Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of an Age

Last Friday I sat down with the intent of finishing my next Writers of the Future submission. I didn't. Why, you ask? Because I was distracted. I had a lot on my mind and needed to exorcise it in order to concentrate on what I really needed to do. The result of that exorcism was a very lengthy FB/G+ post that took me three hours to write. Yes, that's a lot of time for a relatively short piece but this was free written (which always takes me longer) and I had to sift through a lot of thoughts, memories, and emotions to get to the heart of the matter. I don't regret spending that time on this modern soliloquy, nor do I look on it as indulgent or wasteful. As I said before, I needed to give these thought and emotions time to run their course. A little meditation is good for the soul, and I believe it's good for art as well. It's hard to focus and create anything worthwhile when you're troubled. Even though the deadline was looming, by writing that post, I did exactly what I needed to do at that very moment. And you know what? After I'd finished it I was able to complete my submission by the deadline without any difficulty.

So, in case you missed it, here it is:

The End of an Age 

There's a hole on my bookshelf. I made that hole Tuesday night. It's the spot that A Memory of Light will occupy after I've bought it, read it, savored it, gotten it signed, loaned it to my mother, and rescued it from The Land of Misplaced Things (aka mom's reading nook). When Towers of Midnight came out it took about two months for that string of events to run its course. However, this time will be different because this will be the last time. 

This is the last anticipatory hole on the shelf, the last time the dragon banner will ride the wind, and the last time I'll be able to pester my mother to read faster so I can talk about what Mat and Rand did. For the last fifteen years, this has been the perennial cycle.

Light! I've waited fifteen years for the end of the world. 

Like many other fans, I want it to come tomorrow and I don't want it to come at all. I desperately want to know what happens but I don't want the journey to be over. The dichotomy is maddening. 

Yes, there are other series that I love in a similar fashion, that they will see me through life's dark days like the Wheel of Time did and there will be other books that I will anticipate in a similar fashion. But this ritualistic string of events is specific to the Wheel of Time. In a way, it's the turning of my wheel. 

Perhaps that's the reason why I'm so troubled by this. "The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass..." isn't just a lyrical metaphor for life, it's become a way for me to define the stages of my life. And even though my wheel will continue to turn, the completion of the fictional wheel's revolution is killing a hope that I've unknowingly carried since Robert Jordan's death. That hope being that the series, having survived an untimely death, would somehow continue past it's completion. 

I've read the statements and heard Brandon comment on this at book signings and other events. I know it's not very likely that a companion series will ever see the light and I'm okay with that. Really, I am. The last thing I want is for The Wheel of Time to become a serialized fan fic. There's nothing wrong in harboring a little fan girl hope for another adventure, and likewise there's no harm in letting an Age pass at its appointed time. The series isn't going to disappear off the face of the earth. It will live on, I suspect, in the same fashion as The Lord of the Rings. Future generations will journey with Rand, Mat, Perrin, and the others and when they say "Wow! That was the coolest thing ever!" we'll smile and say "Keep reading. It gets better."

My life has been graced by these 14 tomes. They've changed the way I look at fiction, writing, and the world in general. Instead of regarding January 8th as the end of an Age, I should look on it as the beginning of a new one. A new age where I take my altered vision and use it as only a writer can to inspire others in the same fashion.

In the spirit of this epiphany, I wish to say this: 

In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, the Wheel of Time rose from the grave and found a new home in the hearts of men. There it continued to turn through the generations because after all, there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

I'm finally taking a day off

At Ninja Keyboard headquarters, we take Christmas seriously. We do all of our cooking and feasting on Christmas Eve so that on Christmas Day, we can lounge around, enjoy each other's company, and be lazy. That means there's lots of baking to be done and little ones to keep distracted (and subsequently, out of the kitchen). With that in mind, I'm not going to be sharing any writerly enlightenment with you this week. I will be back next Monday (New Year's Eve) with a really good post.

Have a happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Welcome to The Next Big Thing, the blog chain letter questionnaire that gives writers the opportunity to talk about their work in progress. So, without further ado, here is The Next Big Thing.

What is the working title of your book?

The actual working title is Spider Web, though on FB and G+ I usually refer to it as the Cyberfunk book.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

It actually came from a really strange dream I had a couple years ago. The dream was an interesting combination of Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Phantom of the Opera, and Alias.

What genre does this fall under?

It's cyberpunk.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?

That's a tough one. I usually don't think of my characters as specific actors and I rarely model a character's appearance after one. There have been a few exceptions and this story just happens to have one. Cary-hiroyuki Tagawa would be ideal as the yakuza boss. That may be type casting, but he's really good at it. I'm not picky about who plays the other characters as long as they are or can pass as the right ethnicity. There are several Asian characters and their ethnicity is an important part of their identity. In the end I'd rather an unknown actor get the part than a celebrity that is a bad fit for the role. I know that isn't how Hollywood thinks, but it's how I feel.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of the book?

A retired hacker has to use their skills to rescue a friend that has been trapped inside a secret government project for six years.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm not represented by an agency and I have no intention of self-publishing any of my work in the near future. When the manuscript is ready I'll send queries to a few agents and editors.

How long did it take for you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I'm still writing it. It usually takes me a 12 - 18 months to finish a manuscript. I've completed about 25% of the first draft in the four months I've been working on it. I want to have the first draft done by the time I leave for WorldCon so it's ready to pitch.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson. It's still a far cry from what Spider Web is, but it is the closest. I'd also compare it to the James Bond books by Ian Fleming since there is a lot of international intrigue.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The book and its characters inspired me. Once I get an idea for a story and the characters introduce themselves to me, I become a bit obsessed. I want to tell their story. I want to live every moment of their quest, experience their adventures, share their heartbreak. They become as real to me as a flesh and blood human being.

What else about your book might pique the interest of readers?

The protagonist is female. While that's not unheard of, it's not common. There are a lot of obstacles for her to overcome and a lot of factions that would love to stop her. She has multiple encounters with MI6 agents (if you're not familiar with British Intelligence, this is the same organization that James Bond works for) and the Yakuza.

Next Wednesday, Jo Ann Schneider is continuing the series. Be sure to check out her post on the 26th. I know I will.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The pen is still mightier

The recent tragedies across the nation have been the top subject on the internet, social media, and almost every conversation I've had or overheard. While I find the blog posts of Robison Wells and Dan Wells moving (and I agree wholeheartedly with their sentiments) I'm not going to add my own thoughts on the tragedies themselves. I've never lost a child or a loved one in a senseless act of violence or had a violent mental illness. I've had suicidal depression, but it was never to the point that I wanted to hurt others, so while I can sympathize, I can't empathize. However I can borrow the wise words of others.

And of course, this:

We have the power, the infinite power of language at our mercy, and it's our duty as wordsmiths to use it responsibly. We don't have to threaten people. We can get our message across without igniting a fiery debate. Starting arguments only creates more anger which than results in more unnecessary violence and I for one have had enough. There is too much ugliness in the world as it is. Arguing this way or that only adds to it. I suggest that instead of picking fights with our friends on Facebook over subjects like gun control, we listen to the admonishments of these gentlemen by making good art. As writers we can create a beautiful fairy land for people to escape to while they cope with the horrible reality that has been thrust upon them. We can likewise create a dystopic future that illustrates the consequences of inaction and apathy.

You can do more good with an allegory than you can with an argument.

Hitler used the power of language to inspire and motivate a nation to do terrible things. However we, as writers, can inspire a nation to be more kind, more generous, more understanding, more forgiving, more loving, more cooperative, more calm, more peaceful...and I think that's wonderful.

So, how about it?

Let's make the world a better place through good art.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Together we stand, together we fall

Ahh, December. That wonderful time of year when good (and not so good) boys and girls start flooding Santa's inbox with requests for the funds to attend all the wonderful Cons, workshops, and seminars that will take place next year. If I can put my two cents in, anyone that is serious about writing should seriously consider going to the Superstars Writing Seminar. I know I've talked about it in the past but I can't emphasize enough how much I learned and gained from this seminar. If my previous post about it (To the Stars and Back) wasn't enough to convince you than perhaps a couple videos will persuade you.

This seminar isn't just for those who have already published a work or two. This is for everyone who wants to make a living as a writer. Need to revitalize your career as a mid-list author? Go to Superstars. Want to know how to make money without being screwed by a big publisher? Go to Superstars. Want to be inspired? Go to Superstars. Want to make friends in the industry? Go to Superstars. Want to be surrounded by familiar faces at WorldCon? Go to Superstars.

This isn't one of those seminars that hammers information into your brain and leaves you scared and exhausted at the end of the day. This is a friendly seminar. Don't mistake me, they do cover a lot of topics in a short amount of time. Brandon Sanderson likened it to drinking from a fire hydrant and he was right. I'm still digesting the information in the copious amount of notes I took. My point is that no one there is judgmental. When I signed up last year I was invited to join the Facebook group so not only were the returning attendees already acquainted, but new attendees like myself were as well.

The whole point of this seminar is to strengthen the writing community by gathering together writers of all walks of life and experiences so that we can learn from each other and be better -- better writers, better businesspeople, and more well connected. Because after all, we are colleagues. If we're going to survive in this ever changing market and keep it alive, we have to band together.

                                                      So go ahead and sign up already!

Click to register

Monday, December 3, 2012

NaNo 2012: A.K.A. a lesson in masochism

Phew! NaNo is finally over! Huzzah!

My word count for the final week was 1400 on the novel and 1600 on the novelette. That's kind of lackluster for a final push but there were a couple days where I wasn't able to get much if anything written. Tuesday I went to Seattle for the launch of Jim Butcher's new book, Cold Days. The drive time meant that I didn't get much done on Tuesday and the subsequent road trip hangover made it near impossible to get anything done Wednesday.

Now, I know some of you are wondering if I reached my goal?

No. I didn't. But I got pretty darn close. Out of the 13 K I wanted to do on the novelette I wrote 8513. On the Novel I did 8281 of the 10K I set for myself. So out of the combined 23K I managed 16,794 words. I think that being a little over 6K from the finish line was respectable. Especially since my calendar looked like this:

                                          (Why yes, that is a Schlock Mercenary calendar.)

Add a 40 hour work week on top of that and yeah, that's a lot of commitments for any given month. But for NaNo it borders on the insane since, as I mentioned before, a few of those commitments took me as far as Seattle.

So what did I learn this year?

Two NaNo projects is CRAZY!!! Yeah, I am not doing that again. I'm not going to stop bopping between projects the rest of the year -- it helps me clear my brain -- I'm just not going to do it during NaNo. I do have to admit that there was one good thing about doing two projects. Normally I get burned out on the book about halfway through the month. Last year I actually resented the fact that I couldn't take a break from the novel without losing precious time. That was one of the reasons I did two  projects this year and while I didn't feel any of that resentment this year, I did have to continually readjust my brain for the different styles of the two stories. The protagonist's voices in each story are very different so I had to give myself time to push one out of my mind and pull up the other. If I spaced it out (worked on one in the morning and the other in the evening) it wasn't so bad but it still took a toll. I think it wore me out faster.

The other lesson I learned from this year's NaNo was that if I know my schedule is going to be that busy (like I did this year) than I'm going to postpone NaNo until December or January so I can focus on it more. I'm determined to make goal one of these years. As Hero Boy would say, "I will succeed!" And one day I will.

Oh yes, I will.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I hope all of my American readers had a happy Thanksgiving.

My word count was much better last week. I managed to get 2200 on each project despite Thanksgiving, working on black friday, a couple of killer headaches, and The Civil War game. That's still 300 short of my weekly goal on the novel and 800 short on the novelette. I think it's safe to say that I've found my word threshold when it comes to doing two projects at once. They're still good words, they just took a little more effort than normal.

Over the years I've discovered that I can't write when I'm sick, but I can push through a tension headache. I don't like doing it, but I can if the occasion calls for it like it did last week. In addition to becoming a victim of the attack of the killer headache, it was also the Saturday after Thanksgiving which is always a crazy day at work since it's Small Business Saturday, and it was the day of the Civil War Game. So, how did I manage it?

Sheer. Willpower.

When I got home from work I just wanted to curl up in bed, watch the DVR'd game, and be comatose for a few hours. Unfortunately, I also knew how far behind I was (I didn't get nearly as much done Thanksgiving day as I would've liked). So instead of getting comfy I took some painkillers, powered up the laptop and pounded out another 600 while I watched the game. Normally I can't write when the TV is on. It's too much of a distraction. But this time it worked because I could completely focus on the book when the enemy had the ball and take a short break whenever my team had the ball. I may have to employ this technique next year. That way I can watch all of the live games.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tired writer is tired

Last week's word count took a dip. I focused more on the novel since that's where I've been lacking and managed to get 2400 words. Not bad, but on the flip side, I was only able to get 760 words on the novelette. Granted, part of that was that I had two social engagements. All right, they weren't so much social engagements as they were "oh my gosh, I can't pass up on this" activities. (I told you that not even NaNo would make me pass up something like this.) Friday night was Brom's signing at Powell's and since I was in the area, I had dinner with Lee Moyer and the lovely Venetia. The night before, I drove out to St. Helens (the city, not the mountain) for an evening of music and merriment with Ken Scholes. Yes, both nights took me away from writing. Yes, they were fun and I don't regret taking the time off, but it shouldn't have decreased my word count that significantly. After all, I spent every spare moment in the preceding days bolstering my word count.

The wrench that really threw a monkey into my week was the day job. Holiday sales have begun and therefore, Kim is a very tired bookseller. It killed my word count last year and its done it again this year. There are few things that can hinder my wordcount faster than fatigue. However, I plan to soldier on. In the immortal words of Superchicken, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it. I rested up yesterday and for the rest of the week I will drink my supersauce (Dr. Pepper and/or Twinings English breakfast tea) and see if I can do better (Thanksgiving withstanding).

If there's one thing I've learned from past NaNos is that when the words don't come as fast as you need or want them to, you can't stress about it. Stress only makes it harder and you spend more time and energy worrying than you do writing. Yes, the deadline is coming and at this rate I won't finish (especially since I've got a day trip to Seattle coming up) but I'm going to ignore logic for the moment and believe that I can because if I push hard I can still do it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cattle prods and penmonkeys

So far I've been doing reasonably well on my NaNo. My benchmarks for each week are to write 3K on the novelette and 2500 on the novel. Since the first week of the month was short I only shot for 1K on the novelette and 500 on the novel. I've made the mark or exceeded it on the novelette both weeks. The novel however has fallen short by about 300 words each week. I am a little disappointed that I haven't made the mark but the words I've put down are good words and I can be satisfied with that.

I know everyone says that it doesn't matter if the words you write during NaNo are crap. It's just a first draft. Well, for me, my first draft isn't just words thrown onto a page. I hate wasting time and I hate wasting words. I want every syllable I put on the page to be the best that I can make it at that particular moment in time. Sure, some of it is lost in the various editing passes that I do before I kick it out of the nest, but about 75% of them are still there. That includes what I write during NaNo. It's another reason why I can justify doing my own thing every November. Yes, my over word goal is half of what everyone else is doing but what I'm writing is good (for the most part). I don't see the point in writing 50K in a month if only 10K is going to survive the first edit. If I was going to do that, I may as well twiddle my thumbs for three weeks because I'd have just as much work to show for it.

However, even with a combined word count goal of 23K for this month, I still have problems staying focused. There's some very important PAC-12 games this month and my DVR can only hold so many TV programs before its little circuits explode. Plus, when you spend every hour that isn't tied up in the day job or in some other vital daily task, you get tired of it. Not in the "I never want to do this ever again" kind of sense but in the "I still like this cereal but I really want bacon for breakfast today" kind of way. To keep myself motivated I parcel out my programs and such as treats. When the writing is going well, I'll reward myself with a TV show while I eat dinner or a chapter from whatever book I'm reading (right now it's Poison Flower by Thomas Perry). If I make my benchmark for the week then I get to watch a football game Saturday night. However, if the writing isn't going well than I have to sit at my computer and forgo social activity and entertainment in favor of writing.

In addition to that I also have little daily reminders that I am capable of doing this. These reminders aren't sweet and fluffy motivational posters. They're more like cattle prods. I have two or three images that the very talented and lovingly fowl Chuck Wendig did for some of his blog posts. If you haven't checked out Chuck's website than you really should. He's awesome. He has a knack for removing all of the bull shit and getting down to the point. He's also a lot more blatant than I dare to be, which I admire.

The handful of images I have I use as my desktop background and rotate through them during the month (I've also been known to do the same when I've got a deadline nearing). It gives me the daily poke in the butt that I need during NaNo to keep me focused on what I really need to be doing. Writing.

With that in mind, I'll bid you adieu because I've got words to make. Good luck fellow NaNo participants!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

All is fair in Love and NaNo.

First off, my Halloween costume was a huge success! No one recognized the uniform but I expected that. It's an oft overlooked show. Some of the finishing details on the great coat weren't completed in time but I'm ok with that. It's still pretty darn awesome.

As for my NaNo, so far so good. I've set a bit of a crazy goal this year. I want to write 10K on the WIP (which shall be henceforth known as the Cyberfunk book because cyberpunk-that-wants-to-be-a-thriller is far too long) and a complete first draft on a novelette (I estimate that it'll be around 13K) that's been brewing in my brain since July. The novelette is in part a sequel to the piece I submitted to Writers of the Future but it's also the completion of that same piece. I'm not going to go into detail as to why that is because I can't talk about it freely until the judging for that quarter has finished. What I will go into more detail on is my NaNo process.

I know I've talked before about setting goals and that I like to do my own thing when it comes to NaNo. What I haven't spoken about yet is how I break it down. On November 1st I write my starting word count at the top of my calendar so I know exactly what mark I have to hit. Then I break down how many words a week I need to complete in order to make my goal. Since I have two projects this year I've got two benchmarks to reach every week. I haven't set daily word count goals just because I know that with the holiday season starting, if I have a crazy day at work I won't have the energy to get much done. I also have a few fun things planned this month that'll cut into my writing time: a much needed makeover, black friday sales, and attending book signings for Brom and Jim Butcher. With the exception of work day fatigue, I can budget my time in advance in order to get it done.

That may make me look like an anal retentive control freak -- which I'm not -- but that's what I do. I like being (somewhat) organized and knowing where I stand in every aspect of my life. Why should my writing be any different?

Some of you have added me to your NaNo circles on G+ and for that I thank you. I love being a part of the writing community and hearing about everyone's struggles and successes. I need a steady stream of reminders that it's not just me that's having a hard time with ___________ on any given day. If you, dear reader, haven't added me on G+ or FB, feel free to post updates about your NaNo progress in the comments of this or any post for this month. I'd like to know how you're doing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The coming storm

Get your survival gear and batten down the hatches because it's...

        NaNoWriMo!                   (Dun dun dun)

What? Did you think I was talking about Hurricane Sandy?

We inturrupt your regularly scheduled blog for a message from our socially conscious host:

My thoughts and prayers are with those on the East Coast. Stay safe and for heaven's sake, stay home! I know it's not every day a hurricane knocks on your door, but seriously people, don't become victims of storm stupidity. I know the monster waves are cool and you want to witness them first hand, but do you really need to risk getting washed out to sea or impaled by a golf club? God gave us Hi-def TV for a reason. I'm just sayin'.

Now back to the program.

November is nigh and even though there are natural storms and political storms brewing, don't forget to prepare for the annual writing flurry that is NaNoWriMo. Get your personal affairs in order, clean the house (because let's face it, you're not going to be vacuuming when you could be writing instead), stock up on your favorite writing snacks (hopefully healthy ones) and caffeinated beverages, and set the  DVR to record the football games and TV shows.

What's that? You're not doing NaNo this year? Why the hell not?! Just because you don't think you can write 50,000 words in a month doesn't mean that you shouldn't try. I've never written that much in a month and aren't likely to until I can afford to write full-time but I still do a fashion. Rather than a true NaNoWriMo novel, I work on my WIP and set a word count goal that I normally wouldn't reach before the end of the month. In a normal month I write about 500 words a day, six days a week. That's about 13,000 words before edits (because I can't resist the urge to edit). During NaNo I push that daily goal to 1,000 so my monthly goal is only 30,000 words. It never gets me anywhere near the end of my novel, but I'm a lot closer at the end of November than I normally would be. Plus, since it's not a throwaway project that I'm doing just for the sake of NaNo, they're all productive words and I don't have to transition back into the WIP in December either.

If you're not doing NaNo because it conflicts with the holidays or some other activity, don't let that hold you back either. Last year, I started three days late because of my sister's wedding. When Thanksgiving day rolled around, I rose early so I could go for my morning walk and still get some writing in before the baking and festivities began. I even took a night off to go watch The Muppet Movie with Mary Robinette Kowal, Lee Moyer, and Brent Weeks because not even NaNoWriMo was going to make me pass up an opportunity like that. I didn't meet my word goal last year. I was about 8,000 words shy if I recall, but I don't count last year or any year as a failure. The whole point behind NaNo is to get people to stop aspiring of being a writer by being a writer. If I wrote more than my normal word count in November, I count that as a successful NaNo. If I learned how to manage my time better or how to ignore distractions better, than I also count that as a NaNo success.

When it comes to giving gifts, everyone says that it's the thought that matters. I believe that when it comes to NaNoWriMo, it's the intent of NaNo and what you intend to get out of it that matters. Keep that in mind and there's no way you can fail. With that in mind, Happy NaNo everyone!

If you want to keep tabs on how my NaNo is going, I'll be posting regular updates on my G+ and Facebook pages.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Braving Babylon

I love Halloween. Next to Christmas and my birthday, it’s my favorite holiday. Yes, I love the candy and dressing up – not surprising for a theater girl – but I also love the idea that for one night, you can be anything you want. It doesn’t matter if it’s outlandish and strange (or slightly criminal), it’s perfectly acceptable.

Of course, having a theater background, I rarely limit my costumed shenanigans to October 31st. I’ve shown up to signings in costume, ushered a play in costume, and I’ve even done a photoshoot as a vampire (complete with live victims). But that means that on Halloween, I really have to pull out the stops.

This year’s masterpiece is the rebel alliance uniform from Babylon 5.

I bought the fabric two years ago with the intention of having in made in time for Dragon*Con. Unfortunately, my travel plans fell through so the costume construction was put of as well. This summer I finally grew tired of tripping over the bag of fabric (it’s a really big bag) so I’m finally tackling it. Part of the reason for the delay in making it was that it was such a daunting task. I’m making this from scratch from two different patterns with similar lines. It also requires me to work with leather, which is something I’ve never done before, and the braided trim has to be dyed and sewn on by hand. I’m no stranger to sewing but that was just too much for me to handle back then. I want this to be as accurate as possible and I didn't believe that my abilities were up to it. I don't feel that way anymore. Why? Because my perspective has changed. 

Two years ago, I decided to take writing seriously. When I had to cancel my Dragon*Con plans, I had yet to go to Dave's Writer's Death Camp -- where my creative eyes were opened -- and most importantly, I had yet to start work on the YA novel. My creative mettle hadn't been tested and therefore, I hadn't developed mental capacity to break down enormous tasks into bite size pieces. Not only did I find the determination to finish by my deadline, I found the perseverance to make the manuscript match my vision. Instead of saying "there's no way that's going to work" I can say "I can do that."

It's making this costume's construction so much easier. If a monkey is thrown into my plan, it's ok because I can deal with it once piece at a time. I can correct it and as Tim Gunn would say, "make it work." If for some reason I find myself over my head, I can go to the expert (my mom in this case) and get her advice on how to make it work. I don't have to wonder if I'm going to finish it in time for Halloween because I know I'll do what it takes to make it happen.

I love being an unstoppable force. It's empowering knowing that I can do anything I set my mind too and after doing it once with success, it's so easy to do it a second, third, and three-hundreth time. No mountain is too high, no task too big. I really can do anything (except kill large spiders and whistle, but that doesn't count).   :) 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Location, location, location

No one can deny that writers are a peculiar people. For many, one of those peculiarities is that we can only write in a certain location.  Some can only write at their desk while sitting in their special chair, others have to be sprawled out on the couch with a moleskin. Personally, I can write just about anywhere as long as there aren’t too many distractions (TV, Facebook, people trying to engage me in conversation). However, when I’m on a time crunch, the one thing I do need in order to crank out the words is a place with a lot of creative energy. It could be a coffee shop where writers congregate. My favorite is Case Study Coffee in Portland. That shop is practically a haven for writers and the delectable variety of drinks and noshes only make it better. The only downside is it’s about forty miles away. As much as I love Case Study and the amount of work I can blow through it’s not a journey I can make on a regular basis. There are a few shops closer to home that are very nice and possess a menu that is just as delectable, but they don’t have the right energy.

I should probably explain what I mean when I speak of energy. I’m not referring to it exclusively in scientific terms or even in the metaphysical way that a medium would – though, it’s probably closer to the way an acupuncturist perceives it. To put it in slightly more precise terms, I perceive energy in the way that stage actors do. A live audience in a theater participates in the performance a lot more than one would think. Every laugh, gasp, chuckle, tear, and ovation exudes energy. It’s something that actors rely on to make their performance extraordinary because they feed off it – literally. Why do they do it? Simple. Performances are draining. It doesn’t matter if it’s a comedy, drama, or musical. It takes a lot of energy to emote and leap about the stage every night. If an actor had to do it using just their own reserves, they’d be exhausted by the end of the night. They need the audience’s reactions and the energy those reactions transfer in order to monologue and not faint. In some ways it makes stage actors a lot like vampires (besides the fact that they favor dark recesses and are rarely seen during the day). If you talk to any stage actor, they’ll tell you that matinees are an anathema. Other than that performing during the day is unnatural, matinee audiences, for some little understood reason, rarely exude the same energy that evening audiences do. The result is that the performance isn’t as vigorous as normal and leaves the actors more drained as well.

Perhaps it’s the result of being on stage for so many years, but I find that writing is much the same. If I’m in a place where other people are writing, doodling, knitting, singing, or any other creative pursuit, I can produce far more and far better work than I can at home. I need that energy boost to type and not be brain dead. I can (and have on many occasions) slog through it for the sake of my budget. But there are days that I crave the high that comes from my fingers flying across the keys as I blaze through yet another chapter. And why shouldn’t I crave it? As far as addictions go, I could do far worse. At least I’m being productive and not self-destructive.

If you’re not an energy vampire, don’t dismay. We can’t all be the creative undead.

Just kidding.

In all seriousness, I only have my own experiences to go by in this. I haven’t heard of anyone else who works this way. Heck, I may be a lone weirdo, but that’s ok because this is the profession where doing what works for you is always a good thing.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Speak up please. I can’t hear you.

Earlier this week I told some friends that I finally started work on chapter 3 of the cyberpunk novel that might be turning a techno-thriller (more on that development later). I knew it was going to be tricky since not only was the chapter going to be from a POV that I haven’t written from yet, I’m also introducing an important supporting character and the villain. Normally that would be challenging enough, but there were a few more issues that compounded it. The first issue was time.

As I mentioned previously, it’s been almost two years since I wrote the first chapter – where both viewpoint characters are introduced. That meant that it’s been almost two years since I’ve heard his voice. I did reacquaint myself with his character in August when I did all of that outlining, but that’s not the same thing as getting reacquainted with his voice. At least it wasn’t for me. To me, knowing a character and how they view the world and knowing how they speak are two separate things -- the latter being a result of the former. However, until my brain has identified and latched onto that connecting link between the two, I can’t write from that POV.

The second issue is that until I have that instinctual connection with a character, I can’t make the other elements in the chapter as effective as they need to be. In this particular case, introducing two important characters and foreshadowing their roles with subtlety is not going to happen if I’m more focused whether or not the POV character would really say __________ that way or not.

This dilemma caught me off guard. I didn’t have this kind of trouble with my other POV character. After a quick review, I was able to jump right in and go. (Granted, that POV character tends to view everything with a cynical eye so it wasn’t that big of a stretch.) It took me a few days to realize that the real problem wasn’t so much that I didn’t remember how to write from the second character’s POV, it was that I’d forgotten how to make them sound different. Both characters are best friends and have very similar backgrounds: they’re the same ethnicity, went to the same schools, and work in similar fields. By any right, they should sound exactly the same. What made them individuals rather than twins were the deviations in their paths, the little unfortunate happenings that turned one into a cynic and the other into a foil of sorts. Once I had those events and differences in the forefront of my mind, I could finally hear them – both of them. It felt so good to have both of them in my head again. As an added victory bonus, they were having a crucial conversation. It was one that I’d outlined but hadn’t intended to write for a few weeks. Since a conversation was how I had initially cemented their voices in my mind in the first place, and the conversation they were having was one that I needed anyway, it made sense to skip ahead and write it down.

I find it funny that every time I’m having difficulty with a scene or a character, the problem isn’t that they’re not conveying to me what’s going on, the problem is that I’m not listening. I’m not paying attention to what’s most important to the story and/or the character. Knowing that I can always find the solution simply by shifting my focus is very comforting. Especially since the skill transfers well to my personal life.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How is a piano like a dictionary?

I had a revelation yesterday as I sat in the chapel. A member of the congregation played some beautiful prelude music while we waited for the final meeting to start. It was clear to everyone that he was very talented. The pieces he played were difficult variations of favorite LDS hymns but as I sat and observed, I noticed some things that made me dislike him. The first revelation was that there wasn't any sheet music on the stand. All he had was a hymnal. The beautiful runs and trills he played were improvised.

Completely. Disgusting.

My mom made me take piano lessons when I was little. Mom was a classically trained pianist and she wanted my siblings and I to have the same knowledge and appreciation of music. I quit playing when I was ten -- I hated practicing the jaunty ditties in the lesson books and was rarely allowed to play anything else -- but I still sat down and played a pop song or show tune when the mood struck me. I even improvised a bit once. The song I played that particular time was in a book that was missing the last few pages. It was one of my favorites so I figured I'd play what was there before I moved on to something else. It wasn't until I was about four bars off the page that I even realized I'd run out of music.

As much as I'd like to chalk off this gentleman's improvisations as a fluke in order to preserve my pride, I can't. A few bars can be a fluke but four songs in a row is the product of skill from decades of practice. It's a skill that I would possess if I hadn't quit. (Yes, there's a life lesson in that alone.)

The second thing I didn't like was that there was absolutely no dynamics. Every song was played at the same tempo (fast) and the same volume (loud). After the third song, I felt like I was listening to a bad techno album where every song used the same drum machine track. Despite his obvious skill, his lack of attention to this made me want to instantly write him off as an amateur.

I should probably back up a bit and mention that I'm a bit of a piano snob. I know that pianists laud Steinway, Schimmel, and Yamaha, but the only piano that holds a place in my heart is a Kawai grand. It's the brand my mom owns and subsequently, the instrument I learned on. It's also the brand of piano found in just about every LDS meeting house in the country. 

Why do I love the Kawai? It has a pure, clear, bright sound that isn't muffled like the Yamaha and it's a very sensitive instrument. On a lesser piano, it doesn't matter how hard you hit the keys, the sound is the same. But on a very good instrument, if you hit the keys hard, the sound is loud. If you press lightly on the keys, the sound is soft and tenuous. Sometimes, if you use the slowest and slightest of touches it produces no sound at all. A person that was less snobbish than I would argue that you can get the same effect from the dampening pedals (for those that don't know, that would be the two on the left). But an aficionado would tell you that any pianist worth their salt rarely uses the dampening pedals. Instead, they prefer the freedom of expression that can only be found on a sensitive instrument.

Because of the musical education my mom imparted to my siblings and I, I understand the power of dynamics. By changing the tempo and/or volume you can add emotion to a piece of music. When classical music lovers talk about expression, what they're really talking about is the musician's ability to use dynamics to tweak the piece and inject some personality without changing a single note. When you use dampening pedals the sound softens instantly in a pre-measured interval. But there are times when you don't want to dampen it that much. That's when the instrument's capabilities come in because you can control that interval. Instead of one big jump in the sound level, you can increase and decrease the sound by the minutest degree.

If you want to hear the difference, here's a couple links:

Moonlight Sonata Mvt. 3 at standard tempo

Moonlight Sonata Mvt. 3 with more dynamics

By not taking advantage the Kawai's full range, this gentleman wasted an opportunity to be truly brilliant. It marked him as a hobbyist instead of a master.

I've found that writers have the same flexibility and range of expression with language. Like a master pianist, a skilled writer can pull a reader's heartstrings, make their pulse quicken, or even make them cry with the power of the written word. Perhaps it's a developing linguistic snobbery, but I feel that as writers we have a responsibility to use language to our full advantage. It's our artistic privilege. Why should we just tell a story when we can take people on a journey? I've heard some writers criticize those who "waste time" searching for the perfect word. Instead of criticizing them, we should applaud their dedication. They knew what effect they wanted and didn't rest until the the precise tool that could accomplish it was found.

Artistry shouldn't be vilified.

So what if it took them a few hours or a few drafts? No one criticizes a pianist that practices the same (musical) phrase over and over again. No one expects them to sight read a piece and perform it perfectly. Likewise, we shouldn't be afraid to consult a thesaurus or a dictionary on a regular basis. Language is our instrument and we need to fully understand its capabilities so we can take a lovely tale and turn it into something glorious.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Expendable expectations

Last year, a friend made me sit down and watch The Expendables. I didn't see it in the theaters because it looked like a poorly written excuse for aging action stars to draw a paycheck. After watching it, I discovered that I was right on all counts. Yes, the explosions were awesome, but the cliche "I'm badder than you" dialogue sounded like backstage trash talk at a body building competition (and not just because Arnold was there). So, when I saw the sequel last week, I went with the expectation that it was going to be about the same, just on a slightly larger scale since they added a few more action stars.

I was wrong.

It was better!

Expendables 2 had everything I was hoping for in the first movie (namely, a plot that didn't revolve around everyone whipping out their junk to compare size) and more. Instead of cliche "I'm going to rip your head off and feed it to you" dialogue between explosions, it had gut-wrenching plot twists and the allusion that the Expendables aren't just a band of rogue misfits, but an actual business. The film also didn't take itself too seriously. The witty banter was delightful, the cold war references were perfect, and the Chuck Norris ex machina was awesome!

So, other than a few well executed plot twists and timely comebacks, why was it better? For one, they hired better writers. The first movie was written by Sylvester Stallone and David Callaham. I don't know if Sylvester did any of the writing or if he was more of a consultant, but it's pretty easy to lay the blame for the first Expendables movie's foibles at the door of David Callaham. The most recognizable title in his credits is Doom -- not the game, but the movie that no one wants to admit to have watched because it was that bad. For the second movie, they hired Ken Kaufman, one of the gents responsible for Space Cowboys. If anyone could be trusted to write scenes that cater to the abilities of talented but aging actors and entertain audiences, it's him. He knew exactly what buttons to push and he wasn't afraid to do it.

The second reason was that like a good book, the opening sequence set the stage perfectly. As soon as I saw the team bust into the village A-Team style in vehicles labeled "shock and awe" and "coming soon" with a steel battering ram labeled "knock knock", I had an expectation of what kind of film this was going to be and it was a promise that was fulfilled at every step.The Cold War references gave all of us old enough to remember a shiver while keeping us in the present by pointing out the unforeseen consequences of the fall of the Iron Curtain. If nothing else, this alone makes the film worth studying because that's a difficult balancing act. They had to explain enough for younger viewers to understand the situation, while not boring the rest of us with a deluge of facts that we already know.

However, I think that the best thing that the writers did was not trying to pay homage to the cast's notable past roles by re-creating scenes. Rather, they gave Van Damme a chance to sneak in a round house kick, Chuck Norris got to tell a Chuck Norris joke, and Schwarzenegger and Willis exchanged catch phrases. Each moment was subtly slipped in so that it was a pleasant surprise, full of win, that didn't detract from the scene. (Speaking of win, that shot of Liam Hemsworth running up a hill with a fully loaded pack = drool!) They didn't insult our intelligence and while there were more gun fights than fist fights, the pacing was fast enough that you didn't mind the imbalance.

The writers knew what we expected and realized that even though the title was expendable, our expectations weren't. They knew that ultimately this wasn't a movie for the twenty-something college crowd. Yes, a lot of twenty-somethings saw and liked the film. Guys like Couture and Statham are (in my opinion) in there for them, but at the end of the day, this movie was for the people of my generation and my parents' generation. This was for the moms and dads that ate JiffyPop while they watched rented VHS tapes of Die Hard and The Terminator after the kids were in bed. It was for the big brothers that ran around the back yard with red bandanas tied around their foreheads. It was for the little boys that broke a lamp trying to imitate their favorite scenes from Bloodsport and The Way of the Dragon. Expendables 2 was the dream match that we would have paid a fortune to see in the 80s and for one reason or another, didn't get until now. As a girl that grew up watching these kick-ass action films, I must say that it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Monkey-throwing Wrench

It seems that there is a never ending list of demands our time. The day job(s), significant others, religious observations, friends, co-workers, kids, housework, yard work, laundry, honey-do lists, and so on. It's a difficult balancing act -- one that even a Chinese acrobatic team would struggle with.

We all know that old saying that "you can't please all of the people all of the time" but somehow that never stops us from trying. We want to make our family happy, have a clean and orderly home, and still have time for our hobbies and pursuits. It doesn't help that being a writer is so time consuming. I know several authors who attribute their success to an understanding spouse who was willing to take the lion's share of the duties. But what do you do if, like me, you don't have a spouse and aren't likely to have one in the foreseeable future because the average member of the opposite sex thinks you're too weird for words? How do you cope when a monkey throws a wrench into your day and screws everything up? Or in my case, it's usually a wrench throwing monkeys into my day (they're far more dangerous because an airborne monkey does a lot more damage than an airborne wrench).

Well, becoming a workaholic has been effective for me, but I can't keep that up indefinitely. I have no desire to work myself into an early grave and all work and no play makes for a very cranky Kim. There's always the option of saying "to hell with it", but that won't put me on the NYT bestseller list or make my living space, well, livable. So, where is the middle ground?

That's an answer that has eluded me for some time. Just when I think I've found just the right balance, I discover (or remember) something else that I somehow have to make room for. Currently, the wrench that is throwing monkeys into my plan (and the reason for this week's topic) is college football. I'm a University of Oregon fan and I love my Ducks. I've told myself that it's only for three or four months that I'd be slacking off on writing and that I can make up the pages in the offseason. But if I use that excuse now, I'll use it for other things and that's a consequence that I can't live with. Being a writer requires vigilance and dedication. So, what's a fan girl to do?


It's not a perfect plan, but it is a plan. So far, most of the games have taken place while I'm at work so I haven't had any other option. On the plus side, I can use the recorded game as a reward for reaching my weekly word goal and still be a respectable fan girl. I don't have a plan worked out for live games. I could use the same motivation but if I don't make my word goal, I'd have to sequester myself in another room and listen to the rest of the family cheer. I may be slightly masochistic, but I'm not into self-torture. I wouldn't be able to resist the lure of the game for very long. In the past, I've allowed myself a night off every once in a while to kick back and relax or to chase the dust bunny that's been haunting me, but to take every Saturday night (and the occasional Thursday) off smacks of habit.

(Sigh) I could go round and round about this all day and in the end, I'd be no closer to a perfect solution. I like having a reliable routine that's monkey proof and I'm starting to doubt that such a thing exists. Either that or the wrenches are spying on me and are very good at developing anti-monkey proof plan technology. (Wow, that sounds incredibly crazy.)

I suppose that doing our best really is the most we can do. It sounds a bit defeatist to acknowledge that you'll never completely rid yourself of monkeys but I guess that's life. Right? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Idea overloaditis

As I mentioned last month, I worked on the outline for my cyberpunk series. I spent the entire month doing research, brainstorming, and establishing cannon just so I could throw out half of my outline at the end of it. That's bad enough, but it gets worse. It wasn't the original outline that I threw out, that's still there, it's the new half of the outline that I had to throw out. Some of my friends and Facebook followers already know a bit about this but I'll explain for the rest of you. You see, after a month of deep immersion, I had a bad case of idea overloaditis. I was so distracted and wowed by the cool world I was creating that I had too many ideas and I couldn't tell the difference between the good and the mediocre.

 I've suffered from idea overloaditis before but not quite to this extent. The last time I had it I was writing the YA novel and it set me back six months. That's why I intentionally gave myself the entire month of August to contract and recover from it. Plus, since I was just outlining, the damage was negligible. It's much easier to cut three pages of an outline than 30K of a novel.

So, how did I separate the wheat from the chaff? Simple. I wrote the back copy.

I know a few of you raised your eyebrows at that, but you should know by now that there's always a method to the madness.In the back copy you have to boil down that pot of cool ideas to a teaspoon of awesome.  I know that most authors save that for last, but by writing the back copy while I'm outlining, I can focus on the best ideas and discard the rest. It also gives me a great opportunity to get potential reader feedback. My original outline boiled down to this:

"Badger used to be one of the best Ghost hackers around. People paid her millions to hack into corporate and government systems and make their dirty little secrets public. But after a routine job that nearly took her life, she turned her back on the business and people she loved, and disappeared. 

Now as Mara Jeffries, s

he has a carefully constructed life in Seattle. Life is peaceful and she wants to keep it that way. But a desperate message from an old friend threatens to destroy that.

Mara has to make a choice. She can keep her peaceful existence, but at the cost of her best friend’s life. However, if she steps in to help, not only will she have to don the mantle of Badger once more, but the web of secrets she’ll have to unravel may kill her.

It was a lot of blah and "I've seen that before", which was exactly the feedback I got. The above story was going to turn the glorified lovechild of "The Amazing Race" and "Alias". Not cool. However, since I finally had a clue (thanks to the feedback) as to which ideas were mediocre, I went back and tweaked it into this:

"When Kai Tanabe was invited to join The Nexus, he accepted without hesitation. But, the cost of enlisting was much greater than he could have anticipated. He needs to get out fast and only one person can help him do that…

Badger used to be one of the best 

Ghost hackers around. After a routine hack went horribly wrong she turned her back on the business and people she loved. Six years later, as Mara Jeffries, she has a carefully constructed life in Seattle. However, a desperate call from an old friend forces her to return to the life she left behind.

The only way she can get to Kai is to join the Nexus herself. However, once inside, she quickly discovers that the only one of them will be able to get out

This wasn't much of a tweak -- the second paragraph was from the original -- and the bit about Kai, while not mentioned in the first draft of the back copy, was in the original outline. The last paragraph is what caused me to throw out half of my outline because it completely changed the direction of the story. No more "Alias Race". I ended up moving events from book 1 (the best parts of the global journey) to book 2 and my entire outline for book 2 to book 1. The resulting story is one that I'm pretty proud of and am excited to write. The best part of this experience was that not only did I get a stronger book, but all of the changes were still within my overall arc for the series. (I didn't have to alter cannon! Huzzah!) Plus, I was able to keep my whiz-bang finish.

Speaking of which, I should go write so I can get to said whiz-bang finish sooner rather than later.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Reading with new eyes

This week one of my co-workers asked me "does being a writer make it harder to enjoy reading a book?"

I had to think about this one for a minute because in some regards, the answer is yes, and in others it's no. I've always been a picky reader and if it can be believed, I've become more picky. It's harder for me to read a badly written book. There are authors whose books I used to devour (I'm not mentioning names) that I just can't pick up anymore. In the past I'd only give up on a book if it was historically inaccurate or really boring. Now, it could be because of a potential plot twist that never happened, unimaginative phrasing, or poor characterization. For the authors whose books I can't read anymore, their ability hasn't decreased, rather my ability to see how it could've been written better has increased. Before, if a book was boring, that was the end of it. Now, I can identify exactly where, and more importantly, why it lost my attention.

Back in "the old days", before I became a writer, when a book tugged my heartstrings and kept my attention, it went straight onto my "love it" list. Now, not only does it have to have that same resonance,  it also needs beautiful prose, clever world building, and delicate foreshadowing to make the list. In the past couple years only a handful of books have made it on the "love it" list and I'm okay with that because the titles that made the cut are stellar works. A couple of them (Wise Man's Fear and The Way of Kings) even gave me a panic attack because they were so beautifully written and I was convinced that there was no way I'd be able to match their skill.

In many ways, this is just like my Wolverton-given ability to pick apart movies. When a book isn't  catching my attention, I can identify why it's failing and learn from it. Conversely, when a book is giving me a professional panic attack, it's because I'm enjoying the author's skill on multiple levels. It's pretty cool. To quote the Apostle Paul, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)" The more I read and the more I write, the more I learn. My vision and understanding of the craft is increasing on multiple levels and it's wonderful.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The G-word

There are a few words in the English language that make a shiver of revulsion travel down my spine every time I encounter them. Some are innocuous words like romance, pink, and Valentine that for one reason or another have a negative association. A few only make me cringe when spoken by someone with a particular accent. For example, folks from a particular corner of Washington state say "warsh" instead of "wash." There are other words that are more obviously objectionable like the F-bomb. However, there is one word that has always been able to make my stomach churn.



I don't know why this word sends me into a fit. It's not the word's fault. In fact, it's a perfectly fine word. One that I celebrate during sporting events. (Goaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!) But those positive associations seem to vanish the second I leave the arena.

Why is that?

Perhaps it's because I had to fill out so many goal lists in school that I have a trained aversion. They are one of those things that we never see the usefulness of until we're adults. Or maybe it's because once I've taken the time to set them, I feel obligated to follow through? Hmmm. Could it be that simple? Could my fear of failure cast an unnecessary pall on what should be a good and noble word? Perhaps. They are kinda like New Year resolutions and pirate laws. They're only made to be broken.

Regardless of the reason, I haven't let my aversion prevent me from setting them. I just use other words in its place: promise, objective, benchmark, deadline, thing-that-I-must-do-before-I-die. I also have a pretty awesome incentive program to ensure that I don't forget why I want to accomplish them.

My ultimate (gulp!) goal is to be a NYT bestseller. I know. It's a lofty aspiration, but it's certainly not unreachable and it is what I ultimately want. Besides, I figure I'm never going to become a bestseller if I don't try. As a daily reminder, I have these on my bookshelf.

These are the Matchbox versions of two of my favorite cars. The silver one is a 2010 Nissan GTR and the black one is a 2011 Audi R8. (For those of you who aren't motor heads, they're really fast, really sexy, and really expensive cars.) When I reach the top 10 of the NYT (I say when, not if because I'm trying to think positive) I'm going to buy myself one of these cars. It'll most likely be the Audi because I fell in love with the real one at the Portland Auto Show. I named it and everything!  :)

Behold, Excaliber!

While the Matchbox cars are pretty effective, let me tell you, nothing will put a fire under your ass faster than coming face to face with the object of your desire. (Especially when said object is a smoking hot V10 convertible.) When I saw Excaliber, I was finishing the first draft of my YA novel. I'd been writing at NANO speeds for three months in order to finish it by my self-imposed deadline and was really burned out. But all of my creative fatigue disappeared when saw her gleaming carbon fiber and titanium alloy. The cruel fence that sepererated us only made me want her more. I was so close and yet so far away. The symbolism of the moment was quite poetic. It made me re-evaluate my feelings on the G-word. I can call it what I want at the end of the day but my promises, objectives, benchmarks, deadlines, and things-that-I-must-do-before-I-die are at their heart, still goals. Those goals and subsequent rewards have kept me going for the past two years and will continue to fuel my determination as I inch toward achievement. That night I realized that as long I felt that fire, I couldn't be defeated by publishers, bad reviews, depression, or really, anything. I am an unstoppable force.

In the immortal words of Wayne Campbell, "She will me mine. Oh yes, she will be mine."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Can I rephrase your question?

I’m fortunate to have a league of friends and associates that like to keep tabs on how my work in progress is coming along. It’s wonderful being surrounded by people who are as excited to know a writer, as I am to be one. However, some of their questions perplex me. One of the questions I hear most often is “how is your novel coming along?” It’s a pretty standard question and I have no problems answering it. But it’s also a question that is a bit more complicated than these individuals realize.

I always have at least one work in progress. Usually it’s a primary project and two or three side projects. The primary project is the one with the deadline (self-imposed at this point) and the side projects are various stories and series that I’m playing around with or still developing. Most of my time and creative energy is spent on the primary project and when I need a short break to clear my brain I’ll spend a few hours on one of the secondary projects. The primary project also the only one I talk openly about.

Until recently, there’s been only one novel that I've been public about.  But I finished the first draft of said novel in January and the edits in April. I was so excited and proud of myself that I announced it to the whole world. My friends should know that “the novel” is complete and that I'm on to the next. If they asked "are you going to publish it" that would make more sense. So why are they still asking about "the novel's" progress? Is it habit? Do they doubt that I actually did it? Is their memory so faulty that they don’t remember? I’m willing to write off a few repetitive questions to faulty memory, but not all of them. A few of the update seekers are that spacey, but not all of them; which still leaves me wondering why are they asking for a status update on a finished project?

I can't help wondering if it’s because of how non-writers view the craft. I suspect that these individuals think the creation of a novel is an insurmountable task that can never be finished. Whether this pre-conceived notion is conscious or not, I don’t know. Either way, it would certainly color their perception. To use last week’s jigsaw analogy, it’s as if they think there are an infinite number of pieces to be placed. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that the puzzle only has a thousand pieces and that all of them are in place, they still think there are more hidden in the box.

Obviously, writing a novel is not an insurmountable task (shelves, both physical and cyber, are overflowing with the proof) and I don’t think it’s a reflection of any doubt that they have in me. They are my friends after all. I think what it’s actually a reflection of is doubts they have of their own abilities. Because writing a novel is something they believe they could never do or even aspire to do, they think that no one in their social circles can either. Even that would be too much to aspire to.

That’s an incredibly depressing thought. I'd like to think that my friends have a more positive outlook, but I'm not so sure. I hope that I’m wrong for their sake.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Jigsaw Novel

This past weekend I took a couple of days off of outlining the new series. Work had left me completely  drained and I really needed the break. I put together a jigsaw puzzle that I bought earlier in the month, while I watched the Olympics. As I was assembling it I had an interesting thought:

"Writing a novel is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle."

No really, it is. Think about it. Inside of the box there's a fragmented image. You know from the picture  what the finished image is, but when you look at all of those small, irregular pieces it's hard to see how a streak of brown on a field of green is part of a leaf. Is that flash of gold part of the knight's gilded armor or the fair maiden's locks? Is that white speckled grey piece the spray at the foot of a waterfall or part of the dappled mare drinking at the edge of the pool?It's a complete mystery. Only when you dive in (to the puzzle, not the pool) and start testing the fit that you understand what each speck and smudge belongs to. There's also no one correct method of assembly. Yes, there's only one way for the pieces to go together (unless you're doing an Impossibles, but I digress), it doesn't matter if you start with an interesting bit in the middle or the border, the end result is the same.

Now, I should clarify that I'm not talking about the 25 piece puzzles that you put together as a kid. I'm talking about the 500 - 1000 piece monsters that take up the entire dining room table, a few days to assemble, and cause you to shout profanities at the cat when they walk across it.

Personally, I'm a border starting girl. I like knowing what parameters I have to work within and exactly how big it's going to be when it's done. I also have to have all of the pieces in front of me, face up. I know what sections of the image I'm going to work on first, second, third, and last -- I usually save the most difficult and tedious part for last. But once I've started, it becomes an obsession. Every spare minute is spent scanning the pieces and waiting for that "aha!" moment when I find the piece with the right squiggles and curves to fit the hole that's been bugging me for the past hour. I'll even forgo checking my e-mail (gasp!) in order to have a few more minutes to work on it.

Sometimes the cacophony is too much and I have to walk away for a short while or view the pieces from a different angle in order to make any sense of it (I find that upside down works the best). Occasionally I'm tempted to give up and throw the whole lot back in the box and I have to remind myself that I've come too far and spent too much time on this to quit now. Usually within a short time my perseverance pays off and victory is mine.

And you know what? My writing process is exactly the same (minus the upside down viewing). I do preliminary research and outline so I know what parameters I have to work within. All of my notes on what the finished piece should be are at my fingertips at all times. Whenever something doesn't work out the way I thought, I go back to my notes and look them over until that "aha!" moment arrives and when I feel discouraged I remind myself that I've spent too much time and energy on this to simply quit. Then last but not least, when the final words are in place I can look at the finished product, reflect on the journey, and say "yeah, I did that."

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, August 6, 2012

The method behind the madness

It's kinda funny that every time I start a new story, I realize how little I know about a particular subject. It doesn't matter if I can carry a conversation about said subject, the moment I sit down and outline, it either flies out of my brain or I discover that a working knowledge just isn't enough. I'm currently working on the outline for my cyberpunk series and for this particular project, the latter is true.

I originally started work on it in December of 2010. I was bouncing between four books back then and while I spent most of my time on my primary project (the YA fantasy), I worked on one of the others when I needed a break. I thought that I had all of the worldbuilding in place and the outline filled in enough that I could at least get started on the first few chapters. But when I read through my notes, I realized that not only had I left a lot unfinished, but I hadn't checked facts on a lot of the tech. In fact, when I realized how much research I'd need to do, I just about had a heart attack. It's going to take most of the month to complete the outline.

Now, I know a few of you are shouting "No! Don't get bogged down with research! Write the book and do all of that later."

As much as I'd like to, I can't. If the information I was missing was how much recoil a gun has or the average airspeed of an unladen swallow, than yeah, I could look that up later. But the things I need to check are along the lines of "can silicone even do that?" and "that's a great gadget, but how are you going to power it?" You know, essential things. I can't justify writing a scene, let alone many scenes, that rely on a gadget that may not even be feasible. It's a waste of time and creative energy. It's better to work out the details now. Besides, in the process of figuring all of this out, I'll gain a better  understanding of what can and can't be done with the gadget so I can use it more effectively in the story.

See? There is a method to my madness.

There's also a passion behind my madness. I mentioned back in June (Just the Facts, Mam) that I love it when authors do their homework. Now, I'm not going to spend two years on research like Diana Gabaldon does. I like doing research, but not that much.

You see, it all goes back to that oft repeated advice: Know yourself.

I know I have a tendency to do too much research and to even stop writing so I can look something up. That's why I gave myself the month to finish researching and outlining. This will force me to focus on finding the answers that I need so I don't get lost in the bowl full of deliciousness that is link salad. This is the first time I've tried this tactic so we'll see how well I actually follow through on this, but it should work because I hate missing deadlines.

Side note: I apologize for the irregularity of my posts lately. Summer is my busy season and I've been running ragged for the past few weeks. Instead of updating the blog every Friday, I'm going to do it on Mondays now. I tend to have more free time on Mondays so that should help me get back on track. Thanks for bearing with me!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Plot Nazis at Midnight

Staying up inordinately late seems to be a new habit. (Be assured that it’s being formed out of necessity and not will.) Wednesday night, after having dinner with some Canadian friends, I had a long conference with Tracy Erickson concerning my final edit of a recently finished short story. If you’ve ever been to a book signing at Powell’s or scanned the comments on an author’s Facebook page (including mine), chances are you’ve run into him. Tracy has a keen eye for what a story is lacking and isn’t afraid to tell you. He’s the kind of alpha reader that I searched high and low for. (Tracy, don’t let that go to your head. :P)

When I finished my YA fantasy I found myself in a scary place. I had a manuscript in need of critique and no Alpha readers. I’d never edited a manuscript. How was I to know the difference between what I thought was terrible and what actually was terrible? Left to my own devices, I probably would’ve tossed 75% of the manuscript.

I sent it my writing group, and their critiques were wonderful (as always), but I needed more than three opinions on it. To be more specific, I needed opinions from people who hadn’t read any of the previous drafts. I couldn’t expect my writing group to be objective about my worldbuilding when they know all the bits I cut out. Yes, I could’ve hired an editor. However, there’s no way I was going to be able to afford it. (I work two jobs so I can afford to live with my mother.) Besides, my legion of friends were more than willing. Perfect! So, I sent my manuscript to a couple dozen friends and eagerly awaited their constructive criticism.

I know some of you are groaning right now, and you’re right. It’s far from a perfect plan. But in their defense, most of them followed through.

In my experience, new Alpha readers fall into three categories:

1. Plot Nazi
2. Church Lady
3. “I’m an illusionist!”

Lets start at the bottom. The third category is the vanishing category. They are the friends that are really excited to read the story, but as soon as they receive the manuscript, the excitement disappears like an airplane on a David Copperfield special. There were a few people that misjudged the time commitment this was, or life happened and they just never got around to it...

Regardless of the reason, I never heard back from them and I’m ok with that. I understand why they didn’t do it and I still love them. I’m just not going to send them further manuscripts.

The second category is where a lot of my friends fall. They have good things to say, however it’s usually a variation of “I really liked it” or “you’re so talented. I wish I could write a book like that.”  That’s great, but it doesn’t help improve the manuscript. Call me crazy, but I can’t honestly believe that my manuscript is perfect after one cursory edit. A few of them did point out a few misplaced words and the occasional confusing passage. However, in all, it’s not enough to make me eager to seek out their help in the future. (Sorry guys)

The first category is the most precious and rare. This is where Tracy and my writing group fall. They scrutinize every paragraph for any imperfection. They catch mistakes and oversights that, for one reason or another, I missed in my first pass and they’re not afraid to tell me when a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole chapter needs to be tossed. When something works, they give me a high five and I do a happy dance.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I cater my writing to please my Plot Nazis. I don’t. Rather, I meditate on their comments. What can I say? I’m Japanese. It’s in my nature to do so. We’re genetically and culturally predisposed to seek out perfection in everything we do. If we do something wrong, we want to know why so we can fix it and prevent it from happening again. If we do something right, we want to know why so we can do it every time.

To phrase it in a more Zen-like manner, we yearn for wisdom with every breath.

The wisdom I extracted from these breaths was not only a greater understanding of my friends and who I can count on for what, but a greater understanding of my writing. I’m starting to see the difference between what I think is wrong and what actually is. I’m getting better at identifying a darling that needs to be killed and one that needs to be preserved at all costs. And when I have a specific problem, I know who to turn to in order to find the solution.

Thank you, Tracy, for being the Plot Nazi I needed in the middle of the night. 

(That, you can let go to your head) :)