Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Of Sequels and Series

I am hard at work on my next book, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, and I’m struck by the unique challenges sequels or series books present.

They have to capture the same tone and feel of the first book, the very stuff that made readers fall in love with it in the first place, but they also need to continue to excite and surprise the reader. Ideally, it should be just a little bit bigger, deeper, more exciting than the first, or if not more, then at the very least AS exciting. I think there can be a serious risk of diluting the essence of the first book, which of course I’m working frantically not to do.

I’ve already had to stop and make a number of major plot adjustments as I’ve realized that some of the stakes weren’t high enough, didn’t match the drama of the first book. However, if one keeps trying to top oneself, there is also the risk of becoming way over the top. Very fine line, that.

The second element, which I think is perhaps even more important, is the main character’s arc. The character’s own personal stakes have to be as urgent as they were in previous books. And yes, I’ve had to wrestle with a couple of major adjustments to achieve this, as well, but I’m getting there.

I know some people think once you’ve written a book--or five--that it should become easier. That once you’ve done it, the subsequent books shouldn’t be as difficult. But really, that’s like saying once you’ve had one child, you know everything there is to know about child rearing, and anyone who’s been around children can tell you that even siblings—or maybe, especially siblings—are entirely different people who often require an entirely different approach to child rearing.

Well, books are a lot like that. At leat for me. I’ve found that each book I’ve written has required it’s own unique set of approaches in order to coax it into existence. And really, that’s half the fun. Well, if you define fun as twisted, perverse, and challenging-yet-rewarding. Which apparently, I do.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Researching We Will Go

Some weeks it feels like I spend 80% of my time doing research and world building, and only 20% of my time writing the actual book. This is one of the reasons I’m such a firm believer in the “don’t have to write every day” theory. The truth is, without the research or the world building, I can’t write the story. I have characters acting out against white board in my head, and there is no life to them or the scene because I don’t know what’s happening.

This week for instance, I spent a huge amount of time researching street maps and neighborhoods in London, along with an old secret society called The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Since my next few scenes involved a secret society (The Arcane Order of the Black Sun) I had to give myself a crash course in mystical occult societies of the time before I could write about one effectively.

Last week, I got completely sidelined by massive amounts of research into German and British Naval Power at the turn of the century and spent more hours than I care to acknowledge hunting down information on the battleship Dreadnought.

But the beauty of it is that once I’ve got the research and world building firmly in mind, then I can produce pages much faster than if I’d tried to slog through without the research.

Which is why I shoot for weekly goals rather than daily ones. Right now, because the process is so research heavy, I shoot for 25 – 30 pages a week. That will give me time to write plenty of drafts, with lots of resting time in between.

Um, that’s the manuscript that’s resting, not me.

I like to let the story ferment a bit, just like a lump of yeasty bread dough, because when I come back to it, I always find that lovely, interesting things have risen to the surface, which make the revision process it's own special brand of fun.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

O Fickleness...

thou name art muse.

I've spent the entire morning pacing around like a pregnant cat, trying to get some writing done. Stared at the computer for an hour, got two sentences. Went to my Sacred Writing Space with my alphasmart, got one sentence done. Swore at my muse, did a load of laundry, ate my breakfast. Then, in desperation, I picked up a pen and notebook and boom! the words came.

Honestly. Couldn't the muse just tell me she's in a pencil and paper mood instead of making me futz about and waste two hours??

In other news, I'm giving away an ARC of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos over on the Theodosia blog Feel free to pop on over and enter!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Power of Creativity

A few weeks a go I was asked to give a series of workshops to a local classroom. These were kids whose parents thought they were hungry for writing and would really enjoy this type of experience. So, armed with my books and my short lecture and my writing exercises, I arrived for the first workshop, full of enthusiasm and energy.

It was an unmitigated disaster. For many reasons, but primarily because these kids basically wanted no part of it. They were restless and silly and approached the writing exercises with little enthusiasm and talked almost non-stop. Truly, the worst workshop I’ve ever experienced.

But writers are nothing if not flexible. At the end of the workshop, I finally got them all to sit still and listen for a moment, then acknowledged that this clearly wasn’t working, and we needed to rethink this. “What,” I asked, “would your ideal workshop look like? How would you design it?”

There was stunned silence for a few moments, as if they’d never been consulted about how they wanted to learn something, then hands began to pop into the air.

Turns out they were HUNGRY for free writing time. Starved for it, in fact. They wanted free writing time and a chance to have their work critiqued by their peers.

Later that day, I had some conversations with some of the parents and quickly realized that with these kids, my job was to re-connect them with their enthusiasm for writing and their love of the creative writing process, which had been workshopped and tested clean out of them. Mind you, I’m not faulting the teachers—or anyone—on this. It is just the shape education takes in the classroom today.

So the next week I showed up with a quick lecture on the creative aspects of writing, showed them some collages I’d used for some of my stories, gave them some writing prompts for scene ideas in case they didn’t have any of their own, then turned them loose on the paper. We also talked about how they owned this process now. We were going to do exactly as they voted for, but that they needed to make it work.

And boy did they.

When there is intense, focused creativity going on in a room, you can feel it; it hums in the air, a quiet, contented crackling, and that’s how it was in that room. They completely lost themselves in their writing, then did a great job of breaking up into critique groups and critiqued each others work. After that we had a quick wrap up where I asked if people had any problems they’d run into. A couple of really great craft discussions ensued from the questions, and we were all totally satisfied. It was a complete 180 degree turn around from the previous week.

And I learned three important lessons:
  1. Always have a few alternative workshop angles you can use in case one approach isn’t working.
  2. Kids like to have some say in how they’re taught. They want a chance to own the process, and when they do, they commit to it in an impressive manner.
  3. Kids are hungry for structured creativity, which may sound like an oxymoron but what I mean by that is they want a chance to exercise their creativity but within a structured environment that gives them validation and takes that creativity seriously.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


First of all, I cannot tell a lie. MY BIG SISTER IS SO BOSSY SHE SAYS YOU CAN'T READ THIS BOOK is written by one of my very dearest friends, Mary Hershey. That she happens to be such a marvelous author is merely icing on the cake. This is one of those rare books that is both humorous and poignant, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

In addition to being horribly bossed around by her domineering sister, poor Effaline Maloney is lonely and hungry for a new best friend. Her search for someone to fill the hole in her life is hilarious and touching and completely captures that absolute longing we all experienced as kids as we desperately wished for that one, perfect person with whom we could share our worries, hopes, and secrets. Effie quickly finds herself torn between her bossy big sister and doing the right thing. As she struggles to break out of her role as an easily bossed, somewhat naive little sibling, she has to learn to take charge of her life and come to terms with the recent losses that have occured. She does this with humor and pluck and with a truly unique voice. The book sheds gentle insights on siblings, loss, grief, and friendship, and managed to keep me laughing the whole time. Truly a remarkable feat!!