Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Orange County Children's Book Festival

I keep forgetting to mention that I will be at the Orange County Children's Book Festival this Sunday, October 3, at Orange Coast College. I'll be reading on the big stage (yikes!) at 1:30.

It would be awesome to meet any of you who are in the area!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Be It Ever So Humble…

My son and I were talking today about humility. He’s gotten very involved in kickboxing, and he was talking about how important it was for participants to approach the sport and sparring with a humble attitude. When they do that, they learn faster and people respond to them better.

That has a surprising corollary with writing, oddly enough. A humble attitude and a willingness to admit to what you don't know will go a long way toward easing a writer's journey. Conversely, it can be annoying when new writers act as if they will do it differently than all those who came before them (as if all those who came before them did it that way simply because they didn't know any better or enjoyed being inefficient), that they won’t take ten years to get published, or that their manuscript won’t need round after round of revisions. Or whatever. It is highly, highly annoying.


I don’t think you can teach someone else to be humble by telling them about it. They have to run smack into it themselves. We all have to crash headlong into our own humility, not be urged to it by well-meaning outsiders. It’s a lot like democracy; you can’t import it—it has to grow organically from the organism itself—not be transplanted. ☺

Humility is like that. In fact, most of Life’s—not to mention, writing’s—really important lessons are like that. You have to run into them full tilt so that they knock you on your @ss and WAKE YOU UP to the fact that something is not working.

Just like our characters don’t wake up one day and decide, Hey, I need to change who I am or turn my life around, most people don’t wake up one day and realize all our writing is dreck.

That’s where that long string of rejections comes into play. It weeds out those who aren’t willing to adapt and try new things. Because that is what failing repeatedly forces us to do—what all failure and rejection forces us to do—stretch and grow and learn to come at problems from an entirely new angle. Or learn a new skill so we can try again.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Different Journeys

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between male and female journeys, most especially since it was one of the factors that surprised me with my most recent project—the end and resolution stage went on longer than I thought—and not because I couldn’t manage to wrap it up but because the heroine’s journey simply wasn’t finished yet.

It also occurs to me that labeling these different journeys by gender isn’t the most descriptive or accurate distinction, so maybe different labels are in order. Maybe, pulling from The Hero Within, the Warrior journey versus the Wanderer or Martyr’s journey is more apt. Except, of course, martyr is just so laden with negative imagery.

But here’s the big distinction. With the male or warrior journey, the arc ends once the protagonist has faced his internal or external demon and gained the prize, whether it be a hard earned nugget of wisdom or an actual physical thing. He then returns briefly to his ordinary world a changed person; either wiser, gentler, more understanding, whatever. His eyes have been open in some fundamental way and he has achieved a whole new self.

But the feminine journey doesn’t stop there. For women, learning how to wield that newfound wisdom or power once back in their ordinary world is a critical part of their journey. It’s not just about claiming power or wisdom, but facing down others to use it. Because it is hard for women to claim that power, hard for them to speak their truth, discovering those things is only one part of their transformation. Now they must use it and in the process, redefine the relationships in their lives.

The warrior archetype is lacking in wisdom and needs that to temper his warrior tendencies.

Women, on the other hand, need to learn to tap into their warrior tendencies.

I think that’s an interesting distinction. It can also be hugely helpful in trying to determine where the emotional juice of your story is.

I’m also trying to see how that fits in with the increasingly popular woman warrior archetype, such as the kick @ss heroine found so often in paranormal and urban fantasy books. Clearly those entire genres are a means of reclaiming the warrior archetype for women—a much needed balance. I’ll have to go pull some books off my shelf and see, but I’m wondering if part of that journey is forcing others in one’s life to get comfortable with that warrior woman archetype; to show the benefits of that archetype within communities and society since it is something society has not been comfortable with in the past.

I’m also pondering how it works when applied to middle grade fiction rather than YA or adult fiction. It seems to me, that up until middle grade books, the gender based distinctions are much less apparent, which isn’t surprising since adolescence is when those hormones really kick in.

Looking at Theodosia, it seems to me I’ve flipped the archetypes a bit; she is a bit of a warrior, albeit a sneaky, supernatural one. So her journeys tend to be about tempering those tendencies and gaining wisdom.

Nathaniel Fludd, on the other hand, is about as far away from a warrior as you can get. Each book is about him gaining one new step toward becoming a warrior, and then the final books will feature him moving through his world as his new warrior self.

Anyway, I just found it interesting to think about—specifically to be conscious of when plotting or writing the book because whether the wisdom is the end point or learning to use that wisdom is, will greatly alter the shape of the story.

And of course these are gross generalizations; there’s no way to avoid that when talking about archetypal journeys, but I think it’s something worth considering.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Very Un Zen Confession

I have a confession to make. I pretty much have a bi-publishing personality disorder. When I am actually doing the writing, I am very Zen and love the process to death and am fully immersed. Even when it is hard (and sometimes it is very, very hard) it is still what I would rather be doing than just about anything else. It is a very inward, creativity-centered, process-oriented, live in the now time.

And then I have to hand the manuscript off, whether to beta readers or agents or editors, and that whole centered Zen place just kind of disintegrates before my very eyes. It’s hard to stay Inward when everything else is happening OUT THERE. Suddenly everything that has only ever existed in my head on my computer or notebook, is now out in the world.

It is much like having a first child go off to kindergarten and I cannot help but worry over how he is doing. It is nearly impossible for me to stay inwardly focused when all the next steps in the process are A) happening outside of me and B) out of my control. The truth is, it’s a squirrely, antsy, fidgety mental place to be in.

Oh sure, I know the old adage, throw yourself into the next project, but sometimes that’s not feasible. Sometimes I’m still immersed in the old project, already jotting down ideas for strengthening it, tightening it, revising it, making it better. But even as I do all that, I can only kid myself so much; I keep one eyeball on my inbox, waiting, worrying, wondering, wishing.

And I guess I felt that, as much as I trumpet a Zen and process-focused approach, I also needed to come clean about how I can’t always get there myself. And it’s not so much a do as I say, not as I do kind of thing, but rather while the Zen is what we should aspire to, we can’t always get there, in spite of our best efforts.

Hope you all had a less antsy weekend than I did!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Where Stories Come From Part Deux

I was thinking some more about stories and where they come from, and was struck by all the different reasons writers write; some to tell stories, some to communicate, some to wallow in words, some to explore human nature, others to explore intriguing ideas and what ifs. I found myself wondering just how much the WHY we write influences the FORM of what we write. I mean, I already talked about where the emotional juice for our writing comes from, but in addition to that, does the reason we write determine what we write?

For example, are wordsmiths drawn more to poetry and literary vehicles? Do communicators gravitate more to non fiction? Murder mysteries, political thrillers, and police procedurals seem a natural vehicle for exploring human nature. As do romances, albeit a different aspect of human nature. Well, probably all writing explores human nature to some degree, but for some books it is more front and center than others.

Anyway, it just occurred to me that part of the long apprenticeship of writing involves experimenting with a wide variety of forms and seeing which one best fits. Writing in one's strongest voice probably includes the right synthesis of subject matter, purpose, and form.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Where Stories Come From

A couple of weeks ago on another blog someone wanted to know why people who weren’t young adults would be interested in writing YA. It struck me as a bit of an odd question, because I’ve never had the sense that writers were only propelled by their own demographic for their stories. But it is also a legitimate question in a broader sense, and it got me to thinking about why we write and where our stories come from.

My own theory is that our richest, most authentic stories come out of our own traumas and heartbreaks. Not necessarily in a direct correlation—I was beaten as a child therefore I will write about child abuse. But rather the core emotional issues, the wounds and scars that have shaped us, will also shape our stories. And the nature of those will in turn help determine what age group we write for.

Stories are the psychological equivalent of pearls, if you think about it. At some point in our lives, we receive this grain of sand—some horror or trauma or huge obstacle that becomes a permanent part of who we are. And then the magic begins to happen. Time passes, we move on, we begin to heal, scar tissue forms, we begin to grow again, only this time our growth encompasses those painful experiences. And if you are lucky enough to have a creative outlet, those painful experiences cannot help but shape what you create, much in the same way the shape of your hand determines the way you play the piano or the choice of medium affects what your artwork looks like.

My childhood and teen years were my most emotionally tumultuous, one great big stewing pot of dysfunctionality. It tapered off toward the ends of high school, but it was too late. The scars and wounds I’d received in childhood were so much a part of me that they radically affected every aspect of how I viewed the world and how I interacted with people, thus ensuring high school was hard and not the glowing ‘best time of your life’ that so many adults think of it.

So it is no surprise that when I write, that is where my stories come from. That place. And yes, even though I am well, (WELL!) past being a young adult, Not only was that the most fertile for me story-wise, but the thematic issues I am drawn to explore lend themselves best to that age.

Once I hit adulthood, I got lucky, found unconditional love, got married, and had kids. My life has been pretty great so far. Not exactly smooth sailing, raising kids is never smooth sailing, but there have been far fewer traumas and upheavals, and very little scar tissue and lots of lessons learned.

Which is why I write for kids and young adults.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I'm a Geek!

Okay, that's probably not news to any of you who read my blog, but the fact that I'm a GeekMom is new.  I am very excited to be a contributor to this online community because I love the idea of all these moms who have such interesting passions and interests. Such geekiness, if you will. So if you are interested in parenting issues or in getting in touch with your inner geek, check it out. I will mostly be writing about my own personal geekiness, which centers around writing, research, history, and fantasy.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Juggling Act

A week or two ago, back in the throes of finishing up the current WIP and juggling the newly arrived copy edits for Theo Four, Mel asked for details on how I juggled these tasks, so I thought I’d talk about that a little bit.

There really isn’t a secret to it, and I suspect I used to be better at it when I was younger, but it’s pretty much just a matter of compartmentalizing your day and your brain. Luckily, both the left side and the right side of my brain are pretty active. (Random Fact Alert: I was tested on that once for a job. The guy thought I had cheated because I was split so evenly down the middle in terms of brain usage.)

Since early morning when I just get up is my prime writing time, that’s when I do any actual page producing type of writing. So working on the WIP was my priority then, I would sit down and write anywhere from six to ten pages or do a major revision of a scene or two, depending on how much revising they required.

After that, I take my morning walk, have breakfast (obviously a late breakfast!), take a shower, then work on business type things—email, blogs, website stuff—or research for the current project. However, if I have something I absolutely need to work on, like copy edits for a completely different book (and world) that requires I access a completely different mental landscape (and voice) what I do is take a nap.

I know that sounds a bit indulgent, and I guess it is, but it also resets my mental clock, like a brain’s version of the reset button, so that when I get up, I don’t have all the darky moody flotsam and jetsam of medieval France still filling up my brain while I try to work on a funny, Edwardian era caper. However, the key thing here—and the most difficult—is to not let the flotsam and jetsam of the morning’s project get buried too deep or shunted too far off to the side so that you lose that close connection with the work. To help with that, I also try to get my subconscious a story bone to chew on for the afternoon.

I am very lucky in that I rarely have to turn copy edits around in two days like I hear so much about. That would seriously suck for me, because I can only focus on a smallish chunk of copy edits at a time without wanting to pull my hair out.

My usual process is when I first get the package is to glance through them and see just how severe a copy edit it is. (And to my immense pride and satisfaction, they are getting less and less severe. Clearly I am learning to produce cleaner final drafts. Hooray!) Then I set my timeline, trying to give myself enough time at the end that I can send them back UPS 3rd day air and not spend a fortune on shipping. (Paper is heavy!) Then once I know I have five days to work on them, I divvy them up into five chunks and work on one chunk a day. For the Theo books, those chunks are 50 to 60 pages at a time. The Fludd books are much smaller, and I usually do them in only three days or so.

Now here’s the thing about copy edits: I am eternally and hugely grateful for every copy editor that has gone over my work with a finely sharpened colored pencil. BUT, they are not fun because someone is basically catching all your mistakes. I get pissed off when I make mistakes. Obviously I get pissed off at myself, but it is easier to grumble at the poor copy editor because she is not there and I am. Please note: This is a personal failing on my part and is by no means a reflection of how I actually feel about copy editors. I love them!

So I go through and accept or stet all the corrections. However, anything that I am not sure of or any places where I find myself reacting defensively, I simply flag to go back and look at again. That way I am able to move ahead at a good pace and don’t get bogged down. The cool thing about that is that usually when I go back to the flagged places, my defensiveness has cooled off, or I spend a few minutes consulting with grammar guides or reviewing my research materials before making/accepting the change.

Then, feeling virtuous, I put that day’s chunk aside and go do a bit of research or planning for the next morning’s draft pages. I will often try to do some light research reading just before I go to bed, again, trying to fill up my subconscious with raw material it might need for the next day’s work.

And that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about juggling projects, but there you go.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Well. I’m back. And what a ride that was! I can hardly describe the sense of elation I feel at having finished this manuscript. It has been four years in the making. I worked on the story for a year, getting my arms around all the elements and sifting through them to see which story path I wanted to take; then it took a year for my editor and agent to convince me this was really a YA at heart, not an adult book, which necessitated looking at the story through an entirely different lens. Then it took another two years to write it as I fit it in between other, contracted projects. And now it is done.

It is 135,000 words, 453 pages. A monster of a masterpiece. And I use that term masterpiece in the old guildish sense--a project that takes your work to a new place. It’s not a statement of objective quality so much as a statement of what I attempted, the way I stretched and challenged myself as a writer. I went places I have never gone before. Whether it works or not is anybody’s guess, but it absolutely worked for me in terms of creative growth. (And I promise, just as soon as my agent gives me the okay, I will blab all about the details here. I really do feel like I’ve been the biggest tease EVER!)

As I said on Facebook, I finished it while surfing on an adrenaline high and humming the theme song to ROCKY. I mean, I was flying high. By the time I went to bed that night, I told my husband that gee, maybe this time I wasn’t going to have my post deadline crash.


I woke up in the middle of the night with a migraine and spent the entire next day as a limp noodle. Ah, the writing life.

And now I get to pick up the pieces of my life, yet again. I guess I just have to accept that this isn’t a one time or even first few times phenomenon but actually a part of my natural cycle. I don't know how to actually finish a manuscript without that obsessive scramble to the finish line that pretty much precludes all of Real Life.

Another annoying thing is that all the great ideas I had for blog entries are nowhere to be found. I should have jotted them down, but they all seemed so self evident that I was positive I wouldn’t forget them. I’m really crossing my fingers that I haven’t truly forgotten them as much as mentally misplaced them. ☺ We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we!