New Manuscripts, Old Friends, and Tough Decisions

Let me begin with what inspired it all: a blog post by YA author Jessica Khoury which discusses knowing when it’s time to let go of a manuscript and move on as a writer. It’s a really great list of signs to look for to help you decide whether you’re just a little burnt out or if you are really and truly ready to shelve your beloved problem novel.
I found this post during NaNo a couple months ago. In October, I decided I needed a break from Hex, and so for NaNo, I set out to write a novel called The Glass Rose. Finding Khoury’s post was both a blessing and a tragedy, because it made me realize something I’d been denying for months: Hex was holding me back as a writer. And as much as it grieves me, I’ve had to let it go. I adore these characters, and maybe someday I’ll reinvent them, but for now…for now, I have to say goodbye. I wish I could express how sad I am about this, but I know that many of my fellow writers understand.

So here’s what it means for this website. I’m going to leave my Hex pages up for now because I have nothing to replace them with yet. I won’t be revising The Glass Rose, a loose retelling of Cinderella set in 1919 America, until at least next month, and I don’t want to post a first draft excerpt. I’m not sure when I’ll have anything I’m willing to show for the novel I’m currently drafting. But as soon as I’m able, I’ll be posting summaries on the My Writing page.

I have additional things in the works as well, but it’s too soon to tell how those will pan out.

In the next month or two, I’m planning two things you may want to come back and check out:

  1. My favorite currently-presentable scene from Hex. I want to give it one last send-off, and maybe I’m the only person who really cares one way or another, but it’s something I have to do for myself.
  2. An update on this website, online activities, and my progress with my new manuscripts.

That’s all for now. See you soon!

Writers Are Batman

The first thing I learned from RWA Nationals last week was that the Atlanta night skyline looks like Gotham City. That was my husband’s observation. And I’m going to draw a cheesy parallel from that. Think about Batman and Gotham City: They’ve changed over the years, but they have the same identity. Batman still fights evil, and Gotham City still provides evil to fight and good to protect.

It’s a lot like publishing.

Publishing has changed over the years. It’s still changing, and in fact, the only thing that won’t change is the fact that things will continue to change. But for all this change, writing and publishing are at heart the same. Writing is about telling great stories, and publishing is about putting them out there for people to read.

In Gotham City, the crimes become more technological to fit the age. Batman still has to stop them. Publishing is becoming more technological, and writers need to rely on these changes if they want to be where the readers are. I’m not saying I know how to do that; I’m just here to make the comparison. But in all seriousness, I think we tend to look at all the changes in publishing—the venues—and forget its core identity—getting books into readers’ hands.

Not long ago, debate was fiery about whether or not “real” authors should self-publish or publish digitally, and people still have strong opinions on both sides. But publishing will continue to evolve, and it’s not the venues we should hold sacred, but the purpose.

It’s a corny analogy, I know. Hey, I’m a novelist, not an essayist. But of all the wonderful things I learned at conference, I think this was my biggest takeaway Writers love writing no more or less today than they did twenty years ago. Publishing still has challenges, just different ones. But they’re still about the same thing, just like Batman and Gotham City. So yeah. Writers are Batman. :)

Musings: Accepting Your Unique Writing Process

Some writers work fast. Some writers work slow. Very slow. There’s a lot of pressure in the writing/publishing world to write on at least a book a year pace. There’s pressure from readers, too, as we can see from the way some readers bemoan the length of time they have to wait for George R.R. Martin’s books, for example.

And we unpublished authors don’t escape the pressure, either, as we watch writers we’ve known for years sign book deals and rack up adoring fans. We scramble to squeeze more writing hours into our days, but find ourselves spending less time with the people we love. We skip steps in our writing process, thinking they’re slowing us down, but end up with an inferior product. We cut back on novel reading to give ourselves more time to write, but find ourselves out of touch with the market and uninspired to create our own magic.

Recently, I’ve come to accept the way I work. No two writers work alike, and you have to be true to your own process. When discussing voice and style, we always emphasize the importance of finding your own, a voice and style that is all yours and not an imitation of someone else’s. Why can’t we do that with the writing process? Trying to be more efficient, trying to make your process better, is one thing. Trying to throw out everything that helps you write well just because it’s not “fast enough” is something else.

Chances are that the way you write reflects your personal learning style. I first discovered learning styles while doing research on how to tailor lessons for my kids (who I homeschool), and it completely altered the way I look at myself and how I work. Using myself as an example: I tend to write slow because the story doesn’t reveal itself to me all at once. Writing is very much a layering process for me; I get my ideas on paper, then see connections between them, get those on paper, and see even more connections. It can be very frustrating to realize something that should have been obvious from the beginning. Especially because it triples the amount of time and work I have to do.

But when I learned about the visual-spatial learning style, it suddenly made sense. Unlike auditory-sequential learners, visual-spatial learners don’t think, well, sequentially. Auditory-sequential learners can take an idea or fact and progress easily onto the next logical step. Visual-spatial learners tend to need a bunch of ideas or facts that they can “spread out” in their minds before they can make connections between them.

I have a theory that many slow writers are visual-spatial learners. I’m sure quite a few faster writers have visual-spatial tendencies, too, but that’s not the point. The point is, our writing process is what it is because it’s hard-wired into our brains. Your writing process stems from a vital aspect of what makes you you. For example, if you were an auditory-sequential rather than a visual-spatial (or vice-versa), you wouldn’t be writing this exact story. Your learning process itself would change the way your work unfolds.

So if you write every day and are dedicated to your craft, but still seem to move at a snail’s pace, don’t beat yourself up–this is what I’ve learned. Embrace your process, don’t fight it. For me, my work has gotten better for recognizing it.

Musings: Writing Through Tragedy

Writing through tragedy…I’ve tried to write this post a dozen times. It’s a hard process to write about because it’s a hard thing to do. It’s been said before that writing through personal tragedy can be theraputic, even if you can’t use these pieces for publication. And agents caution against sending them your tragically-inspired but unmarketable manuscripts. I can’t really add anything new to that. What I can offer is my own testimony–one writer’s account of writing through tragedy.

The topic has been on my mind lately because today, my daughter (who was stillborn) would have been one year old. We knew about her severe genetic condition prior to her birth, which in some ways made it easier when the time came, but it also made it a long, drawn-out ordeal. I can’t offer any sage wisdom, only offer up the things I learned along the way. And yes, I found writing theraputic. As writers, it is through the written word that we explore concepts, situations, angles on the world. I think that’s why writing through tragedy has such value for us. I wrote in my journal, I worked on my wip…And any tragedy is going to stir up raw, passionate emotions–the stuff of good fiction. It opens your eyes to deep things you don’t always think about, makes you think of how fragile the world really is. Even if what you’re writing is a different situation than what you’re going through, those dramatic thoughts and feelings can be useful in adding dimension to a book.

In whatever form it takes, I think the ultimate professional benefit of writing through tragedy is to connect with people, even help them, somehow. Plugging raw emotion and contemplative prose into your wip builds a sense of camraderie between reader and writer, even if indirectly. But as I said, writing was theraputic for me as well. In a tragedy, it seems like there’s this almost universal desire to do something, to help somehow, to contribute in some way–especially when the tragedy revolves around your own child. And one way writing was theraputic for me: I wrote my daughter a story. In that terrible time, there wasn’t a lot I had control over, and even though her genetic condition was no fault of my own, a parent always feels like it’s her fault when something is wrong with her children. Writing this story for her was the one thing I knew I could do right. And that feeling of being in control of something helped enormously.

So no, I haven’t reinvented the wheel with this post, but sometimes examples of experiences carry more weight than rote instruction and advice. And as novelists and fiction readers, we’re always on the lookout for a story to connect to in some way. This is mine.

Ponderisms, New Stuff, and Congratulations

Behold:

  1. I have decided to pull Hex from submission. I received some sage personal feedback from two agents and form rejections from all the rest, and I realize that Hex just isn’t ready yet. I love this story. I believe in this story. I know, really and truly know, that this is a story worthy of publication…but not yet. I see that now. So I’ll be going back to work on that after…
  2. I’m working on a new project. A newer new project. I’d been working on my time travel steampunk novel when this new project came along, and it was going pretty well. But you know how you’re working on a story when all of a sudden another story idea jumps out of nowhere and bitch-slaps you, demanding to be written? That’s what happened to me. I’m not really sure about this one. I mean, I love the idea, am having a blast writing it, but it’s kind of weird. I’m not sure how you’d market this one. It would appeal to fans of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, but it’s not either one of those things. It’s a truck stop romance set in a world infested with oversized crustaceans and giant squid, and it’s called The Octopus That Drank Lake Michigan.
  3. With this new novel, I have a pretty diverse collection of stories in some stage of being in progress. I’m trying to figure out how to make this site reflect all of these weird and different from each other stories and still have a unified feel and look. And I’m thinking of altering my online presence in other ways. I used to be an avid blogger. I still enjoy blogging occasionally, but time constraints which I never used to have are making it difficult to blog with both quality and frequency. I’m still going to keep the blog, but how do I want to use it? And do I want to turn to a social networking site as my main way of connecting with other writers and, later, readers? I’ll be figuring out all of this sometime and reporting on the changes when they come.
  4. Lastly, I guess I can share this now, since she’s gone public with it on her own blog. Way back in 2006, I first became friends and critique partners with AG Howard, and after years of hard work, she has now signed her very first book publishing contract with Amulet in a 2-book deal. Hers is a YA novel about what happens when the descendant of Alice of Wonderland fame finds herself on her very own Wonderland adventure. So congratulations, Anita! Here is the link to her announcement. She’s planning to do a series of posts about the submission process soon. I love reading about authors’ journeys to success, so I for one am planning to tune in for those.

Have a lovely day!

New Writing Gig

After spending a very enjoyable year writing for Debuts and Reviews, I was sad to see it go. The URL still houses a wonderful blog, but the reviews are pretty much gone, and with them my outlet for writing about the sort of books I love.

But a new opportunity has arisen: I will now be writing a speculative fiction column for the Cincinnati edition of the Examiner. For those of you who read my reviews on Debuts and Reviews, this is a little different. Examiner.com is a news site, and I am essentially a reporter. These are third-person articles which top out at 400 words or less. It’s a change and a challenge, and I’m excited about it. It lets me explore topics I never got to write about for Debuts and Reviews, such as local events and other fun stuff. My first post is live, so please do drop by, especially if you enjoyed my reviews at Debuts and Reviews or if you’re local to the Cincinnati area.

As for how this will affect my fiction writing schedule, I don’t see potential for a lot of problems. Writing for Debuts and Reviews was always a great way for me to take a break from my WIP and yet still use those creative writing juices. I always found that writing reviews helped my fiction rather than hindered it, and lately, I’ve really been feeling the need for an outlet like that. I think writing for Examiner.com is just what the doctor ordered.

New!

I have posted a brief summary of Fiddlesticks to the “My Writing” page. It’s a historical fantasy set in colonial Maryland and is intended to be the first in a series of three books. I recently finished the first draft.

This post is too short. Enjoy this picture of a cupcake that looks like Mr. Bill.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Not having the internet at home has resulted in it being a crazy long time since I posted anything. I really hate that it’s been this long. Still working on getting phone lines run to the new house and all that stuff.

In the meantime, I have been doing a lot of reading lately, but since I don’t have my nifty list of books I’ve read with me right now, I can’t do my October Reading post. (Will get it up ASAP.) I’m not expecting much reading for November; I’ve joined the crazy NaNo train. My Hex revision is nearly done, and I thought it would be a good thing to take a little break and come back to it fresh next month.

I’m about 3000 words behind on my NaNo word count, so I’ve got some catching up to do today. Better get to work! Let me know if any of you are doing NaNo. It’s nice to know I’m not alone!

Checking In

So it’s been forever since I posted anything, I know. Apologies! I just wanted to make an appearance. I’ll be reviving Monthly Reading soon with a Summer Reading post, to cover everything I’ve read between May and now. In September, there will probably be some squeeing and all-around excitedness, because that’s when The House on Durrow Street, sequel to The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, will be out. (!!!) I’ll also have one or two posts inspired by my time at the RWA National Conference soon, which was the best conference I’ve ever attended. It was great. But for now, I’m just here to say hi. So. Hi.

Technique and the Master Writer

In writing, we tend to think about craft in categories: plot, characterization, dialogue, description, and so on. Like any craftsmen, such is our training. To learn the mechanics of technique, we must learn each technique individually, just as artists learn color and symmetry separately.

But craft only becomes art when those techniques cease to be individual disciplines. You can teach plot and characterization as separate entities, but can you build a successful plot without building compelling characters? Can you create compelling characters without testing their mettle through the plot? A master writer blends his techniques together so that they become completely indivisible, almost impossible to distinguish from each other entirely.

So where do we fall on the craft hierarchy? And how can we reach the next step? Are we the eager apprentices, still learning individual techniques? The journeymen who have transitioned from technique mastery to creating our first masterpieces? Or are we the master craftsmen, with scores of publishing credits to our names?

And why does it matter where we stand? I suppose the name we put on our progress doesn’t matter…but our mindset does. When we’re still thinking of craft as puzzle pieces rather than blendable matter like paint, we still haven’t mastered the craft. And that’s okay. Mastery comes with application. That’s why so many authors have a stack of unpublished manuscripts. Practice novels.

Still, there’s something to be said for categorizing techniques. Breaking them apart allows us to delve deeply into such topics as pacing and narrative, understanding them more fully. We can’t become masters of the craft without such knowledge.

Not only that, but even a master writer must go back to these basics now and then. A true master knows that improving your craft is a process that never ends—one which is built on the foundation of individual techniques. Have you ever loved an author’s first two books only to be utterly disappointed in her fourth and fifth? Review is essential. Technique is an ongoing study.

It’s all about balance. Plot, characterization, dialogue, description: we seek to balance them in our novels the way painters seek balance on the canvas. The individual applications of color theory, symmetry, proportion, shape, and light come together not as puzzle pieces, but as a unified whole.

The master artist uses technique the way he uses paint—he mixes those basic colors together on his palette. We must do the same on the page.