Updates!

Blessed be, all! Sorry for the long radio silence. I’ve been dealing with a lot of stresses and needed to take a step back and reprioritize for a little while. I’m hoping that I managed to lick the issues I had, but I’m still trying to take it easy for a little while.

In hindsight, I think one of the things that made me crash was my monthly goal-setting. I may in the coming months be switching to a quarterly goal checklist if that seems more doable. But as for monthly, it just became too much too fast to try to pack everything in while also dealing with everyday-life stressors. My hope is that giving myself more time to do more things will allow more leeway. I’ll try to start that process around October since I’m leery about jumping in with both feet while I’m still recovering from this particular crash.

In writing news! I did manage to finish my second draft of Kheras and send it off to a crew of trust beta readers. I’m not letting myself start a new project just yet because I have a few beta reading projects that have been on hold for far too long. Those come first, and then I believe I’ll be starting reconstruction on my fantasy history.

Reading-wise, I’ve been in a slump. The book I’ve been wading my way through is just not holding my attention the way that I’d hoped. While it isn’t strictly speaking a bad book, I just don’t know that it’s my cup of tea. I’m hoping to have it done by the end of the month so I can sink back into reading that I enjoy.

In other words, the name of the game for the next couple weeks is slow and steady. But I’m on the incline now, so I’m hoping that this fall turns out much better than the summer did.

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Review: “Vicious” by VE Schwab

Blessed be, all! As the month of July comes to a close and the end of this year’s Camp NaNo sessions draw near, it’s exciting to look back on all of the progress I’ve made so far in both writing and reading. This year’s challenge for me was to branch out into more adult fiction instead of keeping my YA blinders on. I’m so happy that I did because I’ve been introduced to so many great authors already that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

The one I want to talk about today is Vicious by VE Schwab. I think this was a great way for me to get a glimpse into the kind of writer she is; I’d heard her name associated with some YA novels before but had never picked them up. In a way, it’s appropriate that I started here since this was her first adult novel.

It’s hard to list exactly what I loved about this book without venturing into spoilers, but I’m going to try. Starting with the characters. Victor and Eli are such delightful sociopaths. I mean that in the literal sense. They’re both terrible people, as cruel and vindictive as the title would suggest. But they’re also among the most compelling characters that I’ve read lately. That is difficult to do, but I bought it completely.

All of the secondary characters are amazing, too. Victor’s little found family that you meet over the course of the book are delightful. Even the lesser antagonists that Victor and his crew happen across feel fully-realized. Everyone serves a purpose in the narrative and each comes across as a distinct person beyond their role in the text.

Obviously the plot is incredible, from the pacing to the non-linear telling. It’s multiple-viewpoint without ever being disorienting, and I can’t think of any scene or arc that didn’t tie together at the end. But the wildcard, the thing that rendered me unable to put the book down, was act two’s countdown mechanic. Where all of the chapters in act one are told out of order, jumping back and forth chronologically as the reader needed particular pieces of information, the same utilitarian date stamps take on a new purpose in act two. They become a ticking timebomb, hurtling the reader forward, and they give everything a delicious tinge of malice.

People, Plots, or Planets?

Blessed be, all! I hope your week has been going well! Mine’s been a little rocky, but I’m keeping with it. My draft is lining up exactly as I want it to, which hopefully bodes well for the remainder of this Camp NaNo session. We’ll see how it all falls out!

What I wanted to talk about this week, though, was not so much different kinds of stories as different kinds of authors. Which, I suppose, by extension also extends into the kind of readers one can come across and the kinds of books they’ll enjoy. But for my part, I’m more interested in what it looks like from this side of the screen at the moment.

Understanding what gets you excited to write a story–what you’re telling this particular tale for–I feel is an important step in understanding your writing process and the kind of books you’ll enjoy writing. It also gives you an idea of the kind of problems that you might encounter. Let’s have a look!

  1. The Worldbuilder- These authors love intricate, detailed settings. Whether it’s a fantasy, a sci-fi, a long-ago time in history, or just the next block over, the point of the story is to show off the world. What gets these writers from beginning to end is the where.
    The good news is that they tend to craft immersive settings that feel as though you could reach out and touch them. The bad news is that sometimes it feels as though nothing happens in that beautiful living landscape. They can also come across as empty, being sparsely populated by characters.
    If you find yourself in one of these two pitfalls, try thinking of your world as a beautiful work of art in the Louvre. A painting needs an audience to give it meaning. People your world with characters as fully-realized and detailed as your setting and watch it come to life!
  2. The Schemer- These fine folks are more interested in the goings-on in the world. Whether an epic journey, a thrilling heist, or a forbidden romance, what gets these writers going is the what.
    To be fair, the first thing a person usually asks about a story–be it a play or a book or a movie–is, “What happens?” This puts the schemer at an automatic advantage since they’re to be focused on honing exactly that. The bad news is that this can mean the characters fall into flat stereotypes or seem to be slaves to the overarching plot. It can also mean that the setting isn’t fully immersive.
    For both of these issues, the fix is the same. Get more fully into the character’s mindsets. Let them tell you about the world, and allow their thoughts and motivations to add a level of complexity to your plot.
  3. The People-Watcher- This one is definitely my alley. We’re the ones that tend to be in it for the characters. Their quirks, their voice, the things they want and the things they fear. The ones we love and the ones we hate–they’re all our bread and butter.
    The good news is this makes for characters that read as if they could actually exist. They move on the page, and readers love them or love to hate them. The bad news is it can lend itself to stories about great people doing nothing or living in a whitespace world.
    The best solution I have found is to give my characters more obstacles. Be it other characters at cross-motives, a time crunch, or the environment itself. All of the above help my cast not exist in a vacuum while pursuing their goals.

Plotter, Pantser, Whatever.

Blessed be, all! We’re underway at Camp NaNo, and things so far are going swimmingly in the draft. I still have about thirty days to finish the story or at least get 80k of it done, and I’m on track for that currently.

Today’s topic comes from one of my writing kiddos. She’s working her way through Stephen King’s On Writing again, and it occurred to her that, even though she loves this book and finds that it, in general, has good advice, she disagrees with his writing method. Stephen King is a hardcore pantser. He starts with a question or a concept (What would happen if a mother and son were trapped in their car by a rabid dog with no help in sight?) and dives directly into the draft with no further development or planning.

Rachel cannot do that. She needs a structure, a plan, which King calls stifling to the creative process. For her, though, it’s the process of making the plan that helps the story feel alive. It helps her create a roadmap for the world and flesh out the characters, their goals, and their relationships.

For myself, I fall somewhere in between. I like to thoroughly build out my characters and my world before I start, but I prefer to only have the basic gist of the flow of the plot while still leaving room for my characters to surprise me. Too much structure and I feel boxed in or bored. Too little and I find myself paralyzed by just how many roads I could take.

Most writers, I think, are some combination of plotting and pantsing. It’s also important to note that some will vary by the project. I have heard of stories that vehemently defy any attempt to plot them but fall together effortlessly when pantsed. I’ve heard of tangled messes that lay down in neat rows when plotted. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it, just what you need as a writer and what works for the particular project in front of you. It’s all a matter of knowing how to narrow down your process to find the way to do this specific story.

June Check In and Year-End Goals

Blessed be, all! I hope the Solstice treated you kindly! The year’s half over now, and, though we’re all sweating under the sun, it’s important to remember that we’ve crested the hill and are rolling down the other side.  With that in mind, let’s check on June and then lay out a plan for the rest of the year!

  1. Writing: Second Draft of Kheras- I have managed to work every day, no matter what, but some scenes did end up taking more than one day just by virtue of the work that needed done.
  2. Reading: THE KINGDOM OF GODS by NK Jemisin- Oh, my gods, was I ever right about this book. I sobbed so hard. I loved it so much.
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Managed it!

So, to start with, let’s set up a plan for July, and then lay out the rest of the year. For next month:

  1. Writing: Second Draft of Kheras- Continuing with the slow progress on this draft. Because next month is Camp Nano, I’m tentatively hopeful that I can finish the whole thing. If not, I’d like to at least get 30k further than I am.
  2. Reading: The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault A friend recommended this one to me as inspirational reading to go along with my work on Kheras. I’m not far into it, but it’s a big departure from what I’ve been reading lately. We’ll see how it goes!
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- No matter what!

As for the rest of the year, here’s what I have in mind!

  1. Writing: Complete Second Draft of Kheras- Ideally, I’ll have this done by the end of July, end of summer at the latest. If that happens, I’d like to go back to my paranormal history and start edits on the first book, since it has so much that now needs to be changed.
  2. Reading: TBD- I don’t have a set number of books that I’d still like to tackle this year or an order. I have a few ideas on a TBR list on my desktop that I’ve been picking from as mood strikes me. I know I’d like to read more Jemisin and more VE Schwab (I have one of her books to be reviewed very soon), but I’m not setting a particular date for any of those. I would like to stick to at least one to two books per month. I’m not interested in reading quickly as long as I’m consuming good quality.
  3. Beta: Three projects on deck – I currently have three things slated to be read for various people in my writing groups. One is a finished novel draft; one is an outline; the last is a novella. I’d like to have all three done by the end of summer, ideally.
  4. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Part of establishing good habits is actually making it a habit. No excuses.

Review: The Broken Kingdoms

Blessed be, all! Sorry that this is a little late going up. Life decided to take a sharp right turn again this week and left me scrambling. I’m not letting that shake me, though, so here are some more literature thoughts I’ve been chewing on.

I read The Broken Kingdoms back in April and, yes, I’m just getting around to the review. I needed some time to digest it and really appreciate what I just read. This book, guys. This book hit me in the feels in all the right ways. And I had to take some time to sort all of that out.

I don’t want to spoil anything because I feel like this book is best gone into blind. It takes place several years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and picks up with a new cast of characters. I love every single one of them. I love the protagonist. I love the supporting cast. The villain is utterly, uniquely terrifying. But they’re so completely themselves, the plot unfolding as a direct cause-to-effect of their own flawed personalities.

And the plot! I don’t say this often. There is literally nothing about the way this story falls out that I would change. Just enough twists to keep me interested; just enough familiarity to make me comfortable. Then the story reached into my chest and played with my heart like a marionette. I cheered, laughed, cried, sometimes within just the span of a page. Jemisin is not one to tread lightly on my emotions, but it’s all done masterfully. She plays with my expectations of what a fantasy story is supposed to be, how it would have gone in the hands of a different author. And she uses it to brutal, beautiful effect.

 

June Goals — Kinda

Blessed be, all! As you may have noticed, it’s been a few weeks. Unfortunately, the universe took my promise of prioritizing self-care this month and made it a challenge. As soon as the calendar turned to June, everything went wrong. Hence the radio silence; I had to step away for a bit and let the dust settle. I seem to be doing better, though, so it’s time to get back on the horse. Let’s start by checking in on how we did in May.

  1. Writing: Second Draft of Kheras- As I thought, May was a little bumpy for work. I did make some progress, including finally hitting my eureka moment on a scene I’d been struggling with for some time.
  2. Reading: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes- Smashed this one. I also read Vicious by V.E. Schwab, which is now in the running for my favorite book of all time. Eagerly awaiting the sequel!
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Didn’t happen. I figured that I’d miss a few days because of Mother’s Day, but I ended up having to take more than I’d intended.

Now, as for the rest of June. Since the first half of the month was basically a bust, I’m only looking at the next two weeks. My main goal is to concentrate on reestablishing good habits. To that end:

  1. Writing: Second Draft of Kheras- I still have a long way to go in this draft. I intend to do minimum one scene a day, no matter how tired I am.
  2. Reading: The Kingdom of Gods by NK Jemisin- I’m about a third of the way through already, and this book is already angling to be one of my all-time favorites. It’s just so heartbreaking and beautiful!
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Part of establishing good habits is actually making it a habit. No excuses.

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.