Monday, October 26, 2015

Gearing Up For NaNo

Hey there. Long time, no post.

I've been busily prepping Mender for NaNoWriMo-- or I was until last week, when I realized I was in danger of over-prepping and spending all my enthusiasm for the book before I start writing. It's tricky, because there is so, so much research to do-- it's alternate history, but I feel like I need to know as much as possible about the real history, culture, and customs of the period so that all my deviations are intentional rather than the result of ignorance. Add to that the pressure of writing non-white main characters for the first time, and writing a polyamorous romance when I have no personal experience with it, and I know I have a lot more to read and learn and ask about.

But I also know I need to get a draft of this story down while the heart of it is still beating, if that slightly melodramatic metaphor makes sense.

A week ago, feeling myself starting to get overwhelmed and fatigued by all the prep, I actually forbid myself to do any more of it. Instead, I've been reading a ton*, searching for old paintings and maps of Boston, and picking songs for the book's soundtrack. So far, the songs I've picked are selections from the soundtracks to the movies The Last of the Mohicans, Lincoln, and Belle, as well as the miniseries John Adams, plus a bunch of Chieftains tunes. A pretty good reflection of the mood I'm going for.

*including The Compass Rose by Gail Dayton, a Fantasy/Polyamorous Romance that I thought was amazing. It was like Sharon Shinn's Twelve Houses series, but if the six main characters were in a group marriage.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Diversiverse: The Broken Kingdoms

This is me participating in the fabulous A More Diverse Universe reading challenge, in which a blogger reads a book by an author of color and then spreads the word about it. Simple, yet incredibly helpful for readers looking to expand their reading horizons. I know I'll be eagerly reading all these reviews to learn about more fantastic spec fic authors of color I should be reading.

I chose to read the Fantasy novel The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemison, the second book in her Inheritance trilogy. I read the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a few years ago, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn't as impressed by it as I'd expected to be. I think that was less the fault of the book itself than how much I'd heard about it before I read it. THTK was nominated for a Nebula, and I'd read a lot of gushing reviews about how it was the most intense, dazzling original debut EV-ah, so when I read the book I was expecting to be totally blown away, and instead I thought it was a very well-written Fantasy novel with an interesting world and some fresh ideas, but also some re-hashes of stuff I've seen done better in other books, and a romance with way too much melodrama for my tastes.

But. The Broken Kingdoms. OMG. This book did in fact blow me away. The intensity here didn't feel at all like melodrama to me, maybe because most of the action is taking place on the mean streets of the city rather than high above it in a shmancy sky-castle. The violence and struggle of poverty becomes a backdrop for a struggle at the highest levels of human and divine power, and we see how the decisions made by kings and gods play out in the lives of those at the bottom of the power pyramid.

The main character, Oree, is a blind artist from a dispossessed people, and oh yeah, her ex-boyfriend is a god. The Inheritance novels explore the relationships between gods and mortals, but while in THTK that relationship was crashing, epic drama set against a backdrop of O Fortuna, in TBK it feels like experimental jazz fusion-- more casual and urban and complex.

Not that there isn't drama here-- the big stakes are classic Fantasy "entire world will be destroyed" stakes. But the littler stakes and story moments didn't feel overshadowed by that. Oree is a masterfully created protagonist: her identities as a blind woman, a black woman, an artist, a religious believer, and a possessor of strange powers all combine to make a character who felt fresh and totally un-stereotyped to me: passionate yet circumspect, determined to live independently yet longing for companionship, full of faith in her God yet having that faith shaken to the core when she actually meets him.

Lastly, I want to point to something I also appreciated about THTK: Jemison has created a Fantasy world in which race matters and racism is woven into the fabric of society. And not "race" as in "elves oppressing dwarves".I'm talking gulfs between humans with different racial characteristics. Light-skinned people creating a power structure that oppresses darker-skinned people. So often Fantasy flinches away from examining the everyday atrocities of racism, even while it has no issue with (and, some would argue, too eagerly embraces) depicting a male-dominated culture in which women are sexually brutalized. Racism and the challenges of cultural pluralism are some of the themes I'm most interested in writing about, so I'm always excited to read Science Fiction and Fantasy from the diversiverse.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Checking In

Well, it's the 14th of September and I've only done 6 hours of work on Mender this month. I'm going to be busy these next few weeks if I want to make it to 50 hours.

I've sent out seven queries so far, and gotten one rejection. Submitting a novel is more time consuming than I realized, what with the personalizing of query letters and tweaking of sample pages and crossing of fingers.

As I suspected, I didn't get picked for Pitch Wars. Then last week I threw my hat into the ring for Pitch Madness, a 12-hour twitter pitch event in which agents star their favorite pitches to invite the pitchees to query. (I joined twitter just to participate!) I was starred by two agents, both of whom were on my list, so I am thrilled and scampered to send them queries. It may well be that nothing comes of it, but it's nice to get a little encouragement.

Basically, I've been doing exactly what you're not supposed to do when you're submitting: obsessing over submitting rather than falling in love with a new project.

But no longer. Thanks to work I did on this project last year, I have the preliminary character work done enough. Now I'm moving on to two weeks of worldbuilding, which is where I really need to spend the hours. Alternate Historical is tricky-- there are major diversions in my story world from real history (England has been conquered by France, New England is the site of the exiled British monarchy, relations with the native peoples take a very different (but still problematic) trajectory... plus there's, y'know, magic...), but I still don't want to have anything really jarring with the time period (1850s) without a good reason. Plus there are a bunch of cultures making up my New England kingdom-- English, Dutch, French, Wampanoag, Abenaki, and Pequot.

It would be easy to get intimidated by the research and get hung up here, but I've learned from EN and TOB that you don't really know what in-depth worldbuilding you need until you've written a draft. So, two weeks to get the broad strokes down. Then two weeks for plot, and two weeks for whatever needs a little more attention. Then NaNoWriMo!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I Just Submitted My First Query...

...and I feel like I'm gonna barf.

It's all feeling very scary and fraught right now.

Doesn't help that's it's 11:38pm and I've been fiddling with wording changes and formatting for the past three hours.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Gearing Up for a Month of Changes

I stopped counting hours for August, but I know I came in way over my goal of 30.

My goals for September:

1) 50 hours storybuilding work for Mender, the first book of the new series.

2) start the submission process for TOB.

The Pitch Wars mentor picks will be announced Sept. 2, but I am 99% sure I didn't make it. I never got any e-mails from my mentor picks asking for more material. Oh, well. Onward to querying!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Beta Experience

I'm doing my last pass (for now) through the MS, and I'm a little shocked at how quickly it's going. Much faster when you know exactly what you're trying to do.

Based on some beta feedback, I am considering radically truncating Act I. In the meantime, I've just focused on cutting as much dead weight as possible from chapters 3 and 4 to help pick up the pace and get to plot point 1 sooner. I weeded out about a thousand words, and am going to take another run at it tomorrow.

23.5 hours for August so far.

But really I want to talk about beta readers.

Before this summer, no one had read a completed story of mine since 1998. For one thing, novels take longer to complete and are more of a time investment for the reader. For another, I never got any novel draft to the point that I was willing to let people read it. And for a third, I was scared of feedback.

I've never been the sort of person who takes constructive criticism well. Not my favorite thing about myself, but true. And while I never had my stuff savaged in a writing workshop in college or grad school, I did learn how sucky it can feel to have other people point out problems in your work. Like you're proudly wearing a dress you sewed yourself, feeling absolutely awesome in it, and then someone gently points out that you forgot to sew a back onto the skirt, and your ass is hanging out. You're glad they told you, but you also kind of want to kill them.

I felt different this time, maybe because I knew I'd gotten the book as far as it could go without outside input. Or maybe because the process of finishing a novel humbled me. Or hell, maybe because I've actually grown a little in the last 17 years.

I've had five betas read TOB so far. And the first one to respond didn't like it, and didn't have too much to suggest about what could improve it. And I wasn't crushed at all-- just thought, "well, let's see what the others say."

The next four were all far more positive about the book and had many nice things to say. They also had many, many helpful things to say. I honestly didn't feel like I was being criticized; I felt like I was being helped by people who'd read the book, understood what I'd been trying to convey, and wanted me to make the book the best it could possibly be.

This was exhilarating, both because it was a relief to feel I had backup and the book a cheering section, and because it's still blowing my mind that five people have read my book. It makes the TOB feel so much more real somehow.

So I was surprised by how constructive and non-painful the feedback was. I was also struck by how right-on it was. There's guy on the internet (isn't there always?) who's fond of railing against the practice of beta readers, insisting that any editing undertaken as a response to beta feedback is ill-advised, because people are stupid and only editors who are paying you have legitimate opinions about your writing (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist).

Of course I think all feedback has to be taken with a grain of salt, measured against your vision of your own book. You don't want to run off and change things willy-nilly just because one reader didn't care for them.

On the other hand, people are not stupid. People are your reader. They are also other writers. People can tell you things that might be useful. For me, a majority of what betas pointed to as needing improvement resonated with me as something I knew deep down needed improvement. And a few things I was worried about were actually pointed to as positive things by most of the betas.

It's been interesting how different the feedback is, too. Such different styles, and I'm so glad, because they all caught different things. For example:

One is another writer, who made a lot of the same kinds of comments I make when I beta: I'm not buying this plot point. Your pacing is messed up here. Here's where I'm confused. That last is so helpful, because now I know what needs a little more clarification.

One is copy-editor, who line edited the hell of the thing. The other betas all noted many of my little errors, so I'd already fixed a bunch, but this lady caught eeevvvvvverything imaginable, from many, many unnecessary commas, to head-slapping things like "wait-- I thought it was his front leg that was missing?"

And one is a voracious reader and book reviewer, who wrote a what is basically a review. It was amazingly cool to get this perspective-- all about the feeling of reading it, of being connected to or disconnected from characters, about what story arcs are most compelling, and about the overall shape of the book and how it might become... shapelier.

Anyway, I'm writing a book here, but a huge heartfelt public thank you to ALL my beta readers, including the sixth one standing by to read my post-feedback edit. Thank you for the time, effort, and mental energy you expended just to help a chick you've never met make her book that much closer to awesome.

Now I'm all verklempt.

Saturday, August 15, 2015



Pitch Wars submissions opened early, so I went for it and submitted today. I spent a big chunk of yesterday in the library, making notes on the subtle changes I need to weave through the books, and then re-reading the MS and beginning to make those changes. I also wrote another version of my query-- at least #15.

I have to read through the rest of the MS for the edit, and need to finish a synopsis-- and I need to do this stuff quickly. But for right now, I am just taking a deep breath.