What I'm Up To

April Fools Day Sucks

Yeah I said it.

It’s hard being a naive and gullible person on April 1st.

I did get around to finally finishing Richelle Mead’s Shadow Heir. It ended much the way the entire book experience was: unsatisfying. It’s a shame, because the first three books and pretty much everything else Richelle Mead has written has blown me away. Maybe she’ll give us one more, even though that was the conclusion, and make it better.

I started Kim Harrison’s A Perfect Blood right away and it’s already got me hooked. I notice I’m dissecting writing a lot more now, and Kim  does a lot of ‘showing not telling’ – but sometimes it feels a little forced. Nonetheless, the story is engrossing and I love Rachel and can’t wait to see how things progress with Trent in this book. I hope they progress somewhere good!

I haven’t touched that other manuscript I started since I got that out. I want to finish TWICE SWORN first, although it’s calling me. “Staci, Staceeeeeeee, come write me!” So I’m motivated to finish Twice Sworn. 😀

I am writing the ending while, at the same time, re-editing the beginning. I cut the first two chapters completely and started it somewhere in chapter 3. I think it’s a stronger beginning. I’m also working really hard on eliminating passive verbs from my writing. I found this interesting article about E-Prime (or English Prime) which is basically English without using any to be verbs AT ALL. It’s an interesting concept to be sure.

I have another beta reader (and potentially three more), so hopefully I’ll be getting this bad boy strengthened and polished to the point it shines and there’s no way my first choice agent won’t want me!

What I'm Up To, Writing Pieces

Crap! A New Novel Idea

So while driving to bowling tonight, I had some quiet time in the car and started thinking about things. Whenever I start to think about things, I end up dwelling on horrible things. Like the soldier who killed women and children in Afghanistan. Or Republicans (shudder). Tonight, my mind went to a story I read about a child in China who had been hit by two cars. Neither driver stopped, nor did the many people who were passing by.

It’s hard to believe that kind of thing can happen. It’s hard to believe any tragic and pointless deaths can happen in our modern world.

It causes me a great deal of pain, and yet I struggle to put it out of my mind. I don’t know what I would do if anything ever happened to my children. It would destroy me.

My boys, Zachary and Nicholas

It suddenly came to me that I could put that pain I feel into words, to help alleviate it. And so a new story idea was born. The problem is that I’m still working on finishing up TWICE SWORN. But now I have a new idea that is demanding to be written. I’ve already developed (in my head) the world. It’s post-apocolyptic. Most living things on the planet have died. The few that have survived are banding together in small villages, although a few cities have also managed to eke out an existence. My main character is a young woman named Ana, one of the Forbidden. The Forbidden are people who are born with magical abilities, and they are “Forbidden” because they brought about the end of times. If someone is discovered to possess magic, they are hunted.

Ana is running from a bounty on her life, and has with her a traveling companion named Carlos. He is something of an expert with weapons, especially guns. Cars don’t run (they are basically junk heaps) and most animals died with the ‘event’, so they travel by foot, like everyone else. Sometimes they can go a long time without running into a single other human.

That’s a brief outline of my backstory. Here’s the first draft of the first chapter I just wrote:

Carlos and I walked into yet another small village. It was the first one we’d seen in over thirty days. This one was a bit bigger than our last one. There were about forty buildings still standing and it was clear most of them had undergone renovation. There were four roads that were still being used and we kept to those. We arrived at the town center where we hoped to do some bartering for supplies. We were running low on food and clean water.

I stopped in my tracks. Ahead of me, I saw a burly man kicking something. I looked closer and saw it was a child. Without thinking, I ran forward to stop him. I pushed at him and he backhanded me. Carlos was right behind me, although he probably wasn’t thinking about the child. He protected me. Carlos had pulled out his guns and had them pointed at the stranger’s head. The stranger had went still.

I went to the child. I could tell he was in a bad shape. He couldn’t have been more than four years old.

“Ana,” Carlos said. I looked at him and he shook his head. I knew what he was saying to me, but I didn’t care. This was an innocent child and I wasn’t going to let him die. I could tell he was taking his last breaths. I leaned down and whispered a tune into the child’s ear. My magic told me the child had a broken neck, among many severe injuries. Thanks to my tune, healing his injuries could wait.

I looked up and around me then. I noticed there were many people on the street and looking out windows.

“No one could stop this man?” I screamed. “What could this little boy do to you that deserved dying for?”

The man laughed at me. “He’s not going to die. He can take his punishment.”

“Punishment? For what?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but he spilled his juice on my carpet. I spent a long time looking for carpeting I liked and now it’s ruined.”

I stared in disbelief at him. I made up my mind in that moment and leaned down to whisper again. I would not let this man have this child back.

I looked back up. “So carpeting was worth the life of this child?”

“He’s not going to die,” the man said stubbornly.

“He’s already dead,” I said, and tears sprang to my eyes. Even though I knew the child would live, it wasn’t hard to cry. There were a lot of things in our world to cry over and someone beating a child to death was just one of them.

“What? Don’t be ridiculous!” The man pointed at another person standing on the street. “You, go get Doc Burroughs.” He started approaching me, but Carlos stepped closer to me and reminded him of the guns pointed in his direction.

“So why didn’t anyone stop him?” I demanded of the many faces I saw.

“It’s not our place to step in when a father is disciplining his son,” said one man, standing a little further down the street. The sun was starting to go down so I couldn’t see him well.

“This isn’t discipline. This is murder,” I said. “You all should be ashamed. We aren’t animals. We are the survivors.” Everyone started walking away and going back about their business. I should not have expected anything different. It was the same everywhere we went. The corrupt ruled and the weak just tried to not get stepped on. People had become immune to suffering, even of children.

“Let me check him,” said a man who had just run up. I held the child but allowed the new man to look at him. I knew what he’d see. He took out a stethoscope and listened. He felt the child’s neck for a pulse. He put his hand over his mouth. Then he shook his head and looked back over at the child’s father.

“He’s gone.” The look of disbelief on the man’s face would have been priceless, if the cause of it hadn’t been a child’s suffering.

“He can’t be,” he whispered, but I could already see the wheels in his head turning.

“I’m taking his body,” I said. “You don’t deserve to bury him, you murderer.”

I knew trying to get anyone to do anything about the fact that the man killed a child would be pointless. I stood up, holding the boy close. He was so tiny and fragile in my hands.

“You can’t take him,” the man said, rage making his voice loud.

“Just try and stop me,” I said and turned my back on him. I started walking back the way we came. We had set up a safe camp about two miles away. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw Carlos was backing away, coming towards me, his guns still pointed.

“We are taking him,” said Carlos. “And if you try to come after us, I will shoot you dead.”

We made quick time out of the village. No one tried to stop us or follow us. Once clear of the city, Carlos took the child from me and we ran back to our camp.

So this is the story that is speaking to me now. Bear in mind this is my very first draft, so I know it needs some work. But I felt the need to share it. You can see where the story of the young child in China inspired the beginning of this story. I’ve already mentally developed the next few scenes too.

But now I’m going to be a good girl and go back to TWICE SWORN, because that book is ALMOST DONE. But this new story is screaming at me to tell it! Oh, the frustration.

What I'm Up To

Random Thoughts …

Dark Shadows, a new movie with Johnny Depp, looks freaking amazing!

Tell me you don’t want to see that movie right this second? I know I do!

I’ve been reading Shadow Heir by Richelle Mead. It’s been on my ‘currently reading’ list for about two weeks. I LOVE Richelle Mead. I can’t express how much her YA series (and the expansion of that series) and her Succubus series blew me away. I also remember eating through the first three books of this series. But for some reason, I’ve had a really hard time pushing myself to finish Shadow Heir. I want to finish it, not to find out what’s going to happen with the main character, but instead, to be able to start the next book on my list, which will either be Fair Game by Patricia Briggs or A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison. I’m not sure why that is. When I finally finish, I’ll post up a review and see if I can’t pinpoint how this book lost me.

As for my book, TWICE SWORN, I’ve been slowly but steadily working on it. I am writing new chapters, since I decided to completely change the ending. I’ve had to work each chapter out on my whiteboard before I’ve been able to write it. I want to make sure everything makes sense before I put it down this time, and hopefully this will be the last full rewrite I do. I hope to start my full edits and submit queries to my first choices agents within a month. Cross your fingers for me!


What I'm Up To

Working From an Outline — Or Not the Way I Do It

So today I spent a lot of time thinking and scribbling on my whiteboard, trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with the current plot points I’m writing. I’m 46,000 words into the manuscript and I’ve decided to change my ending. I know the ending, but I didn’t know what to do with the other ‘ending.’ I’m currently at that point in the MS where I was starting to set up the ending, and I don’t want to lose all the content I wrote, so I was trying to figure out how to incorporate it.

I was trying to write it last night and failing, so I finally decided to get some sleep. Laying in bed, one idea came to me and I started working out what research I needed to do today to finalize that. I spent some time on google, looking up ancient mythological humanoid creatures and came upon some… rather shocking ideas. For example, meet the Abarimon:

Their feet are backwards but supposedly that doesn’t stop them from running very fast. Okie doke.

I found what I needed in my research though, and the idea started taking shape. And that’s where my white board comes in. I think something over and when I think I finally have enough of a base to start working out the details for a chapter I might be stuck on or a backstory I don’t have yet, I’ll start writing things down on my white board. It’s hanging on the wall at the top of our stairs, next to our bedroom door and within sight of my recliner, so I can just turn and read it. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve made, because instead of sitting and typing, I stand and I have to physically write on it. The act of  movement – standing and pacing – is extremely helpful to my creative process. Also, after I write something on my white board, to try it out, I may decide I hate it and all I have to do is swipe the eraser across the surface and voila, fresh start.

I worked out a backstory and, in the process, also worked out where I actually want my current story to go with these characters. Here’s a shot I just took of my glorious white board, full of random and abstract details that won’t make sense to anyone but me and probably will be illegible as well. I never claimed to have great handwriting.

So what’s that have to do with the topic? Well, as you can see, I don’t work from an outline. Rather, I wing it and never know where I’m going to end up. Unfortunately, that means during my rewrite process, I tend to change a lot of things.

I’m considering actually writing out an outline for my next book, working out every major plot point in advance, so when I get there, I won’t have to change things. However, that seems a bit on the boring side. I’m really excited to see exactly how each of my characters play out in the current plot I’m tailoring. It’s going to be such a neat surprise, I’m sure! Yes, I’d love to be able to be more efficient in my writing process, but I also really want to enjoy the process of writing – and that means enjoying the story I’m telling. And nothing makes it more enjoyable than to write something, re-read it and go – wow! I had no idea it was going to go there.

So other writers who read my humble blog, do you outline or no?

What I'm Up To

Characters, Characters Everywhere!

Writers can struggle with their characters for an almost unlimited number of reasons. I have two that take the forefront for me.

First, I have to be careful not to dump in a whole lot of characters. I have a tendency to want to fill my book with interesting, but unimportant characters. So I have to take a look at each new character I bring in and make sure they are important to the overall story I’m trying to tell about my main character, because really, it’s all about her. What are these characters going to bring to the picture, either in support of her or in support of the conflict? Sometimes, I’ll write a character I just LOVE and it’s hard to cut those, so I usually try to make those work.

Other times, I’ll write a character that I don’t care for and that one will end up on the cutting room floor. In my very first draft of TWICE SWORN, I had a ghost named Kat (note: there are no ghosts in the new version). She died young and violently and latched onto my main character … somehow. I had no backstory for that and no interest in writing it (warning sign #1). She also disappeared after Chapter 3, never to be seen again (warning sign #2). So I didn’t feel bad about cutting her – she was annoying anyway.

I have a lot of characters in Twice Sworn and I’m very careful to flesh them out and make sure they will have relevance. The problem I’m wondering about – the book is not meant to be a single book. It’s really meant to be a series and some of the characters I’m introducing won’t have much of a role in this book, but down the road, hoo boy! I have stories already plotted for them. But I’m also being careful to give this book an ending that makes sense for a book ending, and not leave people with a cliffhanger.

Hopefully, my characters I’ve introduced will be so intriguing that people will be dying to learn about them in the future, either in shorts or other novels in this series.

My second issue is around character appearance. I’m terrible at describing them. I’m great at fleshing out their personalities and making sure their dialogue makes sense and flows well, but when it comes to physical descriptions, I’m the pits. I even have pictures of each character I’m introducing (even if they are just off-handedly mentioned in this book and will play a role in the next), so I have some reference material, but alas, that doesn’t really help me describe them. Here’s an example of Calypso. I know I mention the mythological creature, but don’t get too hung up on that — it’s a bit of backstory about her that may be true, but is probably not. The Asura have been known to make things up.

When she finally came into the room, I was taken aback. I had been picturing a blond vixen and she was the opposite of that. She had jet black hair that came down to the middle of her back. Her eyes were so dark, they were almost black. Her skin was pale, like she didn’t get much sun. She wore understated make-up, a knee-length magenta skirt and a white blouse, buttoned up all the way. The mythological creature who seduced Odysseus would not have been my first guess.

This is how I generally handle description of my characters. Now, here’s a picture of a model I found that inspired what she looks like in my head:

In her actions and words, I think I present the essence of that beautiful creature in the picture above very well. But my initial descriptions are so lacking to me. It’s probably something I’m going to edit to death, until it’s just awful.

What I'm Up To

Married to My Words

So today, I’ve mapped out the new ending for my book and I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be great!

I have my kids home so it’s hard to stay focused on writing. Thanks spring break! So I’m spending more time on Twitter and Facebook than I should. I saw the following tweet as a result:

Deborah Nemeth ‏ @DebNemeth When an editor reads a sub with a cliched opening, it makes us think the rest of the ms won’t be terribly original either.

So I’m thinking about changing my book again. I’ve been told before that my story starts out too cliche’d. My character is woken up. Now the first chapter is full of what I think of as useful information and good tension. However, I do start it out with a cliche, and that bothers me more than I’d like it to.

This is one of those cases where I’m so married to the writing, I don’t want to break up with it. I love my first chapter and I’ve worked and worked and re-worked it so many times, I feel it shines!

At the same time, I realized I could lose the first chapter altogether and have to do very little to the rest of my book for it to make sense. My book can start out with chapter 2.

My dilemma is that chapter 2 is a bit on the slow side. Chapter 1 has some tension in it.

Maybe I’ll just try to figure out another way to start the chapter other than her being woken up. I certainly don’t want editors and agents to simply look past me simply because I start out the book with a cliche. 🙁

What I'm Up To

Twice Sworn and History

I’m reworking some chapters right now where I go into some of the backstory of the immortals in my book. Since my book is an Urban Fantasy and is set in the modern day, the history of our world comes into play a lot. I pull from mythology and history a lot – it probably makes the book more relate-able because people know who Julius Caesar was and know characters from Greek Mythology. I do put some lesser known stuff in there too (like the immortals themselves are called the Asura, and the history of that name is probably not known by many).

In reworking these chapters, I’m changing something about the immortals completely. In my first draft, I had them being something like emotional vampires, each one feeding off of specific emotions, and I wanted to take that out completely. I just didn’t buy it and if I didn’t buy, my readers wouldn’t either. But in taking that out, I had to figure out a way to explain their power structure that made sense. I’ve figured that much out already. But I had a section where I really love this one character, but her involvement in my story was entirely surrounding relating backstory related to their power gains. So I had to figure out a new backstory with that.

And I’ve figured it out. I just wrote this line:

Perhaps that sense of peace we once had was our Garden of Eden and settling with humans was the Tree of Knowledge.

I’m mixing history and things people are really familiar with and discovering I’m giving an alternate explanation for it based upon the mythology I’m creating for my own world. I’m honestly a little shocked I was able to do this and it just came to me. Some of my favorite writers DO JUST THAT. So I’m really excited about this and letting others read it.

I’m 2/3 of the way through my final edit/rewrite and have one beta reader giving me feedback on earlier chapters that I’m finding extremely helpful. I have momentum right now and excitement for my story. I can’t wait to get this thing done and start querying it. I know I’ll probably get rejected a lot and I’m bracing myself for that, but at the same time, I’m really excited to get to that point!

What I'm Up To

Beta Readers Wanted

I’m nearing completion of my final solo edit. I’m also working through an edit from a beta reader and finding the process is extremely helpful. I don’t make every change they suggest, but having new eyes on it catches things I maybe hadn’t thought of before, and that’s great!

So I need one or two more beta readers before I’ll feel comfortable sending it off to publishers for query. What I look for in my beta readers is knowledge of the Urban Fantasy genre and willingness to give candid feedback. What I mean by that is I want to know if something is just not working for you. If you want to give me line edits too, that’s a bonus, but I just really want people to read the book and tell me where it fails for them (if it does, hopefully it doesn’t!) My other beta reader is great about line edits, so that’s not as important to me. I am willing to do quid pro quo as well – if you have a book in a genre I read (fantasy of any type really, some mystery), I’m willing to beta read for you as well.

Anyone interested?

Plus, I needed a reason to post that picture. Isn’t that the cutest?!


What I'm Up To

Scrivener, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Yesterday, I was reading a Tweet Chat from some of the folks (particularly agents and editors) that I follow. One of the participants mentioned using Scrivener as a tool and a bunch of folks chimed in that they loved Scrivener. Having never heard of it, I decided to look it up. It looked neat, so I decided to download the free trial. I spent 2 hours going through the detailed tutorial and… OMG I love it!

Upon completing the tutorial, I promptly copied my novel into it and formatted it properly. I discovered a few things. One, my last chapter in 90 pages long. (Yikes.) It’s half my book essentially, so I have to fix that some. Two, some of my sections are WAY too short. Three, I LOVE Scrivener!

There’s a few tools that come with Scrivener, namely the ability to import pictures and websites into Scrivener as part of the research section. It’s incredibly easy to navigate around in. Before, if I wanted to reference something in my book, I first had to remember where in my book I was and then pull up either another word document or the web to find what I’m trying to look up. While I’m doing that, I’m not looking at my book. Also, if I ended up changing something on page 90 that I also remembered referencing early in my book, I had to scroll back and search until I figured out where exactly that scene was. With Scrivener, each scene now has a short description with it and I can easily click between scenes or split screen the two scenes so I can make sure they both are reading accurately!

I’m not describing it very well, but if you are a writer, Scrivener might be a useful tool for you too.

I’ve got a bunch of pictures under my research section now as well. Another of the people mentioned (in that Tweet Chat last night) that they cut out pictures of models from magazines to help visualize their characters. Instead of magazines, I went on the web and found people that represented what I thought my characters looked like in my head. Turns out my main character is best represented by Evangeline Lilly! I found models who represented the looks for Julius, Jerrod and Anna. Nitha looks just like Miss Bolivia 2010. And Charlie is a dead ringer for the actor who plays Jason Stackhouse on True Blood. At least in my head. Knowing better what they look like will definitely make it easier to write about them.

I was also able to port in my short story that I wrote about Julius and Jerrod’s friendship that I mentioned in my last blog post and the way Scrivener works, it definitely encourages me to write more shorts for backstory.

I love this program. Yeah, I spent today not so much writing as setting up to write, but I think I’ll be a lot more productive now that I have a really good tool for writing.

Side note: My youngest (who is 6) saw me working with it and downloaded it on his own computer. He’s now writing his own story.

What I'm Up To

Giving a Character Flaws

I’ve really been struggling with one of the characters in my book. He’s a very important character in the long run, for the story, but he was boring me to tears. I realized it was because he was too perfect. I hadn’t given him any flaws, anything that defined him as a real person. So my goal for today was to develop his backstory and figure out just who this guy was and what made him tick. I think I came up with it!

Most of his story won’t make it into the current book, but knowing this about him will help me make him a more interesting character. I wrote a story about the beginning of his friendship with another character and the loss that made him who he was. Perhaps that story will be revealed in a future book or just be a short I release at some point, but now that I know him better, I can write about him in a way that makes him much more interesting.

It was hard, though, to admit that there was something fatally flawed about his lack of flaws. Once I figured that out, I struggled for the last week to figure out how to fix that. I felt my creativity had abandoned me when I needed it the most, but today, I woke up feeling it renewed and decided I was just going to get this done.

So what I did is I stood up and started pacing. I yelled at myself and just kept working out details OUT LOUD until I got it done. I’m sure some folks out there would think I’d need to be committed if they’d seen me, but thinking out loud is an important part of my creative process. It helps make my thoughts more focused and real.

And I feel really great about it! I can’t reveal too much about what I’ve written, but it’s sooooo good! And now this character is definitely one of my favorites.