Monday, April 30, 2007

Finishing a Month

There is something very satisfying about finishing out a monthly word count goal. I've felt it enough with NaNo to recognize that gleeful buzzing inside me for what it is. I thought that I wouldn't feel it so strongly with a word count goal just barely a third of NaNo's hefty goal, but when I finished out March after a 3,000 word push on the last day, I was insanely pleased. Now I've finished out April and I'm just as pleased, only this time I saw it coming over a week ago.

This morning, thanks to my HUGE writing day in the middle of the month and the fact that I kept up with my writing since then, I only needed 18 words to finish out the month. No pressure at all to sit down to peck them out and end up writing over 300 instead. It was such a pleasant change to that desperate final push that I'm more accustom to facing that I simply must do it again. I can handle leisurely completely a deadline rather than making a mad rush of it.

But the only reason I was able to do that this month was because of that unheard of 8,000 word day. I'm wondering if I can make those come more frequently than, say, once in a lifetime. And without starting a whole new story to do so.

Though I do have this one idea about an alien crash landing in lovely young woman's garden . . .

Friday, April 27, 2007

Time for Sale

I've figured out a back door onto blogger so that I can post--hopefully this will do until I can update my confuter sometime in the distant future.

Working even part time has opened my eyes to the world of the writer-while-worker. I know that some folks, once they quit their day jobs and are able to devote full time to writing, get writer's block. (Oh, the humanity!!) Others blossom (go Ris!) though even those sweat and plan and juggle until they can really hit their stride. Coming from the other side, as a writer who had an entire day in which to work in writing, every day, year 'round, I've hit the wall of work interference and my nose is bruised.

It's not so much the five-to-nine hours I'm out of the house (up to ten hours if you include days that we close late due to customers plus commuting time and the leeway I give myself for arrival at the shift start) and can't write because I'm on duty. Well, all right, it is that because sh*t rolls downhill. At the top, by necessity, is work where I make money and where hours are regimented by The Big Man (aka Dan aka The Big Guy) and this presses aside all other duties normally assigned to me, including housework, laundry, gardening, and making sure the animals are properly tended to (never mind actually getting to play with and train the dogs, cuddle with the cats, do sudoku, watch videos with the family, and enjoy the occasional sit down dinner.) Before and after work, my other duties must be performed. Back in the day of total freedom, I could pick away at chores or even neglect them for days and later come back to them in a frenzy of cleaning. Well, if I do that now then more often than not the frenzy of cleaning must be put off until my next day off, which may not be until the end of the week. Then I have to prioritize for the day. Is it sunny outside? Garden! Is it cold/windy/rainy/all of the above? Tackle the laundry and dishes. Strip the beds and change the sheets. Vacuum. Clear away clutter and try to get something, anything organized. The day off is gone, and I haven't written a word except in my head where it doesn't much count.

I used to juggle writing and work. I used to work full time and write. Of course, back then, my house was even more gross than it is now and I got about four hours of sleep at a stretch. I can't do four hours of sleep or less anymore.

It doesn't help that my current job verges on full time more often than not. They're hiring again because we lost our receiving manager, which shuffled our hardware manager over to that department (he's actually trying to work both jobs at the same time, currently, which is fun to watch the tall thin man run all day.) As spaces get filled in as best they can, the hours shuffle around and land squarely on the part time staff.

Am I saying I can't write? No. I am saying it's hard, harder than I remember, and bushwacking my way toward editing Masks with my handy-dandy MacMachete (with a dull blade) is slow going. When I'm not working anymore, whether it's because I get published and need to meet deadlines, or work conflicts with daily life build to the point that I'm not willing to continue working (even for my fabulous employee discount and the ability to hammer away harder at debts and enjoy more vacations in Victoria or the coast,) I will definitely appreciate my freedom more. And get a helluva lot done in a day. I was such a slacker ...

So, a word of caution to those of you who have full time writing ability and are considering returning to work for grocery money or whatever--money is indeed not everything. Time is everything. Time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Agony of Editing.

The problem with living with someone who seems to have a natural knack for editing can be many. Turn of phrase, wordy dialog, too much description, not enough description, etc. are just some points we discuss from time to time.

I asked, "Hypothetically speaking is there anything you read that you think is perfect? That couldn't have stood some editing, or more editing somewhere?"

"Passages, only short passages. Never an entire story." He replied.

So if that's the case, will anything I ever write and rewrite and edit and rewrite and so on and so on ever be perfect? In my mind and with that answer, no. Another piece of my mind says, "Everyone else is getting away with it; why can't you?"

Because I'd like very much to be perfect. And I live with a perfectionist.

Another part of me wonders if my voice in my writing will be lost if my work is worked and edited and rewritten so much, and the whole thing is then turned into a boring bowl of softened mush. He said it wouldn't. But then again, he said a portion of my latest effort sounded like a first draft when it wasn't.

I'm beginning to fear rewriting again, not the actual work but because I really don't know what the heck I'm doing. I'm a writer, not a rewriter.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ah, Sweet Research

Rather suddenly I recalled that I actually own several books on ancient Egypt. And considering that my newest novel endeavor relies heavily on the history of the Old Kingdom, I pulled a couple of those books from the shelves and sat down to page through them.

I had forgotten how sweet it is to be nose deep in book research. There is nothing quite like the feel of the pages under my fingertips, to smell the binding and the dust, to page through an index until I find my search subject and flip through the book to the indicated pages. Eyes scan the page with a practiced ease until it leaps from the page. I read over the paragraph. I might read the next several or page backwards to the beginning of the chapter. I delight in reading words that have been written, rewritten, edited, revised, cited, sources, and printed in a manner the internet could never afford.

And, unlike internet research, I find more leads to new information and a wealth of details I'd only hoped to uncover. Pages of them within my grasp, books of them within the bibliography.

How I long to be buried at some library cubicle behind a wall of books, pages exposed to reveal their secrets. How I long to be tapping my pencil against my notepad while my gaze scans across a page. There! A bit of detail, a date, a phrase . . . I copy it quickly in my crooked short-hand cursive. Time warps past me until I've exhausted the books before me and then the agonizing decision of staying to add to the pile or taking my off with the treasures I've gleaned from each book.

I could lose myself in the research. Which is one reason I now wait until after the first draft is finished to really fling myself headlong into it. There is no more hallowed hall for me than the dark recesses of a well-booked library.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mayonnaise Man.

My assignment: Write a chapter that captures the atmosphere of a car show. Sights, sounds, flavor, or ‘flava’ if you will.

End result: Yet another chapter with one of the main characters, the antagonist, showing more personality yet digging himself deeper. And it's not good stuff he's digging into.

I like this character but not enough to give him the starring role in every chapter. The problem is my protagonist is so much the nice guy he wouldn’t utter a peep if a semi truck was parked on his foot.

Questions: How do you make a protagonist interesting when everyone loves evil characters? How do you ‘un-mayonnaise’ a nice guy protagonist?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I've slowed a bit on my latest endeavor, The Mummy Case. It isn't any less captivating, but I'm getting deeper into the plot and now the scenes require a bit of thinking ahead before I dive right into them. I know where I want to be at certain points of the story, so I need to take my time to make sure the preceding scenes point me in those directions without feeling forced or contrived. That's the real trick and I'm learning this is where I tend to get bogged down. And so that is when I tend to switch to another story where I've figured out the next steps and can keep going.

I could, in NaNo fashion, just plunge ahead, forcing my way through the scene. A good analogy would be when I was riding my horse in a 4-H club. My horse was very tidy, so if he had to 'go' he'd stop and do his thing. The club leader insisted I start kicking him onward so he would keeping moving as he did his business. Neither my horse or I thought much of this idea. I didn't go back to the club ride again.

Forcing my way through a scene feels the same. I could write my way through it without stopping, but all I end up is a long string of manure. If I stop, I can leave a tidying pile of it by the wayside and then move on with greater ease and movement.

Okay, weird analogy, but it works for me. So while my word count on The Mummy Case has fallen greatly, I'm still making progress by considering where the scene is going. And once I'm clear, I'll be riding smoothly once more! Until the next pitstop.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again. Or is it the Driver's Seat?

Finally back working on the car novel. First six chapters are formatted, corrected, and through their third edit and revision. I really, really like parts of it, not so enamoured with others but at least those parts are small and far between. I know that if this one sells, I’ll have to read it several more times, looking for errors. Everyone says they come to hate reading their own work at that point, but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading the whole thing. I guess I just like cars too much and all that world contains.

Yesterday I listed my work done to date over at my official author blog,, (shameless plug) and completely forgot a fourth short story that I began last week before our pet world turned upside down. That one can sit on a back burner for a while as my subconscious works on some details. Another horror tale. *Sigh* Yeah, I like those.

Goal for this evening: Think good lost dog thoughts.

Monday, April 16, 2007


I'm still new when it comes to working with themes in a story, which I find ironic considering my background as a literature major where every essay had a theme and most of those themes were about themes in stories. But it is one thing to write about someone else's themes and another to actually put it into practice. Or so I'm learning.

In the past, I haven't noticed the theme of a story I'd written until the first full reading of the rough draft. This might be one reason I'm abominable at short story writing. In my newest w.i.p. (work in progress), which has just reached 12,000 words, I've already pegged a major theme. I think I pulled a muscle in my shoulder patting myself on the back.

It's a theme of isolation and it applies to both my main characters but in different ways. Taylor, the heroine protagonist, fears isolation. She has no family to speak of, so she's created family out of her closest friends and she has come to depend on their presence in her life. So, naturally, I'm going to heartlessly force her to cast them off (for their own safety) during the course of the story and thereby force her to face her fears.

The other character has been forced into isolation by his circumstances. When he took on the role he now plays, his understanding of it was quite different from the reality. Now that he's bound into his role, he's come to accept it, though increasingly begrudgingly (and there's another 'be-' word I like!). He has to maintain his isolation to perform his duty, so I'm going to heartlessly tempt him with a chance to be free of his duty completely just when he has a good reason to want to be free of it (but, naturally, there would be a high price for this freedom that isn't just about forsaking his sworn obligations).

I'm learning that themes are fun, because once I figured this story's main theme, I've been able to heartlessly exploit it to put my characters through intensely stronger torture than the usual sort of character torture I employ. And one of my rules of writing is "no character gets out unscathed."

I should start a list of my writing rules, now that I'm learning that I have some!

Friday, April 13, 2007


There are other bloggers mourning the passage of author Kurt Vonnegut. I'm one of them. He was brilliant.

One of them posted this, Vonnegut's 8 rules for writing. It is too good not to share:

Eight Rules of Writing Fiction
from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), p. 9-10, by Kurt Vonnegut

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things--reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I'm not sure I completely agree with number eight, though there is something to be said about giving the readers the illusion that they know what is going on. Then again, there is something satisfying about reaching an ending and learning that I was right about the direction of the story all along, unless it is one of those stories where I'm rolling my eyes every few pages. So I guess I'll leave that one up to trial and error. I honestly don't know if readers can see my endings coming. I haven't written enough endings or had those I've written read by enough readers. So I'll withhold judgment for now. But the other rules are brilliant. I want to apply them all immediately.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Working Title: The Cat Story

First chapter at

Password: letmeread

Career Track

I broke 10,000 words on my new story today. I'm only 4,000 words shy of my monthly goal, too, and the month isn't half over yet. I feel like a truly career track writer, now.

It wasn't pure writing today, either. I hit a little snag and ended up backtracking to do some editing to get me back where I needed to be. I lost maybe 1500 words and then made them all up without batting an eye. But I didn't mind the loss, because I ended up with a stronger story, one pointing in the direction I needed it pointing. It felt good to take that step rather than stumbling along, forcing myself onward.

Which brings up a good point. I've hammered it into my head that there is NO EDITING while writing the first draft. It's from several years of writing during NaNo, where every word, even the really crappy words, count. So now I tend to plug onward and try to write myself back on track if I end up in a bad spot.

Today's little sidestep into editing was like freeing myself from a chain. It was okay to back up and edit my way into a better place. I took control of my story and my writing of it, and it felt good.

It's made me rethink where I'm at in my other stories. I'm still not sure why this one story is going so well compared to those other tales but applying this new outlook will surely help me get up and running on those stories, too. I'm looking forward to it, if I can pull myself away from this latest story long enough to try.

And in case you were curious, this new one is a paranormal romance, which isn't something I've ever written before. But no vampires or werewolves or shapeshifters for me. But that's all I'm going to say for now (though there is a small hint the blog labels).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Leaps, Not Strides

I'm trying to figure out how this can happen with this particular story and not on any other stories I've ever written.

I started a new story today. I debated about it, since I already have five going, but my enthusiasm for the story idea, plus my lack of enthusiasm for my other stuff at the moment, won out, so after making some notes yesterday and doing a bit of research, I was set. This morning, around 7:30, I started.

I haven't stopped writing yet. That is to say, I've taken breaks for things like shower and food and keeping up with Kate, but I'm never gone from the computer longer than a half hour till I'm back, working on a chapter. It's been nine hours now and I've gotten three chapters written. Over 6000 words. It's my best writing day EVER! And I'm not ready to slow down.

So what is it about this story and not one of the other five? I mean, I like my other stories, really. I've hit some plot snags here and there, but none of them are close to being cast aside as failures. They are all good, solid ideas with interesting characters and plots and lively settings. So why has this one particular story just grabbed the bit and ran off with me? And how, oh how can I keep from losing this momentum? Because if I keep this up, I might end up with a completed novel before the month is out.

I don't want to analyze it too much, for fear of scaring off the whatever it is that's working, but it is definitely something to explore. I'm even more baffled since this is a genre I've never actually written in before. But more on that later.

Because I really want to get writing on the next chapter.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

"Hook" contest

LiveJournal's 'Fur, Fang, and Fey' community is holding a "hook" contest for all Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Thriller, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance authors. First 180 submissions of a 300-word max hook describing your novel (finished or not) received between 12:01 a.m. Friday, April 13th and 11:59 p.m. Sunday, April 15th 2007 will receive a direct-to-author critique and feedback from famed professional agent Rachel Vater (raleva31) at Lowenstein-Yost.

All info and FAQ at the following web blogs: (Please copy URLs and paste)

And Verse

In prose its a stray sentence or phrase that makes me take notice. In poetry, it's a verse. Quite often, a couple lines of verse will endear the entire poem to me.

I adore Robert Frost for just this reason. Quite often, it's the last couple of lines of his that stay with me, such as the last line of "Mending Wall": He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors." In "Nothing Gold Can Stay," however, it is the first couple of lines that stay with me: Nature's first green is gold,/Her hardest hue to hold.

In Frost's "Death of the Hired Man," the lines come in the middle of the poem, and while they don't look like they have much to do with what is going on in the poem, which is a conversation between a farmer and his wife about the sudden appearance of an old man who isn't the best hired help, it actually ties in with a quietness that I prefer in poems: Part of a moon was falling down the west,/Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.

I've been accused, quite often and rightly so, of injecting too many poetics into my prose writing. I started my writing life as a poet, though, and while I'm not as active a poet as I once was, it is still my first love in writing. Anytime I read a poetic verse that would be just as powerful in a story as in a poem, I want to cheer. Frost uses them masterfully, and I would recommend reading Frost to any writer who enjoys writing not only for the story and the characters, but those rare moments of capturing a truly powerful sentence on the page.

Friday, April 6, 2007


I'm always on the lookout for a good sentence. I always sit up when I read them. It might be a clever turn of dialogue, a fresh description, or just a twist of phrase I've not encountered before.

I came across the latter of those in the book I just finished. Luara Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods is a good book full of those fun details of a life lived differently from my own, which is something I enjoy reading about. It's a simple book, meant for younger readers, but I found it lively and not the least bit jarring or packed with head-whacking morals.

And then, I came across this line, which just made me smile and wish it were mine (the highest compliment I can pay to another writer):
Laura and Mary held tight to each other's hand, at the edge of the field, and watched with all their eyes.

"All their eyes." I just love it! I immediately pictures huge, round eyes staring for all they were worth, drinking in every drop of the scene. It's just a great phrase. And I love finding new turns of phrases. This one isn't even new . . . it was written over 80 years ago! That's even better, finding old turns of phrase that have fallen by the wayside. I can pick them up, dust them off, and give them a good home.

It's an odd hobby, I admit. Just ask me about my other one someday . . . collecting words that begin with "be," the less used the better! My favorite right now: betwixt, closely followed by beholden.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Of the five stories I am currently working on, all of them are well over 2,000 words, and one just passed 11,000. That feels very, very good. I can't think of any other time I reached over 10,000 words on a story that was not for NaNo.

What impresses me lately is how I can go so readily from working on an historical fiction one day and switch to a fantasy the next. The characters are so completely different. Here, let me show you:

The meal was served, and the conversation observed over it was hushed, kept to small household matters that Aberlin was not a part of. The Earl's health was raised, but only exhaustion was claimed for his absence. Aberlin suspected more, but she didn't speak her mind. She concentrated on her meal and on the nuances of the conversation between Gilbert and his wife. Theirs was a common enough marriage, made as much for dowry and degree as it was for feeling. They were comfortable with one another in a manner that all strangers eventually become accustom to one another. But there was no true love between, not of the kind that had grown between her and Warrick. And, sincerely, Aberlin was sorry for that. For all her position as tolerated outcast, she was fond of Gilbert and of simple, homely Mary. They were good folk, honest in their word and in their expressions. Which is why she knew something was bothering Gilbert a great deal and it had everything to do with Aberlin.

But Aberlin had made a study of patience. She waited for the news to come to her.

It did so just as the meal was finishing. She knew it was coming when Gilbert looked directly at her, something he'd been avoiding throughout the meal. "We will be making a journey in two days. I am told you are to pack for a voyage."

Aberlin allowed herself a moment to control her emotions before she spoke. In only two sentences, Gilbert had eluded to far too much. She chose the most innocuous of her questions. "And in what manner should I prepare?"

Gilbert looked confused. Clearly, he'd expected a far more condemning sort of query.

"If I am to pack for a voyage," Aberlin explained calmly, "I should like to know in what manner to pack. Will the climes be warm or chilled? Should I expect much in dampness?"

"I . . . I really couldn't say," he stammered.
That is from my historical fiction The Lady Grey. Aberlin is very controlled sort of character. poised and patient. Rhys, from my fantasy Warrior Storm, most definitely is none of those things:

"You're awfully sure of who I am," Rhys told the girl.

The girl's face brightened. It was a pretty face, the kind that hasn't seen much sun or harsh weather, though there was something about it that spoke of past tragedies. Rhys was quick enough to recognize that. Tragedy leaves a mark even beauty can't
completely hide. "I knew from the lock in your hair. I'd have known you from that before I saw you speaking with Caleb."

Rhys' hackles rose and the girl shrank away from the show of anger. "What do you know about that?"

"I . . . I was on my home. I saw you in the street speaking with him." She hesitated, but a streak of courage showed itself with determination. "Did you come to get him away from here? Is he needed somewhere else?"

"The only thing that man needs is a kick in the head," Rhys growled. "And you need a kick in the ass. You've had your fun. Get on home."

"No, you've got it wrong!" The girl reached out as if to catch Rhys before she could walk away. "I need your help."

"Go ask the great Caleb."

"You don't understand." The girl sagged against the wall. "He's the problem."

"He's everyone's problem."

The girl straightened suddenly. "I could get you a horse."

Wariness edged through her, but Rhys hesitated. "How do you mean?"

"You said you needed a horse. I know where a couple are. No one would miss them."

So that was it, was it? "Them, huh? And for this act of kindness, you'd expect me to take you with me?"


"Look, girl, I'm not out on a joy ride. You've got no place with me and no business stealing horses."

"But I wouldn't be stealing them. Not exactly."

Rhys eyed the girl. "Sorry. Can't help you."

Rhys is great fun to write. I don't even bother avoiding cliches with her, because that's just the sort of character she is. In a rewrite, I'll weed them out and fill in either with something more clever or just make sure the tone conveys that sense of her, but for the rough draft I just play.

But I enjoy writing Aberlin just as much. She's a quick-study of others, but doesn't reveal much herself, for the moment. That's going to change later, when she has to trust someone she really doesn't want to trust (he doesn't really endear anyone with the word 'trust' actually). And Rhys will get to show some of her softer side later in the story, too, which will be hard for her.

It makes each day writing a new experience when I get to chose from such diverse characters, sometimes amid the same story. Rhys' dearest friends are as opposite in personality from her as Aberlin is, and Aberlin's nemesis come partner couldn't be further from her in disposition.

Which makes those head-banging days go a little easier. And makes days like today, when I whip through 1100 words without blinking, the most fun of all!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Head-Banging Counts

It was one of those mornings where my brain was still foggy from sleep and no amount of Earl Grey was clearing it. I wanted to do anything but write, because I just couldn't wrap my head around the words. It's amazing how banging my head against the keyboard actually shakes words loose.

Not that I actually hit my head against the keyboard. But I want to. Really, I do. When none of my five or so stories doesn't sound the least bit appealing to work on, I know I'm in trouble.

Rather than give in, though, I stuck it through, and that is where the head-banging applies. I pick the story where I have some idea where the scene is going. Starting a new scene when I have to drag out the words is never a good idea. Which is why I don't always end scenes when I stop writing for the day. Having a couple of stories halted in mid-scene helps on days like today.

I pick the one where the scene is leading to a bit of action and a confrontation. And then I open the file and stare. I get up, get more tea. Sit and stare. Get a bagel. Sit and stare. Take Kate to the bathroom. Sit and stare. I manage to write out a sentence. Oh, look, 15 words! Yay~

Field a phone call. Force myself back into the chair and stare some more. "Just make it to 100 words," I tell myself. "Just 100 and call it good."

I write another sentence. Suddenly, I have a paragraph. The action is happening now, and I let every bad cliche and cheesy description have its way because at this point, they are words and I want any I can get.

I've learned how to do this from four years of NaNo (did I mention I won three of those? hee). Some days, it's the only way to get words. Today it works well, because I fly through the first couple of hundred and before I know it, I have 400 words. Doing the next two hundred isn't painful and I actually go past that and end up with over 700 for the day.

Head-banging works. It's a little painful at first, but the bruising is worth it.

At the Port

I finally got back to work on Masks after being very bad and writing, oh, about 14,000 words on the 'short story' project which is now definitely a novel. The threat of having no choice but to get a PC when I update my computer (thanks Ris for the reminder) kicked my butt into gear. And it's not like tormenting Mark is no fun.

When I next write, priests will be knocking on his door. Mwa ha ha! The feedback I've gotten on this version so far has related the following:

Want more evil priest action
Want Mark to show training more
Want to know more about the religion
Want to see Master Evan be more calculating
Intrigued by Gutter

I will take care of this, oh yes I will ...

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


I picked up a story yesterday that I'd started a month ago. It's a fun idea, eventually mixing it up with some pirates, but it is also a historical piece, which means . . . research.

I don't go all out with my research for a rough draft, though. Too much about the story is unclear at that point and researching too deeply would only be a waste of time at that point. I research the relevant time period as much as I need to. Having a couple of degrees grounded in the study of History at least means I have working knowledge of my favorite historical eras and how to do a basic brush-up on the period in question without going overboard, but you don't have to have contributed vasts amount of money that will take you to next 30 years to pay off in student loans to be able to do basic research. All you need is a computer and an online connection. And know the secret word.


The trick to researching with Wikipedia is to understanding the source. Actually, that's the trick to any research. Know your source! Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that anyone, and that means you, too, can add to, edit, and change. Which means there is a lot of information from knowledgeable sources, and there is a lot that, well, isn't so good.

But just like a paper encyclopedia, it can get you started. Names and dates are usually trustworthy enough. Chronological events that might be listed in any survey text are usually safe, too. And when you get into the details, you just have to use your gut and a little detection. Is the passage cited? (that's a good sign, but check the citation) Are there quotes that read like a movie script? (not a good sign, and I've seen some of these) Are there links at the bottom of the entry? Those links will help you round out your research, especially if they link to a museum or .edu website. Those are trustworthy enough sites for initial research. But if you get Bob's homepage on all things Elizabethan, beware. Not a credible source to use, unless Bob happens to be Dr. Soandso of Oxford with a focus on the Elizabethan era.

Know your sources!

But since this is just beginning research, I'm not diving that deep, yet. I just want the basic facts of the era, some names and dates and places, some chronology of events. From that, I'll start getting a sense of where my character is amid it all, and sometimes, find an event, usually a small, lesser known event, that the character might become involved in. Say, like FDR's signing of the first 100 days of the New Deal. Or the assassination of William the Silent. Or the death of Marc Antony. All of these are plot points in stories I'm working on. (not all the same story, though. I don't know time travel.)

The other trick to researching for first drafts is not to research everything at once. Because usually, I don't know what I need. I do a search for just the year the story is set, first, then go about about ten years to see what sort of events have shaped my character's world. Then, when I need more info, I look it up. Like, say, an officer's rank in Rome's legion. Or the name of an earldom in Elizabethan England.

After the first draft is finished and I have a sense of where the story is going to go and what all is involved, then I hit the books. Because no amount of internet research can make up for real book-learning. And those sources are THE sources.

So say it with me now: Know your sources! And add to that: The library is your friend.

But Wikipedia is a good buddy to know, too. Just don't trust everything he says.

Monday, April 2, 2007

It's Magic!

I've had two opportunities in the last couple of weeks to try to explain how I write. Not what I write, or why I write. Not even the how of designing scenes or creating characters or plotting. But *how* as in how do I pull these ideas out of my head and form them into words in an order that makes them into a story.

I've been reduced to say "it's magic!" Because that's what it feels like when I think about it too hard. It is such a fascinating and awe-inspiring process that depends far too much on the insubstantial quality of thought than on anything truly tangible. How does one describe the process of imagination? I can say where the ideas start, in many cases, and how the idea builds, but I couldn't recreate that spark that starts the idea off. And that must be the muse, because it certainly feels like something outside of me has reached in and grabbed hold of my brain and squeezed really hard.

So I'm at a loss to really try to put the experience into words. "It's magic!" seems as valid an answer as "It's the muse" or "It's my imagination." Only, saying "It's magic" makes it sound like I have some control over the process, and really, I don't. Not for that mystical squeezing of my brain when an idea takes hold. And then, the idea tends to take over, and I can't even control that.

My control doesn't start until my fingers hit the keyboard, and even that control is questionable. How many times have I read back over a story I've written and gaped at it, wondering how I could have put those words on paper or come up with those characters.

It's just . . . magic.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Nobody Gets Out Unscathed

That would be my new take on writing characters. Which probably isn't that new, considering my friends have been calling me the Mistress of Evil for years now. I guess I started the trend early in all those role-playing sessions I use to run.

I've come through the last month with new goals, new priorities, and a system based on reward rather than deprivation. Guilt, I've learned, is not my best motivator. Rewards, however, like cookies, are delicious temptations which I cannot refuse. Must . . . have . . . cookie . . .

But before we get into the goals, a few things I've learned over the past month: I haven't much problem starting a story anymore. Beginnings, while not necessarily easy, no longer bog me down under a cloud of confusion and doubt about what scene to start with, what character to use as PoV, how to make it interesting. I think I realized that when I started on my current stories by having one of the female protagonists turn the daughter of her lord and lover into a zombie with his permission. Well, not quite a zombie. More like a golem. It was a very good moment in writing.

But middles are an issue, because I don't have many stories where I've reached middles. Four, actually, written on my own. Usually I start getting close to the middle, barely out of the beginning, and realize I'm clueless how to proceed through it toward what I see as the end, and stop. Pick up another story. Start over. Which is why I have more experience and comfort with beginnings. Lots more beginnings than middles written. Ends are even worse. Three, just three!, endings reached during my novel writing career.

So this year is about middles. Next year will be about endings, hypothesizing that by next year I'll have several stories that will be in the middle so I can work on them to the end.

Which brings me to my goals. This year, 180,000 words written by the end of December. No set number of stories, though my goal in doing all those words is to get several stories well into the middle of their tales. So I shouldn't just be starting stories out of hand, but trying to keep to only a handful of tales.

180,000 words by December, starting in March, means 18,000 words a month. Which is around 600 words a day. For a writer who has tackled four years of NaNoWriMo (and won three--sorry, have to toot that horn, I'm proud of it), 600 words should be a walk in the park, right? Well, it would be if by the middle of NaNo I wasn't pulling out my hair and whacking my head against the keyboard with cries of "why me? why me?" On a good day, I can whip out 1500 words and hardly notice I've done so. My good days come maybe once a week. The other six days, I have to prod myself into the chair, prod myself into a scene, prod myself through a sentence, and hope all that prodding will prod loose 600 to 800 words by the time I'm sore from all that prodding.

Not that I don't like writing. I love it! But it is work to transform the scene in my head to the scene on the paper, because I see scenes visually, like movies playing out for me. And movies don't always translate well into the written word (which is funny, since most of them came from a written script).

So 600 words is the best daily goal for me. 600 words isn't a daunting number. It's attainable for me in one sitting (and as anyone who has studied goal-reaching knows, attainability is one of the most important parts in a goal). but it isn't a cake walk. 150 words is a cake walk. 600 means I have to prod. I have to work for it. So when I reach it, I feel good about having done so (another important part).

So 600 words a day, but if I miss a day (and of the actual 25 days in March that I had left after I set my goal, I missed 9 of those days), I'm not going to beat myself up. Nope. I'm just going to try not to miss the following day.

Which is where the 18,000 words a month comes in. I missed 9 out of 25 days for writing. But some of those writing days were good days, where I wrote over 1000 words. Still, by the last day of the month, I had a choice. I was 3000 words shy of the monthly goal. Do I just pat myself on the back with a "well, you came really close! Good job!" or do I go for it and pry out those last 3000 words, NaNo fashion, to hit my goal.

That's where the reward comes in.

I would love to attend the Willamette Writers conference, which they hold every August. But it costs nearly $400.00 to attend the three-day conference. I can't afford that, even on a good month of budgeting. But, if I start saving now, I can go in 2008. So, my reward is if I reach the 18,000 words by the end of the month, I get to set $40.00 aside toward going to the conference. If I reach my 180,000 words by the end of the year, I still get the nifty typewriter I've been wanting for a few years now (yes, I know I have a computer, but I still love typewriters).

Three goal, two rewards, and several stories to write. At the beginning of the month, I had one novel sitting unfinished and three sitting at under 1,000 words. I've come out of the month with my novel finished (huzzah!), two of the three at nearly 4,000 words, the third at nearly 10,000 words, and a brand new story already at 2,500 words. And I'm enjoying each one of them!

It's a good life.