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.

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!