Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Year of Trying

At the end of the year, I can safely say that 2015 was better than 2014.  Granted, considering everything I wrote about in last year's final entry, 2015 would have had to work damn hard to be as bad as 2014 was.  But all the same, it's worth saying.

To say I went through some changes this year would be a mild understatement.  I packed up my entire life and left New Mexico, drove myself halfway across the country, and arrived here in Washington on the first of March.  I then spent nearly six months unemployed before landing an awesome job.  (Totally worth it.)  And somewhere in between, I wrote two books.

I am very, very happy to say that neither of those books sucked.

One of them, which I've only referred to as the crazy dream book, was an experiment that didn't work out.  At its heart, and as I've mentioned before, it was an attempt to take a piece of fanfiction I wrote many years ago and make it legit.  I tried rewriting the plot several months later, but determined it wasn't going to work.  Despite that, some part of me still wants this to happen, and odds are good I'll hold onto the idea in my head for a long time.

That's why I've never told anyone the book's title.  For some reason, it feels like the magic of this mad little story would disappear if I told anyone what it's meant to be called.  So I won't, not until I can make it work and let other people read it.  It might never happen, but I can accept that; I've been at this too long to think that I'll get to tell every story I have in my head.

The other book I wrote this year was THE BOOK OF LOST RUNES.  This one means a lot to me, not just for all the work I've put into it but because of the people it's about.  At least half of the books I've written have starred Shiloh & Alexi in one incarnation or another.  I feel like I do better writing them than anyone else, and with this book, I feel like I've come closer to getting down who they're supposed to be than ever before.

And that is the book I'm currently querying.

The query process is no less nerve-wracking for having confidence in the book.  But no matter what problems I see with BoLR, when I read it, I know that it's a good story and worth trying to get published.  And something has happened with this book that's never happened before - I'm actually getting some interest from agents.  Nothing definite yet, but a few nibbles, enough to reassure me that I'm doing something right.  I've paused my agent search for the holidays, but once the new year starts, I'll be right back at it.

Because, of course, the best thing to do when an agent wants to read some of your book is to query even more agents.  In case they want to read some of it too.  ^_^

As for 2016, I'm not sure.  I'd like to write another two books, as that seems like a good plan and it worked out well for me this year.  I'd also like to have some stories that I'm sure about writing, as that seems like an even better plan and not doing that is part of why 2014 sucked so much.  >_<  I have one plot that's complete and has been for many months; I figured out the one thing that was wrong with it a while back and it's been sitting ready since then.

I also have three or four different plots-in-progress I'm trying like all hell to figure out so I can turn them into actual stories.  Would that everything worked out smoothly when I'm trying to get it out of my head and onto the page.

But I'll keep trying, because that's the only thing I can do.  And knowing that things are working a little bit better now is excellent motivation.

Next week: the first IWSG of 2016.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

In the Snow

(Story deleted because I reread it and found it not up to my standards.)


I was shot for ideas for this week's blog entry, so I figured I'd give this a try.  This could be the opening for one of the stories I'm working on.  The image of the young woman walking through the snow with a bloodied blade in her hand is what got me started on this plot again, and helped me realize that I'd had some crucial things backward about it since the beginning.

It's not much, but it beats the hell out of another entry about me having trouble with... everything.  >_<

No entry next week, as I'll be in California with family for Christmas.  Hope everyone's holidays are happy.  I'll be back on the 30th for a 2015 year in review.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Stall.

No, this isn't a post about writing in a public bathroom.  Which, now that I think about it, is something I've never heard of anyone doing.  There's probably a good reason for that.

Writing on a bathroom is different, and doesn't count.  Under most circumstances.

And by starting my blog entry with an image I had to look for, I've provided a demonstration of what I'm writing about today: sometimes, it's incredibly easy to do anything but write.

A friend recently told me about how she has trouble getting to bed at a reasonable hour, because - to sum it up - she keeps doing everything she wants to do that's not going to sleep.  I told her she should look into setting herself on a strict schedule, because that's mostly what I do and it works, but it got me thinking.

I like to think of myself as pretty disciplined, and I can be.  When it comes time to sit down and write - when I'm actually working on a book - my ass is in the chair at a certain time every night and I hammer away at the keyboard until it's time to stop.  (Usually when that book's CD is over, though I sometimes start the music again and keep going.)  I do this every single night until that first draft is done.

But when I'm plotting?  Everything in the world is easier than opening up that document and trying again to figure out that story.  >_<

This is true whether things are going well or not.  The thing I'm working on right now - under the abbreviation S7, and I'm kind of hoping there's at least one longtime reader of this blog who knows what that refers to - is going well.  It's going well enough to reinforce my weird-ass ideas from two entries ago.  Hell, it's going well enough that I'm getting upset at my characters, and I have maybe three paragraphs on most of them.

After struggling with this idea for so long, it's wonderful and amazing to sit down with the plotting document and have this story, this world, these people just sort of spill out onto the page, with me hoping I can type fast enough to keep up.

So why is it usually so damn hard to sit down and get to work?

I think a lot of it is the simple fear of failure.  Over the years, I've had more plots crash and burn than I really want to think about.  Few things in my writing world suck more than sitting down to a plot that's not working out and hoping that tonight, against all odds, I can figure it out.  And I don't want that to happen with this one.  I really, really don't.  I already love how this story is going and I don't even have three pages' worth of plot.  I think it will keep going well, but there's no way to be sure.

So when it comes time to sit down and plot, I stall.  I check my e-mail half a dozen times.  I check Twitter and the WoW site I frequent in case someone's said something interesting.  I'd wash the dog if I had one.  And by the time I do start working, it's an hour later, and I barely have time to tap out a few paragraphs about the world or refine a few plot points before it's time to go to bed.

If I keep up like this, I will get nothing done.  And I can't work with nothing.  I've tried setting a stricter schedule for myself, I've tried changing the order I do things after I get home from work, but nothing prevents the stall.  It's enough to make me wish I had deadlines, as the one time I did, it was excellent motivation and I found a sense of personal pride in getting my work done well before it was due.

So here's where I ask for advice: how do you make sure you get your writing work done?  What do you do to keep yourself from stalling?  And most importantly, does it work?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

IWSG: A Worthwhile Madness


I've had a remarkably rough past few weeks.

The query process is, well and truly, not for the faint of heart.  There's a kind of joyous and dreadful anticipation that comes now whenever I open my e-mail.  Will what I'm hoping for happen?  Was today the day that someone somewhere across the country opened their e-mail and read my words and decided they might want to take a chance on me?  Has my time finally come?

As yet, no.  Rejections ring eternal, it seems, when there's a ringing at all - there's an interesting kind of melancholy that comes with noting down that the silence from an agent has stretched on long enough that it's become a rejection - and I'm seeing new variations on the same words now.  They try to be supportive and helpful even as they say, no, I don't see it.  What you're saying doesn't reach me.  I'm not the one to help carry your dream.  But please do keep trying.

As though I could do anything else.

On the creative front, things go less steadily than usual, which can be saying quite a lot when I'm in the plotting phase.  One set of ideas seems dead-set on not working together, and remains a collection of nothing but images and moments, without anything that feels right to tie them together.  If there's a way to feel what a story and a world should be but not have anything you write for it work toward that end, I've found it.

Another would-be plot seems to be fighting with itself every step of the way, trying to turn sideways into an idea I had long ago that makes the inspiration that started me back on this story impossible to fit into the story itself, and alternately taunting me with either interesting characters or fascinating settings that don't suit each other and don't seem to fit into the story together.  There's so much want there.  It seems like this could be a good two-thirds of everything I'd love to write if I could only figure out what and how it's all supposed to be, but I can't get a hold of that no matter what I try.

It's said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and weeks like these are when it hits me, we writers are all crazy.  It's a worthwhile and useful kind of madness, this throwing ideas at the page again and again to see what sticks and what falls away and what splatters together to blend into something greater than its parts.

But we keep going, because when it works, it's magic.

I spent too much of this past Monday when I should have been working taking down notes for a story that's dwelled at the back of my head for years, as I realized one character's supposed fate was intended for another, and so much fell into place and I had to make sure I scribbled it down before I forgot it.  When I returned home, I hacked away at the half-a-plot I thought I had, and found that everything worked together as though it had always been that way, and with one simple change, I'd found the story.

There's still so much to do.  There's always so much to do.  I feel like I've done the magic, and now comes the practice, the preparation, the gathering of materials and training of lovely assistants and learning how to play for the crowd that may, in fact, never arrive.  Odds are good that there will never be a crowd - odds are incredibly good that this will turn out to be another story that few people, if any, ever read.

But there is nothing else in the world I want to do more than tell these stories, and I'll keep going because there's always the chance that one will work for more than just me and a few friends, and someone out there will say yes, I want to help you reach the world.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Along for the Ride

This past weekend, I sat down to work on one story and ended up not doing a thing on it.  But I'm not upset, because that night's writing time turned into me working on two different plots that I'd left behind at least a year ago.

No, I don't know how this works either.  And that always makes me wonder: where the hell does this stuff come from?

I know the technical answer to this question; in theory, what I write comes out of my head, inspired by everything I experience filtered through my subconscious and whatever I happen to think is cool, applied via characters who are not me despite me being all of them.  But there are times when there's this weird sense that I'm not actually in charge of any of this, that I'm somehow watching something that's happening somewhere else in whatever the rest of existence happens to be, and managing to understand it enough to write it down.

Like I'm just along for the ride.

One of my favorite cosmic-type theories of something-or-other (I apologize, I don't speak science fluently) is that in an infinite universe, everything you can imagine must exist somewhere.  I have no idea if this is a legit theory, and I don't care.  I just like the idea that somewhere out there, all this stuff that's going on in my head is actually happening.

There is of course the flipside to that, which is that things are happening somewhere out there in the infinite vastness of existence and somehow they're showing up in my head.  This frightens me a little, but it would explain a few things.

For example, in one of the stories I worked on this weekend, I've been trying to figure out the actual plot for quite a while.  This is a common state for me and I'm used to it; I'm sure I've ranted here about such things before.  But despite all my attempts, I never was able to figure out how the story started and how it got to the end.  This weekend, I realized that I'd started it way too early - the main character was supposed to be a teenager when the inciting event happened, not a child.  From there, everything started falling into place, and I figured out the general outline of the plot.

Like I was suddenly seeing it clearly, because I'd spent a year or so trying to see something that wasn't there.  This could explain why I have such trouble with some plots I try to work on - maybe I've had only a glimpse and spent the whole time since then trying to see something that's not there.  Trying to plot a story that doesn't actually exist.

There are many reasons why writers drink, but I think this is one of them.

I realize I'm getting ridiculously metaphysical with this, or maybe just plain ridiculous and abusing the word "metaphysical".  But there's something interesting about maybe being the medium for something else that's out there, something that exists independent of me that I'm lucky enough to be able to see.

Is any of this true?  No idea, and I wouldn't claim otherwise.  I just started thinking on it and found that I liked the idea.  ^_^  Either that, or I actually am going crazy.  :P

So what about the rest of you?  Does what you write come exclusively from somewhere in your head?  Do you ever feel like you're just along for the ride, trying to write down what's happening?  Or is this all just a little too far out there?

Next week: IWSG.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bullets and the Dodging Thereof.

I hoped I would never have to write an entry like this, though I suppose things could have turned out much worse.

While seeking out new agents to query this weekend, I found someone who sounded like a good fit.  I'll consider most anyone who's looking for adult fantasy, and if they're looking for LGBTQ+ and/or woman lead characters, those are only points in their favor.  Some other things they said on their webpage made it sound like they would love BoLR.  So, I sent off a query.

I got a response in about an hour.  It was a request for a full.

Maniacal laughter ensued.  I couldn't believe this - I mean, I'd had a good weekend, but this?  This was unreal.  It felt like things had somehow aligned for me and the querying process could be over when it had hardly even begun.

Yes, I had high expectations and was already putting all my eggs into one basket.  It's a problem I have.  Anyway.

After the initial euphoria wore off, I realized that I should do some research before I sent off my book.  I'd never heard of this person's agency, and wasn't looking into it the smart thing to do?  Yes, it was.  So I googled it.

The first link that came up was, of course, the agency itself.  The next two links were people detailing their horrible experiences with said agency.

Hands up if you saw this coming.

One of those links was documentation of a writer's personal experiences with an agent from this agency over the course of the year, during which they dealt with months-long delays in communications and learned that their agent was using the shotgun approach with submissions.  This was followed by that same person being threatened with possible legal action for discussing their experience with the agency.  Both pages had comments sections that included several anonymous attacks against the writer.

The second was an ongoing discussion going back nearly a decade, with people discussing their experiences with the agency.  Several people who had once been represented by the agency told of the same problems with several agents from there: lack of communication, the shotgun approach to submissions, and of being passed from agent to agent within the agency with little explanation.  There were further and more upsetting issues stemming from a writer's experience with the agency's president, which I won't delve into here for the sake of keeping this non-specific.

I look at things like this the same way I looked at reviews for companies or apartments when I was searching for work and housing.  One or two bad reviews aren't a big deal - among enough people, someone's going to have a negative experience, and they'll be more inclined to warn others away.  But if all the negative reviews say the same thing, then there's clearly a problem.  So it seemed to be the case with this agency.

This was not what I wanted to hear.  And I fought with myself over it for a while.  Things will be different, I told myself.  It's a different person than the agents those people who had the bad experiences had, I reasoned.  Maybe things have changed, I hoped.  But in the end, I couldn't go against my gut - I couldn't go in when I knew it could be such a bad decision.

If everyone's complaints about the agency are the same, then it's a problem with the way the place is run.  And I'm not going to willingly sign up for that.

So, I politely told the agent I was withdrawing my book from submission, and hopefully nothing more will come of it.  I sincerely hope this was me dodging a bullet and not ruining what could have been a really great chance.  This also leaves me two-for-two for getting a full request that turned out to be doomed.  -_-  But I walk away from this wiser, I hope.  And at least I know my query will work with someone who's looking for the sort of stuff I write.  Now I just need to find someone else who wants that.

This is rough as hell on me, though.  >_<  Crashing from that kind of joy sucks like you wouldn't believe, and now I get to spend the rest of my life hoping I didn't make a horrible mistake.  I just keep telling myself that a bad agent is in fact worse than no agent, and that there's bound to be someone else out there who will read my stuff and want to rep me.  Someone whose agency doesn't throw up red flags as soon as I search for it.  (I will be telling myself this over and over for at least the next week.)

...funny, I was just thinking over the weekend that I didn't know what I'd blog about this week.  But now, between this and my worst rejection ever, I've seen how bad things can get.  It's all up from here, right?  ...right?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Back in Character

"The core of every good story is a character for whom we care—and not just care a little, but care deeply."  --Chuck Wendig

This feels like a lesson I should have learned years ago, or maybe one I did learn and forgot somewhere along the way.

I've gone on at length here about various stories I've tried to make work.  The most recent problem child of my imagination lives in the contents of a file simply titled "Dragon Saga", because of the world it takes place in.  This is also the would-be 'metal fantasy' I've mentioned before.  Over the past two years or so, I've tried to find the story - or any story that works, really - in this world, and every single one falls flat in the plotting or seems stupid when I go back to it.  And recently, I think I finally found the problem.

Working on stories in this world, it was always about the events, the happenings, the big set pieces.  It was never about the characters.

Looking back, it makes sense to me now why things never worked out.  I had all these cinematic moments planned out, with most stories coming to me in melodramatic glimpses the literary equivalent of a multi-million-dollar special effects scene.  The books had no lack of action and drama, but had little in the way of quiet character moments, the slower times when we really get to know these people we've been reading about.

Largely because there was very little to know about those people.

I had a cast I thought I loved, of course.  The latest version had a bunch of over-the-top individuals with names to go along with them, all made to evoke the kind of world this place is, or was, or what-have-you.  (It's a big world, things can be different in different places.)  But they weren't really characters.  They weren't really people.  They were just a means to an end, a way to drive the story forward.

So at some point, I realized what I was doing wrong, probably around when I read the above quote.  After I stopped feeling like a twit, I started over, sort of.  I took a character I've had living in my head for a long time, and started figuring out his story in this world, who he would be and how he got there, so on and so forth.  For the most part, things worked out well.  Over the course of several days, I focused on character background, only throwing in world details when necessary.  And I came out the end with a small group of new characters whose backstories should make for interesting tales.

This is the part where I'd like to say that I've solved the problem.  And maybe I have.  But I've watched stories in this world fall apart again and again and again.  So I'm wary, of course.  It does help to know that I'm going at this whole thing from a different angle, and not trying to find another way to tell a similar tale.  Things could still crash and burn, but that could happen with any story, and it's a fear I've learned to work past.

It's amazing how much of this whole writing thing revolves around getting past one fear or another.

And now, as I'm working on this, it's nearly time to get back to plotting.  Will any of this end up working?  No way to know.  But I am glad to know that I've figured out at least one thing I was doing wrong.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

IWSG: Confess!


I have this horrible habit of remembering all the stupid stuff I've done or said over the years and going through it over and over again in my head.  And I know I'm not the only one.  A lot of this relates to writing, because if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you've seen that I don't exactly know what I'm doing.  (I'm pretty sure that nobody knows what they're doing, but that's another entry and doesn't decrease my insecurity at all.)

So I figured a good theme for this month's IWSG would be to confess as many stupid, silly, or kind of embarrassing writing things as I can fit into a blog entry, in hopes of both letting it all go and hopefully laughing along the way.  :P  Here goes:

  • The very first book I tried to write was a novelization of a video game, Final Fantasy IV (then Final Fantasy II in the US because of localization weirdness).  I planned to write about the first quarter of it, then send it to the company that made the game and get their permission to finish it.  I actually thought this would get published.
  • My writing after that was largely horrible fanfic based off of the X-Men cartoon from the early 90s.  I'm glad the internet as we know it wasn't around then, as I know I would have posted it.  Under an incredibly stupid name that 14-year-old me thought was cool.
  • I get really hesitant about putting in pop culture references in anything I write that takes place in the real world, because I worry that either no one will get it or it'll sound dated in a year or so.
  • I spent three years writing my first novel and I think I managed to fit in every single fantasy cliche I knew.  Multiple chosen ones (chosens one?), pure good vs. evil, hidden old wizards, savages with weird magic, a false hero who gets gutted halfway through the story, and a metric assload of dragons.  I actually thought this would get published.  Hell, I had an entire trilogy planned.  I think I gave up after querying six agents.
  • I once printed out the book I'd been querying just to burn it, to make sure I fully set it aside.  It didn't work.
  • I plotted another trilogy based on another video game (in the same series, no less), because I had this idea that I could make it my own.  I really thought it would work.  But I got five or six chapters in and realized that this wasn't just "inspired by", it was "derivative of".  It's for the best that this never worked, because I know that eventually, someone would have called me out on it.  >_<
  • From what I remember about my early queries, I made the mistakes of comparing my books to bestsellers, and was generally kind of pompous because I was trying to sound writerly.  I don't know if agents pass around really bad queries they get, but I wouldn't have blamed them.
  • I've tried to make a book about a post-apocalyptic road trip work three different times.  I still can't get it, and it torments me because I really want to.  Grr.  Arg.
  • I once had an idea for a story involving celestial beings who rose up out of cracks in the ground.  Then I realized I'd have to call it "The Stars in our Fault", and that kind of killed it.
  • I tend to use characters that aren't mine as shorthand when in the early plotting stages, to give me a general idea of who someone's supposed to be before I develop them further.  One of my plots in progress is currently populated by an old RPG character of mine, a visual novel character, someone from "Legend of Korra", and two Disney villains.
  • When I'm working on a book, my pre-writing ritual consists of taking a shot of liquor and dancing around my living room to a song I've chosen for that particular book.  Don't knock it, it works.
  • If I need a name for a bit part who's a real asshole, it will likely be Steve, because of a guy who bullied me when I was in fifth grade.  Apologies to any Steves out there who are decent guys, because some things stick with me.
  • Finally: the crazy dream book that I've talked about here before was, largely, an attempt to write a legit version of a fanfic I wrote years ago.  I thought I could recapture something I pulled off really well when I was working with other peoples' creations.  I thought wrong, which is why I'm not working on that rewrite for NaNoWriMo.
Enough of that.  Please, share in the comments - not only will you feel better, I'll feel better.  :P

Next week: what I forgot about creating characters.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Once More into the Trenches

Once more into the trench, dear friends, once more,
And clog our e-mail with our rejected.

If I'd planned ahead, I probably could have parodied the whole thing.  But it's late and I'm tired, so two lines are all you get.  :P

But yes, it's time to start the query process, and enter those trenches once again.  I was going to say I hadn't done this since 2013, then I looked back at some dates and realized no, I queried The Accidental Warlock in 2014.  Looking back at those notes, I realize I didn't get as much silence from those queries as I thought - my silence-vs-rejection ratio was about 50%.  But I remember the silence more.  I noticed the silence more.  Getting rejected is something I'm used to by now, but opening e-mail and hoping even for bad news and seeing nothing?  There's something different about that, something colder and more bleak.

I mean, for all its problems, Skyborne got one partial request from an agent and one full request due to a contest.  (A full request that never would have panned out anyway since the book wasn't a romance, but all the same.)  And I thought TAW was a much better book than that.  So hearing back what felt like so much nothing?  That hit me hard, and I think that silence was a major factor in why I set the book aside after only a few months of querying.  That, and 2014 was a bad year for a lot of things, writing among them.

...my music player just started playing "Don't Stop Believin'", so it's clearly time for me to stop brooding on the past.

I'd like to think that things will be different this time.  Yes, I've thought that with every book, but I have a better feeling about The Book of Lost Runes than ones I've queried before.  Have I said that about past books I've queried?  Of course.  If nothing else, I'm well-aware of my own vicious cycles.  But I think I can do better this time.  I have a good query, thanks to all the feedback I got here.  I might actually have a good synopsis, since scribbling that out went much more smoothly than I anticipated.  (How I'm going to fit it into one page for one agent on my list, though, I have no idea.)

Most importantly, I have a story that features what's probably the best version I've ever written of two characters who have lived in my head since 2002.  And if all goes well, I have a reasonably good idea of what's going to happen to them next.  Yes, I'll keep working on that while I query, in hopes I'll finally have a need for a sequel plot.

It's never easy to toss my work out into the world and politely scream "PLEASE LOVE ME."  But I keep telling myself, I have to keep telling myself, somewhere out there is someone who wants to represent the kind of books I want to write.  I just have to find them.

In that search, I've been making use of Query Tracker's literary agent search, which at current count has over 150 agents who are looking for fantasy.  I haven't plowed through the entire list yet to see who sounds like someone I want to query, but y'know, that's an awesome addition to the list I already have.  And I'm going to look into small presses as well, especially after seeing Rena's awesome cover from my last entry.  If anyone else has any suggestions or sources for this kind of thing, please share.

Next week: IWSG, wherein I shall confess the sins of my writing past and encourage others to do the same.  Bwa ha ha.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cover Reveal: ACNE, ASTHMA, AND OTHER SIGNS YOU MIGHT BE HALF DRAGON, by Rena Rocford

Y'all have no idea how excited I am to post this.  ^_^

Rena and I have been friends since 1998.  We met back in college, in fencing club, proving that hitting each other with swords is highly underrated as a bonding experience.  Along with moving across the country twice and spending untold hours lost in tabletop gaming, we've both been writing and chasing the dream of publication for many, many years.

And now, I am both ecstatic and ridiculously proud to help reveal the cover of her first published novel:



Allyson fights acne, not trolls. As an inhaler-carrying member of the asthma society, she just wants to meet the father who turned her mother into a paranoid, move-across-the-nation freak. Now she’s trying to fit in at yet another school, but for the first time in her life, she has a best friend, Beth. When Allyson accidentally spits fire at kidnappers in the mall, she realizes why her father isn’t in the picture: she’s half dragon. Her acne? Emerging scales. Her asthma? The side effects of her dragon’s fire breath. Instead of freaking out, unflappable Beth reveals her own troll heritage and explains how things work with the supernatural creatures hiding within the modern world of smartphones and skyscrapers.

When trolls kidnap a unicorn, Beth gets blamed. Allyson is determined to prove Beth’s innocence and keep her friend off the unicorn chopping block. When they start looking for the kidnappers, they get a call from the last person they expect: Allyson’s father. He tries to warn them off, but he’s been put under a spell by the kidnappers to keep the victims from escaping. Nothing short of death can stop him. Now Allyson must choose between killing the father she’s always dreamed of, or letting her best friend die for a crime she didn’t commit. 


Like most mad scientists, Rena Rocford’s early works were largely met with scorn and mockery, but she bided her time. After all, what did her fellow kindergarteners know about literature? From that day forward, Rena kept her writing on the mythical back burner as she pursued more logical goals. Today, crayons. Tomorrow, the world. She moved on to essays and egg drops, followed by experiments in shady laboratories. She tried her hand at everything, learning from anyone who would teach her. She even moonlighted as a horseback riding instructor.

 Admittedly, living as a muggle brought Rena some levels of success such as completing her master’s degree, but always the stories returned, calling her to the keyboard in the dark of night. Now, having built armies from words, Rena has set her sights on world domination, one book at a time.

From her secret base in the wine country, Rena has enlisted the help of her cats, her loyal dogs, and her family―who can be relied upon to hide the launch codes at a moment’s notice. You can find Rena at her blog, follow her on Twitter, GoodReads, or find her on Facebook. Her debut novel, Acne, Asthma, and Other Signs You Might Be Half Dragon comes out November 23rd, 2015.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Perchance to Dream Again

“A thousand dreams within me softly burn.”  --Arthur Rimbaud

A few nights ago, I finished rereading the crazy dream book.  This is something I wrote because I knew I had to - because if I didn't, it would become one of those things I'd always think about and wonder if I could have made it work.  And now that I've reread the whole thing, I'm left with more questions than when I started.

These aren't bad questions, though they leave me wondering if it's worth it to spend more time working on this book.  In general, I like it.  There are some repetitive parts; the main character continues to reflect on how weird things are even after she's come to accept that she's inside someone else's dream.  Of the eleven characters who make up the cast, only three or four of them get any significant development, and too much of it is right before they leave the story forever.  Also, the structure of a series of duels leading to the grand finale leads to the story feeling like it's deliberately stalling between the duels, even though we learn most of the important plot points during that time.

And I hate to say it, but my biggest fear about this book did in fact come to pass: it's just not weird enough.

On the plus side, the weird parts work really well.  Much of it feels like we're seeing a tiny piece of an unexplained mythology.  One of the characters, her bizarre nature is never truly explained, but she comes off as damaged and sympathetic.  Another character who loves being in the dream because he can be exactly who he wants to be has a particularly difficult scene when he's forced to wake up.  And the ending, warped and surreal as it is, really works.

So there's potential here.  It will need work to be a book worth reading, and I think I'll need to switch it to first person perspective, to really delve into the main character's head.  (Which will lead to some serious problems with the ending, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)  But there are a lot of things about the story I'm just not sure about, things I don't know if I can fix.

As cynical as it sounds, I'm also wondering if I should invest more time and effort in a story that, odds are good, would never sell.

I know I'm at the stage where I should be writing whatever I want, because I don't have any deadlines or obligations or anything of the sort, and it's impossible to know what's going to work out.  I'm sure there are more than a few authors who've been in this same place and the book they thought would never sell turned out to be the one that started their career.  But this book has always felt like the sort of thing that would just be too damn odd for any publisher to pick up, and knowing I'll have to make it weirder to make it work right doesn't help.

Fortunately, I don't have to make this decision right away.  I've taken down some notes on possible changes, and I'm going to see if I can figure out how to make this thing work the way I think it should.  I keep hoping to have some sudden flash of inspiration and somehow know exactly what to change and how.  If I can figure it out, cool.  If not, no worries; at least I gave it a shot and won't have to wonder how it would have turned out.

If I do decide to rewrite it, I'm thinking about doing that for NaNoWriMo this year, both since I've never actually participated in NaNo and because I know a NaNo project isn't something I'd take seriously as a potential book to sell.

Or I could write this ridiculous idea I had on Monday, which is easily one of the stupidest concepts I've ever come up with but the pitch line alone would probably sell it.  >_<

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

IWSG: The Tower of Discards

No, that's not a location on a fantasy writer's nightmare map.  What this is, though, is another IWSG moment of me asking for advice, instead of attempting to give it.

I've written a lot of books over the years.  If the count I just did is correct, I'm up to fourteen, and that's assuming I didn't somehow miss one or two.  And while I know it's important to not compare myself to others, since every writer's journey is different, I know I'm on the high end of how many books authors tend to write before they get published.

I have a problem: I give up on my own writing too easily.  And I don't know how to stop.

As I've talked about over the past few months, I'm working toward querying The Book of Lost Runes, though doing some major rewrites has stalled that.  But once my beta readers for the latest version of the book get back to me and I make whatever changes I need to, it'll be time to move on to the next step.  And yet I can't help thinking about setting it aside to work on something else.

Yes, this is the book I wrote an entire blog entry about, saying how happy I was that I'd told the exact story I wanted to tell.  Even now, despite my doubts (the usual ones and those specific to this book), I still think it's a good story.  It's still what I want it to be.

None of which keeps me from thinking I should trunk it and write something better.  I mean, I keep talking about how I finally feel like I'm getting better, so whatever I write next will have to be awesome, right?  Sure, until I decide to stop working on that one too.

I've been here, at this exact place, over and over.  No matter where I get in the query process, I stop when I start to think that no one's going to want to see the book, and I move on to something else completely.  If I was just setting a book aside for a while, planning to go back to it later, that would be okay, I think.  But no.  It's always "No one wants to read this, so into the trash it goes."  I'm only writing about it now because I'm feeling like this before I've even started to query.

So yeah, this does kind of boil down to me requesting an intervention.  For myself.  >_<

I don't know if everyone's been where I am right now, but I think most if not all of us can understand that feeling of wanting to toss something aside and start all over.  I've spent way too much time here, and this is not a place where I want to be.  But unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be something I can just flex my willpower at and declare with all my might that I'm going to press forward, and watch it disappear.  The feeling just comes right back.

So I'd appreciate any advice y'all can offer on this.  I am still pressing ahead with BoLR; I'm working on the query for that while waiting to hear back from betas, and of course working on other projects like I talked about last week.  But I could use help with this.

Next week: The Full Rewrite.  ...no, not for BoLR, not after everything I just wrote...

One more thing: I'm featured over at Dianne Salerni's blog today!  She does a feature called First Impressions, where writers can have their book's first page posted and get critique.  If you want to read the first page or so of The Book of Lost Runes, head on over.  ^_^

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Now?

I've heard of some writers being asked if they worry about running out of ideas.  I hope no one ever asks me that question, because I'll start laughing and may never stop, which would probably make the person asking it kind of upset.

However, this comes with its own set of issues, which I shall now attempt to sort through.

After spending most of September putting The Book of Lost Runes through massive revisions, I'm more than ready to set it aside for a bit.  The book's in the hands of three beta readers - okay, two beta readers and one beta listener, which was new to me.  While I do need to work on the query letter, I'm not going to sit around and make tiny edits to a story I've already gone through five times while I wait for people to get back to me.

So clearly, I need something else to work on.  And the problem with asking "What's next?" is that I don't exactly have a clear to-do list.  Writing is not a science (at least, not the way I do it), so it's not always easy to know what to do.

The first option is the interplanar race book.  The plot's mostly together, one of the three I prepared for this year back when my goal was to plot three books and write two.  I didn't write this one because I was never quite 100% on it.  I think I've got it, though, now that I realized a character I was never sure about does in fact need to be in the book.

However, I don't want to write another book right now.  That's a massive commitment of time, and I don't think I could get it done before my beta readers get back to me and it's time to work on BoLR again.  I write books by working on only that book every day without taking a break, so I don't want to get started on one when I know I'll be interrupted.

Next, I have option two: start editing the crazy dream book.  Yes, it has a real title; no, I'm not saying what it is because I have to do a ton of editing on the thing for the title to actually make sense.  I finished that back in June, so it's had a good long time to sit and sort of congeal in my head.  I well and truly hope that, when I get back to it, I can make it into the sort of story it's meant to be.  Because I have this strange feeling that it's not quite weird enough.

But I don't know if I want to get started on that now.  Editing one book while waiting for people to read a different one so I can edit that... this is a completely new situation for me.  And considering the story's inspirations, there's something else coming in November that might give me new ideas.

Then again, it's not like the crazy dream book will somehow be etched in stone if I spend most of October editing it.

My third option is the metal fantasy dragon book, which is currently in its... sixth incarnation of plotting?  Maybe seventh?  I've had so many troubles with this one, most of which leave me emotionally drained, I'm not even sure if I shouldn't just bury it for a year or so.  But I had some ideas today that might finally solve that problem.  I'd like to develop that plot more and see what comes of it.

So now that I've hashed all this out, my intent with doing this journal entry was to figure out what I would do next.  I think I've arrived at the best idea: all of them.  I'll polish the interplanar plot, I'll edit the crazy dream book, and I'll do all I can to finally get the dragon book into a workable story.  Because right now, there's really no point in limiting myself.  Any of these things could turn out to be what eventually gets published.  Or, in a perfect world, all of them.

Time to get back to work.  Not that I ever really stopped...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Rules and Breaking Them

Not long ago, I read this article over on io9, appropriately titled "10 Writing 'Rules' We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break".  If you haven't read it, you probably should, else this entry won't mean a great deal.

Back?  Good.  Not a bad article, eh?

I've never been much of a stickler for writing 'rules', aside from basics like "use proper grammar and appropriate formatting unless otherwise necessary" and "words should generally mean what people expect them to mean".  I think the story is what's most important, and while some claim there are rules for how you have to tell a story, a lot of that is bunk.

So, since story rewrites have eaten much of my time and spare brain cells this past week, I thought I'd offer my thoughts on the article.  Feel free to share your own in the comments.

1. No third-person omniscient.
I don't think this should be a rule, though I'd be hard-pressed to use it again.  The first book I wrote was written like this, which led to me developing the horrible habit of dropping into everyone's head and giving them a paragraph's worth of reaction thoughts whenever something major happened.  There's a reason it took me three years to write that thing.  And it was still bad!  But I think if you rule out a storytelling perspective completely, you're just limiting yourself.

2. No prologues.
I go back and forth on this.  I understand why people are hesitant about prologues, and a lot of the complaints I hear are that they're not where the story really starts.  In BoLR, I had a prologue short story written up (even posted it here back in February), but I held off on adding it until I wrote the book, to see if I could fit all the backstory in without it.  As it turned out, I could.  That won't stop me from putting a prologue in another book if I think it's necessary.

3. Avoid infodumps.
I generally agree with this one, but I think it's possible to do it right.  So long as no one says "as you know" or starts lecturing without reason.  Unless the person they're talking to cuts them off and asks why they're telling them something they already know.  I think I'd forgive an infodump in the form of an actual lecture, though, especially if the characters are bored to tears since they already know it and start offering their own commentary.

4. Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones.
I think this depends on the story you want to tell.  BoLR is meant to be the first of a trilogy, because that's how it's worked out in my head.  But the crazy dream book is a standalone.  Other stuff I'm plotting could lead into more books, but I haven't thought ahead that far.  I think all that matters is that the individual books stand on their own, whether they have books that come after them or not.

5. No portal fantasy.
Oog.  This is a stupid one.  I understand it's cliched and hard to sell these days, but if your story has to be a portal fantasy, go ahead and make it a portal fantasy.  I agree with what the article says about them being appealing to new readers, that's a really good point.

6. No FTL.
Someday, I'm going to write FTL Fantasy.  You can't stop me.  :P

7. Women can't write "hard" science fiction.
...what.  I think anyone who believes this is a rule is not only sexist, not only ignorant of some great sci-fi, but possibly a goddamn idiot as well.  Moving on.

8. Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world.
Oh, screw that.  There are many ways to make a fantasy world unlike our own, but magic is easily the biggest one.  And while I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Martin and how well he's handled a very low-magic fantasy world, the idea that now everyone has to imitate that is ridiculous. What matters is that you tell the story as it's supposed to be told.  And you can't do that if you think magic - magic, of all things! - is required to be a certain way.

9. No present tense.
This is another one of those "you're just limiting yourself" things.  I haven't read much that's written in present tense, but The Hunger Games comes to mind.  The present tense gave a sense of immediacy to that series that simply could not have been there in past tense.  It's easy to believe that someone really could die at any moment when they're telling their story right now.  Present tense isn't for every story, but ruling it out is just foolish.

10. No "unsympathetic" characters.
In addition to what the article says - which I generally agree with - some of the greatest characters are the ones you're not supposed to sympathize with.  A good writer can make you want to see a character suffer, even die, and make you exult when they do.  (Hopefully it's not a character you're supposed to sympathize with.)  Done right, and done well, this can be the greatest thing about a story.

Next week: no idea!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Another Big Change.

No, I'm not moving across the country again.  :P

However, as that blog entry shows, I'm a big fan of making big changes when a story isn't going the way it should.  As a plotter, this is often how I figure out how things are supposed to go.  Granted, it still boggles my mind that stories tend to feel like I'm figuring them out rather than making them up, but I can't explain that and don't care to try.

Anyway.

As important as changes are, there are times when I don't expect to make them.  Like when I think a book is close to done and I'm moving toward trying to find an agent.  When I know the word count and I'm struggling with putting together a good query, when I'm waiting to hear back from betas and fix whatever needs fixing, that's not the time to consider huge changes to a book, right?

Oh ye of little faith.  Or rather, oh me of little faith.  As per usual, things have not gone quite as planned.

Here's the thing: I know I'm not great at writing antagonists.  It's a long-standing weakness of mine - hell, I dropped The Accidental Warlock in part because I felt the book pretty much didn't have an antagonist.  But I thought I'd conquered that issue with The Book of Lost Runes.  I was wrong.

One of my betas is one of my best friends; we've known each other since 2000 and have shared a ton over the years.  She's read more of my books than anyone else.  And one of her chief complaints about BoLR was that the bad guy was weak, didn't seem threatening, stuff like that.  So after my usual bout of "I am a horrible writer" that comes after most criticism (I only felt like that for an hour or so, so I'm clearly getting better), I started thinking, and I realized that she was right.

Frantic planning ensued.

It's a weird thing, sitting down to edit a story and knowing that chunks of it will remain mostly the same while other chunks need massive revisions.  Replacing a minotaur with a politician involves significant work.  Go figure.  :P  But I created a villain who has a much more personal stake in all that's happening and a more interesting reason for starting it, who's a lot more devious and has prepared multiple backup plans, and who interacts better with my main characters.  He's also more fun to write, which is always a plus.

The whole process has been more than a little nerve-wracking.  While I of course saved a version of the book so I wouldn't lose anything if Operation Antagonist Replacement failed, it's still a massive undertaking for a book I thought was nigh-ready for submission.  I plowed through the whole thing in eight days, and went back and added more tonight, in preparation for another run-through over this coming week.  I think everything works, but all praise to my beta readers, who will surely let me know if it doesn't.  ^_^

In the end, just about anything's worth it if it leads to a better book.  And I really do think I've made the story better now.  Which is all that matters in the end.

On another note, in regards to that other blog entry: I've been in Washington for a little over six months.  I've met new people and I get together with my friends regularly.  I'm close to family and see them pretty often.  And I'm nearly done with five weeks of training at my brand-new job, which is already the best place I've ever worked and pays me better than any job I've ever had.

Making that change was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What's in a Name?

Yes, I know; it's hardly a new question.  But with all the characters I've created, I seem to go one of two ways with names: either I know them right away, or I struggle to come up with one that fits.  So I thought it would be fun to talk about character names this week.

Let's start with the obvious: Shiloh means 'chosen one', which was a meaningful name back in Skyborne, less so in The Accidental Warlock, and not at all in The Book of Lost Runes.  I did consider changing her name because of the meaning, because I've talked here before about how much I don't like the concept of the chosen one, but I also just plain like the name.  I don't know what Alexi's name actually means, but I chose it because when I first wrote her (back in 2002), I worked with someone named Alexis and someone named Lexi, and decided to split the difference for someone who was supposed to be a bit part character.

I had no idea what I was getting into back then.

As for Shiloh's sister Bethany, there's no greater meaning there; I just needed something that sounded formal and humorless.  Bethany's sarcastic to a point, but she never smiles.  She's also a lot of fun to write.

Two other significant characters in BoLR are the Figaro brothers, Edwin and Gerald.  Their names are simply an extended reference to Final Fantasy VI.  Edgar Figaro is a king from that game, the dashing sort who's suited to life on an airship, and he goes by the name Gerad at one point, hence the brothers' names.  I was going to name Gerald 'Samson', for Edgar's brother Sabin, but didn't want to have two characters' names start with the same letter, and Gerald's really not a fighter of any sort.  I went with them both because of the importance of airships in BoLR, and because I wanted a good last name for a rich family.  Once I decided that 'Figaro' would work, the rest just fell into place.

For the crazy dream book, only two characters' names have any significance, and I'm not telling.  One is a spoiler, the other is something no one but me will get unless I get a whole lot of books published.

The next book I'm hoping to write is something I've been plotting for a while, and I generally describe it as "The Amazing Race" meets "Guardians of the Galaxy".  The two humans in that are Chris and Phoenix; Chris because I needed something ordinary and Chris Pratt starred in GotG, and Phoenix because of reasons I can't say here.  The others are Durgard, a biometallic dwarf-like being with four arms; Zin, the pilot, whom I decided today needs to be replaced with something small and fuzzy and lovable; CAL-KX-0314, a wargolem who will likely have a nickname for the rest of the crew to call her; and Sarai, who's only humanoid from the waist up.  The ship is called the Starwind, from an anime that was a major inspiration on this story.  Bonus points for whomever can name the anime.  No fair using Google.  :P

As for my other significant plot-in-progress, the one about dragons and all that, I can't really say anything about what the names actually mean.  But I can say I've had more fun naming these people than anyone else in a long time.  Without giving too much away, some of the current cast names include: Threnody Starhands, Rael Slitherscale, Zoila Cronin, Desdemona Skullwalker, Kya Cryoblade the Pure, Thresh Palewing, The Mimir, Haze Discord, Byron Stormhammer, and Tara Bulkhead the Immovable.

I really need to make this plot work, because damn, this one's going to be fun.

So!  Let's hear some names from the rest of y'all.  Do you actively give your characters names, or do the names show up in your head along with the characters themselves?  Do you worry about name meanings, or does that not matter?  And what's the worst, best, and/or oddest name you've ever used for a character?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IWSG: Moment of Surrender

Despite the title similarity, this has nothing to do with last month's IWSG entry.  This is about getting ready to delve into the submission process and why that scares me.

The title comes from a U2 song, one that I've heard dozens and dozens of times.  Why?  Because I wrote two different books while listening to the album it's on.  Those books, Skyborne and The Accidental Warlock, are the last two books I tried to query.  Hell, I started this blog a bit over three years ago for a contest, and Skyborne was my submission.

It kind of hurts to look at that entry now.  I thought that was such a good way to start a book, but I cringe when I re-read that.  Also, that book was 128,000 words?  Yeah, there was no way that was ever getting published.  And it was a rewrite of a book that, judging by the file size, was half again as long.  >_<

Anyway.  Since all of my non-IWSG entries last month were about queries, it's pretty obvious that I'm about to start that process again.  And it scares the hell out of me.

I know that I should try to look forward, not back.  I believe The Book of Lost Runes is a better and stronger book; there's a reason it makes me feel like I'm finally getting the hang of this writing thing.  (I'm crediting the move to Washington with that, whether it's warranted or not.)  But it's hard not to reach this point and consider the most likely conclusion: another long series of rejections and silence.

I know that isn't a guarantee.  I have more resources now, as I've been holding onto recommendations and websites and all kinds of things that will help me find an agent or publisher that's looking for the sort of stories I like to write.  I have a better way to keep track of things now, mostly because I remembered that I actually have a spreadsheet program.  (I only ever used it for D&D and RoleMaster character sheets, so using it to track submissions didn't occur to me.)  So it's possible that things might actually go the way I want them to.

However, I know not to count on that.  So I'm prepared (in theory) to find myself at that unfortunate place of hearing back "no" or nothing from everywhere I send the book.  From there, I'll face the same familiar question: now what?

I don't want to self-publish.  But I also don't want to give up on this story.  I could trunk it for a while, but that also feels like giving up, and I know it'll end up feeling like every other project I've set aside intending to go back to someday.  I'll look at it, think about picking it up again, and just shrug it off, figuring there's no point.

It's probably for the best that there's no way to know what will happen without trying.  Because despite all this, I am still going to try.  I'd rather not spend my whole life never actually doing what I want to do.  And there's only one way to prevent that.  No matter how much it scares me to go through it all again.

Besides, if things don't work with BoLR, if it goes the way of literally every other book I've written, then maybe I'll start this whole mad cycle again with the crazy dream book.  Who knows, it might actually sell.  That would figure, wouldn't it?  Pour my heart and soul into books that go nowhere, and something I write as a "must get it out of my head" fluke turns out to be what gets me started.

I think I'll stop now, I'm depressing myself.  >_<  Next week: names.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Query Check, BoLR Version, Take 2

I think I can fit a few more commas into that title if I really want.  Perhaps I should have added "The Brickening"?

Anyway.  This is once again me begging for query feedback.  I'm exhausted from training at my new job (mental fatigue is utterly and completely a thing), and I don't think anyone wants yet another blog entry about my plots not doing what they should.  >_<  Next week's IWSG will, most likely, be a ramble about why the part of the writing process I'm in right now is most likely the worst one, and the part where it's easiest to give up.

But before that, it's another query.  I took this one in a completely different direction, focusing more on character like I should have the first time.  The first two paragraphs cover the first two chapters of the book, and the third is a summation with much less detail.  Thank you in advance for any help y'all can give me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Query Check, BoLR Version

So things are looking up since last week.  Thanks to a great suggestion from Liz on how to start it, and a helpful link from Rena on how to bring it home, I've got a decent query going for The Book of Lost Runes.

However, much like with everything else in this job, I could use some feedback.  The query's below the cut, and I'd appreciate any input.  Thanks.  ^_^


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Query Letters Must Die.

I don't know how many of y'all follow me on Twitter, but as I tweeted about two days ago, I've started working on the query for The Book of Lost Runes.  And let's just say it's not going well.

Yes, this is the part where I rant.

I feel like this shouldn't be so difficult.  I've been writing queries since 2001.  No, not continuously; I'm reasonably productive, but I'm not that productive, and there was that long dry spell where I hardly wrote anything worth a damn because I was trying to write short stories for publication and everything that came out of that period was crap except for one single piece.  But in theory, I should know what I'm doing.

'Theory' is an incredibly useful word, especially when it serves as an indication that whatever I'm theorizing to be true is utterly and completely not.

To be honest, BoLR is not a book that's easy to summarize.  A significant event occurs ten years before the story even starts, and while I cover that in the first chapter (without resorting to infodumps, yay me), that's presents two problems.  First, it's an essential element for the two main characters, so how can I summarize it in the query?  Second, since it's not actually part of the story's events, do I need to include it?

If you've noticed that these problems are contradictory, then I hope you see why summarizing this story is such a pain in the ass.

I almost wish I'd written the crazy dream book first and edited that one, because I already know exactly how that query's going to go.  But I think BoLR has a higher chance of actually being published, mostly because it's not insane.

Anyway.  There's also the fact that the essential conflict of BoLR changes over the course of the book.  What starts off as a blackmail/revenge plot turns into the discovery of a serious problem involving both the main characters' homes.  In all of my query attempts so far, getting that plot twist across has involved a lot more words than a query letter should have.  I've heard the average query letter is around three hundred words, so I doubt many agents would look favorably on one that's a full five hundred words long.

Finally, there's the whole romance thing.  It's pretty clear in the story itself - as I've said here before, the relationship upgrade happens in chapter two - but it's part of the plot in ways I can't cover effectively in a query letter.  I know I'll mention it when I query agents who specifically want books with LGBT couples, but that means I have to find a way to fit it in that doesn't affect the letter if it's taken out, which is yet another issue.  I'll probably leave it in no matter what.

The one upside is that I've figured out an essential part: how to end it.  That's been the only easy part.  I took the quick description I came up with for the book and worked that into the final paragraph, so no matter what happens with the rest of the query, I get my pseudo-blurb in there at the end:

Airships, blackmail, and ancient magic collide in THE BOOK OF LOST RUNES, a fantasy novel of 80,000 words.  Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Next week: I might have a query to share and request critique for, perhaps two.  Or I might have taken up drinking heavily.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG: The Moment of Inspiration

"Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration.  The rest of us just get up and go to work."  --Stephen King

Much as I agree with Mr. King, I don't think any of us are opposed to those sudden moments of inspiration.  We just don't rely on them, or expect them, which makes them so much greater when they happen.

I've talked about one of my (steadily-growing pile of) plots in progress here before.  It's about cold places and undead and people with draconic ancestry and it's meant to read like the whole thing has a heavy metal soundtrack.  It's also one of the more frustrating things I've tried to develop over the past few years because no matter what I do with it, it's never quite right.

As an aside, I have to say that this is one of the times when I'm glad to be a plotter, not a pantser.  Yes, it's frustrating to have a plotting document that's fifty-six pages long and contains five different versions of my attempts to get this story and world to work.  But I'd rather have that than yet another book that I tossed away once it was done.  I've been there too many times already.  >_<

Anyway.  Despite the frustration, I'm determined to keep plugging away at this plot, as I like the ideas in it too much to just set it aside.  I go back to it a few times a month, read over my notes on the latest version of the story, and see if I can figure out a little more of it.  Most of the time, I add a sentence or two, or maybe delete one, and close the document while swearing.

Then, a little while ago, I saw this image, and everything fell into place.

A big part of the problem I had with the story was that it ended with the protagonists discovering the true nature of the threat, which the antagonist had been working against in his own less-than-kind way.  Something about that never felt right.  Seeing that image made me realize what I was missing: the story doesn't end with the protagonists discovering the true threat.  The story ends with their first battle against that true threat.

The fact that I've been thinking of this story as 'metal fantasy' and the image references rock festivals going to war is not lost on me.  :P

This, I think, is what inspiration is really meant to be for we writers.  It's not getting the whole story at once, it's not the sudden breakthrough that solves everything.  It's the moment when you realize what the story needs for it to work - what the story is missing.  It's probably best not to expect inspiration, but it can come from anywhere.  Hell, mine came from a message board thread about D&D Demotivational posters.

I still have a lot to do for this tale.  But I have the three acts mapped out, which counts for a lot; now that I know how it starts and how it ends, I can figure out everything that happens in between.  And for a plotter like me, that means a lot.

And now, once I'm done plotting the sequel that I blathered on about in my last two entries, I can get started on this plot.  Again.  Maybe this time, it will actually work.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The One-Book Mind, Part 2: Book Harder

I'm so completely shot for blog ideas this week that I'm writing a sequel to a previous entry, and this entry is itself about writing a sequel.  It's like I already work in Hollywood.

So, yes, this is a continuation of last week's entry.  Because despite my best efforts, I'm still unable to pull my head out of this one book and work on other things.  Some of that is because I'm getting feedback from a beta reader, which has been awesome and helpful and will lead to a slightly updated version of the book going out to another two beta readers this weekend.  (Seriously, I'm so happy to have this many people reading the book.  And two of them have never read anything of mine before.)  That's the good part.  The part that felt good at first but now doesn't seem that way is that I've been working on the sequel to The Book of Lost Runes.

Is there a word for something that feels good and productive but at the same time could also be a colossal waste of time and effort?  Because that's kind of what working on a sequel to this book feels like.

As good as I feel about BoLR, I know that it has a very high chance of ending up like every single other book I've written: stuffed into a folder deep on my hard drive, with nothing more coming of it than a learning experience and another number to add when I tell people how many books I've written*.  I'm usually an optimist, but I need to be realistic about this or else the whole publishing attempt process will end with me sitting here alone and crying, and I've already done that once this year.  So taking down notes for a sequel feels like the worst kind of wheel-spinning - like I'm wasting time working on something that has even less chance of turning into a book than most of my plots.

I think that's what gets me the most.  Here I am, trying to get all these ideas in my head to form themselves into workable plots and characters and settings and everything else, and the only stuff I can make work is for places and people and things I've already established.  It's like my brain is tired and only wants easy work.  I do not like having a lazy brain.  >_<

Now, I know that, if a miracle occurs and BoLR gets published, I'll be glad I took the time to scribble down every idea I've had for the sequel.  From what I've heard and read and picked up along the way, if the publisher wants a sequel, I'll be on deadline for that right away, and it will only help if I already have the plot done so I can get started as soon as possible.  But I've been at this too long to count on that happening.

I've been at this too long to count on anything happening, but that's mostly just me being tired and bitter.  :P

Bottom line: as usual, I don't know what the hell I'm doing.  I have a book that I love, one that's only getting better with the feedback I get.  I have a story I really want to tell, one that's growing in the telling and showing me things I never would have guessed when I first started writing down ideas.  But writing a sequel to a book when I have no idea if that book will ever get published feels like an enormous waste of time.  And I'm having a hell of a time getting myself to work on anything else.

Is this why writers drink?


*To those people who hear that I've written over a dozen books and yet I'm not a famous author, and proceed to ask me stupid questions about it: I hate you so much.  Maybe not forever, but in that moment?  Yeah, serious loathing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The One-Book Mind

Yes, I'm still editing.  Ask me again next week and - actually, by this time next week, I hope to have finished editing, fixed all the little things that I didn't catch on the line edit, and sent the book out to my awesome beta readers and be working on another project.

Which, incidentally, is what this entry is about.

For obvious reasons, I still have my head deep in The Book of Lost Runes.  I haven't had much luck or made much progress with any other project ever since I started editing it.  While I've taken a few notes on other plots-in-progress, mostly bits and pieces of character and setting stuff for books that refuse to tell me what the hell their story is actually supposed to be, that's about it.  And it's frustrating, because I was hoping I'd be able to both edit this book and plot some other stuff.

I do have about two pages of notes for the sequel to BOLR, though, and some of that takes things closer to the "Indiana Jones meets Ocean's Eleven" concept that I had for the first book but sort of moved away from.  I already have one moment of genuine awesome planned.  It's entirely possible I'll plot the whole book around getting to that moment.  But I digress.

As I've talked about here before, I have notes and plans for a ton of different projects.  And like everybody else, I have a limited number of hours in the day.  I want to spend more of that time working on all these different things, but when I sit down to do that, it's like there's nothing there.  I'll be able to figure out a few things from these stories I'm trying to tell, but nothing more, because I still have this one big project I'm working on.

It's like writer's block in reverse - I'm blocked because of what I've already written.  I know life's not fair, but this is ridiculous.

And even after I send BOLR out to pre-readers, that won't be the end of working with it.  There will be further edits, I know that; I'm nowhere near good enough to have written a book that only gets positive criticism and nowhere near egotistical enough to think I did.  I'll have to work on a query letter, which I'm already dreading, and a synopsis, which I'm already loathing.  There's also the agent search, but that's less "creative work" and more "please love me".

Like a lot of my fears or worries or concerns that I write about here, I know this shouldn't get to me as much as it does.  From what I've gathered about reading others' writing processes and all that, working on several books at once isn't all that common.  (Brandon Sanderson being a notable exception, as his work in progress bar on his site has four different projects on it and I don't know how the hell he does it.)  But I want to do more.  I always want to do more.

So, dear readers, I must ask: am I alone in this?  If I'm not, how do you handle it?  Judging by the comments I got on one of last month's entries, I have more projects in various stages of development than most people who read this.  But I can't be the only one who has this sort of trouble.  (Ye gods, I hope not.)  I'd appreciate any advice.

Even if it's just to remind me that I'm thinking too much, as per usual.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

For Love of Editing.

I think we've all heard of those authors who think they don't need to edit, or think they don't need anyone else editing their work.  I'm saying this right now: if I ever claim either of those things, I want you to link me back to this entry, so I can tell myself I'm an utter and complete idiot for ever thinking I don't need to edit.

Because I totally do, for one simple reason: editing makes everything better.

As I mentioned earlier, I finished the line edits on The Book of Lost Runes yesterday.  (Yes, saying it on Twitter counts as mentioning it earlier.  This is the internet.)  I did two chapters a day, so while it might have only taken me nine days, it felt like one enormous slog.  Mostly because going over everything by hand forces me to see how the story actually works on paper, to see the story how a reader would.  And making a whole bunch of changes with a pen takes a long time.

It also really drove home the fact that I'm a writer, because I was overly happy to find a pen that worked well for this task.  It's the simple things, really.  And I'm now stealing the pens from every hotel room I stay in, because damn.

It's amazing how many things I notice when I'm not staring at a screen.  Little things like how I fall back on using some of my favorite words, or when I describe something the exact same way in two sentences in a row, or when a character's eye color rapidly changes between chapters.  Yes, all of these things happened.  Some of them repeatedly.

For example, the story is done in third person limited perspective, so when writing it, I often used "Shiloh thought" in lines where the main character was considering something that happened and/or drawing conclusions.  It was supposed to be a simple way to designate that I was dealing with her internal monologue, not stating things as objective fact.  Over the course of editing, I realized that the whole book is effectively her internal monologue, third person or not.  So there's rarely reason to designate something as one of Shiloh's thoughts - it quite literally could not be anyone else's.  I crossed out a lot of "Shiloh thought" over the past few days, believe me.

But better to do that now than have a pre-reader hand the book back to me with every single instance of "Shiloh thought" marked in the text.  There would have been many.  Many.

I also nailed down some things I'd been questioning myself on while I wrote the book.  Do people speak runes or write them?  Runes are written, only spoken for constant magical effects like maintaining a shield or runeweaving or ███ ███████ ████.  Is Cordobrae all desert, or desert and wasteland?  The latter, though the wasteland can be much like the desert, just with more magical poisoning.  How many chains drape over the Lady of Chains's shoulders?  As many as she needs.

Some things don't need a concrete answer.  That's my decision and I'm sticking to it.  :P

So, yes.  The point of this overly wordy little ramble?  No matter what you've done, editing can only make it better.  I know this is something most if not all of my readers will know and understand.  But given the vast and often overwhelming uncertainty of this profession, and the equally vast and overwhelming anxiety that too often comes with it, sometimes a reminder can help.

It's all right if you think you've written something that no one - including you - should ever read.  Because there's always something you can do to make it better.

Not that this has me considering picking up the books I tossed aside last year and editing them.  Let's not get crazy, I have enough to do already....

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Joy of Nailing It.

No, not that sort of nailing it.  Slap your mind.  :P

So, as I talked about for the entirety of last week's entry, I started editing The Book of Lost Runes last week.  I was nervous, because I hadn't put my head down and edited a book since 2013.  Yes, it's been a long time; 2014 was not a good writing year for me, for various reasons that I won't get into here because they're not that interesting and kind of depressing and I've already covered them in previous entries.  But I pressed on despite the nerves, and discovered something surprising:

I absolutely nailed this story.

A lot of this entry is going to seem like bragging, and it's not.  This is joy.  This is the maniacal laughter that accompanies knowing I well and truly did something right.  This is what happens when I sit down knowing that I could come out the other end of editing absolutely hating this story and wishing I'd never thought of it, and the exact opposite happens.

It's an awesome experience and I hope you all get it someday, if you haven't already.  ^_^

Truth be told, though, this is as much a relief as it is a cause for celebration.  I can't fool myself into thinking I'm not writing with hopes of getting published (trust me, I've tried), and I hated the thought that I might have written yet another book that I didn't want to touch again once the first draft was done.

But so far, most everything about BOLR has worked.  The story flows as it should - quickly, yes, but not overwhelmingly so.  I've only found one major plot hole, and it should be simple to close.  I didn't spot any minor ones; hopefully my beta readers will find any I missed and let me know.

The romance also worked out well, which I'm glad for, as I'm always worried about making sure I do that right.  It's easy to make a story's emotional content go overboard, and dealing with two people who haven't seen each other for ten years and decide to jump right into the relationship they've missed out on. . . .  It would have been very, very easy to screw that up, to make it seem juvenile or narm-tastic or any number of horrible things.  But it genuinely feels like two people who are kind of swept up in everything, including how they feel about each other, and everything comes about in a way that fits the characters and makes sense for the story.

I might have said "aww" at my own ending, I admit.  These things happen.

There is, of course, still work to do.  I started the by-hand edit yesterday, and as I noted, I have quite the slog ahead of me.  Going over the whole book with a pen in hand is very different from reading it on a screen, and takes a hell of a lot longer.  But reading it as a reader would, words on paper, really changes how the story comes across, and there are all kinds of things I notice in this process that I never would have seen otherwise.

In the end, this will all be worth it.  The changes I've already made make for a better story, and the rest of the editing process will only continue that.  I'm going to polish this thing until it shines so bright it's visible from my old apartment, and I'm damn sure going to try getting this one published.  All that remains is actually making it good enough to be published.

But ye gods, considering how the plot changes over the course of the story, I am not looking forward to writing a query for this thing.  >_<  Even writing a query letter for the bizarre dream book will be easier than this one.  Oi!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

IWSG: Back to the Editing Cave.

If there's a sign above the editing cave, it doesn't read "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."  It probably reads "You have no idea what you're getting into, do you."

And in case you're wondering: no, I don't.  >_<

Today, I start editing The Book of Lost Runes.  In theory, I'll start tonight, as I do most of my creative work after the sun goes down.  In practice, I'm really looking forward to working on this book again, so I'll probably start this afternoon.  Maybe before that.  I'm glad to be starting this, but I'm also kind of nervous.

This is the first time I've edited a book since 2013.  I wrote two books in 2014; the first one I hated once it was done, and the second one I decided wasn't the story I wanted to tell in that world shortly after finishing it.  So it's been a while since I opened up a first draft and started hacking away at it.

No, I'm not nervous because I've forgotten how to edit.  It hasn't been that long.  :P

I'm nervous because I really enjoyed writing this book, and I don't know if that's going to continue once I start working on it again.  After all, I tossed aside two books last year.  Who's to say that won't happen with this one as well?  I don't want it to happen, that's for sure; I spent a long time developing this book and I want something good to come of it, or at least, I want it to have a fair shot.

There's that really sarcastic part of me that's saying "Of course, every book should have a fair shot at getting rejected over and over again, as per usual," but I'm mentally kicking it in the face as I type this and will pay it no further attention.

I'm also nervous because, despite all the time and effort I put into plotting this thing, to say nothing of writing it, I don't know what I'll find once I get started.  Part of why I do so much plotting beforehand is to make sure everything about the story works before I even write it.  I've rewritten massive amounts of a book before, and if I can avoid that with better plotting, I'd like to.  But that first book I wrote last year, I plotted it out well in advance too, and I discovered a massive plot hole in the antagonist's actions as I was writing the last few pages.  So there's precedent for thinking I could have missed something significant along the way.

It's not that I won't do rewrites if I have to.  It's that I'm filled with my usual doubts and then some about this book, especially because I really want it to work.  I want to get it into readable condition so I can finally show it to people, and rewrites will only delay that.  The only reason I'm concerned about time is that two of my beta readers will have significant time constraints after August.  I know that's the kind of thing I shouldn't be thinking about, but these people have volunteered to read my book, and I think I should at least try to be accommodating.

None of this is going to keep me from editing, of course, or keep me from doing what I need to do with the book.  Whatever that needs to be.  I just wanted to get all this out beforehand, so hopefully it won't bother me once I start.  I'm just hoping it goes well.

And now that the dream book's done, I'm really looking forward to editing that one, as I finally figured out how to make the working title work for it.  It's going to take a ton of work to make it what I want it to be, so that will be a ridiculous project.  ...which it's always been, so at least that's nothing new.

Next week: editing progress, unless I find something more interesting to write about between now and then.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Seven Plots Enter, One Book Leaves

Doing something a little bit different for this entry.  Over at Crystal Collier's blog, she recently talked about the 777 challenge.  The challenge is to take your current work in progress, go to the seventh page, count down seven lines, then share the next seven lines and talk about them.  I thought it could be interesting and was worth trying.

However, my current WIP is a mysterious beast that's affecting me in unexpected ways, so I'm not going to mess with it by quoting any of it before it's done.

So instead, I'm delving into my plots-in-progress, because gods know I've got enough of those.  I'll sample something from a significant seventh page of those, with a little surprise at the end.  Let's see what happens, shall we?

From a magical army training sort of thing:
     "[He] is already moving into a leadership role, while [she] is artillery and loves it."
This is one I'm actually in the middle of reworking, but the brother and sister described here will still fit with these roles.  The new version of this is my current shiny new idea, just waiting until I'm no longer writing a book so it can fully take over my brain.  >_<

From the working-titled Dragon Saga, part of one of many revisions:
     "The council declares a trial by artifact – she must descend into the ruins beneath the city and retrieve something from the draconic days."
Ye gods.  This story is currently on its fifth revision, and I think I've finally got it right, but I've said that twice already and it didn't work.  I really do like the plot I have now and I think I can make it work, but only time will tell.

From one of the three books I plotted for this year:
     "Volcanic craters that blaze with bursts of brilliant yellow light pour smoke into the sky.  It’s a hostile environment to say the very least."
I really want this one to work out.  Part 'The Amazing Race', part 'Guardians of the Galaxy', it's an interplanar journey heavily inspired by both GoTG and 'Firefly'.  It still needs some character work, but once I figure that out, I think it'll be ready.

From a story inspired by a comment on a WoW site:
     "This would mean altering the states of being of the gods themselves, but the humans believed it was the only way to make their world livable.  Stupid humans."
Most of this is world work, with no character stuff at all yet.  That's nothing new for me - sometimes I need to shape the world before I figure out who lives there and what their stories are.

From a sort-of fairy tale reworking:
     "There are more kinds of magic than the mirrors my mother and all the queens before her favored.  There are things that can be done with fresh blood."
Really not sure about this one.  I was more interested in it before I wrote the antagonist's story from her point of view, as she became a great deal more sympathetic.  I haven't worked on this since last year, so I'm not sure what will come of it.

From my original notes for my current WIP:
     "When she’s freed, she’ll pull out [the sword] herself, turning back into flesh with a hole right through her chest."
My original notes were batshit crazy.  This is one of the plot points that makes the most sense.

From page seven of The Book of Lost Runes:
     "Shiloh bit back a gasp.  The Lady of Chains.  Just as Edwin said."
Not much I can say here without giving things away.  I just wanted to post something from it, since I plan to start the editing process next week.  ^_^

Which, coincidentally enough, will be my IWSG post for next week.