Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Multiple Projects

When I first started socializing with other writers online, I heard a lot of talk about people working on multiple projects. Some people even had five or six going at a time, which was like, "Wow!"

I was very against the idea myself. To each their own, but for me I didn't think I would ever be able to get one project done if I kept swapping between projects. So even when other characters and ideas starting knocking on my door--and they did--I pushed them aside and kept my focus on New Year's Revolution.

I was very happy when it came time to switch gears and finally start working on City of Secrets (then Caribou Canyon), which I'd kept locked away for about two years (In retrospect I don't know how I managed). Again, I was very disciplined while working on it. By that time, Caleb of my yet unnamed NaNo novel (I'm really going to have to give this thing a name soon) had started yelling very loudly in my head. But I kept Caleb locked away until I finished (mostly) the first draft of CoS. I finished just barely in time for November too.

Suddenly, I found myself with three stories: a rough draft, a first draft, and an infinity draft that needed yet more work. I told myself I was going to pick one to work on until it was ready to be published and/or queried and then (and only then) was I going to pick up another one. So I began rewrite, let's call it 10, of New Year's Revolution. This went smoothly for about two months, when I realized that I was going to serialize CoS--and you all know the rest from here, if you don't, my previous posts explain the exciting growth of this idea. The point is, once City of Secrets began to take form on the page it couldn't be kept down for long.

So I now find myself on a break from NYR to get CoS launched online. Once CoS is up and running, so to speak, I'll return to working on NYR, while pausing to write the occasional CoS chapter to post weekly or bi-weekly.

I'm going to be perfectly honest: this idea frightens me. Other than the fact that they are both paranormal fantasies, these are two wildly different stories. One is first person adult, and the other is third person young adult. One has multiple view points and the other has one. One takes place in a real city, and the other takes place in an isolated fictional town. Once is about vampires, and the other is about ghosts.

One of my biggest--and perhaps irrational--fears is that I would mix things up. I'm not talking about the obvious things. Clearly, I'm going to know which story I'm working on, unless I'm really tired or really drunk, in which case I probably shouldn't even be writing in the first place. I'm afraid of mixing up the voices, having my teens sound too adult and vice versa, giving my ghosts vampire qualities, and that sort of thing. But the more I "voice" these fears, the more silly they sound, so I guess that's good. I'm just someone who worries a lot, (understatement) and I don't always have a lot of trust in myself. But I'm too excited about both stories not to move forward with each of them. So I'm just going to have to trust in my abilities.

Here's the good news: as I was reading through CoS I was noticing the similarities and differences between it and NYR. By working on both stories at once, I was able to see what I need to work on as far as narrative voice (and other things) is concerned. And I'm also starting to learn what voice actually means. I honestly think it's a pretty hard concept. When I first heard people talking about voice I just sort of nodded my head. Now, I get it.

Here's the better news: the similarities between the two stories disappeared the further I got into CoS. Thank goodness. So, now I've decided that working on multiple projects might actually be a good thing. It might help expand my mind and stretch my writing muscles.

Also, I've been getting ideas for the second draft of my unnamed NaNo novel (which is even more drastically different from both of these stories), and I already know there is no way I'm going to be able to wait until I finish NYR and CoS to write it, like I'd planned. I'm thinking of doing the 2nd draft during NaNo this year. I know that's technically against the rules, but screw the rules. NaNo is about writing, not following rules. Of course, since it's a second draft, I'll have to extend my NaNo, maybe start in October and end in mid-December. But these are just thoughts. I have no idea where I'll be at in the Fall, I just know that I'm very excited about Caleb's story and won't be able to wait much longer.

I guess the lesson I've learned is that once the characters have been let out of their cages, they don't want to go back in. So why make them?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

I went to a thing and learned some things!

On Saturday I attended my third writer's conference. Well, technically it was conference number two and a half. The half was a two hour talk given by a literary agent at a coffee shop, so I don't know if that counts as a conference, but I'm at a loss as to what else it would be called. Besides, three makes me sound more dedicated and cool. So, I'm going to call it three.

The other two conferences focused on publishing and the different paths available in this day and age. Saturday's conference was about the writing side of things, which was a nice change. It was titled Genre Con and focused on, you got it, genre fiction. The conference was hosted by Kristin Nelson and Angie Hodapp of Nelson Literary Agency. Kristin gave an inspiring keynote speech and Angie gave a presentation about how to start a story in the right place, and what distinguishes each genre.

This is the first conference I did not attend alone. My friend and fellow writer, Elly, came with me. I couldn't resist passing notes to her, which gave me some nostalgic high school flashbacks. When they were talking about YA and described it as the genre of firsts (first love, first death, etc.) I got really excited (because I've been worried my YA novel might be too dark/"adult" to be YA) and wrote an excited note saying "My story has those!" The hotel provided us with pens and pads of paper. What else could those have been for other than to pass notes to one another?

Kristin and Angie also provided the wonderful (and nerve-wracking) service of reading aloud and critiquing the first page of manuscripts for those who submitted them. I submitted the first page of New Year's Revolution, my vampire novel. This opening has been done to death. It has been changed, reinvented, changed back, given minor alterations, revamped entirely, and changed back again. So I figured, why not do it to death some more? Because that's what you do with a first page. And writers are masochists.

It was a bit funny when mine was read, because earlier they'd listed things agents are getting tired of seeing on the first page, and mine had two of these (waking up, and a bodily function--vomiting.) I did get some good feedback from them, though of course I was hoping for, "Wow! This is amazing! I've never in my life read anything so spectacular! My life is forever changed! Please submit this now!" Of course, I knew that wasn't actually going to happen. I'm grateful for the feedback. It is a rare opportunity to get feedback from agents. They literally (and I mean that in the actual, literal sense of the word) do not have the time. So, thank you, Kristin and Angie.

In the afternoon, we split into groups based on our individual genres. My group was led by YA author Aaron Michael Ritchey, who did a wonderful job. Thank you, Aaron. He was open, funny, and informative. He led an open discussion, rather than just talking at us. The most important thing I learned is: I am in fact writing a young adult novel. Yes! Yippee! Hooray! Yay! Woohoo! Weeeee!

I was worried my story was too dark. Well, I wasn't the only in the group worried about this, so we had a long discussion about it. Now, if your story has sex and the F word and even an abundance of shit and ass and damn you will not be loved by parents, but this is acceptable. Why? Because no matter you do, you will never be universally liked. I am a firm believer that you have to write the story you want to write. Aaron is also a firm believer of this, and left us with this message. Now, some authors (like Aaron) do like to follow the MPAA (movie) rating system as a guide to let people (parents) know what they are getting, but you don't have to.

I don't want to follow it. It's not because I want to write a bunch of gratuitous sex and violence and strong language in my story, but I want my story and characters to be real. There are some instances in which nothing other than the F word feels correct, at least in my story. (In a PG-13 rating, you are allowed one and only one F word). I want my teens to talk about sex, and maybe even have it. Am I going to write a descriptive sex scene? No, of course not. That's why I also write adult novels. But I've read a lot of YA, and some of them ignore the issue of sex to the point where the characters don't feel real, at least to me. I'm not saying that all teenagers are having sex. They aren't. But nearly all teenagers are at least thinking about it and probably talking about it. To pretend otherwise just feels fake to me, and I honestly feel like it's an insult to the target honest, and hey, guess who that target audience is? Yep. Teens. (Although the target audience issue does get complicated because many adults love YA and many teens love adult fiction.)

I'm risking a tangent here, and I'm about to move on. Before I do, I want to be clear that these are my choices. I have enjoyed a variety of YA books, many that follow MPAA guidelines and I believe there is a place for "tamer" (for lack of a better word) stories. It's just not what I want to write at this point in time. I wasn't insulting any authors, stories, or opinions.

Okay, moving on. So, if it's not lighter subject matter, lack of sex, cussing, and violence, then what does make a YA a YA? Well, first off the main character needs to be a teenager. This is usually high school age, though for some reason the magic, most popular age is 16. What's most important is the nature of the conflict. It needs to be something personal, and something that teens can relate to. Again, it's the genre of firsts. That's why romance in YA is so popular. (Me, I'm a fan of having a love story as a subplot, not the main plot.) With teenagers, everything is always amped up. Everything is the end of the world. Everything is very self-focused. This is why a lot of YA is done in first person--first person makes it more personal. (Though it doesn't have to be.) An even newer trend is first person present tense (Hunger Games, Divergent), which most people either love or hate passionately. I'm not a huge fan of it, but once I get into the book, I get used to it. I can also see why it works for YA, because it adds to that sensation of everything being in the here and now.

So, to sum it up, I enjoyed the conference and learned a lot. I also feel motivated (not that I wasn't motivated before) to get going on City of Secrets (formerly Caribou Canyon) and put it out there for the world to see. I have begun the outlining process, which means it's only about another week or two before I start revising. I've also got a rough book blurb written. I don't want to give a time frame yet on when I will start releasing chapters, but the date is definitely nearing. (Yay!)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Seeing Things as a Writer

     I am nearly finished reading through my rough draft of Caribou Canyon/City of Secrets, which means it’s almost time to start writing the revision and posting it online. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m very excited. City of Secrets takes place in a fictional Colorado mountain town called Caribou Canyon. Caribou Canyon is loosely based on an actual Colorado ghost town called Caribou.
     As far as ambience goes, my setting was pretty well formed in the first draft. As far as the actual physical/visual aspects are concerned, the setting is hardly formed at all. It’s time I fixed that. The other day, I took the first step toward doing that and drove up to Nederland, a small mountain town that’s only about 20 miles from where I live. It’s actually still in the same county. Though it’s pretty close to me, it’s very different from where I live. The population is only about 1,300 people.
     I drove around Nederland and got a feel for the town: where the houses are located and what kinds of shops, schools, and recreational activities it has. Now, since I live so close, I’ve been up to Nederland bunches of times. I even got stranded up there once. With a giant flag that I had to carry around. It wasn’t fun. But I’ve never been there as a writer, which is a completely different experience than walking around town with a flag.
     I went to the visitor’s center for some maps, which turned out to be pretty funny. The woman asked if I was from out of town, and when I told her that I was a Colorado native living just down the mountain she got a really funny look on her face until I explained that I was writing a book and wanted a map to use as a sort of model for my fictional town. After that she was very helpful.
     What’s great is that within just a few minutes of being up there I already had several ideas of things I need to add/change about Caribou Canyon. I even had a few ideas that didn’t even have anything to do with the setting. I plan to visit a number of mountain towns and get a feel for them. I’m going to collect maps, look at them, and then put together Caribou Canyon in combination with how I already see it. At least that’s the plan so far.
     I also went to a coffee shop to read some of my first draft. I plan to do some actual writing in each of these towns. I figure some of the small town ambience will bleed through in my writing. And if it doesn’t, at least I have some pretty scenery to look at.

     So, there is the latest in my venture to get City of Secrets out in the world. Stay tuned for more updates (you all better be on the edge of your seats). 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Thoughts on Writing

     I finally broke down and read Stephen King’s “On Writing.” Yes, broke down. Sometimes I get weirdly stubborn about certain things, and reading this book was one of them. This is one of those books that many writers read and quote frequently (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I once said, “I don’t need to read it because everyone else has read it and quotes it all the time.” Not that I read a lot of books on writing as it is.
     I’ve recently decided to amp up my reading in an effort to improve my writing. Lately, I’ve been reading three or four books at a time: some fiction, some non-fiction. In between reading grammar books I decided to start looking through books on writing fiction and I figured I might as well start with Stephen King’s, because if you’re going to start out with one, it might as well be his.
     Now that I’ve finished reading it, I’ve decided to share my thoughts and talk about what I got out of it (other than an idea for a blog post). I would like to say that this is not intended to be a review of the book. What follows applies to me personally and I’m not intending this post to be used to persuade people to read the book or not to read the book. Why? Because this is just me throwing down my thoughts. I’m not organizing those thoughts into reasons why this is or isn’t a good instruction manual on writing. Also, I finished the book a week and a half ago. I borrowed it from the library, and have since returned it. Since I don’t have it in front of me, a good portion of what I’m saying is from memory. So, some of what I’m saying might be a bit Beckified. (Technical term.)
     Okay, now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get to the point. First, the book is an interesting read because it is largely autobiographical. If you’re a King fan, you get to learn a lot of facts about him that you may not have known before. He talks a lot about what he went through while writing some of his books, and that’s just fun if you’ve read them.
      One of the first things that grabbed my attention was that he stated that he wasn’t sure if he should write a book on writing fiction, because he doesn’t know what his process is. I was like, “Yes! I don’t either! Not a clue!” I just do it. When my readers tell me they really like how I did this or that I’m like, “Yeah, thanks.” But how did I do it? I have no idea. So to hear a published author say the same thing was really refreshing.
     Something else that really grabbed me was what he said about plotting. He believes that a writer doesn’t need to pull out hairs over this. If you get your characters right, and are honest about them, the plot with follow. (This is just a brief summary. I’m missing some important elements. If you want to learn more, read the book.) I thought this was great. I’ve been getting so nervous reading conversations about plotting on Twitter. I keep thinking, “I don’t know how to plot. It just comes together. It just happens.” So, again: refreshing.
     He also mentioned the magic place, the one that I’ve often mentioned. He talked about how the writer doesn’t create the characters, they excavate them from archaeological sites. Yep. That’s what I’ve always thought. Seriously. Okay, well actually, I thought I was picking up things from other dimensions, but I suppose the concept is the same. Often, when I tell people that there is a “right way” for the story to be told, and I am just waiting for my characters to tell me what that is, I am given a weird look. It’s cool. I’m used to it. I always knew I wasn’t the only writer who felt this way. But Stephen King feels this way. Insanity does love company.
     And of course, he goes on and on about writing and reading. Writing and reading and writing and reading. Those are the two things one must do in large amounts in order to become a better writer. To me, this is great news. Writing and reading? I can do that. I do it every day. Sometimes I go through phases where I don’t read quite as much as I should, but still, I read a lot. And writing? I do so much writing that sometimes I have to force breaks on myself so I don’t get burned out. So, I’m good. But then there’s another part of me that’s like, “Writing and reading? That’s it?” That’s too easy. What’s the catch? Surely there’s some weird, complex calculus problem I’m required to climb to the top of a mountain and solve while standing on one foot and singing an ancient battle hymn. Right?
     I really hope not. Please let it just be writing and reading.
     Those are just a few of the important messages I took from On Writing. I enjoyed reading it and am glad I got over whatever stubbornness that was keeping me from doing so. I’ve now moved on to Anne Lamont’s “Bird by Bird.” I’m also reading “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine, a non-fiction book on healing trauma. I just finished a memoir by Ryan Smithson called “Ghosts of War.” So, I guess I’ve got the reading part of writing and reading covered. I’m also still trying to read my first draft of “Caribou Canyon” now “City of Secrets.” Does that count as both writing and reading? And of course I’m still working on edit 10 of New Year’s Revolution. So, I’ve definitely got my hands full. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

I get it! Not all men

     I didn’t understand this whole “not all men” thing at first. I was upset and, like a lot of people, I was thinking, “that’s not the point.” But I think maybe I get it now, because here’s the thing: I know a lot of really great men. Many of my male family members and friends are good, stand-up guys. They respect women. They fight for women’s rights. They understand that women are not treated equally. They get angry and upset on behalf of women. They know that women are more than just sexual objects. They appreciate the fact that women have amazing minds and a great deal to offer the world. They enjoy movies, shows, and books with strong female leads. They’re comfortable working side-by-side with women and even comfortable with a woman as a boss. They encourage the women in their family to have equal say in decisions.  
     It’s thinking about my male friends that helps me to understand “not all men.” Because I realized that not all men have the qualities I just listed.
     Not all men understand that women still are not treated equally. Not all men want women to be treated equally.
     Not all men want women in the work place.
      Not all men respect women.
      Not all men care what women have to say.
     Not all men think women are more than objects.
     Not all men care what’s behind a pretty face.
     Not all men realize or care that it’s humiliating and even frightening to be whistled at by a group of men.
     Not all men care when women say “no.”
     So yeah, I get it.
     Not all men.