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.

Five Things: Determining Your Word Count

Blessed be! Hope everyone’s had a great week so far. Me, I’m knee-deep in making notes on my historical fantasy so that I can go into the next round of edits with a road map. Among the changes I’m looking to make, I’ll be aiming to up the audience from YA to adult fiction. With that comes a ton of considerations, including but not limited to what my upper-end word count limit should be.

Authors, especially those working toward their debut novel, are often told to mind their word count. No more than 100k tends to be the standard advice and, in general, I find that to be pretty sound. But then, I don’t tend to like great gallumping books. I want the story in as lean a presentation as it would suit the story to tell it. But there is much more to it than just that.

This isn’t meant to be a hard and fast breakdown of what your book should be, but a tool by which to evaluate if your novel really needs to break the bank where length is concerned. Let’s have a look!

  1. Mind your genre. Not all genres have the same expectations when it comes to word count. Fantasy and sci-fi tend to be more forgiving of heftier books. Since the author has to build a brand-new world from scratch and immerse the reader in it with only their words, it makes sense. Historicals, too, often run longer than, say, a mystery or a thriller which tend to run lighter and swifter. Look at the books that are debuting in your genre and compare your story to it; that will give you a fair idea of how much leeway readers are prepared to give you.
  2. Check your audience and age group. There will always be exceptions but, in general, the younger the audience, the shorter the book. Consider both your audience’s attention span and possibly their available budget. Longer books tend to cost more to produce; think honestly about if your young adult audience is going to be willing or able to drop more money on your book when there’s a shorter one next to it for half the price.
  3. Consider the story itself. I’m sure you’ve experienced this at some point: you’re reading a book or watching a movie. It comes to a satisfying conclusion, and it’s time to move on to something else. And then you find out there’s another chapter. Or still another scene. Or, worse, a sequel. What? But it was over!
    The thing is, not all books need to be as long as they are. Not all novels need to be series. Heck, not all stories even need to be novels! Some stories just lend themselves to being shorts or novellas, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Tell the story in as few words as will do the plot and characters justice. Don’t try to stretch it out for the purposes of meeting an arbitrary “sweet spot” like word count parameters. When the story is over, let it end.
  4. Look at comparable titles. If books are being released in a similar vein to yours, look at what those books are usually running in terms of length. Read them and compare. How does your manuscript line up in terms of pacing and density? How are the other titles performing relative to each other? You may have to make some adjustments if you find yourself way outside of the norms.
  5. Evaluate your word economy. If you’re still concerned with the length of your manuscript, ask yourself: is there anything you can leave out without negatively affecting your readers’ enjoyment or understanding? Are there characters or scenes you can excise or combine? Is your novel a work of precision?

If at the end of all these things your book still weighs in hefty, it might just be a big book. And that’s all right! If the writing and the story is sound enough, you don’t have anything to fear!

Five Things: When You Break Your Story

Blessed be! I hope everyone’s had a slightly smoother week than I have. It’s been one of those weeks that it seems, if it can happen, it will happen. Leaving aside the mundane so I can talk just about my writing life, my vampire history hit a huge speedbump.

There I was, moving along in my notes at a decent clip, when a terrible realization came crashing down on my head. In one of my climactic moments, one of my favorite scenes in the whole manuscript–indeed one of my favorite things I’ve ever written–I had overlooked something crucial. One small detail that changed the trajectory of the entire rest of the novel. I had broken my story.

I won’t lie. The very first thing I did was panic. I texted my crit partner and whined at my wife about the sheer amount of reworking I would have to do to get my story back in shipshape. It would take so much heavy surgery to fix it, assuming it could even be done without rewriting the entire end of the story. So much for my “quick” editing pass!

The next thing I did, once I’d calmed down, is to start making a plan. With so many drafts and so much work already invested in this story, there was no way I was about to let a bump in the road deter me, no matter how big a bump it was.

So, how did I work through it?

  1. Don’t panic! Okay, this one can’t really be avoided. It’s human nature. So perhaps the better way to say it is this: calm down. Get some distance from the problem for a few minutes. Take a walk or a hot shower. Come back to it with an open mind, ready to look for solutions.
  2. Brainstorm. Start throwing possible fixes out to see what works. Get a second set of eyes or ears on the problem. Especially if you have a beta reader, crit partner, or significant other who’s been helping you with your story. Once you’ve amassed a pile of possibilities, you can start whittling it down to things that will actually work.
    The thing to remember, though, is you aren’t looking for a patch. A quick and easy surface fix is just that: a surface fix. To really heal your plothole, you’ll need to find the solution that gets you down to the root of the problem and address it there. It won’t be easy. But your story needs you to do it.
  3. Build a framework. Now that you know what your solution is, you need to start laying out the plan for how you’re going to get there. If you just jump into the manuscript slashing and stitching, you’ll make just as many problems as you solve. Go through your story with the solution in mind and tag things that will have to move or change. You may find that a lot of the things you already have can be repurposed for use elsewhere. Mark places where you’ll need to write something fresh to bridge gaps or replace cut scenes. This is the part of the process that I’m currently engaging in.
  4. Let it cool. Or marinate. Or percolate. However you’d like to describe it, the result is the same. Put the manuscript away and don’t touch it for at least a week, ideally longer if you have the time to spare. Let it turn over in the back of your mind; you may find details that you missed when you laid out your plan, and your story will thank you for taking the time to let them come to the surface.
  5. Take a deep breath and dive in. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way around this one. It’s time to dig into the dirty work and start with the big changes. Just like we talked about in the surgery part of the editing board series, you need to get the bathtub out of the kitchen. Treating it just like your very first editing pass, make it ugly. Move things around. Rip out the walls according to your blueprints. Make a mess if you must; don’t be afraid to get dirty!
    Slowly, the dust will settle. You can begin to fix things at the scene or sentence level and clean up transitions. And before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful story, much stronger for you taking the time to heal it from the inside out!

Group Dynamics

Blessed be! I’m up to my knees in my vampire history, which means that I’ve got… well. A lot of characters. One thing I’ve noticed, though depending on who’s in the scene, they tend to act completely differently. Some have said this points to inconsistency on the page, but I find quite the opposite. It actually lends a sense of realism and complexity. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Everyone has a history. Each character will bring their affections, grudges, prejudices, and preferences to the table. This might make for rifts or alliances that only appear when certain people are together. Maybe these two really hate each other, but they both hate this third person more. That can create interesting new tensions for you to play with.
  2. Secrets and taboos. There are certain topics that just won’t come up in some characters’ presence. You’ll want to be careful about who knows what, but this is another way to inject some much-needed tension into your group scenes.
  3. People show different sides. Certain people will bring out the best in you or the worst. The sweetest character might just snap. The most prickly jerk may have someone that they care about and show affection to, at least if they’re alone. As you’re playing with the dynamics, pay attention not just to who knows whom but also what sides of themselves they tend to show and when!

February 2017 Goal Check In!

Blessed be, all! It’s the last Thursday of the month, so it’s time to look back on how I did on my goals. As you may have noticed, it was a bit of a rough one, so without further ado–

  1. Writing: Notes for Noble Virtues- I did get a healthy start, but I didn’t quite manage to finish the first third of the book. I’m only a couple thousand words from that, though, so there’s technically a chance I could still accomplish it before we flip the calendars to March.
  2. Reading: Finish the Rai-Kirah trilogy by Carol Berg- I finished REVELATION a few days after my goal post went live in January, and it actually managed to redeem what was otherwise a rocky read for me. Loved the beginning, struggled through the middle, but the ending pulled it up strong. RESTORATION, however…It’s a much stronger book than Revelation. I’m enjoying it much more. I just couldn’t seem to make the time it deserves so I can sit down and just do it, so I’ve only gotten six or seven chapters in so far.
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- Not even close. Several days of the month, I didn’t even see my bed before it was already the next day, just to turn around and go back into work six hours later. And that was on top of getting sick. I’m still new to this whole prioritizing-self-care thing, so I didn’t want to push it.

But! One bad month doesn’t mean I get to take the rest of the year easy. It’s time to get back in the saddle and get my butt to work. So we’ll be taking another crack at all these goals.

  1. Writing: Notes for Noble Virtues- For March, I want the whole thing annotated so I can put it away to cool in time for Camp. At which point, I’ll be going back to Kheras to start my first round of revisions! Wish me luck!
  2. Reading: Finish the Rai-Kirah trilogy by Carol Berg- I am bound and determined to give RESTORATION the time it deserves and finish it by the end of March!
  3. Bonus Goal: Work Every Day- This one will be hard. Trying to get my brain back into daily work after having to take so much time off is like herding cats. Every time I rally my willpower, I find something shiny. I’m going to manage it, though!

Lit Snobs: Judging a Book by its Genre

Blessed be! I survived Valentine’s week (and the chest cold that had me coughing the entire week, though that still lingers). I’m still working on getting my productivity back to where it should be, but I’m being gentle with myself as I recover from both the massive amount of overtime hours and my ill health.

In the meantime! It dawned on me toward the beginning of this month that I’d been a bit of a hypocrite when it came to turning up my nose at books. See, I love YA lit. And I love fantasy. And I love dystopias and fairytale reimaginings, all of which are things that, in my undergraduate program, weren’t considered “real writing.” One of my professors even went so far as to write on my YA fantasy story that I “had good instincts, but [she] wished [I’d] write something worthwhile.” It made me defensive of the stories I adore, perhaps overly so. Any critique of those genres by extension became a critique of both my writing and of me as a person.

So, when I got to my MFA, which encouraged and applauded these sorts of stories, I built something of an echo chamber around myself. My stories were valid! My tastes were valid! The work I did and the novels I loved weren’t of lower quality or lesser merit! And this was a good attitude for me to have. But.

But. I took it too far. Somewhere along the way, I decided that “YA is worthwhile, too!” meant that “Adult fic is universally boring and preachy.” For years, it didn’t matter what you handed me. If it wasn’t YA, I would either not read it or I’d read it grudgingly and use every instance of slow pacing or thematic embellishment to support my prejudices against adult fiction.

I didn’t even realize how deep-set this reaction in me had become until one of my betas and my CP both told me that my vampire history would be better served by treating it as an adult novel. I actively rebelled. I didn’t want to venture out of YA because I had convinced myself that anything else was lacking!

After a long talk with my CP (and a lot of soul-searching) I’ve started trying to deprogram myself. I’ve developed a long list of adult fic recommendations from a group of trusted friends that I’m slowly working my way through, broadening my horizons and undoing a lot of self-brainwashing. I’m rereading my vampire history, as well, looking for places where my blinders-on approach to YA might have hampered the story. I won’t say I agree that the book is best served now by a change of audience, but it certainly won’t hurt to venture outside of my box!

Five Things: Ships I’ll Go Down With

Blessed be! With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’m going to be putting in a ton of hours at the day job. Which, naturally, means my body has decided it’s time to get sick. So, while I fight my way through this chest cold and the bottomless work hours ahead, here’s a list of literary ships that I’ll gladly sail on!

  1. Damen and Laurent, Captive Prince trilogy
    This is a classic slow burn pairing. The two start off despising each other–with very good reason–but are forced through circumstances to work together. Grudging trust gradually turns to respect and then something more. It’s realistic, though, in that it’s not a straight line from loathing to forever. They both fight it for a long time, push each other away, and come back together again several times over the course of the story.
  2. Alanna and George, The Song of the Lioness quartet
    This was one of my very first ships from waaaaay back in my high-school days. George and Alanna were cute to me even then, but I didn’t understand just how rare their relationship was in fiction until I was much older. They have a mutual respect almost from the start, and George helps Alanna chase her goal of being a knight with no expectation that she’ll ever pay him back for his kindness. Of the three potential romantic interests Tamora Pierce gives us for Alanna, George is the only one who doesn’t try to change her to fit his expectations of what his ideal partner should be.
  3. Lauren and Kit, A Summer to Remember
    Remember when I said I generally don’t like romance novels? This seems to be the exception that proved the rule. When I was first working on my vampire historical, I picked up any book I could find that was set in roughly the same time period, including this one. And I absolutely hated the protagonists at first, both as people and as a couple. Lauren was rigid and unapproachable; Kit was brash and a downright cad. But they brought out the best in each other and, through the course of the story, I came to genuinely care for them even as they grew to love each other. I found myself fully invested in the pairing and crossing my fingers that they’d stay together in the end.
  4. Daja and Rizu, The Will of the Empress
    Not all of my ships are happy ones. Even though they don’t get much screentime, this is the first time a relationship in a book has actually made me cry when it failed. The affection between them is so tangible and sweet, but circumstances just don’t let it work out in the end. Despite that, it’s not treated as either of them being in the wrong, which is rare in fiction.
  5. Seyonne and Aleksander, Rai-Kirah trilogy
    Now, I haven’t finished the series yet, but I am completely invested in these two. I know nothing romantic will come of it, but I don’t care. The utter devotion between these men is enough to drive the narrative. Like Damen and Laurent, it’s a slow burn from indifference at best to hatred at the worst to being as close as two people can be. Even if nothing romantic or sexual comes from them, it’s a ship I will go down with.

Old Stories; New Beginnings

Blessed be, all! As some of you may know, today is Imbolc, one of the eight Wiccan Sabbats. While I no longer identify as Wiccan, I do still keep loosely to the Wheel of the Year. Imbolc for me is all about new beginnings, cleaning out the old to make room for new growth.

On that note, it’s fitting that I took a fresh look at an old story today. I’ve been actively working on it for five years now, done so many drafts and revisions that I’ve lost count. I think I’m currently on number seven, which is more than I have done on any other WIP. I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve built. But. The more I look at it, the more I can see places where it could be better.

Just today, my critique partner and I started looking at ways to bring some of what I learned in writing the sequel back into the first book. Some of it was obvious: a new motivation for one of my protagonists; a bit of nuance for the other. But now we’re taking this old story and looking at it literally from a new perspective. In the sequel, I introduce two more viewpoints in addition to my two mains. The plan now is to take one of them and run it back through the first book, too. If all goes well, it should be the extra push this story needs!