Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Emotional Heart

No, it's not a really redundant title for a romance novel... it's yet another blog entry wherein I try to figure out what I'm doing wrong.

I've been getting back into listening to Writing Excuses now that I'm no longer on break.  (I'm still not done with 2016 and may never catch up.)  The last episode I listened to was a deep dive for one of the hosts' books, Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers (which is very good and you should read it), and one of the points that the hosts brought up got me thinking.  They talked about the two main characters and their relationship being the emotional heart of the story, and about how important it was to have that heart, especially in a story that takes place during World War I.

This made me stop and wonder how many of my stories have been completely without this emotional heart.

To put it simply, I like writing adventure stories.  I like writing characters who do awesome things, I like getting them into all kinds of trouble, and I like it all taking place in interesting and bizarre locales.  But after hearing that episode, I started to think back on my more recent works, and it hit me that a lot of them just plain don't have that emotional center.

Then again, now that I think on this some more, it might be better to define what the emotional center is supposed to be.  The podcast gave a relationship as an example, but not every book has one of those or needs to.  It could be more about the feelings that grow and change along with the plot, or perhaps the feelings that don't change no matter what happens.  I would think that it has to be something that happens between the characters, but it could also be made of one or more characters' dedication to what drives them.  It could even be the situation itself, whatever happens that's pulled the characters together and keeps them going.

Maybe I was looking at this too narrowly.  Trying to consider how to do something in writing with only one example is probably not the best idea.  >_<

I guess I could call the relationship between Kris and Sarai the emotional heart of STARWIND, since the scenes with the two of them together are about the only times the story deals with that sort of thing.  Or I could expand that and say the relations among the entire crew make up that heart, since there's a lot of friendship and trust there.  And we do get to see the crew's genuine reactions to everything that happens to them over the course of the story, a lot of which isn't good - running the gamut from romantic interruptions to having one's gender identity denied to a fatal betrayal.  So it's possible I'm not giving myself enough credit, as per usual.

Perhaps this is something I don't need to stress about.  Characters and plot spring from and build upon each other, and the emotional heart of the story comes from all of that.  And it's not like I could write something that had no emotional depth at all.

In conclusion: I might be doing okay, but I still have no idea what I'm doing.  Nothing has changed.  Carry on.  :P

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Three-Trope Tales.

So as I threatened mentioned in last week's entry, I'm going to try doing some short fiction here in the blog.  Some of it will be with a theme or intent or what-have-you, some won't.  I'd say something about some of it being worth reading and some of it not, but it's probably better if I not play at being the judge of that.

Anyway.  These will naturally be longer than my usual blog entries, so I'll probably only do one or two a month.  It all depends on what I feel like doing, but at least it means one entry a month where I'm not complaining, so that's good.

To start things off, I'm doing a Three-Trope Tale - going to TV Tropes and picking three tropes and writing something based on those.  Some of these will be chosen at random, others will not, and I might never tell which is which.  :P  Let's see how this goes. . . .

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

IWSG: Finding My Way Back.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to write this entry.  There were times when I thought about what I'd do if I couldn't; I'd make a brief post saying that the hiatus was extended indefinitely, and use the strikeout tag on my blog's main title as a visual to show the place was closed.  Also, I'd strike out the word 'writing' from the sub-title, because I knew that if I had to go on that sort of hiatus, it meant I didn't feel like a writer anymore.

I'm glad things didn't turn out that way.

The past month has been rough, though.  I've been in the habit of sitting down and working on something, or at least trying to, for so long that it feels very strange to not write.  There were many days where I went to bed early, feeling useless and telling myself that I shouldn't, because I'd made the deal with myself that I would only work on writing stuff if I felt like it.  And when I did feel like it, sometimes it went well.  Other times... less so.  Sometimes very, very less so.

I've been through the hardships of this whole process over and over again over the past five years.  It's not like I need to recount them - hell, we all have our stories of dealing with this shit.  There's a reason they call a gathering of authors at a convention a "barload".  (Fun fact: I have no idea where I heard that term, because when I Google it, the second result is a post I made referencing it, and the first result is a page referencing that page.)  What matters is how I got through it.

As much as I'd love to make this into a mini-epic, the biggest part of it is that I was focused too much on publishing, and unable to keep myself from thinking about it even at the earliest stages of a work.  Depression makes it really, really easy to think "this will never sell" and go no further when all I've got is two and a half sentences in my idea file.  I also was trying way too hard to figure out the full stories for my various projects without spending enough time developing the characters and world.  This combined with my depression led me to think it didn't matter what I figured out because no one would ever want to read it, so... yeah.

Lather and repeat that often enough, and you have one seriously tangled-up author.  I needed to rinse.

My therapist suggested two things, one of which I'll do.  I need to do some writing that's just for the sake of writing - it might be fanfic, it might be brief character pieces, it might be what happens when I to go TV Tropes, click the "random trope" button three times, and write something based on the results.  The point is to get me to loosen up and just enjoy the craft again, without all the baggage.

And who knows?  Maybe something good will come out of the random writings.  Maybe I'll post some here; my therapist recommended that so I can get feedback and feel less like nobody wants to read my work.  Maybe I'll look at them the next day and print them out just so I can burn them.  Anything's possible.

Anyway, I'm back at this again.  And while I'll try working every night, I've learned not to force myself to.  Here's hoping I have more entries with better things to say in the future.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Brief Hiatus.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and after last week's entry, I decided it was time: I'm going to take a quasi-break from writing for the rest of May, and I will not be updating my blog during that time.

The lack of blog updates is the less obvious one, so I'll address that first.  I've been updating this thing regularly(-ish) for five years.  Lately, I've started to feel like I'm just repeating myself - most of my recent entries are variants on "I'm having this issue", "I learned something", and "everything is horrible", with occasional forays into "things are actually going well" and "I liked this book".  This will only get worse if I'm on a break.

So, this will be my last blog update until June 7th, for the next IWSG.

As for taking a break, I know people have been advising me to do that since at least March.  I've resisted it because I didn't think it would make any difference.  The last time I took a break, when I came back from it, it didn't seem that anything had changed.  Like I said in that entry, I'm a miserable fuck without writing, but I'm a miserable fuck with it, so really, what's the difference?  But I'd rather not be miserable, so I sat down and spent some time thinking about taking a break, to see if it was really something I should do.

Then it hit me: I have not come up with anything that works for more than an entire year.

Having ideas crash and burn is nothing new for me.  That's been happening since pretty much forever.  But spending an entire year fumbling at plots, at throwing every idea I've had against the wall and not making any of them stick?  That's new.  And that's not good, to say the absolute least.

In short, I'm utterly and completely burned out on the one thing in life that truly makes me happy.

So I need to take some time to figure out what's gone so wrong for me and see if I can either get back to where I used to be or move on to something better than where I am now.  I don't mean for this to be a complete break; I'll still write down things as they come to me and hopefully that will go well.  But I'll do my best to not put pressure on myself to get work done.  I definitely won't open my word processor and stare at the blank page for a good half-hour, hating myself the entire time.  I'll write what I want when I want to, and hopefully it'll work out, though I'll settle for it just not being bad.

That's where I am right now.  Writing this has been depressing as all hell, since I think the odds are good this won't matter much in the end.  But I've been wrong before.  I'll see how this one goes.

See y'all in about a month.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

IWSG: I Don't Know What I'm Doing.

Yes, yes, I know the joke.  None of us actually know what we're doing.  But with everything that I haven't been able to make happen for myself and all that hasn't been working, I'm starting to feel like if there's a way to know less than nothing about all of this, that's where I am.

I'd say something about what started me feeling like this or how I got here, but really, this me in the same place I've been for the entire past year, ever since I finished STARWIND.  Everything I try to work on still falls apart.  Every single time I try to develop something from an idea into an actual story, I still can't figure out how it's supposed to go, or I lose interest in it after a few pages' worth of development, or something else happens.  The thing I'm working on now, I sit down and work on it for maybe ten to fifteen minutes, enough to hash out a page or two of character stuff, before it all seems pointless.  In the past year, the only plot I've managed to finish and get into workable condition is the sequel to STARWIND, which doesn't matter because odds are good I'll never have reason to write it.

It's gotten to the point that I'm not even writing things down anymore.  For all the times I've talked about how I write down all my ideas, in case I can use them someday, I haven't bothered with that recently.  Because it feels like it doesn't matter.  Because it feels like no matter what I do, everything's going to turn out the same.  It'll either be a few lines in my idea file that never develops beyond that, or something that crashes and burns or just goes *pfft* at some point when I attempt actual development.  So really, what's the point.

And to make this all worse (because of course it can get worse) I don't know how to do things any differently.  I've tried to write stories without knowing how they go from the start, and that only leads to me writing shit.  I don't want to do short fiction because I don't like it and I already wasted years trying to make it work for me, to no avail.  So here I am with the one damn thing I want out of life and I don't know how to make it work.

As per fucking usual.  I'd think I'd be used to this by now.  Not that being used to it would change anything, or make it any easier.

To make things yet still worse, this is all on me.  Nobody is keeping me from figuring my stories out.  Nobody is making me lose interest in something that once fascinated me.  Simply put, I am the problem, and I am the reason it's not working out.

And I don't know how to fix me.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Don't Have to Save the World.

I tend to think big in my writing.  A glance at last week's entry can confirm that - my first genuine attempt at a novel resulted in nearly 302,000 words of what can charitably be called epic fantasy.  I like to create stories in worlds that have real history, tales that go to interesting places and have big things happening and end with something major going on.

But it's easy to go too far.

Looking back at last week's list, I can count which books revolved around saving the entire world.  Hell, book #7 happened because the world had been destroyed, and the entire story was about the gods' failsafe making her way to where she needed to be (which meant traveling through the internal layers of a moon until she reached the surface; long story) so she could put the world back together.  And it was only after I finished it that I realized, holy shit, how am I supposed to follow that?

Part of my problem with this comes up in world-building.  I tend to make worlds where seriously bad things have happened in the past, so having those things rear their collective ugly heads makes for a good story.  In theory.  It leads to the problem of facing down a major threat again and, of course, saving the world.

It's an exciting thing, to be sure.  But it's also limiting.  When the world's at stake, there's only so much room for personal issues, so it's easy for characterization and development to get swept aside.  There's also the need to show why it's a world worth saving.  I mean, if the reader decides that the world would be better off burnt to a cinder or erupting into tentacles, it'll be hard to get them to cheer for your characters.  And as I said above, there's always the question of what to do next, for the inevitable sequel.  :P

I'm not sure when I realized this was an issue, but it's something I still deal with when I'm in the plotting phase.  My ideas tend to start with a character doing a thing, so I've had to learn to focus on who the person is and why that leads to them doing that thing, instead of immediately jumping to what the thing is and why it needs to be done.  Because what's more interesting - the reasons behind a character dropping a bomb on a city, or why this character is riding on the bomb as it falls?

(Yes, that's what I'm working on now, and yes, I know the answer.  It's the result of a decision that's going to piss off a lot of people.)

It is comforting to know that I'm getting better about this.  For all the times I tried to make an interplanar story work, it wasn't until I got the first ideas for STARWIND and came up with the race that it actually came together.  And for all the tales I've told about Shiloh and Alexi, the better ones have come from their personal issues, not the world's problems.  So for all the plotting problems I've been having lately, it feels good to say I've largely fixed one of my issues.

Until I get another idea, and I have to make sure not to do this all over again.  >_<

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Word Count

I'm probably going to regret this, but I don't know how it will end.

There are a bunch of different quotes and variants on sayings about how writers need to write a million words before they're any good.  I don't think this is any sort of absolute; there are some writers who seem to have picked it up easily and have good work even from their early days, and some whom I think might need a few million more under their belts.  But for all that I talk about how much I've written and now long I've been at this, I've never actually figured out what my total novel word count is.

Hence the "I'm probably going to regret this."  But I'm short on blog ideas for this week, so why not see where this goes?

So.  Here are the final word counts on the last versions of these books, as well as the last date I worked on them.  Let's see. . . .

1: The Blessed.  June 29, 2001.  301,998 words.  (holy shit)
2: Of Rune and Shadow.  May 5, 2004.  149,163 words.
3: The Captured Gods.  October 18, 2006.  177,621 words.
4. Shattering the Firmament.  January 8, 2010.  201,958 words.
5: The Winds of Limbo, v1.  May 31, 2010.  183,249 words.
6: The Winds of Limbo, v2.  October 10, 2010.  187,550 words.
7: Skyborne.  April 19, 2012.  133,219 words.
8: AMU.  August 21, 2012.  103,761 words.
9: The Winds of Limbo, v3.  January 31, 2013.  100,227 words.
10: Untitled interplanar book .  May 11, 2014.  70,990 words.  (Vague precursor to Starwind, hated upon completion.)
11: The Accidental Warlock.  August 16, 2014.  95,693 words.  (Written in 2013, tried to get published for about a year, trunked.)
12: TGM Untitled.  November 2, 2014.  94,312 words.
13: The crazy dream book.  June 24, 2015.  68,631 words.  (Written after BOLR, but dismissed after first draft for not being weird enough.)
14: The Book of Lost Runes.  November 17, 2015.  83,981 words.
15: Starwind.  April 12, 2017 (most recent draft).  109,975 words.

Word count total: 2,062,328 words.

And that's only counting what I could call finished!  Looking through my old files, I see more than a few drafts, reworkings, files full of cut text, so on and so forth.  To say nothing of books I started and dropped after who knows how long.  I've done at least another 100K in things that aren't showing up on this list.  This also shows me patterns - the time between my third and fourth books I largely spent trying to write short stories and hating every page of it.  The idea for the fourth book came to me as a sudden flash of inspiration on the drive home from work, and I knew it was time to start writing novels again.  And the second two TWOL books are also based on interplanar stuff, an idea I clearly couldn't figure out for quite some time.

Well, this has been sobering.  Now I know what I've been doing with my life for the past sixteen years, eh?  Not much else to say, except that I hope I've gotten better after all this time.

Next week: you don't always have to save the world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Stripped.

Music for today's entry is brought to you by Depeche Mode.

I've talked a lot about having many different versions of an idea, all of which hit some sort of wall and stopped working.  Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've started at least one previous blog entry talking about this very thing.

I'd pride myself on my consistency, but y'know, this is something I'd really like to stop.

When I reach a point when something stops working and set it aside, I'll often come back to the same planning document, salvage what I can, and shove all the broken parts to the bottom with the label 'deleted'.  Which, as you might have noticed, means I don't actually delete that stuff.  In theory, I keep it around so I don't lose any good ideas.

But in practice, those things become a giant weight on the planning process, a reminder of everything I tried that didn't work.  I have planning documents where there's more text in the 'deleted' section than anywhere else, because I changed so much as I tried to figure it all out.  And it's far too easy to scroll into that section and remember how much time I've spent chasing a story and not finding it.

As I'm sure you can imagine, this is incredibly discouraging and doesn't help me get anything done.  And a major side effect is a loss of interest in the project.  It's hard to find what got me excited about the idea when that's buried under pages and pages of things I built up around it only to watch them come crashing down.

So, I decided to try something new when one of my projects started getting tangled up in its own previous incarnations.  I stripped the whole thing down to its basic concept, to the idea that made me want to write it in the first place, and started working up again from there.  It's not so much "forget everything you think you know" but more "you told me to go back to the beginning".

Fact: any writing advice you can sum up with a quote from "The Princess Bride" is bound to be helpful.

Better than that, though, is that it's actually working.  For one story, I realized a few weeks ago that I was telling it backwards (long story), but I had to strip it down to its basic idea (Robert E. Howard's "Tangled") and go from there for the new order to work.  For another, I determined that the best way to get a crazy magic-user to the final conflict I saw for her was to make her much more of an anti-authority anti-hero from the start, and reworking things with her has been incredibly fun so far.  Both stories are turning out a lot darker than I thought, and I'm eager to see where they go.

The most important part, though, is that I get to keep working on stuff I worried was either dead or heading that way.  I feel like I've lost so much over the years.  I have three plots-in-progress to work on now, and I'm still feeling a lot of things out, but it's great to have a new start.

Here's hoping I don't end up referencing this post in another few months talking about how nothing ever works.  :P

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

IWSG: The Confidence Rollercoaster

"The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen."
--Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Two weeks ago, my therapist started off our weekly session as she always does, by asking me how I'm doing.  I said, "Mercurial," and she gave me a funny look and said I'd responded like that before.

For the record, funny looks from my therapist are nothing new.  But still.  It's started to hit me recently, with everything that's going on in my life and with my work, that this incredible back-and-forth in how I'm feeling about my writing might actually be the natural state for a writer.  Sometimes I can handle everything I need to, and when the work isn't going well, I can step away and figure it out later.  Sometimes a single thing doesn't work and it ruins me for the night, and I hate myself and everything I've ever done and hiding inside an enormous book fort for the rest of my life sounds like a great idea.

Looking back, I don't know if there's ever been a time when I wasn't all kinds of back-and-forth about how good of a writer I was, or if I was... going to....

Wait.  I just realized.  There was a time when I was always confident in my writing, certain that everyone would love my work and I'd get published right away and my first epic fantasy trilogy would be on every bestseller list ever.  It was when I was writing my first three books.  And you know what?  Every single one of those books was bad.

It took those three tries to make me realize this was going to be harder than I thought.  And as appropriate for IWSG, I've been insecure and questioning about this whole thing ever since.  Spending way too long trying to write short stories only made it worse, as I did well with those maybe once.  Going back to novels only made the rollercoaster's ups and downs more dramatic, as it was (and still is) a lot of investing in one big story with no way to know if it's going to work out or not.

All of my books so far have been in the "or not" category, which is what leads me to posts like last month's IWSG, where I talked about quitting it all.  It's easy to think the ups and downs aren't worth it.  But this is the way this particular ride goes, and I'm still on it.
And if it leads to a writer whose work I enjoy and whom I personally respect using me as an example of how you win?  I must be doing something right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not That Post.

I mentioned last entry that I'd be making a post about editing in an enormous character change.  This is not that post.  Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of talking about STARWIND; I feel like I'm the only one who cares to hear about it at length and I'd rather not babble on about it for yet another entry.  I'm nearly done with the major edits, so soon I'll get it to the Version 2 beta readers and we'll see how that goes.

It does, however, leave me without a topic for this week.

So since I know rejection is something we all have in common, I'll leave y'all with a video Rena linked in the comments to my existential crisis earlier this month.  Hope you like it.



Next week: April's IWSG, which hopefully won't just be a continuation of this month's entry.  That's an entire eight days away, who knows what could happen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Recommended Reading, San Francisco Edition

I've read two really good books recently, and I wanted to tell people about both of them.  (It's a good problem to have, I swear.)  Then, I realized that both books take place in San Francisco, and figured I'd go with that.  So:

BREATH OF EARTH by Beth Cato takes place in 1906 San Francisco on an alternate Earth where people draw magic from the earth and use it to power airships, where the United States and Japan are in a powerful alliance and a great many mystical creatures are real, and where the heroine is possibly the only woman magic-user of her type.

HEROINE COMPLEX by Sarah Kuhn takes place in a modern San Francisco where several years ago, a demonic invasion gave some people superpowers, and follows the loyal sidekick of the city's heroine Aveda Jupiter as they deal with demonic attacks (some of which involve cupcakes and karaoke bars) and a bevy of all kinds of personal issues.

Yes, these are very different books, but they're both awesome.

I don't want to give away much about the plots themselves, but both books hit on two things that I was very glad to see, and that made the stories better for me.  First, they're both incredibly diverse, which only makes sense, considering where they take place.  Ms. Cato clearly did her research for BREATH, and the sheer variety of people who make up SF really shows, even in the ugliness directed toward some people which is unfortunately historically accurate.  The mixture of humanity is definitely present in HEROINE as well, in both the main cast and the minor characters, and it's clear that this is not a story that could happen if these people were anyone else.

Both books also feature some really damn good romances.  I noticed this in particular because I've recently realized that this is a weak area of mine.  >_<  But while both authors handle the romances in very different ways (necessary considering the characters involved), both romances are full of heart and passion, yet free of melodrama, and they feel very genuine.  The fact that both books got me interested and invested in what easily could have been Yet Another M/F Romance says a lot to me, and I'm going to study what both authors did to learn how to do this better.

The only problems I had with these books are some story structure issues.  BREATH brings in so many different plotlines and, in the end, only settles the immediate one.  So much is left hanging that I was genuinely surprised it ended when it did.  The author's note refers to this being the first of a series, so I'm sure the next book will address what was left hanging, but "Wait, what?" is not the best way to feel about an ending.  As for HEROINE, the cast does a good deal of guessing about what's happening and drawing conclusions that turn out to be right.  While they were wrong about a few significant things, including a multi-part plot twist that caught everyone (including me) completely by surprise, I felt like they were right a little too often.

However, none of those issues got in the way of my enjoyment of either title.  I sped through both of these books, always eager to find out what happened next, and I'd recommend them both to just about anyone.  Also, they both have sequels coming out this year!

Next week: editing in an enormous character change.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

#MyFirstPostRevisited: Remembering SKYBORNE

Loni Townsend tagged me on an interesting blog hop, one started by Sarah Brentyn at Lemon Shark.  It's pretty self-explanatory - take a look back at your first post, link it or paste it in your new entry, and talk about it - so I figured, what could go wrong?

Despite my taunting of Murphy's Law, I found my first post wasn't so bad.  I originally created this blog for a writing contest, in which I was pitching SKYBORNE, a book that was a great deal of fun to write but was also incredibly indulgent in a self-referential kind of way, since it featured a main character who read stories about a world I'd created many years ago.  That world turned out to be real, but it had been shattered, and its gods enlisted her to help put it back together.  The plot entailed her traveling upward via breaking through stars, finding her way through different parts of the world she knew from the books, until she broke out and found that she'd been traveling through one of the moons that orbited the now-shattered world.  There, she was able to use a deific machine to re-create the world based on all that she'd read.

There are times when I'm sure my ideas are getting weirder as I get older, then I look at what I just wrote, and I'm thinking, nope, my stuff has always been this weird.

There are a lot of reasons why the book didn't work.  I loved the main characters, and continued to write them in other books, but I think my love for them kept me from making sure other people would love them too - I just assumed it would come out in my writing and that was that.  Also, this story would have been a horrible way to start a series, which is of course what I wanted to do.  I mean, the first book is about putting the entire world back together after it's been shattered.  How the hell was I supposed to follow that?

SKYBORNE, after spending some time in the query trenches and being submitted to several contests, went the way of all my other books.  It took me just under a year from when I wrote that first entry to leave it behind - the entry is from May 3, 2012, and on May 5, 2013, I wrote about putting the book behind me.

I've trunked fourteen books over the years, but I remember this one, because SKYBORNE is the only one I've ever printed out just to set on fire.  It was a cleansing thing, I swear.

Looking back now, it feels like not a lot has changed.  I'm still writing weird stuff and flinging it out into the void, assuming I think it's worth sharing at all.  But I think it's worth looking at the old ideas sometimes.  Even if nothing comes of it, sometimes it helps to remember that I still put in the time and got all these books done.  Other times, it just depresses me, but there are times when just about anything can depress me, so that's nothing new.

I don't think this is a story I could go back to, and I don't really want to.  As for whether or not I'd write another incarnation of these characters, I truly don't know.  I have ideas for a few possible plots, but of the fifteen books I've written, these two are in seven of them.  I think that's enough, yeah?

Anyway.  I don't want to tag anyone for the blog hop, because I have no idea what y'all have planned for your blogs or how you want to do them, but if you decide to play along, here are the rules:

Obvious rules:

  • No cheating. (It must be your first post. Not your second post, not one you love…first post only.)
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).

Other rules:

  • Cut and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine but NO editing.)
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title.
  • Tag five (5) other bloggers to take up this challenge.
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post.
  • Include “the rules” in your post.

Next week: the Recommended Reading I said I'd do this week.  :P

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Recovery.

It's a strange thing to have a genuine existential crisis, but I want to thank you all for your kind words last week.  I've spent the past week doing a lot of thinking, both on what brought me to this point and what to do next.  Talking about it with friends helped a lot, as did last week's therapy session, wherein my therapist tricked me into realizing that I do in fact believe in my work.

Yeah, she's good.

A big part of the problem came from my own projection.  Seeing a whole lot of agents looking for everything but what I like to write made the whole querying task feel like I was being rejected before I even applied - like querying them would be pointless, because they wouldn't want anything from me.  Like I said, projection.  But it's easy to start thinking like that when I'm depressed.

Another part of it came from dreaming big, which is usually a good thing.  I've always hoped to make writing my career, so I thought it was best to shoot for the same sort of thing my favorite writers have.  But that's not an easy shot to make.  I think we all know that, whether we've taken it or not.  And part of the problem is constantly aiming for that one thing makes every other possible way seem lesser.

I have a distinct problem with putting all my eggs in one basket.  A big part of the advice I got, both from friends and my therapist, is that I need to rethink what I'm doing, since I've been banging my head against the same wall for so long and nothing's come of it.

Granted, none of them used that metaphor or put it so dismally, but hey, it's me.

So, instead of continuing the agent hunt, I'm going to start looking into small presses.  The general consensus is that they're more open to stories that fall too far outside the mainstream for the big publishers, and the stuff I come up with is only getting weirder, so who knows, it might work out.  I'll need to wait a bit, as I've heard it's bad business to try querying agents and editors at the same time, and I do still have queries out for STARWIND.

But that's all right, as I need to do some edits on that book.  A common comment from my beta readers was that they didn't find one of the two POV characters as interesting as the other, so I have some plans to make some significant changes to him.  Besides, I like the idea more of having only one crew member come from Earth.  ^_^  This will take time, but I think it'll be for the better, as it'll give him a better backstory and more appropriate development without changing the overall story.  If anyone wants to beta-read the updated version when it's ready, please let me know.

So, yes.  I'm not quitting, not that I ever really could.  All I can do is keep going and hope someday it'll all be worth it.

Next week: if what I'm reading continues to be good, it'll be another Recommended Reading.  If not, it might be just a bunch of random tidbits.  We shall see.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

IWSG: I Want to Quit.

This is not an entry I wanted to write, but I have to go with what's on my mind.  And if you're expecting this to be one of those times where I figure things out along the way and end on a hopeful note, that's not happening today.

But nothing is happening for me lately, so that fits.

I am so sick of all of this.  Of watching ideas crash and burn because I can't figure out what the hell's supposed to happen.  Of throwing myself into something and losing interest in it after a month or a week or a few days.  Of trying to get my work out there (on the rare occasions when I think it's worth sharing) and getting nothing but reinforcement for my feeling that nobody wants it.

I want to quit.  But I don't know what else I'd do with myself.  There's nothing else I've ever wanted out of life; I've wanted to be a writer since I was a kid.  Any other job I considered was just another way to tell stories, and I eventually shunned them all for the real thing.  And now here I am, at thirty-seven years and fifteen books and easily over two million words over the course of my life, nowhere closer to my dream and without a damned thing to show for it.

I feel like the querying process has finally broken me this time.  I knew STARWIND wasn't going to be an easy sell.  It's a weird book, but it's exactly what I want it to be.  And while I felt lucky to find a few agents who sounded like it would suit them, the search since then has been a real struggle.  If I was writing YA, or romance, or contemporary or just about goddamn anything else but what I want to write, I'd have an easier time.

And it really doesn't help when I fuck things up before someone can even say no.

To make things worse, out of the book's beta readers, one quit after ten or eleven chapters, one gave very little feedback that was mostly negative, and one hasn't said a single word to me about it after more than two months.  (The other two beta readers were very helpful; you know who you are.)  It's one thing to write books that no one reads, I'm used to that.  It's another thing when people who ask to read it either don't read it or have almost nothing good to say.

Also, the book itself has started to feel stupid to me, like something I would have come up with back in high school.  I read my first pages when putting them after query letters and roll my eyes.  This could be my usual self-deprecation, but I don't even know anymore.

So now I'm sitting here with a book I'm losing faith in, no idea what to write next because not a damn thing is working, and wondering if there's a point to bothering with this shit anymore.  Ideas keep coming whether I want them or not, but everything I think of seems stupid.  And everything I do ends the same way: abandoned or trunked.

I want to quit.  But that's probably the only way to make everything worse.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Needs More Drama.

Welcome back to yet another session of me realizing something I've been doing wrong for years.  I think I need to go back and tag these entries, maybe put them into a little collection so people can learn from me screwing up over and over.  :P

I was making another attempt to get caught up on Writing Excuses this past week, and listening to an episode (number thirty-six from last year) about relationships.  I was paying particular attention to this episode, as I've written a lot of relationships over the years, and the general feedback I've received is that I write them well.

Yeah, maybe not.

One of the aspects of writing a relationship that the podcast talked about was the need for a conflict that works against the people who might be getting together, something to give the reader that heart-clenching feeling as it looks like things might not work out.  The idea is to get the readers invested in what's happening between these people so they care about whether things work out or not, and then yank that out from under them.

I have written fifteen books, about two-thirds of which have some sort of romantic relationship.  And I don't think I have ever done this.

It made perfect sense when I heard it.  And it hit me like a truck.  While I like writing relationships, I'm not a fan of relationship DRAMA - I like it when things work out for people, when they get together over the course of the story and all that.  As I made pretty damn clear two entries ago, I like my happy endings.  But by pursuing that, I have repeatedly failed to give my would-be couples much to stand against them besides their own awkwardness.

To get a little deeper, I know where this comes from - I just plain like the idea of relationships working out well.  My parents got divorced when I was a kid, I've been single for centuries, and I can count the relationships I have had on one hand.  So there are some serious aspects of wish fulfillment here; I know this and I accept it.  But because of all that, the idea of using the story, the world, and the plot to drive my characters apart and force them to find a way to still get together somehow never occurred to me.

It's kind of a sobering thing to realize, to see that I was holding myself back like that.

I know that this doesn't have to apply to all relationships, especially those that are established when the story begins; I'm not going to delve into more STARWIND rewrites to wring some relationship drama out of Kris and Sarai.  And this doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to start writing stuff where the relationship itself is the story; I think I'd be bored to tears without something else going on.  But going forward, I know I'm going to look for opportunities to cause even more trouble for any characters who might be moving toward getting together.  I've already started on that in my current plot-in-progress.

Granted, working on that story is like trying to carve something out of stone while constantly ducking away to make sure the stone didn't notice, so who knows how it's actually going to turn out, or if it even is.  -_-

I'm curious to know what y'all think about this, since I know many of you are a lot meaner to your characters than I've ever managed to be.

Next week: IWSG.  It might be just one extended whining session, but we'll see.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How Much do you Tell?

I'm working on something and it doesn't suck!  *waves tiny flag*

But seriously, this is the first time in weeks I've felt like I actually have a story worth working on (that isn't STARWIND's sequel, but anyway), and I'm ridiculously pleased to be able to say that.  And yes, it's something I started working on early last year and set aside for a good long while.  Hell, the notes currently guiding me are from mid-November, and they were the first thing I'd added to it for a long time.  So I've learned yet again how important it is to let something sit for a while before I start working on it.

That, however, is not what I'm here to talk about.

When I realized I actually had something to work on again, I wanted to tell everyone about it.  This didn't seem like a good idea for a few reasons.  First, the story's still in the early planning stages, and a lot could change; my November notes were the missing piece I needed but there's a lot I don't know.  Second, I might end up not writing this, and even if I do, I might decide nobody gets to read it, and even if I don't, history shows that you can count how many people read my books without taking off your shoes.  Third, a lot of what I'd like to share doesn't make much sense to anyone but me:
 I've seen different writers say a lot of different things about talking about your work before it's done.  A lot of them say to not say a thing, and some say not to say a thing to other writers.  I don't really understand either of those.  Sure, it's hard not to talk about what you're working on, but while I can get resisting the urge, I don't get why it should be an absolute.  Especially when you're excited about it and it's going well.

And not talking about it to other writers?  How does that even make sense?  Who else is going to understand?  O_o

There's also asking for advice about something you're working on.  Much as I hate to say it, I've killed ideas by doing that.  In the past, asking for someone else's thoughts on a would-be project got their idea rooted too firmly into my mind, and I ended up abandoning it, because I felt like it wasn't mine anymore and I couldn't get it back to how it used to be, because I couldn't get someone else's idea out of my head.

So, what do the rest of you think?  Do you tell people what you're working on, or do you keep it to yourself?  Do you ask for advice on what you're working on while you're working on it?  And can you guess how much of the above tweet is a metaphor?


Hint: NONE OF IT

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Endings and Expectations

This was originally going to be another "Recommended Reading" post.  Then I finished the book I was reading, and felt like the ending dropped the ball hard enough to leave a crater, and prepared to write an entire entry of literary rage.  Then, I took a few moments to consider and realized most of my disappointment with the ending was based on what I thought would happen, not what actually happened.

So now you get the blog equivalent of me sitting here saying, "Well . . . shit."

To make a long story short, the book promised a tragic ending from the beginning, gave me hope it wouldn't turn out that way, then ended with a different type of tragedy than it foreshadowed.  It started with a vision that the love between the main characters was doomed before they even met, showed them falling for each other despite everything, and made it so they couldn't stay together and still get what they wanted most in life.  No happy ending for them, despite spending nearly four hundred pages earning it.

What bothered me to the point of ranting was that things the characters learned along the way seemed to hint that they would find a way to challenge what was keeping them apart.  I thought that was where their story was heading, once their quest was finished.  Nope.  The story ended with an unnecessary post-victory side quest and the story's beta couple getting together.  But when I thought on it more, I realized what I saw as hints were just bits of conversation that amounted to nothing, secrets beyond the story's scope.  They weren't what I thought they were.

I felt like I'd somehow cheated myself, by seeing things in the story that weren't really there.  It's rare that I think I can see where a story's going as I'm reading it, but damn, this time I wanted to be right.

It's weird to me because I've seen so many people rant online about various forms of media, and I've rolled my eyes and/or laughed, because so many of those rants can be summed up as "What you thought about [insert media here] was wrong and/or not what the creator[s] meant."  Being on the other side of that is kind of humbling.

As writers, we can't be held responsible for everything our readers think will happen.  Peoples' minds can go all kinds of different places from just a paragraph, a line of text, a single word.  But sometimes knowing this makes it hard to be a reader when the hints you think you saw aren't what the writer had in mind.  It's way too easy to think of where we would take the story and build up our expectations based on that.

To make things worse for me, the story's main characters were both women; I figured that since I write so much stuff with f/f couples I should actually read some.  The beta couple was a man and a woman who got maybe six or seven pages' worth of development.  And at the end, the tragic couple says that the beta couple's tale will make such a great story.  This is part of why I was so pissed off at the ending.  Spend the whole book building up the two women, tear them apart without them making a single effort to stop their separation, then end it saying I should cheer for the gratuitous straight romance?  Fuck that bait-and-switch.  I suppose I should be glad no one in the main couple died, but still.  Not pleased.

Anyway.  It's weird to think of this book now; I loved the writing and was ready to read more by this author until I got to the ending.  I wonder if I'd see it differently if I hadn't seen things as hints of change that weren't.  I know that I should have expected a tragic ending, because the book never actually suggested anything else.

But now it's on my reject pile because now that I know how it ends, I'll never read it again.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

IWSG: The In-Between Time

Time once again for IWSG, or as I sometimes think of it, another round of me whining about an issue I'm sure many of us have.

With the first draft of the plot for the sequel to STARWIND complete, I've been trying to figure out what to work on next.  I have a bunch of different things I would like to do, but each one has its own little set of problems.  So I find myself switching between them, sometimes two or three in one night, hoping I'll find something in my notes (or anywhere, really) that sparks my imagination and helps me realize how the story's supposed to go so I can shape it into a proper plot.

And so far, it's not happening.  At all.

There's a story I plotted extensively before I started writing STARWIND, which even includes a rough draft of the plot and many pages of character notes.  I read through it a while ago and no longer care to work on it; whatever drove me to write it is gone now.  There's a set of ideas and visions that have been bouncing around in my head for a long time that I've been shaping, slowly, into something real, but it's like trying to herd flying cats with a hockey stick and my effort to write an interesting villain has led to one who could win in every possible situation.  There's a weird new incarnation for an old idea that came to me out of nowhere this past Friday, and it's already mimicking its predecessors, as I can't figure out a thing beyond the first act.  The chief plot device is also seriously problematic, making me wonder if the story is even worth pursuing anymore.  And I don't even want to count all the projects I've made progress on and then not looked at for weeks or months or even years, completely unsure of how to make them work.

To be blunt, I'm in Plotter Hell right now.  Not for the first time, and definitely not for the last.  And it sucks every single time.

I try not to worry about it too much.  I've learned (over and over) that it takes time for me to really put a story together, and that it's for the best if these things do take time.  But it's frustrating to sit down to get some work done and just flip from one potential project to the next, adding maybe a sentence or two, feeling like none of it amounts to anything.  This is the sort of thing that led me to take a weeks-long break last year, and even when I did that, I knew I had a working plot waiting on the other side.  I don't have that now.

I have a lot of faith in STARWIND, but that's nothing new; I've had a lot of faith in everything I've tried to get published and none of them have ever worked out.  So I know I can't just work on that would-be series and think it's all going to pan out.  If that book doesn't work, then I'll need something else to work on, and when nothing is working, well, you can guess how that all pans out.

Advice is welcome, as always.  >_<  I'll keep scribbling down what I can when I think of it, and hoping that somewhere along the way, I figure out at least one thing that I can turn into a real story.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

An Ode on Querying.

To write a book, and thus, perchance to dream,
Spend hours to make the tale what it must be.
But the next step doth impassable seem -
Send queries out, whilst screaming, "PLEASE LOVE ME!"

Rejection's, truth, what every writer knows.
It comes in letters - simple, blunt, or kind,
With the same message, as it ever goes:
"Your book is just not what I had in mind."

I may grow old with books that no one reads,
Or kindle fires in some agent's eye.
I'll flip that coin, send queries to all leads,
Since I will never know unless I try.

I may not be there yet, but soon, I'll say,
"I'm closer now than I was yesterday."

I swear, I didn't sit down intending to write a sonnet about starting the query process.  I sat down intending to whine about the query process, again, since I'm planning to start soon and there's nothing quite like looking down that dark road to make me question every single part of this whole writing thing.

What changed my mind?  This.  Okay, not that exact image, but one on my screensaver with the same message.

Querying sucks.  I'm not going to sugarcoat that.  But I'm at the point with STARWIND where I have to put up or shut up - either start trying to make this happen or set it aside and work on something else.  And I damn well do not want to set this book aside.  Which means it's time to take the next step, to try yet again to get closer to what I want out of my writing.

And while querying rarely feels like it's actually bringing me any closer, I know that it is.  It has to be.  Anything that gets my book closer to the hands of theoretical readers is another step in the right direction.

It's possible that the same thing will happen with this book that happened with every other book I've queried, I can't deny that.  But even if, months from now, I'm writing yet another downer of a blog entry about how I've set yet another book aside, at least I'll be able to say I tried.  And no matter how big or small that step is, at least I'll know I'm another step closer.

...please do me a favor and remind me of this entry when I'm crushed under the weight of rejections.  Thank you.  >_<

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Passion Projects.

Before I start this week's entry, I'd like to remind y'all that last week's was my query letter for STARWIND.  If you have a moment to take a look, I could always use a few extra eyes on it before I start sending it out and playing the "PLEASE LOVE ME!" game again.  Thanks.

So, I've been thinking.  (This is a process that never stops as long as I'm aware that I'm awake.)  I've been working on quite a few different things recently, as I'm in that wonderful stage of plot preparation where I try to figure out what works and what doesn't.  There are a lot of ups and downs in this part of the process, and a lot of sound and fury, if by 'sound' you mean the rapid-fire rattling of my keyboard as I try to type out ideas as fast as I can before I lose them and if by 'fury' you mean my rapid-onset dismay when things fall apart for one reason or another.

Through all of this, I've started to notice a pattern: the ideas that hit me the hardest, the ones that beg to be written, are rarely the ones that pan out.

I've gone through a few different iterations of something I thought was going to be deep and dark and amazing, one of the most personal stories I've ever told.  After so many strong emotions invested in the creation of the characters and setting, I have no idea what to do with it and have set it aside several times already.  Hell, I even spun something else off of it, thinking it was going to be new iteration and realizing it was a completely separate project, and that one's in a state of "I have notes and a plot outline, and no longer want to work on it."  Something about this strikes me as off - if it's a story I'm so passionate about, shouldn't I be driven as all hell to tell it?

And then there's the flipside, a little book I've mentioned here a time or two: STARWIND.  This was not a passion project.  I wanted to tell a "crew on a ship" sort of story, I liked the idea of traveling between all kinds of worlds, so I put together a bunch of things I thought would be cool and figured out how to make a story out of them.  Not only has that turned out to be one of the best things I've written in a long time, I have a full draft of the plot for the sequel, and it worked out better than I thought it would.

This is the part where I stare at my monitor with my hands clenched in writerly fury, and shout/whine "Whyyyyyyy. . . .", and never get an answer.  -_-  I know some people say not to question the process, but no, I'm going to question the hell out of this.

It's possible that I'm having trouble with passion projects because I get too emotionally invested in them.  Thinking about how amazing something's going to be when it's a scattered collection of images in my head seems like a really good way to make myself choke when it's time to turn those images into a story.  Whereas the other stories come to me as more of a "what if" or "how would that work" sort of thing - more wondering than realization.  The emotional investment comes from working on the story and figuring it out, rather than from getting smacked upside the head with a supposedly brilliant idea.

I don't know if this is something I can change, but it is something I can watch out for.  I can try to develop the sudden ideas more slowly, and not put so much mental weight on them.  With this, I can try to understand that if there really is a good story there, I'll figure it out as I work on it.  And I can try to hold onto the stories I want to tell the most, rather than just the ones I could work out.

Does anyone else have this problem?  If not, have you seen any pattern in what you can make work for you and what you can't?  Either way, how do you deal with it?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Query Check, STARWIND Version

...it's that time again. >_<  Much as I'd love to say otherwise, the query check is nothing new to this blog.  But I know I need feedback to get even a little bit closer to a query that actually works, so here I am again, with my current query letter for STARWIND.  I'd appreciate any advice y'all can give me.

Thank you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWSG: People Need Your Stories

I've been trying to make this post for two months, and it took the turn of the new year for me to feel like I could.

I think we all know what happened here in the US about two months ago - a racist, sexist failed businessman rode into the highest office in the land on a wave of hate and fear and ignorance.  But I'm not here to talk about him.  I'm here to talk about all the people who aren't like him, all the people who his campaign made out to be lesser, and why what we writers do is important to people like them.

Because if I've learned anything since the election, it's that these people need your stories.

Growing up, most of the stories I read were about me and people like me.  I'm a straight cis white man, and I know it's a lot harder to find stories that don't star someone like that than ones that do.  It was different when it came to my writing, though.  I've always liked writing women more than men; every single book I've written has a female POV character, and in many of them, there are only female POV characters.  Also, I've been writing characters who aren't straight since high school, partly because standard boy/girl relationship stuff bores me and partly because I'm really bad at writing people as attracted to men.

I never thought there was anything unusual about any of this, though, or that it would make much of a difference.  Then I started reading about how rarely people who weren't like me saw themselves as heroes in whatever they were reading, or watching, or what-have-you.  I read about the damage it does to see those they identify with turned into villains or killed off; tropes like Black Dude Dies First and Bury Your Gays can hurt in ways that don't occur to people who don't see themselves in those characters.  And yet, I've seen countless examples of how much these people love it when those narratives change - when they get to see themselves as the leads, the heroes, the ones who get to win.  There are countless examples of this, but here's one I just found yesterday.

It makes them so happy.  And I want to be the kind of writer who does that for them.

If the election has done anything for me (more stress and more white hairs aside), it's inspired me to keep going, to try harder to get published and get my stories where the people who need them can see them.  I can't change the world on my own.  But if I can make things a little bit better for the people who now need it more than ever, I'll feel like all the effort is worth it.

I encourage all of you to do the same, in whatever way you can.  Art always has the power to change the world, but at the worst of times, it can be what one person needs to change their life.

It's a new year.  There's a lot we can do.  Let's get to work.