Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Can I collapse now?

Yesterday I finished my current round of work on Courting Apparitions, the second volume in my Fashion and Fiends series that I am currently pitching to agents. Well, currently waiting to hear from one agent before I send the next batch of queries out.

I am exhausted, and I don't know whether it's the work-write-school-life balance is out-of-whack (potentially, school ends in TWO WEEKS. Next week is the last week of classes. Finals! Ack!)
 or that odd mental exhaustion that accompanies finishing a project.

Do you experience this? The sense of overwhelming relief and pride as you tie up loose ends and I the pleasure as you think about the good job you did... coupled with a smidge of grief that it's done, because it has been a focus. These feelings leave me tired and a tad lost feeling. It's the lost feeling that motivates most writers to undertake a new project.

I have to survive the school year first.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How journalism builds fiction writers

Okay, first off, the prologue I mentioned in the last entry was meant to say epilogue. You know you're tired when...

Because I don't have many creative thoughts in my body right now, as I rush about trying to finish an analysis of several pivotal French government documents for my Western European Politics class (and I love this project, French geek that I am...), I thought I'd take a moment to talk journalism.

Some writers come to fiction with bachelor's degrees in literature or MFAs in creative writing. Some just dive in with no training. Many writers survive by using their writing abilities in a professional context, and that's why you have so many reporters working on novels in their free time.

Novelist, comic book writer and paranormal mastermind extraordinaire Jonathan Maberry survived for many years on his skills as a professional writer writing things far less exciting than his current projects, but it paid the bills.

And, as Jonathan often says at workshops and conferences, you learn many skills as a professional writer. A journalist on the beat day-to-day learns there is no such thing as writers block AND that there are no excuses for not coming back with a story. I always told my reporters-in-training that if two people stood in the room, there was a story somewhere, even if it wasn't the story already in the editorial budget.

Newspaper reporters learn flexibility. They learn to write whatever comes their way. They also learn structure, often writing to rigid word counts and in short amounts of time.

Newspaper reporters learn to work with others. They work with editors and copy desks, and don't forget the importance of sources. Newspaper reporters learn to ask questions and notice details. Well, at least good ones do. These questions and details can be just as important in a novel as on newsprint. And a good reporter recognizes a good source from a bad one. This ability to weed information can build credibility in fiction, too.

Newspaper reporters respect deadlines, accept input and don't have quite as much emotion attached to to their words. Newspaper reporters can't cry over lost sentences.

And newspaper reporters can craft a decent sentence. A good reporter will have solid grammar and recognize a sentence smothered by purple prose.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Working toward the end

I have three more chapters to revise of Courting Apparitions. And probably adding a prologue.

It was hard to get that far. During this past weekend, I wanted it over.

I've reached some of those points where things still aren't right. My critique group is pointing out flaws that my heart has known for a while... Donald Maass and his wife Lisa have given me ideas of how to strengthen the whole thing... And this means a fourth draft.

These are changes that may impact the ending.

So, why go on? Why not start over?


Because I believe in finishing. I believe in seeing it through to the end if only to prove that I can. Many can't. I want to see if the characters have any last surprises before I retreat to the beginning and impose my will upon them again.

This book has always been my problem child, but now it has merit. Someone had asked me at the conference if I planned on released book two to the world before book one, a tribute to Star Wars, and I had never pondered that. I could.

If I pitched book two to agents, and followed with book three, those books have more excitement and danger than book one. And book one explains why these characters went to so much trouble for each other in more depth. It certainly makes me wonder...

Friday, April 8, 2011


Donald Maass listed action scenes and sex scenes as scenes people skim. Part of this has to do with tension, and heightening the tension and pacing it. Part of it has to do with the expected nature of what unfolds.

I have a process for sex scenes. I write them, and about half way through I decide it stinks and I don't want to go on and I force myself to finish. Next, I read it and cut about 3/4 of the action out. Then I read it again and put other action and some thoughts back in. And usually a finally round of edits for ease of reading language.

But action. UGH.

Those are big battle scenes that we can't model quite so accurately off our real lives. I have sex, but I don't often slay villains or sacrifice young girls to pagan gods.

It's part imagination, part physics, and part creative editing so you don't provide every detail but enough to keep the reader informed and interested.

And lots of danger. I'm working on a big scene right now and there will be more on this when I finally get it right... because right now... it's not

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My class starts in 14 minutes...

My class starts in 14 minutes and I happen to have the laptop, so I'm starting a blog entry. Will I have something earth-shattering to say that will inspire the world? Probably not. But... I made a claim that I would have a renewed commitment to blogging and this is merely an attempt to keep my word.

But this isn't about promises made to any readers I have, but promises made to myself. If I don't make an effort who am I really failing? You? Or myself? As a writer, who do I need to please?

And there lies the point. I know I can achieve what I set out to do, but sometimes in order to do that I need to strip away the eloquence, the excuses and the desire for a big block of uninterrupted time and SIT DOWN TO BUSINESS.

There's my thought for the day.

Have you sat down to business or have you merely made excuses?

Friday, April 1, 2011


I'm making a renewed commitment to blogging. It's not easy with no internet access at home, but here is my pledge and my meager attempts.

At the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group The Write Stuff conference, several fellow writers and I had what could be termed as a brief conversation about process.

How do you write or edit when you haven't any time?

I've heard the stories of writing on napkins at traffic lights, and that it one legitimate (though unorganized) way. I propose three mindsets that can help take those random fifteen minute writing spots and turn them productive...

1. Have a hard copy of your manuscript. It's "old-fashioned" but it can help conquer some of the fractured mindset. This won't help with the writing process but it could jump-start your editing. If you're excited about edits but don't have a large block of time OR have large edits, I recommend the printed manuscript as a first step. Here's why: Before doing any big edits, you need to read the entire manuscript to make sure what you think is already there IS already there. And I don't care what anyone says. A manuscript reads differently in print than on screen. Not better, not worse, just differently.

If you make hand-edits, you can do them in bits and pieces because every time to open that manuscript your scribbles will make it obviously where you left off and what you were thinking. When we delete and add words on the computer, we don't have the benefit of always seeing the starting point. There's no delete on the page. Merely editing symbols.

When you have a big block of time, then you can go back and make all the changes you did by hand. And you will argue with yourself, just like you argue with critique partners, about which changes are warranted. In the end, this will have a strong impact on your edits.

2. Write in your head. Those of us who have worked (or are working) menial jobs have mastered the art of perfecting sentences or paragraphs in your head. Yes, a few words might be the only gain you make this way, but if you fill some of those down moments in the grocery line with playing with a sentence or two, you may find that the environment spurs unusual word choice or comparison. It's a good exercise in memory, especially if you can't write anything down. The best part is you have a starting point when you can sit down and write.

3. Have a plan. If you only have 15 minutes, don't waste too much time reading the last few paragraphs. Hopefully you have some "head-writing" to get you started and write a sentence or two. When you burn out the initial energy of what you had in your thoughts, pause, daydream and write your next immediate thought. This becomes the basis of your next bout of "head-writing" as you debate with yourself whether or not you like it...