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Part 1, Day 4: Vampire Logic 101

4 Nov

Vampire Logic 101, with your professor, Liam Corchoran:

“You don’t want to protect the weak?” I asked.
Liam played over me and took the hand. “Apart from you, no.”
“I’m not weak.”
“Get all the puke off your flip-flops yet?”
“That’s so not the point, dude.”
“I don’t want to protect the weak. I want to eat them.”

Yum!

Well, Nano things went rather swimmingly for the first two days, but I confess that I’ve yet to write a word in the last 36 hours. This is for multiple reasons, but the point is that I got distracted. Those who have seen the cover for Katey Hawthorne’s holiday short will understand just how thoroughly I was distracted. In spite of writing romance, I’m not usually impressed by my own characters’ hotness. Maybe because I mostly write huge dorks.

This particular drawing might have to be an exception. Let’s just say Sammy looks good tied up with a bow.

So anyhow, I realized I had better get on with finishing that story so Editrix Raven would have time to have a lookover before I want it to go live. Another freebie, yeah, this one full of holiday spirit and tofurkey and — well, you know. The usual mini-crises and hot love — augmented, of course, by superpowers. It’ll be around in December.

And then there’s the part where Ms. Hawthorne has a book coming out next week, in theory. Check out the contest, where you can win poetry, punk, and hot superpowered love of your own riiiiiight here.

(I get it, love stories aren’t as cool as horror, even if they’re about badass punk supervillain types. You have a reputation to maintain. But think about it this way: Katey Hawthorne is RPP’s financial backer. She’s a good sort, spreading love and Rimbaud and weird pulp like sunshine. Or… maybe rainbows would be more accurate, all things considered.)

Speaking of RPP! Don’t forget the new episode of The Sons of Chaos and the Desert Dead pops up at 5pm today. Mwahahahaha, an old friend’s about to show up…

Delicious distractions, and I cannot complain. But now it’s time for James to try and get all the dead people out of his head. Will he succeed? Um, yeah. Kinda. Just not in the way he wanted to, of course.

That’d be way too easy, right?

Nano Part 1: James Prep

1 Nov

Well, if I’m going to do this damn silly thing, I might as well do it all the way. I shall log my progress, or lack thereof, as often as possible.

As I’ve mentioned several times now, my Nano plans look like this:

1. Re-write James, a book I wrote during 06-07 and have had planned for much longer. Because I have so much prep for it mentally speaking, I felt I could let my greedy imagination run roughshod over me and…
2. Also write a novella version of a short story I wrote last year, “The Lovely Lulu”, which for now I’m just calling Lulu after one of the characters, but will of course rename once I figure out wtf it’s about after I’m through mangling the original idea.

I thought I was clever doing a rewrite, but then I started actually doing the prep for it. Now I realize it’s hopelessly complicated. First, I had to re-read the first installation in the series, Liam. Which I skimmed, because honestly I have the fucker memorized at this point, so it was pretty much just a formality. Second — well, y’all saw me complaining last week about having to re-read my original, five year old version of James. I finally put on my big girl pants and did it.

And it wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t awesome, either. Complicated, though, way more complicated than I recalled. I guess that’s what happens when you do a massive series that wraps up several lives and makes a giant clusterfuck of them, though. Silly me. SO, I made a list of all the scenes in it (see “C” in the image below)…

Which actually just confused me. That old James is meandery and ugly as hell. I know I won’t recreate a lot of those scenes, I just don’t know how to focus things. Being a character-based writer is only a pain in the ass when it comes to this, for me: trying to sharpen a story I know too well. (Also, writing synopses, because “He starts out confused and ends up awesome!” is not a plot.*)

It’s okay, though. Bring on the worksheets.

Nanoprep

“A” = the Character Development Worksheet
“B” = the Plot Development Worksheet
I discussed these a little after a workshop on rewrites and how they can own your synopsis for you, once upon a time, but I got them from the marvelous Diana Botsford, and you can too. As one of my favorite TV characters ever would say, I find that [they] help to highlight the salient points and clarify the emphasis, thereby nullifying a small but helpful percentage of my horrific tendency to allow characters to meander the fuck around all day.

And that’s how I prepped for James. As I write this, it’s twelve hours into Nano time already and I’ve written… 500 words of nonsense here. I’ll stop now.

But I’ll be back with more as this absurd experiment continues.

Footnote:

*BTW, not only has my cheerful synopsis writing helped me convince eds to read my weird crap at places like Belfire — it has also helped eds who’ve already read my weird crap sell the publisher on it, in the case of Loose Id. This skill. I need to improve it, but I already owe it much.

That and the eds who put up with me…

The Writerly Glory of Gaming, Part 1

27 Sep

I am miserably ill right now, as anyone subjected to my twitter feed will know. Sorry about that. I generally want to be left the fuck alone when I’m sick, but sometimes you just want to complain. Thanks for tolerating, those of you who didn’t unfollow immediately when I mentioned the stomach flu. I know the impulse must’ve been difficult to strangle.

So I’ve been fairly useless on the writing and editing since Saturday evening, which is vexing. I chase my tail a lot when I’m not working on things. Especially since I have so many things that want working on, this is unpleasant. However, I did plan on taking a few days off to just read very soon, and so I’ll just pretend they came early and get that done right now. I’m in the middle of a book I’ve been wanting to read for months, and that, at least, is glorious. So I’ll stop the complaining right there. Yay!

Today I want to discuss something else that occupies my brain when I’m ill, however: gaming. I spotted this link on twitter some time last week — I’m not sure who put it there, because I know enough awesome people that it might’ve been one of dozens: A Game That Honed the Skill of Writers at the New York Times. It’s about Jim Butcher (and others, but he’s the main focus) and an old school MUSH — the text-based precursor to today’s graphical Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs.

My brother Nick was a big time MUSHer back in the day — I used to sit and watch him play and have him explain what he was doing and how and why, and it was fascinating stuff — and he’s the most incredible DM ever when playing tabletop. I’ve always been more of the single-character player type. Which is why when some of my friends in college started playing this graphical MMORPG called EverQuest, I was in. It was like D&D, but online! With random people! And dragons! And elves!

I’d divide the types of people I met playing EQ into two general groups: hardcore gamers and roleplayers. Hardcore gamers had to have all the latest gear, defeat the biggest monsters, belong to the elite guilds, and otherwise dominate. Roleplayers were there to dick around in the world. Obviously, I was the latter. Yeah, I love smacking crap with swords or poking them with daggers (never been much of a caster class girl — I like hitting things too much, though I will never deny the therapeutic usefulness of blowing shit up with a big old fireball), but mostly I liked exploring and questing and making up stories. My main character was a wood elf rogue. We’d go and hang out in his home tree city (in character) and get our toons drunk (alcohol made the screen go fizzy) and race around it to see who could make it from platform to platform without falling off the high bridges to a Darwin Award death.

We also made up stories. While the hardcore guilds ran around beating up dragons and getting 1337 gear, the roleplaying guilds were creating storylines out of the individual tales we each had for our toons. We did guild-wide ones, we did personal ones with our friends. It was a creative frenzy, the addictiveness of keeping up with brilliant storytellers, of wanting to contribute, the rush when you know the story is more than just you.

Now, that article makes a fair point about the graphical MMOs:

In Amber [the text-based mush] “you couldn’t just jump into the avatar and be the magical flying fairy — you had to describe it,” Mr. Banks said. “We’ve lost a lot of that visual meaning in our heads, because you just see it. There’s no point in imagining it if it’s already on the screen.”

This is true, I confess. In that way, the stories were more character based. Not quite fanfiction, as these were all Original Characters, simply operating in the world given to us — again, just like D&D. And if you’ve ever read a D&D novel, you know that can lead to some good shit. (And some terrible shit, but hey, what doesn’t?)

But what this kind of storytelling showed me was how to know a character inside and out in a way that it’s really, really hard to teach. I’ve seen massive character worksheets that ask you to fill out every single aspect of a character’s eating habits, wardrobe, attitude toward pigeons, etc — and they cannot substitute for a complete and full psychological grasp of a character that was necessary to keep up with this kind of gaming.You have no idea what’s going to happen next, but it’s going to happen NOW, and you’d better know how your toon reacts. Get in the zone, because it is on. Meet your new best friend: method acting.

And killing orcs in character is the only thing more fun than just plain killing orcs, let’s face it.

Er, unless you play World of Warcraft and are Horde, because then you can be an orc, which is also awesome.

I’ve since tried many, many different games, and never quite equaled that RP experience in EQ, but maybe because I wasn’t looking that hard. I was already getting my fix elsewhere by then. (I play Lord of the Rings Online now — can’t beat the worldbuilding there!) Doesn’t matter though, it did the trick. And not just that, but one of the writers (or rather, a couple) I met there has since become not only a fabulous beta reader, editor, and all around inspiration, but a lifelong friend. And I know I’m not the only one who had this experience. Table top, LARPing, online, whatever, games bring the creative types together and get the juices flowing in a way that’s completely different from what you get as an independent writer. Teaches you lessons you never knew you needed, that’s for damn sure.

Of course, as the article also says, you pick up some bad habits, too. But more on that in Part 2 of Katey’s Epic Geekery.

End Radio Silence

17 Aug

Whoa, totally sorry about the radio silence.

It all started Friday, when I got some good news (yeah, more — I had to announce LIAM because there’s only so much I can sit on without blurting something out accidentally) and insisted that my husband take me out for dinner. Twist his arm, right? The weather’s been gorgeous in DC for the last week or so, as if to make up for the crappiest June ever, heat-wise. That’s not me embellishing, either, we set new records for heat, and the place is already sticky like a swamp. But it’s been fine and sunny and not too sticky, even a little bit cool in the evenings, so eating French food on a patio with a bottle of wine made me feel appropriately rewarded for being a rockstar for five seconds.

I was meant to finish a lot of RPP admin that day, but I’d been feeling crap, as in summer cold, and couldn’t concentrate. So really, the distraction of good news was well-timed, since I’d have been useless anyhow.

Anyhow, among our weird topics of dinner conversation were a few new story ideas I’d been playing with, all superpowered and romancey, but  more fae than superhero. My husband is an excellent bouncing board for all manner of stories — he was never into horror and certainly has never read a romance novel (well, he has read Austen, but don’t tell his friends — or something), but as long as it’s a good story, he’s hooked. Between the wine and the yucky feeling I slept very well.

And woke up with one of the stories we’d been talking about lodged like a spike in the front of my brain.

I felt really crap Saturday, as in brain would not focus, complete with killer headache, so I just started writing some of the scenes down we’d discuss. Then I kept writing. And writing. And I knew it was terrible because I was so zombie-fied, but for some reason it’s easier to puke things up when I’m sick — maybe because I don’t have the energy to nitpick. So I just kept going.

And then Monday I had a 25k novella. And, thanks to a judicious application of orange juice and — for once — a decent amount of sleep, the sniffling and teeth-headaches (you know, the ones that get down into your jaw and make it feel like it’s going to explode when the weather’s all screwed up — I swear it makes my TMJ even more dysfunctional) were gone.

So Tuesday I did everything I really ought to have done on Saturday and Sunday, and that’s my excuse for disappearing. Back now!

Also, have decided that anything that interfered with my life to the point where I might find myself unable to drop everything (except my family, obviously), feel like shit, and write a completely random novella over three days, must never be allowed to happen. Because when that’s going on, I don’t even care if I feel like shit. That’s one hell of a wonderdrug, my friends.

Unreliable

30 Apr

I really like an unreliable narrator. I know it’s hard to pull of. Believe me, I know. But when you’re raised on Poe, what can you do? Anyhow, there are shades of gray–I’m not talking about an outright liar of a narrator, just talking about when the reader knows there’s more going on, sees developments that the MC doesn’t. Confusion or stubbornness or a touch of–dare I say it–madness. Can happen for all kinds of reasons.

I also love first person narratives. People freak out about it: oh, how does your narrator remember all that stuff? So we’re getting a word for word account of the story? I can’t suspend my disbelief! I get it, it’s not for everyone. But seriously, I tell stories all the time, and it sounds pretty much like it sounds when I write it. Maybe I’m just from a family who likes to do impressions of people. (Oh wait, I am.) But it feels like a natural mode of storytelling to me, and I’m more concerned with the story than its absolute veracity when I’m reading. I mean… it’s a story. I’m pretty sure it’s not true anyhow.

When it comes to Poe, one hopes.

Again, not saying these things should be universally accepted. Just saying it makes me cry to see people throw down absolutes. Obviously, they must be well executed, and for a very specific reason. And obviously, they aren’t always. That’s no different than any other storytelling toolbox selection.

I’m not sure why I wanted to say that, except that I was listening to my Jonesy soundtrack (uh, he is a first person somewhat unreliable narrator, actually, but–) and came to Flobots’ “Handlebars” and I was thinking what a great, if super blunt example it is. So even if you don’t like hip hop type stuff in general, try this one on. It’s actually better without the video the first time, but that’s pretty cool too:

I’m out of town for the weekend, so see you Monday!

Yes, there is a down side to writing historically oriented fiction…

17 Apr

I won’t admit that often, but it’s 3am and so I’ve officially spent 10 hours of my day collating my last week of newspaper research and a few sundry details I found here and there with the draft of the novella–which already had the early research incorporated, luckily, or it would’ve been even uglier than it is right now:

June-Aug, 1856. Busy, busy boy.

That’s June-August in the life of my Jonesy. Also, Washington City, Georgetown, and sundry other places of note at the time such as California, Texas, the Carolinas, and perhaps most importantly, Kansas. The backs of each page are scribbled with the evolution of attitudes towards events in those particular places and anecdotes/gossip that may or may not prove relevant.

My madness. Let me show you it.

Unfortunately, Jonesy didn't have access to Google Calendars.

You’d think this would make me feel super accomplished and responsible and stuff. But instead, I’m sat here going, “Fuck, is this story even good enough to be WORTH this kind of organizational effort?” Which is what we all do, I know, when we get tired.

The answer, as usual, is that it’s not like I have a choice in the matter, because clearly I’m totally caught up in it. So I’d better just go ahead and keep on full steam and trust that someone will read it and tell me to knock it off if it’s terrible. (Before, you know, the intended publisher sees it and has to do it.) See, it’s not drive and commitment that keeps us going, is it? It’s more like despair. That’s not even a complaint, really. When you just give in and go along for the ride, sometimes it’s pretty fun.

And look at it, it’s like art! Thank god for that multi-colored Smithsonian pen Jen bought me last year at Air & Space…

Also, that’s an awesome run-on sentence in the beginning of this post. To bed with me. Hope your weekends are going well!

This is me, actioning.

12 Jan

Once upon a time I did a book geek meme that I swiped from one of my oldest friends, Bri. She and I have been trading hilarious literary links once more via facebook this week. (I don’t have an author page there, just a personal one on which I keep track of old friends and my droves of extended family. Irish Catholic on one side, joint family on the other. I do mean droves.) Yesterday she posted this brilliant animation of part of a Stephen Fry Podgram essay disparaging pedantry. Talk about your medium and your subject working together. For the love of god watch this.

Oh, we’re all guilty. I have many maddening quirks of my own that do not fall into the “yoking of impossible words together for the sound-sex of it” category. (Good example: my beta reader threatened to kill me yesterday because I say things happen “on accident”. I also say “all the sudden”. I honestly had no idea it was “all of a sudden” until I was 28 years old. Neither did the majority of childhood friends I surveyed or my brother–and our parents were appalled to discover this. Of course, they didn’t grow up where we did.) I never met anyone who doesn’t, yet I have the audacity to cringe when I see the grocery sign with the misplaced apostrophe. I shudder at homophone confusion. I see sentences ending with prepositional phrases–

Weird though, I’ve grown out of that one this year. Probably because I’m finally figuring out how to let my characters speak like they should. But the point is: there’s a low self-esteem related impulse in all of us to revel in pedantry. Yes, as an editor, it is sometimes my job to “to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whiches”. And thank god I have someone to scrub my totally distracting hillbilly quirks out of existence*.

But there are better things to be thinking of, when it comes to the English language, than that. This pretty animation reminded me that words are for making love, not war. So thanks Stephen Fry, Rogers Creations, and Bri :D

*When I’m not writing hillbillies, I mean. In which case, I fear I may drive some people away. But hey, it’s music to my ears.

Love Your Synopsis

8 Jan

I have an announcement: I no longer hate writing synopses. I’ve been meaning to share how and why with you since I was shown the light, but as my last post details, things have been super insane since then, and I didn’t want to half ass it. So now I bring you my very first ever pseudo writing advice post–and only because it’s not my own advice:

Writing A Synopsis is Awesome. No, really.

At the half of this year’s Context I got to see, I took a workshop on rewrites from the wonderful Diana Botsford (who is currently in Antarctica omg holy crap!). If you ever see her at a conference, I don’t care if it’s halfway around the world, go. She may have saved my life–or at least what little sanity is left to me.

She passed out some worksheets, all of which you can find here under the “Development Worksheets” heading if any of this interests you. (And yes, I did ask her if I could share this resource with my friends. It’s on her public site, but still, my mama raised me right.) The idea is that they help you dissect your plot and character arcs and recognize how they intertwine and if they’re moving along properly. This in turn sharpens your focus on the rewrite.

Part of which is writing a synopsis–said bane of the writer’s existence being nothing but a distillation of your plot and character arcs, and therefore a rewrite tool in itself. I have good news: filling out these worksheets quite literally writes that hateful object for you. In particular I’ve used the “Character Development”, “Plot Development”, and “The 1-Liner” worksheets for my last three synopses and, I shit you not, they weren’t painful at all. Hard work, yes. But rewarding rather than frustrating.

In the case of Resurrectionists–the book for which I took the workshop in the first place–these worksheets reminded me who, exactly, my “hero” is and focused me on making sure all tributaries ran directly into his–er, river. God I’m bad with metaphor. Anyhow, my point is that it was a 120k book that needed cut down to 90k, with four points of view and a truckload of historical data to parse. And this worked. (Nope, not even close to perfect. But so, so much better.)

In the case of the recently-subbed vampire project, I filled them out and had a synopsis in less than an hour, then did a final readthrough with a sharpened focus. I’ve been working on that book for almost ten years. It’s the story that wouldn’t shut up. And I finally think I got it right.

And I just now filled them out for one of the romance projects as I consider a final readthrough before first submissions. Short, sweet, sexy–and I don’t mean the novella, I mean the synopsis.

Now, with the “Character Development” sheet, naturally every character needs one, but the MC’s will make for the synopsis. There’s a place for Goals, Motivations, Conflicts, and Resolutions/Growth–and all of these four categories are divided into Internal and External. Because as all writers know, those two are most often different, and  equally powerful in their own ways at driving the character–who drives the plot. So you fill in each section in one or two sentences–she was very clear that any more reduces efficacy significantly, and I can testify to that!–and voila.

Same for the “Plot Development”* sheet, which takes you through six stages of the plot. (Though a note on that: The Ordinary World starts it out. She was quick to point out that it’s “ordinary” to the characters in the story–but probably not to the reader. Right.) One or two sentences in each of those and bam. Combined with your character arc, you have an outline of your synopsis in front of you.

It sounds incredibly simple–but that’s just it. It’s not simple in our heads. That’s why the synopsis is so goddamn frustrating to write. But jotting down this stuff in the worksheet makes you realize it’s really not so convoluted. You cut the fat naturally, and if there’s room, you have the clarity to stand back and add the embellishing brushstrokes in at the end.

The other sheets there are also cool–but most of you have probably seen a distillation of the “heroes journey” before. Which is helpful as a general guideline an educational tool, but also complicated and specific in a way. The two I mentioned really break things down into component parts FOR you.

And “The 1-Liner” sheet–hell. Who doesn’t suck at elevator pitches?

So this is how I’ve learned to love my synopses–writing them, using them, even submitting them is far less harrowing now. Yeah, I know not everyone will love this. Maybe it’s for the crazy anal-retentive list-makers among us. (If I thought it really meant anything, I’d say it’s the Virgo in me coming out.) But it’s worth a shot, right?

Now, of course there was a lot more to this workshop: dialogue strategy, slicing and dicing, sharpening character, making details pop, etc. etc. etc. But the synopsis is a problem that I see making my friends universally miserable, so I figured there might be a call for a useful post from me, for once. There it is. Godspeed, and all that. Now you can be sure I love you!

*The “Plot Structure” sheet is a diagram of this one, by the way, and also really useful as a visual for clarity.

—————-
Now playing: Arctic Monkeys – Temptation Greets You Like Your Naughty Friend
via FoxyTunes

Splitting

28 Sep

Apologies for my impending absence from all things bloggy and internet-y. Family stuff, you know how it is. But the good news is I have an awesome guest blog set up for you on Thursday, and today, more 30 Days of Writing questions!

10. What are some really weird situations your characters have been in? Everything from serious canon scenes to meme questions counts!
Where to begin. Wait, I’ll do Scripped! Jonah ends up in Appalachian Faerie, living with a creepy fae girl called Sela who steals his heat by kissing him, and, well, uses pieces of him to buy herself privileges. (As in, she’s good with a knife.) He ends up kind of liking her, actually, and her belligerent little sorta-friend Talfryn.

And then it gets weird.

Faerie Stockholm Syndrome sucks, y’all. Coming to a book shelf near you next year!

11. Who is your favorite character to write? Least favorite?
Oh god, this is not fair. List time!

Favorites: Rufus and Cami from Plaguebringer, James and Gianni the Vampires, Tommy from The Resurrectionists, Petra from Oubliette, Kay from Audio File.

Least Favorites: Paul from Resurrectionists, Osgar from Plaguebringer. And that’s just because I screw them both over until they’re intolerable. Jonah from Scripped got rough there at the end, but again, it was more what I did to him than the character himself. Writing him made me sad, and I’m not good at being sad–but by the end I was okay with him again.

12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of worldbuilding? Any side-notes on it you’d like to share?
The only one for which I’ve done real intense worldbuilding is Plaguebringer. Yeah, the vampire stuff has a kind of underworld, Audio File takes place in a completely separate world right inside our own, but that one is a totally different world ala epic fantasy.

I mostly like the maps, which I’ve pointed out before. More on that next time. Exciting, I know!

In spite of myself

26 Sep

First, let me point out that there was a Celebrating Bisexuality Post at the Outer Alliance this week. I’m in there, but check out the other links, because that’s some good stuff, seriously. And I’ll stop harping on that, now.

The last few days I was feeling extremely crap, and so wrote a 30k novella instead of editing like I should’ve done. Productivity in spite of myself. I’m almost proud, but not quite.

Also had The Charlatans’ “Your Pure Soul” on repeat. I can’t explain it, I just think it’s lovely. All I can find online–and US accessible–are live versions, which no one but fans ever enjoy. But if you want one, this one is good. Not from my show, but a few days after, anyhow–and it sounded pretty much like this the first time I heard it. Something awesome about hearing something for the first time live, isn’t there?

That’s all I got, considering that I spent the last few days wanting to find a hole in the ground and move in permanently. I do feel better, though. In celebration, more questions from the 30 Days of Writing collection!

7. Do you listen to music while you write? What kind? Are there any songs you like to relate/apply to your characters?
Always. I have soundtracks (both iTunes playlists and burned onto CDs that I keep in the car) for almost all of my novel projects. I even made one for that little thing I was writing for the last few days, if you can believe it.

Sometimes I even do them for characters. Aldo’s are always the best. That kid has some good taste. (He’s very into The Clash. Every time I hear “Hateful” I think of him, and that’s just for starters.)

8. What’s your favorite genre to write? To read?
Fantasy. Pretty much any subgenre of fantasy will do it for me. Straight up.

9. How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.
…oh my gosh, I don’t even know. I’ve had a few that were directly inspired by quotes or real people in some way–like today I wrote my best friend and asked if she’d care if I used something awesome about her for a character. I have another character who’s a lot like my brother when he was a kid, except, you know. Not.

But for the most part it feels like they just turn up and announce themselves. I’m sure there’s a process, but I don’t think of it much. I probably should.

Shit, I’m going to have to make more lists, aren’t I? (Wait, that’s a good thing. I love lists!)

—————-
Now playing: The Charlatans Uk – Your Pure Soul
via FoxyTunes