All the Recaps

Hello, friends! I’ve got about three ultra-mini posts here, so I decided to mash them all together so that I don’t have to drag any of it out for you. I’m sure you all have better things to do. So here are a few recaps of the things I’ve been working on lately, and a sneak peak of what’s to come.

Writers Conference This last weekend was the annual Alaska Writers Guild fall conference and I gleefully attended. As always, I had a great time, got great info, and chatted with great people! The speakers were all excellent, plus I got to relive my younger years by holding a friend’s sleeping two-month-old in one arm while drafting on my knee with the other. Plus, I had the luxury of flying down to Anchorage this year. (Eight hours of driving distilled into a forty-minute flight. SO LUXURIOUS.) I’ll be posting some of my conference lessons and stories in the weeks to come.

Grant Review Board Related to the conference, I was on a small board reviewing grant proposals over the last couple weeks. We had quite a few more proposals than we had in previous years. There were so many strong submissions and it was a tough time winnowing it down to just two. I hope this year’s winners can do amazing things with their funds!

Snow White Deadline This Blood and Ebony deadline has been breathing down my neck for the last few weeks and so I am pleased and relieved to let you know that I met it juuuuust in time. Therefore, I was able to get the olive oil of my homeland and not have to watch any doofy song-and-dance nonsense. Huzzah! Blood and Ebony went out to alpha readers Friday night and I’m hoping to have it out to beta readers before the end of the year. Except maybe this time, I’ll manage my time in such a way that it doesn’t arrive in their inboxes in the wee hours of morning smelling like panic and poor life choices.

Gals Read The fall session of Gals Read is officially upon me. I’ve been prepping for the last few weeks and today marked the start of training week. Hooray! After training ends, I’ll spend my days reading Space Boy and Anne of Green Gables to the fantastic fourth grade girls of Fairbanks. The program has grown again this year, and we are now in every public elementary school in the district. That is awesome! I can’t think of a better use of my time than turning impressionable children into desperate book addicts who stay up way after bedtime with flashlights. *hero pose*

Also on the radar is NaNoWriMo, which is working hard to sneak up on me, but not this year, NaNo! This week is going to be crazy, like the one before it, but once I claw my way through Gals Read and out the other side, I’ll start thinking about what I want to draft out for this session and post a project soon. As I mentioned in the halfway check-in on my annual goals, this session is basically my last chance for the year to get my one first draft in. I don’t plan to squander it (yet).

How about you fine folks? What bookish pursuits have you been up to lately? Any exciting projects in the works? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

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Talking Heads in Space

As mentioned, I’m working through an editing pass on Blood and Ebony, my Snow White retelling. It’s mostly solid at this point. (This is why I have to let drafts rest for a while before I start editing. I always set them aside convinced they’re utter rubbish and then when I look at them again, I’m surprised at how not-horrifyingly-embarrassing they are. It’s a nice surprise.)

There is, however, one thing that keeps cropping up, over and over again, a little problem I like to call Talking Heads in Space.

I’m sure you’ve seen these kinds of scenes before (especially if you’re one of my beta readers). The scene opens and two characters are having a conversation. And… that is all. There is no sense of the setting, or what is going on around them. There are no other people in this closed universe in which they chat. They aren’t doing anything. Heck, the only actions we have are nodding and sighing and laughing and eye rolling. All head stuff. They are two heads, talking in the blank vacuum of space.

And Blood and Ebony is, unfortunately, full of them. The book has a lot of interrogations in it, which tend to seem less like interrogations and more like boring, vaguely frustrating conversations between two people who don’t really like each other and can’t seem to get to the point.

This is a problem.

Talking heads in space is boring. In a lot of ways, it’s a glorified info dump in chit-chat form, disconnected from the rest of the plot. And that is lame-sauce. A lot of my edits for this book have focused on these scenes.

So how does one fix up a Talking Heads in Space scene?

Scenery These characters are talking somewhere, right? Even if you’re writing a space opera and these characters are legit chatting in the vacuum of space, the vacuum is not empty—far from it. So build up the scenery a bit. Where is this conversation taking place? What’s happening around them? If this scene was in a movie, what would the props guy put up around them. Be the props guy!

Consequences from the Past Character conversations must be informed by what the character has already experienced. So think about what has already happened in the book and how it would carry consequences into this scene. Maybe the characters were arguing the last time they spoke and so now they’re sulking. Maybe Character A ruptured a bursa earlier in the story and she spends the scene crankily massaging her still-sore knee. Maybe she’s worried about revealing too much information because she saw Character B talking to Character C and is worried that B is a traitor. Maybe she should be thinking about these things throughout the conversation. *strokes chin thoughtfully* Maybe.

Consequences for the Future Much like consequences from the past, make sure that each conversation knits into the rest of the story. No conversation should be there just because you really wanted a tense scene, or a funny scene, or a whatever scene. Every scene needs to have consequences for the future of the book. It must move the plot forward in meaningful ways.

Sensory Details This is closely related to adding scenery, but specifically from the perspective of the point of view character and going a little deeper than you would in a movie scene. What smells does the character pick up? What colors are there and what do they remind the character of? Any distracting background noises? Any tastes? Textures of the seats? Blisters in the shoes? The waistband feeling a little tighter than it used to? Adding these details will change the perspective of the reader from outsider-looking-in to benign-undetectable-brain-parasite-looking out.

Inner Workings Another detail that will help your reader inhabit the characters’ worlds and minds is a glimpse of the characters’ inner workings. What is your character thinking throughout the scene? How are they processing their verbal combatant’s quips and insults? How do they handle a confession of love? How hard is it to stifle their desperate hunger and have a coherent conversation when they haven’t eaten in two days and can’t stop smelling the burger joint next door? Let readers know the innermost thoughts and emotions of your characters to help shift us from a talking head to a working whole.

Adding details like these grabs those talking heads right out of space and puts them on top of bodies which are a part of the world around them. It plops those conversations in the midst of a time-space continuum between the past and the future, where the characters were and where they’re going.

So now that I’ve worked out what needs doing, I’d better get to doing it. Blood and Ebony is due to readers this weekend and if I don’t finish on time—*gulp*—musicals. I’ll let you know how it shakes out next week. Until then, happy writing!

Obey or Be Destroyed: A Guide to Bending Yourself to Your Will

Last week, I was chatting with some friends and lamenting my lack of progress on my latest edits for Blood and Ebony, my Snow White retelling. I had a self-imposed deadline for it that was coming up fast, but I wasn’t getting much closer to being done. I was frustrated with myself because I’m normally pretty good about making myself keep my own deadlines.

And then it hit me: the reason I wasn’t feeling any motivation on this project. I’d given myself a deadline, but I hadn’t affixed a punishment to it. I hadn’t assigned myself a consequence.

It can be hard sometimes to feel like a professional in this trade, especially if you’re not making a working wage and claiming tax exemptions and putting out a new book every two months. Any given project is less likely to make me a dollar than it is to make me yell at my kids because, oh my giddy aunt, how can they always tell when I’m trying to work and know the perfect way to ruin it? *clears throat* Anyway, if the rest of the world isn’t treating you like a professional, it can be hard to think of yourself that way as well. But that kind of thinking can easily nudge writing a little lower on the pecking order of what gets our time and attention and before you know it, you’ve blown half of your project time and aren’t any closer to your goal.

There are lots of ways to combat this struggle. For me, I respond unfortunately well to looming punishment. I assign myself terrible consequences and—here’s the important part—I follow through on them. I once confidently told my friends that I would have a story to them by a certain date and declared that I would run a mile for each day I was late. Yeah. I was eleven days late. I hauled my non-runner-rear down to the track and ran eleven miles in one go, fueled entirely by determination and high fructose corn syrup. It hurt so badly I worried I’d damaged something, and I was wincing and limping for days. But I haven’t missed a deadline since.

Now I’m not suggesting you immolate yourself in retribution for dropping the ball once in a while. (Seriously. Please don’t damage yourself.) But I am suggesting you find the things that motivate you. By leaning into the things that you love/hate, you can amp up the motivation to do a thing that maybe isn’t quiiiite as high on the to-do list as it should be all by itself.

So if this sounds like something that might help you hit those goals a little harder, here are a few ideas for coming up with your own system of rewards and/or punishments.

What is your goal?We’ve talked about making smart goals here before, but just for a very brief recap, make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound (aka- has a deadline). Maybe you want to finish an editing pass, or write a single chapter, or enter a short story in a contest. Knowing exactly what you want to do and how you’re going to do it is the first step. Always have a goal. (And when you attain it, make another one! Onward and upward!)

What do you love? These things make excellent rewards. Pick a thing that you really want, or that you really want to happen, that you won’t just go out and get/do for yourself regardless of whether you hit the goal. Just make sure that it fits the size of your goal. Promising yourself a vacation to the Caribbean every time you draft a new scene isn’t very sustainable.

What do you hate? These things make excellent punishments. Pick a thing you don’t want to happen, and that is an appropriate punishment for the crime, but is still mild enough that you’ll actually go through with it. Maybe do a hard workout, or pledge a small donation to a political party you despise, or go sing on karaoke night, or whatever you wouldn’t normally do. But if you won’t hold yourself to it, don’t assign it. Make yourself miserable, but not so miserable that you flake out.

What is a reasonable deadline? As Goldilocks would surely tell us, you don’t want a deadline that’s so ambitious that you have to stop feeding your dependents to achieve it, or so lame-sauce that you won’t have to worry about actually working on it until it’s time to retire. Instead, pick a deadline that’s juuuust right: challenging, but possible if you put in a balanced amount of work.

Who can help you stick to it? Not everyone needs this part. Some people have all the grit ‘n’ gumption they need to make it happen no matter who is or isn’t watching. But then again, not everybody can just will themselves to follow through with their rewards or punishments. If you’re one of those people, grab a buddy! Writing pals, parents, partners, whoever—let them know of your task, your deadline, and what they’re to pressure you into doing at the end of it all.

Once you answer these questions, bring all the elements together into A Plan. Your plan, and those looming consequences shadowing it, will give you that extra burst of motivation to hit that goal out of the park. I know it works for me every time.

After pinpointing my lack of consequences, and therefore lack of motivation, my friends stepped in to help. In short order, they had assigned me a nightmarish punishment (they will deprive me of my ancestral right to piri piri sauce and high quality olive oil and instead make me watch a musical—a musical, people *shudders*) and then—poof!—just like magic, I suddenly had all the motivation in the world.

Why Am I So Bad At Goals Whyyy

So this post was originally intended to be a halfway-into-the-year check in on my writing goals. Due to some scheduling issues, we’re a bit past the midpoint, but I’m doing it anyway. Because deadlines are for mortals, which is a response that probably will give you a lot of insight into the way my goals are going so far this year.

The short answer is that I’m doing awfully. At everything.

My reading goals were progressing beautifully until summer struck and then all bets were off. I didn’t read a single book over the entire summer that wasn’t for work, and it was difficult to squeeze even that much in. *claws at own face* I can’t live like this.

Giving myself more leeway on short story writing maaaay have been a mistake because I took that leeway as an excuse to do next to nothing. I have written two short stories so far this year. Two.

Editing is likewise a giant sinkhole so far this year. I just started editing Blood and Ebony about a week ago and have made it about halfway through the first chapter. And… that is all. Yikes. Zero down and three to go.

And I guess I started my one new draft of a novel, but realized about halfway in that it’s terrible and has some plot holes you could fly an Airbus A380 through and I have no interest in finishing it before the year is out. So… back to square one on that, I suppose.

My rejections goal for the year is currently sitting at fifteen of my forty-eight rejections, which is terrible in and of itself, but made exponentially more terrible by the fact that that is all. I have nothing more currently on submission right now that counts toward this goal. So unless I get my rear into gear, that number is going to stay at fifteen. At the beginning of the year, I had intended to have all the subs out that I needed for the entire year (plus a little extra under the assumption that some will be accepted) by the end of September, giving those rejections time to trickle in over the rest of the year. Yeah. Not happening. This goal is so far sitting at flaming-airplane-wreck-two-minutes-before-takeoff level of fail.

Soooo… yeah. That’s where I’m at.

But I have excuses. Do you wanna hear my excuses? Please?

My biggest excuse is that a few of those probable rejections turned out to be acceptances—and on pretty big projects, too. On top of my having normal day jobs, I’ve been working on these projects, steadily, daily, for about three months now and it’ll be at least another month before they’re all completed. It’s taking up nearly all of my free time.

Other excuses have been of the much less fun family emergency variety. Just this summer we had a string of chicken tragedies and three unique medical emergencies. (Unless we want to count each of my son’s complications as their own thing. Ah, dog bites. The emergency that keeps on emerging.) These things take time, and they also take brain power. I can’t work very effectively if I’m worried that my husband might need surgery (still a possibility) or that my son might lose an eye (off the table—whew!).

So, yeah. I’m still going to get myself as close to those goals as possible before the end of the year. I think I can catch up on the reading goal without too much fuss. Just two more short stories would put me above what I managed for last year, so that will have to be good enough. Editing might get trimmed back to just one book; if I really turn this thing around, maybe two. I’ll get about half of a first draft in November and try to finish the rest of it in December, so that one is still in the realm of possibility. But the rejections goal will definitely have to come down; I just won’t know exactly how much until I finish up these other projects. We’ll see.

All in all, I’m trying not to beat myself up too badly. I’m doing my best and I’m not just being lazy, so that’s a definite win in this game.

How about you fine readers? How are your literary endeavors going so far this year? Any wins to report? Any fails that could use some cheerleading? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Character Cosplay

Do you need more creativity in your life?  Then hang out with the ever amazing Madison Dusome!  She always has the best ideas.

A few weeks ago, she suggested that some of us on twitter do a character cosplay for Halloween, where we draw our characters dressing up as each other’s characters.  Having the crazy schedule that I do, I only spared myself the time to do two of them.  So, in lieu of this month’s comic, here they are!

My character:

Sylragorl (City of the Dead) He is an ice dragon, a bit stunted as far as dragons go, but still big enough to bite your average human in half.  He is a silvery pale blue, with sapphire eyes and seven headspikes.  Four legs, two wings, tail, this sort of dragon.  Sylragorl is desperate to be liked and will do stupid things for even the semblance of affection.  But if he decides he doesn’t like you, prepare to be disemboweled.  He has a self-deprecating sense of humor and can be pretty sarcastic.

Dressed as CM Schofeld‘s character:

Ruaridh Carver (Twyned Earth)  Five foot nothing, messy black hair, unhealthily thin human(ish). Always wearing very baggy black clothing, band hoodies, jeans with chains, black studded/spiky wrist accessories. Grumpy, easily scared, anti-social chain smoker.

SasR

My character:

Princess Aerinthe Darinsvale, although she prefers the nickname Snow White (Blood and Ebony)  A slender, pale girl with long dark hair and bright green eyes, Snow is fifteen years old, but with a much, much older soul.  She prefers rich/dark colors and heavy fabrics, and always wears a small glass-and-ebony bauble on a silver chain, containing a drop of blood and water. (For clothing style, think Anne Boelyn-ish, but with a tiara instead of the headgear.) As Aerinthe, she is a charming girl and a doting daughter.  As Snow White, changeling child of the Fey King, she is ruthless, manipulative, and sadistic.

Dressed as Madison Dusome‘s character:

Adrien (Half a Man)  Messy, long-ish blond hair, missing his left arm from the shoulder.  Clothes are of mixed medieval France/Morocco inspiration: fitted tunic, loose pants, beaten shoes.  His military “uniform” involves a black-and-yellow checkered sash that can basically be tied however you like; some pin it like a cape, some wear it like a scarf/hood, some wrap it across the back/around the shoulders.  There’s a “proper” way but most prefer to rebel ;D  He might be seen with (a) a longsword that’s too big for him (b) apothecary tools (c) books! (d) magical golden strings, which would be a hilarious/horrible thing to cosplay.

SWasAYou should take a minute to check out Mads’ and Cat’s blogs as well, where they will also be posting their own versions of character cosplay, as well as their thoughts on writing, the universe, and everything.  (I’ll put up links to the art itself as it gets posted.  Hopefully soon!  The suspense is killing me!)

(Madison’s first batch is up! Clicky!)

(Madison’s second batch is up! Hi-ya!)

Have a great week!  Next time you hear from me, it’ll be while I’m knee deep in another month of NaNoWriMo– see you then!

A Year of Rockin’ It

rockOkay, okay, “rockin’ it” might be an exaggeration. You may recall from one year ago that I had a few vague writing resolutions that rapidly morphed into several specific writing resolutions. I wanted to finish a book during each of the three NaNo months, as well as the third Star Daughter book on the side. I also wanted to send out at least two queries and two short story submissions per month.

I am proud to say that I knocked out four ugly (as in mega-ultra-ugly) duckling drafts: Crown of Shadows [SD3]; The Sad, Sad Tale of Dead Timmy [which I adore- def my favorite of the year]; Love Notes [which I am sadly dropping, but it was fun while it lasted]; and Blood and Ebony [still deciding what I think about this one]. Boy do they all need work, haha. Still, I feel pretty good about four first drafts. I knew it was ambitious at the start, especially with the baby on board, but I managed to pop ‘em out. I am a little less proud to admit that I only sent out about half the queries I intended to and about a third of the short story submissions. But both were still improvements on previous years, though, so win!

This year, I’m approaching things a little differently. I find myself with an abundance of unsightly first drafts cluttering up my laptop. None of them are fit to be seen and that’s a problem. So next year, I intend to switch my focus over from drafting to editing. Rather than writing four new books this year, I’d like to polish up three to four and draft only one. (Hopefully, the year after that I can settle into a nice 2/2 ratio.)

The second Star Daughter book, Goddess Forsaken, can probably stand to just be picked at, as far as editing goes, which will eat up most of my early year, I imagine. Crown of Shadows, however, needs to be rebuilt completely and so April NaNo will be devoted to a full rewrite, with further clean up bleeding out into June. Likewise, July NaNo will go to bulldozing another draft, although I haven’t decided which one yet. (Likely Blood and Ebony, but we’ll see.) The next three months will be given to polishing either Dead Timmy or BCS (both of which definitely merit some polish), or maybe Blood and Ebony if I can still stand to look at it. November will be spent on a completely new book (and what a relief that’ll be!), possibly the next Star Daughter book, or maybe even another stand alone- I have a contemporary fantasy idea I’ve been toying with as well. December will just be general wrap-up for the projects.

I know all my ultra-classy beta readers were probably SUPER BORED without all my doofy stuff to read through this last year, so start warming up those red pens now.

As far as querying goes, I’m considering a different approach. I think I’ll let City of the Dead rest for a while and start querying either BCS or Dead Timmy once they get a little cleaned up, which means I probably won’t be querying steadily for the first half of the year. Also, instead of submitting two short stories every month, I think I’ll do either that OR write and edit a new short story each month. I think the drafting of shorts will help me stay sane with all this editing business going on. ‘Cause I loves me some drafting, and darling husband got me a shiny new license for Write or Die 2, which I am super stoked to take for a ride.

So! That’s what I’ve been up to / will be up to! How about you? Did you have any writing resolutions from last year? Any new ones you’d like to share?

Fun With Funerals: A NaNo Excerpt

NaNoWriMo is rapidly drawing to a close (cue terrified screaming) and I am barely, desperately clinging to a viable pace.  If I can shake off the relatives for just a few hours during the four-day Thanksgiving extravaganza, I think I can pull this off.  But the rarity of writing time does make for a pathetic lack of blog writing time.  So, rather than make up something stupid right now, I present to you something stupid I made up a while ago!  You’re welcome!

This is my favorite scene that I’ve written so far in this year’s NaNo novel, Blood and Ebony.  It’s also super unedited and probably really weird, but I like it nonetheless.  Hopefully you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Aerold’s Funeral

One week. Aralee had been longer a widow than she had been a wife.

The chapel’s yellow drapes had been replaced with gray, their somber windows weeping. Aralee stood at the head of the chapel with the priest, staring out into the gathering throng with dry eyes and a bleak heart. Most of these people had known Aerold for as long as Aralee had been alive, some longer. What right did she have to lead their mourning, she who had hardly known the man?

The funeral began, Aerold’s spiced ashes brought in by those last few who could claim any blood relation to the king, however distant it was.

Aralee had never been to a funeral before. She’d never tasted the ash of mourning. Her stomach turned as the priest started the fire.

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