Sunday, December 26, 2004

Joyous Yule

I'm finding many reasons to be thankful this holiday season. Of course, there's the joy of celebrating the holidays in our nine-month-old house, the decorations, the gifts given and received and the holiday treats. But although I'm blessed by all of those things, they aren't really what I'm thinking about just now. I'm thinking about the fact that none of our family died this year, the fact that my twelve-year-old cat is still spry and apparently healthy, and so are the members of my immediate family. Not only that, but all the gift packages and cards that I mailed out arrived at their destinations on time, and I was able to keep all the holiday promises I made. Just simple things, really, but things that many of us are apt to take for granted if our eyes are not fully open to the world and people around us.

This time of year can be so sad for many people, and it can be so hard to get into the spirit of the holidays. Maybe they've lost a loved one recently or they know that they are about to. I've been there in the past, and although this year was one without such a heavy pall of sorrow, I watch other people going through it and remember what it was like when it happened to me. It's frustrating to know that no matter how much I might want to wave a wand or wiggle my nose and poof, make the bad stuff disappear, all I can really offer is a kind word and whatever warmth friendship or love can muster. There are some things we all must face alone, and the expectation of the holidays for everyone to be happy and joyful can be such a burden when you are the one facing the loss or struggling to make ends meet, or perhaps both.

So this year I am thankful not to be the one currently in those particular trenches, and saddened by the fact that I can't make it all better for those who are. I wish joy to all of you, wherever you are and in whatever circumstances you find yourselves. And I offer a thought both hopeful and sobering at the same time: those circumstances can and will change. Fortunately we as humans are only required to get through one day at a time. A small goal, maybe, but a reachable one. And like the sun rising after the long dark of solstice night, a new day will arrive. Blessings to you, and may this next year bring the change you need and enough joy to make it all worthwhile.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Synchronicity and Bridget Jones

While shopping at the local Borders store recently, I just happened to see the book "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking, flipped through it and saw a diagram that caught my interest. In my fantasy writing, I use instantaneous travel through some kind of mana or ether, Magical Gates, etc. Don't we all? So anyway, I thought: what if Magical Gates = folds in Space/Time....hmm? After all, what is magic other than a type of technology that we don't understand or can't explain? It had possiblities I wanted to look into, even if I never actually use the principles outright in my fiction. Whatever the application or springboard for writing inspiration, the book is bound to be a good one to have on my research shelf. Plus, Stephen Hawking writes in such a user-friendly way that I can actually understand what he's saying--it's not all techno-speak. So a couple of days ago at a Chinese restaurant, I was trying to have a conversation on the subject over dinner. The man with whom I was trying to have this conversation kept either going off on a tangent that had little to do with what I'd been talking about, or suggesting that I shouldn't try to explain the magic in my books away with science. Well, I wasn't trying to explain anything away, believe me. In my opinion, we need all the magic we can get in this world. But it was kind of nice to think that my ideas for my magical world might--just might--have a teensy, tiny basis in theoretical fact. One of the rules in the fantasy genre is that the magic has to make sense and obey its own laws. You can't get that to happen if you don't figure out what those laws are. But I sort of struck out on the conversation and had to give up trying to explain how my brain works. Maybe that's a lost cause with any artist, anyway. But then the funny thing was; the fortune cookie I picked up showed that the Universe has a sense of humor. It read: "Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century." Heh.

So on another note, last night I got dressed up and went out with my kids to see "The Nutcracker". It was held at an unfamiliar, out-of-town venue, and I was driving (read, chauffeuring) three Girl Scouts to the event. We had the cheap tickets, my two kids and I were all dressed up (which people really should do way more often than they do out here in Idaho) and when I drove our station wagon up to the event, there was no parking left. So I dropped the kids off at the door with the Girl Scout leader and went in search of parking, which I finally found on a nearby residential street in front of someone's house. It was raining, and I had to walk back to the event venue. By sheer luck, when I stepped in a puddle of water, it didn't quite slosh into the top of my shoe--just over the toe but not into the shoe. Thank goodness! If it had, that would really have been a Bridget Jones moment. As it was, it was close. And I wasn't wearing the stilletto heels, either. I was wearing the mom heels--the lower ones that still allow me to walk quickly. Never mind that the dress skirt was a narrow cut, and if I'd have had to run after a kid I'd have had to hike my skirt up. Fortunately, the rest of the evening went off without a hitch and we enjoyed a very well danced, very well staged performance of The Nutcracker. And then afterward when everyone else was struggling to get out of the crowded parking lot, the kids and I just walked down to where I'd parked the car and got out within minutes, a straight shot back home and no traffic snarl-ups.

It's beginning to seem like everything happens for a reason. So having said that, I can't wait to see what's in store for me with my future book contract. With as long as it's taken so far, and with me still waiting, it's bound to be good, right? Right.


Monday, November 29, 2004

Strategy and Tactics

I wrote my first major battle scene just a while back. After last evening's crit group meeting, I can actually say that I nailed it. It felt good when I wrote it; I studied several historical battle plans and I've been reading Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. I had to start the section two or three times and ditch the first few stabs at the opening (don't groan, no pun intended) before I got the scene moving the way I wanted. I even drew the battle plan out on paper with all the little rectangles and arrows and everything, and wrote scene notes all over the battle map. But once I got past the opening part, things just flew. The next thing I knew, it was about two hours or more later, I was starving, and the battlefield was littered with the dead and wounded. I even killed the only horse who got a name. Sorry. I didn't plan it beforehand, so I guess his number must have been up or he was wearing a red bridle, or something.

Some writers use theme music when they write, and I'm no exception. The theme for my main character's climactic fight scene in Aspects was from the X-men soundtrack. For her first wartime battle in Shadows, it was the soundtrack from Tomb Raider. Music or no music, the results were pretty good--or so my crit group tells me. I still need to run the scene past the guy who helped me think up my initial war strategy, but I think it'll get a good rating there, too. I might--just maybe--be good at medieval battle tactics. Who knew? If I can keep the stakes high and the sex and battles hot, this book might just be a keeper.

Yeah, I'm feeling pretty confident at the moment, perhaps influenced by all that studying I did on Alexander the Great. Buy my books when I'm published, and you can either diss or praise my battles on Amazon. In the meantime, I've got an island to conquer. Oh, and if Bob should happen to read this--I'm almost done. Just a few more chapters, I promise!

Saturday, November 13, 2004


It's interesting to read what other writers say on the subject of how many words per day they manage to get. For me it's never perfectly consistent. Two nights ago I wrote nine and a half pages in one sitting and barely remember coming up for air. Thousands of words and all in what writers call "flow". Last night it was not quite three pages, which still amounted to about a thousand words but left me short of the section I wanted to finish. Both nights' work should be considered progress. I just need my progress to be more like the first night, and more often.

I've just been figuring out where I'm at on my current book, and I've already hit 112,000 words, with quite a few more plot points to go. I'm thinking this thing is going to finish at about 160,000 to 170,000 words, which would be fine for epic fantasy if I wasn't a first-time author. But hey, the book is what the book is. I'll try to pare it down where I can and we'll see what happens. The way things look now, I should finish it somewhere in mid-December, though I'd really like to send it off before then. I'd get it done by Thanksgiving, but it would take a miracle.

I have a battle scene to write, so I'm off to have fun storming the castle....

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Off to see the wizards

I'm about to attend my second Sci/Fi convention. Klingons and Vampires and Elves, oh, my. The classes for writers sound interesting, and I'm also looking forward to some contact with the published authors who will be there. It's interesting to hear them read and see how they interact with their fans. This is like a little mini vacation for me--something I haven't gotten much of lately. I'll be hoping for writing time while I'm there, but just getting out of town for a weekend can give me such a boost--I've always been a bit of a wanderer. I like nothing better than a good road trip--except perhaps a good European vacation. And before you think I'm putting on airs, let me explain that I've only flown out of the country once. That once was to Ireland for one glorious week. If I were told that I could only take one other out-of-country vacation ever again in my life, but it could be to anywhere I chose...I'd go right back to Ireland without even having to think about it. It's in my soul, in my blood, and always, always in my heart. But since I can't go to Ireland this weekend, I'll settle for Oregon, which sometimes reminds me of Eire on a soft day.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Pulling punches

All that disturbing imagery about corridors and bones and fortresses...well, let's just say the scene went well. I'd gotten about halfway through it when a comment made by one of my crit group members made me go back and look at it again to see whether I'd lived up to her expectations. She was envisioning a certain nuance and feel to the scene, and suddenly I wasn't sure whether I'd done as well in expressing that as I could. When I read it over I realized that the answer was no. I hadn't done the job; I'd pulled the punch. So I went back into it and added what I'd left out. Incidentally, taped to the front of my printer is a fortune cookie slip with the words "Do it right the first time."

Not too long ago another friend asked me what type of reputation I wanted to cultivate as a writer. Some of my scenes are rather explicit in various ways, and as I gain skill they're only going to get more so. I'm not exactly exploring easy issues here. Rape, murder, teenage pregnancy, intimacy of varying degrees, polygamy, Machiavellian policies, slavery, loss, self-sacrifice...and the list goes on. I could, as one character puts it, "softcoat the issue" and paint a picture that is just a little blurred around the edges to soften them, make things easier on the reader. But if that's what I'm going to do, then why write about those issues at all? Perhaps a cookbook or crafts handbook would be better.... Nah! Not my department.

I write epic fantasy, not cookbooks. But first and foremost, I write about human issues, and no human issue is ever easy. If I pull my punches, not only will the book not be as good, but I'll always know I could have done better, hit harder, maybe knocked down that wall that always seems to stand between any writer and publication--or even between a published writer and real success. So I'm not going to pull away from the hard issues. I'm going to plow right through the middle of them, damn the torpedoes. Every book I've ever loved and wanted to read over and over again was written by an author who wasn't afraid to tackle the hard questions about life.

Guess I should have known it would come down to this. 'Way back in First Grade when the teachers had my class perform Snow White as a Christmas play, it was my best friend who got the part of the beautiful, innocent Snow White. I, on the other hand, was cast as the wicked Queen.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Not So Bad

I've realized that this week wasn't as bad in the writing department as I made it sound. During those nights after 11 p.m. I actually edited my way through several sections of the book, so progress was made even if it wasn't all new words. I tend to count new stuff on my little mental tally sheet and forget that editing is considered progress too. And the new section is going well tonight. I just got my current POV character into a very tight spot. Literally. Ever been in a corridor where the mortar between the stones is partially made with ground-up human bones? Urk. I once saw a documentary where some underground rooms were made with piled-up human bones and skulls. I think it was in England, but everyone please forgive me if I'm mistaken about that. My memory may be faulty here. Anyway, that vague memory of the documentary made me think that my villian might very well have used bones in his mortar.... So now it's not mortal remains, it's mortar remains. No don't hit me!!! It's my blog, so I can write really bad puns at 12:30 a.m. if I want to. And now back to the icky little corridor, where my character is having a serious case of claustrophobia....

Writer, Interrupted

I'm in the middle of a writing marathon. The goal is to have 10,000 words done by tonight at midnight. Now, it's not as crazy as it sounds. The marathon actually started on Monday. Problem is, all week I've not been able to get in front of the computer for more than a few minutes at a time until after 11 o'clock each night, and by midnight I'm fried. To make matters worse, I keep interrupting myself by finding other things to do. And if I don't interrupt myself, someone else in my family will happily oblige. There are so many things to do. If I go to Forward Motion writers' community, I can lurk on the boards there and see what everyone else is up to. I can scare myself with their tales of how one girl's agent let her go because the agent couldn't sell her book, or I can make myself green with envy over the lady who actually has six hours of writing time all to herself every day, or I can go over to another writer's blog and drool over his or her upcoming book tour, or....

Or I can kick myself in the butt, go back to my manuscript right now and just get on with it! I guess I'm hoping that it'll be easier to keep from falling off the writing wagon if I know someone else might be watching--or reading. And the irony is that I really want to write this book. I love this book. It's turning out well, and I'm all caught up with the edits I've been working on since I went to Donald Maass' Breakout Novel Intensive workshop at the end of July. Now it's all new stuff ahead, and I guess maybe I have stage fright or something. I'm standing at the end of a diving board staring down at that wierd blue water below and I'm afraid that maybe I can't swim, after all. And well, no, I can't swim. But I can write. So here I go. Anybody seen the life preserver?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Just for Openers

I'm not sure whether by starting this blog I'm jumping onto a bandwagon or jumping off of one, but I decided that I might as well keep a log of my writing progress. That way, potential readers can see what I'm up to during this long waiting period before I have my "overnight success." Or not. At the very least, my critique partners can keep tabs on me if they're either extremely bored or having their very own bout of writers' block.

Since this is going to be a blog about writing, I'd better get things up to speed. Right now I'm in the middle of the middle of the middle book of my yet-to-be-published fantasy trilogy. With me so far? The current book is called "Shadows of Memory." Tonight I'm working over the first section of Chapter 13, and my big silver tabby cat is snoozing on the writing portion of my L-shaped desk, with his head so close I could bump him with my left elbow. He could lie down in the really comfy armchair near the window, but no. He has to be right next to me, and the sounds from the keyboard don't seem to bother him in the slightest. But if I were to warm up the printer, that would be a different story. On goes the printer, down goes Moonshadow. Oh, well.

I'm about to steal just one more hour from what is supposed to be my night's sleep and do any necessary edits to Chapter 13, Section 1. Soon I'll be all through editing the stuff I'd previously written, so it'll be all new sections. I may need to borrow a page from one of the Harry Potter books and conjure up a patronus to chase away the writers' block. Nah, just kidding. I actually have the entirety of this book outlined on colored index cards and posted on my closet doors. So now it's no longer a question of what to write. It's just a question of sitting in the chair and getting on with the work.

Blog, blog, blog, yackety smackety....