Writing Excuses: retrofitting structure

Writing Excuses is one of the only podcasts I listen to. I like to explain it to my friends thusly: “THEY JUST KEPT TALKING AND I WANTED THEM TO GET TO THE POINT.” My friends usually roll their eyes.

Most podcasts are about an hour long and make me want to tear out my hair. One, two, or occasionally three people will ramble on about some subject or another for the whole duration. It makes me want to eat hearts. I become Baba Yaga in the wood. I whirl about and grab the reins of my chicken hut and ride into the sunset.

Honestly, I hate podcasts. If I want to be talked at by people, I’ll go to work at my dayjob. Otherwise I’m just as happy to read a book. I guarantee I can read faster than you talk.

That said, I love Writing Excuses. What’s interesting about this podcast is that it is a) exclusively focused on writing and writing techniques, b) really short, which makes me happy, and c) is in a conversational format that allows for insight. All of the participants (regularly, the podcast includes Dan Wells, Mary Robinette-Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Johnson) come from diverse parts of the writing world. They have experience teaching the craft, but very different opinions about some parts of it. It’s not two people in an echo chamber, nor is it a boring interview. It’s a group of people having healthy conversation (albeit probably somewhat rehearsed) about what techniques they use to make their writing good.

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Gushing is now over, I swear.

Recently, I was listening to an episode from Season 12 entitled “Retrofitting Structure into a First Draft.” I always have a hard time with determining where a first draft begins and a zero draft or second draft ends. The finals are easy to clarify, mostly, but for the purposes of this podcast I think it’s healthy to disregard the “First Draft” moniker. Instead, the conversation is about retrofitting structure of your draft when you know something is broken.

Case in point: a few years ago now (wow, how time flies) I finished what I affectionately call The Zombie Book at a time when many were saying that the zombie genre was dead. Putting aside whether or not a genre can die, this book was my favorite thing. I loved it deeply. Nothing I have written since has filled me with quite as much joy, actually, at least of the maniacal kind. The main character is a rather unstable middle-aged woman who could easily be a supervillain but somehow finds herself helping out with a ragtag band of people saving the world from an apocalypse that’s sort of their fault. It was lots of fun to write, and I still hold out hopes that it will find a home in a publishing house somewhere. I hear zombies and their ilk are making a comeback. A resurrection, even.

Bad humor aside, I loved this book. I hated the ending. It felt like a good ending in that it set up some things for a sequel. It brought some of the various plots I had been playing with to a solid close and opened up some new ones. Sequel material, in other words. Perfect. But it didn’t jive. It didn’t quite feel right.

Listening to this episode of Writing Excuses helped me to figure out exactly why that was. I didn’t quite keep my promises to my readers. There was a tonal shift.

In any case, I’m very excited to perform the activity in this podcast and fix that problem. Hopefully listening to this episode will give you some insight as well.

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The last Book of the Raksura

It is a bittersweet season, because into this season has come the last of the Books of the Raksura.*

I discovered these books several years ago, and they remain one of my favorites of all time. Shapeshifting? Check. Sweet aerial lizard-people battles? Check. Awesome emotional tension? Check. Gender-bending? Hells yes. Basically it’s everything I’d expect from a Martha Wells story and more.

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I first read a story by Martha Wells when I was a preteen/teen (not sure exactly) exploring the local library.** Our little library actually had a pretty eclectic collection of books, including such obscure and slightly disturbing texts as Richard Adam’s Maia as well as classics like Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar series. In the corner, near the end of the adult fantasy section (I had already consumed the vast majority of the YA and children’s books that would catch my fancy) was a narrow, hardcover book. It was called The Wheel of the Infinite, and I recognized the mandala on the cover from my father’s own nonfiction treatises on the subject. I brought it home.

And then I consumed it, ravenously. Even at the time, I recognized that I was reading something groundbreaking, something I could love forever.

The library had a few more books from Martha Wells’ long career, and I flew through them quickly. Then, being a girl and unaware of my ability to order more books that they may or may not have had, I moved on to other sections. As the years passed, I mostly forgot about Wells and her work, buried under other books – Kushiel’s Legacy series was a great favorite, as were the Dresden Files and A Song of Ice and Fire. I scribbled more and more stories, hoping to emulate those I admired, but nothing that ever amounted to anything until 2009, when the death of my grandmother gave me determination. In 2010, I took that determination with me to the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

At a panel, on what I no longer remember, I saw a thin, dark-haired woman with a name that sounded vaguely familiar. Wells talked about her books, as authors do on panels, and something lit up inside my head. I remembered the books I had loved years ago, and walked up to thank her for writing them. I think she was vaguely nonplussed that it had been so long since I had read any of them and I was still trying to talk to her, but I’m not sure I would have known what to do in that situation either. It can’t be easy to have an aspiring writer walk up and pounce on you post-panel.

In any case, I promptly went home and downloaded all of her books. And that is how I found the Tales of the Raksura, and Moon and Stone and Jade. Malachite, one of my favorites, came much later. I have been reading these books for seven years, and re-reading them when I need a pick-me-up and the world seems heavy. They feel like a hug and a warm blanket. They feel like a happily ever after, every time. Now, I have finished the last novel, at least foreseeably, that will be set in this world. Moon is home with Jade, and hopefully they will have many little baby Moons to fill up their mountain tree. I couldn’t be happier for them.

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And honestly, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

This year, I am going back to World Fantasy Convention, this time in San Antonio. I’m going because I have projects to pitch. I’m going because it’s in the city where my brother lives and I’ll get to visit him. But mostly I’m going because Martha Wells is Toastmaster, and I hope that I will get to see her and say thank you with a little more specificity this time.

 

*That is, unless you follow Martha Wells’ Patreon, where tiny snippets may be birthed in perpetuity. I hold out for a novella about Moon’s little babies and the Sky Copper clutch as they hit adolescence.

**I’m happy to say that my book Mother of Creation now sits on the shelves alongside the many happy tomes that I read as a child.

Big news, self-care, internal screaming

You may realize that I have a lot of things generally going on in my life.

I suspect this is a personality issue. I get bored, so I sign on for more stuff, and then I get overwhelmed. It might also be just a life issue – everyone is busy, as far as I can tell, and it gets exponentially worse when you are both busy and passionate and excitable.*

I’ve been sinking the ship recently (again) with regards to self-care (or self care, which seems more proper but less purposeful in typographical nature). This has led to some general body image issues and so many migraines that it’s starting to feel normal to have one every third day. Obviously not a great mental health place to be in, much less physical health.

Anyway, add to all of this some major life events the past two weeks. S.O.’s birthday kicked things off, which was super stressful for me for I don’t know what reason – probably because I thought I had to make everything perfect, since he turned thirty this year. Then the S.O.’s grandmother passed away this past weekend, which was not unexpected but was, as all such things, sad. There was lots of funerary stuff to get through, which is draining, though I’m sure it was worse for him. But Sunday evening a very exciting thing happened.

We found a house.

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We’ve been looking for a year so it’s about damn time. A bid went in, and we’ve been negotiating, and that means we have to move. By September 7th.

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So I am a little freaked out. A little. Luckily the house is not far from where we live now so if worse comes to worse I can walk shit over in a wagon. Seriously, not far. And it’s beautiful.

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So anyway, with all that happening I’m straddling this weird place between mental self-care (reading books to get away from my emotion-tornado) and physical self-care (running and stuff, which can sometimes help my emotion-tornado but is not my drug of choice). The balance is not necessarily going well, but we’ll get there probably.

At this point I think it’s realistic for me to scream in a corner.

 

*Really, I wish I could chill out sometimes and not be so passionate about so many things. But there it is.

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Remember how it was the S.O.’s birthday at some point recently, and he is a huge fan of The Fifth Element? Well, he saw the trailer for Valerian and decided he wanted to see it, so off we went to the theater.

I didn’t go into this movie with a lot of expectations, honestly. Thank goodness, because I was a disappointed even with the low expectations I had. This movie actually reminded me the most of M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation. It was sprawling, tried to fit too much into one film, had terrible pacing, and generally made no sense. Also, it was sexist, but I expected that.

Spoilers, if you care. For the record, if I hadn’t made it clear, you should not watch this movie for the plot, but for the world (which was interesting), the visuals (which were awesome), and the ideas (which were undeveloped but had potential). If you’re looking for a good story, look elsewhere. It is my opinion that you could know the whole plot of the movie and possibly enjoy it more, since you could watch it for the technical bits of the filming and CGI and never hope for emotional impact.

Continue reading “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

Some things

I’ve been really tied up with dayjob stuff recently, and I know that is hurting my ability to give you good blog content. Fear not! There are some interesting projects coming down the pike.

For example, I’m working on putting together an IRL monthly reading group where we will read one book or novella a month that is “feminist”. For the purposes of this group I am looking at feminist to mean that it was written by a woman and/or has an engaged and diverse cast of characters and/or directly deals with feminist issues and themes. It’s a broad definition. (We’ll be working to include WOC in this as well.) I imagine that you will see posts regarding the stories in question and some of the conversations we have at these sessions as they get off the ground. Our first meeting date will be in August, so look for more information then.

In other news, I will be going to see VALERIAN (the S.O. wants to go, and I’ve hard the graphics are great). We’ll see how I like it. Maybe there will be a review post! ATOMIC BLONDE is also coming out soon and I am oh so ready.

I also spammed and finished The Last Airbender over the past few weeks, which means I’ve been taking up most of my reading time with watching. I know I’m late to that party, but it was really good. It gave me a lot to think about with regards to well-handled multi-POV plot pacing. I think it’s going to be really helpful as I move into re-outlining and further tweaking DoM.

Recent reads included finishing Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, which I have….mixed feelings about. Her words are beautiful, as always. The story made me sad though, which was probably the intention. I don’t quite know what to do with all that.

I also finished Jackalope Wives and other tales by T. Kingfisher and, as always, I freaking love her stories. Just really, really good. Like I cannot even tell you how good. I was messaging a friend throughout being like “this is what I want to write!!! How does she do it??”

The novelette is out to beta readers, and so far everyone seems to like it, which is awesome. On a personal front, it’s birthday season for the extended family, which, in addition to dayjob overtime, has been throwing a wrench in my getting-things-done mojo. Seriously, it seems like everyone I know was born in the summer sometimes.

I’ll tune in soon with some more fun stuff, but for now I’m going to go collapse in an exhausted heap and recover my mojo.

 

Resolutions and execution

Friends, as of two weeks ago we were halfway through 2017 and I realized that it’s probably about time to check on how I’m doing with my New Year’s Resolutions. So here they are, and here’s some reflection on how well I’ve met my goals.

  1. To make this marriage thing stick. To get the wedding plans planned and then let it go to be what it will be. To continue to remember that relationships are work and require cherishing just like any other small, precious, hopeful thing. Remember that time I got married? I did that. It was awesome. It’s like getting to know one another again right now in some ways. So much of our lives were on hold for the wedding, and now there’s free brain-power to figure out what’s next. But I think we’re doing pretty well with it, so I’m marking this one off.
  2. To find us a home and plant it with flowers and fruit and all good things. To experiment with growing sweet potatoes and lemon trees and mangoes, because I can. Okay, the only part of this I’ve done so far is the sweet potatoes. I KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE, HOUSE!
  3. To attend all these conferences I’ve signed up for, and most especially to make it to WFC in San Antonio in October. Selfishly, I’m most excited about seeing my family there, but also super jazzed about Martha Wells being the head honcho for this go-round. I survived many of the conferences, and just remembered I still haven’t made reservations for WFC. Oops?
  4. To finish Daughter of Madness and get it to my readers, sometime this year, no matter that I’m behind. To not feel guilty about that behind-ness. To give you an outline of next steps with this, I need to: finish the rough draft, send it to beta readers and/or an editor for a look, and then do second rewrites as well as deep line edits. I’m also in the process of doing the cover design which will hopefully be finalized this month sometime, so be looking for that! (I am focusing on being excited, so excited, to bring this book to you and not intimidated by all the to do’s that still need doing.) Marking off half of this, which seems appropriate considering the timing. Check out my post from last week for more updates!
  5. To re-issue Child of Brii, taking it back to my original vision for it, before I got caught up in word counts and mess. I sort of did this. The book is back out there, anyway. I feel pretty okay about that.
  6. To start something new – either the last Creation Saga book, which I’ve honestly already got about 10,000 words of from cuts from Daughter of Madness, or the Child of Brii prequel I’ve got planned, or maybe both. Ideally I’d get the roughs for both finished this year but realistically it’s probably one or the other. And maybe… Eek, I have not done any of this. 
  7. To start something entirely new – it might happen anyway if I’m being honest, because I’m excited about a great many projects right now. There are octopuses and mermaids and werewolves and princesses and warriors all begging for my attention at the moment, so you’ll know as soon as I do what I pick up next. Marking this off, but don’t consider it over. There’s more new stuff longing for passage through my pen.
  8. To put honest work into querying a project that I have previously referred to as ‘The Zombie Book’. This requires putting together a synopsis, since that’s the last element I’m missing, and updating my agents list for queries. I’d also like to finish the spin-off story from that novel, and hopefully find it a home, or maybe hold onto it until it’s time. I did this part, at least. And it was fun times, my friends. Now to do the rest.
  9. To love and care for those important to me. To visit my brother finally, and to make time to travel with my soon-to-be husbandOh, we traveled. Did we travel. And more to come!
  10. To never stop believing in myself and my work. To continue to try to find homes for my short stories. To write new ones, as the mood takes me. To write for the sake of writing. This is an ongoing goal, especially the last bit. And it is a hard thing to do, every day. But I love writing, friends.
  11. To take care of myself. To make sure I eat well and exercise, which is hard, and that I get enough sleep, which is easier but still doesn’t always happen. To climb some more mountains, and float some more rivers, and spend some time under the stars. I can’t mark this off because I want to do more of it!
  12. To fear less and try harder. Basically, this is an ongoing life lesson, and I’m not afraid to work on it forever.

Some things are ongoing. Some things we can’t mark off. The work of a life is never over, and thank goodness.

I’m looking forward to what these next six months bring, my dears.

A time for edits

To everything there is a season. A time for brainstorming, and a time for reading books. A time for scribbling in notebooks, and a time for typing. A time for writing, and a time for edits.

It is my time for edits.

You know that I have finished the DoM draft, and that I have a cover. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel comfortable setting a release date. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it took me a lot longer than I thought it would to write DoM. It was my first time writing a sequel, so that was part of it, and I was going through a lot. Getting engaged, planning a wedding, my grandfather dying, learning not one, but two jobs. It puts a damper on productivity, all that change, and my deadlines slid past in a sea at turns colored with regret and the apathy fueled by having no more spoons.

Second, this book came out seriously broken, which is not unusual for many writers when they get to the end of the actual creative process and move into rewrites but for me? I’m having to rapidly become a better self-critic. It’s taking me a lot longer to wade through the pages than it would have if I had written the thing with a clearer vision. Heck, I wrote past the ending by something like 20,000 words. For those counting, that’s about a fifth of a book. That means I have a head-start on Book Three, if I can get DoM in a place where I haven’t written myself into a corner with two of the characters, that is. Since that’s basically the problem with the draft.

So, here we are, July 2017, and there is not a final book, and you are all probably sad. I am sad, a little, but I’m also excited because I know I can do this. Writers do things like this. We have these moments in our lives. Especially when we have dayjobs and families and all the other things that human beings have.

In the interim, I’m focusing on actually writing shorter works. If you follow me Twitter, you’ve seen me posting about a novelette project. That is scribbled and off to early readers, mostly because I had so much fun writing it. It’s a spin-off from a book that I’ve had completed for a while but that I haven’t published (see: season for edits) and that I had hoped to find a publishing house to represent, since I think it will do better. The world is one that I enjoy writing immensely. I’ve also been working on some short pieces for upcoming anthologies I know will have slush submissions. (I’ve pretty much queried my trunk, so it’s time to start creating new stuff.)

Anyways, these are the daily ins and outs of writing. Without the wedding sapping up all my energy, my productivity has definitely increased. I am very hopeful I’ll have something to share with you soon in terms of news.

For now, I’ll just keep editing.