Wednesday, January 26, 2011

4 Chiming In
How many of you now have Davie Bowie's voice in your head from the title?


Sorry to disappoint you, but this isn't actually a music-related post.

I doubt anyone's noticed, but there are a few changes to the blog. I've nuked about 30 posts that weren't of use to anyone other than me, and decided to get rid of some less-than-stellar snips I'd put up. However, this isn't really a post about that, either...

I've been thinking a lot about the need for a great opening page - in part because I'm editing for the final time on Arclight, and in part because of Nathan Bransford's 1st paragraph contest. (I entered. Did you?)

I've changed the first page of Arclight, I don't know how many times, and I keep going back to the 2nd version. (I'm almost certain that's where it's going to stay.) I've had it as a flashback. I've had it as a (short) infodump, but I like it as instant immersion into the action of the story.

I've changed character names and event order and just about everything you can think of to tinker with in a novel. The word count has fluctuated, bottomed out, ballooned... there was even one horrifying moment this week when I accidentally deleted 200+ pages with a faulty cut/paste job. (I didn't even notice it until I glanced at my page count. THANK GOD for whoever invented the "undo" command.)

I've changed POV from 1st, to 1st present to 3rd, and now back to 1st present.

All in all, the only thing that hasn't changed is the story. I'm still working toward the same end, on the same plotline, that I started with at the beginning. I find this amazing, actually. All those variables, and the story itself remains a constant. I've known where the characters needed to go, the only thing that gave me trouble was how to get them there.

I'm curious to know if this sort of tinkering is something most writers do, or if I'm just fickle.

(btw -- since I mentioned beginnings, I'll point out the new page tabs at the top of the blog. Those are the 1st pages of the stories mentioned. All but "Blue" also have their query/pitch attached, if you want to read them.)


Monday, January 24, 2011

4 Chiming In
Not as in "dedication to the craft or art or story," I mean that short little blurb at the front of a novel where the author dedicates what comes after to someone or something.

They can be sappy or funny, sentimental or all business.

Usually, it's the person or people who encouraged you and kept you going when you didn't think your writing was fit for a mad-lib. Other possibilities are a memorandum to a loved one who's passed on, or even apologies to someone who will no longer speak to you in person. I've seen inscriptions of encouragement for entire groups of people the author hopes will be moved or touched by his/her words.

And, sometimes, I've found myself wondering how a person would take having certain novels dedicated to them. A shout out to the sweetie, or Mom & Dad is nice, but if it's on the front of a book about divorce, or one where the body count's in the billions, I'm not sure they'll take it the way you meant it. (Unless you meant it that way to begin with, in which case, I hope you get help. Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword - barring a sword-fight, of course, but that's no excuse for passive-aggression.)

My dedication was set before high school, by my Junior Year English Lit Teacher. She called dibs on the first dedication of students who went on to be published. I really don't mind, seeing as she was one of my favorite teachers throughout school (along with Mrs. Soriano who I had the next year), and one of those who probably did the most toward impacting the way I write today.

Wisdom according to Becky Robinson and Judy Soriano:

Lesson 1 -- write like you're sitting across from someone telling your tale over a table. You'll never lack voice.

Lesson 2 -- (for assignments) When given the choice between three topics, pick the one that's least likely to attract the most writers. If you're handed: "Describe a car accident in detail"; "Describe a weekend at your grandparents' during the summer", and "Describe your favorite bug", go with the insect. Those reading will be so sick of bloody torsos and chocolate chip cookies that they'll savor a beetle's wings.

There are more, but those two are the best, IMO.

#1 works implicitly. It's how I write everything. No matter the final POV, it starts off as a conversation in my head between me and the "person" who happens to be my computer.

#2 is good, too. It gets you away from convention (so long as you don't pick lady bugs or butterflies as your bug) and makes you take the not-so-easy route toward something potentially unique and great.

So, when she said she hoped to see "To Becky" on the dedication page of her students' future masterworks (and no, she wasn't the delusional sort who told us all we could be published novelists, it was a general statement of "what if") I didn't complain, though I do have to hope she won't mind sharing space with someone else.

One of these days, should you happen to open a book and see:

Dedicated to Ms. Rob (To: Becky is too informal, sorry...) and Mrs. Soriano, two teachers who took a kid who liked to write and taught her how to be an author, and two teachers who knew that dreaming isn't a waste of time.
Consider this a promise kept.

You'll know they're two wonderful women who said it was okay to throw the "rules" out the window, use sentence fragments, and write the story as it needed to be told.

I'll even forgive them for the 2 essays / day in 90 minutes. I know my handwriting; they suffered far more than I ever did.


Assuming you get published, do you know who you'll dedicate your novel to?

Perceptions of Author Gender

Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Chiming In
People think I'm guy. Seriously.

On boards, and blog posts, and especially with writing excerpts, I'd say at least 80% of the time, people read my words as "male" in some way. And it's not just me.

The board I frequent most often is Absolute Write. There are several female writers there who will invariably get pegged as men by new members, just like there are a few men who are assumed to be women.

To an extent, I can understand this. I write mainly action heavy things, and too many people still consider "action" the domain of men. I dropped the "a" off the end of Josina to make my name gender-ambiguous because it was meant for use in screenwriting, and that's still very much a boys' club. If someone was going solely on content and the sound of my name, it would make sense to me (even though I don't think I look particularly guy-like in my profile pic up there in the corner)

But... it happens when my name's not attached. Even when I post anonymously.

I tried one of those content analysis things and according to its ratio of "male" words to "female" words, I'm a guy. (English doesn't actually have male / female words like French, Spanish or even Hebrew, so I find the scientific accuracy of this method suspect.)

With fanfic, the people who read my stuff decided I was a guy. The boards where my stories were traded, discussed (and translated into other languages without anyone bothering to tell me, but that's another day's annoyance...) used my screen name with "he" and "him" attached to it.

All of this makes me wonder about the perception of gender with writing. Can you really tell if a person is male or female, accurately, just by the words they choose?

I think it's a pretty well-known fact that JK Rowling was asked to alter her name from JoAnne on her books so as not to scare away young boys who wouldn't want to read something written by a woman. Obviously her "girl-ness" didn't affect their enjoyment once they'd cracked the spine, so there was nothing inherently female about the writing.

Another story (and forgive me for not remembering the author's name) was about a writer of hard boiled detective novels in the 50's who was sued for paternity by an "ex-girlfriend". The writer made a public appearance to deny the "ex's" claims based on the fact that "he" was a 70-year-old woman. So, I guess her writing was pretty, um... convincing... as a male.

Traditionally, if a writer hid their gender, it was a woman with a masculine name to further her career when women weren't considered up to the same standard based solely on their gender. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was a confirmed hit when published, with the main complaint being that it was "sad" such a story came from a woman. The Brontë sisters published some of the best known and loved books of all time with male pseudonyms (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell). No one suspected them of being female until they decided to divulge that information.

To me, this speaks to a sort of disconnect between perception and reality where authors are concerned. If so many female writers are "known" to be male based solely on the content of their work, then the idea that you can tell gender based on that work is flawed.

I believe a good writer can pass their self off as anything. A writer can create believable children or aliens or psychopaths, or even a believable psychopath who happens to be an alien child.

A man can write in the voice of a woman; a woman can write in the voice of a man - it depends on what you need for the character and story at hand. The process isn't any different than researching any other group of people to whom you don't naturally belong.

I'm curious what others think about this, or if something similar has ever happened to you? Do people make assumptions about you based on what you write?

You tell me.

Instant Gratification

Friday, January 14, 2011

10 Chiming In
When you start the journey toward commercial publication, you discover the true meaning of glacial. That's the industry's chosen speed, unless you happen to submit the new "it" property at precisely the right time and things go into overdrive.

You wait weeks or months for a response from your queries. Then you wait weeks or months to get a response to whatever materials you send in after that first request. It's arduous and painful and makes you want to cut your hair short so it's not actually long enough to pull out. Then, assuming you actually get published, it's another stretch of YEARS before the book hits shelves.

Fanfic isn't like that at all. (Stick with me, the random topic shift will make sense in a minute, 'K?)

Whether you write for a small community of fans or dive into the turbulent waters of a mega-site where all fandoms are housed, the response time to a new piece of writing can be minutes.

I've mentioned before that my first "public" writing was fanfiction (TV show, no longer in production, stop giving me those dirty looks!) At the time, I was an exceptionally timid person when it came to sharing my writing, and so, it was with horribly fragile nerves that I decided to try this thing called "fanfic" a friend had told me about. To my absolute shock and elation, the readers liked it.

So I posted another.

And another...

And another...

I meant what I said about it being addictive. I could easily knock out 100-200K words of fanfic a month. No, that's not a typo, I said one-to-two hundred thousand words. I wrote over 1 million words the first year I waded into fandom waters.

From participating in writers' forums, I know that this is the same trap that snares many well intentioned writers who choose to forgo the necessary steps to get a book in shape and just vanity publish. Vanity pubs and POD presses pretending to be commercial publishers (there are legit POD presses out there; I have no issue with those) thrive on certain aspects of human nature, and one is the wish for instant gratification.

On paper, the idea that you can have a book -in hand - in less than 6 mo. sounds wonderful. It sounds like you've found a way around all those people who get into the crawl and look for an agent and all that stuff that detracts from the excitement of having something NOW. But, like with fanfic, it's empty more times than it's not.

The sad fact is, that instant rush comes with its own problems. Vanity presses of any kind, do no more for you than registering yourself at a fanfiction site. They don't edit. They don't get you in stores. They charge you for the work you do yourself. It's not real, anymore than the fanfiction "novels" I wrote could be published as is.

That's not the way it works. And no matter what you tell yourself or what your friends have to say about it, consumers know the difference. They know a product that's been properly handled and assembled, and they know one that hasn't.

Yes, it sucks that it takes so long. Yes, it sucks that you can't make your own rules and be famous tomorrow. Yes, it sucks that not everyone gets to play in the big leagues. But... the people who put in the effort and go through the steps and wait the time it takes to do it right are the ones that readers are going to hear about. They're the ones who get ads in the paper and they're the ones who get their books in stores.

Even e-stores feature certain books front and center on their main page, and those books aren't by authors who took the shortcut, shrugged their shoulders, and pretended that doing so put them on even ground with those who didn't.

The Writer's Serenity Prayer

Thursday, January 13, 2011

3 Chiming In
A bit of paraphrase for those of us making the long slog through our writing journey.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept that I can accomplish my goal of finishing a draft;
Courage to change the things I need to edit;
And wisdom to know that perfection in writing doesn't exist.

Other verses would include things like:

Cause me to remember that opinions are not judgments of my person,
Errors are only mistakes so long as I refuse to correct them,
My book is written in ink not blood; it took effort to write, not my life,
And I am not responsible for making everyone love it.

Help me to understand that publishing is slow,
Keeping it's pace doesn't mean agents or editors are uninterested,
What's perfect for me may not fit with someone else,
And that my dream agent is the one who loves my work as much as I do.

Keep my mind on my work,
My butt in my chair,
My fingers on my keyboard,
And my eyes on the goal.

Publishing is a leap of faith from the first word you type into your shiny new document. You have to believe you have an idea worth writing, believe you have the ability to write it, and believe you can see it through to the end.

You go to another level when you finish that draft and edit it, then send it out into the big, mean world to be kicked around by people with no attachment to it. If you land an agent, they have to believe you're a worthwhile risk.

Even once you reach your goal of publication, you still have to believe that others will pay money and spend time to enjoy your words. Your publisher has to believe you'll turn a profit.

And to that end, I leave you with THIS. (Just don't get sucked into the YouTube Vortex of Doom listening to old music.)

There is Method to my Madness

Saturday, January 8, 2011

5 Chiming In
Do not laugh at my drawing skills, I have a reason for subjecting you to them.

Meet Dinah, my avenging angel from Premeditated. (no, not a literal angel)

I quick sketched this over two years ago. Obviously, it's not finished or the cleanest image, and it's not exactly something you'd see hanging in the Met, but this is how I work a lot of the time. I'm a visual person, even if I have to create those visuals myself.

Sometimes, I do it with clip art, and make covers, like the one I did for Arclight a while back. And sometimes, I drag out my trusty Mirado #2 Black Warrior and a piece of paper. If I have a visual, it's easier for me to see the person in a story as real.

When I drew the picture at the top of this post, I didn't know who she was, only that she had a story to tell. I didn't even know her name was Dinah. In fact, I thought this was a picture of Johnnie, an oft-jostled foster child from another story. I tried to make her be Johnnie, but she refused to comply.

This is the point where people who don't write on a regular basis start to make strange faces and question my sanity, but if you're a writer, you know what I mean. Our characters are their own kind of real; they have dimension and texture, and they can refuse to do the things we tell them to do. They don't float on white paper (believe it or not, that piece of paper was white when I scanned it in), they inhabit a world of their own.

When Dinah first appeared as a character, and after I'd accepted that she wouldn't let me shoe horn her into the story I thought she fit, I did the usual writer things. I asked her questions.

Who are you?

She said she wouldn't tell me.

I asked her again.

She said she was a whisper in the dark.

I asked her again.

She said she was a secret sworn to keep herself.

Do I mean I literally heard a voice say these things? No. What I mean is that there was more to the character than the obvious, and it took me almost two years to get it out of her.

She's wearing a private school uniform, so I thought she went to private school, but again, she said "not really". Her posture's self-protective, which is where the part about secrets and being in the dark came from. She's obviously hiding something, including herself, in the way she's crouched behind the stairs.

On her hands, she wears fingerless gloves, not a part of your usual prep-school uniform. She's got that little chain around her ankle that had to mean something (it took quite a while to realize that was a bird on the end), and she doesn't have a tie on or bother to button the top buttons of her blouse. She's not a conformist, and knowing that added another dimension. I started to understand what she meant by "not really" being a private school girl.

Other clues came through. The haunted look in her eyes, the lack of a smile on her face, even the way the wind's blowing, like she doesn't feel it. This girl wasn't just hiding, she was numb.

If you read this blog, you know I generally write Paranormal / Fantasy, and it's usually a darker shade. So I thought "Ah ha!" She's a ghost! She's some poor dead girl who's got some unresolved issues. That's why she's sad!

I asked her if she was dead.

She said no, she wasn't, but someone was.

A hint of a name came through - Claire. I thought it was her name. Everything about her was wrapped around the name Claire, so it made sense. The early draft of the story has her named Claire, but I was wrong. I was looking at it from the wrong angle.

Her whole life is wrapped around Claire, but Claire isn't her. Claire's her cousin.

If you read the query I sent to Query Shark, you know I wrote it with the names under my original assumption, but now that I know better, a few things make more sense as I shift them around in the MS.

Dinah, for one (and this was an accidental bit of dovetailing) means Vindication and Judge. That's definitely the most fitting name I could have come up with for this girl. Claire means Bright White and Celestial - also perfect for the idealized way she sees her cousin.

The reason it was so hard to get a lock on who Dinah was, and what was getting me mixed up in the writing, is that she didn't know, either. She'd made herself disappear when things at home got bad, and then she disappeared again when she assumed the identity of a private school girl to avenge her cousin.

She was lost, hiding in the dark, and it was my job to find her.

That's your job, too, if you're a writer. You have to find your characters and coax them out into the light. You have to make them trust you enough to spill their secrets. And you cannot betray that trust by making them do things counter to their nature.

Maybe you draw pictures like I do, maybe you don't, but you should still have a vivid image of who your characters are -- and so should your readers. (See, I told you there was point.)

New Design

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

6 Chiming In
Yay! My blog has shiny new paint and pretty new wallpaper! I think it's a bit easier to read than the old one, too.

And... all my links work now! Woot!

So, what d'ya think? Better? Worse? What?

Happy New Year

Saturday, January 1, 2011

10 Chiming In
Yay! It's a new year.

I know we're all shocked that there was another stretch of 365 days waiting at the end of the last one, but since it was there, and all shiny with possibilities, I say we welcome it into existence.

And, now that we've entered the first days of 2011, the only real question is "Will you give up your resolutions before or after you stop writing the date as 2010?"

(Okay, so it wasn't that funny, but I'm not backspacing.)

I don't usually like resolutions, most of them are too broad and too easy to let slide, but I will concede to making a short list of things I *want* to happen this year.

1. Get an agent

2. Have book on submission

3. Sell book to publisher

4. Get paid to write

5. Inform doubtful family that 1-4 have been accomplished, so they can stop referring to my butt-in-chair writing time as "wasting time at the computer".

I'll also say that I hope to finish 5 books this year. Yes, 5. I know that total sounds insane, but I'm within sight of an end on 3 already and I have 2 more in my "on pause" pile (old NaNos) that I think I'll bump up to WIP status once those other 3 are done. That will elevate another "idea" into my "on pause" pile to fill the hole.

Can I do it? Yes.

Will I do it? Ask me in a year because right now, I don't know.

Anyone who's read this blog probably knows that I'd hoped to have book #1 finished six months ago, but stuff happened, and it didn't get done. It's so close to done, I keep getting the urge not to sleep for three days just to stitch it all together, but I can't do that. Rushing now would most likely trash a book I really, really enjoy. I have to take my time and fill in all those icky plot holes.

So, if all goes according to plan, in a year my writing queue should hopefully look something like this:

Finished MS

Arclight (YA, soft sci-fi/dystopian)
Right now, Arclight's sitting at almost 70K, edited, with another 30K or so still being hammered out and put in place. One glaring plot issue is giving me fits.

Premeditated (YA, contemporary)
Premeditated has been bumped up to "Put the rest on hold and finish now!" status. Word count is in flux and I'm not stopping to check the current one.

Wolf-killer (YA, Gothic fantasy)
Wolf-Killer's at between 30K and 40K (Yes, it has wolves. No, they're not werewolves.)

(Current) Pause Pile
(Meaning stories I've written a chapter for so at some point I'll have to work on them again or let said chapter go wasted. These are at the bottom of the stack priority-wise.)

Draconis (upper-MG, UF)
Draconis (currently in the pause pile) has 15K

Totem (younger-MG, light UF)
Totem (currently in the pause pile) has 12K
(I really need a better name for this one, as totem doesn't fit at all)

(Future) Pause Pile

Blue (MG, ghost story)
The Dragon Train (MG, western / fantasy hybrid)
Adora Adair (YA, UF)
Stone (YA, UF)
Au Naturale (YA, contemporary)
Violet Night (MG, UF)