Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not always a success...

So I realized that with all the Sparkfest love, I’ve probably been giving the impression that everything I do just turns to gold.

Yeah. Not so much.

The road to where I am is littered with abandoned and forgotten projects. I’ve written a lot. Not a lot compared to people like Liz (and don’t compare yourself to others, it’s never really helpful) but a lot for a dyslexic freak who keeps putting aside writing because “it’s just a pipe dream and I’ll never get published so I should stick to the science thing” (that’s the little devil on the shoulder who tells me to do things like finish my degree and get a day job; I hate that little devil). Just considering novels, I’ve started 14 (that’s only counting the novels for which there is more than five chapters before I tossed it aside, if we count just first pages, it’s more like 40).

I’ve finished six novels, and of those six, two of them will absolutely never see the light of day (I’d burn them, but I’m pretty sure my mother has a copy of them somewhere). Four of them were in the last two years.

Some projects seem to write themselves and others are written in blood from paper cuts on your fingers. Why? The short answer is that I don’t really know. But I do know why projects never make it to “The End.”

My lost projects can boil down to four things:

Plot holes (worse when you drive over them)
Lost that Loving feeling
The dreaded: Not actually a good idea

For me, distraction from writing always comes from something related to writing. Blogging, research, revising a different manuscript, obsessively checking the email to see if an agent has responded yet, A shiny new idea makes its way into my life, obsessively checking email again. You get the drift, anything is easier than writing. Projects that get lost here are completely recoverable, if you can fish them out in time.

Plot holes. Even when I don’t use outlines (which I sometimes do, and sometimes don’t) I cannot write unless I know where I’m going. I’m absolutely paralyzed by the whole “I don’t know what comes next” thing. It’s really pretty silly because I spend so much of my life just making it up as I go along, but I’ve written enough to know that I do not have license to meander at random. See, I have this cliché chum bucket that I keep around for those evil plot sharks. When I don’t have a plan, I reach right into the bucket and throw out some cliché chum in the hopes it’ll distract my plot sharks long enough for me to swim away.

It never works.

So I have to know where I’m going before I get in the water. I’m a good swimmer, but sometimes, I’m a dumb writer (and that’s totally okay, that’s what revisions and editing are for!).

Lost that Loving Feeling. How many times have we gotten into a piece of work that was just wonderful, falling in love all over again, blinding spinning phrases, and twisting plots? And then we realize that our characters are snotty little brats and we’re starting to route for the bad guys. That’s when I call it quits. If I come to a place where I like the bad guy more than my protag, it’s time to chuck it or revise. Someday, when I’m awesome, I’ve thought about writing a story where we start with the protag and villain in well defined rolls and then change their sympathies at midpoint, and end the book with the protag as the villain and the villain as the protag. I’m not that awesome yet, and that idea brings me nicely to:

The dreaded: It’s not actually a good idea. I admit that, in general, I tend to hang onto my not very good ideas for a long time. Way longer than I should. I’ll strut out my werewolf vampire war for ages before I come to grips with the fact that I’m just retreading. And yeah, the Star Trek Pegasus story, umm, that might not have been a "good" idea. I call this one the dreaded because it always crops up during any draft. Whether it’s true or not, I always spend some time waffling about whether or not the premise for my novel is any good.

And that’s where I am right now with my drafting project, lost somewhere on chapter two and hoping to get my groove in gear. I’ve been distracted, found major plot holes, lost that loving feeling, and I’m worried that it’s not a very good idea. I’m pretty sure that’s normal—well, normal for me at least.So yeah, even though I have all these awesome inspiration stories, I have plenty of doubt and “this is never going to work,” too.

There’s a saying in science that we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us (they quote this in Jurassic Park, too). I like to think that manuscripts stand on the shoulders of every word written prior to that manuscript, even the dead lost projects littering the roads to now. That means that even the dead projects helped.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sparkfest Part 3 of 3

Today is the last day of Sparkfest, and there's only one question left.

“What book or author inspired your current WIP?”

That question sort of has me on the fence as to its actual meaning. If by inspired the question means “I read a book and when I finished I knew I had to write it”? or does it mean any book that helped me get one more page on paper? Today, I’ll answer both.

“Is there a book or auther that helps you write just one more page?”

Yes. Most definitely. When I’m really in the pits about writing in general (WIP included) there are a number of my favorite writers I turn to, but only one author whose work I go back to for inspiration. It’s the story of a secret society of assassins and true love, and the words flow across the page like water through the rounded cobbles in a stream.

Lean Hearn’s Tales of the Otori just plucks the heart strings, and makes me fall all over myself with her choice of words. It’s poetry that tells a deep and complex story. I can’t say enough good things about those books. Seriously, as inspiring as you could want in a book. If you haven’t read the first three books, they are a must read. Absolutely wondrously told stories.

As for the book that made me decide to write my current WIP, well, that’s quite a bit different.

And here’s where I blush.

If you’ve been a long time follower, well, you might remember when I posted about the inspiration for my WIP. I removed that post because, well, I guess if you want to get technical, it wasn’t—ah, how shall I put this?—politic. Yeah, that sounds bad, but it’s the truth.

See, I’m a lightning strikes kind of idea person. I imagine that the kernel for my novels gets started in my subconscious but then those ideas simmer and float to the surface with nearly every detail of the novel marked out, as though I were taking notes from someone else (a cleverer someone with a better working vocabulary).

But my current WIP? Not so much. See, I felt like I needed to prove to myself that I could nurture a little kernel from seed to full blown cornstalks. But the idea always comes from somewhere, and here’s where things take a turn to the murky waters of maybe not actually appropriate for the blog.

When I started querying my first project (first to get queried, not first to be written, I didn’t query for Buzzy—I threw him away when I was ten) I didn’t know a lot about the process. Sure I’d researched it, but it’s like doing geology from space. Sure you get some great pictures, and the infrared data is pretty decent, but unless you hold that rock in your hand, you just don’t know what you’ve really got, no matter how hi the resolution of your pictures. Querying is like that.

On another blog that I keep for my family (strangely they can’t manage to come over to blogger), I was trying to explain the process to them. At this point, I’d already met with crushing rejections, and worse: Silence. I compared the query process to trying to pick people up at a bar. In my analogy, the rejected writer was left wonder why the agent had left. "Was it something I said? Was it my breath? Was it my use of inactive verbs?"

But that wasn’t enough, see, I needed to explain the whole process to my family, and so I went on to talk about how writers don’t always say what they mean in their query letters. I wanted to prove this (and the moment any of you say that you really do mean what you say in your query letter, just remember lines like “I’m hopeful you’ll find my manuscript to be a good fit” when what wereally want to say is “Pretty please read my manuscript, I promise I’m not crazy, and I’ll be a good client, just offer me representation, I know other people will love my book.”). To show common examples of lies we put in our query letters, I made one up for an imaginary novel called the Better Half. I made it the most clichéd query letter on the planet. Actually, it was more of a pitch.

But then, after my what writer’s say versus the truth bit, I realized that the actual idea behind the fake novel wasn’t that bad. Sure it needed some fleshing out, but really, not bad. Then I started thinking, well, how would it work? Who would be involved? How would that MC react to things?

And then I had the dreaded first line. Once I know the first line, even if it doesn’t stay the first line, the first draft follows shortly after. Once I know how a story starts, that’s the critical mass to start writing.

So, again, my inspiration for a novel was a book that didn’t exist. I’m starting to notice a trend…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sparkfest part 2

There are two other questions for the Sparkfest, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that rules were made to be broken (I means seriously, when you break the speed limit for light you travel through time—definitely a rule to break!). The question at hand is “Is there a book or author that changed your world view?”

I guess the real answer to that question is yes, of course. But there was no one book that made me say “Wow, my world view has been altered.” I’m really the quintessential product of my experiences. That being said, there is this one writer who has a style that just bowled me over, and the sad thing is, she’s not as popular as she should be.

She’s won Hugos and Nebulas, and still she isn’t breaking down the bestseller’s list, and that’s a shame. She is on my top five favorite authors of all time. Her plots are awesome. I love her characters, and her world building is supremely authentic. ::Fan girl squee::

I was first introduced to Bujold by my mother (the avid reader), and she had the greatest praise I’ve ever heard my mother give an author. “Her writing is so beautiful, if she wrote the phone book, I’d read it” –my mother.

Now my mother hasn’t studied writing, despite having a natural talent at it (which she rarely uses), but the thing she’s describing is what agents are always harping on about: Voice. It is Bujold’s voice that transports us to dinner parties, phaser battles in space, romance in fantasy worlds, causes exclamations like “He’s worse than Mad Emperor Yuri!” to fall from my lips. But even more than the voice, there was something else about her writing. She reached right into the soul of the characters and brought out those thoughts you have in those terrible moments of grief and pain, those morbidly funny commentaries on tragedy and the impracticalities of biology. She gave us characters who were scarred and hurting, imperfect with their needs and wants, their flaws, and strangely they seemed like people I know. The people in her novels could almost be members of my family.

More than anything, her novels made me realize that even though my family was pretty screwed up, there are other people in the world hurt and traumatized by normal life. Even though her characters all had larger than life problems, the scars left on them were always from such normal things as a death in the family, or a dark family secret that came to light. More, she showed me that, like my family, there are other people who see the world as it is and find they’d rather laugh than cry (and there’s plenty to cry about). Other people have those crazy sarcastic thoughts in their heads in the moment of crisis.

If there is any writer whose writing I’d love to be told mine is similar to, it would be hers. And there’s the rub. Being like someone else doesn’t cut it. I’m not her. What works for Bujold will probably never work for me. And that’s just all there is too it. Bujold’s novels have shown me some greater truth about the world and the people in it, but most importantly, that I’ll never be able to pass that revelation on to another person if I’m just trying to copy someone else.

Oh, and Lois McMaster Bujold’s novels are awesome (I believe the technical term is Awesome Sauce on Toast). Seriously, go read one of her books now. I recommend Shards of Honor as a nice place to start.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The book I desperately needed

I think Blogger may have saved me from a “Bad” post, as I still cannot get blogger to accept the fact that gifs are files too. I’m pretty nervous about my class tonight, it’s the first time I’ve lectured more than the thirty minutes prior to a lab, so I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t have the dreaded death of projector, or blue screen, or any other number of fun things that have happened to me while giving talks (One time, ppt ate all of my images—every single one—so instead of my pretty graphics, a giant red “X” marked the place where they should have been; I had to draw them all out on the board ::shakes fist at the electronic presentation gods:: ).

So, I’m going to join in a blog fest I heard about through Jenny

Check out the details over here at Writer Coaster.

Today I’ll tackle the book that made me know I was doomed to be a writer, and honestly, seriously, there was no one book. It was the lack of a book. It wasn't until I was much older that I knew I couldn't stop. The signs were there in my early life, I just didn’t pay much attention at the time.

I like to say that I wrote my first novel at 12, and that’s true in the technical sense of the words. But even at twelve I’d already shown certain, well, I guess we’ll call them symptoms.

In kindergarten, I wrote and illustrated a series of picture books about Buzzy the Hammerhead shark with a buzz saw instead of a hammer for a head. The other sharks all laughed at him, but he eventually found his way. He saved the day because the other sharks all got caught in a net, and Buzzy cut open the net with his awesome buzz saw. 

This was a five book series, mind you.

But my pallet of crayon and stapled butcher paper was too restrictive. So I made a special edition in water color, one in finger paints, and one in glued construction paper cut outs.

If I’d had an agent at six and a half, I would have told her all about my plans for a PB series based around a unicorn with two horns called Double Trouble (yes, I thought it was the most imaginative title on the planet). The only problem was that horses—and by extension, unicorns—are hard to draw well, so I decided to wait before launching my Double Trouble series until I could learn to draw horses a little better.

But at six and seven years old, I didn’t realize how much of the world was coming my way and that I needed a plan in life. Besides that, I was dead set and determined to be just like my mom, a computer programmer for the county (yeah, all kinds of glamour there). So even though I was cranking out books before I had lost my baby teeth, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer.

Over the next five to six years leading up to my first novel attempt, I read every book my mother had in the house, and let me tell you there were a lot. I remember once going with my mom to the book store and she walked down the Science Fiction aisle with a little frown on her face. She finally picked up a book hopefully, but as she read the back cover she sighed and set the book down. I asked what was wrong, and she said—I kid not—“Oh, I just thought I’d found one I hadn’t read yet.”

So lots of books in the house.

When trying to get me to do my homework assignments in my phonics book, the teacher said to me “Why don’t you do the homework?”
I said, “Because it’s boring.”
“What’s boring about it?” she asked. Clearly she was trying to discern my grammar deficiencies.
Then I said, “Because it has no plot.” After that my first grade teacher stopped trying to get me to do the boring phonics book.

By the time I was in third grade, I thought chapter books and middle grade books were for idiots who couldn’t read Silverberg and Heinlein (sadly, it appears I was born a snob). Leading up to the ripe old age of twelve, my favorite place in the world was the used book store. I read everything I could get my hands on, literally. I read Conan the Barbarian and the adventures of Han Solo. By Twelve I’d read every word written by Alan Dean Foster, and if it had a little rocket on the binding in the library I’d read that too. I have no idea how I read so many books when I was a kid, ‘cause, seriously, I spent a ton of time watching TV too, but there you have it.

And speaking of TV, there was only one show that I was particularly interested in from the time I was about ten years old: Star Trek. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Star Wars too. In fact, in my family, when you were sick enough to stay home you had to stay on the couch and watch a movie. Star Wars was the movie set of choice, but there was a problem with Star Wars: there were only three movies (Yes, I'm old enough to remember a time before the prequels). Star Trek came out with a new episode every week. Not that I could get those episodes, mind you. Out in the sticks we didn’t have very good TV reception, but my grandmother lived in town. She had TV, and as soon as I went to middle school, I had to go over to my grandmother’s after school. Ah, those were the years, watching Star Trek TNG and dreaming my great classical science fiction dreams (usually I tried to fit a horse in there, as I still hadn’t forgotten about Double Trouble, I’d just grown up too much to write those stories).

And then I went to Barnes and Noble in the nearby actual big city (Santa Rosa, CA, for the curious), and there they were: Star Trek Novels. It was like someone had made a seamless cross between the perfect game of tag and ice cream. I was in heaven. Except that they cost so much and my mom would only buy me one. I read the book on the way home. I needed more. Then by some magic, the used book store came across a whole pile of Star Trek Novels. They’d never had them before, but suddenly they had a ton. I bought them ($2.25 to 3.50 each, and I spent a lot of money on those books). As I went with my favorite characters on their grand adventures, I became more connected to them, understood them better than before, and I couldn’t get enough. I started saving money to buy the new ones, asking the local book store to order them (which they kindly did), until one day, the nice lady said she couldn’t order the next one. “Why not?”

“It hasn’t been released. It won’t be out for six months or so,” she said. I was devastated. It was about to be the summer between middle school and high school and I wasn’t going to have a Star Trek novel to read and reread. And that’s when it struck me: I’ll have to write one myself.

And yeah, that’s pretty much how that went. I wrote my first novel (it was a terrible fan fic, but very fun for me). Even after writing a novel I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer. Sometimes, the dumb gets backstage passes to the rest of my brains.

For me, it wasn’t one book, but the lack of a book that sent me over, sort of like the flash point of paper, you know 451 (Fahrenheit).

Monday, August 22, 2011

I went to a conference

there was a post here, but blogger ate it.

I don't know what went wrong, but blogger and I had a philosophical difference. I thought blogger should let me post gifs. Blogger did not.

I think I found the culprit, but we'll see.

I'll try to repost tomorrow.

::shakes fist at blogger::

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sorry world, I'll curb my enthusiasm,

Right, so the world has this way of making me realize that I shouldn’t complain, not ever. You know that adage “Things could always get worse”? For me, the second I complain, oh yeah, worse.

So last Monday I mentioned the running around with cheerio nose stuffing kid and a box of quail. Well this week, I’ve learned that my job now pays half as much for quadruple the work (I know, no complaining, I have a job, but half? ouch, that hurts. But, as they say: some is WAY better than none).

That’s right, I get to teach a lecture course. My first lecture course EVER. I found out about this today. My first class: next week Tuesday. And all I have to do is drive from ABQ to Cali for a funeral in between (fear not, we have a full time house sitter, so no worries on the house thief front). Oh right, and there’s this little thing called WriteOnCon (seriously, you haven’t heard of this, go, go now, you can read my schmutz any day, WriteOnCon is once a year). Before I start class I have to come up with ppt presentations, an outline for the course, my grading policy, my syllabus. Not all from scratch, but it's a shock to go from being someones minion to being the big cheese (I can even order up a side helping of minion if I want).

So yeah, I have to get my skittles together and put some spit shine on my shoes, trade in my pirate glasses (seriously, I have the jolly roger on my glasses) for those silly respectable glasses, and put all my Star Wars T-shirts into a drawer. Honestly, I have three wardrobes: conferences for really esoteric, nerdy scientists, funerals (not really appropriate for teaching classes: the students take it as a bad sign, like you’re mourning their grades or something) and obnoxious t-shirts. Nothing in between. Well, except my costumes, but I just can’t see teaching in my brown coat get up.

Ah, and speaking of costumes, “Now Dr. Horrible is here.”  (If everyone is really unlucky, I might someday post a youtube of me singing that song. Hmm... maybe a "treat" for when I defend.)

I wish everyday could be a Howie Lab Coat Day (with thigh high boots, of course!).

Maybe I should teach my lecture course in that…