Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Or Samhain, or whatever you prefer to call it. Here are my best wishes for your safety and well-being tonight and on into the future. Where we are, it looks like it's going to be a nice evening--warm enough and reasonably good weather for the trick-or-treating--but there's so much more to this holiday than meets the eye. It's a time for many cultures to honor their ancestors and those loved ones who have passed on. And as it was once the Celtic new year, it also represents both an ending and a beginning. This year, it seems particularly apt.

Samhain is the time of year during which my book takes place, so I'm thinking of Brenna fondly tonight. It would be perfect if by this time next year, I have a book in my hands. But for tonight...all is very well indeed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Some people are very good at writing believable characters, while others are better at plotting. And even when a person can create good characters, sometimes he has an easier time creating characters of one sex than the other. I know some people who do great female characters and have a bit of a challenge with male characters. I'm just the opposite. For some reason, my male characters are fine, while the females often need quite a bit of revision. It isn't really the secondary female characters, either--it's usually the main characters I have trouble conveying properly. I may know what makes them tick, but somehow I don't always get into their heads enough in the right places to show the reader what the MC is thinking or feeling. Recently a wonderful lady pointed out to me that this generally tends to happen when my female protagonist is in a scene with another character. If she's alone, we're in her head and know what's going on, but when someone else enters the scene, we sometimes lose the internal dialog that would give us the clue as to what she's actually feeling. I'm so glad she pointed this out to me; I wasn't aware that this is what was happening. Now that I know what to watch for, I can fix it.

I was trying to figure out why I have this difficulty, and I think I may have an answer. I think that I've read so much about the concept of "Mary Sues" that I hold back a little when writing a female main character. A "Mary Sue" is thought to be wish fulfillment on the author's part--when the author creates a character who is in essence the author herself, only prettier, smarter, more confident...too darn close to perfect. Subconsciously, I think I worry that if I put too much of me into my character or put myself too far into her shoes, then she could end up being a Mary Sue. So when it comes down to the writing of that character, what happens is the exact opposite: I don't give the character enough of my strengths, don't go far enough into her head, etc. In essence, she becomes an anti-Mary Sue. Then there's the other half of the problem: the concern about "telling" vs. "showing". I've always tried to show by the character's body posture, physical reactions, etc. what she's feeling or going through. Apparently, in my quest to show, not tell, I've still not shown enough--or maybe just a tiny bit of telling is actually warranted. So the combination of these things that I hold back on is enough to cause a disconnect between some of my readers and my main character. I know that a writer can't please everyone all of the time, and different readers will form completely different ideas about the same piece of writing, but since I've identified that these things can be a problem for my MC, I need to watch out for them.

I went back into some stuff I'd already written and played with one of my MC's a bit to see what I could do if I made some changes along the lines I mentioned above. Where before I have to admit I was a little frustrated and in fact felt a slight disconnect from my own character at times, after I made the changes I found myself thinking, "You go, girl!", wanting to cheer my MC on and feeling proud of her when she showed backbone in the right places and for the right reasons. Girl power, not Mary Sue power. That's what we need.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Agent Article

Some time ago, I mentioned that Mike Briggs had asked to use an article I wrote on how to find an agent. That article is now up on Patricia Briggs' website. The link is here. Hope some people find it helpful! I'll post the same link under "Writing Resources" in my sidebar to make it easier to find the article after this post has been archived.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pantserplotter, I Think

I've almost finished chapter five of the new book. It's going pretty well, considering I don't have every little detail of the book plotted out yet. I have the broad strokes, yes. I know where we're going with this one, what's at stake, mostly who's who and who does what to whom. There are some scenes missing yet on the journey from beginning to end.

I'd never heard of the term "pantser" before until a friend who's a member of RWA explained it. A pantser is a person who writes by the seat of his or her pants--no detailed outline for the plot conjured up beforehand. Organic might be another way to describe it. And then a plotter is, well...self explanatory. Outlines are detailed and fleshed out and the story is all planned beforehand.

With the last two epic fantasy books, I carefully plotted out each scene on 3 by 5 cards before writing it. The first one, I wrote without an outline. With the first Brenna book, I also plotted it out on scene cards beforehand. This second book is often getting its scenes written in detail before I even make a scene card for it. On the other hand, I have a lot of specific scenes plotted already. I don't seem to be either a full-fledged pantser or a truly consistent plotter, though I do plot scenes ahead of time as much as I can. I guess that makes me a pantserplotter.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Okay, we had a post on doubt, and I haven't posted in a while, so maybe it's time to post on doubt's opposite, faith. I know some people come to this blog deliberately, and some stumble on here while looking up something else that just happened to hit certain key words like hummer or Superman. But here's the thing. This isn't just a blog about an endless wait for publication. It isn't just a blog about one writer's struggle for validation in a tough, crowded field with relatively few spots open for new talent. It isn't even just a blog about how in the world a person writes books and tries to build a career from scratch while dealing with life and motherhood. It's all of those things and more, but ultimately, this is a blog about faith. It's about keeping on when the going gets tough. It's about not giving up. It's about believing, no matter how long it takes or how hard it seems, that I've got something worth saying and worth reading. And most of all, it's about making dreams into reality.

So let's try a little experiment. Everyone who reads this blog and knows what it's like to want something so bad you can just about taste it and touch it, do this visualization with me, if you will. Lend just a little of your energy to making this dream come true. You never know. Magic could happen.

Imagine you're holding a paperback novel. It's the same size as all standard mass-market paperbacks. Its cover is smooth under your fingers, and it smells like ink and new paper--that irresistible brand-new book scent that is the reason some of us don't care for e-book readers. The author's name is Kathy Hurley, and the title reads either "From the Ninth Wave" or maybe just "Ninth Wave." The story is set in Ireland, so the cover artwork gives that feel. It could take just about any style or form, but however it's done, there's a raven or crow somewhere in the picture. Think about this book being real--something you can find on the fantasy shelves not terribly far from Huff or Hunt. Imagine that it comes out next October, close to Halloween. See it in your hands, and believe it'll soon be yours. Believe it'll soon be ours. This is a prayer, a visualization, an affirmation. Sometimes if people believe in something hard enough, it becomes real. They say that's what faith can do, and I believe in faith.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


This week, one of my friends was having some doubts about her book, mostly based on a negative review from a test reader. She emailed, needing a pep talk. I think we succeeded on that score, but it got me thinking about unpublished writers, doubt, and self-sabotage.

It's not easy to get a novel published. First, you have to actually write the thing, which is a major undertaking in itself. Anyone who has written one or more complete novels should be very proud of himself; it isn't simple, and it represents a huge amount of time and effort--not to mention faith. Then, most writers face the hurdle of finding an agent, which is also a huge undertaking and can take years to do. Anyone who's completed a novel and been accepted by a reputable agent should celebrate that accomplishment; good, experienced agents don't accept writers whose work isn't worthy of publication. But even after you have an agent, there's still the last major pre-publication hurdle: finding a home for the book. That can also take years, especially in today's market. Plenty of now-bestselling authors struggled for many years to accomplish these things. I remember reading somewhere that on average, it can take about ten years from the first novel to publication, no matter how good the writer is to begin with. So delays and setbacks would seem to be more the norm for an unpublished writer than the exception.

There are those charmed ones whose first novel lands on the right desk at the right time and poof, they're published. I'd have loved to be one of those. But the first Brenna book isn't my first novel; it's my seventh. I started seriously working at getting published in 1997, a year after my younger daughter was born, and at that time I had already written three novels. I think I attended my first writers' conference in 1998 and started regularly submitting manuscripts that year, so that makes this year 10 since I got serious about being a career writer. I've done the work and put in the time.

Do I doubt that my current novel is worthy of publication? No. Absolutely not. The last three were also worthy of it. If they weren't, I wouldn't have an agent--especially an agent who used to be a highly-placed editor. Does that mean I have no doubts about my work at all? No. Of course I have doubts. I've been represented for five of those ten years and still have no publishing contract. Granted, it was mostly due to business decisions on the part of the potential publishers, and a few business decisions on my part as well. I was told that many publishers liked the first Oantra novel, but couldn't find a spot for it in their lists, which pretty much meant that the second and third Oantra novels were doomed as well. Instead of scrapping the second and third books, I made the decision to continue writing the trilogy even though the first one hadn't been picked up yet, instead of switching to a new premise or a new genre. I don't regret that decision; completing the series was a major accomplishment, and I'm proud of having done so. However, as a consequence, I now have a great epic fantasy trilogy, but no contract. I can't blame the publishers for making the decisions they thought best at the time, however much I might want to. I hit the high fantasy market at a time when it was at an ebb, unfortunately, and then I didn't switch niches until last year. That's really what accounts for the ten year delay. I'm disappointed in that outcome, but on the other hand, I learned a lot of craft in the ten years, which is always a good thing.

That brings us to the period from March 2006 to April 2008. In that time, I wrote the first Brenna book and also worked on the third book of the Oantra trilogy. I only turned in the final edits of the Brenna book in April of this year, so it hasn't been out in the market for all that long yet. Six months. That's not much time, in the grand scheme of publishing. But I'd be lying if I said that a small part of me isn't a little gun-shy about this process, after spending so long working on the Oantra books and not getting them published. What unpublished writer doesn't wonder whether they've got the right book out there this time, whether the publishers will like it, whether they'll care that it's written in third person and not first, whether it's different enough to stand out in an increasingly crowded market, and so on? With all those uncertainties, it would be easy to let self-doubt sabotage the whole thing. But all the books on abundance and living your dreams say that you can't allow doubt to stop you--that the thing you focus on is the thing you get more of. So I have to see this book as a tangible thing. I can't afford to doubt that it will be published, which is why I usually refer to it as a book and not a manuscript. They say the people who are published now are the ones who never gave up. I have to believe that, too. It makes sense that the surest way to fail is to stop trying and give in to doubt, which I truly believe is my worst enemy, and probably the worst enemy of many other people as well.