Update and Apology

>> Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sorry to everyone who might have wondered if I had fallen off the face of the earth. I haven't but I wouldn't blame you for thinking that because I have been twenty shades of overbusy the past week or so.

First I was disheartened with that feeling that most if not all unpublished wannabe writers gets at some point. You know the one, where you wonder if you're one of the clueless know-nothings who think they really can write but are just deluding themselves horribly.

I'm not saying I'm necessarily entirely cured, but I have reached a compromise ont he one novel and moved on. Slowly, since it involved an appreciable rewrite and sucked away my rather impressive momentum.

However, last week, on Friday, a friend pointed me to a romance editor (publishing house) who was critiquing "pitches" and suggested (since it's well established my marketing skills are pathetic) I try pitching something. Since my third novel, the one I wrote in a white heat last year, is the closest thing I have to a romance, I pitched it. The editor found it sufficiently intriguing that she asked for a synopsis and the entire book. Which means that the novel I'd had in a surprisingly-good-for-a-first draft form needs to be clean and polished, um, now. The editor has vowed to address all the pitches by 9/3, so I'm setting that as my deadline.

So, this weekend, I needed to work twenty-four hours of overtime (from home), handle a teenage birthday/sleepover AND a seven year old birthday AND finish the chapter I was working on for Cat's Paw and COMPLETELY do a first level polish edit on Tarot Queen.

For the record, I did all that - and that's with my husband conking out at six during the teenage-a-thon (which might be why I got so much editing done after I was through with day job work).

But, that's also why I haven't been visiting commenting on blogs and writing any myself. And, since I still need to do my Tarot Queen run through with Lee this week (and I have a few more extra hours at work to put in), it will be a bit longer before I'm at my blogging best.

Try to bear with me.


So Much for Euphoria

>> Thursday, August 26, 2010

The thing about flying, really flying, is the fall if you tumble.

I remember what Henny Youngman said,

"If at first you don't succeed . . . so much for skydiving."

Clarification: My euphoric and meteoric trip through the writing stratosphere was shot down painfully. I may take a bit to recover. It's bad enough now I'm not convinced I will.


I So Love Writing

>> Sunday, August 22, 2010

I haven't been putting much here on the blog recently. There's a reason for this. I've been working on the novel instead. I love, love, writing when the story's right there, when I know what I'm doing and where I'm going.

It's even better when I know my characters so well that the dialog is effortless and the direction obvious. It's my first sequel and I wasn't sure how to write it so it had a different tone, a different perspective from the first one.

I am having so much fun. I hope you don't mind that I'll only pop in here and there.



>> Monday, August 16, 2010

I've mentioned before that I write with my husband. In our particular case, writing together means I write it, then read it to him and we discuss what needs to be changed. If it's "my" idea, I get to decide the big decision. If it's "his," he does. Except, if one of us hates something, we can each veto.

You'd be surprised how often a veto actually comes into it. And several ideas that were veto material have been compromised away from what either of us thinks is optimum to reach an agreement (if not an approval). Lee is not fond of dark things and hates torturing characters he likes. Pity because that's kind of part of the deal for novels.

I have to be convinced the characters, stories, etc. make sense. Lee does that too and frequently points out something I missed.

So, why am I mentioning this? Well, for the last week or so we've been wrangling. Ever since I had the idea, I've been wanting to give the prime character from my first novel (Beast Within) primary amoebic meningitis, only let him live through it in the sequel. My husband has hated, ever since I got the idea, inflicting parasites on the shapeshifter who becomes a dragon. HATES. IT.

No explanation or protestation was enough. No clever cure or redemption was sufficient. No need or drive was justification. He HATED IT. Period.

I'll be honest. I was thinking I couldn't find something else that did what I wanted:

a) deadly
b) adversely affecting the brain, preferably with delirium, hallucinations and or involuntary body movements
c) non-chemical so that our talented healer couldn't just cure him and be done
d) uncontagious so everyone else didn't have it (though I wanted them to wonder if it were)

Fortunately for me, The Mother was kind enough to point me toward arborvirus forms that cause meningitis/encephalitis or even combinations. Since it's a vector, it's still not communicable. And, although my original intent was to have one character do something clever, I thought of a different clever way of curing it that used actual medical science (if only to repay The Mother's patience with my magical healer).

So, there you go. Compromise. Everyone's happy. And, though I haven't gotten a lot done this weekend, I've now updated it so I can move forward. And with my collaborator still a willing partner.


Storytelling and Communicating

>> Thursday, August 12, 2010

I had one of those weird/confusing conversations I occasionally have with my husband where he says something I just don't understand. It's ironic. We both have an excellent track record with communicating with people, but, when it comes to each other, it's like a different language.

Today he said, and I quote, "Storytelling isn't communicating. It's art. Art has nothing to do with communication." He said some more stuff along those lines, but I don't remember them all. My eyes were rolling. He was trying (I believe) to bring forward that I didn't have to please anyone else with my writing; that no one had to get it to be worth my while.

While I appreciate the supportive sentiment (expressed because he really doesn't like an aspect of my latest book), I don't agree on many levels. First off, of course storytelling is communicating. It can be art, too, but storytelling is, first and last, a way of communicating. True, it can be art and anyone who's ever sat, breathless, at the knee of a master story teller knows they aren't all the same. It's a gift. But art, in my opinion, is about communicating something too, expressing something the artist, whether musician, painter, sculptor, writer, etc. wanted to say. The viewer/listener/reader may not get that same something (or all the intended something), but, in my opinion, without that communication, it's not even art. Even if what's communicated is just "I'm beautiful."

Good storytelling is art, made all the more difficult because we can't use our voices and inflections, our hands and dramatic pauses. We have to put as much as possible on paper, using language and the music inherent in the words themselves because, in general, we can't be there to read it the way we envision we'd tell it.

Some of that is technical - knowing punctuation and pacing, vocabulary and expression, but some of that is art, knowing just that right lilt at the very end that cements it all in place, or finding the words that breathe life into a character's dialog, that makes a reader smile or laugh out loud. The art, in my opinion, is really where the writer touches a reader, bringing some aspect of the book to sufficient life for the reader to care what happens, to feel something about what is only paper, ink and imagination. For events that never happened and people who never existed to matter deeply to the reader, so much so that the book, those events, those characters become part of the reader's psyche.

Fancy shmancy imagery and a million dollar vocabulary can be tools to do that, but they can't do it alone.

For that, you need art.


More on "Greatness"

>> Saturday, August 7, 2010

Yes, this is another topic I've discussed before but my good friend, The Mother, pointed out a pertinent article so I had to jump in with it. In this case, the article is all about six great novels that were originally hated. Now, I discussed earlier how hard it was to determine what is/was great when something first comes out. This article brings that view into focus.

What amazed me, however, is that I literally didn't like a one of them. Now, I know people who like one or the other of them, so I'm not saying they're not great. I'm saying they didn't speak to me (The best thing that ever happened to Tolkien, in my opinion, was Peter Jackson, but that's just my opinion). but that sparked a few other trains of thought. One of which falls from my much earlier assertion that "classic" is largely determined by time. But, it occurs to me not every book survives through time because it touches people even today, that is says something timeless.

Some books are classics largely because they mark changes in the written word, set precedents, demonstrate key qualities in the written word, or even effect social change. Beowulf, for example, is unlikely to speak to the average student. What makes it worth teaching in school, (which is probably why it is still in print) is that it is one of the earliest examples of a story documented in English or a form of it. Chaucer also set a precedent, and though I can intellectually get into what makes it worth examining, it doesn't touch me.

Some books or stories are firsts in some arena or another. Some make tremendous use of language, set a new trend, typify a movement, or changed the kind of characters we, the readers, would accept. Some challenged social mores or prejudices. Some brought social disgraces to the light of day.

Now let me be clear. There are many classics taught in school that can still touch today's audiences, that are timeless, even if they do one or more of the things that I alluded to in the previous two paragraphs. Poe, for instance, comes to mind. Or Washing Irving. Or Shakespeare. But there are, in my opinion, some works that probably would have wandered off into obscurity if they hadn't demonstrated some teachable thing or another.

Having said that, there are a number of classics that don't disappear because, generation after generation, people find themselves compelled by the original works, even though they don't do any of the things that would make them key elements in academia. They have stories or flights of imagination or characters that speak to people generation after generation, even if the original audience thought little of them, even if the writing will never be "classic". Even if they're full of flaws.

Wuthering Heights comes to mind. I'd hate to have to teach the novel. It's full of unlikable characters, less than stellar writing and improbable action. I read it a dozen times growing up and I have it on my ereader so I can read it again when ever I want because, though the characters are unlikeable, they are compelling. The book is up to its eyeballs in passion and emotion and, if you get caught up in it, it can wring you out.

A dozen other examples come to mind like Jane Austen or H. G. Wells or Edgar Rice Burroughs or Arthur Conan Doyle or Collette Or Dorothy Sayers or, yes, Georgette Heyer.. Stories and works where characters touch us, or our imagination takes flight or we see things in different ways. Sometimes we're amused. Sometimes we're touched. Sometimes, our minds are intrigued and forced to think about things differently. Different fans of the same book can often find different reasons for being compelled.

Frequently, these are the books we return to over and over again. Interestingly enough, these are also the books that are least likely to die, even if curriculums change or better examples come into place. Why? Because they are introduced to the next generations not by teachers as books required for school, but by people who love them as the reasons they love to read.

In my opinion.


Fiction Philosophy: Apathy

>> Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The other day, I was talking about violence, noting that bad guys and good guys might both indulge in violence, even killing/murder, in my fiction, but with distinctions as to what was or wasn't acceptable. But, there's something I often find even harder to justify than murder: apathy.

Often, I find characters far less sympathetic or appealing if they are completely passive, if they stand idly by as bad things happen to others, even though that is a frequent occurrence in real life. If they cower in fear rather than stand up for the "right" thing, I often find myself contemptuous though that is one of the most common reactions to oppression and brutality. Even characters who wander through their stories reacting to or having their decisions made by what happens around them rather than actively shaping or directing their own actions leave me, well, uninterested.

Truth is, I'm more likely to find a principled assassin appealing than such a character. Why? Well, for one thing, the assassin is, for whatever reason, taking a stand, deciding his own fate. I can respect that even if he's not a nice person. But I have limited respect for a character that allows him- or herself to be buffeted along by fate and circumstance without lifting a finger to help himself, help others, even do something that would change his or her fate.

Part of it is that, all too often, such characters take no responsibility for their circumstances. Fate and environment are blamed for all their troubles, and their own unwillingness to do anything to change the situation is completely overlooked. The excuses are legion. "I couldn't make a difference anyway." "I had no choice." "What could I do?" "It wasn't any of my business."

Part of it, too, is that apathy is so human, so common, so prevalent that it is part and parcel of almost every (if not every) horrible wrong that has ever been done. Apathy isn't necessarily evil, which is one reason it's so insidious - the practitioners do not engender hatred so much as contempt and pity - yet it is a vital element in the spread and effectiveness of evil.

Apathy is the ultimate enabler of evil. It is the enemy of change and progress. It is the protector of the predator as it leaves those most weak and vulnerable unshielded. Apathy is the tool of the manipulator because those who refuse to take action are always looking for excuses for their lack of action. It's easier, by far, to dismiss those oppressed or in need by believing they are unworthy (druggies, illegal aliens, lazy, devious, stupid, common, heathens, racially inferior, mentally incompetent, incapable [as women frequently have been called], sly, self-serving - they've all been used) than to take a stand and correct an egregious injustice. The path of least resistance is an ugly one.

So, you won't find many of these types in my books, not as a protagonist or even antagonists. Actually, I try to limit the number of apathetic characters as much as possible because, hey, I don't like them. The characters I'll focus on in my books are people of decision, even if they don't begin that way, who have morals and values and stances, who are willing to pay the price to do what they see is right.

It seems like a small thing, but, when you look at the history of apathy, of the harm it's caused, it's really not so small.



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