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Real Estate Ate My Brain

Over the last year and a half or so, my life turned into the real estate equivalent of a soap opera.

In March 2014, we put our house on the market, and “sold” it (had a purchase agreement in place) by early June. Closing was set for 01 August. A week before closing, our buyers told us they wouldn’t be able to close on time due to circumstances beyond their control (financial snafu).

So we waited for it to get sorted out until we got sick of it (and we lost the house that we were going to buy and move into), then put it back on the market. A second buyer eventually emerged, but canceled within a week. We said, “screw it” and pulled the property from the market.

Fast forward to March 2015. The house goes back on the market on a Wednesday; by Thursday night we have a signed purchase agreement. Within another couple of weeks we’ve made an offer on a new house for ourselves, and the paperwork is signed there, too. Everything goes smoothly this time, and over Memorial Day (last Monday of May) weekend, we move out of the old place and into the new.

Keep in mind that (a) we’d effectively been living out of boxes since mid-July 2014 and (b) it will take us many more months yet to finish unpacking. Needless to say, I’ve not exactly been in a prime writing headspace. So yes, it’s been more than fourteen months since my last blog post here. Apologies.

In those fourteen months, though, I’ve not been entirely lax. I’ve taken a couple of online classes at The Loft Literary Center and with the brilliant writers K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl. The latter, “Writing the Other” (WtO; based on the text of the same name by Shawl and Cynthia Ward), is being offered again this fall. I highly recommend it to all writers. If nothing else, it will introduce you to a cadre of like-minded writers who can serve as sounding boards and resources in their own right.

As for the status of my work in progress, the going is still slow, but thanks to the constant support and feedback from my critique partners—as well as new input from my WtO classmates—it is taking ever better shape. In January, it was my goal to have my ms ready for querying by the end of 2015, but that’s looking more and more like too tall an order. Time will tell.

So real estate really screwed up both my regular writing schedule and my blogging here. I would like to think I’m “over the hump” and can natter on about my writing journey here more regularly again now. With my kids’ school starting up in a couple more weeks, hopefully writing will slide back into my schedule more naturally all around.

I’ll keep you posted!

Plotting from a Pantser’s Brain

I had never realized just how thoroughly I pants my way through stories.

When I began Novel #1, it was a NaNoWriMo project. I’d had the overall arc in my head for years—maybe as long as a decade—but just hadn’t ever put anything in writing. It made for an exhilarating experience when that November rolled around, and I finally spewed whatever came to mind, day after day, just to get to that final word count goal.

Revision became quite the task then, because events hadn’t been well (or at all) planned, and lots of details had to get cut or added to make sense of the damn thing. But in its own way, that was an exploratory process, too, and it’s been another painful, rewarding experience.

Before I started Novel #2, a couple of short story ideas cropped up, and so I pursued them. Trying to be more methodical about the whole thing, I decided to try outlining the shape of a story before diving in. Before I could get farther than the Big Idea of the story, though, words came to me. Desperate not to lose them, I hurried to make notes. Next thing I knew, I had half of the story drafted. “I’m new to short stories,” I told myself. “I can plot out the next one.”

Sadly, the next one evaded me. Using my inborn stubbornness to my advantage, I turned instead to Novel #2. “This one I simply can’t start without a good outline. Rewriting the whole damn thing was too hard the first time.” Duly self-instructed, I’ve been doing my damnedest to flesh out the ideas that have been floating so carelessly through my subconscious.

Much to my dismay, ideas are few and far between.

Based on the rest of my life, I’d not have pegged myself as a Pantser. It seems I always need a Plan (though I’m not as desperate for one as some in my family). So I’ve been somewhat boggled to realize just how difficult I find it to brainstorm ideas without writing out scenes. It’s been a mental adjustment to stop considering myself a Plotter, but the evidence is overwhelming; I find it much harder to plan ahead than to see where the words lead me.

Given my experience with Novel #1, though, I can’t stomach the idea of another painful slog through ground-level revisions. I refuse to let the easy road now dictate my future path. So it’s time to brew some more coffee, put in my earplugs, and get on with it. I will conquer this plot yet.

Should I “Write the Other”?

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling with an idea. Being completely new to the industry from the content-provider’s side of things, it’s only recently that I’ve paid any attention to SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, a professional organization for authors). I’ve been seeing a lot about the need for diversity in the genre (specifically, via the Twitter hashtag #DiversityinSFF), which got me thinking about my own work in progress (WIP).

As is stands, my WIP has a main character (MC) who is a straight, white, cisgendered, abled, educated, young American woman. In other words, she’s very much like me (with the possible exception of the “young” descriptor, since she’s 10-15 years my junior). So I’ve been wondering: does she have to be all of those things? Is there any reason not to change one or more of those descriptors?

More importantly, is there any reason to change one?

Because I am a brand, spankin’ new writer, working on my first-ever novel, it’s only natural—comfortable—that I would choose to write from the POV of someone very like myself. Writing is hard enough without throwing in something with which I have zero personal experience. “Write what you know,” and all that.

But as I analyzed the story I hope to tell with this character after my current WIP is done (or as “done” as it’s likely to get), it dawned on me that there is a fairly compelling reason to consider changing her ethnic background for the next book. Obviously, that means I’d need to change it now. Is it worth it?

I brought this conundrum to my CPs for advice. We talked about the pros and cons, and in the way I’m developing my particular “near Earth” world for the future of my character. We talked about the dangers of “getting it wrong” (which, let’s be honest, boil down to whether or not I do my research), and how it would serve the upcoming story if I did change my MC.

Oddly, it turned out changing my MC to someone with a different background from mine might actually enhance the tension in my current WIP, too. There’s nothing specifically that hinges on her being a POC—which makes sense, since that’s not how I first wrote her—but certain relationships and situations would, of necessity, affect her differently, coming from an alternate perspective.

My original intention was to challenge my own tendencies to write someone almost exactly like myself, try writing outside my comfort zone, and maybe help add a bit of diversity to the body of work in the genre. If I can do my MC justice as a woman of color, I really think this WIP will be richer for it.

I just hope I hope I don’t screw up.

I ♥ My Editor

Wow. As they say in Japanese, おひさしぶりですね (ohisashiburi desu, ne). In other words, it’s been quite a while since I last posted.

Sadly, much of it is because I still get tired really easily, and sitting for long periods (more than an hour or so) makes my back ache. That’s not really conducive to the writing process, especially when I still have squirts at home on summer break from school to interrupt what time I do manage in front of my keyboard. (That, and the Internet, but shut up.)

Yesterday, more than two weeks after I last engaged with my dryads, I sat down to look over my three-part short story. The first two parts were created as “prequels” to the novel—a way to explore important aspects of the dryad culture I was trying to build before I needed to use them in my main story. The third came from a later idea, but together I think they explain a great deal about these particular characters.

I’ve had hopes of submitting this story to various magazines for possible publication (after all, it’s about time I start racking up rejections). So when I sat down with this draft again, it was for my next round of polishing. The big new twist for me, though, is that for the first time, I’ve had a professional editor evaluate my work, and give me her recommendations for improvement.

Let me just get this out of my system: I ♥ my editor.

Now there’s no denying I’m a n00b at this whole fiction scene, and at writing for publication in general. It seems to me, though, that one of the most important professional relationships a writer can foster is with their editor. If you don’t find someone who “gets” your work, and can find a way to pull your best out of you—improve what you’ve done, point out repetitive or erroneous tendencies, stretch your potential—then you’re not going to grow as a writer, or even get very far with any single piece of work.

That’s why I’m so thrilled I’ve found my editor. My Editor. I feel like she deserves capitalization, at least. I love her insights into clearer phrasing, better metaphor, stronger story—all while preserving my tender little artist’s ego (and I’ll readily admit how thin-skinned I am about these things). Yet she also doesn’t pull her punches.

She was straight up with me, letting me know that as it stands, this story probably doesn’t have a place in the current market. It’s too… nice. There’s lots of worldbuilding, and atmosphere, and character and such, but there’s no peril. No drama. No tension. If I actually want to draw a reader in, I need to make them anxious enough to learn the outcome of some particular conflict that they keep reading. That’s basic stuff, but I wasn’t doing it here.

On the one hand, it’s disappointing news; I’d wanted to submit, and get this story published. On the other, I may be okay with it; my original purpose was to get my own head around the particulars of certain life-changing moments for dryads in the world I was creating, and I’ve done that. Maybe I don’t need to put that out where the rest of the world can see it, especially if it’s not gripping.

Whatever direction I end up taking the story—rewriting it to add that key tension, or just polishing it to the best prose it can be as-is—my Editor has taught me some important things about myself. Foremost, I think, is the following:

  • I’m already quite a good writer.
  • I am not yet a very good storyteller.

That’s a pretty vital distinction, and one I’m glad to have learned. After all, the first step to solving any problem is identifying it. So next up: tackle that storytelling thing!

Fictional Genealogy

Fighting with this latest short story has been good for me in several ways. First, it’s just plain good practice to keep writing until you get something you can use. But it’s also become a possible springboard for something more.

In the world I’ve created—seen not only in my short stories, but also in the novel I’m writing and its eventual sequels—I have a supernatural symbiont that is passed down matrilineally. Therefore, I’ve taken great pains to figure out exactly what that line is, for six generations. The trouble, though, is that somehow the paternal branches have fallen completely off the tree.

So far, the only male character in my fictional genealogy chart is the (plotwise) future love interest for my main protagonist. That leaves out her father, grandfather, and two further generations of patriarchs whose very existence is hinted at only through the fact that their offspring exist. If nothing else, this seems like an oversight because I’ve left her relationship with the men in her life utterly undefined.

Until now. This short story has been kicking my butt for the last few days—particularly the ending, which just wouldn’t cooperate—but while massaging one portion of it, I’ve discovered the barest nugget of a male character. I finally met her father.

Now I won’t lie; he’s still drastically underdeveloped. Heck, he doesn’t even have a name yet. But at long last I have an inkling of who he is, what he’s like, what drives him—and how his relationship to my protagonist has shaped her. That’s big! Not because I need him specifically—in fact, I’m pretty sure this first novel does just fine without so much as a whisper of him—but because it makes her richer in the long run.

Besides, it’s given me some ideas for Book Two. They might even be somewhat useful ones. I’d better go write them down before I forget.

Did Someone Say “Worldbuilding”?

I’ve been a fantasy fan effectively for my whole life. When I finally gave in to the urge to write a novel of my own, then, it was only natural I’d choose the genre I’d read almost exclusively for decades. Nobody told me how much harder it would be than I even imagined.

Why is it hard? One word: worldbuilding.

I actually took it pretty easy on myself. My protagonist is a young woman like me (okay—maybe 10-15 years my junior), who grew up in roughly the same area of the US I did, and the story is set in a place I’ve visited myself. Further, my fantasy world is a “near Earth”—it’s almost our world, but there’s magic, and supernatural creatures.

So I don’t have to worry about creating a new landscape, a new sociopolitical structure, or an entirely new language/way of using language. That is, I only have to sprinkle in pieces that relate to the particular new elements my protagonist encounters as she comes to grips with having suddenly become a supernatural herself (a dryad, in this case).

I wrote my (extremely) rough draft using the “pantser” method (a la NaNoWriMo—plotting “by the seat of my pants”); I had an idea where it began and where it ended, and a couple of the situations/obstacles she would encounter along the way, but precious little else. Knowing there were a couple of key points in a dryad’s development that would come into the story, though twisted from the “normal” way those play out, I decided I needed first to figure out what said “normal development” was. I thus set myself the task of writing a couple of short stories (one of which you can read here on the blog) as worldbuilding exercises.

As a start, that was great. I like how the stories turned out, and they give me a better sense of how dryad culture in my world generally works. It was an excellent springboard for the climactic scene of the novel (which may or may not be recognizable as the same entity by the time I’m done). However, the further into the novel my CPs get, the more I realize I’m nowhere near done on the worldbuilding front.

Tell me more about X!
“I want more Y.”
This is okay, as long as we find out more about Z as the story goes.

Oops. You mean the six-generation matrilineal genealogy I devised for her wasn’t sufficient preparation? I need to be able to describe what a dryad does in her day-to-day life, not just at those critical moments? This vague idea I mentioned in passing needs to be fleshed out?

Guess I’d better come up with some details on X, Y, and Z—and PDQ!