Tag Archives: writing

Editing, the non-thrilling part of writing

So, I am about a third of the way through the final edit on the manuscript for my dragon novel, Dragon Venom. Oi, it’s a tedious process– going back and fixing all those little typos and dropped commas and whatnot. Also changing some of the names of places, as I wasn’t satisfied with the names as they were. I tried a naming scheme for the places that just didn’t quite work out, so all of those need to be fixed, doublechecked, and then the map needs to be re-drawn. My artist and my Photoshop consultant both need to be consulted regarding the changes, and the changes applied to those things.

But, it’s looking good. If I can keep things on track and get over this nasty cold that the kids brought home, I am looking at a June release date. Which, yeah, is ambitious, considering how crazy things are this month, but I am really looking forwards to getting this novel published and out there where people can read it. You can get all the feedback possible from your first readers, but there’s nothing quite like having actual readers reading your work.

I’m also working as an editor on another project, not for money, just for the love. It’s not a very big project, just a short story collection, but I hope to get it done very quickly. Then, I’m going to be working on the next novel in the dragon series, plus I am outlining a suspense novel. Whew. Lots to be done!


Progress and The Idiot

The thing about chronic illness is that it plays merry hell with your writing production.

I was reminded of this powerfully this month, not only because I have spent the past six weeks suffering through this stupid cancer treatment and a very bad arthritis flare simultaneously, but also because I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Idiot.”

In my own life, my arthritis flares start with fatigue so all-encompassing that I could easily sleep 20 hours a day if I wasn’t forced out of bed to deal with reality. And when I am out dealing with life, I am functioning about as well as a zombie might. Once the fatigue passes, the pain begins, and typing is just one of the many things that becomes nearly impossible.

Dostoyevsky wrote “The Idiot” during a turbulent period in his life, and it’s possible to watch his own illness come and go in the quality of the plotting and writing. Some sections of the novel crackle with energy and the plot hums along without any hesitation. And then there are the sections where there’s hesitancy, redundancy, and a slight bewilderment in the plotting. Those periods are followed by chapters that suddenly introduce a narrator, who digresses about authorial intent and writing techniques. All in all, “The Idiot” is an at-times bizarre mess of a novel.

But it’s a grand mess, a touching long rumination about the nature of goodness, the difficulties of living in the real world with real sinful humanity all around you, and it also functions as a venue to explore the worries and fears of a man who was afflicted with epilepsy (as was the titular character.) It took me months to read through it, mostly because it required concentration and a lot of patience. The more confused chapters are difficult to get through, and whether or not Dostoyevsky purposefully wrote them that was as a reflection of his character’s mood or if it was an unconscious reflection of his own mental state, they’re very hard to get through. Once the characters leave Petersburg for Pavlovsk, the narrative meanders and doubles back according to whimsy.

I have started working again, although of course I am more than a month behind on my goals and stated ambitions. And I can only say that sometimes Reality steps in and makes its own goals the primary ones. Getting through each day, trying to get the very basic things of life done, it leaves no time for art or craft. If you can’t even remotely figure out how you’re going to cook dinner or make it to the dentist without falling apart, it’s a pretty good bet that you’re not going to be working at any sort of artistic high point.

So, I will continue to work. And I will update when I am done. It shouldn’t be too long, however. My birthday is soon and I want to be out with the old and in with the new, so to speak. Getting these old projects off my to-do list would clear the decks for more new things.


truly, madly, deeply

I will be honest with you– in the past, I have been guilty of writing things that weren’t truly reflective of who I really am. I’ve written things just to try to sell them, just to try to break into a particular market, and written things that don’t actually reflect my ideals, thoughts, hopes, and morals.

Which is why I don’t really like to dig back into my past and publish my old stories and poetry. There’s very little in there that I am actually proud of, very little that I would want my grandchildren to read, so to speak. I wrote things that I thought would please my “market” and they are embarrassing to me now. Why did I write that, I ask myself. Was it really that important to sell a short story?

Some writers will tell you that writing “to a market” is just what you do. It’s the accepted practice– if someone wants to publish an anthology about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, then you write a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, even if you heartily wish that clowns were all stripped of their red rubber noses and forced to work at the DMV.

In some cases, the ideas spawned by certain markets, like anthologies and magazines, may, possibly, once in a blue moon, actually rouse your best creative force and you can write a heartfelt tale that sears the page in its beauty and passion. But mostly you’re just hurriedly grinding something out in the very slim hope that the editor will like it. Even though the editor is mainly counting on their friends and acquaintances to fill the anthology and is only holding out one or two slots for unknown writers, of course. And then you’re stuck with a story about freaky hermaphrodite clowns, which you now have to try to foist off on another market. (Those other markets know that this will happen, and cringe for months reading freaky clown stories.)

Sometimes, though, you’re just writing in a certain genre and you absorb the mores and cultural assumptions that are common to that market. Cultural appropriation is terribly common in science fiction and fantasy (ask me sometime about alien worlds who all seem to have desert areas with heavily draped peoples who call the area Something-istan. I start to foam at the mouth, I have heard.) So is writing about gay characters even if you yourself are not gay. Being progressive sells, that’s the heart of the idea.

I wrote a story once about a young woman in 1600-1700s Indonesia who was banished from her village, became bonded to a cursed knife, and then had the problem of how to remove the knife. Long story short: she gets her hand cut off, but decides, with the help of her lesbian lover, that the cursed knife must be destroyed for the good of her people. Because of the religious powers that were in that particular region at that time, I ultimately had my character pray to the Islamic god for his help in destroying the knife.

Now, if I was writing the story today, I would have found a way to leave Islam out of it ENTIRELY. Not simply to avoid offending the people of that faith (although that would be part of it) but also because it was just a hasty addition at the end, written under time pressure, and it wasn’t a very satisfying ending to the tale. I would have preferred it if the woman could have found some other ghost of her own people to banish her vile uncle’s spirit.

I guess it was satisfying enough to sell it, anyway– it was published in 2002 in a cd-rom anthology called “Extremes 5: Fantasy and Horror from the ends of the earth.” For, hah, an equal share of the profit. Sadly, after the editor had taken out his expenses, there was no profit, so basically all I got for tacking on this hasty religiously ambivalent ending was a copy of the cd-rom and a cramped hand from signing the sleeve inserts. Oh, and I was out about ten bucks for postage.

I would have made it more clear, I think, that the main character was only “gay” in the sense that she was heartbroken and suicidal and that she was responding to the other woman’s kindness and love. Two broken people clinging to each other in a storm. If it had been a man, she would have probably run in fear after her lifetime of abuse by men. Situationally, the gay character made sense. I don’t regret putting it in, because it was true to the character and the story basically wouldn’t have worked without there being someone else there to help her. She would have just given up and died, otherwise. I wanted people to feel that sorrowful weight upon her, and then to see at the end that she was, in fact, still broken– the love had not fixed the wounds in her heart. It just enabled her to endure the pain.

So I have decided that this week, in celebration of the idea of doing things “right” and true and writing from your passion and not your fear, I am going to republish this story, A Dagger in the Rain, on Kindle. I will be doing some editing to it first, fixing that problematical ending with the unneeded influence of an outside god. As an outsider writing about a distant historical place, and about ghosts in that place, nothing is ever going to be perfect. Even Joseph Conrad had to read several books about the Indonesian peoples before he dared to write about them, because he knew he wouldn’t get everything right without years of experience that he didn’t have.

The first step is going to be to find the disc. I know I just moved it into my closet right before Christmas! Then a quick edit and rewrite, and I will make it available for a nominal price on Amazon’s kindle page. I’d start tonight but I can feel my Ambien kicking in and my typing is starting to fall apart.

I am excited, I think, to try to make a story closer to my true vision for it. There are not many stories that I would bother fixing in this way– mostly my ghost stories, for those have always been the ones closest to my heart. When you’ve lived in a haunted house, ghost stories are always interesting ones.

My novel, thankfully, is only “not me” in one respect: I wrote it with a male protagonist. In hindsight, I still feel that he’s the best character for the job. I definitely wouldn’t want to put a female through all the stuff those guys get up to in their desert journey. But the fact that I wrote this novel to fit in with MY vision of what a fantasy hero should act like and do and feel and dream . ..  that makes it so pleasing to me. I didn’t sell out for this novel. Raban and Valerius are just who they need to be, where they need to be, doing what they need to do. And it was a labor of love to get them there.

I’ll announce the release when it posts. 🙂


Last Post . . . no, I mean the novel

So, I had urgent business that I had to finish before I dusted off my novel and got it ready for publication.

I had to finish reading Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy “Parade’s End.”

You see, the fourth novel in the book, “Last Post,” is a hard slog at first. You’d think that, after having hacked your way through the thickets of confusing prose in the first three novels, the fourth would be a breeze, but you’d be wrong. Because suddenly Ford throws a curve-ball and abandons his protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, leaving him entirely out of the book until the last two pages. So we’re thrust into the point of view of a bunch of people who have mostly been in the background, and the epic study of one obstinate man becomes more of a gossipy pursuit of truth through the various bits of information these characters reveal.

It’s jarring. But, having resolved to finish the book, I kept at it until I found the groove. Which came, oddly enough, from the one completely incurious character in the novels.

The other characters are always wondering about something, obsessing about something, sifting through memories and possibilities until you’re quite certain that all of them are more than a little bit crazy. None of them are introspective; they’re constantly obsessed with the actions and possible actions of others. When we finally get dropped into the POV of Tietjens’s sister-in-law, it’s refreshing. She’s completely incurious, to the point where it’s ridiculous. After so many hundreds of pages devoted to worrying about people, here is a woman who just wants to bottle some cider. Properly, the French way.

Graham Greene famously hated “Last Post” and tried to strike it from the tetralogy completely. It’s easy to see why– it’s so different in tone and style from the first three novels that it seems like an ugly duckling. But by the end of the third book, the only real “change” that Tietjens is capable of making has been made. We know him, we know how sentimental and hard-headed and absurd he is. What we haven’t seen before is the resolution of the conflict between the women of the novels and the fallout from WWI. Those are both messy topics, and not in the least anything that Tietjens himself would want to even think much about. It’s a much prettier ending to end the series with the third book– it has a classic romantic ending– but it’s much more psychologically satisfying to see the whole darn mess for what it is.

And that’s what “Last Post” gives us: a real conclusion. And I couldn’t move on from Ford’s books, mentally, until I’d moved past them. After the horrible shadow of jealousy and despair was dismissed, well, we can all move on. Until then, the reader knows that there’s no actual happiness in that romantic ending, because the banshee of Sylvia’s desire is going to keep haunting Tietjens and all his affairs.

Now that I’m finished reading the series, however, my lovely excuse for not working is gone so I’d better get busy.

Reading novels like these, however, does set the bar that little bit higher. How can I be happy with my work if I don’t try for “art?” I can’t, of course. But it helps to remember that Ford wrote dozens of novels, of which only this series and “The Good Soldier” are actually given any renown. Not everything we write really hits the mark. And sometimes, like this novel, it may hit it for some people and decidedly NOT hit it for others.

 

 


Back from the Dead

Okay, so WordPress tells me that I haven’t updated this blog in 4 years. That’s not strictly true, it was June of 2013 when I decided to take a break from blogging about writing, and basically from writing itself.

What happened to keep me from going BACK to writing sooner than this, you ask? Well, it was a slightly unanticipated pregnancy that turned into a high risk nightmare, which turned into a baby in the NICU, which turned into me being somewhat obsessed with said baby for the past couple of years.

He’s 2 1/2 now and doing great. Half my kids are now legally adults. The other half are homeschooled, which has freed me from the logistical dramas of dealing with the public school system. (Night owls do not do well when their kids have to be on a school bus at 6:30 in the morning. Just saying.)

So, I find myself in the enviable position of having my “headspace” freed up enough that the urge to write is coming back and the stories are starting to nag at me to be finished. And writing Facebook posts is just not cutting it. I can tell them lots of stories about my kids and how badly my day went and what I cooked for dinner, but if I start rambling on about dragons or werewolves or literature or mythology, they look at me kinda funny. And I always have *something* to say about books or television or movies. Keeping it all inside is frustrating, although I have to admit that if I *had* liveblogged Season 6 of Game of Thrones, I may have gone mad trying to convey how much I hated about it.

Anyway. I’m back. . . . I’m bad. I’m nationwide. (hat tip ZZ Top.)

 


Very Special Snowflakes

Authors, I mean. I’ve been delving back into fandom recently. There seems to be a huge blind spot in fandom, wherein the members don’t acknowledge/admit that some of the author’s decisions were made simply to make the story work. There must be some REASON that all of the things written in the book happen. It must MEAN something larger. Conspiracy theory time!

Yeeeech.

Sometimes, we just make decisions based on “what has to happen to get the story to work.” Take GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for example. In order for the plot to work at all, Tywin Lannister had to sit on his ass for 16 years, staying out of any political involvement in Kings Landing, just minding his own business at Casterly Rock. Otherwise, the Hands of King Robert wouldn’t have started investigating the king’s bastard children and threatening the stability of the Lannister’s hold on the throne.

Does it make a lot of sense that Tywin, who had already been a very successful Hand for several decades, would sit back and watch Robert piss away his grandchildren’s inheritance for 1 1/2 decades? Not really. Knowing Tywin, I’m seriously surprised that Robert didn’t have a lethal accident about ten years ago, with Tywin deftly stepping into the role of Regent at that point.

But, the whole setup of the novel wouldn’t work if that had happened. So the author left Tywin moldering on his Rock with Tyrion fixing his drains and ignored realpolitik for an unconscionably long time. This was, we were told, a man who was seething because Aerys had replaced him as Hand at the end of his reign. I don’t really believe he’d have let three more Hands serve without putting pressure on his daughter to at least get him a council seat. BUT . ..  for the author’s purpose, he had to act as he did. There would have been no series otherwise. But it’s still just an authorial decision. It’s not history. It’s not gospel. It’s just something the author manipulated to set things up for the plot of the book. If you ask “Why?” the only answer that matters is the author’s “Because I said so.” But it still is just a setup.

Similarly, he made Ned Stark have no close living uncles or brothers or sisters. If he had, then a Stark would have been in Winterfell the whole time. Again, ruining the plot of the stories. But authors aren’t more special than other people… they’re just better at telling stories. Stories can be amusing, entertaining, inspiring, and moving. In the end, though, they’re all just pretty lies. And the author is the Liar in Chief, making decisions ruthlessly just to advance the story he or she has in mind. Why do the characters do what they do? If they’re good characters, they’ll have motivations and reasons and justifications. But the author decided to put that particular character in just THAT place at THAT time, remember. It’s all a pretty mummer’s show. 🙂


Blogging vs Writing

I’ve started to wonder if my blogging is cutting into my writing energy.

One blog was fine. Two, however, seems to be pushing it. I haven’t worked seriously on a novel in the past two months, and while it’s natural to take a break after editing a book, it’s also not getting me anywhere, either.

So I’ve begun looking with grave suspicions at my blogs. Am I writing or am I writing about writing? Should I cut down on my blogging? Or should I try to force the issue, so to speak, by setting myself a hard writing deadline and sticking to it?

I’m leaning towards the latter. I think that writing 1000 words a day is reasonable, at least until I get back in the flow, so I will do that starting on December 1. If my blogging suffers, so be it. My fiction has to come first.

I enjoy blogging, mostly because I love to “talk”, but it’s not nearly as important to me as serious publication, either. I want to sell a novel and see it in print! That’s my goal, and I need to do everything in my power to make sure it happens.

Stick around, though. Scattershot isn’t going away. Like I said, I love to blab . . . and I will have to keep my blabbing outlet going!


Back in Edit-land

I’ve delved back into the horror that is editing.

It’s worse than I remembered.

Basically, I sat down this week and decided to edit a picture book that I’ve written, BEAU’S NOSE. I’ve been re-writing, editing, chopping, cutting, re-writing some more, and then repeating the whole bitter process. And I still can’t decide if I need to chop a big element out (I’m leaning towards no) or just simply remove all the “he said” and “she said” that clutters it up. Either way, I’ve removed 100 words from it and given it a rhythmic element and it still isn’t “quite” there yet. And I’m at a loss as to how to get it over that final hump.

So, I’m letting it “sit” for a couple days.

Meanwhile, I am going to go down and read through that stack of children’s books again. Maybe I’ll figure out what I’m doing wrong with a hearty overdose of other people’s work!

 


Every single Christmas . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about rituals.

Not Satanic or Wiccan rituals. Sorry, orthodox Catholic. No, I’ve been thinking about family rituals, the daily, monthly, yearly, or whatever. Things we do to mark special occasions, or simply the things we DO.

There’s a line in Taylor Swift’s new song, “Begin Again”, that has stuck in my mind. She’s singing about meeting a new guy, and he tells her about the movies his family watches “every single Christmas.” And we have those movies too. Possibly much different ones than the song dude’s family, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”, or the Grinch, or the Griswolds. And how can you celebrate Christmas without Happy Birthday Jesus cupcakes, or eggnog, or that way-too-rich fudge that always sticks to the aluminum foil?

Those are some of our rituals. And our characters would have their own rituals, too. Maybe you’ll never mention it in your novel, but they should be there, brimming in the character’s backstory. Maybe they rode the train to the city every week before Christmas, the better to do their shopping. Maybe they carved faces on the winter’s solstice log (since characters can be pagans, too) and then burned it while merrily getting buzzed on honey wine. Or maybe they didn’t celebrate anything, since they were Scrooge’s parents, and their children’s ritual was to press their faces against the window to catch a glimpse of the wonder and beauty outside, seemingly forever locked away from celebration themselves.

It isn’t a prerequisite to good writing, but a solid character has rituals like those in his or her background. Invent one and a whole new side of your character may be revealed. Maybe he hates horses because his brother was trampled to death in the dirty snow, one bitter cold Christmas eve. Maybe your character lives in a world without Christmas, but they celebrate the burial of an ancient evil god by tossing sooty rocks onto a pile outside town, then burning a bonfire and singing happy songs of triumph. Whatever it was, it shaped your character, made them who they are, and might inform a part of your story that you never really thought about.

So, what do YOU do for Christmas? And what does your main character do?


Trigger . . . un-happy

So I started reading a very hyped and much-praised YA novel the other day.

I got five pages in, then I tossed it across the room and stared at it like it was a rattlesnake.

The book had almost immediately hit my personal triggers, bringing up painful feelings and wretched old memories.

Uhhh, thanks but no thanks, much-hyped author. Which brings us to a discussion of triggers and why you should gently work them into the novel and not, say, bang people over the head with them on the first couple of pages of chapter one.

Whenever you’re going to write about something traumatic, whether it be rape or child abuse, co-dependency or cutting, victimization or violence, you have a choice in how you handle it. Some readers will always throw your book across the room, even if you work it subtly into the theme and story arc. The chances of that are a lot less if you’re truly compassionate towards your readers and not, say, going for the juicy squishy eyeball-kicks and buckets of gore and disgust dumped out in the beginning to “wow” your audience and “hook” them.

Personally, I don’t think that it’s appropriate to write YA novels that normalize bad relationships. Bella and Edward? That’s a sick sick relationship, people. Ms. Meyer should be ashamed of herself for normalizing stalking, obsession, and victimization. It isn’t criminal, but it is wrong . . . why would we want to inflict another generation with stupid sick ideas? Shouldn’t we model healthy relationships for them? Shouldn’t we show that abuse is WRONG?

I feel that, if we are going to use abuse and victimization in a novel, it should be immediately apparent that it is wrong. It’s like the study they recently did on children’s television shows. The study showed that children’s cartoons spent 20 minutes or so on Bad Things Happening and then only 5 minutes on the resolution and Oh That Was Bad, This is How to Fix it. But, since the kids spent 4x as much time watching the bad behaviors, all they remembered from the episode was the bad stuff. They didn’t remember the “good” resolution.

The same thing is going to apply with YA novels. If you normalize the abuse at the beginning and only have your character “break free” or “wake up from it” at the very end, which message do you think you’re really sending to your audience? Or worse, if you have your characters never understand that what they’re living is full of squick . . . that’s a gross negligence on your part.

I know that my opinions on this sort of thing are strong . . . but that’s because we owe the younger generation a better deal than what we’ve been giving them. And we should keep our readers in mind when we’re writing. They’re real people, not just figments of our imagination. What we present and how we present it are important considerations.

Trust me, if I could go back and redact almost everything I wrote before the past two years, I would. I didn’t make good decisions and I didn’t write with any integrity. I can only hope that most of it is lost to time and won’t surface again. It’s just plain embarrassing to have written such dreck.

Aim high, and if you can’t aim high then just aim for humane. Consider if you’d want your great grandchildren to read a piece before you write it. Even if you’re not going to have any descendants, the thought exercise is good. Would you be embarrassed by this in a hundred years? Would you want to hide under the table if one of your writing heroes read it out loud at a convention?

Write well, and write with forethought. Some things, you can never take back.