Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year’s Day: Looking Back and Looking Forward

     Ever since high school whenever I would write the word “look” I’d draw eyes in the Os. I’d get really elaborate about it too—using different colored pens for the irises, making long lashes, doing different expressions, etc. Seeing the word “looking” up there twice really makes me wish I could make eyeballs out of the Os, but I don’t know how to do that on the computer.

     Don’t worry, I’m not planning on an entire blog post about drawing eyes in the letter O, I just felt compelled to mention that. All right, moving onto the actual point of this. Because it’s pretty much tradition, I figured I’d go ahead and take stock of 2015 and think about what I’d like to see happen in 2016. I’m not really a New Year’s Resolution kind of person. I don’t think it really works that way—at least not for me. There are plenty of times to make changes in one’s life, it doesn’t necessarily need to be when the numbers on the calendar change, however it is a good time to stop and take stock of things, so here goes.

     2015 has been a mixed bag—as is usually the case. I’ll talk about the bad first, because it’s always nice to get that crap out of the way so we can feel all warm and fuzzy when we get to the good stuff.

     I started out the year recovering from surgery on torn tendons and ligaments in my ankle. I was on my way to getting my strength back, which meant a fresh start at a new job (I was excited and scared), a return to dance classes and frequent long walks, and lots of other things.

     As is pretty much the story of anyone’s life ever, things didn’t work out as planned. Instead of getting better, one of my tendons developed a bad reaction to the sutures used in the first surgery and was torn again. So in June I got to have yet another surgery which meant yet another month of crutches (loads of fun), pain, nausea, and general crappiness. It also meant a return to physical therapy, which I often joke is a profession entered into by sadists. If you’ve ever been to physical therapy you know what I’m talking about.

     While I mostly regained my balance and range of motion, the pain in my ankle, foot, and calf never went away. In fact it got worse and continues to hang around 24/7 nagging at me and yelling at me and making me tired and grumpy and depressed and getting in the way of me taking walks, doing simple chores, sitting in a chair (it throbs painfully when not elevated), hanging out with friends, babysitting my niece and nephew, dancing, going grocery shopping, standing up in the shower, having a job, focusing on writing, sleeping (it’s not easy to sleep when there’s pain), having energy, etc. etc. etc. Not to mention the wonderful fun of finding doctors who know and understand chronic pain and nerve pain and knowing what’s wrong with me. All of this constant pain and lack of energy and inability to work and stress with trying to make doctors understand that I’m in pain causes lots of awesome depression and anxiety. Fun stuff.

     In case you haven’t notice, I’m a big fan of sarcasm. It’s one of my favorite coping mechanisms.  

     So that’s the main bad thing that’s been going on in 2015. As a direct result of this issue, money has been tight and a major (emphasis on the major) stressor. My teeth have been fairly uncooperative this year as well. I’ve had at least 3 root canals, maybe even 4 and I had to have 2 teeth pulled.

     All right, enough of that crap—let’s talk about the good stuff. I’ve learned never to take anything for granted. Despite my financial situation not being ideal, I have enough money to continue having a roof over my head in a beautiful city and nice neighborhood. I’ve also had money to have 3 meals a day, keep my cat happy and healthy, and even occasionally go out with my boyfriend and friends. Bright sides.
     The boyfriend is also a bright side. He’s been wonderfully supportive through all this crap and I’d be a lot more depressed if it weren’t for him. He’s had some health issues himself earlier in the year, which have recently gotten better so that’s something I’m really happy about. I’ve realized that I have many wonderful friends who actually like me and are there for me when I need them. (I was kind of nerdy growing up, and didn’t really have a lot of friends. So I’m still like, “Wow, I have friends!”)  I have a lot of great family support between my mom and stepdad, my dad and stepmom, my sister and her family, my grandparents, and my boyfriend’s family.

     I’ve made some incredible writing accomplishments in the past 12 months. Yay! I was brave enough to query my first novel to several agents and a few small publishers. Despite being refused, this process has allowed me to learn about the industry, how to proceed from here, and to develop ways to cope with bad news. I’ve grown immensely as a writer. Yay! I finished a polished first draft of a YA novel and then during NaNo finished a rough (really, really rough) draft of a mystery novel. I’ve also had some wonderful epiphanies about how to improve my vampire novel which gives me the hope of one day reading some “we love your book!” letters rather than more “thank you, but…” letters.

      As for 2016 well, I figure it’s also going to be a mixed bag. All of the stuff with my ankle and is still going on, which means I’ve got a lot to deal with. But I’m also going have all those wonderful things and people I mentioned above to help me deal. I’m going to try hard to stay positive and still have fun despite whatever stressful situation may be going on. I also (of course) plan to continue writing, writing, writing and learning and growing and working towards putting books on the shelves (of stores, not my apartment). Yay!

     All in all, I think I’m ready for the New Year. I better be, because the numbers on the calendar change whether you’re ready or not. So, goodbye 2015 and hello 2016.

     Happy New Year!

     (And here’s hoping there’s no vampire apocalypse.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Bloodsucking Creatures of the Night

     Vampires. You either love them or you hate them. You love to love them or you love to hate them. You may even hate that you hate them because you're just plain sick to death of hearing about them. You love them and don't want anyone to know you love them because you're embarrassed about it. You never miss a moment to let people know that you hate them and are definitely freaking sick and tired of hearing about them.

     Whether people love them or hate them or even if they're indifferent to them, they are still talking about vampires. Vampires are one of the most well-known fictional creatures. They might be the most talked about fictional creatures, maybe even more than zombies--btw, is it just me or are zombies becoming a lot more like vampires? Since when were zombies capable of logical thought? Other than brains vs. blood I thought the main difference between vampires and zombies was that vampires have higher order thinking whereas zombies are all about the id. But I digress. The purpose of this post is not vampires vs. zombies. I've got nothing against zombies, they just don't get me all hot and bothered like vampires do.
     Yeah, I said it.

     I've been obsessed with vampires since I was 12, so once I started writing it was pretty much inevitable that I would write a vampire novel. I just need one novel (or trilogy) to get the cute little misunderstood evil creatures out of my mind so I can write about other misunderstood evil creatures like ghosts, witches, werewolves, and zombies. Actually I've recently become pretty ghost obsessed, but that's another post entirely.

     Some people will say that writing about vampires is a mistake because no agent or large publisher will go near a vampire with a cross, bag of garlic, and gallon of holy water. But I've come to the conclusion that I have to write what I want to write, otherwise I'm doing myself a disservice. Besides that, trends cycle. I've no doubt that vampires will one day come back into the mainstream--sure, it could be another 10 or 20 years, but I think it will happen eventually.

     As much as it pains me to admit this, so far my vampires have been pretty freaking cliche. This isn't entirely a bad thing. There are is a lot of traditional vampire lore that you just have to stick with, but that doesn't mean your vampires shouldn't also be new and interesting. The sad thing is, my vampires were supposed to be acting in ways that were new and exciting, I just didn't portray this as well as I wanted to because I was a new writer learning the ropes. Now that my feet are wet and I've gotten a lot of wonderful new writer mistakes out of the way (like humiliating myself by sending out a god-awful query to agents with a sub-par manuscript), I'm ready to try again, which means revamping my vampires.

     I recently joined a book club with my sister and somehow we got into the subject of vampires--though the book we'd read was not about vampires. Everyone started listing what they did and didn't like about vampires while I sat there and soaked it all in for future reference. Hehe. Basically, what I got was that people are sick (for the most part) of the hot sexy vampire and want a return to the evil vampire. I also heard that people are wondering what happened to the whole vampires can't go out in the sunlight thing. A lot of authors have just thrown this concept out the window. My vampires can't go out in the sunlight, but the main reason I went with this rule is that my story will not work if vampires are running around in the daytime--so it was pretty much a logistical thing.

     My story is about a post-apocalyptic society in which vampires have taken over. It focuses (or at least it's supposed to) on the survival of the remaining humans, and one human in particular. She falls in love with a vampire. I know, cliche right? But I'm going to stick with it, because it's the story that I imagined. I just need to play down the romance and play up the survival aspects so people see that it's more of a dark fantasy novel than a romance. I've recently learned that there is a difference between a love story and a romance novel. Many none-romance novels have love stories in them, and this is what I want mine to be.

     Because there was a vampire/human romance, of course my vampires were hot and sexy. I've decided to do away with this. They now are going to look like 3 days dead (roughly) walking frozen corpses--though still not quite as icky as zombies. No offense to any zombies who might be reading this. Also, my lead vampire is no longer going to be brooding. (Yeah, I'm ashamed to admit that he was brooding. No more brooding!) The hard part is going to be still making it convincing for my human to fall in love with a creepy looking dead guy, who may or may not smell bad (I haven't decided yet). But I like a challenge. I'm hoping that some more ideas for unique twists on vampires will come to me. I want to end up with a mix of the traditional and something shiny and new. (Shiny, not sparkly.)

     If anyone has any thoughts and opinions on our favorite (or most hated) creatures of the night (and by that I mean vampires), please feel free to share them.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

When Does It End?

     Hello, my poor neglected blog, how I've missed you. Apparently once you start slacking on your blog it becomes very easy to continue slacking. I've even had several topics in mind, I've just been too lazy to actually sit down and write them. But it's December, which is a busy month, and I'm still looking for some of the pieces of my brain that fell out after NaNo.

     Those are my excuses and I'm sticking to them.

     I've recently started take 9 or 10 of my vampire novel. Yeah. I can't actually remember at this point what draft I'm on. It's my first novel, so from what I've heard it's not unusual to have this many rewrites. It's been "finished" for about 2 years now. In early 2014 I decided it was complete and started querying agents. After several refusals I decided that at 124k words, it was much too long and that's why I was being refused. So in December of last year I did a really sloppy (though I didn't know it at the time) revision which cut out the beginning and shortened several chapters, putting it at a nice 96k. I did this in about 3 weeks, didn't reread it, and didn't let anyone else read it because I was feeling confident (cocky) and decided it was great the way it was and resumed querying.

     I got a lot more refusals.

     A few months ago I was starting to wonder if maybe it didn't need another pass when my friend from writer's group offered to read it and give it the full shakedown. Thanks Elly :). Well, after reading her notes (many, many notes :) ) I'm going--WTF? Not looking over that last rewrite was a big mistake. By shortening the beginning I wound up losing a lot of important things.

     I've been working on other projects in the last year and have leveled up as a writer (yay!) which has allowed me to see how un-evolved I was back then. Many of my characters were wooden, they repeated actions over and over again, the story isn't nearly as frightening as I wanted it to be, and on and on and on.

     And on and on.
     The good news is that Elly's notes have started an avalanche of new ideas for how to fix it and I'm really really excited. I want to make this story as good as it can be. After all, it's my first born child. That means I'm fully willing to put the time and energy into it. That being said, I've already spent roughly 4 years on it. Despite having taken a break for an entire year, I'm still a bit burned out on it. I want to finish this last rewrite and maybe set it free after this--for better or worse. Because of that I'm not sure whether I should have people look over this "final" rewrite. If people look at it, they will inevitably have ideas for revisions. It's psychological. If you give someone something to read and tell them it's a work in progress, of course they're going to have suggestions. But I also don't want to make the same mistake I made last year and think that I've got something wonderful that still needs a lot of work.

     So in that sense I'm stuck. I want to make my vampire novel perfect, but I also don't want it to get in the way of my other stories. I don't want to get stuck in an endless loop of revisions. So, my question is--when does it end? At what point do you stop having people read your story? Is there some formula for figuring this out? And if anyone knows what that is, could you please tell me?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Here's What's Next

     I’m very excited to announce that I have written three novels.
     I have no idea how that happened.
     Okay, so in actuality I know what happened. I sat down and wrote three novels. But that fact somehow seems unbelievable. Did I really do that? And how did I do that? I always feared that my first novel was a fluke, that I would never have any other ideas. I guess I was wrong. I cannot express my relief.
     The bad news is that not one of my three novels is ready for publication, although all of them have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s what matters most. If your novel has those three things, then you have done something remarkable, and the rest will fall into place.
     Because it just will.
     First I have New Year’s Revolution, my vampire novel. I have lost count of the number of drafts this story has gone through. I have killed some beautiful darlings in the process. In a very early draft there was an awesome battle scene in the middle of the book where the humans drop PCP in an attempt to match the psycho-strength of vampires.  They also (in the old version) lived on an abandoned college campus and therefore had access to a boatload of fun chemicals which they used to create an array of rainbow colored Molotov cocktail. So they’re tossing these beauties at vampires while mad tripping and the MC pretty much goes on a mad crazy killing rampage. It was seriously fun to write, but unfortunately didn’t work in the story as a whole. I’m hoping I can find a way to work that scene into the final book in the series, but I won’t know until I get there.
     The reason New Year’s Revolution has had so many drafts is that it’s my first novel. I’m learning as I go. Looking at the most recent version, which I once thought was close to perfect, I now see what I’ve learned since writing it and hope I can improve it and finally one day say it’s finished. And publish it. That is the goal.  
     My second book is Caribou Canyon, a YA dark fantasy. I have a polished first draft that is 250k words long. I have quite the task ahead of me as far as trimming goes, but I’m hopeful that it’s possible.
     My third novel is Never Look Away (New working title. The old working title was Demons in the Daylight.) This is the one I wrote for NaNoWriMo, so it is a very sloppy rough draft. It’s my first mystery and I think it has really good potential. Something clicked as I was writing it. I don’t really know how to describe it, but the inner workings of my writerness came together or something. I grew. Not literally, but figuratively. The writer part of me grew. I did zero research before starting this novel, so I have tons of prep to do before draft two.
     So here’s the burning question: which novel do I work on next?
     At first I was dead set on completely finishing Never Look Away before going back to the others, but now the vampires are calling me again. They have a way of doing that. So as it stands now, I’m thinking: New Year’s Revolution, Never Look Away, Caribou Canyon. I’m sure I will change my mind several times about the order, but that’s what it is for now. All three of these stories are very close to me, so they will definitely get love.
     I admit that I’m a little nervous about the vampire novel. I’ve heard many people say that sometimes their first novel just isn’t workable, and I hate to think that that might be the case here. I don’t want to think that something is impossible, but I’m really not sure what to do with this story. I want it to be the best it can be, but I’ve already spent roughly 3-4 years working on it. How much time can I spend on it? I guess I don’t know the answer to that question. But I’m going to try to figure it out.
     Wish me luck.
     And vampires. Wish me plenty of vampires.      

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Final Thoughts After NaNo

     Okay, so I meant to write this immediately after NaNo, but after writing 92k words, it took me several days to scoop my brain back into my head through my ears. So I'm a little late to the post-NaNo party, but that's okay.
     First, I'm giving myself a little congratulations for completing a rough draft in one month. Yay me. It was tons of fun and a little crazy. It was great, but I'm definitely not going to write at that level of intensity all year round. Now that I have a craptastic rough draft of a potentially awesome mystery novel I've got lots more work to do, but more on that later. When it comes to writing, the work is never done.
     I'm very proud of myself for accomplishing my goal, but it would be totally okay if I hadn't. That's something I started telling myself from the beginning, and it's important for everyone to know.
     It's okay if you didn't meet your goal.
     I chatted with a lot of people via Twitter about NaNo, and saw a fair number of people beating themselves up for not writing as much as they wanted to. This makes me sad. People really shouldn't be so hard on themselves. Myself included. I am my own worst enemy.
     Setting goals is very important. NaNo is about being motivated. But I think it's of equal importance to realize when a goal is too much. I for one nearly always ask too much of myself, that's one of the reasons why I was actually surprised that I finished on time.
     NaNo is a great idea, but November is not always a great month to go on a writing binge. And 1,667 words a day is a lot. There's nothing wrong with making a more reasonable goal for yourself.
     I've told a lot of people that the only true way to fail is to not try at all. I firmly believe this. I'm not just talking about not participating in NaNo. I'm talking about not trying to write at all. Writing an entire novel is a very difficult, daunting task. This cannot be stressed enough.
     The enormity of the task scares a lot of people away. It scared me away for a long time. I spent years telling myself I wasn't going to try writing a novel because there was no way I'd be able to finish one. Instead I just daydreamed for years. Now I write and daydream. I'm very glad I finally started trying, although I definitely still have my neurotic moments of thinking "I can't do this!"
     But I'm still trying.
     So, whether you did NaNo this year and won, didn't quite make it, or decided this wasn't your year, keep writing and never stop trying!