Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year of the Teeth-Clenched Learning Experience

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes."  --Oscar Wilde

As much as I enjoy bucking tradition, there really is no better time than the year's end to look back and see how things have gone.  Looking back on this year, there's really only one way to sum it up:

2014 was fucking awful.

Dead serious here.  The year's high points were DragonCon with friends and Christmas with family.  That's pretty much it.  As for my writing, much as I'd love to say "the less said the better" and cut this entry short, I think it needs more than that.

I started querying THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK earlier this year, and received more silence than rejections.  I'm no stranger to rejections, I know none of us are.  One does not simply get published without getting rejected.  But I believed in this book.  I wanted nothing more than to start my career with this book.  Hearing back nothing got to me more than rejection; a rejection at least means I know the agent considered it before saying no.  Hearing nothing means they could have just deleted the e-mail unread.  And somehow, that's worse.

Then, as I've talked about, I decided to set TAW aside.  Realizing that the book had no real antagonist came as an unpleasant surprise, the sort of thing I should have seen when I was plotting.  Isn't all the time I spend plotting meant to catch problems like that?  I set the book aside, I didn't want to go back to it after some time, and . . . and the whole thing ended up feeling like a huge failure on my part.

I try not to feel that way.  I really do.  But seeing TAW go the way of every single other book I've written hit me hard.

It should be a brighter note that I wrote two books this year.  It would be, if they were worth reading.  The first one I wrote in a few weeks, despite knowing that for me, trying to write quickly results in crap.  Yes, 70K words in 16 days is a hell of a thing.  But as soon as it was done, I hated it.  It wasn't anything like what I wanted it to be, and what gets me the most is that I knew it wasn't ready when I started it.  But I had taken time off for a writing vacation, and it was the only plot I had that was even close to being ready.

The second book went a bit better.  The end result wasn't what I wanted, but the only way I could have realized what I truly want the world and its stories to be was for me to write the ridiculously over-the-top story that I did.  I'm slowly taking down notes for another story in this world, and assuming I get to it someday, I'm hoping it'll go better.

My bitter ranting aside, I'd like to think of what happened with that last book as a metaphor for this whole year.  Nothing turned out the way I wanted it to.  But even in mistakes and failure, I honestly do think I'm getting better at this writing thing.  I'm not good enough yet, but there's hope.  And there's no way I can stop.

So here I sit, teeth grinding together, as I consider this whole year one giant learning experience.

Next entry: IWSG for the new year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I don't usually share this much of something I'm still working on, but I like how this bit turned out.  ^_^  In trying to work on the project that seems set on me not figuring it out, I took some advice from a few commenters and tried a different approach.  Instead of trying to hash out the world and characters from scratch, as per usual, I wrote up a sort of myth that describes how the world came to be.

As I said, this isn't the sort of thing I'd usually share, and it's damn sure not something I'd try to publish.  But since I might not have even tried this without advice from y'all, posting it seemed like a decent idea.  Here goes:

The dream god knew that he had failed, and could not bear the thought.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  The mortals weren’t supposed to know about him.  He stood above and beyond them, and showed them what they needed to see, whether they knew it or not.  Whether they learned from their sleeping visions was not his to know, for he was only to make the dreams, not watch the dreamers.

Such was his failure, one single slip.

He floated within the starry infinity at the heart of his home, the place that was him.  The endless churning visuals of his work swirled around him, thousands of bits of sight and sound and scent and feeling – no, he thought, and darkness fell around him as all the seeds of dreams disappeared at once.  Not feeling.  Not truly.

The dreams weren’t supposed to be true.  Real, but not true.  The truth of dreams came from the dreamers.  He showed what they needed to know, but finding that meaning was up to them.  He’d known that his entire existence.  Such was his role in all that existed.

The dreamers were never to know he was there.  But one had.  One single mortal looked up at him when he held the dreams to her sleeping mind, and asked him who he was.

He wasn’t supposed to be true.  Not to them.  The dreams were real, but he was meant to be less than legend.  But she looked him in the eye and asked who he was.

And he lied.

It seemed such a simple folly, to act as though he was part of her dream.  He cast himself in red and black, to hide the face she never would have known.  The dream he made for her was a simple one, a journey with one ending, to show the path she ought to take.  He’d cast it only for her.

All the dreams were so personal.  And yet he never knew how the dreamers saw them.  Surely one time wouldn’t hurt.

So together, they walked the path he’d prepared.  He knew every twist, every turn, every hazard and safety.  And he let her lead, as though he walked as blindly as she.  He let himself watch her wonder, he saw the dream as she did, he learned to question the warped ways and see how it made sense if you discovered how the dream was meant to be seen.

Such joy in a simple thing.  She saw what she was supposed to see, when the path reached its inevitable end.  That moment of understanding, the smile on her face and the glow of her soul. . . .

He’d never known.  Deep within, the dream god knew he was never supposed to.  She embraced him like an old friend, and thanked him for coming with her, swore she was dreaming and hoped to remember him when she awakened.

Then she was gone.

And now, hanging there in the void, the dream god knew longing and desire, as he had never before.  As he never should have.  He was not to dwell with those who slept, only to make their dreams.  She should have been just another dreamer.  Just another mortal.

But the pain hanging heavy within him, the strange new sense of loneliness, was beyond him to ignore.  All he wanted was to walk with her again.

The dream god thought of raising one hand before himself, but did not move, and clouds full of pictures floated into place through the stars, swirling around where his hand would have been.  The girl was there again, in the myriad images, standing atop something that moved beneath her.  She was unsteady, but the gleam in her eyes showed her eagerness to see where the journey took her.

A meaningless dream.  He could do better for her.  He could teach her, walk with her every night, until--


This was not him.  This was not who he was supposed to be.  This anguish, this yearning for another, was not his way.

He’d made himself an archetype, there in her dream, to hide his true nature, even though she never would have recognized it.  The colors and shapes of mortal legends worked well enough then, but they suited him no more.

They could not suit him ever again.

He’d cast himself as a devil in her dreams.  To never think of her again, he must cast this devil out of himself.

A dream for the dream god, he thought as he raised his hands, and new images blossomed to life among his fingers.  A place for part of himself to sleep until it faded away, to be forgotten like any other dream.

The place came together in a clashing of concepts, rattling around between the dream god’s palms.  A world bound by the void at its borders, a dark purple nothingness full of stars, so the devil within him would think it was still home.  Bind those borders in rose vines covered with thorns, to warn away any passing glance with the promise of pain.

For the prison itself, a place of buildings that moved of their own volition, full of paths that led never to the same place twice.  People as well, the soulless flitting semblances that populated every dream, with just enough thought and conversation to fool others into thinking them real.

All to ensure the devil within him, the part that yearned to walk the ways of dreams with a mortal once more, would be satisfied.  If it ever escaped.  Because like all dreams, there had to be a way out, a way to awaken.

Three secrets for the world, then, three hidden places and three coffins buried deep in the dream’s depths, three words to end it all if ever he needed this piece of himself again.

He carved the words into the world’s three hidden places, and made himself forget them.

With the prison complete, the dream god held it before himself and stared within, casting a critical eye upon his work.  It would hold.  Dreamers would be drawn to it of their own accord, unavoidable with a dream this powerful, but they would leave when they awoke.

It would bind the part of him that he wanted bound.  And now only that binding remained.

The dream god called up the image of himself dressed as his own devil, the seeming he wore to speak with the girl.  It wore what would have been his face, had he been mortal, but nothing else of himself.  It was all color and flesh and a smirk horribly out of place, as though that part of himself knew something he did not.  The dream god scowled, crags of his face growing shadows deep enough to swallow the surrounding stars, and ordered the devil into its prison.

And because the devil was part of himself, the dream god too swept through the binding vines and across the prison’s halls, and felt the walls of the coffin he created solidify around him.

Even as their creator, he was bound by the logic of dreams.

Calm returned to him, and peace.  He felt the devil that was once within him raging at its imprisonment, pounding on the inside of its own coffin lid and screaming to be released.

It felt.  He did not.  And so his design was a success.

In time, the devil’s struggles would cease.  It would forget why it had been bound.  It would forget who had created it, and why it came to exist.  It would forget how to feel, and thus become worthy of being part of him again.  And on that day, he would emerge from his coffin, and open the second one, to accept the other part of himself as healed and become whole again.

A faint laugh, low and devious and unfamiliar, shook the binds of the third coffin.

Something else lived in the dream now, something the dream god had not placed.  Knowledge of its presence cast shards of realization through his mind, and the dream god knew he had not completely banished the devil from himself.

For he could still feel.  And at that moment, he knew fear.

Why, the dream god wondered, had he created a third coffin?

Hope you enjoyed it.  No blog entry next week due to Christmas and all that goes with it.  ^_^  Be back on the 31st.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the Night Shift.

There are times when I miss being unemployed.

Don't get me wrong: my job's not horrible.  I make plenty of money, my co-workers aren't bad, and my boss has made it clear she'll be borderline traumatized when I eventually give notice.  ^_^  Hell, because of how long I've been there and how much I know, my former supervisor told me I wasn't allowed to quit - she said the place was a black hole and it would never let me go.

I told her I keep universes in my head, so a black hole was nothing to fear.  But I digress.

What I miss about being unemployed is being able to stay up as late as I want and not have to worry about when I get out of bed the next day.  Because, frantic scribbling of story notes while at work aside, I'm more creative at night.

I've been like this as far back as I can remember.  Way back when I was pecking out really bad stories on a DOS computer with 3 megahertz and an amber monitor, it was always in the evening and at night, as that was the only time I could have the computer to myself.  I kept at this habit all through high school and college (though thankfully I got my own computer as a high school graduation present), and it's continued to this day.

Which makes it really annoying to have to stop writing and plotting by 9:30 PM so I can get to bed and get up for work the next day.

I know I'm capable of working during the day.  When I'm editing a book, I'll often do two sessions on weekends, one day and one night.  If I'm at home on the weekend and I have a plot idea, I'm writing it down, no matter what time of day it is.  Sometimes I get really inspired and do full plotting sessions on weekend days, even weekend mornings.  Nothing quite like getting out of bed with an idea.

My writing during the day is less great, as most books I've written that I actually liked were done completely in the darker hours.  But I have no trouble with editing or plotting during the day and writing at night.  That sounds really damn good, actually.

I tell myself that, someday, I'll be able to go back to those days when I could stay up late and wake up around 10:00 the next day.  Because in theory, someday I'll be doing this as a full-time job.  I'll have deadlines, sure, but I'll still have the same number of hours in a day, I'll just spend more of them up late at night.  And my (equally theoretical) agent and publisher will get used to getting e-mails from me at four in the morning their time.  I do hope they're not awake to get them, because damn, keeping eccentric hours should be the job of the actual eccentric.  ^_^

So, what about the rest of you?  When are you the most creative, or when do you feel you do the best work?  If you have a particular time, how did you figure it out?  And does anyone else ever miss being unemployed because of all this?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IWSG: With Apologies to Kenny Rogers.

I was raised on country music, thanks to my mom, and some of my earliest memories involve car rides with that music playing.  I remember Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler" very well, as even then, I understood what the song meant.  As much as I could at four years old.

How does this relate to writing?  Oddly enough. . . .

For all that I exulted two weeks ago about how well one of my plots was going, when I was nearly done with the thing, I found myself reluctant to work on it.  While I'd gone through most of the book in a reasonable amount of detail, the entire third act was two short paragraphs, and something about it didn't feel right.

It should have been working, I knew that.  The story is one I want to tell.  I've had a great deal of fun plotting this thing and figuring out how to make it all work.  And I was so certain that the scene that made up the first half of the third act would be absolutely brilliant, hilarious and action-packed and heartwarming all at once.  No matter what, I wanted to hold onto that scene; it was one of the first I'd come up with when plotting the book, ever since I first knew the story featured intrigue and blackmail and airships.  Yet despite knowing where the story was going, I felt like I was hitting a wall whenever I tried to think on those three important words: "What happens next?"

As I'm sure some of you have guessed by now, that should-be-awesome scene was the problem.

Part of the problem with writing is that things change along the way.  What should be the story's Crowning Moment of Awesome may become the last triumphant moment the heroes have before everything goes wrong.  That minor character who only existed to help with some world-building might stand up to become a main character as they're being written.  Someone who's supposed to live through the book might decide to stab a dragon in the back.  Things like that.

Far too often, the solution is to cut something you really wanted to keep - to fold, so to speak.  And sometimes that's enough to make you want to walk away.

I was fortunate enough to figure out something that works a great deal better.  But it never would have happened if I hadn't taken the time to go over what I had in mind and recognize that the problem was a scene that I thought had to be part of the story.  No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't hold onto it.

In the end, though, the story will be better for it.  The story feels right without it.  And that's what matters most.  Here's hoping that, whenever I actually write this, the gamble pays off.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

And the Plot Hid from the Author.

And now, in contrast to last week's entry, I get to write about something I'm plotting that's not going so well.

I think most writers, if not all of us, have been asked where they get their ideas.  (I always say "the shower."  It's true, and it throws people off.)  Ideas can come from anywhere, and most of the stories I've told and plots I've worked with have come from combining several different ideas and seeing what works well when put together.

Since May or June or thereabouts, I've been attempting to plot something that's really different from what I usually write.  And ye gods, it will not play nice and let me figure out what the hell it's actually supposed to be.

The story's origins come from hearing this song on the radio.  Roses are important to me, so I scribbled down notes based on what came to mind when I listened to the song's lyrics.  When I got home from work, I watched the video, and found it inspiring in unexpected ways.  I noted all the weird phrases that appear in the video, and started to get some story ideas from thinking about what all those things could mean.  I wrote everything down, of course, and my notes showed the first hints of forming a story.

That might be the last coherent bit of plotting I managed for this thing.

Since then, trying to figure out anything about this story has been like trying to pick up enormous spheres of Jell-o without damaging them while wearing Hulk Hands.  I know that dream logic will be a significant factor in the story, as it's entirely possible that the whole thing takes place in someone or something's dream or in a dream realm.  I know that the setting is supposed to be a school that's not a school, though exactly what it is fluctuates several times in the 2.5 pages' worth of story notes.  And I know that things are going to get progressively weirder.

This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I could draw worth a damn, because most of what I can think of for this story is visuals, and I don't know how to fit them into words.

This is the sort of thing that scares me.  I've planted the seeds of a story that I quite literally do not know how to tell.  How do you show that a character has been completely forgotten, to the point where the remaining characters would never mention that person again because to them, the person never existed?  Can you create a workable system of dream logic when dream logic only makes sense because you're dreaming, and would seem wildly inconsistent in text?  And what does "The ways themselves may be asleep or awake" mean?

I wrote that in my notes - it came out of my head - and I have no idea what it means.

I know that I could be overthinking this; there's a reason some of my characters think about things too much, they get it from me.  In most cases, I would just sit down and tell myself I was going to work on this particular plot, and that would be that.  Most of the time, I can hash out where the story's supposed to go and what it's supposed to be with time and focus.  But everything about this story eludes me.  And that's why it bothers me so much.

I know I can't be the only one who's dealt with ideas like this.  Commiseration time, anyone?  :P

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

And the Plot Ran Away with the Author.

I was going to try to come up with a parody of the nursery rhyme for this entry's title, but it seemed like a bit of a stretch, and I couldn't think of a truly suitable rhyme for "author".  Aside from "bother", I mean.  And I'll leave calling authors that for agents and publishers.

So!  With the last book done, I'm back in the plotting trenches, tugging scenes and ideas and characters and locations out of my head and doing my damnedest to form them into something resembling a coherent story.  I'm happy to report that it's going very well so far.

...yes, I'm writing this after today's plotting session, so as not to jinx myself.

I'm working on the plot for another Shiloh & Alexi novel, as I've talked about before.  It's a new tale*, which means some re-imagining of both the characters and the world. I've been writing these two for a very long time, and setting stories in the world of Abraxas since 2007, but I always do the same character work for them as I would for new people.  It's been interesting - developing new backstories for characters I've known for so long leads to discovering new aspects of their characters, and it's like meeting someone you haven't spoken to for several years and finding out that so much in their life has changed.

 Very tempted to go into detail, but considering how much has changed already, it really wouldn't serve much purpose.

The plot itself, though, has changed a great deal from how I first conceived it.  I'd originally thought of it as more of a continent-spanning adventure, something with a real Indiana Jones vibe, involving hunting down ancient artifacts.  But as I worked out the backstories for the cast, familiar faces and new people alike, I started to see where they would all be at the start of the story.  And that meant a very different kind of story.

There are times when I'm plotting when the tale itself seems less like something I'm making up and more like something that already exists, something I'm discovering along the way.  It seems less like the plot's not going where I want it to and more like my original ideas of it were mistakes, so now I'm seeing what's really supposed to be there.  I know how weird it sounds to have something I'm creating surprise me, because it's coming out of my head, isn't it?  But that's how it goes.

And this is right up there with "compatible parts and fluids" in terms of how difficult it is to explain to people who aren't writers.

I did explain some of this to a non-writer a while ago, about how it can be difficult to know what's supposed to happen in a story and yet not know how it's all supposed to fit together.  When the key elements include ancient artifacts, high society social events, dealings between merchant houses including both blackmail and an arranged marriage, and several different kinds of airship-based trouble, it gets difficult.  But seeing it all fit together, and figuring out how to make it work?  That's worth it all, every time.

The plot might be running away with me, but I'm not letting go of it until the story's told.

*For the curious, I did try to re-plot TAW with a better antagonist.  I really did.  But I realized that it wasn't what I wanted to do, right in the middle of a paragraph, and deleted those notes.  I hope to return to the book's concepts of the warlock and all that someday, but I've shelved that specific story.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Little too Crazy.

As promised, this is an entry about the book I wrote last month.  Said book doesn't have a title, which is oddly appropriate, since one of the characters is the one whose name took me forever to find.

The story is, essentially, a godpunk portal fantasy.  The world is littered with dead gods, most trapped in stone or similar.  People from all across the multiverse fall into the world, and there's no way back, so it's a bizarre place filled with all kinds of beings.  The story starts with one of the main characters, a guy from Earth, having his surfboard disappear from under him.  He then realizes that he's in a different ocean, one that actively hates him.  He's quickly captured by the Evil Empire, who finds people as soon as they show up and forces them to bond with the dead gods so they can serve as power sources.

Much of the rest of the book is spent freeing people from the Evil Empire and gathering them together, leading up to a final conflict at an ancient elven city, complete with one of the ancient elves newly awakened by the presence of people bonded to the dead gods.  It was fun to write, quite crazy at times, and deliberately over the top - one of my goals on this one was to turn everything Up To Eleven as much as I could.  In some ways I succeeded, as shown by the flying motorcycle, fifty-vs-three battle, and the aforementioned character who showed up in the ocean that hates everyone deciding that the best course of action against the thing trying to capture him is to kick it in what he thinks is its crotch.

I'm sure I could make things more ridiculous in editing.  But I'm not sure if I ever will.

Here's the thing: the world I've created for this book is bizarre, but in a more subtle way than this story conveys.  There's more to it than anyone in this story suspects, a greater purpose behind the place that could take half a dozen books to truly explore and figure out.  Granted, most of this is in my notes in extremely vague terms, but I know I can get a lot more out of it.

In other words, I'd be better off with a story that's not deliberately crazy.  The empire's machinations have to be more subtle and hidden for it to truly work - less Borg, more 1984.  A story about people within the empire figuring out the secrets behind both the empire itself and the world could work very well, as there's a lot of room for espionage and trickery in a setting where no one but those at the very top truly know how things work.

Also, I'd like to see some dark reflections of the characters.  A character who can exist as three of herself would make an incredibly good spy and infiltrator.  A man bonded with a god of the hunt would make an impossibly good sniper.  The sheer amount of personal manipulation you can do with someone bonded to a goddess of love is ridiculous.  And while brainwashing someone to use them as a weapon is cliched, I really think I need to do that with the raging berserker elven princess.

As I said last entry, I don't hate this book after finishing it, which is a minor miracle.  I had fun writing it.  I needed to clear my head by working on other things, and it did the trick.  But I don't think I'll go back to this specific tale.  This world is worthy of so much more than a fun, violent romp that ends with our heroes triumphant.

Besides, writing someone with a god-granted power based on Cupcake Ipsum was just a little too silly.  Though clearing a hallway of guards with a wave of marshmallow creme was fun.

I've already begun taking down notes on how to make a new story work.  Part of that will involve better-defining the parts of the world where the story takes place, so that I know all the wheres and whys and hows of it right from the start.  There's a great deal more I can do with this, and it's time to figure all that out.

...eventually.  I'll add it to the other dozen plots-in-progress.  I really need to win the lottery or something so I can do this full-time...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

IWSG: Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe.

"...I need it to be mine alone while I carve it... When I'm finished, then the world can have it, but when I work on it, it is to be my vision and mine alone."
--from Terry Goodkind's Faith of the Fallen

As writers, I think it's in our nature to talk about our work.  Especially with each other.  If nothing else, fellow writers understand.  You can talk to them about the problems you're having, and they won't look at you funny when you talk about characters running away with the plot or how you had to go back and change things since you blew up the wrong half of a city or the troubles with writing an interspecies romance when the beings involved don't have compatible parts and fluids.

This is the part where I look back at what I just wrote and understand why I often don't talk to people who aren't writers about these things.

I'm not saying talking to other writers about your work isn't a good idea.  It's an excellent idea.  I've had talks with friends where they helped me close plot holes and the like before I ever started, and riffing ideas back and forth is great fun.  Talking with others has led to some great stories.  But there can be a downside to it as well.

If you talk about your stories with other writers, odds are good they'll ask if the story goes how they think it should go, or they'll tell you what they've done before and how it worked for them, or they'll talk about things they've read that sound similar.  And if you ask for advice, well, get comfortable.  Because I think it's safe to say most if not all of us love talking about our craft.

While this all seems like a good thing, if you have a bunch of other people's words in your head when you're actually writing your story, it's easy to feel like it's not your story anymore.  And if you feel like the story's getting away from you and realize it's because now you have someone else's idea in your head and can't get it out . . . it sucks, to say the absolute least.  As much as I've tried, you can't unthink things.  You can't unhear someone saying "Well, what if you do this?", no matter how well-meaning their advice was.

This is especially bad if someone tells you, "That sounds a lot like this other thing I read."  It might just be me, but it's so hard to stick with an idea if I think it's too similar to a published story.

So, with deliberate irony, here's my advice on this: when it comes time to write the story, keep it to yourself.  Keep it your own, and only your own; Stephen King referred to this sort of thing as writing with the door closed.  I've seen many different writers say to write the story that you want to write, and I think the best way to do that is to make sure that when you're writing it, you're the only one telling the story.  Once you've finished it, then yes, get a bunch of people to read it and take their advice (or don't) as you see fit.  But make sure the heart of the story, what makes it what it is, comes only from you.

I'm writing about this for November's IWSG because on October 3rd, I started writing a book and didn't tell anyone.  Thirty-one days and 94000+ words later, I finished it.  And I don't hate it, which is nice.  Now that the first draft is done, I'll talk about it next week.

And if anyone's wondering, no, I'm not going to do NaNoWriMo, seeing as how I just did.  :P

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Recommended Reading: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

No, I'm not turning this into a review blog.  :P  I am, however, shot for blog post ideas this week, so I thought I'd talk about a book I think you all should read.

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, first in the Magic ex Libris series, is an urban fantasy tale with a magic system that's every book geek's dream: the titular libriomancers are able to pull items out of books and use them in the real world.  The main character, Isaac, is of course both a libriomancer and a massive geek, so you can imagine the sheer joy he gets from doing this.  And that's what drew me in so much about this book, and why I love this series so much.

There's a kind of magic in the written word.  As writers, I think we know this; whether we see it in our own work is up for debate because we know everything that goes into it, but I think it's safe to say we've all seen it in our favorite books.  That's part of what makes Libriomancer so good - it makes that magic real, and takes you along for the ride with its infinite possibilities.

The sheer joy of reading also comes into how Isaac and others like him work magic, and that's actually how part of the magic works.  The more readers love a book, the more they believe it could be real, the more powerful it can be.  It's a unique and interesting magic system, and there's a good deal more to it than Isaac knows.  Learning about it over the course of the story was fascinating.

And there's the part where Isaac gears up by putting on a long brown coat that has dozens of pockets inside, and he fills those pockets with books from his library, pages marked with rubberbands so he can get what he needs quickly.  I've read a lot of "preparing for battle" scenes, but that's the only one that had me looking at my bookshelf and wondering how well I could arm myself.

If you're considering your own bookshelf right now, then yes, you should read this book.

The series itself also moves quite quickly.  The second book, Codex Born, came out earlier this year, and shows that there may be no status quo - the changes that happen are the sort of things I'd expect in the fifth or sixth book of a long-running series, serious shake-ups.  The third book comes out in January, and I have no idea what's going to happen.

Also, since Mr. Hines has shown himself to be a big proponent of diversity, that's there in this book as well.  Not everyone's white, not everyone's straight, not everyone's male.  The main woman character is Lena, who's not only strong and capable and has interesting magic of her own, but she's based on an ancient Greek ideal of beauty (long story (literally)).  She's distinctly not the modern cultural ideal of what a woman should look like, but Isaac has absolutely no problem with that.

I hate to say I hope this series doesn't ever get made into a movie or TV show, but I kind of do, only because I know they wouldn't cast Lena right.

So, yes.  If you like reading (and if you don't, why are you here?), and think you'd enjoy a tale with vampires of various breeds and dryads on motorcycles and mysterious magic and characters who do the kinds of things you've probably dreamed about while reading, you should check this book out.  The first chapter is available through Mr. Hines's website, linked above.  Share and enjoy.

Next week: IWSG.  Keep it secret, keep it safe.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I know I'm supposed to be working on things that aren't a TAW fix and/or another Shiloh & Alexi story.  And for the most part, I have been, I swear.  But I was on a walk during one of my breaks at work when, just for the hell of it, I decided to think on what I could change in TAW to make it work.  And that helped me realize a serious problem that I somehow missed throughout the entire creation process:

The book lacks a good, solid antagonist.

It's one of those things I would deny if I hadn't realized it myself.  But it's true.  The Big Bad makes two appearances, and we get little of its motivation.  (Yes, it's an it.  Demons in this world don't have genders.)  Other than that, there are the demon's nameless minions, two minor demons, a powerful minion with a name whom I only brought in because he was going to be significant in the sequel, and ████████, who becomes the surprise antagonist right at the end.

So, since the antagonist's part is both weak and spread among too many beings, the entire story comes off as an excuse for the two main characters to go on a journey and end up together.  There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not what I was going for.

I think this is part of a larger problem for me.  I write characters I like, and I want to see them do well.  Hell, I want them to be awesome.  So it's a lot easier for me to write them doing great things rather than being in direct or indirect conflict with a main antagonist.  Too many of my plots have the heroes and the Big Bad come into conflict only right at the beginning and at the end, with the main characters simply achieving various goals all throughout the middle.

I realize this structure is exceedingly common.  Yet somehow it doesn't quite feel right.

It's kind of a given that the antagonist has to have more power and resources than the heroes, otherwise it's not much of a conflict.  The trick is finding ways to keep both sides involved without either overcoming the other until the end of the story.  (Ways that make sense, of course.  If the antagonist is a political manipulator type, it's hard to justify them as behind the carnivorous badgers that dog the heroes' every step.)

The other side of this is risking the antagonist becoming a cartoon villain.  If the main adversary has reason to kill the main characters, they can't encounter said antagonist every few chapters, or it turns into "I'll get you next time, Gadget!" after the third or fourth time.  (Or you run out of main characters halfway through the book.)  If the antagonist wants to capture them, it's easy to assume they'll always escape, until the story's final act.  A variant of this is when the antagonist sends mooks of subsequently greater power after the heroes, all of whom end up defeated, leaving the heroes stronger and the reader wondering why the Big Bad didn't send the strongest mooks right at the start.

I think the Empire from the original three 'Star Wars' movies is probably one of the best examples of how to do this right.  They bring about conflict both personal and galaxy-spanning.  They're more powerful than the heroes, yet still the heroes can both achieve major victories and suffer significant defeats without either side being brought down.  Lastly, their final conflict is orchestrated on multiple levels, and it couldn't have happened at any other point in the story.

So, question time: what sort of antagonists do you like the most?  What sort do you like to write?  Have you also struggled with making sure they work as they should?  And if so, how did you fix them?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Keep Coming Back.

Today's blog entry is brought to you by the music that accompanies the dancing Groot.  I know it's a stretch, but hey, dancing Groot.

I'd like to think of this as the "good twin" to my Been There, Done That entry.  I want to talk about the stories and ideas we keep coming back to, the themes that keep showing up in our writing, all that sort of thing.  This is about both what and why, as I think it's important to ask ourselves why we write what we do.

Even it's just "Because I think it's cool", which is a perfectly legit answer.

First thing that I keep coming back to: people with powers.  I don't mean just magic or the like, I mean people with specific abilities that are unique to them.  This comes from reading a bunch of X-Men comics when I was younger, especially 'Generation X', which featured a cast of young mutants dealing with their newly-discovered powers.  Thanks to those, I think I'm forever set on writing stories that have people coming into some kind of new abilities and learning how to use them.

The fun part is, that sort of thing is both character development and plot device all in one, so it tends to work really well in stories.  I just think it's endlessly fascinating to watch people learn how to deal with something strange and new that could get them into all kinds of trouble, which leads into the next thing I keep coming back to: people gaining power from gods.

The first book I ever wrote had people receiving power from their gods to go forth and undo some sort of magic that was turning the world's dragons against just about everyone.  I don't remember all the details because I started the thing in 1998, finished it in 2001, and it was a terrible book that I've largely tried to forget.  But the theme of gaining power from gods is something I'm still incorporating into my plots.  I read a bunch of Greek mythology growing up, but I never found the gods as interesting as I did the mortals who were born from them.  Those stories featured people with abilities mere mortals were never meant to have, which brought about their own new and dangerous set of problems.

Back then, I didn't quite understand that throwing an endless stream of problems at your main characters was a key factor in writing a book, but hey, live and learn.  At least my little obsessions make for decent plots.

The last thing I keep coming back to is something I've touched on before: I like writing non-traditional relationships.  Writing fantasy makes this easy, thankfully.  Have races other than humans?  Excellent, start hooking people up.  ^_^  I don't know that I have any great reasoning or motivation behind this, I just think the standard boy-meets-girl stuff is boring and has been done to death.  The urban fantasy series I once wrote went through thirty-one parts - its entire first series - before it had a couple comprised of two humans.  So you might say I'm a fan of this sort of thing.

I know this can, of course, be seen as a metaphor for non-traditional relationships here on Earth.  And sometimes I do see it like that.  But most of the time, it's just seeing how characters bounce off each other during plotting and hoping things work out in this direction, especially if they're two very different people.  Hell, I still want to write a beauty-and-beast style relationship where the woman's the beastly one and the guy thinks it's awesome.

So, your turn.  What sorts of things keep showing up in your stories?  Why do you keep writing them?  And if you don't, why not?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Single or Series?

There's a reason I have two full bookshelves and am working on a third: I read a lot of series.  Looking at my main bookshelf, I'd say 75-80% of the books on it are parts of a trilogy or more, including the ones where I only have part one because the rest of the series hasn't been published yet.

Some of these books are so thick that one volume is longer than entire trilogies.  I like big books and I cannot lie.*

So naturally, this leads me to think of how this affects my writing.  I've talked before about how I don't like writing short stories - I have real trouble coming up with ideas that I can fully express and do justice to in a few thousand words.  Granted, I did have one short story published, but that was ~7500 words, which is pretty long for what's considered a short story.  The only stories shorter than that I've written and thought were good enough to share were all fanfic.

Oh, like you've never written fanfic.  Don't look at me like that.

Thanks to this, when it comes time to plot, I often have to force myself to focus on just one book.  THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK was going to be the first of a trilogy.  There was even a time when I had grandiose plans to not only write three different series spanning three different worlds within a multiverse, but to bring all three of those series together in this amazing trilogy where everyone got to meet and take down some threat that had significance behind the scenes in all three series.  I dubbed the plotting document for this "THE EVERYTHING PLAN" - yes, I used all caps - and it's been gathering dust on my hard drive for over two years.

So it's safe to say that big plans don't always pan out.  Yet I very rarely have a story idea that will be just one book. Even when I'm working on something and I honestly don't know what the second book would involve, I'm still thinking ahead, considering what it could be.  I generally think this is a good thing, but it does have me wondering if I'll ever write a novel and have no intent of visiting that world or those characters again.

Granted, I could blow up the world at the end to make sure that happens, but that seems a bit drastic.

I know that I'm not supposed to think about the publishing attempt stage for books I haven't written yet, but it's hard not to, when I find myself thinking ahead.  Will it be easier to sell a book when I can say it's going to be part of a series?  I know no one can count on getting a multi-book contract right from the start, so that's something to keep in mind.  Is it better to just say that I have sequels planned, and be ready with them if the best happens?  That was my intent with TAW, but the less said about that right now, the better.

This is all just speculation, of course, but with three series I really enjoy having new books coming out in January (all on the same day, how awesome is that?), it got me thinking.  So, what about the rest of you?  Do you prefer your books one-shot, or do you like series?  How long can a series go before you lose interest?  Do you plan to write one-shot books, series, both, or something else?  And am I the only one who loves hearing that a series by a favorite author will be really, really long?  Dresden Files and Stormlight Archive, I'm looking at you . . . and eagerly awaiting the next volumes.  Bwa ha ha.

*Yes, this entire entry was an excuse to use that line.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

IWSG: Embrace the Fear.

Before I start, I want to thank everyone for the kind words and helpful advice on last week's post.  Because of that, y'all get a post about dealing with fear, not just suffering from it.

This one comes from Quanie Miller's blog, and oddly enough, her IWSG post from last month.  In that entry, she talked about fear of completion, and I commented that I have a fear of starting.  This fear comes from a simple place:

I'm afraid it's going to suck.

This is a stupid fear, and I know it, and yet here I am writing a blog post about it to make sure I remember how to never have it bother me again.

I think part of the problem is that what I write will never be as awesome as what I see in my head.  I think we all deal with this.  There's nothing quite like going over a first draft, then looking back at the plot, and giving the quizzical head-tilt at how different the two are.  Even if you're aware that first drafts are supposed to suck (which you should be, because they are), it can be incredibly discouraging.  And it's far too easy to say forget it, this is horrible, I can't believe I wrote it and I'm not going to touch it again.

From that point, it's even easier to feel this stupid fear, and say, why even bother to start, if the end product sucks?  The answer to this is simple: if you don't write it, you can't fix it.  And that means you have to write it.

So the next question is, of course, how do you overcome this fear?  I'd love to say just ignore it, but fear is buried so deep in the human psyche that it's not that easy.  We're descendants of the cave-dwellers who were smart enough to stay in the cave when they were scared.  Their fearless fellows are now fossilized poop.

Oddly enough, I've found that one of the best ways to deal with fear comes from Peter V. Brett's books.  (If you like your fantasy dark and your magic atypical, check him out, seriously good stuff.)  The lead characters in his series spend their nights fighting demons, so naturally, they have various ways to overcome their fear.  The way that seems most successful?  Don't fight it.  Don't struggle against it.  But don't give into it either.  Embrace it, let it pass through you, and carry on in its wake.

It's a method reminiscent of the litany against fear from Frank Herbert's Dune, and unlike many fiction-inspired methods of handling one's problems, I've found that it works really well.  I recognize the fear I'm feeling, and instead of dwelling on it or letting it keep me from working, I remember the people who fight demons in the desert maze, and let that fear pass over me.  I have to remind myself of this from time to time, which is part of why I'm writing this.  Because everything seems more real once it's written down.

So, yes.  Whatever fear you have about your writing, embrace it, and find a way to let it pass through you, instead of wrestling with it.  Breathe deep.  Dance.  Recite the litany against fear.  Recite the litany against beer.  Listen to music so happy your speakers start spewing out smiley faces.  Get a stuffed animal, write "FEAR" across its face, and beat it against a wall.

But do what it takes to get you past the fear and in front of your keyboard.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Been There, Done That.

This could be an IWSG post.  But don't worry!  I have an IWSG post already set for next week, and it's a doozy.  O_o  This isn't just a blog, it's a damn therapy session.

Anyway.  The recent issues I've been having with the TAW reworking/rewrite/rrrrrrrrgghhh have me thinking.  As anyone who knows me knows, I think too much.  My brain never stops until I fall asleep, and it starts again at full speed as soon as I'm awake.  And thanks to that, I realize how I'm falling into not one but two patterns with my writing.

The first is one that I'm guessing a lot of writers fall into: I keep trying to find new ways to make the same old stories work.  I'm not talking about the idea that there are only a few different plots, I've covered that before.  I'm talking about continuously seeking out new spins on stories I've told before and hoping that maybe, just maybe, this time it'll work.

I wrote both urban fantasy and new adult before I really knew what those things were, in a long-running fiction series that took place at a college.  It was all kinds of fun, it had no plot, and it was entirely unpublishable.  People loved it.  Seriously.  I didn't think it was possible to post anything on the internet and not get a single negative comment, but I managed it.

I keep trying to find ways to make that story series into an actual novel (or four), and it crashes and burns every time.  Sometimes this happens after five or six pages, sometimes this happens when I write the book and hate it by the end, and sometimes this happens in the plotting stages, like what happened this past weekend.  After I swore I'd never try to make it work again.

And this isn't the only thing I've tried to find a new way to make work only to have it fail.  No matter how many times I tell myself to let these stories go, there's that part of my mind that says "But what if you do it this way?" and I chase that rabbit.  Every.  Single.  Time.  And it sucks, it well and truly does, because it makes me feel like I've failed yet again, which does nothing for those particular insecurities.  I know that a lot of writers find new ways to write about the things that fascinate them, but this doesn't feel like that.  Probably because their stories actually work.

So, to get ridiculously metaphorical, that's one slice of bread on this neurosis sandwich.* The other is the loop I keep finding myself in with regards to books I try to get published.  Write something, spend a ton of time editing and polishing it, try to get it published, have no success, find insurmountable flaws with the book that I somehow didn't see before, set it aside or drop it completely, write something else.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

I know this is the sort of thing everyone goes through when trying to get published, but for some reason it feels like I ought to be better able to stick with things.  I feel like I quit too easily, even when I realize that I've written something that probably shouldn't be published, like the book I wrote a few years ago that topped out at 209,000 words and doesn't really bear further mention.  It bothers me that I'm in this cycle and can't seem to get out of it.

I don't think it's that I'm unwilling to take the time to do rewrites and revisions; I once rewrote an entire third of a book to make the major changes necessary.  I don't think it's me being too easily defeated; if that was the case, I would have quit a decade ago.  I don't know if it's the thrill of the shiny new idea.

Hell, I don't know if this loop is actually a good thing, so I don't spend years and years trying to get a book published that I've lost faith in.  I don't generally think quitting is better than being stubborn, but this might be one of the few exceptions.

So, yeah.  I'm constantly fighting against these things.  And as much as I hate to turn this into me asking for advice again, I've already called this blog a therapy session, so... thoughts?

*For the record, the filling of my neurosis sandwiches is a squishy, gurgling blackness that constantly whispers, "You have already failed" over and over and over.  It's tough to choke down, but that's the only way to get it to shut up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

...but I Want Them to Love Her.

Okay, this isn't actually a sequel to my "They're Going to Hate Her" post from last year, but what I can I say?  I like the title symmetry.

I also like my characters (and ham-handed segues), and I want other people to like them too, that other blog entry notwithstanding.  Which is why there's another bit of feedback I've received about THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK that has me concerned.  It's something I've seen several times and tried to ignore, but with a reworking/rewrite/completely new Shiloh & Alexi story on my mind, this is something I have to consider:

I've heard from quite a few people that they couldn't connect with or relate to Shiloh, the book's main character.

This is difficult for me to deal with.  I've lived with Shiloh in my head since 2002.  She's been through various forms and incarnations, from floating runic to wielder of Mjolnir to the demon-touched girl she is now, but she's always been easy to write, and I've always loved writing her.  She's a bookworm who gets thrust into some sort of adventure, and I don't get why readers aren't connecting with that.  Haven't we all wanted to be in the stories we're reading?  (Okay, maybe not fans of The Hunger Games.)  I can't be the only one who's dreamed of something happening that pulls me out of my normal life and launches me into something amazing.

I've done my best to give her engaging personality traits, especially in the first few pages of TAW, where it's most important.  She's chasing after something she's dreamed about, she's driven to find it despite what others say, she's willing to admit she could be wrong but refuses to let that possibility stop her.  When things go horribly wrong, she doesn't freak out and have to be rescued; she panics a little but keeps her head and fights back.  I know I'm biased, but if this was happening in the first five minutes of a movie, I'd be all kinds of engaged and want to know what happens to her next.

Oddly enough, pretty much everyone who's read the book loves Alexi.  But I don't think I'm ever meant to tell a story from her point of view.  Ever had an idea and felt your muse threaten rebellion?  Yeah.  That.  I don't get it, but I'm not fighting it.

I can't help thinking I'm doing something wrong if I keep hearing this same sort of thing.  One potential critique partner listed it as a reason why she stopped after the third chapter, and of the two times I've entered this book in Pitch Wars, four out of the eight mentors I applied to said this.  And I know not every critique deserves consideration, but when a bunch of people say the same thing, it's safe to say there's an issue that I need to address.

So here's my question: how do you make your characters engaging?  I know there's no magic formula, but I'm doing the best I can and it's clearly not working.  I know that part of the problem might be that the mentors only read one chapter; when I think of characters I love, it's how I feel about them at the end of the book, not the start.  But I'm open to suggestions.

Next entry: been there, done that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pressing Pause.

Delirium: "Um. What's the name of the word for things not being the same always.  You know.  I'm sure there is one, isn't there?"
Morpheus: "Change."
Delirium: "Oh.  I was afraid of that."
--'The Sandman', issue #43, written by Neil Gaiman

This is not the journal entry I planned to write last week.  That seems to happen a lot in this blog.

I spent from last Wednesday to last Saturday in the kind of deep mental funk that we writers get into (I'm sure I can't be the only one) when a project isn't going well.  When my writing isn't going well, nothing in my life is going well, so the comedown from DragonCon was worse than the usual post-convention mental hangover.  And it stemmed from the kind of doubt that, were it mold, would devour an entire city block.

It started when one of the mentors for Pitch Wars said THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK didn't read like YA.  And I started wondering if I really want to write YA.

It's kind of strange thing - I'm not even sure why I made TAW a YA novel.  It just seemed to fit.  The teenage years are a time of discovery, so why not make those years even more interesting by having Shiloh discover she wields a forbidden magic?  But that one comment got to me in a way none of the other critique I've received for this book did.  It got me thinking, y'know, I can do a lot more if the main characters don't have to be teenagers.

Then, like dominoes falling, the thoughts kept coming.  I don't want Abraxas to always be a YA-only world.  Working with Shiloh and Alexi in their early twenties could be fascinating.  I'll relate much better to older characters, and thus be able to write them better.  I'd like to be able to have these characters age as the series goes on, since Shiloh's at the upper limit for YA and Alexi's actually a few years older.  And all this was going on in my head while I was trying to write the sequel to TAW.

As I'm sure you can imagine, that didn't go so well.

For the record, I haven't settled on anything yet.  But after a lot of thought, I'm putting TAW on hold, and won't be doing further querying or contests for now.  I'm also not writing the sequel for now.  I don't know what's going to happen with it.  I might do a rewrite to fix a lot of issues I've realized about the story.  I might write yet another story for Shiloh and Alexi.  And by 'might', I mean "My Muse was hard at work yesterday, and now I have a basic plot summary, half a page worth of details and ideas, a title, and a frickin' pitch line for a brand new Shiloh & Alexi adventure".  Not actually complaining, just mildly bewildered.

But in order to truly figure out what I want to do, I need to work on some other stuff for now.  I have been, and that's going well so far.  Here's hoping it continues to go well once I actually start writing it.

I want to thank everyone who's read TAW, and everyone who's helped me with advice and encouragement along the way.  I well and truly appreciate it, and I hope y'all will be willing to put up with further badgering about reading when I have Something Completely Different sometime down the road.  Eh heh heh....

Next entry: on engaging characters.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

IWSG: Someday, They'll Love You.

I got back from DragonCon almost two days ago, and I'm still tired.  Going back to work tomorrow is going to suck.  >_<  But it was an awesome trip, best time I've had at the 'con in a while.  I stayed up late hanging out with friends, was first in line to get a book signed by Jim Butcher, and took a bunch of great pictures.

I also got into a dance-off with one of the Blues Brothers at a Tolkien-themed 70s music dance party.  I lost, of course.  One does not simply get into a dance-off with a Blues Brother and win.

One of the greatest things about DragonCon is that it's cross-fandom like crazy - it's all about fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, and there's representation from hundreds if not thousands of different works.  For example, I went as Bumi from "Legend of Korra", while my friend Paul had costumes for both Harry Dresden of "The Dresden Files" and Rincewind from Terry Prachett's "Discworld" series.  (Together, we were an awesome crossover.)  And seeing so many different people celebrating so many different things got me thinking.

Every single creator behind all those series was once just like us.

They looked at their hard work and wondered why it seemed like nobody liked it, why nobody wanted to hire them or help them get published.  They wondered if they had what it takes, or if they were just deluding themselves.  They wondered if all their hard work was worth it.  They wondered if quitting would be easier.

And now, because they didn't quit, their names are known all over the world.  They have people lining up for their new releases.  They have sales numbers that mean they can keep doing what they love.  And they have fans who show the world just how much they love their work.

So no matter what you're feeling now, no matter how difficult it seems, no matter how much you want to quit or wonder if you could quit if you tried: keep at it.  Because when you make it, it'll all be worth it.  Because someday, they'll love your work too.

I'm writing a lot of this for myself, to tell y'all the truth.  I didn't get chosen for the contest I mentioned two weeks ago, and looking at the critique I got, I'm sitting here torn between "Maybe they have a point on that" and "How the HELL much do you expect from FIVE [expletive deleted] PAGES?!".  So I needed to write this out, to remind myself that someday, I'll look back on this and laugh, because I just got done telling someone who's at a convention dressed as one of my characters how much I love their costume.

Next entry: I started writing the sequel to THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK last night.  My next entry will be about that and why I'm writing it now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Story Elusive

It's time once again for another blog entry that I didn't know I was going to write until I sat down to write it.  Brought to you by the letters W, T, and F, and the punctuation mark ?.

So, I have this story idea I'm trying to work on.  This is nothing new; anyone who's read more than a few entries here knows I spend way too much time going on about one plot or another.  But with most of the things I write about, I have a character or two to work with, some solid ideas about the plot, and a few definite locations.

This idea?  I have none of those.

What I have is a whole cluster of vague ideas and concepts, things I think should happen in a story where I don't know what the actual story is yet.  I have mental pictures of settings, locations that might or might not be part of the story, since I don't know how the main setting should be shaped but I know it's going to change, maybe a lot, over the course of the story.  I have vague hints of main characters and minor characters, without names or faces or personalities, just the knowledge that there needs to be People Doing Stuff, and that Stuff has to happen for the story to happen.

If this sounds difficult to understand, it's because I know that the story itself is supposed to be surreal and dreamlike and should be more than a little scary if you look deeper.  It's inspired by some fictions that have come to mean a lot to me, and might even be seen as a tribute as I try to put them all into one place and see if they'll blend.

It's the sort of thing I'd question my ability to write if I had any idea how it was supposed to go.

I know this is nothing new for we writers.  I'm not the first one to feel this way about a would-be story and I damn sure won't be the last.  It's just that plotting has been going really well for me recently; I have one plot ready for writing and another nearly so, with a third that's still in progress but going well.  So it's frustrating to me to have something I really want to write that's taunting me with vague glimpses and strange visuals, like the moon quite literally turning into a rose, when I can't figure out for the life of me what the story really is.

While I usually take a shot before plotting or writing, I don't believe in writing drunk, else I'd be trying that for this story.

Anyway.  I feel better after getting that off my chest.  Here's hoping I figure this out sometime soon.  A single named character would be nice, or an idea of the story's actual structure.  But I'm about to head off to DragonCon for the long weekend, so I'll try to spend five days not thinking about this.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll get inspired....

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


For the record, this is the entry I was supposed to write last week.  Last week's entry demanded to be talked about sooner, and now I regret last week's entry almost entirely, because now I have people looking forward to a story that, assuming everything goes as well as possible and I don't hate the entire thing as soon as I've finished writing it, probably won't be reader-worthy until 2016.


Before I started this whole blogging thing, I hardly knew about the various "help you find an agent" writing contests.  I heard Rena mention them now and again when she was participating, and I had my doubts about them.

I've often seen agents described as the "gatekeepers" of the publishing world; they're the ones with the connections, so they decide who uses those connections.  Entering contests seemed like adding yet another gate, and that never seemed like a good thing to me - the whole publishing process is enough of a pain, why make it more complicated?

After participating in a few, though, I don't see it the same way.  I've received some good feedback from contests, and that helped me solve a few key issues with THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK's opening chapter.  Just reviewing that first chapter over and over for various contests has helped it as well.

Reviewing my query letter for Pitch Wars helped too, as I caught an errant 'and' that I'd somehow missed when I sent said query out to over twenty different agents.  >_<

Also, I think the agents participating in these contests are more likely to give better consideration to contest entries than the usual daily query letters.  Contest entries will, in theory, have had the hell polished out of them and be better for it, and I've heard a lot of success stories.  So it seems less like the contests are another gate, but something to give you a better chance of getting through the gate in the first place.

Yes, I'm stubborn enough that it took me a while to realize that.

On a personal note, back when I was working with SKYBORNE, I actually won a full request from a contest I entered.  I was beyond excited, for obvious reasons; the readers were from a quite successful small press.  Unfortunately, I didn't know that this small press only handled books with a heavy romance element, and the romance in that book was barely there.  Even now, I feel like that quasi-win hardly counts.  -_-  It's for the best, though.  That book would have been a horrible way to start a series.  I mean, when you not only save the entire world but quite literally put it back together in the first book, what the hell do you do for a sequel?

Next entry: umm.  Next Wednesday is the last day I'm here before leaving for DragonCon.  I can't promise a thing.  ^_^

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cracking the Magic Mirror

I never really thought I'd want to write something based off a fairy tale.  But I think we all know what it's like to have an idea that won't go away.

I've seen a lot about fairy tale rewritings or retellings or whatever you want to call them over the past few years.  From an abstract perspective, I can understand why they're popular - these stories have become such a huge part of our culture, they're tales that most people will recognize immediately, and there's just something about them that resonates.  The way they can freely change in the telling, the way they've been reinvented all across the world, and the fact that the original stories are often violent and brutal...  There's a lot to work with there.

Hell, if I hadn't already decided to work with this one, I might have talked myself into it with that last paragraph.

But until a few weeks ago, I'd never had an idea that lent itself to reimagining a fairy tale.  I've plotted enough stories, though, to know that my best plots tend to come from combining two different ideas.  A song I kept hearing at work gave me ideas toward one sort of story, just vague hints and images, so I did the usual note-scribbling, unsure if anything would come of it.  That same day, I explained the concept of apple spiders to a co-worker.  She said it reminded her of a particular fairy tale, and my brain made the connection.  I suddenly realized what the story I'd been taking down notes for was meant to be.

I'm still putting everything together - hell, I just figured out how the story starts today, right in the middle of my drive home.  (Getting story ideas on the freeway is all kinds of fun, believe me.)  But the way it's coming together now, I can tell this is one that will work.

I'll need to read the original tale to really make sure I get things straight, but there are all kinds of elements I'm already putting together into the plot.  The magic mirror, the glass coffin, blood and snow and ebony, so on and so forth.  A system of magic I thought of years ago will fit perfectly into this world, and it's something I've wanted to use for a long time.  This is why I write everything down and urge other writers to do the same - you never know when it'll be useful again.

Granted, I still don't have a full plot, and the standard number of characters for this tale means I have a lot of work ahead of me.  And as I said, this isn't a story I ever expected to tell.  But I'm excited about it.  With any luck, I'll hash out the plot this winter and have this ready to be my second book for 2015.

I'm well and truly glad I figured all this out, because it fulfills a story desire I've had for a long, long time: I just plain really want to do "Snow White and the Seven Samurai".

Next entry: Contested.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

IWSG: What if I Fail?

This was originally going to be a much more depressing entry, but fortunately for all of us, I read some stuff that brightened my mood earlier today.  Seriously, it's much better that way.  I was going to open up with lyrics from Social Distortion's 'Ball and Chain' - "I'm born to lose, and destined to fail".  Aren't you glad I didn't do that?

....damn it.

I think a lot of us have realized that some people just don't know what to say to writers.  Someone recently told me that, even if I never make it as a writer, I'd have spent my life with an amazing hobby.  I laughed it off, because really, there was no other acceptable response.  I know they meant well, but seriously, a hobby?  No.  Keeping universes in my head is not a hobby.  Creating worlds is not a hobby.  Agonizing over the lives of fictional people is not a hobby.  It's an obsession.  :P

It's also the only thing I've ever well and truly wanted to do with my life.

I've talked about failure before.  I've accepted that I might fail, that I could spend my entire life writing stuff that nobody ever reads.  It's one of the few things that scares me on a gut-tightening, mouth-drying kind of level.  But there's a real difference between acknowledging that possibility to myself and having someone else bring it up.

Maybe it's just superstition - like not saying something aloud if you don't want it to happen.  Hearing someone else say that I could fail makes it more real.  And let's be honest here - I don't exactly have a great track record.  I had one short story published by a small-press magazine back in 2007.  Absolutely nothing since then, though part of that is because I hate writing short stories.  So while I might be obscure instead of completely unknown, that's not saying much, not in this business.

I know that self-publishing is an option, but I don't want to do that.  While I know that my duties as a published writer will be more than just writing and editing, I don't want to have to handle every single aspect of publishing - there are people who are much better at all of that than I am, and I'd rather they do their jobs via an actual publisher, not via me paying for their help as I fumble through the process.

So, yeah.  I'm 35 now.  I could die, in 30 or 40 or 65 years or anywhere before or in between or beyond, without getting anything published again ever.  I'm pretty sure I hit the million-word mark years ago, and I'm surely well on my way toward two million.  And with everything I write, with every plot I put together, with every project I finish and either set aside to edit later or abandon and lament, the question hangs over my head.  Every year, every month, every day, it hangs a little lower.

"What if I fail?"

For the record: I don't plan to find out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

No One's Bitches.

This is something that's been bugging me for a while: why do people feel like it's okay to tell authors to not do anything but write?

I had dinner with family last night, and I explained to them a concept that we should all be familiar with: George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.  (If you haven't read that, please do so.  I won't mind; you're better off reading Neil Gaiman than me anyway.  :P )  To my aunt's and uncle's and distant-relation-by-their-marriage's credit, they also thought there was something pretty wrong with a person's "fan" demanding they get back to work on what that "fan" wants them to work on.

So now I'm wondering: why do people do that?  And why only to authors?

Granted, I don't read everything on the internet; I lack the time and brain capacity and spare sanity for that.  But I've never seen someone tell an actor to stop tweeting and get back on stage or set.  I've never seen someone tell an artist to put their phone down and pick up their pencil or brush or stylus.  I've never seen someone ask a director or a photographer why they're not behind the camera, or a model why they're not in front of it.

But I've seen people respond to writers' tweets with the oh-so-cute "Shouldn't you be writing?"  I've seen people rage at authors for doing interviews or other press instead of writing.  And clearly not everyone got Mr. Gaiman's message, as shown by the jackass who responded to Mr. Martin's SDCC tweet with "GET BACK TO WORK!!!!"

And that was only one of three different responses that amounted to "You're doing something that's not writing, you shouldn't be."  One was supposedly from an editor, who should know better.

Writing is a job like any other.  And expecting someone to do their job every waking hour of their day is not only selfish, it's damn stupid.  People who ask authors why they're not writing clearly don't understand that downtime is necessary - for a lot of us, the best parts of creating come when we're out and about, when we're not staring at the screen or notebook, when we're doing something other than writing.  Why so many people seem incapable of realizing this, I don't know.

For the record, I still get some of my best ideas in the shower.  And I don't care how successful I might someday become, I'm not giving up showering.

I've written before about how the only thing the writer owes the reader is the best damn story they can tell.  I linked to Mr. Gaiman's phrase in that entry too, and I'll keep bringing it up until people get the idea.  If you want your favorite writers to do the best they can do, you don't tell them what to do.  You encourage them, you appreciate them, you tell others about them.  But you damn sure don't act like they're doing something wrong because they're not doing what you want.

We are, collectively, no one's bitches.  Deal with it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Relationship Talk.

Before I begin, a bit of a plotting update from last week's entry: two days ago, I cracked through the problems I was having with plotting the sequel to THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK.  I realized that things needed to start going wrong right from the beginning, not on a slow burn like I'd planned.  I have the plot roughed out, and yesterday's work went very well.  If all goes well, I'll start writing the book in September.

I've blogged about love triangles before, back in this blog's early days, and I still feel much the same about them.  But a book I'm plotting deals with three main characters, and even in these early stages, I can see how things are going to go for them, and how close they're going to become.

Before anyone asks, no, I'm not talking about the sequel to TAW.  I feel very sorry for anyone who tries to talk either Shiloh or Alexi into sharing.  O_o

This leads me into something I've never tried to write before: a very close relationship between three people.  I don't know if it'll be a sexual one, as I haven't plotted much beyond the first book, but it could happen.  But for now, it's more about the bond they share and how they support and depend upon each other.  It's more than just growing close under fire or spending lots of time together - as one character's culture defines it, it's a kind of deep bond between people who put their lives in each others’ hands on a regular basis.  It’s a kind of love that comes from surviving together.

It's one of those situations that I realized had to happen and then sat back and thought, damn, how the hell am I going to make this work?

"Write what you know" won't cover this - despite the myth that all guys want threesomes, I don't think for a second that I'd be able to handle a relationship with two women.  And not just because I've been single since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.  Close relationships complicate things, and that gets exponentially more so when there are three people involved.

This is one of those Weird Writer Situations (another blog title that could have been) where I'm just going to have to write it and see what happens.  I can tell already how some of the characters are going to react; let's just say there will be varying degrees of them being okay or not with it as things go on.  It's just that, after my various successes and failures at writing relationships, I know this one's going to be more difficult than most.  And I really want it to work out right.  I'm just going to have to trust the characters to work things out between them, and to not freak out and run when one character puts their arms around both the others.

Though I do know that one character will dictate a sleeping arrangement order so everyone gets a chance to be in the middle, and for some reason, I think that's hilarious.

And on a final note, if you haven't heard Weird Al's "Word Crimes", please go do so.  Right now, if possible.  It could be a theme song for so many of us.  ^_^

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's A Small World

The original title for this entry was "#PlotterProblems".  Then I realized that could be the title for this entire blog.  It's probably best that I wasn't in the habit of using hashtags when I started this thing.

So as I've talked about before, I'm plotting the sequel to THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK.  I'm not saying what the title is, both because that seems a little presumptuous and because everything else about this damn book has changed so far, so there's no reason to think the title won't too.  -_-  I've been hacking away at this plot on and off for months, and I've never been able to get it to be what I want it to be.  And I only recently realized what the problem was.

I started creating Abraxas, the world of TAW, over a decade ago.  That world had its seeds in the second novel I wrote, and also became the world of the D&D game I ran in college.  So I've been living in Abraxas for a long, long time.  When I sat down to write TAW, I made up new stuff and changed other things as necessary, but I knew the place and the people.  I knew where I was going and what I was doing.  And I expected writing another book in Abraxas to be much the same.

I was wrong.  Really, really wrong.

Although it's long for a YA book, TAW only covers a few different places.  All of those places were ones I'd developed long ago, places I'd seen in my head for years and knew well.  The sequel, as far as I know, will take place in only one location.  It's a new place, one only created while I was working on TAW - it didn't even exist until I made the changes at the end of the second draft.  And I didn't realize the problems this would cause.

To make a long story short (too late), I thought that just because this new place was part of Abraxas, I'd be able to dive into it and just go.  Yeah, not so much.  Funny thing about sequels: they're books too.

So I sat down and started hashing out everything about this one place, this small piece of the world, and everyone plot-relevant who lives there.  And once I set the place and its people firmly into my mind, the plot started coming together.  It's not there yet - I know how things start and how they end, and various bits in between, but how Shiloh gets from point A to point Z is still something of a mystery.  But at least now I truly know where it happens.

And if it all falls apart again, at least that won't be anything new.

Bit of an aside for the end of this: one of the characters in that D&D game was Rashad RiLeon, a fighter my then-roommate played.  I liked the name so much I brought him into Abraxas, along with Aerillion, a port city that was part of his journey.  Rashad himself appears briefly in TAW, but his sister Alexi plays a significantly more important role, one that truly starts when she and Shiloh arrive in Aerillion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


This week's entry: ...I got nothin'.  Seriously.  I'm neck-deep in plots, and the last thing this blog needs is another plotting discussion.  I could delete all the plot-related entries and cut the content of this thing by half.  So, since I'm also neck-deep in the query process and everyone can use the occasional reminder that we're hard at work at the most awesome job in existence, I thought I'd post a bunch of my favorite quotes about writing:

"Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life."  --Lawrence Kasdan

"I have lived life to the full but my interior life is where I live life and it’s far more central to me than the external life, and that’s because I’m a writer. … You have to be lonely to be a writer."  --Edna O’Brien

“You’re still going to get criticized, so you might as well do whatever the fuck you want.”  --Kathleen Hanna

"Ah yes, the head is full of books. The hard part is to force them down through the bloodstream and out through the fingers."  --Edward Abbey

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer."  --Ernest Hemingway

"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write."  --Saul Bellow

"Every novel should have a beginning, a muddle, and an end. The “muddle” is the heart of your tale."  --Peter De Vries

"I spent a long time writing in obscurity. You'll spend a long time writing in obscurity."  --Dan Kennedy

"A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. The truth is, it’s demons that keep a tortured writer’s spirit alive, not Tootsie Rolls. Sure they’ll give you a tiny burst of energy, but they won’t do squat for your writing. So treat your demons with the respect they deserve, and with enough prescriptions to keep you wearing pants."  --Colin Nissan

"When you’re trying to create a career as a writer, a little delusional thinking goes a long way."  --Michael Lewis

"Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world."  --Ann Patchett

Yes, I collect quotes.  I could do another ten entries just like this and never repeat myself.  :P  I'll close it with one I constantly remind myself as I knuckle down to hack away at yet another plot:

"Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake."  --John Cleese

Next week: a world in a tower.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

IWSG: It won't Always Suck this Much.

I started querying THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK on June 3rd.  As much as I try not to be superstitious, I couldn't help thinking how much of an amazing coincidence it would be to hear something good from an agent I really wanted to work with exactly twenty-one days after submitting, which is the same number of chapters in TAW.  When I saw an e-mail from that agent in my inbox on the 24th, I could hardly believe it.

The form rejection letter, though, was easy to believe.

I know that rejections shouldn't get to me.  The two rejections I got before that one, I shrugged them off, no problem and nothing new.  But dreaming of that coincidence and having it happen and then really NOT happen, that hurt me a lot more than I thought it would.  Let's just say the 25th was a really bad day for me, and that I'm glad my co-workers think I'm hilarious when I deadpan everything because I'm in a down mood.

But in another coincidence, a positive one this time, Adam Warren, an artist and writer whose work I really enjoy, tweeted this on the 24th: "Some days—or weeks, or months—you just have to tell yourself, “Hey, the work won’t ALWAYS suck as much as it does right now. No, really!”"

It's weird how helpful it can be to know that someone else is struggling too.

Doing any kind of creative work is difficult.  And I don't mean succeeding at it, making a living at it, any of that.  I mean just doing it - putting your ass in the chair and cranking away at the stuff you love.  Even when it becomes the stuff you keep telling yourself you love because you're growing tired of it but throwing it all away isn't an option, for whatever reason.  And while I never really doubted it, there's some real reassurance in knowing that someone who's been doing this professionally since the late 1980s has the same problems as those of us still struggling to move beyond "unknown" or, in my case, "obscure".

Yes, there are times when it sucks.  But those times won't last forever.  There will be times when it's glorious, when everything works the way you want it to, when the characters come to life in your head and demand to be birthed onto the page, when your plot elements fall into place so perfectly that your readers think you're a genius even though it took you seventeen days to come up with that one plot twist, when you edit and find the perfect word to turn that lackluster jumble of a sentence into a golden turn of phrase.

I think if you asked all of us why we do this, we'd all have different answers.  If you asked us what keeps us going, you'd probably get even more different answers.  But when things get bad, remember this, and keep going, because it's worth it:

It won't always suck this much.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What do you Fear?

We've all heard it: "Write what you know."  It seems like a lot of people interpret that as you should write about what you do, or what you've learned, as though everyone's life would make good fiction fodder.  That's not what I'm talking about here; there's no chance in hell I'm writing a book about working medical claims.  I don't think anyone would want to read that, and I'm not writing it even if they did.

But writing what you've done, what you've experienced, what you've been through - that, I think, is what "Write what you know" really means.  And today, I'm talking about what we all know whether we want to talk about it or not: fear.

I've talked about my fear of failure before, of knowing that it's possible I'll never make it as a writer and I'll die with dozens of stories that no one ever read and dozens more I never wrote; that's not what this entry is about.  In the sequel to TAW, I'll get to touch on the feeling of waking up lonely and alone, and the cold anxiety that comes with wondering if every single morning will be the same; I've dealt with that my entire life.  But that's not what this entry is about either.

I'm talking about my overwhelming fear of things with way too many legs crawling on me.  *shudder*

It's not that I'm afraid of insects.  At a distance.  If I see a spider or some other large bug in my home, I might freak out a little at first glance, but I'll usually trap it under a glass or something and set it free.  (Unless it's near the bed.  Then it dies as a warning to others.)  But few things put me on edge more than feeling something crawl across my skin, tiny legs pricking with every step, its path wavering back and forth as though it's searching for something--

By this time, I've freaked out and either shaken it off or swatted it so hard I bruise whatever part of myself it landed on.

This reaction is precisely why, for one of my plots in progress, I'm basing the otherworldly antagonists off of insects and their ilk, all the things that crawl and skitter and stare at you with way too many eyes.  I figure that if this stuff creeps me out, it'll creep out my readers as well, and there are all kinds of frightening things you can do with bugs.  Bites, stings, wrapping in webbing, crawling into ears and noses and worse orifices, laying eggs inside so the young have to chew their way out, so on and so forth.  Giant hives.  Hurricanes made of bloodsucking bugs.  Apple spiders.  I could go on, but I suspect I'm losing readers with every word.  ^_^

Oddly enough, I'm looking forward to fleshing out this plot, if only to see just how much I can freak myself out.  Bonus points if I feel something crawling on me while working on it.  How about the rest of you?  Anyone else working a potent fear into their stories?  And if you've done it already, how did it go?