The Game Plan

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Now that I’ve recuperated (a little) from the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, it’s time to figure out what happens next. I’ve talked it over with myself, and I think I’ve (more or less) decided how to proceed:

  1. Do another read-through of Courting the Moon. While I don’t plan on making any ground-breaking changes at this stage, there are a few tweaks I’d like to incorporate, plus a general overview of the manuscript before I send anything out.
  2. Write and send out query letters. Since 4 out of the 5 agents I spoke with said I could query them and 3 of those 4 requested pages, I need to get those letters written and ready to go. My goal is to send them out within the next two weeks.
  3. Continue researching agents and publishers. While it’s great that several of the folk at WDC17 showed interest (thank you!), I can’t rest on my laurels or put all of my eggs in one basket. After all, Courting the Moon might end up not being their cup of tea. (Have I used enough cliched metaphors yet?) So, as always, be sure to have a backup plan!
  4. Prep for my next project. With Courting the Moon out of the way and NaNoWriMo on the horizon, it’s time for me to return to Marina. However, NaNoWriMo is best for writing the first draft (or “Draft Zero” as one of the WDC panelists called it) and Ravens and Roses is past that stage. (I still have scenes to write, but they must be more deliberately crafted.) But I do want to get back into that mode, so I think I’ll go ahead and prep the next book in The Mariner Sequence: Seahawks and Storms. I have only the vaguest outline for it at this point, and with so much fresh territory to uncover in an already-developed world, I think it will be a fun project and a worthwhile expenditure of time and energy. (And it’s gotta be done eventually, so why not now?)
  5. Get back to work on short stories. One of the most valuable panels from WDC17, for me at least, was the one on crafting short stories. I even bought a book there that goes more in-depth with the topic. While short stories are not my forte, I still would like to master writing them, especially since they are still the best way to build writers cred. Plus, I really need the practice.

So, that’s the game plan for the rest of 2017. Guess it’s time to start my attack run. ^_^;;

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Holding Pattern

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Well, I finished my book.

Actually, I finished it about a month ago.

Yup.

Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly jumping up and down with joy. If anything, I’ve been rather subdued about it. Not sure why. I mean, Courting the Moon is the culmination of two years of work. That’s nothing to sneeze at. But while I feel a certain amount of satisfaction, I’m not experiencing anything close to “joy.”  Maybe it’s because the worry about not finishing was gone by the time April rolled around, and without that tension, it was a forgone conclusion. Maybe it’s because I know I still have plenty of other projects waiting in the wings, namely Ravens and Roses. Or maybe I’m mentally burnt out and just don’t want to think about it anymore.

I haven’t written anything for weeks.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I reread my draft of Ravens and Roses, which pleased me because what I had still held up after being neglected for so long, but it also made me sigh because now I can see just how far I have to go for it to be finished. And I suppose I have been writing a little bit. I’ve started writing down scenes for the Star Wars fanfic that’s been circulating in my head literally since I was thirteen. But that’s about it.

Some random news pieces:

–  I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and liked it.
–  I got to go to Free Comic Book Day for the first time, albeit in the evening so most of the events were over, but that was fine with me; I don’t care much for crowds.
–  But these days, most of my brain has been consumed with watching The Clone Wars in chronological order in the hopes of actually finishing the series this time. (When I started watching it a year or two ago, I stopped midway through Season 3, and for some inexplicable reason never went back to it until now.)

While part of me feels a little guilty for not working on the synopsis for Courting the Moon, or researching agents, or continuing work on Ravens and Roses… another part of me says, “To hell with it; I’m going to veg.” (Being stricken with allergies doesn’t help with the brain-fog either.) Of course, a writer’s mind is never truly still. Even when we seem to be passively engaged with something like television or a movie, we are absorbing more story ideas and elements, adding them to the primordial ooze that is our brains.

So I think for now I will go ahead and gorge myself on Star Wars until I feel ready to tackle writing again.

Writing Ethnic Characters

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Okay, right off the bat, we have a problem.  Actually, I suppose it’s a problem with how we’re approaching the problem.  Read the title of this entry again: “Writing Ethnic Characters.”  It’s making the assumption that most readers (or listeners) for this entry will be white writers trying to figure out how to create and describe characters who are not white without relying on stereotypes, over-used cliches, or offensive terms.  It also could be said that it makes the implicit assumption that white is the “default” while everything else is “other” or “ethnic.”

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how else to segue into a discussion of this challenge that white writers face. While writing All’s Fair, I found that I had to research how to describe certain characteristics of people who are not white since I have had very little contact with people of color in real life.  (A slightly embarrassing example is my search to find out what black people look like when they blush.  They might feel their cheeks heat or burn, but what does that look like to someone who is watching them?)

This is something I’ve started to struggle with now that I’m aware of how lacking in diversity many of my stories have been.  I don’t want to have token non-white characters, but I also want to take advantage of how many variations there are in the colors, sizes, shapes, and looks of humans.  It’s easy to describe non-human characters; usually your protagonist will be a human and if they are encountering elves, orcs, or dragons for the first time, they are going to notice how they look.  But how do you work in descriptions for characters without waving your arms and shouting, “Hey!  Look!  Here’s a black person, and Asian person, and a Hispanic person!  Hooray for diversity!”
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Autumn Updates

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It seems like when I left for my much-needed ocean-side vacation, it was the height of summer with all of the lovely heat and much-despised humidity that entails, but when I returned, fall had arrived.  The cooler temperatures make my morning walk far more pleasant and I love the leaf-smell of the season. (Hopefully this nice weather will last longer than a week.)  So, with the Autumnal Equinox just behind us, I want to take this opportunity to make a few announcements:
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1) All’s Fair is currently finishing up its second round of beta reading and will soon enter the third round of editing.  Thank you so much to my beta readers for taking on this challenge; I really appreciate it!  I’m hopeful that this time it will not require quite as much revamping as the previous drafts. (Just as long as I don’t have to rip the entire thing apart and reassemble it again…)

2) I’ve simultaneously started to research agents and book publishers who may be a good fit for All’s Fair and projects in the future. The Writer’s Market 2015 is the tool I’m using to start with and I’ll narrow down the field from there. So far I’ve got a decent but not-overwhelming list of prospects, as I’m focusing on those who handle science fiction and fantasy with a special place for those who do so exclusively.  (For All’s Fair, I’ll need to look at those who also handle romance novels, so that’s an additional factor in my deliberations.)

3) National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner and I LOVE their space theme this year! In keeping with said theme, my chosen project will be a story that my dad and I want to collaborate on: Astra’s Revenge. Dad already wrote a short story/novelette version of it and asked me a long time ago to adapt it into a full-length novel. So that will be an interesting challenge.  As a back-up, I’ll probably also work sporadically on my juvenile fantasy novel DragonFriend and my still-unnamed urban fantasy starring my hard-nosed “detective” Karen Mohssey. (I’m calling her a “detective” for now, even though the story isn’t fleshed out enough for me to know exactly what she does yet!)

4) I’m trying to keep up with the Audio Editions and get more of the #ThrowbackThursdays up and running. Unfortunately, due to the time involved, it doesn’t happen with the regularity I’d like to achieve. (It takes about two hours to record and edit an episode with a run time of ten minutes or less.) Also, you may notice that the sound quality of the Audio Editions has changed.  I purchased a new pair of headphones with a mic, so things might sound a bit different, hopefully in a good way. There’s still a lot I don’t know about Audacity, the program I use to record the Audio Editions, so I hope to continue improving!

5) In conjunction with the Audio Editions, I’ve been listening to some podcasts or a (more or less) regular basis.  My current favorites are Let’s Know Things by Colin Wright and The Baltimore Barristers hosted by Alexander Bush and Stephen Caramenico.  Let’s Know Things covers all kinds of topics ranging from perception and bias to cyberspace and suburbia, and the show notes are exceptionally extensive. Plus, Colin does a great job of covering controversial topics with an even hand that explores the positive and negative effects of both sides, which is really refreshing to hear.  The Baltimore Barristers focus on politics, often locally, but many stories have the potential to reverberate nationally.  In addition, they have some absolutely amazing interviews, including Scott Adams (writer of the Dilbert comic strip), Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs, and Jack Hunter, editor of Rare Politics.  Both are great podcasts that cover a wide variety of topics in a thorough, engaging fashion; I highly recommend them.

And now, without further adieu, back to the writing.
And editing.
And researching.
And– oh, look, TV!

 

What I’ve Learned (so far) About Writing Steampunk & Romance

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''When you're last minute revising and you realise how fucked you are'' Upshout.net

”When you’re last minute revising and you realise how fucked you are…”    (from @MedievalReacts)

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Hi folks!  Sorry I missed posting an entry last week, but I was in the final stretch of editing the second draft of All’s Fair and could not be derailed for anything. Let me just say that it’s been a trip, and it ain’t over yet, but I’m enjoying this slight breather.  Back in February, I sent All’s Fair through it’s first round of beta readers. This resulted in a major overhaul for my manuscript: 1/3 had to be cut entirely, 1/3 needed extensive reworking, 1/4 needed to be moved and/or have minor editing, and 1/12 could be kept as it was.  And Draft 2 is easily 100 pages longer than Draft 1 due to all of the stuff that was missing during my first attempt.  Needless to say, it’s been quite the learning curve, especially since I have never written in these two genres before; normally I stick with high fantasy.  So, what are some of the things that I learned at this juncture?

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The Wellspring

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Some time ago, I read an article in The Guardian that Neil Gaiman wrote about his friend, Terry Pratchett.  In the article, Mr. Gaiman said that fury was what fueled Terry Pratchett’s writing.  I was reminded of this when I came across a more recent article posted by the Los Angeles Times, which held an interesting addition:

“Terry [Pratchett] was many things, but he was not a jolly old elf. I think each of us tends to take something and use that as the place where you begin making your art. If you’re going to make good art, it’s likely that you’re going to go to the place where things are dark, and use that to shine light into your life and, if you’re doing it right, into other people’s lives as well. For Terry, it was always anger. There was a deep rage in him that allowed him to create. For me, it tends to be sorrow or loneliness or confusion.

The pat answer that I’ve often seen given by writers, either in person or via books of advice, is that their art comes from joy or curiosity or wonder or passion.  The emotions referenced are often positive or at least neutral.  This seems to be the more socially acceptable answer.  It’s a little more unusual, even slightly morbid, to hear someone say that their art, regardless of the tone of the end product, stems from a darker source.  Usually we think that your emotional state should match the emotions evoked by your creation.  I mean, really, would you have guessed that the hilarious absurdity of Discworld stemmed from a man’s rage?  It certainly surprised me.

That surprise made me stop and reflect on what emotional core drives my own creativity.  While all emotions are necessary to craft a convincing piece of fiction, I was curious to know what the wellspring consisted of.  Did my writing come from joy, sorrow, anger, loneliness, despair, amusement, fear, cynicism, or some other emotional core?  Was this consistent or did it vary from project to project?

I’ve turned the question over in my mind, and as I trace down the central emotional motivation for characters in my various works-in-progress, I think that the answer might be fear.  The main characters in Ravens and Roses, All’s Fair, Astral Rain, Rinamathair, Jewel and the Skyrunners, Moon’s Fire/Moon’s Water… almost all of them are all driven by fear of something.   For many of them this fear is about losing something or someone, and almost all of them are in denial about it.  Some of them manifest this by being shy and adverse to risk while others become bold and abrasive in an attempt to hide what they see as a weakness.  A good portion of their narrative journey is spent recognizing that fear, admitting it to themselves or to others, and then working to overcome it.  Some succeed; others don’t, at least not completely.

I don’t generally share the same specific fears as my characters, but the sensation is the same.  Even though I prefer to write while feeling happy or content rather than angry or depressed, the underlying motivation is fear.  It’s a little weird, since I’ve never run into anything truly dangerous in my life so far.  But the sensation, be it a small, niggling sense of unease or full-blown panic, is always there.  And as I think about what Neil Gaiman said in these two articles, I think that might be my fuel, the part that gives the stories and characters I create that little extra push into realism.  The soul-spark that makes them come alive.  Because fear, like anger or loneliness, is a universal human emotion.

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Original artwork is by Amuria on DeviantART

 

“Bright Sunshiny Day!”

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I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshiny day
It’s gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshiny day


— Jimmy Cliff, “I Can See Clearly Now”

And so it is!  Actually, these last two weekends have been ridiculously productive, mostly because I’ve been able to sit out on the front porch (like I am now) for hours at a time.  (I just LOVE my Chromebook!)  It’s astonishing how much something as simple as the weather can have such a massive effect on one’s psyche.  While I don’t really consider myself and outdoorsy person (since I like, never go camping or hiking or boating or anything like that), I do gain great satisfaction and pleasure from being outside.  And even if I have to hide indoors during the summer because it is too hot or humid out, I am still more productive, simply because there is sunshine.  I think I may be part lizard and part sunflower.

At any rate, I am very pleased with my progress on All’s Fair.  My characters are talking to me again, I’m filling in plot holes, uncovering motivations… it’s all coming together and that’s a good feeling.  Granted, since I had to rip out or severely alter over two-thirds of the book, I now have no idea how to end the darn thing.  I suspect something will occur to me after my subconscious has a chance to mull over it for a while.  I plan on participating in Camp NaNoWriMo in July, since they have come up with a system to represent editing and not just vomit-typing.  For Camp NaNo, an hour of editing equals 1,000 words, so I’m setting a goal of editing for at least an hour each day, which would be 31,000 words.  I don’t think I’ll do LeNoWriCha this time since I’m not really generating new content.  My ultimate goal this year is to have All’s Fair ready for the submission process by October.

Speaking of time… did you know that The Cat’s Cradle is now five years old?  Yep, I started this blog back in June 2011.  At the time I was just shouting into the ether from Blogspot without a clue of where I was going.  Now I’m here on WordPress with a far more streamlined and professional webpage design.  I update more or less every other week, I’m on Twitter, I offer editing services, and I’ve added the Audio Editions for people to listen to and download.  I try not to look at stats because that way madness lies, but I’m ecstatic that, as of today, 138 people follow The Cat’s Cradle.  Whether anyone reads it or not is another story, but I’m very grateful to everyone who has chosen to read, like, share, comment, or listen to these entries.  I’ve learned a lot over the last five years, and I hope to continue improving so these entries remain informative, interesting, or at least entertaining for you.

ThankYouBlogReaders

Draft Completed!

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Oh my gosh, I am so excited that I don’t know where to begin.  I guess the title of this entry says it all: I’ve actually completed a draft of a novel!  Yep, All’s Fair (AFiLaW) is the first one.  While I’ve spent a lot of time working on Ravens and Roses and have called each stage its own “Draft,” that story is still missing pieces of it and therefore should probably not be titled as such.  But that’s just splitting semantic hairs, so moving on!

I hammered out the plot and characters for All’s Fair in October 2015 and started writing on November 1, 2015.  As of January 31, 2016, I have a complete story ready for beta reading.  Wow.  That’s 170 pages written in 92 days.  There aren’t any gaping holes that need to be filled in or scenes that haven’t been written.  Obviously things may be adjusted, dropped, or added during the editing process, but you can actually read it from beginning to end.  I’m still a little stunned at this; the only other complete novel-length stories that I have finished are fan fiction.  (Yes, I know, I need to get back to “Nakishojo.”)  And those took me years to complete!  The fastest I’ve ever written was for the Dark Crystal Author Quest back in 2013, which took three months, but was still not really complete.  Not like All’s Fair.

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Donating to the Arts

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Greetings everyone!  How are those New Year’s resolutions or goals coming along?  Yeah, it’s been hit-or-miss with me too.  Feels like I am sleeping way too much, which kind of wreaks my morning schedule.

Still, I did manage to finish the first original short story I’ve written in a while: “Handsome and the Hag,” a gender-swapped retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  Eventually, I hope to rewrite it and expand into a more detailed short story, but I wanted to have a more traditional fairy-tale feel for the version posted on The Fellowship of the King.  Also, I’m almost, almost done the initial draft of All’s Fair; my goal is to have it ready for beta readers by the end of January.  Hooray!  Aside from that, none of my other writing goals have really gotten underway, especially with the Audio Editions.  Gods, I am so behind…

But there is something I wanted to bring up.  It’s been kicking around in the back of my mind for a while, so I wanted to share my thoughts on it:
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Contrivance and Coincidence

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“But people don’t act like that.” [W. Somerset] Maugham pointed to the grave dangers coiled in that treacherous phrase. Our demand for probability grows more and more stringent. We balk at coincidence and accident. We invariably expect the characters who are presented to act like ourselves. “People don’t act like that?” True enough — MOST people don’t act like that. Your story is not ABOUT most people. The true enemy of your fiction is not improbability but imaginative unbelief.

— Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction,  (page 185)

As I’ve been working through my current draft of All’s Fair, there’s a certain element that keeps coming up that I think needs to be addressed:  contrivance and coincidence.

We’ve all see or read stories where characters end up in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.  Or they find what they need to beat the bad guy minutes before facing off in the final fight.  Or they are about to die and rescue arrives just in the nick of time with no explanation of where they were and how they got there so fast.  It’s more blatant in some stories than in others.  When done badly, it can destroy the suspension of disbelief necessary to maintain a story.  No writer wants that to happen to their story.  Events are supposed to be seamless, flawless, inevitable.  We want to present them in the most effective, realistic, and logical manner possible.  We don’t want anything to seem contrived.

Well, I’ve some bad news for you: all stories are contrived.

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