mer: (SpaceTime Warning)
I keep thinking: I remember when this was a whole lot harder. This book-writing thing. When I didn't know if a scene had low tension or even a purpose.

It is also strange to me that I write on intuitive auto-pilot these days, and only have to pause now and then to take a compass bearing. It's not as hard as it once was to find my way out of the middle of a novel. Now, granted: it helps to write MG novels of significantly less complexity than a George RR Martin spectacle. But you know. It's not the only thing I write, and I still don't struggle like I did.

I just don't know when it all changed. When I stopped floundering and realized that I could a) notice problems; b) analyze them; c) fix them. While I still need editors, copyeditors, beta readers, and critique partners, they are more there to speed up the process. I could probably get to a Pretty Good Book now, on my own, given five, ten years to really think it through--and that's without skill increases! (Thank god for editors, copyeditors, beta readers, and critique partners!)

When I was a kid, and I wrote both for fun and for the emotional outlet, I didn't worry much (any) about craft. I let intuition guide me in every particular. I copied what I liked from writers I read often. When I first tried to become a working writer, I tried to expurgate the fun and the emotional outlet, and to Write Properly. I think I saved me from myself pretty early on in that process, but I think about how many intellectual stories I lunged after, that I had no real connection with, I think: "What was I doing?"

But it was part of the learning process. It was requisite for me that I intellectualize the process, so that I could learn how to make it effective for other people to share in my fun and in my emotional outlets.

So, I had a big dither over a scene tonight, and had no forward motion on the book for pretty much two nights in a row because of this scene, and I finally wrote at the end of it: [Reconsider this scene; either cut or punch up. Can the horse jump over the wall without ripping off THE BLUE SWORD too much?]

The scene is boring, as is, but I think it might be necessary to have a similar scene right here for the pacing. And for my character's growth. And for certain kinds of tension. But I'm not sure how to rewrite the scene so it is not boring, and has character growth and just the right amount of tension (I think I've got the pacing part figured); and the only thing I've thought of to happen is something Robin McKinley thought of 23 or more years ago, so that's just out. You've got a wall and a girl and a magic horse. She wants to get inside. How do I not rip of McKinley, specifically when Harry jumps Sungold over Jack Dedham's fort wall? (Or maybe Sungold just does it. I don't remember. I refuse to go read the scene, either.) --I'm not actually asking anyone but myself, btw. I know how. I just don't know how yet.

Thing is, as I stared at the scene where my girl is on the horse outside the cloister walls and just waits patiently last night--and wrote around it, and edited some other stuff, and did some spot research--I didn't even have the "ripping off McKinley" option in my head. So, that's forward progress. Right? I mean, my brain is moving.

I'm not frustrated. I know it will come to me in time. I might not need the whole scene anyway, since it really shows the internal power struggles of a group of characters who are seriously non-essential to the story I'm telling. I mean, the reason my main character is stalled at the gates is because they're arguing inside about whether or not to send aid with my character. (Just like THE BLUE SWORD, I freaking guess, yay, I'm already so close, no wonder this occurred to me.)

In the end, it probably needs to wait until I see the rest of the shape of the book, even though it pains me to leave a scene so completely wrong and have to come back to it. It's not the scene itself that bothers me, it's the ripple effect of what might change as we go forward, if I have this scene too wrong, too off the anticipated future mark.

Anyway, there it is. This weird confidence: It struck me, the weirdness, today. That I can analyze something that I'm so attached to, and not mind analyzing it. And I'm okay with it not being perfect, though I want it as close to right as it's possible to get--begin as you mean to go on, and all that, and measure twice, cut once.

I've had this confidence a lot lately, and it freaks me out. The angry little Puritan inside of me says, "You should be suffering more." And the angry little Fitzgerald inside of me says the same thing. There are a lot of voices that insist on suffering in exchange for pleasure, success, or art. Sometimes I think: well, maybe I already suffered a lot, so I'm getting a pass, for now, for this one thing. Then I also think: do I even believe those voices? I don't, so much. Maybe in my core beliefs, more than I should--I did some time among the Puritans--yes, that's a metaphor--but I work every day to change my core beliefs, to challenge my assumptions of the world.

So maybe, the work is the work, and it's rewarding. Maybe that's all there is to it.

Well, that went pretty far afield from "Hey, it feels weird that writing competently is so much easier than it was when I started."

Clearly, "measure twice, cut once" only applies to novels, not journal entries.
mer: (Dubious but Intrigued (Hugh Laurie))
I find it fascinating that the ideas I had as a teen for novels that I dismissed a decade later for being too silly are things I'm re-considering 20 years later.

I mean. When I was 16, there was no idea that could be too dystopian. When I was 26, not so much. Now I'm about to turn 36, and I think I'm going to revisit at least one of those really insane 10th grade ideas and actually turn it into a book I'm going to try to sell.

Now, mind you... this isn't just personal growth on my part, it's looking around at the market. And maybe the leading edge of dystopian YA is actually too far past, I don't know. But I would enjoy writing this book, so I'll do it, even if it's my lunchtime book. lunchtime book, you ask?

I started writing a book that required little research so I could work on it a) without the internet; b) kind of randomly; c) as a break from my heavily researched historical fantasy. I tend to produce about 500-750 words on a lunch break, and I realized that even if I only write every other lunch break, I can easily produce another MG/YA novel a year, beyond what I work on at night and over weekends. And it's nice for my brain to have a break from the other book. REALLY nice. And it seems to boost my productivity on my main book, to have this little outlet for other words and ideas.

Plus, without the required research books and stacks of notecards, that makes the lunchtime book a good travel book. It'll be interesting to see if I can work on it when I go visit my mother, head out to a con, etc... even just at 45 minutes a day while traveling. It's nice to feel like I'm not being totally unproductive when I'm away from home.

I've only been doing the lunchtime thing for a month, so I don't know how sustainable it will be--will I be able to keep up with the book once it gets to the unwieldy stage, or will I have to move on to another book beginning, and what will the fallout be if I end up with a half-dozen first 10k starts on novels but nothing gets finished?--but on the other hand, I have 7,000 words I wouldn't otherwise have, AND there's no detriment to productivity on my contracted work.

I find it interesting that I have no impulse to write short stories for my lunch work. I guess I'm really just about finished with trying to be a short story writer. I mean--never say never. But I am having a very hard time thinking of any stories to tell that take less than 45k to explore.

Growing pains, maybe? Some day I might turn around and be a real short story writer?

Doubt it.
mer: (Writing (Dark and Stormy Night))
Seems like I'm supposed to have something to say, but I can't quite think of what.

So, a meandering about writing.

My book is going. It is not going as fast as I would like, but I'm getting bogged down in research on occasion. Which sounds maybe not ideal, but it's actually part of my process. There are certain things I could just leave as a blank and fill in later; writers do that, I'm told. But it never works for me, because those little details end up being the foundations of theme, foreshadowing, and all the je ne sais quois that adds up to having a tapestry of detail and texture. If I can't feel the texture as I go, it's just no fun to write. And if it's no fun to write, I don't keep going. And there's my process--or, that piece of it.

The other side of the piece is picking and choosing which textures to focus on. I think it was on Jordan Castillo-Price's podcast I heard this, where she talked about taking a cue from visual arts in learning how to focus detail in writing. It's like depth of field on a photograph. You foreground the important stuff, keep it sharp and in focus, highlight the details... and blur out the background, so it's there in general, but not the thing in the picture that the eye will return to.

Something I'm reminding myself as I go.

First drafts are my favorite thing about writing, but that doesn't make them easy.
mer: (Tiara (DDD))
I love the book I'm writing now. It's all spring sunshine and verdant fields sprouting.

I need to remember this love for when the Great Bookwinter comes, and we are grinding down extraneous prepositions to make flapjacks and burning twists of adverbs in the woodstove. For when we must make do, and not make happy.

I wish we could preserve happiness--just stuff it in a sterilized jar and pressure cook the hell out of it, then put it on a shelf to guard against the day when there's only the dry toast of the spirit to eat.

Or... well. Maybe we can. Maybe we do. Maybe that's what this post is.
mer: (Mystery Solver (30 Rock))
I tend to feel a little let down at the end of a first draft, because it feels like the whole thing was waaaaay too easy.

Need to remind myself that REVISIONS bring TEARS and GRUNTS, and it's okay to be a happy first-drafter, 'cause lord knows, I suffer enough on the rewrites.
mer: (Not Amused (Bones))
Things that are ridiculously disheartening--

From my control panel in Duotrope:

Pending responses for last 12 months: 4 (Subscribe to a RSS feed Special RSS Feed of your Pending Submissions) BETA
Submissions sent last 12 months: 14
Submissions sent this month: 3
Acceptance ratio for the past 12 months: 30.77 %
Note: Your acceptance-rejection ratio is significantly higher than the average for users who have submitted to the same markets. Please report all your rejections as well as your acceptances. Your submission reports will be discounted by the system until your submission patterns fall within normal limits.


I've not under-reported a single rejection or submission.

I understand wanting to filter out bad data, but c'mon. I'm hardly burning up the world here with my 30% success rate, and while it is flukey, there are other legit folks who have 30% years, I'm quite certain.

I'm gonna have to write a ranty message to the Duotrope folks, I'm afraid, because I really don't need to be chastised for the truth. It's a great service. I donate to it, even.

What kind of message is that, anyway? That there's a level of success that's believable, but anything more than that, you're not a real writer? Uhm...

Look, I sold two stories last year--one new one to a great market, one reprint to a great reprint market. But this is hardly the stuff of pathological lies. For my troubles, I got 10 rejections and a dead market (and one pending response), and yes, that is a pretty fantastic rate of return, but I also made a whopping $260 on that, so come on. It's not like I'm faking acceptances from the New Yorker while secretly filing all my rejections in Peru--or insert your own strangely difficult to render politician sex scandal joke here--, and it's certainly not like I'm not reporting my rejections. There are some stories I have sold on the first time out. There are many more that I have never sold. The data backs all of that up.

What's the writing world really about if even my tiny modicum of success is considered a fabulistic outlier?
mer: (Writing (Dark and Stormy Night))

We are on Hastings Point, workshopping novels. The weather the first day was great, and we all went on a nature walk (except for [ profile] steve_buccheit, who was still en route when we went) down around Elmwood Beach, saw wild ladyslippers, unfurling ferns, trillium, dogwood, and skunk cabbage. And lilies of the valley, which were the whole goal. Mayflies and gnats are everywhere, but at least it was very windy a few days.... and rained a lot... anyway, we got a nice afternoon yesterday, but we were trapped inside critting. Today looks good. The lake is blue, and the sun is bright.


Critiques are done, and life is good. We crammed four crits in yesterday, rather than leaving one isolated on its own for this morning. Should we do this format of critique again (which I'm still debating), or even really any other format, I don't think I'll plan in an iso-crit again. Maybe leave Sunday as a buffer zone for spillage? Or just leave it open for the travelers. We'll see.

Critiques in general seemed to be successful/helpful/satisfying for people. I think blood was let, but it all seemed productive blood, and no one had to jump in the lake, which I believe people had to do at Milford the year I was there... I amused myself by guessing how [ profile] kaiweilau writes novels, and being validated. (I guessed she was a non-sequential writer. She is. Though my guess was more lengthy and detailed than that.)

I, of course, did not have That Brilliant Revelation on my novel, but that probably wasn't going to happen anyway, and hey, I sort of had That Brilliant Revelation a few weeks ago, anyway. It's really a matter of putting it into action. Or words.


[ profile] toriw7 has been aiming cameras at us on the sly throughout the event, and [ profile] kaiweilau has taken up residence as our chef. [ profile] dendrophilous, who brought [ profile] sylvrilyn up from IL with her, [ profile] steve_buchheit, and Larry of No Known LJ, round out the group. [ profile] kaiweilau is conducting an anthropological study of the Midwest, and we have taught her how to collect kindling, how to build a fire, and how to toast marshmallows. (This seems fair payment for her excellent culinary skills: last night she created a French/Italian cassoulet for us, and the night before we got a Thai/Indian curry. Both full of vegetables and served over brown rice, which allowed us to feel virtuous when we scarfed down s'mores later.)

For non-critique group events, we went with three rounds of Cranium, which resulted in some pretty good moments. Larry of No Known LJ, for example, did a stunning rendition of Dances with Wolves in charades. [ profile] steve_buccheit and I proved to be an excellent team, so much so that they forcibly split us up later.


We are about to hit up Sandy's for breakfast.


For we are hungry.
mer: (Alice in Wonderland)
Public Domain Curator at Anthology Builder

Okay, Nancy Fulda announced this yesterday, so I will share it here now, too: I'm the new (and first) Public Domain Curator for Anthology Builder.

I've loved Anthology Builder since the moment I first heard of the concept, and have been happily shuttling my stories over there in exchange for the glee of building custom anthologies (and, of course, for my share of the 10%(ish) author royalties that get split amongst each anthology's authors).

I'll be selecting public domain works to include on the site, and building anthologies, and generally having a good old time over there. And if there's an older story you've been hoping to find on the site, do let me know--I suspect Nancy will build me a suggestion form some day, but until then, I still have email and whatnot.

Have I finally found a hobby?

On a more mundane plane, I got my birthday present from my husband last night, which is a pretty sweet little photo scanner that also does negative and slide scanning. So, all my pre-digital photographic adventures will be coming to a Flickr account near you... slowly, of course. I scanned three strips o' negative last night, and only uploaded three pictures of Poitiers. I'm... pondering color correction and things like that. From a less useful angle, I'm also pondering the interesting textures from film that seem missing from digital--am I crazy? Am I sane? Who knows. And finally, I'm pondering the awesomeness that will be the uploading of all my college photography efforts. Oh, my secret artsyfartsyness, you will soon be revealed to all.

The question after THAT, of course, is... what if I did make my own dark room and develop my own negatives again? I could (theoretically) avoid the expenses of paper and enlargers by skipping that and just developing film to scan, and thus live in some crazy hybrid film/digital world. I'm not sure what the value would be, but I do keep saying that I need a hobby. This would actually be less expensive than replacing my film SLRs with digital, and I could explore that texture stuff I've been pondering. And plus... Ansel Adams wrote a whole damn book about negatives. There's something there. ;)

Novel rewrite

I'm having some very circular thoughts. There is a tiny but important piece of story logic that is missing from my novel, and my agent has offered suggestions--good ones--to nudge me into the right direction, and she's certainly right that I need to address it, but my brain is just running full-tilt around the mulberry bush and never finding the damn weasel.

If this were my dayjob, I'd send Outlook invites to a meeting and make people brainstorm with me on large pieces of paper.

Are writers allowed to do that?

Actually, I sort of think I need to ask [ profile] iuliamentis and [ profile] vidensadastra to read the book and then get them very drunk and see what comes out of them. Unfortunately, they're not coming to Penguicon. Hrm. I may be jaunting off to Chicago sooner than I thought... Of course, the workshop is coming fast, and maybe I can pick the workshoppers' brains hard while I'm there.

The rest of the rewrite, I can handle easily. Most of it is very minor stuff that I have figured out how to solve with a sentence dropped in here, a paragraph there. There is one largeish (10,000 words) section that needs a thorough rewrite, pretty much ground up. But not bad, overall.

Agent hunt

I'm supposed to be done with agent hunting, right? And I technically am. Except that, while my first three queries yielded me an offer of representation--they also yielded two rejections. And hey, my response to my first rejection was to send out six more queries! And I've since gotten two rejections, and two requests for partials. And one of the partial requests came in the snail, and I have to snail back my regrets letter. And who knows what the last two responses will be? Anyway. I'm not done, in other words.

When I am fully, finally done--is there anyone out there agent-hunting (or about to be) who would find it useful for me to perform a post-mortem on the hunt? Or is that just... annoying?

Being Erica

Am I the only person watching this show? I really love it. I know it's already aired in Canada, and it's being aired on the semi-obscure Soap Network in the US, but for serious, it's a good show, it passes the Bechdel test all over the place, and to me, it reads like an excellent take down of chick lit. You have a quirky heroine who actually accepts that her choices have led her to where she is, and instead of Bridget Jonesing her way through life, tries to come to terms with her past, owns and apologizes for her mistakes, and otherwise recognizes that one's 30s are actually a pretty good time to grow the hell up. (Not that I don't love Bridget Jones; I'm just very weary of all that has come after it. Bigly weary.) Plus, there's a time travel component. Which is always going to sell me.

So. Yes? Am I the only one watching?
mer: (Default)
Rampion in the Belltower is now up as a podcast over at Dunesteef! After dreams of being chased by evil robots all night, it was refreshing to revisit medieval zombies--mostly because they aren't on-screen too much. Phew.

Also, I totally failed to reflect on how 2008 was a great year for me, writing-wise, because I increased my flexibility so much. Here are my favorite lessons of the year. Feel free to embrace or ignore them as you find it helpful.

1) When critiquing, a big dose of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" is always advisable. i.e., never tell a writer they're doing it wrong if the wrongness works, or does not hinder the rest of the story. <--also applies to own work.

2) Kill all your precious rule-darlings. And everyone else's.

3) It's perfectly okay to switch person if it will get the story finished and out of you. (See #2) (This is how I'm going to rewrite Brook's book, without going insane--someday.)

4) It's not just about giving yourself permission to write badly. It's also about giving yourself permission to write well. To do rolling revisions if you want. To produce a semi-perfect first draft because rewriting kills you.

5) Your procedure can change with the month, week or day, if it needs to. If today you need the lamp on your right on, and the lamp on your left off, turn the lamps on or off, and write. Tomorrow, you can have the lamps how you want, too. Even if it's both off. Likewise, "I have to write at least a thousand words a day" is great for a week, but next week, maybe it needs to be a hundred.

6) If it's not hard, that doesn't mean you're writing crap, just like when it's hard, it doesn't mean you're writing crap. The hardness has no correlation to the crapness for you, thus far.

I feel like there was more, but those are the big ones that come up when I think about this year. Huge break-throughs, each one of them.

Scary that that's what constitutes a break-through for me, hm?
mer: (Default)
Seriously, after reading about [ profile] matociquala's caving adventure and watching a documentary on the Darien Gap and spending much of yesterday watching North & South and cleaning, I'm feeling a bit wanderlusty, which is at distinct odds with the weather, which makes me feel stayinsidey.

So, a meme, stolen from [ profile] vincam, originating somewhere in the vicinity of [ profile] autopope, customized by me.

* Age when I decided I wanted to be a writer:
Eleven, I think. Before that, I think I thought about it? But at 11, I really knew that was what I wanted.

and so on. )

Let's revisit that bad boy in ten years' time, let's say...
mer: (Default)
Driving home from dropping my husband to pick up his car from the shop, with a box of Tim Hortons by my side and a cup of apple cider (or apple spider, depending on if you're me and sleepy), I realized how, for me, anthropology (my major in college) and writing intersect.

1) I am the participant-observer in my own life.

Participant-observers study a society while participating in it. Obviously, writers study more than a society, but I, and many writers that I know, tend to experience things in two layers. The first is "I'm experiencing this." The second is "And how will I write this when I need to use it in a book?" The first layer is not always the first layer experienced, either.

2) Every novel is an interior ethnography.

I'm not talking about an ethnography of that alien race that the book seems to be about. I'm talking about the ethnography of one's own psyche, and the multitudes therein. Even the book that is the ethnography (yes, am most assuredly abusing this term) of one's own family is just as much about the interior life of the writer as it is about the family. You can't remove the family from the interior life, anyway, not really.

While I do not believe that a book necessarily reveals anything concrete about the author--one should never assume that a political opinion expressed by a character also belongs to the author, or that an author who writes about X has actually experienced X--every book reveals something about the author.

If you choose to spend six months to three years immersed in a world, a culture, a life, an experience not your own, it says something about you, and the choice of what you choose to be immersed in says something about you. Ninety-five percent of people might draw the wrong conclusion about what it says about you, and there's no code to figuring out everyone's interior ethnography, but still, it's there. And you, the author, know it. You are your own ethnographer.

Hm. I think there's more, but I must mull. And write.

April 2015

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