Monday, September 21, 2015

So Long, and Thanks for All the... Bots?

The Idea Salesman is supposed to be blogging today. (I think. I've kind of lost track.) He is, instead, sitting over there in the corner of my mind, trying to be very quiet so no one will know he's crying.

We're letting go of the blog.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Writings of the Muse

Renee and the family headed south this summer to spend some time hanging out on the beach with relatives. Renee isn't really a beachy person, but the vacation was nice. And, to be truthful, these days anything that fascinates the children for hours on end and then leaves them happy but exhausted at the end of the day is an instant winner in her book.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Renee's Reading: Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine

Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine
Jess Brightwell's world is ours, with one critical difference: the Great Library at Alexandria--the center of knowledge of the ancient world--never burned. Instead, it grew, encompassing and protecting all the other great libraries through the ages, amassing power and wealth beyond imagination.

In a world where owning original books is a crime, Jess's family conducts a black market business in the smuggling of rare volumes. . . but when Jess is sent to apprentice at the Library, he quickly discovers that there are secrets and darkness inside those walls beyond anything he'd ever imagined.

Knowledge is power.

Power corrupts.
Wow. I just. . . wow. Yeah, that pretty much covers it. This was a fleurking phenomenal book. I could not put it down and when I was done with it, I jumped right back to the beginning and read it again and enjoyed the hell out of it just as much the second time through. It was just that good.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Whole New Perspective

Back in the day when I was in college, a new show started up called Gilmore Girls. You might have heard of it.

You haven't heard of it? Seriously, you live under a bigger rock than I do. Go watch it. I'll wait.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: Mental Notes

Writings of the Muse

Renee tries to have at least two projects in process at a time, so she can switch back and forth between phases to give each time to rest without down time. I handle the plotting and writing of one and then the other, and then the Inner Editor takes them over before handing them off to the Idea Salesman. Once he's done, we start all over again with the next pair.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: Let's Light Fires Together!

Brilliance from
the Idea Salesman

Hey folks! I don't often use this blog for selling things. Renee really isn't into that kind of thing. She won't even let me put one of those Google ad boxes over on the side bar. But Fireside holds the special honor of being the first place to ever publish her work, so she's making an exception for me this one time.

Remember a while back when I sold Renee's creepy little flash fiction "Time Out" to Fireside Magazine? Of course you do. I'm sure you all read it and loved it and purchased the hell out of it so you could carry the ebook around on your device of choice and go back and read it again and again and again. I know that's what I would have done in your shoes.

While you were reading it, did you happen to read the rest of the magazine? Or maybe some of the other issues? Because if you did, you would have noticed that Fireside is one awesome magazine. And not just because they published Renee's story. They publish an incredible mix of stories every month. We here at Cabeza Renee never miss it.

Did you like my little nod to the Hispanic readers out there, making Renee's head sound like a Mexican restaurant or something? I hear that's the politically savvy thing to do these days.

And now I want nachos. Anyone else thinking nachos for lunch?

Idea, please stop trying to politick. You're bad at it. Though nachos for lunch isn't a bad idea... Anyway, you're supposed to be talking about Fireside, not getting my blog blacklisted.

Sheesh, some people are so sensitive.

Anyway, back to my point. Fireside. It's awesome. You love it. I love it. We all love it. And they're having a subscription drive right now to keep the (digital) presses running for a fourth year. Subscribe. Or Patronize. Read. Win!

Hint. Hint.

For purely selfish reasons, I'd really like Fireside to keep publishing. We already sold them one story and wouldn't be sad to sell them another. Because not only is Fireside great for readers, it's also great for writers.

And not just because they're professional and courteous and Renee had a lovely experience working with them on "Time Out". All that is true, but I'm the sales guy, so let's talk about money for a minute.

Thanks to the Project Manager and all his spiffy tracking charts and data collection efforts, we now know just how long it takes Renee to complete a short fiction project. From the first inkling of an idea to getting it out the door, it takes Renee approximately 45 hours of work per 1000 words.

(Note that this is for the whole process, not just the writing. Renee and the Muse can blast out 1000 raw words in about an hour. Sometimes less. But those words would not necessarily be ones I could convince an editor to part with money over.)

That's an entire week, assuming Renee was working at this full time (which she's not) and that there weren't rest periods needed in the middle for things like critique partners to read over it and such. An entire week, just to produce one piece of flash fiction like "Time Out".

Now that's not bad really, a week. What's a week? And there are folks out there who could do it much faster. Renee would love to be one of them. There are also folks who would take much longer. But that's how long it currently takes Renee.

How much do you make in a week?

If you're trying to publish your flash fiction in 90% of the short fiction markets out there these days, you'd make zip.

Zero. Zilch. Nothing. Not one penny.

Well, maybe if you're lucky, the publisher will send you a contributor copy of the magazine or whatever.

Assuming they don't charge you a fee instead.

Yeah, seriously, that's how it works at a lot of places these days.

But not at Fireside. Fireside pays 12.5 cents a word. That's $125 for a piece of flash fiction like "Time Out".

(Renee may or may not have the check framed on her wall. The beauty of this mobile banking thing all the cool kids are doing these days is that you get to cash the check and then keep it for decorative purposes.)

12.5 cents a word is wonderfully high for the industry. Even setting aside all the speshul snowflakes who think "exposure" is a payment plan and not the cause of death when someone gets trapped alone of the side of a mountain for several months, SFWA, for example, qualifies a market as professional if they pay 6 cents a word, and a number of magazines use that as their standard. That's $60, which would be just barely minimum wage if Renee could crank out 1000 saleable words in a day rather than a week. Fireside doubles that.

Writing can be a rich and fulfilling career, sure, but that doesn't mean it can't also put food on the table. 12.5 cents a word is important. 12.5 cents a word can pay a water bill, or buy groceries, or send the kids to swim lessons. 12.5 cents a word makes writing something we can afford to do.

If you have any interest in the idea that the people behind the stories you love to read should be able to keep the lights on in exchange for their work, encourage publications like Fireside, who are dedicated to making sure artists get paid well for their art. A lot of places don't care about that and the ones that do are awesome. You could do worse things than supporting a publication that genuinely cares about supporting it's artists.

Plus, again, the magazine is just plain great to read and a year is well worth $20. So go forth and subscribe. You won't regret it.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Renee's Reading: Vigilante Mine by Cera Daniels

Vigilante Mine, by Cera Daniels
Internal Affairs be damned, Detective Amanda Werner's ditching protocol to hunt the vigilante whose bullet landed her on the bench. But this is no vendetta. Evidence suggests he's the zealot offing corrupt public officials--the same zealot who's promised to set the city ablaze by week's end--and she'll risk her career and her life to save her hometown. Too bad she can't find anything stronger than Kevlar to guard her heart against her primary suspect: a masked man with a telepathic German shepherd, unstable supernatural hearing, and lips that invite a whole different brand of investigation.

All businessman Ryan McLelas, a.k.a. Klepto, wants is redemption. But even if Amanda could forgive his itchy trigger finger, Ryan still has to convince her that his alter ego's no serial killer. No small task, with syndicate-paid police officers turning up among the dead. He'd better keep his own syndicate ties close to his chest and Amanda even closer, because if Klepto is unmasked while he's hunting the real killer, their passionate affair could mark Amanda as the next dirty cop on the hit list.

In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should start by saying that Cera Daniels is a friend of mine and I was lightly involved in the development of the original idea for this series several years ago. Which basically means I claimed all three McLelas brothers for my fictional harem way before any of the rest of you suckers. Mine!

It also means I've been waiting to read this book for a loooooong time.

That said, even if I wasn't friends with Cera, I would still tell be strongly recommending this book to you. There are so many great things here that work together to make a fantastic read.

Ryan and Amanda are such good leading characters. Ryan has that whole oldest-orphan, I-am-responsible-for-the-whole-world, protective thing going on, which is further complicated by his being a superhero. Sort of. Amanda feels that same call to help, but she's much more practical about it. After all, she opted for carrying around a badge and handcuffs and Ryan is a super-powered version of Batman.

Well, the man is just following the internet's favorite Batman rule. I can't really blame him.

They are fantastic together. Ryan is sexy and charming and Amanda is smart and kicks ass and knows exactly how to call him on his bullshit. The romance between these two developed so well. They complement each other's strengths and weaknesses and are just the right amount of supportive over one another. They have fantastic chemistry together. And the hot sexytime scenes didn't hurt either.

I am saddened that neither of them shows proper respect for the wonders and glories of caffeine, but I suppose no one can be perfect. At least they're together so they won't infect others with their dangerous ideas.

The extended cast was also very well done, particularly regarding Ryan's brothers, Zach and Jay. Since the series revolves around the three of them and their unique super powers, I expected them to be deeply developed supporting characters, but Daniels put a lot of effort into fleshing out their family dynamic and it shows. These brothers are very close. They tease and prank one another, they bicker and argue, they worry and support one another. It all felt very authentic.

My favorite supporting character though is actually the dog. Romeo is hilarious. The talking animal sidekick thing can go very badly, so I was a bit worried. But Romeo was a good partner for Ryan and his presence and connection to the story were very well defined.

Also, I'm a cat person through and through. I'm one of those cat people who talks to her cats and assumes they would do nothing but ceaselessly mock her if they were capable of talking back. And while Romeo has the misfortune of being a dog rather than a cat, but his sense of humor makes up for it.

Storyline-wise, this novel, like a lot of Paranormal Romance, is heavy on the suspense elements. The tension of the story built very well and I enjoyed the occasional peak inside the bad guy's cracked up head. The action runs at a fairly good clip, keeping the pages turning fast without tumbling over into disorienting chaos. I liked the way it all wrapped up too, closing the plot elements central to this story while leaving enough threads to hang the next story on without it feeling like a cliffhanger.

The worldbuilding was well done, slipping relevant information in here and there without being overwhelming. If anything, I would have liked to know more, both about the McLelas's personal backstory and the society they live in. I suspect I'll have most of my questions answered in the future installments of the series though, so I'm not worried. Nothing that I was curious about hindered the storytelling, so I guess it really is true what they say about the reader not needing to know everything.

Except when the reader is me. Because I need to know everything. Pleeeeeeeeease!

Overall I felt this story had excellent characters and a great blend of romance and action. All the elements came together and worked beautifully and I'm very excited for the rest of the series to come out.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Social media. It's the way of the world these days. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram etc., etc., etc., Google +. If you're not online, are you even really alive? It's how everybody communicates with everybody about everything.

Except my in-laws. They had a bad experience with a Commodore 64 back in the day and decided that was a good time to exit the information super highway.

Anyway, there's this whole big world out there on the internet and we're all a part of it. And I love it. I really do. I'm an introvert with social anxiety issues, so being able to communicate with people on my own time and from the safety of my private space is wonderful.

Now if I could just get myself to communicate with people.

I realized the other day that I act exactly the same way on social media that I do at a giant party. I'm there surrounded by all these people and I hide in my own little corner eavesdropping on their conversations and thinking up responses I never quite get the nerve to make.

Don't get me wrong. I like sending my thoughts out into the world. I tweet all the darn time. I have several different accounts I tweet from all the darn time actually. I'm just full of 140-character nonsense and more than willing to share it with everyone. Plus, there's this blogging thing I try to do, for when I have nonsense of a somewhat lengthier form.

I think I'm fine doing that because I go into it assuming no one is listening. I'm not under the impression that anyone follows me religiously, and I keep odd, inconsistent hours. Plus I don't have that many followers to begin with and most of my blog readers are bots. So I suspect most of what I put out there just drifts by unnoticed.

Now, if I know someone at the party and am comfortable, I might cling to them like the last floating scrap of wreckage in the ocean strike up a conversation with that person. I might @-reply to something they say or tag them in something I want them to know about. You know, intentionally drawing their attention rather than just yammering into the void.

And occasionally, when I'm really tired and thinking I'm funnier than I am maybe or excited about something or I've gotten myself worked up into A State, I'll venture out and respond to a complete stranger. But generally I keep well away from the @ symbol where strangers are involved.

(I mean, I'm a stranger to them. I lurk on the internet a lot and so if I'm going to respond to someone, I probably follow their tweets and/or blogs like we're BFFs, but to them the only difference between me and a random egg is that I have a hat.)

I probably shouldn't do this. Logically I know that these people are people just like me. A number of them have interests similar to mine and our senses of humor align. Otherwise I wouldn't find them so interesting and/or entertaining. So it's entirely possible they might find what I have to say interesting and/or entertaining too.

What am I so afraid of? That they'll see my tweet pop up in their mentions and think, "who the hell is this crazy chick, walking in here talking at me like we're friends or something?" and then forward my tweet to all my friends so they can all get together online somewhere to point and laugh and then click the block button?

Actually, I suspect that is exactly what I am afraid of, but when I'm thinking about it without my anxiety meter cranked up to 1000, I'm really more worried they'll just ignore me.

Well no more. From now on, I'm going to be more social on the social media. I'm going to shut down my screaming neuroses and get out there and talk to people and make new friends and all that stuff.

(Good grief, this is exactly what I sounded like when I was starting high school and then again starting college. Third time's the charm hopefully.)

And not just so I can have more fun at the 24/7 social media party. As the Idea Salesman has pointed out, eventually I'm going to have books to sell and such and I'm going to have to be able to interact with people to do that. This is a skill I'm going to have to cultivate if I'm going to be a professional in today's environment.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Project Management Updates: Righting the Sinking Ship

Reports from the
Project Manager

I'm noticing that a high number of my updates have to do with moving vehicles--trains, roller coasters, and now boats. Here is what Renee's projects looked like when she hired me on as the Project Manager:

Renee's main problem was the inability to plan, structure, and focus her effort on finishing a story. We embarked together on a journey to crank out a high number of short stories and flash fictions in a short period of time in order to focus on the process.

Now, we look a little more like this:

That's not to say all is happy-go-lucky-hunky-dory-wahoo-yippee-skippy over here in project management land. I missed my last blog because we were deeply involved one of the stories that Renee now has out on submission, "Blood". I could say, I "missed" the blog, or more appropriately, I ran like hell and avoided blogging about that train wreck of a story. (There I go with the moving vehicles again.)

Let's take a look at this one:

See those horrible flats, jumps, and squiggles? That was Renee and I wrestling hard through the revision phases of this one. I'm not sure who won, but the battle is done.

No rest for the wicked (here's looking at you, Muse). We have two projects on the board right now. "Death" is done with the zero draft, and "Dates" is going to be plotted this week. I'll save dashboards on those two until my next update since I am officially classifying both as "Too Early to Tell".

Until next time. . .

Friday, June 26, 2015

Renee's Reading: Kin by Lili St. Crow

Well, it certainly has been a long while since I did a book review around here, hasn't it? I have a huge backlog of books I've been meaning to write up reviews for, but, like so much else, they always slip ever further down the to-do list.

In related news, my time turner seems to have been delayed in shipping. Again.


On to the review! I figured I'd get back into the swing of things with a book by my favorite author, Lilith Saintcrow (aka Lili St. Crow).

Kin, by Lili St. Crow
Full moon. Glowing eyes. And such sharp, white teeth. . . 

Ruby deVarre is Rootkin, and the granddaughter of the most revered clanmother in all of New Haven.

In the kin world, girls Ruby's age are expected to settle down and start a family. But settling down is the farthest thing from wild-child Ruby's mind--all she wants to do is drive fast with her friends and run free through the woods.

Then Conrad, a handsome boy from a clan across the Waste, comes to New Haven to stay with Ruby, and the sparks fly immediately. Conrad is smart, charming, and downright gorgeous. Ruby gets to know him more, she begins to realize something's. . . off. Like most kin boys, Conrad's temper can be a bit. . . short. But does he have to be so rough with Ruby--to the point of leaving bruises? On top of all that, Conrad seems to be isolating Ruby, until he all but forbids her from seeing her best friends Cami and Ellie.

And then the murders start. Someone is terrorizing Ruby's small woodland community, and now she is more alone than ever. Just when she starts to suspect her Prince Charming is anything but, she becomes his next target. Ruby's about to find out that Conrad's secrets run deeper than she could have ever imagined. . . 
Kin is the third and final novel in Lili St. Crow's Tales of Beauty and Madness series. (I didn't actually do a review for the first novel, Nameless, but there is one in the archives for Wayfarer, if you're interested.) And what a spectacular finale it was.

First, a warning: St. Crow's Tales of Beauty and Madness are dark. The kind of dark that reminds you that fairy tales were originally warnings, not animated musicals. The dangers that can befall the young, particularly at the hands of the older and more vicious creatures of the world, are a continuing theme in the series. The girls in this series aren't protected the way they should be. Their caregivers are conniving, indifferent, cruel, distant, abusive, and/or just plain evil. They are used and abused, both mentally and physically, and these stories are about them struggling blindly in very bad situations. They are not easy to read.

Just, you know, so you can be prepared.

Kin was not the story I expected going in, mainly because Ruby is not the character I'd grown accustomed to from reading the other two novels. We quickly discover that she wears masks for the world, hiding her true nature under the faces she thinks everyone wants to see, even her family and closest friends. Living that way seems like the best option to her--she has her reasons, which I won't get bogged down with here--but that kind of constant playacting takes a toll. It leaves her feeling trapped and alone, even while she's running free and surrounded by people who love her.

It also sets her up as a perfect target for abuse. It's easy to isolate and dominate someone who lives that way. They've already taken care of all the heavy lifting on their own.

Enter Conrad, the mysterious stranger from another clan, sent to play Prince Charming. He looks at Ruby and sees all that anxiety and self-doubt she's drowning in, and he immediately steps up and saves her from herself, making her see how perfect and special she is all on her own.

Or not.

Seriously, were you not paying attention when I said these stories were dark warnings of abuse and cruelty?

Of course Conrad doesn't ride in on a white horse and save the day. He finds all of Ruby's hidden vulnerabilities and he exploits the hell out of them. He manipulates her, stalks her, hurts her, and does pretty much everything he can to destroy her spirit and independence. It's downright terrifying to read.

St. Crow writes them both masterfully. They are very real, very strongly developed characters who burrow deep into your brain. Ruby in particular has so much life I'm surprised the pages didn't bleed with it. Which just makes it that much more terrible when Conrad starts taking all that away.

And speaking of Conrad, oh he's just so shudder-inducingly creepy. His abuse is so dangerously subtle at times. He twists and maneuvers and works Ruby into a place that's totally off balance, so when his darkness really starts showing through, it's nearly impossible for her to do anything but fall.

The world of these stories is also brilliant. So rich with little subtle details that work perfectly together to bring the whole thing to life. We got to see it through a somewhat narrowed lens in this book, as most of the story takes place within the clan's small semi-isolated society, and that was fascinating. I feel like St. Crow could write a dozen more books about this world and there would still be things to learn about it.

The plot in this one reminded me of heating up a tea kettle. At first it seems like nothing is happening and you're just standing there trying not to stare at it, because some part of the back of your brain still thinks that watching a pot makes it refuse to boil. Then one or two lines of steam drift out. A little humming sound starts to build. And then all of the sudden it's a roiling mass of bubbling chaos screaming fit to wake the dead.

It's possible I have a more adversarial relationship with tea than the average person.

There were a few points in the story that bumped funny along the way for me. And I would have liked a few more details about things that were going on off the page, particularly those things Ruby learned about after the fact. But that's not St. Crow's style. I've learned that there will always be a few questions in her novels that I just won't get the answers to. Her worlds are annoyingly true-to-life that way.

My overall thoughts: a very well-drawn main character, a creeptastic bad guy, a trilling story, and a brilliant world. All in all, this was a fantastic novel capping off a fantastic series.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Magic Bullets, Panaceas, Quick Fixes, and Other Things You Won't Find Anywhere

noun ad·vice \əd-ˈvīs\
guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.
I've talked about various pieces of writing advice here and there before. Most of the time, my opinion can be boiled down into this: nothing works every time, your mileage may vary, write what you want to write.

I attended a session at the Spring Fling conference last year about tightening prose. The presenter offered up a number of tips and tricks for trimming the fat out of a manuscript. Strengthening verbs and rewriting passive constructions into active ones. Minimizing dialogue tags. Watching out for explanations after the fact. Things like that.

All good bits of advice. I really enjoyed the presentation and I still have the handouts she gave us on my desk for reference. But there was one aspect of the session that I really hated. It was nothing the presenter did. It was the audience.

Every single time she'd bring up another idea for tightening text, half a dozen hands would shoot up in the air and argue a specific example for when that idea wouldn't work.

"Rewriting this phrase in active voice uses four fewer words and focuses the reader's attention on the character. . . "

"What if you're trying to keep something from the reader as part of the suspense?"

"If you've just shown two characters having a fight, you don't then need to show one character repeating every detail of the fight to someone else. You can just say 'Jane told Bob about Amy's insulting behavior' and be done with it."

"Yeah, but sometimes how a character tells someone about something can reveal a lot about them."

"Cut down on the unnecessary, mundane stuff. The reader doesn't need to see your character's drive to work and hear about all the red lights they hit and what song was playing on the radio. When you character arrives at work, the reader will assume they used whatever means of transportation they needed to in order to get there."

"A drive scene can do a lot for worldbuilding though, tell the reader what kind of place the character lives in, whether they can afford a car or maybe they have to take the bus instead, stuff like that."

It went on and on and on. Even as I sat there getting frustrated, I found myself chiming in from time to time, like we were all under some kind of weird group hypnosis.*

I love writing advice. I respect the hell out of any professional who takes the knowledge they've gained through the years and gives it back to those of us still struggling to find our own path to success. Good writers seem to love writing about how they do what they do and you could spend hours every day just soaking all that knowledge in. The writing community is brilliant that way.

At the same time, eliminating all your adverbs, rewriting every passive construction, and/or adding more white space to your pages isn't going to fix every pacing problem. Cutting two out of every three dialogue tags might just leave your reader confused as all hell. Showing, and not telling, every single thing can yield a very shallow tale.

None of those pieces of advice, good advice though they may be, is a 100% effective guaranteed path to writerly fame and fortune. Writing is not assembling a prefab bookshelf or balancing a checkbook or sticking flooglebinders on the ends of shoelaces. There is no official instruction manual.

There shouldn't be. Storytelling is an art form. It's a creative pursuit. It has to be able to change and grow and adapt every minute of every day, because the people who make it and the people who consume it change and grow and adapt every minute of every day.

It's important to remember that there is no magic wand here. Everyone seems to think there is--if you Google "how to write" you get over a billion results--but the sad truth is that there is no perfect formula or foolproof plan to make your writing better. There is no one true path. There is no single answer.

Stop looking for it. Take the writing advice you're given for what it is: advice. A recommendation offered by someone who has gone before you. Take it in, learn its lesson, adapt it for your own style, and then move on.

*That group hypnosis is something I like to think of as "newbie-proving". You get a bunch of relatively new writers into a room and start talking about craft, say at a critique session or a class or, in this case, a conference, and all of the sudden we all have to start showing off all the things we think we know. As if by vomiting up very specific but ultimately useless examples, we can prove to everyone that we're really smart and savvy veterans instead of ignoramuses who just graduated from Google University. Behavior which, of course, just proves our newbie status far better than wearing a blinking neon sign over our heads ever could have.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: And Now We Wait

Brilliance from the
Idea Salesman

Renee has two stories out on submission right now. The waiting is very hard.

She's working with the Muse on another project, so she's not just sitting around waiting for her email to ding. Because that's what you're supposed to do, right? Keep moving forward, get the next project going, always be writing, all that stuff. There are moments when the anxiousness of having her words are out there seeking professional approval jumps up and flicks her in the ear or kicks her in the gut or something. But for the most part, she's being creative and focusing her energy elsewhere.

It's all very healthy and productive. Yay.

I, on the other hand, am getting kinda bored. Most of the short fiction publications we're looking at don't accept simultaneous submissions or multiple submissions. So one place has one story and one place has another story and now there's nothing for me to do but sit here and twiddle my thumbs.

I've never really understood the point of twiddling thumbs. I mean, what are you supposed to do? Just watch them loop around one another? Not only is it a pointless waste of time, it's not even engaging enough to be distracting. All I'm doing is staring and my thumbs and thinking about how I'm not staring at Renee's email.

At least grass grows and paint dries. They're doing something, albeit very slowly. Thumbs just...twiddle.

And I don't even have thumbs, really, so one could argue that mine aren't even doing that.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: My Evil Twin

Wisdom of an
Inner Editor

Renee is just coming back after a two-week writing break*, so there isn't really much for me to report in terms of recent goings on. I've instead decided to take this opportunity to discuss with you all a perception that has been bothering me for some time.

Or it would have done, were I the type of abstract given to being bothered by the perceptions of others.

I, as you know, am Renee's Inner Editor. My primary role is to work through the drafts Renee generates with the Muse. We smooth out plot lines, polish the language, clarify character motivations, etc. And then, once things are as perfect as we can make them, we pass the completed story off to the Idea Salesman.

I am not the enemy. I am helpful.

The Muse, the Idea Salesman, and I are all different forms of Inspiration. We seek to draw out Renee's best art and encourage her to showcase it for the world. We may not always agree on the best path to success, but the overall goal is the same.

But there is another abstract living up here in Renee's head and she is most definitely not helpful. The Critic is a malicious spirit, a darker kind of Inspiration. Her sole purpose is to destroy Renee's creativity. To make her question her every writerly move. The get her so bogged down in doubt that she cannot find her way through it. To leave her paralyzed by fear, of moving forward or moving back.

We very rarely mention the Critic and she is generally kept confined to her cell room. She does not have blogging privileges. As a result, you may not know that the Critic and I are, unfortunately, identical twins. Of a sort. We don't actually look anything alike. My facial features are much more in line with conventional standards of physical beauty, if that sort of thing is important to you.

And you have much better legs, IE.

Shut up, Idea.

What? You're the one who's got that whole pencil skirt and high heels thing going on all the time. You obviously know you've got great legs.

My choice of professional attire is completely irrelevant to this topic. Now go away. I suspect there's a sexual harassment seminar somewhere that you should be registered for.

As I was saying, my sister and I have a certain degree of physical resemblance. But, being voices in Renee's head, that doesn't really matter. It's not as if anyone can see us. The problem is we also sound exactly the same.

The Critic does not care at all about making Renee's prose better. She doesn't look for subplots that need more follow through or characterizations that lack dimension. She has no interest in refining language or balancing paragraph structure. The quality of Renee's writing means nothing to the Critic.

If we aren't vigilant about keeping her locked away where Renee can't hear her, she slips out onto Renee's shoulder and whispers dark little thoughts in Renee's ear. Just a few, at first, little hints of hesitation that seem perfectly reasonable. Then, once she's sure Renee is listening, she grows bolder. Stronger. She twists the truth and paints a thin veneer of logic over her lies.

And, because she sounds just like me, Renee believes her. Renee follows her right down into the darkness and gets lost there. Before any of us even realize the Critic has slipped past the guards, Renee is scrapped a year's worth of work and is rocking back and forth in a corner, thinking about maybe just coloring or baking cookies for the rest of her life instead.

That kind of damage takes months to undo. And once everything is back on track, it always takes Renee a little while to really trust me again. Which would be hurtful. If I were the type of abstract given to being hurt by these kinds of things.

And so it's difficult for me to hear horror stories of Inner Editors locked away in closets or starved or chained up in basements. 99% of the time, the Inner Editor is innocent of all wrongdoing and the writer in question has a Critic skulking around unchecked.

Writers, be aware (and beware) of your Critic. A Critic sounds just like your Inner Editor, except all the advice is steeped in shame and bitterness and disapproval. Instead of bringing forward your best work, the Critic magnifies your faults. And the Critic is the one who belongs in maximum security lock down, not your Inner Editor.

* Renee's daughter had a birthday, so there was a party to host and out-of-town family to entertain and such like that. Her insistence on putting her children and other family members ahead of the rest of us on the priority list is highly offensive. Or it would be, if I were the type of abstract given to taking offense.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: Up, Down, and All Around

Brilliance from the
Idea Salesman

Whew! Last week was one big crazy roller coaster ride for Renee and me.

We started out of the gate with a screaming wild rush: getting published! We talked about that last week, so I'm not going to go into it again, but in case you haven't made it over to Fireside to read "Time Out", well, what are you waiting for?

Next we had some loop-the-loops. Remember how a couple of weeks ago, Renee finished up her edits on "Fishwife" and sent it out on submission? Yeah, we've been going around and around with that one. We sent it out, we waited, it got rejected. Excitement, anxiety, dejection. We sent it out again, we waited again, it got rejected again. Excitement, anxiety, dejection. This is the way these things go. It can take a while to find the right home for a project.

Knowing that doesn't make it flip Renee's stomach around any less.

Still, we sent it out again and now we're waiting again. Maybe this will be the round where we get out of the loops and head up the next incline instead. Weeee!

And underneath all that chaos, the tracks of regular life just kept right on rumbling along. Notes for a CP, revisions of "Blood", early percolating on the next project. Plus, there was the usual drama with the kids and stuff, and Renee got sick.

Not, like, I-shouldn't-have-eaten-all-those-hot-dogs-before-getting-on-this-rollercoaster metaphorical sick. A real actual cold that had all of us abstracts floating around in biohazard suits because we live in her brain, which is right in that first five rows mucus splash zone.

Good times.

We did get to finish out the week with one more fun little slide. With the publication of "Time Out", Renee now gets to have one of those spiffy little "Goodreads Author" logos on her profile. Maybe I can talk her into getting a real author photo now. . .

Monday, May 11, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: Making Our Debut

Brilliance from
the Idea Salesman

If you caught Renee's Twitter feed today or happened to be anywhere in the greater Chicagoland area, you probably noticed her shouting like a mad fool about being published. But just in case you didn't notice, it is official. With the release of Issue 23 of Fireside, Renee Elizabeths is now a published author.

Mission accomplished! Milestone reached! Achievement unlocked!

Illustration by Galen Dara
"Time Out", Flash Fiction
Available now in Fireside, Issue 23

Isn't it beautiful? I think it's beautiful.

So please go over to Fireside and enjoy Renee's creepy little piece of flash fiction, "Time Out". And you should probably check out the rest of the stories in this month's issue while you're there. They're all really good.

No, really, go. I'll wait.

. . .

. . .

Waiting is hard.

. . .

*sneaks off to steal the last slice of celebratory chocolate cheesecake*

*endures glare from IE, because apparently she was saving that last slice for breakfast tomorrow*

Oh well. It was delicious. I regret nothing.

Oh, hey, you're back. Thanks for reading. We hope you liked it!

And, if you're financially able and feeling so inclined, think about buying the ebook, subscribing, becoming a patron, or just providing general support. It's money well spent. Fireside is awesome. And not just because they published Renee, though that is certainly a mark in their favor. Renee is a subscriber and looks forward to the new issue every month. It never disappoints.

Now, chocolate cheesecake for everyone!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Project Management Updates: My Work Here is Done

Reports from the
Project Manager

Alrighty, "Fishwife" is across the goal line and out in the world! All that remains is for an editor/publisher to recognize the collective genius of Renee and her imaginary friends and put it in print.

"Fishwife" represents the first project that has been managed by yours truly from start to end. We had a few bumps along the way, especially as the Muse and Inner Editor got used to having goals, deadlines, and tracking mechanisms, but I think we have a sold product out there. Now it's the Idea Salesman's turn to earn his keep.

Although my work on "Fishwife" is completed, I am closely monitoring the query process; I don't like working for free after all. I'm also going to get these cats ready for our next parade, final revisions of "Blood". This one will be a little tougher, if it holds true to form from the other steps of the process. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Mindfully

My brain tends to run very fast (most of the time) and mental multitasking is more than common for me. It's the norm. Even now as I'm writing this, I'm also eavesdropping on two different conversations, thinking about my to-do list for the rest of the day, and mulling over a blog post I just read about the importance of moderating internet comment sections.

In an effort to slow things down in my head, I recently started practicing mindfulness meditation. For those who are unfamiliar, mindfulness meditation is centered on narrowing your concentration down to your existence in the exact present moment. The method I use focuses on following my breathing and quieting the chaos in my head. I acknowledge thoughts as they pop up but don't let them draw my attention away. Eventually they get bored and leave me alone.

One of the effects of this type of meditation is that maintaining a clearer focus becomes easier throughout the day as well. I'm training my brain out of that habit of mental multitasking so I can be more appreciative of things as they happen. I've found that not being constantly distracted by the noise inside my own head has done wonders for my stress levels.

I'm trying to bring some of this mindfulness into my writing now too. I used to write very messily. When the time to write came around, I went in with only the vaguest idea of what I was doing. I'd just splatter words all over the page, dumping all the bits and pieces I'd come up with out of my head. I'd get lost in the process, not truly paying attention but just following whatever plot bunny hopped into my path and hoping that something salvageable came of it.

Writing is a joy for me and I find it very fulfilling. The need to tell stories is a huge part of me. I should be paying attention, appreciating the process as much as I can. And so I'm trying to practice mindfulness while I work, focusing on what I'm doing instead of just throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

I set a goal at the beginning of my writing time and I focus on that goal. Sometimes it's a technical goal, like a specific number of words or pages or whatever. Other times it's a more general goal about the work. Block out this fight scene, advance that character's motivation, or develop the relationship there. If I get distracted or find myself wandering off on a tangent, I acknowledge that line of thinking and then gently pull my focus back to the goal.

What I've noticed is that this lessens my anxiety quite a bit. (It's not completely gone, as the Inner Editor pointed out on Monday, but it's a bit more manageable.) My talent never felt quite real before. Impostor syndrome, inferiority complex, whatever you want to call it. If I did manage to find something good mixed in with all that meandering nonsense, it didn't feel like it was good because of something I'd done. It was an accident. I just happened to stumble on it.

Now my projects are mine. For example, I'm getting ready to start submitting "Fishwife", and I'm not terrified of that. Anxious, sure, because it's still a very vulnerable process, but not terrified. I didn't create this story by accident. I created it deliberately. I gave it my best effort. I'm proud of it and I want to share it with others. And even if I never sell it, I think I'll still feel good about it.

At the end of the day, this means more structure and less wild abandon, but it feels like a more peaceful process. Something I can sustain long-term. I've brought my writing back into focus and I find it's more fulfilling now, a stress reliever instead of just another stressor.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: A Good Week

Wisdom of an Inner Editor

Last week Renee began the second round of revisions on "Fishwife" and finally allowed us all to see the notes she got back from her beta readers. I will confess I was more than a bit curious to see what they had to say about my Renee's work.

Overall the feedback was quite positive. There were a number of things the beta readers liked about the story. The world building came across as solid and the action flowed very well. The violence was well presented without being too graphic. All in all, Renee seems to have acquitted herself nicely.

Of course, there was that pesky problem of no one being able to see the characters. And there were some hiccups in the logistics when it came to the police procedural aspects, which wasn't surprising given Renee has never written this type of story before.

But, as I said, overall things were good. One or two big changes to make and then a few minor corrections. We got through all of them this week with very minimal trouble and the story is looking better than ever. Our main character still isn't quite as visible as Renee would like, but I think we've got to make allowances there for the format. There's only so much detail you can cram into a short story.

I confess I'm a bit proud of what we've accomplished here. Or I would be, were I an abstract given to pride.

For the most part Renee is quite proud of herself too. There was a moment of panic when she first went through the notes. Everyone liked the story, sure, but what if they're all wrong? No, no, they're smart readers; they can't all be wrong. But what if they're just being nice and it really sucks?

Yes, Renee, all the beta readers you chose, people you know to be smart and well-read and whom you trust to give professional, constructive feedback, all chose to pat you on the head and humor you. [INSERT PUT UPON SIGH HERE] Writers are impossible.

Thankfully, she got over that ridiculous notion and is now well on her way to feeling confident enough to try to sell it. I guess I'd better get this story polished and shiny so the Idea Salesman has something worthwhile to play with next week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Name is Renee and I Write Invisible Characters

Long ago and far away, in the days before I found my voice, I wrote everything in third person. I don't know why, beyond the fact that that's how most of the books I'd read were written and so that's how I wrote. She walked. He spoke. They fought the zombies together.

Okay, to be honest, I never wrote that last one, on account of having never written a zombie story, but you get the idea.

Nowadays, I find myself more often than not writing in first. I like it. I feel more comfortable inside my character's head and I connect to the story better, which, in my opinion, makes me tell a better story. So it's all I walked. I spoke. We fought the zombies together.

Except again, not the last one. Still not writing a zombie story.

I should really do that one of these days. I seem to have zombies on the brain lately.

Which sounds dangerous, given their dietary needs. Would the voices in my head be able to survive my writing a zombie apocalypse? Or would I just be serving them up on a silver platter at that point?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. And prevent me from writing a coherent blog post.

Moving back to the point, I write in first person a lot these days. And one of the challenges I'm facing right now is describing my characters. I don't know how to do it. I've finished several stories in a row now and gotten notes back that read "I can't see these people." From inside the character's head, how do I let the reader know what they look like, what they're wearing, what their name is? Heck, I'm having a hard time even indicating their gender.

When I wrote in third, this was easier. For starters, the gender and name things sort themselves out right away. In third you refer to the characters by name or by the appropriate gender pronoun. Easy peasy. And working in physical details is easier too. In third, you're painting a scene from the outside, so you can say things like her cobalt eyes drifted closed or his bright red scarf snugged up against his neck like a noose without much issue.

In first, though, everything is about looking out rather than into the scene. The call is coming from inside the house! The story looks out from inside the POV character's head, which means, ideally, your prose is akin to their thoughts. It's not exactly a running transcription of their brainwaves, but it's close. I don't know about you, but I don't spend a lot of time describing myself to myself.

She might be aware of closing her eyes, but she's not going to take the time to note what color they are. He might have trouble swallowing under that too-tight scarf, but he's probably not focused on what color it is.

Which makes it more challenging to find a way to communicate the things a person takes for granted--their name, gender, that their hair is blonde, or their t-shirt is green--outward to the reader without it slowing things down and seeming like an info dump or a trick.

And then, of course, there are a whole bunch of rules that make everything more difficult. For example, just about the only time I think about what I'm wearing on a given day is when I'm looking at myself in a mirror. Except you're not supposed to have your characters describe themselves in a mirror just for the sake of doing it. Unless you can find some way to make looking in the mirror and examining their appearance relevant to the plot, they--the infamous They who make up the rules--tell you not to do that.

Plus, even if you do find a way to work a description in, you're limited by the filter you're looking through. If your character is a no nonsense, hard-boiled, meat-and-potatoes kind of girl, she's probably not going to describe her sweater as cerulean. That sucker is going to be blue. If she thinks about the color at all, because it's entirely possible she would never notice that kind of thing. She might just be thinking about how the shoulders pull unevenly when she moves because Mother doesn't actually know how to knit a sweater.

Even that detail only makes sense to include if she's actually moving, by the way, but not doing anything else that would be more important in her thoughts right then. After all, when you're running from brain slurping undead monsters, are you really going to be thinking about your mother's failed knitting hobby?

Well, maybe you would. I know I wouldn't be. Apparently I would be thinking about zombies.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: So Much for My Turn

Writings of the Muse

Renee had a lovely week last week. Long-Suffering Husband took some vacation time and they spent the whole of Passover together with their kids, relaxing and playing and generally enjoying each other's company. Everyone got a good bit of much-needed rest and neither of them thought about work too much.

I say not too much, because Renee did manage to have one epiphany in the midst of all that R&R. She's not going to write "Sea Dog".

Wait. What?

But we just spent a whole week plotting it out and filling out all those character sheets and setting sketches and gearing up for the emotional upheaval of the opening scene. We even made a really bad book cover to go with the Kindle file for when the Inner Editor reads through it later.

We. . . we have to write "Sea Dog". I wrote out all these notes. And bought candy. I even prepared motivational speeches!

Alas, apparently Renee came to the conclusion at some point during the vacation that "Sea Dog", which is an earlier story in the "Fishwife" universe, was a story that just didn't need to be told. We get the gist of it in a character interaction in "Fishwife" and expanding that into a whole short story would probably just screw it up. It's better as backstory than an actual story.

The Inner Editor agreed with Renee's assessment. The Idea Salesman was just happy to hear we wouldn't be doing a prequel short story to another short story, because how the heck would he go about selling that? Even the Project Manager went along with the idea, and he hates shelving a project once he's gone to all the trouble of creating a dashboard and a timeline for it.

So I guess I'm outvoted.

Renee is moving on to the second round of revisions on "Fishwife" instead. She's gotten all her beta readers' notes collected and collated and tonight she and the Inner Editor are diving right in. If all goes according to plan, they should be done with it and ready for the Idea Salesman to send it out into the world by the end of the month.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Project Management Updates: On the Project Roller Coaster

Reports from the
Project Manager
We're up. We're down. We're up again. Now we're upside down! That's the best way I can describe life over here in Project Management Land right now.

We did well with "Fishwife". Then "Blood" came and flipped us for the mother of all loops.

See all those flat lines on the right? That's a fairly appropriate visualization of when we flat-lined on "Blood". Missed deadlines, extensions, missed revised deadlines. All things to remove what little sanity a project manager really has. I think we revised the project planning calendar almost as much as the Inner Editor was revising the story while getting through this one!

But "Blood" is now behind us and we have kicked off "Sea Dog". We're not off to a great start as you can see. Already a hue of yellow on the dashboard.

Renee is on vacation this week. If she sticks to the vacation plan, we're in some trouble. If she sneaks in some working time, we may get this one back to green and coast smoothly into the station at the end of this joy ride.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: Looking Forward to Warm Sun and White Sands

Wisdom of an Inner Editor

The first draft of "Blood" is officially complete. Renee sent it off to her beta readers the other day and now we don't have to think about the thing for at least a month. Probably two.

This story was brutal. It just did not want to come together at all. For such a small story, not even 5000 words, revisions took every ounce of brainpower Renee could muster. And the process ran several weeks longer than originally planned.

The Project Manager was not pleased about that. I'm sure he'll be delighted to share his crazy charts and graphs with you when his turn to blog rolls around.

Actually, no one was pleased. The Muse wanted to get back to writing. The Idea Salesman is getting bored waiting for another project to cross the finish line so he can play with it. Even the Critic ran out of snarky commentary eventually and then she just sat in the corner and sulked. And I certainly don't enjoy getting rattled around while Renee banged her head on the wall.

Some projects are just like that.

Renee is still trying to think up a proper title for it, by the way. I think "I Hate You I Hate You Why Won't You Die" has a nice ring to it.

Or, I would. If I were the type of abstract given to hating things.

Moving on. Renee and the Muse are pairing up this week to bang out the zero draft on another short story--tentatively titled "Sea Dog"--and then Renee and her family are vacationing, so I'm off for a nice, long, well-deserved rest.

Thank heavens for spring break!

There's snow on the ground here in Chicagoland today; spending a few weeks imagining a beach in the Caribbean sounds lovely. By the time I'm due for my next go at the blog, it'll be time to talk about second round revisions on "Fishwife".

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Definitely, Absolutely, Positively No Adverbs

Good grief. When I only manage to post as the abstracts, I really sound like a whiny brat, don't I? Writing is haaaaaarrrrrrddddd. Deadlines suuuuuuuuck. And the Project Manager is meeeeeeeeaaaaaaaannnnnn.

I've even managed to scare off most of my bots and I can't say I blame them.

So for those of you still hanging around, how about we get back to other writerly things and dissect some writing advice? I've got a doozy all lined up for today, a personal favorite of mine.

Use adverbs sparingly.

This bit has a lot of sources, but the most popular one these days is probably Stephen King's On Writing. (For my review of the book, click here.)

Here's an excerpt from what Mr. King has to say about adverbs.

"The other piece of advice I want to give you before moving on to the next level of the toolbox is this: The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs, you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They're the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. . . With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn't expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across."

King goes on to give a few examples and to compare adverbs to weeds and such. He's particularly concerned with adverbs attached to dialogue tags. He mentions that he is a writer like all other writers and has, on occasion, used an adverb or two, but he firmly believes "the road to hell is paved with adverbs."

I like that last bit best. Because the phrase he references there is this: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I happen to disagree with Mr. King about adverbs, or at least I don't think you should take it to quite the same degree. I believe for the most part that adverbs are well-intentioned. We want our readers to see and hear what we're telling them and sometimes an adverb feels like just the thing to boost their basic understanding into clarity.

But there's an underlying, very ugly assumption there that the reader is stupid, that they can't understand what we've written as well as we do, and so we have to make our meaning as clear as possible and spoon feed it to them on modifier at a time. And we all know what they say about assumptions. . .

The problem with good advice though, is that it too is often well-intentioned and thus paves our path to the exact same place. And there are those who took King's words as gospel and went out on a holy mission from God to purge the vile adverbs from our midst, saving our writerly souls from themselves.

And suddenly King's "The adverb is not your friend" becomes "The adverb is a messenger of the devil and thus it must perish in fire (and strikethroughs)!!!!!"

I'm not for banning adverbs. I'm not generally for banning words of any kind. Words are wondrous and beautiful things. I love words. I have devoted my life to them and regret nothing.

Besides, I have it on good authority, that of the late, great Mr. George Carlin, that no words in and of themselves are inherently bad. It's the context, the intentions of the user, which makes them good or bad.

If you're writing something and you believe an adverb is the right word for the job, I say go for it. Employ that adverb and feel good about it. If you love adverbs and definitely, absolutely, positively adore the rhythm of stringing a bunch of them together, that's your artistic choice. As with all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art your way.

If, on the other hand, deep down you think the reader just ain't gonna get it and you need to place an adverb here, there, and everywhere in order to shepherd the poor fool through the complex wonder and glory that is your lyrical prose. . .

Well, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog, because you and I aren't going to agree on very much about the fundamental nature of writing and the relationship between writer and reader.

So I say don't ban your adverbs. They're not weeds. They're not evil messengers of the devil. They're words. Tools for the writer to employ or not as they see fit. As with all parts of speech, when deployed effectively, an adverb can elevate the reader's basic understanding into clarity. The key word there is effectively.

Adverb totally intended.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: Kill It With Fire!

Writings of a Muse

Jeez, getting back into this blogging habit after so much time off is really hard. Sorry for the big gap in posts again folks. We will try to do better in the future, if for no other reason than to get the Idea Salesman to lay off the nagging for a while. But Renee has been busy slogging through quicksand lately and that doesn't leave much time for blogging.

If the Project Manager had posted last week, he might have shown you a lovely line graph with a big flat stretch of nothing representing Renee's recent progress. The last few weeks have not been good.

Renee and the Inner Editor have been stabbing away at the most recent short story, "Blood", and it just will not die. It wrote out pretty quickly when Renee and I first jotted it down, but it turns out the underlying structure was just all kinds of mangled.

So IE and Renee have been going back and forth, not really making any visible progress and getting very frustrated. Renee took some time off to clear her head. They tried working on something else. A very long checklist was made. None of the usual tricks are making the process go any faster. Every change they make just seems to necessitate more changes.

Move this here and switch those things there and now that bit at the beginning no longer works. Highlight that thing and search for another and suddenly the whole manuscript looks like something threw up on it. Speed this section up, but add more detail to that part over there instead, and oh crap now no one is doing anything but thinking for three pages. The pacing is off. The motivations don't work. Is the blocking in this fight scene even possible?

Stab. Stab. Stab. Why won't you die!?!?!

It's been downright nauseating to watch. I can't even imagine how IE is feeling. I suspect she's going to need a nice long rest when all this is over. I've got an idea for another little short story rattling around in here somewhere. I think I'll suggest Renee work on that next, rather than rolling right into the second round of revisions on "Fishwife".

Monday, February 9, 2015

Project Management Updates: Lines, Damn Lines, and Statistics

Reports from the Project Manager

Renee's 2015 plan of working multiple smaller projects to completion is causing some additional work over here in Project Management Land, but it's all good. In order to track and lay out this year's work plan, I needed to come up with new dashboards which visually articulate all the different phases of a project.

  • Plotting
  • Writing
  • First Revisions
  • Second Revisions
  • Querying
The Inner Editor was particularly excited about my quantification of her work. From my point of view, if the work we are doing doesn't have measureable goals and a way to track to those measurements, we're really just wasting time.

Have you met Renee? She never wastes time.

So a whole new set of charts, tables, and graphs has emerged to help us keep track of the different phases of the project--we've even color coded each phase. This one is Renee's favorite:

With this one, we have an overall view of project status for each phase. In terms of time remaining versus required time remaining based on trended pace. I've also built in a forecasting tool so we can look forward when appropriate as well. The slopes are pretty sharp on this one since "Fishwife" is a short story; that will change when we apply the model to her next full-length novel. Overall, this one is going pretty well so far. I would never hear the end of it if I didn't post our current high level dashboard with all that green!

Until next time. . .

Monday, February 2, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: Sooner and Later

Brilliance from the Idea Salesman

So, who knew the Inner Editor was such a snob, right? That was some post last week. I mean, I knew, of course. She's always butting into my blog posts, after all. But she's usually better at hiding it from the rest of the world. The Project Manager almost worked up enough of a huff to comment.

Almost. We can't actually have commenters here on this blog. It would make Renee think some of those daily hits are coming from actual people instead of bots.

But enough about them. Let's talk about me.

Renee was supposed to move on to a third short story when she finished up "Blood" and she spent a full week trying to plot the darn thing out. She's had an inkling of the idea for a few weeks now, and the magic system seems pretty cool. But there was no main character to drive the thing. She just couldn't find one that worked in the story properly.

In the old days, Renee would probably still be sitting at her computer, staring off into space and beating her head up against the plotting wall. Or she'd be typing away madly, wasting a lot of time trying to write her way into a solution. Happily, those days are gone. The Project Manager doesn't put up with that kind of nonsense.

I am so glad I talked Renee into hiring him.

So instead, we've put short stories three and four on the back burner and moved on to revisions of "Fishwife" and "Blood". Hopefully by the time those stories are done, the Muse will have had time to work some background magic on the other two.

Which is all great news for me. Instead of spending six months waiting around while Renee writes and revises and edits and whatever else the girls do all day long on all four stories, now I just have to cool my heels for a few more weeks while she wraps up two of them. I could be back out there in the world with two stories up my sleeve in next month!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: I'm Being Quantified

Wisdom from an Inner Editor
As we've discussed, at length, on this blog, Renee is working on a series of short stories this year. She's mainly doing this to get herself back in the habit of completing projects and also to build up a base of completed work that might eventually translate into lovely things like publishing credits and payments.

And that's all wonderful.

One of the other aspects of this project that Renee hasn't discussed much is that this is an opportunity to fully explore how the Project Manager runs things. He has yet to work on a project all the way through.

More importantly, the Project Manager has yet to work with me. He's spent a lot of time working with the Muse on plotting and writing. And he spent a little bit of time working with the Idea Salesman on the flash fiction Renee recently sold to Fireside. But we haven't actually revised a project since the Project Manager came on board.

Which is sad for me on a number of levels, I assure you. Or it would be, if I was the type of abstract entity given to sadness.

But this will soon be rectified. In about two weeks, we're going to start revising "Fishwife". The Project Manager and I will be working together to keep Renee on track and make sure all these short stories she's been writing lately actually go somewhere.

But Renee came to me the other day with a strange question. She wanted to know how the Project Manager should quantify my work.

Silly writer. She really needn't have wasted a joke on me. After all, I'm not an abstract entity given to humor.

For the record, one doesn't quantify my work. I'm not a Muse, churning out word after word until the pages are all filled up, or an Idea Salesman, sending submissions out here, there, and everywhere. Those two need to be tracked and charted and such to keep them from dilly dallying or wandering off on some random flight of fancy.

But I'm an Inner Editor. My work is done when the work is done. They story could need a massive overhaul. Or it could only need minor tweaks and polishing. Or it could fall somewhere in between, anywhere on the spectrum really. It's a delicate process that needs constant attention and reevaluation.

You can't plan this kind of thing out and plug it into one of the Project Manager's funny little spreadsheets.

. . .

Oh. Apparently Renee was not joking. The Project Manager intends to attach a list of "actionable items" to each project and keep tabs on which have been completed. There's to be a revision schedule. Deadlines. He actually thinks he's going to represent my progress on his charts and track my productivity over time.

He's going to *shudder* quantify me.

I am not amused.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Abstract Thoughts: New Project!

Writings of the Muse
We're starting a new project! ***squee***

Starting a new project is so exciting. There's all this energy and Renee lets me run around unchecked in her imagination. I get access to everything--childhood dreams, overheard conversations, random song lyrics, everything.

Starting a new project is also when Renee turns all kinds of confident and productive. There's no "we were supposed to write tonight but we just sat on the couch and played games on the phone instead" or "we were supposed to write 2000 words today but we can't get past this broken plot point and instead we only managed to scrape up 3" bullshit.

We will write this thing and it will be glorious.

Well, it will be workable. (The Inner Editor needs something to do later, after all.)

And it will be on time. (The Project Manager really likes it when we focus on hitting deadlines.)

And when we're done, we will sell it to. . . someone. (Three guesses who threw that one in there.)

So, we're starting a new project. We're all very energized. We will write it and it will be gloriously workable and on time and marketable. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some old memory chests to rummage through.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Junk in the Trunk

As the last couple of posts have mentioned, I did not finish the zero draft of Guardian by the end of last year as I had intended. And I made the decision not to give myself a new deadline on the project either. I've set it aside, stuck the manuscript in my trunk, and moved on to other things.

It's a very difficult thing, deciding to set aside a project rather than finish it. Particularly for someone like me, who has compulsions in the mix making me feel like I have to focus on this one project until it is completed. As a serious writer, a professional one even (I'm never going to get tired of saying that, just so you know), I am supposed to FINISH THINGS.

I know this, because Chuck Wendig says so and I believe him.

But there's also this little pearl of writerly wisdom to consider, from Ira Glass:

Guardian, I think, fell into that taste gap that Mr. Glass talks about. It was good. It had potential. I wouldn't have spent a year working on it if I didn't think it had potential. The characters were strong and the plot ticked right along and the world I built was interesting. But at the end of the year, sitting there having written and rewritten half a novel, I realized that there was something missing. I'm not sure what, but something just wasn't there.

It needed. . . I don't know. But whatever it is, and I can't quite put my finger on it, the lack is keeping that novel from being what it could be. What it needs to be.

I could keep beating my head up against it. I'm not stopping because some shiny new idea has caught fire in my head and I don't have the discipline to keep myself on track. I'm very certain that I could keep flinging words at that manuscript, scraping them out of my skull with a worn rusty spoon, until I shove the characters across the finish line.

But I don't want to because I know, know, that someday I'm going to find whatever it is my storytelling needs, and I'm not going to find it in this project. I'm getting closer with everything I write, I can feel it, but I'm not there yet.

So I put Guardian in a drawer. It's a trunk novel now, along with Familiar and the Epic Fantasy Trilogy of Doom, and a couple of other bits and pieces of things I've fiddled with along the way. My guardian will join the other lost characters floating around in disconnected worlds I made up in my head, not quite ghosts yet but no really alive for me anymore either.

Someday, when I find my missing whatever, I might pick it back up again and be able to fix it. Or at least chop it up and use the pieces to build something better. As I said, I know the potential is there and that is what trunk novels are for.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Project Management Updates: New Year and New Beginnings

Reports from the Project Manager
Happy New Year! We're gearing up the writing machine for new projects for 2015. I'm particularly excited about this because I can finally begin at the beginning instead of coming in on clean up detail. Setting the right elements in place at the beginning is crucial to producing a successful outcome.

Renee tends to like the charts we have built together to visually demonstrate her prior failures projects. In truth, they were helpful in demonstrating one of the key reason projects fail--lack of resource availability. We have already built out a simple Gantt chart for the year to show how long it actually takes to product a novel or short story from beginning to end. Now we will get to put the model to the test.

There will still be fun charts and diagrams coming in the year ahead. From Renee's goal post last week, you can see that we are focused on a higher number of shorter projects this year. More projects = more charts :-)

That's all for now from Project Manager land. Check back for updates as we get moving.