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.


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.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Flash Fiction: A Gang of Geese

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: Write a story using 100 words or less. In the story you must use a word to describe a multitude of something. The word MUST be original: no "murder of crows" or "bevy of beauties" kind of thing.
(Source: Janet Reid's blog)

"What happened to you?"

She shrugged, feathers scattering. "I had a little trouble with a gang of geese." She winced as she patted her mangled hair.

"Um... Gander."

"What?" She had a brush in her purse. Too bad the geese had stolen it.

"Geese. They're called a gander."

"Gander." She snorted and glared at her reflection. Maybe she could wrap her scarf around her head? "I refuse to refer to a roving horde of evil birds with a cutesy word like gander."

"Gang of geese then." He turned, determinedly not looking at her head. "I'll... I'll be in my office."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Influences: Seanan McGuire

About a year and a half ago I was at a friend's book signing, waiting for her to finish up so we could all go to dinner, and yammering on with someone I barely knew about books. As you do. I was pregnant with my younger daughter at the time and I confess I was more focused on the menu of the restaurant next door than I was on the conversation.

I had something of an obsession with appetizers during that pregnancy. It happens.

Anyway, while we were talking, this person, who it turns out worked at the bookstore, found out I liked urban fantasy and she recommended a new book. I'm highly susceptible to book recommendations. Left to my own devices, I usually just end up with the one with the prettiest cover. Because I'm a walking stereotype most of the time.

I don't recommend that as a primary book selection method, by the way. There's that whole "don't judge a book by its cover" thing to consider.

Anyway, the book she recommended was Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire, which I did pick up a few days later.

Oh my goodness, the funny. I highlighted so many great laugh-out-loud moments in that book. The quotes at the start of the chapters, the wonderful snarky dialogue, the Aeslin mice. You don't know funny until you read about the Aeslin mice. They're freaking hilarious.

But beyond the humor, I loved everything about that book. It was smart and intriguing and sexy and thrilling, and I wanted to know more about pretty much every character in it.

Except the lizard men. Lizard men kind of creep me out.

And so, of course, the first thing I did after finishing the book was go find more books by Seanan McGuire to read. Discount Armageddon was the first book in the InCryptid series, so there weren't any more of those to read yet. (There is a second book out now and the third is due to release in March 2014, just as an FYI.) But I did check out the first book in the October Daye series, Rosemary and Rue, and then proceeded to read all the books available in that series too. And I pulled all the short fiction I could off Ms. McGuire's website and devoured that as well.

Beyond just being really enjoyable books, I learned a bunch reading them. And, oh, look, this is another one of those posts about the writers who influence my own writing. How convenient. ;-)

There are two big things about Seanan McGuire's writing that I really want to be able to bring to my own work. The first is the way she gives out information. She doesn't hit the reader over the head with stuff and it doesn't feel like the main character is an idiot for not figuring it all out right away. It's subtle, facts that just sort of drop down here and there without making much of a ripple in the narrative and then they just make sense later.

It's kind of hard to explain what I mean here, because, of course, it's the subtlety that I'm trying to point to. It threads through pretty much every element of her storytelling. The world building, the character development, the subplots.

Let me try an example, in as general and non-spoilery a way as possible. There's a fact about a supporting character that finally gets revealed in the most recent October Daye novel, Chimes at Midnight. Now I've known this fact for several books. I can't point to exactly how I knew it and Toby didn't. She's the sole POV character; theoretically I shouldn't know things she doesn't know.

I think there were some references to where certain people lived and a couple of things people did that got glossed over but didn't quite make sense without this fact. But there was so much else going on in the story at the time it was easy to just shrug and move on. At no time did I feel like Toby was ignoring the clues or missing the obvious, which is, of course, the big trap involved in giving the reader information while trying to keep it from your narrator. I actually would have found it unbelievable if Toby had put this together on her own. Somehow it was just obvious enough that I already knew while letting me completely buy Toby's surprise.

I really want to be able to do that. It's very common in urban fantasy for there to be mystery elements to the story. The project I just started writing last week could basically be boiled down to a who-dun-it, with magic. And more than just about anything else, I hate an obvious "mystery". Figuring out who the killer is on page 1 has never appealed to me, even though it happens all too often. But I've never been a particularly subtle storyteller either. This is a skill I need to master, or I'm going to end up hating my own books.

(I'm going to end up hating them anyway, especially during revisions and while I'm querying, but I'd rather it be for reasons other than them turning out to be the kind of books I don't like to read.)

The second big thing I want to learn from Ms. McGuire is her sense of balance. I mentioned earlier that the books are really funny. They're also quite dark. There are psychopaths, perverts, criminals, zealots, megalomaniacs, and murderers running around these stories, and some of them aren't even the "bad guys". But there are also socially awkward teenagers, snarky old ladies (I pretty much just highlight all of the Luidaeg's dialogue now), devoted families, and the whole thing with Tybalt's jacket. Her books are about murder, violence, drugs, genocide, lost children, racism, and the nature of humanity. And they're about bribing a cult of uber-religious mice into silence during a booty call or getting your car totaled by an alligator-dog that wandered in from a locked away Faerie realm while looking for a warm place to nap.

I've read books that are all edgy darkness and I've read books that are all tongue-in-cheek charm. They're fine, some of them are even fantastic, but that's not what I want for my own stories. I like the balance in these. I want to be able to bring that kind of balance to my own writing. I want to write books with just enough of the ridiculous to keep you from taking them too seriously and just enough of the horrific to needle you later when you're trying to fall asleep.

Balance and subtlety. Two things I'm decidedly bad at (right along with brevity) that I need to get better at if I'm ever going to get this career of mine off the ground. Should I ever manage it, maybe some splinter colony of Aeslin mice somewhere will start celebrating the Holy Feast of The Baby Wants Potato Skins.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Flash Fiction: 1667

This post has been temporarily removed from the site because I have crazy dreams about someday publishing these words. Should those dreams come to nothing, I'll put the original post back up for you to enjoy or ignore at your discretion. In the meantime, you can find my other flash fiction pieces here.