Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mini Books

I'm broke. Who isn't? I've been waiting a long time to make money from my writing, and haven't really managed it yet. So for the last couple of hours, I've been busy listing a bunch of items on eBay, including four of the miniature books I've produced through my business, Pookatales Press. All of my listings are under the name firehorse2. Today was a discounted listing day, thus my rush this evening to get one of everything listed. It can take a long time, even with all the handy tools they have to jumpstart the process. Great site, though, and such a boon to all the people who really want to work from home in some way. I love it, and spend far too much time shopping there when I should be working. So I'm trying to spend more time selling and less shopping, and see if I can start to get my head above water.

I started making miniature books a few years ago, and I'm a member of the Miniature Book Society, an international organization of people interested in small books. I tend to make more of the micro-mini, dollhouse-sized variety, but lots of people make larger ones and use quite a variety of techniques. Technically, a book is a miniature book as long as it's three inches square or less. Mine are more like one inch tall and 7/8 wide.

Currently, I use a medieval bookbinding technique, but I'd like to move into a hardback variety soon. I'm having a hard time finding thin enough leather, but I know there has to be bookbinding leather somewhere online, so I'll have to do some digging.

Seasons Greetings

I hope everyone is having a wonderful winter holiday of whatever flavor they prefer.

I only got about half of the decorations up this year that I wanted to (only the second year in a house with a stair banister and I didn't get the greenery attached to it), but all in all it worked out well. We went with a blue/silver theme this year--something I've never tried. I think next year I'll go back to the warmer tones, but it was good to try something new. We had a nice holiday, and for the last two days the girls have been running around the house taking pictures and movies with their "new" used digital cameras. Last night, the Huz and I nearly fell over laughing at some of the "movies" filmed by the munchkins--so sweet and so hilarious. Have you ever filmed/recorded a cat's purr or your own fingers on piano keys? If not, you've got to try it....

I think that's what strikes me most about this season--the sense of wonder that still permeates everything. Kids almost too excited to sleep, a house full of secret surprises for loved ones, the smell of cookies or wassail. All the things that sort of call in the magic of the season. There have been a few years where I either didn't feel like celebrating or was almost caught unawares when I waited too late to make preparations, but this year was just...different. Maybe it's because over the past few months I've sort of gotten over myself a little bit, acknowledged a few more limitations, tried a little harder to look past the hype and prep and just get down to the basics of what this season is really for. In order to celebrate the returning light, I've found it's important to first acknowledge the darkness. Could that be the gift we give ourselves? A little honesty and a little surrender of all the things that usually make us too uptight to enjoy the things that matter the most?

And for those who just found that last bit too saccharine for words, I have a movie recommendation. Just before Christmas, I found a copy of "A Christmas Carol" in the store. Well, there were lots of different versions actually, but this one featured Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. I grabbed it immediately; I mean, what's not to like? Patrick Stewart in pretty much any film is not to be missed, but as Scrooge? His version of "A Christmas Carol" is well-spent money, whether you feel as miserly as Scrooge himself or not.

I've had a pretty good holiday, all in all. The one thing I haven't gotten to do yet that I really, really wanted to do is write. I'm hoping for some of that in the next few days to come. It'll certainly be much more productive than me hitting all the after-Christmas sales, and I've that Yule ball scene yet to do. I've been looking forward to that for such a long time that it's like a little present all on its own.

I'll make one New Year's resolution early. I'll try to blog more often, even when I don't have a long entry. I'll be like...a self-discipline exercise. Or something.

Merry Winter, everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Winter Solstice

As we approach the longest night of the year, I find myself immersed in creative activities of various sorts. I'm making gifts for family and friends, so there's the arts and crafts outlet, and then there's the writing outlet. Interestingly enough, the storyline of my current book takes place during the winter, some of it during the yuletide season. I didn't plan it that way; it just happened that my four-month break from writing made the time frames for the book and real life parallel each other. I get lots of funny little coincidences like that in my writing. When it happens, it can serve as further inspiration for scenes with regard to emotional content or ambiance. But for the most part--"any resemblance to real characters or events are purely coincidental."

I've been musing about how people spend their time during the Christmas holidays. There are so many activities to join in that it makes me shake my head in amazement. About the biggest things I had available when I was a kid were the occasional caroling trip and, of course, the school Christmas pageant. But for my family nowadays, it's music concerts of various kinds, religious ceremonies, Girl Scout activities, and the gods only know what else--and this year they're all conveniently scheduled for the same day, same time. So how do we choose among them? Sometimes I think that it's all become too much of a rat race, and that maybe a retreat to some remote mountain cabin might be in order. Well, that's not an option. But prioritize and choose we must; we cannot possibly be in four different places at once. I begin to see why so many people find the holidays stressful in the extreme. I think the key is in pacing yourself and being honest with yourself about just how much holiday fun you can handle.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Closet Door Pics

I once mentioned the closet door technique as a method for plotting. Well, since then I've discovered a very neat accessory--Post-It notes sized and lined like index cards. Up to now, I've been attaching my colored index cards to the closet door with poster tape. I know that some writers routinely use Post-It notes, but I've never liked the size of the little square ones. Plus, I like the lines on index cards. With all of the preferred attributes combined, moving scenes around on my closet door has just gotten easier. No more index cards sticking to the poster tape and having peel-off problems when I need to move them around.

The Closet Door system:

And the Pevensie kids had to discover their magical world inside the wardrobe!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Did I call it, or what?

One of the Moxie just recently sent me this link to an article about the current trend in fantasy publishing. As it happens, several months ago, I wrote this blog entry relating to the same issue. Did I call it, or did I call it?

My fiendish plan is ticking along perfectly. It's only a matter of time....

My latest fiendish plot is going well, too. I've actually finished the first chapter of the new book, which for now we are calling "Shifts of Perception," or "Shifts" for short. Got the thumbs up on it from the Moxie this evening at our meeting. Val says that by the end of the first chapter, the characters already have so many problems that she wonders how I'm ever going to get them out of it. Heh.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Return to Bliss and Torture

I never realize just how much I need my writing until I've been away from it for a while. When I first come back to it after a break, it's like a reunion with an old lover. How could I have gone four months without it? And yet, I'm glad I did, because I think the occasional break keeps me from burnout. Toward the end of the second book of this trilogy, I was beginning to think I'd implode if I had to rewrite the darned thing one more time! But at the same time, I wanted to do whatever it took--wanted to get it right. From beginning to end and through all the revisions, Shadows of Memory actually took about two years. And a tough two years they were. They were years that saw the death of my grandmother and several other rough milestones in my personal life. They saw lots of hard work and lots of frustration. But it's worth all that time and effort just to hear my agent say the magic words, "I love the rewrite." He loves the rewrite. Thank the gods! Now we have two books for him to market, and only one more for me to write to finish this trilogy.

I'm into it now, gang! In fact, I'm four sections into it, and already I'm hooked. I'm delighted to be with my beloved characters again, and more than ready to start torturing them some more. This book gets a magical serial killer dumped right into the midst of some other huge issues the characters must face. The name of everyone's major issue? Family.

Such a nice little word, family, and yet it pushes so many people's buttons. No one else can disappoint us in quite the same way as a family member. No one else has quite the same dirt on us, or quite the same hold. I intend to probe deeply into these issues in book three. While a killer roams the halls of Gondrevin Palace, my heroes must explore questions such as: What is family? Is a family the group you're born into, or the one you choose? Do we place too many expectations on our family members--perhaps more and harsher expectations than we would dream of placing on anyone else? And when someone we love lets us down, how does that change the relationship? If we get through such a breach, are we then stronger because of it, or will we retain scars that never fully heal? In other words, those poor characters are in for a rollercoaster ride to hell and back. Which means I'll be with them on that rollercoaster, hanging on white-knuckled to the end.

Dare I whoop with delight?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Ok, I started the third book of my trilogy. Finally. I didn't get too far yet, but what I have looks pretty good.

The family has been contemplating a possible move, and that's been stressful in the extreme. Certain circumstances have developed that might cause it to be necessary, but none of us really wants to do it. I've always known I would not be here in Idaho forever, but I wasn't quite...done with it yet. Or maybe I'm just more resistant to change than any mutable fire sign has a right to be. After a couple of stressful weeks, we are at the stage of possibly not having to move, but things are still up in the air. Urk!

That's about it for today--short and sweet. But I'll post more as this new book begins to develop. In the meantime (and in case I don't get back here as soon as I'd like,) Happy Thanksgiving and all that jazz!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Things heard at Moxie meetings

Here are a few of the stray comments fellow coffee shop customers have heard when a Moxie writers' meeting was in session. Could have earned a few funny looks if taken out of context...

“We don’t have to be afraid of the thing in the dark alley; it owes Stef a favor.”

“Excuse me, I have to go call Singapore.”

“Ooh, shiny!”

“She’d transgressed; she’d called the sacred…cheeseburger?”

“Siobhan stays dead, b**ch!”

“He was getting on my nerves, so I had to kill him.”

“Which island was it--Mirabad, or Miragood?”

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Long Wait

I haven't posted for a long while, I know. I've been doing the homeschool mom bit, trying to get my kids' school year going and keep us caught up on the assignments we have to send in to their official teacher every so often. We've also been through a round of 'flu and house cleaning--nothing too fascinating to relate.

I'm still waiting for word from my agent as to how the first two books of the trilogy are doing--I need to catch up with him as soon as possible. And I have a new order to fill for my mini book business, Pookatales. Same old routine. I promise I'll post something more interesting soon. For a non-published writer, the waiting game is the most gut-wrenching game to play, but play it we must. I used to think that all I had to do was write a great book and everything else would automatically fall into place. Not so. I'm still here, waiting for a contract....

If I had a beard, I'd look like Rip van Winkle right now.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Condolences to New Orleans

Just the other day, my kids and I were watching a National Geographic video featuring hurricanes. We'd had this video for a few years and for whatever reason just hadn't sat down to watch it before. The eerie part was when the video showed footage of Hurricane Andrew and commented about how it had fortuitously missed New Orleans. The video warned that such a disaster could not be far off--an unsettling pronostication of things to come. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones, homes, jobs...here's a wish for much brighter days in the future. May the universe grant you the strength and the means to hold on until then.

I haven't blogged in a terribly long time--much longer than I intended. I've been on a little hiatus following that last book revision. I'm trying to get my household back under control, working on painting a kid's room, starting our new correspondence school year, and trying to reclaim some parts of my life I'd put on hold while revising. But soon I need to start the third book of the trilogy, and I've been giving some thought to a couple of possibilities for YA fantasies to write in the near future. Even if I only managed to get 10,000 words a month on one of them, I'd have a book before a year was up. How hard can that be?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Wild Ride

Remember how I said I'd named my new car Phouka? Well, apparently it was more than just a whim. Here's the story of my journey to the Willamette Writers Conference two weekends ago.

On Thursday morning I'm sitting at the Ford place, my bags all packed and the car loaded, crossing my fingers that the correct replacement mirror will actually show up sometime before 2pm. The part arrives, they get my car right in and install it, I only end up paying $39.00 for the labor, and I'm on the road for Portland by noon. Great so far, right?

Well, then I get to Baker City, Oregon, fill up with gas at the local Chevron and head for the Taco Time to grab a quick lunch, which I eat quickly in the car while it's idling in the parking lot. Then a light in my dashboard Message Center starts flashing, toggling back and forth between the messages "check engine" and "check transmission." Oh, wonderful! Since the car's still running and functional, I head straight back to the Chevron station, beside which is a small repair shop called "Grumpy's Repair." They obligingly put their brand new diagnostic computer on my car and get an invalid code reading which the computer can't decipher. Then suddenly everything checks out fine. They take a glance at my transmission fluid and oil and can't find any problem with that, either. So apparently everything's fine and Phouka's simply been playing some odd little trick on me. And of course, there's nothing anyone can do about it unless it happens again. Just lovely. Oh, and I now owe Grumpy's Repair $50 for that computer diagnostic. YeeeHaaaw!

So I get back on the road, and when I reach Pendleton, I pull into the parking lot of the Burger King to grab more food, and I drive over one of those concrete bar things that are supposed to mark where your front wheels go. Only my undercarriage is so low that it scrapes right over the darned thing and the only way to get off it is to back up. This partially rips off the plastic air dam under my front end and it is now hanging down behind my right front tire. So I go to the trunk and get the roll of duct tape that for SOME reason I put in there the night before and tape the hanging plastic piece to the underside of the front bumper so it's not dragging on the ground. And I go on. Muttering to myself, shying at every new noise or rattle from the car. Trying not to think about THAT problem, and THAT problem, and THAT problem, and what could possibly happen next. I'm doing some pretty good mental compartmentalizing by this time. Fortunately I have a book on tape, which helps take my mind off all the bad travel Car-Ma.

Then I get to the Multnomah area and I hear a sharp CRACK, which is apparently a rock hitting my windshield, thrown up at me by the truck & trailer rig just in front of me. I'm still waiting for the dreaded crack to appear, and hoping that it won't. I can find no damage, but that could still show up at any time.

By the time I get to the hotel, I'm shaky, hot and bothered, and not in a good way. But I'm at the conference--finally. Oddly enough, the rest of the weekend went without a hitch and the trip home was completely uneventful. It even turned out that rather than me having to replace the air dam (which would have cost $95 plus labor) the nice guy in the parts department was able to re-bolt the thing up for me for free, and the only consequence of the mishap is a small tear in the right side of the air dam, which for the time being is not going to hurt anything. If it ever finishes ripping itself apart, I'll have it replaced, but in the meantime I have no desire to see my credit card go up in flames.

Upon hearing this story, one guy at the conference actually thought this was a pitch for a comedy screenplay. Eh? Any takers? We could call it..."Phoukatrails". Or maybe "Driving Miss Crazy." You want to write it up and sell it, be my guest.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Warning, Apathy on the Loose!

I called the Ford place today to make sure the part had been ordered and that they expected it in by Thursday morning, because if it doesn't come in on time, I may have to whip out the plastic and pay for an unwanted and very expensive plane ticket or rental car for the weekend. Excuse me, but I like to make contingency plans ahead of time, if possible. The people in the local Ford service department have informed me that there is no way they can secure a loaner car for me or even give me a free or discounted rental if for some reason my car's belated mirror doesn't come in with tomorrow's freight. In other words, if they screw up again, tough luck for me. They are unwilling to do any more than they have already done (a 10% discount on the labor, which amounts to...what...about $6?) to make things right with me even though it was one of their employees who made the original ordering mistake that caused this nerve-wracking delay. If the guy had just double-checked his order numbers, the part would be here and the car fixed already. That $6 doesn't even cover all the gas I've wasted driving back and forth to Ford to try and get the mirror fixed since last Friday. But they don't care. After all, it isn't their time and money at stake.

I have made every effort to remain calm and reasonable (a condition which much resembles a doormat) but if for any reason the part doesn't come in with tomorrow's freight, my whole conference weekend is screwed. And I've already paid for the conference--well over $450. And here's the part that really burns my bacon: the freight truck gets in any time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So I might be sitting there in Ford's waiting room until 2 p.m. and still not have the part to fix the car. And why the heck did they give me a 9:30 appointment if the freight truck isn't expected to get in until 10:00? Huh? Riddle me that!

I better not try to write on the new book today. I'd probably have to kill something.

A Careless Moment

Hectic schedules take their toll. As is probably obvious by the date of my last blog, I haven't seen much of my computer for the last week and a half due to kid-related responsibilities. But I am supposed to be going out of town this weekend to the Willamette Writers' Conference in Portland. I'm leaving on Thursday--provided I get my car back in time.

Yes, it's in the shop again--or it will be. This time it's my fault. I banged the driver's side rear-view on the side of the garage as I was backing out on Friday, and now it's taking forever to get the replacement part in. Apparently, the guy in the Parts department ordered the wrong part on Monday, so I get there this afternoon to drop off the car for its appointment to get the mirror replaced, and ta-dah! No part. So I may or I may not be able to get the car fixed in time to drive to Portland. It depends on whether they ordered the right part this time and whether it arrives here on Thursday morning as it's supposed to. If it doesn't, it's going to mess up my entire weekend. One careless moment, and I've managed to give myself no end of grief. Hopefully this is one mistake I won't make again. It was expensive, too. And here's the kicker--the part they ordered is coming from...wait for it...Portland. Grr.

On a brighter note and in honor of my daughter's moon-watching the other night, I've added a "current moon phase" feature to this blog. So if you're too busy to go out and look at the moon, just scroll down a ways and presto--instant moon watching. Have a great weekend, enjoy your summer, and check your mirrors often when backing out of the garage.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Modern Girl vs the Earth Goddess

I've been thinking a lot lately about the environment and the dichotomy between all our wonderful new "advances" and the more traditional values with which I was brought up. A little-known fact about me is that I was raised on a small farm which used to be an old homestead, and in conditions that my friends considered very "primitive." When we moved to that property I was about five, and I still remember the ruts going through the woods from the old wagon road that was there and the toppling-down remnants of two old log cabins--or perhaps one cabin and one barn. We ate apples and plums from trees left behind by the original settlers and drank from an actual spring on the property. I remember washing clothes with an old wash frame, galvanized tubs, and a washboard until we found out where the local laundromat was and started going to wash there. While I was a teenager I ironed my clothes with a sadiron heated on the gas range, and long after I'd grown up and moved away, my grandmother washed her clothes with an old wringer-type washer which she never taught me to use because she was convinced I'd get my fingers stuck in the wringer.

I've watched episodes of reality shows where modern city dwellers had to go out to a semi-wilderness area and live in pioneer-style log cabins in much the same way and with the same technology the settlers did. What fascinated and horrified me was that so many of us nowadays are completely unprepared to cope with those sorts of conditions, and when you take the city-dweller out of the city and tell them to fend for themselves under "primitive" conditions, they have trouble--big trouble. But remembering my childhood in Montana, I realize that while I've come to love my modern conveniences perhaps a little too much, I would be fine if they were to put me in that log cabin and tell me to cope. A part of me misses the long weeding sessions in the garden and the endless bean and pea harvests, the pea shelling, the washing, the carrying and stacking of wood. And sewing for yourself--wow. I still own the same Singer machine my folks bought for me when I was in college, but it's buried under who knows what in the room my kids use for their homeschool. How I envy Tamera with her quilts! I used to be an avid herbalist, and when my kids were small, we grew a vegetable garden every year in our back yard. Now my days are ruled by a daily planner, without which I cannot cope. Where do I have to take which kid when, and what is my next scheduled responsibility?

I have become, by necessity and even by choice, a (small) city girl. I love going to big cities but I hate to drive in them, and while I'm there, my car of choice is a limo. (This isn't because I have delusions of granduer--although that may be true--but because I have a theory that all the best drivers tend to work for the limo companies and I've never feared for my life while riding in one. A taxi, on the other hand, is almost as stressful as driving myself through a big city.) I love the convenience of having a cell phone, my laser printer is one of my favorite possessions, and I adore my computers. I've even hacked on html code, which for me is quite an accomplishment. Word for Windows is far different from the manual typewriters I learned querty on, and I wouldn't trade my ergo keyboard for anything but a newer model. I like restaurants, movies, and Estee' Lauder products. I bought the new Ford 500 car because of its side-curtain airbags and built-in safety features. I adore the in-dash CD player and the volume controls right there on the steering wheel. Our digital cameras are so wonderful and convenient that I'm thinking about getting a digital camcorder as well.

But on the other hand, I've had the urge lately to find a way to meet my past halfway. Use a few herbal shampoos and cosmetics, make a few things from scratch, teach my kids what a washboard and sadiron are for, and make sure they know how to cope with a few "primitive" technologies. When Y2K came I was almost hoping for something to happen, and when there wasn't even so much as a power blip I sighed in a combination of relief and resignation. It doesn't surprise me in the least that a lot of the "new" amazing cures for this or that ailment being touted on infomercials now are derived from simple herbal remedies that most of the drug companies would like people to forget exist. Women go under the knife to get bigger breasts when all they need are a few simple herbs. People put so many chemicals into their mouths and onto their skin that it's truly scary. But what if we could make a world where all our wonderful modern advances marched hand in hand beside a reverence for nature and a respect for our envronment? What if we could find a balance between our hectic lives and our need for relief from the stress we've created?

The other night, I was in front of the computer doing something that seemed very important at the time. My nine-year-old came to me and said, "Mama, the moon is full and it's rising and it's really yellow and beautiful! Would you come and watch it with me?" For just a second, I hesitated--but only for a second. How could I sit there and let such a request--such a moment--pass? I took her out on the balcony off the master bedroom and pretty soon the whole family ended up there, taking just five or maybe ten minutes to sit still and gaze at the moon. It woke me up to how much I'm missing by letting my life be completely ruled by that dang planner. I need some quilting. I need some home-baked something-or-other. I need a few minutes to look at the moon. And I need to remember that when I was sixteen, I sat on the hearth for hours during a very cold Christmas vacation and wrote my very first novel, longhand, into a spiral notebook.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Secret of the Closet Door

Everybody's got a technique for plotting and brainstorming, or even a combination of techniques. With this upcoming third book of my trilogy, I'm going to be doing some pretty extensive outlining and prep work. Now, I know that pretty soon my writing addiction will kick in and I won't be able to keep my paws out of the work any longer, but before I jump into the first chapter, I'm going to use my Closet Door technique to figure out plot arcs for the characters in this book.

What I do is pick a different color 5 x 7 index card to represent each main character. In the case of this trilogy, Prince Xander gets the yellow cards, my heroine, Raena, is green, my seer, Dria, is purple, and my mer, Aurelia, is blue. (If you knew the plots for these books, you'd have a laugh at that last statement!) White cards represent my other minor characters except for the villain du jour, who is always the virulent pink color. On each card, I write out a brief scene blurb on the color card that represents the character whose point of view (POV) the scene will be in. Then as I plot out the story, I stick the cards up on the closet doors with poster tape. As scenes get removed or added or shuffled around, the cards get moved accordingly, and at a glance I can always tell who has which scene where in the story. That way if I haven't heard from someone in a while or I'm using one POV way too much, I'll know. I've tried other ways, and this is my favorite. It saved my bacon when I was writing Shadows of Memory. Trouble is, I can't really take this system with me on trips, and then I have to rely on a written outline in the laptop. I know there is at least one computer program out there that uses scene cards, but I feel the same way about the cards as I do about books: I don't want to read it on a computer screen. I want to hold it in my hand, write on it, crumple it up or throw it in the trash if I choose. And I don't want to have to access a computer file to get to it.

Any day now, out come the colored index cards, and the closet door will be stripped of the old cards and plastered with the new. I know I can't hold out much longer, even if my daughter's room still isn't painted.

Speaking of closet doors, the munchkins and I are very much looking forward to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, coming out later this year. It was always my favorite C.S. Lewis book, with The Horse and His Boy running a close second.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Wanderer Returns

I had a good trip up to Seattle and back, but the weekend just seemed entirely too short. I wish I'd gone up on Thursday afternoon instead of Friday morning because not only did I miss one keynote dinner, but I also missed part of a class I wanted to go to. The conference was good, and it was PNWA's 50th year, so I'm glad I went. Three out of four of the published authors I've met there in the past still remember me, so I'm doing all right. The sad part was, the one who didn't was the only fantasy author out of the four. Oh, well. No particular reason why he should remember me, since I'm still unpublished.

Shut up, Eeyore.

I'm starting to look forward to writing the third book of this trilogy. I still love the story, love the characters, and want to finish telling their story--once I figure out the exact details of what that is. But I need to take a couple of weeks where if I write something, great, and if I don't, I don't go on any guilt trips. I'm still trying to help my kids get their correspondance school year finished up. We'd gotten behind, and we're very close to being caught up now, but we still have a few things to do. At least we should have the month of August off before we have to hit it again. I have another conference coming up, we're going on a family vacation, and I still need to finish painting my younger daughter's room--a project which has been put off for far too long. She wants a fantasy forest in her room, so it's design-on-a-dime time. 'Bout time I got my house back under control and made good on a few promises before I plunge back into what my family and I call the "book fog."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

To All the Citizens of the U K

My prayers and thoughts are with you. May whatever deity you worship grant you strength and peace and above all, hope.

I will never stop wondering at the sick, hateful, twisted thinking of some people. I will never stop hoping that some day we humans as one race, one species, can rise above all this and Just Get Along.


I just ran across an interesting link on Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's weblog. The link goes to an article about dreams, particularly women's dreams in ancient Greece. Apparently most of the dreams recorded were of a sexual nature or related in some sense to childbearing, but it was interesting reading nonetheless. It's also not surprising that sexual dreams would tend to be recorded more than non-sexual ones, especially those coming from women in a male-dominated society. The link to that article is here.

The entire subject of dreams is interesting. Dreams are powerful and a very important part of our lives. If we didn't dream, we would all be walking around acting like raving lunatics, since dreams occur during REM sleep. That's why having your sleep interrupted too often makes you feel so exhausted--it's often not that you didn't get enough sleep in cumulative hours, but that you kept being awakened during the REM cycle. You can have 8+ hours of sleep and still be sleep deprived--and dream deprived. Even when you don't remember the dreams, they occur. I personally believe it's part of how a healthy mind and psyche helps us to work on and deal with problems. It's no wonder, then, that dreams are full of archetypes and symbolism.

Plenty of the writers out there have heard the injunction against using dream sequences in fiction. Some people think they're a weak crutch, while others think they're great if done right. I sort of have a foot in both camps. I like them if they're done right, but I hate to read them when they're a writer's quick way out of a problem that should have been solved differently. Anybody want to comment?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Happy Dance in the Endzone

I finished the edits to Shadows of Memory! Four chapters edited in two days--as I suspected, all it took was getting some time where I didn't have to play mommy or cater to anyone's needs. The Moxie were here and proofread the whole manuscript, line edits and all, and I've already sorted out which pages need fixing. Looks like the word count is going to end up at approximately 127,000 words, which is 22,000 words fewer than when I started this latest edit. I think I've done what Bob asked me to do, and my crit partners like it, so I think I'm ready to ship it this week.

On Thursday I need to take off for Seattle for the PNWA conference, and I want this mailed out by then. Now, that seems entirely possible--as opposed to how it seemed only a couple of days ago. Thank goodness for retreat weekends.

I'm going to be very anxious to read what the Moxie gets done by our next meeting. Stef is getting close to the end of her book, and Val has started a book that has me so hooked I'm going to hate the wait for the next installment. She can't possibly write the darned thing fast enough, and she's the fastest writer in the group.

So we've gone out to dinner and the ladies have gone home. I now have time to input the last of my edits and make sure the manuscript is all formatted correctly, and maybe even spend some time in front of the TV for a change. The best part is, I can do anything I want to because I'm alone in my own home for the first time in a year. That, and I'm sort of doing the little happy dance in the endzone because the edits are finally, finally done and I really love the way the book has turned out. Now maybe I'll stop dreaming that I'm pregnant and in stalled labor.

Cheers! Time to party.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


The Moxie and I are having a writers' retreat weekend at my house. Meanwhile, my family is off camping. I stayed up late last night to clean the house to get ready for the Moxie after my family trashed the house getting ready to go camping so that the Moxie and I could have the house to ourselves. And no, this is not the house that Jack built.

But I am getting my edits done. Three chapters more and I'm through with Shadows--at least until either Bob or a publisher tells me differently.

Monday, June 27, 2005


I wouldn't blog about the weather if it weren't such a good metaphor for what's going on in my life this week. As I type this, I'm hunkered down behind my computer monitor because the evening sun is coming in at a bad angle through the arch in my window, and it's hard to see the screen. And this is after an incredible deluge of rain about an hour ago--rain so thick that almost all I could see ahead was the tail lights of the car in front of me. They say if you don't like the weather in Idaho, wait five minutes. It'll change. That's not usually the case in the summer, but this year has been exceptional for rain. I love it--except when it's trying hard to cause traffic accidents.

I got the car back today, and sure enough, it was the battery. One new battery and the car's ready to rumble again, thank goodness. You never know when I might get the urge to take a road trip.

In fact, I've decided to go to PNWA after all. I hadn't been planning to go, but then I read their list of classes and panels and decided that there are several things not to be missed. Plus, it gives me one more vacation to myself. That's what a trip away for work means to this full-time mom. I have to drive or fly hundreds of miles just to be without the family for three days and focus on my career? I have to dress up every day, laugh, smile and make lunch conversation with strangers? I have to sit in uncomfortable chairs for an hour and a half at a time and listen to authors, editors, agents and publicists drone on about how tough it's going to be to make it in the fiction market and how the odds are already stacked against me? Yeah, baby! Let's hit the road.

This is going to be a great conference. Check it out at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association website.

Even before I go and do that, three members of the Moxie 4 are going to have our own private writers' retreat here at my house the weekend before 4th of July--yikes, that'd be this weekend, wouldn't it? At least two straight days of writing, brainstorming, eating and puzzle working in the company of two other people who are focused on the same goals I am. Sounds like synergy, ladies and gentlemen! And all without family underfoot to trip over. The Huz and kids are taking off for the weekend, leaving me alone, so of course I'm throwing my own brand of house party--just without the booze. Well, without much booze. It's not the alcohol you have to limit with the Moxie. It's the chocolate.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Getting the Jump On Things

My new car played some tricks on me yesterday. When I went to drive it somewhere, it refused to start, and wierd things were happening. It told me to check my traction control when we were still sitting in the garage, the radio kept popping on all by itself, and it kept playing around with its CD changer even when the key was turned off. You could hear it spinning and whirring and trying to rearrange tracks. It lost all the radio settings and the time setting, but kept the milage and trip odometer stuff. Then it started, but as soon as I'd driven it somewhere and turned it off, it refused to start again. Of course it did, you silly chick, its battery was dead! Right? Yeah, I'll admit at first I thought the problem was with the computer, not the battery, but after the Huz mentioned it when he came to get me I realized that he was probably right. And so thought the service guy at Ford today when we dropped it off to them for repair. It spent last night in a public parking lot, but fortunately it was under a street light, so it was about as safe as it could be given the circumstances. But I was not happy. Not happy at all.

It pretty much has to be the battery. When the engine is running, everything behaves normally--runs like a dream. But getting it started...nope. Not happening. This nice guy in the parking lot came over and asked me whether he'd just heard my car not start, said he had cables in his truck, and offered to give me a jump. I told him thanks, but that my husband was on his way, and that he'd jump me instead.

Yeah, you're probably thinking what I'm thinking. Probably. By the way, did you know that on jumper cables there's a positive and negative clamp and that if you put the wrong clamp on the wrong part of the battery (and sometimes if you jump it with the host vehicle's engine running) you can actually blow up your battery or wreck your car's charger? The Huz explained that he was glad the other guy hadn't given me a jump because he might have done it wrong. Heh.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Thoughtful Spot

My younger daughter and I are reading Winnie-the-Pooh as we finish up our correspondance school year. Remember Pooh's Thoughtful Spot? It was the place where he went to do his serious thinking. Now, being a "bear of very little brain," Pooh didn't do any writing, but plenty of writers have had a very special spot where they do their best work. It's their garret, their attic, their personal writing sanctuary. For me, that special place is usually my office, because it's a room devoted to my computers and my writing, and...well...me. But sometimes I have to escape my escape, when the blank white screen remains too blank and too white, and the words just aren't flowing or there are too many interruptions. Sometimes I need a change of scene in order to get out of my own way and just get the job done. Tonight, my Thoughtful Spot was a local pub, where I ordered steak and iced tea and proceeded to let all the noise around me fade into the background as I worked on paper edits for Shadows. I've done it before, and it works well enough because even though there is noise, I don't have to respond to it. The only one who can command my attention is the wait staff, and they are there to cater to my needs, not demand that I respond to theirs. I love my home and my office, but sometimes the Throughtful Spot is just the place I need to be to shake things loose.

J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter books in a cafe in Scotland. I've seen writers at Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, and the public library. I know one writer who loves to go and sit outside with a laptop. So where's your Thoughtful Spot and what about it makes the wheels start turning?

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Every once in a while, I read a forum or talk to someone as avid and driven as Ponce de Leon on his lifelong quest. Only these people aren't seeking the Fountain of Youth. They're after the Secret of the Successful Pitch. "How do I get Mr. Awesome Agent to represent my book?" "How did you get your agent?" They want the secret formula. Trouble is, it's different for everyone. But there are a few things that are probably universal. The first is to write a great book and know how to describe it so that it still sounds like a great book. The rest comes under the heading of simple courtesy.

As I well remember, the whole prospect of walking up to an agent or editor and trying to get him interested in your book can be incredibly daunting. And you know what? Even now that I have an agent, I still have to pitch now and then, and I'm still daunted by it. Every time I write a synopsis, I'm pitching. As my agent recently told a roomful of hopeful writers, every time someone asks you what your book is about and you give them an answer, that's pitching. I won't try to tell you that I'm any kind of expert on the pitch. I'm not--not even close. But I thought I might be able to give you a few anecdotes from the trenches and maybe take a little of the mystery out of what happens in the pitching room.

I've always approached pitching the same way I've approached a job interview, because that's really what it is. You have a product and some skills to bring to the table, and your potential agent has skills, and what you're really trying to find out is whether all those goods and skills mix well together. Obviously, if you write romance and the agent you approach handles only non-fiction or hard core sci-fi, then it's not a good match. You'll need to do some research to find out whether your target agent handles what you write. There are books and websites devoted to this, so I won't go into the researching agents spiel today. Instead, we'll focus on what to do when you meet them face to face.

So, you've signed up to attend a conference, you've determined which agents handle your genre, and you know with whom you'd like to speak. Great start. Next thing you know, it's the day of the conference, the day of your scheduled consult, and you're nervous. Fair enough. Use plenty of deoderant and maybe a breath mint, and above all, remember to breathe. The thing to remember here is that the agent may routinely do lunch with editors, she may call many of them by their first names, and she may have the clout to get your foot in the door with a publisher, but she still had to get up in the morning, put on the deoderant and maybe pop a breath mint, just like you. She, too, had to consider whether her new shoes match her suit and whether she ate enough breakfast to tide her over until lunchtime. In short, she's just a person, like any other. Like you. You have different jobs and different experiences, and maybe those will compliment each other enough that you can form a great partnership. But she's not a rock star, and you are not her groupie. You are her potential partner. Breathe. Don't react as though Elvis just walked into the building. (Unless, of course, he did!) They're human, I swear.

Now, the other side of that coin is that they know you're human, too. Don't try shock and awe on them. They don't need to hear how brilliant your sister's husband's cousin thinks your book is. They don't need your entire marketing plan, they don't need your entire social history, and they don't need to hear that you're doing them any kind of a favor by bringing your opus to them for representation. Be NORMAL. Not overly humble, but not arrogant, either. Just be a real person who knows that neither you nor they walk on water. Normal. Talk to the agent the way you'd talk to a new colleague you just met at work. Handshake. Brief but friendly hello. Pitch. It's business. Be professional.

Want some anecdotes? Hmm. Ok, here's what happened at my first conference. I was scheduled to talk to an agent named Andy Zack. I went to that pitching session and tried to behave as a professional. Yeah, I was nervous. Andy listened to my pitch, asked for the first three chapters, then commented, "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Ok. So it was my first time, and he knew it. But I got through it in good shape and got the request for chapters that I was after. Then at the same conference, I waited in a line to talk to another agent who repped fantasy, Don Maass. It was just after a panel, and he didn't have much time, but when I gave him my quick pitch, he said to send him a query letter with maybe a page or two from my manuscript. By the way he said it, I knew he was just being nice and trying to do me a favor, but a page or two submission wasn't what I was after. Earlier during a panel, I'd noticed Don and Andy Zack giving each other the occasional friendly jibe, and I'd gotten the impression that a little friendly rivalry was going on. So I looked back at Don and said, "Andy Zack just asked me for the first three chapters." He grinned and said, "Well, then I must have the first three chapters, too." (A little disclaimer here: This is only meant as an example of how paying attention to what makes people tick can sometimes pay off for you. It is not meant as a means to get Don to ask for your manuscript.)

I made my first pitches in 1998, for a manuscript that I have since tabled. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about pitching at that conference and the ones to follow. I never forgot the idea that I was talking to professionals, and that in return I was going to act like a professional. "Dress for the job you want," is a quote I got from a movie whose name I don't even remember, but I think it's apt nonetheless. Want to be a professional writer? Act like one. That alone won't get you published, but it can get your foot in the door and pave the way for future pitches. I have gone on to make many more pitches over the years that followed that initial conference. It was at another conference in 2002 that I met and pitched to Bob Mecoy, the man who would become my agent. It takes time and persistance, but it does pay off.

Agents and editors want a pitch that hooks them and tells them what makes your manuscript different than all the other similar ones out there. Hook them with your pitch, then hook them with your writing--it's the one-two punch that'll either get you into the ring with the pros or send you back to the gym to wait for another title shot. That's the bottom line, and the most important part of the secret formula.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

(Net) Working It

The local mystery conference went quite well, and now that's over for another year. My fabulous agent came, spoke on a panel, taught a class, and listened to local people pitch their books. Now he's on a plane back to New York. Comments I heard from various conference attendees were good. The Ridley Award (a mystery writing award named for Ridley Pearson) was given to Carolyn Hart, and her speech inspired a roomful of hopeful writers. For a smaller city, it was a very nice little conference. They want it to be an annual event, and I hope it grows into something much larger and well-known.

When I started this post, I wasn't quite sure what it was going to be about. But now I realize that it's about networking. In talking to some of our locals, I realized just how many hopeful writers there are who haven't actually found any significant support systems. Sure, plenty of writers across the country hop on planes or into automobiles and travel to writers' conferences throughout the year, but for every one who goes, there must be many, many more who do not. It's not always because they just don't want to, although there are bound to be some of those as well. Some people don't take advantage of the opportunities inherent in a conference (local or otherwise) because they either don't know the conference exists or they don't know how attending one might help them. Here's a fact: When my husband mentioned this weekend's conference to some of our neighbors and some of the "guys at work," none of them even knew that our city had a writers' conference of any kind, genre-specific or not. When the Huz mentioned that I was at a conference, they automatically assumed it was out of town. And several of these were people who had writers in their families who would probably have gone if they'd known. The cost per attendee was very low, which was appropriate for what amounts to a one-day conference. Add to that the fact that the locals don't have to stay in hotels, and you have a very affordable opportunity that would be a shame to miss. How many writers out there would love the opportunity to learn more, learn how to network and connect with their dream agent or editor, hobnob with published authors and learn from them? How many missed this opportunity because they didn't know about it? Hopefully, we can get more and better advertising in future.

I know plenty of authors who don't like the limelight and don't want to network. That's fine if you're either already so well-published that people across the country know your name anyway, or if you just write for your own enjoyment and have no particular desire to be published. But my personal opinion is that if an author wants to kick-start his career and meet the types of people who can help him in his quest for publication and recognition, he has to network. He has to travel to those other cities, take and give out those business cards, talk to those people whom he might never otherwise have dared approach, and do any appropriate follow-ups. Or, if for some reason he cannot travel, then what about online communities, like Forward Motion? Forward Motion offers so much, and while you're welcome to donate for the web space if you'd like to, you aren't obligated to pay a cent for all the great advice and feedback and support you get. Another great source of info is writer blogs, from which you can often learn a lot, including what NOT to do. A knowledge of mistakes to avoid can sometimes be even better to have in your bag of tricks than a boatload of well-meant how-to advice.

We live in a world that is figuratively much smaller than it used to be, and often a mutually beneficial contact is just an email form away. In order to get published in fiction in today's market, you need a combination of factors, including:

1. a compelling manuscript
2. an agent or editor who loves your work
3. luck/good timing
4. the determination to succeed

It isn't all about the networking. But the networking is important, nonetheless. I heartily encourage all aspiring writers to attend a writers' conference at least once. Aside from meeting the "big shots," you'll meet so many other great people--hopeful writers like you who may become friends for life, crit partners, or valuable contacts in the future. And if nothing else, you can learn a lot about writing and have a great vacation while doing it.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Cat - Tastrophe, Redux

Ok, I'm beat. And the kids now know what a cat's skeleton looks like on film. Today (Thursday) I just couldn't stand it any longer and wasn't sure he could either, and so we took him to the vet. She confirmed our original impressions: he's a perfectly healthy older cat who has suffered an injury, and he's just going to have to hang out and mellow out until he gets better. The good news is that nothing's broken, he has the perfect amount of bone density for his age, he hasn't blown out a knee or ruptured any of the main ligaments that would require surgery. BUT he has done something to one of the ligaments on either the medial or lateral (inside or outside) of his left hind leg. He had to be put under general anesthetic for his X-rays, and have this little gas mask on to keep him under after the first shot wore off. Did you know that when they're drugged, cats' eyes don't close? They just stay open, staring off into space, but no one's home. When they discontinued the gas, he was woozy and just lay there with his eyes wide open and his tongue sticking out. One of the tests the vets do to see how the cat is doing is a quick pull on the tongue to see whether it's pink and whether he can pull it back inside his mouth. It's wierd--imagine what happens when you pull and release a measuring tape. He didn't focus immediately, but you could see the moment when he "came back" and the intelligence was awake behind those dilated eyes. My poor kitty. I'm very proud of him; he took it all so well. I'm positive that he knew we'd taken him there to try to help him.

He's much better tonight. He's supposed to take it easy for a few weeks to heal, and he has some anti-inflammatory medication to take in the evening to help get him through the next few days. But he's doing all his ADL's (that's Activities of Daily Living, for those who didn't have to suffer through nursing school) and he's getting around so much better that we're actually starting to hope that the ligaments may be merely pulled and not torn. I'm just glad to see him comfortable and reasonably happy again. When this cat's in pain, everybody knows it.

After about 24 straight hours without sleep, I collapsed in the afternoon after the Huz got home and slept until 10:00 pm. Then about midnight I went down to the couch to visit the cat and ended up falling asleep there for a while. Now I'm going to work for maybe an hour or so and then sleep again, so I can go and meet Bob at the airport tomorrow and go to the kick-off events for the conference in the evening. I have not finished the revisions, nor will I have them completely done before the weekend. But I should have them done by mid next week, and that's the best I can do. I've discovered that on zero to five hours of sleep, I can't write worth ****.

I just read something that said sleep deprivation can produce the same level of impairment as being legally over the limit for blood alcohol level. A sobering thought, that. And so was the fact that after all those hours of sleep, it took me about ten minutes to fix a problem in the manuscript that had stumped me for the past four days.

I never said I didn't occasionally need a good whack with a clue-by-four.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Cat - tastrophe

Well, I'm scrambling here. My agent is coming to my city this weekend to appear at a local mystery writing conference, and I really wanted to have my revisions done by then. But Real Life often hits with a crash and a yowl, and it looks like I won't get it finished quite on time.

I homeschool my two muchkins. Well, it's almost homeschool. They're in a nationally accredited correspondance school, and they send in their schoolwork. We'd made plans to finish this year up by the end of June, and then we got behind. So I've been scrambling to help them get back on track and get packets mailed in just as fast as we can crank them out. That's gumming up the writing, but both are important, so I try to divide my time between them. Oh, and sleep. And eat. Usually sleeping and eating get shoved to the back burner, but sooner or later you pass out from lack of one or the other.

And then there's the cat. Last night I had just dragged my sleep-deprived self out of the chair I'd collapsed in, eaten a plate of fruit and protein and started to work on the revisions again, when the cat got up from my desk to lick the plate and then just went completely berserk. Crying, meowing, telling me that something was wrong, wrong, wrong. I put him down on the floor because he made the meow that usually means he's going to be sick, but this time it was pain, not hairball. When he walked, his left hind paw scissored in front of the right hind paw, so he listed like a drunken something-or-other. I thought he was having a stroke, but he never lost the use of the limbs--just acted like he was in pain whenever he moved that one back leg. The ensuing distress woke up the whole household. We all hovered anxiously as we determined that he'd suffered an injury, not a stroke. One of the kids had stumbled over him when she got up to go to the bathroom, and it must have hurt him somehow, though nothing's broken. Sheesh. Things that go bump in the night.... Today he's much better, able to climb up to the back of the couch to sleep in the sun, stand up to eat with apparent relish, and not meowing in pain. Everyone else is sleep-deprived and hollow-eyed. Which just proves--the household really does revolve around His Cattishness.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Fantasy Forecast

Cold, damp and cloudy with a strong chance of showers and flash floods. No sign of clearing in sight. Sounds a lot like the current weather in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy fields, doesn't it?

Lately I've been reading lots of posts on blogs and in forums about how difficult it is to get published in Sci-Fi or Fantasy these days. I'm sure that's true and has probably been true for a long while. And just when I'd hoped that the recent success of movies like "Harry Potter" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy might have done something we novelists have all been trying to do for years--make fantasy cool to the masses. And yet--it might actually be working and we just haven't seen the repercussions in the publishing field yet. A few facts:

1. The new Harry Potter movie is due out soon, as is the new Harry Potter book. That ought to get people thinking in terms of magic and mayhem again.

2. The Lord of the Rings was a supurb effort that not only proved a fantasy epic trilogy could be successful, but that movie directors and producers are willing to make the effort to keep the films true in spirit to the book or series that inspired them. That surely bodes well for the future of fantasy film making.

3. This Christmas, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" opens in theaters, finally in a true film format with a big enough budget and CGI tech to do it justice.

4. And what about:

Fantastic 4 (coming right up!)
Star Wars (just hit a box-office record, didn't it?)
The Incredibles
Pirates of the Carribbean
Lara Croft, Tomb Raider
others I probably missed....

If audiences didn't like sci-fi and fantasy, we'd have known it by now. The gradual increase in fantasy film releases in the past few years would seem to indicate otherwise. There's a built-in audience out there, and sooner or later their presence will be felt by the publishing world. I have foreseen it.... Oh, sorry. Took a walk on the Dark Side for a moment. But it can't be only the Sith who see the future, even if always in motion the future is.

I've also seen the first volumes of several new fantasy trilogies out on shelves in the past few months, some of them sporting plots much less original than many of those I've heard about recently from unpublished writers. Fresh stories with an original look and feel have to come from somewhere. Why not me? Why not us? As a reader, I've stopped buying books whose blurbs sound too much like all the others I've read before. I'm sure that must be true of others as well. Despite all the negative odds and scuttlebutt and rumors and concerns, I still have to believe that if we stick with it and write the stories that tug at our hearts and minds, we will get that coveted contract in the end. Only passion and dedication can carry any writer through the long slog to publication. People don't stick with this profession unless they love it. And if you aren't writing because you love to write, then what's the point? The only people who have ever been published are the ones who didn't quit. Once you've decided not to quit, then it's just a matter of time and patience--the patience to wait out the storm and to know that the rain and clouds can't last forever.

I know, I know, Hail, Polyanna. Oh well. Somebody's got to put on the short skirt and pick up the pompoms. Cheers, be well, keep on writing.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Mug Is Done

I picked my Moxie 4 mug up from the ceramics place today. It looks pretty good. There are a couple of things I would do just a touch differently if I had the chance (kind of like revision) but it's fired now and finished for better or worse. I'm well enough pleased with it that I don't intend to scrap it and start over with a new mug. One thing's for sure, though: next time I make a group of home-crafted items for an organization of any kind, I want to be sure I can get them all done within the same time frame--even if I have to order the right number in before I start any of them.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Vision and Revision

Wow. I just visited a forum where a long discussion is going on regarding the writing process and whether certain methods are efficient or not. Efficiency is an interesting subject, especially when applied to writing. Remember the movie "Cheaper By the Dozen"? In real life, those parents were efficiency experts, and they applied their knowledge in that area to the task of raising children. Everything in their house ran like clockwork, and they had a streamlined process for everything right down to making the kids' lunches. Would a streamlined efficiency process work in writing novels? Not for me, and here's why:

I've written five novels to date, but let's just look at novels four and five. Novel Four, Aspects of Illusion, was written in a spontaneous, organic fashion which took eight weeks. After that, it went through at least three or four revisions, during which I learned a lot about bringing a book to a publishable level. Efficient, no. Useful, yes. When I wrote Shadows of Memory I was able to avoid many of the mistakes I made in crafting Aspects.

Has the process of crafting Shadows of Memory, novel five, been more efficient than the process for Aspects? Yes and no. For Shadows, I knew what mistakes to avoid, so I tended to edit as I went, striking down the little problems and bad habits whenever and wherever they arose. I wrote a scene, gave that scene a quick immediate first pass as I read it aloud to my husband and made notes of things I noticed that were wrong with it. Then I made more changes as I input the first batch of changes, and then I ran it through my crit group and made still more changes. The result, a cleaner "first draft". But at that point, was it really a first draft? Probably not. Was it more efficient? Maybe or maybe not. With this general nip-problems-in-the-bud process, I avoided lots of crafting issues that might have needed editing later, but I also got bogged down in minutiae that ended up adding more fluff to the manuscript than I had in the previous book. Even after the manuscript was as tight and streamlined as I could imagine it to be, my agent still sent it back for one last pass, which I'm still working on.

This time I wrote from an outline, and that's got to be more efficient, right? Ah, but my outline included a lot of extraneous matter that needed to be cut--whole scenes that were added just because I was trying to find my plot and hadn't yet found the track I needed to be on. So was the outline approach really more efficient than the organic process I used for Aspects, whose plot didn't need anywhere near as much tweaking?

In my opinion, no matter which process I used for these two books, efficiency was bound to become a moot point sooner or later. Because each book was different, the creative processes were different, and my ability to envision the story was different. One fell out of the sky into my brain and out my fingers, while the other I had to fight, claw and bleed to find, requiring brainstorming session after brainstorming session and plenty of figurative wailing and gnashing of teeth. Shadows is the book you might say I sweated blood for. Aspects, I blithely typed until it was done and then went..."Wow, a book!" And both stories are good--really good, from what people tell me who read them. Was one process more efficient than the other? Not really. Both stories grew and changed as I delved into them, and both needed revisions, despite the fact that one was organic and one was outlined. Both had stuff that turned out tight and honed in the first draft and both also had stuff that needed lots of pruning to bring it into shape. Two books, two processes, both different, neither particularly efficient if you rate efficiency by whether they sprang onto the page in perfect, publishable form without revision.

Can I change my writing process to make it more efficient? Well, I can get better and faster at avoiding the little mistakes that usually need revision, yes. I use far fewer "ly" adverbs, fewer instances of "and", "was" and "ing" now than I used to, and that has helped--but that's just the basic wordsmithing. The creative issues themselves may change from day to day, depending on what new ideas occurred to me yesterday, what movie I went to see last week, or what I had for dinner. One time a character developed a head cold because I had a head cold, and it wasn't something I'd planned ahead of time, but it led him to a discovery that changed the course of the story! I could have the entire plot planned out to within an inch of its life and still find that vital changes were needed once the work got underway. A lot of my carefully, efficiently crafted scenes might have to be scrapped when the story circumstances change during the actual process of writing. It's a lot like moviemaking--that's why a director shoots and re-shoots scenes that may or may not make it into the final version of the film. Same type of issues. It's expensive, sometimes excruciating and not particularly efficient, but it's how the creative process works for many people.

The creative process isn't something that I can force to comply with a set of efficiency rules, because the story evolves differently each time, and with each book, I face a different set of challenges. Sometimes painful life events interrupt my "efficiency," and there's nothing I can do to change it. During the writing of Shadows, my grandmother died, which threw me off track on the story for a matter of months. So much for efficiency.

The bottom line is: any scene is subject to change if the change suits the needs of the story, no matter how much skill or efficiency I was able to bring to bear in the first draft. The final product is the most important issue--not whether I needed five drafts or only two. And then there's the publisher, who will suggest changes they'd like you to make. Again, so much for efficiency. Constant change, constant evolution--all the hallmarks of a dynamic creative process. If you do strive for efficiency and perfect first drafts, you go, guys! Even if you never achieve that perfect first draft (and you probably won't) it's constantly striving to better your skills that will result in stories that get published, read and treasured by readers.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Adware Begone

I killed two adware bugs on my computer today. I know that doesn't sound like such a big deal, but you have to understand...I'm not particularly computer savvy, and I did this without the Huz's help. I can't program to save my life, but apparently I can follow directions and save my computer. Well, ok, so these bugs were pretty low risk to the computer, but they were designed to tie up the memory with stupid weather watching, so...maybe what I saved was my sanity. I was getting tired of twiddling my thumbs while the computer loaded all these dang programs at startup. Maybe now it won't take so long. I also figured out how to turn off something else that was loading at startup and didn't need to be, and how to add html code to my blog page to include the link2blogs logo and tower. Simple stuff, I guess, but I'm proud of myself anyway.

Now the family has gone off to a party and left me by myself so I can write. We'll see what else I can accomplish besides killing bugs.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Getting it Write

I've been reading John Keegan's "The Face of Battle" today. In the novel I'm working on, I have one character give advice to another character after a battle, and now I'm wondering whether the advice was correct as given. I've never been in a combat situation, and I only know two people who have, so I need to ask them whether the advice I used was good and logical or completely inane. It sounded right to me when I wrote it, but I don't want to make a careless mistake that will lose me any potential readers among the military. What sounds great to me and all my non-combatant crit partners might be just a lot of hooey to people who've actually been in a war. I'll run the scene by someone tomorrow, if at all possible, and then either breathe a sigh of relief or tear into those paragraphs again. Either way, I'll do whatever it takes to get them right.

I know what it's like to think that you know what you're talking about but be completely lacking in experience. Then once you have had the real experience, you realize just how much you didn't know before. It was like that for me with the nursing field and with parenting, and it has also been like that with various aspects of writing. There was a time when I was at that "no one appreciates my brilliance" stage, but by the time I'd completed my second novel, put it on the shelf for three months and read it again, I realized that those first million words really were garbage! Boring, boring, boring. There were some redeeming qualities, but as I recall, my plot was so-so, my cardboard-cutout villain had no believable motivation, my prince character was a real milktoast, and about the only thing that didn't scream amateur was my dialogue. Now I'm on my fifth novel, the fourth having been the one that finally turned out well enough to hook an agent, and I'm still learning.

I've been dabbling in the craft of writing since age five. I've taken classes at writers' conferences for the past seven years, including three of Don Maass' Breakout Novel Master Classes and one Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop. I've read stacks of books on novel writing and editing and just about anything writing-related, and I know I've still got lots to learn. But that's really the point. The moment we think we know it all and we've got nothing left to learn, that's when we start to stagnate. I pray I never reach that stage when I think I don't need editing, critiques, advice from a soldier, or whatever it takes to do the best job I can for any readers I'm blessed with over the years. I'm in this for life, not a quickie, and I'll do whatever it takes to get it right. So tomorrow I'm off to find a military guy and see if he's willing to tell me whether I've given my character the right advice. I'm sure that no matter what he says, I'll learn something I can use.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Catching Up and the Moxie Mug

I need to catch up on my life. I've been behind on so many things for so long that I sometimes feel as though I'll never get them all done. Today I took one kid to a Girl Scout thing and then found when I got there that I'd forgotten some forms I was supposed to fill out. I had to go home and get the forms, then go back to the meeting, and by this time there was no time left for me to go and do the activity that I had envisioned for myself for the evening. The kid was painting at a ceramics studio with her troop, and I was going to go paint at a different ceramics studio and finish a coffee mug I'd started a few days ago. But things just didn't work out for that to happen. Oh, well.

The mug is one of a set of four that I designed for my writing critique group, the Moxie Quartet, otherwise known as Moxie 4. Two Christmases ago--that's right, two--I decided to make a set of mugs for our crit group. They're blue with an open book on the front under the words "Moxie 4" in black and with each person's name in black on the inside of the cup, just where you'd see it as you lift it up to drink. They turned out pretty well, and the ladies seemed to like them, which is the most important thing. But I didn't get one. The ceramics place only had three mugs when I came in to do them, and somehow after I'd made them, time just got away from me and I never got back to make my own. So finally on Sunday after the family and I got out of the matinee of the new Star Wars movie, I decided that I'd had it with unfinished things hanging over my head. I mean, Lucas finished his project, finally. I have no excuse for being perpetually too busy for all these things I really want to finish. I went into the studio and lo and behold they had one mug like the ones I'd painted for the Moxie. One. Like fate. So I had them put my name on it, came back later without the family and painted like mad for the two hours left of studio time that day. It's almost done; all it needs are my name and the moxie logo, and I finally get my mug after a year and a half.

As for the rewrite of Shadows of Memory, I finished going over Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 is just one big battle scene, so we'll see where I can cut and tighten it. That's over halfway through the book, though I had expected to be much farther along at this point. I HATE being behind! But if the book turns out as well as I think it will, it will be worth it. It has to be worth it. I've put too much into it for it not to be worth it.

Sometimes I hear Gold Leader's voice in my head from Star Wars, A New Hope: "Stay on target...stay on target...." Don't even start with the "Use the Force" comments!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Corridors and Painted Ponies

The last time I spoke with my agent, he told me to cut "corridor" scenes--parts of scenes where the characters are walking down corridors. OK. I know which one in particular he was referring to, and it did cut down quite nicely. I'm very happy with how it turned out. But there are other corridor scenes in the book that have characters doing dialogue while walking--dialogue that is important for various reasons. Character development, relationship development, planting of clues that will be built upon in future books...you name it. I'm having a hard time cutting that, and in fact, some is virtually impossible to cut. And then there's last night, when I was trying to write a new but important scene where my heroine stumbles upon a treasonous plot in the making. I sent her down the stairs behind the bad guy and cut to the chase after only two paragraphs...and my first reader griped. There wasn't enough skulking, he said. Not enough skulking vs. too many corridor scenes. To skulk or not to skulk: that is the question, apparently.

Perhaps I can keep the skulking to 200 words or less? Compromise, anyone?

On another note: have you ever seen or heard of the Trail of Painted Ponies? It's a public art project where different artisans around the country are invited to paint a design on a horse figure. They come in all different types. There was "War Pony" in full Native American dress, "Five Card Stud" painted all over with playing cards, "Lightning Bolt Colt", "Renewal of Life", "Give me Wings", "Anasazi Spirit Horse", and so many other beautiful versions of painted horses, as varied as the artist's imaginations. My favorite is "Sky of Enchantment" with suns and moons in gold all over his black body. Absolutely gorgeous. I can never resist something like that--no matter what system of astrology you look at, I'm a horse. Fire Horse in Chinese astrology, Sagittarious in western astrology, and even the Black Horse in the Celtic system. Anyway, if you get a chance to check these out, I hope you'll do so. They're all so gorgeous and the artists so talented, it'll take your breath away if you love horse art. One site that has the pony figurines for sale can be found here.

There are some days when I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to be an artist, even when I still have that dang corridor/not-too-much-corridor/skulking scene to finish! I guess if I get too frustrated, I can always go paint a pony.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Star Wars and Plotting

I read an article today about George Lucas and the latest Star Wars installment. I found it interesting that he admitted that when he scripted the last two movies, the plots were very thin. Apparently, only about 40% of the actual story was contained in the last two movies, and the rest was filler. Which follows that 60% of the storyline is left for this latest offering. I do not argue that his story overall is great, and I've been an avid fan of the entire series since "Star Wars, A New Hope". But it sounds like he had a great basic concept for Anakin's backstory and the fall of the Republic, and then he just had trouble fleshing it out in ways that would have made the first two movies (of the current trilogy) really resonate with their audience. It's a shame. I enjoyed them anyway, but what might they have been if Mr. Lucas had indulged in a lot more plotting and brainstorming before he started production?

I'm not trying to compare myself to Lucas in terms of writing style or ability, but it occurs to me that I had a similar problem with the second and third books of the trilogy I'm working on. I wrote the first book in a completely organic manner, hooked my agent with that, and then had to come up with a detailed plot for books two and three on the fly. Yikes! I hadn't really thought much beyond some very general ideas for the next two books. But that's the great thing about Bob--he doesn't let me get away with anything. Or, perhaps more accurately...he doesn't let me get away with Nothing. When he and I spoke about Shadows of Memory recently, he told me that although the pages turned quickly, it still felt more as though things had been added to the plot than built into it. Bingo. I tried to grow the plot events from the character arcs, but I didn't do as complete or detailed a job of it as I should have. Missed a few crucial brainstorming sessions, I guess. As a result, my plot for Shadows was thin in places and some stuff was just added to fluff the book out because I was afraid I wouldn't have enough word count. Hah. In today's publishing climate, I was worried that the book would be too short? *shuffles foot and looks at ground* Well, now I know better. I'll be doing things very differently when I flesh out the arcs for the third book. Live and learn. I love the new, tighter storyline for Shadows now. I love what it's done for some of the characters, including a minor character who now has a very interesting problem. He makes a mistake, the ramifications of which are both good and bad at the same time. He can't be glad he made the mistake, but he can't be sorry either. Best of all, it seriously impacts the main character. Gotta love conflict like that!

Monday, May 09, 2005


It was a great Mother's Day here, hope it was for all of you as well.

I didn't wake up and say, "I must go forth and spend money," but that's what happened. It was for a good cause, though. Saturday at the end of a three-hour stint in front of the computer, my back, neck and shoulders hurt way more than they should, and I came to the conclusion that my office chair was at least part of the problem. I didn't fail to get up and stretch every hour or do any of those things they tell you to do for ergonomic reasons. But I have a terrible problem with my neck and back going out of place. Always have had. When I had to really push it just to get through the last section in a chapter, I realized that I'd had it with the task chair I was using. I'm not sure what I needed it to do differently, but whatever it was, it just wasn't doing it. So after the "Wake up, Mom; Happy Mother's Day" stuff, I decided that what I really wanted to do was scope out a chair that didn't make me want to see a chiropracter after every writing session.

I didn't really start out with much hope that I'd find the perfect office chair on a Sunday afternoon on Mother's Day, but that's exactly what happened. It was at Office Depot, and a sign on the box had the magic word "CLEARANCE" written on it. The husband and I both tried the demo model out and liked it, and we each ended up getting one at a ridiculously low price. Sometimes things just happen when you need them the most. Serendipity. I'm sure we could all use more of that.

The book's going really well, too. I cannot thank Bob enough for making me revise just one more time. If he sends this one back to the drawing board, I'll...well, I'll eat my hat.

I don't wear a hat.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Scene by Scene

The edits aren't going as quickly as I'd like--possibly because I've already been over this ground so many times. I'm getting through them at the rate of about one scene per day. I finally got back to the Forward Motion website to post goals there, which I hadn't done in weeks, and I've caught up with some of my email. But what I really want to be doing right now is spring cleaning. On the house, not the book. And then I want to finish a painting job I've been needing to finish. Then I want to flesh out the details for the third book in the trilogy. New stuff would be fun right now, especially during the spring season.

Now, the really amusing part of that last statement is that the third book takes place during winter, and I don't have any CD's with the sounds of a snowstorm! That's what the nature sounds collection needs--a blizzard CD! Anyone up for making such a thing? Mellow flute music with a howling blizzard in the background? Anyone?

Have a great May.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Themes of Betrayal

Ever met a person who always has some sort of conspiracy theory? No matter how careful people are around this type of person, no matter how much they all walk on eggshells, the person in question always seems to develop a theory that while not all of the world is a stage, all of the men and women in it are, without exception, players. In fiction, I've been exploring the idea of betrayal and how to set up a classic betrayal subplot without making it immediately obvious to the reader just which character is doing the betraying. And, mind, the character being betrayed is not the type I just mentioned, not the type to entertain suspicions about everyone. But he is in a position where betrayal can have deadly results.

I rented the film version of Othello with Laurence Fishburn and Kenneth Branaugh to provide some insight and inspiration for setting up the subtle nuances of the betrayal subplot. For some reason, just reading the plays doesn't provide the same creative spark as watching skilled Shakespearean actors interpreting the play and bringing it to life. I think even Shakespeare would be pleased with the performances. I never knew Iago was so devious; Othello isn't a play I spent much time on in college, and I aced Shakespeare. But wow, what lengths Iago went to just for vengeance. It's amazing that people can find the time or the energy for such intricate machinations, and yet apparently they do. Shakespeare was nothing if not masterful at plumbing the depths of the human condition, fair or foul.

It's been interesting to explore the differences between perceived betrayal and actual betrayal. I've been debating whether to have my betrayed character come to his own realization of what is happening or leave him in doubt until hit over the head with a clue-by-four as to which of the two potential betrayers is the real one. Ah-hem. Will the real traitor please stand up? I don't want to portray the betrayed one as clueless, but on the other hand I can see no possible way he could really figure this out based on the evidence. He'd have to go more on gut instinct, which would be a huge risk for everyone involved--a risk he can't afford to take. That's about the best way I can describe this without making it a horrible spoiler, but you'll see what I'm referring to whenever the books come out.

Happy thoughts for the last day of April. How did Kaa put it in Jungle Book? Trussst in meee, oh, trussst in meee....

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Warning Labels

I've just been reading another author's web forum wherein a very heated, very long discussion is going on regarding whether warning labels should be put on books that contain certain graphic descriptions of sex, abuse or other violence. I prefer to generally steer away from topics that lend themselves to this type of debate, and the last thing I want once I am published is to have fans or detractors bashing each other (and me) on my blog or forum. But on the other hand, I also realize that no matter how I try, I'll never be able to please everyone with my writing. At best, some people should love my books and some should hate them. The worst possible response would be complete indifference. So I'm going to step out on a limb here and offer a few opinions on the subject I just mentioned.

I can understand both sides of the argument about the labels. I've read plenty of Amazon reviews where people said that they were disappointed in the book because it wasn't what they'd been expecting. I've read many books that I was personally disappointed in because they had a plot point that I hated, one which completely ruined the story for me. I empathize with those who were disappointed in any given book because the cover blurb left out some vital information that might have changed whether the reader paid their hard-earned money for the book or not. I've recently bought two fantasy paperbacks which shall remain nameless but which I wish I'd never picked up. I'm not taking them back to the store because I can also empathize with the authors' need to earn out their advances and returns are a bad thing for fiction--ALL fiction. But neither do I intend to finish reading them, because they were both spoiled by certain turns of events in the plot that I just plain didn't care for. Was I offended by the plot devices in question? No. I just didn't like how the story was going and didn't want to read more. But could a sort of warning label have prevented me from getting stuck with two books whose plots I didn't like? Yes, but not without being a spoiler for the plot itself. "Warning, the main character's love interest dies two thirds of the way through the book and the main character himself dies at the end!" Ehhh...I don't think so. I picked up the books, I bought them, I took the gamble that I'd like them. This time, I was disappointed. But recently, I found a book I really liked. The odds are fifty-fifty on any book. You win some, you lose some. You like some, you hate some. But a warning label? A book might offend you or cause you to experience some painful emotions or memories, but it's not going to poison you or give you cancer. I think it's fair to assume that any book not published under a YA label could potentially have some kind of issue in it that an adult is supposed to be able to deal with and which might contain potentially "offensive" material. Sounds fair enough to me. Put your quarter in and pull the handle.

Very few books or plot devices offend me. I write about complex human issues, so what kind of hypocrit would I be if I got offended every time another author kicked a sacred...gopher? I've kicked a few of those dang gophers myself, and probably will again. But not--as a very dear and well-respected friend once accused me of doing--just because I can. For any of my readers, past or future, who read this blog, here is where I stand on the subject of what I do or do not include in my books:

Boil down every plot element and every opinion any of my characters have and what you'll find there are simple human issues. That's what makes my characters so--to put it in my agent's words--"wonderfully believable." No, I don't tend to softcoat the issues. I mentioned this in another blog entry called Pulling Punches. My books have violence, teen pregnancy, differences of opinion, bigotry, slavery, rape, deception, betrayal and murder. But they also have love, respect, compassion, strength, determination, redemption, forgiveness, unity and hope. Just like life. And yes, it's fiction. But some of the things that happen to my characters just may at some time or other have happened to some very real people who may happen to pick up one of my books. The way my characters experienced their issues in the books may or may not be similar to the way those unknown readers experienced something similar in their own lives. I know that there are bound to be readers who for whatever reason choose to take offense at one or more of the situations or issues I have portrayed in my book. Sooner or later, something is bound to strike a nerve with someone. But I try to always, always treat all my plot issues with the care and sensitivity that they deserve while being true to the story. Every conflict and problem and issue the characters have is something that has grown out of the story, and without them the story would have less punch.

I don't tweak people's sensitivities just to be contrary or just because I can. I write the issues with honesty, care, and love. I never mock someone's pain or experiences or beliefs. My character's beliefs will not always be the same as yours--in fact, I can guarantee they're not, because I made up all the gods and goddesses in the story. But the characters' FAITH in whatever higher power they worship is where the realism comes into play. We all have faith in something. A religion. A significant other. Something. And so the FAITH, not the specifics of the belief system, is true to life, and to the story. Some people may be put off because some of the characters worship multiple gods. Some may object to a character being raped or maimed or abused. But people DO worship different gods sometimes. Sometimes people are raped or maimed or abused. See? Issues. If I ever softcoat the issues or try to make them politically correct, I'll wreck the story, and that would be a worse crime than to just write the story with care, with love, and with honesty.

For those who might wonder about the explicit stuff, there are only about two explicit sex scenes per book, but I tried not to pull any punches on them, so I wouldn't personally label them as kid fare. They are true to the story and grow out of the plot, as any scene, no matter what sort, should do.

There's my challenge, and my warning label. If you're easily offended, don't read the books. They're like ogres--they have layers, and they might be beautiful one moment and ugly the next. I can't promise you'll like everything in the trilogy, but I can say this: I put my heart and soul into it, and I sincerely believe that it's a wonderful story, with all its tough issues and painful moments and tender triumphs. I hope you'll all give it a chance.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The New Ride

My nine-year-old purple Taurus wagon was getting older by the day--and it was leaking everywhere. Every fluid except the wiper fluid was slowly seeping out from where it was supposed to be, or so they told me when I last got the car serviced. It was due for a 30,000 mile maintenance, too, and that would have cost plenty without touching the cost of fixing all those leaks. There comes a time in the life of every car when you have to consider whether fixing it is going to exceed its Blue Book value.

So I have a new ride. I miss the old one, but the new one is making me very, very happy right now. So happy that I just want to get in and drive. Road Trip! I don't care where, and that's not the best thought to have right now when gas prices are so high. The new car is a Dark Shadow Gray Ford 500, and I'm completely in love. I cannot say enough about the quality of this vehicle. Who'd have thought a car could be so classy and yet so affordable? Ford, ya done good! I've named it Phouka. The old purple Taurus was the Dragon Wagon. The dark blue Ford Probe before that was Dreamweaver, and the olive green Dodge Colt (my first car) was Aloe Vera, otherwise known as Vera.

I name my cars. Always have. And I keep them for a long time, too. They become, in effect, part of the family, to be defended, fussed over, and loved. When I had to fill out the form for the personalized license plates, I had to provide an explanation for my three choices. How does one explain Phouka? A magical horse. A creature of fantasy. An Irish legend. And above all, a shadowy steed that lures unsuspecting passersby to it and then gives them a wild, wild ride.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Once More Into the Breach

Well, the manuscript for Shadows of Memory has officially been read and commented on by my agent, and he says I need to do some more chopping to tighten up the storyline and reduce the word count. He says that word count is becoming more and more of an issue with publishers, and I can certainly see where this would be true with all the trouble the fiction market has had over this past couple of years. Sometimes it leaves me feeling as though I finally managed to walk through the right door at the wrong time, but I guess this, too, shall pass. Sooner or later, a publisher is bound to agree that it's my turn. Anyway, after looking into the situation for the past few days, I have now come to the following conclusions about the unexpected revision.

Bob's right that the storyline needed to be tightened. I mean--I actually went through and jerked several scenes completely out and ditched parts of others, and I've already got the thing reduced by 10,000 words. Then I started moving things around and changing the order of some scenes, rethinking others and weaving things more tightly together, and I think I've come up with a sequence of scenes that will send the plot off like a rocket. I did some studying to refresh my memory on the plotting devices of Three Act Structure, Inciting Incident, Rising Action, etc. I've always been more of an organic writer, and that's how I wrote Aspects of Illusion, but now with the next two books of the trilogy, I find I can't escape the need to plot with a great deal more deliberation. I'm not sure what the final word count of Shadows will be, but it will be shorter than that of Aspects. However, that also worries me.

Aspects of Illusion ended up at a bit under 150,000 words, so I read through it again last night to see what scenes if any I could cut from it if I needed to. With the exception of a bath for one character and one particular set piece in chapter one which we'd already debated ditching once before, I just can't find any scenes in Aspects that could be ditched without messing up the plot. Every scene is tight, fairly short, and from what I can see, vital to the plot. That whole huge book is so tight it has a snuggie, and I can't imagine what I'll do if I'm asked to cut it as well. With Shadows, yeah, I've managed to cut it and I'm actually LOVING the results. But with Aspects...I see disaster if I have to cut it. And I'm not particularly delighted at the idea of the two books being so dissimilar in finished length. I wanted each one to have a roughly 150,000-word ceiling, and now that ceiling's looking more like 125,000. I'm short already, but I feel like ducking! My new goal in life is to write such *** kicking books that after this first trilogy comes out, no one will ever question my word length again. Yep. That'll be happening....

The great news is that Bob likes the book in general. It seems that my characters are believable, their plot arcs are convincing, there were some parts he flat-out loved, and my pages turned quickly even though the storyline was still a bit loose. I can definitely live with that sort of news, and I don't even mind the chance to revise this thing just one more time--not if it makes it a book an editor can't put down. Yahoo! My plot officially doesn't suck! Can't complain about that, especially for what is intended to be the second book of a trilogy.

It also doesn't suck to have an agent who always seems to say the right thing at exactly the right time. I can take any critcism as long as it's constructive, and I am definitely not opposed to the method of hearing the criticisms first and the praise second. It's kind of like a game of good cop, bad cop, but all coming from the same person. And it works.

Validation is a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Larger Than Life

Anyone who has ever taken a Breakout Novel Workshop from Don Maass will be familiar with the concept of the larger-than-life character. But I'm sure that most writers have had a character who just gives them fits. No matter how hard the writer tries to get that character to be the hero or heroine that the audience needs, the character just won't play. Now, I've tried all the techniques that Don presents in his workshops for character building, and if you want to try any of them you'll have to go take one of his classes or get one of his books. I'm not allowed to reproduce any of his techniques here. I'm fiercely protective of intellectual property--I have to be if I want to play in the big Professional Writer sandbox. But while I was working on one of my stubborn characters, I came up with a diagnostic technique that is all my own. What's more, I'm going to offer it here for free. I have no idea whether it will help anyone, but it certainly can't hurt. Here it is:

Pen or print out a passage or even several pages--heck, take the entire first scene--written from your hard-to-pin-down character's POV. (That's point-of-view, for those of you who are brand spankin' new writers.) Then highlight all the parts that show that character's emotions, and write the name of each emotion down on another piece of paper. Now read your list. Does it read, "Hope, curiosity, determination, excitement..." or does it read more like "anger, disappointment, desperation, misery, anger, irritation, boredom, anger, anger, anger, hopelessness...?" Sometimes your character's attitude can be a very good clue as to whether a reader will like him or her. People have a hard time rooting for a person who is always negative. Do you like to hang out with people who are always whiny, grumpy or negative? Probably not. So why should a reader want to hang out with a character who is a whiner, grump or defeatest?

That brings on another subject--the hero that no one really likes, but who is nonetheless the protagonist of the story. It's hard to say how to handle this one. I don't really like antiheros, personally. But I can possibly get behind one if I can identify sufficiently with one of the secondary characters. For example, I don't really like Rand al'Thor in the Wheel of Time series, but I do like many of his friends and allies. Don't get me wrong--I wouldn't call him an antihero, but I just have never been able to identify with him all that much. And maybe that's fine. Maybe he's meant to be the tragic hero figure who is pretty much distanced from everyone by the destiny that he never wanted. Sad, but necessary. If I can't like Rand, maybe I can identify with the Elayne character, or the Perrin character, or Lan Mandragoran. Do you have a secondary character through whose eyes the reader can view the protagonist? A Watson for your Holmes? In Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series, I'm not all that gone on Jaenelle, the main character. Maybe that's because we never ever get to be in her POV. I can empathize with her plight, but I can't really identify with her. But I absolutely, completely love Daemon and want him to be happy. And what makes Daemon happy? Jaenelle, of course. So there you go.

Now, check out your villain's attitude. People often stereotype a villain as someone who hates life A happy villian cuts an entirely different figure than a villian who is hunched and miserable. Which one do you want to use, and what attitudes would be out of character for that particular villian? This will have an effect on how the reader will perceive the character. It's all about 'tude.