Responsible Adult

I’ve been out all week volunteering at a music and art camp for children, so my mornings have been spent herding kindergarteners around from activity to activity. It was fun, but very tiring. Now I need to get back to work, but I’m not sure my brain will cooperate. I’m being a bit of a slug this morning, and I’m tempted to give myself at least part of the day off today. Really, my birthday is early next week, so this could count as an extended holiday, but I do have stuff that needs to be done.

I haven’t quite finished the book I’m working on. I just have one more chapter to go, but it’s a big one with events I’ve been building to for a very long time, and I want to get it right. I need to think about what will happen, and that will require taking some time when I’m not distracted or falling asleep. This week, if I sat still for very long, I’d soon be drifting off.

Small children really are exhausting. As is being the Responsible Adult. It is nice to go back to not being responsible for anything but myself and some fictional people.

So Close …

I reached my target word count on the book, but I still have story left, so it may be a bit longer than my original plans. But that’s okay because it means I can cut anything I don’t love in the next draft.

The tricky thing is balancing all the characters. I realized that a secondary character I’d set up had vanished toward the end, so I found a way to include her in the big, climactic scene. My cast has grown to rather epic proportions and making sure everyone has a role to play can be difficult.

I may need a chart to keep track of everything and everyone.

And I’m finishing this book just in time, because my agent will soon be getting back to me on the book she’s been looking at, so I may soon have revisions to do on that one.

And there’s been a call for submissions for a science fiction/fantasy Christmas novella anthology, so maybe that’s what I could do for this year’s holiday story. But I need to write it, first.

So, off to work …


Almost There!

I’m so very close to the end of this draft, fewer than 10,000 words to my target word count, and at the point where I more or less know what will happen. That means a couple of days of hunkering down and shutting out the world.

Fortunately, this is the phase where it usually starts to get a little easier because I have some enthusiasm and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m out of the slog of the middle and at the part where things really get exciting.

In this book, I’ve got a few events I’ve been looking forward to writing for a long time, so I hope the execution lives up to my imagination.

For added motivation, next week is music and art camp, so if I don’t finish this week, I’ll have to come home after a morning with small children and try to get the energy to write. If I do finish, I can give myself a low-key week to maybe do some brainstorming and research or work on publicity stuff rather than worrying about trying to get the words out.

I think I need a little time to remind myself that I started out doing this for fun. It’s easy to forget that when you’re in the middle of a book and struggling to keep going in spite of all the other shiny new ideas, or when you see royalty statements and realize how little money you’re making from all this work. Writing was the way I played. Now it’s the way I make a living, but there should still be that sense of play about it.

My Writing Wisdom

The heat wave has temporarily somewhat broken, in that it was cool enough for me to walk outdoors this morning and it’s not yet 100 degrees now. I was even able to go out on the patio and tend to my plants without suffering. I finally managed to repot my basil plant because I could stay outdoors long enough.

Over the weekend, I started going back through some of my old writing posts to see if I might have the material for a book on writing. It turns out that the last time I compiled the posts into a document was in 2009. It’s amazing how much the world of publishing has changed since then. I hadn’t delved into independent publishing then. It was just something sort of on the horizon. Now I have nearly 10 years of additional posts. I’ll probably cull to only use the best, and some may be combined, where I have multiple posts on the same topic. And I’ll probably write some new, exclusive material.

One reason I want to do this is to practice formatting an e-book, using the resources I have. I want to see what I can do. Then I hope maybe putting this out there would get my name out, and I might make a little money along the way. So, win-win-win.

I don’t really have a target date, since this is something I’m doing in my spare time, but if you ever wanted to have my collective wisdom about writing and publishing, stay tuned for more news.

Heat Wave

We’re in the middle of an intense heat wave (high temperatures in the 109 range, still 100 degrees at 9 p.m., low temperatures in the mid to upper 80s), which has required some adaptation of my daily routine. It’s already in the upper 80s before 7 a.m., so I’ve been skipping my morning walk in favor of jogging indoors on my mini trampoline.

Because running in place is boring, I’ve been amusing myself by watching a documentary series on Tolkien’s influences. The episodes are just under half an hour long, which makes them the perfect length. The series was made for French television, but it’s narrated in English and they’ve added an English translation to the soundtrack when people are speaking French (but if people who speak English are talking, we hear them in English). The illustrator who did a lot of the production design for the Lord of the Rings movies goes looking for Tolkien’s influences in myths and legends, guided by a professor, which has him visiting a forest in Brittany, Tintagel, some castles on the Rhine, Iceland, and Oxford. The scenery is lovely, and it’s interesting hearing all the various legends. I finished that series this morning, but the worst of the heat may break tomorrow, so I may be able to walk outdoors in the morning.

Meanwhile, I’ve been avoiding cooking so I don’t heat up the house. I’ve made tea and toast, and last night I microwaved some corn on the cob, but otherwise I’ve been eating cold food. I’ve tried a few salad recipes that fit within the Mediterranean Diet guidelines, and I scored yesterday when I found a roasted chicken on clearance (one of the ones that didn’t sell when it was hot, so they sell it as cold food the next day). So I’ve got plenty of chicken to throw into salads. Otherwise, I’ve been eating a lot of watermelon, berries, and cherries. Although this started as a way to not heat up the house, I’ve been enjoying the food, and it’s good for me, so although I might start cooking again some when it cools down, I’ll definitely keep these recipes in rotation.

This has also been a good time to hole up inside and read and write. During the really hot part of the day, I don’t want to be doing anything more active. It’s nice to just sit under the fan.

We may stay under 100 tomorrow, then it’s back to around 100 but not as high as it has been, and next week the highs are supposed to be in the lower to middle 90s, which sounds kind of like a cold snap in comparison to what we’ve had. Still, I’m looking forward to October, and I’m hoping this is the worst of it and August won’t be so brutal.


Follow Me!

I’m not all that good at social media because I’m not particularly social. Still, I thought it might be a good idea to update all the places you can follow me and what you might find there.

So, there’s this blog, which is crossposted to Goodreads in addition to being on my web site. It’s where you’ll get more in-depth discussions about writing, life, and other things I’m interested in.

Crossposting the blog and responding to comments is about all I do on Goodreads. I might post the occasional review, if I remember. I’ve decided not to accept friends requests on Goodreads, since they’re now owned by Amazon, and Amazon sometimes gets wacky ideas like deleting reviews from people they think are authors’ friends because they’re “friends” on various social media sites. They don’t seem to understand the difference between being a fan who follows the author by becoming a “friend” on social media and who, as a fan, tends to post positive reviews, and a real-life friend who’ll post a five-star review just as a favor. So, it’s not personal if you’ve sent a friends request that I’ve ignored. I’m not active enough on Goodreads for being my “friend” to make any difference.

I’m on Twitter, @ShannaSwendson. I’m not super chatty there, but I might throw out the occasional thought.

I’m also on Instagram, shannaswendson. I’ve really slacked off there, mostly because I’ve been in writing mode, so there’s been nothing to take pictures of. I’d probably be more active if it worked on a computer instead of just mobile devices.

I have a Facebook page for my books, Shanna Swendson Books. I mostly post news announcements there. People are welcome to follow my personal Facebook page, but I’m limiting “friends” to people I’ve actually interacted with. That can include commenting on posts. But if I get a friends request and I don’t know who you are and haven’t seen you commenting (almost all my posts are public), I’ll probably ignore it, especially if your profile is locked down so people who aren’t friends can’t see anything other than your cover photo. I get way too many requests from scammers, and since I mostly use that for staying in touch with friends and family and it’s more personal than business, I had to institute that policy.

Did you know that you can also “follow” authors on Amazon? You’ll get announcements about new releases. To follow me, go to my author page and click the “follow” button. And on Book Bub you can follow authors to get news about new books. Plus, Book Bub allows you to recommend and review books and see books that authors have reviewed and recommended. To follow me on Book Bub, go to my page and click “follow.”

I don’t currently have my own mailing list because I kind of hate newsletters, and it seems like everyone is being bombarded with newsletters. For now, there are enough ways to keep track of what I’m doing. I may reconsider that later, but right now I can’t see that it would be worth the effort.

I do have a YouTube channel, but it’s not very active at the moment. I hope to start doing more with that when I get a couple of more urgent items done and can regroup on the PR side of things.

So, come find me in all these places! My follower count everywhere is rather pathetic right now. I seem to be the Invisible Author.

And while you’re in these places, you can leave your own reviews and recommendations for books you love (mine included, I hope!). Reviews and recommendations are probably the biggest way people learn about books and help keep books from being invisible.


Making Smarter Villains

I was pretty down on myself about productivity (or lack thereof) yesterday, but I really was kind of stuck. I didn’t like the scene I was working on, and it affected the things that would happen next. As a result, I fell prey to all kinds of distractions.

But I made myself do another round of brainstorming later in the evening, and that was when I realized that none of what I was trying to write really made sense. It fell into the “who would even do that, and why?” category. Meanwhile, a totally new event popped up, and that sent things into a different direction that will be a lot more fun.

So maybe all my distraction yesterday was my brain getting me out of the way so it could think of new stuff. This new stuff is pretty much going to kill a bunch of stuff I’ve already written, so I’m further from the end than I thought, but it’s a lot better.

Funny, I just couldn’t come up with a reason why the bad guys would meet in public to do their nefarious scheming so they could be overheard, even if they were using magic to create a zone of privacy around themselves (that they didn’t know wouldn’t work on a magical immune). I had the good guys meeting privately and being sure not to talk in public, and then the bad guys sitting in a restaurant to scheme. Ugh. So all that has to go, and the heroes have to figure things out some other way.

Villains can be pretty dumb, but it’s a bad idea to build your plot around that. It’s so much more interesting if they’re smart, but with maybe a blind spot or two.


The Best Writing Advice

One good effect of getting rid of cable while also shifting my schedule to being more of an early bird is that I’ve been reading a lot more. And that has reminded me of just how important reading is to being a writer. If you want to write better, read more.

Read the classics in your genre, the works that established the tropes.

Read the recent award winners and bestsellers, so you’ll know what’s currently setting the standards. Read new releases from debut authors so you’ll know what’s been bought recently from authors without a track record. Read the books that are getting a lot of buzz. Seek out things no one is talking about and try to figure out why.

Read outside your genre, especially in genres that cross over with yours. If there’s going to be a love story in what you’re working on, read romance novels. If there’s an action/adventure element, read action/adventure books and thrillers.

Read biographies and memoirs and books about psychology to get a sense of how different kinds of people think and behave.

Read history to get a sense of the patterns of events, actions, and reactions. Also, more about how people think and behave.

Read books about subjects that may come up in the stories you’re writing, such as science, food, textiles, war, diplomacy, revolution, technology, etc.

Read books about writing. Read books about business, marketing, advertising. An author is essentially an entrepreneur, so you’ll need to know these things.

Really, just read. You’re putting words and sentences and ideas into your brain, and it will all be processed for fodder. If you don’t like to read, if all this sounds like too much work, then it will be hard for you to make it as a writer.

For me, one of the best things about being a writer is getting to count time I spend reading as “work.”

writing, My Books

Origins of A Fairy Tale

When talking about summer being my planning time, I realized that I forgot to tell the origin story of my Fairy Tale series. That poor series is my forgotten stepchild. It sells okay, but makes up for that with being in audio and being published in Japan. I just tend to think of it as less successful because it gets about zero buzz. I seldom see people gushing about it online the way I do my other series. And it’s really, really hard to write, for some reason. I never seem to know what one of those books is going to be about until I’ve written a draft — and that’s after doing a fairly detailed plot outline. Entire characters and storylines appear out of nowhere to mess things up. I do plan/hope to write more books in this series, but they’re lower on my priority list at the moment.

A Fairy Tale

I started planning this series in the summer of 2009, so it fits my summer planning/research pattern. I’d had a proposal for a new fantasy series making the rounds earlier in the year, and the rejections I got were along the lines of “we were hoping for something more like Enchanted, Inc.” I had this vague mental image of a woman walking a bulldog down a city street and disappearing into the mist, and I had a character who’d been living in my head since I was in college who had never been quite right for any story I’d written. I’d also done a lot of research into fairy folklore for another project that hadn’t gone anywhere. All those things came crashing together when I woke up in the middle of the night with what ended up becoming Sophie’s first scene in the book, and I realized this could be my “more like Enchanted, Inc.” project. It had some things in common — the small-town Southern girl heroine thrust into a magical world — but was different enough that it wasn’t like I was just writing the same thing over and over again.

I was a bit discouraged about my career at that time, and I decided to make that summer into a boot camp of sorts, devoting a lot of time to reading books on writing craft, working on my writing, and really digging deep into developing this story. Meanwhile, I was researching various aspects of it — reading memoirs of cops to get into the head of one of the characters, reading books about southern women, reading more stuff about fairies and the psychological underpinnings of fairy tales.

In late August, I took a trip to New York to research the settings, and when I got home, I started writing. It actually took me a few years to finish that book because first I got sidetracked by Rebel Mechanics, and then the Japanese publisher asked me for another Enchanted, Inc. book. Between projects, I’d go back to this book and try to rework the ending until I got it right. Alas, when it finally went on the market, the editors didn’t know what to make of it. I was told it was too “romancey,” which is funny because there isn’t actually any romance in it. Characters have feelings, but don’t act on them. I guess they thought that since there were two cases of women meeting men early in the book, it was going to be a romance. If they rejected it for being too romancey for fantasy, they obviously didn’t actually read the whole book. By that time, I’d started self-publishing the Enchanted, Inc. books, so I decided to publish it myself. I guess maybe the publishers were right that there wasn’t a market for those books, but I still love them, as challenging as they are to write.

Now that the situation has been established, I’ve been thinking of transitioning the series to be more of a paranormal cozy mystery series, where Michael gets cases he needs to bring Sophie in on. It would be less about big stuff going on in the fairy world and more about these characters functioning between two worlds as their relationships slowly develop. But I have a few other things I want to get written first.

writing life

Hiding in the Cave

It’s supposed to be the hottest week of the year this week (at least, I hope there isn’t another worse one coming). Temperatures above 100 all week, and never going below 80, even at night. That means I’m going to have to get up earlier to take a walk before it gets sweltering, which means going to bed earlier. But it also means hiding inside under my ceiling fan, which is good because I need to be writing. I’m so close to the end of this book, and maybe if I buckle down and get to work, I can finish this draft this week and emerge from my darkened cave when temperatures go below 100.

Meanwhile, I’m counting the days to autumn.

Summer is generally when I’m planning books, which may be why it’s harder for me to actually draft right now. I have drafted in the summer, but for the most part, that’s when the ideas are coming at me and I’m creating worlds and characters, doing research, generally playing with the idea without actually putting it into words. Then I settle down to the actual writing in the fall.

But fall tends to be busy with conferences, conventions, and book festivals. Most of my weekends this fall are already spoken for, and there’s usually pre-weekend time devoted to preparation, travel, and recovery. That means fall may become my thinking about it time, since that can happen anywhere and doesn’t necessarily require concentration. In fact, going to different places and being in a variety of settings is good for thinking because it shakes things up. Then winter should be a good time for drafting because there’s not much going on.

I don’t always have that much control over my writing schedule, since a lot of it depends on the publisher’s schedule, but for the books I manage for myself, it might be good to keep this flow in mind.