Friday, February 24, 2006

It Was In the Cards

Tamara Siler Jones likes to take online quizzes, and I can never resist trying the ones she links to on her blog. Here's my result from the latest, a test to determine which tarot card you are.

You Are The Star

You represent the ultimate in truth and purity.
Insightful and illuminating, you provide guidance for others.
You also demonstrate unselfish, unconditional love.
You posses many spiritual gifts, including the ability to heal.

Your fortune:

Your future is looking brighter by the day.
The near future will be a time of both hope and healing.
Luck is about to come your way, perhaps the best luck you have ever seen.
Life is about to get a lot easier and much better!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Crit Groups

That does it. One of my Moxie crit partners has struck again! Last night I stayed up far, far too late reading her novel and not working on my own until I'd finished hers. I couldn't help myself--the temptation to find out what changes she'd made was just too great. But the good news is that her current book is done other than the final little fixes and tweaks, everyone had something to contribute at our meeting last night, and everyone is making progress. In my case, not as fast a progress as I wanted, but progress nonetheless.

More than once I've had local people ask me about crit groups, and it's difficult when I know the answer won't be the one they wanted. The fact that I belong to a local crit group isn't a secret and sometimes it comes up in casual conversation, but our group is a closed one, and we don't plan to take any new members. Some writers' groups are large, sprawling, take-anyone types, and others are online or email groups that never actually meet in the flesh. A writer's group can take any form, and there are no set rules for how one should be organized.

I've visited open groups in the past where it seemed that most of the members only wanted to have a ready-made audience to listen to them read their stuff out loud, but they really didn't want an honest critique and didn't want to find out how they might improve their technique or even, gods forbid, their plot. Some of the online groups are excellent and far-reaching and welcoming to any hopeful writer with a focus on developing publishable works. Others just want to--once again--have a guaranteed audience for their work, be it good or bad, with little to no emphasis on improvement. And that's fine, too. The publishing game's not for everyone. Look how long it takes just to get over the first hurdles! It represents a substantial investment of time and dedication, and for many it might just be too much of a headache. If you find that a push for publication takes all the joy out of your writing, then maybe that road is not for you. The good news is that if you want to find a group of like-minded individuals whose focus is similar to your own, they are out there for the finding. And if you don't happen to find one that is a good match for you, start your own. You can't be the only lone writer out there longing for a sense of community.

With time, a good group can become so tight and so familiar with each other that members can practically order each other's food at restaurants, not to mention find and point out each person's particular strengths and weaknesses with regards to their writing in each manuscript. It can be very interesting to watch a person's skill at the craft develop and grow. The very familiarity that makes your group so comfortable and tight, however, can sometimes have a slight downside in that you can become desensitized to some of your partners' writing quirks and might, on occasion, miss some of the mistakes that you might once have caught. This usually happens with multiple readings of the same manuscript, when the lines between Draft A and Draft D become blurred through all the revisions. It can be hard to remember which version is the current one, even when it's your own manuscript! This is when a good outside test reader can be a strength, providing a fresh perspective on the now-familiar material that you've been through ten times already. It really becomes a "forest for the trees" situation, and the unfamiliar pair of eyes can often be sharper. I like to have both, and I always look forward to the Moxie's meetings. We make a good team, and I wouldn't trade them on a bet. They watch my six, and I watch theirs.

There is a very good online writers' community started by author Holly Lisle. It's called Forward Motion, because that is what they strive for. You can find it at If you've been struggling on your own and want to give a group a try, go and check it out. It's a living, breathing, positive place to share your journey with other writers, hear other people's opinions of the writing life, take part in self-monitored writing challenges, get a few good ideas, and even give or get a few critiques along the way. Good luck!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Popup Apology

If you've visited this blog before, you may notice that the horoscope section is now missing. That is because this evening I clicked on it and a popup ad tried to download a virus to my computer. Fortunately, I have protection. I apologize to anyone who has run afoul of this thing. It's called the Trojan virus, and it's apparently fairly easy to handle if your virus protection is up-to-date.

A good argument for using protection, right? And here you thought that Trojans were supposed to be protection! In any case, the horoscope is gone, but there are plenty of good sites out there where you can find a free daily horoscope, so all's well that ends well, I hope.

I'm working on figuring out all the plot sequences and arcs for my main characters, so it's going to require a bit of brainstorming. I used to think I was an organic writer and that I liked being one, but at the moment I'm thinking that I'd really like a complete plot right about now. I know the direction it needs to go and vaguely what everyone will be dealing with between chapter 5 and the end, but I need the particulars plotted out into specific scenes. It's time to get the cards on the closet wall. I"ve discovered that I really like having a plan. See there, Terry Brooks? You've converted me. I want a detailed outline, just the thing you advocated in one of your classes years ago. Took me long enough to march into the Outline camp, but here I am.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Plots and Polyamory

Anyone who's read The Compass Rose by Gail Dayton, published by Luna books, knows that the subject of polyamory rates discussion and, just perhaps, serious consideration in more than just the field of fantasy fiction. I'm keenly interested in the general perception and reception of these debates, not just because Gail writes such intriguing fantasy that takes place in a kingdom where polygamy is the norm, but because I also write fantasy that explores that same subject. Gail's site led me to another blog called "Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels" where this subject is addressed at least in brief, and I hope to stumble upon more in future. How refreshing to see open-minded people out there who aren't afraid to explore the idea that maybe love needn't be quite so limited in scope, after all. And it does make for a very interesting story, especially when the author treats each relationship with the care and sensitivity it deserves. It reminds me of a puzzle, really. All the pieces are different, but they fit together beautifully to form a complete picture.

The kingdom of Oantra in my books is a polyamorous society. Heck, Oantra's entire governmental system is based on a multiple-partner structure, with each member of the royal foursome responsible for a particular role and function in government. In the first two books, I wasn't able to delve into the family units as thoroughly as I wanted to because the main characters were away from home for most of the story. But in the third one, we're smack in the middle of the nobles' families, politics, and family politics. Many of their issues are the same as any other family's, they just take place within a slightly different structure.

There, my books are out, even before they're out.

I didn't write poly into the story just to yank anyone's chain, but rather because in the first book it just naturally wove itself into the plot. I think it's something that needs to be looked at with an open mind and treated with a sensitive and empathetic view. And I also think it's fresh and new and exciting compared to the more traditional romances that find their way into fantasy fiction. Whatever the case, I'm glad it turned out that way, and I'm glad that other authors out there are willing to take their fiction and their characters' relationships a bit beyond the pale.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

If the Shoe Fits

I just ordered some new Irish dance shoes for my younger daughter, and HO-ly Buckets, are they expensive! (Gasp, wheeze!) I've never paid that much for a pair of regular shoes for myself, let alone a pair of dance shoes that will probably be too small before a year is out. Nevertheless, if you don't get the right fit, then injuries are practically a given, and that's not acceptable if I can do anything to help prevent it. But YIKES!

There's got to be a writing analogy in there somewhere, but I'm going to let someone else find it, because I really want to finish the novel section I've been working on. It's my reward for dealing with something that needed to be done for another family member. One chore down, checked off the list. I don't know how long the shoes will take to get here from Ireland but for now, it's no longer my problem. Ordering's done, issue of outgrown shoes has been addressed, so that's my contribution for the time being. Until the next thing is outgrown.

I don't even want to know what that will be. My oldest daughter is already wearing my old ballet leotard and had to borrow my shoes for a lesson or two before we replaced the ones she'd grown out of. Maybe they could just stop growing for a month or two? Huh? Couldn't they?


Mary Sue

You've heard of Mary Sues before, right? They're characters who are just too sweet, too talented, too beautiful to be believable, and they often resemble their authors in several ways. (Don't get me wrong--there is a little bit of me in all of my characters, including my heroine, but she's not the fictional version of Kathy Hurley by any means at all. I think the last word I heard one of my crit partners use in reference to me was "Evil"--delivered with an appreciative grin over what I had done to one of my characters.)

Anyway, I just ran across this great test to determine if your character is a Mary Sue, and they've even developed a web form with clickable boxes. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Political Intrigue and The Blonde

I wrote a novel section last night that dealt with medieval political intrigue. Either I'm too naive to recognize my ineptitude at writing this kind of stuff, or I'm actually quite good at it. Which is it? Maybe both. Maybe neither. The proof will be in the execution, and so far it sounds good to me. We'll see what the Moxie thinks of it; we have a meeting today. It's true that I was raised in a small town and I was once a golden-haired cheerleader, but I'm inclined to think that "blonde" is just a role I play. The novel section revealed a whole new layer of political intrigue involving one of my youngest characters, and it surprised and delighted me. I think it just raised the stakes considerably, and it puts the character into a high level of dance-on-the-knife-edge jeopardy. I may sometimes say things in casual conversation that betray my small-town roots, but then I turn around and have my characters do things that would make Machiavelli proud. Go figure.

Speaking of roots, I looked in the mirror yesterday to judge the progress of my attempt to grow out all the dye in my hair, and the lower half of the hair is blonde. But the roots are...definitely not blonde, unless it's a very, very dark blonde. My real hair is darker than I thought, rather like my personality. But light or dark, it's all me, and that's where stereotypes get pushed aside. I used to be blonde for real, but things just got darker and darker as I grew older. And one day, judging by the grey or completely colorless strands showing through the darker hair, things will get lighter again. Full circle, I guess.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Linear or Non-Linear Writing

One of my Moxie 4 critique partners sometimes drives me crazy by writing parts of her books way, way, WAY out of order. She'll hand me a section she's written and then I'll have to somehow orient myself to where she is in the story. Have Joe Hero and Josie Heroine already slept together by this point in the story, or are they still virtual strangers? And where exactly are they? Have they landed on planet Z or are they still on the spaceship, en route to certain disaster? I adore this lady's writing and think she's bound for an agent and publication soon, but I have to admit that all the little bits and pieces of different stories leave me a bit discombobulated. I know there are many writers who compose their stories out of order, and for them it works extremely well. Whenever my friend throws parts of several different books at me at once, I know she's just clearing the buffer so she can settle down and fill in the missing parts of her plots. But I can't work like that--it would send me right 'round the bend.

I tend to be a linear writer. Not necessarily a linear thinker, per se, but a linear writer. I like to write my stories in order, scene by scene, just because I can watch the story unfold as I go, like a movie. Plus, I think if I tended to write scenes out of order, I'd probably be tempted to write all my favorite parts first and then I'd have less incentive to finish the book. If I lure myself on with the promise of an intriguing scene coming up, I can get through the ones that I know need to be there but by which I'm less excited or even somewhat daunted at the prospect of composing. I had one scene recently that I had to start over three different times until I found the right starting place for it, but I've also had others that practically wrote themselves. Those are the carrot-on-a-stick scenes that keep me going when I might otherwise get bogged down. I'm not averse to moving scenes around and re-ordering them when I'm in rewrite mode. In fact, that happened quite frequently with the last manuscript, Shadows of Memory. But that was after I'd finished the first draft, not before.

So for you writers out there, how do you compose? Are you in linear mode like me, needing to pass A, B, and C before you can move on to D, or do you just write A, D, G, and X in whatever order the muse moves you?