Tag Archives: craft

The Military Fantasy Thing

Somewhere along the way, I ended up writing military fantasy.

I didn’t intend to, really.  Maybe way back, when I was first putting stories together, I had a notion.  But really, I can’t recall ever thinking to call them “military fantasy.”  But once others applied that label, and when I read their reviews and impressions…  Let’s just say I’d forgive you for not believing me, because of course it’s military fantasy.

Sword and Chant Cover

So here’s how the truth tapped me on the shoulder:

Continue reading The Military Fantasy Thing

Tetris vs. Jigsaw Puzzle

Sand WordlsMy writing “process” has so differed from project to project, I can’t even relate to the die-hard pantser/plotter discussions anymore.  And really—when it comes down to it, a pantser is simply someone who plots in detailed prose, and a plotter is simply someone whose pantsing happens in a streamlined outline.

The writing process for Breath of Stone is, again, very different.  Tearing apart two novels, ripping out an entire plotline and set of characters, cramming everything that’s left back together into one volume, and making it all flow as if I’d always envisioned it that way…  And wow, holy shit, this is hard.

Outside of a couple chapter-here-and-there cases, I write my novels straight through.  Start to finish, I move between viewpoint characters, shift settings, and push forward the plot.  Everything is pointed toward That Scene – the one event/confrontation/exchange, usually near the end, that is the entire reason I’m writing the novel.*

But this time… I’m writing out of order.  Yes, yes, I know many writers do this as a matter of course.  I don’t.  So the fact I’m writing Breath of Stone one viewpoint at a time, start to finish, is a bizarre experience.  At first, I spent far too much time crosschecking while I wrote to make certain each chapter would fall into its perfect place, as if they were Tetris pieces falling from the sky faster and faster and faster…  It didn’t work for long.  Not even my Magic Index Cards could save me.

So now I’m writing chapters according to viewpoint as if I’m sorting puzzle pieces by color before attempting to assemble it.  No, wait, that’s not quite right.  It’s more like… carving brand news puzzle pieces to match the picture on the box, and I won’t know exactly how to make the pieces fit perfectly until…  well, until I try to make the pieces fit together.  Then it’ll be all about shaving an edge here, sharpening a corner there, and making sure I didn’t create a snore-fest sea of blue-sky pieces in the process.

And it should all fit within the single novel.

Aaaaaand that’s a goal.  Not a promise.  Hee.

And if you’d like to be among the first to know when advance copies will be available for review, sign up here!

* I have a critical That Scene for the SheyKhala series.  It happens about eight years after Sand of Bone.  I’ve no idea if I’ll one day write the novel that includes That Scene, but it remains the distant point I journey toward.

#SFWApro

Of Overused Catchphrases, Heartening Opportunities, and the Unintentional Slush Reduction Program

Sudden Moxie Press LogoVia a Twitter link, I came upon Infodump, Mary Sue, and Other Words That Authors Are Sick of Hearing. I’m a little bit in love with it, truly. Don’t even attempt the comments unless you want to watch a rehash of the years-long debate of what Mary Sue actually means, and what every single commenter means when they use it. Trust me: if you weren’t sick of hearing Mary Sue before reading the comments, you will be after. It’s rather interesting, though, that of all the terms in the article, it’s the Mary Sue that got most folks all a-chatter.

A brief Twitter conversation came up between some writers, including the comment that new writers are told not to use the omniscient viewpoint because editors don’t want to see it. I do wonder how many lovely books have been lost over the years because of that.

If you haven’t already, head over to Maggie’s journal for The Uncomfortable Trail-Blazer. (There you’ll also find a link to the interview she did with Publishers Weekly, which is, y’know, pretty darn cool.) Pay close attention to the section on the publishing reality of 100 good books for only 45 publishing slots: “At the end of the day, there were 1000 books worth publishing, and 45 got through the door. And there was nothing the remaining 955 authors could have done to better their chances. “Write a better book” is false advice, because many better books still failed. “Write a more marketable book” is better advice, but it requires you to understand the market, be willing to write to it, and get it to someone before the trends change… and the book still might fail”

That cannot be said enough, and writers deserve to know it, understand it, and plan their careers accordingly.

Lastly, Publishers Weekly presented The Rise of the Seven-Figure Advance. Ostensibly, the article is about a seeming increase in mega-advances being given out, particularly to writers who have no BookScan records. But it’s really quite a peek into how the industry is evolving, and it’s the first time I’ve seen mention of certain predictions come to pass. As reasons for high advances, anonymous insiders say the “pool of talent is shrinking” because there are now fewer submissions, and publishers are having to prove themselves because of the success being found in self-publishing.

Really, truly, go read the whole thing because that little article just quietly confirmed publishers and agents are now caught up with the backlog of slush enough to realize the number of manuscripts that aren’t there anymore.

#SFWAPro

The Light Beyond the Wet Blanket

100_2648Back at this post, we talked about throwing away the Wet Blanket—turning off the part of your prefrontal cortex that inhibits creativity—in order to use new writing skills and be creative at the same time.

It’s easy to say.  There are writers who have, it would seem, a natural ability to bypass the Wet Blanket or perhaps have no Wet Blanket at all.  Hearing their advice—”Just do it!”—can be so frustrating because the fact you can’t just do it makes you feel like a failure or an imposter.  It’s even worse when the advice is coupled with judgment about a writer’s worth that’s based on this single measure.

But know this, my darlings: Very few writers can “just do it,” and natural ability is no indication of future success.  The fact your creativity doesn’t perform on command is normal.  Tapping your creativity can be learned.  But it is also, unquestionably, difficult at times.  And the most difficult time is when you’re actively working to improve your skills.

Research performed at the University of Pennsylvania found free and creative thinking could be enhanced by inhibiting the left prefrontal cortex with a mild electrical current.  Shocking your brain sounds a tad extreme for home use—not the sort of DIY project I’d recommend—so let’s see what else we can do, hmm?

Continue reading The Light Beyond the Wet Blanket

Worthy Regardless

Sword and Chant CoverBack in June, Anne Johnson hosted my guest blog post on writing gender equality in epic adventure fantasy.  Just a couple days ago, this 2011 story got a bump when it was featured on Tor.com.

And it got me thinking…

Let me say from the start that it’s fabulous to see archeologists pay better attention to little details like the sex of the folks they’re researching, particularly when they’re defining the culture based upon that research.  It’s awesome to see the combat-based contributions of women have made throughout history acknowledged.  And the more articles we have like Hurley’s We Have Always Fought, the better.

But as tempting as it is to wave that research around — “See?  We can have women in our stories!  History says so!” — it’s important to acknowledge the fact we don’t need to justify our stories. Continue reading Worthy Regardless

What the Reader Expects

100_2471Once a storyteller hits a certain level of competency, much of her reader’s investment comes down to how well expectations are established and met.  I’m not talking about genre tropes a writer uses and a reader expects.  Rather, I mean those methods of storytelling that convey, build, and sustain emotional investment.

It’s been twenty-mumble years since I first decided I wanted to write novels.  I sucked at it.  I sucked hard.  I mean, a lifetime of theater and reading had given me an internalized understanding of story arcs and the importance of emotional investment.  But my plots had holes as deep as the Mariana Trench.  The characters—young and old—indulged in the emotional roller coaster of adolescent melodrama.  Plot stuff happened because those happenings gave me an excuse to shoot the characters into the next Big! Emotional! Scene!

I sucked.

And because I sucked so badly—and because I was so on fire to write I was churning out about two thousand words every day or so, by hand with a Uniball pen on college-ruled notebook paper—I ended up learning a great deal.  I didn’t learn from writing alone, or from writing with a critique group, or from completing an entire long work before begging for feedback.  I learned because I had a friend who’d read every chapter within hours of being handed those loose sheets.

Continue reading What the Reader Expects

Breaking Rules For Principles

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Honestly – I don’t go around looking for rules to break. I don’t get my kicks and giggles from bucking conventional wisdom. It just… happens. I didn’t like the education opportunities others had created, so I’ve homeschooled my son for nearly nine years. I don’t like standard workweek obligations and expectations, so I contract and freelance all over the place. I didn’t like driving slowly on mountain roads, so I drove my ’66 Mustang around hairpin curves while stepping on the gas and—

Wait. Never mind. Ahem.

Continue reading Breaking Rules For Principles

Everything Ends Up In the Book

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Half of my first summer as a teenager was spent in a compact car, driving back and forth from Southern California to New Orleans with my mother and nine-year-old sister. I was torn between huge curiosity and excitement, and the nagging certainty spending so much time with my ultra-extroverted mother and sister would cause my head to explode. I remember we argued daily, but remember more clearly all the places we saw along the way.

It was the first trip I took after deciding I could, just maybe, write a novel someday. Every part of me was primed to store experiences and research with the intention of one day using it in a book. One excursion in particular made a huge impact: Carlsbad Caverns.

Continue reading Everything Ends Up In the Book

Guest Blogging On Gender Equality In Fantasy

Sand Wordls

Today I’m a guest at Anne E. Johnson’s blog, where I talk about putting women (plural!) of agency and influence at the core of the story.

Traditional gender roles are hard to combat for the fiction-writer, especially in a genre like fantasy which has a long tradition of distressed damsels being captured and needing saving. Even for a writer who is aware of this problem and wants to defy it, knowing how to let the females drive the story takes a lot of thought and practice. Today’s guest, Blair MacGregor, generously shares her advice.

Read the rest here!

In other news, I’m not changing another word in Sand of Bone until its final edits are sent to me.  That means it’s time to both work on Breath of Stone!

 

Writer’s Blog Tour In Four Questions

I was tagged by the smart, talented, and generous writer Janice Smith to answer questions about my projects and process. If you haven’t already, go read her answers first!

What am I working on?
Right this moment, I’m finishing revisions for Sand of Bone. It’s the first in a desert fantasy series centered around a woman seeking to escape her wasteland prison, destroy her brother’s conspiracies, and reclaim the elemental mastery the gods took from her bloodkin three generations ago. It’s also about civil unrest, savage rivalries, and a dynasty clutching after the power of their ancestors. Some characters fight because honor won’t permit them to ignore wrongdoing; others pitch in because they’re bored with everything else. And there are caverns with lava tubes, people with eyes that glow and shimmer in the dark, and souls wandering the sands in search of redemption.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Umm… Actually, I think the search for novelty within the genre is highly overrated. I’ve never put down a book I loved reading with the thought of finding something completely different. I’ve never loved a story because of its niftiness alone. Novelty of technique or topic is a one-off, and the genre now too wide and deep for anyone to even know if what they’re doing is totally unique. So rather than seek ways to be different for the sake of being different, I’d rather develop skills that – when used over and over again – make readers want more of what I do.

(Consistency is all I ask. Immortality is all I seek.)

So what do I strive to do well? Characters – strong, weak, whatever – who have presence on the page regardless of the size of their part or their role in the story. Dialog readers can hear as they read. Pacing that moves rather than dallies, that holds tension behind even the quietest of moments, punctuated with a touch of humor. Prose that flows rather than clunks. Fight scenes compelling enough I can include the details I want. Worlds in which a person’s competence and integrity – not gender – determine how the person is viewed.

Why do I write what I do?
I write the stories I’d like read.
I write to explore ideas that trouble me. My stories are, in a way, conversations with my own conflicting views.
I write to entertain myself, and love it when I’m also able to entertain others.

How does my writing process work?
Every project is different, but most incorporate plotting and pantsing. A huge amount of writing takes place in my imagination long before words arrive on the page, and I tend to envision them as if I’m a director rather than a writer. I’ll run key scenes through my mind – adjusting dialog and tone, blocking, backdrops, and so forth – then remember I need to remove some of those details when committing the scene to paper.

Most of my process has evolved to include Magic Index Cards. I make one card for each scene (NOT chapter). Each card includes the following: POV character, setting, date scene occurs, the number of days since the story started*, primary events, primary character interactions, dialog, realizations or discoveries (if any), key symbolism and/or foreshadowing, and anything else I want to make sure appears in that chapter. Eventually I’ll set all the cards in their proper order and number them. When it’s revision time, I use the backs of the cards for notes. Yes, it’s messy and manual, and I’m sure folks do indeed find the Scrivener option to be awesome, but I get something intangible out of the kinetic process so I’ll stick with it.

I rarely go back to revise before finishing a project, though I will toss notes onto the index cards at any time. I’d rather remodel a finished project than rebuild. It’s a preference requires me to really think through my choices before putting them down. (That, and the fact I once killed off a character early in a story that could have really used him later on.)

When I’m pretty happy with the novel, I’ll send it off to beta readers. I have the most awesome of beta readers, truly. They’re smart, talented, creative, open to possibilities, and damn fine writers. And I never forget how lucky I am that they share those things with me. That’s not to say I use every piece of their feedback (for one thing, they rarely agree on everything!). But they always give me things to think about and consider. It makes for a novel written with awareness of choices rather than plain “instinct” or whatever.

Once revisions are done, off it goes to a copyeditor. I strive to submit as clean a copy as possible to my editor who is, for the duration of the project, my contract employee. And making life easier for my employees is, in my opinion, a matter of good ethics. (Now that I think about it, I’d likely put greater effort into keeping my house tidy all the time if I’d hire a housekeeper. Hmm.) Besides, producing a clean manuscript is just as much a skill as storytelling. It’s worth doing well.

And there you have it – my answers to the questions.

I’ve tagged three marvelous women to pick it up from here: Casey Blair, Tam MacNeil, and Alena McNamara.

*Remember when I mentioned wanting to do pacing well? Tracking the number of story-days is critical to my ability to do that as I tend to write multiple viewpoint, multiple location, multiple storyline novels, and I tend to cram a great deal into a small amount of time. Sand of Bone covers a long time, by my usual habits (four entire months!). Sword and Chant, on the other hand, all took place in less than a single month’s time.