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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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:
- 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.
- 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!
- Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Part of establishing good habits is actually making it a habit. No excuses.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Suprise update! Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer will be coming out this March 27th from Dreamspinner Press! To whet your appetite, here’s the cover. How gorgeous is this!
Blessed be! This week, my wife and I went to see Moana at the theater. This was a good thing because it’s a brilliant movie and we enjoyed our night out. It’s a great thing because the music fed my creative side and got me excited to work on my story summore. Now, it’s a bad thing because it fed the wrong story. A number of the songs and themes put me more in the mind of my vampire history than my fantasy romance. Whoops.
So! While I fend off the termites trying to get me to cheat on my current project, here are my thoughts on listening to music while you work on your story.
- Set a mood. I write a lot about emotional resonance on the page. You want your reader, ideally, to feel the same way your protagonist feels or otherwise to have a visceral response to your work. The best way to do that is to make sure as you work that you’re feeling it, yourself. For me, the surest way to elicit emotion is to put on music. Something light and humorous, something sad, something dark or complicated or unresolved.
- Establish setting. I also find that music serves to transport my mind. Whether I’m working on my fantasy novel or my historical, listening to music that reminds me of the setting heightens my attention to the other senses. That helps me more clearly communicate my vision of the surroundings to the reader.
- Heighten character. Sometimes I hear a song and it just screams a character’s name at me. It evokes their voice or their motivations or struggles in my mind. Playing it will instantly put me in their mindset.
- Ritual. Turning on the playlist for a story is an important part of my writing ritual. It becomes a cue to my subconscious that it’s now writing time. Even when I’m not particularly in the mood at the start, I find that I can buckle down and get some quality words out just by getting myself into the right frame of mind.
- Focus. The sound of the first few notes sinks me into the narrative and lets me block out distractions. I don’t hear the phone; I stop clicking around on Facebook and messenger. With the music as a buffer, I’m free to funnel all of my attention into the work.
Blessed be! It’s still a few days before the end of the month, but it felt like a good night to look back on the month of December and the rest of 2016. Truthfully, as hard as I tend to be on myself, I got a lot accomplished!
I usually only manage one trashdraft a year, if that. It’s more typical for me to get a partial draft or to do nothing but editing. In 2016, I finished two. Granted, both of them already had about thirty thousand words each from a previous attempt, but that still means I wrote between seventy and one hundred thousand brand-spanking-new words this year. That’s a personal record!
Speaking of records, early this month I polished off the first draft of my longest trashdraft to date. The sequel to my vampire history rang in at a whopping 106,000 words. I’m going to have to pare it down later, but we’ll discuss that more below!
I also got a good start on making notes for myself on Kheras. I still have a lot to go, though, and that brings me to my goals for January and for the rest of 2017. I’ll still be adding more monthly goals, as well.
- Finish the notes for Kheras. It’s not a long novel by any stretch, not even just as far as trashdrafts are concerned. I want to be finished with my self-crit by the end of the month so it has time to cool before I go into edits on it.
- Touch base with my betas. With Regal Virtues, said vampire history sequel, finished and waiting in e-mail inboxes, it’s only a matter of time before I start going stir-crazy and asking for feedback. The trick is managing to do that while also respecting that said betas are human and have responsibilities and lives outside of my manuscript. Not going to lie, though, it’s a tough line to toe!
- Finish Transformation by Carol Berg. My CP and I decided recently that I needed to expand my reading, and this is one of the books she set for me. More on this project later!
- Do at least one round of edits on both Regal and Kheras. I’m planning, specifically, to do Kheras for the spring round of Camp NaNo and Regal for summer. We’ll see how that shakes out, though; I like to stay fluid in these sort of commitments.
- Write the trashdraft of my witchschool story. So, when I first started this blog, I made up a project for my query letter series. Just a hypothetical thing so I could demonstrate the pitch portion of the query on something I wasn’t attached to or actively seeking representation for. And I fell in love with the idea–whoops! So now I want to write it.
- Expand my reading list. I touched briefly on this above. I’m going to be making a concentrated effort in the coming year to read not just YA SF/F. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with liking YA lit, mind. But it’s important for a writer to always be feeding their imagination. It’s good to mix it up every now and then!
Blessed be, everyone, and welcome back! It’s Twin Thursday, so be sure to go check out Rachel’s blog at Chicken-Scratch Plot by following the link at the top right. This week, we’re looking back at the goals we made at the start of the month to see how we’re progressing.
- Write every day. So far, so good on this one. I had a rocky second week; a lot of very emotional things happened in quick succession. I was extremely tempted to take a few days off to get my head back on straight. But I wrote through them. Some nights I only did a couple hundred words, but the point is that I kept to the letter of my word and wrote anyway.
- Finish my current project. I’m pretty sure I’ll meet this. If everything goes according to plan, I only have perhaps a dozen scenes left to do, max a thousand words apiece. The thing is, though–
- Do a quick touch-up edit. –I’m not so sure I’ll have time to finish this one. I really want the story to be ready to rock and roll as soon as the calendar flips to December. With how close I’m going to be cutting it on finishing the bulk of the trashdraft, I’m not positive it’ll leave me much time to adjust the things I wanted to.
On the whole, they’re pretty small things; I have two scenes early on that I wanted to add, one I wanted to change, and I wanted to adjust the timeline to spread events out more. That’s perhaps a week’s worth of work. I’m still going to keep on as if I’ll have the time, but I won’t be incredibly heartbroken if I have to send the story to my CPs and betas prematurely.
Great news! After countless rejections and maybe a few requests for revision, you’ve finally hit the gold! An agent–or maybe even more than one–is interested in seeing more of your story. It could be that they’ve asked for just a small sampling of more pages (called a partial request) or that they want to read the whole thing (called a full). Either way, here are a few things to keep in mind!
- Don’t keep them waiting. You want your manuscript to be ready to roll as soon as you get the request for pages. Ideally, it’s polished to a shine and won’t need any tweaks before you send it out. But I find in my own experience that it doesn’t hurt to take a day and give it a quick once-over. Just be sure not to overdo it. Now’s not the time for huge changes. Just make sure that you don’t have any dangling sentences or glaring errors and hit send.
- Send ONLY what they’ve asked for. If the agent has asked for the first fifty pages, don’t decide they really need to read until the major turning point and send eighty. It smacks of unprofessionalism and indicates that you won’t follow directions later. That can make an agent leery of working with you.
This includes supplementary materials that they may ask for, too, such as the synopsis. If they ask for one page, don’t send three. NEVER send cover mock-ups, drawings of your characters, maps, or anything else of the kind. It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve spent on them; they don’t belong in the agent’s hands right now. If they manage to sell your book, the publishing house will work with you on all those things. If you feel they absolutely MUST have the map you spent a week on in order to understand your plot, you can mention briefly in your e-mail response that you have one if they want it. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t.
- Always thank them for their interest in the project. When drafting your reply, it should go without saying that you should be brief and courteous. There’s no need to write a long letter. Something along the lines of “Thank you for your interest in ‘Project Name’! As requested, I’m attaching ‘X materials’,” will suffice. You really want the story to speak on its own merits, now more than ever.
- Be patient. Don’t send follow-up e-mails to see how the reading is going, don’t tweet at to check up, and absolutely don’t call. There are two exceptions to this. First is if the agent already has an established pattern of responding to people on social media who are following up on requests. Some do. Most do not, and it’ll only annoy them if you do. Second, if the agent or agency page expressly says to follow up if you don’t hear back within a certain period of time. But don’t jump the gun on this. If they say three months, that means three months. Still, try not to do this if you can help it at all.
- Keep querying. A partial request–or even a full–doesn’t mean that you stop sending it out. Even with this response, get the next hook in the water. A request isn’t a guarantee of representation, and even an offer isn’t a promise that you’ll end up signing with them. Don’t lose valuable time on the off chance that this one agent sends you an offer. More options are always better than fewer.
Hey, all! It’s another Twin Thursday, so be sure to check out my buddy Rachel’s post at Undivinelight!
This week, we’re looking at the rotten side of the beta world. I wish I could say all beta relationships are uniformly positive, but sometimes it’s just not a good matchup. It happens from time to time that either a reader isn’t a good fit for the story or that something in the relationship between you goes sour. Neither’s a good thing. So here’s a few things to watch for to see if a beta may not be working out and how you can let that fishie off the hook.
- Disinterest/vagueness. I put these two together because I find they usually tend to happen at the same time. If a reader’s not interested in your story, they’re not going to be particularly invested in providing you feedback. They might do it out of a sense of obligation or a desire to be helpful, but to be completely honest the notes you’ll get from them will probably not be all that useful. This is when you get comments like, “It was good, I guess,” or “I don’t really remember it well.”
This kind of response is okay; remember, not everyone is going to like your book even after it’s professionally edited and published. Thank the reader for their time and let them know that they don’t have to finish. Before you let them go, see if you can dig a little deeper into the bit of reading they did accomplish. Where did they lose interest? Is it just not their kind of story? Was there not enough action or not enough at stake?
- Aggressiveness. A beta who fights with you or is pushy with their opinions is not one that you want to continue working with. This isn’t the same as a beta saying something you don’t want to hear–sometimes the best notes for the story are the hardest to accept and implement. But if their critiques come across more as insults or if they fight you on the direction you’re taking for the story, it may be time to say goodbye. You’re not writing by committee.
Now, I’m probably the worst person in the world to deal with a pushy beta. I tend to be pretty non-confrontational by nature. I don’t like making people upset. In this case, I usually try to talk it out with the beta first, to say that the behavior’s not appreciated and not helpful. I let them know that, if it continues, I’m booting them from the process. So far, I haven’t had anyone push me hard enough to actually do it? But it does make me feel more comfortable to know I have a backup plan.
- German shepherds. Now, before you go “Whaaaat?”, let me explain. A mentor of mine in grad school had this concept for workshop called a German shepherd. It’s basically when the beta or workshopper reads your story and goes, “Yeah, this would be better with a dog in it.” Even if the story has absolutely nothing to do with dogs. Essentially, it’s when the beta tries to turn your story into something you don’t want it to be. Say, if you were writing a historical romance set during World War II, and they wanted it to be more of an action/adventure a la Valkyrie.
Much like the aggressive beta, see first if you can correct the behavior. Ask why it is they think your story would benefit from more X or less Y, and then explain that you don’t want to take it that direction. Usually I find that’s enough to keep a beta on task. Heck, sometimes the dog’s a good one and you might end up working it into a story. But if it becomes a recurring problem, you might ask them to step aside on the project, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
- Inability to give positive feedback. This isn’t the same as wanting them to only give you compliments or to never tell you what needs fixed. I mean people who consistently and steadfastly refuse to look for good things. What the readers like or find well-done is just as important because it helps you hone and perfect those things. Writing is hard enough without getting nothing back but the negative.
If you have a reader who does this, encourage them to use the critique sandwich. This method essentially forces them to give one or two things that they enjoyed, then a few suggestions for improvement, and finish up with a few more things that they enjoyed. It’s not an ideal solution, but it may help a reticent beta actually look for places that your work is successful. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to say goodbye to this fishie. You don’t need that kind of endless negativity.
- Failure to follow directions. This is a biggie. At different stages of the beta process, you’re going to need different kinds of critique. Early on when the story is raw and needs a little TLC, you’re going to need people to give you high-level feedback. General notes and feelings on the story as a whole or individual chapters or scenes. You need people who can look at character arcs and subplots over the course of the story. You’re not going to want sentence-level or nitpicky notes right now. Now, it’ll be a different story once the work is more polished and you want those very exacting critiques, and your betas have to be able to tailor their feedback to fit your needs, or at least to be willing to try.
To be fair, this might just be an issue of miscommunication. But if, after multiple corrections and redirections, it doesn’t seem to be improving, this is another reader you may want to let go. Betas are there to make your job easier; you shouldn’t have to babysit them for that to happen.