vent my frustration to poor Long-Suffering Husband when I get really worked up about something.

I'm not saying I never hate things or have snarky thoughts. I'm a generally sarcastic person and I'm very fond of snark. And I have on more than one occasion finished a book and said to my husband or my friends, "Wow, that book was the worst piece of trash I've ever read. I can't believe some idiot published that. I feel like I need to bleach my brain."

I'm not some hypocritical ninny wringing her hands and just wishing everyone would play nicely in the sandbox together. If you write things, be they books or reviews or blog posts or 140-character descriptions of your lunch, and you let other people read those things, there are going to be people who don't like them. And some of those people are going to write their own things about how much they didn't like your thing. That's how human interaction works. If you can't accept that, you probably shouldn't be showing your writings to other people in the first place.

But for my part, I probably won't say what I'm thinking unless I'm thinking something nice. At least not here anyway. I'm not saying I shouldn't say negative things, because I don't really buy into the logic behind the unwritten authorial gag rule. I'm just acknowledging that I'm not Miss Clairee and I don't have the kind of confidence it takes to say, "If you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit by me!"

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a coward.

When I throw open my front door and invite everyone over to a party, it's pretty much going to be dedicated to making everyone as happy as I can. I'll talk about books I like and writers I admire and show off pictures of my fiction kids. Sometimes I'll get particularly frustrated and the sound system will invariably choose that moment to blip and so I'll end up announcing to everyone that I really hate that girl Microsoft's new haircut.

But that's about as edgy as things are likely to get around here. My parties won't be as well attended as they would be if I was handing out free beer and decorating the walls with pictures of naked men, but at least I'm comfortable most of the time.

Maybe things will change someday. I could branch out a bit and bring in some spicier snacks. Or get more aggressive in my Central Park shouting when I'm inviting folks over. I'm sure the Idea Salesman would love it if I did more to get readers in the proverbial door.

Or maybe it'll just be me standing here talking to the voices in my head and watching those strange people from down the street, who show up at every party just to be seen but don't actually bother to talk to anyone while they're there, pass through.

The Bot family is so weird, don't you think?

But all that is my idea of a good way to spend a Friday night (or a Wednesday afternoon, as the case may be) and it doesn't necessarily apply to how you behave in your living room. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: go ahead and have wild parties where everyone gets crazy and either ends up fighting or making out if that's what you like to do. Host a giant bitch-session, Bring-Your-Own-Snark. Invite people over for a to-the-death cage match in your backyard if that's the way you like to play. Just don't be surprised when the furniture gets broken every now and again and your quieter neighbors never accept your invitations.

Expressing your opinions is risky business, particularly in this business.