Monday, December 10, 2012

Find Your Happy Place & Put a Moat Around It

You’re a writer.

You know what I’m talking about when I say, “Life gets in the way sometimes.”

When you're going through a very stressful patch—when you're besieged—the first casualty always seems to be your creativity.

It’s the first piece of ballast to get tossed when the plane is overloaded and headed for the mountain top. And when the bullets are flying and you’re ducking for cover, there’s your poor creativity crawling on its hands and knees amidst the firestorm, insisting that you leave it behind. Because it’s a goner anyway. 

Go! Save yourself, it says.

Gosh, that creativity is one noble son of a gun.

We all need to have certain conditions met in order to work productively, and for a long time we may not know what those are. Sure, we know we need time. But more than time, we need focus. And it’s the thing that’s so fragile, so easily disrupted by the daily wear and tear of life. And by rejection. And by the belief that creativity can only happen in the margins of life, after everything more important has been dealt with.

You'll need a few of these in your moat, too.
Once you figure out the things that enable you to focus, that allow you to be creative—fuzzy slippers, a certain cup of tea in a certain cracked mug, a coffee house bustling with activity, whatever the case may be—you’ve got to protect it. Defend it. You’ve got find that happy place and put a moat around it.  

There will always be things that come up and get in the way. But you need to protect and defend your creativity as if your life and perhaps dozens of fictional lives depend upon it. 

Because it’s true. 

Go on, I’ll cover ya.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Cost of Books

A few years ago, a bunch of fat-cat media folks got together, chomping on their cigars and all that, and decided that books, DVDs, and music albums ought to cost about fifteen bucks.

Now, I’m no economist and so I can't explain how they landed on this $15 amount. Nor can I be bothered to back up this declaration with any kind of legitimate research, so let’s just accept it as fact.

Fifteen bucks is about what people think is a fair price for most of these forms of entertainment because that’s mostly what things cost.

My logic, though circular, is perfect.

Being an avid reader of book reviews, I see a looooot of belly-aching about the cost of books. Because people see books reviews as the appropriate place to grouse about pricing. Recently I saw this one review that criticized the cost of an e-book, and it was a sentiment echoed many, many times over by other reviewers who were all handing out 1-star reviews to protest (a practice that should be eliminated, by the way­—the author has zero control over the price of the book so why punish them for it). Anyway, this reviewer and many others wrote:  “Outrageous. $17 for an electronic pulse?”

This is like saying Van Gogh couldn’t have used more than, I dunno, five francs in oil paints to paint “Starry Night.” How much can it really be worth?

This is not to say that I'm not unsympathetic. I mean, you look at a Faberge egg, for example, and you think, wow, that’s a pretty awesome fancy egg thing. You understand the workmanship that went into it, and you can add up the cost of the materials used to make it: gold, jewels, whatever that enamel stuff is (enamel, I guess). But words are just words and anyone can use ‘em. And now that a lot of people are buying words that are displayed on a screen and not printed on pages tipped in gold foil, people feel a little short-changed. 

It’s hard to sell the idea that you’re selling an idea. An imaginary rendering of life. If you've paid money for something, you want to hold that something in your hands (like a big, heavy jeweled egg), and if you can’t, you feel like you’ve just bought a paper bag full of air.   

I do think this will change in time. I mean, I hope it will. I hope it like a dog hopes you'll accidentally drop your dinner plate on the kitchen floor on meatloaf night. 

I hope that the cheaper books become and the more of them there are, the value of the good ones will become more apparent, and people will gladly pay more for a finely-crafted electronic pulse.

I know, I know. This is probably an absurd hope, but there it is. I’m absurdly hopeful or else I wouldn’t be a writer.

Keeping in mind that we’re not exactly an unbiased group here, how much do you think e-books should cost?


I think they should cost around fifteen bucks.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Next Big Thing: My Version of It, Anyway

Oh, Lordy! What a couple of weeks it’s been!
It’s a good thing I don’t blog for a living or else I’d have fired myself for not showing up to work or showing up but only after rolling in three hours late wearing the same clothes I had on the day before.

But, listen, I’m going to make it up to you by doing something I’ve never, ever done on the blog before. I’m going to tell you what I’m working on.

I know, right?

Usually I’m all, like, hunched over my desk, cackling away. And occasionally you see a small cloud of smoke and maybe get a whiff of some sulfurous potion I’m concocting, but I never actually say what the heck I’m doing over here.

But as part of The Next Big Thing Blog Chain, I’m going to answer several questions passed along to me from the lovely Meghan Ward over at Writerland, who you should follow on Twitter if you don’t already, and go check out her NBT post, which is very cool.

So here we go:

What is the working title of your book?

For the moment it’s called Inamorata. However, my Critquer-in-Chief has already told me that she doesn’t like that title so it will probably get changed at some point ‘cuz if I make her mad, she inserts random punctuation into my ms when I’m not looking, and no one, but no one, wants a random colon in her book.

Where did the idea come from for this book?

I fell in the bathroom and hit my head on the bidet, and when I came to, voila!

OK, the less wise-assy answer is 1) I don’t even have a bidet because, come on, what’s that all about? And 2) I have no idea where most of my ideas come from. And usually when I AM able to trace the inspiration for something, the entire thing morphs into something that I never expected it to be. So, yeah, my inspiration always seems to mutate like some virulent strain of influenza.

What genre does your book fall under?

YA Fantasy.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

I won’t know until I actually finish the first draft *ahem* BUT if it follows the usual pattern, about 4 – 6 months.

What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?

How about someone really hot and someone else really hot and then a bunch of character actors with big noses who lend a sense of gravitas to the whole thing?

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Sixteen-year-old Giselle DeLancey must save herself and her land from the catastrophic effects of a magic spell placed upon her by a mysterious traveler with ill intent.

Will it be self published or represented by an agency?


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been thinking for a while now about creating a story set in an alternate world. Something familiar in many ways but different enough that I can set my own rules and create strange beasties. (The creation of strange beasties is really what it’s all about for me.) This story has a definite fairy-tale sort of vibe, especially since it features a rather burdensome enchantment that would seem to be a good thing but, as it turns out, isn’t. At least not for my particular MC.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hmmm, always a challenge, this question. I’m going to describe this as Taming of the Shrew meets Graceling.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

There's this group of nuns with an unorthodox approach to piety that takes my MC in, protects her, and teaches her how to defend herself. Who doesn’t love a kick-ass nun?

And there we have it, folks! My Next Big Thing.

Now, the rules of this here blog chain say that I’m supposed to tag five other writers to participate and I may or may not do that. There’s only so much Spirit of Cooperation that I can muster on any given day. How about you? Would you like me to tag you next? If so, let me know in the comment box, WHICH, as we all recall, is accessed by clicking on the post title.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's My Writerversary!

Because nothing says CELEBRATE like water ballet.

It’s my 4th writing anniversary! Yay, me!

It was four years ago that I returned to writing for, like, real after a five-year hiatus that was brought on by discouragement, confusion, and chronic, kid-related exhaustion.

But, really, I guess you could say that four years ago, I unquit after quitting writing.

You’d think by now I’d have blathered on about this at great length, but I sent my intern roaming through my blog post files and, nope, turns out I haven’t talked much about unquitting other than in my very first blog post.

The short story is this: I wrote and wrote and wrote my little heart out for about three years after getting my MFA and then, after receiving a certain, still-painful-after-all-these years rejection, I thought, I’m just not getting this. I’m not. As much as I’m struggling and trying, I obviously haven’t got IT. I’m done.

Seeing as this realization coincided with the birth of child #2 (aka, Screamy Colicky Monster Baby*), it wasn’t difficult to enact the resolution to stop writing. Actually, I don’t know that I even thought at the time, “That’s it, I’m quitting forever.” I doubt my ego would have tolerated the idea of quitting for good, but definitely during those five years of not writing, I came to believe that writing had perhaps been a youthful folly. Maybe something I’d grown out of and now looked back upon in What was I thinking? horror, sort of like a high school hair-do that might have been very high and very wide and very teased.

But four years ago, it became clear to me that I couldn’t stay away, and I decided to do three simple things:

1)      Write what I love;
2)      Figure out how to improve with every project;
3)      Never give up.

Oh, yes, I said they were simple. But simple is not the same as easy. I mean, running a marathon is simple: You just run 26.2 miles and then stop. The simple but hard items are definitely items two and three above, because they require the acceptance of criticism. I don’t know about you, but I want to accept criticism like I want to pull out my own molars with a dirty plumber’s wrench. But it must be done or else you risk turning into a defensive writing jerk who others quickly tire of. 

So for sticking to my goals and retaining my joy while pursuing them (though not always at the same time), I think my writerversary is worth celebrating.

Now the question is how can I mark this most solemn occasion? Should I:

1)      engage in the usual pants-less, three-day binge of circus peanuts and Chivas in Reno;
2)      release a thousand paper lanterns with inspirational messages designed to encourage writers to follow their dreams;
3)      carry on much as I have been, quietly pleased with my steady progress.

I’m pretty sure which option I’m going to go with, mostly because No.1 is way too hard on the liver, and No. 2 requires a level of earnestness I do not believe I’m capable of.

Have you ever taken a break from writing? How long? Was it planned or did life just get in the way? What brought you back again?

*If you have a colicky baby, take heart! They do grow out of it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Because That's Just How Life Works

I tried to get the husband to watch the Gangnam Style video the other day.

I told him that, like, one third of the planet has viewed this video. It’s a world-wide pop culture phenomenon. Aren’t you curious?


See, there’s a type of person who wants to see what all the fuss is about. Who wants to be kept in the pop culture reference loop so they’re not standing around going, “Huh?” when someone says, “Whope! Gangnam style!”  

And the type of person who’s content to be left out.

There’s the type of person who will stand in line for the iPhone five and half on the first day it’s available.

And the type of person who, on a regular basis, declares that he could get by perfectly well with no cell phone at all.

There’s the type of person who tries to get other people to read, listen to, and watch new things.

And the type of person who doggedly resists reading, listening to, and watching what everyone else is reading, listening to, and watching.

These two types of people inevitably get married. Because that's just how life works.

Which type are you?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are Literary Masterpieces Still Possible in the Digital Age?

The release of J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults last week got me thinking about writerly work habits in the digital age. I haven’t read her new book yet, and I’m not going to get into what people are saying about it. I just want to talk about how it was written.
Not that I know for sure, of course, but it’s been five years since the final Harry Potter book came out, and one assumes that she spent most of that time working on this new one. After all, according to the popular mythology, Rowling took between five and seven years to develop her concept and then start writing the first Harry Potter book. This fact gets cited often as proof of how hard she worked to create an unprecedentedly successful book. In other words, it weren’t no accident.

You know it's got to be good cuz it's huge!
I’m sure editors mention this time investment because they probably get very, very tired of the slapdashery of novice writers who flood their inboxes with first drafts. But working tirelessly for years on a single book—or worse, spending that amount of time on plotting SEVEN books when you haven’t even sold the first one yet?

I doubt many agents would encourage anyone to do this nowadays.

And if they did, there aren’t many professional writers who could afford to do it, because even if there were such writers, at the end of the day, your book might not succeed and then you'd have wasted all that time. Because sometimes more time = your book has wandered way, way off into the wilderness and has turned into a mountain man who is all shaggy and feral and definitely NOT good company.

But the bigger question is, does anyone work like that anymore? These days, does anyone take an idea and incubate it for years upon years before attempting to get it published? Or is that kind of investment gone the way of the fax machine?

Again, I don’t believe that more time necessarily produces a masterpiece, but it sure doesn’t hurt.  

What I think is that the hunger to be published can ruin your chance to write something truly special, and maybe the ONLY opportunity you have to do something like this—ie., take years and years to perfect a single idea—is BEFORE you get published. Not after. So take advantage of your time now, while you can still afford to be great.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taming the Impatience Monster

I’m trying something new.
Usually I dive right into a new project and keep tapping away until the end. A finer example of a Pantser, you'll not find, my friends! In the Writing Superbowl, with the Pantsers vs. the Plotters, I am this guy for Team Pantser:

We're talking total commitment to the team. 

And in defense of my pantsery ways, maybe jumping right in is necessary to get going, but there comes a point when I want to push the story along faster than it’s ready to be pushed.

Because I’m impatient.

Impatience isn’t always a bad thing, except, of course, when it is. Except when the reason I want to write is so I can be done already because writing is sooooo haaaaard. I sympathize with myself, I really do, but impatience is the enemy of many things. Good, clear, fully-realized stories, for example.

An outline might have prevented this. *sigh*
I’m coming to see that impatience is a just another form of fear. Like, I want to put things down right away because I’m afraid that if I think about it too much first, I'll realize that something’s flawed. So I plow onward.Or I can't stand the idea of not meeting some daily writing goal. I want to see words on the page. Words on the page means I'm writing. I must keep writing even if I'm writing myself off the edge of a cliff! 

*administers slap to self*

No. No more of that hysterical, desperate, impatient writing.
I will change my ways.

Take that, Impatience Monster! I shall tame you yet, or failing that, I will put a tranquilizer dart* in your haunch so you can't get up off the floor for 8 to 12 hours.

*Gosh, I think this is my new favorite website. I only wish they had one specifically designed for stay-at-home moms.

Monday, September 17, 2012

There Are No Magical Shoehorns

You know which fairy tale character I empathized with this week?

Remember Drizella? She’s one of Cinderella’s horrible, horsey-faced step-sisters.

When the prince shows up, looking for his beloved, she tries to cram her foot into that glass slipper, because she, like everyone else, desperately wants the Prince to love her, and she thinks this is the only way she can do it. To gain his approval, she needs to be The One Who Fits In.

But she can’t because she’s all, you know, ugly and stuff. And has huge, size 13 dogs like Missy Frankin.

Ahhh, yes, that's much more comfortable.
Poor Drizella.

I know we’re supposed to loathe her because she’s a big meany but somehow I can’t. 

Well, at the very least, I can't blame her. 

Who hasn’t had a moment like this, when you’re trying to stuff your wrong-sized foot into a delicate slipper because you think there’s no other way to find love and approval?

Yeah. I’m not going to do that anymore.

You gotta let your writing be what it wants to be.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Unconventions in Your Writing

No one, and I mean no one, is as disappointed as I am that we still have yet to reach the age of the hovercraft. 

As a kid I fully expected that by the time I was an adult, I’d be regularly driving a hovercraft or, at the very least, using a jet pack to get to work.

I blame you, George Lucas, for giving us false hope.
Yet here it is, 2012, and still no stinking hovercraft.

There is something about the idea of hovercraft that we love. I guess it’s the closest thing we can  imagine to unfettered flying. It’s the magic carpet of the modern age, and just about every science fiction novel or movie features them. And it's for that reason that I, as a writer of science fiction or sci-fi or SF or whatever the cool kids want to call it, tend to avoid them.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, hear these words that I’m speaking from my little bloggy pulpit: there will be no hovercraft in my SF novels.

I’m not saying that having hovercraft in your novel is necessarily wrong, and believe me, if and when hovercraft go into mainstream production, I'll be the first in line to buy one of the dang things. I don't care if I’m 94 years old. But let's be honest, they’ve become a bit of a cliché, and that’s why I don't want to use them in any of my stories. That and my extreme bitterness about still not having one.

Is there anything you avoid in your writing for similar reason? Some convention of your particular genre that you shun just because it’s become ubiquitous?

**As ever, to leave a comment, click on the post title first. The comment box will come up at the bottom. Thank you for your cooperation and continued support during this time of 
economic downturn.**