Archive for writing life

writing life

Goal Review

I woke up groggy this morning from a persistent nightmare (woke up in the middle of the night from it, reassured myself that it was a dream, finally went back to sleep, and found myself in the same nightmare), so I warmed up my brain this morning by flipping through my journal. It was interesting to go back and read what was going on around this time last year. Some things just don’t seem to change. Most of my plans are more or less the same, just with different book names. I even have some of the same promotional ideas that I haven’t gotten around to implementing.

Last summer, I was apparently having a milder version of the career crisis I had earlier this year. I’d set deadlines for myself for getting things together or finding a real job. I guess I don’t really want to find another job because those deadlines keep slipping.

I have made progress on some things. I was making plans last year to get the house decluttered and organized, and this year I have the downstairs mostly done. I just have some tidying to do in the living room and bedroom, but the bathroom and closets are done, and the trouble spots have been cleared out. I’ve also done the upstairs closets and bookcases, and I’ve made a good start on the office and loft. It will have to wait until it gets cooler before I get back to work up there because the air conditioning barely reaches upstairs. I should have the downstairs the way I want it before fall, and I’m on target to have the whole house done by the holidays.

I’m on target to reach my writing goals for the year, though I seem to keep changing what I’m planning to write. There was something I planned for last fall that I ended up not doing, and that gave me an idea for what I can do this fall because the timing should work out perfectly — unless something comes up.

The main thing I need to do is get better about promotion and marketing. I really hate doing that stuff, probably because that was the day job career I fled. I’d rather just hide in a cave and write.

But it’s nice to know that even though I keep making the same plans, I am actually starting to bring some of them to fruition.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Katherine Kurtz

In my ongoing series of posts about the origins and influences on my writing, I seem to have reached my teen years. That was when I really got into modern fantasy. I’d been obsessed with Narnia and had read Tolkien, and that had led into some of the “children’s” fantasy, such as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series and the Oz books. When Alan Dean Foster, whose science fiction books I’d loved, wrote a fantasy series, the Spellsinger books, I read those. But I hadn’t delved into most of the other fantasy being published at that time.

Then a book caught my eye at the library, mostly because of the cover. The art was similar to that on the covers of the Alan Dean Foster books, but it looked like something out of a fairy tale. I picked it up to look at and ended up checking it out. The book was Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz. I plowed through that book, then got the rest of the series the next time we went to the library, and then bought copies of the series for myself. I was utterly obsessed with those books. I fell madly in love with the characters, and I loved the sense of history. It was like it was a real world whose history we were getting to read. I also enjoyed the thread of faith worked into those books (complete with Bible verses at the beginnings of chapters). It worked like in the real medieval world, when faith was pivotal to people’s lives, and while there were evil people who used faith as a weapon to help them maintain power, the good guys also had faith and tried to live in accordance with it. This is an element that’s frequently left out of fantasy worldbuilding, and the way it was presented in these books rang true to me as a person of faith.

That led me into reading other fantasy published in the 70s and 80s, in the initial wave that came after the Ballantine publication of The Lord of the Rings. Most of it, I don’t remember much of. I do know I read The Sword of Shannara and Elfstones of Shannara. But there were so many others, some of which are probably forgotten now because there was a lot of “disposable” fantasy.

Strangely, I didn’t read the other Deryni books for some time because when I looked at the second trilogy, I saw that it was set in the past. I wanted to read about those original characters, not about other people. During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I went with a friend to a flea market. She told me it was a great place to find books, but I hadn’t found anything to interest me. I did see a copy of the first book in that second trilogy, Camber of Culdi, and bought it just to buy something to make my friend feel better about dragging me there. It was a few months after that before I finally read it — and then fell even more madly in love with those characters and that time period than I had been with the original trilogy. Rhys Thuryn from those books remains my primary Book Boyfriend. I eagerly got the next two books. I was overjoyed when I learned that a new trilogy was coming out. I was so excited about these books that I bought a set to give to a friend just so I’d have someone to discuss them with (how I’d have loved to have the Internet then). When I went to college, I displayed these books in my dorm room and used that as an icebreaker. I found a few friends because I knew they’d be kindred spirits since they’d read them, too. I did a paper on the world of these books for my parageography class in college.

It was through this obsession that I decided that fantasy was what I wanted to write. My first attempts at writing had been science fiction. Then I’d tried to write spy thrillers. But I started seriously writing with attempts at writing fantasy novels. When I was right out of college, I even won the fantasy category of a writing contest a couple of times (I eventually finished those books but haven’t sold them). Oddly enough, I still haven’t sold a “traditional” fantasy novel along the lines of Kurtz, and I’ve only drafted a couple of attempts at one. Everything I’ve published has been contemporary or Victorian/Steampunk.

I’ve actually met both of the people who led to this obsession. Darrell K. Sweet, the artist who did covers for both Alan Dean Foster and Katherine Kurtz, was artist guest of honor at FenCon once. And I was a guest at a convention where Katherine Kurtz was a guest of honor. I had a major fangirl moment when I ended up sitting next to her at a booksigning, and I thought I would faint when she picked up one of my books to read the back. I eventually managed to pull myself together enough to mention what her books had meant to me, and I got to hang out with her some, which felt rather like an out-of-body experience. I actually ended up spending more time that weekend with her husband, since it turned out that we had similar backgrounds as military brats and had lived at some of the same places, so there was a lot of “did you ever go to …” going on.

I do still want to write a traditional fantasy along the lines of the Deryni books. It’s a harder sell these days because it’s been done to death and you have to find some new twist on it. Right now, grimdark seems to be the trend, but I’m not so into the blood-and-guts, life sucks thing. I may just do it and publish it myself so I can tick that box off my literary bucket list.

writing life

Routines and Magic Formulas

My progress decreased quite a bit yesterday because such a big chunk of time during my prime writing hours was devoted to dealing with the air conditioner service. I don’t know if my tech was new and they were having a supervisor check on him or if he was baffled by something and called in a supervisor, but I ended up with a bonus person checking things out. Apparently, everything with the way my system is set up is a bad configuration. I pointed out that they were the ones who installed it, and they had to admit that there really isn’t a way to do it better in this house without doing major remodeling. It’s just a bad design. I’d told the first guy that I knew it needed coolant. He tried to tell me the problem was in the configuration and in the kind of filter I had. When he finally went out to check the outside unit, he found that it was almost entirely out of coolant. As I told him. Now my house is cooling better.

But this adds to the reasons why I want to get a different house. So please buy books and tell people about my books so I can afford to buy a new house.

The break in routine and resulting decrease in productivity made it clear how routine-oriented I am. I may not believe in literal magic, but I definitely function as though there are magic formulas for things. When I find something that works, I can get a bit obsessive about it, to the point I treat it like it’s magic and if I can’t do that bit of “magic,” everything goes wrong. I discovered that writing before I do anything else on the computer drastically improves my productivity, so now I feel like the whole day is ruined if I so much as glance at e-mail before I start writing. I’ve been trying to get a certain number of words written before lunch, and when I didn’t do that yesterday, I felt like it threw the day off.

I’m trying to get better about resetting and moving forward when something messes up my pattern. I’m also working on dealing with the raging perfectionism. There’s a big difference between striving for excellence, figuring out the best way to do things and trying to be perfect, clinging to routines.

I’ve made great progress this week, about 25,000 words so far and still this afternoon to go. I like a lot of what I’ve written, and I’ve come up with some great ideas. I was supposed to be getting revision notes on another book today, but I found out that’s happening after next week, so I may get to finish this draft first. I’m planning to make July a month of intense focus. It’ll be too hot to get out and do much of anything, so I might as well use the cave time to get things done.

writing life

Not Wasting Time

I made it up to more than 7,000 words yesterday. I think my record is just under 9,000, on a day when my ISP went down and I had no Internet all day during the time before I got a smart phone. I think that says something about how I use my time. It’s way too easy to just hop online during a writing break to check e-mail, then turn that into an hour-long surfing session without even realizing it.

I do seem to do better if the first thing I do when I sit at the computer is write, before I check e-mail or do anything else (aside from maybe checking the radar before I go on a walk, if it looks like it might rain or storm). I may still waste some time during the day, but I’m less likely to get into the “doom loop” behavior in which I go round and around the same sites before I force myself to get to work.

I’m trying to schedule my social media time so that I only do it during those times and not on my usual breaks. I need to spend my writing breaks moving, not sitting at the computer. I’m also making myself take the computer to a desk where I sit on a balance ball as a chair when I’m doing online stuff. That makes it harder to lose track of time and it means I’m doing something mildly active just in sitting there.

This book is going off in some unexpected directions, largely thanks to the research reading I did during the Vacation Bible School week. The major event I had planned now isn’t going to happen at all because it’s been replaced by another major event that’s more relevant to the plot (the one I had planned just sort of happened and my characters had to react to it). That’s the event I get to write today, and I’m rather excited about it. It’s so vivid in my head, and I hope I can capture that and put it into words.

My routine is going to be somewhat interrupted today since I’m having my annual air conditioner tuneup. My appointment was 10-noon, and they called at about 9:30 to say it would more likely be in the 11-noon timeframe, so I’m in waiting mode. It’s been a cooler-than-normal summer for us so far, but I want to be sure everything’s working properly before July hits and we start getting our usual weather.

writing life

Breaking Out of the Bubble

I spent most of yesterday feeling stuck, which usually means there’s a problem with what I’m working on. I’m trying to follow my outline, but the outline is the wrong way to go. After an afternoon trying to outline a scene, I gave up and did something else, then last night I sat down and listed the plot points that need to happen between now and the end.

And then I got sidetracked in the middle with a what if that turns out to probably be the key to the book. So now I have to replot, but that’s good. I’m actually going to be mean to my heroine, which I need to do, but I always have a hard time doing. I’m not a “put your characters in a tree, set the tree on fire, and throw rocks at them” kind of writer. I’m not even a “think of the worst thing that can happen, then make it happen” person. Though this plot development comes close. We’ll see how it works.

In the meantime, I’m pondering promotional stuff I might do. I’ve seen the statistics and demographics for YouTube and am pondering doing something with that. My degree is in broadcast news, so that’s definitely in my skill set. I haven’t really thought that it would be a good venue for promoting books, since if you’re watching YouTube, you’re not reading, but book content seems to be huge there. I’d need to figure out what to do with it. Maybe writing advice, talking about the background ideas for my books, some book reviews.

I suspect that the core YouTube audience doesn’t overlap with the core blog readership (which is kind of the point), but does anyone have any thoughts? Do you seek out authors on YouTube? I know I’d prefer to read something than watch a video, but maybe I’m not the kind of person I’m trying to reach here.

Then there’s podcasting. Again, I’d rather read something than listen to it, but I know there are people who use this for commuting or exercising. I used to love doing radio features (the kind of thing they do on NPR), so I could possibly have fun with that.

I’m just trying to find a way to break out of my bubble. My books are well-received. People who read them seem to like them. But very few people seem to have heard of me, and everything I do for promotion only seems to reach the same people who’ve already heard of me. I think if more people discovered my books, great things could happen. I just don’t know how to reach those more people. I’m particularly invisible in the fantasy world, and going to conventions doesn’t seem to have helped much. I don’t know what else to do to make a name there.

writing life

Inside the Mind of a Writer

Today I give you a glimpse into the strange mind of a writer.

Last night, I had a vivid and weirdly specific dream in which I was house/pet sitting for some friends while they were on vacation. Their cat, Yuki, had an odd fascination with one of the kitchen cabinets. She’d sit in front of it and yowl sadly, and if I ever opened that cabinet to get something, she’d crawl inside and look around. I thought it was sweet and funny that she was missing her people but thought that they’d gone into the cabinet when they went away. Then one day she came into the kitchen carrying a sheet of lined notebook paper, and she stuck the paper through the pull handle on the cabinet. I looked at it, and written on it in a childish scrawl in pencil was “Yuki (heart) you.” I wasn’t sure if the cat had managed to learn to write or if maybe she’d managed to get out of the house and some neighborhood kid had written it. Either way, it was a little astonishing that the cat had actually left a written note for her owners.

When I woke up from this dream in the middle of the night, my first thought after “that was weird” was “there’s got to be a story in there.” I ended up staying awake for some time as I worked out how it was sort of a reverse Narnia thing, with Yuki being from another world and coming through a portal that came out in a kitchen cabinet in our world. The people in that house didn’t know where she came from and just thought they’d been “adopted” by a cat. For a while, she enjoyed being treated like a goddess, but she was getting homesick. She thought that the absence of her captors would be the perfect opportunity for her to escape. They never allowed her in the kitchen cabinet, but the petsitter wasn’t as quick. Except, alas, the portal was closed and she couldn’t get back, so she left a sad note in tribute to her lost people.

Maybe the petsitter figures out that something’s up and helps her get a portal open to go back, then has to make up some story about the cat running away while she was petsitting.

And after all this middle of the night brainstorming, I overslept.

I’m not sure what triggered this dream. The subject of petsitters did come up in a conversation with friends last night, but we weren’t talking about cats, and I’d never be able to petsit for a cat if I had to stay in the house because I end up coming down with bronchitis if I spend the night in a home with a cat. And I really don’t know how I came up with the cat’s name.

I will have to add this to the idea file. Probably not for a whole novel, but it might make a cute short story.

writing life

Getting Precious About the Process

One of the panels I went to at the Nebula conference was on productivity tools, but the big takeaway for me wasn’t any specific tool, but rather something that should become my new mantra: Don’t get precious about your process.

I’m really bad about coming up with what feels like a magical formula and then feeling like all is lost if I can’t do it exactly. I’ve determined that I have my most productive days when I get up fairly early, go for a walk either before or after breakfast, then start writing immediately before I break to write my blog post and then finally check e-mail, social media, etc. But if circumstances result in me breaking that pattern, the rest of the day seems to fall apart for no good reason. It’s as though I figure the day’s a loss. And that’s silly because I can reboot at any time of the day and just make the rest of the day go okay.

I’m the same way when I make a schedule for the day. If something unplanned throws me off, instead of just getting back on track, I tend to give up entirely.

The truth is, there is no magical formula. There are ways that tend to work better for me, but if I don’t do the absolute best thing, there’s nothing stopping me from doing a pretty good thing.

I haven’t been able to stick to my process lately because I was having to deal with all the pre-convention stuff, and now the post-convention stuff. I’m going to try to do better today and just pick up where I can in spite of being off schedule because I desperately needed groceries in order to eat lunch today.

It’s not a magical spell, a recipe, or a scientific formula. If something happens out of order or if a step is skipped, the whole thing isn’t ruined.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Spy and War Novels

Picking up on the discussion of my origins and influences as a writer … I have one category that doesn’t really fit in with most of the others, though I suppose you could see it as an extension of the girl sleuth thing: spy and war novels.

I went through a big phase in 7th and 8th grades of being really into spy/adventure/war stories. I was particularly into World War II. I still am, from a history perspective, though I don’t read as many novels about it. I think a lot of it stemmed from the summer vacation we took between sixth and seventh grade. We were living in Germany, and we visited the American military recreation center that was in Berchtesgaden. The hotel was on the Obersalzburg mountain, and it turned out that it actually had been the Nazi VIP headquarters when Hitler had his home there. We were in the middle of what had been the Nazi compound. We took a tour of the bunker system during our stay and learned where all the main buildings had been. I was already somewhat aware of the war. There were visible bomb craters near our home, and I’d heard about how the place we’d lived previously had more or less been wiped off the map by the RAF, but this really brought it home. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how anyone could have let it happen. This was in the late 70s and early 80s, so most of the adults around us had been alive during the war, and I couldn’t imagine the ones I’d met being so cruel as to support Hitler and putting people in concentration camps.

So, I started studying the subject to try to understand it. I’m still studying it, and I still don’t have a good answer. But I think I did find some comfort in the stories of people who did make the right choices, who were brave and self-sacrificing. Reading novels about that made it make a lot more sense. I wasn’t so interested in the military side of things, all the battles and strategy. I’m more interested in things on the individual scale, which meant I read a lot of spy novels about individuals doing their thing even if no one would ever know their contributions. I read authors like Jack Higgins (and his alter ego, Harry Patterson) and Alistair Maclean and many others I don’t remember and don’t still have on my bookshelf. In seventh grade, we shared a library with the high school, so they had adult books, and they were all mixed in on the shelves with the teen books, so that was how I started discovering authors from the adult side of the regular library.

Some of my earliest attempts at actually writing a novel — typing out “chapter one” and an opening scene — were actually spy novels. I had a tendency to make up scenarios starring whatever actor I had a crush on at the time, casting him as my hero. I don’t think I ever got beyond the opening scene of any of these stories because I hadn’t really learned to plot yet. I just knew the situation, so I had the briefing scene in which the spy was given his mission (which may not even have needed to be in the book), but I had no idea where to take it from there. The main thing I learned was how to type. We had a manual typewriter that I found when we moved back to the States and got our stuff out of storage, and I taught myself to type on it as I wrote out these attempts at novels.

I don’t read a lot of those kind of thrillers these days, and I have zero desire to write one, but the idea of spies and secret missions still manages to make its way into my stories. And I do still love war movies and documentaries.

writing life

Today’s a double whammy blog day, as I also have a guest post at Fiction University on figuring out the best writing schedule for you.

Meanwhile, I think I need to give an update after my little meltdown from March, when I said I might quit writing. Strangely, I think that just giving myself that permission and letting myself consider other options made me feel a lot better about it. It may have turned it from something I felt obligated to do to something I was actively choosing to do. I think my social media purge also helped, as well as adjusting my ideas of what counted as “success.”

I said I might quit unless something happened to change the situation. I guess I was looking for a sign. Well, the next week, there was a Kindle Daily Deal on Enchanted, Inc., and my sales since then have doubled, and they’ve stayed at that level for more than a month. My May and June royalties on my independently published books will be a lot higher than they’ve been, and my next two Random House royalty payments should be pretty good, as well as possibly my audio royalties. And I sold book 9 to Audible. So, my money worries aren’t completely resolved, but my finances look a lot better than they did.

And I keep coming up with new ideas, which is a sign that my brain isn’t ready to quit. So, I think I’ll take it one book at a time. The book I’m revising now, the one for Audible, is coming out in the fourth quarter, and we’re looking at an August release for Enchanted, Inc. book 9 (so that I can release in e-book, print, and audio at the same time), so I probably won’t want to be juggling a lot of other work during all this time. Thinking about doing any other kind of job made me appreciate writing more, so I may address the financial issues by looking at other writing I can do. I keep joking about the low-stress, cozy fantasy thing, but I’m thinking in terms of maybe writing some “category” romantic fantasy — some short, light fantasy reads with a dash of “sweet” romance — and test the market for that. While I love a big, juicy fantasy epic every so often, when I’m busy and stressed, I would love something I could read in maybe a couple of sittings or on a weekend afternoon that’s just a fun escape with maybe some excitement but without a lot of additional stress. Sometimes you want a real page-turner whose outcome is in doubt, and sometimes you just want to run away to a magical place. Surely I’m not the only one.

So, that’s where things stand right now. I have too many stories I want to write to be able to stop, and if things keep going the way they have, I’ll be able to stick with it for at least a little while longer. I’m more at peace with where I am. I think I’ve also figured some of the emotional/psychological things that set it all off, but that’s fodder for another post. Thanks for all the support in the e-mails and blog comments. It was nice to be reminded that what I do brings joy to other people.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Narnia

I mentioned in the previous post about the influence of Tolkien on me as a reader and writer that I discovered C.S. Lewis around the same time—the fall semester of sixth grade. I’m not entirely sure which one came first.

I do remember how I discovered C.S. Lewis and the Narnia books. One day, there was something my mom and I were going to do after she got off work (I don’t remember what), so I was to ride the shuttle bus to her office after school instead of taking the school bus home. It must have been fairly early in the fall because I was wearing only a light jacket. I remember feeling very grown-up about riding the shuttle bus on my own, even though it was a green army bus just like the school bus (I was rather confused as a kid because books, TV, and movies all showed school buses as being yellow, but every school bus I’d seen was green). When I got to my mom’s office, she gave me a book she’d bought for me to keep me occupied until she got off work.

That book was The Silver Chair, and I was immediately captivated. That may be why I don’t remember why I needed to meet my mom at her office. Whatever we went to do, all I could think of was getting back to that book. I loved the idea of stepping into another world and going on a quest to rescue a prince, meeting up with all kinds of strange creatures along the way. I wanted desperately to find a way into Narnia. I really liked Jill as a heroine. For one thing, it was fun to have a girl a lot like me as one of the main characters. I’d read plenty of books with main character girls, like Nancy Drew, but they all tended to be people you could aspire to being, less people you could imagine being. But Jill was totally ordinary, caught up in all kinds of crazy things (gee, I don’t know where I might have gone with that concept in my own work).

I was really excited to find out that this book was part of a series, so there were even more books like it. I must have been rationing them so I wouldn’t get through them all at once and then have no more to look forward to, because we moved in February of the next year, and I know I didn’t read the last book until we were in the new place. The Lord of the Rings may have come into play for that because I know I read that whole series that fall, and that likely took a huge chunk of time away from potentially reading Narnia books. Finding both those series around the same time was what made me realize that there was an actual genre of books like that. Previously, I’d read by topic, sometimes by author, but it finally occurred to me that there was a whole huge category of books about magic and other worlds, and they could be very different from each other even while having things in common.

I did discover that I’d already read one of the books, The Horse and His Boy, during my horse phase, when I was checking every book out of the library that had the word “horse” in the title or had a picture of a horse on the cover. But that one’s a one-off that only tangentially ties into the rest of the series, and I was reading it as a horse book rather than as a fantasy book. I guess I got sidetracked into Nancy Drew during my witch book phase before I got to the L section where I’d have found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Narnia books became even more important to me after we moved because I went from a place where I was happy, popular, had a lot of friends, and was involved in a lot of activities to a place where I was the new kid no one wanted (I later learned that the teacher told the class the day before I started in that school that the new kid was really smart and they’d have to work harder. So of course they hated me before they met me). They didn’t have band at the new school, so I had to stop that, and they wouldn’t let me in the choir because it had already formed. The school didn’t have a cafeteria (or wasn’t using it), so they had a weird “accelerated” schedule in which we had only a very short recess and you were supposed to bring a snack to eat at your desk instead of having a lunch break, and then the school day ended at 2. I would head straight home and escape to Narnia. I wasn’t writing down the stories in my head yet, but I did dream up all kinds of scenarios in which I ended up going to Narnia or to places like Narnia. For a while, it even shoved Star Wars out of my imagination (at least until The Empire Strikes Back came out).

I’ve re-read the books many times since then, and I was surprised when I re-read them as an adult how bare-bones they were. I guess my brain really fleshed them out. When I saw the recent movies, I found myself thinking that this was exactly how I imagined things, but then I read the books again and realized that I must have filled in a lot of details.

One thing I like is the way Lewis structured the series to be both standalone and series. You could read the books in any order, but you got more out of them if you read them in order. He had the same cast of main characters in the first two books, with a mostly different cast of Narnians for the second book. Then in the third, two of the main characters were out and a new character with a big growth arc was introduced. And then he became the main character, with another new character introduced. I may have to figure out a series that works that way. You could do more books without getting bored with the main character, there’s continuity between books to draw people through the series, but they can jump in at any point instead of having to start at the beginning.

I still want to write a portal fantasy. I love following a character from our world into a strange world, and it definitely is easier to write than a pure secondary world story because at least you have a frame of reference. You can have your viewpoint character compare the strange world to familiar things.

I wish they’d made it to The Silver Chair when they were making the Narnia movies. I like the BBC version from the early 90s (with Tom Baker as Puddleglum), but the special effects are so very old BBC. And I loved the kid who played Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I really wanted to see him get to do The Silver Chair.