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.