NaNo 2012 Update 2

November 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm (NaNoWriMo) (, , , , , )

I have been…not as good this week.

In fact, I’d feel downright ashamed of myself if it weren’t for the gradual realization that maybe NaNo- as in the daily practice of NaNo- isn’t such a great thing for me. It’s not the overall word count I’m struggling with- it’s the effort of writing every single day whether I feel like it or not. That’s not really how my brain works, especially not when there’s a question of work. But, here’s the breakdown on this week’s walk of shame.

(and that’s completely personal shame- in no way am I pronouncing shame on you ‘if you didn’t do better’. I set an expectation for myself and failed to live up to it)

7 November Full day of work but came home and did some writing in the evening. This is kind of a strange book for me, the first one I’ve known so deeply, so entirely, that I’m forgetting to give things a foundation. There are two characters who are supposed to be particularly antagonistic to each other, and later on I remember to say that they’re appalled by the thought of agreeing buuuut…forgot to lay all the groundwork earlier for why. I foresee a great deal of editing in my future.
Word count for the day: 3879

8 November Day off! Some chores and errands to do, including a run across town (why do some companies make it so frickin hard to pay a bill?!) but overall, pretty happy with the day’s haul. Got out of the house for most of it, which seems to be the way I get more work done. Some fun chapters- fighting, pissing off a parental unit, and introducing a character I absolutely love and shamelessly dragging into the rewrite far earlier than he appeared in the original. Because you know? Some characters you just need more of.
Work count for the day: 7610

9 November Full day of work. Well, mostly full. I left a couple of hours early because there’s a galloping crud going around the staff. Tis the season, and in all honesty, I’d rather get it now and be done with it then get it any time between Black Friday and the end of January. Can we tell I work retail. Got some writing done but was just really feeling cruddy, so I mostly just curled up in the chair with the cat and some cocoa, a bunch of comfort foods, and watched the ultimate pretty that is Planet Earth
Word count for the day: 1763

10 November Worked a half day, still miserably sick. Hurt to swallow, which made staying hydrated rather difficult, brain not particularly wanting to work. More Planet Earth, more cuddling with the cat, but once the soup started taking effect, the brain started working a little more easily.
Word count for the day: 5066

11 November Day off, but still sick, so most of the day passed in the armchair with the rest of Planet Earth. Got a little bit done, came up against a dilemma with how to handle a specific scene, and I’ve learned I do not write well out of order. The writing I was planning to do later in the evening got derailed by the loan of all the Bond films, on the understanding that I have to watch all of them, in order, because I’m allowed to go see Skyfall. And may I just say, OH MY GOD these movies are hurting my brain. There’s so much in me that protests, and I’m not even through the Sean Connery set. Between the constant cringing and the massacre of unsuspecting brain cells, it’s incredibly difficult to write through these movies. But, you know, some writing got done in the afternoon.
Word count for the day: 3292

12 November Full day at work, feeling a little better but still cruddy. Tried to write, managed maybe five hundred words- so few I didn’t even bother to write down the number so I wouldn’t know just how ashamed I needed to be. So, feeling rather too self-indulgent, I curled up with a book. Doing projects back to back, I haven’t just sat down and read in a month and a half, so giving a whole evening over to just reading was GLORIOUS. Of course, it helped that the book was frickin AMAZING OH MY GOD PUNCH YOU RIGHT IN THE FEELS GORGEOUS (Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight, if anyone’s curious, review will be coming up next month when I’ve had some time to process, stop drooling, and maybe if I’m lucky speak about it coherently). Should feel guilty but oh, it was just that good.
Word count for the day: mreh

13 November This was the day I’d actually planned not to write. Having the one day break last week seemed to do wonders for me, and I’d thought about rescinding it, given Monday’s performance, and then looked at what I needed to do in the apartment before company came over, including dishes, cleaning the bathroom, putting things away, and just generally tidying up. And, feeling a bit more cruddy than the day before, I decided to go with it. And by ‘it’, I mean rewarding myself after each block of housework with an episode of Castle.
Word count for the day: zero.

So, overall, not a fantastic week. Total word count for NaNo: 44, 599, not counting the couple hundred from Monday’s travesty. Near the goal, yes, but just…not the performance I wanted to put in. Would love to say this coming week will be better, but I’m still sick. Tonight’s not looking promising- came home from work, took out the trash, and now my brother is here for Pizza and Bad Movie Night. (More Bond, if anyone’s curious- Thunderball)

Those of you doing NaNo, how are you doing? Check in below!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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NaNo 2012 Update 1

November 7, 2012 at 10:07 am (NaNoWriMo, Writing) (, , , , , )

Just a quick update here, and then I’m off to write to make up for yesterday (see below).

1 November: First day, you want to start strong out of the gates, mostly to prove to yourself that you can, and because you’ve been psyching yourself up for days, weeks, or even months. The rest of the month is for pacing yourself. It took me a little while to find the voice for this project, mainly because it’s not a new new project (bizarrely enough, in the same way that he is is the new new Doctor). This is a rewrite of a book I wrote three and a half years ago, the first thing I queried with. I love the original book like cake but when I retired it from the queries I knew I had to think long and hard about how to salvage it. Finally, after three years of finding small pieces that needed to change, the big thing finally clicked. Sharpening a voice I already love and know so well is HARD.
Total word count for the day: 8429

2 November: Unlike the 1st, had to work this day, and I’m really not good at writing after work (or getting up uber early to write before work if it’s an opening shift). Getting a decent word count made me very grateful.
Total word count for the day: 2502

3 November: Another work day, a long one, and a pounding, throbbing headache due to a low pressure front coming in (yes, my skull likes to tell me the upcoming weather). Made some words but not the word count, and then got to the site ten minutes too late to update. Not a good day.
Total word count for the day: 990

4 November: A day off (yay!) which mean I could get a bit more done. Voice is coming more naturally, so now it’s more a question of what do I save from the original while still implementing these necessary (and kind of interesting!) changes? Kind of feel like I’m giving short shrift to some of the characters, then look back at original and realize I always kind of did in the beginning.
Total word count for the day: 7402

5 November: I did not expect this to be a good writing day, partly because I worked, partly because a new toy arrived, and whenever a fun piece of electronic wonder comes in, I like to play with it for hours and hours and hours. BUT- then Erin Bowman, Sarah Maas, and Susan Dennard threw out a Writing Sprint challenge on Twitter, and I’m kind of competitive. It turned a day that otherwise would have been a dismal 443 into:
Total word count for the day: 2530

6 November: Election Day. Didn’t even try to write today. Had some initial ideas about getting up uber early before work, but I’d stayed up later than I intended to the night before, and then my blankets and cat were just so comfortable, I said screw it, I’ll deal with the guilt. Didn’t try at all once I got home from work. I made dinner, found a couple of decent sites online, and settled in to watch the election results come in.
As a side note: Thank you, thank you, thank you, to every single person who voted yesterday, or in early voting, thank you to the people who stood in those insane lines, thank you to all the people gathered together either in person or through social media to watch the course of America. No matter who you voted for, you made a difference. Don’t believe me? They’re still counting votes in Florida, and take a look at some of the other states where both major candidates had 49% of the vote and the difference in calling it was only a few thousand. When you’re looking at millions and millions of votes, a few thousand is a HUGE deal. So thank you.

Total word count for NaNo so far: 22,532. I make tweaks as I go so sometimes the word count isn’t as easy as a straight addition from one day to the next. It’s a good start, but now I’m off to try to get some decent words in before work, so I can make up for yesterday.

How are you doing? Check in below if you’d like!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Reviews and NaNoWriMo

October 31, 2012 at 11:54 am (NaNoWriMo, Writing) (, , , )

Here’s where I could apologize for the paucity of book reviews recently- except I’m not going to. I’m going to explain it, instead, because it’s going to continue for a little bit.

During October, I wrote the first draft for a new project. I work full time, had other engagements that necessitated being away from my writing habitats or even out of town entirely, which should give some indication of the quasi-obsession needed to come through eighteen scattered days of writing with 95,000 words. It doesn’t give much time for reading new things- some days I come away from my writing computer so thoroughly fried in the brain that I can’t do anything other than stare mindlessly at the tv or re-read old favorites I can nearly recite.

I’d intended November to be a month of decompression, binge-reading and not even looking at anything I’ve written. I like to let first drafts sit for a few weeks before I go back to them, and with a couple of things coming up this month, it seemed like a brilliant idea. I’d get to read all the amazing books I’ve been stockpiling, catch up on reviews, and the only chances for my brain to be fried would be coming home from work as we key up into retail hell (also known as the holiday season).

Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo, or NaNo.

If you haven’t heard of it before, that stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, huge numbers of people come together in an online community- that sometimes stretches to local or regional write ins and physical check in support groups as well- with the goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. For the most part, 50K isn’t a novel, but it’s a good start, and you have a ton of people cheering you on and helping you stay accountable.

NaNo on the whole has its ups and downs.

Some of the ups: similar to the Butt-in-Chair philosophy, it’s a way to just WRITE. To train your brain and your muscles, to develop habits that could stick with you, to find how you can be productive. Or how not. The accountability is fantastic, the community is amazing, and a lot of fantastic books are born as NaNo projects. It’s also a great push for those who’ve been trying to make themselves write.

Some of the downs: a NaNo project is not truly a novel. It’s a sprint, a sloppy mess that takes a lot of time, attention, diligence, and personal responsibility to shape afterwards into a novel, and even more into a good novel. Too many people hit that 50K and with little more than spellcheck start sending it off to agents or editors as soon as it hits December 1st. And NaNo doesn’t work for everyone- many can’t create that kind of word-vomit, or else are quintessentially opposed to creating a crap first draft in the name of later revisions if simply taking the time in the first place will create a quality draft.

NaNo requires a pretty serious time committment. If your goal is 50K and you write every single day, that’s a little over 1600 words a day. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot, and maybe for some people it isn’t, but that’s EVERY DAY. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you have eight million things you have to do, if you’re out of town, at a wedding, a funeral, having a baby, whatever, you have to average 1600 words a day. Of course you have the choice to skip some days and binge on others, which is fine as long as you keep that average in mind.

I like NaNo on the whole, but I had no intention of signing up for it. I was going to take the month for decompression, remember?

But then…

I kept seeing people on twitter who were SO EXCITED about NaNo and the community. I saw comments from people who are going to try writing for the first time. I saw posts from authors I love talking about NaNo projects, and the realization that whatever’s conceived in this month could be my next favorite thing from them was kind of enthralling. I was getting excited about NaNo, but I didn’t sign up because I didn’t have an idea that was ready. Then something I’ve been mulling over for two and a half years shifted and settled into something right, and I realized that if I was willing to be more than a little insane, I could finally rewrite this thing. This will be my first NaNo, though probably not my last.

Here’s the thing, though: NaNo is pretty much how I write everything.

Writing is perhaps one of the most idiosyncratic and individual processes out there. Everyone approaches it and does it differently. That being said, I’m a queer duck. By the time I actually start writing a project, I’ve been thinking about it for weeks or even months. I know the characters, the bulk of the story, the settings, the major story and characters arcs, half the time I’ve even got speech patterns set by talking -literally talking, out loud- with my characters. When I finally sit down to write a new project, most of it is already comfortable and familiar in my skull. Opening up that wordfile is like opening the floodgates.

I don’t write every day. Usually it’s on my days off, a little on the easiest work days if I can come home with most of my brain function intact, and on the mornings of days when I close. First drafts usually take me between four and six weeks of stretched out time- usually 15-25 writing days. For me, doing NaNo isn’t much of a stretch.

FOR ME.

What this does mean, though, is that I won’t be doing nearly as much reading through November as I’d like to be, which means there won’t be as many book reviews. I’ll still be posting on Sundays, and likely I’ll post some NaNo updates on Wednesdays. If you’re doing NaNo, feel free to add me as a writing buddy, I’m signed up at Dot_Hutchison . Feel free to check in here when I do my updates- accountability (a more positive spin on peer pressure) is one of the great components of NaNo.

If you’re a writer and you’re not doing NaNo- no worries. Life sometimes causes obstacles, and the simple truth is that NaNo doesn’t work for everyone. Some people come out of it feeling energized and triumphant, some come of it feeling depressed and miserable.

One last thing I’ll say about NaNo in this- if you ARE doing NaNo, and if you ARE interested in getting published- DON’T SEND OUT YOUR NANO NOVEL IN DECEMBER. Seriously. Take the time to make sure your novel is the absolute best it can be. You’ll need to flesh out, to tighten, to check for consistencies. You’ll need to polish the language. You’ll need to actually research agents or editors, whichever’s your thing, to make sure that you’re querying intelligently. If you come out of NaNo with those 50K words, you’ve done something amazing. Don’t waste/ruin that by sending it out before it’s ready.

NaNo is largely about discipline, about the ability to train yourself to a task. Maintain that discipline in other areas as well. It’s something you’ll have to learn anyway if you do acquire an agent/editor/self-publisher, and you’ll be pleased by how much better your book can be.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Fudge and the Craft of Historical Fiction

October 28, 2012 at 11:00 am (Writing) (, , , , )

Historical Fiction is a strange, strange creature. It’s our world and yet, by virtue of the distinct differences in culture, clothing, food, diction, and many MANY other things, it feels simultaneously alien and familiar. We recognize names, but in other ways we feel like we’re looking at Westeros instead of England. Given some of my projects, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and because of a question from a friend (thanks, Leah!) I’ve actually had to force myself to put some of it into words rather than letting it float as vague concepts.

The important thing to remember about Historical Fiction is the FICTION part of it. What we’re doing takes place within a real setting, often working around real timelines and events and people, but it is fictional. We’re telling a story that may or may not have ever happened, and if it did, we’re still projecting our theories (and our story) onto the characters and events. For example, Anne Boleyn was executed. We know this. If we’re writing a story about her thoughts as she mounts the steps to the platform with the headsman waiting for her forgiveness, we’re still speculating. Inventing. It’s the same if we create out of whole cloth a young woman that we claim served as one of her maids, someone watching from the crowd. They’re difficult and challenging in different ways, but in either respect, we’re playing directly within the historical truth. Or, we may be out in a small village, where the news of the queen’s execution is little more than a flash of news from a rider passing through, and the focus is much more narrow. Our focus, as the writer, is still the story.

So, sometimes, for the sake of the story, we look to see how and where and how much we can fudge things.

Part of what makes Historical Fiction so difficult is the necessary balance between accuracy and readability. We want to be correct in what we say- we don’t want to make glaring anachronisms, we don’t want to have a character be present at something thirty years before he was born. (Or in my case, be part of a revel nine months before he arrived in the United States…) It requires a lot of research, and not just into the straight timelines. Clothing is different, food is different, conveyance, speech, societal expectations, even things we don’t tend to think about as much, like impressions or definitions. If you called a man gay in the early 1600s, you were just saying he was happy. Little bit different now. Or, for another example, the part in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy calls 50 miles an easy distance. For someone with a private carriage, who wasn’t dependant on the vagaries of the post coaches, who wasn’t pressed into a small transport with four or five other people, that could certainly be the case, but that easy acceptance of distance as a non-obstacle was a privilege of wealth.

As we’re doing research, we tend to split into two camps. On the one side, there’s the camp that says “I want to do just enough to give the impression and then be done with it”. The stories that result from this tend to sketch the setting more than actively engage it. If they don’t give enough flat out “here is where we are” drops in the text, people may or may not tie the story to a specific time. Then there’s the camp that throws itself into research and damn it, we need to know everything, right down to how to how the iron buckle on the third gentleman’s left shoe is made. The stories that result from this tend to drown in detail. We get so caught up in getting everything right, we completely fail to make it engaging, we don’t notice that it bogs the story down considerably.

Obviously the easy answer is to find the happy medium, but easy answers rarely have easy applications.

It’s a very thin range of true compromise, where you can balance the accuracy with the story. There are some details you have to drop in order to keep the pace going, but there are some details necessary in order to place the story within the setting.

And that’s also where fudging comes in. In case it’s a regionalism, fudging is the act of deliberately blurring the edges of a fact in order to make it fit within the story. It’s an act with a very broad application. It can, for example, fill in what Darcy is doing over Christmas, when the original story follows Elizabeth. It’s very good for filling in gaps, as long as there are only theories and no proof for where they actually were or what was actually happening. Fudging can help you get around anachronisms in order to keep your readers. Recently someone (I think it was Rae Carson, I apologize if not) said there was a specific kind of ship in the book that didn’t match the overall technological level of the setting, but that the number of people in her audience who would know that and be up in arms about it was significantly smaller than the number who would be thrown out of the story by the intricacies necessary to convey what was needed to steer the ship of appropriate technological level. It was a fudge, but not one that most people will notice.

Fudging is a large part of the fiction part of Historical Fiction. When we create characters and put them into extant circumstances, we’re fudging what actually happened. If I put someone on a general’s staff, in a king’s court, in a highly regarded exploration expedition, I’m fudging. What I’m counting on is partly a suspension of disbelief and a general sort of ignorance on specifics, on the part of my readership. Ignorance, not stupidity. The idea is to weave the story so well within the setting that it seems completely plausible, that no one will know- or feel the need to prove- that Anne Boleyn didn’t have a maid named Bessie Cooper.

When Robin LaFevers was writing Grave Mercy, she fudged. Ismae was not a part of the Breton court. BUT- LaFevers fudged so well and so seamlessly that the true details of the court made it all wrap around Ismae, almost absorb her, and thereby lend her some of their truth. Did I go out and do some basic research into the court of Brittany afterwards? Yes, because I’m a history nerd and it got me really excited to know more, and then, because the book was crafted so well, I was blown away even more by how well the threads of history and fiction were spun together.

We want our historically-based characters to be accessible to a modern audience, and that can be incredibly difficult. Societal norms have shifted so much over time that a woman in the 1400s concerned mostly with getting a husband who isn’t TOO much older and doesn’t beat her TOO much seems absurd to many. She should be marrying for love! She shouldn’t settle for anyone who would raise a hand to her! Except…that’s our society talking, not hers. In her society, a woman of rank married whoever her parents or male guardians picked out for her, she married for money, land, a/o social gain, for power, and age, beauty, and personal compatibility had little if anything to do with it. These arrangements weren’t based off of emotions, they were political and business transactions with women as part of the currency. It’s a FACT, and if you’re setting a story within the 1400s, you have to allow for that being the prevailing sentiment. Courtly Love still had a strong grip even after a couple of centuries, but one of the basic tenents of Courty Love was that the woman the perfect knight was supposed to be wildly in love with? WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HIS WIFE. The whole concept was that true love was untouchable, and therefore pure in a way that love within a marriage couldn’t be (I’m not making this up, I swear). Sure, young maidens probably sighed and swooned over handsome young men, who may or may not have been titled, wealthy, or powerful but whatever fuss they might kick up, the options were marriage or convent. And that was it. If you’re writing a story set within this society, you can’t have an entire cast of characters all obsessed with true love and defying their parents at every turn seemingly without consequence. You can make someone rebellious, but you have to acknowledge and work within what they’re rebelling against.

It can be really hard to separate out what we’ve grown up with, what we expect, from what our characters’ realities would have been. Similarly, language itself can be a tricky bastard. Language changes with leaps and bounds, constantly evolving. You can’t have someone walk up to Queen Elizabeth I and say “Yo, dude, sup?” Doesn’t quite work that way. But, what we have of the time period’s modes of speech (usually written and therefore somewhat more formal) can be inaccessible or at the least uninteresting to large portions of a modern audience. There are compromises to be made, delicate negotiations that, if all goes as well as it can, come off on the page without any red flags or raised eyebrows. Something I use a lot when I’m trying to decide what is or is not acceptable is to compare the language in Hamlet or King Lear with the language in Much Ado About Nothing. The formal settings are very different, the concepts being addressed are very different, so where the language in the tragedies often comes off as high and poetic, the comedy is much more give and take, much more conversational. Even in Henry IV, Part I, look at the difference between the nobles and the commoners, how different the language and the apparent levels of education and class are. It gives you the range within a given society (though it is Shakespeare, so you know, expand the lower end of the range quite a bit). If at all possible, read documents from that time period, again and again and enough of them that the language in which they’re written becomes something familiar to you. (Kind of like teaching yourself not to swear in front of your parents when you’re in high school).

And good luck.

What do you look for in historical fiction? Are there things you find complete turn offs, or things you can forgive for story? Share below!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Hello, My Name Is…

October 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm (A Wounded Name, Writing) (, , , , , )

Hey, guess what guess what GUESS WHAT!

Elsinore Drowning has a new name!

We’ve been tossing around replacement titles for a couple of months and, no joke, I have a sheet of computer paper with about either possibilities on there, but we finally found one and confession time, as much as I love the original title, I kind of love this one like cake.

Red velvet cake.

With cream cheese frosting.

And red sugar crystal sprinkles.

That kind of cake, so you know it’s true love.

Titles are strange, strange creatures and there’s a TON that goes into them- a lot more than I had ever thought about before. Usually a title is one of the first things I know about a project, the piece that helps define everything else, but looking at it from a writing stance is very different than looking at it from a publishing/marketing view, so sometimes titles have to change.

And the new title is…

*drumroll please*

A Wounded Name

So, what do you think?!

If you’re wondering where it came from, we actually went to the source material. The book formerly known as Elsinore Drowning is a modern retelling of Hamlet, and in Act V, our eponymous character says “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!” It’s appropriate in so many eerie ways and I’m super glad it’s official now so I can share.

Want to know a little more about the book? Check it out on Goodreads, and be sure to add it if you’re interested!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Soundtrack of the World

October 7, 2012 at 11:42 am (Writing) (, , , , )

I started a new project this week, one that equal parts thrills and terrifies me, and surprises me with unexpectedly funny moments. I love that I’m only three chapters in and it’s already surprising me- to me that says the characters are as real as I can possibly make them.

But, after all of the planning was done, after I had the outline of sorts written into my notebook, waiting to see how much or little I’d deviate from it, and before I opened up a fresh word doc and typed so much as Chapter One, I spend a few hours going through my music.

My life has a soundtrack. There’s music over the system at work (thank God or I’d go NUTS), there’s always music playing in the car, and when I’m home, there’s either music or something on the TV to provide background sound. When I write at home, it’s with my iPod plugged into a speaker. When I write elsewhere, it’s with the headphones in. Without music, my brain comes to a crashing halt. I lose the ability to focus, get way too distracted by all the sounds going on around me, and yet silence (such as could be obtained through noise cancelling headphones) freaks me out just as much. Not only does it make me feel deaf, but my brain starts trying to fill the void with imagined sounds, which does not help with the focus. Even when I’m asleep there’s music playing, or there isn’t sleeping.

Until writing Elsinore Drowning, I never created a specific playlist for projects. I had a couple of staples that I could write to- Scythian and The Town Pants, usually, two bands I know and love, and sometimes The Tartan Terrors- and every now and then as I wrote a specific scene, I’d find myself putting a song on repeat that really just sank me into what I needed to craft. Around the time I was researching and planning for Elsinore, though, I kept stumbling across posts by authors I enjoy that talked about playlists. How much they helped, how they really just nailed the characters or certain scenes, and in some of them, how the song they were playing at a given point could even give away spoilers. As long as it was one or two, I was pretty much “meh, whatever works for them”, but by the time I hit a dozen, I was starting to wonder if there was something to this.

So, I decided to try it. At the very worst, it wouldn’t add anything and I’d go back to my standards tracks. It was an experiment with completely acceptable stakes. In the interest of approaching the thing right, before I even opened my CD books or iTunes, I sat down with a blank piece of paper and wrote down songs or bands that in some way captured the atmosphere I wanted to bring into the book.

It was a VERY strange list, and not one I would I ever have imagined writing to. This may or many not give you an idea of the book, but there was a lot of Evanescence, Linkin Park, Lacuna Coil, and songs that had been accumulated on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtracks. There were individual pieces stuck here in there- a song from The Town Pants, which kept me from feeling totally out of my depth, Josh Groban’s cover of a Cirque de Soleil song, Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox and Lord of the Rings, Saosin. I wrote the last quarter of the book to Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” on repeat, which stunned me when I realized it but also felt exactly right. There are songs on the list that I ONLY listen to while writing or editing this book, and the simple fact of how easily it let me slip into the world within the pages made me decide to do it again for my next project.

This is the fourth project with a specific playlist, and I’ve learned that forcing myself to really think about what the music will help me do helps me understand even more about what I want from the book. The single hardest song to find was one the evoked the atmosphere of a specific place, because while I had plenty that could fit the bill, I needed it to be non-intrusive, as well.

Because one of the things I’ve learned about book specific playlists is that it’s not enough that they work for the book- they also have to work AS A PLAYLIST. If the songs don’t somehow work together, if the jump from one song to the next is choppy and jarring, it’s going to bring you out of the page. Ideally, a playlist should do everything you want it to do for the book but also become something you don’t consciously notice. I know a playlist is right when I start the first song, start writing, and look up at some point later at the silence and realize the entire playlist has gone by without pulling me from the words.

Even after I’d pulled all of the songs, I had to spend another hour figuring out the order. Were there songs that acted as a theme for a specific character? For the first time, the answer was yes, so I knew I wanted that song to be where we meet that character. There were songs for specific scenes, which needed to be placed more or less with those scenes if you pretend the playlist and the outline are equal timelines (did that make any sense?). But then there are attitudes or places that repeat, and I didn’t particularly want to repeat songs within the playlist. Repeat themes? Fine. But not the individual songs. It required a greal deal of thought to come to something that worked both musically and inspirationally.

This playlist had another first, as well. There are some soundtracks that are so brilliantly done, so completely inmeshed in the situation in the movie or show they’re from, that I can’t write to them. I can’t hear them without seeing the images from the screen. I can’t hear “Cassandra’s Waltz” without seeing lips and a pair of baby blue peepers on a skin flap. I can’t hear “Impossible Planet” without seeing that beautiful, deadly black hole. (Why yes, Doctor Who IS on my Do-Not-Write-To-List, what makes you guess that?) For the first time, though, a handful of songs from Doctor Who so beautifully fit with the other songs in the list, as well as drew the appropriate suggestions of the characters and scenes, that they’re on the playlist.

In no particular order of significance, timeline, or frequency, Shiny New Project’s playlist includes songs from: The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos, Doctor Who, Cirque de Soleil, Scythian, Children of Dune, Inara George, Daft Punk by way of TRON: Legacy, The Piano Guys, Adele, Celtic Thunder, District Tribute, Pan’s Labyrinth, Celtic Woman, Final Fantasy X, Green Day, The Tartan Terrors, Masters of Chant, PianoSquall, and Solas.

Just looking at the names, it’s a STRANGE list.

And yet, when I put in the headphones and press play for the first song, it immediately sucks me in to this world so incredibly different from the one that surrounds me.

How about you? For those of you who write, do you listen to music when you write? And if you do, do you make specific playlists for it?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: School Story, by Andrew Clements

September 5, 2012 at 8:04 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Natalie is a writer, one with a wonderful book pouring out onto the page, one her friend and teacher are sure should be published. Natalie is twelve years old. With hard work, determination, and more than a few pushes from her bossy friend, Natalie just might be able to pull off the improbable, but what she learns along the way? Is worth so much more than a book deal.

This is one of those stories that seems light and sweet while you’re reading it, and then clobbers you with deeper layers a few hours later. I picked it up a few years ago because one of my coworkers, herself a former Children’s Lead, told me I absolutely had to be able to talk intelligently about Andrew Clements. He’s a staple, she told me. Teachers love him, parents love him, kids love him. Learn him. So, given my interest in writing and publishing, picking up School Story seemed like a no-brainer. I read it, loved it, promptly lost it in a sea of books.

But the other day, as I was pulling books out of the boxes and sorting them to make alphabetizing and shelving an easier task, I came upon it again. It’s a thin book, the kind that bridges perfectly between chapter books and middle grade so the reluctant readers aren’t as scared and the stronger readers can trust an author they love to deliver, so when it was time to take a break, I took the book with me.

And fell in love with it all over again.

On the surface, I love the basic walkthrough of publishing. For any kid who has ever dreamed of being a published writer, it’s a gentle wake up call. At no point does it say “You can’t do this”. At every step, it says “This is work, but it’s wonderful”, encouraging and inspiring. Though from a purely selfish point I would have wished to see self-revision before submission, we get to go with Natalie from first reader to second reader, to submission reader, to acquisition, and beyond that to some of the numbers of a deal, the levels of a publishing house, and all the steps that go into making a manuscript into a book. We learn, as Natalie and Zoe do, that it truly is a process- you can tell the kids who’ve read this book because they’re the ones who aren’t surprised that their favorite series only come out with one book a year. They know all the things that are happening behind the scenes to fill that year.

Natalie is a wonderful character, a little timid, a little down on herself, but full of a cautious optimism at seeing her book come out into the world. Even as a twelve-year-old, the neurosis is there a little, and frankly, that won me over in a heartbeat. Most writers are neurotic people, especially when it comes to our writing, and re-reading some of the scenes in this book made me think of Rapunzel leaving the tower in Tangled. we want to send our books out into the world, but at the same time, we really don’t want to leave our safe little bubble of ignorance. Her relationship with her mother, her lingering struggle with her father’s death, they’re very real, and they invest both the story and her character with a more personal thread. Her best friend Zoe is a perfect match for her, brash and brazen and uber-confident, sure of getting her own way in everything, and not at all hesitant to go for what she wants. She and Natalie have a push-pull relationship, with Zoe tugging on Natalie to trust in her manuscript and Natalie pulling Zoe’s more out-there ideas to a more practical place.

One of the things I loved most- and not something you see all that often in kids’ books- was how important and supportive the adult figures are. Ms. Clayton, their teacher and eventual club sponsor, is young and starting to wear down a little under the grind of daily teaching, but despite feeling a little bewildered and over her head, she at no point tells the girls not to pursue their goal. She helps them with the more practical aspects, often mediating between the disparate personalities, and perhaps most importantly, she’s an adult they can trust and depend upon. She protects them and helps them, even at the risk of losing her job. Zoe’s father becomes someone else they can trust, and they also learn the nature of confidentiality. Some will keep your secrets purely because you wish them to; some will keep your secrets because they’re legally obligated to do so. Not that Mr. Reisman wouldn’t help his daughter and her friend of his own volition, but it’s another practical lesson in the process of publishing. And yet, his true importance to the story is less in what he does for the girls, but in the validation he gives to Ms. Clayton as a teacher and a role model- she is precisely the kind of teacher who changes lives for the better, the kind of teacher everyone wishes for their children. Parental acknowledgment of superior teaching helps so much in buoying up teachers who are constantly worn down by non-existent budgets, children who frequently don’t wish to learn, and the legion of parents who just don’t care. The interaction between these two adults is limited to a single phone call, but those few minutes are enough to reaffirm the faith and spirits of a young teacher.

I especially loved the relationship between Natalie and her mother, Hannah, who’s an editor. There’s a balance of curiosity in her work and the simple joys of being with her mother for movies and Chinese, but they don’t so much dance around the place where Natalie’s father used to be as they do embrace it. It’s hard and it’s painful, and sometimes the memories are heavier than others, but their connection is solid, which makes Natalie’s professional progress a beautiful mirror to her personal progress. And Hannah has her own progress to make within the workplace; Natalie came by her partial-timidity naturally. The adults in this novel (well, most of the adults in this novel; Letha is less than rounded) have their own journeys to make alongside the girls, becoming as real and as significant as either of the girls. That’s rare in this field.

I don’t care what age you are, this is a book to be read, treasured, and passed down and around.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Alone But Not Lonely

September 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm (Writing) (, , , )

All moved into the new place, I’ve spent most of today trying to set up the library in my office. It’s not much yet. Most of the books are still in boxes, waiting to go to their homes on the empty shelves, while others are stacked in piles on the floor in groups of letters so I can alphabetize them. There are a couple separated from their fellows- a copy of Hamlet sitting by my chair, an architecture/religion book by the bed- but most of them are in view of the empty cases with the shelves stacked against their sides. All of the office supplies are in a similar state of transition, packed away with only a few pieces free to be used. The walls are bare, the cork and white boards leaning against the wall, and the desk is littered with the odds and ends that come of trying to unpack. A screwdriver, a hammer, a pair of scissors, packing tape, small things that never properly fit into boxes.

It isn’t an office yet, but it’s on its way.

It has potential.

Most importantly, it has a door that closes, and only one chair.

Writers are a strange breed, largely because what we do is simultaneously isolated and crowded. We sit for hours in a room, on a bench, at a table in Panera, staring at notebooks or computers, often with headphones in to filter away the outside world. We’re in our heads far more than we are in the space around us. We go for hours at a time without talking to other living human beings. We hole ourselves away, to plan, to draft, to revise, and our family and friends roll their eyes and let us be because they know our habits. We have bursts of connection- collaboration with partners or sounding boards, critique partners, conversations with agents and editors and bloggers- but most of the time, it’s a writer and a Thing.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that writing has a reputation as being a very lonely sort of profession.

It isn’t, though. Even when we emerge from the office craving simple human contact with ANYONE, even the rowdy pot-smokers on the stairway, it’s not because we’ve been alone or lonely. It’s because we’ve spent hours surrounded by people we can’t reach out and touch.

Far more than I think we ever successfully translate onto the page, our characters are real people in our heads. One of the joys of having my own apartment means I don’t need to worry about weirding out a roommate when I have conversations with my characters.

No, seriously, conversations. I talk with them, testing out their voices, listening to the patterns of their speech. My background is in music and theatre, so the sound of a thing is very important to me. When we read, even if we’re not consciously dissecting the language, we notice when sentences are ungainly or dialogue seems awkward. I like to read my stuff out loud- not just the dialogue, but the narration as well- to hear how it reads, to make sure it’s smooth. One of the things I look for is speech patterns.

Speech patterns change from person to person, taking into account personality, vocal habits, regionality, education, hell, even what they like to read or watch on TV. (For instance, you can always tell when I’ve been watching BBC.) What we say, and how we say it (where we put pauses or emphasis, even the order in which we string the words together) is distinctive, so one of the best ways I learn my new characters is to simply talk to them. I play with the sounds, and in so doing, I usually learn a great deal.

The more real the characters become, the more they’re able to stand on their own feet as people, the less lonely we as writers become even sitting alone in our workspaces. They talk to us, they share their backgrounds and their personalities, they tell us where they’re going and how they’re getting there, and eventually they reach a point where they just don’t shut up. We come to know these people better than we know most of our friends (that’s not a bad thing- everyone deserves their privacy, and characters rarely have any from the writer once they breach the levee). We’re the only person sitting in the room- we’re surrounded by people no one else can see.

We may be socially isolated while we’re writing, but we’re far from lonely.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Please. Don’t Quit Your Day Job

August 19, 2012 at 7:00 pm (Industry) (, , , )

Sometimes the universe comes together in strange ways.

Every now and then at work, I’ll pass by one of my co-workers telling a customer that I have a book coming out (I guess they’re proud of me or something :D), or it’ll come up when I’m in conversation with a customer, and sometimes I get what I’ve always thought of as a pretty strange comment/question. I got it several times yesterday, and it was kind of bothering me, but then I woke up this morning and three separate posts on my Twitter feed held answers to that, so I figured this was as much a sign as I’m ever likely to get.

“Oh, you have a book coming out? And you’re still working here?”

Um…

There seems to be this mindset that you sell a book and BAM you’re in the bank!

Not so much the case.

There are always exceptions, but usually it takes a long time of steady writing before you actually have a solid enough foundation to quit your day job. If you have a spouse who can support the family- or if you’re on a trust fund- sure, writing can be your Main Thing, but for most of us, writing isn’t going to be what pays the bills. That’s why it’s called a Labor of Love.

The three posts this morning (one by Laurie Halse Anderson, one by The Rejector, and one by Barry Lyga) say pretty much everything about the money thing, with the exception of taxes. Mandy Hubbard has a post that helps add the taxes into the picture.

Writing is a passion, right up until you get paid to do it- then it becomes a job about which you’re passionate. The thing about jobs is that you can love them, and love them deeply, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to pay you enough to live off of. I say that from experience. I love my job, but without getting into numbers, I have to scrimp most months to make my bills, and I don’t live an extravagant life. My vice is books and I actually work my budget around them (sacrificing quality of food in order to make up the difference when I fall short), but I don’t have unreasonable expenditures; some months my savings account (which is a fairly new thing) takes a hit just to pay the power bill.

I’m not saying that to complain or to garner sympathy, because hey, at the end of the month, the bills get paid.

I say that because it’s given me a certain outlook on money, namely that it doesn’t stretch as far as we’d like it to. Even when I get a windfall of any measure (a surpise check, extra hours, or hey! selling a book), I tend to break down the numbers by expenses. It’s this many months of rent, or this much of a rent payment. Even in its smallest doses- oh hey, that’s three meals if I’m careful. I know how much I’ll pay in rent in a year, how much for internet, about how much for groceries and power and gas, and the financial life of a writer- being based on sales and projected sales- is far from predictable. You don’t know how or when your book will sell.

I’m a worrier, I admit it. I worry about that next rent payment, about that oil change I have to budget in, about unexpected expenses that pop up when we can least afford them (flat tires, etc). I’ve spent too many years playing the game of which paycheck I can use to pay which bills, which bills I can pay late if I absolutely have to, to be comfortable not having a steady, predictable income. The notion of quitting my day job? Makes my skin crawl.

There’s a me from the past- the one that thought being a starving artist would be totally romantic and nothing could be wrong with that- that thinks Yes! Throw the shackles of the day job away and write Write WRITE!

Then there’s the part of me that pays rent, that likes having food in my belly and clothes on my back.

That feeling that comes with selling your book is a high unlike any other. It really is. And there’s this part of you that looks at the numbers with wide eyes and thinks of all the things you could DO with that money. But there are bills, and there are taxes, and there are things you HAVE to do.

So please do yourself a favor and DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Shiny Shiny

August 12, 2012 at 1:17 pm (Writing) (, , )

I think it’s a rule of writing that the pretty, amazing shiny you want to play with isn’t the one you’re supposed to be working on.

And as a corollary: when you get the pretty, amazing shiny, it’ll be exactly when you have no time to work on it.

I’m hitting up hard against the corollary right now. I have these pretty shinies all fighting for attention but I can’t- genuinely CAN’T- work on any of them right now. I’m packing up my current apartment and making sure I have everything arranged for the new apartment, and I’m going to have to take the time to unpack otherwise I’ll never get it done and I’ll be living in a hellhole for the next year (I’m a sedentary creature by nature; if I don’t start habits early, I never maintain the good ones), so I really can’t start a new project right now.

So of course, the competing ideas are keeping me awake at night, crowding and tumbling. Characters are intruding and nearly tripping over themselves trying to tell me all about them and their lives, and even the skylines in my dreams are strange and wonderful and new, filled with floating cities and mountain monasteries, unfamiliar music obscuring the alarms in the morning.

So far I’ve been disciplined.

Yes, okay, laugh if you like, but it’s true. Other than writing down a few notes (and buying a couple of books for research purposes that I haven’t read yet, I swear) I haven’t touched the ideas. I haven’t outlined, I haven’t deliberately thought of them. (Haven’t had to, they won’t go away!) I have more than enough to keep me busy, with edits, and packing, and eight million phone calls once I actually know my new address, plus, you know, the whole full time day job thing. I don’t have time.

I DON’T HAVE TIME.

So remind me of that, would you?

What do y’all do when this happens to you?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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