Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It Never Rains In California...

Well, for the most part, that's true. Or it rains very rarely. But we've gotten a humdinger of a storm! It started raining yesterday and has been raining every since. And not just rain! But thunder! And lightening! Which we only get about once every three or four years. So I'm very excited.

It is also weather that is hugely conducive to writing. I got 3,000 words written today.

Now granted, that is an aberration. And probably because the story has been percolating in the back of my mind for over a year. But still... Thunder. Lightening. Rain. Writing. Color me happy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cleansing My Mental Palate

Once upon a time, at fancy dinner parties, the hostess used to serve small cups of sherbet between the dinner courses in order to help her guests cleanse their palates so they could have their taste buds start fresh with the next course. That way there would be no taste of fish still clinging to their tongues as they began on the beef course. Or something like that.

Anyway, I've decided to adopt that strategy to my writing for the next month or two. I'm putting aside NIGHTSHADE for a short while so I can cleanse my palate and start fresh when I pick it up again. It has too many vestigial tales clinging to it from earlier versions and incarnations.

Instead, I'm going to work on a shorter project called THE AMAZING DINWIDDIE. And I can't tell you if it's going to be a chapter book or a short middle grade or even a regular length middle grade, because that's part of the exercise. I'm going to force myself to write this book without knowing any of that stuff. I'm going to shut out all those clamoring editors on my shoulders and just write, for gawd's sakes.

Now I realize that between being a shorter book and much less edgy and dark, there will be far fewer restrictions my internal editors will be trying to place on me. But that's why this is such a perfect place to start. You have to lift ten pounds before you can lift fifty. So this is my ten pound book.

Another thing I'm going to try that I haven't done for a long time is to write my daily quota, then walk away from the mss for the day. Not fiddle with it and plot it out ad nauseum. I want to see how that changes things.

Because that's the thing about writing: each book is different, and for me at least, the process is constantly changing and evolving in order to produce the best book I'm capable of. Or, you know, work around my personal demons. Same thing, in the end.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Brain Cramp

A dear friend of mine, Katy Cooper, talks about how in every manuscript there comes a point where the project makes her brain cramp.

That’s where I am right now with NIGHTSHADE. All my clever plotting threads have gotten tangled and interwoven so tightly that my brain is cramping up and writhing in agony, trying to figure it all out.

At first, I thought it was time to pull out the color-coded index cards and the spreadsheets and bring the left-side of my brain into the equation. However, in lieu of my last post, I think instead, I'm going to back away a bit and try to reconnect with the parts of this story that had me so excited about writing it, and make an effort to strip away anything I might have encumbered it with. Once I've done that, I'm going to do some journaling and play around with the "promise of the premise." This is a term I picked up from a recent craft book I read called, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It's a very quick read, and I thought it had some interesting new ways of looking at plot elements and structure. It didn't feel as seminal to me as Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass or STORY by Robert McKee, but very worthwhile. I think its greatest value will be in helping reduce a sprawling mess of a story to its core focus.

Which I'll try, just as soon as my brain uncramps

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self Censorship

So the other day I was reading the recent deals on Publisher’s Marketplace. This is not something one really needs to do as a writer but I’m afraid I am nosy (::ahem:: just like a certain young heroine I could name). Anyway, I apparently also like to torture myself

I was shocked and dismayed to find a deal announced with a blurb that—I swear—could have been lifted right off my computer, it was that similar to an idea I’ve been toying with for a while. Now, I know that there are few original ideas, yadda, yadda, yadda, but this one felt fresh and different and I was looking forward to working on it—someday. Someday when I got up the nerve that is. You see, I hadn’t let myself start that book because I was afraid of it; afraid of what the subject matter said about me, afraid it would be too shocking or too dark or too—some damn thing. I don’t know. The thing is, I don't mind being scooped, but I do mind being scooped because of fear. Argh!

Which brings me to self-censorship, one of the deadliest cancers creativity has ever known and one of my personal bugaboos. Public attempts at censorship and book banning have nothing on the insidious creep of self-censorship. With public censorship and book banning, you can fight back, write letters, protest, raise consciousness, buy the book in question to reverse the tide. But with self-censorship, it's much more subtle and can creep up on you so that you don't even know you're doing it.

I know some writers are much better than I am at throwing it off, but I really do have a very rigid, disapproving, repressed editor sitting on my shoulder as I write (and no, it’s not you Mom--I swear!) and I can’t tell you the number of ideas she nixes or waters down, for fear of upsetting people.

The thing is, though, that writing is meant to explore dark paces, often so we won’t have to, or to shine a light on our own psychic hidey holes. I know that. And I love it when an author does it, and does it well. The emotional journey and complete catharsis that those kinds of books provide are some of the most profound reading experiences I've ever had. And yet I shy away.

The thing is, the possibility of upsetting a group of concerned parents in Kansas really does upset me. I like involved parents. And teachers. And librarians. I don’t want to tick them off.

But being nice has nothing to do with being a writer. We owe our readers the truth as we see it, even if that truth is dark sometimes, or cloaked in fantasy worlds or needs to explore issues that some prefer weren’t explored.

Clearly, this is something I need to face. (And soon! Before all my best, edgy ideas get consumed by other feeders at the cosmic cauldron of Story.) In fact, I’ve already begun. I’m designing (in my mind) a set of new people to sit on my shoulder as I write. I normally write for myself, to tell the sorts of stories I love but can't find or find enough of. But now I’m working on visualizing the one reader who really needs this dark, edgy, shocking story I want to tell. Then, once that person is fully realized in my mind, they are going to go over and bitch slap the censuring editor.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Home Stretch

I swear to god I haven't fallen by the wayside on my new resolve to blog more regularly, I'm just coming down the home stretch on these copy edits, which I need to get into the mail tomorrow.

I had some little snippet I was going to blog about earlier, but now my brain is mush and I've forgotten it in a swirling maelstrom of red pencil marks, purple ink comments, yellow query notes, and green pencil flourishes. And my eyes hurt.

However, I do have to say, a good copy editor is as valuable as great undergarments: they keep everything neatly in its place and fully covered, with no visible flaws for the outside world to see.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Tudors

My father got me a subscription to Netflix for Christmas. (I know, I'm so behind the times!) And since I'm working on a YA mss that takes place in the 1490's I thought I'd try watching the new series, The Tudors. You know, for historic flavor. Has anyone else out there watched it?

I wanted so much to like it! And I almost did. But the fellow they have cast as Henry VIII is SO wrong, it's hugely distracting. He's on the slight and slender side, and dark hair and dark eyes and built nothing like any of the portraits of Henry that I've ever seen. He also comes across as petulant and sullen, rather than arrogant and rash.
The actor they have playing the Duke of Buckingham is much more Henry VIIIish.

The sets and costumes are fabulous however. And I'll keep watching--at least for a little while longer. But honestly people! How do you get this:

From this?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Some Updates

Speaking of the next book (which Erica was in the comments to the last post) Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris now has a pub date: November 1, 2008. I know that seems like a long time, but I'm sure it will be here before you know it. Or it will be if I ever get this copy edit done!

And speaking of copy edits, how much do I love this copy editor? In my next life, I want to be able to print really, really small, and very neatly. I’m not kidding. This woman looks like she’s typed her queries in 6 point font.

Also, just a heads up. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos will be out in paperback in May, so for those of you who weren't quite ready to commit to the cost of the hardback, well, it will soon be available for only $6. Such a deal!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Remember Me?

Wow. You look away for a second and Bam! Three months zips by.

Once again, I have been a very lackadaisical blogger. Of course, I have many totally justifiable excuses, and if you want to see my doctor's note, just email me and I'll zip you a copy.

If it makes you feel any better, I didn't get Christmas cards out either. In fact, I've only gotten Christmas cards out three years out of the last twenty, which says a lot, don't you think?

So. New Year. New Resolutions. You know the drill. One of my goals is to pop in here more often. One of the problems is I tend to think I need to have an official article or lecture planned. I'm going to try and remove that pressure and see if I can't just wander in here and, well, babble at you in a more casual fashion. You guys are up for casual babbling, aren't you? Of course you are! Hopefully, that will make it easier to post more regularly.

Hm. As for a quick recap of the last three months, which actually, now that I think about it, would have made a good Christmas letter.

Both boys off to school. Much sobbing and rending of cloth. Minimal grocery bill nicely offsets this despair, however.

Both boys doing well in school. Sobbing down to merely tearing up at odd moments. Much writing getting done. Yeay!

Youngest son very sick. First time sick away from home. Sobbing resumes, this time with a guilty note to it. Diagnosed with mono. However, has NO symptoms of mono, merely bad cold.

Oldest son calls home. He too, is very sick. He too, tests positive for mono. (No doubts about what these two have been up to while away at college!)In fact, I must stop sobbing long enough to drive up and help him out, he is that sick. One trip to the emergency room later, we are thrilled to discover he has one of the most severe cases of mono the emergency room has ever seen. I am so proud. Eldest son comes home long enough to effect the most miraculous recovery ever, and returns to school in one week.

Which gives me just enough time to clean the house in time for Thanksgiving.

Writing like a maniac and loving it. Boys due home second and third weeks of December. Can't wait! Plus, very generous in-laws have decided to take the entire family to Maui for their 55th wedding anniversary. Tropics, here we come! Unfortunately, I am not a tropical person. Heat and humidity don't do it for me. However, it was very, very lovely. Boys and beloved spouse snorkeled and swam with sea turtles and jumped off tall rocks that left me dizzy. I read five books, which is my personal version of paradise. Return to real life, refreshed. Pack boys up. Ship them back to school. Am much relieved to find I only cry a little at their departure and quickly get back into the swing of my writing life.

Which included updating this blog!