Thursday, February 28, 2008

On A Roll

I hit 65,000 words in my newest MS last night. While I don't adhere strictly to word counts, I like for my novels to be around 80,000 words and my short stories to be about 4,000. So what does 65,0000 words do for me? Well, it tells me that it's time to start bringing things to a head. 10,000 words of steadily building conflict and then about 5,000 of resolution.

I tried not to rewrite while I was still doing the first draft, but I realized I'd fallen back on my usual bad habit of compartmentalizing the set-up of the story and the conflict, so I moved the timeline up on the conflict and interspersed it with the rest so that the pace is better and it flows. (And I'm sure none of that made sense to anyone except me.)

Anyway, it feels as if this story is falling together so quickly, but in reality, I've been working on it since December. I don't keep good track of when I begin and end a project. Maybe I should. Then maybe I'd figure out how to schedule my time a little more efficiently.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Movies From Books

One of my writer's lists is discussing movies adaptations from books. One of the topics is "Has anyone seen a movie version that was better than the book?"

I'm not sure this is ever going to be a fair comparison. While any screenwriter who changes the ending or basic plot elements of a story for the adaptation should be condemned to writing late night infomercials for the rest of his/her/hir life, film is a different medium and what works in books won't always work on screen. Books can have scope and scale in setting that no movie special effects wizard can ever match, because books tap into a reader's imagination, which has no budget and isn't limited by those pesky laws of physics. Not to mention that every reader internalizes and interprets a writer's words through a unique filter, so even if a movie were able to capture one reader's vision of the story, every other reader would still be saying, "Hey, that's all wrong." Movies, however, convey action in a way that books can never match.

Books aren't limited by time, so they can go into detail that simply can't make the translation onto the screen. A great example of this is the Harry Potter movies. Much of the conflict with his Aunt, Uncle, and cousin had to be cut. So did a lot of other stuff, sometimes to the point where I wonder if someone who hasn't read the books can follow the movie. Ten or twenty years from now, someone will make new Harry Potter movies. Maybe they'll do it in a mini-series format that explores the interpersonal relationships in more detail, but even that version would have to sacrifice something from the books (probably the special effects).

I've seen one movie adaptation that I felt transcended the source book - The Grifters. Maybe because I saw the movie first and it remains one of my all time favorite movies. On the other hand, I saw a couple film versions of Rebeca before I read the book, and I don't think any film version does the novel justice. And to even it out - I love the movie Blade Runner, and I'm a huge fan of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (theoretically the source book), as long as I don't try to compare the two. Not that they can be compared. They're not the same story. But each is an example of outstanding work in their respective mediums.

Friday, February 22, 2008

When Your Editor Says: "Huh?"

Editors are either gods or demons to writers. There isn't much middle ground.

I got my first edits back on Love Ruins along with comments from my editor. She is questioning part of my story that isn't clear to her. Now, while I did explain it to her, I've given this some serious thought and I think a rewrite of that entire section is called for. Why? Because if your editor is saying, "Huh?" then so will all your readers. So you have the choice of going around to each reader and explaining what you meant, or you make it clear in the book and save everyone time and confusion.

It does have a cascade effect. It changes a later scene, and it changes some stuff in the third novel, but honestly, while I love my readers, I don't want to have to go to each one and have to explain that scene.

This is what being a published writer means - taking critique and acting on it to improve the story. Forget having a diva moment. Forget wailing about art. The editor is right. It has to be fixed.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More Hammett

I read Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett today. Great story, by the way. Gotta love a detective novel with a chapter titled The Seventeenth Murder, and it's only part way through the book.

What is it that the puppeteer says in Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead?

Puppeteer: "It's a regular bloodbath. Seven dead." (speaking of the play Hamlet. I'm paraphrasing here from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead because I can't find the exact quote)

Rosencrantz: (counts on his fingers) "No. Only five."

Cut to scene of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern hanging from the gallows.

Anyway, about Hammett's writing, I was curious to see if all his stories were as heavy on dialog and short on setting as The Thin Man. So I read his earlier novel Red Harvest. It's much more like your typical novel, which makes me wonder a couple things.1) Did he develop into a sparser writing style later on OR 2) Did he know that The Thin Man was destined to be a movie, and saved himself the work of writing a screenplay from the novel by writing the novel more like a screenplay? (Thank goodness it isn't written in present tense like a screenplay though.) He apparently worked in Hollywood for several years, so it's possible.

Briefly glancing through the Glass Key, it also seems heavy on dialog. If I have time this weekend, I'll dip into the Maltese Falcon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Thin Man

Two summers ago, I got on a hard-boiled detective reading jag and bought Dashell Hammett's novels in a collection, but never got around to reading it. I spent all my time on Raymond Chandler (excellent writer). A couple weeks ago though, friends were discussing favorite movies and K mentioned The Thin Man, which I also adored. Then suddenly I was jonesing for a Thin Man fix, but I figured "Why not read the novel?" After searching my many reading stacks (and sighing over the truly great books I have and plan to read - some day.) I found it last weekend and read it.

One of the things that worries me about my writing sometimes is how little description I give of settings. The reader needs to be anchored somewhere. S/he needs a sense of time and place or else dialog is just floating heads yapping and it can be disorienting. Besides, a conversation that sounds dull as dishwater over lunch at a diner may be fraught with tension if it's being spoken as someone diffuses a bomb - setting does matter. So one of the first things I noticed about Dashell Hammett's writing is how few words he wastes on setting. He doesn't even write that much description of action. He must not have been paid by the word. It was amazing to see how much of The Thin Man was simply dialog. Being a very good writer, Hammett manages to get a lot of mileage out of every word even in dialog. His characterizations are in the words his characters speak, not in their physical descriptions or actions.

I read The Thin Man the first time through as a reader, but now I think I'm going to go through as a writer and study how he did it. I like that sparse delivery. I'm going to try to figure out how, with so few words, he was able to evoke full, detailed settings in my mind - and then I'll have to think carefully about the image I'm envisioning and compare it to the settings in the movie version. A better test of this will be to read his other novels - the ones I haven't seen on film. (But I'll read the Maltese Flacon anyway.)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Haunted Hearths

I just got word that my short story Words Like Candy Conversation Hearts will be in Lethe Press's Haunted Hearths, edited by Catherine Lundoff. I've sold nearly 40 short stories by now, so you'd think I'd be used to it, but every sale feels good.

I didn't set out to be an erotica writer. However, since sexuality, gender, and identity are important themes to me, most of my characters have been revealed through sex and sexuality. My work is therefore erotica. I've been perfectly happy in that genre. But - and there's always a but - I primarily consider myself to be a speculative fiction writer. Certainly some of my stories: Red By Any Other Name, She Comes Stars, Blue Girl, Kells, Feed, Sex Karma, Nations, and both my novels: Chaos Magic and Love Runes, would be considered horror or speculative fiction if it weren't for the graphic sex. Science fiction and fantasy writers are not amused when someone gets smut on their peanut butter though. I've been told (by some rather haughty writers) that my work shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as their genre.

Haunted Hearths isn't erotica. It's lesbian ghost stories. Words Like Candy Conversation Hearts will be my first story to be marketed as horror, I presume. Maybe paranormal. It feels great to finally make that leap into the speculative fiction genre (and subgenres).

I doubt I'll ever leave erotica behind. My characters have a way of wandering into bedrooms and stripping down to their souls, and I'm comfortable following them there. Besides, I'm proud to say that I write smut. But I can't help that frisson of excitement as I finally have an indisputable claim to speculative fiction too.

Now - about that mystery I've been meaning to write...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tornado Alley

We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Many of those places were tornado prone, but none more than Oklahoma. No one ever had to tell me a tornado was coming. I could feel it. To this day, I associate that feeling with dread. The sky would get a certain color and my stress induced asthma kicked in. I fought for every breath as the air grew dense and pressed down on me.

Then either the claxons would go off, or Pop would announce, "Everyone out to the car," and I knew a funnel cloud had been sighted. His hands would grip the steering wheel until his knuckles went white and he'd peer into the rear view mirror more than he'd look at the road as we headed for shelter.

We were lucky to live in a college town. The Student Union was built of red brick and the first story was underground. It was built to be a tornado shelter. When we got there, half the kids we knew from school would already be sitting on the white tile floor with their backs to the bricks. Some did homework, some played, some read. The adults stood in clusters and spoke quietly while sipping coffee. Late comers would come in with wind-whipped hair and tense faces. WOur groups scooted closer togehter to make room. Even though we were underground, if the claxons went off again, everyone would look up, as if we expected to see sky.

I never knew how word got out that the danger was past. Sometimes we'd only spend an hour at the University and then everyone would suddenly pick up their stuff and head for their cars. Some nights we used our coats and school books as pillows only to be shaken awake in the early morning hours.

The drive home always seemed to be in the dark. Usually it rained, or hailed. Sometimes, we passed destruction. Most of the time there was nothing to see. We'd hold our breaths the entire way home. No sounds. No fidgeting. Then we'd pull into the driveway and exhale great relief that our house, our block, our neighborhood still stood.

Back then, we didn't snicker like people do now when we saw mobile home parks ripped to shreds. It didn't occur to us that it was funny that kids we went to school with had no home left to go home to. We didn't realize that poor people somehow deserved that. Oh wait - I still don't.

Tornados always seemed to happen at night, but once, as the final bell for school rang and we swarmed the doors, our teachers suddenly pulled us back and told us to shelter in place. We could see it coming. A great column of twisting dust was headed right for the school, and for our mothers parked outside in their station wagons. Some kids broke free and ran for their mothers. The rest of us did as we were told. We shoved our desks into formation against an interior wall and climbed underneath, pulling the end ones down to seal off our little fortress. It was claustrophobic and the smell of dirty kids was overpowering. Maybe that was the scent of fear. My ears popped. We could hear glass shattering. Kids cried. So did my teacher. Then it passed, and we bolted for the doors to see if our mothers were still alive. It was the longest twenty minutes of my life.

I have a reasonable fear of what nature can do. I'm grateful now that I live in a place where tornados are rare. But they do happen. One touched down in Malibu a couple weeks ago, and even though that's miles away, I still felt that old dread creeping over my skin when they told people to seek shelter immediately. I couldn't even bear to look at the news on TV. I felt the same way when I heard about the tornados in Tennessee last night - that horrible feeling of helplessness while waiting for it to pass. My heart goes out to you if you were in the path.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

New Reviews Up at Erotica Revealed

The February reviews are up at Erotica Revealed.

And thanks to Syd for this. It doesn't show me my score though. Does this mean I got them all right?

You Are a Smart American

You know a lot about US history, and you're opinions are probably well informed.
Congratulations on bucking stereotypes. Now go show some foreigners how smart Americans can be.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Three and a Half Months

Since it's coming up soon, but not quickly enough, I thought I'd make my annual Saints and Sinners spiel.

If you write, or want to write, and are GLBT, write GLBT stories, or are GLBT friendly, the annual Saints and Sinners Literary conference is a must.

I've been to many writer's conferences. Most of them promise insights into the publishing world and access to publishers and agents. While these conferences have some panels about writing, most of them are geared to the business of writing, and that's okay, but... The panels are usually aimed at people who are real beginners. The information, while true, is so basic that it's a waste of time for anyone who has read 12 Writer's Digest's issues. (Which is about the point where Writer's Digest cycles through their articles and starts repeating.) If you have zero idea about how publishing works, go to one of those conferences. You'll probably find some helpful information. Just don't keep going in the hope that you'll get deeper insight.

One of the great strengths of Saints and Sinners is that it's focused on writing, not publishing. While some panels give the same sort of general information about getting published that you can get at other writer's conferences, these are aimed at GLBT writers. The world of GLBT writing is fairly small, so the advice is much more specific. The rest of the panels tend to be focused on genre fiction. Since the audiences are manageable, everyone can get in a question or two, and some of those questions evolve into great discussions. Some of the writers leading panels or workshops are professors and know how to teach a subject. The first day Master Classes have never disappointed in depth or breadth.

By the second day of SNS, I'm so energized about writing that it's hard to sleep. Even though this will be my fourth year, I'm confident that I'll gain new insights on how to look at my writing and how to improve it. I take notes like mad and still refer to them.

It's not just the panels and classes though. It's the people. Many are friends who I only see at SNS. Talking with other writers face to face is such an incredible exchange of ideas and information. Everyone is accessible, from the people who teach Master Classes to editors, publishers, and well-known writers. Even if you paid for a one-on-one at another writer's conference, you'd never get the quality, and quantity, of face time with the people who buy novels like you do at Saints and Sinners.

While attendance grows every year as word spreads, it's still a small enough conference that it feels personal. Part (or all) of the praise for this incredible event goes to Paul Willis, who does it as an unpaid volunteer. The man is so sweet, so smart, so sharp, and he is the soul of SNS. Of course, he probably couldn't do it without his right hand - Karissa Kary, who is an extraordinary, vivacious person.

Did I mention that the conference is held in New Orleans? As you stroll around the French Quarter, you see people from the conference, exchange nods, and suddenly it's like being home. But with better architecture. And better food. And your author-idol standing two feet away from you in the mad crush of the Ambush Magazine welcome party.

But the best reason I can give for attending Saints and Sinners is that it's such a relief to be in a room full of queer writers and feel that self-censoring weight lift away. You have no idea - but you would if you went.