On Being Stuck

The subtitle of this post should be: thoughts on how to regain forward motion.

Here’s the thing. In the last year, I’ve finished two books with my co-writer Irene Preston and a novella set in that same world. Before I edited this paragraph, the line read “I’ve only finished…” but I took the “only” out, because a novel and two novellas are definite accomplishments. In fact, you’re probably thinking I should be happy with three completed projects, and I am.

It’s just that I could have done more.

 

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In between the finished novel/novellas, I sliced and diced an old project, trying to make it work better, and began two other stories, only to stall out every time.

That’s a lot of crap, lemme check Facebook to see if I can shake something loose.

Those stories I fizzled out on? One is almost 200 pages long, and the other is just over 100 pages. (That’s double spaced, 12-font TNR, ~ 300 words a page.) The old project I fiddled with is even longer. My point is, I’ve invested a fair amount of time, creativity, and emotion into each of these and I don’t want to see all that energy go to waste.

Any time you’re doing something creative, false starts are part of the game. I’ll get an idea, slap it down on the page, and see what comes of it. I’ve got several of those; two or three thousand words sketching out a main character along with some bullet points regarding the plot, the kind of thing I can throw together in an afternoon, then set aside to see if anything roots.

But you figure if – at best – I write 5000 words a week, it probably took me 3 months to get to 200 pages. That’s too much for me to toss aside, and while I’m one of those writers who loves the process of editing, I can’t fix what isn’t on the page.

So now you know a couple of my dirty secrets. I give up too easily and then whine about it.

Oh, and to complicate matters, I’m doing Camp NaNo this month, the abbreviated spring version of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I committed to writing 20,000 words in the month of April. I’m at 17,600 words with three days left, which means I need to get one of these projects moving again.

 

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Basically I made this post in the hopes I’d find a way out of this pickle.  I did a google search for “how to get unstuck fiction writing”, and in the interest of helping others in the same situation, I want to share some of what I learned.

The author of an article on The Center for Fiction website said her blocks usually come from not knowing the characters well enough. She recommended doing some free writing from the main character’s point of view, asking them why they’re so pissed off. (That’s not as crazy as it might sound. Jump HERE for the full post.)

An article on the website thinkitcreative.com also recommended focusing on the characters to move the plot forward. The author here suggested working on the backstory to get insights into what could happen next. One of their ideas involved going to an online dating site to get a list of questions for the characters to answer, which kind of cracks me up, but just might work. (Jump HERE for the complete post.)

I also liked an article on the Writers Digest website, because it recommended brainstorming “what could happen next”, then choosing the option the reader is least likely to expect. The article’s second bullet point was even more succinct:

Kill someone.

Heh. Yeah. That’d definitely shake things up.

Finally, they suggested meditation, to let your mind go quiet and see what ideas wander in.  “Stillness is the native language of creativity, yet it’s astonishing how we try to avoid silence.” (Jump HERE for the full article.)

So yeah, maybe I’m not really stuck. Maybe I’m just giving my ideas more time to blossom.

Or maybe I should spend less time on Facebook, and more time exploring. I’m going to go walk the dogs and see what I can come up with. If you’ve got ideas for how to move through a block, share them in the comments. Would love to learn from you!

 

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The Great Reading Challenge 2017 Edition!

I really don’t read as much as I should. With my day job, writing my own stuff, other life things and ALSO HOW AMAZING TV IS RIGHT NOW AND ALSO ALSO HOW WERE REWATCHING LOST there’s a whole bunch of other things pulling at my limited attention.

That said, Kristin challenged me to a reading contest this year – 12 books in 12 months. And I’m not one to say no to A CHALLENGE. This might not seem like a lot, but for someone who’s reading time is basically their lunch break and whenever he can fit in an hour at night, it’s something.

Now that the first quarter of 2017 is about to wrap, I thought I’d look back at the books I’ve read so far this year (they’ve all been pretty great thankfully) and share a few quick thoughts with all of you. Most of these are from the ol’ TBR pile, which was due for a much needed culling (I’ve added 50 more books to the List since I started writing this post).

Fifth SeasonTHE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin

This book won a Hugo Award, so you know it’s probably pretty good. In a world ravaged by cataclysms called Seasons, a woman seeks vengeance for the death of her son, traveling across a vast wasteland to find his killer. Spanning three different timelines, it’s a story of people with the ability to quell or create earthquakes, volcanoes and and other seismic events. To begin or end the Seasons.

The worldbuilding in this book is incredible, there’s a rich backstory to the culture and history of the world that’s explored in each of the timelines. There’s even a catalogue of the various Seasons in the supplemental material in the back. The characters were pretty well developed too, but it was the world and its history that was the big selling point for me.

 

Every MountainEVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW by Alex White

Alex is a great dude. He was a potential mentor  for me when I entered Pitch Wars a couple years ago and we got to meet and hang out at World Fantasy Conference last year. He’s also a hell of a writer and this book, his debut, proves it.

The story follows Loxley Fiddleback (what a name!!!), a strange young woman who can see ghosts, as she traverses the dangers of a multi-tiered city called The Hole. One part ghost story, one part murder mystery, one part journey of self discovery, this book is a rollercoaster of an urban fantasy. Loxley is one of the most intriguing main characters I’ve read in a long time. Her personality is so unique and original and Alex really nailed her character arc.

 

DevourersTHE DEVOURERS by Indra Das

I actually got an ARC of this in my World Fantasy grab-bag last year. I was excited to see it in there, as I had heard good things and the cover art is AMAZING.

The book was pretty interesting and unlike most fantasy I usually read. It follows a professor in modern day India who is tasked with recording and translating an ancient scroll acquired from a mysterious stranger. The professor falls for the stranger while discovering that he is a shapeshifter who has lived for centuries traveling the globe.

The book had a really unique take on the werewolf/shapeshifter mythos, and what it means to be human. There’s also some very insightful musing about the nature of gender and the fluitiy of gender roles. This book also had some of the most beautfil prose I’ve ever read with deep, vivid descriptions. Admittedly, I thought it did go a little overboard with the purple prose, but for the most part was an enchanting read.

Best & Brightest.jpgTHE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST by David Halberstram

I used to read a lot of nonfiction, most politics and economic stuff. I dropped off after a while to focus more on fiction because that’s what I was writing. THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST is one of the most acclaimed books about foreign policy and political statecraft. This book is about the Kennedy administration and how the US got into the Vietnam War. It’s cautionary tale about the hubris of political experts and the death of common sense in policymaking. I’ve only just started it, and it is a BEAST of a book in terms of length and density. I’ll probably read it in quarters and tag in a fiction book here and there.

It’s also one of Steve Bannon’s (you may have heard of him) favorite books and one that he’s apparently having everyone in the White House read. While subject matter is very interesting to me, I think this book will also give important insight into the mind of the man who is the architect of much of the current administration’s policies.

So what have you all read so far this year or what do have planned to finally cross off the TBR?

How Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Feminism Influenced Guinevere

That may be the oddest blog title I’ve ever written.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the society and culture around us impacts the work we produce as writers. What got me on this train of thought? Well, I’m working on a non-fiction book on the evolution of the character of Guinevere in literature from the Welsh triads through my own novels. My thesis is that each version of Guinevere reflects the society in which and for which she was written.

And this is true of my own version. I started writing her in 1999. The 1990s, especially the late 90s, were a time when women were coming into their own in pop culture. It’s the time that started what we now call “Third Wave Feminism.” (Buffy has even been cited at as Third Wave Feminist Icon by The Atlantic.) Here’s the brief timeline:

  • The original Buffy the Vampire Slayer film (still my favorite) debuted in August 1992.
  • A novelization by Joss Whedon came a few months later (I read it like five times and still own it. I have the soundtrack on cassette, too. Obsessed much?)
  • The TV show ran from  1997-2003.
  • The show was continued on in graphic novels for two more seasons, but that’s really beyond the scope of this post.

Anyway, Buffy was really the first kick-ass female character in pop culture that I can remember. We had female superheros before (She-ra for example), but Buffy was the first woman to be both physically awesome without traditional superpowers (thought you could argue that The Slayer’s super-strength and quick self-healing abilities are superpowers) and by the end of the movie, have some depth and agency. No, Buffy would never be considered a genius – that’s what Willow and Giles are for – but especially by the time the TV show started, she had a bit of a brain and was realizing she could make her own choices, even though her overall fate as The Slayer wasn’t up to her. And the fact that she got more intelligent and strategy savvy as the series went on is even better.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but seeing (and personally embracing) this female icon left a lasting impression on my psyche. Maybe it helped that Buffy also coincided with my time at an all-girls high school (where we were taught be strong women), but regardless, I came to writing my Guinevere knowing I wanted her to be able to kick some ass like Buffy, something I hadn’t seen reflected in the Arthurian legend I’d read to that point. Plus, it is historically accurate for Celtic women, although possibly not as late as post-Roman Britain where/when my story is set.

In many ways, I think the physical toughness is related to a desire to no longer be repressed by or dependent on men. My Guinevere – the Guinevere of a new generation, if you will – was not going to be raised to sit around and await her husband to usher her into a new era of life. As a “self-rescuing princess,” she forged her own life away from and outside of her parents. Even later on, when she was subject to father’s legal control over her, Guinevere did what she could to live the life she, not her father, chose for her. Like Buffy, she eventually had to face the role destiny had in store for her, and like Buffy, she accepted what she couldn’t control and made the best of it with strength and determination. And if she kicked a little ass along the way (more so in the second and third books than the first), so much the better.

There is also an interesting tie between Buffy and the 1990s fascination with all things Wicca. During that decade, the movie The Craft (or, as many Wiccans call it, The Crap, for the lack of realism in its portrayal of their religion) was an introduction to the neo-pagan religion and/or goddess movement for many young people. Entire sections of Borders and Barnes and Noble bookstores were dedicated to books on witchcraft, and you couldn’t swing a cat (pun intended) without hitting a New Age Store in most major towns. (I am sad that this is no longer the case. Ahem.) Buffy has obvious ties to the supernatural (not to mention more than one Wiccan character) and it’s popularity was due in part to the culture of openness regarding all things mystical and occult.

What does this have to do with Guinevere? Well, in that same period of occult fascination, I chose to break the mold and give Guinevere a role that has been heretofore reserved for Morgan: that of priestess. This is important because traditionally in literature one of the few powerful female characters was the witch (also known as the priestess). By whatever name you call her, the priestess/witch, wields power on her own – no male intermediaries here – and uses her magic to get what she wants out of life. She also often has pre-cognitive abilities or other powers that threaten those in charge of society. In addition, witches have their covens or groves, in which they join together to become more powerful and use this community to train the young and protect the weak. For these reasons (among others) she is often viewed as a force that must be stopped. In Guinevere’s case, she has the sight, learns to manipulate the elements, and lives for a time in Avalon (which functions like a coven). For a long time she has no negative repercussions, but we all know one of the iconic images of Arthurian legend is Guinevere’s rescue from the stake…

(A powerful woman who says what she wants, does what she wants, and stands up for other women – and is persecuted for it – why does that sound familiar? Oh wait, that’s me reflecting on the culture of 2016-2017.)

In the end, Buffy saved the world (a lot), but not without sacrifice. While I can’t promise Guinevere will do the same, she was molded by the same cultural forces, so no matter how her story turns out (and only I know for certain), you can bet she won’t end her days moldering away in a convent, subject to the whims of men. Not while this Buffy fan still breathes.

My Muse: New Orleans

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Last week we had an adventure. (“We” meaning me and the family.) We spent the week in New Orleans, and I’ll tell you what, I love that city. I love the history. I love the people. I love that there are so many layers and nooks and crannies and things to play with – especially when it comes to writing.

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Urn at Lafayette No. 1

Plot bunnies are easy, you know? I pretty regularly stumble over ideas that could make a decent story. Some you’ll get to read, but most never get off the dream list. The tricky part is figuring out the right setting, the one place that’ll make the story pop.

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Paddle wheeler on the Mighty Mississippi

I have to really know a place before I can write about it. (Ask me how much fun I had writing the swamp scenes in Bonfire since I’ve never spent any time in a swamp. Or maybe ask Irene how much fun she had *correcting* my misapprehensions in those scenes. There are no hills, or rocks, apparently.) I have to be able to capture the truth of a place, or some facet of that truth, to make the story believable. To do that, I tend to set my stories in one of three cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, or New Orleans.

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This house in the Garden District inspired Thaddeus Dupont’s First St. house.

Seattle’s a no-brainer because I’ve lived here for most of my life. Maybe because of that, I take the romance of the place for granted. That said, I have an upcoming super-secret project that’s set here. (More about that later!)

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Ready for a parade on St. Charles Avenue last week!

I choose Los Angles for stories because, like New Orleans, it has all kinds of angles I can work with. I don’t think anyone could capture all of L.A. in a single sentence, or even a single book. Because of that, it’s unfortunately possible to set a story there and turn it into Anytown, Anywhere, USA. It’s just so much better if you drop in a few details to bring the place alive.

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Staircase to choir loft at St. Mary’s Church – Ursuline Convent – NOLA. Imagine climbing those steps in a nun’s habit…

My sister lives in L.A., so when I need some nitty gritty factoid to get to the truth of a story, I’ll try and plan a visit. And if I don’t have the time or money for travel, she’s awesome about brainstorming-by-text. She works in The Industry, so she’s very understanding about my creative craziness.

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French Quarter courtyard.

FWIW, I didn’t have the same kind of connection with New Orleans when I started setting stories there. I’d never visited, didn’t know anyone who lived there, and tbh most of my experience with the place came via Ann Rice’s novels. That’s changed now! Last week was our second visit, and “subletting a French Quarter condo for six months” is now on my bucket list.

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You meet all kinds of people during Carnival!

Thank you for exploring NOLA with me. We had a blast last week, and if you’ve never been to New Orleans, you really must visit someday! Or, you know, you could check out my newest release, Change of Heart. It’s a historical romance set in the French Quarter in 1933, a distant prequel to the two Hours of the Night novels I co-wrote with Irene Preston. I’ll put the blurb and buy links below, just in case. Happy travels!!

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Preacher always said New Orleans was a den of sin, but of course Clarabelle had to see for herself…

A body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

Change of Heart is an Hours of the Night story, an early prequel to Vespers and Bonfire. It’s not a paranormal, but a certain vampire may have a role…

Find Change of Heart on Goodreads HERE

Available for a special pre-order price of $0.99!!

Amazon  /  Barnes & Noble  /  Kobo  /  iTunes  /  More Stores

AND, make sure you enter the giveaway to celebrate Change of Heart’s release!

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It’s My Birthday, I’ll Blog If I Want To

Happy Imbolc/Candlemas/Groundhog Day, folks! And guess what? It also happens to be the anniversary of the day I, uh, drifted peacefully into this wide, weird, wonderful world! So I thought I’d take a few minutes away from stuffing my face full of cake and screaming my head off obsessively reading the news to share a little of what’s been going on with me!

giphy1Birthdays for me are always a time of reflection, and sometimes I get moody when I think of all the things I didn’t manage to do in the past calendar year. But today, I’d like to celebrate the things I have done. It’s been a pretty full year of working and writing and reading, but I’ve also managed to squeeze in some fun trips, pursue some health and fitness goals, and even carve out some headspace when necessary. (Recently, that’s been a lot.)

One of the highlights of my year was definitely a vacation to Scotland. The husband and I rented a rustic cottage on the Isle of Mull, way out in the Inner Hebrides, just across the bay from Iona, where Dark Age monks famously protected the Book of Kells from the Vikings. The landscape was absolutely stunning, with iron-dark tors draped in purple heather and grey fog. When the sun peeked from behind clouds the ocean sparkled blue as a sapphire. We hiked and rambled, visited a few distilleries, and ate our collective weight in shortbread. Leaving was like saying goodbye to an old friend you never knew you had, and we hope to visit again as soon as we can. *rustles around in the couch cushions for spare change*

16466223_10110227003544731_104815964_oOn the writing front, in early Autumn of last year I completed the millionth final draft of my latest YA fantasy novel, AMBER & DUSK. Set in a world where the sun never sets, a young woman with a mysterious bloodline wagers for a place at court, only to be tangled in a courtly web of cunning courtiers and predatory royals. Sylvie struggles to master her magical gift while dodging cruel pranks, vicious insults, and possible disgrace. And as beautiful as the palais seems, its mirrored hallways, winter gardens, and gilded marble are nothing more than a mirage to hide a brutal past and deadly secrets.

photofunkyMy agent loved it! …And we’ve been in query hell ever since. But it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and I really hope I’ll be able to share it with the world soon. If you’re curious to know more, I hope you’ll check out my Pinterest inspo board for a feel of the world’s aesthetic.

Since then, I’ve been working on a YA standalone romance that I’m tentatively billing as a Celtic fairytale retelling of Swan Lake. It’s pretty different from anything I’ve written before, with a moody vibe, a contemplative pace, and a very small cast. It’s been excruciating snail-like slow going these past few months, but I’m hoping to hit my stride again soon and crank out the first draft!

giphyAnd the rest is just little things! I’ve finished a few short stories, cobbled together from the odds and ends of books I never ended up writing. I’m hoping to shop them around soon. I’m contemplating a complete facelift of my main author website, Lyra Selene, but am utterly terrified since I can’t computer. If you or anyone you know is a regular programming whiz kid drop me a line…I’ll make you an offer you will probably refuse. And finally, I have some exciting–but still nascent–news I hope to share soon, so keep your eyes peeled and I promise to keep you posted…before my next birthday!

The Re-Release of Change of Heart

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Happy January! I hope you all survived the Holiday Hoedown and are ready for a brand new year. I will confess that I’m finding some of the elements of 2017 more exciting than others.

(*stifles political rant*)

Yeah, um, so okay. One thing I’m really looking forward to is the re-release of my novella Change of Heart. I wrote it last spring for an limited-run anthology, and now I’m self-publishing it on March 1st. So yeah, I’m excited!

I’ve had the cover art tucked away since early last summer, and as much as I wanted to show it to everyone, I also wanted to do a proper cover reveal. That happened yesterday on The Novel Approach. I showed it off there, and now I can show it off here! See?

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Ta da!!! Isn’t it pretty?

Since this is a re-release, there are readers out there who may already have Change of Heart on their kindles. The thing that’s different, though, is that they may also have had the chance to read Vespers, the m/m vampire story I co-wrote with Irene Preston. I wrote Change of Heart in the middle of editing Vespers, and a certain vampire basically walked right onto the page.

I’m calling Change of Heart an Hours of the Night story, even though it’s NOT a contemporary and NOT a paranormal like Vespers & Bonfire. It *is* set in 1933 New Orleans, and it tells the story of Clara, a young woman who leaves the Oklahoma dust to find love in the French Quarter. Here, check out the blurb…

Preacher always said New Orleans was a den of sin, so of course Clarabelle had to see for herself…

A body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

~*~

Change of Heart is a story about secret identities – because the vampire’s not the only one – and about finding your true self. The romantic pairing is different than the other Hours of the Night stories, because instead of m/m, Change of Heart is f/trans-f. {f = female, and if I explain much more it’ll take away some of the surprise.}

I’ve put Change of Heart on sale for $0.99 from now through the first week of the release. If you’ve read Vespers, I think it’ll be fun for you to see Thaddeus Dupont before the Church really got ahold of him. And if you haven’t? Maybe you’ll want to after you read Clara’s story. Thanks so much!!

Preorder for $0.99!

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | More Stores

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This year, it’s a killer

So. No one wanted to write this week. We’ve been doing so good with the holidays not screwing up our positing schedule, but this week it was too much.

Twenty-four hours ago we found out that Carrie Fisher, prolific writer, unapologetic badass, mental health hero, General Organa, and destroyer of the patriarchy has become one with the Force.

Ten minutes ago we found out that her mother, beautiful, hilarious, talented, Debbie Reynolds, died of a broken heart, from the pain no parent wants to endure.

After a year of so many profound losses, who would want to write a blog post? Anything would sound pithy and trite.

I know I speak for all of the Scribes when I say our hearts and thoughts are with Billie Lourd at this breathtakingly difficult time and hope that she has the love and support she needs to survive it. And poor little Gary.

It’s difficult to know what to write today. It’s difficult to find words and light when this year, this fucking year, seems to want to steal our childhood heroes and destroy our hope for a better, brighter future.

But Carrie never gave up. Even when she lost her mind, she fought back. So we’ll fight back. We’ll get up, pick up our pens, and we’ll fight.

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And, I don’t know about you, but I am going to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve this year. Just so I can watch this mean sunnovabitch of a year end.

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Now. Excuse me while I go watch Singing in the Rain and hug my dogs.