Friday, August 28, 2015

The First 40

It's official. As of today, I've been alive for four decades. I'm sure my guardian angel is somewhere out back having a smoke break and bracing himself for the next forty years of my life journey. Poor beast, I've already put him through the wringer.

Today was a relaxing around the house kind of day. Hubz called around noon, and Bub and I met him at the Panda for a quick lunch. In the morning, Hubz is picking up the cakes, and we're all going to make a trip to my Mom and Dad's house. Tomorrow Bub is turning the big 2-4, so we're having a combined birthday party and cookout with the family.

As for writerly updates, I'm 3k away from the minimum safe word count for my novel, and it's getting harder and harder to find the words. All the scenes are in place. Some scenes are still just sketched in. I keep going back, tacking on thoughts here and there, firming up connections between scenes and characters.

It's all coming together, but I'm under no illusions. The draft is a mess. It's going to need a lot of revision. Some scenes will need to be completely rewritten. That said, I've given it a good go. I started writing (this incarnation) of the book in June. So, this draft is a three month-er. I'm satisfied with that.

Earlier I made a bullet point list of stuff I needed to add in, but even that has been slow going. I'm reaching for ideas at this point, and that's a good sign. Every time I make a new list, it's shorter and shorter, which tells me, for the most part, the core story is already there on the page.

That's the latest news. Tomorrow is a family day. I don't know yet if I'll be tackling the remaining 3k after the cookout, or if I'll be waiting to jump into it again on Sunday. We will see. Tomorrow is technically Bub's day, so I will likely go along with whatever he wants to do. There's no need to rush to the ending. Besides, we only get so many birthdays, and they're meant to be shared with the people who matter most. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Final 10k Stretch

I'm a little less than 10k away from defeating finishing this novel. I'm tired. My characters are showing signs of distress. Like them, I just want the villain to die already so we can all dash through the finish line and embrace the HEA. But then I settle down at the computer and stuff like this happens...

Over the past few days, I added close to 5k to my WIP only to realize what I had tacked on would add a new subplot that doesn't really support the main story.

What did I do about it? I deleted that 5k. Or rather, I clipped those scenes and saved them elsewhere so I can recycle them into another story later...maybe. For this book, though, those scenes are unuseable. They had to go.

This week, so far, I've written, rewritten, edited, and deleted. Rinse, de-wrinkle, repeat. The usual process. However, in terms of progress, it's like trying to ride a bicycle toward the beach during a hurricane. It's a constant struggle. Still, I love these characters, and I believe in them 100%. Their lives interest me. Their problems keep me up at night. These are the people at the house party I'd watch from afar and want to know more about. As Alan Rickman channeling Hilly Kristal would say, "There's something there."

This whole process has been madness, and I'm still wading through the trenches. Every day I wake up obsessed with these characters and their individual stories. I'm constantly looking at the pieces of their lives, aka the mountain of Post-it notes I've used making scene notes about them, and I'm forever trying to make solid connections that link their lives together. Little by little, plot tangle by plot tangle, it's slowly coming together. As it stands right now, the word count is parked at 75,143. I'm happy with that number, but after Wednesday's big chop, I solemnly swear I'm not going to cut a another word from this manuscript until the draft is completed.

So, onward to 85k. That's my minimum safe wordcount for this story. According to several sources, that's the industry standard for this type of novel. I've done the math based on what I have left to write, and I should hit that target by the middle of next week. When all is said and done, I estimate an overage of roughly 2-3k words.  We'll have to wait and see. Until then, only 16 Post-it note scene reminders left to sort through, and 9,857 words to go.

Monday, August 10, 2015

I Stopped Myself From "Stepping Out" on My Current WIP

Sometimes it's like a story just doesn't want to see the light of day. The plot pieces won't fit, the conflict drags on and on, and the characters won't cooperate. I have written this novel twice to date, and I'm still uncovering little "ah-ha" moments as I work through this incarnation of the story.

Once this final-final-final draft is finished, I still have to revise the damned thing, so I am far from being out of the woods yet.

Yesterday, I reached a stuck point where I couldn't justify my hero's motivation, and I struggled with his scene until I was sorely tempted to  kill all the characters, set the imaginary city on fire just to watch it burn, delete the entire file, and pretend it never existed toss the story aside to work on something else.

The thing is I have at least baker's dozen of unfinished stories littering my hard drive. Whenever I'm struggling with a novel, I always catch a glimpse of some sparkly, shiny new idea on the horizon, and I will run toward it with open arms, jot down the beginning as if I know exactly where it's going, only to inevitably lose momentum midway through the piece. No, I don't know exactly why that happens, but I'm brought to mind of that quote by Anne Lamott about ideas losing steam because there's no passion at their center. How can there be, when I'm just using that story to escape from the one I should be working on?

I have a chronic habit of starting up little hand-jammer writing pieces whenever I'm having a spat with my main work-in-progress. Instead of toughing out the rough patches, instead of brainstorming my way out of the hole, I end up setting aside my main work-in-progress to have a dalliance with an "easier to write" (lol), fanciful idea story that I know from the outset isn't going anywhere.

Once the excitement of the hand-jammer is over, and the sparkle has been examined up close, so close that I can see the diamonds are really paste jewels, and the stars are really just sequins sewn to a cheap, black curtain, I bow out, hair mussed, lipstick smudged. The whole ugly affair is over, and from there, it's the wip version of the walk of shame. I have to go back to the home piece to face the music.

I slink back to the main wip and its protagonist, and I open the file to find the hero glaring at me from across the room. His arms are crossed. He knows what I've been up to. He's been expecting me to come crawling back, and all I can do is sag into my desk chair and go on the defensive."This never would've happened if only you'd talk to me!"

It's a tense couple of days after that. The hero and I, we don't write very well together. It's uncomfortable and a little frustrating. There is often hair pulling, teeth grinding, behind-the-back cursing, and inevitably, some tears are shed. I occassionally recount the dalliance with that hand-jammer piece and cringe. Why did I stray? How could I have thought anything would come of such a ridiculous idea?  It's humiliating - and humbling. But eventually the hero and I fall into a comfortable rhythm, forgiveness settles between us, and the writing starts flowing again. Finally, progress is made.

When I hit that plot tangle the other day, I glanced longingly toward all the sparkly new ideas beckoning me from afar, their siren song so sweet in my ear: Just a quick short story on the side. Easy peasy.

Yeah, right. I was sorely tempted to cheat on my current wip by starting something new, but I also knew that the promise of a quick, easy project was just a distracting glimmer on the horizon. It would only end up another morning-after story to toss onto the unfinished project stack.

What ultimately kept me from straying is that I knew I couldn't spare the time to begin a fresh project. Mini's back-to-school bonanza is on the horizon for next week, and once that begins, I'll no longer have an easy-breezy summer schedule to do whatever I want, whenever I want. As much as I wanted to chase the shimmering gossamer of a new hand-jammer project, I recognized it for what it was. An illusion. A desire to escape from the problems in my current wip.

So what did I do? I resisted the temptation. I disconnected from the story entirely. I turned off Word and Scrivener, and I let the characters rest. I read a book. I watched a few episodes of Fist of the North Star with Oldest. I called my parents and chatted a while. I had my hubby take me and the MiniBeast to the buffet. Toward the evening, when I settled in at my normal writing time, if my characters spoke, I'd jot down a little note in long hand, then I'd work on something else - like typing up notes I've had scattered about my desk for the past two weeks.

Today I had a breakthrough that pulled me out of the mire, and put me three steps ahead of where I'd been before. What I needed was a break, not another unfinished story to feel guilty about. My characters stopped cooperating because I needed time to mentally untangle the knot blocking my story from moving forward.

Everyday I learn something new about writing and my own process. I have a greater rate of finishing, and I finish faster, when I'm working only on one project at a time. To help stay on track with that, and to help prevent data loss, I've started moving the stories I'm not working on to Google Drive and Dropbox. Out of sight, out of mind. If there's only one project on my desktop at a time, I'm less likely to stray from it. I'm also more likely to open that file out of habit after I turn on my computer.

Now if I could just train myself to take more breaks, to refresh the creative wells more often, before I get to the stepping out point, I'd be all set. ♥

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Plot Hole Whack-a-Mole: Kitteh edition

This is me, trying to find and fix all the plot holes. 

I'm about 70k into my novel now. It's not all new material; I should mention that straight out the gate. I salvaged three characters, and the initial concept, from the old manuscript, which was a little over 50k, as completed. This new version is a total reimaging/revisioning (not to be confused with revised, because whoa mama, this thing is a hot mess right now) of the original novel I completed in 2011.

I sent the original around to a few publishers, when many were loudly crying no more vampire novels! That's probably when I will stop reading forever, but I digress. I did it anyway and was told my story was "promising"...still, I had no takers. I thought about self-publishing it, so I purchased a premade cover for it. Since then, I've hedged on releasing it, because of the wealth of feedback I received while it was out on submission. You know, the "promising, but with caveat" and all that.

I set the whole novel aside to give it breathing room while I figured out what I wanted to do with it. Then, last year, my old PC died and I lost the original digital file of the book. I still had, and do have, a printed copy of the original story, but after reading through it twice, I decided to rewrite the book from scratch. I've been doing that for the past two months, give or take a few weeks.

Last Friday, when I pulled the hard drive from my Acer and recovered all my old files, I was able to rescue the original file for The Novel. However, when I poked through it, I realized there wasn't much material that fit the reimagined version. So, that's a full novel on Drive that I won't be using ever.

The new version looks almost nothing like what I initially wrote. I saved three characters from the old book, then rewrote the full story from the beginning. The theme, tone, premise,'s all totally different. The beginning and ending has changed dramatically. The heroine was the protagnist in the original novel. In this version, it's all on the hero. Overall, the story is much better for the changes I've made ("promising" editor was right, dammit), but I'm not even gonna lie...this story has been an absolute bitch to write.

As advised, I've pantsed this thing from the new beginning, letting the characters and their personalities drive the plot. I'm a plotter by nature, so I guess no one should be surprised that this book winged off into a direction I didn't anticipate at all. The two main characters I saved have evolved from who I thought they were initially into discover-as-I-go strangers; that's probably the most surprising thing of all. Does anyone else get how crazy that sounds? Hello, my name is Cora. My characters, they aren't who I thought they were.

Just when you think you know someone, am I right?

The third character, a mentor/sounding board character, has become a Bechdel litmus paper. That's another surprise, because it's never my intention to self-censor or inject politically correct anything into my books. I do, however, want my female charaters to talk about more than just men. This is a grittier novel than what I'm used to writing, and I want it to stay that way. While there is a strong romantic subplot running throughout the novel (the novel couldn't exist without it), I'm purposely trying to steer the story away from certain conventional romantic scenes and elements.

Constructively speaking, what great lesson have I taken away from all this? (Again, what I take away from this. Your mileage may vary.)

A.)Plotting from character equals greater character depth, but less "intrusive authorial control" over the plot. That can be a little scary when you're writing a mystery, or suspense thriller, or you've been given a rigid framework, or specific story guidelines to work with. The characters may not obey those guidelines. Then what?  Commense hair pulling.

B.)Plotting from...well, plot (which I define as: the series of events that happen in your story) gives you greater control over the story itself, but the characters are sketched in more lightly. Motivations have to be cut and polished to fit the framework. Characters need more tailored reactions to fit the scenes necessary to take your story from point A to point Z. While the characters are guaranteed to obey the plot dynamics, they can come across as two dimensional, and they can also make the story seem less organic.

Pros and cons exist for both methods, so it doesn't matter which one I decide to use. The end result is all that really matters: a completed book. I will say, though, pantsing my way through a story while also plotting from character has created a minefield of plot holes. Holy Schnikes the plot holes. Reference the kitteh video above. Yes. It's really like that.

I've already written all the way to The End, but I need another 15k to reach my minimum safe word count. So, for now, I'm taking what's there and beating the sheet out of it. Not really. I'm just using a STC beat sheet to find all the inevitable plot holes. Which, coincidentally (or not), makes me want to drink ALL the King Cake Vodka and Diet Coke. In moderation.

I tell myself every day the story is getting there, wherever there happens to be. Just a little further now. A little more. 5k more words. Then another 10k. The finish line is just across those train tracks. And across that lake. And across those mountains. I'm exhausted from the journey, but I'm pushing forward. The process has been very messy, but like Joel Saltzman said, "Strive for progress, not perfection." Trust me, I'm on it.

Cheers. ♥   

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Impose Your Own Terms

I saw this T.S. Eliot quote on Facebook yesterday, and it really hit the mark for me. When it comes to writing, I'm always trying to color inside the lines, so to speak. There are specific elements required to meet the expectations of certain genres, and I've always struggled with that, no matter what genre I'm writing. This is especially true when I start a story from a plot scenario rather than from character, and more often than not, that's how story ideas come to me, as a snip of dialogue or an interesting situation.

With all the changes going on in the industry, as well as the changes happening within the writing communities I'm involved with, I've come to the realization that I've got to let go of the old rules and the expectations I've been trying to write by. I say this not because the genre purists are wrong, but because their rules are absolutely paralyzing me as an author.

When I saw this T.S. Eliot quote the other day, it was like finding a message in a bottle that was personally addressed to me. I've spent many years now studying writing craft and learning the rules, but at this point in my career, I feel it's time to break away and write my fiction on my own terms. ♥

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Dreaming, packing, and the airport

Last night I dreamed I was at my grandmother's old house with MiniBeast. We were waiting for the rest of the family to return from an outing, but they were late, and I was becoming frustrated, because I was ready to go home. I have no idea where the family had gone, or who I was specifically waiting for, but in waking life a lot of the family has since passed away - my grandparents, for instance. The house has special meaning to me, though. That house was a huge part of my childhood, and I spent many happy years there. 

In the dream, I was sorting through a linen cabinet when I decided I was tired of waiting around and wasn't going to do it anymore. I told Mini to grab as many bags as he could find and we would start packing. Being a kid, he groaned at the suggestion, and instead of packing, he hid himself on one of the linen shelves and went to sleep. I went on to gran's room, opened the dresser, and began packing clothes. I was putting them into all these purses and totebags that I have hanging in my office in waking life. 

In the middle of packing, the bedroom door opened, and this family I didn't recognize filed into the room. There were at least fifteen people, and they were dressed in their Sunday best. This elderly gentleman walked over to my grandmother's bed and set down two bulldog puppies on the bedspread. I was awed by one of the puppies because his brindle markings were an ombre black shade and looked like tiny scrolling leaves. Very strange. 

The next thing I know, I'm standing in a busy airport with my Tokidoki vampire candy tote bag strapped over my shoulder. The bag itself is huge, and it's packed to the max. I've used it in waking life to tote college text books around, so whatever I was carrying - the clothes from my grandma's room, I guess - was quite heavy. I was looking around for my gate, when I saw Gweneth Paltrow standing about three feet away. She pointed toward my bag and said, "Excuse me. Do you happen to know the length of the drop?" 

She was talking about the strap drop, which is the height from the top of the strap to the top of the bag. I told her I didn't know the drop size, so she walks closer and says, "May I?" I let her slip the bag over her arm to test it. Someone shouted back behind me, and I turned to see this group of guys, all of them dressed like dayglo versions of Wez (google it) stamepeding through the airport. I stepped out of the way just in time to avoid being knocked down, and I overheard someone saying that the guys had just come back from winning a championship football game. When they had passed by, I turned around to get my bag back, but Gweneth was gone. The dream ended with me wandering around the airport looking for her, because she still had my bag. 

I guess the key themes in all that is frustration, being tired of waiting, packing, and taking off to the airport without even knowing where I'm headed. In a nutshell, it's about change. A desire for change. One I'm sorely tired of waiting for.

Lately hubby and I have talked in passing about moving. If we had the money, we would. Our house is paid off, though, and neither of us are crazy about having a mortgage again. Still, if I could afford a little house on Tybee Island, or a cottage in Biloxi (I'd want to live in one of those little neighborhoods right off Beach Blvd), I'd do it in a heartbeat. I told hubby my dream home is a small house in walking distance to the beach and a grocery store. I could do without everything else. I'd ditch my car and walk everywhere.

I've also been thinking about taking my career in a completely different direction. I've become really disenchanted with some of the stuff I've read in the forums lately. I keep asking myself why I'm clinging on when lately it's done nothing but remind me repeatedly that I'm not really one of the crowd. What's worse is I'm paying dues to feel this way. Why? Why am I doing this to myself? It's not necessary to stay in publishing. Add to that, my best, most trusted friends aren't even a part of that community. I know, I know... It's time to start reassessing my goals, but I keep putting it off, because...well, I just don't want to deal with it right now. There's the sad truth of it.

So all the packing, moving, the's all related to feeling overwhelmed and desperately wanting to initiate change for the better. As for why Gweneth Paltrow wanted my purse in that dream, your guess is as good as mine. ♦    

Monday, August 03, 2015

Tah-Dah! Not really.

If you're looking for me, you've come to the right place. I changed the look of the blog into something more streamlined. I hope it doesn't throw too many people off now that all the purple is gone. The comments section, which had an overlay issue, is now fixed. If you have any trouble dropping a comment here or there, message me on FB or twitter and I'll check into it. As far as I can tell, I've worked the bugs out of it. Huzzah.
#PitchWars is going on today over at Twitter. If you have a completed manuscript ready to toss into the ring, check out the rules here: Similar to other events I've been to lately, this one is very YA and MG heavy, but there are some mentors calling for Adult genres. Check Brenda Drake's website for the mentoring blog hop list, and if you decide to enter - good luck! 

As for me, I'm about 19-20k shy of the minimum safe word count for my current draft. I was told 85k is the sweet spot for this type of novel, so I'm going with that. Last night I finally nailed down my hero's core motivation, or rather, he finally revealed it to me...this, when I'm already 65k into the dark. Stubborn goat, he's a man of secrets and few words. I have the biggest crush on him ever. 

I also figured out the final plot twist, which has given me the option of adding a new scene at the beginning. I'm debating whether to add that scene in there or leave it off. In the meantime, I'm going to keep charging toward the ending. I've been pantsing my way through this thing almost from the start, so I know it's going to need a lot of revision. That's fine with me. I'm just ready to stick a fork in this draft and call it a day. ♦