If it doesn’t work…

Hey, everyone. I had this lengthy and elaborate post concerning the YA fantasy I’m working on, but I find this gif sums it up better.

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So now that I have cleared the board, I’m ready to fill it with newer and better things. I’ve spent the past few days writing up its history before transitioning to the outline. And let me tell you, I’ve never been more fucking excited about this idea since its inception back in 2005. Every other iteration is utter garbage. But it’s garbage I had to write in order to get to where I am right now.

I’m also convinced this surge of creativity means I’ll be employed very soon. I’m only ever this inspired when work is involved. So may this be a peek into things to come!

New resolve

Hello, everyone. November has passed; for those who participated in NaNo, I hope you reached your story goal. In years past, December was often relegated to recovery from post-NaNo writing madness. Not so for me this year. I’m using this last month of an admittedly shitty 2016 to gather my bearings.

I haven’t posted an update to PANDEMONIA since October. Between feeling down about my job situation and a steady stream of rejections from positions I applied to, it’s any wonder writing fell on the wayside. I’m not sharing this looking for sympathy. It’s just how things have been. The truth is one day, I stopped feeling sad and got angry. And when I’m angry, I get decisive. Time to stop wallowing and start DOING. Yes, I can’t make jobs appear out of thin air. So, after attacking my resume for massive damage I have turned my focus on doing what I love best: writing.

I started my return by reading over my NaNo project from 2014. It was the sequel to a new adult fantasy I’ve been working on since 2005. It’s incomplete (as seems to be the case for a lot of my stuff), but there’s no denying the passion I had for it. Even in scenes where I seemed to flounder, the characters shone through. One of my favorite scenes involves a funeral. There, a character undergoes a huge transition that ultimately changes the course of where her story is headed. I’m reading it and thinking, ‘Wow, this came from ME?’ I can’t be the only one who reads their own work and doubts its origins. Even when friends compliment my writing, there’s that teeny, tiny part that doesn’t quite believe. And I should. Cause damn.

Point I’m trying to make here is once I would have killed for all this free time to write. Time for me to use it.

 

 

Outside looking in

This year marks the first time since 2009 I am not participating in NaNoWriMo. I admit, it’s a bit weird. Then again, 2016 has shaped up to be weird for me anyway. The loss of my job in July has landed me on paths I have not tread since I first started working. I’m feeling out of sorts over it, plus other life-related matters. It’s part of why I’ve chosen not to join the writing frenzy. The other reason has to do with the quality of the content I’ve produced.

With the exception of one story, almost all drafts born from NaNo did nothing but sit in a folder. None were salvageable. Sure, I might have plucked a line or a character or two from them, but overall? Underwhelming. I’d re-read the story and identify parts where I was just writing to fulfill a word count. Now, I understand first drafts aren’t going to be good. I’ve said this to other writers struggling to get words down. First drafts, by definition, ARE going to be all over the damn place as characters and plot lines change. The thing with me is I have a set way of writing: if I suddenly have an epiphany about something, I drop EVERYTHING to make the necessary changes. My brain has trouble adjusting to the ‘fix it later’ mentality needed to complete a first draft. I’m working on overcoming this hangup. It’s prevented me from finishing so many drafts lately. I think I stop, drop, and edit out of some fear I’ll forget the tiniest detail and it will bring the whole story down. It’s stupid because I’m the only one who will notice but I obsess over it anyway. I am my own worst enemy.

Which brings me to the aspect of NaNo I miss most: the community. I really need to start branching out and looking for other readers. I’m going stir crazy on my own. Maybe join a writer’s group. I can’t let the one bad one I participated in color my perception of them all. How bad was it, you may ask? It was run by a guy who pretty much used the time to ramble about the lengthy sci fi trilogy he was working on whether you wanted to hear about it or not. Not exactly a fair exchange of ideas.

I’m still writing, of course. I’m currently working on a ghost love story as I break from updating content for PANDEMONIA as seen on Channillo. I hope to have chapter four up soon. In the meantime, if you’re participating in NaNo, good luck to you, and may we all overcome our personal writing demons to achieve our goals.

 

Female lead? Check. Strong story? Check. Eventual sexual assault? …wait, what?

This post will contain possible triggers, so be warned.

I was browsing my Twitter feed when I saw a friend of mine had RT’d the following:

The thread included some great links to articles and pages where women discussed the very nature of how rape is presented in SFF. Check out Do Better: Sexual Violence in SFF by Sarah Gailey. Another is a 2012 Livejournal post from Seanan McGuire. The fact that this was written four years ago means nothing, for these are ongoing issues. And I hate that it is.

Guys, I’ve read a lot of fantasy and sci fi over the years. The fantasy novels I’ve read are almost wholly guilty of including a sexually assaulted female character or one who narrowly escapes an attempt. And why? Plot device, mostly. Female character earns the ire of an enemy? Capture her and lock her in a room with lots of men. Female character leads an army? Better make sure she gets overpowered in a corner. Female character doing some grocery shopping? Best make sure she’s followed back to her car and/or saved by the Dashing Hero. Female character sitting on the subway with headphones on and reading a book? Make sure the guy next to her makes her as uncomfortable as possible, needles her for ‘not smiling’, or follows her home. In other words, if you have a female character, you as the writer are expected, nay, REQUIRED, to make sure her plot arc includes one or all of the above.

What’s that? It’s unrealistic not to include any of the above? Fuck you. None of my female characters are destined for sexual assault. NONE.

Why is this so common? Why is it we read so many books, watch so many shows, or pay to see so many movies, and we’re mentally counting down before a female character gets assaulted/harassed? It’s bad enough we as a society have become so goddamn desensitized to the subject that we can watch/read about it and not bat an eye. This, to me, is an insult to those who experienced it. Don’t add this element to your fantasy world.  Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution. Like Sarah Gailey says: do better.

 

Back to basics

Sixteen days into April’s Camp, and I have handwritten 50 pages. Quite the accomplishment, if I say so myself. I’m not bothering with a daily word count. In fact, I’m not really considering myself an active participant in Camp. I don’t do word sprints, word wars, or the writing challenges. To be perfectly honest, I think they’re pointless. I see the challenges suggesting the writer insert something completely random and I can’t help but wonder, How the hell does doing that improve on the narrative? If anything, won’t it just make things more complicated during the revision process? I look on these exercises with a critical eye because that’s not how I do things. Others, however, do, and that’s okay.

I’m simply writing. Like I’ve always done since I first thought to put pen to paper. I can’t remember the last time I worked on something that felt so natural. No strings attached, no preset goals other than that of finishing a draft, and no distractions. NaNo has sadly become a distraction. I was more focused on matching the word count than on writing. It became a competition with myself and other writers. Writing should never be a competition. And that is why I’m no longer going to participate.

Part of me feels a sense of betrayal since I do love the atmosphere NaNo creates for writers. I appreciate the community feel it fosters. Writing itself is a solitary craft, and people are social creatures by nature. Just knowing so many others are sitting at their computers (or at a desk with a notebook) plugging away at a first draft was enough for others to push forward. It was never about finishing, but starting something you may not have if left to your own devices. Some writers need this. I’m not one of them. I don’t think I ever was. I wrote my epic fantasy back in the early 2000s with nothing driving me onward but pure love of what I was doing. I want to recapture that feeling. The result is a draft I’m truly enjoying. The pacing is what it should be. I’m taking my time with introducing my characters and their world. I’m getting to know them. It’s like I rediscovered the joy of writing.

I understand this approach isn’t for everyone. I’m not knocking those who embrace the community feel to better help themselves. I think it’s like how some writers are pantsers, others are plotters, some outline while others don’t, some use Word, some use Scrivener, etc. etc. In the end, it’s all about the story. Because ultimately that’s what readers will care about.

 

 

Identifying as a writer

Any writer worth his or her salt knows that if success is to be had, it involves a lot of hard work: the edits, the critiques, the revisions, the submissions, the rejections, the contests, the re-rewrites, and maintaining an active presence on this wonderful place we call the Internet. Drafting a novel is the least difficult of this process.

Long have I held a distinction between ‘writer’ and ‘author’. A writer is someone who, well, writes. An author is someone who has taken their piece of writing and transcended to the coveted publication distinction. Now my distinction is an antiquated as it is silly. In this day and age, publication is not solely reserved for traditional houses. Self-publishing has allowed many of those writers to say hey, I’m published now.

But can I be identified as a writer?

Logically, yes. I love to write. I do it everyday, if possible. I’m always thinking about whatever I’m working on, or gathering data for another project for the future. I have rejoiced in great ideas, and I have despaired over ideas that just didn’t come alive like I hoped. I have carved out the tiniest corner for myself on the Internet. Once, years ago, I had a detailed website dedicated to my epic fantasy, The Last Hero. It had everything: artwork, details about the races, the world, the gods, the works. I had a similar one for Renegade. Both were removed because I believed nobody gave a damn about my stuff, and that I was fooling myself into thinking I was going to make it in the business. All this happened shortly after the heart-wrenching feel of my first rejection, so it’s easy to see why I felt this way. I was in my mid 20s: old enough to think ‘Hey, come at me, bro,’ and young enough to cry like a baby when things went south.

I like to think that my personal opinion on Renegade‘s written quality led to the decision to pull it from Amazon. But it was only part of it. I’m the first to admit I hate the marketing aspect of the craft. Self-publishing scares the pants off me. And maybe there’s some residual feelings of rejection that linger in my heart. I accept that rejection is a part of the journey. No writer can say their very first project received dozens of offers from every major publisher. It’s sometimes hard to separate the practical side of myself from the emotional. It’s why I’ve started doing contests. It’s my way of working around to owning the writer’s identity others embrace so readily. I hope to add a good-looking website in the future. I am, like so many of my writings, a work in process.

More on my NaNo project

My project for this year, Shadowfall, is the direct sequel to my YA fantasy, The Shadow Conflict. This is the bare bones, off-the-seat-of-my-pants short synopsis:

The ambitions of Shadow tamer Sable have been put to rest, but the war is not over. The mad desires of her ancestor live on within her son’s very powers, resulting in Lord Jett’s glorious return. With Harmony, the heiress of Light, as his prisoner, he sets out to make the Council of Elements and all of Caeher his subordinates. To do so, he plots to infect the sources of all elemental power with darkness, thus tipping the balance in his favor. Only Braeden, Hadrian’s twin brother and fellow Shadow tamer, has the power to stop him, but first he must come to terms with his past if he’s to fight for his future. A future he still longs to spend with Harmony at his side.

I face a slight challenge with this despite it taking place in a world I am very familiar with. Until recently, the events from the sequel have only ever been in my head. There’s no early draft to reference. All I have to go on is events described in The Shadow Conflict. Shadowfall‘s outline is complete, if a bit scattered. I can see my thoughts at work as I rearrange events to suit the story’s flow. Because this is a story told through multiple POVs, I expect to do a lot of sorting. That’s the norm for this type of story, so I don’t feel too badly about a little disorganization.

Speaking of disorganization, I’m also reminding myself that this will be nowhere near the polished piece The Shadow Conflict is. It took me years to get that story to where it is now. Shadowfall is going to be messy, it’s going to be ugly, and it’s going to make me cringe. First drafts aren’t meant to be pretty (and if you say yours is, you’re lying). They’re meant to be something you hammer away at until you discover the real story beneath the mess of inconsistencies, dead end subplots and typos.

Still stumped on an idea? Lack an outline? Don’t know your MC’s name yet? Self-doubt threatening to kill your joy? Don’t fret, fellow WriMos! This is the best time to flex your creative muscles and go hog wild with whatever feels right. It’s all about doing something you love, and having fun with it even when it does its best to try your patience. So CHAAAAAAARGE!

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Dedication vs Denial: Are You Beating a Dead Horse?

Last night, I had an unexpected idea cross my mind: what if I was to make the male lead in my sci-fi, Renegade, a female rather than a male? And keep the human name because Simon is from a mono-gendered race, and therefore doesn’t understand what denotes a human male name from a female one? It sounded pretty brilliant- for about five seconds. Swapping Simon’s gender has no benefit to the plot. It is the literary equivalent to a publicity stunt. A cheap tactic to gain interest on a property that, perhaps, might not grab everyone who comes across it. And it shames me that this thought even crossed my mind. I have a deep love for this story and the characters that inhabit the world. A friend read the book and liked it. Two others have agreed to read it as well. I recently re-read its latest version. Barring some minor changes (some parts could benefit from more character interaction), it flowed well. I enjoyed it. It stands as a good doorway into the other two books in the trilogy.

But I’ve also been working on this story since 2005. It has seen dozens of revisions. Simon himself has changed with it. The narrative was, at times, dreadfully wooden. Uninspired. Dull. My sister likened it to reading a historical book. She hated the female lead. My antagonist was as multidimensional as your standard 80s action movie villain. Even Simon came across as sadly one dimensional. There was no heart in it, only cold, hard facts. And she was right. So I took it to the editing desk. Again, and again and again. Part of me wonders if wanting to inject such a radical change into its makeup at this stage is sounding its death knell. I don’t mean that it is destined to share the same shelf as other ideas that I couldn’t make work. Maybe I have done all I can for it. Adding or taking anything away now will only make it worse. It must be allowed to stand on its own two feet and I, like an anxious mother, must let it. This is a good example of beating a dead horse.

Here’s another example: I had a friend who once thought I was addicted to editing. I had just finished my immense epic fantasy (found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/184758572/The-Last-Hero), but my work was far from done. What she defined as an editing addiction was just the natural progression of a story’s life. However, at the time, I thought she was right: that it WAS done, and I couldn’t let it go. So I did. I turned my focus to other things. The Last Hero languished for years. My firstborn novel receded into the background to make way for its siblings. Given the fact that I devoted three years to its creation, letting it waste away on my hard drive is a cruel fate. That’s why I made it available online.

Sometimes I think about that story. I even debated on dusting it off and taking it through a revision. Its biggest problem isn’t anything plot-related (though I can think of a few scenes that can be cut). It’s the length. It clocks in at over 200K words in length. That’s at LEAST a trilogy, if collected in one volume. Were I to cut it into multiple pieces now, I’d need to make certain each part I selected had a definitive beginning, middle and end. I’d probably spend another three years working on it. Hell, had I not stopped when I did back in 2003, I might have a fantasy trilogy on hand already. Revisions for the first book would probably be done, or close to done. I’ve learned so much about myself as a writer and what works versus what doesn’t. It could really benefit it. Alas, it is a project for another day. Perhaps I’ve resigned myself to its fate. Or I’m not willing to put all that work into an old idea when I could turn it into a new one. A fine example of not beating a dead horse if I saw one.

Letting a project go is a true test for any writer no matter the skill level. We’re not just faced with questions related to the plot, pacing, characters, etc. We’re faced with being able to identify when it’s time to hold on, and when it’s time to let go. Sometimes we become so involved in our stories, we lose the ability to disconnect from them and observe from a distance. I think that’s what happened to me for Renegade. It’s time to let this one go.

 

Not dead, only sleeping

I have this nasty habit of making regular appearances online before I drop off the radar like some eccentric actor compelled to try life on an island, or some such thing. The truth is my reasons for vanishing since late April aren’t quite as fantastical as that. That thing called Real Life and the Stress It Sometimes Brings is largely to blame. Between difficulties at work, home, my family, and feeling very underwhelmed by my own writing, I took to other pursuits. I watched some movies (Old Boy, Frozen, The Lego Movie, among others). I re-read my fave book (Gone With The Wind) I played Skyrim. Lots and lots of Skyrim. It’s amazing how therapeutic games are. I can stop being me for a few hours and traverse a wild, untamed land aided by my wit, skills and my trusty follower (who may or may not die in a blaze of glory, but I digress).

I haven’t been totally sitting on my laurels regarding my writing, however. Probably right around the time of my last post, I submitted Renegade to an agent. I haven’t heard anything back from her thus far (she says it takes at least six weeks for a response), so I tried my hand at working on its sequel. But wouldn’t you know it, all the changes I made to its predecessor rendered over 80% of its existing content null. Frustrated as I was with my writing at the time, I didn’t think I had it in me to more or less redo its entire plot, so I shelved it for the time being. Then I turned to Lifeline, and while I fared better with the revisions I made, I wasn’t feeling it any more than I was Exile. So it, too, was shelved. Now, I’m the sort of person who feels a day without writing something is a day wasted. This led me to trying my hand at one shots, maybe craft some of Simon’s earlier exploits, or a flashback for Gabriel. Nothing. I went back and re-read some of my older writing in the hopes that, hey, maybe something would snag my attention. And lo, one did.

Back when I first wrote my Voltron fanfic (I say this loud and proud), I wrote a series of little, romantic spin-offs that were as sugary sweet as they were tragic. The two characters, my own Azura and Voltron’s Sven, became something of a guilty pleasure for me, as well as my go-to couple when I had the urge to write sappy romance. While the piece I wrote wasn’t great, they provided the outlet I needed to get my writing back on track. I was content to go on writing one shots where I could let all my romantic impulses go wild. But there I was at work one day, when inspiration struck: I was going to write a completely new, completely original story about them. Not as they were in their original forms, obviously, but alternate versions. Best of all, I could work on this idea for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. The subject matter for the idea, which pits my two lovers against the backdrop of World War II, also lets me indulge another passion of mine: research. Double bonus because it’s for history.

The excitement I have for this project is like a tonic, and also a reminder that sometimes all I need to get the juices flowing again is a new idea. That energy sustained me through Lifeline all throughout its creation. I have no doubt it’ll do the same for Mermaid’s Courage.

To prologue, or not to prologue?

Take a moment to think of the last fantasy book you read. Chances are the action was preceded by a prologue, or at least a separate section introducing plot-related elements (Thomas Wheeler’s The Arcanum started this way).

Many of the great fantasy epics guide readers in with this method. I also understand that not every story requires one. I opened Lifeline with a prologue. At the time, I was introducing the event that would lure Gabriel to the Main Plot. It wasn’t until later that I realized it wasn’t necessary, so I scrapped it. The events would be referenced in-story, but they weren’t the true conflict. That exists in Gabriel himself. It’s only when he is thrust into a situation when he has to face it head on.

This brings me to The Shadow Conflict. Its prologue sets the stage for what’s to come. The characters introduced here are, while minor, part of my world’s history, and linked to all characters involved in the story. I think it needs the prologue. Otherwise, readers might experience confusion over why those associated with the Shadow element are treated like second-class citizens, or why Harmony’s actions concerning them are considered reckless.

I love prologues. I love getting a taste of the world I’m about to enter. That is the historian in me. I also understand the wariness about them. Some writers use the prologues as convenient info dumps. A lot of the info could be injected into the story itself. But I think, like with everything, there is a time and place. If done right, your prologue offers just enough to prepare you for what’s around the corner. It will also be the difference between the want to turn the page, and the want to put it down. Word your prologues carefully, writers.