A reading journey with many, many turnouts

I was recently invited to promote one of my books on a website, specifically World of Ash, my dear, dear little apocalyptic baby. In the promo they wanted me to share some books I recommend for readers to enjoy that would be shelved next to WOA. Great concept, I love promoting other books, especially if it helps readers understand my books so they know if mine is one they would enjoy,

There was just one problem: I haven’t read any Dystopian, Apocalyptic, or Post-Apocalyptic books in ages.

I realized any books I would be recommending would be 5 to even 10 years old. That really had me hung up for awhile. One, would people want to hear about books that weren’t the hot new thing? And two, when had I stopped reading these genres?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with reading older books. And considering most of the books we read in our formative years are decades, if not centuries old, 5-10 years old is nothing. So I did write my post and I focused on some of the books I read around the time I got the inspiration for WOA, explaining why each of these books spoke to me.

But it got me thinking about how I’ll become obsessed with one particular genre and I’ll consume multiple titles over the course of months or years all shelved in the same places and then, just suddenly, poof! No more.

In high school I read a lot of sword and sorcery. A lot of Mercedes Lackey and her contemporaries. Her Elemental Masters would greatly influence my first series, The Elemental Series. Nothing at all like her books, being modern day and teenagers, but still, influenced. I also read my way through most of Anne Rice’s catalogue, gotta love me some vampires and witches!

In college I found a taste for some contemporary romance, probably because they were a good, easy escape from all of my college texts.

After college I found my way back to vampires and witches, discovering paranormal romance and devoured all of the Laurell K Hamiliton books, Keri Arthur, Jeaniene Frost, Patricia Briggs, and Kim Harrison. I mean. I could have opened a tiny used bookstore with just their books alone.

Then, as my bookshelves sagged under the weight of their lengthy series, I found YA. And yes, it was Twilight. You can hate, that’s okay. I had a very bad flu over the course of two weeks and I needed something I could escape into, that didn’t ask me to think too hard to follow complicated plots, and was long enough to fill the time. My dear husband went back to the store for each books as I finished them. And, thanks to Twilight, I realized I wanted to read more fantasy YA. And thank goodness I did because that would lead to my writing career.

Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Lauren DeStefano, Veronica Roth took me through beautiful fantasy realms, new magic systems, and wonderfully flawed but strong female leads. From there I wandered into Steampunk and with grabby hands added Kady Cross’s beautiful covers to my bookshelves.

For a long time I really only read fantasy but eventually I would find a love for cozy murder mysteries, especially Gretchen McNeil and Charlaine Harris (she does more than steamy vampires!).

Then, of course, zombies became all the rage and I found my way into apocalyptic books, which would lead me to Dystopia, which I would find people tended to conflate the two but they are different!

Somewhere in all of that I still read all the Harry Potters, most of Neil Gaiman’s library, and any number of books that are somewhere in my memory now. But I defintetly get hooked on one genre and read it until I am sick of it.

Surprisingly, as much as I love a murder documentary, a paranormal thriller, and a good horror movie (not gore!), I have yet to find a book in that same genre that can captivate me. I think I need the dark room, the ominous music, the silence, for that magic to work and you can’t exactly do that with a book. So I want the fantastical world, the tension of mystery, and the beautiful words for my books.

It’s strange to look back over a reading journey and realize just how vast and varied our tastes run. Maybe that’s why I have three different genres out there in my works. I’ve yet to master sword and sorcery in writing, and I don’t know if I ever plan to, but I am looking forward to seeing what else my reading and writing muses have in store for me.

Merry Happy Blessed!

I know we’ve been a little hit and miss around here, but the end of the year, shorter days, holidays, life, and deadlines all suddenly converge and things fall through the cracks. I honestly totally forgot my day on the blog earlier this month, not gonna lie about it, I’m human. I also emailed the other Scribes to ask who missed their day when, whoop! I realized it was me!

So, apologies, dear readers. Never think I don’t love and appreciate you all, because I do.

I know this is supposed to be a writing blog, but honestly, I’m still working on that same book I’ve been posting about and, as I’m usually wont to do it leading up to the winter holidays, I’ve taken a break and plan to jump back to it in January. So I don’t have much to add to that for now.

I thought I’d write something that was a little more holiday-themed for you all this week. And it’s kinda related to writing. Sorta. Okay maybe it’s more about storytelling?

Anywho. Since it is the winter holiday season, I thought I’d lighten the mood and tell you my favorite, yearly must watch movies of the season. Maybe you’ve watched them too, maybe I’ll give you some fun new-to-you movies to check out!

First up, easily one of the funniest movies, IMHO, because of all the quick one-liners: Arthur Christmas.

Not everyone is on board for a kids animated movie, but with a cast that includes Bill Nighy as Grand-Santa, I promise, this is not just for kids. I watch it every year and it cracks me up every time. It’s the classic tale of every single person counts, no one should be left out.

Second up is The Holiday. I know, probably a very basic-witch pick, but damnit, Nancy Meyers knows what she’s doing. I actually love that most of the story and script has held up (like, we all enjoy Love Actually, but imagine how different quite a few of those stories would be if written today).

Yes, it’s a rom-com, yes, it’s about two women finding love, but it’s also about them finding themselves and cutting out toxic relationships and deserving to be happy.

Also, it’s set at Christmas, but it isn’t actually about Christmas. It’s about their lovely holidays.

If you know me, you know I love a good scary movie. I’m not down for slasher, bloody, gore-fest movies, but tense, paranormal, edge of your seat creepiness is my jam, throw in some fantasy flavoring and I will watch that movie! My next favorite ticks all these boxes. Krampus.

This is not a feel-good movie. This is not a family movie (unless everyone is old/mature enough for it) but it is about a family. It’s very much if the Griswolds all admitted they hated each other and then a demigod showed up to punish and reward all of them for their faults.

There is a lot–a lot–of lore around Krampus and I have studied as much as I can. I don’t view Krampus the way Christian’s have portrayed him–much like they portray a lot of pagan deities–but I do think that Krampus does both good and bad and this movie shows that but takes the bad up about ten notches. It shows us how commercialism and selfishness and trying to look perfect on the outside no matter what has hurt us. Rest assured, the commentary is there, but it really is a story about survival and families coming together after trying to rip each other apart. So get your cocoa and a cozy blanket and get ready for a ride!

Three seems like a good place to stop, but it also feels a little weird to end on such a dark note so I will also add a couple of new-to-me movies we’ve caught this year. LoveHard on Nextflix, while very formulaic, was cute and enjoyable. Single All the Way was, again, formulaic, but you still rooted for the ending we all knew was coming.

A few others I will be re-watching again and again:

Klaus

A Christmas Carol (Guy Pearce as Scrooge)

Last Christmas

Elf

Also, if my favorite sitcoms are doing a Christmas Episode, I am here for it! Loved both, Ghosts BBC Christmas Special and Ted Lasso’s Carol of the Bells Christmas Special!

Tell me some of your favorite holiday or holiday-ish movies or shows you can’t miss each season!

DNF Beta Reader Edition

Your friend wrote a book. Or maybe your sister or cousin. Someone you know and maybe love wrote a book and that’s amazing! You’re so excited for them and proud they accomplished this Big Thing. So many people talk about writing or say they’re a writer but never seem to have any concrete proof of it. But this person does! Amazing!

And they want you to read it.

Or maybe you got a little too excited and offered to read it for them. You love them and want to support them, so why wouldn’t you offer or agree? Here’s the thing. Maybe you shouldn’t offer. Just because you’re related or friends and you may have things in common, enjoy a lot of the same stuff, you might not enjoy their writing. Hopefully it’s just a matter of taste and not a comment on their talent, but there’s nothing so awkward as getting your hands on a loved-one’s book only to realize you’ve made a mistake.

It’s one thing to wait until said book is published and you’ve bought it–buying a book is definitely supporting it and you never have to get around to reading it to show that support. Sales are very important. But so are reviews, so you could just quickly spit out a general, “It was an amazing book! I read it in one sitting. You should buy it too!” review and look like the best friend ever.

But no, you offered to read it in a raw, rough draft form. Now you have to tell your loved one what you thought. But what if you couldn’t get through it? What if it wasn’t your cuppa? I’m not going to address if the work is “bad” because that’s a whole different issue. This is about struggling with a book you’re not enjoying.

The book I’ve been working on over the past year is a fairly dark book. I meant for it to be. I decided to have an MC with a skewed center of morality, who made choices based on what she wanted, not what she was expected to do. She is angry, betrayed, and ready for vengeance. It’s heavy in a lot of places. But it’s still fantasy with magic and mystery. So, if you’re a fantasy fan and enjoy witches and magic, you might think it’s right up your alley.

My mom thought so.

My mom is a big fan of mine and not just in the way moms are supposed to be, she has actually read every book I’ve published. But I don’t usually give her rough drafts. Like most moms she just wants to tell me that she liked it and maybe proof read a little bit. But when you’re a writer and you let your beta readers read your rough drafts, you’re not looking for that kind of feedback. You need details, what worked, what didn’t, why on both counts. What they thought about characters–did they hate a protagonist or love interest? Was the plot too confusing or too easy? Things like this. Yeah, we want to hear “I liked it!” but then we need the meat.

My mom is a fast reader. She’s one of those readers authors love and hate. We spend six months to two years on a book only to have her read it in a day or two. It’s awesome that reader can love and enjoy something so much they can’t help but consume it, but also… slow down? I can’t write that fast?

Well. A month had passed and she hadn’t said one word. I don’t like to nudge people. I tell friends and family not to tell me if they’ve bought one of my books because I don’t want to wonder if they’ve read it and hated it and that’s why I haven’t heard from them. I’d rather think they’re like me and yes, they bought the book, but like so many other titles, I was excited to buy it but it’s been added to my very tall TBR pile. A very prestigious place to be.

But I finally asked her if she’d read it. Turns out, she’d gotten to about the half-way mark and stopped.

“It’s too dark for me.” She hadn’t said anything because she thought that comment would hurt my feelings. When, really, since I tried to write a dark book (which I felt like I could push it farther), that was a compliment. It was a good note. It means I did accomplish what I was going for.

“The writing is good, but I don’t think I’m in the right headspace for it.”

Now, obviously it’s a bummer she couldn’t finish it, but that’s okay. I have a book by an author I like and I’ve been reading it for over a year. A few pages here and there. It’s a heavy book and it was too close to the current world-affairs so I had to put it down for a while. It doesn’t mean the book is bad.

So your friend wrote a book and it didn’t work for you but you gotta tell them something. You have to not be afraid to tell them the truth. So long as what you have to say is constructive, it shouldn’t crush them. And if your friend can’t take a note like their dark book is too dark for them to finish, then they’re not ready for real-world publishing criticism.

Do not offer to read for a loved one if you’re worried their ego is too fragile for real feedback, but also be ready with something substantial that they can take away.

I didn’t think my book was too dark, one of my readers didn’t either, one thought it was fairly dark and I was in a dark place when I wrote it (I wasn’t), one enjoyed it but said they hoped teenagers weren’t that dark, and one couldn’t finish it because it was too dark. All different readers, all different takeaways on the same theme.

So your friend wrote a book and they want you to beta read it. Ask them what it’s about, get some real details from them and decide if it’s the kind of book you would have bought on your own even if you didn’t know them. I offer professional manuscript critique services, but on my website I say that I won’t take on genres I don’t enjoy as a reader because I don’t think I could judge them appropriately. You can say the same thing to your friend. “I think it’s awesome you wrote a novel, and Space Opera?! That sounds great! But I’m not generally a fan of sci-fi so I don’t think I’d be a good fit to read it for you.”

Or, if you didn’t know you wouldn’t be into it, like my mom, until you got into it, just be kind and honest. Believe it or not, even explaining why you couldn’t get through something can be very helpful.

Not Just Critical, But Helpful

Personally, the only thing I dislike more than critical feedback is unhelpful critical feedback.

-Lyra Selene

No one writes a book on their own. I think where a lot of fledgling writers fail is they try to write a book without any outside help or support. Yes, the actual writing down of words is all on you, the writer, but getting to that stage, what happens after the first draft is done, how to get from rough draft to finished draft, shouldn’t be all on your own.

New writers are often terrified to let other people read their work. Whether it be insecurity about their talent or fear that someone might steal their work (electronic copyrights are an amazing thing in this day and age so if you’re part of the latter, let me put your mind at ease). And many new writers don’t realize, or maybe don’t want to admit, that even if you’re born with the gift of writing, no one writes well without at lease some practice if not some actual education in the craft. I, myself, have a BA in Creative Writing. And let me tell you: as a freshman in college I was CONVINCED I was an amazing writer and would coast through said major.

Yeah. No.

I needed that education. I needed those professors telling me that, while good, they could tell I was turning in first drafts of essays and stories. What’s the big deal about that? Well, good is not great and if they could tell something was a first draft, then that meant they saw room for improvement. Your first draft may be good, but it’s probably not yet great and it probably needs more than just your eyes to see where it can be improved.

I try to make sure I have at least two beta readers for a book, but if I can get three or four, that’s amazing. And, I think, it’s good to have readers at different life-stages and backgrounds so I can find out what resonated with who and what falls flat and if I get the same/similar notes from multiple readers, I know it’s something to pay attention to for good or bad.

Now, maybe you want to be a beta reader for someone, or you want to develop a critique partner relationship with another writer–if you can, do, it will make you a better writer–and you want to know how to be a good reader. Critical, helpful feedback.

Obviously all writers live for the good feedback. I look for the lols, the yeessssss!, the swoons, the love this!, the good image notes throughout a manuscript when I get it back from my readers. I love those comments. When I read the critique letters I first revel in the parts where they sing my praises and tell me what they loved about the book. We are needy things, we writers, and our sunshine are those compliments and reassurances. But we want the book to be great, not just good, so we need the meat, the real feedback.

If you’re going to help a writer with feedback you need to tell them what didn’t work for you while also explaining why. Did you find your attention waning during a particularly long chapter? Did you find yourself hoping an annoying character died even though they are supposed to be a hero? Did the dialogue fall flat for you because people don’t actually talk like that, or maybe because it was a little too realistic? Were there dropped plot threads because you picked up on something that seemed important in the beginning but then it never came back around? Did you get lost in the magic system because there are no rules?

These are all things that can help a writer who’s been staring at these pages and those tens of thousands of words for the past year and can’t see these issues. Want to know why you can’t see the issues in your book? Because you know the answers to these questions/holes/problems so your mind fills in those gaps when you reread. Just like you can’t see the typos or homonyms but they’re glaring to new eyes.

Now if you’re the one with the book getting the feedback, you need to be open to said feedback. Of course the notes are just the opinion of one person and you’re welcome to take or leave every note, but you cannot, under any circumstances be offended by the constructive criticism they offer. Hopefully they’re actually helpful and constructive and unless they just say your book sucked, you need to remember that, no matter how harsh, they’re trying to help you and they took time out just to read your work and give you feedback.

I offer professional manuscript critique services for people who don’t have a writer group and there are a lot of people who think they’re ready for the critical feedback only to realize they weren’t and they crumble a little bit when the critique letter isn’t just compliments and praise. Remember, the book is personal to you and only you at this stage.

So if you’re looking to write a book, be ready to start forming your own little writing village to help get it from opening sentence, to first draft, to final draft, to publication. Writing is a solitary craft but you don’t have to do it all alone.

I Love Villains

The other week, I came across this article: It’s OK to be horny for the villain by Lena Barkin. And I am fucking here for it. She talks about the love so many of us female presenting people have for our Lokis, Jareths, Draculas, and more damaged, beautiful villains and the hate and derision we female presenting people get for that love.

I fucking love villains. I have loved them since I first fell in love with the Goblin King when I was a wee tot.

I love a good anti-hero (hello Jessica Jones). And I know that we’ve all been teased and even shamed into being quiet about our love. But you know what? No.

In the article Barkin says, “Fans of complex and morally ambiguous characters are often a sign of a classic work in the making.” Complex and morally ambiguous characters, do you know what I think of when I hear that? Fully formed. Four dimensional. Real.

The article focuses a lot on young women and queer folk and how we’re viewed and treated for what we like. Young women and queer folk are, themselves, complex and more in tuned with emotions and pain and scars–both physical and emotional. Often, when we hate someone, it’s because they show us a mirror, but I think the same can be true when we love someone damaged and dangerous. How many of us are damaged and therefore dangerous? Can you see your pain and anger in the face of your favorite villain? Can you hear the same song you heart sings in their voice when they launch into their world-domination soliloquy?

It’s fine to love Captain America or to root for the genuine Good Guy in the story. After all, we need Good Guys in the world and Cap is genuinely a good guy, not a monster in sheep’s clothing. We want people like them to exist because we are so often let down by that guy in real life. So often they’re actually judgmental, controlling, or just a goddamn let down. So often That Guy is just wearing a mask and when it slips, we’re disappointed at best, devastated and hurt at worst.

But a villain in a story? He’s honest about who he is once you know who he is. Maybe he’s trying to be better, but he doesn’t hide his backstory, he doesn’t promise you forever, and he doesn’t judge you for your demons. If anything, Dracula embraces them, Loki revels in them, Jareth grants those wishes without judgement. Maybe we all love the villain because he can love the darkest parts of us and doesn’t make us shove them down into a box we keep locked in the darkest corner of our hearts. We get to be complex and morally ambiguous. Hell, we get to be fucking human, unashamedly, unabashedly, completely whole with the villain.

And I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound wholly toxic and unhealthy to me. Sure, we can debate about trying to be better people, but how can we be better people if we can’t love all of ourselves first? How can we accept others if we don’t accept ourselves? Villains are often looking for their own happy ending, just like the good guys, they’re just also dragging a tragic backstory along with them, trying to heal from it, while being judged and punished for it.

Sound a little familiar?

I love a villain. I love writing them. I just wrote a book and the MC is probably more villain than hero and it was refreshing to have that freedom and write from her perspective. It was fun to write her love interest who was even more broken than she. They accept each other and want to rule the kingdom together.

So I say it’s okay to love the villain too. Love that complex, morally ambiguous character and do it proudly.

Flash Fiction Writing Prompt Ideas

You’ll have to forgive me for the brevity of this week’s post. I just don’t have the bandwidth to think of 500-1000 words this week. If you follow me on Insta, you’ll understand why.

But every day is a little better than the day before so I didn’t want to bail completely.

I thought, since it was summer, and we’re between NaNos, it might be fun to give you guys a flash fiction writing prompt. Maybe, if you’re between projects, or feeling a little stuck, or just want to see if you can do this challenge, it would inspire you.

I took two flash fiction prompts from Chuck Wendig many, many years ago and they, somehow, became the inspiration of my longest running series, The Matilda Kavanagh Novels. The first was to look up the name of a cocktail and base a 1000 word story on that name. The second, be as creative with profanity as you could.

The first prompt I found a cocktail that had the word Fairy in it and the story of a half-troll stealing the magical token of a royal fairy and using it to blackmail her for riches beyond measure came into my mind. The second, a witch who had been cheated out of payment for a spell she’d brewed for a man in a position of power burst into my mind, creative new profane words bursting from her. Both stories ended up in my series. And Mattie just might be my favorite character I ever created.

So, if you’re game, here are three prompts. Pick one, or all three!, and see where your muse takes you. The goal is to write a whole story within 1000 words, no more than that, so paint that picture, but hone your words.

  1. Your favorite food.
  2. Spotting a shooting star.
  3. A broken object.

See where your imagination takes you. I wrote about fairies and witches, which you probably automatically think of some far away land or time, right? Nope. My fairy was in a casino bar. My witch lives in North Hollywood. Both live in present day. See? Anything can happen with flash fiction.

Have fun with it! And if you feel proud of your story, post it to your own blog and come back here and share the link in the comments so we can read your story. Who knows, I just might do this challenge too if I find the will.

Adapting As a Writer–Part 3–Fin

Last we spoke, I shared how the WIP I was writing was becoming an ever-evolving beast but I was getting it done, little by little. I’d gone from an outline, to pansting, to writing out of order, to piecing scenes into the book like a quilt. to minimal word goals of 1,000 words a day during the week.

When I wrote that last blog post I was at 90k words on the WIP. For the last couple of years that would have meant I was at a completed draft. I’d gotten very good at honing my craft so I could still set the scene but not be so flowery that I was pushing over the 100k mark. But not this beast. No, 90k and the end wasn’t quite in sight. But I was so happy to be writing and moving forward that I didn’t focus on that. I can always edit later.

My husband and I had a long weekend away planned for June 25th, so I told myself, I wanted to be done by the time we left. I didn’t call it a deadline because I was afraid I would jinx my progress. But in my mind, I knew it would be harder to enjoy our time away if the draft still wasn’t done. The point of the trip wasn’t a reward for this project, but there was no reason why it couldn’t double as one. That was also a weird change for me; I always did better with a deadline but now I was afraid of setting one.

So I kept opening fresh docs and writing from zero to whatever natural stopping point I hit for the day and copy and pasting those words into the main document.

Then, Monday morning I had an epiphany. I don’t know where it came from but it was a lightning bolt moment.

The story I’m writing is the idea of one movie from my childhood meets a movie from my teen years (yes, I’m being vague on purpose). Now, the love interest from the childhood movie is wildly problematic in this day and age (yeah, problematic back then too but… moving on!) and it had been nagging at me this whole time. How could I base a character on that character knowing he just wouldn’t survive (rightly), let alone sell, in today’s culture. But I still love his problematic face.

I love his problematic face because I understand why and how he was broken. I know his origin story so I can look past the problematic parts–of course that just makes my affection for him sound toxic, right? I know.

But having that information in my mind was helping me work out this problem. When we decide to write something new inspired by something we love, we’re trying to look at it from a different perspective. Maybe not make it better, or, hell, maybe we are trying to make it better.

And then, because I hadn’t been trying to force the story, the epiphany came. I knew why this character was broken. The reader needed to know too. The other character needed to know too. So often stories are frustrating for the reader or viewer because we know all that needs to happen to fix 90% of the problems is for the characters to talk to each other. But the writer avoids that at all costs. I decided to face that head on. Something so basic shouldn’t be a twist but it was and it worked. Because, just like my MC, the reader will likely be surprised too.

Then I couldn’t stop writing. The words just poured out of me. The character’s motivations, choices, the ending, it was all right there at my fingertips. It was bright and fully formed in my brain, I just had to get it out.

On June 17th, I crossed the 109k word and I wrote the ending.

I actually like the ending. I like the epiphany. I buy it. I think others will too.

Does it need work? Oh, oh yes. It needs so much work, I am sure. But I backed up my work and then I closed the document and I haven’t looked at it since. When I finished, I interrupted my husband at work and told him I finished before I told anyone else. And I cried. He hugged me and said, “See? You’re not broken.” I cried a little more.

Then we left the city and found fresh air, salt water, and ancient trees.

The words will come back to you. You may need to try a new method, you may need to try many new methods, you may have to try ones that didn’t work for you in the past, but the words will come to you again. If you keep trying. Keep adapting. The end of the book is in sight, you just have to keep going.

Adapting As a Writer — Part 2

If you’ve been following along with my posts, you know that I’ve been working on a new book and it’s been kicking my ass a little bit, as books are often want to do. So I started changing how I wrote it–with an outline, without one, adding in new scenes to the early stages of the book–doing whatever I needed to in order to get words done.

I had never written scenes out of order before this book. When I had a new idea for what this book was really about, I knew I couldn’t just keep writing because I was having the characters reference things that hadn’t happened but should have.

So once I had those extra scenes written, I had to re-read the book for the third time to figure out where those scenes fit into the book–often having to rewrite a little bit before and after in order for them to fit seamlessly. It was weird, but it was so satisfying to watch my wordcount jump almost 10k in one day.

Now, because I’m dealing with a whole new animal of a book and I no longer have an outline to work with, I’m writing little by little to get it done. I went back to what worked for me as a new writer: just getting 1,000 words a day, Monday through Friday. It’s helping me gradually figure out what this book is about and where it’s going and what the characters’ motivations are.

That’s a big one: what do the characters want? I’m doing something different with this book than I’ve ever done before: I’m letting the teenagers act like teenagers. So often, YA books have us following the most ethical and morally centered people but really, when you were a teenager were you completely altruistic? Were you the most self-less, self-sacrificing person? Or did you some times fanaticize about what you would do if you had magical powers and maybe those fantasies weren’t for the greater good? Maybe they were petty and self-serving? Yeah, because that’s realistic.

I remember seeing Village of the Dammed with a friend and on our way home, in the backseat of my parents’ car, we talked about who we would use those powers on. Creepy, sure, but you have enemies in school and you think about winning your battles.

So I’m keeping that in mind as I write. And it’s kinda freeing and a little strange. Of course the characters are evolving but it’s nice to let them use their powers how Nancy used hers and not seeing them as the bad guy.

But, because I’m taking it slow, I’m giving myself the time and space I need to think about what’s coming next instead of seeing the whole story arc and that’s been kind of cool. I’ve kept up the practice of writing scenes on new documents and adding them to the book and it’s been a huge help getting my daily word goals.

When you have a document that’s over 80k words, watching your word count slowly creep up can be distracting, but if you have a fresh document open and tell yourself you just need 1,000 words, the word count tracker looks like you’re going much faster. Yesterday I was able to sit and get 1700+ words in one session and that was after a very bad night’s sleep. Which also means that I’m ahead of my weekly goal, so I can either keep going to get extra words, or I can give myself time away from writing to think about what’s coming next.

It’s been really nice taking the pressure off. Minimum word goals sometimes feel like you’re not doing enough but small goals are easier to achieve and eventually a bunch of small goals will add up to the main, major goal: a finished first draft.

So, you all knew me as the prolific writer who could normally do 3-5k words a day once I had a book idea fleshed out, but now I’m back to that 1k words a day, slowly but surely pace. I hope, if you’re like the rest of us comparing your accomplishments and abilities to others, and have felt like you’re not doing enough, knowing that we all have to change and adapt will give you some peace. It certainly has given me some.

Do You Re-Read Before Watching?

The big deal in the book world (at the moment) is the Netfilx adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s awesome series, Shadow and Bone.

I was lucky enough to discover this series early on and even got to meet Leigh at the Burbank Library just at the release of the second book in the series. And let me tell you, that author event was NOTHING compared to the release of the third book in the series when the events became actual spectacles like, at The Last Bookstore, where there were passed hors d’oeuvres by waiters dressed in Russian-inspired garb.

The library event was much more intimate, Leigh had more time to talk to those present and even do selfies with those of us brave enough to ask. Let me just say, as nice as Leigh seems online, she is better in person. She really is kind, approachable, and funny. If you get the chance to meet her, do it.

Blurry because my hand was shaking from fangirling when she complimented my jacket after I complimented her pants.

But, back to the series adaptation.

I think most readers are a mixture of excited and nervous when our favorite stories are picked up for screen adaptations. We love getting lost in these books, we love being transported somewhere different, we love imagining joining these characters on their adventures, so getting to see, hear, and experience them in a new medium is great! But what if they get it wrong? What if they edit too heavily? What if they pick an actor that doesn’t fit the character? What if what if what if!

I used to be the kind of reader who was very critical of adaptations when they strayed too far from the source material. After all, if the book was good enough to get optioned and make it to screen, why change it? And I had to really adjust my way of thinking in order to truly enjoy these new interpretations.

Because, that’s really what an adaptation is, an interpretation.

And, if you look at it that way, it makes it easier to let go of your need for something to be perfectly translated. Hunger Games did a great job of following closely to the source material. But as the Harry Potter films went on, they started to deviate and edit, much to the chagrin of longtime fans.

I remember staying up late into the night to finish reading Beautiful Creatures before seeing the movie the next day. The source material was so fresh in my mind that I knew every single detail they changed, both small and huge. It was incredibly frustrating trying to enjoy the movie because I kept focusing on how different it was from the book–and it was incredibly different. I think that was the last time I read something right before watching it.

I told myself, it’s not the book. And they can’t get every omnipresent detail in a movie like they can in the narration of a book. So they have to leave some stuff out and sometimes that means making changes. So it’s not an exact duplicate of a story, but instead, an interpretation.

So, if you’re wondering, no, I haven’t mainlined Shadow and Bone yet. I’ve watched the first episode and then decided to save the rest. My husband and I are getting our second vaccine shots Friday afternoon and have already planned a whole weekend of nothing just to be safe so I decided it was best to save the show as something to keep us on the couch while we deal with possible side-effects.

And no, I haven’t re-read the books. I thought about it, but there’s been enough distance in my mind from when I first read them, that the show will be something totally new for me. I will admit, I am already disappointed by one casting choice–not because I don’t like the actor or think they aren’t a good actor, but because they don’t look like what I had in my mind (no, not Alina) and so it’s already coloring my opinion, the last thing I want is to re-read these books I so enjoyed just to sit and nit-pick at the show. I want to just enjoy the show as a separate part of this universe.

I don’t know if I always wont re-read before something makes it to screen, but I know I have had a much more enjoyable time with shows and movies now that I don’t.

So, do you re-read before you watch an adaptation? Or do you wait and see what it brings to its literary universe?

Adapting as a Writer

When I first started writing books I never outlined. I tried to outline my first book and found that, once it was outlined, I couldn’t get into the rhythm of writing the actual narration of the story.

It was incredibly frustrating and I felt like I couldn’t write. My lifelong dream of being a writer, going to college to learn how to be a writer, all my lofty goals would never be achieved because I couldn’t understand how to write.

Then I read a blog post by an author I loved at the time, she was a very prolific writer so I figured she knew what she was doing, and she said she wasn’t an outliner. She explained that she was a “pantser,” or “pantster” if you prefer, which meant she had an idea for the book and then just wrote freely, or “by the seat of her pants.” As she explained it, once she outlined a book it was as if her brain decided she’d already written the story and lost all sense of urgency to get the story down on paper. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Maybe I wasn’t an outliner either. So I tried it her way. I was able to write my first three and half books that way. I wrote so much so fast, it was incredible. It really was like I was flying/writing by the seat of my pants. I’d found a key that fit my writer lock and I was so happy and relieved.

Then my hard drive became corrupted and ate tens of thousands of words from my fourth book. I was devastated to say the least. A magical IT guy recovered some of the lost work but I did have to rewrite a lot of what was lost and I had to try to remember what I’d written (I have multiple redundancies of back ups now–a hard lesson learned) and I started making notes, which turned into a very loose outline. And, thanks to those bullet point notes, I finished that book in record time.

So, when I started book five, I tried to outline again. And I found I was a new kind of writer. I started outlining books, long-form, by hand. But the incredible thing was, I didn’t lose my need to tell the story again. Instead I found it easier to leave off for a couple of days and come back and pick up where I left off. I didn’t need to remember all my cool ideas because they were all written down, waiting for me. And I learned I didn’t have to hold exactly to the outline, I could spin out and come back to it. Like an anchor in a storm.

Then, if you’ve been reading our blogs for a while, you know I burned out and took a break from writing. Then the pandemic happened and my life blew up, and I only started writing again very recently. And this book has been entirely different than all my other books.

I’ve worked with an outline with it and then, when I ran out of outline, I’ve pantsed some of it, and then inspiration struck and I got all these incredible plot twist ideas that made me realize I needed to change the whole book. That last bit meant that I needed to add whole scenes and characters to the book. Personally I’m the kind of writer who starts at the start and moves forward, in one document, until I reach the end, then I’ll go back and add/edit later. I never work backwards. But not with this book. Because I’ve had such a paradigm shift with the story of this book. I knew I needed to work through those missing scenes. I tried to just go forward, telling myself I’d fix the first half of the book later, but as soon as I wrote a line referencing the change in the story I knew I needed the ground work.

So I started opening new docs. As you can see I’ve written a few scenes like this.

It’s kind of strange. I feel a little like I’m making a quilt or puzzle pieces that I’m going to fit together later. I’m not even sure where these scenes will go, but I knew I needed them written so, as I write the second half of the book, I have memories of these scenes to build upon. I don’t even know what to call this style of writing.

I will say, I am not a huge fan of it. I like to watch my word counts jump when I’m done for the day and this makes it feel like I’m not doing as much work. But I am. I know I am. One pro is that I can see I’ve hit my daily count much easier than doing the math . Another pro is that it does fee like I’m hitting small milestones so I can feel al sense of accomplishment that way. And I know, once I’m satisfied I’ve written all the missing scenes to pull the book together, when I got to copy and paste those scenes into the main document I’ll feel a huge amount of gratification when I watch my wordcount jump over 5 figures.

It’s just different.

And this far into the game it’s kinda weird to realize you can change your writing style again. So, if you’re new to writing, or old hat but finding you’re struggling to figure out how to do this thing called writing, maybe you just haven’t found your style yet. Sometimes a book is first person, sometimes it’s better in third. Sometimes you need an in-depth, thorough outline, sometimes you just need to write a scene that’s burst into your mind without knowing where it’s going.

Just like a story can evolve as the characters move through the plot, you as a writer can evolve as you get further into your career. You just have to figure out what is going to work for you at this point in your career and learn to adapt if one way of doing things isn’t working for you. All that matters is figuring out what gets the story written. Outline or pantsing. Morning sessions or nighttime. Small goals every day, or big wordcounts once or twice a week. There is no one way to write a book and you can learn from other writers so you don’t lose hope.