Thursday, January 31, 2008

Apparently, I'm a Night Fairy

The Night Fairy is smart, no doubt about it. She's strong-willed, direct, and goes after what she wants. Though definitely not anti-social, she likes spending her time reading books, studying, or just lying under the stars working out a thought. She likes to dream, but she also likes to figure out how to logically make her dreams come true. The Night Fairy has an intense dislike of ignorance. She's impatient, and even if she doesn't show it, she's more often than not frustrated or annoyed. Still, people respect her, and she's respectful to other people. She enjoys having long, interesting, discussions with other people.

Fairy yourself.

I think this is a nice way of saying that I don't suffer fools gladly.

Oh, BTW totally off topic, but my King Cake was delivered today. Coffee tomorrow morning is going to be nice. About this time of year, I start getting that Saints and Sinners vibe. May seems so far off. I'm not going to make it to Portland for EPICon this year, or the Washington D.C. for Gaylaxicon, so Saints and Sinners is my single indulgence. *sigh* May. At least tomorrow is February.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I'm Chatting! (cross post)

As Jay Lygon, I'll be chatting at:

Friday, February 1: Torquere Press Authors Authors scheduled: Mychael Black, Syd McGinley, Jay Lygon, James Buchanan, Stevie Woods, Jodi Payne, Kit Zheng, Misa Izanaki, H.B. Kurtzwilde, Angela Benedetti, Cassidy Ryan, Sean Michael, Margaret Leigh, Kiernan Kelly, AJ Wilde, Tory Temple, and others!http://groups. group/Chatting_ with_Joyfully_ Reviewed/

And February 4th I'll be at Realms of Love with other Manlove Romance authors such as the dynamic Laura Baumbach.

Writer's Resources

On the ERWA writer's list, people have been sharing some great writer's resources. Google Images, YouTube, Flicker... Even writers know what a single picture is worth. Diaries are great. I've heard that there's an annotated copy of Pride and Prejudice that explains in great detail things like the carriages and the dresses, which is an incredible resource if you write historical fiction. (Love to read them, would die if I tried to write one.) Newspaper archives are tricky, because while we like to think that newspaper exist to present an unbiased account, that's a myth newspapers perpetuate but have never delivered on. But it's sort of fun to see how the writers hyped the stories. They're like ad copy writers with a longer word limit. Other writers are a great resource too.

Where do you turn for information?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Egads, I'm Going to Talk About A Celeb

Am I the only person on earth who isn't wallowing is gleeful schadenfreude over Britney Spears' current life situation?

I'm not a fan of her work, and on the whole I couldn't care less about her, her music, and her poor life choices, but it's constantly thrust into my face, so I'm aware of it. It could be that she's genuinely mentally ill. How hilarious! Maybe she'll develop breast cancer and the world can celebrate that too. Maybe the Dr. Phils of this world can seize it as an opportunity to take further advantage of the situation too. I just can't wait.

Gathering from the number of people who posted a new YouTube video making fun of Britney's latest woes to the comments section of my MySpace pages, kicking Brit when she's down is the new national sport. I guess it's easier to aim low than high. I'd say thanks for sharing, but really, I could have done without seeing that cruel streak. So I deleted the comments. And yes, I think a little less of those posters as human beings. I expect more from people I "friend."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

1st and 3rd Person

Debates are raging on several of my lists about writing in 1st versus 3rd person. I'm amazed at how vehemently opposed some people are to 1st person. I suppose they don't read many literary works.

For those of you who missed the lecture:

1st person is I.

First paragraph of Huckleberry Finn:

YOU don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly -- Tom's Aunt Polly, she is -- and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

3rd person is fly on the wall.

First two paragraphs of Anna Karenina

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys' house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was no sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys . The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked of the day before just at dinner-time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given warning.

Thereare variations of 1st (ancillary, protagonist) and 3rd (Limited,
omniscient, objective), but we'll keep it simple. I won't even mention 2nd. Okay, I will.

2nd is You.

First sentences of Bright Lights, Big City

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head...

Second is really hard to write. I find it hard to read, although it doesn't throw me when people speak in 2nd. (Listen. Many people do. Speech grammar is much more fluid and forgiving than written grammar. People switch between past and present tense all the time in speech, and you have no problem following them, but if you read it in a book, it would drive you nuts. The same holds true for Person.)

Voice is one of my least favorite debates. To be irrational about it, the discussion dredges up a bad writing memory for me. When I was in high school, several of my
teachers banded together and paid my way to a writer's conference because they believed that much in my talent. The first session I went to was about voice. After a rather lofty conversation in which the terms were never explained, the facilitator spun around and jabbed his finger at my face. "I hope you think about how the voice will affect your entire work before you sit down to write." This roomful of adults,
many of them professional writers, stared, so I decided it was a question. I shrugged and said, "I just let the story come out naturally, in the same voice it came to me." "Wrong!" he bellowed, jabbing his finger at my face some more. "Wrong. All WRONG. You don't know what you're doing." So I quit writing. That's right. I let a pompous college professor (and probably failed writer) destroy my ability to write for years. (There were plenty of other pressures
on me to give it up, but his words were the tipping point.) Some way to thank those teachers for spending their hard-earned money on me, wasn't it? But that experience left me paralysed. Any time a story would come to me, I'd want to write it down, but then I remembered that I was supposed to debate voice and have a solid, defensible reason for that choice before I wrote word one.

So now when people talk about voice, I often picture that professor screeching about it, and I simply can't join the conversation. I can read it, I can listen, but I won't, or can't, defend my position.

Now that I've overcome that little mental block (and a few bigger ones)I still don't think too much about 1st or 3rd. I let the story roll out the way it comes to me. I have rewritten a story and changed it from 1st to 3rd, but I've never been happy with the result. I suppose there are writers who sit down and think about which voice to use and how it affects the story before they write. That's a good thing to be aware
of. 1st is intimate. 3rd is more objective. But despite what Professor Jabby-Fingers
said, I don't think it has to be a momentous event. The decision can be made as the story is rolling out and it naturally fits into a certain voice.

As a reader, I'd never let the voice the author chose sway my opinion of the story. I'd never, as one person said, "Chuck that book against a wall and go get something that's well written." (I suppose she thinks Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick aren't well written.) Every voice exists for a reason. There's a right one for a story. I can't see making a blanket decision that all 1st Person sucks and refusing to ever read a story written in that voice. Then again, I have to consider the source of that statement. *bites tongue*

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

All Hail the Sucky First Draft

Once upon a time, I hated rewrites. I have since seen the light.

Part of my conversion from doubter to kool-aid drinking barefoot pilgrim came about because of word processing programs. Sure, Jack Kerouac could tape page after page of paper together so that his flow wasn't interrupted by something as distracting as inserting a new page into a typewriter, but for us mere humans, stories don't come out perfect the first time like that. Not to mention that I'm a lousy typist. Oh, I took a typing course. My high school teacher watched over my shoulder as I laboriously tried to duplicate a business letter, patted my shoulder, and said, "It's a good thing you're in MENSA, hon, 'cause you'd never cut it at an hourly job."

As a side note, one of my most irksome memories of high school was the career aptitude test. It was part SAT, part pounding square blocks into round holes with a timer going. Number one on the list of careers I had no aptitude for: writer. Not that it asked for a writing sample. No. It was all about dexterity. I have yet to figure out what pegs and holes have to do with the ability to write a coherent story. Maybe Jack Kerouac held the world's record for peg pounding. Not that his stories are completely coherent. Strangely enough, according to our profiles, the military was the best career fit for every Senior in my high school. And the test was sponsored by the Army. What were the odds? (Those of us who could calculate that number in our heads were told we were officer material. Those who made their square pegs fit by brute force were told they had a shinning future ahead of them as cannon fodder enlisted men.)

Worse than composing on a typewriter was having to write by hand. Can you imagine the Bronte sisters, Jane Austin, and Mary Shelley with their quills? Good lord. Maybe they had fountain pens. Oh yes, that would have made it so much easier. *rolls eyes* At least with typewriters we had correction fluid. I swear that some papers I turned in to college professors were 99% white-out. If they could have chiseled away the layers micron by micron, it would have been like a literary archaeological dig, complete with one instance of blood sacrifice. (My cuticle was torn once while manually fixing mangled keys. Bled like a some-bitch all over my gushing essay/ love letter extolling the virtues of Joseph Conrad.) I remember when cut and paste meant literally taking scissors to an essay and taping the rearranged paragraphs on another sheet. (God I sound old)

Maybe I didn't hate to rewrite. Maybe I hated to retype. But one led to another, so I grew an aversion to reading my completed work. I preferred to hand it in and pray that the five papers before mine were so bad that my typos would be forgivable in comparison. The one girl on my dorm floor who was studying to be a secretary was publicly scorned most of the semester, but the night before papers were due, offerings were laid at her feet by humbled math majors. (There's a lesson there. Math majors are submissives. Okay, that's what I took away from it. Your take may differ.)

Ego is another reason why I hated rewriting. It seemed as if the story should come out perfect the first time. Maybe that attitude was simply inexperience. Maybe it was from sniffing too much correction fluid. Whatever the reason, the idea that the first draft had to be perfect hampered my writing for years. (Well, that and the people I grew up with. Don't get me started on them.)

Have you ever seen James Burke's The Day The Universe Changed series on PBS? It followed scientific thought through history and showed how disparate ideas improbably came together at a certain moment to create a breakthrough technology. Fascinating stuff if you're a geek girl like me. Anyway, the day I sneaked into my father's office and wrote a story on his KayPro's temperamental word processing software was the Day The Universe Changed for me. Cut and paste took about seven DOS commands, but it could be done. Hell, I was happy to be able to type without committing anything to paper until I hit the print button. From then on, composition would never be the same.

However, even having this miraculously easy way to edit my work didn't cure me of my dislike for rewrites. By then, it was a deeply ingrained prejudice. So How Did I Learn to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Rewrite? It took an editor who cared enough to splash red ink all over my story. It must have taken her hours. Considering what editors make on anthologies, editing my story with that much care was far beyond the call of duty. Instead of throwing a Diva fit when I saw all those suggestions, I studied what she'd done and incorporated them into my story. Oh. My. God. What a difference. That was the best writing class I ever took. I learned more from having that one story edited than I did in any of my college courses. It changed the way I looked at telling a story. It changed the way I write. It changed my entire mindset about rewrites.

Now I embrace rewrites. It makes writing the first draft so much easier. If a chapter isn't flowing just right, I don't sweat it. I don't let it block me. I simply soldier through it as best I can, admit that it sucks, have a Scarlet O'Hara, "I'll worry about it tomorrow," moment, and move on. I know that in the rewrite I can fix anything. Letting my writing suck on the first draft is freeing. I embrace it. What is that quote? "Even F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn't F. Scott Fitzgerald until the rewrite." Yeah. Like that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm Sure I've Mentioned Before

At Saints and Sinners one year, Poppy Z Brite said, "You don't learn how to write A novel, you learn how to write this one." He probably doesn't remember saying something that useful, but that's okay. I'll remember for him. It's amazing how many times those words come back to me and how profoundly true I find them each time for completely different reasons. It's like a koan of writing.

My previous entry, I talked about linear writing versus - well, what should I call it? Smoke jumping? Passionate writing? Carpe sceneium (yes, that's fake Latin)? Okay, I'll call it non-linear writing. The topic on my mind right now is chapters.

When I wrote Chaos Magic II, I didn't break it into chapters as I wrote. There were some natural chapter breaks, but not all of them were clear. Also, I played around with the time line a lot because I felt as if I were front-loading a lot of information, and I wanted to avoid the dreaded info dump and get on with the damn story. Everything hinged on something else happening first , so I couldn't have the reaction before the action, but I didn't want chapter after chapter of heavy drama. Who wants to read that? Even Russian literature pauses in the gloom to breathe occasionally. (although the Russian version of "lightening things up" is still pretty grim)

Instead of numbering and renumbering chapters as I cut and paste huge blocks of text to get the sequence the way I wanted it, I left the chapter breaks out. When I was satisfied that everything balanced, the last thing I did was go in and create chapters.

The problem with that was that chapter breaks make it easier to rewrite. They're nice signposts in the middle of all those words. I tend to remember scenes by unique strings of words, so I had no problem moving around my document without the chapters marked. However, I think that if I had specific chapter separations in mind as I wrote, it might have helped me regulate the length of my chapters. I don't see anything wrong with varying chapter lengths, but it never hurts to get a scene wrapped up instead of going on too long.

The real question is: Would I write like that again? Well, I'm doing chapter breaks this time around, but there are big differences between this novel and the previous one. The final chapters of CM II had to fall on Beltane, but the time line of the rest of the story was open. For CM III, every chapter is tied to a major film festival or event in the Wiccan calender. I have to make things happen in a very specific order and by certain dates. That makes chapter breaks obvious and also stops me from moving events in the story back and forth through time. Rigid chapter breaks work for this novel. That's what I've learned writing this one. What will work for my next novel? I have no idea. I'll figure it out as I'm doing it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Writing Habits

I used to write whatever scene had the strongest hold on my imagination. There's a lot to be said for that. It's passion and creativity and everything flows so well. But... You have to know where your story is going, don't you? If you're an out liners and can stick to your outline, then you can freely hop from scene to scene and chapter to chapter. If you're a purely organic writer who lets characters determine the story, then you're going to end up rewriting an awful lot.

I'm of the opinion that all writing is practice and it doesn't hurt to write 30,000 words that don't make it into the final draft, but your might be horrified at the thought of wasting that much time and effort.

Now I mostly work from the beginning to the end of the novel in a linear fashion. The advantage to writing linear is that when something changes the time line, a minor character becomes a major one, or the plot gets pulled in another direction, it mostly affects what happens after that point, which is stuff I haven't written yet.

However, linear is not a hard rule for me. I've been working on a novel and was at a spot where I was waiting on some information to finish a chapter. A future scene had pretty much taken over my daydreams. It got to the point where it had such a strong grip on my imagination that the only way to exorcise it was to write it out. So I did. I know when I catch up to it in the linear timeline I'll have to rework a lot of small details. But what the heck. I had a lot of fun working on it and now it's out of my head so that I can concentrate on where I am in the linear timeline.

I do have one caveat to jumping around from scene to scene other than a warning that you may have to rewrite almost everything you've written, and that's to beware of skipping the "dull parts." If you story has dull parts that you can barely stand to write, how do you think your reader is going to slog through it? You need to examine what makes those parts of the story the dull. Do you really need those scenes? Maybe not. If you can't do away with them entirely, can you condense them or combine them with a better scene? Or can you find something about that scene to love? If, however, you're avoid scenes because they are emotionally difficult, then you need to grab your box of tissues and go for it. When you get uncomfortable, keep pushing. Don't gloss over anything. The more it makes you squirm, then better it is on the page. Come to think of it, that's true for erotic scenes too. Go figure.

Many writers I know started out writing whatever scene grabbed them, but after a couple years, they seem to have settled into linear writing. I'm not saying that's the only way or the right way to go, but I think it makes sense. It's the most efficient way to work. Then again, when you're talking about creativity, efficiency be damned. Do what ye will.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thought Of One!

Sort of. In my previous post, I mentioned that there were rare stories that began with the characters with similar POVs, but through shared experiences, their POVs diverged, which was the point of conflict. At the time I couldn't think of one. Now I have an example.


The main POV character, Selene, is in conflict with Kraven over how the vampire war against the lychans should be run, but she is completely faithful to their leader, Viktor. As her conflict with Kraven grows, she brings Viktor out of his slumber because she knows that she and Viktor have a similar desire to destroy the lycans, and she suspects that Kraven doesn't. However, as the story progresses, she learns the truth about the war between the vampires and werewolves. Her loyalty shifts. The man she once revered as a father becomes her enemy and she kills him to protect her werewolf/vampire lover.

Underworld is a fascinating story from a writer's perspective.

Somewhere along the line, vampires stopped being monsters. Now they're sexual fantasies. This story takes advantage of that. The vampires are portrayed as desire able. They have wealth, hot bodies, sexy leather clothes, cool guns and fast cars. The lycans are shown living as, well, beasts, in the sewers. Their medical space looks like something out of a Nazi nightmare. They're mangy men. So of course our sympathies are with the vamps. Beauty has it's advantages.

In the opening scene of the story, the lycans are hunting some hapless human. What's more despicable than that? The vamp Selene saves the human's ass and then gets sort of pissy about having to. Aww - how antihero. The story could have followed along those lines to a rather formulaic ending. But where this story got interesting was when Selene probed into the past and found out that the history she'd been taught wasn't the truth. The audience's sympathies shifted as hers did. By the end, it was pretty clear that the bad guys were the vamps and the lycans were the underdogs (sorry) to root for. I can't remember many stories that bring an audience along on a complete 180 change in POV like that. (The original short story I Am Legend does to some extent, as does We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is a fascinating story. Highly recommended reading.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What I Meant Was

I titled my previous post Another Day, Another Layer, and then went with the Newton's Cradle metaphor instead. Confusing? I bet. Made sense to me, but my mind works in weird tangents. So let me explain.

My stories tend to be densely written. I can't help it. I try to write something simple and straightforward, but I simply can't, because I can't stand stories where I have to take the word of the author that people fell in love or whatever. I have to see it. So I can't write stories like that. I have to prove it to my readers. It's kind of like being a trial lawyer and presenting a case. Evidence is shown and testimony is given in a specific order. The background comes first. Then the setting. Things start to speed up as the major event (conflict) is revealed and discussed. Hopefully, if all the evidence was presented correctly, it leads the jury to the desired conclusion. As a member of a jury, I'm not going to take the prosecutor's word for it that something happened a certain way. I have to hear the testimony. As a reader, I feel the same way about a story. I have to be shown everything so that I'm convinced that the conclusion is realistic and inevitable.

But now I'm talking trials and not layers.

The way I make my case, or tell my story, is to first fill in the bare facts of what happened in a timeline from the main character's point of view. But then I go back to each important secondary character and make sure that they react to the facts of what happened in a manner that is consistent with that character's POV. This helps build the conflict. In real life no two people are going to see the same event and interpret it the same way, and they shouldn't in a book either.

Tangent: Okay, in the beginning of a story, characters should have wildly divergent POVs that, through mutual experiences and building understanding, begin to merge so that in the end, if the characters have truly become a team, they will tend to process the same facts in a similar manner. Never exactly the same, but they should reach conclusions that mesh. OR you can begin with characters who are already a team and have meshing POVs, but through their experiences those shared beliefs should begin to diverge to the point that there is major conflict between them. (This type of story is much rarer. I wish I could think of an example off the top of ym head.)

Back to layers: So I keep going back over the same chapters, each time concentrating on some aspect of it. Plot. Setting. Character. In earlier chapters, I try to show a smaller example of the larger conflict that will play out at the end.

As an example of this - in the new classic holiday movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Earlier in the story, he receives in the mail his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring. He waits impatiently through the radio show for the secret message. When he has it, he runs upstairs and barricades himself in the bathroom as he fumbles around with his decoder. His little brother is pounding on the bathroom door. The tension mounts. His mother yells at him to get out of the bathroom. Finally, he has the message. BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE. He leaves the bathroom crushed that he was duped into decoding "A lousy Ad." Through the rest of the movie, he's trying to convince his parents to get him the BB Gun. After a lot of disappointments (the bunny suit) his Old Man finally hands him a hidden package that contains the BB Gun. We've already seen Ralphie get what he wants only to be disappointed by it, so we're primed for tragedy as he heads out into the back yard with his new gun. And he does have a mishap. But because this is a happy story, it's only a little setback, and at the end he falls asleep cradling his BB Gun and the voice over tells us what we already know - that this was his best Christmas ever.

So I try to have scenes that not only move the story forward and kick up the tension a notch, but also reflect the bigger conflict. It's like applying coats of varnish. Each coat is transparent so that you can see through to the primary coat, but those layers also add depth. That's what I meant by another day, another layer.

I'd explain how that translated into a Newton's Cradle, but my thought processes defy explanation. Just take my word for it that, in my mind, the two are logically related.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Another Day, Another Layer

Even though I swore I would take some time away from novels and work on short stories, I couldn't shake this one from my brain. I wonder if it's like that for other writers: A story steps forward and won't budge until it's put on paper (in computer actually, but on paper sounds better).

So I'm reading all these calls for submissions for short stories and it's breaking my heart to let them pass, but I simply can't get out of this novel until I finish it. The problem is that I'm in those tricky first five chapters where so much has to gel. The pace needs to be set, the major conflict of the novel has to be introduced or foreshadowed, the characters have to be introduced (or reintroduced since this is the third of a trilogy), the major players have to make an entrance, etc. It's like pulling back the first ball of a Newton's Cradle and--.

Except that it would be great if this little detail got tweaked a bit.

Okay. So now I pull back two balls and--.

Wait! There's a film festival in Palm Springs, and the MC has friends there, and this can make that work even better. All hail the god of serendipity!

Where was I? Pulling back three balls...

At this rate I may never get out of those first five chapters. Oh, I will- eventually. Getting things lined up perfectly and setting them into motion takes time, but once the action starts it's smooth clickity-clack (of balls or computer keys) from there on. Hopefully.