Friday, March 30, 2012

Ten Years Ago Today...

...the first blind date of my life showed up at my front door. He had scraggly long hair, a brand-new jacket, and a 10-year-old Mustang. We went out for Mexican food and then played pinball with my brother. He gave me one of those mumbled "I'll call you" blow-offs when we said good-night... but then he actually called.

If you haven't guessed, that blind date turned out to be The Husband.

We got married two years and four months after that first date, and two years and four months after the wedding we had The Son. The life and home and family we've made together over this last decade has been an oasis of peace and contentment that has allowed my creativity to thrive.

The Husband is the most genuine guy I know, and one of the Top Three funniest. He's a strange amalgam of tenderhearted metalhead and crabby old man. He is a total chick magnet-- but the chicks are either under 5, over 70, or cats. He claims to have never read a book in his life, but he builds robots to do household tasks for him. In the decade I've known him, he's owned eight computers but only two pairs of shoes.

The Son wants to be exactly like him. I'd be aces with that, but unfortunately for him he has too much of me in him to fully pull that off.

Happy Dativersary to a hell of a dude, who is as mystified by my novel-writing hobby as I am by building a robot out of Lego's and programming it to sort M&M's by color, but who nevertheless supports my work and tolerates my frequent forays deep inside my own head. Tonight we're going to have a quiet night on the couch, and there's no one else I'd rather share a white Russian and a viewing of The Truman Show with. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tense Tension

Not much to report. I'm toddling along, still rewriting that same scene I mentioned in my last post. Still more excited about what I'm reading than what I'm writing. Still trying to keep the wheels on the track while I wait out the unmotivated phase of the Pattern.

But there has been one interesting development: I'm suddenly writing in present tense.

Now, all of Act I was written in third person past tense, and that was perfectly comfortable for me. But Act II has been very difficult to write so far-- it's just awkward as hell. I know, I know: it's a first draft, it's supposed to suck. But there's difference between "Hm, that characterization is kind of trite" suck and "This sounds like it was Google-translated from Swedish" suck.

One of the books I'm currently reading is actually an audiobook I listen to during my commute to my evening tutoring gig: The Night Circus, recommended by the Priestess of Books herself, Library Hungry. I'm really loving it so far, and just as LH predicted, I am particularly loving hearing it read aloud. It is a Historical Urban Fantasy, but written in third person present tense. And within a day of starting to listen to it, I noticed that when I daydreamed about the book while making dinner or folding laundry, I was hearing the scenes in the voice of the reader of The Night Circus. So, tentatively, I went back to the beginning of the scene a THIRD time and changed it all to present tense. And suddenly it sounded fine-- not brilliant prose, but not Google-translated Swedish.

So I've kept on writing in present tense, and while it's not galloping yet, it's trotting at a respectable pace. I don't have any intention of switching the whole book over to present tense. At least, I don't think I do. I think this is just a trick to get me moving again. But just to make trouble for myself, I searched the internet for articles on the present tense and found an essay by Philip Pullman ranting about the young whippersnappers and their misguided attempts to write in present tense (kids today... with the hair, and the music...), and now I kind of want to write it in present tense just to spite him. I'm not saying that none of his criticisms of present tense had merit, but it ticks me off when authors decide that a genre or form that they don't personally care for (or write themselves) is a Sign of the Great Evil That Has Befallen Literature in These Dark Times.

And really, a guy who writes Young Adult Fantasy should know better than to indulge in such caa-caa.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Slow But Painful, Revisited

The writing is just not cracking along these days. I am trying to the honor the Pattern and just work on it a little each day. I did have a minor revelation about the scene I've been slogging through-- unfortunately, it's a revelation that requires rewriting the scene. Just goes to show that no matter how much advance planning you do, you can't always see the pitfalls of the plan until you're in the thick of it. In this case, I have this high-action sequence with big story-changing decisions, followed by chase and danger. Our heroes just barely get away, and speed away as fast as they can to a rendezvous point... where they sit around for a few hours, bored and tired, making conversation until someone comes along to pick them up.

Now, the conversation is important. Willa and Akenam have been both foe and ally to one another, but they've never exchanged more than a few sentences before this. The dialogue is unfolding pretty much like I'd hoped... and yet somehow the scene is just not flowing. There's not enough energy. I was also having a lot of trouble figuring out where the hell their transport is while they're sitting around waiting for it. It's not like it has anything else to do in all of North America. And this is a time-sensitive mission. Why wouldn't it be waiting for them?

Wait-- why wouldn't it be waiting for them? Why can't this whole scene happen inside the flyer? Just because I originally envisioned it happening around a campfire doesn't mean I have to stick to that. Especially since there was plenty o'campfire at the end of Act I.

So yet again, I am combining two sections. In the first, the interaction is important but the setting isn't; in the second, the fact of moving from point A to B is important, but nothing else really happens. Seems like kind of a duh on my part, hm?

In other news, I am reading again. Due to the obsession phase of the Pattern, I've barely read anything this year. Now I'm working my way through The Name of the Wind, which is excellent, and I just ripped through two volumes of Castle Waiting, a graphic novel I heard about on Library Hungry. I love love loooooved it, and urge anyone with the slightest interest in graphic novels, fairy tales, domestic fantasy, or feminist nuns to read it immediately.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Library Hungry: In Which a Book Blog Saves the Day

I think I wrote a total of 150 words this weekend, but I was determined to give myself a 48-hour pass from Book Guilt, so there that is.

Saturday was gorgeous here, so we hauled The Son's bike out of storage and went to the elementary school playground. Good times, but I managed to fall off a curb and twist my ankle. It hurt a lot Sat. night, so Sunday I really babied it-- let The Husband take over Son duty and just sat on my ass all day. And what did I do with all that ass-sitting time (since we already know I wasn't writing)? I read this blog: Library Hungry. I seriously read almost the entire thing, from the very first entries back in 2004.

Now, I've "known" Library Hungry (LH) for years, through a women's message board community. She's a regular commenter here, and I've checked out her blog before and enjoyed the posts. But writing blogs are my thing, not reading blogs. Or so I thought.

GodDAMN is it an incredible blog!  If you are a lover of books at all (and if you're not I can't imagine what the hell you're doing here) I pretty much have to insist that you take your little fanny over there right now. LH is funny, crazy smart, and amazingly insightful about what makes a good book. She doesn't write "reviews" of the books she reads (and that would be over 100 books a year-- holy hell!) as much as she captures her experience of reading them. Aside from making fascinating reading, sharing that experience turns out to be an immensely valuable resource for writers-- or at least for this one. I'm used to thinking of my stories from the writer's side of thing, but after spending the last day and a half immersed in LH's perspective, my gears are turning in a new direction and I'm getting excited to work again. Case in point: I've written 600 words today, pretty painlessly, and plan to write at least 200 more before bed.

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but all day I've been composing LH's future review of The Owl Bearer in my head. Naturally, she LOVES it. But as I lavish praise upon myself, I'm realizing that some of my brilliant characterization hasn't actually made the leap from my mind to the page. For example, Willa is bright, self-assured, and well-educated. It would be easy to misinterpret her ambition to enter a particular Vocation as a desire for knowledge-- when, really, what drives her is not being able to tolerate secrets being kept from her. I need to make that facet of her personality more explicit. And doing so sets her up to be even more Tom's pawn, and leads into a stronger motivation for taking on this insanely dangerous-sounding mission.

So some of those still-to-be-written 200 words for today will be a line added here and an exchange there to bring Willa into sharper focus. I like to think LH would be pleased.

She would probably also be pleased to learn that the book I'm reading now (The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss) comes straight from her endorsement, and that I added 13 make that 15 more books to my TBR list as a result of yesterday's reading.

P.S.: Babying the twisted ankle was also a good idea from a physical standpoint. It is 90% better today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Pattern

I'm a fan of the TV show Fringe, in which "the Pattern" refers to a worldwide outbreak of freaky events perpetrated by a cult of mad scientists and shapeshifting terrorists from another universe.

My Pattern is nowhere near as interesting.

It goes something like this:

First comes inspiration. I start working on a new project, or return to an old one full of new ideas and fresh perspective. Then I become obsessed with the writing; if I'm not writing I'm planning, and if I'm not planning I'm reading writing how-to books or writing blogs, and if I'm not reading about writing I'm writing about writing here on the blog.

Then, after a month or three six of this, I stumble. I hit a difficult point in the book. Life throws me a curve ball and I get thrown out of the writing flow. My muse sneaks away to Burning Man. Mercury goes into retrograde. Whatever.

The novel starts to slide away from me. All of a sudden, my life seems too complicated and busy to spare the time for writing. And when conditions do line up perfectly and I sit down with the laptop, I wind up frittering away the time surfing the internet or watching something on Netflix.

This makes me feel like crap. I feel awful about blowing off the novel, again. No wonder I've been trying to write a book since the last millenium. I just don't have what it takes. I'm a slacker and a fuck up; always have been, always will be.

So I start to avoid the novel. I put away the writing books, stop checking my favorite writing blog. I stop blogging myself. And worst of all, I stop thinking and dreaming about the book; it's too painful to think about it. And without the life my mind breathes into them, my beloved characters fade into ghosts.

Until inspiration strikes and revives them... a month or six or twenty-four later.

No wonder no one has made a TV show about the F.B.I. investigating my Pattern. Talk about zero entertainment value.

This last week, I've felt myself slipping out of the obsession phase of my Pattern. I haven't watched a TV show (other than Fringe) or a movie, or read a novel, since the first of the year. All I've wanted to do with my free time is write. And now I'm having my springtime SAD, I lost a contact lens and have to wear my glasses for a tortuous week (I have sensory issues with glasses; I can't stand to have something touching my face for more a few hours, but I'm way too blind to go without them for more than a few minutes), I'm grumpy as hell, the thought of writing 1,000 words a day every day seems like a nightmarish ordeal, I didn't write at all two days this week, and suddenly I'm craving some other stories in my head. Last weekend I watched an entire season of Toddlers and Tiaras. Toddlers and Tiaras! WTF?! I hate cringe-worthy reality TV!

Okay. I think it's high time I made my Pattern work for me. My obsession phases are useful and productive, and I think it's good to make the most of them. But now I need to find a way to ride through my disenchanted phases without losing the story. Keep working, keep moving forward-- but don't be such a stickler about word count. Maybe plan to take one day a week off, without guilt. Find a good TV show (NOT Toddlers and Tiaras) to get involved in. Read a book. Keep thinking about the story, even if I'm not thinking about it all the time.

In short, keep the wheels on the track until the train's raring to go again.

I wrote 900 words today. They're not great words, but they move the story forward. I started watching Life on Netflix, which seems like an interesting show. Today I started reading The Name of the Wind while The Son and his bff drew dozens pictures of leprechaun traps. (Don't ask.) I'm going to fill the well. Try to get a little more sleep. Maybe bake a batch of cookies. And ride out this phase of the Pattern a few hundred words at a time, until obsession takes over again... whether that takes a month, or six, or twenty-four.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Kind of Whiny Post

1,007 words for today, most of it dialogue. After yesterday's post, I cut the wardrobe discussion from the chase scene and moved it to this next scene. I want to keep it-- it's a character-illuminating moment for both Akenam and Willa, and also foreshadows an upcoming "candy bar" scene-- but it doesn't belong in the middle of a chase with dogs and arrows and jet bikes.

I'm feeling kind of uninspired the last few days. I'm just plodding through the writing and not really enjoying it much. I know that if I hang on and work every day, the love will come back. I often slip into a little funk this time of year. It's like reverse SAD or something; the time change and warmer days are hard on me. I always feel like I'm not done hibernating yet. I should move to Alaska.

But little things are getting me down. We had a crayon-in-the-dryer incident (Ah, serious damage to a major appliance. One of those you're-really-a-parent-now milestones, along with "epic public tantrum" and "3:00am run to CVS in PJ's and glasses to buy Pedialyte"), which took a lot of fussing with WD-40 and rags to resolve. If there's anything I hate, it's fussy cleaning. Half-assed cleaning is more my style.

Also, I suck at book club. I haven't read any of the books since I started working on this draft, and tonight I blew off the meeting rather than admit that. I do feel like I might be getting a cold (probably just allergies), but it's more like I woke up and was like, "YES! I feel like crap! That's a solid, legitimate reason for not going to book club tonight." I think the time has come to confess to my mom friends that I need to take a break-- that all the free time I used to use to read books is now spent writing one. I'd love to do both, but if I have to choose, for now I choose writing.

Jeez, this is a whiny post. Sorry.

Monday, March 12, 2012


...words for the day. Not Dalmatians.

The scene kind of sucks so far. "Action" scenes, like chases or fights, are often tough for me. The pacing is all screwy at first, with people pausing to argue about proper attire for a hover bike ride when, hello, there's a pack of snarling dogs bolting toward you through the moonlit forest!

Part Two, Week Two

I didn't get as much accomplished over the weekend as I hoped I would, but I did spin the first ~1/3 of Part Two. Today I'm back to aiming for 1K per day. I'll report my progress tonight.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Checking In

My last two goals for the week are to spin the first five scenes I have listed in my line-per-scene outline, and then work up scene sheets for them.

Today I spun the first three scenes I had listed... but they're actually two scenes. I don't know why I broke up one of them into two parts. But I'm counting it as having gotten through three scenes, 'cause that's how I roll. I've got one of the scene sheets almost completely done and the second one started.

Goal for tomorrow: complete the two scene sheets, and spin the next scene. That's it. Writing time is always scarce on Saturdays!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Next Set of Goals

Yesterday I got one-line descriptions of the scenes in Part 2 and put them into what I think is the right order, and also redid the problem-solution chain for this chunk of the story. The overall arc has remained intact, but a few of the originally planned scenes have been dropped or combined with other scenes, and I added two new scenes. Most of these changes are a result of my rethinking a secondary character who now enters the story in Act II rather than the end of Act I.

I've worked out the next steps to take; I'll update here as I work on them.

3/6 8:45pm update.
3/7 8:40pm update.
3/8 9:35pm update. (Don't worry: this will be the last of the multi-colored updates! I'll start a new post tomorrow focusing on my remaining goals for the week.)

1) Add Akenam's static trait details to Part 1; backup again DONE. Easy fix.

2) Do a little work on themes-- make sure they're as tight and relevant as I can get them DONE. I googled some quotes about Truth, Love, and Power, for ideas and wording and got better versions of my three themes written. 

3) Character work: finish revising emotional toolbox for the 4 major supporting characters; DONE. do some additional sketching of Saadia, the character that has changed significantly since I did my initial character work last summer DONE. I fleshed out a little backstory motivation for her.

4) Spin first 5 scenes

5) Begin information file, to track facts/details/clues to be included in Part 2 IN PROGRESS: I've entered all the categories of info into a file, but haven't listed much yet.I'm calling this DONE. I'm sure I'll add to the list as I spin scenes and fill out scene sheets, but I've got down as much as I can think of right now. It's not nearly as much stuff as I needed to drop in Act I, so that's a relief.

6) Do full scene sheets for first 5 scenes

7) Read Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon.  I've been reading good things about this book for years, but it's out of print and I wasn't willing to shell out like $60 for a used copy. Then I found it at Gryphon Books and I just got my copy in the mail today! IN PROGRESS: I'm on page 81 of the 122 I want to read now (the later chapters are about synopsis writing). DONE.

Another additional goal:
8) Create GMC charts like the ones in the book for my five major characters, and fill in the charts as I finish each chapter. IN PROGRESS: I have goal and motivation for all, and am almost done with conflict. Then I need to add a second layer to Willa and Akenam's charts, since both of them acquire new goals at the mid-point of the story. DONE. This was a great exercise for highlighting both where I have a firm grasp on the story and where I'm shakier. I had Willa and Tom's GMC pretty much right already, but it helped me to make better sense of what I want to do with Akenam. And it really helped me work out more of the romance arc. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Part Two, Day One

Today I'm starting Part Two of The Owl Bearer, titled "Shadow Envoy". It'll encompass the first half of Act II, from just after plot point one to the mid-point. I'm shooting for no more than 22,500 words. I'm also shooting for finishing this Part in less than the 64 days it took me to write Part One!

I'm going to do some pre-writing work first, in hopes of avoiding the time-expensive backtracking and rewriting I did in Part One. I have the outline I wrote last summer, but since Act I has deviated in places from its original outline, I need to make sure the scenes I'd planned are still relevant, and replace any that aren't. Supplying necessary worldbuilding information and dropping plot clues was what killed me in Act I, so I want to make sure I have all that included in the scene sheets. And I'd like to finish up the emotional toolbox profiles I've been revisiting.

I'm not sure how long to give myself for all that. A week, maybe? I don't want to rush through the planning that will save my bacon later on, but I also know I can linger in this "planning" phase much too long without a kick in the pants to get me writing  already.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Act I of The Owl Bearer is finished! It is also Part One of the novel, and is titled "Bridger".

1,776 words today. Whew! That's NaNo pace!

24,002 words total for the Act. Darn. That's a little long. I'll just aim for 22,000 for Act 2.1 and hope for the best. I can always cut words in the next draft.

Now I'm going to eat supper, spell-check, back up, and crash.

Sunday Plan Update

They just got back from the museum. I'm at 1,340 words on the scene so far.  I'll have to finish up tonight.

Willa has just knocked out the guards and is cutting Akenam's restraints. I estimate another 300-400 words to get them through the gate and on their way.

Saturday Fail, Sunday Plan

Yesterday was pretty much a fail. I was out of the house by 8:30 to take The Son to karate. I didn't take the laptop because Saturdays are always a madhouse at the dojo, the other parents ignore my "I'm working on something" signals and chat with me, and I can never concentrate enough to write more than a line or two in the 45 minutes of class. We went directly from class to a playdate with my friend's twins, who are The Son's oldest babyhood buds. They live at the boarding school where I do my evening tutoring gig. So we played all day there, on the deserted campus, and I was completely worn out when we left; The Son had lots of fun, and it's always great to hang out with my friend, but managing three kids-- all with intense personalities-- takes a lot out of you.

We hit the co-op on the way back and arrived home at 5:00, starving and cranky. Then I had to make supper, clean the kitchen, get The Son to bed... the day just got sucked into a black hole. I did open the TOB file and write ~100 words, but deleted half of them because they sucked. Then I just gave up, watched last week's Fringe, and went to bed early.

The Husband is taking The Son out to the science museum in a few minutes, and when they leave I'm pouring myself a giant iced coffee and diving back in to the book. I have vowed to not sleep again until Act I is finished!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Loss of Omniscience

One of the challenges of writing in tight third person is that you can get so swept up in seeing the plot unfold through your protagonist's eyes, you forget what you know that they don't.

This happened to me today. I was cruising along, at 800+ words for the day, feeling a little smug about how smoothly it was going... and then suddenly I thought: Wait a minute. Why would Tom do that? He's too smart to give anyone a reason to suspect he has a hand in what Willa's about to do. So why the hell would he be seen talking to her in front of like a hundred people ten minutes before she does it?

It seemed perfectly logical to Willa when it happened, because Willa doesn't know what Tom knows. She doesn't know how much of a scheming, power-hungry douchebag he is beneath the folksy earnestness. She doesn't know she was part of his plan even before the current situation unfolded.  But I know, and I should have seen that Tom is much too savvy to put himself in the position I put him in.

Crap. Now I have to go back and rewrite it. At least it's not the whole scene-- just the last 350 words. I'll still make it to 1,000 tonight.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In Like a Lion

Snow day, as predicted. We pretty much lazed around all day, and only ventured out for karate (The Son has his first belt test next week and I want him to get as much practice time as he can before that) and a quick stop at the co-op (made even quicker when I realized I'd left my wallet at home and had only seven scrounged dollars to spend, d'oh!). I got 1,005 words for the day, mostly in 50-to-100-word chunks at a time.

I'm predicting 2-3 more days before I hit the end of Act I. It's going to come in a little longer than I'd hoped, but what else is new.