Monday, November 2, 2015

Bring out your WIP!

It's NaNoWriMo time again. I am rewriting a novel whose first draft I started in April's NaNoWriMo and finished sometime around Midsummer. While there were definitely elements in there I really liked, the plot ended up being kind of a mess, the characters being illogical, and the settings unsatisfying. So pretty much everything goes into the rewrite bin and NaNoWriMo is perfect to help with getting that done!

All this being said, here is the first page or so of my second seriously written novel, The Avatar Legacy.

---

The sight of the corpse told Miki Kim that it was time to leave home. Again.

Victoria Bleedwell wasn’t the first corpse Miki had seen, nor was she even the first corpse of a friend and crewmate. Victoria’s wasn’t even the worst she’d seen. But as she stepped fully into the chill of the medical bay currently housing Victoria’s body Miki promised herself that Victoria’s would be the last corpse she would ever see.

Victoria’s nanocolony swarmed over her body, visibly making the remainders of her clothes shift. They were looking for something to fix, just as their programming directed them to. There was nothing wrong with Victoria anymore. Beyond her being dead.

Miki cupped Victoria’s cheek.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

She half expected Victoria to grin and wink at her like she had so many times. When nothing happened, Miki took her hand away and squeezed it into a fist. No room for sentimentality. Not in this life, or this home.

She walked around the table, keeping her eyes off the body. She pushed a wall cabinet open and grabbed a habitat container. She turned to another cabinet and added some feed into the habitat before turning back to the body to coax the colony inside the habitat. They would need to be fed by something and Victoria was no longer producing new skin cells to create dead ones. Miki had once seen what a colony could do to a body when left to sit too long and she wasn’t eager to try that again.

The colony moved into the habitat in waves and soon Miki had to brace the container against the operation table to make sure she didn’t drop it. The colonies always weighed more than she expected them to.

Once no more visible waves were forthcoming, Miki took the container away and sealed it. It would automatically maintain a suitable environment to keep the colony relatively active while also lowering their mobility to the point that they wouldn’t burn out before they were applied to someone else.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weird Search

My web browser history will never be something that I'm ashamed of. It's one of the many joys of not looking up inappropriate content. That being said, I'm not quite sure what a person would decide about my character if they looked over the things I've been looking up lately.




That's because I've been snorkeling out* some research for a few various projects. To the untrained eye, and that's really the only kind I allow to read my web history, they might come to a few interesting conclusions.

"that snorkel's been just like a snorkel to me" (If you know the reference you are my hero)
I've been researching the following things for projects I'm working on: military bases, Alaskan culture, books about Alaska-including travel guides, traveling circuses, earthquakes, fashion and toys from 1964, news headlines from the 1940's, the character C.J. from the West Wing, a statistics class,  PR class, a specific professor at a local university**, and obscure monthly holidays.

A free clip art calendar with Alaska-esk mountains? Score!
This is within the past two months. This doesn't include all of the additional searched done later through ye' olde library. Yes, people still use them and I still value verifying information through an interview or a published book. Must be the journalist inside of me***.

What do you think my searches say about me? I imagine they say that I'm thinking of running away to alaska to start a vintage style circus? I'm planning to take statistics **** to decipher the best place to set up a circus due to the frequency of earthquakes in Alaska. The PR class is obviously because I want to promote my circus well. Then during the off season I will make money doing an impression of CJ from the West Wing. These appearances will only be held during obscure holidays. It will be by niche.

One day I'll have real pictures of you Alaska, one day.


What about you? Do you ever rack up a weird list of searches because of a project or projects you're working on?

As always I would love to hear about them. Especially if they involve incriminating...I mean hilarious stories.



*I call it snorkeling out research because it's just skimming the surface and not getting very deep. When I go deeper it's called research....What else would I call it? Scubaing out research? No, that'd just be silly.

**You know who you are

***Not because of my journalism experience, but because I once ate a very tiny journalist. They were the size of a jelly bean and were squishy and delicious....on second thought that might have just been a gummy bear.

**** Yeah that's probably not how statistics class knowledge works, but I never took the class so I'm going to make my reality up. It's sort of the theme I've got going here.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Swagalicious

Swag! Everyone wants some! The time for physical bookmarks seems to be well over. A lot of books that are sold these days are sold digitally. I don't think I remember keeping the various and sundry bookmarks I was given even back when I was reading physical books. I've never just kept my book on the nightstand where a bookmark would stay in its assigned place. I've always taken the books I was reading with me more or less everywhere and bookmarks just wouldn't stay put in transit. They're even less useless to me these days, now that almost all of my books are in digital form. But swag is an integral part of putting your best foot forward in conventions and such. It's a way of getting your work remembered even when it's not on a billboard.

If not bookmarks, then what kind of swag should you get to promote you and your book? Here are a few examples of the swag given to me during this year's Worldcon.

Pins

Pins for Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, Schlock Mercenary by Howard
Tayler and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Pins seem to be the new go-to these days. The round ones are fairly cheap to either make for yourself or to have made. The shaped ones are more difficult (I may have to bug Howard about where he got them made the next time I see him) but they perform the same basic function. Although I have to admit that the Schlock pin is a lot cooler than the book pins. It's all exposure during the con, when everyone is paying loads of attention to your badge and everything that's hanging on it. And if even a fraction of the people getting the pin at a con wear it in their normal lives that's still quite a lot more exposure than without. Personally I tend to favor fan enthusiasm such as carrying around pins about books you loved over paid billboards. And from what I can tell, the same applies to most people.

Something people use

Squishies to promote The University of Iowa libraries and Montreal in 2017
Giving readers something they'll use all the time that's still somehow related to the thing you're marketing. The stress toys pictured to the left were both given out to promote generally science fictional causes. University of Iowa Libraries have a science fiction department that is busily gathering science fiction history. Montreal was trying to get the 2017 Worldcon, which, as you probably know, is the World Science Fiction Convention.

Objects from the book

Memorial pins from characters in Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Mercy
This is very possibly the best swag there is. There are objects in any book that the characters notice or use, things that may or may not be important to the plot. The first example of these that I've come across was James A Owen's Here, There Be Dragons. In the books there are Caretakers, each of whom is identified by a pocket watch they carry. Owen later formed a study program for middle schools where the students and teachers participating were given one of these pocket watches. At last year's Worldcon, Mary Robinette Kowal gave out sandalwood fans, which were mentioned in her book Valour and Vanity. This year I never did get to meet Ann Leckie but she was handing out the pictured pins, which were both featured in her two books, Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Mercy. These are things to be treasured.

Have you come across any particularly good swag?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Diving into process

I still haven't quite found a novel writing method that reliably works for me. I inevitably end up pulling apart huge chunks of my first drafts because they make no sense, structurally speaking. My characters do things that make no sense and apparently I'm unable to see that in the outline or while I'm writing. So I'm still tweaking.

I wrote the first draft of the novel I'm currently editing, The Avatar Legacy, using Cathy Yardley's Rock Your Writing method and while it's significantly better than what I had at the start of editing the novel I'm currently querying, Familiar Phantoms, I'm still going to have to rip out the entire middle of the book, which I'm frankly not too happy about. Which is not to say that it's the fault of the process at all. Regardless, for my revision outline, I'm trying out a different approach. Libbie Hawker's book Take Off Your Pants looks like an interesting take on story structure. It's largely based on John Truby's The Anatomy of Story, although Hawker presents her method in a much more approachable way.

Hawker describes her method as a three-legged stool. The three legs are character arc, theme,and pacing. Without any one of them the story will not stand, or it will be wibbly wobbly. The story's core has five elements; a character (1) who wants something (2), something that prevents them from getting what they want easily (3), leading them to struggle against that force (4) leading to either success or failure (5). That's the very basics of the method, but the book goes into more depth and is absolutely worth reading.

This is the third process I'm trying out for novel writing. Well, fourth, to be completely accurate, since I pantsed my way through the first two novels that I wrote that will never see the light of day, at least not as they are now. My first was the one covered in Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k, parts of which I'll be likely to use pretty much always since they really help me focus in on what I want to say with the book I'm writing. I used Cathy's Rock Your Writing method to revise that book and write the next one, the one I'm now using Hawker's method to revise. I'm planning to use Hawker's method to write the next one (a project with no name about a fairy godmother temp agency).

What do I want off my noveling process? I want to be able to identify possible problems earlier. I want to be able to consistently and fairly easily create an outline that helps me get through the book faster. Part of this is most likely a matter of experience too, but anything that can help me get there faster is a-okay in my book. I keep getting these vague concepts that I can't figure out the actual story to and from what little I've seen from Hawker's method, I think it might get me closer to that than my previous ones. I doubt that this will end by being the last time I tweak my noveling process, but at least it's a step forward. The idea is to keep tweaking until I manage to find a process that consistently works for my needs. Take the things that work and discard the ones that don't.

What is your novel writing process? Are you happy with it? If not, what are you using to develop it further?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Loosing your readers in a good way

Last night I spoke with one of my friends about my sense of direction, or rather my lack thereof. This way in no way connected to the fact that I had pulled out of an event and began driving in the wrong direction. Nor did it have to do with the fact that I didn't notice I was going the wrong way for an embarrassing amount of time. I was caught up in the moment and it's even worse when I'm a passenger.

When someone else is driving I turn into a golden retriever. I have no sense of how long the ride should take and sometimes loose sight of which direction we should be going.

It's as if I am saying"Are we going somewhere? I get to go play? You are so amazing. Thank you." I'm there for the ride and happy to get out of the house. If I'm lucky I might even get a treat.*

A really good story puts me in this mindset. The world around me disappears and I'm there for the journey.


For some odd reason this picture strikes me as funny. Probably because A: I totally don't remember taking it, B: When I first saw the thumbnail of this picture I thought it looked like I was about to run over a person....and was documenting the evidence & C: Because I'm have an odd sense of humor, namely because I am odd


I'm not focusing on the external aspects of voice, grammar and style. I appreciate them, but on an instinctual level. They don't pull me out of the story to prove how glorious their prose. If the prose is glorious it melts into me with a seamless enjoyment.

Have you ever read a book where it felt like the author was saying, "Look how clever I am. My vocabulary is bigger than your vocabulary.  Did you see how I wove the complex theme into the story? Did you see it? What about all of the foreshadowing and symbolism? You never would have been able to create a masterpiece like this."**

This is different from having a moment of introspection and thinking back on a particularly acute or fluid way of storytelling. I'm talking about when you're pulled out of the story or never get sucked into it. It's almost as if the writer is hovering over your shoulder asking if you've made it to a certain page or paragraph.

I know that I often find myself getting so wrapped up in a certain article about writing, or the style of another author. It effects me and I begin to try to work my new found knowledge into my prose. What happens is that I end up creating a disjointed collage which hinders the storytelling. It also comes off as obnoxious rather than engaging.

But enough about me... 

Have you ever written something which felt awkward because it was trying too hard to be clever? I challenge you to look over your current project and get rid of every third word....only joking. That's exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.

The actual assignment is to look over your current project or projects and see if it feels fluid. Does the story and style ring true to you? Don't worry about how it would sound to your Uncle Ted who adores you***, but really wishes you'd finally take over the family business and sell wickets like a respectable person.****
When I think of journey's I think about hiking in the mountains. 

While not all those who wander are lost, sometimes the best thing you can do for your readers is to give them a place where they can get lost. You don't even have to worry about providing a treat.

The footnotes

*To my credit, I don't get distracted by squirrels. However, I will break up a conversation to shout out something like, "Hey look at that dog!"...So maybe I'm not that far from yelling out "Squirrel."


**I probably went a little over the top in this example. Even though it's a fabricated example I still want to punch the fictional writer in the nose.

***Don't pretend you don't have an Uncle Ted. You know the guy Im talking about. The one with the hair.

****Props to you if you know what the obscure wicket reference is from. Hint, it has nothing to do with your Uncle Ted

Monday, September 21, 2015

McGuffins and sexy lamps - Lessons from Mad Max: Fury Road part 3

Yes, I am still on about Mad Max: Fury Road! This time we're talking about ancillary characters. Before we really get started, let's define two concepts:

MacGuffin (a.k.a. McGuffin or maguffin) is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. It won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won't even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/superweapon that everyone in the story is chasing.

- Read more: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MacGuffin#ixzz3mLYYlk8Y
and:
If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.

- Kelly Sue Deconnick
Which means that it's time to talk about The Wives!


The Wives are a fairly traditional McGuffin. Everyone is after them. For Immortan Joe they're a precious commodity, for the Warboys they are a way vehicle into Immortan Joe's good graces and for Furiosa they're a way to hurt Joe in a way he'll remember being hurt. Many storytellers, I would go as far as to say most Hollywood storytellers, would be content at that. In other words they would be happy writing sexy lamps.

What makes Fury Road unique is that the Wives all have their own opinions, wants and needs. They effect the events of the story by their actions which are based on their own motivations. They use what little power they have to cause changes in the world around them.
So how can you do this in your own story? First of all

Know what your characters want

It always seems to come down to that, doesn't it? Have your characters want something and want it badly. Even if it is for their lives to remain the same, the kind of thing they're comfortable with. Everyone wants something and everyone considers themselves to be the main character in their own lives. On Fury Road the Wives want to live free, and they're willing to die for that.

Make them unique

Let's start with the notion that McGuffins are people too. On Fury Road, the Wives form one huge McGuffin with many limbs in terms of plot. But each of them has something they're good at, something the others don't have. Toast is good with guns, Capable is good at listening, Cheedo has an actual arc that goes from being afraid to being brave while The Dag is all about the future.


Give them agency

This is a seriously hard thing to do. Characters with agency cause disruptions. They make your neat and tidy plot into a rambling mess. They also breathe life into the story. They create conflict when what they want collides with what the main character wants. This can cause problems if you're not careful since the ancillary characters can easily take over the entire story. But that might also be a sign that your main character is not interesting enough. On the Fury Road the Wives' agency shows up in Cheedo distracting Rictus so she can help Furiosa, in Angharad's lean out of the cab to mess up Joe's shot, in Capable harboring Nux and many other small ways. They don't steal the show because Furiosa and Max are much more interesting than anyone else on the screen.

Homework

You knew this was coming too. Take whatever thing you're working on. Grab one of the peripheral characters you (meaning not the main character or the antagonist), preferably one that has some dialog lines. Grab whatever scene they're in and rewrite it from the point of view of that ancillary character.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book review - The Martian by Andy Weir

(Cross-posted from my personal page and from my Goodreads page. Please feel free to friend/follow me there. I love books and love to talk about them!)
I LOVED THIS BOOK. I shall shout about it to anyone who cares to hear me. I listened to it in audiobook, over the course of about 4 days, which is very fast for a 10+ hour audio. (pro tip: listen while you cook dinner, fold laundry, or other mundane household stuff. I also listen on short, long, and medium length drives, and while I walk the dogs. My dogs are very well exercised at the moment.)
What I liked: this book has so much technical depth and detail. While that can be a bit burdensome at times (particularly in audio) I had a lot of appreciation for the manner it was told in, as the technical stuff was all very accurate and very tangible in terms of what the protagonist was doing with the information. No info dumps, just the protagonist dealing with Mars atmosphere and the equipment he had to survive. I mention this first because it’s something that is probably a barrier to some who aren’t traditional science fiction fans. Please, realize that the author isn’t expecting you to solve differential equations nor talking you through the boring bits. He’s focused on the life and death details of space travel. Pressure, chemical reactions, ways to change states, microbes, terrain, distance. These are fascinating when set in the context of an extra-terra exploration. THIS is why I read science fiction. THIS is why I write science fiction.
I also liked the author’s use of humor. There are many laugh out loud moments. To that end, though, a bunch of the humor is due to the very appropriate use of swear words. For example, when Mark has to compute a distance by figuring the length of the long side of a right triangle, and he concludes (since he has to travel the hypotenuse) “Because Pythagoras is a dick.” — I laughed loudly in the middle of chopping something and almost lobbed off a finger. As I try to mention in all my reviews, the curse words are the ONLY mature content (other than a mild reference about a man and woman sharing a room) and to me are an excellent introduction to appropriate emphatic cursing to make your point or convey your aggravation. Definitely fine for 14 and up, but would be appropriate for younger readers so long as you don’t mind the opening of the book which implements the f word several times. To good effect. Conveys mood, attitude, situational details all in a four letter word. Quite economical.
I have always enjoyed science fiction, and this book just blew my socks off because it blended that geeky science-y stuff (which I really don’t have a firm handle on anymore, lo these 20+ years since anyone asked me to care about any of it in detail) and human nature, and the little details of what it would be like in space. I write books about kids in space and like to include the details of what they would eat, whether there would be pets (I’ve come to the conclusion that OF COURSE there will be cats in space. Because cats.) what you do with your hair in zero gee, what you wear, etc. I loved the little details of Mark dealing with his daily routine. The communications with NASA were fascinating. The story kept me engaged the entire length of the book. The audio narrator talent is excellent and I will seek out other books he has narrated. Highest recommendation. Best book I’ve read this year.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Books I Should Have Loved, But Didn't



The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan

I got this book from the library immediately after seeing the premise. Dystopian with a neo-Puritan society, living in a colony surrounded by a fence that keeps out the zombie hordes? Sounds awesome to me! But I couldn't get over my intense and all-consuming hatred for the heroine. She seemed to me to be ridiculously selfish, and spent all her inner monologue time whining about her life and how unfair it was, and the cruel tragedies that befell her. Don't get me wrong – being stuck in a burning house with zombies clawing at your door is sucks pretty hard. But there's a fine art to having a character suffer without being really freaking annoying about it. Lots of other people – including those whose taste I trust – loved this book, but I had to force myself to finish it.




Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

I love Scott Westerfeld. I thought his Leviathan series was fantastic. But I was never able to finish this one, even though a good friend of mine totally loves the series and thinks I'm insane for not loving it. I think there are two reasons why it didn't work for me:
1) The prose and the story felt very simplistic. I don't know if this was supposed to be a middle grade book, but I think I was expecting something more sophisticated. Which is kind of a weird reason to dislike the book (it didn’t measure up to my totally random expectations!), but there it is.
2) I was a little burned out on dystopias by the time I got to this one. Again, not the book's fault, but by the time I picked this up, I was about ready to run screaming from any dystopian premise (I am so there now). I mean, this book was actually published two years before the Hunger Games, so it was a pioneer in its genre*, but alas, I read it too late to appreciate the premise, which has since been copied dozens of times.



Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz.

This is the most frustrating of the group, because I really can't tell you why I didn't like it. Look at all the awards it won! It's an amazing book about finding your identity and courage and the pain of being a young adult (particularly a child of Mexican immigrant parents). It has the most lovely heartfelt ending… but somehow, the emotion of the ending sailed right over my head (or should I say it sailed right over my heart?). Now, I am a middle class white lady, and I have never been a Hispanic teenage boy, so one could say there's an empathy gap missing. And yet, I think one of the things that distanced me from this book was that there were a couple of moments that were too real for me, the ones that recalled some of the helplessness and frustration that come from being a teenager. Those moments were so perfectly articulated, and so close to what I felt, that I think they might have made me withdraw from the emotions of the story.

In any case, you should all read that book, because I could tell it was beautiful, even if I never quite felt it myself.





*Okay, I started thinking "is it really a pioneer? When did dystopians really become popular?" And so I found this AMAZING infographic**, which credits Uglies as one of the earliest books in this recent resurgence.
**Do you want ALL the YA infographics?? You know you do!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Where'd you go


My novel, Going to the Beginning, was a contemporary urban fantasy. It was set in a fairly generic suburban neighborhood and the setting didn't have much breath or life to it.



I didn't think much of it until I looked over a critique from Sheena*. She mentioned that some things in the sort seemed out of date. They were too.

While I was thinking this over I began to play around with some ideas. What if it wasn't contemporary? What if my characters were in the future, the old west, or another time in history?



As I jotted down a few ideas I thought about one of my aunts. She was a feisty and adventurous young girl. There were several traits of hers that I wanted to showcase in my main character, Julianne.

My aunt would have been Julianne's age in the early sixties. Once I realized that, more ideas started to fit together. My story was still an urban fantasy, but it wasn't going to be set in the current era anymore. It was going to be set in 1964.

Since then other plot points have fallen into place or make more sense then they did before. It's almost as if it was meant to be.

How do you decide the time and place of your novel? Has it ever changed or evolved as you were writing?


*Yes, that very same talented Sheena.




Monday, September 7, 2015

Books I should have loved but didn't

Everyone has one, most of us have several. It's that book everyone you know thinks you should read, the book all the reviews rave about, that book that is right up your alley. There's just one thing wrong; that book leaves you feeling kind of... meh.

These are some of mine.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I have tried to love this book, really I have. But every time I start to read this book either my mind drifts off or I fall asleep. I really like Patrick Rothfuss as the person he seems to be on the internet and I love how enthusiastic people are about this series but despite having started the book at least three different times I pretty much only know that there's a tavern and the owner is somehow famous and at some point he loses his family to reavers and winds up in the circus or something. Then he maybe goes to some school. Rationally, I know that this is nowhere near to an accurate representation on what the book is about. I may have to try to read it at least once more. I have the sequel too after all. I may have a slight problem with book buying habits.


Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Superheroes! Consequences to ordinary people! Feeling like an outcast! These are all things I loooove in my fiction, more than I can describe. Heck, some of my all time favorite books are Seanan McGuire's Velveteen books which are all about superheroes set into a world where plowing into a building actually has consequences to the people whose lives revolve around said building, regularly wearing spandex also means no bacon etc. I love it. 

Steelheart presses many of those same buttons for me. It's wonderfully written and I will absolutely recommend it to people. And yet... And yet I didn't love it. I thought David, the protagonist, was whiny and annoying in that special way only teenagers seem to manage. I hated the way his inner monologue went "OMG! GIRL! DANGER! BE COOL!" any time a member of the opposite sex turned up. Basically I just wanted to slap him silly for it. Which is probably not a healthy response to anyone, let alone a fictional character.

At this point I'm still debating myself whether or not I should read the sequel. The first book was entertaining and well written, I just don't know whether I should subject myself to a book that I know going in I'm not going to love.


Song of Ice and Fire -series by George R.R. Martin

Then there's that. I devoured A Game of Thrones back in 2006 while on holiday in Paris and got maybe a third of the way into A Clash of Kings. I came home and completely forgot about the book for years. I finally got through the second and third books in the series around 2012 or 2013. That's also pretty much when I decided that that was going to be it for me and that series. And to be perfectly frank, I only managed to finish the second and third book because of professional curiosity. The series is exciting in a way that few books are exciting, Monsieur Martin is undoubtedly a great writer and so on but the books are just too bleak and hopeless for me. Everyone is such a horrible person that I just can't find it in myself to be invested in their outcomes. And if I don't care what happens to them, I might as well stop reading.


So that's me. What are the books you should have loved but just didn't?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Documenting the writing life

At the time this gets published I'm making my way back from Worldcon in Spokane. I'll be tired and cranky and most likely half asleep from the past week's exertions. I'm writing this during the week before Worldcon so I don't know for certain. What I do know right now that I don't have the time or the brain capacity for another thoughtful Mad Max post, though at least one more of those is going to get made sometime soon. So instead I'm going to talk about documenting my writing life.

Query Tracker 

While querying, it's important to know who you've queried and when. Something that's also nice is being able to see the actual query letter. Query Tracker does all this for me as well as providing the option to search for possible agents using various criteria. Query Tracker provides some statistics based on people's reports but from where I'm sitting they don't seem very robust at the moment. None the less Query Tracker even as it is now is an invaluable part of my writing process.

Duotrope


I write short fiction as well as novels. To be perfectly frank, I've written many more short stories than novels. Possibly even more words in short stories than in novels. Duotrope is very similar to Query Tracker, only focused on short stories. Duotrope has wonderful statistics on all the short story markets I've come across so far. It also provides a calendar with upcoming themed and unthemed deadlines of magazine submissions.

Sink or Submit! 

Finally, with regard to submissions, we come to the gamification of submissions. Sink or Submit! is a super simple game created by another Mary Robinette Kowal alumn, Hilary Bisenieks Brenum and it was inspired by yet another MRK alumn, Sunil Patel. Basically, you get a point for every submission and rejection you get. For every acceptance your point count goes to zero. The point of the game is to reward for behavior that should, in the end lead to something positive but where the road to those positive results is sometimes very unpleasant. A sale is a reward all on its own.

The Magic Spreadsheet

The Magic spreadsheet is a way to gamify the amount of words you write every single day. You get more points for every day that you write at least the magic minimum (250 words). You get one point for 250 words (two points for 500 words, 3 for 1000 words and four for 2000 words) plus one point for every day in your chain. I'm currently on my 44th day of my latest chain which means that I'm getting 45 points for today's 300 words. As you accumulate points, you go up a level at intervals that last about a month if you write every day. As you go up a level, your level specific quota goes up by 50 words. Which is to say, on the second level you need to write 300 words every day to maintain your points. You can still maintain your chain even if you don't write to your level quota but that also drops your chain points back to the level highest level quota of those words. So, if today I wrote only 250 words, I would get only 31 points instead of 45. If tomorrow I wrote my 300 words, I would get only 32 points.

The spreadsheet also sports a leaderboard in which you can compete with people around the world on the number of words you've written total, this month and so on.

Trello

At all times I have at least three projects ongoing; one short story, one novel either in plotting or revision and one novel being written. On top of that I run two of my own blogs and regularly contribute to three others. If I didn't have some type of project management tool, my head would explode. Literally. Or maybe not. Mind meltdown doesn't seem like it would produce that much heat or expansion. Anyway, I'm digressing.  I use Trello to plan my time in advance because it allows me to see most of the moving parts in advance as well as giving me deadlines for upcoming things that I need to get done.

How do you document your writing life? Do you

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The dangers of wishing

I have a lot of wishing going on tonight. I spent all day with my cat at the vet. Tonight he's staying at the vet, so they can give him fluids and monitor his condition. He should be fine, but I'm a naturally stressed human, and in this case it's near impossible not to stress.

Sometimes I think wishing can be dangerous, particularly when it becomes a substitute for actual effort. When we become so afraid of trying that it's easier to just sit back and wish for good things to come to us.

But in other cases, wishing can be precious. It can be a light in the dark when we have no control over our fate, when we've done everything we can, and all that's left is the wait.

Sometimes, wishing and hope and faith are all we have.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

WIP


   
                                                                 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Don't miss your Excite

Even the best story ideas can become dull or lifeless at times. Sadly my insurance doesn't cover sick or dying story ideas. If you want a laugh, give your insurance company a call and ask about it. And by 'want a laugh', I mean if you want them to laugh at you.

One thing that I wish or dream about is reviving an older novel I've written called "Going to the Beginning". Last week I spent several hours rewriting the beginning paragraph from scratch. When I was done I had nothing visible to show for it because I had deleted every single attempt.

I could give up. The story is rough and messy. If it was an animal most people wouldn't let it in their house. In fact they'd probably call animal control. Thankfully I'm not most people. I'll happily take in the bedraggled and unloveable. That's probably part of the reason my house is always so cluttered.*

All I can say is "I love clipart", ok well that and what's with the bunny? He looks way too normal.



What I needed was to bring back the excitement it my story. That idea that churns around in my head. It blankets itself over my other thoughts until I expel the words through my fingers and onto the page. 

It was time to go back to the beginning. I'm not editing my old novel. There are too many unnecessary plot and character points to fix. Each time I try it bogs me down and I feel lost. It's hard to clear up something when you can't remember what you want it to look like. 

Since then I have rewritten my core idea and premise for the story. These are the reasons I first wanted to tell this story. The important stuff that I lost track of while I was busy plugging in my daily words.

The core of my novel is about what a sister will endure out of love and a need to protect her sister. It is also about the misconception that having a mental illness means you are broken or less than other people. 

This is what I wrote down for the premise. "After missing for a few days, nine year old Jane is found in a coma. Her sister Julianne is the only one who knows the secret of how her sister disappeared in the first place. She is determined to follow in her sister's footsteps and find a way to save her sister." Dun Dun Dun.**

After writing down my core idea and premise I started to believe in this project again. The premise even ended up being vastly different from my original one. It's going to take more than a few little edits here and there to the story. This doesn't upset me though. I am an intrepid explorer about to uncover the lives and plot of characters I've already come to love. 
I always think I'd write better with a quill pen and perhaps a regency inspired dress
Have you ever gutted a story or revamped it drastically? Did the daunting task give you a new spark of creativity? I'd love to hear from you.




* Although I prefer the term future artifact dig
** I have a hard time writing anything even remotely suspenseful without adding Dun Dun Dun or something similar. I'm very mature that way. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Books I Wish I Wrote

August is all about wishing here on The Prosers. I have a theory that every writer has at least one book they wish they'd written, something that's taken hold of their soul so profoundly that it's almost like someone had crawled up inside their brain and found the pieces there.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire

A government agency filled with living fairy-tales solving crime? I am there for that. I grew up watching cop shows and murder mysteries. My mother was, and probably still is, addicted to them so I have a permanent soft spot. Granted, my favorites more along the lines of NCIS, Bones and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries rather than Hercules Poirot, Inspector Morse and Der Alte but the affinity is still there.

One of the first things that I wrote that I actually remember what happened was a Finnish language assignment of my sister's (she wrote the one she actually turned in but I was so inspired by the assignment that I wrote one just for me); change a key aspect of some fairy-tale and write the story. I've been hooked on subversive fairy-tales ever since.

This book is something that combines both of those elements with dry, dark humor and an episodic story-telling style so reminiscent of all those cop shows I know and love. Every time I read this (I've lost count) I am both in awe of McGuire's work and kicking myself that she got there first.

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Cop just trying to arrest a mass murderer accidentally goes back to his own past and ends up leading a revolution because that's the job that's in front of him.

Sam Vimes in Night Watch is basically a noir hero who's trying to do good. He's Casablanca's Rick Blaine after Elsa gets on that plane (sorry for the spoilers but it's over 70 years old and spoiler warnings have an age limit). He is mainly interested in keeping the piece and protecting a few people.

What he gets is a whole mess of trouble. The Unmentionables, Ankh-Morpork's then patrician's private police, do not like the man who refuses to hand over curfew breakers to them for torturing. The book is filled with social commentary as well as ruminations on the nature of right and wrong.

Pratchett is one of the first authors I started reading who showed me just how subversive humor can be. Because it's "just humorous fantasy", Pratchett can do and say things that "serious" writers would have to work a lot harder for. Night Watch is very much "message fiction" but because it's also laugh-out-loud funny I've never heard it accused of being that. The book sticks with me and I keep coming back to it at least once every year.

Kuka lohduttaisi Nyytiรค? By Tove Jansson

Translated to English as Who Will Comfort Toffle? this one is ostensibly a children's picture book. It's all about Toffle, a little troll who's afraid of the dark, of his neighbors, basically everything around him. He's more or less an introverted, depressive agoraphobic who leaves his home to find a safer space, scared to leave but even more scared to stay. Outside he sees many wondrous things that make him feel even more alone because he's too afraid to approach anyone. He finds a lonely seashore that's calm and makes him not afraid and he makes a home there. Then he gets a letter in a bottle from a girl troll who says she's also scared and needs help. The rest is about him overcoming his own fear because there's someone who needs him. They end up comforting each other and, of course, living happily ever after.

I loved this book as a teenager, heck I still love it, because it assured me that however I was feeling at the time, there were people out there who got me and would love me for me. I know it sounds trite but as a writer I would love to have that kind of impact on another person's life. It is, after all, a part of why I write.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Character Sympathy - Lessons from Mad Max Part 2

As promised a few posts ago, I'm going to get back to talking one of my new favorite movies: Mad Max: Fury Road. This time, particularly I want to talk about building character sympathy. As promised, this time we'll start to think about how to do these things in your own manuscript.

Max Rockatansky

Max is probably the most straightforward of the characters as for sympathy. He's the title character, after all. Even if you haven't seen the previous movies, the monologue in the beginning establishes him as the loner who's just been attempting to survive for a while now. After his two failed escape attempts it's not hard to see why he wouldn't trust anyone. So even though he acts like a rabid animal for the first half of the film, you keep wanting to follow along if just to see how he gets out of his troubles.

Imperator Furiosa

Furiosa is established as a bad ass from the second she struts her way onto the screen. She commands her own war rig and the missing arm seems to be a testament of just how hard won it was. The trouble is, she's supposedly one of the tools of the villain of the story. But it's obvious from the very beginning that she isn't a true believer like the war boys she's hauling. She doesn't react to Immortan Joe's with the religious fervor of pretty much everyone else and seems more anxious to just have it over with. Later when the war rig is attacked for the first time, she proves that it's not an accident that she's in charge. And finally, she's caring for someone other than herself. Her manner may be gruff and fitting the horrors she's been through but she is taking care of someone who's weaker than her. Several someones.

War boy Nux

Nux, even more than Furiosa, is supposed to be a villain, or at the very least a minion of evil. From the beginning he's presented as someone who is deeply into the Immortan Joe religion. He's anxious to give his life in service of Immortan Joe's world domination. In other words he's the very epitome of a cultish suicide bomber. And yet... when he is presented as probably dying in the sandstorm, you kind of feel bad for him. You feel even worse when he's lying unconscious and Max attempts to free himself by blowing Nux's arm away. This is mostly because Nux is presented as an underdog from the very beginning. Before Furiosa leaves for her - shall we say - unsanctioned outing, Nux is more or less dead which is why he needs Max as a blood bag. "High octane crazy blood". Despite being nearly dead, he successfully fights off Slit to make sure he is the only one who drives his car on the Fury Road. Throughout the first chase scene he's almost like a puppy; so anxious and excited to please his master.

How to do it

  1. Make them an underdog
    This is a really popular one, mostly because it tends to work pretty easily. If they're good at what they do, have them face an overwhelming force, such as in Max's first flight. He gets swarmed by war boys who seem to have an unlimited supply of guzzoline, overwhelming numbers and explosive weaponry. No matter how good he is at what he does, there is absolutely no way he's getting out of that situation. That doesn't stop him from trying. It's the Indy rule all over again. In the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark Indiana Jones faces numerous obstacles to get the object of his desire which he loses in the end because he gets surrounded by overwhelming numbers.
     
  2. Make them really, really good at what they do
    Think about Furiosa hanging out of her cab to shoot the pursuing scavengers. She barely has time to sight them before she needs to be back in her cab to drive the rig and still she manages to blow the pursuing buggy out of the road. She keeps her cool even when her second in command is trying to strangle her and manages to get out of the situation. Make your character competent. Make her face hardship and get through to the other side. Loss and injury are okay but they need to come out of it victorious.
     
  3. Make them a rebel
    In the Western societies we seem to have a natural tendency to root for the people who fight the power, so to speak. Furiosa's eye roll at Immortan Joe's speech marks her as a rebel even before she takes the detour. It's the whole Cool Hand Luke thing. Here's this stranger who comes to town and starts stirring trouble and yet we like him instantly for it. It makes no logical sense since human societies thrive on stability and rebels make stability harder but there you are. Maybe it's our inner teenager reminding us what it was like to be young and stupid.
     
  4. Give them someone/something to care for
    This is another of those easy ones. You give a character a kid or a dog, something or someone weaker than him to care for and to protect, instant sympathy. See for example Tom Cruise in War of the World. The guy's a douchy loser but even though we don't really care about him per se, we want him to get to his target in tact because of the kids he's trying to get to their mother. The Wives are considered grown-ups but they've led such a sheltered, captive life that despite being, at least technically, adults they're in a much weaker position than pretty much anyone else out in the desert. Therefore everyone and anyone who protects them is automatically more sympathetic than everyone else around.
     

Homework time!

So, homework! You knew this was coming, didn't you? Write a page or less (maximum 300 words) introducing a character for each of the sympathy-inducing writer tricks.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fuel for Stories - redux

Welp, two weeks ago, I was busy moving house - so busy, apparently, that I completely spaced on posting. Sorry about that. And now I don't even have an original post for you, because even though I'm finally (more or less) unpacked, I'm about to go camping. Tomorrow. Sooo here instead is a post from a few years back about inspiration. Enjoy!

*****

I’m well-practiced at driving long distances. I’ve gone back and forth across country (alone) several times, and I’ve made the drive between Northern and Southern California a dozen times or more, driving and as a passenger. I cope through methods like coffee drinking, good music, podcasts, and creative corn nut consumption, to name a few.

But on the most recent drive, I found that I was missing the most important coping skill of all. You see, my imagination was malfunctioning.

It was very perplexing. When I tried to consider the stories I had in progress, my mind seemed only able to move within the bounds of existing scenes and plotlines. I couldn't even garner interest in my silly sci-fi/fantasy stories that I never intend to write down. It was hours and hours of pure torture. How do non-writers survive such long periods of boredom? 

Near the end of the drive, steel-gray clouds drifting over butter-yellow hills caught my fancy and re-fired my imagination. But that wasn't until hour seven of eight. My imagination seems to be back to normal now, but I do not want to tolerate this condition again on the eight hours back to San Diego.

And so, in this time of stuffing our bodies full of food, I decided to look up and share ways that we might feed our imagination. Not literally - that imagining food diet sounds kind of silly to me.

What works for inspiration for me? Beautiful images, unusual places, and nature walks. I listed some of my favorite triggers for stories in this post. Susan just blogged about the power of the what-if

To further fuel your imagination, here are some lovely images from Wikimedia Commons' Picture of the Year for 2011.




This is my favorite, because it makes me think of a world frozen over:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Snowy_%C3%85reskutan_Ski_lift.jpg

And here are some quotes about enhancing your imagination:

From Seven Sentences:
One simple way of increasing your creativity is to use the law of opposites . When you come up with an idea of what to write, of how to play a character, or of what to paint on that canvas… STOP……ask yourself what is the opposite of that idea; now create something about that.  
 From W. I. B. Beveridge, quoted at Brainpickings.org
Many people will not tolerate a state of doubt, either because they will not endure the mental discomfort of it or because they regard it as evidence of inferiority.
To be genuinely thoughtful, we must be willing to sustain and protract that state of doubt which is the stimulus to thorough enquiry, so as not to accept an idea or make a positive assertion of a belief, until justifying reasons have been found.
And from Suzanna Stinnet:
Notice in Categories: Start by deciding what it is you want to notice today. Once I did this exercise by actively looking at noses. People's noses, dog's noses, noses on billboards and beaks on birds. Crowdwatching while only noticing noses is absolutely hysterical. You bring your focus to one thing and it compounds. You begin to notice many aspects, and suddenly you can't see anything but noses, noses, noses!! The laughter this induced is another great component to brain health, inducing circulation and releasing many natural chemicals related to brain stimulation. Now, while you are noticing and observing these noses, tell yourself about them. Engage the storytelling part of your brain by actively using descriptors. See the details. Make up new words to tell yourself about the noses everywhere in your environment.


And here are some of my favorite pictures from Wikimedia Commons' 2014 Picture of the Year contest!


https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:View_from_a_ridge_between_Segla_and_Hesten,_Senja,_Norway,_2014_August.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Watch_tower_of_the_dam,_Embalse_de_los_Bermejales,_Andalusia,_Spain.jpg



https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Barnard_33.jpg


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Is The Minions Movie Sexist?

So I just watched The Minions with my own minions AND I have a couple of issues.

Here there be spoilers.

It was a funny movie with cute moments, (Bob giving away the tiny crown. Bob and his Tim--basically all things Bob.) but it bugged the feminist in me, and here's why.

1. Where are the girl minions?

I googled it, (as one does,) and turns out there's an answer.

Here's a quote from that article.
In an interview with The Wrap, Minions creator (and director) Pierre Coffin explains there’s a reason we don’t see female Minions. Easy answer, they don’t exist. When he created the Minion world, he purposely didn’t include any girl Minions for one specific reason. Ready for it?According to Coffin, the Minions are all guys because, “Seeing how dumb and stupid they often are, I just couldn’t imagine Minions being girls.” 

Seriously. The creator of Despicable Me couldn't imagine a character who was zany and mischievous, stupid and lovable, and also female. I Love Lucy has been showing reruns for 60 years, and he couldn't imagine a girl as mischievous. Gracie Allen has been dead for decades, and he couldn't imagine a girl as stupid and lovable.

Also, if I may just add that the argument that a girl is too X to be included in Y isn't a compliment. It's an excuse said in a way that we can't get mad at for explaining why woman who aren't perfect can't exist.

I'd really like a girl Minion movie where the girl Minion cells evolve into following the most heroic boss they can and then meet and have an EPIC GOOD VS. EVIL BOY minions verses GIRL minions showdown, that features GRU. Because I missed you Gru!

2. Scarlet Overkill.


Why did Scarlet Overkill have to be the very first female Supervillain? I mean seriously? Why, Minions Movie are you erasing history? Scarlet Overkill calls herself the first female Supervillain in 1970s, WAY after Lizzie Borden, or Queen Ranavalona  of Madagascar,  or Catherine de Medici. But in this movie, before 1970's there were only male villains.

Which I guess is okay...that could be a story point...if, and only if it was actually used as one. This wasn't crucial to the plot...at all. There wasn't room to show a history of male villains that was changing. And if she was the first, why, for the love of peanut butter, did she have to be the only one? There was a Swamp Thing, and Sumo Dude, and a bunch of other awesome male supervilllain henchmen. Couldn't she have a few henchwomen she inspired? They had zero lines. Would it really have been that much more difficult to draw one or two other human beings as a girl?

3. Scarlet Overkill.



 She's a supervillian, but she doesn't get to do anything except wear a dress. Withing the first minute of introducing Gru, he had popped a kids balloon, freeze ray'ed a bunch of people and threatened to kill his neighbors dog. The only evil Scarlett gets to do is threaten the minions about what will happen to them if they don't, and she has to do it in a sing song voice while telling a fairytale...i.e. the least threatening way possible. She tells us she's bad, but she never shows us she's bad, and that's just bad storytelling.

Her husband, Herb, is the inventor, the designer, and the one responsible for her being the first female Superpower. So then, isn't she really just the first female puppet of a supervillain? How much cooler would it have been if she was the inventor, the designer, and the person in charge?

4. Scarlett Overkill.




Okay, so her entire goal as a character was to steal the crown so she could be a pretty princess like she wanted to when she was a little girl.

So to sum up, Scarlett Overkill is the first female Supervillain whose super power is wearing a dress. The source of her power is her husband who makes this dress for her, and whose only motivation is to be a pretty princess when she grows up.

Ask yourself one question, if Scarlett Overkill was a Barbie doll that Herb Overkill dressed up and moved around, then would the plot still work? The answer is sadly yes.

It's set in the backdrop of the 1970's, with hints of the Feminist revolution, with an "awesome" Female Supervillain played by the phenomenal Sandra Bollock. And she did a great job... with what she had been given. But it fails, in a zillion I've-seen-this-all-before ways. She's not a supervillain, she's a supervillain with a bow placed on her head. She's a flat uninteresting character, whose entire characterization begins and ends with she's a girl. She's a girl living in a world with no other females. She is the idea of a girl, and not an actual character.

And so, I'm going to design a better Scarlett Overkill.

Meet Scarlett V.2. 

She wants to be the greatest Supervillain of all time, and she has posters on her wall of awesomely powerful female villains; like Motherload, Lizzie Borden Ax Murderess, and her hero The Crimson Spike. She designed her own self propelled vehicle and armory belt/dress, which she rocks, thank you very much. She has friends who are female. She has rivals who are female. She makes choices, and decisions for herself, and when she is finally caught in her web of ice, by..... say, one young Gru, the freaking Queen punches her and takes back her crown, because she is the freaking Queen of freaking England, and she's not going to abdicate for her own son let alone a Yellow Twinkie in glasses, or allow that Twinkie to change laws so that an American could be the next queen, are you freaking kidding me right now? Even the Queen was shown as powerless. She is only shown with men; male guards, male carriage drivers, and even in the scene at the bar there are only male patrons, and she only wore pink.  BLARG.

In my version of this story, the queen would fight for her thrown, and Scarlett Overkill would have to be smarter to defeat the queen. She'd have to be smart and powerful, with allies, and obstacles and they'd go to war over this freaking crown.

It's possible I just described a Taylor Swift music video.

It's also possible I'm making too big of a deal about this. It's just a kid's movie about yellow Twinkies with goggles who don't speak human.

It's also possible that I sat next to impressionable little boys and girls who just learned that the only way for a woman to be powerful, is for her to wear a dress and be married to a powerful person.

And sure, that's a great way to be powerful. But does it have to be the only option?

I can't wait for that narrative to start changing.

~Sheena

p.s. how young is too young to take my kids to go see Mad Max?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Writing for hope

This morning a young girl died close to our home. I wish this was the opening sentence of a contrived novel and not real life. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

A twelve-year old girl was murdered. We didn’t know her or her family, but that doesn’t lessen the horror. It makes me ill to think about it. My heart bleeds for the mother who searched for her child. That terror she went through when her daughter was lost. I can’t even fathom the agony which she is going through now. 

Life truly can be hellish at times. Doubtless there are more eloquent ways of saying this. However, sometimes the plain and simple ones do a better job. 

For some reason it reminded me of when I was younger. I have always known that I wanted to write. During that time I knew kids who joined gangs. I even saw some of the aftermath of their "initiations". There were people who went through drug rehab at 14, were abused, suicidal and many other awful things. 

I didn't always know what to say in the moment. There were other kids who I didn't know well enough to reach out to them when I overheard what they were going through. That's when I knew what I why I wanted to write. I wanted to write books to inspire and uplift people. It felt like a way I could reach out to other people in pain 

That doesn’t mean that I think one story of mine could ward off an atrocity. I’m not naive. There are many poisonous things in our world. Things that people can choose to indulge as their mind is twisted. 

I write stories about young men and women who overcoming demons and monsters. The empowering message might seem like spitting into a fire to put it out. In a way it is, but that doesn’t mean that I will stop. Whether they are spoken or written, there is power in words. 

Evil and demons will persist. I will continue to do my best to comfort those in need and to help keep my on family safe. It is a small thing. That's true, but it's mine. This is a small thing I can do.

~Deborah Moore


Deborah Moore is a recurring columnist for an Independent magazine where she shares parenting advice and interviews successful women in the fields of science, math, technology and fantasy