I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but I finally changed my header picture. It’s a lot brighter around here and the pink and red fit with Valentine’s Day a whole lot better.

Yes, it doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Sunday linkfest

The Broaden Your Horizons Edition

Three Things Writers Can Learn from Photographers: I love how different creative pursuits shape and inform each other.

Creative Experiments: February: daisy yellow posts monthly experiments to jumpstart those of us with creativity block. The experiments that specially intrigue me: art inspired by circles; drawing (as opposed to writing) letters and numbers; finding an ingenious solution to a problem (once I decide which of my myriad issues to focus on, heh); art based on a list (I love lists!). Are you tempted to rack up some creativity points?

Just Try (via Megs): Natalie Whipple on how fear keeps us from failure by taking us out of the game. I am a cautious, risk-averse person so this is something I need to overcome all the time. A must-read if you’re like me!

The Gap Year: Susan Wise Bauer advocates for a gap year between high school and college, based on her experience as both a college student and a college professor. What does this have to do with writing or even creativity, you wonder? It’s because most of us are locked into the belief that there is one conventional path to our goals. You go to school, you go to college, you get a job. You write a book, rewrite a book, query an agent, wow an editor, get a publishing contract, go back to square one if you don’t succeed. This is a challenge to think outside of the box, to step back, to ask “why?” in response to “this is the way things are done”. To consider alternative paths for reaching *your* unique goals.

Sunday linkfest

I love how writer Megan Payne turns failed short stories into a learning experience. I wish I were that analytical–maybe my short story success rate would be higher. *grin*

Debut Analysis for Aspiring Writers: After two and a half years of reviewing debuts, Tia Nevitt shares her thoughts on writing to fit trends, complete with marine metaphors. What I have found (as a reader and follower of agent blogs) is that high-concept, original twists and fresh ideas really work. The standard fantasy fare, however well-written, is just too same ol’ same ol’ to jaded readers (of which I am one, I’m afraid).

JA Konrath always has such an interesting take on ebooks, especially in light of lessons learned watching the movie and music industries deal with piracy. Will books go the Google way, with free content and paid advertising? And here’s his followup, Selling Paper, on why the publishing industry is approaching e-books from the wrong angle.

Ship of Destiny: A Review

Wow. What a ride. I finished up Ship of Destiny–the culminating volume of Robin Hobb’s mammoth Liveship Traders trilogy–a few days ago. I can understand why Hobb is such a popular writer. In this trilogy, she deftly and masterfully handles a sprawling plot,  an immersive world, multiple points-of-view, and several character arcs. Ship of Destiny is a BIG book (800 pages!), but it is all muscle and bone; no flab. At no point did I feel that the book was padded.

Chaos has come to Bingtown in the wake of Chalcedean attacks, the disappearance of the Satrap and the earthquake in the Rain Wilds. The long-dormant dragon Tintaglia has awakened and is in search of others of her kind. Althea Vestrit sails on the mad Paragon in search of her family’s liveship, Vivacia, now in the hands of the charming and ruthless pirate Captain Kennit. Meanwhile, Althea’s nephew Wintrow, under the auspices of Kennit, learns what it is to be a man. Malta Vestrit, in enemy hands, puts her Trader cunning to good use while her fiance searches desperately for her. There is a sense of great change throughout the book, of things broken and made anew–dragons are in the world again!–and a knowing that nothing will be the same again. The story rushes the majority of the characters into the Pirate Isles, where sailors and Satrap, liveships and dragon and serpents, pirates and soldiers, all meet in one long multi-stage encounter. Yep, it can get pretty intense!

But what makes this trilogy so fascinating to me is how Hobb, in spite of the scope, never loses sight of her characters. In spite of the talk of destiny and fate, I never felt like the characters were pawns in service of the Story (except for one glaring incident involving Kennit which still does not ring true to me); rather they and their actions make the story. Hobb takes special care in developing all of her characters, especially the pirate Captain Kennit (who I loathe, in a weird fascinated/repulsed kinda way). I enjoyed watching Malta grow from a spoiled brat into an independent, smart young woman. I found the tortured Paragon to be a deeply sympathetic and interesting character.

If you love epics, this ambitious nautical fantasy certainly delivers. Thanks to my friend M. for introducing me to Hobb’s work! *waves* (See, it only took me a couple years to go through all the Hobb novels you sent :D).

december doings

This post was supposed to go up Christmas Eve, but I spent close to an hour struggling with a slow Internet connection and gave up after getting two pictures uploaded.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas!


Our December, in pictures:

glittery stars

Glittery Stars

science experiments

Science Experiments With Snow

Handprint Wreath

Decorating Cookies

Decorating the Tree

Merry Christmas!

Left Brain + Right Brain = Revision Progress

I’m happy to be back revising SoR. Revising, I think, is often where the real work of writing novels is. This is the point where I have to put my thinking cap on, where I have to confront plot issues and grapple with characters. I can’t blow off story problems with a note to come back and fix it later.

Because late is now.

Right Brain has rallied splendidly around the war-banner. Right Brain was not thrilled about being pulled away from the Shiny New Idea of the Week to go do hard stuff. But it had to come around and give me some cool things to work with–some aha! things are coming together moments–or risk being bored to tears.

Left Brain is happy because the backlog is being cleared off the mental Inbox. It’s happy because there is measurable progress. Lo:

SoR Part I Revision: 82 out of 132 pages–DONE.

I know at least a couple of people reading this are also revising novels. How’s it going?

NaNo, from the Finish Line

NaNo Winner

NaNo Winner

Ok, David again with an update. As you can see from the nifty picture on the left over there, I actually made it across the finish line, clocking in at 50,307 words on Saturday, November 28th. Yep, two days early. And Rabia wants me to write up another post with my thoughts, now that I’ve actually finished (the month, not the novel; that’s still only about half done). So here we go.

Probably the most important thing I realized through this month, without which I don’t think I would have been able to make it: Don’t sweat the stuff. Normally, you hear people saying not to sweat the small stuff, or whatever, but really, it goes deeper than that. When you’re trying to do something like write a first draft of a novel (regardless of how much time you’re giving yourself), don’t worry about any of the details, whether they’re small or freakin’ huge. On the last night, I found that I need to go back and change what happens in the beginning of the novel to start all the action, but that’s ok. I put a note in to get to it during re-write, and went on. Is it a significant change? Well, yeah, it will be. But should it stop me from keeping the story moving forward? Heck no.

On a similar note, always remember that everything’s negotiable. Just because you’ve written it doesn’t make it canon (until you’re published, at least, and perhaps not even then; I’ve seen several books where glaring errors were fixed in a second or third printing).This is an important point for me, because I tend to focus on the details, and could spend an entire evening trying to get a few perfect. Especially names. Names are not easy for me, and I’d love to take tons of time to come up with great names. But whenever I found myself falling into that trap, I reminded myself of one amazing fact: Frodo Baggins was originally written as Bingo. Seriously.

Another point: make a reference that you can access and update quickly and easily. For some, that’s scribbling things down in a notebook, but I find that gets disorganized very quickly (or else I spend too much time trying to decide how much space to leave for lists of characters; see above). For my NaNo novel, I created an excel spreadsheet to track characters, places, and horses (yes, they’re that important); I later added another sheet when I decided I needed it. A word document would also work. It doesn’t need to be fancy; here’s a sample of what I’ve got:

First Name Last Name Residence Role Alt. Name Notes
Arnor Jardin Stonehaven Assistant horse farmer Arnor Gerin/Jalell Thorsa MC. Please don’t forget him. Born 817 AA.
Lirelai Lesser Forestal Riell’s second sister, tended Arnor after Tam’s accident.

As you can see, it’s got holes in it, and I’m ok with that. Its role is to help me keep track of what I’ve already talked about, without having to scan through everything I’ve written so far. I found it to be amazingly helpful.

This next point is something that everyone says in relation to NaNo, but it’s true, and holds for a lot of other stuff as well: make yourself write, even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re convinced that what you’re going to be putting down on the page is going to suck. It might. But it might also turn out to include some really good ideas. If you let yourself slack off too long, it’s really easy to let it become a habit. I haven’t worked on Storm Rider since Saturday; I’m going to be back at it tomorrow. (Rabia, hold me accountable on that!)

And speaking of Rabia: as I said in my previous post, having a good sounding board is an amazing tool. I’d talk to Rabia about what was happening in my story, and she’d ask questions, some of which I couldn’t answer…but which I was generally able to answer by the next day. And some of her random suggestions (such as having the main character hit someone in the head with a rock) found their way into the story, though not always in the form she’d suggested (in this case, a different person got struck).

Finally, I always thought it was really weird when Rabia would talk about (or quote other writers saying things like) characters doing or saying unexpected things. I mean, it’s your story; surely you’re not writing anything you haven’t come up with. But then I found strange things happening in my story. Conversations that I had planned out would develop very different undertones as I wrote them, revealing (to me!) aspects of the characters’ relationships with each other that I’d never even considered. Or I’d be writing exposition (everything’s fair in a first draft, including pages of exposition!), and strange, new details would work their way in, and I’d have to stop to consider how the new details could impact the rest of the story. Rabia was very amused whenever I stopped to stare at my fingers in amazement at what had just appeared from them. But the weirdest part for me was that whenever this happened–whenever my subconscious slipped extra details onto the page–I liked it. I mean, it was much, much better than anything I had planned. Weird, cool, freaky, and amazing all at the same time.

So, I’ve survived the insane month-long challenge of NaNo, and now have about half of a novel written; I’m giving myself until the end of January to get the rough draft done. What bouts of insanity have you allowed yourself recently?

Admin: Woohoo! I’m so excited about David’s win and pleased to see him finally following in my literary footsteps (hee!). Thanks for sharing about your experience.

market listings

I find searching for markets for my work to be one of the more stressful parts of wanna-be-pro writing. Note that I said searching, not querying. It’s almost like being a matchmaker—trying to find the perfect fit, scrutinizing guidelines, reading archives, doing the mental equivalent of plucking daisies (“they’ll like my story” “they’ll like my story not”).

My anxiety all boils down to, of course, a fear of failure. Rejection is almost assured in any case, but I go to great lengths to minimize that. Some of those lengths are reasonable–don’t send a 10K story to a market with a maximum wordcount of 5K–and some are just selling myself short–oh, any of the pro markets will never take my work so I won’t even bother subbing.

Surely there is a happy medium between a random scattershot approach and waiting and waiting for Mr. Perfect Magazine to come around?

In any case, I turned up some interesting markets in my search last night and this post is about them, not my quirks. Click on the links provided for more detailed guidelines.

The Way of the Wizard: Anthology about magic users, edited by John Joseph Adams. 5K words, reading period ends March 31, 2010.

Dragon Moon Press: Open to fantasy, science fiction and “gentle horror” novel submissions (80-100K, completed) in December. See guidelines for what to include in the submission package.

Reflection’s Edge: E-zine, accepts “science fiction, fantasy, horror, erotica, adventure stories, westerns, magical realism, myths, fables, and faery tales” ranging from 500 to 10K words.

Any other newly-discovered anthologies or ‘zines you’re excited about?

process vs. product

A few weeks (or more) ago, when we were drowning in apples, I thought it would a fun idea for the kids to make apple prints (and perhaps do some other apple-related activities, like these). Of course, right off the bat, Sir I. declared complete disinterest. So I set Miss M. up with apples, paper and paint. She made some nice prints, but I was busy peeling apples for an apple crisp and didn’t get the paper away from her in time. She got her fingers into the paint, smeared them all around, and instead of apple art, we got this:


This seems to happen to a lot of the kids’ art work. After we watched a performance of Harold and the Purple Crayon, I taped two long panels of white paper on a wall and let the kids loose with purple crayons. At first, they confined themselves to scenes from the Harold stories—a thing one sees in the dark, Mars, an apple tree guarded by a fierce dragon, a nice simple picnic lunch with nine kinds of pie–but then someone got the brilliant idea of creating purple lightning and purple rain all over everything. After the smoke cleared from the artistic frenzy, the paper had been colored over, ripped from the wall and into tiny shreds and  crumpled up by two maniacal little kids. They had a ball with it.

So. It’s obviously about the process, not the product.

Or at least, not the product I’d envisioned. Because we actually did end up with apple art:

apple art

… and wads of crumpled purple-scribbled paper.

reading roundup

September reads:

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen: The gorgeous dress on the cover is what enticed me back into fiction early last month. I wish I could say the story itself was as riveting. In spite of the intriguing premise, I found myself frustrated with the characters, who mostly just sat around and let things happen to them. Even when they acted, it was in ways I found immoral or, at the very least, dishonorable. Out of all the POVs, there wasn’t a single one I truly sympathized with. Also, I found it hard to suspend my disbelief at the behavior of the debutantes; surely not all the girls of that time period were sneaking out to spend time with young men at all odd hours?

I doubt I’ll be reading the sequels.

The Stepsister Scheme by Jim Hines: When Sir I. found this book on the end table, he commented on how the girls on the cover looked like they wanted to be pirates! Well, not quite pirates, but rather fairy tale princesses reimagined into kick-butt heroines. When Danielle (Cinderella) is attacked by one of her stepsisters, Talia (Sleeping Beauty) and Snow (White) come to her aid. Danielle discovers that their backstories do not quite line up with what is conventionally believed about them. Much adventure ensues when Danielle’s husband is kidnapped by the stepsisters and the three princesses travel to the fairy realm to rescue him.

I admit to being a little envious that I didn’t come up with this concept (I love twisting fairy tales, but mine come out very dark and, um, twisted). This was a fun read (a romp even!), but with depth and a good dose of character development. The next book, The Mermaid’s Madness (look, they really are pirates!), is on my wishlist.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz: The Simple Dollar is reviewing this book in several installments. Since I’ve never read a networking book (and I confess to being lazy about keeping up with my friends), I thought I’d give this a whirl. First off, I have to say that most of us will probably never be in Ferrazzi’s league, and probably our careers don’t depend on networking as much as his seems to. My *job* as a writer is to write the best darn fiction I can. My husband’s job as a programmer is to code well. Networking is valuable, but a distant second (third? fourth? tenth?). Still, Ferrazzi has valuable things to say about how the best networks are based on generosity, on providing mutual value and the power of weak ties.

What made me uncomfortable about this book was the minutiae of how you accomplish all this networking. I know Ferrazzi doesn’t mean to be creepy, but creating one-page dossiers on your target subjects, positioning yourself where you can meet them at conferences, having lists of people you’d like to know–all of that seems stalkerish to me. I don’t if I’d feel flattered or weirded out if people did that to me!

The most valuable thing I took away from this book was a renewed determination be better about following up with people that I met once or a few times, but with whom I hit it off with. Those lively conversations could be the start of new relationships–if I weren’t so lazy!

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp: This is another one of The Simple Dollar’s recommendations, and a book I’d probably not have discovered myself any time soon. I love to read about (and talk about and think about) the creative process, but most of the books I pick up on the topic have been by writers talking about writing to other writers. Tharp is a choreographer and I love how her background brings freshness to the topic. Her guidelines are applicable throughout the arts, but her exercises are informed by her passion for music and dance. I have lots more to say about this book, but I’m saving it for a future post. There was a lot in here for me to think about

Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones: This is a collection of four short tales featuring Chrestomanci. They’re a light fun read, but none of them reached the calibre of my favorite Chrestomanci novel, The Lives of Christopher Chant. If you’re a big Chrestomanci fan like I am, you might want to read these out of a desire to be complete; otherwise, I’d skip ‘em.