Novella Update

I’m in the final stretch.  After two big days (over 4K yesterday), I broke 25K and I’m in the climax of the story.  I know roughly what needs to happen, but the timing shocked me last night (or maybe I’m just bone tired).  All the sudden, the bad guys were there, on page, and I was like OH, here.  Okay!  I need to get through the life-or-death showdown, then a happy reunion between my heroine and her heroes (yes, plural, sigh), and then the final scene. 

I might…MIGHT…have to write that final scene in someone else’s POV.  One of my “rules” is that no extra POV characters are ever used if they’re not used throughout the story (e.g. no token “throw away” POVs just to show the villain in action), but in this case, I may have no other choice.  I really really hate that…but it will only mean something if this particular person sees the action live.  After all, it’s a direct message to her and drives all future conflict, because this novella is merely a launching point for many other characters.    We’ll see when I get there.

Right now, I think it’s safe to say I’ll end up around 30K, but I might not write all that today.  I may skip that final sex scene for now to get the bones of the plot down. 

I know I’ve been rather mum about the details of this project, for a variety of reasons.  Partly: I wasn’t sure if I’d finish in time, so why get you excited about a story I might not even submit if I can’t beat the deadline?  (Of course it might not be accepted either.)  The other reason: it’s new for me.  Like new world, new genre, new.  I thought long and hard about my options, talked it over with a few people who had differing suggestions, but in the end, I have to go with the story that burns to be written.  This one was it.

Once I finish the draft, I might be convinced to share a snippet.  I’m off from the Evil Day Job today so chances are really good that I’ll be able to finish the first ugly draft today.  I’ll report back once it’s done.

The Finish Line is in Sight

You’ve probably noticed the lack of “normal” blog posts this month.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  MayNoWriMo about killed me.  All that admin stuff just keep me crazy busy.  Then with The Bloodgate Guardian releasing this month, there were more guest posts to write and organize, which I got behind on, and then my website was down several days last week, throwing another kink into the mix.  I still owe some interview stuff to people – but until I meet my current deadline, I’m going to be hit or miss.

But the real reason I’ve been somewhat scarce this month:  I’m writing a holiday novella with a hard due date of 7/15.  I had it loosely plotted out, then changed my mind on some key things and had to start all over again early in the month.  I’ve had a lot of self-dialogue this month, rationalizing this change and that, worrying about my brand (or lack thereof), and making smart choices going forward.

In the end, I keep repeating some advice that Lynn Viehl gave me:  write a world where I would like to live, based on everything that I love.

And oh, how I’m loving this world and this story.  It’s just pure fun.  I mean, any time I can name a bunch of characters after different types of guns it’s a win, isn’t it?  Or when I can take historical events or characters and totally warp them! It’s like history…with a bonus.  I haven’t had this much fun messing around with history since I wrote Beautiful Death (which is Greek mythology and warped Maceondian history).

I hit 20K over lunch today so it’s all downhill now.  If I can finish this first draft around 25K and then take a couple of weeks to revise, I think I’ll be sitting in decent shape to submit by 7/15.  To help me reach that goal, I’ve got my three “power” songs on continuous loop:

Supermassive Black Hole by Muse

Burn it to the Ground by Nickelback

Wings of a Butterfly by H.I.M.

I’m hoping to report back an “I’m finished!” update on/by June 30th! Wish me luck!

Another Use for Notecards

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you (or whether I’m the only obsessively anal neurotic writer out there), but I recently faced a problem where I could NOT make a decision.  I had two choices for how a story could unfold.  I knew each path pretty well, and both had their positives and negatives.  But which was the BEST?  I couldn’t decide.  I waivered back and forth, stewing about the right choice, and meanwhile, I couldn’t make progress down either path, because OMG, what if I was going down the wrong one and had to start all over again?

I finally decided to write out an outline, sort of, for each option so I could step back and try to objectively make a decision.  Since I had two options, I decided to use colored notecards so I could compare and contrast by color.

First, I wrote down a few key story points that were the same no matter which option I used (general points — of course there were many details that would work for one but not the other depending on which direction I went).  The first was “Miss Charlotte refuses the Sheriff’s proposal.”  I used blue for these so they’d stand out easier and I could quickly identify my notes vs. the next plot point. 

Then I selected two other colors (neon yellow and cream, not exciting, but I was trying to use them up).  For each plot point (blue), I wrote several key details about each option.  In A, Charlotte is this type of character.  In B, she’s someone else entirely.  In A, her motivation is to project the sheriff from the forces hunting her down.  In B, she’s ashamed of her past.  etc.  Some elements were very similar, and I made note of them.  e.g. in A, she’s ashamed of her past, too, but for entirely different reasons.

I was really surprised how well — and how quickly — this worked.  From the very first blue card, I could see that story A would be much stronger.  The character’s motivation was deeper.  I have very powerful forces chasing the protagonist from the very first scene, and there’s really no way she can defeat them if they find her.  The conflict is obviously much higher, and the premise is more unique. 

There was nothing wrong with B, and maybe if I hadn’t had this other thought, it would have been okay.  But compared to A, it was just that, okay, and as Conn would say:  I’m not the sort of person who’s satisified with okay.

On the plus side, I now have my story outlined and I threw out all those boring cream (B) options!

On an entirely different note, I foresee several word wars or timed writing stints in my near future.  In several 15-20 minute intervals today, I was able to write over 3K, even while responding to comments for Writer Wednesday.  Whoo!  Just a few more days like that and this novella will be done!

P.S. And yes, I did have to start all over again, but the story is much better for it.

Guilt and Ulterior Motive

First, I want to get something off my chest.  I hate feeling guilty.  I especially hate making MYSELF feel guilty over something that’s stupid.

I’m talking about Vicki.  I was really making myself feel guilty because I wasn’t getting the progress that I wanted.  Any other month (e.g. look back at May, Nov, and Dec. last year) I could have written 50K no problemo.  Way back in 2007, I wrote 50K in 11 days. 

I used to worry about never finishing a book (I’m glad the 2005 archives are gone!!) but I know that I can and will finish.  I can file something and bring it out again later and finish it (e.g. Conn, Victor). Yet for weeks, I made myself open Vicki’s file, whispering the fear–the lie–that if I filed her, she’d die.  I’d never finish. 

I tortured myself with that fear.  Daily.

Writers write every day, right?  How many times have we heard that?  Typically, I’d even agree.  Write 1K a day and finish 3 books a year, I know I’ve said that many times before.

But there’s no need to flail myself with guilt when a book isn’t going the way I want.  I could have put the book aside in March and moved on, instead of forcing myself to keep stabbing away at its lifeless corpse, because that’s really what it felt like.

Don’t get me wrong – if Vicki had been contracted, I would have been stabbing MYSELF to finish.  But she’s not contracted.  I’ve made no commitments.  It was just a book for me (right now), a personal challenge.  So why beat myself up?

So, note to self and any of you that might flail yourself with guilt about writing:  If it’s not feeling good, don’t do it!  If you’re leaving scars on your Muse, put the @#&%* whip away!  

We pick up enough scars each and every day just by being writers.  Bad reviews, rejections, opening up the dark scary places and peeling back layer after layer to reveal the horror and truth within.  Don’t make that scarring worse by tormenting youself with “shoulds” and “but the rule is….” or “but everyone else…”

There.  I feel better.

Now then, what do I mean about ulterior motive?  I’m declaring April my personal brainstorming month.  I’m not going to set a single goal for writing or finishing a single project.  I’m going to brainstorm.  I’m going to write snippets of dreams and secrets that characters whisper to me.  I’m going to write in my journal.  I’m going to go picture hunting.  I’m going to watch movies and read more books and cross-stitch.  I may even draw pictures!  Gasp!

One thing I’m learning from the harder exercise program I started in March: listen to my body.  Or in this case, listen to my Muse.  Gregar has never failed me before.  I’ve worked him hard and long, for years, with only minimal breaks.  I already have THREE contracted stories coming out this year. 

Yes, but but…  the shrill, annoying voices start.  Keep the pipeline full!  What about next year?  If you stop now, you may never start again.  Quitter!  Failure! 

Now there’s a very good reason my Muse carries a wicked ivory rahke, because I just borrowed it to slit that nasty little demon’s throat.  My greatest strength is my drive and my determination to succeed at all cost.  But that drive can also be my greatest weakness.

I have to learn to listen, both to my body and my Muse, before something tears or simply breaks.

So I hereby declare April to be my fun month.  I’m going to try some new things, build some new ideas, and just generally have a good time.  I will not write hard on any single project — but if I get an idea for a short freebie, I may allow myself to finish it. 

My ulterior motive:  MayNoWriMo.  I’m hoping that with an “enforced” writing restriction this month — and lots of fun idea time — that May will be a huge output month.   I’m being sneaky with my Muse and telling him no writing this month.  Just laugh, tell jokes, be that wicked smirking Blood I love so well.  Because next month, he’d better be the vicious Shadowed Blood again.

May, June, and July will be finishing whatever project I settle on for MayNoWriMo.  Top contenders at this time:  Vicki, Deathright, and Maya#2 using the subplots I axed from the original Bloodgate story.

Writing Cycles

This is something I’ve been thinking about off and on for years, and the past few weeks have made me think about it again. 

I’ve talked before about the writer’s journey — how each day can begin with a call to adventure, is fraught with peril, and yes, most of the time, requires passage through the Inner Cave. 

But there’s another cycle I’m thinking about now, more like a life cycle, specifically for a computer program (my Evil Day job).  There are stages of coding, just as there are stages of writing.  I might spend weeks on a design, meeting with the business area to hash out the requirements and then building an outline or “synopsis” of the solution I’m going to deliver.  The longer we spend on business requirements and design, the better the final product will be.

Granted, not all projects — or books — require detailed analysis and design.  But for large, complex projects, a solid design is crucial.  Typically, the person writing the design may not even be the final programmer.  Components may get handed off to others to code, and they need to be able to read the design document and understand how their piece fits into the cog.

For some projects, the requirements and design stage goes on and on and on.  Lord, I just want to CODE, I need to go go go!  I’m tired of the endless meetings and reviewing spreadsheets.  Let’s do something.  Anything.  Go!

That’s the stage I was at when I started Vicki, even though I hadn’t done any of the normal “business requirements and design” that I normally do for a book.  After heavy revisions in January, I needed to just sit down and write.  Just go.  Grab the words, write freely, don’t worry about spreadsheets.  Just go!!

And it was fun — while it lasted.

That’s really the point I originally started with.  Like moon phases and hormones, I think there can be cycles for a writer too where we just naturally do one stage of the process better than others.  Sometimes, I can write 1K, 2K a day, for weeks, and feel energized at the end of each day.  Other times — even though I love the story as much as any of them — I can’t get but a paragraph, and it’s agonizing.  I can’t concentrate.  I don’t WANT to concentrate.  I’d rather clean toilets or fold laundry — anything! — than write, even though I love to write, I need to write.

But if I’m paying attention, a different cycle of the writing process is usually sparking.  e.g. if I don’t feel the words coming fast and strong, maybe it’s a good time to plot.  Or brainstorm. 

Or maybe I just need a break before all circuits melt.  :-)

I’m still sitting in a pretty good position for this year.  I have three contracted works in various stages of production.  That kind of work takes very different muscles from simply wallowing in a lovely draft, where the words are mine and mine alone.  When I get the editor’s file, it’ll be a drop everything and MOVE sort of push to get that work done and returned as quickly as possible.

Not a good time to be writing deep in the zone on a new book.  That’s what really started the sputtering on Vicki–I received revisions on The Bloodgate Guardian, and I just never got my flow back.

As much as I want to be writing new words right now and finishing Vicki, it’s just not happening.  Because I didn’t do a thorough design (plot) at the beginning, I don’t have much story left, and the book hasn’t broken 30K yet.  I’ve discovered some wonderful things, but they need work.  Lots of work. 

So last night, I sat down, opened Vicki’s file (the first time in days, honestly), and typed out every note and dream I’ve had in synopsis (telling) form.  It was a brain dump.  Even writing about the scenes I envisioned, I did not get the burn to write.  I didn’t slip into story (showing) mode once.  That tells me more than anything that it’s time to set Vicki aside for awhile.

Don’t worry – that seems to be my process for writing contemporary erotic.  I did the exact same thing for Conn and even Victor’s books.  I had about 15K written in loose chunks for Victor long before I sat down last year to write his complete draft.  I have a good start for Vicki in a few months, after I let her story stew just a bit longer on the back burner.

So what’s on the writing plate this month?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  I seem to be in an idea-generating cycle.  I’m hearing voices of characters, very very clearly, who have no business talking right now. 

e.g. Shannari was really blaring in my head yesterday.  I’m like, hey, your story is DONE.  Why are you bothering me?  But she just kept talking about the dream, how real it was, how easy it would be to slip there and never come out, because HE’S there.  Of course, I thought she was talking about Gregar, but then…

I got the chills on my arms that told me maybe she wasn’t talking about herself after all.  Maybe she’s trying to help me understand someone else.  *shivers*

Anyway, if I seem disjointed this month and jumping around like a duck after a June bug, that’s why.  The ideas are coming hard and fast — so I’ll be jotting them, brainstorming, while I wait for the editor revisions to come.

Making Mistakes

Nobody likes to make mistakes.  For one thing, it’s pretty damned embarrassing, especially when it takes someone else to correct your mistake.  But I tell you now that there’s nothing that’ll open your eyes quicker than a humiliating mistake — if you’re willing to learn from it. 

It’s like the joke that Jeff Foxworthy tells:  When he was a kid and stuck his finger in a light socket, his dad said, “Hurt like hell, didn’t it?  Won’t do that again!”

Making writing mistakes hurts like hell too.  And yeah, I won’t be making this mistake again.

So what’d I do? 

Because of my lack of rules, boundaries, and limitations (see yesterday’s post), I didn’t make good choices from the beginning with the Maya story.  Remember all my posts about Revision Xibalba?  All that work?  Wasted.  Because I didn’t know what my genre was, and I didn’t stay within the lines.

To correct my mistake, I had to:

  • delete two subplots that convoluted and detracted from the main romance line.  Painful, because I loved these two stories.  Clue: I loved them enough, I should have given them their OWN book!
  • axe 25K
  • kill over a dozen characters.  Can you say too many characters?
  • rewrite the ending

Was all that work worth a little jaunt on the wildside?  In the end, I have to say yes, because it opened my eyes to the path I’d chosen.  I had to make a choice about whether to keep going and ignore the mistake, or correct it.  I chose to correct it, and I learned a lot from it too.  I can’t tell you how much better this ms is now, but I’m much happier with it.

And the real sign that I’ve made the right choice?  Before, I was blocked about what the next book would be in that series.  I jotted a few ideas, but I really had nothing beyond a general “I need to do this” sort of feeling.  As soon as I committed to the changes above, I immediately started getting excited about more things I could do — now that I had opened up the stable door and stepped inside.

So I guess I’m glad I made the mistake, but geez, I wish my head was a little less thick.

Happy Birthday, Year 6 (late)

I can’t believe that I forgot my writing birthday this past September (2008).  I remembered in October or so, but then I was so deep into projects that I didn’t sit down and write up the annual post.

Looking back over 2009, I think the thing I’ll remember most is Revision Hell.  I spent a great deal of time revising projects and pushing them out the door.  I finally revised my first NaNoWriMo novel about half a dozen times and began submitting it.  I worked on Arcana’s revision — my first and only fast draft novel — only to realize I’ve still got some issues with it. 

Probably the biggest milestone of the past year was finishing the Shanhasson trilogy.  That dream has come full circle, the first dream, the first story that brought me to this path.   I hope to share that full dream with you in 2010.

Another major milestone was making my first sale to Samhain.  As I wrote last year, Dear Sir (Letters) pushed me to grow beyond my favorite genres of fantasy and science fiction flavored with romance.  Conn gave me the excuse to remember how much I love poetry (this is Dreaming in Rhyme after all), and now Victor will continue pushing me into 2010 (he’s got the riding crop handy in case I balk).

On the horizon, I see a new series simmering just out of the corner of my eye.  It’s a new combination of some of my very favorite things.  These include Deathright and Seven Crows, which I’ve blogged about briefly before.  They’re satire in a way — making fun of some tropes, but paying homage to them at the same time.  I can’t wait to get back to them in early 2010.

No luck this past year in the Great Agent Hunt, although I did have a close call.  I have queried, but I’ve been pretty selective.  I plan to re-evaluate my A-list around April/May next year and begin querying the new series with fresh eyes.  But my personal goals are changing a bit.  I want to build what I’ve already established.  I need to write the final Keldari novella, get the Shanhasson trilogy done, and then wrap up the Connaghers.  I love the flexibility I have right now.  I want to LOVE what I write and write my heart out.  If I can snag an agent in the process, then I’ll kill two birds with one stone, but either way, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing, which is hopefully writing stories that keep you up late at night, flipping just one more page, one more page, one more page.

While Gregar, Conn and Victor whisper in your ear.

Here’s to another year.  Hopefully I’ll actually remember my writing birthday on 9/30 next year!

Finish the Damned Book

Last night, I finished my 7th full-length novel, 9th counting the novellas.  Victor, the NaNoWriMo novel, is finished at 73K and before anyone asks when they can read it, it needs a ton of work before it’ll be presentable!  But the first major hurdle is done.

There was a time in my writing journey where I seriously doubted I would ever be able to finish a book again.  For one full year, I didn’t finish a single new novel.  Each time, I begin to wonder if maybe the magic is gone.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe this will be the book that breaks me.

Well, I’m not broken yet.

Victor pushed me into places that were hard to go.  He wants things I can’t possibly understand.  Deep down, he fears he’s a very, very bad man, and at the core, unlovable.  Dealing with his fears was exhausting and yes, exhilarating.  Each book is hard for a different reason and teaches me something new.  I guess Victor had to show me that I can’t worry about people may think.  I can’t get too wrapped up in how politically incorrect, vulgar, or risky a character may be.  I just have to write the book and trust the magic not to fail me.

And even though Victor was making me doubt whether I would ever get to his endzone, his sister started blabbing in my head last night and her hero showed up.  Well, at least one of them.  ::ahem::

Final line from Victor, subject to revision:

“Watch the show and see for yourself.”

Project Management

I always have multiple projects in the hopper at the Evil Day Job — so why can’t I figure out how to manage two or more writing projects?  If I could  worldbuild and plot one project while drafting or revising another, then I could turnaround projects much more quickly — instead of losing Aug. and Sept to plotting out Victor’s story, for example.

What I fear is losing “the zone.”  It was so hard to get Victor’s story into the 1-2K a day rhythm that’s comfortable for me when a project is in full swing.  I certainly don’t want to do anything to mess that up.  Ideally, I’ll finish Victor’s story by the end of Nov. thanks to NaNoWriMo, edit in Dec. and possibly submit in Jan.  But if I don’t get moving on the next project, I’m going to have a lull in Jan., Feb. and March as I work out the next plot.

Of course somewhere in this mess I’d like to complete revisions to Return to Shanhasson and get it submitted too.

TIME.  I just don’t have enough to finish everything I want.  This next project is relatively time sensitive too.  If I dink around too long plotting everything out, I don’t think the idea will be quite as fresh and cool as I think it is right now.

So I guess I’m going to try and apply business techniques to help me figure out a decent balance across multiple projects.  Through October, I’ll be shooting for at least 1K a day for Victor and at least 1 hour work on the new story universe.  I’ll just have to keep myself from getting too focused on any one thing and losing momentum.  I refuse to risk my ability to get Victor’s story done as soon as possible.

Besides, I really don’t want him to use that wicked crop on ME!

Writing Maturity

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I made the first notes for Victor’s story in the fall of 2007.  I even had about 10K written for possible scenes and took the time to outline the general idea of the show.  Now, two years later, it’s so much easier for me to see how much I’ve grown as a writer since then.

I remember reading a review once (not on my own stories) where the reader could tell immediately the book was the author’s debut.  I always wondered exactly what that meant.  The book had been reviewed favorably, so that wasn’t a bad thing.  I read the book myself and didn’t pick up on anything–but I was a young writer myself at the time.

It’s much easier to understand what that reviewer meant now when I’m going over my old notes and I realize how simple my characters were.  The basic premise of the plot–a BDSM reality show with some unknown leak who might ruin the season–is the same.  While the characters’ names remain, their motivations, personalities, and emotions are much deeper and real.  I had no clue about Victor.  No clue at all.  I had him doing these delightfully vicious things with no idea why.  He had no internal turmoil.  Shiloh was a basic stereotypical submissive all the time.  There were no nuances to her personality.  The bad guy (who I’m changing to be someone else, now) was also basic, stereotypical silliness.

Now I know that if I’d sat down two years ago and wrote out the book for real, that it would have been better than these bare bones.  I would have dug deeper.  But I find it interesting that my first “try” at writing notes was so basic.  I was writing what could have been a risky, edgy book with vanilla characters.

Let me tell you, Victor sure isn’t vanilla.

One last point that I realized after reading another debut book a few weeks ago.  For the most part, I enjoyed it.  The worldbuilding was great.  The plot was one I’ve always been tempted to write myself (and yeah, I have a few stunted starts around that basic premise somewhere in the depths of my files).  The writing was good.  But in the end, the book left me yearning for something…more.  Really, it came down to a single decision for the protagonist:  would she stay with the hero or not.  She wavered between angst and more angst for chapters.  Duty, responsibility, duty, we’re too different, I can’t have him even though I want him.  And then, in the final pages, she makes a choice — with another character’s help — and races back to her lover’s arms.

[And yes, I know I’m guilty of this myself.  Shannari does pretty much the same duty vs. love angsting in The Rose of Shanhasson, my first book ever.  See my point?]

Great.  HEA, right?  But I couldn’t help but wish those 100-200 pages of passive angst and moaning woe is me had been tossed out.  The story I would have liked to read would be:    I want this man, and I’m  keeping him.  Even if I have to wage war to do so.

Which I’m pretty sure will be the basis for my next new project.  *winks*