Time Is On My Side, Yes It (Kinda?) Is!

On Monday, SFF author Kate Elliott composed a series of tweets about age and whether not there is a “right” time to begin one’s writing career. I found them very insightful and affirming to my own writing career. Check out this Storify of those tweets!

TLDR (and shame on you if you can’t be bothered to read like twelve tweets): There isn’t “right” or “best” time to start a writing career.

Like I said, those tweets spoke to me. I didn’t start writing my first manuscript until I was like 27 or 28. And it took three years to finish. And it was a hot fricking 180,000 word mess when it was done. Then I edited for another year more. Four years for one book that I didn’t decide to put on the shelf until I was on the wrong side of 30. It happens, right? 

Now that I’m coming up on 35, I look back on the time I spent on that first book and the choice not to start it earlier with some regret. Some regret, but some introspection. Who knows what would have happened if I wrote that first book when I was 22 and then queried it as I had when I was 32. Would have been able to handle the deluge of rejection without an extra decade of real world experience? Would I have tucked away my Mac with that manuscript in it, never to be seen again? Maybe, maybe not.

Fellow Scribe Kristin McFarland and I talked about this a bit on the last episode of our podcast. You can’t look back at with regret for maybe starting “too late” or taking “too long” with your journey down the publishing path. That first book, or any other successive books, wouldn’t be the same if they were written at a different point in your life. You shouldn’t dwell on time spent, but look ahead and maximize that time you have left.

If you want a good example of how there’s no “right” time – just look at the slate of Nebula nominations just announced and the Hugo nominations from last year. There is a huge breadth of writers both in terms of age, but also what point they are in their careers. Sometimes you get an award nomination on your first book, sometimes on your tenth. Sometimes it’s a short story when you’re 23, sometimes it’s a novel when you’re 53.

All of that said, I don’t think everyone should be completely flippant about the time factor in trying to build a writing career. You need to make the time. You need to do the work. And that’s hard sometimes. We all have lives, we all have other interests and commitments that pull us in the other directions from our writing. Every damn day. Sometimes we have to let them, for our own self care. But we also need to sit down and put those words in the computer and make those books. Not everyone can work at the same pace or with the same schedule, and that’s okay too.

It hurts me to contemplate about all the writers out there who think they might be too young or too old to break into publishing because of preconceived notions about the “right” way or “best” time to do it. Self rejection based on preconceptions is a very real and very unfortunate part of being a writer. We’ve all experienced and not everyone is able to overcome it.  But I’m so happy to see authors who have “made it” speak about these issues. I think there’s a lot of fear in authors just starting out, and many think there are already insurmountable barriers erected by time.  

There is no right time and your time is whatever you make of it.

 

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Nora Roberts: Known for Romance, Pretty Darn Good at Fantasy, Too

Me too, Nora. Me too.
Me too, Nora. Me too.

So I’ve been reading a lot of Nora Roberts lately. Yeah, I’m totally late to that party.

I don’t even know how I got started. But I gravitate more to her more recent, mythological-based books than her typical romances. I’m totally her ideal audience for these books because most of her myths are based in Celtic legend, magic and religion and I lap that stuff right up.

The interesting thing to me is that I’ve seen several negative reviews (yes, even La Nora gets them, which perversely makes me feel better) that talk about how all of her mythological trilogies are the same. Some wonder if she has written too many books, is using a ghostwriter, or just doesn’t care anymore. Maybe those are true, but I don’t agree.

I have to admit that when I started my third series (The Key Trilogy), I saw strong similarities to her most recent series (the Guardians Trilogy), even before I read the negative reviews. But that is just in setup. Yes, most of them start with some dark magical or mythological force – a witch, demon, goddess, what have you – doing something evil that later requires a group of three or six mere mortals to band together to undo what said Big Bad did. But isn’t that a pretty common fantasy trope? Three and its multiples are sacred to the Celts, so the use of that number again and again isn’t that surprising; in fact, it’s highly appropriate. And yes, couples get together as the books progress, but that’s what makes them romance novels.

Anyway, I wanted to outline a few of her trilogies and show how I think they are different, which is hard given I don’t want to have spoilers. It won’t do anything to change the minds of those who have written her off, but it will make me feel better. J And it may inspire a few people to pick up some of her books they haven’t read yet.

Dark WitchThe Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy – This was my introduction to Nora Roberts. I LOVE the mythology, which is based on a Celtic curse that carries down through the generations. The descriptions are breathtakingly beautiful and put you right in the middle of Ireland. The dialogue has just enough accent to it to make you believe (even in print) that the characters really are Irish. (Personally, I find that kind of writing takes skill.) I found it a fun, exciting read. I’m on the second book now. While I don’t like it as much as the first (not as much action), I love the characters (this one is focused on a different couple than the first) and I want to see how it all ends.

Stars of FortuneThe Guardians Trilogy – This is her newest series, with only Stars of Fortune on the market. This one is about three stars that fell to Earth and must not be allowed into the hands of an ancient, evil goddess. Six people are drawn together (literally and figuratively, as one draws her visions of the group before they meet) to hunt down the stars. The twist here is that each has something special about them, a power if you will, that makes them unique; together all of them form a unit capable of defending evil. I really, really loved this book – it’s tied with Key of Light of for favorite one so far. The second book, Bay of Sighs comes out this summer, and I’ve seen the third book listed as year-end in some places.

Key of LightThe Key Trilogy – More fairy tale than mythological, this series tells the stories of three ancient goddesses who were cursed by an evil spirit (that’s a lot like the one in the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy now that I think about it) to sleep Snow-White-like in a glass coffin, only it’s not their bodies, but their souls that are trapped. The twist on this book is how the three women who are fated to rescue them get involved. Unlike in some of the other series, they have no idea they are meant to do something special. They just show up for a dinner party at a creepy mansion one night and they are told they are the three. The fairy tale elements of this series are to me what sets it apart from (and above) some of the others. And I think I also feel the love between the characters more strongly in this series than in some of the others. I’m waiting for the audio of the second book in this series to come in at the library.

Morrigan's CrossThe Circle Trilogy – I haven’t read this one yet because my library doesn’t have them on audio and I don’t have time for a another print/ebook book at the moment. But from the back page copy, it appears to have something to do with the goddess Lilith and the goddess Morrigan. I can’t wait to see those two square off! Goddess cat-fight!

There are other trilogies in her HUGE oeuvre of work, but these are the ones I’m most familiar with. So yeah, they are similar, but if you love mythology, there are enough differences to keep you entertained. If I could go into more details, it would be clearer.

I haven’t read a lot of authors who have as many separate trilogies as Nora Roberts, but I can tell you there are a few whose books within a lengthy series (more than 10) where I’ve felt the books are very similar. I guess we all run the risk of repeating ourselves after a while, especially if something works for us or there’s a subject we’re passionate about. But I don’t feel like Nora’s books are formulaic (i.e. change the names, occupations, hair color and location and, voila, you have a new series), especially once you get past the setup. Maybe the negative reviews came from people who didn’t stick with the first book long enough. I dunno. I like them, and for me, that’s all that matters.

PS – I have decided that my goal is to become the Nora Roberts of historical fiction. I’m in no way aiming for 200+ books (that’s just insane), but I would like to be prolific (however that ends up defining itself), well-respected and successful. And I can do worse than taking a best-selling, 12-time-RITA-winning novelist as a role model. I’m hoping to attend the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute (formerly the Nora Roberts Writing Institute) in 2017.

Have you read any of Nora Roberts’ books, especially the trilogies? What did you think? Are there any other fiction books based in Celtic myth that you’d recommend?

My SUPER Unpopular Opinion

Have you seen the #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion hashtag on Twitter? People use to it “confess” positions as wildly different as disliking The Legend of Korra (WTF?) to liking certain Presidential candidates (…..). Sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s really appalling.

I’m not sure which category my opinion falls into, but here it is: I’m not really wild about the Marvel Universe franchise.

Shocked-gif5

*pause for reaction*

I found the Thor movies cheesy and mildly irritating, in spite of an abiding love for Tom Hiddleston as Loki. I absolutely cannot stand Iron Man/Tony Stark (read: he annoys me so much, I hate myself if I laugh at one of his jokes). Captain American makes me want to lie down and take a nap, he’s so dull. I don’t really give a flip about the X-Men.

I know. It’s pretty upsetting for a geek.

It’s not a hard rule, though. I really liked Jessica Jones! The Ms. Marvel comics are quite charming, and I think they’re doing great things for comic books. But overall, I’m just not into the franchise, and I think a lot of my friends may find this pretty disappointing.

I used to think that I just wasn’t into superheroes, but that’s not quite it. I love Buffy, and what is she but the superest hero ever to slay a vampire? Maybe I only like female superheroes, which I don’t think is an entirely unreasonable position. I do like Guardians of the Galaxy, though, and that’s not all girl-power.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to diagnose myself for why I don’t care about these series and characters. Is it that I often don’t find the plots believable? Maybe. Or possibly because I like my villains nuanced, and they often feature flat bad guys? Could be, but the quality of story-telling really has improved over the years. There’s definitely something to the female-superheroes-only theory, but I suspect I might enjoy the Netflix Daredevil series if I gave it a chance.

I’ve also spent a lot of time hiding my lack of enthusiasm. I somewhat enjoyed The Avengers, so I talk that one up when tackling the subject at all. I’ll discuss Jessica Jones until innocent bystanders fall asleep. Mostly, though, I go quiet when the topic arises, because the Marvel franchises, in particular, are having a Big Moment right now, and I feel a little left on the sidelines. I don’t judge anyone for their enjoyment, or anything like that, but I will say I don’t quite get it. Whatever magic these films and series hold for others, it doesn’t seem to work for me.

And that’s fine, I guess. Opinion is opinion. My love of sexy vampires makes no sense to some, but I’m clearly not alone in that love.

Am I a lost geeky cause?

 

Writer’s Blech

watson_computer_stareThe other day I was at a party with a few friends and plenty of strangers, and when I mentioned that I was a writer I got the usual barrage of strange and slightly insulting questions. Questions like “Where do you get your ideas, and how do you know if they’re any good?” and “If you’re not published yet, are you really a writer?” I’m mostly used to this kind of thing by now, and have a collection of stock answers up my sleeve that satisfy even the most inquisitive soul. But this time one guy asked me a question that gave me pause. “What do you do,” he queried, “when you get writer’s block?”

Now, I think this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. But there were a few things about the way it was phrased that struck me as unusual. First, he said when you get writer’s block, as opposed to if—he clearly assumed that all writers, at some point or another, are struck by the affliction of writer’s block. Second, he asked what do you do when this happens. Not when does this happen, or why does this happen, but what do you do. I’m not sure exactly what answer he was looking for (“I YELL MOUTH WORDS TO THE NIGHTMARE TWINS FOR INSPIRATION”) but the question got me thinking a lot about writer’s block, and peoples’ perceptions of what exactly that means.

I have suffered from writer’s block. In fact, I struggle with it more than I care to admit. Try, like, TODAY. But I’ve never really thought of it as writer’s block, nor do I think it falls under the definition of what most people would consider to be writer’s block. When I imagine writer’s block, I think of some baggy-eyed beatnik scribbling frantically on paper before crumpling the paper up and throwing the wad over his shoulder into a bin overflowing with similarly crinkled pages. (I don’t know why he has to be a beatnik, but in my mind he’s wearing all black and smoking a cigarette. He could also just be a mime without makeup.) This is not how it happens for me. For me, writer’s block isn’t a lack of or poor execution of ideas, but an inability to force words out of my brain and down through my fingertips.
My blocks manifest as paralysis, a terrible inaction that prevents me from writing anything whatsoever. I might have ideas clawing at the inside of my brain, screaming to be heard. There may be words pushing up against the back of my eyeballs and poking out of my ears, but still I can’t seem to coax them out onto the paper. I might be desperate to feel productive, dying to get started on a project, but it’s no good. And the longer I go without writing, the more abhorrent the idea seems. Ugh, my fingers say, ten tiny voices squeaking in unison, Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Pooh Exercise GifSo, what do I do when this happens? Glad you asked. The only thing I can do is to to somehow get myself to start writing again, be it through trickery, coercion or bribery. Often, once I actually sit down and squeeze out those first 500 or 1,000 words on the paper, writing seems to make sense again. The ideas and the words are there, just waiting for me to pick up the pen or open the word processor. And sometimes that 500 words is all I’m going to get, but I know that I’ll have to try again tomorrow. So for me, writer’s block isn’t about not having any good ideas or lacking the right words to describe something; writer’s block is all the times I can’t seem to force my butt into the chair and just do it.

Or maybe I should just stop wearing all black and smoking cigarettes. That might help.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block, or any other kind of block? What do you do to overcome it? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!