Monday, December 31, 2018

Writer’s Resolutions {with Loopholes}

It’s New Year’s Eve and you all know what that means — it’s time for our last minute New Year’s Resolutions! My personal opinion on New Year’s Resolutions is that they’re not really designed to help you reach your goals. Mostly they are put in place to make you feel bad about what you didn’t do this past year and give you things to beat yourself up for not doing next year. As a result, I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. I know not everyone is like me {gasp} and will insist on setting at least one resolution. Being the helpful gal that I am, I decided to give you four popular New Year’s Resolutions for writers AND corresponding loopholes to help ensure you don’t fall into that trap of just making yourself feel bad for not accomplishing your resolutions for yet another year.

Resolution 1: I will write every day!
Loophole 1: Every day, open your WIP and write one word. If you know you can’t open it tomorrow, work ahead and write two words. That’s it. You’re done. 

Resolution 2: I will finish my current WIP!
Loophole 2: Most writers refer to their current manuscript as their current WIP. However, WIP is actually a pretty generic term. If you’re struggling to finish that mammoth 100k novel, quickly start a 500 word essay. BOOM — you now have a new WIP that’s feasible. 

Resolution 3: I will win NaNoWrMo this year! 
Loophole 3: This one was a bit tougher to get a loophole in place, but I worked it out. Just tell people that NaNoWrMo stands for National NOT Writing Month. Now winning NaNoWrMo will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Resolution 4: I will set SMART goals!
Loophole 4: For those who might not know, SMART in goal setting stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. So here’s your SMART goal for accomplishing all your 2019 Resolutions: I will write 1.5 words per day in my current WIP, except during the month of November. In November I will write 0 words per day. There — you now have a SMART goal to finish that 500 word essay in 2019! And since you’re guaranteed to achieve all your resolutions for the year, you can cruise through 2019 feeling great about yourself :D

Of course, if you actually want to get any work done then I suppose that last resolution on setting SMART goals is the most important. And remember not to beat yourself up if you fall off track. Just pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, rest those SMART goals, and get back to work.

Anyone have a New Year’s Resolution they’d like to share?

Happy New Year, everybody!

~ Carrie

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 Fantasy Round-Up

It's the end of another year and it seems rather obligatory that I use this opportunity to reflect on my 2018 accomplishments:
Some of the projects weren't ones I anticipated but came as sort of a delightful surprise. I'm hoping for more of those next year, but for now,  here's what I'm looking forward to in 2019:
  • The release of  Touch of Smoke a paranormal romance from Red Adept Publishing
  • The release of a Revolutionary War era historical romance short story "The Green Lady and The Rogue" in an upcoming pulp fiction anthology from Crazy 8 Press
  • Finish my current Work in Progress, a contemporary YA fantasy based on Appalachian mountain music
On top of the writing projects I've had the privilege to work on this year, I've also tried to read as much as possible. I read a variety of genres, but Fantasy and its various sub-genres are always my favorite, so I'll end this post by sharing my Top Ten Favorite Fantasy Novels of 2018.

9. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

8. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

7. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

6. Rosemary and Rue (October Daye series) by Seanan McGuire

4. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

3. The Winner's Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

2. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

1. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Monday, December 24, 2018

Doomsday and Chill

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody!  I hope your holiday seasons are going well.

Publishing, goes into a bit of a hibernation cycle during December.  Like everybody else, this is the time of year when people take vacation time, but it's particularly pronounced in the publishing industry.  I think it's probably a symptom of being an industry centered in New York City, not known for gentle winter weather, and December not being a particularly noteworthy time to put books out, as opposed to, say, the movie industry.  The books you want people to buy for the holidays need to be out and generating buzz by Autumn, and then the next big worry is the books people are going to buy before they head to the beach in the summer.

I can't say how much this is anecdotal or not, but in recent years I think NaNoWriMo has contributed to the shutdown.  Now, someone like you who reads this blog probably knows that you can't submit a manuscript to an agent or publisher until it's been edited to near perfection.  But for the folks who don't take the time to learn the industry, many of them see November as the time to produce a manuscript and December as the time to shop it.  You'll notice a lot of agents at this time of year even close to submissions.  As I said, it may be anecdotal, but I've heard that this is in large part due to NaNo.

So, for a variety of reasons, old and new, geographical and traditional, publishing shuts down in the month of December.  And in recent years I've been doing the same thing.  Year after year, NaNo and all the accompanying pressures burn me out.  So I hate to do it, but usually I end up taking the month of December off, too.  So far this year all I've done this month is:

- help Kimberly with a back jacket copy
- talked to my agent for an end-of-year check-in
- edited a few typos in SKINWRAPPER

And that's it.  I haven't done any traditional writing work in three, going on four, weeks. 

The only difference is, I'm letting myself be okay with it this year.  After the November I had, and, frankly, the ten months before that, I need some time to decompress.  So I guess the moral of this is, if you're like me, let yourself relax now and then.  Admittedly, there's probably a happy middle ground between grind away eleven months, relax one, but I'm sure you'll find it.

In the meantime, enjoy spending time with your families and celebrating the holidays.  I just picked up a copy of my good friend Mike Lombardo's "I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday" yesterday, and if you're looking for some seasonal horror fare, you definitely need to grab this as well.  Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Mug

By Cheryl Oreglia

There is much to notice and observe in life. Is there not? It's what a good story teller does, searching out the disturbing, puzzling, cheerful details in order understand, but the truth is I never completely understand anything. As if an architect, a story teller first builds the foundation, followed by a detailed structure, and only then is the real purpose revealed. 
God is in the details. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (a famous architect) 
I've been taking an online course on creative writing which my kids gave me a few years ago for Christmas. One of the assignments was to take the first letter of your first name, in my case C, as my name is Cheryl, and we were prompted to write a story about the first three things that comes to mind when you consider your letter? If you know me at all you know coffee would dominate the story, maybe we could slip in Christmas, and then we'd be off to the lake, as in Clearlake.

The hidden agenda was to connect the stories with some mundane detail? 

The first thing I notice is the way I sip coffee? It's unusually ritualistic. Gently grasping the small handle on an all white mug, inserting my pointer finger into the perfectly sized hole, I lift the cup as if a sacred vessel, kissing the smooth, hard, porcelain lip. It's strangely carnal? 

My mouth accepts the lukewarm coffee, allowing it to pool under my tongue, before ever so slowly ingesting the tart amber liquid. The movement of my hand reverses the motion returning the cup gently to the nightstand, as I allow my desire for another sip to slowly build, then as if a prayer, my hand returns again, and again to embrace the cup. 

I'm very picky about my mugs as one should be. I like the lip thin, the weight practical for single handed movements, and of course the cup large enough to hold a decent pour. In fact I silently fume when my husband brings me coffee in an unacceptable mug. It's my burden and I bear it silently.

I like repetition. Truth is I adore repetition. It sustains me and it fails me all at the same time.

This coffee tradition is a morning activity, infusing me with something akin to joy, as my brain unravels from its slumber, and the obligations of the day slowly encroach on my muddled, and complacent mind.

What does that remind you of? 

Yes, Christmas of course. The most ritualistic of holidays, so entrenched are we in our ritualistic behaviors, we will go to extreme measures to ensure the continuation of these cherished traditions. We are not above brawling, guilting, and ransoming those we love to ensure cooperation. I know, I'm a mother.

Advent, a time of waiting, anticipation, and joy. It's as if I have slumbered all year, desperately in need of Christmas to shake up my muddled and complacent mind. The darkest of days juxtaposed with the light coming into the world is intoxicating. Our hardened hearts slowly kneaded by the reign of God, it's a cathartic, poignant, gift. 

The day after Christmas we pack up our shiny new toys, fill our mugs with fresh coffee and head to the lake, Clearlake. As I bring my mug from cup holder to lip, I'm aware of the hand of God that moves us from complacency to peace, the conveyance of story teller that drives us from a standard reality, to edifying and mysterious places. 

Great writers painstakingly construct their fiction with small but significant details that, brushstroke by brushstroke, paint the picture the artist hopes to portray, the strange or familiar realities of which they hope to convince us; details of landscape and nature, of weather, of fashion, of home, of drink, of botany, of music, art, of all the things with which we humans express our complex individuality says Francine Prose. 

Those seemingly simple but well chosen details shed light on our character, hopes, dreams, and vision of life. To shed a more powerful light on seemingly simplistic behaviors, that mold, define, and shape not only our comprehension, but our appreciation for the precious gift of life. The details are not only the building blocks of how we put our story together, but clues to something deeper, a glimpse into that which holds us, our favorite mug. 

What are three things associated with the first letter of your first name? Leave a few details in the comments! Merry Christmas all. 

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

How to Fall in Love with Your Cover

Is there anything better than a shiny new book cover? Especially when it's YOUR shiny new book cover? Whether you're traditionally published or an indie author, the thrill of seeing that email in your inbox with the subject line: "Cover Draft" never gets old.

The possibilities are endless before you open that email. It's the first visual representation of your book baby. The excitement is palpable.

Then you open the email.

And it's not...all that. It's not even close to what you were imagining, despite the detailed cover form you filled out. Why? Why is this draft cover in your inbox so far from your vision? You filled out the cover form!! You were perfectly clear.

Weren't you?

Chances are, you were very clear. To your brain twin. You know, that person who thinks exactly like you do and knows that when you specify a guy who's kind of a cross between Channing Tatum and Liam Helmsworth, you really mean Henry Cavill. He's not doing book covers (but then again, Beyonce just did a wedding, so anything's possible, right?), but you figured there was a stock photo model who would pass. And this guy...could not be mistaken for Henry Cavill. Ever.

So, what to do?

After you freak out - and send the photo to a sympathetic friend - take another look at the cover and ask yourself:

  • What do you like about the following?
    • Colors
    • Fonts
    • Cover model(s)
    • Background
    • Title treatment
    • Title placement
    • Author name placement

  • What, specifically, do you not like about the following?
    • Colors
    • Fonts
    • Cover model(s)
    • Background
    • Title treatment
    • Title placement
    • Author name placement
The more specific you can be about what you like and don't like, the easier the conversation with your cover designer - who is NOT your brain twin after all - will be. If you're traditionally published, the changes you're able to make may be limited, which is why it's even more important to be able to dive into specifics. 

If you're an indie author, though, this is only the beginning. It may be that draft number one of your cover is a starting point for the conversation about everything you do NOT want your cover to be, but chances are, there's something in the existing cover that you'll want to keep and your designer needs to know that.

Of course, they also need to know what's not working for you. A black background on a rom com can work, but only if that's your vision. A swirly curly font on a sci-fi novel probably doesn't work very well. As for that cover model...

You can save yourself a world of frustration by diving into stock photo sites yourself, to give your designer some options. Deposit Photos, iStock, and Shutterstock are the favorites, but there are others. It's a minefield, but also your best bet for communicating your vision.

Speaking of vision...there's a lot of differing opinions about providing a cover mock up to your designer. *I* think this isn't a bad idea if you've got a very specific vision. But I also think the cover mock up is best provided in the early stages, not after a first draft. I've given my cover designer a mock up and gotten a much-improved version of said mock up, but I've also provided a mock up and never heard from the cover designer again, so this is definitely a "tread carefully" area.

At the end of the day, the cover designer is an artist. Just like you. His/her vision for your cover might not match yours, but you both want the same thing - a cover that will sell the hell out of your book. Chances are excellent you'll get there - as long as you're clear in your communication through the drafting process. 

What's your top tip for working with a cover designer? And, while you're at it, who do you recommend?

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Tragedy of My Latest WIP

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, and I'm inadvertently continuing on fellow ATB blogger Kimberly G. Giarratano's theme on revisions

Once upon a time, I thought I had my writing process down. I’d start with oodles of brainstorms, then meticulously plot the story, then outline each chapter so that by the time I started writing, I’d have a pretty solid blueprint for what I was doing. Just add words. What emerged was usually pretty solid, and any revisions that needed to be made would be a relatively simple matter of condensing some parts, expanding others, and cleaning up.

In the past two years or so, I’ve been doing more pantsing—that is, writing without a specific plan and just seeing where the story goes. I’d still have something of an outline in my head, though—at least I’d know the major plot points and the shape/direction of the story. But perhaps more importantly, I had a solid sense of what the voice would be.

That’s where I thought I was with this latest WIP, which is a novel-length origins story for two characters I’d already written about in multiple short stories. This should be easy, I thought. I already knew the characters and the world, and all I needed was a plot. And so I hashed out a basic outline—the book was a mystery, so I figured all I needed was to map out who the suspects were and how the characters would discover the clues. The rest, I believed, would work itself out along the way.

I wound up writing the entire manuscript in about two and a half weeks total (I wrote the first four chapters of so in about three or four days, and then set it aside for a while to work on other things, then picked it up again and finished the rest in two weeks or so). Partly, it was because I had a deadline—I’d signed up for my local writer group’s full-novel critique session, and the date was coming up fast. And partly it was because I underestimated how many other things I’d have to work on at the same time as this book. I also got cocky. Having the characters, the world, and the mystery plot made me believe I was at that “just add words” stage.

Wellp, I was wrong. Writing in such a rush meant I purposely skipped over some parts. But it also meant that I didn’t think through others. Going into my critique session, I thought my revisions on the manuscript would be a simple matter of inserting the stuff I’d skipped over and expanding some parts.

My critique group gave me a lot of great feedback with regard to what was missing. But more notably, the remarked that the narrator’s voice and back story weren’t quite working. The book was supposed to be YA, but was coming across as more childish. Which was weird since I’d written this character before. But after reviewing the manuscript, I realized they were write. The voice was actually rather different from what I’d used for the short stories, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. And her backstory, which I’d purposely left rather vague in the short stories, was flat, and that in turn made her rather flat. Maybe I didn’t know this character as well as I thought.

And so what was supposed to be a simple matter of “add more words” soon evolved into “rewrite the whole book.” Beyond reworking the voice and the back story, the entire beginning needed to be redone to better capture the mood of the world—and to actually have some kind of hook. And the middle section, which was super rushed before, needed to be redone to let the main character be more involved in the plot. I think part of the problem was because I had the suspects and clues all planned out, I just plopped them into the manuscript without actually giving the character a chance to discover anything. The ending might be okay, but all the revisions to the earlier parts of the book will probably have some downstream effects. Also, the voice.

Basically, I set out to write one book, accidentally wrote another because I was in a hurry (and got cocky), and now have to actually write the book I meant to. There are some parts that can be salvaged, and I do think it’s easier reworking a manuscript—even if it’s 90% of a manuscript—than starting completely from scratch. Still, suffice it to say that I’m not loving this situation. Especially since I’d planned to finish revisions by now, and I haven’t even started (though that’s mostly because I was feeling super burned out in November after two months of nonstop work on the two books I have coming out next year).

But even though my first draft ended up being an utter disaster and even more of a mess than most first drafts, I'm glad it at least exists. Sort of.

Have you ever had to redo your entire manuscript after writing it? What was it like?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Notes on a revision

Greetings, readers! Depending on where you are located in the world, it could be bone-chilling cold or a balmy 70 degrees or monsoon season. Whatever your weather, I hope your holiday tidings are sweet. You know what's really fun to do in December? 😏 Revise a novel!

December is the worst. I blink after Thanksgiving and it's Christmas. But, typically, December is when I find myself finishing up a manuscript. And because New Years is a pretty cut-and-dry beginning, I like to have that same manuscript done before the Ball drops. It makes me feel good. Something off my annual plate.

Honestly I love revisions. I've already put words on the page, now I get to make them look pretty. I mean there is way more to it than that, but for me, the hard part is over. It's time to make the story shine.

All writers have a revision process. Some revise and edit constantly before adding to their word count. I have a tendency to revise half-way through the drafting process. I make structural and plot changes, kill or add a character, change villains. Etc, etc. Then I rewrite a lot. Then I tweak the plot some more. Then I finish. And while I'm doing that I make a bulleted list of things that need to be fixed. These are things that I don't need to stop writing to worry about. And this bulleted list is literally notes on scrap paper. I work in Scrivener, but I find my revision notes are best kicking it old-school. My current ones are on graph paper.

I'll show you a few.

  • Make weather descriptions more applicable to early October.
  • Does Clark miss Forestport? Make it clear if she does.
  • Establish sister's criminal past.
  • Remember to firmly establish Clark's PTSD.
  • Change Yelena's name to Sylvia
  • Draw a map to get bearings
  • Solidify where Wendy lives
I have a ton more, but then I'm giving away spoilers. For me, a bulleted list is the most efficient way to revise. No elaborate charts or grids. Just notes that I can cross off as a I complete them. When revising, the key is to start big, then work your way small. 

Only then, when the story is strong, do I form chapters. In Scrivener, I group scenes into chapters based on word count. It's incredibly arbitrary, but so far, no one has complained.

Once I tackled the bulleted list, I pass the book onto trusted readers. At that point, I incorporate feedback.

Everyone talks about plotting vs. pantsing, and process. What's your writing process? But rarely do I hear about the revision process. What does that look like? It's daunting to write a book in the first place, just to go back over it a trillion times trying to correct all its flaws. It's like fixing the universe. There is so much to do. But all writers do it. So....

How do you revise?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Making the Switch

For the last four years, all of my writing has been done in Word. I came from the corporate world so it was familiar to me. As a whole, I like it and I’ve learned how to use certain formatting techniques to make final edits for both e-book and paperback a little easier. Once I was well into this writing gig, I started hearing about writing programs, such as Scrivener. I was intrigued, but I was comfortable with what I knew. I didn’t want to waste time learning a new platform—and what if it made it more difficult to get my books into their final forms? But, I’m a sucker for a good program and so it stayed on my mind. I figured I’d make the switch after I finished my current manuscript so I wouldn’t have to transition in the middle of a project. 

Well, Christmas came early.

No—I haven’t finished the manuscript yet for that book I told you I’d finish by the end of May. But I did finally get a new laptop. I didn’t realize just how much the old one was holding me back. I kinda feel the way I did back when we made the switch from dial-up to WiFi. Oh, hello, Productivity. I’ve missed you.

I figured since I have a new laptop, I might as well go ahead and download Scrivener. Even though I haven’t finished that epic manuscript yet, I plan to learn how to use it through other projects. Such as this blog post. I’ve always written all my blog posts in Word first and then copied them over to the website to post. I did this because my Internet would often crash at random times and I didn’t want to lose all my work. The other reason is I like to keep a record of all my writing and back it up to my external drive. Anyway, I converted my Word document for this blog into a Scrivener project. This is my first use outside of the tutorial, but my first impression is:

One of the things I’m loving so far is that I can split each topic into a document. And each document is sorted into the year that I wrote them. I can now easily go back and see what I’ve written about before. I often look back over my topics to make sure I’m not just regurgitating the same ideas over and over again. Previously, in Word I’d have to scroll through to find the titles. It was doable, but not efficient. And I like efficiency. Some of you are probably yelling at me through your computer screen/phone telling me that I could just filter down to my posts on the blog itself. Yeah, I could, and I have. But remember my computer problem mentioned above? My connectivity was so poor and sporadic that I got used to working off-line until the last possible moment. Now I don’t have to worry about it. It’s all listed on the left side of this screen.

In the screen shot you can see that I also insert notes to myself in my post draft telling me where to insert graphics. Another thing Scrivener allows me to do is drop images or other document types down in the ‘Research’ section. I’m not yet sure if I’ll use that feature for my blog posts, but who knows. At least I can do it if I want to. 

Another thing I think I’m going to love about Scrivener is the way I’ll be able to keep track of ideas for future blog posts. Back up in that screen shot, you can see I created a section called ‘Future Ideas’. I sometimes write a post I won’t need right away. Like I did for my next BJHJ, which won’t be scheduled until sometime in 2019. I had an idea and didn’t want to lose it, so I went ahead and wrote the post now. I don’t know when Steve will put it on my schedule, so here in Scrivener it can sit nice and safe in the ‘Future Ideas’ category until I know. Then I’ll slot it into the 2019 category when my time is up. I sometimes also draft out other ideas that I don’t know if I want to make a topic or not. I’ll keep a draft of the post or outline until I decide. Again, I’m loving Scrivener for helping me keep it all organized. 

Now, my big challenge is do I want to group all my blogs into this one Scrivener project, or do I want to create one for each blog? I see pros and cons for each. There is no wrong answer, and the cool thing is I can play around with it and try it both ways to see what works best for me. 

Oh, and I should mention that the conversion from Word into Scrivener and splitting each post into a new document was super easy. 

Now I’m off to see how easy it is to transfer this document into Blogger. If you see a well formatted post then you know it went off without a hitch :D 

~ Carrie

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Book Titles and Some Personal Pitfalls

I often have a hard time getting started on a new manuscript without first coming up with at least a working title. Having a title makes it realer to me. I know the title of a Work in Progress (WIP) is always subject to change, but I've got to have a name for it while I'm working on it. I'm sure many other writers operate that way, too.

While my manuscript is still just a rough draft, the title can be anything. I've got one WIP  I'm calling "Lady Punisher" even though I know that will never be the final title. It simply reminds me that I intend to write a book that attempts, among other things, to gender-flip the popular Marvel comic book anti-hero, The Punisher.

The closer I get to publication, though, the more decided I become about settling on a viable title. Sometimes that title comes to me easily, and sometimes it's a frustrating process that involves making long lists of possibilities, many of which are quite bad. My first published novel was called Midnight Burning. I had submitted it to the publisher as "Midnight Sun" because the story was set in Alaska ("Land of the Midnight Sun") and featured twin siblings from Norse mythology who represented the Sun and the Moon. But alas, Stephenie Meyer (author of Twilight) had a rather notorious side project at the time called Midnight Sun in which the Twilight story was re-told from Edward's point of view.

Ultimately, my publisher and I decided we didn't want readers to draw assumptions about my novel based on Meyer's work, so we came up with a long and tedious list of alternatives before settling on the final. You'll find quite a few "Burning Midnight" titles (since Burning the Midnight Oil is a common phrase) but Midnight Burning is rather unique and original and conveys the idea I'd wanted to get across with the "Midnight Sun" idea. It also set the tone for the sequels as we decided to stick with the time-of-day themes: Arctic Dawn and Molten Dusk.

My next-to-be-released book is a YA Epic Steampunk Fantasy called Crown of Thunder (Releases next week on December 3rd! Pre-order now!). It's the third and final book in a trilogy (The Stormbourne Chronicles). I had decided on the titles before ever approaching the publisher with the first book. And when the publisher announced the series, all three titles were reported at that time: Heir of Thunder; Quest of Thunder, and Crown of Thunder.

The series documents the journey of young demi-goddess, Evie, as she grows from a naive heiress to a confident, powerful queen. The succession of titles was rather easy to determine because they demonstrated Evie's character arc. Also, "Heir of Something" is a common naming device in young adult fantasy, and I chose it intentionally to signal the genre and target audience.

But even after all the consideration I give to choosing titles, sometimes it's impossible to avoid sharing titles with other works. Just the other day, fellow ATB Blogger, Mary Fan, was discussing her latest read, a book called Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi. I'd been interested in the book, too, and while discussing it with Mary, she mentioned its upcoming sequel will be called, of all things, Crown of Thunder.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Oh well

So, it's a good thing, perhaps, that book titles can't be copyrighted, no matter how hard some authors (ahem... Cockygate) wish it were otherwise. It's actually a common thing in the publishing world for books to share titles. Without that flexibility, some of us would have run out of options for naming our books long ago.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Beavers, Bees, and Me

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
When I was in Boy Scouts we were working on a badge - I can't remember what it was, Citizenship in the Community or something like that - and our instructor posed us a question:

"When you have a project that needs to be done, who do you give it to?  The busiest person or the least busy person?"

As an adult reading this, you probably already know the answer, or at least have sussed out that it's a trick question.  Being twelve or thereabouts at the time, we naturally all agreed that the least busy person would have the time to handle whatever project you gave them to do.

"Wrong," our instructor explained, "it's unfair, but if you want it to get done, you give your project to the busiest person.  The least busy person isn't lacking in work, he's just not doing it.  The busiest person has figured out how to prioritize his work, so if you give it to him it'll actually get done.  If you give it to the least busy person, it'll just sit on his desk."

That's always stuck with me, but until recently I had never thought of myself as the busy person in that metaphor.  This past month, though?  I get it.  You could probably hand me the blueprints for an international space station and I'd figure out a way to get it done in my ever-dwindling spare time.

Here's what I've been up to since last you heard from me on October 29th:

1.)  Boring Day Job Project #1

Lest you think everything in my life is fun and games, I will bookend this list with just two of the notable issues that have come up for me at work.  The first, as briefly as possible, is that the bank we were working with for the last ten years lost the contract to work with us.  So, the short term nightmarescape of that is that I've spent the last month trying to oversee this horrifying bank changeover while making sure that no one is wanting for the supplies and equipment we provide them.  The long term horror is only just beginning.  The details would bore you to tears, but trust me, it's been awful.

2.)  Editing SKINWRAPPER

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to sell the Italian language rights for THE HEMATOPHAGES to Dunwich Edizioni.  In addition to that deal, Dunwich asked me for a marketing tool, either a short story or a novella, preferably in the HEMATOPHAGES universe.  Those of you who have read it know it has a bit of a definitive ending, so I proposed a prequel novella.  I managed to just barely finish the novella at the end of October, but I've been editing it ever since.  I wouldn't normally take a month to edit 20,000 words, but I've been interrupted by...  

3.)  NaNoWriMo!

Oh my God, has this been taking up my time.  I've even had to put the SKINWRAPPER edits which are on a soft deadline on the back burner for this.  So, normally I write a whole post analyzing my NaNo stats, but this year I'll be brief.  This is the closest I've ever come (I think) to my much dreamt about NaNoWriFoNi, in which I theoretically would finish 50,000 words in two weeks.  This year I finished on the 20th, which is still quite early for me.  It may actually have been a net positive to have SKINWRAPPER hanging over my head, because I consistently put in 3000-word days, and only once failed to meet par of 1667 words.  Every day I was trying to plow through so I could get some editing in.

Overall that means I was averaging about 2500 words a day for the days I was writing.  (This picture, which I pulled today, shows the average as though I were still writing.)

How about you?  How's your NaNo going?  Almost done?

3.)  Chessiecon

One of the reasons I always endeavor to finish NaNo at least a few days early is that Chessiecon comes at the end of November.  This year I appeared on ten (!) panels over the course of the weekend and at the mass signing.  The panels were such a whirlwind I'm having trouble distinguishing them in my mind now, but hopefully I got a fair amount of good advice out there to aspiring authors.  I also had the unique opportunity to have lunch/dinner with the legendary Scott Edelman, where he interviewed me for his podcast "Eating the Fantastic."  I think this came out splendidly and I'm really looking forward to sharing it with you guys.

5.)  Boring Day Job Project #2

Ugh.  The reason I bookended these two, although they've taken up a great deal of my time, is that they're terribly dull.  Next week I have an inspection.  No, not just an inspection, the inspection.  The massive inspection that only occurs every eighteen months.  So all month I have been pulling samples and trying to get people to update their training and complete the various dribs and drabs that should all have been done already.  This week is the final nose-to-the-grindstone ordeal.  Wish me luck!

What about you?  What have you been up to lately?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Art of Revision

By Cheryl Oreglia

What's behind me does not matter? I call bullshit. I'm looking in the rearview mirror of life and all I see are ghosts. I realize it's morbid, and this is supposed to be a holiday piece, but I have no idea how to get there. At first glance there is this annoying tug at my heart, okay it's more of a slam to the ground, knock the air out of my lungs kind of feeling, but I'm still conscious damn it. I come from hardy stock.

How is it possible that most of the people from my earliest memories are gone. Out. Away. Not lost, but departed, and their memory haunts me, as if noticing a hooded character in the backseat of your car, after driving for thirty minutes, in the dark. I want to slam on the brakes and run. Is anyone with me?

I've been forced to become a revisionist, a person with a revised attitude to a previously accepted situation, or point of view, and let me just say it's not my forte. The ability to revise is developmental, as if a child who learns the person playing next to them has the exact toy they want, they grab it away, and are rewarded by a satisfying howl. It's the howler who is forced to revise, as their situation has shifted, and the adjustment can be a retched experience. We are not particularly good at this until some time later in life, possibly in our mid-fifties, when it becomes an essential skill. Are you feeling the good cheer yet? No, good, then you're with me. 
“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.” Henry Green
This skill is not natural to me (nor is it moral) or fruitful I might add. Holidays are supposed to be set in stone, the table decorations come down from the rafters year after year, a little worst for the wear, but perfectly serviceable, the meal is fossilized, passed down from the pilgrims I believe (especially the crab fondue). We all have our spots at the table, except for an unexpected cousin, uncle, or friend who ends up at the auxiliary table, set up in the family room for the noisy group. I never considered revising a single thing. The same thinking, I might add, could be applied to my life.

When I'm working on a blog I sometimes find it difficult to get to the gist of the story, the pivotal moment, the climax. So I write, keep my fingers busy, while my mind searches for material in the medley of words. I'm not sure from whence I'm searching, snippets of pieces I've recently read, or more likely I'm appropriating someone's thoughts who is already dead. I get about ten sentences in before I start lamenting to myself. This is total shit. It's rather pathetic but as I've stated before, writing is a lonely endeavor, possibly psychotic in nature. 

So I methodically go back to the beginning, comb through the material until I'm happy, but still there is no point to the damn story, it languishes on truisms, leaving a trail on the page as if a snail working it's way across the driveway, but gets run over by my car. Not intentionally, you understand, but smashed all the same.

I keep at it, rewriting my life, expecting new results, until it happens, the unexpected, and I'm left howling in the corner over the loss. I look at the guy now holding my shiny toy, the guy with a God complex, and I start plotting my revenge. You know what I mean? I'll just live long enough for you to regret that move, or if I wait long enough you'll tire of this circumstance, and give me back what I want. My shiny red shoes. Stay with me, I'm about to bring it home, I promise. You can always skip to the end, save yourself some grief, but it's risky (that's a layered statement if there ever was one).
"Word processors make it possible for a writer to change the sentences that clearly need changing without having to retype the rest, but I believe that you can't always tell whether a sentence needs work until it rises up in revolt against your fingers as you retype it." Nora Ephron
I had to do some revisional work in 1983, the year I married. We were supposed to exchange vows in October, but that date got highjacked by our good friends, who secured some highly desired mansion for their wedding reception on the same date, and since my fiancé was in their wedding, we took the next available date for the church we wanted, and ended up wedded in late November, which landed us in Puerto Vallarta for our first Thanksgiving together. And by the way they don't celebrate the Indians and the Pilgrims in Mexico the way we do. That was a shocker.

This year, thirty-five years later, my husband is transporting me to Spain for Thanksgiving. Yes he is. This is due to a massive revision in my life which I have avoided as if the plague. I have a daughter, son, and three grandchildren celebrating Thanksgiving in Utah, another daughter slicing turkey with her beau in Boston, a son gathering with expats in Australia, and the youngest son I'm dragging with me come hell or high water. I've been madly revising my expectations of this holiday for weeks but I have no context as I've never been to Spain. With the slight advantage of age I realize I have more choices than I had in my twenties, when Thanksgiving in Mexico seemed noticeably off course, but now my children are scattered across the globe, and although new areas have opened up for me, I don't have to like it. Do I?

As a professional revisionist I'm assaulted by questions at night. What should I have done? What could I have done differently? If I had the chance to do it over again what would I change? Nora Ephron says, these are not only the questions that keep me awake but led me into fiction, which at the very least is a chance to rework the events in my life so that I have the illusion of being the intelligence at the center of it, simultaneously managing to slip in all the lines that occurred to me later. She says fiction is the ultimate shot at revision.  
“I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” Don Roff
As I glance back in the rearview mirror, I'm not only reminded of all that has gone before me, but I'm forced to look forward through the windshield, albeit cracked in a few spots, I see a future (hazy from all the smoke in California), one that patiently awaits my revisions. Mirrors have a way of distorting images, things might appear closer than they are in reality, and that can be frightening. I exhort myself not to spend too much time thinking about how I might clarify this situation while life snatches up my favorite toys. 

The truth is I hope I'm somewhere in the middle of the road, because the older I get the more I don't want it to end, a road block or two is fine, but no sharp turns. What's behind me ends up being of great importance, it's the mold that shapes my future, the grist from which I've emerged. I'm holding tight to the idea, as long as I'm working on the beginning of this piece, the end remains unclaimed. 

Happy Thanksgiving from afar, here's to tamales, black beans, salsa, and an auxiliary table for the unexpected. 

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Seriously, Invest Time on Twitter

Okay, so in case you missed it, I have a new book out. If you're into horror and crime, please check out Coyote Songs. Now, like most indie writers, I have no machine behind me. I don't have an agent, a PR person, or a big press with money to spend on marketing. What I do have is Twitter. Yeah, I know it doesn't sound like much, but if you pay attention and put the time in, Twitter can be an excellent tool that could help you put your work in front of readers. Here are a few things you should do and/or keep in mind:

1. Twitter is unique 

Twitter's timeline is faster than any other. Things fly by and it's easy to miss a lot of things. That said, this also works in your favor because sharing a link twice per day on Facebook is different than sharing it four times on Twitter. The platforms operate differently, and that means that content on Twitter can be repeated without making people angry of boring them with the same content.

2. Retweets > shares 

I won't write a dissertation here on how Facebook strangles Amazon links unless you're paying to have them in front of users. What I will say is that Twitter doesn't seem to do that. Also, I don't have exact numbers, but if you compare the number of times people share a post of yours on other social media platforms and then look at the number of retweets you regularly get, the power of Twitter will become obvious. A single click. That's all it takes. In fact, I offer retweets every single week. I love doing it. You have a new book out? Let me retweet it. It takes less than a second and it lets me put books in front of eyes. If those people dig what they see and decided to do the same...well, that leads to number three.

3. The potential for organic growth is amazing 

I'm not saying you will go viral every week, but tweets have a tendency to get around more than posts on other platforms. Be witty, be funny, be engaging. Hell, in my case, I'm even political and inappropriate most of the time. Go ahead and call it pat of my brand if you're into that sort of thing. The point is that the ease with which folks can share your content on Twitter is almost unparalleled. Once something takes off, it grows exponentially and feeds on every retweet. There is no secret to this or a magic trick you can do, but the potential is there. Furthermore, content that has nothing to do with your book is the type of content that will get shared the most. That's just the nature of the beast. However, this gets you in front of people's eyes. This gets you seen and known. You get new followers. Users click on your name and go see your timeline. And the best part of it? It costs you absolutely nothing.

4. It's fun, not work

Writers with new books out are encouraged to write blog posts and do interviews, but at times (especially if you have one of two days jobs, kids, deadlines, and other responsibilities) this can feel like work. Twitter doesn't. It's right there on your phone and you can share words, links, photos, videos, and content from whoever you want throughout the day. It's fun, very interactive if you want it to be that way, and easy to do. 

5. It helps you build community 

Twitter is about community. It's about following others and sharing content yourself. It's about strengthening the writers around you and helping others because, although Dagon doesn't care about such small matters, a rising tide lifts all boats.

6. It's free

Yes, I know I mentioned it already, but it needs to be said again: it's free. There are too many predatory "review" sites charging authors for reviews (note: NEVER pay for a review). You can get on podcasts and blogs and websites, but you probably won't be able to do that every day. On the other hand, you can probably find scattered minutes throughout your day to be active on Twitter. Talk to people. Interact. Build your platform. Share a wide array of content. The time you will invest will feel like nothing compared to the benefits of learning how to use this tool. Now go and do it!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NaNo Halfway Mark, FOMO and Why I Don't Join In

Today is November 15, which is the halfway point of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Who's participating???

(In case you've stumbled across this blog and have no idea what NaNo is - the basic premise is that you write 50K of your novel in a month. 50K isn't necessarily a full novel, but it's usually a really solid start and decent length for a first draft.)

If you are participating, in theory you're halfway through your novel. You've outlined it, of course, and this may be the time when it's veering from the outline and you're not sure where the story's going all of a sudden. If you're in the US, Thanksgiving next week looms large and even if you just plan on getting a turkey sandwich from Subway, you've still got Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday to distract you. 

In other words, unless you're committed, this is when you falter.

Which is one of the reasons why I don't participate.

For me, starting NaNo at the beginning of November is never the problem. It's keeping going through the end of the moth - through Thanksgiving and the start of Christmas preparation. Stockpiling those words in anticipation of days off never seems to happen and then suddenly it's the Sunday after Thanksgiving and I'm 6K behind. 

And about that daily word count goal. To reach 50K words in November, participants need to write 1667 words per day. That's about 6 pages, give or take. Not a lot. Not even a whole chapter in most cases. But Every. Single. Day.

Which is reason #2 I don't participate.

I normally don't write on the weekends. Could I do it for a month? Sure. But do I want to? That's the harder question and, based on the times I tried to NaNo in the past, the answer was a resounding no. I tried to stockpile words during the week but it seemed like the more I stressed about making my word count goal, the less the words would flow.

Which is reason #3 - and the biggest reason - I don't participate.

For me, having a daily word count goal works the exact opposite way it's supposed to. I look at the number of words I'm "supposed to" write and...I freeze. I'm lucky if I get 1/10th of those words in. And they're not good words. They're words to get something down on the page. Writing my last book I discovered sprints and THAT was magic for me. But daily word count goals, not so much.

That's not to say I don't look at the communities on social media talking about NaNo and not feel like I'm missing out. I do! I am! There are many amazing people who do NaNo every year and the peer cheerleading is so supportive. The FOMO is real! 

But I've also been writing long enough that I have a pretty good idea of what works for me and what doesn't. For me, NaNo is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If this is your first NaNo and you're feeling that way, too, don't despair. It could be that you're not a NaNo type of person. But - and this is an important but - it doesn't make you any less of a writer. Not one little bit.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sequel Jitters

A post by Mary Fan
Last month, I put the finishing touches on WAYWARD STARS, the sequel to my YA sci-fi novel STARSWEPT, and sent advance copies off to bloggers and reviewers. And I’ve been spinning like a top ever since. One might think that sending out a sequel would be less nervousness-inducing, since the people who requested it presumably read and liked the first book (enough to want to find out what happens next, at least), and they’re already familiar with the world and the characters. So you’re basically giving your book to a crowd that’s already primed to like it.

On the other hand, the ghost of expectations is a terrifying thing. When I sent out the first book, it was a whole new thing for readers to discover, and though I was somewhat jittery, it felt different. It was “will they like this new thing I created?” With the sequel, on the other hand, I felt like I owed the people who’d stuck with me. And the nervousness became, “Is this good enough compared to the first book?”

A big part of the nervousness was due to the fact that WAYWARD STARS has a dramatically different tone from STARSWEPT. I like to think of it as being similar to how the bright optimism of the first STAR WARS movie, A NEW HOPE, gave way to the somber contemplation of its sequel, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. But of course, EMPIRE is legendary for a reason—not every sequel can pull it off. And I’ve been disappointed by enough crappy sequels to know how when they go wrong, they go REALLY wrong. Not only are they bad continuations, but they can actually ruin the first installment in one’s mind.

I didn’t mean to take my sequel in a more somber direction. Actually, when I conceived it, I was determined not to do that. When it comes to YA speculative fiction, the tone and general directions of series tend to follow a certain trajectory. Book 1: Clueless main character in a fascinating new world, discovering its (often dark, terrible) secrets alongside the reader, gets some fluffy, fun scenes but is slowly disillusioned. Book 2: Deal with the fallout from said (dark, terrible) secrets. No more fluffy fun. Book 3: Rise up and win the day, usually at great cost.

This isn’t a formula; this is basic story structure at play. It’s what we, at least in the Western storytelling culture, are primed to expect.

As a reader, I’m sometimes bummed out by Book 2 because I miss the fluffy fun of Book 1. So I was hoping, with WAYWARD STARS, to keep the fluff of STARSWEPT—with a focus on the competitive performing arts school stuff, as opposed to the sci-fi dystopia stuff. I had this whole concept for how I was going to do that, how I was going to spare my characters the gloom of a somber sequel. And… it didn’t work. Not at all. Not even a little bit. Because the fact is, this was a sci-fi dystopia against the backdrop of a performing arts school, not the other way around.

I had a lot of trouble writing WAYWARD STARS—so much that I wound up pantsing the entire second half because every time I tried to outline it, things just didn’t come together. I think it was because I kept trying to force it in one direction when the story wanted to go in another, and by pantsing, I was just going with the flow instead of trying to plan out contrived storylines.

Would readers accept the direction this sequel went in? Or would they be disappointed that it’s so different from the first book? Jitter, jitter, jitter.
It probably didn’t help that WAYWARD STARS is only the second Book 2 I’ve written, and, in a way, the first true continuation (with my Jane Colt space adventure trilogy, the books are more episodic). Though come to think of it, with the second Jane Colt book, I had a similar problem where I tried to force the sequel in one direction (even getting 30k words into 2 separate drafts) before realizing that the real story started in what was Chapter 15 or so in the outline. Maybe the lesson here is that I’ve got to stop trying to force my sequels.

Anyway, I’m happy with the version of WAYWARD STARS that eventually emerged, even though it wasn’t the book I originally imagined. And that’s good enough for me.

Have you written a sequel? Was it a continuation, or an episode? And were you jittery about it, or did it feel easier because it wasn't completely new?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The 'Write' Fit: Writers, personality, and process

Eek! I screwed up, hence why this post is coming to you late. It's two days post Election Day and my brain is entirely elsewhere. So I apologize. Also we had another mass shooting and my anxiety is through the roof, but I'm here. Because if it's one thing I hate, it's not showing up when I'm supposed to.
So Carrie's bullet journal post reminded me of something I wanted to write about. In Carrie's post she discussed how list-making helps her stay on track. It keeps her organized and focused. And I admire Carrie greatly because I always wanted to be the person who was organized. But you know what doesn't help me in the slightest? List making. Clearly, Carrie and I have two different personality types.

A year ago, hell, six months ago, I would've read about bullet journals and I'd have gone online to buy a fancy journal. I would've gotten excited about making lists, assuming that this system of organization would change my whole life. And then, I'd make a list only to freaking forget about it the very next day. And then I'd feel like garbage. Because as I've learned, I'm not a detail-oriented list maker. Carrie is. Kim is not.

You see over the summer, on the recommendation of several author friends, I took a class called Writer Better Faster. And despite the pithy title, this class is way more than simply learning one process to write better faster. This class, taught by the smart AF Becca Syme, doesn't instruct authors in some one-size-fits-all writing process. It teaches authors about themselves through personality and strength assessments to see what writing strategies will help them specifically. It is an eye-opener.

Most people have heard of the Myers-Briggs personality test. I don't want to get into the science on it, because I get overwhelmed with the details, but it basically boils us down into 16 personality types. (If you want to take a free test, you can google it, or you can click here). I took this test as part of the class, and I'm an ENFP. To be succinct, I'm an Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving.

So what does that have to do with writing? For example, I'm an extrovert (big surprise to anyone who knows me). I need to talk. And when I get stuck on a plot problem, I need to talk about it aloud with either another person, or to the wall. But either way, I need to verbalize my thought process. A mystery plot that I've brought to a convoluted halt? I need to tell my dog about it. Whereas an introvert needs quiet time to work it out internally, I need to break down things out loud.

I also discovered that one of my greatest strengths is adaptability. I can go with the flow. Plotting mysteries isn't something best left to pantsing, but as long as I know the killer and crime, I can find feel my way there. For so long, I have beaten myself up over having to rewrite my books at the 50K-word mark. Except this is something I've learned to accept is part of my process. It's not always efficient, but I get a better book when I've felt out the story.

Other things I've learned about myself:

I am not detail-oriented. I am a big picture kinda girl. This means that when I plot a mystery, I can nail down big plot turns, but small clues go by the wayside. On revision, I then need to insert those clues into the manuscript. A far easier task when the story is already done.

I work better in the morning. The early morning. When no one is awake and the coffee is all mine.

I can't do spreadsheets, and there is no point in keeping track of word counts.

And....I can't have the internet up while working. It has to be off. I can focus for chunks at a time if I'm in the zone. I often work at the library and don't request internet usage.

Also, I need quiet. Like a monastery quiet.

Perhaps you're thinking why would someone need a class to learn these things about themselves? Granted, I am oversimplifying a very nuanced approach to writing. But we assume so much about ourselves and then we read all these craft books that tell us, 'this is how you do it.' What works for some, doesn't work for others.

Anyway, if you can't afford to take a class, I suggest trying some of these online tests. See what they say. Then determine if you're setting yourself up for failure by trying to conform to a process that won't work for your brain.

Carrie's bullet journal keeps her focused. A 5am wake-up writing time works for me. What might work for you?

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