Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve had a hard time recently trying to decide where I should focus my efforts, now that critiques are winding down on my historical romance.

After some deliberation, where I read through every scrap of text I generated for my other novel-length WIPs, I finally decided to go with the mostly completed, extremely flawed SF novel. It’s ok to applause – it was a very tough decision.

It’s the second of two SF novels I have in the works. The first is set in the far far future. I got about a quarter of the way into it before I put on the breaks. I was dealing with so many futuristic concepts and assumptions, I needed to take a step back in time and suss out how things got the way they did. The result was a new story, the second SF story, that I drafted last summer, set in the not-so-distant future.

It was easier to manage in terms of worldbuilding, where I only had to focus on a few changes from present time, instead of a whole milieu. And good practice. But as my post Exorcising Demons from a while back can attest, the project was not without flaws. Once I completed the first draft, I realized the story had too much of a romantic arc and was more political than I originally envisioned. I also needed to add in a third POV character, which I’ve since done.

Now the story is a lot closer to where it needs to be, but there’s still a ways to go. I’ve dreamed up new aspects to my characters, more subplots, and a twist on the true villain of the story, which means basically the last third of the draft needs to be thrown out and rewritten. Yay. Not.

But I like this story. I think about it a lot. It’s essentially a near-future caper, with a wide cast of characters who keep calling out to me. And I’m having way too much fun incorporating future technology and the like into the storyline to stop now.

Even if it never goes beyond my hard drive, I feel like I have to finish this story properly. The potential is there, and I have to hope my writing potential is up to the challenge.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Routine Recalibration

I think I'm in a rut. Not a I-can't-write-a-thing rut. More like a nothing-is-inspiring-me rut.

I still tinker with some of my short stories, analyze and implement some of the changes my CPs have suggested for my historical romance novel, and deliberate on whether I should go back to my problem-riddled SF novel that is mostly complete, the problem-riddled SF novel that I need to start over from scratch, or the half-drafted contemporary YA project that's been hanging out on my hard drive since Christmas.

I can rattle off a whole list of pros and cons to tackle one WIP over another. And as usual, there's a whole bunch of other things in life that can keep me from writing at all -- like sunny days, bathroom remodels, and dress shopping for the three weddings I'll be attending this year.

To top it off, everything I've been writing lately makes me cringe. The folks at Writers Unboxed say You Hate Your Writing? That’s a Good Sign! (and be sure to watch the Ira Glass interview mentioned in the article!):
That struggle—that feeling that you’re wasting your time—is a sign that you’re probably on the right path. But most people quit, not realizing that nearly every writer who does excellent work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, but they produced total crap.
When I don't like what I'm writing, I tend to fall back on craft. I may not like something, but if I write it in a technically proficient way, that's at least something. Author Jody Hedlund and Fiction Groupie Roni Loren both blogged about the importance of writing craft recently, and I realized it's been some time since I cracked open the books I've gathered.

Even my horoscope last week said:
If I had to come up with a title for the next phase of your astrological cycle, it might be "Gathering Up." The way I see it, you should focus on collecting any resources that are missing from your reserves. You should hone skills that are still too weak to get you where you want to go, and you should attract the committed support of allies who can help you carry out your dreams and schemes. Don't be shy about assembling the necessities. Experiment with being slightly voracious.
In other words, it's time to study up. So that's where I'm at -- incorporating deliberate study of craft into my writing routine. I'm currently plowing through Virginia Tufte's Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style and will probably reread Character, Emotion, Viewpoint after that.

Anyone else feeling the need to hit the books?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review - The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

I recently popped my Steampunk cherry with Meljean Brook's The Iron Duke, my March selection for the 2011 Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.

I had heard of steampunk before reading this book (who hasn't?) but I didn't really understand the appeal. That changed as I read The Iron Duke and got transported into a world where England has recently revolted against Horde control -- nanotech "bugs" that augmented and controlled the English people for almost 200 years.

Our heroine Mina is a police inspector, and the product of a rutting frenzy triggered by the bugs between her English Lady mother and nameless Horde overlords. Because of her Horde features, Mina suffers everything from social slights to physical abuse as England struggles to pick up the pieces of their culture and move on from such a horrific time. When a dead body is dropped from an airship onto the estate of Rhys Trahaearn -- pirate and war hero in England's fight against the Horde -- Mina's investigation propels her into a conspiracy hoping to topple England once more. Add in zombies, privateers, and Horde-augmented giant squid, you are left with one rollicking, imaginative romance. Because yes, despite all the steampunk trappings, The Iron Duke is ultimately about the relationship between Mina and Rhys.

The book was named "Best Paranormal" in the 2011 All About Romance Reader's Poll, which is where it first popped up on my radar. And I am so glad it did. This was the first book I've ever read by Brook, and I really enjoyed the deft writing, the characters, and the tremendous worldbuilding. Another book in the series will be released this fall, and I look forward to see how she takes the relationship between two minor characters from this book and weaves it into another story. I was impressed by the way she set up the second book in The Iron Duke, not to mention eager for more.

Be sure to check out the other March book reviews that are a part of the 2011 Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Did I Do That?

My workflow on my historical romance novel has been ridiculously complicated. Tons of revision passes over several years. Scenes cut and rewritten and moved and combined. Version upon version taking up space on my hard drive. It’s a lot to keep track of.

Part of the reason for all this chaos is ignorance (at worse) and inexperience (at best). The other part is that novels are large and complex undertakings to begin with. And regardless of which end of the word count spectrum you are on (50k to 150k), that’s a lot of words, sentences, scenes, characters, you name it, to keep a handle on.

For years, I had only three-quarters of a story. I had an ending in mind, but I didn’t write it out until a couple of years ago, when I started taking my writing seriously. With a complete draft, I could track the improvements in my writing. Scenes became more focused, narrative threads started to come together, and I finally knew what my story was about as I got closer and closer to The End.

Then I flipped back to the beginning and wanted to tear my hair out.

Clumsy prose…
Confusing opening scene…
Infodumps all over the place...

Yep, I did it all. And so I took all the things I learned in completing my story and applied it to the beginning. Writing and rewriting my opener, refining sentences, tightening scenes. Then I started sharing the story with my critique partners.

After they reached about the midway point, something funny happened. My CPs starting flagging things like rampant adverbs, dialogue tags, and other things I Knew Better than to do. But I hadn’t really looked at the second half of the book with my editor cap on for some time – I remembered it being fine, better than the first half. And I had read through it since then, but sometimes it’s hard to pick out what’s wrong with a passage, especially when it not only reads ok, but also how you expected it to.

Writing skills aren’t static – they are constantly growing and evolving just as you are as a person. So in working on my beginning the second time around, my writing ability continued to improve, resulting in a mismatch between the first and second half of the novel. I realized I needed to devote the same revision energy that I applied to my beginning to the rest of the book in order to take it to the next level.

It can be discouraging to realize something I’ve written isn’t as awesome as I remembered it to be. However, my writing skills are improving – I’m better able to recognize what works and what doesn’t. I’m becoming a better writer every day.

I’ll take it, even if it means constant vigilance on my part to ensure all aspects of my work are indicative of my abilities as a writer today as opposed to a year ago, six months ago, even as of yesterday.

Nothing else will do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Attack of the Man-Cold and Blogging Award

Is it Wednesday already?

*shuffles papers and looks guilty*

Nope, no blog post in sight. But I have an excuse. Kind of. Over the weekend, my husband came back from a conference trip and picked up a bug somewhere along his travels. On Sunday, I could tell something was wrong by his grim demeanor. By Monday, he was out for the count with chills, headache, and an evil sore throat. Man-cold.

I’m not going to bore you with a recap of the whining, the coughing, the woe-is-me looks I’ve been getting over the last couple of days. Suffice it to say, I’ve been a bit distracted.

That’s why I was so pleased to see that my critique partner and blogger-in-crime Lori M. Lee bestowed upon me the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award (and saved me the trouble of divining my own topic for today).

As thanks, I must disclosure four guilty pleasures of mine…

  • Chocolate – at least once a day, every day. Or else.
  • Playing Nintendo Wii – I go through spurts. I won’t touch the console for months, then I’ll play for two hours every day for a weeks at a time. Right now I’m working my way through Muramasa – The Demon Blade and (still) trying to collect all the star coins in The New Super Mario Brothers.
  • Loose-leaf Tea – Before bed I’ve been drinking Lavender Chamomile to help me wind down. On days I’m not at the coffee shop, I get my caffeine fix from a pot of Mint and Lemon Gunpowder green tea. So good.
  • Buying Books – when I know I should be writing my own:)

I’m passing this award on to my other cp Anoymeet; new writing friends Brenda Kezar, Elizabeth Twist, and sophthewriter; and my writing friends since I first started blogging Laura Marcella and Sharon K. Mayhew. Thank you all.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

With a Little Help from My CPs...

I reached one of those writing milestones a while back – finding a critique partner (or, in my case, partners) to help me navigate the ins and outs of whatever manuscript I’m working on.

I joined some local writing groups but hadn’t run across anyone I felt comfortable sharking my novel-length work with. In some cases it was a mismatch between what we wrote (genre versus literary; novels versus short stories) or work ethic (I’m Type A all the way).

Then last October Adventures in Children’s Publishing had a post on Alpha and Beta Reader Exchange with the option to post a critique profile in the comments.

So I did. What could it hurt? I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – after all, I write a mix of speculative fiction, YA, and historical romance. But to my surprise and delight, someone contacted me within a week.

That person was Anonymeet (rockin’ her anonymity just like me!) who blogs at By Anonymous Writer about reading and writing.

Months later, writer Lori M. Lee contacted me thanks to the same Adventures in Children’s Publishing post. She recently started blogging about her writing journey at You Are the Unicorn of My Dreams and has a short story published at Daily Science Fiction.

Both of them have been brave enough to tackle my historical romance, while I work through their respective YA projects. It’s been a hugely rewarding and educational experience, so please check these wonderful ladies out!

It’s amazing what another reader can spot – whether it’s a lingering typo or some plot element you thought was logical but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Sometimes you just need your CP to say “You can do better than this.” Or say “You are awesome,” when you are feeling distinctly… not.

Having CPs can make the writing path less lonely. It gives you validation that, yes, you are taking your writing seriously and taking the steps necessary to succeed.

And I hope everyone finds the right CP for them!

Here are some resources to find a critique partner for your work:
Jean Oram’s post How to Choose a Writing Critique Partner includes links to places to find other like-minded writers.

Author Jody Hedlund offers 4 Ways to Find Critique Partners and her CP Keli Gyn talks about Six Steps for Approaching Potential Critique Partner.

Agent Mary Kole occasionally has Critique Connection posts to help YA/MG writers find one another on her blog

Lynda R. Young recently posted How to Find a Good Critique Partner with some great tips as well.
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