Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review and Looking Forward

It really feels like this was a year of good and bad, writing-wise.  The first book I wrote, I deliberately plowed through it in a month because I had this strange idea that I had to write as fast as possible.  It sucked.  The second book I wrote turned out much better, and I'll begin the publishing attempt process in 2014.  Of course, the only reason I wrote that book was because I decided to put SKYBORNE to rest after nearly a year of failing at the publishing attempt process.

So, yeah.  Roller coaster and all that.  @_@

I also started blogging more regularly in 2013, and it's starting to feel more natural.  It still seems more like a duty than something I really enjoy, but as the writing process goes on, I think I'm getting more used to it.  I also participated in my first Follow Fest, and met a bunch of nifty people that way; it's been great to reach out to the wider writing community.  I'm hoping we all find success in the next year, one way or another.

As for looking forward, I'm pleased to say I have two plots that I'll do my damndest to make into two new books next year.  I'm going to try something Rena suggested -- write one book, then write another, then go edit the first one.  I've never done that before because I've never had two fully prepared plots at once, so this will be a new experience.  Sadly, neither of those plots is the one I blogged about back in October; while I've spent time fleshing that one out and working on character development, something about it just doesn't interest me as much anymore.  I think there's too much there for one book, and it needs to be pared down.  As much as I overwrite, this is no surprise, but still.  I've set it aside for now, and hope to return to it later.

As for what I do have, I gotta say, I'm really excited.

The first one is an interplanar adventure story I tweeted about as sort of a combination of three shows I love.  I'm still hashing this one out, as I ran into a problem in the second act that meant I had to re-plot much of the first act.  But the re-working is going well, and I'm not getting frustrated.  (Yay!)  Very much hoping I break through this plot wall tomorrow and pull the whole thing together.  And anything that involves an intellectual lamia, a foulmouthed goblin with opposable toes, and a shotgun-wielding faceless wargolem should be fun.

The other is the kind of story I've wanted to write for a long time.  It's dark fantasy with a healthy dose of cosmic horror thrown in, inspired by equal parts Marvel Comics and H.P. Lovecraft, and seriously, this thing was just about pulling itself out of my head as I plotted it.  It still needs revision, but everything was working perfectly.  I can't wait to polish this plot until it shines.

To everyone reading this: happy new year.  May 2014 bring you what you want and what you need, whether you find these to be the same thing or not.  ^_^

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Post-Pitch Wars: Editing and Considering

I participated in Pitch Wars earlier this month, and THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK wasn't chosen - trust me, y'all would have heard about it at length (and at volume) if it was.  ^_^  But on the plus side, I heard back from all four mentors I submitted to, and got some useful critique of my first few pages.

One of the things I heard was something I'd wondered about and now wish I'd fixed before submitting - Shiloh, the main character, came off as harsh and/or arrogant, and hard to relate to.  The thing is, in the book's initial first chapter, she was way too passive; I realized this and some of my pre-readers said the same thing.  But when I rewrote the chapter, I went way too far in the other direction.

After tonight's work, though, I can say it wasn't too difficult to fix.  The book starts off in a library, and it's easy to capture Shiloh's love for the place when it's a feeling I share.  She's there to find a book she's seen in her dreams, so she's determined, but more full of wonder at what this could mean and why she's dreamed of finding the book than dead sure that the book will be there and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

I have to admit, I'm really glad I took care of this before anyone else read it.  I don't know if I would have known how to fix it without getting the mentors' feedback.

Another point was that there wasn't much world-building.  I'm honestly not certain how much world-building I can get into less than three single-spaced pages, but I went through and tried to fit as many little details as I could.  Not the easiest thing without resorting to "As you know" infodumps, especially since neither of the two characters talking would tell the other something like that.  We learn about the world as the story goes on, and I think that's a better way.

And, as with any critique, there were things the mentors said that I just don't understand.  I thought about writing back to the mentors and asking for clarification, but instead I've looked closer at the book and tried to figure out why they said what they said.  Some of it I can sort of understand, some of it I just have to shrug off. I know this isn't a new issue; I'm sure everyone's gotten back critique that made them blink and make weird expressions as they tried to figure out what the reader was thinking.  And I am grateful for the critique despite this.  Ah, well.

With that in mind, I will be looking for critique partners after the holidays; I've bookmarked a few recommended sites that I heard about via Twitter, so I'm hoping for the best with that.  If anyone reading this wants to swap books-in-progress, let me know.  TAW is YA fantasy; here's a general description.  I tend to like fantasy and sci-fi, but I'm willing to give just about anything a try, though I'm not much interested in contemporary romance.

Next entry: this year's over, time to look forward to another.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

They're Going to Hate Her.

This entry comes from The Girl Myth in YA Fiction (And Beyond) at Bookriot and Writing for Girls by Courtney Summers.  I read these two articles, did a lot of thinking and a lot of swearing, and knew I had to write this.  Go read the articles first, else this won't make as much sense.

Back?  Good.  I'd like to issue a general statement to people who people who believe in the girl binary as detailed in the first article: "Fuck off.  I will never listen to you.  I write female characters with their own minds and lives, and I will never try to box them into your narrow ideas of likability and 'proper' behavior.  Don't like that?  I don't care."

THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK has two female leads, aged seventeen and somewhere around eighteen to twenty.  As I read 'The Girl Myth' for the first time, I kept thinking about how people would react to Shiloh and Alexi, and how much they don't fit into this idiotic myth of how girls should be.  Neither of them could be considered the secondary players in their own stories, both go after what they want, both look to solve their problems instead of wallowing in despair or whatever else.  I made them as real as I could, and never gave a thought to expectations about what girls should be, because I was trying to write people.

As for the romance and purity issues that the article touches on, ye gods, that's going to start a shitstorm.  While Shiloh lacks experience in this area, Alexi most certainly does not; the culture she's from is very open about love and sex and all things intimate.  I can see the reviews already, calling Alexi all kinds of horrible things because she dared to be with other people before meeting Shiloh.  And that's bullshit.  The fact that the two of them getting together could cause problems with their families' business deals will only make things worse, despite that they both acknowledge this issue and try to make things work.  No, I'm sure they'll both be called selfish for putting their own desires first.

<sarcasm>Because of course, nobody ever does that.</sarcasm>  And I don't even want to get into how different the reaction would be if one of them was male.

It's a rough thing to look at my work and know that some people are going to hate the main characters because they don't match up to expectations, stereotypes, and other foolishness.  But I'm going forward with it because I know it's right.  Because as 'Writing for Girls' shows, I know there are people out there who will see themselves in these characters.  And if my stories can really reach someone, make them feel that there's someone out there who understands, and help them in some way, then I know I've done my job right.

Because I'm not writing to fit some impossible ideal.  I'm writing for myself, and for everyone who loves these kinds of stories.  I'm writing for people.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Worst. Rejection. Ever.

There would have been an entry here last week, but I got caught up in Pitch Wars, so I've spent the past week pounding on THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK and making sure everything's as good as I can get it.  And polishing my query letter, which is always . . . fun.  @_@  I do have a much more serious blog entry planned, but that's not for today.

Today, in the spirit of sending off submissions, I want to talk about the worst rejection I ever got.

I think every single writer ever knows what it means to deal with rejection letters.  So what, you might ask, made this one so bad?

This happened back in 2003, when I lived in Vermont.  (I'm originally from Southern California, so living in Vermont taught me what winter really means, but that's another story.)  I'd written a book I thought was pretty damn good (it wasn't), and I was submitting to agents, just me and a crappy query letter and a "Writer's Market" book thick enough to double as insulation.  Despite over a dozen rejections, I was still ridiculously optimistic that this book would get published (it never would, trust me).  And then . . . a letter arrived.

Not just any letter.  This self-addressed stamped envelope (nothing like paying postage to get rejected) was stuffed with a lot more paper than the standard rejection.  And as I looked at the envelope before opening it, I saw lines.  Blank lines.  Like the kind you're expected to fill in before sending something back.

I opened the envelope so quickly it might have spontaneously combusted.  Surely, this was a contract!  I'd found an agent!  This had something for me to fill out, and--

NO!  Not only was there a rejection letter, there was an order form for - I swear I'm not making this up - the agency's book on how to be your own literary agent.  They weren't going to represent me, but they wanted to sell me a book on how to not need them.  Insult, injury, and idiocy all in one.

I've never actually burned a rejection letter, but damn, that one came close.

Next entry, not related to Pitch Wars but to some people who read books with female leads: They're Going to Hate Her.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Second Time's the Charm.

"If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act."  --Billy Wilder

I said in my last entry that I'd talk about sequel planning in this one, and I almost didn't, because things were going so badly.  I had this idea of where the next book would go; I even had a good title.  I rewrote the ending and added an epilogue to properly lead into the next book, to wrap up everything with a few more things going bad for Our Heroes, both completing the tale and setting things up for the next one.

Then, whenever I sat down to work on the next book's plot, it was like throwing myself against a brick wall.  Granted, I don't think I've actually run into a brick wall since elementary school, but at least I know it's a valid metaphor.  And as the quote above says, the problem was in the first act: no matter how much I wanted it to be otherwise, for the third act to happen, the entire first act of the book had to be one big training montage.  And that just plain doesn't work.

At least, not unless you can find a way to make the book play cheesy yet inspiring 80s music, and that would get old after a few chapters.

So last night, after yet another session of staring at WordPerfect and grumbling, I decided to scrap it all and come up with something different.  This is something I've been doing more and more with my recent plotting - I'll decide to do a different take on a work in progress, or I'll get frustrated and try to come at it from a different direction.  And so far, what comes second has always been much, much better.

I'm only a day into this new plot, only have a page of notes and plans, just some things to establish the setting and some new characters.  The story happens in a place in this world that I didn't know existed until today, yet it makes perfect sense for this place to exist.  It allows me to expand on all kinds of things from the first book and to keep a part of the story going that my pre-readers seem to think was over.  (Bwa ha ha.)  And most importantly, it'll lead to some absolutely awesome scenes that I can't wait to write.

It kind of amazes me that I almost didn't write this, that I almost kept running into that wall.  But now I have a new tower to build.  And it can still lead perfectly into a third book.

...yes, of course I'm plotting a trilogy.  It's fantasy, what did you expect?  :P

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Too Much Anti-, Not Enough Hero

So!  I was reading during my recent vacation (as one does when stuck at and between airports), and I'd heard a lot of good things about this book.  Very much dark fantasy, not a friendly world, that sort of thing.  I was looking forward to a good anti-hero tale, something where I clearly wasn't reading about the good guy but could root for him anyway.

While the main character was no good guy, there was nothing about him worth rooting for.

Don't get me wrong, I love anti-heroes.  I like characters who work outside the lines.  I like characters who not only do things I wish I could do but can't because I'm not willing to spend the rest of my life in jail, but also get away with them.  I like reading about the wrong person trying to do the right thing.

However, part of what makes an anti-hero is that there's good in them somewhere.  It might be the warm heart behind their gruff exterior.  It might be the tiny spark of light in the darkness inside them.  But it has to be there.  There has to be something to separate an anti-hero from the villains they fight.

This book had none of that.

The protagonist, as he was no hero of any kind, had no redeeming qualities I could see.  Flashbacks show where his life changed, and this isn't someone who edged down the slippery slope toward villainy, or someone who tripped.  This is someone who saw it as a cliff and leaped off.  And yet, it seemed like the reader was supposed to empathize with him because of his tragic past, that he truly was supposed to be an anti-hero.

I don't think so.  Without that core of good, we're left with a protagonist who sees no trouble with torture, murder, and rape.  We have a character who would be the antagonist in most other stories.  And being driven by revenge is fine until he just sort of drops that because it doesn't suit him anymore.

I didn't read the whole story; I got bored with it and was utterly disappointed.  It's possible things could have gotten better, but after 100 pages, I just didn't care enough to find out.  So I wouldn't call this a review, but I wanted to really get into why the character didn't work for me at all.

So, now I'm curious: what do you think makes an anti-hero?  Have you seen characters like this, who shoot for that and miss?  And how would you write an anti-hero to make sure they truly were one?

Next entry: sequel talk. @_@

Monday, November 4, 2013

Name That Flaw

Quick entry tonight, as this just occurred to me as I was editing.  What's your flaw?  What do you always catch yourself doing as you write, what can't you stop yourself from doing no matter how hard you try?  And would you stop if you could?

For me, it's overwriting.  I cut a lot of words while editing, and that's because I tend to write a half-dozen words when two would do.  It's like, if there's a casual way and a formal way to put something, I'll use the formal way, even if it's ridiculously inappropriate.  In TAW, I think some of that is character voice, but still.  Even when I was writing college students, I overwrote, and ended up shortening their dialogue and descriptions a great deal.

On the plus side, I know to look out for this while editing, and I'm used to it.  So I know what I think is a wonderful turn of phrase while writing, I'll roll my eyes at while editing, and cut it out without a second thought.  If nothing else, I'm used to murdering my darlings, because there's so damned many of them.  @_@  Sometimes I write something and think, "Yeah, I'll have to fix that later," and sometimes I try to fix it right away.  But most of the time I just keep writing.  And later, I wince, and cross that passage out.

I also use the word 'all' way too much, though that might be just this book.

Now, I'm not asking for any self-pity parties here.  If insecurities were winning lottery tickets, writers would be the richest people in the world.  I'm just curious - what do you do that you know you'll have to fix later?  Are you okay with this?  Do you even try to stop yourself?  And, best of all, have you ever written something you knew you shouldn't have and kept it anyway, because it actually worked out well?

Next entry: no idea!  I'm off to Blizzcon this weekend, and it's a wonder I can think of anything else right now.  Bwa ha ha!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Do You See What I See?

No?  Good.  Because you don't have to.

This entry comes from a recent Twitter conversation I had with Teri Harman and F.J.R. Titchenell.  Take a look; it's brief because, hey, it's on Twitter.  ^_^  But it brought up something I didn't realize I'd done until I thought about it.

In The Accidental Warlock, I don't describe the two heroines' body types.  I say that Shiloh has blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin; likewise, I say that Alexi has copper-brown skin, dark eyes, and black hair with a purple sheen to it, as well as a red mark on her forehead.  (A desert deity claims Alexi's people as her own, hence her hair and the mark.)  And Shiloh describes Alexi as being a few inches taller than her.  But that's about it.

When I started, I didn't know how to have Shiloh describe Alexi's figure, and Shiloh describing herself felt strange to me.  So I skipped it, figured I'd add it in later.  But I gave it some thought and realized it was better that way.

Modern culture has some ridiculous image issues when it comes to women.  I'm a guy, so I'm subjected to this less, but... seriously.  It seems that any woman who's in the spotlight in any way will have her appearance picked apart at every opportunity, and two different women will be criticized for opposite things.  I see and hear this everywhere - someone is too tall, too short, too thin, too heavy, too dark, too light, wearing too much makeup, not wearing enough makeup, dressed too sexy, not dressed sexy enough...

Just typing all that up makes my head hurt.  And I decided not to subject my characters to that.

Fictional characters aren't free from all this; I've seen the same barbed comments directed at women across multiple fandoms.  So I decided to not describe my heroines' body types, and let the readers picture them however they want.  This wasn't easy for me - I do a lot of description because I want my readers to see what I see in my head.  But I read something once, where a reader said that they were overweight, so they tended to imagine the characters they read about as overweight.  I gave it some thought and decided I was fine with that.

For the record, I picture Shiloh as skinny, and Alexi as athletic with some curves.  But if someone, for example, wants to picture Shiloh as chubby and Alexi as tall and willowy, that's okay.  It's a little weird to me to give something like that up to the reader, but if it means my characters won't get saddled with other issues just because of how I describe them, I'm fine with leaving that out.  And it won't affect how I picture them, or how I write them.

Next entry: probably something about rewriting an ending, because that's what I have to look forward to this week.  Grr.  Arg.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Plot Squeezings

I get to write an entire blog entry about something working right.  I'm very pleased.  ^_^

As I said at the end of my last entry, I planned to take some time to figure out a plot for one of my half-dozen clusters of gathered ideas.  It's really hard for me to work on more than one story at a time (something that needs to change, but that's yet another blog entry), so I took a few days off of editing TAW to hammer this out.  Editing on TAW is going well, by the way; I cleared one of the major hurdles tonight, and there's only two more huge changes to make before I have to rewrite most of the last chapter.  So that's good too.

But, about the plot-in-progress: it didn't crash and burn while I tried to figure it out.  And that alone is reason for celebration.  A small celebration, but still.

A writer whose work I really enjoy - Brian K. Vaughan, who's done mostly comic books and whose stuff you really should read - has been quoted as saying he always knows how a story will end before he starts writing it.  I wholly support this, and I haven't written anything good when I've gone against it.  So when I sat down to plot, I hammered out a few crucial plot details from beginning to end, and started filling things in, finding all the little things that had to happen in between.

And I just kept filling.

It was one of those bizarre moments I think a lot of writers hope for, like the story was already there, I was just digging it out of the blank page.  It's kind of like being an archaeologist, chipping away to find an entire damn dinosaur skeleton buried somewhere in my head.  And the more I wrote, the more I knew, of the plot and the characters and the setting, so I just kept going.  There's always something awesome about realizing a story as I go along, when figuring things out becomes almost effortless.

Of course, the real effort is yet to come.  I still haven't figured out everything; the plot still has some significant holes in it and needs a lot of fleshing out to determine character actions and motivations, and to make sure it works as a whole.  And I have to write the thing, which is always the hardest part, until it's time to edit.  @_@  But for the first time in quite a while, I've got a good feeling about what's there so far, and I'm really eager to keep digging it up.

Especially since this isn't doesn't actually involve a dinosaur skeleton, but a dragon skeleton.

Next entry: inspired by some tweets from earlier this week, a discussion of body image, character, and things we give up to our readers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Accidental Warlock: What it's All About

Shiloh Donovan dreams of a book only she can see.  When she finds the book, she wonders if the gods sent those dreams, until a disembodied demon bursts forth from the book and attacks her.  The demon speaks an incantation that forcibly changes Shiloh's vision - she sees magic as raw power that she can manipulate.  Shiloh uses this new power to close the book and banish the demon, but when she contacts her parents and they're concerned but not surprised at the turn of events, she realizes they know something.

To make matters more complicated, on that same day, Alexi RiLeon arrives.  She's there to settle a business deal with Shiloh's family, a deal that involves Alexi's marriage to Shiloh's older brother.  Shiloh takes Alexi to Donovan Manor, where Shiloh's parents reveal the truth:

Shiloh is adopted, and her birth parents were part of a demonic cult that prepared her before birth to be a new body for the demon Ak'tagth.

Dealings with demons are forbidden in her homeland, so Shiloh agrees to hide at the family's safehouse.  Alexi asks to delay the business dealings, and goes with Shiloh.  But the portal to the safehouse instead sends them to a seaside city hundreds of miles away.  Shiloh and Alexi realize what this means - the demon's people are working inside Shiloh's home, and altered the portal to send her elsewhere.

Now, far from home with cultists and demons coming after them, Shiloh and Alexi must find a way back.  The changes Ak'tagth wrought within Shiloh grow harder to ignore, yet that altered view of magic may be the only way she and Alexi survive the journey.

And on top of all that, Shiloh is falling hard and fast for Alexi.

Kind of reads like a query letter, now that I look at it.  @_@  Don't worry, I won't use it for that; I'll study Query Shark again before heading down that road, and I'll call myself lucky if I'm ready to query this book before the year's end.

But!  There you go, the basic characters and plot of The Accidental Warlock.  There's a ton more to it, as that covers only the first chapter and a half; most of the book is Shiloh and Alexi's journey as they try to get back to Shiloh's home city.  A lot changes for them along the way, and even more has changed by the time they get back.

Speaking of changes, it's editing time again.  Oi.  Hope you all enjoyed this.

Between now and the next blog entry, I'll make a valiant attempt at squeezing a plot out of one of the half-dozen different stories I have somewhere in the planning stages, and I'll blog about the results.  It might get ugly.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How Happy an Ending?

As of a few minutes ago, I'm nearly done with the by-hand edits on The Accidental Warlock.  There are two chapters left, the final conflict and the wrap-up.  It's weird how long this has taken, and even weirder how much I've seen in editing it like this that I missed when reading it on my computer screen.  It's been so long since I did this, I'd forgotten what it was like, and I know now that this is an essential step of the editing process.

But most importantly, I'm almost to the end.

After I reach the end, I'll have a lot of changes to make.  I've already rewritten the first half of the first chapter. I also have entire chunks of the story to pull out and put in new places, paragraphs to delete, sections to rewrite with a different mood, and the occasional note that just says "FIX THIS".  And as a result of all this, there are major changes to the ending.

Not a single one of those changes is a good thing for the two main characters.

I now understand why some fans think writers hate their own characters - hell, a few times, I've asked myself if having things go so badly is really necessary.  And the answer is always 'yes'.  As I've said before, TAW already has more of a downer ending than any other book I've written.  But I gave some serious thought to the consequences of the characters' actions and realized I hadn't taken things as far as I should have.

There's not a lot I can say here without ruining the ending, but I know things have gotten a lot worse.  Not as bad as they could be, of course; I could have killed off the entire cast and had the main antagonist win, but that would leave me without these characters for a sequel.  ^_^  But I think the new ending works better overall, and puts everyone in a different place for whatever comes next.  This also means I have to figure out whatever comes next, as this new ending renders most of my plans for the sequel invalid.

It is, in part, still a happy ending.  Though it's one the main characters well and truly had to earn.  And I think the whole book will be better for it.

Next entry: now that I've talked about the ending (without really talking about the ending), and now that I might have a few new readers here, I think it's a good time to take more than a few sentences to actually say what The Accidental Warlock is all about.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Follow Fest!

So!  I've signed up for this thanks to Melissa Maygrove.  Let's get started.  ^_^

Name: Mason T. Matchak.  Real name, not a pen name, and yes I'm keeping the middle initial.

Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction.  At least in writing.  I once tried to tell my former boss I was fictional, and he asked if that meant he could pretend to pay me.

What genres do you write? Fantasy of various flavors.  The book I'm working on now is somewhat magepunk because magic is an everyday thing, but I've written urban fantasy as well, and I'm working on some interplanar stories too.

Are you published? I had one short story published, back in 2007.  It's called "The Crystal Girl", and appeared in issue #54 of Leading Edge, a small-press magazine.

Do you do anything in addition to writing? I have a day job, but. . . .

Where can people connect with you? Here at the blog, as @MasonTMatchak at Twitter, or via e-mail (address altered to foil spammers).

Is there anything else you’d like us to know? I'm really big on diversity in sci-fi and fantasy, and in fiction in general.  The book I'm currently editing, The Accidental Warlock, has both LGBT and person-of-color characters, which I think we don't see often enough.  I know things are changing, but it's a slow change, and I'm glad to help support it.  Heroes don't have to be straight white people, simple as that.

I love the idea of New Adult and I wholly support those who write it; I think it's something missing from YA and Adult fiction and needs to become a recognized category.  I just haven't listed myself as writing it because, well, I don't have anything that's NA planned.  But considering how many plots I wrestle with regularly, that could change.

Other than that, I'm here to meet some new people and spread the word a bit.  TAW is a ways from being ready to submit (if it's ready by the year's end, I'll be a little surprised), but I've been blogging about writing for long enough without really putting myself out there, so it's time to change that.

Hi.  I'm Mason.  It's good to meet you.  ^_^

Monday, September 9, 2013

Uh-oh, it's Magic

Music for tonight's entry.  It's unrelated, but it's from the CD I have playing, and I'll be stunned if anyone reading this has heard this song before.

I've recently started listening to Writing Excuses, a podcast featuring two authors whose work I well and truly enjoy.  It's a series of fifteen-minute episodes about a different writing topic each time, easy to listen to and very helpful.  I saved some episodes several years ago and am only now getting around to listening to them, as the writing panels I attended at Dragon*Con were extremely helpful and I'm now seeking more advice from authors whose work I love.

One of those old episodes was all about creating workable and believable magic systems, and thanks to that, I'm now trying to figure out several magic systems at once.

I've written about writing magic with its own rules before, and since Brandon Sanderson is one of the authors on Writing Excuses, it's no surprise the episode discussed writing magic systems that work.  This made me realize I need to do some more work on the new magic system for Abraxas (the world of The Accidental Warlock), and that the book I'm currently plotting needs a magic system as well.

The book's heavy on interplanar travel and going to a dozen or so different worlds across the multiverse, so I'd planned on keeping magic simple - it was just going to be there, no big deal.  Tonight, I ditched that idea and hashed out three different possible magic systems.  Now I just have to figure out which one to use.

Each system would have distinct and dire effects on the characters and plot if I chose to use it.  Each one has disadvantages, such as "every member of a species could seem the same" and "the main characters will always run out of magic when they need it most", and I'm not yet sure how to work those out.  In other words, yes, I've created a brand new set of problems for myself.

The thing is, though, I'm good with this.  I'm looking forward to hashing this out and coming up with a system that really works.  I want to know how magic works for the six different species that encompass the main crew.  I want the reader to see why it's such a scary thing that the main antagonists don't follow the usual rules of magic.  I want all the worlds the crew visits to make sense because of how magic works on all of them.

This is a significant change for me; I'm more used to working with magic in my stories where it's easy to use and freely available and has few consequences for using it.  But I know this is going to lead to better stories.  It will also lead to a lot more trouble for Our Heroes, but that's a good thing too.

Because really, without that, what's the point?  ^_^

Monday, August 26, 2013

Once More Unto the Breach

...I really wish that was "Once more unto the Beach".  I could really use a vacation right now.  Oh, wait; I'm leaving for Dragon*Con in less than three days.  Never mind.  ^_^

Anyway, I finished with the first round of edits on The Accidental Warlock tonight.  The book sits at version 1.22, which means "first draft, been edited twice, had two scenes undergo additional significant changes".  Don't laugh, it works for me.  As soon as I finish writing this, I'll send it off to my pre-readers, and the next wave of edits will happen after that.

And hell's bells, I'm still scared.

I talked about this some in my last entry (which was way too long ago, but I was editing, so I blame that).  Yes, my fear of failure is still much stronger than my fear of critique, so it's not like I'm going to give in and not send out the story.  And I want people to read this.  Far, far too much of what I write, nobody else ever sees.  It's just that sending it out for other people to read leads to too damn many questions.

Will anyone like this?  Will they read the first chapter and be able to guess the entire story?  Will they think the romance doesn't work?  Will they think the villain's too subtle or not subtle enough?  Will they wonder what the hell's going on when I thought I spelled everything out clearly?  Will I get my story back with remarks that basically amount to "Don't bother trying to get this published"?

Yes, I am in fact a roiling ball of insecurities right now.

But the thing is, there's no other way to do this.  There's not a chance in hell I'd shoot myself in the foot by querying agents with a book that nobody else had ever read.  And the friends who've agreed to read TAW are all pretty familiar with how I write; they've all read at least one of my other books, though for some of them, it's been a long, long time.  I've gotten better since then, I know that much.

I try telling myself that I might have nothing to worry about, but I know I'll get back critique that's hard to hear.  But in the end, that will make the book better.  It has to.  And anything's better than hearing nothing at all.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have e-mails to send.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fear and Editing in Abraxas

(With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson.)

Yesterday, I started the first round of edits on The Accidental Warlock.  I glued myself to my chair (figuratively) and hammered through five chapters, the entire first quarter of the book.  Something I learned when I was editing Skyborne was that it helps to edit in large chunks, as that makes it easier to remember everything and catch continuity errors and the like.

It's also a great way to wonder where the hell three hours went.

I felt more than a little trepidation going into this.  Before TAW, the last two books I wrote, well... they sucked.  I finished them and knew I'd never go back.  Granted, I knew it was over with those before I even finished writing them, and didn't feel that way with TAW.  So I was feeling optimistic.  And you know what?

It's good.  It might even be great.  I really, really like this story, and even after spending nearly three and a half hours today editing chapters six through ten, I want to get back to it and keep working on it.  And this is where the fear comes in.

This is the next book I'm going to try to get published.  And that means releasing it into the wild.  That means having friends read it and getting feedback full of things I never thought of, feedback that makes me feel like an idiot for not seeing it.  It also means sometimes saying "No, I'm not changing that" and wondering whether I'll have to defend my choice or not.  It means I might have to rewrite huge chunks of the story, which will of course make everything take longer.

Worse, it means query letters and pitch contests, condensing everything great about roughly 96,000 words into a few sentences and the book's first few paragraphs.  And yet still worse, it means agent searches and rejection letters.  I know everyone deals with rejections, and I don't think there's a damn one of us who's gotten to the point where they don't hurt at all.  It gets easier to shrug them off, but every single time, there's that sense of "Damn, that could have been it."  It's even worse when that sense is "Damn, that agent seemed awesome and I really wanted to work with them."

And I know how all this could end.  I know that, by the end of next year, I could be doing a blog entry about how I'm setting The Accidental Warlock aside to try to get another book published.  I know this could be yet another Learning Experience.

But I have to try.  I've talked about my utter fear of failure before.  And the fear that comes with the attempt at publishing is freaking Bambi vs. Godzilla compared to my fear of failure.

Once more unto the breach, as they say.  Let's hope one this goes well.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Plague of Ideas

Funny thing is, that would make a better title for a book than a blog entry.  But I'm using it here, because the last thing I need right now is yet another story idea.

Fortunately, this entry will not consist of only a very long scream.  However, it won't be about my love of a new Abraxas plot either.  After a brief discussion with Rena, who made a very good point about why working another Abraxas book might not be the best idea, I put that plot aside and have been working on other things.  Quite a few other things.

There's this concept among authors, and I've seen it best identified is the 'shiny new idea'.  It's the idea that seems so utterly amazing when you first have it that you have to work on it NOW NOW NOW or the world will surely end.  It's the utter certainty that this will be your next book and it will be amazing.  What I've been working on felt like that, and yet as I worked, it seemed to be holding up.

Then I started working on the story's antagonist, and found that person so much more interesting than either group of protagonists, so I figured I'd start plotting her story instead.  Go figure.

It's going well so far, but it's hardly the only thing.  In the eleven days since my last entry, I've come up with more new stuff than I usually deal with in several months.  There's this weird feeling of unfulfilled potential about all of it, and while some of it I know I'm not ready to write yet, other stories, well...  I might as well just give each one a number and roll a die to figure out what the next project would be.  If that wasn't, y'know, a really bad idea.

It would be far too easy to consider all of this a moot point.  I start editing The Accidental Warlock on Saturday, and that's going to consume most of my writing time and spare brain cycles until it's done.  At least, that's the theory.  I want to keep working on the other plots when I'm not editing, so I can figure out what book is next.  Maybe I'll even be able to write it before the year's over.  Three books in a year would be a new record for me.  Even if the first one wasn't worth reading.

As always, I'll have to just keep going and see what happens.  But the plot for this current book...  It's been odd.  All day yesterday and today, I've been working on it in bits and pieces, adding a few lines here, a few paragraphs there, making a few small changes.  It's a bit like putting a puzzle together, and I really want to know what it's going to look like when it's done.

Because I think this one's going to surprise me.  I just have to realize what the story's really supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

While my Keyboard Gently Weeps

There's something amazing about starting work on a new plot.  There's this moment of wonderful possibility, when it seems like anything could happen but I'm dead certain this is going to be awesome.  This is the one, it's easy to say.  This is the book that's going to start my career, this is the one that'll have agents kicking down my door, this is the one I'll still be signing at conventions twenty years from now.

Then I actually start working on it, and one of two things happens.  Either I can see how it will all work, or I can see it starting to fall apart, and the desperate changes I try to make all fumble over one another, creating a bigger and louder mess, until it feels like I'm watching a plane crash in slow motion and can only hope to salvage something from the pieces.

It's not a perfect metaphor, but that's what it feels like for me.

This has happened to me a lot lately.  Since my last entry, I've been digging through older notes and scribbling down a ton of new notes, trying hard to find the stories buried somewhere in my head.  One plot has already gone through three different versions, and I'm no closer to finding something that feels like it will work.  Another one, a brand new story, came to me in a flash last week, just there in my head like it had always been.  I like what I have so far for that one, but I've hardly touched it since last week and I'm worried it'll crash and burn when I try to work on it again.  And there are still other plot files I tell myself I should look at but I don't even know if I want to.

Last night, I stepped away from the keyboard and gave things some serious thought.  I have about two and a half weeks before I start editing The Accidental Warlock, and I'd like to have a new story ready to start before then, so I can write two books this year like I've planned.  (Yes, I know, best-laid plans and all that.)  I realized that a lot of the trouble with the plots I was working on was that my heart wasn't in them.  Two plots are too closely based on failed stories for me to want to take a chance on them again, while others feel incomplete, like I've found the start and the end and have no idea what should make up the middle, or I have protagonists I could write book after book about but no antagonist and therefore no real story.  And I seem to keep coming up with "save the world" plots and I'm getting tired of it.

Somewhere in all this mess I realized: Abraxas, the world of both Skyborne and The Accidental Warlock, is the only world I've written anything worth reading in for the past few years, so why don't I just write another Abraxas story?  I literally stopped in my tracks at realizing this; I was pacing at the time.  And I started thinking.  Within a few moments, I had a basic idea.  Today, I scribbled down a plot and characters, and notes on the city where the story takes place.

It's entirely possible this might crash and burn just like all the others.  But I know I have to give it a try, just like all the others.  Time to pull out the day's notes and see how it goes.

Next entry: it might be about my love of this new plot.  It might be just a really long scream.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Should Have Stayed Buried

A week ago, I started reading a book I finished back in 2005.  I had this idea of rewriting it from the POV of the main antagonist, and reviving her personal story arc as its own book, really delving into what it means to serve a dark god and then lose everything, including that god.

I refer to this idea in the past tense, as the reread completely killed my desire to go back to this story.

I think it's safe to say a lot of writers look back at their older work and cringe.  But reading this book was like checking off a list of how not to write a novel, and I'm flabbergasted that I ever thought this thing was good enough to be published.  Not joking at all here.  Prologue with all kinds of mysterious portents that's too vague for its own good?  Check.  First chapter starts with the main character waking up from a dream?  Check.  Main character looks in a mirror so there's a reason to describe her?

Gods help me, check.  And to go one worse, I spent half a chapter having a supposedly mysterious minstrel tell the entire backstory to an audience.  I'm kind of surprised they didn't fall asleep.

I also spent paragraphs describing things like the stone and wood a town was mostly constructed of, carvings on unimportant walls, and dozens of other tiny and irrelevant details.  The word count is over 177,000, and it was hard not to start cutting things out while I read.  All in all, the whole thing is ridiculous, and I'd like to formally apologize to everyone who read it way back when.  After three days, I gave up on rereading the entire thing and skimmed large chunks, only reading the main antagonist's POV parts.

The thing is, it's not my bad writing that makes me want to give up on this idea.  It's that I'm not interested in working in this kind of world anymore.  The story amounts to what Jim Butcher called "sword and horse" fantasy, and writing that bores me now.  I don't think there's anything truly special or interesting about the world it takes place in, and while the history holds some good ideas, it's not enough.

Despite all that, I'm disappointed that I feel this way.  I thought I had something good.  I thought I would make this the second book I wrote this year, and even said I wanted to do so in an earlier entry.  But the thought of facing down this dull world, this black-and-white mythology, and dealing with these characters again . . . no.  Just no.

I'm done with this book, hopefully forever.  And now I'm wondering what I should work on next, since I still have another month before I can start editing The Accidental Warlock.

Next entry: digging deep and desperately in search of a plot.  Several plots.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bringing up Old Stuff, Part Two

I've been a fan and proponent of the New Adult category ever since I first heard about it.  For those who don't know, New Adult deals with characters in the 18-21ish age range, where people usually leave home, find themselves on their own for the first time, and have an entirely different set of problems and issues than characters in either YA or Adult books.  I've also said that I was writing New Adult before I even knew what it was.

I found some of that writing a few weeks ago, in an abandoned story from March of 2010.  And it's something I want to discuss now and get back to writing someday.

The story itself deals with college, with being away from home for the first time and finding out the real world is nothing like what the main character expected.  The story also deals with magic, non-human races, interplanar travel, and horrific things from worlds far, far beyond our own.  While that's the kind of stuff I find incredibly fun to write, I also think it's the kind of thing the growing New Adult category needs more of.

Simply put: a lot of New Adult stuff is romance, and there have been more than a few media stories talking about NA as nothing more than YA with more sex.  Granted, judging by some NA book covers, that doesn't seem too far off.  I know NA that isn't romance exists; take a look at the Catalog of NA Reads over at NA Alley, one of the best resources around for New Adult.  (No, seriously, take a look; the site's very well-done and this entry will still be here when you get back.)  It's a good list for a growing category, but the listing is far longer for "Contemporary" than "Speculative".

This is a tremendous opportunity.

I'm only speaking for myself here, but the years that NA covers were the years that my life changed a ton.  What better time to find out the world is not what you think it is, that there's worlds beyond the one you know and that there are things out there that not only beggar description but that pose a threat to existence as you know it?  How do you balance the life you thought you'd have with the reality that's nothing like you expected?  And how do you stay awake in an 8AM class when you're tired as hell because you were up until dawn stopping a cultist ritual from breaking a hole in reality?

Okay, it's not like falling asleep in an 8AM class would seem all that unusual.  But I think the rest stands.

New Adult is still growing, but it has a listing on Amazon.com and there are some bookstores with NA sections.  (Yes, I've seen pictures.)  So I'm hoping that by the time I get around to writing this story, not only will there be an audience for it, but publishers who think it's going to be huge.  And I'll be happy to know that I'm not the only one who thought college would only be made better with a few encroaching eldritch abominations.

Next entry: rereading a book I finished in 2005.  This might hurt.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The book is done. Let the real work begin.

As of less than five minutes ago, I wrote the last sentence in my current book.

It's always an odd feeling, finishing one of these things.  The ending never feels strong enough.  Is everything that needs to be resolved taken care of?  Are there massive dangling plot threads?  Have I planted that sequel hook firmly enough into the readers that they'll want to know what happens next?  Too much to consider, when all I really want to do right now is have a strong drink and watch a Disney movie.

Hey, I don't get on you for how you deal with writing a downer ending.

In a way, that's really how it is for this book.  In most everything else I've written, things get wrapped up pretty neatly at the end.  The heroes achieve their goals, the antagonists get killed or defeated or driven away, and everyone celebrates, smiles, hugs, and/or kisses over the last few paragraphs.  Not in this book.

I went over my plot points before last night's writing session, and remembered that the main protagonist had to do something truly horrible to bring the story to its end.  And it's even a phyrric victory, considering the destruction - both personal and property - wreaked by the antagonists.

I didn't want the story to end like that.  But I knew I had to.

In a way, this feels like the most mature story that I've written, possibly ever.  The characters feel more real, the plot feels tighter and better orchestrated, and the consequences feel more long- and deep-reaching.  I still have a lot of editing to do; there's a pile of folded-up pages from a small yellow notepad sitting here on my desk, all story ideas I frantically scribbled down while at work.  Tomorrow, I'm going to go through them and see what I implemented already and what changes I need to make.

And then, I'm going to let this sit for a month or so before getting back to it.  With any luck, I'll have a readable version by the end of August, to hand out to my pre-readers.  I have three people willing to read it so far, which is a great start.  And then we'll see how this one goes.  I have a lot of faith in it right now, but only time will tell if it's justified.

The title of the book is The Accidental Warlock.  It's a YA Fantasy about a young woman who discovers she's been planned since birth to be the new body of an ancient demon.  She's also falling, hard, for her brother's would-be betrothed.  Her fun is just beginning, trust me.

Next entry: on digging up an old, abandoned manuscript and why I think it could be something the growing New Adult category needs.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Quiet Joy of Writing Romance

Yes, I haven't posted for a while.  I'd apologize, but I'm writing a book, so most of my writing energy goes directly into that.  Writing, for me, is oddly exhausting for something I do while sitting in a chair, but that's neither here nor there.  There's something going on in this book that I don't know if I've ever done before.

This new book has a genuine, old-school, will-they-or-won't-they kind of romance in it.  And it feels really weird to type that.  @_@  Especially for Shiloh and Alexi, whom I've been writing in one form or another since 2002.

I've blogged about sexuality issues in my writing before (and I will again, I'm sure), such as me realizing that Shiloh needed to come out to herself in Skyborne.  But I wanted to do something different in this book.  I wanted to start it out with Shiloh both knowing and accepting her sexuality, so her feelings for Alexi weren't some surprising thing she had to figure out, but instead just one more thing to worry about due to a host of other issues.  Family politics and arranged marriages tend to play havoc with one's life, and throwing demons into the mix only makes things worse.

So I went into this knowing it would play out differently than the books I've written with these two characters before.  And you know what?  It's an odd kind of delight to write someone's slowly developing feelings for another, the constant wondering, the undertone of questions and desires despite the two of them spending a great deal of time just trying not to die.

It's not that I've never written a romance before; I've written everything from simple blossoming of first feelings to long-established relationships to married couples to seductions to angry shower sex.  I've just never written something that feels so much like a traditional romance.

To be honest, I've never been interested in books where the romance is the plot.  There has to be something more to the story than just seeing if the characters will get together.  But as I write this book, I'm slowly understanding the appeal those stories have for so many people.  As much as I enjoy the rest of the story so far, I find myself really looking forward to the moments between the two main characters, and watching things play out between them is ridiculously fun.

I'm already planning to set aside a longer-than-usual writing session for the scene when things finally come together, as if there's any scene I won't be able to stop until it's done, it's that one.  Can't wait.  ^_^

Alternate title for this entry: "NOW KISS"

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Starting Anew.

"Overcome fear, behold wonder."  --Richard Bach

This is never easy.  Hell, I don't even know where to begin talking about it, let alone how to get it across in a way that'll make sense.  And I'm pretty sure it's different for everyone, yet at the same time, I think if we all talked about it, we'd all understand.

I started writing the new book tonight.

It took longer to actually get my ass in the chair and start than I'd thought.  When it's time to write, there's always a dozen and more different things I can do really quick before I start, and those stack up quickly.  So I had to make myself not do them.  Then I had to find a song -- I've developed a kind of ritual for writing, and part of it involves finding a song that fits the story and playing that every time before I start.  Since today was the first day, I had to find the song.  Took a guess, found it on the first try, and it worked surprisingly well.  Seemed like I was prepared.  So I started.

I then spent the entirety of the first page beating down my internal editor with a mental plunger, telling myself to just keep writing, that anything bad could be fixed later.  No,  I didn't want to know that I was taking too long to get to the big moment of the first chapter.  No, I didn't want to know about the 250-word mark that would be crucial later for queries and pitches and what-have-you.  No, I didn't want to know that things were already going too slowly.  Just write, I told myself, I had to tell myself.  Just write.

And now, 2500 words later, I'm more than a little relieved.  What I have isn't spectacular but it introduces the two main characters and the main antagonist, and most importantly, it gets the story started.  Now that I've started, I can keep going.  Now, when I sit down, it'll be to pick up where I left off.  It's a lot easier to put one word after the other when there's already words in place.

The thing is, I knew I needed to start this tonight.  My life has this tendency to go well except for the things I want most -- I've got a good job that pays me plenty, I have some of the greatest friends and family anyone could ask for, and I generally don't have too much to worry about.  Except this.  Except writing something that will get my career started.  I know I'm exaggerating, but it constantly feels like I'm failing at the one thing in life I want most.

And three nights ago, I put Skyborne behind me for the last time, and made a wish for my success.  A strong wish.  A wish that won't come true without a lot of hard work on my part.  So three nights later, I knew, I had to start.

Here's hoping it works.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Organic Plot.

"I think people who create and write, it actually does flow - just flows from into their head, into their hand, and they write it down.  It's simple."  --Paul McCartney

If only everything was that simple.  Or rather, if only it was that simple all the time.

So as I talked about in my last two entries, I'm hard at work on a new plot, a new story for Shiloh and Alexi.  Funny thing: it's been going ridiculously well.  Bizarrely so, in fact.  I keep waiting to sit down and have no idea what should happen next, or to look it all over and want to delete not only the entire file but everything I've ever written as well as the word processor I wrote it on.

But no.  I sit down, I pick up where I left off in the ever-growing planning document, and I keep going like I never stopped.  Most of the time, I know exactly what's going to happen next, and when I stop knowing that, I stop for the night and pick it up the next day, and boom, the same thing happens. Just tonight, I finished plotting the endgame, and I started off not knowing how it was all going to play out.  I went and lay down for less than a minute, and suddenly knew just what needed to happen to make everything work.

I'm not bragging, I swear.  I'm honestly not used to things going this easily.  It's like watching a tree grow over the space of minutes instead of years, being able to see where every single leaf and branch is going to sprout just a moment before it does, all while knowing exactly what the tree will look like once it's done.  And it boggles my mind that all this is coming out of my head.

It's a weird and wonderful thing, to feel like the story is just using me to see that it's told, like I'm just channeling this thing and along for the ride.  If this keeps happening when I actually sit down to write this book, I'll be grateful beyond words.

Side note to all this: the current plot is the second one I've come up with since ending work on Skyborne.  The first one I had also flowed well, and I loved it, but then I talked about it with Rena and she pointed out something important.  Apparently, having a main character seek out her real father is a plot better suited for middle grade, not YA.  (Have I mentioned that I'm really starting to loathe categories?  That's another entry.)  So based on that, I scrapped what I had and came up with something quite different.  This new plot is worlds better for everyone involved, myself included.

It's something I've long believed, but something I also have to be reminded of from time to time: never be afraid to make massive changes to your work.  It might turn out to be the best thing you could have done.

Alternate title for this entry: "Oh Crap This Story Is Pulling Itself Kicking And Screaming Out Of My Head"

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bringing up Old Stuff

I write everything down, and I never delete any of it.

Okay, that's not completely true.  But most ideas I have, I keep around, even if they've faded into that ambiguous slush of things I no longer want to write.  I never know when I'm going to need something I thought up weeks, months, or years ago.

And over the past few days, I've been digging up quite a bit.

As I talked about in my last entry, I'm moving on from Skyborne, but I'm still set on telling Shiloh and Alexi's story.  As I also talked about in my last entry, I've been telling stories with these two for a long time, so I have more plot notes about them than anyone else.  In search of this new plot, I started looking through older stuff, and found a few very useful things.

For instance, I found that the 'new' idea I had a few weeks ago was actually something I thought up back in 2009 and had forgotten about.  Go figure.  I've heard it's bad to rip yourself off, but hey, I don't think it counts as re-using an idea if I never actually wrote that book.  ^_^  I also found a ton of character notes, some of which are invalid for the new incarnations of the characters and some of which is still very, very valid and will make them more interesting when I start writing them.

It's weird to admit it to myself, but character matters so much in making a book worth reading, and Skyborne's lack of interesting history for the main characters left them as more blank slates than I realized when I was writing it.  I will fix that.

Also on my list of older stuff to reread?  An entire book, one I finished back in 2005, the last book I thought was worthy of being published.  Odds are good I'll go through it and cringe a lot.  But I realized last month that I can go back to it, turn it inside out, and rework it, make it the tale told by one of the villains.  I want to really delve into this person's head and see what it's like to serve a spirit who affects the world in warped attempts at change and blood-bound symbiotes.  And I want this would-be villain to be the one who breaks the world's one great pattern.

This year, I would like to write these two books.  Nine months is plenty of time for that, yeah?

oh gods what am I getting myself into

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


My supervisor can't seem to pronounce the word "reconsideration". He has an interesting command of the English language to begin with, but no matter how many times I try to correct him, he always pronounces it "reconsiderization."

I bring this up only because I've been doing some reconsidering of my own.  Simply put, I'm wondering if I should be trying to get Skyborne published.  ...and that's quite possibly the hardest thing I've ever had to write in this blog.

I don't love the story any less.  I don't love the world any less.  And ye gods, I don't love the characters any less. Shiloh and Alexi are pretty much my Eternal Champions; I've written them in five different books, across different worlds and different times and different names, and it always ends with them together.

But through the query process, I've started to realize things about Skyborne.  The story is very hard to explain in brief, which makes querying difficult.  While the story itself is self-contained, it's also not the best way to introduce an entire world with the hopes of telling a long story series on that world. Reading about tiny pieces of the world called Abraxas which aren't really the world called Abraxas and they all go away in the end as the real Abraxas gets put back together... see what I mean?  And besides, when the story ends with the world getting put back together after being destroyed, really, what do I do for a second act?

So, last Tuesday night, I asked myself, is there another story to tell for Shiloh and Alexi, another way to do things for them.  I spent all day Wednesday having ideas I didn't want, which was bizarre.  But I wrote them all down.  A week later, 5000 words of plots and plans later, I've got a new story.  And y'know what?  I really, really like this thing.

It's strange to consider setting Skyborne aside.  This is the first book I've had enough faith in to try to get published since 2005.  But after spending a week with this new story, I'm seeing Skyborne's flaws quite clearly.  And I can accept that it just might not work.

Rena showed me this a while back: The Book of My Heart.  I found it again on Sunday, after reading a blog entry from Juliana Haygert that linked to On Writing the Book After the Book of Your Heart. And all of this put together helped me realize I was doing the right thing.  I'll write this new story.  I'll give it my all.  And for crying out loud, I'll write it slower than my last efforts.  If it works out, excellent.  If it doesn't, I'll write something else. Far better to keep casting out new hopes instead of clinging to one even after it starts to sink.

And hey, this means I can work on the project I mentioned in my last entry, the one that was too close to Skyborne's supposed sequel. And that means I can write someone attacking the Big Bad by air-dropping herself from a flying motorcycle. And that will be fun.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I've Done this Already.

Music for this entry comes to us from U2, because I'm trying to light my own way and it's frustrating as hell.  Or rather, I'm trying to find light several ways at once and just realized I'm using the same torch and... and the metaphor is breaking down.

I do a lot of plotting.  I did that entry about being a plotter vs. a pantser a while back, so that's not new news, and it's nothing new at all for me to have three or four different plots at various points between "shiny new idea" and "make this a book now".  And like most (if not all) writers, I have ideas and themes and stuff that I keep going back to because I find them fascinating.

The problem that came up a week or two ago was when I realized I was ripping myself off.

I've been plotting the sequel to Skyborne, currently titled Heartfire.  ...even if I still think that one sounds a little too much like a romance novel.  The word's important to the plot, I swear.  Anyway, the basic plot of Heartfire involves travels to gather items to help a deity.  I'd also been plotting something that, in my mind, would span an epic and warped trilogy that dealt with order vs. chaos and traveled across dozens of worlds and all the space between, only to realize that the entire plot of the first book could be summed up in one phrase:

"Travel to gather items to help a deity."

Not only was I repeating myself, I was working on two books with the exact same basic plot.  I know that some say there are only five or six (or seven, the number varies) actual plots, but that's another discussion.  This was crushing.  This was the death of a book I was really, really looking forward to writing, one that I knew I couldn't do anymore because it was too much like another one.

In the time since then, I've chalked it up to just another part of the writing process, but now I'm thinking about this sort of thing too much.  In tonight's plotting, trying to hash out an idea that I'm far from sure about but it's worth looking into, I couldn't help wondering if it was too close to Skyborne, in essence if not in execution.  I quickly closed it off with a note to myself to "FIND THE FUCKING STORY" and moved on to another plot.

Yes, I swear at myself in my story notes.  It's nothing new.

So, as it stands now, I've got two things to work on that are going well and the usual half-dozen things that might or might not work out.  And then there's the one plot that I don't truly want to write because it hits way too close to home and yet it might have the best shot at actually getting published out of everything I've worked on.

Too much to think about.  Too many questions.  And I don't remember the last time I was this frustrated with what I love to do.  Enough about this for now.  Grr.  Arg.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

World-Building: Too Much, Not Enough, or Just Right?

So, in the ongoing agent search, I found several agents who mentioned the same thing: books that started off telling everything about the world, instead of advancing the story.  Apparently, a lot of people who submit their first five (or ten, or twenty) pages have a habit of getting the story started and then laying on the backstory and history with a trowel.  Possibly with a shovel.  And this got me thinking:

I write fantasy.  It's about the only thing I've ever wanted to write, and recent attempts at novels have taught me I just don't belong in the real world.  ...writing in the real world, I mean.  But since writing fantasy means working in a world that doesn't exist, there's always the issue of making sure the world you're working in is defined enough.  You don't want the reader to be lost, or feel like it's all happening on an empty stage with a few cardboard trees and a dragon made of duct tape hanging from a length of twine in the background.

Two books I read last month took very different tacks on this whole world-building thing, and the sheer contrast makes me think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The first book had Not Enough background info.  It was a fantasy novel in which some people had a distinct connection to the land and there was some kind of council of them whose job it was to make sure things didn't get horribly screwed up and the land didn't rebel against them.  If this sounds vague, it was - I don't even know how many people were on the council or what their roles were, as most were very ill-defined, and the book focused on only two or three of them.  While the book itself was worth reading, I found myself constantly wondering who these people were and why they were important.  When the lack of background detail and explanation means the story's events fail to have the intended impact, something is wrong.

The book that got it Just Right drip-fed a steady stream of background info as it came up.  The story was based around a military and its operations, so whenever they went to a new place, or dealt with new people (for various definitions of 'people'), we learned a little more.  By the time the book ended, I had a great picture of how the army operated and the worlds it worked on.  All without resorting to an eighty-page infodump.  The fact that the narrator was old and cynical but still amazed at all the stuff he was getting into helped a great deal.

As for a book with Too Much background and world-building... Well, there's only one thing I can say, and I say it with the utmost respect: Tolkien.  Moving on.

While I doubt I'll ever write military-based sci-fi, I know I'll keep that book in mind as I work.  Most of my plots involve significant world development and backstory, so I'll look for a way to get it to the reader as it's necessary, pace it out same as I would the plot. As I say about everything I write, hopefully it'll work.

Next entry: what do you do when you realize you're ripping yourself off?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One Small Part.

There's always one more thing.

I just finished adding a bit to a scene in Skyborne, something I realized a week or two ago needed to be there.  (Why did it take so long?  Getting my head back together and on writing after the last book has been difficult.  Hence why I haven't written here for almost three weeks.)  I know that, at this stage, I should be thinking more about taking words out than adding them, as the word count's still a bit high.  But I knew this was necessary.

The added part is a small thing, a quiet realization that sets up the book's entire romance subplot.  And I think it's a little sad, because wanting to stay with someone and knowing your path will tear you away from them is never a good feeling.  Yet it's exactly what the story needed right then, and that's what matters most.

I've struggled with the romance aspects of Skyborne before, blogged about it here at least once.  But with this small addition, I think I've finally got that whole thing the way it needs to be.  Which pretty much means the whole book is finally the way it needs to be.

What I can't help now is thinking of that old phrase, "When the student is ready, the master will appear," and wondering if it applies to literary agents.  ^_^

I'll have an entry with more substance sometime soon; I have some thoughts to get down about story and/vs. world building after the last two books I've read.  But for now, something much more important: sleep.

Friday, February 1, 2013


So, last night, I finished the book I'd been working on.  Even at the end, I was filled with ambivalence.  I lost my passion for this thing somewhere along the way, only got it back at a few brief times, and was mostly cranking through it to get it done so I could move on to something else.  I wasn't sure if I'd ever go back and see it if was worth polishing.  And then, earlier today, something strange happened: I was telling a co-worker that I'd finished it, and she said she wanted to read it.

Just that.  Just knowing someone actually wants to read this thing changed how I feel about it.  I went from being pretty damn sure it wasn't worth going back to, sure I was going to leave behind writing in the real world because everything I've written there has gone poorly, to going through ideas in my head of how to fix the stupid thing.  Just because someone said they wanted to read it.

Granted, this co-worker mostly wants to read it because I've told her quite a bit about the character who can exist as three of herself and goes around with six arms, but still.

Right now, it's really hard for me to say what will or won't happen with this book.  I've learned that I can't speed through the writing process.  I averaged 3200 words a night, and that made the whole thing come out in an unfortunate rush.  Why I was writing so fast, I don't know; maybe just because I could.  Of the past five books I've written, Skyborne is the only one I wrote at a more sedate pace and it's the only one I've stuck with.  Trying to go that fast, there's no time to pause and reflect, no time to really focus on what's important.  There's only moving to the next line, the next paragraph, the next scene.  And I can't write like that anymore.  I wish it hadn't taken me this long to understand that, but at least now I know for sure.

The changes I'd like to make will mean rewriting a great deal of the book, if not the whole thing.  There's a character to remove, another character's power to change, a third character to have appear much earlier, a fourth character's personality to alter, my country's five-hundredth anniversary to plan, my wife to murder, and Guilder to blame for it, and so on.  I don't yet know if I want to do this, or if it would be better to just let the story settle and leave it behind.  I'll find out in six to eight weeks, when I look at it again.

But I'd forgotten how much it mattered, how good it felt, just to have someone who wants to read the story.  Not that I don't have friends who read my stuff, it's just different when someone asks to read it instead of the other way around.  ^_^  And it has me thinking:

Someday, if all goes well, I'll make it as a writer.  I'll have people eagerly looking forward to my next book.  And that, more than anything, will make it easier to keep going.  Not money, not fame, not recognition.  Just people who want to read what I write.  After years of writing things that hardly anyone ever reads, it's hard to ask for more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Advice When it's Needed.

Bit of a cheat in this entry: the following is something a friend sent to me back in 2007, when she was participating in NaNoWriMo.  She was on a mailing list wherein she received pep talks from famous writers, and forwarded several of them my way.  This one's from Neil Gaiman.  I'm posting it now because, to be quite honest, I needed to read it and thought it deserved to be shared, because I know I'm not the only one.

Take it away, Mr. Gaiman:

By now you're probably ready to give up. You're past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You're not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper.  You're in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more---and that even when they do you're preoccupied and no fun. You don't know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you're pretty sure that even if you finish it it won't have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began---a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read---it falls so painfully short that you're pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That's how novels get written.

You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realise that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It's a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn't build it it won't be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.

The search for the word gets no easier but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent.  I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm---or even arguing with me---she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, "Oh, you're at that part of the book, are you?"

I was shocked. "You mean I've done this before?"

"You don't remember?"

"Not really."

"Oh yes," she said. "You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients."

I didn't even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That's the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it's the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Pretty soon you'll be on the downward slide, and it's not impossible that soon you'll be at the end. Good luck...

Neil Gaiman

Monday, January 21, 2013

Things I Need to Know

There are hazards to writing something that takes place in the real world, things I didn't even think about when I started plotting my current book.  I'm used to being able to make up everything - to come up with the way the world works, how far away one place is from another, and anything else the story needs.

It's one thing to create a world.  It's something very different to have to get a pre-existing world right.

For instance, last week I bugged a co-worker who's an avid hunter about guns.  One of the book's characters decides dealing with demons up close is a bad idea, and learns how to use a rifle.  I kept the details deliberately vague, as I figured I could edit in what I needed later.  The info I got from my co-worker was interesting; he not only listed a good 'starter' rifle someone would learn with, but gave me a full description of the second gun the character ends up getting, complete with the fact that it has a 300-yard range and can take down an elk.

It's the little details that matter.

There are a ton of things I still have to look up, and much like the gun details, I expect to edit them in later.  Things like hotel floor plans, roads in major cities and small towns, and actual maps of those places so I can make sure Our Heroes' travels are accurate.  I plan to make full use of Google, maps and street views and all that, and hope I can find a place that actually fits what I've written.  Sure, anything can be fixed in editing, but still.

All in all, having to take all this into account has been an interesting experience.  This isn't something I worry about in most of my writing.  True, the book I wrote last year took place on Earth, but it was almost entirely at a college campus, which is its own kind of fictional.  And before that, it had been years since I wrote something that took place in the real world, and that was over half a century after a major change to the world so I had plenty of room to improvise.

As for fixing all of this in editing, that's another point.  I'm not as excited about writing this book as I thought I would be.  It feels a bit like it's all been done before - no real surprise, as this is my third time trying to tell this story.  I also might be suffering from Shiny New Project Syndrome; the things I still have in the plotting stages seem a lot more interesting.  But I'm going to finish this book, one way or another.

The last thing I need to know is if I can well and truly make this story work.  And I won't know that until it's done.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Kind of Magic

Music for tonight's blog entry, for obvious reasons.

One of the main things happening in the book I'm working on is the sudden influx of magic into the real world.  The results are largely unfortunate and the world is forever changed, but really, that's what happens when you introduce magic into a place where there isn't any.  Dealing with this change is one of the main challenges for the main characters, especially considering what happens to them.

But all this got me thinking.  There's a ridiculous number of ways to deal with magic in a story.  What I'm working with is blatant, showy, powerful, and hard to miss.  It's the kind of magic I enjoy writing about, as it lends itself to all kinds of interesting stories, especially when you have people who are just learning how to use it.  I've fully planned to have random effects occurring, thanks to the group's inexperience and the world's condition.  Yet some of the best uses of magic in fiction I've seen are a great deal more subtle, and a lot less wild.

In George R. R. Martin's series A Song of Ice and Fire, magic is rare and subtle, and just slowly coming back into the world.  I've seen people ask him about his world's magic system, and if I remember right, he said there wasn't one.  He wanted the magic to feel like magic, not something with a set of rules.  (Apologies to all parties if I'm misremembering any of this, I read it quite a while ago.)  I like this approach for some types of stories; it keeps magic surprising and interesting, and also makes it something the characters can't rely on.

On the distinctly other hand, you have the works of Brandon Sanderson, who's a prime example of the trope Magic A is Magic A.  Basically, magic works in a consistent and predictable manner, with its own set of rules.  He's written a long essay on the subject, which I'm still trying to fully wrap my head around.  I like this approach as well, because it's creative and limiting at the same time.  If you come up with your own set of rules for this sort of thing, your readers will - and should! - call you on it if you break them to serve the plot.

In my book-in-progress, one of the characters is set on learning how the change that's affected the world works.  Everyone is currently ignorant of what's happening, but over time, they will learn.  And while people learning how to use magic is a theme I find myself working with quite often - it comes up in Skyborne as well, for very different reasons - it never gets old to me, because everyone has such a different reaction to suddenly having magic in their lives.

And I have to admit, I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do when they realize the ways their enemies use magic are also available to them, consumptive and repulsive as they are.  I've only been writing this book for nine days and it's already surprised me more than once.  So despite my best-laid plans, I can't help but wonder what kind of magic they'll eventually pursue.