On Also Being Stuck

For this post, I wanted to pick up on the same themes of Liv’s previous post.

I’m finding myself a bit stuck as well.

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I’ve been working on the second draft of my latest manuscript THE BREWMANCER, and honesty’s it’s been brutal. I’m basically rewriting the entire first half from scratch and reworking most of the flashback interludes scattered through the book. I made some major changes to the plot when I was about two-thirds of the way through and now I’m paying the price.

While it’s tough going now, I still think the changes were for the best. The original ending – which is now sort of in the middle – was really depressing and involved the death of a major character and the bad guys winning. I’ve said before that I love a good Bad Ending, but this one was a little too Bad. And it wasn’t the right ending for what this story had become. The new ending features a victory for a our protagonists, but still with a cliffhanger to hook for the next installment.

It’s definitely a better ending, a quite frankly, I was having trouble coming up with enough plot to fill the space between the beginning and the originally ending. Moving that to the middle really helped, because it provided a catalyst for the action in the new second half. That said, all of the rewriting has me bogged down. I’ve had to rework a lot of the relationships plotted out originally and some of the major character arcs as the books morphed over the course of its completion.

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I want to make this manuscript work, but this is probably the hardest second draft I’ve done.  A lot of that has to do with the fact I’ve learned over the course of three manuscripts you can’t just wing it on your redrafts. And believe me, I’ve just winged on a couple of them. When I’ve done that before, I ended up with disjointed and poorly edited stories afterwards. I know now the what work needs to be done and it needs to be done right.

And maybe that’s why it’s so hard this time – I know how much work it’s already been and how much more there is to go. There’s a small voice in my head as I slog through these revisions that whispers every so often:

Is this worth it?

Sometimes I wonder for a moment if it really is.

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Then I remember years of work I’ve put into this craft. If I quit now, that would have all been for nothing. Then I remember all the people I’ve seen celebrating on social media on their Book Birthdays. If I quit now, I’ll never get to see my own Book Birthday.

Social media can be a big help on this front. Seeing friend’s progress and succeed is a driver. I’d be lying if a bit of professional jealousy at seeing other writers make book deals, hit the bestseller list, etc wasn’t a motivating factor too. But my biggest driver from social media is successful authors who have celebrated a half dozen or so Book Birthdays talk about their struggles. No matter how many times you hit the NYT Bestsellers List, there’s still a ton of work that goes into writing and rewriting that next book.  That fact could be just as daunting for an established, successful author is inspirational. For me it, shows that I’m not just struggling alone, that other writers, prolific and praised ones, aren’t just whizzing from book to book without a care.

It means I’m doing something right.

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So I’m going to keep pluggin along, wading through these edits as I try to make this a coherent story. It’s going to take longer than I thought it would, and that’s okay. The work will be worth it in the end.

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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Shameless Self-Promotion/New Release

If you’ve been following me on other outlets then you know I’ve been working on the very first companion novel to my Ash & Ruin Trilogy. I’ve turned it into a full-fledged book with a full cast of characters, some of whom will get their own spin-off books. And this one ended up earning a TBC ending even though I really intended for it to be a one off.

Books. Whadda gonna do, right?

Anyway, this baby drops in just under twenty days on 4/25/17 and you can pre-order your ebook copy now at all the outlets. If you’re a paper book person, never fear, this will be released in paperback as well!

So, are you ready to see it?

At fifteen years old, Gwen’s world has ended. Not because she’s gone through a break-up. Not because her parents are ruining her life with a lame curfew. Not because her grades are struggling. Not in the way a fifteen-year-old’s life usually ends.

At fifteen years old, Gwen has burned the dead bodies of both her parents and fortified her home against the plague-spreading monsters who killed them, waiting for her sister, Maggie, to make her way back home in the apocalyptic landscape that is the world now.

At fifteen years old, Gwen’s world has ended, but she’s not giving up. She’s not giving up on life, her home, or her sister. Because all you have left when the world ends is hope, so that’s what she’s got, a BB gun and hope.

Hopefully it’ll be enough.

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(It, along with all of my other books, are available on all of Amazon’s sites, but there are so many to list, so just do a quick search for it and you’ll find it!)

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?

Write With Your Nose

A fellow writer recently shared a pretty hilarious online word generator, called “What Does Your Hero Smell Like?” When you enter the name of a protagonist or love interest, it automatically generates a unique smell just for them. Some gems for my characters included Sunder, who smelled like “meat and luck” (ewwww), and Rogan, “clean sheets and wreckage” (I…kind of…like that one). The generator is obviously supposed to be humorous, but it got me thinking a little more critically about how I use the sense of smell in my writing.

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If you’ve been writing for long, you’ve probably heard advice about how to write with all five senses. But in my experience, not all senses get top billing. Sight is the obvious leader, with hearing, touch, taste and smell trailing somewhere behind. Every sense deserves to be explored to fully paint a picture of whatever story you’re trying to tell, but in my opinion, the olfactory senses hold a special place in a writer’s arsenal.

Due to the anatomy of the human brain, smell is actually closely linked to memory, more so than any other sense. (Here’s an interesting article in Psychology Today about the effect, if you’re interested to know more!) Smells are basically encoded onto our memories, so that revisiting certain smells can directly trigger those precise memories. “Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences,” author, poet, and naturalist Diane Ackerman writes in her book, A Natural History of the Senses. And, for better or for worse, odors also elicit the emotions buried within those specific memories. A smell can just as easily bring back a happy memory as it can trigger something traumatic.

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So, how can you use this in your writing? The possibilities are endless, so be creative! On a  basic level–and in conjunction with the other four senses–observing ambient smells in a story can flesh out the setting. But go a little deeper. Smells can be a fantastic way to introduce flashbacks for character development–anything from the whiff of an old lover’s cologne to the scent of wood-smoke on the air to a grandmother’s dryer sheets can bring back important memories. Smells can also evoke different places and different times for POV characters, introducing the possibility of foreshadowing and/or parallel structure. When employing the objective correlative, the odors noticed by a character in a certain situation can reflect how they themselves are perceiving the world around them.

And finally, although most of us modern humans go out of our way to cover up our natural scents with deodorant, perfume, and cologne, individuals do have individual physical scents. And whatever that odor might be–nasty or nice, pungent or pleasant–finding a way to describe your fictional character’s personal smell can go a long way towards accentuating their personality, and defining their place in the world.

Please, just don’t let it be “meat and luck!”

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English Majors Unite!

The other day there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter. I know, quelle surprise!

A very successful writer was asked for a bit of advice from a young fan as a new English Major.

The writer’s response? English Major = “Do you want fries with that?”

I mean.

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She told the fan to get a degree in something that would get them a lucrative job and write on the side.

Yeah. Sure. Some people totally do that. But to completely belittle the fan’s already chosen path while also tearing down the service industry? REALLY?

You won’t be surprised to find out that I, myself, was an English Major. I have a loverly BA in English with a concentration on Creative Writing. A major I created myself because it didn’t exist at my school at the time. I was very lucky that my adviser was also the department chair at the time so getting it approved wasn’t quite the battle it could have been.

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I am damn proud of my degree. I have both dyslexia and dyscalculia. Believe me, getting dyslexia under control has been much easier than my dsycalculia–there was no way I was going to be a math or science or business major. But guess what? As a self-published writer, I am running my own business. My husband also runs his own business, but I also help with that. I run the office for both of us. And my degree helped me, believe it or not.

English degrees teach you critical thinking, creative solutions, and so much more.

Now, do you need an English Degree to be a writer? Of course not. I know many writers who are also something else. Writing isn’t paying the bills just yet for them. But it might some day.

Did I need an English Degree to be a writer? To be a good one, yes.

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I can say with a little confidence that I had “raw talent” when I was younger. When I got to be creative with my English assignments, I always did well. I actually remember my senior English AP teacher writing “I can’t wait to see what happens next!” on a paper I turned in. It was an amazing feeling. I really thought I could write. I thought I was a good story teller.

Then I went to college.

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I had professors who were published novelists and playwrights and poets.

And they let me know raw talent wasn’t enough then and it wouldn’t be enough in the future. They tore my papers apart. I had one professor (the aforementioned adviser) who knew I was turning in the first drafts of papers and would automatically deduct a full letter grade because of it. I went to him, demanding to know why I kept getting B’s on my papers and he told me. He told me even if the paper was an A on the first try, that just told him the second try would be that much better.

My poetry was ridiculous. It was flowery and vague, like I didn’t want my reader to know what I was talking about. My professor shredded my poems until I learned to paint a damn picture that he could see.

I am the writer I am today because of the lessons those professors gave me. It was well worth the time and money. Maybe I would have gotten to that point as an English Minor, or just taking a couple of classes for fun, who knows? But I know being an English Major changed my life and I am damn grateful for it.

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Do you need to be an English Major to be a successful writer? Of course not. Or maybe you do. None of us are the same. Some of us need the instruction, some of us don’t. Some of us will write a NYT bestseller in our 20s and others will do so in their golden years. You are special and different and need to decide what is right for you. Don’t let some random person–even if they are a NYT bestseller themselves–tell you what is the right path for you.

Oh, by the way, I was a waitress all through college. It was the most thankless, degrading job I’ve ever had and I worked in insurance after college. Never tear down the service industry. Customers are assholes and service industry people are overworked and treated like shit every day. Everyone should have to wait tables on Mother’s day, or run a cashier over the holidays. People would be far, far nicer and learn some damn manners.

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Now. Thanks to that English degree, I’m putting out my 16th novel (under this name), and it is up for pre-order now! If you were a fan of my Ash & Ruin Trilogy, this is a companion novel, maybe you’d like to take a peek?

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