Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chaos, Panic, and Disorder.

The usual joke is to follow that statement with "My work here is done".  Would that I could.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been planning on moving to the Seattle area.  And in less than three weeks, that went from "calling apartment complexes" to "applying for an apartment" to "getting the apartment" to "getting ready to leave".  That time includes both giving notice for and quitting the job I've held for more than ten years.

I like to think I'm pretty open to change, but going from hearing "Yes, we have an apartment available" to saying "Hi, I'm here for my apartment" in nineteen days?  That's a lot to do in not much time.  >_<

My boss was, of course, sad to see me leave, though she liked that I went all official when handing in my notice.  Granted, at the time I expected to leave the job forever on the 27th, not New Mexico.  I left my job forever this past Monday.  It was really weird to walk out of there for the last time, though I did make sure to leave my boss laughing.

Also, I started packing last Wednesday and only finished yesterday.  I tackled the bookshelves first, since most of what I own is books.  Over four hundred volumes packed into over two dozen boxes later, I felt like I'd cleared the first major hurdle.  (I've since consolidated the book boxes, but still.)  Most of the rest of my packing has just been stuffing everything into boxes and making sure it will survive the journey.

The movers come tomorrow, and I leave on Friday.  It's insane to think it all happened so quickly, and that it's taken me this long to get out of here.  Living in Albuquerque hasn't been bad for me, but I don't know if I've ever really been happy here.  It's been a learning experience, to be sure - this is the longest I've lived in one place since I left home for college, and the longest I've ever had the same job.  Amazing what staying put can do for you, eh?

Over those nearly eleven years, I finished the book I was writing when I came here, and wrote nine others.  Most of them were bad.  :P  But I learned from everything I wrote.  And I honestly do feel like I'm getting better.

Or at least, I would if I could get anything done.  >_<  The stress from packing and preparing and all that has had me so wound up that I can hardly even think to plot.  I wrote the Shiloh & Alexi story from earlier this month before I made the call that led to me getting the apartment, which is good, otherwise that story probably never would have happened.  I don't need a life free of stress to write, but I do need to be able to clear my head and focus on the story.  And I just haven't been able to do that for the past few weeks.  I've tried, but when it doesn't work, it doesn't work.

But in two days, I'll head out.  I'll make that good long road trip, and hopefully clear my head along the way.  And when I'm there, in my new place, I'll have a few days where my only worries will be learning about my new home and hoping my stuff arrives soon.  So hopefully then, I'll be able to relax, and I can get started again.

Not sure about next week's entry - I should have an internet connection by the 4th, so hopefully I'll be ready to drop some would-be wisdom for IWSG.  Wish me luck, and I'll see y'all on the other side of 1,425 miles.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Building a Mystery.

Today's blog entry is brought to you by Sarah McLachlan.  Okay, not really, but it's the most appropriate title, so I might as well pay homage.  :P  Also, many thanks for the encouraging comments on "First and Foremost", the short story/potential prologue I posted last week; if you missed it, you can find part one here and part two here.

This week's entry was inspired by two books.  The first is one I'm no longer reading, because it got something important very wrong.  The second is one I'm currently reading and enjoying, as it got the same important thing very right.

To quote Stephen King, "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once."  I agree with this; if there's no mystery, if there's no wondering about what's going on or what's going to happen, then a huge chunk of the reason to read on is gone.  However, it's possible to go too far in the opposite direction - for the book to hold so tightly to its secrets that it becomes counterproductive to telling the story.

This happened in the first book I mentioned above.  The book was so caught up in building its own mystery, so fraught with bringing up new secrets without actually explaining anything about them, so set on making everything vague and ominous and mysteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerious, that I stopped caring about both the story itself and the people involved.  They all seemed to know what was going on, but they'd be damned if they would say anything about it, aside from talking like they were consulting a pessimist's customized Magic 8-Ball.  I know that having characters explain things to each other isn't always a good thing, especially if the explanation starts with "As you know", but what happens when nobody explains anything?

In my case, what happens is I get tired of the constant mystery with no sign of forthcoming answers, and I close the book and put it up for sale used on Amazon.

If a story brings up questions, it has to provide answers.  Those answers can, and probably should, lead to more questions, but the answers are essential to the story's progress.  Characters need to learn things, so the reader can learn things, so the reader understands and has reason to care about why the questions came about in the first place.  The longer a mystery goes on without any solution, the greater the chances of it being wrapped up neatly in the last five pages, and I just don't think that's any fun.

Fortunately, the book I'm now reading doesn't have the same issue.  I'm learning bits and pieces about the world and its history as I read, which helps me to see why the events that started the book are such a huge problem and never should have happened.  With every explanation I get, I wonder what that answer is going to lead to, and how the characters are going to deal with it.  And that keeps me reading.

Which is, I'm sure we'll all agree, kind of important.

Next week: chaos, panic, and disorder.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

First and Foremost, Part 1

This whole thing started as a way to avoid an infodump.

So, as I've mentioned before, I'm in the plotting stage on a bunch of different potential books.  It's going well, and by "going well", I mean "nothing's crashed and burned to the point that I don't ever want to even think about working on it again."  ^_^  The one plot I have complete and ready to write is a new Shiloh & Alexi story, and that's where this week's entries come from.

The S&A story takes place ten years after the two main characters first meet, and a significant event happens at that first meeting.  For plot reasons, I have to get everything about that important event across in the first chapter, and also, y'know, start the actual story.  I wasn't sure how I could manage this without massive amounts of recap and "as you know" dialogue, and that's neither fun nor interesting.

Then I thought, why not write it as a short story?  Then I could know everything exactly as it happened, and if I wanted, I could use that story as a prologue in the book.  I still haven't decided if I'll do that (need to write the book first), but I think the story turned out well, so I'm sharing it.

Hope you enjoy it.  I will post part two, appropriately enough, on Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

IWSG: When Things Stop Working

No, it's not another post about me failing at something. :P

 I've been working on the metal fantasy plot, but that screeched to a halt this past weekend.  This is nothing new, but I still started to worry.  If I had a room in my apartment for every plot I've had crash and burn, I'd have enough space for an actual library, to say nothing of the guest rooms, home theatre, gaming room, swimming pools, hot tub, gym, walk-through aquarium, and ball pit.

...oh, like you wouldn't have a ball pit.

Yes, my hard drive is littered with the scraps of stories that could have been.  It's nothing new.  But it's more difficult to realize that something isn't working when it's a story I really want to work.  It's also difficult not to panic when it happens.

I think this is something we've all dealt with.  Pantser or plotter or anywhere in between, we all know the unfortunate realization that whatever we're currently working on Does Not Work, and we have to figure out what to do with it.  This is a bit easier when it's a plot instead of a story, as it's easier to shrug off a few dozen pages' worth of work than a few hundred pages' worth, but it amounts to the same thing.

So, what do you do about it?

The first thing I do is figure out what the actual problem is.  I go over the work in my head, and see if I can spot the glaring issue that's keeping me from making progress.  In this case, it's because the plot has no twists.  It's incredibly straightforward - heroes gather, determine what must be done, set forth on their quest, and achieve what they set out to do.  NASCAR races have more turns than this plot, even if those are all to the left.  And that's what got me.

A plot without twists of any kind is, I believe, a boring one.  And if I'm bored by my own plot, it's a damn safe bet that anyone else will be.

Rather than fret about it, I did the sensible thing and set it aside.  I have no shortage of ideas and plots-in-progress, and the work I've done over the past few days on another story has been a great deal of fun.  The story's heart is a race/scavenger hunt between worlds, and the characters have so many other people working against them that I might determine who's coming after them next by rolling dice.  And if it works out, I get to write another interspecies romance, so yay.  ^_^

As for the twist-less story, I'm not worried about it.  I know that at some point, probably when I least expect it, I'll realize what I need to do differently.  Or I'll come back to it, in a week or a month or whatever, reread the plot and see what needs to be changed.  It's happened before, it'll happen again.  (Hell, it might have happened when I was thinking about it while shaving this morning.)

If nothing else, remember this: when things stop working, they'll start again.  Maybe not today, maybe not next week, but someday.  What matters is that you don't let it stop you.

Next week might be something suitable for Valentine's Day, if everything goes well.  Granted, I don't like Valentine's Day, and I've learned not to count on everything going well, so who knows what's going to happen.  :P