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.