Calendaring for the Win

CalendarThis has been an off summer for me. Some of that was beyond my control, but enough of it is my own fault that I’ve become too disgusted with myself to continue like this.

As long time readers know, I do best when I’m organized. Check boxes are my friend. To do lists are my friend. Calendars are my friend. And yet, I realized just a few days ago that I’d let all those things slide. I wasn’t making a morning list. I hadn’t drawn an empty box in months. My desktop calendar was still on May.

With growing horror, I looked up at my submissions goal list, taped like an accusation on the wall over my desk. I was behind. Crazy behind. Where-I-should-have-been-in-March behind.

I have attention problems. If I don’t follow a routine, I’m led about by whatever shiny fun-o-matic catches my eye. And I haven’t been following my own tried-and-true writing routines for months. This is why coming up with blog posts has been such a slog. This is why last month’s NaNo was such a painful agony. This is why I have been spending well less than half my daily writing time actually writing. This is why I haven’t edited a single short story, let alone a novel, since last spring. I know what I have to do to keep on my writing goals. But I haven’t been doing those things.

Clearly, it’s time for some better housekeeping. I need quantifiable goals, and I need a finite deadline, and I need a plan for how those two meet. So this week, I sat down and carved out what needs to happen in the following months.

Reassess Goals I still have the goal of forty-eight rejections for the year; I now have less than half the time in which to do it, because if I want the rejections back by the end of the year, I should send them out a good twelve weeks before the end. So instead of a steady rate of six-ish submissions a month, I need to get out the remaining thirty-five submissions for the rest of the year by the end of September, assuming every single one of them is a rejection. I honestly don’t think that’s attainable, but if I can get out twenty-five submissions by the end of September, I’ll be pretty pleased with myself and hustle the last few out (maybe) before NaNoWriMo.

I also have the goals of two new first drafts and two second drafts. I did manage a first draft of Copper, and I started editing Seasong/Sacrifice/Whatever the Heck I’m Calling This Mermaid Thing, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I think sticking with the original goal is a little untenable at this point, especially given how much work I’ll have to put into submissions, so I’ll drop one of the editing goals and shoot for finishing a second draft of the mermaid story and drafting one more new story during NaNo. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and squeeze in that second second draft, but I’ll owe myself a box of cookies or something if I pull that off.

Set Exciting New Goals I have my annual AWG writing conference coming up in mid-September. Even though I’m preeeetty sure I’m not going to find an agent who wants to sit down with me for an hour and go over a five-page document, I would like to prepare a list of blurbs for all my novels with at least a complete first draft- bonus points for the nearly-done partial first drafts as well. I’ll need to finish by the time I leave for the conference, giving me not quite four weeks to come up with five more blurbs and to clean up the eight I already have. Totally do-able.

I also want to work up a blog schedule for the remainder of the year within the next two weeks, with titles and themes for each post- extra points for notes or first/partial drafts. The blog just feels less crazy and stressful (and stupid) when I’m prepared well in advance. Future Jill will thank me.

Streamline Writing Time I have gotten incredibly lazy about this, and this is probably the root of all my writing evils. Writing time is not the time to be playing games, and trawling the bowels of Twitter, and catching up on blogs and articles, and conducting ‘research’ because, gosh, a story with singularity bombs and human augmentation and ticklish lab rats would be really cool. Reading about writing is not writing. Writing is writing. So starting now, writing time is nine to ten-thirty. From nine to ten-thirty, I will only write, even if it means spewing stream of consciousness into the void for an hour and a half. If I have made good progress for the first hour, I can choose to spend the last half hour working on submissions or blog stuff, but for no more than two hours total in a single week. Any more than that will have to happen outside of writing time. In three weeks, I will reassess the situation.

Summon the Kraken Accountabuddies Along with calendaring and, oh I don’t know, goals, another thing I’ve let slide is frequent check ins with my accountability buddies. Summer is a busy time and it’s become hard for all of us to get together for our weekly internet write-ins. (And one of them decided to go and get married this weekend. Geez, so selfish.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t check in with them every now and then on my progress. I mean, we’re friends. It’s not like they’d see my name on their phone screens and roll their eyes to Heaven. (Right, guys? Right?) So I will drop a line or two in Google Chat or text or whatever at least once a week about writing. That is all. It’s easy so, like cleaning my writing time, I shall start this immediately.

*dusts hands together* Voila! A plan! I don’t know how achievable it is. I think the submissions thing is going to kick my butt, if nothing else. But this at least makes it possible, instead of just a looming nightmare cloud hanging over my head. And whether I hit my goals or not, I’m going to keep up with my calendaring, my listing, my check-boxing. They’re my best shot for getting anywhere in all this so I’m only cheating myself if I give them up. (Sorry, Future Jill. [Past Jill, you suck.])

I hope you guys are keeping up with your writing goals for the year so far! Until next time, keep your heads in the clouds and your feet on the ground! Happy writing!

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Culture Shocking Your Characters

confusedWhen we got to Portugal, it became very clear very quickly that I was the family translator. There isn’t much to my linguistic skills to merit that position, but since nobody else had learned how to ask where the bathroom is, and I was decent in the bonus language of French, I was the best we had. And really, I did alright- a lot better than I would have guessed. If I really didn’t know how to say something, most people spoke English, and of those who didn’t, nearly all of them spoke French. I learned pretty quickly that the gender of ‘thank you’ matters, an eyes-low desculpa goes a long way when you’re an idiot, and the price was always lower if I asked in Portuguese first. I was practically a local.

Then we left the tourist towns.

We went to a tiny village called Pias where my great-grandparents emigrated from and up a windy little road to an abandoned clocktower that probably matters to nobody in the world anymore but us. As we were walking around the square in the heat of the day (when every sensible person was inside napping), trying to get every angle possible on this clocktower, we encountered a pair of elderly gentlemen sitting flat against a wall in about three inches of shade.

Confident after a week of touring around the country, I nodded politely and said in my best accent, “Boa tarde.”

They nodded back, returning the greeting.

My mother leaned close to me, clutching pages and pages of our genealogy, and whispered, “Ask them if they live around here.”

“Uh…” I racked my brain, trying to remember how to say it. “Com licença,” I started slowly. Normally a hand talker, I knew it was a little rude to point and wave, so my fingers twisted nervously together instead. “Você… um… vive aqui?”

They answered in rapid Portuguese and nodded down a certain street, and my mom pounced with her papers. She had been dreaming of making this trip for most of her life and we were all a little crazy with excitement at the thought of maybe finding relatives while we were here.

And that’s when the little old lady showed up. She came up behind us, a short wiry thing in a black dress and headscarf, mumbling earnestly about something that sounded really important. She came right up to my mother and put her hand on her arm, still talking without pausing to breathe.

My mom looked at me questioningly and I said to the lady, “Uh… boa tarde. Minha…” I trailed off before I could so much as start into introductions or my family spiel. The lady was still talking. And she kept talking. And I had no idea what she was saying. Next thing I knew, she had taken my mother and I both my our arms and was gently dragging us away from the men, and then pushing us back toward our car, still shaking her head and mumbling.

She did not speak English. She did not speak French. I wasn’t even totally sure she was speaking Portuguese. I was in a place I’d never been, being I think thrown out by a possibly angry old woman, and I couldn’t understand a single word she was saying. I was utterly, completely lost and a tiny panicked voice in my head squeaked, “What am I doing here??” I climbed into the car with a sick knot in my stomach that stuck around for hours.

Culture shock happens. Sometimes it’s months into a trip. Sometimes, like me, it only takes a few days before you get that panicky sense that you have no idea what is going on or what to do about it. (Don’t worry, it faded fast and my best Portugal memories all happened in those tiny towns where hardly anybody spoke English.) If you write a story where a character finds themselves in a new culture, adding moments (or prolonged episodes) of culture shock can deepen and enrich the character and the setting both.

The word I most associate with culture shock is disorientation. Culture shock is that feeling of not knowing what to do or say in a cultural context that is outside of one’s norm. It can be experienced in any transition between one social environment to another (such as starting a job at a new place, visiting a significantly poorer or wealthier part of town, etc), but we most frequently associate it with traveling or moving to a foreign country. And although we usually think of culture shock as happening very soon after entering the new culture (which it certainly can!), it more commonly takes place over several weeks or even months.

Culture shock typically has four stages for your character to adjust through, and how quickly they move through those stages varies person by person. In the honeymoon phase (before the shock sets in), the new culture is seen in a rosy light, and the character communicates mostly with people who speak their language and are friendly to foreigners. In the negotiation phase, that rosiness starts to wear off as the character deals with a wider array of people, and the character may experience anxiety as they start to feel frustrated by the more difficult aspects of cultural transition- differences in food access and quality, differences in hygiene standards, language barrier, commission of cultural faux pas, etc. In the adjustment stage, the character gets more used to the new language, customs, and routines, and things start to make sense. Finally, in the adaptation stage, the character is fully comfortable in the new culture.

What most people think of as ‘culture shock’ is specific to the negotiation phase. Some of the signs we most associate with culture shock include homesickness, communication difficulties, embarrassment, information overload, and nervousness. In more severe cases, the character may withdraw from the new culture, leading to a growing sense of disconnection from the world around them.

People who cannot overcome their culture shock reject the new culture and often leave to try to return to familiar ground. At the opposite extreme, some people become so well adapted as to fully accept all aspects of the new culture and lose all connection to their old culture. But in most cases, people fall somewhere in between, accepting and integrating many aspects of the new culture but also maintaining aspects of the old culture, creating their own blend of the two.

Transitioning between cultures is difficult and can be an interesting element of a character’s arc. Writing culture shock into your stories can not only add a new level of realism to your writing, but can give you more opportunity to show readers what your characters are made of, and the struggles they must overcome.

Happy writing!

Portuguese Sample Settings

I had an emotionally exhausting weekend, so there’s not much room in my brain for creativity right now. Fortunately, this week’s post doesn’t require much, and most of the work was done weeks ago. Here are a few additions to the Sample Settings page, Iberian style.

Moorish Castle Cistern, circa 1000

Coat-of-Arms Room, Royal Palace of Sintra, circa 1700

Lisbon Rooftop at Sunrise

Town Square at Sunset, Moura (this one has snails)

(And in case you missed it, I did eventually put up the prison reception setting as well.)

Hope everyone has a good week. You guys are lovely.

Box of Bones Map

It is late and it is small and it is simple, but here is the promised map. It was a hard month, but I validated yesterday with 71 extra words and about a half hour to spare. If I scrounge up the time for it, I might do another map of the Grey Islands themselves, and another of the known world at large. I also wanted to do some topo lines, or maybe some olde schoole sea monsters lurking around the margins, but tonight is not that night.

Thanks for your patience!

BoB Maps

Box of Bones, Prologue

I am so terrifyingly behind in Camp NaNo right now. D:

But here is the prologue to my project, Box of Bones. I’m not sure it’s a prologue I’m going to keep in the final product, but it’s where I started and it helped me get into the project in the first place. Enjoy!

Prologue

Tiva cleaned the last dish and set it on the rack to dry with the others. The windows were open out onto the cobblestone street below, and the breeze carried in the smells of dust and daffodils. Tiva would miss all this while she was away. It was always the mundane things she missed the most.

Her father was quiet at the kitchen table behind her, staring down at the blue veins of his hands. He had used to argue with her right before she left- oh, how they had fought- but he’d learned it wasn’t worth it. She would keep doing what she did, and there was nothing he could do to stop her. Or at least, there was nothing he was willing to do that would stop her. He knew the thread she walked on in her line of work. It had taken only the smallest misstep for her husband to fall off that thread. Her father wouldn’t risk her falling as well. There were risks enough without his adding to them.

Tiva wiped the table and the counter tops and dried her hands on her apron. She cleaned the lamps and swept the floor, working room to room in their tiny home. She saved the chamberpot for last of all, and then scrubbed her hands with lye soap and the sink water before draining it from the basin and hauling it out to the street. She watered the bright flowers lining her whitewashed wall and then tossed the last of the water down the street, watching the grimy water disappear in the cracks between the sunbaked cobblestones. A lean gray cat darted out of an alley to lap up the water before it disappeared, watching her with amber eyes.

She went back up the stairs, untying her apron, and hung it on a peg inside the kitchen door. She buffed the basin in the kitchen until it shined, brushing her fingers lovingly across the glazed images of the Mother and the Twins.

Everything was done. It was time to leave.

Tiva kissed her father on the top of his bald head, squeezing his shoulder, and he pressed his hand over hers. She rested her cheek against his forehead, staring down at the tabletop with him.“I love you, Papa.”

“Be careful, Tiva.”

“I will. Just a few months and I’ll be back again.” She stepped back, giving him a playful smile as she went for the door. “Don’t kill my flowers.”

She got her bag from her room and went back down the stairs, the wooden steps groaning beneath her heels. She turned up the streets, greeting neighbors she’d known since she was a girl, and went farther and farther from her home, into the parts of town she had always warned her own two children against.

The sun rose higher and shone straight down into the narrow alley. Sweat prickled down her neck and her back, and more and more people retreated into their homes to wait out the afternoon heat. Tiva walked on, her palm sweaty on the handle of the bag. Her belly fluttered with queasiness and she couldn’t quite still her pattering heart. She wasn’t worried. She always got like this before a job, every time. It was nothing to worry about. Just something to live with.

Finally, she reached the grocer’s shop and went down stone steps to the dark cool of the interior.

A man at the counter called to her before her eyes adjusted to the dark. “Tiva, my beauty. How’s that grandbaby of yours?”

Tiva’s face broke into a brilliant smile, her eyes crinkling into merry laugh lines. “She gets heavier every day. I don’t know what Mahli’s been feeding her.”

He laughed. “How’s she adjusting? Her husband helping her out?”

“He’s been a saint.” Her eyes adjusted and she stepped down a narrow corridor lined with baskets and bins of fruit and vegetables, fresh from the countryside. “And his mother too. They take such good care of my girl.” She flicked her fingers over her heart in a small blessing. Her children had all the gifts she could wish for them, all the ones she hadn’t had herself- steady homes, good communities, bright futures. It was everything Tiva had fought so hard for all those years. With just a few more jobs, she could guarantee their futures. Then she could tell them the truth.

“Good.” The man grunted, his chair creaking as he rose up onto his one leg. He grabbed his crutch from the wall and hopped after her. “And Werrin?”

“Oh, he complains endlessly, the thankless beast. Even after all these years.” The man chuckled and she added, “You’d think I apprenticed him to a bear for all his whining.”

He shook his head. “Youngest. It’s in their nature.”

“All the same, he’s progressing. He made me the most beautiful basin for the kitchen. It’s hard work, but he’ll manage it.” She paused at the door in the back, hidden behind a pillar, crowded with stacked baskets.

“Takes after you then.” He paused at the basket of nespera and tossed one to her. “Take care of yourself, beautiful.”

Tiva caught it with a laugh. “You, too, Barik.” She lifted the bag over her shoulder and shimmied sideways through the narrow gap, pushing the door open with her hip.

The hall was black as the door swung closed behind her. Without a window to the outside, it was cold and dark, a welcome change after the bright and heat of the outdoors. The sweat on the back of her neck chilled her and she let out a breath, starting forward. She, and probably scores of others like her, knew every step of that corridor. The only ones who didn’t know the steps weren’t supposed to be there. They never found their way back out again.

She turned down a side corridor and down an uneven flight of steps, the stone worn and sloping. She shouldered her way through the door at the bottom of the steps, biting into the nespera, its bright sweetness hitting her tongue at the same moment she noticed the lamplight from the next room.

A woman sat at a table, two other men busily pouring over stacks of paper. The woman smiled up at Tiva tiredly. “Thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow.”

Tiva shrugged, heading into a little alcove at the back of a support pillar. “Werrin’s master needed him back. May as well get an early start.” She held the fruit in her teeth and untied her headscarf. She started unbuttoning her blouse and asked, “Nera still mad about the last batch?”

“Oh, she’s always mad about something. You just do your job and she’ll do hers. Don’t worry about it.”

But Tiva did worry. Nera had a say in Tiva’s bounties. She had a say in Tiva’s assignment pool. Maybe the others liked Tiva, and still remembered her husband, but Tiva didn’t like complications. Her work was complicated enough. She kicked her skirt aside and dug through her bag, pulling out a tunic and a pair of trousers. They were rough and ugly, stained and worn in patches and streaks. Not shabby enough for begging, but not nice enough for respect, they were the kind of clothes you wore when you didn’t want to be noticed.

It was more than subtlety, though. Tiva always changed her clothes before a new assignment. She didn’t know why. She just knew that it made things easier in her head. Tiva-at-home wouldn’t like the things that Tiva-abroad had to do. Best to leave all that behind.

Tiva stuffed her clothes into her bag and went back out to the table. The other woman pushed a stack of papers to an open chair and Tiva sat, setting her bag against her ankles.

Tiva did a lot of things for the Plum Army. And she’d been at it long enough now that, most of the time, she had the right to choose the things she did. If she didn’t like an assignment, she didn’t take it. She made her way through the stack of assignments, reading each description, and placed them face down in one of two piles. Maybe, and No. And then she went through the Maybe pile again, dividing it into Still Maybe, and Not This Time. It was important that she choose carefully. If she failed her mission, she didn’t get paid. If she failed it badly, she didn’t get to come home again.

Her husband had failed his last mission badly, all those years ago. She wouldn’t do that to her family again.

Finally, there was only one page left in the Maybe pile.

The woman frowned down at the paper as Tiva handed it back, staring at it for a long moment. “Huh.” Her eyes flicked up to Tiva’s. “Didn’t know you were a sailor.”

“Close enough to pass for it.”

“You sure? It’s pretty a specialized assignment.”

“I’m sure.”

She shrugged. “Alright, then. I’ll have the girls draw up the papers. They’ll be ready for you in…” She glanced down at the page again. “… Dahlsport in a week. Twin’s luck.”

Tiva stood, lifting her bag. “Twin’s luck.” She scooped the nespera seeds into her hand and headed for the door, leaving Tiva-at-home behind her.

Reblog: How To Keep Writing When Times Are Tough

So. You may have noticed that the promised maps never showed up last week. I’m sorry. It’s been a bit harder to find my feet again than I thought it would. Things should be reaching their final conclusion very soon and I should be a little steadier somewhat after that. In the meantime, I’ll try very hard to get those maps to you before the month is out. Thank you for your patience! Until then, here’s a reblog by Leanne Sowul at the ever fantastic DIY MFA to tide you over!

How To Keep Writing When Times Are Tough

by Leanne Sowul

Life has ups and downs, and often our writing path follows them. When I was pregnant with my son, I had a horrible first trimester. I was sick, tired, and depressed for what felt like every minute of the day. My writing suffered. I stopped working on my novel; I didn’t blog for two months. Similar things happened after my grandmother passed away, and when I found out that my best friend had cancer. When my real life suffered, my writing life did too. I told myself that it was only natural to have trouble writing when times were tough, but it still caused me grief on top of what I was already feeling.

The good news? After a few of these tough periods, I learned some tricks that helped me keep writing through them. I hope none of you are going through a difficult time in your life right now, but if you are, or might in the future, here are a few things you can turn to:

Ready to read the full article? Click this link to check it out at DIY MFA! Enjoy!