Thursday, June 30, 2016

That About Wraps It Up For June

The numbers:

I wrote for 60 hours in June.
I'm now halfway through Chapter 13.
Mender is now 46,000 words.
I am nearly at the mid-point of the novel.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

First Step Into (and Hopefully Out Of) the Weeds

It's been challenging this week. I'm up to 47.5 hours, but with The Son out of school it's been hard to find the time to write, and having less time has meant it's been harder to sink into the world of Mender and lose myself in the story.

I've been working on the dialogue for a scene and making very slow progress. This is the first time I've felt kind of stuck writing this book. Mary is in church, trying to work up the courage to ask a touchy question in the consilium (my alternate-New England's version of Christianity has a booth for getting spiritual advice rather than for confessing). I knew I wanted her to meet Leopold again (they met once as young adolescents) and have a conversation with him, and then have a second conversation with the Reverend in the consilium. I was really struggling with getting the tone right between Mary and Leopold, and then today I realized most of the dialogue I'd written for Mary and the Reverend actually belonged in her conversation with Leopold. I spent my snatches of writing time today retrofitting those lines to fit. But I feel like the scene's finally unfolding it as it should.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Solstice Check-In

Two-thirds through the month!

The numbers:

I've written 43.5 hours in June thus far.
I just finished chapter eleven.
Mender is now up to 41,250 words.

The Son got out of school last Friday, and we had a full weekend planned... and then a family emergency meant that I had a few extra kiddos for a few days. Between all that, I barely wrote for a few days. Today it was 90 degrees, so I wrote for an hour in the morning, and then we spent allllll day at the pond.

From now until the end of the month it's going to be hard to find the time to write. I'm aiming for an hour a day, though to make 60 hours by July 1 I'll have to find a few extra hours somewhere.

I doubt I'll make it to the mid-point of the novel by then. But I should be close.

Oh, and I got two more rejections from agents over the weekend. Bleah.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Listify Life: Week 13

Last week for Listify Life! It's been fun to have a weekly non-writing topic to blog about. I have a scheme for another weekly blog series reviewing writing craft books, so I'll try to get that underway in the next few weeks.

My Favorite Vacation Spots:

1) Saints' Landing, Cape Cod. As far as I'm concerned, the most perfect spot on the planet.

2) The Santa Fe/Taos region of New Mexico. Some of the most magical landscape anywhere.

3) Lucca, Italy. My favorite city.

4) Edinburgh, Scotland. My second favorite city.

5) Yukon Territory. The whole place looks like it should air-brushed on the side of a van.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mid-Month Again

Man, I cannot beLIEVE June is half over already!

The numbers for the month so far:

I have written for 39.5 hours.
I am 3/4 of the way through Chapter 11.
Mender is now 39,500 words.

I might do a little more today, but I just finished the monster scene I blogged about the other day, and I need a breather. I have one more short scene to finish the chapter, and it's time for me to sit down and figure out what one of my antagonists is actually doing. He's not a big player in this book, but he's causing all kinds of trouble in the background that will get worse in subsequent books. He's a fringe religious figure, and I'm realizing my understanding of what he believes and how that differs from what the mainstream religion preaches is way too vague. So I've got a little worldbuilding left to do.

I'm also working my way through the Writing the Other course, and have a few more exercises left to go. It's a good book, but I'm somewhat heartened by the fact that I haven't actually learned much I didn't already know from it. Maybe I'm more prepared to write my non-white characters than I thought.

Monday, June 13, 2016


It took me the better part of FOUR HOURS, but I got the dialogue.

MAN, they do not like each other!

Process Post

I've been reporting how much I'm writing in terms of hours, words, and chapters, but not so much what I'm writing or how. Today I find myself with both a comfortable block of time to work in, and some trepidation about this next scene I'm beginning, so I thought now would be a good time for a process post. Maybe it'll help me gather my thoughts for the day.

I've been making scene outlines for most scenes, cobbling together exercises from different books that have helped me in the past. I begin by making a page in my "Scene Tracker"; this is where I make note of: the day, time, and location of the scene; the characters involved; the dramatic action; the POV character's goal; the emotional development of the characters; and how the theme is advanced. This not only helps ensure the scene has a point, it also means I won't have to go back and make this scene-by-scene overview once the draft is done, because I'm making it as I go.

Then I do cut-to's, an exercise in which you zip through the action of the scene like video. If this was a movie, what would you need to show?

Next I make note of all little sense details I want to include.

Then I write out the dialogue with no action or attributives-- just the voices talking back and forth.

Then I cut and paste the whole thing together in the order I want it to go.

Then I write it, deleting the scene outline as I go.

It's basically building the scene layer by layer. There are a few scenes that are so clear in my head I don't need to do this, but for most I find it helps me to make more interesting choices, and does wonders for keeping all the elements that belong in a scene straight.

So now I'm on a scene in which two of my four main characters meet for the first time. Remember that this is the first book in a quartet; there is a primary main character for this book (Mary) who is the POV character in every scene she appears in. But there are also some scenes she isn't in, and the other three main characters each take their turns as POV character there. Each of them will also have a turn being the main character in the later books.

Another challenging thing about this book is that the romance element is a little weird. I've got four MC's, two men and two women. So I have 6 relationships to work out between them, and four of those wind up being sexual/romantic. Two of the male/female pairs have a more obvious connection and easier path, so laying down those threads has been easier. But now I've come to the moment where the most rocky relationship starts.

The scene is from Noelia's POV. She is meeting Leopold for the first time, and she just totally hates him. They're at a ball, and since Noelia's an unconventional young noblewoman making her debut in Society, she's being watched closely by her aunt to make sure she behaves herself. Leopold is not noble, but he's an Officer and a Gentleman from an obscenely wealthy family, and Noelia's aunt wants her to play nice with him.

There's a lot going on between them in a brief interaction. Neither Noelia nor Leopold are any good at being charming. Despite her position, Noelia is very clearly an Outsider, and is also a genius who doesn't suffer fools gladly. In my mind, Leopold is played by Jesse Eisenberg, and does that twitchy, arrogance-covering-insecurity thing when he feels uncomfortable. On top of that, there is some serious bad blood between his family and hers.

I want the first part of the conversation, while they're being watched by her aunt, to have that politely-despising-each-other ring to it. Then the aunt steps away to talk to someone else for a few minutes, and all pretense at politeness is dropped. I want her to come away thinking he's a complete putz, but also have him say something insightful that really gets under her skin-- something that later she'll decide is true, even if she doesn't attribute it to him by then.

I have the rest of the scene all worked out, and I'm psyched about all the cool details of the ball. Now I just need to get that dialogue written! I think I need to just be okay with it taking longer than usual.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Goodreads Book Tag

My longtime online bud and treasured beta reader Sharon at Library Hungry tagged me for this quiz. I'm not actually on Goodreads, but so what! On with the questions:

1) What was the last book you marked as "read"?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It's our next book club pick, and it took me literally only two hours to read it. I've heard of this book for years-- it's used as an example in a craft book I have-- but I hadn't realized how short and fable-like it is. I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't at all what I was expecting.

2) What are you currently reading?

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow. Recommended by Sharon. I'm not that far into it yet, and so far I'm a little like, "ho hum, teen dystopia, enter love interest stage left", but Sharon's review assures me it's going to subvert all that, and I believe her.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Know It's True. Someone (probably Sharon) wrote that she found Lumberjanes a little too manic and goofy for her tastes. Well, I read both volumes of Lumberjanes and Vol. I of Squirrel Girl (Squirrel Power) in the last week, and I can state with authority that if Lumberjanes was too manic and goofy for you, you should not read Squirrel Girl, because it is SO manic and goofy it makes Lumberjanes look somber and circumspect by comparison.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Listening to it on audiobook with The Son. Re-read for me, obvs. The Son has recently discovered a love of British humor. We watched all 10 seasons of Red Dwarf together, after which I was like, Okay, if you liked that, clearly you are ready for Hitchhiker's. It's is read by Stephen Fry and is delightfully nostalgic for me.

3) What was the last book you marked TBR?

Gemina --the sequel to Illiuminae.

4) What do you plan to read next?

A Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemison.

5) Do you use the star rating system?

Like I said, I'm not on Goodreads. But stars in general don't function as a useful way for me to rate books. It bothers me that "parts of this were pretty good but other parts kind of sucked" and "this isn't my usual jam, but it's a good example of what it's trying to be" and "I love this author to pieces but this really isn't her best work" are all a 3.

6) Are you doing a 2016 Reading Challenge?

Nope. I do plan to participate in A More Diverse Universe again, though.

7) Do you have a wishlist?

I assume this is also a Goodreads thing? My mom always asks for a Christmas list, and all I ever ask for is books and kitchen equipment, so yes, I do keep a (Short! I swear! I'm not as spoiled as this makes me sound!) list of books to ask for.

8) What book do you plan to buy next?

Funny you should ask, since it's my birthday in a week and a half, and that's one time a year I indulge my love of bookstores guilt-free. Part of the joy is stumbling across books you didn't even know you wanted, but I will probably keep my eyes open for:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Tooth & Claw by Jo Walton
Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
Zoo City by Lauren Buerkes

9) Do you have any favorite quotes?

Zillions, but today I feel like sharing this one from The Son's Favorite Book of All Time, The True Meaning of Smekday (just ignore that movie they made of it; it knows NOTHING of this book's greatness):

"'When I was a little girl,' I said, sitting down. "The wallpaper in my room had pictures of the Noah story... You know what's weird, though? It's weird that the ark would be such a kids' story, you know?  I mean, it's really a story about death. Every person who isn't in Noah's family? They die. Every animal, apart from the two of each on board? They die. They all die in the flood. Billions of creatures. It's the worst tragedy ever,' I finished, my voice tied off by a knot in my chest...
"'What the hell,' I said, 'pardon my language, was that doing on my wallpaper?'"

10) Who are your favorite authors?

Ursula K. LeGuin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sharon Shinn, Connie Willis, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jacqueline Carey, Dan Simmons, Rainbow Rowell, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rick Riordan, Adam Rex, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Gerald Durrell, Jane Austen...

11) Have you joined any groups?

Goodreads thing again? I'm in a book club. It's a very moms-drinking-wine book club, though.

12) Who do you tag?


Friday, June 10, 2016

Checking In

One-third of the way through June!

The numbers:

I've written for 27 hours so far this month.
I'm half way through chapter ten.
The book is now over 34,000 words-- so about one-third done.

Still enjoying the heck out of it.

On the Great Agent Hunt front (note that the acronym for that is GAH), I've gotten three rejections from the last batch of queries I sent out. One said something like, "This is very good. I'm not the best agent for it, but someone else will probably want it", which struck me as a little odd since form rejects usually don't claim the thing was good. I stalked the agent's profile on Query Tracker, and found examples people had posted of her form rejections... and none of them said a thing about it being good! So I think that was a personalization. Grasping at straws here, I know.

I also participated in #PitMad again yesterday, with considerably less success than I enjoyed the last time I did it in September. Only two likes, both from small e-pubs-- not what I'm fishing for.

But, onward! I plan to send out another batch of ten queries this weekend, and then just sit on it a while. Thirty queries is enough to start drawing some conclusions. If I don't get more requests for materials, the conclusion I will draw is that my query sucks and needs to be rewritten.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Listify Life: Week 12

Movies I Always Quote From:

1) Finding Nemo:

"Look, something shiny! Let's follow it over the trench!"
"What's wrong, grumpy gills?"
"That's where I would play."
"It's wicked dahk down there."

2) Clueless:

"That's totally harsh, Tai."
"I totally paused."
"We can totally party with the Haiti-ans."
[breaking off in mid-thought] "--ooh, I wonder if they have that in my size."
"Do you know what you're talking about?" "Why, do I sound like I do?"
"As IF!"

3) Heathers:

"What's your damage, Heather??"

4) Half-Baked:

"Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you... you're cool... and fuck you."
"What, man-- you go to pot college?"

5) Night on Earth:

"I'm sorry I sound calm. I assure you, I'm hysterical."

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Listify Life: Week 11

My Favorite Places to Waste Time on the Internet:

1) Rapping about writing on the message boards at Absolute Write.

2) Playing name games on the message boards at Baby Names.

3) Taking quizzes at Sporcle.

4) Browsing eye-popping art at Deviant Art.

5)  YouTube. Duh.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Goals and Thoughts for June

New month!

I'm shooting for another 60 hours of Butt In Chair (BIC) time, and hoping that will bring me to the mid-point of the book by the end of the month. One wrinkle is that because we didn't have any snow days this year, The Son is out of school on June 17. I didn't sign him up for any camps that first week he's out of school, and am hoping/planning to spend a lot of time at the pond and other fun, summery outings that promise to eat up many hours of the day. And then toward the end of the month we'll be on Cape Cod, where I'll be lucky to get an hour a day of BIC time. Taking all this into account, I'm going to take advantage of his remaining school days and try to get 40 hours by the 17th.

I feel like I should say something about my pace. If you do the math on the stats I've given, you'll see that I'm averaging less than 500 words an hour, which is horrifyingly slow. That number is slightly misleading, since my BIC time includes hours spent making scene outlines, researching, and doing light editing. But even taking that into account, my pace is sluggish. I'm (mostly) okay with it, for two reasons:

1) I feel like I'm doing two drafts in one. With both Eleven Names and The Owl Bearer, my first draft was verrrrryyy rough-- "the crap draft", as I affectionately refer to it. I was so overwhelmed by writing a WHOLE NOVEL, I just wanted to get the story down to "The End" and not worry about anything else until later. This meant that I wound up doing 3-4 drafts of each book, which as I've documented on this blog is a grueling process, yo.

I don't think approaching it that way was necessarily the wrong choice for the writer I was at the time... but I'm not the same writer now. I'm not so overwhelmed by writing a novel. And I'd like to avoid ever having to do such extensive revisions again.

To that end, I'm taking the time to get the words right, rather than rushing to splash the story onto the page. I'm paying attention to tone and flow. I'm not skipping over the hard parts. When I get stuck, I'm going back to a previous chapter and doing a little line editing until the solution comes to me.

I hope that being this methodical (and slow) will actually save me time later, when I only have to do 1-2 revisions rather than 3-5.

2) It's slow, but it doesn't feel like a slog. I'm having a blast writing this thing! "Write the book you'd want to read" seems like "duh" advice, because what kind of weirdo writes a book they wouldn't want to read?? But I'm seeing now how that advice needs to be applied on a micro (scene) level rather than just considered on a macro level.

Earlier this year, I read 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron-- ironically, in the hopes it would make me a faster writer-- and in it she said something that kind of blew my mind: Writing is not supposed to be a struggle, and if it is, that's a sign something is wrong.

I know. Let that sink in.

I've known so many writers (myself included) who say they like having written far more than they actually like writing, and who complain about the horrors of the creative process, that it just seemed like the Way of Things. It's never really occurred to me how fucked it actually is. To be honest, I've always unkindly suspected that the few who were like, "What are you talking about? Writing is fun! Wheeee!" were stupid people writing very simple books.

But Aaron frames it like this: You became a writer because you love stories and love telling stories. Telling your own story to yourself (which is what a first draft is) should be the best thing ever. To quote the book: So why aren't you enjoying this fundamentally enjoyable thing?

Earlier in the book, she talks about storybuilding: creating characters, building worlds, and coming up with scenes. She says that this process should be enormously fun, and that if it's not, this probably isn't a book you should write. I completely agree, and have always delighted in the storybuilding stage of writing. It wasn't that much of a leap from that to her point about first drafts: if you aren't enjoying it, there's something wrong with the story-- not with you.

Sometimes our writer-minds create scenes we've decided are necessary to the plot, but our reader-minds have no desire to read them. Sometimes the plot veers off course and we keep slogging forward on the overgrown path because we loathe the idea of backtracking the last 5/20/100 pages and starting over. Sometimes we forget that if we're bored by what we're writing, it's probably boring.

In her book, Aaron relates how she began tracking her word count output as a first step to trying to increase it. One thing she discovered is that she had much higher word counts on days she was working on "candy bar" scenes. For those unfamiliar with the term, a candy bar scene is a scene you are dying to write. A scene that's been in your head since you first got the idea for the book. A scene you write all the other stuff just to get to. She realized that she had to get that excited about every scene, and if she couldn't, the scene had to go.

So that's one of things I've been focusing on this time around: trying to get psyched about the awesome in every scene, and giving my reader-mind more of a say in how the story unfolds. So far, it's working: I'm enjoying telling myself this story, and giving myself permission to trash a scene if it's boring me.