Wait For It

Blessed be, all! Sit down with me a moment; I want to talk about something that’s near and dear to me right now. Or maybe a couple things. The first of which is the musical Hamilton, which I mentioned back in this post here. The second is taking the time to do justice to the story while also caring for yourself.

But wait! Doesn’t being a writer mean working even when you don’t want to? Even when the inspiration isn’t there or when you’re convinced the work is terrible? Even when you’re tired, even when you don’t have the time? Don’t you have to Write Anyway and keep your hands on the keyboard and all those platitudes?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer, though, is yes, but.

What brings this about is this: an agency that I follow obsessively is going to be holding a Twitter pitch party within the next month. Two of my top-choice pie-in-the-sky dream agents will be participating. And me? I’ll be playing Cinderella, stuck home from the ball.

The reasons I came to this decision are threefold. First, both of the two stories that I’d like to query are in the middle of intensive revisions, and I don’t feel that a month is adequate time to get either of them in shipshape. Second, I know that the month of June is going to be an extraordinarily busy one for me, and I don’t need the added stress of a deadline contributing to my load.

The third reason–and the one I want to focus on–is that you only get one shot to make a killer first impression. Just like with the query letter, you want your manuscript to showcase the best of your ability. While you may be eager to start querying or pitching your project right out of the gate, it’s better to sit back, let it cool, take another look, and then send it out when you’re sure it’s the best you can do.

You’d be surprised just how much your craft will improve between one draft and the next. Things that you’d never thought of before will suddenly be obvious; moments that you thought were beautifully rendered will feel flat. Holding back for just a minute gives you a chance to fix those things instead of realizing after you’ve gotten a rejection from your dream agent that, oh. That wasn’t my best work, actually. And being unable to take it back.

I speak from experience on this. The two top-choice agents I mentioned above have both seen an early draft of my vampire history. One of those being an incredibly premature draft with flat writing, an overdone opening, and–being frank–tons of plotholes that I was too underdeveloped as a writer to notice. Even after extensive rewrites, I will probably never get those chances back again. You can read Danielle Burby’s (one of the agents in question) thoughts on first impressions and if your manuscript is ready here.

All of this brings me back to Hamilton. I have friends who write, especially among my classmates from grad school, who are routinely selling short stories or talking excitedly about their latest novel’s release date or the agent they just landed. I find myself feeling like Burr in the song “Wait For It,” watching as life passes by and wondering when it will be my turn.

In recent days, though, I’ve decided to embrace the core of the song. I’m working to the best of my ability. I’m getting better every draft, honing my skills all the while. Sooner or later, my opportunity will arrive. All I have to do it wait for it.

Five Things: Physical Intimacy

Blessed be! As of this writing, I’m up to my navel in edits for my fantasy romance. In general, the edits are going about as smoothly as I’d anticipated. I’ve added a lot more new material than I’d intended, but the actual changes themselves are shaping up just as I wanted them to. However.

Several things occurred to me as I was going through a scene that I’d tagged to dial up the heat in a little. First: I’ve never actually written a proper sex scene. Second: the character I was writing had never had sex. And third: there might be some gold to mine in that thar revelation.

  1. Stick tightly to your viewpoint character. This is easier in first-person, but probably even more crucial in third. Limit your perspective to what one character is feeling, thinking, and experiencing. Movie-camera or omniscient narration for something so intimate creates distance, and jumping between bodies involved can be confusing.  Unless you’re doing one of those two things intentionally–to create the illusion of bad sex, for example–probably best not to.
  2. Keep it realistic. Most people can’t have sex for seven hours straight without some pretty severe repercussions. They also can’t, as a general rule, have a quickie in the cab of a 19th-century carriage while in full Victorian dress without her being extremely uncomfortable; corsets and petticoats limit just how handsy a beau can get.
  3. Voice, voice, voice! What does your character call their erogenous zones? Would they use clinical terms like vagina, penis, or anus, or is it their twat, cock, or ass? This is a great way to communicate not only your character’s attitude toward sex or their partner but also to set the tone of the scene. Just one word can mean the difference between a romantic wedding night and a dirty one-night stand.
  4. Please, no euphemisms. This may be entirely personal preference, but if a character is too naive or uncomfortable with sex to use the proper words for what’s going on, I really don’t want to read it. Now, there are exceptions. Done deliberately, this can be used to evoke atmosphere, as in a historical novel, or to create an awkwardness between characters that can be endearing.
    More often, though, it just makes it sound like the author isn’t entirely comfortable with what’s being written. And that will pluck me out of a story.
  5. Fade to black. Now, sometimes there just doesn’t need to be an actual scene. Whether it’s because you’re uncomfortable writing it or because the event itself isn’t that important to the story, you don’t always have to write out the actual sex. There’s nothing wrong with employing a tasteful fade-out if it suits the character or the story.

Five Things: My Fave Literary Moms

Blessed be, all! Mother’s Day is coming up soon, which means I’ll be putting in a lot of time at the day job. I didn’t want to leave this week without a post, though, so I decided to go ahead and put this one up early.

This week, I want to look at my top five literary moms. It was… well. Much harder than I would have thought. Moms are strangely absent from a plurality of my reading material, both in terms of main characters who are mothers and moms of the protagonists. I managed to pull together a list, but this is something I want to address further in the future.

  1. Molly Weasley, Harry Potter series. Who doesn’t love Mrs. Weasley? The books don’t let us see her at her best, but make no mistake, this woman is full of love and cast iron. She adores her children without question and, while sometimes misguided in how she goes about it, would do anything to protect them.
  2. Ilane of Mindelan, Protector of the Small quartet. While Ilane only appears in a limited number of scenes, she warms my heart to think about. She encourages Kel to be brave, to chase her dreams, and not to let anything get in her way. She also wields a naginata as if it were light as a butterknife, which only further cements her in badassery in my mind.
  3. Jennifer Honey, Matilda. Even before Ms. Honey adopts Matilda, she’s a champion for the little girl. She courageously faces down Matilda’s abusive birth family and the terrors of her own past to be the mother Matilda desperately needs.
  4. Lark and Rosethorn, Circle of Magic series. Like Ms. Honey, these two women prove that a mother need not be related by blood. After circumstances bring our four protagonists to Discipline Cottage, Lark and Rosethorn become mother, teacher, and guide to their young charges. These fierce women form the lynchpin for a found family for our heroes that stretches over nearly a dozen books.
  5. Sorcha, Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy. Sorcha isn’t actually in very much of the series, as she gives her life for her children early in book one, hundreds of years before the main storyline. But everything comes back to her and the fact that she made the ultimate sacrifice to keep her kids safe from the sorcerer trying to steal her powers (and her babies) away for his own.

Review: Swift for the Sun

Blessed be! For this week, I wanted to look back at Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmeyer. I had to let the book percolate for a bit so I could come back to it and dig into my thoughts. In large part because I don’t read romances in general, I wanted to be sure I gave this book the time it needed to stand on its own. It feels like today is the right time to delve in deep!

Most of my issues with the book could have been solved by starting me just a scene or two earlier, a chapter at the absolute most. Conventional wisdom is to begin as close to the inciting incident as possible and right in the thick of the action, which I usually agree with.  For this one, though, I wished that I’d had a little more time to get used to the main before being thrown into the shipwreck that sets events in action. While I clicked immediately with Ben, the problem was that I didn’t feel anything for his crew or his ship or the life he was giving up to try to survive as a smuggler. So, when the inevitable happened, I wasn’t saddened by the wreck or the loss of his men, which I really needed to be for some of the events that come later in the book.

After that first chapter, I found my footing. Ben’s relationship with Sun and the way it progresses feels really natural to me, so I loved that. I ripped through the rest of the first half of the book, eager to see them get their happy ending.

Just after halfway, though, I hit another stumbling block. The novel changes direction, not in a bad way, just in one that I wasn’t expecting. I think, again, taking a little longer at the start to lay out some of the politics at play in the early 19th century Caribbean would have made the transition a little smoother for me, and I wouldn’t have been so disoriented by the sudden switch.

I lost a little precious time adjusting to the new path that the plot takes, but I was very satisfied with the way the novel ends. It’s sweet without being saccarine, and it rings true to the characters. At the end of the day, it’s exactly what I want from a romance!

April 2017 Goal Check In!

Blessed be, all! It’s hard to believe May is right around the corner; it feels like this year just started. There are big things still to come, though, so let’s check how we did in April and make a plan for next month!

  1. Writing: Second Draft of Kheras- It’s a good thing I decided to go by the Camp NaNo measurements, or this would have been a flop and a half. I will definitely be meeting my goal of 75 hours put in this month, but I fell way short of fifty thousand words. It turned out that there was a lot more new material to construct for the beginning than I’d planned. I’m proud of everything I’ve done, though!
  2. Reading: Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmeyer- Done! I finished this one quite early in the month and am currently working on a review for it, which should be up next week. Be sure to check out Karen’s book here!
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- I did hit pretty major burnout and skipped a day this month so I could deal with other adulting things. I can’t bring myself to be too terribly upset about the missed day, though; it was an intentional choice on my part to prioritize other things for that evening.

So looking forward to May, what’s on the schedule?

  1. Writing: Second Draft of Kheras- Continuing from this month, I intend to keep working on the edits for my fantasy romance. I’ll probably hit a speedbump when it gets to Mother’s Day (another busy season at the day job), but I’m hoping to get a significant amount of progress made on it.
  2. Reading: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes- This one came recommended by a friend who enjoys the Dragon Age games. I don’t play them personally, since I lack the manual dexterity for most video games, but so far it’s pretty promising!
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Since this is going to be another busy season for me, I’m not going to be incredibly upset if I have to take a few personal days. But I’m going to do my best not to, as well.

Five Things: My Most Influential Authors

Blessed be, all! You’ve probably heard it said that writers have to read. Myself, I never believed it until very recently. Intellectually, I suppose I’ve always known it’s true; the more quality materials you take in, the more quality work you can put out. Still, I never actually read. I enjoyed reading, sure. But I was so gods-damned picky that the books I would ingest suffered for it. One of my goals this year, though, is to expand my reading tastes so I can improve the stories that I write on both a sentence- and novel-level.

So! In no particular order (okay, that’s a lie, but I won’t tell if you don’t), here are the top five authors who have shaped my fiction in some way.

  1.  Tamora Pierce. No list of mine would be complete without Tammy. When I look at my life as a reader, there’s not a single writer who has more history with me. I first picked up a Tammy book fifteen years ago, and I have read each and every novel she’s put out before or since. Tammy is the author who taught me that girls could be heroes, too, that you didn’t have to be strong like a boy to be worth having a story told, and–possibly most importantly–that I as a writer didn’t have to disguise my name for people to enjoy my work.
  2. J.K. Rowling. Again, what list could be complete? Harry Potter was my very first binge read. Five books had already been published by the time I picked them up, and I read them all in less than a week, blowing my senior year midterms to do it. Rowling gave me my love of the long game, of learning something in book one that would come back to be vital hundreds of thousands of words later. I think it’s also from her that I get my love of having the inciting event be something offscreen, a long time ago, that the protagonist has to slowly uncover along with the reader.
  3. Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. I think it was largely because of when I first read it, the year I was graduating with my BA and moving into my MFA program. It was the first book I picked up for myself at that time and, probably not coincidentally, the first book that I found myself intentionally looking for the social commentary that she was making. It was a fantastic story even without seeing all the layers (I have a soft spot for prickly heroines) but this was the first time outside of school that I purposefully read deeper than the surface text.
  4. NK Jemisin. I will grant I’ve only just within the last month started reading her, so her inclusion on this list might be a little premature, but I don’t think it is. A book and a half into her works and I am absolutely hooked. These books are everything I didn’t know I wanted until I had it. POC characters in a variety of roles–check. Complex female protagonists–check. Non-medieval Europe fantasy setting; gray morality; beautiful prose–check, check, check. I am going to be reading, rereading, and studying the craft in these books for ages to come.
  5. JRR Tolkien. Of course the grandfather of the fantasy genre would find his way here eventually. But it’s probably not for the reasons most would think. I know lots of readers adore him: his worldbuilding; his attention to detail; his sprawling epic plot. But he’s on this list because The Lord of the Rings is everything I do not want to write. I don’t deny that the work was seminal in creating the booming genre that I now benefit from.
    However, I find that much lore to be stifling when I’m trying to read or write and that the pacing suffers from trying to make room for it. But I never would have known I felt that way or tried to craft my own style against it if I hadn’t read him when I was younger.

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Blessed be, all! For today, I want to talk about a book a read a couple weeks ago: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.J. Jemisin.

So I didn’t have this one on any of my monthly goals. I had heard good things about it in passing before, so it was on my radar but not my must read list. Then my best friend and CP read it and told me I absolutely must bump it straight to the top of the pile.

So, I obliged. I picked it up right after I finished Restoration and figured it would take me at least a couple weeks to finish. I don’t tend to rip through books; I make a leisurely stroll of it so I can savor the characters and the world. So, logically, even if I started in March I could still put it on my April To Be Read and make it an easy-to-check goal. After all, I’d be–what–halfway done? At the most?

I was wrong. The first half took me maybe a week, reading a chapter or two a night. It was good; I mean, I liked it… But I wasn’t particularly compelled through the narrative, either. Several reasons.

I had a hard time with the nonlinear storytelling at first. Tangents in my fiction tend to drive me up a wall. The further I got into the story, the more used to Yeine’s digressions I became. I eventually even came to like them. But it was a barrier for me at the start.

I also didn’t particularly care for Yeine at first. I was much more interested in the fates of the captive Gods than I was for her, her homeland, her mother, or even her safety. That changed as the book went on, but for a significant part of it, she was just the vehicle through which I was reading about Nahadoth and the others.

I did, however, love the supporting cast to a man. T’vril, Viraine, all of the Gods–I just adored them. Or loved to hate them, in the case of most of the Arameri. I also enjoyed the setting and the feel Sky put in my bones as I read. That alone was enough to keep me going.

The second half of the book took me one day. I physically could not put it down. Also, I didn’t call the ending from half-court, which is always the mark of a strong story for me. I love when the conclusion of the story is both unexpected and inevitable. That I don’t see it coming but also can’t imagine it ending any other way now that I’ve gotten there.

I don’t want to spoil anything, though, so I’m just going to say this: if you had a hard time getting through the first half? Give it time. It pays off!

Camp NaNo: Hourly Goals!

Blessed be! It’s the first Thursday of April, so I’m working way at Camp NaNo. In a way, this is an update to my monthly goals post in which I said I was aiming to complete fifty thousand words worth of work on my fantasy romance. That was before I realized that the fine folks at NaNo had added an option for this year: an hourly commitment for the month.

I will admit, I was skeptical at first. After all, isn’t the whole point of NaNo to generate as much new material as possible, regardless of quality? And, technically, this is true. But. This is Camp, which, is first of all, a lot more lenient than NaNo proper. Secondly, my thought is that, as long as you are pushing yourself to do more than you thought possible during NaNo time, you’re winning.

Which brings me to the hourly goal. Since I’m working on revisions now, it’s hard to quantify it in terms of word count. I could just count the total words of scenes that I’ve completed, but that feels like cheating. Especially looking forward to when I start getting into the parts of the story that don’t need a lot of surgical overhaul. If all I’m doing is moving punctuation and fixing sentence structure, I don’t feel that I’m really pushing myself the way I need to be doing to make a NaNo worth it.

With all that in mind, I set myself to doing seventy-five hours on my manuscript this month. I’m off to a good start; I should hit twenty or so by the time I end my wording binge tonight. The great part about it is that it lets me engage the perfectionist side of my brain–the part that makes drafting ordinarily a slog since I hate every single thing I type–while still feeling like I’m making progress. It changed my vocabulary from, “It’s been almost a week, and I’ve only written five thousand words,” to “I’ve written a chapter and a half, and it only took me seventeen hours!”

I’ll see how I feel about it at the end of the month but, as of right now, the change of perspective alone is worth it!

March 2017 Goal Check In!

Blessed be, all! It’s the last Thursday of the month, so it’s time to look in on our goals and see how we did.

  1. Writing: Notes for Noble Virtues- Done! I managed to finish the whole thing, even left a few extra days of padding so that I could start to shift my attention back to my fantasy romance. And that’s despite realizing that the last third of the book is going to need major rewrites. As a bonus, I read and betaed a short story for a member of my writing circle without throwing myself off pace. If I may pat myself on the back, here, very proud!
  2. Reading: Finish the Rai-Kirah trilogy by Carol Berg- Done! All in all, I really enjoyed this series, a pretty solid 4.5/5 for me. Be sure to check out my review of the series here for a more in-depth discussion of it.
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Did it! There were a few days that I thought I was going to take a skip day, but I actually didn’t. I’m back in the race!

Now, looking forward to April. April is this year’s spring iteration of Camp NaNoWriMo, so I’m going to be tailoring my goals a bit to reflect that.

  1. Writing: Second Draft of Kheras- My goal for Camp this year is to get 50k words into the revamp of my fantasy romance. That sounds like a lot, but it actually isn’t. I’m only expecting to generate about ten to fifteen thousand words in terms of brand-new content. The rest of the work will be in refitting the existing scenes and making sure that the big-picture fixes are being put into place. I have a slight advantage, also, in that Kheras was a pretty smooth first draft, so there’s not a whole lot in the way of heavy surgery that I need to do with it. (Well. As of right now. Obviously, that can change. No, I’m still not forgiving my vampire history.)
  2. Reading: Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmeyer- Karen’s book came out a few days ago, and I’ve been trying to resist cracking the cover on it until April. I gave in and read the first chapter last night and, being honest, will probably read a little more tonight. Trying to save most of it for next month, though! Be sure to check out Karen’s book here!
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Doing well so far, but I still have a long way to go. I’m aiming for a year unbroken!

Review: The Rai-Kirah Trilogy by Carol Berg

Blessed be! Time for something completely new: my first review for the blog! If I’d thought of it, I would have posted one of these for each of the Rai-Kirah books as I read them but, well. Live and learn!

The first book of the series, Transformation, was definitely my favorite of the three. I was introduced to our narrator Seyonne, the world he inhabits, and–most importantly–Prince Aleksander of the Derzhi empire. The story was a bit of a slow sell for me, though, because the story is about Aleksander and Seyonne and how the two men influence each other through the years. The problem was, I loathed Aleksander at the beginning of the story.

Now, that’s a feature, not a bug. I was supposed to hate him, to find him arrogant, vindictive, and even cruel at times. Half of the story is watching Aleksander grow as a person through the things he’s been forced into. The other part, of course, is seeing Seyonne’s devotion to him grow from a grudging duty to a bond deeper than blood. By the time I got to the end of the story, I was sold on reading the rest of the books just so I could see how these two men would continue to help one another grow.

Which, perhaps, is why Revelation was such a difficult book for me to read. I started the series with the promise that the books were about Seyonne and Aleksander’s intertwined destinies. Unfortunately, Aleksander is hardly in the second book at all. I think, out of a four-hundred-some-page book, Aleksander is only present for roughly fifty pages and thought of for much less. Instead, Seyonne’s driving motivation becomes his son, which didn’t have the same deep-seated urgency for me as his Warden’s oath to protect Aleksander or the history the two of them already shared.

To add to that, the middle hundred pages or so was a painfully slow slog for me. Where the first book ran pretty lightly from one plot point to another, the second didn’t have the same drive. Seyonne spent a long time just waiting for the next piece to be given to him. On the one hand, the structure of the story and the things that he was learning demanded it at times. On the other, I felt that the middle third of the book could easily have been condensed into about half the length without losing anything.

The saving point for Revelation, though, is definitely the last third of the book. Here’s where Berg shines. She builds these tensions and then lets them all come crashing down in the home stretch. The way the disparate threads come together is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Which, of course, brings me to Restoration. This book, while not as strong as the first, came very closely on its heels. This was everything I wanted from Revelation and then some–just enough down moments for Seyonne to learn whatever he needed to advance the plot, but everything tying back into his shared destiny with Aleksander. By the time of the final confrontation, I was holding my breath and praying for a miracle, for the terrible things I’d been dreading for a hundred pages or more to please please please not happen.

My main problem, then–and really, the only thing that stopped Restoration from being as good or better than Transformation–is Seyonne’s love interest. It didn’t fit. I was left without enough time to become invested in the relationship or even to believe that these two would develop feelings for each other at all, let alone so quickly.

To clarify, this isn’t just be being sour grapes that he and Aleksander never have any sexual or romantic notes on screen. I don’t need them to gallop off into the big gay sunset (as happy as that would no doubt have made me) because their relationship is deeper than that. That said, if he had to end the story in a happily-ever-after heterosexual pairing, there were at the least two other named female characters that he had more screen time and better chemistry with than the one he got.